Monday, February 17, 2014

Bermuda Mini-Break

This Valentine's Day, we somewhat unexpectedly ended up in Bermuda. Our usual V-day celebration involves an indoor picnic on the floor of our apartment, so this was quite the upgrade.

Here's what happened. Many years ago, I opened an airline-miles credit card. I had heard enough stories of people accumulating airline miles and using them to sponsor otherwise out-of-reach travel that I couldn't resist getting in on the action. It seemed so obviously easy: open a card, get 50,000 points, fly anywhere I want. 

Of course, as Econ 101 teaches us, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Nearly all of the international flights came with taxes so huge that I might as well have bought regular tickets. As for the domestic flights, they seemed to be sold out in perpetuity. Every few months, I'd go to buy plane tickets for one reason or another, check my points, and confirm that they were utterly unusable. For at least five years, the points sat there, fortunately not expiring, but not doing much good to me either. 

A few weeks ago, I put my foot down. My husband's birthday was coming up, and I wanted to surprise him with a weekend trip. Conveniently, a long weekend was coming up as well, and even more conveniently, it happened to fall on Valentine's Day / our 7th dating anniversary. I sat down at the computer and navigated to the British Airways website, vowing that I would find flights and finally use those darn points, which had become quite a thorn in my side. 

I entered flight dates and checked literally every single major US city and Caribbean island. Bermuda was one of the few spots with free flights available. I was astounded at our good luck and booked the tickets at once. Tropical paradise, here we come! 

Of course, it was no accident that we scored Bermuda tickets on such short notice. February is the height of off-season in Bermuda -- restaurants and activities close, the weather is "cold" (in the 60s), and it rains. But I had promised myself that I would not leave my computer without using the points, and our only other choice was Montreal. And, in the midst of one of the coldest NYC winters on record, more snow did not appeal to us in the slightest. Much more pleasant to surround ourselves with lush greenery, tropical flowers, and rainbow geckos:




Our Friday night flight to Bermuda was uneventful once we bypassed the longest security line in the world at JFK, the cumulative effect of numerous flight cancellations the prior day, a long weekend, and NYC schools' winter break. (Fun fact: if you are about to miss your flight, you can skip the line).

In the hotel room, a Valentine's Day surprise awaited me - a bottle of Prosecco and a lovely note from hubby <3 We were too tired to drink much wine at that point, so we saved it for the next night and went into town, "town" being Bermuda's capital Hamilton. Our hotel was just a few minutes outside the city, marrying middle-of-nowhere charm with proximity to the island's best restaurants (and we definitely took advantage). We had a filling Mediterranean/African meal at restaurant-nightclub hybrid Cafe Cairo and called it a night around midnight so that we'd have the energy to explore the next day. 
On Saturday, we caught a bus to the island's eastern half, featuring the colonial town of St. George, unbelievably gorgeous underground caverns, and a nature reserve on the shore of the Atlantic.  

St. George is the prettiest town in Bermuda, all cobblestone streets and historic buildings. We were officially welcomed by the mayor in the town square (what a plum job that seems to be, btw), and witnessed the reenactment of a "ducking", i.e. an old-school punishment from the era of stocks, pillories, and whipping posts. In essence, a woman is forced into a chair and "ducked" into freezing water repeatedly. Seems a bit excessive to me, especially because the "crimes" that resulted in a ducking usually included gossiping and nagging one's husband. (I would totally get ducked if I lived in colonial times.)

Ducking:


The stocks were not kind to hubby:

Our next stop was the caves, of which there are two. Both were incredibly romantic but also somewhat spooky. Stalactites and stalagmites stretched up and down everywhere, forming wondrous patterns. I asked the guide how they make sure stalactites don't smack visitors on the head when they fall, to which he had no good answer. Fortunately, we made it through without incident! 



And finally, here is an ocean view from the nature reserve. The wind was so fierce you could barely hear each other, and the idea of so much nothingness, hundreds and hundreds of miles of it, was desolate and romantic all at once:


It was getting dark at this point, so we caught a bus back into town. Literally as soon as we got onto the bus, a fierce thunderstorm erupted - a real sea storm with intense winds and huge bursts of lightning. We watched it play out from window seats at the Picked Onion, where we sampled a number of delicious appetizers (rockfish tacos, baja snapper bites, avocado egg rolls, macadamia-crusted brie - yum). 

The storm had blown through by the time we had finished dinner, and we walked back to our hotel, serenaded by a chorus of tree frogs. By the way, we stayed at the Royal Palms, a boutique hotel just outside of Hamilton. It is one of the most highly-rated hotels in Bermuda, and lived up to its expectations for the most part. The on-site restaurant was delicious, and the common areas & grounds were gorgeous, the gardens in particular:



On Sunday, we explored the other half of the island, taking a bus westward to the famous, but ultimately quite underwhelming, Fairmont Southampton. The resort promised "the best brunch in Bermuda"; alas, this was marketing-speak stretched to the limit, as the food was terrible. The quantity of food was indeed vast  - perhaps 20 different stations - which made the poor quality even more surprising (where did they get that much bad food??)

We spent the rest of the day by the water, primarily at Horseshoe Bay, which is Bermuda's most famous beach:

The guidebooks and the native Bermudians and the weather forecasts all suggested that swimming in Bermuda in February was a terrible idea, so we didn't pack swimsuits. But the water was so clear and so warm - perhaps that day was an outlier? I couldn't avoid the siren call of the waves and splashed around until my pants were completely soaked (as punishment, had to do a walk of shame back to our hotel with no pants). Here I am just before jumping in the water, still with pants:


Quite a contrast to the snowy runways that greeted us back in NYC this morning when we returned. I am already missing beautiful Bermuda. This is what off-season travel is meant to be - better prices, fewer crowds, same Bermuda magic =) 

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