First Impressions - Bermuda

Bermuda is the last stop before I go home – the plan was to rest on the beach after all this hectic tearing around. But the forecast predicts thunderstorms for the rest of the week. There’s a great deal of hurricane activity still going on in the Atlantic.

I've flown from New York. My taxi from the airport takes me virtually the length of the island, so that’s my tour of Bermuda. It’s not the Caribbean, but today is very humid and it feels like the Caribbean. It looks sort of looks like the Caribbean too, but an incredibly manicured, affluent version. There is no evident poverty. The hills are lined with pastel coloured houses and mansions with immaculate gardens and lawns. They all have stepped white roofs coated with lime paint to help trap and filter the rainwater, which is collected by each house for drinking. There aren’t any rivers or lakes, just several islands joined by road bridges. The beaches I can see are stunning, soft powdery sand with rock formations. The sand is famously described as pink, but I can’t see why. It looks the usual brown-beige to me.

Bermuda, the Somers Isles - in a Nutshell

  • Bermuda, surprisingly, is actually 181 islands, many of them low lying volcanoes. There are five larger islands, with most people living on the imaginatively named Main Island. Bermuda is the most populated of the British Overseas Territories, but is self-governing with its own parliament. It’s possibly most famous for sitting in the Bermuda Triangle, which is famed for mysterious boat and aircraft disappearances. Though according to ’reputable sources’, this is all something of nothing, and it’s just a very busy shipping area.
  • Bermuda has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, mainly derived from offshore financial services and tourism. The land isn’t suitable for agriculture and nearly all food has to be imported. Bermuda is very expensive to visit.
  • Bermuda is named after Spanish explorer Juan de Bermúdez, who discovered the archipelago in 1505. The islands have been permanently inhabited since 1612, when an English settlement was established at St. George's. Bermuda was governed under royal charter by the Somers Isles Company until 1684, when it became a crown colony. This explains its alternative name - The Somers Isles.
  • The famous Bermuda shorts were introduced for business wear, in the hotter climate. They're tailored, to an inch above the knee, and 'should be worn with knee-length socks, a dress shirt, tie, and blazer'.
  • Bermuda is not in the Caribbean, it's in the North Atlantic. So, whilst its warmer than many countries, especially in the summer months, it's a little nippy, by vacation standards in January and February - 18 degrees Celsius on average.

The Fairmont Hotel

My hotel is definitely pink, to compensate, located above its own beach. First impressions are that this is a great place. It’s set in beautiful gardens, full of palm trees, with an immaculate golf course, above a really gorgeous beach, with full club facilities. There’s a shuttle bus running constantly between the two and to the ferry, to connect with the sister hotel in Hamilton. It has a splendid lobby, several restaurants, a lovely little coffee shop, and a very expensive spa.

My room is spacious, with a king-size bed, nicely decorated, with modern lime touches and a sofa and walk-n wardrobe. It’s the cheapest room, termed ‘moderate’, just to remind me that I’m not getting the best by a long chalk and it consequently has a balcony that looks out over a very large flat large roof. It was probably a waste of time including it.

Bermuda may not be the Caribbean, but the service is a little Caribbean - friendly but not super-efficient and therefore not entirely five star. I have to wait a long time to check in, and for my room to be ready and for someone to help with my air con. But everyone is very nice when they eventually arrive and all (naturally) wear smart knee length Bermuda shorts.

Five Star Prices

Prices are definitely five star, making the most of very opportunity to extort extra cash on top of already steep rates. There’s a resort fee – I hate these with a vengeance as I don’t utilise most of the services that they say this includes and I feel that pool towels, beach beds etc. should be included anyway. No bathrobes – really surprising in a five star hotel and makes room service really difficult. The whole point is to bath or shower and lounge and not get stressed. Isn’t it?

And Wi-Fi in the rooms extra too, unless you join their Presidents Club (this is not made at all obvious) and  this involves filling in tedious forms and subjecting oneself to future ongoing emails. I’ve said this quite a few times before. If hotels feel they are not making enough profit then be transparent and just increase the per night prices. Don’t add in all these sneaky little charges, it’s just annoying.

The Edge of Hurricane Irma

It feels utterly luxurious to unpack at last. This is the first stay of four nights since I began my travels in mid-July. After sorting my things I saunter down to the beach and am just peeling off my clothes for a swim when a storm comes roaring in. It's the edge of Hurricane Irma. I've just read that Bermuda, though its climate is subtropical (and it can be chilly in winter) lies in Hurricane Alley. Umbrellas go flying and there is the most enormous clap of thunder I have ever heard. Back at the hotel it seems that the lightning strike has caused an electrical surge and taken out all the telephones. Room service is just not going to happen is it? Though the roof outside my room could now double as an additional swimming pool.

By the Pool, Bermuda

Eleven hours sleep! My eye balls are at least white again. I'm just going to make breakfast before it closes.

I am heading to the beach today for a second go, but on stepping outside and seeing how windy (and cloudy) it is I opt for the pool, where I can see the sea through the railings. Hurricane Irma seems to have very long arms. It's  warm and humid and my snorkel gear looks a little sad on the tiled floor. The phones still aren’t working. And they’ve set up a desk in the lobby for room service. And my exercise schedule is staking a hit. You have to use the lift even to go up to the first floor. I try the stairs to go down, but reach a door with a notice that says it can only be opened in an emergency. There are also buses that run down the hill to the beach and back, every few minutes.

Bermuda - English or American?

Bermuda may be very British colonial, but today’s newspapers say that some of the Labour M.P.s are calling for another independence referendum. This sounds familiar. But Bermuda is already very American. The U.S. dollar is interchangeable with the Bermuda dollar and tipping still rules ok. The TV is entirely American channels (unless you count BBC World Service) which essentially means that there is nothing to watch. The taxi driver boasted to me yesterday that there is no McDonald’s on the islands - so that everyone has to eat healthily – but all I’m seeing is menus with fries, burgers and wraps.

Pink Beaches, Bermuda

There’s more sun than cloud today, so the beach is my destination. The magnificent sands along this south coast are linked with little paths and I can wander in and out of all the bays and rock formations. The three hurricanes further south are taking their toll. There is a storm surge here and the sand is being lashed by huge breakers, the palms and flags are agitating wildly and there are signs up warning of rip currents and forbidding bathers to enter the water.

There are holidaymakers dancing around on the shallows, but no-one is swimming or snorkelling. I can feel the strong undertow just paddling along the edge, trying to take photos of all the rock formations. I’ve only got my iPhone with me and they’re not easy to use in bright sun, when you can’t see the screen. I just point it vaguely in the right direction and shoot. I’ve taken abut fifty pictures before I realise that the camera button has reversed and I’m taking very unflattering pictures of parts of my body instead.

On my return journey I’m pursued by a woman from New York with three small boys. One of them is protesting very loudly as he has lost his sand shoes and is not enjoying walking bare foot on the rough paths. She tells me that the sand here really is pink. She grabs handfuls to make her case and shows me the teeny pink particles nestling amongst the more prosaic silica.

Weird and Wonderful Food

Lunch is a shrimp wrap but it’s green (pesto?) and contains beans and sprouts (I think). I’m an adventurous eater, but this just leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth. It’s accompanied by fries that are overcooked to the point that they all solid. They are also well over salted. I have to leave them to the sparrows. They flock round my sunbed, eager for a feast and wobble off, chips longer than they are flapping from their beaks. I hope there are no injuries.

Room service is back on and I can’t summon up much enthusiasm for the endless fried offerings or weird exotica, so after eliminating most of the menu I opt for apple pie and ice cream. My five star hotel doesn’t run to bathrobes, so I’m wrapped in a towel when it’s delivered. The friendly little man still deems it appropriate to enter into a long conversation about my holiday and hurricanes. At one point I think he’s going to sit down. My ice cream is melting and I’m hopping around before I can politely get him to leave. And then I discover that my food is infested with those pesky micro-ants.

Hamilton, Bermuda

I have learned how to use a bagel cutting machine at breakfast today. I didn’t even know they existed, but I’m sure you will be able to buy one in Lakeland. My hair is now huge and frizzy with the wind and humidity. I’m trying to tame it so I can go into the capital, Hamilton, without disgracing myself. There’s a convenient ferry that runs from the north side of the hotel grounds across the bay to the sister hotel. I say ferry – it’s a retired yacht that has seen slightly better days but is still far more luxurious than anything I could afford. There’s even a four poster bed in the main cabin.

The trip is extraordinarily pretty. There are multitudes of small boats and couple of cruise liners sheltering from the hurricanes. The hills are covered with more of the pristine houses and gardens. Many have smooth lawns leading down to the water and little jetties. There is not hair out of place.

Hamilton is more of the same, more compactly arranged. Artful use made of stepped roofs to execute domes and pyramids. There’s a little park with a band stand, a very white steepled civic hall, several churches, a couple of rows of shops (including Marks and Spencer), some up market hotels and little stepped side streets. These have names like Chancery Lane. It’s very British (especially the names) and yet not. There’s also a parliament building and a cabinet office with some marquees out front - some sort of reception is taking place. The governor drives along Front Street in an open carriage, plumes waving.

Back on the beach Beware the Portuguese Man of War signs have joined the Do Not Enter the Water and Beware of Rip Currents signs.

A Farewell Dinner

I was chatting to a couple from Pennsylvania - Duane and Kathy - on the boat and end up having dinner with them, in a seashore restaurant looking across the beach. The best margaritas and fish of the trip. Duane and Kathy are regulars and good tippers. They are also very pleasant company. The waiters enthusiastically find the best view and recommend food. It’s an excellent last evening.

Finale, Bermuda

I’m only just beginning to unwind after all my travels and time zone crossing. I’m not nearly ready to go home yet. There’s lots more to see here, if you have the money.

A last swim, we are allowed in the water today, a final snooze on the sunbed. A particularly manic, but  epic and amazing journey comes to an end.

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