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Bermuda is Another World
Our next-door neighbors have a timeshare in Bermuda, which they were unable to use this year. They thought to themselves, “who do we know who could really use a vacation…” And they offered us their timeshare for FREE! We are still in awe of their generosity and – of course – this was an opportunity we could not pass up. It took a lot of work and juggling to get all four kids set up for a whole week, but we managed to pull it off. Saturday, November 5th we flew out of Logan Airport on a non-stop flight to beautiful Bermuda. The flight was uneventful and easy, as Bermuda is only an hour and 45 minute flight from Boston.
From Bermuda International Airport we took a short taxi to St. George’s Club, where we had an entire house (cottage) waiting for us! Talk about living it up! Full kitchen, living room, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a nice patio overlooking a pool, a balcony off the master bedroom and my favorite part, an over-sized sunken bathtub in the master bedroom! We were even more impressed by this gift when we saw the place. The St. George’s Club has a small variety store right on the grounds, which had everything we needed to stock the kitchen for a week. There is also a nice restaurant, and even a place to rent scooters. The day we arrived we spend just settling in. We stocked up the kitchen and had a nice meal at Griffin’s Bistro at the club and relaxed by the pool for a while.
On day two, the weather wasn’t that good. Tropical Storm Sean was in the area causing heavy wind and rain. We took a public bus to the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI), which is indoors and a nice take-in for a rainy day. They have a fantastic shell collection and we especially liked the Ship Wreck Gallery. Bermuda’s shallow reefs that encircle the island have caused more than 500 shipwrecks dating from the 1500s to the 1990s. And of course there is the famous Bermuda Triangle; many ships, planes and people have mysteriously disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. After our visit to the BUEI, we took a walk to Hamilton. Since it was Sunday, most of the shops were closed, but we did scout out some stores to visit on our next trip to Hamilton.
Rich and I were married in Bermuda almost 20 years ago, on July 24, 1992. So this trip was a return to the “scene of the crime”, as Rich so romantically put it. As the week went on, we discovered a lot of changes over the past 20 years. Hamilton is much more built up since our last visit, with many more office buildings. Hamilton is the capital of Bermuda and a bustling city, even on an off season Sunday afternoon. When we were in Bermuda 20 years ago, there were lots of cruise ships docking in Hamilton, but now with the overcrowding of the city and the larger size of cruise ships, the number of ships docking in Hamilton has been greatly reduced. Both Hamilton and St. Georges ports are unable to handle many of today’s large ships, so most of the ships dock out at the old Royal Naval Dockyard at the western end of the island. Now that Hamilton has fewer cruise ships docking on Front Street, there is a skate boarding park set up at the ports parking lot for the kids. We spent some time watching the kids doing jumps and tricks on their boards.
We found a nice sports bar called The Dockside Pub & Restaurant, where we had a yummy meal and watched some football. Rich was very happy here as they had many TVs with different games on each TV. We took a cab back to our cottage where we watched some TV (which is a treat for me, as I typically don’t watch TV), checked out our photos for the day and updated our facebook statuses and checked our email. We spent $100 for internet access for my laptop and Rich’s iPad, but it was well worth the price. This turned out to be a nightly routine, watching ‘Two And A Half Men’ on the tube, looking at photos and surfing the web. We are not very into night life these days and by the time we got back to our cottage at the end of each day, we were too tired to go out again.
On day three, we woke up to rain again, but we decided we would do what we wanted to do in spite of the weather. So, we went and rented a scooter and drove back to Hamilton to buy some rain gear. We walked all over Hamilton and visited some stores, parks and churches. We found a barber shop called Sweeney Todd’s, but it was closed. We decided we would come back another day, so that Rich could get a shave from Sweeney. Aaron is a big fan of Sweeney Todd and we knew he would get a big kick out of that. We ate again at The Dockside, than we rode around on the scooter and got caught in the rain, which was actually fun, since it was a warm rain. We just needed to be careful, as the roads were a bit slippery. Going over ‘The Causeway’ was quite a rush with the gale force winds. The waves were crashing up over the causeway.
On day four, we woke up to a family of chickens on our patio. A mother hen and her adorable eight baby chicks. Chickens are another major change in Bermuda. This island has an estimated 100,000 feral chickens wandering around. Because Bermuda has no natural predators and a wealth of bush-land to roam freely, chickens have become quite a problem on the island. The government is trying to eradicate the chickens because they cause problems for farmers, not to mention the noisy roosters, but it’s not clear how much that would cost. Also, there are people who want to save the chickens. Personally, I got a kick out of the chickens running around all over the island. One of my favorite vacation photos is of the chicks that visited us that Tuesday morning. But most of the locals think the chickens are a nuisance. I don’t recall seeing a lot of chickens the last time we were here.
After having some breakfast in our cottage, we took a walk to Fort St. Catherine’s. Originally build as a wooden fort in 1612 to defend Bermuda from the Spaniards, since then Fort St Catherine has been rebuilt several times, most recently in the late 19th century. There is also a nice little beach near the fort. Because we were visiting off-season and the weather wasn’t that good, we basically had every beach and fort we visited all to ourselves, which was pretty neat. We also explored the neighborhood around the fort, including an old abandoned cafe, a golf course and Tobacco Bay beach, a popular beach on St. George’s Island. Then we went back to St. George’s Club for lunch and to plan our afternoon.
After lunch, we decided to check out the south beaches. The beaches along South Road are some of the most beautiful beaches in Bermuda. Our first stop was Elbow Beach, which was still very nice. Again, we had the whole beach too ourselves aside from a couple of wind surfers. It was quite windy, but the sun actually peaked out a couple of times!
When we got married, we got married at Honey Moon Point on the grounds of the Sonesta Hotel, a popular spot for weddings. We didn’t stay at the Sonesta, because it was too expensive. We stayed at a nearby hotel called Mermaid Beach Club. We had heard that Bermuda lost some beaches back in 2003 from Hurricane Fabian. When we arrived at Mermaid Beach, we were quite surprised and saddened by what we found. Mermaid ‘Beach’ was gone! All that was left was a small corner of rocks. The name was changed to ‘The Breakers’ and the hotel is now condominiums. You could still see a few steps were the beach bar used to be and the hotel pool and restaurant were gone.
Next we stopped by Warwick Long Bay Beach, which seemed to have lost some of its beach too, although it might have just been high tide. We drove past Horse Shoe Bay, which looked the same as we remembered. Horse Shoe Bay is considered by many to be Bermuda’s best beach. Next we visited the Sonesta, which was totally gone! The hotel used to be located on a little peninsula with beaches on each side of the hotel. Honeymoon point was out at the tip of the peninsula facing the ocean. There was a little patio, with a moongate and a near-by waterfall. According to locals, the hotel was destroyed by Fabian. The waves caused half the hotel to collapse, so the whole building had to be torn down. There were no signs of honey moon point, although we might have gotten a better view from the water. At this time there are bulldozers working to prepare for the next project. The plan was to replace the Sonesta with a new resort hotel and/or a condo development, but those plans fell through. Now, there is a sign out front that reads, “Investment Opportunity”. The beaches are still nice and it’s a great location. Will be interesting to see what ends up there.
Next, we headed back to Hamilton, so Rich could get a Sweeney Todd shave, but it was after 5pm by then and Sweeney had already closed up shop for the day. We walked around Hamilton for a while before heading back to the cottage. Rich loved Hamilton, he is a city boy at heart. We stopped by Hamilton everyday while exploring the island. Back to our usual evening routine of going through the day’s photos, catching up on facebook and emails and watching a Two and a Half Men marathon. WINNING!
Day 5 started out rainy, so we decided to wait out the rain and have an early lunch at the Club. Although it did rain a lot during our week in Bermuda, the rain was off and on and didn’t upset our plans. We had lunch and decided to head out to the Royal Naval Dockyard at the west end of the island. After the morning showers, there was no more rain the rest of the day, which was great! On our way to the dock yard, we had to stop by Hamilton again to see if Sweeney Todd was in. Rich really needed a shave and was saving his whiskers for Sweeney. This time Sweeney was open for business and Rich asked if he could get a shave and a haircut. In a very thick English accent, Sweeney mumbled something that we could not understand. After repeating himself a few times, we finally got the message. “I don’t do shaves, only haircuts”. To this Rich said with surprise, “You are Sweeney Todd and you don’t do shaves?!” I guess that was good news as Rich survived the haircut.
Next, we were off to the Royal Naval Dockyard. Built in 1814 as a strategic outpost for the British Royal Navy, the Royal Naval Dockyard played roles in many historic events, including the War of 1812 and World War II. But after 1945 the role of the Dockyard diminished, and eventually the Royal Navy sold the land to Bermuda. There were lots of changes at the dockyard since our honeymoon visit. We drove out to the dock yard on scooters back in 1992, but all that was there at the time was abandoned barracks and a prison. Now, with the cruise ships docking there, the whole area has filled with shops, restaurants, museums, and other cool things like swimming with dolphins, a snorkel park, glassworks, clayworks, to name just a few things to do. Locals told us that the area will continue to grow. The transformation over the past 20 years was amazing. It was also cool that they used the old buildings, rather than tearing them down, which made a nice mix of old and new. We ate at The Frog & Onion Pub, which is housed in the mid 18th century cooperage at the dockyard. The food and atmosphere were both excellent.
On the way home from the dock yard, we stopped at Horse Shoe Bay and walked the beach. the surf was quite strong due to the tropical storm, which was still in the area. A few surfers were taking advantage of the big waves, which was fun to watch. Horse Shoe Bay is still a beautiful beach!
Day 6: Thursday was the best day weather-wise of our vacation. Although it was quite windy, the sun was shining all day! Since the weather was looking good, we started out early to explore the town of St. George. Although we were staying in St. George, we had yet to check out the town. St. George was the first permanent settlement on the islands of Bermuda. Settled in 1612, St. George is one of the oldest towns in North America and was the first capital of Bermuda (in 1815, Hamilton became the new capital). So St. George has lots of history and many of the original old stone buildings are still standing today from the early 1600s. We walked all around St. George checking out The waterfront, Kings Square, the replica of the Deliverance, The Bermuda Historical Society, and many shops. We also drove the scooter up and down many of the narrow side streets.
Video of Scooter ride through St. George’s (3X normal speed)
Since the weather was nice, we decided to head back to the south shore. We found a small secluded beach that was tough to get to. We had to go through a woods, and climb down a cliff to get to the beach, but again, we had the beach all to ourselves and got some great beach photos with then nice sunshine. That turquoise-blue water looks even more spectacular when the sky is blue and the sun is shining. Next we checked out some of the resorts along the south beaches. Elbow beach and the Reefs, both look like nice places to stay.
We pulled off the road in front of someone’s driveway to check the map and decide where to go next, when a person from the house was pulling out of the driveway. He asked us if we were lost and we said no, we were just trying to decide where to go next. He asked if we had seen the fort up on the hill. We had not, in fact there was no fort on the map. He started to give us directions and then decided it would be easier to just show us. So we followed him through a few side streets to a parking lot. He got out of his car and pointed out a square of cement barely visible on the top of a hill. He said follow that path up the hill and you’ll find the fort and a nice view. We climbed the hill and found Whale Bay Fort. Built before the American Revolutionary War. The fort was used to help protect the Royal Naval Dockyard. It was a great view and again, we had the whole place to ourselves.
Tropical storm Sean pass within 100 miles of Bermuda on Thursday night into Friday morning. We heard the wind and rain all night and in the morning there were palm branches and lawn furniture all over the place. We thought Friday would be a wash, but it turned out to be a nice day, although still quite windy. Day 7, our last day on the island: we decided to check out the only part of the island we had not already seen at least from the scooter, which was St. David’s at the south eastern end of Bermuda down by the airport. We started out at St. David’s lighthouse, which is a 100 year old landmark on the east end of Bermuda. We couldn’t get inside the light house, but the view from the hill was very nice. Also, very windy!
Next we went over to Clearwater Beach where we spent a couple of hours walking the beach and enjoying the view. Clearwater Beach is right near the airport, so from the beach we could watch the planes land. Again, we had the whole beach to ourselves.
Then we took a short scooter ride to St. David’s Battery, which was another fort. This fort is newer than most of the others, built in the early 1900’s and it has a couple of very large and impressive canons. Just beyond the fort is the Lost At Sea Memorial which is dedicated to Bermudians who were lost at sea.
Beyond this monument is a high cliff that drops down to the ocean. As we walked along the cliff, we discovered some old cement steps leading down the cliff. The steps were pretty well hidden, they were old and it didn’t look like they had been used in a while. Of course we were curious to know where the stairs led, so we made our way down. They were quite steep and the further down we went the more crumbled and dangerous the stairs became. But we managed to make it all the way down and it was worth the trip. At the bottom near the water’s edge was a small stone outlook. It was like a small room jutting out over the water with a stone roof. It didn’t look like anyone had been here for a while. Maybe this was some sort of lookout that went with the fort above. Inside the room was an old hammock that had fallen down and was beaten up by the weather. There were also some old bottles and partly burned wood where maybe some kids had lit a fire and drank some beer. Anyway, a cool find on our last day.
We stopped at a little store on the way home and got some treats for our last night in Bermuda, then went back to the cottage for our nightly routine. Saturday morning November 12th, we packed our things and sat out front to wait for the taxi to take us to the airport. We noticed something strange when we went outside. It was like we were in a different place. What was different? There was virtually no wind! Finally, Sean had moved on. The wind stopped and the skies were clear. Just in time for our flight home. But we have no complaints, we had a wonderful week and a much needed break. We picked up a small gift for our neighbors, but there really is nothing we could give them that would adequately thank them for the gift they gave to us. Thanks again Al and Monica!
More Photos at Flickr: Click here to watch slide show
I took a drive up to New Brunswick, Canada this weekend to pick up Aaron. Aaron spent a week with his uncle roughing it in a cabin in the woods. My nephew Nick also came along for the ride. It was a nice drive, beautiful country up in Maine and into Canada. Thought I’d post a few interesting things we saw along the way.
I thought I’d better jot down some notes about my recent trip to Paris before I forget some of the details. I already had to check the date stamps on some of my photos, because I couldn’t remember which day we did what! It’s a long summery, which probably should be broken down into more than one post, but here goes.
John, Sue and I got to Logan Airport in Boston at around 3:30pm on Saturday afternoon, June 20th and – with the time difference – we arrived a Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris at 7:30am Sunday morning. I managed to take a little nap on the plane, but basically lost a night’s sleep. Having kids with special needs, this was not a problem for me. I’m quite used to sleepless nights.
We took a bus to the hotel and we were able to check in early, although we did end up upgrading our room, so that I could sleep in a real bed, which was well worth the extra expense. This room change would have been tricky without our faithful interpreter Nicholas. I should mention now that our main reason for going to Paris was to visit my nephew Nick who had been studying in Paris for a year. He had taken a French immersion class before leaving for France and I was amazed by how fluently he spoke the language. He said that he was even able to sometimes trick the locals into thinking he was French. We could not have had a better host, guide and interpreter!
After checking in, we walked to a nearby café for a bite to eat. I had no problem adjusting to the French food, lots of bread, cheese and chocolate was fine with me, although I did pass on the wine. Sunday afternoon we walked around Paris and visited Nick’s dormitory. We did a whole lot of walking everyday.
Some of my first impressions of Paris were the lovely buildings. Most of them look similar, a light brown, tanish/beige color with black rod iron balconies. Many windows have flower boxes in them, which adds lots of color to the city. In most of the city the buildings are relatively low and very old, few skyscrapers except in one section of the city. The people seemed similar to what you would see in New York City, a melting pot of many different cultures, with probably more tourists than locals at this time of year. The most notable difference being most were speaking French.
The French are way ahead of us when it comes to being green. Most drive tiny cars, scooters, motorcycles, bicycles or get around via the metro or on foot. There are recycling receptacles all over the city. Some of the buildings have grassy yards planted on the roof tops.
The other thing I noticed right away was the history. In the US, we think a few hundred years is old, in France there are structures, buildings and art work dating back to the Middle Ages. There are beautiful statues and fountains all over the city and many little public gardens to stroll about (or just sit and rest). The most impressive old buildings in Paris have to be the churches. The first day we stopped by Saint-Eustache Church, built between 1532 and 1632. The roof is three stories high with its flying buttresses. The height of the ceilings inside some of these old churches is awe-inspiring. The stained glass, wood work and statues are fantastic. We also visited the Church of the Madeleine, designed in a Roman Pantheon style built in the mid-1700’s.
Monday through Friday we usually left the hotel in the morning and didn’t get back until around 10pm. It didn’t really seem that late, because it doesn’t get dark in Paris until after 10pm. There was only one night when we were out late enough to see the lights of the city. A block from our hotel room, we could see the Eiffel Tower lit up in the distance. But most nights we just crashed and slept like logs after walking around all day.
So, here are some of the highlights. Monday we went to the Arc de Triomphe. When we visited, they had a giant French flag flying under the arch, which was really cool. I think they were celebrating some French holiday. The view from the top of the arch was awesome!
Next we walked up the Montmartre Hill in northern Paris where there is another spectacular view of the city. On the top of the hill is the white-domed Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Another unique and beautiful church. We stayed for a while and listened to the nuns sing in this church. The narrow little streets around Montmartre are some of the older shops in Paris. This area had an authentic French atmosphere, very nice.
In the center of Concorde Square is an Egyptian monument called the Obelisk. It is covered with hieroglyphs with a gold top, very cool.
The old Paris Opera House was very impressive. The golden statues on either side of the building were gorgeous. And again on the building, the architecture and artwork is beautiful. Paris also has a new opera house, but it can’t hold a candle to this one.
For dinner we went to a fondue place called Le Refuge des Fondues. The restaurant was so small that they had two rows of tables across from each other with just enough room for the waiter to walk up and down the single isle, which led from the front door to the kitchen. People who sat on the wall side of the table had to stand on a chair and step over the table to squeeze into their seats. The walls were covered with signatures and graffiti and they served wine in baby bottles. Good idea, with all those people climbing over the tables. Really fun place and good fondue too.
We spent the whole day on Tuesday at Versailles, but you could easily spend a few days there roaming around the palace and grounds. The palace itself is huge and over-the-top extravagant and you could spend a day just walking round the gardens. The landscaping, reflecting pools, fountains and statues around the palace where incredibly lavish. When I first walked out to the gardens, the view looked almost like a fake background or painting, it was so lovely.
Versailles is a bit south-west of Paris. The Palace of Versailles was the unofficial Capital of Paris and the center of political power in the days of King Louis the XIV.
Wednesday was a day in Disneyland Paris. I’m not going to mention names, but one member of our group thought that Disney was the highlight of the week. To me, it was like a day trip to Disney World in Florida. I had fun and got some nice photos, but as I was walking round the parks, I kept getting the feeling I was in Florida instead of France. Paris has two parks, Disneyland and MGM. I did go on the Tower of Terror for the first time and I really liked that, but no more up-side-down rollercoasters for me!
So far, the weather had been great; a bit cooler than expected, but beautiful weather for walking around the city. However, there was some rain in the forecast for Thursday. Thursday our plan was to go to the Market Place, buy some food and have a picnic in a park. So we hoped the rain held off, at least until after our picnic.
We had a nice picnic lunch in a park right near the Victor Hugo Museum, so after lunch we stopped by the Museum. The Museum was the home of Victor Hugo in the mid 1800’s. Hugo was a famous French writer, best known for his book The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Next we went to the Cluny Museum, which is a national museum of the Middle Ages. Part of the museum is actually the ruins of a Roman bath house dating from the third century! Lots of cool, very old stuff here.
We finished off Thursday at the Eiffel Tower, which was everything you would expect it to be. Hard to believe that they were going to tear it down after the Paris World’s Fair in 1889. We took the two elevators all the way to the top. The first elevator takes you up one of the legs of the tower to the 2nd level where the views are fantastic, but it only gets better when you take a 2nd elevator to the top!
Now, at the top of the Eiffel Tower is when our great weather turned to a thunder and lightning storm. I don’t think a giant metal tower is the place to be in the middle of a lightning storm! So, we made our way back down to the ground. Luckily, the rain past in an hour or so and I still got some nice photos of the tower from the Trocadéro, which is across the river and offers the best view of the tower from the ground.
Friday, our last day in Paris, we started out at Notre Dame. Of all the places we visited in Paris, I’d have to say that Notre Dame was my favorite. I know what you are thinking, it’s a church and you’re an atheist! But, this building is just magnificent with its Gothic architecture, high vaulted ceilings and stained glass. When you walk into this church you can’t help but be amazed.
John and I waited in line for almost two hours to climb the narrow spiral stone staircase up to the Chimera Gallery, which is a ledge 150 feet from the ground where we got a spectacular view of Paris and a close-up look at the gargoyles. These statues are each wonderful works of art and everyone of them is unique. I got some super photos of the creatures over-looking the city. This was well worth the two hour wait! We also met “Emmanuel”, the cathedral’s largest bell, which weighs more than 13 tons! Then we went on to the very top of the south tower for another great view of the city. And then down another spiral stairway to the exit, where we met with Nick and Sue who had spent the time in a cafe across the street and then in the park behind Notre Dame.
While the two towered front of Notre Dame is recognizable to most people, the back of the cathedral is arguably more beautiful than the front, with its flying buttresses and rose garden.
On to our final tour, The Louvre. It would be impossible to see even a fraction of this place in one afternoon, but we did our best to at least see a few of the highlights. The Louvre is probably best known for Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa. I was surprised that the museum allows cameras, although you are not supposed to use a flash, there were plenty of people who either didn’t know how to shut off their flash or didn’t know or care about turning it off. But the French don’t really seem to care about people taking photos, unlike many museums in the States.
The famous Greek sculpture Venus de Milo, is also at the Louvre. It was created sometime between 130 and 100 BC, WOW!
Long before The Louvre became a museum, it was a fortress dating back to 1190 AD. Part of the ruins where excavated in the 1980’s and is now preserved as an exhibit. The photo below shows what use to be a Medieval moat.
There you have it, the highlights of my trip to Paris. Thanks to Sue and John for letting me tag along with them. Thanks also to Rich and Mom for taking great care of the boys, so that I could make this trip. And special thanks to Nicholas for giving me the trip of a lifetime!
If you made it to the end, thanks for reading. Here are more photos at Flickr:
Although I focused on photos, I did get a few video clips with my small camera. Here is a short video on youtube: