U.S. Virgin Islands

I married a Norwegian who hates winter. By the time February rolls around, he’s pretty fed up with the cold. How to fix this? Hit the beach! Every year since we’ve been together, we’ve been like the birds, heading south to warmer climes. Our first vacation, in fact, was to the Dominican Republic (I’ll eventually get caught up on our travels and will have a separate post about that trip). The next year, we went to Miami after Christmas, and then he and his older son, Even, went to Jamaica for a week. But last year, in 2016, Espen and I were back on our February schedule, heading to Costa Rica. This year we debated a trip to Havana, but there are still too many hoops Americans have to jump through to get there. So … St. Thomas it was.

It wasn’t entirely random. One of my good friends, Ian, got a job and moved down there in November 2016. That planted a seed. And then Espen’s love of history watered that seed. Since the U.S.V.I. once belonged to Denmark, he was curious about the Scandinavian history and any lingering influence.

Oh. And the beaches. Because … come on. The beaches are freakin’ gorgeous.

We arrived at our hotel Thursday afternoon thanks to a shared van waiting to take tourists to their various hotels. On board with us were two wide-eyed young men who were enjoying not just their first trip to the Caribbean but their first trip anywhere. Their excitement was adorable. Anyway, by the time we got to our hotel, we were starving. Unfortunately, our timing sucked: Each of the three restaurants on site were closed until dinner, meaning we’d have to head back down the hill in search of food.
We discovered pretty quickly that St. Thomas wasn’t exactly friendly to pedestrians, making walking around difficult — at least the way we’re used to walking through cities. There are too many variables: It’s steep. It’s curvy. And then there’s the whole driving on the right side situation. Sidewalks are virtually nonexistent. Still, we made it down from our room at Bluebird’s Castle without incident and grabbed a quick bite before meeting up with Ian and his lady, Carolyn.

Carolyn is also a fairly recent implant to the U.S.V.I., besting Ian by about three months. She works at a bank but she also has this side venture, an Escape Room. (For more information on booking your “escape,” check out her website!) Despite being there only six months, she seems to know all the in places, and on our first night she led us down some dirt road in the middle of the woods in Red Hook that eventually opened up to a restaurant and bar on the water.  The place was packed, so we had to share a table with a few people from the Midwest who live on St. Thomas three months out of the year. (Life sucks for some people, huh?)

My enthusiasm for a few sweet and fruity island cocktails that night led to a lack of enthusiasm for our walking tour downtown on Friday. And then there was the rooster not far from our hotel room. The island is full of hens and roosters, and the roosters take their job as environmentally friendly alarm clocks very seriously. The one that hung out near our room cared not about daybreak. He was more of a rebel when it came to when he should start. He’d start his cockle-doodle-dooin’ around 4:15 a.m. And then do another round at about 5. And then at 6. So Friday found me a bit worse for wear. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely managed, but there might have been some complaints along the lines of “Why is it so hilly?” “Why are there so many steps?” “Why is it so fucking hot?”

I perked up in time for our ride around the island, though. Carolyn generously allowed us the use of her truck. What a boon! This allowed us to explore in a way that would’ve been difficult with just taxis. First up was the Mountain View. Absolutely a tourist trap, but we were lucky and didn’t have much of a crowd to deal with. After, we headed to Magens Bay, which is easily one of the most beautiful stretches of sand and water I’ve ever seen. The water was a bit cold, but wow. It doesn’t get much more beautiful than that. While lying there enjoying the breeze off the water, Ian sent a timely message advising us to stop at Udder Delight on our way back from the beach. I got the Jamocha milkshake. It was really good, but I’m still having fantasies about Espen’s milkshake, the Bailey’s Delight, that stole the show. Rum raisin ice cream, egg nog, rum, and an egg are transformed into something magical. We swapped sips and then when he wasn’t looking, I might have fallen on his straw one more time when he turned his head for a second. My memory is a little fuzzy on this, but according to him I took a long taste that second time. If you’re a milkshake lover, get thee to this unassuming stand on your way back from the beach. They are not inexpensive, but they’re worth every single cent. (Thanks again for the wheels, Carolyn!)

We capped off the night with Ian and Carolyn at Tavern on the Waterfront for some live jazz. Thanks to Carolyn’s connections, we scored some seats literally right beside the band. A special hi to Billye and Joe, who operate Our Place in St. Thomas. Billye’s sartorial sass is superseded only by her exuberant personality. Another fun night!

Our visit gave Ian and Carolyn a good excuse to take the car ferry over to St. John. The island is essentially one big national park, so the ride is lovely. We hit Salt Pond Bay before lunch and then made our way to Cinnamon Bay before catching the last ferry off the island. A picture-perfect day.

Espen and I usually avoid hotel restaurants, but we’ve been lucky a few times. Once was in Miami. The restaurant there was fantastic and served up amazing mojitos. We hit the jackpot again at Bluebeard’s Castle. The Banana Tree Grille was fabulous! We managed to get a table despite not calling for a reservation ahead of time (oops!), and the service was wonderful. Great views, great dinner, great company. What more do you need?

For our penultimate day on the island, we gave Ian and Carolyn a reprieve and ventured out entirely on our own. We walked downtown only to discover it’s basically a ghost town on Sundays. It was fine — after all, we’re not big shoppers. There seemed to be a quite a few disappointed tourists wandering about with money to burn, though.

With no crowds to navigate through and cooler temperatures, we enjoyed a more leisurely walk through downtown Charlotte Amalie before taking a safari cab to the port for the water taxi to Water Island and Honeymoon Beach.

As in Iceland, with the street art and the mushrooms, there was a theme with a few photos. Many buildings are crumbling, but rather than detracting from their beauty, in many ways, the flaws add even more character and have their own beauty. Or maybe I’m just crazy.

Until next time …

Thanks for the memories, St. Thomas!

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