Florida Winter Vacation - Blog
(January 2019) -- When we visited Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard several years ago, I witnessed most of that region within the tiny black and white viewfinder of the camcorder. The recorded memories were nice. After the fact, I hadn’t allowed myself to fully enjoy Cape Cod ... in real time. Unaware at the time, I had developed ... photography tunnel vision. Prioritizing is important and this year our Florida vacation took top priority and photography was shifted to second place.
Vacation requires planning, making reservations and packing. We started packing the night before our departure. We packed shirts, tops, shorts, sandals, and other essentials. A Canon 7D Mark II, securely paired with a Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 and Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 Art lens, was neatly tucked inside my backpack.
I took the camera nearly everywhere we went and I took a lot of pictures. My photography mindset was simple ... spot subject / compose / actuate shutter, and move on. We enjoyed our vacation and have fond memories ... and a few pictures to share.
We drove to Northern Kentucky and spent the night at a hotel near the airport. The next morning we boarded our early flight to the southern region of Florida. One thing I’ve learned is that life doesn’t come with a script. Our direct flight to Fort Lauderdale International arrived on schedule and the car rental company shuttle was waiting outside the airport. We boarded the shuttle, rode a short distance to the rental office ... checked in ... and departed in our rental car. Not exactly. Checking in at the car rental wasn’t quick and it didn’t go that smoothly.
Everything had gone smoothly and had been on schedule up to that point. To our dismay the rental company’s entire computer system was down. We were told someone was working on the problem and hoped to have the system back online by noon— we arrived there at 10:15AM. Their two person staff was courteous and apologetic about our delay. The shuttle driver offered to drive us to another rental company. Other potential customers waited in line as they searched on their cell phones for another rental company. The hands on the wall clock continued in a clockwise rotation and customers started canceling reservations and going elsewhere to rent a car. An hour had passed since we arrived. We suggested that if we waited until noon, the company could upgrade our rental car at no charge.
The rental company wasn’t located in an attractive part of town. It was more of a remotely maintained industrial area. We gave the staff our cell phone number and walked down the street to a bar and grill that was open, called Riverside Market South.
Several respectable looking folks were seated at the bar, having drinks and enjoying casual conversation, when we walked inside. The place had an eclectic vibe and the atmosphere was pleasant. The weathered wood exterior of the structure was adorned inside with a variety of distilled spirit signs hanging on the walls.
An old bicycle, a surf board, and some other items were all suspended from the rafters. A long bar stretched across the front of the L-shaped room and well stocked coolers covered the side and rear wall. Draft and craft beer menus were written on a large chalkboard near the right side of the bar. Adjacent, was the dining area, furnished with older square wooden tables and sturdy wooden chairs.
The House Rules were clearly stated on a sign centered across the rear wall of the bar area:
Please Seat Yourself
Grab A Cold One
Hang On To Your Empties
Make Yourself At Home
One would be hard pressed to find fault with those house rules!
The proprietor was a big burly guy with a dark tan, beach hair and a beard, tattoos down the length of his arms and legs. He brought a couple of menus to our table and took our drink orders. An unusual way to start the day, I ordered a dark stout and my wife ordered a water. After browsing the menu, my wife order the grilled cheese sandwich and I ordered a hamburger with fries. What could go wrong?
Our food was served in a reasonable time and prepared exactly as we ordered. Their grilled cheese sandwich was best grilled cheese my wife had ever eaten and my hamburger was delicious. When asked about the secret to their grilled cheese sandwich, the guy said they prepared them the same way his mother made them. An extra step taken while grilling turns an average grilled cheese into exceptional.
The car rental office called while we were eating. Their computer system was back online and we could pick up our rental at anytime. The company upgraded us to an SUV at no additional charge and the unexpected delays at the start of our vacation evolved into a fun experience.
Our condo in Pompano Beach served as home base for the week and our seventh floor balcony offered a view that overlooked the resort and ocean. We had dinner with a couple from Fort Lauderdale Saturday evening at an upscale restaurant on the water called the Blue Moon. Both the food and service was excellent and par for the price.
The next evening we took a short drive south to nearby Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. The small town is part of the Miami/Fort Lauderdale/Pompano Beach Metropolitan. The ocean front area consists of more resorts, a fishing and observation pier near a variety of shops and restaurants. Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is a lively place— a lot of foot traffic and street corner musicians. I would have really liked that area during my younger years. A two dollar per person toll was required to walk out on the fishing and observation pier. Paying the two dollar toll wouldn’t have been bad had the last third of the pier not been closed due to repairs and renovation.
We drove to Jupiter, Florida on Sunday and visited the Jupiter Lighthouse. The red painted brick structure set atop a nicely landscaped hillside. Visitors have to walk up thirty four steps to the lighthouse, then another hundred and five winding steps up to the observation deck surrounding the top of the lighthouse. It’s the oldest structure in Palm Beach County. I climbed the narrowing spiral steps with ease and took a few photographs from its observation deck. The view was beautiful, overlooking marinas with the Atlantic ocean in the background. We had an enjoyable day in Jupiter. I could write paragraphs about the Banyan tree near the base of the lighthouse. To simply call it a tree would be an injustice. Banyan trees aren’t native to Florida and this tree has grown into a community. The tree could easily have it’s own zip code. I won’t explain the uniqueness of Banyans, I suggest you search the species on the Internet and learn more about them.
Monday’s destination involved hotel accommodations reserved in Key West. We set our alarms for 5AM with the intention to leave Pompano Beach no later than 6AM. We departed Pompano Beach shortly after 6:30AM. Leaving thirty minutes later than planned wasn’t bad considering we were on vacation and not punching a time clock. How many times have you seen the words time clock and vacation used in the same sentence?
As we pulled out of the parking lot, the sun was slowly rising above the horizon. Destination bound, we were finally on our way to the Florida Keys!
Everyone should drive to Key West at least once if possible. A two lane blacktop road brought us into the upper Keys and evoked a sense of nostalgia, having heard references to the Florida Keys many times. Traveling south through the Keys made an impression on me. In a geographical sense, the calm open waters were something I’d never experienced before. The water’s color varied at times, often within the same region. There’s a remarkable contrast between water, islands, and sky.
Seeing the Key Largo sign was exciting. It signaled to us that we had truly arrived at the Keys. We drove across forty-two bridges on our way to Key West, including the renowned “Seven Mile” bridge. The original seven mile bridge is visible from the newer bridge and much of the original structure was rusted, deteriorated with age. The weathered old bridge would be an interesting icon to photograph, best accomplished by boat, instead of from from the road.
Whether you’re driving, or walking on foot, Key West is an interesting place. We’d been downtown only minutes before I heard the crow of a rooster. I thought to myself, “That was odd”. I turned toward the sound and a few feet away from me stood a game rooster. As we continued our walk, the abundance of chickens and roosters, was the first thing I noticed about Key West. Since all birds on Key West are protected, the poultry species of two-legged fowls are plentiful, freely wandering the region. The sound of a roosters’ crow was heard throughout the day. Some people consider it annoying, as a visitor I found their boastful salutations to be humorous.
Key West loves their roosters. Several of the buses and trollies on the island had metal sculptures of a rooster mounted outside the vehicle above the front or rear windows. Key West epitomizes the concept of “free range” chickens ... and, roosters. Walking the narrow streets of the old town, in most any direction we looked, there was poultry in motion.
I strongly recommend the tour of Ernest Hemingway’s home. We spent an hour or so walking the grounds and the guided tour was very informative. The Hemingway property encompasses an entire city block of Key West. I imagined Hemingway walking or sitting amongst the vast foliage that towered over the property. Behind the main two-story residence was another two-story structure. The top floor was Hemingway’s writing room. The large space had three book shelves, a sitting area, and a small table fitted with a typewriter.
More than forty well cared for cats live on the Hemingway property. Nearly all of them were direct descendants of Hemingway’s original six toed cats. The assortment of four-paws-six-toed cats had a variety of colors and patterns. The cats freely wander through the house and throughout the property outdoors. It was rare to see two or more cats lounging in the same room or within the same area of the property. The cats have an acre of property to call home so they’re usually scattered about in different places. We spotted one of two lying near the pool and noticed another ball of fur curled upside down, asleep on a love seat. Two cats were contently lying atop a soft quilt on a bed upstairs.
After our first day of exploring Key West we thought it appropriate to have dinner at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant on Duval Street. Our waitress was friendly and attentive. Our entrees were several notches above average— they were delicious!
Early Tuesday morning I crossed the street from our motel to watch the sunrise. There are no waves around the Keys— the surrounding water isn’t deep and the mass of coral reefs doesn’t allow any waves to form. The morning sun’s rays gleamed across the flat rippled surface of the Florida Straits … another reason to put the Florida Keys on your bucket list.
We didn’t spent any time downtown late at night although I’ve heard the town has a different vibe in the later hours. On our last day in Key West we enjoyed a late afternoon lunch at the Blue McCaw Bar and Grill. It’s a large outdoor sitting venue with live music. The outdoor decor captured the essence of the tropical island— in other words, laid back and casual.
We rode a trolley back to our motel and departed Key West around five o’clock that evening. Traffic wasn’t nearly as bad on our return trip to mainland Florida. We stopped at the Island Seafood Company in Key Largo for dinner. The food was excellent and service and staff were friendly. The large restaurant had covered outdoor seating next to the water, adjacent to their small marina.
The atmosphere was inviting and the restaurant was packed. I appeared to be a favorite restaurant for both locals and for tourists. The restaurant was very accommodating and easily accessible by boat, vehicle, jet ski, or helicopter. A well marked landing pad was located at the end of their shotgun parking lot.
We spent our last day in Florida in the city of Delray. We drove to the Wakodahatchee and Green Cay Wetlands. Cooler temperatures and a mild breeze had set in and provided a near perfect afternoon to enjoy explore the sights and the sunlight. The two wetland areas in Delray are only a few miles apart and I’d recommend visiting both areas. The parks close just before dusk and are free to the public. Slightly elevated boardwalks weave their way through marshes and land, some days the visible wildlife is plentiful. A variety of herons, cranes, ducks, and other fowls populate the area. Most days you’ll also see small and large iguanas and other lizards throughout the wetlands. On the day we visited, alligators were more difficult to spot— we saw two. My best advice would be to pay close attention to where water meets land and also watch for alligators lying beneath trees.
We met several people during our walk through the wetlands, most everyone had a different memory to share about the area. Suffice to say, it’d be rare for any two visits to be the same. A different day, or a different time of day, would offer visitors a different experience. Life doesn’t come with a script.
(C) 2019 Mark D. McKinley