Tag Archives: Key West

A Visit to Gulfport, Florida

Gulfport, Florida is a Step Back in Time

Our trip to Gulfport, Florida, nestled next to St. Petersburg, was a trip down memory lane! Little has changed over the years here and yet it has kept up with the times, offering the best of both worlds: family-friendly safe as well as eclectic Key West-style lifestyle.

We headed for Gulfport’s waterfront district, on the edge of Boca Ciega Bay. The city of 12,000 is an art community, as well as a beach community, and the seaside cottages are painted in bright colors that lift the soul.

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As I stepped through the doors of the Gulfport Casino Ballroom, small, by today’s standards, and into the Quonset hut shaped building, I could almost hear the Big Band sound wafting from the stage and instead of tables and booths filled with Florida memorabilia, I could see the pretty girls in their rolled and pinned up hair waiting by the sidelines for a boy in uniform to ask her to dance.

The building sits by (on?) Williams Pier, which juts out over the bay. The crystal chandeliers and the worn wooden floorboards brought me back to the days of shuffleboard and bocce ball and old men feeding seagulls from park benches.

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The Tierra Verde shoreline and the Don Cesar Hotel, aka “The Pink Palace” across the bay, offer pleasing views, whether wiggling your toes in the water or soaking in the sun on a beach towel. The “Don”, originally built as a hotel in 1928 and used as a hospital for recovering soldiers during WWII, reverted back to hotel use in 1973. We stayed there once. The view was fantastic and we watched a beach wedding from our window. It is, however, a historic building and all the quirks are there, including very small guest rooms.

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Gulfport houses and stores are quaint, no high rise condos here, folks, even the library is vintage 1950s. Maybe 60s. It wasn’t terribly crowded, but it was busy. We were all there for what had been billed as “Florida’s largest show” of vintage Florida souvenirs and memorabilia. I found many treasures including a “Florida Queen” cigar box and a matchbook with matches intact. Its outside cover offered “a choice Florida home site (Only $195 per lot, no money down! Purchaser paid $5 per month per lot.). Other finds included a “Graham for Senator” political button, a quilted hat made by Seminole Indians, and shipping labels from a couple of Florida citrus companies.

I priced some textiles, but passed them up. Later, we crossed the street and had lunch in one of the many restaurants in the area. There is a wide variety of cuisine choices here and the area has been recognized in the past as a strong contender in “Best Dining Experience”-type competitions.

Ours was a day visit, so we did not get to see all the area had to offer. Next time, I’d like to explore the Clam Bayou Nature Preserve and stroll the grounds of nearby Stetson University.

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Key West, A Different World

Welcome to the Unique World Known as the Florida Keys and Discover them all, from Long Key to Key West

The key to the Florida Keys is to embrace diversity and adopt a laid-back, island attitude. The turquoise waters of the Caribbean are always close by and it is easy to find scenic stopping spots along the way, and the strictly enforced speed limits help to encourage a sudden urge to slow down and enjoy the scenery:

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Some Keys had small State Parks, some quite woodsy. I told my husband that I wanted to live on Boca Chica just because the name was so fun. Long Key State Park offers interesting mangrove estuaries, nice beaches, good swimming and fantastic campsites right on the beach.

We did eventually make it to Key West and, of course, the pilgrimage had to start at Sloppy Joes, Hemingway’s fishing guide and favorite bar keep. Restaurants and drinking establishments abound on Duvall and neighboring streets. Just remember that the “Duvall Crawl” may result in the “Hangover Shuffle”.

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We could not overlook the Hemingway House and were glad we took the time to tour the property. The descendants of Hemingway’s Maine Coon cats, unusual for their six-toed paws, were everywhere, very independent and keeping a cool distance unless they changed their minds. The home was elegantly furnished, right down to the Murano glass chandelier:

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I loved the other rooms, as well:

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In the spirit of freedom and independence, chickens and roosters roamed free in the town.

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The homes are incredible and much time was spent exploring and admiring the architecture from grand mansions to funky cottages to a community of houseboats:

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Charter boat trips to out islands are scenic and varied from sailing ships to catamarans to ferry rides. Make sure to book at least one excursion:

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The Island people take their independence very seriously, many still claiming allegiance to the Conch Republic, created in 1982 in protest to police blockades that threatened Civil Rights, along with tourism and trade. For a few hours, Key West did indeed secede from our nation, and their blue flag can be seen everywhere on the island.

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People here are social activists within the community, no matter which side of the coin they’re on:

Key West Trip #1

Key West’s “Official Philosophy” is on a bumper sticker that someone handed to me: “All People Are Created Equal Members Of ONE HUMAN FAMILY”. You can get one, too. Just send a self-addressed, stamped #10 (legal size) envelope to: One Human Family, P.O. Box 972, Key West, FL 33041 USA or go to their website: www.onehumanfamily.info

Key West 2007-Panorama

If planning a Florida vacation to Key West, my best advice is to pack sunscreen along with your clothes and don’t forget a loving heart and an open mind and, no matter what your personal preference, know that there is something for everyone here, from roadside art, all manner of water sports, and an immersion in maritime history, to enhance your island vacation in the Sunshine State!

The Seminole Reservation

No Trip to the Everglades Would be Complete Without a Visit to the Seminole Reservation

The Billie Swamp Safari on 41 offers about the same things as the Big Cypress Seminole reservation on I-75, but the airboat rides are cheaper and longer. I stopped at a roadside stand and bought some sugar cane juice to take home to my mother, a third generation Florida Cracker, who was under my care at a nursing home for dementia at the time. I also purchased a Seminole cornhusk doll, just like the ones she used to buy me when I was a little girl. She was very pleased with both surprises.

We saw numerous Chickee Chobees:

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Most Seminole homes have at least one in their yards. The fanciest shelters have are enclosed or at least screened, others are nothing more than four posts and a roof. These were available for rent for $35 per night, but that price may have changed. I was quite taken with the thatched roof:

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One of the guides (who informed my husband that I was a very cool lady, which I’ve been saying for years), explained the thatching process for me, so guess what one of my NEXT projects is? I’ve decided to make a chickee for Baby Blue, my 2003 Thunderbird, to park under. The first palm fronds are folded in half and then nailed to the pole frame:

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I spent many wonderful hours in the shops and highly recommend the AhTahThiKi (it means “a place to learn”) museum. I thought about buying a skirt pieced by the Seminole women, but paying $700 for a skirt just goes against the grain. Not that I don’t appreciate the hours of work that goes into such a piece, but I had my husband with me, making it hard to justify so I didn’t even try. I DID buy a ceremonial staff, with lots of beading and feathers and leather talismans. I intend to shake the rain out of the clouds. The saleswoman didn’t know how much to charge for shipping, so she said she’d mail it and I could send a check. I offered to pay for the staff, but she told me she trusted me.

Shopping on the reservation was like being a kid in a candy store. I bought some beautiful jewelry, lots of fun beaded things, and three books, one of poetry, another of the history of the Seminole and Miccosukee Indians, another book on their art.

My husband eventually dragged me out of the swamp and we headed south again, this time landing in Key Largo.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t get to explore the Gulf on the “It’s a Dive” scuba boat, but that just gives us a good excuse to make a return trip.

Next up? Key West, of course!

Alligators in the Everglades

I managed a few pictures that capture the vast area, but nothing really does it justice. I felt (and was) very small in the middle of acre upon acre of saw grass and mud flats and a few inches of water. We were 8 miles from where the ValueJet plane went down. The boat captain told us that some parts just got sucked right into the mud, never to be seen again. If I’d gotten out of the boat, the water would have been less than knee deep, but I would have sunk in up to my thighs.

Everglades Airboat Ride

Our boat captain teased the little alligator at the dock.

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Then he took us to meet Tiny. He knows Tiny is a female (sexing an alligator requires an internal exam) because there is a bigger gator in the same pond and if Tiny were male, the bigger alligator would have driven it off.

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This is the bigger gator:

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His name is Rambo.

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He’s been in a recent fight. His back leg is injured, but is healing. Scientists are quite interested in this ability to heal in fetid waters.

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The boat captain would hold out his hand and as the alligator rose its head up, the captain would rap his fingers on the top of its snout and the alligator would open it’s mouth.

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“Rambo’s” head was inches away from my knee when I snapped this picture. They seemed almost tame. I still don’t trust them, but I wasn’t afraid. See that black line that runs back from his eye? That’s his ear. Oh, and they hiss.

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It was kind of creepy the way they’d circle the boat.

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And then slip underneath.

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Only to appear again. This time in the front of the boat. I may have lost sight of them, but they never took their eyes off me. Not once.

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Florida is the only state where the American crocodile still exists. You can tell the difference between alligators and crocodiles by the shape of their snouts. The alligator’s snout is rounded while the crocodile’s snout is elongated. Neither one have tongues.

Most of the eggs in this alligator nest will be eaten by surrounding wildlife, some before hatching.

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Of those that make it, the eggs at the top of the mound will be male and at the bottom of the mound, the emerging baby gators will be female. Temperature decides the sex, the hotter the egg, male, the colder the egg, female. Sounds wrong, doesn’t it? Anyway, the baby gators still aren’t out of the woods, er, swamp, yet. Predatory birds, raccoons, other alligators, yes, even the one that fathered them (talk about life cycle!), pick off unwary babies. Mother gator does what she can for about a year. After that, it’s every gator for him/herself.

That attitude of independence seems to have bubbled over into all of South Florida’s denizens, as we were about to discover during our trip to Key West, but that’s another post for another day. Later, Gators!