Hello from sunny St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. I wish.
My husband and I spent last week there, but, against our better judgement, we returned home to reality (aka Wisconsin) on Saturday. Sniff.
I would go back in a heartbeat, but since that's not going to happen anytime soon, I thought I would take a virtual trip back and invite you, dear readers, along with me.
Our trip started here:
Actually, it started in the Charlotte Amalie airport, but since I didn't take any pictures there, this one will have to do -- and it's surprisingly apt, because when your plane lands in St. Thomas, you debark on the tarmac (which, I think we can all agree, is the absolute best place to debark when arriving at a warm-weather destination), then walk into the airport where you are greeted by smiling people telling you, "Welcome to St. Thomas. Bathrooms are on the left. Free rum shots are on the right."
We spent our first couple days in St. Thomas at The Galleon House, an old B&B that sits on Government Hill in Charlotte Amalie, overlooking the red roofs in the historic downtown. This was the view from our balcony, looking to the left, and below is the view looking to the right.
Not a bad view either way. We loved The Galleon House. It's a historic building and while it's been modernized, it definitely shows its age in a few spots, so it's not for everybody. It was perfect for us, though. It's in the heart of Charlotte Amalie, surrounded by other beautiful old buildings, lots of shops and restaurants and just a stone's throw away from the water's edge.
They served breakfast every morning on the patio, which is lovely -- especially if you're a Midwesterner who hasn't been able to sit outside on a warm, sunlit patio in six months.
If you're thinking about booking a stay, though, beware of the stairs.
I counted 129 of them from the downtown to our room. To be fair, only 81 of them were inside The Galleon House complex. But that's still a lot, especially when you're dropped off at the curb by a cab at 9 p.m. after a long day of traveling and you're lugging a heavy suitcase along with you. The whole complex reminded me a little of Hogwarts, because of all of the twisty, twiny paths and turning staircases. It definitely earns five stars in the charm department.
Downtown Charlotte Amalie, meanwhile, was a bit reminiscent of Diagon Alley. Lots of narrow streets and narrower alleyways with stores right on top of each other. This photo was taken on Sunday, when all of the jewelry stores were closed. The rest of the week, the place was hopping.
St. Thomas was owned by Denmark for many years, until being bought by the United States in 1917, and you can definitely see the Danish influence. All of the streets have Danish names. ("Kronprindsens Gade" means "Crownprince Street.")
It was a lot of fun to poke around the downtown. I could have spent days rambling around taking pictures of the colorful old buildings, the cobblestone streets and the historic architecture.
This is Fort Christian, which was built in the 1670s and is the oldest structure in the Virgin Islands. It operated as a museum in recent times, but has been closed since 2005 due to a stalled renovation.
There are lots of random chickens wandering through Charlotte Amalie. These guys were in Franklin D. Roosevelt Park.
After roaming around the downtown on foot for a few hours on our first full day in St. Thomas, we hopped on an open-air bus operated by Franko and Brenda's Fun Tours. Franko was a great tour guide, and Brenda was a great bus driver. I think she had the harder job, because, holy wah, driving around St. Thomas is not for the meek.
Roads -- especially those heading up the cliff -- are narrow and winding, and shoulders are non-existent. There are lots of steep dropoffs, lots of guardrails, lots of hidden driveways and lots of horns honking.
It's worth the perilous drive to get to the top, though. Once you're there, the views are incredible.
Upon getting off the ferry, you walk up to what looks like a lemonade stand -- except instead of kids selling lemonade, adults are giving away free rum shots. (Are you noticing a pattern?)
We took another open-air bus tour around St. John because we sure didn't want to drive on the island -- and not because we overindulged on the rum. Like on St. Thomas, the roads here are steep and narrow, winding around the cliffside. Plus, they drive on the left side of the road, something I never got used to during the week we were here. Even crossing the street is weird. Instead of looking left, right, left, like I was trained to do back in kindergarten, I had to try to reprogram my brain to look right, left, right.
The one place we wanted to go to on St. John was the Annaberg Sugar Plantation ruins, and it's definitely worth the trip. The ruins are hauntingly beautiful and incredibly sad. The plantation was started in the 1780s and operated well into the 1800s, with slaves planting and harvesting sugar cane that was terraced into the hillside and then processing sugar, rum and molasses on site.
Ruins of the slave quarters, the factory and a windmill (pictured above) and horsemill still remain. The site operates as a national park today.
There were also cotton and tobacco plantations on St. John back in the day, and you still see rogue cotton trees sprouting up here and there.
There are also lots of scenic overlooks and postcard-worthy views all around St. John.
On our third day in paradise, we were back on St. Thomas, but we moved up the coast to a resort on Bolongo Bay.
The staff greeted us at the door -- at approximately 10:30 a.m. -- with complimentary rum punches.
Those of you who know me in real life know I am not much of a drinker. I am what we here in Wisconsin refer to as a "lightweight." Two drinks make me happy. Three make me sleepy. Any more than that, and I'm in trouble.
I was definitely in trouble on Day 3.
This is what they call a "Mudslide" in the Virgin Islands. I called it "lunch." It is a chocolate shake with alcohol. Mmmm.
Anyhoo, from what I remember of it, Day 3 was a fun day. Day 4, not so much. Woke up with a killer hangover and laid low most of the day, until my husband dragged me out on a sunset cruise at 4:30 p.m. He's a big meanie sometimes.
Our resort had a 53-foot catamaran (Heavenly Days) docked on site. I'd never been on a sailboat before, and the cruise was lovely. I even managed to choke down the obligatory rum punch that they hand you when you board. (But then I drank Coke for the rest of the cruise.)
Day 5 might have been my favorite day of the entire trip. My husband wanted to go to Coral World Ocean Park. I've never been much of an aquarium person. (I prefer four-legged fluffy animals to slimy marine creatures. Plus, putting any kind of wildlife in captivity bothers me.) But in the spirit of vacation, I agreed to go -- and I loved it.
This is the Underwater Observatory at the park. You walk in that little igloo-shaped structure and go down a winding staircase until you get to the bottom, where there are windows on every side looking out onto a coral reef. It's like scuba diving without getting wet. We were there when a diver was feeding the fish. It was utterly captivating to watch the fish swarm around and eat. (And I enjoyed the irony of the humans being the ones inside the tank, while the fish just went about their day outside.)
The animals that are in captivity at Coral World are mostly rescues or part of a "headstart program" and will be released back into the sea when they're ready, like the stingrays that we fed. Or at least my husband fed. I was too big of a wimp. You're supposed to hold a piece of food against the side of the tank, and the stingrays are trained to come up to your hand and suction the piece of food right out of it. I couldn't do it. I dropped the food when the stingray got about 6 inches away.
We celebrated our last full day of vacation by going out on the Heavenly Days again, this time to "Swim With the Turtles."
Just to be clear, this photo is from Coral World yet. We didn't actually swim with this guy. But I didn't have an underwater camera to take pictures of the ones we did swim with, so this will have to suffice. The sea turtles here are enormous. They're about 3-feet long and can weigh hundreds of pounds.
On the Swim With the Turtles tour, the boat goes out to a quiet cove where the turtles are known to congregate and the water is incredibly clear. Then they hand out snorkeling gear and let you off the boat to paddle around. The turtles mostly hang out on the bottom of the sea but they're air breathers, so every so often they have to surface. You can see them when they're on the bottom, and when they start to rise, you have to get out of their way, because they're not going to look out for you.
I had tried snorkeling in Hawaii about five years ago, and I didn't really enjoy it. The first time I dipped my head under the water there, I came nose to nose with a big, ugly brown slimy fish, and it freaked me out. I decided if that's what was under the water, I didn't want to see it. But here, wow, the water was crystal clear, the fish were bright and colorful and the turtles were just amazing.
Sadly, that brings me to the end of this travelogue. We met so many people on this trip who told us this was their second (or third or fourth or fifth) time in the Virgin Islands. I am firm believer in vacationing somewhere new every year, because the world is a big place and I want to keep exploring. But I'd definitely make an exception in this case.