Bomb diggs hotel breakfast
First off, breakfast was included with our hotel and that alone was a production. After being served strong coffee and fresh squeezed mandarin juice, we were offered a selection of pastries (I recommend the chocolate scone) and fresh fruit before picking an entree from a menu of traditional Mexican breakfast dishes: chilaquiles, enchiladas, mole, huevos divorciados and my personal favorite, cazuales - poached eggs cooked in salsa with vegetables. Needless to say we were well fueled for a day of sightseeing.
Our first stop was El Museo Nacional de Antropologia, where we learned about everything from prehistoric Mexico through modern times. It was absolutely flabbergasting to relearn how Hernan Cortés and his motley crew of a few hundred soldiers toppled the Aztec empire through treachery, manipulation and the fact that Montezuma thought he was a god... and all the more poignant to read about the history on the exact land it took place on.
Umbrella fountain of the Anthropology Museum
After brushing up on our Mexican history we headed to Ciudadela, a massive open air market full of art, jewelery, clothes and other souvenirs. Whereas a lot of these kinds of markets are full of cheap kitsch made in China, Ciudadela had mostly things hand made within the country. The vendors were rather reserved, not pushy at all but also not particularly interested in bargaining. These qualities combined with an excellent exchange rate made for a very pleasant shopping experience, which means a lot coming from me because I generally hate shopping.
After buying lots of souvenirs (I knew you always wanted a Mexican wrestling mask, Mom) we headed to the Palacio Nacional for some more culture. We walked through the Plaza Mayor - the biggest plaza in the world if I remember correctly - and ended up in a massive Catholic church. Not exactly what we were looking for but cool all the same. After some hunting around and Google Mapping we found the Palacio Nacional and awe-inspiring murals painted by Diego Rivera. Perhaps his most famous work known casually as the "Stairway Mural" sits atop the staircase and portrays 500 years of tumultuous Mexican history.
Not only was Rivera a masterful painter, but his commentaries in the form of art gave a people with a bloody history of enslavement and colonialism their first view of an indigenous culture to be proud of. His paintings from the 1920s through the 1940s were the first to show the indigenous people as a proud and sophisticated society, criticized the Spanish and American governments, somewhat romanticized the Mexican Revolution and absolutely romanticized socialism and communism. I'm no expert on Rivera but that his paintings could give me goosebumps nearly 100 years after their creation means their messages have withstood the tests of time and are still absolutely relevant. I can only imagine the emotional outrage, pride and turmoil these works of art created when they were unveiled to the public. I suppose one could think of them as a mid-century form of social media.
Tired yet? Yeah, it was a big day. After the Palacio Nacional - which not to mention was also Cortes's headquarters as well as where the famous grito which declared Mexico's independence from Spain was shouted (rich history no?) - we hit up one last museum and walked through the park before returning to the hotel to clean up for dinner.
We had dinner at a posh restaurant close to the hotel in Polanco. Anna's friend from high school who moved to Mexico City ten years ago joined us, and it was fun to dig in with a local about what it's like to live in the city. He told us that everybody has their own hustle because if you work for someone else you won't make any money, and he makes ties for a living. After dinner he, Anna and I went out for drinks and then went back to his house where he taught me how to use his sewing machine (terrible idea after lots of drinks). Staying in fancy hotels is great but so is going to a local's house and seeing how people live day to day.
I only know that I arrived back to the hotel at 2:43 AM because I took an Uber back, all the way across the city for the bargain price of 80 pesos ($4). What a life, eh?