Sunday, December 1, 2019

San Juan Is For Birthdays... And Other Things!

Bruce and I are becoming marvellously familiar with the streets of Old San Juan.  Not so long ago, we would have shied away from an invitation to join friends here for a birthday celebration, but now, we're all in!  So when the invitation came, we booked a last minute hotel reservation and hit the road!

We began our weekend away with some delicious Mexican Food at Chido's in Isla Verde.  It's a relaxed place with sort of a "Spring Break" attitude.  Since leaving Texas so many years ago, we are constantly on the lookout for some good Tex-Mex.  While the food here is more of a Mexican-with-a-Puerto-Rican-flare... I can say that the frijoles refritos are the best we've had in Puerto Rico and the prices are good... so we'll go back!

Lovely art in the lobby
After lunch, we drove around the streets of Isla Verde and Condado just because we haven't before.  The whole area is sort of like Port Aransas, so we felt very much at home.  We parked in the $3 parking lot, unfazed by our hotel's published parking in the $13-$14 per day lots!  Poor tourists, they don't know who to trust!  I tried to get a reservation at the place we stayed in October, but with one day advanced notice, they were already full.  I had to look around for another cheap hotel in the heart of Old San Juan... You might think that's impossible, but I was able to book an interior room at My hotel in Puerto Rico at a VERY reasonable rate!

We arrived at about 2:30 pm with a 3:00 check-in time, but I was at the desk waiting with my backpack and my credit card... AND my Puerto Rican ID!  I still love whipping that baby out!

Looking up through the stairwell, there's a nice skylight to brighten the interior.
The artwork here is very vivid!
Promptly at 3:00, we were checked in and given brief instructions for working the door security, then off we went, climbing the old staircase to the second floor.  There's a nice cool lobby on our floor with a TV for relaxing, but we continued on past to find our room.  There are only 11 rooms in this little hotel, and the Old San Juan vibe is strong.  I always long to see inside of these old buildings when we walk the streets, and here we are actually STAYING in another of them!
Travelling light!
No that isn't a stain on the bed.  The ruff is just pushed the wrong way!
Our cheap, interior room was advertised as having no window, but there was one that opened onto the the stairwell, so it was an unexpected treat.  The walls are brightly painted, and while the bedding was a little tired, it was clean-smelling and comfortable.  We had our own air conditioner and it was icy cold inside!  Nice after a hot trek from the parking lot in mid afternoon!
Bruce moved his clothes into the antique armoire immediately!
The bathroom was small and basic, but clean.  I was worried when I didn't see a blow dryer, but Bruce went down to the desk and got a loaner for me.  We relaxed and showered in preparation for a walk along the Paseo la Princessa and what I imagined would turn into a late dinner!  Our reservation was for 7:30pm, which is long after we are normally done with dinner and on our way to bed!

Our checkered stairwell

Our foyer!
Our unobtrusive doorway
You wouldn't even know that this was an hotel!
We were happy to see more people wandering around here than there were during our previous visit.

I LOVE these old buildings!
Vendors set up and tourists strolling the Paseo de la Princessa
The best time to be in OSJ is at night.  The lights and the vendors, the music and the song of thousand coquis fills the air to make it a magical experience.  It was just beginning to grow dark when we turned to follow the Paseo past the vendor's tents.

Just the right amount of crowd!
Night falls, and the lights transform the city!

We strolled along in the moist, cool Caribbean air, drinking in the beauty of the lights all around us.  The streets are tastefully decorated for the Christmas Holidays, with an orderly line forming for photos beneath this sparkling tree.  Being here just makes my heart feel light and there is no way to squelch the feeling of happiness that this is our home... but then, I'm not trying to squelch it at all!

The scents of delicious, Puerto Rican favorites tantalise our senses as we stroll past the vendor's trucks.  If we didn't have dinner reservations, we would surely have sampled a little from each vendor!  But we are saving our appetites for later!

There are several cruise ships in port, but we watched as two of them silently departed.  Mostly locals and visitors from one huge ship remain here tonight.  Children scamper along the waterfront where we found more little bits of awesomeness.  Small mosaics of each municipality adorn the walkway!  How can such delights be relegated to the ground to be trampled upon??

There was a truly festive atmosphere in the streets closer to the cruise ship dock.  Everywhere we looked, there was joy!

Lighted balloons!  I couldn't think of a reason to have one... but I wanted it!
Soon, we hope to be setting sail on one of these!
YES we ARE pretty much always smiling here in Puerto Rico!
We found a nice bench in front of the seawall to sit and wait until time to go to the restaurant.  We watched as harbour tour boats arrived and departed, full of happy tourists!

Silent sailboats ghosted along slowly in the light breeze just beyond the reach reach of the lights on shore.  A wisp of melancholy assailed us for a moment as we wished we were taking that night sail on our boat.  If only we could keep our faithful Dos Libras...  We even discussed briefly,  getting a smaller, more simplified sailboat to keep in San Juan for nights just such as this.  While that may be in our future, right now we just can't commit to taking on another responsibility... and boats are a HUGE responsibility, especially here in Hurricane Alley!  Maybe we'll just charter or take evening sails to support the local economy!  It sure looked like fun as we watched the boats loom close, then turn at the absolute last second before hitting the wall!

Last minute tack!  We sure wanted to be out there on that boat!
We abandoned those melancholy thoughts, and turned our attention to a more festive activity... Time to go meet our friends at Tiana Tapas and Flamenco!

Tonight's party was a surprise for April's Birthday!  She is leaving Puerto Rico for a while, and it might be some time until we see her again, so we pretended to say our See-You-Soon's yesterday as we headed home from a lovely happy hour on the dock.  I couldn't wait to see her face when she realized that we were all here for one more night of laughs!

I think they were having a lesson!  I want a frilly skirt!!!
Everyone was in place, and decorations set out when Burt brought April to our table right off the stage.  She looked a little surprised, but quickly accepted her fate as she donned the flashing tiara signifying her as the Birthday Girl! I still had no idea that there would be entertainment at this point, but everyone was in good spirits as we anticipated the delicious menu items in store for us tonight!

Liz and Emily, the daughters who had arranged tonight's festivities, ordered for the table and the Tapas began to arrive by the plateful.  So. Many. Plates!

As we passed the delicious treats around, the lights went down and an old dude with a guitar took the stage.  His face was passive and maybe even a little grumpy... but what he lacked in facial expression, he made up for with his magical fingers on that simple guitar!  He began to strum and all attention turned his way.  Perhaps his visage was a ploy to lull us into low expectations, but very soon we were simply blown away by the showmanship of the famous Flamenco Guitarist, Juan Carlos Romero!
The energy!  The frills!
The lighting made the skirts seem to GLOW!

One after another, he played songs from many latin countries, while in Spanish, English and even a little French, he regaled us with stories of the songs and of his life.  He's had a long and adventurous life in which he has performed for some very famous people!  And just imagine... here he is playing for US!  What a stunning stroke of good fortune, indeed!

Impossible to choose... 

Not the same demeanour as it was at the beginning!
All eyes were on the stage as one after another, the songs flowed from his simple Spanish Six String guitar.  The entire room was enraptured as Juan Carlos and the Flamenco Dancers enticed and entertained us.  The mood went from casual interest, to surprised delight, to full-on stunned amazement!  We couldn't believe what had just happened to us.  I can't remember when I've seen a better show, and certainly did not expect THAT!  Once again, I am struck dumb by our amazing good fortune, and I thank Burt and April's children for an outstanding evening!

The lovely birthday girl blowing out the candle as the staff sang to her!
All good things must come to an end, but when the lights came up and the last frill disappeared behind the dressing room door, we still had a delicious rum cake to gobble down!  Another good friend of April's made this crazy-good cake, and thankfully it was a small one, because our bellies were full to bursting with the good food and drink we had already consumed.  How glad I am NOW that we got an hotel room so close to the restaurant!!!

Never miss an opportunity to be cheesie!
The wild streets of Old San Juan at night!

Finally we said our farewells, but this was not the final goodbye.  Everyone made their way back to their respective hotels, with plans to meet up again tomorrow for a tour of some of the highlights of Old San Juan!  Will the fun never stop???  I hope not!

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