After a couple of nights staying at the Metropol I heard through the tour grapevine that we were changing hotels for the rest of our stay in the Mexican capital. I got this unofficially, second-hand, from my travelling companions because my Intrepid travel agent had neglected to inform me of this switch…she was too busy off on another holiday of her own! (she did contact me several days after the move mentioning that I was probably already at the new hotel by now! – very helpful indeed…thanks for coming, duh!).
The new hotel, the Hotel Geneve was in a part of the capital known as the “Pink Zone” (Zona Rosa). The check-in was unfortunately far from seamless…a process needlessly prolonged because the front of house staff (or perhaps it was Intrepid itself) transposed all of our names on their tour list (Chinese nomenclature style!) and kept telling us they had no bookings for us! A state of inertia and confusion that was mercifully ended when Hector, our guide for the Mexico tour, turned up and was able to bring light and clarity to the situation (no points for perceptiveness on the part of the staff, being incapable of figuring out by themselves that they had our names there in front of their eyes all along, just in the wrong order!).
As is my wont, after dumping my bags in my room I went on a bit of reconnoitre of the hotel’s immediate environs but found it a bit drap and pedestrian (we were now a long way from the city centre and the tourist precinct). I used most of my free time before the tour introductory meeting and dinner exploring the common areas of the hotel itself. The Hotel Geneve has quite a history in itself, famous in Mexico for its “who’s who” inventory of international guests that have graced its rooms over the decades. The hotel has an appearance of being a tad past its prime now, but the management has assiduously made a concerted effort to preserve that rich history in the memory of visitors and guests. Just beyond the reception area there are a series of exhibits in the foyer, mainly in glass cabinets, displaying a miscellany of pre-war items associated with the Geneve…this ranges from the old uniforms worn by the porters to early 20th century relics of luggage bags and some colourful old city maps which would fully engage the curiosity of a dedicated cartographer!
Also decorating the foyer are several glass-encased displays reminding us of the past stays at the hotel of famous international guests. The stand-outs of these were probably one honouring the American aviator and polemical, authoritarian public figure in pre-war US politics, Charles Lindbergh (an exhibit entitled “Lindy’s Post”), together with another celebrating Marlon Brando’s stay at the Geneve in the early ’50s. The actor was resident at the hotel whilst filming the story of the legendary Mexican revolutionary, Emiliano Zapata (Viva Zapata!) on location. Other equally famous hotel guests during its nearly 100 years to get a mention in the Geneve’s annals include Winston Churchill (the Geneve was apparently one of Winnie’s fave away-from-home stays), Marilyn Monroe and opera singer Maria Callas, plus a host of Mexican luminaries, no doubt famous to every Mexican but nondescript names to me.
The real highlight to me though was located in the rear of the foyer section…management has given it a retro makeover so that it resembles a 1930s/40s fashionable, upper class gentleman’s drawing-room/study with an extensive in-wall library, period furniture and large landscape period paintings. The setting had a very stylised look to – the sort of thing I could easily visualise in a typical English country estate mansion. Very landed gentry English in fact…no doubt about it, Winnie would have felt totally at home here in his silk dressing gown, comfy slippers, cosy open fire, a copy of The Times in hand and a tray filled with his favourite after-dinner beverages.
The Zona Rosa district where the Geneve is located is something of an Asian restaurant hub…by walking either north or south to the nearest cross-streets I was able to find a host of eating outlets which gave me a wide choice of Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese and Indian. One of the bonuses of travelling through Mexico was a chance to taste authentic Mexican cuisine (rather than the dreadful Tex-Mex abominations that masquerade as food in Australian and American eateries), however the availability of Asian options this night provided a welcome respite from the gastronomical onslaught of all those corn tortillas breakfast, lunch and dinner!
On the way back to the hotel the sight of a delicious pasteleria (cake shop) teased my sweet tooth and weakening, I popped in for a little after-dinner treat. Inside the shop there was a young uniformed female attendant behind the counter on which was a glass cabinet with various postres (deserts) and large tarta. I looked around and saw what I was after, pastels (small cupcakes) and pan de dulce (sweet bread) in rows of bins in the middle of the shop. I noticed though that there were nether tongs to pick out my selection with nor any small paper bags around to put them in. I wavered round hesitantly for several seconds before the attendant beckoned me over and gave me a small square of clear plastic (like a strip of cling wrap). While I stared at the piece of plastic wondering what I was supposed to do with it, she made a fist and simulated a snatching hand motion. I picked out an enticing small cake and following her example enclosed it in the plastic sheet and placed it on the counter. The attendant picked it up and in one rapid, wrapping motion, twirled the plastic around the cup cake until it formed a tightly knit bundle and handed it back to me. Ingeniously simple…tong-free, bag-free handling!
Pastries, cakes and sweet breads are an essential culmination of any Mexican lunch! I appreciated this even more after my farewell lunch in Mexico City – I went to the extremely popular La Casa de Tono opposite my hotel where I had a workman-like quesadilla (no better than that!), washed down with a local Indio drink. As I was finishing the mayor comida, a waiter lugging a wooden display box full of pan dulces and pastels asked if I wanted to have one…I declined his offer but a short while later changed my mind – only to discover that they had all been snaffled up by the lunchtime punters within 10 minutes! Those Mexiqueños sure do love their sweet treats.
A word on Mexican cervezas
Before coming to Mexico I associated Mexican beer exclusively with the extremely popular and well-known Corona cerveza (although since returning I have seen Dos Equis (XX) in Sydney bottle shops). Over there I discovered two things about Mexi- beer, the industry is dominated by just two producers, Grupo Modelo (who make the best-selling export Corona) and FEMSA; and the preference among locals is not for pale lagers like Corona but for dark beers. During the tour I road-tested most of the local dark brews. Modelo, Indio, Leon, Bohemia, Noche Buena (the Christmas beer!), Tecate, Estrella, in fact all well-known Mexican brands have a negra beer. My own preference though was for the Modelo Especial, an excellent pilsener brew.