We planned a trip to Florida for a family wedding (my lovely niece Katy) and in the planning process we realized that, (1) Florida is warm, (2) we’re retired and have the time and, (3) if we’re going to be down there already, why not stay a little longer? So we added a little bit more travel to our active retirement.
We started our trip with a stop in Charleston in order to visit the grandchildren and to help break up the trip a little bit. It was a short, overnight stay, but I would much prefer two six hour drives, over the 12 hour, white knuckle sprint I used to do when heading to Spring Break from college. It’s one of the few concessions I make to old age.
We rose early and checked out of our very nice room at Charleston Air Force Base and drove to Melbourne on Florida’s east coast. After a short stop to check in with my sister and the mother of the bride, who was very adroitly dealing with the stress, we checked into a very spacious room at the Space Coast Inn on Patrick Air Force Base.
Later that evening, we met up with other members of my family at a German restaurant with the non-German name of Café Coconut Cove. This restaurant had been recommended to us by some friends who said they never visit Florida without stopping for at least one meal here. After our visit, I understood completely.
Although we arrived after dark, we found ourselves wishing for more daylight because the restaurant sits along the waters of the Indian River and would offer a fantastic view of the sunset. Once inside however any disappointment soon vanished. The dining room was both charming and cozy in a sort of European style complete with white linen table cloths. We were seated at a large round table which easily accommodated our party of seven. Let the feast begin…
We were greeted quickly by our waitress who was very helpful with menu suggestions and took our drink orders. Helen chose a white wine which she liked very much, but I had to try the Warsteiner, a German Pilsner on tap. It was good enough to order more than one…’nuff said.
The entrees were splendid. We both went schnitzel. Helen (adorable wife) chose the Béarnaise Schnitzel which consisted of pork medallions, breaded and sautéed and covered in a savory herb sauce. The small taste I was allowed to have was delicious. I chose the peppercorn schnitzel. This dish was a breaded veal cutlet was smothered with a creamy peppercorn sauce that out of this world. Both plates had a vegetable and a potato puff on the side.
We left happy and the only regret I have is that I didn’t bring the camera to take pictures. I do have a link in a paragraph above, so please visit either online, or in person if ever there is an opportunity. I know I’ll be back.
The wedding the next day was beautiful. Katy made a lovely bride and the young Catholic priest married the bride and groom with a very touching and heartfelt service. The reception was awesome. I love spending time with my family, and this was a wonderful opportunity to have fun with all of them. My sister and brother-in-law enjoyed themselves immensely, partly due to the fact that this was the third and final wedding for one of their children in a period of seven months. They had held up well.
The next morning it was off on a long-ish drive to Marathon Key along US 1. This highway starts out as a four lane highway, but once you are out of sight of Miami it quickly turns into a two lane road and the traffic slows considerably, particularly if you happen to be behind a fisherman towing a big boat…which we were. Not being blessed with a great deal of patience, I took advantage of the few passing lanes available and tried to be the lead dog as much as possible, but this was a big day for boat towing.
Our destination was a US Coast Guard Facility in Marathon, FL where we had reserved a cottage on the Gulf (western) side of the Key. The Coast Guard facility is a small recreation area with four cottages and a camping area for RV’s and trailers. It is staffed full-time with Coast Guard personnel, but the recreation center staff is small and we were told that we had to arrive before 4:00pm or we would lose our reservation. We made it by 3:00pm and were met by a member of the staff named Rick. Rick checked us in and walked us to the cottage, which was, in reality, one side of a duplex.
The cottage was exceptionally clean. It had a living room and a complete kitchen, one bathroom, and a nice size bedroom. The duplex faced a channel that came in from the gulf and was lined with a few Coast guard vessels and a few boats available for rental. We unpacked and decided that since it was getting late and we were a bit road weary, that it was best we do what we do best…find some good food.
Prior to leaving home we had asked a friend of a family member who had a home in Marathon to recommend a few restaurants. We received a list on the day we arrived, and Helen looked them all up on Trip Advisor. One place, not far away, had great reviews so we decided that we should give Sparky’s Landing a try.
Sparky’s Landing was about six miles north in Key Colony Beach and just off US 1. We arrived just as the sun was setting and the parking lot was filling up fast. We were lucky to find a spot, but we did and walked in to a surprisingly large crowd. The hostess greeted us and led us to a porch enclosed in clear plastic wind shades – a good thing because it was windy and cold outside.
Judging from the crowd, Sparky’s customers appeared to be locals who lived in the condos and apartments surrounding the adjacent Marina. A couple seated to our left were very friendly and we struck up a conversation. These folks were from Massachusetts and lived in Key Colony about five months a year. They ate at Sparky’s a lot and had just come in from a very productive day of fishing. They were a lot of fun.
Sparky’s menu was all about seafood. We ordered fried calamari for an appetizer and chased it with a local craft beer. The calamari was delicious, but the serving was large and we left some for the bus boys to distribute among the crabs swimming around the marina.
For dinner, Helen ordered fish tacos and I chose a red snapper sandwich. It took a few minutes for the food to arrive, but I never really mind that if the food arrives hot and fresh. We spent the time chatting some more with our new best friends. When the food arrived, it was both hot and delicious. The tacos were batter fried dolphin served in a soft shell with pickled red onions, cabbage, tomatillos and smothered in a creamy lime sauce. Good! The red snapper sandwich was a large portion of fish, fried to perfection and served on a fresh bun. It was light, tasty, and delicious. I ate every bite. The side dish for both meals was black beans and yellow rice and both servings were combined into one bowl. We tried to eat it all, but couldn’t. I like to help out crabs as much as possible.
The next day had been reserved for a beach day, but it was cold and windy, so we set out for Key West. We had a lot of fun and will share the events of our time there next week in a separate post of Easin’ Along. Please come back.
Our third day in Marathon was to be a little warmer, and not quite so windy, but still not up to our beach sittin’ standard, so we took a trip to the Sea Turtle Hospital just a few blocks to the north. Yes, there’s a hospital for sea turtles, in fact, we learned that there are about seven such hospitals in the country.
The hospital on Marathon Key started in 1989 by a motel operator who rescued an injured sea turtle and nursed it back to health. It seems that this good hearted soul had a soft spot for these big fellas and continued to take them in whenever needed and cared for them using profits from the motel. After a hurricane devastated his motel, he didn’t have the money to rebuild, so he donated what was left of the property to a group formed to create a full time turtle hospital. As a means of support for the hospital, tours are offered every hour for $22. I like turtles. I signed us up for a turtle tour.
Tours begin on the hour and we were in a group of approximately 40 or so turtle lovers and led by a member of the hospital staff. She was very knowledgeable and gave a very informative presentation of the work of the hospital.
The tour began with a film about the mission of hospital and the various forms of treatment that the turtles receive. Our guide told us that turtles are treated primarily for four types of conditions which include; damage from boat propellers, swallowing trash found in the sea, predator attacks, and a virus that causes debilitating tumors.
After the presentation, we were led on a tour of the hospital. Fortunately the surgery room was empty, but there were a couple of turtles in the x-ray room, and we were able to see in there by means of a television monitor.
The first stop was the large holding tanks where turtles are kept after they are successfully treated and undergoing a waiting period before they are released. The turtles were having a large amount of fun in this tank and it was all I could do to keep from reaching in and petting one on the head. We were told that petting was not allowed under any condition, so I refrained. I was able to take a video of their pool party and have it for you to see on the Easin’ Along YouTube page.
A person who rescues a turtle has the honor giving it a name which is painted on the turtles back. I developed a fondness for a cute little guy named “Topsider” who kept coming over to me and giving me a big wink. I plan on adopting Topsider and hope that the hospital will send me a notice when he is released back into the sea.
After the holding tank, we were led to an area for new patients. This was a little bit of a downer because there were some guys in there that needed help. A few had been injured by getting caught in fishing line, and a few more that had been bitten by predators, probably sharks, and several who had ghastly tumors on their faces and legs. These turtles were being acclimated before treatment. Treatment is administered by veterinarians both on the staff and from communities nearby. It’s a real hospital.
Our last stop was at the former swimming pool of the original motel. This was actually a tidal pool that is fed by the sea and extremely large. This pool held all of the turtles that are permanent residents because their condition is such that they are unable to be released. An example of that type of condition was given to us when we met a turtle named “Bubble Butt”. This turtle had been in the hospital since 1989. He had been hit by a boat in his rear end which caused his shell to expand and create a large bubble. This can sometime be corrected, but Bubble Butt’s bubble was so large that he could never swim below the surface to procure food. He had however developed a degree of celebrity in that his condition was dubbed “Bubble Butt Syndrome” and applied to other turtles with the same condition.
The hospital is doing great work and it is obvious that this service is needed. In 2015, the Turtle Hospital admitted 175 turtles for treatment.
That afternoon, the sun came out and the wind subsided a bit, so we drove to Sombrero Beach (pictured at top) to check it out and at least look for shells and shark’s teeth. It was still cold. Sombrero Beach is very pretty and on this day we had it to ourselves except for a few folks wrapped in beach towels and reading from beach chairs. We kept our jackets on and walked from one end of the beach to the other before calling it a day and returning to the cottage to do our laundry. Bummer…it was not supposed to be cold in the Keys.
Laundry done and ready to do something different, we decided to go to sunset watching that evening at Sunset Grill and then order seafood take-out for dinner.
Sunset Grille was recommended to us by Ricky, the Coast Guard staff member who met us when we checked in. It was also listed in the TourBook for south Florida we picked up from AAA. (As an aside, we found AAA TourBooks to be a very valuable resource on this trip and on our summer journey up the East Coast.)
We arrived at the Sunset Grille about 30 minutes before sunset and found the parking lot full. After circling the lot a few times, I spotted a set of tail lights flashing on the other side of the lot and rushed to be the first in line waiting for the car’s departure. All good things come to those who wait…
Sunset Grille has two main seating areas. Customers walk up some steps to the main indoor seating area which has a large bar plus a large open window with bar seats below and facing westward to catch the setting sun. It is a splendid setup, but all seats were taken. We walked down some steps to the patio and found several empty tables. Normally this would have been the best option for seating, but on a chilly night, we had to ponder a bit as to how badly we wanted to see another sunset. We both had jackets so we decided to stay. Good decision.
It was Happy Hour and all drinks and appetizers were half price – a very good deal. We ordered drinks and a couple of appetizers then waited for the big show. Within five minutes, big rays of sunshine began to light up the sky as the sun approached the horizon just above the water. At the same time, about twenty bar patrons grabbed cameras and cell phones and walked swiftly out to the end a small pier that was built primarily to be used by shutterbugs. It was to be well used this evening.
Not wanting to be left behind, Helen and I both went out to the end of the pier and snapped away. The sky was brilliant and the clouds were crimson as a giant ball of sun illuminated everything in front of us. This made for great theater and was a huge exclamation point at the end of our stay in Marathon. I never gave the cold weather another thought that evening.
We finished our drinks and some appetizers and I ordered two dozen peel and eat shrimp (at Happy Hour prices) to take back to our cottage to enjoy as we packed up for Tampa, our next stop. I hope you’ll join us for that. For now, we’re Easin’ Along.