Category Archives: Florida

How I (unexpectedly) got a new bag from American Airlines


In the “it pays to ask” department: After returning home late two Sundays ago  from Florida, I realized that the purple suitcase I’d checked (at the request of American Airlines, although it would have easily fit in overhead) had several prominent rips. At first, I thought “Oh well,” but later it dawned on me that I probably wouldn’t be able to use the bag any more, especially if I need to appear somewhat respectable (or ever have another business trip…).

When I looked up online the particulars for what to do about a damaged bag, I learned I was supposed to show the bag to an American Airlines person at the airport within 24 hours of my return. But the morning after I returned was not only Spring Break. A major storm on the East Coast had led to many cancelled flights, meaning the airport would be even more mobbed. The last thing I wanted to do was go to the airport and kvetch about my ripped bag.

I explained all this to the AA baggage person the following Thursday night when I happened to be picking someone up at the airport and to my surprise, she looked at my bag, and said that even though I was past the 24-hour period, she’d give me a new bag “as a courtesy.” She left for a few minutes and returned with a brand new bag and was quick to point out the features including four wheels and a 10-year warranty. I thanked her profusely and went on my merry way.


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Midway Cafe in Islamorada, Squall on Highway overlook near Duck Key, Turquoise water!

At the Speakeasy Inn/Rum Bar on Duval Street, Key West










Posting this a week after the fact…

Our drive back to Fort Lauderdale went well, with no major traffic tie-ups so we had time to stop briefly in Coconut Grove, where I showed Noah our lovely Airbnb and picked up the hat Francine left there. We stopped at Midway Cafe in Islamorada for coffee, a better option than Mangrove Mike’s (our outbound stop) with more coffee and baked good options. Cheerful inside and in back garden.

We were a bit soggy when we arrived because we got caught in a sudden rain squall while we were going to an outdoor walk linking the highway near Duck Key. Ended up having a nice chat with a snowbird from Ohio who was also taking shelter under a little overhang and he filled us in on what life is like in the keys during hurricanes and floods. No wonder houses are built up on stilts.

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The houses (Hemingway, Truman White House), Half Shell Raw Bar, Blue heaven – Key West

One thing we learned too late is to go first to the Truman White House if you want to tour both it and the Hemingway house — There is a combo ticket ($3 less than individual tix and you can buy it with a credit card. ) We started at the Hemingway House and had to pay cash and there was no combo ticket. oh well, both were interesting, probably Truman more than Hemingway although the Hemingway house architecture was more interesting.

The weather was in the low 80’s and gorgeous again (especially given that Iowa is now cold and snowy) so we did more of what we did yesterday – rode bikes all over (this time to Smathers Beach which wasn’t as lovely as Fort Taylor State Park but still nice —- big on water sports rentals and no fee but located on a big road and less secluded than Fort Taylor, which only costs $2.50 if you enter by bike). We stopped at the Coffee Plantation for coffee con leche but preferred yesterday’s Cuban Coffee Queen by the marina.   We also had lunch overlooking fish swimming in the green water of the marina at the Half Shell Raw Bar. Great rustic local ambiance and crab balls but I didn’t like my Hogfish (or some such) sandwich much. I preferred Pepe’s food but it could be that I have had my fill of seafood…although I had more for dinner at Blue Heaven because that’s what they’ve got. We didn’t eat until 9:30 p.m. because the very popular Blue Heaven (where you eat outside in what feels like a stage set, with dramatically lit rustic wood shack walls, old trees and a tiki bar in an outdoor courtyard) only takes reservations before 6 or after 9. I feel like we have done Key West. Glad we came. Although the people and room at The Speakeasy Inn were great, I wouldn’t stay there again – the location is just too noisy, especially during spring break.

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Beautiful day bike riding, Pepe’s, Fort Zachery Taylor state park beach, Truman annex, Salute!  — Key West

“I told you I was sick.”

The music is back at The salty angler but much mellower, for now, so I am hopeful. We had a really fun day riding rental bikes all over town, along the beach, in and out of various neighborhoods, past beautiful cottages and southern porches and shady tropical palms, bourganvia, hibiscus. Great way to see everything. We stopped at the cemetery, checked out the Jewish section, which my aunt Janet had told us a large monument would make us chuckle. We looked at various Jewish gravestone inscriptions figuring the jokester would turn up but turned out to be a gentile grave nearby with the inscription “I told you I was sick.”

We rode over to the touristy harbor and walked our bikes along a narrow wood deck winding past the glistening water and fancy white boats, stopped at a window for Cuban coffee, had a late lunch at Pepe’s (excellent oysters ,cooked 3 ways, famous keys pink shrimp, superb blackened yellowish sandwich and delicious coconut cream pie.  Pepe’s claim to fame  is as the oldest restaurant here. We enjoyed sitting on the shady brick patio.

Oysters at Pepe’s

In the afternoon, we peddled through the classy Truman Annex neighborhood to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, which has one of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve been on  – small, sandy coves with dark blue water and birds perched atop rock outcroppings, a soft sandy pristine beach lined with shady pine trees, cool but not cold water, calm water with no real waves, a small crowd.

For dinner, we at beachside at Salute, sitting on the open air back patio under a full moon, in a festive casual open air space, with neighborhood kids occasionally walking their bikes by on the dark trail through the sand, past a volleyball net.

More delicious seafood plucked from the ocean nearby cold stone crab claws, grilled yellowtail snapper atop spinach with a light lemon cream sauce, grilled grouper with a light red pepper sauce, key lime pie topped by several inches of airy merengue. Riding back through town on our bikes (small bike lights flashing) was such a treat, breezing along quiet residential streets and much rowdier com

commercial drags, a slight wind at our backs, soaking it all in.

At the marina

Back at The Speakeasy Inn, we tried some complimentary rum and fruit juice drinks. Not my thing ( I have stuck primarily to lemonade and limeade here, unlike most visitors, many of whom appeared drunk or buzzed as they walked by as as we sat on the front porch in white wicker chairs. EXcellent people watching, as promised.

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Morning on Duval Street — better than evening: Key West

It didn’t take me long to confirm that it was a mistake to book this room atop an old bar on the southern end of Duval Street in Key West. I knew it would be noisy and I came with earplugs but they were no match for The Salty Angler, a bar across the street that blared loud live music from early afternoon until 11:30 pm (I know it’s 11:30 pm because I was counting the minutes.) Then there are the spring break and other partiers hooting it up and motorcycles buzzing by. I spent part of the night trying to find other places to stay but had an even harder time doing that than I did several months ago when the most affordable options ($250 range so not cheap) were gone except for this.

Lunch at Louie’s Backyard

It’s a shame because when it’s quiet, like this morning at 7:30 am , sitting in an upholstered white wicker chair on our spacious second floor balcony with white columns, shaded by palms, is a lovely place to be. Note to self: never again book a place right in town, especially during spring break. (P.s. It got better….)

Beyond that, the drive here was interesting– Never seen water these colors, from pale yellow-green to turquoise. We stopped at Mangrove Mike’s, a local hangout in Islamorada for breakfast and got kicked off the near perfect private beach (pix above) at The Moorings (note to self: stay there next time, if it doesn’t cost a fortune, which it probably does… latest claim to fame– it was where the nexflix show Bloodlines was filmed.) Islamorada in general is a good alternative to Key West, much mellower and quieter (I am now craving quiet). We liked the tiny funky “arts district” that includes a ceremic shop and brew pub.

In Key West, we did have a lovely late lunch at Louie’s Backyard,  sitting at the bar on the deck by the shimmering ocean on a very sunny afternoon – conch chowder (our young server played football for “the fighting conchs,” the name of the high school team here) and a snapper sandwich and key lime pie. We watched the bartender make many a pina colada. dogs and people frolicked on the nearby beach. Our place is an easy walk to South Beach which is tiny and was packed but we had a brief dip in surprisingly warm water with perfect sandy bottom. I was briefly comforted when we walked to the north end of Duval Street to see that our end is indeed “the quieter end” — not my scene up there. Way too many people, college age and middle aged, drinking and being rowdy, lots of bad art and tshirt shops. But we found quieter lovelier spots too (especially along Petronia street, Hemingway’s house and toward the state park so will seek those out on our bikes today. THe staff here also promised to chat with the folks at the bar across the street. Apparently last night was the first time they blared live loud music, maybe to try to lure spring breakers to this side of Duval. NO thanks.

We had an okay dinner at Banana Cafe last night, chosen only for its proximity to our inn. between there and hear is also a house where several young women sit on the porch basically offering their services (there is a whole list of kinky things they can do posted on the walll. No takes yet and not that racy a scene although we did see some primo drag queens a little further north on Duval.


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Exploring Coconut Grove -the Barnacle//Deerfield beach, lester’s diner in Fort lauderdale

Malaga airbnb


Francine and Russ left early for the airport and Barbados so Dirck and I hung out on our own, having excellent French pastries (Buena Vista cafe!) and grapefruit by our pool on the nicest day of weather so far, the wind and clouds from days past gone. We walked, sometimes with a gaggle of peacocks, around the shady tropical backroads of Coconut Grove, enjoying the sun and greenery and blue skies and lush exotic trees and multi-colored bourganvilla. In the small coconut grove downtown, not  much there but we stopped at an old historic house that is now a state park (Barnicle House). It was lovely to walk past the stone fence into the woods toward the water and actually end up at a strange old dark stucco house with a wide lawn sweeping out to a little dock by the ocean. (We haven’t seen much of the ocean in the Grove.) Then we walked past all kinds of hidden estates along the main highway and then back into the lush dense tropical thicket of our neighborhood, swam on a perfect midday and had a quick lunch poolside. Dirck has left, sadly, and I am now awaiting Noah’s arrival.

Buena vista  deli

While waiting for Noah, I drove right into the spring break scene I successfully avoided in college and was even more intent on avoiding decades later. Mob scene with packed beach, girls in skimpy bikinis and scruffy guys. I kept driving until I finally found Deerfield Beach, which was refreshingly not lined with concrete highrises. I finally found a parking spot so I stopped for an hour, walked to the end of the pier near sunset, watched the fishermen and surfers, put my feet in the ocean, which was surprisingly warm. I stopped at Lester’s diner near the fort Lauderdale airport for a good Greek omelette and a gyro to go for Noah who arrived on schedule (thx Jet Blue.) We are in a somewhat grubby Baymount motel in Florida City. Onto The Keys tomorrow!

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Versailles, Little Haiti, Buena Vista Deli, Design District, Wynwood Walls – cool downtown Miami

Versailles cafe

We joined the old Cuban men at the Cafe Versailles takeout window for a sweet creamy Cortado (as good as imagined) then set out for the Little Haiti Cultural Center. Beyond some crafts for sale, there wasn’t much going on (I’d love to return for the outdoor market later in the week) so we walked several blocks south past various Haitian storefronts (bodegas, tax prep, immigration help) and side streets overgrown with vegetation and humble houses to Bueno Vista Deli, part funky Haitian-inspired decor and elegant Parisan pastry shop, where I had the best Niçoise salad and spinach quiche ever and picked up French pastries for breakfast that will no doubt be much better than the Cuban ones we’ve been eating.

Wynwood Walls

Just south of Little Haiti we were startled to find ourselves in the oppulent Design District, full of fancy designer clothing showrooms in dramatic new architecture. The Brits in particular found this sudden change in neighborhood startling. Soon after that we were in the hipster Wynwood neighborhood, a former grim warehouse area that is now home to work by major graffiti artists from around the world. WE went to the official “Wynwood Walls,” a park lined with walls brightly painted by one graffiti artist after another. The neighboring buildings also are full of graffiti works and trendy little boutiques. Great people watching with lots of Latin looking young people in tight casual getups. ONe interesting aside: at one point I saw an official looking person wearing a city vest and thought it wa parking control. The vest said mosquito control (or some such). Wynwood I has had Zika problems. WE didn’t encounter mosquitoes (or mossed as the brits call them) until Tuesday eve. RUss got a few bites sitting beside our pool.

In the late afternoon, we returned to our little bungalow and finally swam in our sweet little tiled pool. love this place and trip! the only thing I could do without in Miami is the traffic. WE had a nice dinner of leftovers and takeaway from Milam’s market. OUr bob hosts dropped by for a drink. INteresting people…the woman is a Cuban exile and has some strong opinions about the current situation. Their son is a well known movie director and producer (legos movie etc).

Peacock visitor


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Art Deco Tour, The Betsy, Tap Tap Room, Wolfsonian museum, in South Beach, Sugar Cane Restaurant

South Beach was still hopping on a Monday morning but not as wild as Sunday night. WE bought a pocket guide to maim with architecture with walking tours of various neighborhoods (including Coconut Grove) at the Art Deco Welcome Center on Ocean Drive, which was the same price as a ticket on the South Beach walking tour (which we missed anyway…the one tour a day starts at 10;30 and is the same price as the audio tour.) And off we went on a very windy somewhat cloudy day to admire all the cool Art Deco hotels and city buildings (police department, post office etc.) I could not place at all the hotel I stayed at in 9th grade with my Grandma Betty but then again, that was in 1973, before there was a “south beach.” Nor could I remember which highrise  my other grandmother lived in. I found the description of the Jewish Walking Tour interesting — ” the rise and decline of the Jewish population in Miami Beach.” As the woman at the info desk explained succinctly:  “Cubans.”

We all got a kick out of my namesake hotel, The Betsy, which had a small classy lobby that reminded me of Panama in its old world airiness. One of the coolest buildings turned out to be the Wolfsonian Museum on Washington Street, which houses what looked like a very interesting design museum with an Art nouveau collection among others. Lunch was Haitian food at the Tap Tap Room, a colorful place full of bold Haitian murals. Excellent  “pork chunks” and beans and rice that reminded me of food in Peru.

Tonight we had a superb dinner at Sugarcane near the Wynwood neighborhood. Creative small plates, tuna tartar on a long rice cracker; goat cheese croquettes; five spice Asian spare ribs: lamb kofka with a smear of whipped yoghurt, a delicious dessert of soft French toast with apple compote. Fun dramatic interior and very attentive service. As promised, Miami has a verve and dynamic that reminds us of a lively Latin American city.




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Little Havana (El Pub), 

img_0454We explored Little Havana today, strolling along Calle Ocho past shops selling cigars, guayabera shirts, Cuban coffee out of storefront windows and fresh mangos and coconuts. Also enjoyed the monuments to various Cuban American dignitaries, which our British friends found interesting since they recently visited Cuba, which has different heros. We had delicious Cuban iced coffee, Presidente beer and Cuban sandwiches at a outdoor high top table at El Pub and picked up some Cuban pastries at Nuevo Siglo supermercado.

img_0450 img_0452 img_0457Also enjoyed a visit to the gorgeous home of Myra’s brother in posh Coral Gables, a five minute drive from our sweet little place in Coconut Grove. can’t get enough of the flora and fauna here, the giant twisted other worldly fiscus trees, the Spanish moss dripping down over our heads, the orange, red, purple and pink bourganvilla blossoms.

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Coconut Grove, Cardon y El Tirano — Hello Miami

img_0448Greetings from paradise, a spacious bungalow tucked into the tropical jungle of Coconut Grove where we are sitting beside our small backyard pool lined with towering palm trees. The colors alone are lifting my Iowa spirits – blue sky, sun shining yellow onto the green palms, pink and orange bougainvillea spilling over the burnt red tiles of the front deck of our amazing Airbnb (4057 Malaga Avenue).

img_0453After an awful drive here on I 95 from the Fort Lauderdale airport (a crash left traffic at a standstill for an hour), the lush overgrown jungle-like roads of Coconut Grove were very welcome. Even better, Francine and Russ soon arrived, fresh off the plane from London. And then our “surprise” visitors, Myra  (from Connecticut) and daughter Emma (from Philly) knocked on our door. They are staying with Myra’s  brother in nearby Coral Gables.img_0445 img_0446

After drinks and appetizers by the pool (bought at a nearby IGA that is the fanciest IGA I’ve been to, called Milam’s) we had a fantastic dinner at a small Venezuelan restaurant Cardon y el Tirano, hidden in a strip mall at the western edge of Little Havana on Calle Ocho (SW 8th avenue). We shared little nibbles and plates of things I’ve never had before. Yucca balls, crispy pork dumplings, slices of salt-cured steak served with crispy tostones and burnt hard llanero. The desserts were crazy; one had avocado “rocks” (bits of frozen avocado) dotting a smear of Nutella with balls of sweet chocolate truffles. Meanwhile, “Anthony and cleopatra” was playing on a nearby screen, adding a touch of camp to the place.


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