Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Country Club Life in Cuenca

There was an International Tennis Championship going on at the Cuenca Tennis and Golf Club this weekend, so we checked it out. We landed on the bleachers about the time the women's singles was winding up. I have to admit, I'm not a tennis buff, but this game was a non-stop thrill ride and my arms were actually sore after hitting the imaginary ball back and forth. Mark had to move down a few spots, so I wouldn't "hit" him!

Afterwards we checked out the facilities, received complimentary drinks, enjoyed an amazing lunch and watched the game from the club house.

Personally, I didn't even know that a country club existed in Cuenca until all the players (coming from the States, Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina and other parts of the country) kept running into me (literally!). They were staying next door at the Hotel Oro Verde and I managed to get sideswiped by their tennis bags a few times (wow, those things are huge!). Mark and I ended up going on the last day of the tournament (Saturday, January 29th) and thoroughly enjoyed our time.

We also checked out the racquetball courts, the golf course, the swimming pool and the various other amenities, but decided that the $6,000 (membership fee) plus $100 a month wasn't in our budget. Mark has a gym membership right next door to where we're living and I head to Banos at least three times a week for pool therapy, so I think we're "set"! 

The Cuenca Country Club is a lovely place, halfway between the Hotel Oro Verde and the Cajas (a 20 minute drive from our place) and located in a picturesque setting. We saw some folks we knew and chatted with them and met some other wonderful folks who invited us to their table for lunch, so it was a great experience.

So if you're looking for a Country Club in Cuenca, check it out (I'm still amazed at the diversity of what we keep finding here).

Until next time...hasta luego!

The winner of the women's singles was from Quito, Ecuador!

Awards Ceremony to the top four players (men's and women's singles)

One of the many eating areas and restaurant upstairs.

Patio eating area with view of the tennis courts.


The nine-hole golf course
The racquetball and weight room area

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On Your Way to Cuenca!

On our way to the States, we always stay overnight in Quito because it’s just the way it works out (most of the time). Since there are no direct flights from Cuenca to the States (yet!), you need to fly out of Guayaquil or Quito. If you work your flights just right, you can actually leave Cuenca, fly to Guayaquil and then off to the States all in one day. Unfortunately, we haven’t found the perfect number of connecting flights, so we usually spend the night in Quito.

We actually look forward to our visit to the “big city” and try to make a “day/night” of it. And to make it even more enjoyable, we found a wonderful boutique hotel right in the center of the city—near the Marriott’s and Holiday Inn Express. The Eugenia Hotel is absolutely charming and the service is impeccable. The interior is reminiscent of Italy with its painted murals and its white marble floors. The staff go out of their way to make each visit memorable. If you want some more great places to check out during your stay in Quito: Click here.

On our last trip after Christmas, I happened to leave my laptop with our luggage in the secure storage area while we roamed around Quito visiting the large shopping malls and parks. When we got to the airport, I realized I was missing an important piece of “luggage”—my laptop! We phoned the hotel and told them we were 40 minutes from departure and could they have my laptop ready. Well, they did better than that! When our taxi approached, they blocked off traffic, let us “scoot” by, and passed off the laptop to the taxi driver (yes, his hands momentarily left the wheel!), and we made our connecting flight with 10 minutes to spare. 
If you’re into chain hotels, the Marriott’s is actually lovely. We took a tour and oohed and ahhed at the sheer beauty of the layout and the shopping mall inside. It’s definitely impressive, but we liked the price of the Eugenia much better. And the Holiday Inn Express is exactly what you have come to expect from a chain hotel, but we wanted something just a little more personable. In the vicinity of all three hotels is a major shopping mall and lovely park.

Let’s just say that we’re spoiled with the Eugenia and we highly recommend it to those of you who are just” flying by” or who want to visit Quito for some sightseeing. Maybe in the future, we’ll have direct flights from the States to Cuenca, but until then you can be guaranteed a pleasurable night’s stay at the Eugenia Hotel
Until Next Time…Hasta Luego!

Courtyard at the Marriott
Poolside at the Marriott
Holiday Inn Express

Marriott Hotel in Quito

Park across from the Jardin Mall
Mall El Jardin - Quito (every American store imaginable!)

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Paris in Cuenca?!

"Is it like Paris?" I asked, hesitantly.

"No, not exactly," Mark responded.

"Is it like Rome?" I prompted.

"No, not really," he said, "at least not in the way you're thinking!"

Two weeks after we had that conversation during Mark's trip to Cuenca, we had our house up for sale and we were moving to Ecuador!

I know what you're thinking, Who in the world retires to a different part of the world without seeing it first?

It's simple. I had a point of reference and tons of pictures from Mark's trip. No, Cuenca is not exactly Paris, not Rome, not Vienna, not Bellagio, but a mixture of everything I've experienced in my past travels to Europe. Because we had lived in Sicily for six years and traveled throughout Europe, I could picture in my mind exactly what Mark was talking about.

Later Mark explained, "It's kind of like Paris without a lot of sidewalk cafes; it's like Switzerland with the huge Andes instead of the Alps; it's like Rome with a cosmopolitan feel to it; and it's like Sicily with some graffati on the walls, guards with guns outside public buildings, but it's amazingly clean."

"Are there Starbucks on every corner?" I asked.

"No. And there's no Macy's, Nordstrom's or Neiman Marcus, but you'll love this place called--Sukasa!" Mark added.

Seven months later we're still here and loving it in Cuenca (oh, and I do love Sukasa!). Under the circumstances, I think we did really well: we married a son, sold a house, packed up 35 years of marriage into four suitcases (mas/menos) and moved to South America.

My friend, Kathy, recently e-mailed me and asked if I would be her traveling buddy for Barcelona, Mallorca, and Paris this summer. I responded, "Nope, just can't do it!" We need to be careful during our first three years in Ecuador (we cannot be out of the country more than 90 days in a one-year period of time and we've already used up half of that).

To tell you the truth, I have no real desire to travel to another country. I found "Paris in Paradise"; it's called Cuenca! I'm as happy as I've ever been in one place. Traveling is a lot of work and this is a whole lot of fun!

I'm thankful Cuenca chose us and I'm grateful that Paris is waiting for me if and when I need to see the "City of Lights," but for now I'm basking in our "Paris."

Last night we attended a free "concierto" directed by Julio Levinas from Uruguay and special "guest star" Orlando Idrovo playing the "violoncello" at the Banco Central Auditorium. It was a free concert (like so many in Cuenca), and an amazing night of music--almost magical. Later, we "promenaded" up and down Calle Larga and ate at Cafe La Parola to watch the view of the city. Total cost for the evening -- $10. Where in the world could you do that?

We're looking forward to more concerts, more dinner dates and more "Paris in Cuenca"!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Price of Paradise!

I don’t know what it is, but every time we go to the States and return, the prices go up when we arrive back to paradise!

As if “sticker shock” wasn’t bad enough in the States, we had to return to sticker shock in Cuenca. But it was all offset by the fact that our medical insurance kicked in and the cost of my hubby’s medications were paid for (90 percent). The total came to $77.14 and he paid $15.76. This is great news for us. Our medical insurance premiums are $81 per month, so you can see that for medication alone it's worthwhile for us.

Humana (Nova) is our carrier and we have a a prescription card that we present at the pharmacy. It’s that simple. Lately, I’ve had a lot of blogger questions about medical insurance coverage, so I wanted to clarify that “yes” indeed it's worthwhile for some folks. Our physician, Dr. Pablo Parra (at Monte Sinai Hospital) simply fills out a form for the pharmacy and we present our card. By the way, if you want a great physician in Cuenca, you'll want to see Dr. Parra (he speaks English as well as four other languages!).

Now on to the real sticker shock—BaƱos! Those of you who have followed my blog know that I enjoy going to the thermal baths at least twice a week (usually by myself), but this time Mark accompanied me. I told him that for $2.00 you could stay all day and enjoy the healing waters.

As soon as we got off the bus, we witnessed a long line meandering half-way down the street. The reason: Only one of the three pools was open and the price went up from $2.00 per person to $2.70 per person!

For those of you still living in the States, you may laugh at this, but once you’ve lived in Ecuador for a while, you get used to "cheap" prices. Seventy “centavos” may not seem like much, but that’s a lot—at least an ice cream cone's worth. The last time we returned from the States, cappuccino went up from $1.00 to $1.50. We have been here exactly seven months and we have seen the most changes taking place in food, restaurant prices and rent.

And speaking of rent, we just had a condo next to us go up for rent and in ONE day it was “sold.” Yes, there are some great finds out there, but the “early bird gets the worm."

This condo is right next to us (2 bedrooms, 2 baths) and it rented for $200 plus security guard fee for a total of $300. I peeked inside and I have to admit, I was a “little” envious! It had beautiful tile floors and ceramic tile throughout (floor to ceiling), three balconies (two of which overlook the river) and one looks toward the Oro Verde Hotel. It has a large furnished dining room, two large bedrooms, and two large bathrooms. Oh, and it comes with a stove, refrigerator, and a new washer and dryer. Not to mention that the living room has a working fireplace, built-in cabinets and some classy add ons that make this place truly unique. I didn’t even have time to get the word out on this one; I woke up too late (literally!). So this is my point, “yes” there are inexpensive condos for rent with beautiful views, but you have to be quick!

If we had seen that place before we rented our condo, we definitely would have taken it. But as Mark explained to me: It wasn’t for rent when we chose our place and we’re locked into a contract. And to make me feel oh so much better, he said, “Remember, you can only enjoy one balcony at a time!” Smile.

Right now I’m working on the book “101 Questions Answered on Cuenca, Ecuador” which will be available on Kindle in February 2011. I hope it will be of benefit to those who are planning a move to Ecuador. I'm sure the price of paradise will continue to rise, but Cuenca is still number one in my book!

Until next time...hasta luego!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Home Again!

“Where’s your laptop?” my hubby asked.

“Oh no!” I screamed, “I left it in the hotel room.”

Mark noticed the disappearance of my laptop after we checked in for a flight from Quito to Cuenca on Friday afternoon (on our way back from our three-week stay in the States).

While in Quito, we stayed at the lovely Eugenia Hotel and since our flight didn’t leave until the following evening, we explored Quito and the El Jardin Mall (as if we didn’t do enough shopping in America!).

Normally, we play it safe and allow ample enough time at the airport; however, at the Mall Jardin we simply lost track of our “minds” when we found Cinnabon (the most recognizable scent in the world). When we checked our watches, we screeched in unison, “Yikes, our plane leaves in an hour!”

We told the LAN attendant to put our luggage on standby, hailed a taxi, and declared an emergency and away we went. The taxi driver weaved in and out of traffic at a speed I haven’t seen since I was in Italy and announced, “Il bambino esta per arrivare!” I was blowing away contractions while the Italian taxi driver waved his white handkerchief out the window (a signal to oncoming traffic to watch out and pull over). Although our Quito trip was a much milder version of the above, it was still cause for alarm: pedestrians became walking targets!

The hotel was aware of our situation and waited at the curb for handoff of the “goods” and away we went. One block from the airport, I let myself off and ran the rest of the way while Mark dealt with the carry-on luggage.

We arrived 10 minutes before departure. The security guards waved us through, escorted us to the plane, where a welcoming and gracious crew from LAN Airlines gave us smiles of appreciation.

Lesson learned: Count and recount pieces of luggage until you come up with the same number at least three times. If not, don’t leave for the airport.

As for our time in the States, it was marvelous. Jeremy, Jon and Kim met us in San Francisco for a Pombo-Rowley Family Reunion. I was so proud of our daughter-in-law, Kim, for surviving her first Italian Christmas at Mark’s family’s place. She was such a trooper.

As for our trip to California, it was a success, but we’re so thankful to be back home. Mocha greeted us with licks of love! Mark cried, I cried, and I believe Mocha cried as well (at least he made a sound similar to “weeping”). Our friends, Christina and Tim, stayed at our place and took care of our baby while we were gone.

We definitely feel home again and next Christmas we’re sending the kiddos to Ecuador (we’re still getting over sticker shock in the States!).

Until next time…hasta luego!

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