Bermuda is another world

... tired of snow and cold?

by James Tierney

We’ve heard that expression many times over the years from people coming back from Bermuda or, maybe, I only heard it from my wife after each of our four visits. No where on the planet is there such a rich palette of wondrous colors: the turquoise sea, pink sand beaches, vivid scarlet, crimson, and magenta flowers, deep green and vibrant vegetation, cerulean blue skies, and eccentric pastel homes. Even the bright pink and blue busses brighten the visuals.

To avoid pollution and traffic congestion, only one car per family is allowed, and there are no rental cars available (mopeds are the primary mode of transportation). Traffic also moves slowly: the maximum speed limit anywhere in Bermuda is only 20 miles per hour, and is strictly enforced. Here the beauty of the landscape, uncluttered by billboard advertisements, neon signs, or litter, is best enjoyed at a slower pace.  Bermuda boasts a very high quality of life and has no income tax, no sales tax, no unemployment, no slums, and virtually no crime. It’s no wonder Bermuda has one of the highest return visitor rates in the world and makes it one of the most popular destinations for honeymooners and romantics of any age.

Bermuda actually consists of 300 islands, all within a 20 mile long by a 2 mile wide area, all arranged roughly in the shape of a huge fishhook. Only about 20 of the islands are inhabited. Bermuda came into being as a result of Admiral Sir George Somers ship the Sea Venture wrecked in a violent tempest while on a trip to aid settlers in Jamestown, Virginia in 1609. This event inspired Shakespeare to pen “The Tempest”. Somers promptly claimed this land for England, thus beginning Bermuda’s history of permanent settlement. Bermuda wears its history like a comfortable old coat. Resting in the Atlantic Ocean just 600 miles off the coast of North Carolina, Bermuda remarkably has never succumbed to American cultural influences. Instead, lying more than 3,400 miles from London, it is quite close to Britain on a cultural plane. Bermuda gave up pounds and shillings in favor of a dollar pegged to the greenback in 1970. It is in the Atlantic Time Zone, 1 hour ahead of the Eastern Time Zone, and observes daylight savings time.

We sailed on the Celebrity Zenith from New York to Bermuda, about 700 miles, which took about a day and a half.  It’s actually only a couple of hours by plane. Leaving New York harbor we enjoyed the sights, including the Manhattan Skyline, Ground Zero, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island. We took full advantage of the amenities of the ship on the way to Hamilton. Cruising is the only way to go for vacation. You drop your luggage at the dock, find it in your stateroom later and you don’t pick it up until the end when you get off the ship. Your meals are available continually within “walking” distance and you have entertainment all day and night, again, within “walking” distance. Of course, the cruise itself is always a great experience with the ocean surrounding you, changing skylines, beautiful scenery with spectacular sunrises and sunsets, as well as just soaking up the sun with a good book.

Docking on Front Street in Hamilton, Bermuda’s capital, and only city, makes it very convenient for easy access and walking distance to all the shops and attractions. Old buildings on Front Street with graceful porches and verandas still house retail stores run by families whose ancestors founded them a hundred years ago, A.S Cooper, TriminghamBros., and Smith’s, to name a few. Prominent on Front St. is the famous Birdcage Traffic Island, occasionally occupied by a “bobbie” for photo ops. Shore excursions were also available providing a variety of options to explore the island. You could go by taxi, train, or boat. You could snorkel, swim with dolphins, scuba dive, kayaking, glassbottomboat, caves, champagne sail. You could also stay on the ship and enjoy the all- day activities.

After two nights in Hamilton we moved over to four centuries old St. George's which is conditional depending on the weather. Entrance to St. George’s harbour is through the Town Cut which is 150 feet wide allowing only 25 feet on either side of the ship. The wind velocity determines whether or not the ship will enter the “cut”, perhaps, keeping us in Hamilton for the duration of our visit to Bermuda. Fortunately, we made it through the “cut” and had the opportunity to “walk” off the ship and “walk” to St. George’s cobbled streets, historic homes, museums, forts, and churches. We visited St. Peter’s Church, once merely called “the church”, and the oldest Anglican church in the Western Hemisphere, built in 1612. We also visited Fort Catherine, one of many forts in Bermuda, built to protect against invaders. Adjacent to the fort, is the beautiful pink sand St. Catherine’s beach.

King’s Square is the hub of all activity in St. George’s. Prominent on the Square is the replica of the stocks and pillory that was used to publicly punish “criminals” who missed Sunday church services or stole a chicken. Visitors “lock” themselves in the stocks and pillory for photo ops. When the clock strikes noon, life is transformed back to the 17th century as the Town Crier greets the assemblage with the time and day’s events. There is also a dunking of a “gossiping wench”, a recreation of the dunking of nagging wives, gossips, and suspected witches who are strapped in a dunking stool and dunked in the ocean a number of times depending on their “crime”. There is also a “drunk” chained to the pillory.  St. George also features a replica of Deliverance in the Square, one of the two ships built to carry Admiral Somers and his crew to Virginia in 1609 ( the other was the ill-fated Sea Venture). It offers a rare glimpse of ocean travel over 400 years ago.

There are many “basics” about Bermuda, including Bermuda onions, Bermuda Triangle, Bermuda grass, and Bermuda shorts, as well as jackets and ties with the shorts as business attire. Bermuda also features the world’s smallest drawbridge which opens only 18 inches, just wide enough for the mast of a sailboat to slip through. The magical moongates, circular stone arches, which grace homes, parks, gardens, and byways, attract visitors, especially honeymooners, to stand under and make a wish for good fortune. We revisited the moongate at the Elbow Beach Hotel where we stayed on our 25th anniversary, 24 years ago. The pink sand beaches are also main attractions, including the famous Horseshoe Bay, considered one of the best beaches in the world. Gibb’s Lighthouse is also a must visit, built in the 1840’s and provides a panoramic view of the island.

The Historic Royal Naval Dockyard, whose fortifications and ramparts were formerly bastions of British sea power, was established just after the American War of Independence to provide an operational base off the east coast of the 13 former colonies. During the War of 1812, British war vessels set sail from the dockyard to attack Washington D.C. During World War I and II, the facility was a launch base for submarines and ships, as well as a supply base. Now, as the region’s tourist centerpiece, you can find the Bermuda Maritime Museum, several restaurants, shops, arts and crafts, glass blowing, and the Clocktower Building with walls 3 feet thick and towers 100 feet high.  

An unexpected treat was the bus ride to and from New York twisting and turning through Manhattan streets to and from the dock. It became a sightseeing trip as we observed the hustle and bustle of Manhattan activity on a Saturday, traveling on Madison Ave., Park Ave., Fifth Ave, passing Central Park, Rockefeller Center and the ice skating,  NBC Studios, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Yankee Stadium, the Hudson River, George Washington and Brooklyn Bridge, and many more familiar sights.

February 4, 2005

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