Another travel goal for me has been to drive the Overseas Highway in Florida from end-to-end. Now that we're at the northern end in Key Largo, it's time to take a day to drive the 100 miles or so to the southern end in Key West.
While I had pictured miles and miles of driving over open water between little islets over a vast bridge built across an ocean, in reality, most of the time is spent on solid ground with little bridges connecting the islands in the stream.
It's only when you get to Seven Mile Bridge (exactly as the name implies), between Marathon and Big Pine Keys, where that vision of driving over the ocean meets with reality but the other ninety or so miles is not like that at all. Off to the side, we can see the original railroad bridge that has since fell to ruin.
There is little in the way of traffic congestion today and the GPS takes us straight to the monument marking the southernmost point in the continental United States. I only wish it could point us to an open parking spot.
After letting my wife out to take pictures (there's a block-long line of people wanting to take portraits with it, that's why none of ours are close up), Tim and I drive around the block and pick her back up when we return.
We do manage to find a spot, a handicapped spot at that, along the curb on Whitehead Street which runs parallel to the most famous street...Duval Street...but one block south.
Skipping breakfast at the Hampton Inn, I notice a nice looking place near the corner. On one side is the Six Toed Cat, a nifty little cafe with ramped access through the back. The name comes from the edifice on the other side of the corner, the Hemingway House and Museum, which is known for the colony of six toed cats that live there.
The food is delicious and the coffee strong. My wife digs through her fish Benedict while I have the All American bacon and eggs breakfast. I share my bacon with Tim in exchange for a few bites from his pancakes.
It is a very good way to start our day in Key West and, considering where we are, a very reasonable priced one at that.
The owner is very friendly and easy to talk to. This comes in handy. The one thing I wanted to do while here in Key West is to try an authentic daiquiri. I have a real hard time finding a bartender...including in the Caribbean...who can make one. This was Hemmingway's drink and this is Hemmingway's town, I'm sure someone here can do it right.
I ask the owner where I can find an authentic daiquiri. "Avoid Sloppy Joe's and all the tourist bars on Duval Street. They all make it from mix," he tells me. "Go two corners down, turn left, and go a block. Look for the Blue Heaven Bar. They make a very good and very authentic daiquiri from scratch using only the top ingredients."
I thank him and we wander off to the Blue Heaven.
A lushly overgrown walkway invites us to the open patio in back where we grab a table by the bar.
Three daiquiris are made from scratch and, yes, they are heavenly. Attitudes properly adjusted, we head a couple of blocks north and head down Duval Street.
Duval is the touristy heart of Key West, running from the Atlantic Ocean in the east a little more than a mile to the Gulf of Mexico in the west.
It's like a permanent Spring Break here, lined with bars, restaurants, liquor and drug stores, and souvenir shops of dubious quality.
Live music pours from the clubs. Loud, free spirits line the sidewalks. It's the last place you'd expect to find a quiet respite but yet, we do.
We almost walked right by it. We weren't looking for it but the sign promising the Oldest House in Key West and 'Free Admission' drew us in.
Built in 1829, and home of the Watlington Family, it was moved to it's current spot at 322 Duval Street in 1836.
Bahamian shipwrights built the house so well and so flexible, it has sustained no hurricane damage over the years. That's a big factor in how it ended up being the island's oldest house.
A docent takes us on the ground floor rooms (ramped and wheelchair accessible).
Afterward, we take a few minutes to meditate in the back yard gardens.
Outside, we continue onward to the west end of Duval Street where we meet a tour guide trying to wrangle her dispersed clients into an oceanside happy hour.
We wander back to where we started where a salesman at the Mel Fisher gallery lets me hold a coin recovered from the wreck of the Atocha, a 600 year old Spanish ship laden with treasure that Mr. Fisher found and recovered hundreds of millions of dollars in treasure.
The piece I hold in my hand is priced well north of $25,000.
Before we call it a day here in the Conch Republic, we take one more quite break in St. Paul's Church, listening to the organist practice and taking in the spectacular stained glass windows.
One more stop commiserating with the owner of a nearby ice cream shop over cold treats before we head back over the ocean to our hotel in Key Largo.
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved
Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved