Thursday, November 15, 2012

Somewhere New: Puerto Rico - Part 1 - San Juan

For the month of October I went on a very special trip. From the age of 15 travel has been an indispensable part of my life. My grandmother, Nonny, took me on my first international trip to her birthplace in France. It is an understatement to say this trip changed my life. Unfortunately Nonny passed away while I was living in France, before she had the opportunity to take either of my little sisters on a trip somewhere. I credit her with my love of travel and the unknown and I wanted to give a little bit of that to my sisters in her memory.

The eldest of my younger siblings, Sydney, turned 18 this year and also graduated high school with a full year of college courses under her belt. It seemed that some celebration was in order - not only for her accomplishments but also for our newfound friendship. Until recently Sydney has always just been the little pipsqueak I remember babysitting years ago before I moved to West Virginia. Come to find out she's a smart (if sassy) motivated woman with a good sense of humor and a variety of interests. While we do one day plan to visit France together to see where her family is from we decided on something more tropical for our celebration. No sooner had we breathed the words Puerto Rico and Mom was packing every color of flip-flops she owns to come with us.

We started our trip in San Juan. Hotel Mirimar is a 10 minute bus ride from Old San Juan and sits right at the mouth of where the real San Juan begins. Away from the tourists and restaurants, if you walk the opposite direction from Old San Juan (which Sydney and I did one morning on a wild goose chase for some fresh juice which ended with much profanity on my part and some bloody blisters for Sydney and no juice for either) you find that the real San Juan isn't all pastel buildings and balconies dripping with flowers. The real San Juan is bustling and crowded and well...struggling.

We spent 3 days in the San Juan though, most of which was spent in Old San Juan. In Old San Juan, if you squint a little looking down the long alleyway sized roads, you can feel for a second that you might be in Barcelona. Every few blocks there's a plaza and every street is marked with a street sign painted onto a building or inlaid in terra cotta - very much like I remember in France. The pastel, though, and the beautiful balcony gardens is what sets San Juan apart from those familiar places.

On a morning alone (Sydney and Mom were at the Bacardi Rum Factory) I walked around and snapped pictures of the architecture, made friends with feral cats and ate treats at the Mercado Agricola Natural.

For the history buffs out there you can visit the fort that surrounds Old San Juan - some areas like where we went - was free.

If you walk the Paseo de la Princesa you'll come to this statue of Queen Isabella under a Banyan tree and the old gate to the city. Keep walking and you can go to El Morro - the fort all the way at the end of the island.

San Juan also has a good number of museums. I went to Casa Blanca, the house of Ponce de Leon, although technically he never lived there because he was too busy building empires and destroying indigenous cultures. Fun fact - chairs in this time were made for individuals. Meaning = a fatty would get a fat chair and a tall person would get a tall chair - which begs the question what if you get fat when you were skinny?

Next time I would really like to check out more museums like the Antique Book museum! While the city was fun and does hold some gems we came to Puerto Rico for the natural beauty, so we rented a car and headed to the other side of the island. Check back for the next post about that.

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