Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Weekend South of the Border (Part 2 of 3)

Upon arriving in Mexico City and settling into our hotel, our first stop: finding some authentic, local food. We didnt have to venture far to find the first of the taco stands, enchilada carts and bebida "drink" vendors. 
So many choices, only so much room in our tummies! This place looked great:

the locals, everything from business men in their slick suits and ties, to groups of children to the elderly were swarming around this family-run cart just outside one of the subway stations. We observed, decided we had try one or three ("When in Rome", right?) and spent the next twenty mintutes wondering whether there was some sort of  a line, or whether you just had to yell out your order when there was a rare quiet moment. 
I guess the process was to wait your turn, the 'mama' of the family would then get to you and hand you a plate. Then she would ask you what you wanted (our first order was 'pollo' (chicken), the second 'carnita'(pork) and I ordered the third one - 'queso' (cheese), although somehow I ended up with spinach. Hmm.)
The girl above in the photo would scoop out corn tortilla mix and put a blob in this machine and flatten it, only to throw it immediately on the hot flat grill to cook. Then, they would  put on top  your choice of meat and the condiments would be left up to you: lime, cilantro, onions, habanero, red salsa, green salsa, jalepenos... you name it. 
Fold the whole thing in half and pop it in your mouth...voila! Hot, spicy (or not) deliciousness!

Our bellies full and we continued our walk to Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Forest, or really, it was more of a huge park, complete with Zoo, market, water paddles and Aztec statues). So many cute squirrels ran across our path!

And did I mention yet how beautiful the flowers were?

In fact, this park ended up being so big (686 ha to be exact!) that we spent the rest of the afternoon here: exploring, meeting some locals and looking at the many commemorative sculptures.
Below is one of these sculptures, that was erected in recognition of the ancient Aztec rulers, who would use this park as a 'retreat' in pre-Hispanic time.

We had explored our local area and had had a fabulous dinner thatevening at a lively, colorful and extremely busy locals restaurant. With my throat hurting and nose running, I was thankful that soup was not only popular, but a staple in the Mexican diet.

Day 2

The next morning, after a little sleep in, we set on our way to head downtown to the historical district. Little did we know that the 30th International Mexico City marathon was taking place, so no buses were running... well, we thought, lets just take the Metro.
We were greeted with sunshine and blue skies when we left the hotel, and for the first time since arriving a little warmth tickled our noses. As we headed in the direction of Chapultepec Forest, beautiful, wealthy residential houses lined the street on both sides. 

We did not have to walk far to see and hear the marathon on in full force! People of all ages, shapes, sizes...some with their dogs and babies in strollers in tow - Geoff and I grabbed a tamale from a couple of children with a street van for breakfast and people-watched for a little while. (A tamale is a Mexican dish of seasoned meat wrapped in cornmeal dough and steamed  in corn husks. We had a 'verde'  - chicken with green sauce made with tomatillos and a 'mole' - chicken with red chilli sauce)

Upon finishing our tamales, we decided we would walk alongside the marathon for a little while, as there seemed to be a lot of activities going, the sights were beautiful!

Next stop: local market for a second breakfast and a cup of Atole. Everywhere we went, corner vendors were ladling this hot chocolate looking drink out of a huge pot sitting on a gas burner into Styrofoam cups. We were curious as to what exactly it was, so once again, Geoff and I got one of each - the champurrado (chocolate Atole) and a Horchata (hot rice milk drink with cinnamon). Sweet, thick and oh so good! :-)

We continued to venture on, stopping at multiple market stalls, sampling some local fruits and soaking up the scenery of the crumbling ruins and beautiful architecture.

Mexico City is renowned for its many statues, monuments and symbolic structures. Perhaps the most popular street to capture as many of these as possible is Avenida Reforma. 
This sculpture and fountain, Diana the Huntress, was erected in 1942, and was the very of the city's many symbols created to 'beautify' the city.

El Angel  de la Independencia (The Angel of Independence) was built to commemorate the centennial of the beginning of Mexico's War of Independence, celebrated in 1810.
It has now become a focal point for both celebration and protest.

After 6 long hours of walking, we finally reached our destination: downtown Mexico City. 
Plaza de la Constitución or  'Zócalo' to the locals is the main square and heart of downtown Mexico City. Since Aztex times, this area has been a gathering place for Mexicans, having been the site for many protests, royal proclamations, military parades, ceremonies and many religious events. At 57,600 square meters, this is one of the largest city squares in the entire world.
So what makes up the Square? We have the Cathedral, National Palace, Federal District building, Templo Mayor (more on that later) and Old Portal de Mercaderes (historic market). In other words, a feast of sights waiting to be explored!

Hm, this scene is a little reminiscent of China... 'Hey, look! A blonde person!!!' The moment Geoff and I walked up to this buskers show in Zócalo, I was immediately pulled into his circle and became the main attraction. What I did understand of him saying to me was something along the lines of whether I like tequila and which penthouse suite he was staying in! 
(Maybe I really should start charging people to take photos of me, the blondie)

Here are a few shots from the impressive Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest and oldest Cathedral in all of Latin America. The building of this beautiful gothic structure began in the 16th Century and has been partially torn down, rebuilt and added to multiple time. Today, is a blend of baroque, neoclassic, and Mexican churrigueresque architecture.

The sights of historical Mexico City did not stop in the popular tourist areas. Despite aching feet/knees/backs, we just couldn't help ourselves, we needed to keep exploring. Our further venturing took us to the back streets and 'less travelled' roads of Mexico this was where the authentic culture of today's Mexico could be found. 
A scoop of 7 peso (53 U.S c) Helado (icecream) keep us going as we explored, tested our Spanish speaking to the max and worked our way through old city blocks. Groups of children would surround and enjoy the sounds street musicians, elderly men could be seen sitting in squares and playing board games whilst smoking cigars whilst women, dressed in their bright colored, hand made sweaters were complaining to each-other about the price of vegetables at road side stalls.

Just one more thing to check off our Mexico City list... and that was Templo Mayor. This temple used to be one of the main temples of the Aztects in their capital city of Tenochtitlan, which is now Mexico City. Construction of this temple began in 1325, and has since been rebuilt 6 times. In 1521, the temple was destroyed by the Spanish, however the ruins can still be visited today.
Here is the link to the official site:
However, it is in Spanish. The English version just gives a very brief overview of their museum. As much as I do not like to recommend Wiki, their write up on Templo Mayor is actually quite comprehensive and as far as I learnt, accurate also.

View of the Cathedral from Templo Mayor

One last look at the inside of the Cathedral before we left downtown

A well-deserved Sopa Azteca (Aztec Soup) and Sangria after 10 hours of straight walking/standing! Salud!!

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