Caribbean Cruise – Antigua

The third stop on our Caribbean cruise was Antigua. We docked at the capital, St John’s, in the north-west of the island, which has a deep harbour suitable for large cruise ships. Antigua was named by Columbus when he first visited the island in 1493, and means ‘ancient’ in Spanish, but is also known locally as Wadadli, which has a meaning similar to ‘our own’, and gives a delicious meaning to the name of the local beer! By 1674 its main crop was sugar, and by the 1770’s it had a slave population of over 37,000, and a non-slave population of 3,000! The slaves lived terrible lives, malnourished, cruelly mistreated, and even killed by their owners. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, and slaves freed by 1834. In 1981 Antigua and its sister island Barbuda, became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations. Antigua’s economy now relies on tourism, with luxury hotels along the coastline, and throughout the summer months cruise ships visit almost daily.

Antigua is surrounded by coral reefs, with a coast-line of about 54 miles, and (we were told) 365 sandy beaches, enough for one a day for a year! We had decided it was time to spend a morning on the beach, so we took a taxi ride to Fort James, a quiet and pleasant bay not far from St John’s. After paying an ‘umbrella rent’ we strewed our belongings under our huge, hexagonal wooden umbrella, and went for a dip. I expected the aqua-blue water to be warm, or at least warmish – it wasn’t! Instead it was a refreshing cold, not the gasping cold, we’re used to in the UK. There were large, long roller waves that almost swept us off our feet, we were later told this was quite unusual. We dried off quickly in the sun, and did a bit of beach-combing across the hot sand, finding shells and pieces of coral that had washed up on the beach. It was hot but not overwhelmingly so, and a bottle of Wadadli from the beach bar, went down very well!

Palm trees grew along the beach, and there were scrubby trees with bright orange flowers, rather like azalea. A bird, with black plumage and bright yellow eyes hopped around in the sparse undergrowth at the edge of the beach, and then perched in the bushes; we later discovered it was a carib grackle. Fat pink doves cooed at us from the trees, and humming birds hovered around the flowers, iridescent blue and yellow, but they moved too fast to photograph. There were also huge, black frigate birds soaring high in the sky, and then swooping low over the sea.

The beach at Fort James, Antigua was completely what I expected from a Caribbean island beach – pale dazzling sand, clear blue sky, aquamarine sea, and wall to wall sunshine!

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Caribbean cruise – St Kitts – Brimstone Hill Fortress

After visiting Romney Manor, we travelled further up the western coast of St Kitts, to Brimstone Hill Fortress. The fort is situated about 800 feet above sea-level, on the top of a volcanic dome, and has amazing views across the Caribbean sea to the west, and steep hillsides with lush tropical vegetation to the east. The fort is surrounded by steep rocky slopes, that are almost vertical in places, and has a commanding position, overlooking the sea. Because of its strategic location, the British began fortifying the hill in 1690. The fortress was designed by British Army Engineers, and built by African slaves, using basalt blocks and local limestone. Much of the stone came from quarries lower down the hill. The fort was abandoned by the British in 1853, some buildings were demolished, and others just left to decay. Restoration began in the 1900’s and in 1985 Queen Elizabeth unveiled a plaque naming it as a National Park, and in 1999 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We zig-zagged up the steep, road and squeezed through the narrow gateway into the parking area. We got our bearings, and then made our way up the steep paved pathway. It’s quite a climb, but as you can see, the stunning panoramic views when you reach the top make it well worth the effort.

 

 

 

Caribbean Cruise – St Kitts – Romney Manor

The next stop on our Caribbean cruise was Basseterre, the capital city of the tiny island of St Kitts, where we were booked on a tour. The coach took us out of Basseterre, along the coast, and on the beach we spotted a pair of brown pelicans, the national bird of St Kitts, and later on saw energetic young egrets nesting in bushy, low-growing trees. We then turned inland, and before long arrived at Romney Manor, once the great house for a sugar plantation. St Kitts and Nevis are both volcanic in origin, with very rich fertile soil, ideal for the production of sugar. The islands were settled by the British in the 16oos, because of the huge financial gains to be had in the international sugar trade. Romney Manor was once owned by Sam Jefferson an ancestor of Thomas Jefferson 3rd president of USA, but was sold to the Earl of Romney in the 17th Century, and was then called Romney Manor. In 1834, the estate became the first plantation to free all of its slaves. Part of the estate has now been made into beautiful botanic gardens. Narrow paths twist through borders of bright, tropical plants and flowers, and a carefully kept lawn surrounds a 400 year old saman tree. The valley below is covered in thick green vegetation.

Within the gardens is a collection of buildings where Caribelle Batik create beautiful and unique fabric designs. They utilise traditional Indonesian methods using wax and brightly coloured dyes on high quality cotton fabric, that have unsurprisingly become the most sought after batik textiles in the Caribbean. We watched a fascinating demonstration, and saw swathes of newly finished batik designs drying in the warm air. Then we browsed around the extensive shop, where choosing what to buy was very difficult!

Does anyone know what the white flower is? It looks a bit like giant honeysuckle to me.

Caribbean Cruise – St Lucia

The first stop on our Caribbean cruise was Castries, the capital city of St Lucia, on the northern part of the island. Once off the ship, it was easy to get a minibus ride to see some of the sights. St Lucia is of volcanic origin, so is very mountainous. It is 27 miles long by 14 miles wide (for those familiar with England, it is a little larger than the Isle of Wight), and the highest point is Mount Gimie at about 3145 feetSt Lucia is thought to have been named after St Lucy of Syracuse, when French sailors  were ship-wrecked there on her feast day, so it is the only country in the world to be named after a woman! Historically it was fought over by the French and British, changing hands many times, until 1814 when it was finally taken by the British, and it remains a member of the Commonwealth. It is mainly an agricultural island, and although it used to produce sugar-cane, the plantations now mostly produce bananas. Tourism, especially visits by cruise ships, are now an important part of the economy of St Lucia.

We drove along narrow roads snaking upwards round hairpin bends. Dense undergrowth covered the mountainsides. Houses perched precariously on steep slopes, one side often propped up on stilts to form a level dwelling. We stopped at a banana plantation, and saw bananas in various stages of growth, from tiny newly forming bananas, to fully grown bananas swathed in blue covers for protection. Before returning to Castries, we stopped to look down on Marigot Bay, a sheltered bay on the western coast, where steep green forested slopes met golden sand and the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.

 

 

 

I’m back!

I’m back! I have just spent a lovely fortnight, cruising around the Caribbean, before heading back across the Atlantic via The Azores, to Southampton. The nearer home we got, the cooler the weather, and now I’ve been back a few days, the cold, damp English spring is getting me down. The vegetation and flowers of St Lucia, St Kitts and Antigua were bright and beautiful, so here are a few flower pictures from St Kitts to brighten my day, and hopefully yours too. I’ve looked them up, but I’m not quite sure what some are, can anyone help me?

Istanbul

Istanbul was the next stop on our Eastern Mediterranean cruise. The ancient capital of three great empires, it is still the point where east meets west, ancient meets modern, and the only city in the world that is built on two continents. The highlight for me of our visit to Istanbul was the Topkapi Palace, which is one of the most popular tourist sites in Istanbul, and contains Muslim holy relics, including Muhammed’s cloak and sword. Construction of the palace began in 1459 after Byzantine Constantinople was conquered by Sultan Mehmed. The Topkapi Palace, (meaning Cannon Gate), was built on a hilltop on a small peninsula, between the Golden Horn, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus Strait. For nearly 400 years it was the main residence of the Ottoman Sultans, the seat of government, and used for the state occasions and royal entertainment. During this time the palace was greatly extended, and became the largest in the world, a city within a city, with walls 5 km long. Originally home to 700 – 800 people, at its height it would have housed 4,000 – 5,000 residents, and over 10,000 during festivals. After the 17th century the Topkapi Palace gradually lost importance, and in 1856 the court was moved to a new European-style palace, although the treasury, library and mint remained. As one of the best examples of an Ottoman palace, it is now a part of the ‘Historic Areas of Istanbul World Heritage Site’.

The palace complex is large and varied. It contains four main courtyards, large gateways, a maze of passages, hundreds of rooms, gardens, and many other buildings including mosques, a hospital, bakeries, and a mint. It is beautifully decorated, with high gilded ceilings, intricately patterned gateways, swathes of flowing golden writing, wonderful tiled walls and panels, wide paved courtyards, and striking patterned black and white pebble paths.
All in all, a most enjoyable day out, and a palace well worth visiting.

Brindisi

The first port of call on our Eastern Mediterranean cruise was the Southern Italian coastal town of Brindisi, 384 nautical miles from Venice, and situated in a panoramic bay of the Adriatic. Brindisi became a strategic port after falling to the Romans in 267BC, later used by Venetian merchants, it has since ancient times been known as the ‘Gateway to the Orient’. It is still a major trading port with Greece and the Middle East.
We took the transfer bus from the port into the city, passing through a flat and seemingly derelict industrial landscape. After about twenty minutes we arrived in Brindisi. We were dropped off just next to the information centre, where we picked up a tourist map (available in different languages). Following the map we walked a circular route, along wide tree-lined avenues, through narrow winding streets with no pavement, round old buildings and churches, pausing awhile in shady squares with statues and fountains. The Fountain of Anchors stands in the Piazza Cairoli, and in the centre of the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele is the Dolphin’s Fountain. And if you look closely on the wall of the Coast Guard’s building, you can see a sundial, saluting incoming and outgoing visitors. Some of the streets are paved with large black blocks of basalt lava. They are laid in geometric shapes, and have a dull gleam under the bright Mediterranean sun.