Posts Tagged 'SXM'

EWR is no SXM or MSN or even, gasp! ORD

Why does that Newark airport suck so much? I always forget how bad it is until I am stuck there for any period of time.

Yesterday, we got up around 8 am and just slowly packed our things to be out of the cottage by 10. Because our flight didn’t leave until 2, we figured we had some time to drive around the island one more time and even have a final lunch somewhere. When we drove away from the cottage, I started to cry a little. We really just did not want to go. We drove around but got stuck in the worst traffic of our vacation. We did not make it to the car rental place until 12, so we figured there was no time for anything else but to drop off the car and head to the airport. Ugh. Why did we leave? Getting on a flight from St Maarten to Newark to transfer to Chicago to transfer to Madison to head home to layoff notices, pay cuts and radical slashes to our collective bargaining rights seemed so…irrational. But that’s what we did.

The airport security in St Maarten was kind of odd. Our passports were checked at the check-in counter  and again before the security screen. And then again at the gate upon boarding the plane. Also at the gate, they made us — and others — throw out their coffee. Sad. And then *random* people — including Aaron — were wanded and searched before getting on the plane in the hallway on the way to board the plane. Hmm.

The flight to Newark was fine, except that I paid the $4 to watch movies on the way and the featured movie was Hereafter, which isn’t really the type of movie an already-scared flier should be watching on a long flight. We landed in Newark and made it through customs and immigration in, I’d say, about 20 minutes. The immigration officer even made a funny joke to us about being one of the missing Democratic senators. We then had to go through security again, which is not a big deal except that it’s Newark. This means that there is a security screening before every 8 gates or so. So when you go through security, you are limited to whatever is set up to cater to only a few gates. In other words, the Continental President Club passes we had would do us no good because our gate had about two amenities in its area. We could risk it, of course, and use the President’s Club outside the gate (or head to any other restaurant or bar outside the gate), but this felt like a pretty significant risk. Our flight was delayed, but just by an hour an a half and the line to go through the gate was huge. We decided to go through the gate and hope that the Red Carpet Club in our gate area, whose sign we could see, would honor our passes (the airlines have merged afterall, right?). It took us more than 30 minutes to get through the gate to the other side…And once on the other side? No Red Carpet Club. Just signs for it. And one restaurant, which had a long line for a table. Ugh. So, we sat in what we hoped would be a quiet area to wait. Wrong. There were people everywhere. And everyone is always talking loudly on their phone. We moved again. It was slightly better. Our flight, though, continued to be delayed. What was supposed to be an 8 pm flight to Chicago quickly turned into being labeled a 10:20 pm flight. Around 8 pm, since we had not eaten in about 9 hours, we decided to get in line for the restaurant. About 20 minutes later, we were seated. About 15 minutes after that, someone took our order. Chaos. We ate, paid and went back to wait at the gate. Finally, around 10:30 pm, we boarded the plane. We then sat on the tarmac until about 11:45.

Ugh. Newark.

We landed in Chicago a little after 1 am and found the hotel shuttle to the Chicago O’Hare Garden Inn, which I had booked for us weeks earlier since our flight did not leave for Madison until 9 am. It was a total of $35. I can’t exactly say I recommend it, or that I would label it — as it does itself — a ’boutique’ hotel, but it did its job. While my side of the bed did not have a bedside table, like Aaron’s, my side also did not have the broken lamp that Aaron’s did. So, you know, there’s that.

I’m grateful, though, that we’re home safely. Even if home is a chilly land without bargaining rights. For today.

SXM 2011: Recap

Ok, super boring post take 25,019. Sorry.

AO and I were talking through how we have spent our St Maarten/ St Martin days and I felt compelled to write it down. So, here goes.

Wed. 3/2. Plane lands in St Maarten. We catch a minivan ride to our reserved rental car (Alamo) and jump in our tiny (super cute) Kia and head towards Oyster Pond where we have rented a cottage for our stay. Approximately thirty minutes later, we arrive at our place and quickly make ourselves at home. The property owners, who live in the house ‘next door’ are super nice and have provided us with beer and wine and soda. So nice. We take a short nap before venturing out for a drive on the French Side. Fun! We find a market, buy French groceries — cheese, bread, apples, gin, club soda, whisky, the basics — and drive back ‘home.’ We drink, we watch tv — Ugly Betty seems to be on all the time, but we still manage to avoid it — and we sleep.

Thurs. 3/3. Maho Beach. Drive around the Dutch Side of the island and park in Maho. Walk down Maho Beach and have a beer at the quieter of the two Maho Beach bars. We watch some flights come in and then walk up and down the main street in Maho. After exploring the Dutch market in Maho, we head back to the bigger of the two airport beach bars, Sunset Beach Bar, which has a surfboard planted in the sand on which declares the arrivals.  There can be no doubt that Sunsent Beach Bar has the better spot from which to view the arrivals and departures, but the bar on the opposite side of the beach is certainly more tranquil — though you probably don’t come to this stretch of beach for peace.

Fri. 3/4. Orient Beach. We head out from Oyster Pond in search of Orient Bay. We discover, mostly by accident, that if we head towards the Orient Bay Beach Club (or something like that), we can eventually find the public entrance to this huge beach. We park and venture into the beach area and find a million and one spots that sell beach chairs and umbrellas … Some for $5 a chair, some for $7, some for $10. We eventually settle upon Orange Fever, which rents us two chairs and an umbrella for $14 total. They throw in the use of their bathroom and two free rum punches to boot! Hooray! Shortly after noon, a large rainstorm set in, which left us running for Orange Fever’s shelter, which was kinda fun. The rain let up and we had another great day.

Sat. 3/5. Because AO was pretty red, and because I was really interested in doing this hike, we thought we’d take Saturday to take a break from the sun. We drove from home base to a spot between Grand Case and Marigot called Loterie Farms, which is inland. We paid $7 a piece to go on a self-guided hike that felt as though it were straight-up the mountains of St Martin. After about 30 minutes of crazy-hiking up the mountain, we reached the ‘Chewbacca’ vista and took some great pics of the view — we could see Marigot, Grand Case and Anguilla all from one point. Phew. Down the mountain. We drove away and had lunch at a lolo in Grand Case. We then walked around Grand Case and headed home. After changing into our swim wear, we went out to Dawn Beach, which is about a 5 minute drive from our home,  and rented some chairs ($5 each) to enjoy the end of the day’s sunshine.

Sun. 3/6. We drove off to Cul de Sac and caught the 10:30 ferry from there to Pinel Island. Landing on Pinel Island shortly before 11, we chose some chairs at Up on the Key and settled in for the day. We lunched, though, at Yellow Beach, which was next door (there are only three restaurants on Pinel). Super expensive, but pretty yumsville.

Mon. 3/7. We drove to Phillipsburg and walked around Front Street and the boardwalk for a couple of hours. We had a late breakfast/early lunch in the shadow of the cruiseships, but truly enjoyed our time. I’m not a shopper, really, but had fun strolling Front Street. We wandered into the old, and wholly operational, courthouse. We walked into two casinos and watched peeps playing roulette. We walked into jewelry stores and, well, pretty much did nothing. After driving around some more, we stopped for lunch in belle Marigot.

Tues. 3/8. Anguilla. See earlier post. On our way home, we stopped in Grand Case for the town’s festive Tuesday nights. We ate at another lolo and it was delicious. Driving home in the dark made me happy we had not done that often.

Wed. 3/9. Orient Beach. We decided to spend another day at the fun Orient Beach. We arrived around 11:20 or so, which I think was slightly later than the first time we went. Most beach-front chairs were taken, so we walked around a bit. Finally, we settled upon chairs at Sunset Beach Bar (or something like that). The chairs were brown and $8 a piece. The umbrella, two rum punches and toilet access came with the chairs, too. The catch? The drinks and food were about a million times more than at Orange Fever! And there were about a million more people on the beach! That, though, is probably more a product of a Wednesday. Anyway, after leaving the beach around 4, we drove to this bar-type spot to have a beer to wait for Poulet d’Orleans to open to have dinner. We had to wait two hours (which made the one beer turn into three beers, mostly because the bar did not have change for a $10 and the beers were only $1.50) and pretty much just chatted in French to a Spanish-speaking 5-year-old who took a million and one pictures with my camera while we waited But dinner? Divine.

[And the only other couple at Poulet d’Orleans were Donald and Nancy of NY who seemed very sympathetic to, and knowledgeable about, our current plight in Wisconsin. They also highly recommended Yvette’s Restaurant, which I hope we are fortunate enough to try some day.]

I just really heart St Maarten/St Martin.

SXM: Out of goat

Since arriving here last Wednesday, Aaron has been talking about getting his goat on. Well, more accurately, I have been talking about Aaron getting his goat on. You see, Aaron really likes goat meat. It is his favorite thing to order at Chautara, when it is on the menu. And we were led to believe goat — specifically curried goat — would be served in a multitude of the island’s restaurants. But, you see, while goat is on a lot of menus, it is not easy to get it served to you. Aaron keeps ordering it, and he keeps being told, “We’re out of the goat.” So, with about 26 hours to go, it remains to be seen whether Aaron can get his St Maarten/St Martin goat on.

I want to do a post devoted to island fare because, holy bananas, the fare deserves it. I’m going to wait until we get home (sniff sniff) to write it, though, so that I can include pics. While the pics won’t do the tastiness justice, they’re at least an effort to highlight how great we have had it here.

Yesterday, we drove the car from our lovely cottage in Oyster Pond half-way around the island to Marigot and found a great parking spot in the marina outside the dock for the ferries that go to Anguilla and St Bart’s. We went to the ferry terminal, showed our passports (got a St Martin stamp!), got our boarding passes for Anguilla, filled out an immigration form and paid the $5 departure tax for each of us. We had arrived about 10:15 am, hoping to catch the 10:30 ferry, but were told that we’d have to wait for the one at 11:15. No problem. We found a table at Rosemary’s — right on the square across from the marina — and ordered coffees. We people watched and chatted and soon it was time to get in line for that ferry. We walked back to the dock and waited inside the special “passenger only” area. The boat came, we got on it (we had to sit in the hull part of the boat and longingly look out the dirty window at the sea), paid the crew $30 for two one-way tickets to Anguilla and…15-20 minutes later: poof! We were in Anguilla! Off the boat, through immigration, through customs and out to the taxi stand. We asked for a ride to Rendezvous Bay because The Rough Guide labeled it a highlight of Anguilla. [Shoal Bay East apparently frequently wins Best Beach in the Universe or some such award, but we decided to go with TRG’s highlight.] The cabdriver thought I was hilarious when I said I didn’t know *where* in Rendezvous Bay we wanted to go, which — in hindsight — is kinda odd since there are only two things there: (1) a super, super fancy hotel and (2) a super not fancy hotel. Anyway, we get in the cab and away we go!

Anguilla is so different from St Maarten/St Martin. First, it’s pretty much completely flat. Second, it’s incredibly quiet. The cab driver, Cesla (pronounced Ses-la), was fantastic. In addition to telling me that she thought the beach at Rendezvous Bay was better than the beach at Shoal Bay (thank you, TRG! And Kristin for giving it to us!), she had great celebrity stories. I had read the celebs love Anguilla so I asked her if there were any on the island that day. She said “not today,” but then impressed us with her stories of driving Robert De Niro, Eddie Murphy, Mariah Carey (whom she deemed ‘paranoid’) and Michael J Fox (she couldn’t remember his name, so she called him “the man who shakes,” which Aaron figured out meant MJF, which was good because I was way off course thinking she was talking about Ricky Martin or some other dancer/singer). Her real thrill, though, came last December or January. She got a call to pick up a man and his wife, but wasn’t told who it was. She saw the man coming towards her car and knew she recognized him from the news. [This is where I was again super off-base. I thought she was going to tell me he was Brian Williams or something.] As he got closer, she realized it was…John Kerry! Hee hee. She said she did not let on, though, that she knew it was he. Cesla also told us that Ron Paul had been her favorite candidate in the last election, before the primaries. Fascinating!

Anyway, Cesla dropped us off at the non-fancy hotel on Rendezvous Bay and asked the woman at the desk if we could walk through the hotel to the beach, which she said we could. Out on the other side was, without a doubt, the most amazing beach I have ever seen. The sand was white, which everyone talks about, but the water…it was breathtaking. It was a light bluish-green and when you walked into it, you could see straight through to the white sand underneath. No matter how far out we went into the sea, we could see through the crystal-clear water. Amazing. It took us over an hour (which included time for lunch at the outdoor hotel restaurant) to figure out where to sit on the beach. See, in St Maarten, the beaches have lots of restaurants on them and they all seem to rent beach chairs and umbrellas. On Rendezvous Bay, this is not the case. The beach is 2 kilometers long, but there are, like I said, really only two things on it. It did not look as though Super Fancy Hotel rented out their beach chairs. Non-fancy hotel did, but there were two problems with this (1) most of the chairs were occupied by The Boat People and (2) there were no umbrellas. Due to Aaron’s lobster-like qualities, an umbrella seemed necessary. [The Boat People were people that had taken an organized trip on a catamaran from St Maarten for the day]. Finally, after lunch, we found two unoccupied, broken beach chairs. Aaron moved his under the shade of a palm tree (the 2 km beach had about 15 feet of shade) and I laid down on mine in the sun. After The Boat People left, we were able to find working chairs and a feeling of total bliss came over me. I read my book in the sun, popping in and out of the glassy water, listening to the Germans chattering next to me while also hearing some locals talk about how they’d never seen the beach so crowded (there were probably 30 people on the whole beach at the time). It was divine.

Eventually, it was time to go. We asked the woman at the hotel desk to call Cesla and within ten minutes, we were back in her cab, enroute to Blowing Point to catch the return ferry. This time, we paid our $5 a piece tax and $15 a piece ticket on land. Everything went quite smoothly, despite not recognizing the immigration woman’s pronunciation of ‘Katherine,’ which led to her and Aaron sharing a joke over how ridiculous I am. All in all, a great day.

[Brief guidebook-type entry on taking a day-trip to Anguilla from St Martin. It’s not cheap, but that beach is so worth it. It costs $40 round-trip per person to take the ferry (that’s $15 for the ticket each way and $5 for the departure tax on each side). The cab ride was $14 each way from Blowing Point, the ferry terminal in Anguilla, to Rendezvous Bay. Rendezvous Bay is much closer to Blowing Point than any of the other beaches on the island, so I figure this is the least expensive option. We paid about $25 for a mediocre lunch. So, that’s about $133 plus tip for the cab driver.]

SXM: The guidebook

AO announced today that he thought we should write a guidebook to this fantastic island. I agree.

Weirdly, there is a dearth of truly useful information about how to get around this island, where specific restaurants or ferries or anything you hear about really are, what to expect when driving, how to actually find any of the 36 or 37 beaches that the island boasts. So, that’s where Kate & AO step in.

Here are a few highlights from the to-be-published guide (Kristin, let’s talk):

  • We keep joking about this particular phrase, “It is steep by American standards.” That is how someone reviewing the cottage in which we are staying described the hill on which the cottage sits. Holy bananas. Understatement of the universe. Roads here are crazy steep. By anyone’s standards. Apparently, a different  species of engineer designed St Maarten’s roads. True for St Martin, too. This morning, for example, I stopped the car before going down a hill to ask AO if he thought the road was kidding. I wanted to make sure no one was playing a joke on me before proceeding.
  • Even the stairs in your rental cottage are set at about an 87% grade.
  • You can get to the public part of Orient Beach by pretending to go to the private part. Don’t be scared. Just keep going and finally you will come to a sign that directs you to the public portion. And the public part is way awesome.
  • Do not stop on the side of the road for someone who appears to be a damsel-in-distress. She really just wants you to play her scratch-off card scam and will pretend you have just won $1000 if only you follow her in your car and participate in some sort of 90 minute timeshare presentation.
  • Parking is crazy hard to find. Crazy hard.
  • The two bars on the beach on the edge of the airport that everyone goes to and says are really cool are actually really cool. And there’s free parking.
  • It has rained every day since we arrived. But there’s also been awesome sunshine.
  • The hike to Chewbacca in the Loterie Farms Park is just as steep as everything else on this island. But the view? Amazing. Anguilla and its snow-white beaches were taunting us.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow? A ferry to Pinel Island!

SXM

I feel like there is a rule that forbids a blogger from blogging on their honeymoon, but as I sit waiting for Aaron to get ready to leave the cottage, that rule seems rather silly to me so I am breaking it. It’s almost 11:30 am on our first full day in Sint Maarten and it is pouring out. And it has been for two hours. And everytime I look up something online about rain on this island, I read about how it never rains for more than a few minutes a day. Hmm.

Off to explore! In the rain.


July 2022
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