Thursday, December 22, 2011

Home for the Holiday

This week I am taking a break from the island and visiting home for the holiday.  I haven't been home since I moved in May, so it's been a whirlwind of a week.  I've been busy tying up some loose ends that didn't get done prior to my move...renewing my driver's license, going to the bank (there is no Chase Bank in St. Thomas), performing some of my landlord duties on my condo, going to the doctor for a check up, Christmas shopping, etc., etc.  Of course, more than anything I've been trying to see as much of my friends and family as possible while I'm here.  In particular, I love spending time with my 4 year-old nephew whose personality seems to get bigger and bigger every time I see him.       

I won't be able to spend Christmas Day with him, my sister and my mom, so we all decided to get together early at my mom's house to celebrate the holiday.  Since arriving at my mother's home, we've primarily spent our time eating the ham that she baked yesterday and playing with the presents that I gave my nephew....Legos and a pirate ship, but right now he is playing Angry Birds and a bowling game on my iPhone. 

My nephew, Brody, opening his X-mas gift from me.

So far, though, my favorite part of this week has been the 1 hour and 30 minutes that I exclusively spent with him, shopping for a gift for my sister (his mom).  The jibber jabber began immediately upon strapping him into my rental car.  During our short car ride to his store of choice for this important endeavor, Bed Bath and Beyond, we briefly discussed several topics including, but certainly not limited to...bombs, good guys and bad guys, hot chocolate, Legos, and the fire truck that passed us with its siren and lights on.  He also managed to fit in an entire rendition of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer in baby talk and then he translated it for me in plain English.

When we arrived at the store we took one walk around to scope out his options.  He considered buying his mom some rainbow colored magnetic clips for her refrigerator, which he had also bought for my mom for Christmas, but then he decided against it.  For a while we looked for some soaps that he had in mind, but we couldn't find them.  In the end, he settled for a snowman nightlight, some cranberry smelling candles, one snowman candle holder and another decorative glass candle holder that looks like it may be missing it's bottom half.  So, about $50 later we were done and off to grab a treat at Starbucks.

Once we had made it to Starbucks, my nephew changed his mind from wanting hot chocolate to simply having some chocolate milk, as to avoid the chance of burning his tongue.  He then decided to sit down at a table where we proceeded to play with one of his army Lego men by flicking him back and forth into our hand made 'goals' and sliding him around on our table.  Somehow, he managed to win every time, even when his man didn't land in my goal.  I, however, never seemed to win even when I successfully managed to get my man into his goal.  Lego figurine aside, I made an effort to have some sort of conversation with him by asking who his best friend was, what his favorite color was and what he is currently learning and doing in school.  He could not be bothered with this nonsense and stayed persistently on course with the flicking around of his Lego man.   

When we had finished our drinks and our game, we decided we should head home.  We got back into the car and my nephew once again got lost in conversation about all sorts of various subjects.  My participation in his dialogue seemed to be inconsequential to the discussion, so I simply listened to him go on and on about all of the things that blow through a 4 year old's mind from one split second to the next. I believe Jack Sparrow had a lot to do with the conversation, but in all honesty I didn't catch much of what he was saying.  I was simply happy having him around, all to myself, for the precious little amount of time we had together.   

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend in St. Maarten

I’ll admit that during this busy time of year, I've neglected my blog.  With the holidays upon us in addition to the normal day-to-day responsibilities, there hasn’t been much free time.  However, over the Thanksgiving holiday we took advantage of our time off and headed to St. Maarten for the long holiday weekend.   

For those of you that haven’t been to St. Maarten, it’s a pretty unique island - half French and half Dutch.  The border is open, so you can go from one side of the island to the other without having to go through Customs, which makes it easy for tourists like us to get around.  Both sides have a distinct character of their own, so we were looking forward to exploring each end of the island. 
We hopped on a quick 45 minute flight from St. Thomas to St. Maarten the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and checked into our hotel on the Dutch side in an area called Maho.  As we checked out the area, we took note of the restaurants, bars and the casino that were within a block of our hotel.  We kicked off the night at a piano bar called Saprano’s.  It was a happening place and we had a good time listening to some live music, but we had our sights set on the casino.  So, after we had heard enough Elton John and Billy Joel cover songs, we headed off to the Black Jack tables where I proceeded to lose most of my money, the rest of which I put into the video poker machine only to (more slowly) lose more.
The next day was Thanksgiving.  We rented a car and drove out to the French side of the island toward our final destination, Orient Beach.  We noticed that this side of the island was much less Americanized than the Dutch side. Rather than offering flashy casinos and hotels, the French side was much more European.  There were French bakeries and small French cafes along the way.  But, I have to say that the most French aspect of the whole experience was the nude beach that we walked through when we reached Orient Beach. 
I have never been to a nude beach before, so I was curious to see how it worked.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but frankly, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.  The beach was loaded with naked people of all shapes and sizes lounging around on their recliners, baking in the sun.  Like a bad car accident, I couldn't stop looking at these people.  Some of them were relaxed and relatively tasteful in the way they displayed themselves, others were seemingly flashing me, and at times I felt a bit violated by their stance.  Either way, nothing could have reinforced my notion that humans simply aren’t good looking creatures more than walking along this beach.  We quickly made our way to the other side of the beach where tops were optional, but bottoms were required.  It was a good compromise, and I felt much more comfortable.
When we were done relaxing at the beach we made our way back to the hotel to clean up before dinner.  Since this island isn’t American, there weren’t a lot of options to find a good turkey dinner, so we settled on an Italian restaurant where I ended up having the best lasagna I’ve ever had, drank some delicious wine and simply enjoyed spending some quality time with my boyfriend.  We then proceeded to follow our routine from the prior night by hitting up the piano bar before continuing on to the Black Jack tables where I ended up winning enough dough to make up for the previous night’s disaster.
We spent the rest of the weekend checking out other areas of the island, shopping, gambling, eating and relaxing by the hotel pool.  My favorite area of the island was Grand Case on the French side.  It had a quaint, quiet, European feel to it, and it was full of restaurants and shops.  Upon arriving in Grand Case, we took the time to review the menus of several enticing restaurants before deciding on Ls’ Auberge Gourmande where we had one of the best meal we’ve had since we moved to the Caribbean.

Kevin and I in Grand Case at Ls' Auberge Gourmande

 In summary my Thanksgiving weekend ended up being a big hit.  Considering I went to a nude beach, ate Italian food and gambled, I’m the first to admit that it wasn’t conventional.  And, in my opinion St. Maarten isn't as beautiful as the USVI, since it's much flatter and the views don't include other islands in the distance.  Regardless, we did see some beautiful sunsets and truly enjoyed the change of pace.  It was great to be able to travel to another island to get a different cultural experience during our time off.