Your Pal Bill

Florida

As part of my ongoing quest, I decided to take a long weekend and headed for South Florida. I hopped on a plane at PDX on Saturday night, and by the way of Sea-Tac, the red-eye got me into Miami early on Sunday morning. I went straight to the rental car place to pick up my car, a Stratus with Ohio plates. I headed south on the Florida's Turnpike, toward the Florida Keys.

I just wanted to get out of Metro Miami-Dade and into the keys as soon as possible that morning, as there would be time for exploring Miami the next day. I expected to be whisked onto a series of crazy long bridges basically right away, but found that the upper keys are all pretty large (hence "Key Largo") and close to one another. I stopped briefly in Islamorada for breakfast and to change my shoes and shirt. I stopped again in Marathon, to pick up a few things (sunglasses, snacks) and to go by a beach for a while.

As I continued from Marathon, I encountered the first of several of those long bridges. The longest is called the seven mile bridge. It is approximately seven miles long.

At Big Pine Key, there are all sorts of signs warning of the habitat of the endangered Key Deer. There are also large stretches of tall fence along the highway to keep the deer from wandering into traffic. I went off the highway into the wildlife refuge to see if I could see some deer for myself. I stopped at the "Blue Hole" viewing site, and took a look around. I saw a big tortoise and an alligator (crocodile?)! But alas, no deer. The trail around the lake had signs warning hikers to watch for alligators and snakes. I decided it would be prudent to follow another group along pretty closely.

From Big Pine Key, it wasn't too much further on until I literally reached the end of the road at Key West. I found my accommodation and checked in. After situating myself, I walked down a few blocks to the southernmost point in the continental USA. It was quite busy with all sorts of touristy types, all taking their turn for a photograph in front of the marker.

I walked north up Duvall Street, which is the big touristy street. It was very busy with pedestrians and all sorts of vehicles, from bicycles to "trains." I made my way all the way across the island, then headed back for a short nap at the hostel. I awoke in time to walk back north to Mallory Square for the sunset. It is quite the celebration there, many people crowded along the seawall to watch the sun fall. When it finally fell below the horizon, there was applause! Yay for the earth's rotation! Just after sunset, all sorts of buskers come out and perform, I enjoyed some crazy fire-dancing. I had a little dinner & dessert (key lime pie, of course) then picked up some postcards. I walked back to the hostel and wrote postcards in the courtyard before heading to bed.

The next morning I left the hostel and made a brief stop at an internet cafe, mostly to check in for my flight the next morning. I left Key West and headed back up the keys. I ran into a traffic jam on Key Largo, but eventually I was back on the Florida mainland. I took a short side trip to the Everglades. It is a large area, so I only saw a little bit of it. Also it was the dry season, so I guess it wasn't the most exciting time of year. On my way back to the main highway, I stopped at a farm stand and had a tasty milkshake.

I made my way through the Miami area, over the causeway to Miami Beach. I found the hostel where I was to stay the night and checked in. I would have stayed put, but the parking situation was not ideal for leaving my car until a few hours later. So I decided to drive around a bit. I drove up Miami Beach, checking out a lot of cool architecture. I headed back across to Miami and drove around awhile. I got caught in traffic for a bit before stopping for dinner in Coral Gables. Eventually I made my way back to South Beach. The parking meters are enforced until midnight, so I had to get some change and do a lot of plugging.

After dealing with the parking, I walked the 2 blocks to the beach. I walked up the beach to a stretch of art deco buildings. I took my time walking up and down this stretch, there were a ton of people out, walking around and eating at restaurants. It was Valentine's Day, so I think that contributed to a busy Monday night. It helped that the weather was lovely. I stopped and did some people watching while enjoying a gelato.

As I had an early, early flight, I hit the sack pretty early. This was okay with the other guy in the room, as he had to get up early as well. He was interesting, he had been working on a large (120? foot) yacht. After his most recent voyage the owner gave all hands each a bonus in the 5 digits. I'm not sure where he was from, he had an accent that sounded like New Zealand to me. Apparently South Florida is a hub of yachting activity.

A few hours later the next morning, I returned the rental car and headed back to the airport. Of course I was *too* early, so I had some time for breakfast before making my way to the gate. We were delayed about an hour while they worked on some problem with the port engine. Once underway, I rented a digital movie player. We arrived in Seattle late, but I made my connection to the shuttle with a few minutes to spare.

February 16, 2005 10:06 PM