“The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea” – a weekend in Key West

This springtime’s “where’m I gonna use my Delta companion pass this year” question was easy to answer.  Since going to Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris last June and to Ketchum, Idaho last fall, I’ve been a voracious Hemingway reader–both of his works and of the biographies about his adventures.  I wanted to go to his house and museum in Key West.  Last weekend, we went.

We landed at 10:30am, picked up a convertible Camaro, and pulled up to Joe’s Stone Crab 15 minutes before its 11:30am opening time.  I’d read in my “1000 Places to See Before You Die” book that this was a must-visit place in Miami, so we ventured to Miami Beach before heading south on US-1.

The book was right.  Joe’s Stone Crab was an amazing experience–excellent food, service, and ambiance.  It may have also been the most expensive alcohol-free lunch (almost–we had 1 cocktail each) I’ve ever had; however, I’m glad we went.  The crabs were in season, and since we were early, they happened to have a few “colossal” sized claws (the menu stopped at “jumbo”) that day, so we ordered those, and they were enormous…and delicious.  We got hashbrowns and coleslaw to go with them (also delicious) and then key lime pie that was so awesome I wanted to find a bed roll and stay there indefinitely (I later read that Joe’s is the alpha chapter of key lime pie, incidentally!).

Then, we put the top down and headed south to where the highway ends, arriving at the Knowles House B&B at 5:30pm (a recommendation from my friend Karisa’s blog).  A few minutes later, we walked down to the sunset pier to watch the famous Key West sunset.

Dinner was at Bliss Restaurant, and the delicious food (called “seafood and Latin infusion”) was preceded by the best Sangria I’ve ever had anywhere (including many many samples in Barcelona and Pamplona).  Then, we explored Old Town and Duval Street, dropping in at Sloppy Joe’s and Captain Tony’s before seeking refuge from the St Patrick’s Day + spring break revelers at a couple art galleries and the Key Lime Pie Company, where I had a piece of key lime pie on a stick, dipped in dark chocolate that was perfect.  We closed the evening at Joe’s Tap Room where I could enjoy an island cigar.

I hardly slept Saturday night, as I was so excited about Sunday’s activity; I was downstairs waiting on breakfast an hour before its designated start time.  We walked up to the Hemingway Home & Museum shortly after its 9am opening.

Upon entering, there were posters from the films created from his writings in the hallway, photographs of his friends and him in the parlor, and other keepsakes on display.  There was one of him on the front porch of his home in Ketchum, Idaho, clearly taken close to the time of his death; my eyes started to water, because I’m immediately saddened when thinking about someone with so much talent and who enjoyed so many adventures, yet who took his own life after failed treatments for bipolar disorder.

A loud voice signaled the start of the next tour, so we assembled with the other visitors in front of our guide. The tour began, and within 30 seconds I realized our guide was going to try and be funny instead of deferential, and I hated her tour (it was her preface to our “hall of wives” tour that did it).  We continued to follow, however, and I told myself I’d go back through the house by myself after her tour ended, which is what I did.  I went up to the room where he wrote 70% of his works by myself; it was in a separate building from his home that he accessed via an elevated cat walk, but a hurricane took it down, so now one accesses it with exterior stairs from the ground.

There were taxidermied heads from Africa and Idaho, a fish from Key West or Cuba, lots of windows, and, of course, a typewriter.  Our guide said he used to write out his words and then later type them before sending them to his editor or publisher, but my research from reading multiple biographies indicates he actually sat and wrote longhand his descriptions but stood to type conversation, because he felt conversation is more of a staccato style that typing and standing would better capture.  I thought about bringing this up during the “any questions” portion of our tour, but then figured nothing would be gained from such, and I’ll believe what I’ve read about how he wrote instead of the guide’s version, and that’s all I have to say about that.

There were many cats, and they’re all named for movie stars and political dignitaries, and they descend from the cats Hemingway and his family had when they lived there, and most have 6 toes, as everyone knows.

I’m not normally much of a “cat person,” since one scratched and bit me a bunch when I was a kid, and one of my cousins’ cats peed in my suitcase when we visited their home in Phoenix in 1988, but the particular cat pictured above seemed like he needed patting, and I didn’t want to fly to Miami and then drive to Key West to go to Ernest Hemingway’s house, be surrounded by over 50 cats, and not pat one of his cats.  So, I pat this cat, and it did not attack me nor nor pee in my luggage.  In fact, the cat rather enjoyed the experience, as did I.

We went in the gift shop and bought a little painting featuring the old man and the boy from “The Old Man and the Sea” that was commissioned to honor the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, and now we have it hanging in our dining room, and even though the old man’s prize marlin got eaten by sharks, the little boy still respected the old man, and their likeness in watercolors makes me happy every day.

After I spent as many hours as I felt I could at the house/museum, we walked to the edge of the water for our charter fishing trip, scheduled with Captain Will of Reel Thang fishing.  I had a beer at the marina bar (that was Barrelhead Bar in “License to Kill”) and then my bride and I boarded the boat for some snorkeling on a reef for a bit, and then we found a spot to start tossing out chunks of live bait. We caught some small snapper.

Then Captain Will decided we should try another spot, and we caught even bigger snappers, some triggerfish, and a feisty grouper!  At this spot, our guide captured some ballyhoo with a net that we used for bait.  We tried to snag some mackerel but weren’t able to, but it was great fun to watch them hit the bait and try to bring them in.

And now I see why guys I know fly down to the Caribbean over and over again to go saltwater fishing.

Captain Will cleaned the fish for us, and we walked up to the little Thai restaurant above the marina where I’d had our pre-fishing trip beer, carrying a bag of filleted fish, and they prepared sushi and stir-fry from the fish we’d just caught, and it was amazing, and I felt like it was the manliest day I’d ever spent in maybe my entire life.

That evening, we went back out on a much quieter Duval Street for a bit, hitting some of the spots from the night before, but taking more time to enjoy Sloppy Joe’s, especially the Hemingway memorabilia on the walls; I even bought some souvenir glasses and coasters in the attached gift shop.

Monday morning after breakfast, we started back up US-1 toward Miami with the top down, parking near my “web guy’s” office (whom I’ve used for 6 years) to see how the firm has grown from about 5 people to over 100 (in multiple cities) now.  We had a great lunch at a French restaurant nearby and then grabbed Cuban sandwiches and espresso at Las Palmas for the short drive to the airport.

And thus ended a wonderful 3-day weekend trip with my bride to follow our family’s 7-day Maui trip (after 4 days in the office).  I hope we can always spend at least 1 weekend per year away, just the 2 of us, though such trips always make me want to revisit the locations we pick with the children.

Next up?  A road trip exploring Shenandoah National Park, Congaree National Park, Jamestown, and colonial Williamsburg for spring break in April!


  1. Pretty Bride

    This was such, such, such a good weekend. I enjoyed it enormously. Love having you all to myself and going on new adventures—or “recon” trips, either way. XOXO

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