I arrived in the Dominican Republic this afternoon. Since Neil and I are doing simultaneous spring breaks across the world, I think it’s only natural that we have dueling blog posts.
Today my friend Anna & I cruised around Santo Domingo in the Colonial Zone, home to the oldest church in the America, the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor. It was started in 1512 and completed in 1540.
It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In yo’ face Neil!
Loved these faces on the gate guarding the church.
I was worried about finding something to eat, but when I found a place willing to make me a vegetarian paella, I knew things were looking good. Way to cater to strange tourist requests La Llave del Mar!
We were the only ones in the restaurant, but this man serenaded us with upbeat piano tunes the whole time. (Yes that is a stuffed shark above him.)
On our way back to the hotel for a siesta, I found a street cart selling magnum bars. Mmm-mmm. I’m going to like it here!
Jesse (my brother) and I are in the middle of our 24-hour stay in Istanbul, Turkey on our way to Nairobi, Kenya. All I can say so far is that Istanbul is both historic and tasty. Yesterday after arriving we visited the Blue Mosque which very grand with multiple domes gilded in beautiful Islamic calligraphy, 6 minarets, and an Egyptian obelisk just outside the gate.
Next we went to the Grand Bazaar which is one of the oldest enclosed shopping centers in the world that is still in use being built in 1400′s. There we hundreds of stalls selling gold, carpets, clothing, and touristy stuff. What was really amazing was to think how many people had walked through that huge market over the years.
What was really amazing though was the baklava we had on the way home. We stopped at the Gaziantepli Bayzade Baklava store which has been making and selling baklava since 1929. We got a a sampling of different flavors including some Turkish delight and all of them were astounding. In fact, after walking up at 3 am because of jet-lag we finished off the rest of our box. As soon as it is light we are headed back to get a few boxes to share.
Kate was feeling extra lazy and just about decided to skip out on our planned trip to Nicaragua for a nap. Luckily my good lucks and irresistible charm convinced Kate this was a good idea and bus sleeping was just as good as bed sleeping. We ended up taking 3 buses and a taxi to get to our hotel in Granada, Hotel Con Corazon. It was an amazing hotel with a pool and an anything-you-want breakfast, and all of the proceeds go to a Foundation that helps Nico kids pay school fees and other development projects. In Granada we took a horse carriage tour, visited old churches and basked in the colonial splendor.The food was amazing and cheap and the people very, very nice. The lady that gave us our carriage tour was absolutely the most jolly woman I think we have ever met, even though her mother had died 8 days earlier. She said that she was thinking about her mother when we came up to her and so her mother sent us to her. She was the greatest. If you ever go to Granada, look for a jolly woman with short hair named Carmen (also known as Conjejito) to give you a tour. (see horse carriage photo below)
We also happened to be in town for a running of the bulls. We hopped in a truck with grated metal around the bed and feared for lives, but it was a great chance to get some photos of Nicaraguan cowboys.
We also decided to rent a car and drive to a few other towns including Masaya, a small pottery village called San Juan de Oriente (where we loaded up on ceramics), Leon viejo (old ruins from 1500′s) and Leon. We bought more souvenirs than we can carry and (un)fortunately Kate forbade me from buying a 40 pound antique catholic statue of Jesus (we got a much lighter wooden statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe instead). Nicaragua is amazing, safe, tasty and fun. If you are looking for a good time in Central America: our advice is skip Costa Rica and head straight for Nicaragua!
The following is an unorganized photo-regurgitation from our trip. Leave a comment if you want to know about any particular photo.
The second to last day (if we don’t count the 14 hours in a bus as a day) we went to Panama Viejo, Old Panama. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the ruins of the first Panamanian city settled in 1519 but later abandoned for a more strategic location. We got there just as it closed and didn’t have to pay the entrance fee. From the top of the old church tower, amazingly still standing, we could see the ancient city as well as the skyline of the new city. Almost all the skyscrapers (rasca cielos, literally sky scratchers) have been built in the last 10 years.
Upon decent from the tower an old man stopped us from wandering further and told us we needed to leave because we had not paid. We told him how the fee collecting gate-lady had let us in but he was skeptical. We left. Outside the gated part of the park are additional ruins and so we wandered through them. About 5 minutes later a policia turistica on a bike showed up. He told us the neighborhood was extremely dangerous and we needed to leave ASAP. We wandered a little further through the ruins to the side of the road. The tourist cop showed up again and demanded we leave immediately. He even flagged down a cab for us that already had one passenger because our attempts were not speedy enough. He was acting like he was saving us from impending doom. Either that, or he wanted to go home for the night and didn’t want to follow us around any longer.
Needless to say the ruins were very interesting and it was too bad we did not have enough time to look through them all. I think there are also some museums around the area that we did not get a chance to see either. Here are the photos: