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Monday December 30, 2013: Key West
We docked before noon at Key West, but I delayed disembarkation until I had finished a couple of letters and a postcard because I wanted to mail them at the Key West Post Office. We know the ropes at a U.S. Post Office, and can depend on them to actually deliver the things we send, which does not always happen in foreign lands. Monika actually remembered the odd location of the Key West Post Office from our previous visit, which was fortunate because we were using a Hop On Hop Off bus map, and the stop specified for the post office was a good two blocks away for its actual location at the edge of Naval Air Station. The line was almost 20 people long and only two slow-moving clerks were on duty, so just getting our mail stamped and sent off took a half an hour.
Still, we figured that we still had several hours to meander over to the southern edge of the city, see the marker for the southernmost point in the United States, and then take in the butterfly museum before wending our way back to the Ryndam. When we reached the southernmost point marker, there was a long queue to take pictures due, no doubt, to having three cruise ships in port that day. So Monika took a snapshot as we walked by and we walked a block eastward to the "southernmost beach", and then in half a block to the butterfly museum.
The butterfly museum is actually a large, glass-in aviary and butterfly room attached to an entry hall and a gift shop. The entry hall had actual pupae hanging from tree branches in glass kiosks, and plaques with a lot of really interesting trivia about the life cycle of butterflies. Did you know, for example, that there were far more species of butterflies than of mammals? Not even close in fact, as there were several hundred thousand species of butterflies (who knew?) and only tens of thousands species of mammals. I also did not know that a butterfly caterpillar sheds its skin four times before it finally turns into a pupa and then changes into a butterfly.
The main attraction was the butterfly aviary itself, of course, and when we entered we were immediately surrounded by a swarm of butterflies with iridescent blue wings flitting wildly around us. Rather a magical moment, really, although I found it practically impossible to get a picture of those blue winged ones as they were just constantly in motion! However, some of the other species were just sitting on a flower with their wings extended to warm up. I had not realized that butterflies are cold-blooded animals and that they spread their wings to the sun to warm up to about 80 degrees so that they can fly! Well, it turned out to be a LOT easier to take pictures of butterflies in the "warm up" stage as they held their wings out nice and still.
And the aviary had a lot of different species of butterflies, which must have been difficult to manage as the pupa are, I think, all imported. We saw where the pupae for the next generation of butterflies (most species live just two weeks so constant replenishment is necessary) was housed. One chrysalis had just emerged from its cocoon and was both drying and pumping up it wings and feelers and other body parts with body fluid, a rather amazing process when you think about it.
In the extensive gift shop at the exit of the butterfly museum, I searched high and low for a nice set of butterfly earrings for Monika and finally found a very pretty handcrafted blue cloissone pair. Score! So I purchased those for her and we headed back along Duval Street in the general direction of the ship.
We stopped off at a Circle K Mart convenience store to purchase wine, a bottle of cold beer for Monika , and pretzel twists for me (pretzels being unobtainable on all cruise ships, for some mysterious reason). Since Duval street near the port area was just teaming with people, mostly cruise ship folks I think, we diverted over to Whitehead Street and explored the edge of Key West just outside the Naval Air Station. We chanced across an older, poorer neighborhood of mostly black folks that had a nice, modern, Frederick Douglass Recreation Center, but also a couple of old, small, wood churches that were derelict, boarded up, and badly in need of refurbishing.
Continuing past the Truman White House, which we had seen on a previous visit to Key West, we passed the Maritime Museum into the shopping/restaurant district adjacent to the cruise ship dock area. I was looking for a hat for sun protection for the rest of the cruise, so we finally braved the loud, pounding music of one of the "Everything for $5 !!" shops and purchased some nice, foldable baseball caps with "Key West" emblazoned on them for sun protection. The caps were made with an airy mesh and were white to reflect the sun, so we thought they would be good for the tropics. Furthermore, since they were made with nylon and polyester rather than cotton, we figured they would resist the effect of sun, salt, and sand from our planned beach excursions rather well. But also being doting grandparents, we couldn't resist buying some change-color-in-the-sun T-shirts for our three grandchildren, and in the end we were lucky to get out of the store with just a $30 tab!
Although we reboarded the Ryndam just long enough to dump all our purchases in our stateroom and have a quick snack, we did return dockside briefly to pick up some 30-cent postcards, particularly of the things like the Hemingway House and the Key West Light House that I had just not been able to get a decent photograph of. But then we hopped back on the ship, which left promptly at 5:30 p.m., and enjoyed a piece of Key Lime Pie at the "sail away" party on the stern on Deck 10 where a very small pool was located.
That evening we saw the first production show at 6:30, a Las Vegas-themed series of song and dance routines that I thought was nicely assembled. However, it was over-amplified to the extent that both Monika and I ended up wearing earplugs for the whole performance, which brought the sound levels back down into the reasonable range where we could enjoy the performances.
And to cap the night off, we had dinner in the Pinnacle Grille at 9 p.m., an absurdly late dinner for folks such as us who usually dine between 5 and 6 in the evening. We are usually in bed by 9 and often asleep, so I had to pump myself up to go to the grille for a meal that late. In the end our efforts were worth it as it was a fancy specialty restaurant on the Ryndam and we had a truly excellent meal. My late sister Phyllis would have loved it as she loved Holland America cruise ships and loved eating out in fancy restaurants as well, and we thought of her while we ate. Monika selected the smallest 7 ounce filet mignon on the menu and still couldn't finish it, so I had her leftover filet mignon plus my wild-mushroom ravioli, which was also excellent. And then we read "Whiskey Beach" a bit before turning in for the evening.
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