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Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Enlightened Traveler: Mexico City – Chic, Cheap, Cool, Close

Why don't more people appreciate the considerable charms of Mexico City?

This 20-million-strong metropolis offers a lot of sophisticated pleasures for the jaded traveler – world class art, museums, restaurants, and more.

Mexico City's colonial cathedral and famous green Beetle taxis (photo: Paula Moya)

It's also cheap, with the added benefit that it's just three hours by air from Los Angeles and less than six hours from New York.

That beats a 20-hour trip to Buenos Aires any day (unless you'd kill for a fresh alfajor or absolutely must have a new custom-fitted lambskin jacket).

The Mexican capital boasts an array of cultural attractions that are as fine as anything you'll see in Europe. It's worth the trip just to visit the spectacular National Museum of Anthropology whose significant archaeological and ethnographic artifacts from pre-Columbian times are displayed superbly in 23 galleries. (Sounds dull, it's anything but!) Allow an entire day or even two. You won't regret it.

You'll marvel at the massive modernist murals by Siquieros, Tamayo, Orozco and Rivera at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Alameda Park. They stand in stark contrast to the opera house's ornate Beaux Arts interior.

More Rivera murals fill the walls of the Palacio Nacional, the seat of Mexico's government. These depict a panorama of Mexican history from pre-Colombian times, to the Spanish conquest, to Rivera's 1920s Communist vision showing workers listening to Karl Marx. Fascinating stuff.

The colonial Coyoacan quarter is where you'll find the Frida Kahlo Museum (her home and studio) along with several other small museums and plenty of inviting cafes and restaurants. Los Danzantes is a favorite. They distill their own Mezcal. Plan a long, leisurely lunch on their terrace overlooking the historic square's charming gardens.

For food, fun, and shopping, you'll want to focus on Coyoacan, as well as Condesa and Roma.

In arty Condesa (the Notting Hill of Mexico City) the hotel Condesa DF is known for its smart rooms and late-night restaurant and bar scene. Movie star Diego Luna is co-owner of Cafeina, another popular Condesa rendezvous.

In Roma, Casa Lamm's striking setting imposes (successfully!) modern elements on a 1913 mansion. The interior and exterior seemingly form one space and make for a magical evening on a warm night. The fusion cuisine is excellent.

Finally, on Sunday, hire a car to take you to the San Angel crafts market. Then visit the studio designed for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo by modernist master Juan O'Gorman. End your afternoon with a drink or late lunch on the patio at the lovely San Angel Inn.

There's lots more to enjoy in Mexico City. Don't take our word for it. Go and find out for yourself.

A few tips to enjoy your visit:
If you're worried about the swine flu, it's now global. Unless you want to stay home for the next year, you might as well go to Mexico. And remember, many times fewer folks have died from the swine flu than do each year from regular flu strains ♦ You'll have a fine time in Mexico City if you observe a few common sense rules. Don't take a taxi unless it's been called for you by your hotel or restaurant ♦ Leave your good jewelry and watches at home ♦ For more on sites associated with Kahlo and Rivera, click here ♦ And, as always, wearing white sneakers is a sure giveaway that you're an American tourist

(Photos: Rivera Mural, Paula Moya; Casa Lamm, Yorck)

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