Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Haunted Charleston - Was it a Ghost Caught on Camera?

I’ve taken more than one ghost tour in my time, in some of the nation’s so-called scariest cities, like Key West, St. Augustine, and many, many tours in Charleston, South Carolina.  But no tour was as scary as the tour of the Old City Jail in Charleston.

I went with my friend, Hillary neither of us thought this former jail, built in 1802, would frighten us.  Though, admittedly, the very first thing we saw was pretty eerie.

Our tour guide told us the tires were made of metal and the
prisoners would be jolted around in this tiny cart as they were
carried down the bumpy roads.
There are no lights at the Old City Jail, and you must follow the tour guide’s flashlight.  After entering the jail, one of the first things the guide pointed out was this.

The faces on the wall definitely look real, but the
image on the side is definitely not a ghost.  At
least, I don't think it was a ghost.  There was a
blue tarp hanging on the window next to this
part of the wall.
Hillary and I stuck close together as the tour guide took us from room to room, and cell to cell, telling stories of many pirates and other convicts jailed within the walls.  The darkness, bitter chill, and tales of murders, hangings, and robberies definitely made our hair stand on end.  But the moment I was the most afraid, quite possibly, was when I got my pictures developed.

This was, perhaps, the coldest, darkest spot of the tour.  And though I don’t necessarily believe in ghosts, I’m not exactly sure how to explain this photograph.  Was it Lavinia Fischer, known as the first female serial killer in America?  Or maybe it was Denmark Vesey, who organized a slave revolt, but was captured, along with several hundred other people who planned to participate (Both stories according to this website). 

All I will say, is that I definitely, absolutely, recommend this tour for a good scare.

Total Cost: $18 through Bulldog Tours

Best Deal: Hillary and I actually got in for free because I did some volunteer work for a historic house in Charleston

What’s the closest encounter you’ve ever had with a ghost?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Haunted St. Augustine

The way the story goes, back in the 1800s, a man was staying with his uncle at the St. Francis Inn in St. Augustine.  

He fell in love with one of the black servant girls, and the two had a love affair throughout the rooms of the St. Francis Inn.  Then, one day, the uncle found his nephew and the servant, and forbade them from seeing each other ever again.  The man became extremely depressed and killed himself.  Now, guests at the inn report seeing a ghostly woman dressed in white, perhaps returning to find her lover (this story, according to the Inn’s website).

Frank and I, too, were guests at St. Francis Inn.  But the only usual happening during our stay was someone drank most of the complimentary sherry that was left on the mantle.

But, it probably wasn’t anything paranormal, as I saw Frank hitting the bottle several times.

Exhibit A
Frank still blames it on the ghost.  Although, regardless, I’m pretty sure this bed and breakfast no longer offers free sherry after our trip.

I digress, the St. Francis Inn is not plagued by the ghostly stories.  In fact, the Inn even offers a Paranormal Package, where you can stay in one of the allegedly haunted rooms and you get two free books about ghosts in St. Augustine, along with a ghost tour.

Whether it’s haunted or not, St. Francis Inn still ranks as one of the best places I’ve ever stayed.  Inside, the rooms are small, but cozy.


The hotel is located just a few blocks from the major sights of St. Augustine, some of which, like the Castillo de San Marcos, are also haunted.  The grounds of the hotel are quite lovely.

You’ll also find free bikes to ride on the premises and a swimming pool perfect for sunning.

In fact, in addition to the free bikes, St. Francis Inn has no shortage of great perks.  You’ll also find a free breakfast buffet, with mimosas and Bloody Marys included.

Someone is eating in the room because he is a
little hungover
Just before dinner, between 5:30pm and 6:30pm, you can attend the “evening social,” where you’ll get to partake in complimentary wine, beer, and appetizers.  After grabbing a bite to eat, you can finish off with dessert hour at the Inn (from 7:30pm to 9pm), where you can taste everything from peach cobbler to strawberry delight cake, for absolutely no cost.

If the beach is more your thing, St. Francis has lodgings on the sand as well, which you are free to use if you stay at the Inn (included towels, an outdoor shower, beach chairs and bottled water). 

The St. Francis Inn also has free bicycles at the beach location as well
The reason we stayed at the St. Francis Inn, initially, is because it was quite economical (we paid less than $200 a night in August).  After having such a terrific stay, we book the hotel for our friends as a wedding gift.

If you are into the ghost thing, there are plenty of other places that are haunted in St. Augustine, including:

·         The Huguenot Cemetery
·         The Old City Gate
·         The Ponce de Leon Hotel on the campus of Flagler College


Total Cost: About $400 for two nights at the St. Francis Inn

Best Deal: Free breakfast, happy hour, and desserts!

Have you ever stayed in a haunted hotel?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Haunted Key West

Halloween is just a few days away and at this time of year, everyone is looking for the creepy,. crawly aspects to every story.  Since I’ve been talking about Key West, I wanted to show you what's known to frighten in the Conch Republic, from the freakiest doll I've ever seen to what seems like a friendly spirit of Hemingway.

According to Haunted Florida, “Many people have witnessed Ernest Hemingway waving from his studio window and lights on and sounds of a typewriter being used after the tours are over and the house is unoccupied.”

Personally, I think it’s entirely plausible that people who thought they saw Hemingway were a little on the tipsy side.

This video might prove otherwise:

It's $13 to enter the Hemingway House.

Ghosts or no ghosts, I do enjoy traipsing around cemeteries. 

I am sad for all the people who died and are
now buried here.
The Key West Cemetery has been around for almost 200 years and has tens of thousands of bodies buried there.  It's free to enter, but you must do so at your own risk (insert scary laugh here).

Some of the graves are actually quite funny.
Strangely enough, this is what Frank's grandfather's headpiece
says as well... gotta love the dead with a sense of humor!

Others, though, are a little more ominous.

That angel is for "Darling Ruth"
People have reported quite a few frightening instances at the Key West Cemetery, including hearing voices and seeing shadows, as reported on this website.
If you want to get a bit freaked out, watch this creepy video:

Some of the other haunted locations in Key West include:
  • Old Town Manor (which I’ve stayed at before and reviewed on Saturday)
  • Captain Tony’s Saloon (which I talked about on Friday)
  • La Concha (a hotel where I suggested you watch the sunset – I was unaware 13 people committed suicide by jumping from the rooftop deck.  If I was going to commit suicide, I would never, ever do it in a way that involved free-fall)
  • Robert the Doll at East Martello Museum (this is a given, because even though I don’t believe in ghosts, I absolutely believe in creepy dolls.  And scary clowns.  You can thank Chucky and It for that.  Apparently, this super scary doll even inspired Chucky!  If you want to experience Robert, it's $7 to get into the museum).
You can learn more about the ghosts that haunt these notable places in Key West by clicking here.

Have you ever seen a ghost?  Do you believe in ghosts or supernatural spirits?  Or really freaky dolls?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Key West Accommodations – Three Places You Should Definitely Stay and One You Shouldn’t

One of my favorite places to stay in Key West is a small bed and breakfast called Almond Tree Inn. 

Even roosters like hanging out at the Almond Tree!
This is where Frank and I stayed on our very first vacation ever.  It’s not as centrally located as the other accommodations I listed, being near the intersection of Duval Street and Truman Avenue (this is a short walk away from the normal Duval Street hub-bub).  It’s also a little more pricey, with rooms averaging about $250 a night.  However, the happy hour in the evening and continental breakfast in the morning help make it a good deal!

Here you can read my review that I wrote after staying at the Almond Tree

I also liked staying at Old Town Manor, which is right in the thick of things, a block from Duval Street on Eaton Street.

Courtesy of Colleen M.
Prices are as low as $105, but in season (Thanksgiving through Easter), expect to pay more like $215 and up.

My sister-in-law and brother-in-law got married here and the bed and breakfast did a wonderful job accommodating everyone.  As for the service, the continental breakfast in the morning was quite delicious, and wasn’t your normal spread of dry pastries (I ate cheese and hard boiled eggs every morning).

One of the best places I stayed was here.
Thank you, Google Maps!  I would have never remembered
the name of this place if not for your help!
I know, it doesn’t look very nice from the outside.  It’s neither a hotel nor a bed and breakfast… this is a “vacation rental” that my brother-in-law found.  He went through Bone Island Vacation Rentals.  Once you get past the unimpressive front, you’ll find a little tropical oasis outside.

Inside, there was a bedroom, living room, and kitchen.

Decor typical of 1990s Key West, but quite nice actually
And we paid less than $200 for the weekend after Thanksgiving, which I think was definitely a good deal!

With every good hotel in Key West, comes a bad hotel as well.  From the outside, Mango Tree Inn looks just lovely.

In fact, it looks lovely on the inside too.

But the owner of this place is just a little too much to handle.  The hotel is very small and Frank and I were traveling with another couple.  The owner warned us about noise levels and I feel that we spent most of our time out of the room, so it wasn’t much of a problem.  When we were getting ready to check out, the owner came upstairs to insist we hurry up.  It was 10:50am.  Frank was in the shower, but that’s not really any of her business.  We were out on time, but despite the fresh flowers in the toilet, we will never be back because we felt the owner was just too annoying.

Don't be swayed by greenery in your john,
the hotel owner is always lurking here

Where is the best place you've stayed in Key West?

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Perfect Pub Crawl in Key West

Anyone can walk down Duval Street and go into a bar.  But, since my sister-in-law and brother-in-law got married in Key West, we felt it was necessary to plan the perfect pub crawl – maximizing fun and minimizing crowds.  As I suggested yesterday, you can plan your bar-hopping to start after dinner, about 8pm, but this route will work any time of the day.  Drink prices at all the stops are pretty reasonable, though you won't find many, if any, specials at night.

Stop 1 - Hog’s Breath Saloon

First stop, a very famous bar that gets very crowded, but as an early stop, it shouldn’t be too bad.   There are plenty of places to sit outside, but this place can get filled with tourists, so have a drink and move along.
Stop 2 – World’s Smallest Bar

I love things that are considered “world’s smallest” or “world’s largest” and this bar is no exception!


There isn’t room for too many people in this joint, so come early and grab a drink before you can’t belly up to the bar anymore because it’s really only about eight feet wide!

Stop 3 – Captain Tony’s

This location was the original Sloppy Joe’s back in the day, and the same bar where Ernest Hemingway drank many, many drinks.  You’ll find a lot of surprises at Captain Tony’s, starting with the bras hanging from the ceiling.

Colleen is especially shocked because this bra
actually just fell from the ceiling into her hand!
Another perk to Captain Tony’s – free cups to drink from so you can take your beer to go.

** Special note: It is actually illegal to have an open container in Key West.  There are only seven places in the U.S. where it is okay to have an open container while wandering about on the streets (including New Orleans, I talk all about where to drink in the Big Easy here).  Key West is not one of them.  However, everyone does it.  But, if everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?  I might, because I definitely do take my drink "to go" in Key West!

Stop 4 – Rick’s

Rick’s is definitely the kind of place you want to go a little more late night.  Why else would you try the pickleback shots?

If you are not privy to the pickleback, then you haven’t lived.  Or died, which is what it feels like you’re doing when you take a pickleback.  It is a shot of whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice.  Once you have that shot, you’re ready for everything, including the band downstairs from Rick’s at Durty Harry’s.

By now, this place is getting pretty crowded and you’ll be able to dance for a few hundred of your closest friends before heading to the next bar.

Stop 5 – Sloppy Joe’s

Sloppy Joe’s is on the list of National Register of Historic Places, but it’s no longer really known for Hemingway, but instead now for large crowds and fruity, slushy drinks.

Not gonna lie, I did have a slushy drink
If you can navigate through all the crowds and find a good spot to dance, you can kick off your shoes and party!

Frank literally did take off his shoes!
Stop 5 – Irish Kevin’s

This is where most nights in Key West end.  The live music is always entertaining and the clientele is always a blast.  My sister-in-law even threw her wedding bouquet here at this bar – romantic!

Bonus Stop – Drag Queen

If you’re looking to continue the party, you can head south on Duval to drag show central.  You’ll find several shows going on, but one of the best is at 801 Bourbon Bar.  That's where I discovered this great song:

Just imagine a bunch of drag queens singing it :)

Where is your favorite place to stop in Key West?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

24 Hours in Key West – Daytime Edition

In October, five glorious years ago, I went on my first vacation with this guy to Key West.  We went through about five bottles of champagne (not counting the drinking we did at bars), were too intoxicated to walk at one point, and had the time of our lives.

Yes, his name was Frank.

So, I think this is a good time to review how to spend 24 hours in Key West without having to wire home for money.

8am – Rent a Bike
"Drinking and biking" doesn't seem as
dangerous and "drinking and driving."

The best way to get around Key West is most certainly on two wheels.  I’ve rented from Eaton Bikes before and they were very courteous and economical.  I actually rented a tandem bike there for just $25 a day.  Or you can get a regular beach cruiser for $18 a day.  Once you have your bike, you can see the sights.

8:30am – Banana Café

The. Best. Breakfast Spot. Ever.  The crepes are delicious and the omelettes are scrumptious.  Or you could choose something else from their menu with a French feel.  The prices aren’t bad either.  The egg and cheese crepe is less than $6.  Even though this early morning spot is on Duval Street, it’s not near all the crowds.

9:30am – Southernmost Point

From Banana Café, it’s just a short jaunt south on Duval Street to the Southernmost Point.

It gets really crowded here as tourists line up to take their picture in front of this landmark, so it’s in your best interest to get here early.  Then, jump over to the next street, Whitehead, and take it north, until you find yourself at…

10am – Hemingway House

Now, I love me a good museum, and what better museum than one dedicated to one of the most influential writers of our time, who loved to drink, and who also allegedly had six-toed cats?

None of these cats would show me a six-toed paw!
Now, it’s not been confirmed that Hemingway actually had six-toed cats at his residence in Key West, but it has been confirmed that he wrote a lot in this house.

Hemingway apparently wrote "A Farewell to Arms" in Key
West... could it have been in this room?!
It will cost you $13 per person to see the Hemingway House, a price worth it just to imagine what it was like to be Hemingway, and to live in Key West in the 1930s.

11am – Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

If you’re not from Florida, this will be shocking, but the beaches in Key West are actually no bueno.

Still, it’s worth seeing, so ride your bike from the Hemingway House, south on Whitehead, until you see signs for the park.

I'm drinking a Key West Sunset Ale on the beach in Key West...
doesn't get any better than this!
Most importantly, the beach is free.

1pm – Lunch at Croissants de France

A great lunch spot, this company actually catered my sister-in-law’s wedding.  The food can be a little pricey, with sandwiches running about $11-$12, but the food is outstanding.

2pm – Explore Duval Street

Key West is definitely a city where you can people watch and window shop for hours.

You’ll see some pretty interesting things in the windows and you’ll likely see drunk people all over the streets, even at two in the afternoon. 

This is both an interesting sight and a drunk
person - killing two birds with one stone!
5pm – Mallory Square

At the northernmost end of Duval Street, you’ll find a place *great* for watching street performers. 

Wander around, enjoy a few, but don’t watch the sunset here, because there’s a better spot down Duval…

6pm – Watch the Sunset (may have to adjust the hour depending on the time of year)

Even though you’ll catch a great view of the sun disappearing beyond the horizon at Mallory Square…

Not too shabby
The view from the top of the Crowne Plaza La Concha absolutely cannot be beat.

This is a hotel (a pricey hotel at that), but you can just zip right up the elevator to the top floor to watch the sun go down in what looks like a glorious ball of fire.

7pm – Dinner at Mangoes

I think I’ve eaten at Mangoes on every trip to Key West I’ve taken.

This is circa 2008.  Not sure why my hair is so
Not only is the food solid, but the restaurant’s location is very central, right on Duval Street near many of the good bars (and drag shows!)

8pm – Drinking on (and around) Duval Street

This is what Key West is all about.  Before my sister-in-law and brother-in-law got married in Key West, Frank and I joined them in a reconnaissance mission to plot the perfect bars to visit at the most opportune times.  We have the list down to a science.  Stay tuned for “24 Hours in Key West – Nighttime Edition” tomorrow…

Here is a preview - this is pretty normal in
Key West

Bike rental: $18/day

Breakfast: About $6 per person

Hemingway House: $13

Lunch: $12

Dinner: $20

Total Cost: $69 (appropriate amount for Key West – of course, I did not include drinks in this amount… that can vary from $20 to $2,000, depending on how your journeys down Duval Street actually go… and that’s in the daytime!)

Best Deal: Watching the sunset for absolutely nothing

Where do you find the best deals for the day in Key West?

Monday, October 22, 2012

24 Hours in Clermont

As you know, this weekend Frank and I were in Clermont for his big Iron Man race.  While he was competing for 12-13 hours, I had big plans that included seeing some history, nature, and drinking.

Instead, I ended up here:

Hard to see in the bright sun on this beautiful afternoon, but
that's, unfortunately, the emergency room
Apparently I had some gallbladder problem that has since gone away, but my 24 hours in Clermont didn’t go exactly as planned.  If you visit this Central Florida city though, this is how I would breakdown my day.

9am – Breakfast at Donut King

Think Krispy Kreme, but without the chain name.  This restaurant on Highway 27 serves hot, fresh donuts 24/7.  Their sign also advertises a “castle burger,” which is pretty similar looking to a White Castle.  Not sure I’d eat that for breakfast though, but it’s your 24 hours here.  The prices are extremely reasonable as well, you can grab a fresh donut for just $.94!

10am – Bike the Lake Minneola Scenic Trail

This 5.5 mile trail is kind of like what Frank did during his Iron Man, although clearly he went a little further as well in order to get his 112 miles in.

The trail takes you up and down many hills throughout the area.  Many, many hills.  Ask Frank, he can attest to the extreme elevation.  You can read more about the trail here.  If you’re not into hills, you can ride for a bit and then relax in the sand around Lake Minneola.

Frank is not coming anywhere close to relaxing.  Not for
another 10 hours or so.

If you  bring your own bike, this activity is free.

12pmLunch at Jack’s Barbeque

This place has two really awesome things going for it.  First, it smells tremendous, says the vegetarian.  And judging from Frank’s reaction, the food was out of this world.

The vegetarian had an iced tea, but I was pretty close to licking
Frank's fingers!
And if that wasn’t enough, Jack’s Barbeque is big on the Florida Gators.


This restaurant is also on Highway 27.  You can grab a half rack of ribs, baked beans, a pickle and a couple of beers for $20. 

1pm – The President’s Hall of Fame

Unfortunately, I only got to experience this place from the outside, but it’s nice to travel to Mount Rushmore without having to actually go to South Dakota.


The President’s Hall of Fame has replicas of many famous sights in presidential history.

You know, just Abe and me, hanging out...

It also has actual history, like this Cadillac.

The license plate reads:

Which would have been the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter.  Also important that year, Frank was born in August.  I love random roadside attractions!

The cost to get in is $14.95.

3pm – Citrus Tower

This is basically in the parking lot of the President’s Hall of Fame.  The website claims it was one of Florida’s first “attractions,” built in 1956.  To put things into perspective, Disney World (about 25 miles away) didn’t open until 1971. 
You can ride to the top of the tower to a glass observation deck for $6.

4pm – Lakeridge Winery

I talked about my sadness yesterday for missing the winery.

Complimentary tastings folks.  And tours.  The place is open until 5pm though, so drink quickly or come earlier.

6pm – Calabria Ristorante

At first I was a little hesitant about this place because some crazy guy in our hotel parking lot told us about it.  But, Frank needed to carb load, so it was this or Carrabba’s.  Very, very sadly, Carrabba’s is rated #2 of restaurants in Clermont on Trip Advisor, while Calabria’s is rated #20.  Calabria’s food was fresh, their service was great, and we saw local after local walk through the door.  I ordered Eggplant Parmesan and was extremely pleased.  The meals were about $13 each and included bread and a salad.

8pm – Back to the Hotel

We actually stayed in Clermont two nights and had to wake up early both mornings, so I’m not too sure about the nightlife.  We stayed at the Days Inn on Highway 27 and I have to say, it was one of the nicest Days Inn hotels that I had ever stayed in.

Swans kissing... nice touch!

The staff was also so extremely nice and accommodating, moving us from a smoking room (which we booked accidentally) into a non-smoking room with a futon.

The bathrooms were also extremely clean.

With all the towel animals, I felt like I was on a cruise ship!
We paid less than $100 for two nights, and even though this is considered a “two-star” hotel, I give it “five-stars!”

Breakfast: About $4 ($.94/ donuts, two donuts per person)
Lunch: $40 for two
The President’s Hall of Fame: About $30 for two
Citrus Tower: $12 for two
Dinner: $26 for two
Hotel: $46.75/night

Total Cost: $158.75 for a quick getaway for anyone who lives in Florida

Best Deal: Seeing amazing sunsets over the rolling hills

The Days Inn was the best “worst” hotel I’ve stayed in… where were you pleasantly surprised by your cheap accommodations?