Thursday, August 10, 2017


     We love Puerto Rico! It's one of our favorite places to revisit. In fact, Ricky has a great pole- vaulting buddy, Edgar Diez, who stayed with us in Baton Rouge while training with Ricky at LSU when Danielle was only two years old. I can still see Edgar dancing around the house with her, Salsa music blaring. Ricky refers to Edgar's mom, Mrs. Esther, as his Puerto Rican mother. She has opened her home to us many times. And so, coming back to Puerto Rico is a little like coming home.
     Always Sunday docked in San Juan Bay Marina this trip because Ricky needed to get some work done, and I decided to visit El Morro again. El Morro is a sprawling Spanish fortress built in the 1600's to protect San Juan Bay. It was expanded and enlarged for 10 generations and over 250 years. Spain controlled Puerto Rico from 1508 to 1898. We watched dozens of children flying kites out on the parade grounds where battles were fought with the Dutch and English over the great wealth that Spanish Conquistadors brought to the island before sending it on to Spain: gold, silver, gems, spices and furs from Mexico and Central and South America.    
     And then there's Old San Juan's beautiful architecture of brightly colored houses and shops lining the narrow cobblestone streets with ornate grill-work on the balconies and amazing stucco details. It's a city that's easy to fall in love with!!!

El Morro is a very popular tourist attraction
Beautiful Old Cemetery
Cementerio Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis

Del Cristo Street Chapel was built in the very spot where Baltazar Montanez was riding in a horse race in 1753 and lost control. Both horse and rider plunged over the edge of a steep cliff. The horse didn't survive, but Montanez miraculously lived. That same year, he built this small chapel to encourage others in their faith in God. 

Parque De Las Palomas is a charming little park in Old San Juan with gnarly old trees and amazing views of the bay. It's a park set aside for pigeons and those who want to feed them. Men sell bird seed outside the gate, and bird lovers are free to throw the feed, or try to entice birds to eat out of their hands. We watched one pigeon land on a girl's head.

     We looked online for fun things to do while in Old San Juan, and were excited to find Flavors of San Juan Food & Culture Tour. Our group met downtown at 5PM on a pleasantly overcast Friday evening, ready to walk, learn some of the city's history, and taste some new foods.
     Our first stop was Princesa Gastrobar, a restaurant built right under the historic city walls. We had margaritas, then sampled a wonderful grilled eggplant dish topped with shredded chicken, along with a pair of delicious fritters made with 22 secret ingredients the chef prepares from recipe dating back over 200 years. Next, we walked to the very popular Senor Paleta, the city's first artisan ice pop shop where fresh fruit pops are made daily. Our flavor was mango. So good!!! At times, the line of waiting patrons goes down the block and around the building.
     Walking a few more blocks, we stopped at Cafe El Punto, a restaurant know for its use of fresh ingredients from the local farmer's market. We sampled grouper ceviche marinaded in chopped vegetables and topped with just the right amount of lime juice. Absolutely my favorite taste of the day!!! Then, our main courses were served at Rosa de Triana, located in the city's original town hall built in 1523. Here we were given a wooden pestle filled with chunks of cooked green plantain, and learned the art of making Puerto Rico's signature dish, Mofongo. Using a mortar, we pressed until the plantains were thoroughly smashed, then we filled the center with stewed chicken. The staff also brought out red beans and rice for a side dish. Everything was very good.
     The group walked on into a huge city square where soldiers used to drill and parents brought their unmarried daughters to try to find a suitable husband. Girls who were not married before their sixteenth birthdays went to the convent as old maids. Yikes!
     Last but certainly not least, we finished at Casa Cortes Chocobar, where the Cortes family has been making chocolate in Puerto Rico for many years. We enjoyed chocolate bars served with cheddar cheese first, then sampled their amazingly rich hot chocolate drink, truly a sweet ending to an amazing night.

Our group at Princesa Gastrobar

Fritters and Eggplant Dish

Mango Pops - Yummy!

Ricky making Mofongo
Casa Cortes Chocobar - beautiful presentation

Our last day in Puerto Rico, Edgar, Legna, and Seba (short for Sebastian), came out for a day of sailing, sun and hot dogs on Always Sunday.
Legna teaching me to fry breadfruit chips - so good!

Captian Saba at the helm
I love all the vibrant colors of the houses in the oldest part of San Juan.
Can't wait to go back again! 

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