I love San Juan, But Damn, Pigeons Freak Me Out

Just a few hours away from New York City is a history lover’s dream: Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Founded by the Spanish over 500 years ago, it’s a perfectly preserved time portal. Walk around Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the ancient Spanish fort that surrounds the old city. Inside the walls, ramble through narrow cobblestone streets and past the cathedral (where Jennifer Lopez married Marc Anthony) and pick up a piragua — a Puerto Rican snow cone that comes in flavors like passion fruit, mango, and tangerine.

Half the price of Miami and without the club music booming through the streets, Old San Juan is the perfect place to get away from it all — no passport required.

Just watch out for the pigeons. One of the most popular spots in the old city is Plaza de Armas, located up the hill from where the cruise ships park, it is the main point of entry to the old city for many tourists. It is also a pigeon mecca. Thousands of the birds flock there and, despite Puerto Rico having a large cat population, they waddle, sit, and roost unmolested. This would be fine if they also hadn’t gotten into the habit of hanging out, sitting and roosting on people. On any given day, tourists will throw breadcrumbs and turn into living pigeon trees. This is problematic for so, so many reasons, least of which is THEY ARE BASICALLY FLYING RATS! Do you know how many diseased pigeons carry? (answer: LOTS!). That and they have no sphincter muscles so the poop just flies at will. Enter that park at your own risk.

WATCH: Old San Juan — the Best Quick (and Cheap!) Weekend Getaway

Old San Juan has absolutely everything you need for the perfect getaway. (Photo: ABA Staff)

Here’s everything you need to know to do the city properly.

Warning: From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the cruise ships hit and certain areas of the old city are packed with cruisers. Hit the shops before or after this time to avoid a massive headache.

Stay: Hotel El Convento, the Chateau Marmont of the Caribbean. Housed in a former convent, the rooms surround an inner terrace with huge trees. The rooftop pool offers some of the best views in the city, and the restaurant is legendary.

Shop: Ole Curiosidades. This famous hat store lets you get measured, pick your ribbon color, and walk out with a personally fitted, handmade Panama-style hat for around $70 — three times less than almost anywhere else in the world.


This was not the first hat that Paula tried on. 

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The Ancient Oasis Towns of Oman: A Star Wars Geek/Explorer’s Dream

In this day and age, it’s difficult for a traveler to feel like he or she is really truly exploring anymore. With the reach of the Internet and the opening of borders around the world, it can feel as if everything has already been laid bare… which is why Oman is so special. The country has only  been “open” for 40 years, and the sultan, while modernizing the country, has insisted that any new construction fit in with the old.

But there is old, and then there is ancient. While driving through the mostly arid country, every once in a while you will hit a wadi — a valley that hides an oasis. Most of the wadis are similar — there are fresh pools and a town nearby.

And then there is Birkat Al-Mawz. It’s a tiny little town with mud houses in the Wadi al-Muaydin, which lies on the edge of Jebel Akhdar. The town is a peek into what life was like more than 500 years ago. You can roam through the ruins and explore at your leisure. (Just be careful, the houses are literally falling down. Two years ago, a block of four came crashing down at the feet of a group of German tourists, sending one to the hospital.)

Related: Heaven on Earth: The Hidden Oasis of the Arabian Desert


The houses are built on top of each other — from the living room of one house, you can see into the kitchen of another — with air ducts that acted like air conditioning and construction that reminds one of something out of Star Wars. Inside are painted wooden beams and empty windows where carved shutters used to be.


“Many of the old doors and shutters have been looted,” said Qais, my guide. “No one knew how valuable they were until they were gone.”

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Thanks to Dracula, Whitby Is the Creepiest Town in England (I Hearts It)

Long a vacation spot for Brits, it has also historically given inspiration to writers like Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, and Bram Stoker — who based one of the most famous scenes from Dracula in the town.

I Want to Suck Your Blood (Cocktail) in Whitby, England

It’s creepy and romantic all at once. This is Whitby. (All photos: ABA team)

In the book, Dracula (the name itself taken from a name Stoker found in the Whitby public library) arrives in England on the ship Demeter, which crashes into the port. The captain is strapped to the wheel and no one else is alive. The cargo: coffins full of dirt (from Transylvania). After the crash, a large black dog is seen bounding from the ship and running up the cliff stairs to the ruins of Whitby Abbey — which is as creepy in real life as it is in the book [Editor’s note: Who the heck walks around a graveyard at night — it’s like asking to be bitten].

Related: How to Hunt for Buried Treasure in England

There’s been an Abbey on this cliff since 664, when it was established by the Celts, and it operated until 1583 when Henry the VIII closed all Roman Catholic places of worship. Alongside the old Roman Catholic ruins is a new(er) protestant abbey — complete with an ancient graveyard and mists that roll in a few times a day, adding to the creep factor.


The town is actually adorable. 

The town has embraced the famous literature it has inspired. Twice a year there’s a huge annual goth fest called the Whitby Gothic Weekend, during which thousands of people arrive in their best corsets, fangs, and dark eyeliner to troll the streets.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to an Epic British Pub Crawl

But the real attraction is Whitby Abbey itself, which looms large over the town. Inside the attached museum you will find historical artifacts, stories, and remnants of the town’s past — before strolling through the Abbey ruins.


I wasn’t sure where I was going to buy a sword for my buddy’s birthday. This gift shop had me covered. 

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Lost in Translation: Brits v. Americans, Whose Language is it Anyway?

Our cousins across the pond may have invented the English language, but over the past 240 years or so, Americans have made some … shall we say … “improvements.” Often, people travel from the U.S. to England wrapped in a sense of comfort, thinking, “Well, they speak the same language, so I’ll be able to get by just fine.”

Lost in Translation: Brits v. Americans — Whose Language Is It, Anyway?

We aren’t as similar to our British cousins as we tend to think. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Or will you?

There are a few very significant differences. Want to wear a fanny pack? That’s cool; they’re making a comeback, after all. Just don’t call it a “fanny” pack. The word means something very different over there. Interested in having a cigarette? Don’t freak out when someone offers you a “fag.” And get used to weird rhymes that have no overt meaning whatsoever. I’m here to help, so watch this video in full before you even think of booking your ticket to Britain.

Related: An Idiot-Proof Guide to an Epic British Pub Crawl

Thanks to Visit Britain.

An Idiot Proof Guide to an Epic British Pub Crawl

When visiting England, there is nothing more fun than an old-fashioned British pub crawl… and if you’re going to do one (and you should), the best place to do it is in Yorkshire, which has pubs that reek of ambiance and history and have been serving the public for hundreds of years.

Be sure to get a driver, so there are no issues getting home, but — bonus! — all of these pubs are also inns, just in case you need a nap.

WATCH: An Idiot-Proof Guide to an Epic British Pub Crawl

We knew from the start that this was going to be a long day. (All photos by ABA crew)

I decided to start my pub crawl in Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters in the mid-19th century. Charlotte, Emily and Anne, the three daughters of the village parson, were immensely talented writers, best known for Wuthering Heights (Emily), Jane Eyre (Charlotte), and Emma(Charlotte). They originally wrote under male pen names, as Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, but won such fame that they were finally able to publish under their own names. Their unfortunate brother, Branwell, was also said to be a talented artist, but he was much overshadowed by his sisters’ fame. He resorted to drinking and drugging his way through life before dying of (severe) alcoholism at the ripe old age of 31.

Related: Haworth, England — the Tiny Town that Inspired Every Single Brontë Novel

So, after visiting the Brontë house, strolling across the moors that inspired the sisters’ books, make your first stop:

1. The Black Bull, Haworth

119 Main St., Haworth, Keighley, West Yorkshire, BD22 8DP, United Kingdom

This is the pub where Branwell drank himself to death. In a lovely macabre English twist, they have kept his favorite stool in perfect condition. The pub is conveniently located across the street from the village apothecary, where Branwel would get his opium before stumbling back across to the bar.

It doesn’t get more authentic than this. 

2. Haworth Old Hall

Sun Street, Haworth, Keighley, West Yorkshire, BD22 8BP, United Kingdom

Located in one of the oldest buildings in the village, Haworth Old Hall has been standing since the 16th century. These days it’s not just a pub, it’s a gastro pub, with locally sourced farm-to-table food. It also has a ghost that wanders around after dark. Not kidding. Just ask Alan, the manager — he’s seen her.

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Hunting for Buried “Treasure” in England

Scarborough, England, is about 200 miles north of London and the perfect place to uncover buried treasure—if you know where to look.

This was where I discovered geocaching, an outdoor recreational activity that involves searching for secret caches (little treasures) hidden all over the world. Continue reading

My Walk Down Memory Lane in Leeds, England (and the Best Fish and Chips Ever)

In every life there are pivotal “Sliding Doors”situations, where things would be very different if another path had been taken. I’ve had several of these, but the first one happened when I was very little in Leeds, England.

Related: How to Really Irk the Locals in London

My father was getting his PhD at the university there, and my mother was teaching locally. My sister and I were both born there, and we lived in a quintessential Yorkshire home — dark, coal-stained stone; long, thin windows; and a door my mother painted bright red. It was a good time for our family. My mother would push me in a pram to the to fish and chips shop on the corner — now called the Fishermans Wife — every time she didn’t want to cook or do dishes (read: every other day), and by all accounts we were a happy little family.

Then my dad’s thesis was accepted and he got his degree, along with two job offers: one from the University of Leeds … and another from Riyadh University in Saudi Arabia.

Had he chosen the job in Leeds, I most likely would have grown up with a British accent in that very house, and my entire life would have been very different. As it was, we moved to Saudi Arabia — and very quickly back to the United States, where I grew up in Cincinnati. My parents divorced.


Visiting the old Leeds house (Andrew Rothschild)

But Leeds and that home have always loomed large in my family’s history. So when I went to England last month, I wanted to see the house, and the couple living there now were kind enough to let me in.

It was an emotional full-circle trip: seeing where I was born, where I could have grown up, where my family would have been a unit. It was like an alternate, bizarro universe.

Related: Mile-High Mohawks Are Gone, But London Punk Is Not Dead


Fish and chips! (Andrew Rothschild)

Afterward, I stopped at the Fisherman’s Wife — and mom was right. It is the best, lightest fish and chips ever (despite the fact that I will never be a mushy peas girl). If you’re ever in Leeds, stop by.

Thanks to Visit Britain for the opportunity.