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Nassau in the Bahamas

An extract from the book Scottish Highlands, Caribbean Islands, and more

Head east along Bay Street and then up Elizabeth Avenue to see Nassau’s most interesting sight. The Queen’s staircase is in a gorge that was hollowed out of the ground by 6,000 slaves using six-inch long chisels, just to provide a potential escape route for the governor in case of surprise attack. This is the story that the local guides will tell you at least; whether it’s true is another matter. It’s entertaining to listen to their stories and I did have to admit that in places the sides of the gorge do show marks similar to those made by chisels. 64 steps make up the staircase, one for each year of Queen Victoria’s reign.

At the top of the staircase I found myself close to the Water Tower and Fort Fincastle with lovely views over the harbour. Then I headed along East Hill Street, Duke Street, and West Hill Street passing good examples of the local architecture such as Jacaranda House, Dunmore House, and Graycliff. My destination was the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas with its collection of paintings, sculpture, textiles, ceramics and photos.

Along West Street almost opposite the gallery is the St Francis Xavier Cathedral dating from 1885. Outside in a small garden area, I saw an all-white statue of a lady teaching two children, which I found surprisingly tender. The only puzzle for me regarding the cathedral was that this particular St Francis never came anywhere near the Caribbean, spending most of his life in the orient. There must be a catholic saint who was more local that the cathedral could have been named after? Further down the street I found a Greek Orthodox Church that was beautifully painted in blue and white and wasn’t named after anyone at all.

Nassau became a city in 1684 when Christ Church Cathedral was built. This is the fourth incarnation of the building, the previous three having been destroyed by fire, Spaniards, and termites in that order. Services are still held here.

The public buildings in and around Parliament Square are all a delicate shade of pink. Billboards in front of the Parliament building outline the important roles played by various politicians such as Sir Lynden Pindling and Sir Randol Fawkes. Two excellent places to eat stand out in the vicinity. One is the breakfast and lunch place T’s Bistro, which you have to be buzzed into for some reason and has its own reliable wi-fi. The other is the Cafe Matisse, where romantic dinners can be eaten in the open courtyard. The waiters at the cafe are all local and the theme is mainly Italian food.

Nassau is a fascinating place to visit simply mass tourism and virtually no tourism co-exist at such close quarters. Bay Street can be full of duty-free shoppers and yet one block further north the street will be almost devoid of people