San Miguel de Allende

We left Mexico City in the early afternoon via a shuttle service bajiogo that offered concierge pick up at our bed and breakfast and arrived at our airbnb in San Miguel de Allende just in time to catch our first sunset. Nestled in the hills of SMA and just a 10 minute walk to the centro historico, we had this view for the next 4 days and immediately made ourselves right at home.

Su casa es mi casa, si?

918C9FBF-4F24-433D-AC9B-D588979624EBSan Miguel de Allende is a quaint colonial town about 3.5 hours northwest of Mexico City. Known for its Spanish influence, breathtaking sunsets, enchanting puertas, and quite frankly the largest population of white privileged senior citizens outside of The Villages, Florida…It’s no wonder this charming cobblestone town has its own alluring appeal.

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At night this town sparkles, music and dancing fill the cobblestone streets, and every other day is a cause for celebration. Fireworks and cannons echo through the valley creating a symphony of sound and color that washes over you while you dream of churros y chocolate.

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But first, Andy’s tacos. I ate here a few times because who wouldn’t? This food truck serves what I would call expatriate sized tacos al pastor and immediately became my late night comida crush. Located on Insurgentes near the corner of Hidalgo. You want to go there.

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The next morning we awoke naturally to the sound of rooster’s crowing. It really does work. We had a promising day filled with hiking pyramids and exploring canyons on horseback and our morning view ensured us that the day was off to a good start. San Miguel wakes up slowly.  As we headed into town for breakfast around 7 am the streets were empty with a few delivery trucks making their morning rounds.

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But first desayuno. We grabbed a bite to eat at Cafe de la Parroquia

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and dined al fresco.

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Buenos dias huevos rancheros.

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After breakfast we strolled around the town square known to the locals as el jardin. The blush neo-gothic spires of Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel make for an easy backdrop against the perfectly manicured laurel trees. I was coral crushing hard.

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The best part of our trip was our excursion to Canada de la Virgin with Albert Coffee Tours. We met in a hotel lobby with roughly a dozen other like-minded tourists and headed via van to the official site pick-up. There we met a few others where we then merged onto a bus and were instructed on the process to visit this newly discovered pyramid ruin.  It goes like this…

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Opened to the public in 2011 Cañada de la Virgen was discovered in the late 70’s on a German family’s private property. Imagine the politics involved having this site recognized by the Mexican government as a historical site…so it wasn’t until the 90’s that the excavation process finally began. Due to the pyramid being located on private property–one bus that seats roughly 26 people is allowed on site at a time.

There are still many unknown secrets about this civilization who inhabited these valleys from 540-1050 A.D.  Albert Coffee was the most informative guide and extremely passionate about this discovery. In fact, he was involved in one of the excavation phases in the early 2000’s.

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Scientists still do not know much about the people who inhabited this area but it is clear that their mathematical, astronomical, and architectural contributions were highly developed equally rivaling those of the Mayans. Discoveries show this culture worshiped the moon. The pyramid itself serves as a massive astrological clock. It is architecturally precisely aligned to calculate the phases of the moon. Over the course of the lunar calendar the moon moves up and down these stairs mathematically dictating key phases of the lunar calendar. It’s absolutely astronomical!

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Scientists believe this site could have served as a learning grounds for astronomers and priests.

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For instance, this ‘sunken patio’ served as a water mirror where the priests could study the stars.

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el pirámide

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Our tour with Albert from start to finish was close to 4 hours. I highly recommend booking one of his tours! I had also arranged through him a horseback excursion through the canyons afterwards. Vaquero Leo met us at the site pick-up and brought us to his family’s hacienda, Xotolar Ranch which has been in his family for four generations. His great-grandfather bought the property after profiting from the silver mine rush at the end of the 19th century and they’ve been ranching ever since.

We enjoyed a home cooked meal with the Morin familia. We sampled nopales for the first time, nibbled on sopas, and had the best enchiladas to date.

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Leo and his Tio shared some family stories around la mesa.

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After the most satisfying comida, we were ready to saddle up and explore the canyons of San Miguel de Allende.

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It was a beautiful ride through the canyons.

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We galloped…

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trotted…

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There was some rocky terrain…

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but nothing a vaquero can’t handle.

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Half way we refreshed at a tiendita. Leo laughed when I told him we call tienditas bodegas in Philly. He said why would you call a little store a barn?

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We made our way back to the Morin hacienda just as the sun began to set behind the hills.

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Mi caballo Zopilote 

An immersive day spent learning about the history of the people, the true meaning of familia,  the understanding of the land, and the beauty of this country.

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The next day was Palm Sunday and and the kick off to Semana Santa. And believe you me, the Mexican people know how to throw down a Catholic celebration. We strolled into town and met up with the entire pueblo of SMA as they made their pilgrimage down to the town square.

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My favorite part of Mexico was witnessing the importance family plays in this culture.

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Exploring the cobblestone streets of San Miguel.

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One distinct characteristic of San Miguel are the unique doors throughout the town.

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That neo-gothic blush spire though….

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Picture perfect in el jardin

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That evening we settled for a restaurant that offered roof top dining. The food wasn’t anything special.

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But the sunset views were worth it.

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Our last day full day in San Miguel we spent exploring the mercados.

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Each day our walk into town led us down an undiscovered alley…

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and around a colorful corner…

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which always led to a dramatic door.

Las puertas de San Miguel de Allende.

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And somehow always back to el jardin.

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Where my favorite castle iglesia lies.

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I can’t forget to mention the often overlooked Iglesia de San Rafael that shares the courtyard with old blush.

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El jardin is always bustling mid day. Nieves and jugos carts circle the square–lined with children anxiously squirming for a cold, refreshing treat.

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Women walk the town selling these precious dolls.

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 I became obsessed with their colorful tehuana traje. I may have purchased a small tribe.

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kitty

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If our time spent in Mexico has taught us anything, it’s this one simple rule: when in Mexico visit all the mercados.

Siempre.

Mercado Ignaci Ramirez hit the comida spot and I could spend an entire day at Mercado de Artesenia.

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Hydrating before my shopping spree…

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I mentioned my thirst for shopping and I was not kidding. Mercado de Artesania in my humble opinion is truly the heart of San Miguel.

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Located in an alley between Mercado Ignacio Ramirez and Calle Loreto, spanning 6 or 7 blocks–this market showcases an array of SMA’s trademark stamped tin, ceramics covering every color of the rainbow, dia los muertos paper-mâché in every shape and size, and so much more. I spent a solid 2 hours wandering these alleyways. Making sure I acknowledged each booth–admiring every detail of art…which worked up quite the appetite!

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Hmmm, sandia agua fresca o horchata….

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Milanese torta y mi favorito, sandia agua fresca.

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Muy guapo.

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Tambien muy guapo.

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After our adventurous appetite for mercados had been satiated, it was time for una siesta and then cervezas at cantina El Gato Negro. We love a good dive bar experience and this watering hole serves Victoria by the pesos.

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One last costume change in Mexico. Even our airbnb doors have a story to tell.

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 It’s all downhill from here.

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I thought we would enjoy our last sunset from The Rosewood Hotel’s Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar. Note to self: I thought wrong. This property boasts having the best views and upon approaching the hotel we could see the terrace was relatively empty– with just a few dotted silver heads. (Remember, you can’t escape the elderly in SMA.) Perfect timing to catch our last sunset on a Monday evening, right?

Nada.

This boujie business insisted on a 45 minute wait–ironically the exact amount of time needed to miss the sun setting.

For such a small town this shouldn’t be an exclusive experience. I don’t recommend supporting this establishment, but if you’re one of those who insist IG is better than real life… just make sure you’ve made a reservation.

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Instead I recommend to opt for the adjacent restaurant…

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with the handsome vaquero

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and an unpretentious view without the wait.

Adios San Miguel.

 

 

 

 

 

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The D.F

Mexico City. Simply known to everyone else as Mexico.  Or better yet–D.F (dey effe). This city is wildly captivating, easily addicting, and is by far the most colossal illustration of urban sprawl I have ever seen.

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This is a third of the city.

We stayed in the enchanting neighborhood of La Condesa.  This hidden oasis is nestled between the Bosque de Chapultepec and if I’m being perfectly honest, about fifty other fucking neighborhoods because Mexico is huge.

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If you need to escape from the Mexican sun, La Condesa is the place to stay. Jacaranda trees blanket the streets while Parque Espana and Parque Mexico enclose the neighborhood, reminding locals and visitors alike that Mexico worships its parks. Oh my Lord do they! They are everywhere and they’re all maintained. The city makes sure someone is hedging, collecting trash, and scrubbing the sidewalks down daily. I wish all Metropolitan cities would jump on the D.F bandwagon.

Honestly, I don’t know why you would ever leave this oasis?! Oh wait that’s right, there’s no potable water.

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We stayed 4 nights at the Red Tree House, a bed & breakfast with some of the best hospitality I have ever received.  The Mexican people are some of the most gracious hosts period.

Hindsight, we should have stayed 5 nights as we weren’t able to squeeze in a day trip to Teotihuacan (The world’s second largest pyramid ruins which is roughly 25 miles Northeast of Mexico, making it an all day trip) but I can assure you the 4 nights we spent were packed with enough broken spanglish, the sweetest comida memories, and muchas uber rides. No seriously, we took an uber almost everywhere.

 

 

A room with a view

DAY 1:

We arrived to our B&B about 3.5 hours after landing at MEX. 2 of those hours were spent waiting for our luggage and the remaining was spent in traffic. Once we settled into our room, we did what one naturally does upon arriving in Mexico–you look for the closest mercado. Specifically one that carries exotic foods….like scorpions. If this is up your alley (I should also clarify, my husband’s alley) than Mercado San Juan is your thang.  My better half ate a few scorpions on a stick, some chocolate covered ants, and definitely some crickets.

And just a few blocks away is La Ciudadela, the artisan market and worth exploring. Surprisingly there aren’t many traditional souvenir shops in Mexico so if you need your fill of tchotchskes this is the best place. I found a few magnets for my collection and some dia los muertos art.  Our first day was off to a good start.

Adjacent to La Ciudadela was a lovely park. This was the first of many parks we became enamored with.

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This park was filled with the young and the old just salsa dancing around a fountain with their loved ones. Classic Mexico.

The mercados were a great introduction to Mexico for our first afternoon.  But we I needed to chase down the memory of watching my husband eat insects and what better way than with the infamous tacos al pastor! El Tizoncito currently claims the throne so we decided to come have a seat.

 

 

 

I had no objections to their claim.

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Our tacos were roughly a buck fifty each. I could have eaten 12.  I think we settled on 3 each.

After tacos must come cena

We wanted to check out the hip neighborhood La Roma and decided on restaurant Yuban for cena. I really wanted some traditional Oaxacan mole and Yuban specializes in Oaxacan country-style food in a ‘stylish setting’. FYI…this just means world class mole re-imagined as modern cuisine. Also, I am not a huge fan of modern cuisine, it’s just not my thing. I like rustic, family-style, home-cooked, hole in the wall meals. But that’s just me.

*Side note:  If you are really into modern cuisine, Michelin star restaurants, and world-class chefs…then Mexico is THE place to experience this at a fraction of the cost. 

So now you know when a restaurant like Yuban uses words like ‘country-style’ food in a ‘stylish setting’ what that really means is modern cuisine.

Moving on.

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Actually one more thing, this was the best damn mole chichilo I have ever had. Someone’s mother definitely taught them how to get all that savory flavor into one sauce. So in a way… it was a home-cooked meal.

 

 

We also order for the tasting, pato con mole (left) and tacos de chapulin (right) I was concerned about the entre on the right and after roughly 6 times of me asking “que es esto?” I discovered that I had in fact ordered grasshopper tacos. My Spanish quickly improved after this.  Thankfully I married a carnivore who doesn’t discriminate.

After that experience our bill was a little over $1,000 pesos which at first glance was more terrifying than the grasshoppers but $1,000 pesos is seemingly $60 USD. So I was being serious when I said you can eat fancy for a fraction of the cost.

DAY 2:

The next day, we spent over 12 hours exploring museums and buildings, chatepultec parc, walking what we could down the La Reforma into the bustling business district, ubering to the Zocalo and touring the Palacio Nacional, stumbling into hotel lobbies adorned with Louis C. Tiffany glass ceilings and devouring every fonda in sight. To seal the night with a kiss, we headed to a neighborhood pulqueria for an authentic pulque nightcap.

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If you can only choose one museum, Museo Nacional de Anthropologia is a must. My favorites were the outside replica’s of former temples.

 

This museum tells the entire story of Meso America from its birth to present day Mexico.

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Museo Nacional de Anthropologia is located right off of the the Paseo de la Reforma. Just look at how mesmerizing it was para caminar on the outskirts of  Chapultepec Parc.

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Right into the bustling business district.

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There were Jacaranda trees blooming everywhere in Mexico adding subtle hints of Spring on every corner.

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We walked to El Ángel, one of the most recognizable landmarks in Mexico roughly a 1.5 miles from the museum.  This monument tends to attract protests and we witnessed a powerful demonstration. The crosses on the steps of El Ángel represents a woman who has been murdered by the cartel.

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El Ángel

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From here we took an uber to the Palacio Nacional. The walking portion of this trip had ended.  Travel tip: Uber is the way to travel in Mexico.  Most uber rides are roughly 30 minutes with traffic and cost roughly $2 USD.

The Palacio Nacional is located in the Zocalo square right in the heart of the Centro Historico and is home to the President’s office. It’s said to be built on the exact location of Moctezuma’s palace. Oh, and it’s free*. I am a huge Diego Rivera fan and he was commissioned to basically paint this entire palace. You’ll see what I mean in a moment.

*By free,  you just have to hand over your photo ID for the time being so make sure you have it handy.

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Inside the palace grounds

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“The Arrival of Cortes”

 

“Epic of the Mexican People”

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Rivera was famous for depicting his political statements. His work speaks through the history of the Mexican people.  He painted Frida in many of his murals and it was enthralling finding her in so many of these masterpieces. We missed seeing some of his more intimate murals at the Secretaria de Educacion Publica.  Go there if you can. It’s not far from the palace, we just ran out of time.  I wasn’t kidding when I said you need 5 nights in Mexico…

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Just blocks from the Zocalo is the beloved Palacio de  Belles Artes, possibly one of the most iconic buildings in Mexico’s history. The exterior of the building is a combination of neoclassical and art nouveau while the interior is primarily art deco. For the record, all three of these expressions are my current obsessions. Por que the mash up? Well, the initial construction began in 1904 during the peak of the art nouveau scene. However, the Mexican Revolution began in 1910 stopping all construction.  It wasn’t until 1932 that the palacio began the final phase of construction influencing now an art deco scene inside the theater. I know?!  It is the ultimate art lovers fantasy. Did I mention there are more Diego Rivera murals and the theater’s dome is a Tiffany creation.  It’s no wonder Maria Callas made some of her best live recordings right here. 

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We found the best fonda in Centro Historico, Fonda di Lupita.

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My best advice, go ahead and try the hole in the wall fonda with a plastic stool and a deep fryer…

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because the gordita’s are legit… Yes, that’s what a real gordita looks like.

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and the best horchata is always served in a pitcher. I don’t know that I’ll ever drink horchata any other way.

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If you aren’t adventurous enough for a fonda experience, Sanborn’s is the IHOP of Mexico.  This one is in the heart of the Centro Historico.  Sanborn’s are everywhere in the city and if you’re in a pinch you can use the restrooms in these establishments.

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I fell madly in love with the architect of Mexico.

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I mean, really?!

Right on the edge of the Zocalo sits the Gran Hotel de la Ciudad de Mexico. This hotel has an entire Louis C. Tiffany ceiling that commands the entire lobby. I didn’t even know this was a thing?! Just gazing as this master piece sends your heart palpitating.

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We enjoyed the hotel’s rooftop bar that gazes onto the Zocalo.

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And thoroughly enjoyed leaving the hotel.

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There was a string quartet playing right outside.

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And believe it or not, there was another mercado in the Zocalo square so we did what any tourist would do and did some more shopping.

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On our way back to La Condesa, we paused for a cafe y churros at El Moro. This joint is open 24 hours and it was the total Mexican version of Cafe du Monde. I loved it.

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It was time for that nightcap, mi amor really wanted to try an authentic Pulqueria and La Nuclear was in the neighborhood and the best dive bar experience. Living in Philly, dive bars have become somewhat second nature to us.

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This is it. There’s a small bar in the front where you order your choice of beverage.

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We tried the platano pulque. So what the heck is pulque? It’s sort of like a sour beer mixed with a milkshake. It’s not bad if you’re adventurous. Pulque comes from the fermented sap of the agave plant and a fruit or vegetable is added to the aging process to give it its flavor. Like I said, a fermented milkshake. And who doesn’t like bananas?

DAY 3:

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After that mega star day we had revealing the secret beauty of Mexico, we needed to refuel our bodies with desayuno. Our hotel had a different Mexican specialty each morning and today, enchiladas por favor!

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After desayuno, we wanted to explore our neighborhood, La Condesa.

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Remember the park situation…

 

Talk about Jacaronda trees…

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We sauntered through La Condesa until it was time for our uber ride.  This time we were headed all the way to the Basilica of our Lady Guadalupe.

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We made the pilgrimage to see the Lady Guadalupe herself. It was very peculiar.  A conveyor belt shuffles you across this ‘painting’ like an amusement ride behind the pulpit… During Mass.  Also, I am pretty sure there is a Mass every hour in Mexico.

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City views from Lady Guadalupe

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After our sins were forgiven, we set off to find the best huarache and El huarache de Jamaica is it.

 

Huaraches are a Mexico City staple and each family has their own recipe. It is a masa dough that is delicately folded around smashed pinto beans and then topped with your choice of meat/toppings.

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This dish received its name due to the oblong shape resembling a huarache shoe.

 

We seemingly always meet a charming couple on our travels. Say hola to Mickey and Rose. They practiced their broken English and I with my broken Spanish. They were very curious how we found this restaurant as it is not a touristy part of town at all.

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Don’t ever judge a book by its cover in Mexico. Nunca.

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Mercado Jamaica was just around the corner and our friends Mickey and Rose said we must check it out.

 

I am so glad we can take advice from strangers! Not only is it a traditional mercardo, it is also the city’s wholesale flower market.

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After 10+ hours exploring we closed the evening with a Ballet Folklorico performance at the Palacio de Bellas Artes

 

What a passionate performance! We enjoyed every nuanced story, the dancers, singers, and mariachi. Mexico is full of passion!

 

I was on cloud nine after this performance and in this venue. Bravo Mexico!

DAY 4:

Our last full day in Mexico was going to be epic.  My entire reason for visiting Mexico was to visit the home of Frida Kahlo. And that my friends is what we did.

But first, desayuno.

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We started off with the best damn tortas I have ever had. Do you know what a torta is? Good.  Do you know what chilaquiles is. Great.  Do you know what a torta del chilaquil is?

 

This is it.

Your choice of verde or rojo and the best milanesa de pollo. This little street stand called La esquina del chilaquil is on the corner of Alfonso Reyes & Tamaulipas. About a 5 minute walk from our hotel. We had about a 30 minute wait at 8:30 am and is easily Mexico’s best kept secret.

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After what was now the best thing I ever ate in Mexico we hopped in another uber headed for Frida Kahlo’s grass roots, Casa Azul. Located in the Coyoacan neighborhood of Mexico it is almost an hour car ride from La Condesa.

 

If you are a Frida fan this is an absolute must.  The house is set up how Frida and Diego left it.  Her art studio, the bedrooms and kitchen all decorated by these two artistic geniuses.

 

Casa Azul was very azul.

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“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can” -Frida

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“There is nothing more precious than laughter” -Frida

 

Mercado Coyacan was a 5 minute walk from Frida’s. And just like the other mercado’s we explored…this one has everything.  Mercado Jamacia and Mercado Coyacan were my two favorite markets by far.

 

We tried our share of Tostados paired with a refreshing agua fresca.

 

After exploring Frida’s neighborhood, we headed to Mexico’s southern extreme, Xochimilco to visit Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino Dolores’ palace. Yes, palace.

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These are her peacocks.

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And this is her grounds.

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I had no idea the grounds would be covered with Peacocks. I walked right into my heaven.

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And even more Jacaranda trees…

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Dolores’ palace dates back to the 16th century.

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Dolores was a wealthy socialite who was a patron and friend of Diego and Frida. She donated her entire art collection and estate peacocks to the people of Mexico in the early 90’s.

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Diego Rivera’s “Frozen Assests”

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This by far is one of Mexico’s best kept secrets.

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After wandering the palace grounds for a few hours we set off to discover the chinampas (floating gardens) of Mexico.

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But first, more Jacarada trees…

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There are a multiple embarcaderos (boat landings) in Xochimilco, just find the closest one. We made our way here and bargained a tour. I think we agreed on a 2.5 hour ride for 1200 pesos. Roughly 60 bucks. This is one service in Mexico that is negotiable. My advice is to walk away and find another quote.

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We bought a bucket of beer. Victoria beer had quickly become our staple.

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and enjoyed our trajinera to ourselves.

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Bienvenido to the ‘booze cruise’

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Mariachi bands will pull up next to you and for a tip will join your boat and entertain.

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It was a really fun experience.

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Sunbathing through the canals of Mexico.

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This was our final excursion in Mexico City. We spent 4 days discovering the heart of the Mexican people. This city and its people showed us more compassion, beauty, and hospitality than any city we have visited.  Mexico will always have a special place in mi corazon. Next up, San Miguel de Allende!

 

Adios mis amigos! 

~Ashley