5 Things You Should Know About Mexico City

I promised to post about my recent travels, so here’s the first of many — starting off with Mexico City!

I have a special place deep in my heart for Mexico. Why? Several reasons.

During college, I created memories I will never forget while studying in Guanajuato, which was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988. Yes, I know “memories I will never forget” is such a cliche thing to say, but it’s true (cue Beyonce – #iaintsorry). The year after I graduated from The University of Alabama, I traveled to Guadalajara with my now husband (then boyfriend) Richard, and it has gone down in our books as one of the best trips we’ve ever taken. We then returned to Mexico for our honeymoon on Isla Mujeres in 2013.

And as if that wasn’t enough, we couldn’t help but go back again, this time to visit Mexico City. Just as with the other trips we’ve taken to Mexico, it was thrilling and did not disappoint.

The two of us in front of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera's Blue House

The two of us in front of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s Blue House

Named to The New York Times’ 52 Places to Go in 2016 and Conde Nast’s 50 Most Beautiful Cities in the World, Mexico City is an exquisite city, full of historic treasures.

“Fly in at night, when the land below glitters like a vast black-and-gold carpet and the scale of the city is mesmerizing, if not entirely overwhelming. This is, by most counts, the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere (they don’t call it El Monstruo for nothing). Yet in the morning, at street level, when sunlight glints off those colonial mansions, Mexico City can reveal a startling intimacy beneath the grandeur and sprawl.”

Julia Cooke, The Top Things to Do in Mexico City (Conde Nast Traveler, 2015)

Our trip lasted three days, and I’d go back for more in a heartbeat. But for now, here are 5 things you should know about Mexico City:

A serene moment inside el Castillo de Chapultepec

A serene moment inside el Castillo de Chapultepec

Do not believe the stories that paint Mexico City as a dangerous place that you shouldn’t visit. When we told people we were planning to visit Mexico City, we were instantly met with questions about drug violence, security and crime. We reassured our friends that we would be fine, that we would be careful and that we would take all safety precautions — and in my head, I ended those reassurances with, “…as always…” The truth is that, sure, there are areas of the city where you wouldn’t want to wander off to. Sure, you need to be aware of your surroundings as you trek around the metropolis. And sure, you should keep an eye on your personal belongings at all times. But no more than you already should be doing while traveling in a new city, or in your own city for that matter! At no point in time did I feel unsafe in Mexico City, and many other travelers will tell you the same about their experience. So don’t let those stories scare you away. Just take the precautions you always do. (For more on this, read: Mexico City Myths Debunked from Paste Magazine.)

IMG_5871

El Palacio de Bellas Artes

Mexico City is breathtaking — in more than one way. I’ll start with the good stuff first. Mexico City’s buildings and architecture are utterly beautiful, and we found ourselves in awe quite often. For me, the most beautiful sites we visited were el Palacio de Bellas Artes, el Castillo de Chapultepec and la Catedral Metropolitana. We also scarfed down delicious Mexican food everywhere we went, with my favorite restaurants being Azul and Café de Tacuba. The downside of Mexico City is literally breathtaking…the high altitude paired with the smog can be tough, leaving you short of breath at times as you’re seeing the sights.

Riding down the canals at Xochimilco

Riding down the canals at Xochimilco

There is an endless list of things to do, so prioritize, prioritize, prioritize!  Richard did all the research for this trip, and he tried to fit as much in as he could. Even so, we didn’t see everything on our list. Walking through el Centro Histórico to see el Zócalo is a must. I also recommend taking a walk through el Centro Histórico (photo below) on a weekend evening, when you’re bound to end up roaming with thousands of other people — this will leave you with a smile on your face and eyes wide. Be sure to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum at the ever popular Blue House in Coyoacán (there’s a nice, central plaza in Coyoacán with restaurants, too, where we stopped for lunch) and see Diego Rivera’s murals (specifically The History of Mexico) at the National Palace. If you’re willing to venture as far out as Xochimilco, you’ll be in for a treat, riding down the canals in boats called trajineras and buying food cooked fresh from the vendors floating alongside you. I mean, the quesadillas and elote we had…talk about delicious! Don’t forget to bring pesos for Xochimilco though — they don’t take any cards. We didn’t have time this trip to visit the pyramids at Teotihuacán, but I highly recommend that day trip if you have time — it was one of my favorite excursions when I studied abroad.

Walking through the Historic Center on our last night

Walking through el Centro Histórico on our last night

Come up with a plan for each day because the city stretches for miles — you don’t want the city’s massive size to cause frustration if you’re unprepared The things we wanted to do/see were scattered throughout all the neighborhoods (or colonias) of the city. So we needed to determine the route that would allow us to see everything most efficiently (after all, we only had three days). Most of the time, we took the metro — officially called el Sistema de Transporte Collective (STC) — and walked to our destinations from the stations with Google Maps as a guide. The STC was the cheapest and quickest way to get around, and we thought it was easy to navigate, especially when we used the app. And a few times, only when we weren’t far away from our awesome Airbnb studio, we called an Uber instead, which was just as fantastic as always.

Azul, my favorite restaurant in the historic center

Azul, my favorite restaurant in el Centro Histórico

The people are friendly, but knowing how to speak even a little bit of Spanish will go a long way. I studied Spanish in college as my second major, so I never really get nervous about the idea of residents in a Spanish-speaking city not being able to understand me. Though if I weren’t able to speak Spanish (even just a little bit), I’m not sure our trip to Mexico City (and especially Guadalajara in 2012) would have gone as smoothly. You can absolutely get around the city if you don’t know Spanish, and it helps that the people are incredibly friendly and welcoming. But, you’ll be much more comfortable if you know even a little bit of the language — especially if you go to Xochimilco, where you’ll need to work out a price with the trajinera operators.

La Catedral Metropolitana at El Zócalo

La Catedral Metropolitana at El Zócalo

And that, friends, is where I leave it! Have you traveled to Mexico City or anywhere else in Mexico before? If you haven’t traveled to Mexico yet, where would you want to begin? Tell me about it by leaving a comment!

Why Travel Only Makes My World Bigger

13607803305_d70c945136_b

I’ve been writing about some relatively serious things lately — if you missed them, see Exhibit A on workaholism, Exhibit B on limiting cell phone use and Exhibit C on getting over what others think. So, I figured it’s time to post something a little more lighthearted. This quote sums it up:

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
– Gustave Flaubert

It’s blows my mind to realize that traveling has only continued to make my world bigger. The more I travel, the greater my (already insatiable) desire to explore has grown — the list of places to visit just expands. And it’s not for the purpose of escaping, but rather to gain a true world view and let the wonders of the unknown soak in.

Not one trip I’ve taken to any place in the world has failed to open my eyes to the utter beauty of this planet and the people who occupy it. I am always longing to depart for the next trip to a new city. Yearning to experience cultures from every nation, hear the languages of various people groups, taste the distinct cuisines, see not only the tourist attractions but also beyond to how the locals live, and feel the excitement of a new adventure. Aching to lose myself in my surroundings, my face all aglow while learning the unique ways in which life carries on all around the world.

It’s incredible.

26165009906_423899c922_b

And I want to share that wanderlust here. Here’s to re-introducing travel as a topic I’ll write about here at Sincerely, Desiree’ — simply check out the Wanderlust link in the top menu to find more! Right now, the only posts shown are from a few trips in 2012 when a) my husband (then boyfriend) traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico (and oh, is there such a special place in my heart for Mexico) and b) my best friend and I took a trip to a national park in Central Illinois. The good news is that there is more to come! Over the next couple months, I’ll write about the most recent trips I’ve taken to London, Mexico City, Seattle, Estes Park and Paris. And after that, I’ll begin to share the upcoming trips my husband and I take as the year goes on.

In the meantime, I have several friends and former coworkers who have made significant changes in their lives by either quitting or switching jobs to be able to travel all around the world. You can check out their stories at their blogs links below, and I hope you’ll check back for my travel posts soon!

What was the first trip you took that opened your eyes to the wonders of travel?

photo credits:
New Turn via photopin (license)
Its Just a Ride via photopin (license)

Add me on Bloglovin’ or Feedly

A Half-Day Excursion to Tlaquepaque

There is plenty to explore in the city of Guadalajara, but if you’re there for more than two to three days, I’d suggest taking a half day or a full day to explore one of the outlying cities. Tequila, Zaponan, Tonala, Chapala and Tlaquepaque offer some of the most popular trips for visitors. Richard and I decided to visit Tlaquepaque, a small city that lies about 20-30 minutes southeast of Guadalajara’s historic center.

Tlaquepaque reminded me of Guanajuato, where I studied abroad during college, in so many ways. The major similarities came from Tlaquepaque’s appearance: the architectural features and colorful buildings, along with the small plazas and restaurant patios, created the colonial atmosphere I felt every day in Guanajuato.

At the center of Tlaquepaque is the Jardin Hidalgo, named for the Father of Mexican Independence, Miguel Hidalgo. Two gorgeous cathedrals, El Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad y La Parroquia de San Pedro tower over the town, and as we walked through the streets that Sunday, beautiful songs of praise lifted up to the clear blue sky. A popular attraction for visitors to Tlaquepaque is El Parian, a collection of eighteen restaurants and bars that are located around a central courtyard where mariachi bands play.

But what intrigued Richard and I most was the Museo del Premio Regional de la Ceramica. We were told that the ceramic art on display at this museum is the best of the best — and it’s true. Established in 1954, the museum was created to preserve and promote indigenous handcrafts of Jalisco, the state where Guadalajara is located. Ceramic pieces and other handcrafts from various parts of Mexico are displayed, but the art focus is primarily on works from Jaliscan cities like Tonalá, Santa Cruz de las Huertas, El Rosario, Tlaquepaque, Zalatitlán and Tateposco.

The handiwork required for each work of art in the museum is mind-blowing. Of the art that most caught my eye were the miniature ceramics sets. The miniature set that stood out from the rest was a bullring full of spectators watching a bullfight in the center. The bullring’s diameter could not have been wider than three inches — can you imagine how it would have been like to create such a piece of art? It was fantastic to have seen such memorable ceramics pieces during our trip to Guadalajara.

Dining at La Antigua, Overlooking Plaza Guadalajara

The view from La Antigua for almuerzo

I haven’t had the chance to visit Europe yet, but I’ve always wanted to dine at a restaurant overlooking a plaza. Mexico definitely doesn’t  come close to Europe, but I had the chance to do just that while we were visiting Guadalajara!

There are four main plazas in the historic center of Guadalajara, and they are arranged around the Cathedral in the shape of a cross. Plaza Guadalajara is just west of the Cathedral and has a circular fountain in the center. There is an outdoor restaurant, as well as several food vendors, in addition to a commercial center underneath the plaza that offers goods for sale including fruit, beverages and even jewelry. The ongoing chatter from passersby and high-pitched screams from children make the plaza an incredibly lively place, and as you can guess, it’s a great place to people-watch.

Dining at La Antigua, a restaurant you can find inside one of the buildings in the plaza, offered the best way for us to watch the activities in the plaza from afar. La Antigua sits on an upper level floor of the building, and several tables in the dining room offer balcony views of the plaza. We chose to sit at one of those tables and thoroughly enjoyed our lunch. I ordered the flautas, which were just as delicious as I expected they would be.

The meal itself wasn’t as amazing as the others we shared while in Guadalajara, but the atmosphere came out on top in comparison to the other restaurants. La Antigua was the perfect place for us to have almuerzo and relax after spending a tiresome morning exploring Tlaquepaque. The drinks (I had a fantastic sangria) were cool and refreshing, and the sound of the running water from the plaza’s fountain was soothing.

Oh, and how could I forget to mention — it was also quite romantic! We had a wonderful time.

Desayuno at La Chata in Guadalajara

I don’t know if we could have stumbled across a cuter place to have desayuno on our first morning in Guadalajara. La Chata is a bright and lovely place, offering plenty of authentic Mexican food for locals and tourists alike to enjoy. What I loved most about La Chata, as with other restaurants we visited, was that the experience was truly cultural. No English or American interruptions were involved — just pure Spanish conversation and Mexican culture. I’m not sure I could have asked for more in a trip back to Mexico.

Chilaquiles con huevos estrellados

So, on to the food. Richard ordered los molletes mexicanos con chorizo, and I ordered las chilaquiles con dos huevos estrellados. I’ll take this moment to say that, before I even boarded the plane in Atlanta, I had already made the decision to order chilaquiles for at least one breakfast while in Guadalajara. I couldn’t have chosen a better restaurant to make that order.

If you’ve never had chilaquiles, I would highly suggest them. Never heard of this dish? Check this description out:

Typically, corn tortillas cut in quarters and lightly fried are the basis of the dish. Green or red salsa or mole is poured over the crisp tortilla triangles, called totopos. The mixture is simmered until the tortilla starts softening. Eggs and pulled chicken are sometimes added to the mix. The dish is topped with cheese and/or sour cream (crema), and it is served with refried beans.

When our server set our plates in front of us, I dug right into my chilaquiles without hesitating. They were just divine! By the time I finished, I couldn’t have taken a bite of anything else (and boy, was I disappointed about that). Our desayuno at La Chata was certainly my favorite meal we enjoyed while in Guadalajara.