Our flight to Seattle took us, confusingly, through St Louis. While that’s kind of ridiculous, it was also much cheaper than a direct flight, plus it pushed me the few hundred miles over the 25,000 mark with Delta and earned me elite status for 2012. So it was alright.
The STL-SEA leg was on Alaska Airlines. If Delta was smart they wouldn’t have let us fly on that airline, because it made it obvious how much poorer their service was. Also, Alaska had awesome food and served Kona beers. We were very happy about that.
We arrived in Seattle shortly after 8, and Matt went to the car rental counter while I got the suitcase. We hopped on the shuttle, and were in a pretty awesome new Mazda 3 in short order. I looked up directions to the hotel on Google Maps while Matt drove.
The directions were pretty easy according to the map, but not so much in real life. We made a wrong turn, and then found ourselves stuck in a maze of one-way, dead-ending streets. All we wanted was to get across Broad Street to the side where Seattle Center was, but it was impossible unless we went exactly the way Google told us to. That’ll be a lesson to me about thinking I can figure it out myself!
We found the hotel, got the last parking spot in the lot, and checked in. The guy at the front desk was a former Minneapolitan, so we had a long talk about the Vikings and Minneapolis’ infrastructure problem; it hadn’t even occurred to us that the 35W bridge and Metrodome collapses had occurred within a year of each other. Our room was much fancier than I expected, and we loved that they had a Keurig machine and free bottled water and microwave popcorn. And real cream for coffee!! That never happens.
It was after 10 by the time we headed out, but we wanted food and a couple of drinks before we’d be ready for bed. We walked the eight or so blocks to Mecca, the place we’d gone with Steve on the last visit. He’d ordered a gimlet and a waffle there, so we knew it was obviously awesome. We both got some breakfast food and whiskey; Matt’s came in the form of a shot of Wild Turkey, followed by a beer. That’s a good way to start the night.
While we were wrapping up, people started piling in from the Journey/Foreigner/Night Ranger concert at Key Arena. The streets were full of fans plus what we assumed was the usual crowd in Queen Anne, so that made for an interesting experience. We walked back down toward our hotel and stopped into the Solo Bar, because their cocktail menu looked decent. It was pretty crowded, though, so we decided to try the beer place next door. That was even more crowded, though, so we went back to Solo and just hung out near the bar. Rather than the Journey crowd, it was full of people who had just been to the opera. Couple that with the fact that it seemed to be primarily an art gallery, and the end result was a LOT of pretension. The drinks were still pretty good, though!
It was after midnight by then, so we went back to the hotel and headed to bed. Matt had to be up by 7, after all.
In the morning, I sent him off to his conference in the car, and I hung out in the room, trying to get more sleep. My body was convinced it was after nine, though, so I got up and walked over to the natural foods store a few blocks away. (It was just me and the joggers on the streets of Seattle at that point.) I got a morning glory muffin, a really excellent Americano, a 5-Hour Energy, and two 4-packs of Maui Coconut Porter, because we can’t find it in Minnesota. I promised the cashier I wasn’t going to drink all the beer that morning.
Back at the hotel, I hung out watching football (it’s on so early in Seattle!!), and then went downstairs to meet Steve, Colleen, and Veronica to go have brunch. We went to the 5 Spot, which they told me changes themes quarterly or so. They feature a few menu items from a certain part of the country, and update the decor to match. (And they go all out, from what I saw.) The current theme was Philadelphia, which made being there extremely confusing, since we’d just been there. One can never get enough Ben Franklin, apparently.
After brunch, we went to walk on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. They’re in the process of knocking it down, so they had this half-day event where people could go up there and wander around. It’s a great view of the city, and also we got to take a piece home with us.
I guess it should’ve been a little unsettling that they were knocking down parts of it very near where we were.
Being Seattle and all, of course there was a girl hooping. There were also some people having a picnic, complete with wooden cheese board and spade. So fancy.
People left messages for the viaduct. They know it’s a highway, right?
After our walk, we went back down to the parking lot, where a bulldozer had just arrived with a fresh delivery of viaduct chunks. People cheered for the bulldozer, then everyone scrambled onto the pile to get the best piece. Some lady yelled, “I want a piece of rebar!” Yep, it was weird. Weird and awesome.
We grabbed some viaduct chunks and headed out. I got a smallish one, since I had to bring it home on the plane. I didn’t want Delta to look askance at me for taking part of Seattle’s crumbling infrastructure.
Steve and Colleen then took me to see Uwajimaya, which I’m pretty sure was the most gigantic Asian grocery store on earth. We spent a long time there looking around, and I picked up a few things including something for Awesome Christmas, some Salad Pretz (they’re the best Pretz), and a yakisoba sandwich. Seriously, it’s a baguette with a pile of vegetarian yakisoba inside. Colleen said it was the greatest hangover food ever. I believed it, even if we didn’t get to experience it while hungover. Which is totally fine with me, really.
They went to take the baby home for a nap, so I asked them to drop me off at the hotel so I could go be a tourist. The sun was finally coming out, so I decided to revisit the Space Needle.
Of course the sun was not out by the time I got to the top, but at least it wasn’t raining!
I walked around Seattle Center for a while, then decided to go get lunch at McMenamin’s, the beer place we hadn’t been able to get into the previous night. It was really quiet this time, of course, because it was in the middle of the afternoon. I ordered a beer and a bowl of Jamaican curry, and Matt texted shortly after that to say they were done early, and on the way back to the hotel. I said they should meet me there, since it was only a block away. He and his coworker and wife were there within half an hour, and we hung out for a while taking advantage of their happy hour specials.
We went back to the hotel around 5 so Matt could change clothes, then got the car and drove up to Steve and Colleen’s. We got to hang out with shark baby for a while before heading to dinner.
Our reservations were at 8, so they said we should stop into Paratii for a cocktail first. We instantly fell in love with the place, because one of the drinks on the menu was from Bradstreet in Minneapolis (i.e. the bar we spend most of our time at here). The bartender was great, and was more than happy to invent cocktails for us if we didn’t want to order off the menu. After a round, it was time to go to dinner, but we liked the place so much that Colleen called the restaurant and told them we’d be late. We got another round, then headed that way.
(Joking about a fast round, the bartender suggested shots of Fernet. Oh, craft bartenders: you all have the same bad ideas. I love it even though it makes my liver hurt to think about it.)
We walked over to the Golden Beetle for dinner, and ordered more drinks and almost everything off the small plates menu to share. Matt and I were more than amused that they highlighted the few things on the menu that couldn’t be guaranteed organic. It was very Pacific Northwest. The food was excellent, though!
After dinner, we went back to their place and hung out drinking local beers. We only made it til shortly after midnight before I was starting to fall asleep. I’m terrible at adjusting to time zones.
The next morning, we packed the suitcase with our spoils: a ton of yarn from Colleen, 8 cans of Maui Coconut Porter, and a piece of the viaduct. You know, the normal stuff.
We drove back up to Colleen and Steve’s so we could all walk to brunch. They’d chosen Zayda Buddy’s, a Minnesota-themed bar in Ballard. It was fantastic (the style was more Wisconsin tavern, but still), though I felt a little weird about wearing a Gophers hoodie there. I had a mimosa garnished with Swedish fish, and all our meals came with tater tots. It was like being at Grumpy’s.
We stopped in a couple shops and walked through the Ballard farmer’s market, which is probably the most earnest place I’ve ever been. Then we headed back to their place to get our car, and Very stayed awake by chomping on Bally’s leg. (I think Matt was panicking a little, but Bally was fine.)
We said goodbye and headed to the airport. Delta was incredibly efficient for once, so we boarded on time, got to watch the Vikings lose, and even arrived early! My parents gave us a ride home to the airport, so we had a couple of hours to sit on the couch before preparing for the week ahead. And as tends to happen lately, I woke up in the middle of the night with no idea where the hell I was.
Matt and I wisely took a day to recover after the wedding, and planned our pre-honeymoon to start on Monday instead. (For our actual honeymoon, we’re going to Europe in May.) My new in-laws dropped us off at the airport around noon, and we headed off to Atlanta. We landed a bit early, which was convenient since my sister had given us Delta Skyclub passes. Drink on their dime? Yes, please!
(Weird Skyclub fact: while they have free food there, you’re not allowed to bring it in from the outside. We had to eat our sammiches quickly before entering.)
The Skyclub was pretty fully of bored-looking business-people, but they had free drinks and clean bathrooms, and a table where we could sit and look out on the airport. We watched a baggage cart speed off too quickly, knocking a couple of suitcases onto the ground. They sat there ignored on the tarmac for way too long before someone picked them up and sent them to the baggage claim. Quality work as always, Delta.
We got on the next flight, and landed in Key West a little before 9pm. The airport was tiny, even smaller than most we’ve seen in the Caribbean. We waited a long time for our bags (which was confusing), then got a cab to our hotel, the Southernmost House.
The hotel was incredible. It’s a famous old mansion at the end of Duval Street, right down the block from the southernmost marker. Our room was on the second floor overlooking Duval, and we had a gigantic four-poster bed that was so tall we had to climb up on the rails to get in it. From the balcony, we could see the infinity pool looking out on the Atlantic Ocean. And it was open 24 hours!
We needed food badly, so we headed down Duval Street. There wasn’t much open after 10pm, but we managed to find a few places that were still serving food. We went into a cowboy-themed bar, sat down, and waited a long time before a server came over and gave us menus. That was the last we saw of any service after that, so we finally gave up and left. We crossed the street to Jack Flat’s, which had good service and sports on a million TVs. Perfect!
After dinner, we went directly to Sloppy Joe’s, Key West’s most famous bar. It was really crowded and we had a tiny table at the back, so we decided we’d finish those drinks and move on. While we were sitting there, we noticed a sign behind the bar saying that it was illegal to have open containers outdoors in Key West. That was total news to us, as we’d definitely been walking around drinking the last time we were there (along with everyone else in Key West). Also, we noticed plenty of people carrying go cups out onto the street. Confusing.
We wanted to go to a bar called the Rum Barrel, but it was closed Mondays. We ended up across the street at a place called Island Dogs. They had good cocktails, so we hung out there for a bit. It was pretty quiet, though, so we decided to head back to Sloppy Joe’s to see the cover band instead. We got there around 1am, and hung out watching them for a while (they were from Philly, and played the 90s’ greatest rock hits). Then we decided it was a pretty excellent idea to go swim in our 24-hour pool, so we walked the mile back to our hotel, changed into bathing suits, and went to do that.
It was awesome. We swam, went and sat on the poolside edge and dipped our feet in the Atlantic (it was surprisingly warm in the middle of the night), and then swam again, for a while sans bathing suits. 24-hour pools are officially the greatest thing ever.
Here’s our hotel in the daytime! I made the mistake of opening the curtains before I was dressed, so it’s possible my butt ended up in several tourists’ photos.
We decided to do some walking and see the city, so we stopped at the corner to wait in line for a photo of the southernmost marker, then headed up Whitehead Street toward Mallory Square.
We found Kelly’s Caribbean Bar and Grill along the way, so we stopped for brunch. We got a table in the courtyard, a couple of beers, and food. As we were finishing our meal, it started to rain a little. We were sitting under a tree, though, so it wasn’t too bad. Then it started to rain more, and we decided maybe we should head for shelter. Right as we sat down at the bar, it started pouring like crazy, and kept doing so for a long time.
We didn’t mind hanging out at the bar too much. The bartender and our server were awesome, and they kept bringing us free things… extra key lime pie, and the chef’s fresh-made halvah.
When the rain started to let up, we headed down toward Mallory Square again. We got there just in time to see a cruise ship leaving, so we hung out and watched that for a while.
Then we did some shopping, which was partly spurred on by the on-and-off rain. I got a new purse, and Matt got a couple cigars.
We walked back up Duval Street, looking for a place to rent bikes. We found Sunshine Rentals just a few blocks up. The bikes were beat to hell and the seat on Matt’s wouldn’t stay clipped in place on the post, so you had to ride with it in the lowest position. We decided to trade, since I’m shorter.
We rode back to the hotel, put our bathing suits on, and rode our bikes down to Fort Zachary Taylor Beach. We quickly realized how perfect bikes are for transportation in Key West: there are barely any hills, and there are so many bikes and scooters around that the cars are pretty used to being careful around them. I preferred to avoid the major streets because I have such bad balance, but that was easy to accomplish too.
It was overcast at the beach, but still warm out. The beach was nowhere near as nice as those perfect Caribbean beaches we’ve been spoiled by, but that was fine. You just had to swim over some rocks to get to the sandy area.
We floated around for a while, watching a storm roll in over the ocean. It started raining a bit, so obviously the right thing to do was wait it out in the water. It wasn’t really raining hard enough to soak our stuff on the beach, and it had the added bonus of clearing a lot of the people out as well.
We got out of the water around five, and went to the building to dry off and change clothes. By that time it was done raining, too. We rode back to the hotel, showered off, and got on our bikes again to head to Mallory Square for the sunset celebration. We locked them up a block from the square, intending to leave them there for the night because I didn’t want to try to ride after drinking. We were a little nervous about that, but figured there were so many bikes around that they would be fine. Also, they were incredibly crappy bikes!
We went to Sunset Pier for a drink, then took them to go shortly before sunset, so we could see it without an island blocking our view. We went to the middle of Mallory Square, and found our new favorite buskers: it was an older couple playing banjo and castanets, and an old dog wearing purple boxer-briefs. He walked around the circle, taking dollars out of people’s hands and putting them in a bucket. PEOPLE MAKE MONEY THIS WAY!
After sunset, we went to have dinner at El Meson de Pepe. Being vegetarian at a Cuban restaurant is usually pretty tricky, but I did well there. The mojitos didn’t hurt, either. While we were sitting there, we noticed a little chicken hanging out under the tables. She was running around looking for food, totally oblivious to the people nearby. Then a cat showed up, and she just backed off a few feet. I really wanted to take her home in my carry-on.
We then went over to the Rum Barrel, and browsed their insanely extensive rum list. We ordered a flight, and sat there being amused by the guys from Wisconsin near us at the bar. While they had a great rum list, the bartender didn’t seem all that knowledgeable about it, so we decided to move on. There was another rum bar (called Rum Bar, conveniently) at the other end of Duval near our hotel, so we headed that direction.
Rum Bar is located in the front of a hotel in an old house. It was very small, but there were only a few people in there hanging out. We got seats and started eyeing the massive collection of rums they had. The bartender set us up with a flight, made up of things we picked based on not having seen them before, and his recommendations. It was pretty amazing.
We hung out there for a while, talking to the other people at the bar, who positively insisted that our rental bikes were going to get stolen from Mallory Square. We still refused to believe that, because they were so very crappy. Plus there wasn’t much we could do about it at that point! When we finished our flight, I asked the bartender what his preferred cocktail was, and was overjoyed to learn it was an Old Fashioned. Even in the land of rum, people still like the classics.
Conveniently, it was only a couple-block walk from there to our hotel. It may have been the middle of the night again, but we were not going to miss a chance to swim in the infinity pool. Why they didn’t kick us out for doing cannonballs into the deep end at 2am, I will never understand.
In the morning, we unfortunately had to check out of the Southernmost House. (Had I known beforehand it was that great, we would’ve chosen to stay there the whole time. Next visit!) We rolled our suitcases the eight blocks or so to Azul Key West, which I’d picked because it was a little closer to the heart of things. Since we were early we had to leave the bags there, but that was fine. The guy working at the desk was super-friendly, and knew who we were when we arrived. We thanked him and headed to get some food.
Brunch meant an obligatory stop at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. We had to, because it’s a tradition. (That’s also the first Margaritaville I begrudgingly visited.) We also have a longstanding tradition of bringing home a souvenir shotglass, but we were both feeling the effects of the previous night to much to really want to do a shot. (We ended up buying one at the store afterwards.) They did have Kalik, the beer of the Bahamas, on the menu, so we got that instead. I was excited that Matt finally got to try it!
While we were there, we researched various options for sunset cruises in Key West. We called a couple places, and managed to find one that was available. We made reservations for that evening.
We did some shopping along Duval Street, working our way back down to Mallory Square. Rounding the corner to where our bikes were parked, we wondered if maybe they were actually stolen, as unlikely as it was. But no, they were sitting right there where we’d locked them up, in the same crappy condition as always. We threw our bags aboard and rode them back to the hotel, because it was time to check in.
The guy at the desk had already brought our bags up to the room, which was fantastic. We hung out there for a while, enjoying the air conditioning; it was ungodly humid in Key West right then, and brutal in the sun. I dozed off for a while, and my short nap was very effective at getting me back to 100%. I was ready for some history! We hopped on our bikes and rode over to see the Hemingway House.
We knew about the polydactyl cats there, but didn’t realize to what extent they had the run of the house. They were great, and couldn’t have cared less about the people paying attention to them. They were used to being tourist attractions.
I loved the Hemingway house, even though of course there was no air conditioning and we were sweating through our clothes.
My favorite thing was his studio. It was exactly what you’d expect from Ernest Hemingway.
His pool wasn’t bad, either!
We crammed in the gift shop with all the other visitors, and picked out some souvenirs. I’m pretty sure it was that crowded just because it was the only place with air conditioning.
From there, we rode over to Hemingway’s original Key West hangout: the former home of Sloppy Joe’s (which is now half a block away), Captain Tony’s. Captain Tony was a local character in his own right.
The place was absolutely covered in mementos from people who had visited, and they were aged to the point that you couldn’t tell if there had actually been a fire in there, or it was just years of cigarette smoke. All the chairs were painted with the names of famous people who’d sat there, too.
(I probably don’t need to mention the sheer joy of day drinking in a tropical climate, too.)
There was a really drunk group at the end of the bar trying to figure out what ‘vaya con dios’ meant. We laughed to ourselves about it for a while, and then I told them because I couldn’t take it anymore. They staggered out of the bar, and shortly after that a big group of bros from Jersey piled in. They were even more drunk, celebrating one of the guys’ birthday. (They were kind of a confusing group, too. They ranged in age from questionably-21 to 50ish.) They insisted on tequila shots and a lot of yelling, so we decided it was time to move on. Plus we were hungry!
We crossed the street to Amigos Tortilla Bar, where we both got tacos and beer. From there, we could still hear the bros yelling from across the street. Holy crap. The tacos were awesome, too!
From there, it was time to head up to the dock for our sunset cruise! We got our bikes and rode up to Schooner Wharf. I was very proud of myself for riding with a beer in my bike basket.
We checked in, and the guy at the desk gave us coupons for 2-for-1 drinks at the bar, so of course we had to take advantage of that. I had a Cuba Libre, and Matt got to have his second Kalik of the day. He was very sad about it, obviously:
Once we finished, it was time to board the Schooner Western Union. As we waited in line, they announced that the bar was open right away, so we all headed there for beer. We took a seat, listened to their safety instructions and description of our trip, and then we headed out of the harbor.
The ship was amazing. It was apparently used by Western Union to lay cable as late as the 1970s.
Once we were out of the harbor, we got to help raise the sails! It was way harder than I expected. Not because of the effort, but the speed with which the rope flies through your hands.
In addition to our awesome captain, Len, there was a hammered dulcimer player named Gary. He played sea shanties and told stories about the ship’s history. Seriously, we were dying of awesome.
We sailed past Mallory Square, where a crowd was starting to form for sunset. They took us past the cruise docks, and we saw the beach we’d been at the previous day. Once we got out into open ocean, they told us they were going to fire a cannon, and even picked out a catamaran to fire it at. It was a tiny cannon, but it was incredibly loud.
And then, after firing the cannon, there was a HOMING PIGEON. Gary brought out a basket and said he was going to release the bird, so we should have our cameras ready since he’d fly away quickly. He opened the basket, and the bird’s head popped out, looking around. Then he hopped up onto the edge of the basket, and just sat there. Gary was kind of embarrassed after the bird hung out for a few minutes, but it meant we all got a bunch of pictures. He finally took off, circled a few times, and headed back toward Key West.
The ship turned to head back toward the harbor, and Matt and I got ourselves some champagne for a toast. Just like the night we got engaged in Maui!!
And then it was sunset time. I think if I lived in Key West, I’d have to go watch it every night. I don’t know how that could ever get old.
On the way back, they explained the presence of the gigantic ship lurking nearby: it was the Discovery channel crew filming for Shark Week! They have a bunch of smaller boats that go out to sea, and they’re lifted back up to the deck of the large ship at night.
By the time we got back to the pier, it was completely dark. We went back to Schooner Wharf for another drink, and to work out our evening strategy. (We were working from a list of the most historic/interesting bars in Key West, so getting to them all required some planning.) We got our bikes, and rode down to Duval Street to park them. We were about a block from the Hog’s Breath, so we decided to try that first.
We ordered food and a drink and hung out for a while, but the place was a little too quiet for our tastes (it’s Duval Street… you want it to be crazy). We decided to give the Green Parrot a try, as it was another old Hemingway favorite. The bar was unfortunately too full to sit at, but we got a table where we could overlook the scene. Their Cuba Libres were delicious, apparently:
And because you can’t possibly stay away from Sloppy Joe’s for too long, we ended up back there around 12:30. We hung out at the bar with some Sloppy Ritas, watching the same cover band from Philly. They were great.
And then it was time to take our bikes back to the hotel, which seemed like quite a feat. I decided to give it a try, and the worst case was that we’d just have to walk them. I made it within a few blocks at the hotel before tipping over, but we were stopping at an intersection, so no damage was done. So riding bikes drunk is definitely possible, but I also wouldn’t recommend it. Especially if you’re me and are prone to amazingly bad balance as it is!
We got up Thursday morning and rode our crappy bikes down to Duval Street for the last time. We turned them in at the rental shop, and went across the street to have brunch on the patio at Caroline’s. Brunch included mojitos, of course.
We walked down Duval Street doing some further shopping, planning to call for a cab to the airport shortly. I looked up the taxi number and called, but the lady on the other end couldn’t hear me (or pretended she couldn’t, because it was loud outside). I tried three times to no avail, so I started looking up alternate cab companies. I dialed three other phone numbers, and they all went to the same damn crabby lady. Finally, I got through to a different company and requested to be picked up nearby.
The cab arrived quickly, and we headed off to the private charter terminal at the airport. We went into the waiting area for the Island City Flying Service, and only had to wait a little bit before an entertaining Australian lady came to take us all to the check-in area. That part involved reviewing a map of the Dry Tortugas so we knew where to snorkel, getting our flippers, and each couple getting a cooler to hold our beer and pop. If only all flights could be that way.
We went outside to wait for the plane, which landed shortly afterwards. While we waited, we talked to the other people for a bit. There was a pair of surgeons from Brazil (via Philly), and a couple who lived on their yacht in Florida. The husband was retired from the military, and had also worked on the space shuttle launch pad at NASA. Holy crap.
There were only six of us going to Fort Jefferson that day. We’d intentionally picked the afternoon trip, knowing that the ferry from Key West would be leaving just as we arrived, which meant we’d practically have the island to ourselves.
We boarded the plane, which had 10 single seats on either side of an aisle. We got to wear really sexy headphones so we could hear the pilot, too.
The flight was 45 minutes long, and on the way we got to see two shipwrecks, some boats stashed by Cuban refugees, and a ton of sea turtles. I thought I saw a shark, too, but I couldn’t tell for sure. It was definitely big enough to be a shark.
The pilot pointed out a bunch of interesting features along the way, and then we listening to a recording about the history of Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas. (They were originally called the Tortugas, and ‘Dry’ was added to denote the lack of fresh water.)
As we neared the island, I knew that the seaplane was the absolute correct choice for the trip. We wouldn’t have had anywhere near the view from the ferry.
Speaking of the ferry, we saw it just leaving the dock as we arrived. Our pilot buzzed it on the way in.
I expected the landing to be bumpy, but it was actually smoother than on a regular runway! (The only other time I’ve been on a seaplane, I think I was eight. We landed on the river in downtown St Paul, which definitely doesn’t seem legal at all.)
We parked right on the beach in front of Fort Jefferson. The pilot told us we could just leave our stuff laying around, because we were the only people there except for the park ranger, a couple people staying at the campground, and the few people whose boat was docked there. There were at most 15 people on the entire island. That’s amazing.
Matt and I went to go tour the fort first. Rather than wait for the official tour, we just wandered around ourselves. It was insanely hot and humid there, seemingly even moreso than in Key West
We climbed up to the roof of the fort to take photos. From there, we could see jellyfish swimming in the moat. And not like the jellyfish I was familiar with seeing on Florida beaches… they were big pink or purple things, some of them over a foot across. We were maybe a little nervous about running into them. (Especially since the yacht-living couple had told us in detail how they treat jellyfish stings, and of course we were completely unprepared for that.)
After completing our quick tour of the fort, we went to take a look at the rest of the (very tiny) island. We saw the camping area, which made us really want to do that someday (until the pilot later told us that they were really rough conditions: not even because of the lack of water and the smell of the composting toilets, but because it rarely got below the mid-80s and extremely high humidity at night). We checked out the beach on one end of the fort, and saw the Brazilian couple hanging out there. On the walk back, we encountered the Florida couple heading that direction with their snorkel gear. Which meant that the beach on the other side of the fort belonged to us alone.
I was really, really nervous about being able to see jellyfish, but after swimming around and not encountering any of them for a while, I relaxed a little. We did some snorkeling, and I discovered that my underwater camera case didn’t work so well with my new, much-smaller camera!
We got out the beer from the cooler, and sat waist-deep in the water on our own private beach. I’ve had some really good days, but that one had to be in my top ten.
After a while, it was time to head back to the seaplane. We went and changed clothes on the dock (it’s really hard to do that when you can’t rinse off the salt water, by the way), then met up with our group at the plane. The Florida couple had picked up a couple of live conch to show us!
We climbed back in the plane and took the same seats so that we could see what we missed on the way there. I got to see the wreck of the Arbutus this time. The ship’s mast still sticks up above the water.
I also saw the only private island in the Florida Keys. Those people’s lives must be rough.
As we arrived back in Key West, the pilot pointed out a Cuban Airlines plane that has been parked at the Key West airport for years, because the pilots landed on the runway and ran away to defect. They didn’t know what to do with the plane, so it’s been sitting there ever since. Awesome.
Back at the airport, Matt and I walked over to the main terminal to the car rental counter and picked up our car. We drove to the hotel, picked up our parking pass, showered, and then headed down to park near Mallory Square for our last Key West sunset. SIGH.
Again, we got a table at Sunset Pier and ordered food and drinks. I decided it was time to order my drink in a coconut, since I’d been wanting one the whole time we had been there. Having a car made it way more convenient; I didn’t want to have to lock up my monkey on a bike!
Since we didn’t want to have to deal with leaving our car somewhere overnight, we took it back to the hotel and parked it in the tiny maze that was the Azul courtyard. We then headed off on foot to the Orchid Key Inn, which was recommended as a good cocktail bar. We found the tiny bar around back. It had only 8 seats, and was full of mostly-local people well into their drinking that evening (it was only 9:30pm). They were hilarious, though, and everyone there was having a great time. We tried ordering a couple specialties and the bartender wasn’t familiar with them, so we went with his flavored martini creations instead (they were actually really good, especially the French 75 made with St Germain). More people came in after a while, and we were convinced they were swingers. After a couple of drinks, we said goodbye to everyone and headed up Duval Street.
We decided on Bobalu’s, a very Caribbean-looking bar that we’d noticed the first night we were there. They had an entertaining cover band, a gaggle of bachelorette-partying girls, and very delicious pizza. Which got knocked off the bar halfway through, and they totally replaced for us (like, half the pizza… I think the kitchen staff had a snack). We hung out there for a while, and then it was time to head back to the hotel and prepare to leave Key West. Again, SIGH.
Friday morning, we got up and checked out of Azul Key West. We made a quick stop for Cuban coffee near the marina, then headed up the Keys toward Miami. It’s a drive I’ve always wanted to make.
It really didn’t take anywhere near as long as I expected, nor was the traffic that bad. As expected, Key West was the most touristy, and definitely most Caribbean. The others seemed more laid back, and much smaller towns. I liked Islamorada the best.
We decided to stop at Shell World in Key Largo. That was a good decision as far as souvenirs went! We spent a very long time there, and Bally hung out in a shark’s mouth:
Our progress slowed quite a bit as we left the southern Everglades area and approached the outskirts of Miami. We ended up stuck in non-highway traffic for what seemed like forever. I spent the time looking up places to stop on my phone while Matt drove: we were in search of a liquor store, to pick up some of the local specialties, and then dinner and drinks.
We finally arrived at a liquor store, and were the only non-Spanish-speakers there. They had a great selection, and really cheap prices, so we were very excited. From there, we made our way slowly to the freeway, and headed north to Fort Lauderdale. What we’d discovered in my very long time spent on Google was that there was an authentic old tiki bar up that way. It looked like it had the potential to rival Don the Beachcomber in California.
Oh, and it did. We instantly fell in love with Mai Kai. They had oldschool tiki drinks, female servers in bikinis and miniskirts (seriously!), and a rockabilly band was setting up behind us.
We stuck around to watch the band for a while, then hit the gift shop for a tiki mug and headed out. We drove back to Miami, then across to South Beach. It was getting on toward Miami dinnertime (i.e. 8pm), so it was insane in the area, but luckily our hotel was nearby. We had no idea where to park, though, so we called and they said we had to use the valet. At least that part was easy.
We checked into the Bentley South Beach, which was right across from the giant beachfront. Our room was spectacular, so we were sad we were staying for so short a time. We hung out on the balcony for a while smoking cigars and drinking beer, then decided to go experience the insane nightlife there. (I’d told Matt that everyone in South Beach was gorgeous, and they all went to clubs til 4am. We didn’t want to see the clubs or hang out with those people so much as gawk at them on the street.)
Once we were out walking up the beach, I was really glad I’d put a dress on. Otherwise I would have been the only woman out there in capris and a t-shirt.
We had a couple spots on our list that were recommended as good cocktail bars, so we walked up toward the first one. It was a long way, so when we got there and were turned away by the doorman (because 1) they didn’t open til later and 2) Matt was wearing shorts), we were pretty crabby about it. All we wanted was a place to hang out with halfway decent drinks, and far less of the South Beach scene. We knew that would be hard to come by.
We walked past a sushi place called Kung Fu Kitchen that had outside tables and looked pretty-low key, so we decided to go there for dinner. The service was iffy and the crowd got progressively douchier, but they had great food and pretty decent cocktails, too. Restored, we decided to press on in search of the elusive good bar.
Because Matt had done some research ahead of time, he recognized the name of one of them we passed. Because it was listed as a glorious dive, I hadn’t expected Mac’s Club Deuce to be in South Beach (I assumed Miami proper). But there it was, and it was indeed the bar we were looking for. There was most definitely not much in the way of South Beach scene there, just a lot of really drunk people and strong drinks.
The very drunk bartender (who was awesome) told us all about the joys of riding a horse on the beach in the Caribbean in great detail. Then a guy who I’d seen propping up the bar when we came in came over to talk, and seemed mostly normal for a while. Then we learned that he was gay, Jewish, and a hardcore republican, which really didn’t seem to fit well with the gay thing. He started telling Matt that according to his beliefs, people who modify their bodies are going to hell, because that’s the worst thing you can do to yourself. Matt humored his drunk ass for a long time, then left to go to the bathroom and escape him for a while. I ended up sitting next to him, and he started telling me the same thing. I was pretty amused by it… here was probably the most self-hating man in America telling me I was going to hell for having tattoos. He wasn’t even being a jerk about it, he was very matter of fact. I told him that was fine, because I happened to believe he was entirely wrong. After way too much of that conversation, though, we decided it was time to head elsewhere.
We went back over to Ocean Drive along the beachfront, wanting to stop in somewhere and sit at the bar. The first place we tried had a cover, so we went a couple doors down instead. It was there that we discovered, sometime after two in the morning, that you can get to-go cups in Miami. And this place didn’t just have to-go cups, they had to-do VATS. It was incredible.
We took our vats and walked down to the beach, where we sat in the sand for a long time. After realizing it was really dark and really late, we took off all our clothes and went for a swim. When we got back to the hotel afterwards, I was wearing my dress inside out (with the pockets sticking out from the sides), and we’d lost our underwear in the ocean.
In short, Miami is awesome.
The morning came way too early, and our heads hurt. We had to check out by 11, too. We left our bags with the front desk and walked up Ocean Drive to find something to eat.
I’m not exactly sure what convinced us to stop at Sea Cafe. They had a patio, an overly-loud Italian server, and some pictures of food out front. That was enough to convince us, though, so we got a table. Fabio the server told us they were having happy hour, so it was two-for-ones on all drinks, and of course we could take them with us to the beach. We both ordered mojitos, and the THIS happened:
Yes, they were almost the size of Matt’s head. And that’s just half of the two-for-ones.
Our brunch pasta was delicious, and we managed to finish our drinks. Fabio was very disappointed that we didn’t want to partake in the two-for-ones (as were we), but we had to get to the airport. We went back to the hotel, got our bags, and brought our ticket to the valet.
The valet took FOREVER. We didn’t leave a ton of extra time to get to the airport, so we were starting to worry. By the time he arrived, we were cutting it really close. We threw everything in the car and sped off toward Fort Lauderdale, because we were flying out of there instead of Miami. We were running so late we didn’t even have time to gas up the rental car. It was expensive, but ended up being worth it since we barely made our flight!
We left Minneapolis for LA at 5:30, which meant we arrived there just in time to see a pretty spectacular sunset in the valley.
We picked up the car and attempted to stop at In and Out Burger by the airport, but there were one million people in line. So we got right on the road to Costa Mesa instead; Matt’s conference was there the next day, so we were spending the weekend in Orange County.
Matt researched restaurants in the area while I drove. We weren’t arriving til around 9:30pm, and most places looked like they closed by 11. He finally found a place called Taco Asylum that looked great, so we headed to something called The Camp to find it. We quickly discovered that the place was mobbed, and people were circling for parking. I was tired and hungry and didn’t want to deal with it, so we decided to look elsewhere. After driving for a bit, though, we realized that was pretty much the only area with food open. We managed to find a spot, thankfully.
I was very glad we ended up there, because it was fantastic. The server told us that if we waited for 5 more minutes it was taco happy hour, so we grabbed a couple of Maui Brewing Coconut Porters and hung out. She came to take our order, and we each got three of them. I got one with wild mushrooms and two with curry and paneer, which were so good I wanted to marry them. (Sorry, Matt.)
After dinner, we swung by the liquor store for some beer for the hotel, since we didn’t want to be out too late. We went and checked in at the Ayers Hotel, guaranteeing that the Flo Rida ‘In the Ayer’ song would be stuck in my head permanently. We hung out on the couch for a bit, then went to bed.
We partook in the breakfast buffet at the Ayer-ay-ayer-ayers hotel, then met Matt’s coworker and his wife. We checked out and then I drove them to the college where the seminar was being held, after getting lost on the way there. Then I hopped on the 405 and headed south!
San Juan Capistrano is one of my favorite places in California. I’ve been there multiple times, and it still amazes me.
I got there shortly after it opened, and there were already several other people there, all of them with giant expensive cameras. It’s that kind of place.
After wandering around the mission for a while, I decided to drive down to the coast and then head up highway 1. I’ve driven large portions of that highway before, but most of it was north of LA. Plus any day I can drive along the ocean with the windows down is a pretty excellent one.
Orange County was pretty entertaining. It’s all gigantic, gorgeous houses in highly secure gated communities. Who exactly is breaking in there? My theory was that it was to keep the mere millionaire rabble out.
I parked in Laguna Beach (which was super-cute) and walked down to the ocean to get my feet wet. I had to, since that meant I was in the Atlantic and Pacific within a week’s time! I then sat on the boardwalk for a while, enjoying the sun.
I headed slowly back up through Newport and Huntington Beach, which we’d visited on the previous trip. I then turned back and drove inland to Costa Mesa, because I was meeting April and Jonathan for lunch at Eat Chow. It took me forever to find it, but it was worth it!
From there, I decided to go to Anaheim, mostly because I’m the kind of nerd who likes seeing other cities’ sports arenas. Google Maps led me astray so I went about 20 miles out of the way, but I got to see the mountains, at least. Once I was on the right highway, finding Angels’ Stadium was easy. I drove around that area for a while, then went to see Honda Arena, where the Anaheim Ducks play. (Blink-182’s tour buses were outside. Haha.)
I still had some time to kill before Matt was done, so I decided to go check into the hotel and get the keys. I headed back up the 405 to Seal Beach, circled the marina (which I loved), and found our cute little hotel in town. Our room opened out on the pool, though we wouldn’t have time to use it. I stayed there long enough to use the bathroom, and headed back to get Matt in Costa Mesa.
We stopped for food at In and Out Burger (did you know they have an awesome grilled cheese? It’s basically a cheeseburger without the meat, but it’s delicious), then ran to Hi Time, the liquor store with EVERYTHING. The power was out when we walked in, but that wasn’t stopping them from selling: everyone was just walking around with flashlights. We found a few bottles of rum with my phone’s flashlight app (it’s surprisingly handy!), then got in line at the counter. Since their inventory system wasn’t working, either, the employees were running back and forth to the shelves to check prices, then telling us to remember them and tell the cashier. Their resourcefulness was pretty impressive!
After that, it was time to go to Huntington Beach for happy hour at Don the Beachcomber. (I don’t think they had actual discounts then, but any hour you spend there is happy.) We soaked up the tiki ambiance for a while, then went to the hotel. We hauled our bags in, Matt changed clothes, and we headed out on foot toward downtown Seal Beach, just a few blocks away. Our destination was 320 Main.
We had great food (I hadn’t expected many options at what’s really a steakhouse), and the cocktails were as good as we expected. Plus we got to sit out on the patio only a few blocks from the beach. We unfortunately couldn’t stay all night, but we had places to be the next day.
We walked down to the beach so that Matt could also put his feet in the Pacific. The surf was glowing an electric blue color, and we kept trying to figure out where the weird reflection was coming from. It took us forever to realized it had to be the water itself that was glowing with bioluminescence. I couldn’t believe how bright it was, especially on bigger waves. (We didn’t know til we got home that we were seeing red tide. I assumed that meant it glowed red!)
Sunday morning, we got up, checked out, and headed up the 405 to Santa Monica. We’d been trying to get to Real Food Daily for three trips, and it was finally going to happen. We even got to Santa Monica before it opened, so we had some time to wander around.
After brunch, we walked down toward Santa Monica pier. For the first time ever, it was actually sunny while we were there! And just like the previous visit, I got a text saying that our flight was delayed. Go figure.
We walked around the pier for a while, then decided to go have a beer and people-watch. That was pretty fantastic, and we discovered the existence of the Primo Bombucha! We decided to just stay there and have lunch, and finally it was time to get ourselves back to the airport.
On the flight home, we got to watch the Minnesota Lynx win the WNBA championship on seatback TV! They clinched it just as we landed at MSP. Awesome.
We arrived in Philly around 7pm on Friday night, and went to get the train to take us downtown. We were kind of charmed at the fact that you just pay the ticket-taker on the train, and he attaches your tickets to your seat. (The train was pretty oldschool, too, like the Amtrak.) We hopped off at Center City, consulted Google Maps to figure out what direction we were heading, and rolled our suitcase the few blocks under the convention center to the Sheraton Four Points.
(“Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone” was playing in the lobby when we got there, and we had a long talk about how it was not Wham! but Glass Tiger. For some reason, I will never forget that.)
We unpacked, at least as much as people unpack when they’re only staying for a night, then headed toward the Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company. It was a little over a mile from our hotel, and took us past city hall. We noticed that the entirety of city hall was barricaded, and there were cops standing around looking bored. We didn’t realize til the next day that that was part of the Occupy movement.
The Franklin would’ve been hard to find if we hadn’t known it was in a basement. Also, the doorman looked like a doorman outside an awesome cocktail bar should. He took us to the last round-booth-style table that was open, and reserved a seat for Matt’s coworker, Paul, who was on his way to meet us.
The cocktail menu was great, and even had several ingredients we didn’t recognize. It was probably a good thing that Paul was there with us, otherwise we would’ve stayed all night. But they had to be up before very early for the conference, so we headed out shortly after 11pm. The three of us walked back to the hotel, and Matt and I requested room service breakfast at 7am the next morning.
We were up at 6:45, and breakfast arrived promptly at 7. We ate, and Matt got dressed and went to meet his coworkers in the lobby. I felt a little guilty about it, but I went back to bed for another couple of hours. (The Mutter Museum didn’t open til 10, after all!) I got up about 8:45, watched some sports and showered, then checked out of the hotel and left the bags with the front desk. I was on my way to see some skeleton babies from hell.
It was about a mile and a half walk to the Mutter Museum, so I got there a little early and hung out with the other nerds in the courtyard. When I got inside, I was informed that they didn’t allow photography. Well, that was disappointing; that means I can’t post a million photos of midget skeletons, 70-pound cysts, or deformed fetuses preserved in jars. (You’re welcome.) Oh, or the mega-colon. Yeah. It was amazing.
I was there for an hour and a half or so, freaking myself out with the medical oddities. It was the best collection I’ve seen, and that’s saying a lot considering there’s the National Museum of Health and Medicine at Walter Reed. They had a pretty interesting exhibition on presidential assassinations and the art of dead people, too.
I stopped at the shop for a shotglass, because I didn’t really want plates decorated with fetus skeletons, or shirts with flayed bodies on them. I like that stuff, but not that much. I then got a photo of the outside, just because it was the only one I could take there.
I’d planned to spend the rest of the day checking out some of the historic sites in Philly. I’d been there before as a kid, but don’t have much recollection of it. I headed off that direction, and decided to get lunch first, since breakfast had happened so early. I went with Orsi’s recommendation, Eulogy Belgian Tavern. It was on the other side of Independence Hall, about two miles away.
Walking across town, I definitely noted that while Philadelphia is obviously a pretty large city, it seems to be still somewhat lacking in the civic pride. It was, well… dirty. I don’t even remember New York being that unkempt.
Eulogy was packed full of people arriving for a breast cancer fundraising pub crawl, which was pretty awesome. I grabbed a table and ordered a grilled cheese and beer from their gigantic menu. (When you don’t recognize 3/4 of what’s on the tap list on the wall, you know you’re in a good bar.) One of the pub crawlers asked if she could join me for lunch, so we sat and talked about what to see in Philly. By the time I was done eating, the place was completely packed, so I decided to go partake in some history.
I saw Carpenter’s Hall, home of the first continental congress. There leading a tour was the first of many men I would see dressed as Ben Franklin. Then I went over to get in line for the Liberty Bell. Almost everyone waiting seemed to be European, which was pretty interesting. I’ve seen the bell before, but the line moves quickly and it’s free, so I figured I should probably go say hi again. (I was probably 13 last time I was in Philly, and mostly what I remember is my brother being a jerk and refusing to go into Independence Hall.)
The free tickets for Independence Hall tours were sold out for the day, which was fine with me. (Much to Matt and Colleen’s chagrin, I’m just not that into American History. I was a Russian major for a reason.) Also, the building had scaffolding all over it. What the hell, America?
I saw Ben Franklin’s grave, at which point I’d encountered a total of four guys dressed as the man himself. (There are other founding fathers, you know.) I walked by Betsy Ross’ house, too, but the courtyard was packed full of a busload of tourists, so I kept going. I found Paddy’s Bar, of ‘Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ fame, and took a picture.
Then I walked a few blocks to Art in the Age, the makers of local liqueurs Root and Snap. Matt had looked up the shop online and figured I might like it, but it was so hipsterish it was embarrassing. The people working there were blank and unfriendly, and the patrons were worse. I decided to buy those items elsewhere.
I was really tired of walking at that point, but I was not about to stop then! I researched to see where there was a liquor store along the way back toward the hotel, and headed back up Market Street. On the way, I met a huge crowd of protesters marching. It was pretty impressive.
I stopped at the liquor store (the kind where hobos are buying travelers of vodka with dimes and nickels) for Root and Snap, then walked over to the Reading Terminal Market to see what that was about. (It’s basically a giant Midtown Exchange.) It was complete packed, and at least half the people there were hovering around devouring gigantic sandwiches. I think that must be a thing in Philly.
About an hour before Matt was due to be back at the hotel, I was so tired of walking that I went and plopped down at the awesome bar at the Marriott to wait. The bartender and I got talking about the various huge events that were going on there (they have over 2,000 rooms), and he said the main one was surrounding the anniversary of the Million Man March. Right as he mentioned it, he told me to turn around and check out the elevator bay, where a big part of Louis Farrakhan’s entourage was just walking past. Holy crap! Between that and the Occupy movement camping at city hall a block away, there was a lot going on in that neighborhood.
Matt texted to say they would be at the hotel soon, so I shoved the bottles of booze into my shoulder bag and headed that direction. Putting them in the bag turned out to be a huge mistake, because it made it insanely heavy. I got to the hotel before they arrived, apologized to the guy at the front desk for losing my claim tag, got our suitcase, and sat there in the lobby disassembling it, and trying to fit the bottles in there. I also changed shoes. I don’t think the people working there appreciated it at all, especially when we asked to re-check the bag with them so we could go have dinner before leaving town.
When Matt got there, we headed back over to the neighborhood we’d been in the previous night, and had happy hour at Rum Bar. It was awesome, and good at tiki drinks. I was really sore from walking, too, but having switched to flipflops helped. We then tried to get into El Vez for dinner, but there was a long wait. We crossed the street to Sampan and ended up at the chef’s counter, which was an excellent decision. The food was amazing, so I’m really glad we ended up there.
We got our check and rushed toward the hotel for our bag. The airport train only runs every half-hour, and we only had about ten minutes. Despite our best efforts, we got to the train in time to watch it leaving the station. We went upstairs and hailed a cab to the airport instead. (At a set rate of $28, and the fact that it was much faster and took us right to the rental place, it was a pretty great deal.)
Because I’m a Dollar Express member, we didn’t even have to go to the rental counter… the car was parked outside with the keys in it. We headed to Atlantic City, and got there within an hour (for the low price of $3.75 on the expressway). We checked in around 10pm. Our hotel was right on the boardwalk, with an awesome view of the beach, and a Jacuzzi with a window looking out on a rotating TV. How much porn has been watched from there, I don’t even want to know.
We got coffee at Dunkin Donuts and headed down the boardwalk. I’d expected it to be really trashy, but it wasn’t anywhere near that bad. Tacky, yes, but in a really entertaining way. We checked out the Trump and Caesar’s, but our favorite casino ended up being Wild Wild West, which is part of the Bally’s complex. There was a bar offering 24/7 happy hour, a 90s-era cover band, a fake coal train running overhead, and a pai gow dealer who know every word to every song coming from both the cover band and the DJ at the bar.
We played for a long time, and got to witness a $750 fortune bonus win, which I had doubted was even possible (the guy had a royal flush – with a joker, but it still counts). I didn’t do that well, but Matt did. We crossed over to Bally’s just to experience the novelty of ordering a drink via an extensive menu on the video poker machine, and then it was time to head back to the hotel. After a stop for some giant, flat east-coast pizza slices on the boardwalk, of course.
We checked out the next morning, and walked up and down the boardwalk again to see it during the daytime. It was still way nicer there than I expected, and we didn’t see a single needle washed up on the beach! The only thing I noticed was high-security purse storage systems in the bathrooms, to prevent thieves from grabbing them while you’re in there.
(There are also adult strollers in Atlantic City. Seriously, you can pay another human to PUSH your lazy ass around.)
We got on the road back to Philly around noon. We were unprepared for the toll on the Ben Franklin bridge, which resulted in Matt paying the $5 fee with $100 bill (though the lady working didn’t seem to care). We took Bally to see the Palestra at the University of Pennsylvania, then had lunch at Resurrection Ale House before heading to the airport.
Our return flight took us through Atlanta, which meant that we got to have breakfast in New Jersey, lunch in Pennsylvania, and dinner in Georgia. Not confusing at all!