Mexico City

Well, I thought I couldn’t really travel around Mexico and not visit Mexico City (even though I’ve heard it can be dangerous). A friend Laura, who I met when she was in England, arranged for me to stay with her boyfriend (Alfonso) since he had a spare room in his flat and it was close to a metro station. Alfonso told me which places were good to visit in the city, and which places were a bit dodgy and should be avoided, so I managed to survive Mexico City without any problems.

One of the first things I noticed in Mexico city was the altitude. I realised it must be quite high up when I walked up the steps to the metro and got a little out of breath (and that’s not because I’m unfit), so I checked the altitude with my GPS watch.

In europe to get to that high you have to climb the alps. So that took a little getting used to. Another thing I noticed was the pollution, which is actually hard to miss, the whole city has a layer of smog over it. I was told that on a clear day you can see two big mountains that are over 5000m high, Popocatépetl (which is actually an active volcano) and Izaccihuatl.

In the north square of the city is the cathedral that of course the spanish built on the site of an Aztec pyramid (and probably using stone from the pyramid) as a sign of dominance. It turns out that the ground the cathedral is built on (and most of the city) is quite soft since in used to be a lake bed (there was actually still a lake here when the Aztecs built their city, see below), which means that cathedral has sunken in places, which you can kind of see in this photo.

Monumento a la Independencia
The symbol to the city is the Monumento a la Independencia (or El Ángel). You can see the image of this angel all over the city, and especially on every taxi. It’s possible to climb to the top of the monument (I think it cost 20 pesos, about £1), but getting there isn’t exactly easy. The monument is in the middle of what looks like a big round about, but the cars go round it in both directions, the road is pretty wide and there are no crossings (Mexico doesn’t seem to like pedestrians since it isn’t very good at crossings and footpaths). So you just have to wait for a gap in the traffic and make a run for it.

There is a pretty tight spiral staircase to the top, and climbing it when you aren’t used to the altitude makes it quite difficult, but there are good views from the top.

And here is a view of the crazy roundabout, with cars going both ways around. Notice the cars in the middle that want to go a bit further around, but have to wait for gap.

Castillo de Chapultepec
The castle is built on the top of a hill a couple kms from the centre in a place the Aztecs called Chapultepec which means place of the crickets (chapulines). The hill is surrounded by a forest and there are is small lake. The castle includes a museum of the history of Mexico, including the revolution. The castle is a pretty nice place to visit, but it’s not really a castle in the way that a British person would think of a castle, it’s more of a fortified palace.

Museo Nacional de Antropologia
The anthropology museum is definitely worth a visit. The building itself is quite impressive, it’s like 70’s architecture done well. Inside there are a lot of things to see that cover the whole history of Mexico and the different groups of people that have lived here, with various artefacts from many temple/pyramid/city/archaeological sites around the country. If you were really interested and took the time to look at everything you could easily spend a few days here.

Below is a picture and model of what Mexico City looked like when the Aztecs settled it. Apparently the Aztecs arrived from the north somewhere (no one is exactly sure where from). They were looking for a sign from to gods to know where they should settle. The sign was an eagle on a cactus with snake in it’s beak, which is now the crest on the Mexican flag. They built their city on islands in a shallow muddy part of lake Texcoco, and used the experience of the local people to expand the city by making artificial islands that were separated by canals. The location of the pyramids in the model is now the centre of Mexico City. Notice also that you can see the two mountains in the picture.

Casa De Los Azulejos
This building in the centre of Mexico City is covered in tiles (known as Azulejos) and I think it looks more like something I would expect to see in Istanbul. According to wikipedia the house belonged to a woman who lived in Puebla (a city to the east of Mexico City) and who moved back to Mexico city when her husband died. She had the house decorated with expensive tiles from Puebla to show the family’s wealth.

Inside the house now is a small department store and a couple of restaurants. I walked passed here on the evening and there was a woman on the top floor balcony singing opera (a bit random).

The food was pretty good. I had Burritos Norteños (66 pesos, £3.30), with a cold chocolate drink (not really a milk shake).

Since we are on the theme of food, this is something else I ate in another restaurant in Mexico City. This is Sopa Azteca (Aztec Soup), and it was really nice, I think I might have to try and make it some time when I get home. The soup has a tomato base with various spices, chipotle chilies (the dark things), shredded and fried strips of maize tortillas and Oaxacan cheese.

Calle de Donceles (Camera Shops)
There’s a street in Mexico City with a load of camera stores (in the city, similar stores seem to group together on the same street, so you’ll have a street for bookstores too), many of them selling old film cameras, so of course I spent some time looking at all of the cameras, but I only ended up buying one, an Olypmus Pen EE. I’ve wanted one of these for a while now. It’s a 35mm half frame camera, which means the size of the picture on the negative is only half the size of a standard 35mm camera (split vertically so when held normally the camera takes a portrait picture). Since the picture is only half the size, you can get twice as many picture on a roll of film. I’m testing it out with a 36 exp. film, so I’ll be able to get 72 shots on the film.

Public Transport
I’m just ending up with random pictures now. It’s not the best picture, but this what they call a microbus, and I think it looks something from an 80’s futuristic sci-fi movie like Total Recall. I rode on one of these buses and I couldn’t stand up straight because my head would touch the roof, and when I sat down I had to sit sideways on the seat because there wasn’t enough leg room, so not the most comfortable bus ride, but at least it only cost 3 pesos (about 15 pence). Alfonso told me that people in Mexico City complain that public transport is expensive, but most other places I’ve been to in Mexico you pay between 5-6 pesos to take the bus.

Mexico city has a good metro system which makes it easier to find your way around, since the buses aren’t easy to work out. The metro cost 3 pesos for a journey, the same as the bus. The metro can get very busy and I’ve been told you need to be careful when it’s crowed because it’s easier for people to steal stuff out of your pockets and bag. I even noticed that some locals wore their bags on the front when riding the metro. Thankfully I didn’t have any problems. The weird thing that I noticed about the metro was that the trains have rubber tyres (you can see them in the picture) and ride on a wide rail, then it has extra wheels on the side that run against a barrier to keep the train on the rails. I’m not sure what is wrong with regular train wheels.

Some of the metro stations have little museum exhibitions in them like this one. I think these are probably replicas rather than originals.

Monumento a la Revolución
This is the Revolution Monument. It was supposed to be a building to house the government but construction was stopped by the revolution, so instead they turned it into a monument. There is an observation deck at the top at a height of 65m.

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