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krisek Willemstad - A travel report by Krys
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Willemstad,  Netherlands Antilles - flag Netherlands Antilles
6016 readers

krisek's travel reports

Blue oranges in a liquid form with a kick.

  12 votes
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Curaçao is the ‘C’ island of the ABC South American islands, just off the coast of Venezuela - the Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. It is the largest one of them, and the one with least beaches, but the most colourful houses. Willemstad is its capital.


Willemstad. Punda
Willemstad. Punda
Willemstad boasts seventeenth and eighteenth centuries architecture copying the style of the incomparable Amsterdam, and also the first synagogue on the western hemisphere. The main difference is that Willemstad has all the buildings painted in eye-stinging vivid colours. Legend has it that once they were whitewashed but on a sunny morning an allegedly rum-loving governor outlawed white colour. Hmm... Good idea! Now, the town looks lovely.

The town, and in fact the capital of the Dutch Antilles is rather small. The taxi from the hotel dropped me just outside the site of the famous Queen Emma pontoon bridge at the Otrabanda side of town. This side was traditionally residential for the poorer population, who built a low rise houses of an unsophisticated architecture. Although later some more attractive buildings grew up in the area, including the governor house, from where he saw the white-washed building across the channel.

The bridge was being renovated when I arrived (Jan 2006) and locals told me that it was going to take nine months until the bridge was to be back in its place. The foot bridge was designed to be completely mobile since large cargo vessels pass through the channel.

Punda, the opposite side was the engine of Curaçao. It was the trading centre where wealthy merchants lived and made their business. It was the part of the town with the colourful Dutch colonial buildings. Even today, most the trade is completed on this side supported by the banks, central market site, floating boat market and the governor's office. The souvenir and kitsch shops are all located there as well. Punda's colourful buildings confirmed that I was in the Caribbean despite the misleading architecture and Dutch language spoken everywhere. Hey, even the Handelskade Waterfront bars decided to put up different umbrellas - red, green and yellow. Other sights on this side are the synagogue from 1732 and the Fort Amsterdam from 1634 now the seat of the Governor and the Parliament.

Favourite spots:
Willemstad. Part of Handelskade Waterfront.
Willemstad. Part of Handelskade Waterfront.
I took a short photo stroll around the town being map at a certain taxi driver who told me that I was not going to need sun glasses. Yes, weather was haphazard but the sun kept making a few long appearances. So, I bought a few postcards and sat down in a cafe at the famous Handelskade Waterfront. I ordered a papaya milkshake and blue curaçao, which was rather unorthodox of me. I don’t drink such rubbish. However I was on Curaçao, so the waitress insisted.

Despite the fumes from the ferries replacing the bridge, I loved the spot. The seats were comfortable, drinks were cold, the waitress was friendly, and the surroundings were eye catching. I pretended that I enjoyed the view of the Otrabanda through the fumes, with its large Christmas tree, blue hotel and the historic red Gouverneur house and watched the rain falling in Venezuela. Yes, the main continent was really that near.

What's really great:
Willemstad. Coral houses.
Willemstad. Coral houses.
Willemstad has cute narrow streets, small squares and of course restaurant-lined waterfront, the same famous one. It was lovely and relaxing. I definitely preferred it to a few other places around the ABC islands. The city centre was more compact and there were more places to socialise and go out. This is what a Caribbean destination should have to offer. There were very many grand mansions and villas erected from coral blocks. Most of them had to be renovated for millions of dollars and required regular maintenance. Therefore they were occupied by companies, embassies, which could afford that.

The construction of the houses from the coral blocks is unique and UNESCO listed Willemstad on the World Heritage List. It is almost a paradox. Surely coral reef should be protected as a source of unique marine life, but apparently no-one before had guts to cut blocks of coral and build homes with them. Hm...

Sights:
Willemstad. Punda.
Willemstad. Punda.
Since weather wasn’t at its best, I took an executive decision to go on an organised tour to see the entire island. When the tour stopped at a restaurant for lunch and I wasted 2.5 hours, plus the food was overpriced and well below average, I knew I shouldn’t have gone on that tour. I should’ve hired a taxi for an entire day instead and go at my own pace. I would’ve seen much more. The tour covered majority of the island but there were few stops to contemplate the architecture, nature or wildlife. Well, at least I saw that Curaçao was a pretty island full of organ pipe cactuses and green hills. The hills were often homes to grand plantation houses, typically painted yellow.

I also visited the home of the Curaçao liquor. It’s produced from a mutated Valencia oranges which brought from Spain turned bitter and dry. Their cultivation was abandoned but a few decades later a clever family started fermenting the oranges' skin oils into what is now a renowned alcoholic beverage.

Accommodations:
Willemstad. Punda's Hight Street.
Willemstad. Punda's Hight Street.
With my free Hilton voucher I was lucky to stay for nothing. That is a great bonus on the Caribbean, since hotels there are indecently overpriced. Anyway, the Hilton and its famous casino, was rather dated and although they continued working on it, one could tell that it once was an all-inclusive resort of doubtful quality. Room service and food was fine, as expected from Hilton family outside Europe, but the bar was very poorly stocked. They only carried poor quality spirits and I couldn’t get a decent drink for my birthday, such as nice single malt whisky or an aged smooth rum, not even a decent red wine. I was so disappointed.

In the historic centre of Willemstad though, I spotted small hotels and perhaps even hostels, which could not have been very expensive. At least not as much as the beach resorts asking over $300 per night! And in the remote and less flashy neighbourhoods, there were more of the otherwise shabby looking hotels.

Nightlife:
Willemstad. Otrabanda. Old Governor House.
Willemstad. Otrabanda. Old Governor House.
The number of bars in Willemstad, on both sides, clearly indicated that nightlife must be abundant on Curaçao. I never stayed long enough in town to sample any of it. At least not as much as I would have liked to. Some of the bars, discoteques and clubs along the narrow alleys looked half-trendy, half-suspended sometime in the 1980s. A good mix, I guess. No surprise that somewhat Dutch atmosphere was what they all had. For Curaçao has retained the most of the Dutchness. Many bars organised live music shows, jazz nights, Latin dancing. And even Karaoke.

If someone likes casinos, then there was this huge one at the Hilton and nine others. It was indeed popular but its size was very disappointing. I’m sure this is what I felt after seeing Las Vegas... Anyway, entry was free.

One of the best nightlife options was Mambo Beach, which turns into an open air night club. Its very popular at weekends and it is for over 18s only (must have ID).

Hangouts:
Plaja Lagun
Plaja Lagun
A small beach, Plaja Lagun, near Westpunt in the northern part of the island, was one of very few stretches of sandy coast, which was accessible to all, and frequented by locals, and not only by tourists. Water there was crystal clear and the approach from the beach to the deeper waters was reasonably free from sharp rocks or sharp sea creatures. The cliff surrounding the beach made it look really attractive.

However, my favourite spot to kill time was the Handelskade Waterfront of Willemstad, with its pavement cafes, restaurants, and bars - with a nice view to the other colourful side of the town and all the way towards Venezuela. At the back of the fortification of the fort, there was a new complex of shops, apartments and cafes with a great view towards Punda and the sea. The bars and cafes at the upper levels were also great to relax. I really loved sitting there. This courtyard even had a lift from the street level. Very civilised!

Restaurants:
Willemstad. View from Punda to Otrabanda.
Willemstad. View from Punda to Otrabanda.
So, I almost jumped out of joy when I found a Thai restaurant in Otrabanda. I noticed it from the main road linking my hotel with the capital. I couldn’t believe that I noticed it so late. I was on that road many times. Well, I didn’t actually see it, I just saw a billboard advertising it. Since it was my birthday, decided to find it and treat myself. I chose to linger in town long enough so the restaurant would open for the evening. In the meantime, the setting sun produced stupendous light conditions for photographing the historic Willemstad waterfront. When I went back to find the restaurant, I let myself wander off. And I almost got lost. I astoundingly remained confident and when I felt (opposite to knew), it was time, I made a left turn, and... found myself on the right track!

I had the usual Thai - green curry. It was good and the chef must have been Thai himself. It was a good birthday dinner. When they found out about my birthday, I got a free ice-cream for desert! Ha!

Other recommendations:
Willemstad. Otrabanda.
Willemstad. Otrabanda.
Connections between the other islands was not great. Astonishingly, there was no boat service. The ABC islands were crying for a high speed ferry link between them, but instead, there was this extremely overpriced air service only by the Dutch Antilles Express (DAE). The DAE as a monopolist charged whatever they wanted. The twenty minute flight between Aruba and Curaçao was $125!

Iguana stew, served among other places at Jaanchi Christiaan restaurant in Westpunt, was something one can try on Curaçao. I tried and... I regretted it. The sauce was fine but the meat was very unpleasantly chewy. I mention it now, but I’d rather forget about it. But this is me. I’m sure it’s a matter of taste...

Published on Saturday April 12th, 2008


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Fri, Apr 25 2008 - 05:01 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Good report, better than a tourist guide

Tue, Apr 15 2008 - 06:35 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

i m really glad that so many excellent report from you , were u a reporter before ,hahahhaa just kidding , i am glad to read all your reports

Mon, Apr 14 2008 - 05:43 AM rating by rangutan

Great island adventure! [4.4]

Sun, Apr 13 2008 - 11:10 AM rating by marianne

Another great read

Sun, Apr 13 2008 - 09:38 AM rating by davidx

You do get around! Interesting and informative as always.

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