[If you want to view the entire Flickr photoset for this trip, here’s the link!]
Since we only had a 4-day weekend in the Bahamas, I booked us the earliest flight possible: 5:15am. That meant getting up at 3:00, but it would get us into Nassau by noon. The flight to Atlanta was uninteresting; the one from there to Nassau put a little fear in our hearts as apparently Delta is in the habit of overbooking every single flight ever. When we got to the gate there, they were offering people vouchers to be bumped. We finally got seats assigned, but they were separate.
I ended up as the exit row girl, bravely offering my services to save everyone’s life in case of a water landing. Stephanie ended up in the back row between two of the nastiest dudes on the planet. They were part of a group of five who were going to the Bahamas to celebrate a 50th birthday. These five very large men were already drunk and offensive, asking the flight attendants for help with their safety belts. Stephanie had the window seat, but the guy who had claimed it wouldn’t give it up; he insisted she sit between them. She spent the next two hours trying to keep from vomiting in disgust. I, of course, was happily oblivious, peering at the ocean from above.
clouds over the atlantic ocean
I never realized how close the Bahamas are to Florida. I was also really surprised to see the color of the ocean along the coast of the islands. I expected it would look like Hawaii, but it’s totally different.
providence island from above
We flew over Grand Bahama and were shortly over New Providence Island. The island isn’t very big at all; it’s only about 20 miles across. We landed and climbed out of our little plane onto the tarmac (something that will always be immensely charming to me). I waited for Stephanie to exit the jetway, irate. She was preceded by the slimy guys, who were oozing the scent of alcohol and sweat.
We went through customs and found our shuttle to the hotel. Though the airport is only 12 miles from Nassau, the drive through town takes forever. Our driver, Charles (‘in charge’), told us that the roads hadn’t changed since colonial times: narrow streets, sharp turns, driving on the left (as Charles put it, “the left side is the right side, the right side is suicide”). Add to that the fact that half the traffic is made up of jitneys (little buses) and minivan-taxis, and driving there is insanity. There’s no way I’d rent a car there.
Charles in Charge forgot that we were staying in Nassau, so he went right across the bridge and started dropping people off on Paradise Island, so we got a free tour of the resorts. Of course, we didn’t realize he had passed our hotel until we actually left Providence Island. He realized his mistake and got us on another bus (driven by Frankie) that was headed back across the bridge. Of course, Frankie had to make a few stops, too. We quickly learned that Bahamaians have a very, very different concept of time. ’15 minutes’ is code for ‘a half hour, if you’re lucky.’
We checked into our hotel and headed into downtown. It was in the mid-70s and sunny, that warmer-climate sun that I’ve started to crave on a regular basis: the kind that requires those not-from-there to wear sunscreen at all times. We walked up Bay Street and peeked into a few tacky tourist shops before finding lunch at a second-story restaurant with a patio overlooking Bay Street.
Another discovery we made quickly, but not unexpectedly: it’s hard to be vegetarian in the Bahamas. It’s all about seafood. We picked the only thing on the menu that didn’t include meat: grilled cheese. We listened to a couple Canadian guys macking on two cruise-ship employees at the next table while we ate and watched the activity on Bay Street.
We decided to vaguely follow the walking tour in the travel guide to get a sense of Nassau, except they forget to have street signs a lot. Once we figured out the scale on the map and realized that everything in downtown is within about 6 blocks of everything else, we were set.
palm trees and blue sky!
We walked up and down Bay Street, saw all the parliament buildings (they follow British law, so it all seems a little more formal than in the U.S.), and then headed uphill to find the Queen’s Staircase.
‘the most famous sign in the bahamas’
We found a set of stairs that didn’t really seem to be anything spectacular, except it took us up to the top of the hill to Fort Fincastle. It was so similar in looks to the citadel in Budapest, it was freaking me out, except for the absolute lack of snowstorm. There was a drive circling it, and the back portion was lined with little carts selling souvenirs. It was some really weird deja vu.
We decided that probably wasn’t the correct staircase, so we went back down to the bottom and noticed what looked like a ravine to the right of us. We looked down into it and found what we were looking for.
We climbed up and down the stairs and declared the Queen’s Staircase mission complete. The stairs go from downtown Nassau to ‘Over the Hill’, which is the area where people actually live, outside the touristy areas. Not that Nassau itself is super-touristy; there’s Bay Street and the wharf where the cruise ships dock, but apart from that it’s mostly just a regular city one would expect on a little island: it’s poor, run-down, and dirty. Which I like, because that means it’s authentic. It’s the kind of place that would make my mother very uncomfortable, clutching her purse in fear.
We went back down the hill to Bay Street, then walked down to Prince George Wharf, where the cruise ships hang out, in the harbor between New Providence and Paradise Islands. What should we find there but Starbucks?
We sat there on the balcony watching the ships and the people walking up and down to the Straw Market. We were tired, having arisen at 3am, and we were very confused about the time. We knew we were in the eastern time zone, but weren’t positive that they followed daylight savings. It was either 5 or 6pm. Stores were closing, but the ferry was still running, so we figured it had to be almost 6.
We walked back to our hotel and looked through the book to find a place for dinner. We weren’t sure where most of them were located and didn’t want to take a taxi or walk too far in the dark (the travel guide only warned us not to about 40 times), so we decided to check out the restaurants at the British Colonial Hilton a few blocks down the street. Our hotel was across the street from the beach, so every time we walked along it, one of the women permanently stationed there offered to braid our hair, and some guy offered to give us a free tour of Atlantis, presumably in exchange for being sold timeshares.
We went to the fancy restaurant at the Hilton. We’d have felt really out of place there, except everyone else was dressed in semi-beachwear as well. The food wasn’t great, but it was easy. And I got to try Kalik, the Beer of The Bahamas. Which was really good stuff.
By the end of dinner, we were giggly and sleepy. We walked back to the hotel, and stopped short as we turned the corner into the alleyway: there were three wild dogs there, chasing each other. We had a moment of fear, but the dogs ran past us without paying us much heed. We went to bed early and slept hard.