Unlike other trips, our planning for Mexico City was pretty fast-and-loose. We knew that several attractions were near Zocalo so after hitting the Templo Mayor Museum, we meandered over to the National Palace.
The palace is a large old building with beautiful landscaping, the MPs make you check your bag, and there are gift shops that are overpriced but still not that expensive given how weak the peso was during our trip. However, it wasn’t until we got into the main building that I started taking any substantial pictures.
The main building formed a square that looked down into a courtyard with a fountain. Mind you, these photos are a little out of order, but that’s done for clarity; no aspects of a narrative are lost. I did not run up to the top floor, take this picture, then run back down for the next one, etc.
We were able to walk around the hallways of the Palace, but obviously we couldn’t go into most of the rooms.
All around the palace were guards; MPs to be exact. What struck me was that they were in full camo body armor in an indoor and urban setting. They served as a stark reminder of the dangers of the country; the National Palace is the hub, the crown jewel of the government, and there are several different, well-armed groups that are at odds with said government. On the one hand, it seemed a bit overzealous to have fully-armed combat troops patrolling the grounds but on the other hand, I can understand why they were there.
I took a stealthy photo of them. I feel like it might be frowned upon to ask them to smile for a photo.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
Unlike the past couple of posts, we’re going to a few places today. After we left the National Palace, we stopped for souvenirs at a trinket shop near the square. Yes, we probably paid too much for what we got but we weren’t going to fool anyone into thinking we were locals and the Tourist Tax wasn’t that high. Outside the shop, we found this (“Beware of the dog”):
As we’d seen most of what we’d wanted to see near Zocalo, we started to wander away from the square. First we made our way to Palacio de Bellas Artes. We didn’t go inside because we had other places to see, though I’m sure the inside is very beautiful, too.
There is one place on this trip that I have no photos of: Plaza Garibaldi. For those who don’t know, it’s a plaza where Mariachi bands congregate and play for groups of tourists. I’d read that the area around it can be a little sketchy at times, but I was wholly unprepared for what we saw.
From the Palacio de Bellas Artes, we walked north. There was a bus for which we we waited about 10 minutes but it never came. As we walked, the scenery turned from “putting our best foot forward for tourists” to “there’s a group taking pulls from a fifth of tequila on the sidewalk” and “that graffiti isn’t an art installation”. We weren’t harassed by anyone, but we did get a few menacing eyes and the very real sense that we shouldn’t be here after dark.
When we got to the plaza, there were no Mariachi bands playing. One was setting up, but apparently the majority don’t come out until later in the afternoon. There was little else to keep us here, so we walked down the plaza (called Republica de Honduras) to find a place to buy water before hopping back on the train to our next stop. The entire plaza was lined with dingy hotels and more people that gave us inquiring looks until we eventually found an OXXO (basically a 7/11) at the end of the plaza where we silently bought water and left amid several gazes. I have no pictures because this was an area I didn’t feel completely safe pulling out my large camera or my iPhone.
So my tips for Plaza Garibaldi: take the bus, and go later in the afternoon when there’s more tourists out because safety in numbers.
Bosque de Chapultepec
Because we spent so little time in the Plaza, we had time to see the Chapultepec Castle area. And besides, have metro passes, will travel.
We hopped on the Green Line and took it down to the Pink Line that went towards the Castle. Depending on how it felt at the moment I consulted it, Google told us to get off at one of three stops: Chapultepec (which makes complete sense when you think about it), Juanacatlán (most commonly recommended), or Sevilla. We ended up getting off at Juanacatlán and then walking up through a nice and apparently very affluent neighborhood but later discovered that we probably walked further than we had to and should have gotten off at Chapultepec.
We approached the castle from the back which took us through Chapultepec Park, or Bosque de Chapultepec. It was a very pretty public park with all types of trees and pretty plant life though none of it was labeled so I don’t know what kind of flowers they were.
Not seen in this photo was an empty vendor cart which is something I wish we’d seen. But no matter, the wide, tree-lined paths made our extra walk up to the Castle bearable and then some.
At last, we could see the castle. While we could see it, we had to hike up the side of a mountain to get there.
In the next post, I’ll show you what we saw when we climbed the mountain to castle.