Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Landfall: St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands!

A mere three hours from the Spanish Virgins, we arrived in Charlotte Amalie Harbour, St. Thomas on Sunday morning. We’d left early yet again, and enjoyed an easy passage once again. But what a difference an anchorage makes!! After the glorious solitude and quiet of Luis Pena, the busy harbor here felt like Grand Central Station! Huge cruise ships line the docks on the eastern flank of the harbor, ferries and water taxis  are in full motion, plying the waters between the islands and a plethora of cruising boats (mostly sail) fill the waterfront anchorage areas. Nestled below the steep hills rising above the waterfront downtown buildings, the anchorage is a spectacular setting. 
View of St. Thomas downtown waterfront from the Charlotte Amalie Harbor
Ron, Ally and I had been here 7 years ago, when we chartered a boat for a fun summer cruise here and through the BVI. How things have changed! Charlotte Amalie is much busier now, in part due to the completion of a new mega-yacht marina complex next door to the cruise ship terminal. Filled with ships 100- 300’ long, it has changed the  atmosphere of the harbor with its high-end stores and focus on shopping. There are couple of waterfront restaurants as well, for those who don’t want a crowded jitney taxi ride to the historic Danish buildings of the old downtown area. Besides a small vendors’ plaza of island crafts, t-shirts and souvenirs, the main thoroughfares of the downtown are also dedicated to duty-free shopping by the cruise ship masses: watches and jewelry abound in every store, with merchants hawking their wares insistently.
Ron and I walked the historic streets, finding a few interesting spots among the relentless duty-free frenzy: we ate at Glady’s Cafe, a great little Caribbean eatery tucked in an old warehouse along one of the narrow Danish cobblestone streets, and spent some time in SOS Antiques, purveyors of old maps, books and authentic nautical items salvaged and recovered from the sea. The curried goat stew at Gladys’s was fabulous, and I really was fascinated by many of the unique items on display at SOS. From antique coins and bits of recovered pottery set in bezeled necklaces, to old bronze divers helmets, ships wheels and  glass floats, there is plenty to investigate. There are also small museums tucked here and there, amid the old Danish buildings, and it's a lovely place to explore on foot. We plan to do more tomorrow!
The stonewall of an old Danish warehouse
One of many narrow cobblestone passages 
Climbing the 99 (actually 103) steps
Ron about to start climbing!

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