"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845

"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977

"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009

"The best things in life aren't things.
They're living and breathing."
- Michael Franti , 2011

"I owned every second that this world could give,
I saw so many places, the things that I did"
- Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, 2014

All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Return to the Conch Republic

Friday, September 3, 2010
We drove down to Chattanooga today and picked up our brother- and sister-in-law, Andy and Paige, and continued on to the Atlanta airport to catch a direct flight on Delta to one our all-time favorite vacation spots, Key West, Florida. We have been coming here for many years now and consider it almost like a second home to us. The place is relaxing with a Caribbean-island feel more than just another Florida beach town. The food is spectacular. Some of the best we have ever had has been in Key West. And, there is just a vibe in the Old Town area that is hard to explain unless you've been there. It just makes you happy to be alive when you are there.
The flight was an easy hour and a half trip. We usually stay at a small European hotel called Eden House, but this year we opted for a private house (photo above) experience. We found a moderately-priced tw0-bedroom house online that looked great and divided four ways actually saved us a few dollars not to mention the fact we had a private pool, hot-tub, living area, etc. There is always trepidation when booking a new place online (yep, we've been burned a few times), but the owner, Sullins, is a Tennessee native and couldn't have been nicer or more genuine. The house was everything his ad said it would be and more. We absolutely loved it. Clean, spacious and in a great location in Old Town. We immediately hopped in the pool when we got there that evening and it was heavenly. Here's a link to the house if anyone's interested. We highly recommend it: http://www.homeaway.com/vacation-rental/p267677
 After a dip in the pool and a shower, we walked a couple of blocks over into the Bahamian Village area for a 9 PM reservation at Better Than Sex - a dessert-only restaurant that we had read great reviews about. Those reviews were dead-on. What a cool place! We started out with cocktails which were all served in glasses whose rims had been dipped in chocolate or caramel. Yep, they call this process a "rim-job." The entire menu is clever and funny with "interesting" names for all their drinks and dishes. We split a huge grilled cheese & chocolate sandwich - who knew it was such a great combination! After dinner we met up with some friends, Chris and Shane, over at their timeshare condo complex, The Banyan, which was very nice. This was their last night in Key West after having been there for a week.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
We met up with Chris and Shane again for breakfast before their flight out. We decided on Blue Heaven which is our favorite restaurant in Key West, although we have never actually been there for breakfast. It stormed the night before and some rain was still hanging around this morning with a promise to be out of sight by noon. We have always sat outside in the garden at Blue Heaven, another reason we love the place besides the delicious food, but the raindrops forced us to sit inside which we had also never done before. The food is just as good in the mornings and inside at Blue Heaven. We were absolutely stuffed. The sun did its job and forced the clouds and rain away giving us a great afternoon of total laziness around the pool. While we have always loved the Eden House Hotel, it sure was nice to have a private pool and hot tub where we controlled the tunes and the libations flow.
We decided to take a stroll down to Mallory Square to catch the daily Sunset Celebration (photo below) before dinner. Mother Nature obliged us with a gorgeous sunset and the usually popular area was much less crowded than usual in the past for a Saturday night. We chalked that up to a stuttering economy and the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which had not affected the water of Key West that we know of. The walk back to dinner at a new-to-us place called Nine on Five on Duval Street was a bit long and the air was humid. We were hot when we arrived and happy to sit down for dinner, but wished our table was inside in the a/c, plus the fact we had slow service and so/so food made this place worth crossing off our list to return to again. We have found that restaurants on the famous (and rather tacky and touristy) Duval Street are always hit-or-miss and rarely have much staying power. The great food in Key West is always off the beaten path. After dinner we cooled off in the pool again and just enjoyed the great rental house we had.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
We slept in a bit this morning before ambling over a couple of blocks to the Six-Toed Cat cafe for breakfast. The name comes from the variety of cat that takes up residence at Ernest Hemingway's House next door. The food was delicious and filling. More pool time was in order as the cloudless sky beamed with sunshine. We kept our revelry to a minimum this afternoon since we had a 4:30 PM departure for a Sunset Dolphin Watch and Reef Snorkel with one our favorite Key West outfitters, Sunny Days Catamarans. We have went with these guys several times on short snorkeling jaunts as well as all-day trips out to the Dry Tortugas and the stunning Fort Jefferson. They are always super courteous and professional and give you a real bang for your buck. This trip was no exception as our captain, Ash, and his first mate, Jesse, took great care of us aboard the Dolphin Cat. Our group was small since the craft only accommodates around 20 people. The water was calm as we headed out to an area a few miles out where Ash and Jesse said the local dolphin pod (240 strong) usually hang out. It didn't take us long to find a group of about a dozen brown bottle-nosed Atlantic dolphins cruising around. We got a lot of close-up looks without disturbing them, a process that is taken very seriously in Key West. Afterwards, we headed over to a nearby small uninhabited key and got in the water for some reef snorkeling. We immediately saw two good-sized sand sharks resting on the bottom. Quite a jolt when you first get in the water! They were, of course, harmless and undisturbed by our presence. The water was a bit murkier than usual - probably due to the strong storms the two nights before, but still clear enough to see a good amount of fish and coral. After a good half hour of snorkeling, we cruised back in to the harbor at a leisurely pace as the sun was setting behind us with some Bob Marley on the stereo...this is the good stuff, ladies and gentlemen.
Dinner this evening was going to be later than usual thanks to our little ocean adventure. We settled on Louie's Backyard, a place we had been to before but only for drinks and dessert. We got a great table outside in sight and earshot of the Atlantic waves slapping against the island's eastern shore. The pesky rainstorms creeped in just about the time we got our meals and we had to make a quick dash inside where our great and on-the-ball waitress had us a table waiting. The inside of Louie's is just as great as his "backyard." It's an old rustic mansion that is in pristine condition. Did we mention the food was A++? Well, it sure is. Fresh wild scallops that were huge, lightly smoked salmon and yellow tail snapper were some of what was ordered and devoured rather quickly. The stormy weather kept us out of the pool that evening, but we lazed around the house happy as clams anyway.
Monday, September 6, 2010
Our flight was at noon so it gave us time to lounge the morning away at the house and take another last dip in the pool as the weather was beautiful. The Key West Airport is tiny, so there is no need to get there too early for a flight. We returned our rental car, a nifty little Nissan Versa that was perfect for our long weekend and saved us money on cab fares and such, and boarded the plane for another quick flight back north. After breezing fairly easily and quickly through downtown Atlanta (thank you holiday traffic), we stopped again at the Marietta Diner (see previous blog on Atlanta) for lunch. The food was great and capped off a great weekend of good times, good food and good memories once again from The Conch Republic.

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