Sunday, 31 August 2014

Bermuda - The Last Post

I was surprised to see I haven’t written about Bermuda since June, during my first visit here.  As I’m coming to the end of my fourth (and last) trip I guess it’s time to change that.

Part of the reason I’ve been quiet is that I haven’t actually done a lot here, or been to many places to write about.  Most of the time, when I haven’t been working, I’ve been holed up in my hotel.  Two reasons for that.

On my first trip back home, in July, I took Ania and the kids to Mieroszyno for their summer holiday. We stayed at our usual little cottage in the forest there, with its big garden and a couple of miles from the beach.  It’s a lovely place, but this year I only stayed a few days as I was scheduled back in Bermuda the following weekend.  The drive up was very good, as the road system in Poland has improved a huge amount over the past couple of years, and there is an entrance to this new highway system five minutes’ drive from the flat in Warsaw.  From there, it was highway all the way to Gdynia, some 435 kilometres (and three and a bit hours) away, and just 40 or so from the cottage.  So a journey that used to take at least six hours, a good bit more if you went through the old Tri Cities road in traffic, takes not much more than 4 now.  So even though we didn’t get away from home until nearly 4 (late as usual), we were there by half eight and before it got really dark, and missed the worst of the afternoon traffic.

Our Mieroszyno home
So I had a good few days, and the weather was excellent.  The sun was out all the time, not a sign of a shower, and the temperature up in the high 20s.  In fact, throughout my months in Bermuda, apart from the last week at most, it’s been consistently hotter and sunnier at home…..and that is disappointing to say the least.  Anyway, we spent a lot time enjoying the beach and the (still chilly) Baltic and just being together on a family holiday.  Hopefully next year I’ll get more than three days (Ania and the kids stayed three weeks, and some friends visited for most of that time – they had a great trip).

So on the Wednesday afternoon, I was booked on a train from Wladyswawowo, the nearest station (about 5 km away).  It’s my annual trip – I always seem to do it, and this year again the quality and comfort of the train and had improved from last year.  It’s a pleasure, and I had a first class compartment to myself for the first couple of hours, then after that joined by a couple of young ladies and a guy who spent the entire journey on his mobile phone (fortunately the compartment had a power outlet that enabled him to keep the thing charging).

On my way home
So before we left for the station the kids wanted a little kickabout in the garden.  Love it, so of course I said yes.  Kuba kicked the ball to me, I controlled it with my right foot, planted the foot firmly to kick to Ally with my left – and turned my ankle.  Now I knew exactly what I’d done as I had done exactly the same getting on for twenty years ago, running the line for my eldest son Doug’s football team – torn ankle ligaments.  I felt the pop, and the pain – oooo, that hurts.  Of course, the kids found my writhing on the ground effing and blinding highly amusing.  Ania was less than impressed, but raided the first aid kit and found a bandage to strap it as tightly as possible for the trip home – but it was still about three times normal size and very painful.

I got home ok, by which time Ania had called and booked me in to a see an orthopaedic specialist at the local hospital the next day.  He took one look at it, and sent me along the corridor for x-rays.  They showed up what looked like a couple fractures, so I had to go to another hospital, the other side of town, for a CT scan.  That confirmed the fractures, but showed they were old ones (probably from the first injury years ago), that had healed but left bone scarring.  But yes, the ligament had gone.  So the ankle needed immobilizing.  No plaster cast these days  - with the old injury I was in a knee-length cast for three months - , the recommendation this time was for an ortho-boot that I could strap on tightly to immobilize it but remove to shower and sleep.  So that was Thursday taken care of.  Friday I had to hop (literally) onto metro and tram and bus to various outlets to buy a boot.  My sister-in-law was a great help, and found a place close to where she lives – right across town – that sold them, chose a couple for me to look at and arranged a decent price discount.

So by mid-afternoon I had the thing – black and heavy, well-padded around the ankle and held in place by three Velcro straps.  I also had an elasticated bandage to wrap the ankle inside the boot for extra support.

It made the return journey to Bermuda highly amusing, having to take the thing off at each airport security check point and hop through, but at least I got priority boarding on my flights and a seat by the emergency exit row on the long trans-Atlantic leg that allowed me to loosen the straps and stretch my leg out comfortably.

But it really spoiled the trip, because there was no way I could actually do a lot apart from work, then come back to the hotel, elevate the leg and apply ice-packs for a couple of hours to help the swelling come down and heal the injury.  No beach visits, no pool use at the hotel, no sight-seeing strolls around Hamilton or St.George’s, Docklands or Flatt’s Village or any of the other lovely looking spots on the island.

By the end of that three week trip the ankle was much better, so at the end of July it was back home for another week.  It was good to see everyone, and I spent most of it resting my leg as much as possible because I really didn’t want to have to wear the boot longer than I had to.  And it worked: by the time I headed back here for my final trip I was able to leave the boot at home and make do with two strappings – the elasticated one I had bought initially and a new elasticated ankle sock thing bought in Bermuda.  By the time I put on a sock and a shoe the ankle is, if not immobilised, at least well supported.  So good – I can get out and about a bit, and see stuff, maybe even swim.

Well, no, actually.  Bermuda, remember, has a sub-tropical climate, meaning it’s pretty hot and humid most of the year.  It also means the summer months coincide with the Caribbean hurricane season.  While the island is on the fringe of the danger zone and rarely suffers a direct hit, it means that the weather becomes increasingly unsettled – and, let’s not mince words here, bloody wet. This is good for the island, since rain water, carefully filtered by the white limed roofs, forms the vast bulk of its year-round water supply: the rain that falls at this time of year forms their supply for the rest of it.

And boy, has it rained this year.  Not every day, mind you – most of them, but not all.  And, of course, invariably at weekends.  So instead of hopping on a bus to Clearwater Bay or the ferry to Royal Dockyard, or taking a walk up the road to Admirals Park beach, I’ve spent my weekends essentially sitting in my room watching the lightning and the rain running in torrents down the hotel drive, through windows streaked by the monsoon rains.  It’s been depressing and not helped at all by the crap television here. 

Another day in Paradise.....
Remember the Springsteen song “57 Channels and there’s nothing on”?  It’s about American television – which is what serves Bermuda.  And, yes, Bruce, you’re right – it IS crap.  BBC World News and CNN International, even for a news junkie like me, don’t provide a balanced viewing experience, I’m afraid.  Throw in BBC America – not bad, but Monday nights devoted entirely to Top Gear (much as I love it), Tuesdays to nature programmes, Wednesdays to Gordon Ramsey, Thursdays to Star Trek and Fridays to a mish-mash of Top Gear and Ramsey and maybe a movie…..enough.  No coverage of Premier League football is a pain, but the kick off times make a 7:30 a.m. start impractical anyway (I do like a lay in Saturdays).  And the adverts!  God, they’re terrible, and the SAME ones every commercial break.  There are ads for bladder catheters (I know they are important and necessary for a lot of unfortunate folk, but not really what I want to see when I’m eating my dinner), for ambulance chasing lawyers offering assistance to people who have had burst trans-vaginal and bladder mesh injuries (whatever the hell they are), for a variety of off-the-shelf tablets for allergies, indigestion and sexual performance difficulties - all of which, no matter the ailment, can “under certain circumstances lead to serious complications, even death”.  “Consult your doctor immediately if you have an erection lasting more than four hours” is my favourite warning…..I should be so lucky!

I can’t wait to get home now.  This is my last weekend, and yesterday the sun came out (a bit – there was still a lot of cloud around and a strong, cool wind), so I finally got my day out.  I caught the ferry from Hamilton to Royal Dockyard.  It takes about 20 minutes, across the Great Sound and past a whole string islands, most of them not much more than lumps of tree-covered rock with perhaps a small automatic lighthouse or navigation beacon on the top.  But it’s a nice ride, especially on the upper deck, outside in the fresh air and sunshine (and it was fresh yesterday, believe me!) and offers a never ending stream of photo opportunities.  I enjoyed it very much, and took a lot of pictures.

Nice place to live......
Check out the map of Bermuda.  The island chain is in roughly a fish-hook shape.  The Royal Dockyard is at the point of that hook.  It’s where the big American cruise ships from Miami dock.  You can always tell when they’re in town, because Hamilton fills with overweight and loud tourists, who like most Americans of my experience are incapable of holding a conversation unless they shout.  It seemed quiet in Hamilton when I went in yesterday morning, and sure enough there are no cruise ships in this weekend.  So the Royal Docks were very peaceful and near deserted when I got there.  It’s a very picturesque place, lots of old stone buildings, and warehouses converted to shopping malls and gift shops and bars.  There is a small beach, Snorkel Bay, so called because it offers the “best snorkelling on the island”, with a coral reef just off-shore.  There are signs everywhere asking visitors to take care both in and out of the water to avoid damaging the fragile eco-system, and pick up your rubbish (“leave only your footprints in the sand”).  Yesterday there was no need to worry on that score – only one beach bar was open, with only two people (both in workers’ uniforms) using it, even though it was lunch time.  The restaurant was closed, and there were no customers anyway.  Apart from a middle aged American couple picking their way carefully along the concrete block breakwater, I was the only person there.  Not a snorkeler in sight.  I didn’t stay.

Snorkel Bay, noon, 30 August.  Busy....
I checked out a couple of gift shops in a converted warehouse but nothing caught my attention.  Opposite the door of the second I spotted a pub, The Frog and Onion, so as it was lunchtime I settled in.  I had a quite delicious steak and mushroom pie with steamed vegetables and a pint of the local ale (I thought it disappointing), then a tasty sticky toffee pudding and a latte.  It was a very tasty and enjoyable lunch, and I enjoyed just sitting there reading my book and enjoying the atmosphere and my own company.

Outside the Frog & Onion

Close by, another converted warehouse held a small mall of gift shops and an Italian restaurant, but most of the shops seemed to be closing and I saw nothing I wanted to buy anyway, so I strolled back to the pier and caught a bus back to Hamilton.  It took an hour, and was a pleasant ride through typical winding and narrow Bermudan roads, with sea views on both sides (often simultaneously) and across a succession of bridges linking the islands.  Small inlets, dotted with moored boats and surrounded by small white roofed cottages, appeared and disappeared every few minutes, small pastel painted churches and chapels, and now and again roadside supermarkets and small malls came and went.  Bermuda is a delightful island and I wish I’d had the opportunity of renting a motor scooter and exploring it more thoroughly.  One day, maybe…..



The forecast for today (Sunday) was ok: sunshine and showers, which is par for the course right now.  So I figured I would either take the bus out to Clearwater Bay again, close to the airport, where I had my last beach trip way back in June, or maybe take a stroll twenty minutes up the road and check out a lovely looking – and mostly deserted - little bay in the old Admirals Park, on the north coast, looking across to the Royal Docks.  But no: I got up this morning to grey skies and rain.  It cleared for an hour or two, but the rain has come back with a vengeance, and the hotel drive has turned into a stream again.  The best laid plans of mice and men, and all that……  Work tomorrow, and home Friday, so it rather looks as though my Bermuda explorations have come to an end.

It’s a lovely place, as I’ve said, and the people have been unfailingly friendly and welcoming.  I’ve visited some lovely beaches – Elbow Bay Beach remains one of the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere and Clearwater Bay is not much worse (and has the added attraction of not bordering a hotel complex that seems to move its boundaries in a completely arbitrary manner), but never managed to get to the famous and spectacular pink sand beaches on the south shore.

I found some good restaurants and bars here, and the food and drink was invariably tasty and filling.  I went to Flanagan’s Irish bar most, for the sea-view on the balcony and its excellent Kilkenny beer (its draught Boddingtons was equally delicious).   I never had a bad meal there.  The Hog Penny was also really good.  The local IPA bitter is possibly one of the best beers I’ve drunk anywhere, but the food delicious.  Probably the best meals I’ve eaten this summer on the island were served here, and as well as being delicious offer superb value for money. The Frog and Onion over in Dockyard was great as well, and all three have my highest recommendation.  Even the little Café Four food court in the Mall near the office is great – they do a good mix of hot and cold meals, including some delicious sushi, at good prices, and also a fantastic hot chicken and leek pie that I love.  If I’ve missed anything here it’s been a decent Starbucks coffee.  They don’t have an outlet here, although there are a few places (I haven’t tried them) that carry the famous logo but serve only a small selection of franchised coffee without the comfy old armchairs and relaxing décor that I enjoy so much.  



All in all, I’ve enjoyed Bermuda.  It’s been a good project and a great location.  I’d like to return under my own steam someday, and take my time to explore it properly.

So what’s next?  Well, home next weekend, then off to Turkey for a short vacation and my son’s wedding – with Ania and the kids.  I’m really looking forward to that, as apart from a couple of flight changes in Istanbul some years back I’ve never visited the country and I will of course write about it in a couple of weeks, when it’s done.  Then a new project in an old location – back to Amsterdam, a place I enjoyed way back in 2000 when I first embarked on This Travelling Life.  It’s long termer, and will cover visits elsewhere, to some more new destinations.  So there will be plenty more to come here, lots more traveller’s tales to waste your time in the months (and hopefully years) ahead.

Happy days.