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Travel diaries: Once upon a time in Mexico

Town of treasures Mexico City is filled with ancient and colonial structures that lend it timeless charm  

Arrive

Our vacation in Mexico City began in one of the most popular beach towns, Puerto Vallarta. Hot, humid and laid back, this town, reminiscent of Puducherry, gave out island vibes with its beach shacks and rocky promenade. But a short 48 hours was all we had, and we soaked it all in with watermelon margaritas and fresh enchiladas. The next day, we took an hour-long flight to Mexico City.

Day 1

9 AM

Mexico City is up and bustling early. It is warm but windy, since the city is at a height of 7,200 feet above sea level. It is a proud metropolis surrounded by volcanoes and mountains, with an easy air that welcomes anyone new. We arrive at our Airbnb in an older part of town and have breakfast at one of the city’s most popular joints, El Cardenal. Huevos rancheros and tamales are downed with hot coffee and freshly-squeezed juice. Fresh baked croissants and buns are in constant supply the entire time.

Noon

We walk the narrow streets of the city centre, taking in the historic architecture and smells of the city, stopping now and then to try some tacos and chilli lime peanuts. We visit the Diego Rivera museum, which pays respect to the popular Mexican painter and artist and also the Palacio de Bellas Artes, which is an important part of the city’s landscape and its art history.

Travel diaries: Once upon a time in Mexico

2 PM

We arrive at the Metropolitan Cathedral, just next to the Zocalo, or town square, where we start our free walking tour. Cactus Walking Tour is a company that offers free two-hour tours that take you through the city’s most important buildings and its history. Our guide, Diego, is a History major at the local university and tells us riveting tales of ancient Mexico and its Aztec past.

Travel diaries: Once upon a time in Mexico

During the tour, we visit the cathedral, the Museo del Templo Mayor (which houses ancient Aztec ruins), Palacio Nacional and the Basilica of Guadalupe, among other older parts of the city.

4 PM

We stop by at the Casa de Los Azulejos (House of Tiles), which is now a restaurant, for a quick bite. The food doesn’t burst with flavour and is serviced lukewarm, but the saving grace is the fresh coffee and spiced cocoa. We also visit a flea market nearby to pick up some souvenirs, clay mugs, postcards and tiny Frida Kahlo dolls.

7 PM

Mexico City has a variety of food to pick from, but we want to try the local food. We go in search of one of the new trends in the city — vegan tacos. La Pitahaya Vegana, a tiny restaurant with long wait lines, is our stop for the evening. The taco shells here are pink, infused with hibiscus, and all the classics like Al Pastor and Carnitas are served with non-meat alternatives. The tacos are scrumptious and we polish them off even before we know it.

9 PM

We hear that tickets to the La Casa Azul, artist Frida Kahlo’s home, must be purchased beforehand to avoid the long, winding lines. So we book the first slot and drift off to sleep, looking forward to a long second day.

Day 2

9 AM

The line outside La Casa Azul is intimidating, to say the least. After a quick breakfast of acai bowls at a corner restaurant, we rush to join the lines, purchasing coconut water and bookmarks from the street vendors. The house opens at 10 am, and we stand in the queue for the first slot. When we enter, we explore the art gallery that houses early paintings by Frida and the story of her childhood and life in her home. The museum-cum-home displays many artefacts from her life — the bed she was limited to after her accident, the desk where she worked, her kitchen and the bedroom she shared with Diego Rivera. There is also a special show about her fashion sense and how she developed a look that was just hers.

11 AM

We rent a car and proceed to the ancient Mesoamerican pyramids that are on the outskirts of Mexico City. The Teotihuacan pyramids were among the biggest ancient cities in the world, dating back to 400 BC. The name roughly translates to ‘where the gods resided’. The origins of Teotihuacan are a mystery. It contains elements and styles of different cultures, including the Mayans, Mixtec and Zapotecs. Even though there was evidence of the city as early as 400 BC, the largest building was not constructed until 300 AD.

Travel diaries: Once upon a time in Mexico

The city has many important structures, some of which still exist as ruins — the Pyramid of the Moon, the Pyramid of the Sun, the Ciudadela (“Citadel”) and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (the Feathered Serpent). We climb to the top of the Sun Pyramid from where we get a panoramic view of the ruins below. We spend the rest of the afternoon walking the Avenue of the Dead, which is the road that connects these important buildings.

6 PM

Among Mexico City’s list of museums is a small, offbeat chocolate museum, detailing the country’s history of cocoa. We head there first and find that it is only a couple of rooms with barely any English captions, so we content ourselves by heading to the museum store and ordering a large cup of Mexican hot chocolate. Yes, chocolate is definitely a part of Mexico’s heritage.

We land up next at Lardo, a modern French café that serves exotic pizzas. We pick a spinach-and-parmesan cheese pizza topped with fresh figs and pine nuts. The cheese is creamy, the vegetables are fresh and the icing are the fresh figs that melt in our mouth. We also order a dessert of figs with ricotta cheese and date syrup. Yum!

9 PM

It’s time to bid adieu to the city and so we leave for our flight, finding our way to the last gate at the very end of the city’s airport. Ten minutes later, we are directed to another gate. And then, another one. Finally, 15 minutes before take off, we board our flight. Farewell, Mexico City. It was great knowing you.


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