Thursday, May 8, 2008

St. Martin: March 9, 2008

Heineken Regatta

Ok - so I realize that I never finished my St Martin posts. Since then I have been to St Lucia so I better get this posted...

So every year St Martin is inundated with sailors from all over the world. They come for the Heineken Regatta. This is a sailboat race but also a 4-day party. Each night a different town hosts a party. The last night finale was at Kim Sha beach which is within walking distance of the condo. This year Shaggy was performing. There was also a local steel pan band and Youth Waves, a local band that is a blend of salsa, soca and reggae. They also showed some of a new movie “The Pan Man: Rhythm of the Palms”. This film was written and filmed on the island.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Anguilla: March 8, 2008

Today we took the ferry from Marigot to Anguilla. It's usually a nice 45 minute ride but today the water was very choppy. We sat on the top deck and got absolutely soaked. It was so rough we couldn't risk going down the stairs into the main cabin. I was so happy to get on land again. I don't get seasick but I also don't like the feeling of possibly flying off the roof of a boat. Seems like the water is a lot less rough in the Summer.

We took a taxi over to Shoal Bay. They have a watersports guy there that will rent out chairs and snorkel equipment at a good price. Uncle Ernie's restaurant is also here. They have great grilled food and it is very casual. I got the grilled fish burger but everything there looked good. The food next door at the Madeiriman Beach Club is also good and is in a more elegant setting.

Shoal Bay is one of my favorite beaches in the Caribbean. Not crowded, has a couple of casual restaurants and beautiful white sand.

Shoal Bay East:

Shoal Bay usually has some good snorkeling but the waves were pretty rough. I think I will have to go back in the Spring or Summer....

Monday, March 24, 2008

St. Martin: March 7, 2008

I have been to St Martin probably 20 times but I have never been up to Loterie Farm. There is now a zipline course there so we thought we would give it a try. They have two types of zipline - the regular and the extreme zipline. The regular zipline is not that high off the ground and really caters to the cruise ship crowd. It looked ok but we really wanted a real zipline so we did the extreme zipline. Everytime I say extreme zipline I always think of the Extreme guys from Harold and Kumar Go To Whitecastle.

To get to the extreme zipline they loaded us up on the back of a truck and took us up to the top of the mountain. The ride up there made me nervous enough. We had no seat belt and were on benches in the back of a completely open truck. The view from the top is stunning. I only wish I had brought my camera with me. I was afraid that it would get broken but it would have been worth the risk.

The first zipline wasn’t so bad. We just took a running start and zoomed down the zipline to the first platform. The zipline is a lot of fun. I have to admit I was a little worried about hitting the tree at the end (even though it is covered with padding) so I kept breaking too early. I eventually got that under control and learned to enjoy the ride to the finish. The extreme zipline also had some extra items such as a cable tightrope, ladders and log bridge. I think they were just there to make you appreciate the zipeline ride. Our guide Nick thought it was a load of laughs to jump on the bridge and cables as we were walking across. Honestly, these didn’t scare me but it was physically difficult to get across these items. The logs on the bridges were spaced pretty far making it difficult to get across and the cable tightrope was uncomfortable on the feet. I always felt safe as we hooked ourselves into the safety lines. I just wish we could have hung from those lines and slid to the other side! Still, I highly recommend the zipline. It’s a lot of fun and a great view.

Over the past 20 years I have watched St. Martin grow. It’s very hard to find any open space left on this island and Loterie Farm is a nice refuge. They also have a nice restaurant and bar area.

In the afternoon we headed into Phillipsburg to do some shopping. Phillipsburg is the capital of the Dutch side. All the large cruise ships come into port here. This area has good prices on electronics and jewelry and also sells the typical tourist items. In the past few years they have built a nice beachfront boardwalk. This is a nice area to stroll or take a dip in the ocean. One store everyone should check out is Rima’s on Pondfill Road. They have a large selection of souveniers and beachwear. Many of the items sold along the beaches or other shops were bought at Rima’s first. It’s a great place to pick up some inexpensive gifts to take home.

In the evening we went to Toppers restaurant in Simpson Bay. This is a nice family friendly restaurant with some good basic food as well more gourmet items. I had the gnocchi, which was excellent, and the crab stuffed mahi mahi was also very good. After that we went to the Lady C floating bar. It was lady’s night so it was loud and crowded. I usually prefer a mellower atmosphere so we didn’t stay long. I think I would enjoy this bar more on other nights.

St. Martin: March 6, 2008

We decided to start off the vacation over at Orient Beach. This is a long sandy beach on the French side. I like it because you can rent chairs, umbrellas, get drinks delivered to your chair and there are also some good beachside restaurants. Orient Beach is also great for people watching. French side beaches allow topless bathing and Orient Beach also has a nude section. Needless to say there are a lot of characters that roam this beach. The nudity never shocks me but some of the outfits are hilarious. On previous years I have seen an older couple that managed to put on their hat, t-shirt and sneakers to go for a walk. They seemed very concerned about the sun but didn’t seem to mind that they had no bottoms. There was also the body builder with his tight boxer brief swim shorts and his girl that had a Borat style swimsuit. I think she would have been better off nude. There was also the older man who must recently caught the nudist bug. He was strutting his stuff but had serious tan lines. Not a good look even on the fittest person.

We settled in at Bikini Beach and rented some chairs and umbrella. Bikini Beach has great food and drinks. I like being able to have a nice relaxing lunch and escape the sun for a little bit. They also have great margarita’s and guacamole.

Monday, March 17, 2008

St Martin: March 5, 2008

This morning we left for St. Martin / St. Maarten. Our condo at the Simpson Bay Beach Condominiums was available during the Heineken Regatta so I just had to go. Sailors from all around the world come to St. Martin come for this regatta. It’s not just a race but 3 days of parties and music. The finale of the party happens right down the beach from our condo and this year Shaggy was performing. I decided to take a couple of girlfriends. One that had never been to the island, one that went with me when we were 13 and one that has been several times.

We decided to try out the new JetBlue service to St. Maarten via JFK. This was a nice flight although it was a little bumpy due to bad weather in Boston. JetBlue is a much more comfortable airline and well priced. The seats are leather, have more legroom and the base of the seat slides when you recline the back. They also have xm radio and satellite TV. Unfortunately the TV only works while you are over the US. Since we were in international waters most of the way we had to rely on the movies and radio. Luckily the movie was Juno! I had been waiting to see this so it worked out well. The other movie was Alvin & the Chipmunks. I would probably rather stare at a blank screen than watch that – and I usually like Jason Lee.

We arrived in St. Maarten around 3 and picked up the car, another friend arriving on USAIR and then made our way to the condo. I have been going to St Martin and this condo for over 20 years. It always feels a bit like going home. Some of my favorite vacation memories have been at this condo. It’s a great place to sit and watch the sunset while enjoying some wine and gouda cheese or Etna’s Rum Raisin ice cream.

Since we had not had a chance to go grocery shopping we decided to get a quick bite to eat at Shrimpy’s. This is a bar just behind the gourmet grocery store on Simpson Bay. It is very casual and seemed to mostly be sailors taking advantage of the free WiFi. We all shared a shrimp and mussel appetizer. It was very good and after we went for dessert at Hagan Daas near Cheri’s in Maho Bay. Cheri’s has been there as long as I can remember. It’s a popular spot for birthday’s and families. They always have some sort of entertainment (music and comedy) similar to what you would find on a cruise ship or resort. Not my thing but people love it. It was a long day so we went back early.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

England, January 2008

I just came back from a 10-day holiday to England with my father.  Dad is originally from Glasgow and London and we went to London to visit family and celebrate my aunt’s 60th birthday.

My father grew up in the East end of London which is typically the starting point for most immigrants. When my father was living there it was mostly Jewish but with each new generation came a new wave of immigrants.

All of my dad’s London cousins grew up within blocks of each other. Many of the buildings have been knocked down but there a few that are still standing:

Hessel Street:

My great grandparents lived on Hessel street.  The loo (toilet / outhouse) was on the roof but we hear it now has indoor plumbing.

Unfortunately I was having battery issues with my good camera. These photos were taken with my phone.

This is the synagogue that my great grandparents attended:

And now my good camera starts working!!

Brune Street Soup Kitchen:
This soup kitchen started in 1902 and served the East end poor for 90 years. The building was converted into flats in 1993.

January 11:We decided to do the Old Jewish Quarter tour with London Walks. This is a walking tour of the East end and starts with the Romans and goes all the way to present day. As part of the tour we stopped at Bevis Marks synagogue which is the oldest standing synagogue in Britain. It was opened in 1701 and originally served the Spanish and Portugese Jewish community. My father used to sing in the choir there (although we have our doubts as he is currently tone deaf). He also ran into an old schoolmate while we were visiting.

January 12:In the morning we treated ourselves to a full English breakfast which includes blood sausage, bacon, beans, toast and eggs and hash browns. I had to try the blood sausage but was unimpressed. Why waste calories on something that is not only disturbing but doesn't really taste great?

We then proceeded to do some posh London shopping by stopping at the Harrods January sale. People fly in just for this sale. If you can justify 400 pound then the half price Burberry bag seems like a steal. Can you sense the sarcasm - or maybe just jealousy?

The best part of Harrods is the food hall. It's full of gourmet items that you didn't know existed or maybe didn't want to know. Pigeon anyone? They also had the opera singing pizza maker.

After Harrods it was off to Fortnum and Mason for some crazy expensive tea and tomato chutney. This gourmet food store has been around since the 1700's and has been the preferred food store of the royals. The food hall is not as big as Harrods but it is even more posh.

Have I mentioned how much I love my new digital SLR camera? I was still learning to use it on this trip but so far so good.

We also had a chance to see a couple of shows. Since it was off-season there were plenty of tickets available at the Leicester Square Half Price Ticket Booth. To find the official booth, go to the green in Leicester Square (opposite the movie theater). Leicester Square has a subway / tube stop on the Piccadilly line. The line (or queue as the Brits say) starts at 10am and you can purchase matinee or regular tickets for shows that day. We went to see "Swimming With Sharks" as well as "Shadowlands".

"Swimming With Sharks" stars Christian Slater and the play was about a ruthless movie executive and his new assistant. The new assistant has a love for movies but is drawn to the dark side of the industry as the play goes on. Christian Slater did an excellent job but I kept thinking that the play seemed better suited to a movie. Turns out it was a movie with Kevin Spacey.

In between the plays we had dinner at Papageno Restaurant in the West End. I can't decide if the decor is tacky or magnificent but it was a lot of fun. The food was mostly mediteranean and it was good. I would like to go to their sister restaurant Sarastro for either their Opera Sunday Matinee or Monday evening meal. They have live opera performances featuring up and coming stars.

Here is a photo of Papageno:

Yes the decor is a little overwhelming but there is always something to talk about if the conversation runs dry...

The other play we saw was "Shadowlands". I highly recommend this play and there was not a dry eye in the theater. Shadowlands is the tragic love story of C.S. Lewis and an American fan. The play stars Charles Dance as C.S. Lewis. Turns out this was a movie as well but it translated well as a play.

January 14:Today we left to visit some family in Leeds. We rented a car and made a quick stop at Stratford-Upon-Avon on the way.

Shakespeare's Birthplace:

Shakespeare's Grave at the Holy Trinity Church:
Many important people were buried inside churches to prevent grave robbers from disturbing the graves.
On his grave it says:
"Good friend, for Jesus' sake forebeare
To digg the dust enclosed heare;
 Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones"

January 15:

Today we took a day trip to York (from Leeds). As it was pouring rain we went to the Jorvik Viking Center first. This museum is a ride/educational exhibition that takes you from through the villages of York during Viking times. The exhibit is based on archaeological evidence found in excavations between 1979–81 by the York Archaeological Trust. The damp conditions in York (did I mention it was raining?) helped to preserve many items including a Viking toilet and its contents. The ride / exhibit takes through the villages and workshops and yes, it stops by at Viking toilet complete with a animatronic man sitting there doing his business. Did I mention that they also pump in smells on this ride? Jokes aside the exhibit was very informative as well as fun for all ages.

One of the old shopping streets:

Cliffords Tower:
This infamous site was built as one of two castles in the city of York by William the Conqueror and is best known for a masacre in 1190. Jews had sought refuge in this tower to escape an angry mob. Many ended up taking their own lives, some died by fire and many died at the hands of the mob.

I wish it would stop raining. My photos are so gray...

January 16:On the way back to London we stopped in Nottingham and then Oxford. Nottingham Castle doesn't really exist as most of it has burned down. Some of the walls and gate still stand. There are also some statues of Robin Hood outside the walls. The oldest Inn and Pub is also built right into the wall.
Castle Gate:

Robin Hood:

The Trip to Jerusalem Inn:
Founded in 1189 this is the oldest inn in England. It is connected with the caves at the foot of Nottingham Castle.

We also made a quick stop in Oxford with a walk through the city and Christ Church College. This is one of the most well known colleges at Oxford.

Dining Room at Christ Church:
Recognize it from the Harry Potter movies?
Look closely at the bottom of the windows. Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, was a professor at Oxford. Alice in Wonderland character are portrayed in the stained glass windows.

January 17:
Quick try to get on the Hogwarts Express otherwise known as Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Rail Station. Guess I am not as magical as I thought....

I had to do a little work so I stopped by No. 1 the Mansions for a tour. These flats are perfect for families, groups and couples traveling together and are well priced and located within a 3-minute walk of the Earl’s Court tube station on the Piccadilly line. Th Piccadilly line has stops for Knightsbridge (Harrods), Leicester Square (West End theaters) and Covent Garden. The flats are very large, well decorated and clean. The three bedroom and three bath flat is enormous with a large kitchen, separate dining room and separate kitchen.

Time to go home... By the way, Heathrow has a large selection of duty free shopping. Make sure you leave some time. If you have any spare change left be sure to buy a european Kit Kat. The chocolate tastes so much better than our version.