Exploring Medellin

Medellin is well worth visiting and I recommend you spend more time there than we did! We only had two nights,  which gave us only had one full day to see the city. It's a fascinating town with a wonderful climate and beautiful vistas.  Because we didn't have much time we  opted for a half day private  tour and then spent the afternoon exploring on our own. Above is a picture from the densely populated Comuna 13 and below is a contrasting view from our hotel room in Poblado. I have to say I wouldn't stay out in the suburbs if we went back to Medellin. Yes, Poblado is safe, but it's  also sterile with high-rises and wide streets reminiscent of a generic Asian destination or somewhere in the US. I had wanted to stay closer to  Parque Lleras (also in Poblado) but it was the weekend and all the reviews suggested the bars and clubs would be noisy all night, which wasn't appealing.
Medellin is an enormous city hemmed in by mountains as you can see below. The whole city is constructed with red bricks, from small houses to tower blocks. During the narco-years under Pablo Escobar the wealthy fled the city for Poblado where the security concerns reminded me of listening to white South Africans.
Note: The first part of our tour was a visit to Comuna 13 which I've described in a previous  post. 
After Comuna 13 we headed to San Javier where we took the extraordinary aerial cableway. Innovative expansion in public transport is the cornerstone of a series of new social programs aimed at  opening up opportunities in economically deprived areas of Medellin. The new public transportations system was described by the New York Times as  "a shared symbol of democratic renewal" in Medellin and the city is justly proud of it. 

Neither of us had ever seen anything quite like it; a cable car used as public transportation, with six people in each compartment. It was so tranquil, modern and clean; much nicer than an underground system and so much more attractive to use. The views were incredible and the system covers a considerable distance. 
From the cable car you can see incredibly contrast as you pass over informal shanty settlements, dense working class neighborhoods and new developments. The apartments below (which you can see directly across from the metro station) were originally built to house athletes for the 2010 South-American Games.
Our  final stop with the guide, was the busy Minorista Market bursting with fruit, vegetable, meat fish and food stalls which I highly recommend visiting. Once again it was a brief introduction that made us well aware we hadn't left enough time for Medellin. The fruits in Colombia are incredible from the berry like mora to a variety of passion fruit, yellow dragon fruit, soursop, mangosteen and more. 
We stopped at the fresh juice stand but I wished we'd had time for the incredible fish stew-  cooked and served by women from the Carribean coast. Once again we found someone telling us Antony Bourdain  had been there on his tv show, does this guy spend anytime at home?!!
The  guide dropped us at the Botanical Gardens in Medellin which are another example of the transformation of public space  which was well laid out in this 2012 article in the New York Times. Shut down in the narco years, when it became too dangerous, the Botanical Gardens was revived and renewed as part of the wider regenerationation of the area which includes a science museum and aquarium across the road.
The gardens (which are free) are very well used with families talking and  strolling. There are several restaurants including the excellent InSitu where we enjoyed a relaxing lunch,
We even saw some wildlife, including a tortoise and this enormous iguana.
From the Botanical Gardens we took the nearby metro to the city center. Finally we were seeing a denser busier area and here the public space felt less clean and neat and more urban. The center of town has much more energy and vibrancy We made our way to Botero Square which was packed with people, many of whom were taking photos or, nearby or next to the series of abundant  Botero statues that define the plaza.
I didn't have any desire to take my own photo but I rather liked the woman below, sitting at the feet of a statue depicting a mother and child. As. you can see the foot of the statue has been rubbed for good luck.
We'd headed into town to visit the Museum of Antioquia  or the Museo de Antioquia which is on Botero Plaza. I highly recommend this art museum which is housed in a wonderful Art Deco building. The permanent collection which includes an impressive international art collection donated by Botero is well worth visiting but there's also a very interesting collection of Colombian art. Here you can see the building and some of the significant murals by  Pedro Nel Gómez

Botero's donation  of international art (rather like the one on display in Bogota) is an extraordinary gift to the nation, and to the city of Medellin. Here you can see works by Frank Stella and Robert Rauschenberg.
Also in the Museo de AntioquiaI particularly liked this work by a contemporary Colombia artist Milena Bonilla which graphically links the drug trade between Colombia and the United States. Here "Medellin" is written in tiny  circles cut out from US dollar bills while "New York" is spelled out in tiny circles cut from coca leaves. The social commentary is clear. Overall we found contemporary art in Colombia was (not surprisingly) often dominated by themes of nation, violence, gender and inequality.
We liked the muralist Gomez's work and there was an important series of his historical murals on display below the nearby metro stop, photos below.
Walking away from Botero Plaza, past the metro and the murals, we encountered a second plaza Parque Berrio which was filled with people drinking and dancing. The whole place was looks like it could be a bit sketchy late at night,  and there's clearly a degree of prositution here, but it has a certain energy and was worth checking out. The historic Iglesia de la Candelaria fronts onto the square. Overall we very much enjoyed Medellin and if I have time I'll do a post on the Museum of Modern Art which we visited the following day. This is a vital, engaging city that is well worth visiting, next time we will stay for longer.