My reason for choosing Miami as the final stop on my trip is because one of my oldest friends, and oftentimes travel buddy, Tree has recently moved here. Same Small World super fans (hi Mum, hi Dad) will remember her name popping up back in Bolivia when I attempted to watch the live streaming of her wedding, and in Guatemala when she swung by for a long weekend in Antigua.
Now, with 20/20 hindsight, it has turned out to be a master stroke closing the curtain on my trip here. You see, Tree took a sabbatical and travelled the world in 2009. (I had the pleasure of joining her for the Argentinean leg.) Anyroad, not only does she know me well, but she also understands the emotions that I am going through with the end so very very nigh. Beyond the sunshine and the hang times, real life beckons…
They scoop me up from the airport and are dazzled by how quickly I managed to get myself through a famously gruelling immigration. In a first for me, my entry stamp to the US was actually dolled out whilst still on Canadian soil. Rather nifty really, and saved me a good hour of difficult questions about why I have so many non First World country stamps on record in the last six months…
Tree lives with her husband Ally (after 18 years of him being her boyfriend, will I ever get used to saying that?) in Miami Beach. The sun beats down on the water as we cross over from the mainland and pull up in front of their flash new pad on Lincoln Road.
We spend our first day watching Bundesliga’s finest Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich battle it out in the UEFA Champions League Final with Ally, his Dad Gordon and their pals, fellow Scots, Chris and Stu. None of us had a favourite team going into this, but by the time the second half kicks off we’re roaring for Dortmund. After equalising with a penalty in the 68th minute, both teams put everything into it. But a Robben strike in the dying minutes seals the deal for Bayern. And with that, football season grinds to a halt.
The day gets a little girlier after that as Tree and I head off for pedicures and manicures round the corner. Of course, cocktails are a mandatory inclusion in any pampering session, so we head to Yardbird on Lenox Avenue to kick off proceedings with an outstanding Blackberry Bourbon Lemonade. The bar is as resplendent as its cocktail menu, and as inviting as its friendly staff. Afterwards, we swing by Haven to sample their wares. They have some really interesting serves including Grey Goose Poire, jalapeño, lychee and pear-prosecco. The delicious coconut panko rock shrimp comes with a wasabi-sour peach marmalade and the sweet potato fries surprise us with a spiced brown sugar and lemon cayenne aioli seasoning. Not a bad local!
After a much needed sleep, Sunday comes our way, and Tree has booked us in for brunch at The Biltmore. After donning our glad rags (as glad as you are going to get from the inside of a backpack), Ally drops us off at the hotel, a brave new world of opulence and indulgence. The hotel is Mediterranean-style, built in 1926, and is a National Historic Landmark situated on 150 tropical acres. It is nothing short of stunning.
It also boasts the biggest hotel swimming pool in the US (fact fans)…
We arrive at 10am and I’m ready to be thrust a brunch menu filled with eggs benedict and waffle options. What I am not expecting is an all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink affair. Our waiter takes us through the options.
There’s the fruit station…
the seafood station…(which we renamed the crustacean station)
the eggs and bacon station, paella station, waffle station, pasta station (sorry, too overwhelmed to even take photos), the pancake station…
the “I don’t even know what that is” station…
the candy station (not to be infused with Candi Staton)…
and finally (no show without punch) the cheese station.
And if this wasn’t perfect enough, you can complement your meal with Bellinis, Mimosas and Bloody Marys all part of the $80 cover charge. I don’t think they saw us coming…
Basically, we don’t end up leaving until 4pm creating a strategic approach that will essentially see us successfully have breakfast, lunch and dinner there.
There is so much to catch up on from the last five months; weddings, big TransAtlantic moves, new friends, old friends, misadventures and grand new perspectives on life. It brings home to me how much I will miss Tree’s frequent London visits when I get back.
We take a moment to appreciate how lucky we are.
Not long afterwards, as though to punctuate this, something very strange happens. Tree sees a girl in the bathroom who looks very upset. She asks her if she is okay, and the girl collapses in tears. Tree gives her a huge hug and stays with her until she can pull herself together again. In a rush of words and emotions, it turns out that the girl, Irisa, who lives out of town, was due to meet her boyfriend here at The Biltmore for the weekend. She has just taken a call telling her that he has died.
Back at the table, Tree tells me what has happened, and we both agree that we don’t want Irisa to be on her own. Tree invites her to join us, and we spend the afternoon with her as she tries to compute what to do next. Our hearts break for this girl, and it puts all other worries and emotions screaming into perspective.
Now and again she wants to talk about it, but mainly she wants her mind to be taken off it. She can’t thank Tree enough for her kindness. It is all very humbling.
Afterwards in the late afternoon sun, we taxi round to the Miracle Mile in Coral Gables and plonk ourselves in Hillstone’s for more cocktails and chatting. As the sun starts to think about setting, Ally collects us and we meet Chris and Stu, plus their work pals Louise and John, at Taco Rico back in Miami Beach where they’re eating tacos and watching Miami Heat take on the Indiana Pacers in the basketball play offs. It is not a sport I purport to know the rules of, but judging by the yelps from the locals it is safe to say they got through. Late night drinking and celebrations continue in The Abbey, Miami Beach’s only brew-pub (and certainly the best tunes I’ve heard in a bar so far) until we spill out into the night for an impromptu disco back at Tree and Ally’s place.
There is only one thing for it the next day…South Beach! Or SoBe as it is known to its surgically enhanced locals. We would have visited much sooner, but it is Memorial Day weekend which apparently means unofficial parties so ridiculous that they often lead to shootings. By the time we wander through Lincoln Mall, the crowds have cleared…mostly.
When we hit the sand, as synthetic as the breasts that currently sunbathe upon it, there are two things that strike me; the awesomeness of the lifeguard towers…
and the stunning shade of the sea. This time, completely natural.
We spend the afternoon sitting on the beach, watching the cruise liners coming in and going out again…with frightening regularity. I’m reliably informed that Miami is the cruise capital of the world.
Aside from a three minute monsoon, we soak up the rays hungrily – I’m conscious that with a London summer beckoning…this could be the last sun I see for a while.
We pause, briefly, to mock the evening’s entertainment that the clubs are trying to tempt us to.
We take a walk along the boardwalk…
…spying on the mega hotels that flank the beachside.
All that lounging around has worked up an appetite. We decide to straddle the money spectrum with cheap falafel eats in Maoz on Washington Avenue…
…followed by cocktails at The Ritz on Lincoln Road.
The next day, Ally and I go gator huntin’!
This involves us getting in an air boat, y’know like the one on Gentle Ben!
The weather is kind of overcast, and before we get on the boat I throw my bag in the back of the car. Ally asks if I can bring his poncho out, but all I can see is a girls rain jacket or some scrunched up plastic. Assuming that is the poncho, and that Ally will not want to be seen in a bright pink rain jacket, I grab the plastic.
The heavens open whilst we are out on the boat, and unfortunately for Ally, the plastic was not a poncho…but the wrapping from a dry cleaned suit. Oh dear. The are no words for how soaked he got. He was not a happy boy.
Then we see this little fella out in the wild.
Less impressive was the floor show afterwards.
It felt like a lot of the animals were kinda doped up. I didn’t feel comfortable at all.
We warm up with lunch at the amazing Versailles in Little Havana…and it is gooood to be speaking Spanish again.
After Tree has finished slaving away in the office, we take a walk along the beach, this time towards the much more placid southern tip. And while we do that, the sun does this. It is exquisite.
We round the bay point and face the port, now at rest having seen off the day’s 40 odd cruise ships.
Then Piña Coladas and Lobster Ceviche are the order of the day at Monty’s.
After that, the final 24 hours of my trip is upon us. We spend it lolling between the beach, the mall with the highlight being Little Haiti where we pop into Ally’s favourite record shop Sweat Records to peruse the vinyl.
We choose the destination for the last supper very carefully indeed. After a glass of wine at Chris and Stu’s beautiful apartment round the corner, we make our way excitedly to Joe’s Stone Crabs. Basically, a review we read said ‘No visit to Miami would be complete without eating here.’ SOLD.
Our server, Janette, ends up being so spectacular that she is probably my favourite server of all time. I mean, look at her, she’s awesome.
Killer King Crab Claws and Lobster Mac and Cheese win out from the menu, and it certainly is the finest crab I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat.
Key Lime Pie completes the experience and it’s all back to the house for some Ciroc Red Berry and Cranberry on the balcony.
And there you have it, the sun has set on my trip of a lifetime.
I spend a few hours listening to music and looking through my photos. The next day, head hung low, I make my way to Miami airport for the final flight, the flight home.
After 21 flights, 3 ferries, 2 sailboats, 2 helicopters, 1 single engine Cessna, 15 buses, 2 trains, countless skiffs and 1 parasail, it is time to make my merry way back to London.
It has been all highs, no lows. All killer, no filler. My eyes and heart have been opened wider by the stunning places I have seen and the unforgettable people I have met.
And the soundtrack was:
Yo La Tengo ‘And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out’
Mum ‘Green Grass of Tunnel’
Bonnie Prince Billy ‘The World’s Greatest’
Public Enemy ‘Rebel Without A Pause’
Will Smith ‘Miami’
The Shins ‘Wincing The Night Away’