Day 2: St. Thomas- Charlotte Amalie Walking Tour
Trip Start Apr 16, 2009
6Trip End Apr 21, 2009
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Time: 10am - 11pm EST
Location: St. Thomas, USVI
We started our day deciding to test the Caribbean waters around our resort...in the Bolongo Bay- a crescent-shaped bay on the South side of the island, most of which is owned by Bolongo Bay Resort. We did some swimming, snorkeling, kayaks, and the wave runner...
After a brunch at the Lobster Grille, we headed out towards the town for our walking tour (as recommended in the Frommers book) of Charlotte Amalie. We drove towards the town and hunted for a parking spot, which we got next to a Park in the middle of the town. Below is the description of this Walking Tour from the Frommers book itself (I have deleted the places which we skipped in our tour):
Start: King's Wharf.
Time: 2 1/2 hours.
Begin your tour along the eastern harbor front at:
1. King's Wharf
This is the site of the Virgin Islands Legislature, which is housed in apple-green military barracks dating from 1874. From here, walk away from the harbor up Fort Pladsen to:
2. Fort Christian (which was undergoing renovation, and hence closed to visitors)
Dating from 1672 and named after the Danish king Christian V, this structure was a governor's residence, police station, court, and jail until it became a national historic landmark in 1977. A museum here illuminates the island's history and culture. Inside you'll see cultural workshops and an exhibit of late-Victorian furnishings. A museum shop features local crafts, maps, and prints.
Continue walking up Fort Pladsen to:
3. Emancipation Park
This is where a proclamation freeing African slaves and indentured European servants was read on July 3, 1848. The park is now mostly a picnic area for local workers and visitors. Near the park is the:
5. Central Post Office (I loved the yellow and white building of this Post Office!)
On display here are murals by Stephen Dohanos, who became famous as an artist for The Saturday Evening Post. From the post office, walk east along Norre Gade to the:
6. Frederik Lutheran Church
This church was built between 1780 and 1793. The original Georgian-style building, financed by a free black parishioner, Jean Reeneaus, was reconstructed in 1825 and again in 1870, after it was damaged in a hurricane.
Exiting the church, walk east along Norre Gade to Lille Taarne Gade. Turn left (north) and climb to Kongens Gade (King St.), passing through a neighborhood of law firms, to:
7. Government House
This is the administrative headquarters for the U.S. Virgin Islands. It's been the center of political life in the islands since it was built around the time of the American Civil War. Visitors can take a tour on the first two floors for free Monday through Saturday from 8am to noon and from 1 to 5pm.
After leaving Government House, turn immediately to your left and look for the sign for:
Continue west along Kongens Gade until you reach:
10. Hotel 1829
Formerly known as the Lavalette House, this place was designed in 1829 by one of the leading merchants of Charlotte Amalie. This is a landmark building and a charming hotel that has attracted many of the island's most famous visitors.
Take A Break -- Hotel 1829 provides the perfect veranda, with a spectacular view, for a midday drink or a sundowner. You may just fall in love with the place,(I DID!) abandon this tour, and stick around for dinner. The bar is open Monday to Saturday 4 to 11pm.
Next door (still on the same side of the street), observe the:
At this point, you might want to double back slightly on Kongens Gade to climb the famous:
12. 99 Steps
These steps (actually 103 in total) were erected in the early 1700s, and take you to the summit of Government Hill, from where you'll see the 18th-century:
13. Crown House
This stately private house is immediately to your right, on the south side of the street. This was the home of von Scholten, the Danish ruler who issued the famous proclamation of emancipation in 1848.
Walk back down the steps and continue right (west) along Kongens Gade, then down a pair of old brick steps until you reach Garden Street. Go right (north) on Garden Street and take a left onto Crystal Gade.
Continue up Crystal Gade. On your right (north side), you'll come to:
15. St. Thomas Synagogue
This is the oldest synagogue in continuous use under the American flag, and the second oldest in the Western Hemisphere. It was erected in 1833 by Sephardic Jews, and it still maintains the tradition of having sand on the floor, commemorating the exodus from Egypt. The structure was built of local stone, ballast brick from Denmark, and mortar made of molasses and sand. It's open to visitors Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm. Next door, the Weibel Museum showcases 300 years of Jewish history. It keeps the same hours.
Retrace your steps (east) to Raadets Gade and turn south toward the water, crossing the famous Vimmelskaft Gade or "Back Street" (it can get a bit seedy at night, so be aware if you are walking after dark). Continue along Raadets Gade until you reach:
16. Main Street
This is Charlotte Amalie's major artery and most famous shopping street. Turn right (west) and walk along Main Street until you come to the mid-19th-century:
17. Camille Pissarro Building
This structure will be on your right, at the Amsterdam Sauer Jewelry Store. Pissarro, a Spanish Jew who became one of the founders of French Impressionism, was born in this building as Jacob Pizarro in 1830. Before moving to Paris, he worked for his father in a store on Main Street. Also housed in the building is Gallery Camille Pissarro, with a few Pissarro paintings on display and prints by local artists for sale.
Continuing west along Main Street, you will pass on your right the:
19. Market Square
This was the center of a large slave-trading market before the 1848 emancipation and is officially called Rothschild Francis Square. Today it's an open-air fruit and vegetable market, selling, among other items, genips (grape-type fruit; to eat one, break open the skin and suck the pulp off the pit). The wrought-iron roof covered a railway station at the turn of the 20th century. The market is open Monday to Saturday, its busiest day; hours vary, but it's busiest from 9am to 3pm.
If the genip doesn't satisfy you, take Strand Gade down (south) to:
20. The Waterfront
Also known as Kyst Vejen, this is where you can purchase a fresh coconut. One of the vendors here will whack off the top with a machete so that you can drink the sweet milk from its hull. You'll have an up-close view of one of the most scenic harbors in the West Indies, though it's usually filled with cruise ships.
Thus, having had our day's share of the town and its history, always coupled with ample doses of the panoramic views, we headed back to our resort for a dinner at Iggies Bar & Grill. The calamari and grilled mahi mahi at this place are very recommended!
Where I stayed
Bolongo Bay Resort