Bermuda: the friendliest place on earth

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The beeping is incessant. Our driver leans on his horn it seems every 20 seconds, though for reasons that are not easily apparent. Except for a few occasionally blocked streets in the main city of Hamilton, traffic flows easily on the 22-mile-long island. “They know my license plate,” says Sydney, our 68-year-old driver and born and bred Bermudian. So when they see him coming, he explains, and beep hello from their passing and ubiquitous motor scooter or taxi van, he of course has to respond. It’s not about being rude, it’s just the nature of a Bermudian.

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It may be a stretch to say everyone on the island of 64,000+ knows each other, but it certainly seems so at times. “Good afternoon,” and “how are you,” is heard from everyone entering Art Mel’s Spicy Dicy to-go shop, addressed to all inside, including this first-time visitor and stranger. And it’s the same friendly and cheerful greeting wherever we go.

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Speaking of Art Mel’s, the local eatery has become famous for its fried fish sandwiches, stacked Dagwood high and served on thick raisin toast, with a (un)healthy serving of mayo spread throughout. There’s a dilemma with this sandwich. It’s so perfectly delicious, I wanted to eat the whole thing. But it’s so massive I could barely get my mouth around it, and lost steam just over halfway through.

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I visited his original Art Mel’s in “back-of-town” Hamilton, which Sydney joked was the ‘hood. Though compared to ‘hoods in the Bahamas and other Caribbean islands, back-of-town looked positively middle class. I guess even the little people are doing well in Bermuda. Speaking of, Bermuda is the number one reinsurer in the world, which means a lot of high finance and foreign capital flows through the island.

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The other Art Mel’s is located in St. George’s, the original settlement on the island established by the in 1612 and the oldest continually inhabited English town in the New World. The town is a World Heritage Site with cobblestone streets and buildings dating back to the early 1600s. I visited The Bermuda Perfumery, which makes its own unique and floral fragrances, including a scent from the native Oleander. They also make a scent from the indigenous Bermuda cedar tree, which was used to construct the old buildings and is seen in the exposed roof beams.

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One of the most surprising discoveries was on my visit to the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. The small, local museum is set inside a former arrowroot farmstead inside the Bermuda botanical gardens, and houses a lot of interesting local art and artifacts, including a current display of the animation works of Arthur Rankin Jr. who lived in Bermuda. The museum is also amenable to taking visitors to the storage room to show off the works by Georgia O’Keefe and Winslow Homer, who both lived on the island for a time.

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The views from here are also amazing. And In general, it’s the views that partly hooked me on Bermuda. The island is 22 miles long and 1.5 miles at its widest, and hilly, so almost everywhere you turn there are spectacular views of lush green and aqua blue waters.

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Downtown Hamilton has the feel of a mini city, since it’s really only a couple blocks of stores and office buildings, with all their reinsurance deals taking place. It’s also hq of Gosling’s Rum and bottling center, which is the island’s one distiller. For most of its history, the company has been content to sell its rum locally, and only recently started exporting and promoting it with some vigor. Gosling’s Black Seal is the signature rum, and the main ingredient in Bermuda’s signature drink, the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, which is half ginger beer and half Black Seal poured over it like a dark cloud. But their Old Rum, which is aged like fine Scotch, is the best sipping spirits I’ve ever tasted. It’s actually worth the price tag, I daresay even at $89 a bottle.

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All in all, Bermuda struck me as a really friendly place. It seemed everyone I encountered, whether officially or randomly, was in a good mood and cheerful. It’s a very chummy place, and people seem to generally enjoy themselves. I think part of that is a pride in place, as well as a strong sense of community. For most places I go, I think whether I’d want to come back for a vacation. With Bermuda, it had me thinking whether I’d want to come back and live.

Scenes from my new favorite place: Puerto Rico

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Beach outside the Ritz-Carlton San Juan.

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Garita at Castillo San Cristobal, a massive fort completed by the Spanish in 1783.

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Old San Juan at sunset.

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Park ranger/guide in period soldier uniform, shouldering a 22-lb. musket, at Castillo San Cristobal.

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San Juan at night, from the fort.

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What the locals drink, aged 6-10 years (the rum, not the drinkers).

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La Placita (little plaza) on a Friday evening. Streets blocked off and ready for business.

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Musicians appear at La Placita.

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Performing traditional Plena music from the town of Ponce.

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Plena band heating up at La Placita.

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Everyone knows the song, and how to dance to it.

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Band winding its way down the street.

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Performing outside at the very popular Jose Enrique restaurant, from one of the island’s hottest chefs.

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Corner market in La Placita on a Friday evening.

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The main plaza in La Placita. By day a produce market.

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La Placita on a Friday evening, closed to traffic. The most popular happy hour scene in the city.

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Tree in El Yunque National Forest. The only tropical rainforest in the US national park system.

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Coca Falls in El Yunque National Forest.

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View of valley and ocean on bluff just outside El Yunque.

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View of valley from La Cava Terroir restaurant outside El Yunque.

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Golf course at El Conquistador resort.

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Riding the funicular with a view of the marina at El Conquistador resort.

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El Conquistador’s private beach island, and mini islet just beyond.

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Sea and sky.

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Sea and sky and boats.

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Boat concession near the Biobay.

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Mangrove swamp leading to the Biobay.

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Sunset at the Biobay lagoon, filled with bioluminescent plankton.

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Evening sky at Biobay.

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Kayakers with lights and glow sticks.

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Our guide in a teachable moment, spotting iguanas in the mangroves.

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The Turks…

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and Caicos. From 30,000 feet.

 

Scenes from the Haight-Ashbury street fair

The Haight Ashbury Street Fair is an annual June event that’s been going on for 35 years, becoming for a day the center of ‘peace, love and happiness.’ There’s a hemp and/or counter-cultural theme to most of the vendor’s offerings, whether art, crafts or t-shirts. This year, there were also two stages of music on either end of Haight street, including the headlining act, The Tubes.

A typical Victorian in the Haight district, with typical bay windows:

A not so typical flat-iron type building, two blocks from the fair on Haight street:

Buena Vista park, a block from the fair and also on Haight street:

Street musician and didgeridoos, or possibly alphorns:

I think he needs a bigger piece of cardboard. I can’t tell if it says ‘contributions’ or ‘commemorations’. I also like the part about supporting live local music:

Local ska/punk band at Masonic and Haight stage:

Smoke ahead:

food stuffs:

Glitterman, with beer:

More smoke ahead:

Looks like the brown dog doesn’t want its butt sniffed:

Robodude:

The main stage at Stanyan and Haight, with The Tubes:

Shop on Haight at Belvedere:

Into the bar, Aub Zam Zam:

Gluttony, thy name is Korea, part II

Because I couldn’t fit all the food pictures on one post (and because you probably needed a break to digest just looking at them), here’s the second half. This first series is lunch at a village restaurant outside the city of Gwangju. It’s traditional Korean, nothing too crazy exotic, except for the silk worm grubs. There’s pigs feet, but a lot of people eat those. Eating traditional Korean also means shoes off and sitting on the floor at a low table, and using metal chopsticks, the only Asian country that does so (they’re harder to use than the wooden variety). There seems to be a little bit (or a lot) of everything here. There was so much food they had to stack dishes on top of dishes to fit it all on the table:

Yikes. There’s a table under there somewhere:

A miso-type soup with tofu and scallions:

The meal was served family style, with whatever was nearest the main dish, like this baked tofu:

Dried silk worm grubs. Like the diners, the camera didn’t want to focus on them. They have a nutty flavor, with a strong earthy/slightly bitter flavor that comes through at the end:

A Korean food photo essay wouldn’t be complete without Korean barbeque:

The grill sits in the middle of the table, and a ventilator hovers about a foot or so above it:

A plate of raw beef and pork ready to be grilled. Next to it is a plate of lettuce leaves which are used to wrap the pieces of cooked meat in, along with a piece of garlic and/or hot pepper and/or cooked rice. It depends on your preference:

Salad with dressing of ginger, veggies and light fruit. A nice balance to all the meat:

There’s four seats per table, and one person gets designated as the cook, with these tongs as a tool, as well as a pair of scissors to cut the meat into bite-size pieces:

A clear, refreshing kimchi broth. Another nice balance to the meal:

Just when you think the meal is done, they bring out the bibimbap:

And just when you think the meal is done, part 2, they bring out the buckwheat noodles. The noodles are cooked, but they place them on the grill to soak up the flavor from the meat:

At another venue, some delicate desserts; not too sugary like typical American treats:

Plum tea:

Lunch. This is supposedly a typical meal for the heat of summer. The hot chicken broth, with garlic and ginger, is said to cool you down. It seems more like a meal we would have in winter, especially when you’re fighting off a cold:

That’s a whole chickens in that bowl (with rice at the bottom). There’s one for each diner:

Chili paste, several types of kimchi, and fresh garlic and jalapeno pepper:

Dinner of bibimbap with egg. But instead of the usual chicken egg, they’ve gotten creative with tri-colored roe:

Same picture, but top right a bottle of Korean beer – Hite. One of two brands they make in Korea. It serves its purpose, but nothing to write home about:

Breakfast of abalone rice porridge. Savory, and quite tasty:

Lunch seafood buffet, with salad bar for starters:

Sushi:

Actual cooked seafood:

On the left, spicy raw seafood salad, in the middle, in the middle, wasabi marinated octopus, on the right, jellyfish in vinegar sauce:

Raw flatfish on the left, raw sea squirt on the right:

Gluttony, thy name is Korea, part I

Okay, maybe gluttony is too strong a word. It’s just that it’s served in an array of so many small, individual dishes, lots of them, either brought one course at a time or set out family style to be shared with your neighbor, sometimes so many dishes you can hardly see the table. So if not a true gluttonous feast, it certainly has the appearance of one. But then Korean cuisine is said to be quite healthy, due to the high ratio of veggies to meat, the lack of processed grains like bread and pasta, and the appearance of kimchi at every meal, a fermented vegetable that’s very good for digestion. So you can eat a lot and not have the type of food coma brought on by a deep dish pizza.

Following are pics of lunch at SamcheongGak cultural center. The first course is pumpkin soup and one of the 200+ different types of kimchi they make in Korea, this a clear broth with some peppers and cabbage. It’s quite tasty:

On the right, baked scallop with perilla sauce, the middle barley pancake wrapped with roasted veggies, and the left a stack of sliced root veggies, pickle and shrimp in a pine nut sauce:

On the left, japchae, sticky clear noodles stir-fried with seafood, and on the right a savory steamed custard with ginkgo, shrimp and shiitake:

Tiny whole dried sardines and some raw fish kimchi:

This accompanied the main course of stewed beef ribs (not pictured). At top some cooked steamed greens, top right traditional cabbage kimchi, top left the dark thing is a dried plum, bottom right cabbage and tofu in a miso-type broth which is served just slightly warmer than room temp, and bottom left traditional Kroean rice that’s cooked with a little bit of veggies that gives it a dark reddish tint:

Samhaeju, or rice wine, poured for sample, and the wine’s maker. It’s a three-month process that includes triple fermentation at low temps. The white rice pulp at bottom of the bottle is enjoyed separately and has less alcohol than the wine on top, which can range from 15-20%:

Dinner at Go-Sang which features Korean Buddhist temple cuisine. It’s all vegetarian, and doesn’t use garlic, onion or ginger, which the monks believe to be too stimulating. These are dried chips: potato, taro, orange, and others:

Salad with ‘chicken’ strips:

A sort of cream soup and kimchi:

Meat substitute, which I believe is bean curd or seitan, presented with sauteed leaves to wrap in:

Orange ‘chicken’:

A spiced vegetable stew with tofu and what I believe were actual fish balls:

A radish slaw made to resemble a fish salad:

Five different types of kimchi, two of which were dried:

Steamed and crunchy pan-fried rice, with lotus. On the right, a broth with green vegetables:

Dessert. A persimmon pudding/jello and a plum fruit broth:

Buffet lunch at Vizavi, at Coex convention center:

Lunch at seafood restaurant in southern seaside city of Yeosu. Diners sit on the floor. Crab is the specialty here:

There was never an answer to the item front right, but it could be crab. The other dishes are various types of kimchi:

This seafood restaurant on the edge of Yeosu provides a real challenge for the adventurous. Not pictured but on the table were dried silk worms. These are veggie appetizers and kimchi:

The bottom left are beach worms, which the Australians said they use for bait, and catch them by dragging a rotting fish along the sand. They’re dead, mostly, but continue to move because they have no brain. The bottom right are sea squirts. The top right is conch, or the Korean version. And the top left, not sure. I like how they add garnish, as if that will make it more appealing:

Soy sauce with a dab of wasabi, and hot sauce:

A regular old salad:

In the center are thinly sliced radish or daikon, which are used as a wrap for the surrounding vegetables:

Melt-in-your-mouth Sushi:

Another local delicacy. (Funny how the weirdest, least appetizing foods are always called ‘local delicacies’.) Both are stingray. On the right is a raw kimchi style stingray. On the left is fermented stringray, which has a distinct ammonia effluence:

Scenes from Jeju island, South Korea, part II

On the grounds of the Jeju Folk Village Museum. A re-creation of the way people lived on the island, even as late as the 1970s in some places:

An artisan’s hut:

More kimchi pots, which haven’t changed much over the centuries:

The rich guy gets a veranda:

Prison yard. They tortured their prisoners:

Sungsan Sunrise Peak. A popular Jeju tourist attraction:

No elevator, but helpful arrows to guide the way:

View from the top:

Jeju is a popular honeymoon destination for Koreans, and Sungsan is on the list of to-do. Newlyweds are easily spotted by their match-match outfits:

Seafood gathering center:

Woman carrying bundle of seaweed:

Fresh abalone:

Scenes from Jeju island, South Korea, part I

On the grounds of Spirited Garden, a bonsai garden on Jeju Island. Apparently rubbing this man’s nose brings fertility to barren women:

Some of the trees here are hundreds of years old, and require crutches:

Hungry koi:

On the grounds of 23-unit The Seaes Hotel & Resort:

Bench made famous in a Korean soap opera:

Glamping at The Shilla hotel. Tents are rented until midnight, when you head back to your room to sleep:

Chapel at the Hyatt Regency Jeju. Weddings are big business in Korea:

Jeju beach on a cloudy day. The coastline on the island is mostly rocky: