Showing posts with label Cartagena. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cartagena. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

travelogue: a weekend of eating in Cartagena

Let me just betray my own ignorance immediately: when a good friend said he was getting married in Cartagena, I had absolutely no expectations of the city whatsoever. I was going for the wedding, and didn't really give much thought to what else the destination might hold. I booked a flight (direct out of Fort Lauderdale on JetBlue, and quite cheap, I should note) and started looking for a hotel near the church where the ceremony would be. And as I was searching on Google Maps, those little pictures of the spots you're clicking started popping up – and like a dummy, I realized, "Oh. This place actually looks really nice!"

The heart of Cartagena, the Old Town, is a walled city overlooking the Caribbean coast which has long been attractive to empire builders, tomb raiders, slave traders and pirates. Its winding streets are lined with Spanish colonial buildings and dotted with plazas and churches that date back to the 16th century. About half of those buildings are beautifully preserved; the other half are in a state of often remarkable decay, the kind of ruin porn that draws people to Cuba and Detroit. (With its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, all the facades must be kept intact, though owners will often adapt and re-purpose the interiors).

It is about as picturesque a place as I have ever seen, yet still has the feel of a lived-in city and not some sort of Potemkin village. I was completely charmed by it.

We only had a weekend to explore, and a wedding to celebrate and related events to attend, but in between the festivities, here's what we did while in Cartagena:

(All the places we visited, and many more, are bookmarked in this Cartagena Google Map; you can also see all my pictures from around the city in this Cartagena, Colombia flickr set).

Our home base was the Hotel Quadrifolio, which was two blocks from the chapel in the heart of the Old Town. It's an eight-room boutique hotel in a beautifully restored old 17th century residence. As we checked in – while sitting in what was more of a living room than a lobby, and sipping on delightfully cold, slushy mojitos – we flipped through a picture book with before-and-after shots of the restoration. The transformation is remarkable.

The rooms are all situated around a central courtyard lined with arched passageways. A small indigo-tiled pool is nestled in back. Despite the tropical heat, the A/C in our room blasted at arctic levels, while the bathroom was open-air, with a small garden next to the shower. The decor throughout the property seamlessly merges the contemporary and the pre-Columbian. It was a glorious place.[1]

(There are more pictures of the hotel in this Hotel Quadrifolio flickr set.)

Hotel Quadrifolio
Calle del Cuartel (Cra. 5) No. 36-118, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia
+575 664 6053

We dropped our bags and went exploring the town, running into several other wedding attendees along the way. Though it's less than a mile from one side of the Old Town to the other, we would see something new every time we wandered the criss-crossing streets: an impeccably preserved church here, a beautiful but crumbling facade a block away.

And everywhere there were fruit vendors, with carts stacked with mangoes, papayas, coconuts, pineapples, and other more exotic specimens: maracuya (passionfruit), lulo, tomate de arbol, guava, granadilla and more.

Though we knew there would be food at a reception for the wedding guests that night, I was feeling peckish around mid-afternoon, and we stopped off for our first bite at La Cevicheria. We chose it primarily because it was open in mid-afternoon, and most places in town close at 3pm until dinner service (I get the sense that siesta is still taken pretty seriously here). I learned later that this is on the W.W.B.D. ("What Would Bourdain Do?") list for Cartagena, and I can see why.

Maybe I was especially hungry. Maybe the charm of the town makes everything taste better. Maybe it was their good A/C or their cold beer.[2] But this octopus ceviche, was, in the moment, one of the best ceviches I'd ever had. The octopus hit that satisfying equilibrium between tender and chewy, speckled with diced onions and peppers, all awash in a citrusy marinade stained dark brown by the octopus' pigment. You can also adjust the heat level yourself with a bottle of a really outstanding orange-hued hot sauce that our server was good enough to clue us in on.

La Cevicheria's ceviches are served with saltines for scooping, but for a worthwhile upgrade, get an order of their tostones, the plantains flattened wafer-thin and fried until shattering crisp.

(There are a few more pictures in this La Cevicheria flickr set.)

La Cevicheria
Calle Stuart 714, Cartagena de Indias, Colombia
+57 5 660 1492

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