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.

26 September 2009

Homeward Bound (Almost!)

Sunset light on San Juan Cathedral

Travel Day 3

Though we actually enjoy periodic rain when on vacation, we perversely feel better when it rains on the day of our departure, and I’m pleased to say that Anguilla’s weather obliged us with an actual storm midmorning. We packed up, ate a late breakfast, spent a last few precious moments enjoying the views on Meads Bay, and checked out of Carimar around 11:45. We drove from there to Avis, and an employee there then drove us to the airport. After checking in we opted for lunch at the canteen in the airport, sharing a chef salad and a couple of Tings. A cricket match between West Indies and Sri Lanka was playing on television, much to my delight. I’ve never seen cricket being played, but Bill Bryson’s descriptions of it have always amused me, and after reading Netherland on vacation I had grown interested in knowing more about it.

Our Favorite Hotel in Puerto Rico

Our flight to SJU was uneventful, as was making it through immigration & customs. However, we were low on cash for the taxi to the hotel and finding a working ATM proved to be much more difficult than it ought! About 45 minutes later we finally settled into a cab to El Convento, one of our favorite oases in the Caribbean. Whenever it’s feasible we try to spend our last night on vacation there. The hotel is lovely in its own right, as is Old San Juan in general, but spending a night there has the added benefit of easing us back into the faster pace of our lives back home.

Interior shot of El Convento

Upon check-in we were informed that they had upgraded us to a presidential suite. I almost wasn’t sure if I had heard him right, so I asked him to repeat himself. With a grin he handed us the room key and confirmed that we were, indeed, upgraded to that level. The regular guest elevator was out of order, forcing us to use the service elevator instead, but honestly, we couldn’t care less since we were on our way up the Vanderbilt Suite. God, I love staying in a room with a name. Don’t you?

Our presidential suite!

The room was spacious and lovely, with the bathroom alone being larger than most standard hotel rooms. We had a foyer, a huge bathroom, king size bed, a walk-in closet, and two balconies with views of San Juan Bay and the San Juan Cathedral. Rejoicing in our great good fortune, we paused to freshen up and check in with our families at home before heading out for the rooftop wine & cheese reception. This is one of the many reasons we love El Convento – it’s included in the room rates and it’s a very nice touch. They put out several different wines (I counted nine that night), cheeses, crackers & fruits, plus coffee & tea. They also have an honor bar if your tastes are more toward the liquor. So we fixed a couple of plates, grabbed a beverage, and scoped out a table on the patio to watch the sun go down.

Usually we go to Aquaviva for dinner in Old San Juan but we were pretty tired and not very hungry after the wine & cheese, and feeling gratefully inclined toward the hotel for our upgrade, we opted to eat at El Picateo, the hotel’s tapas restaurant. Sharing small plates of Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, and some sautéed cuttlefish was just the ticket. A mojito, a glass of sangria, and a tres leches cake brought our total to around US $60. The food was good, our server was outrageously cute, and we were happy to be back in place where we could drink the good ol’ tap water.

Day in Old San Juan/Homeward Bound

Enjoying an al fresco meal in the courtyard

Since our flight back home to Hartford wasn’t until early evening, we requested and were granted a late check out. We had an early breakfast at Café Nispero, the courtyard restaurant at El Convento and it was very good. I opted for the yogurt, granola & fruit crepes while DH had the Eggs Benedict. Two cappuccinos and a freshly squeezed orange juice brought our total to US $30. After breakfast we walked to the San Cristobal fort to explore. We had both been there before, but we wanted to see it again since all of the pictures that I had taken there two years earlier were lost when I lost my camera. It’s easy to forget how hot it is down in the Caribbean when you’re on the beach because the constant breezes keep things comfortable, but that’s not the case in Old San Juan. All of that concrete radiates heat upwards while the sun beats down from above, and we were both sweaty messes by the time we got there. At least I was wearing a long-sleeved loose shirt over a light tank top, which kept the worst of the sun off my skin!

I love this archway in the fort!

In front of the fort entrance

The obligatory turret shot

The fort was as interesting as we remembered and we used up most of our collective battery power shooting hundreds of photos throughout. If you have the time to visit either of the forts (or both!), I highly recommend them. (Fun fact: though I cannot be sure, I would be willing to bet small amounts of money that we saw Andrew Zimmern doing part of a tv shoot while we were at the fort. We were up top on the highest level of the fort looking down, and they were in the courtyard, but there were several people with film cameras and a couple of booms surrounding a man who looked very much like Zimmern. Alas, by the time we wandered back down to the courtyard, the crew had vanished, so who can say?)

The bayside walk back to the hotel

The streets of Old San Juan

We made our way back to El Convento along the bay, which is a very pretty walk, offering respite here & there in the forms of shade trees, benches, and a large fountain that was spraying squealing children. We stopped to cuddle a couple of kitties in the square outside the hotel and then headed up to the room to shower. Then it was back downstairs for lunch at Nispero. It is so refreshing to sit there in the cool of the courtyard. We had our books with us, so we lingered over our hamburger, Cuban sandwich and two sangrias. Everything was very tasty and the total came to around US $40, including tip.

Funky sculpture on the bayside walk

Original doors in the wall surrounding the old city

Another street shot

Almost every square in the old city has a fountain.

25 September 2009

Holy hammerhead, Batman!

Hammerhead just offshore at Carimar

We got up with heavy hearts, knowing it was our last full day on the island. The night before we had talked about setting up for the day at Rendezvous Bay since we hadn’t really seen it yet, but when it came down to it, neither of us felt much like stirring away from Carimar. So DH commenced to frying up some bacon & eggs for breakfast while I hied myself back to Christine’s to buy another baguette since the remnants of the one we bought earlier in the week had already molded. Lucky choice we made, as we would have missed the great hullabaloo on Meads Bay otherwise. While placidly dipping my spoon into a passionfruit to scoop out the last of its seeds, the downstairs neighbor shouted up to me, “Look—dolphin!” What we both thought was a dolphin at first turned out to be a hammerhead shark so close to shore that I was afraid it would beach itself permanently. A crowd gathered around while it was thrashing to get unmoored from the sand—two staff members had to hold back a couple of guests who got stupidly close to it. I watched it all from the balcony, so I was a little distance from it, but my best guess is that it was about 6 feet long, perhaps just a tad longer (somebody who saw it up close later estimated at more like 8 feet, so who knows?). Once it freed itself and got back into the water, it circled around a few times about 20 feet off shore before heading out to sea again. From my guess it had been chasing another fish and was so intent on catching it that it didn’t pay attention to the depth of the water and came aground. The other fish, a very narrow one, maybe 2.5-3 feet long, swam hurriedly away toward Frangipani, parallel to shore, only a couple of feet from the beach. After we lost sight of the big one, though, I saw a much smaller shark circling offshore—I couldn’t see what kind it was, but my neighbor who had gone down to the beach said that it was also a hammerhead.

What a commotion that shark caused! People were pouring onto the beach from the gardens and the office and possibly from the street outside, just to get a glimpse of it. It’s the first time I’ve seen a shark without an aquarium wall between us and it was just beautiful, glistening like pewter in the sunlight when it was stuck halfway in the sand. Still, I’m thankful that I wasn’t actually in the water with it! Someone from Malliouhana declared that in his 20 years of working there he had never seen a fish that big in that cove.
The pleasant bar at AGH

Later that afternoon we drove over to Anguilla Great House so that we could have a drink and see more of Rendezvous Bay. The place was empty of guests but they were getting busy for a wedding to be held there the next day. We each had a couple of drinks (I don’t recommend the rum punch) and read our books and enjoyed the strong breeze coming off the water. I think the beach at AGH is a much nicer section than what we saw outside Dune Preserve the day they were closed, and in fact was nicer than the beach at Shoal Bay West. Despite the lukewarm reviews for food at AGH, we would definitely consider planting ourselves there for a day in the future.
Windy day at Rendezvous Bay

For dinner we debated between trying someplace new and returning to Veya, and Veya won out. It was a very pleasant evening, despite our melancholy for having to leave the next morning. DH ordered the conch carpaccio and I ordered the fish soup for starters after making sure that it didn’t have cilantro in it. The amuse-bouche was a conch fritter with a mango sauce, but when my husband asked about the Thai lemongrass soup that had been served earlier that week, they brought us out some of that, too, and were kind enough not to add the cilantro garnish to mine. It was excellent, spicy but well-balanced. Unfortunately, when my fish soup arrived, it did have cilantro in it. Or at least, I can attest that I tasted it in there. To make sure I even isolated a small green piece to taste on its own and sure enough, the unpleasantly familiar soapy-ammonia taste was very strong. However, the chef had personally assured me that there was no cilantro in it at all, that most of the green matter was, in fact, scallions, so who can say? I definitely know the difference between scallions and cilantro, as I love one and loathe the other. Could it have been my imagination? Possibly. Could the chef have been mistaken? Possibly. But it was an awkward situation when I sent the soup back and ordered a simple green salad instead. In fact, my embarrassment hung over me for the rest of the meal. God, if only I were part of the normal population who can embrace cilantro!

Fish soup. With cilantro? Who knows?

Anyway, as it turned out, halfway through the first course the owner came out to inform me that my second small plate, the Moroccan shrimp cigars, couldn’t be made without cilantro, so I ordered the steak lettuce wraps with avocado and pickled onion. It was just as good as it had been on our first night. DH took a chance on the vanilla cured duck and it was simply amazing. The vanilla was certainly a dominant flavor and the rest of the seasonings balanced it out to perfection so that it didn’t come across as sweet at all. We ordered two desserts this time: a chili chocolate cake with caramelized bananas and banana ice cream (yum!) and mango served three ways as a sorbet, a mousse, and then sliced in a minted ginger syrup (double yum!). Two cocktails and one bottled water brought the total to about US $150. Despite my discomfort re: the great cilantro debate in the fish soup, I felt that Veya was again the best meal I’d had on Anguilla, and by the time dessert was finished, even DH agreed that it was tops in his mind, too.

Self-portrait at Rendezvous Bay
Pretty pool area at AGH

23 September 2009

More Anguilla trip report

It's only another two weeks or so before we head to Anguilla again, so clearly I have to finish up my old trip report before posting 'bout our new adventures.

 Got up and drove to Tasty’s this morning for breakfast and found it cute despite the heavy noise from the road. We both ordered the Grand Marnier French toast, plus some coffee, orange juice, and water. I wish it had been better but it did satisfy our basic breakfast needs. We lingered with our books during a brief rain shower before heading back to Carimar to pack a beach bag.

Cove Castles resort, Shoal Bay West, Trattoria Tramonto

Trattoria Tramonto on Shoal Bay West was our destination for the day, since they offer complimentary beach chairs with the purchase of lunch. The beach there was much wilder looking than anyplace else we’d visited on the island and the water looked a little rough in spots. I walked the beach up & down and was amazed at how deserted it looked. I didn’t see a soul at Cove Castles, which, despite their many architectural accolades, have always looked a little strange to me. In the other direction, there was only one couple at Blue Waters.

Dining at Trattoria Tramonto

We went up for lunch around 1:00 and were both taken with how cool the blue & white of the restaurant made us feel. I ordered a grilled chicken salad while DH opted for one of the specials, wild boar prosciutto over spinach, drizzled with truffle oil and topped with grated pecorino cheese. Mine was very good, but his was wonderful! We each had a cocktail and then shared a dessert. All of this, plus a bottled water and one iced tea brought the total to a whopping US $80. Yikes! But it was sooooo good, and it felt so damned pleasant to linger there, looking out over the water to St. Maarten, that we just shrugged it off. One of the many reasons we chose to stay at Carimar was for the good value it offered, thus enabling us to splurge on our meals out.

Finished P. G. Wodehouse’s Carry On, Jeeves. I’ve not read him since I was in high school, so it was a real treat to revisit him. This time, though, I kept seeing Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in my head, which made the reading even better. Started and finished Christopher Nicholson’s The Elephant Keeper.

Dinner was at Straw Hat, and though we could have walked there, we opted to drive since we chose that night as our gussied-up night and I didn’t want to walk that distance in heels. What a marvelous experience! The staff here was more congenial than anyplace else we dined, full of warmth, good humour, anecdotes, and in general more interaction with the guests, which contributed to our declaring this experience overall our favorite dinner. From the ‘ti punch onward everything was just terrific. I ordered the crayfish, DH had the curried goat (boneless), and we shared the bananas Foster bread pudding. I am so disappointed that Straw Hat won't be open when we're there again next month!

22 September 2009

More mini book recs

Here are four book recommendations that are new (or new-ish) in paperback. Good reads at a good value!

HOME by Marilynne Robinson. Set in the same small Iowa town and peopled with minor characters from her Pulitzer prize-winning Gilead, Home is another powerhouse of a novel. Quiet but intense, she gives us a generous portrait of one family and the ways they deal with loyalty, desertion, and betrayal, set within the particular framework of the patriarch’s faith. Robinson takes a harder look at religion and simultaneously treats it with more generosity and respect than any fiction writer I know. A very fine piece of work. I was very pleased when Robinson was awarded the Orange Prize for this novel.

TWENTY CHICKENS FOR A SADDLE by Robyn Scott. This wonderful memoir tells the story of a girl and her family who move from New Zealand to Botswana so her parents can renew their childhood ties with Africa. Robyn and her siblings are homeschooled by their iconoclastic mother, much to their society grandmother's dismay, with occasional visits with their father to his medical clinics in the bush to round out their education. She chronicles her family's (mis)adventures with warmth and humor, and it's clear to see that the daily frustrations of living in such a remote area (in rather close quarters) are more than balanced by the fierce love the family has for each other and for their adopted country. A fantastic read for armchair (or real) travelers!

GOURMET RHAPSODY by Muriel Barbery. This new novel from the author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a foodie's delight. The gruff, pretentious food critic from the previous novel is on his deathbed in this latest offer, and chapters alternate between his own memories of food that changed his life and his family's not-so-charitable memories of him. From reading of his first taste of oysters to his reminiscences of a summer spent on a remote Greek isle, I don't think I've ever drooled over a book so much. Be sure to have something yummy on hand while reading to satisfy the intense food cravings that Barbery's writing evokes!

I couldn't resist sharing part of the oyster passage: "I bless the day my tongue discovered the intoxicating, almost erotic, velvet-smooth caress of an oyster slipping in after a chunk of bread smeared with salted butter...Between these two extremes--the rich warmth of a daube and the clean crystal of shellfish...the divine mouthful has become a religious act for all."

THE CONDITION by Jennifer Haigh. Haigh's newest effort showcases her special talent of peering deep into familes, dysfunctional or otherwise, to explore their inner workings and complicated bonds. Her clear-eyed perception gives the reader a double portrait of the McKotch family, both in their early days and after the children have become adults themselves, unmasking family secrets along the way. Nobody is better than Haigh at depicting the ties that bind or the myriad ways they can unravel, and she shows with heartbreaking accuracy just how childhood misunderstandings and grudges can harden over time to breed resentments that might be beyond forgiveness.

01 September 2009

Anguilla Day 3

Our cabana at Elodia's

Woke up early to get to Geraud’s Bakery by 6:30 am to get best selection of pastries. Brought them back to eat on the balcony where we saw a large storm go by and then a vivid rainbow. Packed up and headed to Shoal Bay East around 9:00. Chose Elodia’s to hunker down for a few hours, but nobody was there. A passerby said someone would be there around 10:00, but by 11:00 with still nobody there, we started to fret about our chair & umbrella usage. Eventually somebody came and we started a tab with her. Around 1:00 we broke away from our reading to have lunch. $10 hamburger and $8 hot dog, plus a couple of Presidentes. Good food, nice & casual, barefoot atmosphere. After lunch we walked up toward Madeiriman’s and were glad we weren’t staying at Ku because it looked so busy with chairs & umbrellas. I think we would consider Shoal Bay Villas in the future, though, if we didn’t want to return to our home on Meads Bay. Then we retraced our steps and walked toward Upper Shoal Bay and enjoyed the wilder waves and the wind. Very castaway feeling around that point.
Relaxing with a book at Elodia's for lunch

The unbelievably gorgeous Shoal Bay East

After that we headed to Bankie Banx's place, Dune Preserve,on Rendezvous Bay and got there around 3:00, but though there were lights on, we didn’t see a soul. According to the Carimar book they should have been open until 4:00, but perhaps they’ve added Tuesdays to the “closed” roster. Oh, well. Remembering that a few people on various travel forums had declared the rum punches at Ferryboat Inn to be the best on the island, we backtracked back to Blowing Point instead. We sat there for a while, drinks in hand, admiring the view across to St. Maarten. The rum punch was very, very good. In fact, I'd say that it was the best I'd had on Anguilla and perhaps second only to the superlative rum punch served by the Long Bay Hotel on Antigua, where we were married.

For dinner we selected Blanchards. Like most other Caribbean-philes, I’ve read A Trip to the Beach, which I really enjoyed upon first reading but with distance from it, I feel much ambivalence. Honestly, I think the tone in that book is just short of being patronizing to Anguillians. But I also knew I probably wouldn’t consider my first trip to Anguilla complete without eating at the place that brought the island so much notoriety (plus they were offering the US $45 prix fixe, too!). The atmosphere was truly lovely (once you get past the distractingly bad art from their son hanging on the walls) and our table was pleasantly situated on the level closest to the beach. Service was gracious and attentive. For ambience, I’d have to rate it second after Veya, in fact. The food, however, I’d have to rate behind every other place we had dinner on the island. It wasn’t bad, by any means. It’s just that every place else was so much better in comparison, and when you take into account the price, I’d have to rate Blanchards overall at the bottom rung of our dinner experiences on both Grenada and Anguilla (except, perhaps, Roy’s). DH went with the prix fixe: spring rolls, Calypso chicken, and Key lime pie in a glass. All were good. I opted for two small plates – a salad and the samosas, which were both good – and the cracked coconut, which is their signature dessert. Again, good, but not special.

So what was noteworthy about the meal? The staff was very warm and accommodating, the garden atmosphere was cool & pleasant, and the rum list is, apparently, the most extensive in the world. We were much surprised to learn that there is a rum from Tennessee, my husband’s home state, on the menu. However, we were shocked and displeased to note that the same rum, El Dorado, aged 12 years from Guyana, that we ordered for US $10 at Veya was US $22 at Blanchards! I’ve read more than once that people think that the food is not as good when the Blanchards are not on island, and I can’t speak to that, but I do suspect that the restaurant is resting on its laurels a bit, and that compared to other places we’ve dined on Anguilla, the prices felt, well, extortionate. US $200 for one prix fixe meal, two appetizers, one dessert, bottled water, and three cocktails. However, and I can’t stress how much I loved this, Blanchards was the only restaurant that bans smoking. I never thought of myself as a cigarette Nazi before, but I may have to re-evaluate. If there’s one thing that can ruin a meal faster than anything for me, it’s having cigarette smoke waft in my direction while I’m trying to eat. Big, big kudos to Blanchards for taking the plunge and making the smoke free commitment.

Finished reading Netherland. Interesting for the most part.

Also, right before we left for dinner, security dropped off a package for us that had been left for us by a friend whose advice on various travel forums has always been indispensable. Though we’ve not yet met, HowardC has been extremely generous in his time answering my endless questions about Anguilla. He and his wife left for us a bottle of wine to enjoy as well as an out of print book that he thought I might like. Howard, thanks! You’re the best!

Another beautiful sunset

29 August 2009

And back to the Anguilla trip report.

Well, it looks like August is heading for a blazing finish in terms of my blogging. Yay! Because it's cold and rainy outside now, courtesy of the most recent tropical storm, I'm Havana Daydreamin'. So I'm beating those nor'easter blues by returning to my Anguilla Trip Report.

Anguilla Day Two

Blast and curses! That yacht is still anchored outside our door! I fervently hope today is its last day on Meads Bay. I woke up early this morning, around 5:45 a.m., because I forgot to put on my sleep mask. So I got up and started reading a new book on the balcony—the utterly charming The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. At 9:00 a.m. as I write this I’m about ¾ of the way through it. I must stop for a light breakfast; otherwise I will surely run out of books before the trip is over, and that would certainly be a tragedy!

Roy's Bayside Grill

We spent the morning out on the beach and then moseyed down to Sandy Ground to have lunch at an internet café we had seen the day before. We’ve been having bad luck with our internet connections on this trip, as the high speed that was promised at Carimar has been so far unavailable during our stay. Since we’d promised to keep in touch with our family (who were also pet sitting), we figured we’d take our laptops to lunch to take advantage of free wi-fi. 

This guy was racing on De Tree

The location was pleasant, there was a wonderful kitty who curled up on my lap while I read my book, and we enjoyed watching some guys down the beach get their boats ready for the next day’s big boat race around the island.

On the return from lunch we decided to do a little more exploring to get our bearings. So we followed the road as far as it would go, first down a dirt road that ended up on private property (oops!) and then to Trattoria Tramonto, which looks very inviting. Then we followed the sign down to Mangos restaurant and got out to look around. From there we could see the other side of the Viceroy construction site, and while it’s an eyesore no matter how you slice it, it looked marginally better from that angle. We made a few pictures of the beach—nobody on it, which is just the way we like our beaches. If there had been any shade we probably would have lingered. Instead we headed back to Carimar, picking up a couple of boys who were heading to Sandy Ground and giving them a ride as far as the turnoff for Oliver’s. What polite kids they were!
Mangos seen from the Beach

Debating between Straw Hat and Mangos for the night, we decided upon the latter. Based on the menu that Carimar had, I had my mouth set on one particular entrée – the sesame snapper. Great was my disappointment when the chef informed me upon my inquiry that yes, it was made with cilantro, and no, the dish couldn’t be adjusted to be made without it. Feeling a bit churlish and that there would be no pleasing me, I ordered the simple grilled snapper, which turned out to be just wonderful. DH ordered the shrimp Provencal and declared it was among the best dishes he’s eaten in his 30+ years of traveling to the Caribbean. We finished off a simple but excellent apple tart a la mode. Two cocktails, a bottle of fizzy water, tax and tip came to US $140.
Beautiful, deserted Barnes Bay