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Taking it easy in the relaxing Florida Keys, journalist Leslie Anne Wiggins shares with TeaTime-Mag her experiences snorkeling, visiting the home of author Ernest Hemingway, and sipping mojitos on the warm vacation island.
Text and photos by: Leslie Anne Wiggins
Country: United States

hanksgiving 2010 in Key West, Florida was my first visit to the Florida Keys. I’d been to Orlando as a child and visited Disney World and Epcot Center, but Key West is a more adult vacation destination. Like New Orleans, L.A., and Savannah, Ga., the Keys have a very loose “open container” law, which basically means you can drink out in the street – something that’s illegal in many U.S. cities. This creates a fun party-type atmosphere, but also a culture where drinking is a pretty prominent activity. Not that I’m complaining – a roadside Mojito was perhaps the best I’ve ever had.

I guess you’d expect the rum to flow in the place Ernest Hemingway called home. His favorite bar, Sloppy Joe’s, where he did a lot of writing in a private back room, is still bustling today. They hold an annual Hemingway look-a-like contest (winners’ photos adorn the front wall), and serve delicious fried fish tacos (fresh seafood – much of it fried – is abundant and extremely good on the island). Hemingway’s house, now a popular museum, is just down the street from the famous bar, off of the city’s main street, Duval. He wrote the novel “To Have and Have Not” in the second story pool house, which visitors can peek into. Six-toed “Hemingway” cats roam (and nap around) the property freely. Visitors can wander freely, too, and see the author’s residence how he lived there, even including the master bedroom. And then of course there’s the gift shop where cats also lay about, and you can buy copies of “The Sun Also Rises,” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” among others.

The ocean is a clear light blue, and the sand is fine and white. It’s a beautiful vacation spot really. We went out sailing on a catamaran, where we saw dolphins, snorkeled, and ate plenty of incredibly juicy sweet pineapple. There weren’t a ton of gorgeous fish to see – the most exciting was seeing a school of yellow and black ones. There’s better snorkeling in St. Thomas or Hawaii, but snorkeling itself is such a peaceful and fortunate activity, even if I’d just seen one fish it would have been OK.

We rented a house off of Duval Street that felt cozy and quaint, yet had plenty of space for nine people. There was a second-story deck where we grilled spicy chicken wings and corn-on-the cob, and drank Coronas. The small well-heated pool was so nice for a morning or evening swim. Because we had the house and a full kitchen, we were able to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner away from home, complete with a big turkey and pecan pie. We also ate plenty of Key Lime pie while there, which is made with the juice of Florida-grown Key Limes (rather than regular Persian limes), and the best ones have delicious graham cracker crust.

I think having a lot within walking distance is an ideal quality in a vacation spot. Key West is perfect for this, being a very small island that features one long main road lined with shops and restaurants. The warm, humid tropical climate was a nice reminder that I was on vacation, where the solution to a sudden downpour of heavy rain is to pop into the closest bar for a quick drink.

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