Monthly Archives: March 2010

Puerto Madryn Plans, 31 Mar 2010

Puerto Madryn lies on the coast of Central Argentina, some 500 miles south of Buenos Aires. We plan to get out of the port and head north to route 2. This road skirts the shoreline and goes past bays in which we might see Southern Right whales, elephant seals, and penguins. We plan to travel north as far as we can go in the time allotted, leaving enough time to return to the ship an hour before the 530pm all aboard. Assuming we can exit the ship shortly after the 900am docking, we should have time to ride at least three hours out. If we can make 8 mph, we could go as far as 24 miles out. This may be a bit ambitious since we have never gone further than 35 miles in a day.


Leave a comment

Filed under bicycle, bicycle cruising, bicyclecruising, bicycling, bike tour, cruise, cruise ship, cruising, cycling, day rides, tour, travel, Uncategorized

Montevideo Ride, 29 Mar 2010

Note the fishermen behind Marilyn

The Montevideo ride was wonderful. The La Rambla is one of the best bike trails we’ve ridden. It goes on for nearly 15 miles along the Montevideo shoreline, is 10 yards wide and well paved the whole way and goes past representative sections of Montevideo.

The NCL Sun docked at Montevideo Monday morning after the 100 mile transit across the La Plata Bay. Our room lay immediately over one of the thruster engines used to help move the ship around a harbor when the forward speed is insufficient to give the rudder much force. As a result, we were awoken at 5am to a sound like a jet aircraft landing across the street. Fortunately, the noise lasted only a few minutes and we got back to sleep immediately. After breakfast on the ship, we prepared for the ride and untied our bikes from their ties to the railing across from the room. This was and will be a very convenient location for the bikes and our thanks go out to the NCL staff for their forbearance.

We carried the bikes in the elevator from our fourth deck suite to the third deck gangway and moved out onto the pier. Montevideo does not really have a cruise terminal; thus, the ship was tied up in an industrial section of the harbor near some Chinese fishing boats and a large German freighter taking on cargo. We had gained an extra task in the morning when we couldn’t connect our coffee grinder to the ship’s 220v outlet. We needed an adapter. My Spanish is nothing to write home about but I was able to put together a phrase intended to get us to a hardware store, a Ferretaria. A map was provided to us just outside the ship and a guide showed us the 6-8 block route across town to get to La Rambla, the bike path we had chosen to try for our visit to Montevideo.
We negotiated the two block ride out of the harbor and found a direct route to La Rambla up a shallow hill. Two blocks along this rode, I spied a Ferretaria and we began the negotiation for the adapter. I had drawn a diagram of the plug on our grinder and the plug on the outlet and the proprietor immediately turned around reached into a box and pulled out the requisite device. He then pulled out a plug simulating the plug on our grinder and proved that this adapter would fit. We discussed methods of payment and he agreed to accept 40 cents worth of Argentinean coins we had in our pockets. Problem solved. Then one of the two cronies also in the store pointed to the bikes outside and went into a fit of unrecognizable Spanish until I recognized the word Securitad and his hand signals simulating a bike lock and cable. Understanding him at this point, I promised that I would lock up my bike at all stops in the future. I considered the behavior of all the people in the store to be extremely friendly and helpful and looked for friendly interactions with Uruguayans for the entire trip. I was not disappointed.

At the top of the hill, I spotted the ocean and La Rambla ahead but also closer down the perpendicular street to the right. We decided to take the new shorter route for the four blocks to the ocean. Upon reaching the bottom of the hill and crossing the street, we immediately recognized La Rambla, a wide path with 15 inch square granite paving stones and a low wall 18-30 inches separating the path from the beach and ocean. Right here, I spotted dozens of fishermen standing shoulder to shoulder using long poles, usually without reels, dipping them frequently to try to attract fish. We stayed long enough to see a couple of fish caught. These were 5-8 inch long silver fish with a width of 1-2 inches. Some were being kept in creels and some were being thrown back. The fishermen, Pescadores, were mostly male but a few women were interspersed. Many sat of the wall fishing with a straw-containing mug next to them. They occasionally reached back to sip from the straw. I learned this was Mata.

A passing family poses with Marilyn with their fishing gear and mate cup

A young fisherman with his mate gear

Actually, Mata is the cup itself. It is used to drink a tea like drink prepared from store-purchased material called Yerba Mata, and looking and smelling like finely chopped tea leaves. I learned later in a store in one of the shopping centers about the Mata process. Mata is a gourd, which when dried and scooped out, leaves a cup sized bowl with a woody surface. The Mata acts upon the Yerba Mata in much the same way an oak barrel acts upon raw wine. Upon purchasing one of these devices, one must first season the Mata by filling it with the Yerba Mata, adding boiling water, and leaving it for a period of 2-7 days. This process draws out some toxins from the Mata material and adds some resins from the leaves. After 2-7 days, one pours out the wet leaves and scrapes the inside of the cup until the surface is smooth. One can then make and drink Mata from this device. We purchased an inexpensive version of the device and began the seasoning process upon returning to the ship. I’ll let you know what I think of Mata in a week or so. If we like it, we plan to buy a second one show each of Marilyn and I have a cup. We can use the hot water sources on the ship for the next 45 days, but we may then have to imitate the Uruguayans and purchase a thermos with an appropriate top valve to allow filling the cup. To prepare and drink the Mata, one uses a metal straw which operates through a spoon shaped strainer at the end. One fills the Mata bowl with dry Yerba Mata, adds boiling water, waits a few minutes and drinks the prepared “tea”. One simply adds more hot water as the water level in the cup falls too low, using the leaves over and over again for the better part of the day.

The Montevideo skyline along La Ramblas

Our ride lasted 10-15 miles along the coast over the next 2-2.5 hours and then back again after lunch. Along the ride, we saw many different faces of Montevideo. The beginning section of the ride was a lower income mixed commercial and residential section coming out of the port area. The people lived in 3-6 story apartment buildings, probably 20-40 years old, but interspersed with older buildings like churches and occasional municipal buildings. I don’t think this was a holiday, but the walls along La Rambla and some of the rock outcroppings further out in the beach and even into the water were liberally sprinkled with people fishing, perhaps 3-4 every fifty yards.

We moved into a more modern section with taller apartment buildings, up to 20 stories and some newer buildings housing organizations like Microsoft, Metropolitan Life Insurance, Ford dealers (with a Porsche dealer in the same building), and others. The path was moderately crowded with people, many walking and bikers every 50 yards. Few bikers wore helmets. On the water side, we saw a few remains from fortifications and other buildings. We saw fewer people with dogs, but soon, a dog walker leading 10 dogs passed by.

A dog walker follows ten dogs

La Rambla is flat near sea level, but we could see that the land inland rose up to 100 feet in many areas. We could see examples of buildings from earlier in the 20th century, built in the French and Spanish style. Church steeples also frequently rose above the surrounding buildings.

Gorgeous beach in downtown Montevideo

We came to a broad, deep beach right in the center of town. Nearby, we passed an amusement park with ice cream stores and a newer restaurant. The fishermen’s club controlled a section of the ensuing beach and had their own restaurant. We passed a military-owned warehouselike building which was collocated with some historic sites and contained tourist buses out front. What looked like another tourist bus turned out to be a parilla grill restaurant. Rising up a hill, we encountered a park containing another amusement park and a version of a Moscow Circus. Shortly thereafter, we passed a grassy park and found this was the Jewish Holocaust Memorial.

The Jewish holocaust memorial in Montevideo

Continuing on, we began to see newer apartment buildings, a few small hotels, and what surely must be more expensive than the area near the ship. We decided to try one of the hotel restaurants for lunch and found we were 30 minutes early at 1130am. We inquired about a nearby coffee shop/restaurant and were directed two blocks away up a hill to a shopping center. This was a walking hill for Marilyn, so we walked up it past newly-being-built upscale two and three story homes, interspersed with about 10% commercial establishments like motorcycle restoration shops, child care facilities, and eventually the shopping center.

Locking the bikes outside, we entered the shopping center coffee, perhaps lunch, and a Mata setup. The shopping center occupied several acres with a relatively modern two or three story facility containing clean, modern shops. We found a coffee shop and tasted their espresso, which was excellent. The price was slightly higher than we found in Argentina. The Uruguayan exchange rate was 19 to the dollar while the rate was 3.85 to the dollar in Argentina. They accepted my 100 peso Argentinean note and returned 140 Uruguayan pesos. After 30 minutes, we explored the shopping center further.The Montevideo ride was wonderful. The La Rambla is one of the best bike trails we’ve ridden. It goes on for nearly 15 miles along the Montevideo shoreline, is 10 yards wide and well paved the whole way and goes past representative sections of Montevideo.

The NCL Sun docked at Montevideo Monday morning after the 100 mile transit across the La Plata Bay. Our room lay immediately over one of the thruster engines used to help move the ship around a harbor when the forward speed is insufficient to give the rudder much force. As a result, we were awoken at 5am to a sound like a jet aircraft landing across the street. Fortunately, the noise lasted only a few minutes and we got back to sleep immediately. After breakfast on the ship, we prepared for the ride and untied our bikes from their ties to the railing across from the room. This was and will be a very convenient location for the bikes and our thanks go out to the NCL staff for their forbearance.

We tried a few leather stores, looking for purses and wallets. As in Argentina, we found the goods attractive, but not up to the quality of the top leather goods agents like Coach. The hardware was not as high quality and the linings were muslim rather than silk. Many of our shipmates found these great bargains, but we decided not to purchase. We were directed to a small kiosk for Mata guidance. Here, they showed us various Mata bowls ranging from US$20-50. They explained the Mata process and directed us to a nearby supermarket for the Yerba Mata itself.

The supermarket was wonderful, like we were used to at Whole Foods in the US. It had wonderful fruits and vegetables and also had prepared foods. The Yerba Mata section was five shelves high and 30 feet long. We sought guidance from one of the clerks stocking shelves nearby and selected a 1kg bag (about the size of a 5-lb sugar bag). We then found a $7 Mata setup and we were on our way to trying Mata.

Among several restaurants in the center, we chose one which advertised a Cheviso sandwich (traditional thick sliced beef sandwich with ham and cheese, lettuce and tomato, and even hard-boiled egg) on the menu. As you may remember from our planning blog, this was one thing I wanted to try. Marilyn ordered the broiled fish with mushrooms and capers. Hers came with small boiled potatoes and my sandwich came with a tall stack of French Fries. Dessert, dulce de leche ice cream, was included. The bill for everything, including soft drinks, came to US$22. The food was excellent.

We packed up, found and unlocked the bikes and negotiated back down the hill we had climbed to La Rambla to begin the ride back. The view in the opposite direction seemed different from the view on our way out. The beaches had more swimmers now, and we could see some of the establishments inland which weren’t apparent on the way out. I recognized the US flag flying over what I assumed was the US embassy. I noticed that each park had its own name and many were named after different nations, like Argentina, Peru, France, and Chile. Actually, the La Rambla street took on different names containing these same nations. The fishermen, too, seemed different. I saw more fish which had been caught. I watched while one young man worked against a fish for a minute or so, and then pulled it onto the sidewalk before unhooking it and throwing it back. This fish was larger by 50% than most of the others I saw being caught earlier, so I don’t know whether this was an undesirable species or is he was more of a sport fisherman than s sustenance fisherman.

Marilyn rides on La Ramblas

We took an alternate route back to the ship completely along the harbor rather than using the shortcut over the hill inland. Thus, we passed through the working port for a mile or so before entering the area where our cruise ship was moored. As we spotted the NCL Sun in the distance, I realized that Montevideo, like Buenos Aires, does not have a real cruise ship facility. There is no terminal and customs facility per se. Both were handled substantially aboard the ship itself. NCL had taken our passports, substituting our NCL ship’s ID card, and the Uruguayan guards accepted this for ID. (Earlier in Buenos Aires, when I objected to the taking of our passports, NCL gave us copies to use if needed. They weren’t needed in Montevideo.)

As we have found at other cruise ports, our return to the ship with the bikes was greeted on numerous occasions with questions from our fellow passengers whether we had rented the bikes ashore or brought them aboard ourselves. When we told them we brought them ourselves, all of these inquisitors reacted by saying what a good idea this was and that they would try to do this themselves soon in the future. We referred them to this blog. We will obtain business cards so we can be assured they will find us in the future.

Leave a comment

Filed under bicycle, bicycle cruising, bicyclecruising, bicycling, bike tour, cruise, cruise ship, cruising, cycling, day rides, tour, travel, Uncategorized

Montivideo Uruguay Plans 29 Mar 2010

Montevideo Plans
Route map

Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay and lies 100 miles from Buenos Aires across the bay of the La Plata River which is common to both cities. The city of 3 million persons is smaller than Buenos Aires but significantly less populous. See the Wikipedia entry here Cyclists have written here talking about rides centering on Montevideo. A description of the cruise port is here. Another good description of the city is found here. Based upon what I’ve found, I’ve planned the following trip along La Ramba, the shoreside road which stretches for 12 miles or more along the coast to the south and west.

Montevideo food specialties include Parillas, or grills, similar to the ones found in Buenos Aires. The country is also known for Mate, a tea like drink brewed from a local root and rumored to provide energy. We sill seek a Mate stand along La Rambia. We will look for a good Chivito sandwich, the local specialty filled with grilled meat, tomatoes, and onions, and follow it up with dessert at one of the famous pastry shops. I hear the caramels are prevalent and tasty.

Leave a comment

Filed under bicycle, bicycle cruising, bicyclecruising, bicycling, bike tour, cruise, cruise ship, cruising, cycling, day rides, tour, travel

Buenos Aires Visit and Rides, 1 Mar to 28 Mar 2010

Typical cafe outside the loft apartment in Palermo, a candidate we eventually decided against

Buenos Aires (BA) is the largest and capital city of Argentina with 13 million person population in the metro area. It is one or two time zones later than the US East Coast, depending upon daylight savings time, since Argentina doesn’t use daylight savings. The people speak Spanish but it is usually possible to find someone nearby who can use a few words in English, though not much. BA lies in the southern hemisphere, so the seasons are reversed from those of the northern hemisphere and March is summer here. Argentina has a population o
f about 40 million persons.

BA residents consider their city to be the Paris of South America, and I would agree with them. The city is very cosmopolitan with many wide boulevards, much remarkable new and hundred year old architecture, many museums, and a population which appears very European.
The history of Argentina parallels that of the US remarkably well. First explorers appeared in the 1500s and the country became independent of the colonial Spanish in 1811. By that time, most of the native South Americans had died or been deliberately removed. The country fought wars with its neighbors around the time of the US Civil War. It went through its industrial revolution and became very wealthy before the beginning of the 20th century. The country did not participate either in WW I or WW II. Thus its wealth grew through the 1950s. A series of political contests between labor groups on one side and wealthy landowners on the other side resulted in turmoil throughout the next 60 years.

Bob stands before the memorial to Eva Peron in Recoleta

The country was controlled by a military junta as recently as 1997, although democratic political parties now run the country. The military has the same size relative to the population that it has in the US, although it is not nearly as well funded. Argentina fought a war with the British in 1982 over control of the islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast called, by the Argentineans, the Maldives, and by the British, the Falkland Islands. Political arguing over the islands continues to this day, particularly because of possible oil finds there. Argentina also claims areas in the Antarctic Continent.

Typical vista downtown including fantastic turn of the 19th century architecture alongside new buildings

Waves of immigrants in the late 19th century populated Argentina with many ethnic groups from Europe, principally the Italians. Thus, more than half of the population claims Italian heritage with many from Spain and significant numbers from Ireland, from Greece, from Russia, and even from the Slavic region. One sees very many blond heads, many more than one sees in other parts of South America.
Transportation is easy in Buenos Aires. There are over 40,000 taxis and fares for most rides up to 3-4 miles cost US $5. There is a widespread subway and bus (US$0.20 per ride) system along with other trains for longer distances. The Argentine peso now trades at 3.85 to the dollar. This makes most meals cost between US $5-25 per person. We stayed in the Palermo district where most of the population lives in modern high rise apartments and monthly rentals for a nice furnished 1BR apartment can be had for under $900 per month. The roads are very busy and the drivers frenetic. The city built a 30 mile system of bike trails and that is soon to double.

Marilyn stands amazed by the wide boulevards in BA, up to 16 lanes across

We flew into Ezeiza airport without bikes and taxied to the Elevage Hotel downtown. The rest of the day, we got our bearings in the city and tried restaurants for lunch and dinner. I was amazed at lunch when the wine list included a bottle of Malbec wine for under $4. We tried it and liked it and began to appreciate consuming a bottle of wine with many meals. Marilyn loved the local custom of late meals, with children, often accompanying parents, at what for us is a late hour (close to midnight). Eating late, as a society, is part of the reason we look forward to staying in Barcelona. We began having dinners after 9pm. As we already knew, our US cell phone didn’t work on the European standard cell system, so we were forced to use the hotel line for local phone calls. We spent three days arranging for an apartment. The day after arriving, we looked at hotels which would fit our budget if we found rooms at $45 per day. No such thing. There were hotels in this price range but not the kind I would like to live in for a month—small, older rooms in buildings which were noisy and not entirely clean.

The next day we tried apartments, much more successfully. We liked a loft apartment in a very hip Palermo district, a brand new 2 BR more expensive unit in an area inhabited by families and older people, and finally settled on a very nice 1BR 7th floor apartment in a nice section of Palermo dense with cafes and restaurants and across the street from a small but modern supermarket, a bank, and even two nice Kosher restaurants. The place came with wifi and its own cell phone. We took it but had some trouble arranging to pay the rent because the manager wouldn’t accept a check or a credit card. We eventually arranged to use PayPal and some US cash dollars.

The living room of our three room 7th floor Palermo apartment

Next we arranged to buy two bikes. We visited Canaglia Bike shop nearby and saw bikes for $400-500 each. They sent us nearby to the bike shop at the nearby KDT training facility to try to buy a used bike because they rent a lot of bikes. KDT is an interesting place. They charged $A3 (Argentine pesos at about 3.85 pesos per dollar) each to get in and had a dozen clay tennis courts, several soccer fields, several basketball courts, a swimming pool, running tracks and a 1 mile bike track. They showed us satisfactory used bikes at $300-400 and we arranged to return the next day to pay by credit card and pick up the bikes. Upon returning, we learned they only accepted Visa while we had only current M/C and Amex cards. We tried to get cash from two ATM machines unsuccessfully, probably because I was asking for dollars. We finally left, planning to work with our card companies by telephone. I cleared up one problem with a card company and we went to the supermarket across the street to pick up groceries and household items. Spying an ATM inside the store, I succumbed to Marilyn’s request to try it and was pleasantly surprised to find I could get pesos, but only in batches of $A500. Using two different cards, I withdrew $A3000 to provide cash for the bike purchases and a little cash for walking around money. We have been pleasantly surprised in BA to find that the credit cards suffice in 95% of situations and to learn by perusing my statements online that they gave me a good exchange rate. I also learned that the ATM cash withdrawal was not so clean. I got charged about 15% for the process. When we went the next day to pick up the two bikes, Marilyn decided that hers wasn’t satisfactory because it was a unisex bike rather than a woman’s bike with the low central bar. We got her bike an hour later at Canaglia’s and were able to use a credit card. Both stores provided very efficient service and I would recommend them to anyone.

Having spied the traffic in BA, Marilyn voiced (polite description) her reticence (very polite description) to ride on many of the streets because of the frenetic driving habits. This led to my search for bike trails around town and resulted in the pleasant finding that bike trails could get us to much of the city. We used them extensively for the next 4 weeks and gradually moved onto regular streets in more and more places as our familiarity with the town grew. We never rode during rush hour (8-10am and 4-7pm). Nevertheless, we found the biking very satisfactory. On many days we rode to lunch at the Parillas (outdoor grill stands) at the Ecological Gardens, a 1 mile long and .5 mile wide separated wetlands and park along part of the city shoreline. Lunch for two costs $A 24 ($US 6.25—including coke light!) The ride required us to cross a canal for the yacht harbor. On the way back after lunch the first day, the swinging bridge broke while we waited for 4-5 yachts to leave the harbor and 2-3 to come in. We waited 20 minutes while they tried to break loose the bridge from whatever it was stuck on and then rode off to a permanent crossing half a mile away.

On some days we rode to several of the many museums in the Palermo area. We usually had lunch at a café nearby and found many wonderful places. The Croque Madame Café on the grounds of the Decorative Arts museum housed in a 100 year old French designed mansion was remarkable.

Croque Madam at the decorative arts museum, originally the Alvear mansion built in 1919.

Croque Madam at the decorative arts museum, originally the Alvear mansion

The Café Modena behind the Beaux Arts museum was also very pleasant. This café is across the street from the law and social sciences graduate school and houses an operating radio station which can be observed through windows into the restaurant. By the way, nearly every café has wonderful coffee—espresso only, no drip or even French press. The coffee beans, however, are not grown in Argentina. Much of their beans are from Brazil. (Warning to those of you wanting to mail coffee beans to family and friends. Can not do. There is a concern about insects—at least that is the reason we were given.) Pizza, empanadas, and Panini’s are on most menus but salads are almost always available—except for this one place across the street from our apartment. The salads are interesting because they frequently have little lettuce and an abundance of tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Wonderful olives are also common. Every place provides a bread basket (even the Chinese restaurant, which seemed out of place) with several rolls and crackers and about half the time we got an entire Boule style loaf of bread. The bread is terrific in Argentina if you like crispy rolls. Marilyn won’t eat those mushy hamburger and hotdog buns often associated with US barbecues. Not a problem in Argentina.

Thrice, we road north from our apartment into the park system. The first time on a Sunday, we were amazed to find tens of thousands of people walking, running, biking, and rollerblading along the internal park roads while cars were excluded for the entire day. A band played in one area and people danced. People picnicked or ate from one of the dozens of Parilla stands. The 1000 or more acre park was mobbed and all were having a great time. We rode through the park and encountered the hippodrome or race track. As we rode in front of the race track (which wasn’t being used at this time of the year) we passed several large buildings housing clubs (some private, some open) for the track. Seeking a place for lunch, we chose a place that seemed very popular—the Kansas Grill. This was an excellent choice because the view of the track was excellent, the food was great, and the people were very friendly—despite our lack of facility in Spanish. More than once we ordered what we thought was one item and got another. Bob thought that he ordered a chicken Caesar salad at Kansas and was served Chinese chicken salad. At other places Marilyn would point to platters served to other patrons to order the meal. It was a delightful adventure, and points to the lack of direct communication. I noticed that most of the customers were families, although the wine and beer was being served in quantity and the appointments of the place were somewhat luxurious. This turned out to be common in BA. Kids are routinely taken to very nice places and seem very well behaved. Both other customers and wait staff are very tolerant of kids wandering around. Leaving the grill, we rode further north and found the polo field across the street and a golf course at one end of the park. We rode across a commuter train track to the golf course and rode completely around it. As this was still in the park, there were people everywhere. We rode around an adjacent lake and then back through the park past the hippodrome, past the bandstand, and eventually back to our apartment. What a pleasant way to spend 4-5 hours on a Sunday afternoon. We liked it so much that we did it on each of the succeeding weekends.

We rode one day to the zoo nearby and spent the afternoon in the zoo. Not a great zoo by big city US standards, nevertheless, we had a good time. This zoo had the typical exhibits of lions, elephants, camels, bears, and deer, but it also had hundreds of smal0l mammals walking around amid the customers—a small deer species and a local species which looked like a cross between a large rabbit and a peccary. The park sells food to give to them.

One of the hundreds of little critters walking around the zoo

We sat through a sea lion show in Spanish and sat for gaseosas (sodas) at a café in the center of the park. It was a nice day, but I had the impression that the economical problems in Argentina are taking a toll here. Not much was newly painted and the paths were potholed.

Another two days, we paid ($A12 each for each day) to ride on the bus turista, an open double decked bus stopping at 12 places around the city over the course of a three hour route and allowing riders to get on and off as they walk around sites in each area. We used this to get to know the city early in our stay.

Bob gets an opportunity to wear tefillin during a chance encounter with two Chabad members at the marina.

Kosher McDonalds, the only ony outside Israel, in the Abasto shopping center

Marilyn stands before the National Capitol building next to the Supreme /court building. Just behind this monument lies the marker from which all distances are measured in relation to BA

The stops include major historic sites (Red House executive government area), Government Legislative and Supreme Court buildings, as well as neighborhoods like Recoleta (downtown’s early expensive housing and shopping area), La Boca (original port worker housing area at the turn of the century), the Marina, Florida Ave shopping mall, etc. I think this is well worth the effort and price.

I know we should have seen a Tango show and visited Café Tortina, but we just never got around to it. One needed to make reservations and our Spanish never got good enough to let us manage it over the telephone. Maybe next time.

People in Palermo love dogs. Nearly everyone owns at least one. Their dogs are generally very well behaved. I seldom heard any dogs barking and I never saw unfriendly interactions among dogs meeting during their walks. Many owners hire a walker to exercise their dog each day. It is common to see a walker trailing 5-10 dogs on a leash on a walk to one of the many large parks in Palermo. I often saw unleashed dogs following or leading this group. I don’t know whether these were particularly well trained dogs or were strays (I doubt it). Upon reaching the park, the walker would leash all dogs to one tree and then begin to split them up among many different trees, one to three to a tree, near one another. The walker would then release one or more of the dogs, which would tear around for a short time, then begin visits with the other dogs in its group and even other dogs from other groups. The walker commonly brought along dog treats and began distributing them among the dogs. The dogs stayed in the park for at least an hour. Mornings in the park one could see dozens of walkers with their broods. Occasionally, the walkers gathered themselves for a smoke and conversation or perhaps for lunch.

We loved the restaurants and cafes in BA, especially within walking distance (2 miles) of our apartment. The prices are low, the atmosphere is relaxed, and everyone serves wine. Steaks are the favorite fare on the menu. We quickly accustomed ourselves to the late dinner custom and seldom left for dinner before 9pm. At that, we usually got a good seat because we were earlier than most others in the city.

Lomo, or filet, is a favorite steak, but all the cuts are available. A double cut of filet (500grams or almost a pound) can be had for A$50 ((US$13) in most restaurants. I think the Argentineans like their steaks leaner and tougher than I commonly find in the US. The meat tasted great, but my knife and molars got a real workout. Vegetables do not seem to be as important on the menu. Potatoes are common, but other green and yellow or colored vegetables rarely make it to the table. Thus we made a special effort to add a salad to each meal.

Many restaurants serve Italian food including pasta, and some claim these Italian restaurants are among the best in the world. The Italian emphasis is an offshoot of the 19th century migration, mainly from Genoa. We especially like Bella Italia (There apparently are several restaurants named Bella Italia in BA). Many cafes center on a brick oven for pizza. We liked and frequented a place called Bakano, which was also very popular with the local crowd. It was nearly always filled. They sell beer by the mug, small bottle, or one liter bottle. Most tables shared one or two large bottles, although an elderly couple sat next us and polished off a large bottle themselves in less than 40 minutes while they had their pizza.

I also liked a local chain Helado (ice cream) café, Freddos. We frequently stopped there late in the afternoon for coffee. They serve a complementary small dip of mocha chip ice cream with your espresso. The place is frequently filled with young woman and girls (good place to pick up girls for you single guys) who seem to have the same schedule we had.
Among the cafes we also frequented was the Coffee Store. Sometimes we had late lunch there at 3pm and sometimes we just had coffee. As with many cafes, this was a Wifi hotspot, and we used the place for 4 hours one afternoon after we lost our cable and wifi in the apartment following an electrical storm which knocked out cable and servers for 6-12 hours overnight.

Getting our bicycles to the cruise ship turns out to be a hassle. The taxis in BA are numerous but tiny. I checked with a taxi driver early in the trip and he indicated that he could not take a bicycle in his vehicle. There are some larger vehicles used as taxis, but I couldn’t find one at a good time to ask the question. I was resolved to riding one bike to the ship while Marilyn took the bags in a taxi, then taking that taxi back to our apartment after I met Marilyn at the ship, and riding the second bicycle to the ship. This was eminently doable since the distance from our apartment to the pier was only about 3 miles, or about 20 minutes on a bike. Nevertheless, Marilyn called Augusto, our apartment middle man, and asked him to speak to the taxi company and see if anything could be worked out. It could. They said we’d need to take both wheels off each bike, but that two taxis could carry everyone and everything. Augusto set up our appointment to meet the taxis right after we checked out of the apartment, and all worked out well. Thanks, Augusto.

We loved BA and plan to come back. The weather in March was very comfortable with temperatures ranging from 60-70 degrees F in the mornings and highs around 80 degrees. It had rained heavily in mid February before we arrived, but we encountered rain on only 2-3 days. This is an excellent option for the northern hemisphere winter season. But we have to do more to learn Spanish. Ciao.

Leave a comment

Filed under bicycle, bicycle cruising, bicyclecruising, bicycling, bike tour, cruise, cruise ship, cruising, cycling, day rides, tour, travel, Uncategorized

St Petersburg FL 30 Dec 09 – 25 Feb 2010

St Petersburg, Florida December 31, 2009 – February 28, 2010

Condos north of St Pete from the shoreline

After bringing our bikes by shuttle to Tampa, we biked around Tampa only a little, while we set to work finding a more permanent residence in the area than our hotel. We found rental houses on Craigslist for under $1000 per month and chose nine to visit. Several were acceptable, but we settled for a small four room separate house in the suburbs north of the town of St Petersburg.

It’s easy to find nice things to say about St Petersburg, and I plan to do so in just a bit. But first, I must tell you that our one problem with St Petersburg, and much of Florida during our two month stay, was the weather. It was uncomfortably cold too much of the time, as low as 32F a few days after we arrived. I usually wore both a cashmere sweater and an Alaska down parka at the same time—especially needing it when we were riding the bikes in 35-45 degree weather. The publicity about Florida’s temperature was often downright deceptive. They just don’t want you to know how cold it was. When given evidence of the cold, all residents would shrug it off as an outlier, assuring us that it would get warm, too warm soon. It never did, not for the two months. As we left Florida, I to Miami, and Bob to Hawaii (to officially retire,) the pilot said on the Miami landing that the temperature was 70 degrees. A lie! Not even close. All of this nonsense goes on because tourism is such a big part of Florida’s economy, but to attempt to keep the temperature a secret is just not right. So, although the rest of what I (Marilyn) have to say is favorable, you won’t get me going back soon.

I’ll talk about our house, the neighborhood, the museums, the restaurants, the Wine Cellar, and my favorite, number one place in St Petersburg, Crescent Park.

Marilyn loves Crescent Lake Park because she can feed the birds and squirrels. Here, the ibis's are following her around.

Our house was small but comfortable with four rooms and a DOUBLE bed. Can you imagine? I couldn’t, but we made do. And guess what? We’ve got a double bed in Buenos Aires too. (After Buenos Aires we’re on to a six week cruise where we WILL have more than a double bed.) Our St Petersburg house had a large yard with pretty landscaping including lots of fruit trees. These trees were the highlight of the rental. Three of them were oranges, one grapefruit, and two lemons. One other tangerine tree had finished fruiting so we never tasted them. Bob would jog most mornings, and I so enjoyed watching him come in with fresh picked fruit. We had a juicer, so Bob would make fresh juice most mornings—orange for him and grapefruit for me. Can you imagine how wonderful it is to freshly pick, then juice, then drinking the fruit? A delight!

The area we lived in was very quiet with pleasant neighbors. As we were starting on a ride, one of the neighbors invited us into his home to see his stained glass windows. He had been taking pictures of large black birds with his telephoto lens and Bob asked him what they were because he had seen them here and in Central America. They were turkey vultures. They could always be seen overhead circling at more than 200 feet up. In the mornings, Bob frequently saw them while jogging in a flock of several dozen as they left their roost and sorted out the territories for the day. It turned out that another neighbor went to the same school (Punahou) as our children. We had an easy chat, and later had dinner with them.
Our landlords were just delightful people. They felt so badly about us biking in the cold weather that they often lent one of their cars to us–a Lexus no less! We used a car to visit distant restaurants at night and to go to the movies because we don’t like to ride the bikes after dark. After nearly two weeks with the cold weather I had it and we rented a car for a long weekend, and then every other weekend of our stay.

Our landlords are good people. We found out that they help people who need it, giving scholarships to children to get them on a successful path, and even invite children to spend the summer with them. They organized a party on our behalf soon after we visited, giving us the opportunity to meet a few dozen of their friends. One couple, the wife actually, is from Buenos Aires and gave us useful advice on our move to Argentina. Based on that discussion, we chose to live in Palermo in Buenos Aires. More on Palermo in the Buenos Aires section. (It was WARM the whole time in Buenos Aires. It rained a few days, but it was warm.)

Usually we biked every day beginning at 1030am and getting back around 5pm. The rides ranged from 12 to 30 miles.

A blue heron on the beach

St Petersburg has an extensive bike trail system along its streets and in special parks. One trip we often took was the 7 mile ride into town along the water.

Manatee in the bay across from Snell Isle

Here, we saw a Manatee once, pelicans in great numbers every day, eagles and turkey vultures circling in the sky, ospreys catching and carrying fish, cormorants fishing, gulls working along the beaches, sailboats and kayaks and fishing boats galore, and many friendly interesting people.

Hawk in park dines on recently killed squirrel as several persons watch

Many people bike in St Petersburg, but we were surprised how many used no helmet. I also saw many people using wheelchair vehicles powered by their arms. I believe some of the people I saw had no disability but used this vehicle for additional exercise. One complete circular trail includes the beach trail we rode but adds other trails which cross into a very high-priced area called Snell Isle. As a matter of fact, our landlords lived here. Another trail took us north toward the causeways leading to Tampa past a greyhound racing track and then into a large wildlife preserve along Tampa Bay which also houses a power plant. We happened upon this route on the day a planned burn occurred next to the preserve. We watched the fire trucks as they modified the fire’s path so nearby homes would not be damaged.
We found that a lot of drivers honk at bicyclists. Although Bob thought they were just being polite to warn us that they were passing, I know that many of them just didn’t like bicyclists on their roads because they said so to me as they passed!
St Petersburg is having many problems with the recession. The unemployment rate in the area is the highest in the US, around 12%. Home foreclosures and short sales are everywhere, and housing prices are one third of their former prices in many areas. Many stores and restaurants were closed. The tourist business is well off its peak and the cold weather wasn’t helping. There is a lot of old money around, but many of the young people are really hurting. The region is building a new education industry with University of South Florida. But we still saw many people begging along the road and looking for places to sleep in the parks.

We were amazed at how much of the business caters to well off older tourists. Every block had a veterinarian and a pet store catering to visiting animals. I have never seen so many fortune telling shops and massage therapy shops, usually one on every other block. And the specialist doctors catering to gerontological problems were everywhere with large billboards—joint specialists, plastic surgeons, diabetes clinics, and many more. St Petersburg is very animal friendly. Nearly everyone has a dog. We encountered people walking their dogs on almost every block all day long during our rides. Many are special pedigreed dogs of astonishing variety. It would appear that many of the snowbirds, the winter visitors, bring their dogs, and that the local businesses accommodate their needs. I even saw a few animal rehabilitation clinic.

Although we planned on visiting a bunch of museums, we wound up visiting only three—the Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Peterburg’s History Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts. On a bike ride early into the St Petersburg visit we happened on the Holocaust Museum. Any of you who have visited such a museum understand that it’s a tough couple of hours, but one that we’re obliged to experience. The horrendous pictures of death, pictures of those responsible for the catastrophe smiling at their trial, and standing in the same room with one of the death cars makes for a sober time. I read that there also is a holocaust museum on our upcoming cruise.

I learned that St Petersburg developed as a railroad town started by a gent from Russia. By a coin flip with his partner, he got to name it and he chose to name it after a town in Russia he liked. This might explain why we found so many people from Russia here, although I bet they came in the most recent migration after the fall of the Soviet Union. There is also a heavy Greek influence with many of the restaurants serving Greek food and being owned and operated by Greeks. This probably comes from the influence of the fishermen who came here. We found many stores and restaurants run by people from the Balkans. Latinos and Cubans have a strong representation here too. Our first meal was in a Cuban restaurant which closed two days later. This was a shame for us because we really liked the food.
St. Petersburg’s History Museum looks at the development of St Petersburg, giving special attention to the role Florida, and the south, initially played in discriminating against blacks. The museum initially lets you know about the discrimination, but then quickly talks about coming around to the demand for an integrated society. (I sense that the segregationist time is an embarrassment with the exhibit trying to turn the corner on the behavior.) One of their exhibits includes original Florida Highwaymen paintings, 26 black artists who drew the Florida landscape on inexpensive Upson boards from their garages and back yards from 1950s – 1980s, selling the pictures for $25. These paintings are now worth $5,000 or more. In 2004 the original 26 artists were inducted into the Florida Artist Hall of Fame. Early in the history of St Petersburg, a trip to Tampa took several days to cover the 100 miles back up the peninsula and around to Tampa. There were no causeways across the bay. It was a big deal in the period just before WWI when a barnstorming pilot built a seaplane and took the first passenger directly to Tampa. In this case it was the mayor himself who was a great advocate of flying. Since then, St Petersburg has been close to the airline industry and the museum has a section on that history. We admired a replica of the first St Petersburg-Tampa airboat which flew from St Petersburg to Tampa in 1914. Our timing was perfect as we happened on one of the builders of the replica, spending nearly an hour talking with him about the import of and development of the plane. The plane had been lowered to the floor and we could see and touch features of the plane as he talked about it. We learned later that this was a hugely unusual opportunity and most residents have never seen the plane anywhere other than high up near the 30 foot high ceiling.

The museum also highlighted the association of the town with boating, showing photos from the St Petersburg Yacht Club over the past 100 years. A fun afternoon! The last museum we visited was the Museum of Fine Arts. It’s a local museum, which also exhibited some of Fernando Botero’s work. Botero, a Latin American painter, sculptor and draftsman, created outsized figures. Rather odd, actually. I was curious on his sizing of people, working at finding what turned out to be a current picture of the downright slim painter. Regardless, in a recent museum visit in Palermo I quickly spotted some of his works.
We also planned to visit baseball spring training, but found that our information that training began 2 Feb was off by three weeks. We never got a chance to see the players.

Eating out is my favorite form of entertainment! (I’m very careful of the amount that I eat, but I/we do eat well.) We’re ready to spend money on good food either at a restaurant or in our home. Let me clarify that eating well doesn’t equate, in my book, with spending a bunch of money on “fine dining” although now and then it’s ok to splurge for the setting. We found several places to eat in St Petersburg where we enjoyed it enough to want to go back at least a second time. The only restaurant that was a disappointment was Yummy Mammas, a Russian restaurant that just didn’t work. As part of the restaurant Yummy Mammas had a grocery store which sold items. We ordered two appetizers. The waiter went into the grocery store, took out a few frozen items from the frozen section of the grocery department. These items were not homemade by the restaurant. They steamed then served the frozen pastries. We also ordered lamb shanks. We got a shish-ka-bob that was very tough. We never went back. Our favorite place to eat breakfast, and sometimes even dinner was Tick Tock. More than descent service, and good tasting. Tick Tock is a nice diner. The prices are right. The portions are huge.

An osprey sits atop a light standard next to the Tick Tock restaurant

Special places to eat included Ceviche, a super tapas place. Ceviche also has a nice Sunday brunch. Sunday brunches (and in some cases both Saturday and Sunday) are readily available. We also enjoyed both evening meals and brunches at Red Mesa (yummy upscale-type Mexican food and great hot chocolate at the brunch—only at the brunch), L’ Moe’s (eclectic), Pepin (Spanish) and Bowled (a fusion-style restaurant). L’Moe’s promotes their orange cake (remember Florida oranges?), while we especially enjoyed Pepin’s whole pompano baked in salt. Bowled offers a varied brunch menu, but their coffee is no good. (I tried it three times!) Order tea. If you’re into Italian food, try Gigi’s. Bob enjoyed their antipasto, while I favored angel hair pasta with red clam sauce. Truly yummy! We also ate twice at The Melting Pot, a fondue restaurant , part of a chain. This particular restaurant is known for its wine list, but the fondues were excellent, especially the dessert chocolate fondues. We were advised to try a Chinese restaurant nearby in a strip mall, ABC Seafood. We ranked this among the best Chinese restaurants we’ve found anywhere. They serve fish from live fish tanks. It is usually filled with local Asian families and the few non-Asians who have learned the secret. In visiting downtown St Petersburg you probably also want to visit The Pier, a pleasant enough touristy area that includes a few restaurants and a few fast food places. The best, we thought, was The Columbia restaurant which serves decent Spanish tapas. A favorite drink item on most of the restaurants throughout St Petersburg is sangria. We’ve had various styles (made with red wine, white wine, sparkling white wine and kava) finding them quite nice actually. Kava sangria is my favorite. (See Pan era Bread in the crescent park section.) Finally, we found a synagogue in Gulfport, 15 miles to the south of our house, which welcomed us. Nearby was a Gulfport staple seafood restaurant which we visited several Fridays. The owner was very friendly, the food very good, and the experience memorable. Be sure to go early to accommodate the wait for the early bird special customers to finish, seating you in time to still attend services.
Soon after moving to St Petersburg we happened on the Wine Warehouse, a wine store within walking distance to our house. We bought Malbec, wanting to taste a wine generally grown in Argentina. The owners invited us to their twice weekly wine tastings on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. For a $3 donation you got to taste 5 different wines, but after a few visits we realized that people came to more than taste. Getting together at the Wine Warehouse was a social event, like going to the movies. People would buy a bottle of wine to share among those at the tasting who also bought a bottle to share. Soon after our arrival we began to regularly attend Saturday afternoon tastings and Friday night services. Temple Beth-El, a reform synagogue on Pasadena avenue was just right for us. Temple Beth-El’s congregation was friendly, seemingly active and offered nice onegs! The combination of at least these two activities make it clear to us that we could easily develop a ready social network were we interested in staying longer.
I love animals. When we left Hawaii we ensured that seven of our eight cats were properly taken care of (Friends for Life), with the eight cat holding forth in our son and daughter-in-law’s. For that I am eternally grateful. I miss the cats and I have a hard time making sense of my day without access to animals. We stopped by Panera Bread, an upscale fast food type place that served sandwiches, salads and soups. We visited this place at least a dozen times. The second time Bob noticed a nearby park, suggesting we visit. Crescent Park was my refuge in cold weather. Here was my refuge in nice weather, and most importantly here was my refuge for lack of cats. The birds that frequented the park included ibis’, two kinds of gulls, great, small and snowy egrets, great and small blue herons, cormorants, osprey, bald eagles, black vultures, pelicans, storks, moorhens, crows and anhinga (which swim with their body under water and only their neck above water.)

A stork at Crescent Lake Park

And, my special friends, the squirrels! The animals and the people who visit have such a wonderful relationship based on respect and trust. The birds and squirrels walk ever so close to you to be fed. The parks natural inhabitants seem only to fear dogs that walk with their owners. Crescent Park is a natural tranquilizer. A perfect place to meditate!

Leave a comment

Filed under bicycle, bicycle cruising, bicyclecruising, bicycling, bike tour, cruise, cruise ship, cruising, cycling, day rides, tour, travel, Uncategorized

Tortola Ride, 27 Dec 2009

Looking back at the ship and the bay from the first hillcrest

Tortola, about 15 miles long and 3 miles wide, is one of the British Virgin Islands and is actually one of the largest. The center of the island consists of high hills or mountains more than 1000 feet above sea level. Our cruise ship, Grandeur of the Seas, docked in the Road Harbor port in the town of Road Town on the south side of the island. The day was gray as Yaffa and I got an early start around 9am. We walked the bikes off the ship onto the pier and carefully road down the pier into the harbor area to get started on our ride. Dive boats were already picking up the cruise ship passengers who had booked dives at various places around the island. Our plan was to make our way through the hawkers near the port into the town and immediately turn east for the coastal road that skirts the coast to the eastern tip of the island about 8-10 miles away. We were looking to scout out the coastline and beaches along the way and consider crossing the island to the north side using a road about 5-6 miles from the port. If that turned out to be feasible, then we would also check out some of the beaches on the north side of the island. From our ride on St. Maarten, I had gotten the impression that the water and scenery on the north side of the islands facing the Atlantic Ocean were somewhat different from the water and scenery facing the Caribbean on the south side.

The road immediately through the town was flat and smooth and led us past relatively new government buildings and a small shopping area, probably for tourists and well off local residents. I gained comfort from seeing two apparent residents also riding along our route. We passed into a more industrial area containing small businesses which supplied the harbor and the ships using the harbor, and then moved into greener tree lined areas on the east side of the harbor. We then encountered our first hill as the road rose a few hundred feet before turning on a switchback. We stopped to rest and take a photo of the harbor and our ship. For the best view, we climbed a driveway of the home on the lookout.

Clifftop home on Tortola

The home was unoccupied this Sunday morning, but seemed to be about 2000 sq ft in area on one level, probably built 5-15 years ago.

Yaffa snaps a pic from the first hilltop

Here, also, Yaffa began her pleas to me to be careful to move as far off the road as possible when stopping, because the cars were swinging wide to make the turns. There weren’t many cars on the road, perhaps one every two minutes, but most drivers seemed to be practicing for a grand prix race, using as much of the road as was available to negotiate the frequent switchbacks and turns.

I quickly realized that our ride was not to be an easy one. Although the road (now called Waterfront Drive) follows the coast, it rose and dipped several hundred feet as it alternated between the crests of the cliffs and the lower beach area which cropped up every half mile or so. It was a ride of constant climbs and downhill coasts to the water. I had to stop and walk at more than one of these climbs. I tried to concentrate on the birds circling overhead to take my mind off the effort. The birds were large and black, probably turkey vultures.

We passed many isolated houses both in the cliffs and near the beaches. All seemed to be 1-3 room wooden structures and somewhat weathered. Some of them had chickens running around and a few had larger animals like cows and pigs. We also encountered a few churches which served a few dozen to a few hundred worshippers on this Sunday morning. At some of them, I could hear the singing. But this was definitely not a wealthy area. We passed bays called Boughers Bay, Fish Bay, and Brandywine Bay. A few wooden and an occasional steel fishing boats could be seen moored near some houses in each of the bays. The ride was exhausting because of the frequent climbs. We stopped at a few places to take photos, but I think the real reason was to get a short rest. At one of the stops, we spied a small pack of dogs about 200 yards walking toward us and decided discretion was the better part of valor and that we had best get on our way least we might find ourselves in a confrontation with a pack of dogs of unknown intentions.

Continuing on, the road moved inland for a while and then turned toward the coast again, where we spotted an offshore island called Buck Island. The road now turned north again through a somewhat more populated area and we eventually came upon a town called Parham town. Here was where the road split and one fork headed toward the north side of the island. But the hills between us and the north side looked forbidding, perhaps more than a thousand feet high. That sapped my desire to see the north side. We stopped at a local police station to ask advice about the road north and the road further east. The officer looked at me as if I were crazy when I asked about riding north. He moved his hand in an exaggerated up and down motion and I got the idea that there was no 100 foot high pass to get to the north side. I asked about the ride east to and past the airport. He indicated this was not so rugged but that the airport was a very small one. We decided to ride on nevertheless to and past the airport.

I was two aircraft flying nearby before we spied the airport, but the officer was right. This was definitely a small airport with a single runway and not many amenities. We rode just past the airport to get a view of the east end of the island—and then we decided to turn back.
We retraced our steps past the airport and Parham town before coming to an inn at the side of the road which looked ideal for lunch and an extended rest. We had trouble finding an entrance door but a hostess inside pointed out the way and we entered the tavern. We were the only customers, but it was just before noon on a Sunday. The place was decorated with British insignia and naval flags and seemed able to hold a pretty raucous crowd at its best times of the day (or night).

Decorations inside the tavern near Parham Town on Tortola

Pirate themes abounded and ship models were at several tables. In the back was a porch with tables fronting onto its own harbor. I saw no boats but remnants of small skiffs were underwater. The water was very shallow, no more than a foot or two for 20-30 yards out. I assume the tides in the area are significant and the water gets to be 5 feet high or so at high tide. The water near the porch contained 6-inch stickle fish and guppy sized fish, but not much else.

Shallow bay outside the tavern

Across the bay we could see some larger boats. These may have been boats holding divers collected from the cruise ship. We opted for the breakfast—I had pancakes and Yaffa had scrambled eggs. The food was tasty and well prepared and the coffee was excellent. Most of all, the rest was wonderful.

Lanai area at the tavern on Tortola

After two rounds of coffee, we finally dragged ourselves back onto the bikes to complete the trip back to the boat. The hills didn’t get any shallower, but the knowledge that we were on the way home drove us on. The return trip took about ninety minutes and was relatively uneventful. As we climbed the last hill and turned on the downhill with the ship in site about 1-2 miles away across the harbor, I felt almost giddy. I even felt stronger and a little bit refreshed. The ride through the town on the flat was invigorating, and we turned into the port area near the ship. I noticed much more activity in the port area at this time of the day (about 3pm) than earlier in the morning. Several sailboats were leaving port, perhaps for a sunset dinner. We dismounted near the ship and I finally realized how tired I was. After boarding the ship and putting the bikes away, I met Marilyn with Yaffa and we headed to the buffet. I think I had 6 glasses of iced tea.

Leave a comment

Filed under bicycle, bicycle cruising, bicyclecruising, bicycling, bike tour, cruise, cruise ship, cruising, cycling, day rides, tour, travel, Uncategorized

San Juan PR Report 24 Dec 2009

We cruised on the Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas from Tampa to San Juan Puerto Rico. The trip involves two days at sea beginning with 55 degree temperatures in Tampa, gradually rising to 75 degrees as the ship rounds the tip of Florida and sails north of Cuba. The ship pulled into San Juan on the third morning.

Since this was a family cruise with four generations making up the family, Marilyn was unable to do much biking because she spent much of her time with her mother and our granddaughter. Instead, she offered my daughter Yaffa the opportunity to ride with me during the cruise. Yaffa gladly took up the gauntlet. I should let you know that she is an avid bicycle commuter in Philadelphia, making use of the bicycles Marilyn and I had brought back from Europe in 2007—both of which are folding bicycles. We adjusted the seat on Marilyn’s bike and offered Yaffa Marilyn’s helmet. And we were off!

San Juan was warm and sunny. We could see the port area from the ship as the ship was docking around 7am. I had earlier decided from my perusal of the internet maps of San Juan that we would first go west from the port through the old city to a large fort and a huge plantation structure at the West end of the San Juan peninsula. But, somehow, I had not read the maps correctly and assumed we were docking on the south side of Puerto Rico, meaning we should start out turning right out of the port area. We left the port easily and moved through a small tourist area into a more industrial/commercial area as we hugged the coast for a mile or two. I began getting uncomfortable with this path because we weren’t seeing anything like a fort, so we decided to stop at a gas station for some assistance. The station attendant was no help because we couldn’t communicate in Spanish, but she suggested we try a bar next door. After a series of strikeouts, we eventually found an English speaker who indicated he didn’t know the geography and suggested we try getting a map at the gas station. Returning to the gas station, we learned they had no maps. Nevertheless, I decided I had been wrong with my initial directions and we retraced our earlier ride, passed the ship and found the tourist area I had been expecting. This part of San Juan had narrow streets lined with shops selling t-shirts, trinkets, and other garments along with a few restaurants and bars—very colorful, but slow going on a bike. And it soon turned hilly.
We negotiated 6-8 blocks of shopping area before we encountered the old fort area.

Fortress in Old City. Imagine the difficulty of attacking this area by sea.

It was worth the trip. The buildings here made up a 400 year old city with naval embattlements and great views of the port area and the large industrial area across the bay.

Looking back across the bay from the citadel.

We took the requisite pictures of statues and cannons and appreciated riding up and down several cobblestone paved hilly streets before we reached the plateau above the harbor and the plantation and fortifications reaching to the end of the peninsula.

Example of the colorful buildings in San Juan

This area was several hundred feet above the coastline below, but contained both a very large castle-like fortified area and a 1000-foot square grassy area, commonly used by the children of San Juan to fly kites because the winds were swift and steady.

Prime kite flying territory at the old plantation on the western tip of the peninsula containing San Juan

Old San Juan from the kite yard

We rode up the grassy hill and spied 5-10 children and their parents flying kites, which were also being sold from carts.

Signs in Spanish fascinated Yaffa

Upon crossing the grassy area, we considered riding to the castle-like fortifications at the tip of the peninsula but decided, instead, to turn to the east and follow the northern coast.

Old Puerto Rico

The ocean was magnificent and we could see gorgeous waves breaking for miles along the coast to the east. The gulls and seabirds floated above the waves and fished in the ocean. We saw many of the birds we became familiar with from Central America—the large raven-like birds, split tail seabirds, but also gulls. We coasted down the shallow hill for several miles, passing first many other very old buildings making up the original plantation house and then moved into the newer part of the city containing government buildings and foreign consulates. I was interested by the variety of colors which clothed the buildings, very different from what one finds in other US cities. We were heading around the bay, seeking a way across the water to ride toward the airport there.

Unfortunately, there is no really good bike route to get there. The only choice is to use a bridge/causeway which is a major highway. On the way, we passed through a very pretty park containing tennis courts, a swimming complex, and a running track complex used to train Puerto Rico’s entrants in the next Olympics. This ride was pleasant and even allowed some interactions with the walkers and joggers who use the park for daily exercise.

But soon we embarked upon the perilous trip across the causeway which was Puerto Rico Route 2. At first we could ride on the shoulder of the road. Then we tried to ride on the grassy area beyond the road’s protective railing. That soon also ran out. When we got to the bridge, we had no choice but to walk the bikes on a two feet wide walking path across the bridge lasting half a mile. Eventually, we found a rideable shoulder and used that to complete the crossing. We entered a mile or two of car dealerships before reaching an area which the map indicated would allow us to travel on a road adjacent to the highway 2. We kept looking for this road and never found it. At one point, we jumped a fence and started riding onto a road surface through a port logistics area which eventually led to a dead end. This area of San Juan is very industrial and somewhat uninteresting. We never found a path to the airport. We returned to Route 2 and rode for a few more miles toward another large urban area, eventually deciding to return the way we had come and look for a late lunch in San Juan. We stopped at the Lexus dealership and found a salesman who spoke very good English. He started when he heard we has come across the Route 2 Bridge and told us we only had to keep on the frontal road on the right of the main highway to find another easy pedestrian/bike friendly bridge. We followed his instructions past a golf course and never did find such a pathway. We had to jump a fence back onto highway 2 and brave the racing cars and trucks before negotiating the 2-feet wide walkway across the bridge we had used on the way out.

Having negotiated the bridge, we found the path back an easy one if only a little bit hilly. We entered the University area and reached a park along the north coast which contained those beautiful waves we had earlier seen from the heights. Amazingly, we also met my son and his family who were part of our family cruise. They were traveling in an SUV with a college roommate who lived in San Juan.

Surfers on some very good waves at the break on the north side of San Juan

We exchanged greetings, took many pictures of the surfers negotiating the thundering waves several hundred yards off shore, and decided to return to the ship and look for lunch/dinner.

We didn’t find a place we could agree upon for lunch before we arrived at the port area. Since Yaffa was looking for postcards and t-shirts, we spent some time shopping and decided upon lunch at the Koconut, clearly a tourist trap just outside the cruise terminal. My son and daughter in law had suggested we try the coconut wrapped meals, so we ordered one of these here along with a fish plate. If this was a tourist trap, the tourists were in for very good eats! The meals were great and unique. I downed a Puerto Rican brewed beer and relaxed here for an hour. We met an Australian couple and their two children who had dashed off another cruise ship for some souvenirs and eats. They indicated the boarding time for their ship had already passed and they were willing only to spend 15 minutes for the meal. They ordered but the meal was so late arriving that they could only take a bite and take the rest with them. Fat chance! The cruise ships do not let any food to be brought onto the ships for fear of bringing insects or their eggs which would contaminate other islands. No food and no fresh fruits or vegetables, I think.

We returned up the hill to the souvenir area on the bikes for an hour’s shopping before coasting down the hill to the ship and ending the adventure.
Overall, I had a very positive memory of San Juan. The city has many pretty areas. The architecture is distinctive, including very old and very new designs and building methods. There clearly is a mix of rich and poor, but I saw no squalor like I had seen in Central America. I was surprised to find so much trouble communicating in English, but I realize I should learn Spanish if I want to travel in an area so heavily Hispanic. I found the people to be friendly, the weather to be very comfortable, the scenery to be appealing, and the riding to be good—if only there were a way across the harbor other than highway 2!

Leave a comment

Filed under bicycle, bicycle cruising, bicyclecruising, bicycling, bike tour, cruise, cruise ship, cruising, cycling, day rides, tour, travel, Uncategorized