Friday, April 6, 2018

Goza and Hansel and Gretel -- New Eats in Cuenca!

Mark and I have been anticipating the opening of Hansel and Gretel Panaderia/Pasteleria at the corner of Luis Moreno Mora and Roberto Crespo Toral in the Plaza Europea complex for quite some time. When I walked over to Plaza Europea to check on its progress, I happened on the restaurant next door which is Goza (numero dos), which was quite a surprise!

Everyone (it seems) is familiar with the Goza in El Centro (on Calle Larga), where you can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner al fresco. It seems to be pretty much of an expat meeting place. The new Goza is a little different in that no alcohol is served and the open seating outside is free of bus pollution (as it's not on a bus route).

The layout is spacious with plenty of outdoor seating and indoors you'll be spared the ten percent service charge because you order at the counter. The decor is fresh and modern with a lot of green space. Their sandwiches have a new twist in that you can order half of a sandwich of one variety and half of another variety (they range from $5-$7) and the drinks are basically the same as Goza #1, but without the alcohol. The atmosphere is totally different than the Goza on Calle Larga and is quiet with a nice mixture of Cuencanos and gringos.

The first time I happened on the new Goza, I ordered a chocolate chip cookie and cappuccino, which was a nice afternoon treat. Today we went for lunch and split a chicken sandwich on brown bread with avocado, hard boiled eggs, sun-dried tomatoes, eggplant and served with an organic green salad. I had fruit tea with an apple crumb cake (delicious!).

Right next door is the new Hansel and Gretel (at Plaza Europea), which will be opening later this month. Unlike Goza, Hansel and Gretel is a chain of panaderias/pastelerias and bistros to go, which will create some healthy competition for Goza. If you've ever visited Hansel and Gretel in Quito (in many of the shopping malls), you'll know what I mean. It will be the closest thing we'll have to Sweet and Coffee in Cuenca. Unfortunately, Sweet and Coffee doesn't work in cities less than one million people.

So what does all this mean?! I'm not exactly sure, but I have hope that one day a Sweet and Coffee will make its way to Cuenca because it's absolutely our favorite coffee place and we enjoy going to Quito and Guayaquil to get our Sweet and Coffee fix. They even have one in the Guayaquil Bus Station and it's one of the first places we head to as soon as we get off the bus. And I guess you could say that it's the closet thing to Starbucks that we have in Ecuador, but I certainly don't see them coming to Cuenca anytime soon.

I'll leave you with some photos of Goza (numero dos).

Until next time...hasta luego,

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Happy Easter from Ecuador!

Wow, it looks like I'm posting twice a year -- Christmas and Easter!

Since I last blogged we have two more grandchildren (Adeline Grace and Ellis Jon); we both have our Social Security; Mark is still teaching one ESL class per cycle at CEDEI; and I'm still writing (just not here -- it seems). Three more Chicken Soup books have come out and I have four stories in them, which is always fun. I love going back to the States to Barnes & Noble and browsing through the book section and reading my tales.

The holidays are always a time of reflection for us. We live in the club sandwich generation -- meaning we have elderly parents all the way to grandchildren, so we try to visit our kids and grandkids twice a year and my parents once a year. We're trying to avoid the holidays for travel, which means fall and spring visits to the kids and a spring visit to my parent's place in Brentwood, California.

After eight Easters in Ecuador, I think we've only made it back to the States for one of them. Easter is celebrated as a religious holiday in Ecuador (Semana Santa), so there aren't a lot of Easter bunnies, baskets, and all that goes with it. Good Friday is very quiet and most families spend the afternoon together eating the traditional fanesca soup (made up of twelve grains representing the twelve disciples). It's definitely an acquired taste and one that I'm not particularly fond of (for lots of different reasons). It's a fish-based soup with pumpkin, corn, herbs and spices, twelve grains, and served with fresh avocado, hard-boiled eggs, and plantains. The first time I ate it, I was sick for three days and haven't touched it since.

So do we miss our family during the holidays -- living in a culture that is so family oriented and rich with holiday tradition? Of course we do! Recently a question was asked among expats in Cuenca, "Are any of your relatives angry that you moved to Ecuador?" I'm not sure that "angry" is the appropriate word, but it's been a challenge for us. Our boys -- before they were married -- were definitely hurt that we "abandoned" them. They were 23 and 28 at the time -- with lives of their own. Our friends were somewhat confused and hurt. My parents were used to it (I think) because we were missionaries in Italy for seven years during our 20's and 30's. I think it's somewhat easier with sons because both our boys are married with children and sons (as you know) gravitate toward the daughter's family, so in a real sense we've done them a favor. They're free to do everything with the daughter's family -- Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and summer vacation without any interference from the in-laws (us). I'm sure they're secretly very happy that we saved them a lot of family conflict. That's why we try to visit on the off seasons and avoid any holidays.

Our grandchildren will still get to know us, but we've freed our sons up from any conflict. I'm pretty sure it would have been different if we had girls. I think I would have wanted to be more a part of their lives, but you know the saying: "Sons are sons until they take a wife; daughters are daughters for the rest of your life." Both of our sons married Lancaster County girls (Pennsylvania), which means they are very tied to family and spend Sunday dinners, holidays and vacations together.

For the most part, our family and friends really don't care to know about our life here and what we do. I find that so odd. When we lived in Italy, they wanted to know everything about our lives and what we did. They'd say, "Say something in Italian for us?" I wonder if it would be different if we retired in Italy; I'm sure we'd have more visitors to be sure. Cuenca, Ecuador reminds me so much of Italy with its terracotta rooftops, cobblestoned streets, majestic churches, and brick buildings. I feel like I have the best of both worlds: modern living with an Italian touch. I feel that our boys and their families are really missing out on a cultural experience that would broaden their horizons, but then again maybe they don't want that.

Anyway, I've stopped trying to figure it out and we're just thankful we made the decision to retire abroad. We live a rich and full life with no need to have a car (we can walk everywhere); we have an active social life; and we plan to do more traveling (using Cuenca as a jumping-off point). We bought our condo here (five years ago), so we could live somewhere else six months out of the year and rent our place, but we haven't figured out when we would do that. Mark would definitely have to decide to stop teaching and I don't think he's ready to give that up yet.

This Easter we're spending it at home. Mark got the flu bug and he's really sick, so we're enjoying a very quiet holiday. We celebrated last weekend by going to Gualaceo (45 minutes from Cuenca) and stayed at the Arhana Resort, which was lovely. We try to get away every three months after Mark finishes a teaching cycle and there are so many wonderful resorts close to Cuenca, so we have our choice.

I'll leave you with some pictures of our time in Gualaceo.

Blessings for a Joy-filled Easter,

Connie & Mark

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Feliz Navidad 2017

Wow, the past few weeks have been amazing and exhausting. There have been concerts, ballets, galas, private dinners, parties galore...more parties, the festival of lights, Christmas plays, musicals, symphonies, more dinners, and today is Christmas Eve and the Pase del Niño Viajero parade (that lasts eight hours).

If I could pick a favorite event this season, it would be the Nutcracker Ballet with the Cuenca Symphonic Orchestra. It was the first time either one of us had seen the ballet and we were mesmerized. The tickets were a mere ten dollars, but I would have paid three times that amount. It was that good! I hope they make it a tradition every year. We had seats closest to the front so we could see into the orchestra pit and somehow by the end of the ballet, I wanted to be a harp player (or the Sugar Plum Fairy).

Gone is the big Christmas tree in Parque Calderon and instead they decided to light up Cuenca. Cuenca is in lights (literally) in Parque Calderon. There's a huge tree of lights at Plaza Otorongo (the tallest one in Ecuador) and lights spelling out LUMINARIA and more lights at Plaza Domingo spelling out NAVIDAD. And if that isn't enough, the Tomebamba River is "swimming" in lights. There are fish jumping out of the water; a frog sitting on a lily pad; a bluebird in the tree; and indigenous women doing laundry by the river. Oh, and just when you thought it couldn't get more colorful, the fireworks at night light up the sky in red, green and white with globos (balloons) floating into the darkness.

Last night we had dinner with some friends at Mansion Alcazar and we could hardly hear one another with all the fireworks that were going off for a solid hour. By the way, Mansion Alcazar is and always will be our favorite place to celebrate -- whether it's a birthday, anniversary, Christmas or for no reason at all. No one in Cuenca has attention to detail like Mansion Alcazar and we're always treated like family. It was a packed house at the Mansion as many come to Cuenca just for the Pase del Niño Viajero parade. Today was spectacular and sunny, so I hope the kids keep their sombreros on.

Tomorrow we'll have a Christmas brunch and our kids from Pennsylvania will call and we'll get to watch our two-year-old granddaughter, Clara, open up her gifts from Mimi and Nano. We'll be flying to Pennsylvania in January to see our growing family; our newest granddaughter Adeline Grace Pombo (Addie) was born on December 21st.

We were kind of hoping not to have any December birthdays as we don't do snow anymore, so we'll have to devise a plan to celebrate summer birthdays in the fall and winter birthdays in the spring. Cuenca has pretty much spoiled us in the weather department. After living in blizzards for twenty-three years, there's nothing thrilling about going into subzero temperatures with snow and ice.

In case any of you were wondering, we don't plan to go back to the States to live because we have grandchildren (as many expats before us have done). I look at it this way, if we went back we'd be working full-time until we dropped dead and then we wouldn't be able to see our grandkids anyway. This way, we have the best of both worlds: we can have an extraordinary life and when we return to the States for a visit; our grandkids have our undivided attention. Let's face it; what employer would give you one month twice a year to see your kids and their kids (aka grandkids)?

Mark will only be teaching one or two classes in the spring (April), so we have a fairly long vacation from our vacation coming up. And I still write, but I'm pretty selective about what assignments I take on. I first ask the editor, "How badly do you need this?" If it doesn't fit with my schedule, then I politely say no. I didn't have that privilege before, but now I do. I have a story in a new Chicken Soup book coming out in February titled "Miracles and More" and I continue to write for them from time to time. I have a new motto in my 60's: "If it's not fun, then don't do it!" Life is way too short to say yes to anything that's not fun.

After seven years, I think our family has realized that we're not moving back, so they've stopped asking. But I do feel hopeful that we'll have more visitors as my sister and her husband made it here and hopefully one day our grandchildren can come visit us. I think it would be a wonderful opportunity, but it's entirely up to their parents.

And Cuenca just keeps getting better and better. The old blue buses are being replaced by newer buses that are eco-friendly. That's a relief! And in less than 288 days, the tranvia (electric train) will be complete. A French company has been assigned the duty of completing it and I have a feeling it just might become a reality in 2018.

Christmas in Cuenca is as busy or as quiet as you want it to be. There are so many things going on you can get exhausted just thinking about it or you can be selective and only do the things that really matter to you. This morning in church, the kids were in costume and sang a medley of Christmas songs and it was so wonderful. Worship is a big part of our lives and so time spent with our church family is extremely important to us.

We also have a goddaughter, Gaby, and her boyfriend, Freddy, and we love doing things with them once or twice a month, whether it's a movie, out to dinner, or just spending a night at home fixing dinner and playing boardgames, it's a blessing. Both are university students now and one day Mark will be walking her down the aisle. We always wanted a daughter and now we have one.

We want to wish you a blessed holiday season and the happiest New Year ever!

Until next time...hasta luego,

Connie & Mark

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!

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