Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Four Points Sheraton in Cuenca

Mark and I recently celebrated a milestone (42 years of marriage) and we didn't even have to leave town. We took a taxi three blocks up the hill (that was my suggestion), and entered the doors of the new five-star Four Points Sheraton.

The lobby of the hotel is spacious and luxurious with five-star service as soon as you enter. And the view is amazing at every turn, especially from Cook's Restaurant at sunset and there is plenty of balcony space to enjoy the city lights "al fresco."

Our check in was a breeze and we stayed two floors below the rooftop pool, which is the only one of its kind in Cuenca. The roof is retractable, so you can swim under the stars. On Saturdays for $20, you can enjoy a pool party that includes music and a drink for a cover charge of $20. We came on a Friday, so we had the pool to ourselves and what a treat to do laps in a heated, chlorinated pool. Not that we don't love going to the mineral baths in Baños, but this was special in its own way.

We spent our honeymoon night at the Sheraton in Concord, California; we lived three blocks from the Sheraton in Catania, Italy; and now we're three blocks from the Sheraton in Cuenca, Ecuador. It seems that the Sheraton is part of our travel experience.

We had a gift card for our stay, so it was free (a gift from our kids for our anniversary) and we spent $34 on a magnificent dinner. The chef is Peruvian with a fusion flair. Anyone can enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at Cook's Restaurant and reservations are preferable, but not required. The view is the best in Cuenca, especially at sunset so keep that in mind if you're dining out. The free breakfast buffet that comes with your stay is one of the best we've ever had and includes Ecuadorian dishes, eggs to your liking, plenty of fresh fruits, pastries, breads, cereal, meats and a variety of cheeses.

The rooms are spacious and be sure to ask for one facing the city (you won't be disappointed). The halls are carpeted, but the rooms are floating floors for a modern, polished look with clean lines. And the bathrooms are huge with a rain shower and all the amenities you'd expect in a five-star hotel.

After dinner, they delivered a special gift to our room for our anniversary, so be sure to let them know if you're celebrating a special occasion. The quality assurance manager will make sure that every detail of your stay is perfect.

The Four Points Sheraton in Cuenca is the only hotel in Ecuador that is next to a a shopping mall complete with a theater, bowling alley, food court, and event center, so it's the perfect place to host large functions (or small).

This is the first chain hotel in Cuenca and because of its location, I don't think that it will be competing with the other boutique hotels in El Centro, but certainly for us it's a novelty and we'll continue to use it for our "staycations."

Quite frankly, when we were there overnight it truly felt like we were on vacation in another city. It's amazing what a million-dollar view and a change of location will do for you.

We'll definitely be back!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Cookies and Candy Anyone?

It's that time of year when we start thinking about what to give our neighbors and friends for Christmas. It's easy for us; we just send our kids an Amazon card via Punch Bowl Greeting Cards. And, of course, in January 2018 we'll be going back to the States for the "twins" -- both our daughter-in-laws are pregnant and due at the same time. We thought it was so kind of them to coordinate that for us!

But what about our friends in Cuenca, what do we give them? We have our guards and their families; our friends; our pastor and our goddaughter and her boyfriend, and the list goes on. Well, in the past I made my own cookies, but I found a better way! AbueSofi is a new pasteleria (bakery) that I found near Supermaxi (Don Bosco). It's two blocks east (going toward Mall del Rio), turn left on Av. Francisco de Orellana (past the Condominiums Yanuncay) and you'll see AbueSofi on the right. Juan Pablo is the owner and he makes a variety of cookies every day (chocolate chip, banana chocolate chip, snickerdoodles, lemon, oatmeal -- to name a few). The thing is they don't taste like your average cookie from the bakery; they taste like they're from your mom's kitchen! He also makes brownie bites (my personal favorite), cakes, and sugar cookies. These are no ordinary sugar cookies; they come individually wrapped or you can order them by the dozen and the recipe is like my mom's recipe.

Juan Pablo is also available for your catering needs; he makes bocaditos (appetizers) and my personal favorite is his cheese cracker/biscuits with herbs that are perfect for a cheese platter.

His prices are also amazing! Twelve of his specialty cookies are 12 for a dollar. Oh, did I mention he makes scones (chocolate chip, strawberry, and berry). I don't know of any place in Cuenca that sells scones. They're 40 cents a piece or five for $2.00. Recently, I ordered cookies for a women's event and they flew off the plates; they're that good!

For a box of two-dozen sugar cookies (decorated), it's $10.00 or 40 cents a piece (cheaper by the dozen!) or you can buy them individually wrapped for 50 cents. In fact, we just might decorate our Christmas tree with cookies this year.

Finally, after seven years, we found someone who makes cookies that taste better than homemade. Juan Pablo lived in the States for a number of years and so all of his recipes are American (I could taste the difference immediately).

He makes sandwiches as well, including chicken salad sandwiches. Your holiday entertaining just got easier. Call Juan Pablo with your orders and they can be delivered to your home.

Here's Juan Pablo's information:
Phone: 281-0507
Email: pasteleria1abuesofi@gmail.com

Juan Pablo speaks perfect English and he answers his emails every day (seven days a week).

And if you have a real sweet tooth, then you can combine cookies and candy. At MercArt, I met Gaby Ordoñez who has a dulceria. I'm a See's Candy lover and I have to say that she's my new See's Candy source in Cuenca. She makes candy for all occasions (especially weddings). She makes a chocolate heart filled with peanut butter; Nutella squares; toffee and chocolate crunch (vanilla and chocolate) and peanut butter crunch. My absolute favorite is maracuya and coconut. The smaller candies are 3 for a $1.00 and the larger ones are $1.00 a piece. The chocolates are individually wrapped in specialty wrappers (all different), so they look sensational in a box with a clear lid and tied with ribbon. Gaby also speaks perfect English.

Here's Gaby's information:
Agustin Cueva 8-57
Email: gabyordoñez83@gmail.com
Phone: 07-281-1400
Cell: 098-571-8884

There you have it; your Christmas shopping is complete. Now that Cuenca has blueberries, homemade sugar cookies, and "See's Candy"; I don't feel the need to leave Cuenca (except to see our kids, grandkids and my parents).

Life just got a little easier and whole lot sweeter in Cuenca!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Bodhi's Burgers -- An Overnight Success!

What happens when a guy from Berkeley, California goes in search of the best hamburger in Cuenca and comes up short? He makes his own burger and his business is an overnight success!

Bodhi and His Welcoming Staff

We went to Bodhi's Burgers the first week they were open and just followed the crowds (literally!). I felt like I was in the movie "Field of Dreams" where all the cars led to the same spot. With their "In-N-Out Burgers" logo and 1950's soda fountain theme with black and white-checkered floors and red decor, we felt like we took a step back in time. As California natives, we felt right at home.

We ordered the combo for $2.99 which comes with a hamburger, fries and Coke in a bottle. To be honest with you, Mark and I have been vegetarians for the last ten years and once in a while, we have fish (rarely beef). That's definitely going to change, as once a week we'll need a Bodhi fix.

The Combo -- $2.99

Their hamburgers are made from the finest beef available and their fries (look like In-N-Out Burgers on the West Coast), but the oil isn't the cheap stuff and you can taste the difference. And everything is homemade, including the mayo which is made from olive oil. Mark and I shared a Coke from a bottle with two straws and we felt like teenagers again. It's been decades since we've had a Coke and let me tell you, it was a treat. Did I mention they also have homemade ice cream and homemade chocolate sauce that tastes like my mom's recipe.

Bodhi's location is perfect. We took the #22 bus from our place and just as it heads into town on your way to San Sebastian Plaza (up the hill) -- look to your right and follow the crowds. You can't miss it. Or if you're at San Sebas Plaza (at the corner of San Sebas Cafe), head down the hill and just as the road makes a turn, you'll see Bodhi's on the left with the yellow and red signage.

Follow the Sign -- You Can't Miss It!
They have a lovely terrace area with a beautiful view of the Cajas and on a sunny day you'll want to spend the afternoon there. Best of all, Bodhi makes his presence known and visits with everyone -- either coming or going. We loved hearing his story about his quest for the perfect hamburger in Cuenca and his passion for making it a reality. Bodhi's business is set up as a franchise, so look for more in the future.

Enjoy and Bodhi Burger on the Terrace

Bodhi's Burgers has become an overnight sensation and the ambiance draws us back to our childhood in the 1950's, so it's not only a booming business, it's a Baby Boomer's paradise -- complete with hits from the 1950's and 1960's playing in the background.

As I write this, Mark and I are on our way to have lunch at Bodhi's and hope that you'll drop by soon as well.

Bodhi Makes Everyone Feel Like Family!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Address of Bodhi Burgers: 
Sucre 17-80 y Bolivar
Cuenca, Ecuador
Cell: 096-900-7688

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Transformation of Puerto Lopez

The New Pier at Puerto Lopez 
Last month we visited Puerto Lopez and stayed at our favorite place – Hosteria Mandala – and got to finally see the completed malecon (boardwalk). It’s been three years since our last visit and I couldn’t believe the transformation. There are bike lanes, pedestrian lanes, roads and bridges, where dirt and sand used to be. They landscaped the areas with palm trees, flower beds and street lights. The bad news is the side roads—off the malecon--are still dirt (aka sand).

New Bike Lanes in Puerto Lopez along the Malecon

The dusty streets never bothered us much, but it rained the entire week we were there so Puerto Lopez became Puerto Lodo (Mud) and so we sloshed through the streets with our flip-flops—nearly sliding down most of the sidewalks and kicking up mud wherever we went. We’ve always gone in June, July or August because it’s cooler with no humidity and often overcast, but it’s never rained. This time we got lots of rain, so much so that I was walking on the beach in my bathing suit and holding an umbrella (if you can picture that!).

Our favorite beach—Los Frailes—was the same (rain) with one notable exception, the sun peeked through the clouds for a couple of minutes before it started pouring down rain. And we noticed there were tighter restrictions at the entrance; they searched our belongings before heading up the path to the beach. We remember seven years ago, when there was just a dirt path, no signs, and just paradise awaiting you.

Los Frailes is still paradise, but there are signs posted everywhere about not picking up shells and coral and to dispose of garbage properly. No food or drinks allowed on the beach. There’s an area where you can have lunch near the entrance. I’m all for keeping Los Frailes pristine, but I felt like I was going through airport security.

Los Frailes on a Sunny Day

The last day before we left there was a beautiful sunset and the following morning the sun came out and the sky was gorgeous—just like we had remembered it. I think it will be quite a while before we return and if we do, we’ll be sure to go in March when there’s a guaranteed sunset every evening and no rain!

Sunset at Puerto Lopez

Sunrise from Our Balcony

A Sunny Morning -- Our Last Day!

Introducing the New Malecon! 

But one thing has remained the same—Hosteria Mandala, which is the only place to stay in Puerto Lopez. It’s an oasis of tranquility, fine hospitality, and excellent food! Pasta Aurelio (cream sauce with shrimp, garlic, and walnuts) is a must and we had it twice and for dessert—freshly made coconut ice cream. Life doesn’t get any better than that! We always enjoy meeting people from around the world and some have become lifelong friends. Staying at the Mandala is like coming home!

Hosteria Mandala at night (our home away from home)
The New Malecon -- almost reminds me of Avila Beach in California

Our Balcony at the Mandala (aka Connie's reading spot!)

The Pathway to our Room at the Mandala -- magical!

Exotic Flowers at the Mandala

Puerto "Lodo" 

The Dogs of Puerto Lopez

The New Malecon with lots of seating areas and beautiful new brick walkways.

View of the Ocean from Our Balcony at Hosteria Mandala. I can still hear the ocean waves...

Ahh...so relaxing -- view of the beach from the Mandala
Puerto Lopez has undergone an amazing transformation and we'll be back. 

I always feel like I'm in Hawaii in the Gardens of the Mandala.

The sun came out for us on our last day!

Until next time...hasta luego, 

Just in time for National Dog Day, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Really Did That? will be hitting the bookstores on August 8, 2017. My story is titled "Two Marines." I'm excited about this book and all royalties go to The Humane League.

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