Sunday, November 20, 2005

Construction at some Places

Booming tourist business, more cruise ship passengers than ever before, and the island seems to enjoy an unbroken attraction for many visitors. Is it better than some of the other destinations? Yes, because many other islands have either too little to offer, or fight with unbelievable crime, extremely high prices, or lack of attitude. St. Maarten and St. Martin is on a critical path and got to be very careful not to stumble into the same mistakes others were running in! The photo (above)shows the present status of the Marriott construction at the Southern end of Dawn Beach!

Is it the time to look somewhere else? Not necessarily! It does matter, where you go and what you want to see. Believe it or not, the two photos are taken from exactly the same spot at the same day! This 'sea and sand' photo shows beautiful Dawn Beach with St. Barth at the horizon.

Ask your hotel, your condo agency, your villa rental about construction close by before you book. If you don't mind construction impact, some grant discounts during the construction period. Relatively untouched areas with little or no construction are Orient Bay, Terres Basses, Oyster Pond, and some other quiet spots. The Dutch side has more development ongoing than the French side.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The last genuine Island Restaurant

Le Poulet d'Orleans is eventually the last genuine creole restaurant on the island. And it is absolutely worthwhile to enjoy their food one night.

It is away from the touristic areas on the main 'National' road from Philipsburg to Orient Bay. After crossing the local area of Quartier d'Orleans, a sharp bend to the left, and "voila" on the right side, hard to miss, is the restaurant. It is about a 5 min. drive from Orient Beach and about 30 min. from Simpson Bay, see this map. Open most nights, except Monday, and at some days (?) for lunch.

Fish and seafood plates, in oil fried accras, a kind of seafood meat balls, and 'boudin', a sausage, which is not every non natives favorite, are served at very moderate prices. There also classic main courses with chicken and lamb, and all is served very fresh. Toni, the owner/chef has vast experience from abroad, he worked in Louisiana for a while, and elsewhere in the USA, and he knows, how to please guests. His family, mainly his teenage, kids serve, not perfectly, but very willing to be attentive.

The terrace is small, not more than 4 -5 tables fit there. Inside, not really the place to sit (no a/c), but still, don't miss: It is a family museum with plenty of memorabilia from past times. Feel free to walk around, look closely, and get an impression of the not so good earlier times on the island. The main stairs, see left, are not accessible, as you would step right onto the road. Drive into their parking, and access the restaurant from there.

They accept USD and Euros. Please, don't press them for 1:1 exchange rates, the prices are already low. I find it anyway unfair to demand 20% discounts, when paying with US-$. Did anybody ever hear about NYC restaurants giving European tourists 20% discount, when paying in Euro?


Le Poulet d'Orleans is a relict of ancient island times!
Local favorites, family restaurants, and outstanding (French) gourmet restaurants are reported about infrequently on this blog. More from this restaurant guide or from this one. These reports are neither paid for, nor sponsored, and in most cases owners do not even know, they exist. Unbiased, but with personal opinion. This is what blogs are for!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Mont Vernon Plantation Opened

Although the island has a rich history, and its nature is fascinating, only very few places remind to this rich heritage. The initiative of local entrepreneurs has made a change. In July 2005 opened a park and museum at Mont Vernon, close to Orient Bay.


Coffee on display, and to taste (free espresso). More about the new park, see here!

Located at the place of an ancient plantation, the park features tropical plants, and shows the historical, and the economical development tied to these plants, such as coffee, cotton, indigo, and sugar. The well designed area includes new, and historical buildings, embedded in a lush park. Easy to walk foothpaths make this an enjoable excursion. It is a great place to visit with kids, and for adults, too. Even those being on a shopping spree, find some genuine island merchandise in the attractively arranged shop on site. For opening hours, location, and map
click! Close by lodging, find here! Don't miss this park, it is positively one of the best things, you can do for a few hours off the beach, either on a cruise ship day excursion, or on your next island vacation!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The last* "Best" Hit List for Beaches


Most first time visitors have these "What are the best ..." questions on their lips. And the
beaches are certainly the most requested hit list items. Then let's go:

Best Beach for a Lunch on the Beach: Friars Bay
You sit right on the beach under a palm branch covered, sun protecting table, and the sea is less than 15 ft away. The restaurant has great food, has style (not just a snack bar), and the
beach is great. Good mix of folks from local to tourist. Bad: the two access roads are a mess!

Best Beach for People Watching: Orient Bay
By far not as nude as its reputation, this
place has something to see for everybody, old, young, stylish, sloppy, ..., and it's always nice to guess, who are the day time cruise ship visitors, and who are the "inside" people.


Best Beach for a romantic Dinner: Grand Case
Drop in any of those great French dining places lined up at the Grand Case Beach. Just smashing, when the lights reflect on the water, and very little waves create the surf sound. A good and moderately priced place with good Ocean front seating is
The California.


Best Beach for Crazy People: Maho Beach
The
Maho Beach right under the runway approach is a unique experience. Fantastic and crazy!
Unfortunately, at this point in time not much sand is left. Watch the jets approaching, roaring over this sand strip, sand blasting people, and have your beer at Sunset Beach bar. When you are an airplane freak, you are certainly attracted to the loudspeakers listening to the pilots and tower during approach. Best time of the day is around 3:00pm - 4:00 pm, when the B747 and the Airbus 340 arrive.


Best Beach for Quiet Times: Guana Bay

For some unknown reasons not as popular as the other beaches, may be because there is hardly any bar or restaurant. Nevertheless, great sand, sometimes more waves than at other beaches on the opposite side, worthwhile a visit before others find out, too! Find out more!

Best Beach for Kids: Gallion Beach

The water is flat, just 2 - 4 feet deep for some distance from the beach. Some shadow under the trees, sand, ... and the adults can do their windsurfing class, or even kite surfing. Slight disadvantage is the poor access road.

Best Beach to Rent a Villa: Baie Rouge

There are great properties for rent, right at the beach, just a few steps from your entrance door or the infinity pool. It is a very private area. The entire community is gated and somewhat shielded to the outside. Great place for privacy.

Did I forget to mention? There are 30 other beaches with great sand, snorkeling, swimming, watching, ... just explore!

* 'last' for my blogs in 2005

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Vibrant Art Life on the Island

Painting by Dona Bryhiel (Copyright protected)

Dona Bryhiel developed an unique style of painting, which certainly is influenced by her French background, and her earlier life in the South of France. Her work nowadays is focused on the Caribbean, and especially the role of wonderful Caribbean women, their beauty, their exotic flair and their role in daily life. Dona's paintings are intended to impact feelings, to create impressions, and thoughtful reflections about the island life. She works at Oyster Pond in the French part of the island. Her gallery shows some of her creative work, not only paintings, but also ceramics, and other art work. See her paintings, ceramics, and textiles, and you will have won a new perspective of life and people on the island. Her gallery is at Av. du Lagon, about 800 yards from the Dutch border, towards Coralita Beach before the corner of rue de l'Escale. Dona Bryhiel has her own Internet presence at www.DonaBryhiel.com



Painting by Dona Bryhiel (Copyright protected)

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

10 Tips for Saving Money

Some people claim, St. Maarten is expensive, even more St. Martin. Yes, and no! Compared to, let's say, Antigua, Turks and Caicos, or the Bermudas, this island has very moderate prices. Yes, it is more expensive than typical main land destinations, or the USA. There are still plenty of opportunities to stay within a budget. Here ten tips for reducing your expenses:

Money Savers
  1. Go local. Instead of calling a taxi, use a mini bus or "jitney". Just wait and wave at the road side. Typical fares are $ 1.00/person. Plan your trip, get a map!
  2. Buy at Cost-U-Less* in the Dutch part, when you require bigger quantities. Good choice of wine, US food, ... It's a Sams Club type of outlet, no membership required.
  3. Fill gas at CADISCO* at $ 0.72 a liter, approx. $ 2.60 a gallon. There are two stations, one next to Orient Bay, one at Marigot in direction to Nettle Bay. It's about 10 - 20 cents cheaper than at other gas stations.
  4. If you smoke, a carton of Marlboro is as low as $ 9.00 in Philipsburg at Tobacco Plaza*, side street, off Front Street 23 at Touch of Gems. If it has to be the US-version, PRIME Cash & Carry or Cost-U-Less has them for $11.00 - $12.00 a carton.
  5. Internet access at no cost? If you have a notebook with a WiFi card, try public access at the Philipsburg boardwalk area. For a limited time, the provider Smitcoms* provides free service (see the blog of Jan. 17 on this subject) during the trial period.
  6. Can you say 'No' to a sales person? If so, get one of the timeshare promotion vouchers for a reduced rental car rate, or a free meal,and free drinks, often a value of $ 100. The flipside: You got to listen to the sales pitch for buying a timeshare slice. The vouchers are available at various locations, car rentals, along the road, on websites, who offer you freebies with the little string attached!
  7. You need to load your cooler? Shop at Carma Importers* at Cole Bay, and get inexpensive beer and water, or see Netco*, same area, next to PDG (everybody know them), and buy a case of beer (24) for roughly $ 15.00.
  8. Gamble with other people's bucks! Some of the casinos, e.g. Atlantis* , attract people by giving them chips for $ 10, when registering at the courtesy desk. No obligations, just use them as your start capital!
  9. Prepaid mobile phone cards for US phones are best to buy at ECC*, 13 Richardson Street, Philipsburg. It saves you expensive roaming, if you get it working at all. Their cards start at $ 10 only and per minute charges of 29 cents to the USA! More info here under mobile phone.
  10. Departure day has come, you are early at the airport, check in is done, what to do? don't pay the high airport snack bar prices. Go right, like going back to Philipsburg, after 200 yards on the lagoon side, you find 'Turtle Pier'*. This little oasis, right at the water, is a great dining and drinking place. Save and enjoy!

* All quoted companies are unrelated to me, and I don't get commission, or whatsoever!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Maximize Your Vacation - Safe Time

You finally got your week off, you head for St. Maarten, and you may end up waiting at banks, supermarket cashier lanes, rental car agents, ... Not exactly, what you were planning for, right?

Here 4 tips to save precious time


  • The airport in St. Maarten has no rental car park located directly at the airport. Courtesy vans take you somewhere. The next rental agent in walking distance, less than 100 yds. from the exit gate, is Best Deal car rental with its car park right there.
  • When heading to the French side, let's say Orient Beach, don't take the road through Marigot. Traffic jams are very common. Take the road through Dutch quarter, French quarter, and this brings you faster to the Orient beach area. Maps are here.
  • Still sending postcards to friends? Nice! Post offices can be a nightmare, queues everywhere. When using the French postal system, go to the Marigot office, and look for the stamp vending machine. It works - most times. 75 Euro cents for the USA. The Dutch post office is best to see between 1:00 - 2:00 pm, and less queues than the French office in any case.
  • Keen on communicating with many different hotels, villa owners, boat operators, and the like for your trip planning? There are plenty of agencies, who assist you without extra cost, often even get you a better deal. For activities, you may stop by at Oyster Pond, next to Captain Olivers, or at various hotels, and on Front Street. On vacation rentals, click here for more.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Nautical Experience in Marigot

This weekend in Marigot, they had a kind of boat show, a little local fair of those enterprises involved in watersports, from dive operators to yacht charter companies, and those who do a little tail riding including the French police (Gendarmerie), who had a display and tried to hire recruits. The most appreciated fun were the various free rides, either on jet skis, on floats in the marina area of Marigot



or on stylish sailing boats.



Marigot has its own distinct flavor, somewhat like a French seaside town at the Mediterrean coast, and still very Caribbean. There is sometimes a negative attitude of US travelers towards Marigot, which is hard to understand. Language? No, this can't be the case. It happened a few times during my today's visit that I addressed people in French, and they asked me, whether I could speak English. They come from everywhere, and the French could even be a minority. Is it the lower level of commercilisation? Even better! Strongly recommended for your next trip!


Friday, May 20, 2005

American had been the Fastest!

The French police proudly use their new radar equipment, and ... the winner is an American citizen with 117 km/h (approx. 73 miles) on the road! Not bad, as we always thought the locals would be the fastest. Or did they spare the locals, when speed controls were applied? Or did the locals know, where and when the gendarmes are out to measure ?


Fake photo - not taken here.

So, don't assume that the new and only professionally asphalted road on the island, the one from the Dutch/French border towards Bellevue/Marigot is thought to be a speedway. The permitted 90 km/h (approx. 55 miles) are already on the high side considering the driving style and vehicle conditions. If you like to share driving experience 'the Caribbean way' and need a vehicle, see here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Hotel or What ?

This island is full of surprises. Sometimes scary, more often funny. In Marigot, the main "capital" of the French side, we found a small hotel, which coexists in a kind of interesting neighborhood. May be, not the way guests intended to peacefully rest.

Don't enter the wrong door!

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Popularity of Dawn Beach

The Southern part of Dawn Beach, where the Scavenger beach bar is located, has an excellent reputation as the best beach with a beach bar in the Caribbean, according to a recent issue of Caribbean Travel & Life Magazine. This didn't go unnoticed for tourism managers! Some new development is planned, which will replace the ruins of the hotel blown off by a hurricane 10 years ago.


Scavenger Bar as of 2005

Dawn Beach is also a good spot for snorkeling. Due to its picturesque Caribbean flair, it is a popular spot for beach weddings. May be, some relationships started there under palm trees.



At Dawn Beach In front of Scavenger Bar

Those travelers, who prefer privacy and non standardized accommodation, have plenty of choices on in the Dawn Beach area. A large number of fine villas and condos are on the market, and many times, they are even the less expensive solution. See here for a fine property at Dawn Beach.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Art Lovers at St. Martin

The island has a vibrant art scene. A recent art promotion had 60 participants, who made their work publicly available. This "Open Door" event showed an amazing range of art being worked on. Some are more visible, as famous Roland Richardson, also called the Father of Caribbean Impressionism, and some are working in secluded studios, and have their work on display in famous NY-City galleries. A typical example is Norma Trimborn with her unique, expressive oil paintings of exceptional vigor. Away from the commercial zones, between quiet Baie Lucas and Oyster Pond are the premises of Dona Bryhiel, a French artist with very interesting artworks of Caribbean and Southern France subjects.

The above mentioned Roland Richardson has been honored with a limited edition of a French postal mail envelope, valued at 83 Euro Cents, which is sold exclusively at the French post offices on the island.



We also make this wonderful print (see above, reduced scan) on its original envelope available at $ 4.50 including mailing, sent to island and art lovers in its original, unused condition, or stamped and mailed through the French postal service. Payment preferably by PayPal, user-id here.

A new section of the widely visited island website St-Maarten-Info will be dedicated to ongoing art events.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Crime - a Serious Island Problem

Recently, there are more reports about crimes on the island. A significant share happens between the local population, often involving battery and assault. Unfortunately, also some robbery incidents involving visitors occurred. One focal point has been the area around Oyster Pond, an usually very quiet area.



A widely discussed question in message boards, such as TravelTalkOnline.com
(TTOL) is the inconsistent response by police. Mainly, the French police, the Gendarmerie Nationale has been blamed for being non responsive.

Living here, the picture is somewhat mixed. The French Government is spending substantial funds for security. Beside the local Gendarmerie staff, they swap in some 38 additional Gendarmes each quarter, who are delegated from police stations in France. These officers publicly show a lot of presence. They regularly establish road blocks, and check people and cars.

The municipal police force is a separate city controlled unit mainly dedicated to traffic control and street safety. They show a strong presence in Marigot and Grand Case, but not much at other locations.

The criminal investigations are to a large extent the domain of the Guadeloupe crime unit. French St. Martin is a subordinated, administrative unit of Guadeloupe. If a serious crime happens, they fly in from Guadeloupe, and direct the investigation.

Although, I did not personally experience any crime, and had no reporting needs to the police, I have experienced the Gendarmerie as polite, straightforward, committed, and responsive. When compared to the many other islands, we visited or lived on, it is positively one of the safer ones. (on another island, we experienced that police officers had been the burglars, and broke into our office!!!) We are here far off Jamaican "standards". Still, everybody got to be careful, and we have to realize that this island, as many others, is not a quiet Midwest town. A melting pot of dozens of ethnic groups, a wide range from super rich to extremely poor, and administrative shortcomings create a dangerous mix at times!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Orient Beach - the Island Attraction

Orient Beach or Baie Orientale is a hot destination for many visitors. See photos! Certainly, it is a great beach, but it has something else for many visitors. Some are attracted by the liberal life style. You see topless women sunbathing, or, you may even see some people entirely nude. The naturists are mainly at or close to the Club Orient location, but they may also stroll up and down the beach.


View from a bar to a bikini sales stand on Orient Beach

From a French perspective, naturists have become mainstream, and are a very common appearance at all beaches on French territory. Looking from an US perspective, many consider the nudity at Orient Beach as linked to the "life style", which relates to the sexually liberated movement of swinging for some of those visitors.
Whatever the driving force for visitors might be, it is a beautiful Caribbean beach with a great versatility of visitors, families, singles, local people, curious cruise ship tourists, and many just fun loving couples, who don't care about clothes on or off, and all the exasperation about it.


Orient Beach has so much to offer, tempting waters, thrilling bars and restaurants, challenging sport opportunities, and sun, sun, sun, ... More, see here!

Friday, January 21, 2005

Amazing Choice of Restaurants

This island amazes me everyday from new. The choice, when going out for dinner is overwhelming. It can be awfully expensive (and good), and just a mile further down, you find a really inexpensive place, which is not so sophisticated, but still serves a great dinner at an unbelievably low price.

Two fine examples of the wide range are these great places:
1. Tabba Khady is a new restaurant at Av. du Lagon in the Oyster Pond area. Exotic, deliciously prepared food in a very nice setting. Upper price level, but still what you may be used to from fine dining in the USA. More info
here.
2. Apple Tree is also a new place at an odd location in the French Quarter, right where the locals live. School teachers have their lunch there, craftsmen enjoy their beer before going home. And food, e.g. a hot dog, starts at $ 2, or cutlet, french fries, and salad are around $ 6. More Info!

This island caters for every taste and budget!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Real Monkeys on the Island

When traveling across the island, tourists take photos of goats, donkeys, cows, pigs, and you see them everywhere, even right on the main roads. The monkeys are a bit more hidden. Some formerly caged animals escaped, and live quite well in the lush island vegetation. Local residents feed them, too, and they keep their closeliness to people. Although, it is not recommended to touch them, they really don't like it as close. They may scratch you.


Here is one in Oyster Pond vicinity. It enjoys a nice fruit and vegetable cocktail.

Other wildlife on the island are the geckos of various sizes, some snake hunting mangoustes, and a variety of birds. Actually, snakes are rare, and non poisonous. Basically, the island is a pretty safe place, when it comes to animals. Some insects can be annoying, but the mosquitoes only pop up after a rainy period. More on the island, find here!




Monday, January 17, 2005

WiFi making its Way on St. Maarten

Lucent and local SMITCOMS implement a wireless network, which will cover the Frontstreet area of Philipsburg at rollout in January 2005. It is even free at its start, and charges will be imposed at a later date. When you are at one of those great bars and people watching places at the Philipsburg boardwalk, take your laptop next time and surf, email, .... Stop by on our website about St. Maarten, too!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

This Island Booms !

It is astounding, how popular St. Maarten became. And it has happened just within a few years. Yesterday, nine (9) cruise ships came and anchored at the Philipsburg pier or offshore, because space is to limited. The jet tourism is also growing in rapid steps. Rooms can be somewhat short in high season. This agency tries it best to accommodate you at reasonable rates.

The airport undergoes major changes. It becomes a real Caribbean hub. This is how it will look like in 1 or 2 years from now.


Princess Juliana Airport Development Plan

I know, the island may loose some of its genuine charm with all these developments. At the same time, it is a great opportunity to develop in an ecologically responsible way. The French side has a well developed awareness to those needs, and they declared areas to protected zones. Let's see how this boom changes island life, and hopefully to the good. Many changes occurred before, and fear of the inherent uncertainties had always been an issue. If you want to read more about, click on history of the island


Saturday, January 08, 2005

Casinos - are they really fun?

Last night, we did a run into the casino world of Sint Maarten. I visited at least a dozen casinos before, in Europe, in Las Vegas, in the Caribbean, and I inheritently compare. Most casinos on this island do not have a great appeal to me. They are not well maintained, or just plain empty, or the staff is inefficient. The first 50 Dollars are gone, when the first waitress asks for ordering drinks, another 50 are gone, when she finally brings a drink after 20 minutes ... The Royal Casino is as good as it can get on the island, and that's how it gets. The Atlantis, see photo, is second choice.



The crowd - if any at all - is mainly US - tourists, who come in their sports gear, which would better be suitable for the fitness room of their hotel. Of course, there are a few exceptions, some nice looking latina girl strolling through the rows, a wealthy outfitted lady playing Roulette as a real pro, and a few typical poker face men with big cuban cigars. Still, the dominant visitor is 60, female, and feeds quarters for hours on slot machines. A bit more can be found here. Otherwise, I think the island's attractions are somewhere else, like beaches, great food, and the Caribbean sun.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

How is the weather like ...

The most common question potential tourists raise before visiting the island of St. Maarten is about the weather. We enjoy a slight advantage, and therefore have a better hit rate when predicting the weather: it is pretty much the same all year long. Nevertheless, there are differences in temperature, in rain fall, and most prominently in wind. Most days still have a lot of sun, and this is why tourists come here. And even during the most lousy days in January, day time temperatures rarely dip below the 80's (26 C).The actual weather is available here.

Now, what do you do, when it rains or the gusty winds drive you off the beach? Go to bars, dine cozily in one of those French places, or go a bit window shopping in Marigot or Philipsburg. This
website has a great section on restaurants, shopping, and other things to do. Or just email me, and I try to help you as much as possible with first hand island information!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Nightlife on the Island

There is plenty of nightlife, but it's neither at one spot, nor so easily to classify! The range is extremely wide, from hangouts for locals or tourists to somewhat weird sex establishments catering for locals and/or tourists. Now, a favorite for its life, and even more for those, who need the thrill of low flying aircrafts, don't miss the Sunset Beach Bar. This is your view, when your glass starts to vibrate:


If you prefer great bodies at an adult entertainment show, look here, and scroll to the letter "X". The sidewalk places around Marina Royale, a little harbour right in Marigot, are my favorites. See and be seen! More on this at this website !