We took a taxi to Heathrow. The driver had the Shahadah as his ringtone, which I thought was quite sweet.
The Virgin Upper Class Lounge at Heathrow is so very pleasant that I can well believe people are happy to miss their flights in order to continue being waited on hand and foot. An increasingly desperate series of announcements begged passengers to board the flight to Singapore. Nick and I both had haircuts, in his case sorely needed, and lunched on their justifiably famous burgers.
Our flight, VS009, was very smooth indeed. I watched Enchanted (again) and St Trinian’s, which was not nearly as bad as you might think. It must have lulled our fellow passengers into a false sense of security because one of them undid her seatbelt as we taxied into JFK and started roaming around, yakking to her daughter on her mobile about tennis lessons. As it turns out, some US airlines apparently do let you use your phone while taxiing, but they’re still quite strict about the staying sat down with your seatbelt on thing. It was nice to think that, in the event of a sudden stop, this rather large, posh, American woman would have been thrown around the cabin, less nice to think that she might have hit me or Nick. As I got up myself, my little tin of Vaseline fell into the innards of my seat. I tried to delve around to get it out but had only found a packet of Polos when Nick hurried me out.
All that woman’s efforts to get organised before we disembarked were in vain, however, because Nick and I were first to Immigration thanks to our patented “jogging” strategy.
Reunited with our bags, we took a cab to Nick’s aunt and uncle’s flat in Queens and had dinner there. I slept a rather sticky night on Nick’s cousin’s airbed, borrowed especially for me. While Linda did not, this time, spray me with salad dressing, Martin did pick up my dish of mango sorbet and tuck into it. I was too polite to say anything, and it would all have passed without notice until Linda became confused. There was one unused bowl on the table and she couldn’t work out why, so I had to explain that the bowl was Martin’s, but he hadn’t used it because he’d eaten my pudding instead.
Martin very kindly drove us back to JFK the next morning which only took about 15 minutes. We checked in with Jet Blue and I went to buy some lip balm. Vaseline seems to be in short supply in the US.
Our Jet Blue flight was quite full, but not entirely, so we had a block of seats to ourselves. We spent a reasonably smooth trip watching reruns of How Clean Is Your House, You Are What You Eat and Gordon’s Kitchen Nightmares.
The airport was very confusing. We spent half an hour queuing in a weirdly lit arrivals hall where everyone immediately looked jaundiced, and it gradually dawned on us that all the other lines were being processed much faster. Our immigration officer, it turned out, was a trainee, and his training meant that he was going incredibly slowly.
Once out of the airport, we were directed into a jalopy by the Breezes staff, who mostly used a system of pointing rather than the more conventional method of speech. We shared the bus with three college students from Syracuse, who were terrified at the notion that in the Bahamas, they drive on the left. We explained that we weren’t frightened because (a) we were used to driving on the left and (b) we lived in London, where the drivers were much more scary.
They told us they had come for Spring Break. As one, Nick and I chorused:
“But we thought Spring Break ended yesterday!”
Apparently, due to the early Easter this year, Spring Break has been spread over several weeks. A little concerned that the resort would be overrun with drunken college students going “whoo”, we entered the hotel.
It was OK, actually. A few college girls in bikinis were roaming around, sipping drinks, but it was all quite subdued, to our relief.
We checked in and went to our room, which was large and little sparsely furnished. In particular, the bath was missing. Distraught, Nick found a courage he doesn’t usually possess and asked Reception why he didn’t have a bath. The baths, he was told, were in the block that’s currently being refurbished. Instead, we got a lovely view of the beach.
We changed and went to the pool grill, where we had hot dog (beef) and nachos. Breezes Bahamas is an all inclusive resort, which includes alcoholic drinks. As a result we expected much vomiting and annoying behaviour, but there was none, at least, not by the pool.
I paddled about in the sea for a while, and then Nick mentioned that he had not packed his shorts or, indeed, his sandals, nor, in fact, any t-shirts. He had come to the Bahamas with very little suitable for a tropical climate, this in spite of my giving him a carefully drafted list. His sunglasses were also shattered. We toddled down to a small tourist market for sunglasses, and resolved to go into Nassau the next day for the rest.
We spent much of the afternoon on hammocks looking out to sea, and spotted the Caribbean Princess, who must have been leaving Princess’s private beach on the neighbouring island of Eluthera.
We were becoming increasingly disconcerted about the lack of mobile coverage. The receptionist told us we needed to set up roaming, but this clearly wasn’t the problem: both our phones worked just fine in Libya. If they worked in the Axis of Evil, why didn’t they work in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas?
There was also no internet, which we found upsetting. We wanted Internet because we had no phone. Without one, we could not find the other. We were directed down to Crystal Palace, an enormo-casino down the road. We got there by walking along the dark beach, scrambling over rocks and then climbing through a gap in a locked gate. We could have walked along the main road and up the grand drive, but that wouldn’t have been as much fun. Yes, they had internet, for the princely sum of $15 a day. Were the efforts of CUT in vain?
A little disconsolate, we went for dinner at the buffet. It’s a good range here, from bland pasta to adventurous Caribbean dishes like mutton curry and roasted plantain.
A beer later, things didn’t seem so bad. We fell asleep to BBC World.
We visited the gym before breakfast this morning and were confused to discover that some wag had rebuilt the cable stack so that every pulley simply pulled at another handle and no weights were lifted. Moderately amused, we had breakfast and a swim in the sea, which although cool, was much warmer than the North Sea at Scarborough. It was also turquoise blue, rather than brown. Despite this, few were brave enough to actually swim. Private hire companies roamed the beach selling jet ski rides. We then walked along the beach as far as we could go, to see if we could reach what looked like a lighthouse close by. This turned out to be a lighthouse on Paradise Island, a mega-resort just off the coast of Nassau. We would have had to swim for it.
It costs a dollar to ride the bus into town, and that’s what we did after returning to Breezes for lunch. It’s a good deal as it goes, and the bus will stop and pick up pretty much wherever you want.
Nassau is an odd mix of tatty shopfronts and branches of Fendi, Gucci and Versace. I wondered whether Paradise Island had sapped much of the business from the town. We kept trying to pick up a wireless connection using my DS, without much success. Two men with laptops from one of the four cruise ships in port (Celebrity, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and the Regal Empress, which does 2 day cruises from Fort Lauderdale to Nassau and back) had more luck than me. Eventually we found a record shop cum internet cafe down a side street. For a princely one dollar we were able to send a message home and find out that the only networks that allow international roaming in the Bahamas were O2 and Vodafone. We’re on Orange and T-Mobile. The BTC is a monopoly and presumably doesn’t see the need to expand the coverage. I would have to buy a BTC SIM card when the non-tourist shops opened the following day, as I had been wise enough to purchase an unlocked phone direct from Nokia.
Much relaxed, we picked up some flip flops and a pair of shorts for Nick. There weren’t any adult shorts to fit him, so we had to buy some kids’ ones from a tourist shop which clearly catered for the more ample waists of American men. We walked through a market that specialised in local crafts, which appear mainly to be counterfeit handbags. I could have gotten a really good deal on a pretend Kate Spade bag, if I hadn’t have come over all excited at the revelation that it had a shoulder strap. It also had what appeared to be Versace lining and bore no resemblance whatsoever to Kate Spade’s current collection, but never mind.
There was another ship in port which appeared to be of Maltese origin: a rusting heap which had somehow crossed the Atlantic in March in order to flog Christian books to the Bahamaians. We would have gone in, but they wanted to charge us 50 cents a head.
Instead, I am ashamed to say, we had tea in Starbucks. Yes, I know, but it was the only place nearby that did decent tea and where nobody was going to ask me if I wanted my hair braided.
We browsed around those jewellery shops that have a sweet deal going on with the cruise ships, and spotted an emerald ring with no added diamonds that was both quite nice and not overpriced. We said we’d think about it.
Another dollar each and the bus home. Several enormous Americans boarded and made the suspension creak.
We had dinner that evening at Garden of Eden, one of the two proper restaurants here. The meal was all right but wasn’t as good as the food on Princess. There was plenty of it, however, and the waiter was very charming.
After dinner, we fell asleep to Oz and James’s Wine Adventure on DVD.
Our internal clocks were slowly adjusting and we didn’t wake till seven. Nick went on a run and I went to the gym, where they were showing Crocodile Dundee to an ESPN soundtrack. We had breakfast outside, which was lovely apart from the kamikaze seagulls who like to divebomb any unattended plate. One juvenile bird was optimistically eating a paper napkin. Another, adult, bird managed to swallow an abandoned cube of cheese with a volume of about 4 cubic centimetres. The outline of this cheese was visible in its neck. The birds seem to have worked out that bathing in the chlorinated water is good for keeping pests off the feathers.
We snoozed by the pool and I swam in the sea until I realised that the brown and white floating thing was not a coconut, as Nick claimed, nor an abandoned buoy, but most of a dead seagull, bloated with the gases of decomposition so that it floated merrily around. I got out at that point: the swimmers are protected from jet skiiers by a floating rope, so the carcass had no real escape other than getting washed up on the beach.
We watched the bikini hula competition with interest, and then went for a wash and change in our room before going back onto our hammocks.
Lunch was had, and then we went to the tour desk to organise a bike trip for the next day. We booked it, and were then told a few minutes later that the bike tour person was very disorganised and that there was no bike tour. We organised an alternative boat trip to some of the outlying islands instead.
We then walked down the road that runs parallel to Cable Beach. The houses are an odd mix of immaculate, colonial mansions, resorts like our own and derelict houses or vacant lots. Walking into a computer shop on the off chance, we were offered 30 minutes of Internet for a princely $4. Nick tried to convert the locals to the wonders of Ubuntu. Replete with Facebook updates and emails, we passed a strip mall, and discovered a small mobile phone shop. Finally. I bought a SIM and a phone card. In a tiny bay in between Sandals’ wedding pier and a private house, I fiddled about with it and finally was able to call England. England, however, sounded very confused and couldn’t hear me at all.
We strolled back via the enormo-casino, and then tried a sleepy England again. This time, England heard us and was relieved to learn that we had not been eaten by sharks. We ambled down to a dinner of beef chilli, Creole chicken and some sort of whipped pink dessert topped with a maraschino cherry. I spilled a whole glass of frozen strawberry daquiri mix (no rum) down myself, which wasn’t very clever.
The main bar area was full of very young-looking college students enjoying their first taste of legitimate alcohol, which was quite sweet and surprisingly subdued. We saw some US Army personnel who were apparently stranded here a week or so ago when their planes developed a technical problem. They were clearly enjoying the chance to let their hair down in a cheesy resort with copious amounts of free alcohol.
Nick and I fiddled about with the resort computers for a little while. Apparently you were supposed to buy time on the internet from reception. However, it turned out that the username and password combination “TEST” worked pretty well and gave us 10 hours’ worth of free Internet. We were happy about this.
However, we made a bleary eyed trip to the midnight buffet.
Oh, noes! It was raining and cloudy outside. By the time we went for breakfast though, it had all cleared up nicely. We had planned to borrow a couple of bikes and ride down to the Paradise Island resort, but a couple of circuits on the beach cruiser style contraption revealed that neither of us were particularly competent at pedalling backwards to stop, and we were advised to get the bus into town instead.
This we did… but not before a good session of toasting by the pool. We tried to go on the Internet again but it appeared the resort staff had gotten wise to our ruse and we were thrown off. Boo.
After lunch we took the bus into town. I dragged Nick into a dress shop to try on something I had no real intention of buying, and then we walked the 2 ½ miles downtown and over a long curved bridge to Paradise Island. Enormous pink towers reared up at us as we passed the crest of the bridge. Everything was like a Disney version of the Bahamas: clean and glossy, with the pastel shades just a little too bright. Docked in the marina were dozens of swanky yachts, one with its own small helicopter lashed to the deck.
The casino was massive and disorienting. I reached into my bag to get out my normal glasses, having come into the dimly lit hotel and casino in my prescription sunglasses. As I did so, I wondered to myself what would happen if I broke my glasses. I opened the case and on cue they fell out onto the floor in two neat pieces. Scrabbling about, I realised that a screw had come loose and I had no hope of finding it on the floor of a busy casino, wearing sunglasses.
Somewhat despondent at the idea of spending the rest of the week fumbling about in shades, I had to cling to Nick as my guide through the darkened corridors lined with luxurious shops, until we found the public access to Cabbage Beach. All beaches in the Bahamas must have such access: private beaches are not permitted. The soft sand dropped away sharply, forming a slope that in turn caused enormous waves to crash onto the beach, to the combined terror and amusement of the bathers. Nick and I bounced around under the waves, the sea revealing itself to be a pussycat really, as the biggest breakers lost most of their energy way before they reached us.
Damp and sandy, we took a taxi back into town (with a nice couple from Salt Lake City – we didn’t ask if they were Mormons but I guess Mormons don’t usually go to casinos) and the most famous optical store in the area. Established for over 30 years, The Optical Shoppe took $3 from me and fixed my glasses up like new. The owner said he had been fixing up or replacing holidaymakers’ glasses for years and had only failed to match a prescription once. He’d fitted the gentleman up with contact lenses instead, and sent him on his way. Opticians are a sort of private club for the visually challenged, with their own language and distinctive smell. Nick sat quietly and read the paper.
We visited Columbian Emeralds International again and got the sales staff all excited over nothing. On any given moment staff outnumber the customers by about five to one and they clearly haven’t heard of browsing. Gesture at something, and a shopgirl is opening the cabinet to proffer you the item before you’ve had time to think. The temptation simply to leg it out of the shop is overwhelming.
I bought some Vaseline to replace the little tin I’d lost on the plane, and then we took the bus back to Breezes. We shared a pre-dinner hotdog and then had dinner. It wasn’t exactly a triumph, being American-style Chinese food, but it was adequate nonetheless.
We sneaked onto the lawn to sit on the double swing, which I assume is used for wedding photos. Unfortunately the presence of a quite powerful lawn sprinkler limited our time on the swing. We messed around in the wedding chapel, which was quite sinister in the dark.
We were up relatively early today, as we had our snorkelling excursion at 11am. We were collected in the now customary clapped out jalopy (usually a beige Toyota minibus which has seen better days) and taken down to the docks. There were some new ships in dock: an NCL and another one, but we couldn’t see which line. Our boat chugged along the channel between New Providence and Paradise Island, and our captain pointed out various houses along the way: Tiger Woods’ surprisingly modest residence, and a white monstrosity which apparently belonged to a Saudi sheikh, who shared the pile with his four wives. The captain speculated that the prince probably had a lot of fun in that house. I imagine he has considerably more fun than he would in Saudi. I can only hope that he has the courtesy to allow his wives to enjoy it too.
We stopped off the coast of Apple Island and jumped off into the choppy and quite chilly waters to snorkel. It took me a while to get used to the waves and the cold, not to mention the lack of a snorkel, but once I did, I had fun swimming about and looking at the fish. My prescription goggles are incompatible with snorkel masks and snorkels. I tried to layer a mask on top of my goggles, and got a pretty good idea of how it feels to have your eyeballs popped out of your skull.
The crew threw some tidbits, and I soon found myself swimming through a shoal of tiny, yellow and blue striped fish. They were very nimble and able to avoid me as I peered at them.
Back on the boat, we were fed jerk chicken with rice and peas, and then carted off to the beach at Apple Island. We discovered that you could pay a little extra and have a go parasailing, banana boating or jet skiing. We were relieved to find out that we weren’t part of this group so I went rockpooling while Nick splashed about in the water. We got up to leave when the Booze Cruise arrived: like our trip, only with free alcohol.
It was only on the way back that I realised that my short snooze on the beach had caused a rather serious problem: I’d managed to sunburn my eyelids. Rather painful.
Nick went for his run when we arrived back, and I tried to coax some sense into my hair, which had transmogrified into candyfloss whilst on the trip. I’d caught sight of myself in the bus’s mirror and was appalled to see that most of it was sticking straight up in the air. I’d asked Nick if it looked OK a few minutes before, and he said it had looked fine. I asked him why he’d lied, and he said that my hair looked interesting when it was vertical.
As we went to dinner a parade of college girls went past, all dolled up. It turned out they were having some photos taken, in an arrangement known as the “Pile of Slappers”. Presumably tonight was their last night. Dinner was jerk chicken, roast beef, chicken paella, rice and salad.
I can’t say much for the entertainment here: the other night we were promised Mr Magic at 9.30 but we gave up when he failed to show before 10pm – however, we did see him at the midnight buffet, resplendent in a zoot suit. Apart from him it mainly seems to revolve around karaoke and drinking.
Last full day today, and as we’d gotten burnt the day before, we spent much of the morning in two hammocks we’d found, completely shaded from the sun and screened off from the pool. The bikini-clad hi-jinks were barely 10 yards away, yet we couldn’t be seen at all.
This oddly secluded spot turned out to be very popular with the birds, who came out in force to investigate us and to see if we had any food. When they discovered that we didn’t, the sparrows proceeded to mate noisily in front of us.
Lunch was had, and then we took the jitney into town for one last time. The woman in Colombian Emeralds International looked delighted to see me: there was only one ship in today, the Carnival Destiny, and so things were a little quiet. We visited the Straw Market to buy presents for people. Haggling for things is so wearisome. I tried a new technique of hiding most of my cash so when I rooted around in my purse, it appeared I was almost skint. This worked brilliantly on one woman, who was so astonished when I solemnly counted out 8 dollars into her hand and announced that was all I had, that she handed over the goods without another word.
Nick was waylaid by a Haitian gentleman who whispered that he had some Cuban cigars. The Judge likes a cigar every now and then, so we were intrigued. The Haitian withdrew a fake Louis Vuitton holdall from under someone else’s stall with bags of loose cigars within. We asked whether we could get them into the US, which bans the import of any Cuban products – the UK does not. He said that the easiest way was to remove the labels. He then offered us a box of 10 for $60, and eventually gave it to us for $40. As we walked away I remembered a bait and switch scam that had once left a colleague of mine £200 lighter with nothing but an empty laptop case to show for it, and so I forced open the little wooden box, sure that it contained nothing but newspaper.
I’d done the man a great disservice. 10 pristine Cubans nestled within. In the shop, the same box sells for over $100.
Flushed with success, and desperate for a cup of tea, we went to Starbucks. Yes, I know. Several middle-aged gay men were puzzling over how to use the Internet. We assumed they were on the Carnival Destiny, and wondered for a while why, when we could hear its horn, they weren’t returning in a desperate rush.
Turns out it wasn’t the Carnival Destiny but the Regal Empress, off to Fort Lauderdale. We watched it depart.
I collected my newly ensmallened ring from the jeweller’s. Straight out of the cabinet, the thing was too large for my big toe. Catering for the cruise ship crowd as they do, I’m not surprised. It looked like a reasonable job.
We re-boarded the jitney and returned to Breezes. Nick went for a run and a swim while I packed. We seemed to have acquired not only gifts and trinkets, but a great deal of sand.
I had to fetch Nick as he was bobbing up and down in the surf at 7.50 and we’d booked dinner at the other restaurant, Pastafari, for 8. When I’d booked it, I’d been told it was full. When I asked if the receptionist was sure, she simply crossed out another booking and wrote mine in.
We shared the restaurant with a wedding party of 20. A review in Tripadvisor described the Breezes clientele as “Nascar“. This was completely accurate. The meal was reasonable: the buffet appetiser table had some very good options, but we weren’t given our salads and had to wait a while for our mains. Apparently the chef had come in late and the waiter informed us that she wasn’t very efficient anyway.
After dinner we went to investigate the toga party. The staff were parading on stage in various conceptions of togas, none of which seemed true to the spirit of Rome. However, the Spring Break kids seemed to love it, which is the main thing.
When I’d asked the receptionist what time our shuttle to the airport left, and she’d said 8.30, Nick had sent me straight back to double check and then checked himself. He wasn’t terribly keen on getting up that early. Nevertheless, that was the time, so we duly got up and had breakfast in plenty of time. We shared the bus with some USAF personnel who clearly commuted to the airport this way every morning to tinker with their stricken aircraft. Interestingly, they all seemed to be native Spanish speakers. As the JetBlue plane taxied, we spotted the two khaki planes with the engineers scurrying about.
Two hours of watching How Clean Is Your House and the iconic Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares featuring Bonaparte’s later, we were in New York. I excitedly swapped my SIM cards over on the plane. Apparently England had tried to call a couple of times, but BTC didn’t seem to want to put this through to me.
The next hurdle was getting from JFK to Newark airport. There is a shuttle service, and we had to share this with two girls from Buffalo who spent the whole trip snapping and loudly chewing copious quantities of gum. Had they been the 17 year olds they fondly imagined themselves to be, this would have been mildly annoying, but they were both approximately 10 years older than this. We endured two hours of listening to their saliva being moved vigorously around their constantly open mouths.
Yes, 2 hours. It actually takes slightly longer to get from JFK to Newark than it does to get from the Bahamas to New York. We then had to take another shuttle to the hotel. We were slightly consoled to discover that the girls were staying at the Howard Johnson, which is apparently in Tripadvisor’s top 10 dirtiest hotels in America.
The Country Inn is nice enough, and has a sort of book crossing scheme where you can take books and then return them by post. Nick was delighted to see, as we entered the room, that there was a jacuzzi next to the bed. He spent the rest of the evening in a state of advanced anticipation.
We travelled into town via the Air Train and the NJ Transit, and then walked from Penn Station to the Brasserie where we met Terence and his new fiancee, Roberta. The Brasserie has a sort of 1950s airport theme, and serves lovely food. At the table next to us were seated 6 or 7 women in prom dresses and fascinators. We assumed they were a hen party. I met two of them in the loo and took a photo for them: they were indeed a hen party, from London, and the night had a Sex And The City theme. I said they were the best turned out and best behaved hens I’d seen for a long time.
Back at the hotel, I watched the end of the Matrix Reloaded, which was actually worse the second time around, and Nick had his bath. He was very happy to be wallowing about in neck-deep water.
OMG I had to get up at 5.40 this morning to get washed before our flight. This being accomplished, we took the shuttle into the airport again, sharing it with a tiny United Airlines flight attendant in a shabby uniform. The driver was kind enough to take us to our terminal, and we had breakfast in the Virgin Lounge which isn’t nearly so nice as the one in Heathrow. There’s no spa here, and the tea comes out of a machine.
I paused to buy a New York Times for Mrs M before we boarded the plane home. The flight was very smooth again, and I had cornflakes for breakfast. Cornflakes at 35,000ft are great fun.
I watched a documentary called the Girls of the Playboy Mansion, which was most amusing, and then Superbad, which was OK. No Country For Old Men was a film I tried to watch, but it was so tremendously boring that I gave up. Like a big bowl of bran flakes, you know it’s good for you, but it’s just too stodgy.
We landed in Heathrow at 7.30pm. There was a huge queue at Immigration, snaking round and round the huge hall. There was no queue for the IRIS machines, however, but I suspected there was a good reason. Indeed, it took a few goes for it to recognise me. I had to remove my glasses, which then made it very difficult to line my eyes up with the targets. However, I passed. The 20 minutes it had taken to register for the scheme had been well spent.
Out of the airport, it soon became apparent that our ride hadn’t showed up. This was quite upsetting for a while, but we philosophically opted for an adventure and took the Piccadilly line instead. Some loud, annoying boys got on at Hatton Cross and bellowed at each other until Leicester Square. However, as they got off the train they paused to pick up all their litter, so I forgave them.