My husband and I recently enjoyed a get-away weekend in Toronto. We try to do this once a year and love the time of relaxation and new experiences. It’s usually a four point weekend: a different hotel, a new restaurant, an attraction, and a play. This time we scored three out of four – not too bad.
We stayed at the Pantages Hotel on Victoria St. and our room overlooked Shuter Street directly across from Massey Hall. It was interesting to watch the crowds gather for events at Massey Hall and to view the pedestrian and vehicle traffic at all hours of the day and night. I looked out the window at 3:00 a.m. and watched a cyclist manoeuver the street and turn into an alleyway. Meanwhile there were people walking and taxis going about their routes. The city never sleeps.
We loved the Pantages Hotel. Although it was a little more expensive than where we usually stay, it was well worth the extra cost. The staff was friendly and very helpful. We have to admit that we loved the valet parking! The room was quite large with lots of windows. A good experience.
For our new restaurant, we tried Signs. It is quite new and is located on Yonge St. just south of Wellesley. What is truly unique is that all the waiters and waitresses are hearing impaired and sign language is encouraged. The menus not only list the food items, but also include the signs necessary for ordering. It was fun ordering and the staff members were very patient as we learned the signs. We were impressed with the happy atmosphere, the opportunity to try a new language, and the delicious food. It was truly a unique and amazing experience. We highly recommend this restaurant.
Our new attraction was a visit to the Aga Khan Museum. It is located on Wynford Dr. just off the Don Valley Parkway at Eglinton. This is a new museum and very interesting. We took the guided tour in the morning and learned a great deal of history. The artifacts are artistically displayed with plenty of room to stand and stare if you so desire. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and animated. The artifacts covered several centuries and included items from Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, China and several other locations. The main level contains the permanent exhibits while the upper floor houses the displays on loan from other museums. The Dhow exhibit was amazing. The Dhow was a ship that sank in the Indian Ocean over 1200 years ago. It was only discovered in the 1990’s. It was a trading vessel on its way from China to the Middle Eastern countries and was loaded with pottery, gold and silver vessels, and dishes of all description. It took two years to bring all the artifacts to the surface and another six to restore them. They were in remarkable condition but were covered with crustaceans and silt. They were soaked in a solution to loosen the marine growths covering the surfaces, and then carefully cleaned. The results are incredible. The original painting on the dishes is clear and bright. We marvelled at the bowls, ewers, cups, large vases, and a variety of other things.
No human remains were found on the ship and they have not been able to discover what caused it to sink. It is a delight to view the treasures and to marvel at the intricate workmanship of centuries past.
The museum houses a lovely restaurant where we enjoyed a tasty lunch. The afternoon was spent retracing our steps at a more leisurely pace and taking photos of the permanent displays. Pictures are not permitted in the visiting displays.
We returned to the hotel in anticipation of the evening as we had tickets to see Once at the Ed Mirvish Theatre. We had heard a few negative comments about the play, but had been to the Ed Mirvish Theatre before, and so went with open minds. We loved the music. The play is set in Ireland, and I feel my deep Irish roots when I hear music from there. However, this initial pleasure was very quickly lessened as the play began. The story was quite shallow, but that we could have borne, but the language was coarse and very unacceptable to us. I was dismayed at the laughter from the audience when again and again the vulgar words were spoken. That, along with suggestive dialogue spoiled the experience for us. As we were sitting only four rows from the front, we waited for the intermission and then quietly left the theatre. We were saddened that this would be brought to a theatre such as the Ed Mirvish that has previously housed some amazing productions. I am also sorry to read glowing reviews of the play, sorry that this type of dialogue has become acceptable in our culture.
However, we did not allow this to ruin an already excellent weekend. We relaxed in our hotel room and enjoyed our final hours before checking out the next morning. It was a learning experience and I will do more research before purchasing tickets for next year.
I’m Sharon Dow, and this is my opinion in Guelph, Ontario.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23 NIV
Psalm 139 is my favourite Psalm. I love it so much that I have asked that it be read at my funeral. I know, I know; I won’t be there, but maybe you will be and will be moved by this Psalm as I have been.
Verse 23 grabs me every time. I have prayed this prayer many times, search me God, see if there is any offensive way in me. And, oh dear, every time he finds something! It’s a great way to reduce pride! I find my mind is like an onion with many layers. Each layer seems to hide something offensive. At least I thought it was hidden. But David says of God:
If I say, surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me, even the darkness will not be dark to you. . . O Lord you have searched me and you know me. . . You perceive my thoughts from afar . . . you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely . . .
No, they’re not hidden from God. As I pray and ask for God to search me, he removes another layer and sin is exposed. Sometimes I recognize it right away and acknowledge that I knew it was there and I needed to deal with it; so I do. But other times I’m in shock as I see what he reveals . . . pride, jealousy, envy . . . how can this be? I had managed to hide these things from myself.
Then I must come before God and ask his forgiveness, which he seems delighted to give. But the harder part seems to be to forgive myself. How could I have let jealousy into my heart and mind? That’s not me; or at least that is what I want to believe. But God says, it was there, under one of those layers.
How many more layers are there in my life? I don’t even want to take a guess at that; I just know that there are more and that they, too, will be revealed as he searches me.
What about you? Are you brave enough to ask God to search you and see if there is any offensive way in you? I hope you will; and when you do, be prepared! It’s not always what you think it will be; but it’s always true and the good news is that God is waiting for you to confess your sin, so he can forgive you.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purity us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 NIV
Jesus wept. John 11:35 NIV
This verse is often taken out of context. When I was a child and attended a Bible camp each summer, we were encouraged to have a favorite verse to share at campfires. Many of the boys chose this one because it required no effort to memorize!
In context, Jesus wept when he saw Mary weep because of the death of her brother, Lazarus. She believed that had Jesus been there, Lazarus would not have died. Her faith in Jesus’ power of healing is commendable, but it did not extend to his power to raise the dead. She would soon realize that power when Lazarus came forth, alive, at the call of Jesus.
Some believe that Jesus wept over the death of his friend, but I believe he wept because of the limited insight of Mary and the others at the graveside. Their view of Jesus was narrow. He wept again over Jerusalem, because of their unbelief.
I also want to look at this verse out of context. I think Jesus must be weeping over our world as he sees the awful things man does to man. There are a multitude of trouble spots in our world; people are suffering for their faith in Jesus, North America is facing moral decay, disease ravages parts of Africa, buildings burn in American cities while people protest in the streets. This cannot be what God had planned for this world. Injustice rules in court decisions, while babies are aborted in unbelievable numbers. God cannot be pleased; he must be weeping over his creation.
How long, oh Lord, how long? Revelation ends with, “‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
I love each season; I love the changes in the seasons. There is something to love about each month that passes into history. I’ve given some thought to what each one brings to me. I want to share my thoughts with you with the hope that I will encourage you to take a different look at the seasons and savour each day that has been given to you. Here is why I love each month:
January: A month of new beginnings. We talk about the proverbial New Year’s resolutions. Some of us make them, some don’t. Few keep them. But I believe that for all of us there is that sense of beginning; a new year has begun. What will be written on its pages? There is a sense of anticipation as we watch the old year out, and welcome the new. It is also the month of deep cold. I remember as a child watching the thermometer to see just how cold it would get. The rafters in old houses would creak in the night from the cold. Faces would feel frozen after a short walk. Smoke rose straight in the air from the wood and coal fires that warmed our homes. Outdoor rinks froze heralding the coming of the ice skating season. I love January, with its cold days, new beginnings, and incredible memories.
February: A month of heavy snow. Traditionally in our part of Canada, February is famous for its snowfalls. I love watching the snow as it gently or fiercely falls on our land to cover us in a soft white blanket. The most trivial things become sculptures of wonder and awe when draped with this miracle substance. Sleds are pulled from garages and sheds in anticipations of the joy of sliding. February is also known as the month of love with Valentine’s Day coming right in the middle.
March: How I love the winds of March! Brisk days where the sun is getting up earlier each day; the wind is blowing away the last of the rotting snow, and under the melting snow are tiny sprouts pushing their way up through the cold earth. This is truly a month where God is showing his mighty hand in creation. What’s not to love about March?
April: Refreshing showers from above are awakening the tiny sprouts we found in March. Blossoms open on early spring flowers; the sun is definitely warmer on our backs. Spring is just around the corner!
May: Early Spring gives way to full blown spring and the gardens are graced with lovely blossoms. This is when I find my favourite flower; the golden daffodil.
June: Ah, beautiful June. My birth month. I always loved having my birthday mid-June. School was still on but winding down for the summer. All my little friends were around for a big birthday party. It was almost halfway between Christmases, so a great time to receive a new set of gifts! The weather is warm and bright, but not yet hot and humid; the evenings are long as the longest day falls in late June; roses are blooming as well as many flowering bushes filling the air with scents of summer. A truly beautiful month!
July: Summer is now in full swing. School is out and we’re free to play. Vacations are planned with great anticipation. Now the heat arrives and for those who bask in the glory of the sun, this is the best month for sunshine. Thunder showers race over the land bringing a spectacular show to those of us who enjoy storms, and I am one. This is the month of carefree days and warm nights.
August: The warmth continues, but in the early mornings a hint of fall can be felt. In some parts of our land, early frost warnings are heard. By mid-month, leaves are beginning to turn getting ready for the stunning beauty to come. This month holds the dog-days of summer and we begin to anticipate the returning routines of fall. August brings our last fling with summer.
September: After the heat of the summer and the lazy days, most of us are ready for the crisp mornings, the bright sunshine of mid-day, and the return to our routines. Farmers are gathering their harvest, fresh vegetables are still available to tickle our palates, and local corn is beyond compare. The land is yielding what God has given and signs of the changing season are everywhere. September – one of my favourite months.
October: Come ye thankful people come. Yes, it is the month where we stop in our busyness and give thanks to the Lord for his wonderful blessings to us. Deciduous trees are at their full glory and we marvel at the shades of red, orange, and yellow. By month’s end, the trees will shed their leaves, leaving a stunning carpet of colour at our feet. What can be more fun than crunching through a pile of bright leaves while we enjoy the October sunshine? Some days are still warm reminding us of summer. The changing seasons are incredible, and October has a big share.
November: I hear people complain about November; about the rain and wind. In many ways it mirrors March. The days are shorter and cooler, the trees are bare, and the gardens are filled with plants that have long shed their leaves and blossoms. Where is the beauty in November? But it is there. Observe the bare trees, skeletons of their former selves, but look at the beauty of their design. Only a master designer could fill our land with these incredible formations. I love the different shapes of these skeletons, love the texture of the branches, and up close, the buds of next year are already on the ends of branches, sleeping until the warms rains and sunshine of early spring awaken them. Even in November there is the promise of Spring! But November is also the month of anticipation for Christmas which is fast approaching. Shoppers are filling the malls in search of that perfect gift. Christmas carols and songs float from invisible speakers. There is a stirring in us as we contemplate the celebration of the birth of the Christ-child. November – month of promise!
December: Ah December, how I love you! The first snowflakes float to earth covering the ground, the trees, the front steps, the driveway; and everything takes on a fresh look as the flakes pile up. The first snow is so invigorating. Lights and decorations are going up inside and outside our homes. I love the finished look with the snow softly falling. It’s fireplace weather and with the lights from the tree, the flames from the fire, an atmosphere is created that cannot be duplicated in any other month. Christmas carols, busy shopping malls, parcels purchased and wrapped, the aroma of baking, all combine to give this season a special glow. And then it’s the eve of Christmas and we pause and celebrate the birth of our Saviour. What a glorious month. And so we anticipate the coming of the New Year, and the cycle begins again.
After leaving Fort Meyers, we travelled as far as Anna Maria Island. We were there with our children when they were much younger, and it was a favourite part of our vacation that year. It was so interesting to visit 30 years later. Yes, things had changed; but the long wharf was still there with its pelicans and other seabirds, and the restaurant at the end of the wharf still served grouper. 30 years ago, it was our first taste of grouper, so naturally, we had it again! Sometimes things seem brighter and better in the past, and when repeated in the present are not quite the same. Not so with the grouper – just as enjoyable as ever!
After getting lost for an hour, we finally arrived at our beach front resort in St. Pete Beach; lovely! Our room overlooked a refreshing centre court with manicured lawns, beautiful flower beds, and a cascading fountain. Two pools completed the court view. A short walk along a paved path took us to an outdoor restaurant overlooking the beach and the Gulf. Beyond this, it was a short walk to the beach. I find it very moving to walk along a sandy beach with the waves rolling in beside me, seagulls screaming their joy as they scour the shore looking for their next meal, children playing in the waves, dogs frolicking in and out of the water, para-sailing overhead, and elegant sailboats criss-crossing the water just beyond the reach of the swimmers. The sun danced on the waves, warmed the sand, and darkened the sun bathers. The sights, sounds, and smells of the ocean speak of home to me. I don’t realize I miss it until I stand on the shore, in awe of God’s special creation; the sea!
After quickly settling into our room, we jumped back in the car and travelled up the coast a short distance to have supper with my cousin Heather and her husband Rick. They were vacationing in a lovely condo just up the shore from our destination. We watched the sun set from their balcony after enjoying a wonderful meal together. There is nothing that compares to family and although we live far apart, when the cousins get together it’s like time has not interrupted our relationship. The female members of our group all talk at once, and it’s a miracle, but we hear each other and understand the garbled conversations! We have so much to say to each other, that we can’t waste time taking turns talking – or so it seems!
We spent one day at Tarpon Springs, also a distance farther along the same Gulf shore. If you ever have the opportunity to visit this unique place, I would highly recommend it! The atmosphere is incredible. It’s like taking a step back in time and experiencing the early sponge diving trade. The town was originally founded by Greek families who were skilled in sponge harvesting. The town still has a distinct Greek flavour and is a delightful place to spend a day.
All too soon, it was time to pack up and head for home. But, like the Wisemen, we returned by a different route.
Hot sun beat down on the beach and warmed every rock and log in its path. Jeremy stood on the rocky path and watched the beach from his vantage point.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a house right on the beach?” he asked his friend Aaron.
“I’m not so sure that would be a good idea,” Aaron replied.
“And why not?” Jeremy laughed. He gave Aaron a little shove with one hand and threw him off balance for a moment.
“Be serious, Jeremy, a house on the beach wouldn’t be safe.” Aaron’s frown drew his eyes together.
“Now that’s a ridiculous statement if I ever heard one.” Jeremy shoved Aaron again and the two struggled together, laughing as they pushed and shoved.
They stopped when they ran out of breath.
“I’ll race you to the beach,” Jeremy yelled at Aaron.
The two set off running down the steep path and reached the beach together. They kept running until they were submerged in the cool waters just offshore.
A few years later, Jeremy stood on the same beach, watching the waves and dreaming. I’m going to build that house. Now that I own that property at the end, I’m going to have the most amazing house ever. Drool Aaron! You’ve never seen anything like what I’m going to build.
Jeremy consulted the plans again that night. It’s perfect. He pushed the plans across the table to rest in front of the contractor he had hired for the job.
“Well, what do you think?” He couldn’t keep the grin out of his voice.
“Wow, it’s wow. What else can I say? No one will have anything to compare with this.”
“Then you can do it, Lloyd?” Jeremy rubbed his hands together and watched Lloyd with raised eyebrows.
“Of course I can do it.” He grabbed the plans and folded them into their carrying case. “When do you want me to start?”
“How about yesterday?” Jeremy laughed uproariously at his own joke.
“Then yesterday it is.” Lloyd stuck out his hand and they shook on the deal.
Each day Jeremy came to the site of the new house and watched it being constructed. The workers drove long poles into the sand to anchor the house.
There won’t be a basement, but who cares? I’ll have everything I need on the main and upper levels. Wow, it’s going to be an amazing house.
One day when he arrived, the workers were running around frantically. Lloyd was yelling at some so them, and all seemed to be confusion.
Jeremy approached Lloyd. “What’s wrong, Lloyd?”
“Oh nothing for you to be worried about, Jeremy. Just a little water got in and we’ll have to drive more poles into the sand.” He wiped his brow with a wet hand and left dirty streaks on his forehead.
“Nothing to worry about? What about the cost of this kind of setback?”
“Just keep calm, Jeremy, I have it well under control.” Lloyd said.
The next day when he arrived, everything seemed to be back to normal and the walls were taking shape. It’s amazing. Too bad Aaron is away and can’t see the house. But his mother said he’ll be back from Europe next week. I’ll bring him to see it then.
Meanwhile, Aaron had met a wonderful girl in France and was bringing her home as his wife. He wanted to build a house for her and knew exactly where he would build it. His uncle owned property on top of the cliff overlooking the water where he and Jeremy had spent so much time when they were younger. His uncle was happy to sell a lot to him, and he could hardly wait to begin construction.
When he arrived at the site with his architect, he was surprised to see a house being built on the beach.
“Who would be foolish enough to build a house on the beach?” Aaron remarked.
“I understand it’s your friend Jeremy,” the architect replied.
“But he knows better than that.” Aaron was appalled. “What was he thinking?”
After discussing plans with the architect, he climbed down the path to the beach and walked over to the construction site. He quickly spied his friend Jeremy who turned to him with a glad shout.
“Aaron, you’re back. I can hardly wait to show you my new house. Come.”
The two men looked over the building site and Jeremy showed him the plans for the mansion.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Jeremy bragged.
Aaron remained silent. This was no time to tell Jeremy how foolish this was. He was in way too far to back out now. Besides, he’d be too stubborn to change his plans.
Construction began on Aaron’s house soon after. There was much noise as a drilling machine was needed to reach down into the rock to anchor the house. It took a long time to make the cuts and dig out the basement.
“I know this part will take a long time, but it’ll be well worth it. Nothing will ever move this house once the foundation is established.” The architect grinned at Aaron. “You’ve made a wise choice, my friend.”
“Thank you. I just wish Jeremy had made the same choice.”
“True, but he’ll have a beautiful house when it’s done.”
Eventually both houses were completed. Jeremy had been living in his home for more than a year when Aaron’s was finally done and he was able to move in. The two friends enjoyed being close together again, and their families got along well together.
One September, after they had been living there for a few years, they were alerted to a hurricane warning.
Aaron climbed down over the bank and rapped on Jeremy’s door.
“Come in, my friend.” Jeremy threw back the door and welcomed Aaron. “How about a game of pool? Or did you want to swim in my indoor pool.” He laughed a deep laugh. “You should have listened to me and built an indoor pool. It’s too chilly and windy today to swim outside.”
“I can’t stay, Jeremy. I just wanted to make sure you knew there was a hurricane warning out for our coast.”
Another deep laugh came from Jeremy. “Aaron, Aaron, surely you don’t believe all that media hype? They say the same thing every year. You know there won’t be a big storm. They have to have something to make news, so they invent bad storms.”
Aaron put his hand on Jeremy’s arm. “Listen to me Jeremy. Maybe it won’t be as bad as they’re predicting, but it’s worth getting ready for it.”
“Getting ready? Now how are you going to get ready for a storm? You’re a funny man, Aaron.”
“Actually, I’m putting plywood over my windows and bringing in any outdoor furniture that might blow in the wind.”
Jeremy slapped him on the back. “You always were a worry-wart. Okay, go cover your windows. I’m going to swim in my pool.” And with that he closed the door and Aaron climbed the bank and made his house ready.
During the night the wind arose. Aaron went to the door that opened onto the patio overlooking the bay. It was very dark, no moon, only angry clouds. It was impossible to see the waves in the total darkness, but he could hear the surf pounding on the beach below. The rain had not yet started.
He went back to bed, but sleep would not come. He finally became drowsy and drifted into a light sleep. Then the rains hit. The wind rose higher with the coming of the rain, and it lashed the side of his house facing the beach.
I’m so thankful I put plywood over the windows. I haven’t heard it rain and blow like this for a long time. He listened as the storm increased. Above the noise of the storm, he heard pounding. It seemed to be coming from the front door.
He rose, put on his robe and slippers, and walked through the house to the door. He flipped the switch to turn on the light just as the power went off. The shrieking of the wind sounded eerie in the sudden complete darkness. The pounding continued. He grabbed the door knob and eased the door open a bit. He was immediately drenched with the gust of wind and rain that rushed in. He felt someone push past him, but could not hear the voice.
Once the door was closed it was slightly quieter.
“Thank you, thank you.” It was Jeremy’s voice. “I’ve lost everything.” Panic sounded in his voice and Aaron hastened to light one of the candles he’d left around the house in case of power failure. When the light chased the darkness, he was alarmed at the sight of his friend.
“Oh Aaron, you were right. I was wrong to build on the beach.” Tears streamed down his already wet face. “I’ve lost everything.”
“Everything? What do you mean?” Aaron asked.
“The house is gone, gone. I’ve never experienced wind like this. It pounded on the sides of the house until I felt the house sway, then it was collapsing around me. I was lucky to escape with my life.” He wrapped his arms around himself and hung his head. “Once I was clear of the house and on the path, the whole house shuttered, then just kind of folded in on itself, in a great pile. The waves were attacking it when I ran for my life.”
Aaron reached him and put his arm around his shoulder. “This is awful, Jeremy. Come, sit here and I’ll light a fire in the wood stove.” Once the stove was lit and sending out its light and heat, the two men talked through the night.
“Aaron, I was such a fool. I knew you were right, but I had to do it my way. I wanted to prove that I could build a house right on the beach.” He shook his head sadly. “But I was wrong, so wrong. Everything’s gone.”
When daylight nudged the horizon, the two struggled out of the house and to the edge of the path. It was still raining, but the wind had eased somewhat. What they saw would forever be etched on both of their minds. For as far as they could see, there was nothing but the waves pounding the shoreline. There was nothing left of the beautiful house so recently resting on the sand. Jeremy’s house was gone. Aaron’s house with the basement hewn from the rock, stood tall and solid behind them.
Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matt. 7:24-27 NIV
Once again the sun was shining as we travelled north over the many causeways and bridges of the Florida Keys. The seven-mile causeway was just as beautiful on the return trip. Without incident, we reached Fort Meyers in the afternoon to visit with one of my cousin’s and her family.
We enjoyed many activities while there including a vocal concert put on by a graduating music student. Several family members joined us for supper the second night of our visit. It is always such a joy to catch up with family and see how the children have grown and to find out what they’re doing and their plans for the future. Some of them are now young men and women, pursuing goals, preparing for University in the fall, and ready to write exams.
The next day, my cousin and I were taken to a Tea Room by one of her granddaughters. What a delightful experience. We loved the tea room, the menu selections, and just spending time with this special girl. After our tea, we took a tour bus around the downtown area of Fort Meyers – a lovely city.
Earlier in the day, we visited a huge Flea Market, not usually one of my things to do, but this one was amazing. I was able to find some interesting things to bring home to my family.
The following day was Easter Sunday. We got up at 4:30 a.m., ate a small breakfast, drove 30 minutes to a beautiful beach where members of their church were setting up for a sunrise service. We walked the beach in the predawn and marvelled at the setting. The service started just before sunrise, and we listened to the service, watched the light grow brighter, and the sun rise; all to the rhythm of the waves of the Gulf of Mexico breaking on the shore beside us. And of course, lovely palm trees lined the beach, swaying in the light breeze. There were over a 1,000 people on the beach. What an incredible experience!
This was followed by breakfast at Denny’s, Sunday School, and the morning Easter Service. At noon, we were guests of one of my cousin’s daughters, and most of the family were there as well. After a short afternoon rest, we attended the evening service, then made a trip to Wendy’s. It was a tired crew that climbed into bed at the end of an incredible day.
After breakfast the next morning, we headed out again, this time destination: St. Pete Beach.
When we crossed the last causeway and entered Key West, I immediately fell in love with this tiny, unique island. It is 2×4 miles in size, small compared to some of the other keys, but certainly the most populated (24,909), and for me, the most interesting of all the keys. We stayed at Ibis Bay Beach Resort and enjoyed the room, the grounds, the pool, and the excellent restaurant; The Stone Crab. Stone crabs are local to the area and are very famous. Strange as it may seem, we chose the lobster which was stuffed with crab – awesome!
For those of us who love history, this key is a treasure trove. It has been called, “one of America’s most historic places.” The architecture alone is worth the visit. Southernmost House is a beautiful example of Queen Anne Victorian architectural style. A visit to Ernest Hemingway’s house and grounds must not be omitted. It is open to visitors and is a lovely residence graced by beautiful, restful, grounds. To walk the pathways was to feel history invade your being. Here he wrote a number of his famous works.
John J. Audubon House and gardens are also open to the public. Audubon visited the island during his painting career and painted pictures of several local birds. The house contains several of his paintings.
Tennessee Williams and President Truman were also frequent visitors to the island. One lovely home is named Truman’s Little White House. He apparently stayed there eleven times while he was president.
The island offers a wide variety of activities including snorkeling on a nearby coral reef. Florida Keys Reef is the only living coral reef in the continental United States. It is the third largest coral barrier reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef and Belize Barrier Reef. It lies a few miles to the east of the Keyes.
Other activities include sailing, parasailing, jet skis, kayaks, fishing, tours, and great restaurants; to name a few. We chose the trolley tour for our full day event. It is a hop on, hop off tour and we were able to visit many historic sites during the day. We were amazed to see hens and roosters wandering freely through the yards and parks. I understand how they would be very important if communication from the mainland was interrupted during a storm or other disaster.
When our tour was complete, my husband realized his glasses were missing. In his quest for pictures, he had hung them over a pocket (I have no explanation for this method of carrying prescription glasses!) We had been on several different trolleys during the hop on and off events of the day. He phoned their office, but was not able to make contact. He now has new glasses (which I’m sure he still carries by the same method!)
When it was time to leave, we wished we had planned more days on this wonderful key – but there is always the next time!
Morning arrived early and we were soon on the much anticipated part of our trip, the Florida Keys. I still had a bit of apprehension, but felt relatively calm as we began the trek. Leaving the mainland and arriving at the first Key was a breathtaking experience. I quickly became fascinated and fell in love with this unusual part of North America, in fact, the southernmost point of the US is found in Key West.
Our first stop was the Welcome Centre in Key Largo, the largest of the Keys, but not the most populated, nor the busiest. Tourists pass through here on their way to Key West, definitely the most sought-after tourist destination and ours too. At the welcome centre, we were able to obtain a map of the keys, a fascination in itself. The ladies on the desk that day were local and friendly. I asked one of them if she thought I’d be able to handle all the causeways and bridges, especially the 7-mile one. She laughed and said I would have no problem. She grew up on a Key mid-way to Key West, and had to travel the railway bridge via car to go to school each day. She said the causeways and bridges of today are a breeze to what she experienced as the cars were close enough that their side mirrors almost touched.
Each new Key provided unimaginable vistas from every angle, in every direction. Smaller, uninhabited keys were visible to each side of the causeways. I did some research and found that we crossed 43 causeways and bridges from Key Largo to Key West! The seven mile causeway / bridge, the one I worried about most, quickly became my favourite! The view was spectacular. My husband couldn’t believe it as I raved and exclaimed over each new vista, after all the discussion he had to endure before we left home!
The word Key is derived from the Spanish cayo meaning “small island.” At the southernmost tip of Key West, it is only 90 miles to Cuba. Hence there is a Cuban population on the island. Apparently at one time, there was a large cigar production there.
Before 1910 it was only accessible by water. Then Henry Flagler had a railway built, at his own expense, to run from Miami to Key West. Quite a feat of engineering and a huge expense. It ran for several years, but hurricanes caused difficulties for the rail line. The Labour Day Hurricane of 1935 hit the Keys as a Category 5 storm. It was the end for the railway. It is still visible running parallel to the road and some parts are still in good shape, but with the damage to it and the estimated costs to repair, it was abandoned. The causeways were built and road traffic is now more than adequate. The one road through the Keys is called the Overseas Highway and is US 1 Highway. It is the only way into and out of the Keys. When there is a hurricane coming or some other potential disaster and the islands need to be evacuated, all southbound traffic is suspended and both lanes run north until the danger is past.
Although we travelled through more than 40 Keys, there are apparently more than 800 in the chain, most of which are uninhabited. The main industries are tourism and fishing.
We reached Key West without incident, our minds and hearts filled with the majesty of God’s creation, and thankful for his protection.