Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Key West, Florida: The Conch Republic

Even though I have lived in Florida off and on since 1960 (and continuously since 1978), I had never been to Key West. Hubby and I decided to make it one of our "mini" trips for the summer. Since we didn't really have the time to make the leisurely drive down through the Keys, we chose to take the FastCat from Ft. Myers Beach. You can even get a pretty good price for week day excursions. A lot of people go down for a day or just overnight. However, we chose to stay a little longer.

The FastCat goes along the coast line pretty much all the way down. It is very roomy with indoor and outdoor seating, and offers a snack bar which serves alcohol. They also show movies on an indoor screen. Unfortunately, the water was a bit choppy on the way down, and I suffered from paralyzing seasickness for most of the trip. I DO want to add that the return trip was much nicer and I had no problems coming back.

The FastCat dock was a few miles from our hotel. We were hoping to hoof it, but the heat proved too much. So we hailed a pedi-cab and for less than $20 got a very scenic tour through the historic part of Key West, right down Duval Street. Don't be embarrassed to catch one of these ... it's how these guys make their living!

We stayed at the Southernmost Point Hotel ... which actually has several properties. We chose the one on the beach, although our room overlooked the parking lot! But it was away from the noise and partying of Duval but close enough we could walk down to the crowds if we so chose.

The beach at the hotel had some historic significance ... particularly attached to American authors. I was hoping to get inspired.

It was interesting to see how so many of the buildings had been converted into businesses -- like this former theater turned into a Walgreen's Drug Store on Duval.

Yes, chickens really do rule the roost in Key West! I took several photos of them in various places throughout Key West. This was among my favorite ... a mother hen and her chicks crossing the street. One of the strangest experiences was watching one stroll through the Hog's Breath saloon a few days later.

The most photographed object in Key West is this Southernmost Marker. I have a photo like it from Hawaii (which is actually more southern than Key West, but this is as far as the Continental U.S. is concerned). I took this photo while riding on a scooter.

Key West architecture is very recognizable. This was one of the homes we saw on our scooter trip. The houses ranged from bitty cottages to large luxury mansions. There were a lot of porches and palms, too.

U.S. Highway 1 begins (or ends if you will) in Key West at Marker 0. We drove up and down the street a couple times before spotting it. It's on both sides of the road.

Tradition demands that you eat at Sloppy Joe's bar -- the haunt of Ernest Hemingway. I was expecting this small, seedy, smoke-filled room but was greeted by a roomy, updated and lively restaurant instead. There was live entertainment and of course a LOT of memorabilia of "Papa" in the room.

Hubby loved the actual sloppy joes that were served. We ended up eating here three times! But there are quite a few other places to eat. We tended to stick to well-known commercial establishments (I am not a fish person): Hard Rock, Hog's Breath, Margaritaville. However, we were more adventuresome for breakfast. I recommend both the Banana Cafe and Camille's!

Key West does have its seemier side, as this photo shows! We also had to pass an "adults only" establishment each time we walked to Duval Street with its, uh, ladies perched on the porch and conversing with the men passing by.

And here come the roosters! Make way!

Sunset at Mallory Square is not to be missed! I was expecting a really raunchy crowd, but it was very PG. Lots of arts and crafts and sidewalk entertainment. No admission price, but donations gratefully accepted.

The evening finished up with one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen! And I've seen quite a few beautiful ones, believe me. Of course, applause was requisite at the end and happily given.

Of course, for the literary minded (such as myself) a trip to the Hemingway house is a must. It is also a must for CAT LOVERS! According to the literature there, about sixty six-toed cats make their residence at the house and they are given full run, indoors and out. They are very well taken care of, also.

The house is a horticultural fest, too. The gardens and grounds are well-tended. You can see that the Key West lighthouse is nearby.

The white cat featured here is named "Spencer Tracy". Some are identified online.

The Hemingway house from the front. A guest house (and gift shop) are in the back, and a pool is on the grounds, also.

We also rented bikes one day. We went through the Naval housing and stumbled upon the Little White House, most notably related to Harry Truman, although many other presidents have stayed there.

It was a little disconcerting to come out of a shop and see the "tail" of a huge cruise ship sticking up in the skyline! Cruises are big business in Key West. Some stop just for a day, some overnight. Lots of people like to take advantage of the bargain prices in the shops along the wharf (if you call them bargain!).

Something that we didn't take advantage of, but many people do, is the Conch Train. It will take you around Key West and give you a decent history of the city. I think it has on and off privileges (for a different price), too.

As you can see, scooters are a popular form of transportation in Key West. We highly recommend them for motoring around. If you drive down, park the car and rent one of these. We got a two-seater (I don't drive motorbikes).

Life is quite casual in Key West. Don't bother bringing anything formal. If you come during the "hot" months (May through September) be sure to bring very loose and cool clothing. And don't forget the sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen.

Have fun!