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December 3, 2009 By:
George Medovoy, JE Feature
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Water World: El Morro Castle of San Juan

One of the biggest treats in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is to wake up in the morning and take in the breathtaking view of the Caribbean.

That's what we were able to do during a stay at the San Juan Marriott and Stellaris Casino, conveniently located on San Juan's spectacular Condado Beach.

I must admit, it was really hard to get out of bed. I would pull back the drapes and open up the view of the waters as I relaxed with my head on the pillow. I could see some early risers -- a lot more energetic than I was -- already walking on the beach or taking an early-morning dip.

Back to my less hurried way of doing things, I would go downstairs and buy a morning cup of fresh coffee and tasty croissants from a lobby shop, and retreat to the balcony high above the public beach. Later on, we hit the beach.

In the evening, things started to pick up in the hotel's lobby lounge, including some really hot Latin sounds from live musicians. And who could resist trying his or her luck playing the slots in the Stellaris Casino?

In the daytime, for 75 cents, a public bus outside the Marriott offers a ride into Old San Juan, where a free trolley allows people to hop on and off, and sample Old San Juan's shops, plus historic El Morro Castle, a World Heritage site whose official name is Castillo de San Felipe del Morro.

Construction of the castle fortifications began under the rule of King Carlos V of Spain in 1539 as a means of protecting the harbor of the Spanish outpost from enemies.

If you fast-forward to 1898, you come to the Spanish-American War, when the U.S. Navy shelled the garrison, leading to American victory and possession of the island of Puerto Rico.

What's really entertaining -- after a visit to the castle -- is to take the free trolley down the hill for a walk through the narrow streets of Old San Juan, filled with many little shops and cafes, many brightly colored, and perfect for browsing and satisfying your hunger.

One day in the old city, we decided to go exploring for a place to have lunch and found Mini Café, which turned out to be a good choice because the place was filled with locals -- usually a good sign, to my way of thinking.

The goings-on in the entrance itself was rather odd, I thought to myself, until I found out exactly what it was all about. The space turned out to be a spot for people to place bets on horse-racing.

San Juan has a notable Jewish community, with estimates totaling between 600 and 1,000 Jews living and working there. The city supports three synagogues and/or religious centers: Chabad Lubavitch; Shaare Zedeck, a Conservative synagogue; and the Reform Temple Beth Shalom.

The Jewish population of San Juan hails from the United States, Cuba, South America and Israel. A number of Puerto Ricans are also said to be Jews by choice, converting either because they believe they have Jewish ancestors or because they were attracted to Jewish values.

For more information, see: www.gotopuertorico.com.

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