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- Travel highlights for Key West in bold or with hyperlinks for reference
In December, my family flew to Key West direct from Newark Airport. The flight was cancelled because of snow, a foot dumped north of the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut. We took the same flight the next day and it was barely half full. The trip to the airport was easy, no traffic in the morning. The concourse was not busy and not empty. The United Airlines attendant gave me a coke which I nursed for an hour with my mask down. Folks were spread out on the flight. My 80-year old mom flew with us, snuggled next to my daughter by the window seat, chatting about her boyfriend and upcoming travels. Key West required a mask outside of the hotel room but most didn’t wear it on the beach or on walks. People wore masks on Duval Street, the main drag with endless pubs, eateries and bars. If they had drinks in hand, they walked with masks down. The local paper had two pages of happy hour locales with the beverage of choice. Bars were open. Was easy to find a table which were spaced apart.
The Uber drivers told us things had been hard in Key West. The workers at the Barbary Beach House where we stayed, put on a good face, through the Plexiglass at check-in and over their masks. Dining and lobby and pool were all spaced well. The resort opened during the pandemic and is located on Smathers Beach. We didn’t have a problem booking activities. The Sunset Watersports all-in-one water adventure included jet skis, parasailing, banana boats, snorkeling and once we left the dock, folks removed their masks. It’s not an easy thing to keep on in the water or at the bar. Swimming to the catamaran’s ladder, I noticed a disposable mask, floating by like a child’s paper boat. The crew wore face coverings and the company reduced the occupancy to make folks feel comfortable.
My children went fishing and brought home yellow snapper for the resort chef to prepare for us. The next day they rode jet skis around the island with my husband while my mother and I had savory crepes at the Banana Cafe on Duval. Fun breakfast spots included Croissants de France with delicious raspberry filled and savory croissants and Old Town Bakery. My husband and I took an early morning bike ride there for quick breakfast to go.
My oldest child had turned 21 during the pandemic, so she ordered her first island cocktail with dinner at Fogarty’s Flying Monkey Saloon. I stood in a short line to visit Hemingway’s House where he had written seventy percent of his books. Go if you like writers or cats, the famous six-toed variety still takes up residence, as many as 50 or more felines on premises with kennels for new litters. Cats don’t follow rules, so they didn’t wear masks and they were curled up on Ernie’s bed. My mother and I visited the Butterfly Conservatory, a real gem on the watery isle; she giggled like she was in a paradise. The family also did the Ghost tour with Robert the Doll which was not what I expected, but a look into the paranormal history of the museum and the haunted doll.
Renting scooters was fun and the beach house offered them on site, along with bike rentals. The island is roughly four by two miles so it’s easy to get everywhere on a bike or scooter. Key West is Mile Marker Zero on the famous US 1 highway and the southernmost point of the United States. There’s a human sized buoy ready for selfies to prove it. A guide without his mask on was there with hand sanitizer and a healthy appetite to recommend eateries and chastise anyone in line for standing too close or touching other phones without sanitizing. He offered to take photos and told us that we missed Matt McConaughey by an hour. The girls (ok, me too) were devastated, even when I told them that McConaughey was my age, as in much older.
Sunrise on the south side was best, on South Roosevelt Boulevard, near the East Martello Museum, or off our balcony. Sunset at Mallory Square was a social experience with tourists, buskers and vendors, hawking carved shells, wire art, and island drinks. My mother wanted coconut water, tapped directly from the nut and found a vendor there. She was not keen on the scooter after the novelty wore off. She enjoyed the shops, the warm weather and morning tai chi on her balcony. She didn’t do well on her own when we were on the water. She feels comfortable with someone else handling the logistics. Who doesn’t?
Café Sole was a highlight of the visit, the food memorable. All the soups were delicious, portabello and onion and lobster bisque. Grandma enjoyed a pasta with seafood and the family loved the hog snapper, a dish they’d been making for 27 years. I had roast duck which was done well but the fish was exceptional. The waiter enjoyed our appetite and seemed taken with the children, now young adults. He brought several desserts, key lime pie and a chocolate soufflé. The only disappointment was the string of fairy lights which went out behind the table. It had lent an ethereal feeling to a delicious evening. We also liked Alonzo’s Oyster Bar which served up heaping plates and excellent seafood. I don’t love oysters but all of it was good and there was no wait compared to half an hour to get into the Conch Republic next door. That place is all about ambiance, with its store length bar; the resort concierge said the food was better at Alonzo’s. Agreed.
Mark and I biked to Fort Zach Taylor State Park at the west end of the island. For the $2.50 bike fee it was worth the visit to see a pristine beach and the old fort. Never once attacked, the Union forces occupied the fortifications which were once surrounded by ocean. You can walk up on the ramparts and have a good look around the water and island.
The flight back on December 23rdwas easy. About half full and the Newark concourse seemed empty before Christmas. So much so, I had to take photos to believe it.
New Year’s on Wheels – Road Trip & Family Skating
We left at 6:30 AM from Connecticut and headed south to Virginia to visit my brother for New Year’s. Traffic was light through NYC and across the George Washington Bridge, through Jersey and Delaware then Washington DC, until Interstate 95 in Virginia. It chunked up there at late morning. Made it in time for lunch and had even picked up Vietnamese sandwiches at the Banh Mi shop in Arlington (DC Sandwich off Route 50) on the way. We made record time on the return trip back on New Year’s Day, with open lanes on the New Jersey Turnpike and no wait on the George Washington Bridge.
Looked like most people opted to stay home. Things were closed in Virginia, many at reduced occupancy, masks mandatory. We waited in the car for lunch at a Vietnamese Pho house and were the only large family on New Year’s Eve at Peter Chang’s. There were two other couples seated far apart, beyond the glass topped partition.
Things were busy at the roller rink. Coronavirus be damned. On Wednesday, the Cavalier Family Skating had dollar night and opened to the first 225 people. The line went down the front of the building and nearly the length of the side. We were the last to make it in. The staff wore masks but most skated without masks. A throwback culture with a 70s and 80s vibe, and a diverse cross-section of society. They had speed races by age group, adult skate, with disco lights spinning onto the holiday crowd. The staff wore referee jerseys and shirts with large letters on the back, informing inexperienced skaters to move to the middle. A warning worth heeding, the speed demons whipped around the outer rink and zipped between new skaters.
Synchronized skating and smooth rollers were a sight to behold, grown men arm in arm, jiving, some with fuzzy animals tied to their skates. Tight pants, sweet moves. My nieces and nephews had their own skates and tricks, going slow for my kids to hold on, skating backwards or jumping onto the side platform. Jo-Jo won her speed race and a free drink from the snack bar.
I didn’t fall and managed ten laps in a stint, that is, before sitting down. Was fun just watching and trying out moves the next round. I managed to cross my feet over on turns and could almost, sort of, move my feet back and forth in line, one in front of the other without lifting a skate. I was stiff, more like a two-by-four on end than like the skating God of my imagination, his holy rolly highness, Sweetness, from the movie Roll Bounce. Wesley Jonathan. If you haven’t seen the iconic film, I recommend it with 5 stars. It felt like we were living in a skate film.
I’d been rolling a few times with the gang, my brother’s family of seven. We planned to go down to Virginia early to hit the rink together. And I met the manager and workers, coming away inspired by the openness and genial interaction. I watched my eleven-year-old nephew roll along, chatting from his four-foot world view to a staffer, maybe with a 60 or 70-year-old world view. Skating is a culture, boasted one skater’s shirt. I’ve looked for roller rinks back by my home. But ice is king in the Northeast.
If you don’t mind the pandemic, it is a good time for travel. Fairly clear roads, with planes and lodging easy to book and comparatively cheap during the busy season. Best part of the pandemic has been the traffic, or the lack of it. Even after the vaccines, I wonder if folks will go back to traveling and working the same as they had before. The extra space in public is nice, certainly the lack of crowds and lines. It’s been hard on small business and individuals, but travel was OK.
Here’s to a happy and healthy 2021. Safe travels this year on whatever journeys you may take, by air, or by land, or from your armchair.