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A long weekend in beautiful Bermuda: cool food, mopeds and beaches

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BERMUDA – So, apparently Dark and Stormy isn’t just the name of a popular drink in this island nation.

Ba-doom-boom.

Okay, so it really was a fairly decent day overall. It’s just that I had desperately wanted a hot, clear sky and plenty of sunshine and ended up with almost no sun and a reasonable amount of drizzle. And it’s raining again this morning as I type up my notes.

Still, my half-day on this lovely island was a pretty decent start to a long-weekend. And it looks like we might get a break this afternoon or maybe Saturday afternoon.

I landed Thursday and was immediately struck by the colourful houses on the way from the airport to my apartment in the town of St. George’s. There was watermelon pink, fuschia, Delft blue, granny smith apple green, French’s Mustard yellow and lots more. Flaming red hibiscus, deep pink oleander and lots more flowers. Palm trees. And, oh, yeah, that famous Bermuda water. It really is stunning water down here; ultra-high-octane aquamarine that’s just so easy on the eyes.

IMG_3888I spent an hour or so knocking around St. George’s (see photo), checking out Diana Amos’ nice water colours and having a fried grouper sandwich at Tavern on the Sea (decent food, great views) and taking photos before catching a shuttle up to Fort Saint Catherine, on the northeast tip of Bermuda. It’s a great old fort with tons of cannons and even some World War II artillery, just in case the Germans had decided for a little summer vacation during the Great War part deux.

I decided to walk back to the town of St. George’s along the coast, but not before stopping for a Ginger Ale (honest, that’s all I had) at the St. George’s Beach Club, next to the fort. There’s a restaurant on a cliff overlooking a small but lovely beach, with craggy, jagged rocks and that beautiful water. Better is a small tiki bar down below. Yesterday it was manned by Ross (see photo below right), who used to work at Marriott Hotels and then at the Tucker’s Point Golf Course but now sells pop for $3.50 and cold beers for $7 in front of a lovely, golden stretch of sand.

IMG_1896The walk back to the town along the coast from Fort Saint Catherine is a great one. Instead of fancy hotels and gardens, I passed average homes and a dairy farm with goats that came to greet me and a stable and fields with contented Jersey cows and yards with hens clucking about, all of that just yards from pounding surf surging onto jagged, black rocks.

Very, very cool and a slice of old-time Bermuda for sure.

There are two more forts on the way back to town; Alexandra Battery and the tiny Gates Fort, which is set on a point where the St. George’s harbour meets the ocean. Both are small but fun to check out.

Back in town I had dinner at Wahoo’s Bistro and Patio. It was fine, but nothing to write home about. Stupidly, I gazed at the menu and asked my server what “BDA Traingle” stood for. Uh, dummy, that would be BERMUDA TRIANGLE.

Oh. Yeah.

Anyway, it was three kinds of local fish: wahoo, mahi-mahi and rockfish. One was broiled (good), one was fried (not bad) and the other was breaded and deepfried. Tender but not so healthy, I’d think. It came with decent but bland rice and peas and also with good cole slaw and yummy plantains. I had conch fritters for an appetizer with pineapple salsa. The salsa was good but the conch fritters needed more spice and more conch.

Anyway, with one glass of wine (such restraint!) it came to $63, including a mandatory 15 per cent tip. Yikes. Just down the road is theIMG_1973legendary White Horse Tavern. It’s probably rocking when the cruise ships are in town. But on a Thursday night in September it was deader than a Liberal Party convention in Calgary. I tried a Rum Swizzle, with local Goslings rum and tropical fruit juices. Pretty good, but not quite stellar.

I stayed Thursday night at a fun little apartment/house called The Crooked Elbow. Mark Rowe and his mother, Anne, run the place and it’s got a massive sitting area with a fireplace, a living room, a small kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom for about $150 a night in high season, with a five night minimum. It’s $140 a night in September and drops to $110 in winter.

They have a small patio that fronts onto a nice yard; a perfect spot for your morning coffee or evening Dark and Stormy. The drink that is, not the weather.

It’s located at 5 Shinbone Alley, and what a great name is that? The town of St. George’s is filled with fun names, actually; Printers Alley and Barber’s Alley and Aunt Peggy’s Lane and more

It’s a fun part of Bermuda and one you shouldn’t miss next time you make the trip. And make the trip you should. Even if you can’t predict the weather.

DAY TWO

You think it’s hard being a weather man in Toronto? Imagine being in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – or close to it – and in the paths of hurricanes in fall.

Yeah, being a weather predictor in Bermuda can be difficult.

IMG_0098“We get four seasons in a day,” a cab driver told me Friday night. Yeah, well, not quite four in the Canadian sense. But you get the picture.

It was raining lightly when I got up in St. George’s in the morning, but it wasn’t’bad so I got few shots of some of the fun streets around town. I got a cab to Hamilton (see photo at left) from my day one cabbie and good guy/tour guide Irving Butterfield, and then got a tour of the capital from another good guide, Larry Rogers.

“Bermuda is The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” he said. “It’s mostly good, with a little bad.” Pause. “And I’m ugly.”

Rogers showed me some of the nice neighbourhoods out Pitts Bay Rd., and also some “normal” areas where average Bermudians find houses for the “average” price of $800,000. He also drove me up to Fort Hamilton so I could admire the fortifications and the dry moat and the terrific views of the harbour (see photo below right) and downtown Hamilton, which is not in Hamilton parish, just FYI.

After my tour, I wandered around the capital for a while, climbing the 155  a steps (two down and 153 up the friendly ticket-taker/guide at Holy Trinity told me). Apparently the church was designed by a Scottish architect who also drew up plans for three churches in Newfoundland. There’s a fine view from on top and it’s not a hard climb.IMG_2074

Hamilton is a bustling, lively town with a nice harbour and fun shops along Front St.; everything from t-shirt shops to Louis Vuitton and Longchamp, plus lively pubs like Flanagan’s. I checked out some shops for t-shirts but not for long. Rather than do the typical tourist thing, I opted to explore the “back of town” area of Hamilton, which features the wonderful Jamaican Grill plus Dub City records and other Caribbean-influenced shops.

Rogers explained to me that marketing types now want to call it “Uptown” as it’s up the hill from the harbour, the thinking being that “back of town” sounds somehow shady or dangerous.

Shawn Thomas at Jamaica Grill told me the jerk chicken wouldn’t be ready for a while, so I had brown-stewed chicken and rice and peas with some home made scotch bonnet pepper sauce. YUM. Oh, and a ginger beer, too.

I checked out Victoria Park and Queen Elizabeth Park, which I prefer to Victoria and is right downtown, steps from the water. Queen Elizabeth Park also has a nice, little museum on Bermuda history.

IMG_0112It was then time to take the Fairmont ferry from the Princess hotel in town to the Fairmont Southampton, which is mid-island and close to fabulous Horseshoe Beach. The weather was nice when we departed but 10 minutes in the rain started. And kept going.

By the time we reached the dock near the Fairmont Southampton it was an absolute deluge; sideways rain and high winds and no way to get the 50 metres from the boat to the Fairmont shuttle bus without getting drenched.

Water was pouring off the side of the road near the harbour as if there were four or five miniature Niagara Falls, and the road had a metre of water on it.

After 20 minutes of huddling on the boat waiting for the storm to dissipate we noticed a small break in the action. I grabbed my two bags and dashed. I got wet but not quite drenched and felt pretty good. Until I looked around the bus shelter and realized my knapsack with my camera gear was back on the boat. Sigh.

I checked into the hotel, which is mostly quite good, and, of course, an hour later the sun came out and it was glorious and hot. So I caught the shuttle down the hill to the beach at the Fairmont, a lively and pretty spot that sits on a hill overlooking the harbour and also the south beaches on Bermuda.IMG_2082

The main hotel beach, Whale Bay, is small but lovely, with jagged rocks that protect swimmers from most of the big waves that can often arrive from the south. The cabana bar was inexplicably closed at 5 pm and I had to beg someone to serve me a beer at the restaurant, but other than that it was fine.

I had dinner at Mickey’s, a restaurant that sits on the edge of Elbow Beach a few minutes east of the Fairmont. You dine under cover but you’re right on the sand, maybe 15 meters from the surf. Very nice. They do a fabulous grilled seafood platter with scallops, shrimp, salmon, local fish, octopus and tender calamari, plus veggies and mashed potatoes, for $38. And they make a very good Bermuda Triangle drink with two kinds of rum plus pineapple and orange juice.

IMG_2142After that it was time to check out downtown Hamilton. The place buzzes on a Friday night, and I checked out a couple bars in the name of research. First Flanagan’s, which is on the second floor and has a nice balcony patio with lots of tables where you can sit and look out on Front St. (see photo at left) and the harbour. Down the road is a more upscale option called the Onion, “onion” being a term for folks born and raised on Bermuda. It was quite the happening place; with the feel of Earl’s or The Keg meets Sassafraz, if you like. Nice drinks with names such as Pink Panties and The Black Banana, it’s definitely the local meat market from what I could see.

A very long and busy day, with a real mix of weather. But those are the days we often remember most, aren’t they?

DAY THREE

I think I’m ready for a Harley.

I got on my first moped in at least 22 years on the weekend. And had a  blast.

Yeah, I was pretty tentative at first; hugging the (left) side of the  road and cruising at a whopping 20 km/hour for the first five or six minutes.  Pretty soon I had cranked that throbbing piece of machinery up to 30 kph and  then, hold tight everyone, 35. By the time the day was half-over I was wondering why the damned thing  wouldn’t go more than 45 kph downhill.

IMG_0423Folks might warn you about riding a moped in Bermuda. In truth, nothing could be easier.

Yes, the roads are narrow. Yes, folks drive on the left. But if you can  keep your balance on a bike and navigate Yonge St. or College St. in  Toronto in rush hour, Bermuda is a piece of rum cake.

They’re USED to mopeds around here, partly because there are gazillions  of them due to the government regulation of no more than one car per family. So  folks are mostly quite patient when they see a moped or a motorcycle ahead of  them on the road; doubly so when the dead giveaway white helmet is spotted  around the bend. Just stay left, pull into the frequent bus stops or driveways to let  folks pass, and you’ll do just fine.

I started my trip at the Fairmont Southampton and first opted to check  out a few of the beaches I’d heard so much about on the south shore. In a word?  Stunning.

I was lucky – and unlucky – to be on island during a stormy time. It made  for lousy snorkeling, but pretty good bodysurfing/swimming and fabulous  wave-watching on the south, more exposed part of the island.

It’s absolutely stunning for miles on end but especially at  Warwick Long Bay and  Jobson’s Cove and IMG_2166down at Horseshoe  Bay, near the Fairmont. The waves were  tremendous, crashing hard upon the black rocks and send showers of white water  towering into the sky. There are beautiful coves galore if you get out and hike  a bit, with private beaches that feel like the end of the world.

It looked to be beach clean-up day as there were tons of people out with trash bags, picking up litter. Shame on anyone who would despoil this beautiful coastline, I say!

Just west of the Fairmont is Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, with roughly  181 steps to the top. The views are glorious; all the way to St. George’s in the east  and up to the cruise ships at the Dockyard in the west/north. You can see for  miles and miles, with deep green forests and (diminishing, I think) pasture land  and the island’s famous, multi-coloured houses and that impossibly beautiful  ocean. See photo below left, looking to the west and north.

While the southside waters were roiling, the water in the sound – the  huge, protected area on the north side of the Fairmont – was as calm as a backdoor swimming  pool. Boats bobbed in a beautiful morning IMG_2210breeze, as if the stormy seas to the  south were another planet away and not a half kilometre.

I checked out Fort Scaur, one of a half million (okay, a  slight exaggeration) fortifications on this strategic island. It’s not as  dramatic as the Dockyards or Fort St. Catherine, but it’s fun and pretty and  must be a great place for local kids to play cowboys and Indians, or, in this  case, British and Americans.

I also checked out some stilt houses in Somerset and watched the birds fly about and  generally just had a blast zipping around corners and through residential areas  on the bike.

Everyone I talked to raved about the Dockyards, but I found it rather  underwhelming. The shops didn’t interest me and I didn’t feel like ducking into  a museum on a fine day. Maybe if the cruise ships had been in it would’ve seemed  lively, but the whole place struck me as empty and kind of sad. A ferry boat to  Hamilton was  leaving shortly so I sat down for some fish chowder (it came with sherry pepper  sauce and also a jar of black rum you can spoon into your chowder) and decent  calamari.

Of course, it rained most of the 20 minutes I was on the ferry. I took  two ferry rides while on the island and it rained both times. So much for the  great photos, I guess.

Dodging the rain drops, I checked out the Botanical Gardens, where a  crazy guy started yelling at me for my skin colour, and wandered around the  floral displays and towering palms and ficus trees. I had hopedIMG_2260 to make it up to  Tucker’s Point, but I got caught in another deluge and had to park my moped and  myself in a covered bus shelter for a half hour to wait it out.

The rest of the day was glorious and sunny, so no harm done. The ride  back to the Fairmont was glorious; sunny beaches and rocky  coasts and cute shops and more brightly-painted blue, green, pink and yellow  homes and forest-covered roads and the damp, sweet smell of flowers and rich  soil after a rain.

And then came dinner at the Waterlot Inn down on the wharf at the  Fairmont. Wow. I  had a three-steak tasting menu, with fabulous USDA prime, a tender filet and a  wagyu beef. Each was only two or three ounces and it costs $60 but it was  utterly delicious; the best steaks I’ve ever had. You could just say the word “knife” and they cut themselves, they were so tender.

A fabulous wine list, tremendous service, a beautiful set of rooms in an  old house and, for dessert, sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream that  was four thousand degrees beyond decadent.

About as great a day on the road as I can remember in a long  time.

 

 

 

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