Island Paradise – A Guide to Bermuda, Part I

With a population of about 65,000 and with offshore finance as its primary sector, Bermuda not only boasts beautiful turquoise waters but also one of the highest GDP per capita in the world. It doesn’t come as a surprise then that island living is fairly expensive, the average house costing around $900,000. It was claimed as a British territory in 1609 but as was rightfully pointed out to me by a taxi driver at the airport, it was actually first discovered in 1505 by Spanish sea captain Bermudez. Bermuda is perhaps most well-known for being the easternmost point of the Bermuda Triangle. And indeed, you can find a lot of shipwrecks around the islands and even take shipwreck snorkeling trips (we did go snorkeling but didn’t get to see any shipwrecks).

Overall, we had a truly wonderful time discovering the main island. But what struck me overall was how friendly everybody was. Of course since tourism is so important for Bermuda’s economy, you’d expect people to be welcoming but on more than one occasion, people really went out of their way to help us. The bus driver let us ride for free when he saw we didn’t have exact change, people got out of their cars to ask if we needed directions when we looked lost, and our Couchsurfing host Angelo welcomed us into his home as if we were old-time friends.

So in honor of Bermuda and Bermudians, here’s the first installment of a two-part guide to Bermuda (addresses at the bottom of the post). I can’t wait to visit again!

A Guide to Bermuda, Part I:
I am usually a planner but for this trip I had no plans. Only one goal: to have fun. I picked up maps and some brochures from the airport when I landed and read over them while waiting for my friend Nancy to arrive. The airport is small with only one arrival gate so finding each other was easy. After delighting at the weather and color of the water, we made our way to the bus stop, a small stone structure on the other side of the road. Route 11 took us straight into Hamilton. Hamilton city (not to be confused with Hamilton parish) is the capital of Bermuda so that’s where you’ll find most restaurants and shops. From the bus terminal, we walked a couple blocks to Front Street and found Muse restaurant to meet our host Angelo. He had just started working there a couple days before and was very busy that night with one of their monthly events featuring a local artist. After a drink at muse, we set off to explore the area.

Our first stop was the Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel, a large pink building that sits right on the water and which hosts one of the most popular happy hours. The atmosphere was pretty laid back with a DJ playing music, and different booths selling drinks and food. I believe drink tickets cost $6 each although we decided not to get any and just enjoy the view. To be honest, it was a little bit too loud for us but I can see how it would be very fun with a nice group of friends. Since we were pretty hungry at that point, we just decided to walk back down Front Street to find a restaurant.

We saw a sushi restaurant, a French restaurant, an Irish pub but we weren’t sure about those places since they seemed fairly quiet and as tourists who didn’t know much about the city, we decided it was best to go with common wisdom: follow the crowd. This landed us at Port O Call which was buzzing with activity, packed from the terrace to the bar. This is a fairly upscale restaurant featuring contemporary cuisine with lots of seafood (they also serve meat and vegetarian dishes though). We had the pasta of the day, a spaghetti dish with scallops and shrimps, and the fish of the day, local grilled wahoo with bok choy, mashed peas with bacon bits and a chili cream sauce. Both dishes were very good, and the service was top-notch.

After that, we decided to walk the food off scrolling down Front Street again and heard loud Latin music out of the corner of one street. It turns out Lemon Tree Cafe was having its Pig in the Park party where they roast a whole pig in the park adjacent to the cafe. There I had my first Dark and Stormy, one of two national drinks, this one a mix of rum and ginger beer. We didn’t get to try the food but I hear Lemon Tree is a great place to grab a nice sandwich or breakfast. A young girl was dancing with her mom, her aunts and neighbor and invited us to join them, and soon the place was packed with people dancing and having a good time. We later learned that Lemon Tree is also the hangout place of choice for accountants (no wonder so many people asked if I was an accountant…). It was refreshing to dance outside under the stars and really felt like vacation.

When we got home that night, we had one plan for the next day. We were going to rent a scooter and explore the island. Foreigners cannot rent cars in Bermuda but they can rent scooters without any problems. All you need to do is show that you are over 18 years old, a drivers’ license is not even necessary. In fact, a lot of people use scooters as their main mode of transportation because each household is only allowed to have one car while the number of scooters is not limited. The official speed limit is 35 km/h (that’s just over 20 miles an hour) but our friends told us that nobody followed that rule except for… tourists. The thing is there’s only one road in Bermuda that has two lanes (Middle road) so if you go slow, it can be quite stressful when there are cars behind you since they can’t pass so easily. But as I said, luckily people in Bermuda are very friendly and fairly understanding (I might have gotten honked at once or twice…).

Before we went to rent the scooter we had lunch at Muse and I must say our dishes were surprisingly good. The main chef is from Alsace and had worked at the Four Seasons for many years before. We had a great pâté de campagne served with a cornichon (a small pickle), comme il se doit, and escargots with puff pastry, shrimps and mushroom sauce (pictured below). It felt sophisticated without being fussy. The great thing about Muse is the Skybar on the third floor, a small but cozy place with a nice view of Hamilton harbor where you can grab a drink or two and just relax. We took our time enjoying our dishes and soaking in the sun, while getting directions from Angelo.

Oleander, one of the scooter rental places in Bermuda, was located just around the corner from the restaurant. We got helmets and one of the staff showed us the basics on how to ride. I had driven a scooter before, once in Vietnam where I hadn’t been very successful (but that was a manual so that’s my excuse) and another time in Indonesia (much easier since it was an automatic) so I was the designated driver. Riding the scooter wasn’t that difficult but making tight turns is what scared me most. Our scooter cost $80 for the day, with a $500 deposit on the credit card. Oleander and other scooter rental places actually advertise their rentals for about $50 a day online, so I’m not sure if we got tricked or if it’s because we didn’t reserve ahead of time through their website. In any case, I’d suggest you do it online since it seems much cheaper, we just didn’t have access to the internet to check so just went with the flow.

Before taking off, we stopped by Fantasea, located right by the Hamilton Ferry Terminal to see if we could rent snorkeling gear for the next day but they actually don’t rent out gear (they mostly organize snorkeling trips). We eventually managed to get snorkeling gear, but more on that later. So finally we were ready. We headed East from Hamilton and our first stop was the Aquarium and Zoo in Flatts Village.

[Clockwise from top left: escargot dish at Muse, at the aquarium,
helmet head, best friends grouper and puckerfish]

We spent about 1.5 hours there and saw a fairly extensive collection of fish and other marine life as well as a number of animals including beautiful pink flamingos, four seals, and two Galapagos tortoises which were quite impressive. It’s a very fun place to spend some time with small kids (and big ones). Not to mention, Flatts Village is just very quaint (the picture in my previous post is from Flatts Village).

After that we continued East, passing by the airport, to St George which used to be the capital of Bermuda and is now a quiet sleepy town. We took a left on Duke of Kent Street, just after the small supermarket, and headed towards Tobacco Bay and Fort St. Catherine. On the way, we visited Unfinished Church. The picture at the top of the post was taken right around Tobacco Bay and Achilles Bay where we found this small cove and even some long chairs. It was quite a paradisiac view. Then we continued following the water, riding along Gates Bay and Barry Road before looping around the eastern tip of the island and ending back at the supermarket.

By that time, we were pretty much ready to feast! We had heard great things about the Swizzle Inn, especially because they supposedly invented the other national Bermudian drink, the Rum Swizzle. Two types of rum (Gosling’s Black Seal and Gold Rum), orange juice, orange liqueur, pineapple juice, Worcester sauce and water. It goes down so smooth and then hits you from nowhere. We liked it even better than the Dark and Stormy. You can tell that the Swizzle Inn has had a long history, all the tables and doors are carved with people’s names and the walls of the pub are covered with visitors’ business cards. They have a very fun menu that folds like a newspaper and serve great pubfare with a Bermudian twist. I had a drunken chicken, cooked with ginger beer and rum, so juicy and flavorful. Perfect to end the day.

[Clockwise from top left: on the Causeway towards the airport,
around Achilles Bay with Fort St. Catherine in the background,
drunken chicken with cornbread and mashed potatoes,
fun Swizzle Inn menu and a glass of Rum Swizzle]

Adresses:

Muse
17 Front Street
Hamilton HM 11
Appetizers ~$15, entrees ~$20-30

Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel
76 Pitts Bay Road, Pembroke
Hamilton HM 08

Port O Call
87 Front Street
Hamilton HM 11
Dinner entrees ~$30-40

Lemon Tree Cafe
7 Queen Street
Hamilton

Oleander (several locations)
15 Gorham Road
Hamilton

6 Valley Road
Paget

Fantasea
By Hamilton Ferry Terminal

Aquarium, Museum and Zoo
40 North Shore Road
Flatts FL 04
Entrance: $10/adult

Fort St. Catherine and Unfinished Church
In St George

The Swizzle Inn
3 Blue Hole Hill
Bailey’s Bay
Appetizers ~$15, main entrees $25

Bermuda Map
Click on the map to zoom in and out and to view locations. Placemarks are as close as I can remember them (if you try searching the adresses in Google maps, it won’t be completely accurate).

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