Three days of abandon

South Beach Travel Blog

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Seafood Paella on dispay at one of the streetside cafes

 I stepped into a balmy but windy night at Tampa Airport, anxious for my half hour shuttle trip to the art deco district of Miami, South Beach.

I came prepared with the proper ammo of anticipation, excitement, and a keen desire to leave the last few months of my life in the dust.  A perfect sanctuary here for my soul, a place for my spiritual reawakening. perhaps i wax too lyrical here, but I had been feeling the frustrating itch to travel since my return from Germany in May.  I needed a true advent, to immerse myself in everything that had made my life so rich and full thus far. and, it was decidedly so, that i had to close the weary chapter of my past life and begin anew.

during my shuttle ride, i was rewinding the weekend that had yet to arrive. lost in thoght, i soon noticed the retro dazzle and glamor of the art deco disrict.  fortuna has always smiled on me, and beamed brightly when she showed me to my temporary domicile at Haddington Hall.

No time was wasted on settling in or unpacking bags.  My dear friend Michael and I were soon on our way out the door to explore more than a mile of restaurants beckoning for our favor.  It was here, on Lincoln Road, that  I was charmed and mesmerized by the ambiance of this Miami night.  It felt surreal, in fact, as nearly all of the restaurants were Italian.  Itlian pop songs streamed from the welcoming doors, proprietors stood expectantly outside bribing us with free bottles of wine or half price dinner menus.

walking to Miami Beach
  We settled on a restaurant called Aura.  Though the winds blew heavy, there was a general feeling of merriment and contentment in the air, on this Snday night.  I heard many European dialects and tongues, noticed many animated groups of people discussing the fate of the world or their night around seafood and wine.  I ordered crab stuffed lobster tail, Michael had the seared Ahi stuna steak.  With a free bottle of Pinot, our meal came to $56.  Even the method of including gratuities in the bill was reminiscent of European custom.

 

Perhaps it was 10 or 11 in the evening, we werent sure - nor did we care.  We had one destination and one desire: adventure.  We hiked south towards the Segofredo espresso bar, which literally does turn into a bar at night.

  A large crowd sipped on cocktails outside, a happier crowd was inside dancing to the fabulous DJ.  Michael and I, the infernal tourists, ordered the local flavors for drinks: Jamaican Julep - white rum, flor de cana 4 years, lime, white sugar, mint leaves, topped with fresh fruit.  Archangel - something with equal ingredients, though mixed with a sickly sweet guave or passion fruit juice and spiced up with basil leaves.

 

After the bottle of Pinot for dinner, and our two sumptuous cocktails, we were feeling great and cozying up to the locals.  We soon discovered that nobody we spoke to was a local.  We joined up with a small gang of swiss boys, whose german was much better than their english - so i was having a terrific time.

  we walked north on Lincoln to a decadent club called, SET (http://www.setmiami.com/), which is touted as being the "premiere club for the jet crowd" - so naturally we felt right at home, *wink.  The venue itself dazzled with art deco splendor and contemporary uses of light, space, and sound.  Were it not for the plastic cages with scantily clad dancers, I would have felt myself transported back in time to a Miami millionaire's home in the 30s or 40s.  We had a spectacular time, but all of the photos to prove it were permanently wiped from my memory card...pure accident, sheer terror.  By 3Am I couldnt go on, and we parted ways from our new friends and stumbled back to the hotel.

 

We slept well into Monday, but woke to grumbling bellies on this 70 degree day.

Michael with two fists of strawberry mojito
  Ocean Boulevard, which runs along South Beach, is an endless parade of streetside cafes and restaurants.  Day and night you will be met by 20somethings enticing you to spend your hard earned money in their restaurants.  One place tries to compete with the next, with endless displays of lobster, paella, gargantuan burgers, behemoth pasta mountains, king crab, half price menus, and many many drink specials.  We walked what seemed for miles, and retraced our steps, unable to make up our minds.  We finally decided on the

Fox Cafe.  The deciding factor, ultimately, was that everything was half off. Drinks were two for one.  The catch was that we had to buy two to get two, but we didnt learn that until it was too late. In adition, our menu selections were not part of the half off special (market price) We ordered two strawberry mojitos, the waiter asks if we would like large, and of course we agreed.

  Little did we know that as opposed to a pint, we were getting a liter!  The paella, which had been proudly displayed at the front of the restaurant, was our second motivation for coming here.  We ordered the seafood paella with lobster tail, and begin merrily sipping on our mojitos.  We were plowed, the food arrives, and it took our breath away.  Generous portions, generously beautiful, we couldnt eat it all.  The check arrived, I agreed to pick up the tab.  It was $200!  A break down: Paella: $40.  Two lobster tails: $80 two large strawberry mojitos: $60.  I immediately demanded our next two $30 mojitos, gratis, even though Michael and I were barely able to stand.  We were able to finish half, asked for to-go cups, and laughed all the way to the beach.
 

 

We waffled the drunken hours away on the beach, crawled around in the surf, took ridiculous photos of each other with our plastic cup mojitos, photographed a couple, made friends with a dog, and met Antonio - the beach park janitor.  We got into an intellectual conversation about nightlife, put him through a question and answer trial, and walked away with the knowledge that "Wet Willi's is the shit."  back on Ocean Boulevard, we met a bum and took him to Table 8 inside the Vinci Hotel for pomegranate martinis with basil, and coronas.  All I remember is singing Don McClean songs with this man at the bar, while Michael disappeared to empty his lunch and mojitos inside the posh water closet at the Vinci.

 

Our night was over by 8pm.  Our best laid plans were waylaid.  We were beyond repair, and repaired back to the hotel for another good night's sleep.  Tuesday would be our cultural day of exploration, which is when we went on the city tour of Miami.

 

The absolute best way of starting your day is at Jerry's Famous Deli, (where food and people mix) a 24 hour eatery which happened to be located next to our Hotel.  The menu was larger than the top half of Michael's body, and we pored over that thing like the Sunday Newspaper.  I could tell you what wasn't on that menu, there were so many choices.  From Kosher Brats to Hungarian Goulash, this place had it all.

We settled on Gyros Platters and had no regrets.

 

With happy bellies and sunny dispositions, we got on our shuttle to the Miami City Tour.  In retrospect, I wish we hadn't.  There were two exciting aspects of the tour, one of them I did not have the pleasure to experience.  The rest was mundane and unexciting.  Even Miami's history did little to enthrall me. 

 

The tour began with a sprint via shuttle through the port of miami, downtown miami, the financial district, and coconut grove.  All of them tedious, unexciting, and virtually like any other city tours.  No striking architecture to speak of, save for the quaint homes of Coconut Grove.

  The name makes it sound more exciting than it is.  I could have been in Santa Barbara or Pacific Palisades.  Coral gables, the next stop on our tour, provided for some excitement as we stopped at the Venetian pool.  Originally a coral rock quarry, filled with 820,000 gallons of spring fresh water, a mix of Venetian and Spanish architecture, this 80 plus year old architectural treasure almost made the tour seem worthwhile.  A second notworthy stop would have been Vizcaya, an estate built by Industrialist James Deering in 1916, but meant to look like a 400 year old Italian Villa.  Our shuttle stopped at its gates, and I was able to make out the many renaissance elements in the foreground and surrounding park that make this place seem so ancient.

 

Our second to last destination was Little Havana.

  The name conjured much excitement in my mind, but I was in for a serious disappointment.  The highlight of this segment of the tour was a stop at the "Maximo Gomez domino park."  Observing elderly gentleman deeply immersed in their domino and chess games was a photographer's delight, though beyond the fences of the park lay little to entice.  Michael and I had a half hour in which to explore Little Havana, though we found little except run down produce markets and dollar stores.  The prospect of finding a little hole-in-the-wall eatery lifted our spirits, but were soon smashed to the ground as we found nothing except for a McDonald's.

 

The best was saved for last, as we returned to South Beach for the "art deco" tour.  Chagrined by the fact that the best part of the tour took us through an area of Miami that we had explored extensively n days prior, we held out just a little bit longer for our "Star Island" tour.

Antonio, the beach park janitor
  I don't know why I agreed to a cruise that would take me past dozens of famous homes, inhabited by the likes of Shaq and P. Diddy, that I cared nothing about.  Highlight of this cruise was seeing Miami city skyline and architecture from the water.

 

 As always, life is what one makes it.  We learned quite a bit about Miami history, though I won't make this missive even longer by going into detail.  My purest joy in travel is experiencing the culinary delights of the region, and it was my keenest wish to find a Cuban restaurant that night.  It seemed the only Cuban fare to be found on Ocean Boulevard was at Lario's.  Owned by Gloria and Emilio Estefan, it was the proper nod to island life that I had been seeking.  What I loved: Papa Rellena, (round breaded potato stuffed with beef creole) croquetas de hamon, (ham croquettes) tostones rellenos con camarones,(Stuffed green plantain cups with shrimp creole) and the nightime candlelit ambiance that accompanied our dinner.

A short trip, a fantastic getaway!  I am yet again inspired by our country, with its incredible mix of so many beautiful cultures.  Fortunate I am to take part in the glory!

 

jethanad says:
Amazingly beautiful pics of Miami - I am getting nostalgic. Thank you !
Posted on: Apr 01, 2011
michellepowell says:
Sounds like an amazing trip, great photos.
Posted on: Feb 03, 2008
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Seafood Paella on dispay at one of…
Seafood Paella on dispay at one o…
walking to Miami Beach
walking to Miami Beach
Michael with two fists of strawber…
Michael with two fists of strawbe…
Antonio, the beach park janitor
Antonio, the beach park janitor
The Bum and I
The Bum and I
Jerrys Famous Deli
Jerry's Famous Deli
Michael holding the menu at Jerry…
Michael holding the menu at Jerry…
The Venetian Pool
The Venetian Pool
A view from Jerry Deli, in the Ar…
A view from Jerry' Deli, in the A…
Espaniola Way
Espaniola Way
Gates to Viscaya
Gates to Viscaya
Maximo Gomez Domino Park in Little…
Maximo Gomez Domino Park in Littl…
Art Deco District
Art Deco District
Versaces Former Residence
Versace's Former Residence
Holocaust Memorial
Holocaust Memorial
Bayside, and our Cruise Queen
Bayside, and our Cruise Queen
Sipping Mojitos at Fox Cafe
Sipping Mojitos at Fox Cafe
Our lobster tail seafood paella
Our lobster tail seafood paella
pregnant feline under the table
pregnant feline under the table
walking down espanola way
walking down espanola way
on the tour bus
on the tour bus
at the venetian pool
at the venetian pool
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photo by: hannajax