Sunday, December 29, 2013

Thanksgiving in St. Thomas with Marty

When last we traveled, Craig's multiple sclerosis flared up in Ecuador. When we got him back home, he was hospitalized for 5 days and in rehab for an additional 8 days. He continued his recovery at home, with occupational and physical therapists visiting the house. Heavy doses of steroids alleviated most of his symptoms, but he was still having difficulty walking.

After 7 weeks, he was well enough to return to work at the beginning of November. At first we didn't know whether he would ge up for traveling right away. Luckily, our annual trip to St. Thomas to spend Thanksgiving with our good friend Marty is not strenuous.

Craig, Steve, their Mom, and I flew direct from Boston to St. Thomas on Jet Blue on Thanksgiving morning. The direct flight was at 10:20 a.m., which means that we didn't have to be at the airport at the crack of dawn, but would still get to St. Thomas by mid-afternoon. We always enjoy flying Jet Blue. And not just because it's non-stop. When they didn't have Craig's free snack of choice directly on hand, they gave him an alternate in the meanwhile and then soon came back with his choice. Try that on American or United! Oh that's right; they don't even offer free snacks.
When we arrived n St Thomas, we picked up our rental car at Budget. Craig had bought additional insurance online through Expedia so that it would allow an additional driver on the policy. If Craig was not feeling well enough to drive,  (or just felt too tired to drive on the left), Steve would be able to drive. He had experience driving there, and it didn't bother him. Neither their Mom nor I, on the other hand, wanted anything to do with driving on the opposite side of the road.

Marty on our patio
We went out to the car, a blue Ford Taurus. Craig felt well enough to drive, so he got behind the wheel and drove us to Food Center to buy provisions. Marty met us there on his Harley. We bought food and drink to stock our little kitchenette, and then headed to Secret Harbour. We checked into room 322, a beachfont 2 bedroom suite. After we settled in and put the groceries away, we were able to relax out on the west-facing patio and enjoy the view of the beach, palm trees, and the bay. It was like we had never left. We enjoyed chatting and catching up with Marty. The weather was a bit cooler than usual, so we opted to turn off the air conditioning in favor of overhead fans and the breeze blowing in through the screens.It was a nice change not to have to be sealed up in the room.

Before we knew it, it was time to head to Molly Malone's for their all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving dinner.  Marty had made the reservation in advance to secure us an outdoor table. The restaurant is right on the water in Red Hook, and there were TV's showing the requisite Thanksgiving football. We were served turkey vegetable soup, salad, wine, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, and cranberry sauce. Mom was tired of turkey, having cooked it  over the previous weekend, so she opted for the alternate of Black Oak ham. It was all delicious, and a bargain at $24.13 a person, all-you-can-eat and drink.  Craig and Steve each had an additional plate of food. And then for dessert there was pumpkin pie. It was a lively atmosphere and we enjoyed our Thanksgiving dinner.

Steph, Marty, Steve, Mom, Craig - Turkey dinner at Molly Malone's
Craig's Thanksgiving dinner at Molly Malone's
Craig's recent illness and various factors conspired to prevent us from having our  traditional "Black Friday" boat trip (Cap'n Marty's Island Hop) this year. It turned out to be for the best, as the weather was stormy (showers throughout the day). Instead, we spent the day enjoying the Secret Harbour property. We had breakfast in the room and enjoyed the beautiful view from our patio. The skies were gray this morning and it started to rain. We saw a beautiful rainbow out over some sailboats moored in the bay.

Later we went down to the beach. We set up beach chairs in the shade on the far side of the beach, and then went into the water, drinks in hand, to float around in the warm water of the calm bay. This is what we dream of during long New England winters. Everybody swam - including Marty (who usually says that the winter water is too cold).  Craig found walking on the sand a bit more difficult than he had expected. He did well, but was a bit unsteady on the uneven slope down into the water.  It was a very relaxing day, which was what we all needed after a few stressful months.

As we sat in our chairs, we watched the hotel's wedding coordinator set up an archway in the sand for a wedding later in the day. The weather was showery, and we hoped that the weather wouldn't have a negative impact on the wedding. It was fun people-watching on the beach. The dive shop was renting out a lot of standing paddle boards, the trendy activity this year.

Steph swimming at Secret Harbour
Craig swimming at Secret Harbout
At 6:30, we headed to Latitude 18 for dinner, drinks, and live music.  It is a short drive from the hotel.  They had renovated the place since we were last here. Now there was a nice deck which was sheltered from the weather by a roof. We went to our usual spot, which used to be an isolated picnic table right next to the water. Now it was a proper table with chairs, and it was protected by the roof.  It was a very pretty spot from which to see the lights of Red Hook reflected in the water.

We got seated and all ordered frosty bushwhackers except for Marty, who drank Bud. For appetizers, we ordered shark bites and a Mediterranean platter featuring hummus, chickpeas, etc. As entrees, Craig and I both got the chicken roti served with fried plantains and mango chutney. We always like local Caribbean fare. Everything was delicious. Hudson and the Hoodoo Cats were the entertainment. We had seen them perform here several years ago, and they always put on a good show. We enjoyed good food and live music. The evening was topped off with the day's dessert: yellow cake with caramel frosting.

Dinner at Latitude 18: Steve, Craig, Marty, Steph. Mom

Saturday, Craig made breakfast for us. We each had a "Craig McMuffin" -  cheese omelettes on English muffins with fresh bacon. It is the kind of breakfast we only have when we are on vacation.
While he cooked, we listened to Ronnie James Dio's Elf albums on the iPod, a tradition since  our old camping days.

After our leisurely morning, spent looking out into sunny skies from our patio, we headed down to the beach. The weather turned gray and it started to rain off and on. We spent a couple of hours in the water, but were soon feeling chilly. The weather was degrading, and by mid-afternoon we had headed back into the room.

Craig under the sea grape tree at Secret Harbour
 Steve made a trip to Food Center to replenish some of our provisions. As soon as he left Secret Harbour, it started absolutely pouring, with thunder and lightning. Marty was thrilled, as they seldom get really good thunderstorms on the island.He stood out on the balcony watching the lightning bolts.

Steve returned successfully from his mission, but now nobody wanted to have to drive in the deluge. So we decided to just walk down the beach to the excellent Sunset Grille for dinner. I called to make a reservation, and they said they were closed for a private party. We were a little bit annoyed that they hadn't made an announcement to the hotel guests, but now the hotel and restaurant are managed separately, so things fall through the cracks. They assured us that they would be open tomorrow night, so we had to come up with Plan B for tonight.

We usually have pizza delivered to the room once during each trip. Tonight was the perfect night for it. We ordered two Hawaiian pizzas (one with jalapenos on half) and a pepperoni pizza from Senor Pizza in Red Hook. We enjoyed them very much. After dinner we had some drinks and played Pass the Pigs.

Pass the Pigs is a tradition which goes back several years. Marty had e-mailed us with the bad news that he had been unable to find his game in advance of our visit.  Luckily, Steve had a set that his Mom had given him last Christmas, so he immediately packed them and brought them with us. We had fun rolling the pigs as dice and gaining or losing points based on how they land. As usual, Craig was always good for risking all of his points and "pigging out" - landing the pigs in an "undignified position" which results in the loss of all points. Every now and then we would break to go out onto the patio and listen to the pouring rain. It was windy and felt like a tropical storm.

Pizza delivered to our room
Marty and Steve passing the pigs
Marty naps while Mom reads
Sunday, Craig and I slept late. Steve and Marty headed out early to do some errands. When they returned, we went out to the beach for an hour of swimming before our 2 p.m. football game. The sun was out and the water was a gorgeous shade of turquoise. We could see the fish below the surface, swimming around us. We dared part-time vegan Steve to sample a bit of seaweed that floated by, and he gamely did so. We sipped our drinks while we swam and soaked up the sunshine. There were no dark clouds in sight today.

At 1:30 we headed inside and took quick showers and watched the Patriots game against Houston. It was a tough game, but we ended up winning. After the game we watched a gorgeous sunset from our patio. It started out golden and then settled into a pinky orange. The variability of the weather on this trip meant that a picturesque sunset was not a given each night.

We started watching the next football game,  and then walked down the beach to the Sunset Grille for dinner at 6:30. Craig had a painkiller to drink, and I had a bushwhacker. We had focaccia bread and olive oil, and ordered a bruschetta appetizer. The "amuse bouche", or complimentary appetizer,  was "Caribbean turkey on a wonton" - a small dollop of delicious turkey salad presented on a wonton. Whatever they chose to call it, it was delicious! As entrees, Craig and I each go the sirloin au poivre which was in a really nice pepper sauce and served with truffled gourmet macaroni and cheese. It was fabulous. For dessert, I had chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream. As with most places in St, Thomas, it is not an inexpensive place to eat. But it is a true fine dining experience, and its convenience factor (being located on the grounds of the hotel) makes it irresistible.

We waddled back to our room with bellies stuffed, and watched some more football. Marty fell asleep before The Amazing Race was on. We watched it and then sat out on the balcony for an hour while Mom watched one of her TV shows.We enjoyed the sound of the ocean.  The weather was not hot and humid as it usually is, so the temperature outside was just as comfortable as inside.

Steve, Craig, Mom, and Marty swimming at Secret Harbour
Craig swims at Secret Harbour
Steph at Secret Harbour
Secret Harbour Resort; Sunset Grille
Secret Harbour sunset
Dinner at Sunset Grille - Steve, Marty, Mom, Craig, Steph
On Monday, Marty had to go to work early.  We could hear his Harley as he left Secret Harbour at 5:20 a.m.  We went back to sleep for a couple more hours and got up at 8:45. We ate some Food Center muffins for breakfast, put on our bathing suits, and went out to the beach by  10:45. It was a beautiful sunny day and we immediately went into the water.

At around noon we flagged down a beach waitress and ordered some lunch from the Cruzan Beach Club while still in the water. We each got frosty refreshing bushwhackers and shared an appetizer of calamari. We had dried off and were lounging in our beach chairs when the food came to us. Craig got a mahi sandwich with fries and I had a mango pulled pork sandwich with sweet potato fries.It was delicious. Iguanas lumbered across the sand and climbed trees to sit amongst the palms and leaves in the sun. As we were sitting in the shade of those trees, we would often look up to make sure that an iguana was not about to fall out of the tree onto our heads.

After lunch, we enjoyed the beach some more. We swam the length of the beach down to the Aqua Action Dive Shop. The weather was absolutely beautiful - sunny and with no rain to be seen. I sat in my beach chair reading for a while. As the sun got low in the sky, a white cattle egret was looking for food near the jetty. He was very photogenic with his tall and skinny stork-like legs and long orange bill. We had never seen this kind of bird here at Secret Harbour. He must have been taking the day off from his day job of riding on the backs of cows.

Beach chairs at Secret Harbour
Craig swimming at Secret Harbour
Craig enjoys the view from Secret Harbour beach
Egret at Secret Harbour
At 5 o'clock, we headed back into the room to clean up for dinner. We watched the puffy clouds turn pink as the sun set. Marty had made a reservation for us at the Schnitzel Haus, a small restaurant run by a German expat named Petra. 

Marty was having bike trouble after work, so he would have to meet us there. We  arrived before he did. An orange cat was seated on Craig's chair, and was not happy to be dethroned so that Craig could sit down. We ordered some drinks. Craig had a Heineken and I had vodka and cranberry.   We had been looking forward to their garlic escargot appetizer (we even passed on ordering escargot at Latitude 18, saving ourselves for the Schnitzel Haus). Unfortunately, Petra no longer offers escargot, since the market price has gotten too high.

We ordered sausage and sauerkraut as an appetizer instead, while we waited for Marty.  All of a sudden, while enjoying our appetizer and drinks, Craig felt something stab into the back of his legs. The cat's claws had punctured his skin. The cat had apparently been sitting under his chair seething, and had chosen that moment to take out its aggression on poor unsuspecting Craig. As we are cat lovers, he was fairly forgiving. The waitress said that it was her cat and she apologized, but we don't think she realized just how much it had injured him. Anyone who is not used to cats would probably have bee traumatized by the unprovoked attack.

Marty needed to borrow his work truck to meet us, and he texted us that he was on the way. We got his order via text and ordered it for him. With perfect timing, he showed up 5 minutes before the food arrived. Craig and I each ordered the pepper schnitzel with  bratkartoeffeln potatoes and red cabbage. As always, it was delicious. Petra's home cooking is amazing. Petra was apologetic that she didn't have any strudel to offer for dessert. She sold out before Thanksgiving and hadn't had a chance to make more. We will need to remember to call and reserve a strudel next year!

After a delicious meal, we headed back to the room and watched some Monday Night Football.
Marty had to leave at 3 a.m. for work, and we would be flying out in the afternoon, so we said our goodbyes before we went to bed. Always difficult to say goodbye for another year.

Dinner at Schnitzel Haus - Marty, Steve, Steph, Craig, Mom
We got up at 7 o'clock the next morning, got showered, and packed everything up. We  checked out at around 10:45. Then we drove up to Paradise Point to visit Sean. Sean is a long-time friend of Marty's and Boston transplant who is the proprietor of a shop called the Pirate's Chest. Paradise Point is a mountaintop location which affords a great view of the cruise ship docks in the harbor. Sean's store had been up here when we met him a decade ago. Then he moved down to Havensight for a couple of years. Now, Paradise Point had undergone a multi-million dollar renovation, and he moved the store back. It was great to see Sean again and we bought a few items at the shop. Though this shop was smaller, Sean told us that a lot of his diving treasures are now on display at a museum he runs at Bluebeard's Castle Resort.  We didn't have time to visit it today, but we would definitely make sure to check it out next year; it sounded fascinating! We know that Sean and his girlfriend Carol do a lot of diving and they have come up with some truly unique treasures. Sean is a Boston sports fan and Mom enjoyed reminiscing with him about the Red Sox's  championship winning season. Sean had his pirate mascot dressed up in a Red Sox shirt and Patriots Santa hat.

Next we went to Havensight to eat lunch at the Delly Deck. It's a place where lot sof locals eat and we really enjoy their food. Craig had a Philly cheese steak sandwich and I had an Upper Deck sandwich.

After lunch, we went into a couple of stores at Havensight. We stopped for gas and arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our 6 p.m. flight. Unfortunately, there is no non-stop from St. Thomas to Boston. Our connection in San Juan was running about 30 minutes late, so we wound up arriving home at around 11:45 p.m. Even with the slight delay, we left later than ever and still got home before midnight. Jet Blue we just need them to start flying to our favorite South and Central American locations...

View from Paradise Point
The Pirate's Chest at Paradise Point- Sean, Craig, Mom, Steve