“I just don’t understand,” The US Customs agent said with an an exasperated sigh, as he leaned out of the window of his booth at the end of the Buffalo’s Peace Bridge, “who goes to Florida for just four days?”
“Well, we do,” Jeremy explained, “we don’t have a lot of vacation time, so we get away when we can.”
In the agent’s defense, Jeremy had left out the fact that were initially headed to the airport, when he inquired about our destination, so he may have assumed we were driving south. Even after we clarified that detail though, he was still skeptical. I handed over our itineraries, and he rifled though our printed tickets and hotel reservation confirmations shaking his head as though he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
Now, we’ve encountered some crusty people at customs (both American and Canadian) over the years, but this was the first time I’ve ever thought we might actually be denied entry. After what seemed like and eternity, we finally convinced the border guard that we were just taking a vacation, and not on a nefarious mission in his homeland, our adventure began.
Key West was wonderful.
It sort of reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans, but without out the smell of puke and debauchery. It was a party town with dignity. The atmosphere was lively, but clean and refined.
The architecture here is a charming mix of Victorian gingerbread mansions, European colonials, and shuttered wooden shotgun cottages, painted in weather beaten pastels.
What really amazed me, is that so many of these building have stood here for over 100 years. Considering their vulnerability to the elements, there is no doubt these houses were built to last.
Also, there are chickens everywhere. They just wander the streets clucking and crowing. We witnessed many of them crossing the road but their real motive for doing so, remains a mystery.
We made it our mission in Key West to sample all of the top rated key lime pies and Cuban sandwiches.
Obviously, our trip involved a trip to the Hemingway Museum.
It’s a gorgeous house. It’s so breezy and peaceful here. I can see how it would inspire great writing.
The museum is well known for it’s polydactyl cats, and they are everywhere.
The cats who reside here are all descendants of Snowball, a six toed cat given to Hemingway by a ships captain. The polydactyl gene is hereditary, so many of the cats here have extra digits.
The cats we came across ranged from friendly to indifferent.
This guy was all “Ya, I have a lot of toes. What of it?”
Watch your step.
This furniture belongs to the cats. It’s just like our house.
Seriously, if Gwendolyn could type, there would be a sign like this on our couch. She’d really prefer it if we stayed off the furniture.
The drive though the keys was lovely.
There’s some interesting history here.
These are ruins of an old railway that once served this area. It was a massive undertaking by industrialist Henry Flagler, who’d moved to Florida in the late 1800s, and saw opportunities for improved infrastructure. After linking the Florida coastline with railroads, he embarked on the ambitious task of extending his rail line to all the way to Key West. At the time, Key West was a populous city with thriving industries that included salvage and salt production, as well as serving as a major coaling station.
It took 7 years to construct, but it didn’t last long. The route operated for only 2 decades, until 1935, when a hurricane damaged major sections of the railroad.
It was the heart of the great depression and the railway company was facing financial difficulties, so it was never repaired. Instead, what was left of the bridges were sold off to the state of Florida, who used many sections to build a highway though the keys a few years after the hurricane. Over the years, many of these sections have been replaced with modern bridges, but you can still see parts of the old railroad.
Apparently, there are plans to repair and reconnect Flagler’s original railroad as a multi-use recreation path, and I really hope they do. I love it when communities find creative and useful ways to preserve history.
Our last night was spent in Miami Beach.
I think Stephen Fry was bang on with his description.
I loved the art deco architecture though, and our hotel was fabulous.
The Park Central Hotel was built in 1937 when Miami Beach was the hot spot for the rich and famous. In fact, many of the unique hotels on the Ocean strip were constructed in the late 1930s. When tourism declined the the late 60s and 70s, the area became derelict. Some were torn down, but many of these structures were saved in 1979 when the area was designated as historic district.
The Park Central was the first of the neighbourhood’s hotels to undergo restoration in 1987. It’s a Modern hotel with that vintage flair, which I love so much. Plus, we were treated to an ocean view.
Great views usually cost extra, and as budget travelers, this is a perk we don’t often get to enjoy.
The bathroom has the original pink and black tiles.
I love this fan so much!
When we arrived, the beach was pretty crowded.
In fact, the Ocean Drive strip was pushing my crowd anxiety to it’s limits, so we opted for a late dinner a few blocks away from the water.
The next morning, I discovered the best time to enjoy Miami Beach is at 7:30 AM.
Then, very early the next morning, we were back in Canada, where the sun hasn’t been all week. I miss the sunshine, but at the same time, as always, I’m glad to be home. There’s really nothing like sleeping in your own bed after being away.