Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Key West - Then and Now


We came for the first time to the Keys in February some 3 or 4 years ago for a long weekend. My husband promised me great weather, great scenery, great days of exploration and relaxation and a picturesque drive to Key West as a grand finale.

The weather was fantastic especially after gloomy, cold, and snow covered Pennsylvania. The scenery was strikingly beautiful. After a long hike during the day we decided to reward ourselves with a dinner at the local restaurant at night. I was dispatched to find a really good one in the area. So I googled “Islamorada restaurants” and came with a restaurant famous for its sunset views and cocktails.

Disclaimer. Normally I don’t drink. I mean, I can have a glass of wine with dinner, usually when there is a special occasion or something. Yet, the picture of a sunset on a beach with a cocktail was really tempting. Plus the said restaurant was just across the road.

Google didn’t lie about the sunset view. I was an inexperienced Florida tourist then and didn’t know that you cannot really fail with a sunset at sea. They are always great. As well as sunrises.  All the time. Everywhere. Yet, the above-mentioned restaurant basically built its business around sunsets. There was a special observation ground where people could take pictures. Which they did. Non-stop till there was no hint of any sunlight above the horizon.

Food was not important and secondary to the natural wonder of sunset. When we got any food that is. And it took a while. While waiting for it I ordered a cocktail and my husband – a whiskey.  You cannot imagine our surprise when we got our orders. My cocktail was in a big jar (!!!), and my husband got something like half of a small bottle of Glenfiddich.  As I already mentioned, the food took a long time to come and when it did it was bad, scarce, and extremely overpriced. Since the sun has already set, we had no other entertainment besides a lively conversation than our drinks. And we drank, and drank, and drank from our bottomless containers. At the end of our dinner I couldn’t even stand up, not to mention walking straight. It was a real blessing that the hotel was so close to the restaurant. Otherwise, I cannot even think about how this evening could have ended.

Waking up next morning was the toughest thing that I ever accomplished. The hangover, the headache, the regrets… My husband was in a little better shape (conclusion – when in doubt, drink a natural product, not an unknown mixture).

- Come on, - he said. – Let’s go to Key West. You’ll feel better after the drive.

If you feel like dying it really doesn’t matter where you die – on a hotel couch or in a rented car. Fortunately, I didn’t die, just fell asleep. Didn’t see anything on our way to Key West – not the infinite bridges over the blue-green sea, not the blue sky without clouds, not palm trees, not little green quaint islands, nothing. I woke up in Key West in front of the restaurant entrance.

- Let’s eat, - my husband said. – You’ll feel better after lunch. He is a hopeless optimist.

I didn’t feel better after the drive, why was he so sure I’d feel better after lunch?

After the lunch we went to Ernest Hemingway house. It is a place where the famous writer used to live and it is a museum now. I was concentrating on putting one foott behind another so the pertinent question “Why we are going to this particular place?” was asked while we were standing in line to buy entrance tickets to the museum.

- You know, I don’t like Hemingway much, - I said to my husband.

- So what? I don’t like him either. – He replied. – Actually, I never read his books. What was he writing about?

It was our turn and we went inside of the building. I won’t bore you with details of our visit. I couldn’t even if I wanted – don’t remember much. Just the cat cemetery – I was really surprised to find so many cats (all with tombstones, names, and dates). Somehow, it contradicted my previous impression of Hemingway as a macho man. Cats don’t go with “macho” for me. I am old-fashioned like this.

And I promptly went back to sleep on our drive back to the hotel. So much for the grand finale.


This time we drove to Key West with our kids just before Christmas. Sober. We enjoyed the drive – bridges, palm trees, islands, birds, sea, and sky. We had a great lunch. No sunsets. Just food.  No Ernest Hemingway and no cats. No museums whatsoever.

Instead we saw a manatee who came for fresh water (apparently they love fresh water, it’s like candy for them) and played with kids.

We saw pelicans – dark headed and light headed. Their faces bear surprisingly thoughtful expressions. They fly together like silent fighter-bomber planes with an air of determination and melancholy at the same time.

They patiently waited at the pier for the pieces of fish thrown by a guy who was cleaning the catch of the day. “Obama birds” – that was how the guy called the pelicans, because they would come for freebies.  “Can I quote you on Facebook today?” – asked someone the guy. “Quote as much as you like”, - he was too busy noticing the crowd that assembled to admire his handiwork and the birds. So, I am quoting him now.

This particular pelican was waiting for fish next to a couple of fishermen. It came really close and ignored everyone else. My daughter wanted to pat it on the head, but got scared at the last moment.

And, in conclusion, some short observations about sunsets and food. Later, probably during our next visit, we discovered that on Islamorada there is a certain correlation between food and views that a restaurant offers. If you want to eat – you’d better go to a place without a view. Great food is guaranteed. If you want a view – eat at home, or starve. You won’t get much for your money besides a sunset. And if you have a car you can just park it along the road and admire this or any other sunset as much as you want for free.

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