I just returned from a fabulous trip to Key West, accompanied by my daughter. I feel so rejuvenated that I am certain Ponce de Leon experienced similar feelings when he referred to Florida as “The Fountain of Youth” over 500 years ago.
The city of Key West (on the island of the same name) is the southernmost city in the United States. Within its confines is the lowest end of the historic U.S. Route 1 which begins in Fort Kent, Maine and extends down through all of the eastern states in the U.S. The total area of the island is a mere 7.4 square miles, which is one reason that the most popular mode of transportation is the bicycle.
Southernmost Point of Continental USA - Pixabay
The Conch Republic
The Florida Keys are also called “The Conch Republic,” stemming from an episode in 1982 when U. S. Border Patrol officials set up a blockade on U.S. 1, stating that Keys residents were not U. S. citizens. The Key West mayor declared that the Florida Keys would therefore secede from the Union. The dispute was eventually resolved giving Keys residents dual citizenship to the United States and the Conch Republic.
The Conch is actually a snail with an attractive sea shell attached. Some citizens use the word “Conch” to refer to a person born in Key West. Restaurants are proud to serve conch fritters and conch chowder. We were able to sample the fritters at dinner one evening and found them to be delicious.
We are fortunate that my son lives and works in Key West and was able to be our tour guide throughout, giving us suggestions of where to go and what to do during our all-too-brief stay.
We stayed at a luxury resort at 1 Duval Street which lies on the Gulf of Mexico side of the island. The Atlantic Ocean is situated on the other side, the eastern side of the island. Duval Street is where much of the action takes place, since it houses many bars, restaurants, and boutiques which are magnets for the tourists who visit the island. The Hard Rock Café, Sloppy Joe’s Bar, the Conch Republic Seafood Company, Kelly’s Caribbean Bar and Grill (owned by actress Kelly McGillis) are examples of fun restaurants on and close to Duval Street.
One of the highlights of our trip was our 3 ½ hour Snorkeling adventure in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, which houses the only living coral barrier reef in North America. I did not snorkel but my son and daughter did. The crew provided instruction to the 60 participants prior to their entering the water. They were also equipped with the snorkel, mask, fins and an inflatable vest. Some participants experienced seasickness and joined me on deck while they tried to recover. The majority of snorkelers, however, seemed to enjoy the experience immensely.
The Trolley Tour
My son suggested that we take the Trolley Tour which allows passengers to get off at strategic spots and to catch the next trolley to continue on with the tour. It was a wonderful idea because it gave us a nice flavor of Key West as the driver related the history of significant structures that we viewed.
Ernest Hemingway’s House
Many passengers chose to disembark at Ernest Hemingway’s House on Whitehead Street in Old Town. Hemingway lived in Key West for over ten years and considered it his home. When he and his wife Pauline first arrived, they stayed in an apartment where he is known to have written his semi-autobiographical novel “A Farewell to Arms.” The house on Whitehead Street, though, is the setting in which he penned several additional works, including “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “Death in the Afternoon,” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”
Ernest Hemingway's House - Pixabay
Hemingway’s fishing pal was an islander named Joe Russell. He was the owner of Sloppy Joe’s Restaurant which Hemingway frequented when he was not writing. The original Sloppy Joe’s moved to a new location, but is distinguished by retaining the name “Original Sloppy Joe’s” which is a magnet for drawing visitors. The regulars at Sloppy Joe’s bonded to the point of giving each other nicknames, and Hemingway acquired the name “Papa” which most of his fans recognize.
Visitors to Hemingway’s House learn about the legend of the author’s cat “Snowball.” Snowball had six toes on each foot and his descendants -some say as many as 60 - reside at the house, with the majority of them having six or even seven toes on a foot. Those without extra toes can still produce kittens with extra toes. Hemingway enjoyed giving the names of famous people to his cats, all of whom respond to their name. Even today, you will meet Marilyn Monroe, Tom Cruise, or Frank Sinatra, and if you take a liking to any of these cats, the house officials will allow you to purchase it. Much of this information was relayed to us by the Trolley Tour Guide.
Tennessee Williams’ House
Tennessee Williams first visited Key West in 1941 and is known to have written “A Streetcar Named Desire” while staying at the La Concha Hotel in 1947. He took up permanent residence there in 1949 when he purchased a modest cottage on Duncan Street in New Town, where he mainly kept to himself. He regarded this as his primary home for 34 years until his death in 1983. He is the playwright of “The Glass Menagerie,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Summer and Smoke,” and “Night of the Iguana,” all of which he wrote in Key West. Williams has two Pulitzer Prizes, several Tony Awards, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his literary accomplishments.
The legacy of Tennessee Williams is memorialized in the Tennessee Williams Theater on the campus of the Florida Keys Community College. Also, the Tennessee Williams Free-Admission Exhibit was opened on Truman Avenue in 2013. The exhibit gives insight into the life of Williams when he was a resident of Key West.
The Winter White House
The winter White House of President Harry S. Truman, located in Old Town, served originally as the U.S. Naval Station commandant's house. It is now a state historic site & museum which gives guided tours to visiting tourists. Several other Presidents have stayed there, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton.
Nightly Sunset Celebration
A tradition in Key West is the nightly Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, which was within walking distance of our hotel. Hundreds of visitors congregate each evening shortly after eight o’clock to watch the sun as it slowly dips in the west. Loud applause greeted our ears when the sun completely disappears; this is an indication that party time has arrived, and all are eager to visit the nearby bars and restaurants.
Sunset at Mallory Square - Pixabay
Our experience was so positive that we plan to return to the island next year. My other daughter, upon hearing about our trip, plans to join us when we go again.
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