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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bermuda  Part I

Hamilton, BermudaEveryone should go to Bermuda!  At least once!  Before you ever set eyes on a tropical island, the one you imagine is Bermuda.  It is a place of pastel colors as well as of colors bright and vivid.  It is a place of beautiful beaches, sparkling waters, gardens and flowers, friendly people, colorful homes, British influences, Gombey dancers, and peaceful, beautiful nights.  It’s small enough to be easily accessible and big enough to offer diversity.  It really is a tropical paradise. 

But don’t think Bermuda and Caribbean; Bermuda is about 1,000 miles north of the Caribbean.  It is in the North Atlantic, and it is warmed by the Gulf Stream.  It has a second flaw.  It lies just about 600 miles east of the Carolinas, so it is not a year-round summer paradise.  Unfortunately.  Natives will tell you the swim season is from the end of May until September.  Sound familiar?  I’m afraid so.  So think about Bermuda as you would think about the Carolinas.   And go.  You will not be disappointed.

Rob and I sail from NYC for a week’s cruise on Norwegian Line’s Gem.  This cruise offered two particular plusses.  It sailed from Manhattan, and it docked at King’s Wharf, also known as the Royal Naval Dockyard, in Bermuda for the entire stay giving us total freedom of movement—a floating hotel.
New York skyline
Statue of Liberty
We could easily spend our entire vacation on Bermuda beaches—a new and beautiful beach each day, but the temptation to explore proves irresistible, especially when there is a Segway involved!  I love these things and wish I had one at home.
Rob & Wendy and Segways

After meeting our guide, we begin with the area right around the Dockyards and learn a little about the island’s background.  We visit the main fort, The Keep, and ride around much of the 24 acres.  It's beautifully done in stone, and many of the buildings have been converted into restaurants and shops featuring local artisans.  There is also the Bermuda Clay Works.  We actually visit these places later on during our visit, as we keep riding those Segways!

Kings Wharf, Bermuda Off we go, down the road past the walls where visiting ships’ crews leave their signs to let others know they’ve been there. 
ships' crews' insignia wall  Kings Wharf, Bermuda
Off into the country we pass one inviting beach after another, lots of flora and fauna, and wild chickens that roam the island.  We actually taste and/or smell some of the plants, and our guide makes it a fun guessing game to see if we recognize the very herbs we use at home but which grow here. 
Rob & Wendy and Segways Bermuda beaches everywhere
Bermuda beaches everywhere There is only one other couple on the tour; I guess Segways are still a bit off-putting for some people.  It certainly works to our advantage as we zip along the roads or follow nature’s unpaved trails through the garden-like parks.  We pass brightly colored homes.  Everything is sparkling clean and inviting.
Bermuda home
Even the cemetery has a beautiful view.
Bermuda cemetery with a view
When our tour is over, we walk back to the ship and pass a Moongate, a wedding band-shaped arch.  Couples who kiss under Bermuda’s Moongates are assured of a long and happy life together.  We, of course, seal our happiness beneath it.
kissing in the Moonstone    Bermuda
Snorkeling is a passion, and we book what seems to be a great tour, but unfortunately the weather turns against us, and it is too rough to go to the wrecked ships.  Our inventive guide takes us to another location as well as narrates a great tour of the island from the boat.  Again, we are with only one other couple, so touring like this is up front and personal.  We do get to do some snorkeling in the most beautiful sparkling teal water I’ve ever seen.  Of course I’ve said this before at other sites, but suffice it to see, this experience among the coral was memory-making. 

So we have toured quite a bit of Bermuda by land on a Segway and then by water on the snorkeling tour.  It is early Wednesday, and as we are heading to Hamilton by bus, we are going to see Bermuda from another vantage point.

Hamilton on Wednesday nights means Harbor Nights, a weekly festival of music, Gombey dancing, crafts, food, and fun.

The public bus ride from King’s Wharf is wonderful.  The uniformed school children are on the bus, many carrying their cricket bats.  We pass more residential sections and small stores and clubs as well as some lovely beaches, hotels and marinas.  B stands for Bermuda and also for boats. 

Our driver lets us off in the middle of Hamilton where another cruise ship is docked.  Hamilton is a pastel city for the most part, although some building are in the rich, deep colors we see in New England.  The contrast is strikingly beautiful.  All is immaculately clean and inviting.  We spend the remainder of the afternoon wandering around, stopping for a coffee, and people watching.  Motorcycle seems to be the preferred mode of transportation, and yes, Bermuda shorts are worn by many of the businessmen.  It is familiar yet different.  It is beautiful. 
Hamilton, Bermuda
Let's not forget Bermuda's British heritage.  This bobby is probably more for the tourists than for practicality.
Hamilton Bermuda policeman

Bermuda shorts We walk along the waterside and see lovely boats, and up into Storywalk Park where one can follow the signs associated with a children’s tale.  Here we spend some time sitting under shade trees and talking.  The leisurely pace is lovely.
Hamilton, Bermuda

As the afternoon slowly eases into evening, we head back toward the center of town past booths that have miraculously appeared, and we follow the music to a wide street.  Coming down in a serpentine dance are the colorfully costumed Gombey dancers, Bermudians of all ages in costumes resembling bird plumage. 
Gombey Dancers)
Gombey Dancers

Gombey is a mixture of British, West African, and indigenous new-world  cultures.  The dancers are accompanied by young men playing a variety of drums. 

As they reach the bottom of the street, they move into a plaza surrounded by the crowd where they perform interpretive dances, vigorous and thumping, all very intriguing.  Then, they make their way back up the hill into the night.
Gombey Dancers
We visit the booths along the wharf, and I do pick up a memento or two.  And then we take the ferry back to Kings Wharf.  What was nice about the ferry was the ability to bring your bicycle if that were your mode of transportation.  There are many bike trails on Bermuda.  As we leave the city by water, we have lovely views of Hamilton in the twilight as well as of boats coming home for the night.  Yes, it is paradise, albeit a bit crowded on the ferry, but not irritatingly so, just a lot of people heading home for the night.
Boats in Hamilton Bermuda

Hamilton Bermuda  harbor sunset

Here's a travel tip for Bermuda.  You notice that on the two tours we took, we were accompanied by just one other couple.  Normally when we cruise, we book our tours through the ship, but here we did not.  We were docked so we could conveniently get off the ship:  no tender and no waiting for the ship's shore excursions to leave.  I did a lot of research about these tours, consulting Trip Advisor, Cruise Critic, and Frommer's.  I know we had a far better experience doing it this way.  I don't recommend this method for every cruise, but I do for Bermuda.
Boats in Hamilton Bermuda
travel "Third Age Traveler" "travel blogs" vacations cruise "New York" Norwegian Gem photo "photo blogs" photography "Statue of Liberty" "New York Skyline" Bermuda "King's Wharf" "Royal Naval Dockyards" moongate Segways tours "The Keep" forts beaches water oceans sand  snorkling swimming houses colors Hamilton motorcycles bobby ships "Harbor Nights" Gombey dancing parks ferry bus children costumes "travel tips" "cruise critic" "trip advisor" Frommers
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