Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Writers, Artists, Beaches! The Florida Keys

Ahhhh, the Keys!!! The Florida Keys!!!  As soon as we set out from Homestead to begin our drive through the keys, I set my Pandora to The Beach Boys and filled the rental car with classic, tropical tunes for the next couple hours!  We sipped on ice cold coconuts and munched on fresh strawberries and mixed nuts to keep the hunger away!  

Our first stop was for lunch and jet skiing in Key Largo at the amazing Jimmy Johnson's Big Chill at Fishermans Cove, WOWZA, you're not going to wanna pass this place by!!!!!! :0  The view is as amazing as the food!  Do try the Fish Tacos, they're perfection in the hot sun with a glass of chilled white wine and plenty of water:)  Definitely sit water side on the deck and watch as jet skiers and boaters wave to you from the water:)  If you get too hot after lunch, take a dip, next to the full outdoor bar is a beautiful swimming pool, and if you're more adventurous, take out a jet ski or hop on a snorkeling tour boat for the rest of the afternoon!!!!  I'm telling you, this place had it all and then some:)

Needless to say, lunch was awesome, but we craved more from the Keys!  Next Stop, Key West!!!!

As we entered Key West, goosebumps formed on my arms and legs!  I was so excited!  We headed straight for Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, the best beach in Key West!  Although a bit rocky, Fort Zachary Beach has bathrooms, a food bar, and a water activities center, everything you want in a beach:)

With the sun still high in the sky and the temperatures rising, I took to the water:)  I must have walked the full length of the beach and even jumped a few waves, it was the perfect entry into Key West!!!

After we hit the bathrooms for a much needed salt water rinse, we got dressed and hit the town!  Parking is a problem, there aren't very many spaces, but after a few loops around the streets we got lucky and found a parallel spot right in front of the  Court House!  We only had to walk a few blocks and then we hit our next destination.  Next Stop- The Ernest Hemingway House and Museum:)

Built by a Sea Captain in 1851 in the Spanish Colonial Style, the Hemingway home stands tall and brilliant along Whitehead Street in Key West, Florida.  During a three week stay in Key West in April of 1928, awaiting the arrival of their Roadster Wedding Present, Ernest and Pauline Hemingway were introduced to this lovely home and saw well beyond the rubble and decided to purchase it and begin restoration work to make it their own! 

Ernest and Pauline admired 17th and 18th century Spanish Furniture and filled their Key West home with many interesting pieces, including an antique gate they bought to use as a headboard, an antique birthing chair sat at the foot of their bed and their beautiful dining set. They also were great admirers of art and collected paintings and other curiosities.  Pauline fell in love with European glass chandeliers and introduced one to light each room in the house, they're spectacular!!!   

A hunter and avid fisher, Ernest took to the wild to find peace and ultimate joy in life.  The home was filled with sport fishing and big game hunting photographs, they're incredible! 

And if you're looking for views, look no further than the backyard!  Just outside the bedroom on the wrap around balcony, you are greeted with the greenest of palms and other flowering trees!  

As you walk around the upper balcony, stop at the front and look down, you'll see another kept symbol from the Sea Captain, a flower bed in the shape of a boat!  Too cute!!!

As you make your way down the steps and back around to the lower deck of the home, you'll come upon a pathway that leads to two places, Ernest's writing cottage and the pool that shocked not only Ernest Hemingway but the whole town!  The first private home pool in Key West and within a 100 miles!!!

During Ernest's year away from 1937-38 to travel as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, Pauline finally decided to build herself the pool she always wanted, and what better time to do it than when her husband was off with another woman "covering the stories of war", among other things!  The pool cost $20,000 and was seen as an architectural feat, since diggers had to dig through solid coral an area 24x60 feet and 5-10 feet deep!  When Ernest returned and Pauline introduced him to the new pool, Ernest was outraged and threw a penny from his pocket down at Pauline's feet, screaming, "Here Pauline, why don't you take my last red cent!"  The penny can still be seen in the concrete patio!!! 

The writing cottage is where Ernest could leave the world behind and write!  He did some of his best writing here at this very place!  When you ascend the narrow iron staircase and enter the cottage you almost feel like a bird, high in a tree.  It's very quiet up there and feels calm and serene:)  It's also dressed with big game pieces, artwork and interesting furniture, things Ernest collected and brought back with him from his travels! 

So I'm sure you've noticed the many cats in the pictures and paintings above, well there's a story behind them:)  Ernest befriended a Sea Captain in Key West who had a 6-toed tom cat, he realized how much Ernest had taken a liking to the cat, and gave it to him before departing from Key West.  To this day 40-60 cats remain on the property and are well taken care of, they all carry the gene of the 6 toes, but only about half actually have 6 toes on their front two feet!!!  They're very friendly, so don't be shy, be sure to pet and cuddle them:) 

Everything is very close in Key West, we decided to go for a walk and check out some shops after our Hemingway tour and oh the places you'll see!  There are some fantastic boutiques, within a few blocks!!!  The Petronia Island Store was my first shop, filled with art and many other handmade objects like leather totes and bags, soaps, jewelry, baby clothes and home decor! 

Besame Mucho was recommended to me by a friend and ohhhh what a beautiful shop!!!  Handmade clothing, jewelry, soaps, lotions, and beautiful items with vintage flair stocked the shelves.  It was a truly romantic embrace of a store!!!

Blue Heaven was also recommended and sadly, we were far too hungry to wait for them to start seating, so we moved on to something else.  But I hear it's a fabulous place to dine and it had a great atmosphere!

So we took back to the streets and kept walking.  As if the Hemingway Home and the shops weren't enough art, you can find art in the nature and houses that line every street.  Everywhere you look there's island color and chickens crossing the street:)

We decided to make it down to The Southern Most Point and grab a pic after standing in a short line!  Apparently it's the place to be just before sunset, and since we were starving at that point, we waited our turn, snapped our pic and got on the serious hunt for food!!!!

Luckily Duval Street was just a couple of blocks away, and the walk over to food mecca was short, sweet and pretty!!!

Among the many options, we stumbled upon the greatest place, Blackfin Bistro.  The menu looked delicious, it wasn't going to break the bank and it's one of those gems that is so unassuming!!!  At first we were bummed that there was no outside the front!!!!  Yeah, we decided on it, got welcomed in and then surprisingly, the hostess headed straight to the back of the restaurant, where a lovely outdoor patio awaited, lit with candles, covered in high palm trees.  This place was absolutely delightful!!!!  Do try the shrimp pasta in white wine with a glass of white wine!!!!

What better way to walk off your dinner than a walk down Duval Street!!!  There's ice cream shops, bars, restaurants, art galleries and delicious boutiques!!!!  You could easily entertain yourself well into the wee morning hours, but sadly, our clock was running out and we had to make it back to Miami that night, so we hung out until a bit after 7pm and then made the 3 1/2 hour journey back to our hotel!  I highly recommend staying at an Inn here, I was sad to have only had hours in Key West!!!  We'll definitely be back:)

Our last stop in Key West on the way back to the car, Mile Marker 0!!!  No where to go but up;)

And before you leave the Key's all together, make one final stop back in Key Largo at Mr.C's Ice cream, it's pretty awesome and gave us a little sugar kick for the rest of our long drive;)  The Peanut Butter cup is amazing and a small size will feed two health conscious adults!

Enjoy your trip to the Keys:)  There's no better way to getaway without going too far from home!

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