Sunday, October 21, 2012

Farewell to Florida

Lots of Art!

Saturday morning the humidity let up a bit and we ventured to downtown Ft. Lauderdale.  It’s a very quaint area with lots of little shops and restaurants.  Saturday marked the first day of the Las Olas Art Festival, where they block off the street and have a juried art fair.  It was amazing to see so many high-end and unique artists here.  So much temptation, but we resisted!

After dinner music
For dinner we walked down to Coconuts…a waterside restaurant that specializes in seafood.  There we tried Stone Crab claws for the first time.  Mmmmm….soooo good!  I can see why they have a limited harvest season…they’re just too delicious for their own good!

Sunday morning was our day to begin the trek back to Decatur.  We weren’t really ready to go but the hotel said we had to leave by ten.  We took Route 1 up through the cities north of Ft. Lauderdale.  Mostly we saw mile after mile of strip malls and auto dealerships.  However, Boca Raton was a little more upscale…must be because Seinfeld’s parents live there?

Got a little excited when we saw the Palm Springs sign…thought we must have made a heck of a wrong turn (not to mention time warp) at Delray Beach.  No…it’s not Palm Springs, CA…..found out today that Florida has a Palm Springs of its own.  We found a cache there and then headed north to Palm Beach Gardens.

There we met up with Bob, a friend of mine since my EIU days.  He’s lived here in Florida for quite some time but this is the first time I’ve made it down to visit.  Good to see him after so long!  I can’t believe I forgot to get a pic of him and his Harley.  Duh!
Gators are well camo'ed!

Onward to the Florida Turnpike and northward bound.  I kept checking out each ditch and waterway along the interstate hoping to catch a glimpse of an alligator.  NONE!  We saw absolutely no gators on this trip even though we visited the Everglades National Park and hiked a trail there.  Now, I’ll never get to teach Mona how to throw a rock at an alligator!  (Whew!)

We also did not see a single dolphin this trip.  Can you believe it?!?!?!  All that time in KeyWest and on the beach and not a single dolphin!  We saw minimal wildlife this trip….well, lots of egrets, cranes, and herons….and many kinds of gulls….and pelicans, my favorite….well, I guess I should say we didn’t see the big critters…dolphins, alligators, crocodiles and panthers.  Guess we’ll have to come back and track them down.

Things are little weird right now....Mona is the one lifting and carrying our bags.  I can't due to doctor's restrictions.  I might just get used to this!  (Update....Mona said I won't!)

Ended up in Valdosta, Georgia.  Had time to eat too much BBQ and are now watching what some might call a “baseball game.”  Doesn’t seem like much of one yet.  Go Cards!!!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ft. Lauderdale and Beyond

Doctor’s orders limited us a little this past week, so we concentrated on just chilling…beach walks, shopping, a couple of movies, Art and light geocaching.  Not a bad gig when you’re in Ft. Lauderdale!

No, we didn't get up there!
We drove down to Miami’s South Beach on Wednesday evening.  Wow, what a totally different vibe than Ft. Lauderdale!  Art Deco buildings throughout and heavy Cuban influence evidenced by Cuban food stands and markets.  Then comes the “vibe” of South Beach…heavy, pulsing, sexy….Yep, that’s here!  We hit a couple of clubs (still following doctor’s orders by not dancing, but enjoying anyway) and dined at one of the many restaurants that line Ocean Drive.  So many great restaurants to choose from, but we ended up at Lario’s on the Beach.  This is Gloria Estefan’s restaurant and features top notch Cuban food.  We dined outside, enjoying excellent food and fantastic views.

South Beach Streetside Dining
Speaking of views….one of the most surprising things we learned about South Beach was that none of the restaurants have a beach view.  Somehow, we both had the impression that when dining on South Beach you had these great views of the beach.  Not.  Instead, there is a little park across the street and then the beach is on the other side of sand dunes lining the beach.  Darn, no beach view!  So we were stuck with watching the people from all over the world showing their stuff, walking up and down Ocean Drive.  Darn!

Driving back to Miami from South Beach is beautiful!  Miami has a beautiful skyline and at night many of the buildings are lit up in purples or reds or whatever other shade of neon that can be imagined!  Highly recommend this drive!  (Keep in mind the following drive from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale on I 95 is a thrilling joy ride all by itself!)
Next morning, Mona wanted breakfast so we walked to a little Italian restaurant a couple of blocks away.  If you follow us on Facebook, you know that Mona wanted poached eggs, so she chose a menu item that said, “Eggs any style.”  She said, “I want my bacon extra crisp, white toast and poached eggs.”    The obviously-just-arrived-from-Italy waiter said, “Si, scrambled.”  Mona said, “No…..poached.”  “Si, scrambled!”  Then Mona tried it a little more slowly, “P..o..a..c..h..e..d.” “Si scrambled.” Was his quick and smiling response.
Me, I had scrambled.

At this point it’s obvious Mona is not happy, which means that shortly I’m not going to be happy, so I jump in to clear this up.  “Sir”, I said while pointing to the pertinent part of the menu.  “See, here where it says “Eggs, any style”?”  “Si”, he replied.  Progress!  “She wants hers poached…kind of like boiled out of the shell.”  He nods his head and I’m sure I’ve got this nailed.  Then he smiled and said, “Scrambled.”  Mona had a cheese omelet.

Friday was my follow-up appointment with the doctor.  Got a good report…still restrictions for two weeks, but did get the okay for the Water Taxi.  Yay!  We headed home to change clothes and to walk the half block to the nearest Water Taxi stop.

The Water Taxi plies the channels in Ft. Lauderdale and Hollywood in small yellow boats, with about 17 stopping points at key tourist spots and shopping areas.  You buy an all-day pass allowing you to hop on and off as much as you like.  The water taxi lets you see what Ft. Lauderdale is all about...water and yachts. There are 300 miles of canals throughout the city; compared that to Venice's 26 miles of canals.  Those canals are a big reason Ft. Lauderdale is called The Yacht Capital of the world, with over 50,000 yachts calling this city home.  

Our first destination was Hollywood Beach.  On the way there we passed by the Bahia Mar Yachting Center where the International  Boat Show will be held next week.  (We wonder if Phil misses this?) The docks there are being rebuilt to host the $3,000,000,000 worth of yachts that will be there next week.  So cool to finally see from the water.  We had already seen much of the marina while geocaching.  (We would have seen more had we not been kicked out by a security guard.)  This is the world’s largest boat show and brings in more money to the area than a superbowl.

Interesting note: You cannot buy a yacht here.  You decide which one you want, negotiate the price, and then off you go in a boat to about 3 three miles from shore.  There you complete the sale, thus avoiding Ft. Lauderdale sales tax.  Always a loophole, isn't there!?

Obstructed View
Price lowered to $18.5 million
We continued to ply the intercoastal waterway in our little yellow taxi boat (they only hold about 40 people) and marvel at the beautiful homes and yachts all around us.  Over there is Barbara Mandrell’s house.  Over there is where Miami Vice was shot. Over there is the house of the lady who founded the Sunglass Huts you see in every mall.  Her house is 32,000 square feet and only two people live in it.  Unfortunately, you couldn’t see the whole house because their new 165 foot yacht was parked in front!  Did you know she started out by selling sunglasses on the beach from a converted hot dog cart?

Our route took us through Port Everglades where our tiny boat was dwarfed by huge cruise ships and giant cargo carriers.  Port Everglades is the second largest cruise ship port in the world, second only to Miami.  Ships and boats are going everywhere in this port but we chugged on, even through a torrential thunderstorm with lighting strikes all around us!

Hollywood Beach is very different from Ft. Lauderdale Beach.  It’s much more laid back and has a wider variety of shops and restaurants.  As we strolled the Broadwalk we spotted a Turkish restaurant.  We had just seen “Taken 2” yesterday and were yearning for some meatballs.  We ordered the kebaps and were happy to see it served just like we remember it from Istanbul.  Yum!

More strolling, more wading in the surf…then it was time to take the Water Taxi home to freshen up.  Then back on board to our downtown restaurant.  On the way, we watched a beautiful sunset and saw home after beautiful home situated on the canals with their yachts moored just steps away from the front door.  We had no idea anything like this existed in the United States! 

Drizzle, Drazzle
Drizzle, Drone
Water Taxi
Take us Home!
Dinner was at the dockside Pirate Republic Bar which had been recommended to us by our Water Taxi guide.  Yeh, the motif was kitschy with its pirate mannequins and live parrots, but wow, the food was awesome!  Great food, great nighttime views of the city and great service all add up to a wonderful dining experience.  Loved it!

Our evening ended with a nighttime cruise back through the canals and intercoastal waterway to our hotel.  About another hundred yachts had arrived while we dined, including the beautiful, $130,000,000 Kismet.  This yacht is more than twice as long as our yard!

It wasn’t long before our little water taxi dropped us off at our hotel.  We've seen a lot today, but now it's time for sleep!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


We began our day with breakfast overlooking the beach.  Sunshine, palms trees, gentle sea breeze….and dollar Bud Lights!  We passed on the Buds, but it’s not often we get offered them for breakfast.

About this time our trip took a little detour.  Back in Key West, while carrying luggage up to our room, I bumped my head pretty hard.  Soon after, I started seeing flashes of light in my right eye, then big floaters, then lots of tiny bubbles in my eye.  Called my STL eye doctor and he told me to get to a retinal specialist.  Found one here in Ft. Lauderdale and we spent six hours at his clinic.  I had a torn and partially detached retina and had laser surgery to fix it.  Activities are a bit limited now…no Bahamas, no boat rides and no bungee jumping.
No matter, we are still in Ft. Lauderdale…the Venice of America.  Ft. Lauderdale has over 300 miles of navigable canals which are sailed by over 50,000 locally-owned yachts.  The canals are part of the inter-coastal waterway and stretch from the Atlantic to the Everglades.  Our balcony overlooks some of the canals and we have an eagle eye view of some of the incredible homes and their private docks.  I had no idea this was here!

On the other side of this hotel is the Atlantic and the Ft. Lauderdale Riverwalk.  A1A is between the hotel and the beach.  On this side of A1A are shops, restaurants and clubs….plenty of places to relax and enjoy.  On the other side of A1A is the beach.  22 miles of beautiful sand and sea! 

We ended our day with watching the sunset from the balcony (Well, actually only Mona watched the sunset…I sat inside with dark glasses on…pretending to be Elwood.)  and then walked down the street to enjoy dinner under the stars.  Gotta love this city!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sunday Drive

The Inn's Back Door
Breakfast was outside on the inn’s patio framed by bamboo and palms and kissed with a gentle sea breeze. Mona keeps telling me not to get used to this. As if!
Remember the Maine!

After breakfast, we strolled a few blocks to the Key West Cemetery. This cemetery has about 100,000 residents compared to Key West’s current population of 30,000. Space is very limited here so many of the graves are in above-ground vaults; sometimes stacked three high. There are a wide variety of residents….lots of Cubans, slaves, ship captains, rich, poor…the cemetery really reflects Key West’s jumble of cultures and peoples. Most interesting to me was the section dedicated to the U.S.S. Maine. Remember that ship? Back in 1898 it was sitting in the Havana Harbor when it exploded, killing almost 300 American soldiers and propelling us into the Spanish American War. Here, in this cemetery, are the remains of 20 of those soldiers, along with a statue dedicated to all of those who lost their lives in that explosion.

Sadly, it was time to leave Key West. We really had a great time here and plan to come back. Thanks to MNM (not us, the other MNM) and JH for all your tips on what to see and do. They really helped!
Luckily, no damage to Red!
There's an Ahinga in there!

The Everglades National Park was our next stop. We didn't spend much time here because of the weather and our desire to get to Ft. Lauderdale before dark. We did take a hike on the Anhinga Trail. We didn’t see any alligators, but we did see an Anhinga. The 3 foot tall bird swims underwater to catch its prey. It looked so strange to see this bird swimming! Later, we saw him perched on a tree with his wings spread, drying them off.  He looked pretty proud of himself!
South Beach

Mona was driving and decided to forego the interstates and drive Route 1 and A1A all the way to our hotel. This route took us through South Beach with all the Art Deco hotels and provided lots of Artsy opportunities as we drove by. This drive is amazing….unbelievable how many cool hotels, condos and yachts line this route! Mile after mile after mile…

We made it to our hotel a little after seven. We’re staying at the Marriott Beachtower right on A1A and the beach. High rise luxury….just a little different from the B&Bs we’ve been staying at recently. We had dinner at a Cajun restaurant adjacent to the hotel and then watched the Cards game. Yes, this condo has a TV!!! (And locks on the doors!!!)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

More Key West

Breakfast here at the Popular Inn requires guest participation, particularly if you want orange juice.   Mona “manned” the juicer for us and then we went outside to enjoyed our fresh squeezed Florida orange juice along with banana bread and fresh fruit.  Great way to start the day!

Afterwards, we walked to the eastern end of the key.  (One of us had already been there this morning to enjoy the sunrise…any guesses as to who?)  There, we visited the southernmost point of the continental U.S., only ninety miles from Cuba.  At that point you stand closer to Havana than to Miami. 

Used a Makita to Drill the hole
All that walking made Mona hungry for her second breakfast, so we stopped at the Six-Toed CafĂ© where all the tables are in the shape of cats’ paws with six toes.   There we had Key Lime Pie which Mona declared was the best Key Lime Pie she ever had…and that’s saying a lot because Mona is a key lime pie expert!

Our next major milestone was truly a milestone….or rather a milepost.  Milepost 0 for U.S. Route 1.  Route 1 begins in Fort Kent, Maine, at the Canadian border and travels almost 2400 miles to this point.  All that distance, just to get here!

Duval Street is just a couple of blocks from Milepost 0 and Mona has been itching to shop…so off we went!  First stop, Crazy Shirts!  Second stop, another Crazy Shirts down the street.  Third stop….you guessed it…back to the first Crazy Shirts.  Is this crazy or what?!?!

Sunrise on Key West
The rest of the day we walked, shopped, ate seafood and then repeated the cycle.  It was a day of sacrifice…all those oysters, conch and shrimp who were sacrificed to satisfy our seafood cravings!  So many seafood restaurants here and so little time!

At 6:00 we headed back to Mallory Square for the sunset.  Again it was a carnival atmosphere but with lots more people than last night.  But no super sunset tonight…too many clouds.  So glad we got the great sunset last night!

Finished the night visiting The Garden of Eden….who knew it was here!?!?  Then a late night dinner at Forgarty’s.  (seafood of course!) 

We love Key West.  This is a new favorite place for us and we plan to come back.  However, we have decided that when we return we will need supervision.  Serious supervision!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Key West

Mona's second sunrise

It was October, 11th, 2012, early in the morning and we were headed east towards Chattanooga, Tennessee.  All of a sudden bright light appeared on the tree line ahead of us.  “OMG, what is it?!?” gasped Mona.  To which I calmly replied, “It’s called a sunrise.”

Yep, Mona was up early.  It was our intent to drive from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to Homestead, Florida in one day.  It was a challenging proposition, especially considering all the construction near Marietta, Georgia.  We had to do several reroutes and a couple of breaks here and there, but we made it in just over 15 hours.  Not a drive we’d like to do every day, but we got a huge head start on our drive to Key West. 

Not many of these in Decatur!
Incredibly, Mona saw her second sunset of 2012 the very next day!  In fact, she thinks that covers 2011 as well.  She saw this one from Key Largo as we began the final trek into Key West.  And, it is a trek.  It takes at least ten hours to traverse Florida, top to bottom, and still another three to make it to Key West.  You have to be committed to get here…or get committed after getting here.

Popular House
We are staying in the Popular House B&B, on William Street, just three blocks off Duval and six blocks from the daily (?) sunset party.  This Victorian home was built in 1898 by Bahamian shipbuilders and is listed in the National Historic Register.  It has eight guest rooms, no TVs, but it does have keys for the rooms!  The rooms have exposed Dade County pine walls and have lots of local art as decoration.  We have our own veranda and can’t wait to enjoy tonight’s stars out there with a glass of wine.

We starting exploring Key West by heading for a restaurant….as usual, Mona was hungry.  Stopped at the Turtle Kraal at the marina and had some great conch fritters, peel-n-eat shrimp and grilled oysters.  We then walked around the wharf, which was “fun” as Mona kept getting distracted by shops, shrimp and shirtless sailors… There's no guardrail, so it was a bit challenging keeping her from falling off the dock, but we made it through and headed for Duval Street.
Chickens on Duval

How to describe Duval Street…hmmmm….kind of like Bourbon Street, but weirder.  Lots of tourists of course, but also lots of unique people in all kinds of “costumes” with dogs, bikes, and…chickens.  Yep, chickens.  We checked out several places that we plan to visit later and then visited Ernest Hemingway’s home.  This was a great little tour, learning lots of tidbits about Hemingway, his life, his loves, his cats.  I think I’ve convinced Mona to let me emulate some of his characteristics and behaviors so I can get this first book finished.  (We haven’t finished negotiating as to exactly which characteristics and behaviors.)

Urinal Water Feature
Need one in our garden?
Ernest was a memorable character…very passionate about everything he did, including his romances as well as his breakups.  Hemingway’s last divorce was pretty tumultuous, to say the least.  One night he got the urinal from his favorite bar and threw it into his ex-wife’s pool.  She was upset, but got the last word on him by converting the urinal to a water fountain.

Afterwards, we wandered back down Duval Street and stopped by Jimmy Buffet’s Margaretville.  There,  Mona found her second favorite rita….after Blue Coyote, but tied with Pure Taqueria in Roswell, Georgia.  Listened to some great music there and then finally checked into our B&B.  Did I tell you about parking in Key West?  The old-town part of the island is jammed with homes, inns and shops.  There is no room for parking lots/parking garages.  You have to drive around, block after block, trying to avoid hitting bicycles, pedestrians, drunken tourists and chickens…hoping to find an unrestricted spot.  Impossible.  Mona took the first fifteen minutes with no luck.  I took the second shift and finally found a place about five blocks away…and considered myself fortunate.  Well, at least I hope I’m fortunate.  Will find out for sure when we try to retrieve the car….assuming we can find it again!

About six o’clock we headed for Mallory Square, on the western point of Key West.  That’s where everyone gathers every night to watch the sunset.  It’s like a carnival, with street performers, food booths (including conch fritters, of course) and lots and lots of people.  Sailboats pass by, with onboard partygoers singing and dancing…..not to mention the sails making for great photos against the setting sun.  We found a spot to sit and enjoyed the fun.  A little local boy was there with his pet spider and we had a lot of fun talking to him and his parents.  He reminded us of Tyler.

Finally, at 7:12 it was time for the big moment.  The sun did not disappoint us and we got to watch an incredible sunset.  No green flash tonight, but there’s always tomorrow night!

Afterwards, it was time to do a little Key West Crawlin’.  We stopped first at Captain Tony’s.  This is in the actual building that Hemingway used to hang out in, but back then it was Sloppy Joe’s.  (This is where he got the infamous urinal from.)  Cool place with live music, but the crawl calls!

Around the corner is Sloppy Joe’s…the favorite hangout of Hemingway.  (Albeit moved a bit.)  Live music that we couldn’t understand and packed, packed, packed with tourists.  Crawlin’ on.

Mona after the crawl.  Not really, it's one of the 45
six-toed cats at Hemingway's home.
Barbossa’s next…or was it Conch Republic, no it was the Rum Barrel…or maybe….hmmmm…..for some reason the names are a bit blurry.  Doesn’t matter…we stopped here and there for a bit of music, an update on the Cards game, or just to relax.  We finally crawled back to our hotel to crash…just like the Cards.  No, wait a minute…..I vaguely remember something about “down to their last out” and….gotta go check out the score!