St Maarten/St Martin
19 January 2014 Newsletter

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Cupecoy sunset

Weather: We arrived on a squally Saturday (11 Jan). Sunday and Monday were slightly better and Tuesday was very clear, so much so that we got a wonderful sunset shot from our balcony at Sapphire. As the photo below shows the sky was pretty clear and especially clear at the horizon - perfect conditions for a green flash. See below for a later photo. Wednesday (15 Jan) strated as a fabulous day, and though we saw some squalls off toward Saba, we saw the tip Nevis rising above the horizon about 90 miles away. Despite this clear day the sunset was cloudy and it has been overcast with some rain all week. On the right is a shot of one of the seven cruise ships in port on 15 Jan: Carnival Dream, Westerdam, Ventura, Oasis Of The Seas, Freedom Of The Seas, and Celebrity Reflection. It was blotting out the island of Saba as it passed. Note how overcast it was by sunset.

The box shows the current local conditions and here's the detailed forecast from Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset tonight will be at 5:46 PM. We are past the solstice and sunset is about 4 minutes later already. In 2014 the full moons will be 14 Feb, 16 Mar, 15 Apr, 14 May, 12 Jun, 12 Jul, 10 Aug, 8 Sep, 8 Oct, 6 Nov, and 6 Dec.

SXM-Beaches: There's plenty of sand and calm water at Cupecoy in front of Shore Pointe, but not much elsewhere. We made a quick stop at at the Horny Toad Guesthouse on Simpson Bay and am pleased to report that everyone there is doing well as is the beach. We continued on to Orient Beach and took the panoramic shot below from Paradise View Restaurant. It really is a paradise and the food is pretty good also. That's Green Cay in the center and Tintamare on the left. While we were here we stopped in at Local Rums & Spices to chat with Bernie. The shop is the same size, but the selection seems larger. We always get some hot sauce and chutney here and she has a large selection of Ma Doudou flavored rums in plastic bottles, perfect for travel. She also has a large selection of rescued cats and dogs. Stop in, pick up some rum and spices, and drop a dollar in the box.

Beach reading: A Death in Vienna by Daniel Silva - (Hardcover $16, paperback $5, Kindle $8) - From Publishers Weekly: Silva completes his cycle of three interconnected novels (The English Assassin; The Confessor) dealing with "the unfinished business of the Holocaust" with this superbly crafted narrative of espionage and foreign intrigue. During the later stages of WWII, Sturmbannführer Erich Radek's job was to erase all evidence of the Holocaust. Radek, now known as Ludwig Vogel, is chairman of the Danube Valley Trade and Investment Corporation and lives quietly in Vienna. A bombing at the Austrian Wartime Claims and Inquiries office leaves chief investigator Eli Lavon near death. Undercover Mossad agent Gabriel Allon, protagonist of the two previous novels, is ordered by Israeli spymaster Ari Shamron to ferret out the perpetrator. Allon is reluctant-he's working as an art restorer on one of Bellini's great altarpieces in Venice-but Eli is an old friend from the secret service, and duty calls. The case becomes personal when Allon, reading his mother's account of her time in the camps "I will not tell all the things I saw. I cannot. I owe this much to the dead" discovers that not only was Radek a sadistic monster, his mother was very nearly murdered by him. The chase is long and complex as agents from a number of international spy groups circle and harass Allon as he hunts down the infamous and still deadly Radek.
Those seeking cheap thrills should look elsewhere. Action and suspense abound, but this is serious fiction with a serious purpose. Silva keeps the pressure on the reader as well as his characters as there are important lessons to be learned and vital history to be remembered. We listened to the audiobook and were quite pleased with the reader and the story.

ginger Sapphire Beach Club: We are in our condo (Unit 255) at this time. The A/C works, the elevators work, beach towels are available, the common areas are clean, and the pool is lovely. It will be available starting in April at rates ranging from $700 to $1000 per week over the low season. You'll get a 10% discount from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted agencies on the island, and many more coupons as well. Check the calendar on our website for available dates. A recent visitor said, "Erich, We had a wonderful time at your condo for the third year in a row. We appreciated the coupons. Hope to be able to do it again next year."

The photo below was taken from our balcony at Sapphire. It came a few minutes after the sunset shot above and was the precursor to a fabulous green flash. Unfortunately, despite seeing about 25 green flashes per season for about 20 years, I have never managed to capture one on camera.

For those of you who wish to sell or rent their week or unit, we have opened up the Sapphire Beach Club website for that purpose. We charge $25 per year. If you wish to rent or sell your unit, send us some text (and $25 to esk@sxm-info.com via Paypal). If you wish to rent or buy a unit without high middleman fees, check out the website. At present, there are several sales and/or rentals available directly from owners. Given a 25 to 35% standard rental commission, there should be some bargains in eliminating the middleman and dealing direct.

SXM-Hotels: We stopped in at La Vista Resort past the Simpson Bay Resort. That's their pool on the left and the photo was essentially take from their restaurant. The motto here used to be "Timeshare done right." I no longer see that on the website, but it is true. I don't believe I have seen a single complaint about this property in the 20 years I have been here. They have a few resales available and are in a convenient location. They are worth a look if you are in the market.

Travel: For the first time in several years we could get a flight from Albany to Newark in time to catch the Continental (now United) non-stop to SXM. We had been flying to Newark, spending the night there, and flying out the next morning. This year the flight from Albany left at 6:30AM. Subtract an hour and a half for check-in and TSA plus an hour and a half drive and we would have to get up at 3AM. Thus, the new early morning flight means we only change the location of our hotel from Newark to Albany. That does mean that we do all airline travel in one day which is something of a bonus, especially when traveling with a cat. For those of you in the Albany area, Cocca's Travelodge in Latham is quite close to the airport, accepts pets, costs only $62 for the night, and has a very good restaurant (Portofino).

We had a Checker Cab scheduled for 5:30AM and it arrived a bit early so we had plenty of time in the Albany airport especially as schedule changes moved our flight to a 6:55AM departure. This, however, had reduced the layover in Newark from 90 minutes to about 60. Takeoff from Albany was about 10 minutes late and arrival in Newark was another 5 minutes later. My large carry-on was gate checked and waiting for that added another 10 minutes. Thankfully, it was the first piece of luggage off the flight! The remaining 35 minutes was ample because for the first time in years, we did not have to leave the secure area to get to the new gate, thus, although it was a long walk, there was no TSA bottleneck.

We arrived in SXM on time (2:00PM) in a rain squall. It was over by the time we got off the plane. That's good, because although there are jetways here, I have never used one. We always get uncovered stairways and a dash to a bus, or worse, a dash to the terminal. It is as if the designers don't realize that tropical weather includes tropical storms. We stopped at the rather expensive Maho Market on the way to Sapphire, getting just enough for breakfast. As we had unloaded the car at Sapphire, we got caught in another downpour.

On United, pets are allowed in the main cabin, if they stay in a carrier that fits under the seats. They cost $125 each way and require a health certificate from a vet within a week before departure and another from the vet here in SXM a week before return. Down here we always go to the animal hospital in Concordia. Just keep going up the road to Concordia and after it flattens out, the vet will be on the right.

Groceries: As mentioned we stopped at Maho Market on our arrival Saturday to pick up some breakfast items. Maho Market is convenient, but oftentimes expensive. Their yogurt was $4.50 per quart. The next day I got a better yogurt at a very depleted Grand Marché for $3.50. However, a carton of Juver tomato juice was essentially the same price. My advice would be to buy as little as possible at Maho. They have a captive audience as many people who stay there don't get a car.

While standing in front of the rather forlorn plastic parma ham on the deli counter at Grand Marché on Sunday, I asked the server if they had the real thing. She said yes, so I asked the price. She replied that she had to weigh the meat before she could tell me the price as it depends on how much I want. I am not making this up.

Alcohol: Last Saturday, after we unpacked and unloaded the owner's closet, we found our cell phone and called Sylvain from Select Wine Cellar to order a case of Burgundy. He arrived about 6:30 with the case I had ordered and a bottle of Deutz champagne to welcome us back. We've already tasted the 2011 Guy Amiot Bourgogne ($25.50) with our usual lunch of paté, cheese, and crusty bread. It was quite nice with plenty of fruit and a lovely pinot flavor. We also have sampled the 2010 Savigny-Les-Beaune from Jean-Jacques Girard ($25.70). This was better and as they are almost the same price, I'll probably drink a lot of SlB this season. We tasted this against his 2011 Savigny-Les-Beaune Premier Cru, and while I correctly identified them in a blind tasting, it was very difficult. We went to a tasting at the house of Sylvain's former partner Marina and had some spectacular white wines including a Corton-Charlemagne. The red wines included one from the year of Marina's birth from a lesser vineyard (Ch Olivier). The greatness of that vintage was such that the wine was wonderful. I brought a 2009 Chambolle Musigny from Amiot Servelle ($86) to the tasting and it was remarkably good despite its youth.

Traffic: The causeway is most convenient for getting from Cupecoy and Maho to the far side of Cole Bay. We have used it several times already. The reflectors that WendyK has mentioned in the lowlands are installed in the tarmac, not along side the road. they are implanted every 100 feet or so in both fog lines and in the centerline. That is a very handy thing when driving through here at night. We read an article in the French Faxinfo that said the Prefecture was going to contine these reflectors all the way through Nettle Bay to the French bridge.

There have been changes in the Dutch bridge schedule: 8:30AM outbound, 9:30AM inbound, 10:30AM, outbound, 11:30AM inbound, 3:00AM inbound, 4:00PM, outbound, and 5:00PM inbound. That's one more opening but they should be shorter and the line of backed up cars should also be shorter because the causeway will handle some of the traffic.

Green logo Nature: On the right is a flower from a cactus Martha picked up at Greenfingers. It is wild looking and putrid smelling. The odor attracts flies to enhance its pollination.

Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our hosting company servers are about 130% wind-powered.

Small Island story: A follow-up to the Chikungunya fever spread by small mosquitoes: When we a walked in from the immigration to the baggage area, airport employees were handing out mosquito spray. And as a public service, we present the Daily Herald story that says a KLM jet blew out some car windows and damaged 17 cars parked at Karakter in Simpson Bay.


As you can request five prizes on one entry form, you could win a bargain on lodging, car rental, entertainment, dinner, and a gym to work it off! That would be five prizes to one person.

Current Contest: now to 16 February 2014

Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Marci's Mega Gym - Two for One week with a shake
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two
Escargot Restaurant - $50 off a dinner for two
Pizza Galley - $25 off on a dinner for two

Read our rules, visit the websites of these sponsors, find their contest codes, and enter them on our entry form.

One of the rules is that you should enter each contest only once. You can enter five of the drawings on one entry. Thus, you could win a rather nice vacation at a considerable savings by combining accommodations with dinners and activities. I really check and while a Sulay entered 33 times, instead of increasing her chance of winning, she decreased it to zero as I deleted all of them. She did account for about a third of the entries.

Here's some comments from a past winner:

We met with Sylvian at Select Wine Cellar, enjoyed the tasting, and opted for the Belin Champange for the free bottle. It was very good. I will try and find this at home to drink again. He was a very nice host. We also went to Peg Leg Pub for the steak dinner. We had the place to ourselves with two other couples. The $50 certificate kept the cost under $100 after wine, main course, and appetizers. I enjoyed entering the contest and look forward to future entries. Over 16 days we only had only one 4 minute rain shower; otherwise the weather was beautiful. We tried the Hideaway Restaurant at La Vista. It was very good as were the other places we dined.

Future Contests:
16 February to 13 April | 13 April to 13 July | 13 July to 12 October | 12 October to 7 December
same cast of characters as current contest



Two weeks ago the Euro was at 1.374 and today it is at 1.354. That's about 1.5% better in a short time.

Piazza Pascal, La Villa, L'Escapade Restaurant, and Rainbow Café in Grand Case are offering 1 to 1 for cash. Paradise View Restaurant above Orient Beach is offering 1.2 to 1. Nearby Ti Bouchon offers 1 to 1 also. Auberge Gourmande and Palm Beach Restaurant are doing 1.25 to 1. Almost all other restaurants on the French side that we have visited have offered us a better rate than we would get from our credit card or a bank. There is no doubt that they want your business.

Charging your credit card in dollars used to save the 3% currency transaction charge that most cards are now charging for foreign currency transactions. A few years ago my Citibank card said they would charge me 3% just for doing business overseas - even if it was in dollars! I switched to a Capital One card and I get a good exchange rate with no fee. The frequent flier benefits can be used on any airline and there are no blackouts. Note that you won't get frequent flier tickets quite as fast. It may be best to use the Cap 1 card out of the country and take the rewards in merchandise. We picked up an 18 bottle wine refrigerator with half of our points from a previous year, but we couldn't even fly one of us to SXM. Recently, they essentially gave us 1% cash back, but it could only be applied to travel expenses charged on the card. However, spending several thousand dollars at restaurants in Burgundy and Paris did not qualify as traveling expenses and neither did the gite rental in Beaune nor the apartment rental in Paris.

My United Mileage card is from Chase and every year when I leave for SXM, I notify both Cap One and Chase that I am going to the Caribbean for three months. I always mentioned to Chase that they won't see many charges because of their 3% foreign exchange fee. in 2012 they wrote to tell me that the fee has been eliminated. As I really need United Airlines to get to SXM from Albany in one day, I am grateful for the extra miles.

Chase has come out with a Sapphire Card that is similar to Cap One, although the no foreign transaction fee only comes with the $95 per year preferred version. You'd have to spend about $3000 overseas to make the fee worthwhile, but there are other benefits, including a signup bonus if you spend over $3000 in your first three months. Read these discussions on Credit card Forum and Daily Markets and decide if they work for you.

SPN logo
SPN Café
On the Saturday we arrived, we headed out to Pineapple Pete's SPN Café in another downpour. We had a barbecued half chicken for dinner and watched the last half of the first playoff game and the first half of the Pats game, returning home at 10:30PM. We are an hour ahead of east coast time, so that was only 9:30 EST. Four Heineken drafts and the chicken cost about $40 with a 15% tip added to the bill.

We came over again on Sunday and watched the first playoff game here. The menu is large and inexpensive and there are plenty of TVs, making it a good place for watching the games.

We left the SPN Café and went over to Skipjack's to watch the second game and have dinner. They have a large screen TV in the bar area and the appropriate programming package, but it's not ideal for viewing. It is ideal for ordering some of the finest fish on the island. We started with a bottle of Concannon pinot noir ($31) and the Asian plate with lightly seared, sesame-crusted yellowfin tuna, steamed shrimp, seaweed salad, and wasabi with a soy ginger dipping sauce (below left, $17). Technically, it's on the lunch menu, but that's not a problem here. Martha had the crabcake appetizer as her main course (below center, $14) and I had a blackened grouper with salad and a choice of starch (below right, $24). It's all good food and only came to $86. They do add a 15% tip which does go to the staff.

Mario's Bistro

WendyK reports: We were the first party to arrive at about 6:45. Loving those reflectors on the French roads, which make night driving less hazardous. By the lime we left, at around 8:30, all the tables except those for large parties were filled. Saturday continues to be their slow night.

I'm so happy that Mario decided to put the beef carpaccio with arugula, shaved parmesano, and St Marcellan puffs (right, 17€) back on the menu. Tony had another of our favorites: the Thai Crab Cake, Cappuccino Bisque, and Spring Roll with peanut soy sauce, and sushi tempura (below left, 17€). Mario changes it somewhat every so often so it's something we almost always choose (17€). Tony's main course was a thick-cut pork chop with a twice-baked cheese-crusted potato, and some fresh spinach, a nightly special (below center, 28€).

I had the lemon roasted baby chicken, now on the menu, served with spinach and garlic mashed potatoes. (below right, 30€). We drank a bottle of flat water (5€) and a bottle of Hautes Cote de Beaune (39€) for a total of 135€ or $185.

Piazza Pascal
On a lovely Thursday evening we went to dinner at Piazza Pascal. We had 7:00 reservations as we arrived, the free lot looked very full so we parked in the pay lot, which also was fairly full. The stroll down the street showed most places to be fairly busy. Donna had saved us a corner table in the new upstairs dining area. They have installed a pedestrian bridge over the courtyard and added a floor and canvas roof to the adjoining building. With these new tables, they seem to have added another wait person. Both staff members have been trained well and following Donna's lead, are friendly and efficient. We started with sparkling water and the Nippozano Chianti (center, $48).

We had a bit of a lunch at Select Wine Cellar, so we skipped appetizers and just ordered veal Milanese, (below left, $22), a sautéed veal scaloppini battered in egg, Parmesan, and Italian bread crumbs. I had the Linguini Di Napoli (below right, $25), shrimp, calamari, scallops, mussels, and assorted seafood in fresh basil tomato sauce over linguini pasta. I just checked and these are the same two meals we had on our last visit. The only difference is that I was offered spicy sauce, which I accepted without question. This is a personal taste, but I liked it even better than the original. We ended with coffees and old rum. Total cost, about $100 as they are still doing 1 to 1 for cash purchases. There is no water view, but this is one of the best deals in Grand Case.

Palm Beach Restaurant
We headed over to Orient on Saturday. We knew it was fairly cloudy and found it to be quite windy on the windward side, but it didn't rain. We got a corner table on the second level with great views of Green Cay, Tintamarre, and Pinel and started with a chilled bottle of ... [I wrote this last January and it was perfectly true yesterday, but the meal changed] La Coste Rosé d'un Nuit (22€, below left). It's a good wine with food, especially fish, as it isn't very sweet. And if you come here, you should at least consider the fresh fish on the specials board. The photo taken from our table shows their plastic wine bucket with our wine and a bottle of Pellegrino (5€). The coolers are for sale and quite handy. Our view from the second floor dining area included Tintamare peeking out from behind the cabana roof on the right and Pinel on the left. You may have to click the photo to get the enlarged version.

Martha ordered a crab and shrimp salad (below center, 18€). Yesterday they had fresh moules available in four different preparations (19€, below right) - I choose marinière. Good wine, and a great lunch on Orient Beach for only $83 as they use 1.25 as the conversion. They did add the French side tax of about 4% and we left a 4€ tip. It's a pretty good lunch in a lovely spot and there is plenty of parking. I believe that if you have lunch, you get free beach chairs and there are quite a few available up here in the more sparsely settled area of Orient.

We are just rolling out a new feature on our restaurant site. Antoine Restaurant and Piazza Pascal will be offering gift certificates for sale. We expect more restaurants to follow. Treat your friends at your favorite restaurant!

Here is the current list of the ARCHA members contributing to the security and clean-up of Grand Case. They would appreciate your continued support of their efforts. Stickers to be is displayed on businesses are on order and will be posted in participating restaurants soon.

Hotels and Residences:
Grand Case Beach Club
Le Petit Hotel
Bleu Emeraude
Catalina 4
Hevea Hotel
Auberge Gourmande
Bistrot Caraïbes
Il Nettuno Restaurant
Le Tastevin
Piazza Pascal
Le Pressoir
Calmos Cafe
La Crepe En Rose
L'Effet Mer
Restaurant du Soleil
Ocean 82
Blue Martini
Le Cottage
El Cafecito
Le Ti Provencal
Tijon Perfumery
La Boutique D'anaise
Octopus Diving
Que Du Bonheur
Cotton Club SXM
La Boheme
Sexy Fruits
Tropismes Galerie
Simple Elegance


SXM Privilege Card Coupons: Below are links to the SXM-Info clients who have coupons on their websites. Another approach is the SXM Privilege Card which is now free. It will get you various discounts and/or perks at about 50 restaurants. They also cover hotels (mostly spa treatments at hotels), activities, and more. Most of the restaurant perks are a 10% discount. Visit their website to see where you can get one on the island.

Kakao Beach
Marci's Mega Gym
Endless Summer Beachwear
Oizeau Rare
Pizza Galley
Select Wine Cellar
Tropical Wave

  Our condo: The condo is available for rent $1000 per week or less for the summer. The rental includes about $500 in coupons from several of our website clients including one for 10% off a weekly car rental from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted car rental agencies on the island. Other notable coupons are $50 from Skipjack's restaurant, a tasting and a bottle of wine from Select Wine Cellar, a two for one ride on Celine's famous Lagoon Pub Crawl, and $50 off a daysail on Random Wind. The Christmas and New Year's holiday weeks will be available at $2000 per week and the balance of the high season is available at $1500 per week. As always any days within the next month are available for $100 each. Check the calendar on our website for available dates.

  SXM-Info has chosen SkyMed and MedjetAssist to arrange medical transportation services. We hope you never need it, but when air evacuation flights cost $30,000 or more, it's good to have. Check out both and see which one offers the best prices your timeframe and traveling group.   Click here to Enroll Now

Kindle: We now have now have two Kindle devices, as Martha just bought a Kindle Fire, She paid about $200 for the device without the 3G option. It connects to WiFi which we have here in NY and at the condo in SXM, and nowadays, at almost all restaurants, hotels, etc. The Fire is essentially a tablet computer with Kindle capabilities and a camera. If you add Amazon Prime to the package you get free 2 day shipping on Amazon, access to a lending library of Kindle books with no expiration, and access to over 40,000 movies via Netflix. The Kindle Paperwhite e-book from Amazon is a great thing to take on a beach vacation. It is glare-free, weighs less than a half pound, and is one-third of an inch thin. It's only $119. Newsletter subscriber Contessa says: "I loaded it up with more books than I needed and it was a very convenient way to read without lugging books to the beach." Paul M wrote: "My wife and I spent a lovely week at La Samanna in late March and I loaded my Kindle with several books and read them on the beach. The Kindle was fabulous. I had a case and was careful not to get in contact with sand, but the device was excellent to use for beach or poolside reading." Wendy K reports that her friend Jerri is quite happy with hers and now Wendy reports she bought her own. If you've already got one, you can get books here. They are cheaper than any other version of the book (except used!)  
Even though Martha has a Kindle and is quite happy with it, she still downloads audio books from our local library to her Zune or Sansa player (iPod knockoffs) and that has been working rather well. Obviously, these are audio books and it's not the same as "reading" the text, but it works quite well and keeps us amused as we drive. I just got a newsletter from a reader who reports that "Regarding downloading - several of my friends have the Nook and they can download books on it from their library in the states...but they do expire after 2 weeks."

Erich S. Kranz
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