Southern Caribbean, Part 3: St. George’s, Grenada & Bridgetown, Barbados


     We docked in St. George’s, the capital of Grenada, early on March 28. Most people of a certain age (in which I include myself) know of Grenada mainly from the American invasion of the island in the 1980’s, but we saw very little that would remind you of that.  Grenada is known as the Spice Island because it is an important exporter of a variety of spices, most notably nutmeg. As I read somewhere, Columbus would have liked that since spices were one of his primary goals when he first came to the Caribbean (the other being gold). But sadly for Columbus, nutmeg trees were brought here long after his time (he didn’t find gold either).  The island was devastated in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan; most of its buildings and its nutmeg trees were destroyed. A stronger variety of nutmeg was planted after the hurricane, but it takes almost a decade for nutmeg to begin fruiting, so the industry still isn’t back to where it was.  We also saw buildings damaged by Ivan that still haven’t been restored.


     So after breakfast we left the ship to explore St. George’s on foot. The streets here have few sidewalks & most are lined on each side by deep ditches, so where there is traffic it can be difficult to traverse. Our first stop was on top of a steep hill where we visited the Catholic Cathedral. The tower was constructed in 1818 and the rest of the building in 1884. However, we had read before arriving that the roof was missing as a result of Ivan, so the bright orange roof we saw must be quite new. Just down the street was the Grenada parliament building.  At least it used to be, because now it is a ruin open to the elements, presumably as a result of Ivan.  It is a nice building so hopefully it will yet be restored.


     After that we walked over to the Carenage, a horseshoe shaped harbor area (too small for cruise ships). This is really the center of activity in St. George’s, with a number of shops & restaurants. There is a sidewalk (yay!) lining the water all the way around the harbor, which is also lined with small boats. It’s a very colorful spot.


     On one side of the Carenage we found the public library in a distinctive old pink building.  At least it used to be the library, before Ivan. Now it is empty and unrestored.  The library was established in 1846 and moved into this building in 1892. We were told that the library is now located in the soccer stadium.  On the other side of the Carenage is the bright red Fire Station. And in the middle is a statue of Christ Of The Deep, erected to honor the people of St. George’s who, using all their small boats, rescued all the passengers of a cruise ship that burned & sank in 1961. The cruise line that erected the statue was Costa, the same company whose Costa Concordia sank in 2012. So there is a history there.


   Next we had a delicious lunch at a restaurant on the second floor of a building near the library called The Nutmeg.  It is a well known restaurant, apparently partly because Martha Stewart once ate there (go figure).  The food, mostly Caribbean specialties, was very tasty and reasonably priced, but the main reason for eating here is the view through the 3 front windows which open (literally) on the harbor front. We had a table right next to the middle window, with a great view of the sunny harbor & of the well known Grand Anse beach in the distance. This was relaxing (we were hot and tired by then) & to top it off we had home made nutmeg ice cream, which was really good.


     Rested and satiated, we began walking back to the ship by way of Fort George, which involved yet another steep climb. It was worth it, though, for the lovely scenery on the way up & the great views from the fort.  Fort George was built by the French near the beginning of the 18th Century on a spot that had been fortified since the 17th. It was renamed in honor of their king by the British when they took control of the Island in the 1760’s (Grenada is now an independent member of the British Commonwealth). In 1983 Maurice Bishop, the deposed Prime Minister, was assassinated in Fort George.  We were told this was the only violent death the fort had ever experienced. The fort was bombed during the subsequent American invasion. Today it is occupied by the police, although it is open to visitors.


   Walking down the hill from the fort we encountered St. George’s Anglican Church. Built in 1825 it was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ivan.  Despite the lack of a roof it is still sometimes used informally for services and classes.  The entrance to the cruise ship dock was a good spot to see how clear the water is around here.


     So all of this was quite beautiful and this was a very enjoyable day among the friendly and outgoing Grenadian people. We sailed away as the sun began to sink & it was a beautiful evening as we sailed along this green and mountainous island. Best of all, a really spectacular rainbow appeared, the best I have ever seen.  At its peak it was a full semicircle filling the sky from the water through the clouds and back down to the water. To top it off, it eventually became a double rainbow!  It was far too big to be able to photograph the entire thing, but here are a few pictures of its parts. This was a pretty spectacular ending to a beautiful day.




     We arrived at Bridgetown, Barbados in the early morning of Saturday, March 29.  Another former British possession, which became an independent member o the Commonwealth in 1966, Barbados is famous for its beaches. But we didn’t go to a beach (no need to pay for a cruise to go to a beach, which are an easy drive from where we live). Instead, true to form, we walked into Bridgetown to see what it was like.  We were less than thrilled, since it was hot and the streets were crowded with vendors & others. It reminded us a little of Fortaleza in Brazil, which we didn’t like very much either. And it was worse because our map was poor & we spent a lot of time trying to find the few things we wanted to see. Still, the long walk from the port to the town along the shore was nice, there were a lot of pretty flowers in the town & there were some interesting sights.


     In the center of town is Heroes Square, with a statue of Lord Nelson, who served in the Caribbean in the 1780’s before he became a Lord, and the Barbadian Parliament buildings next to it. Established in 1639, the Barbadian Parliament is the third oldest in the Commonwealth. The Parliament Buildings were erected in the 1870’s. They were quite imposing, particularly the West Wing with it clock tower topped by a Barbadian flag.


     After a long search (even though it wasn’t all that far away) we found Nidhe Israel Synagogue. The Jewish community in Barbados was begun by a few hundred refugees from Recife, Brazil, who were expelled when the Portuguese regained that city from the Dutch (you can see where their synagogue was in Recife on this page, a little way down:  <> ).  The synagogue was originally built in 1654 and rebuilt after a hurricane in 1831. It fell into neglect & was sold in 1929, but was acquired by the Barbados National Trust and restored in the 1980’s. It is said to still be in active service but when we visited it was locked up & there was a sign on the door that services were being held at a different location. Next to the building is the cemetery, with stones dating back to the 17th century.


    Next we found the Barbados National Library Service in an imposing building only a few blocks from the synagogue. Unfortunately it was closed the day we were there. It was founded in 1906 with a grant from Andrew Carnegie.  I don’t know when this building was built, but it looks like it could be of that vintage.


     We walked all the way back through Heroes Square to the Careenage (yes, spelled differently than in Grenada), the small boat harbor in the center of town. Across it is the Chamberlain bridge, at the south end of which is the Independence Arch, built in 1987 on the 21st anniversary of Barbados independence. Just beyond the arch is the tranquil Independence Square.


     From here we walked back to the ship for a late lunch and a relaxing afternoon on deck.  And so to bed.

Southern Caribbean, Part 2: Oranjestad, Aruba & Willemstad, Curacao


     We left Ft. Lauderdale in the late afternoon of March 22 to the accompaniment of a faint rainbow (so faint I didn’t notice it until I looked closely at the picture). After two days at sea (during which our only towel animal appeared) we arrived in Oranjestad, Aruba on the morning of March 25.


     Originally inhabited by the Arawak people, the “ABC” islands of Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao just off the coast of Venezuela were taken from Spain by the Dutch in the early 17th Century.  We visited the first & third of these islands, which currently have autonomous status under the Dutch monarchy. Since most of the islands visited on this cruise were new to us we opted to explore most of the ports ourselves on foot. So after breakfast we set out through the town, noticing its strong Dutch influence. Our first long stop was at the Archeological Museum, housed in a block of renovated houses originally built in the 1920’s.  It had a wealth of displays about the early inhabitants of the island, all clearly explained in English and Papiamento, the local creole language. The Arawaks came here from Venezuela (only 20 miles away) long before the Spanish arrived in 1499. Finding nothing they valued here (oops . . . gold was discovered in the 19th Century) the Spanish called these 3 islands “the Useless Islands,” and removed much of Aruba’s native population to slavery on Hispaniola. Many of the survivors returned later and today a large majority of the population can trace much of their heritage to the Arawaks (although there are no pure Arawaks left). One interesting display was of a couple of amulets of the “Bat Cult” that was widespread here and from northeastern South America through Mexico.



We walked by Fort Zoutman. Built in 1798, it is the oldest building on the island. In front is the Willem III Tower, added in 1868. It has a clock (which does not keep accurate time) and originally served as a lighthouse at a time when the shore ran next to the fort.  Nearby was a small waterside park with a statue of a prominent Aruban (there are a lot of statues here) & palm trees wrapped in the flag of Aruba.


      We set out to find the library. Mary had a map of where it was supposed to be, but we couldn’t find it (we found out later that some of her library maps were pretty worthless). But the search took us through some interesting park filled neighborhoods we would not have seen otherwise, past the Beth Israel Synagogue (built in 1962 for a congregation founded in the 1920’s, it is the only one on Aruba) and a monument to Simon Bolivar.


     After giving up on the library we walked down along the seashore, which was lined with low, gnarled trees. I think these are Divi trees, which always lean sharply to the west because of the prevailing winds.


     We had lunch at a lovely open air restaurant on the beach, complete with local Aruban beer.  It sure tasted good after all that walking in the warm weather.


     After a late lunch we headed back toward the port. We walked through Queen Wilhelmina Park, named for the Dutch Queen at the turn of the 20th Century. There is (of course) a statue of the Queen and also a number of iguanas.  We actually saw a lot of iguanas on our walk through this lovely town. Near the dock was a pelican sitting on a rock posing for pictures, not to be outdone by an iguana posing on the next rock. On the way back we saw a hungry iguana with a big smile, the largest iguana we have seen!



     We arrived at colorful Willemstad, Curacao, on the morning of Wednesday, March 26. This is another Dutch island & capital of the Netherlands Antilles (I think). Willemstad is divided in two parts by the harbor: Punda (“point side”) on the right &  Otrobanda (“the other side”) on the left.  We docked in Otrobanda.


     After breakfast we set out, walking across the Queen Emma Bridge, built in 1888, to the main part of town.  This is a pontoon bridge that can swing back & forth to let water traffic in and out of the harbor. It is known locally as the “Swinging old Lady” (sounds like it might be a Duke Ellington number). Over the top are wire loops with light bulbs that must be lit up at night.


Plenty of nice views here, but once again the Eclipse towers over the town & there was also an oil platform spoiling the view past the point in Punda.


     A little further inland we came to the floating market.  The market doesn’t really float, but the goods are brought in boats that are all tied up just behind the market stalls.  Mostly food & tourist knick knacks for sale here. There was also an interesting little bridge, the middle part of which lifts up to permit boats to go underneath.


     So we set out on what turned out to be a pretty long walk on a hot & muggy day to find the library.  Unlike the day before, however, we were rewarded for our efforts with a visit to a nice, if unspectacular, public library: the Biblioteka Nashonal Korsou (national library of Curacao in the local Papiamentu tongue).


     The last site on our list to see was the Mikve’ Israel Emmanuel Synagogue.  Built in 1730, it is said to be the oldest continually operating synagogue in the Western hemisphere.  At the time it was built the Jewish community, founded by Sephardic Jews fleeing Spain and Portugal in the 17th century, represented 50% of the white population of Curaçao.


    After that we had lunch in a nice restaurant extending out over the water of the large inlet in front of the library.  We ordered the local beer, but upon examining the bottle found out that it was bottled in Florida!  It was still very good.



    So that was pretty much it for beautiful Willemstadt.  We did spend some time in a museum & we tried but failed to enter the fort, which was closed for a conference.  Really, just walking around this city would make a nice day, even without visiting any sites. It is one of the most interesting & distinctive cities we have visited in the Caribbean. So we walked back to the ship & had some ice cream & looked forward to a sea day with no walking involved!


Southern Caribbean, Part 1: On Board the Eclipse

     We recently returned from a cruise to the southern Caribbean. It was really a vacation for relaxing, so we didn’t blog during the cruise.  Actually, since there were 8 ports in 9 days there was little time to do any blogging.  But we had a good time, visited a number of ports we had not seen before and came away with good memories & fun pictures.  So I decided to preserve some of the photos on line before I forget what they are. 


     We sailed on on the Eclipse, a Celebrity ship.  It is pretty huge (about 3000 passengers).  They handle the crowds quite well: we never had difficulty finding two deck chairs together or finding a seat in the buffet (called the “Oceanside Café” here).  We had previously sailed on the Equinox, an almost identical Celebrity ship, which we liked a lot.  But since then we have sailed twice on the Prinsendam, which carries only a little more than a fourth as many passengers, and as a result we were much more aware of – and annoyed by – the large numbers of passengers. Still, the cruise was quite enjoyable.DSC06793_edited DSC06810DSC06809

     The elaborate evening meals in the main dining room (the “Moonlight Sonata,” if you can believe that) were generally very good, although the food in the buffet was inconsistent (not as consistently good as we remembered from the Equinox). We were seated at at night at a large table for ten with an interesting international group: couples from England, Wales, Scotland & Norway. But the table was oblong instead of round & the dining room was very noisy so it was difficult to have a general conversation.  The Eclipse is equipped with a gigantic atrium extending through about 10 decks. Glass walled elevators line two sides of the atrium with a grand staircase on the opposite side. There was musical entertainment there every night before dinner, usually either Ray Brown, Jr., adopted son of Ella Fitzgerald & jazz bassist Ray Brown, or their very good dance band, and you could watch from the overlooks on all of the decks above.


     We had a balcony on this cruise, which was a nice place to sit & read or enjoy the scenery (mostly water).  Unfortunately we were on the starboard side of the ship & the setting sun was usually on the port side, so we didn’t see many of those beautiful Caribbean sunsets. The Eclipse has a lovely wood paneled library that is open to the atrium (although there is no librarian & a terrible selection of books). On the deck right above the library is the main outside pool deck, where passengers occupy hundreds of deck chairs and there is a stage in front of the atrium windows where, among other things, there are Zumba dance/exercise classes. Dancers above, intellectuals below! Come to think of it, that pretty fairly reflects the priorities on this ship.



     The top deck (deck 15!) has two items that are unique to Eclipse & its sister ships of Celebrity’s Solstice class.  The first is a lawn of real grass, where guests play bocce & there are sometimes small concerts.  I understand it is very difficult to maintain, which is what one would expect.


     The other unique item – and to our minds the best thing on the ship – was the Hot Glass Show put on by the Corning Glass Museum. They have built an open air glass blowing studio into the top of the ship next to the lawn.  Fire safety restrictions forbid any open flames, so there are no acetylene torches or gas-fired ovens like you would normally find in a glass studio. Instead, they developed an electric oven just for these ships. They even built into these ovens a camera at the back (covered by thick heatproof glass) that show on a video screen what is going on inside.


     We found the glassmaking process endlessly fascinating & attended as often as we could.  During each 2 hour show each of the three glass artists – Aaron, Jamie & Ryan – would make one glass item, each of which was unique.  As an example, here are some pictures of Aaron making a large striped glass bowl.  The next day he made a top for it with a stopper and a seahorse sculpture. The glass starts out as a small softball-sized hunk on the end of a blowpipe.  All the decorating is done while it is small, then it is slowly inflated using breath through the pipe and centrifugal force from twirling the pipe. It is then transferred to a solid pipe and the top is fashioned from the spot where the original pipe was connected. Finally it is put into the annealing oven to cool down over about 12 hours. While working the glass it must be kept at a temperature well above 1000 degrees since it will begin to crack at that temperature, so the reheating oven is maintained at more than 2000 degrees & the annealing oven begins at 900 degrees. Hot work! When cooled the glass is often a very different color than when put into the annealing oven.


     The next day Aaron made a top for the bowl. First he made a curved plug, measured to fit just inside the bowl’s opening, which he covered with a flat white top similar to the base that would sit on top of the bowl.  Then he added a glass sculpture of a seahorse that he had made in the meantime. The items made at the glass show are not sold, but many are given away to lucky passengers (sadly, not us) in raffles during many of the shows.  At the end of the cruise there was a charity auction of the 7 best pieces. Aaron’s seahorse bowl was purchased for more than $400, about what most of these pieces brought, and we were assured by the glass artists that in a gallery they would have cost 2 or 3 times as much.


Here are some pictures of passengers watching the show (including Mary). It is located on the top deck right next to the lawn. The glass making is more difficult because of the swaying of the ship & the cross winds. To combat the latter there are glass partitions, higher on the ends than in front of the audience, and higher glass walls along the edge of the ship. Sometimes things don’t go smoothly. We saw Ryan making an elaborate glass fish sculpture, which fell off the pole in the oven when it was almost done (sorry, no pictures of that). Aaron quickly used a pipe to push it out of the oven so that it wouldn’t contaminate the oven, and it dropped to the deck breaking off several pieces.  We were aghast, but Ryan calmly added a little hot glass to another pole which she used to pick up the sculpture, then set about redoing the parts that had broken.  You would be hard-pressed to discern in the final product that it had been broken.


     OK, enough about the ship.  On to the ports, the main point of taking a cruise.