Thursday, April 28, 2011

I Like the City of San Juan

Well, after an Easter hiatus, I am eager to finish up these cruise posts, as time allows.  I'm still digging out from all the postponed responsibilities, post-cruise, post-Holy Week!

Our second port of call was San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Before our visit, the extent of my knowledge of this city came from the lyrics of "America" from West Side Story.

I like the city of San Juan. 

I know a boat you can get on. 

Hundreds of flowers in full bloom. 

Hundreds of people in each room! 

Etcetera.  In other words, not much!

So we signed up for the 3-hour historic walking tour, which was an enjoyable choice.  Our tour guide was a Manhattan native, who had been coming to San Juan every year for 25 years before becoming a San Juan resident several years ago.  His appreciation of the city was obvious and informative.

Our first stop, where we spent the bulk of our time, was Castillo de San Cristobal, the oldest and largest Spanish fort in the New World.  This is the view from our boat, on our way into port, of the oldest section of the fort, begun in 1539.

That highest part, that doesn't match the rest?  That was an observation post built by Americans who were using the fort as a military base during WW2.

According to the National Park Service, it's not only the oldest and largest, but the "most impressive" Spanish fortification in the New World.

Here's another view of that sentry box, which looks so teeny perched atop that wall--it's really about 12 feet tall.

That's Father Freddy, a Catholic priest from India that we met.  He seemed tickled to have been assigned to cruise ship duty for a few weeks!  He led mass every day for passengers and crew.

These are not cannon balls, but mortar shells weighing 200 pounds each.

After we finished up at the Fort, we explored Old San Juan, a well-preserved section of the oldest part of the city.

These were military barracks for Spanish troops and their families in the mid-1800's, and this interior plaza is considered a very fine example of 19th century Spanish architecture.  The Ballaja Barracks now houses offices for cultural and educational organizations, and the plaza is used for many civic affairs--most notably the wedding reception for Marc Anthony's first wedding (before his marriage to Jennifer Lopez).

The streets of "the blue city" are paved with these bluish cobblestones, which actually go down about 12 inches deep, our guide said.  They were made with in England with iron ore, which gives the bluish color, and were used as ballast in boats that were emptied to make room for more valuable cargo.  As the bricks piled up, they began using them to pave the streets.  They really are lovely and distinct.

Here lie the mortal remains of explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, on whom I wrote a report in 5th grade, so I feel a connection.  He was rocked and rolled around several times before he came to rest, finally, here in San Jose Church.

This sculpture commemorates an averted attack by England in 1797.  With the British navy anchored just offshore, the Bishop went out to ask the people to pray for deliverance, and many women joined him in the streets.  The sailors saw all the torches in the streets and thought that reinforcements had arrived to help the besieged city, and they sailed away.

The government gives a tax credit to homeowners and businesses who paint their buildings in colors from an approved palette of authentic colors--part of the ongoing preservation and restoration effort of Old San Juan.  We also saw evidence of another government project on one street; there were many large containers of cat food out on the sidewalk, and our guide told us that the many cats we saw were fed, neutered and shots kept up-to-date by the government.  "And we have no rat problem!" he declared.

I loved Old San Juan.  Some day it would be nice to visit again, and see other parts of Puerto Rico too.

1 comment:

chrispyb said...

Hi, just wanted to say that the Naval Outpost that doesn't match the rest was design by my Grandfather who was an architect for the military during WWII