Trinidad: Beyond My Hotel Room

I am finishing up my fourth trip to Trinidad and, finally, I can say that I got the opportunity to see more of Port-of-Spain than the confines of my hotel. I have been coming here for a little over a year to conduct workshops on a variety of topics relating to information and records management. On most trips I have been limited to eating, sleeping and working within the confines of the Normandie Hotel, a historic property located near the Prime Minister’s residence in the capital of this tropical country.

View when Dining al fresco at Normandie Hotel

The place is clean and friendly even though it lacks a certain charm that one would expect from a restored property, and is considered one of the oldest hotels in Trinidad. It offers free Internet access for guests and the Caio Restaurant on premise is quite good – the Cafe, which is open for breakfast and lunch is less appetizing but okay.

So it was with pleasure that I was treated to dinner and a very informal short night tour of downtown Port-of-Spain by one of the partners in the business that brings me into the country to do the seminars. First, one should understand that the country is really called Trinidad and Tobago. Tobago is considered the tropical paradise that caters to tourists. Trinidad, lying just about eight miles off the coast of Venezuela, is an oil and gas stronghold and more business-focused than touristy with few beaches that one would consider beautiful (or at least that’s according to the residents that live there). So the sites to see in Port-of-Spain are more historical and business-oriented rather than a vision of tropical beauty.

There is no denying that the vista of Port-of-Spain from the Overlook is impressive and I have been able to take in that view to and from the airport on several occasions. But you are looking at office buildings and tankers in the harbor – not palm trees and cottages.

View from Overlook

The cuisine of Trinidad reflects its motley cultural roots including African, East Indian, Latin and British influences with rotis, root vegetables, rice, chicken and spicy seafood typical fare at many locations (though I haven’t seen this many KFCs per mile since our trip to China). So when I was treated to a dinner at Chaud I was really impressed with how the fusion of these influences was taken up a notch to produce a really memorable meal. The service was excellent at this white tablecloth establishment with each of us presented with a purse hangar for our purses to keep them off the floor (not to keep, of course, but useful just the same). I own several of these but failed to bring one with me for the evening so it was a welcome service.

The complimentary Broccoli Truffle soup amuse that was presented before dinner was less appealing. I hate broccoli so immediately turned it down but my host ate it and her review was that even though she liked broccoli this was not a tasty treat. Luckily the rest of the meal was delightful. I ordered a lamb with herb spaetzle dish while my host ordered a roast pork and sautéed shrimp combination. For dessert she ordered a coconut ice cream while I ordered a Creme Brûlée Napoleon, a layered version of the standard dessert with pastry tiered custard and a caramel maple ice cream on the side. Decadent and delicious.

Our view of the Savannah, an expanse of parkland in the middle of this metropolis was relaxing and we watched the joggers and walkers pass by as we dined and conversed.

After dinner we headed for downtown which is a mixture of the modern and colonial architectures of the island. The Parliament building was under scaffolding but it was nice to see that many of the old churches were being maintained or restored. Just about every international bank you can think of is represented here and because it was evening this part of the downtown area was relatively quiet.

We then drove to an area of reclaimed land along the shoreline that has become a shopping and movie area called Green Park. How “green” it is in the ecological sense may be debated but it was bustling with activity. This was a good sign since the curfew, that had been instituted in late August when the Prime Minister issued a State of Emergency on key areas of Trinidad, had just been lifted. It was instituted to fight a gang crime wave but it was still debated by many on the island as to whether or not it was the right thing to do or just a political ploy. Either way it has been lifted in time for Christmas celebrations that, apparently, the Trinis take seriously. Christmas decorations were already well established on the second week of November and Caribbean Christmas tunes were a regular staple on the radio.

Back on our short excursion we continued our drive to the northern shores of the city, where the more upscale residences are located, for a quick look at the environs of the well-heeled of Port-of-Spain and then on to drive through the St. James district. According to my host, this funky area, with restaurants, bars, food stands and nightclubs, is usually teeming with activity. It was indeed more populated and noisy than the other areas we visited but not as busy as usual, according to my guide. Even so, it looked like this was the place to be if you were looking for some serious nightlife.

We then headed back in the direction of my hotel but on the way we passed the “Magnificent 7”, a series of large old colonial residences with significant historical value. It was a little hard to see some of them in the dark because a few were going through restoration but they were undeniably magnificent ornate structures with unique decorative elements and some pretty impressive towers. It’s a shame that I didn’t get a chance to see these during daylight, but I am generally working during that time so I was happy to see anything besides my hotel while I was on this trip.

We are making plans for doing more seminars in Trinidad next year so, hopefully, I’ll get a chance to see more of this interesting country.

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