San Antonio River Walk


Welcome to San Antonio!

Enjoying the famed River Walk

Enjoying the famed River Walk

Thank y’all for joining me in this week’s escape deep in the heart of Texas. Named after the Christian saint by the Spanish missionaries who founded it, San Antonio is seeped in history. This is the home of Texan and Native American museums, the Alamo, and–according to of USA Today Travel–the sixth best boat ride in the United States.

River Walk

River Walk draws more than 1.5 million tourists each year.  Winding paths run along a 2.5 mile stretch of luxurious hotels, thirty-two eateries, nightclubs, retail shops, and other entertainment.  Completed in 2009, the newer Museum Reach cruise section added another 1.3 miles of walkways for tourists and locals alike to enjoy. Altogether, the actual San Antonio River and the human-made sections extend more than fifteen miles.


AND if you happen to take the cruise on a weekend evening, you may get lucky and see this:


Hope y’all enjoyed your stroll with me!

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.


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.”


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 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


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.


Sunset at Latitudes


Sailing Past Sunset Key

A View from the Dock

A View from the Dock

Here a Cluck, There a Cluck

Blue Heaven Resident

Blue Heaven Resident

Key West is known for its wild nightlife. Today we talk about its wildlife, or more specifically, its resident fowls. Anyone visiting the island, sooner or later, will come across these feral chickens. Some may have to stop their vehicle to allow a hen and her chicks the right-of-way, others will see them roaming the streets and yards throughout the small city. And pretty much everyone I’ve talked with who visits the fair island has been woken at one time or another by the energetic crowing of an energetic early rising rooster.

Isn't he beautiful!

Isn’t he beautiful!

Personally, I love watching the chickens. When I eat lunch at Blue Heaven, I happily observe them roosting in nearby trees and pecking at errant cornbread crumbs on the brick patio. I’ll often stop my bicycle as we’re rambling along side streets to take photos. Once, I even interrupted our Duval Street  stroll to video a mama hen teaching her babies how to dig for insects.

Cute animal video aside, I don’t live there. I don’t have to worry about these birds bringing disease to my backyard or their burgeoning population encroaching onto my private property. I’ve heard and read mixed reviews from the locals about the chickens’ presence. Some embrace them, most seem to tolerate them, but others are quite vocal about what they refer to as the “chicken infestation.”

The Key West chicken is a hybrid. When Cubans moved to the island, they brought their cockfighting fowl with them. The sport was outlawed by Florida in 1986 and the Cuban species was let loose. They bred with domestic chickens on the island left behind by former owners and voila–we have the modern Key West chicken.  (For more information about the birds’ history, you could read this article from Key West History Magazine.)

Fowl practices?

As human and chicken populations increased on the tiny island, the City of Key West found the need to address the issue and, since 2009, has assigned monies to help ease the concerns of residents regarding the animals’ health conditions and overcrowding. Approximately 1,000 of the 3,000 chicken residents were trapped and relocated to the Florida mainland that first year but the practice ended a year later. Some sources I researched claim that Key West residents were angered to learn the bird “retirement” homes was actually the site of a slaughterhouse. Other sources cite that holding pens were instituted but that practice was abandoned due to contamination of nearby waters from chicken waste. According to the Key West Wildlife Center  website, their new management (as of June 2011) has sought to “provide rescue, medical care, re-homing and adoption services.” Whatever the case, this debate over the Key West Chicken appears to be far from over.

What do you think about the issue of animal habitats conflicting with humans? Do you have a similar concern in your area? If so, how is the problem being handled?

Will the Real Bad Guy Please Stand Up?

KW2011-A 162

Key West’s Homage to its Pirating History

Let’s escape to the swashbuckling days of the Caribbean from 1690 -1730, “The Golden Age of Piracy.” Captain Kidd is remembered as the pirate who buried treasure and made a map with X marks the spot. Calico Jack is the pirate whose flag–a black background with white skull and crossed swords–became known as the Jolly Roger. Black Bart was the most successful of the era, with over 470 captures and the pirate depicted as Jack Sparrow  in Pirates of the Caribbean. (I posed with a lookalike on Duval Street once.) Perhaps the most famous of all, however, is Blackbeard.


Who was the man behind the legend?

The Early Years

Blackbeard was born 1680 in Great Britain as Edward Teach (or Thatch). He first worked as a privateer in Jamaica, paid by the British government to attack and plunder French and Spanish ships on the Queen’s behalf. After those wars ended, he was out of a job. This was the situation for many of the sailors at the time who turned to a life of cutthroat piracy as a way to make a living. Considering most pirates were either killed in battle or arrested, tried and killed, it wasn’t the most promising of careers.

Rise to Fame

Pirate Benjamin Hornigold took Blackbeard on as part of his crew. The two worked the Caribbean Sea as equals, a fearsome duo. In 1717, Hornigold rewarded his buddy for all his hard work with the perfect pirate present, his very own ship–captured off the coast of the Bahamas (Le Concorde, a French slaving ship). I wonder what happened to the Africans onboard. Were they freed by the pirates or allowed to join forces with them?

KW2011-A 170

Spanish Silver Coins “Pieces of Eight” — The Original Pirate Booty

Blackbeard didn’t waste any time outfitting his pride and joy, renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge, with an assortment of cannons–the grand total coming to forty such weapons. The ship was large enough to hold a crew of two hundred fifty men. For the next ten months, Blackbeard terrorized the Caribbean region (including the waters off Key West) and the Atlantic Ocean along the southeast coast of America. Ocracoke, an island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, became his home base.

Things may have worked out better for the pirate had he been a bit less dramatic. He wasn’t the most successful pirate of the era, but he certainly was the most renowned because of his appearance.

It’s All About the Image — How to Look like Blackbeard

  • dress all in black
  • braid long black hair into many section with black ribbons attached
  • wear several pistols strapped to your chest
  • wear a large black captain’s hat
  • (Here’s the kicker) wear slow-burning pieces of rope soaked in saltpeter in your hair and beard to add a glowing fierceness to your face and cloud your appearance with sputtering smoke
KW2011-A 168

Jewels were another coveted find

Blackbeard’s scheme worked–for a while. Most sailors would surrender their cargo rather than risk a fight with such a formidable opponent. In turn, Blackbeard didn’t have to waste energy, weapons, or his men’s lives. The captured ship’s crew was generally left unharmed, as long as they gave up every item he demanded. One sailor refused to hand over a ring. Blackbeard promptly sliced off the finger, ring and all. Perhaps the pirate had a soft side, too. His crew once captured a ship carrying wealthy passengers (including children). He held them for ransom–a medicine chest–threatening to kill them all if he didn’t receive it. The time came and passed, but he didn’t kill anyone. The medicine chest was eventually given to him and the hostages were released.

Can Pirates Retire?

North Carolina Colonial Governor, Charles Eden, pardoned Blackbeard for piracy in return for his promise to retire. It’s uncertain whether Blackbeard broke his agreement or if Eden allowed him to continue, working with him as a silent partner or turning a blind eye to the activities. Local townspeople tolerated the pirate’s presence as well–purchasing cloth, sugar and other goods the pirate supplied at cheap prices compared to those goods brought directly from England.

Henry Every was one of the few Golden Age pirates known to have retired and live off the spoils of his pirating days.

His Downfall — Cocky and Outsmarted

Patriot or Pirate? It's all about perspective

Patriot or Pirate? It’s all about perspective

After returning from the high seas with his pirate booty (mostly goods such as molasses, grain, rum, rope, and tools), Blackbeard invited a bunch of pirate buddies to party at his ship on the Outer Banks. The Royal Navy got wind of it and sent two ships for his capture. The pirate almost managed to escape with his crew through a narrow channel with a hidden sandbar, but Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground during the exchange of cannon fire between the three battling ships.

Leiutenant Robert Maynard of the Royal Navy outsmarted the wily pirate, hiding his crew below deck. When Blackbeard and his men boarded the vessel, Maynard’s men rose to attack. Blackbeard died in hand-to-hand combat, succumbing only after five bullet wounds and twenty sword cuts. As a warning to the other pirates, his head was cut off and displayed on the naval ship and his body thrown overboard. The date was November 22, 1718. Edward Teach was 38 years old.

What’s your take on Blackbeard and other pirates of his day? Do you admire or revile them? How do they compare to modern-day pirates–whether on the high seas or in cyberspace?

Related Links:

National Geographic Website

Information about The Queen Anne’s Revenge – Blackbeard’s ship was discovered in 1996 twenty feet underwater near the coast of North Carolina. Its contents were donated to the state.

Famous Pirates and Their Flags

Pat Croce’s Pirate Museum — St. Augustine FL

Key West Stylin’

Key West draws me in for so many reasons. It’s part of the United States, but feels like the Caribbean. It’s casual, laid-back, and tolerant. And it’s truly stylin’. There’s nothing more relaxing than pedaling a conch cruiser through the streets of Old Town past the beautifully unique island residences. There’s an elegance, a permanence, and a mystical presence I cannot explain. Today, I share my love and admiration for the homes of my home-away-from-home. Enjoy!

Larger homes in Cayo Hueso reflect the Spanish heritage of the region, with Spanish colonial architecture, such as this home on the right, with a full length porch on each level to take advantage of the tropical vistas.

Most homes in Old Town feature white picket fences, perhaps as a territorial measure due to miniscule lots. Whatever the reason for their being, the fences add a cozy, whimsical appearance to these homes.

Key West properties feature an abundance of plantings, whether in the form of palm, banyon or ornamental Royal Poinciana trees (shown below), and a variety of tropical shrubs and flowers.

Many of the larger Old Town homes are traditionally painted white, yet some reflect the Caribbean influence of the Conch cottages, in colors such as pink, blue, and green. Victorian touches, such as gingerbread detailing is common, too.

Of course, part of island life is coping with extremes–the tropical heat and hurricanes. Shutters serve a dual function, allowing in a breeze while protecting its residents from the sun’s rays and destructive winds, like on the house shown below.

House after house in the Old Town section of Key West is an attraction unto itself–another reason this place is home-away-from-home for many of its visitors. You can’t help but want to lounge on a shady porch with a refreshing drink surrounded by nature’s beauty.

Someday I plan to live in one of these beautiful homes. What is your dream style of home, and why?

In Remembrance

May 31st is Jolyse Barnett’s Margarita Moments blogiversary. In appreciation of YOU, my readers, I’m giving away prizes to random commenters** each week this month. (To learn if you won for commenting last week, scroll to the bottom of this post.) So, if you haven’t yet left a comment, now’s the time to dip your toes into the blog waters. Your email isn’t made public and you can use a nickname for privacy. Winners from today’s post will be announced Thursday, May 31st. Check back then for an extra-special Margarita Moment and final blogiversary giveaway. Enjoy, and good luck!

Simple and Delicious

This weekend has been a respite from the daily grind, relaxing by the pool with friends and family. Aside from an elusive sun, the weather’s been agreeable. Our big hit on the grill so far was the delectable bacon-wrapped scallops my sister brought to the party. I can’t wait to compare them to the shrimp recipe we’re trying out today!

All Gave Some, Some Gave All.

As much as we enjoy our Memorial Day weekend barbeques and pool parties, the meaning behind this holiday is bittersweet. Our hearts and minds remember those who have fought and died for us to have the many freedoms we savor as Americans.

Raised in a rural community during the seventies, I heard about the boys in our town, barely eighteen, drafted into service. A number of those young men never returned, their names etched into the war memorial in the center of our small town and celebrated three times a year. Those who did come home often had lasting scars, the worst of which were invisible. As a Girl Scout, I honored our veterans by placing a flag next to their graves each May and November. Little did I know we’d adopted a tradition begun by southern women after the Civil War to remember their dead.

The Cold War taught us to always be wary, and it was with great relief and optimism in 1981 when the Berlin Wall tumbled down. We no longer had to fear nuclear war with the Soviet Union. College years for me were the Big 80’s. Not only was our hair big, but our dreams too. Generation X expected the world. Like the song said, the future was so bright we had to wear sunglasses.

I was pregnant with our first child in 1990 when our country came to the brink of war again, with a “line drawn in the sand” between our president and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. I feared bringing a baby into a world of unease and heartache, and again was thankful when the brave men and women of our armed services brought the conflict to a speedy end.

Years of peace lulled many of us Americans into a false sense of security. That all changed one fateful September morning.

Never forget.

9-11 hit very close to home. We knew people who died on those planes, people who died in the towers, people who missed death by inches or seconds or last-minute change of plans. My home of Long Island fell silent. There was no air traffic and the Long Island Expressway was shut down.

I scurried out of my work building that day, anxious to be safely home with my loved ones, when a deafening roar stopped me in my tracks. Fearing the worst, I squinted into the midday sun to see silver fighter jets screaming overhead. I spied the red, white, and blue emblazoned on each, and I breathed again. I’d grown up hearing the occasional thunder of jets from the local Air Force base. They’d frightened me, but my father always reassured me they were there to protect us. Now I understood.

Have a safe, relaxing holiday with your loved ones. Celebrate on behalf of those who can’t because they’re too busy keeping us safe. I leave you with this song by Five for Fighting, one I think is perfect for Memorial Day:

What does Memorial Day mean to you?

And now for blogiversary news…Last week’s Margarita Moments prize winner is LynneRose!!!! Thanks for participating and congratulations! Email me at with your address. An insulated personal cooler tote bag and $20 Amazon card will soon be on their way.

This week’s prize is a $25 Amazon card and a pair of Margarita glasses. Be sure to comment if you want to be entered into this drawing. 🙂

**Commenters must provide a continental USA address if selected as prize winner. I apologize to my out-of-country readers. I love you too, and will have to figure out a cost-effective way to include you in future giveaways. Thanks for reading!

Hemingway’s Key West Years 1928 – 1939

Hemingway lived his dreams, as shown by this grade school assignment. ( KW Museum)   Click for a larger view.

Thank you for your patience. The more I researched about this larger-than-life man, the more contradictions I encountered. The Hemingway Resource Center website suggests, “To find the truth about Hemingway, look first to his fiction.”

I did just that, along with gathering information from the Key West Museum, chatting with Key West historians, and poring through published biographies and online sources. If you find Hemingway a fascinating figure, too, you may wish to read his work and research to draw your own conclusions.

Ernest Miller Hemingway was an accomplished writer by the time he and his second wife arrived in Key West. John Dos Passos, his friend at the time, had recommended they stop there for a holiday on their return from Paris in April 1928.

Like many tourists to the tiny island, Ernest and Pauline were instant converts and determined to settle there. Perhaps it reminded them of the foreign lands they loved, while still part of the United States, situated as it is on the southernmost tip of Florida’s westward archipelago. After three years of renting apartments, the couple purchased a house in Old Town with money loaned by Pauline’s uncle.

907 Whitehead Street

Hemingway wrote the final draft of his bestselling A Farewell to Arms at their new home on 907 Whitehead Street, rising early each morning to write. He also published works such as Death in the Afternoon, Green Hills of Africa, and two of his most beloved short stories, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” during his Key West years. As for his family life, Pauline gave birth to two sons during this time, and outfitted their property with a luxurious 20′ x 60′ pool, carved out of the island’s coral bedrock for $20,000 in 1938.

At home by the pool (Courtesy Hemingway House)

When the midday tropical sun drove him away from his writing, Hemingway gravitated toward the water or his favorite watering hole. Whether his time away from home was a consequence or cause of an unhappy marriage, only Pauline and he would know for sure. Whatever the case, Papa Hemingway as the macho persona developed during this decade.

On land, Papa continued his lifelong enjoyment of boxing. The backyard of a brothel in Bahama Village constructed a boxing ring where he spent many happy hours. This site is now home to the popular Blue Heaven restaurant. According to R. Andrew Wilson’s Write Like Hemingway, Papa “was known to exaggerate his own experience in the ring,” athough Key West historians assure me he did spar with locals and won quite often.

He enjoyed his drink as much as the next man, spotted at Sloppy Joe’s most afternoons. The original Sloppy Joes was located on 428 Greene Street and has been renamed Capt. Tony’s Saloon. (The current Sloppy Joe’s bar at the corner of lower Duval and Greene came to be when the owner refused to pay a rent increase at the former site and relocated in 1937.) Joe “Josie” Russell, the bar’s owner, is said to have cashed a $1,000 royalty check for Hemingway when all the banks refused, earning him a close friendship with the writer.

“Tag and Release. Not!”

Papa was an avid fisherman, the photos of him throughout present-day Key West establishments an apparent  testament to his prowess. The picture to the right can be seen at the Turtle Kraals Bar & Restaurant.  For his extended fishing trips to Havana, Papa would charter Josie Russell’s boat. Fans of Hemingway’s final novel, The Old Man and the Sea, may be interested to learn that the character, Santiago, was inspired by Papa’s Cuban mate, Carlos Gutierrez. According to Hemingway’s personal accounts, this mate had fished marlin for forty years and was a gifted storyteller. Photos, including one of Carlos Gutierrez with Papa, can be viewed here.

Why did Papa ultimately leave Key West?

At some point in his island adventures, Hemingway met journalist Martha Gellhorn, his future third wife. As with Pauline while still married to Hadley, he had an affair with Martha before divorcing Pauline in 1940. In addition, his last book written in Key West, To Have and Have Not, was considered by many critics to be second-rate. Some say he moved on with a new wife to a new life for a rebirth of his career. Although he owned the house until his death in 1961, Ernest Miller Hemingway’s life in Key West ended in 1939.

Was Hemingway an example of art imitating life, or life imitating art? Or were both so intertwined it’s impossible to separate the legend from the writer?

What are your thoughts about Hemingway, either as a historical figure or American writer?

The Help

Hi! Today, I debut as a guest poster on Nicole Basaraba’s Uni-Verse-City blog. It’s a bit of a departure from my usual blog fare, as my history buff side shows itself in my book review of THE HELP. For a taste, read on.

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett is a #1 New York Times Bestseller and major motion picture. A good friend of mine recommended it to me as a must-read.

The novel is set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the early 1960’s. This was a time of great social upheaval in America’s Deep South. Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement featuring real-life figures Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, the setting is anchored by Stockett with historical references.

Stockett sprinkles in popular 60’s TV, inventions, personalities, and music. Jackson life is depicted through three main characters—Abileen, Minnie, and Skeeter. I enjoyed a trip down memory lane…

This is one of those rare books whose characters will live on your head . Join me over at Nicole Basaraba’s Uni-Verse-City blog to understand why.

Remember to stop by here for your weekly dose of Margarita Moments on Monday. I’ll be ready for an escape after all this academia. Wait a minute, I hear the blender whirring. Gotta go! Until then…

Blue Heaven

Welcome to Blue Heaven!

Food can be a mini-escape of its own. Combine that pleasure with an exotic atmosphere, and the result can be out-of-this-world. Like many tourist destinations, there are a plethora of restaurants to chose from when staying in Key West. According to Trip Advisor, Old Town has close to two hundred. Each year, my honey and I enjoy different eateries in addition to our regular haunt, El Siboney, a locals’ hotspot around the corner from our Bed & Breakfast. (We crave El Siboney’s Cuban sandwich!)

During our 2009 getaway to the Conch Republic, we were eager to try out Blue Heaven, rated as one of the island’s top ten restaurants. We wanted to visit it not only for the food, but for its colorful history. This site is where Ernest Hemingway once refereed and sparred in Friday night boxing matches during the 1930’s. The restaurant building a bordello back then, and hosted cock fights and gambling at other times.

Biking here is the way to go!

Blue Heaven is located at the corner of Thomas and Petronia in Bahama Village. We biked there, happy to find plenty of bike-friendly parking. In fact, the restaurant’s blogsite recommends their customers “walk, bike, or taxi” since car parking is at a premium in this section of town.

The atmosphere at Blue Heaven is quintessentially Key West, reflecting the Florida Keys slogan, “Come As You Are.” I’d call the style rustic-casual, which suited us fine for lunch. For an informal tour of Blue Heaven, inside and out, check out this video:

Simple and Delicious

Their menu features Caribbean fare. Feeling tame, I ordered the blackened shrimp caesar salad. My honey was a little more daring, and selected their famous yellowtail snapper with black beans, veggies, brown rice, and cornbread. We didn’t eat dessert that day, but we’ve heard rumors this restaurant makes a fine key lime pie.

Happy Rooster

If you like birds, Blue Heaven is the place to be. I’d recommend eating outside unless it’s raining, and soak in the ambiance of their signature courtyard. We listened to the tweets and cock-a-doodle-doos while waiting for our meal, astonished that resident roosters not only pecked around our tables for goodies (They like cornbread, too!), but also perched in the trees above us. I’m a country girl, but I’d never seen anything like that before.

A rooster in a tree??

We didn’t have to wait to be seated for lunch, but those interested in eating breakfast at Blue Heaven are wise to plan ahead. The wait may be well over an hour, and the restaurant’s website warns they serve from the lunch menu at the scheduled time. For evening meals, diners may be entertained by live music as well as by the wildlife. I wouldn’t consider this a romantic dinner option, but a nice place for couples looking for a relaxed evening with interesting sights, Caribbean food, and great drinks.

Now it’s your turn. What’s the most interesting restaurant you’ve enjoyed?

Hurricanes, Pirates, and Really Cool Drinks

Good morning??

As Hurricane Irene swirled past my island home off the North Atlantic coast this weekend, my thoughts turned to another island over fourteen hundred miles south of New York. As the wind and rain attacked, littering lawns, roads, and pools with branches and leaves, I thought of that island’s turbulent past–its history drawing me as much as its tropical climate. For Irene’s last hurrah to us, she demolished a mature oak lining our street. The tree’s fifty foot trunk lay across our front yard and unlucky car like a mast of an old-time ship laid flat by unforeseen dangers. Again, I was reminded of the island I view as my second home.

Sexy Pirates Johnny Depp & Orlando Bloom

In 1513, explorer Ponce de Leon claimed La Florida for Spain. Indian tribes were scattered across the tiny islands that fan out from the mainland peninsula. Spanish control of the region, now known as the Florida Keys, was ineffectual to say the least. The island farthest west in the chain, known as Cayo Hueso, or Key West, was also one of the wildest, with feuding tribes whose battles left bones of its victims to bleach on the sandy shore. This is how the island earned the nicknames Skull Island and Bone Key. Eventually, the indians were pushed out by Spanish settlers focused on agriculture. The waters held hidden perils for Spanish ships transporting cargo between Havana, Cuba and Key West farms in the form of coral reefs seven miles offshore as well as rogue ships captained by infamous pirates–such as Blackbeard and Captain Kid. This era of life on the high seas during the 1600-1700s has often been romanticized in literature and movies, like the popular “Pirates of the Caribbean” titles.

Gold coins sought by pirates, later by wreckers and treasure hunters

When Florida joined the United States in 1819, Key West was sold to American businessman John Simonton for two thousand dollars. He divided the island into quarters and split it with colleagues Greene, Whitehead, and Fleming. Simonton then convinced higher-ups within the United States government the southernmost point of the United States would make an excellent naval base. The formidable United States Navy made quick work of the piracy problem. However, clever residents soon made wrecking a profitable business, and Key West became the richest city in America by 1830. It retained that status for approximately twenty years.

Treasure hunters are modern-day pirates, legally plundering sunken ships for their cargo. Anyone who has seen “Titanic” knows what I mean. Mel Fisher was one such person. I find it no coincidence the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum is hosting a piracy exhibit through June 2012. We plan to bike on over to 200 Greene Street to explore all that pirate booty during our next getaway this autumn. For now, I’ll happily settle for cuddling on the couch with my honey to watch our favorite adventure movie. He’s enjoying some grog, of course, a recipe shown on Pirate Soul’s website:


* 2oz Light Rum
* 1oz Spiced Rum
* 2tbsp Amaretto
* 2tbsp Grenadine
* 1tsp Lime Juice
* 1tsp Lemon Juice
* Combine ingredients with ice in cocktail shaker and shake well
* Strain into an old-fashioned glass and garnish with a twist

And me? I’m enjoying a Hurricane. My sister-in-law introduced me to this simple yet delicious beverage the evening after our family’s brush with Irene. I was suspicious, having a bad experience with the other by the same name. The color convinced me to give it a try, and I liked its light sweetness–perfect over ice. I also think it’s a good option when the power’s out or you’re away from that kitchen blender. Hurricane Warning: Sip or else it may blow you over!

What’s your recipe for restoring calm after a harrowing experience?

Chichen Itza or Senor Frogs?

Overlooking Key West

I love to travel. To celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary, my husband and I were fortunate enough to take a Western Carribbean cruise. Strong believers in the mantra, “Work Hard, Play Hard,” we vacationed with gusto. We listened to live bands in Key West, savored local foods and water sports at a Cozumel beach resort, and ziplined through a Belizan rainforest. For our stop in Playa del Carmen, we were tempted to join many of our shipmates at Senor Frogs for a day of partying. Being a history buff, I had signed us up for a tour of a Mayan pyramid instead. I’m so happy I did!

We rise early for our tour. The tender ride to port is short and smooth. We are herded through the busy town to the waiting bus with forty other tourists. As we ride inland for three hours, our Mayan guide, Humberto, makes the time fly–entertaining us with interesting facts about the Yucatan Peninsula.

El Castillo at Chichen Itza

The grounds at Chichen Itza are tremendous. We only have enough time to focus on three sections of the ruins today, including the main pyramid, known as El Castillo. Humberto tells us the ninety-five foot tall El Castillo has ninety steps on each of four sides, equalling 364 days plus one platform for a total of 365. Nine bump-outs on two sides of it represent the eighteen months on the Mayan calendar and five statues on each of four sides equals twenty, representing the number of days in a Mayan month. There’s more, but all this math is making my head spin. If you want to learn other details about this feat of Mayan architecture, click here.

Humberto explains Chichen Itza’s pyramid is hollow, with a smaller pyramid inside the larger. Like Egyptian pyramids, one purpose of El Castillo was to serve as a burial site for their royalty. The adventurous side of me is disappointed we’re not allowed to see the crypts surrounded by protective stone figures or climb all those steps to the top.

Building of One Thousand Columns

Skull Etching in Stone Wall

The gruesome aspect of Chichen Itza’s history centers around the ball court, where Mayan teams competed using a rubber ball about the size of a softball. We learn that the “winning” team’s captain would be decapitated as a sign of honor to the Mayan gods. No wonder a game could last for days, no one wanted to win! The captain’s head would then be displayed on a low stone wall etched with skull heads across the many rocks. I’m not creeped out so much as interested in the heiroglyphs located at either end of the ball court walls. They include an etching of Quetzalcoatl, whom Humberto says the Mayan believe to be Jesus Christ.

We have some time to wander around on our own. I’m overwhelmed by the sheer size of everything here. When I approach the base of El Castillo, I realize how steep the steps are and why the rumor we heard about tourists accidentally falling to their deaths while attempting the climb may be true. The official reason Humberto has given us for no one being allowed to climb it is to “prevent the ruins from being ruined.”

The last area we explore is “The Building of One Thousand Columns.” There must be at least one hundred columns, if not more as its name suggests. I’m impressed by the architectural precision. Before we head back to the bus, we experience one of my favorite parts of the trip–bartering with the on-site vendors. We purchase silver items, an embroidered top, and carved figures. The shopping is fun, but chatting with these native people and getting a peek into their daily life is priceless.

A Yucatan Roadside Store

On our relaxing bus ride back to port, we realize by traveling a little off the beaten path we experienced more than a place, we experienced its people. We hope to return to the Yucatan for a longer stay and learn more about the Mayan culture. Oh, and we may have to stop at Senor Frogs, too. I hear they make a heck of an ice blue margarita!

Have you ever explored a place, only to find what fascinated you most were the people? I’d love to hear about your experience.

%d bloggers like this: