Wednesday, March 22nd
Weather: bright sunshine and not much breeze
Route: #10 bus to Bay Street (the end of the line), walking around the tour route and to Potter's Cay for lunch and to the Super Value near Shirley Street and back to Bay Street to catch the #10 bus west to our stop.
- Hubby doing an excellent job, as usual, of guiding me around the tour route
- finding a $20.00 lunch of Red Snapper "under the bridge"
- only buying $24.04 of dinner items at a nicer Super Value near town
- not getting sunburned
- eating popcorn, veggies, cheese and crackers for dinner
Mourning Doves woke me up at 8:00 this morning. When we arrived yesterday I decided to drink tap water at Rhonda's, based on 411 I had found online. It was a relief to open my eyes and feel no ill effects so far, especially because we had planned a full day of walking to tour historic sights of downtown Nassau, as recommended in an online document we found.
During breakfast Hubby marked each stop on the paper map Rhonda had provided. I had downloaded to my phone a pdf document giving a brief description of each sight and previously had marked all the sights as 'Favourites' in the phone's Offline Maps app. Except for a $1.00 entrance fee and 4 post cards for $4.00 at Fort Fincastle, every stop on the tour was free. If you go to the fort, wait to buy the post cards in town -- they were only 4 for $1.00 in the shops there.
Stop 1: Our tour started at Rawson Square, the crossroads of the old city center. The Square is inland from Prince George Wharf from where cargo ships used to unload cargo and cruise ships now disgorge tourists, Nassau's raison d'etre. Although Christopher Columbus first made landfall on the tiny island of San Salvador in 1492, a Commemorative Land Survey Marker was erected in Rawson Square in 1992.
Stop 2: Parliament Square across the street from Rawson Square. The House of Assembly, first convened in 1729, is the oldest continuously governing body in the New World. The Senate, though not as powerful as the House, meets in the pink building behind the statue of a young Queen Victoria. Many of the Georgian-style buildings in this area were built in the late 1700s and early 1800s by British Loyalists. We were told that government buildings are usually painted pink, while Police Stations are normally yellow.
Stop 3: Nassau Public Library and the Office of the Civil Courts and the Registrar The Library was open so we took a quick peek inside. The former pie-shaped jail cells around the outside circumference of the circular building were crammed with shelves of books and piled high with musty, historic paper documents. The bell in the upper level formerly summoned members to the House of Assembly. This is the place to come to research the life stories of The Bahamas!
Ansbacher House, another pink government building, houses the Civil Courts and the Registrar but is also the headquarters of the private wealth management firm, Ansbacher Ltd. The company was established in 1957, making it the oldest private bank in The Bahamas.
Stop 4: the Post Office On our uphill walk to the Post Office we passed a parking lot where the storied Royal Victoria Hotel stood before being burned and razed in 1971. Among its wealthy guests were the consort to Queen Victoria (Prince Albert), Winston Churchill, notorious smugglers and US Confederate spies. We were glad that the Post Office was on the tour because we needed postage -- $.65 for post cards to international destinations.
Stop 5: Prospect Ridge The ridge was the geographic division between the wealthy (usually white) Nassauvians who lived along the waterfront in lovely homes and the shanty neighbourhoods of the service workers (usually descendants of African slaves). The service workers walked "over the hill" each day to work in the homes and businesses near the waterfront and back over the hill each night to return home. When researching the island we had no idea it was so hilly!
Stop 6: Fort Fincastle Since we were almost at the top of Bennett's Hill, Hubby steered us up the back footpath to Fort Fincastle, one of two reinforcements built by Lord Dunmore, unofficially "renowned for crossing the thin line between genius and madness as casually as most people brush their teeth". Lord Dunmore fled to The Bahamas after making a mess of situations leading up to the American War of Independence in 1776. Fort Fincastle was built in 1793 in the shape of a paddle-wheel steamer 200 feet above the harbour. The fort was intended to serve as a lookout for marauders and privateers attacking Nassau. No pirates ever did attack. The Lookout Tower was converted to a Lighthouse until it was replaced in 1817 by a Lighthouse on Hog (aka Paradise) Island.
Stop 7: The Queen's Staircase Many websites and local guides relate that more than 600 slaves began constructing the 66 steps in 1793 as a way to reach Fort Fincastle and walk "over the hill". It took them 16 years to chisel the limestone ridge with hand tools only. Despite that folklore, Balmainantiques on TripAdvisor claims to set the record straight. He/She explains:
"The real reason for the steps is because in the 1830's a new sub division called "Mason's Addition" was built on the south side of the hill and Government decided to cut an access road through the hill (as they had done in several other places along the same ridge). They were using mainly slave labour. They started cutting the rock from both the north side and south side of the hill. However, before the project was finished slavery was abolished. The Abolition Act was passed during the reign of William IV but came into effect at the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign. With the loss of their slave work force the Government then had a problem as work had progressed to the point where they had created a deep cut in the rock which ended with a massive cliff. The solution was to quickly install the steps so that people could get to and from Mason's Addition."
There is, as he/she says, a deep cut on the south side of the ridge as well. This version of the story is backed up by Gail Saunders, the Archivist of the Bahamas, in her book "Islanders in the Stream (Vol 2)".
No matter what story you wish to believe, The Queen's Staircase is now one of the most visited tourist sites in Nassau. It is a refreshing escape from the sun on a hot day. We could almost see the early Nassauvians bartering with vendors in their stalls along the wall as they passed through this area.
Stop 8: Gregory Arch Named after Governor John Gregory, the stone arch was built in 1852 as an easier way to reach Nassau. Workers no longer had to walk "over the hill" to go downtown. Today it is the symbolic border between Nassau and the rest of New Providence. As pedestrians, we had to walk down to the busy street level to get a good view of the arch.
Stop 9: Near Gregory Arch is St. Andrew's Kirk (Church), built in 1810 but enlarged and enhanced many times, including the addition of the Bell Tower in 1864. St. Andrew's had the first non-Anglican congregation in The Bahamas.
Stop 10: Government House is the official residence of the Governor-General. The representative of the British Monarchy performs mostly ceremonial duties since 1973 when the newly-independent country elected its first Prime Minister. The pink and white mansion was built in the early 1800s. The statue of Christopher Columbus was a gift from Sir James Carmichael Smyth, who became Governor of the colony in 1829.
Stop 11: Graycliff Hotel and Restaurant began life in 1740 as the mansion of the wealthy and powerful pirate Captain John Howard Graysmith at a time when the pirate "skull-and-crossbones" was the unofficial flag of The Bahamas. When the American Navy captured Nassau during the 1776 American War of Independence, Graycliff was used as their garrison and headquarters. Its famous wine cellar still has the bars on its windows from that time. By 1844 the property had been converted by its owner, Nathaniel French, into Nassau's first Inn, but was again taken over during the American Civil War, this time as the Officer's Mess for the West Indian Regiment. By the 1920s Mrs. Polly Leach, a close friend of Al Capone, had established Graycliff again as a sophisticated travel destination for the wealthy. The Waltons, Canadian "Snow Birds" from Montreal, completely renovated the mansion in the 1940s. In 1966 the British Lord and Lady Dudley purchased the mansion, adding some antiques still seen in the public areas. In 1973, the year of Bahamas' Independence, Graycliff again opened to the public as an elegant hotel and restaurant under the ownership of the Garzarolis. It is especially famous for its vast wine collection and its premium cigars.
Sidebar: The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas This 1860's building was not on the tour of historic places but we thought it should be. Originally it was the Villa Doyle, the mansion of the first Chief Justice of The Bahamas, but became one of Nassau's most stately homes after a new wing was added in the 1920s. Its verandas and view of the city and the sea are typical of mansions centuries ago. Sadly, the home was not maintained well and only saved from demolition in the 1990s by Dr. Gail Saunders, who saw its potential as a part of Nassau's history. She worked for 7 years with a preservation team to restore it to its former glory.
Stop 12: St. Francis Roman Catholic Church, with its strong Gothic arches and austere exterior was built in 1885/1886 thanks to funding from the New York Archdiocese. It was the first Roman Catholic Church in The Bahamas.
Stop 13: The new British Colonial Hotel was built in 1923 on this very popular site which was first the 1697 location of old Fort Nassau, then an 1837 military barracks and finally an older hotel which burned down in 1922. The still unsolved 1943 murder of the famous hotel's influential manager, Sir Harry Oates, was called the "crime of the century". In 1999 the hotel became a Hilton property, offering its own private beach, views of the cruise ship docks and convenient access to Nassau's business and financial district. As are several other locations in The Bahamas, the hotel was the set for many James Bond movie scenes.
Stop 14: Christ Church Cathedral is the preferred location for many state ceremonies such as the procession of wigged Judges and Barristers accompanied by a Police Force Band which opens the Supreme Court each year. The Gothic Episcopal Cathedral was built in 1837.
Stop 15: One of the oldest buildings in Nassau, Vendue House (circa 1784), with its Corinthian portico, was the site of an arcaded marketplace (aka The Bourse) where frequent auctions of cattle, slaves and goods were held. Later it became office space for telegraph, telephone and electricity services. It is fittingly now the Pompey Museum of Slavery and Emancipation, named after a slave living in The Exumas in the 1830s.
Stop 16: The old Straw Market burned down in 2001. Inside the new Straw Market building, shoppers will find a crowded cacophony of vendor stalls selling everything from traditional straw products to hair braiding. It is conveniently located near the cruise ship docks.
Stop 17: Woodes Rogers Walk is less of a stop and more of a stroll along the docks, allowing glimpses of mail and sponge boats, passing market stalls of produce, fish and conch. Woodes Rogers was formerly a privateer who was thrown in debtor's prison in London but returned to Nassau as the Governor of the Colony, ironically to enforce law and order. Woodes Rogers expelled privateers and buccaneers, restored order and built Fort Nassau in 1697. The Bahamas for centuries adopted Rogers’ motto, “Expulsis Piratis, Restituta Commercia,” which means, “Pirates Expelled, Commerce Restored.”
Stop 18: Woodes Rogers Walk led us back to Prince George Wharf and nearby Rawson Square. Thanks to American Prohibition in the 1920s the wharf facilities were enlarged and enhanced to shelter rum runners, setting the stage for the modern era of cruise ships. It was named to honour the 1928 visit by Prince George but its most regal visitor was the HMS Britannia, when it brought Queen Elizabeth II to a Commonwealth meeting here in 1985.
From the wharf, the luxury Atlantis Resort of Paradise Island loomed on the horizon. Hog Island was renamed to Paradise Island by the heir of the A&P Supermarket company when he purchased it in 1959. Its current owner, South African Sol Kerzner, bought the island from Merv Griffith for $125 Million. It is now worth about $2 Billion, with individual properties in the exclusive Ocean Club neighbourhood selling for $40+ Million. The Sidney Poitier Toll Bridge takes one-way traffic to the island while the free Paradise Island Exit Bridge takes one-way traffic back to Nassau. Local bus traffic is not allowed to cross the Sidney Poitier bridge but taxis, rental cars and the ferry can take visitors to the island.
Did you know? Sidney Poitier, was born to Bahamian parents in Miami but grew up in the Bahamas. He served as the Bahamian Ambassador to Japan from 1997 until he turned 80 in 2007.
We did more walking than yesterday but didn't feel as tired. I was disappointed that the tour had not included the restored Buena Vista Estate, now home to the John Watling's Rum Distillery but it was past lunch time and we were hungry.
"Under the bridge" from Paradise Island (the Paradise Island Exit Bridge) we found many offerings for lunch. Like the Fish Fry at Arawak Cay, these were small vendor booths. Unlike the Fish Fry the vendors here served more local workers than tourists and had wonderful smells wafting from them. The downside was that the city does not provide electric power in this area so every booth runs a generator to keep refrigeration units operating. If you have read any of our other journals you know how much we "enjoy" the sounds of generators. The first booth, McKenzie's, seemed very popular with a large group, perhaps tourists. We continued along the row of booths, finally deciding on M&M Seafood because Jerry had his generator off and he had an inside table away from the traffic dust. We were the only customers at that time so Jerry had time to chat, explaining that the road was so busy because the Mail Boats load up here at Potter's Cay before making their runs to the "Out Islands". There was a continuous stream of trucks creeping by while we waited for Jerry to prepare our lunch.
By now we were feeling a bit dehydrated so drank most of our water while Jerry poached us a fresh whole Red Snapper with plantains, potatoes, tomatoes and onions, serving it with a side of the local staple -- rice cooked with black-eyed peas (aka rice and peas). Thankfully we only ordered one. It was plenty for both of us. We had read that a similar meal on Paradise Island would have been at least $150.00. Instead of luxurious ambiance we got to chat with Jerry and his daughter while we ate. We sipped a good portion of the spicy fish broth that came with lunch. After lunch they directed us to the free, surprisingly clean Public Facilities at the end of the road past the vegetable market. After using the facilities we stopped to watch the conch vendors extracting fresh conchs delivered recently by a diver. The live animal inside the shell is not nearly as beautiful as the shell it creates. Conch dishes can be found on any typical Bahamian menu.
After lunch we walked south up Mackey Street to the Top of the Hill Shopping Plaza and a Super Value, where we bought a few items for dinner.
It was wonderful to return to Rhonda's Retreat to stretch, rehydrate with water and tea, and enjoy the quiet evening. We were still not very hungry after our big lunch. We made a pot of popcorn, ate some fresh red pepper, celery and jicama, then finished dinner with cheese, crackers and banana nut bread. Tonight we heard singing and a marching band for a few hours, ending at 23:30 -- much better than barking dogs.