The next day, Monday, is a National Holiday and again we suspect everything will be closed. We ask our concierge at the front desk and she informs us that all the Museums are closed on Mondays anyway, but the stores will be open despite the holiday. She is wrong. The large stores are open but the smaller stores are not.
We decide to explore the Colonia Condessa, and take the Metro. It is our first experience of the Mexico City Metro system. It is the second largest subway system in the Americas, after New York, and is one of the world’s great architectural marvels. Because of the underground lake the entire 125 mile system had to be built so that it actually floats and can move up and down depending on the level of the lake. The trains run on pneumatic tires rather than steel tracks and move 5 million people a day smoothly and comfortably. It is efficient, fast and clean, and you might think all this would come at a price. But even more remarkable than its engineering is the fact that a ride of any distance is 2 pesos, about 15 cents. What more could anyone ask.
It’s three drawbacks are that at rush hour it is unbelievably crowded, there is a serious problem with pickpockets, and it is not safe for tourists at night.
The stations are often hard to find as the signage is poor, but once inside there are plenty of signs leading you to the correct platform. We wait until after 10am, hoping to avoid the crowds. The trains come every couple of minutes, but they are still amazingly busy and it is standing room only.
The system was started in the 60’s and is definitely shabby, but we are impressed by its cleanliness. There is no litter anywhere. The other noticeable difference from other major subways is all the backlit frames that line the walls are empty – there are no advertisers.
Very few of the riders are what might be called middle class: very few business suits, or well dressed women. This is transport for the working class masses.
There is one innovation that should be copied everywhere. During rush hour the front two cars are reserved for women and children only. We are also impressed to see the young give up their seats to the elderly. But unfortunately no one stands up for me.