This is a guest post that I wrote for National Geographic’s Intelligent Traveler Blog for the series: I Heart My City. We were invited by Gio Palatucci to highlight our city on National Geographics Intelligent Traveler Blog. The format is a mad-libs style fill-in-the-blanks. The bold text is what they gave us, and the regular text is our (my) response. I wrote most of it, with Dena’s help on the best parts…
Check out the post on National Geographic Intelligent Traveler Blog
I Heart My City: Bryan’s Cuenca
Cuenca is My City
The first place I take a visitor from out of town is Parque Calderon. It is beautiful and a great way to see the city. And there are awesome cafes and bakeries on every street.
When I crave amazing pizza I always go to Tutto Freddo. They aren’t a pizza shop – in fact, they are famous for their ice cream, but they also make the best personal size pizzas around. Less than $5 for an 8″ made-to-order pizza and bottle of coke.
To escape the beautiful colonial architecture I head to Mall del Rio – Cuenca’s largest commercial development – complete with the latest multiplex theater, bowling alley and huge food court (yes, even with Burger King). Its a palace of steel, glass and concrete.
If I want to waste three full days I go to the Transit Authority to register my car for the year. When I purchased my first car, it took more than a week of running around to municipal, provincial, federal government offices, the Red Cross, notaries and a driving school collecting original documents, paying taxes and making triplicate photocopies of everything. I treasure my vehicle registration – I even had it laminated like everyone else here.
For complete quiet, I can hide away in Paradise Park. Well not complete quiet, but just about as good as it gets in a city. It is super relaxing – little kids and families playing and a small river runs through it.
If you come to my city, get your picture taken with the flower vendors at the flower market off of Parque Calderon. The setting is beautiful and they are quite willing to pose for a photo (especially if you purchase some flowers). One lady even agreed to be filmed when we were shooting the House Hunters International episode.
If you have to order one thing off the menu from Creta it has to be the filet mignon. Good beef is hard to find here – and its the best that we’ve had yet.
La Victoria is my one-stop shop for great electronics (think Cuenca’s version of Best Buy – much smaller but still the best selection around).
Locals know to skip gringo pricing and check out the real prices instead. Its long been said that there are two economies here. Sometimes due to skin color, and frequently dependent on your ability to communicate in Spanish, the gringo price can appear. After a while you will learn that taxis never cost $10 and seldom $5. And that 5 apples don’t cost $3.00 like back home (maybe $1).
When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go on the bus ($0.25), buy some Yuca Bread ($0.15 ea), sit on a bench in Parque Calderon and people watch. Our whole family can do this for less than $4.00.
For a huge splurge I go to an all-you(I)-can-eat-breakfast-buffet for $12. It comes with everything and its all hot and fresh. It can’t be beat – just one block off the main center.
Photo ops in my city include the old town architecture, flower market and Parque Calderon (yes, again) and the best vantage points are from the restaurant above Fruitalados and from Turi – a look-off south of the city.
If my city were a celebrity it’d be Johnny Depp – sophisticated yet quirky and a little eccentric.
The most random thing about my city is the weather. No one knows if or when it will rain or be extremely hot. You can start the day in an insulated jacket and scarf, be down to a t-shirt by noon and have a rain storm in the afternoon.
My city has the most soccer obsessed men. Of course, the word obsessed is a little strong, but how else can you describe men who work 12 hours a day and find the time/energy to play soccer for an hour at lunch? And on Sunday. And after work. Yeah, soccer is pretty important here.
My city has the most friendly women. Friendly in a social way. They make conversation at grocery stores, restaurants and on the street. We seldom go into the downtown without chatting with a local Cuencana.
In my city, an active day outdoors involves running errands in the city (everyone walks everywhere). On a day off, almost everyone heads to a park. There are some great hiking places just outside of the city – the city is surrounded by mountains.
My city’s best museum is Museo Banco Central (Central Bank Museum). It has everything from a complete history of the country and its indigenous people, to restored Incan ruins and an amazing aviary. Count on spending 3 hours or more exploring and learning about the area.
My favorite jogging/walking route is Avenida 12 de Abril. It has wide sidewalks that run along side the Tomebamba River. When it hits Solano Avenue, there’s a stone staircase that leads into the old town.
The mall food court is the spot for late-night eats. Because everything else shuts down by 7pm. The mall is open late – until 9pm.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends read the local paper or check the the tourist bureau – they have a full listing of everything going on. There are lots of free events and concerts.
You can tell a lot about my city from a drive from the airport to the center. You’ll pass modern apartment buildings, luxury car dealers, adobe houses and colonial architecture.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they sing while they speak. Cuencanos are known throughout the country for “singing” as they speak. It is thought to be one of the most beautiful forms of Spanish.
In the spring, summer, fall and winter you should try to remember what season it is – because nothing changes here. Sometimes it rains a little more. Sometimes the sun is out more. The exception is November, when you can see the trees on Avenida Solano bloom into an amazing purple, our daughter loves it.
A hidden gem in my city is the hot baths in Baños (not the big one near Ambato – Cuenca has its own hot springs). You can swim in natural hot springs under the stars and then dine in a fine restaurant at Hosteria Duran. Just a 20 minute taxi ride from downtown.
For a great breakfast joint try one of the breakfast buffets at the expensive hotels. For $8 to $12 you can stuff yourself (not that I would know) on a huge variety of breads, cakes, fruit, eggs and breakfast meats – oh, and cereals, fresh juice and coffee. All with amazing service and luxurious surroundings – and for the price of fast food back home.
Just outside my city, you can visit Chordeleg. It is just a 45 minute drive and is famous for silver jewelry. There isn’t a woman in the world (or husband, right?) that wouldn’t love to spend a couple of hours looking at the handmade silver jewelry. It is very inexpensive.
The best way to see my city is on foot. Cuenca is a walking city. There is no other way to take in the architecture – or find all the great bakeries.
If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live on the beach. It was a dream of mine before we moved to Ecuador, but we decided as a family that the Andes mountains fit us better. And guess what? We were right!
The best book about my city is one I have yet to find. All we have so far are travel guides – and they don’t represent Cuenca well at all. Somehow a list of restaurants and hotels isn’t very compelling for such a beautiful and diverse city. I’ve seen some Spanish ones downtown that I’ve got to check out.
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is Beautiful Day by U2.
If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the $1.50 DVD stores and all the ice cream shops. Gourmet ice cream for $2.00 or less – its a kids heaven.
Roasting cuy (guinea pig) and pigs on every street corner could only happen in my city. A little shocking to see at first, they have become a familiar part of life here. No, I haven’t eaten the street food yet. Maybe next year…
My city should be featured on your cover or website because it is a fabulous jewel that deserves more attention than it gets. If someone is planning a first time trip to South America they should start in Cuenca and get their Latin legs. Its like South America for beginners.