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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 (0)

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)

FALLing into St. Michaels, MD

Ahhhh…..fall. A season filled with crisp cool air, blue skies, and colorful leaves. As the calendar slowly slid into autumn, I decided there was no better way to enjoy the beautiful fall weather than to plan an escape. The “been there, done that” nature of previous fall trips to the nearby mountains begged that I try something new.

Inexplicably, I found myself drawn to the coast. I had a vision of foggy mornings on a creaking wooden dock, sipping hot cider from an oversized mug, wearing a chunky sweater and plotting a day filled with blue crabs and sailboats.

Not wanting to fly too far, I set my sights on St. Michael’s, Maryland, a small town on the state’s Eastern Shore with a population just a smidge over 1,000. Located right along the craggy coastline, this quaint waterfront destination seemed like an idyllic waterfront retreat.

I knew it would be easy to talk Matt into it. All I had to do was tell him part of the movie Wedding Crashers, one of his favorites, was filmed there.

“HOLY SHIRTS AND PANTS” we were headed to Maryland!

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“CRAB CAKES AND FOOTBALL! THAT’S WHAT MARYLAND DOES!”

As we taxied down the runway at the Easton, MD airport, I had visions of crab cakes dancing in my head. The “crab-zilla” to be precise.

Sugar Buns Bakery was conveniently located in the FBO at the Easton Airport and is home to the King Crab of sandwiches….the crab-zilla. It’s piled high with a giant crab cake, 6 legs of crispy bacon, a slab of heirloom tomato, and fried onion rings on 2 thick pieces of Texas toast and finished off with olive “eyes.”

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Nothing says, “Welcome to Maryland” like a crab cake bigger than your head.

We checked into our delightful Air BNB rental. Located right on the water with its own dock and several acres, it was exactly what we were looking for.

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We quickly settled into some large Adirondack chairs to do nothing more than watch the ducks swim by.

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Before it got too dark, we decided to take the pontoon boat that came with the house out for a sunset spin.

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Not wanting to venture too far from home that first night, I had found a local place just down the street that served an oyster buffet on Friday nights. To Matt, the words “all you can eat oysters” has the same impact that “Louis Vuitton is giving away free purses” would sound to the average woman.

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He practically ran there.

Oysters…meh. I dove into the crispy fried chicken and mac n’cheese.

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For dessert, we had to try the famous Smith Island Cake, apparently found all over St. Michaels, but this was our first. The State Dessert of Maryland, a true Smith Island Cake has 8 – 14 individually baked thin layers of cake with frosting between each layer and then slathered generously on the outside.

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The cake hails from Smith Island, a 400 year old fishing village with only about 250 residents. It was there that the cake was born. In the 1800’s, when the men of the village would go on the annual autumn oyster harvest, their wives would bake the cakes to send with them as a reminder of their families and communities waiting for them at home. They began to use fudge in the layers rather than frosting, as it kept longer when they were out at sea.

Traditionally yellow cake with fudge frosting, there are many variations. We tried the red velvet. It was 9 layers of delicious.
After Matt had eaten his fill of oysters, we stopped off at the Inn at Perry Cabin for a drink at Purser’s Pub. The Inn was the location where the wedding in Wedding Crashers was filmed. Just seeing the grounds made me wish I was dancing to the YMCA in a bad bridesmaid dress.

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“RULE #1: NEVER LEAVE A FELLOW CRASHER BEHIND.”

It was a beautiful misty morning on the water, and Matt really wanted to simply curl up by the fire with a good book, but we weren’t having any of that.

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It was time to head into St. Michaels and do some shopping!

St. Michaels was small and quaint. It’s main thoroughfare, Talbot Street, was lined with colonial buildings turned into adorable shops. It was the height of their “Fall into St. Michaels” festival, so the place was bursting at the seams with colorful leaves, hay bales, corn husks, pie contests, and pumpkin carving.

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We sampled artisan olive oils, we sniffed home-made goats milk soap, we sifted through dusty antiques and ate ice cream.

We had been told by locals that The Crab Claw was a “must do.” Touristy, yes, but still a “must do.” So we did it.

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It was a beautiful sunny day and we were seated right on the water with their amazing margaritas and a bucket of crabs served with a side dish of Old Bay.

Now, I thought we had some weird sides in the south: hominy, polk salad, grits, squirrel dumplings, pickled eggs….but Old Bay? Apparently, people in Maryland put Old Bay on everything. Crabs? Needs more Old Bay. Pasta? Maybe let’s add some Old Bay. You know what this cupcake needs? OLD BAY!

I had my Old Bay. I had my newspaper. I had my bib. I had my hammer. I was ready. Bring on the crabs.

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I’m going to be honest here.

I didn’t get it.

Crab legs are one thing – sure, there is some work involved, but you get a giant meaty slab as a result. Better yet….a crab cake! Let someone else do all the work and then just mash that yumminess up into a patty for you.

But whole crabs.

I didn’t get it.

Why did I want to eat food that came with an extensive paper diagram explaining how to eat it?

And required the use of a hammer?

Yes, the meat was delicious, but I nearly died of starvation in the 754 minutes it took to get the meat out of ONE CRAB. And when I did get the meat out, my hands were SO DIRTY. And the meat was SO TINY.

The work-to-reward ratio seemed a little off to me. I spent 10 minutes digging into a recently deceased crustacean, all sharp armor and prickly legs, to achieve a disappointing pile of sweet inner meat. I got a thimble full of wine when I worked for a double magnum.

And my hands were stinky.

Don't you northerners every say another word to me about grits. Are they confusing? Sure. Do they make you wonder why you should eat them? Of course. But at least with grits, you can just pick up a spoon and start eating. And they don’t make your hands dirty.

I figured out quickly that eating blue crabs was more about socialization and less about actual food consumption. Sitting in the autumn sunshine, watching the boats cruise by, and leisurely picking the meat from a blue crab would have been amazing if I hadn’t been starving.

Notes for next time: Get bigger crabs; eat something else first; enjoy the experience rather than looking for the reward.

Next time, blue crabs….I’ll be ready for you.

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After lunch, we made a stop at Lyon Distilling Company, a micro craft distillery specializing in rum and whiskey.

Not only was the place lovely to look at, the rums were quite amazing. We particularly liked the Rock & Rum. To get this delightful creation, they infused their signature white rum with orange botanicals, blended the distillate with a candied-orange caramel, and finished it with dark cherries. It tasted like a rum old-fashioned in a bottle.

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We followed rum sampling with wine sampling at St. Michaels winery, because nothing is better after eating a teaspoon full of crab meat than drinking a whole lot.

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We made it back to the house in time for a breathtaking sunset.

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Then it was off to Ava’s for pizza.

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We were joined for dinner that night by local friends that we had never actually met.

It’s not uncommon these days to have “friends” you know only through common interests on the interwebs or that you met via other friends through social media.

This can lead to some awkward meetings where you end up in the same place at the same time and decide you MUST get together only to find out you have nothing in common and are pretty sure they are stalkers. It also leads to some epic friendships. Some of our best friends are people we met “virtually.”

I was really nervous. What if they turned out to be weirdos?

We should not have been worried about them being weirdos.

What I failed to realize was that WE were the weirdos.

One of us broke a wine glass all over their feet within 5 minutes of meeting them (Matt), one of us fell face first out of their truck and landed sprawled like road kill on the street with ripped pants (me), and one of us spent most of dinner in the bathroom (who this was shall remain anonymous to preserve someone’s already shattered dignity).

Despite making a colossally horrific first impression, we hit it off.

I love it when “virtual friends” become “real friends.”

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“UM…BUT STARBOARD’S THIS WAY.”

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With another crisp fall day in our hands, we decided to drive to nearby Tilghman Island for a ride on a historic skipjack, the Rebecca T. Ruark.

Tilghman is a tiny speck of an island in the Choptank River in the Chesapeake Bay. Just 3 miles long and a mile wide, its location in the bay allowed fisherman to work the water year round since the 1830’s.

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Built in 1886, the Rebecca T. Ruark is the oldest surviving skipjack in the Chesapeake Bay fleet. Her captain, Wade Murphy, will take you out on her for a 2 hour no-frills tour filled with stories of the island, the bay, and the boat.

Rebecca has dredged, hauled, raced, sank, been raised, been repaired, restored, rebuilt, and rebuilt, and rebuilt again. She has many tales to tell.

As we climbed aboard, I wasn’t sure who was crustier, the boat or the captain. Both were salty, weather-worn, and absolutely wonderful. Cpt. Wade made it instantly clear that there “Warn’t no drinks or food on this trip” and if that was a problem, we should just head back to our cars and go on a fancy sail.

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Cpt. Wade’s face was a maze of hard earned lines. He had one squinty eye and a gruff voice. His hands were like leather, no doubt from years of hauling up oysters in the frigid bay. He told us right off that he couldn’t hear a thing, so we should listen more than we talked.

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And boy, did he talk. As we settled into cracked plastic deck chairs, he pulled out a stack of faded notebooks. Each one was filled with clippings and photos. He proceeded to tell us about his island, his life as a 3rd generation waterman, and about his boat. While he liked to pretend he was a crusty character, he had a smile in his eyes and he literally glowed as he told us his stories.

I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend $30 or 2 hours.

They just don’t make them like the Rebecca T. Ruark anymore. Or like Cpt. Wade.

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It had been a beautiful morning to be on the water and all that oyster talk had made us hungry. We made our way across the tiny island to Marker 5, a lovely waterfront restaurant with a breezy deck facing the water.

Mid-day cocktails were ordered along with BBQ nachos, beer shrimp (with OLD BAY!), and a rich bowl of Maryland crab soup.

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Before leaving, we made a quick tour of Tilghman Island and the Country Store.

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We got home in time to spend a lazy afternoon staring at the water and taking the boat out for a sunset cruise.

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Dinner was a Gina’s, a kitchy little Southwest restaurant in town. It exuded a wonderfully bohemian vibe complete with string lights, original artwork, handpainted signs on the tables, mismatched tableware, and a case filled with old books. So, it really didn’t surprise us when we realized there was no “meat” on the menu. No strictly vegetarian, there was plenty of fish and seafood which was perfectly fine with us.

The margaritas were spectacular and the crab nachos were gargantuan. The shrimp tacos were loaded with spinach, goat cheese, mango salsa, and chipotle mayo.

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We never missed the beef.

“MAKE ME A BICYCLE, CLOWN.”

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Our original plans for the day were to rent bicycles and ride to the Oxford ferry. However, once I Googled the route and figured out much of the ride was on a busy 2 lane highway with no bike lane, I quickly changed my mind.

Vicki + Bicycle + Traffic = Unavoidable Catastrophe.

Instead, we made a hearty breakfast and drove to the ferry.

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Sure, we could have driven to Oxford, but what was the fun in that? We still wanted to ride the ferry across.

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Oxford was everything a coastal Maryland town should be. It was all picket fences, red front doors, and American flags. Brick walkways were scattered with pumpkins and colorful leaves, and the streets took us through colonial houses and cute little shops.

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We were devastated to find that the Scottish Highland Creamery was already closed for the season. Okay, maybe the others were just slightly disappointed, but I was devastated.

Instead, we settled into the courtyard at the Robert Morris Inn. Built in 1710, it claims to be the oldest inn in America.

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After a lunch of more crab cakes and crisp rose, it was time to jump back on the ferry.

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We had an afternoon sunset sail scheduled on the Selina II. We got the sail, just not the sunset.

No matter, there was enough bubbly to make up for it.

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Captain Iris was a very accomplished sailor, despite the fact that she looked like the love child of Sigourney Weaver and Bethany Frankel.

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We ended the evening at the St. Michaels Crab & Steak House at the recommendation of Captain Iris. We had been crabcaked to death and needed some fried seafood.

Casual and cozy, with perfect coconut fried shrimp, it was just the thing to follow a non-sunset sail.

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“MA …THE MEATLOAF!”

It was time to head home, but not without some beef to offset all that crab.

The house-cut fries and thick cheeseburgers at Sugar Buns was a perfect send off.

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Especially when followed by a slab of Smith Island Cake.

Rule #64 – Always save room for cake.

Posted by vicki_h 12:51 Archived in USA Tagged fall coastal maryland chesapeake md st._michaels Comments (2)

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