As I stepped out of the shower this morning, my hero called to say that there was a ship coming in.
Sure enough, a large cruise ship was approaching the harbour and we peered to identify it.
Ten minutes later, our view had changed rather and there was no doubt that the Majesty of the Seas was in town. We met Allan and Jane and went in search of breakfast, thinking that we needed to be ahead of the game if there were going to be a few thousand extra souls in town this morning.
My healthy option of a plate of fruit arrived with the unlooked for bonus of mildewed grapes and a couple of mouldy brambles too. Hmm. My quiet remark to the waiter fell on deaf ears and I was just about to let it go when the manager asked outright, was everything ok? Result, one complimentary fruit plate and fulsome apologies. Perhaps I should have had the pancakes after all!
There was time for a look around the further corners of Key West this morning. Yes, there is a town beyond the bars and souvenir shops and actually, it’s very pretty indeed. But rather than take Shank’s Pony, we hopped aboard the “tooterville trolley” and sat comfortably, listening to the commentary about the historic places we were passing by.
First spot was the “Mile Zero” point, the start of Highway One and the most frequently replaced sign in the town, according to the driver.
As we drove through the historic neighbourhoods of Key West, the significance of the Conch Republic was explained and we enjoyed seeing the beautiful old wooden houses with the verandahs and lush, tropical plantings in the gardens.
We saw the beaches on the southern side of the island, clean, palm fringed stretches of sand with yachts and shrimp boats on the horizon. Now we could see the attraction of Key West goes well beyond the bars and tacky souvenir shops of Duval Street.
We drove past the Southernmost Point of the continental USA, where Cuba was closer than Miami and where the world and his wife were having their photographs taken. Next landmark was Ernest Hemingway’s home where the queues stretched around the block – a good job that none of us wanted to look around there, for sure.
The tour ended right outside the souvenir shop, where the conch shells were piled high on the cart, priced $18.99 each. We tested a few for the sound of the sea and having checked that yes, they did all work as they should, we replaced them carefully.
A short stroll around the waterfront brought us back to the hotel and where we started. Of course, I couldn’t resist taking a photograph of this empty cafe with the colourful furniture, though.
One last look at our lovely hotel and that little tub of a boat parked outside and it was time to leave. We loaded the car and made our way back through the town and onto the highway, returning the way we came, but with a slightly different view from the other side of the road.
In particular, we could get a great view of the railway trestle which we’d caught a glimpse of yesterday.
It’s quite a structure, still, even after all these years of disuse, and without any access from either end, it stands empty.
Five or six hours later, after a short detour to the outlet mall, we were driving along the ocean road at Fort Lauderdale, heading to the restaurant where we were meeting friends for dinner. I looked at my watch and noted it was 5.50pm. Right at that moment, we pictured the Cat Circus there in Key West and the crowds waiting for the sunset. Here, looking eastwards, the sky was more delicately coloured in pastel shades of pink, blue and lavender and the atmosphere was calmer and less frenetic.
What a great couple of days, though. How glad I am to have seen it all and to have experienced the Florida Keys like that. But yes, how pleased I was to leave it behind and return to the quieter, more refined atmosphere of Allan and Jane’s home because, as we all observed, we are not really “Conchs” at heart!