A Key West Vacation

29 03 2015

There’s a difference between traveling and a vacation. I discovered this when I backpacked across Europe in my 20s and relearned it when I took my Girl Scouts to Italy. Traveling, while wonderful, is hard. It’s not relaxing because there’s a lot to do, and adventures to be had.

A vacation is for relaxing. My preference is seaside where my biggest decision is pool or beach. And that’s the trip I just had.

A Key West sunset

A Key West sunset

What my traveling and vacationing have always had is common is that I’ve always done it on a budget. So, when I won five nights at a Waldorf Astoria for writing a travel story about that Girl Scout trip to Italy—I was beside myself with excitement. After much thought my sweetie and I decided to go to Key West.

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We needed a place to recharge, to do nothing, to be waited on. We’d been to the Keys early in our relationship and had sweet, warm memories of this tropical paradise. So fly away we did; to the land of magenta bougainvillea, trees bursting with bright yellow blooms, six-toed cats, pastel cottages, crystal clear blue-green waters, and a rum-soaked-laid-back-island-way of viewing life. Where the sun rises over the Atlantic and where every evening the entire town goes to watch and celebrate the sun sinking into the Gulf of Mexico.

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We stayed at the Casa Marina, a grand hotel that opened on New Year’s Eve in 1920. You could feel the history of old Key West with all it’s glamour, decadence, and excess from the moment we drove up and two valets opened the doors and welcomed us into the lobby. It’s located on the eastern, quiet side of the island, which is just 4 miles wide. After dropping our bags off in our room (which was not very impressive considering it was $500 a night), we headed to the poolside bar. After sampling several pina coladas during our vacation, it was scientifically determined that our hotel had the best. They made them with black strap rum and they tasted like an icy praline. We also figured with all the fruit, it was almost like drinking a smoothie.

I like pina coladas, but I do not like the pina colada song.

I like pina coladas, but I do not like the pina colada song.

Over the next few days, we spent hours on the beach. It was lying on the beach that I learned that it was the service that made this a 5-star resort. Despite being surrounded by water, there is not a lot of beach in Key West. The Casa Marina has their own private beach, so it is only hotel guests that are there. Attractive cabana boys and girls waited on us while I read my beach book and soaked up the sun. They’d walk by and offer mango lemonade to quench your thirst or an ice-cold face cloth soaked in refreshing eucalyptus to soothe you from the sun. They were quick to move your umbrella for you, so you could stay in the shade. And if you got tired of your chaise lounge, there were hammocks you could take a nap in.

Bacon, lobster, tomato, eggs benedict

Bacon, lobster, tomato, eggs benedict

We’d occasionally leave to get a meal or to go watch the sunset. Our favorite brunch was at Blue Heaven. A funky, colorful, arty, outdoor restaurant shaded by ancient, exotic banyan and almond trees where chickens and cats wander freely. If you go, get their BLT, a bacon, lobster, tomato, eggs benedict. We needed to return to our horizontal beach position as soon as we finished brunch.

I had many wonderful moments happen while I was busy doing nothing.

My sweetie enjoying cigars and landsharks.

My sweetie enjoying cigars and landsharks.

  • Looking up and seeing an osprey with a huge fish in its talons, bringing a meal back to her baby birds high up in their nest.
  • A father playfully running after his toddler up and down, and up and down, the length of the hotel property.
  • Watching the staff and photographers get ready for a beach wedding. Seeing the beautiful bride and her handsome groom and the happy friends and family who were there to celebrate this life milestone as the sun set through the palm trees.
  • Watching a buxom woman in her string bikini, with her Kardashian derriere and tattooed sleeve, posing for a sexy photo in the surf.
The sailboats sailing in and out of the sun’s reflection on the water.

The sailboats sailing in and out of the sun’s reflection on the water.

  • My favorite moment came one night when we found the darkest part of the beach and gazed up at the millions of stars that you can only see when you’re away from city lights and saw the distant ships blink on the ocean’s horizon as they traveled to another exotic locale.

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It was a glorious vacation, a real luxurious getaway. In the week we were gone, spring exploded in Louisiana. I’m rested and happy to be back home where the pink and white azelas are in full bloom. Now if I can just figure out how to get that firepit and view from the hotel in my backyard.

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I’m a Winner!

16 03 2015

452676929I wrote the following story over a year ago. After I wrote it I saw the Waldorf Astoria was having a contest asking for travel stories. I submitted an edited down version and I won five days at a Waldorf Astoria! Woo Hoo! So my sweetie and I are headed to Key West to enjoy the warm sun, key lime pie, and umbrellad drinks served by cute cabana boys. I’m sure a story or two will grow out of my winning vacation. 

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Time Travel

It’s a cold, wet, grey, winter day. The kind of day that gets my mind to wandering to a treasured warm memory, one that’s years ago and miles away. I’m savoring a memory that was a gift which has stood the test of time.

I’ve written about being the leader of my daughter’s Girl Scout troop before. This was a wonderful group of girls, many who had been together since kindergarten. I shared my love of travel with these girls and over the years we traveled near and far. As they approached their senior year in high school they set their sights on Italy. Several years of fundraising and selling lots of cookies got them there.

Me and my Girl Scouts in Italy.

Me and my Girl Scouts in Italy.

One night about halfway through the trip our tour guide, Patrizia, pulled me aside and wanted to know if I wanted to go out after the girls went to bed. There were plenty of chaperon parents, so I eagerly said yes.

I wondered what she had in mind. Would we meet up with Patrizia’s friends and have a glass of Italian red in a quiet café, or a late night meal in a family style ristorante, or even dancing in a discotheque? It didn’t matter, I’m always up for an adventure, especially when I travel.

Road with chariot grooves in Pompeii

Road with chariot grooves in Pompeii

We had spent the day walking among the ruins of Pompeii under the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius whose volcanic ash covered it in 79 AD. I actually didn’t tour the famed Pompeii House of Ill Repute relics with my Girl Scouts, but I had learned of it from my Dad who also walked these streets when he was a young man. He told me the you could still see the phallic symbols on the steets directing sailors landing at this seaport to the town brothel. And at the brothel you could still see the house specialties carved in stone above the doors.

It was a great connection to my own history, walking these streets with my daughter knowing her grandfather had done the same. Pompeii, that ancient Roman city destroyed in an instant, forever preserved in time, it’s streets still grooved by long ago chariots wheels. Streets walked upon by a lost civilization and now by three generations of my family visiting this ancient land.

After Pompeii, we traveled the narrow winding road hugging the mountainside down the Amalfi coast. To the right was the azure blue Mediterranean stretching to the horizon where we could watch the setting sun.

We stopped in Sorrento, a beautiful town facing the sea. After settling in our hotel, Patriazia and I took off for what would be an evening stroll through history. She guided me down an known-only-to-locals walking path that led us down the mountainside until we were outside the walls of the town. The moon lit our way casting her beautiful blue light on this old world. We passed a small grotto with gentle waves, it was so crystal clear you could see the sandy bottom of the sea even through the moonlight.

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On a cliff above the small grotto lay the ruins of a Roman villa. We sat and absorbed the beauty in comfortable silence. The family who had once lived here over 2000 years ago had chosen this location for the same beauty that I was experiencing. We were away from the town lights; you could see the distant lights of the other coastal towns sparking like diamonds on a necklace strewn on the coastal neckline.

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I am warmed by the memory of that timeless beauty on this cold winter day. My daughter went on to minor in Italian at college and spent a summer as an au pair in Italy because of that trip.

Travel expands and connects our world in unexpected ways and leaves us with memorable gifts that last a lifetime. Arrivederci.

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