History in Every Footstep
As I stepped inside the Casa Gangotena, I couldn’t help but smile.
Airports, taxis and airline food were in the rear view. My vacation had begun.
Walking through the lobby and up to my room, I felt as though I was in a centuries-old Italian palazzeto (palace). I’m told by the receptionist that the Plaza de San Francisco, the square where the hotel sits, dates back to the 15th century when it was used as a giant open-air market for traders from all over the region.
I dropped my bags in the room and returned downstairs for “Coffee Time & Snacks.” But this was not like any coffee time I had ever experienced.
The Quiteño coffee and hot chocolate were a shot of energy to my taste buds. The rich aromas, flavors and textures made me wonder if the coffee beans and cacao had been handpicked and delivered that morning.
As part of the local custom, I dipped small dices of fresh cheese through the foamy top and into the warm hot chocolate. The chocolatey cheese melted in my mouth.
Though I’m a coffee drinker, I can’t help notice the collection of teas offered here. So many flavors with fresh herbal infusions, some of which I’m told are unique to the Andes.
The next day, following a delicious breakfast buffet at the Casa Gangotena, I stepped outside on to the historical bricks in Plaza de San Francisco and took in the sweeping panoramic views of Quito before heading out for our city walking tour.
As we roamed through the narrow colonial streets, our first stop brought us to Quito’s imposing and intricate neo-Gothic Basilica.
Standing at the entrance, I tilted my head back and looked up at the Ecuadorian inspired gargoyles and massive Gothic fixtures. That’s when I knew I wanted to see the city from the towers above.
The elevator was an option but I chose to climb the tower as it intended to be climbed. I began my ascent up the stairs, tip toeing along a wooden catwalk above the arched domes below.
We traversed a number of steep metal stair cases on our way into the Condor Tower and were rewarded with stunning views of Quito new and old.
Our second stop was at La Compañia Jesuit Church, Quito’s most famous church.
As I walked in, my eyes instantly fixated on the intricately carved cedar completely covered in gold leaf. The attention to detail was mesmerizing and the abundance of gold seemed to create a light of its own.
It was time for lunch and not a moment too soon.
We made the short walk to the Plaza Grande Hotel and ate in a beautiful dining room overlooking Independence Plaza. With a glass of wine in my hand, I looked down at the traffic crawling along the one way streets surrounding the square and realized how happy I am to be on foot, enjoying Quito’s unique history one step at a time.
Following lunch we were given options. We could return to the hotel for an afternoon of leisure or continue exploring. I chose the latter.
First stop was La Ronda Street.
As we walked down this historic strip, I was transported back in time. Previously an Inca road, then a 19th century artist hangout, La Ronda Street is now occupied with modern workshops, bars and restaurants.
As we walked through this narrow pedestrian street, I looked up at the many balconies and imagined painters, sculptors, authors and poets discussing their crafts over a glass of wine.
Casa Del Alabado was our final stop of the day. Only a half block away from the Casa Gangotena, this pre-Columbian museum was organized to represent Andean belief in the three worlds – upper, middle, lower – with a wide variety of artifacts from the many cultures that inhabited Ecuador and the Quito Valley.
I opted for the self-guided audio tour and learned about this fascinating culture at my own pace.
As I drifted through the many hallways listening to the soothing voice of my personal guide, I noticed that the museum was organized thematically rather than chronologically and objects were displayed as though they were works of art, rather than archaeological remains.
I felt more as though I was experiencing the time period rather than simply studying it.
At dinner, I reminisced with others about our day’s activities while enjoying sunset views of the famous Avenue of the Volcanoes as well as Quito’s colonial center at El Ventanal restaurant.
The next morning we were off to the Galápagos Islands for part two of our adventure!