Stringers 'take' on winter in Bermuda

... the people and the scenery are just fine

by Don and Lorry Norris

The resort at Grotto Bay -- just lovely.

Photos by Lorry and Don Norris

It was our first time to Bermuda -- and it was great. The mid-winter Boston blues went up in smoke, the ice and snow disappeared, and the Montreal Express was replaced by a gentle, warm breeze from the Caribbean.

Bermuda isn't totally pink and turquoise -- like their buses, the sea, the sky. There's a lot of green even in winter, palm trees swaying, and coral the deep rich color of, well, of coral. It appears to me that some celestial artist painted Bermuda, rich in closely coordinated colors. It is magnificent.

Tea time daily at 4:00, Swizzle Party Mondays.

Sure, there are drawbacks. For example there was, well, there was ... I'm sure there were some bad things. Perhaps it's the color of money, for it disappears quickly. In other words, prices for a lot of things -- such as food -- are about double what we pay in Massachusetts.

And therefore, Bermuda isn't perfect.

But this was the off-season -- February 26 to March 2 -- and the accommodations were there for the picking. We made a deal with TNT Vacations for four nights at the Grotto Bay Inn, and the prices reflected the fact that there was perhaps 15 to 20 percent occupancy, across the island. My guess is that Bermuda isn't far enough south (it's 600 miles due east of North Carolina) to be called a winter haven -- most folks looking for warmth are headed for Florida and the Bahamas.

Grotto Bay Resort has its own, rather magnificent, grotto, complete with stalagtites, stalagmites and that gorgeous azure blue underground pool.

That was good for us, for the package price dropped radically: Air fare and hotel totalled $950, for Lorry and me. Food was something else, but then, at our age, we eat very sparingly. Our most extravagant supper was two huge bowls of Bermudian fish chowder and a beer -- the bill, with tip was $36. It was totally different from New England fish chowder -- it was dark and rich, with hot sauces and a touch of rum. But the hospitality provided by the English bartender, the beautiful Italian waitress and a couple of British lady diners made the evening for us.

(That meal was at the Lobster Pot on Queen Street in downtown Hamilton. Rustic with fine china and excellent food).

Bermuda is a funny place. It is a long slender island of perhaps 20 miles, shaped like an arm, bent upward at the elbow. At the east end is the beautiful, quiet, quaint village of St. George, where we spent an entire day walking the narrow streets and alleys. At the west end, out at the crook of the arm, is a place called the Naval Dockyard, which was once a huge fort that gave England a military edge in the mid-Atlantic. It is now a tourist happening.

In the middle is a captured-bay with dozens of islands, where the busy city of Hamilton rests. No, rest is the wrong word. Hamilton is busy, it is modern, business thrives, and well-dressed business people hustle about. It is a bright and sunny place (mostly), totally "island" in its appearance, with pastel pink, yellow and green office buildings. It is a place where people hustle, as in any city.

The people of Bermuda: Lorry talks to a native, while  business types and students stroll by - in Hamilton.

Bermuda, I read, is 54 percent black. You will enjoy this lovely mixture of  Bermudian people as we did, for they are gracious, helpful, educated and upbeat. We found that many people -- men and ladies -- on boarding a bus, greet the passengers with "Good Morning, everyone." And the seated audience replies, not quite in unison. It is a beautiful way to travel, and we began to smile more, and assume that gracious feeling.

The place is spotless. Everywhere. The buses are pink, and clean, and neat. The streets are clean, the hotels immaculate, the restaurants warm and inviting. Clean is a frame of mind. And I can't say enough about Grotto Bay, where I was greeted with a hug from the attractive hostess, and our bags were whisked away and delivered to our rooms.

A wild chicken for every pot -- they roam free and dinner costs nothing. The fan is strictly Bermudian. And two very colorful but unidentified people-watchers.

Grotto Bay resort has a lot going for it. One, it is away from the city, by about eight miles or so. It is land-rich, set on a hill overlooking its own pink and turquoise beach -- and rather than having one very tall hotel, it has some ten coral-colored buildings spread around the property, each of which has a delightful view of the bay. And it's on a hill covered with beautiful, lush tropical greenery.

The restaurant at Grotto Bay is exquisite -- and we thought overpriced, but then the whole island is overpriced when it comes to dining. So we didn't eat there; we did go to high tea several times, and there was a half-hour long "swizzle party" on Monday evening, with free rum swizzles. Very tropical, very good, very hospitable.

Service was excellent. The staff was outgoing, knowledgeable, ready to offer help and advice. It was a charming place.

Front Street for shopping and fun -- and a moped parking lot downtown.

On the other hand, there were some things we didn't like -- but couldn't do anything about. Like, the roads are all two busses wide with about six inches to spare. The roads are almost always lined with either rock walls (defining property) or "cuts" through ancient sedimentary rock, from which the islands were created.

Further, the buses are sort of fast -- for the conditions -- and therefore I shut my eyes a lot. The roads are good but narrow, and the traffic, in off-season, was busy, especially at rush hour. Up, down, bend to the right, sway to the left -- there is nothing straight about the roads of Bermuda.

"This wide" says Don, referring to Bermuda's narrow streets. We also took peeks into picturesque back yards.

On the other hand, the buses are immaculate, swept clean and polished. It seems to be a way of life in Bermuda. Clean, neat, attractive, kept up. We had to compare it to our own Boston Orange line, the subway -- on the way home; it was filthy, strewn with torn papers and debris. Of course that was rush hour, but it was a far change from the lush, clean-and-neat Bermuda, where cleanliness runs supreme.

You know you're in Bermuda when you come upon scenes like this.

Even the school children wear coats and ties, and school dresses. But children are children, and when the bell rings and the bus arrives, they behave likes kids everywhere. It did seem to me that they didn't care to interact with the tourists -- whereas the grown-ups are outgoing, proud of their island, and as pleasant as they could be. It was nice.

The bus system in Bermuda is excellent -- and other than taxis, buses are the only way to get about. Unless you want to go by moped; you can rent one for as little as $50 a day, plus fees, but I heard on the radio that four moped riders had been done in, and the year was only two months old.

A bus ride can cost three dollars, but usually four. A tourist can buy a three-day pass for $28, and get on and off as many times as fits his wanderlust. That's what we did. In our four days, we made some twenty-four bus trips (twelve each) plus one ferry ride. That makes the bus pass a really good deal. And, although I used to race motorcycles, I turned down the opportunity to rent a moped.

The mopeds are everywhere -- mostly driven by the natives. In Hamilton you'll find rows upon rows of parked mopeds, with narrow parking spaces painted along the main drags. There seemed to be as many mopeds as cars -- the cars were mostly made in the far east, little tiny things that fit four passengers tightly. The biggest car I saw was a miniature BMW station wagon. All the vehicles seemed to be scaled down, even the trash trucks.

In our four days in Bermuda it was all we could do to sample the entire island. It was a busy time, a lot of walking, a lot of bus riding, limited beach combing, lots of exploring. Our favorite place (other than our lovely room at Grotto Bay) was Horseshoe Beach, on the south shore. It had everything you can imagine -- pink sand, turquoise water fading to a deep transparent blue, tropical greenery, outcroppings of razor-sharp coral, and only a few hardy tourists.

Ah! A hooker and the town drunk get a come-uppance. All for the sake of tourists in St. George.

Our fondest memory was the town of St. George, at the northeast end. It was old Bermuda, the place where the original Brits washed up on shore after a hurricane in 1609. We met the mayor (a lovely woman); we watched as the town fathers dunked a trollop -- a blond lady who plays the part daily -- and we walked through a couple of miles of old Bermuda neighborhoods. It was gorgeous.

Would we go back? Yes, maybe. It is a small place, and we completed our share of exploring. In mid-winter the temperatures were in the sixties, maybe 72 once. The people are great, the scenery is spectacular, food is delightful but expensive.

But if you've got the money and are looking for a good place to hang out on the beach, this is the place. Only two hours by plane from Boston. Nice.

The scene at Boston's Logan Airport, the day we left -- in a snowstorm.

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