Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Caribbean Cruise - Ponta Delgada

On the 25th day after leaving Southampton we make our final stop on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores, one of two Autonomous Regions of Portugal, along with Madeira, where we made our first stop. It consists of nine volcanic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean about 850 miles west of continental Portugal, and about 1,196 miles southeast of Newfoundland, Canada.

Our port of call was Ponta Delgada an old town of characteristic narrow roads, and winding cobbled streets. The buildings are whitewashed with wooden balconies, the streets and squares are paved with mosaics and ornate churches decorate almost every street.
Sao Pedro
The first church you see as you walk out of the cruise terminal is that of Sao Pedro or St Peter.  The single-nave church is constructed in masonry stone, plastered and painted in white, with the bell tower to the left. This church dates back to the beginning of the 16th century and is one of the three oldest churches - as well as one of the smallest - in the country. 

Walking along the harbour from there, we came across the city gates.
City Gate
This is the view from the harbour road looking towards the gates, with the statue of explorer Goncalo Velho Cabral in the foreground, and the tower of the church of São Sebastião to the right. This give a good view of the ornate mosaics to be seen in many of the squares and streets. Walking through the gates, we can see the front facade of the church.

Sao Sebastiao
The Parish Church of Ponta Delgada dedicated to São Sebastião. The exterior includes notable Manueline and Baroque doorways. You can also see that it is has Christmas decorations on the front and you can just see the tops of reindeer, which are pulling a sleigh!

St Joseph
Walking further along the harbour road, we come across yet another cobbled square, with statuary mosaics. This is the church of St Joseph or Igreja de Sao Jose which is located on the edge of the square.
Museu Carlos Machado
Away from the sea front, towards the centre of the town we came upon the Carlos Machado Museum, which has been housed since 1943 in the former Convent of Santo André. The collection offers eclectic exhibits of historical artifacts, art & taxidermy.  Just to demonstrate that the town has buildings other than churches, I enjoyed the wall art on this gift shop on one of the narrow lanes.
Pele Osso
All good things must come to an end, and in the evening we departed Ponta Delgada to make our way back to Southampton. 
I think that this dramatic evening red sky provided a fitting end to what had been an unforgettable holiday!

Monday, 14 January 2019

Caribbean Cruise - St Maarten

So we come to the last Caribbean island of our cruise, Saint Martin, if you on the French half, or Sint Maarten on the Dutch half. We landed at Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch half and the largest town in the island, with a population of around 40,000. There we 6 cruise ships in port the day we were there, putting the population up by about 50%!!
Cruise Ships
We took a taxi for a drive around the island, and the following image is from just outside Philipsburg, looking across the island and the airport, which can be seen in the centre of the image, with a plane on the runway.

Simpsons Bay Lagoon can be seen in the lower right corner, and again above it to the right of the airstrip with Simpsons Bay in front of the airstrip.

Maho Beach
Maho Beach in St Maarten famous for being adjacent to the Princess Juliana International Airport, and is a popular site for tourists and plane watchers. As you may see, many people are looking inland, because the fence at the back of the beach is actually, the end of the runway!

Leaving Maho Beach, we took the short journey to Marigot, the capital of French Saint Martin.
Fort St Louis
Fort St Louis overlooking the marina in Marigot. The fort was commissioned by royal governor Jean Sebastian de Durat, and was built in 1789 on a hill overlooking Marigot Bay to defend the harbor warehouses where expensive exports were kept, mainly coffee, sugar cane, rum, and salt, particularly from the English who frequently sailed over from Anguilla!

We couldn't leave the Caribbean without one more visit to a beach!
Orient Bay Beach
Orient Bay beach on St Martin, with sun loungers and umbrellas on golden sand with a clear blue sea and blue sky. Orient Bay is a coastal community and beach on the French side of the island. Until 1985 the area was undeveloped. Damage caused by Hurricane Luis in 1995 was quickly repaired but it was again hit by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and is again being redeveloped and remains one of the most popular beaches on the island.

We finally left the Caribbean, to head back home, calling at Ponta Delgada in the Azores after seven days at sea. Look out for my final post on this picturesque town.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Caribbean Cruise - Tortola

Our penultimate stop on our Caribbean Cruise was Road Town, the capital of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. With five very full days behind us, we decided to make this a day of rest! We travelled out to Cane Garden Bay, on the north shore of Tortola, about 5 miles west of Road Town, where we spent most of our day in a deck chair on the beach, with the occasional dip in the warm waters of the Caribbean.
Cane Garden Bay
Cane Garden Bay
As may be seen from the two images above, the beach was quiet with plenty of choice of deckchairs and umbrellas and the sea was calm, and warm. There were a few bars and restaurants around, which was a surprise to some visitors, showing how quickly the area bounced back after Hurricane Irma last year (2017).

Returning to the harbour, we had this view of Road Town and its harbour.

Road Harbour
The Inner Harbour and Marina are to the left.

Road Town
Viewing the town from the cruise ship pier, showing the horseshoe-shaped Road Harbour, as we set sail for our final Caribbean island, St Maarten. It is half French and half Dutch and is said to be one of the Caribbean's most diverse and interesting islands! Look out for my next post to see if you agree!

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Caribbean Cruise - Antigua

Here we are on our fifth Caribbean island, Antigua, with just two more to go!

My favourite part of our visit was when we went up to Shirley Heights, which offers the best view on the island, and arguably in the Caribbean.

This military complex, within a short distance of the Dockyard, is named  after Sir Thomas Shirley, Governor of the Leeward Islands, who strengthened Antigua’s defences in 1781. Britain had lost all her West Indian colonies (including North America) at this time except Antigua and Barbados. Much effort, therefore, was put into Antigua’s defences, mainly because of the island’s great sugar producing value and the important Dockyard.
The Guardhouse
The guard house built in 1791, is one of the few buildings that have been restored at Shirley Heights. Walking through the Guardhouse you will come to the terrace which affords a superb view to the west, of English and Falmouth Harbours.
Shirley Heights
A superb view of English and Falmouth Harbours, considered the best view in Antigua.
English Harbour
View of English Harbour. Freemans Bay is in the foreground, and Falmouth Harbour in the background, with Nelsons Dockyard in the centre.

Standfast Point
Looking to the east is the spectacular headland of Standfast Point, which is owned by Eric Clapton.  After leaving Shirley Heights we travelled down to Nelsons Dockyard.
Clarence House
Clarence House, part of Nelsons Dockyard. Located on a low hill overlooking the Dockyard it was built by English stonemasons to act as living quarters for Prince William Henry, (the future king, William IV), who stayed here when he was in command of the Pegasus in 1787. At present it's the country home of the Governor of Antigua and Barbuda.

After spending a couple of hours on the beach we returned to our ship and prepared for the following day in Tortolla!

The Oriana alongside Oceania's Sirena at the St Johns cruise ship terminal.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Caribbean Cruise - St Kitts and Nevis

The fourth island we visited on our cruise was St. Kitts, the classic Caribbean island with a mixture of deserted beaches, sleepy villages, lush rainforests and sugarcane fields and a mini mountain range with a dormant volcano in its midst.

Along with the island of Nevis, it is also known as the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis. It is a country located in the Leeward Islands chain of the Lesser Antilles, and is the smallest sovereign state in the Western Hemisphere, in both area and population, and is a member of the British Commonwealth.

We began our visit by taking a trip on the St Kitts Scenic Railway.
St Kitts Scenic Railway
The St Kitts Scenic Railway is a narrow guage railway, which was built between 1912 and 1926 to transport sugar cane from the island’s sugar plantations to the sugar factory in the capital city of Basseterre, today the “Last Railway in the West Indies” provides visitors an unsurpassed opportunity to experience the scenery and culture of this unspoiled country.

In a short while we came across this magnificent view of the cloud topped island of Nevis.
Although St Kitts is undoubtedly a beautiful island, the government are having a problem with abandoned vehicles. There doesn't appear to be any scrap metal industry so when a vehicle has reached the end of its useful life, it is just abandoned either by the side of the road, in a field or anywhere else the owner can find. In this exammple the tractor appears to have been abandoned on the verge of the roadside.
Weeds are growing up through the centre of the vehicle, while a stray donkey chews the grass.  

A  few minutes later we leave the village and head into the countryside, crossing a steel bridge over a canyon.
Railway Bridge
The image shows the unique double decker coaches with an upper open–air observation platform and the train travelling through the lush vegetation of the island.

The next two images show examples of the lovely bays and deep blue sea to be found on the island.
Bay in St Kitts
One of the many bays on the island of St Kitts viewed from the train, showing deep blue sea, crashing waves onto the beach and a cloud free blue sky.

St Kitts 
View of St Kitts showing the vegetation, blue sea, rolling waves, sandy bays and mountains with a cloud topped Mount Liamuiga, the highest point on the island of Saint Kitts, as well as one of the tallest peaks in the eastern Caribbean archipelago.

After our railway journey, we spent a few hours walking around the capital of the island, Basseterre. 

Basseterre is a very small town, laid out in a grid pattern. It has four main streets running west to east, and a main street running north to south. The city has 2 centres, at The Circus, which is geared towards tourism, and the Independence Square, which contains the cathedral, courthouse, and most of the older buildings.

Berkeley Memorial
The Berkeley Memorial is in the form of a clock and drinking fountain  and stands in what is known as the ‘Circus’, named after Piccadilly Circus, London. It is an ornate, cast iron tower with four clock faces and more than a little architectural decoration and was built in Glasgow, Scotland. There are four clock faces, each one facing one of the four streets leading to the Circus. It was built in honour of Thomas B.H. Berkeley, a former president of the General Legislative Council in the 1880s.

Independence Park
Independence Park was developed in the 1730's as a market place and is centrally located by the Cathedral, the Circus area and the Port Zante shopping complex in Brasseterre. Formerly the site of a slave market, the square was renamed "Independence Square" when St. Kitts & Nevis gained political Independence from Britain on 19th September 1983. The stone fountain in the centre commemorates the introduction of piped water to Basseterre in the 1800's. The figurines at the top of the fountain are decorative nymphs. 

Look out for my next post, the island of Antigua, which boasts of having over 365 beaches - one for every day of the year!

Friday, 4 January 2019

Caribbean Cruise - Martinique

Following our day in St Lucia our next destination was the French Island of Martinique, and its administrive capital of Fort de France.
Fort de France
The Cathedral of St Louis dominates the skyline and that is where we headed after disembarkation. On the way we walked along a side street and came upon this attractive piece of graffiti.
A few minutes later we arrived at a side entrance in the cathedral and went inside.
Altar of St Louis Cathedral
Note the marble altar and the grand pipe organ as well as the beautiful stained glass windows. After a good look around, we viewed the cathedral from the outside.
St Louis Cathedral
The Cathedral, which was designed by the architect Henri Picq, and its 58m-high spire have stood on Rue Victor-Shoelcher since 1895. This metallic structure, the sixth to be built on this site, was designed to withstand natural catastrophes, thanks in particular to the materials used (reinforced concrete and cast iron). The cathedral fronts on to the Place Mgr Roméro and on the opposite side of the square is a glass fronted building and as regular readers will know, I cannot resist a good reflection!
Reflection of St Louis Cathedral
Allthough most of the town is full of traditional buildings, there is a very modern development on the waterfron by the cruise ship terminal.
Look out for my post on our next port of call, the classic Caribbean island of St Kitts.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Caribbean Cruise - St Lucia

After departing Bridgetown, Barbados on the evening of 22nd November, we cruised north west to the island of St Lucia, which after the clouds and rain in Barbados, we were pleased to find sunshine, blue skies and blue seas!

As we docked, I enjoyed seeing the reflections of the ship against the windows in the harbour building.
We took a tour around the island and our first beach stop was at Anse La Raye.
Anse La Raye Beach
Anse La Raye is a sleepy fishing village, with naturally beautiful waterfalls, beaches and tropical forest. It is the largest town in Anse la Raye Quarter, Saint Lucia, located on the island's western side, near Marigot Bay, and has several examples of French and English colonial architecture. The name Anse la Raye is derived from the rays that are found in the bay.

We continued south, towards the town of Soufriere towards the majestic Pitons, the island’s iconic mountains.

The Pitons
Said to be the most photographed site in the Caribbean and most famous mountain pair on earth, the Pitons are a must-see for anyone who visits the island. Located just south of the town of Soufriere on the west coast, Gros Piton (771 m / 2,619 ft) and Petit Piton (743 m / 2,461 ft) rise regally from the blue Caribbean below. The Pitons were created less than a million years ago by volcanic activity, which still can be witnessed at the Sulphur Springs volcano located nearby, which we then visited.
La Soufriere Volcano
The dormant La Soufrière volcano (also known as La Grande Soufrière or Qualibou), is described as “the world’s only drive-in volcano.” It’s home to Sulphur Springs Park, the most active geothermal area in the Lesser Antilles. A walk through the rocky La Soufrière crater reveals bubbling hot springs and plumes of steam that shoot toward the sky.

After a good look round the springs we returned to Soufriere itself to return to the port by sea, which gave us a different view of the Pitons.

The sail back to Castries, takes us past many spectacular cliffs and luxury beaches. The one above is just north of Soufriere, while the rock below is passed before turning back into Castries harbour to return to our ship.
Tapion Rock
We left St Lucia and looked forward to our visit to Martinique the following day, details of which will hopefully be posted within the next couple of days.