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Quick Sight-seeing Trip To Key West - Yes!

Story by Jenna Wise Photography by Harold Leath

0000LightBlue@Posh_Body Copy:f someone asked you to play a game to guess where I had just visited and gave you only three clues: I had seen 6-toed cats at a famous person's residence and had passed both Sloppy Joe's Bar and Margaritaville on the Conch Tour Train, would you have guessed the right answer? It was Key West that I visited, of course.

First interesting tidbit: the famous person's residence located in Key West with 6-toed cats was Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, located at 907 Whitehead Street, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It actually had 57 descendants of Hemingway's cats on the premises the day we visited. There is a staff of veterinarians to take care of the cats, each named and called by name by the whole home and museum staff. (www.hemingwayhome.com)

A BIG decision had been made by Posh photographer Harold Leath and me prior to arrival in the southernmost city of the continental United States. At first we could not decide if it was best to go for an extended stay, taking in as many of the sights and tastes of the so called "Island Paradise" as time and money could allow, or choose instead "to bite the bullet," so to speak, and just act like "tourists-for-the-day" and hop on the Key West Express sight-seeing catamaran (www.keywestexpress.net) and squeeze everything into one exciting day.

The photos online for the boat looked inviting, and the woman on the phone said the vessel was not only clean and comfortable, but had delicious hot dogs. That certainly helped in making our decision. By boarding in the wee hours of the morning, we were able to depart from Marco Island, near Naples, Florida, and arrive in Key West 31/2 hours later - in time for a view of folks parasailing out in the harbor and to disembark Key West Express to get immediately caught up in the inviting bustle of Key West coming alive just in time for our full day of adventure. Key West inhabitants have been known to say, "The tropical experience starts the minute you arrive in Key West." It certainly did for us.

All Aboard Conch Tour Train

You might have heard or read that there are various ways to "do" Key West. But, since both of us had been to Key West before, we continued in the ''tourist-for-a-day" mode and immediately jumped aboard the world famous Conch Tour Train, which has been showing people around the area since 1958 for goodness sakes. Their friendly and knowledgeable operators must know something about Key West, that place that some people refer to as a treasure. You do not think that might happen to be a reference to Key West's colorful pirate heritage. Humm, surely not - probably Conch Tour Train realizes Key West has lured favorite visitors, like famous artist John James Audubon; Harry Truman and other former presidents; playwright Tennessee Williams and poet Robert Frost, to name a few, because of pleasant weather with nice tropical breezes, some outstanding architecture with its decidedly different Conch style and an overall laidback, accepting lifestyle.

Starting at CONCH TOUR STATION at the corner of Front and Duvall Streets - and believe me, there could not possibly be two more busy or famous (perhaps infamous in some cases) Key West street names - Conch Tour Train whisked past galleries, churches, shops, restaurants, bars and more. With every single name of those places sounding like a Key West guide book or novel come to life, it was exhilarating for sure.

Due to limitations of time, and accepting that time-frame of a one-day visit from the first, we chose to make just two tour stops: FRONT STREET DEPOT, which includes Mallory Square, and TRU-VAL VILLAGE, at the corner of Truman Avenue and Duval Street, which had access to Hemingway's Home and Museum.

Mallory Square :

Where Fun Begins And The Sun Sets

Although Mallory Square is an area where locals and visitors have gathered every day for well over 40 years to celebrate sunset, there were numerous things happening in the busy area all day. There is Key West Aquarium, Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum and Sponge Market, to name a few. Harold and I chose to keep up a Key West tradition of savoring Conch Fritters with Key West Limeade while sitting under a tree right in front of the aquarium. Oh, so delicious. As you can imagine, there was Key Lime everything all over the island. Two favorite choices: Key Lime Donuts and Chocolate-dipped Key Lime Pie on a Stick. One store sign simply bragged, "All Things Key Lime."

Funny story about Mallory Square: While Harold and I were eating our lunch under the tree, we suddenly saw roosters and chickens walking around loose. One particularly pretty rooster caught Harold's attention, and when it walked away Harold started laughing. Harold had been worried because he thought it only had one leg and wondered how it got around. Actually, the rooster was just standing on one leg. Life is good when traveling, don't you agree?

Time for another quiz and interesting tidbit number two: do you know how Mallory Square got its name? It was named for Ellen Mallory, a simple, early pioneer woman who ran a boarding house in the early days of Key West. The widow worked hard to educate her son, who attended Princeton and eventually became a U.S. senator from Florida.

Hemingway Home Or Bust

Next stop on Conch Tour Train was to see Hemingway's house. Touring it is often on many people's list of favorite activities to do while in Key West. Harold and I were not exceptions - the tour of the house and grounds was fascinating and just made me want to go home and read, or reread, all of his literary masterpieces. What an interesting time Hemingway led all the years he lived -- and partied -- in Key West. Yes, we did pass Sloppy Joe's Café, which dear Ernest made famous, of course, but not before we got a great look at the Lighthouse, which is just across the street from Hemingway's home.

Another delightful sighting on the tour was the unusual anchored concrete buoy marking Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S., located on the beach of Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. The monument was established in 1983 by the city of Key West, and is one of the most photographed sites in all the area.

Another interesting tidbit: printed on the southernmost buoy are the words "90 Miles to Cuba." Actually, that number is rounded down from 94 miles, and it is not in truth the southernmost point. The deal is, the points that are more southern are either federal or private property and cannot be visited. Details. Details.

What A History

When writing a history of Key West, it would be hard to rank the key factors in the story of this land so strategically located in the Florida Straits and beautifully entwined in its native mango trees.

There are tales going back centuries of how the ships of both swashbuckling pirates and merchant vessels alike fell victim to treacherous reefs and hurricanes. In actuality, pirates hounded the area until the arrival of the U.S. Navy in 1823, which has remained a presence in Key West ever since.

Last interesting tidbit: no history would be complete without some Indian tales, especially since the island's first name from way back was Cayo Hueso or Bone Kay. The name had something to do with Indians who left their enemies' bones to "bleach-out" on the beach in the tropical wilderness that later became Key West. Fact or fiction - it is a story that some love to tell.

The current treasures of Key West remain the bountiful harvests of fishing and seafood, called "pink gold" by some, as well as the tourism industry. Another "treasure" has been the success of Mel Fisher and other salvors, those who are involved in ship salvage. Although we did not visit, Mel Fisher Museum and his store are popular destinations in Key West.

There are other places that we did not visit -- Harry S. Truman Little White House, museums galore, galleries a plenty and more. Overall, the quick sight-seeing trip was a huge success. Next time - and I do hope there is a next time -- I might want to ride a scooter, climb to the top of the 65-foot tall observation tower at Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum, actively participate in one of many water sports on the coral reef that is North America's only living coral reef and buy some sandals. Key West is supposed to be "The Sandal Capital." Oh yes, I also want to smoke a cigar while in Key West next time, too. Key West is also "The Cigar Capital."

Now, it is your turn. Key West celebrates the color and beauty of sunset each day. Think about what is beautiful in your life - or perhaps, where you want to travel to see pretty places and meet nice people. Celebrate. n

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