Tag Archives: Puerto Rico

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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