Old San Juan…
The architecture and narrow, blue cobble stone streets are right out of the past. Very romantic. Too bad I was there by myself. Doh!
Before I speak of THE main “tourist destination” on Puerto Rico, I have to talk a little about the public bus I took to get there. The A5 runs from Isla Verde where my hotel is, to Old San Juan. ALL the streets in SJ are very narrow which is compounded by the sheer number of cars on the road at any given moment. It was an adventure in its own right! The bus ride ends at a large station in Old SJ.
Yes, Old SJ is a small area you can cover on foot, no problem. I have ankle issues myself and I got around just fine. Its a little hilly and the blue cobble stones are well worn so a good pair of walking shoes are the order of the day. I scored a lightweight pair of hiking boots before I left Alaska. I did see plenty of young women wearing stylish open-toe wedgies, but at the risk of twisting an ankle, me thinks.
From there, I walked a few blocks to the Basilica Menor Cathedral Metropolitana “San Juan Bautista”. It alone would have been worth the bus ride into Old SJ. A truly magnificent church first built in 1521.
This current incarnation is a result of work done in 1917. A marble tomb holds the body of the island’s first governor- Juan Ponce de Leon and the relic of San Pio, a Roman Martyr. No kidding. Services are still held here on a regular basis. Puerto Rico is about 85% Catholic, courtesy of the Spaniards.
I was a little parched at this point so I went looking for refreshments. A small bar, up the street from the Cathedral, Maria’s at 204 Cristo Street was wedged into a building that looked as old as the church. Plaster was falling away from the thick, crumbling brick walls and old photos of the owner standing with several Hollywood stars were hung about the place. Money from all over the world was tucked around the photos. It was great! I had a nice cold ‘Medalla Light’ beer (brewed in Puerto Rico). I still prefer Alaskan Amber, but that’s not a fair comparison. Then I was off again…
I had to limit my time in direct sun since my poor a** burns real easy.
A little while later, I stumbled onto the ‘Main Gate’ of early San Juan. This formal entrance was used by dignitaries for centuries while under Spanish rule. The city wall was started in 1630 and was not finished until 1790. I walked it to the end of the outside walkway, hoping there was another gate, but no. I was very hot and dripping with sweat by the time I made it back to THE gate. I treated myself to a Tamarind flavored, shaved ice. The little “Piragua” push-carts are everywhere. At this point, I had to cut my exploration short, since I had reached my limit for sun exposure. When IN Old San Juan, there is a trolley you can hop on and off for free. But its hardly a trolley since it has windows and air-conditioning.. which at that point, was much appreciated. Update- there is a second open trolly that also runs around Old San Juan making frequent stops too. Then the “fun” bus ride back to my hotel. It was only 75 cents each way, a real deal.
Something else I noticed about Old San Juan ( and San Juan, in general) was how clean it was, how many cops there were everywhere and how friendly the locals are. I have yet to meet someone who was not genuinely friendly and helpful (even when they tried to communicate in broken English). I have a tremendous respect for this place. Its way cheaper than Hawaii and much friendlier. Whether this is true for the rest of the island is yet to be determined.
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