Pictured is the bride and groom table at my cousin Annette’s wedding on March 5. The reception took place in La Concha resort in San Juan (Condado) Puerto Rico, and as I’m sure you can tell just from this photo, was a beautiful affair. Congratulations, Annette and Roberto!
I am lucky to have family in paradise, a.k.a. Puerto Rico. Last summer I spent about two weeks with my aunt and cousin there, and the day I arrived my aunt and I went to the beach in San Juan. We arrived around 4 p.m. and I was exhausted, but as the sun began to set everything was bathed in yellows and pinks. I looked up through these palm trees and felt so serene. I still feel that calm, exhausted happiness when I look at this photo.
–Karina for TKGO
By now you might have read my posts about the ice cream, café and musical acts I came across during my two weeks in Puerto Rico, but lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that beautiful little island where almost everyone drives SUVs (not so beautiful, but very true). Since it’s beginning to get colder and more drab in both my New Jersey and Chicago-area homes, I decided it was apropos to share some of the especially colorful and inviting photos I took during my time in PR.
Some pictures I took while lounging on the beach in San Juan or strolling through Old San Juan (which reminded me of both Lisbon and Sevilla; see if you think I’m right on that). Others are from a weekend jaunt to Fajardo or the natural wonder, Las Cavernas de Camuy. And the last image is a shot of my aunt and cousin, my beautiful and gracious hosts, and me out to dinner at Parrot Club (delicious, by the way; the mojitos especially) on my last night in Puerto Rico.
–Karina for TKGO
No matter the country, climate, language or culture, every place I’ve visited harbors locals who love coffee. I’d even be bold enough to coin it the drink of the world. What fascinates me about coffee is that countries vary in how they create and take their coffee. This is probably obvious to most, but is a relatively new discovery for me. See, it took me years to get into the bean, and I only came to appreciate a cup when living in Barcelona.
The Spanish Cup
It was café con leche that changed me. Half milk, half espresso, half a packet of sugar and pure bliss. The Spanish keep their coffee simple, because when it’s as good as they have it, there’s no need for any Starbucks-esque remixes and adornments. I never had even a mediocre cup my four months in Spain, but I have to admit my favorite came in a slender plastic cup from the cafeteria of my university, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, for 1,50 Euros.
The New York Cup
I gave up on the hope of a daily cup of café con leceh and gulped down a cup a day of machine-produced hazelnut with skim milk and Splenda (more out of necessity than enjoyment), but that’s not the coffee I remember. About a month into the summer, my friend discovered a small East Village café called Abraço (“embrace” in Portuguese). When I learned they sold the Spanish mineral water Vichy Catalan, I knew I was in love. It’s a European-style coffee bar that also serves small plates and real-deal pastries (such as olive oil cake and my favorite, pain pardu, a thick, fluffy piece of French toast folded in half with ricotta cheese).
Lovely Abraço cappuccinos
Abraço is standing room only inside, but the owners bring out a bench and table in good weather and it’s a no rush environment on one of my favorite blocks in the city (7th Street near First Ave.). And they swirl hearts in the cappuccinos (see below), which would seem cheesy at most places but instead comes across as thoughtful. No Splenda available, but it’s the closest to my beloved Spanish cup I’ve found this side of the Atlantic.
The Puerto Rican Cup
I wasn’t expecting anything special when I flitted down for a week and a half at the end of August, but came to find their coffee is the beverage equivalent the Spanglish most residents speak. The coffee reminded me of Spain, but they definitely love their Splenda. My newly-acquired tastes fit right in.
–Karina for TKGO
And ready with small bills and change
I could sit and watch a good street performer for hours.
What really fascinates me about these all-the-world’s-a-stage artists is how much they vary from city to city and, directly related, how they really reflect and capture something about where they are.
One of my favorite performers was a combination tap dancer, ball-bouncer and juggler in Barcelona. He was always precise and concentrated, and glanced up at the crowd when his routines ended with a sheepish smile. Sadly, I didn’t shoot a video of the performer myself, but I found a video of him and a friend on YouTube (below).
In Puerto Rico, I spent an afternoon walking around Old San Juan and came across this guitarist playing the song “Guantanamera.” Even though the song is technically Cuban, the scene to me was the essence of Old San Juan: relaxed, colorful, sunny and Spanish. The man sitting next to the guitarist is totally unfazed by his performance or the surroundings, such as the hundreds-year-old convent (now hotel) he was sitting facing. This is everyday for him. Not for me!
–Karina for TKGO
After four months of living and working in New York City, I bid goodbye to the neighborhoods I’d come to love and flew down to Puerto Rico to spend 12 days with my Tía (Aunt) Nora and cousin Annette. I realize I am very lucky to have family living in an awesome place (read: paradise), and it definitely has its perks, among which is the insider knowledge. One of my final days in PR, my aunt took me to an ice cream place in the small mountain town of Lares. (Lares actually was the site of one of the first revolts against Spanish Rule back in the day. Read more here.) “They have garlic ice cream!” is about all she told me beforehand.
Heladería de Lares does have homemade garlic ice cream, along with avocado, cod, rice and beans, and cheese, as well as more traditional sweet treat flavors, like the delicious rum and raisin. The heladería was fairly empty while we were there, so we were able to ask questions and sample a slew of flavors, all of which were light and sweet — even avocado. Corn was my personal favorite and it’s also a top seller, according to the very patient (but after half an hour, slightly annoyed) woman helping us. Small kernels of corn broke up the smooth ice cream, which had the consistency of gelato. Eating it tasted almost like biting into a piece of sweet cornbread. Icy, refreshing cornbread, that is.
The flavors were so intriguing to me that I just had to share them with the world, or at least try. Below is a video of the flavors, which Tía Nora and I attempt (and occasionally fail) to translate along the way. One that proved difficult was quenepa, which is a tropical fruit they sell on produce trucks roadside in PR and also goes by mamoncillo. (If that helps at all. I had no idea what a mamoncillo was, either.) I’ll have to try one of the fruits — and its Heladería de Lares counterpart — when I return!
To taste for yourself: Drive to Lares, which is near Arecibo and Las Cavernas de Camuy, and ask how to get to the famous heladería. Seriously.
-Karina for TKGO