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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