Saturday, January 19, 2019

San Juan's Beaches: Sand in Your Toes Close to the City

Every year the New York Times publishes it's list of "52 Places to Go" and in 2019, the number one spot goes to Puerto Rico. It's been a year and a half since Hurricane Maria devastated the island but recovery is finally happening. Tourism is back and hotel rooms are almost back to pre-hurricane levels along with most attractions being open. Lin Manuel-Miranda is bringing Hamilton to the island and is starring in the lead role again. San Juan is once again a stop on many cruise ship itineraries. And it seems that most understand that the best way for the Caribbean Islands, including Puerto Rico, to recover from the hurricane is to travel there and help the local economy.( And, of course, one of the obvious benefits of traveling to Puerto Rico if you live in the US, no passports necessary and it's conveniently close to the East Coast with short flights available. Plus no customs or changing money!)

On my last trip to Puerto Rico, I visited Old San Juan, Rincon, and El Yunque Rainforest along with the beach areas of Condado and Isla Verde outside of Old San Juan. We stayed in both areas - and they are both quite different.

Isla Verde
Isla Verde sits minutes away from San Juan's Luis Munoz Marin's International Airport and you can find yourself checked into your hotel and on the beach within an hour of landing. Located on the north coast of Puerto Rico within the district of Carolina, Isla Verde is a laid back beach spot yet it's only 15 minutes drive to Old San Juan.

 Isla Verde has beach resorts that range from budget to luxurious. We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard directly on the beach. I loved the view from our room - we watched a wedding ceremony and saw all the deep sea fishing boats come in in the evening. We enjoyed the hotel's swimming pool, beach and swim-up bar and dined in it's restaurant though we didn't take advantage of the casino. (But if that's up your alley, Isla Verde is where the casinos area.) We mainly enjoyed the resort while we were there but you could take day trips to El Yunque, the bioluminescent bay in Fajardo or take in other beaches. Isla Verde is the more family friendly beach area where you can just relax and watch the kids dig in the sand.

Condado is the glamorous beach area of San Juan. Known for it's nightlife, you can spend your day on the sand and then hit up clubs in the evening.( You can easily spend the day in Old San Juan - it's just over the bridge - and then come back to Condado at night) It's Caribbean beach life with the lights of the city close by. There are high end shops, think Cartier, places to brunch and see and be seen. If luxury is your objective, you can stay at the ritzy Condado Vanderbilt Hotel or the Condado Plaza Hilton.

 We stayed a block off the beach which enabled us to walk over to the sand or head into Old San Juan for the day at more of a budget price. La Ventana del Mar ( window to the sea) is the main park with beach access and bordered by the Condado Vanderbilt and La Concha Hotel with it's famous shell shaped restaurant, La Perla. If you'd like to do some paddleboarding, you can head to Condado Lagoon which flows between the Condado and Miramar neighborhoods.

There are plenty of restaurants within walking distance if you stay in Condado. You can get your fill of plaintains, fish tacos, mofongo or my personal favorite, tostones. We started our visit to Condado with brunch at Serafina Kitchen and Bar right in the heart of the area on it's main street. I'd go back in a heartbeat - in fact, I'd probaby be a regular if I lived there. (Those are lemon ricotta pancakes accompanied by a mimosa) On our evening out, 
 we had drinks at Oceano, which I loved, at their bar overlooking the ocean with a nice ocean breeze. We moved over to the Lobby Bar at La Concha and managed to even sneak a peek into the famous La Perla. If you're looking for a beach area with more to do than your typical toes in the sand activities, then Condado is probably for you!

How about you? Have you enjoyed any of San Juan's "urban" beaches?

Linking up with: The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party and My Corner of the World!

Friday, January 11, 2019

A Giveaway, A Blogaversary and What's Ahead for 2019

It's been six years - six years! - since I first hit publish on The Unpaved Road. That's a good, long time for me to share my travels, and hopefully inspire you to travel also. I'm grateful for all of you that stop by here each week and take the time out of your day to read about me and the Mister's travels. 

A Giveaway To celebrate those six years, I've decided to host a giveaway of my two favorite  travel books - 1000 Places to See Before You Die and 1000 Places to See Before You Die, the USA and Canada Edition, both by Patricia Shultz. I've used these books as a preface to almost every trip I've been on. They're sorted by region and give a short synopsis of each of the 1000 Places To See Before You Die. After reading the short overview, I can determine whether I want to do more research on a place and then decide if I want to go there. Easy Peasy. And entering the giveaway is easy, too. Just comment below on your favorite travel book. I'll let the winner know next week of their good luck!

Now, on to travel for the coming year. 2018 was one of the biggest - and therefore, favorite - travel years I've ever experienced. I made my first trip to the Southern Hemisphere, landed on a new continent, road tripped in Europe seeing some places I've wanted to see for a long time, put my toes in the sand at least once per month and managed to visit with family all along the way.

I'm reigning the budget in a bit for 2019. That poor travel budget can't take all these blow out trips and still be left standing for upcoming years. Here's what's on the agenda for the year so far:

North Georgia Mountains
I'm taking Mr. UR to the North Georgia mountains where we've rented a cabin and hope to do a little weekend exploring. There are wineries, state parks, hiking opportunities and of course, drives through beautiful scenery. Hope he likes it as much as I do.

San Diego
I'm headed back to San Diego this spring to visit with family. And I hope to do a tiny bit of sightseeing while I'm there. I think that the flower fields should be blooming so I'm hoping to get there but I'm up for other recs. Anybody?

Charlottesville, Virginia
We're meeting our daughter here in the spring and hoping to do some sightseeing, winery touring and good eating. (Are you noticing a theme?) Any recommendations for here will also be appreciated.

New England
Really hoping to get all the kids together to stay at a friend's cottage. We may not all be there for a full week but I'll take what I can get. I see a little ferry hopping, lobster eating, and kayaking in our future.

New York
I'm working on firming up plans to visit my daughter in New York with family and hopefully - fingers crossed - seeing the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for my first time! I've been wanting to do this since I was a kid and I would sit on my couch and watch it faithfully every year.  Here's to making it work!

And the piece de resistance....
The Emerald Isle has been at the top of my list for some time now, and despite visiting England and Scotland, I've never made it to Ireland. The flights and most of the accommodations are booked so it's pretty much a done deal. Woohoo! Can't wait!

Another BIG event is a wedding in the fall - my son and his fiance will be getting married in Western North Carolina. I don't have to tell you how excited I am about this - this mama is happy!

How about you? Do you plan your travel far in advance? Or are you a last minute kind of traveler?

Don't forget to leave a comment about your favorite travel book to enter the giveaway!

Linking up with: Photographing New Zealand!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

December Beach of the Month: Bondi Beach, New South Wales, Australia

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday season. If you were home, I hope you enjoyed some  time doing what you wanted and if you were traveling, I hope you had some stress free adventures. I spent my holiday at home - my two oldest kids were home which makes for a very happy mama.We watched our classic Christmas Eve movie of It's a Wonderful Life, hosted 15 family members for Christmas dinner of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes,  we visited with more family for a pizza party the next day and then had a venison steak dinner with more family the next day after that. It was so enjoyable! And now onto more travel talk....

On my trip to Australia at the tail end of November and beginning of December, I put my toes in the sand at Bondi Beach to accomplish my goal of visiting a beach for every month of 2018.

World Famous Bondi
Bondi Beach,(Bondi is an aboriginal word meaning water breaking over rocks) one of Australia's most iconic beaches, can be reached by car or public transportation in less than an hour from Sydney. Known the world over for it's surf culture, Bondi is one of the most visited tourist sites in Australia. It's popularity is due in part to many tv shows that have been, or are filmed here, including the wildly popular Bondi Rescue about the team of lifeguards who patrol the beach. 

What to Do at Bondi
The Bondi Icebergs Swimming Club started way back in 1929 and due to it's Instagram popularity, it's still quite the popular spot today. Set right on the ocean, the club and swimming pool host those who want to swim - on days that it's not closed due to high waves - and those who want to eat or drink overlooking Bondi. We enjoyed a drink in the uber cool bar watching the surfers and the waves hit the pool. And even though the waves were fierce, the pool was open - it's open year round!

The Bondi Skate Park is popular with teens and skaters right on the edge of the beach. It's rated 4 out of 5 stars from Skateboard Australia - and if you're really into skating, then this is your spot. The Vans Bowl-a-Rama competition is held here every February.

You can stroll the main street, known as Campbell Parade, and visit bars, restaurants and shops where you can stop in for a drink or meal overlooking the beach, do some surf shop shopping or grab those souvenirs you've been wanting.

One of the most popular things to do at Bondi is walk the famous Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk with it's dramatic scenery. This clifftop coastal walk is six kilometers of views, beaches, parks, and rock pools. There are stairs and steep paths so it's not for those who have difficulty with these. But there are also rest stops with benches along the views.  We walked for just a short bit of the walk and were awed by the views and fierceness of the waves. (The walk takes about two hours return from Bondi to Coogee)

How to get there
You can reach Bondi on express buses from the center of Sydney that take about 30 minutes, or on a train from the city center or on the hop on/hop off buses that operate around the city.

Bondi was one of my favorite places in Australia. It's laid back with a definite surf vibe and you just can't beat the view from Icebergs. Add in the coastal walk and I was a happy camper.Admittedly, I wasn't there at a peak crowd time - it was a weekday in the end of Spring. I'm not sure how I'd do on Christmas Day or in the height of summer. I hope if you are traveling around Sydney that you get a chance to get out to the suburbs and visit Bondi.

How about you? Have you been to Bondi Beach?

Linking up with: Photographing New Zealand and The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party!