Jim first met Katiti Kironde on our front steps in Boston about five years ago. They hit it off immediately and then ran into each other on the street or steps a few more times. Jim very wisely collected her contact information at one of the initial meetings and invited her to our annual Christmas Open House. She first attended in 2015 with her husband Bill Winder at which time we realized that we had friends in common who were also at the party and we have been fast friends ever since.
Bill and Katiti have so far visited us in Paris and New York City. We were supposed to be in Seville Spain for these three months but diverted to CDMX after running into visa issues for the EU. Bill and KK already had flight reservations for Seville and will be there without us in April. In spite of the screw up with Seville and initial fear of Mexico City they still came to see us here for a week. They arrived about 3pm on Tuesday February 19 and hit the ground running. After a quick orientation to their suite here we grabbed an Uber to the Palais des Bellas Artes and showed them the magnificent murals by Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros.
This was only our second viewing of the murals which are well worth a return visit as they are so detailed and tell such wonderful stories. We then walked them through the Centro Historico hitting places that we have now seen numerous times such as the Italianate Main Post Office, the blue tiled original Sanborns, the Churrigueresquian Church of San Francisco and the cacophony of the main pedestrian street Avenida Francisco I. Madero. We had reservations at El Balcón del Zocalo where we have eaten several times before as we wanted them to see the huge main square, Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace from above. On arrival our outdoor seating was delayed by at least 20 minutes due to a very smoky fire in an adjacent building. Once we were finally let onto the terrace and seated the ambience was quickly destroyed by a news helicopter circling directly overhead for another 20 minutes. The food was good but the service was very poor, so what has been a favorite place to bring guests is now probably off of our list.
Day two with K & B is another beautiful day and we start with a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs from our outdoor kitchen on the deck. The rest of the day was a series of Mexico City adventures beginning with a one half hour public transit bus ride to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The first miracle that we encountered was a local Mexican woman who seeing our perplexed interaction with the bus ticket machine stopped to help us. When she could not get a bus pass out of the machine herself she just gave us her card, refusing any reimbursement for the card itself or the funds she already had on it, thus giving us even more appreciation for how loving and kind these Mexican people are.
The bus ride itself was a bit of a trip as the buses have their own lane and they just fly even though they are extended flexible vehicles. Katiti and Sandy sat in the pink zone which is for women and children, otherwise known as the “No groping” area.
The second miracle was as we walked from the bus stop to the shrine Jim was offered a sample of fresh tiny pancake treat which he took and she refused to take any money. There was a lot of information about Our Lady of Guadalupe in our last blog which we will not repeat. The shrine was very different today than on our previous visits as there were literally hundreds of tents and tarpaulins covering every available inch of space.
Apparently whole cities in México make pilgrimages here at certain assigned times during the year. We were told that these people had taken one week to walk here from a city about two hours drive time from this shrine. There are hourly masses and they apparently have a schedule for who attends when as there are 10,000 people here.
We also spent much more time here as it is our first visit without a guide, we are the guides today. We visited all six Basilica’s and churches on the site starting with the newest and largest and then working our way up Tepeyac hill to the small original Cathedral.
Sandy has now been here three times and Jim twice. We would definitely recommend a tour as this is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world.
Our plan was to take the bus back to the Diego Rivera Mural Museum on the edge of Alameda Central Park in Centro Historoco. Unfortunately our third miracle occurred when Jim, the human GPS, failed us and could not find the correct bus. We took a CDMX taxi to the museum only to find that all but one of the murals were out on loan to another museum somewhere. So we just had some margaritas and wandered the park. The outdoor scene here is so vibrant with loads of families, and people of all ages enjoying the parks and outdoor restaurants, cafes and bars.
Day three we walk to Chapultepec Park and up the hill to the highest point in Mexico City to see the castle. Entrance is free for seniors which is nice as this is our third visit here, once with a guide and once to listen to a free Sunday piano recital. This is definitely on our must see list for any visitors to this city. We also found a new museum in the castle which we had been unaware of on our prior visits. The National Museum of History hosts twelve showrooms that house objects from various stages in Mexican history, including the foundation of the Spanish Empire (known in Mexico as “The Conquest”), the New Spain and the Viceregal era (known in Mexico as “The Colonial epoch”), the Mexican War of Independence, the Reform movement and the Revolution of 1910. This is a very well done and informative museum, definitely recommended if you have the time while visiting the castle.
After the Castle we walked through the park looking for just a little snack of street food. We did find an outdoor cafe where we ordered tacos and a tlacoyo for Jim. Anyone planning a trip to Mexico should read and memorize The Eater Guide, Every single thing you need to know about Mexican street food. It will help immensely in ordering from street vendors to bars and cafes to fancy restaurants. We walked across Paseo de la Reforma to the National Museum of Anthropology, our third visit. This museum is still within Chapultepec Park and is the largest and most visited museum in Mexico. The monumental building contains 23 exhibition rooms for exhibits surrounding a courtyard with a huge pond and a vast square aluminum umbrella supported by a single slender concrete pillar known as “el paraguas”, Spanish for “the umbrella”. The halls are ringed by gardens, many of which contain outdoor exhibits. The museum is very well done and deserves many revisits as tickets are only $7.50 US. We were fortunately snagged by a guide on the way in which made the visit so much more interesting. Lucio Jesús García is an Anthropologist and Tour guide. For not much money he gave us a one hour tour amazing us with his knowledge of the artifacts and Pre-Columbian history. We definitely recommend either arranging tours in advance or spontaneously accepting the offers of tour guides hanging around the entrances to many historic sites around the world.
Bill & Katiti liked Lucio so much that they hired him to take them in his car to Teotihuacan a few days later for about half the price of other formal tour companies. Day 4, Friday is a down day as Bill has contracted a bit of Montezuma’s revenge from getting just a little too daring at one of the previously described street food experiences. Actually we had planned a dinner party on our terrace for Bill & Katiti to meet Miguel & Ivonne so Jim, Sandy and Katiti spent the day in preparation. (See CDMX week 3, new friends and CDMX week 4, San Miguel de Allende) We had a great time Friday evening and the two couples hit it off quite well with no political or religious squabbles even though they did discuss both and they are all political junkies.
Day 5, Saturday, we take Katiti & Bill to San Angel for breakfast at Saks and to experience the wonderful Bazaar Sabado which we have experienced too many times now. We walk them to the House Museum of Diego and Frida where we leave them on their own and we return home. Sunday is a big day with a lot of activities planned. We booked an Airbnb experience titled “Enjoy Xochimilco, colors and flavors”. Xochimilco in southern Mexico City is a gritty working-class neighborhood which contains the famous canals of Xochimilco, the last remnants of a vast water transport system built by the Aztecs where colorful gondola-like boats take visitors on cruises while food vendors, artisans and mariachi bands float past. The atmosphere is festive, especially on weekends and we were there on Sunday. We met our guide Juan Carlos at Museo Dolores Olmeda which is truly a hidden gem. Dolores Olmeda was a Mexican business woman, philanthropist and musician who purchased this estate in 1962 and then converted it into a museum in 1994. This five building complex has beautiful gardens containing numerous peacocks, geese, ducks and Mexican hairless dogs known as Xoloitzcuintles. Even though we were there on a Saturday the museum was not crowded and the displays of art are truly amazing and well done in the setting of a grand Méxican estate. We would certainly add this to a must see list for Mexico City.
When we finished the lovely museum our host Juan Carlos put us all in Uber’s and sent us to a large flower market which we walked through on the way to Bosque De Nativitas which is a park frequented by families horseback riding, picnicking and barbecuing.
We walked through this park on the way to Embarcadero Nativitas Zacapa to board a trajinera which is a flat bottomed boat made of planks and is mainly used as a tourist attraction. The boats are very colorfully painted and have tables and chairs for serving meals and drinks and is moved along by punting, using a long rough hewn piece of wood. We had expectations of floating through beautiful gardens but what we experienced was a circus of bumper boats. It was hard to tell that one was in a canal as there were just wall to wall boats packed with mostly Méxican families, mariachi bands and the ever-present hawkers selling their wares from smaller boats. The tour was billed as “all you can drink” and we were plied with tequila, mezcal, beer and …..Juan Carlos daughter and her boyfriend made us some sopas and chicken with mole sauce while we drank and partied. It was actually quite fun as we had made friends with our tour mates. A nurse/doctor couple from Chicago and a family from Toronto who have been to Mexico City numerous times. They first came on their honeymoon and have been returning ever since with their son Hugo.
The tour was billed as 3.5 hours which should have gotten us home at 3:30 as we had tickets for a Faust Opera at the Arts Palace at 5:00. We did not arrive home until 5:00 so the Opera was ditched in favor of watching the Oscars in Spanish. The Oscar’s were a big deal here as the local movie Roma had 10 nominations and ended up winning three Oscars.
Bill and Katiti spent most of Monday and Tuesday touring by themselves. They went to Teotihuacan with their tour guide Lucius on Monday which is a full day. On Tuesday they went to Casa Azul to see Frida Kahlo’s home and went to the National Palace to see Diego’s famous murals there. They found another guide at the National Palace who gave them in depth explanation of the murals which is a nice thing to do. We took a nice Tuesday evening stroll to the house in Roma where the movie was filmed.
Wednesday morning we made another large breakfast and saw our friends off in a taxi before we headed out for more exploring of our neighborhood. It is so nice having friends come to visit as we get to make new discoveries with them and then seeing this wonderful country through new eyes every week keeps us aware of just how fortunate we are to be here continuing to live our fantasy life.