March 20 marked the vernal equinox â the end of winter and the beginning of spring. That means Key West is in the midst of high season, with visitors escaping cold weather and students on their spring break.
It doesnât seem like spring if you look at the temperatures around the country (especially the northeast). We, however, are enjoying temperatures in the upper 70âs with lots of sunshine â perfect for bicycling around the island while our friends in the New England states unwillingly shovel snow.
While youâre pedaling through Old Town Key West, check out a couple of great stops for Cuban coffee, toast and sandwiches.
5 Brothers Grocery and Sandwich Shop, on the corner of Southard and Grinnell streets, has been a localsâ favorite for 26 years. It was there that I had my first Key West âCuban Mixâ sandwich some 25 years ago. Pressed flat Cuban bread layered with ham, fresh cooked pork roast, salami, cheese and pickles makes for an explosion of flavors. Often I grab a sandwich and coffee and sit on the bench outside the shop chatting with locals as they stop in for coffee and a social visit.
Another localsâ favorite is the Cuban Coffee Queen, located at the end of Margaret Street in the Historic Seaport. Toasted Cuban bread with butter and cheese, accompanied by cafĂ© con leche, is a tradition. Dip the toast in your coffee for a taste treat.Â If you need a shot of energy, try the cortadito â a double espresso with cane sugar topped with steamed milk.
After your coffee, take a ride through the historic Key West Cemetery, moved to its current location in 1847. A tour through the surprisingly welcoming place tells much about the islandâs unique character.
The sailors who lost their lives in the sinking of the battleship U.S.S. Maine in 1898 are commemorated, as are those who died in the Ten Yearsâ War, fought from 1868 to 1878 in an unsuccessful attempt to liberate Cuba from Spanish rule.
Also notable are localsâ epitaphs that boldly proclaim sentiments ranging from âI Told You I Was Sickâ to âDevoted Fan of Singer Julio Iglesias.â
Speaking of interesting explorations, every Saturday you can hop on the Gay Trolley Tour. Departing at 4 p.m. from a trolley stop at Angela and Duval streets, the tour is a fun-filled hour-plus highlighting the gay history of Key West, pointing out places of interest and filling you in on upcoming events.
The Key West Business Guild, now celebrating its 35th year, hosts the tour as well as operating Key Westâs Gay and Lesbian Visitor Center while producing a weekly âWhatâs Happening This Week and Beyondâ guide to keep you busy.
The center is open daily and offers a wealth of information about gay and gay-friendly Key West and discounts from guild members. Stop in and meet Peter, Matt, Susan, Guy, and some of the guildâs volunteers. Youâll find the center at 513 Truman Ave. just off Duval in a Key lime green building.
If youâre planning a trip to the Keys, flying to into the Key West International Airport has never been easier. We now have seasonal Saturday nonstop service from New Yorkâs La Guardia on Delta, and from Washingtonâs Reagan National on US Airways. Delta also offers nonstop flights from Atlanta. Southwest now serves us nonstop from Orlando, Tampa, Atlanta and New Orleans â and American Airlines has changed from turbo-props to jet service with flights taking less than 30 minutes from Miami International.
Upcoming events include the 31st annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration, which salutes our 1982 secession from the Union to become the planetâs first âfifth worldâ nation. Look for more on this entertaining event in my next writing.