Restaurant Review: Old Tom’s Sports Bar

One thinks that the Old Tom’s Sports Bar may not even be in business if it did not have a captive supply of customers from the Airport Ramada, as was the case with my mother and I last night when we had a very late dinner after checking in to the hotel from our day of flying. This bar at least has the raw materials, some of them, for a good sports bar but cannot seem to get some of the important details right, and so our dining experience was not nearly as good as it has been at other points during this trip. Now, I have eaten in more than my fair share of sports bars, doing reading and writing while watching games on television, and generally speaking I have had pleasant experiences, especially as a regular, although that was not the case here. Instead, until the restaurant is able to deal with its serious service difficulties, I cannot at all recommend this as a place to eat. You may as well go to the IHOP or the McDonald’s nearby rather than go to this place, as at least you won’t get charged an 18% service charge while the waitress asks for a tip on top of that that is not at all deserved.

Concerning our dining experience, it was obviously not a good one. It took a long time for us to be able to order and the server seemed not particularly aware of the menu, such as the ingredients of the daily soup or what sides were in stock–nor did we get utensils until we asked for them after I had gotten to food, from a surly waitress. I got my food in a relatively timely fashion after I had ordered it, and it tasted pretty good. My mother ended up getting some boiled vegetables (advertised as steamed vegetables) that were bland and not at all tasty and rubbery and she was pretty set off by the combination of poor cooking and poor service. That was in addition to the missing cole slaw that she wanted that ended up being out of stock that we were not told about. On top of that the waitress did not even ask us how we had enjoyed the meal–perhaps from our unfriendly body language she could tell the news was not good. And it was not.

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Broken By Design

When my mother and I arrived early in Santo Domingo yesterday for our flight on Spirit Airlines, we saw a great many people playing a common game on that carrier, and that is moving clothing and other packed items from one suitcase to another to avoid the heavy baggage fee, which is $50 if one has a suitcase over 40 pounds. Most airlines have similar rules and penalties, but allow up to 50 pounds per person, meaning that one has to pack a lot more efficiently to ride inexpensively on that airline. While waiting for the wheelchair to pick up my mother, I was humming The Price Is Right theme to myself as the passengers weighed their suitcases. One could see a visible sense of relief when people had packed just enough to get under the limit, as my mother and I did. Those who were second best off were those who had some slack in one suitcase and were able to quickly transfer their excess luggage to avoid the fee. And those who were worst off were those who only had one bag to check in that was more than 50 pounds that they had no hope of transferring and simply had to pay a lot of money. Such a system as that is broken by design–clearly people are not having a good time with the restrictions but they endure it for cheap and convenient flights, and in contrast to our travels earlier this weekend, there were no delays at least for us, which is good.

When we got to Orlando, we found that there were not enough people to push all of the wheelchairs from the flight through security, and even with my helping along by pushing my mother and handling the luggage from the baggage claim through customs and to the transfer belt, there were still too many wheelchairs and not enough people to push them. One of the people, an oldish sort of man, complained about being short-staffed all the time and was unable to handle two wheelchairs at a time. The other woman, who was a Spanish-speaker with limited command of English, was quite able to deal with two wheelchairs at a time and so we went on through immigration and customs along to our destination. One gets the sense that a great deal of services that are aimed at helping others tend to be broken by design because there is never enough funding for such things, and so those who are in need tend to fall through the cracks unless others around them are able to help. And it is striking to me just how many people who need special help traveling end up traveling alone.

One more thing in the Orlando airport seemed to be literally broken by design, and that is the very structure of the security system when one transfers from one terminal to another. When we entered the international terminal upon deplaning from Santo Domingo, we not only went through immigration and customs but we also went through a TSA line. Unfortunately, only the first 29 gates or so were in that terminal, and so we were all sent to the main terminal, where it happened that we had to go through security all over again, to the frustration of everyone involved, staff and passengers alike. I had stopped for a brief meal before we went and we barely had time to make it to the gate before they started boarding for the flight to Miami. One would think that an airport like Orlando would be able to structure their trams so that one could get out of a tram and then move on to the other wings of the main terminal while keeping security to an earlier zone for those entering the airport through the main terminal, but somehow the bright bulbs at the airport administration have not thought to do so yet.

Finally, when my mother and I were enjoying a bit of breakfast before traveling to the airport in Miami, we encountered a family who was stranded in Miami because they had been able to get from Austin to Miami but their flight to the Caribbean had been cancelled by American Airlines. There had been another flight on Saturday in a few days but that full flight had been cancelled as well, and so the father and children were eating while the mother was on the phone trying to work out the logistics of getting anywhere into the Caribbean in a timely fashion where they could then charter a flight to begin a catamaran cruise they were doing with some friends. We wished them well and shared our joyful experiences of flights, delays, janky airline policies of cancelling flights willy-nilly, and headed off to the airport ourselves. There is much that is broken in this world, alas, and few people who seem inclined to even note it, much less have the authority and energy to do anything about it.

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Hotel Review: Hotel Discovery

What is it that makes a hotel a good one? My mother and I spent two nights in this particular hotel, and our feelings about this hotel are definitely positive, but at the same time it feels necessary to explain a bit as to how this is the case. The Hotel Discovery is certainly a rough-looking hotel, by no means a luxury one, with spartan rooms with small, hard beds, but it manages to do a lot of things well. For example, the service at the hotel is superb and the people at the hotel, including check-in staff, restaurant staff, and the resident taxi drivers, all combine to make a very wonderful travel experience. For a reasonable price you can stay in a quirky place full of statues and artwork that manages to be in a very small amount of space along a busy road near the Colonial City of Santo Domingo.

The price is definitely right at under $45 a night, and for that modest price you get a pleasant experience in a quirky part of town with the possibility of a walk (if you are feeling particularly brave–there are a lot of police and soldiers in the area if that makes you feel safer or not) or a short taxi drive to plenty of amazing historical and cultural locations. In many ways this particular hotel experience is the inverse of our previous one on St. Thomas. While on St. Thomas we had a fantastic view, the view from this hotel was the more modestly crowded city view of Santo Domingo, although there are sea views from the other side of the hotel. But where we were isolated in St. Thomas, here the hotel is bustling, full of life, and with excellent customer service. And it also had hot water, unlike our other room. If you judge by outside appearances, this place may not come off well, but it’s worth a stay if you like a quirky and friendly boutique hotel in the heart of the city of Santo Domingo.

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Restaurant Review: Grand’s Restaurant And Bar

When we left our hotel at around 6:30PM or so to head off to dinner at a restaurant within about 50m, within eyeshot even, the clerk at the hotel was a bit puzzled because it was a bit early. And indeed it was a bit early, since the people of the Dominican Republic have a tradition of late evening dining that mirrors many other countries in Latin America that I have seen as well as many Mediterranean countries. At any rate, when we arrived at the restaurant, we were promptly served and found it easy to be impressed with the large menu that was available. In the course of the two hours that my mother and I chatted and relaxed there we saw a lot of people walk by, as the location of the restaurant is across the street from the Parque de la Independencia, a pretty happening sort of place, albeit one that closes after sundown from the looks of it.

While we were unable to try the whole menu, between my mother and I we had at least a few things. We began with some bottled water (I had two and a half bottles myself) and orange and ginger green tea, mine sweetened my mother’s sweetened and with some milk. After that we had the tasty chicken and vegetable soup, which was quite fantastic and hearty. I had a plate of small bread pieces to go along with the soup, and then I had some chicken and yellow rice that was quite savory. I then finished off the meal with a strawberry milkshake. Everything was tasty and the service was good. One odd thing that is worth noticing is that the tip was included on the pre-cashing state and not on the receipt after using one’s card, which is a bit unusual for us. Even so, if you are around the Parque de la Independencia and looking for a meal at all hours of day (they are open 24-7), this is a great choice with varied and tasty options for food along with attentive service.

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Cruz Y Cueva

Today I had the chance to do some interesting travel throughout the Santo Domingo area, and once again I was struck by how large the city is and how diverse the options it offers for tourists. At first, my travels were not necessarily very exciting, as I had a errand to run that required a ride to somewhere just outside a university, but once that errand was done the trip through town became much more interesting.

Along our trip through the Colonial City we saw a medical office that was named after a former dictator who had once lived in that building before it had been donated for other purposes. After that we saw the presidential palace and took some photos of it, but we could not cross over the street because the president was in the palace. We went to the national library, which is under renovation, and saw the security and the police that protected the embassies as well as the wealthy homes and business that were in that same district.

When you cross over the river you enter a different district, and we were informed by our driver/guide that much of the east was filled with housing that was built by a previous dictator of the Dominican Republic who cared deeply about public housing for those residents of the city who were much less well off. There were a lot of such housing to be found in that city and I was struck by the fact that the driver considered such people to be in the middle class despite not having much money–perhaps to have a house is enough to make someone middle class in a world where the lower class might live in improvised housing with no civic services whatsoever.

At any rate, once we had passed out way through this area, we came to a large building that was built in the shape of a cross where there is a lot of religious tourism. The place was filled with remembrances of a previous visit by Pope John Paul II in 1992 for the 500th anniversary of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus. As it happens, the building houses the body of Diego Columbus, the first viceroy of Hispañola with angels overhead, and also has a lot of verses from the Bible, as well as having a dovecote and the popemobile used by Pope John Paul II during his visit. It made for an interesting scene, to be sure.

After that we went to the Cave of the Three Eyes, an underground set of limestone caves where the Tainos made a beautiful home for themselves near some sinkholes. This was my second experience with a cave city, the first being Petra, and it reminded me that is rather hard on my feet and legs to hike up and down rock stairwells to see the homes and other rooms that people have carved into the rocks. There might be a certain romance for cave cities for me, but like the hassles from guides looking to grift, such areas have always been hard on me. At some point that may not be the case, but it definitely is now.

At any rate, after that was done we were all pretty tired so it was time to return to the hotel. We passed by the familiar scenes of hotels and clubs for gay visitors and the viceregal palace and the walls of the colonial city and then it was time to rest at home as we were all pretty tuckered out, but I have to say that it was an enjoyable day all the same.

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First Impressions Of Santo Domingo

When we got to Santo Domingo during the evening, I was struck by how lively things were despite the late hour. While, as I commented earlier, San Juan’s food court was closed at 6PM, after 9PM the one in Santo Domingo was crowded with happy late eaters. The relationship between the airport staff and the official taxi drivers was quite friendly and one could get a sense of the smooth running of tourism on this particular island.

One thing that also struck me was just how big Santo Domingo is. The airport is located in Las Americas, which is one of dozens of suburbs that seem to ring the city of Santo Domingo. In fact, a great deal of what would commonly be considered the capital is made up of one of four different municipalities with different names that are all part of the same “city.” The four districts are known by geographical names–the west, the east, the north, and so on, but are also given other names besides that, for maximum confusion apparently. At any rate, the highway between Las Americas and the downtown area, sprawling as that is, was a fast highway filled with brave drivers, something that appears to be pretty common from what I have seen since arriving.

When we got off the freeway, things got considerably more interesting. Literally tens of thousands of people were on the Avenida España partying, drinking, crossing the road in front of slowed down cars, all of whom were using their horns to no apparent purpose. I asked our taxi driver if it was a holiday or just an ordinary Sunday night and he stated the latter. Given the open prostitution, numerous police cars, some of which looked rather dinged up, and the general scene of celebration and debauchery, the average Sunday night appears to be pretty wild along the harbor in Santo Domingo.

That is not to say that everywhere parties as hardy. Once we left the area along the massively lengthy avenue where people were congregating basically no one was on the streets, as we crossed a pontoon bridge and made our way beside the ciudad colonial–colonial city–where one can find a massive fortress/prison, the viceregal palace of Diego Columbus constructed upon first arrival in the New World on Columbus’ second voyage in 1493, and numerous other beautiful and old buildings. By the time we were deposited at our hotel it was still blazing hot and humid inside and outside and both my mother and I were extremely exhausted and quite willing to sleep fairly soon thereafter, after turning on the fan and such air conditioning as exists.

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The Longest Shortest Flights

At earlier than 7AM yesterday, I got up to go to the airport with my mother for a 10:40AM flight from St. Thomas the short distance to San Juan, Puerto Rico. We had hoped to be able to tour around the city of San Juan, which we had never been able to do in our trips there. Alas, that was not to be. How that came not to be is not necessarily the most interesting of tales, but it is the tale I have for you, so here goes.

When my mother and I arrived at the airport, we were among the first people to arrive in what was then an empty airport, seemingly not very busy at all. Oh, how wrong I was. The family in front of us was a family of five that was trying to get, as a great many people were trying to get, to the United States today after a vacation. We were trying to get to Santo Domingo, but had a great many hours and so we were not particularly concerned. While helping my mom with the wheelchair she was in, I managed to pick up a tasty breakfast of chicken noodle soup and a cheese strudel muffin along with some bottled water.

Then commenced a long period of waiting while I drained the power from my cell phone and occasionally sought in vain for places to charge it up somewhat rapidly, as those were rather thin on the ground, and some of the ones, like in our gate, did not work. This is something I have seen a lot of, unfortunately, in St. Thomas, and that is plugs that simply don’t work for one reason or another, which is quite unfortunate. It is such a waste of electrical work, alas.

At any rate, what was at first going to be a wait of about three hours quickly became a wait of more than six hours and then ultimately a wait of seven hours, in the airport in St. Thomas, where some people felt trapped because once they had checked in–even if they were not going to be able to fly on that day–they could not get back out of the airport very easily. While my mother and I went up to pick up our lunch vouchers, which gave us a bit of a deal on some tasty basked chicken and vegetables, while also changing our boarding passes to seats next to each other, we waited some more, as the people around us frantically tried to find ways home in a timely fashion, through whatever connections they could.

At any rate, by the middle of the afternoon we were heading off after the maintenance problems on the plane had been fixed and it had gone to San Juan and then St. Thomas, with the passengers incoming leaving the plane, a hurried cleaning taking place, and then bags and passengers being put on a seriously delayed flight. The flight from St. Thomas to San Juan was short, as one might expect given how close they are, and soon we were on the ground in San Juan. Once we arrived there, we went all through the A Terminal, which was spiffed up from when we were last there during our trip to and from Trinidad, where my mother searched around for stuff while I sat at a plug trying to charge up my phone so that I would be able to show the e-ticket for the Dominican Republic when the time came. It was by no means an easy task, and before too long I heard my name announced and went back to the other side of the airport.

Once we were settled in and had gotten our business taken care of concerning the boarding passes and showing the e-ticket to the gate agent I wheeled my mother around to help her look for sunglasses and then I got dinner. This ended up being harder than I thought, because I got to the food court at 6PM and everything there closed at 6PM. I was hoping to get some chicken but had to settle for a cheeseburger and fries. That’s the way life goes though. When we got back to the gate at around the time we were supposed to be boarding, we found out that there was another delay, this one caused by seventeen passengers who were late coming from Boston, and so we waited for them an hour and then headed off at last to Santo Domingo. The flight was lovely, in the dark, and when we arrived in Santo Domingo at least the delays were over.

As it happens, though, that is not quite the end of it. When I was able to check my e-mail again, I found this reply from JetBlue about the numerous delays that had taken place throughout the day: “

Hi, Nathan.

We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience you experienced on JetBlue flight #B61135 on 26JUN2022. Our goal is to offer you the best in air travel and we recognize your experience did not meet that goal.

We understand how challenging it is when travel plans are disrupted. As a gesture of apology, we have issued each eligible customer on this flight a service credit for future travel on JetBlue.

  • You will receive an email within seven (7) days with the amount of your service credit and redemption instructions.
  • The credit will be placed in your Travel Bank and may be used anytime during the next 12 months toward another JetBlue flight.

We look forward to welcoming you on board again in the future and giving you a renewed JetBlue experience.” Now that is something that merits further thinking, but that will have to remain for another day.

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Restaurant Review: Virgilio’s

As was the case with Amalia’s Cafe earlier, Virgilio’s is the sort of place that manages to perfectly match a wonderful ambiance with very tasty food. Even if no Italians were involved in this particular restaurant, it does a very good job at presenting a tasty and authentic Italian cuisine that blends some very familiar foods with ones that are less familiar and deserve to be better known. As one might imagine, both of them were tried during the course of dinner. One might consider the ambiance of this particular restaurant to be the sort that would be perfectly aimed at a diner like myself. The restaurant is in a historic building, is filled with beautiful objects d’art, and plays music that is part of my singing and viola repertoire, besides other pieces that I just happen to like singing. If the restaurant were trying to earn my approval it could hardly do so better than it did.

And it is the food that adds a high degree of interest as well. I was thirsty enough to polish off nearly two bottles of water myself (my mother had about a glass in a half and those bottles were emptied), but they were emptied in a good cause at least. The meal began with tasty garlic bread that was pre-buttered, a nice touch. After that my mother and I both had the Stracciatella alla Romana, my mother’s without the cheese and mine with the cheese, with a fantastic spinach and egg drop in chicken broth. After that came the Insalata Verde Italiana, a green salad with a tasty basil dressing. Then came a tasty Pollo Parmigiana with unbreaded chicken breast and veggies and pasta. I also had a tasty New York style cheesecake for dessert. All told, it was a great meal that was well worth the price, and a fantastic environment where reservations are recommended.

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The Night The Lights Went Out In Charlotte Amelie

Yesterday evening, my mother and I found ourselves eating at a local restaurant that appears to cater to the local Dominican community on St. Thomas in the capital of Charlotte Amelie. Our trip to the place was interesting because while the restaurant was on Google Maps and I had even talked to its owner/manager on Facebook, the taxi driver at the harbor who took us there did not even know about it and had not even heard about the place. He kept on trying to call it Oceano’s when I called it Luciano’s, and seemed generally puzzled to come across it. This was perhaps the first sign that something was amiss, but I kept it in mind and did not immediately act on the thought.

During the course of our meal, the lights went out all over town–though it did not affect the street lights, which were still working at intersections even though the lamps and house lights were all out. As tends to happen, the lack of electricity encouraged people to come out and stand near the streets and communicate with their neighbors in the absence of being able to enjoy their electronic devices at home. It struck me quickly that many of these people did not know English very well, and some conversation with them let me know that they were Dominicans who lived in the community around a Dominican-themed restaurant, which makes sense. I chatted with someone around about taxis and they pointed me to a friend of theirs who was able to take my mother and I up to the place.

It turns out that the local Dominicans in town did not know the area outside of their enclave very well. Indeed, though I tried to tell them what highway we were on, the driver and his friends, with whom I had to talk to in Spanglish because their English capacity was pretty limited, I had to end up showing them on Google Maps where we were located for him to realize that we were close to the places that he was more familiar with, and after a bit of a drive and a few stops, we had shown him where Highway 40 began and then had soon arrived at where we were staying. While he had been frustrated in not recognizing where I was pointing him to, he eventually appreciated learning a new part of the town that he had not seen, and making a few bucks while he was at it.

It struck me as somewhat puzzling that there would be such a disconnect between the tourist community and the local Dominican community. To be sure, I did not know going into this trip that there was a bustling community from the Dominican Republic in St. Thomas, but it did not surprise me to see such a thing when I did. I did not know that rolling blackouts would be as common as they are in town, but it did not greatly surprise me given the speed of the generator here in making sure that internet and air conditioning stay up. And it is striking to me that a tourist could find a restaurant and their place on a map, but taxi drivers appear to be in separate worlds, some of them catering to one community and some catering to another community, never seeming to become aware of the other places that exist within their very midst. How strange such things can be.

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The Adventurous Chickens Of St. Croix

My mother and I had planned a rather ambitious set of travels around St. Croix yesterday, but ended up exploring the area of the small town of Christiansted instead, which proved to be interesting enough and also relaxing. It does not take long in St. Croix to realize that there are some very puzzling patterns and the island itself misses a lot of opportunities for the sort of tourism that its historical significance and natural beauties would merit. St. Croix is leaving a lot of money on the table, and it is hard to understand why this is the case, why an island that has so much to offer offers so little of it to tourists.

Even a short deal of time spent in St. Croix can easily point one up to the lassitude of the people when it comes to the tourism business. A short hike of about half a mile or so from the Gallows Bay ferry terminal around the harbor of Christiansted leads one to historic Christiansted, which is made up of a set of brightly yellow colored buildings in a state of some disrepair, most of which were closed off, but one of which, the local fort, had a lot to offer about the role of fortresses in defending islands during the period between the French & Indian War and the Napoleonic Wars that allowed the Virgin Islands to remain Danish during a time of ferocious international hostility in the region that lasted for more than 50 years. Interestingly enough, the fortress served both as a place for defense against external threats like rival colonial powers as well as internal threats like slave insurrections, thus proving their flexible purposes. Similarly, the fort served as a prison for criminals, and there appeared to be disparities between how they were treated here as well, with white criminals holed up in the above ground prison while runaway slaves and the like were consigned to dungeons below.

By and large, the town of Christiansted features a lot of beautiful buildings, especially churches and other historical sites. But one of the striking aspects of the city is that the mixture of gorgeous old buildings as well as fancy new constructions sits side by side with ruinous heaps of buildings that have been allowed to fall into a state of considerable decay. Even the city itself, which appears to be a bit dull to the naked eye, comes alive in vibrant color when one looks at the buildings through polarized shades. There are, of course, the poor quality roads to be found without any trouble as well, and then the island has the issue where there are simply not enough taxis to take people throughout the island. We encountered taxi drivers, for example, that were unwilling to be hired to drive around the island, which is quite a ridiculous attitude to have. The island has tourists willing to pay to see the island, but its people cannot be bothered to take such obvious opportunities for profit.

While the people can be said to lack a spirit of adventure, though, the same cannot be said for the islands many chickens. Wherever one travels one can see a variety of chickens, largely hens with their chicks close by, making beautiful chirping sounds while the occasional rooster crows at all hours of the day, with the hens and chickens scratching about for food, foraging for themselves. The chickens seemed an appropriate metaphor for an island that more or less allows everyone and everything to fend for itself without having a lot of spirit for catering to the interests of those people that come across the island. When an island only gets at most a handful of ferry travelers a day, it might not feel it is worth it to cater to the few tourists it gets. The people and animals who find themselves on the island can shift for themselves as best as they can under the brutal sun. That’s life, I suppose.

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