Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Day Two ... or ... Hanging Around Downtown Miami

Monday, I considered driving somewhere but a couple of non-driving items were fairly high on my "to-do" list. Whenever I go someplace new, I always like to learn something about the area's history and, if possible, try out the local public transport system.

So, out I went to hop aboard Miami's free Metromover (the first elevated people mover in the US). The trains glide along every 90 seconds or so on their 2 mile route around Miami's downtown. I got off at Government Center and, after asking around a bit, found my way to the Miami-Dade library where I was able to cop an all-too-short 15 minutes of free internet time.

Then I crossed the lovely, open-air, spanish-fortress-themed plaza (I didn't take any pics of my own, there were too many scary sorts hanging around and I didn't want to appear too much a "tourist type" target by pulling out my camera)
to the Historical Museum of South Florida where I got to "Explore 10,000 Years of History and Culture in Greater Miami and South Florida".

The early peoples lived in thatched homes on "hummocks" of forested land that rose above the surrounding marshland and traveled about by means of dug-out canoes.

One of the few things I remember from the trip across the Everglades to Key West that we made when I was a child was seeing Seminoles living (or more likely, acting a living history role) in thatch-roofed open sided shelters like this.

The arrival of Spanish frigates signaled the beginning of the end of the old way of life as the search for silver and gold took presidence over everything else--even human life. The silver ingots on the right and the gold doubloons on the left were salvaged from Spanish sailing ships that foundered and went down along the coast of South Florida...and are now kept securely locked in cases with security cameras constantly trained on them.

There was also a model of The USS Maine, the U.S. Ship which was blown up in Havana Harbor by the Spaniards at the start of the Spanish-American War, hence the battle cry "Remember the Maine." Several salvaged artifacts were on display also, though the ship's silver service (including a beautiful large soup tureen) is on display and in use in the governor's house in the State of Maine.

Finally, sated with history, I emerged into the sunny, but still chilly, afternoon to return to the hotel. I was only about 7 blocks away so first I thought I'd walk but I was a bit turned around and wasn't quite sure which direction to go and didn't see any likely prospects for getting directions, so, after brushing off two or three panhandlers, decided the metromover seemed like a wiser option. I rode it the rest of the way around its loop just for curiosity's sake and hopped off at the hotel where I walked down to the waterfront to see how many cruise ships were docked over at the Port of Miami.
Just one this time. On Sunday afternoon, we saw four of them all lined up waiting to be loaded with supplies and passengers before heading out to sea.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mama Bird Flies South ... or ... Leaving the Empty Nest Behind

So...the OC had work-related meetings in Miami...in February. And me? There was absolutely no reason why I couldn't go along. Ahhh, that's got to be one of the top reasons to appreciate an "empty nest": extra opportunities to travel--especially when it means leaving the dark, frozen north for the warm, sunny south!

The first morning in Miami, the OC went off to his meetings and I had to face my options: hang around the hotel alone all day or face my driving-in-the-big-city fears and venture out. The former was winning until I flipped through the notebook where I'd collected options for Miami activities and discovered that a guided tour of the Art Deco District of South Beach was scheduled to begin in just an hour and a half. Ooooo, but I so wanted to do that! Okay, self, this is Sunday morning when workers are off and vacationers are sleeping off their hangovers from the night before. If there is ever a good time for a venture into Miami and South Beach traffic this is it! And, on the map, it looks like a fairly straightforward drive from here to there. Quick, time's a wasting--shower, dress, eat and go for it!

Sure enough, the traffic was very light and I found my way to the Art Deco Welcome Center with plenty of time to park the cute little cream-colored PT Cruiser I was driving (and there was plenty of on-street parking when I arrived, too), (finally!) find a working prepay parking kiosk, pay for parking and the tour well before it was time for it to begin. Check out those distinctive red sidewalks!

We had a wonderfully knowledgable and enthusiastic guide who shared her love of the local architecture as well as many historical anecdotes about the area.

One of the prime tourist attractions on South Beach, it seems, is Gianni Versace's opulent home (and its front steps where he was gunned down). It is now a private and very exclusive club...and the most photographed building in South Beach.

I found the buildings fascinating. Even the new beachfront public restroom is built in the Art Deco style...notice the curved lines and the shade-creating "eyebrows" over the windows.

When they were built back in the Art Deco heyday in the 1920's and 30's, the exteriors of the hotels and other buildings were initially white but their distinctive architectural details were painted in their current pastels in the 80's and 90's as part of South Beach's renaissance.

Now, with many new hotels such as the Royal Palm, South Beach has become, once again, a must-see winter playground (and late-night party spot), not only for the rich and famous but for winter-weary people from all around the world. I, however, confined my South Beach visit to a few hours on one comparatively chilly Sunday.

A couple of blocks back from the beach, is Espanola Way, a narrow street blocked off as a sort of pedestrian-only outdoor market with a European and Hispanic flavor. Our guide told us an interesting story. It seems that many, many years ago, Phyllis Diller was singing at a local nightclub when the drummer became ill. She mentioned that she'd heard an excellent street drummer playing down at Espanola Way ... and that was how Ricky Ricardo (of I Love Lucy fame) was initially was "discovered" ... and the rest is history!

If you're interested in a very low cost, beautiful (and lively!) place to stay at South Beach, check out The Clay Hotel where International Youth Hostel members can stay in dorm bunks for less than $25/night and more private accommodations are available for those willing to spend a bit more.

South Beach, it turns out, is considered quite "the" place to do photo shoots. If you see an ad with this lovely (and thin!) model ... I was there when they took her photo! It was a chilly and windy day and all around her, the photography team members were wearing heavy coats. You can be sure that she got right into hers as soon as possible once the photography session was over.

I hung around that photo shoot longer than I would have otherwise because I was trying to get a photo of one of the flock of wild parrots that were in a group of nearby trees. Success at last!

A nautical theme is in evidence over and over in the Art Deco area of South Beach as illustrated by the ship-inspired Beach Patrol Headquarters building. Notice the porthole windows in the lower-level restrooms and the "captain's bridge" and flagpoles on the roof.

That Sunday was an unusually chilly (and windy) day for Miami's South Beach I am told, and, down on the beachfront, there wasn't a bikini in sight.

But, ahhhh, the beach itself, with that gorgeous turquoise water was absolutely lovely and made me ever so glad that I'd ventured out on my own!

... to be continued ...

Friday, February 03, 2006

Lessons from a computer game

Lately, I've been spending far too much time playing the computer game Bubbles** from which I've observed several important life lessons:

--Things go better when we stick together than when we try to go it alone.

--Change is constant, it's part of life. Accepting that makes life much less stressful.

--Never give up. Even when the situation looks hopeless, one small change can turn things completely around.

--Losing is part of life...move on, there's always another chance...another game...another opportunity to do better.

**Do not click on that link....unless you want to waste a lot of time, er, make that "plenty of opportunity to make your own philosophical observations".