On Saturday, May 7th I awoke on St. Thomas with a map and a plan. Two of my favorite words: map. Plan. We were headed back to Charlotte Amalie. To shop? Pshaw! Okay, we did do a little shopping. But, not a lot.
Where was I? Map and a mission! See, it’s evolved from a plan to a mission. Serious stuff.
The map? A historical walking tour of Charlotte Amalie. Our kind of nerdy stuff. We were in town by 8:30 or so, found parking in a large (free!) lot and set out…map crumpled in sweaty hand.
Charlotte Amalie was founded in 1666. Its deep-water harbor, now a magnet for cruise ships, was once a haven for pirates (the husband finds that very exciting, but was disappointed that there were very few, if any, historical nods to pirates on either St. John or St. Thomas. I suggested that it was, perhaps, because pirates were not very nice people). The city is known for its Danish colonial architecture, building structure and history. Many of the streets have Danish names, as the Danish held the island from the 17th century until 1917. Like St. John, it was a hub for sugar cane plantations. At one point there were over 50 plantations on St. Thomas. Unfortunately, progress has resulted in the remnants of these plantations being razed to accommodate the 51k residents. Lucky for us the Virgin Islands National Park covers 7k+ acres on St. John, protecting many of these important historical ruins.
Have you wondered how the US acquired the USVI after the Dutch controlled it for so long? Me, too. Let’s cover that before we get to the walking tour.
So, in 1915 the US was worried that the German government might annex Denmark, which would allow them to secure the Danish West Indies (now the USVI) as a naval or submarine base. Such a base could have allowed them to launch attacks on shipping in the Caribbean and the Atlantic. So, the Dutch were approached by the US about acquiring the islands. And they rejected the deal. Interestingly, the Danish were concerned about the “unfortunate civic rights record” (and that, folks, was taken straight from the US Dept of State Archive website) of the US in the early 20th century and how it might impact the predominately black population of the islands. Further negotiations didn’t result in much progress, until the US announced that if Denmark was unwilling to sell that the US might have to occupy the islands by force. Because we were freaked out by the Germans. Right to be freaked out, a little heavy handed in the negotiations…yes?
Magically, Denmark agreed to US demands, the US paid them 25 million dollars and the islands were administered by the US Navy by 1917 to 1931. Well, huh. Perhaps that’s why the locals aren’t so friendly.
Let’s start the walking tour, shall we?
Wait, first go into your bathroom. Turn on your shower as hot as it will go and shut the bathroom door (remaining on the outside). Wait 15 minutes. Open door, step inside. Ahhh….now you feel like we did on our walking tour. Hot…and damp.
We started at the legislature building. Above, the husband checks out a cannon in front of the leg building. Isn’t that a fantastic picture. I love it!
The legislature building originally served as barracks for Danish troops dating back to 1874.
Across the street from the legislative building sits Fort Christian. Oh, how the husband wanted to go into this building. It was impressive looking, I’ll give it that. But, alas, it was locked up tight.
Fort Christian is a National Historic Landmark that was completed by Danish settlers in 1680. It was originally built to protect the colony from hostile marauders (e.g. pirates). Since that time it has housed a jail, a governor’s residence, a church and a police station. It is currently under renovation.
Frederick Lutheran Church is celebrating it’s 350th Anniversary this year. Now, that’s an impressive feat. The present building, a beautiful piece of architecture, was built in 1826.
The church was originally founded in 1666.
The Government House is the official residence of the Governor of the Virgin Islands. The building was constructed by the Danish Colonial Council between the years 1865 and 1867.
Yes, if you look closely that sign does say reserved parking for the Governor. Wonder how much a parking ticket runs for nabbing the Governor’s spot?
Next up? 99 steps. Which we originally thought were the white steps on the left side of the photo above. We were a bit confused when we got to the top and were shy 30 steps or so. We wandered about the neighborhood checking out other houses and inns (like the one below) before stumbling across the 99 steps, which we then got to go down rather than up. That worked out well.
99 steps represents one of several “step streets” built by the Danes to solve the problem of getting around the town’s hilly terrain. The bricks were brought from Denmark as ballasts in the holds of trade ships.
Those are the highlights. There were a total of 17 stops along our walking tour and by the end of it we were parched…and hungry. We made our way to Cuzzin’s, where I enjoyed oxtail with fungi and peas and rice (another swoon-worthy meal) and the husband had a jerk chicken wrap. Refreshed but still sticky, we returned to our condo, grabbed our gear and headed out to yet another beautiful St. Thomas beach.
Secret Harbour Beach was a beautiful little beach made all-the-better by the fact that it was lined by a pink condo complex and a nice smattering of palm trees. Just a great retro feel. We set up camp under a very nice shade tree and attempted to snorkel, but our efforts were thwarted by poor visibility.
Undeterred, we bobbed around in the warm water simply taking it all in before heading to shore for a cool beverage of the adult kind (that cute pink resort had a well stocked bar and restaurant). We returned to the condo for our late afternoon swim at the pool and called it another good day on St. Thomas.
Well, we were lured to Margaritaville by the sound of live music that night and sat in adirondack chairs under the stars and the palms listening to some pretty good music. But, you’ll just have to believe me as I have no photos.