Monday, October 31, 2011

Oct 27th – Sweltering Antigua

Today we arrived in the holiday island of Antigua – you immediately knew this place was a lot more mainstream than St Barts, when we docked next to a huge Royal Caribbean ship that totally dwarfed us, we heard the thumping "holiday" music blasted out to greet us, and saw the massed ranks of pushy taxi drivers waiting to give us their identical definitive guide to the island.

We ignored their offers, and walked past the casino and duty free shops to get out into the real St John's, away from the sanitised and slightly soulless version on offer close to the ship. We headed to the produce market, which had something of a similar atmosphere to the markets we've visited in Africa earlier this year – not quite as frenetic in this laid back Caribbean idyll, but hot, sweaty, and slightly chaotic, with lots of unrecognisable tropical fruit and veg.

We then visited the National Museum, housed in the old Georgian courthouse – they didn't have much in the way of historic exhibits there, but it was laid out really well, and gave a good explanation of the island's history, from the Arawaks and Caribs, to its settlement by the Europeans, to the evils of the slave trade and the plantation system, onto independence and nationhood. An excellent place to get an overview of Antigua's past.

Our next stop, a visit to the Cathedral, was curtailed by building works which meant it was shut, so we just went on a general wander through the town's slightly dilapidated backstreets. This is an island with a bit of a split personality – there's the beautifully manicured tourist resorts for well off Westerners, and the more ramshackle reality for ordinary Antiguans, who must look on at the displays of wealth of their visitors, and wonder when the wealth will spread to them.

As we explored, we popped into a supermarket to see what was on offer, and I was shocked to see that a packet of my beloved Frosties (Frosted Flakes to Americans) cost over $50ECD - about $20USD. Unfortunately, this immediately means that I cannot live in Antigua, no matter how beautiful it is. It will now be my mission to do a Frosties index of everywhere I visit, to see how liveable a place is.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Oct 26th – Bonjour St Barts

Today we arrived at a little piece of France, and one of the most exclusive spots in the Caribbean – the tiny little island of St Barts. The French have always had a different attitude to their Empire than Britain – their colonies were made to feel like they were part of France itself, and the small relics left over from their Empire, like St Barts, still vote in the French elections and use the Euro as their currency.

If you come here on holiday wanting to spend your Euros, you'd better bring A LOT of them – this is one of the most expensive places in the Caribbean, with prices more eye-watering than central Paris. A coke cost €5 and a bog standard salad €16 – prices to keep out the riff-raff like me, and I guess that's the point. It's odd to see luxury boutiques like Louis Vuitton and Bulgari in a tiny backwater like this, but it's clearly worth their while, when people like P Diddy and Beyonce waft into town on their luxury yachts platinum cards at the ready.

It's definitely an idyllically beautiful place, with so many secluded beaches of soft white sand and luxury hotels and villas behind high walls, far from the prying eyes and long lenses of the paparazzi.

I did a one hour taxi tour of the island to get my bearings, and then we wandered along the pretty waterfront, pushing our noses against the glass of the luxury boutiques like street urchins, and then finding a shop where I could actually afford something – a boulangerie where I bought a baguette that would have graced any French delicatessen.

Also tendering into town was another cruise ship that we've been on many times in the past, so we spent some time catching up with old friends who we haven't seen in ages – lovely to see each other after all this time. Only a few more wrinkles to mark the passing of time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oct 24th-25th – Bermuda Triangle

Strictly speaking, I think we've been skirting around the eastern side of the Bermuda Triangle, which could explain why we haven't yet been sucked into a swirling vortex, or been beamed up by alien abductors. Instead, more mundane activities have been undertaken, like giving riveting lectures, going to the gym and doing our washing and ironing (oh, and eating and drinking lots of beautiful food and wine).

Oct 22nd- 23rd – Bermuda Shorts Weather

After a couple of cold days in New York before we left, it felt great to feel the warm tropical air as we sailed into Bermuda. It's a spectacular sail-in to Hamilton, past historic forts and luxury houses, and into the Bermuda archipelago; and then we dock right in the heart of Hamilton – close enough even to pick up the free wifi signal from a bar, even in our cabin.

On our first day, we got the bus to historic St George, the island's first capital, founded in the early 17th century and full of quaint old buildings. We walked to Fort St Catherine, and saw some of Bermuda's trademark pink beaches, before trekking back into town to savour the historic atmosphere and having a drink in a seaside bar. The strangely eccentric barman spent his time moaning about how "boring" this tropical paradise that is his home is, and saying how he'd love to live in London and enjoy the wind and rain. I know the grass is always greener, but he was taking this to ridiculous lengths.

On our second day, we caught the bus to the other side of Bermuda to Dockyard – home to a massive old 19th century dockyard of the Royal Navy, which has been turned into a shopping complex and Maritime Museum. The scale and grandeur of the dockyard buildings give you an idea of just how powerful the British Empire once was when Britannia really did rule the waves, and the Museum gave a good introduction into the history of the island, and the origins of its various ethnic groups – British settlers, African slaves and Portuguese farmers.

Bermuda was a great introduction to the cruise – it's all so neat and manicured that it feels like a sanitised version of the Caribbean (even though it's roughly a thousand miles north of the Caribbean), and in spite of the opinions of that strange barman, you can't help but think that it's a great place to live.

Oct 21st – Rough, Rough Seas

I haven't felt as dodgy as this in a long time without alcohol being involved. We haven't even reached the Bermuda Triangle yet, and the seas are horrible. Breakfast was missed, lunch was considered to be too risky with a lecture to follow, and we only started feeling vaguely human by dinner time. I hope the weather improves – and soon!

Oct 20th – Sailing out of New York

So, we re-joined the Silver Whisper for a two month journey round the Caribbean and down to South America. You don't get many better starts to a cruise than sailing out of Manhattan as the sun sets, it's enormous skyscrapers twinkling away as they light up, and then past the Statue of Liberty – stunning!

P.S. Did we spot Steven Spielberg in NYC?

Oct 14th-Oct 19th – New York, New York

What a fantastic city, and what hospitable friends to stay with. We spent our evenings reliving our university days with our old (older than we'd all like to admit) friends, and our days walking the length and breadth of Manhattan until our feet felt like they'd give way.

Highlights include – walking the High Line, the Metropolitan Museum, visiting the Wall Street anti-capitalist demonstration, walking across Brooklyn Bridge, exploring Central Park, and visiting way too many lovely restaurants – we've eaten so much that we must be the only people who get on a cruise to lose weight!