Key West on the 4th of July

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

This 4th of July my staycation destination was Key West, FL. Yes, all the way to the end. What an adventure. If you have not visited Key West ever or in an eternity, then please read on for a brief review.

The last time I visited the Keys was in 2005 for my job and it was all work and no play. I had never visited the famous Duvall Street and the row of restaurants and bars. My first impression upon our arrival was a quirky combination of Southern [Louisiana] charm with the sound of South American countryside and European inner city buzz. Why? First, in the neighborhoods before Duvall Street, are old, colonial style white houses with picket fences, high ceilings, and wide porches. Next were hens and roosters freely bobbing, cock-a-doodle-dooing and crossing the streets. Do people have these as pets?

Scooters. I was transported to Madrid, Paris, and Rome where many locals, professionals and students, drive mopeds or scooters. The mopeds outnumbered the cars. There was even a "Moped Hospital". The cost was approximately $35 for 24 hours or $25 from 8am-5pm.

Our hotel was the Palms Hotel on White Street-- a healthy ten block plus walk to Duvall Street. Warning: It was more like a shower. Walking in the middle of the hot blistering sun in Key West is like taking a hot steamy shower--you're dripping wet. I'm accustomed to it and prefer it to the freezing cold.

Fortunately, the location of our hotel was ideal for the fireworks. Walking out of the hotel, we headed east and ended right at the pier. Prepared with folding lawn chairs, we parked our seats right at the very edge of the pier where the jagged rocks served as our footrest. We had scored front row seats at 7:30pm with a kick off at 9:15pm. The fireworks were fabulous, lasting 35 minutes.

A word or two or three about our hotel. Our choice for the Palms Hotel was all about the pets. Unable to secure a petsitter in time for the holiday weekend for my three pets (I could never leave them caged up in a kennel), the children had to come which meant Mon Cherie (my ten pound Maltese) would soon snap out of her depression which set in once the luggage was pulled out of the closet. The Palms Hotel was the only pet-friendly hotel we could find. And the price was the same as other hotels which did not allow pets, about $120 a night. That's with Sr. Citizen discount vs. $150-thanks mom!

The hotel was charming on the outside as pictured on their website. All features met our expectations except the room which was the least delightful in decor compared to the pictures on the Internet. The rooms could use a cosmetic makeover and large screen flat panel TVs. A 19" regular TV was dwarfed in a 50" wide armoire. But all the rooms had double french doors, which meant low windows and Jean Pierre was in heaven with a real live action view during the day. He doesn't see much in a high-rise condo (I'm sitting right in front of our room with Mssr. Jean Pierre).

Many hotel guests also brought pets, usually two dogs. If I could take a picture of people's reaction when I bring out the pet stroller housing a cat or two and later sell the picture--hmm another idea to consider. In Miami it's common now to see dogs in pet strollers at the mall, at the park, in the airport. I received many a funny-faced glance and one sarcastic query "Are you from Boca?" asked one passerby. As in Boca Raton, FL where the perception is similar to that of Beverly Hills where the rich have nothing better to do with their money than dress up their pet dogs and treat them like small humans. Maybe so. What's the saying "Dogs think they're humans, Cats think they're God". So true!!

"No" I would respond. "we're about family not vanity--the stroller is for the cats". Young girls squealed with delight to see the white dog and white cat (Pepe Francois). All little girls love little white dogs--it's a magnet. Speaking of magnets. At the dog couture store, my mother almost purchased a shirt for Mon Cherie "My owner is Single". Well mom, my birthday is coming up.

The continental breakfast was a fabulous buffet. Orange juice, cranberry juice, assorted muffins and danishes, muffins, bagels, hard-boiled eggs, fresh cut fruit and coffee. Bikes were also available for guests at no cost and a wise choice to get around Key West on a budget. Overall we would rate the hotel 4 out of 5 stars.

The following day we toured the town on foot for our daily sauna and shower. We visited the Hemingway House famous for its 6-toes cats (polydactyl-which means extra toes). Yes, 6 toes. Mr. Ernest Hemingway, in all his brilliance, left his estate to his cats, not his wife. Today there are 51 cats. Half of them have the 6 toes. I witnessed a couple of kittens ambling across the porch with the 6 toes. A funny sight, their paws looked larger than their face. A kitten with lions paws. Tour guides will walk through the house with entertaining history. At this attraction, you can even bring your dog--as long as you carry him/her! So Mon Cherie was delighted to see more "friendly" cats. They, of course, ran away when she was within doggy arm's length. On the tour we actually met Spencer Tracy and Audrey Hepburn. Oh I wish I could have brought my boys (who were no doubt napping at the hotel). You know I never did ask if I could have brought my cats. Jean Pierre would have loved to mate with Audrey Hepburn (as pictured below) who was lady-like and full of spirit--just like her namesake. Call me crazy --these are my children and what mother does not want the very best for her children.

Next, we were on a quest for Key West's best Key Lime Pie. Countless restaurants touted they had the best homemade Key Lime Pie. The summer heat hampered our willingness to sample several slices of pie. A consistent recommendation was the Blond Giraffe that garnered the most accolades and awards for the best Key Lime pie. The trick to preparing Key Lime pie is the balance between sour and sweet. Also the crust must have the soft crunch to balance the creamy filling. The Blond Giraffe sells the pies, by the slice, whole pie or on a stick. We purchased a slice for $5. As a native Floridian who grew up with Key Lime pie, I would rate the pie 4 out of 5 stars--a little on the sweet side.

That evening, we walked along Duvall Street for dinner destination. Seafood, Mexican, Japanese, all-American... We settled on Mexican food at the Old Mexican Cafe. Hungry for seafood with a taste of the tropics, my entree was a grouper with a mango glaze sauce. The menu description was more appetizing than the actual plate. The taste was flat and the fish was not fresh. Mom ordered chicken quesadillas which were a hit. I recommend the Old Mexican Cafe for appetizer, quesadillas, cold beer or a margarita, as a predinner meal. The sangria also tasted of carton. Shame on me for not doing as the Romans do in Rome.

After sundown, the evenings were less humid, breezy and skin comfortable. We took the cats for a walk in the stroller to walk off the fake seafood and sangria. I should have had a Margarita!

Next day we headed back to Miami. Warning: the drive was approximately 4.5 hours each way versus 3.5 hours. Friends recommended leaving at 6am to avoid the heavy traffic. Islamorada to Leyton is several keys or islands long, and restricted to a one-way lane each way. Have patience, gas up the car, bring lots of drinks and snacks for the ride and enjoy the scenery.

Many visitors come to Key West for pure relaxation which normally consists of pure drinking and dining. Not an excessive alcohol connoisseur, I tend to explore destinations more like Samantha Brown from the Travel Channel--checking out the tourist spots and then explore the off-beaten path, the local neighborhoods... In this case, the exception was bringing my pets. Now that would make a great segment on the Travel Channel!

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  1. Great comments on a Key West trip -- we'll take your advice when we're there this weekend!


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