Traveling Cleverly Since 2001

on Tuesday, June 21, 2011 | 2 comments
We wanted to completely rebuild the deck for many reasons. First, the builder did a terrible job. The boards were uneven, warped, improperly cut and the pickets were ugly. Since our deck is above our walk-in basement, the straight 16-stair staircase was both ugly and dangerous for our children. Plus, the size was just too darn small. At 10x20, the deck managed to be too long and narrow. The dimensions were off. We decided to keep the length, but added four feet to make the deck 14x20. Plus, we added a 6x6 platform at the top of the stairs.

Mr. Nomad, hard at work:

Gabe: I like manly work:

Finished product, washed down:

Silly brothers building stairs:

Done for now! Next up, we add the roof and columns. Rails are the last detail. Total build time, about 4 days. 

on | 0 comments
Our deck remodel project is finally coming to a close. The structure has been complete since April, but we are just now finishing the staining and painting process. Overall, this process was painless. We had planned this expansion for two years and spent plenty of time gathering estimates and designing the architecture. We are fortunate to have a family member (Mr. Nomad's brother) who builds decks in his spare time, so we were able to do the deck expansion and stair replacement at a significant discount. We received an excellent contractor recommendation from my boss, and he and his partner did a fantastic job. Detailed, on time and on budget.

Strangely, finding a painter has been the hardest, which is why it took so long. We received four estimates, and tried to hire two of the guys after estimates were provided. We never received return phone calls. We tried each one twice. Oh well. We finally settled on another co-worker recommendation, and they have one days' work remaining. I'll post final pictures in a few days, but here are progress photos:

Our boring, awful, ugly, dusty, hot builder deck (this day was rainy, but our deck is completely exposed to sun until 3:00 pm). Dimensions 10x20 feet:

Mr. Nomad knocking the old deck down to the joists:

on Monday, June 20, 2011 | 0 comments
Before I had a child, I thought that people who stopped or severely scaled back traveling after having kids were just lazy, unorganized or unadventurous. Very judge-y of me, eh? After living the last 18 months with my own "angel" a/k/a "tyrant," I now get it a bit more. Don't get me wrong, I still want to travel and experience, but alas, reality has set in.

Truth is, traveling with a child is work. It's not a vacation. It's not impossible, but you have to plan a bit more. It also helps to have pockets lined with gold. Here are some things I've learned over the past 18 months:

1. Babies don't like heat and humidity. The Caribbean in September is a bad idea until your child is able and willing to spend all day in the water.
2. Always know where the nearest hospital or clinic is located.
3. Babies may not like water until they are over 1. Those floats for infants? Half of them hate it.
4. Plan to do only half of what you would normally do.
5. Stay in the nicest place you can afford and cut back elsewhere. During naptime, it helps to have a great pool to hang out in or a great view to admire (see: pockets lined with gold).
6. Cook in a lot of your meals - it's easier and your baby will eat that way.
7. Babysitters and awesome mothers/mother-in-law's can be your savior. If you can afford it, take someone with you so you get to sleep in a couple of mornings and go out and have some couple time (see: pockets lined with gold).

I know it won't be this way forever. By the time our kids reach 3 and 5, I feel that traveling will be easier. We won't require as much help and everyone will be sleeping a lot more regularly. The next three years our family vacays will be costly, and thus fewer. However, we plan to stay longer each time and just commit to fewer adventures for the time being. Ultimately, it's a price I'm willing (and happy) to pay. When Wee Nomad leans over in the morning and plants a kiss squarely on my mouth, I melt.
on Tuesday, June 7, 2011 | 2 comments

Well, we're back! Mr. Nomad and I spent three nights in Bermuda this past weekend, enjoying some child-free time (except for the babe I'm carting around in my womb, of course). This report won't have the detailed, multi-part posts of our cruise review, mostly because this trip was much shorter than our usual jaunts.

Overall Impressions
I've heard a lot of words to describe Bermuda: stuffy, formal, beautiful, proper, British, expensive. It's all of those things, kind of. Bermuda is definitely more proper than the raucous Jost Van Dyke or the laid-back St. John. But Palm Beach it isn't, despite what people want you to believe. I believe there was a time when jackets and dress pants were required for men when dining; those times have largely passed at all but a few places. Truth is, Bermuda focuses less these days on tourism than on business, so the restaurants must either adapt to what the travelers want or face closure. Take your bets on what choice the restaurants are making...

Bermuda can be terribly expensive. It can also be a great value. It depends on what kind of traveler you are. If you insist on beachfront, be ready to shell out upwards of $500/night during high season for the best resorts. Or, prepare to book months in advance for the handful of resorts that don't charge a small fortune. However, if you are open to a waterview bed and breakfast, a quaint guesthouse, or a lovely self-catered vacation rental, you can easily find something to fit the bill for less than $200 a night, even in high season.

To me, Bermuda didn't look real. The business sector of Hamilton is so clean and pristine it puts the US to shame, except maybe for Seaside in Florida. Litter, grime, poverty: these are not things the average visitor to Bermuda will experience. Even the handful of homeless around Hamilton are polite, congratulating me on my pregnancy and not harassing. Once I read some of the literature on the island, I began to understand. The insurance and re-insurance sector is huge, and foots about half of the government's generous annual budget. Bermuda has the third-highest per capita income in the world. Standards are high.

The people are unfailingly polite and friendly. A greeting of "good morning" or "good afternoon" will actually work on 95% of the people you encounter. If there is one word I can use to describe Bermudians, it's "proud." These people are proud of their island and heritage, and it's not just lip service; they mean it. They keep their homes tidy, their outward appearances neat, their transportation efficient. Bermuda lacks some of the "wild west" feel of the Caribbean, but there is also no "island time." There's on-time, or late. And Bermudians don't appear to tolerate lateness.

I have routinely heard complaints that the water in Bermuda is cold. It's directly east of North Carolina, so if the waters are cold in NC, it's going to be cold in Bermuda. I'd guess water temps hovered around 75 degrees in early June; air temps were around 78 each day. Having left 93 degree temps in Atlanta, 78 was a dream. I'm guessing that July - September yields very pleasant water conditions but hotter/more-humid air temps. Pick your poison.

Some travelers are put off by the fact that you cannot rent a car in Bermuda. I suppose I understand that; it's a bit of an inconvenience. You can rent scooters but I'd recommend you learn the lay of the land before endeavoring to rent a scooter. However, the buses are clean, on time, inexpensive and frequent. I think it's all about choosing a location that is well-suited to your interests so you don't spend a ton of time traveling around. Beaches? Definitely stay on the south side. Shopping and dining? Stay near Hamilton. Quiet and quaint? Perhaps Flatts Village is more your style.

The ferries are also plentiful and timely. Do note that transportation schedules are severely scaled back on Sundays, and pretty much all stores (except for Dockyard) are closed.

You can do a lot of it in Bermuda, and it's not your typical Caribbean shopping experience. Marks and Spencer (surprisingly low cost), Louis Vuitton, fine linens, china... all mixed in with some t-shirt and magnet shops. See what I mean - exclusive or value, you pick.

We booked this trip six weeks out. While we got a great deal on airfare (under $300 a ticket), our rather late decision to book did limit our options somewhat. A lot of the good self-catering rentals were booked. The inexpensive beach hotels were booked. This left us with $700 a night beach resorts, guesthouses and small inns. We chose a property frequented by business travelers but also suited to leisure travelers too - the Royal Palms Hotel. We opted for one of the nicer rooms, a deluxe mini-suite. This room was $250 a night, which included a complimentary continental breakfast. The breakfast was expanded from a typical US continental, and included a do-it-yourself waffle station and a soft or hardboiled egg station. I think for a week it would get boring, but for three mornings it was more than adequate.

Our room was extremely comfortable and clean. Very British and proper, with dark furniture, heavy curtains and traditional artwork. But extremely cozy and comfortable. The staff was always friendly and available, and the gardener even drove us into town on Sunday to catch our ferry when the front desk had trouble locating a taxi before 10am.

In short, I'd recommend this small hotel to anyone looking for a location that is in walking distance to Hamilton but located close to buses and the ferry. (PS - taxi ride to Hamilton only $6 if you are feeling too lazy to walk. I certainly opted for the taxi a handful of times in my prego state).

Boston Whaler Rental
Our first full day was Friday, June 3rd, and we opted to rent a Boston Whaler from Aquatic Bermuda and see the island from the water. This activity is akin to renting a dinghy or small, no frills watercraft. The Boston Whaler is a cool little boat, very stable. I wish they had these in the VI, to be honest.

We chose to rent from Aquatic Bermuda because we could pick up our Whaler directly in Hamilton. We set off across the sound, went under the Watford Bridge, circled around Daniel's Head, fed some fish at the HMS Vixen wreck, went to a deserted island and then chilled in the Paradise Lakes aquatic neighborhood. A lot in four hours, that's for sure! Here are some photos of our adventure:

Beach Day
We only had one beach day, and we chose to spend it at "the" beach on Bermuda, Horseshoe Bay. We chose this beach for a few reasons: 1. We needed chair and umbrella rental, 2. We needed food, 3. We needed our beach day to be easy and easily accessible. Done, done and done. Horseshoe Bay was beautiful. In fact, every beach we passed seemed to be beautiful. Bermuda has different topography from most Caribbean islands I've visited. There are large limestone rocks sitting off most beaches, making for some dramatic scenery. Also, the beaches are very wide, more like what one sees in the continental United States. Lastly, the water color is a bit different. Caribbean islands tend to have light aqua water which varies in shade depending on the depth and rock formations. Bermuda's water is light, bright blue, perhaps due to the pinkish sand. Neither is better, just a bit different.

We did find the water chilly at this time of year. You could definitely adapt after a few minutes, but I never ventured higher than my belly. We spent all day at Horseshoe, and didn't leave until 4:30. It was a nice, relaxing day.

I'm not one to write long, exhaustive reviews on what I ate. I am sort of picky, but am oddly reasonably easy to please once I make my selection. A meal has to be pretty bad for me to complain. That being said, I expect an expensive meal to be much, much better than pub food. When it's not, I get irritated.

Hog Penny Pub: I had a Chicken Masala curry dish and Mr. Nomad had Fish and Chips. The Fish and Chips were really good, my Chicken was better than average. Toffee pudding for dessert was passable.

Barracuda Grill: touted as one of the best restaurants on Bermuda, I expected big things. This was the only reservation we made. The meal started well, with delicious bread and homemade tapanade. I got a grilled fig salad (just okay) while Mr. Nomad settled on a bowl of Bermudian Fish Chowder (really good). For our entrees, I selected the rockfish, which had an Asian preparation. The Mr. chose the Wahoo, which was more Italian, served with gnudi and cherry tomatoes. I frankly though Mr. made a better choice. Dessert was gingerbread toffee pudding with ginger ice cream, and it was really divine. Overall, I was a little disappointed in the food. I'm not sure I'd return for the price, honestly.

Pickled Onion: This is a cute little place on Front Street in Hamilton. We liked it and went back twice. The first time, we split a Chicken Panini for a late lunch. When we returned for a casual dinner on our last night, I had a spinach salad with chicken and Mr. Nomad had a pepperoni pizza. I also had the best non-alcoholic fruit drink in the world. Pineapple, orange, cranberry and Barritt's ginger beer. I will be re-creating this at home.

Swizzle Inn, Southhampton: We stopped by the Swizzle Inn on our way back from Horseshoe Bay. We split a small BBQ Chicken Nachos and I had a non-alcoholic cocktail. I got to hate Mr. Nomad as I watched him consume rum swizzles. That's okay, one day I will no longer be prego and cocktails will be mine. Cute place, visited by locals and visitors alike. I could see how the bar crowd might get rowdy. Well, rowdy by Bermuda standards, not Willy T standards.

On our last day, our flight didn't depart until 3:45. As such, we decided to take the ferry out to Dockyard, which is on the far Western tip of the Island. Dockyard is some sort of old naval installation (I never quite read up on the history) and is one of the only places where shops are open on Sunday. It's also where most cruise ships dock). We made the 10:00am ferry (we'd planned on the 9am, but slept in) and we're walking around by 10:30am. We did some quick souvenir shopping, watched the Norwegian Dawn come in and grabbed a quick bite before heading back. The ferry was quite full with cruisers on the way back and I wished someone had warned us that the ferry would get that packed. All was okay, but I would've been pretty peeved if we'd missed our flight.

We had a great cab driver to the airport. He took us on a route that ran the northside of the island (beautiful rocky areas, completely swimmable but no beach) and no tourists. We also went through Flatt's Village. I frankly prefered the north side and Flatt's to some of the more touristy areas. But that's just me.

So... Do You Have a New Island Favorite?
No. I believe Bermuda is fabulous for a 3-5 night trip. Any longer, and I think I'd get bored. Somehow there's just nothing to grab onto about Bermuda. I can't explain it. I'd return in a second (especially in July-September) but it's probably not my personal first choice. I like my island paradise a little grittier, which I realize makes no sense, but that's just me. Bermuda is almost too perfect. I do admire what the country has done for its citizens. Unlike most of the Caribbean islands, which have sacrificed their local population for a quick real estate dollar, Bermuda has strict rules about real estate. Very few properties are available to foreigners (and those that are available cost an average $4 million), but Bermuda residents can afford property because most properties are only available for purchase by residents - this keeps prices lower on those properties. Of course, the island has changed in other ways - including importing thousands of foreigners to work all of the insurance jobs. I liked Bermuda more than St. Thomas, Grand Bahama or St. Kitts... but liked it decidedly less than St. John, Dominica, Aruba or the BVI. For me, the Virgins are still my island "home," but I'd never turn my nose up at Bermuda.