The British government’s dilemma during the early years of WWII: what to do with the capricious, Nazi-courting Duke and Duchess of Windsor (formerly known was Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson). Winston Churchill’s answer was to send them across the Atlantic where they couldn’t get themselves, or the British government, into trouble. That would be to the Bahamas, where Edward would be governor. “A third-rate British colony,” Edward groused, but he had no choice. He was governor of the Bahamas from 1940 to 1945.
My friend Patricia wanted to spend her January birthday somewhere warm, so we went on a week-long cruise from the port of Baltimore to Florida and the Bahamas. Our first stop, after 41 hours at sea, was Port Canaveral, Florida. We opted for a nostalgic Disney World excursion there, so you won’t be hearing about that. But our stop the next day was Nassau, in the Bahamas.
We only had 2.5 hours in Nassau. The ship was docked from 2 pm until 11 pm, so that’s 9 hours, right? But attractions and shops close at 4:30, so it’s really not. We could have gone to restaurants, or bars, or the Atlantis hotel mega complex, but we really had no interest. Plus, the last thing they told us before we disembarked was not to wander about after dark.
What I wanted to see most was the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas but it is closed on Mondays, when we were there. So that left me with only one other must-see: the Heritage Museum of the Bahamas.
The heritage museum is within walking distance of the port (as is the art gallery, for future reference) so, armed with a map, we set off on our own.
We walked from the ship down Parliament Street and in about a block found Parliament Square. The buildings of the Bahamian parliament complex were built about 1813 and were based, according to the Bahamian tourist office website, on the old capitol buildings of North Carolina, in New Bern. I’ve never seen the ones in New Bern, but my guess is that they are not bright pink. That statue is of a young Victoria, erected in 1905.
Also on Parliament Square is the Nassau Public Library and Museum, an octagonal building that started life as a jail in 1797. The museum part contains historic prints and documents but we didn’t go inside to see them because we didn’t think we had the time. Tripadvisor reviews say that there’s only about 15 minutes worth of viewing, however, so we could have.
Unfortunately, streets weren’t always marked and soon thought we were lost. A woman clutching a Burger King bag walked by and guessing (correctly) that she was a local, we asked her for directions. She was able to tell us that we were exactly where we thought we were, but couldn’t get from there to where we wanted to be. The spur connecting East Hill Street (where we were) to West Hill Street (where the museum was), cut through Government House grounds and wasn’t accessible to the general public. That wasn’t at all clear on the map. She sent us down and around the grounds, and back up the other side.
Government house is the home of the governors-general — the Queen’s representative in the Commonwealth countries — of the Bahamas. The Windsors lived there while Edward was governor. The current governor-general is Dame Marguerite Pindling, a native Bahamian and widow of a former prime minister of the Bahamas. The building, made of stuccoed coral rock, was completed in 1806 and is in a style called “Georgian Colonial.”
If we hadn’t done the down-and-around thing, we might have missed the statue of Christopher Columbus, in front of the house. The origins of the statue are unclear, but it was placed in front of Government House by the then-governor in 1830.
The Bahamas were inhabited by the Taino people when Columbus landed on one of the islands in 1492. He claimed it for Spain but Spain had no interest in it, except in its people, which they transported off the island and into slavery elsewhere. The Bahamas were unpopulated and unloved until 1783, when the Spanish traded (with the British) the Bahamas for Florida and the British, being a little more desperate for sun and sand than the Spanish, I imagine, settled there.
Next up: we find the museum.