What better way to start retirement than by traveling, learning and visiting family? Hence this trip to Costa Rica. The first half is a quilting workshop with Craftours, followed by four days with Beth and Bill. Great combo! Here’s a quick report on part one.
I flew in a day early to get oriented and see a bit of San Jose. I had booked a morning walking tour with Barrio Bird so I headed from our hotel near the airport to downtown.
My cab ride featured incredible traffic and a very friendly driver who had about as much English as I have Spanish. We made ourselves understood and enjoyed learning from each other. She was interested that I had no children, and I’m afraid I shocked her when I said that my religion was “nada.” She set me down at Parque Morena where our group was to meet.
Our group was only three: me plus a young couple, an American lawyer and a Swiss architect, who lived in Switzerland and had been traveling throughout South and Central America for over a month. Our young, enthusiastic guide took us through all the high points.
The metallic building: very modern in 1897, shipped from Belgium with each part labeled with a letter or number for easy setup, kind of the Ikea of its time. You can see the letters and numbers at the bottom of the columns here.
It’s been an elementary school ever since, and despite the fears of the townspeople, the children have not baked like cookies inside the hot metal building, due to cross-ventilation and good insulation. I wish I could tell Pat about it (the architect was intrigued).
We walked through several small, beautiful parks featuring, of course, house plants. They live outdoors here and get enormous. Here’s an example, the monstera deliciosa. We ended up at the liquor factory, now an arts center, most interesting to me because of the sun dial outside that was installed incorrectly. Rather than re-do it, the powers that be installed a plaque below it with an elaborate formula for calculating the correct time.
After walking by the national library, an imposing though not very welcoming building, we came to a monument to a bit of history that most Americans know little or nothing about. William Walker was a brilliant young man from Tennessee who earned a medical degree and studied law. In the 1850s he decided to invade Central America with the goal of annexing it all for the US, thus creating more slave states. Though it was not a US invasion, it was certainly sanctioned by our government. It ended badly for Walker, and the monument commemorates the five countries (actually just provinces of Spain back then) that rallied against him. The hero of the day was Juan Santamaria, after whom the airport is named. There’s clearly a good story there, which I will try to track down…someday.
We ended up at the National Theater, an ornate building dating from 1897. Built with coffee money, it opened with a production of Faust and features statues of Chopin and Beethoven among others.
The interior is quite lavish.
Between this and the metallic building, San Jose was really on the cutting edge of art and culture back in the late nineteenth century. Oh, and our guide told us that San Jose was only the third city in the world – after Paris and London – to have electricity! It makes me think of those opera houses built in the jungles of South America in books by Eva Ibbotson and Ann Patchett.
After catching a quick lunch at Starbucks (sorry!), I walked back to the National Museum of Costa Rica which you enter through a butterfly garden. Here’s one.
An exhibit of pre-Columbian artifacts included these remarkable stone spheres. They date from 600 but were re-discovered in the 1930s when the United Fruit company was clearing land for banana plantations. The culture that made them has long since disappeared.
From here I walked down to the nearby Jade Museum for a cold drink and a rest. I met one of our instructors, Pepper Cory, and together we rode the hop-on hop-off bus through the city, seeing sights like the president’s house (just the condo he lived in when he was elected), the gorgeous mosaics outside the University of Costa Rica, and the seamy side of town where drugs and prostitution made for a depressing scene. After that, the driver agreed (I don’t really know why) to drive us 40 minutes back to our hotel, which was very generous of him. Pepper and I discovered a mutual admiration for the Bernard Cornwell books and had a lovely chat as the sun set. And so to bed to prepare for the first workshop tomorrow.