Above is my representation of West Martello. It's compiled from several different pictures from various times primarily before Hurricane Irma (That bitch!) West Martello is a fort that you may miss if you only go downtown, so besides the same type of architecture as East Martello I also feel it's kind of a stepchild of museums, and can be easily overlooked, but it's well worth going to see.
West Martello is home to the Key West Garden Club, and all of the hard work they do is evident. The tree on the right is a Autograph tree.
And like the two other forts on the island this one never fired a shot.
They have a beautiful indoor area with a botanical library and arrangements made by members of the Garden Club
But outdoors is where they really shine
So many gorgeous orchids!
There's a beautiful butterfly garden
And paths leading to peaceful places to sit and just be lulled by the view, such a fantastic place to destress
And as you can probably guess it's a perfect and popular place for weddings.
My goal with this blog is to try and offer some ideas for places to go that people may not be aware of. I highly recommend a visit to West Martello. There is no entrance fee - contributions are greatly appreciated.They also have plant sales a few times a year, with orchids and indigenous plants. You can even volunteer to help out in the garden on Mondays, with some of the Garden Club members.
And if you get a chance, sign one of the leaves on the Autograph tree!
If you look closely, you'll see something a little odd in this picture, unless you've spent enough time at the bar and then it will make perfect sense. I'm talking about the quarters in Mr. J-fish's mouth...put there nightly by (mostly) inebriated patrons.
The game started way back in "olden times" when we actually had an off-season. The bar was hot and we were bored so oftentimes my friends and I used to just drag stools right out onto the sidewalk and sit there. One of the regulars was a rabid Larry Bird fan and he used to drive us crazy jumping and weaving, yelling "top of the key" and trying to get quarters in the fishes mouth. So to slow him down we had him stand backwards with his toes of the edge of the sidewalk and make him throw it like that, which considerably slowed him down. And the rest, as they say, is history.
It always makes me smile to see groups of people that started so long ago out of simple boredom...and maybe a little alcohol. So next time you're down here give it a try, yelling "Top of the key" is entirely optional.
I took one half of the kids up to Marathon a few weeks ago to the new Aquarium Encounters and I confess that I probably was more excited than they were, as I had been wanting to try out this ever since I heard about it. Being a concierge I am always looking for things for kids to do, even big kids like me. And for someone that spent a lot of her childhood playing with all of the fun creatures I caught and released in our backyard or in the waters surrounding the island this sounded perfect.
Getting to interact with the Stingrays was honestly one of the coolest things I have ever done. After showering and getting into our wet suits (a first for all of us, lots of laughing going on) we headed into the tank. Petting and feeding them was amazing! They are such graceful and beautiful animals, and they were so friendly! Hint, their favorite treat is squid...
The spotted ray named Daisy was my favorite, followed closely by the huge one named Big Mama.
The park has several areas, including touch tanks and lots of opportunities to feed tarpon, sharks, rays and other tropical fish. We spent a good part of time at the touch tanks learning about the different animals.
In addition to the smaller tanks they have their own mini reef where you can swim with larger fish, and feed sharks through underwater feeding ports. They also have a lagoon encounter where you can swim and interact with hundreds of fish. The great thing about the snorkeling encounters is that the whole area is protected, so on windy days when the ocean is rough it is calm and protected there and the visibility is good. The groups are small and you have an instructor with you to point out the things you may otherwise miss. Our guide Neneke explained how the park was a long time dream of a boy born and raised in Marathon who is finally able to share the beauty and wonder of the inhabitants of the ocean in his hometown, which will help raise awareness to protect them.
My Grands loved the sandbox where they could dig for sharks teeth, which they got to keep, and the food at the cafe was really good, not your usual snack type place. The fish sandwich was really good, although I have to confess by that point I felt a little guilty eating it after hanging out with their relatives all day.....=/
All in all it was a fantastic day. I cannot say enough about the staff. They were so welcoming, upbeat and really invested in their jobs, we felt like treasured guests. It's so wonderful to see that enthusiasm and I know they will pass it on to my guests. You can also do a guided aquarium tour, which I highly recommend. Special Thanks to Nineke, your love and dedication for the property really shines through. To find out more, just go to their website - http://www.floridakeysaquariumencounters.com. We can't wait to go back...next time - shark feeding!
Nancy Forrester used to have a secret garden. A large for Key West, yet miniature rain forest right in the middle of downtown,that was very popular with visitors and locals alike. But money, or the lack of it won out in the end, and Nancy could no longer afford to hold on to the property. It was amazing collection of rare palms and winding paths, and one of the best parts of visiting were the many birds she had on property. Although she was forced to sell - luckily the bargain was struck that she would have a home to live in for the remainder of her days, and a place for her beautiful rescue birds. The property she has now is actually in the back of the original garden.
The entrance is on Elizabeth St. And after trying to explain how to get there to a few guests that asked - I decided to set out to find it myself so that I could better give directions and to see how things had all turned out for Nancy. I'm really glad I did.
I took the pictures directly below to give some landmarks to help find it. The house on Elizabeth sits between Southard and Fleming. The blue house on the left is hard to miss...it's painted very hippie like - psychedelic rainbows! You should then look to the house on the right, 518 Elizabeth, and for the sign I have below on the right hand top picture - the sign sits on a little wrought iron table. (you can click on images to enlarge)
Between the blue house and Nancy's you will see a walkway, with a door with a picture of a bird. You just ring the bell, walk through the door and across the porch, and you have found it!
If you go between 10 am and 3 pm chances are Nancy will be entertaining visitors from all over the world with one of her feathered friends. Her official talk time is 10 am but I have been there several times throughout the day and she always has time for her many visitors as they trickle in. Once we began to talk it was obvious we would enjoy each others company and of course she had known Daddy and had many happy memories of him and dancing the night away at Capt. Tony's.
She is a natural born storyteller and I don't think there is anything she doesn't know about birds as well as the environment. And her talks never sound like lessons although you sure do learn a lot about the birds and why it's so important to preserve our planet. She lived in Grassy Key as a little girl and and remembers the excitement of coming down to the "Big City" - Key West - for life's necessities, like doctors appointments and other things not available near Grassy Key at the time. She has wonderful stories.
The birds all have special talents, love music and dancing and showing off for visitors. The picture above is Mr. Peaches drawing a picture on the iPhone. Mr. Peaches can also play piano on a piano app and gets bored after mastering a new program, just like a typical kid. I've had a fear of birds since being bit by one many years ago, but Mr. Peaches won my heart. I'm proud to say I actually look forward to holding him and it's a great feeling not to be afraid anymore!
I'm just fascinated with Nancy's history in the Keys. Back when Key West was untouched by development and life was lived half in and half out of the water. It turns out birds were never of particular interest to her, the ocean was her love, so we have that in common in addition to a fierce love for this special island we live on. She began to collect parrots when someone left one at the garden, abandoned like a story book baby, and she's been taking in rescue birds ever since. The birds are very much like human children in that they demand constant attention, and that's one of the reasons there are so many parrots to rescue. People spent huge amounts of money to buy a bird only to find they don't have the time or patience that these intelligent animals need and deserve. Rescue facilities like Nancy's are full and once you hear Nancy's reasons you'll see why buying a bird from a breeder is definitely a bad idea, especially when there are so many wonderful birds that would love to be adopted.
Although Nancy has a forever home she can always use help feeding and caring for the birds and their various needs and occasional ailments. A small donation is requested to visit and interact with the beautiful friends of Nancy's. Nancy or one of her helpers are there every day of the week, and the birds and Nancy would love to meet you.
So if you love animals or are just looking for something off of the beaten path right in the middle of downtown I highly recommend it. Be sure and say Hi to Mr. Peaches for me!
For more info here is a link to the website: http://www.nancyforrester.com
I am often asked where to get good Cuban food. Considering when I was growing up this island was little Cuba, there are very few places I really like. Now I'm not saying that other places aren't good. I'm just going to tell you a little bit about my favorite place to buy Cuban food. And what makes it "authentic Cuban" to me.
#1 - A location in a neighborhood. Almost always on a corner. With chairs or benches, so that you can sit with your Cafe' Con Leche and read the Key West Citizen, check out the weather, and form opinions on both. You should feel as comfortable as you are in your living room, and expect to have friends "drop by". Once you've read the Citizen (5 minutes tops, most people just read the Citizens Voice and the Crime Report) and have observed the weather you are an expert in these subjects, like your friends (meaning pretty much anyone wandering up) will be. Then you can debate the different aspects of these subjects. Except the weather in the summer. In the summer it's just hot. Or really hot, miserable hot, #!%*!*# hot, etc. This winter people really had a lot of good stories because for Key West it was really, really cold. Yes I know it was brutal up north but I never lived there to compare and "OMG" 47 degrees? We all had to drink extra Cuban coffee. And I've never been a big coffee drinker.
The entrance. Extra points for good doors as this means it can hold some of the A/C in. This is really important in the summer. A lot of Cuban coffee shops just have a little window. Usually at a laundromat. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I think whenever you are doing laundry you need a bucci (espresso) to give you energy to get through the drudgery of doing the laundry. In the heat. Note the hours on the door. Business in the morning and afternoon only because after all the coffee making and cooking the shopkeepers need to go home and cook for family. Cubans love to eat.
Condiments, olive oil, some tomato sauce. Some of the basics for Cuban cooking. With some "healthy" things like nuts and trail mix thrown in because sadly all of the neighborhoods in Key West are pretty much gentrified now.
Your Cuban sodas, and cooking pots. With a few more healthy things like tea and V8 thrown in. I doubt the V8 is the biggest seller. Sports trophies, most likely baseball, the great Cuban pastime are a must.
Newspapers and brooms...on a trap.
More newspapers and pots. The pots on the bottom are great for paella. And on the right the ever important "Cuban mop". If you haven't seen a Cuban do a cleaning dance with one of these you haven't lived. They just throw a wet rag down, attack it with the mop and go to town. It's a true art. One I gave up on learning...must be something with the hips.
5 Brothers merchandise. You've got your coffee beans, your hot sauce, your T- Shirts. One of my proudest possessions is my 5 Brothers apron.
Mouth watering pastries and snacks like papas rellenas - a concoction of mashed potatoes stuffed with piccadillo, then fried. I tried to make these once....totally trashed the kitchen. Don't try it, just go to 5 Brothers, it was not a pretty sight.
More sweets, and some beautiful avocados picked out of a yard just begging for a little key lime and salt. That right there is a lunch by itself!
The signage. Classic. Love it. And the machine on the right that is one of many in Key West that help to fuel our little island. I can't tell you how many of our visitors complain to me because we don't have a Starbucks on almost every corner. They can keep their Starbucks I say, what's the point of traveling when you just eat and drink the same things you have at home or just about anywhere? Just try the Cafe' con leche. Extra large only $2.75!
Gotta have cigars.
And tools to slice your plantains, light the stove to fry them, and another tool to smash them and fry them again. It's all just a fantastic mix of some of the most seemingly random things. Just about anything you can think of and then some.
But my main reason for going there is this. Plain, simple, eaten on the bench while it's still hot. Although they have many delicious Cuban dishes, with specials every day - this sandwich always brings me back.
Nothing, and I mean nothing tastes like my childhood in Key West like the Cuban mix at 5 Brothers. I hope they stay open forever. Or at least until I master the art of the Cuban mop, which I guarantee is the same thing!
The East Martello Museum is located right in front of the airport, and I always think of it as the stepchild of Key West Museums. Just about all the other museums are right downtown, and this one is all by it's lonesome. And I really think people would enjoy it if they just knew it was there!
There are nautical antiques right outside, their sheer size is impressive
It's all about Key West history. Lots of exhibits of the antique tools of the various trades that were the locals bread and butter so long ago. Way before tourism became #1 (Click on pictures to enlarge)
Here is one of the Chugs, or rafts Cuban refuges used for the perilous crossing to freedom from Cuba. My Spanish is very limited so I asked my dear friend and our City Commissioner Tony Yaniz to translate the sign above for me: It says "Please - the last person to leave Cuba, turn off the lights". That actually cracked me up, I thought for sure it would be something more dramatic, or sad.
There are signs with the stories for the displays, and the case on the right shows some of the meager possessions that rafters brought with them.
Here is the display on Count Van Cosel with the story of his everlasting love for Elena Hoyos. Very creepy. Van Cosel would not give Elena up for dead, even though she WAS! If you would like to learn more I highly recommend the great book Ben Harrison wrote called Undying Love. Truth really is stranger than fiction.
There's even an old hearse in mint condition. This always reminds me of the hearse Daddy drove for awhile, not as old of course, but weird and very embarrassing when you are a kid to have your dad drive you around in one!
The art outside is varied and plentiful, an assortment with something for everyone
When I rounded the corner and saw these stone Olite sculptures, I felt like I'd run into old friends and it put a big smile on my face. They are the work of Bill Lorraine, and are carved out of the cornerstones of the old conch houses. His work is so beautiful, you can feel the warmth in the stone. To learn more about Bills work (he really is multifaceted) check out his website at Billlorraine.com. Bill and his wife Ann are very dear family friends and I posted about some of her work that she is best known for - at Fast Buck Freddie's a while back
And then there's the citadel. I've called it a tower up until now, and the caretaker at the museum was kind enough to correct me when I asked. When I was younger it was one of the places to have a wedding reception and I seemed to remember us calling it "East Martello Towers" but then again my memory isn't quite what it used to be =)
Once you enter the citadel, and venture up the stairs there is some really wild art made with old "junk" to be found. Really fun stuff. (Remember, you can click on the pictures to get the full effect) There's also a really great view if you climb out to the roof of the tower, but you will just have to check that out for yourself. Although I admit the first time I went out there after the "new" airport was built it was very disorienting, so I just turned around and looked to the sea! Guess being a Conch I was just trying to turn back time...
This woodcarving to the left is the work of Mario Sanchez. East Martello is also the permanent home of Key West's most famous artists. He was the son of a cigar maker, and his studio was outside beneath a tree. He was one of the most prominent Folk Artists in the State of Florida. In 1985 he was awarded the Florida Folk Heritage Award. His woodcarvings and paintings are beautiful, and show a Key West long gone.
The room where they exhibit his work is under renovation right now, but as soon as it's done it will be displayed once again and I consider seeing them a good enough reason to visit East Martello. We lost Mr. Sanchez in 2005, he was 96 years old.
OK. Now if all of this hasn't tempted you already, this should do the trick! This is THE famous Robert the Doll. Robert is known worldwide, and has been featured in various publications and on TV. The main thing to know about Robert is if you want to take his picture, you MUST ask permission. There are hundreds of letters that have been sent to Robert proving that important detail, in fact so many letters that they are now displayed in a slide show on a screen, an example of one to the left.
David Sloane has just published a book on Robert called - quite simply Robert the Doll, so for all of you out there that love the paranormal, this is your book. And yes, I asked Roberts permission before I took the picture above. No point in taking chances now, is there?
So I hope you enjoyed my mini tour of East Martello. There is so much more to see and I can't say enough how I think the museum is worth going to. The admission is reasonable - and they just don't make many museums like that anymore. It's not slick. It's not packaged. It's not crowded. It's just Key West and I love it.
I confess I'm obsessed. I just cannot resist a sunset. I got home from work the other night with such good intentions and plans for the hours I had before bed. It was my Friday, I was going to do this, and that, and go for a walk with my daughter. A productive start to my weekend. Go Toni! Good Girl!
But then as soon as I got home (of course!) I realized I had a bicycle key in my pocket that belonged back at work. And so I got in the car, feeling very virtuous with my plans to be back home within a half hour to get on with my schedule. And as I always do, I went around the beach. And right then I knew all my planning was in jeopardy. I really tried to forget the half hour time limit I had imposed on myself. And the walk I knew would be good for me. Those things just weren't going to happen.
The sun going down was just SO beautiful I had to stop and take out my camera, you know...to take "just one". But the beauty of a sunset (or sunrise for that matter - a vivid one can make me late for work) always keeps me spellbound. The settings suns effect on the colors of the clouds and the reflection on the water can always keep me snapping away. I am really envious of the runner in the first picture because I don't think I could ever not stop to look. And of course take pictures.
So much of my life is ruled by the sun, as are all of ours. Light, dark, when to rise, when to sleep. It occupies a good part of my job as a concierge too. A lot of our visitors attitudes can be predicted by the suns gracing us with it's appearance, or it's frowned upon no show. I confess, I'm hooked. So if I've made plans with you, and I'm just a bit late - chances are I've stopped in my tracks because I just can't help myself. And if 5 minutes mysteriously turns into 20 I promise myself I'm just going to enjoy it, because there's no looking away from a masterpiece for me. I'll just consider it the Key West version of stopping and smelling the roses! Besides, I do get to share the pictures with you, right? And sharing this place I call home is my very favorite thing to do...
It's like watching nature paint. Each second brings a new, amazing, beautiful canvas. And no matter how many times I tell myself the sun sets every day - there I am, smiling. And who knows what tomorrow will bring? I sometimes feel like I am always running, running, but never really going anywhere. So if watching this sun set is the only way for me to stand still who am I to judge?
I drove with my daughter and the kids to Miami last week, one of those all in one day trips that is fun but a long drive with the sun burning into your eyes each way. I was really tired when we got home and planned on going right to bed.
But as tired as I was I had something on my mind. I had spoken to my fellow concierge Joe earlier and he had mentioned that he would be up late that night. When I asked why he said that at midnight, he and his husband Lenny's marriage would finally be recognized in their own home town. And that they were going to the courthouse to attend the very first ceremony in Key West to recognize same sex marriage. You see, Lenny and Joe married in New York some time ago because it wasn't legal here until now.The picture on the left is that happy day. You couldn't find a more dedicated couple, of any gender.
It really made me think. I have been around these couples my whole life and had really never thought twice about it except to defend them when I needed to. The equality issue was something I hadn't thought about deeply, although I knew just how unfair it was that couples, because they were the same sex couldn't have the simple legal rights than any straight couple would have when they married. And so I headed downtown to see my friend Maria at Blue Sky Rentals knowing if there was anything going on before the historic midnight marriage she would know.
Here's the car. As we headed to the courthouse to deliver the car we had a lot of people along Duval giving up a "thumbs up" and taking pictures. I didn't get it right away but after the first "Congratulations" I heard I realized people we passed thought WE were the lucky couple! We had a good laugh about that, although I admit Maria had caught on much quicker than I did.
And so we got to the courthouse, and there was a nice sized crowd there to witness the ceremony joining the two long time partners - H.V. Haskins and Derek Gay in marriage, legally for the first time in Key West. The very first same sex marriage that so many had waited so long for. The courthouse decided to make special arrangements so that this could happen at midnight, right when it became legal.The crowd was ecstatic and of course Reverend Steve Torrence did an amazing job as always, and I am so glad I was there.
And so we got to see them off, to take a slow ride down Duval and the celebration waiting for them. After doing what so many other couples come to Key West to do...get married.
And so I want to Thank you Joe. Thank you for telling me about your plans and sharing your happiness with me. Because seeing and feeling the love and excitement in the air, and getting to experience something finally put right is not something I'll ever forget. And because although it should have happened in Key West a long time ago it still makes me so very - very proud to have, by luck been born in this country. Here's toast to all of the couples that will finally get their wish. It's about time.
I love this picture., wish I knew who took it. The bartender was Debbie, that worked for us for many years and that we loved dearly. The gentleman on the right hand side was a school teacher here in Key West, Al Canfield, that would come in and have a few very proper martinis with extra olives every day. Family, to us. both of them.
I was too young to work there at the time, but the thing I love the most about this picture is how it highlights the business cards. There were thousands upon thousands...some of them 4 and 5 deep, all a crazy collage of people from all over the world that wanted to "leave their mark".
The story Daddy told (with a wink and a nudge) that two "lady friends" from Las Vegas came to visit him and he put their cards up to help "promote" their business. Then people saw the cards, and starting adding their own. We sure went through a LOT of staples. One of Daddy's favorite games was to tell people if they could find Jimmy Buffet's card they could drink free all day. Well they never found it because there wasn't one =).But they sure had fun looking! I also heard tales from people that had been called from Capt. Tony's, from someone who had "had" a few and decided to start calling people who's business cards they had found. Love it!
If someone didn't have a card, they would often substitute with dollars, upon which they would write their name and staple it up. I experienced a few broke Spring Breakers trying to use them. Of course I wouldn't accept them, but usually took pity and just gave them the drink anyway. Another common occurrence was people trying to search for cards they had put up the last time they were here. But since the bar was so dark they would often try to light up where they were looking with matches or a lighter. Not a good ideas in an old wooden building with so many layers of paper!
Memories, so many memories...and I promise I'll tell you how all the bras that are there now came about another time...
It was a strange day in Key West,
What's was so strange about it was that it had been raining since I woke up a several hours earlier, and showed no signs of letting up. It was very dark and very gloomy...what I imagine "up north" must be like in the winter. And it really is nice to have days like this once in a while. I love Key West, but I hate the heat. And a rainy day to me always says "Curl up and read a book" if I'm home - without feeling guilty for not doing all the things I should be doing but most of all it make me say "Thank YOU" to the powers that if I'm off work that day.
I love my job as a concierge, and it can be fun, most days. Only problem is, rainy days often bring out ....well...the worst in some people.
I try very very hard to see things from other peoples point of view. The nice me understands that these people have often waited, and saved, and planned for this vacation and prayed (and often expect) that things would work out a certain way. No rain, just beautiful sunshiny days.. But to curse at the concierge (and believe me it's happened) because it's raining? And you can't tell them when "IT" will stop. Exactly when? Wow.
Several months ago I had a guest that couldn't decide whether or not to rent a bicycle. 45 minutes spent at my desk, trying to decide...yes or no? Yes or NO? You see it looked like it "could" rain. To pass the time (and because, if you haven't guessed I like to talk.....alot!) I carried on a conversation with this person and asked a few questions.... Guess where he was from? Miami. But better yet, guess what this persons occupation was?? Bet you guessed it... A meteorologist! Oh Well, at least it made me feel better for not being able to "predict" the weather.....because you never know for sure..."Will it Rain?"