Matt and I had left home after work on Wednesday and driven up to our hotel in Fort Lauderdale, since we had an early flight to San Juan. It turns out the La Quinta near FLL is a great deal – it’s cheap, has free breakfast and a shuttle to the airport 10mn away, and they let you park your car in their lot for up to two weeks. We’ll definitely be doing that again in the future.
One of the benefits of our move much farther south – it’s now only a little over 2-hour flight to San Juan. We landed around noon and took a cab into town. Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we left our bags at the Hotel Plaza de Armas. I’d forgotten that we’d stayed there before, because it has a different name – it used to be a HoJo. Nothing much had changed, and while the rooms were totally fine, they have no windows. Do not stay in a room with no windows or you’ll never be able to wake up in the morning. It was just one night, thankfully.
San Juan was decorated for the holidays in festive fashion. I love it.
We needed lunch right away, so I suggested checking one of the side streets nearby where I’d seen tables set up in the street on previous visits. We found a cute little place with Mexican food, so we sat down for tacos and Medallas.
After lunch, we walked down to the city gate. It was gorgeous outside, and even warmer than in Florida.
The city is so picturesque it kills me. I want to spend so much more time there.
If you’ve wandered around San Juan, you’ve probably noticed that the streets are blue-tinted cobblestones. (You’ve probably almost broken an ankle on one of them, too.) They’re called adoquines, and they started out as furnace slag in Spain that was then used as ship ballast. Over time they’ve weathered into this color. They’re threatened by car traffic, which is one of the many reasons it would be awesome if Old San Juan banned cars.
I think it’s funny that the facade of the cathedral is perfectly spotless, but the rest looks pretty weathered. (I mean, it’s the oldest cathedral in the western hemisphere, so we can cut it some slack.)
Here’s El Batey, one of the greatest bars on earth. I had to stop and get a picture of it during the day.
This guy seemed pretty chill:
Our friends’ flight was arriving fairly soon, so Matt and I decided to go have a drink at the bar in El Convento. The former convent, now the fanciest hotel in OSJ, is a mere 356 years old. Their central courtyard seems to always be empty, which is kind of amazing. We grabbed seats at the bar, ordered papaya-ginger mojitos, and sat talking to the super-awesome bartender. He gave us samples of his coquito, the traditional Puerto Rican Christmas drink. It’s like eggnog, but better.
Kris and Orsi found their way over to the hotel and joined us at the bar. We hung out there for a while, and then decided to walk down the block to La Barrachina, the restaurant that claims to have invented the pina colada.
Post-colada, we walked down the hill to get dinner at Old Harbor Brewery. I don’t love their food there, but their beers are decent and they had a vegetarian option, which is something. After dinner, we walked back up the hill to a cocktail bar Matt had heard about recently. It was billed as a speakeasy, which made it hard to find, because it wasn’t really hidden at all. OK, there’s a different bar’s sign on the wall, but still.
La Factoria was hopping, but we managed to get a table in the corner. Their cocktails were pretty excellent, too, but there wasn’t anything especially Puerto Rican about it. It was like any city bar anywhere. After a couple drinks there, it was time for the main event: El Batey.
We drank rum and Medalla, and played a half-assed partial game of Moby Dick and then dominoes. Orsi wrote their names on the wall, and I left a Key West sticker in the bathroom. It’s important to leave your mark at El Batey.
Then it was time to go sleep in our dark, windowless hotel rooms, so we could head out of town in the morning.