Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas
The Monday morning call at just before 8am announced we were 15 minutes from docking in Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas. I got up and straightened my bed, took a shower, locked up the reader and Chromebook in the safe, sorted the photo gear I’d need into my backpack and headed down to the Garden Café for breakfast. Oatmeal with pecans, raisins, brown sugar and hot milk, plus a banana and OJ. Looking out a porthole, I saw we were stationary, so I put the phone back into normal mode, and was welcomed by T-Mobile to the Virgin Islands. We’d pulled into the pier, so apparently our captain was a “head in” sailor. After breakfast, I climbed to the pool deck (on 15) and took some photos of the bowl we’d docked in.
Once I got on the pier, I confirmed that the port seemed to be in a bowl, with high hill/mountains circling about 270°. As I walked past a Cost Guard ship, I watched the crew “bucket brigade” pass provisions from one to another, rarely walking more than a step or two. Checking Google Maps, I was 2.6km from the Roman Catholic cathedral, which would be closed until 4pm. About the same time as we were required to be back aboard. A half-hour walk, I set off along the water’s edge under partially clear skies and comfortable temperature/humidity.
Strolling, rather than walking, took a bit longer, and as I proceeded, it gradually got warmer and more humid. For a while I was walking with a couple from Guildford (in England), so we talked about the newer cathedral there, as well as my having lost a camera there 3 years ago.
Set up a slight hill and a block off the downtown waterfront, Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral is a light orange-yellow hue with white trim and deep green doors, and sits right against the sidewalk, rising 7-feet over the street. In fact, the porch deck entering into the building sits over where the sidewalk would be, forcing any pedestrian into the street if not entering the church.
Gates to the porch on both sides were locked closed. After trying to find the best angle from the street for my photograph, I decided to try and walk around the building, starting on the west side. Up a flight of stairs, I found an unlocked door into the nave, and walked in. It was fairly dark, but a cross breeze kept it cool. The Nikon is brilliant with enhancing ambient light sometimes, so my shots inside ware decent as I marveled at the frescoes on the ceiling over the altar area. The bishop’s throne, a dark wooden chair, was just inside the sanctuary, so I was able to climb the stairs from the nave floor and get my pictures. In addition to the frescoes, I also admired the entrance doors: with rectangular panes of pastel stained-glass, they included round medallions of the papal keys (for Peter), a book and sword (for Paul) and, above the doors, the Lamb of God. A caretaker came in, greeted me, and continued with his tasks as I finished my interior pictures.
To get to the Episcopal cathedral, I needed to heat east (towards the port) and inland (away.) After four blocks paralleling the waterfront, I climbed up a block and saw a sign for the synagogue. I made my way to the Hebrew Congregation of St Thomas, where the sign indicated I might get a tour in about 20 minutes.
Sitting on the stairs, I was soon greeted by a woman guide who had just concluded a tour, letting that couple out. After being quizzed on my knowledge of Judaism, she escorted me into the sanctuary where dark wooden pews sat on sand. As the second oldest synagogue in the western hemisphere (after Curacao, where I’d visited in 2018), rebuilt many times, this building dated to 1833. Opening the shutters to expose the 7 scrolls of the Torah, she pointed to the two oldest, gifts from Curacao, which had survived fires and earthquakes. While six larger scrolls wrapped in blue and silver leaned against the cabinet wall, a wooden-encased Sephardic scroll sat in the center. In the gift shop I offered a donation, as I didn’t need another souvenir.
Down a slight hill, the St Thomas Reformed Church occupied the corner. With tall white columns and red-shuttered windows and doors, it spoke to the Dutch presence on the islands. Another block east, and I turned left and began climbing a hill. Up on the left was the Cathedral Church of All Saints and its school, with the offices across the street. After being advised by a student’s mother to enter via the school, I notified the school office of my presence and intent to visit the church, and climbed the stairs by the short bell tower to enter from the south side. A smaller building, the altar was at the east end, below a stained-glass window with the seats for the bishop and the dean bracketing. Looking from the altar to the west, stairs offered access to the loft and organ, over a single narrow doorway. I climbed and got a few overhead shots of the altar and some of the smaller stained-glass windows. Again, I was adapting to the ambient light.
On exiting, a large bell sat at the front stairs. Bougainvillea and a bench offered a spot of respite in the garden. I crossed the street to the office, looking for someone to take a donation, but was unsuccessful. I began my descent into town, hoping to spot the local’s clothing store I’d seen on my walk in, as I knew that I’d need shorts, which I hadn’t packed. When I was approaching Veterans Drive, I saw a sign for a brewery, so I entered. Yes, there would be a bar with craft beer on tap soon, but at the moment, only beer in cans was available. I checked for a hat pin, left with a can of beer. As I reached the corner, a shower opened up, and I discovered my mini, folding umbrella was broken. “Parking” under an overhang, I waited out the 20 minutes of rain, before continuing on.
Unsure of my location, I decided I’d not come further than the store. Wrong decision. So when I got back to the port and the high-end tourist shops, I went into a shop and purchased shorts (BOGO) and flipflops. Much more than I’d planned to spend, at least the quick-drying material in the shorts could be worn for swimming. The Coast Guard ship had departed, and I was greeted by NCL crew as I boarded the ship. From deck 4, it was up a pair of flights of stairs to get to O’Sheehans for lunch. A Hoegaarden draft and a Rancho burger and I was set for lunch.
With my midback complaining about the backpack and walking, I returned to my cabin and took a nap. The evening before, at the singles’ group, I’d been asked about the cathedrals I’d hope to visit in Nassau County when I return from Europe later this year. I spent a little bit of time trying to find the correct spreadsheet because the Google results didn’t look right. Noting them in my journal, I was prepared for that discussion later.
Armed with a copy of “the big book” (Volume I of Cathedrals to the Glory of God), I headed down to the solo’s lounge and Danny. He poured me a double Jameson’s, and proceeded to begin paging slowly through the book. Once again, Tim came through to say hi as he headed down to the group, and I followed him after a bit. On arrival at Malting’s, I was sent back to my room for long pants, as the group was heading to Manhattan for dinner and they had a dress code. Returned dressed, we were seated and I wound up ordering salmon tartare, New England clam chowder and Shrimp Alfredo. And not remembering to get a photo of the first two, I apparently also got a dessert, which looks like vanilla ice cream over a berry compote?
The group had decided that we’d catch the show, Burn the Floor-Rebellion in the Ballroom, hence the urgency to dine. Zoran handled getting us our dinner table, and had a row of seats for us up front at the Epic Theater. A dance review, it is set in rock mode with a love story using the Bizet opera Carmen and West Side Story as vague outlines. With a singer, guitarists and 12 dancers, it was an impressive tour-de-force taking a hour.
From there we strolled into the neighboring Headliners lounge. There, three men with two pianos and several other musical instruments entertained for 3 hours with the show called “Howl at the Moon.” Taking requests, they sang and bantered back and forth, "dueling pianos", thoroughly entertaining and evidently loving what they were doing. I stay until 11:30, extremely impressed with the shaved-headed Canadian, who proved to be the most versatile performer.