To walk down a Mexico City street is to wade through time and space. The ground you are walking on was once likely underwater, the site of a pre-Hispanic marketplace, or an area tread upon by conquistadors. On modern sidewalks indigenous punks rub shoulders with European businessmen, and thinkers and dreamers from all walks of life can find their inspiration.
This is quite an ambulatory city. A typical afternoon can involve strolling one of the many plazas or parks, snacking on cacahuates japonesas, and people-watching. Parque Mexico and Parque España in the Condesa neighborhood are usually bustling with activity on the weekends. Expect to see entire families in matching track suits riding bicycles, 20-somethings showing off fashionable dog breeds, and teenagers smooching on park benches. Most parks are also full of vendors selling local handicrafts such as wooden children's toys or wool scarves and mittens.
Mexico City is a place where the fare being served on the street corner is just as exquisite as the food prepared at upscale restaurants. I had some of the best potato tacos of my life -- piled high with salsa and onions and accompanied by a sweet Jaritos soda pop -- at a stand under a bridge in Coyoacán, and I've tried to distinguish each of the dozens of ingredients of a chicken mole placed upon a white tablecloth at a cafe in the Roma Norte neighborhood. Be bold when eating in Mexico City; your taste buds will thank you.
A good place to escape the din of the big city, naturally, is up in the air. Locals often lack a space for a yard, so the wide-open platform of the rooftop or terraza becomes their own personal Shangri-La with plants, wind chimes, and songbirds. Often, hotels try to re-create these places with top-level bars and/or nightclubs. One of the best in the city is at Condesadf in Colonia Condesa. If you get a table toward the front, you'll feel like you're at the helm of a ship -- the SS Chillax, perhaps?
One of the most difficult tasks one can face in Mexico City is going home early from a fiesta. It doesn't matter if its 8pm or 6am, you will invariably be asked why you are leaving so early and be urged to stay for una chela mas. This is a city where you can regularly expect to listen (and sing along) to mariachi music, dance in a posh club, or have an impassioned chat about politics until the sun comes up.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes? -- You've undoubtedly heard about Mexico City's pollution. Major steps to improve the air quality (restricted driving, factory closings, emission-controlled buses and taxis) have worked wonders, but the problem persists. On some days you won't notice it (especially during the summer rainy season); on other days it can make your nose run, your eyes water, and your throat rasp. If you have respiratory problems, be very careful; the city's elevation makes matters even worse. Minimize your exposure to the fumes and refrain from walking busy streets during rush hour. Sunday -- when many factories close and many cars escape the city -- should be your prime outdoor day. Also, in the evenings, the air is often deliciously cool and relatively clean.
Welcome to Chilangolandia -- People from Oaxaca are referred to as Oaxaqueños, the residents of Durango are Duranguenses, and those who live in Sinaloa are Sinaloenses. What are the residents of Mexico City called? After many years of debate in cantinas across the land, both the Royal Spanish Academy and the Mexican Academy of Language agree that Chilango is the proper term to use when referring to people from Mexico City. Theories on the term's origins vary -- some wryly joke that it refers to a "body of a chile, face of a chango (monkey)" -- but it's most likely of Náhuatl (Aztec) origin. Like many terms that started out as insults, Chilango is now used with pride and affection by many people living in Mexico City. However, Chilango can still be considered an insult if it is used by Mexicans in the rest of the country, who often view Chilangos as a stuck-up, bourgeois class. In your travels, you'll likely find that discussing one's rancor or adoration for the capital is a lively topic for debate.
Synonyms for Chilango include Defeño, which refers to the D.F. abbreviation for Distrito Federal, and Capitalano, but you'll have more street cred if you use the first term properly.
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