Mexico City Recommendations

My parents and I spent Memorial Day weekend exploring Mexico City (#CDMX) for the first time. With only two full days to sightsee, we managed to walk through quite a bit of the Historic District, Colonia Roma (where we stayed), and the charming neighborhood of Coyoacán. Here were our highlights and recommendations:

Museo del Templo Mayor

After walking through the Zócalo--the expansive central square bordered by the National Palace, Metropolitan Cathedral, and Federal Buildings--we decided to tour the ruins of the Aztec Templo Mayor. My father decided to hire a guide registered with the Secretaria de Turismo to take us through the site. Our guide--J. Jaime Baez Jasso (jaixtla_tlalpan@hotmail.com), who we would definitely recommend--walked us through the entire archeological excavation and explained the cosmology and social hierarchy of Aztec society, described the Aztec gods and the rituals that honored them, and pointed out elements from the seven stages of the temple's construction. After two hours, we left with a much deeper understanding of pre-colonial Mexico.

Jaime Baez Jasso

Jaime Baez Jasso

Zinco Jazz Club

Before leaving on the trip, I made a reservation for us to spend Saturday evening at the Zinco Jazz Club. Over drinks, tapas, and tacos, we heard the spectacularly talented house band play big-band classics by Buddy Rich. The talent was A+, the service and food were solid, but the space is tight and it was very warm despite the air conditioner running constantly. We would highly recommend it as a destination for a winter/spring visit to CDMX. 

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Museo Casa de Leon Trostky

My father, the political scientist, really wanted to see where Trotsky lived out his life in exile in Mexico. My mother and I, while not reluctant, had less investment in the visit--nevertheless, we found it surprisingly enjoyable! As a museum, it's very basic. The house, however, has been preserved and looks as it did in 1940 when Trotsky was assassinated. It's remarkable to walk through and see how sparely he and his wife lived in order to live rich intellectual lives. Trotsky's study and the room where his secretaries worked were filled with books in Russian, Spanish, and English. The walls were also filled with bullet holes from an unsuccessful assassination attempt made in 1939. Although the home is surrounded by a beautiful garden in a charming neighborhood, the presence of the bullet holes, the steel doors and bricked in windows, and the rooms for Trotsky's bodyguards make it easy to imagine how limited Trotsky's life must have been and how little he was able to take advantage of his surroundings. 

Leon Trotsky's Study, Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky

Leon Trotsky's Study, Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky

Going to the Movie Theater

One of my favorite things to do when traveling abroad is to go to the movies. It provides insight into how the middle class in that country lives and what their film culture is like, but more practically it's an air-conditioned, comfortable place with clean bathrooms where you can spend two hours recovering from a day of walking and sightseeing. In the chic neighborhood where were staying in CDMX, Colonia Roma, the movie theater was resplendent. Like in Argentina, my only Latin American comparison, you purchase specific seats in the theater. Although they did not recline, the seats were as big as armchairs. Someone came around with an iPad to take our orders for concessions--if only we had known it was an option, we would not have waited in line for a Pepsi. The downside, however, was that the previews included many more commercials than are typically shown before a movie in the United States. In case you were wondering, we saw ¡Huye!

Parque México

On our last morning, we took a long walk before heading to the airport. From our AirBnb in Colonia Roma, we headed towards Colonia Condesa and the Parque Mexico. Entering the park on a the verdant path, we saw these extraordinary covered wooden benches every few feet. Numerous dog walkers led the most organized and obedient packs of dogs up and down the paths. And then, just ahead of us, we found the densest, most well-equipped outdoor gym that we have ever seen. I have seen exercise equipment in parks around the world, but this one had the widest variety of equipment packed into one area--it truly looked like a floor of a Crunch or Planet Fitness had been dropped into the middle of an urban jungle. We couldn't resist trying out a few. If we'd only known, we would have packed workout clothes and come every morning!

Charleston Recommendations

During my two-week stay in Charleston, I would spent the workday in Addlestone Library and then departed each evening to explore the city. Although I tried some of the more well-known restaurants--Xiao Bao BiscuitBar at HuskLeon's--and checked out popular tourist sites like the waterfront park and the market, my favorite places, foods, and experiences were more quotidian. For any scholars who have the distinct pleasure of conducting research in Special Collections at the College of Charleston, these are my recommendations for sustenance, libations, caffeination, and a bit of exercise.

Caviar and Bananas: Charleston's version of Dean and Deluca. You can get coffee, pastries, deli items, salads, sushi, charcuterie, fancy specialty foods, wine, and beer. I ate lunch there almost every day, and although I tried many different items I kept going back to the Baja Salad.

Westbrook Brewing Co. Gose: After tasting this beer on one of my first evenings in the city, I discovered that this was my sister's favorite beer! That's saying something, since my sister works in the craft beer industry. Since Westbrook does not distribute to Pennsylvania, I had to drink my fill before I left...

Caw Caw Interpretive Center Early Morning Bird Walk: On Saturday morning, my mom and I drove out to this former rice plantation for a guide-led birding expedition. For $10 each, we borrowed excellent Nikon binoculars, through which we spotted bald eagles, egrets, herons, phoebes, yellow-rump warblers, pied-billed grebes, woodpeckers, wild turkeys, and many other wetland birds. I could not recommend this experience more highly, but wear bug spray. With DEET. 

Black Tap Coffee: This was the best spot I found for a few hours of work outside the library. This small neighborhood shop pours an excellent cup of coffee and has ample outlets, free wifi, and bright sunny windows. 

Queen Street Grocery: One of the most charming things about the area around College of Charleston were the corner groceries. Queen Street Grocery was the closest one to the house where I stayed, and I enjoyed grabbing a beer (the Gose, obviously) and salad to eat there or take-out. 

Colonial Lake: With all the eating and drinking I was doing, I made sure to do plenty of walking every evening. My best walks were around Colonial Lake, where I joined many neighborhood residents who were out exercising their dogs, catching up with friends, and enjoying the sunsets while getting in an evening workout.

Chicago

Today I'm off to Chicago to attend the Urban History Association Biennial Conference. For the first time, I'm attending a conference without presenting my own work. Without the distraction of performance anxiety, I am especially looking forward to sitting in on a variety of panels and learning about the newest scholarship. It is also an opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends, and to make new acquaintances. I'm optimistic that it will be a worthwhile and fulfilling experience!

Chicago from the 51st floor, looking south towards downtown from an apartment building in Lakeview.