Thursday, January 2, 2014

Go South For the Winter...To Key West!

 Okay, Christmas and New Year's have passed.  We're all sitting here in the midst of storm Hercules or Bethany, depending on exactly where in the country you are standing at the time.  I know it's a cliche' but it's time to head to Florida.  I don't normally go for the idea of the tropical thing, but Key West is different, and the Overseas Highway that you drive to get there is one of the most scenic drives in the whole country.  It's 124 miles of amazing driving, vistas, and a whole lot of water.  It's one of the few places on Earth where you can feel more like you're captaining a boat than driving your car, even while you're driving it.  Beat that.

We've all seen pictures of the cement buoy that sits at the southernmost point in the US.  We've all heard about Ernest Hemingway's house and all the cats that call it home.  We've heard about the bars, the bikini's and the booze.  All good things, but there's more there than that.

In Key West, you can ride around on the Conch Tour Train.  That may seem like some cutsie tourist thing, but it's one of the remnants of a rebellious time in Key West.  April 23, 1982 Key West seceded from the US and proclaimed themselves The Conch Republic.  It was a short lived protest against a border blockade that was inhibiting their tourism in Key West, but it stuck.  It has been a part of the culture of the island since, and every year on April 23, they celebrate their Independence Day.  The event turned out to be a great boost in tourism, and you can even pay to be the honorary leader of the Conch Republic for the day if your heart desires.

But, in addition to comically being their own country, Key West has a lot of things that you wouldn't normally think of.  They have Fort Jefferson.  That's right, an American fort sitting right on the coast of the island.  It's historic in a traditional sense, which is something that Key West is not nearly as famous for.  In fact there are a lot of family friendly things to do in Key West.  There are several companies there that will take you boating, fishing, sailing, and out to see dolphins.  Key West is a premier dolphin viewing area.


Some of the best reef diving is available in Key West.  It's one of the top reasons that people come to visit, but in 2009 they got one reason more to come and dive off Key West.  In 2009 the General Hoyt S. Vandenberg was sunk off the coast to create more reef.  Now, it's a great place to go wreck diving.  You can go in and out of the giant ship, while it helps to improve the ecosystem in the area.

Key West Butterfly Conservatory is one of the most popular places to visit.  It's a wonderful place to go and see beautiful butterflies from all over the world in a natural habitat.  It's always a great time when traveling with the kids.


Another thing that nature provides in Key West is the sunset.  Mallory Square is the place where everyone gathers at sunset and relaxes to watch Mother Nature's most beautiful show.  It's a custom in Key West to stop in the evening and watch something that most of us don't even think about on a daily basis, but then again, maybe we don't have the kind of sunsets that they have in Key West.

So, there are many things to do in Key West.  They also have beaches, boardwalks, and parks.  There's a lot to do there, but it's a very laid back environment.  People there seem to worry a little less, get angry a little less, get bored a little less, and smile a lot more.  It's warm in more ways than one.  And, if you have a little bit of a different lifestyle they don't mind.  There are a lot of writers, artists, eco people, and alternatives running around Key West, and they fit in just fine.  It's the melting pot that we've all heard about as a country, but it really exists in Key West.


I think that the most common perception of Key West in the modern age is the drag queens.  Gay and Lesbian travel is extremely popular in Key West.  It's all part of the open and accepting lifestyle that everyone lives there.  If you like the cabaret style drag queen show, stop in at 801 Bourbon Bar and see the group that is so famous that there are books and documentaries about them.  All of the travel shows have visited this bar and hung out with the lovely ladies.  It's a once in a lifetime chance to have some great fun and meet a bunch of wonderful ladies that put on a really great show.  Remember, this one is not for the whole family, but it is a lot of fun.

So, if you're bored with the snow.  If the white Christmas is over and the crystallized water that makes everything look so nostalgic for the holidays is losing its luster, think about heading for the border.  Stop in at Sloppy Joe's and have a drink.  Take a walk on the uninhibited wild side and check out the free spirits that inhabit the Conch Republic.  Take a look at the world from a different point of view.  Check out a place that is either forward thinking for the time, or a place left behind in time.  Sometimes it's difficult to tell which way it really works there.  Take the time to meet a revolutionary, or a guy that looks like a girl.  And by all means, take the time to take the drive out scenic Route 1, the Overseas Highway.  Take your time and slow down enough to truly appreciate a gorgeous sunset.  Do some things that you never thought you would do.  Let your hair down and go to the southernmost point in the country just to dangle your feet in the warm water that makes you forget that your pipes at home are frozen.

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