A short trip to someplace "different":

Key West

December, 2012

How we ended up in Key West

About mid-December, 2012, we realized it was going to be a very quiet Christmas at our house. Our older son and his family had planned a holiday trip to Florida, seeing Disney World and some family down there. Younger son and wife were in Seattle and expecting twins in the next month and obviously did not need any company to stir things up any more. Se we looked around at the possibilities; we wanted to go somewhere warmer, preferably near water, and not too far to travel for a short trip. Pouring all that together, along with airline schedules and fares, we came up with Key West.

The "Welcome" sign entering the Key West airport

The arrangements

Delta provided a non-stop, two hour flight out of Atlanta on a reasonable schedule. I tried to find a nice B&B or other simple resort, but by the time we were making arrangements, very little was available. The best combination of location, facilities, and price turned out to be a Fairfield Inn. The room was a bit small, but otherwise it worked well.

The arrival

We traveled to Key West on Monday, Dec. 23, so the holiday season was well under way. The flight was good with an interesting warning by the pilot that the landing might be a little rough because the runway is short and they have to use the brakes aggressively. The landing was relatively normal and we unloaded to head into the terminal.

They have some interesting airplanes in Key West.

We had to wait quite a while for our luggage, then picked up our rental car and made the quick drive to our hotel. There was major road construction on the main road into Key West that ran by our hotel, forcing it to be one way, but it did not affect our stay very much. We drove into town on the main road and came back via the back streets.

Day one

We unpacked and took a quick look around, then drove into downtown Key West. (The hotel was about 3 or 4 miles from downtown.) This was early afternoon and we had not had any lunch yet, so we drove into town, parked the car in a parking lot that appeared to be unused, found Duval Street and started looking for something to eat. After looking a while we found a Cuban style restaurant and went in, looking forward to a good Cuban sandwich. We got Cuban sandwiches, and they were pretty good, but not what we think of as authentic. After lunch we wandered around for a while, checking out the cruise ship docks then the Truman Little White House.

There were Conch Trains everywhere, but we never got on one.

After getting in a good walk, we got back in the car and took the long way to the hotel in order to find a Publix Supermarket where we picked up a couple of bottles of wine, some cheese and some crackers. Back at the hotel we poured some wine and took it out by the pool to enjoy the warmth of Key West.

As suppertime approached, we got back in to the car and headed downtown. This time we experienced one of the problems of downtown Key West: a lack of parking for non-residents. The parking meters only take special cards and private parking lots are expensive. We were lucky because, for a couple of days around Christmas, the parking meter fees were suspended, so parking was more available. We found a space a couple of blocks off Duval Street and went looking for someplace to have dinner. About the first restaurant we came to was Mangoe's. The posted menu looked interesting and the manager/host invited us in, so we decided to give it a try. The air temperature was dropping rapidly and we were glad to be seated close to a heater that made it comfortable. We both had fish dishes; all the food was tasty, the Pinot Grigio went well, and the service was good. A good first day.

No, we didn't eat at Sloppy Joes, but I had to get a picture in here.

Day 2

We decided that driving around and looking for parking places would not work, so we rented a couple of bicycles. We tried to get some decent hybrid bikes, but with the number of people in town, the only bikes available were the "beach cruiser" style; single speed, coaster brakes, big fat tires. They were not exactly our favorite bikes, but they did get us around town. We started our ride by heading down to the main beach, Smather's Bech, to check it out. The beach seemed nice enough and had sailboats and kayaks to rent, but the water was a bit chilly for us. We rode on around the southern end of Key West, past the Southernmost Hotel, and around by the Navy base. We saw the entrance to the Fort Taylor park and figured, "Why not?"

Looking over Ft Taylor toward the cruise ship docks.

It turned out to be a nice tour. The fort itself was similar to others we have seen, but some of the views were unique. After touring the fort we went further out the same road, to a beach area that is part of the park. Here we discovered the Key West version of an art gallery. It appeared that the space had been used by a number of (probably local) artist to create some "environmental works of art". There was a series of reflective disks, a number of wood and rope assemblages that looked somewhat like crude rafts, and a number of somewhat strange items that we could not identify just what they were supposed to be.

This art looked like a bunch of solar collectors.

And this looked like some poorly made rafts. .

That evening was Christmas Eve so we assumed that we might have a problem finding a decent place to eat without a reservation. We looked at the possibilities and initially tried Columbia Grace, but they were booked for the next couple of days. On the way from the car to Columbia Grace we had walked past Blue heaven, which we had heard about previously. We went in and they said that we could get a seat "inside" (the less preferred area) in about 15 or 20 minutes. Figuring that was the best we would do, we agreed. Like Key West itself, Blue Heaven is "interesting". There are dogs and cats wandering around the restaurant and the occasional chicken (common in Key West) might show up. The small band was decent, but really didn't seem comfortable playing Christmas carols. The food was reasonably good, the service attentive (until a large group claimed the attention of our server) but the attraction here is really the environment, not the food.

Day 3 (Merry Christmas)

Christmas morning we got on the bikes again. We had dinner reservations and I wanted to get a better feel for where I would need to drive and park later. We ended up taking a nice tour of the harbor area. We were a bit surprised at the number of tour groups that were in full swing Christmas morning. Several large groups were heading out on various boat tours; even some para-sail "victims" were heading out.

Part of Mallory Square quring a relatively quiet time.

We looked around there a while, identified a good parking area for later, then got on the bikes and continued the tour. We went around to Mallory Square and checked that area out, wandering around and watching the chickens, the artworks, the people. and the ship that was in port (where some of the tour groups probably came from).

Cruise ship in port on Christmas day.

After walking around that area a while, we biked back to the hotel to get ready for our 2:00 Christmas dinner reservation. Because we were dressed a little nicer for dinner, we took the car to the Hyatt hotel where the Shor restaurant is located. The only "hic-up" was when we were seated. The hostess asked if we wanted outside or inside and, since it was a nice day, we chose "outside" but asked that we not be seated in the sun since it was obviously going to be rather bright and warm. Of course, she seated us where I was in full sun and Susan would be soon. She was gone by the time I realized the problem so I saw a man who appeared to be the manager and explained the problem. He quickly moved us to a different and excellent table where we had a great view of the harbor.

Our view of Key West harbor during Christmas dinner.

We ordered from the special Christmas menu which included appetizer, entrée, and desert. Susan had an entrée of scallops and I had what was one of the best servings of ham I have ever had. I expected the normal couple of slices of ham, but got several nice large "chunks" of nicely seasoned ham. Susan's scallops were good, but I considered my ham something special. Add a bottle of rose wine, then finish off with coffee and desert and it made for a very nice Christmas dinner. Our server was very attentive and did an excellent job.

Our Christmas dinner server was a good photographer. To bad his subjects weren't so good.

After finishing dinner we went back to the hotel and relaxed around the pool for a while. All in all, a very successful day.

Day 4: kayaking

The next day (Thursday) we decided to do a little kayaking. We knew that it would be too late to sign up for any good tour, so we elected to just get a couple of kayaks and make it a "do it yourself" tour. We had actually seen some kayaks on a tour during one of our bike rides, so we had some idea where we wanted to go. We identified a convenient kayak rental shop, got on our bikes, and peddled over, going by Smather's beach again on the way there. We got a a couple of kayaks, a map and bottles of water and took off.

Kayaking on the Atlantic side in Key West.

We paddled in and out of some inlets and around some mangroves. At one point we paddled down a fairly narrow winding path through the mangroves and, when it opened up a little, found a rather "rustic" houseboat sitting there. The unique thing about this houseboat was the cat and dog on the front deck and in the little skiff tied up to the houseboat. The dog was a bit nervous, but the small cat was just plain friendly. It wanted attention and was glad to have us paddle up alongside and pet it and make over it. I'm sure it would have jumped into the kayak with very little coaxing.

This cute little cat was very friendly.

We could hear noises from within the houseboat and both animals appeared well cared for, so we said good-by and paddled on. The map showed some former salt-pans sort of behind the Key West airport but we had trouble finding the pathway to get into that area. Finally we found this long, very narrow path through the mangroves and slowly made our way through it.

A very tight passage through the mangroves via kayak.

Once we got in the old salt-pans, it was a bit anticlimactic as there was really not much to see. We paddled back and went the other direction in the inlet where we had started, passing under the US-1 bridge so that we were on the north or gulf side of the island. We thus paddled from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way we noticed interesting animals in the Mangroves, including a couple of iguanas and a number of Pelicans roosting in the branches.

Pelicans roosting in a mangrove tree.

When we had thoroughly exhausted ourselves paddling, we went to a small restaurant on the dock at the marina where the kayak rental was and had a simple but very delightful lunch. after lunch we biked back to the hotel and got more exercise; there was a brisk westerly wind blowing and we had to ride straight into it. Riding into a good wind on a "beach cruiser" is not a relaxing way to travel. The rest of the day we relaxed around the pool before going into town for dinner. We were looking for something simple, perhaps a wine bar with light food and went into a likely looking place. Unfortunately, it turned out to be something less than we were looking for, but we had a decent meal, although service was something less than stellar. Walking up and down Duval street and checking out some of the stores and art galleries provided our entertainment for the evening.

Day 5: Return to Atlanta

We had a leisurely breakfast, packed up and headed to the airport. Departure and the flight home was timely and uneventful, which was a good thing.

A nice view of the Florida Keys on our way out of Key West.

f Overall, it was a fun and interesting trip and provided a warm interlude during a cold winter in Marietta