In April, we took the iconic family road trip to Washington DC, retracing a route that my husband and I both travelled as kids. Back then, we rode in our respective Chevy station wagons. My family’s was gray. It had 110,000 miles on the odometer, as well as a rusted out patch of metal under the backseat footwell that I unadvisedly poked with my foot from time to time (I also enjoyed standing behind the bench seat so I could see out the front windshield). His family’s wagon was maroon and packed with five kids, so he sat in the death-trap seat– remember the one that faced to the rear so you could make funny faces at the drivers behind you? Thankfully, we both lived to tell the tale.
When I visited DC as a kid, there were no metal detectors or mandatory bag checks. The Capitol had not been the scene of anarchic violence, and government buildings were not protected by massive concrete barriers and tall fences. Perhaps automotive safety has advanced, but the world as a whole feels a lot less safe now, and I know that my eldest daughter worries about political unrest, plastic contaminating the ocean, and our deteriorating environment. Back then, the world just felt less insane (but maybe it was just as insane, and I was a sheltered kid).
In the end, we decided to skip the crowds and barricades, choosing to view DC’s iconic monuments from the solitude of the Potomac. We boated out of Carefree Boat Club’s Washington DC dock, viewing the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and other iconic buildings from a distance, in a place of peace and solitude. We even caught a glimpse of what I believe to be Marine One flying low over the Potomac.
As we meandered by the monuments snapping pictures, two orange and black ribs sped toward us, lights flashing. It was the Coast Guard. As we prepared to be boarded for a safety check, the officer said something I’d bet very few boaters have ever heard: “Good morning, Ma’am. You know this isn’t a no wake zone? You can open up the throttle.”
Yes, the Coast Guard actually asked me to speed up, not slow down. They were doing “training exercises” and we were in the way. Did this encounter have something to do with that helicopter? Who knows. I didn’t ask and gladly accepted the authorities’ invitation to gun it.
I’m sure that very few people who visit, live, and work in DC are carefree these days, but we were for at least a few hours on a glorious spring day.
Two Floridians invited two sun-starved Connecticut girls to a weekend in the Florida Keys, and they were kind enough to humor us when we wanted to spend every single secondoutdoors in weather that the locals viewed as subarctic. What ensued? Girls (Boat) Trip, of course.
First, we found rental boat. The conditions weren’t ideal, and the boat’s owner was incredulous, “Are you sure you want to go boating today?”
I didn’t hesitate. “Temps in the 50s? Two foot waves? Yes!! I’ll be captain.” After boating in the late fall in Connecticut, I felt right at home.
I promised to bring the boat back in one piece . . . more on that later.
Before long, we found ourselves surrounded by beauty: bright blue water, seabirds wading along the shores, mangroves, and . . . toilet seats. That’s not a typo. We had found toilet seat cut, a dredged channel near Islamorada, marked by imaginatively decorated toilet seats hanging from poles. Apparently, locals with a sense of humor have been decorating the channel for over fifty years, and now it’s quite the tourist attraction (See http://www.allatsea.net/how-toilet-seat-cut-in-islamorada-came-to-be/). After clearing the cut, we cruised through mangrove-lined Tavernier Creek to the Atlantic side of the Keys before heading south toward Snake Creek, which would take us back to the Gulf side.
I must say that learning to boat on Carefree’s late-model Chaparral Suncoast 250s has spoiled me. After spending last summer on big boats with ample horsepower and stainless steel props, driving a 19’ boat with a 115-horsepower engine felt like trading in the Corvette for a golf cart. Then, a gauge started beeping and flashing “low battery,” the Bluetooth cut out, and the GPS started turning off and on, off and on. As we headed into Snake Creek, the engine sputtered and stopped. We were dead in the water.
Luckily, we ended up with a tow-boat, not a rowboat—they promptly came out to get us and, after an unsuccessful attempted jump-start, we were towed back to the dock. We had a cooler, snacks, and more time on the water, so all was well as we kicked back with a few drinks during the ride home.
Great seafood was another highlight of our trip. We ate at Marker 88, which is right on the water and features live music and seafood. Back in Ft. Lauderdale, I gorged on delicious stone crab claws, a Floridian wintertime delicacy, at Catfish Deweys. It wasn’t quite Girls Trip—there certainly weren’t any escapades involving zip lines or citrus fruit—but we had a blast. Boating & seafood & island hopping in a shiny white Mustang convertible was a welcome respite from the cold.
When a friend suggested Puerto Rico as a vacation destination, I balked at first. After hearing about the island’s financial woes and the devastation wrought by hurricane Maria in 2017, I worried about what we’d find. But after reading multiple recent good reviews of hotels on Trip Advisor and hearing Lin Manuel Miranda’s entreaties to support the island’s economy, I was intrigued. The quick 3.5 hour flight from New York or Connecticut (and that we could avoid the headaches of passing through immigration and changing currency) cinched the deal.
Puerto Rico did not disappoint. There still is hurricane damage, for sure- on the way home from a rainforest tour, we passed row after row of dilapidated structures, mostly consisting of modest no-longer-habitable homes. In contrast, the touristy Condado beach neighborhood and Old San Juan have been fully restored, and they offer plenty of activities and food options for visitors. I hope that our tourist dollars contributed to the gargantuan task of getting at least some local families back on their feet.
Boating was at the top of my list of must-do activities—even if I visit the landlocked desert, I’d bet that I could work a boat into the trip somehow. Luckily, San Juan had plenty of boat-centered recreational options. We rented a snappy red Yamaha jet boat- aptly named “Hot Tamale”- from San Juan Boat Rentals. After visiting Castillo San Felipe del Morro on land, we got to see it as the 17th century Spanish sea captains did. Instead of scanning the horizon for pirates, however, we worried only about avoiding novice jet-skiers and towering mega cruise ships. We anchored in a calm inlet near the city walls of Old San Juan and swam in the warm turquoise-blue waters, followed by my daughter’s first time on a wakeboard (she’s now hooked). The highlight, of course, was when I got to take the wheel and zoom across the bay—a welcome dose of medication for my boat fever.
Another highlight was a tour of the El Yunque Rain Forest, which we arranged through the tour desk at our hotel. El Yunque is a world away from Puerto Rico’s sandy Caribbean beaches. It is lush and green, and filled with dazzling waterfalls and mountain views. Our guide, Janilla, was comedian, historian, naturalist, photographer, and mother-hen all rolled into one, informing us about the local flora and fauna and island culture and history, all the while keeping us on schedule. She also guided us to a roadside stand for lunch, where we enjoyed conch fritters, roast chicken, and pasteles, which is a Puerto Rican Christmastime treat of root vegetables, meat, and plantain, all wrapped in banana leaves.
Wining and Dining:
Excellent food options abounded. Highlights included a chocolate brunch at Chocobar Cortés, which features Caribbean-farmed chocolate in every dish. We devoured the chocolate French toast, churros with chocolate sauce, and I treated myself to chocolate milk spiked with Puerto Rican rum (yum!). For dinner, most of our best meals were a quick Uber-ride outside of the touristy Condado beach neighborhood. Musa Gastro Pub features a wide selection of delicious cocktails and gourmet riffs on traditional Puerto Rican fare. It was also kid-friendly with excellent service. Asere Cubano was in a vibrant neighborhood filled with bars and live music. The chef served up a whole fried red snapper, killer empanadas, and coconut flan for dessert. Oceano was memorable for its food, service, and atmosphere. We sat on a terrace overlooking the ocean, watching the glittering lights of cruise ships travel east along the Puerto Rican coast. Enjoying Atlantic shrimp while listening to waves crash on the shore and breathing in the salty ocean air was my version of perfecto.
If you’re staying in the Condado beach neighborhood or Old San Juan, there’s no need to rent a car at the airport. Everything we wanted to see and do was a quick, reasonably-priced cab or Uber ride away, and parking on the beach strip was expensive- $25/day at our hotel.
Eating out three meals a day will kill your vacation budget. We stayed at La Concha in one of the tower suites. Although the room was slightly more expensive, the kitchenette allowed us to buy groceries locally and eat breakfast in the room. I also packed our suitcase with breakfast and snack staples from home, including chocolate-chip banana bread, homemade focaccia, and Clif Bars. Some days, we also reheated our dinner leftovers for lunch, and we bought a tub of ice cream at the grocery store, instead of buying ice cream for the kids at restaurants.
La Concha was a great place to stay, with two infinity pools (one was adults-only) overlooking the ocean, and a wide expanse of beach just steps from the pools. In the evening, there was live music at the hotel bar and a DJ. La Concha was also a short walk away from groceries, coffee houses, pharmacies, and multiple eateries.
All-in-all Puerto Rico offered an excellent balance of beach-time, hiking, food, culture, and history (as well as a welcome respite from the cold, dark environs back home). Adiós San Juan . . . at least until next time.
My high school best friend lives in Seattle, and every few years I fly out for a visit. We fall back into the same old routines, jokes, and escapades, despite time and distance. I’m fortunate to have old friends like Debs, and this summer, in particular, I welcomed a much-needed (albeit brief) respite from all the drama and uncertainty back home.
This time, I introduced Debs to my new-found love of boating. I reserved a boat out of Carefree Boat Club’sFishermen’sTerminaldock, and we headed east through Lake Union to Lake Washington.
It was my first time boating in freshwater. Boating on Lake Washington was very different because lakes don’t have tides, and the currents were much weaker than I’m accustomed to. I checked out our anchor and it looked as if it had never been used. Then, when we stopped for lunch on the water by Seward Park, I realized why. We turned off the engine, and the boat stayed put! I also found that I could go much faster on the lake than on the ocean, which was awesome. (Debs will vouch for me having a lead foot from the day I began driving).
We watched seaplanes land on Lake Union and checked out the houseboats. On Lake Washington, we did a loop around Mercer Island and saw the Boeing Factory. Heading back, we caught a great view of the Seattle skyline, and I had another new first: filling up the tank.
I still prefer the ocean to lake boating- there’s just something about that ocean air, but it was so fun to try something different and to explore Seattle with Debs from a brand new vantage point.