If we are in Florida – and especially if we’ve already been to Miami Beach and wandered around Miami – there’s a must, that we should also see. It’s the southernmost city of the United States, Key West.
Key West is a 4-hour, exciting and spectacular way from Miami. Most of the 260-km road consist of Overseas Highway, which is the only mainland connection between the islands of the archipelago. On the way there, we crossed the world famous Seven Mile Bridge, which for sure was seen by everyone in the scenes of American action movies. From the bridge that was transmitted in 1938, you can still see the old bridge that was damaged in the hurricane in 1935, and part of the old railway bridge those are not demolished yet; commemorating the over 400 people who died in one of the biggest storms of the United States’ history.
If you visit here in the summer, you should start early in the morning, before the heat. We’ve been there in January, and weather tricked us, as during 24 hours we could experience every weather condition from gusty wind and starry sunshine to splurge; but the temperature remained a pleasant 16-20 degrees all the way. Though it’s a bit lower than the usual on the island at this time of the year, did not make the place’s beauties seem smaller.
Key West was once inhabited by fishing Indian tribes, and later became the favorite island of pirates, who lured sailors from the Caribbean here, and robbed them during the night. Today’s cityscape was created in the 19th century, and it’s keeping the old pirate stories’ charming legend. Key West was an important military navy and air force base during World War II, and later during the Cold War, but today it serves mainly training purposes only, and functions as the coast-guards’ base. President Harry S. Truman was keen on Key West, he visited the island 3-4 times a year, where he used the building of the headquarters as his winter residence. That’s where the name of the building built in 1890 comes from; the Little White House.
Front street and its area is a must in Key West. Endless tranquility can be felt from the snow-white Victorian houses, creating a real American suburgatory ambiance. Most of the people living here are either veteran soldiers, or active parties of Sea Forces or Coast-guards.
If you walk back on the same road (don’t even try it next to the port, as you’ll run into a dead end), the red brick building of the local lore museum, the Key West Museum of Art & History marks the starting point of every important tourist route. Before roaming around the island, let’s go out to the port and admire the always turquoise water, which creates an authentic Caribbean ambience, no matter the weather.
The historic quarter of Key West lying on the western part of the island can be easily walked around on foot, but if you don’t have too much time, choose one of the sightseeing Trolley Tour company, who show Key West’s eye marks in a 90-minute tour for 25-30 dollars (in case of internet booking). It’s a bonus that we can get off the old-school panorama trolley several times to see for example Key West Aquarium, the lighthouse, or any museums and continue our trip by getting on any other trolleys.
We find the buoy named Southernmost Point on the corner of South Street and Whitehead Street, which is also the closest place to Cuba. There isn’t a moment or weather condition that could stop visitors from taking a photo with the Southernmost Point in the background. But no one really knows that it’s not the most southern point they’re standing at. The island’s southernmost point is at a totally closed coastline of Key West Sea Forces Air Base, a few hundred meters from the buoy. And the southernmost point of continental America is even further, at a privately-owned island, Ballast Key, 15 kilometers away from Key West. Anyhow, Southernmost Point’s buoy remains the most well-known and most photographed sight of the island.
The most visited museum of Key West is the literary Nobel prize winner Ernest Hemingway’s house, where he lived and worked between 1931 and 1939. This time he was busy with mainly novels and his prosaic works. The house was built in 1851 in Spanish Colonial style, and was the first on the island in many aspects, like it was the first to have water system within, and an upper-story bathroom. But there’s also a big pool in the garden – which was unique in a 200-mile area at the end of the 1930’s –, the construction of it was controlled by Hemingway’s wife, Pauline, while her husband was volunteering in the Spanish civil war. Hemingway nearly fainted on his arrival home, when it turned out that the costs of the pool were over 20.000 dollars.
Those who buy the 13-dollar entrance fee has the chance to see the house equipped with precious relics; type-writers, manuscripts, and contemporary photos, and even Hemingway’s living room, bedroom, kitchen and the master’s furnished study on a separate building’s upper story. And, of course, there are cats roaming all around, as Hemingway was keen on cats, so the museum holds and takes care of 40-50 cats, just like the author did.
In case you are hungry, you can choose from an unlimited number of restaurants specialized on seafood, or worship the Cuban cuisine, but you can have an excellent American hamburger anywhere if you don’t want any surprise. For sweet-lovers Key West’s national Key Lime Pie is a must, but it’s worth a try anyway; it’s a cooling and light dessert with eggs, butter, minced Graham cookies, condensed milk with sugar and lime. It’s amazing!
Let’s take a look at the charts marking the beginning and the end of U.S. Route 1 highway at the corner of Whitehead and Fleming street. The route liked by motorcyclists start at Fort Kent, Maine, not far from the Canadian border and continues 3818 kilometers through the Eastern chore of the States until Key West. If we see a house marked by a star on the way we can be sure that it’s older than 100 years, and the owner assumed the authentical protection and maintenance of the house in exchange for a certificate.
If you prefer shopping or eating instead of sights, let’s head to Duval Street, Key West’s famous shopping street which is full of shops, art galleries and of course restaurants and clubs, for example the famous Sloppy Joe’s Bar. We could even spend a whole day on the 8 km long main street, but if sunset is close, it’s better to move north on Duval Street to Mallory Square, where there’s a sunset celebration every evening, as the views to sunset is the best from this part of the city.
It’s not easy to find accommodation in Key West, as we can not only choose from very few opportunities, but they’re kind of expensive too. However, we advise to spend at least one night here, as the sunset itself is worth staying here until darkness, and then comes the ambience of the downtown restaurants, where you need to book in advance, especially in the high season.
Choose a part of one of the bigger available resort-chains, for example the new, 3-star Fairfield Inn & Suites, which looks a typical American roadside motel from the outside, but provides services high above 3-star level. Rooms are furbished nicely and with taste, they’re roomy and neat. And the room’s price containing the pitch-in breakfast is not even a surprise in America. We advise it to everyone.
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