Strolling in St. John’s

This morning we woke up in St. John’s, the capital of Antigua. We had been here once before, in 2005 on the Arcadia, so today we were not going on an organised tour, but were rather doing our own thing.

When we looked out on our balcony, all we could see was what appeared to be a block of flats over-shadowing us, but it turned out we were docked alongside one of the mammoth American cruise ships; this one was the Royal Princess. The Adonia looked like a little pup moored up next to her!

Another two giant cruise ships were docked nearby as well; the Costa Favelosa and the Jewel of the Seas. We could therefore expect Antigua to be very crowded today, with over 10,000 cruise passengers alone invading St. John’s. For me, it spoilt it a bit, it made the island very commercialised, and indeed the Heritage Quay, directly in front of the cruise terminal, thronged with visitors walking through the slightly tacky souvenir shops and places like ‘Diamonds International’ just looking to over-charge the unsuspecting holiday-maker.

After breakfast we disembarked the Adonia and decided to escape the crowds a little bit. We walked through the noisy terminal, over which could be heard the inevitable sounds of Caribbean steel drums, and made our way through the streets of shops, travel agents, offices and bars. The sun was already very hot. We didn’t have any particular place to go and we refused numerous offers of “Taxi?” as we walked along.

We decided first of all to visit the cathedral of St. John, set in a picturesque position surrounded by mahogany trees and a small churchyard. The cathedral was rebuilt in 1845 to replace an earlier wooden building that was destroyed in an earthquake in 1843. The interior was designed to encase the congregation in pitch pine (in an attempt to secure the building from ruin during earthquake or hurricane) and is now undergoing a huge renovation project. Although there were signs up saying it was a construction site and therefore a hard hat area, nobody was stopped from going in and having a (limited) look around, where we were invited to make a donation to assist in the restoration.

The church was at the top of a gradual rise, and it afforded us good views of the cruise ships (and other vessels) in the harbour.

Continuing on our way we came to an interesting-looking, imposing building which had several vintage steam locomotives outside. They were mainly trains that were used to travel to, from and on the sugar plantations. We wondered if it was a railway museum as there was a placard outside saying that Antigua has more railway lines per square mile than anywhere else in the world. However, the building was the former courthouse built during the British colonial times of 1750, which since 1985 has been the Museum on Antigua & Barbuda. It only cost $3.00 per person admission, so we decided to go inside and take a look.

It was very interesting in the museum. Exhibits and displays took the visitor back in time through Antigua’s history, from its beginnings over 35 million years ago to the times of the Arawak Indians, the slavery era to the present day. People always associate Antigua with the Royal Navy, Horatio Nelson, pirates, shipwrecks and, of course, rum, and the island is steeped in a rich maritime history. There are also quite a number of shipwrecks off the coasts of both Antigua and Barbuda, and these are popular with divers.

We spent an enjoyable hour in the museum, then took a slow stroll in the hot sun back to the Heritage Quay search for a bar and enjoy a cold beer. We found an open-air place selling the local Wadadli beer; it was noisy and crowded and full of Americans from the ships. The beer was cold, foamy and refreshing but we only stayed for one, preferring instead to go back to the relative peace and quiet of the Adonia.

Back on the ship we enjoyed an afternoon nap, before spending the rest of the time pottering around and sitting on our balcony, looking across with interest at the people sitting on their balconies in the Royal Princess. An American couple opposite us shouted across to ask us where we had boarded; we replied that it was Barbados. They had joined their cruise in Fort Lauderdale. It seemed strange to be carrying on a conversation from one ship to the next!

At about 5:00pm the Royal Princess gave a resounding blast of her foghorn to signify her imminent departure. It wasn’t the regular three blasts, however; it played the notes of some unrecognisable tune. How tacky! It seems to me that the American ships want to try to give the passengers (or rather, “guests” as they call them) as little a nautical experience as possible, which somewhat defeats the object of cruising. The day all cruise ships are built like these giant floating apartment blocks is the day Trevor and I will stop cruising.

We watched as the Royal Princess slowly manoevred herself out of her berth, and put to sea. She was followed shortly afterwards by the Costa Favelosa. As it was now about 5:45pm we needed to start getting ready for dinner, so we reluctantly went inside.

As ever, we enjoyed a delicious meal, entertained by Colin’s patter and jokes. Our next port of call is St. Maarten, and as an aviation expert he asked us whether we’d ever taken a ride out to the airport in Phillipsburg (the capital). We shook our heads and he explained that it was a sight to behold, as the aircraft come in right over the beach. He said he would organise a mini-bus if anyone on our table was interested.

The show in the Curzon lounge tonight featured the Adonia Theatre Company and was called “Songs from 88 Notes”, after the 88 notes on a piano. We’d actually seen the same show three years ago when we were on this ship. It was enjoyable enough, but although the theatre company are good, I don’t think they are as good as others we’ve seen; on our last cruise on the Boudicca for example, the overall entertainment was much better. Still, it’s not costing anything and it passes a pleasant interlude.

Afterwards we went up on deck where the Amethyst Duo were “singing” some 60s and 70s music for the themed deck party. There weren’t many people up there, whether because there was a brisk sea breeze or because of the dire singing, but I enjoyed a glass of prosecco (Yes! They actually have some in!), did some of this blog, and then it was time to try our hand once again at the syndicate quiz with John and Linda. So far we’d only had one win, so we were due another one.

We started off quite badly in the quiz, only scoring two out of the first five questions. However, we seemed to perk up after that and, after the 20 questions, we were joint leaders with another team. So it went to a tiebreaker, and we actually won! Yaayyy! Once again we chose the bottle of house white, which was quite palatable last time, and we took it back to our cabin so we could enjoy it tomorrow night. 🙂

So ended a pleasant and interesting day, and we turned in, after first of all opening our balcony door to let in the soothing sounds of the sea.

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