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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.

Rainbow over St. George’s Clue
St. George’s Club – view from our patio
Our Cottage

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.

Shells at BUEI
Gold Coins

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.

Skateboarder

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.

The Dockside Pub & Restaurant

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.

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.

Chicks

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.

Fort St. Catherine’s
Tobacco Bay Beach

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!

Elbow Beach

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.

The Breakers
Mermaid Beach Club 1992

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.

Site of the Sonesta 2011
The Sonesta 1992

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.

Sweeney Todd’s Barber Shop

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.

Royal Naval Dockyard
The Dockyard
Old Canon with Cruise ship in background

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!

Horse Shoe Bay, view from South Road
Surfer at Horse Shoe Bay 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.

Deliverance

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.

Beach along South Road

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.

Whale Bay Fort
View from Whale Bay Fort

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!

St. David’s Lighthouse
View from the base of the lighthouse

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.

Clear Water Beach
Rich watching a plane fly over Clear Water Beach

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.

Canon at St. David’s Battery
Lost At Sea Memorial

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.

Cliffs
Hidden Steps
Outlook

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!

Moongate at the Reefs 2011
Moongate at Honeymoon Piont 1992

More Photos at Flickr: Click here to watch slide show