Thursday, December 1, 2011

Birthday Bliss

We’re in Curaçao, definitely NOT our most favorite place, and it is my birthday. We did drive around the island previously and nothing really stood out. It has been raining for days, but we might get lucky this day. It sure is enormously hot and humid so far. What do we do? First thought: take the bus to the capital Willemstad and from there another one to Christoffel National Park to go hiking. But, who wants to sweat all day on their birthday?

Second thought: take the bus to Willemstad, wait for a long time to catch the once every two hours bus to the beach of Grote Knip, 45 minutes away. That sounds better on a hot day, but what if it rains by the time we get there? Wait a minute, why would we go through all this hassle to spend a couple of hours on a mediocre beach, while we live on a sailboat, anchored off a beach more often than not?

Third thought: going to the movies in the capital – good in rainy and hot conditions (hurrah for air conditioning!). No waiting for buses or feeling stuck. Now we’re getting somewhere...

Without a decent plan, we take the dinghy ashore and mosey over to the bus stop. I had one request for the day: no stress and no rush… In Willemstad, we stroll through the shopping streets and then cross the pedestrian bridge to Otrobanda on the other side of the river. Mark had seen an impressive pool in a certain hotel the previous weekend and we decide to check it out. It is a bit tricky to find the place, but after entering the casino and taking the elevator to the second floor, pretending we know what we are doing, we find ourselves on a manmade beach with clean towels, comfy recliners and two infinity pools: one saltwater one and – my preference – a chlorine watered one. I change and plunge in. That’s more like it! When we want to order one of those fancy colorful touristy drinks and realize you need a room card, it is time to go…

Homemade lunch on a shady bench in the shopping district and then we check out the other fancy hotel in the area, the Kura Hulanda. There is a slave museum, but the entrance fee is a bit steep. We save the money to use it for something else later and explore the interesting grounds of the hotel, which is basically a restored, historical neighborhood. There is a maze of little alleys that bring you to a marble garden, decorated rooms, tiny museums, outdoor eating areas, patios or swimming pools set in tropical gardens. Shall we change into swimwear again? The rooms are housed in the restored buildings spread all over the area. Plants (and mosquitoes) are ever present and it is easy to get lost. Quite an amazing place, a refreshing oasis in the city and we’d recommend anybody with (a lot of) money to stay here!

After a torrential downpour, we move to a fancy restaurant/bar, still in Otrobanda, to spend our museum money on elegant cocktails. The view over to Punda (the world heritage site and main center of Willmestad) is great, even though the sky is grey. We’re used to that by now and could get used to behaving like tourists, just wandering about and having cocktails at will!

It’s 3:30pm. Too early for cocktails (wait a minute…) or dinner or happy hour or an ice cream at McDonalds, since I just devoured a Pina Colada. Let’s check out the movie theater on the other side of the river… By the time we get there and look at what’s in store, all the movies had started up to an hour before. We don’t like to wait in the cinema for another hour – even though it has AC – and feel good about saving yet another $14. More drinks later! We return to one of the quiet courtyards we had discovered before and have a modest, but too expensive drink outside. The chairs are dry by now.

I can’t believe we missed the fact that it is past 5pm. There must be a happy hour somewhere? We pack up and by coincidence we pass this upscale Spanish looking bar with a very friendly bar tender. He states something about 2NAF beers, 4NAF wine and 6NAF cocktails (the equivalent of about $1, $2 and $3) from 4pm to 7 pm… Why aren’t there more people here? We get comfy inside and take advantage of the good prices, the excellent service and the happy moods. Mark sticks to beer, so I can have my fancy girly drinks: a Pisang Ambon and the chef’s own creation, the “Atea” (his name), a three layered drink consisting of green Curaçao, a mixture of rum, apricot nectar and orange juice and red wine on top, if I remember it right. Delicious and a great way to move to wine later. The only negative? A non-stop video on TV about Michael Jackson. It had me all excited, singing and couch swaying a few times. Fun and funny, but I’m not sure Mark agrees.

Our last stop before the grand finale of dinner is Iguana Café. Yes, you can eat iguana here, but we take a seat near the river, the lights of Otrobanda in the background, to order a beer and glass of wine. The atmosphere is ideal and the terrace is filled with tourists and locals alike. This has to be the best happy hour place in town. We debate having another one, but we have no idea what dinner would bring and we have a bus the catch (the last one) at 10 pm, so we move on. A good decision!

Scampi’s is the restaurant we pick to settle down on the wooden deck near the ocean. They have a whole array of dishes mainly focused on … seafood and the prices are reasonable.  After a while our waitress shows up to take our order. Mark starts with “It must be confusing with all these languages on Curaçao?” She responds with “You want a few more minutes, OK” and leaves. Ten minutes later, she scribbles our orders on a crumbled pad. I throw in a glass of Pinot Grigio and she takes off again, while Mark’s about to say “a beer for me, please”, so no beer. And no wine either. Even after asking for it again 20 minutes later. Nothing happens for a while, apart from everybody else around us being served, Then, our waitress comes to our table and hands us the menus, asking whether we want to drink something… We have a hard time not cracking up, but it isn’t all that funny, knowing that we are starving and that our bus will leave in less than an hour. “You’re kidding, right?” Mark says. She turns around and disappears. Then, she reappears to confirm that I want a Pinot Grigio… It finally shows up!

After sitting in the outdoor restaurant for an hour without any food, Mark finds the manager to tell her what’s going on. We receive a different, very friendly and capable waitress and from now on it’s bliss! She is very attentive (the manager keeps an eye on our table) and tells us the drinks are on the house and a discount will be applied to the bill. Time to order another drink (and Mark’s "first")! When I mention the Pino Grigio, she says they cannot be ordered by the glass and leaves me wondering what I was drinking and how to get a second one. The food arrives and it is all very delicious and filling. All of a sudden a second portion of fries shows up. On the house! It looks like a reject and there is no way we can finish it all. We feel like kings, eat and drink and thoroughly enjoy it all. When the bill arrives, it is a pleasant surprise and we regret being too full for dessert.  And so my birthday - a funny one - ends, with a quiet bus ride home at 10pm, cruiser’s bed time.

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