Tag: island

St. Maarten and St. Martin: A Tale of Two Cultures on One Island Paradise

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St. Maarten harbor

If you ever wanted to visit Europe without having to fly to the European continent – you’re in luck! Hop on a cruise ship or plane heading to St. Maarten/St. Martin and you can visit the only place in the world where the Netherlands borders France! St. Maarten/St. Martin is divided by two nationalities and cultures, approximately 60% French and 40% Dutch. Unlike many other Caribbean islands that were former colonies now turned independent, this Caribbean paradise is different. St. Maarten is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and St. Martin is an overseas collectivity of the French Republic. These two jurisdictions share the same island paradise.

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Warm welcomes!

Greeted by sunny skies, bright jewel-toned sailboats, lush green mini-mountains, pristine beaches… and with the remnants of colonial muscle-flexing, like old forts, standing down… this is an inviting place. Plentiful pirates (in costume!) will have you dreaming of the days of buried treasure and seafaring adventure… without the danger! St. Maarten/St. Martin has been hit hard over the years by hurricanes, but the resourceful and resilient people here have worked hard to recover and restore their beautiful island after the damage. It was rewarding to be able to visit this place that locals take great pride in, and do business with them to help play a role, albeit small, in helping boost their economy after the hardships they have endured in recent years. The real treasure here isn’t buried, and wasn’t looted by the pirates of old – it’s St. Maarten/St. Martin’s people.

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Boat tour

A great way to see both sides, French and Dutch, is to take a boat tour. You can catch one in Phillipsburg, on the Dutch side, that will take you all the way around to the French section. After my boat tour, I took a bus ride to Marigot, on the French side, for a closer look at faraway France’s quaint colonial charms!

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Eglise Saint Martin de Tours church, Marigot

While I’ve received some disagreeable reactions from locals in France making my best attempt to communicate in the local language, the people of Marigot were pleasantly surprised and impressed with my, admittedly broken, French! There is something infinitely satisfying about being able to converse with locals in their own tongue – it’s another element of immersion that fully envelops you in the travel experience. It is also rewarding when locals are pleasantly surprised and flattered by your efforts. Regrettably, I didn’t know any Dutch yet (note to self: bucket list!)

The cultural immersion doesn’t stop at sights and sounds, however. If you long for the tantalizing tastes and sweet scents of the continent, you can find them right here too. Stroll into a cafe in Marigot for cafe au lait and croissant to savor while you watch the tide roll in by sunset… it’s the best of both worlds!

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National pride on the French side

If you romanticize about Caribbean pirate culture, breathtaking beaches, and a laid-back life of nautical wonders, or the charms of Europe right in your back yard (if you live on the North American continent), then this may be just the place for you!

You can view my full tour of St. Maarten/St. Martin, here!:

 

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St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Perfectly Paradisiacal!

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Scenic St. Thomas views

St. Thomas, an island paradise in the Caribbean, and United States territory, is a playground of crystal clear waters dotted by lush, jade islands, all viewable from an endless supply of scenic mountain overlooks – each one more spectacular than the last! Basque in the beams of sunshine, be refreshed in the surf of the ocean, and inhale the essence of intoxicating Yellow Trumpetbush and Frangipani flowers as you explore the wonders of St. Thomas!

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Magen’s Bay Beach

Magen’s Bay Beach consistently ranks in the world’s top ten for beaches. With spectacular views, sand the consistency of baking powder, water so clear you can see your feet – and so warm it feels like bathwater… lounging out here will leave you feeling super spoiled while the sun soaks you in warmth amidst the sea-salt scented breezes. It’s the perfect place to relax… and escape!

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Charlotte Amalie

The United States purchased St. Thomas from Denmark in 1917 for the unbeatable bargain of $25 million in gold, or, what would be the equivalent of $489 million today. The transaction allowed the island to remain free from adversarial hands and boost Denmark’s coffers during the hefty expenses of World War I fighting. Much of the old Danish colonial architecture remains in the capital of Charlotte Amalie, and is indubitably charming.

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Danish colonial architecture

St. Thomas is a varied landscape of crystal clear waters, island formations big and small, and mountains and hilltops boasting amazing views of the expanse below.  It is truly one of the greatest jewels in the string of islands adorning the Caribbean! If you still have time for shopping in Charlotte Amalie, I highly recommend seeking out the paintings and photography by local artists in the AH Riise outdoor mall. The locals’ sources of inspiration are numerous, and talent enviable! The local art is my favorite souvenir to leave this beautiful place with.

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Cruise ships views

You can view my video tour of St. Thomas here!:

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I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

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Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos by HXT Electric Hummer – an electrifying experience!

 

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HXT Electric Hummers

The first stop for week two on my back-to-back cruise on the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore was Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos. Grand Turk is an outstanding cruise destination and one I would gladly re-visit time and time again. Not only are the excursions I have taken here some of the best I’ve ever taken, but back at port there is a breathtaking public beach (with free lounge chairs and umbrellas) with the most crystal clear waters and spectacular views I have ever seen on a beach anywhere! Hedonists rejoice!

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Views of the beach and salt flats of Grand Turk

As you wander through the playful port, you realize quickly that John Glenn is highly honored here. Consistent with my tour guide’s proclamation that “John Glenn put us on the map!” there is an exhibit at port highlighting Glenn’s significant contribution to the island. The exhibit includes a life-size statue of Glenn and replicas of the Atlas rocket and Friendship 7 capsule (which landed here in the waters a couple of miles from Grand Turk in 1962 after completing the Mercury 7 mission – you can see the original nearby, one of the stops our Hummer tour made.) If you can pull yourself away from the incredible beaches, it’s worth a look!

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John Glenn exhibit, port of Grand Turk

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Beautiful beaches at the Port, Grand Turk

It was daunting facing driving on the “wrong” side of the road (yes, they do that here!) in the electric Hummer, but once I gave it a try, just following the guide and hearing the frequent reminders to “stay on the left!” after every turn, it was no problem at all. I think anyone could handle it with no issues. Perhaps in a big city it would be more overwhelming – but here it was easy with very little traffic. The Hummers are convertible, allowing the warmth of the sun and light breeze of the wind to wash over you while you enjoy quite a comprehensive tour of the island. The Hummers are an absolute blast to drive, and being fully automatic they are easy to drive too, allowing you to focus on the amazing views.

The tour was very intimate and personalized, with my son and I in one Hummer, and only one couple in one other Hummer on the tour. Apparently not a lot of people booked it – and boy were they missing out! We made a few stops where the guide offered us more information about the island, including a wildlife sanctuary, a salt flats, the “downtown,” (shown above… very peaceful and relaxed!), and the original Friendship 7 capsule I mentioned above. You can see more on these stops in the video posted below. The stops were informative and fun… but to be honest I couldn’t wait to get back in the Hummer!!

I was disappointed when the tour had to come to an end, but having a beach break to look forward to before curfew on the ship made leaving my trusty hummer behind more tolerable!

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Beach bliss

Want to see more? I filmed the tour and you can watch it here!:

I am thrilled to report that I upgraded my filming equipment for these videos – however, this trip was filmed before then. I will be posting soon on my trip to Europe where you will see the difference! Please subscribe to my YouTube channel to further satisfy your travel fix!: Heather Anne’s Ultimate Travel Adventures.

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I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

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Next stop next week: Princess Cays, Bahamas, which was stop two of week two of the cruise! Thanks for joining in on the adventure!

Basking in Bermuda Part 2: Hamilton, St. George’s, Pink Sand Beaches, Glass-Bottom Boat

I wasn’t sure the next day in Bermuda, focused on Bermuda’s cities, could top my experiences of the previous day. Yet, in it’s own way, this alternative look at Bermuda was equally enthralling!

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Horseshoe Bay Beach: One of Bermuda’s Famous “Pink Sand” Beaches

The day began with a stop at one of Bermuda’s famous “pink sand” beaches, Horseshoe Bay beach. I was even more struck by how quiet and peaceful the beach was than by the color of the sand, which I would describe as more pink-ish than outright pink. In Bermuda, there are small red organisms that live among the coral. When they pass away they drop to the ocean floor and combine with coral and crushed shell, and when this substance washes up on the beach it gives the sand Bermuda’s signature pink hue. Contrasting with the brilliant aqua ocean, the beach is a magnificent sight, and I would have loved to have spent the day. Especially since this would have been a great change of pace from the crowded beaches back home! But the cities were waiting to be discovered!

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Hamilton

Hamilton, at about the middle of the main island, was founded in 1790. Hamilton is a vibrant pastel-colored cityscape with lively bars, restaurants, shopping, and businesses. Bermuda’s economic hub is highly developed, modern, and exciting! Palm trees dot the bustling harbor front with a backdrop of banks and government buildings. Hamilton means business! I wandered the streets, allowing the city vibe to sink in. Hamilton is easily reached from the port by ferry or van, and is well worth the excursion. It’s a great place to people-watch from an outdoor cafe, see Bermuda’s version of the “skyscraper,” (New Yorkers, please resist the temptation to scoff!) or spend way too much money in the expensive retail outlets! (The Bermuda dollar’s value is maintained at equal to the U.S. dollar, and U.S. dollars are eagerly welcomed in shops and restaurants!)

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Busy Hamilton Intersection

After the brisker pace of Hamilton, I was ready to slow down in the more quaint city of St. George’s. St. George’s was founded in 1612, at the northernmost tip of the main island. Here, historic recreations are played out in front of City Hall by elaborately costumed actors, a jumble of sailboat masts reach for baby-blue skies, and empty, narrow streets wind through charming colonial pastel architecture.

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Road Less Traveled, St’ George’s

While Hamilton plays the boisterous younger sibling, St. George’s plays the more settled down, graceful older one. Strolling among soft breezes, watching sailboats bob in the harbor, getting a glimpse of old-fashioned British phone booths, and being enveloped by a rainbow of pastel on it’s narrow streets, St. George’s is a delightful step back in time.

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Green Phone Booth, St. George’s

From the Royal Naval Dockyard, to Hamilton, to St. George’s, Bermuda’s hubs have their own unique personalities – and I enjoyed getting to know them all. The British may have seen Bermuda as an opportunity to keep an eye on America. But with all of these lovely distractions right here in Bermuda I’m not sure how!

After a few minutes of freshening up, it was time for a night out on the open sea – aboard a glass-bottom boat for a shipwreck tour. I was skeptical – the excursion had some negative reviews, and any tour which includes viewing wildlife – land or sea – can be hit or miss depending on who decides to show up for the party. But it turned out to be an outstanding tour, with very entertaining guides, a visible shipwreck both in, and sticking out of, the ocean, and loads of fish, coral, and other interesting sights below. You can see for yourself on the video below!

I filmed a second video of Bermuda covering the sights mentioned in this blog, which you may view here:

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I am extremely grateful for your generous donation to help keep the site running! This site and individual posts are not sponsored! A dollar may not be a lot, but every dollar counts!

$1.00