Wednesday, July 22, 2009

From the Links

I’ve never been much of a golfer, but ever since I moved to Bermuda I’ve been on the course at least once a month. Not bad for a guy whose clubs hail from the mid-fifties (seriously, they’re really, really old, passed down from my great uncle Al). Last month Joy and I played Tucker’s Point, a sprawling private club on the east end where we enjoyed Earl Gray tea in the clubhouse and cold Heinekens from the beverage cart along the way. It was a challenging course and by far the prettiest I’ve played yet, but I’m looking forward to tackling eighteen holes at Port Royal, a public championship course that recently got a $14 million facelift. Consider it a total extreme makeover with new tee boxes, cart paths, and fairways, plus the greatest change of all—a complete redesign of the back nine, which added sweeping water views from just about every hole. I was there just last night to celebrate the course’s official opening. It was a gala event featuring sports legends Dr. J and Bill Russell, plus fellow Maryland Terrapin and former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason who hit a mighty tee shot to christen the course (see above). Boomer’s blogging about his trip to Bermuda and although he said he’d be leaving the island today, he says he’ll be back just next week for an extended vacation with family and friends. That’s good news for Bermuda. Boomer’s got over 1 million listeners on his WFAN radio show, and no doubt he’ll spread the word that Bermuda is one of the greatest destinations in the world for a top-notch golf vacation. As for me, I've got one course down and seven to go. I just hope my old wooden driver holds up.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tree of the Day

After six days spent off the island I don’t have one photograph to show for it. But I think that’s a good thing. Sometimes we get so caught behind the lens while on vacation that we forget to enjoy what it is we’re there to experience. Or maybe I’m just making excuses. Fortunately I carry my camera pretty much wherever I go here in Bermuda. There’s just so much natural beauty, so many smiling faces, such an abundance of picture perfect panoramas. Just the other day I was driving along South Road in Devonshire when I spotted this flamboyant tree, also known as a Royal Ponciana. I couldn’t help myself but to pull over and snap a few photos. It just looked so happy with its bright orange flowers peaking out from the boughs (click the photo for a full-size image to see what I mean). It’s certainly one of the prettiest trees I’ve seen in awhile, but then again the flamboyant is one of my all-time favorites: When the tree’s long brown seed pods dry up and fall to the ground they make excellent rattles, perfect for amateur percussionists like myself. But of course that’s Bermuda for you—perfectly enchanting at every turn. I think it’ll be a good long while before I see that airport again.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

To Be Continued...

Everyone needs a vacation now and then, right? Even lucky stiffs like me deserve a break so I'm closing up shop ever so briefly and will return with new island updates early next week. Stay tuned for drivers license news, restaurant reviews, and dispatches from the golf course. In the meantime, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Saga Continues

Last week I wrote about how difficult it was obtain one’s driver’s license. Never in a million years did I think I’d have similar problems getting legally certified to ride a scooter. How hard could the test be? After all, the whole thing takes about five minutes. In the TCD parking lot you’re expected to execute five simple commands on a bike (what Bermudians call scooters here; bicycles are called pedal bikes): First the walk test, where you’re expected to walk the scooter around four cones in a figure eight pattern without losing control. Check. Next up, the roundabout test, where you drive down a straight line, go clockwise around a circle, turn around, and drive counterclockwise around the same circle and back. Check. The third task, called serpentine ride, has you zig-zag between six sets of orange cones, down and back. Check. For the brake test, the applicant must ride a straight line between cones, turn at the end, and ride back, applying the brake in a safe and controlled manner. Check. And then there’s the turn signal test, which by all accounts I blew big time. For the fifth and final part of the exam, you’re expected to ride down a straight line and using your indicators, make a right hand turn and come back. I used my indicator, but apparently I was also supposed to use hand signals as well. Really Mr. Scooter Examiner? Hand signals in addition to my blinker? So you’re saying you want me to drive the bike with one hand even though I have my indicator light on? Really? And for not doing that I fail and can’t take the test for another week? Seriously? I’m pretty sure the guy just didn’t like me and so for that I received this pretty little piece of paper (see above). The good news is my wife is one helluva test taker. With just one short driving lesson under her belt, Joy hopped on the bike in the TCD parking lot and passed the exam with flying colors. I’m not sure how she knew to use her hands, but I’m pretty sure Bermuda is suiting her just fine.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A License To (Almost) Drive

It was just the other day when I wrote about preparing for my written driver’s license exam by picking up a copy of the Traffic Code Handbook. Turned out to be a useful little book actually, sort of like Bermuda’s version of Cliff Notes. I learned that a double white line on the road is like a double yellow in the States, that’s it’s illegal to “dazzle” other drivers with your headlights, and that I should watch for signs denoting the crossing of cattle, wild fowl, or horse drawn vehicles. Your basic stuff really. Trusty book in hand, I set off to the TCD to take my test and guess what? I passed! Although this doesn’t mean I’m fit to drive legally, just that I’ve earned a learner’s permit—the next step in a mind-blowingly long process to obtain one’s license. Permit in hand, I can now book a lesson with a local instructor who’ll no doubt give me a few pointers about mastering the driving test—and most importantly—arrange for an exam sooner than 2010. Unfortunately I’m only half-joking about that last part. The TCD is happy to schedule you for a driving test once you obtain a permit, but it’s not going to be anytime soon, the very reason why one needs to hire a driving instructor to grease the wheels so to speak. So be it. I don’t really care what I have to do to get my driver’s license, I’m just looking forward to handing over the keys to my rental scooter.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bon Voyage Hamilton

Sir George Somers wasn’t the only one who’s been stranded on Bermuda (you’ve heard about the Sea Venture, right? If not read this). According to this report in Monday’s Baltimore Sun, a harbor seal got caught in a commercial fishing net off the coast of Bermuda in February. Emaciated and nearly strangled, the young pup—named Hamilton, after the island’s capital city—was nursed back to health by the good folks at the National Aquarium in Baltimore and is set to be returned to the ocean today. A happy ending for sure, however accolades should also be showered upon Dr. Ian Walker and his team at the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo. I was just a kid when I last visited the aquarium, wide-eyed at the schools of tropical fish that called it home. I remember watching giant sharks swim in nearby Devil’s Hole and learning about the diverse marine ecosystem that surrounds these islands. It’s a wonderful place and I’m happy to see the aquarium is doing more than just charging folks to watch fish behind a glass wall. So swim on Hamilton, just try to stay clear of the Gulf Stream this time.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

“It’s Your Lucky Day!”

Finally a few words of encouragement in the ongoing quest to obtain a Bermuda driver’s license. They were spoken to me by a friendly man at the TCD (the island’s version of the DMV in New York, see above) when I showed up to buy a copy of the Traffic Code Handbook, a 54-page study guide to help prepare for my written test. For those of you not familiar with the licensing process, it comes with a few hurdles. There are requests for character references, mandatory doctor exams, weeks of waiting. But then came a glimmer of hope: my permit to reside here was finally approved, which meant I could legally take the written exam and begin walking the long road to car ownership. But first I needed that handbook. It was incredibly hot that day. Folks were perspiring through their shirts and fanning themselves with the newspaper, so it was no surprise that the heat was also stressing the power grid. Sure enough the TCD lost all power, just as the rest of Hamilton had for an hour or so. I didn’t imagine this would cause much of a problem—all I needed was a $2.65 handbook—but in addition to everything else in the building, the power loss knocked out the electronic cash register. With only a twenty-dollar bill in my pocket, I was faced with forking over all of my money or making the long trip back to town another day. Fortunately here’s where that nice guy comes in. “It’s your lucky day,” said the well-dressed fellow as he handed over the handbook free of charge. “Thank you very much sir!” was my reply in all sincerity. It might take me a few more weeks to get that license, but at least I’m one step closer.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Happy Birthday America!

The Fourth of July came and went with hardly a bang, which is not to say there weren’t any fireworks here in Bermuda, just that I missed them. Horseshoe Bay was the place to be this year, where about 3,000 revelers gathered to watch what I’m sure was a stunning aerial light show. Joy and I had every intention of attending, but after a full day lounging on Church Bay (see above) we were just too pooped to party. Case closed. I guess we just decided to have our own celebration—certainly not the first time we’ve done so and certainly not the last. Living overseas forces you to recreate traditions in ways you’d never expect. Like when we spent Christmas in St. Croix with lanky palm trees wrapped in white lights, sea glass ornaments hanging from the boughs, and a salty sea breeze in the air instead of a cold white snow. I made sure to wear my red Hawaiian shirt that Christmas morning (where else could I don such a gaudy tropical cover up on December 25?) as we exchanged gifts over a fresh pineapple and mango breakfast. It was as lovely as it sounds. We celebrated Thanksgiving in the islands as well, eating roasted chicken in our bathing suits since there were no turkeys left in the store and our new friends had a killer in-ground pool. Were we sad that we couldn't dine with our families that year? Absolutely, but living abroad teaches you how to think outside the box. How to appreciate your surroundings, no matter what they are. How to rewire your brain entirely to enjoy a day you’ve marked the same way for years and years and years, and make it even better. We may of missed the fireworks this year, but we did snorkel through a school of parrotfish—not a bad Fourth of July after all. 

Friday, July 3, 2009

Do You Like Luxury?

It’s a valid question, especially when searching for accommodations on your next vacation. My time backpacking across the European continent taught me lots. Certainly that you don’t need a fussy hotel to enjoy your trip, and in fact, when faced with the option of staying in a family-run inn or gasp–a hostel–the experience becomes far more authentic, more organic, and dare I say more pleasurable then a bed at the towering mega-chain down the block. But there is something to be said for those fluffy towels and that nightly turn down service. Folks who answered yes to the above question will love the latest island news from Starwood. According to this report in the Los Angeles Times, the hotel giant will open the St. Regis Bermuda in 2013, featuring 140 decked-out rooms, a spa, wine bar and much, much more. It’s great news for Bermuda, considering tourism here dropped 17% in 2008 compared to the year before (the thinking being that perhaps the hotel will draw additional well-heeled visitors). Only time will tell if the new Hamilton property will cause a spike in island visitors, but for my money, I’d rather stay in a hotel with a great view. Something secluded or tucked away and definitely less than $200 a night. If that’s more up your alley, then check out my latest story in Budget Travel, about seven stunning North American hideaways. You might not get a chocolate on your pillow each night, but you’re bound to come home relaxed.