Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Cartagena calls -- photogenic city delights with its old town, street music, flowers, colonial charm


Browsing for souvenirs is a must in colorful Cartagena, here in the old walled part of the pretty city.

A young accordionist entertains for change near Cartagena's old town.

CARTAGENA is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cities in Americas.
Indeed, it may be one of the world's prettiest cities, with its colorful old town, cobblestone streets, pastel plazas and brilliant clusters of bougainvillea.
It's a city for romantics, historians, beach lovers and gourmets.  It's also a city for romantics -- with music in the air.  Talented buskers play violin, accordion and mandolin on streets and nightclubs offer lively choices, from jazz to rumba and more.
THE CITY was the first Spanish colony on the American continent and one of the first sanctuaries of freed African slaves in the Americas. It is now populated by an ethnic mix
Cartagena at night.
of Colombia's own spicy and distinctive variety.
Cartagena, spread out on Colombia's northern coast and facing the Caribbean Sea, is the most visited city in the country.  It's crowded in the December holidays and the holy week, when schools are out and many Colombians take their vacations.  But we enjoyed our recent visit with unhampered strolls through the walled city and a leisurely afternoon on the famed Bocagrande.
This stately old Cartagena convent is now a museum. 
THE HISTORY of Colombia is soaked in blood. Sadly, that theme continues to today’s violence and drug wars.
The South American country’s flag is tri-colored:  red for blood shed to win independence, yellow for rich veins of gold, emeralds and other minerals, and blue for the sky and ocean.
We sailed into beautiful Cartagena at dawn and explored the city stem to stern.
Cartagena's charm includes pedestrian only streets and plazas.
THROUGH A 17th Century harbor with stone cannon casings, we walked inside ancient walls to explore cool, tiled cloisters and serene convents.
Cartagena is a city of many colors and people.
We saw scantily clad lovers cavorting and caressing on the beaches, much as we saw in Rio.
We visited the city's massive wall, built by the Spanish 500 years ago to guard the harbor.  And we toured the fortress of all fortresses, San Felipe de Barajas, so solid it kept out even the aggressive English fleet.
WE ALSO saw hundreds of greenhouses.  Many of the flowers during the Princess Diana mourning came from Cartagena and Colombia!
Dressed in the colors of Colombia's flag, a fruit seller serves up papaya.
Behind him, a customer negotiates for Cuban cigars.
A huge restoration project has brought Cartagena to international attention.  It has revived with billions of dollars in new hotels, condos and office buildings.  And it has an influx of hard-working immigrants, adding to its myriad ethnic restaurants.  
In fact, Cartagena's eateries are said to be among South America's best.
Its nightlife -- along with its risque beaches -- rivals Rio's.
HERE ON AN alluring strip of sand and surf are a dozen classy hotels and graceful high-rise condos.
The city has two main parts: the walled colonial city ("ciudad amurallada"), with its fancy restaurants, clubs and hotels; and a long strip of hotel towers and condos fronting onto the Bocagrande.  An exclusive neighborhood, Castillogrande, sports artistically designed condos, beautiful places to jog, and a quiet beach.
One Cartagena man gave us advice on how to eat fruit:  "Not fruit salad, but one fruit at a time," he said.
Flowers greet visitors to Cabo San Lucas, our next blog stop, and we see
 the place that inspired the Eagles' "Hotel California" at whereiscookie 
"If you want papaya, eat papaya.  Better for your stomach."
COMING UP:  Our revels continue up and down the Americas’ coast as we visit lovely Cabo San Lucas, famous for its flowers, pristine sandy beaches, spectacular fishing, challenging diving and bottomless margaritas. Then we salute the booby, our faithful escort on our sea-driven adventure.  Finally, we catch our breath in Fort Lauderdale, where we fall in love with the water taxi. Remember to explore, learn and live.
Visit us Wednesdays and weekends at: www.whereiscookie.com.    

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