Bermuda: Short Journey, Lasting Impressions


These days, Bermuda is in a festive mood, celebrating the 400th anniversary of its founding.

The small but active Jewish community on the island is also feeling joyous, because, for the first time in 200 years, it has a building in which it can hold services, events and house its own Hebrew school.

This development all stems from the fact that the United States Naval Base, situated on the island during World War II, closed in 1994 due to budget cuts. That site has been repurposed and is now what Jewish Bermudians and their families, as well as expatriates from the United States, Canada, the U.K., and a dozen other countries, use as home base for the primarily Reform/Conservative community.

And while it was a joy for me to see the bright blue building that now serves as a site for services and social events, I was here to enjoy all of what Bermuda has to offer — and that included a swift and painless plane ride from Philly that took less than two hours.

We were lucky enough to make our first stop the classic and recently restored Fairmont Hamilton Princess. Situated in the island's capital city, the Hamilton Princess, nicknamed by Bermudians as "The Pink Palace," first opened its doors on Jan. 1, 1885. Today, it is one of the crown jewels of this small paradise.

In this completely self-governing British overseas territory, which is proud to maintain its original Brit heritage, you will probably be welcomed by uniformed doormen all dressed up in their unique Bermuda shorts — the only place in the world where they are the national dress for men.

Bermuda shorts — which were created at the turn of the 20th century, originally for British military forces — are appropriately worn with knee-length socks and highly polished loafers with tassels.

After admiring the fashion, we began our stay by enjoying the tradition of afternoon tea. Eventually, we took off to discover more of this tiny island, including the Royal Naval Dockyard. Once dubbed the "Gibraltar of the West," this immense former naval base has something for everyone — from experiencing history at the Bermuda Maritime Museum, to shopping for handmade crafts at the Bermuda Craft Market, to galleries (the Bermuda Clayworks, the Bermuda Arts Centre) and the impressive Aquarium and Zoo.

Built by slave and convict labor, the Dockyard became a strategic outpost for the Royal Navy more than 200 years ago. In fact, British warships set sail from this dock to attack Washington during the War of l812.

In the Pink

If you are especially fit, and in the mood, you can spend an afternoon exploring the South Shore beaches — and their legendary pink sand — which might include taking a walk to Gibb's Hill Lighthouse or strolling along the Rail Trail.

Getting around the island is easy enough with motor scooters, bicycles, taxis, buses and ferries at your disposal. There are no rental cars in Bermuda, and due to a strong environmental commitment, only one car is permitted per household.

Even if you only have a couple of days at your disposal, you'll have time to visit the town of St. George, with its pastel-colored houses, nifty shops and eateries.

The Old State House on Princess Street, dating back to 1621, makes a great backdrop for photographers. So do the stocks used in the 1600s to punish colonists who committed minor offenses. Nearby is the imposing statue of Sir George Somers, the shipwreck survivor credited as Bermuda's founder.

And be sure to stop and smell the flowers, especially those being made into delightful fragrances at the Bermuda Perfumery.

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