“This drive is a little long,” he said, as we passed the 7-mile bridge while driving down route ONE in the Florida Keys. “Next time, we should just fly directly into Key West.” We still had about an hour to go, and I partially agreed with him, but I was just too excited. I wasn’t used to seeing water so blue, people fishing off of sandy patches alongside the highway, and strange lanky sea birds flying overhead.
“Alligator Crossing,” wait, what? I picked up my GPS and realized that we were essentially driving through the Everglades. This was getting adventurous! I actually didn’t mind that we flew into Fort Lauderdale and were leisurly driving through the Keys since it was early on a Tuesday. If traffic was worse, though, I probably would be cursing that decision and throwing myself to the gators and sand sharks.
OH, and YES, there were sharks; lots of them. We came across two 4-5 ft sand sharks while snorkeling on our third day in the Keys. We took a sailboat out to a coral reef and spent some time immersing ourselves into what most people would call “imminent danger.” We were carelessly floating inches above GIANT sting rays and barracudas …and some pretty neon fish with pointy noses and blue lips.
This was a fun time, sailing on this boat. They gave us wine, lunch, and snacks and let us chill out on the most gorgeous sandbar I have ever witnessed. I could have stayed there all day, flopped over double pool noodles with chardonnay in my hand, but hey; there was more to see. We took kayaks into the Mangrove trees and learned about how they thrive in swamp-like conditions. It also smelled like farts.
The previous day, we took a ferry to Sunset Key to have dinner at a place called Latitudes. Let me just start off here by saying that the culinary scene in Key West did NOT dissappoint us. We had reservations for 6:45 in hopes to dine while the sun was setting. Not only did we have one of the best meals (Sea Scallops with red pepper remolade and truffled arugula, and Yellowtail Snapper with apple-pepper salsa and chive risotto) BUT we were able to stretch out our stay to watch the sun slowly dissapate into the ocean. Sunset Key is beautiful. There are beach cottages nestled along the island for people to stay in and vacation. I looked this up out of curiosity and immediately became depressed; the price range for this luxury is about $800-$1500 PER NIGHT.
Key West is DUVAL ST, with little tributaries (side streets) dispersing in both directions towards the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf. We were lucky enough to find an Inn that was quiet, but still close ENOUGH to the hustle and bustle of Duval to be able to walk places. It smelled like orchids, and oranges, and the staff was beyond helpful. Each evening we went to the Orchid Bar and had a complimentary drink and snacks with bartender Alex and other hotel guests. He would tell us stories about how he dressed up as Ernest Hemingway and participated in “running of the bulls” one year.
Actually, we learned on day #2, that the “Hemingway Days” Festival was taking place that weekend. Todd, being an English teacher and all, was completely STOKED and we decided to go and tour Hemingway’s home down there the next day. We started to notice, after finding this out, that there was an increased abundance of men that resembled Ernest Hemingway. They were at our motel and walking down the street. Initially, we thought we were losing our marbles. THEN, we found out that it was because of a look-a-like contest going on at Hemingway’s favorite bar called “Sloppy Joes.” What a coincidence. I was just glad that I didn’t need to book a stay at the loony bin.
The Hemingway House was such a neat plantation-type home hidden behind a bunch of palm trees and a 5-foot brick wall. We learned that there were FIFTY cats living there that are all decendents of Hemingway’s first cat, Snow White. They were just hanging out on the furniture and laying out in the shade near the pool. We heard stories of his four wives, his manic-depression, his most favorite boat (Pilar), and that he wrote some of his best and most influential works in that house. Kudos to a very interesting life, Ernest Hemingway.
On our last night we had reservations at a place called Santiago’s Bodega. They served their food “Tapas style,” and were well-known for their sangria. So…Sangria we drank! After ordering five different tapas to share (Petit rack of lamb (I didn’t eat that one,) Brussel Sprouts, proscuitto-wrapped figs stuffed with goat cheese, croquettas, and garlic shrimp) we were pleasantly full. I ate a proscuitto-wrapped fig, and I will admit, that it was one of the most food-gasmy things I have ever put into my mouth. Why don’t I ever cook anything with FIGS? I think that needs to change.
For dessert, we had croissant bread pudding with vanilla bean ice cream and bourbon caramel sauce. I can’t; I seriously can’t even talk about this without wanting to cry. So I am going to talk about the beach. We were told upon coming down here that many folks were dissappointed in the Keys because there wasn’t a white, sandy, expansive beach. This didn’t seem to bother us in the least bit. Maybe because we were enjoying so many other things that Key West had to offer, or maybe it is because we knew this beforehand, but, we did find a “beach.” It was a State Park called Fort Zachary Taylor. It reminded ME of a beach forest. What is a BEACH FOREST?! This:
We could still go swimming and lay on the beach and read. Granted, it was among pine needles and seaweed, BUT who made up this definition of the perfect beach anyways? This beach was awesome and different and fun and I would love to go back. The uniqueness of Key West has lured me in and has taught me more about the importance of appreciating things as they are and how diversity only ADDS to the gorgeousness of life. ❤