Mexico City – Big City, Big Culture, Big Pyramids, Big birthdays

Pulling into the central bus station in Mexico City we started realizing just how big the city is. The experience was more like an international airport than any bus station we had been to. The population of Mexico City, inclusive of its suburbs, is 21.2 million people making it the most populous city in the Western hemisphere. The city is alive with energy, hustle, and bustle. Similar to walking into Time Square in New York, walking along the Francisco I. Madero Avenue is people central. The avenue is a giant walking street lined by wall to wall shops, restaurants, and people. Relaxing at a nice vegetarian restaurant overlooking Francisco Madero was an excellent spot to people watch and start soaking in La ciudad (the city).

Catching our first glimpse of the Torre Latinamericana we knew that we would be back to visit this iconic Mexican skyscraper. Sitting at 597 feet in height, it is infamous for being the tallest completed building in Mexico for almost 30 years, in addition to being constructed in an area susceptible to seismic activity. In 1985 an 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck Mexico City and the massive building came away with no structural damage whatsoever. An amazing feat of human engineering.

The views from the top are simply breathtaking and sipping martinis in the rooftop bar was certainly an experience we will not forget (but maybe if we had a couple more martinis we might have!). For those looking to reach the top for cheap, simply stop at the floor below the lookout location to avoid the steep cost to get to the top. From there go up one floor from the 41st floor, and there is a bar that is perfect for cocktails or drinks while watching the sunset.

Getting around in Mexico City we were are usual outgoing selves and took public transportation where we could to keep transportation costs as low as possible. If you haven’t ridden the Mexican Metro system, then you are in for a “treat”. As we worked our way to San Lazaro station, we noticed the lines started being split with men on one side and women/children on the other. What’s happening here? As we got to our stop we immediately understood. The subway arrived literally packed full and what ensued was a mass of humanity surging with ferocity towards the opening doors. Maybe three people got on despite the surge to the entrance. Men literally had their faces, hands, and legs pressed against the glass of the doors the subway was so full. Now I understand why the women and children have a separate entrance. As the train takes off each car is equally packed. A man next to us calmly sips his Monster energy drink and smiles knowingly, “First time to Mexico City?”, we laugh together at the insanity.

Continuing our trend of finding engaging museums we visited three of Mexico City’s gems, the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Templo Mayor, and Casa Azul in Coyoacan. Each offered a small piece of the rich culture that permeates throughout Mexico city, from ancient Mesoamerican to modern art. The entrance to the Museo Nacional de Antropologia immediately shocks you with a giant waterfall fountain flanked on either side by wide open exhibits.

Our advice? Don’t go without a meal in your belly like we did. We were there for 3 hours and it wasn’t enough to make our way through the 24 different exhibits that range in material from the migrations of early peoples to the American continent to a deep dive into the wide range of Mesoamerican cultures that helped develop Mexico into the country that it is today.

Templo Mayor with Cathedral in backdrop

A consistent theme that popped up at nearly every ancient site was the impact of the Spanish conquistadores and ensuing Catholic monasteries on some important historical sites. Templo Mayor is one of many sites where Spanish conquistadores built a cathedral on top of what was a very ancient temple. This particular site is in the heart of Mexico City flanked by the Palace and the Cathedral in the jaw dropping Zocalo.

What makes Templo Mayor particularly interesting is the many slices of history that are view able from its site. As new kings came to power, they would build upon the temple a new layer increasing its size and extravagance. For archaeologists, it is like peeling an onion as each layer shows the signs specific to the dates when it was built. At one point in the exhibit there is a clear cross section of the temple where you can view 400-600 years of history, each peel representing a different time in humanity.

The last museum that we went to was Casa Azul, the home of Frida and Diogo Rivera, the power couple of Mexico. We highly recommend buying a ticket online because waiting for day of expect to wait in a line that averages a 3-4 hour wait to get in.

The exhibit itself showcases a lot about Frida and Diogo’s tumultuous, but incredibly unique life. The two were icons of the time who had all the famous writers, artists, and thinkers from around the world at their home. Frida’s life was a life characterized by pain and suffering. When she was 18 she was in a bus accident where a rail impaled her through her back and out her stomach. Her back broke in 3 different places. The rest of her life she would undergo many surgeries to try and repair her broken body. Some of her more morbid pieces are reflective of her feeling trapped in her broken body. This juxtaposed next to her being a beauty icon in her time shows just how ferocious the spirit of the human soul can be.

So much of our time in Mexico City was special, but perhaps the best day we had was Mandy’s birthday, a trip out to the Teotihuacan, the city of the gods. For one this was the first birthday I have celebrated with Mandy in a foreign country. We have had the good fortune of celebrating mine in several different countries, which is ironic considering many would think it would be the other way around as she is the one which first caught the travel bug with a capital T. The day was full with a pick up at 7:30 in the morning and a drop off around 10pm that night.

The day started with a bang driving out to Teotihuacan, more commonly known as the pyramid of the Sun. This site consists of three major archaeological wonders, the pyramid of the Serpent, the pyramid of the Moon, and the big daddy of the them all the pyramid of the Sun. Our guide gave us a lot of interesting facts but one of the most interesting I thought was that these were remnants of a civilization that we do not know the name of. The Aztecs who when they stumbled upon these feats of construction (which took over 200 years) named the site Teotihuacan, the city of the gods, as no man could have constructed such buildings in their experience. The actual name of this civilization which thrived for 1,000 years which housed embassies from every major civilization in the area is lost. One of the many fascinating things about history is how much we simply do not know yet.

Pyramid of the sun

Being able to climb these pyramids both gave my inner conservationist an alarm bell as well as my inner child a chance to do something I have wanted to since the 3rd grade. Conflicting emotions, yet, my inner child as usual won out as we gawked at the incredible views from the top of the ironically named pyramid of the Sun. The pyramid itself was believed to have been dedicated to the god of rain but the Aztecs named this to align with their deity tree. As with many pre-Hispanic civilizations the god of rain was often the central god, which makes sense considering the importance of the rain to a healthy thriving society. Sun or rain, the size and scope of this pyramid is one that is a must visit.

Mexico City left us wanting to come back. Having been there almost a week we saw some, but certainly not even a full fingernail, of what you can explore in the city. A whirlwind from the beginning, La ciudad de Mexico has interesting sights, culture, antiquity, and people that left us feeling similar to other big cities, just a touch overwhelmed.

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