As a shy freshman at the University, I initially thought I would head back home to Cleveland from February 28 to March 6, to spend my break watching the Food Network with my dogs. That was until I heard about the opportunity to travel with other members of Helicon and professors in the History of Art department to a city with a vibrant arts culture and be immersed in what the location has to offer. Little did I know that this trip, which I documented with shorthand notes on my phone and tons of pictures, would not only introduce me to an art historical perspective and culture that I was unfamiliar with, but also open me up to completely new environments and experiences with people I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know better and spending time with. Enjoy this day-by-day recap of our unforgettable trip~
Day 1: Bienvenidos a CDMX
At 2 am on February 28, I made my way to East Quad to wait for our ride to the airport. Initially a bit uneasy about my first college trip and constantly paranoid that I was missing my passport, all of my fears melted away when I was greeted by the welcoming Ana Fernandez. Immediately I knew I was in good hands. After picking up the excited and ever-curious Howard Lay, our group of nine assembled in front of airport security, ready for our trip to begin. Exhausted and hungry, we survived our 5:45 am connecting flight to Dallas, where our unsatisfying bagel sandwiches seemed even more lacking in our anticipation of local Mexican eats.
Once we landed in Mexico City, we met up with the true hero of Helicon Spring Break, our driver and guide, Raúl. This angelic man, proud owner of the white, spacious van that was our mode of transportation for the entire trip, not only drove us wherever we needed to go, but also guided us through some of the city’s landmarks and made excellent entertainment and food recommendations. Outside of the airport, we were welcomed with warm breezes and sunshine. From there, we drove through the streets of Mexico City’s Centro Histórico, lined with clothing stores, food stands, and Spanish architecture, to where we would call home for the next week.
The seven of us students checked into our crowded bunk bed-style room in Hostel Regina, a busy, wildly decorated hostel, full of students and travelers from all over the world. Although this aggressively hostel-y living situation may have been very new to some of us, we all embraced it.
Free time before attending the evening ballet consisted of naps, plates of pork tacos, and trying to figure how to deal with pesos. Dinner was followed by a performance at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, celebrating the history of Mexico through dance and music. Mariachi, lots of confetti, and enormous puppets. I couldn’t think of a better way to end the day. Viva Mexico!
Day 2: Trek to Teotihuacán
The second day of our trip was dedicated to exploring the ancient city of Teotihuacán, which is older than the Aztecs. In order to climb the gigantic Pyramid of the Sun, we needed sustenance. This is when we experienced a staple in Mexico City: the feverish hunt for delicious pastries. Grabbing large trays and tongs, we had to move at the rapid pace of the locals who were piling their trays high with breads, sticky buns, and cakes.
Before the drive to Teotihuacán, Raúl took us to La Plaza de Tres Culturas, to explain how Mexico’s history is marked by indigenous and invading civilizations, colonial powers, and political and social revolution.
After this, we finally arrived in Teotihuacán. Before climbing the pyramid, we were welcomed with a generous sampling some of the best that Mexico has to offer (mezcal, tequila…etc.) and an invitation to buy all of the crafts we desired. After buying hats and a luchador mask, we all felt better equipped to climb the great stone pyramid before us. Howard documented our journey up the pyramid as only an art historian could by taking photos of us taking photos of ourselves.
Exhausted and sore, we all partook in a large lunch before heading back to the city. That night we stayed at the hostel and met a French musician and a very chatty Canadian. A quiet evening on the roof of the hostel turned into a loud street performance of classic Cuban music and the Talking Heads followed by late-night grilled chorizo and ham sandwiches called tortas. Perfecto.
Day 3: El día de Diego
The morning of the third day was much more relaxed. Before walking around Zócalo, the main city square, we went on the hunt for breakfast. Amongst pharmacies and liquor stores was a food stand selling fresh-steamed tamales with chicken and sauce inside bread. This carb-on-carb meal was just what we needed to walk around Zócalo, explore the interiors of the beautiful cathedrals, and visit two incredible artistic destinations.
The first was the College of San Ildefonso. Once a school (where Frida Kahlo attended), the college now houses exhibitions such as an incredible collection sculptures by the modern Mexican artist, Javier Marín and is home to famous murals such as Diego Rivera’s early Creation Mural.
We then went to the Secretariat of Education building, which has murals by Siqueiros and Orozco, as well as three floors of Rivera murals. Both museums are free and open to the public which is astounding considering the history and artwork they both hold.
With the impressive number of works we saw, we certainly worked up an appetite. Tacos al pastor and Mexican Cokes were just what we needed. We finished out the night at a Lucha Libre fight. We couldn’t handle watching the over-the-top “wrestlers” in sparkly tight pants slap each other for more than 45 minutes, but it was a good laugh and Howard’s reactions were priceless.
Day 4: Museum Marathon
The fourth day was our most active museum day, which was perfect considering the cooler rainy weather. From the stunning Museum of Anthropology to learn about Mexico and its peoples throughout time, to the small Museum of Modern Art with its amazing café, to El Museo Rufina Tomayo, which houses multimedia installations and contemporary art, to Maximillian and Juarez’ Castle with its royal European opulence, it was an extremely successful and satisfying day.
That night, after eating more delicious tacos, we spent time on the roof of the hostel, meeting other people from all over. A perfect end to a busy day.
Day 5: Coyoacán, Kahlo, and Communists
While we awaited the arrival of Howard, Ana, and Raúl, we sat down to a breakfast of huevos rancheros. Day five was dedicated to exploring Frida Kahlo’s neighborhood of Coyoacán. We first visited the Frida Kahlo Museum inside La Casa Azul, the shockingly bright blue childhood home of Frida Kahlo where she also lived with her husband, Diego Rivera.
The openness of the house, the colorful decorations, and the seemingly untouched rooms and studios preserve the spirit and life of Frida Kahlo. The temporary exhibition next to her house, showcased Kahlo’s iconic fashion along with her many braces, corsets, and medical equipment. Intricate Mexican dress shown alongside her protective gear, conveyed the lengths she had to go to in order to live, paint, entertain, and participate politically while suffering from lifelong injuries.
After garnering a newfound respect for Kahlo and eating tostadas, we visited Rivera’s studio followed by Leon Trotsky’s house where he was assassinated. A fascinating afternoon was followed by a relaxing covered boat ride, where we listened to music, played cards, ate snacks, and stayed out of the rain.
Day 6: Rainy Day Adventure
On the sixth day, we were less successful at staying out of the rain. A drive through the narrow streets of Cholula, home of my favorite hot sauce, followed by the consumption of enormous cemitas, (sandwiches piled high with meat, cheese, and condiments) was a pleasant start to the day.
It then began to rain harder as we entered the ever-shrinking tunnels of the city of Puebla’s enormous pyramid. Because of the weather, we weren’t able to explore Puebla as much as we wanted to, but our visit to Ideal Pastry made up for it.
Ideal Pastry, a heavenly bakery that everyone in Mexico City seems to go to, has an endless array of every baked good that has probably every existed from traditional Mexican desserts to European style pastries. It was so crowded and confusing, the strategy was to just grab some random stuff and hope that they were delicious. This method turned out to be quite successful. As for our evening, we all split off in groups to explore different parts of the city and to eat dinner. After six days of Mexican food, a few of us who were craving something else, found Black Dog Pizza near the city center. Affordable drinks, mini pizzas, pasta baked inside bread, and the extremely good-looking wait staff definitely made up for being rained on all day. Thank you Ideal Pastry and Black Dog Pizza, I think of you often.
Day 7: Free Day in the City
Our final day in Mexico City was a free day, where we could split up and enjoy what the city has to offer on our own time. I may not be able to speak for everyone else, but the day Vanessa and I had was an eventful one. It began with the most affordable and incredible breakfast I have ever had. We then planned to meet up with other people at the Palacio de Bellas Artes to see more Rivera and Siqueiros murals. One wrong turn and sub-par map reading skills resulted in Vanessa and I getting seriously lost, even though Bellas Artes was not far from where we started. Although we were panicked at first, we soon became gloriously lost in a part of the city we hadn’t seen before, definitely got our fair share of sunshine, spent time in the fascinating Folk Art Museum, and fell in love with paletas which are frozen treats made from real fruit and juice.
We ended the day with our last meal in a restaurant with unusual décor and delicious enchiladas and desserts. Our flight back to the states was early in the morning, so after dinner it was all about packing up and trying to get in a couple hours of sleep, which wasn’t too difficult having eaten plenty that night.
Walking to my dorm upon arriving in Ann Arbor in the late afternoon, I definitely was missing city with its murals and shops, the aroma of fried street foods, and the roof of our hostel with its stringed lights and wobbly tables. I do miss the city tremendously, but I know for a fact I will be making my way back. Te amo mucho, Mexico City. Hasta la vista.