Being in a different community (county) for a week got me thinking about the old Sesame Street Song, The People in Your Neighborhood.
Everyone you meet on Bermuda is so nice. I am not sugar-coating our visit or trying to be sappy; it is just a true statement! From the hostess who sat us at breakfast to the bus driver who stopped to pick us back up after we got off at the wrong stop without us having to flag him down, the native Bermudians seem to relish their chance to show visitors a gentile, hospitable, and welcoming island.
Our ferry captain was especially nice on the morning we took the hotel boat to Hamilton to go to St. George. His crew did not show up, but he did not appear angry, hostile, or even irritated. He just took it in stride and drove the ferry over to Hamilton as if the crew were all with us. Yes, we heard some couched sarcasm when some one asked who was driving the as he talked with us, but his retort actually complimented the person who questioned him!
Each, and every day, smiles and friendly, somewhat formal greetings met us while at the hotel or out in their community. Bermudians were anxious to satisfy our needs. They were willing to go out on a limb to induce comfort, allay hunger, and provide necessities like towels – even at ten o’clock at night. No one, and I do mean not anyone, appeared to be angry they were working during a national holiday weekend (according to one source Bermuda has a zero unemployment rate), that the visitors to the island increased their population by ten-fold (from 60,000 to 600,000 each year), or that you did not really seem to understand the bus token-transfer system (it does cause confusion for some).
All this politeness and consideration made me wish for a little more of this type of behavior at home! Do not get me wrong, we love the mid-west where most of the niceties of daily life are still in place. But, as our population density is increasing, I am finding more people so unhappy in their daily grind that it spills over onto the people they are in contact with – other community members, or visitors. We need to work harder, as the Bermudians do, to not allow this to happen.
My son and one of his former college roommates headed to our cabin this weekend. At dinner last night, the roommate asked, “Do you know everyone here?” clarifying that he met our community. I began my reply seriously, stating how our town’s population has increased three-fold since we moved here eighteen years ago. And then, I added, “no, and I do not want to know everyone, any longer.” The people in our neighborhood are changing, my role in the community is changing, and although I do not have the desire to know ALL the people in our neighborhood (community), I do think we would all do each other a favor if we took more of a Bermudian outlook on life and greeted everyone with a smile and friendly greeting. You see, it takes very little effort for the Bermudians to do this, and yet the effects and dividends are very real. You feel welcome. You feel wanted. You feel like you are part of the neighborhood. Is that not something we all want? We want to belong.
So, I will try to learn the lesson showed to me while visiting Bermuda. In fact, I started this week, smiling and chatting during our high school registration process. I talked to people I knew and to people who were new to me. The Bermudians know the people in their neighborhood, whether native or visitor. If you are a visitor, they make an effort to get to know you and beyond that show you a friendly, welcoming face. You are in their neighborhood, and they want to make your stay as nice as possible. Thank you Bermuda for this reminder. Thank you Sesame Street for sharing a catchy song that has stuck with me for half a century!
“Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood,
in your neighborhood,
in your neighborhood?
Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood,
the people that you meet each day?“
Jeffery Moss, 1969 © Festival Attractions, Inc.
© The Children’s Television Network, Inc. 1971
About a week before arriving on the island of Bermuda, I made reservations at two restaurants I wanted to try during our stay. One was the Hog Penny Restaurant and Pub serving authentic British Pub and comfort foods at a reasonable price. The second dining establishment was the Ocean Club at the hotel we were staying at. I had planned the Ocean Club dinner to be our “honeymoon anniversary dinner” celebration. Again, I used the app, Open Table to make the reservations – more on this later in the post.
Right away, things did not go exactly as planned but might have actually turned out better than we anticipated. We arrived in the late afternoon and after taking our arranged transportation to the hotel, we quickly decided to change into beach clothes and head down to the hotel beach where we knew to be a grill called the Cabana which served light food and drinks to be enjoyed right on the beach. Unfortunately, we arrived at 6:05 p.m. and this establishment closes at 6 p.m. nightly. One of the waiters directed us to the Ocean Club but we were hesitant as my husband was in swim trunks and a t-shirt and I in a tie-dye cover-up type dress. (Note the previous post comments on dress code.) We definitely did not meet the requirements. However, the hostess graciously sat us for dinner. We were given a table on the veranda overlooking the ocean and beach. It was a gorgeous setting. Next, we met our waiter. He was from Nepal! Yes, as in, where Mount Everest is – so far from home! We were able to learn a little about his life there, and his life in Bermuda, as well as his family, from which he was separated for nine months of the year to enable him to earn a living in Bermuda. We spoke of Sherpas and mountains, oceans, family, and bravery. It was a wonderful experience and we had not yet even eaten! Our dinner consisted of Bermuda Rock Fish, Asparagus with Lemon and Himalayan Salt, and Mussels. It was some of the best fish my husband and I ever tasted! We lingered over coffee and tea following our meal to watch the sun disappear over the roof of the hotel beyond the beach. We still had Ocean Club reservations for Saturday night and were looking forward to returning.
The following day was spent at the pool and beach. For dinner, we headed into Hamilton by ferry in the late afternoon. The Southampton Princess Hotel provides a complimentary ferry from its dock to the ferry terminal in downtown Hamilton. We took advantage of this service at least half of the days were on the island. The City of Hamilton has been having Harbor Nights on Wednesdays for quite a few years now, but they are new to us, as they did not offer this form of entertainment in 2007. I had read about this event in my pre-trip research and planned a dinner at one of the restaurants near the harbor in Hamilton. We ate at the Hog Penny Restaurant and Pub, just barely a half a block in from Front Street which was sectioned off for the weekly parade of Gombey dancers and craft vendors. The Hog Penny did not disappoint! The close quartered, classic British Pub atmosphere reminded of the scene in the movie “Maid of Honor” when the female lead goes into the Scottish Pub to receive hearty congratulations on her pending nuptials from perfect strangers! Dark and crowded, we were ushered to our table as soon as an older couple from one of the visiting cruise ships vacated it. But, in passing through such close quarters, you immediately felt like you were part of the pub family, striking up jovial conversations on the way to our intimate corner table. Despite the crowd, our waiter was brisk and efficient, as well as pleasant – but, there was no time for chit-chat with him as he could be seen hopping from table to table. Next to us sat a couple we had ridden on the ferry with into Hamilton. My husband confirmed that she was having the Shepherds Pie, which looked incredible. I had Fish Chowder which is a Bermuda staple and an arugula salad. Our meal was outstanding! The Fish Chowder was really peppery with large chunks of fish and a tomato base. When it arrived our waiter ran back to the table to give me a shake of sherry and Goslings Bermuda Black Rum to top the soup off. Yummy! We completed this dinner by indulging in a locally brewed beer and a hard cider imported from South Africa, both delicious and thirst quenching.
This seems to be a good time to bring up drinking water while on the island of Bermuda. Water is a precious resource. There is no freshwater source on this island. Consequently, the Bermuda residents collect the rainwater that flows off their specially designed, white washed roofs into cisterns on their property. A home owner is required to collect a certain percentage of rainwater. Forgetting that not all countries serve treated tap water, we were served “still” water (from a sealed bottle) at our first dinner. While delicious, we have always found this unnecessary on Bermuda and from there after, opted for iced tap water. It is usually not offered as an option – just still or sparkling, which comes from a bottle and you pay for it. The iced tap water tasted fine and neither one of us has ever gotten dysentery from a stay on Bermuda. Having been to the Netherlands last fall, I realized the bottled water served with meals when in a restaurant is a European tradition that has been continued on this former British colony.
Thursday night was a night without pre-made reservations. This was the only day on our trip that it rained. We had learned that Bermuda was in a very slight drought, and the rain was slow, but steady all day on Thursday. It was nice to see the island receive the rain it was needing. We stayed close to the hotel, thankful that we had not departed on the ferry to St. Georges or the Dockyard. Swimming in the hotel pool during a quiet rainfall was a wonderfully relaxing activity, as it turned out. Around seven we ended up wandering down to another one of the restaurants at the hotel (there are ten) to see if we could be seated. As luck would have it, another couple did not show up for their reservations and we were seated in their place at the Newport Gastropub. This restaurant is decorated in a nautical theme and was just as busy as any other eating establishment we had visited. While our meal was fine, it was not exceptional. Our waitress was very sweet but obviously overwhelmed by a couple of other large parties that had come in around the same time as we did. Although our table was cleared, we seemed to have to wait an extraordinarily long time to receive our dinner bill. It was 9:30 p.m. by the time we left, and we agreed, it was too late to be just returning from dinner. This was the only place we ate on this trip that we do not feel that we would return to eat again if given a future chance. Again, not terrible, just not great.
Coincidently, our feelings about this restaurant was pretty similar to the other comments we read when doing our pre-trip dinner research. We always take comments with a grain of salt, since you do not know what the expectations are of those who are writing, but in this case, slower service and a “just okay meal” seemed to be among the prevailing comments.
Saturday, we spent the day in St. George – another historic town on the opposite end of the island from the Dockyard. Instead of taking ferries (three would be required) we opted for the complimentary ferry from the hotel and a bus ride from Hamilton. The buses on Bermuda are reliable modes of transportation, used by residents and visitors, alike. We have used this mode of transportation on all three of our Bermuda vacations, but this time used tokens instead of passes. It still worked fine. We had a large breakfast before heading out, and lots of water to drink on a very hot and humid day. So, our lunch ended up being delayed until mid-afternoon (after a short time on the beach at Tobacco Bay) when we could catch the bus back to the Swizzle Inn – a famous spot on the island that serves the unofficial drink of Bermuda – the Rum Swizzle. After a 1/2 pitcher (2 drinks each), chicken barbecue nachos which were to die for, and the glad realizations we were still riding the bus back to the hotel, we were content. However, Saturday night was the night we were to return to the Ocean Club for our “fancy” dinner, celebrating our anniversary.
To make a long story short, we cancelled our open table reservation but were unable to make another reservation at the same place for the following night. Instead, with the concierge’s help we made reservations for the Italian restaurant associated with our hotel, but found on the nearby golf course. The restaurant’s name was Bacci. Our waiter here was from Romania – Stephan. I had a seafood skewer consisting of swordfish, scallop, and shrimp, while my husband had their homemade pasta bolognese. They allowed us to split a caesar salad that came out pre-divided on two separate plates from their kitchen. We both had cocktails. And then, we ended up having dessert as well. I will save the dessert story for another time, as it is humorous, but suffice it to say, it was the best dessert either of us had ever had – at home or abroad!
When I asked my husband what the favor part of our trip was he unabashedly said, “the food!” We did eat well! All meals were served ala cart – which is great because you are not served food you do not want, but also not so great to have to pay more for the food you do. And, while the seafood on Bermuda was outstanding and fresher than anything we can get at home in “middle America”, we found ourselves desiring some leafy greens and salads, which started to be satisfied by our lunch selections. We made requisite trip or two to the grocery store, as well. This is something I would recommend any overseas traveller do, as you really get a flavor of the local people and what they are eating. It also makes you appreciate the luxury of choice, affordability, efficiency, flow, and cleanliness we have in our grocery stores at home.
Eating in a foreign country, even one as similar as Bermuda, is a learning experience. We are all humans and all need sustenance. Allow yourself the chance to explore another culture by eating local food and observing local eating customs, as much as possible when travelling overseas. You will be glad you did.
The dining scene in Bermuda is one we have been exposed to before. Thirty years ago, we stayed at the Elbow Beach Hotel on our honeymoon. It required us to “dress for dinner” which included a jacket and tie for my husband and for me to be adorned with dresses. The food was fabulous, and I remember my husband ordering a fish that was filleted right at our white skirted table for two. We ate well, but it was somewhat “stuffy” as we were young professionals just starting out and did not have much. Dressing for dinner was well beyond our scope of experience and as it turned out, one we have never had an affinity for revisiting. While I like to look my best and wear dresses accompanied by coordinating, fancy shoes, my husband prefers the casual-ness of khaki shorts with a collarless, screen printed t-shirt.
Bermuda is extremely expensive – especially, in terms of eating. It took most the savings we had three decades ago just to afford a week-long honeymoon on this beautiful island. At the time, having our meals included in our travel package made sense. It assured we were well fed, did not have to hunt for affordable places to eat, and were exposed to some wonderful cuisine.
Still, years later, my husband cringed at the thought of having to dress for dinner again. When we returned to this island paradise in 2007, my husband was attending a work related conference, and we had our three boys along for the trip. We did not have a package for meals, and consequently, spent a great deal of time anxiously hunting for affordable food. Hamilton, at the time, appeared to be run down and we ended up making several grocery store runs for fried chicken take out, as well as crackers and cheese. The poolside grill provided the most affordable meals, but when you are feeding a family of five, it still gets expensive when an ala carte burger is in the $15.00 – $20.00 range. The most memorable eating experience from that trip was, unfortunately, a negative one. The night we arrived, we ate at one of the highly rated hotel restaurants. Our boys ordered spaghetti and it was one of the worst meals our family has ever had. One hundred and twelve dollars and five stomach aches later, we learned an important lesson – know where and what you are going to eat in Bermuda! You also need to know how much you are comfortable spending for food during your trip.
Our latest trip, the one we returned from two days ago, was different. Armed with the past knowledge of two prior trips, and fortified by pre-trip research and online reservation capabilities, we had wonderful dining experiences. But, again, this time there was only two of us – my husband and I.
In 2017, Bermuda remains a hugely expensive place to eat. This is put into some perspective by realizing that the island must import almost all of the products used to produce first class dining experiences. Nothing in Bermuda comes cheap. We had some help in that when I booked our trip, the package we selected came with breakfast for two everyday. This breakfast turned out to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the day, seated and served in the critically acclaimed Windows on the Water at the Fairmont Southhampton. Gentility abounds at this resort. We were greeted politely by a host or hostess and seated, complete with a view of the ocean and a napkin placed gently on our lap. Breakfast encouraged my husband and I to eat heartily but healthy, including things like yogurt, fresh and dried fruit, scones, cold cuts, cream cheese, and nuts in our daily diet. Juice was offered and poured liberally each morning, allowing a choice between a fresh squeezed blend and orange juice. Coffee and tea were also generously refilled until one could desire no more. Breakfast was a great start to each day in Bermuda.
I used the open table app prior to leaving on our trip to make reservations. Restaurants fill up fast on this tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean. We arrived with 2 dinner reservations made and a list of other restaurants to try. The internet greatly added to our ability to plan for and secure meals in Bermuda. You can look at full menus, reviews (always taken with a grain of salt), and prices. Essentially, you know what you are getting into before you go. I strongly recommend that you do a little internet dinner prep before you go.
In part II of this blog piece, I will share some of the places we ate, the interesting international waitstaff we had a chance to converse with, whether “dressing for dinner” dress codes are still adhered to, and if our expectations were met with gastronomic pleasure or not.