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Caribbean Journey – Part 1: Philipsburg, St Maarten & Castries, St Lucia (2022)

     After two days at sea we came to the island of . . .

St Maarten

     This is a divided island, half French and half Dutch.  Like most cruise ships, we docked in Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch part.  This is a major crossroads for cruise ships and there have always been at least 6 ships here when we have visited.

52. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten

     We walked into town from the ship, a fair way, and spent a few hours there since there was nothing else we hadn’t seen that we particularly wanted to visit on this island.   You can read more about St Maarten and what we saw and did here ten years ago at this link:

https://baderjournal.com/2012/03/09/philipsburg-sint-maarten/

     After a leisurely breakfast in the Main Dining Room we left the ship, walked down the dock and made our way through the port complex, which was full of shops.   Then we walked into town, passing many colorful flowers.

44. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten1. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten2. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten22. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten26. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten20220319_11134120220319_111428

     We walked over the little pink and white stone bridge into the town, then we walked around for a while.  St Maarten has a particularly beautiful and lengthy beach with a nice view, although we have heard that the water is somewhat polluted.

20220319_1131018. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten21. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten

     There were two landmarks in town we sought out.  One was the Guavaberry Emporium.  It is a small low wooden building painted a distinctive red and white, which is built on the site of a synagogue that was here in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Guavaberry liqueur has been made in St Maarten for hundreds of years.  It is made with rum, cane sugar and guavaberry fruit from bushes growing wild in the hills of the island.  When we were here before this Emporium was a lively place, selling liqueur, hot sauce, art works, tee shirts and other merchandise.  But now it is closed and the company is going out of business, with only a small shop in the port where they are selling off their inventory (some of which we purchased on our way back to the ship).  The building will remain, however, because it is protected as a National Historic Monument.4a. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten_stitch

      The second landmark was the Philipsburg Courthouse.  Originally built in 1793 as a home by the city’s founder  John Philips, a captain in the Dutch navy, it was later used as a jail, a fire station and a post office before becoming a court house.  The cupola is topped by a carved pineapple as a symbol of welcome.  The current one was erected in 1996 after the original was blown away in a hurricane.  Behind the window in the cupola is a set of bells and on the facade below is the coat of arms of St Maarten, which has this building in its center.  The building was closed to the public on the day we visited so we were only able to see the outside.

11. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten Stitch19. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten15. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten20. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten

     It was pretty hot by now so after a couple of hours we headed back to the ship the way we came, passing all the same flowers as well as a cow that was tied to a sign outside a store, presumably so it wouldn’t walk away although it seemed very well behaved to us.  We found the Guavaberry Emporium store in the port and then reboarded the ship.  After lunch and a leisurely afternoon, we sailed away toward our next stop, St Lucia.

24. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten33. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten34. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten Stitch

St Lucia

     The morning of March 20 found us docked in Castries, St Lucia.  Because it was Sunday almost everything was closed, so we decided to just walk into the town & see what we could see.  We were not unfamiliar with Castries since we had been here before:

https://baderjournal.com/2012/03/09/castries-st-lucia/

https://baderjournal.com/2014/05/03/southern-caribbean-part-4-st-lucia-antigua-st-maarten-st-thomas-ft-lauderdale/

     The walk into town was long and complicated, so it was fortunate we had a map.  It was also a bit eerie because hardly anyone was on the streets.  As we reached the center of town near the waterfront we encountered a distinctive sculpture of rowers that we had not seen before.  It was erected here, near the entrance to the capital, in 2019 during the 40th anniversary of St Lucian independence.

2. 2022, 03-20  Castries, St Lucia

     In the center of town is Derek Walcott Square.  We have been here before but it looked different this time because of extensive renovations in 2020.  Originally called Place d’Armes, it was renamed Columbus Square in 1892 and renamed 101 years later for Derek Walcott, one of two Nobel laureates from this small island.  Since our last visit the white concrete fence surrounding the square was removed, the busts of the two Nobel laureates were gilded and there were other improvements to make the park more usable.  It looks very nice & there were a number of local people enjoying the park while we were there.

12. 2022, 03-20  Castries, St Lucia7. 2022, 03-20  Castries, St Lucia

     Across the street from the square on one side is the Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception, the largest church in the Caribbean.  The outside is gray stone, but the inside, where we went last time we were here, is delightfully colorful with ironwork roof arches reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower.  It was Sunday and Mass was in progress so we didn’t enter, but we did take a look inside through the open door.  Across the street on the other side is the Central Library.  Originally erected here in 1924 with a grant from the Carnegie Trust, it was called the Carnegie Free Library.  We were surprised to find a Carnegie library so far from the US the first time we visited but there were actually six of them built in the Caribbean.  In 1948 a fire gutted the building and destroyed 20,000 books but it reopened again in 1958 after extensive renovation within the original walls.  It is a beautiful library.

6. 2022, 03-20  Castries, St Lucia4. 2022, 03-20  Castries, St Lucia5. 2022, 03-20  Castries, St Lucia11. 2022, 03-20  Castries, St Lucia10a. 2022, 03-20  Castries, St Lucia_stitch

     We walked back to the port, stopping in the Castries Market where a surprising number of vendors were open for business on a Sunday.  The port area is large and nicely built.  Our balcony view had the sea off to the left and a Ponant ship and Castries to the right.

13. 2022, 03-20  Castries, St Lucia20. 2022, 03-20  Castries, St Lucia14a. 2022, 03-20  Castries, St Lucia_stitch

     Sailing out of the port we passed a lighthouse on top of a hill and were visited by several sea birds.

21a. 2022, 03-20  Castries, St Lucia_stitch23. 2022, 03-20  Castries, St Lucia81.  2022, 03-20 Castries, St Lucia27. 2022, 03-20  Castries, St Lucia48.  2022, 03-20 Castries, St Lucia24. 2022, 03-20  Castries, St Lucia

     Sounds like that was the end, right?  But wait, there’s more!  We sailed down the coast to Soufriere to get a view of the Pitons, two pointed mountains situated right by the town.  We had been to Soufriere on our last visit but this was to be a viewing from the sea as we passed.  It makes for quite a sight, but this time was really special because of a spectacular rainbow appearing over the shoreline as we came within view of the Pitons.

51a.  2022, 03-20 Castries, St Lucia_stitch79.  2022, 03-20 Castries, St Lucia77.  2022, 03-20 Castries, St Lucia20220320_165148

     We sailed around the outcrop for a full view of Soufriere and of the Pitons.  The rainbow was back, shining over the town, providing a spectacular farewell from St Lucia.

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Caribbean Journey — Boarding Nieuw Statendam in Ft Lauderdale (2022)

     We arrived in Ft Lauderdale on March 15 and had a fun dinner at an Irish Pub near the port.  On March 16 we boarded the Nieuw Statendam for a three week cruise they called the “Southern Caribbean Wayfarer."  Here is the itinerary (don’t forget that if you hover your mouse over a picture the caption will appear):

image

Day

Date

Itinerary

Arrival

Departure

WED

16MAR22

Sail from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US

4:00pm

THU

17MAR22

Sea Day

FRI

18MAR22

Sea Day

SAT

19MAR22

Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

8:00am

4:00pm

SUN

20MAR22

Castries, Saint Lucia

8:00am

4:00pm

SUN

20MAR22

Scenic Cruising Soufriere Bay

MON

21MAR22

Bridgetown, Barbados

8:00am

5:00pm

TUE

22MAR22

Roseau, Dominica

8:00am

5:00pm

WED

23MAR22

Basseterre, St Kitts and Nevis

9:00am

6:00pm

THU

24MAR22

St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.

8:00am

5:00pm

FRI

25MAR22

Sea Day

SAT

26MAR22

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

8:00am

3:00pm

SUN

27MAR22

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US

7:00am

4:00pm

MON

28MAR22

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

8:00am

3:00pm

TUE

29MAR22

Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

10:00am

5:00pm

WED

30MAR22

Amber Cove, Dominican Republic

8:00am

5:00pm

THU

31MAR22

Sea Day

FRI

01APR22

Kralendijk, Bonaire

8:00am

11:00pm

SAT

02APR22

Willemstad, Curacao

8:00am

11:00pm

SUN

03APR22

Oranjestad, Aruba

8:00am

7:00pm

MON

04APR22

Sea Day

TUE

05APR22

Sea Day

WED

06APR22

Debark Ship Fort Lauderdale, Florida, US

7:00am

     Commissioned in 2019, Nieuw Statendam is about three years old.  But most of that time the entire cruise industry was shut down so its actual time at sea when we boarded was probably closer to a year and a half.   This is by far the youngest and the largest ship we have sailed on with Holland America.  In passenger capacity it is, at almost 2700, about twice the size of the Amsterdam and three times the size of the Prinsendam (both of which were, sadly, sold during the pandemic).  During the post-pandemic return to sea, however, cruise ships are not sailing at capacity and Nieuw Statendam  was at only about half capacity while we were onboard, about the same as Amsterdam.  It still felt like a lot of people though, and it’s hard to imagine what it must be like when this ship is full.  Even with fewer people the distance from the main dining room in the aft section to our cabin in the forward section of deck 5 (“Gershwin Deck”) seemed almost long enough to walk off all the calories!

     Many of the spaces on this ship are similar to other HAL ships we have been on, only bigger.  The atrium is lighted in purple and has no multistory central sculpture.  The crow’s nest has the usual shipwide array of front facing windows, but it also houses the shore excursion folks and a couple of interactive displays about the ports and sea routes.  There is also a section with some books (nothing like the old libraries HAL used to have), puzzles and games.  The lido pool area has two floors of seating and some casual restaurants with a huge video screen at one end of the pool.  We spent a lot of time in this area reading, with our mp3 players plugged into our ears to blot out the ship’s continual soundtrack.

46a. 2022, 03-26  Half Moon Cay, Bahamas_stitch15. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam Stitch4. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam9. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam Stitch

     We ate most of our dinners, and breakfasts on sea days, in the Main Dining Room, which had unusual curved pillars holding up the second floor.  During the first leg of our back-to-back we had a table upstairs by the rail, but there were several hundred fewer passengers on the second leg so they closed the upstairs and everyone had to be seated downstairs.  Presty, who many of you may know from world cruises, was the dining room manager.  He recognized our faces right away and was very solicitous, arranging a table by the windows for us when we were moved downstairs.  We had arranged to share a table with our world cruise tablemates Bob & Judy, and were most disappointed when a non-Covid medical issue made them miss our cruise at almost the last minute. 

24. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam Stitch19a. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam_stitch

     The ship had plentiful alternative dining options, most for no additional cost.  Although it normally costs extra, we had a dinner at the Pinnacle and one at Tamarind gratis because we are 5 star mariners.  Both were excellent, but Tamarind is more exotic and interesting.  Our go-to place for lunch was the Grand Dutch Café, where we enjoyed the Dutch pea soup (not quite as good as when served on deck while visiting icy places) and superb ham and cheese sandwiches.  They also had humongous desserts, including one similar to an éclair and a chocolate chip cookie that fills a dessert plate.  On the second floor of the LIdo area we enjoyed pizza & sandwiches from the New York Deli & Pizza on one end and Dive-In hamburgers on the other.  The hamburgers are thick & juicy at the Dive-in, but we don’t like their fries or special sauce nearly as much as others do.   We have enjoyed their huge hot dogs on other ships, but this one had no sauerkraut or brown mustard so what was the point.  Near the Dive-in was a gelato bar, which was not free.  We love gelato, but theirs was good rather than great, and once you have had great gelato (which we have in Italy, Spain and New Zealand) good is kind of disappointing. We had lunch in the Lido buffet a few times as well, where they were carving rare strip loins that can be put between two pieces of bread to make a wonderful sandwich.

49a. 2022, 03-24  Charlotte Amelie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands_stitch42. 2022, 03-24  Charlotte Amelie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands44. 2022, 03-24  Charlotte Amelie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands39. 2022, 03-26  Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

     Music venues also were plentiful on board the ship.  The Main Stage had shows most nights, usually featuring the ship’s dance company or its four man singing quartet.  The main stage here is surrounded by huge video screens stretching back along either side of the audience and it rather overwhelmed the unfortunate performers on stage.  There was no live music in these programs; instead the music was recorded along with large displays on the screens moving with the music.  We found this all very distracting and much preferred the performances we have seen on other HAL ships focused on live musicians and performers on stage.

     HAL’s music walk, on all of the larger ships, consists of performing groups in four different genres.  Lincoln Center Stage features a classical piano quartet and alternates in the same venue with the BB King Blues Club.  It was a lovely venue with a glass fronted balcony where we usually sat.  Billboard Onboard was a lounge with two pianists playing and singing together (not “dueling,” as is sometimes said) and the Rolling Stone Rock Room across the hall housed a really good young band with a very fine lead guitar.  We visited all of these venues except the BB King (a matter of timing rather than taste), but the Lincoln Center Stage received most of our attention because their classical performances were really outstanding.  We were told that these musicians auditioned separately for the gig and were formed into a group after being hired by HAL’s music contractor.  Their repertoire was determined by the contractor who employed them.  We had different quartets on the two legs of our cruise, but both played exactly the same shows with almost exactly the same pieces.  We don’t see how that could work on a Grand Voyage, since a week’s worth of repertoire wouldn’t go very far on a three or four month cruise.

18. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam109.  2022, 03-20 Castries, St Lucia66. 2022, 03-23  Basseterre, St Kitts

     As on other HAL ships, there is a lot of art scattered around the Nieuw Statendam.  But while other ships we have been on have antique or classic looking artworks from around the world, this ship’s collection leans heavily toward the pop art genre.  The ship has something of a musical theme, though it is not overdone.  For example, some of the hallway carpets have images of musical instruments woven in along one wall. Among the musically themed art were a portrait of Jimi Hendrix, a reflective infinity piano hanging in an elevator bay, a melting guitar sculpture by the elevators on another floor, a sculpture made of cymbals in the front of the Main Dining room, and two huge violin hangings covered in what looked like Delft ware on the wall behind the front desk.

1. 2022, 03-30  Amer Cove (Playa Plata), Dominican Republic78. 2022, 03-24  Charlotte Amelie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands3. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam5. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam7. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam77. 2022, 03-30  Amer Cove (Playa Plata), Dominican Republic

      There were some artworks on walls composed of unusual media.  A copy of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night on a stairway landing turns out, when viewed up close, to be made of small plastic toys and other items, and a portrait of Van Gogh was similarly made.  Some soft stripey  portraits of women turn out on closer inspection to be painted on feathers.  There was also an elaborate painting in a classical style on a surf board.

1. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam79. 2022, 03-30  Amer Cove (Playa Plata), Dominican Republic81. 2022, 03-30  Amer Cove (Playa Plata), Dominican Republic26. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam27. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam13. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam29. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten

     Elevator bays on several decks had displays of ordinary items wrapped in what appears to be needlepoint.

31. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten75. 2022, 03-24  Charlotte Amelie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands

      A very interesting photo was on a wall near the Lincoln Center Stage.  If you look only at the center section it looks like a large wood paneled room lit by skylights.  But viewing the picture as a whole makes clear that it is something entirely different.

111.  2022, 03-20 Castries, St Lucia110a.  2022, 03-20 Castries, St Lucia_stitch

   Near the atrium was a sculpture of a lady’s head with a very elaborate hairdo topped by a sailing ship apparently under attack by a giant squid.  And near some elevators was large copy of Michelangelo’s David made of glass (or possibly plastic).  If you look closely in his lowered hand is an iphone with which he is taking a selfie. Quite unusual.

11. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam2. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam51. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten53. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten48. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten28. 2022, 03-17 & 18 On Board Nieuw Statendam

     We have no pictures of it, but we can’t end a discussion of the ship without some mention of the Casino.  It seems that a few weeks before we sailed HAL decided to make the first leg of our back-to-back a gambler’s cruise, without informing the other passengers.  This means that they invited casino mavens from previous cruises to sail on this one at a big discount or even for free, as we understand it.  Presumably this is a money maker for HAL since all those rooms would have been empty and not generating revenue anyway because the ship’s passenger complement was so limited during the post-pandemic restart.  This meant there were about 300 more passengers on the first leg of the cruise than on the second.  To make matters worse, at the same time HAL ended the prohibition on smoking in the casino that has been in place since the return of cruising.  The result was that the casino was very crowded most of the time with many people smoking.

     The unpleasant smell from all of this smoking floated down the open stairway to the  music walk, where it was often impossible to enjoy the music.  Worse, there was an increase in folks being quarantined for COVID near the end of the first leg of the cruise (they don’t tell you how many), and it seemed to us that a casino jam packed with people sitting cheek to jowl without masks and blowing smoke around was probably a Covid superspreader.  Some passengers we talked to were forced to move to new staterooms just a day or two before we reached Ft Lauderdale so that HAL could establish a separate quarantine area on a couple of decks (since passengers had been quarantined on earlier cruises and there were so many empty cabins on the ship, why couldn’t they plan for this possibility by setting aside a quarantine section before the cruise?).  We found HAL’s handling of all this to be very disappointing, reflecting either a failure to think it through or a reaching for every last dollar regardless of the safety and enjoyment of the other passengers.

    So that’s enough about the ship.  We set sail heading south to the islands that are the main point of the trip.

Nieuw Statendam

Caribbean Journey In The Time Of Covid — Prelude: Texas, Louisiana & Florida (2022)

      Well, as everyone knows, the Covid pandemic has really inhibited travelling for the last two years.  Our last seagoing adventure was a voyage to South America and Antarctica in the first part of 2019.  Our voyage planned for the Fall of 2020 was cancelled and sea voyages pretty much disappeared, along with our favorite ships, Prinsendam and Amsterdam, both of which were sold as cruise companies fought to survive without income.  Since we are in a particularly vulnerable demographic (over 65), we followed Shakespeare’s advice that discretion is the better part of valor by mostly staying home and wearing masks when venturing out. 

     But by the Fall of 2021 things started looking a little better.  The spread of Covid seemed to be diminishing, cruise ships began returning to the seas, and we had both been fully vaccinated and boosted.  We had family business to take care of in Texas so we decided to extend that trip to include a Caribbean cruise departing from Ft Lauderdale in mid-March that would be restricted mostly to vaccinated passengers and crew.  We had second thoughts as the spread of Covid rose again in January and we read about many cruise passengers ending up in isolation cabins or disembarked mid-cruise.  But the incidence of Covid began to drop rapidly during February which made us more confidant about our plans.

   Texas 

    Before embarking on the ship we spent a couple of weeks on the road, leaving on March 2.  Stopping in Memphis on March 4 on our way to Texas to visit Mary’s brother Joe we wanted to have dinner at our favorite BBQ restaurant, Corky’s, but discovered that it was closed for repairs after a fire.  We ate at one of their other locations instead where the food was good but the ambience not nearly as much fun.  On March 5 we came across a rural library in Maud, Texas, near Joe’s house, then on March 6in Ft Worth we all dined at Cattlemen’s steakhouse, which was still as good as when we had our pre-wedding dinner there almost 50 years ago.  We continued to San Antonio, where we spent the afternoon of March 7 shopping among the myriad Mexican vendors at the Market Square emporium, and also enjoyed delicious Mexican food at a restaurant on the River Walk.  We walked around the River Walk for a while, then back on the street we encountered horse drawn carriages lit up like they were part of the Disney electric light parade.

The alternative Corky's3. 2022, 03-5&6 Ft Worth, Texas1. 2022, 03-07 San Antonio, Texas2. 2022, 03-07 San Antonio, Texas3. 2022, 03-07 San Antonio, Texas4. 2022, 03-07 San Antonio, Texas8. 2022, 03-07 San Antonio, Texas5. 2022, 03-07 San Antonio, Texas

     New Orleans, Louisiana

          We spent two nights in New Orleans, where we had not been for some time.  We stayed in a hotel a block off Canal Street, a main thoroughfare running along the edge of the French Quarter.  We spent our full day in New Orleans walking around the French Quarter, an area rife with atmosphere,  It has rows of old houses, most now stores, with wrought iron balconies.  Its crowded streets are always fun to explore, as are the boutique shops selling many kinds of local wares.

33. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana29. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana31. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana18. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana19. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana

     We stopped for café au lait and beignets at the Café du Monde in the French Market.  In operation since 1862, this awning covered patio is a favored tourist attraction these days.  When we have been here before waitresses served the tables with coffee and beignets on ceramic plates and cups, but that is now gone.  We sat down expecting the usual waitress but none materialized, then we noticed the line of people waiting to ;purchase their food at the back of the patio.  Joining the line, we obtained coffee in paper cups and beignets in a paper bag and sat down at a table.  For those who don’t know, the coffee here is laced with chicory which alters the flavor noticeably.  Beignets are hole-free donuts covered in a thick layer of powdered sugar, most of which we brushed off before removing them from the bag.  They are really tasty.

14. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana20220310_13394913. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana

      New Orleans is a city filled with music.  While we were at the Café du Monde a local jazz band was performing on the sidewalk outside, occasionally passing the hat (actually a bucket) for tips between songs.  They were a good bit better than you might expect from street musicians.  Also hanging around outside was a character you would probably never see anywhere but in New Orleans (she didn’t perform).

DSC06428-0011. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana 5. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana6. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana15. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana

     Leaving the Café du Monde we walked down the block to Evans’ Candy Factory, which has been making New Orleans pralines here since 1900.  Pralines look like flat cookies but are made mostly of brown sugar melted with butter or cream and nuts (usually pecans) on top.  In Texas this is pronounced “pray-leen,” but in New Orleans it is “praw-leen.”  We also walked by a small square with a gilded statue of Joan of Arc, a native of the city’s namesake in France.

16. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana17. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana

     After visiting the waterfront and some art galleries we began walking back toward our hotel.  In Jackson Square (named for an equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson, the winning general in the 1814 Battle of New Orleans)  we came across a larger brass band, complete with Sousaphone (tuba).  Very colorful and very engaging music.

21. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana25. 2022, 03-10  New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans is justly famous for its fine restaurants.  That evening we dined at Broussard’s, a century old award winning Creole restaurant in the French Quarter.  The food and the service were outstanding, a memorable dining experience. 

     St Petersburg, Florida

     We drove for two days to reach St Petersburg on the evening of March 13 for a visit with Michael and Irene, Mary’s uncle & aunt and their dog, Zoe.  Since we would be on the road again for Mary’s birthday on March 15, we had an early celebration there at dinner on March 14 with a small cake.  Longtime readers of this blog know that we are always on the lookout for interesting libraries to visit (Mary was a librarian).  Here we visited the Mirror Lake Community Library, the original public library in St Petersburg which opened in 1915.  It was a Carnegie library built in Beaux Arts style and is still very attractive after renovations in the 1990’s.

6. 2022, 03-114  St Petersburg, FloridaStitch20220312_1912192. 2022, 03-114  St Petersburg, Florida4. 2022, 03-114  St Petersburg, Florida3. 2022, 03-114  St Petersburg, Florida

     To board the ship everyone had to present a negative Covid test taken within two days of boarding, a tight schedule for folks travelling to Ft Lauderdale.  We had purchased a couple of rapid home tests that were monitored over the internet (a HAL requirement) and we used them on the morning of March 15 before leaving to drive to Ft Lauderdale.  We had been very careful about mask wearing and social distancing during our road trip, but there was still a lot of anxiety about successfully using the tests (the instructions seemed complicated) as well as the result.  After all, with so much planning and two weeks on the road to get there it would have been hard to be refused boarding because of a positive test.  But once online with a monitor we found the tests much easier to use than it had seemed and both of us tested negative (yay!).  It only took about half an hour to complete both tests and then we were away  to Ft Lauderdale to embark the next day on Nieuw Statendam.

.

Oranjestad, Aruba (2019)

March 22 found us docked at Oranjestad, our last port of this voyage before it ends in Ft Lauderdale.  This is another formerly Dutch possession, since 1986 an autonomous country that is part of the monarchy of the Netherlands (so the locals have Dutch citizenship and governor appointed by the Dutch crown serves as the formal head of state).  About 35,000 of Aruba’s 105,000 citizens live in Oranjestad.  As in Curacao, the other Dutch island we visited, there are a number of colorful Dutch style buildings here, but unlike Curacao most of the ones here were renovated in that style for the tourist trade near the end of the 20th century.

The tourist industry is the main economic engine in Aruba, but there are few notable landmarks and most visitors come for the sun and beaches.  On our first visit here in 2014 we explored the city on foot:

https://baderjournal.com/2014/05/01/southern-caribbean-part-2-oranjestad-aruba-willemstad-curacao/

And we did that again this time, since it was a good compromise between relaxing on the ship (which seems like a waste) and taking an excursion (we were done with that for this voyage).  We visited mostly the same sights as last time, with one notable exception.  Setting out after breakfast, we decided to ride the free tram into town.  Although it stops right near the port it took us a little while to find the stop.  It was pleasant enough, but extremely slow; you could probably walk into town faster.  On the way we passed the Archaeological Museum, which we had enjoyed visiting last time but was closed this time for renovations that were apparently completed near the end of 2019.  This town has a lot of outdoor art and we passed some wall paintings in the tram.  We also passed the brightly painted city hall, which we saw from the side.

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Leaving the tram in the center of town, we walked to Fort Zoutman.  The fort was first built in 1798 and the city grew up around it. It was last renovated in 1936 and today houses the Historical Museum of Aruba.  The artifacts we saw there were mostly old clothing and furnishings, along with an interesting exhibit on the history of the hat making trade that grew up on the island.  A large group of school children were visiting while we were there and their teachers had some difficulty keeping them together.  The Willem III tower was erected at one corner of the fort in 1868.  At that time the fort and tower were at the water’s edge, but due to land reclamation projects (a specialty of the Dutch) they are now about 300 yards from the ocean.  The tower was originally a lighthouse and also the city’s first public clock (which no longer keeps accurate time).  We ran into Bill & Robert here and we all climbed to the top of the tower, three flights of steep, narrow, mostly open wooden steps with inadequate railing.  It was a little bit daunting but we all made it to the top, where there were great views of the city on all sides.  Among other things, we saw the Old Protestant (Calvinist) Church built in 1846 sitting right next to the New Protestant Church built around 1950.  We also saw the 1888 school, the first public elementary in Aruba, which was the public library for a few years during the 1950’s.  In front of the school is a monument to the men who wrote the Aruban national anthem, with sculptures of the three men gathered around a piano on a platform with a pool made to look like piano keys.

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We had failed to find the library on our last visit but this time we had a better map.  We parted from Bill & Robert and started out toward the library.  It was a nice walk through a garden infested residential area.  Before reaching the library we came upon the Beth Israel Synagogue, which we understand is the only synagogue in Aruba with a congregation of about 75.  Across the street was a monument to two Aruban units that fought in World War II.

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The library was cool and modern, with some colorful art inside . . . notably a representation of the Willem III Tower that was about 8 feet tall.

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It was lunch time when we left the library, so we walked back to the shore to find the restaurant where we had lunch the last time we were here.  It is in a delightful spot right on the shore.  We had delicious grouper sandwiches washed down by the local Balashi beer.  We told you this was a pleasant island on which to relax!

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We walked back to the ship through Queen Wilhelmina Park.  Wilhellmina was Queen of the Netherlands for 50 years, from 1898 until 1948.  A statue of Queen Wilhelmina in the park was dedicated by her daughter, Queen Juliana, in 1955.  Nearby is a statue of Dutch holocaust victim Anne Frank, erected in 2011.  The park is full of Iguanas and other lizards running around freely in the grass.

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Reaching the port we boarded Prinsendam for the last time . . . not just the last time on this voyage but the last time ever.  She was sold to a German cruise company called Phoenix Reising at the end of 2018 and they took possession in July, 2019.  So while she still has many years to sail, it will be under a different name (Amera) and with a different look.  https://www.cruisemapper.com/ships/Amera-742  So this sparked a bit of nostalgia, not only because this is a particularly nice ship but also because it was the first ship on which we took a long voyage, the circumnavigation of South America in 2012.

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On the morning of March 24, our last day at sea, the housekeeping staff put on an extravaganza towel animal display on the Lido deck by the pool.  The white ones are room towels and the blue striped ones are beach towels.

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There were large towel animals, as much as three feet tall.

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There were small towel animals, hanging on a hedge and sitting on tables and the benches around the pool.

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And of course, not to be forgotten, plenty of hanging chimpanzees.

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So that is the end of this episode and the end of this epic voyage.  The next day, after 80 days of sailing, we disembarked in Ft Lauderdale and drove home, stopping to visit some relatives along the way.  It was quite an experience and we will look forward to our next international adventure, hopefully in 2020.

Willemstad, Curacao (2019)

On March 21 we stopped in Willemstad, the capital and largest city in Curacao, an independent nation within the Dutch monarchy (sounds something like the British Commonwealth) that was formerly part of the Dutch Antilles (of which Willemstad was the capital).  Curacao has a population of about 130,000.  100b. Willemstadt, Curacao_stitch_ShiftN

Willemstad is a particularly nice city to explore on foot, in fact its urban center is a UNESCO world heritage site, so that is what we did.  We had done that as well the first time we were here, in 2014:

https://baderjournal.com/2014/05/01/southern-caribbean-part-2-oranjestad-aruba-willemstad-curacao/

But this had been a long and eventful voyage and we were really tired of bus trips, so we spent our day enjoying this city again.  The ship was docked at what is called the Megaport which is a fairly short walk from the center of town.

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Willemstad is divided in two by an inlet called Sint Anna Bay.  The island was inhabited by a tribe of Arawaks when the Spanish first sighted it in 1499.  Deporting the entire local population to Hispaniola as slaves, they established the first settlement at what is now Willemstad in the 16th century, but the Dutch West India Company took it over in 1634 to use as a naval base.  The original settlement is on one side of the bay in a district called Punda (“The Point” in the local Papiamentu language), while the district on the other side of the bay, where Prinsendam was docked, is called Otrobanda (“Other Side” in Papiamentu). During the 18th and early 19th centuries it was notorious as the busiest slaving port in the Caribbean, with Africans being kept here for about 2 years to be “trained” for their new jobs before being sold on to North and South America.  The slave trade was abolished here in 1863.

Leaving the ship we walked toward the bridge, passing through the Rif Fort (Reef Fort).  Built in 1828 at the mouth of Sint Anna Bay to protect the town & the bay from pirates and invaders, the fort was outfitted with bombproof five foot wide walls and 56 cannons. A chain to keep hostile ships out could be deployed across the bay entrance to the Waterfort (Water Fort), originally built in 1634 but rebuilt in 1827.  During World War II a metal net was used to keep out German submarines.  Today it is a trendy shopping center with many restaurants and shops.  From the upper level is a very fine view of the Queen Emma Bridge that crosses the bay.

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We walked on toward the bridge, passing the statue to Luis Brion in Plaza Brion.  Born in Curacao in 1782, Brion was an advanced naval tactician and a top lieutenant to Bolivar during the war for South American independence from Spain.  He died here in 1821.  The plaza had an excellent view of the colorful Dutch colonial buildings that line the shore on the other side of the bay.  Nearby was a large freestanding mural depicting the same view during the age of sailing ships.  As you can see from the mural, the multicolored buildings are not just modern innovation to attract tourists.  These buildings are centuries old.  The story is that most of Willemstad’s buildings were originally white, but a 19th century governor concluded that his migraines were caused by the glare of the sun reflecting off the white exteriors.  Thus a decree was issued requiring all buildings to be painted a color other than white.  The city’s characteristic multicolor pattern has been adhered to ever since.

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We walked across the 550 foot Queen Emma Bridge to Punda.  Originally built in 1888, this is a floating pontoon bridge that swings open to permit ships to sail into and out of the harbor.  It swings open about 10 times each day.  If you are on the bridge when it opens you cannot leave until it closes.  This was originally a toll bridge:  those wearing shoes were charged 2 cents to cross while barefoot walkers could cross for free.  It accommodated automobile traffic until the four lane Queen Juliana Bridge opened in 1974; since then it has been for pedestrians only.  The Queen Juliana Bridge is much higher, with a 185 foot clearance for ships to pass underneath, the highest bridge in the Caribbean.  There is a large protected harbor behind this bridge that you can’t see from town because of the hills.  The beautiful yellow Penha building at the bridge’s exit in Punda dates to 1708, the oldest commercial building in town (although it started out as a private home).  Today it houses a cosmetics and apparel store, but is still the most photographed building in Willemstad and possibly in the entire Caribbean.  So we have included our contributions to that total here.

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Leaving the bay behind us we walked into the city and soon came to the floating market.  This is a row of vendors’ stands along the water front of an interior inlet with boats transporting produce from Venezuela (about 35 miles away) docked behind them.  The last time we were here the market was full with boats lining the waterfront all the way down.  With the severe economic & political troubles in Venezuela this year many of these vendors no longer come here & the meager line of boats only reached about half way down the line of kiosks.  In the area near the market are several small pedestrian drawbridges similar to those we had seen in Amsterdam.

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We walked on to find the Maritime Museum.  It was quite interesting, with many exhibits recounting the history of sailing in Curacao.  On the way we passed some interesting wall art, which is colorful and plentiful in this city.

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It was time for lunch so we sought out our favorite restaurant, set out over the water in a large inlet near the center of town.  It was called “Timeless,” but had a different name the first time we visited a few years ago.  But despite the name change, the lunch of local fish & chips, washed down with some local beer (which we discovered last time is actually bottled in Florida), was still just as tasty.  From the restaurant we could see the library, which we had visited last time, with what looked like a brightly painted bookmobile (“Bus di Buki” . . . Book Bus?) parked in front.  On our way to the restaurant we passed some more wall art and an installation of three birds playing in a band, created from discarded and recycled materials in 2016 by local artist Omar Sling.  Then, not too far away, we encountered the actual birds, which are called banaquits.  How often does that happen?

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We headed for the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the Americas still in use.  While the Jewish community in Curacao dates to the 1650’s, when it was founded by refugees from Recife, Brazil and immigrants from the Netherlands, this synagogue opened in 1730.  On the way we passed a World War II memorial and had another nice view of the small drawbridge we crossed earlier in the day.

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We returned to the Queen Emma Bridge to make our way back to the ship.  On our way there we saw a monument to Queen Wilhelmina in (where else) Queen Wilhelmina Park.  We also saw more wall art and an interesting vertical sundial near the bridge.  And of course we saw our old friend the Penha building, but from a different angle.

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When we reached the bridge it was fully open, so we had to wait.  We listened to a family rather aggressively negotiating with one of several taxi drivers sitting nearby for a tour of the island.  It took a while but they apparently came to an agreement since they all left together.  Eventually we spotted a ship sailing from the harbor under the high Queen Juliana Bridge heading for the ocean.  it sailed right by us, then another ship came as well.  Finally they began to close the bridge.  It has a hinge on the Otrobanda side and an operator’s house at the end of it where it connects to the Punda side of the bridge.  Under the operator’s house are two propellers facing left and right which move the bridge across the water like a boat.  While the bridge is open and no one can walk across a couple of free ferries carry passengers back and forth.

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Crossing the bridge, we walked back to the Prinsendam.  Unbeknownst to us, Robert was out on his balcony with his camera recording our progress.

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That was, obviously, the end of our visit to Curacao.  After dinner we went out on deck for a final look.  The city was nicely lit up, with the hoops lining the Queen Emma Bridge constantly changing colors.  A nice farewell from a very nice island port.

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