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Puerto Rico, Port of riches!

 

 

I was all of six years old and I watched the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea slip underneath the wings of our jet, calmly, as I sipped probably the best orange juice I had ever tasted. The flight passed quickly and uneventfully.

 

As we swooped in over San Juan Bay and Las Palmas, I’ll never forget the sight of the beaches to the north. They were the most inviting sight for any tourist.

 

The Port of San Juan is the busiest port in th...

The Port of San Juan is the busiest port in the Caribbean and one of the busiest in the world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sights that are now seared into my memory, the parking area outside the terminal, the overpass between the airport and the city, these seemingly mundane memories are locked safely away in the mind of a 25-year-old man.

 

Though they are memories of an exciting experience, marked by sunny days, nice beaches and the fort. Oh what a special monument to the city.

 

 

They were lovely times we had there. Our apartment block was located on the 12th floor of a building located ideally for two aviation enthusiasts like my dad and I.

 

Right by the airport. We spent many happy hours in this way.

 

We would sit there and watch the planes till dark. The climate allowed us to be out there in shorts and t-shirts after the sun had gone down and we’d eat ice cream out there.

 

The city itself was quite a bus ride away, at least twenty minutes. However, it was worth it. The fort is an enchanting place where you may find Hispanic music played by amateurs and sit there all day listening to them.

 

The fort was away from the hustle and bustle of the city, not that there was much anyway. The population of the city in 1994 was just over 400,000, so it wasn’t like New York or Boston. It was a low-key affair.

 

San Juan’s jewel was its old town, the Isleta de San Juan. A fort lies on the headland and we visited it at least once. The headland was rocky with a tremendous surf kicking up and splashing against the rocks below. The fort was used extensively during the slave trade and still had shackles where these people would have been strung up.

 

A most ugly and unappealing thought…

 

One could conveniently forget about this with the location, climate and subsequent atmosphere. This was the city’s charm. Not the fact that it was a resort or playground for the rich.

 

The aforementioned “resort” factor meant that tourists were abound, so avoid the beaches if you want to avoid them. The cruise ships came into the harbour and most of their passengers stayed aboard.

 

We had the lagoon between us in Carolina, a suburb, and the city. This was always fun and I loved it greatly, especially because the planes flew right over my head! Sweet! The overpass went from Carolina to Hato Rey, the central banking district.

 

My dad took me here sometimes when no one was at home to look after me. Those days were far from boring, though. My dad would let me ride the bus and pull the cord. There were many stops and it was always fun.

 

Did I mention that I learned to swim in San Juan? The pool we had was great for kids. There was a green-turfed sunbed area alongside for the adults and you could swim there without coming face-to-face with a shark.

 

swimming pool overlooking the sea

swimming pool overlooking the sea (Photo credit: Steve Slater (Wildlife Encounters))

Minillas, the shopping centre. This was great, it had everything a kid could want. Ice cream, toys, the lot! Not all my time was spent in San Juan, though. A further three months were spent in the northwestern community of Aguadilla.

 

Aguadilla is a coastal community, widely renowned for its surf and consequent beach-goers. Some of these beach-goers look interesting to me now that I’ve gone through puberty. I’d like to go there again. As for the hotel, it was so-so.

 

We had a video rental and eatery complex across the road from us and a baseball diamond, so we weren’t short of things to do. There was a pool as well with a diving board and the staff would entertain us with their playful antics. Hiding our toys and play hide-and-seek, that sort of thing.

 

As for our room, wonderful! There was a gap under our door that let our resident mouse Felix in and cockroaches plus other delightfuls. Felix was there for our entire stay and we fed him pizza from time to time. As for the rest of our time there, we had a selection of about five films from the rental shop.

 

All in all, Aguadilla was a bit of a ghost town…

 

Puerto Rico summer of 2005

Puerto Rico summer of 2005 (Photo credit: dj4christ)

 

 

This was not least due to the closure of Ramey Air Force Base near by. Of course the famous Crashboat Beach is nearby, where the surfers find their groove.

 

 

Pastries, anybody? You’ll find them at a nearby bakery and they are delicious! Apple pie’ s and chocolate biscuits. It was a memorable experience.

 

Not to mention the baseball as well. I’d developed an interest in Canada and, of course, one of only two Major League Canadian teams, the Toronto Blue Jays were my club.

 

It was a real thrill, then, when I got a chance to go and see a game at the stadium in Mayaguez, just down the coast from Aguadilla. What an experience! The match, balls flying out the park and me stuffing my face with Nachos and cheese, and, of course, meeting my hero, Carlos Delgado.

 

A Jays player, no less. Roberto Alomar? Met him, too. Other names like Baerga and Martinez crowded that fine field as well.

 

Its one of the great sports of the Island, that and basketball plus others. There were sports fields abound, probably largely due to the American influence and use thereof by tourists and off-season sportsmen. It’s a tradition all throughout the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

 

That was part of the beauty of it. Having terrific weather and great sports facilities.

 

What a great Island!

 

 

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Venice and Dubrovnik

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Dubrovnik“. The name conjures up images of a city so beautiful, many respect it as paradise. The town, as you enter it, sets a sight that you’ll never forget. The entrance to the old town from the north is very quaint indeed.

You walk slowly down a windy, s-shaped street that descends gradually towards the water until you reach the shaded area that has a waterfront overlooking the harbour from the south.

The 'old town' of Dubrovnik From the photograp...

The ‘old town’ of Dubrovnik From the photographer: Canon 5d + 24-70mm @ 45mm Slik Sprint Pro 2 tripod Redsnapper RSH-61 ballhead (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many cafes stretch across fortified medieval city walls next to the water’s edge. It’s a lovely cool walk along the pavement down here and you may also find harbour tours. The sea was as turquoise as the word itself. The waters as calm as silk.

A brief pass through Bosnia and a small stop at a convenient store later and we pass back into Croatia again. The drive into Dubrovnik was eventful, as was negotiating who wanted to park where in the lot when we got there.

There, of course, was not much space between the mountains and the sea for a city, let alone a parking lot. It was here that we spent the day, drinking cold drinks, repeatedly saying how gorgeous it was and basking in the sun.

The drive home was uneventful. We dined eagerly by Split‘s Old Town harbour area and boarded the ferry for Ancona. The boarding process was long and laborious and the passage equally so.

 

English: Countryside along the Adriatic shore ...

English: Countryside along the Adriatic shore en route from Dubrovnik to Split, Croatia. June 2004. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The unloading process was dreadful. The cars were being brought off the ship at the same time the walk-off passengers! Ancona.

The town of seagulls! Not much to see here…just a dreary port and its docks. Full speed ahead to Venice!

There is one thing that I will never forget about the day we arrived. The rain. Boy it poured! It I stared deep into the blue. I was thoughtful.

Happy. Contented. Many good things. After all, maybe life had a calling for me after all. I was, of course, in Croatia.

A country that must have some of the most desirable coast in Europe. Our location, at that point, was a hotel just south of Split. We were situated by the sea as well.

Always a plus. We sat out on the terrace and had a scrumptious breakfast. We set out around eight-thirty.

A brief pass through Bosnia and a small stop at a convenient store later and we pass back into Croatia again. The drive into Dubrovnik was eventful, as was negotiating who wanted to park where in the lot when we got there. There, of course, was not much space between the mountains and the sea for a city, let alone a parking lot.

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As for the hotel, very posh. It was quite a walk from here to the train station. And the trains were crowded too, cattle class. In fact, I recall my mother saying that she was quite claustrophobic.

The train stopped at a lot of stations before reaching Venice and we passed Marco Polo Intl. Venezia Santa Lucia is the main station and you’ll have, at some point, to pass through Venezia Mestre station on solid land if you wish to see the island city.

 

venice-grand-canal-from-train-station

venice-grand-canal-from-train-station (Photo credit: hartingale)

 

Once you’re there, then the fun begins. You’ll be able to enjoy the famous “Vaporetto’s”. These famous little boats are the buses and life-blood of Venice.

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The Rialto bridge . My mother spent some time photographing this as I eagerly looked on. The rain had abated and I had removed my raincoat.

It was really magical, despite the smell of the brown stuff. The sun began to shine from behind those dark and brooding clouds above.

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How about seeing the Piazza San Marco. Thats a wonderful place. You pay a small fee to go up the tower and have the most wonderful view. The centre of the tower stretches high above the square and you can see the whole city from here!

I took the sight in really well, feeling slightly giddy because of the height, and returned to terra firma.

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After this, we felt like having a drink. Why not stop off in a Cafe? Well, I’ll tell you why. Because two regular-sized glasses of lemonade will set you back six Euros! Yeah, its expensive here. Next, the shopping district. After a happy hour here, we headed again for our water-bus Vaporettos and casually made our way back to Central Station.

During our stay, a cruise ship came into harbour. Sacrilege if you ask me. Why couldn’t that hundred-thousand-plus-tonne monstrosity stay outside the city and boat its passengers into the city. The passengers were quite irritating too. Loud. Smelly. Overweight.

 

At least we left the next day. I never thought I’d say that about Venice, but I’d had just the right dose of holiday…

The Adriatic (Credit to Rebecca Cox for photography)

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It was a late August day. We set out under bright blue summer skies in what is generally acknowledged as warm weather in England. It was an eventful journey. After having stopped in a lay-by and bought the usual assortment of refreshments for a journey from Gloucestershire to Luton Airport.

Ryanair EI-DPC taxies at Luton airport

Ryanair EI-DPC taxies at Luton airport (Photo credit: bigpresh)

After a while, though, around Milton Keynes, my mother began to get agitated with “my navigation”. I was responsible for failing to identify three roundabouts that didn’t appear on the map. As it turns out, they weren’t on the map. Anyway, after a heated argument, we realised this and continued normally.

Upon arrival at Luton around six in the evening, we began the check-in procedure. No biggie. Neither was the flight.

We took off around eight and landed at ten. What WAS worrying, however, was that my father, who had set off across Europe some time previously to meet us at Venice’s Treviso Airport, was nowhere to be seen nor heard from. We tried calling his mobile.

No luck. While, initially, I thought this was probably a mobile phone reception problem, my mother began to worry. She began to fear he had had an accident and went frantic.

This lasted for a couple of hours, during which time I had to ask a cop, or carabinieri, for some money to use for a payphone. For the next hour or so, my mother seriously fretted due to the fact that we could not get in touch with him.

To clear my head, I stepped outside. It was then that my father, quite by chance, drove by. This was a great relief to my mother and I. It transpired that he had no signal and was lost. Right now. Time to hit the road.

Its after one o’clock in the morning and we need to rest so the first night will be a “pit stop” in an autostrada, their motorway, service station. The car we were using was a Volkswagen Polo and it was CRAMPED.

I had to stuff my foot through, then wedge my shoulder in and, finally, use levering force to get into the car. Good times! So we arrived at a spot just outside Trieste where the next four or five hours was a combination of restlessness and hovering a round in the shop with some hanging out under the stars.

That was cool! On the road again…We went to see the famous Lipizzaner Stallions at the Lipica 1580 Stud Farm. Lipica’s history is heavily influenced by the Habsburgs who ruled the Austro-Hungarian empire for circa 650 years.

English: Favory Pallavicina, approved Lipizzan...

English: Favory Pallavicina, approved Lipizzan stallion, Australia Deutsch: Favory Pallavicina, gekörter Lipizzanerhengst, Australien (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Horses, especially the Spanish Horse, were valued for both military and commercial reasons. Archduke Charles chose to build the Royal Stud Farm in 1578.

We hung around the stables while being given a guided tour and took photographs. The farm was a lovely place, greenery abound!

The port of Trieste was highlighted by bright Italian sunshine that laid the container ships bare in the light of day. We crossed the border shortly thereafter and promptly found a market on the Croatian side and bought the best grapes I have ever tasted from the lady depicted below.croatia 3 116

It was a hot day and I had my T-shirt off, (wolf whistles) after having stepped out of the car, and strode over to the barrier, from where we could see the brilliant Azure of the water in the bay. I can still remember the radiance of the sun against the tarmac. It was tremendous that day.

The first night at a campsite was spent at a reasonably cheap place on the coast that had a traditional style Slovenian seafood restaurant. Every meal I ate at a restaurant on this trip was dead seafood still looking at me.

Fish dinner

Fish dinner (Photo credit: The Hungarian Girl)

It was a lovely restaurant, surrounded by terracotta houses that, in turn, surrounded the bay. However, I didn’t finish my meal and never got to grips with the cuisine in the region.

The sea by the campsite was crystal clear. As dusk set, we decided to have a dip. It was a good choice. Water that seemed to come out of a hot spring greeted our feet and we were “bitten by the bug”. Pitching the tent was fun and games. It was a two-man tent, which meant my dad had to sleep in the car.

That was interesting. It was a noisy night. We had a group of teenagers for neighbours and they were four or five in number, shreiking till all hours. More than that, there was an equal number of guys to girls. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

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A little while later, we made a stop in a small Croatian town that struck me for two reasons. Firstly, because of the Croatian architecture. The buildings were made of granite and were quite different to those on the Slovenian side. At least in appearance anyway. This could have been Rovinj.

The second reason was that a woman behind the till in a shop was the only person we encountered who recognized my father’s North American accent. We stopped by the waterfront for a while and had a drink there, the cool stone pavement was a relief.

Street Walking

Street Walking (Photo credit: Let Ideas Compete)

We were sat by the harbour. I don’t recall if it was the one featured at the beginning, but it was lovely.

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Later on, in the city of Pula, we saw the roman amphitheatre shown above. The amphitheatre is amongst six of the largest surviving, out of 200, amphitheatres from the great empire and was constructed between 27-68 A.D.

It is also unique because no other survivor has four side towers and all three architectural orders, or styles, intact. Please don’t mistake me for an expert. In fact, that is information off the net and we never went inside. But we got a few good shots of it, laugh.

Split was the best! It wasn’t much to look at from afar. Lots of old soviet-style apartment blocks straddle it to the North and South. However, the harbour and old city were gorgeous. This is a typical scene.

We rested here for a night and spent some time around the harbour. It was paradise.There were tenors singing in the Mediterranean warmth. Heaven.

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Dubrovnik, nestled in the hills, afforded us great views…but it was the residents that were fascinating. The parking arrangement was crazy.

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And so, I’ll leave you there. Bye!

(Credit to Rebecca Cox for the photography)