Friday, March 28, 2014

Teotihuacán - Pyramids of the Sun and Moon

Our visit to Mexico City was different from most vacations in that we didn't really have a game plan - not even a list of places that we wanted to definitely visit - except for ensuring that we took in the old ruins and pyramids outside the city. With our bud, Mexican Lou's, assistance we figured out our timing and a tour and this was the day. 

As is wont with taking a group tour, there were a few stops along the way - even if you were really only interested in the main event. The old Aztec site, Tlatelolco, and the Plaza de las Tres Culturas - right in Mexico City - was our first stop. A quick history lesson, some Mexican tour guide humour and a church built on the ruins. Not exactly a tour highlight. 

Next up was the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe - the most visited Marian shrine in the world (shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary). I knew this was one of our scheduled stops and it didn't really appeal much to me beforehand; however, I will admit that the church (churches), the plaza and the gorgeous gardens and old chapels on the hill of Tepeyac were well worth the visit and were both quite interesting and stunning. I was told that the surrounding plaza is filled with countless folks during special occasion masses - despite the fact that the Basilica itself can seat 10,000, with the second floor and atriums bringing that total to 50,000. I couldn't find confirmation in any materials but the figure of a million+ on the plaza sticks in my mind as being possible. Blows the mind.

The iconic picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe is seen everywhere in Mexico City; so, it was quite impressive to see the original tilma (peasant's cloak) hanging in the Basilica. Even more impressive, however, were the old basilica nearby - showing its definitive slant from the shifting lands beneath the church - and the simple chapel that sits atop the gorgeous gardens on the hill of Tepeyac - where legend has it that, in 1531, Our lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, an Indian peasant, and bade him to see that a church be built on the site in her honour. A couple of miracles later and Mexico's patron saint was well on her way.

I definitely think a picnic - with a little sacramental wine - would definitely be a worthwhile excursion. It wasn't in the cards for today though.

Teotihuacán - and its Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon and Avenue of the Dead - was the real goal of the day. Having visited the Mayan city of Copán many years back and visited, more recently, the Great Pyramids of Egypt and Machu Picchu with Boo, you might think that I have a bit of a jones for these windows into past civilizations. You'd be right.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right, Teotihuacán is found approximately 50 kilometres outside of Mexico City and it should be no surprise that it is the most visited archaeological site in Mexico. In its heyday - between 100 BC and 550 AD - the city's population was estimated at 125,000 or more and it was one of the largest cities in the world at the time and the largest in the Americas.

Just don't forget to liberally apply the sunscreen, bring water and be prepared to climb. The accompanying picture gives a good representation of the steepness of the Sun Pyramid and, thankfully, my propensity to experience vertigo was well-behaved today. No doubt, the chain handrail in the middle of the primary staircase acted as a bit of security blanket.

I was equally thankful that I didn't have to make my way down the pyramid on my butt - but ever so glad to have climbed the pyramid in the first place. Plus, that effort was definitely worthy of some well-earned cocktail action upon our return to Mexican Lou's.

An "authentic" Mexican lunch was part of our tour but, for the evening, Lou had arranged for dinner at Azul Condesa - one of the trendier restaurants in his already trendy neighbourhood. The restaurant is operated by Mexican celebrity chef, Ricardo Muñoz Zurita, who wrote the book on Encyclopedic Dictionary of Mexican Gastronomy - and I mean literally wrote the book.

Azul Condesa is known for its authentic, regional cuisine and, each month, its menu is celebrates a different theme. Contemporary Yucatan cuisine was the feature with this month's festival menu. I wouldn't know the difference between a Yucatan dish, a Oaxacan plate or something else altogether but we'd mentioned that we hoped to see what a higher end Mexican restaurant would be like. When presented with a menu that meant virtually nothing to me, Boo and I simply took some tips from Mexican Lou and sampled soup, shrimp and pork. Oh, and a house specialty: the guacamole with chapulines. That would be the grasshoppers that add a little crunchy note to the guac.

1578.  2011 Cuatro Niñas - Cosecha (Valle de Guadalupe - Mexico)

If making my way through the menu was a tad difficult, trying to figure out a wine to order was beyond hope. Unfortunately, neither our waiter nor the sommelier knew more than bare bones English; so, Lou tried to translate the waitstaff's comments on the forty odd Mexican reds that were available on the wine list. We ultimately went with "Four Girls" Cosecha. When we were told that this was a blend of Barbera and Nebbiolo, I remembered back to having enjoyed a Mexican Nebbiolo (L.A. Cetto) at the Vancouver International Wine Festival some years back and thought this might be worth a go.

The wine was big - and enjoyable - although I'll admit it went better with the meat dishes than it did with the lighter fare. Maybe that's why drinking cervezas with dinner is more common than wine around here. Par for the course with the Mexican wines we tried on the trip, I couldn't find any online information about the winery or the wine after the fact. Alberto Rubio is apparently the winemaker and the one reference I found about him briefly stated that he's yet another up and coming, young winemaker in Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe.

I figure it's better to have tried these local wines and still know nothing about them than to not have even tried them. I'll just have to keep my eyes and ears open for future opportunities and maybe, by then, I'll know a little Spanish or, more likely, the person introducing the wine will know English.

All considered though, it was a day for the ages. Unexpected religious treats. Historical wonders. And fine dining. In my book, that's what vacations are supposed to be all about.

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