We woke on Christmas morning in the bay of Charlotte Amalie on the island of St Thomas. We had had a faux Christmas prior to departing on vacation but Santa, of course, had still magicked himself down the ship’s funnel to fill the stockings. The boys opened those and some gifts from their grandparents, then we grabbed a quick breakfast, and headed onto dry land. Unfortunately our oldest son was stricken with the same truly rotten cold that had felled a few of us in December and did not feel up to exploring so he stayed aboard the ship in order to rest and recuperate.
While my in-laws poked around in the the many shops of Charlotte Amalie, we Picts decided to take in some of the other sights of the town. Charlotte Amalie is the largest city and the capital of the US Virgin Islands. As a colonial town, it was founded by the Danish in the 17th Century. Our first stop, therefore, was Fort Christian, the oldest extant building in the Virgin Islands. In addition to that, the Fort also houses a museum and is a National Historic Landmark. Unfortunately, thanks to it being Christmas Day and the midst of a government shutdown, we were unable to visit other than to see the exterior.
St Thomas has deep harbours and that meant it was an ideal location for pirates and their ships. We saw lots of nods to this history of pillaging and skullduggery as we milled about the streets. Everyone loves (old timey) pirates after all. Some of us grew up with Long John Silver and some grew up with Captain Jack Sparrow but we all enjoy a good pirate tale, whether fiction or history. Apparently Charlotte Amalie is particularly associated with Bluebeard and Blackbeard (beards compulsory?) and one of the island’s attractions is Blackbeard’s Castle. We knew it was closed – thanks not only to Christmas and the shutdown but sadly also storm damage from the recent hurricanes – but we thought we would go and have a look see regardless. It is always useful for us to have a goal in mind when wandering with children.
The climb was steep and the steps took us past Government House. We stopped to admire its architecture and to have a quick breather before ascending the final flights of steps to reach the peak and Blackbeard’s Castle. Although its name associates it with the infamous pirate, the structure was actually built as a defensive watchtower by the Danish since Fort Christian was at sea level. It now houses a pirate museum which the boys would have loved. Sigh. Still, we cannot complain about the poor timing of our tourist wanderings given the damage and distress Hurricane Irma caused for the Virgin Islanders. I wandered the perimeter fence but could not get a decent look at the tower. I did manage to get a photo of a statue of Edward Teach by poking my camera lens against a rust hole. We could see something of the tower from the street. The best view was from the statue of the Three Queens, honouring the enslaved leaders of the Fireburn rebellion.
We then took the famous 99 steps back down to the main streets. Apparently the same warehouses that now house jewellery and fashion stores were once where smugglers and pirates stored their booty but I am sure they were used for legit purposes too. We walked a long stretch of Dronningen’s Gade, ignoring all the banter from shopkeepers, because I was on a mission. One house on the street was the birthplace of the Impressionist artist Camille Pissarro. I had researched the number of the house but the numbering system was confusing. Furthermore, the rain had started when we were up at Blackbeard’s Castle admiring the views – and watching the precipitation advancing – and it was absolutely hammering down as we pounded the pavements. When we found ourselves in a decidedly dodgy area, we decided to retreat and I had to give up on my mission. However, on reviewing my photos later that evening, I realised I had taken a photo of my youngest son beneath a sign that declared the building to be the birthplace of Pissarro. So I somehow managed to both accomplish and fail my mission.
While I had always intended to return to the ship after wandering the town in order to check on our oldest son, Mr Pict and the other kids had planned on going to the beach. However, the boys had a change of heart having become drenched in the rain so we all hopped on a taxi (cars drive on the left incidentally) and they used the ship’s pool instead, taking advantage of the fact most people were away for the day.