Our Namesake, St. Thomas!

21 Apr

The next stop of our birthday celebration week was the US Virgin Islands- St. Thomas, to be exact.  OK, let me get today’s education out of the way first :).

The US Virgin Islands consists of 3 islands- St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island.

St. Thomas, first ‘discovered’ by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the New World, acted as the main post for the Dutch West India Trading Company for several centuries before being purchased (along with St. John and Water Island) by the US in 1917 as part of a defensive strategy to maintain control over the Caribbean and the Panama Canal during the First World War.  Today, St. Thomas is the New York City of the Caribbean, although it’s only 32 sq. miles. It’s strong economy and tourist industry attract people from all over the Islands for work; and it’s beaches, beautiful harbor, vibrant nightlife, and true Caribbean soul attract tourists from all over the world. The arid, mountainous island the largest of the US Virgin Islands, and provides magnificent views of from as high as 1,500 feet above sea level.

View from the top of the Sky Lift. The capital, Charlotte Amalie, is nestled along the shore at the top of the horseshoe bay...

And another view from the top...

The capital of the island- and of the US Virgin Islands- is Charlotte Amalie, where we spent the day exploring. It’s been the heart of St. Thomas’ activities from colonial times to present. Historic buildings found throughout downtown Charlotte Amalie take visitors back to the Danish era when the town was a bustling port of trade; while modern additions of taxis, shops, restaurants and night clubs remind that it’s tourism that drives the economy today.  Charlotte Amalie is also home to well over half of the island’s 100,000 residents.

So…On with our adventure in St. Thomas!  We started our day with the Sky Lift- what a great way to get the lay of the land, right?! The views were breathtaking, just as we knew they would be.  I will say, though, that the island was much ‘browner’ than we’d anticipated.  I guess we’ve been spoiled by our visits to Hawaii that we automatically associate ‘tropical island’ with ‘green, lush, vibrant.’  Not the case.  We ended up talking with our cab driver later in the day who explained to us that St. Thomas is actually very arid- and thus, brown- because of how mountainous it is.  The rain is unable to saturate the soil before it runs down into the sea.  Interesting…

OK, back to the Sky Lift…

Crazy Beach Bums at the top 🙂

What would the day be without a self-portrait?

After a short open-air bus ride back to town, we spent the rest of the morning exploring Charlotte Amalie.  With the water coming right up to the road, it made for a very pretty tourist district!

Now, I will say that we were somewhat disappointed in this city.  Don’t get me wrong- it was definitely picturesque and colorful, especially from afar- but in terms of character and ‘quaintness,’ it was lacking. 😦  Apparently St. Thomas is the major duty-free shopping capital of the hemisphere, which means that instead of streets lined with open air markets and shops of local artisans and hole-in-the-wall cafes, there are at least 230492384203 ‘gold and precious gem’ stores, peppered with high-end name brands.  And firmly planted in the doorway of each and every shop is a slick-looking salesman subtly (yeah right) urging you to enter.  I suppose if one were looking to buy a ruby ring or a Rolex watch, this would likely be a Mecca, but you know us- we like a little more lowkey pizzazz :).

Main Street

Happy 🙂

We did find this little gem on one shop's door, which reminded me of my visit to Tel Aviv last year and my BFF, Sam- who will be home in just over a month, WOOHOO!- so the walk was ultimately worthwhile 🙂

After a quick bite of lunch at an open air, waterfront dive bar, we decided to become one with nature for the afternoon.  Off to Emerald Beach for some sun, sand and crystal blue waters…

This is how I'd prefer to spend every Wednesday afternoon...for the rest of my life...

John and Dad opted to swim (yes, those two ladies are trying to picture-bomb, grrr....), while Mom and I spent a few hours...

...Napping under the palm trees 🙂

Another of my favorites of these two 🙂

So there’s our day on St. Thomas.  It’s tough to sum up our thoughts on this one, though.  One one hand, there’s this beautiful, tropical island bathed in warm sunshine and surrounded by crystal cerulean waters.  What’s not to love, right?!  But on the other hand, it just didn’t quite have the charm and character of some of the other vacation spots we’ve visited.  Perhaps this goes along with what I was saying earlier- that one day simply isn’t long enough to fully explore a place…to get away from the tourist hotspots…to find those perfect places that only the locals know about…especially when you’re trying to do it on foot!  More on rectifying this situation tomorrow…in St. Maarten! 🙂

Re-boarding the ship at the end of the day...That's the Disney ship in the foreground sharing the dock with us...Best part of this picture? The one of 2034923 iguanas laying on the rock keeping watch over the pier 🙂

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