I could tell you about my first afternoon in Bermuda and how my husband, artist Leif Nilsson, and I walked from our rented apartment to the Buzz bar at Tobacco Bay, a great snorkeling spot surrounding by an outcropping of jagged, lava rocks and a tiny beach. There we met Lee who was bartending, an incredibly friendly Bermudian who we learned, after being on the island for a while, was not the exception to the rule. He patiently answered all of the endless questions we had as travelers to a new country while serving us plenty of rum swizzles, Bermuda’s signature drink, and offering us Cuban cigars.
Or, I could tell you about the day Leif was painting by the Unfinished Church in the historic cobblestoned village of St. George, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Bermuda’s capital before Hamilton, and how all the locals stopped to inquire if he was the new artist-in-residence from their Master Works program, because this island reveres art and artists.
Or how Gillian Outerbridge, an artist in her own right, found Leif still painting by the same 1874 Gothic church and invited us to dinner at her cottage, with the pastor from St. Peter’s Chappell (the oldest Anglican church in continuous use outside the British Isles), and with Jerry Correia who runs Ocean Breeze Sail Charters out of St. George Harbour. Over lamb kebobs and Prosecco Gillian told us about her solo voyage in her 20ft sloop through the inland waterways of Canada and New York State, and the book she penned entitled: Going About! A Waterway Adventure, of which I now have a signed copy.
I could tell you about Suzanne and Steve Hollis, the sail makers / riggers we met in St. George who own and operate Ocean Sails, and how they too invited us for dinner at their house, which they restored and transformed into a three bedroom, seaside home from an old deteriorating warehouse. As we drank bottles of wine and ate spaghetti pie, Suzanne’s specialty, we learned about their sailing adventures and more about life in Bermuda. (It really is as good as it seems.)
As we traversed this island by bus and ferry (non-residents cannot rent cars, only scooters), we passed brightly colored homes and buildings, nature preserves, an arboretum, a botanical garden, lighthouses, a performing arts center, a sport complex, pristine golf courses, pink sand beaches, museums and an array of forts. As we listened to the polite exchanges between the passengers and the driver, who was greeted by everyone, we began to understand further what a special and rare place Bermuda is. As the locals say about their own country, “There are no strangers here. Only friends you haven’t made yet.”
On one particular jaunt we took the ferry from St. George harbour (home to the St. George Dinghy & Sports Club, and Captain Smokes Marina, which welcomes transients), to Royal Naval Dockyard, a 45-minute trip that hugs the island’s northern shore. We went to the National Museum of Bermuda, well worth a visit for those interested in Bermuda’s vast cultural, historical and nautical past. The collections are displayed in military buildings that were once used by the British Royal Navy, on a ten-acre Keep citadel. Don’t be put off by the towering cruise ships that berth there as most of their passengers scatter to other parts of the island during the day. For lunch, get the fish sandwich at Freeport Seafood, but get it to go and eat it on the dock near Pier 41, the only marina at Dockyard, and yes they take transients too. (However, St. George is the only port of entry in Bermuda for yachts, and all those coming in must clear customs and Bermuda immigration at Ordnance Island located in the harbour.)
On our way back to St. George we opted to take the bus to see the west and south side of the island. All buses stop in Hamilton, as does the ferry from Dockyard. Hamilton is a shopping Mecca with great restaurants and is the place for late night clubbing until 3:00 or 4:00am, if you are so inclined. We were told by a local, and I believe it, that after 3:00am taxi rides are free because the cab drivers do not want people driving drunk on their rented scooters. I relay all these stories to illustrate the level of hospitality ingrained in the Bermudian culture, for this is the friendliest island I have ever been to, and I have been to many throughout the Caribbean and West Indies.
I could go on and on but instead I will say this: If you haven’t been, go, and if you have been, go back.