The finale: Key West

On Friday May 11th, we were ready for the last official part of our trip. The journey we started in Seattle almost 40 days ago was coming to an end. Today we were heading for the southernmost part of the continental United States: Key West (Hawaii is located further south).

We checked out of the motel and headed for the Miami International Airport where we located the Hertz store. We were ready to switch cars for the last time. Upon the delivery of the Volvo, we agreed that it had been a good choice to go for this “boring” Swedish car in Boston - it had served us well, and was a great vehicle for the road. There had been one or two occasions during these two weeks where we’d been stuck for God knows how long in the Lincoln Town Car we were initially dealt.

But now it was time to let the swede go and find a ride more fit for a trip to the Keys. Louis had wanted to do the entire trip in a Mustang. We’d agreed that it would be both expensive and impractical, but for this last leg we felt we deserved to finish with style. So we turned in the Volvo, and was delivered the keys to a black Ford Mustang convertible. Louis was happy and excited as a kid on X-mas morning. Selma shared the enthusiasm for a while - until we started stuffing all our gear into the car.

Our final ride: A Ford Mustang ConvertibleOur final ride: A Ford Mustang Convertible

Louis entered the US with a tiny backpack, but five weeks on the road had generated a massive amount of luggage. Selma had dragged along a huge suitcase and a bag across the continent - and we soon discovered that the trunk of the Mustang wasn’t big enough to hold it all. But Louis wasn’t willing to let anything lower his enthusiasm, and worked some magic to make most of our stuff disappear into the tiny trunk compartment. He strapped Selma’s suitcase in the back seat and jumped in behind the wheel. Selma got in on the passenger side and sunk to the floor. Literally. The bucket seat was so low, and was impossible to regulate vertically, thus all she could see from a normal position was the dashboard.

The view from the passenger seat in the MustangThe view from the passenger seat in the Mustang

So Selma was a bit grumpy as we hit the road in the new ride, but it helped a little as we got out on the road and aimed for the Keys. Besides, the floor in front of her was packed with luggage, so she had to sit on her knees - which improved the view a lot. This time, we had no Kitty to help us find the way, but we were given a map and good directions back at Hertz. And finding the way was no problem, - as soon as we got out of Miami, there was only one way out to the keys: Highway 1, or more specific for this stretch of the road: The Overseas Highway.

Rolling down the Keys with the wind blowing in our hair (and the back seat full of luggage)Rolling down the Keys with the wind blowing in our hair (and the back seat full of luggage)

We’d pictured the Florida Keys as a bunch of small islands with long bridges between them, going on and on forever just slightly above the water - somewhat like the long bridge we crossed along the Florida panhandle. But actually, it was quite the opposite: Long islands with short bridges between them. Road work was going on along the road for the first few miles after leaving the mainland, so the traffic went slow and the smell of the mangrove swamp was anything but pleasant. It didn’t keep us from riding with the top down, though! It was extremely hot, but quite misty - and even though we barely could see the sun through the haze, we could easily feel it burn.

With sunblock within reach as we drive with the roof downWith sunblock within reach as we drive with the roof down

We entered Key Largo, the largest of the keys, and finally understood the mumble in the song Kokomo by the Beach Boys.. We located a Subway (as usual) and had lunch. We took turns going in, as we had the open car full of luggage and didn’t bother putting the top on. We hit the road again, and continued further south - through Islamorada (”Village of Islands”), Marathon and across a bunch of tiny islands. The Seven mile bridge was the closest we got to a “driving on water” experience, and in all fairness - it is pretty amazing.

Looking back at the Seven mile bridgeNo, we’re not trying to kill ourselves - this is looking back at the Seven mile bridge

After about three hours, we arrived at the furthest island, the Key West. With our rooftop down, we blasted the speakers (but were listening to a blues channel on the satellite radio, so we didn’t roll like big time gangsters) and took a spin around the island before locating our hotel close to the southern tip. We had some trouble finding parking for our car and had to drive around a few turns before settling for a spot a few blocks away from our hotel. It was run by a funny and talkative guy who gave us a few pointers about different places and stores to check out - with a “just tell them I sent you”.

Our hotel, the Lighthouse Court, was located on Whitehead Street - just across the street from Ernest Hemingways old home. It’s a lovely resort with a pool in the back yard, clean and cozy environment, and clean rooms with a smell of lavender. All in all pretty gay, actually. Key West is considered a very gay friendly island, and many hotels (ours included) have rainbow flags in their front gates to signalize their gay friendliness.

After taking in the lavender smell and confirming the delicacy of the bathroom, we realized the room had only one bed. We hadn’t even considered that, since all the hotel and motel rooms we had visited so far had had two beds. Back home in Europe, you rarely get more than one bed in a room (and don’t expect to either), but we’d grown accustomed to the large rooms with two queen size beds. Even though we’re close friends (and have grown even closer during the past weeks), we prefer separate beds. Especially since Louis has a tendency to toss and turn like a child - throwing sheets and blankets and pillows like a madman in his sleep.

Louis checking his e-mail from the bed we were about to shareLouis checking his e-mail from the bed we were about to share

We asked for an extra room at the front desk, but they had no vacant rooms until the next day. We were staying two nights, so we booked an extra room for the second night (at this late stage of the trip, we could afford the extra luxury). And we figured, after all we had experienced together on this trip, we would endure one night in the same bed as well.

But before going to sleep, we had to check out the town a little further.

First we located the main street, Duval, just one block north of our hotel. The street is filled with restaurants and stores - both catering to the thousands of tourists visiting the island and town all year round. But we both agreed that the atmosphere was quite different from most of the other tourist spots we’ve visited around the world. The stores weren’t as cheesy (which isn’t to say they weren’t cheesy at all), and they felt more unique than the typical tourist stores lining typical tourist streets. We just peeked into a few of them, and decided to save any shopping until the next day.

Duval Street, Key WestDuval Street, Key West

As we were strolling down the street, Selma suddenly noticed a guy walking past us - carrying something that looked like the spitting image of Brad. Oh - it was Brad! Louis had been carrying him in a strap on his shorts, but he must have fallen down - poor thing! The guy was walking in a rapid speed, so we had to take action fast! Louis stopped the man and told him he was carrying our travel mate, and could we please have him back? The man told us he had found it and planned to give it to his niece, but somewhat reluctantly handed him over. As the man walked on, we realized how terrible it would have been to loose our companion on one of the last days of our trip - after all, he’d been through a lot with us!

Relieved, we went a little bit further up Duval to (the new) Sloppy Joe’s, before going back to hunt for a place to grab something to eat. Despite the number of original restaurants along the street, we ended up having dinner at the Hard Rock Café. Most of the other restaurants were crowded, and our tummies were getting impatient. After dinner (Louis went a bit crazy and ordered fish!), we finished off with the island speciality - Key Lime Pie. It was ok, but not suuuper delicious - but then again, the Hard Rock Café is probably not the best place to get one either.

A blurry taste of Key Lime PieA blurry taste of Key Lime Pie

We ended the night by taking a quick walk through Mallory Square, home of the Key West Sunset Celebration (but the sun had already set), before we walked home down Whitehead Street. About halfway between the square and our hotel is the official start of the US route 1, the major north-south U.S. Highway that serves the East Coast of the United States, and this is illustrated with a Mile 0 marker. We made Brad pose for us with the sign, but he was still a bit upset that we’d almost lost him so we ended up doing the posing ourselves:

Selma posing with the Mile 0 marker on 490 Whitehead StreetSelma posing with the Mile 0 marker on 490 Whitehead Street

It was fairly dark and hard to get good shots, but we also fired off a few rounds at the nearby courthouse and a huge Kapok tree standing in front of it. Then we walked the last four blocks to the hotel, and sat on the porch outside our room, listening to the silence and looking for lizards, before calling it a night.

What do you say?


Down through Florida

As we woke up in Perry, Florida on Thursday May 10th, we realized that we were getting closer to the end of this adventure. Yes, we still had a weekend on Key West and a few days in NYC ahead of us, but this would be the last long leg of our trip. While gathering our stuff, we switched on the morning news, and realized the entire area (well, actually most of northern Florida and southern Georgia) was attacked by heavy wildfires. No wonder the vegetation had looked a bit charred the day before. We decided it was no need to stay and wait for the flames, so after picking up breakfast from the Subway next door, we started the 400+ miles trip down to Miami.

The weather was nice and warm, but the sky was filled with smog and haze caused by the fires. We figured it would clear up and get better as we got further south, but meanwhile it made for quite comfortable driving weather. We headed for the I-75 and then took the Florida Turnpike past Orlando, with nothing more exciting happening during those 4-5 hours than a stop at an automatic windshield washer.

Automatic windshield washer north of OrlandoAutomatic windshield washer north of Orlando

South of Orlando, we decided to head out for the east coast. Or to say it with Rob Van Winkle: Yo, we continued to A1A - Beachfront Avenue! We didn’t see any hot girls wearing less than bikinis, nor Rockman lovers (whatever that is) driving Lamborghinis - but that might have been reserved for the part of the road that goes through Vanilla Ice’s Miami hood. We entered the coast quite a bit further north around 5pm, and as we entered Palm Beach county, we decided to stop and see how the Atlantic coast beaches compared to those in the Gulf.

We drove out to the beachfront in Jupiter, just north of Palm Beach, parked along the road and headed for the sandy shore. We passed a sign telling us to take our shoes off and keep off the dunes. Turns out, this is a nesting area for turtles, and you wouldn’t want to mess with the vulnerable coastal system by scrambling turtle eggs with your feet.

Do not disturb nests or turtles on the beachSign at the beach in Jupiter

Unfortunately for us, but quite fortunately for them, we didn’t see any turtles on the beach. Even still, it was quite exciting to be there and envision those brave little bastards crawling out across that very beach to make their first dive into water! We got to shoot some photos of other wildlife, though; a few surfers wrangling the moderate waves - and some humongous birds windsurfing along the shore. Selma communicated a bit with her GF back home, who was in full distress after her laptop suddenly died. Back home, the rain was pouring down, and we realized we were lucky to be on a beautiful beach on a summery day.

A bird taking off into the hazeA bird taking off into the haze

But as for the comparison with the Gulf coast beaches, this one didn’t really stand a chance. The sand was nice (with the turtle factor being a big plus), but not as bright white as along the Gulf coast. The impression might have been weakened by the fact that the haze caused by the fires up north was still present (contrary to what we had expected). And of course, neither of us would mind having a beach like this in our ultimate vicinity.

Louis and female surfers at the beach in JupiterHey - they’re behind you, Louis!

But our goal for the day wasn’t to perform comparative analyses of the Florida beaches - we had to move on to get down to Miami before dark. So we got back in the car and continued down the coast past Boca Raton, Ft. Lauderdale and Hollywood, before entering Little Cuba a little before 7pm.

Entering MiamiEntering Miami

We headed straight for Miami Beach, and caught a glimpse of the lifestyle of the rich and famous as we passed the Palm and Star Islands on the MacArthur Causeway. The flashbacks to Miami Vice grew stronger as we located Ocean Drive, in the heart of the Art Deco District. After driving up and down the street looking for a parking spot, we finally managed to find a free slot along the curb. We walked up and down, admiring (and trying to photograph) the neat architecture while the sun set in the ocean behind tall palm trees. We tried to find a nice place to eat, but every place along the street was packed.

So - we ended up at a TGI Fridays, pretty far south on the strip. The meal wasn’t all that exciting, but at least it was familiar: after settling down at our table, we realized it was a suitable place for a dinner for this next-to-final stop of our road trip, since most of our trip planning had taken place at a TGIF back in Oslo.

Ocean Drive at nightOcean Drive at night

After dinner, we walked back to the car - and with the darkness that had emerged while we were eating, the bright neon lights of the Art Deco buildings along the Ocean Drive were showing off all their glory. We tried to get a few cool shots, but without a tripod present it ended up as a blurry galore. With more time on our hands, we could have stopped to shoot some photos of the illuminated causeway, but we were eager to find shelter for the night and told Kitty to take us to a motel close to the Miami Airport.

From Miami Beach into downtown Miami at nightFrom Miami Beach into downtown Miami at night

We ended up at the Days Inn Miami/Airport North, which is located about as close as you can get to the airport. After some problems communicating with the mostly spanish speaking staff, we were given a room - and after a super cute and friendly janitor helped us pump up yet another blocked toilet (we had some fun with one of those in LA as well), we could finally go to sleep.

And tomorrow: The last official stage of our trip!


(These are just our last two posts. You can find more in the archives!)