St Maarten/St Martin
2 April 2005 Newsletter

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Weather and Beach report: Saturday and Easter Sunday were lovely. Monday was more of the same. Tuesday at Orient was quite nice. The sand is leaving at Pedro's Beach Bar. They still have chairs on the nude and prude sections, but you can no longer walk from one to the other. You must get up into the parking lot to cross over. There was quite a bit of seaweed at this end of the nude sections, but it was fine down toward the Perch through Papagayo. Wednesday was another pretty nice day but Thursday had some rain followed by a pretty steamy afternoon. Friday was hot and clear and Saturday looks the same.
Dutch Carnival: The carnival village opens on 14 April, the grand final parade down Front Street in Philipsburg is on 30 April, and the final jumpup and burning of King Momo is on 2 May this year. Here is the full schedule. We will be having lunch and watching the parade from the porch at L'Escargot. If you are on the island and want to join, make your reservation early. The restaurant generally is not full, but the front porch and street are quite crowded.
Holidays - The French side is France, known for secularity and therefore not a lot of religious holidays are celebrated. Except of course, it's part of the Caribbean and a lot of holidays are celebrated. What it amounts to is that some of the bigger supermarkets are open on major holidays and smaller markets and shops are closed. On the Dutch side, they do celebrate Christmas and Boxing Day (26 Dec), Good Friday, Easter, and Easter Monday. There are big vacations around 1 May with the Queen's Birthday, Labor Day, and carnival. St Maarten's Day is 11 November, celebrated, but most shops are open. There's a St Martin/St Maarten Unity Day in the summer, although they are far from united. Another problem is that if it would be convenient to have an extra day to join a Thursday holiday to weekend, it can easily be done. The Airport and cruise ship shops are always open and restaurants and bars are almost always open - Easter has presented a problem. Shops associated with resorts can usually stay open.
What's with open access to beaches: All beaches are supposedly open to the public and further in the interests of equality, the rich and poor alike are forbidden to sleep under bridges. It appears that enough beach bars put enough beach chairs on the beach and shagged out enough locals to get the locals fired up. That means that letters to the editor appear in the Daily Herald. Usually that means nothing but in this case some evil-doers on Pinel have been putting chairs on the beach and NOT paying their 318 euros per month to French municipality. Given that they make that much on the first morning of the month, it seems penny-wise, pound-foolish to cut out the government. It has, indeed, come back to haunt them with another entry in the Daily Herald stating that they will have to cut back on the number of chairs clogging the beach and set aside space for cheapskates to put out their towels or their own chairs. Being a cheapskate, I'm all for the idea.
Day trips to other islands: I had someone ask about day trips to other islands. Anguilla is 3-5 miles to the north, St Barts is about 17 miles to the SE, and Saba is about 26 miles to the S. We've been to several others, but Statia is about 35 miles out and it only gets worse from there. I'd choose Anguilla because the trip is considerably shorter, so you spend more time there - pretty important on a day trip. You leave from Marigot on the ferry. It's about $15 plus port fees of a few bucks on both sides. It takes about 45 minutes. The fast ferry to St Barts is about an hour longer and has the endearing nickname of "Vomit Comet". It's a rough passage, but not as bad as the three hour ride to Saba.
Anguilla is the same size as SXM, but is long and narrow, much like an eel. Not surprisingly, Anguilla means eel in Spanish. The highest point is about 300 feet, so the sand sticks to the edges forming some of the best beaches (and least crowded) in the Caribbean. You can get a cab at the ferry terminal if you want a tour or if you just want to go to some beach. Cars for the day are about $50, plus insurance, plus a driver's license ($20, but good for six months) and you drive on the left without benefit of street signs!!! Most people head for Shoal Bay East with miles of white powder beach and have lunch at Uncle Ernie's.
We like snorkeling and go to Little Bay, you'll have to get your own lunch at Little Bay, although you could tour in the morning, ending at Roy's on Crocus Bay for lunch. Take the Little Bay ferry (it's a 12 foot skiff) for about $5 to Little Bay for a lovely afternoon on the tiny beach. Arrange times for the ferry back and the cab back to the Marigot ferry BEFORE letting them go. Another possibility is Bankie Banks Dune Preserve on the south shore of Anguilla. Great beach with views of SXM. St Barts is much like our French side, same area, same volcanic hills, fewer people, decent beaches, expensive. Saba is so volcanic that there are no beaches, it rises out of the water too steeply, only a couple thousand people, one road, and a rain forest at the top of Mt Scenery.
You can fly to any of these (and other) islands. That eliminates the time factor and usually solves the chumming of the fish factor, although the landings at both Saba and St Barts have a touch of excitement. Saba requires a hard turn and a run along a cliff to a rather abrupt stop and St Barts is a downhill landing. Big spenders can take high speed private charter boats such as
Art at California Restaurant: Zouzou says that for the month of March, and possibly longer, she has a seashell art exhibition in the restaurant containing mirrors, mobiles, jewelry boxes, seashell boards, cards, and more. there are a couple examples on the boutique page of the California website. 
Sunsets at Bamboo Bernies: I got an email from Sue & Rich of Laurel Springs, New Jersey. They "had a fabulous week from 3-17 to 3-22-2005, weather was perfect, great food & drinks,  friendly people and, oh the SUNSETS !! wonderful memories !" They also sent along three photos to show just how lovely the sunsets were. I added them to my collection
GCL Car Rental: Don and Daniel, formerly at Oyster Bay Beach Resort, have taken over GCL (Grand Case Location) and gave Martha's brother a great rate for a ten day's rental. We knew that five people and their luggage would be a tight squeeze in their Getz, so we planned on meeting them at the airport and carrying someone and some luggage leading the way to California Apartments in Grand Case. We watched the flight on AA's website and when they said it landed, we headed to the airport, a ten minute drive. Not on Easter Monday. Everybody on the island was having a barbecue at Mullet Bay on their day off. It took us over 30 minutes to get to the airport. We watched the people come off the flight, but they weren't there. Don wasn't there and we couldn't call him because our cell phone had gotten drenched at Cupecoy on Friday. As the island is closed over Easter weekend, it still wasn't working. We eventually went home and used our land line to call Don who said they got right through immigration, grabbed their luggage, and met him at the exit. He tried to call me, got no answer, helped with their luggage, and led them to their room in Grand Case. By the time we got to Grand Case, they were on the beach. The moral of the story is that if you have an inept brother-in-law, it's good to rent from a reliable and hard-working rental company!
Photo feature: This week's photo is in a secret location not posted here. Subscribe to the newsletter to get the location. It contained the Easter sunset from the Horny Toad Guesthouse and, in a stunning segue, the lingerie show featuring the girls from the Platinum Room doing a fashion show at Princess Casino.
Several businesses in Simpson Bay are sponsoring the contest that runs from 27 March to 24 April 2005, offering prizes worth about $100. Just click their name to go to their website, find the contest code(s) and the link to our new signup form, fill it out, click send, and you are entered. Put all the contest codes for the contests you want to enter on ONE entry. Do not send multiple entries.
Obviously everybody that is getting this email is already signed up for the newsletter, but you are not automatically signed up for the contest. You really do have to go to their website and click the email link to show you visited their site. Just tell me you are already on our mailing list, and I'll leave you signed up for the newsletter and just add your name to the contest list. We have so many prizes that we will be doubling and tripling up for several contests and producing feature photo spreads in conjunction with the contests. Here is the list of future contests and feature photo spreads:
Simpson Bay Feature - 27 March to 24 April 2005:
    Horny Toad Guesthouse - seven low season days for the price of five
    Hideaway Restaurant - $75 off a dinner for two
    Unity Cars - $100 off a one week car rental
    Tri Sport - Kayak Snorkel Tour for two
Celine Pub Crawl - 25 April to 5 June 2005 - two tickets on the Lagoon Pub Crawl
Grand Case Feature - 6 June to 17 July 2005:
    Escapade Restaurant- $100 gift certificate for two
    GCBC Snorkel Trips - A guided snorkeling trip for two around Creole Rock and an afternoon on our lounge chairs on Petite Plage
    GCL Car Rental - $100 off a one week car rental
    L'Esplanade Hotel - $100 gift certificate toward a week's stay
    AIA Massage - Two massages for the price of one

 Cupecoy Feature - 18 July to 24 August 2005:
    Villas in Paradise - $100 gift certificate to Temptation for two
    Cliffhanger Beach Bar - $40 gift certificate for two

Marigot Feature - 25 August to 30 September 2005:
    L'Esperance Car Rental - $100 off a one week car rental
    La Vie en Rose - $100 gift certificate for two
    Thai Garden - $100 gift certificate for two
Orient Beach Feature - 1 October to 15 November 2005:
    Chez Pat - $100 toward a day on Galion Beach
    Sol é Luna Apartments - $100 off on a one week stay
    Nono Car Rental - $50 off on a one week rental
Philipsburg Feature - 16 November to 15 December:  
Vacation Suites - a free low season week!
Lucky/Hibiscus Cars - $100 off a one week car rental
    Antoine Restaurant - $100 off a meal for two
DK Gems - $100 gift certificate

Karen and Pascal's Restaurant Feature - 16 December to 6 January 2006 
   Auberge Gourmande - $100 off a meal for two 
   Montmartre Restaurant - $100 off a meal for two 
   Sunset Café - $100 off a meal for two

On 26 Mar the euro was at 1.295 and today it is at 1.288. French side restaurants with many costs in dollars and many American (or Canadian) clients have been offering more favorable exchange rates. Some restaurants offer a 1 to 1 exchange. We got that at Escapade, Bikini Beach, Restaurant du Soleil, California, Auberge Gourmande, and La Marine. We noticed Rainbow Cafe, Alabama, Balaou, Santal, Sebastiano, Chez Martine, and Marlin's Cafe were offering the same. Note that some only offer this rate for cash. We will let you know about other places as we find them. As always, know what the euro is worth, what the restaurateur is offering for an exchange, and what the costs are on the menu. Finally, you are here to have fun and fine food, not to do complex financial calculations, so don't worry about it too much.
TTOL party: I heard that the party at The Wharf Restaurant was well attended. We, as mentioned earlier, were at the airport and then home looking for our visitors. There is another party at Aqua Restaurant across from the airport on 4 Apr.
Dining: On Saturday evening we went to Baccara Restaurant at the Princess Casino. It's fairly new, having opened just before this high season. It has an interior terrace just a few steps above the casino floor and essentially level with the stage along the adjoining side of the casino. The evening started with the usual show featuring Melvin Hodge as emcee and singer backed by a piano interspersed with numbers from a troupe of Brazilian Dancers. This night, however, had an extra fashion show featuring the girls from the Platinum Room. They worked through the sports wear, office wear, evening wear, to the bathing suits, and finally the lingerie. At that point, about midnight, they were appropriately dressed for the start of their evening shift at the Platinum Room. In between photo ops, we were having a wonderful dinner. The room is quite nice, and obviously, the view from the terrace, and even the room, is concentrated on the casino floor and stage. The table appointments are as good as they get on the island. The wait staff is quite good, although this was probably their busiest night so far. We started with an amuse bouche from the chef: a vegetable mousse with tomato and pesto sauces - very tasty - and an excellent accompaniment to our flutes of champagne. We continued an ap with sauteed scallops on a bed of leeks with bits of artichoke bottoms and some crispy home made potato chips adorning a bed of artichoke risotto with a dollop of julienned carrots and zukes. It sounds like a lot, but the portions were kept manageable. I had a veal chop with a potato gratinee containing mushrooms, a pastry shell with cous-cous, a dollop of mashed potatoes with a hint of truffle oil (?), more potato chips, and julienned veg. Martha had the shrimp and scallops with gratineed potatoes and julienned veg. Our wine was the 99 Savigny-les-Beaune Rodet. It certainly was suitable for the veal and not too ambitious for the full flavored scallop and shrimp dish. We finished with two balloons of Armagnac and went out to a front row seat at the stage. Our bill came to about $160 plus a tip. It's not cheap, but it is good food and a beautiful place with a free floor show. The dancers are on the Baccara Restaurant site and this week's photo feature has some of the girls in some of their clothes.
Monday night Martha's brother, his wife, and three kids from 17 to 5 arrived and as they are staying at California Apartments, our restaurant for their first night was California Restaurant. Alain had made some terrine of foie gras that was divine. Other aps included onion soup, traditional snails in garlic butter, tuna tartare that was perfect, especially with hints of cilantro in the wakame, and a lobster bisque in puff pastry. The first two were for the older two children. Martha had the monkfish wrapped in bacon. It's been done before, but it is a very tasty dish.. The eleven-year-old had scallops on pasta in a curry sauce. We continue to be amazed by the children's adventurous eating habits. Their father, like his older sister, is a chef. Other dinners were shrimp scampi, lamb tenderloin, and a veal roulade. The five-year-old got a kid's menu with a cheese pizza, a drink, and scoop of ice cream. the prices are good and they do 1 to 1. It's kid-friendly, not all that luxe, so you can go and have a great time without the tux. You do get a great sea view and they have a few tables on the front porch, also nice, especially on Harmony Nights. 
We went to Orient the next day and had a great lunch at Pedro's Beach Bar: crispy fries, good ribs, and I had the stewed conch. Can't get that everywhere. Take the coupon from their website and get your second drink with lunch free. We also got chairs there and spent the afternoon snorkeling and parasailing. The eleven-year-old investigated anatomy.
The next night was Harmony Night and after strolling the street from one end to the other, we stopped at Le Maeva for good, hearty French country food with an accent on seafood (especially on Harmony Nights). On this evening we passed around a bowl of bulots, (whelks we believe) with a mayonnaise sauce. We love them, but they were not well received by all, an acquired taste, perhaps. Martha just had the shrimp salad ap as a main course ($17). It was more than enough. I just had the kidneys in a mustard sauce, also $17, also more than enough. This is another solid restaurant serving good food at very reasonable prices.
Wednesday afternoon we had a lunch at California Restaurant enjoying the lovely view of Grand Case Bay and some pizza, crepes, lovely mussels in a creamy, onion sauce with great crisp fries, and lots of wine. The Vignee from Bouchard comes from Burgundy. It's non vintage, comes in red (pinot noir) and white (chardonnay) and can usually be found for $20 to $25 in restaurants. It's quite good at that price, better than the plonk from Languedoc.
On Wednesday night we took a break from family and went to our local French restaurant: Montmartre Restaurant. Life's pretty good when you can walk to a restaurant of this quality. We were on a break from family and over-indulgence. It was just us and we had just the salade Landaise featuring a slice of foie gras, smoked duck breast, and duck gizzard confit on a bed of mixed greens drizzled with walnut oil. I had my old favorite of the capon breast with a foie gras topping and morel mushrooms. The vegetables included a head of roasted garlic, a tasty gratin of potatoes, a dollop of mashed potatoes, broccoli, ratatouille, and a dollop of squash. A bottle of the Beaune Champ Pimont was fine with both.
Thursday morning was cloudy and rainy, but as we approached Philipsburg, the sky cleared and we spent a steamy morning checking out the market and the boardwalk. We eventually went to Shieka's Bistro in the cultural center on Back Street. Betty Richardson serves up local food with an accent on vegetarian cuisine. The vegetarian lasagna is very good and our niece had a vegetarian cous-cous with chick peas that we all liked. We also liked an oxtail stew, curried goat (bony but tasty), whole snapper, and baked chicken. Most people drank some of Betty's homemade fresh passion fruit juice, although it is a bit tart - not what five-year-olds like, but what they should drink. The best part of the meal was the bill that arrived at less than $60 for enough food and drink to feed seven people.
That evening we went to Ti Coin Creole for some authentic Creole food from Carl Phillips. We had told Carl that we would like to try some lobster and some conch, so he had some on hand. We started with an assortment of various aps: stuffed crab, accras, and a conch salad. They are all good especially with Carl's homemade hot sauce - used sparingly! The stewed conch dinner was heaven, tasty and tender conch - very hard to do. A shrimp scampi was good, but you will never convince me that warm water lobster rivals the New England variety. Carl's Creole sauce and his creamy, butter sauce help, but I still think I'll vote for our home-grown variety.
Friday night at Mario's Bistro was awarded the gold star for the first week on the island by Martha's brother, the chef, and family. (They did not accompany us to  Montmartre Restaurant, however). For aps we had a tempura tuna roll, Mario's famous mussels in tomato sauce with parmesan topping, tuna sashimi, a jumbo shrimp wrapped in prosciutto on a bed of haricot verts, and an asparagus risotto with truffle oil. Main courses included Chilean seabass with crab risotto swimming in a pink peppercorn beurre blanc, veal scaloppini in a butter caper sauce, tuna topped with bleu cheese holding down feather-light gnocchi with tomato sauce, Mario's famous roast duck with garlic mashed potatoes in a honey infused sauce, and penne with shrimp in a tomato garlic cream sauce, flamed with bourbon. These mussels may be the best on the island, especially if you like tomato sauce and parmesan. These are not always available as Mario waits for deliveries of Prince Edward Island mussels. Confirmed Francophiles may prefer French mussels, but Mario and Martyne are from Quebec and know how good the local product is. People can argue about which mussels are the best and which preparation is the best (Mario's approach or the more traditional white wine, onions, parsley, possibly cream). I don't argue, I like them both. All these plates were very good, beautiful to look at, interesting flavors and textures combining for a wonderful experience. We had two bottles of the Mercurey in a warm-up for a lovely Etude Cabernet Sauvignon. A few desserts and coffees were sprinkled about, including the chocolate cake with the molten center and a candle for a five-year-old about to turn six. Some other people had Armagnac. It was indeed a fabulous evening.

Look on the SXM-Restaurants website for a list of all restaurants that have coupons for some freebie or discount. There are several coupons there to make your vacation a bit cheaper.
L'Esperance Hotel in Philipsburg is bargain at $75 per night for a 1BR suite with a kitchen. It's not on the water, but they have a pool.
Turquoise Shell Guesthouse  in Simpson Bay is bargain at $700 per week for a 1BR suite with a kitchen, all taxes and service included. It's across the street from the water and they have a pool. Make a reservation and get a $50 coupon to Ama Jewelers and a $25 coupon to Hot Tomatoes.
The Banana Cabana, a one bedroom studio on the lagoon in Cupecoy, is only $695 for the week all taxes and service included.
California has two apartments for rent that are right on the water in Grand Case. The one bedroom, sleeps four, is $900 and the two bedroom, sleeps six, maybe more, is $1100 for the week.
Sandy Molloy at Molloy Travel says that she has negotiated a great deal at Alamanda and has can't beat rates at Le Petit, L'Esplanade, Maho, and La Plantation. If you like great food, Le Petit and L'Esplanade are the two bookends on Grand Case's restaurant row. Maho is in the thick of the action in Simpson Bay and if you're part of the birthday suit crowd, La Plantation is a lovely place within walking distance of Orient beach. I've never been in Alamanda, but it's even closer to Orient Beach.

Erich S. Kranz
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SXM-Info newsletter 2 April 2005