Dateline: Mexico City, Saturday, September 10.
I’m reclining on my hotel bed after a long, exhausting day exploring the Historic District of Mexico City. I’m staying in a hotel far south of the touristy areas, a beautiful Holiday Inn nestled next to a Wal-Mart and a mall with every type of American chain restaurant I could ask for. This morning I got all of my gear sorted out, packed a bag with water and snacks, and wrote down a few key phrases, all starting with I’m sorry, […] because I don’t have enough Spanish. This has been working relatively well so far. Getting to my destination was handled through Uber, and within about 20 minutes I was standing in the Plaza de la Constitucion, looking at workers erecting seating for the 15th of September celebration next week.
I skirted the plaza and walked into the Cathedral Metropolitana, which was as old and as beautiful inside as I hoped. It’s a traditional layout but the central nave is surrounded by chapels of different kinds, some open and some closed. I was there in time for a morning mass, and so a lovely baritone filled the building. Walking around the central altar, I spied a litter of kittens playing in the darkened Chapel of San Pedro and stopped to shoot their picture.
At the back, the Altar of the Kings is an immense baroque structure dating back to the early 1700’s, and it was so large it didn’t fit in my camera frame (I only brought a 35mm lens, dammit).
Exiting the Cathedral, I attempted to follow Lonely Planet’s walking tour of the Historic District but found that I was thwarted by a lousy tour and a lack of signage. Seriously, there is no signage in that district at all. I found the main avenues pretty easily but once the tour had me off the main streets I was on my own. I followed the pedestrian Avenue Madero west towards the Latinamericana Tower, which had been the tallest building in Mexico City until 1985. The Avenue was relatively busy (this was nothing, as I would later discover) with people shopping and groups of vendors hawking stores at every intersection. I stopped into a Starbucks to grab coffee, use the bathroom, and hop on wi-fi when I found out that lots of Starbucks in Mexico City don’t have public wi-fi. This made me a little nervous, as this was my only way of using Uber for a ride home. I spent the next couple of hours looking for a good wi-fi signal anywhere (outside of hotels, cafés, and other Starbucks) but never found one.
Reaching the Latinamericana Tower, I found my way inside, paid 90 pesos and crammed into an elevator with 10 other people and rode it to the observation deck. Mexico City is a huge, sprawling place, filling the basin it sits in all the way to the mountains. The air is pretty clear, but I could just barely see the edges in the distance. Beneath me the Palace of Fine Arts spread out to the west and beyond that the Alameda.
Back out on the street, the crowds had grown, and it took about 10 minutes to cross the street to the museum. Inside there was a long snaking line at the ticket counter so I bailed on the exhibits and continued west into the park. There are lovely fountains and benches throughout the grounds, and I found a shady spot to get my bearings. Supposedly there is free public wi-fi in certain areas, but I wasn’t able to connect after multiple tries. I stopped and asked a friendly fellow at an information booth, and he seemed embarrassed to tell me it was broken.
At the far end of the park was a marketplace full of handcrafts, and I debated on an embroidered Mexican peasant blouse for my ladies but I couldn’t find a blue one in teh right size for Finn. I also paused at the stand with luchador masks but I knew Finn would never wear it.
At this point the Lonely Planet guide had me walking down side streets to find a cantina for a cerveza (I could have used a cerveza), a food market, and another craft market, but I could not find the street, the cantina, or the markets. Instead I found myself in a barrio specializing in appliance repair, plumbing supplies, and later, car stereo installation. I backtracked in an effort to get my bearings and found myself in the Barrio Chino, a small outpost of Asian shops and restaurants, but never found what I was looking for. So I looked east for the Latinamericana Tower and followed that back to the Avenue Madero. At this point it was jammed with people out for the day, probably five times the number I’d seen in the morning, and it was slower going. I threaded the crowds back to the Plaza and walked south to Avenue 20 de Novembre and followed that south for a few blocks. Along the way I detoured and found the Museum of Mexico City, which was beautiful, and stayed until my stomach started rumbling. Out on the Avenue again, I found a cab and rode back to the hotel for a little quiet time before dinner.
Tomorrow I’m going to head northeast and check out the Paseo de la Reforma, east of the Alameda, and maybe the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, which is billed as a world-class institution with Spanish and English displays. Depends on how far I can walk.
I’ve been fighting with the change in altitude by popping Advil in the morning to stave off pounding headaches. It’s enough that I’m seriously winded walking three flights of stairs, which is alarming. This would be a great place to train for a marathon for a couple of months. I’m expecting to land in Baltimore and be positively drunk on oxygen for the first 24 hours.
The weather here has been chilly in the mornings, but by about 11AM the sun heats things up pretty well. Still, if you’re in the shade it’s just cold. So it takes getting used to, and layering is key.