About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

Florida: Miami



I-395 East, Gateway to Miami Beach 



THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29th 

On my way to Miami from The Keys, I found my plans to stay in a hostel foiled, when as I called around I discovered parking is NOT included and seriously expensive.  It was already 1:30pm and I'd be arriving in Miami in just a few hours, so I stopped in Homestead to send out some last-minute couchsurfing requests, and to my surprise about 30 minutes later I received a phone call from Christy, an angel from couchsurfing who generously said yes to my request to stay with her!  PHEW!  When I reached Miami I picked up a thank you bottle of limoncello to bring to Christy's (one of her favs), and received a text message from Nick, another potential couchsurfing host who was eager to meet up!






I drove over the causeway into South Beach, aka SoBe (Christy's neighborhood), which comprises the southernmost 2.5 square miles of Miami Beach, located on a series of natural and man-made barrier islands between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay, east of Miami city proper.  It's a major entertainment destination with hundreds of nightclubs, restaurants, boutiques and hotels, distinguished by its unparalleled tropical Art Deco architecture, strong Latin influence ("in 2000, 55% of residents of the city of Miami Beach spoke Spanish as a first language") and well-established gay & lesbian community.





Then I spent some time on the wide, white sandy beach, sunning and swimming and trying not to stare at all the beautiful bodies that passing by.  This popular section of beach attracts a mix of locals and guests of the trendy hotels on Ocean Drive, but when they started taking the rental cabanas down the beach was relatively calm and quiet, and I happily looked above me at the pink cotton candy clouds illuminated by the sun setting behind the high-rises in back of me.






I got to Christy's around 7 or so, she met me at my car, gave me a Visitor Parking Pass (essential!) and welcomed me into her quintessential SoBe apartment - modern, clean lines, white n' bright.  She gratefully accepted my gift of limoncello (she said it was the good kind/right brand, yay me!) and gave me a try of her own homemade stuff - THE BEST!  She explained as I took interest in her creative art on the walls (and her fascinating morbid-mouse-in-box creations, heh heh).  We shared travel stories (I even got to look through her impressive journal of extensive world travels) and she graciously prepared us a thoughtful dinner that included a delicious egg-based Asian dish, simple green salad, avocados, and cherries.


Dusk on South Beach



After a drink or two Christy took me to Lincoln Road - an open-air pedestrian mall, hosting a row of shops, restaurants, sidewalk cafes, bars, art galleries, night clubs and other businesses, considered South Beach's premiere shopping area.  On the way there she pointed out Decobike, "a network of 100 solar-powered bike rental/sharing stations with a fleet of 1,000 custom decobikes accessible from dozens of locations 24 hours per day," part of Miami Beach's going green initiative - how great!

 

Like Redbox for Bikes! =D



After walking around a while she took me to Zeke's Roadhouse, a favorite place of hers, which soon became mine as I discovered their selection of over 250 beers from around the world, 24 on tap - each only $4!  I asked for a rare one and got my Oktoberfest on a couple days early with a Narragansett Fest lager (crisp but subtle hops).  We grabbed a table outside and spent the rest of the evening laughing and sharing and people-watching, before returning home for some shut-eye.



Don't Mind if I Do!



FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30th
I spent the whole day exploring SoBe on foot, dedicating most of my time to Washington Ave, Collins Ave, and Ocean Drive, admiring the wonderful architecture South Beach is so worthily famous for.  Its Art Deco National Historic District is one square mile, containing over 800 significant structures, the principal architectural styles being Mediterranean Revival, Art Deco, Streamline Modern and Miami Modern.  I found myself entranced in a state of photo frenzy as you'll see in my album below, lol.



Trendy Lincoln Road



"The South Beach version of art deco is tropical deco with traditional, futurisic, and Mediterranean styles.  They pose along the streets, colorful and curvaceous machinations of pastel stucco and neon...resembling cruise liners and Flash Gordon rocket ships, projecting a sense of playfulness and frivolity.  Though the art form was born at the 1925 World’s Fair in Paris...it is in Miami Beach where it seems most at home: portholes, rounded walls, and steely accents conjure images of carefree vacations on the high seas, while the colors appear chosen from a palette of turquoise water and island sunsets.  It is fitting, then, that South Beach should be home to the largest collection of Deco architecture in the world, and perhaps equally fitting that it should be preserved in its original state, a testament to the whimsical inspiration that simple pleasures can bring."



Street Performer on Lincoln Road



I also checked out the stunning boats docked at Miami Beach Marina, wandered under the peaceful palm trees at South Point Park (cool playground by the way!), took a gander at the postcard-worthy, sandy shores of Ocean Beach Park, scoffed at condo listings as I sheltered myself from a short rain shower.  On Lincoln Road I marveled at the fairy tale-like, mosaic floors at ArtCenter, puzzled at its modern dog-pooping-a-drape piece, and gasped for air inside the Apple store (extremely high employee-to-customer ratio: 1 to 1?  even 2 to 1 maybe!).  Not long after I found myself pleasantly surprised as I strolled down lovely Española Way, consisting of art galleries, restaurants and shops modeled after romantic Mediterranean villages in France and Spain =)



 An Easy Climb to the Roof, LOL



On the way back to Christy's I browsed The Wolfsonian (free on Fridays after 6, woo-hoo!).  Housed in a beautiful 1927 Mediterranean Revival building, this quirky little museum, library and research center "uses objects to illustrate the persuasive power of art and design, to explore what it means to be modern, and to tell the story of social, historical, and technological changes that have transformed our world."  It features 3 floors of "approximately 120,000 pieces from the period of 1885 to 1945 - the height of the Industrial Revolution until the end of the Second World War - in a variety of media, including: furniture, industrial-design objects, works in glass, ceramics, metal, rare books, periodicals, ephemera, works on paper, paintings, textiles and medals."






Upon returning to Christy's, she kindly invited me to her friend's dinner party (their first of hopefully many).   After seeing if it would pass (to no avail), we braved the thunderstorm and I followed behind her in my car (the floor of which was soaked from rainwater that rose above my the door line - it had only been raining for about a half hour!).  Believe me when I say that the dinner party was nothing short of magical; the eight of us laughed to tears as we shared hilarious conversation over a marvelous 3-course homemade menu of refreshing watermelon mint gazpacho, succulent spiced yellow tail glazed in orange with oven-baked brussels sprouts and grapes, and rich bananas foster with coconut zabaglione - sublime!  The night couldn't have been any better; it was as if I had died and went to heaven, and to top it all off I received a lovely little surprise jar of pesto to take with me!  



Dexter Territory =)



Following dinner I experienced yet another painstaking parting of ways as I gave my heartfelt thank you and goodbyes to my amazing friend Christy and her wonderful friends - until we meet again!

It was 11:30 when I met up with Nick and his friend Janine for some beer and dancing at Taverna Opa (Greek Tavern by day, dance club by night), located at the Dolphin Mall in West Miami.  They danced salsa (they're Cuban!) and I well, danced like the white boy I am, lol.  The place was packed like sardines, a little rowdy, dancing on tables - it was like a Cuban Jersey Shore up in there, haha.  GREAT people watching and we had a good time; I'm glad I experienced a little Miami nightlife.  



The Whimsical Floors of ArtCenter



Nick said his brother was ill (just out of the hospital) and staying at his place, so he checked us into Holiday Inn West using his "millions of frequent flier miles."  We had already verbally agreed before the nightclub that we were just going to keep things platonic, but the night became super awkward when we walked into the room and he called down to the front desk to yell at them in Spanish about the double beds in the room.  He shouted at them that he had requested a king bed in a quiet corner of the hotel!  It was about 2 o'clock in the morning, so I told him the room was great, took my contacts out, put on my eye mask to clearly show I was going right to sleep, and luckily didn't have to argue much about my wanting to go to sleep instead of staying up "talking."  PHEW!



An Affair to Remember =D



SATURDAY, OCTOBER 1st
Today I took a trip to Little Havana, home to a high number Cuban immigrant residents, named after Havana, the capital and largest city in Cuba.  It's noted as a center of social, cultural, and political activity in Miami and is undoubtedly the best known neighborhood for Cuban exiles in the world. Little Havana is characterized by a robust street life, excellent restaurants, cultural activities, mom and pop enterprises, political passion, and great warmth amongst its residents.  It's also called the Latin Quarter, having, as of 2011, the highest concentration of Hispanics in Miami - 98%!



Slice of [Night] Life



Here along a stretch of 8th Street (referred to as Calle Ocho) between 16th Street and 42nd Ave, "a vibrant Hispanic culture permeates — colorful murals, monuments to heroes past and present, elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, and cigar rollers deeply at work amidst Little Havana’s ever-present aroma of Cuban coffee. These scenes of daily Little Havana life play out amidst a backdrop of pulsating music, vibrant storefronts, unique art galleries and quaint restaurants."



 Versailles Restaurant Before the Lunch Rush


My self-guided tour began with lunch at iconic Versailles a landmark eating establishment (with free parking lot!) founded in 1971, seating 370 in its dining room adorned with ornate etched glass and statuettes, it's popular among local Cuban exiles and tourists for its Cuban cuisine and connection to anti-Castro politics.



Do Cherubs Ward Off Back Pain?
Atop Ortopedia Quirantes, an Otherpedic Shop



"This is where (Cuban) exiles gather to plot against and to topple Fidel Castro (at least with words), or so the urban legend goes. This is where U.S. presidents, governors, legislators, mayors and commissioners come to court the Cuban vote and be photographed sipping that potent brew of café served by waitresses who call you by terms of endearment: "cariño", "hijo mío", "mi amor". This is where the nation’s television cameras converge to gauge Cuban-exile reaction when crooner Juanes is singing in Havana or militant Luis Posada Carriles is acquitted in Texas. This is where the media will surely be staged one day for The Big Party the day the tyrant (Fidel Castro) finally falls. Television networks have already reserved space around the restaurant to stage their live trucks when The Day comes (The Miami Herald, July 10, 2011)."



Lotus, Not Lettuce



I enjoyed imagining what the Cubans were conversing about and watching the retired locals tell the young tourists where to get the best cigars, as I consumed my boiled Yuca (the starchy root is similar to a potato) with minced garlic, Empanada de espinaca (spinach & cheese stuffed pastry), Tost Cubana (baguette-like white toast) and Cafe con leche (espresso sweetened with demerara sugar that I mixed with milk).  The restaurant was busy yet I received great service, good food, and the people-watching was terrific, all for only $9.35+tip!



 With Cuban Artist Mildrey Guillot



Parking was free and wasn't too difficult to find (residential) when I drove down to where the action started, around Calle Ocho & 27th Ave.  I double-checked to make sure my car was locked, because the area can be sketchy (especially at night).  I strolled down Calle Ocho, past the numerous convenient stores and souvenir shops (wouldn't hurt to know a little Spanish!), along the Paseo de las Estrellas, a Walk of Stars reminiscent of the one in Hollywood, but here the stars specifically celebrate the achievements of Latin American actors, writers, artists and musicians.



Cubans!



I popped into the cozy, colorful Mildrey Guillot Art Gallery, located between Avenues 16 & 17.  Mildrey Guillot migrated to the United States from her native Havana, Cuba in 1961, and studied in Madrid, Spain, where she acquired and developed some of her themes and techniques.  She favors charcoals, pastels, and oils, and she exhibits in Spain, Paris, South America, Puerto Rico, The U.S. and Switzerland.  To my delight, she warmly welcomed my arrival in person, chatted me up, and even sent me off with a personalized autograph on a visually stunning Don Quixote print of hers (it's set in front of me as I type)!  Beautiful art, beautiful soul =)



The Proud Symbol of Cuban Manhood is a Cock (Go Figure)



Just down from Mildrey's, I stopped into Art District Cigars Lounge & Factory, the "exclusive home of the 'Pergamino Cigar' from Nicaragua," and rightly ranked one "Fifty of the Finest Cigar-Friendly Places in the US" by Cigar Aficionado (Oct '08), offering fine cigars, drinks, live music, art and karaoke.  The ambiance is dark and masculine, warm, comfy and upscale; a sweet man cave/gentleman's den fo' sho'.  Having never purchased cigars before and being a complete cigar novice for that matter, the friendly employee named Geo shared his expertise with me for making my purchase, proper preservation, cutting, smoking, etc.



Bingo!



As a nice father-son surprise, Geo neatly packaged a couple Robusto-cut Dominican-Cubans to ship to my dad, so we could smoke 'em together when I'd return from my trip in a few weeks.  As it turned out (for the better), the shipping was delayed by two weeks and they proactively (I hadn't yet talked to them) sent four extra complimentary cigars to ensure satisfaction with my order (done!), including a couple medium-full bodied Mederos-brand, Fifty-4 Double Coronas (not only a mouth full to say, but also literally, as they were nearly 7 inches in length, oh baby!).  Now THAT'S quality service!  I need to ship more often, lol.








Continuing down Calle Ocho, I briefly watched the older Cuban guys playing tense games of dominoes, checkers and chess at little Máximo Gómez Park, or Domino Park, as the locals refer to it.  There may have been some sort of tournament going on, because there was a camera crew filming at one of the tables.  I snapped a few pictures, including ones of the memorial to Generalisimo Maximo Gomez (Ten Years War & Cuba's War of Independence) and the large mural depicting the Summit of the Americas (Cuba was the only country not invited to participate.







After taking advantage of a photo opp in a rumba costume cut-out, lol, I explored Cuban Memorial Boulevard Park, a two-block parkway lined with monuments commemorating the heroes that fought for Cuban independence, speaking to the Cuban exile presence in Miami.  There are memorials to Jose Marti (poet and revolutionary), Antonio Maceo (war hero), the Island of Cuba Memorial, and the Memorial Flame (to the heroes of the Bay of Pigs).  "There is a large ceiba tree considered sacred by most African religions.  Practitioners of Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion, leave ritual sacrifices of chicken bones and bundles of cloth among the tree's roots in hopes of gaining the blessing of a saint. Other believers claim a miracle happens every afternoon at the Virgin Mary statue when a beam of light shoots through the leaves overhead onto the Christ child in Mary's arms."




Gimme Your Money!




Other stops included Lily's Records (the lady behind the counter was kind enough to take a photo of me in another rumba costume cut-out, lol), Imago Fine Art Gallery (sleek space, cool art), Little Havana Cigar Factory (they thoughtfully include a thorough cigar specs tag on each box!), and a look at a sweet Lotus parked outside a cafe (the owner received my compliment well, but wouldn't allow a test drive, haha), before returning to my car (a Honda, lol), which thankfully, was in the same condition as I left it =D

This concludes my trip to "The Magic City" - theme parks here I come!




Pleasant, Yet Assertive, Haha
PS: Spell Check! :P



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