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Trip Report How to have good vacation in bad weather

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MIAMI – SOUTH BEACH

Going to Miami on American Airlines was uneventful, took BART to SFO, $20 for checking in our suitcase, on-time flight. No food at all on that 5.5-hour flight, no peanuts, one soft drink service, after that water only. Off the plane at MIA, the carousel was right there, got our luggage after a short wait, into a taxi to South Beach – flat rate $32.

A funny thing happened in the taxi. I speak with a heavy Russian accent, and the driver is a foreigner. I told him “Clinton hotel” but being not sure he got it, I added: 825 Washington. Sure I was surprised why are we going up Ocean St, maybe a detour? After he asked, is it here, I said, no, wrong street, should be WAshington. After me saying it twice he finally said: ah, WashingtOn? with an accent on O.

So we stayed at Clinton. The location could not be better for us! Ideal for sightseeing but maybe not for a beach – for that Ocean St would be better. The area looked safe, plenty of restaurants. On their own website they give a big discount if you prepay 60 days in advance, non-refundable, we did so and got the “run of the house” room. Too bad there is no law in Florida to keep the hotel halls lighted; our flashlight came in handy. The long hallway was dim, and even to get to the first floor one has to brave 8 steps. Not too convenient after a day out.

The room was the same size as a cruise ship cabin, but the worst thing was the bathroom. While it was spacious and convenient, it has a glass wall between the sink area and the room. Who is that brilliant designer that thought seeing your partner sitting on the john or flossing the teeth can be romantic? Even with the fabric curtain drawn every time one of us would wake up at night and turned the lights on, they room would light up waking up the other.

Do you watch TV in the room? How about the weather and the news while the spouse is in the shower? The TV is up under the ceiling like in a hospital, so one can watch it only lying in bed!

There is a coffeemaker, but no coffee. One front desk clerk made a surprised face when I said the maid didn’t leave coffee and gave me what she had – decaf only. The next day’s clerk said they no longer provide coffee. Can the maid at least leave one shampoo for 2 of us every day? Yes, this can be done. By the way, there is $7 a day “resort fee.” And don’t leave cash for the maid; she will leave an envelope for tips on the last day of your stay with a written order to take it to the checkout.

Even with all that I would stay at that hotel, being prepared, for location and low price: we paid $411 for 4 nights including room, resort fee, taxes. Just don’t forget to bring your own hairdryer. Bathrobes and slippers provided, local phone calls are free. There is a restaurant in the hotel – next to the tiny pool area – don’t buy coffee there. Doesn’t taste good.

A local bus, 25 cents a ride, goes around the island of South Beach, but if you want to make a circle, it will kick you off on one of the stops in the North; you’ll have to go just around the corner to get on that same bus so they can charge you again. They sell daily passes in different locations found on the Internet, not worth it for this local bus unless you don’t want to be bothered with quarters. We found South Beach buses to be frequent, dependable, safe and clean, and the locals use them too, including the circle bus.

We ate wherever, but one place stands out. We even went back once more for another meal. On the receipt it’s “La Parilla Liberty” at 609 Washington, but when we walked by it was an Argentinean steakhouse. The best tilapia I ever had, and the Russian salad does not have an overbearing vinegar taste. They sell only one type of wine by glass, the name of it was not familiar, and it turned out to be red wine. I am not a fan of reds, but that wine is exceptional.

By the way, the restaurants in Miami add gratuity, so don’t double-tip.

We didn’t do much, the weather was getting worse and worse, the last day was windy and rainy. Started with the Holocaust Memorial that looks as a hand with tattooed number reaching up to the sky, reflecting in the surrounding pool. There is a path around along the wall with the names, and a path past the Eternal Flame to the Memorial – like every such memorial, a difficult experience.

Jewish Museum of Florida – to get in is an adventure in itself! We are used to security at the Jewish institutions, but this one beats them all. First, you have to open bags and purses, and then go through a metal detector – all outside. After that, if you pass the test, the security guard will unlock the door with his key – only works one way; you may leave any time. I wonder if there were “incidents.”

The museum is very interesting showing the history of Florida. A docent first offers a short lecture on Judaism and local history, and then takes people on a tour of the museum. There are permanent and traveling exhibits and the usual gift shop.

Going places it’s better to call to confirm the hours. We tried to go to the Bass museum – on the website they opened at 10 am – two other couples were there at 11 with us – the note on the door said from 12 noon. We saw (and visited) two pedestrian only areas with shopping, but anticipating cruise stops did not buy anything.

We did the city tour with Safari tours. The bilingual guide was narrating in English, and then in Spanish without stopping, all the time alternating the languages, so it took a while to get used to. The tour was rather interesting, we saw different parts of the city, loved the architecture and different areas. Chicago architectural tours eat your heart out!

Some people on the bus didn’t pay much attention to the guide, talked and even used cell phones, but when he announced we’re close to the Holocaust Memorial everybody got quiet, cameras ready, for a few minutes it was like a moment of silence, so respectful of everybody!

We tried Cuban coffee at one of the stops – tasty, but too sweet. We drove through Vizscaya, and that part looked like a wild forest, saw Coconut Grove and Coral Gables areas, the piers, the place where Tarzan was filmed, Little Havana, then back to the South Beach. Once again, we were lucky to stay at this area.

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