We overheard an American tourist here in Miami Beach the other day say "I'm going back to the US tomorrow". I suppose for many the idea that there are places here where English is not the primary language spoken, say Little Havana, or where the diversity rivals any other international city is a downside but for us it means we feel at home here. Of all the places we've traveled in the US, Miami is the place we fit right in.
Unusual for us, we are staying in a hotel suite (yes we still have a kitchen, although we still had to buy a tea kettle and a sharp knife!)
Miami Beach has passed some of the strictest short-term rental laws in the US. No lease can be less than 6 months and a day. As a result, Air BnB is almost non-existent, except illegally. And let me just say, staying in a hotel for three weeks is a hoot. The staff has gotten used to me walking around in my bare feet and beach dresses like I would in a house and they've stopped trying to get us on the Hop-on Hop-off bus. Maybe this is especially true at 5th and Ocean where most tourists this time of year only rent for one or two nights over the weekend. During the week, we have the hotel largely to ourselves. It's as amusing to us as I'm sure it is to the staff to watch all the party kids come in for the weekend. So, thank you hurricane season. And thanks to the powers that be that all the current hurricanes are turning north! We've had some very windy, blustery days and lots of afternoon storms but that's par for the course. Sometimes I can't tell if we're in Miami or Bocas del Toro!
But the "tourists" make the weekends fun for us while we're out indulging Scott's football passion. Last weekend we spent Saturday at a dive bar whiling away the hours of college football with the locals and cheap buckets of beer and then changed it up for Sunday at the Clevelander, our favorite Sunday Sh!t sh0w. You can simultaneously watch football, the incredible scene unfolding on Ocean Drive, and the extravagance of the pool party - for a price of course!
A few words about being back in the US. If you don't count our overnight in Orlando in April, it's been seven months since we spent a week or so in L.A and over a year since we were in the US full-time. Coming from Croatia, a country of great homogeneity, the diversity of Chicago and then Miami has been particularly striking and welcome. So too is the amazing wealth of the US. We saw an amazing example of historic American wealth on our visit to Vizcaya, James Deering's mansion in Coral Gables. The house and gardens are worth a visit if you're ever in Miami. As an aside, we feel like Americans may not appreciate the "palaces" that are here in America as much as we do those in Europe. You know, we go to Europe and tour Versailles and the Scottish castles but we forget about the Hearst Castle, the Antebellum Mansions in the south, and places like Vizcaya. Maybe it's the discomfort we have with the "robber-barons" and before that our shared disgrace of slavery but the result of our history is places of equal worth for a tour as the palaces of Europe. We suggest you search them out as you travel.
Built right on Biscayne Bay, it has taken some hits from hurricanes over the years but remains an outstanding place.
Of course, for me, the gardens are the best part. The use of local limestone and coral is really fantastic. And the lushness of the tropics combined into the landscape were a real change from the dry, desert-like places we saw in Spain and Croatia.
But perhaps the most striking thing about the US is the result of two things: efficient tax collection and a "trust society". You may hate taxes but the infrastructure and public investment in the US that flows from them is awesome and results in such cleanliness, beauty, and comfort. I think we take this for granted but it really is a gift of public works. And we may rail against the "over regulation" of the US but this too is a very different and much appreciated aspect of the US that I think goes unnoticed until you don't have it anymore. Crosswalk lights, crosswalks for that matter, public parks, paved walking and biking paths, all of this is very rare in other countries if it exists at all. Of course, it all comes at a cost and makes the US overly expensive for basic things like phone service and health care. So it's nice to be back and enjoying our tax dollars at work (yes we still pay taxes too!) but we still are of a mind that it's not yet time to come back for good.
But it's a great place to celebrate my birthday! This will be my third birthday if Florida, second in Miami Beach, and it never stops being fun. We spent it this year touring Vizcaya and then in Little Havana. Calle Ocho, at it's heart, it a fun-filled wonderland of cigar stores, Cuban restaurants and bars, and amazing food.
After walking the Calle, we ended up in the Ball and Chain, in existence since 1935 it's hosted the likes of Chet Baker, for some awesome Cuban cocktails and music.
Finally, we had dinner at the iconic Versailles Restaurant, serving Miami since 1971.
More football fun today hanging at Monty's at the marina on the bay - avoiding the wind off the ocean. Feels a lot like our old DC favorite Cantina Marina. When I asked Scott's feeling about what's different being back here, his response was "the bars are better". Which basically translates to "there are outdoor bars with multiple screens playing football", yes American football not soccer, on each one! And then there are the Dominican (alas Cubans aren't legal) cigars...Romeo and Julietta men say yes!
And free WiFi means I can finish up the blog with a Bloody Mary! So we're both happy.
We leave for Cyprus, Marrakesh, and the Canary Islands at the end of the month but not before Morgan and Steven come to visit so stay tuned for more fun from Miami Beach.