Savoring the sands of paradise.
As the flight attendant announced that we were now approaching Bermuda, I looked up from my book and out the window at an amazing sight: the clearest, turquoise-blue water I'd ever seen on the east coast. The sun gazed down upon an island floating in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by pink sands and coral reefs. It was hard to believe that I was just over 500 miles off the North Carolina shore and only 2 1/2 hours from New York City. I wasn't certain, but perhaps I'd found paradise.
After a brief and smooth clearance through customs, I made my way to my hotel via my host's car to the Marriott Castle Harbour Resort in Tucker's Town, just 10 minutes from the airport.
He said to me that contrary to rumor, Bermuda isn't just for honeymooners, it's for lovers--of a good time that is--from beachcombers, golfers, fishermen (and women) to snorklers and divers, tennis players and adventurers. Despite its proper British history, my host assured me that the Bermudian people were warm and friendly, especially during these first few days in August, which herald Cup Match weekend.
In fact, I'd been invited down to witness this occasion. Cup Match is the national cricket finals played between two local cricket clubs, Somerset and St. George, and the only national holiday dedicated to cricket (and perhaps any sport) in the world. The sport was first played in Bermuda in 1840.
The two-day event is held on the Thursday and Friday before the first Monday in August. Originally that Thursday marked Emancipation Day (when slavery ended in the country in 1834). Friday was added to commemorate the shipwreck of Sir George Somers, who is credited with discovering the island.
I discovered that the Bermudians take their cricket and their holiday very seriously: Cup Match is like a big country fair, a huge fete loud with cheering, and pulsing with Reggae and Calypso music. The air is redolent of fried fish; fans snack on shaved ice cones soaked in syrup or bowls of fish and chips. Those who can't attend the game listen to it on a local radio station announced by the Honorable C.V. "Jim" Woolridge, Minister of Tourism for Bermuda.
Touring The 'Isles Of Devils'
Sufficiently recovered from Cup Match, I spent the next day touring the "Isles of Devils." (Bermuda is so-called because of its fierce wind storms). Visitors can travel around the island by bus, taxi, ferry or moped. Islanders are the only people allowed to have a car or van, and they are restricted to only one economy-sized car or mini-van per family. Rental cars are banned on the island. That's because it is one of the most densely populated countries in the world--over 3,000 people per square mile.
Bermuda spans 22 square miles. Its widest point is one mile across and runs 22 miles from tip to tip. The country is composed of 150 islands and islets, but only 20 of them are inhabited, and they officially make up the hooked-shaped island. Bermuda has a population of 58,000--61% black and 39% white, with other minority groups, primarily Portuguese, making up the remainder.
The island is divided into nine parishes: Sandys, Southhampton, Warwick, Paget, Pembroke, Devonshire, Smith's, Hamilton and St. George's. The city of Hamilton is the capital, but is located in Pembroke parish.
Residential areas are situated along the north coast, while beach resorts are on the south side of the island. Pastel-colored colonial-styled cottages dot the island's landscape. Their white rooftops are terraced to catch rainwater, the island's sole source of drinking water. A carpet of lush, green foliage covers the hills full of hibiscus and bouganvillea blossoms.
A Sports Lover's Paradise
As I toured the island, I discovered that Bermuda is a sports person's paradise. One can go snorkling or scuba diving, take lessons and get certified to explore some of the most incredible shipwrecks (some of them dating to the 16th century). Sailors and fishermen can rent boats and equipment, with or without a skipper, or charter a yacht; sailing lessons are also available.
Bermuda boasts more golf courses per square mile than anywhere else in the world. There are eight public and private courses around the island at varying levels of challenge: Three of the courses are located at hotels, the Belmont Hotel (Warwick), the Marriott Castle Harbour Hotel (Tucker's Town) and the Southhampton Princess Hotel (Southhampton). Playing at Riddell's Bay Golf and Country Club (Warwick) and the Mid Ocean Club (Tucker's Town) are by member introduction only, but your hotel can probably arrange for you to play at most courses.
I inquired about tennis and learned that there are 100 different courts to play on; many are lighted, while others offer an array of grass, clay and Har-tru surfaces. Instruction and equipment rental are available, but reservations are needed for all.
If you like to windsurf or parasail off some of the most incredible beaches in the world, then the southside of the island is ideal. There are about 21 listed beaches in Bermuda, so that you can splash in the surf of a different one everyday. Be sure to go to picturesque Horseshoe Bay beach, off South Shore Road on the border of Southhampton and Warwick; Warwick Long Bay beach; and Coral Beach farther up the road; and Elbow Beach next to it in Paget.
The climate is generally warm in Bermuda with the temperature ranging in the 50s and upper 60s during the winter, and mid-70s to upper 80s in the summer. Although Bermuda's dress code is conservative, daywear is sporty or casual, and nighttime casually elegant (men, bring a sports jacket or suit).
My guide gave me a quick Bermuda history lesson, which started with St. George's parish at the northeastern most tip of the island. Here is where Sir George Somers' ship, the Sea Venture, ran aground on its voyage to Virginia in 1609. Many stories have been written about the shipwreck; the most famous being Shakespeare's Tempest.
The Bermuda Handy Reference Map, was indispensible during my stay. The Visitors Service Bureau, adjacent to the ferry terminal dock, and the Department of Tourism at Global House on Church Street were also very helpful. City Hall is also on the corner of Church and Parliment Streets. Session House is the site of Bermuda's national legislature and where sessions of the parliament are held. As a self-governing British colony, Bermuda's lawmakers continue the tradition of conducting business in formal barrister's robes and powdered wigs. Most of the country's international banking offices, real estate, insurance and law firms are located on Reid Street., parallel to Front.
Stores, also located in this area, display magnificent wares, ranging from fine crystal to Parisian perfume. On Front Street, check out Trimmingham's department store; Gosling's Wine & Spirit Merchant, makers of black Bermudian rum; Heritage House for watercolor and oil paintings and prints, including those by black abstractionist Robert Bassett; the House of Linens (Reid Street, Washington Mall) for hand-embroidered tablecloths or The Irish Linen Shop (corner of Front and Queen Streets) for hand-embroidered linen and lace from Ireland, France and Belgium. For fine china and crystal, including Wedgewood and Waterford, visit A.S. Cooper & Sons Ltd. (Front and St. George's Streets). For expensive Scottish woolens at a substantial savings, try The Scottish Wool Shop (Queen Street).
From the Front Street terminal, I boarded an open-air ferry boat from the Hamilton Dockyard (accessible by moped or bike) to go across the Great Sound to the Royal Naval Dockyard in Sandys parish, better known as Somerset, at the northwestern end of Bermuda. Once there, I took a tour of the Maritime Museum, and window shopped at the Craft Market (for pottery, paintings and miniature furniture) and the Bermuda Arts Centre (handmade jewelry and one-of-a-kind paintings).
If you ride through Somerset, stop at the Loyalty Inn, a wonderful 200-year-old restaurant pub serving great food and good conversation. Ask for the pansauteed Bermuda Fish platter with a side order of Hoppin' John (peas and rice) and a Rum Swizzle, a rum-based fruit punch to ease it down. As you travel back, you'll cross Somerset Bridge--the smallest drawbridge in the world, only 18 inches long, and barely wide enough to let a sailboat pass through.
Riding along the Middle Road, you can pick up the Railway Trail, a former train route that travels through Southhampton, Warwick and Paget on the southside, and picks up again on the North Shore Road of Devonshire and Hamilton parishes. Or, take the scenic South Road, and observe the most beautiful ocean vistas. Either way, stop off at the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse in Southhampton. A working lighthouse since 1846, it has a 185-step climb to the top, which lends itself to a magnificent view of the island.
Dining And Dancing
Despite their proper British history, Bermudians, like their climate, are warm and inviting. So much so that you shouldn't be dumbfounded when you are invited to attend a party at someone's house on the spur of the moment.
Nightlife in Bermuda is interesting and diverse. Several hotels feature entertaining live shows such as The Afro-Caribbean Revue at the Clay House Inn in Devonshire, and Super Stars, a 2 1/2-hour impressionist's review of some of today's hottest stars at the Southhampton Princess in Southhampton.
But I found the heart of the action in downtown Hamilton. The Spinning Wheel on Court Street in the "back of town" as Bermudians call it, is a tri-level disco where the people listen to jazz, eat, swim (indoors) and party 'til dawn. Or travel across the street to Swinging Doors, a small tavern with a lively jukebox and disc jockey spinning oldies but goodies. For those who enjoy a little Moet with their Motown, there's The Club on Bermudiana Road upstairs from the Little Venice Restaurant. Sparrow's Nest on Reid Street showcases some of the island's best jazz.
As for dining, Bermuda has an eclectic culinary mix, from Caribbean to Chinese, continental to haute cuisine, and of course, Bermudian fish and chips. For an elegant meal with excellent food and service, make reservations at Fourways Inn in Paget.
On Thursday nights, be sure to check out the all-you-can-eat barbecue at the beach club at the Castle Harbour Marriott. When you're in St. George's be sure to stop by Clyde's Cafe and Bar for a fish sandwich and a "dark 'n' stormy," a potent Bermudian concoction of black rum and ginger beer.
Whether you make the rounds traveling about town, or choose just to relax on the beach, Bermuda is a quick trip to paradise. As my taxi driver/tour guide said: "If you don't think you're going to make it to heaven, come to Bermuda before you go."
Hotel accommodations in Bermuda range from quaint guest houses, cottages and apartments to large resort hotels. The difference lies in amenities. The U.S. dollar is equal to the Bermuda dollar.
All the major airlines travel to Bermuda from the United States, including American, Continental, Delta, Pan Am and USAir. Several offer special fly-and-stay packages. Several cruise lines travel to Bermuda including Royal Caribbean and Chandris.
To enter the country, you'll need a valid passport or original birth certificate with a raised seal and personal identification (a driver's license is not acceptable), or naturalization certificate. All visitors must have a return or onward airline or cruise ticket.
For more information, contact the Bermuda Department of Tourism, P.O. Box 7705, Woodside, NY, or call 800-223-6107.
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|Date:||Dec 1, 1991|
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