Itinerary
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Thursday
Feb182010

Hopla!

Location: Hotel L'Esplanade, Grand Case, St. Martin

Choosing where to spend two months of our lives was not easy. It's one thing to pick a hotel for a week - you're not investing that much in it, time or money. But how do you decide where to spend two months? It's a significant investment, and if this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, then where you stay is the lynchpin, and it's not as though you can drop by for a preview. 

When we decided at the end of December to take such a long trip, we had already determined that we didn't want to be on the road the entire time. The goal was to put a good think on, and if you're constantly running around exploring the world, you're too busy experiencing to actually reflect and do some proper soul-searching. This was more of a sit and think type of endeavor. And, we weren't feeling lucky enough to just arrive somewhere and hope for the best.

So, we started by agreeing on some simple, obvious criteria: 

  • warm
  • beach

Given that we were talking about February, that did immediately rule out ~ 90% percent of the world, so it was no longer a random game of twirl-the-globe. But there were still so many options. Australia? Tahiti? Hawaii? Mexico? Latin America? Caribbean? Thailand? We bought books on all of them (Barnes & Noble loves us), but still, how do you decide? We spent the entire week between Christmas and New Years researching villas, hotels, all sorts of destinations. But we realized that we needed to analyze further what constitutes a perfect trip in Steve & Lucinda land to make the leap and commit.

So, we mulled... and we did that by going to many of our favorite restaurants in Berkeley, and that's when it dawned on us what was needed:

  • a tasty variety of food
  • cultural diversity (i.e. English not the primary language, and not thronged by American tourists)

All of a sudden that ruled out many, many places. Australia? Would love to, but it's English-speaking (well, sort of ;), and for that matter it's a hell of a plane ride. Tahiti? Most places you'd be relatively secluded, and limited in your food options. Mexico or Costa Rica? Beautiful, but not so excited by the food for two months. Hawaii? Been there.

The Caribbean!

It was so obvious in retrospect, but even then, so many islands to choose from, so we continued to research... until we read about Grand Case, a little town on the French side of St. Martin. It's called the "Gourmet capital of the Caribbean," with more than 50 restaurants packed into a one mile stretch. It seems to have evolved mostly because there are tons of direct flights from France and the Netherlands bringing in excellent chefs and their recipes. Also, St. Martin is still technically part of France, as opposed to a territory, so it really keeps to its roots... as though there were such a thing as a French Palm tree.

The last piece of the puzzle came when we read a review on TripAdvisor on a place called Hotel L'Esplanade. As most of you know, I'm a rabid fan of customer reviews, and this was one of the best I've read. It was written by a woman who was stuck in an airport for 20 hours, and clearly spent most of that time writing her review, desperately clinging to her post-vacation peace for just a few minutes more. We checked out the hotel website, and we were convinced.

When I called, and asked "what is your availability in Feb and March?" they thought there was a language issue, and kept asking me which dates. I tried to explain: "all of them." As it turned out, they were booked until Feb 14th, hence our detours in the cultural swampland of Florida, but we booked a large loft with a kitchen for Feb 14 - Mar 24th and hoped for the best.

Oh La La!

We arrived four days ago, and could not be happier with our choice. The hotel is perfect. Only ~ 20 rooms, and feels even smaller, with never more than 10 people (if that) at the picturesque little pool. Allen, the pool bartender/chef/entertainment, has kept us very well fed as he whips up magical creole shrimp and cheeseburgers (and we know not yet what else!) in his simple outdoor kitchen. Our room is huge and exceedingly comfortable. The staff is gracious and beyond helpful. The other guests we've met so far have been a delight. The beach is an easy 5-minute walk. Grand Case itself... well, that deserves many separate posts on the topic. This place is heaven! In fact, I'm sitting at the pool right now.

We are on our 5th bottle of sunscreen, rapidly depleting what I thought was an insane amount that I brought with us.

Most importantly... I can no longer remember what it feels like to be cold. When I talk to my family in Baltimore, I try to be sympathetic and imagine what they're going through, being snowed in under 3 feet of snow... but it's just not possible for me to comprehend right now.

So, not to pat ourselves on the back too much, but in the face of a large, wide-open question of where to go,  it turns out we made a fantastic decision (despite our Florida leg). Hopefully it was good practice for the more important life decisions we came here to make, but more on that topic later.

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    Terrific Site, Carry on the excellent job. With thanks.
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    - A Month in St. Martin - Hopla!
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    Response: ace parking
    - A Month in St. Martin - Hopla!
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    - A Month in St. Martin - Hopla!

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