friday, june 20, 2014
in honor of bermuda's most famous visitor, we decided it was time to get to know the island as mark twain knew it. he often said the endless white roof tops reminded him of snow without the snow, as far as the eye could see a blanket of white mingled admist the tall palms and flowering oleanders.
there are no newspapers, no telegrams, no mobiles, no trolleys, no trams, no tramps, no railways, no theatres, no noise, no lectures, no riots, no murders, no fires, no burglaries, no politics, no offences of any kind, no follies but church, & i don't go there. - letter to elizabeth wallace, march 10, 1910
mark twain visited bermuda eight times during his life, the last being just a week before his death. he did no writing here, but he visited to get lost in serenity. people remember him strolling about the island in his white "don't give a damn" suite, accented with various cotton shirts and his signature cigar. frankly, i believe we all need to own a mood altering suit and find our own bermuda to force us to live life a little more differently.
CHICAGO DAILY TRIBUNE, march 17, 1907
this small cottage located on the grounds of the botanical gardens is an excellent visual on how water is collected. the limestone roofs are weaved for water to flow downward, being caught and stored in the water reservoir underneath the home. there is no fresh water; their only source is rainwater.
saturday, june 21, 2014
it was our last full day, and we had to fill it with what was yet to see and do. first of all, we must experience a bermuda sunrise. even through the clouds, we were still in awe.
gibbs hill lighthouse
recently restored gibbs hill lighthouse sits atop the highest point in southhampton parish. the hill stands 245 feet high and the structure stands 117 feet. its 185 steps are an easy climb offering the best views of islands, harbors and coves of bermuda. there's also a giftshop and restaurant - formerly a tea room - at the base of the lighthouse. $2.50 to climb. reservations for the restaurant are recommended.
jetskiing and other formidable water sports
i am not a water person. i take that back. i like to sit and watch, but not to skip and bounce. i want my feet on solid ground. however, if you like to push the water limits, bermuda gives you all options. from jetskiing to parasailing to flyboarding, they do it all. we 'jetted' with sea venture water sports which is based at waterlot inn. if you're a pro, they are great; they turn you loose and the ocean is yours. if you're a novice like me, check out bluewater - which, in our opinion, seems to be the best water sports provider on the island.
farewell dinner at mickey's
since i had just swallowed (thanks to the sharp turn tip over) most of the atlantic during my jet ski 'adventure' - my husband's words, not mine - i decided i deserved the best the island had to offer on our last evening. mouthwatering food that included a view. mickey's beach bar and bistro at elbow beach club off south road. hands down - the best food, the best atmosphere we experienced during our entire week. with no reservations we had about a 45-minute wait; we were rewarded with a table for two near the sand. len's garofalo rigatoni bolognese and my fresh grilled bermuda fish (bonita) were impeccable. as the sun set upon our last night in paradise, we ended with dark chocolate and a most fabulous feeling that we had experienced the best ten days ever.
a sweet ending: dark chocolate brownie masterpiece
wednesday, june 18, 2014
in st. georges
the ducking stool
bermuda began in st. georges in 1609. this historical northern town remains much as it did in its early years. after handing off the capitol title to hamilton in 1815, st. georges continues to be rooted in its past with exquisite architecture and old world charm. every day at noon in the center of olde town, a nagging gossip is ducked to illustrate the period's punishment. although very one-sided, justice was served.
high tea at the bermuda perfumery
we first experienced the islands four years ago on our honeymoon, and for our fourth anniversary, the celebration had to be special. we chose high tea at the bermuda perfumery. you must visit this spot. the bermuda perfumery, located in stuart hall, has captured the aroma of the islands and bottled it. this 300 year old house includes a fragrance-making studio, a history room and retail store. the master perfumer isabelle ramsey-brackstone conducts workshops where you can make your own fragrance. advance reservations are required. for the romantic, enjoy high tea with paula. make reservations before you leave by emailing, for this is a very popular tradition. one of only three high teas offered on the island, the perfumery features hackney tea. we chose chopra (organic ginger) and tower of london (black tea with lemon) - both were full bodied and the perfect choice to compliment the warm scones, finger sandwiches and sweets. $28 per person, cash only.
harbour nights in downtown hamilton
although the ships do not dock in hamilton harbour now, the city continues its wednesday tradition of harbor nights. the retail shops stay open late while people line front street to enjoy the gombey dancers. a west african word that means rustic drum, gombey dancers originated in the mid-18th century as a result of enslaved africans and native americans who secretly practiced this form of dance. today, they perform during holidays and celebrations. this tradition is passed down from father to son ensuring the pride of their musical heritage remains strong.
thursday, june 19, 2014
erected in 1710, verdmont is an example of georgian architecture. it is part of bermuda national trust, and its collection of antiques are all period. most impressive is the 19th century piano which was shipped from england. we happened there during a field trip of eight-and-nine year old school children (i felt right at home), so we tagged along to hear the commentary. $5 admission, open wednesday - friday.
the day ends at the hamilton princess with dinner at samuelsson at HP
there are moments when you get so caught up in conversation that you forget why you came. we were excited to dine at the hamilton princess at marcus samuelsson's pop-up restaurant, samuelsson at hp. this previews the opening of his 2015 restaurant which will become a permanent fixture for the princess.
we ordered and waited, and in doing so, became acquainted with tom and brenda boyce who were in bermuda celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. having never been here before, they asked where they should go. we gladly shared our loves of the island and before you knew it, it was three hours later. food was devoured and no photos were taken. it was actually very lovely.
as for samuelsson at hp, the food was tasty, although 'small' definitely means small. go straight for the 'large' menu, and remember gratuity is automatically added to your tab which is the practice for most restaurants on the island. reservations are recommended, and be sure to request outdoor seating. since we thought it was entirely an outdoor experience, we didn't request and had to dine inside which was a shame on such a lovely evening.
monday, june 16, 2014
it's underwater day in bermuda. with over 500 years of maritime mishaps, the shores of bermuda offer more than 400 shipwrecks. the popular sites rest at about 35-50 feet closest to the shore. its most contemporary acclaimed one, the constellation, was the basis for peter benchley's the deep novel and movie. who can forget the dark bodies of jacqueline bisset and nick nolte in these blue waters.
len dived with blue water divers again. he explored the mary celeste wreck - 60 feet, which was a blockade-runner that provided weapons to the confederate forces during the civil war. it sank near church bay on the south shore in 1864. then, onto southwest breakers, where he tunneled through reefs, caves and coral formations. len's diving partners - richard nakada and the dive guide josh - explored separately from the students who at the end of this dive, became certified divers. captain chris entertained me while i remained onboard - so yes, passengers are welcome.
see len dive: yellow and black fins with yellow weight belt. video by robert nakada.
heading back toward home base, we did a little beach-hopping along south road. since it was a holiday, the green grassy areas were filled with families and bbq grills. sunbathers covered the beaches, but unless you were at horseshoe bay, there was plenty of open beach to be found. west whale bay, church bay, chaplain bay, elbow beach - they are all fabulous and much more charismatic than horse shoe bay.
tuesday, june 17, 2014
scaur hill fort
built in the late 1860s to defend the dockyard from american attacks, fort scaur is the highest hill in somerset. on these 22 acres which are surrounded by stone walls, there are gardens and amazing views of the great sound and ely's harbour. don't forget to sign the guest book in many historical locations.
the heydon trust chapel
built in 1616, this chapel is located on the heydon trust overlooking the great sound. the site is open during the day and you will see the original pews and altar.
touring the island
there's as many tours on the island as specs of pink in the sand. some are good; some are not. all are pricey. one we selected was the famous homes and hideaways boat tour. the two hour cruise leaves from dockyard and sweeps onlookers through the sound and into hamilton harbor pointing out homes, most that can only be seen from the water. we enjoyed the afternoon with captain jamie, bartender matise and tour guide mark as they entertained as well as enlightened us on the notables who call bermuda home. john lennon, mark twain, dr. james martin, charlie chaplin, eugene o'neill, and michael douglas have roots in bermuda. well worth the $50 per person cost.
the home of william denslow, illustrator for the wizard of oz. he produced his works from the circular 'tower'. the story goes that he built a spiral staircase as access just wide enough so that he could get to the top. his wife was a large woman, unable to climb the stairs thus ensuring his solitude.
it's been a long couple of days, spending much on the south end of the island. tonight, we end at spanish point, just outside of hamilton. with a view of dockyard across the sound and the north shore to our right, it is the perfect goodnight watching the sunset over the dockyards and the cruise ships in port.
saturday, june 14, 2014
i'm not sure if it's the melodic sound of the tree frogs or the motown sounds of the chi-lites singing 'oh girl' rising in the distance that calms me more. all i know is that bermuda lives a little in the past and a little in the present - both equally satisfying my need of exploration and relaxation. our home for the week is behind cobbs hill gospel chapel who just last night pitched tents and unfolded chairs in the lawn and had a grand time into the late hours of the evening.
older folks sat in the back and the young ones took the front row. and just as we were leaving for our evening adventure, the electric piano man started plucking the keys while the minister asked if everyone was 'ready to celebrate jesus.' by the 'amens' and 'uh-huhs' it was clear that church celebrations are much the same in every country.
that morning, our day started on route to the beach. we stopped for bottled water and noticed multiple pink buses filled with military in dress white uniforms passing our way with several support vehicles in tow. we asked inside the pharmacy as to what was happening. "its a parade celebrating the queen's birthday," the lady behind the counter responded. len and i looked at each other and knew immediately our plans had changed.
throughout our travels, we have learned many lessons. an important one is to pay attention to your surroundings and to ask questions. locals are always willing to talk about their home, for you never know where that might lead. today, it would lead us into downtown hamilton where four military regiments and artillery led by the military band would celebrate bermuda's chosen day (usually one of the first three saturday's in june) to honor her majesty's birthday. the dignitaries arrived by escort and the governor, the honorable george ferguson and his wife, arrived by horse drawn carriage. once he inspected the troops and issued a 'carry on', the symbolic arrival of the queen was portrayed by the raising of her 'standard'(flag) and the band playing the full 12 bars of the national anthem, god save the queen. the culmination of the ceremony was the royal salute of alternating six canon blasts followed by rifle fire, "the highest tradition offered to us."
as the onlookers dispersed, we realized that few locals lined the streets. those that were there were older residents, more accustomed to some of these long-standing rituals. most were media and tourists with cameras focused on the pomp and ceremony. at 10:30 in the morning, the heat rose to about 80 degrees, warm enough to cause an older gentlemen standing behind us to faint. the military was there in an instant.
a parade for the queen
june 14, 2014 - the day bermuda selected to honor the queen's birthday
world cup mania
the island is gripped by the world cup. every pub, every tavern, every restaurant has at least three screens streaming the contests. at bonefish grill in the royal dockyard, the italy and england match was well-underway. we weren't near the restaurant initially, but when england scored to tie it one-all, the air horns and men jumping from the entryway told us all we needed to know.
sunset from royal naval dockyard
water sports reign in bermuda. for an evening, we opted for a sunset glassbottom boat tour with captain kirk's coral reef adventures and were piloted by the youngest boat captain in bermuda.
sunday, june 15, 2014
bermuda's natural state
at the southeastern tip of bermuda is a destination for everyone. once the US naval tracking station, the stretch of coastline has been reclaimed by the bermudian government and is returning it to its natural state. now, coopers island nature reserve, its reclamation includes demolition of the tracking station facilities, removal of non-indigenous plants, creation of wildlife look-out tower and providing nesting areas for birds. shallow water beaches over a 12-acre span provides a serene setting for families, picnics, and private moments. the limestone formations at the extreme tip are worth the walk. it's a great place to see bermuda's national bird, the longtail, in flight over the coves. they seem to like it here better than any other place we've visited.
it's day 2 in bermuda. much was spent getting reacquainted with memories and remembering the twists and turns of the narrow streets and recognizing landmarks.
we began the day in downtown hamilton where not much has changed with the row of shops on front street. designer wares and cuban cigars, not to mention goslings rum, are everywhere. when the ships are in dockyard (currently, no longer docking in hamilton harbor but will return next year), the boat people flock to this spot by ferry. this is the global business heart and essence of bermuda, where the old meets the new.
the island's symbol - bermuda shorts - are most visible during the week, when executives and business men wear the 'suit' that has become a nation's image. bermuda shorts, with dress shirt and tie and knee socks. it is friday around noon in hamilton and we do a double-take each time a man walks by. and when they hop onboard their scooter and fly through the downtown streets, you know you've experienced true bermudian culture.
north of hamilton is north shore road which takes the northern route by the sea.
in flatts, we visited the bermuda aquarium museum and zoo. the bermuda zoological society is home to much of the life that you see surrounding the island of bermuda. with a $10 admission, visitors can visit the aquarium as well as roam throughout the zoo and see turtles, alligators and even flamingos.
during feeding time, we met the four seals, all descendants of charlotte, the 36 year old seal. although she has cataracts in both eyes and is blind, she's as curious as her children and has learned to communicate well with her trainers.
our evening took us to dockyard where most watersports depart. from paget (which is about mid-island) the drive takes us about 45 minutes. we booked a friday evening sunset cruise - on friday the 13th - during a full moon - to the bermuda triangle. come of find out, we were the only two on the entire island that had enough courage. as any good businesswoman would react, the owner decided to postpone the cruise until she could fill her boat. instead, we spent time sitting at the dock, getting to know the husband and wife team of geri and kirk roberts - yes, captain kirk. we were immediately swept away by their hospitality and love of bermuda. a life-long resident of bermuda and the owner of a fleet of boats, geri is quick to invite people to visit bermuda and to come let she and her crew show you the best parts of the island. captain kirk's coral reef adventures offers everything from sunset cruises to fishing to charters. we're spending tomorrow night with them and plan on booking more this coming week. in fact, she shared her friend's tour, hidden gems of bermuda, a seven -hour trek via van to the 'hidden' parts of these 22 miles. we're booking that tomorrow, but i will opt out of the cliff dive! :)
see you later, gater!
it's 3 a.m. several alarms erupt, but bear - our big kitty - stays put. it's too early for him. we, on the other hand, have other plans and it involves pink sand and a 9:30 a.m. flight.
since our 'ty ride' to the airport was called to san francisco, we had to find another way from farmington. suv or limo rental from athens clocked in at around $200 one way, so we discovered another option. long term parking at the atlanta airport marriott - as well as many hotels around the airport. who knew? for only $6 a day, we locked the jeep in a secure lot. the marriott even shutttles you right to the terminal. this is one of the best finds of this travel experience.
from home to the marriott through security check and to the international terminal: under 2.5 hours. remarkable. we lucked out with tsa's experimental screening which seemed to be a lot like the older days of travel and security. we kept our shoes on. len kept his belt on. nothing came out of the bags - no computers, no cameras, no nothin' . we screamed for joy since we didn't have to scramble and unload camera gear. piece of cake.
some three hours later which did include a short delay and a time change, we arrived in bermuda. the full plane included a 56-person wedding party who came from all over georgia to experience a wedding at the unfinished church on saturday. (by the way, we're crashing.) our pre-arranged taxi driver was a good soul and waited patiently through what was an eternal line in customs and immigration. butch the taxi driver gave us all we needed to know about the happenings on the island including some personal family information that we later decided was best that we not know. but hey, that's bermuda.
a quick drop off of luggage at the apartment and we're off to gather our ride. we were delighted to have scored new scooters from oleanders but soon found out that these newbies had sensitive throttles. it jumps forward way too quickly when i'm not sure that's my intended direction (i.e. big palm tree), so this will take a little practice. by the time we leave, we'll both have the hang of it.
tomorrow is actually the full moon, but tonight it spoke just as magnificently. i think it sensed it was len's 56th birthday and he needed a little inspiration for the next year. we believe it succeeded quite nicely. we spent the evening on stonehole bay, even catching a glimpse of a couple exchanging wedding vows before sliding in the 1931 ivory model t limo. then, we waited and watched the moon rise and then it became star of the atlantic. it was a nice end to a good travel day.
landing in bermuda means getting your toes wet, spending hours on the pink sands and simply waiting while the tree frogs sing a lullaby and lull you to sleep. tomorrow is only a few hours away. and then we'll do it all over again. see you then.
i've planned my heart out and now the chaos that is atlanta's hartsfield-jackson vibrates loudly. i'm so close to my 6 a.m. thursday morning departure that i can almost envision the cavalcade of business men in dark suits streaming to who-knows-where, observe the second-by-second expanding security lines while all the while, i cuddle my $10 latte. ah, my love of the journey.
i'm most excited about (and in no particular order):
i'll admit it. when len suggested we return to bermuda for our third time, there was no arm-twisting involved. simply a quiet "yes" with eyes lowered as snoopy's happy dance took flight in my stomach. for this southern gal, bermuda is an extreme. a adventure in the posh and pretentious, so i wasn't quite sure i'd fit in. however, it didn't take me long to grasp the local love and feel at home in the land whose clocks remain slow and gentle. bermuda needs no convincing, only a plane ticket and the will to forget everything as you know it.
my first adventure was in 2010, our honeymoon. len had spent many years vacationing here, but it was my first voyage to the land of pink sand.
mode of transportation: scooters. i can't remember the last time i rode a bike or do anything which required balance. but it's true; once you learn how, you never lose it. bike = scooters - same difference.
there is no better way to get around bermuda than by scooter. remember it's a british overseas territory and the 'wrong' side of the road applies, but other than that, you'll save tons of money.
spend change on exciting adventures (like diving or sunset sails or louis vuitton bags)!
accommodations: erith guesthouse near hamilton, the capital city. about a 5 minute scooter ride from downtown, this former private home has 8 guest rooms including a suite which worked well for the clan. it's very quiet, secluded and you basically have the place to yourselves.
reasonable rates at approximately $225 per night for suite.
we're back. again, no twisting required, but this time, no children. the way god intended.
this time we hung our scooter helmets in a private residence on scarrington lane. everything being relative, renting guesthouses is less expensive that the hotel rates, but there had to be a more economical way. in this private residence, we had everything (and more) than the guesthouses or hotel properties could provide: private entrance, one bedroom and bath, full kitchen, grill and lounge area, and a pad for our scooters, plus a view overlooking the hamilton harbor.
at $120 a night, we hit the jackpot.
so, we've visited two times and we believe the third time will be the charm. we've learned lots and if you're a first time traveler to bermuda, these things you need to know:
1. think ahead. for this upcoming trip in june 2014, we started looking for accommodations in january 2012. we booked the week we wanted by late spring, 2012.
2. watch (far in advance) for sale fares. sometimes, you'll luck up and get a break. our second trip, we snagged a flight for around $275. this year, no specials in almost a two-year span. we booked airfare from atlanta in march for around $527 each.
3. stay with locals. bermuda accommodations is your best source. they rent everything from studios and lofts to entire homes to islands. fiona is helpful and will go to great lengths to satisfy your time frame and budget. you pay a deposit to hold the date, usually the first night's rent. for this property this year, we reserved for $225 (our nightly rental is $120 which we booked in 2012; today's rent is listed at $198). upon arrival, you pay the homeowner the balance (cash or travelers checks only). plus, fiona connects you with your personal driver for pick up and drop off at the airport, so that's reserved before we land. and wow, does melvin know the inside island scoop!
if you want luxury and money is no obstacle, i vote for the fairmont hamilton princess. two reasons: it offers high tea and mark twain counted it among his favorite island spots.
4. travel by scooter. taxis are expensive and you can't rent cars. only residents can own and drive vehicles. plus, scooters offer the freedom to come and go as you like. gas is approximately $4 per liter, and one tank might last your entire visit. we rent from oleander cycles. they'll pick you from your accommodations to rent cycles and pick up cycles at the end of your stay. you'll have to do a quick spin around the parking lot so they can make sure you can drive, but then you're off. they offer one rider/two riders. a week's rental, approximately $250. we booked online and saved 10%.
5. see bermuda from the water. this rings true for every coastal city, country, port, canal, or mountain lake. you must see the land from the water to truly appreciate its grandeur. a sunset cruise. a sail. a dive. a jet ski.no matter what, if you miss doing this, you might as well stay home.
6. do your research. finding up-to-date information on bermuda can be challenging. check out fodors like i did for this trip. online articles are very scarce, and although their monthly calendar is up-to-date, the tourism board didn't offer any help. reach out to companies on facebook and ask direct questions there. i got answers consistently from the fairmont, but no one else. the earlier you start, the better prepared you will be.
7. keep up with two coots travel. we'll be blogging in real-time this june. we'll share prices, quality, value and the best companies with which to deal. so if bermuda is in your sights within the next year, our information should help you do some great planning. we're on a budget and so are you. we'll help you experience breathtaking bermuda without breaking the bank.