Welcome to my backyard--the Florida Keys! I'm a travel writer, blogger and photographer with a passion for all things Florida, especially the Florida Keys. These islands are so much more than Duval Street and Jimmy Buffet. They are rich in history, culture, cuisine, nature and events--all surrounded by pristine waters teeming with wildlife. Whether you're a local or a visitor, the Conch Republic has many surprises in store. Let me be your guide.
Bring your appetite and get ready for plenty of tastings when the third annual Key West Food & Wine Festivalkicks off this Thursday, Jan. 26, running through Sunday, Jan. 29. I got the inside scoop from festival director, Mark Certonio. Expect more than 44 stops at the festival's signature event, Duval Uncorked, a mile-long, food-and-wine tasting down Duval Street, Key West's main drag. Stations are set up in boutiques, art galleries, restaurant and inns. New this year are some goodies for Uncorked ticket-holders with smart phones: a phone app with a map of the route and a contest using QR codes. The first two people who check in with a festival staff member with all 44 QR codes scanned on their phone from each stop will win a VIP pass for next year.
When I was young, my mother often told me that I had champagne taste on a beer budget. Turns out she was spot-on about my affinity for the bubbly. With forecasts calling for balmy temps, I'm looking forward to sampling island cuisine and Barbancourt rum cake bites with my toes in the sand at the Kick off Your Flip Flops Barefoot Beach Party Thursday night. Then, I'm off on the Old Town Trolley to a Neighborhood Stroll along the Key West Bight Marina in the historic seaport. I'll enjoy fresh local seafood at restaurants like Conch Republic Seafood Company, Commodore and A&B Lobster House.
The rest of my weekend is equally packed with Turtles and Sharks and Mermaids, OH MY on Friday night and Coconut Bowling at Blue Heaven on Saturday afternoon. Later Saturday evening with my tasting glass dangling from a lanyard around my neck, I'll hit Duval Uncorked. Sunday, the festival wraps up at The Wine Market and Seafood Shakedown, where last year I stumbled upon an excellent Louis Bernard Cotes du Rhone.
Many of the events have already sold out, but tickets are still available for the Barefoot Beach Party, Duval Uncorked and the Seafood Shakedown at the Wine Market. Watch for my next blog, as I recount my festival adventures.
On Sunday night in Key Largo during the kick-off of the Flagler Centennial Celebration, I was treated to a sneak-peek of the new PBS documentary, "Flagler's Train: The Florida Keys Over-sea Railroad.” Intrigued by the history of this string of islands, I found the program chock full of fascinating archival imagery and personal correspondence that bring to life the human struggles and monumental technical achievements required to build America's railroads.
The overseas railroad connected this chain of isolated islands for the first time, forever changing the face of the Florida Keys. Many of the old railroad bridges can still be seen from U.S. Highway 1. My favorite is the iron-trestle bridge at Bahia Honda State Park. You can also see Pigeon Key, a tiny island south of Marathon that lies beneath the Old Seven Mile Bridge. It's home to original buildings and houses that date back to 1909 when this spit of land was a base camp for railroad workers
On Saturday, Jan. 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Pigeon Key honors the centennial with festivities featuring folks dressed in period clothing, kettle cooking, treasure hunts, square dancing and favorite foods from the early 20th century. On Friday, Jan. 20, at 11 a.m., Bahia Honda State Park stages a historical re-enactment. Stage shows depict Henry Flagler, the railroad magnet, and period travelers as they sharing their experiences.
The event I’m most looking forward to is Key West's Flagler Centennial Parade on Sunday, Jan. 22. It marks the day in 1912 when the first train arrived in Key West. The procession will march down Duval Street at 1 p.m. to the Custom House steps where “Henry Flagler” will address the spectators. An expanded "Speedway to Sunshine" railroad exhibit will be unveiled in the Custom House musuem.