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Old San Juan, Puerto Rico in 24 hours

Arriving in Puerto Rico, we were greeted by our taxi driver, Danny, and whisked to the Hotel Milano in downtown Old San Juan.  With over 20 years having passed since our last, brief visit, we were anxious to explore.  Dropping our luggage, we headed out to the waterfront.  Wandering first to the Parque de las Palomas, where pigeons nesting in cubby holes in the old city wall,  outnumbered visitors twenty to one, and vied enthusiastically for the corn kernel treats purchased by tourists. 

Established by Spanish colonists in 1521, the area boasts numerous impressive fortresses and cathedrals, and countless squares and parks dot the landscape, interwoven with the beautiful old structures.

Lunching at Rosa de Triana, nestled on the ground floor of a building constructed in 1533, we enjoyed the ambiance of the outside patio, while enjoying outstanding sangria, black bean soup, plantinos and a perfectly seasoned rice, shrimp and sausage tapa.  
 
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Once satiated, we were ready to walk to the nearby Castillo San Felipe del Morro, an impressive fortress built by the Spanish to secure their holdings in the Caribbean.  Started in 1539, the structure was expanded and fortified further over the next 250 years.  Families dotted the green ways approaching the fort; flying kites, tossing balls and picnicking.  Covering over 27 acres and 6 levels, the fort was one of 6 located in the San Juan area, where the importance of this Spanish holding was never lost on the  Crown.  Walking through the fort, we tried to imagine the difficulty of such a posting for the soldiers defending this area from the English, French and Dutch forces throughout its history, ending with the attack in 1898 by the United States in which Spain finally lost this stronghold.

Free trolleys run around the old town, but our timing never seemed to coordinate with their route, so
Mime in one of the many plazas
after hours of walking around town, we were ready to take a break, and refuel.  Our taxi driver had recommended the restaurant, Punto de Vista, located on the top floor of our hotel, as his favorite in Old San Juan.  Alan dined on what he dubbed the best fish tacos ever.  I enjoyed a native Puerto Rican dish, Mofongo relleno de pollo, mashed green plantains, mixed with garlic and butter were the base, topped with a seasoned chicken and peppers, and then a tomato, pineapple, cilantro salsa.  Mojitos and margaritas accompanied the wonderful meal. 

The following morning we resumed exploring, heading to Castillo San Cristobal.  This even larger
Castillo San Cristobal
fortress for the Spanish is located at a strategic point only a mile or so from San Felipe.  Open lands, historically, had offered the soldiers clear view all the way to what is now the city's cruise port, several blocks away.  During the 1900's, the city took over this parcel for government buildings, parking garages, restaurants and stores.  The remaining structure is still impressive by any measure.  From a military perspective, the cleared lands had offered an open view of any advancing attacking forces.   The packed city streets of Saturday seemed strangely deserted on our Sunday morning stroll around the clean, well-maintained old town.  Church attendance or sleeping-in after late night partying robbed the city of the throngs, at least through the morning hours.

Concerns about the dire straits of the Puerto Rican economy came up in every conversation we had
with locals.  All were concerned, and not necessarily hopeful, about issues of unemployment, high taxes, lack of representation of their concerns (since they are only a U. S. territory), and fears about how the opening of travel to Cuba will impact their vital tourist industry.

Looking forward to our first stop, St. Thomas, as we board our cruise ship, the Carnival Liberty.


Chapel in Old San Juan (1753)













Looking over toward 'new' San Juan

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