Southernmost Point

Last week, we shut down our work computers and packed our shorts, swimsuits and sunglasses to head to the Florida Keys. We decided to go on this trip to celebrate my 29th birthday and since we had airline miles and hotel points which covered the biggest chunk of our travel, we were just left with the cost of food (lots of it!).

66180_10101167996088583_3838449796269054260_nWe had a direct flight to Key West and upon arrival, we heard “You’re okay with a convertible, right?” A convertible while we drive through the Keys? We’ll take it!

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We landed around lunch time and started driving towards Islamorada, where we were spending our first night. Seafood was calling our name as we pulled into Mangrove Mama’s on Sugarloaf Key.

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I highly recommend stopping in if you’re passing by, if not for the fish tacos, then the flavored mojitos!

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We continued on our journey and marveled over the turquoise water, tiny islands and just how long the 7 mile bridge is. Our first night was spent at the ridiculously adorable Postcard Inn.

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I LOVED that they were pet-friendly and immediately wished our pups had traveled with us!

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The Postcard Inn has a Tiki Bar, a raw bar, kayaks, jet skis, stand up paddle boards and two pools (one is heated). Seriously, what more could you ask for? We watched the sunset as we ate Key West peel and eat pink shrimp and sipped on coronas.

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We explored the grounds, watching tiny barracudas in the water and pelicans by the boats.

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For dinner, we made the short drive to Island Grill and decided to try the tuna nachos. I now understand why they are world famous. Seriously, this dish was TO DIE FOR!

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After a morning walk on the beach, we decided to find a breakfast spot other than the restaurant at the hotel. We hit the jackpot with Midway Cafe. It could not have been any cuter and the mocha almond frappe (which LW called a “breakfast milkshake”) was delicious. My order caused the staff to call me “Vacation Girl.”

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After a filling breakfast (I got the veggie wrap), we headed towards Key West – but not before putting the top down. We decided to take every opportunity to stop at overpasses and state parks along the way.

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We walked several miles at each of the parks. We were delighted that we only saw one snake at this Florida state park. Last year in Ponte Vedra, we saw dozens of poisonous snakes. I loved our little stops along our road trip.

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Bahia Honda State Park had some seriously amazing views. I dipped my toes in the water and promptly announced that I had no desire to snorkel when we arrived in Key West. Kayaking was as close as I was going to get to being in the water.

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We had a delicious lunch at the Square Grouper on Cudjoe Key. We split small plates and enjoyed adult beverages while giggling over the Square Grouper story. We talked along the way about where we’d live if we ever moved to Florida. I said Tampa or perhaps Islamorada, if we weren’t going to work ever again. LW voted Orlando. But we’re not going anywhere. North Carolina is home!

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Dinner that evening was our most favorite of the whole trip. We went to a tiny restaurant in downtown Key West called “Seven Fish.” I had scallops and LW had the catch of the day. Both were amazing.

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I ordered a mango mojito in a pineapple. Yes, in a WHOLE PINEAPPLE.

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You might think that this would be my favorite treat of the whole trip, but it wasn’t. Dark chocolate dipped key lime pie on a stick became my new favorite dessert.

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Oh, and we tried a lot of Florida beers on this trip. Kermit’s had the best key lime pie in my opinion, but I will say that we tried it from three other places before coming to that conclusion.

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Our next favorite dinner was at Firefly. The double porch on the restaurant screamed “Southern!” After devouring crab beignets, I splurged on the fried chicken while the hubs ordered the catch of the day, corvina.

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Did I mention that we rode bikes around ALL DAY LONG before this dinner? So I pretty much burned off that chicken before I ate it!

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We explored every inch of Key West while we were there, some two or three times. Of course we took an obligatory tourist photo of the Southernmost Point (although apparently it’s not actually the southernmost point?). Either way, it’s the one that has a photo prop and a line of tourists waiting.

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Surprisingly, we didn’t run over any chickens or roosters while we were there. Although I did have an unfortunate incident with one at Bo’s Fish Wagon. I’ve never seen so many chickens and roosters in my life – and I grew up on a farm!

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Speaking of Bo’s Fish Wagon, we got the tacos and were a little disappointed. They were very slaw-y and mayonnaise-y. And frankly, there wasn’t a ton of fish on the tacos. I think if we were to go back, we would check out Garbo’s Grill instead of going back to Bo’s.

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One place we really wanted to go was Deuce’s Off the Hook Grill. The regular menu looked pretty good, but the specials sounded AMAZING. However, they were booked solid when we got there for dinner one night, and we were 30 minutes early for lunch the next day. We decided we just weren’t meant to eat there.

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The hotel pool was a nice little escape. I even had some friends to hang out with – including this orange iguana. I’ve never seen an orange iguana before but apparently he is a regular at the pool and even sometimes goes swimming.

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We spent the day being tourists and exploring Mallory Square and the waterfront. We watched the tarpon swimming by the marina and even saw a nurse shark!

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Ernest Hemingway’s home is in Key West, so we decided to take a walk through (we skipped the guided tour). The house (and garden) was FILLED with cats. I’m surprised LW didn’t have an allergic reaction but he was careful not to touch any of them. The house was interesting, especially the pool and the story about it.

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The house is also right across from the light house. One of my most favorite parts of the trip was visiting Sunset Pier (we grabbed drinks at Ocean Key resort) and watching the sunset.

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There were at least 200 people on the pier with us (and probably 50 more at the bar watching the Seahawks/Packers crazy game). Live music is abundant in Key West, and was no different here. The band played, people danced and the day came to an end.

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We bit the bait and went to Blue Heaven for breakfast after the race on Sunday. The banana bread was incredible. The whole meal was incredible, but the banana bread was the best (and my belini was pretty darn good, too!).

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On our last day, we sat by the water and had our last lunch. I indulged in more fish tacos… and more mojitos.

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And I have to say it was kind of the perfect way to end our trip. Sunshine, water and my most favorite person beside of me.

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Oh, and of course I had one more chocolate dipped key lime pie on a stick before we headed back home and back to reality.

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Sneaking away to St. Martin

During the week of Labor Day, we hopped on a plane to St. Martin for a relaxing getaway. The trip started off on a good note when we were bumped to first class on our US Airways flight and had the most wonderful flight attendant (Judy) waiting on us on our 3.5 hour flight to SXM.

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Since the planes land on the Dutch side of the island (St. Maarten), we got a tour of island in our taxi ride to our resort – The Grand Case Beach Club. It was nestled between picturesque mountains and turquoise water right there on the beach (or two beaches: Le Petit Plage and Grand Case Beach).

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We had a stunning view of Creole Rock, and even spent one afternoon snorkeling there with some amazing rainbow parrot fish, eels, and about a gazillion more caribbean fish species. It was some of the best snorkeling we’ve ever done.

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Our resort offered kayaking, sailing, stand up paddle boarding (SUP) and snorkeling right off the beach, too. We spent an entire morning exploring the gorgeous water in front of the hotel and just for the record, I only fell off my board ONCE. (Fact: SUP requires some serious balance and core strength, and your feet will hurt afterwards from holding on).

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Each morning we went to the restaurant on site for our continental breakfast. My favorite was of course the chocolate croissant. I actually took my Shakeology with me on this trip so that I could remain somewhat healthy (and I embarked on my attempt to be vegetarian for a month on 9/1). Listening to the waves was so tranquil and such a relaxing way to start our mornings.

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We ventured into Grand Case (the best culinary experiences on the island) for dinner most nights. Our favorite spots were Le Cottage and La Villa, although we also had a lovely creole experience where the chef was also the owner and took plenty  of time to come out and just chat with us. The food was nothing short of spectacular on this trip.

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We ventured out to Orient Bay Beach one day, which is the famous nude beach on the island. However, since we were there in September, it was the “off season” and all the nudists stayed home. We pretty much had the run of the place while we were there and dined at an excellent beach restaurant before setting up in some chairs just steps away from a bar for the rest of the afternoon.

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Our resort was totally gated and had security guards walking around at all times which made it feel very safe. We were upgraded upon arrival there to a suite style condo with bed/bath upstairs, and living room, kitchen and another bathroom downstairs. Our patio led right out to an overlook over the beach (the stairs were no more than 5 feet away). We also had an upstairs balcony which provided amazing views of the island. The pool at the resort was one of the prettiest set ups I’ve seen, just dreamy!

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While we’re talking safety, nothing happened to us while we were there but upon asking advice on a couple trips we were thinking of taking on our own, I was told, “Just don’t take anything with you.” There was also a “theft insurance” charge for renting cars on the island and parts of it were not very well lit. That being said, the locals left us alone. Only once (on Orient Bay Beach) were we asked if we wanted to purchase something. Philipsburg was more touristy and probably the least safe place we went for that reason.

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In Philipsburg, we had lunch before walking around. It was gorgeous on the water. The shopping area was your typical Caribbean shopping area which owners out front asking you to come in and a few peddlers on the beach asking you to purchase their items. We didn’t spend TOO much time there before we headed off to Maho Bay beach to see the planes land. Since Maho Bay is also on the Dutch side where the casinos are, we popped into one while we were there. My (risk adverse) husband won while playing poker and immediately quit playing, so we weren’t there for more than 45 minutes before we headed back to Grand Case.

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Their signature drink on the island is the Guavaberry Colada since they have a guava berry rum factory on the island. Each restaurant offered their own specialty after-dinner (or lunch) rum. Some of the flavors we tried were caramel, banana, coconut and a delicious mixture of coconut rum, grenadine and pineapple juice.

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We very much enjoyed our trip to St. Martin and would recommend the French side to anyone going to visit. However, if you’re still deciding where to visit, our vote is Aruba. Aruba is still our favorite island. The friendliness of the people is unmatched (and they’re all so incredibly intelligent). Not for one second on the island did we feel unsafe, even when we walked or biked the .75 miles back from the high rise area at night. While Aruba has a desert climate and St. Martin has a tropical climate, we didn’t mind the heat and no humidity in Aruba. It never rains in Aruba (it only rained on us once in St. Martin). Aruba had happy hour which we loved, St. Martin did not. The food was amazing in both places but Aruba holds a special place in our hearts. If we had a free trip back to either of these islands, we would undoubtedly choose Aruba.

Two tickets to paradise!

Life has been busy, what’s new? We have so many wonderful things that I’m dying to share (nope, not pregnant!), but can’t just yet. We have to let a few more things fall into place and then all news can be shared. For the time being, I’ll share that we are headed to St. Martin (French side, although we’ll definitely explore the Dutch side) to sepnd 5 heavenly days frolicking on white sand beaches, dining on 5-star French cuisine and celebrating a year of marriage. Hard to believe it’s been a whole year (in less than 2 weeks). St. Martin is our big trip for this year and we’re back on for our European getaway next year. We’re thinking Ireland – London – France will be a nice combo. For this year? #TheWhitesDoStMartin

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My husband has already been checking out restaurants for our trip. I’m leaving the planning to him on that, he always chooses so well. Our honeymoon in Aruba was full of delicious food!

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First year anniversary gifts are supposed to be paper, so we’ll consider those airline tickets our gifts to each other. We’re much more into experiencing things together rather than purchasing physical items.

Baby Shower (7/13)
Baby Shower (7/13)

And before we head off to this spectacular Dutch/French island, we’ll be meeting our new neice, Andi, who is due to arrive on August 10th! Follow along on Instagram with hashtag #comeonAndi!

If you have suggestions of things to do/see or places to eat in St. Martin/Maarten, let me know! I always appreciate recommendations!

Wanderlust!

Last week, I mentioned how much my husband and I love to travel together. In our first three weeks of dating, we took a trip to the beach and the quaint town of Swansboro on North Carolina’s coast, and we visited Cleveland for a wedding (but took the opportunity to explore while there!). When we got married, we discussed our future travel plans and agreed on one BIG domestic U.S. trip a year and one BIG international trip a year. Coming up with “where” to go was the hard part.

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I created a board on Pinterest to capture all the places that I would like to visit. Italy, Colorado, Galapagos Islands, Maldives? Yes, please! While flying home from Aruba, we each made a list of 10 international and 10 domestic travel destinations and compared. Ireland was at the top of both of our lists. (Of course, travel has to be done within reason, and within your means. This pin is helpful for budgeting appropriately for travel). So, our plans for this year were AUSTIN, TX (domestic) and IRELAND/LONDON (international – and while we’re paying to fly that far, why not kill two birds with one stone?).

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Jamaica/2010

We’ve had Ireland on our bucket list for a while now and we thought this would be the year; however, with the rest of our friends getting married and buying a new house, it looks like it will be going on the back burner until 2015 (or until we win the lottery – whichever happens first). Austin was also on our list for this year and coincidentally enough, we were invited to a wedding in Austin. However, my husband is in a different wedding and will be at the bachelor party that weekend. I am majorly bummed over this one but I know we can’t do everything.

San Diego/2011
San Diego/2011

So here’s what we are doing this year: Boston, Indianapolis, Weston & Woburn (Mass), Ponte Vedra Beach (Florida), Maryland, Blacksburg, Ocean Isle Beach, Wilmington (NC), Richmond, and I’m sure a handful of other places. International probably isn’t going to happen this year between the new house and my husband’s job requiring weekly travel. I’m okay with that since we bought the cutest house ever and I’ll spend that traveling money for decorating.

Aruba/2014
Aruba/2014

However, travel is one of our “things.” It really is a big part of our life and we love those trips, whether long or short. So while we’re hunkering down and doing house things, we still need to make room in our schedule for those mini beach vacations, or spontaneous trips (ie: Alabama Shakes in Charleston), and do the things that make us happy while we work on making our new house our home.

Jekyll Island, GA/2012
Jekyll Island, GA/2012

I’d love to hear what’s on your travel bucket list – or places we should add to ours!