Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mexico city; once the Aztec empire of Tenochitlan

I have just spent 5 days in the huge city of the Mexican capital and you will be surprised but I have never felt unsafe; in fact I have been told to travel in day light and stay in the touristy area. Once I arrived in the city and started cruising around by metro (which is the best, cheap and easy way to get around) I did not realize how big was the city until I have climbed the Mirador Torre Latina which offers a spectacular view of the metropolis and gave me the big picture of Mexico city. Regarding the people, they are amazingly friendly and so lovable!!
Initially I was quite skeptic when someone from the street would start talking to me as we were friends for years... but then I realized that this is the way of a Latino spirit! For instance I was visiting the museum of Diego Rivera which contains one of his amazing murales (SueƱo de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central) and Arturo, a very knowledgeable Mexican fellow, offered us his interpretations on the mural. It was amazing how much in details he knew about the painting in which every single character has a specific role illustrating a historical fact or a cultural representation. As he spoke expressively by acting every role, I started to look at the painting with other eyes and it suddenly transmitted a stronger and more meaningful message, unbelievable! At the end of his act he insisted to bring us to the other museum "El Palacio de Bellas Artes" where 6/7 other very important murals of Diego Rivera are exposed. One hour before the museum closed, he quickly explained us the message of all the murals concentrating in a dedicated way on one of the most famous and important one: Man at the Crossroads - 1934. At the end of his speech he asked for a little contribution in money. This is the way how aged Mexicans get to earn some pocket money. They will approach you with a big, friendly, honest smile asking if you are interested to know a bit more about anything is surrounding you. What is interesting is that they would talk to you about history or any anecdotes for a whole day with passion and love for their nation and with a lot of respect for you and only at the end they would ask for any money you want to offer. Another similar fellow that I met was Fernando who gave us some insights about the UNAM University of Mexico city.

To Do & Visit:
After my personal experiences I will list some places I suggest you visiting in Mexico DF:
1. The first attraction you should visit is the Museo of Anthropology (the most interesting sections are: Mexica/Aztec, Toltec, Maya) in Chapultepec Park (chapulin = grasshopper). This museum offers a clear general picture of the pre-Hispanic civilizations with its traditions, characteristics and settlements in the various area of Mexico facilitating your understandings later of the archaeological sites such as Templo Mayor (in the Centro Historico where the center of the Aztec Empire took place before the Spanish conquest in 1521). Once you have visited the museum, you should have a look around the park to enjoy the vibrant spirit of the street stalls of local snacks where you can also visit the Museum of Modern Art as well as the Castillo, the castle.
2. Visit the famous "Centro Historico": the main plaza Zocalo (see picture), the cathedral, Templo Mayor, Palacio National (free entry and where some other fascinating murals of Diego Rivera are exposed), Tenochitlan (the spot where the Aztec found the eagle standing on a cactus killing a snake which meant the settlement of the Mexicas by a prophet). Then walk towards Parco Alameda where the locals likes to chill out and visit the Palacio de Bellas Artes. On the other side of the park is located the Museo of Diego Rivera.
3. Coyoacan, a peaceful little village within Mexico city where you can look at the: Casa Azul (house of Frida Kahlo), the house where Karl Trotsky was killed, the main plaza with the iglesia and the Artesania market and finally enjoy a good coffee and a delicious pastry at the well frequented Cafe´Jarocho. A few metro stops away from Coyoacan there is the UNAM university of Mexico (the largest one in the Latin America with almost 300 Thousand matriculated students).
4. Teotihuacan (1h 30mins away from Mexico DF), the two pyramids (of the Moon and the Sun) that were built by a still unknown civilization before the the Aztec settlements on the Texcoco lake. Around the site there are many restaurants and it is recommended to try the following specialties: barbacoa and mixote (based of lamb meat) and the super refreshing drink of Pulque (an alcoholic drink based of fermented catcus nectar). Another place a bit out of town in the south is the village of Xochimilco situated on a river where you can spend a few hours on a trajera (paddle boat) enjoying beers and machete (typical Mexican music).
5. In the city center there are millions of other places to visit but the following ones are mostly recommended: Mercado Merced (the largest market in Latin America where you will find everything but the most interesting section is the food with a huge variety of fruits, mole - sauces-, vegetables, nuts etc.), the Zona Rosa (the lesbian and gay quarter, personally not very interesting), Contesa and Polanco for a good night out ("Mojito Room" is a cool place to dance salsa on a Saturday evening in the Contesa quarter).

To Eat & Drink:
Since I have slept by an amazing Couchsurfing member (Fernando the Mango ;o) I cannot give you a tip for a hotel or hostel. Regarding food, a great place for tacos (see picture) is the Taqueria Los Cocuyos in the Centro Historico! If you want to try a typical Mexican breakfast based of mais get a tamal de dulce and to drink an atole de arroz (rice) or chocolate which you will often find on the street. Try as well a tipical Maya specialty called esquites, fried mais with chile and lime juice. If you are students remember to bring with you the student card so that you will get discount of 50% or even free entry to any touristy attractions.

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