The last week of our trip was in Key West and Miami. Funny to think that after almost 11 weeks I’ll be heading home. But first, 6 more days to experience new things every minute.
We picked up our hire car and drove from Fort Lauderdale to Key West-over the famous overseas highway. This thin ribbon of concrete joins numerous atolls and coral keys and ends at Key West-the Southern most point of mainland USA.
The bridge has been the scene of many – car chase and in the case of “True Lies” a harrier jump jet involved chase! US 1 starts in Key West and we drove it through to the end. The southern most point of land is marked by a large buoy noting 90 miles to Cuba. We drove by and Leonie leant out the window to take a photo-people were queuing to have their photo taken next to the buoy! No way were we joining that queue –nor was there anywhere to park!
Our Key West hotel was at the end of Duval St right in the centre of things. We were able to walk to the restaurants and shops, but were still away enough from the booze crowd! I liked the old town-gorgeous wooden buildings whose architecture was very reminiscent of New Orleans! They even had pale blue pain on the balcony ceilings (which I was told in NOLA is supposed to stop wasps building nests). Lots of restaurants focussing on seafood ( with a strong cuban influence) and key lime pie. I hate to,say this but the best key lime pie I had was in New York (Two Little Red Hens on 2nd ve near E 86th st for anyone near by). I tried the conch fritters (more like balls rather than a flat fritter). They were nice but I felt like an axe murderer knowing how rare they are becoming!
It was funny to see chickens wandering the main street and not a dog or cat having a go at them. Apparently the rooster is a Cuban icon and they’ve been ruling the roost (pun intended) in Key West for a couple of hundred years. These were gorgeous, colourful things-and they knew it!
Sunset is big business in Key West-there is sunset pier and Mallory Square all aimed at sunset watching-with food, booze, live music and markets. Not to mention the 10 or more boats we saw out for sunset sails!
We had a bit of wet weather in Key West and had only 2 days there but it was a nice way to wind down and enjoy being in charge of our own itinerary again. No one telling us where to be when!
We headed back to Miami-my trusty ipad app ‘Sygic’ providing the navigation. This was the best $20 I spent the whole trip (well, I did get a nice pair of earrings for $20 in Prince Edward Island, but even I can see the navigation app was more useful!). Sygic downloads the maps so works offline, and it still has the voice direction-we chose the nice female british accent!. It was great to not have to worry about mobile coverage-we even used it as a walking guide map in some places.
We had several hours free after dropping the car off so headed to an outlet mall ‘Dolphin Mall’ as we had managed to avoid them so far. I was very restrained -especially considering there was yet another Desigual store! While I knew Miami had a large Spanish speaking population, I was surprised in some stores that some of the staff spoke only spanish! My few Spanish lessons meant I could get the basics and read most of the signs! Let’s face it-shopping is shopping in any language.
We had booked a 3 part tour for our first full day-and it was a great way to get to see parts of the city we otherwise wouldn’t. The 3 parts were: 1) a bus tour through downtown, south beach, coral gables, and little havana; 2) a boat cruise around the bay and islands-home to the rich and famous; and 3) an everglades air boat tour. I learnt quite a bit on this trip:
• Miami is an indian word for sweet water and is named for the fresh water river
• There is so much art deco in south beach because a hurricane destroyed the precious buildings in the 1920s so everything was rebuilt at the same time using the prevailing style
• Coral gables is built on a fossilised reef and many of the houses use coral in their construction
• Castro sent orphan children to the USA in the early days if his reign and they started little havana – where many of the inhabitants never learn english apparently
• The only natural island in Miami is where south beach is-the rest were man made in the 1920s
• Everglades means river of grass-it’s not stagnant but a slow moving river
• I still hate people telling me what to do and where to be 10 times as if I was an idiot or a tourist (ok, I was a tourist!)
We were lucky with the weather on the tour day as it stayed fairly dry, after that the weather deteriorated with high winds and rain squalls throughout the rest of our stay.
We tried a few South Beach restaurants (did I mention we were staying in an art deco style hotel on Collins Ave eight in the South Beach district?), and went to the Cabaret at the National Hotel-a great pianist and singer; and one of the bar staff would sing in between serving (she was a professional at both).
Of course we had to spend time wondering Ocean Drive-that famous stretch of beachfront full of palm trees and art deco hotels. It seemed as though every second one was owned by some actor or musician-Danny deVito, Will Smith, Gloria Estefan all have hotels on Ocean Drive; and Madonna owns a large one on Collins Ave just next to us. I wonder if people ask to take their complaints to the owner! I loved the art deco styling, and apparently the place is all lit up at night-but even though we went there for dinner, it was in such heavy rain we simply jumped to amd from the taxis. Oh well-I'm sure there are photos on the internet better than any I could have taken!
We had lunch on Ocean Ave at the News Café. Our tour guide the day before mentioned it as a food star spotting location-but quote frankly, I wouldn’t know most of the ‘famous’ people these days. If Will Smith sat next to me I would sit up and pay attention; but there was a commotion outside with photographers, and bystanders with iphones out, and I couldn’t tell you who they were focussed on-all I saw was a bunch of skinny blondes of about 20 or so!
For our last night dinner we went to Larios on the Beach-Gloria Estefan’s restaurant on Ocean Drive. Great food and beautiful surrounds. A wild and wet night so we were very lucky to be able to grab a cab each way without too much hassle.
Our last day (and travel day) was Thanksgiving so a public holiday. We managed to get a late checkout-which, when you are facing 24 hrs travel, makes a big difference! The hotel provides breakfast by the pool so after breakfast I took a walk to the beach-only had to go through the back gate! Our hotel 'South Seas' has a coconut beach grove complete with hammocks-in better weather I would have been in them, but the wind whipped the sand up quite sharply! These coconut palms were trimmed so no chance of flying coconuts. I know how dangerous they were but when our tour guide mentioned that 8 people were killed in Miami last year by falling coconuts, the rest of the travellers were a bit stunned! In fact, more people are killed by falling coconuts than in shark attacks-quick, chop all the killer coconut trees down!
I'm facing the thought of the return journey with an easier mind now that my business class upgrade has come through. I'm very lucky that my brother Damian has frequent flyer points and was happy to spare some for me. (My other brother Daniel let me use his frequent flyer points to book several business class seats on previous long flights to South America and South Africa-so I consider myself very spoilt by both of them!). The business class seat means we can use the lounge in LA for our 3 hr layover-another bonus (I got cheap and let my lounge membership lapse once I stopped work, but I do so appreciate the benefits!)