Category Archives: travel

The Conch Republic

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Southernmost House

We have a family tradition for vacations where we get up before the sun on the very last day and head to somewhere east to watch the sunrise. We started this tradition 7 years ago in Nassau, Bahamas on a small peninsula we dubbed Tortuga Island. I’ve watched the sunrise on most vacations since then from mountains in California to New York City Harbor. My sisters have done it as well in places like Riviera Maya and places in Europe. Therefore, this morning my mom and I set out for the southeastern side of the island for our last sunrise on Key West. It was spectacular, it resulted in my favorite picture of the entire trip. We headed back for breakfast at our B&B, Albury Court-a historic Key West hotel. I definitely suggest this bed & breakfast to anyone. We had a great room with our own private balcony, the staff was phenomenal, they provided breakfast poolside with muffins and bagels from local bakeries and the B&B was secluded yet within walking distance for those who think a mile or less isn’t far. We were able to walk to bum beach, Higgs beach, Duval Street, Truman Annex, the southernmost point and Hemingway’s house all in a short time.

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Leaving the Conch Republic
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The pool at Hemingway’s house

Hemingway’s house was our last tourist stop of the trip. It was a marvelous house with a Great Gatsby feel. Some of the rooms were decorated while others were displays of Hemingway’s old books, pictures and family’s possessions. The house itself was a gift from Hemingway’s wife’s uncle and he purchased the house for only $8,000, you could never buy a house like this with that kind of money. His wife put in a pool one year that replaced his boxing ring, the tour guide said it caused quite the uproar between the two of them because the pool cost over twice as much as the house at $20,000. She also built it during the Great Depression and it was salt water which was a little ironic since the entire island is surrounded by salt water. One of the coolest things was the cats with thumbs. The cats were descendants of Hemingway’s wife’s cat which also had thumbs. Many of the cats were named after old film stars like Charlie Chaplin, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe. I’ve decided after this visit to his house I need to read more than The Old Man and the Sea which was required reading in high school. We spent an hour or two at Higg’s beach and left to seek out some food. We didn’t really know where to go, so I relied on foursquare which led us to Sandy’s Cafe. It was by far my favorite food that we’ve had on the trip. Better than the key lime pie, better than custard, better than my sloppy joe. It’s a small walk up stand with a breakfast bar type seating out front, an open kitchen and chickens running around outside. We loved it. We got a Cuban sandwich to split, with my favorite Cuban bread, and some fries on the side. It was excellent and well worth all the calories. Sadly our trip had to end and I am writing this from the airport, but it was magnificent. I have to give myself a pat on the back for all the planning and a huge thanks to my parents for funding it. My mom was a real trooper for spending 6 days with me and trying all the things I wanted to try. I hope I can travel again soon maybe even back to The Keys. I would love to live in a place of paradise like this even if only for a few years. Maybe someday, I’ll even be a freshwater conch myself.   20140321-162030.jpg

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Trying Out Something New- My First Paddleboarding Trip

20140321-150212.jpgAfter my brooding about the poor weather yesterday morning we went to the beach for a failed attempt to soak up the sun since it was so cold and windy. Instead, we got some lunch at Old Town Bakery, which was delicious, and set out for Hurricane Hole Marina to go paddleboarding at Lazy Dog. Now since my luck was not all that great yesterday, the shuttle bus that was supposed to pick us up never showed so Lazy Dog put us in a cab to the marina. Now my luck really wasn’t going well, so the cab took us to Island Dog until I called and asked what marina Lazy Dog was located in. We got there about 15 minutes late, but set out on our Eco tour with the rest of the group.

At first, I was nervous to stand up, but I got the hang of it and so did my mom. We had a fairly easy time on the way out of the marina since the wind was to our backs. We got to see sea stars, upside down jellyfish, sea hairs, sponges, iguanas, herons and pelicans. This was the most animals I’ve seen on the island since we arrived. We had debated on going paddleboarding on our own, but Lazy Dog did an excellent job showing us around Key West’s ecosystem and giving us a little background of the island. Now the way back into the marina was a completely different story. We had to deal with boat wakes that would knock you right into the water and a harsh wind pushing us in the opposite direction. We did get to go through these little creeks of mangroves that was probably the coolest part. The last stretch back to the marina was the hardest, I made it with a little struggle on my knees along with the three other paddle boarders. However, my mom was not so lucky. I had turned around to go back to where she was because she had fallen behind quite a bit and then a big boat wave came by. I quickly got down and yelled to my mom to do the same, but she didn’t and sure enough, plop right in the water. Of course I was hysterically laughing just because it was one of those I told you so moments. The only thing about the paddleboarding I did not like is I have no photos to share. It was a great experience and I can’t wait to do it again.

Once we got back to the hotel, I took a nice nap and then got ready for dinner. A colleague of my dad’s suggested Harpoon Harry’s so that became our destination. It was delicious, I had pot roast over mash potatoes and my mom had a Cuban sandwich. The waitress was very attentive and friendly. I also now am in love with Cuban bread. After diner we headed back to Mallory Square for another sunset and some more street performances. This sunset was as beautiful as the last and less cloudy, but we didn’t have as good of seats. There was a new performance called the Red Trouser Show, put on by two boys about my age. I was very impressed and they said they even travel all around the world to make their living (pictures below).

We ended our night with a walk up Duval Street to Kohr’s custard for some peanut butter custard and it was delicious. After stopping in a few more stores, trying out some sea salt scrub we headed home ending our night by the pool in the warm Florida Keys air.

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Another Day, Another Island

20140321-143144.jpgWe woke up in Islamorada yesterday with partly cloudy skies, packed the car and headed out on our way to Key West. Our hotel in Islamorada, Creekside inn, the one features on hotel impossible was delightful. I really enjoyed it. The deck out back by the creek or channel was very peaceful, the pool was nice, the rooms were clean and updated and the staff was friendly. I would recommend Creekside Inn to people looking for a quiet place that is budget friendly.

So, on our way down to Key West we debated on stopping at Curry Hammock State Park, but decided against it since it was only I quick stop on our way and was still costly to get in. That’s one thing we’re not used to, being from Ohio, all of our state parks are free to enter. So we were on our way to Key West again and I named every island as we passed over it. It was fun seeing the names of all the keys. There was even an Ohio Key, which despite my best efforts I never found out why it was called that.

We arrived at our hotel shortly before noon, to see that our room was already ready, took our bags up and returned the rental car. The traffic was a little crazy in Key West, with the mix of pedestrians, drivers, and bikers so we were more than happy to get rid of the car. We started to walk back to the hotel, but diverted to the visitor center. There the lady convinced us to do a hop on hop off train ride around the city. While the information was informative and interesting, the train was not hop on hop off. We were stuck on that thing for over a half hour and it was a waste of our money. We had done a hop on hop off before in Halifax, but this was far from the same.

After the awful train, we walked through some of the Duval Street shops and ate at Sloppy Joe’s. Sloppy Joe’s Sloppy Joe was very good and so was my Key West Sunrise Ale. The bar wasn’t exactly what I expected. This was supposedly the bar Hemingway hung out at so when I heard Katy Perry and Pitbull blaring thought the speakers I was surprised. None the less the food was good and the people watching even better.

For more people watching we went over to Mallory Square. Now that was some good people watching. There were fire dancers, stilt walkers, guys jumping through hoops and riding on unicycles. My favorite was an old man singing reggae music very close to where we sat to watch the sun go down. It was extremely peaceful listening to him and he had a very calming voice. Although we are on vacation, our day was long and tiring so we stopped by the Key Lime Pie Factory for some pie and headed back to the hotel. I’m very excited for today’s plan after my run to the southern most point we get to relax and then Paddleboard this afternoon!

 

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Rainy day in Islamorada

I started this morning on the back deck looking out over the channel with a cup of joe and knee deep in Divergent. Then it started to drizzle and then it poured. My ideal morning had to be taken inside and we decided to head to breakfast. The hotel were staying in, which I found out was on hotel impossible, provides two vouchers for breakfast at the restaurant next door. It’s a small restaurant and our choices were limited, but it was satisfactory and had good coffee.

The rain stopped soon enough and we headed out to check out some of the sights in Islamorada. First stop was the Rain Barrel Artisans Village, a little group of local artists selling artwork, sculptures, jewelry and some souvenirs. The owners of the little shops were excited to talk to us and hear where we were from. There were a lot of cool things, some expensive some cheap. We ended up walking out with turtles made from shells, a ring, 4 air plants and seashells to match. I was really excited about the air plants because it is my gift for my sisters as well as my new desk plant. They are really simple little plants that you only mist to keep alive. We stopped at one other little shop very similar where I found a Florida Keys coffee mug (making me a huge tourist) and some little pieces of coral.

Next stop was at Robbie’s Marina. There are lots of things to do from jet skiing to paddle boarding and I had heard a lot of goods things about it. The weather still wasn’t ideal so we walked through the shops and headed over to watch people feed the tarpon. I wasn’t keen on the idea of feeding dead fish to other fish for $3 so we paid the $1 a person to go see them. I thought it was a little ridiculous that it cost money just to look, but these fish were HUGE. Some of them had to be 6-7 feet long and one thing is for sure I would not want to be in the water where those creepy things were. It was a little of a disappointment not to be able to do the paddle boarding, but I hope to do it in Key West.

A quick stop at Anne’s Beach to see the sand crabs, salamanders and hermit crabs in their natural habitat and then back to the hotel. My mom was starving so picked a random place on the way back and decided to stop for some fresh fruit. We stopped at Midway Cafe and my mom was in love. She said this was her favorite place we’ve been to so far and if we were staying longer, she would absolutely come back. We had some fresh fruit to split and watched the cars go by.

On our way back the clouds cleared around 3 and we were able to sit by the pool to get a little sun. We got ready for dinner and headed to see the big mermaid at Lorelei’s. This place was pretty cool and with the right weather would be a great time. We sat right down at the beach, ordered a mango daiquiri and our food and waited. We watched the sun go down through an overcast sky and listened to Harry French, the entertainment for the night, and waited. We didn’t get our food for over 40 minutes and barely saw our server. The food was good and in the right atmosphere we would have been more willing to wait, but we were cold, tired and sober. If I could do it again I would come back with friends and stay awhile for drinks.

All in all, Islamorada was a fun little island to relax on and enjoy the island life.

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Adios Miami, Hello Key Largo

This morning’s adventures began with a second trip to the Art Deco district of Miami. I felt like we had missed out on a lot of the buildings since it was so crowded and almost undriveable, so we set our sights on Ocean Drive yet again. It was definitely worth it to go back and see the architecture, however we definitely needed a tour guide. I’ve decided I need to make my way back to Miami someday and take on Miami with a local.

After Miami, we made the drive to the first island, Key Largo. I was more than excited to finally set foot on the Florida Keys. We spent only a couple of hours in Key Largo in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. The history behind the name was definitely impressive. John Pennekamp helped to preserve the coral reefs and start the state park itself. Seeing all the mangrove trees and walking the boardwalks was pretty cool. A kayaking tour through them would definitely had been worth it. Although, since we brought our own snorkel gear with us, we set out for cannon beach to check out some coral reefs. It was quite comical seeing my mom attempting to swim around, breathing through a snorkel. My mom is one of ode women who barely gets her feet wet and heaven forbid her hair.

As far as the actual coral reefs and things we saw I have to admit, it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting. Seeing the cannons from the shipwreck was neat and apparently there was an anchor out there as well, but there was an overwhelming about of people trying to see the same thing and they didn’t warn you about the sudden drop off right in the middle. I was not ready for it at all and it honestly just caused me to have overwhelming anxiety of open water and the idea of what’s down there I couldn’t even put my face in the water. This coming from an extremely experienced swimmer with years of practice. We didn’t see the bright colors I’ve seen in other snorkel excursions like St. Thomas, Dominica and St. kitts. That was a little disappointing it being a coral reef park, but we still had a great time.

After some well deserved time on the beach, we jumped back in the car and headed to Islamorada. The hotel we are staying in seems really nice so far. I’ll have to check in and see if I think that still after two nights stay. The channel it sits on is definitely cool and we’ve seen more wild life here than we did all day at the state park. There’s little jellyfish swimming around, lots of fish, mad pelicans just floating down the channel. Dinner at the Island Grill was excellent and we got to spend some time hanging on the back porch looking out over the lit up channel. Tomorrow is a big day with lots of adventures that hopefully won’t be held up by the storm that’s supposed to come through. Wish us luck!

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First stop, Miami

20140316-232029.jpgMy travels began this morning around 6:30, getting up to head to the airport for our flight to Miami. I had never been this far south in Florida, but I was so excited to leave the 20 degree weather at home and head for the sunshine state. My mom got a little uneasy on the plane, but overall we had a great flight to Miami. Seeing all the palm trees as soon as I landed was amazing and finally made this trip feel real. The Miami roadways were a bit confusing and caused a little tension among the two of us, but we made it to our hotel in Sunny Isles.

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After a trip to Publix for some snacks, we headed to the pool. I did not expect all the “elderly” with tans 5 shades darker than mine or the amount of energy they had. They were absolutely hilarious and were having a ball. I was slightly envious of their ability to dance and sing to the music, when I don’t feel like I had the energy to move from my lounge chair after my day of travel. They were great, all of them, whoever they are.

Our little glimpse of Miami from I-95 wasn’t enough for me, so we headed to South Beach. It was a little more of a trip than I anticipated. When booking our hotel, I thought I had booked it much closer to the city center, but it was quite the haul. We headed for the Art Deco district to check out some cool architecture and found ourselves in almost stand still traffic in the heart of South Beach. People told me it was extravagant in Miami, but I wasn’t ready quite ready for the throngs of people with barely there outfits. Some people were dressed to the nines in their South Beach best, while other wore barely their bikinis and speedos.

Amongst the people we did get to see some of the buildings, but I mostly noticed the high end stores and quarter of million dollar cars. I have a love for fine things, especially cars. The abundance of Maseratis, Bentleys, and even a Phantom made my mouth water. Although I don’t care for them very much, it was still really cool to see the Kardashian’s newest Dash store right on Collins. Our frustration with traffic and parking being $50 made us drive right through to about 65th street to a little Cuban restaurant called Sazon Cuban Cuisine name it was excellent. My Cuban club was a little different, but good however my moms shredded pork sandwich was delicious. It made me very jealous. We stopped in to Moises Venezuelan bakery for dessert and headed back to the car. We ended our night with a moonlight walk on the beach that was lit up by a very very bright moon. Tomorrow our adventure continues on the first island of the keys in Key Largo. Until then.

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Driving down Collins into the Art Deco district
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Cuban Club from Sazon
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Dash Miami