Photo of the Day (11.8.09)

Anyone looking for a taste Caribbean colonial charm should head for Puerto Rico’s Old San Juan. It’s an area with loads of atmosphere – brightly colored pastel mansions, cobblestone streets, and a surprising street art scene. I particularly liked the bold colors and gritty charm of this photo in Old San Juan by Flickr user robertrexdotcom. It reminded me of my visit last year, wandering the quiet streets.

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Gadling Take FIVE: Week of June 12–June 19

Happy summer. It’s official. The Mermaid Parade is happening in Coney Island today, and Catherine has the scoop on the solstice in Alaska. Hopefully, you’ve snagged a travel bargain. Tomorrow, for starters, take Dad to a National Park for Father’s Day–or take yourself.

  • Annie’s reminiscence of Old San Juan might trigger your own memories of a place you went as a teen.
  • For tips on how to make your life more like travel, Jeremy has advice worth heeding-even if traveling is your middle name.
  • In case Orlando only gives you images of amusement parks, read Tom’s post on what else to do in Orlando. There may not be time for the Magic Kingdom. Next time I go, I want that scenic boat trip in Winter Park.
  • If the world about the news seems too darned depressing, check out Kraig’s post on Art in All of Us. Yes, indeed there are wondrous, uplifting happenings as well.
  • For anyone heading to Morocco, do read Tynan’s latest Life Nomadic missive on the Moroccan hustle. Reading about his experiences trying not to be taken reminded me of the Moroccan segments of Brook Silva-Braga’s documentary, “One Day in Africa.” Being prepared for the everyone is trying to make a deal experience is a wise move. Tynan covers the issue to a T.

Don Q – Puerto Rican Rum

Don Q (short for Don Quixote) is a Puerto Rican rum with a rich history. What’s more, not only is Don Q Puerto Rico’s most popular rum, but it’s conveniently located just across the water from the Bacardi factory — a perfect alternative to what we understand is a boring four-hour excursion — and best of all, it’s free.

Located at Pier (Muelle) 2 in Old San Juan, Casa Don Q is a great place to visit on a trip to Puerto Rico. The walls showcase the history of Distileria Serralles, Inc., and the shop offers Don Q-emblazoned items from swim trunks to watches in display cases which change colors from green to blue.

The best part, as we said, is the free samples (please tip your bartender). You try the widely available Don Q Cristal and Gold (which may well be on the shelf at your local liquor store), or you can opt for the awesome flavored rums made with Puerto Rican coconuts, limes, and passion fruit — they’ll make you a mixed drink if you like. The true connoisseur, though, goes for The Grand Anejo Don Q (shown), which is aged twelve years and has notes of rich wood, caramel, and cinnamon. You’ll totally want to pick up a $45 bottle while you’re there — make sure you’re flying JetBlue, because you’re gonna have to check your bag (they still don’t charge for one bag).

For more information on visiting the small and simple Casa Don Q, click here — and click through the gallery for a virtual visit.

Fort San Cristóbal – Puerto Rico’s historic and beautiful landmark

Fort San Cristóbal, as I mentioned in my article “Old San Juan – Beautiful Views and What to Do,” is a must-see on any trip to Old San Juan.

Even if you think history is kind of a yawner, the views will astound you — just the color of the stone is visually luscious enough to charm you. And since we’re on the topic, here’s a quick history lesson for you. I’ll try to make it fun.

Christopher Columbus was the first documented European to set foot in Puerto Rico (originally called “San Juan Bautista”) in 1493. It was his 2nd voyage to the new world, and one of the first Europeans vs. Native Americans throwdowns reportedly occurred when two boys were kidnapped and castrated. Then, in 1508, Spaniard Juan Ponce de León (who still has a prominent San Juan street named after him) showed up and founded a small settlement called Caparra (now ruins). As Puerto Rico was now part of “New Spain,” the Spanish eventually set up a fort to protect the island: The Castillo de San Cristóbal, or, Fort San Cristóbal, completed in 1783 (following numerous attacks by the English and the Dutch).

Images by Tony J. Riley.

Originally, the fort wrapped around the entirety of San Juan and the only entrance to the city was through its well-guarded gates. It was The Great Wall of Not-China, if you will (come on, it’s a callback to Columbus … okay, the joke’s not very good. But I’m still gonna keep it there.). In 1897, they dynamited the walls to allow San Juan to expand (oops).

Then, on May 10, 1898, Castillo San Cristóbal fired cannons at the US Navy, thus entering the Spanish-American War. Six months later, the Spanish-American War ended, and Puerto Rico became and American territory under the Treaty of Paris.

In 1942, when World War II was in swing, the U.S. beefed up the fort with concrete pillboxes and an underground bunker control center. The fort remained an active military base until 1961, when it was bequeathed to the U.S. National Park Service for preservation and museum-ification.

Fort San Cristóbal is now suitable for tourist gawking and historical reenactments by The Fixed Regiment of Puerto Rico (really!). Click through the gallery for a look at the beautiful fort, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is often billed as “the most impressive structure in the new world” (by decree in 1949).

Old San Juan – Beautiful Views and What to Do

Old San Juan is a must-see on a trip to Puerto Rico. Even if you’re on a budget, you can get there from anywhere along the resort area of San Juan by taking the A-5 bus (75 cents), and you can get around on foot or take the free trolleys.

Old San Juan was permanently etched into my brain at age 13 when, shortly after a trip there, I saw Van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace at Night.

Now, the Van Gogh painting was painted in Arles, France in 1888, and I was in Puerto Rico in the 1990’s, but the young teen mind does not need your logic. The young teen mind makes whatever associations it likes. And, the young teen mind hates you. (just kidding)

I recently returned to the city which had so misinformed my artistic perception, and was delighted to see how little had changed — Old San Juan is still one of the very most beautiful and well-preserved cities in the world. I brought along artist Tony J. Riley to take some photographs. Click through the gallery for some beautiful views and some fun places to visit like Don Q’s (Puerto Rican rum and a free alternative to the Bacardi Factory tour — thanks VirtualTourist for the tip!) and Raices, where they serve the very best traditional Puerto Rican dishes in tin pans and cups!

Old San Juan, now I understand what you tried to say to me …