Capitals, cities, towns, villages, neighbourhoods. We all come from somewhere and it’s time to meet each others’ hometowns and who knows, we might put some new places that we have never heard of on our bucket list! In this post, we hear from Abbie about her home on the island of Bermuda, the British Overseas Territory in the North Atlantic Ocean.
1. Who are you, how long have you been living in the Netherlands and why did you move here?
I’m Abbie Caldas. I’ve been in the Netherlands for 2 years, first living in The Hague and now in Haarlem. I came to the Netherlands with my husband, mainly because it’s a nice place. 🙂 After travelling for a few years, we felt the Netherlands offers what we both wanted. He got a job offer and I started a course at Leiden University. I now work remotely for the Global Ecovillage Network and Gaia Education, so I can live anywhere.
2. What’s your hometown and where is it? Where you born there? How long have you lived there?
I was born in Smith’s parish, on Bermuda, which is a tiny island (a British Overseas Territory) in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s technically not part of the Caribbean, as it is a lot more north than most people think. Because it’s so small and remote, we often reference the coordinates – 32° N, 64° W – or a more common understanding is that it’s a 2 hour flight from New York. I lived my first 15 years there and have actually lived most of my life in other places, apart from 5 years after I got married. Still, it is always my home, as my whole family still lives there and I return often.
3. Is it a big city or a small town? What is the population? How far is it from the main city/capital?
Geographically, Bermuda is a series of 180 islands, though many are connected by bridges, covering 54 km2. It’s shaped kind of like a fish hook and is actually under 3 km at the widest point. The population is about 65,000 people with not much density in certain areas, but a general spread. The capital is Hamilton which is right in the middle of the island, only about 70 hectares and is 100% commercial space, no one lives there.
4. What are some things in Bermuda that are part of history? Is anyone famous from there?
Due to its location between Europe and the Americas, it was (and still is) a stopping point on trans-Atlantic journeys. It was first discovered in the early 1500s, uninhabited, by the Spanish, which is where its name comes from. But because they didn’t stay, 100 years later, it was settled by the British, who came across it during a relief mission taking supplies to New England. Two ships got caught in a hurricane and wrecked on the island. They liked it so much they stayed for a year and then brought more people to settle it. The early history has a lot of privateering (pirates) because of the location and ship building style.
One of the biggest historical scandals was in 1775 when Bermuda (a British colony) helped the Americans secure gunpowder, betraying the UK and helping the American Revolution. It’s a complex and controversial story called the Gunpowder Plot.
As for famous people, Mary Prince authored the first account of a black woman born into slavery published in the UK. On a more positive note, there’s Johnny Barnes, who is the highlight of a short documentary called Mr Happy Man. Heather Nova, Mishka, and Collie Budz are Bermudian musicians. Maybe the most famous celebrities who have a home there are Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
5. What is your favourite season in Bermuda and why?
Autumn is beautiful because there’s finally relief from the hot and humid summer, yet we can still enjoy swimming and boating. The air is crisp and the evenings are long. It is hurricane season though, so that’s a different type of excitement.
6. What is the happiest memory you have from your hometown?
Mostly my positive memories are from being in nature. It is small and relatively densely populated, but I feel we’ve done well with conservation and the culture appreciates and celebrates our sub-tropical gifts. We have beautiful forest trails to explore, incredible sailing and snorkelling (also in the shipwrecks!), and of course the pink sandy beaches. Sunrises and sunsets are gorgeous and a lot of my childhood was spent adventuring and camping.
7. Do you miss Bermuda? What do you miss the most?
Of course I miss my family, who I think will never want to leave. Probably like most expats, I miss the feeling of not needing to figure out how/why things are different. But that’s not to do with my hometown specifically. I miss certain traditions like flying kites on Good Friday, the Bermuda Day Parade which is colourful and a welcome change of pace from the chilled out vibe, and going swimming on New Year’s Day. I also really miss the colours. Where we have the flower fields and beautiful sunsets here sometimes, in Bermuda there is always turquoise water, pink sands and tropical trees against stunning purple sunsets.
8. What do you like most about your hometown? What would you like to change about it?
I like and dislike the same thing in a way, it depends – I really like how everyone is super friendly, no matter what. You’re sure to get a greeting and a genuine inquiry about how you and your family are doing when walking down the street. In fact, as a kid I remember the bus driver would not continue driving until everyone on the bus was greeted. I like that everyone takes care of each other, most notably seen during hurricanes. I like that I can directly call people I know working in services I need and it doesn’t feel anonymous. However, it can also be annoying to not have any anonymity and for so many people to so often be concerned with each other. People tend to get caught up in the small stuff. When I first moved to London, I loved the freedom of not having to say hi to every single person I passed, worried that they’d think I was rude. So related to that, I’d like to change that there were more expats there! It is increasing for sure, and since returning home I’ve really enjoyed building my international network. But I think as a community, we benefit hugely from this flux of ideas and perspectives and I wish people would be more welcoming and open minded to different ways of life. Again, because it’s so small, teenagers and young adults can enter the workforce with an unhelpful sense of entitlement (because there’s not much competition) and I wish there were more opportunities for them to spend time abroad to push their comfort zones and skill-sets, and of course appreciate the finer things of home.
9. Do you think you will return to live there one day? Why or why not?
When I first left, I really never thought I would return home to live, not because I disliked it, but because there was so much more I wanted to see in the world. However, after getting married and having a death in the family, I re-discovered that sense of wanting to be near family and I spent some time there again. While it was a beautiful time in our lives, we quickly outgrew it and I don’t see us living there for my same initial reasons: we love exploring and have so many places we want to get to know. It’s also nice to slowly feel settled here and invite family to visit us and explore our new home in the Netherlands. Plus, it’s still a bit too old-fashioned and doesn’t necessarily fit the work we do and the way we want to live.
10. How often do you visit your hometown and how do you spend your days there?
I used to try to go once a year, usually around the holidays. Then it alternated with my husband’s home, Brazil, and then some of my family and friends’ holidays enabled me to re-connect with them in new places. So the last time was 2 years ago to help mum mum after a minor surgery. When I’m home, life often revolves around my brothers’ children (they’re 5, 9 and 12 years) as my parents love being grandparents too. I meet up with old friends and generally relax and rejuvenate, trying not to be too lazy and get out in nature as much as I can.
11. What are the main attractions in Bermuda and what would be your personal recommendations?
Obviously there’s a lot to do relating to the ocean. Most tourists like to go to the beaches, and they are beautiful. Beyond that, you can go snorkelling or sailing. In the spring, it’s an amazing thing to go whale watching – you can get quite close to the humpbacks and hear them communicate! Kite surfing is growing and hardcore surfers get good swell in autumn. (I love to tell the story of my husband hitting the front page of the newspaper in his first month there for surfing during a hurricane!) I like to take my visitors on a horse ride along the trails. As I mentioned earlier, there is a unique history, so museums can also be interesting. The arts scene is also opening up, so there are galleries and open mic events, etc. Locals are super welcoming, so any opportunity to get to know the culture is always enjoyed as it’s a cool mix between British, American and Caribbean.
12. What are the main traditions, festivals, traditional food and drink of your hometown?
New Year’s Day always has the beach packed! Bermuda Day is in May and there’s a very Caribbean influenced parade (kind of like carnival). In August, there is ‘cup match’ which is a 4-day cricket tournament where the whole island shuts down and a line is drawn down the middle for people to support their teams. Even non-sporty people cannot avoid it. There are many parties and events around that time. Personally, I don’t find the food that interesting, as it really is influenced by British, American and Caribbean culture, so it depends what you like. But we do have our own rum (Gosling’s Black Seal), which is great in cocktails.
13. Do you find any similarities with Haarlem and Bermuda? What is the biggest difference between them?
Not really! I think the biggest difference with the Netherlands generally is the efficiency. In Bermuda, people are totally fine with being slow and often with an attitude that clocks don’t matter. You can sometimes only get things done if you know someone. Here, although we sometimes complain about the bureaucracy and high taxes, it feels like they have a clear plan and stick to it. Also, in comparison to people being a bit overly polite (and feeling kind of fake sometimes), I quite like the Dutch directness.
Thank you Abbie for introducing us to your unique island, Bermuda!
We are looking forward to hearing about other expats’ hometowns! Just go to our questionnaire copy and paste the questions, fill in your answers and submit them via Facebook Messenger or by sending an email to email@example.com. If you also wish to share some photos of you and/or your hometown, please do so!
The idea is for expatsHaarlem readers to get involved and share insights about their hometowns