We had a very very early (pre-6AM) flight from Minneapolis to San Juan via Chicago, and given the dangers of flying in February in the Midwest, I started worrying about a week in advance. As the day neared, it became clear that we were in for a substantial amount of snow right around the time we’d be leaving for vacation, and I figured there was no way we’d ever make a 45-connection in Chicago, even we even managed to escape Minneapolis on Friday morning.
Thursday afternoon, the blizzard rolled in. Matt put his car in the garage in preparation for our trip, and I parked on the snow emergency route alongside our house, which meant I stood the best odds of getting my car out even in bad conditions. Usually Minneapolis waits until a storm is over before they declare snow emergency, but this time they were panicking in advance, too: they decided to start it at 9pm, which means my car had to move or get towed.
So let’s just forward to 8pm Thursday evening, when we and two neighbors spent an hour digging and pushing my car out of the intersection it was stuck in. We finally maneuvered it into a spot where it would be safe from towing til 8AM Saturday morning, but it was clear there was no way we were taking that to the airport. The snow was still coming down like crazy. We instead dug out the driveway as best we could, snowblowed the walks, and crossed our fingers before heading to bed. It never occurred to me that there was the possibility we wouldn’t even be able to make it to the airport in the morning.
I got up at 3AM Friday, put on my coat and boots, and went out to shovel the driveway again. I then came in and showered, finished packing bags, and we hauled everything out to Matt’s car in the garage. Thankfully, he was able to back it out onto the street, which had been cleared enough that it was driveable. I ran through the new snow on the sidewalks (it had been constant all night, and still hadn’t stopped), stashed the garage door opener and keys where our friends and family could find them (they were stuck with the job of trying to get my car free, and then shoveling), and hopped in the car to go to the airport. The roads were in terrible, icy shape, and it was actually a good thing it was so early in the morning, because nobody was out to crash in it. Matt drove very, very slowly, and we got to the airport on time. The flight was still scheduled on time, too!
We dumped all our winter gear in the car and went to the terminal. Pre-Chek was a breeze, and we stopped to get coffee and water for the flight. We boarded on time, but then we had to wait for de-icing. I occupied myself with the Skymall shopping list.
It was light by the time we de-iced, and we knew that we weren’t making the flight in Chicago unless they held it. Talking to the people around us, though, it sounded like many of us were headed to San Juan on the same flight, so that gave us hope that we’d make it.
Did you know the de-icing is orange? I’d never noticed that before.
We were indeed late to Chicago, but TripIt notified me right away that our second leg was delayed as well. They were clearly holding it for us. Matt and I were the first from the MSP flight to get there, and the gate people looked relieved that we were finally there. A whole bunch more people crowded on, and the flight ended up being entirely full.
It was a 5-hour flight, which is over my general limit for sitting still, but somehow it wasn’t that bad. (One of the reasons I prefer Delta is that you always lay over in Atlanta heading to the Caribbean, and that breaks up the time pretty well.) We had seatback TVs for entertainment, so we flipped around and I finally decided on Runner Runner, which killed a bunch of time. For the first two hours there was enough turbulence from storms that they couldn’t even get the carts out. They finally served food and drinks, so we got meal boxes and switched to the USA-Canada hockey game. And that’s when the inflight television cut out, because we were over the ocean. Sigh. (It’s probably for the best, since our team lost.)
Since they still had movies showing, I switched to Real Steel. I only made it half an hour before I had to turn it off and switch to the flight map. It was that bad.
We landed in San Juan only half an hour late. It had just rained there, but the sun came out as we landed, which I appreciate. We got our suitcases and grabbed a cab to Casa Blanca Hotel in Old San Juan. The lady at the desk told us they were working on something in the area so the power was out temporarily. They also had no elevator, but I knew that from the reviews. The porter brought our bags up for us, so that wasn’t really an issue (nor was the power, since we just wanted to head out again anyway). The hotel wasn’t anything fancy (the decor is nice), but it was a great price in a really excellent location in OSJ. God forbid you’d have to drive anywhere there, or even sit in the back of a cab in traffic.
It was late afternoon, so we decided to go get a beer at Old Harbor Brewery. The rain arrived there at the same time we did, but we weren’t terribly sad about sitting inside at the bar. We sampled their offerings and got tostones while we waited for the rain to let up. We ended up talking to one of the locals at the bar, who started exclaiming about how much he loved Prince when we told him we were from Minneapolis. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that someone has that association with my city, rather than the Mall of America, our mediocre pro sports teams, or a bunch of people living in igloos.
We decided to make another stop before dinner, mostly because we didn’t want to go to two dive bars in a row. I’d read really good things about El Farolito, so we walked over there, stopping to see some sights along the way.
It was a tiny place, with 6 seats at the bar and a balcony of questionable stability with a table on top. Matt and I sat at a chess board at the bar and ordered drinks. Then we started asking the bartender about the rums we hadn’t seen before, so he put together a tasting for us. I didn’t expect a really young guy to know much about them, but he absolutely did. We enjoyed the Brugal Anejo and Ron Barcelo quite a bit.
From there, we went off in search of dinner. I’d wanted to try Cafe Puerto Rico because they had some vegetarian versions of classic Puerto Rican food, but they were closed due to the lack of electricity in the area. (Thankfully, we’d seen that it had returned at our hotel.) Our bartender had recommended Cafe Berlin for vegetarian food, so we went with that instead. It had a monstrous menu, and was totally not what I’d expected at all. We got a seat on the patio, and ordered mojitos. The menu had tofu criollo, in addition to other vegetarian food. I was thrilled.
After our surprisingly good meal, it was time to head to El Batey, one of the greatest bars on earth. I had to use the restroom right away when we got there, so I took a picture so you can see the ambiance in there.
There were only a few people there when we arrived. Our bartender was Filipe, and he was something. He decided he was Matt’s best friend, and would come over and spend several minutes discussing films with him while other people waited for drinks. It was pretty entertaining.
We ordered Barrilitos, but somehow Filipe misheard and we ended up with a Medalla as well. We gave it to Bally.
While seated at the bar, I was also sitting inside a lamp that had a million business cards taped to it, forming a growing chandelier. Matt was wearing his Mac’s Club Deuce shirt (in honor of another excellent dive bar), and we found a Mac’s card taped inside the lamp. I verified that the pool room was not a dirt floor, as I’d remembered, just concrete. We also managed to locate our names on the wall from our previous visit. They’d been written over a bit with other graffiti, but they’re definitely still visible.
A group came in loudly, and I ended up talking to one of them who was next to me at the bar. They’d decided on an impromptu three-day trip to San Juan, which sounded like an excellent idea to me. The guy was drinking Dimple Pinch, which struck me as really strange… later we started to see it at every bar, and I’m still not sure what’s going on with that.
After a while, Matt went to the bathroom and the tab appeared in front of me. I didn’t take it personally; Filipe was kind of in a state. We paid up and headed back in the direction of our hotel, but weren’t quite ready for bed yet. We decided to stop into a too-brightly-lit bar called the Douglas Pub (which I’d coincidentally seen earlier and made fun of because it looked so crappy). I was ordering a rum and diet just as Matt pointed out the Fireball tap, so of course we had to partake in that too. And after that, it was definitely time to go across the street and up the many stairs to bed.