Friday, July 18, 2014

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

What if you have a big group.  No one is really into the bar scene and everybody wants something different? Beach time, hiking, biking, snorkeling, snacking, and exploring could take everyone in opposite directions. Unless you head over to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, tucked away in the southwest corner of the island. The entrance to the park is located to the left of The Eco Discovery center and you pay according to how you'll be getting in.  If it's a really hot day, you might want to drive. It's a 10-20 minute walk from the gate to the park, depending on how motivated you are.

A cruise ship docked in the distance.
Stop by the Fort first for a mini history lesson. It took 21 years to build, starting in 1845, and included sanitary facilities flushed by the tide and a desalination plant which produced drinking water from the sea. I didn't ask but I hope they were on opposite sides of the fort. In Union hands, Fort Zachary was headquarters for the U.S. Navy's East Gulf Coast blockade squadron during the Civil War. Coolest takeaway for me? How long it took from the invention of canned goods to the invention of the can opener. Guided tours are offered at noon daily.
Cannons are always cool.
After your history lesson, head down to the beach. Make sure you've got water shoes in your bag. Zachary Taylor isn't a sandy beach like the ones on the Atlantic side of the island. Happily, that is one of the few things you'll need to bring. (bathing suit, sunscreen, towel, ect.)  Umbrellas, chairs, and snorkeling equipment are available for rent at the Chickee Hut. 

Feel the need to relax your body, mind and spirit? You can drop in on the 8:15am  yoga class. All the supplies are included in the $18 drop in fee. If you've bought a pass for yoga classes during your stay, tell the people at the gate. Park admission is included.

When your stomach starts growling, head over to The Cayo Hueso CafĂ©. There's plenty of seating on the deck and they offer a variety of beach food that will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. They only accept cash but supposedly there's an ATM. (I don't remember seeing one.)

All in all, a good option for your hard to please crowd.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Pearls before Swine

I love my island and I rarely leave. Why should I? I have my rum, my dogs, my bike and my husband. (bike and husband not pictured) But occasionally something inspires me to jump in the car and head to the mainland. Yesterday, it was a dim witted pig.

Stephen Pastis, a cartoonist not a pig, and creator of Pearls before Swine, was having a book signing at a shop in Coral Gables. (just a short 7 hr round trip from home)

If you're a fan of the funny pages, you've probably read Pearls before Swine. It's all about a sweet dim pig, an arrogant rat, some idiotic crocs, and their adventures with assorted animal friends. Unfortunately, you won't find Pearls in the Key West newspaper, the Citizen. (I've bitched about that, have you?)

But if you're in town and need an animation fix, head over to The Gallery On Greene to see paintings, sculptures, and cartoons by the late great, Jeff MacNelly, creator of Shoe. If you don't see them on the walls, ask. The gallery is always shifting things around. Tell Nance and the ladies I sent you.

And if you see a Stephen Pastis book signing near you, GO! He was a very funny speaker, and used power point for good, not evil. I must say though, after listening to his stories and the reactions he's gotten to some of his strips, I'm really surprised that as of yesterday, he hasn't been sued or assassinated.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dry Torgugas/Fort Jefferson

My husband's stepfather Ed has a National Park passport book. If you've never seen one, it's like a passport, but instead of countries, you get a date and time cancellation stamp for visiting National Parks. (And a cool optional color stamp you can purchase separately) Ed takes his passport book very seriously. I've watched him labor over maps, planning trips for he and his patient wife Geneva, that ensured the highest ratio of National Parks to miles driven. He once told me, there were two parks he'd probably never get to. One was a remote spot in Alaska and the other was the Dry Tortugas. The very same Dry Tortugas that are a scant 70 miles, as the crow flies, from Key West. Guess who's coming to visit?

It's windy at the front of the ferry
There are two ways to get to the Dry Tortugas. A Seaplane, will run you $295 per adult for a half day rate and $515 for the full day rate. Their website boasts views of 2 shipwrecks and a wide variety of sea creatures; sharks, dolphins, turtles, and more.  The big plus is that if you take the first plane in the morning or the last plane in the afternoon, you'll have the island pretty much to yourself because it takes the ferry 2 hours each way. It will either be headed to the Tortugas or back to Key West.

The other way to get to the Dry Tortugas is by ferry. Yankee Freedom offers a once a day round trip leaving at 8am and returning at 5. (check-in is at 7am) It's $170 per adult and $125 for children. They offer student and active military rates as well. Tours are limited to 150 passengers, so plan on making a reservation.  The boat is pretty big. There's plenty of padded seating inside the main cabin or out on the decks. If you're adventuresome, head to the front of the boat and practice your, I'm king of the World impersonation as the catamaran speeds along at 30 mph. I spotted a sea turtle on a trip last July, so spent a little time watching the water. Breakfast and lunch are included, so no need to bring food. The menu is basic and family friendly.

Bring sea sickness pills. The day we went, the waters were very rough and it made the 2 hour trip feel like an eternity. If you are in town for several days, and it looks like bad weather on your chosen day, you can always try rescheduling. Mark's brother and his wife came down over the 4th of July weekend and we were able to get next day reservations. In cases of extreme weather, the ferry will cancel that day's trip.

Once the boat arrives at the Dry Tortugas, you pick up your complimentary snorkeling equipment.  If you want to swim with the fishes, head up the path towards the fort, and follow the brick pathway out to the front. (I'm standing on the path in the photo. Please excuse my horrible posture) The waters in front of the fort are packed with thick schools of reef fish along with a few 50 pound Tarpon who wind their way through the fish and snorkelers. I am extremely claustrophobic. The idea of being in the middle of all of those fish made the back of my knees go numb. Instead, I chose to stroll along the brick walkway and chat with Bob and Sophie, who were bravely snorkeling.

You could easily spend the whole afternoon in the water or playing on the white sand beach. Don't! Give yourself some time to explore Fort Jefferson. This is one of the largest coastal forts every built. There are guides and pamphlets for self guided tours.

If you forgot to buy your National Parks Passport Book before you left, don't fret, you can buy one at the visitor's center. Don't forget to time stamp your visit. There's also a special stamp for those who make the trek up inside the lighthouse.

When Ed and Geneva visit, I'm looking forward to hearing the guided tour. There's only so much info you can gleam from a pamphlet. I will also be getting another time stamp. I was in a bit of a hurry last time and I used the lighthouse stamp, not the time stamp. This time, I'll be more careful.

The Dry Tortugas is the first stamp in my National Parks Passport book. I'm not sure I'll ever become as intense about it as Ed, but in case I do, I have one of the hard to reach spots already crossed off the list.  58 parks to go.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

2 Friends Patio

A surprisingly crowd free shot

I forgot that spring break was in full swing when I told Lisa to meet me at 2 Friends Patio for lunch. The restaurant is in Old Town, just a couple of blocks off the northern end of Duval. When breakers hit town, Mark and I avoid the beaches and everything on the Northern end of the island, especially around Sloppy Joes. It's just too tough to wade through the crowds. With him out of town, I completely forgot.

I met Lisa out front at 11:30, and was pleasantly surprised that there wasn't a waiting list. A guitar player was singing in the main indoor area so we chose a spot on the spacious patio. Because of my hearing aids, it's darn near impossible to hear conversation when a musician is performing nearby.

Lisa was in the mood for greens and ordered a Garden Salad with Grilled Chicken Breast. ($12.95) I wanted a cup of their Lobster Bisque. Mark and I had stopped in for happy hour when we first moved to the island and I had very fond memories of the bisque.  As an entree, it comes with a Caribbean Crab Cake and Small Salad. ($13.95)

While the bisque was good, it wasn't as good as I'd remembered. Either the chef has changed or whatever I was drinking on my happy hour visit, had magical properties. For a seafood soup, you're better off getting the corn and crab chowder at Margaritaville.

I took too long to get to the crab cake. It was almost cold by the time I dug in my fork and I kept having to pull crab shells out of my mouth. The taste wasn't bad, but the shells were too distracting to really enjoy it.

Lisa said her salad was good and although I meant to ask for a bite of the chicken, I completely forgot. The greens on both our salads were very fresh and I appreciated the thick cucumber slices on mine.

2 Friends Patio has chocolate ganache cake and key lime pie on their menu but neither of us felt like dessert.

2 Friends Patio offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. I've stopped in for breakfast in the past, but thought it was a bit over priced and I had trouble getting jam and a refill on my tea. I prefer Pepe's or Schooner Wharf. I've never been for dinner.

I did notice on the website that 2 Friends Patio has Karaoke. They don't list times but they do have an active webcam, so you could check to see if things were hoppin'. Photos of drunk happy singers looked like they were night shots. If you're interested, you can call for more info. 305-296-3124

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Hemingway House Museum

One of the six toed cats at the Hemingway House
Oh the cats. That's the first thing you'll notice. There are a lot of them at the Hemingway House, somewhere between forty and fifty. But these aren't just any old cats. They're polydactyl cats, which means, they can have extra toes on each foot. Four to Seven additional digits is common.

The first was Snowball. A gift to Hemingway, from a friend, who was a sea captain. According to legend, if you're a sailor, it's good luck to have a six toed cat on your ship. Today, not all of the feline residence have extra toes, but each carries the gene that causes the mutation.

The Hemingway House and Museum is open daily from 9-5 and is one block off Duval and Olivia at 907 Whitehead Street. Admission is $13 for adults and $6 for children. Group rates of 12 or more are available, call to check on rates: 305-294-1136. Set aside at least 90 minutes for your visit.

If you drive past, watch out for pedestrians. Getting that perfect shot of the entrance, often requires stepping out into traffic. Add in jaywalkers and a few bikes and scooters and navigation can be tricky.

Once you're safely inside the brick walled estate, go directly to the front porch and check to see when the next 30 minute guided tour is scheduled. If one has already started, wait. Go check out the gardens, and come back for the next tour. The well trained guides will regale you with stories and insight into a man many consider to be one of the world's greatest writers.  It's definitely worth a short wait.

Howard Hughes, a 7 toed cat. 
Highlights, on your tour, will include Pauline's pool and Papa's revenge, the cat cemetery out back, and Hemingway's typewriter in his office over the carriage house. There's oh so much more, but I don't want to spoil it for you.

There is a small gift shop, in the carriage house, where you can buy Hemingway's novels, poems, short stories and biographies. They carry a nice variety of souvenirs too.

The grounds are beautiful, so take a few minutes to wander. If you're looking for an unusual wedding spot, you can get married here. You can even get a Hemingway look-a-like to perform the ceremony.

Bar Reviews

Are you wondering about a specific place? Here's a guide to our bar reviews. Only eighteen so far. We need to get drinking. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Bobby Shop

Sometime in the next couple of weeks, I need to head over to the Bobby Shop and sit in the chair for Liz. She's a wiz with color and my strands are looking pretty drained.

The big question is, of course...




I probably won't be able to decide till I'm in the chair. If you find yourself in need of a cut or color, the shop is just off the corner of Whitehead and Southard. They're cash only, but there's a small grocery next door with an ATM.

I'd recommend calling the shop before you head over. There's a slim chance that you'll find Bobby, Scott, or one of the other stylists hanging at the table out front, playing cards and waiting for a customer, but don't count on it.

When you make your appointment, it doesn't matter who you get. I have yet to see a bad cut come out of this place.

You can reach the shop at 305-292-6999

Now, I have to get back to deciding. Pink....or.... purple.