The Bellybutton of the Universe

Obviously this title indicates that I went to Mexico City for 5 de mayo weekend. The capital hadn’t initially been on my bucket list, but it seemed like a fitting conclusion trip before I go back to the U.S. Fortunately, my housemate, Kelly, was up for the trip too and we found a cheap flight there on 5 de mayo. Some friends recommended a really nice hostel to us where we got a private room. One of the reasons I had been hesitant to go is that Mexico City can be really crowded (it after all is the 5th biggest city in the world), however, thanks to some type A planning on our part and the long weekend actually drawing people away from the city, we hardly went anywhere with a large crowd. Friday morning we got up early and happened to be passing the national palace just in time for the flag raising in the main square. It was a very classy affair. Literally a couple hundred soldiers were stationed around the square, including a few on “cone patrol” who marched out into the street with orange traffic cones to block traffic. There were drums and horns accompanying the flag with the music we normally hear during flag salutes at school. After this unexpected show, we started our adventure on the metro, which was crowded, but not too bad. $5 pesos for the metro which connects all over the city!

We strolled through Chapultepec forest and climbed a long hill to get to the castle. It is the only castle in North America where a sovereign actually lived (Emperor Maximilian and Empress Carlota). Before they lived there, it was a military academy where six cadets sacrificed their lives defending it against United States troops (the battle is referenced in the Marine’s Hymn as the “halls of Montezuma”).  It was a beautiful structure with great views of the city.

We continued our walk through the forest to check out the Anthropology Museum. So impressive and very thorough! I couldn’t even get all the way through it because I was so tired and hungry.


After lunch, we took the metro back into the historic central and enjoyed the Fine Arts Palace. I have never been in a building that so thoroughly carried the style of the 30’s. I felt like I was in a Jean Harlow or Myrna Loy movie because that is the only other place I have seen that kind of architecture.

Oh, have I mentioned that every site or museum we went to see in Mexico City (with one exception) was free because we had national teacher ID. It was fun just showing our ID everywhere, though we had some skeptics that scrutinized it. On our walk back toward the Zocalo (the courtyard with the huge flag) we stumbled upon a free museum highlighting fashion in Mexico from 1950 to the present. It was fun because it combined traditional clothing with modern fashion.

On day 2, we went to see the pyramids. We knew we could take the metro to the bus station and from there it was an hour long bus ride. We did not know how long the metro ride would last or when exactly the buses left for the archaeological site. We arrived at the bust station at 8:15 and were told the bus was leaving in two minutes. We quickly grabbed our tickets and ran to catch our bus. I hadn’t realized, but the Teotihuacan ruins had been a metropolis from 100-600 AD approximately and had been basically abandoned since then. We climbed the Pyramid of the Sun (the 3rd tallest in the world) and as far as we were allowed up the Pyramid of the Moon. Again, we got there early, before the sun was too hot or lots of people were there. When we were finished, we stopped to have a light lunch with the view of the pyramids before walking out to the entrance to see how long we would have to wait for the next bus (they hadn’t been able to tell us when we arrived). From a way back, we saw one sitting the parking lot, just about to pull out. They kindly waited for us to get the rest of the way down the road. Incredible timing we could never have planned.


Back in the city, we went to see the Templo Mayor (which we had earlier mistaken for a construction site). It is the site of the prehispanic temple which was believed to be under the main cathedral until it was discovered one block over in 1978 by electric workers. If you are familiar with the symbol of the eagle with a snake in its beak landing on a cactus plant, the temple was supposed to be built on the exact spot where this sign was witnessed. It was this temple in the ancient city Tenochtitlan that represented the center of the universe (or the bellybutton of the universe) for the Aztecs. We were able to walk through the site and see some of the discovered artifacts in the museum. Afterwards, we went into the National Palace where we were able to see a small exhibit about Benito Juarez in the rooms he had lived in (such an inspiring man). We also got to see several Diego Rivera murals around one of the courtyards.


After an ice cream break, we finally gave out after all of the walking and ruin climbing and went back to the hotel. For dinner we just walked a few blocks to the Spanish (as in Spain) cultural center on the top floor where they had a terrace restaurant. It was a long wait to get a waiter, but the weather and atmosphere was very nice and the food was great too.

Our last item of business was to visit Frida Kahlo’s house. This was the only place we couldn’t get into for free, but we still got a pretty nice discount. We got there about an hour early to wait in line. Well, I waited in line because my foot was hurting and I didn’t want to move. Kelly did a little exploring and got a snack for us. We were second in line behind a Polish man who was doing post-graduate research in the area for a few months. We had a great conversation with him about crime (his field of study) while we waited. The house was large and really expressed a lot of the character of Frida and Diego. We also got to see an exhibit of many of the dresses she wore (nearly as iconic as her self-portraits). We walked through her sunny art studio, saw photos of her and her family, and learned some more of the history of her and Diego and the artistic, political circle they created around themselves.


We might have overdid it a bit; my foot has been wrapped up and elevated most of the time since we got back. However, I’m so glad I had the opportunity to take this trip!

Photos are my own, except for the final two which belong to Kelly Kursteiner.