Bohemians, forget Berlin; Mexico City is the place for you now.
I booked my trip with Maricarmen at International Travel Group in Mexico City, who helped me with my flights and where to stay. I started at the Camino Real Hotel. A mysterious Noguchi fountain spouts endless streams of water in front of pink and yellow buildings designed by Ricardo Legorreta for a soothing dose of vitality after a long flight. Located in the prestigious Polanco district, the wonderful Chapultepec Park and its many museums are within walking distance.
My first stop is always the National Museum of Anthropology, designed by a modern master, Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, a perfect setting for their premiere collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts. One of the greatest museums in the world, not only for its collections but for the way they are displayed. Go early and wander, marvel in peace before the school kids get there and stir things up.
It’s a short walk to the Modern Art Museum, home to many famous Mexican 20th century paintings and sculptures. ‘The Two Fridas’ greet you sternly as you enter the main gallery.
When you’ve had enough art, hop downtown to Carlotta, a groovy hotel inside a car park. There’s a killer restaurant overlooking the pool. Before the food, spend a few minutes at the trendy lobby shop Taxonomia, for ceramics, fashion, gorgeous little things.
Nearby is the Museum De Arte Popular. Four floors of pure color, Mexican handcrafts from textiles and pottery to quirky piñatas, also an ace gift shop. Keep walking towards Alameda Park and check out Su Barrio Alameda, three floors of shops and bars. I debated buying a Mexican wrestler cape and hood, so many records, and vintage clothes.
For dinner book Rosetta, THE place to be, with a subtle menu and a massive tree growing inside the elegant dining room.
Warning: if you are going in December, book the smaller museums and restaurants way ahead of time; the city gets busy. I tried to see the Luis Barragán house, but it was sold out. So was the Diego museum, but right next to Barragán house is the cool Archivo Diseño Y Arquitectura, classic Mexican industrial design with a trippy courtyard instillation, which may possibly lead to a parallel universe.
I managed to squeeze into the Frida Kahlo Museum and gardens, packed and hard to absorb, but definitely worth the visit. I headed to the beautiful neighborhood La Condesa for lunch at Lardo. The food is heavenly.
Museo Tamayo, partially designed by Tamayo himself, is another modern masterpiece not to be missed, for the building itself, but also for the various installations inside. If you can’t bear to leave, there’s a rocking restaurant attached. Not far from the museums is Onora Casa, a fun home store with a modern take on Mexican crafts.
I set out early next morning to see the Teotihuacan pyramids, forty minutes outside the city. Founded before the Christian Era, at one time 125,000 people lived there. Later it became a sacred place for the Aztecs. Hike the pyramids, take in the energy of the site—-I had to sit and draw as the sun rose.
It was back to the city for lunch at Lalo, recommended by a friend who is never wrong. I found myself in Roma North, the perfect neighborhood for wandering tree-lined streets. Mexicans love their dogs and hang out in the many parks. I found Fabrica, a cool fashion shop with local Mexican designers focused on textiles. Also Camino, another men’s lifestyle shop with fun fashion and travel items. I stumbled into one of the many street fares that pop up in December and got some modern monoprints from the printmaker himself, organic charcoal toothpaste and facemasks and some cool jewelry made by a photographer, all at incredible prices.
The next day my friend Claudia, a local jewelry designer, took me to Le Cardinal for a traditional Mexican breakfast with hot chocolate and fresh conchas, a sugary pastry that you smear with cream. We headed to the flea market in Plaza del Angel which happens every Saturday morning. We picked through the treasures spread out on blankets. I had to control my impulse to buy everything, but did manage to leave with a charm bracelet from the 1950’s jingling with sombreros, a wrestler-shaped piggy bank you’d win at a fair, and a hand-woven shawl.
For my last lunch I managed to get into Tetetlán Pedregal, an incredible restaurant in the old stables of a Barragán house. A tiered gift shop offers a superb collection of textiles and crafts. I bought some noisy huarache sandals and of course more indigo textiles. The owner was kind enough to let me sneak into the Barragán house itself, where I wanted to pray. If you are in the architecture field, you can write for permission to visit this house; it was one of the highlights of my trip.
I went to the Saturday market in San Angel, a bit much for me after all of my shopping, but well worth a visit for the variety of crafts in an open market. I walked down to Coyoacán along the Arenal, cobbled streets filled with shady trees, churches and amazing old houses. The pleasures of Mexico City are never-ending. I will be back.