Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cartagena Inside and Out

The stately exterior walls of the legendary Sofitel Hotel Santa Clara display the meticulous restoration of a centuries old convent which contains all of its original interior architectural details as well.

Palm trees thrive inside the courtyard garden, which is now a romantic restaurant serving an elegant fusion of local and French cuisine.

A voluptuous Botero sculpture seems very relaxed in this lush setting, although the current guests of the Hotel generally dress a bit more modestly.

Colombian flowers, exported throughout the world, add color and warmth to this dream-like setting.

Relaxing here in the tropical rattan lounge chairs with a white martini supplied by the hotel bar is guaranteed, for a while at least, to make one forget just about everything out there in the real world.
Just outside the Santa Clara is the 500-year-old wall that has protected the old city from outside invaders who were particularly intent on seizing the great amounts of gold stored there. Besides walking on top of the wall, visitors enjoy unobstructed views of the nearby Caribbean Sea through arched openings at street level.
Continuing a stroll by the Sea, one can look back and see the Santa Clara's additional accommodations, and a wall hiding the home of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. 
Next door is another restored convent, this one housing nineteen condos considered to be the most luxurious in Cartagena.
With all original architectural details restored, modern amenities, such as private swimming pools and Italian designer kitchens, have been seamlessly added. The classic lines of the old architecture are mirrored in the modern updates as seen from the front entrance looking outward.  
Inside, the beautiful historic colonnades remain surrounding the main lobby, with water flowing in small canals built around palm trees.  
Inside one apartment, even the view from one of four bathrooms is surprising, revealing terra cotta tile roofs, a glimpse of the Sea, and modern Cartagena outside the old city.  

Something in the Cartagena air demands that visitors slow down, relax a bit, and adjust to the local pace. With that in mind, after exploring the wonderful streets of the old city, one tends to find comfortable niches in which to decompress and maybe stretch out on a comfortable sofa.


In this interior, the unfamiliar Middle-Eastern art imported from Dubai adds even more of a feeling of being "away from it all".

More beautiful details recorded by Blanche's unerring photography delight the eyes as one slowly drifts off for a short nap, savoring the reality that our Cartagena truly is an escape to paradise.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Balconies of Cartagena

Cartagena's historic center on Colombia's Caribbean Coast is an enchanting treasure trove of old architecture, preserved and protected by representation on UNESCO's World Heritage list. If McDonald's or Walmart comes to town, it will have to be on Cartagena's own terms, which means none of the beautiful old buildings in the cobblestone streets can be destroyed or even altered. This is one of the big reasons we enjoy the time we spend there at our vacation getaway, where just a simple, relaxing walk around the old city is pure pleasure.

One of the most romantic things about Cartagena is the abundance of Spanish balconies, often framed with year-round blooming flowers. Each "balcon" is unique and offers a perfect place for the residents of the house to relax and enjoy the soothing sea breezes.

The sidewalk vendors and souvenir shops in the old city offer a myriad of items, some of which actually rise well above the usual tourist kitsch.  For instance, we ignore the plethora of Botero-like "masterpieces" readily available for purchase, which are comparable to the plastic models of the Statue of Liberty offered in NYC's Times Square. 
Colorful handcrafted accessories are reasonably priced, and local artisans' works are often fascinating. Our ace photographer, Blanche Greenstein, loves capturing details, like a closeup of a stack of crisp straw hats for sale, and the brightly painted side of a sightseeing bus.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Faces of Cartagena

Besides the colors and old architecture in Cartagena's historic center, there are the wonderful people - the faces of a walled city that, in many ways, seems immune to the ravages of time. The vendors on the old town streets still ply their trades pretty much the same as they did a century ago. Beauty can be seen in the faces of members of the local community, dressed in traditional fashions, who sell mouth watering, home made candy. 

Food carts with fresh coconuts, fruit, and bread are wheeled up and down the cobblestones, with the proprietors shouting out today's specials so people inside their houses will hear them and come out to buy.

Shoulder bags and hats are popular with the tourists.

Cartagena is a legendary wedding and honeymoon destination, so we joined a crowd watching a beautifully dressed high society wedding party exiting the old Cathedral on their way to celebrate.

Two American tourists, our close friends Rebecca Chapman and Jim Duque, could not resist the hat stand. The same pair of travelers joined a  group of local kids for a photo op. 

It is always a joy to see our first and favorite friend in Cartagena, Maria del Socorro Pinzon, pictured to the right of Rebecca.  

Socorro appears regularly in the society pages of the local newspaper, El Universal, as a prominent fixture at all important Cartagena events involving the arts, antiques, and charities. Her energetic warmth epitomizes the vitality and the soul of this magical city.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Doors & Windows of Cartagena

Cartagena de los Indios, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, South America, is a magical city filled with color and mystery. The doors and windows in Cartagena's historic center are seductively painted in rich colors that come alive in the bright sunlit days, and in the romantic, lantern lit streets at night. UNESCO's designation as an important historic area has insured the preservation of the old city with all its architectural
charm. A walking tour of doors and windows is pure pleasure, during which one discovers colorful, fascinating entrances to places that have existed for centuries, glimpses of history literally at your doorstep.

Colonial costumed doormen greet you on the way into one of the restaurants in the legendary Hotel Santa Clara, once a nunnery in Colonial times.

Iron door knockers, seasoned with patina from the salty sea air, announce arrivals at many local houses.  If you come upon a round one like that pictured, give a knock, and I will invite you in to my vacation home, located in the 500-year-old walled city where NYC's bitter winter cold seems very far away.