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Stuff To Do In Mexico City - Mexico City Attractions
Stuff To Do In Mexico City
When we first told people that we were going on vacation to Mexico City, there was some surprise. "That's not a resort," some said, thinking that we'd be taking a trip to Cancun or Cabo San Lucas. We also received many warnings from friends, family and co-workers: "Be careful of pickpocketers." "Don't get kidnapped!"
However, we -- as well as our two friends who joined us -- never felt unsafe or unwelcome in this huge, HUGE (20 million people and growing) city. Nearly everyone we encountered was friendly, polite and more than happy to help us out. By the end of the week, this lively, vibrant city no longer felt overwhelming.
Exploring Mexico City
We awakened at 5 a.m. to make it to JFK airport on time to catch a morning flight on Delta Airlines. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed because of ... crabs. Seriously! A shipment of crabs had gotten stuck in the cargo bin and the crew was unable to remove it; we waited for over an hour until they were able to be freed. We finally arrived in Mexico City in the early evening; as we flew in, we passed over buildings painted in every color imaginable. "It's like a rainbow," our travel companion, Lani, said as we peered out the window.
Mexico City's airport proved to be quick and efficient. Within an hour we were settled in at our hotel, the Quality Inn in Roma, a funky middle-class neighborhood. Though our hotel was a Quality Inn, it didn't bear much of a resemblance to the chain hotels in the states. This was more like a boutique hotel with a large, posh, well-decorated lobby and huge rooms. Both rooms had balconies that overlooked the main road. During the weekend, a market was set up in the park across the street, so we could people-watch from our rooms.
Later that evening, we went for a walk around the neighborhood and found a lovely restaurant to have dinner in, the Tamale Emporium. Nearly everywhere you look in Mexico, there's color, and this place with its rainbow-hued tables and chairs, was no exception. None of us speaks Spanish fluently, but the waiter didn't seemed to be fazed by our minimal use of the language. We had a delicious meal of tamales, crepes filled with huitlacoche (corn fungus, which is similar to mushrooms) and atole (a hot corn-based drink similar to hot chocolate, only it also comes in strawberry and vanilla).
After dinner, we stopped by the pharmacy to pick up some additional items we needed. Unlike our drug stores at home, you don't just grab the items off the shelf and pay for them. Instead, you go to a counter and ask for your shampoo or sunscreen, etc. Our other travel companion, Scott, needed hair gel and was nervous about dealing with the language barrier, but we quickly discovered that Mexico City's citizens are used to having people butcher Spanish. All Scott had to do was mime running gel through his hair and the clerk understood exactly what he meant. This was the way it was for most of our visit; people *wanted* to understand us. They appreciated us at least trying to speak their language and *wanted* to embrace us and introduce us to their culture.
Amazing Mexico City!
Pyramids at Teotihuacan
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Xochimilco And The Zocalo
After enjoying our free breakfast at the hotel, we were off to Xochimilco (pronounced zo-chi-meel-ko), also known as the floating gardens. Xoch is about 40 minutes out of town, so we had to take two subways and then a light train to get there. As we walked to the metro station, we passed by vendors setting up their stands; it seemed as if nearly every space in the city was occupied by some kind of stand and stall. Indeed, we quickly discovered how important commerce is to the culture. No matter where you are, someone will try to sell you something (often quite agressively). Even while we were on the trains, the passengers were accosted by a constant barage of salespeople, offering everything from CDs to these strange M&M dolls.
Once at Xoch, we had to walk about a mile to the gardens. Along the way, we passed through narrow, winding streets surrounded by homes of blue, pink and yellow. Tourist officers on bicycles waited at each corner to direct people to the wharf; one guide who was especially kind, kept following us to make sure the Americans knew exactly where they were going.
When we reached the wharf, we were greeted by hundreds of colorful gondolas (called trajineras), each bearing a woman's name. Ours actually didn't have a name, but we almost ended up with an extra passenger when a dog hopped onto our boat and refused to get off. Our trajinero finally managed to kick him out, though, and we were on our way down the canal.
The canals we traveled on are the same canals that the Aztecs used when they lived in Mexico City, only these days, Xoch is mainly a partying place. Each weekend, families will crowd into trajineras while enjoying lunch on the canals. Of course, along the route, you can buy anything from beer and candy apples and corn to wall hangings and jewelry. Musicians will stop their boat right next to yours to perform a song for you; vendors will literally climb into your trajinera to offer you their goods.
Despite the craziness, the ride was quite peaceful and we couldn't have asked for better weather. On the way back, we passed by La Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls). This creepy section of the gardens is a monument of sorts to a young girl who allegedly drowned in that area of the canal. In order to appease her spirit, a man fished thousands of dolls (and doll parts) out of the water and attached them to the surrounding trees. The result is a surreal-looking tableau, straight out of a Dali (no pun intended) painting.
That afternoon we returned to the city, spending our time in the Zocalo (the main square). Mexico City's square is the third largest in the world, after China's and Russia's. Unlike theirs, however, there is an ancient Aztec pyramid (called Templo Mayor) right smack in the middle of the plaza! We enjoyed walking around the ruins (and even spied a little cat there, who I named "Tlaloc" after the Aztec rain god), and watching the Aztec dancers. Of course, there were plenty of stands to stop by, as well.
We ended our first full day at Sanborn's (a Mexico City chain restaurant), then walked the 3 1/2 miles back to our hotel. Along the way, we passed by hundreds of more stands, and even a small Chinatown. It was a great way to get aquainted with the city and made me realize that it's even more cosmopolitan and diverse than I'd thought.
Boats At Xochimilco
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Teotihuacan (Aztec Pyramids)
We again awakened at 5 a.m. so we could travel out by bus to the pyramids at Teotihuacan (pronounced tay-o-tee-wah-can). Beforehand, I tried to explain to everyone how massive these 3000-year-old pyramids and the surrounding ancient city are, but my traveling companions were still blown away when we reached the site and saw them for the first time. The Pyramid of the Sun, which is the third largest pyramid in the world, is practically a mountain in itself. That didn't stop us from climbing up the 248 steps, though (Scott was crazy enough to run up and down them several times).
Since we'd arrived early, we practically had the whole place to ourselves. Mexico is full of semi-wild dogs and as we tried to find our way to the pyramids, we befriended a sweet light-brown dog with large eyes. She followed us everywhere, wagging her tail, and would stop when we stopped. She even posed for photos!
Finally, we made it to the pyramids. It was quite spritual sitting on top of these huge, old structures, admiring the rising sun, the ancient buildings below and the mountains in the distance.
In addition to the pyramids of the Sun and Moon, we saw several other smaller temples and impressive murals that have retained their color. Unfortunately, as the day went on, more and more tourist groups arrived, and we were approached by more vendors. Like I said, salespeople are everywhere and ancient pyramids are no exception.
You can spend days at the site, but after about six hours we headed back toward the city. On the way home, a man on the bus suddenly got up and began playing his guitar for us. It was beautiful and we enjoyed the impromptu concert.
That evening, we visited La Ciudadela, which is an artisans' market. Shopping in Mexico is fun because everything is so beautiful and inexpensive. After, we traveled to Coyoacan, one of the wealthier neighborhoods, for dinner at an Uruguyan restaurant. En route, we passed by several unusual stores, including a "housewares" shop that had a giant spaceship, a flying cow and a huge lobster. I'm not sure who'd decorate their home with these items, but if anyone is interested in buying a flying cow statue, you can get one for about $2000 American!
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Mexico Flights And Other Useful Links
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On Tuesday, we spent almost the entire day in Chapultepec Park, which is Mex City's version of Central Park. They have many more museums there, though, plus a castle (Castillo de Chapulepec) and an amusement park. First we visited the castle, which sits on top of a hill overlooking the city. Not many rooms were open for tourists to see, but we enjoyed walking around the lush gardens and checking out the view.
We then went to the lake and rented a paddle boat large enough for four people. We had a great time and the lake itself was beautiful, though the water is bright green from all the algae. Even the man-made waterfall is green.
Before continuing on to the Archeology Museum (which, in my opinion, is one of the best in the world), we witnessed an unusual ritual. Each day, these men dressed in ancient costumes climb a 50-ft pole that has a spinning platform on top. They then attach themselves to the poll and descend (hanging upside-down!) as the pole continues to spin. It's kind of like a combo of bunjee-jumping and a maypole.
After, we walked around the museum for a few hours, only we were kicked out of the Maya exhibit. The reason? The Queen of Denmark was visiting it. By now, we were realizing that the city was full of surprises — and that anything that could happen, would.
Would you like fried worms with that?
Riding On The Boats At Xochimilco
Witches' Market, Mariachis And Fried Worms
During our last full day, we tried to take in as much of the city as we could. That morning we went to the "witches' market," where vendors sell everything from crystals to "magic" powders to animals. The aisles are tiny, barely a person-length wide, so you walk down these narrow, dark corridors crammed with herbs and candles and skeleton statues. You can also get a "cleansing" if you want.
That afternoon we stopped by the Dept. of Education Building near the Zocolo. Unlike our education buildings, however, this one contained beautiful courtyards and hundreds of murals painted by Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican artist. Mexicans love art and music, so in addition to seeing musicians all over town, you see murals and statues everywhere. These were amongst the most impressive.
After, we went to Restaurante Don Chon for lunch. Don Chon serves "pre-Hispanic" fare, meaning cuisine based on ancient recipes. This includes items like ostrich, armadillo, crocodile ... and cactus worms. My travel companions ate and enjoyed the worms, which they say tasted like fried meat, but I didn't have the guts to try them. Still, I did have deer meatballs in corn fungus sauce, so I was at least a little bit adventurous. The food was quite delicious, if a little unusual.
That evening, we finished up our trip with several musical stops. First, we walked to Garibaldi Plaza, which is where the mariachis hang out. We then capped off our vacation by viewing the Ballet Folkorico in the gorgeous art-deco style Palace of the Fine Arts. But we got the best tickets in town when we got to see a full lunar eclipse. We couldn't have asked for a better way to end our journey.
Beautiful Mexico City
I'm not sure I can adequately describe Mexico City with all of its colors, sounds and general craziness. But I will say that by the end of the week, we'd found our place in it. 20 million people may live there, but the city has a way of making you feel as if you've found a home.