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Mexico City
(October 26-November 7, 2005)

Around the city

Cathedral,Zocalo, Mexico City

Mexico City, commonly referred to by Mexicans as "El DF" (pronounced "El-Day-Ef-ay), is one of the most populous cities of the world. It is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains, at an altitude of 7,400 feet (2,300 metres). Visibility is usually very poor because of the high levels of smog.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated in December 2000, during Popocatepetl's last major eruption.

This view to the east was taken from the Torre Latinoamericana on one of the clearer days we were there. The volcanoes Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatepetl can just be made out in the distance.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated in December 2000, during Popocatepetl's last major eruption.

The sykscrapers of the business district can be seen in this view to the west.

The Zocalo, or city center square, is a massive concrete area with a giant flag in the centre, bounded on the north by the Metropolitan Cathedral and on the east by the National Palace (Palacio Nacional).

View of the central courtyard inside the Palacio Nacional.

The walls and stairways facing the courtyard are graced with many large historical murals painted by Mexican artist Diego Rivera.

The Metropolitan Cathedral, one of the largest in the western hemisphere, is one of the many buildings which has sunk slightly into the soft subsoil of the lake-bed city.

The Templo Mayor was a double pyramid dedicated to the gods Tlaloc (god of water and rain, mainstay of the crop cycle), and Huitzilopochtli (god of war, patron of conquests and tributes), both of whom required frequent human sacrifice to sustain them.

North-east of the Zocalo are the ruins of the Templo Mayor, the main temple of the ancient Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlán. It was destroyed in the 16th century by the Spanish, and was excavated only recently, after workmen uncovered a huge circular stone depicting the goddess Coyolxauhqui in 1978.

The Torre Latinoamericana was until recently the tallest building in Mexico.

The Torre Latinoamericana is 171 meters high and has 44 floors, including a restaurant and viewing platforms. This view was taken on the Sunday morning before we left, when thousands of runners took to the streets around the Zocalo to compete in the Nike 10K race.

Kittycorner to the Torre is the opulent Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), Mexico City's premier opera house.  We were there on November 1, and people were crowded outside around an elaborate Day of the Dead display. The Alameda park is to west of Bellas Artes.

West of the Alameda, the main avenue of Reforma passes the large Chapultepec Park. You can see the Independence monument and a few others at the roundabout intersections.

Chapultepec park (Bosque de Chapultepec) is an easy walk across the bridge from the Metro station. You will first encounter the impressive Niños Heroes monument, which commemorates the lives of the six young military cadets who died during the invasion of US troops in 1847.

The squirrels near the monument were very tame, and we were glad to have packed a few nuts in our bag.

On the hill above is the opulent Castillo de Chapultepec, which was the residence of Emperor Maximilian and his wife Carlotta whilst ruling Mexico  in the 1860s during the French occupation, and later for president Portfirio Diaz.  Today it is the site of the National Museum of History.

Nearby is the Museo Nacional de Antropología, whose halls and gardens are dedicated to the display of Mexico's ancient civilizations and regional exhibits of contemporary rural Mexican life.

It houses such important archeological relics as the Stone of the Sun (popularly known as the Aztec Calendar), giant Olmec stone heads and others too numerous to mention. We allowed two days to visit it. Make sure you check your bags at the cloakroom (guardarropa) to save you wearying your feet and shoulders unnecessarily.

One of the most interesting exhibits was in the Mayan hall, of a reconstruction of the tomb of Pacal the Great at Palenque. It includes his jade death mask, earrings and bead necklaces.

You can stop off at the nurseries and buy plants.

One Sunday morning we caught the Metro south to Xochimilco (which translates as "Place where Flowers Grow" in Nahuatl). These canals are the last remnants of the system of waterways created when Tenochtitlán was built.  There are many nurseries along the banks. Mexican families come out to Xochimilco on Sundays to relax and socialise on the colourful boats.

Alas, we got there too early to see the hustle and bustle that Xochimilco is noted for. Afternoon would have been better!

There are about 5 embarcaderos from which you can catch the boats. Prices are per boat per hour, so it pays to have a full boat! You can buy cooked corn and other foods from vendors in boats, and even be serenaded by mariachis!

Turning my life around.....