San José, Costa Rica

San José, Costa Rica

San José, Costa Rica – March 9, 2013

The 01:45 wake-up call could be termed a little early. However, that left enough time to finish packing the carry-on and have a cup of coffee.
At about 02:45, our driver arrived. That began our one hour trip to the airport. It is always a challenge, especially when it is dark. I was astonished by the number of vehicles on the road at that hour. Then the driver reminded me it was Friday night/Saturday morning. There were lots of people still partying.
We arrived safely at the airport at about 03:45. That left ample time to check-in and clear immigration. Once in the waiting area, we got some coffee and a muffin. We sat and watched the people.Boarding began at about 05:00. We were the first summoned to the gate to board, thanks to Leslie’s cane. The bad news is Leslie was then immediately singled out for a second security search. Reflecting on it, I guess she should be glad. Yesterday we were not sure she would make the trip. She was running a fever of 101 degrees. Today she did not feel 100%, but at least she was not running a fever.
We pushed back from the gate in Georgetown, Guyana at 05:20, about 15 minutes early. The flight to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago was short, about 50 minutes, and uneventful.
At the airport, we parked at Gate 9. That was at about 06:30. We had to get off the plane and go through security again. Then it was right back to Gate 9 to await boarding. It was nearly 08:00 when we got back to our same seats on the same plane.We pushed back from the gate on time and were in the air by 08:35.
On that flight, the crew served a hot sandwich. It was not my favorite, a type of fish salad. It came with some plantain chips, diet Coke, and a small Kit Kat candy bar. When I travel, my philosophy is to eat what you receive because it is uncertain when there will be another opportunity to eat. Therefore, I choked down about half of the sandwich.
We arrived in Miami, Florida, at noon. After going through immigration, we collected our luggage, went through customs, and made our way toward the American Airlines counter. That is when we found out just how large the Miami airport has become.A nice gentleman in customs had told us to get on the moving sidewalks and take them to concourse D. Unfortunately when we made it to concourse E, we faced a detour. The paths were under construction. We had to take an elevator down to the ticketing level. That mixed the arriving and departing passengers, making for quite a zoo-fest.
Even though we were on the right level, we still had a very long way to go. Leslie’s hip was bothering her, so it was a painful excursion. Even so, she refused to get a wheelchair.
We finally made it to the ticket counter. There was an American Airlines employee at the opening to the rope line. She asked us about our destination. Then she asked if we needed a wheelchair. I immediately said, yes. With that answer, she opened one of the ropes and directed us to another line. That moved us from a queue of some 25 or 30 people to a queue of one couple.
The line in which we found ourselves waiting was a good 30 feet from the ticket counter. After about 10 minutes in line, one of the ticket agents yelled in our direction. At first, the couple in front of us thought she was addressing them. The agent made it clear her terse inquiry was for us. She wanted to know why we were in that particular line. Before we could answer, she followed up with the question of whether or not someone directed us to that line. We told her we were “legally” there. With that, she turned her attention back to the passengers that had been standing at the counter during the entire interrogation. We were both struck with how sharp and authoritarian the agent had been. We were also thankful we were ultimately served by a different agent.

The agent that did ticket us and checked our luggage directed us to the other side of the ticketing area to get a wheelchair. That ended up being very easy.
A very nice young lady wheeled Leslie to the security check-point. Again, we bypassed the main queue for a short one on the side.
As we put all of our stuff in bins to go through the X-ray machine, the lady helping us told me to go ahead through the metal detector. She said she would push all of our things through the machine. That included Leslie’s cane.
Leslie had already gone through the detector. I went through with no problem and stationed myself near the conveyor discharge from the X-ray machine. My first indication there was a bit of a hiccup was when the man sitting at the monitor took the bin containing my tennis shoes and set them aside. Then I realized what was causing the problem. It was Leslie’s cane. It had somehow gotten stuck inside the machine, causing all of the X-ray images to run together. The TSA agent said they would have to run everything through again. But to do that the agent had to climb halfway into the machine to retrieve the cane and other bins. On the second try, everything came through fine.Leslie got back into the wheelchair, and we were off to our gate, D2. After quite a distance, the lady helping us took us up a couple of floors in an elevator. We stopped at the train platform. It was quite lovely having her help us through the terminal. That took away one small travel stressor; reading directional signs to get to the right place. I mentioned that to her. It is a good thing I did because she had “zoned” out and was just about to put us on the wrong train.
The remainder of the trip to D2 was without incident. It was nice to walk behind her through the crowd. Everyone made way for the wheelchair.Very near the gate was the Islander Bar & Grill. After the lady dropped Leslie off, we stopped in for lunch. We split an Island Burger with cheese and fries. We also had two glasses of wine. It was very nice to have an American cheeseburger; however, I am not convinced that the meal was worth $31.21!!
After lunch, we sat and waited at the gate for our 14:50 flight to San Jose.
On the morning of March 10, when we awoke we each had a very relaxing shower. Afterword we went to the same restaurant for breakfast that we had gone to the night before for dinner. Included in the price of the room was the breakfast buffet.
After breakfast, we spent some time looking at our Lonely Planet guide. The two places we decided to visit were the Teatro Nacional (National Theater) and the Museo del Oro Precolombino (Pre-Colombian Gold Museum). So, close to 09:00, we got a taxi and headed to central San José. The driver let us off right beside the theater. It was not quite open, so I busied myself with taking photos of the plaza in front of the theater.

The plaza in front of the National Theater in San José, Costa Rica.As soon as the theater opened, Leslie and I went in to buy our tickets, ₡7,100 Colones or about US$7 each.
Initially built in 1897, the theater décor and architecture is striking. The architectural detail rivals buildings we have toured in Europe. The theater is beautiful.
At the entrance to the theater, if one looks to the ceiling, one sees a painting depicting a banana and coffee harvest. That is one of the more famous paintings in the building.There are statues scattered through much of the lobby and stairwell spaces. Some of them held light fixtures, while others were display pieces.
The floors had various types of marble. The intricate patterns were all visually appealing; I found the artistry to be amazing.
When I walked into the seating area of the theater, It reminded me of the old Chief Theater in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The ornate decorations, the paintings on the ceiling, the multi-levels of box seating all reminded me of the Chief.
The theater is not only a show-piece for tourists. It is still a functioning theater with many performances each year.

The entry to the National Theater.
A painting on the ceiling depicting the banana and coffee harvest.
One of the sculptures holding a lamp at the side of the entrance to the National Theater.
A panoramic view inside the National Theater.
The ornate and plush railing in front of the box seats.

The level of detailed quality was evident in even the most mundane things; the brass plates above the box seat doorknobs; the mirrored door push plates used to exit the box seats; and even the signage for the restrooms were unique.

The sign on the door to the men’s toilet.
The architectural detail on the door to private box number 10.
A door push plate with a polished finish. The National Theater is engraved on the push plate. One might even spot the photographer…
Architectural detail on a column in the lobby.
The glass panel in the door to the men’s toilet.
The glass panel in the door to the women’s toilet.
An example of the etched glass doors from the lobby to the theater.
A pair of door push plates in the main lobby.
An optical illusion made by the careful placement of marble floor tiles.

After exploring as much of the ground floor as we could, we set our sights on the upper level. The marble staircase reminded us of places we had seen in Europe. I think the overall themes and details were every bit as good as some of the palaces we have toured.
For example, the light fixtures at the turn of the stair rails appeared to be bronze. Each one sported two very detailed cherubs. The appliques and paintings on the walls were very eye-catching too.

The very ornate stairs leading to the upper level of the theater.
Detail of the newel post on the stairs.
Detail of the intricate decoration on the side of the staircase to the upper level.
Another detail of the intricate decoration on the side of the staircase to the upper level.

At the top of the stairs at the front of the building was a large reception hall. It had wood parquet floors and, of course, all sorts of opulent things on the walls and ceiling to match the rest of the building. In this hall, there was also a very imposing statue of a winged male figure. As if that weren’t enough, there were faces detailed on the columns and settees.

The upper reception hall of the National Theater.
Detail of some of the ornamentation in the upper reception hall.
A marble sculpture at one end of the upper reception hall.
Architectural detail on the upper portion of a round settee in the upper reception hall.
A face carved in one of the marble columns in the upper reception hall.
Detail of the marble statue in the upper reception hall.
Detail of a painting in the upper reception hall.
The National Theater as seen from one of the upper boxes.

The building was in the final stages of a restoration project. As part of that, there were a few displays available to inform the public of what was happening with the project. Because of my job, I was particularly intrigued by the drawing of the ground floor. Things like that help me to understand the building as a whole better.

A page of the drawings for the ground level was on display.

When we got back to the main lobby, we noticed more and more people arriving. We were going to go into the coffee shop to sit and relax a little before we departed. Just before we entered, a statue of a flamenco dancer caught our eye. We both marveled at how someone can carve stone with such detail.

A marble statue in the lobby depicting a flamenco dancer.
Detail of the flamenco dancer sculpture.
One of several marble statues in the lobby.
Another of the marble statues in the lobby.
A marble sculpture depicting a harp player.

When we entered the coffee shop, Alma de Café, it reminded me of the bar frequented by Picasso in Barcelona, Spain, Quarte Gats (Four Cats). We both ordered coffee, sat by an open window and watched San José become more and more vibrant.

A panoramic view of the Alma de Café just off the main lobby of the National Theater.
Employees working behind the bar at the Alma de Café.
Detail of a ceiling painting in the Alma de Café.
A reflection of the Costa Rican flag in a window of the Alma de Café.
Waiting for coffee, looking out the open window.
The view from the Alma de Café window.
On the street side of the National Theater, two policemen took a break.

Leaving the coffee shop, we walked just around the north side of the theater into the Plaza de la Cultura. We had seen a sign for the gold museum there. As we walked around the plaza, we did not see anything that looked like a museum. So I asked one of the roving security guards if he could direct us. He said, “A bajo” and pointed to the ground. The museum is actually under the plaza!

A sculpture on the grounds of the National Theater. The Costa Rica flag is in the background.
A bas relief sculpture on the side of the National Theater.
A panoramic view of the Plaza de la Cultura. The plaza is on the north side of the National Theater.
Pedestrians walking past the air intakes for the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. The museum is under the Plaza de la Cultura.
The entry to the subterranean Pre-Columbian Gold Museum.

We walked down a couple of flights of stairs, turned toward the west, and there it was the gold museum. Our entry fee was ₡11,000 Colones which is about US$22. When we received the museum brochure, we were surprised to find it was more than just one museum. There was the gold museum that had initially drawn us, a numismatic museum primarily of Costa Rican currency, and a temporary art exhibition gallery. For the museums and gallery, there are a total of three floors below ground level. The construction style is very modern.
Our visit began at the entry or first level, the numismatic museum that is actually inside a vast vault. There were many gold coins and rare paper currencies on display. There were also several displays on the evolution and manufacturing techniques for both coins and paper money.

View from the main level of the museum, looking down to the art gallery.
A gold coin from the 1820s.
The front and obverse of a gold coin from 1828. The escudo was a remnant of the Spanish influence. Today the currency is known as the Colón.
This 500 Colones gold coin is worth about US$250,000.
A 1,000 Colones gold coin. This is roughly equivalent to US$500,000.

From there, we went down to level two. Upon exiting the elevator, we found ourselves in the temporary exhibition space. The works on display were by the artist Lola Fernandez. She was born in Columbia but calls Costa Rica home now. I had never heard of her before; however, I did find several of her pieces appealing. There were paintings, textile pieces, mixed media, and some drawings.

The banner for the Lola Fernandez exhibit.
Comparsa, Serie Carnaval by Lola Fernandez (2004).
Untitled, Lola Fernandez (1955).
Arquetipo, Lola Fernandez (1984).
Toros, Lola Fernandez (1957).
Algo Más Que Otoño (Something More Than Autumn), Lola Fernandez (1967).
A woman walking through the exhibit space to the gold displays.
Stairs from the art gallery floor of the museum.

Once we finished looking at the art, we entered the vault on the second level. It is where the gold museum began. One of the first pieces we saw was an intricately made figurine of pure gold, of course. It was only about three inches tall. There was case after case of gold objects. Many of the pieces were caricatures of the animals encountered in daily life, such as bats, jaguars, frogs, pigs, and lobsters.
Interspersed throughout were some life-size and some miniature dioramas that helped tell the story of the lives of the pre-Colombian peoples. There was even more gold on the third level.
I have been to many museums around the world. This museum is undoubtedly one of my favorites. I would highly recommend it to anyone traveling to San José.

Pre-Columbian gold pieces.
Some gold figurines about three inches tall.
Golden frogs.
A variety of gold figurines.
A golden bird-like figurine.
A feline shaped corn grinder “pointing” toward another corn grinder.
A feline-inspired corn grinder. The photos behind no doubt inspired those that carved the grinder.
Some of the skylights in the museum.
A colorfully painted turtle.
A golden bat.
Golden pig figurines.
A sculpted ceramic bowl holder.
This display depicts how the Pre-Columbian peoples melted gold.
Other displays documented various parts of the Pre-Columbian life.
Two golden bird-like figurines.
A photograph of a woman taking a photograph of a Pre-Columbian figure.
A diorama depicting life in a Pre-Columbian village.

Exiting the museum, we walked back to the Plaza de la Cultura. We decided to walk west along Avenida Central, a pedestrian street. We were looking for touristy type shops. It was a bustling street, but after four or five blocks, we found zero tourist shops.

The fire connection station for the museum.
Taco Bell just across the street from the museum.
Activity at the Plaza de la Cultura.
People and pigeons seem to both be enjoying the plaza.
The front of the National Theater.
The clock at Central Avenue.
Pedestrians and vendors on Central Avenue.
A t-shirt and sunglasses stand near Wendy’s restaurant.
Pedestrians crossing the street near Wendy’s.
The Universal Department Store on Central Avenue.
Tidal wave store.
Tidal wave store II.
A very comfortable 79 degrees Fahrenheit on Central Avenue.
Street vendors on Central Avenue.

Since we struck out on that front, we decided to hail a taxi and head back to the hotel. So we headed to Parque Central (Central Park) which is in front of the Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral). The north and east sides of the park are where the taxis cue to wait for passengers. Every city has its paint scheme for taxis. In San José it was bright, fire engine red with a small yellow triangle on the side. One cannot miss them. We got in one and started back to the hotel.

People relaxing along a wall at Central Park. The red vehicles are taxis.
The gazebo structure in Central Park.
The Costa Rican flag flying in Central Park.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of San José faces Central Park.
The flag and gazebo in Central Park.

When we got to the hotel, we went straight to the restaurant. We had a glass of wine to accompany our selection of cheeses and olives. Ultimately I had a chicken Caesar salad. Leslie ordered the Aztec soup. The soup was delicious, tasting similar to tortilla soup. Three small side-dishes containing small pieces of corn tortilla chips, cheese, and sliced avocados accompanied the soup. Using those with each bite, she thought it was just possibly the best soup she ever had. To top off lunch, we shared a piece of lemon pie; wow, was it delicious!

Cheese and olives for an afternoon snack.
Drink, Think, Relax…
Aztec soup served with tortilla bits, cheese, and avocados.
A wonderful chicken Caesar salad.
Drink, Think, Relax…the aftermath.
A delicious piece of lemon pie to top off the meal.
The two travelers.

We had our lunch at a table overlooking the swimming pool. At one point we saw two young men, probably in their early 20’s, approach the side of the pool. They were both wearing shirts and shorts. They each had on day packs. One of the men had his sunglasses perched on the top of his head.
The one with the sunglasses decided to test the water temperature. He knelt and ran his hand through the water. As he did, the other man grabbed the kneeling man’s day-pack and pretended to push him into the pool. The kneeling man reacted by quickly throwing his weight away from the pool. With that motion, his sunglasses fell off his head and went straight to the bottom of about four feet of water.
Both of them looked at the sunglasses. Then the victim stood up and looked at his buddy as if to say, “What the …”!They continued to look at the sunglasses and each other. They were trying to work out how to retrieve the glasses. They knelt once, and each attempted to reach them with their hand. It was too deep. They looked around the pool for something to use to fish them out but saw nothing that would work.
Soon, the victim began emptying his pockets and handing the items to his buddy. Soon his buddy started giving them back. Then the buddy took off his shirt. He unbuttoned his shorts and stopped. He walked over to one of the lounge chairs to get a towel. He came back to the scene of the “crime” and dropped the towel on the deck. Shortly after that, he dropped his shorts on the floor too. Then he jumped in the pool, got the glasses, and handed them to his friend.The buddy got out of the pool, his navy blue boxers soaked and dried himself off with the towel. They both went to a lounge chair. The buddy laid out in his boxers, too continue the drying process.
Part of what made this humorous was the fact that on the opposite side of the swimming pool, there was a luncheon in progress with nearly 100 people. Most of the people were young women who were softly giggling and needling their neighbors to look at what was happening.

The swimming pool at the Crowne Plaza San José.

That night for dinner, Leslie and I joined a group of people from my conference. We went just a couple of blocks from the hotel to a restaurant called Fogo Brasil. It was a carnivore’s paradise!
First, there is a massive salad bar, soup bar, and pasta bar. Then, when one is ready for meat, one flips the plastic disk on the table from the red side to the green side. With the green side visible, the servers stop by with all sorts of meat; sausage, lamb, different cuts of beef, chicken, and prawns. They will continue coming until one turns the disk back to the red side.
Each server has meat on what looks like a sword. The server holds a metal plate at the tip of the sword to catch any drippings. Each server also has a large knife. The knife is used to push meat, like sausage, off of the sword onto one’s plate. For beef, like sirloin, they would carve a piece to order. In that instance, the diner has a pair of tongs. As the sliced meat comes off, the customer grabs it with the tongs. When the cut is completed, the diner moves the piece of meat to their plate. If one can stand it, this “dance” continues until the restaurant closes. It was delicious and fun.
I remember Leslie and I went to a similar restaurant in Addison, Texas, years ago. We had the same fun experience there.

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