Tuesday, July 31, 2012

san juan, puerto rico: intercontinental resort/isla verde beach

I wasn't sure if I should have lumped Isla Verde beach in with the InterContinental Resort, where Kris and I stayed, however, since both were pretty much in the same place, it seemed to make sense. Anyhow, looking at these photos makes me a little sad that it all happened so fast, our stay at this beautiful place.  Still, I'm very happy that we were fortunate to have been here in the first place. I've never been much of a resort fan, for reasons I won't get into here, however this was also the first time I actually stayed at one, and since I let Kris choose where we were staying, why not enjoy the ride, which I must confess, wasn't a difficult thing to do in the least bit.

More than anything, I was grateful for the gorgeous weather we got, despite a much different forecast. It seemed like the rain and storms they called for all happened in the very early morning hours, making for some ideal tropical temperatures and sea breeze later in the day.

The resort was really nice and I think we got a little too accustomed to this kind of living, especially eating at their excellent breakfast buffet, which was included as part of our vacation package. There were some very good dining options in and around the resort, as well as a casino, if you're into that kind of thing. I'm not a gambling kind of man, but we did have fun one morning playing the cheap machines and winning absolutely nothing.  I'll post more shots later this week of the casino, among other things in Puerto Rico, as part of a miscellaneous post.  One thing I was very impressed with was the gym, which I ended up using on five out of the six days we stayed at the InterContinental. It was in very close proximity, had lots of new machines and free weights, as well as an amazing view of the beach and ocean. So yeah, I had no problem working out in there almost every day, which in all honesty, was not part of the plan in any way whatsoever.

What I liked about where we stayed was that it had a very natural feel to it, and going to the beach from the resort was a smooth transition. Kris and I didn't swim in any of the nice pools they had at the resort, since we've got a great one where we live. Instead, we opted to hit Isla Verde beach, relax under a big umbrella in the sand, then swim in the ocean for extended periods of time.  There's nothing like the sight and sound of the tides coming and going, feeling the sand at your feet and tasting the salty water in your mouth. While there was a fair amount of folks on the beach, especially on the day some big salsa dancing festival was taking place at the resort, it never felt like we had no room to breathe.

Perhaps our favorite time was when evening began to fall, especially while walking along the shore. The sky naturally took on a magical presence, as did the air and the ocean. Outside, back at the resort, you could hear the sounds of nature come to life, as exotic bird calls mingled with those of local tree frogs, while human voices played in the pools below. There's no music better than what the natural world has to offer, and we could have listened to those amazing sounds all night long.

Both Kris and I were very pleased with our stay at the InterContinental in San Juan. Some things that people might not have liked about the place were the TVs were older models (not flat screen), which I didn't mind, since I sure wasn't there to watch TV. Also, you had to pay fifteen bucks a day for internet service, which didn't go down too well with Kris especially. Again, I was more than happy to disconnect, however, if you were there on business or had to be online every day, over an extended period, the cost could really add up. Hopefully that'll change soon. The plus side was the service and proximity to the beach, especially. There was plenty to do and experience at the resort as well. The people who worked there were also genuinely kind and helpful and went out of their way to make it a pleasant stay. I'd have no issue with coming back again. On that note, I'm hoping to do a miscellaneous P.R. post tomorrow or Thursday, so stay tuned!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

san juan, puerto rico: old san juan

Last Tuesday Kris and I returned from spending nearly a week in San Juan, Puerto Rico. After over three years of being married, we finally went on our honeymoon, and since we waited a little until things were more stable financially, I let Kris choose the destination.  She had visited Puerto Rico twice when she was very young, the last time being nearly two decades ago. She had always wanted to return, and I had never been there, so San Juan it would be.

We ended up staying at the Intercontinental Resort, which was about a fifteen minute cab ride from historic Old San Juan, an enchanting, rustic settlement with origins dating back to the 1500s. During our first full day in Puerto Rico, we decided to visit Old San Juan, since the weather forecast predicted that day would be the only day we wouldn't have thunderstorms the whole week we were in Puerto Rico, plus it was one of the main reasons we were there. Well, the weather people were very wrong, and it ended up that first day happened to be the most overcast day of all, with some occasional pleasant rain showers.  Still, this worked to our advantage, since the lack of sun and slight rain kept us cool while we spent a good portion of the day on foot, walking for miles.

Our first destination in Old San Juan was Fort San Cristóbal, followed by Fort San Felipe del Morro. For some reason, the overcast clouds and gray skies complimented these massive structures which provided numerous stunning views of Old San Juan as well as the Atlantic Ocean. Climbing up, around and inside the forts also made for a good workout, which built up some serious appetites for some tasty Puerto Rican cuisine.  Before settling down to eat though, there was more exploring to do among the beautiful, vibrant colored architecture in town.

Walking along the blue cobblestoned streets of Old San Juan made for a feast for the eyes and ears and provided some real color therapy. Kris was in love with the famous historic doors throughout the town, which were featured on many a souvenir item and postcard. One thing I noticed about Puerto Rico, in general, is the value they place on public art. I even discovered a favorite artist when walking through Old San Juan, named Jorge Zeno, whose highly imaginative sculpture works blew me away. Unfortunately, there's not much to find about this somewhat elusive (and still living) artist, born in DC(!) with an impressive portfolio dating back a few decades now. Kris and I even lucked out once it began to rain, and were forced to take cover under some big tents where a local arts and crafts festival was taking place. I ended up buying some beautiful handmade works by some local artists as a result.

There looked like lots of wonderful places to eat in Old San Juan, however one place we kept hearing about was a restaurant called Barrachina, which was home of the first made piña colada. I had never had one until my visit to Puerto Rico, so this made for a very special occasion. The good news is, not only was the drink excellent, but the food and kind service lived up to the hype. The place was beautiful as well, with both indoor and outdoor seating options, as well as a bar. While this area could be described as kind of "touristy", we actually didn't get that feeling at all too much, thankfully.

There were a few travel lessons Kris and I learned while in Old San Juan. Around 6PM, many of the stores promptly began to close their doors. Kris and I, happily exhausted from our Old San Juan adventure decided to get going back to the hotel at this time, and in a rush to walk back to where we were originally dropped off on the other side of town, we neglected to simply ask where the nearest cab ride back was located. After a long and hurried walk back, and losing five dollars to tip a guy who "helped" us find what we were looking for, which at that point was right around the corner, we learned we could have gotten a cab a block away from where we ate. Well, now we know. Other than that, we had a thoroughly good time experiencing the sights, sounds and culture of Old San Juan, and I'd love to come back again someday soon. In the meantime, I'll post more about our visit to Puerto Rico, hopefully in a day or so.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

trinidad and tobago photos from one year ago

I can't believe it's been a year already since Kris and I went to Trinidad and Tobago. It was my fourth and longest stay there and I took lots of pictures. I never got around to labeling or even editing most of them unfortunately, and just, finally finished adding them to my Flickr set! How the time flies. Anyhow, we'll be traveling again soon, so I wanted to at least post a few more, after I did a week long series on the islands last summer. I also included a link to my Flickr set as well, for anyone who would like a glimpse at these wonderful southernmost Caribbean islands. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"first you start with a big piece of paper...", franklin park art center, purcellville, virginia, 7/9 - 8/5/2012

There's something about Kraft paper that I love. It's surface is versatile and lends itself well to both color and black ink drawing and painting. It's durable and easy to manipulate. It also inspired this summer's creative art challenge at the Franklin Park Art Center in Purcellville, Virginia, where participants could basically do whatever they wanted to with a piece of 6 x 2.5 foot (or more) piece of Kraft paper. 

As with the previous creative challenge art exhibits at the center, I was really impressed by the various approaches and concepts used at the show.  Some took on a more serious tone, such as Jill Perla's "A Tribute To Colorado Paper" (above) , which is a poetic tribute to victims of the recent Colorado wildfires.  It also deservedly won the "Most Innovative" white ribbon award. 

Other pieces were more whimsical, personal, or a combination of both.  Frank E. Ballato III's "Mrs. ______ (You Fill in as Necessary)" (below),  is a mixed media relief sculpture that addresses that nasty, terrible, condescending teacher we've all had or known at one time or another.  I'm pretty sure I've seen some of Frank's pieces in past F.P. art exhibits, and I've always enjoyed the clever use of found objects in his work.

One piece that really jumped out at me and is one of my favorites is another relief sculpture called "First You Start With a Tree" (above) by Jill Evans-Kavaldjian, a piece which, in her own words "depicts the mother of a roll of kraft paper".  Jill's piece also won the "Most Innovative" blue ribbon cash prize award.

Another personal favorite of mine was "Bag O' Toads"(above) by Penny Hauffe.  The composition and the craftsmanship in this piece make it an all-around winner, and it has to be seen in person to be truly appreciated.  As both an animal and art lover, I'm becoming a big fan of Penny's work, which utilizes both traditional and more abstract concepts and techniques. It was great seeing her work at F.P. again!

Sometimes you'll walk into an exhibit and have your mind blown by somebody's work. Such was the case for me with Kathleen Genaille's  appropriately titled "Once Upon a Time" cut paper piece. We talked briefly at the show's opening and I was surprised to learn that she only just recently took up paper-cutting as an art form. It looks like she's onto something good and hopefully we'll see more of this type of art from her in the near future. 

Late last month I posted about a larger piece I did on Kraft paper, which happened to be made for this particular exhibit.  It was great seeing it hanging at the show (below), and it was an equally nice surprise to see that it won the "Friend's Choice" award and prize! HERE's a link to the post once again, showing the process in the making of my piece, inspired by an ancient scroll by the artist Fan Kuan.

Many thanks goes out to the good, hard-working folks who organized this fine show at the Franklin Park Arts Center, as well as to all of the artists who made it happen. The art on display is fantastic and well worth seeing in person, if you're in the area and are looking for something to do this summer, among a good number of things at Franklin Park.  Don't miss "First You Start with a Big Piece of Paper..." which runs from July 9th - August 5th, 2012.