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A Couple of Curious Museums in Willemstad

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The very fact that tiny Curaçao has a Postal Museum was strange enough to arouse our curiosity. And after learning that it’s housed in the island’s oldest surviving building, we knew that we’d have to check it out. Later on the same day, we passed by another museum which looked to be even more unusual: the Octagon Museum in Pietermaai.

Postal Museum Curacao

The building currently occupied by the Postal Museum dates from 1693, just a few decades after the Dutch established Willemstad. Tightly packed between other buildings on the narrow, pedestrian-only Kuekenstraat, it’d be easy to waltz right by the ancient structure without ever noticing it. But it’s worth pausing to take a look, and depending on your interest in stamps, perhaps stepping inside.

To be honest, neither Jürgen nor I are the slightest bit interested in stamps, but we decided to visit the museum anyway. It’s kind of our job. When we stepped inside, the woman working there jumped to life; it’s safe to say that the Postal Museum doesn’t draw a lot of tourists. After taking our money (just $2 apiece), she led us on an exhaustive tour of the museum’s exhibits.

Her enthusiastic presence turned an experience which might have been dry into one which was rather fun. Frequently, she’d start to take her leave, saying something like, “Alright, I should let you see the rest at your own pace,” before remembering another piece of trivia which she simply had to share. And after we were done with the exhibits (all of which are dedicated to the history of postage in the Dutch Antilles) we stayed and chatted for awhile about her trips to Holland, and her distaste for Carnival.

We now walked down to Pietermaai, where we had seen signs for something called the Octagon Museum. We followed the signs onto the property of the Avila Beach Hotel, where we found an evidently old, octagon-shaped building. What could possibly be the subject matter of this museum?! Go on, I’ll give you a few guesses…

[splutter] Why, yes… you’re right! The Octagon Museum is dedicated to the life and times of South American liberator Simón Bólivar! How in the world did you guess that?!

Yes, this museum, which is only open for a couple hours on a couple days during the week, is all about the accomplishments of Simón Bólivar, and his Curaçaoan connections. Immediately before his military successes on the continent, he spent time on the island, staying in the now-vanished Plezier House in Otrobanda, and as a guest of the wealthy merchant Don Mordechai Ricardo, who owned the Octagon tower.

The museum is nicely done, with copious information on placards spread throughout the rooms. There are paintings and period furniture, as well as a copy of the Cartagena Manifesto. Although the museum itself is small, you’ll have to dedicate some time to it, if you want to read everything.

So there you have it: the oldest house on Curaçao is dedicated to stamps, and the most geometric house in Curaçao is dedicated to Bólivar. In the unlikely event of a rainy day during your stay, you might want to check out one, or even both of them.

Locations on our Map: Postal Museum | Octagon Museum

Curacao Collectible Stamps Online

More photos of the Postal Museum
Postal Museum Curacao
Postal Museum Curacao
Postal Museum Curacao
Postal Museum Curacao
Postal Museum Curacao
Postal Museum Curacao
Postal Museum Curacao
Postal Museum Curacao
Postal Museum Curacao
More photos of the Octagon Museum
Octagan Museum
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February 26, 2016 at 9:51 pm Comments (0)

The Historic Neighborhood of Punda

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Punda was the first area in Willemstad to be colonized by the Dutch, and today has become famous for the superb condition of its colorful, 18th-century buildings. Although we lived in Otrobanda, we crossed the bay almost daily to spend time in Punda, to eat, shop, or just enjoy the neighborhood’s lively atmosphere.

When it was originally settled, this neighborhood was called “De Punt” (“The Point”), a name which eventually evolved into Punda. Willemstad’s most historic buildings are found here, from Fort Amseterdam and the Fortkerk to the Mikvé Emmanuel-Israel Synagogue. And this is the location of the Handelskade: the waterfront collection of multi-colored buildings that has become Curaçao’s most emblematic image.

Over the years, Punda has developed a split personality, in its attempts to please two completely different sets of people. This is ground-zero for cruise ship tourism, and when ships are in port, you’ll find thousands of foreigners roaming the streets of Punda, ordering over-priced meals along the Saint Anna Bay and raiding souvenir shops. But the neighborhood is equally popular with locals, who come here to work and socialize.

If you’re in the mood for local grub, Punda is the place to go. Plasa Bieu might be the most popular spot to try Curaçaoan fare, but there are any number of other affordable joints. We love the Kowloon Restaurant on Keukenstraat, as well as Yat Sun Snack across from the Floating Market. Don’t let the Chinese names throw you off — these restaurants are Curaçaoan through-and-through. We can also recommend the Latin flavors at Kriollomanía and Yammie Madness Chef, for their food as much as for their names. And we liked they tiny Restaurante Simone, for Indian dishes via Suriname.

Not many people reside in Punda, any longer; the neighborhood has become almost strictly for business, eating and shopping. But this always has been, and likely always will be the center of Willemstad… and thus of Curaçao. And we’ve found it impossible to spend time here, without enjoying ourselves. If you’re not smiling in Punda, you’re probably the only one.

Locations on our Map: Handelskade | Plasa Bieu | Kowloon | Yat Sun Snack | Krillomanía | Yammie Madness Chef | Restaurante Simone

Travel Insurance For Curacao

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February 6, 2016 at 8:51 pm Comment (1)

The Floating Market

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Along the banks of the Waaigat, a fleet of small, wooden ships is stationed, each carrying a load of fruits and vegetables from nearby Venezuela. This is Willemstad’s Floating Market, where Curaçaoans have been purchasing their produce for a hundred years.

Floating Market Willemstad

Curaçao is a beautiful island, but its arid climate isn’t conducive to fruit orchards or fields of vegetables. Luckily, the harvests of the mainland are not far-off. Sailors from Venezuela’s coastal towns long ago recognized the potential of their neighbor to the north, and have set up an enduring, mutually-beneficial trade; Venezuelans provide the produce, Curaçaoans provide the cash.

We noticed right away that the market itself doesn’t actually float. The stands are set up on solid ground in front of each ship. At the end of each day, everything is packed back onto the boats, and the vendors sleep on-board as well. When they make the trip to Curaçao, they tend to stay for a long time. One guy told us about his shifts; he spends two months in Curaçao and two back home in Venezuela. His merchandise is replenished every day with fresh goods from the mainland.

Floating Market Willemstad

Times have changed and, today, most Curaçaoans shop in regular supermarkets, but the Floating Market still does a brisk business. Both locals buying their weekly produce, and tourists looking for a healthy snack will stop by. And we occasionally saw shoppers drive slowly down Caprileskade and pause to yell out their order, which the sellers would rush over in a hurry.

The prices don’t seem to be any cheaper than at a supermarket, and if you look like a sucker, the Floating Market might be more expensive. Our first time there, we were easy marks; Jürgen was taking pictures and I was sporting the oafish grin that emerges whenever I’m encountering something new. The guy charged way more than what we would have paid in a supermarket, and the avocado had a rotten side which he had cleverly concealed until it was in the bag.

But it was hard to begrudge him. It’s not an easy job these guys have. The villages they come from are poor, and this lifestyle barely allows them to support their families, whom they don’t see for months. If you want a glimpse into their situation, check out the 2003 documentary called Floating Market, directed by by Joan Kaufman. After having watched this, I wanted to return to the market with an even goofier grin, and allow myself to be scammed even more blatantly.

Location on our Map

Check Prices For Flights To Curacao

Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
Floating Market Willemstad
December 20, 2015 at 7:51 pm Comments (0)

The Queen Emma Bridge

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Two bridges connect Punda to Otrobanda. For cars, there’s the towering Queen Juliana Bridge, which reaches a height of 56 meters above the Saint Anna Bay, and is the tallest in the Caribbean. And for pedestrians, there’s the Queen Emma Bridge, which rises zero meters over the water. The Queen Emma, you see, is a floating bridge.

Queen Emma Bridge Curacao

On first learning about Willemstad’s floating bridge, my first thought was, “Well, that makes sense. There’s no reason to force traffic up and over the water. I wonder why more bridges don’t simply float?” I needed a few seconds to remember that things usually have to pass under a bridge, as well. With the huge oil refinery in Willemstad’s harbor, a lot of big ships need to get past the Queen Emma — and none of them are submarines.

Queen Emma Bridge Curacao

So, whenever a ship needs in or out, the bridge must open. But this one doesn’t raise and lower — it just moves to the side. The Queen Emma rests atop of a set of pontoons. The final pontoon, connecting the bridge to the Punda side, has a motor and a driver. And when a ship arrives, the entire bridge opens on a hinge, just like a door. For small ships, the bridge only needs to open a crack, but for larger vessels like oil tankers, it will swing all the way over to the Otrobanda side.

It’s a strange sensation to be on the bridge as it opens. First, the operator will close the gates on either side, and anyone still on the bridge has to wait. Usually, it’s just a couple minutes, but occasionally it takes fifteen to twenty. In the meantime, anyone who isn’t stuck on the bridge can cross between Otrobanda and Punda using a free ferry.

And even when the bridge isn’t opening, it’s never stationary. As you might expect, a floating bridge undulates with the water and, on a choppy day, everyone walking across appears to be totally drunk. And if you are totally drunk, well, good luck. At night, on our way home from Pietermaai’s bars, we saw a few stumblers nearly fall into the water.

The Queen Emma was built in 1888, but renovated in 2006. It’s really unique and, at first, the idea of a hinged bridge is amusing. However, it becomes less amusing, the longer you live in Willemstad. We used it almost every day and I’d estimate that 30-40% of the time we wanted to cross to Punda, we had to wait. It didn’t take long for the novelty to wear off, and for us to join the locals in sighing with frustration, when the bell started to ring.

Location on our Map

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Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
Queen Emma Bridge Curacao
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December 19, 2015 at 9:45 pm Comments (0)
A Couple of Curious Museums in Willemstad The very fact that tiny Curaçao has a Postal Museum was strange enough to arouse our curiosity. And after learning that it's housed in the island's oldest surviving building, we knew that we'd have to check it out. Later on the same day, we passed by another museum which looked to be even more unusual: the Octagon Museum in Pietermaai.
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