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Florida Part 4 – Keys, Everglades and St Petersburg

Finally got to the bottom of it!

sunny 34 °C
View America 48 States Attempt on eharpham's travel map.

We have managed to find a relatively affordable accommodation in Key West, the furthest most southern point in America (which btw is super expensive), very last minute, in hope that it will be so amazing that the long drive to get there would be worth it. Turns out that it was well worth it and not just for one but for multiple reasons!

Getting there

The drive from Miami to Key West is about 3 and a half hours and it is basically a straight road across multiple incredible bridges facing Gulf of Mexico on one side and Atlantic Ocean on the other. I was a designated driver for this trip as Edd wasn’t feeling too great (we had a big day out in Miami a day before, see the post before!) so couldn’t do too much sightseeing myself on the way down, but Edd was pretty good at highlighting the main sights. Keys are essentially an amalgamation of little islands stretching from south of Miami all the way down to about 90m north of Cuba. They are known for its chilled island vibe, tourism, amazing oysters and its incredible sunsets. Our first stop was of course for a Key Lime Pie which was as amazing as I expected it to be, zesty, rich, creamy and incredibly fresh! The next stop was a Cuban Sandwich shop called La Nina which we also had high expectations for given the high Cuban population in the area. It turned out to be one of the best meals we had in America! In fact it was that good that we stopped at the same place again on the way back. Would definitely recommend if you are ever in the Keys and passing through Marathon.

Staying at Paradise Inn

We arrived just in time for check-in at Paradise Inn that we booked with Agoda. The first time we used this booking app on the trip as it offered a better rate than Booking etc. but of course there was a catch, the amenities fee apparently wasn’t included in the booking (though it did say that it was) so it ended up being the most expensive accommodation we booked on the trip yet, at £130 per night. Also, parking wasn’t included but luckily enough there are number of free parking spots around town and we were lucky enough to find one just next to the resort. The room had a proper holiday vibe, massive bed (super comfy!) and a cute little balcony, there was also a pool and a cute little reception where wine, cheese and crisps were served everyday during happy hour. I was sold straight away and immediately suggested to Edd that we ditch the rest of the trip and stay there for until November. We entertained the idea for a bit but swiftly discarded it as Keys are just too expensive! We spent the rest of the afternoon/evening walking around the town, briefly visiting Duval Street (the main tourist street) for some live music, first of many live gigs that we were going to see in the coming weeks and then headed to the most southern point, where we had to queue for some 10 minutes to take the picture below:
We still had some leftovers from lunch so skipped dinner and blissfully slipped into a 12 hour sleep. The next morning was quite stressful as the news of Celsius crypto exchange stopping all withdrawals and transfers shook the crypto world prompting only slight panic for us as Edd luckily deposited only minimal amounts on this exchange. After the somewhat ruined morning we decided to take it easy and just chill by the pool for couple of hours, as you do when you are staying in a tropical paradise. During those couple of hours by the pool we managed to get seriously bitten by a single mosquito and we saw several large lizards, including an iguana (photo below taken on a different day, but same animal):
Feeling refreshed, we went to town again for some great $1 oysters (possibly the best thing about America, endless supply of cheap oysters!), some more live music including our first Honky Tonk gig, before returning for a Happy Hour at the hotel.
IMG_7576.JPEGIMG_7575.JPEG We had a great chat with a lovely receptionist working at the hotel who told us about growing up on the island, best food places to try and things to do both in Keys and Maine where he lived for a while. Having opportunity to chat to people from all different parts of America has really opened my eyes to how in many ways American lifestyle is different from the one we have in Europe. However because America is so vast experiences people have living in one state like Florida can also be starkly different from someone living in Midwest or deep South, and many have not travelled much around different parts either, so it is not surprise that despite it being one country there seems to be so much radical disagreement on the role of church, state and community in everyday life, which is what polarises so many people and is seemingly fuelling political views as well.
With all that in mind, we still proceeded to blissfully watch the best sunset on the island from Mallory Square which was full of street performers and people trying to get the best spot for the sunset. The sunset was great but still lagged behind the incredible sunsets, and sunrises we feasted on at Afrika Burn (about that, in a different blog!).
We had dinner at the cute little restaurant where we had yet another fish sandwich with mahi mahi and then called it a night. Key West almost complete, the next day we just had to visit a Fort Zachary Taylor Historic Park, made famous for civil war and one of the few places in America where you can see an old 30 state American Flag.
Was good, but not a must I’d say. Funny story, one guy wanted us to take a photo of him and was like “oh you are far from home”, I completely oblivious to the fact what he was referring to just said “ha, how did you know??!”, turned out that he thought we were from Alaska because of my visor 😊, who thought that one day I’d be mistaken for someone from Alaska 😊

Reunion for the win!

Whilst we had the greatest time in Key West the best time was yet to come as we were going to spend the last couple of days in Tavernier (north of Key West) with my dearest friend Vendy who I used to work with whilst I was studying in Edinburgh. She has since moved to Keys and built an incredible life with her husband Kevin and their precious little boy Shawn, oh yes and 2 great dogs! We haven’t seen each other for over a decade but I had no worries that we would have the bestest time once reunited! Its always so incredibly humbling when you realise you must have done something right to build such amazing connections and friendships that literally last a lifetime. We were welcomed with so much love and joy at their amazing house. The first night we got there we went straight to Islamorada the local brewery and distillery, a must visit if you are ever in Keys. Kevin’s boss started this place so Vendy and Kevin are very much locals there which made it that much more fun as they clearly knew the menu inside out and recommended the best beers. We got carried away and spent a good couple of hours there, naturally had so much to catch up on, before heading back home for some delicious Hawaian pizza (controversial haha), lasagne and Bo Jack Horseman TV dinner. Incredible afternoon for which I felt so grateful for and yet that was only a start.
The next day we were able to head out to the sea with Kevin and Vendy’s boat which was so beautiful, we went around Everglades for an hour or so enjoying the calm waters, some beers and just about the right amount of sun. When we got back Vendy made great brunch with lots of pancakes and bacon, delish! In the evening we went out on the boat again for some clam chowder at Hog Heaven which was actually like heaven! We sailed back into the sunset which was so beautiful and once again made me feel so grateful and filled with joy that I get to travel and have experiences like that day with great friends and an incredible partner. Truly magical day!
The rest of the evening was spent enjoying some more delicious food that Vendy prepared (thanks Vendy once again for all your wonderful cooking!) and just enjoying spending time together, planning our next rendezvous. Once again if you are reading this, thank you for welcoming us open heartedly and spending couple of days with us, can’t wait to host you in England soon!
The next morning we packed our bags, said our goodbyes and headed up north for an Everglades swamp tour to finally see some big boy aligators.

Last days in Florida – Aligator airboat tour and Dali’s Museum

The tour that we picked was called Captain Jack’s airboat tour and it was near Everglades city which is on the west coast so on the way up and out from Florida where we were heading. It was horrendously hot earlier in the day which is usually a sign of an upcoming storm so we had to hurry up to avoid the torrential rain on our tour. Luckily we just about made it. The airboat was great, just like in the movies, going through the swamp with lots of cypress trees around us, in pursuit of an alligator. We managed to find one who came so close that had he just not eaten would have probably eaten one of us. Great experience but quite scary! We also learned on the ride that most of the species in Everglades are now in danger due to invasion of Burmese pythons that are taking over the land and destroying pretty much every native species. The problem is so prevalent that they also have bounties for python killers ranging from $50 for each python measuring up to four feet plus $25 more for each foot measured above four feet, pretty good deal if you ask me.
We stayed over in Fort Myers for our last night in Florida before heading up to Atlanta with a quick stop at St Petersburg near Tampa for a visit to one of the apparently best Salvador Dali’s museums in the world. We were slightly discouraged by how expensive it was to get in - $25 pp + $10 parking but luckily the museum was really good so it was just about worth it. The museum was essentially a private collection of Dali’s work from his American besties Reynolds and Eleanor Morse who dedicated their life promoting and building this museum.
Museum had some great features including AI enhanced features on some of the paintings. Overall we agreed we would probably give it a good big 8, its not a 10 only because it was so horrendously expensive!
Also got to try my favourite coke flavour yet, tastes like a mix of cream soda and cherry, I loved it, Edd not so much.
And with that we completed our long Florida adventure and braced ourselves for a 6 hour drive to Atlanta where we were meeting another friend who would be joining us for next couple of weeks as we roamed in the South 😊

Top shirt quotes from Florida

“I am still a virgin, unfortunately this is not an old shirt”
“Do you miss me yet?” (with a photo of Trump)”
And the one below

Posted by eharpham 18:18 Archived in USA Tagged bridges america florida roadtrip keywest

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