Mexico City – Tierra y Libertad!

If you’re going, you might fancy some of these. It’s my usual mix of stuff that’s a million miles away from the 5-star hotel / homogenized / cocktail bar stuff you get in other guides.

Mummies, zombies, socialism, concrete, Burroughs, Trotsky, Diego y Frida.

If you visit any of them – let me know and please share if you know someone who is going. Or even if you just enjoyed reading it.

Gracias, mi amigo.

A few notes:

  • I visited all of these places during the week. At the weekend, I just walked around Roma looking for cars, hung-out in the shops and cafes and avoided anything with an entrance fee as those places are well busy at the weekend.
  • Ticket price – not included here, I doubt you’re going all the way to Mexico City only to be thwarted at the last minute by the entry price. You’re going in whatever, right? Nothing’s that expensive anyway…
  • I’ve grouped everything geographically – save you running around all over the place, wasting time on travel. Also, traffic isn’t much fun in Mexico City.
  • Fuck Ubers are cheap. My entire bill for the week was £40, and that included the journeys to and from the airport. Not surprising the traffics bad.
  • I stayed in Condesa. It’s well nice. Wouldn’t stay anywhere else. Stay close to Hipodromo.
  • I’m not a foody, I’m not a fan of gentrified food and this is Mexico City – you can’t walk down the street without there being some amazing street-food opportunity so you’re not going to starve.

 


DAY OUT 1: NEIGHBORHOODS: ATLAMAYA | SAN ANGEL | UNIVERSITY CITY

 If you’re a fan of concrete, the macabre and Frida and Diego, this one’s for you.

Where you’re going:

  • Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo
  • Museum of El Carmen
  • Ciudad Universitaria Campus

 Takes about a day to visit all three places

Getting there:

Uber to Museo Casa Estudio, take a (pleasant) walk to Museum El Carmen and then Uber to the University Campus. All are located in a suburb, away from the city centre.

What, when:

Do the Museo Casa Estudio and Museum El Carmen first and then leave the mid-afternoon / teatime to do the University Campus. It’s a huge college campus with LOADS of buildings to walk around and look at.


Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo | Diego Rivera s/n, San Ángel Inn, 01060 Ciudad de México

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What’s it about:

In 1931 Diego had his architect mate Juan O’ Gorman build him and Frida twin houses next to his own. Yeah, twin houses as in separate houses. Even though they were married. (Probably because they were married.) Diego’s house was also his working studio and Diego is linked to Frida via a (perilous) bridge – both figuratively and literally. Juan was totes down with working-class housing and the concept of socialized architecture. As if that wasn’t cool enough they’re both gorgeousDespite Frida’s house being completely unsuitable for her needs. Felt a bit cross about that tbh – what were Diego and Juan thinking. They seem to have put aesthetics WAY ahead of her mobility issues. Anyway, I had massive habitat envy – I’d do a lot of bad things to have a house like either of theirs. The Mexican climate would be absolutely crucial to your enjoyment of them though – no way could you live in a house like that in Britain.

(Btw, this place is not to be confused with Frida Kahlo’s family house. That’s a totally different place and coming up, later.)

Getting in:   

Pay on the door. Easy.

Busy?

Nope. Bonkers. Not only gorgeous architecture but it’s where Diego lived. And Frida, occasionally though, only 5 years in total. Probably something to do with those stairs.

Worth it?

DEFINITELY. Prioritise a visit here over Frida’s family home any day. Seeing Diego’s shower room and bedroom are worth the visit alone.

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Museum of El Carmen | Av. Revolución 4 y 6, San Ángel, 01000 Ciudad de México

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What’s it about:

MUMMIES. Fuck yeah it is. It’s probably the most thrillingly macabre, other-worldly experience you can get outside of actual time travel back to a mid-19thcentury funeral. I mean, they’re FULLY CLOTHED! As in their original 1860s clothing. Never before have 12 dead bodies made the 19thcentury feel more ironically ‘alive’. Long story short: they got shoved in a monastery crypt and forgotten about post-monastery closing its doors for good. The crypt had an excessively dry atmosphere so very little flesh-eating decay of the bodies took place. They only got re-discovered when some tea-leafs (thiefs) were on a pilfering expedition and got a lot more than they were expecting.

Getting in:   

Pay on the door.

Busy?

No, and why in the hell not? Who doesn’t want to go and look at dead Victorian bodies?!! Also, the former monastery has got a great collection of colonial religious artworks that were just as spooky – if not more. The buildings really cool too.

Worth it?  

FUCK. YES. Never seen anything like it in my entire life.


Ciudad Universitaria Campus 1950 – 1954 | Cto. Interior S/N, C.U., 04510

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What’s it about:           

An orgy of mid-century concrete delights. Could have fainted. Includes UNAM – the central library by Juan O’ Gorman (him again). Other travel guides seem to stop short at this building but I spent the entire afternoon wandering around the grounds looking at other, absolute bangers – including the Olympic Stadium – so don’t just get out the Uber, take a few photos of UNAM and clear off again. I also sat in the grounds for a while under a tree, people watching – very pleasing. (I’d write more about the other buildings but that’s too much research for now and a whole other post in itself.)

Getting in:

Get out the Uber, wander-on in. Costs nothing – it’s a university campus.

Busy?

Well yes – but busy with students. Zero tourists. Just general student hustle and bustle.

Worth it?   

Another massive FUCK YES.

Heads up:

The toilet situation. Some of the buildings you can’t just wander into without a student pass so you’re going to have to ask pretty please if you can use the bathrooms which isn’t easy if you don’t understand Spanish.

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‘La conquista de la energia’ mural by Chavez Morado 1952

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Estadio Olimpico Universitario 1952

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DAY OUT 2 & 3: NEIGHBORHOODS: GUERRERO & THE HISTORICAL CENTRE

Bit tricky this bunch as they are all in the historical center – aka downtown – but too much to do in one day so pick them off over a couple of days in whatever order you fancy.

Where you’re going:

  • National Palace – (Diego Rivera murals)
  • Palacio de Bellas Artes – (Another Diego Rivera mural)
  • Diego Rivera Mural Museum (More Diego Rivera)
  • San Fernando Pantheon (Cemetery)
  • Cine “Opera” (Art Deco Cinema)
  • Biblioteca Vasconcelos (Library)

Takes about two days to see all of these, walking from one to the other. 


National Palace | Plaza de la Constitución S/N, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06066

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What’s it about:           

It’s a Colonial, conquistador-feeling building that’s now a government office. Now I know the Three Musketeers are French but you’d swear they’re going to jump out from behind a wall at any moment. That’s the vibe of the place. Anyway, you’re not there to experience the building – as lovely as it is with its cactus gardens. (It’s a real oasis in amongst the almost medieval-feeling hustle and bustle of the historical city centre.) You’re there to drool and marvel over the Diego Rivera murals. Mexico City loves a mural. Diego’s are the best – half of them being in a heavily stylised Communist-era USSR aesthetic complete with loads of navy-workers-unite outfits, flat-caps, banners, welders and portraits of Karl Marx, and the other half being a folk-art romp through the history of Mexico: Maya, Aztec, the slave-trade and colonisation.

Getting in:

A bit of a ball-ache. Queue-up for ages and say No, Gracias, loads of times to guides who will offer to show you around inside. I’m pretty sure they are the Palaces official guides (they all had legit-looking badges) and they were perfectly charming (isn’t everyone in Mexico) but I just don’t want to share any of my experiences with other people – they just interrupt my ability to conjure up any sense of what the place was like before us visitors turned-up.

Busy? 

Not so much once you’re inside which is surprising.

Worth it?

It’s another one of those mandatory things – you can’t go all the way to Mexico City and not stand for hours in front of at least one of Diego’s murals – and these are his best.

Heads up:

TAKE YOUR DRIVING LICENSE! You HAVE to leave ID to get in – they ask for your passport, no way. So, have something else you can give them instead. DON’T get caught out – imagine standing in the queue for ages and then not getting-in because you didn’t have ID.


Palacio de Bellas Artes | Av. Juárez, Centro Histórico de la Cdad. de México, Centro

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What’s it about:

I went for an eyeball of another one of Diego’s murals but was so BLOWN AWAY by the Palaces over-the-top but spectacular Art Deco marble interior I forgot all about the mural. Was like a cross between the film Metropolis and New York’s Grand Central Station. A pink and black decadent face-full of 1920s.

Getting in:

Stroll on in.

Busy?

Yes, but people are constantly moving around so there are no annoying bottlenecks and the hustle and bustle just adds to the lively station / theatre excitement of the place. These kinds of places are / were meant to be busy so it only adds to the atmosphere.

Worth it?    

What a great surprise – was absolutely worth discovering.

Heads up:

You don’t get to see the Diego mural unless you have a ticket to a show but as mentioned above – I really wasn’t arsed about seeing it once I was in the main lobby.


Diego Rivera Mural Museum | Balderas 202, Colonia Centro, Centro, 06000 Ciudad de México, CDMX

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What’s it about:           

The hermetically sealed home for Diego’s mural: Sueno de una Tarde Dominical en la Almeda Central. I wonder if Peter Blake took inspiration from it for his Sargent Peppers album cover? There’s plenty to look at and I spent hours doing so. There’s a handy guide as to who’s who.

Getting in:  

Pay on the door.

Busy?    

So, so. Mas O Menos.

Worth it?

Meh. Sort of. It’s a cracking piece of work but that’s all there is in there. If you’re passing – sure.


San Fernando Pantheon (cemetery) | Calle San Fernando 17, Centro Histórico de la Cdad. de México

What’s it about:        

OK *rolls up sleeves. Let me get started about this. It’s a grand old cemetery – which I love. The word-wide-web will tell you this place is open, even that it’s ‘free’ to get in on Wednesday nights. The world-wide-web is lying. It’s not been open for years – not since the earthquake – and it shows NO SIGN whatsoever of opening again, anytime soon. Moreover, it’s an absolute fucking death march getting to it, hands-down the roughest part of Mexico City. They have the same right as anyone but picking through the zombie apocalypse to get there only to find it closed pissed me right off.

Getting in:    

You’re not.

Busy?  

Yeah. With zombies.

Heads up:

Don’t go and don’t walk around this area on your own or at odd times of the day or night. Ever.


Cine Opera|Serapio Rendon 9, San Rafael, 06470 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico

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What’s it about:           

I was really excited about visiting this now abandoned, grand old Art Deco movie house. Partly because it’s got that intriguing derelict building vibe, but mostly because it once hosted the Bauhaus. Turns out it was the post- punk-gothic-rock band Bauhaus. NOT the German art school and their Triadisches performance Ballet. Should have twigged – the Bauhaus Ballet was 1922 and the Cine Opera is 1949, but I let my imagination run away with me. As usual.

Getting in:

You’re not – it’s abandoned and boarded up.

Heads up:

Its Art Deco but it was built in 1949? Weird because Mexico City WAS NOT backwards when it came to Art Deco architecture – Condesa has some of the best Art Deco residential buildings to be seen, all built bang-on period correct in the 1920s and 30s. So, all very odd. 1949 is way too late. There’s a story there somewhere.


Biblioteca Vasconcelos | Eje 1 Nte. S/N, Buenavista, 06350 Ciudad de México, CDMX

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What’s it about:           

Holy crap – you’re about to enter the Borg ship, something out of Blade Runner or some other Ridley Scott film set. Honestly – this is an INCREDIBLE building – 21stcentury too, by architects Alberto Kalach and Juan Palomar. It’s so complicated there were numerous construction and building defects and a bunch of people got done for it.

Getting in: 

Walk on in.

Busy?

Well it’s a library so not really – they rarely are these days?

Worth it?

Fuck yes. Love it or hate it its mesmerising. It’s like someone removed all the walls, ceilings and floors and left only the bookshelves – it’s as though they’re floating in a never-ending vertical science-fiction space.

Heads up:

You’re not allowed to take photos with a camera but you can with an iphone. Which is an odd decision but hey, rules is rules.


DAY OUT 4: NEIGHBORHOODS: XOCO | DEL CARMEN

 Where you’re going:

  • Frida Kahlo Museum
  • Leon Trotsky House

See both of these together, it’s walking distance between the two.

Frida was MASSIVELY aligned with the ideology of communism so I’m tempted to be flippant about Trotsky and Frida popping round each other’s houses for tea and cake. But after visiting Trotsky’s house I now understand there would have been NO WAY he’d have ever left it. I’ll say no more than that, save spoiling things.

Takes about a day to visit both places.

Getting there:

Uber. Costs fuck all, despite them being in a suburb far away from the city center. Walk between the two, the walk is through a really pleasant neighbourhood.

How long:

Give yourself a whole day to do both. Trotsky’s house is small and quiet and won’t take much time while Frida’s house is mega-tourist-hell so the earlier you get there the better. I would do that one first. If you’ve got time after seeing them, walk into Coyoacán center for food and a mooch around.


Frida Kahlo Museum – La Casa Azul | Londres 247, Del Carmen, 04100

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What’s it about:

Well it’s the family home of the Kahlo’s innit. It’s Fridaland. Upstairs is where she slept and worked and has been left like a time-capsule, her paints and easel, wheelchair, knick-knack’s all over the place and decor intact. Downstairs is a bit more contrived, I don’t think the kitchen and living areas really looked like that when she was there. You get more of a sense of her upstairs. (if you can get a sense of her at all amongst the maelstrom of visitors and selfies.)

Busy?

You bet. Crazy. Packed. Mega-tourist spot. Cheese and annoying humans all over the place. People dressed in Day of the Dead costumes as though they’re at comic-con.

Here’s a tip:

With the entrance behind you, head over to the far, far-right hand corner of the grounds (as far as you can go) and there is a little hole-in-the-wall café that hardly has anyone in it. It’s a place of calm and peace away from the crowds. Also, it has Wi-Fi and power sockets for iphone re-charges.

Getting in:

BOOK YOUR TICKET IN ADVANCE, ONLINE – AND QUICK!! Entry slots are every 30 minutes (once in you can stay as long as you like, though) but they only have a certain amount of tickets per slot and slots sell out quickly. I had to wait a couple of days for one. You can always turn up on the day – they hold some tickets on the door, but that queue is huge and frustrating because you’re not sure which 30 min slot still has tickets available. You might be waiting for hours for the next one….

Worth it?

You can’t go to Mexico City and not visit Fridha Kahlo’s family home, so that’s that really. I mean you could, but what would be the point in not going?


Leon Trotsky House | Av. Río Churubusco 410, Del Carmen, 04100 Ciudad de México

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What’s it about:

Trotsky was in exile due to a ‘difference of opinion’ between him and the mentally-unsound Stalin. Mexico was the only place that would accommodate him. He lived here with his wife and entourage. And some chickens.

Busy?

Not at all. Plenty of peace and quiet with which to conjure up some kind of a sense of him going about his day-to-day business there.

Worth it?

TOTALLY. Apart from his fascinating and compelling story, his house is rustic, austere and traditional and tbh I’d love to live in it for the decor and furniture alone. And if you’ve got a bit of a fetish for socialism (as I have) how can you not go? Way more authentic and atmospheric than Frida’s house. Not that’s it’s a competition.


OTHER RANDOM STUFF, WELL WORTH GOING TO

Void – Vintage Clothing Store | Calle Parral 5, Colonia Condesa, 06140

Perfectly and expertly curated vintage – nothing that you wouldn’t find in any decent high-end vintage store, and certainly no bargains, but well worth it. In fact. It’s pretty expensive…

 


Some 1960s concrete animals in a playground | Parque Espana – street-side of the adventure playground

I think they’re 1960s? They certainly look it. Some really, really charming but now sadly unloved animals now finding themselves on the wrong side of ‘elf and safety.

 


Dulceria Celaya: An old-school Cake / Biscuit shop | Orizaba No. 37. Col. Roma Norte, 06700

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Nope. Had no idea what any of the biscuits were but it was A LOT of fun pointing to random biccies and asking for uno mas, mucho mas, gracias. And then eating them.


Where Burroughs ‘accidentally’ shot his wife in the head | 122 Monterry, Colonia Roma

It happens *shrugs shoulders.

(no photo as there is nothing to see, just a door)


Café Habana | Av. Morelos 62, Juarez, 06600

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(sneaky iPhone photo)

Castro and Che would sit here in 1951, plotting the Cuban revolution. They’d do so over stomach-stripping coffee and cigars, the smoke of which would be displaced by the cafes heavy enigmatic ceiling fans. They’d speak in hushed tones, safe in the knowledge that the booming acoustics caused by the coffee houses mid-century concrete ceiling would mask their talk of murderous revolution. It’s still a coffee house and it still looks exactly the same today as it did then. Go. It’s ace.


All words and photos by me as usual (Sarah Feeney)

@under_rocks_sarah_feeney (CARS)

@under_rocks_sarah_feeney2 (CONCRETE)

Next up: Bugs of Mexico City

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