18 October 2009

Anguilla = Bliss, Part 2

Our breakfast view every morning

Day 2:

Very fitful night’s sleep, as the a/c was still not working. Woke up off and on throughout the night, completely sticky and uncomfortable. At one point I even got out of bed to take a cold shower so that I could cool off enough to fall asleep.

We had early morning coffee on the deck and ate breakfast in the villa again—this time scrambled eggs & toast—then headed into the Valley to mail some postcards and buy some t-shirts at the pharmacy. Oddly enough, their credit card machine wasn’t working. We’d had the same problem at the philatelic bureau the day before. No connection, apparently. Then we walked up to the Keene villa office to make arrangements for our dining voucher and to request again to have the a/c fixed in our bedroom. Apparently the request Lyn made on our behalf got garbled because the maintenance folks checked the unit in Chinaberry, not Bayberry, which was working perfectly fine. MSM got two great nights’ sleep, though, so at least we had that.

My sweet mama enjoying the water

Then we made our way to spend the day at Anguilla Great House on Rendezvous Bay. We paid US $5 per person to use a beach chair for the day, which had to be paid up front and not added to a tab. The beach was very pretty and I loved the strong breeze that kept us from getting too warm. We alternated among dips in the sea, walks along the beach, and staying put reading our books. For lunch we opted for simple fare: two grilled cheese sandwiches and one BLT, all served with fries. Two mango coladas and two Diet Cokes brought the total to only $34, plus additional tip. I was quite surprised at the value, and the food was perfectly good and generously portioned. I’d read a few lukewarm reviews for dinner at AGH, so I was a little apprehensive about our luncheon fare, but my fears were unfounded. I’d definitely recommend it as a pleasant and economical place for lunch on Rendezvous Bay.

Late afternoon we drove back to freshen up and catch the sunset from our balcony—we were completely surprised to note that we could actually see it, as we didn’t expect that that it would be visible from our location on the island. Tonight was so hazy, though, that it wasn’t worth rushing home for.

Hazy sunset

Dinner tonight was at Luna Rosa, a first time experience for us. At first we weren’t sure that we’d be able to work through the $200 dining voucher, so we agreed we’d just make this our big splurge meal. (Turns out, we needn’t have worried, as you’ll soon see…) We ordered a lot of the evening specials, which were definitely pricier than we were expecting. DH had swordfish carpaccio followed by Italy’s answer to the sea bass, the branzino. I had the Tricolore salad and the same fish as DH. MSM opted for the salad special, which was locally grown arugula topped with goat cheese, toasted pine nuts, and 25 year old balsamic vinegar, followed by red snapper. All three entrees were catch of the day specials, grilled whole and then boned for us at the table. The preparation was just delicious. We shared an order of tiramisu, as we were too full to each get our own. Two rum punches, two martinis, one glass of wine, and one Grand Marnier later, our bill came to US $276, plus additional tip.

We are of a mixed opinion whether we thought the meal was worth the money. I thought it was a lovely evening, and my salad was perhaps the most perfectly dressed salad I’ve ever eaten. My mom had a hard time understanding our server (I think it was the owner) and thus didn’t realize she was ordering an arugula salad, which she doesn’t much like. DH said his carpaccio was the best preparation of swordfish he’d ever had, and we all three enjoyed our fish entrees. However, we were one table away from a couple who were smoking, which bothered all three of us, and the night was very still (borderline stifling) with no discernible breeze coming off the water and no ceiling fans to create any artificial air movement. The music was a little intrusive and a little chaotic in the choice—it meandered from a Frank Sinatra-type crooner in Italian to a lively little number you might expect at a Greek wedding, to an operatic number to a mournful sounding ballad. My husband was a little disappointed overall, but I have nothing to regret from our evening’s choices. Would I go to Luna Rosa again? Probably, and I’d go early enough to have cocktails while watching the sunset. But I wouldn’t order any specials without asking for a price ahead of time.

NB: the credit card machine wasn’t working here, either, which wasn’t a problem since we had the $200 voucher and collectively had the additional $100 to (barely) cover the rest. But if we hadn’t been dining with the voucher we wouldn’t have been able to pay for the meal. The owner graciously mentioned that if we didn’t have the cash that night we could come by the next day to pay, which is one of many reasons to love Anguilla, but I have to think it's a hard way to do business, never knowing what will work on any given day.

Finished reading J Maarten Troost’s Getting Stoned With Savages, a sequel to the author’s first book that I read and enjoyed in June. It’s nearly as funny as the first book and full of interesting little insights in his expat life in Vanuatu and Fiji.

Came home to two bedrooms blessedly equipped with a working a/c unit!

Beautiful, deserted Rendezvous Bay

16 October 2009

Anguilla = Bliss, Part I

My husband and I traveled to Anguilla for the first time in June of this year and were so smitten with the island that we plotted our return as soon as we possibly could. Our schedules (and truth be told, our budget) would not permit us to travel in high season, and though it wouldn’t be ideal, we opted to return there in October (i.e. the height of hurricane season) during his fall break. Many people on these boards were very generous of their time in helping me search out reasonable accommodations for our return trip. In time, we invited my sweet mama (henceforth referred to as MSM) to join us, and the three of us made a merry group.

I knew that one of the non-negotiables in selecting our accommodations during the height of hurricane season would be having air conditioning in the bedrooms. There were plenty of one bedroom places on the island that would have suited us, but with the addition of MSM, we had to rethink our budget and our needs. Some of you may remember my intense frustrations in negotiating with various properties, with the insult that Turtle Nest actually wanted to increase their rates rather than broker a discount. But then I happened to inquire about a two bedroom villa on www.mycaribbean.com and really struck gold. Because we wanted a/c, we were able to get all of the Bayberry and Chinaberry villa properties to ourselves, but with car rental for the complete stay and a $200 dining voucher thrown in—all for considerably less than the rack rates. I’m convinced it’s one of the two best travel deals I’ve ever received, and it reminded me once again that patience has its virtues.

Travel Day:

Easy-peasy travel to Anguilla from Hartford, CT, via San Juan, on American and American Eagle. We had an excruciatingly long wait for luggage, during which time some enterprising locals returning home endeavored to entertain us all with impromptu raps about how Anguilla is paradise, but we ended up in Hell. It really was awfully hot in that arrivals arena between immigration and customs, and the air was brutally still. Diane, the villa rep, met us outside the airport and arranged our taxi ride with KiKi ($25 + tip), and then led Kiki to the villas. What a roundabout way of doing things, though I understand wanting to protect the taxi guild.

Our jaws dropped when Diane led us through the walled courtyard, as the place was huge and much lovelier than it looks online.

Villa details: L’Occitane toiletries in each bathroom. Kitchen has high quality, heavy duty cookware. Coffee maker, coffee grinder, electric kettle, toaster, coffee press, blender, microwave, large outdoor grill. Living room has French doors on three sides to open up for outdoor living. Various padded chairs and padded chaise longues in the courtyard and on the balconies. There’s an i-Pod dock in the living room, along with stereo and large selection of CDs. Each bedroom has a flat screen tv, DVD and VCR player with large selection of movies. Furniture is comfortable and sturdy, and I suspect, much of it is antique. It’s beautiful and comfortable without being fussy. It’s a space meant to be lived in and enjoyed, offering all of the luxuries one could wish for on vacation without making one feel that breathing wrong on something might break it. Much of the art on the walls is original rather than reproduction, and there are thoughtful little decorative touches everywhere.

The courtyard is quite large—large enough to accommodate a day bed, two sets of chaises longues, two umbrellas, and a table with six chairs, giving each set its own private space. Plus a dividing area with six palm trees and huge terra cotta plants with flowering plants.

We requested villa provisioning so that we could have breakfast and cocktail items on hand upon arrival. We were charged at cost, plus $10 provisioning fee. On top of that, they provided us with two complimentary welcome baskets full of coffee, tea, banana rum, cookies, Presidente, Red Stripe, and club soda. I wasn’t sure how much we’d go for the banana rum, but it was quite yummy and we made short work of it.

Despite our cheese and crackers, we were half-starved by 6:00, so we decided to do an easy first dinner by going down to Ferryboat Inn. We could have walked, but it was dark and we were tired, so we hopped into the little rental car and zipped down the road. Our dinner consisted of 3 rum punches, two green salads, two hamburgers, one red snapper dish, about $85, but we left additional tip. Red snapper was done to “near perfection, but with a tad too much tarragon.” MSM said burger was the “best she’d had in a long time.” Rum punches were divine. The air was very still there, so dinner was just a little uncomfortably warm. A far cry from our visit in June when the breeze off the water was so stiff that my arms got chilled at midday!

Day 1:

Woke up feeling groggy from poor night’s sleep. Turns out the a/c in our bedroom wasn’t working at all, only blowing room temperature air (which turned out to be about 88 degrees Fahrenheit). DH made breakfast for MSM and me while we lounged out on the deck, enjoying the gorgeous views of Rendezvous Bay—omelets, toast, coffee, and two kinds of juice. God, don’t you just love being served breakfast like that?

Not long after we finished cleaning up, our housekeeper Lyn arrived and introduced herself. She answered a few questions we had about the villa that we neglected to ask Diane the afternoon before. We mentioned the broken a/c and that we’d really like it to be fixed (we’re paying extra for it, after all).

We drove into town and by prior arrangement met Neville from Gumbsie’s Car Rental at the post office to fill out the paperwork. Bought some stamps at the philatelic bureau and then made our way to Shoal Bay East. Had wanted try out Gwen’s and enjoy those hammocks by the water, but it was closed so we returned to Elodia’s. Booked a cabana and three chaises longues for $25. Lovely spot, no crowds since Ku and Shoal Bay Villas were closed. Despite that, lots of folks dropped by throughout the day and it felt livelier than what we experienced back in June. MSM and I shared a grilled chicken sandwich with coleslaw and fries, DH had the toasted cheese sandwich with fries and slaw. One beer, two softdrinks, and two outstanding mango coladas brought our total for the day to $84, plus additional tip, and that included the cabana and chairs. Walked up and down the entire beach—up to the pink building on one end and down to Gwen’s on the other. Perfect day. Left around 5:00 to head back to the villas for sunset, shower and cocktails.

Our first meal on our first trip to Anguilla was B&D’s bbq, and DH and I knew that no future trip to the island would be complete without dining there. It was just as wonderful as we remembered from June visit. Two orders of chicken, two of ribs, plus coleslaw and green salad for each plate came to US $32. A bargain by any stretch, but especially for Anguilla. We took the food back to the villa to eat by candlelight on our lovely dining table. Tings and Presidentes all around, amidst food rhapsodies and deep sighs of satisfaction

Making use of the iPod dock, we listened to various tunes during and after dinner, while we sat around chatting about everything and nothing at all. Excellent first day on the island. Hard to imagine how it could have improved.

Finished reading Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us. What a tragic story, but then again, it has seemed that all women’s stories coming out of India that I’ve read lately have been tragic.