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Old Government House
Of everything we did in Belize City, I most enjoyed our brief tour of old Government House, maybe because we did not have time to check out the Fort George area due to limited time combined with most attractions being closed on Sunday. This old building really is an antique, built almost 200-years ago, between 1812-14 to serve as the official residence of the Governor of the colony, the Queen's representative in this backwater outpost of the Empire. Although it has lost a few bits off it in the almost 200 years since, I am amazed that a large wooden structure like this is still standing on these hurricane-prone shores! In fact, it was the devestation caused to Belize City by Hurricane Hattie in 1961 that prompted a new capital to be built inland at Belmopan, and that was the beginning of the end of the 'official' use of this building. After several years of neglect, the structure has been rehabilitated in recent years, and now also serves as a museum of sorts (the House of Culture), where various things Belizian are displayed.
For our US$5 per person entrance fee, we enjoyed wandering through the mansion, viewing it's antique furniture (second photo) and reading various plaques on the walls detailing the history of the Colony and it's various Governors down through the years. A stroll on the seaward grounds revealed a monument to Baron Bliss, an eccentric British aristocrat who was one of the main benefactors of this backwater. He sailed into the harbour for the first time in 1926 aboard his yacht 'Sea King', but was too sick with food poisoning to ever actually set foot on shore before dying several months later. Even so, he had been so impressed by his welcome, that his will bequeathed $2 million to be used for the benefit of the citizens of Belize! His small tender (third photo), which allowed his crew to travel between the yacht and shore, is now mounted on the seaward grounds of Government House.Related to:
- Museum Visits
Enjoy Meeting Other Travellers
After our midday walk showed us that there was absolutely nothing going on in Belize City on a Sunday, we settled down on the nice little balcony at the Seaside Guest House. It actually turned into an enjoyable way to put in the remainder of the afternoon, since we had a couple of interesting fellow travellers to swap tales with over cold Belikin beers from the fridge in the kitchen!
Steve is from England, formerly working in the financial markets until made redundant a couple of years earlier. With his very generous separation package, he rented out his house near London and has spent all his time since then travelling all over the world - and I mean ALL! On the side, he teaches SCUBA diving, and was just finishing up an assignment in the West Indies before heading on to Mexico briefly. Then, he planned to head back to England to try to start up a 'normal' life again.
Lauren, from Australia's Gold Coast, was also very pleasant to chat with. A dietician who had travelled to this part of the world to attend a conference in the Yucatan Peninsula and had been asked to also put on a short course in Belize while she was in the neighbourhood.
Sitting there talking to these two travellers was one of the most enjoyable afternoons of our vacation.Related to:
Albert and Regent Streets
Strolling down Albert and Regent Streets will put you smack dab in the center of local daily life here. Both streets take off from the south side of the swing bridge. Regent St. has lots of old colonial administration buildings, and lively Albert St. is the main commerical hub of the city. It's packed with Belizeans going about their daily business, at banks, the old colonial courthouse, and the shops. Some shops are owned by Chinese and Lebanese immigrants, and all the shops and buildings are quite rundown. Belize City's hustle and bustle is quite different from the rest of the country, which is really easygoing and laid-back.
The Swing Bridge
The swing bridge is the hub of the city, connecting the Fort George area with the Southern Foreshore. Check it out during the day - I think it's a bit of a dicey area at night. It was brought over from Liverpool, and is the only manually operated swing bridge left in operation in the world. It's quite congested with cars and pedestrian traffic. Fortunately it's only opened twice a day, morning and night, to let large boats through. The river it bridges is called Haulover Creek; as you go further up the river, it becomes the Belize River.
This picture shows the view from the bridge looking the other direction, out to the Carribean Sea.
St. John's Cathedral
This brick church was built by slaves in 1812, and is the oldest Anglican church in Central American. Back in the 1800's a few of the "Mosquito Coast" kings were crowned here, making it the only Anglican church outside of England where kings have been crowned. Yarbrough Cemetery nearby is one of the oldest cemeteries here.Related to:
St. John's Anglican Cathedral
Across Regent Street from old Government House is St. John's Anglican Cathedral. With it's cornerstone laid in 1812 and consecration in 1826, it is the oldest Anglican Cathedral in Central America. The building was constructed of bricks brought from Europe as ballast in sailing ships, with labour provided by slaves! One unique claim to fame is that, between 1815-1845, four tribal kings from the present day Mosquito Coast of Honduras were crowned here, making this the only Anglican cathedral outside of England to have participated in a Royal coronation. Since it was starting to spit with rain by the time we made it to Government House, we only managed this rear-end shot from across the street. The former steeple at the other end of the Cathedral is now only a square flat-topped stub, due to hurricane damage suffered over the 180-years since construction was finished.Related to:
Baron Bliss Memorial & Lighthouse - Part I
The story of Baron Bliss and what he did for Belize is a fascinating one. Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss was born in England in 1869, but inherited the title of "Fourth Baron of the Former Kingdom of Portugal" as a young adult. His love of seafaring & fishing lead to his early retirement and his journey to the Caribbean aboard his yacht, Sea King II.
In Trinidad, Baron Bliss contracted an extremely severe case of food poisoning whereupon he set sail for Belize after a brief stop in Jamaica. Although his health rallied briefly, Baron Bliss died on March 9, 1926 in Belize City Harbor. He had never set foot upon Belize. Baron Bliss left a considerable fortune to this tiny country for the kindness shown to him during his illness. He requested to be buried here and a memorial built.
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Belize City's Tourism Village
Belize has done a great job of trying to attract more tourists to its shores, particularly those who arrive by cruise ship. Tourism Village is a very good facility on the Belize City harbor front where cruise ship passengers arrive after being tendered ashore. This lively and welcoming center has attractive shops, eating establishments, rest rooms, an Internet cafe and is also the starting point for shore excursions.
If you are not booking shore excursions from your ship, this is the area where you are most likely to be able to independently book snorkeling & diving trips; catch the boat for Caulker Caye and Ambergris Caye; catch buses for other areas of the Belize countryside; book Old Belize River excursions, etc. Check with the tourist desk if someone doesn't just walk up to you with an offer.
The buildings are mostly an open air construction and they surround small plazas with benches right on the waterfront which makes it a pleasant place to linger before reboarding your ship.
One especially nice shop also does double duty as a small post office! Pick up maps here and get information from the manned tourist information desk located in Tourism Village.
On the day we were visiting there was live music by local musicians who were situated in the little plaza at the Tourism Village. I kind of thought this added a really nice touch to the whole place.
Having traveled to many islands in the Caribbean, I can say that Belize City has one of the nicest port areas I've been too as far as atmosphere and facitlites for tourists and I appreciated the effort.
Haulover Creek Swing Bridge
The steel swing bridge across Haulover Creek was built by a New Orleans-based American company and opened for business in 1923. Completion of the bridge joined the north side, which was then known as Fort George Island, to the south side of Belize City. Using a centre pivot, this only functioning manually-operated swing bridge in the western hemisphere, takes at least four men to turn steel cranks twice a day (early morning and in the evening) to allow sailboats and large boats to make the passage one way or the other on the Creek. The authorities in Belize were obviously pleased with the work of the company, because they subsequently hired them to build the Supreme Court Building (1926) as well as the concrete seawall in the Fort George area! Coming from New Orleans, they must have thought that these guys obviously knew something about making things hurricane proof.
Haulover Creek originally got it's name from the fact that, prior to any connection to the mainland, cattle grazing out on Fort George Island had to be hauled across the creek by a rope tied around their horns! And how about this for a weird one - Haulover Creek is actually the last four miles of the Belize River, as it flows through the city and empties into the Caribbean Sea!Related to:
The Southern Foreshore
If you fancy a walk near the water, go to the Southern Forshore area and do the short walk along the seawall. If it's a windy day, watch out for the occasional wave breaking over the wall. It's a quiet street next to the water, with views across the mouth of Haulover Creek to the artificial "Tourism Village" set up for cruise ship passengers (it's nicer to see the Tourism Village across the water than to walk past it and get approached by people trying to sell you tours).
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A Walk Around Town
Located in the centre of Belize City, very close to the Swing Bridge, is the Supreme Court Building. This reinforced concrete structure (a good idea in a hurricane prone area) was completed in 1926 to replace the earlier wooden structure on this site, which had burned down in 1918. The classic British colonial style with a dome-topped clock tower (still the only one in the city) was chosen as the design for the replacement building and a further flourish was provided by the fine filigree metalwork of the stairway and balcony railings.
Directly across from the Supreme Court building is Battlefield Park (second photo), a small green space with lots of concrete benches that is often the site of political speeches and civil gatherings. As you can see, not much was happening after a bit of overnight rain when we were in town!Related to:
The Bliss Memorial
This lighthouse memorial at Fort George Point greets you at the entrance to Haulover Creek from the Carribean Sea. Baron Bliss's generosity is legendary in Belize. He was English, but (somehow) was a baron in the former Kingdom of Portugal. The ailing baron sailed into the harbour here in 1926, and was cared for by hospitable locals until he died a couple months later, without ever having set foot on Belizean soil. He rewarded their caring with a very large bequest, and remains Belize's biggest benefactor to this day. This lighthouse memorial was built in his honour with a small part of those funds, and his grave is below it.
One of the best choices you can make when you are in Belize City is to spend the day Cave Tubing. Although the caves are not actually in Belize City, I have put this tip here because the most convienent way to do this is through a Belize City based tour company. The tour guides are professional, provide security, and most importantly safety in the caves. The one we chose was X-Stream Cave tubing, and we had a great adventure for $60 USD.
I would highly recommend this as a fun day activity. Meet up with Richard at the Port of Belize City Monday through Friday around 8am!Related to:
- Jungle and Rain Forest
- Hiking and Walking
The Bliss Institute
The Bliss Institute is Belize City's largest cultural center. It features exhibits by the National Arts Council, such as one on Mayan artifacts from Caracol, as well as occasional theatre and dance performances. If you're going to be in town awhile, you might check out what's here. As you can tell by its name, it was built with funds from Baron Bliss's bequest.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
- Theater Travel
Baron Bliss, Benefactor of Belize - Part II
Before he died, Baron Bliss quickly came to love the waters around Belize, and he had been kindly treated by the local fisherman. During this time, he executed a new will, bequeathing the bulk of his estate to the country of Belize!! Leaving explicit instructions for use of the money, he also requested that he be permanently interred in a granite tomb near the sea, and surrounded by an iron fence and an obelisk or lighthouse to be built nearby. From a trust fund of almost $2 million dollars, the government of Belize has constructed health centers, libraries, a school of nursing, museums, and a culture center.
Imagine what further kindnesses and generosity Baron Bliss might have bestowed on Belize had he lived!
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