Spring Break 2015: Key West (Day 2)

Last time on Spring Break 2015, we spent a day in Fort Lauderdale and then spent 4 hours driving to Key West. Upon arrival, we had a taste of night life and curled up on a beach to recuperate before another full day of fun.


I wish I could say that I awoke peacefully to the gentle warmth and glow of the sun, peeking over the sea as I slept with the smell of salt and sea in my hair.

Sunrise on the beach
Beach sunrise…
Sunrise on the beach with waves on the rocks
Breathe in the serenity… it doesn’t last

In reality, we had barely settled into our sleeping positions on the beach and in the car when I learned something the hard way:

Key West has feral chickens. I found out when, at 3 AM, I heard a rooster crowing its lungs out. And then no fewer than 2 roosters joined that one. There was a proud rooster, with a confident crow, and a very sad rooster with a depressingly dejected one. I wish I knew why 3 AM was when they decided to start crowing, because cartoons and movies have told me that roosters crow when the sun rises. Clearly, these roosters didn’t get that memo.

Rooster
Cocky…

I was under the impression that these roosters belonged to one of the houses nearby, but when I woke up, I saw them wandering around. A cocky rooster strutting around and still crowing, a few hens, even some chicks! I was very excited to see those adorable chicks but I do with I was less cranky at this point in time. I can sleep through almost anything. I’ve fallen asleep standing up, I routinely sleep in any and all public transportation, I have even nodded off on the stairs. But there are 2 things that will keep me from falling asleep no matter how sleepy I am and that will wake me up no matter how deeply I’m sleeping: (1) Snoring and (2) ROOSTERS CROWING. I discovered the power of the rooster crow when I was in China over a decade ago and first successfully stayed up all night thanks to the roosters next door.

Chick next to chicken
Chick + chicken = almost forgiven BUT NOT REALLY

Let’s move on from the roosters, as we kept seeing them throughout the day (they’re everywhere). Just know that every time I saw them, I tried to give them the most menacing glare I could.

I did get to enjoy a really serene ocean sunrise when I was done staring down these roosters and their families. From there, we went to breakfast at Southernmost Beach Cafe. (Since this is Key West, “southernmost” was a recurring theme in the naming of local establishments.) I filled my belly with chicken and waffles because we already had two smoked salmon omelettes at the table.

Chicken and waffles with candied pecans and cayenne maple syrup
Chicken and waffles with candied pecans and cayenne maple syrup
Eggs benedict
More eggs benny!

We had a big day ahead of us in Key West! First, we set up at a proper campsite at Boyd’s Campground, which provided a nice spot for us to rest our heads next to the water.

View from our campsite
View from our campsite
Our tent and our rental hatchback
Our tent and our rental hatchback

We walked around for a bit, getting our bearings and seeing what this town looked like in daylight. (I was so surprised by how many people were sunburned that early in the day. Did these folks not know how the sun works by now?)

A romantic and somewhat unsettling statue
A romantic and somewhat unsettling statue
Pelican? at the docks
A friend we made while walking

Our biggest adventure was: snorkeling! I’ve never been snorkeling before and I was so excited because, I mean, I’ve been obsessed with The Little Mermaid for so long and with marine life in general for so long now. The idea of us being out there, swimming with the fishies LITERALLY was so exciting to me. The weather was perfect for a day out on the sea and the Floridays crew was so nice to us! They were friendly but not too friendly because they understand you’re out here to get to know the fish, not the captain of the boat. I felt really safe and at ease, even when I started feeling nauseous and watched half of the other passengers throw up over the side of the boat. (For those interested, going snorkeling with Floridays includes beverages. I just had myself a ginger ale because of my belly, but you could have something with more of an edge to it if you wanted, as well.)

View from the boat
The only photo I have is from our boat ride out to the reef…

Being my first time snorkeling, I had a bit of trouble with the breathing. (So much for those mermaid dreams.) I got water in my goggles and in my snorkel pretty often, and at one point, I had floated to a really shallow part of the reef. I was too scared to move for fear of kicking at the coral with my flippers, but the waves were really rough in that area to the point where I was worried the water itself would slam me into the reefs. But wow was it amazing. The fish weren’t afraid of me — even though I was covered in a lot of SPF 90 — and I saw so many different kinds of fish and coral out there. It was seriously one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had an it was easily the highlight of Key West for me and one of the high points of the entire trip. I wish I had photos to share but I will seriously cherish the memory of being as close to a mermaid as I will ever be. Also, I cannot recommend snorkeling in Key West enough, especially with Floridays.

Of course, since we were in Key West, I was told by friends that it was mandatory that I get key lime pie on a stick dipped in chocolate. So I did!

The classic - key lime pie, frozen, put on a stick, dipped in chocolate
The classic – key lime pie, frozen, put on a stick, dipped in chocolate

Since we had some time before sunset, we had dinner. Kind of. First, we stopped by The Conch Shack because, when in Key West and not eating key lime pie, you gotta try some conch.  Between the 4 of us, we split a conch sampler (conch fritters, conch ceviche, cracked conch, and fries) and a seafood sampler (conch fritters, fried fish, fried shrimp, and fries). This was literally a little shack with amazing fried seafood and — the highlight of this shack — misters that would spray a fine mist of cool water on you as you walked round to the seating area. Delicious food, refreshing mist… stop by here when you want to get some conch in Key West. As it turns out, we wanted to balance out our meal more, which is why we split our orders at The Conch Shack. We stopped by Hogfish Bar & Grill for a more traditional dining experience. (We didn’t have hogfish but yo, hogfish are terrifying looking.) I wanted to balance out all that fried goodness I had earlier, so I ordered a ceviche with the waitress’s promise that it had lots of veggies. We had okay food there, but we really just wanted to wait for sunset with ice water in a cool restaurant, to be totally honest. (It was open air, so there was no AC, but being out of the sun and in front of a fan really helped.)

Sign denoting Conch Shack

Food from Conch Shack
Yummmmmmmmmm

We rounded out the evening by going to Mallory Square for the Sunset Celebration. Talented street performers come out and put on some amazing shows while vendors provide food and handmade crafts. It was super cool in that it highlighted these local talents in this beautiful place. The performers themselves! I mean they should be on America’s Got Talent, they were incredible. I wish nothing but the best for them.

Man in top hap doing a hand stand on chairs
Not pictured: the 8 (!!!) chairs that were stacked below his hands/feet

It also didn’t hurt at all that Mallory Square is gorgeous at sunset. This is definitely another must-do Key West activity.

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The evening ended with us returning to our campsite — a proper one this time! — and settling down with cold drinks in front of a small bonfire we made. The bonfire was short-lived, as the gravel that comprised the artificial “beach” we camped on had a tendency to POP. A lot. It was pretty dangerous actually, but the fire felt nice because it was that toasty, cozy, dry heat and not the gross humidity that we had been dealing with since touchdown. We all bundled up in our tent (which got a little too warm because there wasn’t much airflow through it) and had a pretty good night’s sleep.

Campfire

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Spring Break 2015: Fort Lauderdale (Day 1)

Yelp had their annual spring break in Fort Lauderdale this year. Even though I have gone to Yelp’s Winter Break in Atlantic City, I never really give any thought to going to Yelp’s Spring Break because they’re usually pretty far and I don’t like thinking about the travel logistics. Even when my friend Annie tried her darnedest to convince me to go along with her and our friend Tim, as they were going to make a stop at the Bahamas, I was not too keen on risking vacation days while I was interviewing for new jobs. HOWEVER, the plan then changed to include dining at Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World and I was instantly sold. Fast-forward a few weeks later, and we were ready for spring break!


After I taught Ben the virtues of rolling and making things fit into a backpack for travel, we dragged ourselves up at 4 AM on Saturday morning to fly down to Fort Lauderdale. Things went pretty smoothly with long-term parking. Ben wouldn’t let me have a doughnut because we were still trying to keep our bodies beach-ready, but hangriness aside, it was smooth sailing.

It was our first time flying with a budget airline rather than the ones we had accrued miles with, but we were really pleasantly surprised because we were fortunate enough to get front-row seats. That translate to more leg room than we’ve ever had before, which was a wonderful treat for Ben, who, at 6’3″, ALWAYS finds his legs cramped on airplanes. Towards the end of our flight, we chatted a bit with a lovely and extraordinary lady who had visited so many places and accomplished so much but spoke of her life experiences like they were so ordinary. It was kind of fascinating listening to her talk about her past adventures and her upcoming reunion with her brother, and I think that chat really got me and Ben raring to have our own adventures in Florida.

Soooooooo much leg room. Ben is 6'3" so I mean....
Soooooooo much leg room. Ben is 6’3″ so I mean….

Tim and Annie picked us up from the airport and immediately took us for brunch at The Foxy Brown, which had been recommended to them by Blue, the Yelp BPB (Broward-Palm Beach) Community Manager. (Thanks Blue!) I stuffed myself silly and made sure to get my doughnut fix alongside a s’mores waffle and a few bites of the highly touted short rib Benedict.

S'mores waffle
S’moers waffle – Belgian waffle with marshmallow fluff, Nutella, and graham cracker crumble
Doughnut holes
Doughnut holes served with a dusting of powdered sugar and cereal milk for dunking! (Which was needed because these doughnut holes were, unfortunately, quite dry.)
Short rib Benedict + side of fruit
Short rib Benedict had this great braised short rib and a KILLER chimichurri Hollandaise sauce (get more of this on the side, trust me)

After brunch, it was off to my first Yelp activity of the weekend: a tour of the Funky Buddha Brewery. (Apologies for all the lens flare in these photos; my lens was a bit on the dirty side apparently!)

"We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams"
“We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams”
Brewing tanks named "Rylee", "Miles", "Tyler"
They named the brewing equipment after their kids!

Now I’m not really a big beer fan (or a drinker at all, to be quite honest), but I really like learning about anything and everything, so learning about their brewing processes was really cool. Funky Buddha also has a lot of super interesting flavors. I tasted a PB&J that really truly had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich aftertaste, complete with that toasted bread flavor. They were very generous with the samples (a little too generous for me, personally, as I really wasn’t going to drink more than a sip of each one — more for my friends!) but I learned a lot about the brewing methods and the equipment. I even got to smell hops at different stages of brewing, which was really cool. I may not be much of a beer drinker, but I do like chemistry and I’m always excited to learn something new.

Trying out the brews
Trying out the brews
Our new Yelp friends!
Our new Yelp friends in front of the super cute and educational infographic about the brewing process!

From there, we headed to the beach because well, spring break in Florida, right? Well, technically, we made a quick dollar store/drugstore stop because we needed a few things like flip flops, glowsticks, and sunscreen. I really appreciated that all of my friends were very diligent about SPF, although they were probably more attentive because they had been sunburned already and not because they are SPF fiends like myself. The beach itself was great. The ocean water was the perfect temperature, it was a beautiful day, I was with my friends, it was a good time.

Blue skies, blue seas, sandy beaches...
It had been a really long time since I last saw the beach… and it had snowed in DC about 2 weeks before taking this photo, so you can imagine how happy I was…

Until I got stung by a jellyfish. UGH WHY. I was just splashing around happily in the ocean when I felt a burning, stinging pain on the backside of my knee. (The armpit of the knee, if you will.) (The kneepit?) Ben, bless his heart, did not think too much of my yelling because he thought I had a leg cramp. It wasn’t until I went from yellling “OW!” to “SOMETHING GOT ME” that he came over to help me back to shore while my friends kept offering to pee on my leg. (Note: This does NOT work, please DO NOT go around peeing on your friends’ legs or on strangers’ legs. This is a crazy urban legend that exists solely to test your relationship with a person after he/she pees on you, I think. Especially because it will only make the pain worse.) We were so confused looking at the sting because, if anything, it looks like someone scratched me underwater. Some of us were wondering if maybe I got grazed by a fish with sharp fins? In any case, now I have an interesting scar on my left leg and a mild fear of things getting me in the water.

Back of knee with scar
Ouch. The scar is, in fact, still there and will start stinging every few weeks or so.

Well, that cut our beach visit a little short, so we headed back to the AirBnB to shower and check out before our final Yelp activity: a pirate party on a river cruise. I put together my simple Elizabeth Swann outfit and we were out the door without too much of a problem. The real issue came with finding parking, which was dang near impossible. We were SO scared that the boat would leave without us, but there was just no parking to be found. The farther we drove, the more we worried, but we saw people in pirate garb running towards the dock. We also had an emergency where Tim needed to go to the bathroom, and the stress was not helping. We parted ways with him as we tried to find parking and he tried to find a bathroom. At long last, we found parking about a mile away and then tried to run to the boat. As you may remember, I’m awful at running, so this didn’t go over great.  Luckily, we found out mid-run that they had postponed leaving so we were able to walk the rest of the way. Phew! (Note to self: Get fit enough to be able to run a mile.)

IMG_1487

Funky Buddha draught
Funky Buddha makes an appearance with an awesomely-shaped draught
The crew - Annie, Tim, Ben, and myself
The crew – Annie, Tim, Ben, and myself

Pirate cruise group sun

Our new friends!
Our new friends!

While the snacks and drinks on the boat were, as Tim and Annie reported, not as amazing as they were on the earlier days of Yelp’s Spring Break, we still ate a decent amount of food, got some pretty sturdy tote bags from SlickDeals, and got to see a truly amazing view from the top of the boat. On the East Coast, we don’t get to see the sun set into the ocean very often, so this was a nice little treat for us.

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At the end of the evening, while other Yelpers were heading to an afterparty, we piled back into our rental car and started a long drive towards Key West. Along the way, I swear I saw more adult video stores and strip clubs along this road/highway that we were driving along than I had seen cumulatively in my entire life. Why do you need so many of those, Florida? It just seems like there were so many that they couldn’t possibly all be doing really well financially? Are people really unwilling to drive an extra 2 miles to get to one, you have to have them so close together also? It was weird.

One of my favorite things about this drive was how clear the stars were. I’ve never seen the stars like this, because I don’t think I’ve ever been this far south, this close to the equator before, so I was able to look out closer to the horizon and see the Big Dipper, brighter than I had ever seen those stars before. I spent a good portion of that car trip with my face pressed to the window, staring up at the stars. I can’t imagine living far from a city, but seeing the stars like that made me really wonder what life would be like if I could have a view like that every day, unmarred by light pollution.

The night wasn’t over after hours of driving to Key West. The AirBnB hosts had recommended an interesting bar called Garden of Eden, which is a “clothing optional” institution. As you climb the floors of this bar, clothing gets increasingly rare. Unfortunately for my friends, I was feeling really tired and cranky at this point and didn’t want to see any butts or nipples, so I passed on paying the all-too-necessary $5 cover charge for some free dancing elsewhere. Duval Street seemed to be lined with little else than bars and more bars, with one particularly cute place called Smallest Bar that lived up to its name. It was indeed the smallest bar I had ever seen.

"Garden of Eden - Clothing Optional Bar"
Maybe one day when I’m feeling more adventurous, I’ll venture in? (Probably not though, let’s be real.)
"Smallest Bar in Key West"
It’s basically a room and at the back is a bar. It was pretty cute though.
Night life on Duval Street
A lot of partygoers were out and about on Duval Street. It was kind of a hot mess.

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The plan for the end of the evening was just to crash on the beach. I felt really weird about this, especially in my tired/cranky state, so I opted to sleep in the car. (I definitely spend a lot of time sleeping in cars anyway, so this comes second-nature to me.) I learned some tricks for doing this overnight (pro tip: open two car windows about halfway, drape a towel over the door, and shut the door so that you can still have fresh air come in through the towels but no bugs or other random things blowing in through an open window!) and slept pretty well.

Until the wild roosters of Key West started crowing at 3 AM. But we’ll get to that on day 2.

Me cheesing in front of someone's scooter because it seemed like a good idea at the time
Not pictured: The owners of the scooter who were walking up behind me

Off to Spring Break!

Surprise! This is the first year I’m doing a more conventional spring break in that I’m going to a warm location. Yelp is having their annual spring break in Fort Lauderdale this year, and while I was originally not that interested in going, that changed when my friends dangled Disney World in front of me.

WALT. DISNEY. WORLD.

I am leaving tonight and, as a result, will not have posts for BEDA while I am away. (Unless I prepared some in advance…?) BUT you will have some spring break recap posts to look forward to. (They’ll come before those Europe posts that I keep putting off…)

Even though it feels like an odd time to take a break like this, I think I need it. Like I said in an earlier post, it’s important to give myself things to work for. Also, something something fitness motivation something swimsuit body? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll exercise more before I have to hit the beach and maybe I won’t or maybe I won’t go the beach at all.

I haven’t been to Disney World since 2009 and my Disney obsession has since bloomed into something that makes me worry I will spend my day there just crying because feelz.

Let me know what is new or what are the must-see attractions at Disney, Fort Lauderdale, and Key West! I definitely want to know what are some must-eat treats while I’m down there!