Ghosts and Gravestones Trolley Tour!

Here is LilaMeow posing with Robert the Doll. Of course, she did ask his permission for the photo!

Here is LilaMeow posing with Robert the Doll. Of course, she did ask his permission for the photo!

Last night I went on the Key West Ghosts & Gravestones tour with my friend, Kurt. The tour began at 501 Front Street, on the corner of Front and Duval Streets where we boarded the trolley, fittingly decorated to fit the “ghoulish” theme. There were dead vines on the ceiling, creepy flickering candles (fake, of course for safety sake!), and other fun decorations to add to the spooky experience. The tour guide, you guessed it, is DEAD! It took Kurt twenty minutes to figure this out even though our guide, Elsa, wore dated attire from the 1800’s and was extremely pale with dark, sunken eyes. By the way, Elsa had fallen down the steps of the Key West Lighthouse to her death.

During the course of the tour, your guide will share various ghost stories and tales from different historic landmarks here in Key West. Some of these sites include Captain Tony’s Saloon and St. Paul’s Church, to name just a couple.

My favorite part was stopping at the Fort East Martello, where the infamous Robert the Doll resides. We were met by Benjamin Jonah, our dead “hooker” from the 1800’s. Benjamin told us he collected corpses from the ocean when yellow fever struck Key West. He gave us a brief tour of the fort, then told us Robert’s rules. When entering Robert’s room, you must do the following: acknowledge him by saying hello, ask his permission to take a photo, and remember to say good bye. Supposedly, there have been numerous reports of strange and not-so-good things happening to individuals that do not follow these rules! Oh! And you also get a ghost radar to carry around with you as well! I followed all of the rules and had my photo taken with Robert while my radar went off the charts! It was terrifying but a lot of fun, nonetheless.

Try and lift this puppy!

Try and lift this puppy!

After the fort, we boarded the trolley again and continued the tour, driving by several more landmarks while listening to more stories. We finally ended up at the Shipwreck Museum at Mallory Square. We had access into the museum and were told of the most recent haunting there. It was very dim and reminded me of the haunted houses I had visited around Halloween while growing up.
Our guide was sarcastic, witty, enthusiastic, and very knowledgable. I loved the interactive aspect of the tour too; if someone yells, “you’re doomed!” as you drive by, you must yell back “YES! We are the doomed!”

My friend, Kurt, has resided in Key West for a number of years now; he had never done the trolley before. He was far more terrified than I was during the tour, but we both thoroughly enjoyed it. The entire experience was an hour and a half long. It was entertaining, informative, and downright fun! I highly recommend it to not only visitors but locals as well. My recommendation would be to go at night; the darkness adds to the tour! Maybe not the tour for the truly faint of heart though! Call 305-29-GHOST for more information and to make your reservations, which are required!

For more information about Key West, check out our Key West information site. Also, make sure to visit the restaurant review section of this blog to help you decide where to eat during your stay on our island!

Lila Meow

El Meson de Pepe’s: Review

Since 1985, the family run El Meson de Pepe’s has been serving Cuban food to residents and visitors of Key West. The restaurant has been at its present location in Mallory Square since 1997. This building is as much a museum as it is a restaurant with all of the paraphernalia preserving history of the Conch (local Key West) and Cuban heritage that is housed inside.

El Meson de Pepe's COMPLETA DE CABALLO GRANDE: Lechon Asado, Ropa Vieja, and Picadillo

El Meson de Pepe’s COMPLETA DE CABALLO GRANDE: Lechon Asado, Ropa Vieja, and Picadillo

It had been a while since we had dined here, so my husband and I decided to eat here with some friends this weekend. Since the guys had spent the day outside working, we opted to sit inside where we could soak up some air conditioning. And while if you sit outside you can enjoy the views of Mallory Square and people watching, inside your senses are overtaken by the huge amount of stuff all around you. From religious candles to signs to paintings to a replica of a record setting airplane, every direction you look there is something cool to see.

The place was hopping, but we still had good service. We started off our meal with a few drinks and the buttered Cuban bread brought to the table with delicious dipping sauces (one hot and one mild).  My husband and I are always on the hunt for a good pina colada and El Meson had a very good one.

For dinner I could not decide what I wanted so I went with their Complete de Caballo Grande which is a sampling of their three most popular Cuban dishes: Lechon Asado, Ropa Vieja, and Picadillo. Laura ordered the Ropa Vieja, Steven the Lechon Asado, and Brian the Bistec Palomilla Empanizada.

I love all three of the dishes that were a part of my entree. However, I thought that the Lechon Asado was the standout. This is pork that has been roasted with a mojo sauce and onions, making for a flavorful and moist dish. And it pairs perfectly with the yellow rice, black beans, yucca, and sweet plantains that were served with it. I think that I may have been very happy with just the rice and black beans as this alone was just delicious. The Ropa Vieja which literally translates to “old clothes” is shredded beef stewed with fresh tomatoes, green peppers, onions and red wine along with other seasonings. This was tender and tasted very good, but next to the pork I found it to be a bit bland. The Picadillo is a savory ground beef cooked with tomatoes, onions, garlic, bell peppers, seasonings, olives, capers, and raisins. This was very good as well; the sweet raisins and the savory beef compliment one another.

Brian’s Bistec Palomilla Empanizada which is a top sirloin steak that has been marinated, breaded, fried and served with chopped onions and parsley, was delicious. He said that it was tender and flavorful and he would definitely order it again the next time he dined at El Meson de Pepe’s.

To end the meal my husband and I both ordered a coffee. It was only room temperature, but it tasted delicious even so. And it was a nice cap to our delicious dinner.

As we left the restaurant after our meal and walked over to the Sunset Celebration held nightly at Mallory Square, we walked by El Meson de Pepe’s Patio Bar where music was playing and people were dancing. This is really a lively spot with good food and service.

Before deciding where you are going to eat while visiting Key West or the rest of the Florida Keys, be sure to read my other restaurant reviews too; check out our restaurant review section of this blog as well as our previous restaurant reviews.

And to see what is happening on Key West during your visit, check out our Key West Events Calendar to see other upcoming special events. For more information about the fun side of Key West… things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.

Feel free to Email Me if you have any questions about Key West!!

Island Genn
Key West Concierge

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

The beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.

The beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.

Located at the end of Southard Street in Truman Annex is, in my opinion, the best beach in Key West: Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. The cost to visit the park is about  $2.50 per pedestrian and $6.50 per vehicle, but it is well worth it when you consider the park’s beauty and the activities available here.

History

Fort Zachary Taylor, Florida’s Southernmost State Park, was added as a National Historic Landmark in the early 1970’s. This is due to the park’s military history. The Fort was completed in 1866 and it was very important to the country during both the Civil War and the Spanish American War. You can take advantage of daily guided tours of Fort Zach at noon. But if you cannot make it at this time, you are always welcome to take a self guided tour anytime from 8am until 5pm. Just pick up a guide at the fort entrance and enjoy! On the tour you will see many old cannons on the grounds. But the views from the top of the fort are really nice.

Beach Activities
Fort Zachary Taylor

Fort Zachary Taylor

If you are a sun worshipper you can spend the day on the sandyish beach. And you can cool off in the crystal clear waters and enjoy some swimming or snorkeling. No worries, if you don’t have your own snorkel gear, you can rent it at the park! There are some nice rock and coral formations to snorkel around very close to shore so that makes it super convenient to snorkel from this area and see tropical fish and other sea life. Because the waters can be a bit rocky I do suggest investing in some water shoes to prevent injury if you are planning on swimming around here.

A woodpecker that I came across while hiking at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.

A woodpecker that I came across while hiking at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.

During the busy season you can also enjoy Yoga on the Beach; just stop by the concession area for information.

Other Activities

The park is also a great area to hike and bike, with bike rentals are also available at the park. The bicycle trail around the moat and along the shipping channels are interesting. Just be sure to park them at the bike rack if you are going to the picnic areas or beach as bicycles are not allowed in these areas. The Sand Hog Hiking Trail is near the beach and it loops through an area of trees and other plants all marked with informative plaques. The Fort View Hiking Trail overlooks the fort and the moat. If you hear a bit of rustling around in the leaves while you are hiking, have no worries; this noise is most likely little lizards scampering around.

The moat around Fort Zachary Taylor.

The moat around Fort Zachary Taylor.

For the birder, the park is one of the stops for migrating birds, and many rare species have been spotted on the park grounds. I saw a few beautiful birds on my last visit to the park.

For those that cannot afford one of the many fishing charters available in Key West, you can still do some fishing from the shore here. Just make sure that you are properly licensed. And of course, you will have to bring your own fishing gear and bait.

Park Amenities & Information

Other park amenities include a concession area with a full restaurant, the Cayo Hueso Cafe, a picnic area with grills, restrooms, and showers. And of course equipment rentals that I have already mentioned including snorkel gear and bicycles.

A row of cannons at Fort Zachary Taylor.

A row of cannons at Fort Zachary Taylor.

Dogs are permitted only in designated day-use areas at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. They must be kept on a leash that is no more than six feet long and be well-behaved. Remember to pick up after your pets!  Dogs are not permitted on beaches, bathing areas, park buildings or concession areas. Of course service animals are welcome in all areas of Florida State Parks.

 To see what is happening on the island during your visit, check out our Key West Events Calendar to see  upcoming special events. For more information about the fun side of Key West… things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.

Before deciding where you are going to eat while visiting Key West or any of the Florida Keys, be sure to read my  restaurant reviews; check out our restaurant review section of this blog.

Feel free to Email Me if you have any questions about Key West!!

Island Genn – Your Key West Concierge

San Carlos Institute

Here is an old Cuban raft used by exiles on display at the institute.

Here is an old Cuban raft used by exiles on display at the institute.

The San Carlos Institute located at 516 Duval Street is open daily and is free admission. I have walked by this building countless times and never visited until recently. I had no idea of what to expect inside this picturesque building.

History

The center has had many different homes on island. But in 1890 the effort that rebuilt the San Carlos on a more spacious lot which is where it presently sits. Founded by Cuban exiles in 1871, the San Carlos Institute is a Cuban heritage center. Education and preservation of cultural values were the Institute’s goals and classes were taught in both English and Spanish making the Institute one of the first bilingual schools in the United States.

Many famous people fighting for Cuban Independence from Spain came to the center to speak and to teach the local Cuban population. The most famous being Jose Marti who visitors will learn much about while visiting the museum.

In 1919 when a hurricane struck and severely damaged the building the relatively new Cuban government financed its reconstruction, and that building still sits there today. It is  two-stories and incorporates many elements of Cuba’s architecture such as high ceilings, arches, marble and mosaics.

The Cuban government continued to financially support the Institute until communism seized Cuba and the monies that the Cuban government funded the San Carlos Institute with ceased.  This led to the end of the building’s upkeep and it was condemned in the 1970’s. The building was thus in a state of limbo and in danger of being torn down until in the 1980’s a Miami lawyer raised enough money to restore this historic building.

In the 1990’s the building was finally reopened with great fanfare. The San Carlos Institute today is run entirely by private donations, so even though the building is free to visitors to learn about Cuban history donations are accepted and appreciated.

My Visit
A Mural decorating one of the walls at the San Carlos Institute.

A Mural decorating one of the walls at the San Carlos Institute.

To be honest, the exhibits did not seem to be well organized or described, and they were not very attention grabbing. On top of that, much of the information was in Spanish so gringos like me have difficulty understanding it.

There were a few points of interest such as an old Cuban raft. And the building is absolutely beautiful with its black and white tiled floors and intricate mosaics. It is sad to see that the building’s condition is definitely falling into a state of disrepair again.

The docent was a very nice older Cuban man and he was happy to answer our questions.

It seems like something could be done to better preserve this architectural gem. It would certainly have the potential to make a great venue for many events.

To see what is happening on the island during your visit, check out our Key West Events Calendar to see other upcoming special events. For more information about the fun side of Key West… things to do and see in our island city, go to our Key West Web Site.

Before deciding where you are going to eat while visiting Key West or any of the Florida Keys, be sure to read my  restaurant reviews; check out our restaurant review section of this blog.

Feel free to Email Me if you have any questions about Key West!!

Island Genn – Your Key West Concierge