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Key West, a brief tour
Despite vacationing in Florida for over 15 years we had never visited Key West. It was always on our “to do” list. However we finally took the plunge this July, and Oh how we wished we had done it sooner.
We left our hotel in Naples just after 10am on our trip down to the Keys. We skirted the Everglades promising ourselves we would stop on the way back and do an airboat ride. When we reached a crossroads at the point we were to turn south, we stopped for drinks and a Subway.
We headed south and passed loads and loads of plant nurseries.
All too soon we started our journey across the Keys. At Key Largo we stopped again for a drink. The temp was still rising and the blues and greens of the water was so inviting.
Islamorada, Long Key, Grassy Key and on to Marathon and the Seven Mile Bridge. This is the bit I have waited years to visit and cross. On a clear day with the sun shining down, it is impossible for me to describe adequately how fantastic this is. The sea was a shimmering mirror of hues of blue and green. Sand banks in the water were clearly visible, at times indistinguishable from the sky. I must have looked a picture sat in the car with my mouth wide open and agog at the beauty of it. The pictures we took just don’t do it justice.
Running alongside the road bridge is the Flagler railway bridge, an awe inspiring feat of engineering in it’s time and all the more remarkable as it was completed during the 1920’s in under 4 years. Now unused, several sections have been removed to allow large ships to pass underneath, and other sections opened for public access, and all along these sections were rows of men with fishing rods, no doubt going home with tales of the huge one that got away.
Onward to Key West, the top end of the island is new compared to the old historic district. The Spanish name for this island is Cayo Hueso, meaning "island of bones".
Being only 90 miles from Cuba you can certainly feel the Spanish influence the closer to the Old district you get.
The one thing more than any other I wanted to see was the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square. We checked the time of sunset (8.15ish) and decided the mile and a half walk was best tackled at a leisurely pace because of the heat.
A quick stop to grab frozen Margarita’s and we wandered along the boardwalk stopping and taking in the entertainment that takes place nightly. This is such a vibrant place and feels so unlike the USA we are used to, it’s very bohemian and almost has a beatnik feel to it. So laid back and relaxed that it is almost comatose while still heaving with people of every description.
It is worth the car journey to visit, for the glorious sunset if nothing else. I am rapidly running out of superlatives to describe everything….. Just make time to visit it sometime and experience it for yourself.
After the sun had set, we were still wandering along the boardwalk for over an hour, stopping to watch the jugglers, fire eaters and musicians. We ate dinner in the Hard Rock Café on Duval Street and retired for the night, ready to explore some more tomorrow.
I wanted to take the Conch Train round the town, but we opted for the tour bus instead, as it was just arriving.
First stop was the southernmost point in the USA. An ideal photo opportunity. The guide was very entertaining and as we passed the Southernmost Hotel, the Southernmost Bar, the Southernmost Pharmacy and the Southernmost everything else, he was giving us a good history of the island.
We decided to get off at the stop for the Ernest Hemingway House and the Key West Lighthouse. I have to say, it was a lot less impressive than I had imagined, but I do like to do all the touristy things anywhere new.
Across the street is the Key West Lighthouse, so we took the chance and went in, posing for pictures by the sign beforehand. We climbed the 88 steps to the observation platform and the views from the top are spectacular. You can see the big cruise ships docked and awaiting their eager cargo of passengers from one side, and magnificent views across the island from the other sides.
After the photo sessions we headed back down to the Lighthouse Keepers cottage which is now a museum.
Back to the bus stop to continue the tour (it’s one of these hop on/off whenever you want affairs) and we were picked up this time by Louis, who was even more entertaining and made the tour that much more enjoyable when he spotted his niece walking down Duvall St and proceeded to thoroughly embarrass her by yelling at her from the bus.
He also seemed to know most of the locals and just stopped the bus to talk to them regardless of the traffic behind, and best of all no one behind was in the least bit bothered by this….. This place is seriously mellow.
We reached Mallory Square about 3pm and Louis recommended a local Cuban restaurant, so we wandered in there and had a great meal in very nice surroundings.
Back on the bus and this time we finished our tour of the historic district and started up Flagler Avenue towards the new part of Key West. This was not something I was expecting so it was a real bonus and I’m not sure that the Conch Train covered this much ground, so we really had picked the right choice for new visitors.
We ate at the original Margaritaville, and Jimmy Buffet appears himself on occasion. There is live music every night, as there is in many of the bars and restaurants on Duvall Street.
Our all too short visit has left us eager to return and explore a lot more. So if you want something different, then this place is unlike anywhere else in the USA we have been to, and I would definitely recommend more than 2 days here.
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