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.