Thursday, January 25, 2018

A 'Layover Tour' of Mexico City

We landed at Mexico City just in time to catch one of the last free trains before the 11:00 pm closing over to Terminal 2 and checked in at the Hilton, a somewhat dumpy property where we nonetheless slept reasonably well.

The next morning after breakfast we check out and meet Andrés Acosta of Mexico a Pie Tours. He drives us right into the central part of Mexico City, parks in a massive underground garage, and then escorts us on a fascinating walking tour of the old and very historical center.

Andrés points out a 1992 stylized sculpture, El Caballito, as we drive by. Later we'll see another Caballito sculpture.

Once parked in an underground garage, we start (and end) our tour at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. We learn throughout the tour that the seven-term president of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, spent a lot of public money to erect buildings designed by European architects to make Mexico City the equal of other world cities. He certainly succeeded, but he remains a controversial figure and was the impetus for the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.

We look st the Casa de Azulejos, "House of Tiles." It's tiled over three surfaces, probably because the family wanted to show off how wealthy they were.

Andrés later shows us another wealthy house owned by a jealous husband. He forbade his wife from leaving the house when he was away on business, but built a second-floor balcony that stretched around the entire building, so that she could enjoy a walk in the fresh air while remaining inaccessible to his imagined rivals.

We learn that Mexico City was built over a large lake, Lake Texcoco, now a largely drained basin, and many buildings have sunk significantly over the decades, leading to, for example, tilting facades and sloping interior floors. The church below was originally on the same level as the sidewalk we're standing on. Between the lake and the earthquakes, the city's buildings and its inhabitants continue to face many challenges.

We stroll along a lengthy pedestrian mall and then stop by Zócalo, one of the very largest city squares in the world. Its formal name is Plaza de la Constitución.

According to Andrés, only China's Tiananmen Square and Moscow's Red Square are larger.

Our next stop is the Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the Americas, where we first admire a statue by Francisco Martinez of the revered Pope John Paul II, who made numerous visits to Mexico. The statue is made entirely of donated keys, symbolizing that Mexicans had given him the keys to their hearts.

Inside we find magnificence, grandeur, and also a sloping floor.

A pendulum hangs from the tip of the dome to measure the changing slope of the floor.

It's an impressive structure, inside and outside.

Our next stop is the Templo Mayor, one of the "Main Temples" of the Aztecs, where archaeologists have been excavating history. Andrés explains some of the highlights to us.

Now it's time for lunch and Andrés escorts us to El Huequito, the "Little Hole," for delicious tacos al pastor (spit-grilled pork tacos), so good that we order a second round.

We opt for refreshing juice drinks with chia seeds, one of the latest "miracle foods."

Earlier, as we'd passed by other street taco joints, Andrés pointed out that they had adopted the gyros rotating-meat-on-a-spit concept from Lebanese immigrants. Being derived from shawarma, it is also similar to the Turkish döner kebab and the Greek gyros. If and when we return to Mexico City, we'd want to explore further the many varieties of Mexican street food.

After lunch, we walked by El Caballito, an 1802 bronze statue of Charles IV, the last Spanish ruler of "New Spain."

Our final building interior is, of all things, a post office.

It's just not any post office, but Palacio de Correos de Mexico, inaugurated by President Porfirio Diaz in 1902. It was designed by an Italian architect, with a new style of foundation mostly built in New York City and shipped to Mexico City.

Diaz spent a lot of money on buildings, and the results were impressive. Of course, he was eventually overturned by the Mexican Revolution, so there's that to consider as well.

On the way back to the car, Andrés points out the effects of the most recent earthquake on two modern buildings across from the Palace of Fine Arts.

Look more closely. It's quite a crack, with temporary repairs ongoing.

Andrés has revealed to us a Mexico City with an amazing central core of buildings and sites that we would argue are almost unequaled in North America, aside possibly from New York City.  We are truly impressed and very happy we took this tour.

It's time to say Gracias and Adios, and then it's airport security and an Aeromexico lounge visit before flying home.

No comments: