This past week was Spring Break. Our niñas got two weeks off of school (rather than the typical one week back home). Rather than pulling my hair out trying to figure out things for us to do and divert the kids’ attentions from their electronic devices (two weeks can be a really long time, you know), we took advantage of the time off to do some traveling and flew to la Ciudad de México (Mexico City) for a few days. From our home base here in Mexico it’s a very quick flight – it didn’t even take a full hour to fly into the second most populated city in the world (guess which is first – answer below: 1).
We had a great time and would highly recommend anyone to visit and experience it for themselves. After a relatively short taxi-ride from the airport, we arrived at our comfortable hotel located in the Centro Histórico area – which is a great place to stay and experience. As the name obviously implies – it’s an old part of town, with lots of tall, old buildings offering interesting architecture and muchos places to visit within walking distance. Cafes, restaurants, taco joints, Sanborns (2), very puffy colorful dress shops and shoe stores pretty much took up most of the historical area we were in. I’m not opposed to a comfortable pair of zapatos, but BOY do these people love their shoes – I have never seen so many shoes stores before in my life. And the heels on some of these women’s shoes – most of which would easily add several inches of height and I was constantly amazed at the skill demonstrated by these local ladies in tip-toeing around in these high heels – and further surprised that the street WASN’T littered with fallen ladies on their backs, waving their shopping bags in the air for help – and at times felt extra frumpy in my touristy and comfy white tennis shoes as we walked around the slower (albiet more fashionable and with better-defined calves) locals in their stilted footwear.
We had spoken to lots and lots of people before going to Mexico City and had a very long list of things to do and see, and I think we did a pretty good job of shortening that list by the time we left. Mexico City has the largest amount of museums in the Americas and the second largest amount in the world (guess who has the world’s largest amount, answer below: 3) So if you are interested in that sort of thing, you are in for a very charming treat. We visited several museos and subjected ourselves to fine historical art, huge and colorful murals, architectural delights, archeological sights and even a children’s museum. I’m not going to go into detail about everything we did, because frankly, it would be boring for you to read (I usually get bored reading others’ travel blogs that simply details where the writer went and what they saw and how it was and what they ate [oh, look, a photo of a taco] and how great it was and blah blah blah…snore…)
Here’s the thing: go to Mexico City and find out for yourself why it’s so awesome. Get some advice from others on what’s good to do while you are there (I’ll offer some here), create your own list and GO THERE. Here’s a few of the places we would highly recommend:
Museo Nacional de Antropologia (National Anthropology Museum): very cool, lots to see – but I will admit after about an hour all of the cool exhibits started to look alike. I mean you see one naked little figurine, you’ve seen them all… right? No disrespect intended, of course. Not only that but I was constantly reminded of my not-realized childhood dreams of growing up to be Indiana Jones, finding my own naked little figurines and learning to speak all these cool dead languages (which is extra ironic now considering my current dismal attempts at learning Spanish).
Castillo de Chapultepec: this is a castle. I’ll repeat: it’s a CASTLE. Do you really need any more reasons than that to want to go there? If castles just aren’t your thing then: (a) you are a very boring person; (b) please unsubscribe from my blog immediately; and (c) know that the surrounding view of the city is breathtaking from the castle’s balconies, so also for that reason alone it’s worth a visit. If I remember correctly the castle also has a museum (Museo Nacional de Historia) inside with some art work (seriously, there’s a museum on almost ever street corner) – but again, I was so enchanted with the castle part I didn’t have time to admire the displayed art.
The Templo Mayor (Great Temple): this is basically Aztec ruins – smack-dab in the middle of the city. Back in the 1970s some local electric workers were doing some digging and came across some artifacts. More digging pursued and something like thirteen buildings were knocked down so that they could dig underneath them. What they basically found was a “main temple of the Aztecs”. What you do here is tour through the ruins via a walkway (stopping along the way to read the explanations in Spanish), and then you can go into a museum and see many of the artifacts they found in it. Apparently it was discovered that the Aztecs considered this temple “to be the center of the universe”. I don’t think we felt anything as momentous as walking around the center of the universe, but hey it was still a lot of fun (and I bet even more enjoyable if you can accurately read the Spanish explanations offered by the tour). It was pretty nifty to be walking through this historical monument, while looking up and seeing all the modern buildings surrounding us on all sides, including The Metropolitan Cathedral (the church’s full name is below at 4), which apparently is the largest cathedral in the Americas – which is easy to believe as we walked around it. It’s shadow pretty much covers the entire Aztec ruin site (maybe there’s some symbolism in that?) Whatever – it just made me wonder what else they’d find in the area if they’d just dig around a bit more…
…and lastly, my remaining recommendation here would be to eat at the Azul Historico: this is a restaurant set in the atrium of a large building with a hotel and shops and wine bars surrounding it via balconies. The food was very good (in fact the menu lists more awards they’ve won than actual entree selections), the atmosphere romantic (the atrium is surrounded and covered by large indoor trees with hundreds of lit candles hanging down) and the dessert fun (treat yourself to the homemade hot chocolate they make right at your table side – delicious and delightful).
We saw and did more, and my goodness did we do a ton of walking… but about the only other thing that might be interesting to share here would be that they were filming the new James Bond movie in the Zócalo (one of the world’s largest city squares – guess who has the largest one: 5). The entire square was fenced off, which squished an extremely populated city into a few very narrow sidewalks (I’ll admit that I’m a tad claustrophobic and not a big fan of crowds – or of losing the hand of my 7-year old daughter while walking through such a crowd… but you know what? That only honestly happened about twice, and both times I remember very quickly panicking and calling out to my daughter – and without fail both times, the other hurried and hassled people in front of me stopped, slowed down or moved aside until it was apparent my child and I had rejoined. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: people in Mexico are really nice). So we couldn’t get close to the Hollywood action or get any selfies with stars (OMG I was REALLY hoping to see Daniel Craig) – but we heard some of the movie magic (“places everyone! Set scene and action!”) and did see a crazy helicopter stunt – so we can’t complain and we can’t wait until the movie comes out and recognize those scenes.
A couple of last quick tips for you while you are visiting Mexico City:
- Watch where you are walking at all times – the sidewalks and roads are pretty treacherous – lots of holes, large curbs, concrete blocks that don’t match up, cars speeding by disturbingly close, etc.;
- Ladies, if you want to take advantage of all the many shoe stores, make sure you know your Mexican shoe size (it’s not the same as the U.S. – need some help? Check out this handy chart);
- If you plan accordingly, you can visit many museums for free; the Castle and the Museum of Anthropology are not open on Mondays (yes, we learned that the hard way);
- Make sure you visit Mexico City on a Sunday – every Sunday morning from 9 until 2 a main highway (Paseo de la Reforma) is closed to traffic, opening the way for bikers and walkers. It was a nice change to dodging bicycles rather than speeding cars – and made walking around much more enjoyable;
- Take a tour on a double-decker Turibus. Just plan your route out better than we did – at the end of the day it felt like we spent more time standing around waiting for the next Turibus to arrive than we spent at any of the locations we wanted to visit. Oh, and make sure your kids DON’T fall asleep on the bottom of the bus – which is really boring. Always go to the top. And lastly
- Always buy the churros – every time you see the churros guy.
Getting to visit and experience beautiful and amazing places in Mexico is one of our favorite things about living here, and spending a few days in la Ciudad de México just further reinforces that. And I’m sure even the kids would pause their games a second to look up and agree and tell you the time spent away from their electronic devices was time well spent. But don’t take our word for it that Mexico City is so great – go and see for yourself.
We guarantee you will not be disappointed.
2. Sanborns is a big chain in Mexico: it’s a restaurant, retail store, pharmacy and department store all together.
4. The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven (Spanish: Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a los cielos)