Frolicking with Friends in South Beach

I flew into Miami on a Thursday afternoon and headed over to a friend’s house in Coral Gables. She lives just down the block from the Biltmore and the Venetian Pool. People continued to arrive all afternoon and evening. Old friends gathering for one of our yearly reunions. Lots of good food and drink and hugs. 

The Biltmore

The Biltmore originally opened in 1926 as the Miami Biltmore Country Club and included an 18-hole golf course, polo fields, tennis courts, a large swimming pool, along with a 400-room hotel. It has gone through some changes over the years and was even a hospital during World War II. It remained a Veterans Administration hospital until 1968. It sat unoccupied until 1983 when the City of Coral Gables started its restoration. The Biltmore re-opened in 1987 as a four star hotel and resort. In 1996, the National Register of Historic Places designated it a National Historic Landmark.

The Venetian Pool was created in 1923 from a coral rock quarry. Its 820,000 gallon pool is fed with spring water from an underground aquifer. There are two waterfalls and caves that you can swim in and out of. The pool is also on the National Register of Historic Places. It was originally called the Venetian Casino and frequented by celebrities including Johnny Weismuller and Esther Williams. At times the pool would be emptied of its 820,000 gallons of water and orchestras would perform on the pool bottom. 

Inside the limo

 

 

 

The next morning we gathered in South Beach to catch our stretch limo that took us to Vizcaya.

 

 

 

Vizcaya was built by International Harvester Vice President James Deering of Chicago, IL. It was originally 180 acres with the main house, the gardens, the farm, and the waterfront. The house itself is fashioned after an Italian villa, or many Italian villas. Each room was built to accommodate the furniture Mr Deering had purchased on his trips to Italy. The furnishings determined ceiling height and door width. The main house opened in 1916 and the gardens were finished in 1922. Deering died in 1925 so he didn’t have long to enjoy his creation. It passed on to his brother and his brother’s children and in 1952 they donated it to Dade County.

The main house has 34 rooms with over 2,500 art objects and furnishings. The gardens contain 2,000 specimens and 25 acres of endangered primary growth forests. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1995. Besides attracting 200,000 visitors a year, it also serves as a diplomatic seat for Miami-Date County where presidents and foreign dignitaries are entertained. It has hosted Pope John Paul II and major events such as the Summit of the Americas and the signing of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

Back in the limo on the way to our lunch destination we popped the champagne and all had a glass. We spent the afternoon on the River eating seafood. It seems like mostly what we do is eat and drink.

That night we hit a taco place that was amazing – Taquiza. It was a small order at the counter/take out place where they made their own blue corn tortillas and fried them up for chips to order accompanied by very fresh guacamole or pico de gallo. I would highly recommend it if you are in the area.

Next day it was a late start with staggered breakfast. I joined the group who ended up at the beach but another group went to eat crab at Joe’s Stone Crab. It was originally started by Joe Weiss in 1913 as a lunch counter.  Nobody knew you could even eat stone crabs. In 1921 a Harvard ichthyologist doing research asked if Joe ever served stone crabs. The bay was full of them. They experimented a bit and decided to boil them. They ended up serving them chilled and cracked with hash browns, cole slaw and mayonnaise. Joe’s became a destination for any celebrity who visited the area. From Al Capone to the Duchess of Windsor. Stone crabs are seasonal and it was the last weekend they would be available. Everybody from our group came back raving about the food and overall experience.

 

 

The beach was nice too. But it was crowded.

 

 

 

 

That night we had a party to go to. Our friend Leo was working as the official photographer. So we got dressed up and headed out to Smith and Wollensky at the southernmost tip of South Beach. It sits next to the 17 acre South Pointe Park. We had a small room overlooking the water. The food was amazing. Crab cake sandwiches, sliders, lamb chops, flat bread pizza, bruschetta, turkey and gravy, and an open bar. Yum. There was another party next to us and one of our group swears he saw Ivana Trump there. 

We all met for brunch at Loews the next morning. It was kind of chaotic trying to herd everybody over there and find a table or tables to accommodate us but we all managed to get fed and then have our round of hugs and kisses bidding all a farewell. 

Until next time.

 

 

Four Days in Miami

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I went to Miami for a high school reunion of sorts.  A bunch of us went to boarding school together and we still like each other so we gather every few years for a weekend of fun.  We don’t all know each other but we are all from the same era so we can relate to each other.  Plus we have the common bond of having been to boarding school in a foreign country and many of us are third culture kids.  We click right away whether we met before or not.

Day One – Arrival

Dined at Doraku Sushi.  Japanese Restaurant.  Crowded and loud.  Arrived 9 pm, had to wait for a table.  Good food, good music, good vibe.

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Walked down Lincoln Road.  Lots of shops, restaurants, people.

Cool window display.

Drove alone Ocean Drive.  Hotel after hotel after hotel.  Bar blasting music filled with people after bar blasting music filled with people.  Dancing girls with go go boots and little else on.  Just starting to hop at midnight.

Day Two

Breakfast at The Front Porch right on Ocean Drive.  Packed, had to wait in line.  Nice hearty breakfast.  Apparently “the thing to do” in South Beach.

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Walked along the beach.  Cloudy and windy.  No swimming or sunning.

Sat around the hotel and greeted old friends as they arrived.

Cocktail reception followed by a two hour ride around Miami on a bus with no windows and music blaring.

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Day Three

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Piled onto a bus at 10 am and headed for the water.  Boarded a catamaran for a two and a half hour ride off Miami.

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Had fresh orange juice delivered by jet ski.

Saw how the other half live….

Where they filmed Serpico

 

Where they filmed Serpico 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Al Capone's lookout tower

Al Capone’s lookout tower

Don Johnson's Miami Vice house

Don Johnson’s Miami Vice house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Give me a break… I was in a moving boat….

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Five million dollar landscape job…

Afternoon nap.

Barcelona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner at Barcelonaeta Restaurant

One of our friends has a daughter who owns this restaurant so it was special for all of us.  We would have enjoyed it no matter what it was like but take my word for it, it was good!!  We had a wide variety of tapas that just kept coming and the wine was flowing.  Some of the dishes I remember – fried potatoes, seared calamari so it had a crusty outside – delicious, salmon carpaccio, sweetbreads, sliced tomato with onion, eggplant and tomato, chorizo on a pizza like bread, escargot with pastry puff.  Plus the ones I can’t remember.  If you ever get to Miami, check it out!

Day Four

Departure.  Miami airport was crowded with long lines.  The only other time I had ever been to Miami, I was just at the airport for a connecting flight to Bogota.  I almost missed the flight because since I was in transit I thought I would get my boarding pass at the gate.  They called my plane, I went to the gate, and they told me I had to go back to the main terminal to get my boarding pass.  Luckily the airport wasn’t as big as it is now, but it was big enough.  I ran all the way there and back and barely made it!  I was 14 years old.

No traumatic experiences this time.

I had a wonderful time with old friends and new friends.

Airports

I figure I’ve been in about 80 airports around the world.  That’s a lot of time spent in airports.  I started out at 7 months and just kept going.  As a typical TCK, I learned to fly before I walked.  By the time I was 11 months old I had been in a car, on a train, on a plane, on a boat and up a funicular.  All those “at what age” questions in my baby book were full in no time.

I know some people feel at home in airports, or love being in airports.  I hate them.  For the most part, they are just boring.  I have spent hours zoned out, jet lagged, and sleep deprived on hard benches waiting for the weather to clear or the congestion to ease up or to make up for a lost connection.

Some of my life’s most terrifying experiences happened at airports.

When I was 14, I was in boarding school in Austin, Texas.  In the fall my parents had moved from Mexico City to Bogota, Colombia.  That winter break I was due to fly to Bogota, someplace I had never been.  My route was Austin, Houston, Miami, Bogota.

I got through Houston okay.  I had never been to Miami airport before and it was a very long way from the gates to the ticket counter.  For some reason I thought I could get my boarding pass at the gate so I just found the gate I was leaving from and hung around there.  When they called for us to board the plane, I showed them my ticket and they told me I did not have a boarding pass.  I didn’t understand the problem.  They told me I would have to go to the ticketing counter to get the pass.

Now, they were already boarding the plane and the ticketing counter was miles away.  I freaked out.  All they said was, “you will need to hurry so you don’t miss the plane”.  I ran as fast as I could down to the ticket counter, I barged to the front of the line in a panic.  They gave me a boarding pass and I ran as fast as I could back to the gate, sure I would miss the plane and wondering what I would do.

It seems that whenever I was in these kinds of situations, I never had much money and I never had needed contact information.  I just got on airplanes and expected everything to go okay and didn’t worry about it.  Had I missed that flight, all I had was my parent’s address in Bogota.  No phone number, no other contact info.  I suppose I could have called my brother but I’m not even sure I had his contact info.  After all I was 14 years old.

But I was lucky, I made the flight and my parents were at the airport to meet me at the other end.  There were times when things didn’t go that well, but somehow I always managed to get where I was going.  Over the years, I learned there were times when you really could depend on the kindness of strangers.

Do you have any airport stories?