October 27, 2010

Enjoying Quito

We just got back from a few days in Quito, which turned out to be a pleasant and very livable city despite its size (approximately 1.5 million). We had decided to stay in the historic district rather than in the new town and we were really happy with that decision. Mariscal (north of the historic district) is basically the entertainment district (Zona Rosa) and is accurately called Gringoland--definitely the touristy side of Quito, with the big hotels and theme restaurants, and not our cup of tea.

We stayed at the Hotel Catedral, which, while not a luxury hotel, was more than adequate. It is a colonial building with a typical central courtyard. The rooms are small but attractive and the shower was scalding hot, which was heaven. I am yet to have a truly hot shower in Cuenca!

As in Cuenca, people watching is the best entertainment and I was happy to see all the generations enjoying themselves.

Senior citizens were the stars of what appeared to be a church bazaar, both dancing and playing music while a crowd watched.

They also played bocce at El Ejido park on a Sunday afternoon

while the young ones raced around on whimsical, albeit rather ancient, pedal cars.

Some streets are closed on Sunday to create a bicycle path leading all the way from the historic district to the new town. People of all ages and skill sets were riding, including small children on tricycles and training wheels. It gave the town a festive air.

I highly recommend visiting the church at La Compania--absolutely over the top with approximately 7 tons of gold used to gild the interior.

I also recommend traveling up the Teleferico, which takes you up an additional 4,400 feet, going from the already dizzing 9,100 feet above sea level of Quito proper to the breathtaking (literally!) 13,500 feet above sea level. The view over the city was spectacular--the city sprawl is impressive.

The only downside of staying in the centro historico is that there are fewer dining options than in Mariscal but every restaurant we sampled in the historic district was great. What are the chances? Apparently we were on a lucky streak! It makes me suspect Quito is a better place for dining than Cuenca.

A favorite, and highly recommended, is the Vista Hermosa restaurant, just a couple of blocks from our hotel. This restaurant is on the 5th floor of a building and while there is an inside dining area it is the huge roof top dining terrace with a 360 degree views of the whole of Quito that is not to be missed. The food is good and reasonably priced and there are gas heaters spread about the entire area so that we were quite comfortable even on a cool evening. I didn't think of taking a camera so I will leave it up to you to actually experience the gorgeous view of lit cathedrals and plazas and all the lights dotting the hillsides that surround the center.

Quito has an old world sensibility, which is truly felt sitting at Plaza de San Francisco, while sipping a cup of coffee and people watching at Tianguez, an outdoor cafe right next to the church. We kept ourselves fairly busy seeing the sights on this trip but I think we'll be spending a lot more time sitting right here on our next trip.

Hotel Catedral
Mejia Oe6-34 and Banalcazar
02 295 5438 and 02 258 3119

Vista Hermosa Restaurant
Mejia 453 and Garcia Moreno

October 16, 2010

Feria Libre

I'm still not feeling quite up to going out of town on a day trip so we ended up going to the Feria Libre yesterday. Feria Libre is an enormous market, with a zillion vendors. I find it overwhelming so we decided to stick to the food market area, which is enough excitement! The offerings are, of course, plentiful and gorgeous, with all kinds of native produce on display--rich colors and textures everywhere you look.

You can also find unusual and sometimes unappetizing looking ingredients, some of which are absolutely delicious once cooked, like these cow feet, which make a spectacular soup.

Or sometimes so creepy looking that I haven't been able to sample them, even when roasted to a crispy turn, like these cuy (Ecuadorian guinea pigs).

There were plenty of live fowl for sale--hens, turkeys, quail, and geese. I imagine some are sold for cooking and some, like these geese, for their eggs. I have seen duck offered in a couple of restaurants but never goose.

Then we stopped by the gardening area, where I found this wonderful flowering plant to add to the terrace. Apparently Wednesday is the big day for the plant vendors so I'll be back then.

October 14, 2010

Medical Care

I've been out of commission for a little while because of some gastrointestinal issues. At first I thought I had eaten something that disagreed with me but as the days passed and things got worse rather than better it became clear that something was more seriously amiss. I found a gastroenterologist at Monte Sinai who was able to see me on the day I went to the hospital, and then scheduled me for a sonogram, an endoscopic exam, and a colonoscopy that very evening. He sent a biopsy to the lab and prescribed medications.

I spent $590 for everything--the consultation, colonoscopy, endoscopic exam, sonogram, lab, and four medications. The whole process took one day and as of a couple of day ago I'm feeling back to normal. I am really relieved this took place in Ecuador rather than in the States, where it would have cost a heck of a lot more and where the scheduling for the series of exams would have been far less streamlined. As far as these things go, it couldn't have been smoother.

Unfortunately the doctor doesn't speak English so I don't know if a recommendation would be useful. However, just in case you're ever in need of a great Spanish-speaking gastroenterologist:

Dr. Coronel
Monte Sinai
Office Hours: 11AM-1PM 5PM-7PM

(Note that you don't make an appointment, just go to the floor receptionist and she'll sign you in. There was no one ahead of me that day and I imagine that because he's a specialist it's likely that there won't be more than a couple of people in the waiting room at any time.)

The beautiful sunflowers above were a get well gift from Shelley and Brian, who were super supportive during this time. Thanks also to my friend Ossie for keeping me amused!

I promise postings of our weekly outings will resume sometime soon.

October 2, 2010

Sartorial Splendor

I've noticed two basic fashion silhouettes for indigenous women. The one below, a heavy velvet skirt, very full and on the short side, exaggerates the hips and swings quite a bit when walking. I would say that it is not the most slimming shape for short stocky women but perhaps broadening and calling attention to the hip area is the whole point!

Quite often the velvet fabric is a rich saturated color like magenta and most likely there is a band of intricate embroidery around the bottom of the skirt.

A lace blouse like the one displayed above if often worn with the velvet skirt.

The other silhouette is more streamlined both in shape and color. The skirts are dark, straight and long, and worn with embroidered full sleeved blouses. I like this silhouette better, just from a design standpoint.

Talking about outfits, I find that nuns are very much a part of the daily street scape. They too wear different habits that differentiate their order but this is the only picture I've taken so far.

I'm hesitant to take pictures of strangers in general though I have noticed, looking at other blogs, that I'm in the minority concerning this. I think that because I am Ecuadorian and look it, people might not be as amused as they appear to be when a clearly foreign person takes their picture. I imagine being in New York and a tourist taking a picture of me--I definitely would not like it and I would object. I'm still thinking this through...

In the meantime, when I find someone interesting I avoid taking head shots and take pictures from behind so that they are not easily recognizable. However, this guy's style was just so unique for Ecuador (it reminded me of hipsters in NYC) that I had to take his picture. He could have stepped right out of the 1940s! The funny thing is that I really couldn't figure out if it was a fashion statement or if he just happened to be the ultimate nerd! Either way, I couldn't stop looking at him--he was so perfect a character, with his slicked back hair and pencil mustache!