When we last visited Mexico City four years ago, Tom and I concentrated on three neighborhoods - La Condesa, St. Angel and Coyoacan - all areas with more of a village-like atmosphere than big-city feel. Spending time in any of these neighborhoods quickly counters the city's image of a hectic, smoggy and dangerous urban environment.
This time, at the end of an 11-day trip that took us by bus from Guadalajara to Zacatecas to Guanajuato and finally to Mexico City, we choose a bed and breakfast on the second floor of an office and apartment building in the heart of the Centro Historico, a few blocks away from the Zocolo and Alameda Park. The surprise: We again found ourselves in a neighborhood that was neither hectic, smoggy or dangerous.
David Marino and his wife, Eloise, were our hosts at Chillout Flat on Simon Bolivar Street in a building where David's mother once lived. The couple live in the building and have converted four rooms (two more on the way) into a cozy, urban B and B in the heart of the Centro Historico, a 34-block area, home to some of the city's most elaborate historic monuments, former palaces, stores and museums.
|Hotel Cortes, from budget to boutique|
Things are changing in Mexico City. Investors are buying up run-down or vacant former mansions and renovating them into boutique hotels and chic restaurants. The government is pumping money into traffic improvements, beautifying the parks and putting a huge police presence on the streets. It's not an exaggeration to say that literally everywhere we turned there were either uniformed police and/or private security guards inside and outside restaurants, stores and along a network of pedestrianized streets that were lively late into the evening. Are there parts of Mexico City to avoid at night? Of course. But the Centro Historico is no longer one of them.
|Coffee at Que Bo|
|Cafe de Tacuba |
|Comida at Sanborns|
|Morning at the post office|
Eloise served such ample breakfasts that we actually only indulged once, maybe twice in churros and chocolate, a traditional Spanish breakfast, served like this for around $4 at Casa Churras, a bright, new cafe on 16 de Septiembre.
|Bikes in Polanco|
Also Carlos Slim's new "vanity'' museum in the wealthy neighborhood of Polanco. We took the subway, then walked a little more than a mile to see the new Museo Soumaya built by Slim to house his art collection.
- The location is surprising and not an area where tourists would normally go out of their way to visit. Next door is a Costco, a Sak's and General Motors offices. But the museum is free and it's worth taking the time to see, for the sleek architecture and the European and Mexican works displayed on six floors that spiral up to a top floor filled with sculptures by Dali and Rodin.
Mosaics by Diego Rivera stand out on the main floor along with a couple of Rodin sculptures displayed against stark, white backrounds.
Worth a revisit was Casa Azual, Frida Kahlo's house in Coyoacan to see the newly-opened display of her clothing, previously locked away and out of public view. Like the Surmaya, Casa Azul is not easy to reach via pubic transportation, but it's worth the effort to sample a bit of the Coyoacan neighborhood. We took the subway to the closest stop, then walked along a street called Francisco Sosa that leads to secret gardens and Spanish haciendas hidden behind the walls of buildings painted pink, blue and ocher.
I guess it goes without saying, but seems important to say anyway that we felt very safe the whole time, as we expected we would since we weren't traveling in border towns or elsewhere where there have been problems.
Mexico's a big place, and when you're there, among hundreds of people out dancing in the squares, eating in the restaurants, shopping, enjoying music and museums, you get a completely different and more accurate impression of everyday life than you do by reading many of the news reports and U.S. government travel warnings.