During our two week vacation in January, I managed to persuade my initially reluctant husband to take a trip down to Key West. “It´s such a long drive,” he moaned. But what a drive! In glorious sunny weather with clear blue skies, we took off down the famous U.S. Route 1. That longest of all U.S. north-south roads runs 3,813 km down the Eastern coast, all the way from the Canadian border down to Key West, Florida. Not that I am a big fan of roads, but the stretch that goes into the Florida Keys is rather pleasant, fringed as it is by typical Floridian eateries, markets, fishing gear shops, motels, and, of course, the ocean.
At Captain Craig´s we had lunch, topped off with a delicious key lime pie (that I should not have eaten, but could not resist).
Keep them flying
On the way down, our first stop was at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier, a sanctuary and rehabilitation center for injured wild birds. I had read about this place and was keen to visit, as I love wildlife in general and birds in particular. They rehabilitate birds whenever possible, and those that cannot go back into the wild are given shelter at their facility.
They welcome visitors and donations to support their good work.
Key West is the southernmost city in the continental United States and is actually one of several islands in the Florida Keys, which are all connected by highway in the Florida Keys. Once upon a time it was possible to get down to Key West by rail, but the old railroad line is now sadly defunct.
Nowadays Key West is mostly a party town, where tourists throng to enjoy the great sunset views and the many bars and saloons with live music. In the 19th century though, wrecking, fishing, turtling, and salt manufacturing were its mainstay. It remained isolated from the mainland until the construction of a railroad in the early 20th century, but this Overseas Railway was largely destroyed in a hurricane in 1935, an the government then chose to build a highway alongside the remnants of the railway line – so now you can see the arches of the old railroad running parallel to U.S. 1.
We made the most of the little time we had: We used our few hours to enjoy a sunset at the pier, have a drink (or two) at a couple of the infamous saloons, listen to some great music, watch a movie at a gorgeous Art Deco movie theatre, and generally soak up the relaxed atmosphere.
Saloon life is vibrant, with live music playing everywhere and drinks flowing fast.
The Tropic Cinema, a beautiful art deco style movie theatre was too attractive to pass by. A bit of a misfit with the Key West atmosphere – don´t laugh at me – we watched the new Little Women movie (quite good, actually). Marilyn Monroe was not on offer – only as a sculpture outside 🙂
In central Key West there are a number of historic sites, such as Fort Zachary Taylor, built during the U.S. Civil War, or the Little White House, where U.S. President Truman spent many winter days. Unfortunately we had just one evening and one morning in Key West, and I did not get to see those sites. We had time for just one site visit, and from among several options we selected the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservancy. (Of all the things I could have picked, why a butterfly house? – Well, for one, it was within walking distance of our motel, and for another, you know I love nature and so places with flora and fauna have intrinsic appeal to me.)
A power of butterfly must be
The aptitude to fly,
Meadows of majesty concedes
And easy sweeps of sky.
For me it was well worth it. The butterflies will sit on you, flutter all around you, and in between the lush tropical vegetation, brightly feathered birds flit back and forth. You could see the delight in the visitor´s eyes.
And so, after enjoying the wonderful colours and lush vegetation in the butterfly conservatory, we drove back to Miami, feeling that we definitely should have spent more time in the Keys and swearing that next time we surely would. The easy sweeps of sky on the way sure are something to behold.