Saturday, August 5, 2017

Key West Getaway

flying over the Florida Keys

When we landed in Key West at 1 o’clock, it was sunny and beautiful and about a million degrees. Surprise – it’s hot in Key West in July! :-)  We immediately headed to the taxi line but unfortunately, I gave the taxi driver the wrong street address and we ended up on the opposite side of the cemetery from Chris’s house. It wasn’t that big a deal, all we had to do was drive around to the other side, but the driver was not amused and practically threw our suitcases out of the van. Yeesh, what a grouch! No wonder everyone was excited that Uber had finally made it to Key West. We decided we would definitely be checking out that option on the way back to the airport.

After dropping off the bags and a quick run to the grocery store for supplies, we pulled out the bikes and rode down to the waterfront for lunch at the Conch Republic Seafood Company. It was way too hot for a big meal so Ron and I shared a plate of fish dip, and I ordered my first mojito of the trip. Then it was back to the house to cool off and change into non-sweaty clothes before going to Mallory Square for the sunset. But when we got back on the bikes, Ron discovered that one of his tires had gone completely flat. We quickly determined that the valve stem was bad so pumping it back up wouldn’t do any good. Fortunately, there was a spare bike and before long we were on our way again.

Key West waterfront


Conch Republic Seafood Company

Conch Republic mojito


Lazy Way Lane

Fishman's Cafe

I thought July was supposed to be the slow season but you couldn’t tell it from the crowds at Mallory Square. We finally managed to find a good sunset-viewing spot along the dock and watched the sailboats crossing the water as the sun dropped behind Sunset Key. Just a few feet away from us, a young guy slipped a ring on his girlfriend’s finger. She cried and said yes and everyone cheered. So sweet! After the sun was down, we browsed the arts and craft stands before heading to Garbo’s Grill for a plate of Korean BBQ tacos. We ate at one of the outdoor tables while listening to the live music coming through the windows of Grunts Bar. A peaceful end to Day 1.


Sloppy Joe's Bar

In the morning, we dropped Ron’s bike off at Eaton Bikes and walked to Harpoon Harry’s for a big diner-style breakfast – biscuits and gravy, grits, bacon and cups of yummy café con leche. By the time we were done eating, Eaton Bike had fixed the flat tire and replaced a couple of our bike light batteries too. We were good to go. We decided we’d spend the morning sightseeing so we rode all the way down White Street to the White Street Pier, then to the beautiful Casa Marina Resort which opened in 1920. Henry Flagler envisioned the hotel but never got the chance to see it completed before he died. We rode by the Southernmost Point Buoy too but the line for pictures was halfway down the block so we didn’t stop.

Harpoon Harry's Key West
Harpoon Harry's

Key West chickens

Casa Marina Resort
Casa Marina Resort


Casa Marina

I guess we’ve been to Key West a dozen times now but we’re always excited to try a new restaurant or activity. Ron had been looking forward to checking out the First Legal Rum Distillery this trip. So after we’d cooled off with a little lunch and a mojito at Caroline’s Café on Duval, we made our way to Front Street. First Legal Rum, which opened in 2013 at the site of the old Coca Cola bottling plant, was Key West’s first distillery since Prohibition. Because it was Sunday, they weren’t having any guided tours of the facilities, but they did have a rum tasting for $10. Ron and I shared a tasting, which included nine different rums - two aged rums, the original light rum and several flavored blends like coconut, Key lime, cinnamon and vanilla brulee (my favorite). I was really bummed I couldn’t take a bottle home but we only had carry-on luggage so I had to settle for a box of rum balls instead. We decided we would have to come back for their mojito class the next day.

Key West First Legal Rum Distillery
Key West First Legal Rum Distillery


We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the pool at the house until it was time to head back to the waterfront for our Land's End Sunset Sail with Sebago. As our sailboat motored out of the Bight, we saw Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas docked by Mallory Square. Empress was our second cruise ship and Mama and Daddy’s first, when we got them hooked on cruising. She had been sold to Pullmantur Cruises but Royal Caribbean bought her back in 2015 and now she was making runs to Key West and Havana. It was neat to see the “old girl” again. Once we’d made it past Sunset Key, the crew hoisted the sail (assisted by Ron and a few other volunteers) and we sailed for the rest of the trip. By then, clouds were starting to filter in so it wasn’t the best of sunsets but at least it wasn’t as hot. It’s always nice to be out on the water.

Susan on porch

Sunset Key

hoisting the sail
hoisting the sail

sailboat bow

Ron on sunset cruise

sailboat and cruise ship

sailboat sunset


hazy sunset

Fury sunset

The next morning, we woke up to find out that a cold front that had made it down to Florida had developed into Tropical Storm Emily! Boy, the weather forecasters didn’t see that coming. Since it looked like the Keys were in for some cloudy, rainy weather, we decided it was a good day to take a tour of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon Key. I was getting a little saddle sore anyway, so I didn’t mind having a break from the bikes. :-)

We left the house at 8:30, which got us to the Turtle Hospital just a few minutes before check-in at 9:45. The tour lasted about an hour and a half, starting with a video presentation of the five types of sea turtles found in Florida and some of the dangers that they face (sadly, all caused by humans). Then we walked through the hospital and rehabilitation areas. I was fascinated to learn that turtles can donate blood to other turtles of the same species. There were 47 sea turtles at the hospital during our visit, plus a couple of tanks with tiny turtle hatchlings – adorable! At the end of the tour, we got to feed some of the turtles who are permanent residents at the hospital.

Turtle Hospital Marathon Key

Turtle Hospital surgical area





staff cleaning turtle

turtle hatchlings

Hogfish Bar and Grill
Hogfish Bar and Grill

We ate lunch at Hogfish Bar and Grill on Stock Island, and by the time we got back to Key West the clouds had given way to sprinkling rain. But we managed to ride the bikes to Duval Street before the skies let loose. Then it POURED. We had to duck under the cover of Caroline’s Café bar to wait it out. At around 4, it finally slacked off enough for us to make our way to the rum distillery for the mojito class. I was excited about the class because I love mojitos but didn’t really know how to make them properly.
The class was free but for $15, we could make our own mojito and keep the glass, muddler and stirring spoon. Crystal, our instructor, told us that mojitos originated in Cuba and that the distillery’s head distiller had gone to Havana to learn the art of Cuban mojito-making. Then she explained how to make a mojito the right way – or more importantly, how not to make it wrong. :-)  We learned to use the entire mint stem and to muddle with sugar instead of simple syrup because the sugar crystals pull out more of the mint flavor. Also, it was better to use lime juice instead of muddling lime slices because the lime rind could make the drink bitter. Finally, mojitos should be stirred and not shaken (sorry, James Bond). The Cubans know what they are doing – our finished product was one of the best mojitos I’ve ever had!

First Legal rum barrels

mojito class

Ron with mojito
Why is the rum gone??

As we walked back to Duval after the class to retrieve the bikes, it started raining again. If you know me, you know I really dislike walking in the rain. But do you know what I like even less than walking in the rain? Biking in the rain.  And you know what’s worse than that? Biking in pouring rain! Ron and I had just reached Grinnell Street when the deluge began. I could barely see to ride the last few blocks to the house. We were drenched!

Dinner would have to be someplace close by so when we’d dried off and the rain settled down again, we walked to Mangia Mangia Pasta Café. The hostess sat us at a front window table and Ron ordered fettuccine with Alfredo sauce while I had linguini with meat sauce. They were both delicious. We were stuffed but just as we were finishing up our pasta, it started pouring again. Since we were stuck, we decided we might as well have dessert. We ordered the chocolate cake and ate the entire thing. Blame it on the rain!
So, we didn’t end up with the best of weather. But we still had fun doing things we’d done before and things we hadn’t done before. My favorite parts were the Turtle Hospital tour and the mojito class. Ron said his was the sunset cruise since he’s always happiest on the water. There’s something about Key West that makes you forget your troubles for a few days and just enjoy being in the moment.


Mojito Review

I had my very first mojito in Key West and I’ve been hooked ever since.  Now every time we’re in Key West I try to sample as many as possible. Here is my ranking for this trip, starting with the best:
  1. My own, of course. :-)  We took the mojito class at the First Legal Rum Distillery, where they showed us how to make them the Cuban way. Fantastic!
  2. Hogfish Bar and Grill – just enough Key lime flavor to make it unique
  3. Caroline’s Cafe – a good balance of sweetness, lime and mint
  4. Conch Republic Seafood Company – strong but too much lime

1 comment:

  1. Even a cloudy sunset can be beautiful. Excellent pictures as usual!