Tuesday, April 25, 2017

ST. KITTS: BRIMSTONE HILL FORTRESS NATIONAL PARK

As St. Kitts is approximately 18 miles long and about 5 miles wide, the loop to drive around the island should be approximately 46 miles, but given the very narrow, winding condition of the road, the drive is longer and much, much slower than that:

The last place we visited and our turn-around point as we made our way clockwise around the island from our starting point at Basseterre was Brimstone Hill, marked by the red balloon on the map below with our route marked by the purple line. It would have been fun to complete the circuit, but that will have to wait for another visit.

Before going to Brimstone Hill, however, we had to find some lunch. We were looking forward to a quaint, St. Kittsian place serving distinct local food, but it was not to be. We stopped in Sandy Point Town just beyond the turnoff to Brimstone Hill. With a population just over 3,100, it is the second largest town on St. Kitts, which tells you something, doesn't it?

Anyway, perhaps we were not patient enough in our search.  We could not find anywhere to eat that had a local flavor, so we ended up at a place called "King Snack" that turned out to be a Chinese fast food joint. It didn't look particularly promising, but our only other option seemed to be convenience store food.

I had garlic shrimp, and it was actually pretty good--lots of shrimp, crunchy broccoli, and plenty of brown rice.

Bob had fish chop suey, which had large chunks of fish and lots of vegetables, but was a little too fried and crunchy for me:

We added the Caribbean flavor we were seeking by dowsing the food in West Indian Hot Flambeau Sauce, and then washed it all down with grapefruit Schweppes.  It was as very international lunch.

Our tummies full, we were ready for our next adventure.

Brimstone Hill Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is at the end of a very steep, narrow, winding road. This sign on one of the hairpin turns reminded me of the song "I've Been Working on the Railroad." ("Dinah won't you blow your hor-or-orn!"):

Thursday, April 20, 2017

ST. KITTS: ROMNEY MANOR, CARIBELLE BATIK, AND WINGFIELD ESTATES

St. Kitts is an island with a surprising number of things to see, especially considering that it is only 18 miles long and an average of 5 miles across.

My brother headed off on his own journey to climb Mount Liamuiga, the 3,792-foot-tall volcano that dominates the western end of the island. 
Picture borrowed from here

The remaining five of us toured Basseterre (see last post), and then headed out of the city in our rental car on a trip along the coast. 

Just a note about renting a car. On most of the Eastern Caribbean islands, the steering wheel is on the right and you drive on the left side of the road as you do in Great Britain, the opposite of what we're used to. It can be a little disconcerting at first, but you'll get used to it quickly. However, driving is further complicated on St. Kitts because the roads are almost all only wide enough for one car, so if there is two-way traffic, one car pulls as far over to the left as possible.The roads were clearly not built for a lot of automobiles. 

No wonder that in some places, St. Kitts feels like an uninhabited tropical jungle:


Our first stop was one I had requested, a batik factory. I had read that batik is one of the main crafts of the Caribbean, and Romney Manor is the place to go to see it made.

Long before batik became popular here, however, he first European settler of this area was Sam Jefferson, the third-great-grandfather of Thomas Jefferson. He established a home on St. Kitts in the early 17th century, but sold part of his estate to the Earl of Romney in the mid-17th century. Successive Earls of Romney owned this area through the mid-19th century. In 1834, contrary to the wishes of British Parliament, the Lord Romney of the day freed all his slaves, making the Romney Estate the first one in St. Kitts to emancipate its slaves.

Moving forward to the 20th century, since 1974 the Caribelle Batik company has been operating a highly successful business from this spot. The name "Caribelle" can be broken down into its two key parts: "Carib" (for Caribbean) and "belle" (meaning beautiful). And beautiful it is:

Friday, April 14, 2017

BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS: A PARK, TWO CHURCHES, AND A BAKERY

We disembarked at about 8:15 AM in Basseterre, the capital of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis (two separate islands whose two names together are the official name of the country) and one of the oldest towns in the West Indies. Based on the modern, flambouyant port, you wouldn't guess this city was founded by the French in 1627:
The British kicked the French out and took over in 1727, and St. Kitts became an important part of the triangular slave trade. That's not all it's famous for. Alexander Hamilton spent part of his youth on this island. It's a place with a lot of interesting history.

We set out on foot to see some of the main sites in Basseterre, starting with Independence Square. Back in the days of the slave trade, this square was the site of the slave market. It was rebranded in subsequent years as the city's political and social center, and then rebranded again in 1983 when St Kitts and Nevis attained their independence from Great Britain and gave it the ironic name of "Independence Square."

A close-up of the strange fountain:

On one side of the park is the Catholic Immaculate Conception Co-Cathedral. A "co-cathedral" shares the function of being the bishop's seat with another cathedral, but I haven't been able to figure out which cathedral is this one's other half:

Built in 1928, this church looks much older than it actually is (like a lot of us):

Monday, April 10, 2017

U. S. VIRGIN ISLANDS: ST. THOMAS AND ST. JOHN

Our first port after one night on our cruise ship was the island of St. Thomas. We docked a couple of miles from Charlotte Amalie, the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. Thomas is one of the territory's four principal islands.

Where Puerto Rico's capital city San Juan was bathed in sherbet-y hues, the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands was splashed with bold, bright primary colors--crayon colors.


A Dutch-style windmill is not the first thing that I expected to see on St. Thomas, but since coming home I have learned that the Danes who were the original conquerors of St. Thomas established sugar cane plantations here in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The fields were worked by convicts and slaves, and windmills were built to press the sugar from the harvested stalks. Ruins of 150 windmills are strewn about the Virgin Islands, with just four on St. Thomas. This one at the port is a reproduction.

Of all our ports, this was the only one where we had booked a cruise ship excursion, and since we had to wait around a bit for our departure time, we strolled through some of the open shops. I wish we had bought a "Don't Mess with Bob" t-shirt:

Thursday, April 6, 2017

CHIRIACO SUMMIT AND JOSHUA TREE, CALIFORNIA: SUPER BLOOM 2017

I interrupt our Caribbean adventure posts with time sensitive material. In a week or two, the subjects of this post will disappear like Brigadoon, so I need to post about them now while they are still relevant.

When Bob asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday, I suggested going hunting for the Southern California Desert Super Bloom.  We've had a record amount of rain this winter, and wildflowers are supposed to be putting on their best show in twenty years. My first choice would have been the Anza Borrego Desert, but it is over two hours away from where we live. Because I had a Saturday commitment, we could only go on a weekday, so Bob took a half day off on Friday and we drove to the high desert, only an hour away.

Of course, heading east on the 10 freeway mandates a stop in Cabazon at Hadley's for a date-banana shake. The shakes, along with a few other treats we bought there, served as our lunch: 

After Hadley's we passed snow-capped Mt. San Jacinto: 
 

. . . and field after field of electricity-generating windmills:

Eventually we arrived at the first of our two major stops: Chiriaco Summit, 1,705 feet above sea level. 

Broad swaths of flat, windy desert are dotted with blooming ocotillo, one of my favorite desert plants. During the bloom season, the stalks are covered with green leaves and topped by mustaches of deep orange blooms:

Sunday, April 2, 2017

PUERTO RICO: LUNCH AT A LECHONERA ON PORK HIGHWAY

On Day 2 of our trip, we discovered that even in a parking lot, Puerto Rico's flora and fauna is exceptional. Check out the anole's ragged toes. I'd recommend a pedicure:

Our first stop was the Levittown Ward of the Toa Baja Puerto Rico Stake. The service, though conducted in Spanish, was wonderfully familiar:

Then we headed due south on Highway 184 towards a little town named Guavate, a distance of about 30 miles, much of it on narrow, winding roads. 

As we left the city, we passed this cyclist being pushed along by a guy on a motorcycle.  Now THAT'S my kind of cycling!


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

PUERTO RICO: OLD TOWN SAN JUAN

San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital city, is the second oldest European-established capital city in the Americas (behind Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic). It was founded by Spaniards in 1521, which explains why it is so hard to drive around Old Town--narrow streets, one-way signs, little parking, etc.

Still, Old Town San Juan is an immensely charming area that lends itself to long walks with frequent refreshment stops. After a morning at El Yunque National Forest, we headed for Old Town San Juan.

The first picture I took as we ambled along was of this niche in a church wall. It turns out that it is part of St. Anne's Catholic Church, one of the original churches in San Juan. I wish we had gone inside!

One of my favorite things about Puerto Rico is the unabashed use of glorious color. Puerto Ricans must think our California subdivisions shrouded in muted palettes are very dull.


It's easy to forget that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, and seeing familiar signs like this one was always a bit surprising:

Sunday, March 26, 2017

PUERTO RICO: ARRIVAL IN SAN JUAN, DINNER IN LEVITTOWN, AND AN ICE BATH IN EL YUNQUE NATIONAL FOREST

When my husband suggested a Caribbean cruise, I thought he was kidding. It sounded so ordinary, the kind of trip other people take while we are somewhere a bit more unusual. I have to admit, it wasn't my first choice for how to spend my spring break. However, our trip far exceeded my expectations. We had a blast.

I got a little confused with all the names for this area: the West Indies (so named by Europeans of Columbus's day to distinguish it from the East Indies), the Eastern Caribbean, the Greater Antilles (Puerto Rico), and the Lesser Antilles (the rest of the Islands we visited). Even my phone was confused. At one point I saw "Welcome to Jamaica" on my screen.

We flew to Puerto Rico and spent two days there before boarding a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that took us to the US Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia, and Barbados.

One of the things that made the trip extra fun was that our traveling companions were my brother and his wife from Utah, and my sister and her husband from Montana. We met up in New York's JFK airport. There is something magical about meeting traveling companions in an airport so far from home. Maybe the magic is that we were able to find each other! Twenty years ago before we all had cellphones, it would have been a lot harder.

Bob and I were lucky enough to get an upgrade to Delta Comfort seats on both legs of our journey, and I had a window seat for the flight into San Juan. Although there were no skyscrapers to speak of, I was really surprised by how large and modern the capital city appeared from the air.

Then I saw his huge iguana walking across the runway, and I realized we weren't in California anymore:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

DOOR PENINSULA, WISCONSIN: CAVE POINT COUNTY PARK

Before I get into this last post in my Wisconsin series, I have to say a few words about Wisconsin cheese: There's a lot of it.

Wisconsin produces more cheese than any other state in the Union. In 2014, it produced 2.9 billion pounds of cheese, or just over 25% of all the cheese produced in the United States. In a 2006 article, the New York Times noted, "Cheese is the state's history, its pride, its self-deprecating, sometimes goofy, cheesehead approach to life." On our way north to the nethermost regions of Wisconsin, we stopped at a remarkable cheese shop with so many delicious options that it made my head hurt:

Player Shaped Cheese, Football Shaped Cheese, State Shaped Cheese, Cow Shaped Cheese (in both black & white and yellow)--they have cheese I never knew I wanted but did as soon as I saw them (never mind the lack of hyphens in the names):

They have more kinds of cheese than Germany has brats or France has breads:

What does a bear have to do with cheese? I have no idea, but he is cute, isn't he?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

TREATS IN WISCONSIN: CEDARBURG AND GREEN BAY

Traveling as a couple requires some give and take. In spite of having been married over 37 years, we have our differences. (Surprising, I know. I'm sure this isn't true for any other oldy-weds, right?)  Bob humors me by detouring for chocolate, art museums, and all things quaint, and I humor him by detouring for anything animal related and college football stadiums.

On our Wisconsin trip, we had some of that give-and-take that ended up being a win-win. We both got something out of the other person's passion.  

MY STOP was "historic" Cedarburg, a borough founded in 1845 by Irish and German immigrants. (How Germans and Irish could live in the same place is a mystery to me.) Together they built five dams, five mills, and a thriving community. Cedarburg has done a great job preserving their 19th century buildings, and coupled with a resort-ish main street shopping area, the town has become a tourist destination.

The St. Francis Borgia Catholic Church of Cedarburg was built in 1842 and is still going strong.

I was touched by several things in the St. Francis Borgia churchyard, including this plaque that reads, "In Memorium. Leona Lesage Grant & Rose Weber. Born to eternal life, November 9, 1999. Killed when struck by a car when they crossed the street after attending morning mass. Safe in the arms of Jesus." 

I was also intrigued by this statue of a woman holding what looks like an empty blanket:

This is the plaque on the base:

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