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Published: June 26th 2017
St Thomas is an island that belongs to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Christopher Columbus originally named the islands after the epic and tragic tale of St Ursula, a Christian saint and the 11,000 martyred virgins.
Formerly the Danish West Indies of the Kingdom of Denmark and Norway, they were sold to the United States by Denmark in 1916. The U.S. Virgin Islands are in the Atlantic Ocean, about 40 miles east of Puerto Rico and immediately west of the British Virgin Islands. They share the Virgin Islands Archipelago with the Spanish Virgin Islands (administered by Puerto Rico) and the British Virgin Islands.
Charlotte Amalie is the capital and largest city of the U.S. Virgin Islands, founded in 1666 as Taphus (meaning "beer houses" or "beer halls"). In 1691, the town was renamed to Amalienborg (in English Charlotte Amalie) after Charlotte Amalie the queen consort to King Christian V of Denmark. It has a deep-water harbour that was once a haven for pirates. One of its most famous pirates, Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard frequented the islands and it is to his castle we looked as part of our plan once we were ashore. This would depend on a few things
such as the walking distance and the gradient. Castles are usually perched on the tops of hills. I had plotted it on the map but until I understand the layout of the town, we may be, once again, biting off more than we can chew!! I do know however, that to get to Blackbeard's castle, there is a stairway known as 99 steps. There is a clue in there somewhere as to what we should have to expect!!
We have cheated somewhat with our planning as we have looked at the official ship excursions for inspiration. Another potential visit is an Ice Bar. We have visited one of these before but that was in Oslo, Norway last Christmas. It may be fun to visit a similar establishment on the other side of the world in 80 degree heat, shorts and a t-shirt.
The ship docked in a part of the city known as Crown Bay Harbour. This is about 1 ½ miles from down town Charlotte Amalie. The alternative harbour is Havensight Pier, 1 ½ miles from downtown but from the other side of the bay.
Taxis, as on most of the islands we have visited, are
open sided trucks. The cost per person is fixed at $4.
Despite being an unincorporated territory of the USA, the US Virgin Islands drive on the left. However, I noticed that the steering wheel of all vehicles; car, vans etc. are also on the left making this a unique feature. I spoke to a lady later on, as I stated that overtaking must be difficult. 'Ah! It's someting you get use to and besides, when you have you eyes closed it doesn't matter what side of the car the steering wheel is!!
The taxi dropped us all off at Tabade Gade. ‘Gade', literally means Gate but in this context it means street in Danish.
The city is known for its Danish colonial architecture, building structure and history, and a dozen streets and places throughout the city have Danish names. Charlotte Amalie has buildings of historical importance including St. Thomas Synagogue, the second-oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere and the oldest Lutheran church in the Western Hemisphere, the Frederick Lutheran Church. However, it was the old adage of ‘When you've seen one church…!!'.
Although I had spotted these on the map they were not in the direction
we wanted to go.
We passed Emancipation Park, named in commemoration of the 3. July 1848 emancipation of slaves in the Danish West Indies. We then turned right on to Norre Gade then up Kogens Gade. (King Street) As a bonus, we passed the Governor of the US Virgin Island's House. It stood out amongst all the other houses as being painted brilliant white with the façade adorned in festive garlands. The climb up this street looked quite steep but having climbed up Lombard Street in San Francisco, this was a breeze as Roisin danced up this incline.
Our next landmark was to tackle the 99 steps. These were built by the Danes in the mid-18th century to climb up and down the steep hills of Charlotte Amalie. The bricks used to build the steps were brought from Denmark as ballast in the hulls of sailing ships. The ironic thing is that although referred to as 99 steps, there are actually 103 steps. However, on reaching the top we had only counted 102. Luckily for me immediately after I suggested to Roisin we go down and count them again, the ships hooter sounded. I never asked her to
repeat herself although I doubt she was commenting on the fine view!!
Near the entrance to Blackbeard's castle is a sculpture known as ‘the Three Queens'. In 1878, three former slave ladies from St Croix (another of the islands) led an insurrection against the Danish Government for improved living and working conditions. During this period a major part of Fredrikstad was destroyed by fire. This revolt today is known as ‘Fireburn'
and the ladies are renowned as Queen Agnes
, Queen Matilda
and Queen Mary
– the Three Queens of the Virgin Islands.
On entering Blackbeard's Castle a hearty swashbuckling pirate m'lad was stood at the base of a 10 foot statue of Edward Teach himself. He told the tale of the most tyrannous outlaw of the time culminating in Blackbeard's ultimate battle and eventual beheading. Ten of his crew were captured with nine of them being found guilty of piracy and sentenced to death by hanging. The tenth crew member was set free so he could spread the story of the demise of the most fearful despot of the seven seas and yes you've guessed it….The pirate in front of us now telling the story…..!! He was looking
good for someone over 350 years old!!!
Whilst Roisin paid a visit to the aptly named Poop Deck, I climbed the 66 steps up the centre piece of Blackbeard's castle, the tower. Built in 1679 by the Danes as a watchtower to protect the harbour. Blackbeard's Castle was originally called Skytsborg Tower. (Protection tower) It served as a very effective vantage point for Danish soldiers to spot enemy ships. It is not known what year Skytsborg Tower took on the name of Blackbeard's Castle, but it has become part of the lore of the island that Blackbeard used the tower as a lookout for his own purposes of piracy! Up top I felt the first few spots of rain. As I exited the tower, the rain was starting to get heavier. A tour from Princess had just entered the compound and I overheard the tour guide ask the pirate to provide the ‘shortened' version of the story!! Furthermore, the tower's door was temporarily closed due to safety precautions. Those who were part of the Princess tour hadn't even time to catch their breath before they were whisked off to next part of the complex.
Roisin and I took
shelter in what looked like a hotel bar. Apparently this used to be a hotel together with swimming pool and sun terrace before it closed its door in 2007. There was lots of cool stuff inside like a musket with bayonet affixed on the counter of the bar and some sort of flintlock lay on a window ledge. Like a mischievous child scorned Roisin said: ‘Don't touch', ‘Put that down'
and ‘Look the man will shout!'
but like a mischievous child I touched these artefacts anyway!!
The rain lasted for about 40 minutes. We weren't in any hurry unlike those on the official excursion!!
We followed the steps and paths down through Notman's Villa and Haagensen's House. Villas built in the Danish Colonial Style: through a museum depicting life size statues of the most despicable pirates that terrorised the Caribbean and finally descending more steps to the world famous Amber Waterfall. This is the largest amber waterfall in the world with over 12,000 pieces of amber from Baltic, Asia, Caribbean and the Ukraine. It is the largest amber waterfall in the world because it is the only amber waterfall in the world!!
Our final stop, and still
part of the Blackbeard's Castle tour, was at Hotel 1829. Again built in traditional Danish Colonial style, it is the home of a backgammon master. One of the original backgammon tables remains set up. Roisin started to explain the rules to me when the curator intervened. ‘We don't get many backgammon players through here'. ‘So, this is the home of one of the world champion?'
I enquired. ‘Yes, it sure is. He is 82 years old. ‘Does he still play?' ‘Of course, every day. They say it sharpens the mind' ‘Well, go get him!'
I said ‘Oh! He lives in Florida now!!' ‘Convenient!'
I retorted. ‘OK. In his absence. We'll call it a draw!!'
And that is how Roisin drew at backgammon with a world master!!
We had passed the Magic Ice Bar during the taxi ride from the port so we knew exactly where it was. We cut through a few back streets and within five minutes we were being kitted out with a hooded, quilted poncho.
The Magic Ice Bar of St Thomas is 8,000 square feet and a temperature of -5 degrees centigrade. This was much
bigger than the one in Oslo. We still got a voucher for a free tot although it was rum (what else?) rather than schnapps. We experienced some intricate sculptures from several tons of arctic ice from the marine life that inhabitants the surrounding seas to some fascinating creations that depict the golden age of piracy. The bar was supposed to be shaped like a ship but I think some of it must have melted as it looks like it had run aground!!
Having been in a sub-zero temperature for the past 40 minutes, on exiting the Ice bar, it felt we had walked in to a blast furnace. Talk about feeling the benefit!!
The Blackbeard's castle & shopping official ship's excursion cost $56 as did the Magic Ice Palace (& shopping). That would have cost $112 each. Our taxi fares and the two admission prices cost $86 for both of us. Job done!! I make it a rule that if an excursion includes ‘shopping' avoid at all costs. For example, the Ice Bar took about 40 minutes to wander about. The official excursion is a three hour tour so the rest is basically free time!!
main events this evening were the English Pub night and the Blank Game. We have seen the English Pub night before. Something was telling me not to sit in the front row but I couldn't think why. We heeded our instincts and sat in the next row. As soon as the song sheets were handed out it all came flooding back.
All the singers and dancers as well as the entertainment staff are dressed up like bar staff/wenches from a Victorian pub and all seem to adopt British accents akin to Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins!! The opening number of ‘Consider Yourself' was followed by one of the entertainment team (in this case, Lisa the cruise director) singing Susy, Susy.
Susy sits in a shoe shine shop. She sits and shines and shines and sits. The mic is then thrust under the nose of an unsuspecting punter who has to repeat what Susy is doing…at speed!! This is only the first verse. Susy then moves on to a factory and then a Chevrolet. In all cases she does similar stuff all designed for comedy effect at the punters expense.
A few sketches and knock-knock jokes later
it was time for the sing song. All standing we were forced to sing ‘My Bonnie'
complete with the actions. I felt like I was back in Kindergarten!! After picking some more unwilling volunteers for party games that involved balloons, vaseline, cotton wool and ping pong balls, it was time for the final sing song. A rousing chorus of Pack Up Your Troubles'
and ‘t's A Long Way To Tipperary…
at the same time!!!
Despite my sarcasm it had been a good night so far and the fun wasn't over yet. No indeedy! We all moved from the Vista Lounge to Princess Live all hyped up for a game show called ‘The blank game'.
It was similar to the UK game show Blankety Blank where a phrase or sentence is read out and the audience had to match the missing word with the panel. The panel for this game were made up from Sarah and Dieter from the Entertainments team and a random member of the audience. An example of the questions was:
‘Gary mistakenly took four Viagra instead of aspirin and now he has a completely different kind of pain in his '.
After a fair amount
of laughter and hesitation, I took the answer paper and boldly wrote ‘Knob!!' Well it had to be done!!
Sarah, one of the panellists, was more diplomatic and had written ‘Man Friend'
so we got a point on this occasion. If you matched with two of the panel you scored two and if you matched with all three you score three points. It wasn't rocket science. Surprisingly we scored 21…and won….another bottle of cheap ship
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