26 September 2009

Homeward Bound (Almost!)

Sunset light on San Juan Cathedral

Travel Day 3

Though we actually enjoy periodic rain when on vacation, we perversely feel better when it rains on the day of our departure, and I’m pleased to say that Anguilla’s weather obliged us with an actual storm midmorning. We packed up, ate a late breakfast, spent a last few precious moments enjoying the views on Meads Bay, and checked out of Carimar around 11:45. We drove from there to Avis, and an employee there then drove us to the airport. After checking in we opted for lunch at the canteen in the airport, sharing a chef salad and a couple of Tings. A cricket match between West Indies and Sri Lanka was playing on television, much to my delight. I’ve never seen cricket being played, but Bill Bryson’s descriptions of it have always amused me, and after reading Netherland on vacation I had grown interested in knowing more about it.

Our Favorite Hotel in Puerto Rico

Our flight to SJU was uneventful, as was making it through immigration & customs. However, we were low on cash for the taxi to the hotel and finding a working ATM proved to be much more difficult than it ought! About 45 minutes later we finally settled into a cab to El Convento, one of our favorite oases in the Caribbean. Whenever it’s feasible we try to spend our last night on vacation there. The hotel is lovely in its own right, as is Old San Juan in general, but spending a night there has the added benefit of easing us back into the faster pace of our lives back home.

Interior shot of El Convento

Upon check-in we were informed that they had upgraded us to a presidential suite. I almost wasn’t sure if I had heard him right, so I asked him to repeat himself. With a grin he handed us the room key and confirmed that we were, indeed, upgraded to that level. The regular guest elevator was out of order, forcing us to use the service elevator instead, but honestly, we couldn’t care less since we were on our way up the Vanderbilt Suite. God, I love staying in a room with a name. Don’t you?

Our presidential suite!

The room was spacious and lovely, with the bathroom alone being larger than most standard hotel rooms. We had a foyer, a huge bathroom, king size bed, a walk-in closet, and two balconies with views of San Juan Bay and the San Juan Cathedral. Rejoicing in our great good fortune, we paused to freshen up and check in with our families at home before heading out for the rooftop wine & cheese reception. This is one of the many reasons we love El Convento – it’s included in the room rates and it’s a very nice touch. They put out several different wines (I counted nine that night), cheeses, crackers & fruits, plus coffee & tea. They also have an honor bar if your tastes are more toward the liquor. So we fixed a couple of plates, grabbed a beverage, and scoped out a table on the patio to watch the sun go down.

Usually we go to Aquaviva for dinner in Old San Juan but we were pretty tired and not very hungry after the wine & cheese, and feeling gratefully inclined toward the hotel for our upgrade, we opted to eat at El Picateo, the hotel’s tapas restaurant. Sharing small plates of Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, and some sautéed cuttlefish was just the ticket. A mojito, a glass of sangria, and a tres leches cake brought our total to around US $60. The food was good, our server was outrageously cute, and we were happy to be back in place where we could drink the good ol’ tap water.

Day in Old San Juan/Homeward Bound

Enjoying an al fresco meal in the courtyard

Since our flight back home to Hartford wasn’t until early evening, we requested and were granted a late check out. We had an early breakfast at Café Nispero, the courtyard restaurant at El Convento and it was very good. I opted for the yogurt, granola & fruit crepes while DH had the Eggs Benedict. Two cappuccinos and a freshly squeezed orange juice brought our total to US $30. After breakfast we walked to the San Cristobal fort to explore. We had both been there before, but we wanted to see it again since all of the pictures that I had taken there two years earlier were lost when I lost my camera. It’s easy to forget how hot it is down in the Caribbean when you’re on the beach because the constant breezes keep things comfortable, but that’s not the case in Old San Juan. All of that concrete radiates heat upwards while the sun beats down from above, and we were both sweaty messes by the time we got there. At least I was wearing a long-sleeved loose shirt over a light tank top, which kept the worst of the sun off my skin!

I love this archway in the fort!

In front of the fort entrance

The obligatory turret shot

The fort was as interesting as we remembered and we used up most of our collective battery power shooting hundreds of photos throughout. If you have the time to visit either of the forts (or both!), I highly recommend them. (Fun fact: though I cannot be sure, I would be willing to bet small amounts of money that we saw Andrew Zimmern doing part of a tv shoot while we were at the fort. We were up top on the highest level of the fort looking down, and they were in the courtyard, but there were several people with film cameras and a couple of booms surrounding a man who looked very much like Zimmern. Alas, by the time we wandered back down to the courtyard, the crew had vanished, so who can say?)

The bayside walk back to the hotel

The streets of Old San Juan

We made our way back to El Convento along the bay, which is a very pretty walk, offering respite here & there in the forms of shade trees, benches, and a large fountain that was spraying squealing children. We stopped to cuddle a couple of kitties in the square outside the hotel and then headed up to the room to shower. Then it was back downstairs for lunch at Nispero. It is so refreshing to sit there in the cool of the courtyard. We had our books with us, so we lingered over our hamburger, Cuban sandwich and two sangrias. Everything was very tasty and the total came to around US $40, including tip.

Funky sculpture on the bayside walk

Original doors in the wall surrounding the old city

Another street shot

Almost every square in the old city has a fountain.


  1. Emily, your trip looks delightful! Thanks so much for sharing - after all, what's a trip without pictures or conversation? :)

  2. What's a trip without a little jam every other day, for that matter?



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