Pambling Roads~~Key West

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Meeting the Americans

 

Pambling Roads~~Key West

by Pam Ackerson

 

Our dream to travel now that my husband has retired is on its first leg. Goal -- Key West.

 

Normally we take the back roads when we travel, wanting to see “America”, wanting to meet the “Americans. We do not want to see a continuous line of highways with endless trees and concrete. (Depending on where you are traveling) However, rare for us, the trip to Key West was mostly highway.

 

Travel miles for me is about 4 to 5 hours, anything more than that and my brain just doesn’t work properly, my body starts to ache, and I am utterly useless. (And cranky as my husband is saying to himself as he reads this) Our layovers tend to be more relaxing and neither one of us have overextended ourselves, nor do we end up with travel pains.

 

Living on the Central Florida Coast our first stop was in the Homestead/Miami area. It was such a relaxing trip until we arrived in the Miami area. **Fair warning to anyone who is not a Florida resident or does not have a SunPass! You will be fined and/or pulled over by police for traveling on the toll roads in the Miami area. They have a no cash accepted/allowed toll system. So if you somehow manage to end up on a toll road you are SOL. Miami toll highway systems are NOT tourist friendly. Their signage is just as horrendous as their un-kept roads.

 

We stayed at the Cutler Ridge LaQuinta Inn on Caribbean Blvd (a blink from US 1) in Homestead. The hotel was comfortable and the employees were commendable. The hotel was clean and fresh. If we were ever to return to the area, we would stay there again. Their continental breakfast is awesome, one of the best we have had. Although we did not bring a pet, pets are welcome at this branch.

 

Dinner was a “we’re exhausted and hungry” event and Denny’s was chosen. As we were pulling into the parking lot, a vehicle raced around us, cutting us off when he pulled in front of us to get into the parking lot. Of course, my husband had to slam on his brakes. We were not happy. As we pulled into a parking spot, the gentleman who cut us off raced into the Denny’s. It was the manager. I do not think it even fazed him. We almost left because of it.

 

I must tell you that it has been countless years since I have eaten at a Denny’s Restaurant and the last time was at 3:00 AM. I am already picky when it comes to restaurants, considering that I worked in the restaurant business for almost 20 years and, having specific expectations, I know what they are and are not supposed to be doing. (One of them is not being obnoxious and rude by cutting off the customers as they enter the parking lot) It was slow when we arrived. One young couple (in their teens) was quietly conversing, another table with two ladies (middle aged) who were not so quiet. We learned, without wanting to, that her car had a problem and they could have “died” if it happened on US 1 but it’s okay because it happened in the parking lot … She was quite outspoken and would not get off her cell phone. She would tell her story, call someone else and tell her story—repeatedly and very loudly, throughout our whole meal, and theirs.

 

The service as this Denny’s was superb. Nelson was a charmer, did his job exceptionally well, got everything right, the food was prepared as asked and, we didn’t have to wait for anything. Kudos to the cook and server! We were exhausted and cranky and we left the Denny’s happy and satisfied.

 

On the road again:

A few miles down the road on South Dixie Hwy (US 1), and the only reason why we stopped so close to Miami, was the Coral Castle Museum. Coral Castle is in Homestead, FL. Yes, the Homestead, FL where Hurricane Andrew made landfall and devastated the area twenty years ago.

 

   

 

Originally called Rock Gate Park, Coral Castle is a replica of an extravagant home (without a roof) made of coral. The tour guide was friendly and was able to answer all of our questions. Ed Leedskalnin, who weighed 100 lbs and stood 5 feet tall, built this castle himself with simple tools, many of them homemade. What makes this so unusual is how he did it. Coral is heavy, about 125 pounds per cubic foot. Mr. Leedskalnin moved over 1100 tons of coral and no one knows/witnessed how he did it.

 

  

 

A few keynotes:

The 9-ton gate that until recently (they need to get it repaired) you could move with one hand. It was balanced so perfectly that a child could move it.

The Obelisk weighs over 28 tons and is larger than any of the stones at Stonehenge.

The Florida table is a 20-foot table carved in the shape of Florida surrounded by 10 chairs.

The Cooker has a pit, a pipe for a down draft, a vent in the roof for smoke and the cooking pot is made of the rear housing of an old Ford.

 

Their Gift shop is a treasure. We picked up a few things and of course, a book. Coral Castle: The Mystery of Ed Leedskalnin and his American Stonehenge by Rusty McClure and Jack Heffron, an interesting read if you love to read about unusual true stories.

 

Onward to Key West:

 

Cameras cannot do it justice. Beautiful, breathtaking, crystal-clear waters started the moment we were able to see the ocean and Gulf. It was a living postcard.

 

  

 

I would suggest (if your hotel does not have a concierge) is to stop by the Key West Visitor Center.  You will receive coupons and multiple savings for the trip, a huge selection of activities, and a schedule of events. We always stop by the visitor centers when we travel even if the hotel has a concierge.

 

    

 

One of the first things we did was to purchase tour tickets for the Old Town Trolley. We used their service for the sightseeing tour in Washington, DC and were quite happy to use their services again. We stayed at the Days Inn which had a shuttle service making our stay that much more pleasant. (We stayed there 5 days) We did not have to drive anywhere unless we wanted to. Between the trolley and the shuttle, we had the island covered. Good thing, too, because the streets were horrible. I was joking with my husband and said that the reason the streets are full of potholes is because they spent all those millions of dollars trucking in sand for the beaches instead of keeping up the roadways. (We were told that resurfacing of the roads was on the city’s agenda)

 

The Trolley Tour had a special where the second day was free. They also offer military and senior discounts, and kids 12 and under were free. The tour guides provide historical and local, entertaining tidbits. There are other tour trains available.

 

As I mentioned earlier, we stayed at the Days Inn on North Roosevelt Blvd. Considering that we were on a main road it was a quiet stay. The employees were pleasant and the service was quick and professional. The rooms were clean and the grounds kept with the feel of island life. The pool area was well used, but we could tell that someone was constantly keeping up with it. Days Inn does add an extra fee to the room for the shuttle services. (With no opt-out) However, as I mentioned before, it was worth it to use their shuttle services. No fighting the traffic, getting lost, paying for parking, looking for parking…you get it.

 

Restaurants that we recommend:

 

Dinner the first night and breakfast thereafter was at the Waffle House, right there on the same property. I cannot say enough good things about the food or service, everything was absolutely wonderful. The food came out fast, the service was right-on and considering that the place was packed, every day, it did not take any longer than it would have if they had been slow.

 

Red Fish Blue Fish was on the menu one night for dinner and we are glad we decided to eat there. Ironically, the waiter was a transplant from Orlando. He was pleasant and we received good solid service. He was one of those un-intrusive servers who quietly replaced our iced teas when they were empty without us even realizing he had done it. When we arrived it had not been that busy, however, it was packed with a waiting list as we were leaving. As the server got busier, the quality of the service did not change. Not an easy thing, be an un-intrusive server and give the best service in a packed restaurant.  

 

In Kahoots is a restaurant and bar near the Days Inn hotel and associated with the Lexington Hotel. We were a bit surprised to see how slow it was so we had sat down, wondering if we were making a mistake. No mistake, someone just hasn’t spread the word that the place is a great place to eat.

It’s a great place to eat!

Our meal was awesome and the server was pleasant. The food came out quickly and she was right on top of it, making sure we had everything we wanted.

 

We did go to the In Kahoots bar, twice, at the end of our long tour days. It was a friendly, everybody-knows-your-name type bar. Even though most of the patrons were visiting Key West, you walked in to an open, welcoming atmosphere. It was because of that atmosphere that we returned the second time. I have to give credit to the bartender, Todd. He was a pleasure. I am sure that at times, as a bartender, he has to deal with some pretty obnoxious people, but it did not seem to affect his personality or how he dealt with the patrons. He was funny, entertaining, and an excellent conversationalist.

 

The second night we tried Todd’s Key West Sunrise, a creation by Todd. It was delicious. After my second one, he had asked if I had wanted another one. My response, “no thank you, I have to walk.” He got a chuckle out of that. I imagine he usually gets “I have to drive”. We were having so much fun, we stayed a little longer than planned and I did end up having another one. He gave me the recipe. You will have to go there yourself, enjoy the Key West Sunrise and personally ask him for the recipe. (If I can get his permission, I’ll post it later)

 

Several people, locals and visitors, recommended Hurricane Hole. Unfortunately, we never made it there, but I am recommending it if you get the chance. If we get back to the Keys, we shall definitely try them.

 

There are well over 50 sites that you can visit on Key West and that does not include shopping, boat tours, fishing, or scuba/snorkeling, etc.

 

The Sites We Enjoyed:

 

Martello Fort and Museum

 

The fort and museum is filled with wonderful artifacts, stories, and antiques.

There is one story that was so macabre that I ended up purchasing a book about it. Undying Love by Ben Harrison tells of a true story about a man who was so obsessed and passionately in love with a woman that he preserved her body....

 

Then of course, you have Robert the Doll, great story behind that. Do not take a picture of Robert without permission. Seriously, some really strange stuff has happened to people who did not heed that warning. Robert the Doll has one unique story that can perk everyone’s interest.

There was only one glitch. The manager was just plain mean and snarky! It was upsetting and disheartening to hear her be so demeaning toward her employee.

 

The Customs House Museum:

 

Absolutely beautiful! Also known as the Key West Art and Historical Museum; it is a beautiful brick building that was recently renovated. Keep in mind that when it was built, bricks needed to be transported by ships to the Keys, an accomplishment in itself.

 

Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum (and Tower):

View from the Shipwreck Museum Tower

 

Fun and fascinating facts. Climbing the Tower was awesome. The museum is a living museum with actors, video, and artifacts from the wrecked vessel Isaac Allerton. The stories of how the wrecking industry helped the residents of Key West thrive. Do not miss the 65 foot high tower, not only is it beautiful but it is an excellent photo opportunity.

  

Harry S. Truman’s Little Whitehouse:

Originally built for the use of military headquarters, it became a winter escape for President Harry Truman and future presidents. To this day, it is still used as a retreat for dignitaries.

 

Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden:

Free to walk through, a lot to see. It is a beautiful Sculpture Garden honoring the men and women from Key West.

 

Oldest House Museum:

Very short tour but worth it. Built in the early 1800's, the tour of the house is free. It is not open every day so you need to check with them for days and time. The staff members were friendly and open to answering any questions. On the grounds, there is also a beautiful garden and the only surviving Cook House in South Florida. 

 

Ernest Hemingway Museum:

As an author and veracious reader, I was so excited to see this museum. Ernest Hemingway wrote there for many years. I wanted to hear everything I could about it. It was one of the museums that was at the top of our ToDo list. They took the whole ticket stub so we were not even able to write our comments about the tour for later reference or to send in our comments. The guide rushed through the tour. I could barely hear him. He didn’t wait for everyone to get into the rooms before he started speaking and since we were at the end of the group, we missed most of the information. The only thing I remember is something about 6-toed cats and a penny near the swimming pool that he threw at his wife. The tour was very disappointing.

 

Southernmost Point:

    

 

The concrete buoy marks the southernmost point of the US.  Definitely a must for a photo opportunity, go either early in the morning or around dinnertime like we did. (Less people in line)

 

0 Mile Marker:

The beginning of US 1. Many people asked where we were from. Our response, “Oh, just drive a few miles up US 1 turn right and there you are…” Perhaps in our travels, we will make it to the other end of US 1 way up north.

 

   

 

San Carlos Institute:

Loved it! It is in my opinion one of the most beautiful historic homes in the US. There is so much Cuban and American history involving this building. I am thrilled that it was saved from demolition and was restored to its finest glory. We couldn't absorb enough information about this fascinating museum/school/theatre. We spent almost an hour speaking with the volunteer (who is a 4th generation Conch), asking questions and just loving the history he was teaching us.

It is free to the public and survives on donations and the work of volunteers. If you were so inclined, they would appreciate your generous donation to help keep this important part of Key West history available to the public.

   

What We Missed on our ToDo List:

Audubon House, Flagler Station Museum, Kermit’s Key Lime Pie Shoppe, Lighthouse Museum, Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, Fort Jefferson Dry Tortugas National Park, and a boat tour out to the Coral Reefs

  

In our travels in Key West, we met a genuine 4th generation Conch, (pronounced Konk) local transplants, and had conversations with people from Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, Jamaica, Haiti, Ohio, Massachusetts, Illinois, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Missouri. What a great way to meet the Americans.

 

The German couple vacationed in all of Florida--their favorite spot --Cocoa Beach!

At one time, Key West was the richest city in the US.

It used to thrive on the Cigar industry.

People do nibble on sponge cake and go to Margaritaville there. (And eat Key Lime pie) Yes, Jimmy Buffett does have a home in Key West and a small recording studio.

When I left, I felt as if I did not need to go back. Now I think, it would be nice to see it all again. 

Red Fish Blue Fish has a facebook page but I couldn’t find their website.

 

From an e-mail correspondence-- We were misinformed about the tolls in Miami. Thank you!

*...there is a small error on the toll road in Miami. Sunpass is preferred, rental cars already have them and the rest of our visitors a photo of the license plate is taken and you usually get a bill in the mail a week or so later. I have never known the police to stop anyone unless they were speeding or drive unsafely, but not for toll violations.


Blog about Pambling Roads

 

Read Pam's article Hell's Guest

 

 



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