A Bermuda Beach Day (II)

The beauty of Bermuda blows me away!  With blush pink sands, turquoise water and remarkable coves, there are nothing quite like the beaches in Bermuda!

We spent our second day in Bermuda at the beach.  We chose the Horseshoe Bay beach since it is one of the most applauded beaches in Bermuda.

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Most of the cruise people went there, consequently it was much more crowded than other beaches.

Facing the water to the right side of the beach is the Horseshoe Bay Cove.  There rocky terrain rising above the bay encircles the clear water to shape the cove,  it’s like a solitude within a retreat.

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When we arrived in the early morning, we were the only ones at the cove.

So to avoid the crowd, go there early and venture out.

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We also walked to the left side of the Bay.  It was even better!  So seclusive, some part of the beach felt like a private one because we were the only ones there!

One thing for sure, the further away from the Horseshoe Bay, the more striking the scenery, the rockier the beach.

If you want to venture out the beach area as I did, just remember to wear steady footwear.  The rocks were VERY sharp!  Arthur’s Chaco were perfect.  At one point I left my flip flops with my mother-in-law, and I ended up hurting my feet trying to climb across some rocks.

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The sands are definitely pink, much pinker near the area where waves smash the shore.

Of course, locals may not go to the Horseshoe Bay beach, it may be too touristy for them.

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On the bus tour of the first day, we passed by many pink sand beaches and coves.  Some coves were so small and cozy, just perfect as a romantic getaway.

The weather in Bermuda is mild with the highest in the 80s in the summer and the lowest in the 50s in the winter.  However with the humidity in the summer 80s can feel like in the 90s; with the gusty wind in the winter, the 50s like in the 40s.  While we were there in the early June, the daily temperatures were consistent in the range of 75–77 F.  Yes, it was not a typo, the high and low of a day were virtually the same!

There are various public transportation (buses and ferries) available leaving from the Royal Naval Dockyard to the City of Hamilton, the Town of St. George and different beaches.  Our taxi costed $32 from the cruise dock to the Horseshoe Bay one way, so it is a great value if you go with a group.

Before this trip, my knowledge of Bermuda was minimal; it was a mysterious place where boats disappeared for no reason. In reality Bermuda only takes up less than 4% of the Bermuda Triangle.  We are safe.  The thing might have killed us is not the vanish of our ship rather the high price tag of living there.  The island is VERY expensive, about two times more than what we pay in mainland US.  A gallon of gasoline costs $8! A gallon of milk $14! A mid-range meal for a couple $130!! Although it is understandable that virtually everything on the island has to be shipped here from the mainland. But still, ouch!!

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There are direct flights from major cities to Bermuda, so this little paradise can be an easy weekend getaway.  Oh, one more thing, don’t forget to pack a pair of Bermuda shorts to Bermuda!!

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First time to dip my toes in pink sands! 😍🏖 #content #happyday

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A Cruise Getaway to Bermuda (I)

Recently we accompanied my mother-in-law to Bermuda boarding Royal Caribbean Cruise.  After only two days we fell in love with the island and convinced that we would be back.  And next time bring our children with us.

Our cruise ship left from the port Baltimore, we picked this cruise for the convenient location, this way my mother-in-law could skip the stress of flying on the plane.

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Bermuda is an independently governed British territory in North Atlantic Ocean.  Our cruise ship docked at the Royal Naval Dockyard at King’s Wharf.

There are museums and restaurants in the Naval Dockyard, and a craft market, a clock tower mall, swimming with dolphins, a snorkel park, even a fun golf site, you can easily spend a half day exploring the dockyard.  The one site on the top of the list should be the National Museum of Bermuda.

On our first day on the island we took a mini-bus tour. The bus picked us up from the Royal Naval Dockyard; it took about five-hour to tour the whole island.

The beautiful coast took our breaths away.  Right there we decided that our second day in Bermuda would be a beach day! (see part II for more)

This newly refurbished Gibbs Hill Lighthouse is one of Bermuda’s iconic attractions. There were 185 steps to the top! Just to give you a perspective–the Bunker Hill in Boston is 294 steps. ( I passed out while climbing the Monument, it was in the heat of summer and I was that close to the top. You won’t forget it easily after a humiliating experience like that🤣.)

DSC04931This is the island view at the base of the Lighthouse, just imaging the view from the top! However we were only given 20 minutes, not enough time to climb.  But one couple decided to climb it regardless for the Lighthouse was such an iconic destination!  You guessed right… the whole bus had to wait for them…

Every corner we turned was a photogenic view.  Golf courses there were world class.

The capital of Bermuda is City of Hamilton, lots of people go here for duty free shopping.  If you just want a few souvenirs to take home, our tour guide recommended this store–on the left hand side of the Burnaby Street as soon as we made a right turn from the Front Street, the cheapest T-shirt there was about $8 (on the cruise $10 on sale with fewer selections).

There are lots of churches on the island.  If you throw a rock randomly, you may hit the stained glass of a church! (Legend says so😉)

Here are a few of my favorites.  Heydon’s Chapel is the oldest church in Bermuda, and the smallest and most endearing.  The church was built in 1620.  ‘Sing to God,  Sing praises to His name; Lift up a song to Him who rides upon the clouds; His name is the Lord, exult before Him. Psalm 68:4.’

The Unfinished Church was planned as a replacement for St. Peter’s Church.  The construction started in mid-19th century, but left unfinished when running out of fund.  I wish we had more time to linger there, it would be a beautiful spot for wedding.

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And St. Peter’s Church in the Town of St.  George.  This is the oldest continuously used Anglican church in the western hemisphere, more than 400 years old!

St. George is at the eastern tip of Bermuda.  The town and the surrounding fortifications as a whole is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Lots of the sites were closed since our bus arrived after 5 pm.  St. George will be our #1 choice of lodging locations if we go back to Bermuda.

Things we might do differently:

Bermuda consists of more 180 islands, totally 20 square miles.  The Bermuda we refer to is the largest island.  You can get away from participating the cruise excursion especially you have friends and family travel together, just do your own tour.  Normally we prefer the freedom of doing our own things than taking tours since we always feel rushed with a tour.  However with a 89-year-old mom with us, bus tour was the next best thing.

At the Royal Naval Dockyard, right outside of our cruise, there were MANY taxis waiting for service.  You could pay the driver by hour, this way you have your personal driver and tour guide for your group.  Our excursion was $100/person, for the four of us we could have hired a driver for the day with a much greater amount of freedom, like climbing the Lighthouse and lingering longer at the Unfinished Church!

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Happy first day of summer!! #sailing

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Puerto Vallarta Winter Getaway

It is very easy to fall in love with Puerto Vallarta (PV).  Warm weather, clear beach, great food and show, and extremely friendly people.  Here are the things we loved and things we could have skipped in PV.

Marietas Islands Hidden Beach tour is the #1 on my list, an absolute must-do! These groups of isles are more than an hour ride from PV, they are beautiful with rugged rocky shore.  Boats can’t dock there, you have to swim to get on the islands.  The tour company provides life jackets and gaggle gears for the swim.  The water is so blue and the islands very beautiful.

There is a hidden beach, you can’t see the beach from outside sea, have to swim over the low overhand to get on the beach, so check the tide table for low tides.  Only 80 people per day are allowed to get on the island, six people to get on the beach in any given time. Make sure to book early.

On the way to the islands we saw whales and many dolphins.

We also highly recommend the Rhythms of the Night Dinner Show! The show is on Las Caletas, an hour boat ride to the south of PV, a place of sporty recreation during the day and romantic candle-light dinner and entertainment at night.  There is no electricity there, four thousands lit candles were waiting for us when we reached the shore!

The food was great and the show was full of amazing acrobatic moments.  Each evening there are two dinners and one show in between, so make sure to specify which dinner you want for the evening when booking.  I wish I knew more about Mexican culture and language to understand the show.  What a wonderful way to spend the night.

Puerto Vallarta is a very artsy tourist town.  There are many wonderful art displays over every corner of the city especially the one-mile long El Malecon Boardwalk along downtown water front.  Every Tuesday morning there is a guided art sculpture tour, it costs $15. Although you can easily do a self-guided tour, just walk along the boardwalk you won’t miss anything.  The dance of the Flyers, Danza de los Voladores, is a preserved ancient Mesoamerican ritual.

If you have children, the Turtle Camp is a wonderful and fun educational activity with the whole family.  You learn about the life of turtles, at the end you can hold a baby turtle and release it back to the ocean.

The Puerto Vallarta City tour is suitable for someone who wants to see the whole city in one day.  It is too crammed in my opinion.  The bus picked us up from our hotel and everybody else, it was a bus-ful of tourists.  We stopped at many attractions briefly including Malecon boardwalk, the church of Our Lady Guadeloupe etc.

We had lunch at a family-owned restaurant near Mismaloya, very unique setting in the wood.  Afterward we walked to a nearby tequila distillery for tasting.  They even blocked big chunk of time for us shopping for souvenirs, twice!  It was a whole day tour.

We stayed at Marriott.  Everywhere we travel, I like to book Marriott for lodging, just love the bedding and pillows and their affordable price. This resort offers many water activities and have a couple of restaurants and nice pools.

I like the location, walking distance to food and market.  There is a public bus stop outside of the resort, the bus fare to downtown is only 7.5 pesos. (The exchange rate $1=19 pesos!)  Our bus ride was fun, we met many snowbirds from America and Canada on the bus.

And taxi is very convenient and reliable, about 80 pesos from hotel to downtown.

When we were in Mexico City two year ago we fell in love with the real Mexican food.  So this time in Puerto Vallarta we were searching for authentic seafood at the places where the locals went.  We tried a handful of the local favorites, and liked most of them, especially fresh seafood, even the food from street vendors and night market were excellent.

The Cafe des Artistes is on the top list of my recommendation. It is at the high end, about $50 per person.  Really romantic, perfect for anniversary or any special occasion.  The restaurant is beautifully decorated, the exquisitely prepared food is accompanied with romantically serenaded music.  They have the best pumpkin soup, the fish dish is so flavorful, and the dessert is to die for.

Another restaurant on my recommendation list is La Langosta Feliz (The Happy Lobster), a seafood restaurant.  If you don’t order the gigantic seafood platter (shown on the picture above), we didn’t, the price was very cheap–four of us spent about 1,500 pesos, less than $80!

We had quite adventure there, I had to share this story!

As I mentioned before, our love of food always push us to search for authentic local food.  One taxi driver highly recommended the Happy Lobster, so we decided to give it a try.  We left from Malecon boardwalk thinking it would be a pleasant walk, it turned out way too far to get there on foot.  As we were asking a local woman how much further we needed to go, we were approached by an elderly man who warmly volunteered to take us there.  Not only that, he also acclaimed to be the owner of that restaurant and offered us 20% discount!  Apparently he owned a couple of restaurants in Puerto Vallarta, the Happy Lobster we were going was currently managed by one of his sons! “Just wait here!” he said, “Let me go and get my car, I take you because I am going there anyway.”

What do you think?  If in your shoes, would you wait and go with him, in a city where you were a stranger?!

As soon as he left, we waved down a taxi.  We couldn’t get out there fast enough! It turned out we were only half mile away.

The restaurant was awesome! Seafood was great, fresh and tasty. Lots of locals and tourists like us were there.  The waiters spoke good English. The service was prompt and warm, the food portion was decent. I had octopus ceviche and freshly caught snapper (see the pictures above), loved both.  If I had to pick on something, the music was a bit too loud to our taste, especially the band came to the table side and played.

By the time we ordered and chewed on our appetizer, lo and be hold, that elderly man walked in and straightly approached our table, padded my husband’s shoulder “haha you made it.” !!!

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The manager (on the right) was indeed his son!!

We are so accustomed to not trust strangers; we teach our children that and we model those teachings ourselves.   We may be safer but how we miss otherwise great opportunity to make friends!   People are much more genuine and loving than we portray them! Especially in Puerto Vallarta!

So if you visit Puerto Vallarta, please go and eat at the Happy Lobster.  If you see him, ask for a discount, I guarantee you will get it.  (I didn’t get the discount he promised since I didn’t even want him to remember our prior conversation.)    His heart is made of gold.

 

Cuban Food, Cigars and Coffee

Cuba lies 90 miles south of Key West, FL, between the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, to the west of Haiti, east of Mexico and northwest of Jamaica.  Now I have been to each island mentioned above, except Haiti.  (hmm… Haiti)

Although this was my first time to Cuba, it was the 30th times for our team.  Year after year they showered compassion to the Cuban people providing the Cuban churches with generous material and spiritual support long before the lift of embargo. Each year new members were added to the Cuba team, we were so privileged to be part of this wonderful group.

Each year the team experienced a bit differently than the year before.  This time we stayed at the two beautiful guesthouses.

Barbara was the hostess of one guesthouse, and also our cook for breakfast. Each day breakfast began with a plate of fresh fruits of papaya, banana, guava and pineapple slices. Toasts were served with butter and home-made pineapple marmalade, the best I’ve ever had! Eggs were either fried or scrambled; probably because of our language barrier, Barbara thought “sunny side up” meant “natural” or raw egg.   Huh… no… I didn’t want to swallow a raw egg in the morning. 🙂

Barbara also served us deliciously home-made juice, such as papaya, guava or pineapple, and coffee. A word for Cuban coffee, it was STRONG! A little cup of the Cuban coffee would keep me going for a whole day! Coffee was served black, with sugar and/or heated whole milk. By the end of the week, I grew addicted to Cuban coffee.

Lunch at church was usually a simple sandwich with ham and cheese. Naturally we opted for lunch from street vendors in downtown Havana. This fried chicken (three pieces) costed only two dollars, juicy and full of flavor.

We had lunch out once at Matanzas. Great pork!

For something to munch on while scrolling the street, you might pick a bag of Churros for half a dollar or Corn on the cob with mayonnaise or a sprinkle of salt.

In Cuba, we used bottled water for drinking as well as for brushing teeth. The rule for shower in our guesthouse was to turn off the water whenever you were not ACTIVELY rinsing; otherwise you would suffer the consequence of running out of hot water.  I am speaking from my personal experience.  Also check whether you had water in the tank BEFORE you used the commode, otherwise you might risk have nothing to flush with.  Again, my personal experience. 🙂

Rice and Beans was Cuban’s staple dish.  We had rice and beans almost every night at church.  In my opinion, New Orleans had the best rice and beans, Cuban version came very close as the runner up. Our chefs knew how to make delicious Chicken and pork; we were told that beef and seafood were not readily available/affordable for common people.

Our last dinner was at a Chinese restaurant “Tien Tan 天璮饭店” in China town. If you missed seeing the archway at the entrance to Chinatown, you would not have guessed you were in China town. There were very few Chinese people and the structures of the many buildings resembled anything but China town. My hubby and I were the only Chinese we saw. 🙂

Finally, a few words about gifts.  Cuban cigars and coffee were the gifts we brought back home, they were easily available in Old Havana. Since the ease of travel to Cuba,  US customs lifts the import limits on Cuban cigars. If you are new to Cuban cigars, “Romeo y Julieta” and “Cohiba” are two popular brands. Also the coffee we purchased at the Old Havana tourist area was the identical price as in local market.

The Idyllic Cuban Countryside

While we were in Cuba we took a day trip to Matanzas to visit Dolce, an 87-year old retired missionary.  Matanzas was about 60 miles south of Havana, the bus ride was beautiful. Our eyes had a feast on the idyllic countryside of Cuba, so lay-back yet poetic.  Almost as pretty as my old Kentucky home.

City of Matanzas is referred to as the “Venice of Cuba”, there are 17 bridges crossing the rivers in the city, as Matanzas is also called the “City of Bridges”.  We didn’t visit bridges though, instead we spent most of our time in the city shopping for Dolcie. The team only saw her once a year, this was our only chance to stock up food and grocery items for her.

We took Dolce out to lunch at Rancho Gaviota. Rancho Gaviota located a couple of miles outside of city with beautiful surrounding. It was a popular tourist place for lunch as it was included as part of Jeep Safari tour.

After saying goodbye to Dolce, we took a detour to beach before heading back to Havana. Although this beach was not as well-known and spacious as the beaches in the resort town Varadero, we had fun getting wet and kicking the water. kbic4957

However briefly, I felt overwhelmingly satisfied dipping my toes in this side of water! Same Atlantic ocean, with almost the same temperature as that in Key West, only 90 miles away!   Can you understand my psychic? 🙂

 

 

Old Havana (La Habana Vieja), the Antique Cars and Beyond

I just came back from a week-long missionary trip in Havana, Cuba. I have fell in love with the people there, our hostess, interpreter, cooks, drivers, many young people and adorable children. Havana is much more than just antique cars.

Although the antique cars in Havana were truly amazing! On our last day, we rode a 1950 Chevrolet Convertible.  Her owner was an Italian, he boasted that every part of the car was original.  And the ride was absolutely smooth!  I couldn’t believe the car was 67 years old! If you want to ride an antique car, it is easy to pick up one in Old Havana, near the Capitolio, or around the Revolution Square (Plaza de la Revolucion).

However if you want to experience like a local, simply walk a few blocks outside of the tourist areas, away from the route of HabanaBusTour, you would discover the real Havana.

Old Havana is UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is definitely a giant mix of old and new, rich and poor. Strolling along the streets of Havana, you would find the city blended with two extremes and many gray areas in between. On one side, we saw the majestic Capitolio, the Grand Theater, many beautiful hotels and fancy antique cars cruising along El Malecon and 23rd Street (Calle 23).

On the other side of the inner city, we saw many rundowns.  I could imagine what these streets used to look like in their prime time, a glimpse of her glorious past. This faded part reminded me of the New Orleans after Katrina and gave me the grieve.

Perhaps the best part of Havana was her people. Friendly and outgoing, I found that people in Havana were trustworthy and easily to trust others. We saw many hitch hikers on the street, many times cars were waved down and passengers were picked up from the street. If there was an extra seat in the car, the driver would offer the ride to the person in need.

In the West, our children are taught to not accept things from a stranger, nor get into a stranger’s car because it is not safe, even dangerous. In Cuba children and adult alike openly accepted our gifts with smiles and “Gracias”. They are the most cheerful gift receivers.

I made friends with two adorable little boys in Baptist Church (Iglesia Bautista). They showed me how to climb up to the roof top, so I could take sunset pictures. Their little hearts were made of gold. They showed me life’s simple pleasure, in a small toy and a piece of candy, still exist in this uncontaminated island. I found myself drawn to them and loving them with all my heart.