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