A Key West “Choose Your Adventure”

Need an escape from endless shoveling, worries about heating costs, and that cold white stuff that makes going about your daily business so difficult–if not downright dangerous? I do. Let’s go. Imagination is free.

Fly free of responsibilities...

This tropical locale is the kind of place where the biggest decisions are which restaurants to choose, which activities to enjoy, and which drinks to sip as we laze away the days.

Landing at your island destination, you enjoy the freedom that comes along with shedding heavy layers of clothes and leaving your daily routine behind. You check into your accommodations. It’s everything you hoped for. When you pull back the curtains of your luxury suite that leads to your private balcony, you wonder why you waited so long to make that leap and visit the southernmost city. Your view overlooks Mallory Square, one of the world’s most famous places to people-watch and enjoy the sun set. Oh, but the clock tower at nearby Key West Museum chimes one, so you figure you have plenty of time to explore before considering the night’s entertainment.

One of those balconies has your name on it. :)

One of those balconies has your name on it. 🙂

What will you do first? If you stroll down Key West’s main drag, Duval Street, you choose to stop for at Hog’s Breath Saloon, where you strum your fingers to the live music and chat with fellow escapees on the adjacent bar stools as you sip a Hogarita or two. Waving goodbye to your new friends, you finish your drink and head into the brilliant sunshine for another adventure. You make your way toward Upper Duval, stopping to read the crazy t-shirt sayings at the tacky souvenir shops or visiting bars such as Sloppy Joe’s, Irish Kevin’s, Rick’s, The Bull & Whistle, Fat Tuesday’s, and Buffet’s original Margaritaville.

Fogarty's on Duval

Fogarty’s on Duval

If you opt to visit a number of those establishments or even one for an extended period of time, be prepared to learn the true meaning of the phrase “Duval Crawl.” Otherwise, you can choose to continue your walk to the Butterfly Conservatory and South Beach.

South Beach, Key West

South Beach, Key West

Butterflies and beaches aren’t on the agenda for your first day? Retrace your steps, making a right at the Conch Train station and heading past the Hyatt Resort to the Key West Historic Seaport. You could relax on the deck of Turtle Kraals and watch the comings and goings at the marina or trek the boardwalk until you spy another eatery that fits your style.

The Boardwalk

The Boardwalk

Jolyse Barnett PhotographyAfter your late lunch, you could shop (perhaps buy a bottle of wine for later in the evening), talk with local tour charter vendors to book a ghost tour, sunset sail, fishing boat, jet skiing or kayaking eco-tour for later in your stay, or return to the hotel for an afternoon siesta. Before you rest, however, don’t forget to talk with your concierge about selecting just the right restaurant for that romantic dinner before you join the crowd headed to Mallory.

Mallory Square Performer

Mallory Square Performer

After your scrumptious meal and a picturesque sunset you wind your way through entertainers and tourists to Old Town’s quaint side streets, breathing in the ambiance and architecture of the city before returning to Front Street and your hotel. If you’ve had enough excitement for your first day, you can choose to stroll hand-in-hand to your suite, open that bottle of wine and enjoy your loved one’s company.

The following morning…you’re off to a new adventure. What will yours be?

Sailing in Key West Harbor

Sailing in Key West Harbor

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Do You Believe in Signs?

Fools Rush In, the 1997 romantic comedy starring Selma Hayek and Matthew Perry, is a story about opposites attracting and finding true love in spite of all their differences. The heroine’s belief in signs plays a pivotal role in bringing the two lovers together for their happily-ever-after.

I like that because I believe in signs too.

Jolyse Barnett PhotographyOn our recent Key West getaway to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary, my honey and I arrived at our favorite B&B to learn I had an offer of contract for my romantic suspense novel. That story is set in Key West.

Sign Number One.

We went into full celebration mode, biking, swimming, fishing, and dining at five-star restaurants. On the last night, we embarked on the Jolly Rover II, an eighty-foot tall ship known as a schooner–built in the same style as turn-of-the-century pirate ships. The friendly crew taught us the history of the ship as we soaked in the view.

Key West Harbor

Key West Harbor

Jolyse Barnett Photography

Key West Evening

As if all these wonderful experiences weren’t enough, a small yacht motored past our pirate ship just before sunset. On board appeared to be none other than Howard Livingston crooning his song,”Living on Key West Time.” (Judge for yourself by comparing to his official photos on Mile Marker 24’s website.)

Sign Number Two.

Howie Livingston?

Howie Livingston? I’d say yes.

The Cherry on Top of a Perfect Sail

The Cherry on Top

Mallory Square

Mallory Square

We were thrilled. You see, not only did we know and love the song, but I’d created a YouTube video for this blog  using it a few years ago. We listened as we sipped our favorite wine and enjoyed one more sunset before returning to our Long Island home. By the way, if you like your signs in sets of three, this story won’t disappoint. The current title of my novel happens to be One More Sunset.

Some say there is no such thing as coincidence, while others say signs are only a person’s wishful thinking, attaching meaning to a random event. What do you think?

A Bonus:

I hate cold weather, but these photos of frozen bubbles are utterly breathtaking.

http://kellyimagesandphotography.webs.com/

Key West Wonders

Boating through the backcountry

Boating the backcountry

I treasure many moments from our recent getaway to the Conch Republic, including a kayaking tour, a romantic sunset dinner at the famous Latitudes Restaurant, and to my honey’s delight, an early morning fishing excursion.

Sunny Key West Morning

Sunny Key West Morning

I’m not exactly a morning person. Okay, I’m most definitely not, and vacation is the perfect excuse to savor a lazy wake up. But we had so much fun fishing with Captain Ron a few years back on our first Key West charter that I agreed to do it all over again. This time out, I promised myself I would remember how to cast a line and I was determined to bait my own hook and learn how to handle any fish I caught.

Sailboat neighbors

Sailboat neighbors

You see these sailboats floating around on the gulf side of Key West? People live on these vessels, some full-time in the harbor and others staying anywhere from a week to a month before moving on. Imagine how much thinking, writing, or reading you could accomplish without all the distractions. I wonder…

Jack and Me

Jack and Me

I loved every part of the experience, from watching the sun rise as our skiff motored through the channels to the backcountry fishing spots to learning about the different baits, lures and eating fish, to catching  our lunch and releasing my first-ever fighting fish–a beautiful jack.

The competition

The competition — a brown pelican

For four beautiful hours we were part of nature, the warm sun at our backs, the waves lapping against the skiff, and exotic birds landing near us as we waited patiently for a tug on our lines.

An egret

A Great White Egret

I hope to travel to the southernmost city in America again one day soon. The waters are calling me. I’ve added Pilates to my routine in preparation for our next adventure–paddle boarding.

Our Catch -- feed us and guests at Turtle Kraals

The catch we shared with fellow guests at Turtle Kraals

What’s one of your favorite memories from 2013?

Hemingway and Gellhorn

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAErnest Hemingway. You’ve likely heard of him. Martha Gellhorn? Likely not, unless you tuned into HBO’s 2012 movie about the late macho writer and his third wife. I haven’t paid for premium channels since I began writing seriously three years ago, so I was unaware of this little gem. Rylie and I happened to be browsing the DVDs in our public library when she came across it and said, “Hey Mom, this one looks like one you’d want to watch.” She was right.

Summary:

The movie starts out in Key West. Martha Gellhorn meets Hemingway at the famous Sloppy Joe’s bar and sparks fly between the two, despite the fact he’s married with children. Papa follows the intriguing war correspondent overseas to the Spanish Civil War and their romance explodes full-force.

The Original Sloppy Joe's

The Original Sloppy Joe’s

They eventually return to the states, his wife learns of his infidelity and refuses him a divorce. Hemingway dedicates For Whom the Bell Tolls to his Marty and leaves for Cuba with her. He ultimately wins his divorce and promptly asks Gellhorn (living with him) to become his third wife. She agrees. Always the roving reporter, she begs him to accompany her to China.

Hem reluctantly agrees. The film alludes to her interest in other men during their travels. Upon their return to Cuba, she is bored with the domestic life and he drinks more heavily, lazing the days away on a boat with his friends. They fight. He hits her, tells her he has taken her Colliers job as war correspondent, and basically destroys the love she felt for him in one fell swoop.

Marty refuses to sit by while Hemingway gets the first-hand account of the war, managing to gain access to a Navy ship floating hospital disguised as a nurse. Hemingway meets another woman (who later becomes his fourth and final wife) and Gellhorn divorces him. Fast-forward to the final events of his life and a glimpse at Gellhorn’s subsequent attitude toward her days as Mrs. Hemingway.

Favorite Quotes:

Hemingway to Gellhorn on writing well…

“The whole trick is learning how people talk. Most people don’t listen.”

Hemingway to Gellhorn on war…

“There are a lot of bargains to be had in time of war if you don’t mind wearing the clothes of the dead.”

Gellhorn’s reflecting about her marriage to Hemingway…

“When there wasn’t a war going on, we managed to create our own.”

“I don’t want to be a footnote in someone else’s life.”

Bravo:

Fiery on-screen chemistry between Nicole Kidman as Martha “Marty” Gellhorn and Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway. Their first love scene is one I won’t soon forget and a reason I’d watch the movie again.

Objective presentation of both figures, allowing the viewer to make her own conclusions about them.

Quick pacing throughout the first three-quarters of the film.

If I were the movie producer:

I would have delved a bit deeper into some of the secondary characters’ connections to Hemingway and Gellhorn’s relationship.

I would have included more details about Hemingway’s writing habits.

I would have ended the film in Cuba while Hem and Marty were still madly in love. Yes, we can guess (if we didn’t already know) that this couple didn’t get their happily-ever-after. The final quarter of the movie was sad and slow for me as it showed the inevitable unraveling of Hemingway and Gellhorn’s relationship and even worse, Papa’s difficult, final years.

For the curious:

Article and photo from the Hemingway-Gellhorn Wedding

Jerome Tuccille wrote the book, Hemingway and Gellhorn (2011).

Martha Gellhorn wrote a memoir, Travels with Myself and Another, that details many of the events touched upon in the movie. The “another” of course, refers to Hemingway.

Boston Globe Review of HBO’s Hemingway and Gellhorn  (I read this article after writing mine. I think it’s interesting how the two leads are so similar.)

Has any movie caught your attention recently?

Casa Antigua - Hemingway's First Home in Key West

Casa Antigua – Hemingway’s First Home in Key West

Sunset Key and Latitudes

DSCN7912Welcome to this week’s Margarita Moment! If you enjoy this post and are a newcomer to my little island life inspired blog, sign up for your free, weekly escape. (Look to your right.) It will sail to your inbox on Mondays, more or less, depending on life’s currents and my novel writing schedule. Thanks for visiting.

The History of Sunset Key

During the 19th century, sediment from repeated Navy dredging projects in Key West’s Harbor was deposited a few hundred yards off the northwestern corner of the island. One of the resulting new islands was designated a fueling station and named Tank Island.

In 1986, the US government sold the 27-acre Tank Island to a developer. Westin Resorts built an exclusive resort on the northwestern quadrant and the island became known (at least to tourists) as Sunset Key. Exclusive vacation properties, owned by celebrities and wealthy business owners such as Oprah Winfrey, span the other three-quarters.

A Sunset Key Property

A Sunset Key Property

Latitudes

Latitudes is the renowned Westin resort restaurant on Sunset Key. I mentioned this restaurant in a previous blog post about romantic dining options in Key West. If you’re interested in planning a romantic sunset dinner at this particular restaurant, I suggest you reserve well in advance. Determine the time of sunset for your selected evening and then book online through Open Table. Take into consideration that the reserve time is when you’re expected to be at the Sunset Key Ferry on the Key West side. There’s a ten-minute ride across the harbor.

The view from ferry of Sunset Key Westin Resort

The view from ferry of Sunset Key Westin Resort

Once you arrive at Sunset Key, you may stop at the outside bar for a drink or enter the restaurant directly for your table. On the evening we dined there, we were given the option of a patio table or inside. The view outside is breathtaking but beware the heat. The inside tables still allow for a beautiful view while providing a cooler, intimate setting. Diners are welcomed (even expected) to leave their tables as the sun makes it descent beneath the watery horizon.

View from an intimate inside table at Latitudes

View from an intimate inside table at Latitudes

Coconut Crusted Grouper

Coconut Crusted Grouper

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Citrus Marinated Salmon

The food at Latitudes is delightfully presented. I chose the seafood cocktail appetizer, the mixed greens salad, and coconut crusted grouper with baby bok choy and black beans. My honey had the lobster bisque and citrus marinated salmon with risotto and grilled asparagus. The service was fine, the wait staff attentive but not intrusive. A couple can enjoy an intimate conversation, a great meal, and an unforgettable sunset. After your meal, transport will be waiting at the end of a short walk to the launch.

We found our meal at Latitudes to be a beautiful start to another romantic evening on our Key West getaway.

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Sunset at Latitudes

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Sailing Past Sunset Key

A View from the Dock

A View from the Dock

Kayaking the Keys

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Downwind EcoTours at Geiger Key, 8 miles east of Old Town KW

Kayaking the Keys

Floating through the Mangroves

Floating through the Mangroves

If you love water and ocean life, you may enjoy kayaking. It’s quiet and laid-back, a perfect change of pace from the Duval Crawl nightlife.

You may opt for the kayak/snorkeling tour leaving from Key West Historic Seaport, which involves taking a motor boat out to The Lakes section of Key West Harbor where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Gulf. Your guide will teach you all about the creatures swimming in the crystal clear waters beneath you, such as the nurse shark, a variety of tropical fish, and the delicate coral reef ecosystem. If you take the last tour of the day, you will have the added excitement of watching the famous sunset as you motor back to the marina.

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Years ago, we enjoyed our kayaking tour. For this getaway, we chose to explore the backcountry. What a great choice! I learned more about the mangrove ecosystem in five minutes from Tortuga Jack of Downwind Tours than in all our years of travel to the Keys.

The Highlights:

Double-Crested Cormorant

Dry and Ready for Flight

The double-crested cormorant isn’t a favorite of local fishermen as this excellent diver and fisher competes for the tastiest meals. Unlike most birds, this one doesn’t have waterproofing oil glands. When the cormorant dives into the water for its meal, its feathers become saturated. That’s why you’ll often see them perching in the sun, drying their feathers. I was excited to snap the shot (above) just as this creature took off.

Cormorant nest in a red mangrove.

Cormorant Nest in a Red Mangrove

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The creature shown here on our kayak paddle is called a Cassiopeia. Like its namesake constellation that’s an upside-down M, this jellyfish floats along the current upside-down in Key West’s shallow waters. They can grow up to ten inches in diameter, but their poison is weak.

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Tortuga Jack with a Horseshoe Crab

Living on Long Island, we are familiar with the horseshoe crab. What I didn’t know was that this ancient creature’s blood contains copper. This made the crab useful in scientific research and as fertilizer in the past.

A Horseshoe Crab

A Horseshoe Crab

Like most Floridian waters, the channel we traversed contains crocodiles. According to our guide, they are “elusive, exclusive, and seclusive.”  We also learned from Tortuga Jack that crocs have ventured as far south as Cuba in recent years, with a population of two thousand and growing,  competing with native species for available food sources.

Paddling the Quiet Channels

Paddling the Quiet Channels

We looked carefully, but those toothy creatures remained hidden. I suppose that was a good thing.

Crossing the channel; Overseas Highway in the distance

Crossing the Channel with the Overseas Highway in the Distance

A Mangrove Maze

A Mangrove Maze

The mangroves’ evolutional goal may be to create land, but the combination of Key West’s two tidal systems along with strong currents prevent the accumulation of soil in many areas. Winding through the tangle of branches, prop roots, and leaves, you realize why drug dealers and other lawbreakers used these waters to evade capture.

Nature meets Civilization

Nature Meets Civilization

As you float back to the starting point, you can imagine life on these waters. As beautiful as they are, the guide is your key to a successful outing. Not only was ours knowledgeable about the science aspect, but the history and literary aspects as well. We were the lucky recipients of an impromptu poem or two.

What special memories have you collected this autumn season?

Top Five Reasons To Visit Key West

In 2011, 9.6 million tourists visited Key West, contributing $8,200,000,000 to the local economy and creating 102,000 jobs locally. Wow! That’s a lot of dinero. What is it about this little 2×5 mile southernmost island that attracts so many?

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The island’s OTHER wildlife

People from all walks of life visit here, from those who camp at Bluewater Key RV park to those who rent a Westin cottage on Sunset Key. Key West is like Vegas, but with fishing on the high seas instead of high stakes gambling. For some tourists, the highlight of their vacation is the freedom to drink their way from one end of Duval to another. For others, they come for the laidback, casual step away from demands of everyday life.

La Concha Hotel on Duval Street

La Concha Hotel on Duval Street

This island has something to offer almost everyone.

Here are my top five reasons I keep returning to the southernmost island and why I think you should put the Conch Republic on your bucket list–if it isn’t there already!

5.  Incredible Dining:

If you love fresh seafood, this is the island for you. If you don’t, you still will have plenty of five-star restaurant food selections. From the local favorites to the touristy Historic Seaport and Duval establishments, we’ve yet to be disappointed. Foodies will be in heaven here. I can’t wait to report back to you in a few weeks about our upcoming dining experience at Latitudes.

Bacon-Wrapped Scallops and Mashed Potatoes

Bacon-Wrapped Scallops and Mashed Potatoes

4.  Fantastic Water Sports:

You have your choice of snorkeling, paddleboarding, kayak ecotouring, swimming, scuba diving, flats fishing, deep-sea fishing, sailing, jet skiing and more. My favorite activities are the snorkel/kayaking combo, the flats fishing, and of course, the sunset sail.

Mangroves off Key West

Mangroves off Key West

3.  Awesome People-Watching:

Whether you stroll Duval, soak in the entertainment at one of the many bars or restaurants, lounge at a beach, go shopping, visit a museum, or take a ride on one of the tour trolleys, there will be plenty of opportunities to people-watch. As a writer, I get some of my best character and dialogue ideas from people I’ve observed or chatted with on that tiny, diverse island. Enjoy the variety!

Performer at the Aqua Club

Performer at the Aqua Club

2.  Biking:

Biking the island is so easy and fun and freeing. You are connected to nature, cycling everywhere like when you were a kid. I don’t know about you, but my busy suburban life doesn’t lend itself to leisurely bike ride through quiet side streets to the beach or bars. Just saying.

Lounging at the Beach

Fort Zach Beach is a short bike ride away!

1.  Being Accepted for Who You Are:

I always feel welcomed on the island, not just because my honey and I bring our tourist dollars, but because of who we are. Yeah, it’s a nice feeling. I’ve traveled other places, and nowhere else has quite matched it. I’ve yet to meet a local or tourist that I haven’t enjoyed talking with and learning about. Don’t be surprised if your concierge, taxi driver, or the restaurant wait staff engages you in conversation and shares a little about him or herself too. Key West’s motto, “One Human Family” may strike a chord with you as it has me. There’s a relaxed vibe of “live and let live” and in appreciating, or at least accepting, people’s differences. At the risk of sounding preachy, here’s one of my current favorite songs…

I’d love to hear about your favorite destination. What are your top five reasons for returning there time and again?

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