Architecture,  Food & Drink,  Travels

Gracias, Mexico City

Last week I had the honor and pleasure of visiting Mexico City with a friend of mine. For the month ahead of the trip, we brushed up on our Spanish skills on Duolingo to prepare for the trip. I had taken three years of Spanish in high school but that was many eons ago. Some of it came back quickly, and some of it was a cloudy memory. Starting to get a little concerned about two weeks before the trip, I searched the percentage of people that speak English in Mexico City and the consensus was around 5-10%. After reading this, I hit the lessons a little harder every day, and before I knew it, it was time to travel.

The excitement of visiting Mexico for the first time won over any language hesitations that I had, so on the morning of my flight I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, even though I had to wake up at two a.m. It was also my daughter’s birthday, but she had already planned another trip with her boyfriend, so for the first time, we spent her birthday apart. The craziest thing was that two of my daughter’s friends were on my flight, and we didn’t even realize it before we saw each other at the airport!

My friend and I met on our connecting flight in Dallas, and on that flight I was lucky enough to sit next to a nice, older couple who had lived in Mexico City for 25 years, and who gave me a handwritten list of places to see, which included the Historic City Center, Diego and Frida studio, the San Ángel Inn, and the House of Tiles, among other places. My friend had done some research on his own and wanted to know about the Roma Norte and La Condesa areas, and the couple replied that they were both lovely places for walking around, dining, and shopping. They also gave me some tips for the trip, recommending that as a tourist I don’t take a taxi or public transportation, that I don’t drink the water (they said yes, this is a very real thing), and that I needed to make an effort to speak Spanish while visiting.

We landed in Mexico City around noon and had to go through immigration next. This was super easy because there were no lines and the attendant spoke English. We ordered an Uber to get to the hotel and I saw Mexico City for the first time. The city was bustling with energy and bursting with colors. The streets were so busy that I immediately thought that I would never be able to drive here. One thing that I loved from the start is how many of the streets were covered in a canopy of mature trees. The tree canopy covering much of the city, in fact, was muy hermosa! Tropical plants also lined the streets, many with colorful flowers adding pops to the cityscape.

Hola! Mexico City | Everything Jeni

While checking into the hotel, my friend, who was more worried about drinking the water than I was, got a glass of water from a pitcher in the hotel lobby. I asked him about it and he said he thought it would be fine to get water at the hotel since it was a nice Hyatt. It did look very refreshing with ice and grapefruit slices, but I opted to stick with my carton of water that I still had from the airport.

After settling in, we went to get some food. My friend is vegan and found a taco place called Pali Pali, a pretty little green and pink vegan taco restaurant. I loved the colors and ambiance of the place, which had wide open windows with no screens. I would later find out that most places had open doors and open windows without screens, and even though it was in the 70s and 80s Fahrenheit while we were there, I didn’t see any bugs except for butterflies. The protein was soybean, and I didn’t even notice that it tasted different than meat while we were eating. It was definitely the best vegan protein I’ve had yet.

Here we got our first crash course in language immersion. We thought we were doing okay, but there was a menu item called “Assorted Tacos” and we thought that meant that we could choose three different tacos, but no, it actually meant that the tacos had assorted proteins, so in trying to order different kinds of tacos, we actually ordered several different taco plates. My friend said, “the language barrier is real!” The staff could tell that we didn’t speak Spanish very well and had a waitress who spoke broken English help us, and between our limited Spanish and her English, we managed to tell them it was okay and we got to-go tacos for a late hotel snack and breakfast the next day.

After lunch, we went to the historic city center of Mexico City, where the sun was setting on the old buildings. The square of the The Zócalo or Plaza de la Constitución with the historic City Hall pictured was busy with sounds of music from all around, kids flying toy planes, and heavy foot traffic. All of the buildings in this area known as “Cuauhtémoc” are magnificent, and most were built between the 16th and 20th centuries. This location is where Spaniards starting building today’s Mexico City atop the Aztec ruins of Tenochtitlan. The area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Surrounding the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City’s historic district, indigenous people were performing smoke ceremonies, trinkets were laid out for buyers, and tarot and palm readers lined the sidewalks.

After exploring the city center, we went to House of Tiles, a pretty tiled building with food and shopping inside.

The next morning we rose early, feeling good, and ready for a full day of exploring. We started in Roma Norte, which was absolutely gorgeous on this Sunday morning. The area was indeed lovely, the weather was perfect, birds were chirping, and bicyclists were riding through the streets.

In Roma Norte, we had breakfast at a cute vegan café called “I Quit.” We were more careful ordering this time, and our breakfast was a success! I got a horchata coffee and an almond flour biscuit cookie and my friend got a chai tea latte and toast with beans and vegetables. Every time something came out of the kitchen, we gave a “gracias” to the waitress with surety. We were confident in “gracias,” things were going well and we were thankful. My friend said “we have that word down!”

Next, we went to the Frida Kahlo museum, but didn’t realize that you had to get a ticket way in advance, so I just got a picture of the exterior. After this, we went to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s studio, with Diego Rivera’s house across the street. This was another beautiful area, with the San Ángel Inn on the corner. Also, Frida Khalo’s studio was getting renovated so we didn’t get to see it, but we got to see Diego Rivera’s which was incredible being up close and personal to his works and art spaces!

After this we went to beautiful Chapultepec Park (Bosque de Chapultepec), where we took a long uphill walk to reach Chapultepec Castle, once inhabited by monarchs. This is the first castle I’ve been to so I was excited! The castle also houses the National History Museum, and it was packed on this Sunday. There were many street vendors in the park, so after the castle I enjoyed some fresh watermelon with chili and lime – so good!

My friend found the perfect place for us to visit after the park, Hello Kitty Café Chateau!! This place was the cutest ever! I don’t think he knew what he was in for when he suggested it, but I was in awe. I kept thinking of how much my daughter would love this, too, and that I’d have to take her to one someday.

After a light snack of salmon toast for me and salad for him, we went to a modern art museum. By this time, my phone had died so I didn’t get any pictures, but it had a lot of Greek statues, some ancient Greek, and didn’t seem very modern. My friend’s phone died at this point, too, and we could both stand to freshen up, so we went back to the hotel. We walked into the lobby and there was cold grapefruit water greeting us in the lobby. It looked so good and I was so thirsty at this point after walking all day that I went ahead and got a glass. After all, my friend was okay after having some the day before.

After freshening up, we headed to Roma Norte to eat at a Nepali place in a food court there, since my friend is from Nepal. He and the owner struck up a conversation, and were so happy to be talking in their native language that I wondered off to get a mojito. When I came back, we were served beautiful plates of momos, also a first for me, and my friend’s favorite food. We headed to La Condesa for a night stroll and man it was a lovely night for a stroll. I’m glad I got to see the city in the morning, the daytime, and late into the evening.

The next morning we decided that we had to get churros for breakfast; we couldn’t leave Mexico without trying some churros first, so we got some delicious churros at Churrería El Moro Condesa. My friend had a lot of great plans, but at this point I wasn’t feeling well and went back to the hotel. I stayed in bed all day with the chills while he explored the city, and I’m glad he had a good time because I felt bad but I did not have the energy to explore. Maybe it was all the walking in the sunshine and up the castle hill that we did the previous day (which happened to be my third highest step day at 14,148 steps) or maybe it was the hotel water I drank, but this baby was not going anywhere. I’m really not sure that I could have made it to the airport that day.

The next day, I could and did make it to the airport, and was so relieved that I could make it. It was a long journey home, with two flights, again, two immigration checks, and the U.S. line was 45 minutes long, a 45 minute drive, and one last stop to pick up my cats from boarding before finally arriving home around five p.m. The trip was truly incredible, but it always feels good to be back home.

Looking back on it, there was so much more we could have seen if we’d have taken a few more days, but I feel like we packed a lot of great adventures into the short time we had. I loved every bit of it, the culture, the people, and the amazing times spent together. As for Spanish, I may visit another Spanish speaking country next year, so I’m going to continue with the Duolingo lessons. But one thing’s for sure, nothing compares to the real, immersive experience! Gracias, Mexico City!

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