Mexico City: Beyond the Palacio Nacional

Peter and I went to Mexico City two years ago. It happened to be the week before Easter, when the city runs at half-speed because everyone’s on vacation. We were too, so we just didn’t wind up doing very much sightseeing.

Oh, why am I making excuses? We never do much sightseeing. It’s just too tedious to make big plans and maps and timetables, and get your heart set on any one thing. (Precise opposite: friend of a friend who planned her family’s trip to Disney World with a spreadsheet, down to the minute.)

Awe-some. Like, really, awe.
Awe-some. Like, really, awe.

The other problem with planning too much is it’s basically admitting you’re never going back to a place. If you have a big checklist, and you check off all the sights, well, then why would you come back?

I know, the world is a big place and we have a limited amount of time here, so I see why people are strategic (especially with only two weeks of vacation a year; the American workplace is savage). But let me dream, OK? I would much rather leave a place with a pang of regret–which may be strong enough to make me go back–than some kind of bucket-list satisfaction.

This is all a very roundabout justification for my own laziness and the fact that, on our first visit, we didn’t even manage to see the Diego Rivera murals in the Palacio Nacional. They were, what, five blocks from our hotel?

This time, we were three blocks closer. No excuse.

I could load you up with photos, but I’d seen the photos before, and I didn’t understand how powerful the murals are. While we were in Puebla, Peter and I were in awe of the buildings–like, how was it the Spanish were building such amazing things just 40 years after they discovered the place, and the English couldn’t even keep a colony of settlers alive?

The answer is in the last of the murals.

If you answered 'slave labor,' you win a prize.
If you answered ‘slave labor,’ you win a prize.

After that, we cheered ourselves up with ice cream.

Colors of the Mexican flag, no coincidence.
Colors of the Mexican flag, no coincidence.

And some tacos–grilled beef and cactus.


That were grilled in this contraption:

See that? Next trend in food trucks. Mark my words.
See that? Next trend in food trucks. Mark my words.

Not sightseeing rewarded us with those tacos, and several other neat things.

Crazy bottles of booze.
Crazy bottles of booze.
The pinafore store--for all your street-vendor-uniform needs.
The pinafore store–for all your street-vendor-uniform needs.
The Mercado de Dulces...which really was the candy market.
The Mercado de Dulces…which really was the candy market.
Funny fonts. It's like they saw the 'circ' and thought 'circus'.
Funny fonts. It’s like they saw the ‘circ’ and thought ‘circus’.
Shrimp 'cocktel'.
Shrimp ‘cocktel’.
A perfectly nice art deco warehouse.
A perfectly nice art deco warehouse.

Wait, you’re saying, that’s just not interesting at all. No–look closer!

Hello, plaintains, ripening like hams in the Alpujarras!
Hello, plaintains, ripening like hams in the Alpujarras!

The most trivial thing we did in our post-Palacio walk was stop for many long minutes to watch a street vendor make a perfectly round pancake, without the aid of a mold. While we were sitting, playing it cool, waiting for him to pour the batter, I realized why you can’t always travel like this, planless.

People! Other people! What a pain they are.

No, seriously, we love our friends we went to Mexico City with, and we would have happily spent all of our time with them. But they’d gone off to Trotsky’s house, which is amazing, but we weren’t sure we needed to see again.

Practically speaking, you can’t stop a group of four or six people and say, “Hey, guys, check out that pancake maker. Let’s watch him for a while.” At least not if you want to make it through the day alive.

Hell, you can’t even do this with one other person, if that other person isn’t totally on your travel wavelength.

I feel incredibly lucky that Peter is. Sure, sometimes I wish he’d wake up maybe a little earlier, but he’s totally open to the ‘Wait, stop, let’s…’ and ‘Take a pic of that weird thing’ (most of the photos here are his, at my prodding) and ‘[Chortling at some incredibly immature thing]’.

The fundamental similarity that makes it all possible, though, is that we don’t care if we miss some big sights. We get so many little ones instead.


  1. We were there the same week as you! Didn’t make it to see the murals on this (our first) trip but we can fly back anytime…. I LOVED Mexico City and can’t wait to go back!

  2. Naomi says:

    I love love love to plan! But always with the caveat that I want to see Item X but how I get there and what I do along the way is open to anything. When you get back will you be growing bananas in the house? Seems like a decent plan to me.

  3. Zora says:

    It’s true–it’s nice to have an anchor for the day, one destination…and then everything else open. Maybe we can hang bananas in the little window in the roof bulkhead…

    Michele, funny we were there at the same time! Nice to think we were buzzing around in the same places. Glad you loved it! It’s really an amazing place. And lucky you to be so much closer…

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