Spring Break – Key West

Key West - SunsetBy Judy Berman

Salty ocean spray flew up as our glass-bottom boat sped toward its destination – a coral reef in Key Largo.

Just the island’s name conjures celluloid images of Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and tough guy Edward G. Robinson in the 1948 movie, “Key Largo.” They run thru my mind like reels at an old movie theater as we pull away from Key Largo’s shores.

The opening scenes of the movie were shot here.

A relic from another Bogart film, “The African Queen,” also can be found here. That boat was used in the 1951 film that stars Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. That boat was restored in 2012 to serve as a tourist boat, several years after our visit.

After we had a hearty breakfast nearby, we boarded the boat for a tour of a coral reef. Not recommended. The hearty breakfast and boat ride combo, that is. Top side, I felt much better.

After lunch, we headed to Key West. This is a nine-hour drive from our home, but getting here – well worth the view.

Seven Mile Bridge to Key West

The Seven-Mile Bridge, one of the longest in the world, offers breathtaking views along stretches of turquoise water. Clear, striking shades of blue from the ocean on our left, and the Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico on our right.

Our hotel, the Almond Tree Inn, was conveniently located near the corner of the renowned and infamous Duval Street in Old Town Key West. We headed down to Mallory Square to see the sunsets.

On our way, a drunk staggered out of a bar exposing his shortcomings for all to see. Yes, this was our first exposure to the “wild life” there – and it was still early in the day.

Key West - Golden Man

A huge crowd gathered at the edge of the southernmost city in the continental U.S. to see the sun set. Street performers – jugglers who tossed flaming torches in the air, acrobats dancing along a high wire, and a dog jumping thru a hoop – were on hand before and after that magic moment.

The Key’s most famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, lived here with his wife Pauline from 1931 until the end of their marriage in 1940. He wrote several of his most celebrated books at his pool house office out back of his historic home at 907 Whitehead St.

Our guide, Joe, told us that, when Pauline remodeled the home, she replaced the ceiling fans with ornate chandeliers.

“During the summer, we think about her EVERY DAY,” he drawled for emphasis. Floor fans cooled the room this March day of our visit several years ago.

Outside, Joe showed us a pool that Pauline had installed for $20,000 during the Great Depression. When Hemingway returned from an overseas venture, he took a penny from his pocket and told Pauline she might as well take his “last red cent.”

Pauline did. She had it set in the cement next to the pool.

Ernest Hemingway House - cat on bed

There were 49 cats living on the property. Many have six toes and are descendants of “Papa” Hemingway’s six-toed cats.

One of “Papa” Hemingway’s favorite hangouts was Blue Heaven at 729   Thomas Street. While we ate lunch there, roosters, chickens, chicks and cats wandered around the open-air restaurant.

Key West - free roaming chicken family

There’s a photo of him there when it had a boxing ring. At various times, the place was “a bordello, a pool hall, a railroad water tower, a cockfighting arena, a boxing ring and ice-cream parlor.” And, now, a popular restaurant.

If you wander over to the Southernmost Point (of the continental U.S., at the corner of Whitehead and South streets), Cuba is about 90 miles away.

On a clear day, you might see it from your back porch. (chuckle)

A man, wearing an orange-and-white “Mile Marker O” offered to take our photo. Recalling the scene from the comedy, “European Vacation,” where the photo taker took off with the tourists’ camera, we waited to see how he handled the family ahead of us.

Like Blanche Dubois in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” we often have to depend on the kindness of strangers.

And, many, thankfully, are very accommodating.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Music video – Key West  – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Du4gR-_kLEs – 2012 Trop Rock Music Asociation Songwriter of the Year Nominee, Steve Tolliver, sings Key West Is The Best from his CD “Back To The Islands”.

Main Photo – Key West – sunset – taken May 30, 2011, by Serge Melki, Indianapolis. Link to http://www.byways.org/ Copyright http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/7f/Key_West_-_Sunset_%285845637488%29.jpg/640px-Key_West_-_Sunset_%285845637488%29.jpg

Photo – Seven Mile Bridge – to Key West – Seeming to converge in the distance, the Seven-mile Bridge on the Florida Keys Scenic Highway west of Marathon, FL, runs parallel to the historic Flagler railroad bridge of the early 1900s with the Atlantic Ocean to the South and the Gulf of Mexico to the North. Taken March 20, 2003 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/2d/Looooooong_bridge.jpg/640px-Looooooong_bridge.jpg

Key West – Golden Man – taken Feb. 1, 2008 by CederBendDrive, USA  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/03/Key_West_2008_%282337699559%29.jpg/640px-Key_West_2008_%282337699559%29.jpg

Photo – Ernest Hemingway House – cat on bed – taken March 16, 2013 by Abujoy http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/31/ErnestHemingwayHouse005.JPG/640px-ErnestHemingwayHouse005.JPG

Photo – Key West – free roaming chicken family – Taken Feb. 12, 2007 by Averette at en.wikipedia http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/0a/Chickenfamily.jpg/640px-Chickenfamily.jpg

Music video – “Blue Heaven Rendezvous” (1995) by Jimmy Buffet. The Blue Heaven restaurant inspired this song.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrLvg2lykLI

    1. Kate … You captured the mood perfectly. It was a bad morning aboard the boat. Key West was cool. I loved the chickens and roosters that just walked around without a care. The cats at Hemingway’s house had it made. But the locals have not always been happy about that situation. 😉

      1. True. When we were there which was in the early 2000s there was a movement on to “free the chickens.” I think the town was thinking of banning free range chickens much to the protest of some locals. I think I bought a “free the chickens” tee-shirt.

        note from earthrider to Kate Crimmins:
        It’s hard to imagine Key West without the free-range chickens and free-roaming six-toed cats. They are Key West, along with all the characters you meet along the way. 😉

  1. One of my favorite moments in life was the first time I experienced the sunset at Mallory Square and the hundreds of people gathered for nature’s glorious daily spectacle applauded the second the red globe disappeared behind the blue horizon. Chills.

    I love Key West in all of its oddity.

    And, Judy, how long is the Seven-Mile Bridge?

    Sorry, a little Syracuse humor for you.

    Great post, my friend.

    1. Mark … The hype about the bridge is stretched just a wee bit. In the interest of transparency, the Seven-Mile Bridge is not actually that long. “The total length of the new bridge is actually 35,862 ft (10,931 m) or 6.79 miles (10.93 km), and is shorter than the original.” (according to Wikipedia) 😉

      In my opinion, the sunsets in Syracuse are every bit as lovely … and sometimes even better … than the ones we saw in Key West. I have photos to prove it. 😉

      Thanks for the chuckle and the comments.

      1. Unfortunately, I have yet to be in a public place in Syracuse where everybody spontaneously applauded the sunset. Perhaps someplace this summer I will try to start a new ‘Cuse phenomena. Thanks for the short-changed bridge news, Judy!

        comment from earthrider to Mark Bialczak:
        Mark, I’d applaud your efforts to get that movement started. I always thought that no one appreciated spring more than Central New Yorkers because it’s so long in arriving. 😉

  2. Though a Floridian, I have never been to Key West. But I have read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast about his early years in Paris. Lots of drinking and writing going on as you already know. I love the details you note about wife Pauline . . . sounds like an oil and water match to me!

    1. I believe Hemingway’s favorite wife was Hadley, the one he lived with in Paris. I enjoyed that book. I’d agree, Marian, that Pauline and “Papa” Hemingway were a mismatch.

      If you get a chance, visit the Keys. There is so much to see and do there. Beautiful places. We had a great time.

  3. You take us along on such colorful, wonderful adventures, Judy. Always the good teacher, you also share wonderful, unexpected details, too. I loved the chickens and chicks picture, and I’m still laughing at the hearty breakfast.
    On the opposite coast, years ago as we were waiting for a boat ride on rough waters, a young girl came out to hang a sign on the hooks of the ticket booth: “If you ate a big breakfast or have a weak stomach, please ride with our competitors today”–and there was an arrow pointing the way to another boating group.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the journey. I’m disappointed because I can’t find the photos we took of this trip. Definitely a fun one.

      The boating staff in Key Largo would have been wise to post the same sign. I’ve been on a boat in Boston for a whale watch and never experienced the roughness of the waves or been seasick before. It was truly epic and embarrassing.

  4. Enjoyed your travelogue very much Judy. Great choice of photos to enhance your prose too. Makes me want to check fares to Key West 🙂 Someday…..

    1. I hope you get a chance to see Key West, Madhu. It is gorgeous and quirky. About the photos: mine are among the missing which is really disappointing. So I’m glad I found these on wikimedia.

  5. That turquoise ocean looks amazing Judy!! 😀 I’d love to get to see an ocean like that one day! A lot of our sea is a little grey to say the least, some areas are better than others, and also depends on the weather too.

    I can understand what you mean by a hearty breakfast combined with a boat ride – ugh, yes, makes my stomach feel a little queasy just thinking about it! 😐 Did you actually get to see the boat from the African Queen?

    I like the picture of that ‘gold man’ street performer! They are great fun those silent character performers. There’s one in the city where I live who performs as Charlie Chaplin, he’s amazing, and really draws a crowd sometimes. He can also stand perfectly still for ages, and then do a sudden move to get all the little kiddies screaming! 😀
    And I love the idea of a crowd gathering to see the sunset, that sounds wonderful. They must be some real impressive sun sets to draw an audience. Reminds me of the film City Of Angels where the angels would stand on the beach in groups and wish to feel the sea breeze on their skin!

    1. Suzy, I never saw turquoise water before. There were pockets of different shades of blue. Just mesmerizing.

      We did see the boat from the African Queen. This was in 2007 before they fixed it up to make it sea worthy.

      The street performers are amazing. I do love the ones who dance or are perfectly still and surprise you with sudden moves.

      I haven’t seen “City of Angels,” but your description is fascinating. While the sunsets in Key West are wonderful, I saw many incredible sunsets when we lived in Central New York – also here in Florida. Maybe it’s being at the end of the continent that’s so special. 😉

  6. This was a really interesting post. I’ve only once been atthe entrance of Key West but never saw what you described and showed through your photos.
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  7. A dream Spring Break my friend. From magical Sunsets, to endless enchanting waters, to a beautiful glimpse of Mr. Hemingway’s inspiring past. I hope one day I get to go there to. I sure will need you tips and advice if by fate my wish will come true. Have a blessed week and all the best.

    1. I hope that “one day” you get to go there real soon, Island Traveler. It is indeed inspirational and fun. I’d like to go back there myself. 😀 Blessings to you and your family.

  8. Well, I’ve just decided where we’re going to meet up. I’ve always wanted to see the Keys.

    Not sure when that will happen–traveling is not my best suit. But, I believe, I believe, I believe I will get there, someday.

    You’ve made me want to, even more.

  9. I adore the photo of that beautiful turquoise sea…simply enchanting! Travelling is time well spent, and so educational. Thank you for enlightening us! 🙂

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