I took time off from work and academics this past weekend to do something spontaneous and spent two nights in Bermuda visiting my boyfriend, Kade Stallard and his family, who are island locals. I flew out of Boston early Friday, Sept. 16 at 6 a.m., had a connecting flight in New York at JFK at 10:30 a.m. and arrived at the L.F. Wade International Airport in St. George’s by 1:30 p.m. (Bermuda is ahead one hour). A nonstop flight out of Boston or New York to Bermuda only takes two hours at the most.
The thing about Bermuda is that it’s not like other island destinations, like the Bahamas for instance, where there are massive gorgeous resorts but as soon as you step foot outside there is a completely different culture that can even be dangerous at times for tourists. Bermuda is different because it’s pretty much all one place – but don’t tell that to local Bermudians, who harbor an intense east side vs. west side rivalry, the latter being Somerset and Dockyard where all the cruise ships come in and the former being St. George’s, the oldest town on the island, established in 1612.
In the middle of the island is Hamilton, the capital city of Bermuda and the most modernized by far, with many dining and shopping destinations. However, the only chain restaurant on the island is Kentucky Fried Chicken – chains are no longer allowed. Guns are illegal. Cars drive on the left side of the road and there is only one vehicle allowed per household to help keep the narrow streets from crowding. The maximum speed limit is 35 kilometers per hour (21.7 mph), but police typically “won’t pull you over until around 50 kilometers,” Kade told me. There are no rental cars or billboards, but there is a dress code – you can’t be in town or walk into stores in a bathing suit (even a gas station across from a swimming hole, a lesson I learned myself the hard way after being stared down by the cashier and told that I was dressed illegally).
After landing on Friday afternoon, I walked easily through Customs with my carry-on luggage and met Kade outside, where he loaded my bags into the car and then immediately took me to the famous Swizzle Inn, Bermuda’s oldest pub, established in 1932 according to its website. There, we shared a plate of lightly battered calamari and a pitcher of Bermuda’s national drink, the Rum Swizzle, a “potent rum and fruit juice cocktail…legendary for making the locals ‘loco’ and the tourists ‘tipsy,’” as described on the website.
When you do walk into a store or restaurant in Bermuda (fully dressed), it is important to be friendly with the local clerks and employees. And by friendly, I don’t mean politely asking for your cigarettes behind the counter, or saying thank you on your way out. Bermudians expect you to be friendly first. Smile and ask them how their day is going, whether they went to Cup Match this year (the annual public holiday in Bermuda, celebrated with a two-day cricket match between teams from the opposite ends of the island), mention the beautiful weather or dish out a compliment – and most Bermudians will instantly open up to you. If you treat locals like any regular employee in a service industry, don’t expect to see smiles or to hear “have a nice day.” They will not respond with an “exist-to-serve-you” mentality – the customer is not always right in Bermuda. But basically, just be a decent human being and you should be okay.
Before heading home to where Kade’s father, Scott Stallard, lives in St. George’s, we stopped by a place called Coney Island, where we could look out at huge concrete pillars that used to hold train tracks, now either removed or sunken into the crystalline turquoise water below. We found a microwave and a small abandoned fort where it looked like someone had been squatting (read: camping).
Though a nice retreat from reality, I didn’t go to Bermuda to vacation. Not to lie on the beach all day, or go on guided tours or party all night. I was there because it was Kade’s grandfather’s 90th birthday that week – a huge life milestone that gave cause for numerous family gatherings, and I’m only honored I could take part in the celebration.
We arrived home in the late afternoon, and I finally got to meet of the man of the weekend, Sidney Stallard. Born in Canada, he moved to Bermuda from Nova Scotia in 1946 after World War II. In Bermuda, he worked in the Bank of N.T. Butterfield for many years and was also a cabinet minister in the Government for a time. He now spends his time between his home in St. George’s and in Vancouver, Canada.
My introduction to Kade’s grandfather was brief, as the planned big family get-together was scheduled for the next night on Saturday. We shared a beer with Kade’s father by the waterfront and then got dressed up to go out to dinner. He took me into Hamilton, where we had a reservation at an amazing sushi restaurant called Pearl, located at 87 Front St. on a second story overlooking the docks. My miso soup and fresh wahoo-crab roll special was so good; I don’t think sushi in the states will ever be the same for me.
Though a bustling Friday night in downtown Hamilton, we headed home almost immediately after dinner to relax and get to sleep early in preparation for the adventures Saturday held in store.
To be continued…
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