Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tuesday Travels: An Upper and Middle Keys Adventure

The last couple of weeks have been one wild ride. Dan and I have been so busy running around the Florida Keys, exploring every restaurant and attraction possible, that I inadvertently failed to blog for a whole week! Oops.

So, in case you were wondering, I haven't disappeared. I'm still very much with the world – just “meeting myself coming and going,” as my grandma always says. At the moment, we're in Key West – a vibrant town that, as Dan describes it, seems like a melding of New Orleans and South Padre Island, two places we adore. Yes, it's safe to say that we could stay in Key West for a good long while – at least until the wandering bug bites us again. We're nothing if not nomads.

Anyway, there will be more to come about Key West soon. In the meantime, I wanted to share some of our adventures in Islamorada and Marathon, two towns in the Upper and Middle Keys that don't get quite as much attention in most travel guidebooks as do, for instance, Key West and Key Largo. Since I'm currently working on a Florida Keys guidebook of my own, I wanted to give these communities my full attention.

As mentioned last week, we stayed at Conch Key Cottages, a cozy hideaway on Walker Island, near mile marker 62. Despite the unseasonably chilly temperatures and cloudy skies, Dan and I had a wonderful stay at Conch Key. Beyond the comfortable accommodations, we adored the quiet, isolated nature of the place, which incidentally has a pool, a relaxing tiki area, and, even better, its own private beach. In fact, although we were rarely home, I did take the time to drag one of their complimentary kayaks into the frigid water and venture out on my first solo kayaking trip into the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, because we were pressed for time, I didn't go very far, but hey, at least I tried it!

During the week, we toured the impressive collection of diving equipment at the History of Diving Museum (MM 83), watched the charismatic sea lions and dolphins at the Theater of the Sea (MM 84.5), and strolled the private Polynesian-style beach of The Moorings Village (123 Beach Road in Islamorada). As if that weren't enough, we watched more playful dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center (MM 59), trekked across the sand of Curry Hammock State Park (MM 56.2) and Sombrero Beach (MM 50), and tried to locate the wildlife at the Crane Point Nature Center (MM 50.5).

Of course, our excursion wouldn't have been complete without the food. Some of our favorite dishes included the conch fingers at the Cracked Conch Cafe (MM 49.5), the island-style conch chowder at the Morada Bay Beach Cafe (MM 81.6), the tempura lobster at neighboring Pierre's (MM 81.6), the blue cheese chips and fish tacos at Sparky's Landing (MM 53.5) in Key Colony Beach, the tuna sashimi in wasabi wraps at the Castaway Restaurant (MM 48), and the seafood Benedict at The Stuffed Pig (MM 49). You might have noticed a trend here – yes, there's a lot of seafood in the Florida Keys – a fact that very much pleases these part-time New Orleanians.

Given our passion for seafood and the open water, we decided earlier today to venture north to Big Pine Key, a quiet, nature-oriented area between Marathon and Key West. We were scheduled to tour the surrounding waters on a five-hour island excursion through Strike Zone Charters (MM 29.5), and though the day began promising – warm and sunny, as it should be – it turned cold and ugly pretty darn quickly. Nevertheless, I managed to snorkel amid the coral reefs, catch a grouper with a spinning rod, and wade to one of many mangrove islands in the Atlantic. True, our hands and feet were frozen by the time we reached the dock, but it was still a memorable adventure... right, honey? Uh, honey? Well, I just hope it was warm and sunny wherever you were today.


Becky said...

Actually it is warm (50's) and sunny here! Quite a switch from N. MI! I LOVE dolphins, but who doesn't. Never knew you could eat conch until your blog. Glad to hear all's well!!!

Marguerite said...

Looks like a fabulous time! Enjoyed the pics and the links. It's 72 degrees in Cajun Country, today and it feels so good! We're gearing up for Mardi Gras, and I know you'll be back for that! Meanwhile, have a bon ton, cher!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Okay - I am so jealous it borders on painful! LOL! :-)

L. T. Host said...

What a beautiful house!

I echo Shannon... jealous, jealous, jealous. Where I live is normally pretty reliable for weather but today... it poureth down.

Natalie said...

Wow, just wow. It's so cold here. I'm jealous.

J.J. Bennett said...

Rain... rain... go away... (Deep breath...)

Steph Damore said...

Yay, I'm glad to see you haven't disappeared. The food looks wonderful and I'm VERY hungry. Of course I'm teaching right now and I can't escape for dinner for another hour :)

Donna Hole said...

A five hour tour! Oh no, Laura, you didn't take it, did you? What will we do if you get marooned somewhere without WiFi?


Laura Martone said...

Becky - Glad to hear it's relatively warm and sunny in Oregon. I was in shorts today in Key West. Hehe. P.S. Oh, yes, conch is quite delightful. Pretty shells - and yummy meat.

Marguerite - It has been fabulous, if tiring, but I sure do miss New Orleans at times, even with all of Key West's similarities. Hope I'm back in time for Mardi Gras! Dan's never experienced that - ooh-la-la!

Shannon - Oops, I'm sorry. That really wasn't my intention. :-)

L.T. - Yeah, there's certainly some lovely architecture in Key West. Looks even better in the sunshine. P.S. Hope it's stopped raining in your neck of the woods.

Laura Martone said...

Natalie - Hope it warms up soon for you!

J.J. - Hope your wish comes true. Just don't hold your breath until it does!

Steph - I'm sure you've eaten by now, but if not, what are you waiting for?!

Donna - Teehee. That's hilarious - if only because I was singing the Gilligan's tune while on board! Luckily, though, we made it back okay - even with the cold and wind.

Deb@RGRamblings said...

Wow, wow, wow, and wow! I'm not sure what I envy you the most, the weather, the sights, the food.. Enjoy!

Laura Martone said...

Thanks, Deb! I'm trying hard to enjoy my time in the Keys, but these working vacations sure are exhausting! (Not that I'm complaining, mind you.)