By Arvin Steinberg
The colorful canopies of street vendors selling their handcrafted items and native foods captured our immediate attention as my wife and I traveled from the airport to our hotel located in downtown Mexico City.
We have vacationed in this city of 22 million inhabitants many times before but found this trip to be exceptional because we were staying right in the heart of the downtown area at the Gran Melia Mexico Reforma Hotel.
The five-star Gran Melia hotel recently completed a 12 million dollar renovation in the Victorian style. The hotel has an elegant spa, aerobics center, fully-equipped workout area, sauna, steam bath, nutrition center, three Jacuzzis, indoor swimming pool and a vast array of massages as well as facial treatments.
The Gran Melia is located just a few blocks from the city’s craft market and less than 10 minutes to the historic district, area parks and the Palace of Fine Arts (Palacio de Bellas Artes), where we enjoyed a captivating, scintillating performance of the Ballet Folklorico.
The Ballet is not classical ballet where dancers leap across the stage in ruffled short skirts and tights. The ballet is Mexico folklore at its best and we highly recommend it to anyone planning a visit to Mexico City. The Ballet appears throughout the year at the ornately decorated marble performing arts center in Mexico City.
The large cast of wonderfully talented men and women danced and sang in many fast-paced sequences and were accompanied by the music of a Mariachi band. The total spectrum of the rainbow was brought out in elaborate costumes of bright orange, blue, green, red and yellow. Each number was followed by thunderous applause and shouts of “Bravo” and “Ole’ ” from the packed house. At times the audience clapped in rhythm with the music and the crisp staccato beats of Flamenco steps echoing throughout the theater. The production also included passionate and pulsating, romantic numbers and the perennial favorite, the dramatic Deer Dance that was impeccably performed with such realism that we felt as though we were watching the struggles of a live animal.
And although we don’t speak a word of Spanish, we enjoyed every moment of this energetic an entertaining production.
Art abounds in Mexico City. We visited the Delores Olmedo Museum and were captivated by the splendid collection of works of art of Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
Natives of Mexico and art lovers throughout the world are familiar with the works of Diego Rivera. He is probably Mexico’s finest and definitely the most famous of its artists.
Mexicans and others throughout the world also hold a passionate interest in the works and life of Frida Kahlo.
In fact, a movie entitled, Frieda, was recently released in America, depicting Kahlo’s life and her art work.
The romance that existed between Kahlo and Rivera has produced an even greater interest in their paintings.
There are many places in Mexico City to view the works of these prominent Mexican artists. One of the most popular is the former home of Frida Kahlo in Mexico City known as the “Blue House”. Another is the National Palace at the Square of Zocalo in the historical section of the city, where thousands flock to see the murals painted by Diego Rivera that reflect the history of Mexico.
We enjoyed the “Blue House” and the National Palace, but our favorite place to view the art works of these remarkable Mexican artists remained the Dolores Olmedo Museum in Xochimilco on the outskirts of Mexico City.
Here, we enjoyed several wonderfully relaxing and interesting hours as we were surrounded by the greatest collections ever assembled of the works of both of these artists.
It was not only the art that fascinated us. It was the grounds and structure of the museum. The museum occupies the main house of a Hacienda that dates from the 16th century. The Hacienda was initially intended for agricultural purposes and it also had a small chapel for the use of the household, and is still registered as a historical monument.
The late, Dolores Olmedo Patino, owned this elegant, heavily wooded setting, and it is where her art collections were kept. She donated her collections to the people of Mexico, and a trust in her name is responsible for the conservation and exhibitions of the works of art, as well as making their existence known throughout the world.
As we entered the museum grounds, we saw vast expanses of fresh green gardens, as well as animals, all living together in harmony: peacocks, geese, ducks, and several of the original Mexican hairless Xoloitzcuintle dogs playfully running about, enjoying the quiet beauty of the park-like grounds and the cool Mexico City air.
The museum also serves as a cultural center for every type of audience, including world-class international exhibitions of all aspects of Mexico’s cultural heritage. On the day we visited the museum, we saw a large room of children quietly and intensely painting with assistance from instructors.
We also enjoyed visiting the Zona San Angel on Saturday afternoon where local artists assemble and sell their works of art. The works of art were exceptionally good and reasonably priced and made great purchases to take home.
There are many wonderful parks located near the hotel including the famous Zona Rosa. Here, Mexicans gather to stroll with their families, attend mass at the historic churches and listen to music performed by street performers. There are easels in the park where children dabble in watercolors and there are always large masses of colorful canopies of native handicraft items, jewelry and foods to purchase.
Mexico City is an enchanting destination for visitors. Art and culture as well as just strolling the parks proved to be an ideal weekend getaway for us.
We enjoyed the new three-hour direct flight from Fort Lauderdale to Mexico City on AeroMexico. The airline arrived and departed right on time and they served “real food,” a delicious meal.
The Gran Melia Mexico Reforma offers a weekend rate of $99, making it a terrific bargain for vacationers. The hotel also has a daily buffet restaurant offering a range of international specialties as well as a Spanish eatery.
For more information about the hotel, call 800-33 MELIA (336-3542) or visit the website at www.solmelia.com
Museum Dolores Olmedo Patiño
Av. Mexico, 5848
Col. La Noria, Xochimilco, C. P. 16030
Phones: 555-1016 and 555-0891
Photos by Phyllis Steinberg