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

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