36 HOURS IN MEX­ICO CITY

It’s big, it’s bold, it’s full of peo­ple. See what it’s like to be one in 21 mil­lion

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - DESTINATION MEXICO - MA­RINA KAY

Every coun­try has a big city, but not all big cities are the same. And Mex­ico City is up there as a favourite. From above, the mega­lopo­lis – home to 21 mil­lion peo­ple – looks over­whelm­ing, but on the ground, the cos­mopoli­tan, clean and colour­ful cap­i­tal feels some­what fa­mil­iar. Imag­ine a mix of Barcelona, Los An­ge­les and Mel­bourne with year-round sun and you’ll get a clearer pic­ture. Ci­u­dad de Mex­ico (CDMX), as it’s of­fi­cially named, em­braces its past while ex­ist­ing com­pletely in the present. Life thrives along am­ple boule­vards, in mar­kets and lush parks – idyl­lic respites from the con­stant com­mo­tion.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to thor­oughly ex­plore this city that’s flush with art, cul­ture, world-class cui­sine and wel­com­ing peo­ple. Treat the stopover as a rea­son to re­turn.

DAY ONE EVENING

Af­ter pass­ing through Aerop­uerto In­ter­na­cional Ben­ito Juarez, head to an au­tho­rised cab kiosk – Yel­low Cab or Por­toTaxi will do – to pre­pay your city fare (about 374 MXP, $A26.30). It will take more than an hour in traf­fic to reach Paseo de la Re­forma, the grand palm-fringed av­enue an­chored by round­abouts of mon­u­ments such as Fuente de la Diana Cazadora, an archer of the North Star who graces a foun­tain that’s il­lu­mi­nated at twi­light. Views over it, stretch­ing all the way to Mon­u­mento a la In­de­pen­den­cia crowned with an an­gel, Greek god­dess of Vic­tory, can be seen from The St Regis’s King Cole Bar (streg­is­mex­i­c­oc­ity.com).

Toast with a “Centli” cock­tail of mez­cal, pineap­ple shrub, three chilli bit­ters and foamy egg whites, along with ja­mon iberico carved ta­ble­side, be­fore strolling to hip El Cal­ifa (el­cal­ifa.com.mx) for tacos. That is, un­less you re­served a ta­ble months ahead at top restau­rant Pu­jol (pu­jol.com.mx). Ranked No.20 on the World’s 50 Best Restau­rants list, it is helmed by su­per-chef En­rique Olvera, praised by many for his cre­ative and so­phis­ti­cated spin on au­then­tic Mex­i­can cui­sine. Other top restau­rants in­clude nearby Quin­tonil, Rosetta and Max­imo Bistrot Lo­cal, run by Olvera’s pro­tege Ed­uardo Gar­cia.

DAY TWO MORN­ING

Af­ter a cafe Amer­i­cano and huevos at Cafe La Ha­bana, where Che Gue­vara and Fidel Cas­tro were said to have planned the rev­o­lu­tion, take to Calle de Bo­li­var via Avenida 16 de Sep­tiem­bre (for the 1810 Mex­i­can War of In­de­pen­dence) and pop into the Amer­i­can Book­store for Mex­i­can po­etry, his­tory and guide book needs.

Here, in the pedes­trian his­toric cen­tre, you’ll pass plenty of beau­ti­ful colo­nial build­ings and fa­cades cov­ered in tiles and Mayan de­signs. Many now front shops, ster­ling sil­ver bou­tiques and mu­se­ums.

MID MORN­ING

Eat Mex­ico (eat­mex­ico.com) runs a range of ex­cel­lent food tours and the Gourmet San Juan Mar­ket op­tion ($US85, $A107) is great for those in the mood for street food. Over a span of four hours, you might try tostada with oc­to­pus ce­viche, pulque – a fer­mented maguey cac­tus juice (like kom­bucha) – in a tra­di­tional pul­que­ria, dried crick­ets (and scor­pi­ons!), Mex­i­can cheeses with wine, Oax­a­can choco­late, ha­banero sauces, cof­fee pulled from Ver­acruz beans and a range of tasty fruits such as the mamey sapote, which tastes like roasted sweet potato.

But the high­light is a visit to the blue-corn tor­tilla stand whose long­time owner turns out th­ese fava-bean­filled spe­cial­ties with time-honed skill. So small and mo­bile is her op­er­a­tion that the “stall” doesn’t even have an ad­dress.

MID AF­TER­NOON

Lon­don and Mex­ico City tie for hav­ing the most mu­se­ums in the world; at­tempt to see no more than two in an af­ter­noon.

Stay in the his­toric cen­tre and visit the gold-domed Pala­cio de Bel­las Artes, a white-mar­ble per­form­ing arts palace cur­rently host­ing a Pi­casso & Rivera: Con­ver­sa­tions Across Time ex­hibit un­til Septem­ber 10, 2017. And nearby is Plaza de la Con­sti­tu­cion’s Pala­cio Na­cional, fa­mous for its his­tor­i­cal mu­rals by mas­ter painter Diego Rivera, and Cat­e­dral Metropoli­tana – the largest colo­nial cathe­dral in the Amer­i­cas prized for its Baroque ex­te­rior and gilded Al­tar of For­give­ness. Al­ter­na­tively, you could head across town to view the im­pres­sive Aztec col­lec­tion at Museo Na­cional de An­tropolo­gia be­fore brows­ing 20th-cen­tury works at Museo de Arte Moderno.

AMID THE COM­MO­TION LIFE THRIVES ALONG AM­PLE BOULE­VARDS, IN MAR­KETS AND LUSH PARKS

NIGHT

Strolling Con­desa, a pretty res­i­den­tial en­clave, is lovely of an evening, when the restau­rants, pizze­rias and bars over­flow with a vi­brant crowd. You might choose where to eat based on the menu or the mood. For gua­camole, pescadil­las, tor­tillas, en­chi­ladas and ex­cel­lent mez­cal, how­ever, con­sider Ali­pus En­demico (ali­pus.com). On the ground level of a cor­ner build­ing, the tiny bar of­fers out­door seat­ing and mixes great cock­tails with its own brand of tequila – smooth and slightly sweet (you can buy a bot­tle or two to take home as well).

If you’re look­ing for a bar crawl with a fun crowd, Eat Mex­ico runs a Late Night Tacos and Mez­cal Tour ($US130).

DAY THREE MORN­ING

Con­sider an early morn­ing cof­fee at Al­mane­gra Cafe (al­mane­gra­cafe.mx), whose Roma Norte is the cen­tral and larger of the two lo­ca­tions.

Be­fore 10, hop in a cab and head for Coyoa­can, a bor­ough 30 min­utes drive from Paseo de la Re­forma, to Museo Frida Kahlo. The line swells as soon as the doors open (closed Mon­days), though you can fast track by or­der­ing tick­ets on­line (bo­le­tos­fridakahlo.org). Also known as Casa Azul for its elec­tric-blue ex­te­rior, this house-mu­seum is where Kahlo lived with her hus­band, Diego Rivera, and con­tains her early sketches, por­traits and home in­te­ri­ors: the sun­lit stu­dio of this self­taught painter is a high­light. The shop stocks great sou­venirs.

Af­ter­wards, head a few streets over to the house-mu­seum of Kahlo’s close friend Leon Trot­sky, an ex­iled Rus­sian rev­o­lu­tion­ary. He lived here un­til as­sas­si­nated at his desk in Au­gust 1940.

If time per­mits, pop by Mer­cado de Coyoa­can for tra­di­tional Mex­i­can crafts and eats. Oth­er­wise, be­fore the air­port, make a pit stop at Cafe El Jaro­cho and take in the scene over cof­fee and pan dulche (pas­tries).

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