Mexico City, Beyond Expectations

2018 Articles Authors and contributors Colours of Mexico Issue September 2018 Suzanne A. Marshall

   By Suzanne A. Marshall from the October 2018 Edition

Finally, after much talk and many good intentions we nailed down our trip to Mexico City at the end of August. Like most travellers to Mexico, we’d seen the airport numerous times as we made connections on other journeys to many beautiful locations in the country. Approaching the city from the air, the sheer size is mind boggling as you realize you’ve been flying over it for 30 minutes. It is one of the largest cities in the world by population ranking 6th with roughly twenty one million residents. (Tokyo is #1 at 38 million).

Chapultepec Park lake (above) and the skylines beyond the neighbourhood of Polanco (below) were all in walking distance from our hotel
Chapultepec Park lake (above) and the skylines beyond the neighbourhood of Polanco (below) were all in walking distance from our hotel

Though I’d heard from friends who made the journey in the past and expressed having had a great experience, I still had some trepidation about smog, traffic and general jitters about a huge new place in a foreign country. Obviously, I really didn’t know what to expect. As it turns out, my husband (our resident and efficient ‘planner’) pegged it all down very well and our stay was truly wonderful.

Following an hour-long flight from Manzanillo, we landed in Mexico City and took a taxi to our hotel destination. We had chosen a lovely small hotel “Suites Contempo” in the neighborhood of Polanco which is notoriously safe and walkable. It also happened to be a short walk from the magnificent Chapultepec Park….and I do mean magnificent! This area is in the ‘downtown’ core of the city where the population is about 8.8 million. This is the corporate and business sector and teems with high-rise office buildings, traffic and people in suits heading to and from work

ll days of pure delight and first-class exhibits. We could have spent the entire 9 days in Chapultepec Park. It is huge and quite a bit larger than Central Park in New York. Once we were unpacked, we hit the streets and walked the few blocks over to the park. There was an outdoor children’s theatre group performing inside on the grounds and lots of raucous laughter and antics could be heard as we made our way into the first exhibit of fine art by Leonora Carrington. Little did we know how much more there was to see in the park and we ultimately returned for at least 5 fu

By this time, I had a pretty good handle on the lay of the land, so to speak. My initial misgivings disappeared as we found our way around the neighbourhoods. I’m happy to report that I experienced a super-clean, organized place.

The greenery was abundant everywhere, with tree-lined streets, fabulous park-like walkways down the medians of most streets, with paving stones and benches everywhere. People were walking with their dogs, having lunch on a nearby bench or just ambling around the restaurants and shops. I could probably call it quite cosmopolitan. Mexico City is working on its green spaces with roof-top gardens and even towers complete with living ‘green’ panels enveloping the walls of the buildings. Quite a sight indeed. In addition, I noticed a lot of English being spoken in most places. Thanks to that, and our constant efforts to learn and speak Español, we navigated about quite nicely.

I should mention here to all you seniors with INAPAM cards that all the exhibits, museums, galleries and touring buses are deeply discounted for seniors and many are free or ‘gratis’ when the card is presented. As the week sped by, we realized what a great benefit this card turned out to be. I might also add that we used the ‘Uber’ taxi service for our entire stay.
It was efficient and very professional. Once called, we never waited more than 5 minutes and we were picked up from anywhere we happened to be. Some days, we used Uber 4 or 5 times. The savings to our expenses is remarkable. We calculated the entire time in Mexico City, including trips to and from the airport, at a total value of 78 dollars CAD for taxi service. One city taxi quoted a ride at 180 pesos. The Uber ride cost us 40 pesos. Need I say more?

Chapultepec Park made me feel like Alice in Wonderland. It is the largest urban park in the Western Hemisphere. It’s the green lung of Mexico. The things to see are continuously unfolding as one moves from one site to another. More seems to always be waiting beyond every door and plaza.

For art lovers and history buffs, things to do include Museo Tamayo, Museum of Caracol, Museum of Modern Art and the National Museum of Anthropology (the most visited museum in Mexico City, and with good reason, it’s spectacular.) There are no fewer than 22 salon exhibits to see. Thus, we returned three times in an attempt to capture as much about them as we could. We couldn’t do it all, so we chose some favourite themes such as the Maya Groups and the Introduction to Anthropology. You will need to pace yourself to see these amazing exhibitions. This is a world-class facility.

We also walked our way up the lane to Chapultepec Castle, the National Museum of History, complete with ancient artifacts, rooftop gardens and amazing vistas of the surrounding park and city. Since our return, we found out that there are two giant pandas we missed. They were given to the park by China and reside in the park zoo, which we never made it to…we’ll do it next time.

On the weekends and holidays, we found markets set up on the pathways in the park offering all sorts of Mexican crafts and fast food. This is always fun to do. We did happen to catch the Mexican pole dancers as they spun their way down from atop a 60ft pole, in traditional costumes, to the sounds of ancient flutes. It’s lovely to see and quite ceremonial. There are numerous restaurants in the park and a lake area that provides other entertaining activities.

Sunday is an interesting day in the park. The museums are filled with students and tourists trying to soak it all up before the work week begins again. The park areas in between are enjoyed by families picnicking and playing catch with the family

The Castle in Chapultepec Park offers phenomenal views and a look at antique furnishings and the lifestyles of past royalty, such as Mexican Emperor Maximilian 1 and Empress Carlota dogs, many of whom loved to dive into the water features and fountains. In one area, there were people swinging in hammocks between the trees, with numerous vendors around to sell you a hammock, too, if you felt like a nice nap.

I just loved the tranquility of the scene and the joy of the people savouring such a wonderful place. I have barely scratched the surface of this wonderful venue. I should also mention, before moving on, that you can take advantage of the rent-a-bike services if you just want to ride about the park pathways.

On several days we had great fun riding the double-decker tour buses called Turibus. We ‘Ubered’ to the main loading zone and boarded the double deckers from there. There is a variety of basic tours wherein you can hop on and off in order to look around a bit or grab a bite. The basic tours are the Historic Centre tour, South City tour, Polanco Chapultepec tour, Basilica tour and the Mexican park tour.

I noted that other themed tours were also available such as bar tours, night tours and museums to name a few. We simply couldn’t fit it all in.

Our first, and most exciting, tour was the Historic Centre Tour. From atop the bus, we had a birds-eye view of the magnificent architecture, monuments and surrounding areas. The buses offer free ear buds and wall plugins at every bench, with language selection and recorded guided tours as you make your way around the circuit. My husband especially enjoyed being able to quickly stand up and grab some terrific photos from the higher perspective.

I highly recommend this adventure. We met some lovely people and just relaxed while the bus navigated the traffic and streets. Absolutely perfect. Following that particular tour, we returned to the historic area the following day in order to tour the Bellas Artes Museum of fine art, the architecturally famous post office, and mingle amid the throngs and enjoy some excellent and engaging street buskers and sidewalk artisans. We loved every minute.

Our first, and most exciting, tour was the Historic Centre Tour. From atop the bus, we had a birds-eye view of the magnificent architecture, monuments and surrounding areas. The buses offer free ear buds and wall plugins at every bench, with language selection and recorded guided tours as you make your way around the circuit. My husband especially enjoyed being able to quickly stand up and grab some terrific photos from the higher perspective. We’ve been told that there are approximately 600 museums in the city. Now we knew for sure we’d be coming back because we still want to visit the pyramids and Puebla city. So we made a few choices and took ourselves to the famous home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. They call it the blue house as it is bathed in a brilliant blue colour. It’s not a palace or a mansion, and you can feel what it would have been like to live there. Certainly, it provided ample space for living and working, as well as entertaining.

There are lovely interior garden spaces, with ancient stone carvings, and evidence of the ‘artful’ couple is everywhere. I enjoyed seeing art pieces, photographs and the studio where Frida worked, complete with art supplies and brushes. It all felt so personal and gave us an opportunity to relate to the lives of these important contributors to the world of art. Some of their pieces can also be seen at the art exhibits in Chapultepec Park.

I really could go on for much longer but I hope the photos with this article will speak the words for me. I would be remiss however, if I didn’t say something about the food and restaurants. There are thousands of restaurants in Mexico City. Whatever cravings we had, we managed to satisfy with the helpful background searching of my ‘resident’ planner. We enjoyed a fabulous meal at Contramar, listed in the top 10 and found our way to a terrific little Thai restaurant which satisfied our cravings for a ‘noodle bowl’ complete with fish consommé; grilled meats, crunchy veggies and a semi-sweet sauce that you can pour over the dish. Excellent. The owner’s wife and chef is from Thailand so the authenticity was real.

We also found ourselves munching on Szechuan ribs, won ton soup and Portuguese dishes. We didn’t suffer, that’s for sure. So, no matter your palate preferences, a little searching on the internet beforehand will pay off.

Regarding foods and drink, I offer one caution. Stay away from the tap water in Mexico. Do not brush your teeth with it and be sure that you are served ice made from purified water. The water supply there is not potable and you could easily find yourself battling a gut bacteria that is very unpleasant and a trip ‘downer’.

As I indicated in this story several times; Mexico City is an exciting and vibrant place that I would recommend to anyone. We had a fabulous vacation, filled with historical information and the cultural riches of Mexico; spectacular architecture, glorious greenery, friendly people and tourist services beyond expectations. We will be returning in the not-too-distant future and pick up where we left off.

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Suzanne A. Marshall

Suzanne A. Marshall hails from western Canada and has been living the good life in Manzanillo over the past 8 years. She is a wife, mom and grandma. She is retired from executive business management where her writing skills focused on bureaucratic policy, marketing and business newsletters. Now she shares the fun and joy of writing about everyday life experiences in beautiful Manzanillo, Mexico, the country, its people, the places and the events.

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