Key West 2019: Days 3-5

If you’re wondering where all of my blog posts are, there hasn’t been very much to tell and I’m very much ready to go home. I’ve eaten some lackluster meals, took a long, traffic-filled road trip up the Keys, and witnessed an altercation at the pool. Read on for more details…

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Old Town Key West

Tuesday: My hotel situation greatly improved on Tuesday, thanks to my new digs. Best of all, the room has functioning a/c. I went to Smathers Beach for sunrise again and got some pictures at the Southernmost Point before the crowds arrived. Breakfast was at Pepe’s, the oldest restaurant in Key West and a favorite of both Ernest Hemingway and Harry Truman. Then I hit the pool for a while before heading back into town for an enormous slice of Key Lime pie at Blue Heaven and a sunset “Wind and Wine” sunset sail with Danger Charters. The sunset was pretty and the wine, hors d’oeuvres, and conversation were freely flowing.

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“Wind and Wine” Sunset Sail

Wednesday: I watched the sunrise from White Street Pier and had a disappointing breakfast of Godiva white chocolate French toast (it sounds way better than it tasted) at Camille’s before setting off on my journey up the Keys to Islamorada. The water was a stunning Caribbean blue, but I didn’t find many spots to pull over and take pictures. I made a short stop at Sombrero Beach in Marathon and a pit stop at Publix in Islamorada, then turned around and drove all the way back to Key West. I envisioned myself enjoying a relaxing afternoon by the pool when I got back. That was not to be. Two guys decided it would be fun to grab a huge iguana by the tail and toss it into the pool. Twice. Because one of the guys didn’t get a picture the first time. Another guy decided it was his job to confront them and threaten to kill them if they did it again. A war of words ensued before other pool goers intercepted. Three managers had to come out and deal with the situation. It was hardly the relaxing afternoon I was hoping for. In fact, it was kind of the final straw and made me wish I a) had chosen a different vacation destination, and b) was heading home sooner than Friday. I did enjoy a lovely dinner of Gnocchi Gorgonzola at La Trattoria Oceanside.

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Sombrero Beach, Marathon

Thursday: Since I was ready to pack my bags yesterday and head home, I determined to just make the best of today. Sunrise and breakfast were on the menu this morning, followed by a couple of hours at the beach. Don’t mistake Key West beaches for the Caribbean. The water may have the same color, but the beach is loaded with seaweed and the water is rocky, not at all sandy as you may expect. I enjoyed watching the pelicans diving for lunch and finished a book (no easy task with the wind turning the pages for me!) before heading back to the hotel. I went back into town and had the world’s soggiest pizza for dinner. I didn’t even bother staying for sunset. I can only hope that tomorrow’s final Key West breakfast is a good end to the vacation…

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Old Town Key West



Key West 2019: Day 2

I bookended my day with sunrise this morning at Smathers Beach and sunset tonight at Mallory Square. Because sunrise is my favorite time of day, and I made it my goal to be up and watching the sun rise every day of vacation, I figured I’d start the week at Smathers Beach. I thought I might be alone, but there was plenty of company between walkers, photographers, and other sunrise enthusiasts. Sunrise tonight was equally beautiful, though I was certainly not alone for that one!

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Smathers Beach Sunrise

Breakfast this morning was at Blue Heaven in Old Town Key West. I struggled to find places with interesting breakfast menu items in Key West, but it seems the draw is more to the atmosphere here than inventive foods. I ended up eating blueberry pancakes in the rustic courtyard and imbibed in a breakfast cocktail to go along with it. Sure, I could get blueberry pancakes at home, but would there be roosters milling about while I ate? After breakfast, I decided it was high time I get myself to the Southernmost Point buoy to take the obligatory picture. A walk up Duval Street rounded out my morning adventure. The pool was calling, so it was time to head back to the hotel.

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Blue Heaven

Now would probably be a good time to mention that my hotel experience has been less than stellar. For several reasons, the most salient of which is that I did not have air conditioning from the time I checked in until about an hour ago, at which time they finally conceded that they couldn’t fix it and moved me to a different room. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say it hasn’t been the greatest start to vacation. I managed to squeeze in a little pool time this afternoon whilst dealing with the a/c debacle. It is very warm here (82 degrees today) and extremely humid. A little sun goes a long way!

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Southernmost Point

I spent the afternoon and evening back in Old Town. This afternoon it was a ride on the Conch Tour Train (a Key West tradition) and this evening it was the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square. Both were about what I expected: the tour was informative and fun, while sunset was a mob scene of people watching the sun make its nightly journey below the horizon. Every evening, crowds are drawn to Mallory Square to enjoy the buskers, musicians, wannabe musicians, and street vendors. I’m glad I got there early enough to get a seat on the sea wall. Everybody should experience it at least once. A nightcap at Sloppy Joe’s was in order while I waited for the hotel shuttle. I spent the rest of the evening packing one hotel room and moving to another, but I’m now happily basking in the air conditioning!

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Sunset at Mallory Square

Key West 2019: Day 1

First impressions: Key West is Charleston/Savannah meets the Caribbean. I’ve only been here for a few hours, but I can already tell that Key West has a personality all its own. It was 24 degrees when I left home at 3:30 this morning and a balmy 81 degrees when I landed in Key West a few hours later. Flying over the Caribbean blue-green waters and deplaning right onto the tarmac was reminiscent of my visits to Turks and Caicos, while the historic homes with rocking chairs on the front porch remind me of the deep south.

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Landing in Key West

I encountered my first chicken in the airport garage. They seem to be everywhere here and are referred to as “gypsy chickens” by the locals. I saw my share of them wandering the streets of Key West during the rest of the day. My hotel is a short drive from the airport and I left the car there, quickly changed into shorts and flip flops, and boarded the hotel shuttle to Old Town Key West. I spent about an hour wandering around the seaport area (including my first manatee sighting) before settling into a waterside table at the Schooner Wharf Bar for lunch. A frozen mudslide and jerk chicken sandwich made for the perfect afternoon meal.

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First chicken sighting – Key West Airport

My plan for the day had included some time at the pool, so I suited and lathered up only to find all of the good chairs taken and the water a little warm for a hot day. It was a short visit. By this point, I was quickly losing steam. I wanted to pick up a few snacks and drinks at Publix and decided a small charcuterie plate and self-made Rum and Coke on the balcony would be a relaxing end to my first day in Key West.

A Long Weekend in Philadelphia

I had wavered on spending a weekend in Philadelphia, but having not visited Philly since I was young, I figured there was enough to do to keep me occupied for three days. Of course, I planned the trip before the government shutdown closed the main attractions… c’est la vie.

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Philadelphia Skyline

I arrived on Friday night, and given the anticipated rain/snow/cold today, I decided to focus on the outdoor historical attractions yesterday and spend today indoors. I started the day yesterday at Green Eggs Cafe for breakfast. This place made it to the top of my breakfast list because a. it was a short walk from my hotel, and b. Red Velvet pancakes. Yes, you read that right. Massive, square shaped red velvet pancakes layered with mascarpone and topped with Chantilly cream. Yum! I made it through about ½ of them before calling it quits. They weren’t overly sweet, but they were rich. Fortunately, I had spent 45 minutes at the gym beforehand and planned to get around the city on foot for the day.

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Independence Hall

After breakfast, it was off to Independence Mall. Of course, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and other National Park attractions were closed. However, I was able to visit the National Constitution Center, Elfreth’s Alley, the Betsy Ross house, Christ Church, and Carpenter’s Hall (meeting place of the first Continental Congress). Then it was off to the Reading Terminal Market to see what all the hype is about. There were plenty of food vendors (think Quincy Market times 10), but the crowds at midday on a Saturday were certainly off-putting. I made a quick stop at Macy’s to see the massive Wanamaker pipe organ, then it was back to my hotel to rest before a dinner of Steak Frites at Parc on Rittenhouse Square.

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Reading Terminal Market

Today, I made my way back to Green Eggs Cafe for a savory breakfast of “Philly Benedict”, though it was nowhere near as good as yesterday’s indulgence (there’s always tomorrow…). The rest of my day was spent at Eastern State Penitentiary and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Eastern State was a last-minute addition to the agenda, but it was so worth it. The prison has been left pretty much the way it was when it closed in the 1970s, which means lots of crumbling brick/cement and plenty of character to photograph. I did the 35 minute audio guide to get an overview, then took a tour of the “punishment cells” and the hospital. It was fascinating to learn about the prison that was a model for prisons around the world.

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Eastern State Penitentiary

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the third largest art museum in the country. Though I’ve never considered myself an art connoisseur, I definitely gravitate towards modern art and European design. I was thrilled to see so many artifacts and decorative arts (preserved doorways and columns, for example) that date back to medieval Europe. What surprised me was how impressed I was by the Asian art, especially the preservation of a Japanese Tea House and the Pillared Temple Hall from India.

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Japanese Tea House, Philadelphia Museum of Art

By the time I left the museum, it had turned mighty cold, and after a brief warm up at the hotel, I enjoyed pizza and cider for dinner nearby. My only plan for tomorrow is a final stop at Green Eggs Cafe (gourmet French toast, anyone?) and some downtime before I have to head back to the airport late morning.


Chicago 2018: Day 2

The two highlights of the day: food and Hamilton. I got a good night’s sleep and started the day indulging in a “French toast flight” at Batter and Berries in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. I had been planning this breakfast for weeks, so it should come as no surprise that I didn’t even need to look at the menu. I ordered the “super flight”, which includes four of the regular French toast menu items (blueberry, strawberry, caramel, and lemon) along with this week’s special: Heath. I started by trying a couple of bites of each one and then decided to work my way up from my least favorite to my most favorite. I cleaned the plate.

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Fullerton Avenue, Lincoln Park

Fortunately (for my waistline), I decided to walk from there to Lincoln Park to visit the conservatory and zoo. I have fond memories of the orchid room on my last visit to Chicago many years ago, but there weren’t too many in bloom today. The conservatory did provide a nice respite from the brisk morning temperatures. Then it was back to the cold as I walked around the Lincoln Park Zoo, a free Chicago attraction housing a large variety of animals. My favorites are always the gorillas, but I loved watching the monkeys swing (one kept hitting the glass because he overshot the rope!) as well. I spent a couple of hours wandering around the zoo and adjacent boardwalk before jumping on a bus to walk the Magnificent Mile. I stopped into a couple of stores before making my way to my afternoon destination: the CIBC Theater for Hamilton.

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Lincoln Park Conservatory

I’m not one of those people who has been wanting to see Hamilton since it first came out. I was ambivalent about going to see it in Boston. But, when I saw that it was playing in Chicago, I decided I might as well see what all the hype is about. I spent the first few songs thinking I should have saved my money, and then…. it won me over. Not being a history person, I figured I’d be bored watching people sing about one of the founding fathers for three hours and wouldn’t be able to follow the plot. On the contrary, I found myself having a new appreciation for Alexander Hamilton and I would recommend the show to anyone. It was that good.

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Riccardo Enoteca

I went back and forth on what I wanted for dinner tonight several times, and finally decided to forgo the deep dish pizza and head back to Lincoln Park for dinner at Riccardo Enoteca. It was a very good choice! I ended up eating at the bar instead of one of the cozy tables (which would have required a long wait) and enjoyed pennoni carbonara and panna cotta. A delicious end to the day!

Chicago 2018: Day 1

First things first: it’s COLD in Chicago. Not just “Oh, there’s a little chill in the air” cold, but 18 degrees and blustery wind cold. At least that’s what it was when I was walking to my hotel a little after midnight. Oh, you want to know why I was out so late? Let me tell you the story! As I was getting to my gate at Logan last night, they were making an appeal for 5 volunteers to give up their seats on the 5:30 flight. In exchange for a guaranteed seat on the 8:15 flight. And a $700 travel voucher. Gosh, I’ll have to give this some thought. Just kidding! I immediately jumped into line and the rest is history. The flight was delayed but I eventually got to my hotel a little after midnight and…. wait a minute. I canceled that reservation and rebooked at a lower rate. What’s that? I canceled the wrong reservation and kept the more expensive rate?! Well that puts a little dent in the $700 I just earned. 😦 

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Cloud Gate, Millennium Park

Fast forward about 6 hours and I was up and at ‘em at the crack of dawn. It wasn’t a matter of if I would crash today, but when. Spoiler: the answer is 1PM; that’s when I thought I might just curl up on a bench and sleep. I’m used to a faithful 9 hours of sleep every night and I fell about 5 hours short of that last night. I needed sustenance in the form of pancakes. And boy, did Wildberry Pancakes deliver! I had my mind made up on the signature “Berry Bliss” pancakes, and then the waitress asked if I wanted just the pancakes, or if I might like them as a side for one of the egg dishes. Well, I had been eyeing the skillets at a neighboring table that looked amazing. Which is how I came to feast on a skillet of hash browns, ham, and eggs smothered in melted cheddar and a short stack of berry bliss pancakes for my first breakfast in Chicago. Looks like I’m going to love it here.

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Downtown Chicago from Navy Pier

After breakfast, I walked over to and around Navy Pier in the bitter cold before taking the lakefront trail over to Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago. I took the obligatory pictures of the “Bean” and spent about 2 hours walking around the Art Institute. I’m not much of an art person, but I found myself drawn to the Contemporary Art section and I also enjoyed the American Art exhibits. It’s a pretty impressive collection. Afterwards, I hit TJ Maxx before heading back to the hotel. I was able to successfully plead my case to the hotel manager, who changed my room rate to the lower one I thought I was getting. I couldn’t spend much time in my room lest I give up on going back out for dinner.

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Chicago Theater

Dinner tonight was at Piece Pizzeria and Brewery. I’d like to call it a little hole in the wall, but it’s definitely been discovered by more than a few Chicagoans. Nonetheless, I snagged a seat at the bar and settled in with a white pizza and cider. It wasn’t so good I felt I would go back again, but it did the job of filling me up. And now it is a little after 7PM and I’m already in my pajamas laying in bed typing this. I’m fading fast and I’m determined to get a good night’s sleep so I can get back out and explore more of the city tomorrow!


Washington, D.C. 2018: Day 0

Continuing (or “officially beginning”) the “Year of Travel”, this weekend I’m hitting up our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. I’ve been to D.C. several times, so there’s no pressure to see and do everything in three short days. D.C. is close enough for an easy long weekend trip, yet far enough away to feel like a mini-vacation.

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Logan Airport Terminal B

My travel didn’t exactly start off easily. My first clue that this day might not go as planned came in the form of an email from American Airlines (sent last night; I didn’t see it until this morning) alerting me that there was a travel advisory for Logan Airport and I was welcome to change or cancel my flight without penalty today. I had booked the flight with points and already tried unsuccessfully to change to an earlier flight. But this morning there was a seat available on the flight an hour earlier, so I made the change. I watched the flight tracker all day as flight after flight from Boston to Reagan National was delayed, diverted, or cancelled. But somehow when I left home my new flight was miraculously still listed as on time. Luck was not on my side, however, as the flight was soon delayed. In fact, the plane hadn’t even left Washington by 5:00PM, our scheduled departure time from Boston (it’s a shuttle flight that just goes back and forth between the two airports).

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Reagan National Airport

Fast forward 5+ hours, and I am finally settled into my hotel in downtown Washington and ready to collapse into bed. I’ve been fighting a “mini-cold” all week that hasn’t really gotten me down but has managed to settle into my sinuses and generally be a nuisance. Hopefully a good night’s sleep will help to refresh me so I’m ready to take on the city in the morning!