Back a few days from another wonderful trip to St. Martin. For the second year in a row we spent the last two weeks of July on the island. It seems like an ideal time. Things are not too crowded but almost everything is open. It was a pretty quiet trip … no excursions. Beach gravity was very strong this year.

Flights: We flew Delta from JFK. Flights up and down were on time, maybe even a few minutes early leaving the gate. Full plane on the way down, a few open seats (including the middle seat in my row) on the way back. Had FF miles for one ticket. The price on the other was not bad. I’m somewhat distressed that non-stop options are now very limited out of New York. But we met a couple from Alberta and they detailed their Alberta to Toronto to Charlotte to SXM route and I felt a lot better.

Upon return, immigration was quick (no X’s through our pictures after an 8 minute walk from the gate). But customs was a disaster. There were only four agents screening many, many hundreds of people. The line snaked around a baggage carousel before going into the maze of rope lines. One and a half hours from touchdown to exiting the airport.

Car Rental: Good old Lesley was there to meet us on arrival. Presented us with a newish white compact with a keyless ignition. It was my first experience with such technology. I panicked a bit the first time I tried to start it until I realized you must step on the brake while pushing the start button.

Accommodations: This was at least our 14th year at the Grand Case Beach Club. For the first time an several years there was no construction going on at the club. They have completed (for the moment) renovation of the rooms in all of the buildings. We had a second-floor one-bedroom oceanview. It was perfect for us. We arrived before the room was ready so we headed for the Sunset Café for a late lunch. By the time we were done the room was ready. All the staff --- front desk, security, housekeeping, maintenance, gift shop, restaurant, were pleasant, friendly and most accommodating.

Activities: The day after we arrived was the Grand Case Fair and Schoelcher Day – marking the end of slavery. So Grand Case was abuzz. We walked into town in the morning and after our usual route around town took up a post in front of G’s Snacks and watched a modest parade featuring drum bands and local politicians. That night there was a short but impressive fireworks display which we were able to watch from the balcony of our room.

We spent half a morning in Marigot, mostly shopping for gifts for the folks back home. Another day was dedicated to Simpson Bay for lunch at Pineapple Pete’s, a ride on the carousel and drinks at the Crazy Cow – across from the airport. We had intended to have drinks at the Pink Iguana but the bar maids had not arrived and the owner was otherwise occupied. Turned out to be in our favor because the Crazy Cow and Alex the bartender were great.

Beaches: Spent three days on the Club O beach. The final day there was a bit of seaweed floating around. Beach was well-populated but not crowded. And there is nothing that compares with standing in line with a bunch of naked strangers to score cheap alcohol at the Perch Happy Hour!

For the first time we tried Dreams. What a wonderful place! We'll be back.

We spent a day at Mullet and I don't know why we have not gone there more often. The water was warm and calm and perhaps the clearest I've seen any water.

Meals: I didn’t keep a log but we didn’t have a bad meal while we were there. Among the places we visited: Sky’s the Limit (unsurprising, reliable lolo fare); Sunset Café (Very nice lunch); Zin It (Nice casual dining); Pedro’s (overrated but one of the few places available right now); Paradise View (Great crepes); Calmos (Feet in the sand); Papagayos (First time we had eaten there (lunch). Very good); Lotterie Farm (The main dining room. Good food); Rosies Ribs (As good as advertised); Piazza Pasqual (Good food and delightful folks); Le Ti Coin Creole (A very pleasant place.); Rainbow and finally Le Soleil (Our favorite. We always save it for the last night and it did not disappoint).

Observations: The island is very brown. We experienced a couple of very brief downpours the first couple of days. But what’s needed are several days of steady rain.

The (relatively) new causeway continues to be a great shortcut to the French side from the airport.

We could tell the difference in prices with the dollar at $1.08 - $1.10 to the Euro. Much better than a few years ago, especially in the French side groceries.

We enjoyed walking into and around Grand Case almost every day, especially getting off the main boulevard and onto the side streets where we bought fruit from street vendors. But I long for the days gone by when it was possible to walk from the Beach Club to Le Petit Hotel on the beach all the way. Beach erosion remains evident.

It will be interesting to see what the new Orient looks like. There was pile driving going on at the newly cleared area just beyond Pedro’s.

Sorry I have rambled on so long.