Well, as expected, the city looks a lot different in the ilght of day. We walked for several miles throughout the city, specifically the Colonial District. First we had breakfast at the hotel's outside restaurant. The cafe con leche was awesome. It was a welcome friend. Afterwards, we began our trek through the city. First and foremost, I have to say that I was surprised at the traffic. It was just amazing - cars everywhere, motorcycles and pedestrians thrown in the mix, horns blaring incessantly and only the faintest trace of traffic rules were to be found. We first saw the Altar de la Patria and the Parque Independencia. At the Altar de la Patria we saw the final resting place of the three forefathers of the DR; Juan Pablo Duarte, Matias Ramon Mella and Francisco del Rosario Sanchez. An imposing building in the middle of a beautifully landscaped park, it was two stories tall, built out of marble. Inside were large statues of the three men, and an eternal flame. It was attended by a couple of armed guards (something us "Norte Americanos" are not used to seeing). But they were very nice and offered a lot of history through the translation of Cesar. They were also kind enough to help us out taking pictures of the place and with them as well.
After that - we took a stroll down Conde Calle. This used to be the main shopping district in Santo Domingo. But with the advent of shopping malls in the newer part of the city, it has lost a little bit of it's luster. But it was still filled with clothing shops, souvenir stores and lots of local art for sale on the sidewalks. There was a young women's/girls clothing store named "Lolita" that I was particularly amused by.
Something that was really difficult to adjust to was being constantly approached by street vendors of all types - men selling souvenirs, boys offering to shine your shoes or men acting as their own "cambios" offering to sell you Dominican dollars for American dollars (I'm still at a loss at how that is a good deal for them - they would typically offer a higher exchange rate than the regular cambios or banks). But they were everywhere, and we had to learn to be insistent without appearing rude. By the end of the day, the polite veneer of a smile and "no, gracias" wore thin to a simple but stern "no."
Near the end of Conde Calle, we came to an open plaza, Parque y Monumento a Cristobal Colon that lead to the Catedral Metropolitana, the first Christian church of the new world. But we came back to that later.
We continued our walk down Conde Calle and went to the Forte of Santo Domingo, or Fortaleza de Santo Domingo. There we picked up a tour guide and got a LOT of history. We learned that years ago the fort was used as a prison, and our tour guide spent time in prison because he was accused of being a supporter of Fidel Castro. The fort has a volatile history - and our tour guide was so thorough that much of what he said was lost because it was just overwhelming. The fort overlooked the Ozama River that separated the original site of the city before it moved and the fort where it is today. There was an action movie being filmed at the time we were there (the name has escaped me) but we got a photo with one of the actors. He was pretty exhausted by then because he had already been killed three times that day. From there we turned and walked down Las Damas Calle. We passed by lots of buildings full of political history. We walked by Trampolin Children's Museum. We didn't go in, but we peeked at their courtyard which was nicely landscaped with lots of orchids and palms. We passed by another small museum that had two carvings of the local Taino tribes. Here we saw representations of the sun and moon. We were on our way to see Don Diego Colon's home (son of Christopher Columbus) we saw some really cool iron artwork. I didn't get any information about them, but they were really cool. We got to Alcazar Virreinal de Don Diego Colon in Plaza Espana. There are lots of pictures of the house at the link below. They said that Christopher Columbus never lived there, but his family did, most notably his son, Diego.
From there we went to the Amber museum. It was pretty cool - there were lots of things to look at. Including their nod to Jurassic Park with a piece of amber with a complete miniature dinosaur inside (very gumball machine-ish, but amusing). I didn't purchase anything - it was pretty expensive. And the tour was designed to lead into a sales pitch. We knew that was coming, but went along anyway to see the museum.
By this time we were getting pretty exhausted. We happened to run into our tour guide from the fort earlier and he suggested a small cafe close to where we were. So Paul, Cesar, Chucho and I collapsed around a small table and immediately ordered sodas, bottled water and a couple of bottles of Presidente - the local brew (a light beer, especially refreshing when served ice cold - we became very good friends of Presidente by the end of the week).
After lunch, we worked our way back to the Cathedral. Along the way, we saw the remains of the first monastery (The Dominicus), and the first mental hospital (yes, you read that correctly), and the first University. When we got to the Cathedral, my camera batteries died. We tried to get batteries at a nearby gift shop, but after returning two sets that were dead, I gave up. I'll have to get copies of the pictures Cesar and Paul took. I did get a couple shots though.
It was a lot to take in on the first day, and we were exhausted! We got back to the hotel, and went straight to the pool with a few more icy bottles of Presidente to wrap it all up.
After we rested up, we decided to venture out for dinner. Cesar decided that we should visit China Town (who knew?). We got there a little late, and decided to not spend a whole lot of time shopping around. But we found a little place to eat. It was kind of funny to see a menu that was a strange mix of Spanish and Chinese - "Pollo Lo Mein" for example. We had a good chuckle at that. Although it makes perfect sense, we just never thought about it before.
Later we went to a casino in a Rennaisance hotel. Casino's aren't something I usually enjoy, but Paul and Cesar wanted to go, and I'm glad we did. I didn't gamble, but lived vicariously through them and watched the local lounge act. By the end of the night, Paul had won $140 American dollars. On the way out we stopped by the restaurant for coffee (the best!) and dessert. I had the Passion Fruit Cheesecake. It wasn't really a cheesecake, it was more like flan. But it was the best coffee and dessert in the entire world. It was the perfect end to a very, very busy day.
View the entire photo album for this day...