I recently spent a week in Mexico City. It was my first visit but it will not be my last. I was captivated by the architecture, art, people, food, history and sheer excitement of the city. Most of all, I enjoyed exploring the city on foot and by Metro. Several times I was taken by surprise, for example the evening I was walking along Calle Palmas and thought I could hear singing. I wasn't hearing things. When I reached the junction of Palmas with Avenida Madero, there was a woman standing on the balcony of the corner music store singing operatic versions of well known songs to much applause and cries of bravo from a large crowd. She even had them joining in to Besame Mucho! So here, in no particular order, are my top ten Mexico City experiences, but remember, this is a huge city with many things to see and do so please forgive me if you can't find your favourite amongst them.
|Boats at Xochimilco
Xochimilco is some distance away from the centre of the city, but it is a truly Mexican experience. Families and groups of friends bring food and drink and hire a boat or boats together with a local version of a gondolier who steers the boat through miles of canals. Many also hire musicians and several have Mariachi groups or the Mexican version of country singers on board and when the eating is done, the tables are folded away and the dancing begins. It is a wonderful experience seeing several generations of one family enjoying the day together. For those who don't bring their own food, there are stalls along the side of the canal at embarkment points as well as floating food shops with food being cooked in small boats and sold on the water. I ate on land and had the best quesadillas of my trip - flor de calabaza with cheese. Yum. For dessert I enjoyed oblea - thin sweet wafers made from wheat flour and vegetable colouring, covered with a scrape of caramel and spread thinly with amaranth and pumpkin seeds - all for the equivalent of a couple of pounds.
The Palacio de Bellas Artes is the hub of Mexico City's rich cultural life with a huge programme of music, dance and exhibitions. Building began in 1904 but was delayed many times due to political unrest and problems with the very soft subsoil. Work stopped completely in 1913, not resuming until 1932 eventually being completed in 1934. This long delay accounts for the difference in style between the art nouveau influenced exterior and the mainly art deco interior. The lobby with its dramatic staircase and galleries is imposing, but the real star of the show is the auditorium with its glass curtain designed by Hungarian Miksa Roth and made by Tiffany and Co. It consist of over one million pieces of iridescent coloured glass, weighs 24 tons and is the only one in the world. It is decorated with images of the Mexican volcanoes Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl. I went along to see a performance of the Folkloric Ballet. Being British I reluctantly obeyed the strict "no cameras" note on my ticket. I was the only one who did and remain angry with myself for missing out on the opportunity to photograph the auditorium. I'll just have to go again! The Palacio also has a restaurant, a gift shop and a good book shop.
|Palacio de Bellas Artes
|Roof, Casa Barragan
Mexico City is an architectural paradise. One of the highlights of my visit was being shown around Casa Barragan, once the home of architect Luis Barragan. Completed in 1948, it also acted as his studio and demonstrates his views on the integration of internal and external spaces and the division between private and public areas. I especially enjoyed the roof terrace with its colours and their changing relationship with the sunlight. The house contains several pieces from Barragan's personal art collection, whilst his passion for music is evidenced by the large number of rooms containing turntables and the external speakers hidden behind the patio curtains facing the garden! To see inside you must make an appointment in advance for one of the guided tours which are available in Spanish and English. There are several Barragan buildings in the city and you can also visit Casa Gilardi, which is a private residence. Again, an appointment is necessary and staff at Casa Barragan can advise on how best to do this.
|Detail from the lobby at Cafe Tacuba
Cheating a bit on this one, I also want to mention Cafe Tacuba. Founded in 1912, as well as serving good food (I had quesadillas and soup - very good!), it is a beautiful place to linger with its stained glass art nouveau lobby, exquisite ceramic tiled interior and an art collection to admire between courses. They also have a nice cake display but for once I was too full to sample the wares! Cheating a little bit more, Jugos Canada at 5 de Mayo 47 (which doesn't seem to have a website) is possibly the best juice bar in the city. Pick the fruit you want from a long list and they will prepare your drink straight away. I had strawberry and banana. Delicious. They also serve tacos and burgers, but its the juice that's the big thing.
|Detail of art deco building, Condesa.
|Temple of the sun, Teotihuacan
|Detail from Rivera's mural Dream of a Sunday afternoon in the Alameda Central
|Estudio Diego Rivera, San Angel
|Portrait of Dolores del Rio, Diego Rivera
|Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo, 1939.
The Metro is very easy to navigate with clear line maps on display and good signage in stations. As well as the practical advantages of the Metro, I was fascinated by the presence of many musicians and people trying to sell a whole range of items in order to make a living. At almost every station, a different seller will board the carriage and offer any one of a range of products including cigarettes, chewing gum, small snacks, children's toys and during my stay, small Christmas decorations. After a brief verbal advertisement for their goods, they walk the length of the carriage and sell items to people who are interested - I did not see any of the aggressive begging that I have seen in other cities, including at home in London. And people did buy small items as well as giving a few coins to the many musicians that populate the carriages.
So that's it, my top ten for Mexico City. It has been very difficult making my choices (even though I have cheated bit!) and so I have included a few pictures below of other personal highlights of my stay. It's a place I will be returning to!
|Antigua Basilica de Santa Maria de Guadaloupe
|Detail from lobby, Hotel Gran Ciudad de Mexico
|My favourite shop front! El Borcegui shoe shop, founded in 1865
|Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros in Polanco. Mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros. World Trade Centre in the background
|Detail from ceiling, Synagogue Justo Sierra.
|Torre Latinamericana and the Edificio la Nacional building