A HAPPY NEW YEAR IN SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO
Riviera will be in San Juan for New Year’s Eve, and what a beautiful place to be on this day. As Blogger-at-Large, I recently had a wonderful time exploring San Juan and highly recommend taking advantage of one of the many cruises that stop in San Juan during the winter months.
My first stop was the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. Housed in a stately building built in the 1920s, it was once the San Juan Municipal Hospital. It is one of the biggest museums in the Caribbean and holds a permanent collection of the most significant Puerto Rican art from the 16th century to the present. In addition, the museum offers numerous temporary exhibitions designed to support the visual arts heritage of Puerto Rico. If you visit, check out the museum’s website to find out what special exhibitions will be featured while you are there.
The museum has added several wings over the years, including a beautiful garden with sculptures by local artists that is naturally framed by trees and plants native to Puerto Rico, as well as water falls, koi ponds and native birds.
After a lovely visit to the museum, I headed to Castillo San Cristóbal, built by the Spanish from 1634 to 1790 to protect against attacks on San Juan. Designed specifically to guard against enemy approaches by land, the fort is on the eastern side of Old San Juan.
The largest fort built by the Spanish in the New World, it covers 27 acres and the views up and down the coast are truly breathtaking. In one direction was the white domed capital building of San Juan, in another, dramatic views of Castillo San Felipe de Morro, built 100 years prior to San Cristóbal to protect from sea attacks. Also along the banks stands the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, the final resting place of many of Puerto Rico’s prominent residents.
The fort has an intricate system of tunnels that allowed Spanish troops to move around the fort unseen. The tunnels were also devised as a defense system and could be secretly loaded with explosives and set off if invading troops attempted to overrun the fort. Because this clever tactic was never used, the tunnels stand in good condition today and are safe for guided exploration.
I spent the last part of my day wandering the streets of Old San Juan and taking in the sights and sounds of this beautiful city. Plaza Colón is a lovely memorial to Christopher Columbus, who landed in Puerto Rico in 1493. (In Spanish, “Christopher Columbus” is “Cristobal Colón.”)
San Juan is an incredibly colorful city, and I was particularly charmed by its blue-tiled streets. The blue cobblestones, called “adoquines,” were used in San Juan in the 16th and 17th centuries. Cast in Spain from the slag of iron furnaces, the bricks were used as ballast in the empty galleons of Spanish ships. When they arrived in Puerto Rico, they would dump the bricks and load the ships with plundered gold and silver for the trip back home. Time and moisture has given the bricks their bluish hue.
My adventures led me to my final stop at Old San Juan’s main square, Plaza de Armas. In the middle of the square, surrounding a fountain, there are four statues, all over 100 years old, that represent the four seasons. I guess they need some representation of the seasons here since it’s 85 degrees year-round in San Juan! The square was beautiful and bustling with daily life.
I bid a fond farewell to this delightful city as we sailed away, and the sail away itself was as lovely a part of the San Juan experience as being on shore. Judging by the number of fellow guests who joined me to watch the island fade into the distance, I would say that this is an occasion not to be missed.
To everyone celebrating onboard Oceania Cruises ships, and to all of you following the blog and dreaming of your next Oceania Cruises vacation, I wish you a Happy New Year! I hope to run into you on the high seas in 2013!