May 11, 2016

Key West Christmas

"I'm all lit up like a Christmas tree..."

December 2015 -- Last year the kids gave Ormond and me a very sweet and generous anniversary gift: A Christmastime weekend in Key West! Ormond flew into Melbourne on a Friday night and we drove down Saturday morning. Here's a pictorial diary of what we did.

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Saturday

I-95 was pretty normal but once we started island-hopping through the Keys things got congested. Traffic was tediously slow in towns, making us crawl from stoplight to stoplight, and then it would suddenly speed up in the longer stretches. We finally arrived at our destination, Marrero's Guest Mansion, late in the afternoon. Ormond found a place to park the car, we unpacked, and with great relief went downstairs for Happy Hour.

Later we went to the Rum Barrel for a drink. We liked that place a lot. The friendly bartender poured a generous Zacapa rum and coke for me and a huge bourbon for Ormond ("might as well finish off the bottle"). 

I want to try everything on the menu at Kojin Noodle Bar.

Dinner was a place we'd been to the last time we visited the island, Kojin Noodle Bar. It's hands down my favorite restaurant in Key West. Since I live in Florida I eat seafood constantly so in Key West I go for cuisines which represent the many cultures found there.

Kojin's Yellow Curry bowl.

I had Yellow Curry and loved it so much I've tried over and over to recreate it at home. (I think I'm getting close, too!  See my post in our cooking blog.)

Kojin is a tiny little place. Downstairs you can sit at the counter and watch your food being prepared.

After supper we ran into a liquor store to buy some beer for the refrigerator in our room.  We enjoyed sitting out on our balcony and listening to the sounds of Duval Street filtered by the clacking of the tall bamboo trees outside the railing.

Kermit's Key West Lime Shop.

Sunday

On the porch of the Six-Toed Cat

Breakfast on the deck at Six-Toed Cat.


We revisited Six-Toed Cat for breakfast since it's over by the lighthouse. We walked of course, enjoying the resident chickens pecking at crumbs in the streets and alleyways, or strutting around and hollering loudly to declare their territory. During our outdoor breakfast it was no surprise to find a rooster underfoot, hoping to catch a spill.

Dumpster diving chickens.  Can you find the Ibis too?
Why did the... Okay I won't say it.
A rooster and his brood at the Key West Police Station.
Gorgeous feathers brighten a gray morning.

After breakfast we went to the Lighthouse. There I found out that I'm still afraid of heights, especially ones that are accessed by open, steep and narrow spiral stairs that are always found in lighthouses and places like the Statue of Liberty (the place where as a child I first discovered my fear). Partway up the climb I froze. Shaking and in a panic, I could go no further, so I made my way carefully back down to the ground.

The Hemingway house across the street, as seen from on high.

My ground level view of the Hemingway house (behind the brick wall).

Waiting on a bench for Ormond to come down.

Exit tower when thunder approaches!

Lighthouse view west toward the cruise ships.
Lighthouse view toward the south end.
Lighthouse view looking eastward.

After the Lighthouse we walked through the Keeper's Quarters and learned a lot about the history of Key West. Then we decided to walk through Bahama Village, hoping to end up by the cruise ships and the action around Mallory Square. We had to do some backtracking and Google Maps checking in order to find our way up there, but it did give us the chance to see a part of town we'd never visited before, the Truman Annex.

Garishly decorated vehicles like these are called Conch Mobiles.


An old church in Bahama Village.
A bright blue building in Bahama Village.

An entryway on Thomas Street in Bahama Village.

Decorated for Christmas in Bahama Village.

Murals on the side of a building in Bahama Village.
More street art, Bahama Village.
Arriving at the top of the state park and the Gulf of Mexico we realized that the wharf we were on didn't connect to the one by Mallory Square.  We had a good look at the boat parked there then went back inland a bit, cutting through the Truman Annex to get to the party part of town.

This Disney cruise ship was docked down by the Coast Guard ship, so buses and trams circled out there to transport passengers into Old Town.


Coast Guard ship Ingham is docked at Key West and looks like sometimes it's open for tours, but not that day.
This all tells what wars and tours of duty the Ingham took part in.  If Gesunken means what I think it does, it looks like the Ingham got themselves a German U-Boat back in 1942.
I guess those numbers show the displacement water level of old number 35.  

Chicken sculpture outside a building near the Truman Annex.
Art museum and old Coast Guard building between Truman Annex and the area near Mallory Square.
You can see a cruise ship through the walkway there.

The Brilliance of the Seas was in port on Sunday.
There's the red-sailed Jolly II Roger as seen from the Shipwreck Museum tower.
One of the touristy things we hadn't done yet was the Shipwreck Treasure Museum, and we had all the time in the world so we bought a pass that gave us entrance to both that and the neighboring Aquarium.  The presentation inside the museum was a bit hokey but it tied in with the history we learned at the Lighthouse Keeper's Quarters and answered some questions Ormond and I had about founding of Key West. I was pleased to be able to climb to the top of the museum's tower. Maybe because the stairs were regular planked deck stairs (as opposed to spiral). Finally, I had an aerial view of Key West.

From the tower, the Brilliance of the Seas.
Looking down into the courtyard. That group is gathering for the next museum tour.

Not wasting any advertising possibilities, tram rooftops broadcast the message upwards.

It was windy up there! Looking north while Ormond poses.


Back on the ground a shuttle boat passes by a platform full of birds.
Ormond climbed the tower!
We ended up across the island at the new Waterfront Brewery.
Before going home to change and have Happy Hour at Marrero's we managed to fit in a visit to the Waterfront Brewery over at the Key West Bight. It's a relatively new establishment owned by some people who run four or five other restaurants and bars in the area. We did some beer tasting and I was amazed at how similar one of the IPAs was to Jai Alai. After talking to the bartender it turns out that Waterfront hired one of the brew masters from Cigar City, which would explain the similarity. Waterfront's food is good too! We liked everything about it and declared it one of our favorite places to hang out in Key West. (Check out Cigar City here.)

Streetside, Waterfront Brewery.
Bo's Fish Wagon, near the Bight, a destination for our next trip!

After Happy Hour we decided to have a cocktail and ended up at an interesting little bar called La Trattoria.  It wasn't exactly the vibe we were looking for so we chose not to eat there. Instead we wandered back over to the Bight and had a great meal at either the White Tarpon or one of the restaurants in the building, which are all owned by the same people. We'd eaten oysters there before and thought they were great. Our supper was really good. I had the crab cakes.

Monday

Monday was our last day in Key West. The sun finally came out! It was a gorgeous morning.

New morning, new cruise ships. This is the Crystal Serenity.
Silversea Luxury Cruise Ships. I hadn't heard of them before.


The Key West Aquarium as seen from the waterfront.
The main thing we wanted to do was go for a ride on a boat, so we planned the day around that. First we went to the Aquarium. The aquarium used to be all open-air, and the existing building is the original structure, just now with a roof on it.

I love architectural details like this gate. The arrows reminded me of harpoons, which might scare the fish!
Ormond took this picture of a habitat containing many kinds of fish, some really big. If you enlarge the photo you can see the water churning with life.
Morning at the waterfront Westin Hotel, near the Aquarium.

Next we went back to the Bight to find a boat to ride. The Jolly II Rover ran day trips so we signed up for that. The dockside booking agent took our phone number and said he'd call to let us know, since they don't go out unless enough people sign up to make it worth their while. While we were waiting we had enough time for lunch, so we went to the Waterfront Brewery again, where we sat right on the dock and watched boat stuff and boat people.

Eating lunch at Waterfront Brewery.
We got a call saying not enough people had signed up. We were so disappointed. In a few minutes they guy called back and said, come on over, the captain decided to take us out anyway since it was the first nice day in a while.

Jolly II Rover ticket agent near White Tarpon.

Getting set up on the Jolly II Rover.
This young man and his dad were our only other passengers.
One of the two crew members helping Ormond hoist those sails!
Me talking to the other crew member. Not hoisting any sails.
Motoring out to open water. (Yes these are out of order.)
See that tiny cannon amid the rigging? That's what we shot boats with. It was very loud!
Preparing to fire the cannon.

We waved but did not fire upon this passing schooner but chose instead to attack a cruise ship.
Southern tip of Key West. State park and radar stuff.
A view of the jetty at the park. That guy's waving to us!
Capt. Rhondi was a great source of information, not only about the schooner but Key West as well.
We fired our cannon at this coast guard ship as we were coming back into harbor.

I had never been on a sail boat before. The only sounds were the wind in the sails and the creaking of the rigging. It was heaven to me. It was also a visual feast, with the blood red sails whipping against the bright blue sky. I learned a great deal about schooners from Captain Rhondi, whose love of sailing the Jolly II Rover was clear, and wished our little tour down to the tip of Key West had continued up the east side and onward through the entire chain of Keys. Or better yet, south to Cuba! The captain and one of the crew actually took the JIIR to Havana for a race (a regatta?) recently. How cool is that?

Brilliant colors of sky and sail.

Windblown and happy, we left the Jolly II Rover to have a drink on the balcony at the Bull & Whistle Bar. It's a fun location because it's a second story balcony overlooking Duval Street. They were serving two for one drinks, a great excuse to set a spell and watch the People Parade.

Look at that old Vespa, seen from the balcony of the Bull Bar.

At the Bull Bar one of the patrons was full of Christmas cheer, which made us smile.
It was time to head home to Marrero's to change clothes and rest a bit before doing the last two things on our To Do list: Sunset at Mallory Square (accompanied of course by a Mojito from the outdoor bar at El Mason de Pepe) and then a nice dinner at Kelly's.

When the sun goes down the ships leave port.

Moon over the palm trees at Mallory Square.
This three masted schooner was heading out for a sunset cruise, a popular attraction in Key West.
Crowds form at Mallory Square every clear evening to watch the sunset.
Ormond and I got a kick out of guessing who might own this Purdue-themed yacht. Possibly a former coach?
The entire yacht was done in black and gold. Boiler Up!
Eating outdoors at Kelly's on our final night in Key West.
Cheers!
Happy times, happy memories. Thanks boys!
The ride home from anywhere is always tedious but I particularly hate driving home from Key West. You drive and drive and then you finally get out of the Keys and you're still south of Miami. I'm not a great car traveler. It would be nice if there was a direct flight from Melbourne to Key West, but there's not, so I'm stuck.

That said, I know I'll go back to Key West because I love being there so much. The more I go the more I know, and the less I have to accomplish. Next time we want to go to the cemetery. I would go back to Key West for these things:

1. Kojin Noodle Bar
2. Waterfront Brewery
3. Schooner cruise

And I'd make sure to eat at Kelly's and drink at the Rum Barrel again.


For more information about Key West, and more photos, check out my blog post about my first visit to Key West way back in 2014!