Mar. 25th, 2014

Long time no write!! We disappeared for spring break, for the first time in forever--Anla had the idea a while back that I should come visit and we could work on our June grant submission together. That worked out well because the hubby is also working on it, so the two of us headed out Saturday a week ago with a car full of stuff and plans to stop in Orlando, Miami, and then continue on to Key West.

It worked out as planned--Saturday we made it to Orlando; Sunday we were in South Beach, Miami (though omg the traffic across the bridge was horrible!! What was usually a 10 min drive took almost an hour. :P). It was the first time back in Miami for the hubby since shortly after he graduated, so it was pretty cool to be able to see what was still there and what had changed (what with both the various hurricanes and the boom of the 90s etc.). We had splurged on a hotel in South Beach--got one of the old ones that's a national landmark in the Art Deco district--which was probably a bad idea. If you want to stay in South Beach in comfort, you're going to want a new hotel, and prepare to pay $500 a night and that's pretty much the minimum. We backed off of the highend options for something more mid-range, and as a result our hotel was a parody of errors--the A/C didn't work well the first two days; the wireless never worked; the xerox machine wasn't working when we checked in and they wanted to photocopy our drivers licenses; when I went to the fitness room in the morning the treadmill didn't work. Etc. The plumbing worked, thank heavens. :) The elevator worked, but it was the original one from the 1930s and couldn't fit both of us at the same time, and took 10 minutes to show up, so we ended up climbing the stairs to our 3rd floor room every time we came in. The rooms were big and clearly updated--we got a suite, and if we'd been six college students on spring break it would have been *perfect*, because there was lots of space, a huge walk-in closet in the bedroom, two sleeper sofas in the living room and a full kitchen. Only one mirror in the entire place though, and that was in the teeny weeny bathroom. ;) No lights to speak of; they'd remodeled with teeny little spotlights in the ceiling and then painted the walls dark forest green, which looked cool but made it impossible to light it well. But they provided beach towels and chairs (which we did not take advantage of), and maps of the locale with all the bars and restaurants (which we did).

Monday and Tuesday we drove out to Anla's university and spent the day with her banging away on what we are trying to propose for the June grant; which was really what we needed! I have pages and pages of notes; now it's just the challenge of making sure it happens, carving out the time to get it done. Anla's traveling in May so we really need to finish it by the end of April, which doesn't give us much time. But it was good to see her and we got to have lunch with her hubby too, and then every evening we were back out to SoBe. :) Actually, Monday night we puttered around Coral Gables, spent an hour walking around the university, which was very cool to see. Much of it is not at all like it was when the hubby was there, unsurprisingly, but enough that I could get the gist. Some departments have grown, some have shrunk or merged, others have been moved around completely, with new buildings everywhere, of course. But the basic foot print is the same. :)

Wednesday we had a nice brunch at the next door cafe and headed south. We stopped at the Coral Castle ( which is this weird roadside attraction south of Miami in Homestead. One guy built it back in the 30s and it's not entirely clear why or how; but it's this massive construction of castle walls and wells and chairs and sundials and all sorts of wacky stuff, completely out of coral. Definitely worth seeing, though the heat was something else again!

We drove the long route out to Key West, which was a new one for me as well. I had no idea there were so *many* freakin' keys out there! :) Key Largo, Islamorada, and Key West, right? Turns out there are oogobs of them out there, some of which are built up so there's not a square foot of land left, and others which are just a thin strip for fishing or wading. I would NOT want to be out there in a hurricane...

So then we were on vacation, Wednesday through Friday, hanging out at Key West. Once again I picked the wrong hotel-- I didn't want to pay top price and so I got something that was $200/night cheaper than being down near Duval Street where the main tourist area was. The hotel itself was nice enough, huge villas that were well kept-up and everything worked; but what we didn't realize is a) even on a 2x4 mile island, it wasn't within walking distance of the tourist area, nor near any beaches, and b) what with taxes and "resort fees" it ended up being only about $100 a night cheaper. So yeah: just get a place near the south end of Duval street and don't try to be clever, is the take-home message. ;) I took some advantage of the poolside in the mornings but that's about it.

Thursday afternoon we caught a taxi down to a bistro on Duval for lunch, and that was delicious--spent the next 8 hours just walking around, from one end of Duval to the other, stopping for coffee, ice cream, or mojitos as the impulse took us. Trying to stay out of the sun, too. Saw the beach and noted all the "southernmost" claims--every business is "southernmost" down there--and took a pedicab out to the entrance to Fort Zachary Taylor park to walk to the beach there too (wasn't Zachary Taylor one of the kids on the Home Improvement show?). Walked back to Duval street and north to the Mallory Square area. Etc. Got home late full of good food and totally buzzed. ;)

Friday we did the tour of the Little White House, where President Truman stayed when he was vacationing in Key West--which apparently happened a lot! He spent almost half a year there when you added it up over his entire presidency. It was eye opening, to be honest. I haven't paid a lot of attention to Truman but a whopping lot happened under his presidency, not just dropping the atom bomb. And while some tense negotiations about Cuba etc. were carried on at this place in Key West under Kennedy, under Truman it was basically him and his staff swimming in the morning and playing poker after dinner and taking two-hour "power naps". (I don't think the tour guide knows what a power nap is! Two hours is a real nap!) The guide said proudly that Truman worked every day while on vacation, running the country from "that desk over there, for 2-3 hours every day."

I'm thinking, hell, you can run the country in 2-3 hours' work every day? I frequently work 2-3 hours a day when I'm on vacation, as does everyone I know. Truman is not getting any sympathy from me for his work ethic. ;)

But it was all interesting to see, and we did a quick swing through a museum about the wrecker/salvage business which was Key West's main claim to fame, and then back to the hotel for our own power nap :) before coming back for dinner and an evening at the local rum bar.

Saturday we headed back north, avoiding the turnpike because damn Florida is expensive, and it took 3 hours to get off the keys and another 2.5 hours to get through Miami to the 95 north. On a Saturday. That town is *insane*. It took about 12 hours of driving but we ended up north of Jacksonville for the night, and were able to get back to Atlanta by 4 pm on Sunday. ::phew::

So if we go again--and I'd like to because, rum, plus we didn't get to go jet skiing or do a glass bottom boat tour or get out to see Dry Tortugas, etc.--the hubby agrees that we fly direct to Key West, and get a house rental or something a block or two from Duval street. It may be that looking on orbitz or expedia etc. is not the way to find the best deal, in that part of the world!

(Oh, and the Travelodge on Airport Road north of Jacksonville? Avoid like the plague. It probably has the plague. I always thought Travelodge's were decent if cheap spots, and this one was yucky yucky yucky. I didn't even take a shower on Sunday 'cause I thought it was too nasty (the hubby took a shower and then realized all the towels were disgustingly stained and not particularly cleaned). In the bathroom there was a one-inch gap where the wall and floor had pulled away from the door. Every surface was sticky like it hadn't been scrubbed in a year. That sort of thing. We'd have checked right back out except I was so exhausted I didn't care. Avoid.)



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