Sunday, April 29, 2012

Key West blog - the 100th post

You're reading the 100th post of my Key West blog.  Wow! I never intended to bang on for this long, so sorry about that!  But I've really enjoyed creating this blog, and Key West continues to fascinate and entertain me, so here we are at 100 posts old.
To mark my 100th post, I'm going to do a miscellany of things.  First, a rare thing for this blog: two very short opinion pieces.  

Key West, save yourself!
The most depressing conversation I've ever had in Key West happened last visit when I was sat in a Duval Street bar chatting with a rich local.  He wanted significant new development of Key West.  This included: a high speed rail link to Miami (despite the fact that this didn't work out too well first time), going ahead with the deeper channel for the very largest cruise liners, more flights to KW (including using the air base at Boca Chica for 747s into KW), floating 'ship hotels' moored off KW, and lots more high rise hotel development.  

He just didn't care that KW is already too busy (in my opinion, not his), and that this kind of development would permanently ruin the island and be environmentally toxic.  He was only interested in money, and the piles of cash he would make.

For those KW locals who are sane, not selfish and willing to be heard: good luck in fighting those that would be happy to see KW ruined.  You'll need all the luck and energy you can muster.
In the end, everyone's only a temporary visitor to Key West:  Butterfly on bougainvillea sunbathing on Simonton Street
Shame on you, Florida Keys TDC
I've been in touch with our Tourist Development Council and had an ongoing email exhange with the Sales and Marketing Director.

Even though TDC's of other cities do it, and even though social media and blogging is now a key part of tourism, our own TDC refuses, point blank, to link their site to this (my) blog - and all the other excellent Key West blogs.

Actually, when you look around the web, Key West has one of the most active and interesting blogging scenes - with many blogs about living in Key West and about the island.  Real genuine voices advocating Key West.

The Key West blogs are an excellent thing for an organisation promoting tourism to want to promote and link to, you'd think.

But not according to the Florida Keys TDC.  The Sales and Marketing Director didn't give me a good reason ('we have too many requests') not to.

Some day I'm sure the TDC will wake up and realise they should be promoting and linking to KW blogs and that all out interests are aligned. Some day....

Favorite posts
It's a bit twee, but I really enjoyed researching and writing this short article, Where is Key West?

This is my prettiest post!....It's what visiting Key West is all about - wandering and seeing the amazing plants and flowers.

The most popular post with visitors is Top 11 Things to Do in Key West.  I'm delighted to see the second most popular page of all time is my review of Key West cocktail bars.

My favorite pictures
I love all the pictures in my photo-article about crazy Key West.  I took all these pictures myself and they are from the last 5 years or so.  It really shows how eccentric and bonkers Key West is.

Here's one of the pictures...
Key West harbor is my favorite place in Key West so I'll finish off with a  picture of that - taken on a hot, clear, cloudless day in Key West.
If you want even more, here's a top selection of my Key West pictures.

Click here for my Key West vacation guide and directory to my entire site.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Florida Keys

There'a a lot more to the Florida Keys than Key West.   The Keys archipeligo is 200 miles long, no more than wafer thin in parts, and has 823 islands to explore.

Driving the Florida Keys 
Driving the Florida Keys is a bizarre, fantastic and beautiful experience.  For 50% of the drive you are stuck by the awesome beauty of the landscape and seascape.  Its extreme beauty with endless vistas of sea, mangrove and dramatic clouds.

You're on a narrow strip of land and on either side of the road or bridge is ocean - the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.
Just a few miles out of Key West on Highway 1.  
Further up the Keys - a typical view.
On much of the drive you get a magnificent view of mangroves and ocean.
Small islands and big ocean.  This the view from the beach at Bahia Honda.
(But this not the story for the whole of the 126 mile drive.  For the other 50% you can't see the ocean because the land/island is wider and you just see trees, or houses.  There is also a fair share of run down houses, apartments and hotels and dreadful, ugly commercialism.  Even in paradise, you need to take the rough with the smooth!)

Here's my account of the drive down to Key West and when the good bits start!

Faded but comforting
I love the rather faded aspect of the Florida Keys.  Some of the buildings and signs are tacky and commercial, some are classics.  Take these as examples of the gems available to make the miles go by on your drive:
Rainbow Bend Resort sign in Marathon at MM 57.  Of all the many fantastic signs on Highway 1 down the Florida Keys this is maybe my favorite.  Not sure if that's because of the face of the guy in the boat, the crazy and slightly comical name or the rainbow in the sign.  Both cool and hilarious at the same time. 
Islamorada welcomes you.


The 2 Best beaches

There's lots of places to stop, but my top two recommendations are:

Bahia Honda State Park - MM36
This is quite a large beach (ok, not that big really, this is the Keys after all).  I suppose the beach at the larger end is a mile long.  It regularly appears in the Top 10 beaches in the USA list.  As a result, it can get busy in peak season.

Curry Hammock State Park - MM56
This is relatively quiet place so it's a hidden gem.  I shouldn't really be telling you about it because I love it and I want it all to myself!    It's a tiny, tiny state park and a small beach and there is nothing to do.  But it's beautiful.

See here for my full article on Curry Hammock, lots more pictures and a video of me in the clear blue water here in the park.

Best non-beach places to stop and break your drive

Theater of the Sea - MM 84
It's got several shows - dolphins, sea lions, plus loads of fish and turtles and a great exotic bird show (for example, do you know which bird is the most intelligent?).  It's a very understated and tiny version of Sea World.  But much older: it's been going since 1946.  The lagoons the animals live and perform in were created when they quarried stone for Flagler's railroad.  Be a part of Key's history and visit!

To make the most of this, and see all the shows, you do need a few hours, and it's not cheap. But I love this place.  If you've got a few hours, then please go and support them.

The other place I would recommend stopping is the Turtle Hospital in Marathon (MM48.5).  It's a charity and the turtles are really cute (it's a rescue facility so all the turtles are ill or have had accidents leaving them disabled).  Beware: you can only visit as part of an organised tour, and especially at peak season they get booked out, so a degree of forward planning is required.  The tours last 2 hours, so this is not a quick visit.  Actually, if you can I recommend doing this as part of a half day trip out of Key West.

Here are some gratuitous pictures of very cute turtles:

For a full review of the Turtle Hospital, my visit, lots more pictures and some video - click here.

If you are coming from Miami then it's very little difference in time between driving and flying.  I've flown 10% of the time and driven 90%.  That's because the drive is so amazing.

That said, if you have no option but to drive at a peak time in a peak month on a Saturday then driving will take you MUCH longer as the traffic down to the Keys is really bad.

Here's what you'd see from the car:
Here's what you'd see from the plane:

Key West International Airport is really small, and 2 miles from Duval Street and the center of town.  There are always taxis outside.  It's a really easy airport to use.  There is a small convenience store, some of rental companies (not all of them, though, some are on the drive into town), and a bar.  Don't plan on spending any time there, there's nothing to do!


Driving from Miami to Key West - an awesome drive - lots of pics and description

Click here for more on Key West weather and a month by month view on when to visit Key West.

To see my view on Key West hotels - see here.

Click here for my Key West vacation directory - everything you need to know for a perfect Key West visit.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Key West Friendly Awards

One of the reasons I love the Key West and keep coming back so frequently is the friendliness of the people here and of the Key West locals.
Key West friendly award

My Key West Friendly Awards 2012 are to recognise those folks that have given me truly fantastic service and amazing friendliness on my recent week long vacation in Key West.

Sorry but I can't remember lots of names - apologies.

Here are my awards this year.

The Key West art center on Front Street. There was a lady in there that was very friendly and helpful. She was the partner of shipwright artisan after Thomas Avery who also was great. 

Evolution. The clothes shop on Duval Street. Very bubbly and talkative and friendly service from the guy who was in there.

All the staff at Alexander's guesthouse on Fleming Street.

Jason the barman at La Ti Da plus all the other staff and bartenders there.

Ron the owner at Harpoon Harrys on Caroline Street for being incredibly bubbly and taking time out during his busiest time to talk all at 9 AM

Harpoon Harry's restaurant in Key West 
Nance Frank the owner of Gallery on Green on Green Street.
Nance Frank in her gallery, Gallery on Greene.
David Guest and team at Sarabeth's restaurant
David Guest at his usual position at the front of Sarabeth's.
The guy who was drinking a massive can of red bull at Peppers of Key West and who gave us a chilly sauce tasting session and who poised for me in a gas mask!

The lady server at Antonia's restaurant who very kindly recognised me from previous visits and was very genuinely welcoming.

The most all the residents of old town Key West who in most cases always say hello good morning when you pass them walking and often stop to have a quick chat.

And this lady who stopped to let her Labrador say hello to us when we were sipping a martini in Virgilio's.

Non-friendly awards
I've gone into a lot of shops, restaurants and bars this visit which don't get an award!  In fact, they were really miserable!  Some of those who were unfriendly were the business owners themselves!  I'm not going to name names but come on guys, it's March - yes it's busy, but you're making loads of money/tips!

Relevant links:

My Key West directory of this site.

Antonia's Restaurant review

Sarabeth's restaurant review

Harpoon Harry's restaurant review

Monday, April 2, 2012

Curry Hammock State Park

Curry Hammock State Park is one of my recommendations if you have time to stop off on your drive up (or down) the Florida Keys.  The park is at MM56 oceanside (right turn as you are heading north back to Miami).

It is a very small park, with a small beach but even in peak season is does not seem to get busy - as you can see from my pictures  (taken March 2012 on a Saturday).

There is very little to do here.  You can hire a kayak, but that's about it.  There are no shops or a beach cafe.  So, why bother?

One: It's quiet and peaceful.

Two: It's beautiful.  There a fabulous view of open ocean, the sand is great and it's relaxing.  Check out my video which proves these points (oh, and really makes me want to be back there with my feet in the ocean!).....

Here are some more pictures:
There is only a narrow strip of sand, but it's nice sand.

There are 2 sections to the beach - this one, below, by the parking lot.  There is a good covered picnic area.  This section of beach is only a few hundred meters long.
Curry Hammock beach and picnic area which you can just see to the right.

You can hire these kayaks from the ranger station at the entrance.  There are lots of mangroves and islands to explore and I think it would be good fun.  We did not have time this trip.
Mangroves are colonising at the far eastern point of the park, near the picnic tables.

Curry Hammock beach looking south west.
Just round the bend, here's the second section of the beach, slightly larger, but not by much.
Curry Hammock beach and table at the far western end of the beach.
Curry Hammock - table with a view. Not a person to be seen, just lots of birds.

It's a great place to take a break.  We stropped off for a mid-trip picnic and were only there for an hour.  If you are staying longer, remember to bring all your food and water with you.

Here are some other relevant links on my site:

Key West drive - about driving to Key West from Miami and Fort Lauderdale