Logo

St Maarten/St Martin
16 January 2011 Newsletter

Other newsletters
Contests | Restaurants | Bargains and Happenings

ISLAND NEWS


Cupecoy sunset

calm lagoon   Weather: Early January started out blustery and cool - long sleeve shirt weather but has more recently been lovely with temperatures in the low 80s. The Ocean Emerald came in to dock at Porto Cupecoy and apparently got stuck on the bottom. After nearly an hour, it managed to get out. It then returned and docked perfectly a while later! Click for Juliana Airport, St. Martin Forecast The box shows the current local conditions and here's the detailed forecast from Weather Underground and here's one from the Weather Channel. Sunset today is at 5:57 and the moon is almost full - a great time for dining on the water.

In 2011 the full moons will be 20 Jan (soon!), 18 Feb, 19 Mar, 18 Apr, 17 May, 16 Jun, 15 Jul, 13 Aug, 12 Sep, 12 Oct, 11 Nov, and 10 Dec.

SXM-Beaches: With 37 beaches to choose from, how can you decide? If you like to loaf with some creature comforts but don't want all the activity of Orient beach, check out Friar's Bay Beach. It's a few hundred yards of good sand facing WNW between Marigot and Grand Case. There are two (possibly three) beach bars here. Kali's Beach Bar and Friar's Bay Beach Caf. We had a great lunch at the second last March. It was still high season, but, though full, it wasn't crowded. We had a nice lunch of salade Landaise, a bit of tasty duck on a bed of greens with apples and a poached egg for Martha and salade des ABBA for me (that's a pun on the Swedish rock group and abbats, innards) featuring chicken innards, or rognons (kidneys) with some veg and frise, followed by a loaf on the chaise longues.   Kali

Beach reading: I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away by Bill Bryson - about $11 for a paperback - From Amazon (Melissa Rossi): In the world of contemporary travel writing, Bill Bryson often emerges as a major contender for King of Crankiness. Granted, he complains well and humorously, but between every line of his travel books you can almost hear the tinny echo: "I wanna go home, I miss my wife." Happily, I'm a Stranger Here Myself unleashes a new Bryson, more contemplative and less likely to toss daggers. After two decades in England, he's relocated to Hanover, New Hampshire. In this collection (drawn from dispatches for London's Night & Day magazine), he's writing from home, in close proximity to wife and family. We find a happy marriage between humor and reflection as he assesses life both in New England and in the contemporary United States. With the telescopic perspective of one who's stepped out of the American mainstream and come back after 20 years, Bryson aptly holds the mirror up to U.S. culture, capturing its absurdities--such as hotlines for dental floss, the cult of the lawsuit, and strange American injuries such as those sustained from pillows and beds. "In the time it takes you to read this," he writes, "four of my fellow citizens will somehow manage to be wounded by their bedding. The book also reflects the sweet side of small-town USA, with columns about post-office parties, dining at diners, and Thanksgiving--when the only goal is to "get your stomach into the approximate shape of a beach ball" and be grateful.   Cover
And grateful we are that the previously peripatetic Bryson has returned to the U.S., turning his eye to this land--while living at home and near his wife. Under her benevolent influence, he entertains through thoughtful insights, not sarcastic stabs.

Blue Mall  

Construction: If you check out the larger version of the Blue Mall sign on the left, you'll see it now says opening in the Fall of 2011. We have heard that US Imports will open here, but they didn't make the sign. It's a great supermarket. A villa on Jordan Road, next to Arbor Estates, was torn down in December, and now there's a sign saying that a grocery, restaurant, and a few retail shops will go in there. Ray Minelli of St Maarten Rental Weeks reports that Caravanserai claims to have solved their (lack of) hot water poroblem and opened up their salt water pool. On the right you can see that several boats have made it into Porto Cupecoy on a beautiful day in early January.

  Yachts at Porto Cupecoy

ginger   Sapphire Beach Club: We are not in our condo at this time. It is available for rent for $1400 per week in high season. After April, the rates drop to $700 to $1000 per week until 15 Dec, when high season kicks in again. You'll get a 10% discount from Unity Car Rental, one of the longest running and most trusted on the island, and many more coupons as well, including the use of our 2010 SXM Privilege Card that gets you discounts on many restaurants. 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."

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 20 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.

Captain Morgan Activities: While I'm sitting here in below zero weather (or worse, plowing the driveway), you can be bounding on the main. On the left is Capt Morgan, a beautiful 65 foot schooner with Captain Serge and First Mate, Tikki. Diane and Captain Trevor on Random Wind start with breakfast, a bit of sailing, some snorkeling, lunch, more sailing, and more snorkeling on a smaller boat with only 20 other people (max). Captain Neil on Celine (right) does day sails but is famous for the lagoon pub crawl that cruises the lagoon for drinks and aps in the evening. Reve Marine does half or full day boat charters out of Marina Royale in Marigot. Seaside Charters does the same from the Palapa Center in Simpson Bay. While Zuzu and Alain are not newcomers to the island, they are newcomers to the charter business. If their service and food are anything like that at the many restaurants that they and their children run, you'll have a great time on SXM Cat Charters. There is also the simple joy of kayaking either from Tri Sport in Simpson Bay or Tropical Wave at Galion Beach.   Pub Crawl

Burgundies   Alcohol: Steven Leavitt and Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics fame provide this podcast about wine taste vs. price. It includes a vignette about a fake restaurant with a fake website featuring a fake wine list. The list included including a 1982 Brunello rated 67 (terrible) by Wine Spectator and another wine they described as "unacceptable and cloying". The phone number provided for the restaurant had a message saying that the restaurant was closed for vacation. The restaurant applied for an Award of Excellence for its wine list to Wine Spectator magazine. Fill out a form, enclose your wine list, add about $250, mail it in and by return post, you get your award of excellence. Shortly after that a message was left on their fake answering machine noting that they had won the award and should publicize this prestigious occasion. The podcast went on excoriating experts, so I brought three bottles up from the cellar: a 2005 Beaune Les Reversees Premier Cru from Jean Marc Bouley ($30 in 2007), a 2005 Hautes Cotes de Beaune also from Jean Marc Bouley ($16 in 2007), and a 2007 Stringtown Oregon Pinot Noir ($6.42 a couple months ago). 2005 was the best year of my wine drinking life for Burgundy and is nicely aged at this point.   --> JMB
2007 was rated 90 for Oregon and several retailers tried to sell this wine for $15 to $25, but Zachy's seemed to have too much of it, at least too much that would sell at $23. Hence, my price of $6.42. Martha and I tasted these wines blind to see if we could do better than the other experts. We are both recovering from colds and the podcast said that people couldn't tell the difference between $50 wines and $10 wines. We don't have very many $50 wines and the few we do have are not ready to drink, so our range of wines is considerably tighter, especially if the Stringtown was ever worth $23. Nonetheless, our palates detected that the Stringtown was different from the other two. However, those two, originating within a few miles of one another in the same year and made by the same negotiant were very difficult to tell apart (at least for us). The Stringtown, though younger, tended to fade faster in the glass. This seems related to the fact that California vinifies wines to be drinkable sooner. The flip side of this is that they age faster in the bottle, and apparently, in the glass. Please note that this wine tasting and wines from Jean-Marc Bouley is in no way related to JMB Communications, Jeff M. Berger, or his website Everything St Maarten, even though he does have one of those cork boards made from JMB corks.

A couple nights later we opened a pair of 2008 US Pinot Noirs for another blind tasting, one from Adelsheim in Oregon's Willamette Valley, well known for Pinots ($17) and a Murphy-Goode from California, a rather large area in comparison. With the colds subsiding, and wines made by two different vintners from two areas a thousand miles apart, we had no trouble differentiating the wines and agreeing that one was better than the other. The better one was indeed the more expensive one from what is recognized as a better Pinot-producing region.

Travel: We were scheduled to head out to SXM last Sunday/Saturday. Usually we have friends take us to Albany where we have a nice dinner. Afterwards, they head back to Salem (about an hour and a half drive) and we stay in an airport hotel with a shuttle that gets us to our 6-7 AM flight that connects to the Continental non-stop from Newark to SXM. On Monday Continental called and said that a scheduling change on our first flight would make the connection in Newark too tight so we would have to fly to Newark on Saturday and spend the night there. It's not a big deal but a bit more difficult and all the original plans would have to be unwound and new ones made. We did that, but on Thursday, Martha was diagnosed with Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). We have postponed our trip to see how she responds to the standard treatment of one Gleevec pill per day. Blood analysis after two weeks will show how she is doing and she, of course, will have some idea what the side effects are. We are hoping that she will feel comfortable heading off to our condo at that time. We'll keep you posted.

Green logo Nature: That's a barred owl looking for a snack from high in a tree on a copse at the center of the field outside our dining room. Our office is well over 100% solar-powered and our servers are about 130% wind-powered.

Small Island story: Usually we put stories here that make fun of the small-mindedness of some people on the island or the difficulties of living on a small island. This one is different. Captain Jack Miller passed away earlier this week. He spent a good bit of time anchored behind Marci's Mega Gym 2000 where we have spent a good bit of time over the years. Obviously, our mutual interest in photography brought us together with his wife Linda a few times over the years. He had many friends and one sent this letter in to the Daily Herald. He tried to photograph every pretty girl on the island, a daunting task, but saved a bit of time for scenes around the island. Check it out here.

  Barred Owl


SXM-INFO'S CONTESTS


The good news: I got a new laptop for Christmas. The bad news: I lost the contest entries from 26 December until and including 9 January when I switched over to my new laptop. Sorry, so please enter again if you entered early.

Current Contest:

26 December 2010 to 27 February 2011
Caribbean View Condo - half price summer rental (May-October)
Lagoon Pub Crawl - two for one ticket
Skipjack's - $50 off a dinner for two
Select Wine Cellar - Wine tasting and a bottle of wine
Random Wind - $40 gift certificate
MMG 2000 - Two for One week at the gym with a shake
Peg Leg Pub - $50 off a dinner for two
PassportMD - Six months free service
Radiant Gems - $50 off a purchase of $200 or more
Lighthouse at Oyster Bay - $1000 off a summer week (June-October)
Piazza Pascal - $50 off dinner for two
SXM-Privilege Discount Card - One free monthly card

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.

Future Contests:
27 February to 24 April 2011
24 April to 24 July 2011 | 24 July to 30 October 2011 | 30 October to 25 December 2011
same cast of characters as current contest

 


RESTAURANTS


On 26 December the euro was at 1.312 and today it is at 1.339. It doesn't look like much, but its almost 3% in a couple weeks. When the PIIGS (mostly Portugal this time) had the market worried about rolling over their debt, the euro briefly dipped under 1.3, but Japan offered to buy 1 million of bonds in the European Financial Stabiliity Fund and by midweek last the auction had gone well and the euro jummped back up to 1.313 only to end up even higher today.

I'm dropping the restaurant exchange rate numbers because I am no longer on the island to check them. Charging your credit card in dollars used to save the 3% currency transaction charge that most cards are now charging for foreign currency transactions. About a year ago my Citibank card said they would charge me 3% just for doing business overseas - even if it was in dollars! I now use a Capital One card and get an excellent exchange rate. 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 just picked up an 18 bottle wine refrigerator with half of our points from the previous year, but we couldn't even fly one of us to SXM.

Tropicana

Wendy K reports: We drank a Montredon Cotes du Rhone (19.50) and an expensive (4.50) bottle of fizzy water. Tony had a special of chicken and chevre in a brioche-type pastry with a wonderful sauce with trompette mushrooms (left). I had tartare de boeuf (already prepared - I prefer to do my own with no mayo, but this was good - center). We shared a bowl of Tropicana's "famous frites". (right, not as good as Le Bellevue, but next in line, in IMHO). They offered complimentary vanilla rum for dessert and the total bill was around 54, 60 with an a tip.

brioche tartare Frites

tartare
L'Excellence,
French Restaurant School

Wendy K went for a very nice lunch at the school. The wines are a huge bargain: a Sancerre white "Les Baronnes" was 12; a Pommard for 28. We drank a 2007 Hautes Gravieres for 11. The menus are set and posted in advance in St Martin Week. The website doesn't seem to work and we had a bit of trouble getting through on the phone, but in the end had no problem making a reservation as English spoken. This blogspot carries the menus and is working as I write this. It has an English translation and a very helpful map, but as one might guess, the school is behind the stadium in Marigot along with the rest of the educational facilities.

Sevrin, the front end manager, remembered us from years ago. Today's lunch began with a complimentary fruit punch or a rum and fresh lime juice drink served in a martini glass - don't have to tell you what we had. We ordered fizzy water and got a bottle of Perrier. The aforementioned wine, for 11, Hautes Gravieres '07, was just fine. Today's menu was a Nioise salad (left), which could have been lunch. Not the best, nor the worst I've had - plenty of anchovies. The main course was a generous slice of roast pork loin (center), served with sauce forestiere made with a lot of girolles, a roasted tomato, and a bundle of haricots vertes wrapped in smoked ham. Dessert was peche melba (right) - a fresh peach, I think. The total bill was 35. They accept tips and we left 40. Unbelievable. The students work part of the semester in the front of the house, and part in the kitchen. They are about to switch, so I expect service will suffer for several weeks. The "senior" class will be going to Ireland this year, and Monaco later on, so this has become a very ambitious program for them.

brioche tartare Frites

Mario's Logo  
Mario's Bistro
Wendy K reports: It was a lovely night with a nice breeze. We drank our usual San Pelligrino and 2006 Mercurey (39). There were a few new choices on the menu since our November visit. One appetizer, which I had, was Flat Head Lobster Tempura in a soft taco with fennel orange slaw and lemon cilantro vinagrette (below right, 15). What a blast of flavors and beautifully presented. Tony had Braised Duck Roll with Hoisen Sauce, Foie Gras and aged balsamic Creme Brulee with dried apricot chutney (below left, 16). This was the ap I had last time and it was wonderful. Tony had another of my favorites, the Rice Flake Crusted Sauteed Chilean Seabass, Seafood cake, and Crab Mashed potatoes with Lobster sauce (30). I was "forced" to have a special of Sauteed Salmon with sundried mashed, grilled and tempura asparagus, pesto aioli, and a fabulous black bean and corn salsa with just the right amount of kick to it. (29) Our total bill was 133/$173 (an exchange rate of 1.30) including the new 2% TVA on the French side. Business was good with several large parties. Mario's is near the French bridge, on the canal leading from the lagoon to the Anguilla channel. We've never seen so many fish (mostly tarpon) feeding off the shrimp and splashing about. There must have been 100.

Duck roll     lobster tempura
salmon   sign and hibiscus   lobster tempura

 
Philly Cheese Steak, Fries, Fish Sandwich
We stopped in at Steve's Place in Glens Falls again recently where Martha got a salmon sandwich and I had a Philly cheese steak, both with fries, and good fries at that. For fries, Wendy mentioned Bellvue but we got her to try L'Oizeau Rare Restaurant and she agreed they were pretty good. For Philly cheese steak we go to Pineapple Pete or Greenhouse Restaurant. Greenhouse has just opened the Simpson Bay location for breakfast and lunch. They opened for happy hour and dinner late last season. For a fish sandwich, I don't think you can't beat Skipjack's.
  PP logo


News and Changes: The article on restaurants at Orient Beach with recipes for a four course meal that we touted all last season has been published on the web in SXM-Info's features section. You'll find a recipe for Shrimp Dumpling Soup from Tai Chi Restaurant, a recipe for Goat Cheese Salad from Palm Beach Restaurant, a recipe for Beef Wellington from Kakao Beach, and a recipe for Coconut Flan from Rancho del Sol.   Tai Chi logo

Cupecoy Market closed in December and hasn't re-opened. Next door neighbor Khush has not reopened. That doesn't come as a surprise to anyone who has driven by it when it was open.

Grand Case is doing Harmony Nights again on Tuesday. They will have bands, parades, street performers, arts and craft vendors, and local food vendors. All the restaurants will be open and many will be doing sdomething special. The previous link is to photos that we took and the lolos have made this site. It's a typical French site and has a jpg of the advertising poster, 9 meg and 3000x5000 pixels. It took about a minute to download on my DSL connection.


BARGAINS AND HAPPENINGS


Tropismes Gallery is having an opening for a show by Georges Rohner on Saturday 22 January from 6 until 9PM. They are on the main drag in Grand Case. Head on over for a nice dinner and a look at the show which will also have works from St Martin's Paul Eliott Thuleau and four other Caribbean artists.

To make it a special night, I have two coupons: a $70 coupon at Ti Coin Crole and an $80 coupon at Hibiscus Restaurant. They are for sale at half their face value. Send me an email if you are interested. They'd also make Harmony NIghts a bit more fun, but do remember to make a reservation!

  Georges Rohner

SXM Privilege Card   Coupons: The SXM Privilege Card seems to be a pretty good deal. It will get you various discounts and/or perks at 33 restaurants (by my count in the print version). They also cover hotels (mostly spa treatments at hotels), activities, and more. Most of the restaurant perks are a 10% discount. Use it twice in a month and it pays for itself. Here's a link to the SXM-Info website for a our coupons for some freebie or discount. Here's a list of the coupons you'll find:  
Bikini Beach
Beau Beau's
Diamonds International
Escargot
Kakao Beach
Marci's Mega Gym
Oizeau Rare
Pizza Galley
Tai Chi
Select Wine Cellar
Endless Summer Beachwear
Radiant Gems
Tropical Wave

  Our condo: The condo is available for rent at $900 per week until 1 October and $1000 per week until 15 December 2009. 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, $50 off a daysail on Random Wind, 50 from Piazza Pascal. 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 transportion 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.

PassportMD provides many things, including access to Monthly Harvard Health Letter and the Harvard Mental Health Letter, savings on prescriptions, medical reminders, an ability to email your doctor, and more. The most important benefit for travelers on cruiseships or those who take extended vacations in the third world is the ability to have your medical records stored in a secure server that will allow quick access in your time of need. SXM-Info has teamed up with PassportMD to provide these services with a two month absolutely free, no strings attached trial.

  Medjet: Take Trips Not Chances
   

Kindle: We now have one, so I'm really convinced that the Kindle e-book from Amazon is the best thing to take to a beach. It only weighs a half pound and is one-third of an inch thin. Even better, the price has dropped to $139. 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!)  
Martha has been downloading 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.

Sandy Molloy at Molloy Travel offers personalized service to fit your needs and budget.