Even though we were out late enjoying the local atmosphere last night, I still managed to get up and out to catch the sun rise over the fort (which is only blocks away behind our hotel), and I decided to head out to check the bay-front park.
San Juan is host to some BEAUTIFUL beaches along the Atlantic Ocean, but we opted to stay in “Old San Juan”, away from the beaches. bikini-clad bodies and those whose morning routine includes km’s/miles of jogging. With all the cafe’s opening, the smells of rich Puerto Rican Coffee and some awesome bakery goods, I found myself grabbing a seat along the bay watching the morning floatation pass by before being spotted by some VERY persistent pigeons.
As you can see — the walk is very inviting, and even the hard benches were pleasant to sit and relax for a bit. Scattered flora is abundant along the bay. The one thing I found missing were the homeless people you usually associate with park settings. There is an overwhelming presence of policies throughout the city, who are always making the tourists feel safe.
At the end of Old San Juan, the residential corridor picks up with numerous condos filling the skies along the beaches of the Atlantic. They say 15% of residents here are “implants”, mostly from the US (remember, Puerto Rico is a territory of the US).
… amazing architecture
There is something almost magical about walking down a street surrounded by buildings that were build centuries ago. Looking at them, you can’t help but wonder they evolution they have endured over the years. I’m sure the majority of these buildings lining the narrow cobblestone streets were at one time, predominantly residential. Today, many still are .. but big money retail outlets are starting to creep in.
Before heading back to get Tom out of bed, I did manage to make it to a wonderful plaza, which is obviously home and feeding grounds to the cities pigeons, who are actually very photogenic given the chance.
Weekend flea-markets galore!
While numerous vendors set up along the bay-front in front of the piers where Cruise Ships come in for day excursions … the Paseo de la Princesa is where you can find EVERYTHING and ANYTHING you need and even don’t need.
Forget hot-dog, cotton candy, and pop-corn stands in this flea-market — PORK RINDS are the treat of the day here. Remember, Puerto Rico is an island, which just happens to have a HUGE POPULATION of pigs, so almost every dish served is based on pork or plantains (harder, coarser bananas) – Mofongo is a plantain dish with several variations.
When you come to the end of the “flea-market” stretch, you see one of the main fountains in the city.
When you reach this point, you are BELOW the wall that surrounds the original city, an extension of the Castillo San Felipe del Moro – the main fort where Spaniard Military guarded the territory from the British.
We had to face a truth — we needed to buy another suitcase (shopping is just too tempting), so were given directions to the one and only place in this part of the city that sells them. On the way we were greeted by the sounds of joyous music, the beats of the drums reverberating off the old walls .. sort of beckoning you in. And when we got to the source, I realized that’s EXACTLY what it was — just like church bells ringing at the beginning of mass, this music was drawing people in for a multi-denominational mass celebrating gay pride. WIth all the people holding signs, my first thought was “protestors”, but the multitude of Singh orders were actually bearing signs with the names of all the congregations in the area, lining an aisle where the priests, monks, rabbi’s and even the bishop were bopping and dancing their way up to the altar. It was amazing! But .. we were on a mission, to get that suitcase!!
… hotels and B&B’s with charm and character
No matter where you go throughout the corridor of Old San Juan you can find accommodations with varying options. But one of the things I noticed when walking into several was the character of the place that greeted you — well, that and the extremely friendly people . If you ever come, make sure to open those gates and you will be amazed at what you find inside.
Now — one thing about Old San Juan people do not realize, is that the corridor is built on hills. Good walking shoes are a must when visiting this city. People who are out of shape … SHAPE UP before you come. With so much to see, do, drink and eat … you’ll find your pedometer reading numbers you never expected.
… dining options
Much of Old San Juan is geared to the tourist, so its only natural that they have THOUSANDS of little nooks, crannies, alleys, courtyards and even streets designated for you to savour the local cuisine. Of course there are pizza and burger places, but seriously … Burger King v local delicacies. It should be a no-brainer. We ate at LA CASITA in the Darsenas Square along the waterfront. Most of the dining is outdoor (which of course we took advantage of), the menu is simple but offers a great variety of local-fare. It was an amazing dinner with Risotto & Peas Croquettes, Empanada Vola (skirt steak turn-over in a red wine reduction, served with a rum chimichurri … O-M-G) — and we ended the meal with Mahi Mahi soft tacos.
That ended our night, and we headed back to the hotel anticipating another GREAT nights sleep with dreams of looking forward to boarding ship and heading into the Caribbean tomorrow evening.