Our tour of southern Florida continued with a short stay in Key West.
Key West is in many ways quite different from other US cities. It has a laid-back, hippy, Caribbean vibe which we enjoy. We planned to spend two nights, and stayed for three. We found an old Key West mansion to stay in, with a pleasant room, a terrace to have breakfast on, and a (clothes optional) pool and jacuzzi.
Sunset is one of the highlights of the most southerly city in (mainland) USA. Crowds gather at Mallory Square, with street entertainers and craft stalls, and clap when the sun goes down over the Gulf of Mexico. The first night we watched it with the crowds; the second night from a ‘booze cruise’ catamaran; and the third night from a waterfront bar with steel drums playing in the background.
We spent pleasant days and evenings exploring the town, including the bars and restaurants around Duval Street, and the house where Hemingway lived (still inhabited by descendants of his cats). One evening, after the booze cruise, we attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah in one of the churches, which we thoroughly enjoyed.
From Key West there is only one way back – along US 1 through the chain of keys once more. Our next stop was Miami Beach, on the east coast opposite Miami city. Driving through Miami was horrendous, but we enjoyed visiting the art deco South Beach area and admiring the brightly coloured and decorated hotels. We also did a boat cruise around Miami Bay, viewing the homes of the ‘rich and famous’ (many of whom we’d never heard of).
From Miami Beach we headed west again, and returned to Sanibel Island for their ‘luminary festival’, when many of the buildings are decorated with colourful Christmas lights and there are choirs and exhibitions, as well as free food and drink. We travelled around the island on the free trolleybuses, although their timing and destinations tended to be slightly hit or miss.
On the way back to Sarasota, we stopped in Fort Myers and visited the Edison estate, where the inventor (and his neighbour, Henry Ford) spent the winter. It was lit up with thousands of Christmas lights, as well as dozens of elaborately decorated Christmas trees.
Relaxing on the beach on Captiva Island (Sanibel’s neighbour), we had a phone call. We were meant to stay for our last week in a house in Venice, but the lady there had just had an emergency operation so it wasn’t a good idea. Fortunately, the nice lady who lent us her house for three weeks at the start of our trip was happy for us to use it again, so the next day we moved back into familiar surroundings in Sarasota.
It was lucky to have a good base, with internet and a printer, as we’d just had an urgent request to do some work for an organisation in Ghana. So it was the end of the holiday, in a sense, and back to the workaday world – but with sunshine and warm weather. It was the first piece of work for our new educational consultancy (ERA Educational Research and Analysis), and involved several days of both of us working flat out – not to mention hundreds of emails flying between Africa, the UK and the USA. Coincidentally, we found that the washing liquid we were using was also called ERA – and it had 3 times the cleaning power!
We did manage to get of the house occasionally, including a couple of trips to the theatre. One was in Venice, to see a production called ‘The Marvelous (sic) Wonderettes’, about four young women at their high school graduation in 1958, and then 10 years on, so it was full of old songs of the 50s and 60s. The other show was ‘White Christmas’ at the Players Theatre in Sarasota, getting us into a seasonal mood. However, when you emerge from the theatre into the warmth of a Florida evening and think of going back to cold England pretty soon, the seasonal glow soon evaporates.
We did another trip to Venice, to meet the people whose house we were going to stay in – fortunately the lady is recovering well. We also had a meal at Sharky’s on the Pier, one of our favourite haunts in that area. Another day we went north to Bradenton, and saw the boats on the river there and the farmers’ market, before heading west for our last afternoon on the beach.
All too soon it was time to start packing and leave our temporary Floridian home for cold, wet and windy England. We’re definitely not dreaming of a white Christmas!