Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic is the oldest European city in the New World and a city of firsts. Columbus landed here, naming the island Hispaniola, which eventually became divided between French Haiti and the Spanish Domincan Republic. In Santo Domingo there’s the first cathedral, first library, first university and the first paved street in the New World, Calle Las Damas, constructed for the ladies to stroll without mussing their dresses.
This is a charming, cosmopolitan city of some 2.5 million. Here in the Zona Colonial is the heart of the historic city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with monuments and history. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clop down the cobblestone streets, giving visitors a tour in the old-fashioned way.
Cafes line El Conde, a pedestrian mall filled with sidewalk cafes
and beginning at the Colon Plaza, site of the New World’s oldest Cathedral.
It’s great for people watching, with locals, expats and tourists — and lots of dogs wandering about.
My friends Diane and Ron, a Zen nun and monk, are here to investigate starting a Zen Center. We’re staying in a 500-year-old mansion, purportedly the former home of Christopher Columbus’s grand daughter, the first vicerine of the Americas. We have a small pool, large, tree-filled courtyard and rambling house with many rooms, nooks, and crannies.
Birds sing in our courtyard in the palm and fig trees. Around the corner is the cafe scene and the Colon Plaza, and across the street is Hostel Nicolas De Obando, a five-star hotel with a lovely swimming pool that we enjoyed yesterday along with margaritas. They don’t know how to make guacamole here, but they tried.
The city is walled and has a huge fortress at one end that took two centuries to build.
Fortunately, I haven’t seen many street cats (my weakness), but there are a lot of street dogs — one that I tried to save from starvation by feeding her scrambled eggs. Ever since that she has disappeared. I guess she didn’t like the scrambled eggs. I could easily spend my winters here. The climate is very pleasant and it’s virtually bugfree, and it’s quite a livable place.
The only drawback is a bit of a hassle to get to the beach — only a 15-minute drive from the city, but about a two-hour expedition by bus, and the “express” bus stops every 30 feet to let people off. At a later writing, I’m happy to add that after I left, my friends found a perfect beach and better bus ride directly to it. Hopefully, I’ll return and visit there myself.