There is something to be said about the forced indolence of a beach vacation. As long as the weather is fine, an umbrella provides shade, neighbors are not too obnoxious, and I have something to read, lounging on a beach—with an occasional foray into the water—can be a rather pleasant way to spend a day.
I have avoided the tyranny of auto ownership (ie. rental), which removes the urge to drive somewhere, anywhere. When wondering what to do next, some reflex forces you to grab the keys and drive somewhere. You know that there must be some mall or shop that needs to be inspected. It happens every time we travel to the US. We have been saved the need to satisfy the urge in Miami and Miami Beach. Of course, we could not avoid a stroll or two down Lincoln Road (mall). Surprisingly (or not) there were few signs for a Sale, which tend to be plastered on real malls.
Freedom will come to an end tomorrow, because we will rent a car for the trip north to a rented condominium. On the way, we must make a low pass through the outlet mall in Ft. Lauderdale and a short visit to the more up-market mall in Boca Raton, before traveling to the less-developed territory to the north. We will be on an island off the coast, which does not offer much shopping. That means that the urge to drive will require a trip to the mainland in search of franchises.
Miami—I don’t hate it.
How would that line look on or sound in Miami Tourist Board Advertising? I can’t imagine them adopting anything even close.
This thought entered my mind recently, as I considered my time in a place I did not want to visit. I guess that I have a “like/don’t like” relationship with the area (as opposed to a more pronounced love/hate variety). I had previously hated even getting close to Miami airport, but improvements have removed that complaint. Once past the airport, I find aspects that I like and some that I do not like. That said, it would not break my heart, if I never returned.
I have already mentioned that I do not have (many) prejudices. Also, I do not do cliché. (Okay, not too often).
But, last night we were attacked by a cliché…or, at least, had our sleep disturbed by one.
Anyone following this dodgy blog should have noticed that we are staying in a hotel in Miami’s South Beach. We have a duplex penthouse with a Jacuzzi on the top level (yet to be used). There are several suites of this type, some with an ocean view and some with a view of urban sprawl, South Beach style. It is not inexpensive, which might cause one to assume a better level of clientele. Wrong!
Last night, we discovered what our neighbors are like. They are the worst cliché of “modern” Blacks. We were awoken by a loud, drunken party at their Jacuzzi (women were louder than the men), featuring bad music and the kind of language that I do not use or permit my children to use, but features prominently in rap music. After reaching the limit of her patience, my wife called reception to complain. No one should underestimate the wrath of an extroverted German. It must be difficult for any hotel to decide whom to placate, since all have paid the fare. It did become quieter, but not quiet.
My conclusion: South Beach is a place where diverse cultures come together and try, but often fail, to tolerate one another. The only place that it seems to work is at the beach.
This morning, when we mentioned our experience to the Latin maid, who said “Oh, the Black people, it’s always fiesta, fiesta.” And, then, she warned us to always lock the balcony door…which told me something. I miss the Mandarin Oriental ambience (even if it did not have a beach).
I have nothing against any race, color, or creed…as long as they do not bother my sleep, especially with foul language, horrible music, and bad grammar…
The amount of tattooed skin--both White and Black--on display at Miami Beach surprised me. It seems to be rule, rather than the exception among people between twenty and forty. Many were massive displays of whatever the person was hoping to communicate about themselves, not the tiny graphic displays of youthful rebellion favored by German girls.
I could not help but wonder if regret had seeped into the mind of one or two victims of peer or fashion pressure...
One spots every conceivable type of character wandering, loitering, lying, or sitting in and around Miami Beach. Rich folks hide out in their multi-million dollar condominiums, while the homeless sleep in the park. Tourists flock to the restaurants lining Ocean Drive, while the less-forunate nourish themselves with handouts or pickings outside backdoors of those restaurants. Nighttime features cruising up and down the streets--on foot or by car--to attract attention or to spot the action. The phenomena has not changed since I did this as a teenager.
Unlike Brickell Key, where the unwashed are kept at a distance, anyone seems welcome at South Beach. I have mixed feelings about this freedom, but recognize that the area would suffer with exclusion of any group.
Perhaps, the eclectic mix of humanity is what adds to the appeal. Or the wide variety of shopping and dining experiences available to every budget. For us, it is the beach life that is the most appealing, together with a choice of life-style. We can dress up, or we can stroll around in a bathing suit. No one cares. That's the way vacation should be...
A $30 taxi trip landed us in a different universe. We are now at Miami's South Beach, which is a cross between Coney Island and St. Tropez. Luxury and dumps. Rich and homeless. Expensive and very expensive. Quiet only early in the morning. Everywhere you look, people are trying to separate other people from their money.
Surprisingly, the beach is rather good. It is wide, which prevents crowded conditions that one finds on similar urban beaches. The water is mixed shades of blue and a pleasant temperature. As with most such beaches, one can rent a lounger and umbrella or simply lay out a towel for free.
I had to think of my father, who never swam in a pool or a lake. He grew up at the ocean and needed the feel of salt. I can go either way, because each has its appeal. A hotel pool provides an easy way to have a dip before breakfast, but cannot compete with a day at the beach. Both tend attract unruly and loud children. An iPod helps, but is useless when one wants to go into the water.
It is impossible to find good food at a reasonable price at the countless restaurants lining Ocean Drive. As one walks along the strip, restaurant hawkers try to entice you into stopping. It reminded me of my first (and only) visit to the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, where I first witnessed hawkers outside strip joints. Same principle; different fare. But, I could not help notice streetwalkers offering their "talent" Network television might be prudish, but morales are looser on the streets of major cities.
I am always reluctant to recommend something and am skeptical about other people's reviews of hotels, restaurants, or airlines. Everyone has his or her own likes and dislikes, expectations, and budgets. Tripadvisor is a good source of information, but must be carefully interpreted and interpolated.
That said, we have been very satisfied with Miami's Mandarin Oriental. I knew the location from visits to the area, so was not disappointed by lack of beach (as some reviewers have written). The hotel is on a semi-private island with almost no commerce (only a small deli), but crowded with condominium towers. Rooms have views of Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline. It has a slight feel of Asia, which is something I like. Service, as one is used to in Asia (although most are Latin) is excellent--more kind than fawning. Food at all restaurants was always excellent; I found the prices reasonable (compared to Europe and Dubai).
The only "issue", over which no hotel has any control is the fact that you can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your fellow guests. Other people's children tend to ruin a visit to the hotel pool, which otherwise is pleasant. Unruly behavior in a restaurant can spoil a dining experience.
I cannot imagine a better place to stay in Miami, unless you want to be at the beach...which is our next stop. We are moving today to Miami Beach. Stay tuned for the next Hotel Review.
Our vacations are usually a program of contrasts. This one is no different. We are staying at one of Miami's best (in my mind, the best) hotels, but we ride public transportation. We get to experience various facets of life.
Downtown Miami offers free elevated train service, which is handy if you are staying in the area. The Miami Metro (offers free wifi) runs parallel to US1, which is handy if you have no car or want to avoid heavy traffic on the main north-south route. A ride costs $2, whereas a taxi might set you back $30 to $40. The view from the elevated tracks is better than one enjoys in a car.
The hotel is on Brickell Key, where one needs no car. It makes no sense to rent a car and pay for parking in the hotel garage. We will rent one for our later trip up the coast, by here we want to stay put most of the time.
Brickell Key is a quasi-idyllic world on the edge of Miami urban sprawl.. Although massive condominium buildings that house the wealthy crowd the small, artificial inland, it is ideal for morning walks or runs around the perimeter. It offers marvelous views of Brickell, downtown Miami, Key Biscayne, Fisher Island, Biscayne Bay, the cruise ship port, and South Beach skyline.
We have had only excellent food at this hotel (see, I promised to be positive) at reasonable--compared to Europe--prices. I have found nothing to complain about (which tough for a cynic!). I could comment of the people I see, but people are the same everywhere. There is plenty to cringe about in the newspaper each day, but I am on vacation...
Leaving home is a pain in the neck. You must batten down the hatches, erect lights with timers, and be sure everything is unplugged. Also, you have to beg a neighbor to take in the mail, put out the trash containers, and water the flowers. Ours is rather good about it, but she will be on vacation for part of the time. That meant asking my daughter…who makes a face. I will have to remind her by phone (which means that I will miss the rolling of eyes!)
These days, one can check-in the day before on the Internet, but that does not preclude standing in line to check bags. We arrived late, thinking that there would be no line at business class check-in. Wrong. The line was shorter at economy; so, not being afraid of being spotted in such a line, be joined that one. Still, we cut it short making it to the gate, which happened to be the longest walk in the airport. Fortunately, there was no line at passport control or at security, perhaps because we were the last ones rushing to the gate. The plane would be an Airbus 380—a full one—so there were a lot of folks ahead of us.
On this plane, business and first classes are on the upper deck. One does not mingle or even see the economy passengers, because they enter from a lower level in the terminal. Space is a far more important luxury on a flight than food. Being able to raise your legs and to lie flat is a second luxury, not to be underestimated. I have flown to Australia and back in economy and would not do it again.
Weather delayed the plane for one hour (if only we had known before rushing to the gate). A band on thunderstorms over Europe screwed up air traffic. We sat on the plane after boarding (which seemed just like having a smooth flight). It merely meant that the journey increased to 10 ½ hours from the estimated 9 1/2 hour flight time (the time in the old days, before they started cutting corners over the Atlantic).
Take-off in an Airbus 380 is smooth and quiet. They must have added soundproofing. One does not hear engine noise or the gears retracting. My wife still does not understand how such a monstrosity—or a Cessna 150, for that matter—gets off the ground. I have given up trying to explain.
I hope that Airbus Industries put more thought and effort into designing and manufacturing the rest of the Airbus 380 than they put into the toilets. They are small and very similar to ones in Boeing aircraft. The paper towel dispensers are almost worthless. It was rather surprising, since I was expecting progress and perfection. Nevertheless, if you have the choice of aircraft, I would recommend the 380. The ride is a pleasant flying experience…which is the main thing.
Airplane food is always an issue (or fodder for stand-up comedians)—except some airline’s first class service—but I have found all efforts to be “modern” to result in abject failure. This flight was a case in point. Airlines contract famous chefs to “design” their meals and offer variety. This usually means too much weird stuff for my taste. I would be happy with “chicken or beef”. This was the least-appetizing food that I have ever been served on Lufthansa. At least the desert was good. One big surprise was discovering an American wine that I enjoyed: Columbia Crest chardonnay. A rare occurrence.
Service was, as always on Lufthansa, very friendly and efficient. The young girls are always cheerful and helpful. It is rather different than North American carriers, where seniority defines the ones to get overseas flights. I always felt that I was being served by my grandmother.
An even bigger surprise was arriving at a new terminal in Miami. I used to hate the old one, which I had endured for thirty years. Lufthansa is nice enough to keep the economy class penned up until first and business class passengers have disembarked, so we had a head start on the long walk to passport control. There was no line, which meant that we were quickly through to the baggage claim…where we had to wait. The terminal might be new, but baggage handling is still the Dark Ages variety. Miami does not feature Frankfurt Airport automation.
Finally, we were able to plunge into the heat, humidity, and exhaust fumes at the taxi stand. We missed the limousine service found in Dubai, Hong Kong, and Bangkok; instead, we got a beat-up Ford, with dodgy A/C and sagging seats. The driver had trouble understanding our destination: the Mandarin Oriental, one of the leading hotels in Miami.
This hotel provides a good way to ease into the US. Upon entering the lobby, odors and décor reminded me of Asia. Sure, we are in Latin America, but the hotel is Asian-owned. The ambiance and service are unlike that found in American chains. This is also obvious in the restaurants; the staff might be Latin, but the menu is Asian-inspired. It is one of the few hotels not offer spaghetti! The food is rather good, which is a compliment from someone used to European cuisine and critical of what’s on offer in this country.
Our room looks out on Biscayne Bay, Brickell, and a portion of the Miami skyline. I am reminded (only slightly) of Hong Kong, of course without the Chinese or the harbor hustle and bustle. We can see the apartment building where Number One Son lived for one year, before pursuing his aviation career. We can also see Jade, an up-market
condominium building, which featured in my novel, Righteous Revenge. I got the idea of using this location from visiting him.
We managed to stay awake until almost 9 o’clock, when jet lag and unappealing television offer overcame best intentions…
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.