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Miami in my mind

Ocean Drive South Beach

Ocean Drive South Beach

MOST major cities in the world have developed their own reputation over the years. When we think of Paris, most people conjure up images of romance and maybe walking hand in hand with a special someone along the beautiful Seine River. In addition to the nickname “The Big Apple,” New York City has been called “The City that Never Sleeps” as it seems bustling 24 hours a day. Las Vegas, due to its large-scale gambling operations, has been nicknamed “Sin City.”

Now turn to Miami, Florida, and while it may not have a catchy nickname, it certainly has developed a reputation for beaches, celebrities and nightlife.

When my wife Anna was rehearsing in nearby Hollywood, Florida, I decided to spend a few weeks with her.

The Port of Miami was my first homeport when I began working onboard ships back in 2008. My ship docked just a few hundred meters from the American Airlines Center, home of the Miami Heat. Turnaround days were always busy days, as the ship would have over 4,000 passengers checking out, while just a few hours later 4,000 new passengers would check in to start their week-long vacation onboard. Because I didn’t have responsibilities with the check-in or checkout process, I would try and stay off the ship and stay out of the way. I got to know all of the local restaurants, shops, cafés, and Wi-Fi areas.

This visit was very different in that I had three weeks to spend, rather than just a few hours. It allowed us to go further north into the Fort Lauderdale area as well as south into Miami, Miami Beach and the famous South Beach area. We had finished a previous contract at different times, and as the musical director I was asked to stay six more weeks after Anna left the ship. During those weeks Anna was able to come home to Cebu while I stayed to finish my contract and then once I signed off the ship, Anna was on her way to Florida to start rehearsals.

I had to fly to my family in Ohio to complete some paperwork for visas and then I drove my car over 1,800 kilometers to begin my stay with Anna. When she is in rehearsals, the company provides her with an apartment, so with a place to stay and with my car, we were able to get out and explore a lot of the area.

I grew up with baseball so it was an easy choice to take in a baseball game with the local team, the Miami Marlins.  By now, Anna knows that any visit to the States during summer will always mean at least one.

I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, home of the Cincinnati Reds, which is the oldest professional baseball team.  When I knew we would be staying near Miami I bought our tickets. I knew that Miami had just built a new stadium for their team but I hadn’t seen any pictures.

On the day of the game we were attending, it was the usual South Florida mix of rain and heat, so we didn’t know how to dress.  A raincoat would mean we would be far too hot if it stopped raining and the sun came out, but we were just a few rows in front of the upper section meaning we didn’t have cover from the pouring rain.  But our fears turned out to be for nothing as we arrived at the stadium and upon walking to our seats saw that the stadium featured a retractable dome that can be opened or closed depending on the weather.  Because of the rain it was closed and they even had air conditioning so we were perfectly comfortable.

Anna at Marlins Park

Anna at Marlins Park

A few times we decided to make the drive from Hollywood to South Beach, an upscale area of Miami Beach known for its art deco buildings and nightlife.  While most of Miami is comprised of high-rise buildings that are home to multinational corporations, Miami Beach looks pretty much the same as it did 80 years ago.

South Beach draws millions of tourists each year from families to wealthy celebrities. In the 1980’s it became famous through the television show “Miami Vice,” starring Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas.  I remember growing up in the ‘80s and wearing a Miami Vice-inspired white suit and pastel shirt.

When we first arrived, we immediately saw something familiar to us.  I will let you in on a little secret about my wife. She has a guilty pleasure of watching “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

Ok, I admit I started off as a reluctant watcher because we only had one TV, but over time I came to accept the show and watch constantly shifting from being annoyed to being entertained.

One of the seasons of their show was based in Miami and South Beach where the sisters built a store called DASH.  Just a few hundred feet from our parking garage was the DASH store that we had watched so many times on the show.  When we entered it was just as we remembered, minus the Kardashian family, they no longer lived nearby.  When we viewed the store from the outside Anna had thoughts of buying something from the store.  But once we started browsing the clothes inside it was clear that everything was out of our price range!

After looking through DASH we went back out to the street and noticed so many luxury and sports cars.  In the past 30 years since “Miami Vice” was on air, South Beach has become one of the wealthiest areas of the country.  And proof of that was just down the street on Ocean Drive as we came upon the infamous Gianni Versace house.  This was the house where in 1997, Andrew Cunanan killed the founder of the Versace brand.

Today, the house has been converted to a restaurant and luxury boutique hotel named The Villa Casa Casuarina, where rooms start at US$999 per night.

Not all of our time in Miami was spent in the upper crust of luxury.  Most days we chose to cook in the apartment or eat nearby in Hollywood. Our shopping was mostly at the local Target store, where you can find nearly everything and at really low prices.  There were also nearby outlet malls where designer brands could be found at a discount.

Miami is also quite a melting pot of different cultures.  Most prominent is the wave of Cuban immigrants, who have influenced nearly every corner of culture in South Florida. In fact, when we would enter some stores they would greet you in Spanish first.  There were many fantastic Cuban cafés.  As Anna and I have always enjoyed coffee, we especially went out of our way to find a cortadito, a Cuban form of an espresso.  It is a caffeine-laden espresso shot where sugar is added during brewing and finished off with milk.  Quite a wake-up call in the morning!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two of our favorite restaurants that we found while staying in Hollywood.  The first came on a recommendation and I have to say that this was not just any recommendation, but was featured straight from the American queen of media, Oprah Winfrey.  When her talk show was still on the air, Oprah named Le Tub her favorite burger and was also featured in both GQ magazine and the book “Hamburger America: A State-by-State Guide to 150 Great Burgers.”

Le Tub itself has quite a history, starting as a gas station in 1959 before changing into a restaurant in 1979, far before its famous media exposure.  As we relaxed over our food and enjoyed conversation with a friend we met up with, we were able to watch the sun set over the water as the restaurant is built on a small sliver of land between the A1A and Intercoastal Highways.

Versace House South Beach

Versace House South Beach

Of course, we had to go with the recommendation of the burgers and they absolutely lived up to their reputation.

The second of our favorite restaurants came from a more modern recommendation, TripAdvisor. Anna and I have traveled to almost 70 countries on six of the seven continents, and TripAdvisor has never failed to lead us astray.  Whenever traveling to a new place

I would usually do my homework beforehand and use their website or app.  So as we were staying for a few weeks, I did some research and found that the #1 rated restaurant in Hollywood, Florida was a small taco joint right on the beachfront called The Taco Spot. Since we had already dined at Le Tub, the expectations were high as this was an even higher rated restaurant according to all of the amateur online food critics.

What they lacked in imagination when naming it The Taco Spot, they more than made up for it in the food.  This little food shack stayed true to its name and they have a wide variety of taco offerings along with a few other Mexican-inspired dishes.  While Anna went with a more traditional taco route, I saw something that got my attention: the Korean BBQ taco.  Korean food and tacos are not an obvious combination, so I was eager to try a flour tortilla stuffed with Korean BBQ-style short rib meat and kimchi.

I was happy with my choice as it was a nice blend of flavors and was exactly what I had hoped for with the fusion cuisine.  As was the case with Le Tub, one of the best parts of the meal was being able to relax and enjoy the view.  The Taco Spot sits right on the beachfront and we made sure we arrived just before sunset for a romantic view.

As our time in Miami drew to a close, we were thankful for all the things we got to see and do. Previously when Anna was in rehearsals in Miami, my vacation time never lined up, so it was nice to finally spend time with her there. But as with all experiences, this must eventually come to an end and it was time to pack  and head to our next exotic location.

TAGS: America, Florida, Miami, Miami Vice, South Beach, Travel
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