Friday, June 27, 2008

From Tobaccoville to Key West - And Home Again
It's time to wrap up this travelogue. I can go on and on, can't I ?!
Sunday, June 8, was nice and relaxing. After a little breakfast, we went to CVS and developed a few pictures. From there we went to see a movie, What Happens in Vegas. Very funny. Then a little walk on Lincoln Road and into some of the shops. If you like to walk, Miami Beach is a great place to live/visit. Walking is generally easier than finding a parking space for your car, and it's definitely cheaper than owning a car.
Having said that, we took a local bus to the Haitian restaurant Tap Tap (pronounced Top Top) for a delicious supper. This picture was taken when I was there in 2005:

We had to try all of our favorites, so we ordered one of each of the following and shared: soup joumou (pumpkin soup) with bread for dunking, of course; tomato and avocado salad; and akra (fried malanga - look it up on - and that's just the hors d'oeuvre! Oh, and let's not forget the rum punch made with real Haitian rum and about a zillion kinds of fruit. And here comes the entree: grilled grouper with lime sauce, banan pese (fried plantain), and rice and beans. Please groan with us. We were so full, we had to forgo dessert. Even as I write it, I don't believe it - but it's true!!
Our walk home included a stroll on the beach (and lots of groaning).

On Sunday morning we went to The Front Porch on Ocean Drive for a late breakfast. We sat outside and it actually rained a few drops while we were waiting for our French toast and fruit.
We love to eat, don't we??!! Here we were in this quite fancy cafe and this is a sign that was posted in the restroom: I just HAD to take a picture :-)
We had a leisurely walk home, I finished packing, we lazed around a little more, and then it was off to the Fort Lauderdale airport. Getting to the airport (or Key West, for that matter) is not a walkable trip. Fortunately, Katie has some friends who own cars and they were very kind to let her use them for these longer hauls. Thanks, guys! And thanks, Katie, for a memorable vacation!!
I arrived in Greensboro a little late, but there was Pat waiting to take me home. Ahh, it's good to be back!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

From Tobaccoville to Key West - Part III
Saturday morning (being a real day off for Katie), I took a walk in search of a cup of coffee, while she slept in. I was successful (of course!!) and didn't have to walk very far. I walked back to the hotel and sat outside and read, enjoying my coffee and the view.

When Katie got up, we looked through our information pamphlets and decided to try Backcountry Cowboy Outfitters to see if they had any guided kayak tours open. Their guided tours were filled for the day, but they had kayaks available for rent. We reserved a double kayak and then walked down the street to Mangrove Mike's for some breakfast.
When we were ready for our self-guided tour, we followed "the guy" to a little marina just down the road where he put the kayak in the water
and gave us a few instructions. The most important piece of information was to use the radio tower as our landmark. It would be visible wherever we went, or so he said, and help us find our way back "home."
And, we're off!! We headed for the far side of the mangroves so that we would be protected from the winds. (Our hotel was on the Atlantic Ocean side, but we were kayaking on the Florida Bay side.) We were amazed at the number of jelly fish in the shallow waterways. (That's a jellyfish on the paddle.) Eeeeesh. "Please don't let us tip over. Please don't let us tip over." We saw a couple small sharks (didn't get pictures), brown pelicans, cranes, and a few small fishes.

As we were approaching some mangroves, we could hear all kinds of racket. Katie said, "There's a bird in there. Give me your camera." I passed my camera back to her and she just stuck it into the mangroves and snapped it. We crashed into the mangroves, birds squawked and wings flapped, and then we saw a little nest with an egg in it. It was only when we developed some pictures after we got back to Miami Beach that we saw that, indeed, Katie got the picture of a neat-looking bird.

We thought it odd that we never saw anyone else out kayaking. We saw fishing boats and speed boats, house boats, and sailboats, but no kayaks. They don't know what they were missing :-)
Almost 4 hours of paddling and floating and oohing and ahhing went by quickly. Sure enough, the radio tower was in sight and we headed for shore.
We called the Backcountry Cowboy dude, he picked up the kayak, and we went on our merry way.
It seemed important to me to stop in Key Largo (blame it on the Beach Boys) so I could say I had been there, not just driven through. So we dragged Olivia out of the glove box and did a search. We decided to stop at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. It's an underwater park that "preserves miles of coral reef and other habitats for divers and snorkelers," but it was getting late so all we did was walk around a little and take a few pics. People were swimming but the water looked pretty gross and the shoreline looked even worse.
I guess I'm spoiled, but I prefer white sand beaches and clear waters that let me see what's on the bottom of the ocean floor.
We continued up US 1 and got back to Miami at about 7pm. We finished our day with take-out from Lime Fresh Mexican Grill. Mmm Mmm good!!
Stay tuned for the final chapter of our wonderful mini-vacation.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

From Tobaccoville to Key West - Part II
Friday morning we were up at 5:15 to start our "real" vacation: driving to the Keys. We had reservations to take a scuba diving lesson on Islamorada at 8:30 that morning. The GPS system, which we lovingly named Olivia, wasn't happy with Katie's driving. Katie had already decided the route we would take and Olivia kept trying to get us back on the GPS-designated route. When we got tired of Olivia saying, "Recalculating," we put her on mute; then we put her in the glove box. Later in the trip, we let her come back out to play and it seems she didn't hold a grudge. That's not to say we started following her directions :-)
We arrived at Key Dives right on time
and, after filling out our paperwork, we were told that the winds were very high and the afternoon dives might not happen. We and 2 other would-be-divers decided to go ahead with the training; we were given our equipment and the instructor drove us a couple blocks away to a swimming pool. We spent 2 hours in the water, learning how to communicate underwater and how to use our equipment. What an experience! On the one hand, it was amazing to actually be doing all this stuff; on the other hand, I was pretty freaked out by the whole thing! Turns out Katie was feeling the same way. Back at the dive shop, we were informed that (due to the winds) the afternoon dives were still "iffy." They told us our first dive would be a better experience if the waters were calm, but it was up to us if we wanted to dive or not. We decided to go with NOT!! (I hate that we didn't get any pictures of us in our scuba gear.)
Suddenly we had an empty afternoon ahead of us. What to do?? Head for Key West!
First stop: Long Key State Park. Our little state park packet said, "Be sure to walk the Golden Orb Trail, one of two beautiful nature trails in the park. It takes hikers through Long Key's five ecological zones and to an observation tower where you can gaze over the island and surrounding waters." We didn't read that until we were back in the car and heading down the road. In our typical backward (non-conformist) fashion, we had somehow started our hike at the observation tower. It was still a nice hike :-) and fortunately we didn't see any golden orb SPIDERS!!!!!

Seven-mile Bridge:

Big Pine Key and the National Key Deer Refuge. From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service brochure: "The Key deer is the smallest sub-species of the Virginia white-tailed deer.... [and] is federally listed as endangered. The current population is estimated between 600 and 750." We didn't see any deer, but we stopped at The Blue Hole (an abandoned limestone quarry) where we saw an alligator, a crane, and a baby bird that we guessed belonged to the crane.

You'll have to click on the last 2 pics to make them bigger to see the crane and baby.
Key West
First stop: The Blond Giraffe. Voted "Best Key Lime Pie in Florida" 2003,4,5, & 6. I don't know what happened in 2007 & 2008, but they surely get my vote!!

The Hemingway House and its 6-toed cats:

We weren't there long, but now I can say I've been to Key West!
Miscellaneous scenery as we headed back up the keys to check in at our hotel in Islamorada:

We cooled off in the pool and then decided we needed some real food. We ate at the Islamorada Fish Company, where they feed scraps to the sharks!

And that was our Friday! (I guess you now understand why I never finished posting about my trip to Japan.) Check back later for Part III.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

From Tobaccoville to Key West - Part I
Thanks to a cheap-o ticket on Allegiant Air, a loving husband who encourages me get away when I need a break, and a mother-in-law who does my chores while I'm gone, I was able to take a week's vacation in Florida. Woohoo!!
As usual, Katie and I crammed so much stuff into the week, I've realized I have to break this travelogue into pieces or I'll never get it finished. This segment covers my first three days (Tue-Thu) in Miami Beach at Katie's apartment.
Katie had to work on these days so, needless to say, I slept in when she headed off to work bright and early. Was I dreaming of cows?? NO WAY!! When I finally rolled out of bed, I would make myself a cup of coffee and have a bowl of cereal or a piece of toast. I did some leisurely exploring of the area, ran a few errands for Katie, and one day went to visit her at work.
Island View Park:

Neat buildings:
Little dog, hardly bigger than the plastic cup it was drinking from!
We spent the late afternoons and evenings relaxing, shopping, eating, watching movies, or doing whatever we felt like doing (talking and laughing all the while).
Katie loves her job

loves coming home
loves to cook
and, after these photos, probably hates digital cameras and mothers who blog :-)
Stay tuned for Part II.