Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hasta Luego, San Juan

So long, San Juan.  You've been a great time.  You were easy, inexpensive, interesting, and convenient.  

It was easy to find you, passports are not required, the USD is a universal language, and English/Spanglish freely spoken everywhere.

Puerto Rico is 100 miles long and 35 miles wide with almost 4 million people living on the "Island of Enchantment," (with a bit more than a million in the greater San Juan metropolitan area). 

It is vibrant and multicultural, and evidence of Spanish, African, Native American and stateside influences abound. Fascinating!

San Juan is a welcoming community and we didn't spend one minute worrying about where we were or where we were headed.  Their collective reputation is one of kindness and gentleness, and we saw it firsthand.  The sentiment is more than the very enticing "live and let live" - it's more like "Live and let live and BE WELL!" I really noticed it on our bike ride yesterday.  We biked about 10 miles, mostly on busy city streets.  I didn't get any sense that we were honking off anyone.  In fact, to the contrary.  So many smiles and so much courtesy.  

There is so much fun to be had and we are sorry to say adios.  

Backside of the hotel

Park next to the hotel

Our view

He picked us up at ORD and got a souvenir!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Last full day

We've had a great day! It started with a FaceTime session with JSS - he wanted to see the ocean.  He loves to see the ocean when we talk.  We then headed out for one of our last runs, got back, and hopped on the hotel bikes for a ride out to Carolina Beach, near Pinones.  It was great fun to see more of the city.  We returned to lounge one last day by the pool and then cleaned up and ventured to Old Town for a nice, final dinner, at AguaViva.  It was another perfect day.

FaceTime with JSS; showing him the ocean.
Riding the city, oceanside.
At Pinky's they give you the blender, which means seconds on your smoothie!
Love their lattes.
Stepping out, without my stepping out shoes.
I'll have the salmon, and he's ordered the mahi-mahi.
I'm going to miss this place.
Thankfully, he's coming home with me.

Monday, January 16, 2017

It's a Holiday!

We started the day with a 5+ mile run to old town and then returned, donned our day clothes, and went to Pinky's… A hole in the wall favorite place only a few blocks from this beautiful hotel. Pinky's is known for cheap healthy food. We ordered eggs and a green smoothie and lattes.  We lounged poolside a lot of the day, then walked over to the local market, Santurce, a tripadvisor recommendation (my recommendation:  don't bother).  In the evening, we walked around and had drinks at the hotel (Ola Oceanfront) and Tijuanas and then brought some pizza (PJ's, across the street, and unback to the hotel. What a perfect day.
At Pinky's West

Sunday, January 15, 2017

El Viejo San Juan, on a Sunday

Sunday fun day...Old San Juan consists so much charm, lots of history, color, friendliness, and many Spanish colonial buildings. There's a lot of history going on around here!

We found our way to old town via a 3 mile easy stroll on Sunday morning.  We were feeling a bit hungry and stopped by CB - Cafe Berlin.  Their service is slow, just what we wanted.

After a luscious and somewhat early breakfast, we headed to the marina (port of call) where all the cruise ships dock, to have a look.  Then, we strolled down Paseo de la Princesa, a charming and shady promenade, restored from the 19th century, and lined with trees and street vendors.  Above, towering 40 feet or more above, are the fortification walls of old San Juan, and at the end of this is the well-known Raices Fountain, which highlights the diversity of the Puerto Rican people and their commitment to family (with the family silhouette at the center of the fountain).  From the fountain, you can look across San Juan Bay and across to Isla de Cabras, now a recreational space, but formerly, a leper colony.  If you continue on the path after encountering the fountain, you will follow the walls of the city, and eventually encounter San Juan Gate.  Continuing on for 1/2 - 1 mile, will take you further on the path, called Paseo El Morro, a national recreational trail which leads you to El Morro Fort, a fort constructed by the Spaniards about 500 years ago.  Just a little history in the middle of so much beauty.

Listed as the collective "San Juan National Historic Site", this includes in one easy afternoon, the following:
  • El Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a 16th century citadel that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site,
  • Fort San Cristobal, build by Spain to protect against land based attacks,
  • Plaza de Colon (Christopher Columbus square),
  • Plaza de Armas (the main square, that features a round fountain with 4 marble statues representing the four seasons (not that they know about winter here).
After lots of walking and fort seeing, we stopped by Eclectika for earrings and then a happy hour on the town square at Artesanos Cafe for local beers, before we walked back to the hotel, for more pool lounging, and eventually for dinner at the celebrated Serafina for dinner and a Tempranillo (Lambuena, Ribera Del Duero, Spain).  
Breakfast at Cafe Berlin
San Juan Gate, once the city's official entrance for Spanish dignitaries
Encircling the city are the historic walls of Old San Juan, about 3 miles in total.
Construction started in 1630 and finished in 1790.
A view from Castillo San Felipe del Morro, built by Spain to guard San Juan's harbor
Isla de Cabras - a view from the fortress - in 1876, a hospital was built there as a colony for people sick with leprosy
Cargo ship, loaded up at the marina and took off again we think
Outside our "home" - Condado Vanderbilt
Serafina, with Tempranillo (and with Shawn)

The best tour guide, and history lover, 
Puerto Rican beer - Magna - like Heinekin without the burn

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Sunsational Saturday

Another day for the books!  We headed north on a 5+ mile run and saw a grittier San Juan, which we actually really enjoyed seeing (nothing scary, just local living). 

The afternoon found us trying out this whole relaxing and reading thing again.  We're getting good at it (and enjoyed one of the four pools - the hot tub).

In the evening, we put our finest on and had another first - we ordered up an Uber - and headed to Old San Juan for our Saturday night date.  We attended 7 pm Mass at Catedral de San Juan Bautista.  It's a landmark cathedral, built in 1540.  The second oldest church in the Western Hempishere, and the oldest church on US soil.  It holds the tomb of Ponce de Leon, the city's founder, and also the waxed remains of some Roman martyr (may have to read up on that a bit more).   The locals, I've read, are quite proud of this cathedral, which is also the seat of the Archdiocese of Puerto Rico. They're also quite proud that one of Marc Anthony's weddings was here.  We outwitted the rain by ducking into El Picoteo Bar de Tapas for an order of Coca de Manchego y Tomate (aka small pizza) and bottle of Luigi Bosca, a Malbec from Argentina.

Catedral de San Juan Bautista

Friday, January 13, 2017

Casual Friday

We are two hours ahead of central time, but the truth is we've lost track completely of the hour it is at any given time of the day today.  That's very strange for us, a couple of people tied to the time for ever, it seems.

We started the day with a long run to Viego San Juan (old San Juan) and then we walked around. getting iced Starbucks, and noting how weird it felt to not have an agenda, not have a worry or a deadline.  We noticed as we walked around Old San Juan, that it was such a mix of places we've visited - a little bit Prague, and then, suddenly, a street that looked like DC, Palo Alto, and then, one more street over, a little bit New Orleans.  What a melting pot it is.

We ran back, grabbed some nuts, and lounged around the hotel in the afternoon, choosing between the 4 pools, drinking Bacardi Limon and Diet Coke, and reading (what luxury!).

Then, we cleaned up and headed out on the town, first to Pannes, recommended by a cabbie, where we shared a bottle of wine, learned to salsa dance, and grabbed some dinner.  After, we tried our hand at the local casino (nothing to report there)...

What a great day!
Not's Puerto Rico!
Our view.  Could you ever get tired of this?
Shawn:  Relaxing. There.  I've documented it.
Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton
Salsa Lesson!  6-7-2-3.  Repitir!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Rich Port: A History Lesson

We're so happy to be here!  The Condado Vanderbilt is so upscale, it's crazy!  Usually if hotel personnel greet us outside the main lobby, it's to shoo us down the street.  Here, we were welcomed with warm greetings, and champagne! (We didn't bite, but only because we didn't know if it was complimentary, and we were too timid, and happy enough without it, to ask)!  Housekeeping visits twice per day, with treats.  Not typically our experience!

The capital city, we're noticing all kinds of beauty, and history.

I really didn't know much about Puerto Rico when we started considering it as a winter destination...maybe you'll learn something, too - thanks to online resources and brochures for help with this:

Christopher Columbus arrived at Puerto Rico in 1493, and, due to the gold in the river, it was soon named Puerto Rico, or "rich port". It became a Spanish colony and eventually an important military outpost.

The island began to produce cattle, sugar cane, coffee and tobacco, which led to the importation of African slaves. The bloodlines and culture, as a result, evolved through a mixing of the Spanish, African, and Indian races that shared the island.

There were many unsuccessful attempts by the French, Dutch, and English to conquer the island over the years. To guard against this, the Spanish constructed the many forts we plan to visit in the coming days!  Puerto Rico remained an overseas province of Spain until the Spanish-American war, when U.S. forces invaded the island in 1898, Spain ceded Puerto Rico (along with Cuba, the Philippines and Guam) to the U.S. At time, it's sugar crop was primary.

The U.S. Navy purchased two thirds of the island to use as a naval base during World War II, and continued to use the area for military exercises until a civilian was killed during a bombing exercise in the 1990s. There was outrage and protests, and the base closed in 2003. This area now serves as wildlife reserves.

In 1917, Puerto Ricans received U.S. citizenship and, in 1952, the country became a U.S. Commonwealth.  To this day, apparently, it's status is debated.

Some favor statehood, others favor independence, and still others want to continue as is, with the commonwealth status.  San Juan seems like a happy place, and as long as they keep the fish tacos so delicious, like these below, it really doesn't matter to this little tourist.

Sitting at one of the 6 hotel bars:  Tacos and Tequila