A Stay at Old San Juan in Puerto Rico

One of the most used departure ports for cruise ships in the Caribbean is San Juan in Puerto Rico. We decided to arrive a day early to San Juan in order to see some sights before our cruise ship departure. San Juan, known as ‘La Ciudad Amurallada’ (the walled city), was founded in 1521 and is the oldest city under the US flag. During the 16th century, the Spanish used it as a point of departure for expeditions to the New World. Fortifications in the Old San Juan section of the city repulsed numerous attacks from the English and the Dutch during those years. Today, Old San Juan is a charming seven square block commercial and residential area with cobblestone streets.

The cruise ship terminal is actually located near the south side of Old San Juan so instead of booking a hotel in the beach resort area of San Juan, we decided to book one right in the old section for close proximity to the terminal as well as the local sights. The $17 US taxi ride from San Juan’s airport to Old San Juan was about half an hour. During the ride, I was impressed by how developed the city was compared to many other cities I’ve visited in the Caribbean. The beach high-rise hotels along the north side of San Juan were visible from the highway. Our stay for the night was at the Hotel Milano which is right on Calle Fortaleza, which is one of the major commercial streets in Old San Juan. The hotel was clean and comfortable but not luxurious which was okay with us as the price was very affordable. Its quality was probably comparable to a Travelodge or Days Inn. A very pleasant surprise was the free continental breakfast at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant. It gave a nice view of the neighborhood from the top.

We spent the day and evening walking the many cobblestone streets and alleys in the area. There are over 400 restored colonial buildings from the 16th and 17th century here. There were also several plaza squares and parks. One of the nicest services offered in Old San Juan is a free shuttle bus which covers two different routes through the district. There was a bus stop about 1/2 block away from our hotel which was very convenient. Riding on the shuttle buses through both routes gave us a good overview of Old San Juan. We were able to stop off at several points of interest including the huge El Morro fort. After our visits to each attraction, we just had to
wait for the next bus to come by to continue our tour. In the evening, we did get lost while walking since many of the streets look very similar. But with our map, we eventually found our way back to the street where the Hotel Milano was. We decided to dine at one of the nearby restaurants for authentic Puerto Rican cuisine and were not disappointed. My lady especially adored the two different plantains we ordered.

When it was time to go to the cruise ship terminal, we just took a short five minute ride from our hotel. Our short stay in Old San Juan was definitely worthwhile and hassle free. A stay in Old San Juan is highly recommended for those who will be taking a Caribbean cruise with San Juan as the departure point. The only disappointment I had with San Juan was that I was hoping to do some scuba diving in the area but from the reports I read, the waters off the city are quite murky with limited marine life to see. This is likely the result of San Juan being such a busy port. The decent scuba diving sites are about 2 hours east of San Juan. So perhaps in a return trip to Puerto Rico, I will plan to make a trip to the east part of the island.

A Whirlwind Tour of Rome

Even if you spend one week in Rome, you won’t be able to see it all. For travelers on the go, though, here is a lightning fast tour of Rome.

Morning – Grab a cappuccino and a croissant from a café in the Prati district, which is right by Vatican City. After your quick breakfast, get in line at the Vatican Museum. It opens at 8:45AM, but you’ll want to be in line by 8:00 to avoid the throngs of tourists that will soon be arriving. Start out by proceeding to the outdoor courtyard to admire the ancient statues of Laocoon and Apollo Belvedere. The statue of Laocoon, which is nearly 2000 years old, was hailed as one of the most amazing statues of its time. Next proceed through the stunning rooms painted by Raphael and finish up by being blown away by the Sistine Chapel and terrified by Michelangelo’s Last Judgment.

Afternoon – After exiting the museum, head east and pass by Castel Saint Angelo. This giant fortification was often used by Popes during times of war and a lot of fortifications were made by stripping away and melting down parts of the Pantheon. Cross the Tiber and head South East through Piazza Navona. Grab a quick lunch at Baffeto’s, which serves the best pizza in town, and then head further east until you hit the Pantheon. Veer east until you hit Via Del Corso, one of the most famous shopping streets in Rome. Battle the crowds as you head north on the street and soak in all the ridiculously expensive Italian name brands.

Night – Hop on a bus to the Trastevere neighborhood, one of the most colorful areas of Rome. Wander around the windy streets until you find a restaurant that is to your liking. There are many restaurants in this area, and the food is generally cheaper and better than any of the other places you’ll find in Rome. After a delicious dinner, snack on some gelato and hike up the nearby Gianicolo Hill to enjoy a stunning night-time view of the Eternal City.

Advantages of Booking Hotels in Central Rome

This article has the purpose to explain what we intend for central Rome and the benefits to reserve an hotel in this area.
For central Rome we mean specifical districts like the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and Trastevere.

The district of Trastevere was once inhabited by the medieval working class and since the 1970 has been filled up with new hotels, tour buses and sidewalk vendors. The original people of this district belong to a mixed ancestry, mainly Jewish, Roman and Greek and for decades they were known for speaking their on dialect in a language rougher than that spoken in central Rome.
Trastevere remains one of Rome’s most colorful quarters, even if it is a bit overrun and it is know as a ” city within a city”.
The hotels in central Rome allow visitors to save money when sightseeing because people can cover all the major monuments in few hours with a pleasant promenade.
In fact if you have booked an hotel near the spanish steps you can see how Rome is entered by Porta del Popolo built in the Renaissance period by the architect Vignola from the designs of Michelangelo.

As you can imagine, you can’t walk anywhere in Rome without stepping on several layers of Roman archaological remains. it’s often frustrating for the people who actually live there: they can not do anything above or below ground without having to stop and carefully consider what is being lost and found.

A trick you have to know after you make your reservation is to ask for a corner room. Corner rooms are usually larger, quieter and have more windows and light than standard rooms, and they do not cost necessarily more. Always ask if the hotel is renovating: if it is, request a room away from the renovation work. You can also inquire about the location of the elevators, restaurants and bars in the hotel, all sources of annoying noise.

Rome center offers also some splendid opportunities for lovers of the performing arts. All major performers pass through Rome and the city has traditionally been the hot spot for theater production in Italy. The scene positively burgeons in summer when a mind-boggling range of performances is staged throughout the city in various indoor and outdoor venues.
Rome is also a sort of culinary melting pot for distinctive regional styles.

Pesto and marinara sauce, ravioli and risotto, cannoli and tiramisu are often all found together on the same menu. Another advantage of Rome’s size and cosmopolitan charachter is that you can find very good restaurants downtown with food from around the globe: Rome is really your best opportunity to hunt out different types of cuisine.

The Eternal city wasn’t built in a day and,to accommodate its tourists, it continues to expand with more hotels, opening hours for museums and other attractions, especially during holidays and the summer months.

Cancun, Mexico – A Little Something For Everyone

A sleepy island area in the 1970s, Cancun has been transformed into a mega tourist destination. Located on the Caribbean side of Mexico, this resort area has something for everyone.

Cancun

Make no mistake, Cancun is a very tourist friendly destination. Located on the Yucatan peninsula, Cancun is populated with mega resorts and over 20,000 hotel rooms. The economy is based on tourism and the people go out of their way to show tourists a good time.

Cancun proper is actually two distinct areas. Cancun City is located on the mainland and Cancun Island is just off the coast. The island is the stuff of legend.

Cancun Island the classic example of Caribbean beach paradise. Incredibly blue water laps slowly onto insanely white beaches. Light breezes roll in off the water as you lounge on a beach chair and contemplate important things like what you will eat for lunch.

One of the slight downsides of Cancun involves beachfront hotels. They tend to be a bit possessive about the sand in front of them. Put another way, you better be staying at the hotel if you intend to plop down in front of it. Hey, it can’t all be great!

Getting To Cancun

As with any mega resort area, getting to Cancun is very easy. Most major airlines fly into Cancun City and the airport is very modern. You are required to have a passport and must fill out a tourist card at customs. The customs agents are easy going and I’ve never heard of anyone having any problems with them.

If you want to experience a beach vacation in Mexico, you can do worse than Cancun. You will not get much feel for the local culture, but you will definitely enjoy yourself.

10 Must-Dos When In Barcelona

High spirits and vitality govern in abundance when in Barcelona. This infectious capital of Catalonia, and second largest city in Spain, exudes soul and energy, living life to the full. Barcelona’s verve is matched by its magnificent architecture, characterised by one man’s signature, Antonio Gaudi.

1. Las Ramblas

Running from seafront through to Placa de Catalunya, Las Ramblas is a fusion of market stalls and street entertainment. Watch out for the mime artists, though keep a hand on your wallet.

2. Sagrada Familia Church

In progress since 1882, La Sagrada Familia is perhaps Antonio Gaudi’s most magnificent achievement. As yet unfinished, the ongoing construction of this gothic masterpiece is financed through tourism.

3. Picasso Museum

Born in Malaga, Pablo Picasso moved to Barcelona during his teen years. Though many of his greatest works are in private hands, the Picasso Museum on the Carrer Moncada is well worth a visit.

4. Casa-Museu Gaudi

A pink, Alice-in-Wonderland house is the setting for the Gaudi museum. Gaudi lived in this surreal location between 1906 and 1926 with his niece. Exhibits in the museum include furniture, drawings and portraits designed by the great man himself.

5. The Poble Espanyol

Completed in 1929, the ‘Spanish Village’ is a compilation of buildings representing the collective architectural characteristics of Spain. A celebration of all things Spanish, the village has become a gathering place to dine and be entertained.

6. Bishop’s Palace

After being destroyed by fire, Bishop Juan Bautista Grau i Vallespinós commissioned Antonio Gaudi to design a new, more magnificent palace in 1887. Upon the bishop’s death, and consequent interference from the diocese, Gaudi abandoned the project. It was not inhabited until 1961.

7. Gothic Quarter

On the site of an ancient Roman village, the Gothic Quarter is a contrast of contemporary and medieval architecture, incorporating the magnificent 14th century cathedral.

8. Olympic Stadium

During 1992, the eyes of the world focused on the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona as they hosted the Olympic Games. Today a popular athletics facility, the stadium was a redesigned version of the original built in 1929.

9. Passeig de Gracia

As one of the major shopping areas of Barcelona, Passeig de Gracia caters for the modest, and also those who prefer the more sophisticated boutiques. Bars and restaurants also line the thoroughfare.

10. Lover’s Day

On behalf of those looking for romance, Barcelona obliges with its own version of St Valentines, known as Lover’s Day, celebrated every April 23rd.

A Country Within A Country: Travel To Barcelona

The distinctive regional culture of Barcelona is largely due to geography and a plentitude of national pride and elitism. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, one of Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous states. The regional language is Catalan, along with the national language of Castilian Spanish. There has long been pressure from the Catalonian government and nationalists to earn complete autonomy from Spain. Consequently, the exclusive culture can be difficult to adjust to and there is significant animosity towards foreigners around the main tourist street of Las Ramblas. To thoroughly enjoy the sweet life and gentle hospitality of Barcelona, leave this busy area and explore the many diverse districts, endless with possibility.

Café Life and Nightlife for the Night Owl
Barcelona is truly a city that never sleeps, particularly during the warm Mediterranean summers. Avoid standing out like a sore thumb by eating dinner when the locals do: after 10 p.m. It is common to see children, grandparents and the family dog gathering at the outdoor cafes at these hours when the day’s work is finished and time for friends and family has commenced. Since Barcelona hosted the Olympics in 1992, the city has been revamped with visitor friendly attractions such as the massive Olympic Village, a string of swanky restaurants, state-of-the-art nightclubs and boutiques along the beach. Most nightclubs do not get going until after 1 a.m. and club-goers typically wander out onto the beach around 5:30 to watch the sunrise over the Mediterranean.

A Modernista Mecca
The architectural wonders of Barcelona will keep even the most novice eye bewildered and intrigued. Antoni Gaudi decorated Barcelona with his treasures of modernism as a painter on a canvas. The grand boulevard of Passeig de Gracia is lined with elaborately adorned Casa Batllo and Casa Mila, both with the most intricate rooftops known to modern architecture. Arguably the most stunning of Gaudi’s work is the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia. Each of the church’s facades are meticulously designed with different themes and styles combining nature with religion and the soaring towers topped with mosaic grapes are built around a conch-like coiled staircase that visitors may choose to take instead of the elevator. Another tribute to Barcelona’s artistic heritage is the Palau da la Musica Catalana. A view of the glass and mosaic inverted chandelier on the ceiling of the theater is alone worth the visit. Daily tours are offered in addition to the regularly held musical performances. Afterward, get lost in the tiny twisting passages of the surrounding historic Gothic Quarter.

Traveling Barcelona Right Not Your Weekend Visit
It is best to avoid traveling to Spain in August, when most of the locals (and most of Mediterranean Europe) take their vacations. Chances are that the restaurant you wanted to visit will be closed and museums will have extremely curtailed hours. August can also be uncomfortably hot.

Barcelona should be traveled with care and patience. The only disappointment visitors have is the inability to see all of the city’s landmarks and hidden corners in a realistic amount of time.