This past weekend I learned that I am as much of a provincial josefino as the proverbial New Yorker. In short, I learned that there are other wonderful towns to live in besides San Jose.
I visited one of them last Friday when Mike Styles invited me to San Ramón to talk to the members of the Community Action Alliance about the ‘Ten best kept secrets of San Jose.” I felt something of an imposter because one person’s favorite place is another person’s “I don’t go there anymore.”
The first well kept secret, at least to the Costa Rican tourism department is: that almost to a person, the tourists and future residents of San Ramón (and other places) are warned upon arrival by tour guides and tour companies to avoid San José. A good public relations surge is needed.
It seemed strange even to me that I would begin, in addressing people who are surrounded by countryside, to talk about the city’s parks. But San Jose’s parks, beginning with La Sabana are its jewels and a place to truly enjoy the peace and quiet and presence of trees within the bustle of the city. My favorites begin with the Parque Morazán which was the first place I saw so many young and not so young lovers on benches intensely relating to one another. I learned later that the park was the only place they could find some privacy from their families or from their jobs as domestics. My favorite tree lives in this park – a huge higerón on the southwest corner. In the rainy season it looks like it will surely die, hauntingly so at Halloween, but it recovers and the leaves come back and it becomes its majestic self again.
Next to the Morazán is a small park south of the Escuela Metalica. It has a statue of former president Daniel Oduber and a lovely tree-lined walk that reminds me of a cypress-lined drive in Italy. Then my favorite: Parque
España, just across the street going east. It is a mini rainforest in the middle of the city and a quiet place to talk. It is actually two levels. On the second is a huge statue of what appears to be a conquistador. Exiting from the left entrance of the park, across the street you will see a doorway into a walled compound where “the old liquor factory” once was. Now its many buildings house the Centro Nacional de Cultura. Check the notices on the bulletin board for upcoming activities and exhibitions. If you keep going up the hill, you will come to Parque Nacional, another gem with some interesting statues.
One of the things I love about San José is that when facilities close, commercial or public, they are often replaced with parks and cultural centers (i.e. the Sabana park used to be the airfield and the national museum of art is housed in what was the central airport building, both well worth visiting.)
Of course, by now you are hungry. If you go back into the Parque España and take the south exit, and go through the underpass, on the right hand side of the street you will come to the parking lot and side door of the Club Colonial. As you enter, on the right you will see doors with “Hombres” and “Damas.” And will be able to make use of clean, well-lighted and best-equipped bathrooms in San Jose. If you go to the front of the casino, past the tables and slot machines, on the left is the Magnolia Café. The front area has windows looking onto Avenida 1.
Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. you will be able to enjoy the reasonably priced and usually pretty tasty ejecutivo menu – a three course lunch for about $8. If you want a typical Costa Rican lunch for even less, exit the Colonial onto Avenida 1. Turn right a block and a half and you will come to a corner with Hotel Morazán on the right and across the street, the Banco de Costa Rica. On the bank side of the street, down about three doors, is the Flor Café. You will recognize it because the large windows are (unfortunately) covered with signs showing the menu. Inside is a bustling and usually nearly full dining room where very good typical food is served.
Next week, for more experimental and international cuisines we will turn right when we exit the culture center and enjoy what Barrio Amón has to offer.