Wednesday, February 22, 2006

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

So...the OC had work-related meetings 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 ...


Blogger Cheryl said...

Nice photos!

7:48 PM  
Blogger Sunny said...

It's about time we got an update. More please. What a great time. I love the parrot, and the ocean.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Allan said...

The annual Truckload Carrier's Association conference is taking place in Orlando, FL in a few weeks. Alas, I am not going. But FL in March would be so nice.

Glad you got to have some sun!

Part 2?

11:39 AM  

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