Get Away With Fran

January 26, 2010

Carbbean treats – MSC Poesia cruise

Filed under: Cruise — admin @ 5:42 pm

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The thing about cruise ships is they take you places. In the case of the weeklong cruise on the MSC Poesia this week, our first two ports of call were San Juan (yesterday evening) and St. Maarten (today).

In San Juan, Mom and I grabbed one of the free open-air trolleys around town (stops right near the pier) and took it to the Castillo San Cristobal National Historic Site where despite a little drizzle the sea views were lovely.

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But it was on San Francisco Street (#268) that we made the kind of find I really enjoy. An art shop with a friendly and enthusiastic shopkeeper. Arte & Mascaras carries Puerto Rican masks, both traditional (for Carnivale and other festivals) and as interpreted by local artists. We learned a little about the history of some of the masks and the local artists who created them (the small mask above is a modern interpretation). And the items were affordable too (Note to my brother: Mom bought the above for you).

In St. Maarten, we docked on the Dutch side of the two-nation island, near Philipsburg, but we made a beeline to the taxis for a ride to Marigot, on the French side – with new pricing cabs to Marigot are now only $6 each way if you can find people to share the van with, which we did. It’s only about a half hour between the two cities.

We explored the waterfront and window shopped past various fancy French brands. And then had a hankering for some local cuisine.

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In the marekt (marche) area near the water, there are a bunch of little open-air restaurants. We took our time examining menus and deciding which one to try before settling on Chez Coco, La Maison Creole. Turned out to be the right choice.

Mom tried the conch Creole (marinated and flavorful) while I settled down with a whole fish, both accompanied by rice and beans and plantains and potato salad and green salad. Huge plates.

With fewer tourists this year, the vendors are willing to do an even exchange of euros to dollars (much in our favor!). So $21.50 bought us lunch for two including a shared Caribe beer.

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The food was so seriously good – real Caribbean family-style cooking – that I asked to meet the owner, who it turns out goes by the name Coco (though his real name is Roderick Lake). His daughter, Natasha, was our waitress. We chatted and when I told him I’m a writer he said someone else had come by recently and written up the place, for The New York Times. Drats, I thought I had made the discovery.

Anyway, get there before the crowds arrive.

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