Sunday, 14 August 2016

Restaurant & travel reviews: Quito, Ecuador

After spending a fantastic few days of our honeymoon in Miami, we flew on to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Our final destination would be 8 days in the Galapagos Islands, but you can’t fly direct to the Galapagos – and all the flights from Miami into Quito seemed to land just after the flights to the Galapagos took off. So we decided to take the opportunity to spend two nights in Quito and do some sightseeing.

 
We landed in Quito just after 1pm and by the time we’d gotten through security – which took a fair while – and collected our bags, we were pretty hungry. We decided to get something to eat at the airport before heading to our town centre hotel an hour’s drive away. In the arrivals hall we saw something called the Amazonia Café and a TGI Fridays… so I’m slightly ashamed to announce that our first meal in Ecuador was at an American chain restaurant that we even have in London!

TGI Fridays
 
The meal wasn’t particularly good but it was fast and filling – at least, once we had the correct order. I don’t speak Spanish but thought I’d done a fair job of ordering two cheese and bacon burgers and cokes (we both wanted the same, and after an early start and a plane journey I just wanted something simple and familiar). My attempt to order obviously wasn’t a success though as the waiter brought us two cokes and one burger, which he seemed to think we wanted to share.
 
 
We managed to make the waiter understand we wanted another, and while we were waiting we cut one burger in half and shared it. My husband had also ordered a starter of mozzarella sticks so he ate those, and then when the second burger came we shared that, though I couldn’t eat much of it as I was already full. Which was a shame as the second burger was hotter and juicier, making me wonder if the first one had been sitting around keeping warm for a while.
 
We took a taxi from the airport – as our journey approached the one hour mark I was getting worried how much it would cost but it was a relative bargain at $30. Quito is the second-highest capital city in the world in terms of altitude and the streets in the city centre are very steep and winding - I was glad our taxi driver knew where he was going!

Hotel Plaza Grande, Quito

I chose our hotel based on TripAdvisor reviews and first impressions were very favourable (until we tried to sleep that night...). The building is a colonial mansion and the hotel sits on the edge of the central Plaza de la Independencia across from the Archbishop's palace, so it's a great place to start sightseeing.


The hotel looks very luxurious even down to the liveried doorman; we were given a warm welcome and a complementary drink as we checked in, and when we arrived in the room found a bottle of (very good) red wine and a platter of petit-fours, also complementary. We had booked a suite so had a nice living room area with chaise longue, dining table and beautiful furniture made from what appeared to be mahogany. The bed was very comfortable and the bathroom very posh - unfortunately the noise from the road outside (which our second floor window overlooked) was quite loud with a constant whistling which we figured out later was a traffic cop standing on a corner directing vehicles, all day long! She stopped at nightfall but then we had music from vehicles driving past - I saw what I think is called a 'party bus' a couple of times. And I'd thought this was supposed to be the quiet part of town!

It looked like the windows weren't quite shut properly but we couldn't move them so called down to reception and someone came up to fiddle with the windows (though I don't think it made any difference) and apologetically handed us each a pair of ear plugs, which made me think they were used to guests complaining about the noise!

On our second night, not having slept particularly well the first night, we were a bit dismayed to be told by the hotel staff that there was a wedding reception taking place that evening on the 4th floor and they would try to keep the noise down. It went on until 2am - a lot later than weddings in the UK - and sounded like there was a nightclub next door. I don't know if this is a regular occurence on a Saturday night or a one-off but we felt that the hotel was too small to do something like that  - a bigger hotel wouldn't have had to have the music in such close proximity to guest bedrooms. It's a shame as it spoiled what would have been a very good hotel stay otherwise.


We had breakfast in our hotel - pancakes with syrup, fruit, one tiny piece of bacon and two poached eggs which was quite nice. They don't have 'normal' ie black tea so I had coca tea, which is meant to be good for altitude sickness; it tasted OK but I was dying for a cuppa!


That evening we had dinner in our hotel as it looked nice and we were too tired to go far. The hotel has two restaurants - one is French and my husband is very fussy so we decided not to eat there. I read afterwards it is a 1940s style restaurant with live opera! We ate in the downstairs restaurant and I had sea bass in garlic stew which came with rice, plantain and avocado (I think everything comes with avocado in Quito!). It was fine but a bit bland; service was extremely slow even though the restaurant wasn't busy and it took ages to get our drinks and then our food.

My husband was getting another altitude-induced headache so I ordered dessert while he went back to the room. There was something I wanted to try since our tour guide had told us about it - 'los Corridos', traditional ice cream served in a bronze pan by a 'typical character from holy week', ie Easter. But this isn't the Easter bunny - this is a cucurucho, who wear long purple robes with pointed hoods who parade through the town at Easter in a representation of atoning for their sins. Quite why one of them served my dessert I'm not sure!

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Even though I was expecting that, what I wasn't anticipating was a near 20 minute wait and then the lights in the whole restaurant to go off, a gong to sound and the hooded figure to walk out from the kitchen holding a bowl giving off billows of smoke! It was really funny and I got some amused looks from the other diners (it was probably good my husband wasn't there or he would have been really embarrassed!). The bowl continued giving off smoke (dry ice, I think) for several minutes after it was placed on the table, and after all that, it was just a fairly boring bowl of ice cream!

Latin Adventures Tours

We booked a city tour in advance through Viator as we've used them before and it meant we could reserve and pay for the day trip well in advance of the wedding and arrive knowing all was arranged. We were met in the lobby of our hotel by Natalia and went on a 3-hour walking tour of the old town which was very good.

 
For the last part we were taken by car up to El Panecillo where there is a tall Virgin Mary status overlooking the city - the view is fantastic. Natalia was very knowledgeable and pleasant, and we had booked a group tour but found nobody else had booked the same day so it became a private tour, without us having to pay the extra cost.


We then had an hour break for lunch and just wanted a snack so found a sandwich shop in the Plaza de la Independencia near our hotel. Once again I thought I had ordered us a sandwich each but when it came we only had one - my Spanish really is non-existant! I was going to go back and buy another but my husband really wasn't hungry and just wanted a packet of crisps so we took the food back to our hotel room. I was glad we did as I opened the sandwich on the table - I'd ordered ham and cheese and discovered a thin layer of mashed avocado which I don't like.

After lunch we met Dante, who runs Latin Adventure Tours, and a driver who took us by car to the Mitad del Mundo - the centre of the earth, or the equator. It was about a 30 minute drive and Dante chatted to us on the way but when we arrived at the museum he left us to be shown around as part of a group by one of their staff - so there wasn't really any need for us to do this as a tour and we could have just taken a taxi there.

We visited an outdoor museum with various huts showing how indigenous people lived (I never knew shrunken heads were something people did to deceased relatives as a mark of respect, rather than their enemies!). You can have your photo taken on the zero latitude line and witness and try different experiments like balancing an egg on a nail and watching water go down a plug hole different ways each side of the equator (it was amazing to see).

When the government built a monument to show where the equator line is, in 1979, it was before GPS and they later realised they had made a mistake! So we stopped here to take photos as well but every time I told someone we'd been to the equator they asked 'You did go to the right one - you know the monument is in the wrong place?' - so don't get caught out!

We also took a quick detour to a volcano caldera to see one of the only communities in the world living inside a caldera and for an ice cream on the way back.

Guacamole Grill, Quito airport

Before heading off to the Galapagos - and going through quite a rigorous process of having your luggage scanned and checked to make sure you are not taking any banned items into the islands - we had breakfast at a place called Guacamole Grill. I would have had something Ecuadorian but everything had plantain and/or beans, which I don't like, so I stuck to the pancakes. We had three large, really fluffy pancakes which were pretty good.



Posada Mirolindo Guest House, Quito

After an amazing 8 days in the Galapagos - which I will write about in another post - we returned via Quito. Our flights to Miami didn't match up so we had to spend a night in Quito before the next day flying to Miami then London, and as we had already been sightseeing in Quito we just wanted somewhere quiet we could get an early night before an early start the next day.



My guidebook recommended the Posada Mirolindo as the best airport hotel - but it's nothing like any other airport hotel I've been to. This is someone's home - Gabriella lives on what to me is basically a small ranch, just 15 minutes away from the airport. She collected us from the airport herself and arranged for a driver to take us back the next morning at a small additional cost.


Posada Mirolindo is beautiful, with mountains in the background and best of all (in my opinion) were the animals - three dogs, a donkey and a llama! The latter two are teathered up across the garden which is more like trekking across a field (Gabriella said I was welcome to go over and see them)- be careful where you step as my husband nearly fell down a hole! I'm not sure how friendly the animals are; they seemed vaguely curious about me but didn't look like they wanted to be petted. I love animals and even though we saw loads in the Galapagos I really enjoyed being here.

There are six guest rooms; two are little stand-alone lodges with a chair on the veranda outside where I sat for a while with one of the dogs. The room wasn't that big - basically a double room with a small chair and table area and a basic bathroom - but as we were only here for one night it was fine.

 

There isn't anywhere nearby to get dinner so they have a dining room and one of the staff cooks. We were asked when we booked the room if we wanted chicken or fish. We were given a salad to start and a fruit smoothie, then a chicken escalope with rice and plantain, and for dessert sliced apple in a warm caramel sauce, which was really nice. We were only charged $15 each for dinner which seemed very good value; I definitely recommend staying here before or after a flight or if you don't want to be right in the centre of Quito as it really is a lovely place.

Amazon Café, Quito airport

When you want a Nutella pastry and they have run out it's never a good start to the morning. We had breakfast at the airport before our flight; my husband had a ham and egg croissant which he said was fine, and as I couldn't have what I wanted I ordered a marmalade pastry. I think marmalade means jam of any kind and my best guess is that this was a fig jam - I didn't like it at all. I've never had such dry pastry - it was like it had been left over from the day before and was almost inedible and I ended up leaving most of it. A shame that our last meal in Ecuador was our worst but other than that we did have a really good time!

It looked so good as well....


 

1 comment:

  1. you will have some lovely memories to look back at. and no-you can't shrink my head!!

    ReplyDelete

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