Monday, May 13, 2013

Bermuda - Not the Caribbean

Bermuda Flag with Union Jack and Bermuda Coat of Arms

 I had heard of Bermuda, but in my mind lumped it in the general classification of " a Caribbean Island," with steel bands and Jimmy Buffett bars. I was significantly off-target.  Barbara was given the opportunity for a free Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) cruise this year, with options including the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.  Our first instinct was to jump for a cruise out of Barcelona, but the timing was not right (mainly my still being employed with substantial, but not unlimited vacation availability.)  We have never been particularly attracted to the Caribbean, but with a little investigation, it was obvious that Bermuda was altogether a horse of a different color.

Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory in the Atlantic Ocean, 6-700 miles East of North Carolina, discovered by a Spanish sea captain in 1505, though never explored as the Spanish saw the multiple reefs as too dangerous for entering.  An English ship on its way to Jamestown, Virginia in 1609 was blown onto the reefs by a storm and the sailors stayed two years before rebuilding a small ship, Deliverance, which they eventually sailed on to Virginia Some sailors stayed behind, and from that grew the town of St George, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A small volcanic island in the Atlantic
Dockyards (Cruise Ships and fortifications) on the West end,, and St George on the East end

Bermuda, with Turquoise shallows and reefs as seen from space. (Click on Picture to enlarge)

 The Island has more in common with England than with the Bahamas; conservative, with strict drug and driving laws.  You will not wear a bathing suit into a store or restaurant, you will be summarily deported if caught with any drugs, and Bermudians have strong advantages in home purchasing, with a very few, very expensive homes bought by wealthy foreigners (Opra tried to purchase a $37M house, but after 3 years of bureaucracy gave up & bought in Hawaii instead.)  Citizenship is very difficult to obtain; if you are born there, you will be assigned the citizenship of your mother, and matrimony yields citizenship only after 10 years of continuous marriage bliss - no quickie or convenience marriages count.  Executive authority in Bermuda is vested in the Monarch and is exercised on her behalf by the Governor, who is appointed for a 4 year term. However, Bermuda is self-governed by its Parliament.  

Boston Prelude

Our NCL ship departed Boston, so we flew in a day early to insure against airplane delays and to meet with our long-time investment advisor the morning before boarding ship in the afternoon.  We did a LONG march of about 5 hours and visited a few lesser-known historic buildings, Boston Commons, Boston Garden, Boston Central Cemetery, and the memorials being left at the Boston Marathon bombing site.  Barbara's new knee was functionally normal from what I observed; great to have my walking companion back!

Panorama of the bombing memorial location near the finish line (Click on picture to enlarge)

Cruise from Boston

The ship was first-class construction and I think well-staffed.  Our 11th-deck stateroom was as large as any we have experienced.  That said, half our fellow cruisers were shabbily dressed, tended to the grossly obese, and displayed far too much tattoo-encrusted skin.   The standard restaurant food was mediocre at best, with the buffet much better.  Hamburger bars were great!  They had 6 upscale restaurants with $10-30 cover charges where the food was quite good and the atmosphere more to our taste.  Drink prices were average.  Did I mention the cruise was free?

Our ship, the Norwegian Dawn, gave us one day "at sea" on the way to Bermuda and two days "at sea" on the way back to Boston, and it served as our hotel for three days on Bermuda.
For a friend, we included "Flat Stanley" (actually a flat "Sintu"" in our trip. (click here for the Flat Stanley website)
Our cabin is partially seen, top edge/exact center of the picture.
Looking down the 8-deck high main atrium mid-ship. 
The Dawn  had no issues during our trip, but  has experienced its share of problems. 


We did find this a great place for historical-cultural touring.  The people of the island are uniformly friendly, skin color-blind, literate, and proud of their country.  Historical buildings and fortifications are interlaced with narrow streets and roads.  The tour books minimize the culinary experience, but thanks to a local recommendation, we had our best dining of the week in a pub slightly off the main roads (The Lobster Pot in Hamilton.)  We started with a general overview tour of the island in a mini-bus, ended with a boat tour of the local "millionare row" homes, and in between explored on our own with a ferry/bus pass and a few taxi rides.

Here are a very few pictures from three days of exploration (we took ~500 pictures - only with our iPhones - but you will not be punished with them on this blog.)  When we see you, we will want to share with you personally some stories from our experience.

Our arrival was at the Dockyards at the western tip of the Island.  You can see some of the old fortifications in the background, and the high-speed ferry approaching its dock.  (Click on picture to enlarge)

Obviously part of the British Commonwealth .
We were there during the Hibiscus blooming season.  Lots of other flowers blooming also.
Famous for its pink sand beaches.  Even though the "beach season" had started a month perviously, the water was still chilly.
Though with limited time, Barbara scoured a couple of beaches for enough "sea glass" to make a necklace for herself.

Flat Sintu with some tour and taxi drivers.  It soon became obvious to us that everyone on the island knows everyone else, and is related to many of their fellow islanders.  The 20 sq mile islands is home to only 65,000 citizens.

Originally named New London, St George was established in 1612 is the oldest continuous English settlement in the Western Hemisphere.  The town and the associated fortifications are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The House of Assembly, the white building in the far background, was originally the only house of Bermuda's parliament, and held its first session in 1620 at St Peter's Church, moving to this building later the same year.

There is virtually no  fresh water on the island.  As a result, Bermuda's roofs have evolved over four centuries to do two things: protect houses against gale-force winds and funnel whatever the heavens rain down into large cisterns that feed household taps. By law, every house must collect 80 percent of the water that falls on its roof. To build a traditional Bermudian roof, masons mortar rectangular slabs, or "slates," of local limestone to each other over a hip-roof frame.  Along the lower edges of the roof, they sculpt a long concrete trough for a gutter, which directs rainwater to a pipe that filters it and funnels it into a cistern buried under, or occasionally alongside, the house. Then they give the whole roof structure a thin wash of cement. Finally, to keep rainwater as clean as possible on its way to the cistern, they paint the roofs with special nontoxic paint (a modern replacement for traditional lime wash), which must be reapplied every two to three years

The underside of a limestone roof.  .
Typical street in St George.
Tucker House in St. George’s was built in the 1750s. A magnificent collection of Tucker family silver, china and crystal, antique English mahogany and Bermuda cedar furniture, portraits by Blackburn, and exquisite hand-sewn quilts are some of the treasures on we did not get to view, as it was closed the day we were there.

St. Peter's Church, in St. George's is the oldest surviving Anglican church in continuous use outside the British Isles. It is also reportedly the oldest continuously used Protestant church in the New World

Triple tiered pulpit in St Peter's
Back to the Dockyards, there are excensive remaing of the ramparts and fortifications, some dating to the 17th century.  (Click on picture to enlarge)

The victualing yard (Click picture to enlarge)

Exploring some of the Dockyard ruins surrounding the victualing yard.

Gun emplacements on the ramparts  The entrance to the munition magazine is in the foreground. 
Hosting mechanism from the magazine to the cannon.

This 18 ton, rifled barrel, muzzle loading cannon could target ships as far as 5 miles offshore. (my hat on the ground for size reference.)

Behind a moat and protected wall is the "Keep" and in a elevated position within the keep is the Comissioneer's House

View from the Comissioner's house porch of the Keep Yard in the foreground, the victualing yard beyond that, and the Casemate Barracks in the background.  (Click picture to enlarge.)

The Comissioner's room on the main level.  (Click picture to enlarge.)

This is an open walk to the old Casemate Barracks.  It's nice that in some countries you are allowed personal responsibility . . . there were several mildly dangerous place on these old walls that would have kept it closed in the U.S.  Same for a number of other areas on the ramparts where without some attention you could fall many yards onto stone.  (Click picture to enlarge.)

The Casemate barracks were used as a high-security prison for a decade, and then abandoned.  They are currently undergoing archaeological study before restoration.  (Click picture to enlarge.)

The clocktower building has a standard clock on the left, and a tidal clock on the right.  (Click picture to enlarge.)

Just before leaving, we did a tour, from the water, of the coves along "millionaire's row".There are indeed Bermudian millionaires and billionaires here, but the foreign billionaires mostly live in  a closed, gated compound on Tucker's Point. (Click picture to enlarge.)

WE WILL BE BACK (but probably not on a cruise; for more time to explore and experience, we will fly in and stay on the island the next time.)