Monthly Archives: February 2014

TRAVEL JOURNAL: PUERTO RICO DAY 5

January 31 – Day 5

Day 5 was our last full day in Puerto Rico!

It was also the only day that we woke up early in the morning.  We wanted to see the sun rise over the ocean.  It actually wasn’t as spectacular as we had hoped, but I did get a couple of nice photos.

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We spent the morning and early afternoon relaxing on the beach again.  In the afternoon, we took a taxi to Old San Juan once again.  I tried to take more photos to capture the streets and colorful buildings that are ubiquitous there.

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I love those cobblestone streets and balconies.

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…and I love all those bright colors!

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We took another stroll on the walkway along the coast.

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We encountered many stray cats along the walkway again.

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And we took a “selfie” photo together.

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For dinner, we ate at Carli’s — the place we visited first during the food tour two days previous.  The dinner we ordered was fantastic and we got to hear Carli play live with his jazz trio.  Can you see him in the background behind Paul in the photo below?

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It was bittersweet to return back to the hotel that night!  Our trip was coming to an end.

Travel Journal: Puerto Rico DAY 4

DAY 4 – January 30

Paul and I enjoyed a relaxing beach day for Day 4.  I didn’t take many photos that day because I didn’t want to take my camera near the sand.

On Days 1-3, the weather had been consistently warm (in the 80’s) and breezy.  On Day 4, the weather was much the same — except that we experienced random, sudden patches of rain that would last less than five minutes.  During those five minutes, we rushed to the nearest covered bus stop or a cluster of trees until the torrent stopped.

We walked to have lunch at the Crepe Maker.  It was good food, but wasn’t inherently Puero Rican obviously.

We spent most of the afternoon reading on the beach.  We slathered ourselves with sunscreen and only got burnt wherever we missed with the sunscreen.

When we became hungry for dinner, we walked to a fancy restaurant on the beach called Pamela’s.  We ordered Pina Coladas with our entrees.  Paul ordered battered cod with mango chutney and risotto (rice) on the side.  These photos may not look very appealing (it was dark in the restaurant), but I assure you: the food was fantastic!

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I ordered port tenderloin (best I’ve ever tasted!) with a tropical chutney and a creamy risotto on the side.  This was definitely the best restaurant meal I have ever had!

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We walked back to the hotel in the moonlight.  (Everyone eats late in Puerto Rico.)  We sought out the deck chairs on the hotel roof and read our books until we got tired enough to sleep.  What a life!  😉

Travel Journal: Puerto Rico DAY 4

DAY 4 – January 29

On Day 4, we rented a car and drove over an hour to the El Yunque National Forest.  El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System.

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The roads within the National forest are narrow, curvy, and hilly.  At various points along the way, there are stop-off points to park and hike the trails.

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First, we parked at the trail for the La Mina waterfalls.  The trails are all paved, and with good reason: without pavement, the trails would no doubt wash away.

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We saw a few snails and lizards as we hiked.

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After 45 minutes, we arrived at the La Mina Waterfalls.  This is the only waterfall in El Yunque where visitors are allowed to get into the water.

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It was beautiful.

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We hiked back to the car and drove to another stop: the Yokahú Observation Tower.

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Climbing the stairs.

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…and here is the view from the top!

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We would have loved to hike the trails that lead all the way to the El Yunque peak but due to delays with getting the rental car in the morning, we could not stay in the rainforest as long as we would have liked.

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After arriving back at the hotel, we took a stroll on the beach.  Then we enjoyed a nice dinner at an Argentinean Steakhouse.  It was nice to spend the rest of the evening in the hot tub and then reading our books on the balcony of our hotel room.

 

Travel Journal: Puerto Rico DAY 3

DAY 3 – January 28

On Day 3, we returned to Old San Juan by taxi.  This time, we spent more time walking around, enjoying the architecture and stopping into some little shops.

Some of the streets of Old San Juan still have the old, original cobblestone.

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When trade ships from Europe came to Puerto Rico in the 1700’s, they came with hulls filled with iron slag (run-off waste from iron smelting) as ballast (weight to help keep the ship afloat).  Upon arrival, the ships emptied the iron slag and filled their hulls with cargo to bring back to Europe.  Starting in 1784, the iron slag was used to create the cobblestones to pave all of the roads throughout Old San Juan.

The iron slag is what gives the cobblestones the characteristic blue tint you see here.

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The Iglesia de San José is a cathedral with Spanish Gothic architecture that was constructed beginning in 1523.  The family of Ponce de León (Spanish explorer and first governor of Puerto Rico) attended church here. Ponce de León was buried here for 300 years until his body was moved to the San Juan Cathedral in 1913.  Unfortunately, the church was closed when we were there so we could not see the inside.

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We followed a road down from the church through a tunnel which led to a cemetery near to El Morro.

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Many prominent Puerto Ricans have been buried here over the years.

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The Catedral de San Juan is the second oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere (1521).  The original church on these grounds had wooden walls and a thatched roof.  The church was destroyed by hurricane and rebuilt a few times over the centuries.  The current building was renovated in 1917.

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This Cathedral is an authentic and rare New World example of medieval architecture.

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The front of the church and the pipe organ.

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La Princesa is a beautiful, renovated building that currently houses the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.  The building was originally the penitentiary built in 1837.

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When they renovated the building, they left a few of the original jail cells untouched.

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Around the back of the cells is where prisoners were sometimes executed.

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Next, we decided to check out the Casa Cortés ChocoBar.

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Paul ordered this mocha frio…

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…and we both enjoyed this thing.  It is essentially grilled cheese with chocolate.  🙂

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Soon afterwards, we headed to the meeting place for the Old San Juan Food Tour that we had registered for before the trip.  Below shows our tour guide inside of Carli’s Fine Bistro and Piano.  Carli Munoz is a jazz pianist (and apparently was the pianist for the Beach Boys for ten years!) and now a restauranteur.

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At Carli’s, we enjoyed three small appetizers:

  1. Bacalaítos (cod fritters)
  2. Tostones (fried plantain slices)
  3. A dessert called Barriguitas de Vieja — “Granny’s Tummy” (a spiced sweet pumpkin fritter).

Yum!

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Next, we visited a coffee shop called Cuatro Sombras, which is one of the few coffee shops in Old San Juan that roasts their own coffee.  Paul was in heaven learning about and sampling their gourmet coffee.  And yes, he bought a couple bags of coffee beans to enjoy at home.

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Our guide on the food tour pointed out interesting buildings and gave us an overview of the history of Puerto Rico.  Below is pictured one of the narrowest apartments in the world.  It is about five feet wide!

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At Cafe El Punto, we enjoyed an empanada with pico de gallo sauce.

Next we went to Barrachina, which claims to be the original home of the piña colada in 1963.  (Although another place, Caribe Hilton, claims to have created the first piña colada in 1954.  In any case, I’m glad it was invented because it is delicious!)

The main meal during the food tour was mofongo with a chicken sauce over the top.  The resturant, Rosa de Triana, brought out wooden mortars and pestles so that we could mash the plantains ourselves!

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For dessert, we enjoyed flan at the outdoor Cafe La Princesa.  Our tour guide told us that in the Caribbean, flan is generally made creamier than in Europe.  I had flan while in Italy, and I would have to agree that the flan we ate in Puerto Rico was creamier.

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We sure had our fill of good food and sights on Day 3!

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Travel Journal: Puerto Rico DAY 2…continued

DAY 2 – January 27, continued…

We ate lunch at a restaurant called “Mojito’s” that had authentic Puerto Rican food.  I ordered a chicken breast dinner with creole sauce.  Paul ordered the beef mofongo.  This is when we first discovered our newfound love for plantains!

Plantains look a lot like bananas except they are green and slightly larger.  They taste very different than a banana, though.  They are starchy like a potato but the taste is sweeter.  Plaintains are used in many different dishes.  Mofongo is a dish involving plaintains that are fried and then mashed using a mortar and pestle.  Mofongo is often served with a meat sauce over the top.  More details about mofongo later…we encountered it again during the food tour.

After lunch, we visited another fort, Castillo San Cristóbal located on the eastern end of the walled city of Old San Juan.  While El Morro was designed to protect the city from attacks by sea, San Cristóbal was intended to protect the city from enemy approaches by land.  The fort covers 27 acres.

San Cristóbal has five independent units, each connected by a moat or tunnel, designed to be independent should the other units fail during attack.

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Here is a view of the main plaza inside San Cristóbal.  San Cristóbal has everything: dungeons, tunnels, sentry boxes, huge cannons, a WWII era lookout, etc.  Inside the two circular walls shown below towards the right of the photo are two wells.  Underneath the ground is a huge cistern that stored rainwater collected throughout the fort.

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It’s fun to imagine how it would have looked in its heyday.

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The soldiers would have bunked in very tight quarters.

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Paul posing with his “toy cannon.”

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A view overlooking part of the fort and San Juan beyond.

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A view facing the other direction, towards Old San Juan.

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To cool off, we stopped at the Old Harbor Brewery, which is the only micro brewery on the island.  Paul ordered a coffee-chocolate beer (what a combination!) and I ordered a mojito (Puerto Rico is known for their rum, after all).

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We took a taxi back to our hotel in Candado and took a walk on the beach for awhile.

For dinner, we went to a Japanese Sushi restaurant.  One of the types of sushi that we ordered was cream cheese, avocado, and plantains.  So good!  It was a nice ending to a full day.

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Travel Journal: Puerto Rico DAY 2

DAY 2 – January 27

Trivia:  Puerto Rico is a commonweath of the United States.  Puerto Ricans can vote in the presidential primaries but not in the general elections.  The currency is the U.S. dollar and the primary language is Spanish, although English is frequently used.  San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico

Day 2 was a big day.  In the morning, Paul and I took a taxi from our hotel in Condado into Old San Juan.  Old San Juan is one of the oldest and most historic areas in Puerto Rico.

Map Old San Juan

In the greater San Juan area, the taxis charge a flat rate depending on which “zone” you are traveling to and from.  Including the 10% tip, we paid about $20 for a 15-20 minute trip.

The taxi dropped us off at the Plaza Colon, one of the lovely squares in Old San Juan.  Plaza Colon means “Columbus Square,” in honor of Christopher Columbus for discovering Puerto Rico in 1493 during his second voyage.

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Puerto Rico was first colonized by the Spanish in 1508 by Juan Ponce de León.  In 1509, the original settlement moved to the area now known as Old San Juan in order to be able to better protect the San Juan harbor from other jealous countries.

In 1539, the king of Spain authorized construction to begin on a fort to defend the entry to the San Juan port.  The fort, which is today known as “Castillo San Felipe del Morro” or simply “El Morro,” covers 70 acres including the open “killing grounds” around the exterior.  (More info/photos about El Morro is to come.)

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In 1680, the governor of Puerto Rico began construction on city walls to surround the entirety of Old San Juan.  It took 48 years to complete the city walls.

After the taxi dropped us off, we walked southeast towards the city walls along the ocean.  There is a lovely walkway running along the ocean outside the city walls, leading down to the exterior of El Morro.  The city walls are as tall as 42 feet and 45 feet thick at the base in some places.  At the top, the wall is about 2 feet thick.

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Walking along this path, we passed by local joggers as well as many feral cats.  These cats are supposedly descendants of the cats the Spaniards brought to Puerto Rico.

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The walls are studded with garitas — sentry boxes.

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When important visitors came to San Juan, they entered through the red gate known as the San Juan Gate.

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Along with Spanish rule came the Roman Catholic faith.  The inscription above this gate reads: “Benedictus Oui Venit In Nomine Domini” — “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

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Inside the gate.  Notice how thick the city walls are here!

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The other side of the gate, inside the city walls.

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Next, we walked to El Morro, the fort.  El Morro is a National Historic Site administered by the U.S. National Park Service.

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Notice the dry moat on either side of the entrance.

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The plaza within the fort has been renovated to appear somewhat as it looked during its heyday.

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The park ranger we talked to suggested starting from the lowest “level” of the fort up to the highest level.

Some areas of the fort have ramps instead of stairs.  I suppose they needed to be able somehow to bring big things like cannons to various levels of the fort!

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Since its construction in 1539, El Morro has served a number of purposes throughout the centuries.  During Spanish rule, it survived an attack by the English led by Sir Francis Drake in 1595.  The English attacked again in 1598 led by George Clifford and were partially successful through attacking by land rather than by sea — but they were forced to leave the island during a breakout of dysentery.

Here, you can see a few of semi-circle tracks for El Morro’s many cannons.

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The Dutch attacked in 1625.  Although they were successful in ransacking and burning much of the city, they were unable to penetrate El Morro.

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During the Spanish-American War, the U.S. bombarded El Morro in 1898.  During the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded the ownership of ownership of Puerto Rico to the United States (along with the islands of Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines).

El Morro then became part of a U.S. military post called Fort Brooke and was active during World War I and II.  The concrete bunker in the photo below was added during World War II to keep watch for German submarines.

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In 1961, the U.S. military retired Forte Brooke and El Morro became part of the National Park Service.

On the highest level of the fort, there is a lighthouse.  The first lighthouse was built on El Morro in 1846.  The second lighthouse (1876) was struck by U.S. artillery fire during the Spanish-American war.  The third lighthouse was rebuilt a year later but demolished in 1906 due to structural problems.  The current lighthouse was constructed in 1908 in the Moorish Revival style.

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The view from Level 6 overlooks the “field-of-fire” and the rest of Old San Juan.

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This big guy was hanging out on Level 6!  We have no idea how he got up this high within the fort.

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Stay tuned for the rest of Day 2!

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Travel Journal: Puerto Rico DAY 1

When Paul and I got married five years ago, we started a “Travel” savings account.  We tucked away money here-and-there as we could and we finally decided we were ready to take our first major vacation together.  Last Saturday, Paul and I returned from a week-long vacation in Puerto Rico!  We had a wonderful time.

Paul kept a travel journal and I took plenty of photos (surprise, surprise!).  I thought I would combine the two and publish them on this photoblog.  🙂

DAY 1 – January 26

Our plane arrived in Puerto Rico around 2:30pm.  We had an hour-long layover in Atlanta.  In spite of the snowy weather, we did not encounter any delays.

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The taxi driver who drove us from the airport to the hotel liked driving in two lanes at once.  During the drive, he shared with us political/social opinions about the problems on Puerto Rico.

We stayed at the Acacia Boutique Hotel in Condado, San Juan.  We heard the hotel clerks pronounce it, “ah-CAY-shi-ah,” but all of the taxi drivers said “ah-CAH-see-ah.”  🙂

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The hotel is a small, locally owned hotel with just 21 rooms.  We loved the Spanish influence evident in the architecture.  Our room wasn’t large but it had a lengthy balcony.  Our hotel was one building away from the beach, so we could see the ocean from the balcony.

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After checking into our room, we took a walk and ate dinner at “Rao’s,” which turned out to be an Italian restaurant.  Yes, I know it is lame that our first meal in Puerto Rico was Italian.  But we were hungry and it was the first restaurant we saw to that day!  I ordered a Caprese Salad and Paul ordered a Margarita Pizza.  It was delicious even if it wasn’t Puerto Rican food.

After dinner, we walked along the beach.  The weather was warm and breezy.  We were both very tired from the traveling and waking up at 3am, so we went to bed early.

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Our first day wasn’t terribly exciting, but I hope you’ll enjoy hearing about the following days which were much more exciting!  Stay tuned for Day 2.

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