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Cathedrals in the Eastern Caribbean IV

Updated: Apr 4

Trip Report: 27 Jan 2024 to 12 Feb 2024: Dominican Republic and NCL Sky

Thursday, 8 February (Day 11)

My night in the inside cabin on Deck 6A went smoothly, although I heard many had suffered from the stormy seas. After breakfast, I strapped my camera and string bag under my rain slicker (acquired at Jameson’s in Dublin) and headed out to the sputtering rain outside the Duty-Free area. I found a pharmacy and bought an expectorant, and then decided to revisit the Cathedral of St John in St John’s, Antigua. Meandering up to the hilltop gate, knowing it was the only entrance, I found several cruise passengers trying to shake the locked gate open, to no avail. Protecting my camera and wiping an occassional raindrop off the lens, I strolled the outer perimeter, adding new images to my cache. With numerous trees standing in the churchyard, there were few angles that offered an unobstructed view of the building. My last shots were taken in an unpaved parking yard across from the front entrance and a level below the stone walls. Another camera-wielding photographer and I chatted about the church’s unavailability.

There is a second cathedral on Antigua, the Catholic Holy Family Cathedral. On the hill opposite the hospital, I decided I really didn’t want to brave the weather only to find it was once again closed. So I returned to the busy port, with 4 ships docked, and boarded the Sky. A quick stop in the cabin unloaded the camera, and put me in dry clothes. The dining rooms were serving, so I had both soups to warm me up, and the shepherd’s pie.

A seat in the Atrium allowed me to spend the afternoon plowing through email and reading on my tablet, while sipping club soda and bitters.

The group had dinner at Crosswinds, filing two tables of 8. I joined, with the table balanced 4 females and 4 males; the other had 5 women and 2 men. I had the duck breast starter and Cuban roast chicken. Again, I retreated to the Atrium, rather than attend the entertainment in the theater.

Friday, 9 February (Day 12)

Prior to sailing, I’d arranged for a private driver while on St Kitts. Leaving the ship  and walking into the port in Basseterre, I quickly met up with my driver and we set off to the Romney Estate. Pointing out landmarks as we rode up the southwest coast, we made stops at a rookery filled with white herons, and the Kalinago Rock drawings. After about an hour, we stopped to visit the Romney Manor, learning about its history. Sugar cane had been processed here, and now, in the museum, a gift shop and a rum tasting were available. Included on the property is a batik cooperative, where local artisans will prepare and dye the cotton muslin, painting hot wax on designs. Clothing, tableware, bolts of cloth: all were available. I didn’t find a lightly colored shirt, otherwise I might have been tempted. (Living in Florida, dark attire is even hotter.) As we prepared to leave, we walked through the verdant gardens.

Back in the car, we continued northwest to Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park. On a rise over a small harbor, the fort had been built 1690-1790s by the British using slave labor. Learning that the island had originally be divided between the French (top quarter, bottom third) and British until 1713, there were plenty of opportunities for me to replicate my father’s habit of taking photos of cannons pointing out over stunning vistas. Leaving my driver behind, I climbed the stone pathway up to the top of Brimstone Hill to the upper fortress. The restoration work there is superb, and I spent more than an hour wandering into stone-walled rooms, peering over battlements, and marveling at the architectural features.

On our way back, I asked if we could make a stop. I’d noticed that there was an interesting stone church being repaired on our way north, so when we reached Half Way Tree, he pulled over. I walked a ways up the brick walkway, and got a few shots of St Thomas Anglican. Rather than return directly to the port, he continued south to Timothy Hill and the resorts at Christophe Harbour. Deluxe enclaves, we headed to a lookout at a narrow point, so that the Atlantic Ocean was to one side (with the Hyatt resort) and the Caribbean Sea (with the marina) across the pull-off.

Once back to Basseterre and the port, we parted. I strolled back to the Sky, slightly dwarfed by the Virgin Valiant Lady across the pier. Once aboard, I headed to the Garden Café to make and eat a big salad. While finishing, despite bright, sunny skies, a 20-minute downpour drove everyone on the aft deck inside. Included was Stephanie, who joined me. After lunch, we headed to the Atrium where she told me about her future travel plans. Having had 3 January-ish cruises in the Caribbean, her 2025 winter plans are to sail from Mauritius to Doha, Qatar aboard the NCL Dawn. (A quick check for this 2-week cruise, it would cost me $4K for the cabin and $1.3K just to get to Mauritius. Great itinerary, but I’m planning to visit southeastern Europe that spring, and won’t spring for it this time.)

Arriving a bit late for the solo group, I walked into Kiko holding a raffle of knickknacks from the NCL logo store. I won another keychain. The group headed downstairs, and I met up with Paula and we headed to Cagney’s. We both started with the shrimp cocktail and I had the lamb chops. I passed on dessert, but hers looked decadent.

She was off to the comedian, while I headed to the Atrium. A raucous group of Quebecois were playing a dice game, driving me to my cabin.

Saturday, 10 February (Day 13)

Up just before 8, I had a speedy breakfast in the dining room: oatmeal and huevos rancheros. After gathering my camera, bag, and hat, I was off the ship and out into the port. It was about a mile walk in the Dutch side into Philipsburg, Sint Maarten. I located the bus stop and boarded a 14-passenger van when it arrived. Fare was $2US, while a taxi would be upwards of $25. While not as direct, I would get the view from the native’s perspective and I could well spare the hour and a half.

Once the bus dropped me in the shopping district of Marigot, St Martin (the French side), I wandered the streets, seeing prices in euros and signs in French. Reaching the tourist market, I spotted Le Comptoir des Fromages. With a range of about 100 European cheeses, it was analysis paralysis. I finally selected a hard French blue goat cheese and an English cheddar. Asking after a boulangerie, she started to give me directions when a bread baker walked in with a basket loaded with baguettes. Told he was the best on the island, I added a loaf to my purchases. To complete my vision (from my 2022 visit), I sought a wine shop. Perhaps a block away, Le Gout du Vin sat in a whitewashed building. With bottles lining the walls, and filling the display spaces down the center, I scanned many of the reds. Alighting on the wines of Provence, I found an older (2016) syrah-grenache blend from Laurus of Gigondas.

A bit more wander and then I found the official bus stop. Guided by a friendly woman, I got on the correct bus and began the reverse route back to the Dutch side and the port. The ride took less time (no backed up traffic due to warehouse trucks needing to back into berths), and the walk to the ship was easy.

Ship security tried to give me a hassle about the bread, but I pushed through and managed to get all my purchases on board. Once I climbed to the Atrium bar level, I sat across the opening from the bar and, after getting the bar to pull the cork and give me a wine goblet, I munched away an hour or so: my own bit of paradis.

After dropping the goodies in the room, I headed upstairs to Pinnacle, where I got a few candid shots, first at the solo meeting, then at Crosswinds as they went in for dinner. Returning to the cabin to drop off my camera, I headed to my last specialty dinner at Le Bistro. My meal started with escargot followed by the chevre salad. My main was the lamb chop plate which always proved to be a winner for me.

Sunday, 11 February (Day 14)

This was my second visit to Road Town, Tortola, and I did even less than on my first stop. The plan had been to take an excursion which would traverse the island, but it had been rescheduled to an early start. I cancelled. Walking off the ship, I spent 90 minutes sitting on a shaded bench in the port’s duty-free area, looking at my phone and doing a bit of window shopping. After lunch at Crosswinds, I read in the Atrium, where Jess joined me for a bit to converse. After a nap, I took the camera with me to the solo meet-up, and then down to our final dinner for the cruise at the Palace. Before going into the dining room, we got a group shot on the curved staircase before settling into the tables in the far corner.

Some of the solo/singles group on Atrium staircase
Some of the solo/singles group

While the group split to various post-dining venues, I headed to the Atrium to enjoy a last evening listening to Ben tinkle the ivories. Stephanie came and joined me and we got Ben a drink to enjoy on his break. Both Englanders, they compared notes as both had origins near York. When I headed back to the cabin, I packed up the larger roller and tagged, putting it out in the hall.

Monday, 12 February (Departure)

Arising at 7:30, I got clean, dressed and packed, leaving the ship at 8, midway through the half hour allotted for the upper levels of Latitude members. The physical leaving of the ship went smoothly, getting a final card scan before crossing to the pier. A zigzag involving a modest hill brought us to the duty-free area, and then all hell broke loose. There were several lengthy queues under an open area about the size of a tennis court, moving at a snail’s pace. About 8 Emigration officials were casually processing the handwritten form we’d received on leaving the ship with our passports. Those staying in the Dominican Republic for more than 24 hours needed to fork over another $10US each.

Once the passport was stamped, I was able to go and collect my luggage which I then wheeled towards another checkpoint where my passport was checked. Finally out the gate, I found Rome who wheeled my bags to yet another vehicle, loading them into the boot. Seventy-five minutes of mass disorganization to process about 2000 passengers!

Underway, Rome drove me through La Romana to get to the highway, and then headed west. He had hoped to let me visit the Cueva de las Maravilla, the Caves of Wonder, but they were closed that Monday morning.

Catedral San Pedro Apóstol, San Pedro de Macoris
Catedral San Pedro Apóstol, San Pedro de Macoris

We continued on, diverting into San Pedro de Macoris. Nearly at the Rio Higuamo, the Catedral San Pedro Apóstol filled a block, half of which was the front plaza with a monument, Estatua de Las Padres Patrios, at its center. When I’d checked Google Maps as we left the port, it was reported closed. Just after 10, the church was open, a pleasant surprise. With the front entrance facing the dry riverbed to the west, I wandered to find a good shot of the tall, long white structure, blocking the midmorning sun with the central bell tower rising over the main door.

Inside, the white walls reflected the sunlight pouring through the clerestory windows at the base of the central vault curving over the main aisle, and the stained-glass windows depicting various saints. The baptistry, with the font set on the black-and-white checkerboard floor, was locked behind a tall wrought iron gate at the rear of the nave. At the eastern end, the dark wood altar was faced with an older carving of the Last Supper. Behind, on a raised platform was the cathedra, at the center of the apse wall with statues of the Sacred Heart, St Joseph and the young Jesus, and St Peter in the center. To the north, a dark wood altarpiece held an ornate silver tabernacle and a presence lamp.

Monumento a la Cultura de San Pedro
Monumento a la Cultura de San Pedro

We walked around the building, where I observed the open door into the sacristy. As we drove out through town, a four-legged metallic arch rose above a park, the Monumento a la Cultura de San Pedro. Inaugurated in 2006, it was designed and built by the architect José Ignacio Morales.

Having missed breakfast, and approaching the roadside restaurant where we’d had my first meal, we stopped for lunch. Rice and beans, a chicken leg and thigh, and a salad. La Parador Estrella has a large concrete blue crab monitoring its parking lot, with a number of local feral dogs begging for scraps. On my way to the washroom, a mural saluted five MLB players from the area.

Queue at Delta SDQ check-in
Queue at Delta SDQ check-in

Rome got me to the airport just after noon, well in advance of my 4pm departure. Without a boarding pass, I needed to check my bag in anyway, so I queued up for a baggage tag, and then queued up to visit an agent and check my bag. A good 45 minutes later, I was heading up the escalator to security scanning. (At this point, I’d learned to just keep my passport out, as it had been checked a half dozen times.) Shoes off, pockets emptied, belt removed, I still failed the scanner, getting a rather through pat down. Another check of the passport, I was able to weave through the maze that is duty-free at the SDQ airport, and headed to my gate. As I strolled by, I spotted Wen, the professor from Salt Lake who was having lunch. I sat with him for a bit, and then he headed off to our flight – his seat was across the aisle from mine.

We finally boarded about 45 minutes before scheduled departure, a full flight. (At this point, I have no further notes in the journal.) The flight was uneventful until nearing Atlanta, where some turbulence curtailed service. We rolled around Hartsfield-Jackson for about 10 minutes before arriving at our gate. Because we were near the exit door, Wen and I were among the first into Immigration, clearing it easily. Luggage seemed to take forever, and the Customs check was perfunctory, getting rechecked on to SRQ. My departure gate wasn’t too far away, so I was there just before boarding began. Once settled in, I relaxed. I’d heard from Dave, and he’d be at the Sarasota airport.

Our flight south went smoothly, getting into Sarasota-Bradenton several minutes early. Taking my time to get to the luggage carrousel, I still had about 10 minutes to wait until it appeared on the belt. A call to Dave, and I was quickly loading the bags and we set off for Venice. I left the bags in front of the house, to turn on the water and enter through the front door. Back to the garage, I wheeled the bags into the house, half filling the washer as I unpacked.

Just under eleven hundred pictures, fifteen pages in the journal, and a trip report of 10.3K words, completed after 10 days of intermittent typing. I’ll proof this and then push it up to the blog with some of the photos. I’d added new cathedrals in the Dominican Republic (3), Dominica, Grenada; I was able to revisit those in Curacao and St Lucia, as well as the exteriors in Aruba and Antigua. All in all, a good trip.

Book: Cathedrals to the Glory of God
Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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Volume II has been released

Cover of Volume II of Cathedrals to the Glory of God
Cathedrals to the Glory of God - Volume II

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