Tuesday, May 8
Morning excursion to town, where we walked the narrow flag-lined streets and browsed through the many stores offering bargains galore. China, silver, jewelry, watches, liquor, cigarettes - all at 30-40% off ... colorful arcades and architecture make it somewhat quaint. Perused the old synagogue.
With nearly 2 million cruise-ship passengers per year, Charlotte Amalie is one of the most visited ports in the Caribbean. In season it sees as many as eight ships a day, which turns much of it into a bustling outdoor mall. The bargains are still to be found – on diamonds, watches and gold jewelry galore – but we soon tire of navigating the fanny-packed horde. We admire the well-preserved Danish architecture and the charming stone-and-brick alleyways before walking uphill to scope a handful of spots we'd seen in my parents' old photo album. The Frederik Lutheran Church remains stately and regal – as it has been since 1793 – and not far away are the famed 99 Steps (actually, there are 103) that lead to Government Hill. My mother's old Minolta barely did it all justice, but when Joy and I finally reach the St. Thomas Synagogue, we quickly realize why it warranted mention in my father's journal: Fine white sand still blankets the synagogue's floor, a device for muffling the prayers of the faithful that's a legacy of the Spanish Inquisition, when prayer meant persecution. To this day my parents talk with reverence about how it was so unlike anything they'd ever seen in a place of worship.
After all of the sightseeing, we duck into Cuzzin's, a hole-in-the-wall cafe just one block from the main shopping strip. Housed in what was once an 18th-century red-brick stable, the restaurant specializes in authentic island cuisine, and we're thrilled to find it full of boisterous tables of locals. After a small plate of conch fritters, Joy and I split the curried shrimp entrée served with heaping portions of fried plantains and rice and peas. Still hankering for duty-free deals we skipped in town, we make a beeline for Yacht Haven Grande, a new shopping complex between Charlotte Amalie and the Havensight cruise pier. With high-end stores such as Gucci, Ferragamo and Louis Vuitton, it's where Fifth Avenue meets the Caribbean – an open-air plaza where my mother gladly would've shopped, given its discount prices. "I could spend the whole day here," says Joy from the fitting room of her favorite designer store. "Everything is 60 percent off!" Two cashmere dresses and a pair of fancy pumps later, Joy convinces me her purchases are all part of our quest.