We never really know what to expect do we? We set out to accomplish one thing and another door opens to new and exciting opportunities. For example, I started working for a company three years ago that was in the process of moving to the Virgin Islands to start an EDC (Economic Development Commission) Company—I was going to be their very first hire and was to help set it all up (and contrary to popular belief, we do work, hard, down in the islands). One of the very first things I remember the owner telling me was “I can promise you one thing, it will never be boring”. That was my main take away from their pitch, and it was what really hooked me on the opportunity. Shortly after, I learned that outside of the EDC businesses, we would be very involved in building and developing local companies (something which is not the standard for an EDC company). Which of course brings me to my story. One of my very first assignments was to do research on “places to open a major tourist attraction”. Ok, I thought, what are we getting into here? We are about to build a major tourist attraction on a little (but mighty!) island, in the middle of the Caribbean. Not to mention that we had no current construction or building contacts, or any previous experience doing anything like this in the Virgin Islands, which (surprise, surprise) is quite different than the continental US. Building and operating in the islands has it’s own unique set of obstacles that you cannot really prepare for. I thought, “This is going to be no small feat”. However, all of that aside, I shrugged my shoulders and said, “let’s get it done” (which, is of our unofficial company motto a la the CEO) and we charged forward.
Two years later I find myself on a flight with our company’s President, to London, England where we would be for a whopping two whole days. It might be worth mentioning that my travel companion previously worked as the CEO of Odyssey Marine Exploration, a publicly traded company that looks for deep water shipwrecks (no big deal). We were on this adventure to pick up Douro coins for the brand-new museum we were, proudly, almost done building (we will post a separate article all about that process). A little background: The RMS Douro was the flagship of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company in Trans-Atlantic service for over 15 years. This ship was the most prestigious of her time, and known to host diplomats, and other VIPs. The Douro went down on her 62nd voyage while sailing past Cape Finesterre on her way from Lisbon when a Spanish steamer crashed into her starboard side causing the main mast to come down. There, both ships sank with 59 passengers and a large amount of gold bars, coins, gold dust, silver coins, diamond consignments and other precious jewelry.
So, when my boss asked me if I wanted to go, I naturally said yes without hesitation. Who in their right mind would turn down a golden opportunity like that?
We took the red eye to Gatwick and arrived at about 3AM. We didn’t plan very well and did not account for the fact that we would not be able to sleep, so when we found out there were no rooms at the airport to take a few hours to nap, we headed straight for the coffee bar (which, thank god was open). Here we began our coffee binge that would last the next two days. I forgot to mention, a part of the purpose of this trip was a very important meeting with one of our portfolio managers (one of the EDC companies is an Investment Management firm), and that meeting was to be held sharply at 9AM, in the heart of the West End of Westminster. So, we downed two espressos and waited for the Gatwick Express which would take us near our destination where we would wait for another few hours reading the presentation deck the portfolio manager had prepared for us. Thankfully, there was a Starbucks open (at 5AM!) that we could sit and read during this chunk of time we had on our hands. As the clock hit 8:30 we had begun our morning exercise, speed walking through London, looking for the office. We made it in on time and were met by the door by a dapper man in a suit who greeted us. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror as we step in and shutter (no time for primping, let alone a shower!). The man was very nice, and I somehow managed to stay awake, all the while learning about all the great things they are doing for the portfolio. Success.
Now it’s time to explore a little bit! I had never been to this side of the world so I’d have to say that this was my favorite “project” ever. Seeing all the double-decker buses and people bustling on with their work day (it was a Wednesday) was surreal—also I hadn’t slept at all so I was just feeling loopy. Our Airbnb wouldn’t be ready until 3PM so we had some time to kill. We were both exhausted and coffee wasn’t doing the trick so we thought this was the perfect time to try some British beer! We stopped at a totally stereotypical pub and then another, and then another. The warm ale wasn’t really my thing, but I was starting to come back to life, so there was that! By the time 3 PM rolled around we were patiently waiting outside our Mews (a Mews is a row of buildings that used to house carriages and have a small living quarter above, as a part of a larger residence) for our host to come meet us with the key. There was some very eccentric family arguing out in the middle of the Mews, and it felt like it was straight out of a movie. Nannies and butlers were trying to whisk a few kids into a private limo to take them off to their lessons, tutors, or whatever it was, and they were all putting up a major fit. This went on the entire time we were waiting, which was about 20 minutes. It felt like a very stereotypical regal British situation going on. Eventually we were let into our Airbnb which was a great deal for how neat it was. It was three levels and I was on the first level, the second level is where the living room and kitchen was, and the top floor had another room. Very spacious!
The next day was our trip to Paris to pick up the coins so we explored around London, went to as many pubs and restaurants as we could, walked around the Belgrave Square Garden area and admired all the well-established embassies, tried to look at as many land marks as possible, and of course I had to stop in Harrods (which was kind of overwhelming… also, I felt like I was at Hogwarts).
The next day we were off to Paris on the Chunnel! I’ve always wondered what it would be like to go 100 mph underground on one of these things, and I can tell you, it wasn’t so much the speed that surprised me (it was very smooth actually) but it was the space and comfort of it. I alway envisioned the Chunnel to be some sort of roller coaster-esque, tight spaced train where I would be fearing for my life and would want to quickly get off of. If you are a napper you would be in good shape to get a quick snooze on this train. For me, that was not in the cards– how can you skip a beat on a 48 hour trip of a lifetime!? Well, you can’t. We were lucky to sit next to some interesting young writers, where we learned a little bit about their stories and had quick snack–they even gave me a signed copy of their book.
Before we knew it, voilà, we were in Paris. It was 12:00 and we had about an hour and a half before we were to meet with “our guy” to do the coin exchange. So, faced with the precious commodity of time, we obviously decided it was time for some Parisian cheese. We stumbled upon a random place called Bon Georges near the meeting location and ate way too much delicious food. Afterwards we roamed around the streets and I couldn’t help but admire all of the buildings, the croissants, the people, their clothes, even the flowers that were being sold on the side of the road. Everything about Paris seems so effortless, so cool yet it’s like everything and every detail is strategically placed.
Upon discovering the address that we were looking for, we made a phone call to Pierre (“the guy” we were meeting). In order to gain entry, he had to buzz us in and send someone down to meet us. I really felt like I was in my own version of National Treasure—and to be honest—I felt embarrassingly cool. We went up some dimly-lit stairs and we were told to wait in a very small room. There was a large safe, a table, and three chairs in this room and we sat for about 10 minutes until we heard a quiet knock on the door. Pierre arrived wearing a bomber jacket and I can only image that he rode up on a motorcycle to match. We exchanged hellos and introductions and get to inspecting the coins. My job was to count the coins, and I was extremely careful not to scratch them. They were in amazing condition and I could not fathom how something could look so beautiful after sitting on the ocean-bed for 114 years! After thorough inspection, the coins checked out and before leaving I obviously had to do a few cheesy selfies for my friends back on the islands and in the states before we left.
Then we were off to complete our adventure. Our flight was early in the morning, so we didn’t have much time, but I wanted to make the most of it—who knew when I would be back!? Despite having not slept for more than a few hours in the past two days we decided it was go-time. We took a cab to the Notre Dame Cathedral and walked all around the area and into the St. Germain neighborhood (my favorite) where we then proceeded to go to more restaurants, drank and ate more food, and I may or may not have tried absinthe for the first time. I guess this could have been the culprit for me leaving my cellphone in, easily, the coolest speakeasy I have ever been to. It was that, or the lemon-grass and bitters infused drink, made by the most entrancing bartender I’ve ever seen (pictured to the left). After what felt like the longest day of my life, it finally came to an end and we were off again on the Chunnel, and back to England. I thought it was over, but naturally not wanting to give in and admit to end (similar to a child refusing to leave a theme park), we made sure to stop at one last English pub, and then (seriously this time) it was off to bed to get some sleep before that early flight! In the morning we walked to the train station that would take us to Gatwick and said goodbye to our short, but sweet, adventure. I was feeling a little sad to leave, but I knew I would be back.
All of this happened in 48 hours traveling from St. Thomas, USVI to London England, to Paris France to London England, and finally back to my Caribbean home. We walked a total of 20 miles, drank way too many beers, and maybe slept 3 hours. It didn’t matter because I picked up some beautifully unique coins, and I was going to be able to tell a pretty neat story about it! This just goes to show you how unexpected and exciting things can and do happen, even to us residents of this wonderfully peaceful island, and I am looking forward to more exciting opportunities. To pick up your own coin and tell your own story, you can visit www.piratestreasuremuseum.com/shop. Happy adventuring!