A Travellerspoint blog

Colonial Charm in Old San Juan


Imagine a place where pristine, white sand beaches grace the coastline, tropical rainforests expand as far as the eye can see, historic, charming towns dot the landscape, and beautiful, generous people converge. Puerto Rico, you are my paradise.


My husband and I have this deal. You see, he hates beaches and humidity, yet I can’t live without some equatorial exposure now and then. Rather than endure the misery of the tropics, he happily deposits me at the airport with a trusted gal pal and bids me farewell. While he slaves away in corporate America, I gallivant about the Caribbean. It’s a fairly good trade off, wouldn’t you agree?

Consequently, Natalie and I ended up in Puerto Rico last week. Now before you start conjuring images of two Spring Breakers lounging poolside with cute umbrella drinks in hand (although that would be nice, wouldn’t it?), Natalie and I had other plans. Puerto Rico is bursting with culture and history, and we were ready to experience it all.


Old San Juan was our first destination and we wasted no time getting acquainted with this historic, yet modern, metropolis. From the 500 year old fortified walls of El Morro to the crisp, window displays of Burberry and Coach, Old San Juan has something for everyone. Wandering down cobblestone paths surrounded by Spanish colonial architecture it was easy to feel as though we had been whisked away to another time and place.


The grid-like pattern of the city makes navigation a cinch. Although most of Old San Juan can fit into two categories: residential and souvenir shop, the colorful, pastel buildings make even divey, tourist trap streets charming.


The looming presence of El Morro and Fuerte San Cristobal are hard to miss. Both forts tower over the city and serve as a reminder that Puerto Rico's past was often a difficult one. For hundreds of years, the walls of these forts protected the city of San Juan from repeated invasions by British and Dutch forces. Today they serve as Unesco World Heritage sights and see nearly five million visitors annually.


On the coastal side of the forts are broad, paved paths which nearly encircle the city. Not only does this vantage point provide great perspective on the enormity of the forts, but these breezy walkways provide great relief from the scorching sun. Bonus for feline lovers: hundreds of stray cats await your affection (a whole separate blog entry is necessary for the discussion of Puerto Rico's cat population, stay tuned).


During the evenings and weekends, the grounds of El Morro take on a lively picnic atmosphere as families gather to converse and break bread. Strong Easterly winds make kite flying a breeze and at times hundreds of kites could be seen overhead.


Just as the kites danced in the wind, it was easy to become swept away by Old San Juan. Forget the 90 degree weather and hoards of tourists, Old San Juan was a delight for the senses. As we lounged amongst locals in sidewalk cafes and strolled the tree lined street of Paseo de la Princesa, we were no longer foreigners in this piece of paradise: Puerto Rico had become our home.

Posted by Jennylynn 11:57 Archived in Puerto Rico Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Puerto Rico Sneaky Peaky


Okay, I know I ran away without telling you where I was going and left you hanging without so much as a goodbye, and unless you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you probably thought I had abandoned ship or surrendered my post, but in reality I've been cavorting on the beach in Puerto Rico. It's a rough life.

So until I properly return to the real world. Here's a few photos to keep you intrigued. Next time I run away, I'll make sure to leave a note.


Posted by Jennylynn 12:59 Archived in Puerto Rico Tagged postcards Comments (0)

Keep Portland Weird

Or Alternatively Titled: Keep Jennifer Away

There are those who place Portland on a diamond encrusted pedestal – exalting the city’s glistening downtown and profusion of green space. Others however find Portland’s “Beervana” culture and abundance of strip clubs alarming. Then there are those who just can’t seem to place Portland in any sort of category, and end up leaving with a feeling of indifference, as I did last week.


Following my excursion to the Vancouver Olympics, I briefly stopped back in Seattle for the weekend before jaunting off to Portland for several days with Dan. We both had never explored Portland and were eager to experience the culture of Seattle’s neighbor city just three hours south. Perhaps it was the contrast between the bustle of Vancouver, and to be fair, we had no idea what to expect and our planning was slightly haphazard, but in the end we left Portland feeling slightly amused, but not totally impressed.

We checked into the swanky Hotel Modera, whose small European style rooms were furnished in an artsy, mod fashion. The clientele was clad in business attire, and we couldn’t help feeling as though this luxury boutique hotel was every bit out of our league. But au contraire – I the savvy shopper snagged a fantastic deal by scoping dozens of websites for the lowest rate, which the hotel happily honored. Even better we were centrally located in downtown Portland, which made sightseeing a breeze. Although our room was quite cushy, we wasted no time in depositing our belongings before we were back outside exploring.


As we navigated the city’s intricately laid brick walkways, we immediately noticed a scarcity of livelihood. Although we were smack in the middle of one of the Pacific Northwest’s largest cities, there was a stillness which I have never experienced in a city. The lack of pedestrians, traffic, and general noise was alarming. As day rolled into night, this became even more pronounced as virtually every storefront and restaurant closed shop by dark. Even in Portland’s more lively neighborhoods, you still couldn’t escape the eerie quiet which echoed off the city’s polished streets.


Pioneer Square was about as lively as it got, and even then I realized most of the people hanging around the Square were just waiting for their bus to pick them up. Even the directional sign post seemed to suggest anywhere is better than here.


We almost couldn’t take the perfection of downtown, so rather than walk around the city, we headed further afield. Our first outing was a hike to the Pittock Mansion where a gorgeous view of Mt. Hood looming over the city skyline awaited us. From this vantage point the city below appeared bustling and chaotic. Nothing like the polished streets of downtown we had experienced.


Following our vertical climb to the Pittock Mansion we utilized what little sun was left to drive to Multnomah Falls, the United States second tallest waterfall. Dropping 620 feet, this spectacular water display is just 30 minutes outside of Portland.


Back in Portland we decided to spice things up a bit. We knew there was a funky, eclectic side to Portland, and we were determined to find it. With the help of some locals we discovered the deliciousness of Voodoo Doughnuts. Here we chose between dozens of doughnut varieties which included "Dirty Snowball" a chocolate cake doughnut covered with pink marshmallow glaze and surprise filling and "Dirt" a raised doughnut covered with vanilla glaze and Oreo cookies. Nothing like a sugar rush to get you out of a travel rut.


With a new found energy we ventured to Powell's Books. OK, OK, so I may be the only person on the face of the planet who finds enjoyment when mixing a sugar induced high with scholarly pursuits, but Powell's Books steals the show as far as book stores are concerned. Quite possibly the largest used book store in the world (don't quote me on that), Powell's has an inventory of over 40,000 and purchases 3,000 new books daily. Sprawling, massive, and open until the wee hours of the morning, I suddenly realized where everyone disappears to after dark.


The next morning we woke rejuvenated and refreshed. We stepped outside ready to conquer the world. Except it was raining. Now I'm not one to usually let the rain get me down, but I was already feeling out of sorts about our whole Portland experience. Instead of return to our hotel room to don my pajamas and watch Ellen, we zipped up our rain jackets and let the games begin.


We decided to take a nice stroll along the Willamette River towards the Portland Aerial Tram. While Portland may be known for it's bike culture (it seems everyone pedals to work), many also utilize the tram to get from the waterfront to the Oregon Health and Science University. But then there are people like me who use it to get a glimpse at the pretty city below. Compared to the gondolas of Switzerland, the Portland Tram is a kiddie ride, but I still couldn't help feeling a bit queasy as I looked out the window.


Once our round trip ride was complete we found ourselves at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry where Dan could have easily spent a week building bridges out of Legos and buildings out of Popsicle sticks. As one who visits the Pacific Science Center in Seattle on a weekly basis, I found the exhibits to be yawn inducing. But, I stuck it out for my husband's sake. We both enjoyed competing against one another on an assortment of brain teaser puzzles, and I will have you know this chick creamed the competition.


The day was coming to a close and so we cozied up at a nice little wine bar (while the rest of the city was at Powell's Books). The next morning our adventure would have us leaving Portland as ventured to the Oregon Coast before making our way home. Refelcting on our Portland experienced, we realized what was amiss was not the city itself. We simply weren't funky enough for this clean cut, hipster town.


Posted by Jennylynn 08:51 Archived in USA Tagged foot Comments (1)

Gastown and Chinatown

When it comes to travelling, I always cram in as much sightseeing as possible. Usually I wake before the sun rises and stay out late into the night hours as I never want to miss an opportunity for a great travel experience. Typically I come up with a game plan of sightseeing based on location and importance. In Vancouver this meant hitting up the Olympic Venues, discovering Stanley Park and the coveted Seawall, taking in the sensory overload of Granville Island, and Gastown and Chinatown fell somewhere towards the bottom of my list. Why? Gastown: Touristy, overpriced souvenir shops, and chain restaurants. Chinatown: Crime, homelessness, and prostitution. I obviously saved the best for last. But what visit to Vancouver would be complete without at least a quick stop in these neighboring communities?


Although recommendations from online sources suggest that the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Gardens are beautiful year round, I couldn’t help feeling as though this barren oasis was a bit overrated. The structures were beautifully crafted and the landscaping artfully done, but the lack of any blossoms or flowers made the gardens feel devoid of life. The only saving grace was the excellently brewed complimentary green tea which fueled me through my tour.


Leaving the Chinese Gardens I had to walk through some sketchy parts of Chinatown to reach Gastown. I’ll admit that walking alone I felt a bit afraid as I wandered through streets lined with leering homeless men. In my short walk I witnessed not one, but three men being arrested, and a drunken brawl break out in an alleyway. I held my head high and kept my purse close to my side as I quickly made my way through this scuzzy part of town.

Gastown wasn’t much better. Although lacking any definite signs of crime or homelessness, the streets were overflowing with tourists and the street fare consisted of your typical overpriced chain eateries. Souvenir shops lined the cobbled pathways – all boasting their “official” Olympic gear. Eventually I made it to the Vancouver Tower, where a short ride later I was sitting 430 feet above the city taking in the panorama view of the skyline. The visibility reached as far as Mt. Baker located in my hometown of Bellingham just over an hour away. The rest of the mountains surrounding the city revealed a definite lack of snow, and that combined with the nearly 60 degree weather made it seem impossible that thousands were gathered here for the Winter Olympics. This was more like the Spring Olympics.


Vancouver was conquered in my mind. Sure there were things left undone and places I still wanted to visited, but travel only affords you so much time. I will never get to see everything that I hope when travelling, and this is something I have learned to accept. Maybe I will remember this small detail next time as I set my alarm for 5 am to discover some tourist oddity in the middle of nowhere. Sleep is essential.

Posted by Jennylynn 13:59 Archived in Canada Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

A Vancouver Retreat

I needed an escape from the hoopla of Olympic fever. I hate to be lame, but there is only so much drunkeness I can endure. Instead I was craving something tranquil - think beaches and forested parks. It wasn't difficult to find. Vancouver is teeming with green space, and encircling the city is the coveted seawall which in moments can whisk you from the congestion of the city to the solitude of Stanley Park.


For comparison, New York's Central Park is 843 acres, London's Hyde Park is 350 acres, and stacking in at a whopping 1,000 acres, Stanley Park breaks all the rules. Between lakes, gardens, playgrounds, trails, beaches, and yes, even a restaurant or two, you could spend days exploring this vast wilderness. To top it off Stanley Park also plays host to the Vancouver Aquarium, a water park, a miniature train, and a petting zoo. It is every child's dream destination.




Just south of Stanley Park is Sunset Beach, where as the name implies, sunsets are a speciality. This rocky beach was crowded with locals who found the unusually warm February weather perfect for sunbathing and beach combing.



I somehow managed to visit a portion of Stanley Park each day I was in Vancouver, and on the last day I walked the entirety of the six mile loop surrounding it. Halfway around there was no turning back. My feet were killing me from the dozens of miles I had logged the days before, but somehow, I persevered.


I had walked many a mile, but the night was still young. The Olympics celebrations were in full throttle and the city was alive with energy. Caffeine in hand, I made my way back into the chaos of downtown, where I was ready for anything.

Posted by Jennylynn 13:36 Archived in Canada Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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