A Travellerspoint blog

USA

NYC....So Nice I Did it Twice.

In an effort to "catch up," I am going to give you Two Trips......Two Trips......Two Trips In One!

NYC: Take One.

It was fall of 2018 when the husband announced he was going on a hunting trip with the guys.

What's a girl to do?

Buy a ticket to New York with her girlfriends, that's what.

It was a beautiful Thursday in November. We had barely dropped our bags at our AirBNB, and were already strolling the sunny sidewalks of NYC's East Village.

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I'm just not a Time Square, Upper East Side, or even a Midtown kind of girl. I love East Village's funkiness. I love the cool shops. I love the eclectic assortment of bars and restaurants. It's a little grittier but it speaks to me.

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We found ourselves at Rubirosa where we would start our weekend with meatballs, the world's largest pizza, and copious amounts of wine.

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With our afternoon buzz on, we enjoyed the streets of the city, settled into our apartment (which even had a super cute patio!), and got ourselves ready for Friday night "Dinner and a Show."

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We had selected Porter House for our one "grown up night out" where we would pretend to be sophisticated, elegant and classy. This did not last long.

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Unfortunately, we had spent too much time in wine comas that afternoon and only had a very rushed hour to have dinner and make it to our show. I felt sorry for our distinguished waiter as we rushed through our drink orders, food orders, and begged him to get it to us really, really fast so we could eat really, really fast. I could see from the look of disdain on his face that he thought we should have gone through the take-out window at McDonald's.

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Nevertheless, he came through and served up an epic meal in minutes, and didn't even judge us for chugging our wine so we'd be on time.

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We literally RAN to our show.

All the better to burn off those onion rings, I say.

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Our rushed dinner had not left time for dessert, so after the show, we popped into the fake pawn shop storefront that hides the spectacular secret of Beauty and Essex where we immediately popped into the swanky ladies room for free pink champagne.

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Then it was cocktails and an adorable ferris wheel full of dessert.

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Friday morning found me looking in every cupboard of our 25 square foot apartment for a coffee maker.

Hello, coffee maker...are you in this drawer? This closet? The shower???? This cabinet? Where the f&*% is the f$#%*&@ coffee maker?

I eventually figured out that New Yorkers don't own coffee makers. Why would they when there is a coffee shop every 10 feet?

So I improvised.

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You can take the girl out of the trailer park, people, but you can never take the trailer park out of the girl. Grow up poor and you learn how to make do.

We had walking and shopping to do, so we popped over to Russ and Daughters for a bagel and a schmear.

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And for some weirdos, a plastic container of German potato salad to eat while waiting for the subway at 9:00 a.m.

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The rest of the morning was spent walking the streets of the city and taking it all in.

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We were enjoying the beautiful streets and sights of the City when suddenly, an angel dropped down from heaven and said, "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all women. For unto you is born in the City of New York a sale which is Lord and Taylor."

And we wept for joy.

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Many, many, many hours and significant credit card expense later, we were exhausted and famished. We headed back to East Village for a lively bottomless brunch at Poco.

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The atmosphere was one of happiness and loud music. It was like a joyful house party with endless margaritas and mimosas.

Poco is supposed to have a 1.5 hour limit on brunch. Our server let us stay 2 1/2 hours. And kept the drinks coming.

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We got a Lyft back to our place. We were damp and tired. Everyone immediately sank into a deep post-Poco coma.

We had dinner reservations that night at Chinatown's Chinese Tuxedo, and we didn't want to miss it, so I had actually set an alarm to ensure we got up, did our best to make ourselves presentable, and make it to dinner.

ONWARD!

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Chinese Tuxedo was simply amazing. I am so glad I didn't sleep through it. Walking up to the restaurant, we were certain we had the wrong address. It looks like an abandoned storefront in the middle of ....a bunch of abandoned storefronts, but once inside, a dimly lit, uber chic restaurant appears....like magic. Set in an old community opera house, it was part club, part restaurant, all amazing.

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We ordered way more than two people could eat, but our absolute favorite part? The truffles.

Not eating them, necessarily.

We ordered the homemade egg fettuccine....and the waiter asked if we wanted it with shaved truffles.

Well.....well.....well, yes, thank you, we did.

Next thing we know, a guy comes out with a silver orb. With an immaculately white gloved hand, he opened the orb and extracted a truffle that he proceeded to shave with vigor over our noodles in stoic unsmiling silence.

Truffle shaving is serious business.

As suddenly as he appeared, he departed.

That alone was worth the $35 upcharge.

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I'm going to call that a successful day.

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Saturday morning, my childhood BFF came over from Philly to join us for the day. We made our first stop the endless small plate brunch at Zengo. This also came with bottomless mimosas....which we did not need....but that we drank anyway.

SO. MUCH. FOOD.

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Not to mention the downstairs lounge area en route to the ladies room, that was empty during lunch hours creating the perfect place for terrible post-mimosa selfies.

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We spent the afternoon strolling and shopping and made sure we got back to the apartment with plenty of time to rest up for a night out.

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We were meeting fellow blogger and friend TraceyG at Fonda for dinner.

That girl always knows the prettiest drink to order and the best food to eat.

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She also knows the best place to dance.

Note to self: Old ladies should not stay out until 3 a.m. dancing in stilettos. Especially when they have an early flight to catch.

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When I dragged out of bed at 6:00 a.m. to catch our flight, knees throbbing, eyes gritty, totally exhausted.....I didn't regret a minute.

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NYC: Take Two.

It didn't kill me last time, right? So let's do it again.

Fast forward to October 2019. My BFF had a 50th birthday coming up, so we decided to rendezvous in NYC for another girls weekend. This time, just the two of us.

When I got on the plane that Friday morning....I was the only person in the front. Should I be worried?

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It was early morning when we arrived. Too early to check into our AirBNB, we dropped our bags at a luggage storage, which happened to be a smoothie cafe that locked them in the kitchen. It was so weird but so easy.

We headed to Nomo Kitchen for a lovely brunch to get things started. It was as beautiful as it was delicious.

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We spent the next several hours shopping, and shopping, and shopping.

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Tired and hungry, we stumbled into St. Marks Tacqueria, not because it was fancy, but because it was close to our apartment and I had read that it was divey but had good food.

It was the BEST kind of divey. I instantly loved this place. I don't know if it was the darkness, the strange 80s rock n'roll and movie decor, the 80s music, the insanely good margarita, or the "We don't give a s*$t menu," but it spoke to me.

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We were finally able to check into our apartment. Sam had agreed, against her better judgment and that little voice inside her that said, "Never do what Vicki says....", to stay in an apartment I found on AirBNB instead of a hotel.

First, let me say that the apartment itself was FINE. It was large and comfortable, with 2 bedrooms and everything we needed.

It was, however, above a tattoo parlor with a downright terrifying looking shop owner who sat on the front step about 12 hours out of the day and never smiled. It was also up six flights of ungodly steep stairs...that we found ourselves dragging heavy suitcases up....while sweating and using a great deal of profanity....and the front door to the apartment didn't quite shut.

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But, you know, like I told Sam....it's FINE.

After some down time, we grabbed happy hour cocktails at the TINY Keybar in East Village where, somehow, we managed to score two of what appeared to be about 10 total barstools in the entire place.

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I wanted Sam to experience the awesomeness that is Rubirosa, so we headed there for a much fought for dinner reservation. No joke. I actually set my alarm to wake me up at midnight the day reservations opened up for the Friday night we wanted to go, and even though I was online within 30 seconds, the only reservation I could get was 10:00 p.m. I was happy to have it!!

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Besides, nothing is better than late night pizza after drinking two-for-one happy hour cocktails at a neon infested dive bar.

We slept in on Saturday and headed for a leisurely brunch at Jack's Wife Frieda.

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This place was tiny, lively, and packed. The food was worth the wait.

And I was instantly mesmerized by their sugar packets. Sam had to stop me from stuffing a handful into my pocket.

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After some shopping, we had a late lunch/early dinner at Birreria by Serra atop Eataly in Flatiron. We did not go for the food. While not bad, the food really wasn't the draw. This restaurant goes all out with "over the top" seasonal decor and the tacky in me had a desperate need to see it.

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It fed my need for all things sparkly and gaudy. I loved it the way I love glitter and rhinestones. I loved it the way I love too many lights on the Christmas tree. I loved it the way I love the plastic pink flamingos in my yard.

It was everything I hoped it would be...with surprisingly decent food and cocktails.

That was one mighty fine giant bowl of kale.

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To celebrate Sam, I had purchased VIP tix to an annual food and wine festival, just a short walk from Birreria. Our tickets gave us early access (aka, being able to sample all the wine without standing in line) and gave us access to a special "bubbly lounge" filled with all manner of sparkling wines and champagne once the crowds upstairs became unbearable.

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Not only was there SO MUCH WINE...there were giant plates of bacon.

There is only one thing you can do after an all you can drink wine and bacon event.

Dance.

I am drawn to East Village's Pyramid Club like Whitney to Bobby. I know it's not good for me, but I just can't quit it. A text and a Lyft later, TraceyG was back at the scene of the crime with us. She is the Yin to my Yang. The Cher to my Sonny. The chocolate to my peanut butter.

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We danced until the wee hours, but this time no one lost their coat ticket and no one fell off a table, so it was all good.

On my Friday flight, I had posted the photo of me allllll alone in the front of the plane and got an immediate text from a long time friend telling me he was also en route to NYC. What were the odds? We agreed to meet up and found ourselves meeting at the Highline on Sunday morning.

What an awesome place to walk!

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We ended our visit at Chelsea Market, where we grabbed a quick bite and said our goodbyes.

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I had a Sunday afternoon flight to catch, but spending time with with my 8th grade BFF was totally worth the quick trip!!

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Here's to 36 years of friendship!

Posted by vicki_h 12:22 Archived in USA Tagged new_york nyc manhattan east_village Comments (1)

Hatfield Follies

Taking the Fam to Folly Beach

Those of you that have been with me a long time remember the blue bucket. Who can forget the BLUE BUCKET?

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For those who don't know, the blue bucket was what we used, quite inelegantly, to get my mother-in-law in and out of a Jeep on a trip to St. John back in 2005. We took it everywhere and used it as a step to propel her into the vehicle. (I never claimed to be a great daughter-in-law, folks....)

Fast forward 15 years and you can only imagine how the mobility issues have deteriorated, but her love for travel has not.

Her last trip, and I don't mean most recent...I mean LAST....was in 2014. I don't mean she died. She is alive and well, but travel has simply become too challenging for her. It's heartbreaking to see someone you love lose their ability to do something they love, so we still try to take her where we can.

Last fall, knowing her traveling days were limited due to her extreme mobility issues, we asked where she wanted to go. It had to be somewhere Matt could fly her to, because commercial travel has become an impossibility.

She said Charleston. On the beach.

Jo wanted to see Charleston, but mostly wanted her toes in the sand one more time. We decided to take the clan to Folly Beach.

I had to find a house ON THE BEACH.....not over the dunes, not down a zillions steps, not across a walkway...ON THE BEACH. We had to be able to get her just a few steps from the house into the sweet, soft sand.

This trip wasn't about diving into Charleston's culinary scene. We barely touched it. It wasn't about enjoying the area's wonderful shopping. We didn't enter a single store. It wasn't even about beaching it. We barely beached.

It was simply spending time as a family in a place someone we loved wanted to see. It was about letting her eat some seafood, dig her toes into the sand. and sit and listen to the waves.

So that's what we did.

It was simple. It was sweet. It was just two days and it was perfect for her.

And we didn't even need the blue bucket.

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Posted by vicki_h 07:56 Archived in USA Tagged beach south_carolina charleston folly_beach Comments (1)

Dancing with Myself in Twang Town

It's hot in the city tonight!

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There’s a vibe about Nashville….a city of lights and music and hot chicken. It thrums with a heartfelt southern beat and rhythm and music seep out of its very pores. Sure, it’s the epicenter of country music, but music is at its very core…every type of music. It has something for every music fan.

Including Billy Idol fans.

Imagine my delight when I saw that Billy Idol, (we saw him in Vegas and SWORE we had to see again with better seats), was doing a show in Nashvegas, so close to home? I immediately got VIP tickets that would not only put us front and center for the show, but get us an up close and personal with the legend himself.

It was Nashville or bust, baby!

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We arrived in Nashville on a hot September afternoon and headed straight for the 2 for 1 brunch at Whiskey Kitchen where we seriously overordered (and over imbibed!).

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From there we were off to the Inn at Fontanel. The show wasn’t being held downtown, but was instead at the outdoor amphitheater at Fontanel, a gorgeous southern inn with only 6 luxurious suites. I had been able to score 2 of them. With no other hotels nearby, this was not only a way to enjoy a posh stay, but also ensured we could walk to and from the show.

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We checked into our suites and they were TO DIE FOR GORGEOUS. Matt and I chose the lower guest suite. It was huge, beautiful, and filled with snacks. The bathroom was bigger than my first apartment.

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With time to kill, we loaded up on Barbara, one of their complimentary golf carts (all named after country music stars, thankyouverymuch), to peruse the grounds.

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Our first stop was Pritchard’s Distillery, because apparently, 2 for 1 bubbles had not been enough. Pritchard’s makes fine rums and premium whiskeys. They only make small batch products which are distilled in copper pots and stored in charred white oak barrels to allow for the best possible flavor. Made in Tennessee, you can sample their artisan spirits in their tasting room at Fontanel. We were particularly fans of the peach mango rum and the Sweet Lucy.

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We also did a quick tasting at the Natchez Hills Winery, also on the Fontanel grounds. With some new purchases, we headed to our rooms to clean up for the show.

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We were ready to meet Billy Idol!

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VIP passes in hand, they put us near his tour bus on some raggedy old dirt track to wait. And wait. And wait.

And then we were given a lecture about not touching him, grabbing him, kissing him, or jumping on his back like a spider monkey.

Apparently, someone told them I was coming.

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What was it like meeting Billy Idol? Well…..it was a lot like meeting a guy wearing a Billy Idol mask. Sorry….but true! He was a little…um….plastic. Maybe some work done. Just maybe.

Steve Stevens was very animated, however, and did not appear to be wearing a mask of his own face. He even pulled his finger gun for us. I love how Matt pulled his in solidarity, but decided to keep it at his side….you know…just to make sure no one got hurt.

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So, maybe Billy has had a little “work done,” but he can still rock a show. It was everything we hoped it would be right from second row center.
We fell into our plush beds at Fontanel that night still hearing Rebel Yell in our dreams.

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Okay, maybe while everyone else slept, I snuck out in the car and found a total dive of a pizza place in the sketchiest of neighborhoods that was still open. I might have ordered a large pepperoni pizza and braved the hordes of undesirables standing in the parking lot to go inside and claim said pizza and proceed to devour it in the car, like a rat with a cheeseburger.

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Fontanel has an enormous great room and kitchen where breakfast is made by their chef and served as part of your stay.

When we were finally able to rouse ourselves, we ambled over to the dining area, found some seats, and drank massive amounts of strong coffee with Rebel Yell still pounding in our heads.

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We took a stroll through the Halloween market that Fontanel had set up and it immediately put us in the mood for fall.

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And then it was time to fly home!

Short and sweet, but sometimes that's all you need.

Posted by vicki_h 07:08 Archived in USA Tagged nashville nashvegas billy_idol fontanel Comments (1)

Mon bon AMI: An 18th Anniversary on Anna Maria Island

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Nestled along the emerald coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Anna Maria Island is a mere whisp of land that’s barely a shell toss from Tampa. There are no sprawling resorts, no historic waterfront, and nothing anyone could call a “high rise.” It’s more bike paths, palm trees and brightly colored beach cottages. It’s like visiting the Florida from my childhood except that the thing I hated the most as a kid is the thing I love the most now: there’s not much to do.

Anna Maria is a narrow barrier island just off Sarasota that’s only seven miles long and less than 2 miles wide. Made up of three quaint beach communities: Anna Maria to the north, Holmes Beach in the middle and Bradenton Beach to the south, it’s loaded with old Florida charm.

It seemed like the perfect place for a quick anniversary getaway.

Before heading to AMI, we made an overnight pit stop in New Smyrna Beach on the east coast of FL to drop our friends off. The beach at New Smyrna was expansive, with rich dark sand littered with shells and not a soul in sight.

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Their home enjoys frontage on both the beach side and the river side, so we had the opportunity to do a short kayak trip up the Indian River.

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The best part of the day was when a small group of dolphins joined us for about 30 minutes. I have enjoyed dolphins from the boat in the Bahamas, but this was entirely different. Being at water level with them, and so close, with no competing sounds was phenomenal. You could hear their breath each time they came to the surface. Pure magic.

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We spent a night in New Smyrna and then made our way to the west coast of FL, landing in at the Sarasota-Bradenton airport just before lunch on a gloriously sunny Friday in April. The FBO staff pulled the rental car up to the plane just as we were parking, so it was a quick 5 minutes before we were on our way!

We were STARVING so we stopped en route to AMI at Cortez Village, just before crossing the bridge across the intracoastal waterway. There we found Tide Tables, an unassuming little restaurant at the marina rumored by good friend and fellow blogger TraceyG to have amazing fish tacos.

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We started off with some chilled shrimp while we waited.

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The wait was short, very short, and within minutes we each had a basket of gorgeous fish tacos, tangy slaw, and carrot salad.

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With our bellies filled, the sunshine on our faces, and a slight buzz from the cheap wine, we were feeling mighty fine.

It was still slightly before check-in time, so we made another stop on the way: the Anna Maria Oyster Bar at the Bradenton Beach Pier. Matt needed an oyster fix and we had an hour to kill.

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The oysters were plump and salty, but the real show stopper was the salted caramel vodka cake.

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Our trip had been planned at the last minute, so we didn’t have a lot of accommodations to choose from. Not planning to go anywhere for our anniversary, we had agreed to take our friends to FL and, since they were paying for the fuel, thought….why not make a weekend of it?

Despite the fact that pickings were slim when I was trying to find beachfront digs, I was delighted to find the ever-so-simple but incredibly adorable Love Shack.

I mean really, where better to spend an anniversary than the Love Shack?

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There were certainly nicer places to stay, but we wanted to be nestled right on the beach, where we could simply walk out the back door and have our toes in the sand. What the Love Shack lacked in “fancy” it made up for in location.

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I knew that Anna Maria was “old school” Florida, so it seemed fitting that they cottage reminded me of the places I used to stay with my parents when I was 9, with gently sloping cracked linoleum floors, brightly colored wood paneling, and old style tri-fold beach chairs.

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It was perfect.

Within minutes, we had dumped our bags and were sitting on bright turquoise Adirondack chairs sipping chilled rum punches and listening to the waves.

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After sufficient chill time on the beach, we cleaned up for dinner and went out our back door to enjoy the sunset with a glass of wine.

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AMI is the kind of beach town where everyone gathers for the sunset, treating it with reverence and awe, as though it isn’t something that happens every single day.

I loved it.

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It was just a couple of miles down the beach to Beach House, where we sipped cocktails at the edge of the water while we waited for a table.

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I had an amazing margarita but Matt….misordered. He ordered what was called a “dirty monkey” and expected something like this...all deliciously ice-creamy and milkshakey:

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What he got was more "black rotten banana that should have been thrown out yesterday:"

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He forced it upon me to confirm that it was indeed terrible and, with one sip, I knew how it got its name. It tasted like a monkey ate a banana and crapped it out.

Dinner, however, was decadent. We were so hungry by the time we sat down that we overordered and ended up with a feast of the house smoked fish dip, farmhouse salad, and the gulf scampi for me and the seafood capellini for Matt.

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Saturday morning I woke early and saw that Matt was sleeping like the dead. I let him be and wandered outside.

I love the beach in the morning, before it’s littered with bodies and screaming children. It’s quiet and peaceful, the world softly waking up around the ocean. The sand is scattered with tiny shells, the waves lap gently at the shore, and the day is full of promise.

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It was 10:00 before a groggy Matt wandered out onto the beach. Sleeping that late is very unusual for either of us so I knew he needed it and was thankful we had this glorious weekend to get our batteries recharged.

We set our cheap tri-fold beach chairs up in the sand, grabbed a morning mimosa, and watched the world go by.

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After a couple of hours of sunning and swimming, we were hungry, so we threw on some clothes and headed down the beach to Skinny’s Place, a hole-in-the-wall that serves up wide, juicy patties on toasted buns with plenty of toppings and an impressive variety of beer. They are also known for their colossal onion rings, fried to crispy perfection.

Skinny’s was funky, Old Florida at its best.

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The menu said to say “Mayo” or “No Mayo,” which made me wonder why, down here in the south, there would even be a choice. Nothing beats a burger slathered with a hearty helping of mayonnaise, preferably Duke’s or JFG.

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The burgers were everything they promised to be and left us ready to do some shopping and strolling around Anna Maria’s cute beachside town.

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Every place we stopped was bright, unique, and eclectic, but my favorite had to be Shiny Fish. I’m not sure what won me over the most….the swing outside, the incredible décor and selection of awesomeness inside, or the PAINT YOUR OWN SAND DOLLAR TABLE!

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I really wanted to paint a sand dollar, but Matt was getting over estrogenized and needed a shopping break.

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We ducked into The Donut Experiment, where you can order a soft, still warm cake donut topped with your choice of icing and your choice of topping.

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I went for the vanilla icing and candy sprinkles while Matt opted for caramel icing and sea salt.

That donut was like a gift from god.

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We walked over to the beach and thought about getting a drink at Sand Bar until we saw how long the wait was. I could swim to Puerto Rico and get my own bottle of rum before we would have a drink in that place, so we strolled around town a little more before heading back down the beach to our end of the island. Anna Maria was a perfect blend of quirky, cute, and funky, with just enough "WTF?" to keep it from being boring.

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We stopped in at a cute little beachside bar, the Kokonut Hut. It sat right on the sugar white sand and served up wicked little buckets of rum punch.

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After a bucket of rum punch, a frozen rum punch with a 151 floater, and a Pussers painkiller…there was nothing left to do but take a nap.

We woke up in time for sunset and enjoyed another beautiful evening on the beach behind the Love Shack.

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We had dinner reservations at Blue Marlin on Bridge Street, so we headed to the Drift-In Lounge’s outdoor tiki bar for a pre-dinner drink. The Drift-In was an incredibly cool little dive bar. Everyone seated around the bar appeared to be a local or a regular and they were cranking out my favorite 80s tunes over the ancient speakers. The tough, tattooed bartender made us a fantastic pina colada, which, side-by-side, looked a lot like boobs.

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Or maybe I had simply had one drink too many.

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We found the Blue Marlin practically across the street in an adorable little blue cottage with warm lights. This cozy little bistro cranks out some of the freshest seafood on the island.

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As we perused the menu, the waiter brought us….not bread…..edamame. Odd…but delicious.

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We had a delicious burrata salad, swimming in rich olive oil and basil and we both ended up ordering the shrimp and grits which, much to my delight, came served with an adorable little hushpuppy. Dessert was a decadent pecan pie with vanilla bean ice cream.

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After dinner, you can sip wine and listen to live music in their outdoor patio area, the Trap Yard….only 351 miles from Abaco!

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It was Sunday morning and the official “ANNIVERSARY.”

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We started the day with celebratory morning cocktails at the Coquina Beach Café. You can’t be a $3 mimosa with a view like this.

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Next to the café was the weekly Coquina Beach Market, filled with everything from original art and jewelry to fresh baked goods to home-made dog biscuits.

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We had worked up an appetite and stopped at Wicked Cantina on our way back to the Love Shack.

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It was $5 margarita day. For $5, I expect a pretty sub-par margarita. These were anything but sub-par…they were strong and freshly squeezed.

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Even though I don’t like avocadoes (literally one 3 foods on the whole planet I don’t like…), I was intrigued by the fried guacamole. Cover anything in dough and fry it and I’ll eat it.

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Matt ordered carnitas tacos with rice and charro beans.

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Matt’s tacos looked amazing, but I am a nacho fan. I LOVE NACHOS. You could say I have a ….

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These nachos were absolute perfection. The only ones I can remember having that I liked more were at a little divey beach bar on St. Croix on my honeymoon, but that memory might be clouded by the fact that 1) I was on my honeymoon where everything seemed sparkly and magical and 2) I had been drinking rum all day.

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After lunch, we headed back for some beach lounging, sun, and cold slices of watermelon.

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As the sun began to dip lower in the sky, we headed out for the official anniversary dinner.

First stop was at the Doctor’s Office, an adorable craft cocktail bar in….what else…an old doctor’s office.

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Dinner was beachside at the Beach Bistro. I chose it because it has a reputation for being the best restaurant on the island. I left knowing it is.

The location, right on the beach, was a show stopper in itself. However, as we stepped inside, the interior took my breath away. It was tiny and intimate, delicate and elegant, with white tablecloths and a single, red rose on each table.

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They wished us a Happy Anniversary and brought us each their standard complimentary cocktail – a refreshing blend of blueberry infused vodka with a splash of St. Germain and lime juice.

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Next came a complimentary “shot” of their “one helluva soup,” the bistro blue tomato made with Parrish plum tomatoes in sweet cream with Maytag blue cheese. This was paired with a chunk of homemade sea salt focaccia with olive tapenade, basil pesto, and smoked salmon.

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Salads came next. Matt ordered the caprese, a giant ball of fresh milk mozzarella surrounded by a rainbow of cherry tomatoes, drizzled with basil olive oil and balsamic. I couldn’t resist the black and blue Caesar, which was loaded with bacon and blue cheese.

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Dinner for Matt was the dinner special of seared jumbo scallops, while I ordered the famous bistro bouillabaisse – a savory broth filled with poached lobster tail, jumbo shrimp, fresh grouper, shellfish, and calamari and served with crusty herbed garlic toast and aioli. Apparently, my dish required a bib.

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When we were certain we couldn’t eat another bite, they brought out another complimentary dish – a scoop of ice cream rolled in some powdery deliciousness, served on top of a shot of Frangelico and topped with whipped cream and almonds.

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It had been a perfect meal in a perfect setting….but the hits kept coming. As we left, they handed us a box with one of their signature truffles, a bag of toffee popcorn, and a rose.

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Happy Anniversary to us!

(all that food did not stop me from ordering a slice of key lime pie to go…I’m still ME after all…)

It had been a sleepy, food-filled, fun-filled, sun-filled, relaxing weekend. The only thing that could make it any better was a piece of key lime pie for breakfast in the plane on the way home.

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Matt – I love being your co-pilot and can’t wait to see what adventures the next 18 years takes us on!

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What’s up next folks? Holy Life Preservers….we’re headed to the Bahamas to spend 12 days on a power catamaran going from Nassau to Georgetown Exuma!!!! Be sure to check back in June to see what happened!

Posted by vicki_h 10:11 Archived in USA Tagged beach florida sarasota bradenton anna_maria holmes_beach Comments (0)

Sunny With a Chance of Meatballs

A winter weekend in Key West

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Any trip that starts with a view of a colossal fuzzy flamingo riding shotgun in the plane has to be good.

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It was mid-January. The holidays were over. The fun was over. The eatfest and presents were over. It was just winter. Boring, cold, long soul sucking winter.

We have found that the best way to cure the winter blues is to simply fly away from them. A quick 4 hours from home, we were flying over turquoise water littered with emerald islands.

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It was time for a Key West Quickie!

We only had 3 days, so we didn’t waste a minute dumping our stuff at the lovely Air BNB rental we’d found above the South Pointe Gallery and heading straight for sunshine and libations at the Rum Bar, practically next door.

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We were sad to find that Bahama Bob had moved on to Papa’s Pilar Rum Factory on the other side of Old Town, but at least he was still there in spirit.

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It was a beautiful day to sip rum on a wide shady porch. One quickly turned to …..more than one..... and before we knew it, it was oyster happy hour!

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We had sunset sail reservations so we ducked into the White Tarpon, the closest oyster destination which proudly serves $1.00 oysters all day. Sure, you can get them cheaper during happy hour at other places, but we didn’t have time to wait. And “other places” don’t have the always amazing Key Lime Pie Martini.

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On our first trip to Key West many years ago, we booked a cheesy boozy cruise on the Fury Catamaran where we drank cheap champagne in plastic solo cups, danced to the live band, and watched a spectacular sunset.

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Despite the ultimate cheese factor, we loved it so much we repeated it on later trips and enjoyed it just as much.

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So, once again, we found ourselves getting in line for the sunset sail with the endless beverages and live band, Commotion on the Ocean.

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Unfortunately, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing.” We found that the Fury Catamaran on a night when the weather has turned on you is simply a big boat that smells like deep fried wontons. Despite the lack of charm or sunset, we made the best of it and drank enough bottom shelf booze to make it seem amazing.

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Even if we were the only ones not huddled inside eating cheap egg rolls.

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Like the Fury Catamaran, Amigo’s following the sunset(less) sail is a tradition that has stuck.

What’s not to love about a place where you eat street corn, tater tots, and a giant bowl of nachos while staring out at the craziness of a Key West Saturday night?

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Saturday morning brought a sunrise that looked a lot like the sunset from the night before, but that didn’t stop me from taking a brisk early morning bike ride to the pier to watch the sun not come up.

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When I got back, Matt was up and about, so we headed downstairs to La Grignote for breakfast. How could we not? We could smell the freshly baked croissants from our balcony.

Set in a cute little conch house on the corner of Louisa and the quite end of Duval, the entrance to the artisan French bakery was filled with potted flowers and plants spilling over the railings with the maddening smell of freshly baked bread filling the air. We walked in and a bounty of baked goods and pastries waited for us behind a perfectly polished glass display counter. Chalkboard menus overhead boasted breakfast entrees like bacon Belgian waffles topped with whipped cream and a French Petit Dejeuner that came with coffee, toasted artisan bread with homemade jam and butter, and fresh Greek yogurt with berries, orange blossom honey, pistachio and homemade granola.

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We were seated at a warmly polished wooden table where Matt had the breakfast special which came with scrambled eggs, their own ground sausage mix, bacon, avocado, tomatoes, and a slice of their freshly baked bread.

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Unable to resist the pastry counter, I went for a croissant and baked egg cup with bacon. What is an egg cup, you ask? Why, it’s a little basket of puff pastry with béchamel sauce, crème fraîche and a cracked egg on top.

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Or a little cup of happiness, whichever description you prefer.

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The croissant was flaky, pillowy perfection slathered with real butter and jam.

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From there, we spent a leisurely morning enjoying the streets and shops of Key West.

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We spent the morning walking the still quiet streets of Key West, shopping, and enjoying all the things that make Key West unique.

Like this dog in goggles riding in a backpack that said “Spank Me.” .

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Or this house covered with teddy bears. Which was less charming than the dog in goggles riding in a backpack that said “Spank Me.”

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When I was a kid, I watched too much Twilight Zone and was certain my stuffed animals were going to come alive during the night and kill me while I was asleep. This house was like a giant nightmare. That doll alone was enough to make me sleep with both eyes open.

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We had afternoon brunch reservations at Hot Tin Roof and I couldn’t have been happier when I walked in and saw a personalized menu, all you can drink mimosa and bloody Mary bar, AND a huge wooden boat filled with BACON.

ALL THE BACON.

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The brunch at Hot Tin Roof is a thing of beauty. The menu is filled with delightful small plates and you can order as many as you like along with bottomless mimosas, until you explode, pass out, or simply give up in defeat.

While we perused the menu, they brought out chilled seafood and ceviche along with a bacon topped cinnamon roll as big as my head.

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They thought they were being clever bringing out that cinnamon roll to fill me up. Obviously, they had never seen me eat.

Asian noodle salad with wasabi seared tuna and sesame ginger dressing:

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Crab Louie deviled eggs with pickled veges:

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Fried chicken with a little jalepeno cheddar cornbread waffle and maple syrup:

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Coffee crusted beef medallion with angel’s potatoes and herbed butter:

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Oysters on the half shell:

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Corn flake crusted French toast with cinnamon syrup:

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A cute little sour cream pancake with banana rum sauce and praline pecans:

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Rum and brown sugar roasted banana with sweet mascarpone and toasted pecans:

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Oh yes, and mimosas….so many mimosas!

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After brunch, we headed over to the Hemingway Rum Company to see if we could find Bahama Bob.

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We did not find Bob, but we did find this oddly smiley dog.

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En route to our end of Duval, Matt was distracted by a “2 for 1 Mojito” sign, so we popped into Willy T’s for a mojito and a little live music on the patio.

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While our friends enjoyed some down time, I talked Matt into walking next door to the bar at La Te Da for their Sunday afternoon Tea Dance by assuring him that there would be a “mixed crowd.”

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I did not tell him he would be the heterosexual male providing the mix.

Men, women, old, young….it was a colorful crowd dancing to old favorites by the La Te Da pool. Lasting from 4:00 – 6:30, the Tea Dance was situated perfectly between boozy brunch and a proper Sunday night dinner.

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After a day filled with mimosas, mojitos, and too much champagne by the La Te Da pool…it was time for some FOOD.

I have heard Key West maven TraceyG talk up Abbondanza’s spaghetti with meatballs to a degree that led me to believe she had to be grossly exaggerating or was getting a % paid for each meatball sold. No meatball could be THAT GOOD. So, I finally had to try them myself.

Dear sweet heavenly sphere of awesome. That little meatball packed more soul and goodness into a square inch than anything that tiny has a right to. It was supernaturally good.

That meatball changed my life.

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We all slept in the next morning and decided on a late breakfast at Blue Heaven. Touristy or not, Matt can’t get enough of their banana bread and BLT Bennies. I just like their weirdness and mismatched garage sale coffee cups.

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I think my 3rd grade teacher had this cup.

Not a cup like it...THIS cup.

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We worked off all the bread and potatoes with long bike ride through Key West’s quiet streets, one of my favorite things to do.

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Matt was in need of another oyster fix, so we headed to Pepe’s for oyster happy hour. Pepe's happy hour is my favorite with the breezy patio, house squeezed margaritas, and their own homemade chunky cocktail sauce.

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Then it was on to Half Shell for some fish lips, beer steamed shrimp, and smoked fish dip.

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It definitely hadn’t been a trip for sunsets, but it didn’t stop us from continuing to try. This was the best we were going to get.

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We ended the night with key lime pie and giant glasses of milk.

When your night in Key West ends with a big glass of milk….it’s probably time to go home.

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We had planned to leave around noon, but a quick moving snow system thought otherwise. Matt roused us all up at 5:00 a.m. and gave us 30 minutes to get packed. All I could say was, “Thank goodness all we drank last night was milk.”

This is the face of someone roused out of bed at zero dark thirty to leave paradise:

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And this is the face of someone who just left paradise and found herself in the snow a few hours later:

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Until next time! And where is next time? Why, sunny Guana Cay, of course! Stay warm, friends!

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Posted by vicki_h 11:48 Archived in USA Tagged key_west florida_keys duval_street conch_republic Comments (6)

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