The morning sun brought big smiles. We had all slept soundly in our comfortable beds. Moreover, we all really appreciated the wonderful art that surrounded us in our little apartment. Here is the angel above the fireplace.
Here is the rest of the living room and dining area:
The last photo shows a sculpture by the Mexican artist Javier Marin.
To get to and from our apartment (which the Red Tree House Inn calls “the penthouse”), we climbed these wrap-around stairs that the children just loved.
Every morning, we were served a very satisfying breakfast (more than we had expected)—fresh coffee, juice, yogurt, fruit, delicious pastries, and a different small hot dish.
Because of the missed flight, we didn’t get a chance yesterday to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum (which was at the top of my “must see” list for Mexico City). Today was Monday, and Frida’s museum was closed. Our “Plan B” was to visit the National Museum of Anthropology. However, we soon discovered that it was closed too; in fact, almost every museum in Mexico City was closed on Mondays.
After our initial shock at this disappointing news, we quickly formulated a “Plan C”, and off we went to learn how to navigate the subway system and to visit the Zócalo (the main plaza downtown).
Here we are heading for the subway in the Condesa neighborhood:
We were very impressed by the metro. It was very clean and inexpensive. For 2 pesos (less than 20 cents), you can go almost anywhere in the city. We even traveled back to the hotel during peak rush hour—while it was a bit crowded, it was very similar to riding the BART train during rush hour in San Francisco (where we used to live).
On the Mexico City subway for the first time:
Once the subway doors close, it was not uncommon for us to hear some form of music start up loudly. Many music vendors work on the trains; they play sample snippets of the songs on the CDs they are selling, and then they yell out the price and other information while walking through the train cars. We never knew what type of music we would hear, and we found this sales technique to be very entertaining.
We transferred lines once, and then got off at the Zócalo station. The Zócalo is one of the largest city squares in the world, and it is located in the center of what used to be the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan. Here I am with Genevieve and Sebastian, with part of the humongous square in the background:
On one side of the Zócalo is the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, which is the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas. It was built on top of the Aztec sacred grounds. Here is a portion of the Cathedral:
The inside was massive:
A religious service was being held in the chapel, with music resonating from the largest organ we had ever seen:
Next to the Cathedral is the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which had a beautiful facade:
The inside of the Tabernacle was lovely too:
Outside the Cathedral we saw this statue of Pope John Paul II, with hundreds of key shapes in the back.
The attached plaque indicated that the statue was inaugurated in 2007 and was made from thousands of keys donated by Mexican people, to represent that the Mexican people had given the Pope the “keys to their hearts”.
The National Palace borders one side of the Zócalo, and is the seat of the federal executive branch of government. It was built on the location where the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II had his palace at the time of the Spanish invasion and conquest. Many of the building materials from the National Palace purportedly come from the Aztec palace.
Here is the entrance to the National Palace:
Here is Genevieve inside the National Palace:
We wanted to enter the National Palace not to see the offices of the president, the Federal Treasury or the National Archives (all very important, of course). No, we had an interest in something even more grand—the magnificent artwork of Diego Rivera. For 16 years (between 1929 and 1945), Diego and his assistants painted the main stairwell and the walls of the second floor with a set of murals entitled “The Epic of the Mexican People”. We all spent over an hour marveling over the painted scenes and symbolism in the murals. (No camera flash is allowed, so the photo quality is not very good in the mural photos below.)
Diego’s work spanned hundreds of years and touched upon the life of the Aztecs before the Spanish arrived, the brutality of the Spanish conquest of the indigenous people, and Diego’s critique of the political conditions in Mexico in the first part of the 20th century.
As we exited the National Palace, we noticed that there was a golden statue of a winged woman on the Zócalo. Although we did not see a plaque or explanation, we later saw what appeared to be an identical golden figure on top of the victory column along one of the main boulevards (el Paseo de la Reforma) in Mexico City. The woman on the column is the famous Angel of Independence, built in 1910 to celebrate the centennial of the start of Mexico's War of Independence. Many people gather at the base of the column during political protests or celebrations.
Here is the figure in the Zócalo:
Near the Zócalo was an open-air diorama of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. Although there wasn’t water in the diorama, we could see how Tenochtitlan was built on an island, with raised roads coming into the city. (Mexico City was constructed by draining the surrounding lakes and filling in the lakebeds with soil—resulting in severe problems over time with flooding and the gradual sinking of many buildings, including the Cathedral). Here are the children, with the fenced-in diorama in the background:
Below is the diorama, along with a close-up of the pyramids in the center of the city:
The Zócalo was a great place for the kids, with plenty of space to run around:
We walked by the Templo Mayor, an archaeological site for the ruins of an Aztec temple. The site was closed on Mondays, but we could still see some of the building walls and stone carvings:
We took the subway back to the hotel. We felt very safe walking through the metro tunnels, as well as the Zócalo and our Condesa neighborhood. (We did, of course, always exercise our normal precautions—carrying our money and passports in secret spots, being aware of who is around us, holding onto our camera closely, not wearing fancy jewelry, etc.) There was an obvious police presence everywhere we went. Here are two police officers in the subway:
Between the metro station and our hotel was a small tacqueria (named Carnitas Cotija) that served us a stack of scrumptious carnitas tacos. Here is Genevieve outside the restaurant:
(A note about the food in Mexico: It was exceptional. During our 2 ½ weeks, we only had two meals that we would consider “bad”; one was an Italian restaurant in Oaxaca, and one was a traditional restaurant in Pátzcuaro with such horrible service that we should have listened to our instincts and left before we even ordered. We also tried a wide variety of places, many of them might be called a “hole in the wall”—even we paused before entering a few of them. We ate all kinds of food, and only one of us got any stomach ailments--and even that was very minor and easily remedied. Our family likes to be gastronomically adventurous with different tastes. Our motto at restaurants, and our own dinner table at home, is generally, “It’s good to try new things.” Just this morning at our hotel, the children were each served a taco with cream sauce at breakfast. Sebastian took one look and said, “I don’t like it.” At our gentle urging, he tried a bite and discovered that he did like it . . . very much, in fact! Both he and Genevieve ended up eating every bite of their breakfast tacos.)
Jorge, the owner of the Red Tree Inn, had a beautiful and friendly dog named Aubrey. The children always had to stop and give Aubrey some love whenever we went in and out of the hotel.
While we were relaxing in the comfortable downstairs area of the hotel, we met a couple traveling from Australia with their two teenage children. They told us that they had visited the Museo de la Luz (Museum of Light) earlier today and raved about how much their children had enjoyed the exhibits related to astronomy, photography and audiovisual technology. We were very excited—a museum that was open on Mondays! And it had exhibits that would be entertaining and educational for the kids!
After a long siesta (much needed by us all, especially Sebastian), we took the metro back to the Zócalo and walked several blocks to the museum. We arrived at 3:50 in the afternoon, only to have a museum guard tell us that the entrance had closed 20 minutes earlier. (Big groan.) Yes, yes, I know . . . we should have done some research on the museum hours before leaving the hotel. We were using our “back home” brains in assuming that public museums closed at 5:00 p.m. on weekdays.
The outside of the Museo de la Luz was very beautiful; it was opened in 1996 in the renovated church of San Pedro y Pablo.
We then walked around and looked at the striking architecture—I just love old buildings:
At Plaza Santo Domingo, we all cozied up together on a park bench and breathed in all of the beauty around us. On one side were two churches. The first was the small but gorgeous Capilla de la Expiración:
Here is a detail of the domed roof (which, according to one source, is ready to come crashing down at any time):
Next door was the Church and Ex-Convent of Santo Domingo:
To our left was a long building that had a Mexican flag on top; our map indicated that it was Antigua Aduana building:
To our right was a lively market area, in front of a building with a long row of pillars. It is difficult to see in this photo, but the plaza ground had shifted and sunk in some places over time, and the line of pillars had a definite wobble to it.
I didn’t know who this woman was, but I took a photo anyway—women have been so severely underrepresented in our history lessons, and their accomplishments so undervalued historically, that I figured this woman must have done something truly amazing to warrant a statue. (Upon our return home, we did some research and discovered that the woman is Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, who was an avid supporter of Mexico's War of Independence and whose house became the official meeting point for conspirators who sought to overthrow the Spanish rule of Mexico in the early 1800's.)
All that walking around required us to replenish our energy resources at the Michoacana ice cream shop near our hotel:
The owners of the Red Tree Inn recommended some of their favorite local restaurants, and we thought that the description of Rojo Bistrot sounded enticing—excellent international cuisine with a contemporary and lively atmosphere. The restaurant was only a few blocks from our hotel, an easy stroll along the quiet streets. We were very happy with our choice of the Condesa neighborhood--it was very safe, a short walk to the metro, and full of quiet streets, residences, and good restaurants.
Here is the fountain next to our hotel:
Walking to the restaurant was very pleasant. The sidewalk was in the middle of a large oval street that used to be a horse racetrack.
We had a thoroughly relaxing dinner, with delicious food and excellent service. Sebastian ventured into trying some new tastes, with a crab and bacon sandwich that he described as “super.” Here are Sebastian and Genevieve at the end of dinner:
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