Viejo San Juan!
I know that this blog is typically about all things Jackson & parenting, but sometimes I can’t resist a post about things unrelated. Things that are a big deal. Early this week I traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a conference. (Yes, I work for the most awesome company!) I have a colleague who is from Puerto Rico, so she was able to give me some amazing tips on places to see on my downtime from the conference (which dismissed at 3 PM, leaving plenty of daylight for seeing the sights!).
I touched down on the island around 1:30 PM local time on Sunday. The weather was gloriously sunny and 85 degrees - a nice change from 30 degree Virginia. Upon arrival at the airport, I hightailed it over to my hotel to check in and see what was nearby. The Sheraton Old San Juan is situated right next to the cruise terminal, giving an expansive view of the harbor and ships.
The streets of Old San Juan were filled with tourists on Sunday - hundreds of people jumped off of their ships, eager to take in the historical part of the island. I did some walking, and the first thing I noticed were the lovely blue cobblestone streets. Throughout the entire town, you feel the uneven blocks beneath your feet and see the grayish blue hues peeking up at you, giving the illusion that the ocean hasn’t quite ended at land.
Something about this city was so very…San Francisco to me. Maybe it was the hilly terrain, or the way the buildings were lined up. The pastel colors or ornate balconies, windows, and doors adorning the homes. Maybe it was just because I love SF so much, and it is also surrounded by water and rich with history.
After a long morning of travel and an afternoon of exploration, I went back to the hotel to rest up for the conference. Monday morning I headed downstairs to begin my work and am happy to say that I learned a LOT from this workshop, and I think it will come in handy. Towards the end of the workshop, the power suddenly went out and backup generators kicked in…until they went out too. Being that it was pitch black in the ballroom where we held our meeting, we wrapped it up for the day a bit early. I took advantage of the opportunity to see what Old San Juan has to offer. The city provides free trolleys for tourists and residents to get around the area.
I hopped on and made my way to my first stop - the Castillo San Cristobal. This place was a huge fortress situated on the coast, providing crazy views of not only the coastline, but the city as well. To reach the top, where the views are, you travel through a dark tunnel, complete with dungeons and dim lighting, opening up to a stone beauty that kind of reminded me of Ancient Rome for some reason.
At the top there are ancient lookouts, including a World War II lookout providing panoramic views of the water
Atop the Castillo San Cristobal, I could see clear up the coast: La Perla Slum, San Juan Cemetery, & El Morro included. I decided to walk the remainder of the way - it is my favorite way to experience a city, after all.
First up was the La Perla Slum. I had read a bit about the slum online, and it was highly cautioned that tourists NOT enter the area. I heeded the warnings and snapped a few photos from afar.
While it was a slum - if I had to pick one in the world to live in, it would probably be one on a beach like this. Just past La Perla, El Morro & the San Juan Cemetery stood in the distance. The cemetery has been around since the 1800s and is marked with a very Grecian looking pink dome. As far as cemeteries go, it was probably the most beautiful I have ever seen:
The cemetery lies at the bottom of the lawn of Castillo del Morro. I was probably the most excited about El Morro, as I had heard so much about the fortress. The lawn provides a place for people to fly kites on a clear day. There were SO many kites. It was lovely.
Once you trek up the massive hill and enter the fortress, you are pleasantly surprised by bright yellow walls with contrasting white trim in the main portion of the fort.
This place was MASSIVE, and had amazing views of the coastline as well. The stone of these fortresses are so weathered, giving them such unique beauty, and when I think about the things that these ancient walls have seen, I am immediately intrigued - lost to the potential scenarios in my head. It has been around since 1539. FIFTEEN THIRTY-NINE!!! Old & very charming. Fun fact: the USA’s first shots fired in WWI were done from El Morro.
After leaving El Morro I walked back to the hotel, but not before happening upon a very old church - Iglesia de San Jose, which was built in 1532. It also held the entombed body of Ponce De Leon for 300 years until it was moved to the San Juan Cathedral, where he still rests.
I spent the remainder of the trip at the workshop and trying to get an earlier flight home to beat the snowstorm (successful!). I was rather impressed that I could get around and SEE so much within a 3 hour time span. I highly recommend that you just walk around if you are ever in Old San Juan. I love old things, and I love history - and this place is packed with both.