I get around.
I get around.
Matt’s parents celebrated their 50th anniversary this year, and we’d long had plans to go join them in South Dakota in September for a road trip out to the Black Hills. A week or so before we were set to leave, we started seeing signs of a potential hurricane headed toward our island. We kept an eye on it, knowing we may need to prepare our house before leaving. We never expected things to go quite the way they did.
Our flight from Key West to Sioux Falls was scheduled on Thursday, 9/7. All of Labor Day weekend, every conversation in town centered on whether or not the hurricane was coming our way. All the models except for a couple showed it turning north and heading up the East Coast, but those few outliers were enough to make us nervous enough. I started to worry about the plan for Roy to go to his birdsitter’s on Thursday, in case they were going to evacuate. I called Delta and confirmed that I could indeed bring him onboard if necessary (for $150), as long as I had an airline-approved underseat cage. I quickly found one online and ordered it with 2-day shipping.
On Labor Day itself, Matt and I decided the possibility was real enough that we should figure out how to put up the hurricane shutters. They were way easier to put up than we expected, thankfully. We put a set up on the guest room window to try it out.
On Tuesday, I woke up and checked the NOAA prediction (like we’d been doing every 4 hours for the past few days). The new forecast track for a potential category 5 Irma went directly over Key West. The authorities declared a mandatory evacuation. And that’s when the panic started to set in.
At that point we were for sure putting up the hurricane shutters, and had to figure out what to do with Roy. I talked to his birdsitter, and said they were going to evacuate with their own 6 pets. A couple friends offered to take him, so we figured we had that option. His cage was supposed to arrive the next day, so I figured we had the option of flying with him if necessary. All of that was fine until my friend called and said the Key West airport was shutting down on Wednesday. Which meant we weren’t going to be able to fly out Thursday.
The rest of that afternoon was a full-on scramble involving rebooking a flight from Miami instead, piling all of our belongings up as high as possible in case of flooding (we have a ground-level house that got 3 feet of water in Hurricane Wilma), making staying-in-contact plans with our neighbors and tenants, putting up the hurricane shutters, and trying not to have a nervous breakdown. Matt did almost all of the work, because I was so panicked I felt like I was going to pass out. We hauled everything outdoors into the shed and gave our tenants the key so they could get out the shutters for their windows and door when they evacuated. We put our kayaks face-down on the patio and chained them up to a post, and gave our next-door neighbor the key; he asked if they could use them in case of emergency, since they planned to stay. Since Roy’s cage wasn’t going to arrive in time, I made arrangements to send him with Mark and his daughter Kennedy, who were going to be evacuating with their camper.
I ran to Pet Supermarket to get Roy more seeds and pellets, and the shelves there were already half-empty. I ran into his birdsitter there and she was nearly in tears, trying to deal with her responsibilities at the SPCA. Being outside was surreal – all you could hear was saws and power drills as people cut down dangerous tree limbs and put up storm shutters. People were on the street and online sharing evacuation plans, which was somehow reassuring knowing everyone already had a plan to be safe, just in case.
Our flight was at 7:30 the next morning, so we figured we’d wrap everything up at home, do the Roy handoff, and drive north. Matt booked us a hotel, and we finished packing. I had our safe contents with passports, birth certificates, and everything we couldn’t afford to lose. I also grabbed our wedding illustration signed by our friends and family, plus a bag of random stuff around the house (stuffed animals we’d gathered over the years, a wooden bird from my grandma’s house, a pottery fish – all the things where I couldn’t possibly explain to anyone why it was important, but I couldn’t leave it behind). We put those in the trunk of the car, which would be parked in Miami for the duration. (Much, much later, I had serious regrets over not bringing some of my nicer knitting projects – I had double-bagged everything in plastic and put it on the guest bed – and my favorite Christmas tree ornaments. Those are things that will *definitely* be on the evacuation list should this ever happen again.)
And then suddenly, through a massive SNAFU, we didn’t have a flight out of Miami after all. I called Delta, sat on hold forever, and cried my head off as the agent told me that all flights were booked and there was nothing they could do. I tried messaging them on Twitter (their support there is usually excellent), but got no response. We spent an hour or so frantically searching for any possible flight combinations that would get us from here (Miami, Ft Lauderdale, even Orlando) to either Sioux Falls or Minneapolis, so we could make it to my in-laws’ anniversary trip. We even considered driving all the way to Atlanta to catch the second leg of our flight that was supposed to leave Key West on Thursday. But everything was booked, and flights were coming up at $1200 and disappearing instantly before we could try to book them. (That was before they caught the runaway auto-pricing problem and set caps on airfare.)
So we were stuck, and Matt had to call and tell his parents we couldn’t make it, because we were just going to evacuate by car and go… somewhere. We didn’t really have a plan in place. I texted Mark and told him we would meet him tomorrow with Roy instead.
We’d just sat down on the couch in surrender around 9pm, when my phone beeped. It was the Delta Twitter agent, responding hours later. I explained the problem and told them we were desperate. Within a few minutes (with me dying of stress the whole time), he had us booked on the same flight out of Miami the next morning. I have no idea how they did it, but I’m considering it an actual miracle. It definitely felt like it at the time.
I called Mark, explained the abrupt change of plans, and we finished up at the house. We put the last shutters up over our front door, wished our tenants luck with their own evacuation, and headed out. We met Mark around 10pm for the Roy handoff, and then got on the road to Miami. I cried for a while, and then got down to the business of getting us to the mainland as fast as possible. Matt called his parents and told them the good news.
Despite the evacuation order, there was barely any traffic that late at night. The ocean was perfectly calm, which made it nearly impossible to believe that the hurricane was coming. We got to Miami in record time, checking into our hotel at 1:30 in the morning. We had exactly 4 hours until we had to be up for our flight the next morning. Exhaustion was a good thing, though, because it gave us no time to think about what was next.
We got up at 5:30, drove to the Park and Fly by MIA, and took the shuttle to the airport. Even at that time of morning, it was mobbed with people trying to evacuate. We made it to our flight and discovered that our miraculous Twitter agent had also booked us in Economy Comfort seats, which were fantastic. We flew from Miami to Minneapolis, where we had a couple hour layover. We went to get breakfast and ended up sitting at the bar. When the bartender asked where we were coming from, everyone around us gasped and stared. (That’s something we got used to quickly over the next few days.) By the time we were done there we had talked to everyone around us, met another KW local who was sitting elsewhere in the restaurant, and the bartender had comped almost our whole tab. People are really, really great to each other during emergencies.
We then boarded a short flight to Sioux Falls at met Matt’s parents at the airport. We had lunch in town, then drove to their house in Watertown where we spent the evening doing not much of anything except trying not to panic. Matt’s dad turned on the Weather Channel in time to see our next-door neighbor driving his Model A out of the Keys.
The next morning, the new forecast tracks were out showing they expected the storm to take its hard turn early enough to miss a direct hit on in the Keys. It was predicted to hit Miami instead, which was also terrible, but we were breathing a tiny bit easier over that. The further from our island, the better.
Since we didn’t have Roy with us, I’d brought the knitted version of him. This one’s WAY quieter. We spent the day working at the dining room table, with plans to leave on our roadtrip the next day.
That night, things seemed a bit calmer. The storm predictions were looking better all day, if a near miss. After dinner, Matt and I went to check out Watertown Brewing for a couple hours. It was a really great little brewery. Also, we hadn’t been in South Dakota for almost 2 years!
The next morning, we got up and headed off on the Great American Road trip. The distraction was good, but long hours in the car staring out the window aren’t exactly conducive to *not* thinking about a hurricane, either.
The Dignity Sculpture along the Missouri River was really impressive:
The giant prairie dog was less impressive, but we still got Bally’s picture with it.
I hadn’t been to the Badlands in years. I forgot how impressive and strange those mountains are.
I kept checking my phone for updates from NOAA and the NWS over the course of the day, and again things were getting much, much worse for us. The hurricane was going to reach Florida on Sunday, and we were running out of time for it to make the turn north. The outlier predictions that had it going directly over the Keys and then up the west coast of the peninsula were starting to look like the accurate ones.
I cried in Wall Drug.
We met a guy from Florida there who wanted to talk all about the hurricane. I hid behind Matt and made him deal with it while I tried not to have a breakdown in public. Bally was having a good time, though.
We got to our hotel in Rapid City, and I decided it was finally time to disconnect from everything. Seeing the predictions was only making me panic more, and there was no longer anything I could do about it. We just had to wait to see if we had a home to return to.
All the while, Matt’s parents were having their 50th anniversary trip, wanting to take photos of all of us together and celebrate. I know that mostly they just wanted the distraction as well, but it was still awful. I was just a zombie the whole time, alternating crying and feeling totally blank for a few hours at a time. Those couple of days are a total blur. We went out with friends of his parents, had some great meals and some good beers, and saw a lot of really cool stuff on our trip. I just have a lot of trouble remembering it.
These hungry burros are in Custer State Park. They were hilarious.
We got caught in an actual bison traffic jam.
Contrary to our expectations, it was HOT in South Dakota, into the low 90s. We didn’t have to dress for fall after all.
This is the only picture I took at Mount Rushmore. But what else do you need, really?
We’d go into souvenir shops at all of the tourist attractions, where we’d usually pick up a magnet or Christmas ornament. I couldn’t even manage that (thankfully, Matt could do normal things), because I didn’t want to consider the fact that those souvenirs might be the only things we owned.
Meanwhile, Mark and Kennedy were fleeing the storm themselves. They’d originally driven up near Orlando, then kept going and adjusting their plans as the hurricane changed course. By this time, they’d made it all the way to central Alabama, where they were in a city campground. Mark had stories about how amazing people were along the way, and how the town had adopted all the evacuaees, bringing them food, supplies, and even shelter where necessary. Roy was having the time of his life camping – the dude loves riding in the car and hanging out outside, not to mention being totally spoiled by Kennedy. Here he is camping:
I’d been in touch with all our KW friends pretty much the entire time, but everything went quiet around the time I dropped off the internet. I think everyone else just went into quiet panic mode then, too. Almost everyone we knew, even the people who swore they were riding it out, had left town by the time it started looking really bad. We knew of two people who were staying, and I was terrified we were going to lose them as well as our entire city. We all knew well that if Key West took a direct hit from a cat-5 hurricane with 160mph winds, there was very likely to be nothing left to return to.
We had an amazing lodge that night in Keystone, with a view overlooking Mount Rushmore. We went into town for dinner and a visit to an oldtimey saloon. I’m sad that I basically floated through all of it, because I know normally we’d have had a great time. I kept having to go to the bathroom to cry.
The strange thing was that I never had nightmares during the trip. I don’t remember anything I dreamed about, thankfully. My days were full of visions of the ocean rushing into my house and my belongings washing out to sea, but at least I was mostly able to sleep during the trip. Evening cocktails with the in-laws helped with that, of course.
The next morning, I woke up knowing the hurricane would have arrived in Key West by then. It took me half an hour to decide whether I should check my phone or just wait for Matt to get up and tell me what was going on. I decided it would be easier to just look, so I did. Unfortunately, I didn’t wait long enough, because it was just arriving. Of course there was no communication from anyone by then – the power and cell towers were long gone – but there was something about the NWS Key West’s posts that were somehow encouraging. I don’t even remember exactly how we found out, but indications were that even though the eye had passed within 25 miles of Key West, it passed on the “good” side, meaning KW would have been far less affected. You don’t want to be on the east side of a hurricane.
By the time Matt was showered and ready for breakfast, we knew that things were probably better than we expected, though we had to wait for the storm surge threat to pass. They kept saying they were predicting a 3-5 foot surge, which was a very bad thing, especially on our low part of the island. Still, we knew chances were good that we still had a house at *that* point, and I had seen a couple videos from storm chasers in town that didn’t look very bad at all.
I couldn’t go to breakfast – Matt went with his parents while I sat obsessively reloading Twitter and Facebook for any news. After breakfast, we checked out and got on the road to Deadwood, stopping in Hill City along the way. The museum there (which told the story of the guy who found Sue, the famous t-rex who lives at the Field Museum in Chicago) was great.
We stopped for a beer and a snack at Miner Brewing, the sister company to Prairie Berry Winery, where we stopped to pick up my sister’s favorite wine. (Note: when the cashier there asked to see my drivers license, I had a small panic attack that she would say something about Key West. I was long past the point of wanting to talk to any strangers about anything related to it. Thankfully, she didn’t.)
We drove through Spearfish Canyon on the way to Deadwood.
We also stopped to see Wild Bill’s gravesite:
People had left him some thoughtful tributes!
Potato Creek Johnny was my new favorite Deadwood local, though. Matt’s mom said that her parents used to threaten them that he’d show up if they were bad.
We checked into the Celebrity Hotel, which also happened to be a casino. (That’s pretty much every hotel in Deadwood – it’s mini-Vegas). His parents had a fancy suite, and we had a slightly less-fancy suite, but both were great. They’d told us they would have champagne in the room for the big celebration. Nobody tell them this wasn’t exactly champagne:
Matt and I went to our room to decompress for a bit. I’d learned on Facebook that people were using Zello to communicate with people in Key West; there were a couple people in town on either satellite phone or a land line – the only form of communication the storm hadn’t taken down – who were relaying info a few evacuees, who were then transmitting the information over Zello. People were asking for the status of various neighborhoods and streets, and people would respond if they’d heard anything about them. We left it running for a couple of hours while we were sitting around in the hotel, and by then had fairly good confirmation that our part of town was largely undamaged. There were hardly any reports of flooding in Key West, which was incredible.
The keys to the east were clearly in much, much worse condition. The fact that there was zero word about anything past Stock Island was a very bad sign. The roads were largely impassable, so people weren’t even able to drive up there to check.
There were ongoing reports of things like the Snake Creek bridge being out and the 7 Mile Bridge taking damage, things that would’ve delayed anyone’s return by possibly months. The news was reporting that Key West was basically destroyed, which was exactly in opposition from what we were hearing from people reporting from the ground there. We all knew there was no power or cell service, so it would be a while before we had a good sense of what was actually happening, but all signs were looking fairly positive.
By the time we were ready to head out, we were starting to feel like everything might be OK. We all went to gamble for a bit, Matt and I heading to the automated craps table and his parents going to play slot machines. Afterward, we reconvened for dinner, and then went to Saloon #10, which was famous as a Deadwood haunt back in the old-west days. There was sawdust covering the floor, and a country band playing. Matt’s parents went to dance.
After a while, Matt and I went to play blackjack in the other room of the bar (that’s a thing that happens in Deadwood). I ended up winning a lot, which felt appropriate on a day when I learned that my house probably survived a major hurricane.
The next morning, Deadwood was very quiet. Everyone must have been out late. I myself had probably the best sleep of my life, for once not trying to drown out the deathly panic and horror of the hurricane. It was the first morning I hadn’t cried in the shower, either.
We went downstairs to join Harlan and Judy in the lobby, where they had free breakfast. Have you ever made toast on a casino floor before? We have!
They had Herbie the Love Bug there, too. Deadwood is hilarious.
We hauled our stuff out to the car and started the very very long journey back across South Dakota. I was checking my phone for news from home every time I had a signal, which wasn’t that often.
Along the way, we stopped to check out the Minuteman Missile sites. One of the silos is just off the interstate, but you wouldn’t know it at all from the road. You can see a fenced enclosure in the middle of a giant cow pasture, and that’s it.
See? Those are all cows in the background.
I love this old Cold War stuff.
From there, we went about 10 miles down the interstate to their new visitor center, which was very nice, and also in the middle of nowhere.
This sign is the best. They had a good little museum there. Once you’ve been to a lot of Cold War sites (hello, Berlin), you get to the point where you could narrate the tour yourself.
We got back to Watertown, unpacked and reorganized everything, and went to get dinner at Dempsey’s downtown. The next day (Tuesday), we worked at the in-laws’ table again. Sometime that day, NOAA started publishing satellite flyover photos of the Keys, starting with Key West. I was shaking as I zoomed in to look at our neighborhood. When I found our house, I figured something was wrong, because everything looked normal. There was no debris visible in the street, and everything looked the same way we left it. I had heard that a nearby hotel had lost a lot of its room, so I found that on the map and sure enough – the roof was gone. Those were indeed post-Irma photos, and our house was still there. I could see the kayaks laying on the patio upside down exactly the way we left them, which meant that we probably didn’t even have much flooding. The huge buttonwood tree in the backyard appeared to be down, but it hadn’t fallen on anything. Seeing that was incredible.
The next day, we headed to Minneapolis. We checked into the Hamptown downtown (conveniently attached to my work) and then headed to dinner in St Paul with the in-laws, Wendy, Amelia, and Missy and their kids. It was great to see them and just have a totally normal night out.
Here’s the view from our hotel room! It’s starting to feel like we’re tourists when we visit Minneapolis now. It’s been two years, after all.
Some of the things we evacuated. You know, the important stuff. Emergency Backup Roy was especially important.
Work was pleasantly quiet. I got a huge project done, and was happy to see all my coworkers again, even though we’d just been there for a quick trip the previous month. That night, a bunch of friends came out and we took over the side room at Grumpy’s. It was great.
The next night, we had dinner with my family and went out to see our friends’ band. We had a quick stop at Triple Rock before it was time to head back to the hotel. We got up early Saturday morning, checked out, and took the train to the airport. We weren’t quite going home yet (they weren’t allowing residents back into most of the Keys yet), but at least we were going to be a lot closer.
The damage in Miami was apparent right away, with trees down all over the place, and electric trucks still working next to the airport. Our first stop on the way to the hotel in Doral was Publix to buy some subs. (It’s the true Florida comfort food.) We did nothing else but hang out on the couch that night, being glad to be that close to home. Even though we still had no idea when we’d get there.
Sunday, we did some shopping and went to Gulfstream Park. FPL had a huge electric staging site in their parking lot.
That evening, we went over to Miami Beach for drinks and dinner. Sweet Liberty was fantastic, and all the bartenders wanted to talk about the Keys. One of them was doing regular supply runs into Key Largo, which was fantastic.
The rest of the week, all we had to do was work from the hotel and wait to see when we’d be able to get home. It was starting to look like it might be soon, at least. We got to a lot of good restaurants, and managed to meet up with some of our local friends who were also waiting to get home.
They announced that the entire route down the Keys would be opening, but that there was still no power or water for most of it. We planned to wait til our neighbors said that power had returned. That turned out to be Tuesday or Wednesday (it’s all a blur at this point). We asked work for half of Thursday and Friday off so we could finally head home.
We also had to switch hotels in the middle of the week. The whole thing had become insanely exhausting and annoying.
Thursday, we worked in the morning, checked out at noon, and headed up I-95 to our planned a meetup with Mark and Kennedy, who were camping on base at Cape Canaveral at that point. Or course Mark picked the most appropriate spot to meet – a Key West themed restaurant in Melbourne.
We were so thrilled to finally see our little buddy. He seemed pretty happy to see us, too, but we could tell he was having a great time on his evacuation adventure. Kennedy totally spoiled him.
We appreciated that Hemingway’s Tavern didn’t mind having a parrot taking up a seat on the patio. They brought us Key lime pie for dessert after hearing our story, too.
We thanked Mark and Kennedy profusely, said goodbye (they weren’t returning to Key West for a while longer), and headed back to Miami, where we managed to sneak Roy into the hotel and avoid the $150 pet fee. We had absolutely zero idea what to expect from him behavior-wise in a hotel room, but he was great. He was pretty quiet, and just happy to hang out. The next morning, his breakfast consisted of veggies Kennedy had sent along with him, and some eggs from the breakfast buffet. I’m pretty sure Roy thinks hurricanes are the best thing ever.
And then, 18 days after evacuating, it was finally time to go home. We’d already seen a lot of photos from other people driving back, so I had a good idea of what to expect, but it was still brutal to see it.
The spray-painted signs on the road in Key Largo welcoming us home made me cry. So did the damage.
The most bizarre part was the trees – they were brown and completely bare because Irma had blown all their leaves off. The ones that were left standing, at least.
We’d asked around about the most-needed supplies in the Lower Keys (since they seemed to be ok for water and food at that point), and were told that cleaning supplies were in demand. With the storm surge that went through there, everyone was going to be dealing with mold. We’d picked up a bunch of vinegar, peroxide, and trash bags in Miami, so we stopped at a huge distribution center in Big Pine to drop it off.
Despite all the damage, it was great to see so many tents set up distributing supplies where they were most needed.
We got home to find out that our tenants had taken all of the hurricane shutters off the house and put them in the shed, so I wanted to hug them forever. The yard was a mess, as expected. Six weeks later, this tree is still laying across the power lines in the yard, waiting for Keys Energy to deal with it. But it somehow managed to fall in the spot where it damaged absolutely nothing, which is still unbelievable. It could’ve fallen on our house, the neighbor’s shed, or smashed my garden to bits.
We did end up getting some water in the house. We have a 3″ step down by the back door and pantry, and there was a water line showing it was 2″ deep. We were incredibly lucky. We lost a bookshelf and cookbooks to mold, and that was it.
Every street in the city was a huge pile of debris for a couple weeks. When the truck with a crane came to pick it up, everyone went outside to watch and celebrate.
This poor guy took some damage. It’s being repainted as I type this.
Looks-wise, Key West is pretty much back to normal, but the streets are much brighter now. We lost a lot of trees, and some businesses still haven’t reopened. Compared to the keys even 20 miles away from us, though, we got unbelievably lucky; we happened to be on the ‘clean’ side of the hurricane as it passed, and missed the massive storm surge that washed over Big Pine. They’re going to be rebuilding for years, and nobody here should forget that.
Matt’s company holds an annual awards event in Washington D.C., and he had to go along to manage all their social media. That was a pretty good excuse for a trip to revisit our nation’s capitol, four years after our last visit.
We dropped Roy off at his birdsitter’s and went to the airport. We had the usual 25-minute hop to Miami, grabbed an empanada from Half Moon for lunch, and then got on our flight to Reagan National. When you’re flying to DC, accept no airport substitutions, because getting into town from Dulles or BWI sucks.
Plus Reagan is just so attractive. (It’s nicer on the inside.)
We bought week-long Metro passes for $36 and hopped on the train to Farragut West. Our hotel for the event, the Mayflower, was a few blocks away. Oh, and it was overcast, in the mid-60s, and raining. That was a big change from Key West.
The Mayflower is a giant, fancy old hotel just south of Dupont Circle. Our room was very nice, but the lack of coffeemaker annoyed me to no end. Our plan was to work from the room on Wednesday before the event, and no coffee meant having to go out for it in the morning.
We checked in, met a few of Matt’s coworkers (his department had totally turned over since the last time he was in Minneapolis, so that meant he was meeting them for the first time, too!), and then went to get dinner. We walked a half-mile or so in the rain to Founding Farmers, where we found a line and an hour-plus wait. It was already fairly late, so we went to wander back in the general direction of our hotel to find a restaurant. We came across Irish Whiskey Public House, which had a decent-looking bar menu, so we went with that. Afterwards, we headed across the street to Teddy and the Bully Bar, a great little cocktail place, for a couple of drinks before bed. We headed back around 10, since we had to work in the morning.
The next morning, we got up, put on real pants (this is a travail for people who work from home, you know), and walked over to Peet’s for coffee and scones. It turns out there was lobby coffee at the Mayflower, but Peet’s was stronger. I took the desk to work, and Matt took the bed. It was a fairly uncomfortable and crowded arrangement, but it was only for a day. The plan was for me to go work at Peet’s when he went to go do event-setup stuff around noon, but that ended up being delayed and we stayed in the room all day, except for a quick lunch walk to Shake Shack for lunch.
At 3, he headed downstairs, and I finished up work and changed into fancy clothes. I don’t get a chance to wear a dress and heels very often anymore! I met more of Matt’s coworkers in the hallway by the ballrooms, where I was assigned to help out at the check-in table. They trained four of us on the check-in equipment – tablets and small label printers for making nametags, so it couldn’t have been easier – and we got to work. After about an hour, it was time to head to the main event. (Bob Dole was a guest speaker at the pre-reception party, and they rolled him past our table in his wheelchair on the way out. He waved and said thank you to all of us, which was very nice.)
We were at the staff tables in the balcony for the awards ceremony, which started at 6:30. Mike Rowe was one of the speakers, so I took a bit of video for my sister, who’s a fan.
The event was very well-done, and the speakers were great. A couple of them made everyone cry. We had dinner, dessert, and coffee, and the event wrapped up around 8:30. Matt was busily taking photos and posting to Twitter and Facebook the entire time, and his preparation made it all go smoothly. Afterwards, we said goodbye to everyone (many of whom were flying back to Minnesota first thing in the morning), went to the room to change, and headed out for a beer.
We walked over to ChurchKey near Logan Circle. Matt was wearing a shirt from J Wakefield Brewing in Miami, having joked that they’d appreciate his beer nerd shirt. When we looked at the menu, the only beer from anywhere south of the Carolinas was one from Wakefield. Since it’s a tiny brewery in Wynwood, we were kind of shocked about that. (We ended up seeing them several places in town. Which is great, because they make really excellent beers.)
It was raining pretty hard when we left, so we got to walk back to the hotel with wet pants and shoes. At least we’d remembered umbrellas!
Thursday morning, we got up and checked out. The Mayflower was nice, but we weren’t going to go paying the rack rate for the portion work wasn’t reimbursing. We left our bags at the bellhop stand, grabbed a quick breakfast at Peet’s, and headed to the Metro to the Smithsonian. It was still raining, but it had lessened a bit.
Last time we were in DC, we’d had lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian (it was great), but we hadn’t had time to see the actual museum. We also wanted to see the brand new National Museum of African American History, but apparently entry tickets to that sold out right away. While we were in town, I kept checking availability, even setting an alarm for 6:30am when they opened the daily site, but they were gone right away. We’d have to save that one for next time.
The American Indian museum is really well-done, and it was very quiet during the day. We had another excellent lunch in their cafeteria before heading off to our next nerdy stop, the National Building Museum.
The building itself was pretty incredible. It’s hard to capture the size of it in photos. We got a brochure for the self-guided tour and went up to the top level to start; there are a few exhibits in the building, but not many. The one on American households and how building has evolved over time and regionally was pretty great, as was the collection of paper pop-up construction books. The store was really good, too, but we resisted buying everything in it.
Then it was time to switch hotels before our dinner reservations. We took the Metro to the Mayflower, got our suitcases, then got back on the Metro to the National Zoo stop. The Marriott Wardman Park was conveniently located next to the Metro stop (which has one of the longest escalators we’d seen, taking almost 2.5 minutes!), but it was also at the top of a very steep hill. Rolling the bags up it was not that fun at all.
We checked in, and I was happy to find a coffeemaker in our very nice (and far more spacious) room. We freshened up, changed into nicer clothes, and got back on the Metro to the stop near Verizon Center.
So, we really like Chef Jose Andres, and have made a point of visiting his restaurants whenever possible, in both DC and Vegas. We had been trying to decide where to dine on this trip when Matt discovered the Tour de Jose, which is a small-plate tasting at four of his restaurants in one night. How could we possibly turn that down?
We started at Zaytinya at 6:15. (It’s the Greek/Mediterranean-focused restaurant we’d dined at on a previous trip.) We arrived a bit early so they set us up with a bar table and glasses of sparkling wine, then moved us to our table in short order. Then the food started arriving, and a very long restaurant adventure began. We even had ‘passports’, which the hosts took at each restaurant so they could paste in a copy of our menu for that location.
I’ll include a few of the photos here, but the entire set of our million dishes is here on Flickr, with descriptions. I have the writeups of everything Matt had, but as the vegetarian in the group, mine diverted somewhat from the main offerings. I wish I remembered more details, because everything was amazing.
At Zaytinya we had a trio of dips with pita, a couple different wines, brussels sprouts, these ‘air bread’ bites, and octopus. Matt was worried he might be served octopus because he hates the idea of it, and there it was. He ate it and liked it, too! Just not the tentacly part.
What we learned quickly is that they will serve you not just the small plates but a side of bread in some form with every meal, plus all you want to drink. Don’t eat the bread, no matter how tempting it is. You’ll just be sad about it later. (I only partook in the pita at the first restaurant with the dips, and I was *still* sad about it by the end.) It feels horribly wasteful, but just let it go.
Our host came by toward the end and let us know we had five minutes or so before moving on to the next place. We gathered our things, he took our passports, and he led us over a few blocks to Jaleo. He told us about all the new Jose Andres restaurant plans around the world, and it was kind of incredible.
At Jaleo, the tapas restaurant, he handed us off to a new host/server. We got a table by the window, were handed sangria (I usually hate sangria, but this was amazing), a basket of bread that we dutifully ignored, and then the food started arriving again.
We had pan con tomate, gazpacho (another previously-hated food), manchego with wine-marinated green apples, Iberico ham, pastry cones with some awesomely stinky cheese and quince paste, and the most mind-blowing dish of all: Ferran Adria’s liquid olives. They’re the closest we’ll ever get to El Bulli, after all. Plus – this may be a theme here – we both hate olives. But these were amazing.
Oh, and there was also eggplant with honey, and a glass sneaker that was invented by Salma Hayek’s brother. There was a long story behind it, due to the porcelain hand service at Barmini. This was Jaleo’s response, which meant that Matt got to eat croquetas out of a shoe.
And then it was off to Oyamel. It’s the restaurant we were originally planning to visit before learning about the Tour de Jose, so I was excited to go there. The problem was that I was already pretty full.
Our server there was great. He made us tableside guacamole with serrano and tomatillo (why hadn’t I thought of that? It’s genius), with fresh tortillas AND a gigantic basket of tortilla chips, which I refused to even look at. We had margaritas with ‘salt air’ that were amazing. Then there was a shrimp dish for Matt and brussels sprouts for me, which were really delicious. By the time they showed up with a taco for each of us, I was seriously feeling sick. It was all I could do to have a bite of it.
I also felt awful about wasting that much food. We joked about grabbing umbrella bags in each restaurant and filling them with the leftovers. We’d have been walking around with enough food for 30 people.
When the tacos arrived, I went downstairs to use the restroom, partially to just get a break from all the food. Even walking around that little bit made me feel somewhat better, which was good because we had yet another restaurant left to go. Unreal.
We crossed the street to China Chilcano and were seated right away. It was already close to 9pm at that point – we’d been dining since 6:15 – so this restaurant was a lot quieter. The hostess there was fantastic, too. They made us feel extremely welcome.
Thankfully, the dishes there were much lighter. We had a vegetarian version of their ceviche, made with a variety of mushrooms, jicama, radishes, and hominy. There were also small cilanto and vegetable dumplings with sesame, and pisco sours. Then it was time for the final round – the dessert. It was spectacular.
The one on the left is basically a dulce de leche with various forms of passionfruit meringue on top. (The passionfruit cuts through the sweetness like you wouldn’t believe – it was amazing.) The dessert on the right was a crispy spiral cake with molasses ice cream, caramelized bananas, and chocolate cream with the cocoa Anthony Bourdain sources from Peru.
There was coffee and port, and then we thanked the staff there about a hundred times before wobbling off back to the Metro. We’d have to walk a million miles to make up for that dinner, and thankfully we did a pretty good job of that in the next couple of days, too.
We’ve had some really incredible meals from some very famous chefs before, but we’re both pretty sure that was the best meal we’ve ever had. It’s an experience for sure.
The next morning, we got up and walked up the half-mile hill to the National Zoo. I hadn’t been there since I was a kid.
We were mad that the bird house was closed for renovation, but we found some of its residents hanging out outside. I realized later that the only animals I photographed at the zoo were the ones that live in South Florida. I like what I like, you know?
We saw most of the zoo (except for the monkeys, because monkeys are creepy) and then were very hungry because it was 2pm. We walked back to the Metro and rode over to Eastern Market, where we figured we would grab lunch from a stand and eat outside. It’s billed as one of the best markets in the country, so we had high hopes.
Eastern Market turned out to be not that spectacular. It’s one big hall with several booths (butchers, sandwich shops, cheese vendors, produce stands, etc), but there’s not that much there. It’s nothing compared to what we’ve seen in most cities. They have outdoor vendors on the weekends, so possibly that makes it more impressive. It just… wasn’t. We walked down the street to get some pizza at Seventh Hill Pizza instead. That was really good, and we ate outside on the patio.
From there, we went back to the Metro and rode over to the National Archives. It was another spot we hadn’t visited since we were kids, so we decided to go make sure that, while the current government wasn’t adhering to anything in our founding documents, the Constitution hadn’t actually been torn up or anything. We only had to wait in line for 20 minutes or so, and were able to get inside and into the rotunda fairly quickly. It was good to see those old pieces of parchment again, and they had a new exhibit on American history that was pretty interesting.
Even though it was only open for another 90 minutes, we decided to go over to the Museum of Natural History. We got to see the entire oceans exhibit on the first floor, which of course is very relevant to our interests. We swung by the shop before they closed, then headed to the Metro back to the hotel.
At that point, we’d walked approximately a million miles and were getting sore. I had blisters on my toes, because I am absolutely unused to wearing real shoes anymore (or walking long distances, since we bike everywhere now!). Key West spoils you.
We hung out in our hotel room for a bit, then decided to go over to Adams-Morgan to a few places we’d really enjoyed on our previous visit. One of the annoying things about the neighborhood is that it’s a long walk from the Metro, but Matt had noticed a sign about a circulator bus at the bus stop right outside the Metro station. It advertised $1 fare to several locations in Adams-Morgan. Our Metro cards didn’t cover that, but who cares? It’s a dollar bus ride.
The bus was waiting there at the stop as we walked up. We tried to put our dollars in the fare box, and the driver told us there was no charge today. I’m not exactly sure why, but that was awesome. We ended up talking to two different people on the bus about Key West, and I think they were both excited to visit there someday. (The guy Matt was talking to already had plans to visit in a few months.) We said goodbye to them and hopped off at the next stop.
Our dinner plans involved Smoke & Barrel. I’d freaked out about their awesome vegetarian bbq options there four years ago, and this was no different. The vegan ‘spare ribs’ are fantastic.
From there, we walked down the hill to Jack Rose for drinks. It was much, much larger than we’d remembered, and now had a couple additional bars in the building. We decided to stay in our ‘usual’ spot, at the main bar. The bartender said they had the largest whiskey collection in the country, and I believe it.
After a couple drinks there, it was time to head back to our hotel. We found the bus stop for the circulator return trip, and were the only people on the bus with a very friendly driver. It was like if Uber was $1, and not an awful company!
Saturday morning, we grabbed a quick breakfast in the hotel lobby and then took the Metro to the Newseum, another new-to-us museum. As it’s not Smithsonian-based it was also the first museum we actually had to pay for, and it was worth it. It’s a really nice setup in a modern building, with six levels of exhibits. It’s well-designed for those of us with short attention spans and crowd-annoyance.
While the exhibits are all sponsored by major media organizations, it felt very unbiased and straightfoward in telling the history of news reporting. I’m always a little twitchy about presentations on things like 9-11 or the history of the FBI and terrorism, but I thought they did a really excellent job. They dispense with the flagwaving and just present the facts about what happened. Seeing all the 9-11 footage again was gutwrenching.
They also had my favorite sign ever:
There was a good exhibit on music’s influence on politics and culture. The artifacts were pretty excellent. Here are the original ‘Fight the Power’ lyrics, presumably handwritten by Chuck D.
The Newseum has a really good view from their top-floor balcony overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue, too.
Hey, the sun came out for a few minutes! The rain stopped! Amazing.
After we were done there, we walked over to Chinatown for lunch. The ramen place we wanted to go to had an hour wait (at 2pm? For lunch??), so we went to On Rye instead. They had a smoked beet and gouda reuben that was fantastic.
We decided to return to the Museum of Natural History to see the rest of the exhibits. We walked over there and found a long line to get in, which should’ve been our first warning. It only took about 20 minutes or so in line, though, so we waited. The place was absolutely packed with at least 40,000,000 kids (how did they fit them all in there?? I don’t know, but they did! And most of them were screaming!). It was hard to see anything with the crowds, and the ungodly amounts of slow-walking irritated the hell out of me, plus my feet hurt.
I enjoyed the exhibit on African history, mostly because it was uncrowded and I could actually see things. We also decided that it wasn’t that fun to see a bunch of taxidermied animals when you’ve just seen the live versions at a zoo.
Bally likes geology, though. Here he is in a pothole.
We left the museum about 5 and headed back to the hotel to sit around and figure out our dinner plans. We decided on a restaurant/brewery near Nationals Park called Bluejacket, because they had a really nice-looking menu. We realized that the Nats game was in the 7th inning, so we should probably hurry to get there before the rush.
We got out of the Metro station as people were leaving the game, but it was still going on. There was a 45-minute wait for a table, but we didn’t care because we’d had a late lunch. We found a spot by the bar and ordered beers. Within half an hour, the place was so packed you could barely move. Conveniently, I got a text just then saying our table was ready.
We had hush puppies, mini ‘everything’ pretzels, and I had a really good burrata salad. By the time we were done, it was dark and the place had mostly cleared out. We walked to the Metro and rode to our last stop near the White House, to get a manhattan at Old Ebbitt Grill. It’s an institution.
(My favorite part of being there was a tour group coming through, led by a guy in a very disheveled revolutionary war uniform. He did not look like he was having a good time at all.)
We headed back to the hotel and finished packing up before heading to bed.
We were in no rush the next day, so we slept in late, checked out, grabbed breakfast at the hotel again, and rolled our bags to the Metro with the 2.5-minute escalator ride. We got to DCA around 11:30, dropped our bag at check-in, and went to get lunch at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Conveniently, they had vegetarian chili dogs!
We had very pleasant flights home, with a half-full flight to Miami, and a quick hop to Key West. We picked up Roy from his sitter, and were home in time for dinner.
Kris and Orsi got married in Jamaica. Since we weren’t there for their wedding, we obviously had to go for their 10th anniversary. They were there for a couple weeks in February, and we joined them toward the end of their stay, only overlapping by a couple days.
We had a 3.5 hour drive to Miami and a 1 hour flight to Montego Bay, since we can’t fly direct from Key West. It’s worth it.
Peela, one of their friends from Negril, met us at the airport with his cab. On the way out of town, he mentioned that weed was now legal in small quantities in Jamaica. It was hilarious to see him smoking and waving at cops along the way.
Speaking of which, the usual spirit license signs had a new counterpart: the ganja license sign!
He dropped us off at Samsara and we checked in. Our room was across the road on the garden side, which we’d never actually visited before. It was really pretty, and quieter than the cliffs side. We had a big cottage with a nice patio to ourselves. (I would highly recommend the garden side, plus it’s cheaper.)
We found Kris, Orsi, Thomas, Melissa, and the kids (four of them) cliff-jumping before sunset. We had good timing!
We watched sunset, then walked over to No Limit. There was a new cook there with a grill in the parking lot, and Kris had asked him to make ital (vegan) pumpkin soup in addition to the usual chicken soup, which meant I could eat there too. The soup was amazing, and had huge dumplings in it.
We sat outside the bar for a few hours talking, and then it was time to head back to our rooms.
Here’s the view from our patio the next morning. I made coffee and sat out there reading. It was funny how familiar all the foliage seemed to me this time; we have many of the same plants in the yard now. Not as exotic-seeming, but every bit as attractive as always.
The temperatures in Jamaica and Key West were the same in February, in the high 70s, but it felt warmer there. The sun is more direct, and it’s more humid.
We met everyone and climbed on the shuttle down to Legends on the beach. Here’s Kris and Orsi, who seem to still like each other even after ten years!
We spent the usual amount of time at Yellow Bird (a lot), having dirty bananas. The kids were happy to spend time at the cake lady’s stand.
We had lunch at Kuyaba, and then a few of us went for a beach walk all the way down to Tony’s, which is down toward the other end where the big resorts start. Our names were still on the wall from last time, but we needed a new entry with updated information:
Then it was time to head back and get ready for dinner, so we walked back to Legends, where everyone else was waiting to get on a glass-bottom boat to ride back up to the cliffs. It looked like a storm was rolling in as we left the beach.
We did some sightseeing along the way, and then they dropped us off at the hotel. I am still not at all a fan of jumping off a rocking boat, especially onto a narrow rock platform on these cliffs.
The rainbow was pretty awesome, though, plus the rain missed us.
We changed and got a cab to Just Natural for dinner. I love that place.
After dinner, we did the usual hanging-out at No Limit, then went back to the hotel to fly paper lanterns over the ocean.
The next morning, it was already time for the rest of the group to head back to Minnesota. Matt and I had a good laugh over the idea of going back to Minnesota in February (how soon we forget). We said bye to everyone and then walked down the road to Canoe Bar for breakfast. Their coffee was amazing.
After breakfast we decided to head down to town to do some grocery shopping at Hi Lo. Along the way we met Chicken King, who was awesome. So was his decor:
We ended up going to the new green supermarket instead of Hi Lo, since that was new since our last visit. It was pretty much the same thing. We got Blue Mountain coffee to bring home, some spices and hot sauces that we needed, and snacks for the hotel. Then we headed back up toward Samsara, making a beer stop with Chicken King along the way.
We spend the afternoon in the pool and reading books along the cliffs. One of the very appealing things about Negril is there’s not that much to do there; you’re forced to actually relax.
In the evening, we walked over to Pushcart for dinner. We’ve been to the Rockhouse on every trip to Negril so far, and we weren’t going to mess up that tradition. Their food is amazing, and so is their decor. (Also, we’ve been to a couple of the restaurants owned by the same people in New York, like Miss Lily’s. They’re great.)
This is the most true statement:
After dinner, we walked over to the bar at Rockhouse for a drink, then headed back to the hotel to hang out on our patio and play cards before bedtime.
The next morning, it was already time to leave Samsara. We rolled our bags to the lobby and took the shuttle to Legends, where we were spending the rest of our stay. Our room wasn’t ready yet, so we left our bags in the lobby and went to sit on the beach.
I bought a bottle of ginger-pineapple juice from a guy passing by. It was amazing.
We sat there reading for a while, then went to get our room. It was also on the garden side, but this time in a pretty large hotel complex. We had a nice room with a balcony, and we could see the pool from there. We decided to go have a swim.
Turns out the pool in the shade is NOT as warm as the ocean. It took a long time to get used to it, but I managed to spend some time in there before I lost feeling in my limbs. There was a family of feral cats running around too, and the babies climbing on everything were adorable.
We showered and headed out for a walk on the beach. With a stop at Yellow Bird, of course. They have a good view.
Here’s an awesome mural on the side of the building that used to be 23/7’s kitchen. I can’t believe that spot is still empty!
We had a late lunch at Roots Bamboo, then decided to try Woodstock, a new place that had sprung up since our last visit. It was a really large property with a big stage, and they advertised two-for-one rum punches for happy hour. What’s not to like?
Their sunset view was pretty good, too!
We ended up spending a very long time there (as happens in Negril), but unfortunately there was nothing on the menu I could eat. However, there was a little rasta shack nearby. This meal was incredible.
The next day, the ocean was rough. Probably the roughest we’ve seen it on a non-stormy day. It was kind of hilarious watching people fight the waves.
We stuck to our beach chairs, reading and lounging.
Round about lunchtime, we went for a walk down toward the other end of the beach, and found a little patty shop along the way. We got patties and Red Stripe and brought them back to Legends’ beach for further chillin’.
After a good long time in our beach chairs, we changed and went for another walk down the beach. We ended up at Tony’s again (waaay down the beach), where we ran into a couple from Wisconsin. We ended up talking to them for a long time. (They had fond memories of 23/7, which made me like them a lot.) They recommended Chance’s for dinner because they had the best pizza in Negril; we liked the sound of that, so ended up heading down there after a while. We were sitting there waiting for dinner when the couple showed up, clearly influenced by their own recommendation. They were right – it was really great pizza.
We then walked all the way back down to Bourbon Beach for their show. It was mostly concert footage shown on a giant screen, followed by a band. I liked having the option of both, really.
The next morning, we got a cab to take us up to Just Natural for brunch. It wasn’t so much that we love the place (we do, but we’d already been there), more that Kris is dumb and had left something he’d worked years to acquire there when we’d had dinner. We told him we’d go back and get it for him.
There was no threat of rain this time, so we sat out in the jungle. Bally bellied up to the bar.
And here’s a reminder of the outdoor restrooms there. I LOVE THIS PLACE.
Our cab driver showed up right on time after breakfast, and we asked him to drop us off at Rockhouse, which was about half of the way back to the roundabout. We wanted to hit up their shop, because we figured they would have awesome stuff.
And they did, including this new Ting tshirt I bought for myself.
By then it was afternoon, so it was OK to have a cocktail. The bartenders working were the absolute best, and they were really entertaining. Especially when singing and dancing to Drake.
Also, there’s this view:
The bartenders found out that it was Matt’s birthday the next day, so insisted that he have a flaming shot. Well, we both did. You can’t really tell that this is on fire, but it is. You drink it with a straw, which hearkened back to that one time Wendy did so and lit the cruise ship bar on fire.
We headed back down the road after a couple drinks, walking back past Samsara. We decided to get lunch at the German bar, which also had pizza. Shut up, it’s really good pizza!
From there, we hailed another cab. When it pulled up there were already two women and the drive inside, and we realized it was a route taxi. Which was fine, because that’s way cheaper than a regular cab. We asked the driver to take us to Time Square, right next to our hotel. She dropped us off there and we went to use the ATM before going to our room to drop off our Rockhouse purchases.
After a while, we headed back up the beach to Tony’s. It’s such an entertaining little place.
The bartender, Princess, had everyone playing games. We played this one, which involved stacking disks on top of tippy pieces.
After a while we switched to Shut the Box, which I’ve decided is my new favorite bar game. It drives me crazy.
We hung out for sunset, then decided to go get dinner.
I really wanted to go back to the rasta place on our last night, but it turns out they were closed. We decided on Alfred’s Ocean Palace instead, which had an excellent vegetarian crepe. Matt swears we’ve never been there before, but we definitely had lunch there on our first trip to Negril.
We made one last top at Woodstock, and then it was time to go pack up for the trip home.
The next morning, we had breakfast a few doors down from the hotel, then went to check out and get the shuttle to the airport. We only made one stop along the way, and our driver made quick work of the drive (which is kind of nervewracking in a huge van). We had a good flight home, and spent the evening in Miami celebrating Matt’s birthday before heading home to Key West on Sunday!
From the first time we visited the Dry Tortugas, Matt and I wanted to camp there. It’s a group of tiny islands 70 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, with a giant fort and tons of wildlife (and over 90% of it is underwater). Who wouldn’t want to do that? So, once we moved to Key West and figured out the best time of year for camping (the winter, since it’s not that hot), we booked a trip to the Tortugas way in advance.
That’s my first bit of advice! Book your trip way in advance. Also, while there’s a really good locals’ discount on the ferry for day trips, that doesn’t apply if you’re camping. Our trip cost $460 total: $390 for the ferry, $20 each for our kayaks, and $15 per night for camping. You’ll need to bring exact cash for the camping fee, since you put that in the camping box when you arrive. The rest is paid in advance.
You have to arrive at the ferry terminal by 6:30 in order to load your gear before everyone else boards. You can park on the street temporarily right in front of the terminal, and they provide big rolling carts. It took us three trips between the kayaks and our gear, but we did it. Matt went to go park in the ramp while I rolled the rest of the gear down the ramp onto the ferry. The captain was there to assist us.
They say you’re allowed 60lb of gear per person; we were just within that limit and were a little nervous about it. There was no indication they actually checked that, though. Because you have to bring a decent-sized animal-proof cooler (there are rats), ice and enough water for the entire duration of your stay, I feel like they don’t enforce that much. We brought a scaled-back version of all our camping gear, camp chairs, a Rubbermaid tote with food and cooking stuff, plus a hardsided cooler. You’re not allowed to bring propane or anything explosive, so you have to go with charcoal or Sterno. I definitely recommend having Sterno as a backup, for reasons you’ll find out below.
There’s also a chance that if there are high seas or other bad weather, the ferry won’t be able to travel on your return date. So make sure to bring some backup food and water just in case. You can leave any extra water with the other campers, who will be happy to have it. One of the rangers even recommended using it to water the palm trees they’d just planted!
We had a meeting with the captain on the ship, where he checked us in, reviewed the rules, and gave us a couple giant trash bags to use on the island. Included with your trip is breakfast on the outbound trip, and one lunch. Like most people, we opted to have our lunch on the day we were returning, so we could pack up early and not have to cook.
After the meeting, we headed to the boarding area and waited with everyone else. The ferry ride was uneventful until we got to the channel about halfway to the Tortugas, and then the seas got rougher. I was wearing Sea Bands, though, so it wasn’t a problem at all. If you get seasick, GET THEM. They’re amazing.
We got to the dock on Garden Key (the largest of the islands, and the one where Fort Jefferson is) about 10:30am. They asked the campers to all assemble on the top deck for a meeting while everyone else got off the boat. There were seven of us arriving that day: another couple, and a group of three. We were the only ones who were staying for two nights.
Ranger Nick, who was awesome and really funny, reviewed all the camping rules again (mostly about animals, cooking, and being careful walking around at night). He also invited everyone to a fishing class after the ferry left, and told us how to get a hold of them at night in case of emergency. It involved a distress call on a marine radio, and only entering the fort as a very last resort.
We chose this site because it was in a narrow area between the moat and the beach. Seriously, how amazing is this? There were only a few shaded spots in the campground and they were already occupied, but we figured it wouldn’t be a huge deal since it wasn’t that hot. It was, however, VERY VERY WINDY.
The wind made setting up a huge pain in the ass, because everything kept trying to blow away. It was so intense that we grabbed some rocks to put on the edge of the rain fly; we were worried it was strong enough to bend the tent poles. That had actually happened to us before!
Once we had everything set up and had claimed our picnic table, we went for a walk around the island.
We’d been told that Carlos the Crocodile had been seen recently in the moat near our campsite. I didn’t see him there, just this starfish:
Most of the ferry visitors were inside the fort, so we walked down Bush Key.
Here’s the division between Bush Key and Long Key. Long Key is totally off-limits because it’s the only magnificent frigatebird nesting site in North America.
The far end of Bush Key is covered in conch shell trees. I love these.
Here’s a washed-up Portuguese Man-of-War. Don’t mess with this guy.
While we wandered, the two seaplanes who service the island were coming and going. It’s awesome watching them landing.
Round about 3pm, it was time for the ferry to go. We went down to the dinghy beach (where our kayaks were hanging out) and watched it go. The guy in the life jacket is one of our fellow campers who had been there the previous night. He had a really nice kayak and what appeared to be the best campsite, hidden in the trees and out of the wind.
The island changes completely the second the boat and last seaplane leave. It suddenly feels very remote. It’s amazing.
Ranger Nick had told us earlier that he was giving fishing lessons once the boat left, so we decided to go check that out. The park has a fishing license that covers all visitors, which is pretty awesome. They also have all the gear there for you to borrow.
He first showed us how to cast a net for bait. It took a few tries, but we got a bucketful soon enough.
Then it was fishing time! There was another couple there from Miami, so they and Matt got hand reels and baited their hooks. I was just there to watch, since as a vegetarian I’m not that excited about possibly hurting a fish.
That changed quickly as Ranger Nick handed me a reel that already had a line in the water. They promised me they’d use the fish if I caught it, so I fished. It was kind of exciting.
It was mostly mangrove snapper under the dock, but there were also some bigger yellowtail hanging around. One of them took my hook and started pulling. Suddenly, a gigantic goliath grouper swam up, ate the yellowtail and ran with the tiny, tiny line on my hand reel.
Ranger Nick helped me let all the line out and then we waited. I had no idea how this was going to end in anything successful, but the gigantic fish stayed on the line for a long time. Finally it went slack, and it was time to try again.
But then I caught a real fish! My first fish ever. It was a just-barely-legal-sized mangrove snapper.
While we were fishing, a big Coast Guard ship came sailing up, with huge guns on the deck and everything. Even the ranger was standing there gawking as they docked. I asked him what was going on, and he said he had no idea – they’d had small Coast Guard boats before, but nothing like this at all. It was kind of bizarre.
Everyone else caught their own fish, and the ranger was nice enough to do the butchering for us. Since the Miami couple didn’t have a cooler, Matt took all the filets back to put in our cooler for dinner. We we all very proud of ourselves. These guys were happy for the guts, too.
It was nearing sunset, so we headed into the fort to climb up to the top of the wall. Fort Jefferson closes after sunset, but the rangers told us we had about 15 minutes to clear the grounds afterwards.
Here’s the lighthouse on Loggerhead Key. It’s about 3 miles away, and in good weather you can kayak there. There was no way that was happening in 30mph winds, though. (We were questioning any kayaking in that weather.)
We had a pretty good view from the campsite. Seriously amazing.
Once the sun went down, we headed to our tent to make dinner. Look at how calm and peaceful it looks in this photo! And check out my Luminoodle lights, which were running on a backup battery that I charged via portable folding solar panel! The wind was really strong, somewhere between 25-30mph, and we had a couple big rocks holding the rain fly down. Those stakes weren’t all that great in the sand.
The wind meant we had some trouble getting the grill going, too. We had a little bag of charcoal per the ferry’s recommendations, but Matt was struggling to even get the lighter to light. We finally made enough of a windblock to make it happen, and put out food on the grill. We had plantains, a veggie dog for me, and of course the fish filets in the cooler. The couple from Miami came over and asked if we minded cooking their fish too; it turned out they had just brought some trail mix and snacks in bags since they were only staying one night. We sat around talking while our dinner cooked very slowly in the ridiculous wind.
They ended up being really great, and had good advice on camping in the Everglades. We all shared our food and sat around being amazed by the stars, which were brighter than we’d ever seen before. They headed back to their campsite after dinner, and we cleaned up and decided to walk over to the group-camp area where it was completely open to see the stars better.
The Coast Guard ship was still docked there, and we realized there were guys coming back from the beach wrapped in towels, boarding the ship. Apparently they had just stopped by for a beach break! You could see general movement and hear the intercom beeping, but we were too far away to hear their announcements. We figured they were going to sail pretty soon, but didn’t seem to be in a huge hurry to do so. We saw the rangers come out and close up the dock building for the night, and then everything became very dark and quiet.
I wish there was some way to capture how the sky looked. There were so many stars we had trouble picking out constellations, because we’re used to only seeing the main stars. (Even in Key West we have a pretty dark night sky – far darker than anything I’ve seen up north – but nothing like this.) The Milky Way was clearly visible overhead, running across the entire sky. It was unreal. (To get an idea of it, watch this video. It give me goosebumps, it’s so accurate.)
After a while, the moon started to rise over Bush Key and the Coast Guard ship. We could see at that point that there was no longer anyone on the bridge, so apparently they were hanging out for the night. We went to use the restrooms and then headed back to our campsite.
A note about the restrooms: when the ferry is at the dock, everyone on the island is supposed to use their restrooms. This is a very good thing, since they have flush toilets and running water to wash your hands. When the ferry leaves, they unlock the composting toilets. They were actually in very good condition and didn’t smell anywhere near as much as usual camping pit toilets. However, if you go in there at night wearing your headlamp, don’t shine it down into the toilet. The cockroaches running around in there won’t make you very happy about the whole situation.
It was pointless to try to sit up and play a game with the wind, so we climbed into the tent and read Kindles for a while. The wind made it extremely loud, with the rain fly whipping against the tent. (Matt was convinced we’d have been better off without it, but I thought it would be loud regardless. Plus there was a chance of rain.) We both slept miserably; I kept waking up with the side of the tent would blow against my head, and I’d have to scoot down and sleep in a ball. It wasn’t pleasant at all.
The next morning, I got this view on the way to the bathroom. I wasn’t that mad about not having slept much, seeing this.
The Coast Guard ship had sailed off a bit earlier; we heard their intercom and the engines starting up. That meant there were maybe 20 of us total on the island, including the park rangers. Amazing.
Here’s South Beach. It’s different from the Miami version.
I don’t think I’ve ever been the first person to leave footprints on the beach in the morning.
On the way back to our site, I passed the kayak-guy, who was making breakfast over a can of Sterno. I told him about our travails in the wind and difficulty cooking, and he told me that he was going to be heading back that day, so we should claim his site and move the tent. He said he didn’t notice the wind at all, because he was hidden in the trees. It was definitely the best site in the campground.
He also said that Sterno was the way to go in the wind, and gave me the little grill he was using to cook on. He said to take it and bring back a bag or something to put at his site so that everyone knew it was ours. I loved that guy a lot, because he was 100% right.
We gathered our things and prepared to move. The turkey vultures didn’t waste any time looking for leftovers by our picnic table.
This is what our new site looked like. It was a HUGE improvement.
Since we had also brought Sterno per the ferry’s recommendation (mostly because we didn’t want to heat coals for breakfast), we were able to quickly rig up a windblock with bricks and the guy’s little Sterno stove and had a much more pleasant cooking experience than the previous night. Blueberry pancakes! They were delicious.
One of the seaplanes arrived while we were having breakfast and moving camp, and then the ferry. We decided it was time to get off the island while all the people were on it.
Our kayaks had been hanging out at the dinghy beach, so we were ready to go. We had a chat with our kayaking pal about conditions; he said it was pretty difficult paddling due to the wind, but told us which route to take, sticking to the shore. We geared up and paddled out.
Our kayak pal had boarded the ferry at that point, and was up on the top deck waving at us as we passed. The paddling didn’t seem too difficult at all, since the land curves around and blocks most of the current coming in from the channel. We just got splashed a bit.
Here’s Fort Jefferson and the ferry from the water. I still can’t get over this place. It’s amazing.
We paddled along Bush Key, and then crossed the little channel between that and Long Key. Much of the sand spit was above water, so it was doing a good job of breaking up the current. Still, it was the most difficult area to paddle in.
Long Key is surrounded by buoys marking the do-not-cross line. This is the closest we could get to the magnificent frigatebird nesting grounds, but we were close enough to see them in decent detail. There were hundreds of them, and eventually we were able to pick out some of the males sitting in trees puffing out the giant red sacs on their neck that they use for a mating display. Hilarious.
After watching the birds for a while, we paddled back toward Garden Key.
We went over to the far side of the dinghy docks, where an old platform used to be. The pilings were full of pelicans and seagulls, so we stirred them up a bit. Our Miami friends were hanging out there by the water, so we wished them a good trip back on the ferry.
The paddling was much harder the closer we got to the South Beach side, so we headed back to the dinghy beach and pulled up our boats. We were very happy that we hadn’t brought the kayaks in vain, because we were convinced it wasn’t going to happen in that wind. We’d have to save the Loggerhead paddle til next time!
We took advantage of the ferry’s clean restrooms and running water several times that day. It was especially convenient after lunch, when everyone clears out and heads into the fort for the tour. (If you’re out of water, ice, etc you can purchase it on the ferry, too. It’s just really expensive, so plan ahead!)
We went back to the campsite to make some lunch. As other campers had mentioned, the ground now looked like it was moving because of all the hermit crabs. They were adorable.
We had to be really careful walking around, though. I’d be sad to mash one of those little dudes. If you dropped food, a bunch of them would go swarming toward it and a hilarious crab battle would ensue. Usually the biggest guy won; his name was Lawrence Whelk. (I know.)
After lunch, the fort had emptied out quite a bit and a lot of the daytrippers were back on the ferry. We decided to go tour it again. It was nice to feel like you could take your time with everything; when you’re on the ferry or seaplane, you’re aware of just how limited your time is on the island.
This never gets old:
Closeup of the floor; the concrete is full of shells and coral.
Hard to see, but there are snorkelers along the wall. They’re much braver than we are, since the water was REALLY COLD. January is not swimming time in the Keys, no matter what people tell you.
Here’s the view from the front of Fort Jefferson.
Looking toward the campground (in the trees).
Bally likes to pretend he’s a cannonball. Of course Bally came with us to the Tortugas!
Looking through the fort to the north:
And there are our kayaks hanging out on the beach.
When we got back to the campground, a guy was standing near the moat staring at something. We went to see, and he pointed out Carlos the crocodile. He was so well-camouflaged it was hard to see him, but he’s there. Look to the bottom right of the rusted piece of metal near the water line and his head is there. His tail is mostly in the water.
So yeah, there was a crocodile within view of our campsite. We weren’t especially concerned about it since he’s there a lot (and crocs aren’t aggressive like alligators can be), but other people were. We learned that he swims miles to some of the other keys to look for food and ladies!
The ferry headed out and the seaplanes were leaving shortly, so we grabbed a blanket and our Kindles and headed over to North Beach. There’s a lot of fascinating old stuff to see at that beach; there’s a pile of mechanisms from the fort, and old worn bricks all over the place. We had the beach to ourselves just like we did the first time we visited!
Here’s something that’s changed in the year and a half since we moved to Key West:
We hung out reading and staring at the ocean for a while, and then decided to head back to the campground. We took our chairs to the beach and joined most of our fellow campers there to see the sunset.
This view never gets old. I love it.
The wind was still in full force; I felt a little bad for the people who had claimed our old campsite. However, at our new site, we barely even noticed it. It was such a huge difference, it was amazing. We set up our lights and made dinner over charcoal.
My Luminoodle lights worked perfectly, and I had charged all our battery packs during the day with the solar panel mounted on the post for hanging trash. I had a set of four little USB backup chargers that were plenty to keep our campsite and tent Luminoodles running, and our phones fully charged. (Even though there’s no cell service at the Tortugas, you obviously have to take a million pictures.)
We played cards for a while, and ended up going to bed pretty early because of our prior sleepless night. We had the rain fly on the tent mostly because it’s entirely mesh and I didn’t want someone walking by and looking at my naked butt in the morning. We left the side doors open, though, and with a slight breeze it was incredibly pleasant.
I got up shortly before sunrise, and was greeted by a completely deserted island. I didn’t even see rangers walking around at that hour.
I watched the sun come up over the Gulf, still having my mind blown at the fact we got to stay there. It’s so incredible.
We got up, made breakfast, and started packing up camp. I talked to a few people about their campsites, and they were uniformly miserable because of the wind. Like our previous camp-tenant, we told them to consider taking over our site when we left. There are only 2-3 totally sheltered sites there, and they make a huge difference in either sun or wind.
The red flag was flying on the fort, indicating that small boats were allowed to come into the harbor and moor for wind shelter. There were several sailboats tied up there.
We grabbed a rolling cart from the dock and started hauling our stuff over. You’re supposed to have all our gear waiting in the pickup spot on the dock by 10am, as well as all your trash so they can haul it back to Key West. While they supply giant, heavy plastic trash bags that work well for hanging up away from pests – palm rats, mostly – they don’t have any recycling receptacles for your campsite. We just threw all our recycling in our cooler to haul back with us. (I think they also had recycling on the ferry.)
These turkey vultures supervised as we hauled our kayaks to the dock.
They’re incredibly graceful-looking creatures in the air, and stupidly gawky on land. They’re really entertaining. (They also know where the fish scraps come from.)
When the ferry arrived, they quickly offloaded the new campers’ gear and put ours onboard. Here are our kayaks, ready to go!
We kept a day bag with us, since we had til 3pm on the island. We did some more reading on the beach, then grabbed some lunch from the ferry and had a picnic. After that, we joined the short tour of the fort to see if we’d missed any important knowledge about it (we had, too!). We went to have a chat with the guy who ran the visitor’s center, since Matt had met him the previous day, and then did some more wandering around the fort. We swore there were different areas open than we’d seen previously, which is definitely possible since it’s always under renovation. I don’t recall ever seeing Samuel Mudd’s cell before – it’s directly above the visitor’s center on the second level of the fort.
And then it was time to head back to civilization, sadly. The ride back was rough again, but SeaBands got me through.
Now I want everyone to do this same trip so we can compare notes on how amazing it is!
Matt and I drove up to Miami the night before our trip to New York, stayed at a marginal Holiday Inn Express near the airport, and then took their shuttle to MIA on Thursday morning. The fact that the hotel didn’t charge us to leave our car there for 5 nights, even though they advertised $10/day, made me a lot more willing to overlook their need for a huge upgrade.
I’d upgraded us to first class as part of Matt’s Christmas present. He unfortunately found out a couple days earlier when he opened the Delta app, but that was OK. It was THE BEST. We had a very pleasant flight into JFK.
We took the AirTrain to the Jamaica station, then took LIRR into Penn Station. The thing we’d neglected to remember about New York (having always taken a cab from the airport) is that you end up having to haul your suitcases up and down stairs a million times. Some of the stations have elevators, and some even have elevators that homeless people haven’t pissed in, but there aren’t many of them. It’s a pain, but I guess for the price difference you can’t complain too much.
We had an AirBnB on the Upper West Side, a half-block from Central Park. It was probably 300 square feet, but if it has a bed and a coffee pot, we’re happy. The owner was fantastic, too. He said we could just keep the $200 cash we’d brought for the security deposit, since we obviously weren’t going to wreck the place.
We bought 7-day transit passes; even though we were only there for five days, it was the same cost as 10 rides on the subway. We were likely to hit that number in the first two days, so that’s a pretty good bargain.
Having become very out-of-practice at winter, we were glad that temperatures in New York were going to be above freezing. I had my winter jacket, wool socks, mittens, and giant knit cowl, so I was prepared. I was also wearing non-flip-flop shoes for the first time in several months. Did you know if you don’t wear sneakers for months and then walk around a bunch, the tops of your toes get really sore? It’s true.
We hopped on the subway and rode to Bryant Square for the Christmas festival there. Besides Hamilton, the holiday-related stuff was what I was most excited to see in New York. Christmas in Key West, while fantastic, is very different.
This is the first thing we saw there. I was so excited.
For some reason, Facebook had a building there where you could try VR stuff. I don’t know.
We were hungry, so our first top was at a pretzel and hot dog stand. I got a cheddar and truffle pretzel, which was my new favorite thing ever. We walked around all the little booths set up there – the one big difference from the traditional German Christmas market is that most of them were just selling crafty/souvenir stuff, not holiday-related stuff. Which was fine, just not what I expected.
On the far size of the plaza were all the food booths. We got empanadas from one booth, and I got a tofu bao from another. (File under: things you can’t do that easily in Key West. It’s why we go to Miami a lot.) After that, we crossed the street to revisit one of our Copenhagen favorites: Joe and the Juice. We got ginger lattes, obviously. I’m sure their other stuff is good, but I don’t care. Ginger lattes.
We walked up 6th Avenue, looking at Christmas lights. Radio City’s tree was pretty spectacular. Holy crap, the crowds of tourists, though – it was hard to even cross the street, there were so many damn people standing around gawking.
Then we went to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. Again, totally mobbed.
We noticed St Patrick’s Cathedral was open, so we stopped in to see that (it’s massive). Then we walked past all the giant window displays on 5th Avenue, unsure of where we wanted to go next. I was getting cold at that point, so we needed to find something soon. We decided to see if the Campbell Apartment was open at Grand Central, because we’d enjoyed it a lot last time. We walked over there, and had to figure out where it was – I knew what side of the building it was on, but had forgotten you could only get there from the outside. Thankfully, Matt remembered that part. And… it was closed. Sigh.
We sat in the lobby searching Google to see what was nearby. We wanted to get dinner at some point, and have a beer. We decided on the Ginger Man on E 36th.
We had second thoughts the second we walked in, because it was absolutely packed and really loud. However, we happened upon a small table where people were just leaving, so we grabbed that. Service was shockingly fast, too. We had a few beers and ordered dinner, which was also really good. I’m sure it’s not *that* hard to find a good bar/dinner place in Midtown, but if you don’t know the area well it feels like a challenge.
We walked back to the subway and headed home for the night. That was the first point where we realized that the usual line running past our rental didn’t run very late (I think it stopped at 11), so we were going to have to be creative and pay attention to time if we wanted to use transit to get home.
Friday morning, while Matt was showering, I was doing some research on last minute show tickets. He’d looked on a few sites and had suggestions on options, so I decided to look into them further. We were really interested in The Great Comet (a.k.a. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812) because we’d been listening to it a lot lately, but since it had only recently moved to Broadway and was starring Josh Groban, we figured there was no chance. I was shocked to see that there were a few tickets available on StubHub, *and* that they were selling below the face value of $75. I grabbed them up quickly.
We walked to a cute coffee shop nearby – named Joe and the Art of Coffee, not to be confused with Joe and the Juice – where we had scones and cortados. We then headed out for a pilgrimage to Hamilton Grange National Memorial in Harlem. (“It’s quiet uptown.”) We got there about 20 minutes before the tour began, so we put our names on the list and went to look around the museum. We watched a video about Hamilton’s history (which had obviously been recently re-edited to include music that sounded very familiar), and then it was time to go upstairs for the self-guided tour. The house actually reminded me of a few we’ve seen here, like Hemingway’s and the Audobon house.
From there, we headed to the East Village for lunch at Miss Lily’s 7A. We’d been to another of their outposts in NYC last time, plus the owners run our favorite dinner spot in Negril. I had a delicious vegetable roti and some of Melvin’s juice for lunch. So good.
From there, we rode over to the Union Square market to do some more Christmas shopping. They had many of the same booths as the other one, but also more Christmas-themed items. We picked up a few souvenirs there, then stopped into Flying Tiger (another Copenhagen favorite) and Eataly. We were carrying enough shopping bags at that point to warrant a trip back to the condo to drop it off, but stopped into the Belgian Beer Cafe nearby to warm up and have a drink first. As far as we could tell, the entirely of New York was out shopping and drinking at that point. Everything was mobbed.
On the way back, we stopped at Bryant Park to do some shopping at Muji and pick up our tickets at the StubHub office nearby. It was in the basement of a hotel, and seemed pretty shady, but apparently it’s totally legit.
From there, we headed back to the condo to change clothes. Then we went back out, this time to the Port Authority Bus Terminal stop, nearest the Imperial Theater. Since we didn’t have a ton of spare time, we decided to try to get into Beer Authority for dinner. It seemed kind of chain-ey (as expected, being so near Times Square), but the food was good and so was the beer selection. Plus they were quick!
From there, we walked over to the theater and joined the crowds pouring in. Our seats were a few rows up in the mezzanine, with a great view and little tables separating all the seats. There was a narrow stage behind our row, which the usher told everyone to not touch under any circumstances. The stage was set up in such a way that I thought there was a mirror on the back reflecting the orchestra section, because there were people seated there, coming in from the hallway. But no – we finally realized they did actually have seating all over the stage, some of it on couches and at tables. It was kind of amazing.
Then the show started, and from the first instant it was incredible. The actors were all over the theatre, dancing in the aisles and even on the stage behind us. It was a huge crew, and loud and energetic. I loved it. During the entire show, the actors would go in and out of the audience sitting on stage, joining them at their tables or couches. It was the some of the most interesting staging I’ve ever seen.
They passed out these shaker eggs to the audience for participation. We grabbed some that people left behind on the way out.
We rode the train back up to our neighborhood and headed down to Amsterdam Avenue, where the owner said there were a bunch of good bars. We decided on the least-crowded of the ones we saw (which was *still* pretty crowded), George Keeley. We had to stand for a while, but then a small table opened and we could hang out. We stayed there for a few rounds and then walked back to the condo.
Saturday morning, we got up and put on our cold-weather gear to go have brunch in Brooklyn. I was glad I kept my Smartwool socks after the move.
It took a while to get there on the train, but we finally made it to Mile End Delicatessen. We had to wait about 10 minutes, and share a table with some people who didn’t seem to want to talk to each other. But the food was great.
From there, we walked to the New York Transit Museum. It’s in an actual subway station! They had a ton of old subway cars from over the years sitting on the rails. All of them had original ads, which was really entertaining.
Not that much has actually changed in subway design over the years. The main difference is whether the seats are along the outer walls with a lot more standing room, or perpendicular.
Their exhibits about disaster mitigation and response were the most fascinating and terrifying. There was a big section on 9-11, and another one on Hurricane Sandy. Oh, and their store was pretty great too.
We had planned on stopped at Brooklyn Brewery, but Google thought it would take at least half an hour on transit, not to mention another 45 minutes or so back to the condo. Since we had tickets to Hamilton that night, we didn’t want to risk it. We decided to return to Manhattan and go back to Chelsea Market instead. Unfortunately, everyone in NYC had the same exact idea.
The important thing, though, is that there was vegan currywurst. It was legitimately spicy, too! I loved it. Just like Berlin.
I didn’t have much patience for too much shopping in such gigantic crowds, but we did wander through a few places. I got a couple Christmas gifts, plus this awesome ring for myself.
Then it was time to head back to the condo to drop our stuff off and changed. We got to Central Park right before (the very, very early – like 4:30pm early) sunset.
Then we headed back out, and rode down to the Port Authority station again. We walked to Gotham West Market, because we obviously needed Ivan Ramen for dinner. This was their miso-butter mazeman ramen. So good.
After dinner, we had more time to kill, so we stopped in at another spot we’d visited on our last visit to a Broadway show: the Pony Bar. It was a much less crowded and more pleasant experience than last time, too. (Even though it always means I get Pony stuck in my head for a week.)
And then, it was TIME. I’d purchased tickets to Hamilton almost a year prior in an American Express presale, so we’d been waiting for this forever.
We were directed up to our seats, which just happened to be the third row from the top, up three flights of very steep stairs. Of course the second we got up there we realized that there were no restrooms on that level, so I asked and was informed that they were in the basement of the theater.
We climbed all the way back down the stairs, and then had to climb four steep sets of stairs back up to our seats. But we were finally going to see Hamilton.
Matt and I had placed bets on how many times I would cry during the show. I’d listed off the songs and decided it would be four times. Matt took the over, and he was right. I’m pretty sure I cried eight times, including the entirety of Wait For It, and the last two songs plus the standing ovation. It was incredible.
We’d seen performances of the first two songs on TV before, and I’m really glad we hadn’t had the opportunity to watch the whole show that way. Those pieces were good, but didn’t have anywhere near the impact of seeing the rest of the staging for the first time. I loved it so much.
I made the mistake of not using the bathroom again at intermission or after the show, so by the time we reached 7th Avenue I realized I wasn’t going to make it back to the condo without stopping. We looking into a few bars along the way, all of which seemed clubby, packed, and awful. We finally found one called Smith’s Bar (I only learned this now, when Google informed me) that wasn’t as full, and had hilarious 2000s hiphop playing. Of course the bathroom was closed for cleaning when I got there, but it was available within 10 minutes. I had to buy Matt a beer to settle our bet about the crying, too.
Sunday morning, it was cold and we needed some indoor time. We decided to go to MOMA, after a stop at a bakery near our condo.
It’s always exciting to see a Picasso in person.
Not art, but people sitting in the lobby looking at their phones.
They had a Russian constructivist art exhibit, too, which is my absolute favorite. I’d written a bunch of papers on this style in college.
It’s so calming and authoritarian.
Also, constructivist dishes! So ugly!
We saw a lot of really great stuff at MOMA (and I feel like we managed to cover the majority of the exhibits, even though we were only there for a few hours). We also had a delicious lunch in the cafe. However, this is the best thing I saw there: this guy’s jacket.
We left there about 4pm and headed back to the condo to change clothes again for our 6pm dinner reservation. It was by far the coldest it had been (about 30 degress), and they were predicting snow. Since I’d be in a dress and open shoes, we agreed that a cab was in order.
We changed and walked over to Central Park. It took approximately 10 seconds to get a cab from there. It was 5:15, and we figured we’d have plenty of time to arrive for our 6pm dinner reservation. After it took 25 minutes just to cross Central Park, though, we were starting to worry.
However, the rest of the ride was faster, even though the snow had begun. We arrived at Gramercy Tavern at 5:50, and our table was ready promptly at 6.
We both had the seasonal tasting menu; mine was vegetarian and Matt’s wasn’t. He got the wine pairing, too. I had to screenshot the menu so we’d remember it forever!
It was all amazing, but that parsnip cake was incredible. I wasn’t able to eat most of the last two dishes (which totally throws off their dinner pacing when one person is done and the other still has food on the plate – they don’t want to clear the dishes). Then they did that thing where they bring not just dessert, but the dessert amuse-buche, and then the candy that comes with the check. I wanted to die, but at least I’d be dead of happiness.
(That’s the squid-ink pasta.) Here’s Matt being super-classy; I mostly took this so we’d have a shot of the lady in the portrait who looks like her hair is a couch.
Post-dinner (over two hours later!), we walked around the corner for cocktails at Dear Irving. It was a cozy little bar with a nice menu, and more importantly, it was the second place we’d been that evening that had not been so packed-full that it was standing room only. (Matt says I complained about this enough that it means I’ve already gotten used to living in a small town. I complain when Duval Street is a packed-full disaster too!)
Since we had to get up early the next morning, we headed back to the subway afterwards and were at the condo by 11pm to finish packing.
The next morning was a nightmare of hauling luggage up and down subway stairways and trying to pull bags onto subway cars so packed that nobody could breathe. It was pretty awful til about halfway to Jamaica station, and then we could sit down and ride to the AirTrain and JFK in comfort. We had easy check-in and security, got some breakfast and coffee, and boarded in the first class cabin for our flight back to Miami.
I watched the documentary The Last Man on the Moon and cried a bunch while knitting. We had a really good lunch, and were arriving in Miami before we knew it. It helped that our plane was the size of South Florida, I guess.
We grabbed our bags and got the shuttle to the hotel in Miami, and were quickly on our way back to the Keys to pick up our favorite parrot and be home in time for dinner.
Anyone who lives in Key West will tell you that September and October are the most miserably hot and humid months, and also the time we’re most likely to have to worry about hurricanes. The town empties out and everyone goes on vacation. Who are we to question that tradition?
When we began planning our return to Europe, we decided to do something novel (for us) and just pick a couple places to spend multiple days in, rather than jumping all over, trying to see as much as possible. We picked Copenhagen (known for being pretty much our ideal social climate) and Berlin, which I’ve wanted to visit since I became a Cold War nerd in middle school.
(The entire photoset is here on Flickr.)
Read from the beginning below, or jump to each day:
Thursday morning, we had the luxury of sleeping in and making leisurely preparations to go to the airport mid-morning. Flying out of Key West, the airport that’s a little over a mile from our house, is a fantastic luxury; thankfully American’s mileage redemption is the same from here or Miami.
We got a cab through TaxiASAP, our locally-based version of the non-Uber app. (It’s awesome.) We got to the airport waaaay too early, because 1) it’s never busy at check-in or security, and 2) there are 4 gates, all in one room. We got coffee while we waited for our flight.
It was our first time flying from Key West to Miami. It’s 25 minutes in the air and there are amazing views up the Keys and across the Everglades. If airfare from here is even close in price to MIA or FLL in the future, we’re for sure doing that.
Leaving our little island is always a little bit sad. Just look at it!
We landed at MIA and had a little over an hour before our next flight. We got a colada and cortadito, then grabbed empanadas from Half Moon. When you’re going to leave South Florida for a while, you should stock up on Cuban food.
Our flight to Charlotte was a little under an hour and a half, and we had time to fill water bottles and get a beer before hopping our flight to Europe. I was beyond thrilled that Matt and I had a 2-seat row to ourselves, a few rows from the restroom in the first economy section. I’m really terrible at long flights (worse at overnight flights), so having a little space to ourselves is a plus. Then my wiggling can only annoy him, and he’s stuck with me.
We took off at 4:30 in the afternoon on the long journey to Frankfurt. We had seatback TVs with a million movie options, and USB chargers built into the seats. I had neck pillows and earplugs, plus the pillow and blanket from American. I figured if I ever had a chance of sleeping on a flight, this would be it.
We had a surprisingly good dinner (vegan pasta) and free Heinekens. We synced up our TVs and watched Elvis & Nixon, which was mildly entertaining. By that point everyone was closing their windows and turning off their lights, so we decided to try to sleep too. While my earplugs helped a little, it was still as awful as expected. Basically, it was many hours of dozing off, waking up, being sore, and adjusting in my seat. It sucked.
They turned the lights on at 6am Frankfurt time, and started serving breakfast. I saw sunrise over Europe.
We really liked that the GPS map showed shipwrecks. Matt noticed the Titanic on there at one point.
We landed in Frankfurt at 6:50am and pulled in near this monster:
Passport control was easy and customs was nonexistent, so we were on our way to another terminal to catch our connection fairly quickly. We were flying SAS to Copenhagen, so that required walking to the other terminal and finding check-in. We wandered around for a while until we discovered the boards telling us where to check in; SAS was being handled by Lufthansa, which was basically every single check-in desk in the terminal.
Lufthansa’s check-in was 100% automated – scan your boarding pass, enter bag info, put it on the belt, and off it went. It was magical and made me sad about the way we do things in the US. (We also noticed that at no point in the entire process did anyone check our IDs – not even at security, where they inspected Matt’s leftover empanada he’d brought all the way from Miami.)
I got some Euros from the cash machine, and we bought 1 Euro water at the duty-free store (the best deal in the airport). When we got to the gate we discovered it had been moved to the other side of the airport, so we had to go down a million stairs, through a long tunnel, and emerge on the other side. Our flight was boarding when we arrived, and we had to take a shuttle bus to the little plane. It ended up being right near our original flight, so we’d done a lot of walking for nothing. Granted, we did have to recheck our bags.
Our flight to CPH took 1:20, and the views coming in were great. While waiting for our bags, we activated our Copenhagen Cards by writing the start date and time on them. Scandinavia is very trusting! The CPH card includes free fare on all public transit, plus mostly free admission to all major attractions in Copenhagen. By the end of our stay there, we both agreed that it was a spectacularly good value, and it was great to not have to think about paying to get around.
We made our way to the airport train station and got on the train to the center of the city. Our hotel was about a half mile away, but the cobblestones along the way made it seem a lot farther with rolling suitcases. It was too early to check in, so we left our bags at the hotel and went to go find lunch.
We walked over to Torvehallerne, a huge market with food and drink stalls. It was overwhelmingly awesome. After wandering for a while, I decided on a lemongrass tofu banh mi, and Matt went for the fiskediller, a local specialty involving a giant fish-ball-patty-thing.
There was a Mikkeller beer booth, too, so we were set. We ate outside in 70-degree weather, only a 20-degree difference from Key West.
We used the public restrooms on a street corner and were amazed at how clean they were. The attendants had offices in the bathrooms. AMAZING.
We felt very much at home in Copenhagen within an hour, and this is one of the reasons why – the bikes. Oh my god, all the bikes. I loved it.
I’ve never seen so many bikes in one place in my life. I don’t know how you parked yours and ever found it again. We bike everywhere here, too, but it’s still a small town! This was incredible. Also, every major street had a dedicated bike lane separated by a curb or other obstructions. It’s a bike wonderland there, and I’m really envious of the way they prioritize non-car transportation in Denmark.
We walked back in the direction of our hotel, passing the Round Tower along the way. This part of town was a series of huge pedestrian/bike streets lined with shops; Strøget was the busiest of them. Conveniently, our hotel was only a couple blocks from it.
We still had time to kill before check-in, and wanted something very low-impact to do. We’d been awake for more than 24 hours and were dragging. Thanks to the Copenhagen Card, we were able to hop on a canal tour easily!
It took about 15 minutes for the boat to load up and I nearly dozed off during that time. I managed to not actually fall asleep on the boat, though, and woke up when we sailed off. We headed down the canal that surrounds Christiansborg Castle, then into the main canal. The narrator on the boat was announcing in four different languages, which was really incredible.
Looking toward Nyhavn:
Here’s Papirøen, or Paper Island. It’s the home to Copenhagen Street Food, a ton of awesome little food booths. Look at all the people sitting outside – it was like this everywhere we went in CPH. People love hanging out outside on the water with their friends. No wonder it’s the happiest country.
The opera house:
We sailed down a side canal past Noma, to see the edge of Christinia (Freetown). It’s a huge commune right in the middle of the city. Here are some liveaboards, just like at home.
Here’s the canal through Christianshavn:
And Vor Frelsers Kirke, with the spiral staircase on top.
The tour boat dropped us off an hour later around 3:30, and it was finally time to check into the hotel. I feel like the walk back is a total blur – we got our bags, hauled them up in the tiny, tiny European elevator, got out our power adapter and phone chargers so we could recharge our totally dead phones, and fell into bed. I kept dozing off while Matt was in the bathroom and then starting violently awake, because it felt like I was panicking while falling asleep. Going to sleep when you’re that exhausted is an absolutely terrible experience.
We slept from 4 to 8pm, and it was glorious. The loud music in the courtyard of the hotel woke us, because on the weekend they have a pretty awesome little cocktail bar and club there. I felt like a human again, and we were ready for dinner. We changed clothes, I put on a jacket (it was in the 60s! Amazing!!), and we walked the half mile or so over to Tivoli.
Going to Tivoli at night, while drowsy and jet-lagged, was a great idea. Everything is surreal and trippy. And, holy crap, it was crowded. It was the weekend and there was a free concert about to happen, so it was packed.
We wandered around most of the park and then headed toward one of the restaurants Matt had researched earlier, Færgekroen Bryghus. We got a table right on the lake, overlooking this pirate ship. We ordered two of their beers, and sat there being entertained by all the very noisy ducks on the lake.
The restaurant had blankets at every chair, which we soon discovered was pretty universal there. It’s all part of the hygge (‘cozy’) concept in Denmark, and it’s absolutely the best.
The food was great – we had fresh mozzarella and I had an elaborate vegetable dish on top of pureed celery root – and we were once again pretty sleepy by the end of it. We decided to take another spin around the park to see if we’d missed anything.
We picked up some souvenirs, and stopped to watch some of the free concert (Julius Moon and Minds of 99). The whole park around the stage was absolutely packed. We stopped to grab a couple beers at the biergarten, climbed to the top of the waterfall to overlook the park, and then decided it was time to head back.
(That was Matt’s new nickname for the evening.)
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Irma to grab a couple beers for the room. Our selections were Obama and Miami Vice, obviously. We got to the room at 11:30pm, looking forward to plenty of sleep.
Distance walked on Thursday/Friday: 11.89 miles
Saturday, September 17th – our fifth wedding anniversary!! We picked a good place to celebrate.
We slept til almost 10, then felt like maybe we were over our jet lag. We got up and went to go find breakfast along one of the pedestrian thoroughfares nearby.
We found a little spot called Kompan 9 (a pun in Danish, it’s pronounced ‘company’). We had eggs and toast – that amazing Danish bread that’s way better than anything you get in the U.S. – and a couple cappuccinos apiece.
From there, we walked over to Nyhavn, which was already really crowded even though it was before lunchtime. One of the buildings was a giant art project:
Despite overcast skies, it’s as attractive as all the photos we’d seen. All those umbrellas are restaurants along the entire waterfront. Some of the ships have restaurants on them, too.
From the other direction:
From there, we walked over to Amalienborg Palace.
Admission to all the royal properties in Copenhagen is included with our CPH cards, so obviously we were going to take advantage of that. The building on the right above is open four touring.
One of the things I learned is that the king loved to surround himself with portraits of the family. Holy crap, the portraits. It was kind of creepy.
The guards seemed slightly more cheerful about having their photos taken with kids, compared to the British. I can’t imagine having this job.
We walked back along the canalfront, where the pedestrian/bike bridge had retracted to allow boats through. How awesome is that? (I realize the color in these photos make it look pretty crappy in Copenhagen. It really wasn’t!)
We walked back over to Nyhavn and found a place exclaiming about their world-famous veggie burger on a board out front, so we decided on that. We sat along the waterfront watching a million people and bikes go by. The veggie burger was pretty good, but by no means world-changing. After lunch, we walked a few blocks to a bus stop and hopped on a bus towards Carlsberg.
The buses in CPH were super-easy to use, since they had digital displays with the next destination, and that a stop had been requested. If buses in the US were all like that, I’m pretty sure more people would use them (especially travelers). It’s hard to use buses if you’re not familiar with a city.
We hopped off at Carlsberg and had a long walk to the visitor center, since the front gate was blocked. We showed our CPH cards and were handed tickets for two glasses of beer apiece, plus admission to the self-guided tour. We got a beer at the bar and went to go see their facilities.
Upstairs, we found the Guinness-Book-World-Record-Holding largest collection of beer bottles in the world. It was incredible, and this isn’t even all of them.
We learned that Carlsberg was responsible for huge advances in yeast production for brewing. Who knew?
In the stable, we found a bunch of horses standing around with their gigantic horse-dongs dangling all over the place. (I didn’t post a photo here, though I *did* take one.) We were a little confused, but realized most of the people there were also giggling about it. I’d definitely never seen that before, but I guess I don’t hang out with horses that often, either.
After our tour, we went to the shop and then upstairs to their gigantic taproom, where we used our other beer coupon. Then we got directions to the famous gate with the Carlsberg elephants, which we would have passed if the main entrance had been opened.
(Don’t worry about the swastikas – those predate Nazis by a lot.)
I like the skyways.
From there, we walked back to the bus stop and rode about halfway back to our hotel, hopping off near the Mikkeller taproom. It’s a small basement with a few rooms and picnic tables out on the street. It looked really crowded, but we managed to walk in just as two seats opened at the bar, which gave us a great view of the tap list. Which was spectacular, of course.
We stayed there for a few rounds (and wanted to stay longer, but dinner called). We headed down the block to an Indian restaurant Matt had read about, called South Indian. It was on the second level of a building and much fancier than expected. Since they were known for their dosa we ordered masala dosa, a bottle of Kingfisher to split, and I had okra curry. I don’t usually like okra, but this was really good.
After dinner, we walked the mile or so back to our hotel, past Tivoli, to drop off our shopping bags. I had big plans for our anniversary, which involved nothing more than having champagne at the Veuve Cliquot bar I’d spotted earlier on our walk down Stroget. So we headed back off in that direction, walked to the far end of Stroget, and it wasn’t there. I have no idea where the place I saw was – I’m usually great with directions – but it definitely wasn’t there. Instead, we decided to just get a glass of champagne back at our fancy hotel bar later than night. We turned and headed back that direction.
On the way, we walked passed Lord Nelson, which Matt realized was on his list of recommended beer spots in the city. We decided to stop in. Like Mikkeller, it was also half a story down in the basement, and this one was very dive-y looking, in an awesome way.
The bartender was friendly, and the beer selection was great. The wall was decorated with little wooden plaques that the guests had drawn. We sent a picture of this one to our Welsh friend back home:
One of their beers was a Surly collaboration based on Todd the Axe Man, which blew our minds a little bit. A Scottish guy wandered up to order and we ended up in a conversation about the way of things in America; we assured him that we were not vaccine deniers, and that Zika was actually a concern in Miami. I can only imagine what people overseas hear about Americans nowadays.
From there, we walked to Huset, a couple blocks from our hotel. It’s a multi-story building containing Bastard Cafe (a beer bar with a million board games), multiple show venues, and a movie theatre. We went up to the big showroom to see the David Bowie tribute going on there. It was in the 60s outside, but inside the room it was approximately 150 degrees. I don’t think this was smoke effect so much as sauna:
We got beers and stood around watching the band for a while. At first we suspected they were awful, then it turned out they were actually awful. There was very little David Bowie about it; the only good thing was the Commodore 64 that one of the band members had fashioned into a synthesizer. We watched a few songs before getting the hell out of there, laughing about the ‘tribute’.
We went downstairs to a quieter room that appeared to be a gay bar, had a beer there, and then headed back to the hotel bar, called Honey Ryder. It was in full swing. We worked our way through the crowd to the back of the room, where we found a spot at the bar. The menu was really excellent, so we ordered cocktails and took them out to the patio (in the courtyard that our room overlooked). Once we were done with those, we decided we had to get our anniversary champagne, so we went back to the bar to order. When I mentioned the big event, the bartender said it was on him. That was a pretty excellent way to end the night!
Miles walked: 11.23 / 23.12 total
Sunday morning, we slept in til 10am and then walked over to the main train station to get coffee and breakfast sandwiches. That’s when I discovered the glory that is Joe and the Juice, and their amazing ginger lattes. (I later discovered that they’re opening one in Miami Beach, so at least I can go there pretty regularly.) Since Europe is approximately 400% better at food quality than the US, we had some basic but fresh and delicious sandwiches on nice rye flatbreads to take with us on the train.
We boarded the train to Helsingør (otherwise known as Elsinore) and had a pleasant 45-minute ride mostly along the coast. At the end of the line, we hopped off and walked through the cute little down toward Kronborg. There was a big event venue there, plus the Maritime Museum of Denmark, which was underground at the port.
It’s Hamlet’s castle!! This was a pretty hardcore nerd moment for us.
Alas, poor Yorick.
Helsingør is situated at the narrowest part of the Øresund strait, which runs between Denmark and Sweden. You can easily see Helsingborg from there.
You can buy Yorick water at Kronborg castle, in case you were wondering.
This is in the inner courtyard:
We took the castle tour, which wound its way through multiple sections of the castle. The rooms were surprisingly spare compared to the more recent castles. (These furnishings are from the 17th century.)
A thing we learned about Danish castles – they burned down a lot. Seriously. They were rebuilding them all the damn time.
And they used animals as decor. I guess hipsters do that nowadays too. I just wouldn’t want to have to step on a boar every morning.
The ballroom was gigantic. This photo doesn’t even do it justice. It’s monstrous.
This guy is hanging out in the chapel, just being creepy.
After touring all the aboveground property, we descended into the depths beneath the castle. This was even more nervewracking than it would generally be, because not only was it a dank castle basement with uneven cobblestones and probably ghosts, the flashlight vending machine was broken and we had to use our cellphones instead. There were little rooms everywhere that you’d have to peer into, wondering what was going to jump out and attack you.
Thankfully, we only found Holger Danske down there, and we knew to expect him. He’s there protecting the castle, and looking pretty badass doing it.
After Kronborg, we walked over to the M/S Maritime Museum and had lunch at the cafe, which was on the very lower level of the belowground building. We knew we were supposed to buy tickets to go in, but could not begin to figure out where the actual entrance was from there. The entire building is built in a downward spiral from ground level (it’s a ship-shaped dry dock, essentially), so we finally decided to go back outside, up the steps, and start from the actual beginning.
After getting our fill of maritime nerdery, it was time to visit a new country. (Matt has actually been to Sweden before, but I hadn’t.) We walked over to the ferry terminal and bought tickets to Helsingborg. We even got a discount with the CPH card, which was awesome.
The ferry’s shop was having a special on Tuborg and a shot of Gammeldansk. When in Scandinavia… you drink liqueurs that taste like dead people. It’s bad.
It was only about a 20 minute ride across the strait; it took longer to load the ferry. (Not the passengers – there weren’t many of us – but the trucks crossing over to Sweden. The ship had a very fancy truck drivers’ lounge, too!)
The ferry terminal on the Helsingborg side was in a little mall full of fast food restaurants, and looked a lot like a cruise terminal. The town was larger than Helsingør, but almost totally deserted late on a Sunday afternoon. The majority of the shops were closed. (We didn’t mind much; the main reason we went over there was just to set foot in Sweden, and maybe have a beer.)
We happened across this imposing structure while wandering around, so we decided to check it out. Rather than climb the many, many stairs, we found an elevator with an operator who charged a few Euros to take you to the top. Worth it!
There was a big park at the top called Slottshagen, and this huge tower, which is the only remnant of the Medieval castle that once stood there. It’s called Kärnan.
The tower wasn’t open, but the view from the top of the hill was pretty spectacular. This is looking back toward Denmark.
We climbed back down the stairs, which are protected by gargoyles that didn’t scare Bally one bit.
We decided to grab a beer before heading back, so we found an open bar called Pitchers that was showing soccer games. We hung out there for a bit, then walked back to the ferry, which was even less crowded on the return trip. The ferry terminal is conveniently upstairs from the train station on the Denmark side, so we went downstairs and found our train back to Copenhagen.
Rather than stopping at the main train station, we continued on to Norreport, then hopped on the 6A bus to Westerbro for dinner. (Seriously, public transit in Copenhagen could not be easier. We loved it.) Our destination was Von Fressen, a German-focused restaurant with a large vegetarian and vegan menu, plus excellent beers and cocktails. It was basically made for us.
The place was nuts when we walked in, but we found a little table and figured out how ordering worked (at the bar). I had an excellent veggie burger and a cocktail, and we sat watching the large group in the bar area get larger and drunker. It was impressive. By the time we went to leave, they had filled up the entire entryway and the front steps, so we had to fight our way out of the place.
We walked a few blocks to the bus stop and Matt realized he didn’t have his CPH card. That was immensely upsetting because it was so valuable, not to mention convenient. He knew he’d had it on the train from Helsingborg, so we decided to go back to the restaurant and look around. We fought our way back inside, and Matt went to go search by the table while I went to the bar to see if anyone had turned it in. I asked the bartender, “Have you seen a–” and he held up Matt’s CPH card. Hooray! We were very relieved.
We took the bus back to the Rathouse and walked to the hotel. On the way there we passed the bar next door called Southern Cross, which had a crowd of British and Australian people standing outside smoking, drinking, and yelling (well, talking loudly). We decided we needed to go in there at some point, but definitely not while there were people spilling out onto the street. We headed up to our room and found the Colts/Broncos game on TV with Danish announcers, which was hilarious. I fell asleep around 11pm.
Miles walked: 12.94 / 36.06 total
Monday morning, we got up at 8 and walked to a nearby cafe for coffee and croissants. We’d both received emails from the US Embassy in Copenhagen inviting us to a reception there that night, because we’d signed up for notifications. We had no idea what that was about, but it seemed like a strange idea.
Then we headed in the direction of the rental bike stand, passing our friend Tree.0 along the way. He played us cheerful music as always.
We’d both set up Bycyklen accounts ahead of time, so getting bikes was pretty simple. They have tablets built into the handlebars where you log in and map your destination.
The bikes were power-assist, so they were heavy and kind of noisy, but they were also pretty much perfect for getting around in a town so friendly to bikes.
We rode to Freetown Christiania, the old autonomous neighborhood in Copenhagen. We’d heard a bit about its history as a commune of approximately 850 residents, and how there were years-long waiting lists to get in, and an insanely intensive screening and election process for new residents.
While drugs aren’t legal anywhere in Denmark, the sale of weed is overlooked in Christiania. There are signs all over Pusher Street (in the Green Light District) requesting no photos, because the drug trade there has been problematic. Christiania has strict rules disallowing weapons and hard drugs, but they keep finding their way in, which forces the police to intervene. It’s apparently been a challenging place to live recently, which is unfortunate.
Here’s the sign leaving Christiania: “You are now entering the EU”.
The artsiness reminded me of here in the Keys, and the Wynwood neighborhood in Miami. There’s also a lot of it that looks trashed and very much like a homeless camp, particularly in the area around Pusher Street. There are several different ‘pods’ in the neighborhood full of adorable little hippie houses.
We rode around the loop near the other neighborhoods, along the old ramparts of the city. From there you look back on the main canals. It’s weird to be in an almost-rural area right next to the city.
There’s been an ongoing fight to try to develop Christiania. In one of the most expensive cities in the world, it’s sought-after property. (I hope Freetown stays as it is.)
This could not be more like Key West:
We did a few bike loops around the area, then headed over to Papirøen (Paper Island, named for the old paper warehouse there) for lunch at Copenhagen Street Food.
Yoko Ono had an art exhibit there, where you wrote your greatest wish on a tag to hang in a tree. There were plenty of anti-Trump and anti-hate sentiments to be found there.
The warehouse was full of amazing food booths. Matt had a giant sausage and I had a falafel. It reminded us a lot of Grand Central Market in downtown L.A..
Since we’d parked our bikes at the bike return, we decided to walk back across to Nyhavn. Here’s the main pedestrian/bike bridge, which retracts in the middle when large ships pass underneath.
Some fall color was pretty welcome, since we don’t really experience it anymore!
We found Noma, probably the most famous restaurant in the world, at the foot of the bridge. It had its own apiary out front.
We had to go inside the geodesic dome nearby. You put on slippers and went inside the giant mirrored ball:
We crossed the bridge to Nyhavn, and the sun was finally coming out. It’s such a pretty area, despite all those construction containers!
From there, we walked over to Christiansborg Palace. It was another of the many places with admission included on the CPH Card. (Have I mentioned it’s a great deal? Haha.)
The palace is a huge complex on an island in the middle of the city. Much of it is still in use by parliament, the supreme court, and the royal family. You can tour the ruins beneath the palace, the stables, and the queen’s reception rooms, when she’s not using them.
We did the underground tour first, and got to see various sections of the foundation as it grew over the years. Also, as it burnt down – because, yes, it burnt down A LOT. You’d think you’d get better at having your castles not burn down, but apparently not in Denmark.
The stables had various carriages used by the royal family, in addition to a bunch of horses. That’s when we learned that when horses are relaxed, they let their junk hang out all over the place in kind of horrifying fashion.
Yes, I took a picture. No, I’m not posting it here.
After that, we went to the queen’s reception rooms. Apparently we had good timing, because they’d just reopened after an earlier event. It’s good to know she’d just been hanging around recently.
You have to wear these fancy plastic slippers to tour the place, so you don’t go tramping your peasant dirt all over the place:
Here’s the library. I want a library with a second story.
And the giant dining table. It must’ve taken half an hour to pass the salt.
My favorite room was full of really unusual tapestries depicting the history of the country.
They’re all bright colors, with really unusual imagery.
Here’s the throne room:
After the castle, we wandered down Stroget to do some souvenir shopping. It’s the main pedestrian thoroughfare that makes walking around town very pleasant, and it’s lined with restaurant patios.
We had to stop into the Lego store, of course. We also discovered Flying Tiger, which is kind of like Ikea for teenage girls. Loved it.
We were sick to death of walking at that point, so we stopped into a taphouse for a couple beers and some sittin’ before moving on. Then we walked back to our hotel, dropped off all our purchases, and headed to the bus to Vesterbro.
Our dinner destination was another Mikkeller joint, Ramen to Biiru. In case it’s not obvious, it’s a restaurant that serves ramen and beer. It was basically made for us. Plus they had a Mikkeller vending machine. MAGIC.
After dinner, we walked to a nearby cocktail bar, Lidkoeb, for drinks. It was an incredibly friendly, hygge place, and we learned all about the secret bike theft problem in Copenhagen. (Scandal! I mean, in Key West a bike goes missing approximately every 2 seconds, so I think our problems are different.)
We stopped at 7-11 on the way back to our hotel in order to pick up some breakfast supplies. We had early train plans the next day, so we didn’t want to stop in the morning. Even 7-11 there was incredibly compared to the trashy convenience stores we have in the US – the food was fresh and they had a ton of great options. I got a Paleo Cake for the morning.
We noticed that Southern Cross was not packed with loud shouting Australians as we passed, so we decided it was finally time to stop in. We went downstairs and found a tiny bar with an upstairs loft (it looked rickety), and an American bartender. We started talking with him and the Danish lady next to us about local drinking traditions, including their love of licorice (as strong and salty as possible) and Gammeldansk. The bartender decided he had to give us things that were *worse*, so we tried some godawful liqueurs and then a test tube shot from Australia that was kind of creamy with a piece of licorice in the bottom. So gross.
While we were there, we also heard about people who had gone to the US Embassy party that night. WHO KNEW?
We wanted to stay forever, but it’s the kind of place you’d end up dying. So unfortunately, it was time to head back to the hotel for the night.
Miles walked: 11.24 miles / 47.3 total
We got up Tuesday around 9, had our 7-11 breakfast, and walked to the train station to head to Roskilde, about 20 miles west of Copenhagen. (After grabbin another delicious ginger latte at Joe and the Juice, of course.) It was about a 25 minute ride to the town, and a pleasant walk through the cute little town. Here’s the old Rathouse:
The cathedral plaza was a few blocks away.
Roskilde Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site constructed in the 12th century. (In case you were wondering, yes – it also burned down regularly.)
We did the self-guided tour, which includes an elaborate guide to all the royalty buried there. There are many, many kings and queens in the various chapels around the church. It’s still in use, too; the current queen has her burial site ready to go when it’s time. I liked that we got to tour it – it’s very modern, yet it fits well.
These were extra-creepy.
You know how you measure your kids and mark their heights on a door jamb? Apparently that’s been going on forever. Here’s the heights of various kings:
The chapel is monstrous.
That grave with the black marker – that’s a horse. Supposedly he haunts the cathedral, too. Ghost horse.
After we were done at the cathedral, we headed off toward the Viking Ship Museum, which is located at the bottom of a very steep hill on the banks of the fjord. It’s a really scenic spot. We got tickets and toured the outside exhibits first, which involved an actual shipbuilding reconstruction that they invite people to help with. They had several reconstruction ships there.
We went down to see the fjord. This boat seemed pretty appealing:
You could also sign up to take a short trip on one of the Viking ships. This one looked really fun; the other that was leaving at that moment was full of people trying to row it with giant narrow oars. It was going nowhere and the people looked miserable, so I feel like we made the right choice to not go on that one.
We went inside the museum, and Bally tested out a Viking ship. I’m pretty sure his arms aren’t long enough to row.
They had an exhibit with all the pieces they’d salvaged from various ancient wrecks in the fjord. One of them was nearly complete.
The shop there was great, too; we got several souvenirs, gifts, and I got these amazing Danish sunglasses:
Then we went to their restaurant, Cafe Knarr, for lunch. I had a vegetable plate and Matt had a smorgasbord plank with various fish salads. Both of ours included roasted parsnips, barley, and pickled buckthorn. This meal was so incredibly good it makes me kind of sad to see it and know that it’s currently so very far away from me.
Smart people would have taken the bus or a taxi back up the giant hill into town, but we said, “eh, it’s only a kilometer long.” It’s not like we’d already walked over 50 miles on the trip or anything. So we climbed the hill, and I was pretty sure I was going to die at the end. It felt like a victory getting back to the cathedral.
We walked back through town, stopping into a couple stores along the way. I bought a maroon Fjallraven Kanken backpack at one of the shops, because everyone in Europe has one and I obviously needed one too.
I used the 2-kroner train station restroom (in keeping with all restrooms in Denmark, it was spotless), and then we hopped on the train back to Copenhagen. This one was the coveted double-decker train, so we went up to the top deck for a really excellent view on the return trip.
Here’s the main train station in CPH. It’s hard to see, but they have a huge oldtimey neon clock on the front that looks really cool at night.
Here’s the Rathaus near our hotel.
The giant Palace Hotel is on the same plaza. The rental bikes and Tree.0 are nearby. We picked the perfect place to stay in Copenhagen, since it was walking distance to everything we’d want to see.
We did some shopping around our neighborhood, picked up a few more souvenirs, and then headed to the Bastard Cafe. It was getting colder outside, so we wanted to go hang out and play games. Also, they had a great beer selection. We played a game that involved one person being the criminal avoiding detection, and the other trying to trap them.
We then headed back to the hotel to organize and pack our suitcases. After a while, we headed back out to find dinner at a restaurant we’d picked in Nyhavn. We rented Bycycklen to ride over there, but once we arrived we couldn’t figure out where the dropoff point was. The GPS map on the bike was confusing and kept trying to send us in the wrong direction, and their website wasn’t much more help.
We finally found the stop a few blocks away (much farther from Nyhavn than you’d expect). It was full, but the nice thing is that you can park them there regardless; they just need to be near the docking station and locked. We did so and walked to the restaurant, grabbing a table on the patio at Cap Horn. It was cold, but they had blankets there for us.
We ordered an Aperol Spritz (which seemed to be a very popular drink there, much like in Rome). My dinner was a beet cake with celery puree, crisps, and pears. Matt had a flatiron steak with plums. Both were excellent. It started to rain during dinner, so we had to shift over a table to get under the giant patio umbrella.
After dinner, the rain had died down to a drizzle, so we walked back in the direction of our hotel. We stopped in at Ruby, an attractive little cocktail bar along a canal. We chose a set of armchairs and had a couple cocktails in their very-hygge setting before heading back to our hotel for the night. We were excited to get to Berlin the next day, but I was apprehensive that it couldn’t possibly be as great as Denmark. We’d had such a great time there, we were pre-regretting leaving!
Miles walked: 11.27/ 58.57 total
We got up bright and early Wednesday morning and checked out of the hotel. We rolled our suitcases over a million cobblestones to the main train station, got the required ginger lattes at Joe and the Juice one last time, and then went to find the train to the airport.
AirBerlin seems to be one of those fly-by-night airlines (like RyanAir), so they weren’t in the check-in system. We went to the desk instead, and had to wait a while to check in. The luggage conveyor belt was broken, too!
We did some last-minute shopping in the airport, then went to find our flight. There was a row of really incredibly drunk guys behind us heading to Oktoberfest (they’d already begun their own personal Oktoberfest), so that was kind of annoying, especially when they continued ordering a bunch of beers on the flight. Thankfully, the flight was short. We landed at Berlin Tegel about 40 minutes later.
In the main terminal, we found the booth that distributes the Berlin Welcome Card, which we’d ordered in advance. Much like the CPH Card, it included all public transit, and a lot of free/discounted admissions in the city. From there, we found the bus stop and boarded the TXL bus to Alexanderplatz.
The bus took about a half-hour to get to the Hauptbahnhof, and we had good views along the way. We were a little concerned when everyone got off there, and we were the only two left on the bus. Still, Google said it was going to Alexplatz, so we stayed on. The bus went a few blocks further, circled a nearby park, and then there was an announcement that it was the end of the line.
The bus driver gave us instructions for getting to Alexplatz – basically, cross the street and hop on a streetcar. We did that, and crossed over to the former East German side to the Alexplatz U-Bahn stop. Our hotel was a couple blocks further east.
The Hotel Indigo was a very nice little business hotel attached to the Holiday Inn. Because Matt’s a gold IHG member, they’d upgraded us to a really fantastic suite on the 9th floor. The bathroom was almost the size of our bedroom in our house, and the shower was big enough for 10 people. I loved it.
They had some Blue Man partnership, so their branding was everywhere:
This was our view, overlooking Alexanderplatz and the Fernsehturm. I couldn’t get over how great it was.
We unpacked, then walked over to see the TV Tower.
I’ve been obsessed with Berlin since I started studying German in 7th grade, and then moved on to Russian during the Cold War era. Getting to see all the buildings I’d learned about for years was seriously incredible to me.
We decided to go for the overview first, so we got tickets to the rotating restaurant at the top. Usually there would be a long wait, but the observation deck itself was closed for a private event, and the only other option was the restaurant. The 25-euro/pp admission fee just to get into the restaurant was expensive, but for the experience? We didn’t care.
This is more sun glare than haze, I promise. Looking west, the Brandenburg Gate is in the middle at the entrance to the Tiergarten (Berlin’s Central Park). The main street down the center is Unter Den Linden, and the Reichstag is the building on the right with the glass dome.
I ordered a Schofferhofer grapefruit beer with guarana (energy beer!) and Matt ordered a Berliner Weisse with raspberry syrup. His drink came in a flat bowl of a glass with a short straw, and was more juice than beer. We quickly learned that the original Berliner Weisse is much different than the one we expect here.
Matt ordered potato soup and flammekuchen, and I had mushroom strudel with asparagus. We were pretty thrilled to dive into German food so completely.
Here’s the Spree river with Museum Island.
Looking southeast; the Alexplatz station is right below. Our hotel is the tallish building on the left. God, the Soviet-era buildings. So godawfully ugly.
After making almost two revolutions on the Fernsehturm, we headed back down to earth and walked over to the Berliner Dom.
We circled some of Museum Island and crossed back over to pass the DDR Museum, right on the Spree. We’d be stopping there later for sure.
We stopped in a few shops around Alexplatz, including the Ampelmann store. Bally got to meet him, too:
We walked back to the hotel to redeem our free-drink coupons (courtesy of the front desk). We both ordered beer, but the bartender said that he could only pour prosecco for women and beer for men, because that’s how it was. Germany, you’re kind of a stereotype sometimes.
We went back up to the room right as sun was setting, and changed clothes because it was cooling off. We did some map-examining and researched local restaurants, then headed back out for the night.
We walked a few blocks to Prince, a Thai restaurant nearby that had really good reviews. It was fairly full, but we managed to get a table. We had crispy rolls (both fried and spring rolls), a papaya salad, and green tofu curry. They had a really nice cocktail menu, too.
From there, we took the U-Bahn over to Gretchen Club in Kreutzberg. We’d wanted to see Youngblood Brass Band in the US forever, and of course the only night they’d played Minneapolis a few years back, we were out of town. We loved them, and coincidentally they just happened to be playing in Berlin the night we arrived. Which was convenient.
We bought tickets at the door and went inside. It was kind of like a smaller Quest Club (I know, nobody remembers Quest Club). Beers were cheap, and the bartenders were friendly. The show was fantastic, and for some idiotic reason, neither of us took pictures. So we’ll just have to remember that we were there, sweating in a crowd of Berliners watching a band from central Wisconsin. That’s how it goes.
They also covered Umbrella by Rihanna, Don’t Speak by No Doubt, and Mad World. SO GREAT.
Here’s a show poster I saw on the way back to our hotel, at least!
After the show, we rode back and decided to stop into the gigantic Hofbrauhaus a block from our hotel. It’s the same Munich-based one that you find everywhere (I think the first one we visited was in Milwaukee), but we didn’t care. It was Oktoberfest time, and we were in Germany. It’s the correct time to drink a liter of beer.
We left there about 1am and went to the hotel with the intention of sleeping in as late as we wanted.
Walked: 9.88 miles/ 68.45 total
We slept til 11am Thursday morning, and it was glorious, though a little hard to sleep through the noise of the trams passing on the street. We stopped at Dunkin Donuts at Alexplatz for a quick breakfast, then hopped on the train to the Brandenburg Gate.
We emerged from underground and there it was. I admit I cried a bit when I saw it, I was so excited. Think of all the history that’s happened here, good and bad.
Here’s the Hotel Adlon nearby:
And the obligatory Trabant, of course. You can rent a Trabi! It’ll probably fall apart after a mile, but that’s OK.
From there, we crossed into the Tiergarten and walked toward the Victory Monument in the middle. At that point I was definitely aware of the fact we’d walked 75 miles already. It seemed like a very long way!
We decided to take the bus over to Checkpoint Charlie, but ended up getting on one going the wrong direction. We hopped off again, and noticed we were right by Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, so it was nice to accidentally see it. We got on the same bus going the other direction, and that one dropped us off right at Checkpoint Charlie. (Also, the double-decker buses in Berlin are excellent for sightseeing.)
My cold-war-nerd excitement was at a peak. This was so awesome to see.
It’s right in the middle of a heavily-used street, which was not what I expected.
Across the street from the checkpoint, there’s a currywurst stand run by the Currywurst Museum, which is a REAL THING a couple blocks away. Better yet, they had vegan currywurst. This suddenly became a top-ten day in my life.
There’s an exhibit across the street with pieces of the Berlin Wall. This was cool to see, but for the maximum effect you must see the East Side Gallery. It’s really incredible. (That came later.)
From there, our plan was to take the U-Bahn to Olympic Stadium. Googling it on the train, we saw that it appeared to be closed, even though it was during their normal hours. Apparently there was a special event going on. We were glad we found that out before taking the long trip there; we got off at Potsdamer Platz instead.
This area was almost completely destroyed during WWII, and then the Berlin Wall ran through it during the Cold War. Now it’s a huge park lined with modern buildings.
We stopped to have a beer at a cafe overlooking the park. King Ludwig makes a mighty fine helles lager.
We rode back to the Brandenburg Gate and went to explore the other side of it. Here’s the Reichstag, where Hitler used to give speeches before it burnt down. The interior was completely redone after unification, and they added the glass observation dome as a replacement for the original.
The Holocaust Memorial is nearby, too. It’s sobering. The 2,000+ slabs look like coffins, and as you go farther in, they get taller and taller. The ones in the distance are taller than humans.
From there, we took the bus to the DDR Museum, where we took turns driving (and crashing) a Trabant.
The museum was pretty great – it’s all about life in East Germany during the Cold War. The interactive stuff was pretty entertaining, too. Here’s Matt dressed like a typical East German.
We walked back to our hotel, passing the weird world clock at Alexplatz. We’d passed it a few times already without really noticing what it was about – it shows the time in cities around the world.
We did some much-needed resting at the hotel (having now walked over 80 miles!), then went to get the train to dinner. Our selection was Tiki Heart, because they were a tiki bar that also had vegetarian food. It definitely reminded us of home.
I had a veggie burger with pumpking and curry sauce, and a Singapore Sling. Matt had the Lemmy Burger and a caipirinha. Our meals were delicious.
We headed back to the train station, which was a gigantic platform under an overpass. As we walked down the stairs we saw our train sitting there, preparing to leave. Matt jumped in right as the doors started to close, and they shut between us. Unlike American trains, the doors don’t re-open when they sense movement, either. Like a bad romantic comedy, we waved at each other as the train left the station.
The next train showed up 8 minutes later, so I hopped on. It went to the next stop and then decided that was the end of the line, for some reason. (It was pretty late, so the trains were stopping for the night.) I texted Matt to tell him I’d be about 10 minutes behind him, because the next train showed up right behind, and was actually going to Alexanderplatz.
We walked to a bar along the plaza that specialized in Weisse mit Schnapps, and had one there (with Kirsch!) before heading back to the hotel for the night.
Walked: 12 miles/80.45 total
Friday, we got up at 8:30 and went across the street to a little cafe, Wandel, for croissants and coffee. Then we walked over to the train station at Alexanderplatz to get the train to the East Side Gallery.
The East Side Gallery has the largest section of preserved wall, and it’s become an art installation. A big portion of it has photos from the war in Syria:
It’s located right along the Spree River.
That’s Gorbachev behind the wheel:
We feel you, wall. So depressing.
We walked up and down the exhibit, then headed to one of the tour boat stops to take a ride up the Spree River. We thought we were getting on a full-loop tour, but realized a bit later it just went up the river a ways and stopped. We didn’t mind; we were on a boat.
Here’s a picture of the weird Berliner Weisse glasses with juice in it! Also, in Germany it’s OK to name beer after kids.
The area near the East Side Gallery is just now being redeveloped; there’s a lot of gentrification going on. Germany’s going through a lot of struggle with refugees in recent years, and Berlin seemed like an especially welcoming place.
Here’s Yaamaica, a little Jamaican bar on the river.
Heading toward the cathedral:
We went up past the Hauptbahnhof and into the west side of Berlin, which we hadn’t seen too much of yet. It’s very, very different from the area around Alexanderplatz, on the former East German side.
This guy was waiting for us when we got off the boat.
The end of the line was near the Tiergarten, so we hopped on the train to ride over to the beer garden called Schleusen Krug in the park. Matt had read about it, and it sounded pretty great. We ordered from an extremely friendly man in a window, and went to grab a picnic table. The place was gigantic and lively.
I had pretzel knudel with mushroom sauce, tomato, and onion. Matt had giant meatballs with a beet salad. Our meals plus beers were only 14 euro, reminding us that Berlin prices were a really refreshing break from both Copenhagen *and* Key West.
After lunch, we went back to the train station and headed to the Olympic Stadium. It’s imposing, as you’d expect from something build for Hitler’s Olympics.
The stadium itself is really impressive. The Berlin soccer team plays here. (We made sure to stop into their team shop, obviously.)
The swimming pools are still in use as well.
Here’s the list of gold medalists. We were happy to see Jesse Owen’s name at the top.
This is the parade field. It’s creepy just to see such a Hitleresque edifice.
They have one of the original bells outside. The swastika has one of the corners filled in, as if to pretend it’s not a swastika.
Once we were done with the stadium tour, we took the train back into the city to the Ramones Museum. REALLY. Admission was 6 euros, which included a beer from the bar.
The building isn’t huge, but it’s absolutely packed full of Ramones memorabilia. It’s amazing.
This is the bar area outside the museum – the wall is covered in notes from bands who have stopped in.
From there, we walked to see Hackescher Markt, a big shopping area fairly close to where we were staying. It consists of a series of indoor malls and building courtyards all leading into one another in a huge maze. There were nice stores there, but it was really incredibly crowded and we were tired of walking. We wandered around for a bit, then decided to take the tram back to our hotel for a break.
A bit later on, we headed out to get dinner in a neighborhood south of us, near Templehof. We took the U-Bahn to the bus, which was absolutely packed. We finally arrived at Sfizy Veg, which was billed as the best vegan pizza in Berlin. We ordered bruschetta and the Rustica pizza, which had ‘salami’ and artichokes. There was also organic beer, because it was a vegan restaurant. It was indeed delicious, though.
There was a woman sitting at the bar by herself reading while we were talking about football. She spun around and told us she was very excited to overhear Americans talking about sports. She said she was there on business and didn’t speak German. (We agreed that it’s very easy to get around most of Berlin withouth speaking much German, but when you go to neighborhood places like this one it becomes more challenging. Thankfully food is a universal language.)
After dinner we walked to the Ringbahn, which was also totally packed, and took that to a tram that dropped us off near Hops & Barley, a little brewpub in a trendy party of town. It was also totally packed, but we were able to make our way to the bar to order beers. The bartenders were really friendly, and we managed to find a spot to sit in a back room where they were showing soccer. It was the smoking lounge, but we didn’t care that much. It was nice to have American-style beer in Germany, too. (Not that we were hurting for variety in Copenhagen.)
On our second trip to the bar, we discovered their specialty, the Snakebit (schlangenbiss): half-cider, half-beer, with one of the weissen syrups mixed in – raspberry, I think? Anyway, it was delicious. Also, we managed to find a tiny table in the actual bar, away from the smoke.
The trams had stopped running after midnight, so we had to walk back to the U-Bahn. We got back to Alexplatz and walked back to our hotel, noticing that the club in the building next door (Skyclub) was finally open – it had looked almost like it was boarded up. As much as we wanted to see a Berlin nightclub, we also really didn’t. Plus we’re old, so we get tired after midnight.
Miles walked: 13.44/93.89 total
Saturday morning, I got up around 9am and noticed that there were people leaving the Skyroom club. They were sweeping up, and the doors were closed by the time we left the hotel about 10. Holy crap, Berliners. You know how to party.
We hopped on a nearby tram and rode to a park containing a Swiss restaurant named Nola’s. It was in a cute chalet-like building on top of a hill. We got a table on the patio.
I want this breakfast EVERY SINGLE DAY. It was so good.
From there, we took the U-Bahn to Gesundbrunnen for the Underground Berlin tour, which leaves from a closed portion of the train station. We stopped in to buy tickets, then had time to kill so we went over to the large park across the street. We hung out in the rose garden, then headed back to the tour at 1pm.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the tour; they had several different options that all seemed to be variations on the same thing, touring the underground bunkers used by Berliners during the war. I was concerned it would be kind of overblown and touristy, but that fear was soon put to rest.
The group of 30+ people came from all over the world – only a few of us were American. Our tour guide was an older Danish lady who had an extremely effective way of getting her point across. She took us down the stairs into the bowels of the former U-Bahn station, and showed us how the walls were painted with glow-in-the-dark due to power outages. She talked about the overcrowding and terrible breathing conditions. At one point we all packed into a room and sat on low benches while she described the suffocating conditions. She also asked if anyone there had experienced a similar situation, and a few people mentioned they were from Israel and had had to spend time in bomb shelters there. It was awful.
Later on in the tour, she talked about how Hitler came to power in Germany, and how neo-Nazism was on the rise all over the world. She said we needed to remember this at all times, lest it happen again. It was chilling to hear in September, and even moreso now after the election. We just keep repeating the same horrible mistakes over and over, don’t we?
I hope everyone who visits Berlin takes one of these tours. The company who runs them is doing everything they can to keep the memory of those events alive.
After the tour, we took the train and bus over to Charlottenburg to see the palace. Well, sort of:
We decided to keep moving, and hopped on another series of buses (it was a long way!) to Stone Brewery, which had recently opened a Berlin outpost. It was a wonderland of beer.
There was a huge warehouse of a building that housed the restaurant, bar, and brewhouse, plus a huge patio with firepits. We had a few beers off the gigantic menu, and ordered dinner as well. Then the store, of course.
We’d read that there was a secret back route to get to the train station from there, and I’m glad we asked a couple employees to confirm that and get directions. It was just starting to get dark, and the path looked like a good spot to get murdered. It ended up being a nice bike path along the train tracks, which then became a trail behind a bunch of really cute cottage gardens.
(Round about this point is where we hit the 100-miles-walked-on-vacation point, by the way. We could feel it, too.)
We found the train station and rode to Kreutzberg to find another brewery, BRLO. It couldn’t have been more different from Stone – it’s basically an empty lot with a giant wooden deck with PVC structure around it, and a few converted shipping containers serving as the bar and counter service restaurant. It was great, and the people working there were great. I also appreciated that they had piles of blankets, because it had started to get cold. I was able to wrap up and feel quite hygge indeed.
After a couple beers there, we went to the train station and rode back to Alexplatz. We decided to continue our beer tour since it was still early, and walked over to the Hofbrauhaus. This time, however, Oktoberfest was in full swing. It was INSANE, and approximately four million degrees inside. We realized they had an upstairs so we went up to try that, but that was equally packed full of people polka-ing. It would’ve been OK if there was a walk-up bar where you could just order a beer, but they don’t really have that – it’s all table service. We decided to just use the restroom and leave.
We stopped at a shop to pick up a couple beers there, and headed back to have our own Oktoberfest in the hotel room at 10:30pm.
Miles walked: 10.4/104.29 total
Sunday morning, I woke up to what I thought was cheering. I was really confused until I opened the curtains and saw that the Berlin Marathon was going right past our hotel.
We had coffee and checked out of the hotel. Thankfully, the marathon wasn’t blocking the route to the S-Bahn, which we rode from Alexanderplatz to the Hauptbahnhof.
The station was crazily busy, and it was a pain in the ass to be hauling our rolling bags around. None of the machines seemed to want to produce pre-purchased tickets, but someone finally directed us to an office upstairs where that could be done. We went to grab breakfast and sat outside feeding the sparrows on the patio.
We then went to grab some snacks and beer for the train, then went to wait on the platform. Of course I had to go use the bathroom before we left, and ended up standing in line and coming back right before the train arrived. We also didn’t exactly know where to board, since our tickets didn’t really indicate what section we’d be in. It pulled up and we jumped on, and there was a mad scramble of people running around.
An old guy finally looked at our tickets and directed us; we were in first class. We figured we didn’t have time to get off the train and run around to the other end, so we had to haul our bags down the aisle through several cars. Luckily, it wasn’t as many as it seemed, and the restaurant car was in between. We found seats, put our bags up on the overhead racks, and settled in for a ride on the ICE train to Frankfurt.
The ride was incredibly comfortable, and the conductor in first class was an adorable old man. He passed out train crackers:
The ride was about 4.5 hours total. We first went to Hannover, then the train went backwards to Frankfurt. We had a good view along the way, and I got a lot of knitting done.We arrived in Frankfurt shortly before 5pm, and went outside to map the walk to the hotel that was supposedly right by the train station. Well… that wasn’t exactly true. (I think mostly I was too half-assed about booking it, since it was a one-night stay.) It was about a mile away, and we had our big rolling bags. Google also had zero information about public transit for some reason, so we hailed a cab instead.
It was well worth the 10 euros to the hotel, because it would’ve been a long, hilly walk. Our room at the Holiday Inn Express was very small but good enough; it was kind of disappointing after our shockingly nice accommodations in the other two cities. Also, the location was pretty far away from anything. AND Google didn’t seem to know that Frankfurt has buses or streetcars; its only information was regarding the subway, which was nowhere close to us. It was really confusing.
I downloaded a local transit app, and that helped somewhat. But since we were used to walking 10 miles a day and weren’t even approaching that, we decided to walk to dinner. We wanted simple, familiar, and hopefully somewhere we could watch American football, since it was Sunday. Matt found the Champions Sports Bar at the Marriott, and that looked perfect for our very much lowered standards for the evening. (I think mostly we were sad to not be in the awesome places we had been, and I was questioning the decision to spend a whole day in Frankfurt, rather than just flying out of Berlin. Berlin was so great!)
We headed up the hill toward the Marriott. We passed over a million tracks leading into the Hauptbahnhof we’d just arrived at, and passed by a subway station that Google knew nothing about. We walked down a main street that had a bunch of buses Google didn’t know about either. It occurred to us that maybe we were a *little* too reliant on technology.
A mile and a half later, we arrived at the Marriott. Champions was a lot nicer than we expected, and actually had a really excellent menu. And there were sports, but unfortunately they involved the Packers. You can’t always have everything you want.
In case you’re wondering if ‘internet sports pundit’ is a universal stereotype…. the answer is yes:
We had no interest in making that walk back to the hotel, so we got another cab and headed back for the night. It was only 11.5 euros, and totally worth it.
Miles walked: 5.57/ 109.86 total
Monday morning, we made a point of getting up early enough to partake in the free hotel breakfast, because it’s one of those European buffets I love so much – bread, cheese, fruit, and granola. It’s the best. Also, they had a coffee machine that made double macchiatos. Win.
We walked over to the S-Bahn we’d spied the night before, and bought an all-day pass. We rode to the main trainstation, and from there bought tickets on the hop-on-hop-off double-decker bus tour. We didn’t know much about Frankfurt except for the few places I’d been before, and we didn’t have that much interest in researching on our own, either. Sometimes you have to let the experts do the work for you.
Important upper-deck information on the bus:
The bus took us across the river and around all the museums, and then we crossed back to the Altstadt. Matt and I decided to hop off near Rossmarkt and do some shopping. We went to the Bodum store and then Muji, where we wanted to buy everything but restrained ourselves to a few purchases. Then we walked over to see the Römer. I’d been here before but forgot how cute the little plaza is.
Bally wanted a sausage for lunch.
Here’s the actual Römer:
Then we went to see the cathedral, which is one of the few things I have a picture of from my short trip to Frankfurt. So I took the same exact shot:
We did some souvenir shopping nearby, and were happy to find a really traditional Christmas shop with all the wooden toys, ornaments, and cuckoo clocks. We picked up some carved Christmas trees for our parents, and an ornament as a souvenir.
Then it was lunchtime. Once again, we didn’t really care about finding a spectacular innovative restaurant; we just wanted easy. So we went to one of the places in the square with the Römer, and got a table on the patio. It was really incredibly nice and sunny outside, and warmer than in Berlin.
They specialized in extremely traditional dishes (of course), so we decided to try the farmer cheese (handkase). Oh my god, it’s terrible. It’s like weird fermented cheese with vinegar, oil, onions and fennel on top, and tastes like a goat smells. It was only marginally better on rye bread. Gross, Germany. Gross.
Here’s Matt’s gigantic schnitzel with spaetzle. Amazing. I had kartoffelpuffer with herb sauce. Matt also discovered apfelwein on the menu, so he gave that a try. Apart from the cheese, our meal was actually very good.
After lunch, we walked a few blocks to the Main riverside and bought tickets for the 100-minute river cruise (50 minutes each way, up and down the river). It wasn’t leaving for a bit, so we went next door and got a couple apfelweins gespritzt. These are the required serving glasses for apfelwein, apparently:
The boat arrived and we boarded. We went and sat up on top in the sun, which was very pleasant. The boat headed up the Main, passing the Altstadt along the way.
I had forgotten how large and modern a city Frankfurt is. It’s a huge banking center. The riverfront is really nice, too.
We went up to our turnaround point, which was in the working harbor with a bunch of container ships. There were some cool restaurants and outdoor spaces that had been built in reclaimed buildings in the area; it reminded me of the Minneapolis riverfront.
We stopped briefly at the dock on the return loop, then headed off for the downriver portion. When we passed this building, the narrator told us it was affectionately known as ‘the world’s largest apfelwein glass’. Of course.
This is the part of town where our hotel was located:
Once the boat returned to the dock, we went up to see the bridge above, since it was covered in love locks. They’re my favorite – we have one in Cinque Terre.
It was around 4pm, so we did some more wandering in town. At some point we’d probably have to find the ho-ho bus.
Here’s Goethe’s house!
We figured out where the nearest bus stop was after some confusion, and went to wait there by Main Tower. Of course we waited forever, but it finally showed up. We saw the rest of the loop, and rode back to the Hauptbahnhof and disembarked.
Matt wanted to go to Braustil, so we took the U-Bahn a couple stops and then questioned Google’s directions a lot. We examined the subway map and decided to follow that instead. That got us within a couple blocks of the place, so we were happy with that.
Braustil had a little patio and good beers. Not to mention their awesome logo:
We hung out there for a bit, then walked down the street to dinner. Naturbar was one of the most highly-recommended vegetarian spots in the city, so we were glad to be that nearby. It was a small, very nice-looking place. We had a garlic pita with whipped cheese, and both of our entrees were chanterelle-based, since they were in season. Everything was excellent, and we were thrilled to have found it.
Thanks to the Frankfurt transit app, I was able to map a route back to our hotel that involved the S-Bahn and the bus that stopped a block away from it. We got back there around 9pm and went to our room to pack.
Miles walked: 8.88/118.74 total
Tuesday, it was time to head home. We got up at 5:30, which hurt a lot. We had a quick breakfast in the lobby, checked out, and rolled our bags over to the bus stop. We didn’t have tickets (the buses are cash-only), so we crossed our fingers and hopped nobody was checking. We bought them at the train station, so I guess we paid retroactively.
The train to the airport was delayed, and absolutely packed when it arrived. We had to cram our bags on there, and then were melting in our jackets on the way to the airport. It took about 20 minutes to get there, and then we had to walk over to Terminal B. We were able to get our boarding passes from the machine, but then there was a very long wait at the bag drop. (Still, it was robotic, so that was pretty exciting.)
We passed through customs, but security was at the gate, which was kind of confusing because I wanted to get water. We got coffee and croissants at Starbucks, then went through security and discovered there was a little shop inside the gate area. We got water there, plus some German chocolate to bring home.
Boarding happened quickly, and we had the same exact seats as on our inbound flight, in a 2-seat row. I was incredibly thankful to not have another overnight flight, because they make me miserable. I was able to knit and watch movies (Cabaret – having just been to Berlin, AAAGH! – and Money Monster, which was not great). Dinner was cheese spaetzle, bread, and crackers with Laughing Cow cheese. I started the movie London Falling, but after 20 minutes it was so bad I had to turn it off. I switched to Midnight Special instead, then the Imitation Game, which I liked a lot.
Nearing the US, we had the usual customs announcement, which we ignored, since we have Global Entry. Then they passed out a weird delicious folded pizza snack and a mini red velvet cupcake. American Airlines, you’re alright.
We landed 20 minutes late in Charlotte, but Global Entry was easy and our bags arrived quickly. We had enough time to use the restroom, fill water bottles, and board the next flight to Miami. That one took forever, too, because we had to circle due to weather. Thankfully, we still had plenty of time to get down to the bus garage portion of MIA and board our tiny plane to Key West.
You know what’s not hard to return home to? This place!
Matt and I went to stay with his parents in Scottsdale for almost a week, since for the second year in a row they’d been renting their friends’ condo for the month of January. It’s a good excuse to go from the ocean to the desert, and we were able to work for a couple days while we were there.
I’ve already covered our previous trip to Arizona and we did much of the same stuff in Scottsdale, so I won’t bother writing it up again. We did actually make it into downtown Phoenix on this visit, and were very pleasantly surprised by how modern the city is. Also, The Breadfruit was fantastic.
On Saturday morning, we got up early and piled in the car to head north to Sedona. On the way there, we encountered a bunch of hot air balloons drifting over I-17.
It had been fairly warm in Scottsdale (low 70s during the day), but once we got near Sedona it was a lot colder. I had to change from flipflops into regular shoes and socks, which is something I’m definitely not used to anymore.
We stopped at the visitors’ center just south of Sedona to pick up maps and get our first view of the red rocks.
We headed toward town, stopping at overlooks along the way. All of these formations have names, but I’ll rely on someone else to label them for me.
From there, we drove up to the turnoff for the Chapel of the Holy Cross.
The chapel is at the top of an overlook in the hills, just a short drive off the main road. It has pretty amazing views on the way up.
Here’s the family ascending the ramp to the chapel. There are some Chinese buddhist monks coming up behind them, which we loved a lot.
The chapel itself is fairly small, though of course they have a sizeable gift shop downstairs.
The inside has a few pews and a huge rack of novena candles. They don’t use it actively for mass.
Here’s the gigantic mansion you see from the chapel. Kind of incongruous.
For lunch, we decided to stop and see what was at Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village. Plus, who doesn’t love arts and crafts like my mother-in-law and I do? Conveniently, we found Oak Creek Brewery‘s brewpub there waiting for us.
After lunch, we went to wander around the shops there, after we rescued Bally from this guy.
There were a bunch of excellent shops there; Judy found a purse, and I bought a silver ring, some flipflops on clearance, and some other souvenirs. (I’d have bought more, but we’d already done well in Old Town Scottsdale.) When we were done there, we decided to go see the airport overlook before checking into the hotel. It’s a couple miles west of the “Y” (which seems to be the main point of navigation in town – a little confusing since it’s not a Y but a roundabout now).
Here’s a panorama from the airport overlook.
We found the Amara Resort at the bottom of a steep hill along Oak Creek. It was right in the middle of the little village in Sedona, and convenient to everything (except for the climb). Also, the views were pretty spectacular.
We were early for check-in, so we hung out having a cocktail on the patio while they prepared the rooms. One of the servers came out and pointed out Snoopy Rock – Snoopy is laying on his back on the right. (Lucy is up there, too, but hard to see in this photo.) Matt and I walked down to the creek, which you can get to past the infinity pool that overlooks the valley. It’s too bad we only had one night there.
Our rooms were ready shortly, so we went to drop our bags off. The in-laws wanted to hang out and have a pre-dinner drink in the room, and Matt and I wanted to go up into town to do more sightseeing. They said they would take the shuttle up the hill when they were ready for dinner. We headed out, making the poor decision to climb the hill. It was only 2 blocks, but that incline at almost 5,000 feet altitude was rough for two people who live 12 feet above sea level.
We did some looking around the shops, including a crazy trading post store that probably hasn’t changed all that much in the past couple hundred years. The shops in town were a lot more touristy and less artsy than Tlaquepaque, so we didn’t find much of interest there. We checked out menus and scoped out a dinner restaurant, then headed down the hill to check out the series of plaques they had set up detailing Sedona history. What we learned is that a lot of Westerns were filmed there, and that the settlers were awful to Native Americans. Obviously.
We went all the way down to the Y and crossed the road to check out a weird mall on a hill that appeared to have some restaurants and shops. It seemed to be a Hilton timeshare setup with a Hard Rock-style restaurant that charged $20 admission, a Starbucks, and some overpriced shops. We climbed the hill back into town and went into the Cowboy Club to have a beer. As we’d learned from the history plaques, it’s where John Wayne and the other oldtimey Western stars all hung out after movie shoots.
It wasn’t as saloon-like as we wanted, but it was great nonetheless. We both had a crush on the bartender, and there was basketball on TV. Matt’s parents called to say they were ready for dinner, so we told them to meet us there. They grabbed seats at the bar with us, and we ended up staying there for a couple more rounds. By that time the place was insanely packed, and people were hovering over our seats to grab them when we left.
We crossed the street to 89Agave for dinner and had a really good dinner and margaritas. (The veggie enchiladas were delicious.) Then it was time to head back to the hotel, so we climbed back down the hill – his parents made it! – and went to grab seats around one of the fireplaces outside. We had drinks there, and a lady brought us blankets to wrap up in. I really wished we were staying longer.
The in-laws went up to their room before 9, and Matt and I went to get a drink at the bar in the lobby, which was still pretty busy. We read an art book about modern architecture and then went back to the bar to get a to-go drink before bedtime. (It was before 10pm – that’s even late for a lot of places in Arizona.) We met some people at the bar who wanted to talk about life in Key West, which is a conversation we’ve had a lot at this point.
In the morning, we checked out and headed west out of town in a different direction than we’d arrived. The park ranger had pointed out another overlook loop, so we wanted to do that before leaving. We stopped at Circle K for more coffee, and I discovered they had this in their rack of condiments: it’s more coffee to add to your coffee. Of course I did.
Red Rock Loop Road was quite scenic indeed. It’s about a 5-mile loop that starts and ends at 89A. This reminded me of the Grand Canyon in the morning:
Bally is quite the outdoorsman, as you know.
Back on the highway, we headed west again. Our original plan was to take 89A back in the direction of I-17 to Phoenix, but then we realized it wasn’t very far out of the way to go to Prescott. Since Matt and I really wanted his parents to see it (as it was a truly old-West kind of town), we decided to head that way before going home.
What Google Maps neglects to tell you sometimes is that your route involves an almost 8,000-foot mountain pass. The weather was fine, though, so it was a good adventure.
We found the town of Jerome at 5,000 feet in the Black Hills of Yavapai County. I’d never heard of it before, but we learned from an informative plaque (what can’t you learn from plaques, really?) that it’s home to what was once the richest copper mine in history.
It’s hard to see in the photos, but there’s more than one really fancy hotel up there. Here’s a bit of the mine:
We climbed up and up toward Jerome, thinking we wouldn’t possibly go through town because it was so high up there. But we did, and were greeted by cairns near the town entrance.
The highway becomes tiny going through town, as a series of narrow switchbacks. All the buildings hang off the mountain. It was really amazing to see.
We figured Jerome was near the pass, but after half an hour of still going uphill realized it wasn’t til around 8,000 feet. There was snow all over the mountain near the top. (This is looking back toward Sedona.)
The descent into the Prescott Valley is a lot quicker, with far fewer switchbacks. We got into Prescott around lunchtime, and were glad to get to show them the town before heading back to Scottsdale.
Matt and I took a quick trip to Puerto Rico with our friends from Minneapolis. We spent a night in San Juan (one of my favorite cities on earth), and then a couple nights in a condo on the beach in Rincón, a town that I promptly fell in love with. You can never spend too much time in Puerto Rico.
Here’s the entire photoset on Flickr.
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