In Silverado, Paden walks into The Midnight Star and says "I love the smell of a good saloon." Me too, and that's how I feel about Key West. The trick is, how to get Claudia to like it too, when she doesn't like saloons never mind the smell. First, we avoided Duval Street. I tried several times not to avoid it, but even at 10 o'clock in the morning, somehow the closest I could get was to cross it.
So what else does the perfect saloon have? Ideally, there's a homeliness, a comfortable, relaxed feel that makes you feel welcome, no pressure. The B&B was a perfect solution for that. The Mermaid And The Alligator—how could it go wrong? We loved it. It was a cross between someone's home and a hotel. To get to the pool, and the bar, and the breakfast tables, nestled in the jungle of a back yard, you had to walk right through the kitchen. Coffee was on the go here from earlier than it could possibly be needed, and you just grabbed a mug from the cupboard, but if you wanted it after it ran dry mid-morning, there was a k-cup machine to make yourself more.
On a counter top near the back door a coconut husk stored all the car keys, including ours, so the cars could double-park and yet nobody would ever be boxed in. But most cars never moved. A good saloon is of indeterminate age, but it definitely has age, a patina of wear, a sense of history. The B&B had that too, and so does the whole town.
We strolled into town to look for some supper. While not exactly on a budget, we passed up on several places that were clearly beyond our price point for a casual supper. We found the perfect spot, a pub right on the water, at the perfect time, lights on, but just enough daylight to be able to see the harbour. The food was good, and so was the beer.
First stop was "The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum" or so we thought. The line was already out of the door and half way down the street. Neither of us was remotely keen enough on the destination to want to stand in line, even for one of the biggest highlights on the tourist agenda. Across the street was The Key West Lighthouse in a most incongruous but photogenic down-town setting nestled behind a magnificent banyan tree.
including the installation of a Third Order Fresnel Lens, an extension to the tower which allowed the light to be seen from a greater distance, the addition of Keeper’s Quarters, and finally the electrification of the light. In 1969, the U.S. Coast Guard decommissioned the Key West Lighthouse since there was no longer a need for a full-time Keeper due to technological advancements."
As we entered the tower, there was a problem. The spiral went up in the middle of the tower, not against the walls. We walked up the 88 steps to the top of the light. Or rather Claudia walked. I crawled, clinging to whatever I could grab. But it was worth the effort. The view was fabulous, the weather was gorgeous, and a volunteer with a broad Yorkshire accent pointed out all the sights, including two giant cruise ships dwarfing the little port.
For our second evening meal, Claudia was determined to raise the stakes, and so she quizzed the Inrterweb for something acceptable. Once selected, we were not too far away so we headed that way to check it out. The Blue Heaven restaurant was on a street corner, and in fact the door faced the intersection, so it wasn't really on one street or the other. In a scene that generally only happens in the movies, as we arrived at the door from one direction, absolutely simultaneously another couple arrived from the other. Had the door not been locked it would have been a toss-up as to who had the right to enter first. But the door was locked. As we chatted to the other couple about our mutual disappointment, Claudia noticed the phone number on the door and called it. She made a reservation and then asked them to hold. She offered the other woman the phone. She tried to make a similar appointment but now the only available table was for four. To my astonishment, Claudia offered to share it with them. Wow. We exchanged numbers with our new friends Randy and Martha Carson, and the deal was done.
But between then and now we had a cruise to take, and a rum distillery to visit. Such is life. I'd heard about the Key West Legal Rum Company through an article on NPR, and I was determined to stop by. Opened in 2013 it should not be a surprise to hear that it is advertized as "the first legal rum company in Key West." Where you would be wrong, and I definitely fell for this, was in thinking that therefore it was the ONLY rum distillery in Key West. I'd only had my precious bottle in hand for about 10 minutes when we came across Key West Distilling, "the FINEST distillery in Key West." It was markedly better, so at great personal risk from management wrath, I had no choice but to purchase a second bottle. Management was spending its time in a clothing store, where a dress was purchased to celebrate our dinner appointment, so all was well.
Our little sailing excursion departed from the main port, right beside the two cruise liners we'd seen from the lighthouse. In a whole bunch of different ways, they reminded me of Axiom, the starliner in WALL-E. Our fellow participants attempted to group in a steady stream of Axiom passengers boarding and disembarking. To our amusement and delight, the captain and three or four crew who finally corralled us were all women.
We motored out from the harbor and once in open water where there was a little more of a breeze, we raised the sail and headed for a couple of islands perhaps a mile off shore. We snorkeled as promised, and I tried to practice using my GoPro without drowning, but the water was too murky to get any reasonable footage. Not that there was much to see, other than a wandering barracuda who thankfully paid us no attention.
My highlight was the kayaks, which we used to circumnavigate one of the islands, at one point pushing right inside the mangrove to stop and talk about them a little. I think Claudia's favorite part was standing talking to the captain, who was no Captain Josh, but made up for it with plenty of spark.
We had completely miscalculated the timing of the trip, thinking we'd be back at dusk, whereas the cocktails were served at dusk. I drank the sangria because the beer was not beer, and of course Claudia just poked at everything. The plan had been to return to the B&B to shower and change, but as we docked it was already time to be at the restaurant. We agreed to divide and conquer, with Claudia heading straight for the restaurant, and me trotting back to change and collect the new dress.
Claudia's intuition paid off. Randy and Martha proved to be excellent dinner companions. He was an "entrepreneur" and though (or because?) he provided few details about it, he was clearly very successful. Martha was a writer. But the conversation wandered all over the place, we shared food samples and stories. We laughed. Serendipity at its best.
How sad then, to be barely home out of the rain that had crashed outside as we finished dessert and coffee, for the phone to ring. Meaghan the dog-sitter had had a tough day with Jack, who had finally collapsed and she was now in the ER with him. We agreed the vet should perform whatever tests she needed, and we tried to sleep while we waited for news.