I feel it is deeply unfair when a woman has an unabashed love of cats she’s known as a crazy cat lady. When a man, however, is a cat lover no one comes up with such a pejorative nickname. Relatives of mine (ahem! my brother) are crazy about their cats. He’s got three cats who are deeply loved and cosseted. Does anyone accuse him of being a crazy cat person? No. So I shall do some finger-pointing and call out the American swashbuckling hero, general hard-drinking/hard-loving, larger-than-life novelist, Ernest Hemingway, as a crazy cat man. Hemingway’s Key West house is now a visitor destination and home to a whole lot of cats.
Hemingway and His Cats
Hemingway’s Key West house is filled with cats. You turn around, and there’s another cat that you are practically tripping over. There are 50+ cats in residence in the house. Some of them are descendants of Snow White, Hemingway’s polydactyl (six-toed) cat given to him by a sea captain as good luck. Hemingway’s sons chose the name for this cat but subsequent cats were named after the author’s famous friends.
One cat just leads to another.
See? This quote just proves that Hemingway was a crazy cat man.
Kitty does not look amused.
Here’s a cat on top of a mini version of Hemingway’s Key West house built as a cat house.
Hemingway liked cats because he admired their intelligence and independence.
A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.
No animal has more liberty than the cat. The cat is the best anarchist.
Just doing a perimeter check.
Stop looking at my toes, people. Nothing to see here.
Hemingway had curtains embroidered with cats. ‘Nuff said.
Hemingway and His Women
It seems Hemingway was more faithful to his cats than to the women in his life. He was notorious for his messy love affairs. He had four wives and three kids. Three of his wives became friendly with each other (probably bonding over what a pain he was).
Hemingway’s bed. Bet this saw a lot of action.
When he ran off to Europe to be a war correspondent and took his mistress with him, his second wife tore down his boxing ring in the back garden and built a very expensive pool. It was actually the only in-ground pool in the Florida Keys in the 1930’s. The Florida Keys are islands made of solid coral and digging out the pool cost some serious labour and expense. The town of Key West would not allow the use of dynamite to create the pool so it was dug out by hand over the course of a year.
A detail of the pool.
The Hemingway house is a popular wedding destination (because Hemingway himself was so good at marriage??). It’s probably the same people who go on to play My Heart Will Go On by Celine Dione at the wedding reception. Newsflash: it’s a song about love and loss inappropriate for the first few hours of wedded bliss.
Beyond just his love of cats and women, the man had a fascinating personal story. He knew he had manic depression but in those days no one knew what to do with that sort of illness. His doctors told him to drink to get over his mood swings. As everyone now knows, alcohol is a depressant and pretty much exactly what he shouldn’t have had.
Hemingway’s Key West House
Hemingway’s Key West House was built by a local wealthy salvage merchant in the mid-19th century. Key West during that time had a lot of money thanks to the salvage trade and all the ships that run aground along this treacherous stretch of ocean. The merchant’s family all died thanks to yellow fever and the house was abandoned.
A beautiful house from the outside as well.
This water fountain is actually the urinal from the men’s room of a bar in Key West that Hemingway liked to frequent.
By the time, Hemingway’s rich second wife’s uncle bought it for the couple, the house was in a serious state of disrepair. The Hemingways restored the house and what you visit now is very much how it would have looked when they were in residence. After Hemingway’s death, his sons sold it to a local Key West resident who opened it up as a museum.
The property has a cat cemetery where the names of the cats that have lived on the estate are buried.
A cat paying his respects to Willard Scott buried in the Pet Sematary.
The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum is today a National Historic Landmark. You don’t need reservations to visit. It is suggested you go early in the day as it is very popular and lines to enter can stretch down the street. There are guides who will take you around the house and explain the history of the house and its inhabitants, including the cats.
We heard the Lamborghini’s roar before we saw the car itself. Not that the black and gold car was hard to spot even in the sea of expensive cars awash along the sidewalks of South Beach in Miami. Everybody’s head turned and the cell phones came whipping out of pockets. Even the vanity license plate was obnoxious – screaming look-at-me by spelling out the word “winning”. The owner was just one of the many people out to see and be seen on a sunday afternoon on South Beach in Miami.
So much money for such an ugly car
I wondered who could own such a distinctive car. A quick search on Google, showed that the last time this license plate showed up in an article it belonged to a New York divorce lawyer who owned a Lamborghini. The article makes him sound like a real class act (similar to Charlie Sheen who is famous for his “winning” twitter hashtag). It must be a truth universally acknowledged that a man who uses the term ‘winning’ without irony must be an ass.
South Beach, the lower bit of Miami Beach has its fare share of brash behaviour masquerading as sophisticated, tanned and toned flesh being flaunted and cash of dubious origins being flashed. Yet, it also has its quiet charm of Art Deco architecture and everyday people enjoying a weekend in the sunshine.
We spent a sunday on South Beach before our flight from Miami to London. After a nice lunch, we hung out on the beach while the children played. When my son got bored, I joined him for a walk along Ocean Drive to spot expensive cars.
How cool is this retro life guard stand?
Our game was not as exciting as walking around Chelsea in London on a sunday afternoon. We found a lot of Chevrolet Camaros and Ford Mustangs. You just knew the owners of these cars would be friends with The Flamingo Kid. Surprisingly, there were also a lot of Chrysler PT Cruisers. Clearly, this crowd liked its American cars.
If you can’t go flashy and trashy, then go old-school.
My favourite part though was the kaleidoscope of colours around me. The pretty faded pastel colours of the buildings and signs was enchanting. South Beach is also great for people-watching.
It was a whole world that was a photographer’s delight – vendors selling assorted stuff, people out walking their dogs, the beach volleyball games being taken very seriously by their players, the sunbathers on the beach itself and the many people having a leisurely lunch in the outdoor cafes.
Confident in hot pink on a rental city bicycle. You go girl!
Here are my photos of a sunday afternoon on South Beach.
Why yes that is a red Ford Mustang in the background.
Beach volleyball is taken seriously here.
An art deco beauty
I remember Barbizon as a shady modelling school in New York when I was growing up.
Lime green and pink against the dark green of the palm and the blue of the sky.
A wall isn’t going to get in the way of our saying hello.
Mojitos, the drink to have.
If you aren’t having a cocktail, go healthy with a fresh coconut.
What a lifestyle! Cycling to the beach in your flip-flops to play some volleyball.
I had all my Miami stereotypes confirmed in one Sunday afternoon on South Beach. Our Cuban restaurant even had some Miami Sound Machine music playing as we sipped mojitos in the warm sunshine.
We keep saying we will spend more time in Miami one of these days. Usually we are passing through Miami on the way to or from somewhere. From the little I saw of Miami, it’s a city worth exploring in more depth.
Remote islands are always going to attract people who are a bit different from the majority of people on the mainland. Perhaps they chose island life because they wanted to escape the conformity of the majority population or maybe island life made them a little bit loony. The southernmost island in the United States, Key West, has definitely had its share of eccentrics throughout history. Some of them even rose to the level of freaks in real life and, in the afterlife, ghosts in Key West Florida.
The Nanny Diaries, Circa 1900 Version
One of the most famous residents of Key West isn’t even a person. He is Robert the Doll, apparently the most haunted plaything in the United States, upon whom Chuckie from Child’s Play was based.
Robert was given to a little kid Robert Eugene Otto at the turn of the 20th century by his Caribbean nanny. The little kid’s mother was a nightmare employer who had fired the nanny. The nanny was a practitioner of voodoo/santeria and placed a curse on the doll. As one does, before the advent of employment tribunals.
At first glance, the doll looks creepy but harmless. He’s an old-fashioned doll in a sailor suit with button eyes about the size of a four year old child. He’s stuffed with straw (and possibly magic!). Robert the doll has his own toy lion to keep him company. Every nefarious villain needs a minion sidekick. I personally would have picked a little fluffy white Persian kitty as Robert’s special friend.
You can buy Robert the Doll replicas and souvenirs.
The kid decided to name the doll Robert and used his middle name (shortened to Gene) in order to differentiate between the two of them. Gene was constantly getting into mischief and his response was always the same: “Robert did it!”. Gene’s mother eventually sent Robert to live in the attic.
Robert was just biding his time though. After he got married, Gene took over the family house. He brought Robert back down from the attic and continued to treat him as if he were alive. Needless to say the wife was less than happy. Robert and the wife hated each other. Once the police were called for a domestic disturbance to find the wife locked in a room. What did Gene have to say for himself? “Robert did it!” Of course.
Everyone’s favourite phrase.
Robert the doll has a long history of mischief. After Gene’s death, the family who bought his house found Robert in the attic. The little girl in the family took a liking to Robert. Uh oh. She soon changed her mind and started having nightmares that Robert was trying to kill her. So, Robert wound up at the East Martello Museum in a protective glass case. He’s also got a loJack chain on him just in case he decides to wander off.
Robert’s exhibit at the Museum has a series of letters from people apologising for either not believing in him or not approaching him with the appropriate amount of courtesy. You need to verbally ask his permission before you take a photo of him. I guess he wasn’t enthusiastic about me because I found that my video of him cut off prematurely. I’m pretty sure that Robert did it.
Robert wants you to say hello even by snail mail.
Count Frankenstein and his Bride
I found the story of Count Carl von Cosel just as creepy and even more disturbing. Carl Tanzler was a German immigrant and a self-proclaimed count. He worked in a hospital in Key West and was looking for love in all the wrong places. Carl took a liking to one of the patients, Elena, a beautiful 22 year old Cuban woman dying of tuberculosis.
After Elena died, he’d visit her grave and talk to her. Reportedly, she talked back. And, told him she hated her grave. So he disinterred her (without anyone knowing) and stuck her in a wingless airplane. Stuck in a metal can in the Florida heat and humidity is not good for anyone, never mind a year and a half dead corpse.
Elena’s wax effigy
Creepy Carl eventually took Elena to his home where he kept her for 7 years. During that time he managed to stuff her insides and keep the body going with wire and wax to be as realistic as possible. Plus lots of scented candles and perfume. Rumors began to reach Elena’s sister that Creepy Carl was up to something with Elena’s body. She marched on over to Carl’s house to find out it was indeed true. Elena was wearing a wedding dress and lounging on Karl’s bed.
Carl got taken off to jail but released on a technicality. Because, you know, Florida. Elena was reburied in a grave where Creepy Carl couldn’t get to her. By this time, the case had received a lot of publicity. Her wake was attended by 6000 people!
Creepy Carl went back to Tampa where he had had a wife and two kids living the entire time. He wrote a book about his experience. When he eventually died, he was found with a life-size mannequin of Elena.
Of course, Elena had heaving bosoms. Of course.
Ghosts in Key West Florida
There are a number of ghost tours offered in Key West as befitting America’s fourth most haunted city. I took the Ghosts and Graveyards tour on an appropriately black-coloured trolley bus. We didn’t visit the graveyard so they may need to rethink the naming of this tour. There were children present and I didn’t find it very creepy. How creepy can a trolley bus tour be, right? The stories were entertaining and really added colour to a quirky city separated by location, temperament and weather from the rest of the United States.
The Trolley of Doom
You can also stay in Robert the Doll’s former house which is now a B&B called The Artist House. People have reported strange things happening in the attic room as well as sightings of Gene’s long deceased wife on the lookout for a crazy homicidal doll.
I’m on Periscope showing people a beautiful sunny afternoon in Key West when I hear my kids yelling “chickens!” In the middle of scoping, I turn around with phone in hand. Lo and behold, there are indeed chickens walking randomly around. Some person on my feed wants to know if they are really chickens or maybe just squirrels. Hello?? I may be a city girl but I can definitely tell the difference between chickens and squirrels.
I thought I’d share our day in Key West Florida in photos so you can get a feel for the Southernmost City in the continental USA. It’s an unusual mix of honky-tonk, cultured, biker, gay, family-friendly, foodie and artsy. You can probably find any tribe in which you feel comfortable in Key West. Simply, I loved it.
We saw chickens randomly walking throughout Key West. This one was trying to sneak into Kermit’s Key Lime Pie restaurant for a slice.
Why did the chicken cross the road? To get a piece of Key Lime pie.
What is the best idea ever for families and restaurants? Pools in the middle of the restaurant. Parents get to hang out while the children play. I assume someone is watching those kids.
It’s a pool party!
You will be reminded constantly that Cuba is only 90 miles away by sea.
The red heel ready to drop on New Years Eve to ring in 2016. We have, regretfully, decided not to attend because it’ll be too raucous a party for our children.
Key West tried to secede from the USA in 1982 when the US government set up a road block on the Florida Keys to try and stop drug smuggling. The tourism industry got hit badly and Key West fought back by seceding (very) briefly. They gave up on secession and the US government lifted the road block. So, technically they succeeded in seceding and hence the motto. Never mind the spelling. It’s Florida, after all.
Key West has its own flag featuring (what else?) a conch
For some people, the original Margaritaville made famous by Jimmy Buffett is a place of pilgrimage. It even has its own tourist souvenir store next door to the cafe. You may remember I tried to find my own lost shaker of salt in Paris.
Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville Searching for my lost shaker of salt Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame But I know it’s nobody’s fault Read more: Jimmy Buffett – Margaritaville Lyrics | MetroLyrics
The Sunset Celebration on the harbour is the best place to people watch. The street vendors and artists provide hours of amusement long after the sun has set.
You can’t leave this city without trying some form of conch.
This guy is trying the business school approach to converting for Christianity.
Putting his online MBA to good use.
The Disney Cruise ships dock in the harbour. I bet they get the best sunset in Key West Florida photos.
And, some miscellaneous photos. This city is diverse and so are my photos.
She sells seashells by the seashore.
Colourful buoys honour the fishing tradition
What do you think of my Key West Florida photos? Is Key West somewhere you could see yourself going?
When I was trooping through Disney World Orlando with my children, I have to confess that I did not think I was in the so-called happiest place on Earth. We had been to Disneyland Paris with the children when they were 3 years old, and had forgotten how much larger Disney Orlando is in comparison.
DIsney World: Expectation vs. Reality
Needless to say, my children were bouncing around beyond thrilled with the whole Disney Orlando experience. I did not remember it being so big or so crowded!! I hadn’t been to Disney since I was a child and clearly was seeing the Orlando park in a whole new light.
I was trudging behind them with a fixed smile on face wondering why I was spending so much money to be so tired and stressed. At least I was doing better than my husband who had turned into the family mule – carrying all the extra supplies such as water bottles and the must-have souvenirs. We should’ve made it a family rule that anyone who buys mouse-ear hats needs to wear them.
Lesson learned: Just because you have been somewhere as a child does not mean that you will know how to make it a fun experience for yourself as an adult.
There is a Groupon Orlando site that lets you grab some good deals for the time you are in town.
My kids loved the Toy Story ride at Hollywood Studios. We should definitely have used a FastPass on that one and spared ourselves the queue. In fact, we should’ve FastPassed all of Disney.
We missed seeing a lot of Downtown Disney. Downtown Disney is being renovated into a replica of small-town America circa the early 20th century and being renamed Disney Springs. One of Disney Springs’ four areas, The Landing, will be ready in early 2015.
My Personal Tips for Disney World
Although this list of tips for visiting Disney World is pretty good, I have a couple of other points to add.
You will definitely enjoy the water parks on a hot summer afternoon. We would go to the Disney Parks in the morning and then laze in the water parks in the afternoon.
The reason we missed Downtown Disney is that our kids were obsessed with DisneyQuest. It’s 5 floors of windowless, indoor, interactive fun, i.e., the biggest arcade I’ve ever seen. There are also virtual reality games (with height restrictions) and a younger children’s gaming area.
Except for a couple of things (those ‘claw’ games which are such a rip-off), the admission price will allow you to play arcade games to your heart’s content – racing simulators, 80’s games like PacMan and Tetris, air hockey etc. After a few hours, all you see and hear are blinking lights and the dinging of machines. But at least we weren’t standing in a massive line in the heat! Disney Quest is open from late morning to late at night so it’s easy to fit into your other plans. It would be criminal to come to Florida and not enjoy the sunshine!
If you are looking for an easy down-time or rainy afternoon activity, our children loved the novelty of the AMC Downtown dine-in theatre. They got to combine a movie and a restaurant experience in one. Frankly, it’s just like being at home except (i) the bigger screen, (ii) ordering from a menu and (iii) it’s more expensive.
Definitely take in as many of the night spectacles as you can. Each show is different and fairly spectacular. We had our children take naps in the afternoon so they could stay up later to see the night shows.
Image: Joe Penniston
With little kids the Disney magic is hard to beat. You should, however, check out some of the other theme parks. Our children loved Sea World because they love sea animals of any kind. All of these theme parks add up in price so you’ll need to pick and choose. In retrospect we would have picked a lesser Disney package so that we could have more time/money for other parks.
Go Forth and Enjoy Disney World!
Here’s a pretty magazine version of the article I linked to earlier which you can print out if you choose:
Of course, we have promised the children we will return to Orlando! The children will be older and we will spend less time at Disney and more time at the other parks. Next time, though, I will definitely be more prepared!