Over the Christmas/New Year’s break, we left New York City and headed south to Florida — the idea being we’d freeze a little in NYC then thaw out in sunny Florida.
We had perfect weather in Florida. The locals remarked on the unusual slice of summer in the middle of winter. Not that it gets cold in Florida, but while we were there it was particularly warm.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really like Florida. I didn’t dislike it, but I probably wouldn’t go back without a specific reason like a music or tennis event, or a wedding perhaps. We stayed in three areas for differing amounts of time; Fort Lauderdale for one night, South Beach in Miami for four, and finally the Florida Keys for two nights.
We flew into Fort Lauderdale and decided to stay for a night to get some context for our stays further South. We stayed in this great little place (via AirBnB) with very friendly hosts, and I think this was the best part of our one-day stay. We had a fantastic dinner at Candela — worth the stay in Fort Lauderdale alone — but this, and the hosts, were the highlights.
We had a loan of some cruisers to ride to the beach in the morning, and while we had a nice brekkie, and there was a lot of action along the beach, it was nothing to write home about (yes I see the irony of writing home about nothing to write home about).
If you’re ever stuck in Fort Lauderdale for an evening, definitely check out Candela.
South Beach, Miami
South Beach. In a single-word summary: touristy. In more words: sunny, artsy (in parts), sketchy (in others), beachy, warm, tennis-y, comically-large-margarita-y, and trying-to-get-away-from-the-80s-but-not-quite-succeding-y.
We chose to stay on the beach side of the “island” to experience the Miami we’ve heard about, but I personally found it too touristy; cafés, shops, the beach, its beachside bars, and their drinking tourists. There were a two or three good restaurants we tried, but other than these it was just ok.
The best food experience in Miami is Yardbird. It’s hoity-toity Southern cooking, and it was delicious. I’m still having dreams of the fried chicken. everything we ordered was fantastic, and the dishes we didn’t order looked equally good based on how they looked at the tables near us. We tried to get in for a second dinner in our short four days but it was fully booked and the wait was over an hour. I’d go here if I’m ever in Miami again.
Have you ever seen the opening credits to NCIS:Miami? That short airboat shot was in The Everglades (and that guy driving David Caruso around was our guide’s boss :). The Everglades is essentially a giant protected swamp, but it’s much more impressive than “a giant swamp” sounds.
Our Miami AirBnB host recommended a small outfit for our Everglades trip, and we were treated to a 2+hour ride with one driver, and no one else (typically you’ll get a 30-minute ride with a boat full of strangers). The upsides of this scenario are numerous: more personal service, more questions answered, more personal anecdotes, not to mention a longer and more expansive boat ride. The downside? Well, if you ever wanted to ‘take care of someone’, this is the place to do it; miles and miles of swampy marshland, not another soul within earshot, a roaring motor to drown out any gunshots, and thousands of alligators to feast on body thrown overboard. Fortunately, that never happened to us.
We saw a bunch of Alligators too, and while not being a stranger to alligators, we saw a giant 13-foot long monster, as well as followed behind one which was slowing swimming in front of us with hypnotic gyrations. Plenty of birds, fish, turtles also, but no pythons. Our guide has a ‘kill on site’ order for any python. I’m still not sure if it was good or bad that we didn’t come across an unfortunate python.
If you’re in Miami I’d recommend a trip to, or on, The Everglades. Probably our second favourite thing about Miami, right Yardbird (#1) and the Wynwood Walls.
Our search for good Miami coffee led to us Panther Coffee in Wynwood, right in the heart of the area known as the Wynwood Walls. The coffee was good, and walls were even better! Blocks and blocks of company buildings and warehouses all painted with art. Some good and some great!
We were there on a Sunday morning and the lack of general foot and auto traffic (and a couple of piles of broken car window glass) made it felt a little unsafe to be examining the art on foot so we did it on wheels. Which worked out well as there is much to explore. Set aside at least an hour to slowly drive around the Wynwood walls. Bring your camera.
Our last stop in Florida was The Keys; a group of Islands stretching south of Florida, with Key West being the last and the Southern-most tip of the USA. We drove the 5+ hours trip down instead of flying to experience the 7-mile Bridge; a bridge of almost 7 miles (6.79 miles) joining two of the Keys. We were told it’s a surreal experience to drive on a bridge where in the centre you can’t see either end, but it must’ve been a pretty clear day as we had no problem viewing the destination side. It ruined the experience somewhat, but the view made up for it — endless crystal clear water stretching to the horizon. And plenty of Pelicans :)
We stayed at the southern part of Key West and to my disappointment it was also quite touristy. If I was a 20-something in a footy team going for a week off after winning (or losing) the final I think I’d be at home, but being a 30-something not on a footy team, and travelling for the previous two weeks it ended up a bit too happening for me. But that wasn’t all Key West’s fault — we chose to stay in the ‘old town’. Had we known we would’ve stayed a little inland at a small B&B, hired bicycles and enjoyed a slower vibe of Key West. Live and learn I guess.
Kayaking amongst the mangroves
The highlight of Key West was a couple-hour kayak around the mangroves. Kelly and I are partial to a bit of kayak action, add to that a beautiful day, smalls group, and a knowledgeable but not-to-boring guide, we had a great time. I recommend Lazy Dog water group if you feel like getting a little wet in Key West.
Those were the highlights of Florida. The rest of the time was spent wandering, eating, drinking, and unsuccessfully shopping[1. Kelly did buy a pair of tennis shoes at a good price :)]. We did take a casual bike ride north along south beach highway with a long 2+hour walk back along the beach itself, so it wasn’t all bad.
The flight out of Key West
The worst was yet to come. We chose to fly from Key West to Miami instead of drive, and the day we left a thick fog blew in, stopping flights from landing. Aircraft could take off, but our plane from Miami had taken off and turned back twice while we waited. We had a connecting flight from Miami back to Houston but that was hours away…
…and we missed it. So they transferred us — and as many of the 100 or so others — onto the next flight, which we missed also. IN fact, we missed every other flight out of Miami that night, and we were still in Key West. Our place of stay was booked out so we couldn’t return for another night. We needed to book a hotel in Miami to catch a flight the next day. All up we were waiting in Key West for around six hours.
It was the weekend of a big football game in Miami so everything was booked. We barely found a hotel but were lucky with a phone call, and a corporate rate. Despite the setback we enjoyed the hotel after a looooong and trying day.
The flight home
We were up early to catch the first flight out of Miami. Our alarms went off but we were super quick and left 20 mins earlier than we planned. And thank f#@k we did! Miami airport was bedlam!
Bazillions of people, few unknowledgeable staff. People being turned away toward the ‘rescheduling desk'[2. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a rescheduling desk! Apparently it’s common to miss your flight and have to catch another one in the USA — something to look forward to.] because they’d missed their flights due to the delays in processing passengers. The staff would ask who’s on flight XYZ, a desperate bunch of people would raise their hands and rush the staff member with the faint hope of making their flight. The staff member would then begin processing people who had already missed their flight, holding everyone else up. As I said bedlam.
We just snuck into the check-in by the skin of our teeth, and without a 200-yard dash, with luggage, to do so. I’ve seen many a scene in movies where people have legged it at top speed through airports to make their flights. I had now experienced it also. This is something I do not recommend if you can avoid it. And to avoid, make sure you get to your flight, even if it’s domestic, three hours beforehand. It’s better to wait an hour or two than to miss a flight, pay for a hotel, and lose hair from stress. Three hours.
Home sweet home
It’s sounds like a white whine but I was glad to be home after the previous ordeal, and after two weeks of travelling. I was furious at the TSA for having cut the lock on my luggage to check for explosives/drugs/smuggled children and not having replaced it. In hindsight it’s a small thing, but at the time… phwoar!
At least they didn’t steal my bottles of booze.