Both are right! Our last stop on the Allure of the Seas cruise was Saint Martin, one of the smallest sea islands in the world which is divided into two nations – the southern part, called Sint Maarten, is one of four constituent countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the northern French part, called Saint-Martin, is an overseas collectivity of France.
Christopher Columbus discovered it on his second voyage to the West Indies in 1493 and since it was 11th November, which was St Martin’s day, he named it Isla de San Martin and claimed it as Spanish territory. There is a long history as to how it later came to be divided between the French and the Dutch. Today, it is nicknamed “The Friendly Island”.
The island wasn’t new to us since we had also been here on our previous Caribbean cruise in 2006 but I had looked forward to this stop and waited for this day since we began the vacation.
Because this is where I spend my birthday this year! Bling bling!
Birthdays, mine or loved ones’ and friends’, are always meaningful and special occasions for me. Last year too we were on a cruise in the West Mediterranean and we spent my birthday in La Palma, Mallorca. Nothing special had been planned for today but it was a special day nonetheless for me.
We would spend the day leisurely walking in Philipsburg, which was the capital of the Dutch side, Sint Maarten. Hubby wanted to look for accessories for his camera and I just needed to pay a visit to my favourite jeweller in Sint Maarten. It being my birthday…bling, bling!
From where our ship had docked, we decided to take a water-taxi to the centre of Philipsburg. It was just a short trip and as tickets for our USD6 return fare we were given these green paper bracelets so that we could take the taxi back to the cruise terminal later. I hated the idea of wearing them because it just meant that all my photos in St Maarten would feature our green paper bracelets LOL!
Two main roads cut across the length of Philipsburg – Front Street (or Voorstraat in Dutch) and, yes, Back Street (Achterstraat). Front Street, the main thoroughfare, with its cast iron streetlights, paved walkways, and palm trees is a mile long shopping mall. No traffic passes on Front Street. It is quaint and lined with duty-free shops offering everything from Italian leather goods, gold and diamond jewellery, to Japanese cameras and other electronics and native crafts.
We stopped in a couple of the camera stores so hubby could compare prices of a lens he wanted to buy. We ended up in the Caribbean Camera Center and Vinod, the store owner told us he was the authorised dealer for Canon, Olympus, Sony, Minolta, Nikon and was supplying cameras to all the other islands in the Caribbean. When hubby mentioned that another store down the road had offerred us a much cheaper price, he told us that the guy had actually called him to get a quote and check availability! Anyway it turned out he had run out of the lens. Vinod was very knowledgeable about cameras and photography accessories and hubby got a good price for a camera he had been wanting to buy.
It was hot, hot, hot, as we approached mid-day. We walked sipping ice-cold water and also stopped for ice cream to cool us down. As we continued walking along Front Street, we came across narrow alleyways that led to little arcades and courtyards.
It was soon lunchtime and the smell of garlic in the air made us hungry. It was coming from this colorful Creole house, the L’Escargot Restaurant. The owners, Sonya and Joel serve escargot seven ways at their restaurant which specialises in fine French food featuring duck and fresh seafood. The exterior fascinated me as did a bright yellow house we ran into later in another alleyway.
I saw these colorful bottles along one of the little alleyways. They were hand-painted bottles of jams and drinks made with guavaberry for which St Maarten was famous. Guavaberry is the legendary island folk liqueur which has been part of the local industry for hundreds of years and which has become an integral and cherished part of the island’s heritage and folklore. Apparently there are folk songs and stories written about it. It is a common Christmas drink not only in Sint Maarten and the Virgin Islands but many of the other islands.
The island – well, at least where we walked on this steamy hot and humid day – is full of colour. It was getting hotter and hotter and we started looking around for a place to sit down and have the largest glass of ice-cold Diet Coke.
We walked through an alley and turned up on the sea front, and took a seat under a huge umbrella at “Captain Jack’s”. Cold Coke, hot calamari and fries. My island birthday lunch!
It was a laid back lunch….although we were not exactly on “island time”. We had to keep a constant check on our watches to make sure we were back at the ship by 4:30pm.
We started to look for the jeweller where hubby had bought me my bling for our 10th anniversary in 2006. I had to have the ring housing fixed. Might as well do it here! And luckily we had mentioned the jeweller to Vinod at the camera shop and he said he knew him! Sanjay was his wife’s cousin, he said. Small island!
Anyway he told us that Sanjay had moved to the Front Street so we wouldn’t have found his shop using the business card he gave us in 2006!
We found Sanjay’s shop and he remembered us. He sent my ring to be fixed at his workshop somewhere close by and he said it would only take a while. I started to look at some earrings, although hubby had already bought me my birthday present AND my 15th anniversary present. I really was just looking.
It was a while and my ring still hadn’t come back. It was taking much longer than we thought. Hubby started to get anxious and asked around about taxis to the terminal. Sanjay was getting very warm with the earrings…the discounts got heavier. It was cheaper by the minute! Then the ring came back but when I checked it, the problem hadn’t been solved. I told Sanjay it had to be fixed. And so he sent it off again , this time one of the ladies assisting him in the shop went with it.
He continued selling me the earrings. He gave us a very good price in the end. It was what I wanted but it wasn’t the quality I wanted, so I told him I wasn’t going to get it. Maybe next time.But I did ask him to give me a re-valuation on my ring and he did that. My bling is worth much more than the day we bought it. That’s great. Hubby was getting really anxious by now because we had targeted to leave for the ship by 3:30pm and it was now well past 3:30pm. We won’t take the water-taxi now he said. It might make us late.
I was getting nervous too. We don’t want the ship to leave without us. AND I WASN’T GOING TO LEAVE WITHOUT MY RING!!!
Sanjay kept saying it only took 5 minutes in a taxi back to the ship and told hubby not to worry. We asked him to call the workshop about my ring. He said it was coming. Finally. Hubby looked a bit more relaxed but he started to look out for a cab even as I waited for my ring.
Oh dear. That was so stressful.
Thankfully, my ring was fixed now so we said goodbye to Sanjay and flagged the first cab that came along. It was a large minivan taxi with the last trickle of cruisers heading for the ship. We weren’t the only ones and I told hubby he worried for nothing. But he was right I guess, as we had never cut it so close before.
So that was St Maarten on my birthday. Hot and humid but I wish we had had more time. So this was goodbye to the Caribbean until the next trip. It was great to be back too but that’s the end of cruise holiday. As for my birthday – its not over yet, no way!