Quito – the City that Grew on Me

We have passed the 3 week mark in Quito, Ecuador. While this isn’t ideal and we would rather be getting on with our new life on the Galapagos Islands, there are worse places to spend a few weeks as you wait for your visas. Well, not just visas: we finally got those last week but now need the special permission to live on the Galápagos Islands. Nothing seems to be going easily, but we are trying to enjoy our time despite the frustration of waiting.

Relaxed

Relaxed

Quito is situated in the Andes at 9,350 feet above sea level. That hasn’t posed a problem for us because we were used to living in the Andes in Cajamarca. For a capital city with a population of about 2.6 million, Quito feels surprisingly accessible. We are staying in an apartment (thank you, Airbnb) in the Mariscal Foch area, which is a great location for us. We can walk to a number of parks, restaurants, malls, the Old Center etc. Initially Quito did not rock my world – it was nice but not spectacular. However, the more time we have been here, the more I appreciate it. (Except the food. Peruvian food is much better.) A mountain view anywhere you look is a selling point.

View from the Apartment

View from the Apartment

One of my favorite things about Quito is the many parks. We have walked through Carolina, Ejido, Arbolito and Alameda parks several times. It’s a toss up which is my favorite. Ejido and Arbolito Parks appear to be one park and have a lot of trees (hence the name “Arbolito” or “Little Tree”), making for a nice walk. All of the parks are well used by families, couples, groups of people and, as we saw yesterday, card players. I didn’t get a picture, but it cracked me up – crowds of men around an overturned box, cash flying. Initially we thought it was a shell game but then we saw the cards. I’m not sure what game is being played or whether my assumption is correct that it is illegal, but I am intrigued.

Park Carolina is a ginormous park. It has a running track, soccer fields, lagoon, old airplane, and, my favorite part, a wonderful botanical garden. I have dragged a somewhat reluctant Matt to botanical gardens everywhere we have visited and he agreed this one was the best. It might have been because the weather was perfect – low 70s and partly cloudy (key at the equator) – so it was pleasant to stroll around. There were many different exhibits and 2 greenhouses: one devoted to carnivorous plants and one to orchids. I wanted to see a bug get eaten in the Carnivorous greenhouse, but no such luck.

The Orchid Greenhouse contains over 1,200 Ecuadorian species of orchids and is a highlight of the gardens.

Our walks in the parks have been educational and relaxing. Not a bad way to pass the time.

Next Up: Great Museums and The Middle of the World!

Fun Freebies in Buenos Aires

I have been procrastinating posting more about Buenos Aires because we did so much that I am having a hard time organizing all of it into coherent posts. So enjoy today’s post on the fun freebies and stay tuned for posts on the paid attractions, Tango and Salsa and a surprise bonus (yes, I know what it will be).

In no particular order, here are the worthwhile free attractions we enjoyed in Buenos Aires.

Recoleta Cemetery  – No verdant spaces here, this place is a concrete and marble mini-town chock full of mausoleums, statutes and dead people. Some mausoleums are beautifully maintained while others have fallen into creepy, decrepitness. While free, people at the entry will stop you, draw you a map to the main attractions and then hit you up for a “donation” to some cause. Eva Perón is buried here (we learned that it was after much wrangling and moving of her corpse, including overseas, that she was finally interred in her family’s crypt) as are many other Argentine notables. While other famous tombs are marked, Evita’s is not, so the 20 cents I spent on the map was worth it. Had we not toured the cemetery on a day with a heat index of 116 F, we likely could have stayed longer, but we were afraid we would join the corpses.

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The tomb below is often visited. The young woman died in an earthquake in Innsbruck in 1970 and her parents commissioned a statue of her in her wedding dress to stand outside her tomb. The poem under the statue was written by her father and beseeches God as to why his daughter died. The bronze dog was added after the dog’s death. No mention of the husband, so I’m not sure whether he perished in the earthquake as well.

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Liliana Crociati de Szaszak

Botanical Garden in Palermo  A horticulturist’s dream, this shady retreat is home to over 5,500 plants and trees and a nice place to enjoy a peaceful walk or rest on a park bench. Not that we rested; it’s not our nature to actually sit in one spot while on vacation. I kept saying I was going to go back there some day with a book, but it never happened.

Rose Garden  If you have to pick between the Rose Garden and the Botanical Garden, go for the flowers. The gardens were absolutely beautiful, laid out alongside a lagoon. We must have been there at the right time of year as the flowers were in bloom. There are fountains, statutes, and a pergola covered walkway, which make the whole park lovely. There isn’t a lot of shade, so we saved it for a day that was merely in the high 80s.

Eduardo Sívori Plastic Art Museum  We had no idea why this museum has “Plastic” in its name, so we didn’t have any expectations when we entered. We still don’t know why, as the museum is dedicated to showcasing Argentine art. Wow. The galleries were filled with light and laid out really well and the contemporary art exhibits by Sergio Moscona, César Fioravanti, and Marcelo Mayorga were each distinctive and all very good.

Casa Rosada  This Argentine equivalent to the White House is both the executive office and mansion of the Argentine president (although she lives elsewhere).  We went on the tour, which was a bit dry and didn’t provide a lot of opportunities to take good photos.  One notable aspect of the tour was when the guide, upon showing us the famous balcony where the Peróns spoke to the masses, reminded the group that Madonna (in the movie Evita), and not Eva Perón, sang Don’t Cry for Me Argentina from the balcony. We were also shocked to enter President Cristina Fernández’s office and see her family pictures, desk etc.  Of course, on that date the President hadn’t made an appearance for over a month, so her office hadn’t been used recently!  The Hall of Argentine Bicentennial Women was impressive and filled with portraits of famous Argentine women.  President Fernandez gives her televised speeches from this room, so we later saw it on the news reports when she finally showed up to rule her country.

On the day she was set to make her first appearance after her absence, we happened to walk by the Casa Rosada about two hours before the speech. There were loads of cameramen and many organized groups of people (unions and other issue groups). We waited for about an hour and then decided to go home.  As we watched the news that night, we realized that at some point the gates were opened and all those people and groups were allowed to enter the Casa Rosada’s atrium. After the press conference, Cristina address the crowd in the atrium for about 45 minutes. It would have been cool if we had waited, even if most of what she said would have been lost on us.

Puerto Madero  A gentrified former port, Puerto Madero is filled with shops, restaurants, hotels, a few museums, green spaces, bridges, and ships and is a fun place to hang out for an afternoon. Quiz for my Milwaukee followers: name the architect of the “Woman Bridge” pictured below.  Puerto Madero contains an ecological preserve and there is a long walkway that runs along side the preserve (site of our Salsa day, stay tuned). It also is site of the free Humor Museum, which is in a lovely building that retains its former German brewhouse atmosphere.  The displays were somewhat lost on us due to language and cultural differences in humor.

San Telmo  San Telmo is known for its antique market and shops but I managed to buy a nice pair of sandals there instead. On Sundays, the main drag, Calle Defensa, is closed to traffic and becomes a bustling flea market that extends for blocks on end. Flea market doesn’t entirely do it justice as in additional to all of the wares there are musicians, street foods, tango dancers and throngs of people enjoying the scene. Matt bought his first prized mate cup here and we found the popernipperings here too. Plaza Dorrego is nice and if you miss the flea market, there are plenty of vendors hawking their wares there every day of the week.

National Museum of Fine Arts  While it does not rank as my favorite museum in Buenos Aires, a visit to this free museum is worth it. It has a large collection of international art from the Middle Ages to the 20th century, including several rooms devoted to Argentine painters. It’s been about a month, but I remember a room devoted to the Impressionists, Rodin’s Kiss and a creepy bust, a collection of bombillas (silver mate straws), and gorgeous display of hair combs that were so ornate and large I am not sure how one would hold her head up. The museum is raising funds for air conditioning (only one room has it thus far), so as we went on the same day as the Recoleta Cemetery, we were not able to linger long due to the extreme heat. Near the Museum is the ginormous Floralis Generica, which opens at dawn and closes at dusk.

Plazas, Monuments and More Plazas There are countless plazas to enjoy in Buenos Aires: Plaza de Mayo outside the Casa Rosada is a big demonstration site with camps and signs everywhere, Plaza de la República has the iconic obelisk, Plaza San Martin is a huge park, Plaza Italia was near our apartment so we passed it daily, Plaza del Congreso has Rodin’s the Thinker, among other sculptures … The list goes on.  Everywhere you look there is a Plaza and a Monument to enjoy.

Hipódromo Argentino de Palermo  I know I already devoted part of a post to the horse track and casino, but it was so fun we went twice so it is worth mentioning again.  It truly can be a free event if you don’t wager and in addition to enjoying the races, the people watching is great too.

Home stretch!

Home stretch!

Next up: the paid attractions.