Keeping busy in Mexico City

On my first visit to Mexico City, I was staying in the hip neighbourhood of Colonia Condesa.  We arrived late in the afternoon, and the Bosque de Chapultepec was only a short 20 minutes walk away, so that’s where we headed first.  The Chapultepec is a massive park, providing the ‘lungs’ for Mexico City.  Vendors line the main paths throughout the park and it was packed with people out enjoying the afternoon.  We wandered back to the gorgeous Red Tree House B&B through Condesa, which is the neighbourhood that we are staying in, famous for its bars and restaurants, stopping off for a margarita.  Well, when in Rome (or Mexico…)!

The next morning we took the Metro to the Zocalo, the giant square at the heart of the city (Plaza de la Constitucion), surrounded by the Cathedral, the National Presidential Palace and various other official looking buildings. It’s massive! And it was also packed with people – vendors selling everything and anything imaginable, and crammed full of people.

First up was the Catedral Metropolitana, which is the largest Cathedral in the Western Hemisphere. It took nearly 300 years to build, and includes a number of little chapels along the side, and ornate altars. My favourite is the Altar del Perdon, a huge gold altar just by the entrance way. About half way into the Cathedral I realised that I was walking uphill. I thought it was my imagination, but it turns out that the city is built on what was once a lake, and the Cathedral has been sinking for years. Right in the centre they have suspended a pendulum to chart the progress of the tilt and record it on the floor. Apparently there has been extensive engineering underground to stablilise the building, which was reassuring to know. The long term plan is to get the Cathedral all to the same level again, but it’s going to take a couple of hundred years as they have stopped the lowest part sinking and the highest part will eventually sink to meet up again.

Next up was the Palacio Nacional, which takes up one entire side of the Zocalo. It’s a very impressive building and was well worth the visit – plus it was free. In the main courtyard is a lovely fountain, and then just off that is the Staircase of the Empress, surrounded by some beautiful murals painted by Diego Rivera. It also included a tour of the presidential palace, which was really spectacular. We also checked out more murals by Diego Rivera at the Secretaria de Educacion Publica. He was commissioned in the 1920s to paint murals at this public building, and there are more than 100 of them spread over three floors. It was incredible, because there was absolutely nobody there bar us and a cluster of cleaners. And again the entrance was free. Highly recommended if you are heading to Mexico and are interested in art.

We returned to Mexico City after the cycling holiday in Cuba to discover that winter had well and truly come to Mexico – I had no idea it could be so cold there – a very chilly 13 degrees. Brrr!

This time we were staying in a new neighbourhood in Coyoacan. Coyoacan and San Angel are in the south of Mexico City, and were once separate villages which have now been engulfed by the city, but still retain a small village feel. Our little B&B is on a very narrow cobblestone lane, and is only a few minutes away from the town square, and of course the church, which was a surprisingly elaborate with a beautiful Baroque 17th century altarpiece. Coyoacan is also in a very wealthy part of town so we had fun peering through gates at the huge mansions behind them.

Mexico has a number of museums dedicated to different aspects of Frida and Diego’s lives, be it their houses or their art, and being located in Coyocan was the perfect place to experience as much as possible.  One of my favourite places was in San Angel, which has the Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo. It was stunning – the studio and house was designed in the 30s by a friend of the couple, and included two separate studios / houses joined by a bridge. While the house showed Diego’s studio virtually untouched since he’d last been there, it was not a museum of Rivera and Kahlo’s art, but more about the architecture of the studio. It did however include an art exhibition, which was a fabulous photographic exposition of Lola Alvarez Bravo, a contemporary and friend of Frida’s.

Even further south is the Museo Dolores Olmedo. She was a friend and patron of Diego Rivera’s, collecting his art, and some of Frida’s too. Her house and grounds are now a museum. The grounds themselves are huge and as well as large park like surrounds, includes peacocks, geese and some Mexican pre-hispanic dogs called Xoloitzcuintle (Mexican hairless dog) which were gorgeous creatures who looked like statues. The museum itself was huge and included her collections of antiques and all sorts of other treasures. It was a real treat.

The last stop for the day was the Leon Trotsky museum. He had been granted exile in Mexico in the 1930s and was assassinated there by Stalinists in 1940. It was absolutely fascinating!

So that was Mexico City. It’s a massive sprawling beast and I could have spent weeks there and still not seen everything.

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