Gotta Split; I’ve Got Tickets to Wimbledon!

Wimbledon.  That holiest of holies.  I was enthralled by it before I ever even picked up a racquet.  And once I became a tennis player, it became even more attractive.  It is what the Louvre is to art lovers; the America’s Cup to sailors.  Loaded with history and tradition and pomp and pageantry, it has remained a constant in an ever-changing game.

Attending all four of tennis’ major tournaments (U.S. Open, Australian Open, Roland Garros, and Wimbledon) wasn’t a particular goal of mine until I decided that I wanted to go to Wimbledon for my 40th birthday, after having been to the U.S. Open several times (New York being an easy trip for us).  As it turned out, getting to the Australian Open in 2005 turned out to be more do-able than Wimbledon, mostly because of the expense.  Wimbledon would have to be put off for a while, if only to wrap our brain around the cost of obtaining guaranteed tickets (as opposed to flying across the Atlantic, queueing up and maybe getting in).  But with two down, and Wimbledon on the horizon, we decided to tag a trip to Paris and Roland Garros on to our barge trip last spring.  If all went according to plan, I would complete my spectator Grand Slam before my 50th birthday.

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At the US Open, the Australian Open, and Roland Garros.

Wimbledon was the raison d’etre of our trip to Europe this summer.  And once we’d committed to going to Europe, adding another dream trip of mine – sailing in Croatia – was an easy decision.  Having finished our sail and saying goodbye to Pat and Emily, who would luxuriate for a few more days at a beach resort, we spent a day in the historic city of Split before flying back to London for the main event.

Much of Split is an everyday business/industrial/port city.  But the old core of the city, where we stayed in the boutique Marmont Hotel, is extraordinary.


Once we finally figured out how to get there, the Hotel Marmont was easy to find by looking for the red wall.

Perched along the Adriatic Sea, Split’s city center is a palace and military garrison built by Roman emperor Diocletian in the fourth century.

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Living spaces, hotels, shops (including the curiously omnipresent opticians’ shops), restaurants, churches, and bars are woven in and among the ruins of the palace.  It makes for a stunningly lovely scene, an oddly harmonious juxtaposition of past and present along the water.

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Like the rest of Croatia’s ancient towns that we visited, the narrow alleys and passages are NOT car friendly.

After flying back to London from Split via Zagreb, we said our farewells to Skip and Harriet.


Hey guys!  What’s our next adventure?

And we settled into our hotel in Mayfair.

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Our hotel, the Athenaeum, had one of those cool “living walls.”

We used our convenient perch on Piccadilly Street to undertake more exploration of London on foot.

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Finally, on our last full day in London, we headed to Wimbledon, to enjoy the first day, via tube.  We were not alone, as there were crowds of people making their way to the grounds.  Luckily, we had upped our style game a bit – I was wearing a skirt and jacket – because people dress up for Wimbledon.  We saw many young women fully decked out in dresses or skirts with jackets, heels and – yes, most surprisingly because it was warm and sunny – panty hose (the Kate Middleton Effect?); many men wore blazers and ties.  This is the reverence this event seems to require.

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We made it!

One of Wimbledon’s traditions is that the prior year’s champion always plays on Centre Court on the first day.  Thus, by purchasing Day 1 tickets, we were guaranteed to see Novak Djokovic play.  And, he played masterfully, presaging the play that would win him the title this year.


As a bonus, we also got to see former champion Maria Sharapova play.


Aside from seeing some of the biggest names in the game on court, we gawked at the royal box (didn’t recognize anyone) and the players’ box (yes, that was Boris Becker), and marveled at the beauty and perfection of the lawn and the grounds.  As we wandered the grounds, we bumped into a few players leaving or going to their courts (Jelena Jankovic, Urszula Radwanska), as well as legends of the game (Mats Wilander).

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We had Pimm’s Cups, as one does.  The flowers on the grounds all hew to the Wimbledon color scheme of purple and green (as does the afghan I took to college, but that’s another story).

Now that I’ve completed my personal Grand Slam, I need to start plotting what’s next….

Pretty. Oh So Pretty: Croatia and England 2015

One of the reasons I love to travel is that it’s a feast for the senses, especially sight.  It’s not that I live somewhere ugly.  To the contrary.  Maryland is lovely – especially in the spring – and the Chesapeake Bay offers a beauty that is at turns calming and exhilarating.  But travel gives a change of scenery, and provides different kinds of pretty to gawk at.

And once we arrived in London on a Wednesday morning, it didn’t take us long to revive ourselves after quick naps to help ease the jet lag.  We were sharing a 2-bedroom apartment on Baker Street in the Marleybone section of London with Skip and Harriet, and were just a few blocks from Regent’s Park.  After a pub lunch, we lost ourselves in the park, among the acres and acres of flowers that comprised the Queen’s rose garden.

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There is indeed a benefit to those drizzly days in England, though we were lucky with weather during our stay.

During our stay in London, Rick and I and Skip and Harriet took a guided gastronomical walking tour.  We started at Fortnum and Mason, a department store holding royal warrants and known for its decadent food hall.  The lower floors, with their glass cases, formally dressed staff, and chandeliers looked like a jewelry store, but on offer were gemlike sweets and preserved fruit.

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After our walking tour, we came back to Fortnum & Mason to buy dinner supplies.  If dollars equaled pounds, it wouldn’t have been too expensive.

We walked all over London, sampling microbrews (our guide had a master’s degree in anthropology with a focus on beer!), drinking chocolate, and cheese.

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We immersed ourselves in the delectable smells of Chinatown and the funky offerings of Soho (one purveyor of services offered a “Back, Crack and Sack” wax on a huge sign in its window.  Ouch!)  We made it to Pall Mall and St. James Square, Jermyn Street and Covent Garden.  Once on our own, we walked along the Thames near Big Ben, Whitehall, Westminster and St. James Park.  The city showed off its splendor in the perfect weather.

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Croatia would not be outdone.  Never having spent any time in the Mediterranean before, I didn’t know what to expect.  But like every other place I’ve ever been, it has comparables.  At times, the bold craggy shores, deep icy waters, and pine trees made me think of the Maine coast.  At others, the red roofs and palm trees made me think of St. Barth.  Almost always, my point of reference is North America, because that’s where I come from.

The first village we wandered around was the petite port of Maslinica on the island of Šolta, surrounding a tiny fjord-like bay, and holding anything we might need until our next port.  White stone buildings with red-tile roofs, a café or two, a small hotel, marina, and a Studenac market (not much bigger than the stores in the Bahamas Out Islands, but much better stocked).


Tiny Maslinica is home to fewer than 300 people.

No less pretty was the village of Bobovišća on the island of Brač.  If anything, it is smaller than Maslinica.

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By our second day of sailing, we were catching on to the fact that Croatia is NOT a beach destination – at least not as we know beaches.  Here, any slab of rock or shingle, or even poured cement, that is relatively flat and provides access to the water counts.  Some have showers installed.  Many have ladders, because the entry into the water is generally not gradual.

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These pass for beaches….

Where there is gradual access to the water, and/or the rocks are more pebbly (though far coarser than what we think of as sand) you have a bona fide tourist attraction.  And it is likely to be crowded with people, chair-to-chair.


A crowded beach in the Pakleni islands.

Spoiled by the Caribbean, I didn’t expect much, so I wasn’t too disappointed.  As it turned out, on the 3 occasions when we stopped for lunch and swimming, the waters were too cold for much more than quick dips.  After all, we were somewhat north of 43 degrees – the equivalent of New Hampshire or Maine (or Oregon) – not exactly ideally balmy waters in June.


Our first chilling swim was off this pristine shore.

After all of these tiny villages, it was time for the “big cities” on the island of Hvar.  Hvar town (pop. 3,672), across the channel from Palmižana, is easily one of the most popular destinations in the Dalmatian islands, judging by the number of nightclubs, restaurants and – for some reason – opticians’ shops (everyone needs designer prescription shades?).


The waterfront promenade in Hvar has everything a visitor could want.

But more beguiling, by far, is Stari Grad (pop. 2,817) on the opposite side of the island.  The name “Stari Grad” means Old Town, and they weren’t kidding when they named it.  Its origins go back to at least 3500 BC.  Most of the buildings are constructed from an creamy white stone indigenous to the area, much of it worn so smooth over centuries of use that the streets and squares are dangerous to traverse when wet.  (Parts of the White House were built using Croatian stone, from the island of Brač.)

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Beautiful Stari Grad.

As if that wasn’t enough, from Stari Grad Roko took us to another local restaurant.  An open-air affair up in the mountains of Hvar, Konoba Vrisnik offers a classic Croatian dish – PEKA – to those who know to pre-order it.  It takes 2 hours to prepare in a metal pan on an open hearth, covered by a metal bell under hot ashes.  The slow-cooked lamb and octopus we’d ordered were perfection.

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Octopus peka.

Our last night before heading back to the Sunsail marina was in the village of Stomorska.  The pretty village has a full-time population of about 250 souls, but most of the houses here are vacation homes.

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Day and night in Stomorska.

The visitors – mostly European – give the cafés, bars and restaurants a lively vibe.  And though they stay up well past dark, the atmosphere is festive and convivial, not clubby.  We were delighted with the pizza we had for dinner (Croatia is known for it, being as close to Italy as it is, and making its own wonderful cheeses and other toppings).  One of the best (relatively speaking) beaches in the region is on the edge of town.


The only reason this pebbly beach wasn’t mobbed was because it was early in the morning.

Having completed our limited circuit of these islands, we didn’t find a single spot that wasn’t gorgeous.

More to come.

It’s All Relative: Croatia and England 2015

It’s All Relative – England/Croatia 2015

Mine and Rick’s first foreign trip together was our honeymoon in St. Maarten.  One night, we ventured over to an old-school restaurant, claiming a romantic table on a balcony overlooking Marigot harbor on the French side of the island.  At the end of our dinner, we were presented with a check of 665.  Both of us gulped hard, and worried that our credit limits might not accommodate that total.  Thankfully, it dawned on us that the tab was in Francs, and we could divide by 6 to approximate our total in dollars.  Whew!

A few weeks ago, a similar calculus was at work.  It was the first night of a sailing charter in the Adriatic Sea among the many islands off the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia with our friends Skip and Harriet, and Pat and Emily.  We moored along a rocky shore off the island of Šolta, bobbing in crystalline deep green waters in Šešula bay

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Crystal clear green waters and craggy shores along Šešula bay and the restaurant where we enjoyed dinner.

The price for the mooring was having dinner at the adjacent restaurant, Konoba Šešula.  Our local captain, Roko, told us the restaurant was “OK.”  Well, it was more than OK to me.  Any place that lets me choose my fish from among the days catch is much better than OK.  We dined Mediterranean-style on the scary-looking but deliciously grilled scorpion fish and local produce and bread, and quaffed many a bottle of Croatian wine.


Yes, we did name this fish — over 2 kg. deserves his own identity.

The toll at the end of the evening was 1800.  Kuna that is.  (Croatia is in the European Union, but has not adopted the Euro currency.)  With an exchange rate similar to that of Franc to the Dollar on our honeymoon, we divided by 6 and discovered we’d feasted for a very modest $300 for 7 of us.

And so it was for the rest of our week among the islands of Šolta, Brač, Hvar and its satellites the Pakleni Islands (islets, more like).  Roko took us somewhere wonderful and we paid a reasonable price for it (after dividing by 6).  In the town of Stari Grad, on the island of Hvar, we got 3 liters of decent white wine, poured from a barrel into empty water bottles, for a mere 60 Kuna (less than $10).


It may not be pretty or classy, but it was good wine.

Initially, we weren’t too thrilled with the idea of having a skipper.  We’ve got a lot of nautical miles under our keels and a lot of experience chartering boats, even ones bigger than the 44 foot catamaran we’d chosen from Sunsail’s fleet.  But sailing in the Adriatic requires a license which none of us has, and we weren’t inclined to scramble to get and pay for one.  Ultimately, having a captain was good value.  He managed the tricky business of mooring [See Moondance’s Blog ].  He did the Croatian speaking for us (despite our game attempts to learn a few words, and despite the Croatians’ excellent English, it was a great help to have a native speaker among our crew).  And he took us to places we wouldn’t otherwise have found.

Case in point was our second night.  Roko had arranged for us to have dinner in a beautiful setting near the village of Dračevica on the island of Brač.  After a taxi ride inland and way uphill, we were ushered through to a terraced villa overlooking cultivated fields.  At a wooden table under a spreading tree, we – and no other guests – shared a locally-sourced meal of grappa, local vegetables and ham, spit-roasted lamb, and dessert cheeses.  And lots of local wine.  It felt like a scene from a movie, or from a travel program.

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A beautiful setting with delicious local food.

A priceless experience, at a reasonable price.

If Croatia had us dividing by 6, the days we spent in London before and after our Croatia sail had us doing the opposite.  As sailors, we cope with the inflated price of all things “marine” by calculating them in “Boat Units” – the value of a Unit varying with the size and complexity of your boat.  It’s less painful to say that a new mainsail will set you back 10 Units than the actual price.  Given that London is a notoriously expensive city, I simply let my brain assume that a British pound was the equivalent of a US Dollar.

075 125 126 627 London is a swanky destination, with prices to match.

Unlike our experiences in Croatia, where the modest price of top-notch experiences allowed us the best of everything, most of the pleasures we experienced in London were more moderate.  Pub lunches and bistro dinners away from the glittering thoroughfares of swanky London.  Walking around until our feet ached, and taking public transportation, instead of taxis.  By no means did it lessen our experience; it merely lessened the load on our credit cards!


Rick and Harriet enjoying a pint in a pub.

All of that walking in London confirmed to us, once again, how much more compact and congested Europe is than the US.  When we have chartered in the Caribbean, one of the running jokes is that you can easily tell North Americans from Europeans by how close they anchor.  They clearly have a different sense of space than Americans, accustomed as they are to close quarters in the homes and on their roads.  This became more than abundantly clear during our Croatian sail.

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Narrow streets like these in Hvar Town and Stari Grad remind us how accustomed Europeans are to tight quarters.

Our first night at Šešula was merely a pre-cursor, with a dozen or so boats moored stern-to the shore, separated only by fenders.  Roko had told us that the first night is usually quite crowded, since most charters in the region start on Saturday and can only get so far from the base, there are a handful of destinations where everyone gathers.

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Perhaps our catamaran Jams was aptly named; it got jammed into a lot of tight spots, like this one in Šešula.

This did not prepare us for the next night, which was even more of an awakening.  We’d headed to the Palmižana marina across a channel from one of the prime destinations in the Dalmatian Islands – the town of Hvar.

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Scenic Hvar Town.

Consisting of basically 3 docks, Palmižana’s marina accommodates 180 (!) boats.  The boats are tied stern-to the dock, and wedged in using K-Y and a shoehorn (OK, exaggerating; but only a little).

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Roko watches carefully, but without alarm, as boats anchor close to ours at a popular swimming spot.

Once the dock was full, we were no more than a fender’s width away from our neighbors.  When cruising in the Bahamas, we’d probably have made plans for happy hour together.  In the US or the Caribbean, we’d at least introduce ourselves and find out a little bit about each other.  In Croatia, the practice seems to be to put blinders on and benignly ignore neighbors.  And yes, close the shades in the head and cabins so as to avoid unintended exposure (not that Europeans seem to mind, judging from the prevalence of tight Speedo swim trunks and bikinis, regardless of the wearer’s physique).

Just to add more to the festivities, we were sharing the marina with a flotilla of about 50 boats carrying 20-somethings of all nationalities engaging an annual event called Yacht Week.  It’s a series of week-long trips throwing together both friends and strangers aboard yachts for a week of port-to-port partying (if one of the destinations’ names being “Carpe Diem Beach” is any indication, it sounds dangerously fun).  So Palmižana was full of shrieking, braying, hooting, laughing, howling, and throwing each other in the water.  What I want to know is: where was this when I was a 20-something?  And how could I have gotten my parents to pay for it?

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Fun at Yacht Week.  How come I never got to do this?

Even after the Yacht Week flotilla moved to bays where we wouldn’t be, the bays were full of boats.  Luckily, Captain Roko knew where to go, whom to call, and how to get us situated at a quay or mooring that would keep us from the fate that befell other charterers, puttering around looking for somewhere safe to tie up, or tied to a tree or rock onshore and suffering a miserable night rolling at anchor and wondering if it would hold.

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Amazingly, the high season had yet to begin, so heavier crowds could be expected in a few weeks.  For me and Rick, who typically seek solitude, this was very different kind of trip.  We learned very quickly that even though not many North Americans knew much about sailing in Croatia, it has most definitely been discovered.

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The season has yet to begin, but Split is busy and vibrant.

More to come.

The Gory Details: SXM and NEV

This post will appeal only to those who like to know the minutiae of an island trip, but here it is:


To SXM: American Airlines from BWI to MIA, and MIA to SXM — flights on time and without mishap (other than being at an ungodly early hour).

To NEV: Winair from SXM to NEV — flight delayed about 1 hour, at least partly attributable to heavy rain, but even being late, we were in NEV at 8:30 in the morning.  On the plus side, arriving at a tiny airport as 2 of a handful of arriving passengers is very convenient.  But the customs agent was more thorough than usual.  Once through, we were shuttled to Nisbet Plantation.

To BWI:  Taxi from Nisbet Plantation to Oualie Beach.  Private water taxi (with fully stocked cooler, if you need a Carib to get you through the 10-minute ride) from Oualie Beach to Cockleshell Beach (aka Reggae Beach) on St. Kitts.  Taxi from Cockleshell Beach to SKB.  American Airlines from SKB to MIA, and MIA to BWI.  Notwithstanding the many steps in this part of the journey, it was remarkably smooth.  Except for the fact that you have to walk from the terminal across the tarmac up the stairs to reach the plane.  Not a problem unless you get a torrential downpour and the thoughtless jerk in the first row of first class parks himself in the aisle to stow all of his stuff while everyone else waits in the rain…


On St. Martin, Le Petit Hotel in Grand Case.

On Nevis, Nisbet Plantation.

Rental Cars:

SXM: I’d originally booked with Kenny’s (Lesley Bruce), but his wife was temporarily in charge due to his illness and had overbooked.  So they sent us to Payless, which honored the rate.  Payless was fine, but a little less convenient because you have to ride to their off-airport location to pick up the car.

NEV: We used Parry’s, arranged for us by Nisbet Plantation.

Eating Out:


Francis Bar in Marigot

Bistrot Caraibes, Ocean 82 and L’Escapade in Grand Case

Sky’s the Limit and Au Coin des Amies lolos in Grand Case


Nisbet Plantation for all breakfasts and dinners (different dinner menu every night)

Golden Rock Plantation, Sunshine’s, Yachtsmens Grill and Bananas for lunches

Customs and Immigration at MIA:

There is a new procedure for clearing in to the US at MIA.  After walking about 12 miles through MIA (or you can take the SkyTrain), you go to self-service kiosks and scan your passport.  The kiosk will spit out a receipt, and if anyone’s in your party has a photo with an X through it, you have to go to secondary screening.  (Someone very very bad must share Rick’s name, because he got the X, and got the same stink-eyed scrutiny we always get when entering the US.)  Then the usual bag claiming rigamarole — which, I believe, Florida law requires: load 4-7 bags from the arriving flight on the carousel to get the passengers all excited that the bags are coming, then wait at least 27 minutes before loading the rest on.  Then customs, bag re-check, security (again), and on to departure gates.

Finally, Because You Really Can’t Get Enough Of It:

Julie’s ant-bitten foot.


Fire Ants Bite — A Guest Post

[For a change of pace, Julie has written this post to provide her toe-witness account of the most exciting part of our trip to Nevis. So you know that it’s a different writer, Julie’s post is in Flag Blue]

Beware of Killer Ants, Not Killer Bees, on Nevis

Why is it that the tropics always seem to bring out the itchy, buggy and rashy stuff? Or maybe it’s just me.

As a resident of Florida, I’m very familiar with the nasty fire ant, but hadn’t, until recently, had a true experience with their hot-headed, nasty temperament when one steps on their nest.

So, I thought I would share my experience, along with some personal solutions if you ever find yourself in the proximity of these hot headed devils.

The Bite.

During a recent visit to Nevis, a quiet little Caribbean island hidden off the coast of St. Kitts, my husband MT and I were participating in a palm tree planting ceremony to celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary of our good friends Rick and Eva.

Since MT and I are both shutterbugs, we both took charge of documenting this amazing ceremony with different cameras. Andrew, the grounds man of the Nisbet Plantation found a perfect spot on the Avenue of Palms, then hauled out the baby palm tree, shovel, a big heavy hoe and some white powdery stuff. After digging an appropriately large hole for the tree, and shaking some white powdery stuff around the hole, it was time to plant the palm – and for the event photographers to start clicking away.

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I take my job very seriously. Most times I get so caught up in getting the right angle and framing the photo I forget where I am, or even how my body might even need to contort to get the right shot.


So, once again, I found myself so excited to photograph each movement – from the close up of the placard, to the smiling faces of Rick and Eva behind the tree, and the anointing of the tree with rum, I constantly elbowed MT out of the way to get a better shot. Again I was so focused on the photos until…”FIRE.”

I had stepped in a pile of fire ants. Ouch! It felt like hundreds of needles were shot into my foot.

Andrew and his assistant immediately shouted to get them off my feet and check between my toes, and said to put water on my feet since the ants hated water. Well, I didn’t see any water, so I did the next best thing, I poured a load of Mt. Gay rum on my feet. After all, alcohol is an antiseptic, right?

“We have a saying on the island, if the ants bite you, that means you’re sweet,” said Andrew, as he sprinkled more powdery white stuff onto the area where I had just stepped.

Funny, the only two areas with the sprinkled white stuff on the entire resort was surrounding us at that moment, leading me to think for the rest of my stay, “How many others are there?” Perpetually looking down at my footsteps for the remainder of my stay.

The Afterbite.

Throughout the remainder of the day, there were no signs of pain at all, just a few red bumps. I thought, “Maybe rum was a good antidote?”


Just to make sure the rum worked, Eva and I shared a couple of post-ceremony Killer Bees at Sunshine’s. Again, no pain or sting from “the bee.” I was perfectly fine…until the next morning.

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I woke up with the feeling of both feet being on fire. Ran to the shower and doused my feet in water and the burn calmed slightly, but enough to tolerate the pain. The buggers had won.

Within an hour, large red welts started forming on my foot – especially my left foot. No swelling of the foot, just big, weird, red blisters. So, I applied lots of cortisone cream and Neosporin that I had just happened to have brought with me (for the anticipated tropical rashiness.)

Eva also donated some generic “Wal-dryl” to help stop the itch which helped a lot.

Thanks to the wi-fi from tiny the island resort, I was able to Google fire ant remedies, and found I had done just about everything right (although no mention of rum). (Fire Ant Remedies)

However, by the end of the second day, one of the blisters had grown really big and scary. So, I made an appointment through the receptionist at Nisbet Plantation with THE island doctor of Nevis for the next day.


Western Medicine at its Finest.

The next morning the gang all headed to Charlestown, the capital town of Nevis, to visit Dr. Chandy Jacobs. We all took turns guessing at what the prescription might be on an island – a sacrificial goat? Special amulets to ward off the evil attached to my foot? Or maybe just some antibiotics after he lanced the ugly beast on my toe?

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We waited about 20 minutes before we called his listed cell phone on the door to make sure he was still coming – we figured he was just running on island time, and we were just prompt tourists.

Entering the doctor’s office about 30 minutes later, MT came in with me to hold my hand (and observe – boy was he thrilled). Dr. Jacobs’ office desk, shelves, walls, and corners were filled from floor to ceiling with books on anatomy, childbirth, and other medical text books (I hoped he wouldn’t have to look this one up), in addition to a few books on India.

Dr. Jacobs took one look at my foot and said it was one of the most unique cases he had ever seen since most people who are bitten come in with swollen arms, legs or feet where they were bitten. He commended me for not breaking the blister beast, and was amazed that I had no additional pain in my feet, legs or hips. He asked me what I did after I was bitten. I mentioned the rum and the topical creams. (I assumed none of this was in one of his textbooks.)

Next step – lancing the beast. (MT’s favorite part) This was SO sterilely accomplished using two Q-Tips doused in peroxide then squeezing the blister so that the liquid inside squirted up and over onto his desk like a beautiful fountain. He then sprinkled some white powdery stuff on my toe, stuck a bandage on my toe and wrote a prescription for some antibiotics.

After the procedure, I asked Dr. Jacobs if he was from India (based on the book on the shelf, and somewhat based on what he looked like and his accent). He confirmed and said he was from Kerala – a place MT and I had visited just over a year ago – another very tropical location – so I guess he specializes in rashy tropical stuff.

MT then remarked that he knew Kerala was the birth place of Ayurveda (a fact he would remember because of my interest and training in Ayurveda). Immediately, I hoped that he might know of some other Ayurvedic remedy like topical turmeric, neem cream or ghee mixed with some honey that would make it vanish – instead of a week of antibiotics. But, unfortunately, Dr. Jacobs made clear that that wasn’t his specialty, and proceeded to show us beautiful coffee table book he had in one of his piles about Kerala as we proceeded to reminisce about the beauty of his homeland.

30 minutes later, we were out the door with prescriptions in hand. It only took 3 different pharmacies to find what we needed, antibiotics, Benedryl, a box of plasters, and a small bottle of more white powdery stuff – I was quite impressed actually. The tiny island was quite equipped.

So off we went after the big adventure of island medicine to get a delicious lunch hidden in the hills of Nevis.

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Thinking back, I bet I would have had the same experience in Florida – minus the powdery white stuff.



When In Doubt….

A lot of good-to-remember sayings start with the words “when in doubt.”  For me, the most important one I learned at sailing school.  “When in doubt, let it out.”  It refers to situations when the boat might be overpowered, and/or uncomfortable due to too much heel, and usually comes into play when a strong gust hits the boat.  When in doubt, let the mainsheet out.  Putting myself in the position of managing the mainsheet makes me feel safe and in control.

At Chateau Calypso, Rick and I have another “when in doubt” maxim.  “When in doubt, go to the islands!”  It seems that when we want to reward or soothe ourselves, we head south.

What to do when winter has us down?  Go to the islands.

What to do to prepare for winter?  Go to the islands.

Summer weather got us down?  Go to the islands.

Find a quarter under the sofa cushion?  Go to the islands.

I exaggerate, but only a bit.  Once we found our West Indian groove, we just kept wanting it more and more.  We hoard our frequent miles and credit card points, and guard vacation days, to get our fixes.

In this past year of milestones, one that has loomed large was our 25th anniversary (we got married in grade school).  There was no doubt that we would probably go to the Caribbean to celebrate it, though we wouldn’t be idiotic enough to go in August, our actual anniversary  (we stopped traveling during the peak of hurricane season after riding out Hurricane Georges on Tortola in 1998: (Hurricane Georges).  So we marked the actual date of our anniversary with a really nice dinner out, but deferred the real reward until our semi-usual November escape.

Of course, it’s not enough to just decide to go to the islands.  We had to decide exactly where we’d go, and what we’d do.  Naturally, we thought of our “happy places,” among which two possibilities immediately rose to the top of the heap.  Reluctantly, we decided against Fernandez Bay Village on Cat Island in the Bahamas, as we’d spent a week on Cat Island during our Bahamian odyssey (Cat Island 2014) and a week the year before (Cat Island 2013).  That left Nisbet Plantation on Nevis the winner.

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Nevis is Nice!  What’s not to love about this beautiful island populated with kind and gentle people?

But getting to Nevis is no easy thing.  The closest connection is via Miami to St. Kitts, and then involves shuttles and water taxis.  So we break the trip up, and go to St. Martin for a few days before taking a commuter flight to Nevis.  This year, going to St. Martin has special resonance, for that’s where we honeymooned 25 years ago.

In an era before the Internet, we chose St. Maarten/St. Martin (SXM for short) for our honeymoon because no one we knew had ever been there.  We assumed, wrongly, that it would be a fairly obscure destination that would satisfy the craving for seclusion that we both shared even then.  Boy, were we wrong!  Time shares (and time share hawkers), cruise ships, crowded beaches, traffic, American chain restaurants – this, even way back in 1989.  Based on word-of-mouth, we ventured to Grand Case in search of a special dinner. We drove in, took a look around – and not liking what we saw – turned right back around.  Our nascent island sensibilities took in the ramshackle fishing village and did not find it especially promising; scary even.

So unimpressed were we with SXM that it would be 18 years before we returned, and that only because circumstances chose the destination for us – we’d bid on a sailing charter at a charity auction, and SXM was where we’d be sailing from.  We ended up in Grand Case with our friends MT and Julie.  (SXM 2007) .  But then, we fell in love with Grand Case.

I suppose it shows how far we’ve come in a quarter century of marriage and Caribbean travel, because now virtually the only place we spend time on SXM is Grand Case. While the rest of the island is not to my taste, we’ve carved for ourselves a little happy place in the village:

A charming hotel:


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Le Petit Hotel is just our style. And you can’t get much closer to the beach.

A beach less traveled:

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Baie Grand Case is not totally secluded, but it’s definitely laid back and low key.

Another beach even less traveled nearby:

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Happy Bay is aptly named, at least for us.

Great drinking and dining:


A French breakfast to start the day.

From there, the jump to Nevis is easy.  After a low-flying and brief flight, giving us stunning views of the neighboring islands, we arrive “home.”


Flying over St. Barth.

Unlike Grand Case, which to us feels like an oasis quite different from the rest of SXM, the boundaries between Nevis’ plantation inns and the island itself are quite porous, and the vibe is uniformly warm and welcoming.  At Nisbet, we are greeted by name, but at the same time, the attention is casual and comfortable, not hovering.

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We could have easily spent our entire visit at palmy, beachy Nisbet Plantation.

We arrived at Nisbet early in the morning, but our SXM partners-in-crime, MT and Julie arrived late after a series of delays and complications.  Maitre d’ Patterson allowed us to order dinner for them, so they wouldn’t miss out.  Although we’d issued a sort of breezy and wide open invitation for any of our friends who were interested to join us to celebrate our 25th, it was fitting that MT and Julie were the ones who came, as we’ve been spending their anniversary with them for all but one of the last half dozen years.

Not that we’d be doing anything especially fancy.  Just something special for us.  Nisbet is known for its iconic “Avenue of Palms,” the allee of palm trees leading from the Great House to the beach.


So iconic, they even have a cocktail named Avenue of Palms. 

And guests can arrange to plant a palm tree of their own, complete with a placard commemorating the event, for a special occasion.  That was just the ticket for us.

And so, on a beautiful sunny morning, head groundskeeper Andrew Nisbett (yes, his real name) and general manager Alistair, led us in the planting of our very own palm tree.

There was some heavy labor.


Swinging an axe and planting the palm.

Of course, it was necessary to anoint the spot with Mt. Gay rum.


And we placed our personalized placard.

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And we posed for lots of pictures.


Luckily, we did have rum, because has there ever been an event in the islands completely without mishap?  Nope.  Poor Julie stepped on a fire ant nest, and the results were NOT pretty.  Luckily, Rick (Doc Rock) was there with the rum to disinfect Julie’s wounds.  [Eventually, we did take Julie to visit an island doctor to treat her bites, which further involved wandering from “pharmacy” to “pharmacy” to get prescriptions filled.  It was all part of the island adventure, but serves to explain why – though I so love the islands – I could never retire there!]


Only a little worse for the wear after the doctor visit.

As further salve for Julie’s pains, and a balm for all of the hard work, we had our post-planting reception at Sunshine’s, one of the great beach bars in the Caribbean.  In the past, we’d all partaken of Sunshine’s signature cocktail, the Killer Bee, and some of us had to have our boneless semi-corpses poured into our cars to be able to leave the scene of the crime.  (Not naming names….)  This time, we vowed to have no more than 2 of the potent potables apiece, interspersed with lobster lunches and water, and as a result were able to walk away under our own power.

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Both a Ravens flag and a Maryland flag hang at Sunshine’s.

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Me and Julie on our first Killer Bees. Rick stuck with Carib beer.


Sunshine’s: we’ll be back!

Now that we are responsible for a new life, we will be compelled to return to Nevis to check on our baby palm tree.  We trust that the ladies and gentlemen of Nisbet Plantation will take good care of it – name yet TBD – but there is nothing like our own personal attention.


If you visit before we return, please check on our baby palm.

When in doubt….





Caribbean Style

After 4 months of living aboard Calypso in the Bahamas earlier this year, the lush and mountainous islands of the Caribbean are almost sensory overload.  The Bahamas are low and scrubby, with the most dazzling colors being those of the sea and the candy-colored houses in the small settlements.

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Not going to complain about these colors, but the colors of St. Martin and Nevis are in another category altogether!

Further south and east, the seduction of the senses is of an entirely different magnitude.

For the third time in a row, we’d preceded our time in Nevis with a 3-day stay in Grand Case on St. Martin.  We love staying at Le Petit Hotel, which combines a Mediterranean-style exterior with the surprise of sleek European style on the interior (Rick and I have joked that it’s not unlike the interior design of more recent models of Beneteau and Jenneau sailboats).


Stucco and tile adorn the exterior of Le Petit Hotel’s old-school Mediterranean exterior.

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But the interior is all cool, smooth and sleek.

We like the feel of an “in-town” beach, with a bit of activity that nevertheless feels insulated from the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest islands in the region.


A plane makes its approach into the airport just behind Grand Case.

But the principal draw of St. Martin in general, and Grand Case in particular, is dining out. To me, it’s the perfect combination of local ingredients, French techniques, and an island sensibility.  Upon arrival in Marigot, for example, we head right for the waterfront to indulge my love of Creole specialties.

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A visit to the islands is not complete without some goat stew.

Once we arrive in Grand Case, however, cuisine goes a bit more haute, at least at dinnertime.  In the space of a few blocks, in a somewhat shabby and down-and-out looking fishing village, you’ve got a collection of 2 or 3 dozen of the finest restaurants in the Caribbean.  All you need to do is walk down Boulevard Grand Case, decided whether you want to be on the sea side or the street side, and read the menu boards to choose where you’re going to eat.

The hosts are uniformly welcoming.  The servers are well-informed and tolerant of my tortured Franglish.  And the food?  Magnifique!

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Whole fish and fresh lobster at Bistrot Caraibes.


Three kinds of mahi mahi tartare at Ocean 82.

With only 3 nights in Grand Case, we had to choose well, and were delighted with dinners at Bistrot Caraibes and L’Escapade (regular stops for us), as well as new-to-us Ocean 82.  With the customary meal-ending shot of flavored rum, the evenings always end beautifully.  And lest one feel wary of walking back to the hotel, Le Petit Hotel and a few others now offer a free shuttle.

At the other end of the spectrum, but no less satisfying, are the lolos of Grand Case.  They are basically a collection of outdoor food stands (with liquor licenses!) that offer inexpensive and hearty local gilled foods.


The approach to side dishes at Sky’s The Limit lolo is Yes! Salad, mac and cheese, broccoli, potato salad, peas and rice, coleslaw and spaghetti make SEVEN sides; it would have been 8 but they were out of plantains.

Of course, we do more than just eat!  There’s time for some strenuous beach lounging.  And if we want to spend time at Happy Bay — one of the least crowded of St. Martin’s beaches, and one where different states of dress are tolerated — it’s a nearly 8 minute hike to get there from Friar’s Bay.  Whew!

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It’s worth the arduous hike to get to Happy Bay.

For me, St. Martin’s principal draw is culinary. Nevis, on the other hand, just knocks me out with her lush beauty, overlaid with loving stewardship of her natural and historical attributes.

Like several other islands in this neck of the Caribbean, Nevis is volcanic in origin. The result is fertile soil, and volcanic peaks which snag the rain clouds, assuring plenty of rain.

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The cloud-topped volcanic peaks of St. Eustatius, St. Kitts and Nevis, as well as the volcanic sand of Nisbet Plantation’s beach.

Nevis was also strategically and economically important in past centuries, with ties to Alexander Hamilton (who was born here) and Admiral Horatio Nelson (whose wife Fanny Nisbet was from Nevis). Nisbet Plantation’s beautiful and historic Great House anchors the resort where we stay, and our hosts work to preserve the integrity of the Great House while providing modern amenities in the cottages scattered on the grounds.

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Nisbet’s Great House is traditional, while its pool is a modern amenity.

While Nisbet Plantation is on the beach, the other plantation inns on Nevis are nestled in the mountains. We have made a tradition of having lunch at Golden Rock Plantation every time we visit the island.  The hosts are happy to let us wander the grounds while we’re there, and we take in the beautiful natural setting, and the modern décor superimposed over sugar mill ruins on the site.

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Golden Rock Plantation’s grounds are terraced and feature lily ponds overlooking the green hills and Caribbean Sea.

Similarly – but executed with an entirely different aesthetic – Montpelier Plantation combines the modern with the historic, and offers a similarly warm welcome. We stopped here for afternoon cocktails after visiting the Botanical Gardens.  Nisbet’s bartender Kaddy also works at Montpelier, and we spent time with him comparing (with taste tests, of course) the qualities of different sipping rums, most of which are (sadly) not available in the U.S.

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An old sugar mill is a centerpiece of Montpelier Plantation.

When it comes to gardens, I’m an appreciator, but not an especially avid or informed one. And while I can’t say what inspired me to visit Nevis’ Botanical Gardens, I’m glad I did.  With no basis for comparison, I was pleasantly surprised with the variety of plants and their surroundings.  A nice way to while away an afternoon.

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Bold colors stand out at the Botanical Gardens.

Lest you think that beautiful flowers are limited to botanical gardens and plantation inns, they are not! After Saturday’s torrential downpours and a run into Charlestown to visit a doctor to treat fire ant bites (more on that in an upcoming post), we ventured back into the mountains for lunch at a new-to-us restaurant, Bananas.


An artful display of island-style “mezze.”

Aside from artfully presented and creatively prepared local foods, the setting was jaw-dropping. Sited in an old gingerbread plantation cottage, the restaurant uses the dark woods and rich colors of its interior to set off eclectic accessories.

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And all of it is surrounded by barely-contained tropical vegetation.

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A feast indeed.