WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY: Blog https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog en-us (C) WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY (WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:17:00 GMT Mon, 16 Mar 2020 07:17:00 GMT https://www.wmannphotography.com/img/s/v-12/u13996188-o666918736-50.jpg WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY: Blog https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog 120 80 Island Hopping Part 6 - An Evening in St. John https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/6/island-hopping On the last full day of our trip, we lazed around a bit and headed out for one final adventure: back to St. John.  A (free) resort shuttle brought us to the ferry dock in Red Hook, where we quickly got tickets and got in line for the ferry that runs on the hour from 5:30 am until midnight.  The trip takes about 20 minutes and we enjoyed sitting on the top deck and getting some sun and sea spray.  We spent the afternoon exploring Cruz Bay, the main town on the island.  It took much less time than we expected to walk the main strip so we headed over to the Tap Room of St. John Brewers to hang out for a bit.  We had heard of the Tap Room on our favorite local news magazine show, Chronicle, and learned that the founders of St. John Brewers were New England natives.  While the founders were not there that day and we wound up ordering cocktails instead of beers, we had a great time enjoying the Tap Room and playing trivial pursuit until it was time to head out.

Soon after we decided to go on this Island Hopping vacation, The Mann made reservations at another *bucket list destination*: ZoZo's at Caneel Bay.  I had seen the Sugar Mill ruins in which the restaurant is housed in a magazine years and years ago and it has been a dream destination ever since.  Real life did not disappoint.  We grabbed a Safari Taxi (a pickup truck that has been converted to have benches in the back) from Cruz Bay to Caneel Bay.  The Caneel Bay Resort is unreal... it is perfectly manicured, sprawling, features several beaches, rolling grounds and so much more.  It is also severely expensive and a little too posh for our taste, but beautiful to visit, especially the Sugar Mill ruins.  We walked around and waited for the restaurant to open.  In order to secure the perfect sunset view table, you must book an early reservation, so at 5:30 we we seated at one of the perimeter tables overlooking the ocean, ruins and surrounding hills.  It was breathtaking.  Between the view, the wine, the meal and the atmosphere this was one of the most magical experiences we've had in years.  At dusk, the ruins below lit up in twinkle lights, the sky turned colors and the wind rustled through the trees.  We feasted (grilled octopus, pork three ways, jumbo shrimp and a molten chocolate delight) chatted and basked in the beauty of the island.

After dinner, we strolled the property once more and hung out with the donkeys that have the run of the property and the island.  They are smaller than I imagined and very friendly.  They ate right out of my hand and had the softest lips.  I was enamored.  

And then I fell down a hill. 

 

Our magical vacation was over.  The next 24 hours were full of planes, trains boats and automobiles: a Safari Taxi back to the dock, a ferry back to St. Thomas, taxis back to the hotel and (the following morning) the airport, a plane to San Juan and then to Boston.  Perhaps St. John is so amazing because it is a quite journey to get there and back!  But we'd definitely do it again.  (A word of advice: we were told when first arriving in St. Thomas to be back at the airport 3-4 hours before our flight home.  This seemed ridiculous since we were technically in the US, but we were glad that we followed instructions.  While the jetBlue check-in and security process was pretty smooth, the American Airlines queues were HUGE and probably required over an hour to clear.  So, patience is indeed a virtue for this portion of the trip.  The airport is tiny, the waiting area is overfull, the one restaurant is expensive and mediocre.  Don't show up late, hungry or cranky and you'll be fine.)

We started planning our return immediately, figuring out the most efficient way to get to St. John and Vieques.  I'm so torn between going back to these amazing islands and exploring the rest of the Caribbean.  Stay tuned to see where we end up next! 

 

 

 

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Adventure Architecture Island Ruins Sunset Wildlife https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/6/island-hopping Mon, 05 Jun 2017 18:11:17 GMT
Island Hopping Part 5 - 5 Islands in One Day https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/5/island-hopping-part-5---5-islands-in-one-day Our first full day on St. Thomas we met our soon-to-be BFF, Captain Patrick of Privateer Charters when he picked us up at the hotel for a day on the water.  The Mann had been texting on the sly with Captain Pat for weeks planning what would be one of the best days of our vacation.  First of all, he offered us a ride to and from the dock, took us shopping for boat snacks and drinks and was a knowledgeable, laid back super friendly guide all day.  We settled onto his boat, a clean and perfectly maintained 27' center console.  We stashed our stuff and chatted about where we wanted to go.  If you've read any of my other posts, you know that we do not like to follow the crowds so while checking out the bar scene on Jost Van Dyke looked cool, we were more interested in staying away from the crowds and finding secluded spots for snorkeling, photos and unique experiences.  So that's what we told Captain Patrick and he said "I know just where we're going, let me have your passports" and off we went.

We started off cruising by the little islands between St. Thomas and St. John: Grass, Mingo, Lovango and Congo Cays.  That area is also home to Carval Rock, a small islet that was supposedly used to discharge ship's cannon balls before they pulled into the ports of St. John and St. Thomas.  It's a cool site surrounded by magnificently clear turquoise water that looks like it's glowing.  From there, we headed to Capt. Patrick's favorite snorkeling spot on the north side of St. John near one of the many sugar planation ruins on the island.  We saw colorful fish and a variety of corals.  Captain. Patrick lent us one of the GoPros he keeps on board so we were able to get some great video of our underwater adventure.

Next, it was off to the BVI's!  We stopped over at Jost Van Dyke to clear customs then walked the beach and saw the famous Soggy Dollar Bar.  While the Soggy Dollar is an institution, we were looking for something a bit more off the beaten path.  

We waved goodbye to the Soggy Dollar and set out for *bucket list destination*: Sandy Spit.  Sandy Spit is a teeny tiny islet that is less than an acre in size.  We anchored and swam to shore.  Circumnavigation took all of five minutes but we explored all shores and played with a lonely palm tree.  There's a great spot where different tides come together creating a wave mohawk so we played in the surf and worked up an appetite. 

It was time for lunch at Foxy's Taboo on the east of the island.  We got out of the sun but stayed in the fresh air and had perfect cocktails and a great meal with Capt. Patrick, followed by a touch of shopping at the attached gift shop.  To round out the experience, a bunch of horses decided to wander over to the restaurant and hang out with us.

Boat days seem to fly by and we didn't want to waste time on land so we hit the water and headed to one more spot to finish out our adventure: Tortola!  We had had our fill of snorkeling but we were definitely up for one more swim to shore for a tropical beverage.  We pulled up at Smuggler's Cove and let the tide carry us to the beach where we found Nigel's Boom Boom Beach Bar & Grill amidst the palm trees.  We hung out with Nigel while he made us a few cocktails and chatted with the other guests that were cozying up to the bar.  I wish I had been hungry because Nigel has some great sounding beach food as well.  I could have hung out there for hours but, alas, the ocean was calling us back.  We swam back to the boat and, sadly, started out trip back home (but not before driving by another *bucket list destination*: Bomba's Surfside Shack.  Literally a shack (that has been washed away a time or two), Bomba's is famous for its full moon parties and I CAN'T WAIT to go back and spend some time there in the future.

Island hopping is one of my very favorite things to do on earth.  Being able to hit so many different locations made the charter worth every single penny (and there were many).  We're already planning to hang with Capt. Patrick the next time we're in the Virgin Islands.  My next *bucket list experience* is to charter a boat for a few days and hit all the little islands, bars and scenery there is to see without worrying about having to get back to shore.

Our time with Capt. Patrick was not over.  We wound up meeting him that night in town after grabbing dinner at Fish Tails (best mozzarella sticks, especially after a boozy day on the water).  He told us about a couple of his favorite spots in downtown Red Hook and we had a leisurely walk around town as the night life started to get into full swing.

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Adventure Beach Beaten Boating Island Off Path Ruins The Wildlife https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/5/island-hopping-part-5---5-islands-in-one-day Tue, 30 May 2017 15:08:20 GMT
Island Hopping Part 4 - St. Thomas https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/5/island-hopping-part-4---st-thomas ...The final leg of our Caribbean adventure was St. Thomas.  Unfortunately, while close to Vieques, there is no quick way to get from one island to the other without chartering a private plane or boat.  So we hopped back on a tiny plane to San Juan, went through an expedited security check and then onto a regular jetBlue flight to St. Thomas.  From the airport at Charlotte Amelie, we took a group taxi to the quieter East End of the island.  The whole trip from Vieques to our hotel in East End took about 4 hours and we've be obsessed with finding a quicker way to get here in the future.  

The Mann chose Point Pleasant Resort, an interesting blend of timeshare condos and hotel... I think that owners rent out their units through the property's management company.  The great news is that we were never approached with a sales pitch and the property is clean and well cared for since many of the owners stay for much of the snowbird season.  We also has spectacular views of sunrise and the surrounding islands.  And we were greeted with genuine smiles and rum punches at check it, sooooooo Point Pleasant for the win!

Point Pleasant has a small restaurant on the beach appropriately called Shoreline Bar and Grill.  We went there for dinner and breakfast.  All the meals were great and the drinks were creative and refreshing.  We especially loved a pineapple rum and muddled lime concoction one of the bartenders came up with as an alternative to the more sugary cocktails on the menu.  The staff at the restaurant also host a tarpon feeding everyday and these huge fish just swim around right by your feet waiting for table scraps.  The resort also offers some free water sports like kayaking, paddle boarding and snorkeling equipment.  We tried paddle boarding for the first time with some success but cut the experience short when a rogue wave took Will out (along with his Raybans).  We returned the boards, grabbed a snorkel mask and miraculously found the glasses despite the strong current.  We spent the rest of that afternoon checking out the local beaches.  The resort has two beaches, one that is secluded and picturesque but rocky and small and another that is shared with the neighboring Margaritaville resort and is bigger and calmer but not as pretty.  Coki Beach is a short walk away (or you can take a shuttle from the hotel lounge) and has fine white sand, beach shacks offering snacks, drinks and activities and lounge chairs for rent. 

Another fun feature at the resort is their nature trail, which is a set of pathways that go from the shoreline to the lobby and buildings that are further up the hill.  St. Thomas is all hills and the resort is positioned in three or four levels with the restaurant, beaches and pool at the lowest level, one set of buildings above that, another set, including the lobby, above that and one final level nearer the peak.  You can get shuttled around the property in a van or climb the nature trail and work off all that delicious vacation dining.  We chose to climb and found cute overlooks and lots of lizards along the paths.

While the resort had a lot of things to keep us entertained, and we had a very comfortable room and veranda... it wasn't really our vibe and the Mann had lots of plans that kept us off property for most of our stay.

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Beach Islands Sunrise Sunset Virgin Wildlife https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/5/island-hopping-part-4---st-thomas Fri, 19 May 2017 12:57:09 GMT
Island Hopping Part 3 - Can't Get Enough of Vieques https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/5/island-hopping-part-3---cant-get-enough-of-vieques Continued from: here...

...But there is more to do on Vieques then just eat and we managed to add a few hours of beach time to every day.  After our brief adventure at Punta Arenas our next beach excursion was to Secret Beach/Pata Priete which is part of the National Wildlife Refuge that is home to the majority of the popular beaches on the island.  

When we arrived at Pata Priete we were shocked to discover that we had the big, beautiful beach all to ourselves.  Perhaps it was because there weren't many spots to find shade or perhaps it was because we were really lucky.  Either way, we walked the beach from end to end without human interruption.  It was one of my favorite moments of the trip.   I'll be posting a separate blog about our island photoshoots soon!

The beach we spent most of our time on was La Chiva (aka Blue Beach).  La Chiva is a long stretch of beach accessed by about 26 little parking lots with picnic tables.  Our favorite stretch was about halfway down at #15.  We had great shade and a clear path to the water.  We moved into our little cove and spent hours relaxing, reading, snorkeling and soaking in the warm turquoise water... until the shark.  Sharks are not common at this beach, but we got to see one hunting for lunch just off shore.  We also saw a stingray or two, hermit crabs and little fish.  

One morning, we decided to drive to the end of La Chiva and found a gorgeous cliff with a path to a secluded beach below.  It was pretty rocky with strong surf but perfect for a little photoshoot.  I can only imagine what it would be like if we got there early enough for sunrise!  But given that we were on the southern part of the island, on the beach and had access to the highest rooftop, the Mann captured beautiful sunrises every morning.

While I would have been happy spending all of our time lounging at the beach or hotel, we decided to try something new for us: horseback riding.  We learned about Esperanza Riding Company through Chronicle, our favorite local newsmagazine show in Boston (ERC also has locations on the Cape and Martha's Vineyard: another New England-Vieques connection).  ERC is a short, 10 minute, drive from Malecon and next to the Blue Horizon Hotel.  We booked the early morning spots since we wanted to get back to the beach during the mid-day heat.  We met our guide and two other guests and started off with a brief lesson on how to ride.  Then off we went on a horseback tour of the island.  We started on a beautiful, golden sand beach and then rode up through town and into the hills in the middle of the island (near Hix House Resort) for gorgeous views and a short attempt at a "paso corto" which is a smooth version of a trot.  Personally, I did not find it smooth since I had no idea what I was doing and wound up running into a tree.  We then descended and headed back to the shore for a treat: a shaded ride to the tough-to-get-to black sand beach, Playa Negra!  The Mann and I had decided not to take the hike required to get there and I was having FOMO so getting there on horseback was a wonderful and unexpected surprise.  The last stretch was an easy ride from the beach through a field and back to the ranch.  The ride was worth every penny, battle scar, and sore muscle.  I'm actually thinking of taking horseback riding lessons for the exercise!  My posture was on point, my core felt strong and my legs and butt were aching for days.  I had no idea riding was such a workout!

Sadly, our time on Vieques was ending but we decided on one more little adventure before heading to the airport.  El Blok is across the street from a small set of ruins from an old hotels.  There's great graffiti all over them and if you go deep enough into the surrounding bush, you'll find.... an abandoned train.  Nothing else to say.  A short walk from there is an older set of ruins that have been beautifully taken over by nature.  There are vines, trees, hermit crabs everywhere.  If you go deep enough into the surrounding bush, you'll find.... an abandoned truck.  We took one last walk along the beach, packed up and headed to the airport for one more adventure.

The Mann getting ready to head to the airport...

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Adventure Beach Graffiti Island Puerto Rico Ruins Sunrise https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/5/island-hopping-part-3---cant-get-enough-of-vieques Fri, 12 May 2017 16:40:54 GMT
Island Hopping Part 2 - Birthday on Vieques https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/5/island-hopping-part-2-birthday-on-vieques Continued from here....


The following day was my birthday and the treats started coming right at the airport.  Flights from San Juan to Vieques are on tiny puddle jumpers that have very strict weight limitation.  The first flight out was delayed because of exceeded capacity and I was so happy that the Mann had booked a later flight (as the group from the first flight was still waiting for a resolution).  We were in a zombie apocalypse area of San Juan airport and stressed that there was going to be an issue with our flight as well.  But minutes before our scheduled takeoff, we were called and taken onto the tarmac to meet our (lady!) pilot and craft.  My first treat came: I got to sit up front with the pilot.  I'm not sure if it was actually a birthday treat or just the proper weight distribution, but I'm calling it a treat.  I had a great view of the coast line and was even able to see Fajardo, where we spent a few days last year.  We flew over the water for a few minutes and then landed at one of the smallest airports I've ever seen.  The whole trip took about 20 minutes.  We got off the plane, walked over to the "terminal" and waiting for the car rental company shuttle.  Within about 10 minutes, we were picked up, brought over to Maritza's Car Rental and were in our Jeep about 15 minutes later.  The whole process was pretty smooth and quick, even by island-time standards.  

The airport and car rental are on the north side of the Island and our hotel was on the south in Esperanza so we headed out for our first Vieques driving experience.  The streets are narrow and hole-y but that just added to our adventure.  It took about 15 minutes to get to our beautiful hotel, El Blok on El Malecon, the main drag of Esperanza.  El Blok is a contemporary cement structure that is as much a piece of art as a building.  At three stories, it is the tallest hotel in the area (more on that later).  It is eco-friendly, human-friendly, unique, welcoming, chill, beautiful and so much more.  We quickly checked in with our new friends in the lobby and headed up to our room.  The Mann hit one out of the park again.  The rooms at El Blok are minimalist and playful.  No TV, no phone, just a huge bed, a little bathroom with a very clever shower and a spectacular wrap-around balcony perfect for afternoon lounging and creative photoshoots (which I'll post about in detail soon!).  

photo courtesy of El Blok

After settling in, we headed back out to explore the island.  Vieques was occupied by the US Navy from 1941 until 2003 which, sadly, made much of the island uninhabitable due to environmental pollution an unexploded munitions.  Along with the occupation, the beaches of Vieques were renamed with colors (Seriously?! Is it that hard to learn a few Spanish words??).  Our first beach stop was at Green Beach/Punta Arenas on the Western tip of the island.  The drive to most of Vieques's beaches is an adventure on its own along tight dirt roads.  We stopped at a stretch of beach near a Radar Station.  The beach was practically deserted and very beautiful.  But the surf was pretty strong and it was quite buggy on the sand so we explored for a quick moment and continued on in search of other treasures, such as the 300+ year old Cieba tree near Mosquito Pier.

 

We had read about a series of old bunkers in the jungle and found them pretty easily.  They are in the same area as Punta Arenas down even more deserted and more narrow roads.  We had a moment in the deepest part of the reserve where we weren't sure if we'd make it out.  The road barely fit the car and the surround trees definitely didn't. We scratched up the car which, luckily, the car rental company didn't care about.  A pack of horses hung out with us during the drive and were not phased at all by our presence.  

Our next stop was an abandoned sugar mill that is right off the road near the bunkers and has been taken over by the jungle.  Nothing has been restored or preserved so we explored tentatively without going too deep.  I can't wait to go back with better shoes, clothes and hydration.  

With our adventure fix satisfied, we headed back to El Blok for our first sunset on the island.  We soon learned that the entire town seems to come to El Blok for the spectacular view, friendly bartenders and weekend music (a band on Saturdays and DJ on Sundays).  We made some new friends from Vermont (everyone in PR seems to be either a local or from New England) and lazily enjoyed the evening.  The band was great and drew a local crowd and the DJ was perfection, timing Michael Franti's Sound of Sunshine as the sun dipped behind the horizon and then getting the crowd up for a night of dancing.

Esperanza's main drag, El Malecon, is filled with guest houses, restaurants and bars that are all directly across from a long stretch of beach on which rests a wrecked, rusty boat.

We planned to try each bar and restaurant, but soon found a favorite that we couldn't get enough of, Banana's.  Banana's is a beachfront grill with indoor/outdoor seating and is attached to a guesthouse.  The atmosphere is very casual and the food in fresh, well priced and delicious!  I kept going back for their tropical salad that I have tried to recreate at home but can't seem to get right.  And, of course, the Mann got fish tacos which were made with the lightest batter we've ever tried.  Similarly, Duffy's, right next door offers open air, casual bites perfect for lunch or drinks.  They have several big tables that are great for groups.  We also enjoyed Bili, still casual, but less so than Banana's and Duffy's with a more refined menu, especially at dinnertime.  Their pulled pork empanadas blew my mind.  We were also repeat guests at Belly Buttons for delicious breakfast sandwiches and chats with the staff.

Finally, the food at El Blok is fantastic.  Continental breakfasts and gourmet dinners are offered in the mail lobby area and lunch and afternoon snacks are available on the rooftop.  We had my birthday dinner at the restaurant downstairs and we were both fully impressed with our meals, especially the signature taste of everything coming off the mesquite grill.  Wow.

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Adventure Architecture Beach Bunkers Fish Tacos & Lobster Rolls Island Puerto Rico Ruins Salads Signs Sunrise Sunset Tropical https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/5/island-hopping-part-2-birthday-on-vieques Mon, 08 May 2017 20:14:26 GMT
Island Hopping Part 1 - Old San Juan, PR https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/4/island-hopping-part-1---old-san-juan-pr Because we can't seem to get enough of Puerto Rico, we went back for the third time in a 13 month period.  It's a quick and easy flight and there is so much to explore.  Last year, the Mann surprised me with the most beautiful hotel we'd ever been to, O:live Boutique Hotel.  So there was no question that this year's trip would include a quick stop over in San Juan.  We explored the top attractions last year (click here and here for those posts) so this year we had no agenda.  We spent quality time at the hotel enjoying our room and the roof top bar and pool.

We also wandered into town to try a few new spots for drinks and food that our friends had recommended.  We had another mission, too: for the Mann's birthday I made him a custom pair of Vans using a photo he took of the San Juan streets last year.  We wanted to try to find the same spot from the photo.  It took a few tries but we found the exact cobblestones!

  With our shoe mission complete, our first stop was Sol Y Cruz which houses three bars/restaurants.  We started off at al Fresco, the rooftop wine bar, for charcuterie and our first round of day drinks.  The building is situated near the top of hill in the middle of Old San Juan and has great views of the surrounding building, balconies and cobblestone streets.  In the afternoon, the Mezzanine at St. Germain opens it's doors.  The Mezzanine has a speakeasy feel, with dark rooms that lead to bright Juliette balconies filled small cafe tables and miss-matched cushy arm chairs.  We grabbed a couple of Medalla's and watched the city go about it's day below us.  The fist floor of the building features a full menu restaurant St. Germain which looked cozy and delicious.

We couldn't resist a stop at our very favorite spot, El Batey for a bunch of drinks, a great juke box and a chat with new friends.  Overtime we go to El Batey, we spend out time chatting with the quirky bartenders, locals and/or other visitors.  The most interesting people find this place.

During this trip, we decided to check out a museum in the center of town.  Unfortunately, it was closed for lunch so we popped over to a little hole in the wall for a rum tasting.  Casa Melaza is a tiny rum boutique in "Casa del Cabildo", a house that once acted as the City Hall from the 1600's until the early 1800's.  The space is old, full of character and a great vibe and features rums from various countries that you can taste and/or bring home.  They also have a few cocktails if you're not into straight rum (like me).  We tasted a few of the offerings and chatted with the bar tender about the rums, the islands they come from and traveling.  Having waited out the museum's siesta and a passing shower, we headed back to the museum a bit boozier than before.  

photo courtesy of Casa Melaza

Museo de Las Americas is a great museum with a variety of exhibits from the history of the indigenous people of Puerto Rico and the caribbean to contemporary art.  We walked around for an hour or two and then headed off to find a spot for sunset watching.

On the way, we popped by La Perla, El Morro and the Cemetery and then wound our way towards the San Juan Gate.  

Along our route (the Paseo), there were cats EVERYWHERE.  Lazing around the parks, having naps on and under parked cars, roaming the streets and structures.  The cats are cared for by an organization called Save a Gato who feed, traps and neuters the huge kitty population.  We found a great spot above the boardwalk to watch the sun go down over the San Juan Bay.

Back in Condado, we strolled along Ashford Avenue, checking out the shops to the sound of crashing waves.  We came upon Serafina, a chic Italian restaurant with an great indoor/outdoor space.  We got a good bottle of wine, amazing food (the Nona mashed potatoes were a dream!) and chatted about the second leg of our trip.

The next morning, the Mann managed to catch a gorgeous sunrise at the beach in Condado and then we were off to the next part of our adventure!

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Architecture Art Boutique Cats Cemetery Cobblestones Forts Olive Puerto Rico Ruins Sunset https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/4/island-hopping-part-1---old-san-juan-pr Fri, 28 Apr 2017 01:09:40 GMT
Dive Bars, Greengos and Goodbyes https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/1/Dive-Bars-Greengos-and-Goodbyes After lounging at our beautiful hotel, exploring the forts and sailing, we spent the little time we had left walking around the streets of Old San Juan and Condado and eating delicious food.

What I loved most about these areas is how old everything was.  Some was beautifully preserved, some was falling apart, most was somewhere in between.  We marveled at the old cobblestones, huge tropical trees, graffiti, the proximity of city to beach and the way it all fit together… old, new, rich, poor, clean, dirty, familiar and foreign.

Our two favorite spots in Old San Juan were El Batay, a hole in the wall bar and Greengos, a caribbean sports bar that looked like it belonged in decades or centuries past.

Our friends had told us about El Batay and, after a few failed attempts when they were closed and/or under construction, we finally made it.  This place is a hole in the wall, dive bar, graffiti heaven with a bathroom that looks like it was transplanted from CBGB’s and a perfectly curated juke box full of motown, punk, reggae, grunge, and other delights.  We hung out with the owner one afternoon while he recovered or continued partying from the night before.  He told us stories of his exploits and made drinks at a snails pace that were surprisingly delicious.  We made friends with other patrons (human and canine) that popped in from around the corner, Louisiana and Boston.  We loved it so much, we came back later that night to see how our new friends were doing and were thrilled that some of them were still there.  El Batay left a mark on our hearts and we left a mark on its walls.

Greengos Carribean Cantina was another favorite that warranted a second visit.  We went there for lunch on both trips for their cold beers, fish tacos, fresh salads and art.  The restaurant is covered in murals and the bar features a huge tequila selection.  It’s a great place to get off your feet and replenish your energy and/or buzz.  It’s casual, eclectic, and delicious.

A few other spots we enjoyed:

Caficultra, a cafe in Old San Juan overlooking Plaza Colon, one of the main squares in the city.  We had a leisurely breakfast and watched the city wake up and start bustling.  We made friends with a guy promoting tours and restaurants and wound up running into him all around the city throughout our trip.

La Cueva del Mar for dinner where you can sit outside and watch the city go by on the street right next to you.

Cafe De Angel in Condado where we had our first meal in San Juan and, right next door,  Pinky’s West for a HUGE breakfast.

We had a great dinner on the ocean at the aptly named Oceano where everything was beautiful and delicious.

Finally, our list would not be complete without the beautiful, delicious though expensive Sage at the O:live, home of renowned chef,  Mario Pagan.  I have a feeling we’ll be back soon, my pretty.

 

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Adventure Cobblestones El Batay Graffiti Greengos Old San Juan Puerto Rico https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/1/Dive-Bars-Greengos-and-Goodbyes Wed, 25 Jan 2017 17:37:39 GMT
Forts, Dungeons, Cemeteries & Sailing https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/1/Forts-Dungeons-Cemeteries-Sailing While I would have been happy to stay at O:live the whole time we were in San Juan (both times!), we spent part of each day exploring the streets, restaurants and forts of the old city.

One our first foray into the city, “we” mis-calculated the distance from the hotel to the center of old town and decided to walk and found little surprises along the way, like this bike chillin on a tree (which I recently learned is a memorial to a cyclist who died in an accident and a reminder to share the road):

And the very cool Luis Munoz Rivera Park where we stopped for fun with photos.

Old San Juan features two forts, El Morro and San Cristobal and while they are similar, they are unique enough that visiting each gave us a different experience.

Castillo San Felipe Del Morro is a World Heritage Site and a National Park.  Built in the 1500’s it is now a well preserved museum with amazing views of the beautiful Isla de Cabras, sentry boxes that jut over the ocean and a beautiful esplanade for picnics, kite flying and strolling.  It was also a filming site for Amistad.  You can tour the tunnels, various batteries, casements, bastions, a huge artillery ramp, plaza and light house.

Castillo de San Cristobal is know for being the largest fortification built by the Spanish when it was finished in 1783.  While some of it has been demolished and lost since then, it is still immense and has beautiful quarters with grand windows, great views of the ocean (and you can explore the dungeons below!).

Cradled between the two forts, lies the picturesque but locals-only neighborhood of La Perla and a colonial-era, above-ground cemetery.  Entry is free, but we explored it through the vantage points in and around El Morro.  We’ve visited some exemplary cemeteries in the past couple of years: New Orleans, Savannah, but this was the most beautiful.  It sits on the waters edge and the sun shining down on top of the graves and sculptures bring the colors and shapes to life.

One afternoon, after exploring from land, we went on a sunset sail with Sail PR around Old San Juan and saw these beautiful sites from the ocean beneath a setting sun.  We had great wind, dramatic clouds, a beautiful ocean and the spectacle of these old and massive man-made forts and walls.  It was breathtaking.  Our captain, Francisco, was full of interesting facts about the history and politics of Puerto Rico and we had such a great time chatting with him and his first mate.

All this exploring has left me hungry!  Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner is coming up next…

 

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Adventure Cemetery Dungeon El Morro Forts Luis Munoz Rivera Park Old San Juan Photoshoot Puerto Rico Sailing San Cristobal Sunset World Heritage Site locals only walk https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/1/Forts-Dungeons-Cemeteries-Sailing Mon, 23 Jan 2017 16:19:00 GMT
Welcome to the Jungle https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/1/Welcome-to-the-Jungle It was time to leave Fajardo and head back to San Juan but not before stopping at El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s National Forest Reserve and rain forest!!  El Yunque takes up a big chunk of north-eastern Puerto Rico between Fajardo and San Juan.  You can see a lot of it by driving or hiking.  We did a bit of both.  First we drove around a bit, stopping at a roadside waterfall where someone was having a dance photo shoot.  We then found an observation tower that you could climb and get a great view of the forest.

Manns On A Mission - behind the scenes

Finally we found a hiking trail that promised a huge waterfall.  So we set off.  Within a few minutes, it started pouring (as it does in a rain forest) and we embraced it and played in the rain.  We hiked through huge ferns, palm trees, and a variety of jungle flora.  It was wild.  And then, the waterfall.  Huge, powerful, majestic and, sadly, full of tourists.  After a brief stop, we kept hiking and enjoying the scenery.

We had spent most of the morning and a good part of the afternoon in the rainforest and it was time to move on once again.  The drive from El Yunque was quick and easy.  We pulled up to a nondescript street in the Condado area of San Juan handed over our car to the valet and were ushered into THE MOST BEAUTIFUL HOTEL I’ve ever been to, O:live Boutique Hotel.  Our room was not quite ready so we dropped off our bags and were given a little tour of the property culminating at the rooftop pool and bar.  We ordered mojitos and set ourselves up at the pool, which we had all to ourselves.  The sun was hot, the water was refreshing, the drinks kept coming and everything was good in the world.  I was so content that when it was time to go to the room, I didn’t want to budge.  But the Mann insisted, so I dragged myself off my dais and followed him downstairs.

You guys, my mouth dropped when I walked in the door.  We’ve stayed in some lovely places, but this was just beyond.  Our suite featured a living area, frosted glass bathroom and a bedroom that opened up on two sides to the surrounding patio.  And the patio!  Every nook and cranny was photo shoot-worthy.  The decor, the details, all of it was perfectly curated from the outdoor living room and lounge to the stone tub and shower.  I was torn… now I didn’t want to leave the room to go back to the pool, let alone anywhere off property.

   

We loved this hotel so much that we wound up going back a few months later for a quick weekend away in paradise.  On our second trip, we had another gorgeous room with a sexy see-through shower and a veranda that looked over the lagoon.  We also spent more time on the rooftop just hanging out at the pool and watching the sunset.

Next up: Old San Juan adventures…

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Adventure Behind the scenes Boutique Hotel Ferns Hike Hotel Suite Jungle Lagoon Mojitos National Forest Observation Tower Olive Boutique Hotel Outdoor Living Palm Trees Patio Photoshoot Pool Rain Rain Forest Rooftop Selfie Sexy Shower Sunrise Sunset Sunset Waterfalls https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/1/Welcome-to-the-Jungle Fri, 13 Jan 2017 16:45:00 GMT
Rum Diaries https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/1/Rum-Diaries While the Waldorf Astoria in Fajardo is beautiful, it was time to get off the property and explore the area.  As you’ll remember from part 1 of our PR adventure, the Mann was in charge of planning, so we set off for another surprise.  We arrived at El Pescador, a small, boutique restaurant across from a local beach.  They had just opened and we were the first customers.  Despite my best efforts to go with the flow, I was a little apprehensive… I have a rule to never eat at an empty restaurant.  But as soon as we sat down, people started flooding in and the place was full by the time we got our appetizers.  El Pescador is tiny, with maybe 10 tables in the open air space.  The owner’s mom had just cooked a soup and we were given a huge free tasting.  I don’t know what was in it, but it was amazing.  El Pescador doesn’t have a large menu, mainly because you chose from a tray of fish the owner just brought in from the local fisherman.  The chef then prepares it with a selection of sides.  Since we got there first, we got our pick of fish.  The later you arrive, the fewer your options.  We ordered a small red snapper which was served family style with a salad, rice and tostones.  We also had the mofongo which is a Puerto Rican dish of smashed fried plantain mixes with fish, meat or veggies.  It is AMAZING.  We were fully on island time, enjoying the setting sun and the sound of waves and chit chat.

The next day, we were off on another adventure.  The Mann had booked a sailing charter with Erin Go Bragh for a daytime snorkeling excursion to a secluded beach.

There were just about a half dozen of us on the boat: a family visiting the area from Germany, the captain, his assistant and us.  The moment our toes touched the inside of the boat we never without a drink, snack or entertainment.

We chatted with our new friends as we sailed out to the snorkeling spot and the captain started cooking lunch.  We dropped anchor, jumped in the water and swam around with the fishes and then to the shore of a beach we had all to ourselves.

Once back on the boat, the weather started to turn and we got stuck in a quick tropical downpour (extreme weather happens to us quite a bit on boats, now that I think about it).  But the sun came out quickly and we had a lovely sail back to the dock.

For our final night in Fajardo, we decided to check out a curbside restaurant near the hotel, La Estacion.  La Estacion is a converted gas station and auto shop that serves delicious things off of a huge outdoor grill.  It is surprisingly swanky for a former auto shop.  We drank tropical drinks, ate fish and shrimp and more mofungo out of hot stone bowls the rolled ourselves home and got ready for part 2 of our Puerto Rico adventure.

Photo courtesy of La Estacion

Up next: Welcome to the Jungle

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Adventure El Pescador Erin Go Bragh Fish Fish Tacos & Lobster Rolls La Estacion Mofungo Private Beach Puerto Rico Rainstorm Restaurant Sailing Snorkeling Sunrise Sunset https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2017/1/Rum-Diaries Mon, 02 Jan 2017 11:39:58 GMT
Mann-Pirates of the Caribbean https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2016/12/Mann-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean The Mann and I have always loved to travel.  At first it was un-sophisticated and perhaps somewhat irresponsible: we were young, we had credit cards and jobs, we did whatever we wanted and after several years we wound up with a pile of debt.  In our early years, we traveled a lot to Disney World and Mexico but not much anywhere else.  During the recession, we scaled back and spent our vacation days at a family property in Florida.  While I will never complain about Florida vacations, we were definitely in a rut, bored and disconnected.  Things were not so fabulous at the Mannsion.  So… At the beginning of this year we decided to recommit to engaging travel, discovering new places and each other.  We needed to bring a new energy into our lives, reconnect and explore.

We kicked off our mission with a trip to Puerto Rico!  As I mentioned in a previous post, we started a new tradition of surprising each other with travel details.  For this trip, the Mann chose the hotels, restaurants and activities.  We arrived at San Juan airport and immediately hit the road.  I was so excited because I had no idea where we were going (ok, maybe I had a suspicion, shhh).  We drove east for about 45 minutes until we reached the sleepy coastal town of Fajardo.  As we arrived at the Waldorf Astoria (!!!), a huge rainbow straddled the property as if to welcome us to the hotel, the island and this new chapter in our lives.

Firstly, the Waldorf Astoria is HUGE and comprised of several unique resorts.  The Mann chose the more secluded Las Casitas which is a village of colorful, 3-storied villas overlooking the ocean and adjacent golf course.  After a tiny kerfuffle about our room (they were oversold and put us in a different room type than was booked), we settled in, took in our surroundings and started our adventure.

Photo courtesy of El Con Resort

We walked around the sprawling resort and checked out the pools, ocean views, fountains and little patio bar in our neck of the woods.  We then ventured over to El Conquistador, the other part of the resort where there were even more pools, bars, restaurants and a FUNICULAR!  What’s that, you say?  It’s like a gondola but rather than being suspended from cables, it is on a ground-mounted track that goes up a very steep hill.  We took said FUNicular to one of the resort’s casual restaurants in the marina, Ballyhoo Bar & Grill, for dinner.

Photo courtesy of El Con Resort

Ballyhoo is a huge, totally open-air tiki hut at the edge of the water where you can see boats lit up in the marina and hear the waves lapping on the shore.  We had a good but not especially memorable dinner, several drinks and then headed out for another stroll through the property.

We popped by the casino and night club in the main building of the El Conquistador, relaxed in the beautiful lobby and tried to find our way back home.  The Mann had more surprised in store…

The next day we headed over to Palomino Island, the Waldorf’s private beach.  The resort itself is situated on a cliff without beach access.  But who needs a beach, when you can have an entire island?!  We jumped on a ferry for a quick trip to the island.  We grabbed a couple of lounge chairs on the quieter part of the beach (the area closest to the ferry has mini golf, water sports, a restaurant and a couple of bars; hence children, noise and more people).  The water was beautiful, the beach was picturesque and the drinks were cold and delicious.  We hung out for a few hours looking out at the tiny Isla Palominito which we recognized from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

Once back at the main resort, the Mann dropped me off at the spa for a massage.  A friend who recently visited the area recommended the hot stone massage and that is what was waiting for me when I arrived.  The spa, like the resort, is huge.  I hung out in the hot tub, steam room, sauna and lounge until my appointment.  I am a massage junkie, but rarely get them at resorts because they are so expensive.  I’m so grateful that the Mann spoiled me … by the time I was done, I felt 5 pounds lighter, 10 years younger and like I was floating on air.

But wait, there’s more!  Stay tuned for our off-property adventures and mind-blowing meals.

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Adventure Bars Beach El Conquistador Resort Fish Tacos & Lobster Rolls Funicular Infinity Pool Island Massage Palm Trees Palomino Island Puerto Rico Spa Sunrise Sunrise Sunset Tiki Hut Waldorf Astoria https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2016/12/Mann-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean Thu, 29 Dec 2016 18:02:00 GMT
Aurora Borealis Comes in View https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2016/11/Aurora-Borealis-Comes-in-View When we returned to Reykjavik after our South Coast photo tour, we roamed around the main drag, Laugavegur, looking for a late dinner.  It was 9pm on a Sunday night so not many places were still open for dinner. We wound up back at the house to meet our friends and venture out to find Iceland’s famous hot dogs.  A guide book directed us to Baejarins Beztu Pylsur in old town.  We had been hearing all about these hot dogs which are a blend of lamb, pork and beef in a snappy natural casing.  Toppings include ketchup, mustard, mayo, remoulade, and fried or raw onions.  We were not impressed.  Perhaps it was because of the buildup… I love hot dogs and was ready to have my mind blown.  But I’ve had better at Fenway Park and at friends’ backyard BBQ’s.  It was pretty late and the area was deserted but for a couple of tweakers (is meth a thing in Iceland?) so all in all, our experience was disappointing and uncomfortable.  So onto the next thing…

Our group was hoping to see the Northern Lights (aka Aurora Borealis) but the weather conditions were a bit iffy.  For great viewing, it needs to be cold, clear and away from light pollution.  We read about a spot close to the city that offered a good view, without having to drive an hour or more out into the country.  The Grotta lighthouse is a 15 minute drive from downtown and was pretty full of other people trying to get a glimpse of the sky.  We got one of the last parking spots and waited.  As the sky slowly cleared, we started seeing a greenish glow that looked like moonlight.  The Mann was already taking photos and was able to see the lights more clearly since he was shooting with a long exposure.  We kept popping back in the van because it was cold and very windy.  By midnight, the Northern Lights were unmistakable and we watched them change shape.  It was a great experience, especially when shared by a group of friend.  I was surprised that we were seeing more of a glow than dancing light.  I realized that the images and videos I’ve seen were either long exposure or on time lapse, which I associated with movement.

The lights started fading and some of us couldn’t feel our faces anymore so we headed back to the house to finish off our wine supply and get ready for the next day’s departure.  The Mann woke up early the next morning to catch a glimpse of the few sites we hadn’t made it to yet: the beautiful Harpa Concert Hall and the unique Solfar Sun Voyager sculpture.

We definitely could have used at least another day to spend more time with the public art in Reykjavik.  It is plentiful and varies from sculpture to architecture to graffiti murals and more.  Our final stop was the Hallgrimskirkja church.  It is a huge concrete church in the expressionist style and inspired by the basalt columns that form on the coasts of Iceland.  There is an observatory at the top of the church where you can see all of Reykjavik below.  It was a perfect way to say goodbye to this colorful little city.

Hey there, Greenland!

 

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Adventure Architecture Aurora Borealis Church City Hallgrimskirsja Harpa Concert Hall Hot Dogs Iceland Leif Erikson Lighthouse Northern Lights Observation Deck Reykjavik Solfar Sun Voyager https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2016/11/Aurora-Borealis-Comes-in-View Wed, 16 Nov 2016 16:44:41 GMT
Land of Ice and Snow https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2016/11/Land-of-Ice-and-Snow On our second day in Iceland, the Mann and I split off from our friends for a South Coast Tour with Arctic Shots.  We had looked at several different tour companies such as GeoIceland, Extreme Iceland, SuperJeep and ultimately chose Arctic Shots as it was geared towards photographers.  We’ve never been on a photo tour before and it was awesome to have not only a local, but a photographer’s eye guiding us.  The other benefit of our tour was that it was private so we didn’t have to wait on anyone but ourselves.

Our guide, Oli, picked us up at the Airbnb at 9am and we were off.  Our first stop was to hang out with some horses on the side of the road.  They are so friendly and seem very happy to be petted and photographed.  That was the first of many spur of the moment stops we made that day.

We then made our way from Raufarholshellir (lava tub cave)…

…through four different waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss (you can walk behind the falls):

Gljufrafoss (waterfall in a cave):

Skogafoss (the big one):

…and Kvernufoss (the secret one, where I chased some sheep):

…to a few stops at the black sand beaches, Dyrholaey (a stone arch that juts into the ocean):

…and another overlook from where you can see the giant Reynisdrangar stone sea stacks and Dyrholaey from the other side:

…let’s not forget the glacier and beautiful countryside!

…and then my must-see, Reynisfjara, a black pebble beach with huge basalt formations.

and finally the little town of Vik.

…with a secluded black sand beach that we had all to ourselves!

Oli travels much like we do, with destinations in mind but with an open mind for stops along the way.  We had a great mix of major landmarks and off-the-beaten-path secret spots.  My very favorite was a smaller waterfall that was a short hike from the road near Skogafoss.  There were only a few people there, a group of whom were Arctic Shot’s other group for the day.  They were preparing for a nudes in nature shoot and it was cool to catch a glimpse of their process.  The other people there were taking wedding photos and it was a kick to see the bride hiking the trail in her gown.

All along our way, we saw these cool little structures built into the hillsides:

And on our way back to Reykjavik from Vik we watched the sun slowly go down and stopped for rainbows, frolicking horses and one more waterfall, Uridafoss which is currently involved with some controversy due to a proposed hydro-electric power station.

But wait… there’s more!  Northern Lights and Leif Erikson coming up next…

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Adventure Arctic Shots Basalt Black Sand Beach Cave Dyholaey Glacier Gljufrafoss Horses Kvernufoss Lava Lighthouse Man vs Nature Ocean Photo Tour Rainbow Raufarholshellir Reynisdrangar Reynisfjara Sea Stacks Seljalandsfoss Sheep Skogafoss Vik Waterfalls Wedding https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2016/11/Land-of-Ice-and-Snow Sat, 05 Nov 2016 12:36:26 GMT
Where the Hot Springs Flow https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2016/10/Where-the-Hot-Springs-Flow This summer, a few of our friends were talking about taking advantage of some low fares on WOW airlines and heading to Iceland. They invited us along and a couple of months later, on one of the hottest days of the year we were at the airport with our winter coats boarding a very purple plane.

Both WOW and Iceland air offer free layovers on flights from the US to Europe which has created a niche in their tourism industry for quick trips such as ours. We planned a two night stay, leaving Boston on a Friday evening, arriving in Iceland early the following morning and going back home Monday afternoon. We found a lovely Airbnb right in downtown Reykjavik, near old town and the main drag Laugavegur. The international airport in Iceland, KEF, is located about 45 minutes from Reykjavik and while taxis, group transfers and busses are readily available, they are expensive, so we decided to rent a van and get around on our own.We arrived at the modern, clean and very quiet KEF around 4am, and headed over to the rental car shuttle and piled into our clown car for the weekend.

Having a group of 10 people, we had several must-see’s and one of them was a soak in the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is just 20 minutes from the airport and it’s common to make that a first or last stop of an Iceland adventure. We decided to start there since we’d be going right when it opened and before it got crowded. But we had a few hours before the 8am opening so we decided explore the KEF area. The villages nearby are sleepy and small, but we found a guest house that was open and offered breakfast. We grabbed some coffee and tea and headed to the continental divide right around sunrise. This was such a great introduction to Iceland! It is barren, dramatic and majestic.  Iceland is full of volcanos, so the terrain is very moon-like. Similar to Big Island in Hawaii but … greener. The continental divide is an area where the Eurasian and North American continental plates meet. It is not grand like the tectonic plates that created the Appalachian/Rockies/etc., but it was spectacular nonetheless. There’s a little bridge that “connects” the continents and beautiful sand and rock formations all around. We explored, played and then headed towards the Blue Lagoon.

The Blue Lagoon is spectacular. Iceland is full of geothermal activity and it is this activity that fuels the hot mineral-rich pools of the lagoon. The water is a milky ice-blue color and roughly 100*F. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland so it’s best to book in advance.  We booked a week in advance and, while our preferred time was available, peak times in the day had already sold out!

We opted for the “comfort” package which included a towel and one drink. There is a Premium package that includes a bath robe, slippers, etc. but those did not seem necessary. When you arrive at the Lagoon, you’re checked in, given a wrist band that serves as your digital locker key and form of payment. Having a shower before entering the lagoon is a requirement, so we headed to the lockers rooms, dropped off our stuff, showered and changed into bathing suits. (An important note: the minerals in the water are great for you but will make your hair stiff, can damage prescription sunglasses and irritate contact lenses, I wore my contacts and did not have any trouble. As far as hair was concerned, I glopped on a bunch of conditioner, which is provided in the showers, before and after my soak. My hair was still kind of crunchy after, but my curls loved it… It was like an intense texture spray… thickness, definition just not super touchable).

Once you’re rinsed and ready, you can enter the lagoon from one of the decks outside or from an indoor transition area. It was pretty chilly outside, so we used the indoor entrance. Once outside, we finally were able to soak in the experience. The lagoon is large with a very organic shape so you can walk/swim around to the bars, nooks and mud mask area. Entry to the lagoon includes a mineral mask that you put on your face for 5-10 minutes. It tingles a bit and feels so good. There is also a complementary moisturizing algae mask that was very soothing, especially after a long week, a red-eye flight and an early morning road trip. We chose to start at one of the bars for our free drink (prosecco, wine, beer, cider and soft drinks are all available), then descended onto the mud mask hut like the walking dead. We slathered each other with mud then popped over to a blue lagoon employee for a complementary group photo. One more group slither/swim back to the bar (who says happy hour can’t start at 8am?), an aloe mask and an exploratory swim to check out the far reaches of the lagoon and we were cooked. Relaxed and pruned, we showered, checked out and headed for Reykjavik.

Reykjavik is a storybook city. It is perfectly Scandinavian in style and atmosphere. The houses and buildings are primarily made from corrugated steel and stone, a mixture of historic and modern but not much in between. The Airbnb we stayed in is actually one of the oldest houses in Reykjavik and the stone used in its basement is the same that was used to build the parliament in town. We parked the van, met the property’s caretaker and headed out to find lunch in old town.

We came across a small gastro-pub called Saeta Svinid. After the first round of drinks (mine was the most delicious mojito I’ve ever had, made with passion fruit and mint) we decided to be adventurous and try a local delicacy: puffin. Iceland offers dishes that may seem taboo to some such as puffin, horse, whale and sheep balls. I swing between being adventurous and feeling guilty about eating Bambi so the puffin was a mixed experience.  It was served cold in some type of herbal berry sauce.  To me, it looked like very smooth, thinly sliced liver. I couldn’t figure out the taste, but the texture was very smooth and slimy, sort of like octopus but much more tender.  Final verdict: I didn’t like it and felt bad about eating a cute little puffin.  Perhaps if it was tastier I wouldn’t have felt as guilty.  But it definitely put me off experimenting with the horse or whale meat this time around. We did learn, though, that horse meat is similar in taste to other red meats such as beef and bison, and very tender. Perhaps next time? The rest of our meal got rave reviews from the group. I had a flavorful roasted cauliflower soup and the Mann has one of the best burgers of all time.

With the energy of the trip’s first meal, we hit the streets of Reykjavik. We spent the afternoon mainly on Laugavegur checking out the shops, bars and street art.

Our first stop was a little bar called Olstofan then onto Lebowski Bar. Lebowski Bar is named after the movie and decorated with old Playboy magazine covers, Big Lebowski memorabilia and traditional pin ups. They serve the broadest selection of White Russians I’ve ever seen.

Our final stop was Boston, where we hung out on a rooftop patio and listened to a band playing a party downstairs.

The Mann and I peeled off for a while to spend more time exploring the side streets and alleys which are covered in murals and graffiti.

Our final stop of the night was at an Italian restaurant around the corner from our house, Primo. We were seated in their private Mafia room (most restaurants in town are quite small, and finding a place to accommodate all of us without reservations was a bit tricky). It had started to rain and got pretty chilly and raw, so traditional Italian food was especially comforting. We started with a few different bruschetta, cheeses and many bottles of wine.  Eating, drinking and chatting with our friends was the perfect ending to a super-sized day.

Stay tuned for day 2!  Waterfalls, black sand beaches, northern lights and so much more!

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Adventure Bars Blue Lagoon Bowling Burgers Europe Graffiti Iceland Lebowski Bar Murals Pin-ups Reykjavik Road Trip Sunrise Wow Airlines airbnb weekend https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2016/10/Where-the-Hot-Springs-Flow Thu, 27 Oct 2016 09:46:06 GMT
Doin’ a Little East Coast Fling https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2016/10/Doin-a-Little-East-Coast-Fling The second stop on our east coast road trip was Philadelphia.  I’ve heard often that Boston and Philadelphia are similar, and from what we saw, I agree.  It’s small, old, quirky… a blend of Boston and DC with a bit of NYC thrown in.

Our Philly adventure was short and sweet… really an extended rest stop on our way home from Florida & Savannah.  We arrived in the early evening and set off for a bit of exploring and dinner.  We used Hotwire’s Hot Rates to book last minute and landed at the Hilton at Penn’s Landing near Old City.  The hotel was great for what we needed: a clean place to crash that was close to a few sights.  We typically prefer smaller boutique hotels, but the benefit of being at a large corporate property was the view from the high floors, parking and free snacks.  The Hilton is situated on the Delaware river just next to the Independence Seaport Museum and we could see all the old ships decked out in lights at night.

   

It is also about a 15 minute walk from Old City, which is where we headed for dinner.  After walking around a bit, we saw Lucha Cartel and decided to give it a try.  We are so glad we did.  It is awesome!  The inside is dark and decorated with an eclectic mash-up of Lucha wrestling masks, religious icons and skateboard deck art.  The food is elevated Tex-Mex and delicious!  I had a huge salad and the Mann had (what else) fish tacos.  Lucha Cartel also hosts various events and the night we were there was Salsa Night.  While the staff was clearing tables and setting up the dance floor, no one rushed us to get out.  If we find ourselves back in Philly, Lucha Cartel will be our first stop.

Photo courtesy of luchacartel.com

The next morning we got up early and killed a few hours exploring more of Old City including the Liberty Bell, City Hall, Independence Mall, Elfreth’s Alley and the Betsy Ross House.

Everything was still closed and the streets were empty which made for a quick tour and good photos.  I felt like I was in a dream version of Boston, meaning everything looked familiar but was in the wrong place or size.  Our favorite stop was Elfreth’s Alley with its narrow,  cobblestone street and historic houses.  It’s like a sister street to Acorn Street in Boston’s Beacon Hill:

Elfreth's Alley, Philadelphia Acorn Street, Boston

The houses are meticulously preserved and decorated and the neighborhood feels like a respite from the sky scrapers and noise of the rest of the city.  What we also found interesting is that Philly’s old city was pretty hipster-y, historical yet gritty, whereas Boston’s is certainly more touristy and traditional.

Eastern State Penitentiary was at the top of our list of the limited must-see Philly stops so we headed over there, driving by the beautiful Rittenhouse Square, quirky Magic Gardens (so bummed it was closed, but we were able to peak in from the street) and iconic Philadelphia Museum of Art (aka home of the Rocky steps).

Fun fact: I’m fascinated by prisons, jails, dungeons, etc. especially old ones.  So when we arrived at Eastern State Penitentiary, I was positively giddy.  ESP is the first true “penitentiary” in the world, meant for solitary penitence and rehabilitation as opposed to hard labor and physical punishment commonly used up to the time the penitentiary was opened.  Prisoners had solitary cells accessed by a private outdoor exercise yards.  Prisoners did not have contact with each other but had relative comfort in their cells which featured a faucet, flush toilet and heating.  In 1965 the prison was designated as a National Historic landmark and was closed and abandoned in 1971 during which time it was taken back by nature.  Trees now grow in and through parts of the prison.  In 1994 the prison was re-opened for historical tours (yay for me!).

We spent a few hours roaming around the prison on a self guided tour narrated by Steve Buscemi (LOVE him!).  We were able to see almost all of the structure including parts that have been restored and others that are still in ruins.  Throughout the prison, we found various art exhibits… how cool is that?!  Most memorable are a video loop of prison movie scenes, a photo exhibit of murder victims of ESP inmates, a video projection of trans and female prisoners telling their stories, Al Capone’s cell as it was during his time at ESP (swanky), a sculptural graph of the world’s prison populations through time and several others.

The prison has been featured in many TV shows and movies, most notably (to me anyway), 12 Monkeys and while doing research for this blog, I found out the Dead Milkmen filmed Punk Rock Girl here (one of my fave songs of all time).  But there’s nothing like seeing it in person.  We got through most of it in a couple of hours, but could have stayed longer to spend more time on the art exhibits.  It was early April, however and our toes were getting cold so we hit the road for the final stretch towards home.

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Adventure City Hall City Life Drive-By Tourism Eastern State Penitentiary Elfreth's Alley Fish Tacos Fish Tacos & Lobster Rolls Hilton Hotwire Liberty Bell Lucha Lucha Cartel Magic Gardens Old City Penn's Landing Philadelphia Prison Punk Rock Girl Rittenhouse Square Road Trip Rocky Skateboards art https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2016/10/Doin-a-Little-East-Coast-Fling Mon, 03 Oct 2016 20:20:00 GMT
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2016/9/Midnight-in-the-Garden-of-Good-and-Evil 2016 has been the year of the road trip for the Mann and me.  You already know about our most recent drive up the California Coast.  (Wait, what?  You haven’t read it yet?  Naughty, naughty reader!  Go!  Immediately!  choose your adventure!  I’ll wait…)

Ok, so now that we’re all caught up, let’s talk about our East Coast Adventure!

We offered to drive a family car back from Florida this past spring.  I’ve done this drive a few times as a kid but this was the first time we were doing this type of distance together and as adults.  We flew down to Palm Beach, spent a couple of days in our home-away-from-home in Stuart, FL (more on that here) and then hit the road for our first long haul adventure with way too many snacks.

When we first started planning this trip, we had a long list of stops that would have taken us a couple of weeks to get through.  We scaled it down to a couple of nights in Savannah and a night in Philly (saving St. Augustine, Charleston, DC and other stops along the way for next time).  The Mann started a new tradition this year of surprising me with the details of our winter vacation and I wanted to get him back with our time in Savannah.  I found the beautiful Brice Hotel in the Historic District near River Street.

The Brice describes itself perfectly as a “good Southern belle — beautiful and poised on the outside, a bit sassy and rebellious on the inside”.  We checked into a spacious, modern, inviting room on the ground floor with a patio that opened up to the pool and lounge area.
In true southern hospitality style, the hotel was hosting a meet and greet happy hour for guests in the lobby.  We popped down for a drink and checked out the various common spaces.  There are several living room-style lounges where you can hang out, read, chat and maybe make a new 4-legged friend (the Brice is pet friendly: gold star!!).

If the weather is inviting, you can relax out on the patio at one of the many cast iron cafe tables or outdoor couches.The Brice was the first place where we noticed complementary bicycle rental, how cool!  (The Paradox in Santa Cruz offers the same.)  But we headed out on foot to check out the neighborhood.  We started along the river and walked along the old brick streets and elevated storefronts that are each accessed by a little bridge that spans the alley below.  It’s such a cool aesthetic.

You may know that Savannah is a city of public squares, the most famous of which is Forsyth Park.  But between the river and Forsyth Park are a couple dozen smaller squares, each with historical significance.  Savannah is one of the first planned cities in the country and is laid out on an orderly grid that is easy to explore.  We chose to take a tour with Savannah Dan, who walked us through the Historic District with great stories of Savannah through the years, covering politics, culture, and random trivia.  Until recently, we’d always explore new cities on our own, but I have to tell you, a personable tour guide is totally worth it.  We saw a lot in a short time and it helped us narrow in on the areas we wanted to go back to and explore at our own pace.  After the tour, we decided to meander around the heart of the Historic District which is one of the US’s largest National Historic Landmark Districts, just enjoying the architecture and atmosphere.

Savannah is a small city and we got a good sense of it in just two days.  With that said, there is so much more to see outside of the Historic District and we look forward to going back and exploring further.  One must-see is the Wormsloe Plantation, which we visited on our way into Savannah.  It’s about 20 minutes away from the Historic District and if you’re visiting Savannah without a car, you can easily find a tour or other transportation.  Wormsloe is the quintessential southern vista.  Long straight dirt road, tall oak trees forming a canopy covered in dripping spanish moss.  The Plantation itself is not open to visitors, but you can walk around the grounds, through the forest and explore the ruins dating back to the mid-1700’s.

We also made a quick stop at Bonaventure Cemetery to see what it was all about.  It is a huge cemetery that you can walk or drive through and admire the moss-covered oaks, beautiful statues, ornate graves and tombs.  We were eager to get into the city so we did not stay for long, but it is definitely worth a visit.

My first awareness of Savannah as a place I wanted to explore was after seeing Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  It is a beautiful, unique, historic, city with a palpable atmosphere… just like in the movies.

Quick restaurant run-down:

The Pirates’ House: A little Disney-ish, so great for families.  Genuinely old (open since 1753!).  Mediocre food, but quick, easy and not expensive.

Treylor Park: Great atmosphere, fabulous outdoor patio, somewhat disappointing food, but excellent drinks.  Good movies on at the bar… I think Point Break (the real one, with Swayze) was on while we were there.

Chive Seabar: Hands down, our favorite meal of the trip.  Swanky, delicious, personable service.  Go!

Driftaway Cafe: Down the street from Wormsloe.  We were there during a jazz brunch.  Casual, tasty, southern.
 

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) Adventure Architecture Bonaventure Cemetery Cemetery Chive Seabar City Tour Dog Friendly Driftaway Cafe Drive-By Tourism Historic Kimpton Hotels Road Trip Savannah The Pirates' House Treylor Park Wormsloe Plantation https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2016/9/Midnight-in-the-Garden-of-Good-and-Evil Tue, 06 Sep 2016 20:23:00 GMT
State Of Emergency https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2016/8/state-of-emergency Earlier this summer, we heard the enraging news of the latest Algae Bloom and subsequent State Of Emergency to hit our home away from home in Stuart, FL.  This summer's bloom seems to be the largest in recent history and is wreaking havoc on the local beaches, tourist economy and wildlife.  Check out these articles for more detailed information, but the Cliff's note version is this: Lake Okeechobee regularly has blue-green algae caused by nutrients and other elements of agricultural runoff.  Due to heavy rains this winter, the lake was at high levels and the Army Corps of Engineers decided to release some of the lake water because they feared the dikes would fail and flood the towns neighboring the lake.  So the lake water was released through channels, into the St. Lucie River and wound up in the Treasure Coast.  There are health risks associated with the algae that affect both humans and wildlife.  Activists have come out in force advocating for the purchase of the lands south of Okeechobee, where the lake water could be released and safely filtered through that ecosystem.  Problem is, the land belongs to "Big Sugar" farms and, hence, a political mess ensues.  In the meantime, tourists are canceling their trips to the area, local businesses are suffering and manatees are struggling to breath when they surface among the muck.  The whole thing is complicated and heartbreaking.

We dedicate this post to our friends in Stuart and the surrounding area.  Here are some of our favorite spots and things to do.  We hope you'll visit and help support this awesome community aka "America's Happiest Seaside Town".

Our very favorite spot is the Kona Beach Cafe in Jensen.  They have the BEST fish and shrimp tacos and absolutely dangerous bean and cheese fries.  We also loved their pineapple fritters and Mahi sandwich, but we keep going back for the tacos.  The restaurant is mainly outdoors, with varying degree of cover.  The "backyard" has games: corn hole, ring toss and others that come and go.  There's also live music and movie nights.  Important note: they are closed on Mondays.

Our rule when if Florida is to always eat outside, beachside if possible.  We love Shucker's on the Beach and Pietro's on the Ocean, both on Jensen Beach.  Shucker's is a bit more casual and kid-friendly with a massive menu of fresh and fried seafood as well as pastas, burgers, sandwiches and salads.  It's always fish sandwiches and tacos for us.  Pietro's takes it up a notch with a smaller, more refined offering.  J loves the grilled salmon salad and the Mann goes for the fish taco trio (of course) ... each taco is prepared with a different salsa.

While in the Jensen Beach area, check out the piers off the causeway.  You can catch a beautiful sunset there.  Or, pull over on the southbound side of A1A, and watch the sunset over Jupiter Inlet.

During our last visit, we finally made it to Riverwalk Cafe and Oyster Bar in Stuart Center.  Riverwalk constantly rates high on Tripadvisor and has been on our list of places to try.  While it did not have outdoor seating, we were there on a chilly day so we headed inside and had a beautiful meal.  The Ahi Tuna Nachos were to-die-for.

Another great spot in Stuart Center is Sneaki Tiki.  This location used to be the Key Lime Cafe which closed suddenly a few years ago.  We've been waiting for the spot to reopen so we could go back and enjoy their tropical outdoor courtyard.

For something more upscale and very romantic, we recommend 18 Seminole for traditional Italian pastas, meats and fish.  18 Seminole is a carefully preserved, rustic bungalow that has been converted to a restaurant with a beautiful outdoor patio.

Like watching sailboats and sunsets during dinner?  Check out Sailor's Return.  Whether you arrive by land or by sea, you'll be impressed by the open air space and delicious food.  (They have courtesy docking!!)

A

When we're in Stuart, the Mann heads to the beaches for sunrise.  Sometimes I'll groggily roll out of bed and go with him and do my morning meditation on the beach.

Finally, our very first or very last stop while we're in Florida is Guanabanas in Jupiter which is halfway between Palm Beach Airport and Stuart.  We've seen one of our favorite bands there totally by chance and have been hooked ever since.  Check out their live entertainment and feast your eyes on the tropical decor, banyan and palm trees, the river alongside the open air dining area and the exotic cars at valet.  Follow their Instagram account for a dose of paradise.

If you have the time, check out Blowing Rocks Preserve.  While the rocks are no longer blowing, there is a beautiful path to the beach and a nature preserve and boardwalk across the street.  Great for walking off a big lunch or working up an appetite for Guanabanas!

 

]]>
(WILLIAM MANN PHOTOGRAPHY) & 18 Adventure Bar Beach Cafe Fish Florida Guanabana Guanabanas Jensen Kona Lobster Ocean Oyster Pietro's Return Riverwalk Rolls Sailor's Seminole Shucker's Sneaki Stuart Sunrise Sunset Tacos Tiki and on the https://www.wmannphotography.com/blog/2016/8/state-of-emergency Mon, 22 Aug 2016 20:23:00 GMT