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Willemstad, the World Heritage-listed historic capital of Curacao, is divided by the naturally deep, narrow St. Anna Bay into two sections, Otrobanda and Punda. The latter (pictured here) is both the most historic and decidedly un-Caribbean in feel; when the Dutch colonized the island in 1934, they also brought their architectural sensibilities.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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With easy-access diving, a historic center, and duty-free shopping, Curacao is a must-stop port for most Caribbean cruise ships. Here, one such massive ship pulls through St. Anna Bay while a tug boat jets out to pick up another vessel bound for Schottegat, a naturally protected harbor at the heart of the island. The large bridge to the right was built in the 1970s so that cross-island vehicular traffic won't be impeded by boat passage.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Indeed, Willemstad is pretty much defined by its waterways and colorful collection of bridges like this draw bridge, the Queen Wilhelmina, which stretches over Waaigat Lagoon.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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This Willy Wonka-esque draw bridge sits at the mouth of Waaigat Lagoon (the cruise ship in the background is crawling up St. Anna Bay).  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Without a doubt, Willemstad's most famous bridge is the Queen Emma Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that stretches over St. Anna Bay connecting Otrobanda and Punda.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Affectionately known as 'The Swinging Old Lady,' the bridge was built in 1888 by Captain Leonard B. Smith, a U.S. consul to the island. As its nickname implies, the bridge actually swings back whenever a boat needs to pass through the bay.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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The 420-foot bridge rests on 16 pontoons, and when she needs to move, a captain fires up the engine from a small boat house on the Punda side of the bridge.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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The bridge swings out on a hinge on the Otrobanda side (pictured). A free ferry runs across the bay whenever the bridge is open to facilitate pedestrian traffic in the capital.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Willemstad's proximity to water also affords one of its most photogenic attractions, the Floating Market. Set up daily alongside Waaigat Lagoon, vendors from Venezuela and Columbia boat in daily to sell fruit, veggies, and produce.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Wash the fruit thoroughly, and you can make a great picnic. But when buying fresh seafood, avoid reef fish as they're typically endangered. Here, a vendor sells a parrot fish (its color now almost grey, a far cry from the luminescent pigment you might see while snorkeling). The rule of thumb: If you can't ID it, get something you can.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Just up from the Floating Market is the Old Market, where locals pick up all variety of things, from groceries to clothes to...  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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...anything. For the culinary adventurous, this is the place.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Gourmands should also try dining at Plasa Bieu, where simmering pots and pans line one wall of a massive warehouse-like building. The place will be filled with locals, and the food is both cheap and tasty.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Don't expect Plasa Bieu to serve up a fast meal. Instead, find a dish on one of the menus—they change daily, but typically consist of chicken, fish, or goat (if the stewed goat is available, get it). Then grab a seat at one of the picnic tables. It's a great place to interact with the friendly local population.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Willemstad, of course, is more than bridges and stewed meats. Witness the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue. Built from 1730-32 in Punda, it is the oldest synagogue in continuous use on the western hemisphere.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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The baroque yellow façade gives way to a moody interior dominated by four freestanding columns, three vaulted ceilings, and ethereal blue stained-glass windows. The floor is covered with fine-grain white sand, in deference to when the Jewish ancestors had to practice in clandestine locations.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Willemstad's charms are not isolated to the historic Punda region, however. From the twin Dutch forts at the mouth of St. Anna Bay to Otrobanda's Museum Kura Hulanda to the Curacao Blue Curacao Liquor Distillery on the capital's outskirts, we suggest giving the city a few days of lazy exploration. And if you got off a cruise ship to get here, don't get back on.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
 
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