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Trip Report Trip Report: Miami, Jan. 1 - 6, 2012

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In planning our trip I relied heavily on bachslunch’s trip report: http://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/miami-trip-report-184065-2.cfm and its attendant restaurant recommendations: http://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/recent-florida-food-experiences-key-west-miamimiami-beach-st-augustine.cfm. But we were not half as efficient in our use of time.

We were going to be four, so we rented a two bedroom apartment located within 5 minutes of the Vizcaya Metrorail station. It was convenient for our purposes, although there are no stores for shopping. Our daughter and her partner, who arrived earlier, went one stop up to Brickell for their shopping. Across the street from the Brickell Metrorail station there is a super market. Here is the information about the apartment:

Home Address:
* 2955 sw 1st ave, miami, fl 33129
5 Nights @ $179.00 1/1/2012-1/6/2012 $895.00
$129 Cleaning Fee $129.00
Travel Guard Damage Waiver Fee $39.00
Total Stay $1,063.00

The apartment was fine. It had central air and heat (we needed the heat as we were there on the coldest day within the last year), WIFI connections with the passwords posted on the door, three television screens, of which only the one in the living room connected to anything. The kitchen was short on some essential elements. There were no pairing knives, no aluminum foil, no tea kettle. We did run out of toilet paper. The furniture is very basic, and the bed a little too soft. But for the short time we were there, it suited our purposes. We could have breakfast in the apartment, and had two evening meals which consisted mainly of a cold mixed salad. The one real drawback is that the Metrorail passes right behind the apartment and is noisy. This probably would be mitigated by the AC unit, but it ran only the day we arrived, afterward it was too cold to run it. The highway also is right behind the apartment, but it seemed to have little truck traffic and its noise was hardly noticeable. A better location for our purposes would have been Brickell, but I could not find anything available for our first night there (we arrived on January 1). Brickell is an excellent location for visiting Miami because the free people mover starts there and connects to anything that is to be seen within the core of Miami. It is also a major bus connection area and is one stop from another bus transfer area to get to Miami Beach.

We arrived at the Miami airport around 8 p.m. and all the information desks were closed. We knew how to get to our apartment, but were confused by the payment mechanism and the signage on the buses. We paid one bus, discovered that it went to the wrong place, lost that $5 payment each, purchased another $5 payment each which was the wrong one for city buses. But someone was trying to help me with the system, so the multiple transportation systems are not the clearest to first time arrivals and even locals. It turns out that we should have purchased a day pass--or even a rechargeable card--for the Metrorail which is essentially a pass for the Metrorail and the bus system, because we wanted to get to the Douglas Rd. station of the Metrorail via public bus. Fortunately the bus driver accepted the fact that we paid even if getting the wrong card and let us on. But generally bus drivers are not very helpful with directions or where to get off and not all bus stops are announced on the buses. Our daughter had inquired about public transportation to the apartment and was told that she would have to take three buses. The trip to the apartment takes about 1 hour, half of which is waiting for the connection, for it is only 25 minutes from the airport to the Metrorail station and another five from Douglas Rd to Vizcayna. There may be a faster and more frequent connection to the Metrorail on the north side of Miami, and given that the Metrorail fare is a single one regardless of distance, this may be the better connection. There were some unexplainable glitches in getting tickets. I purchased a reloadable ticket for my wife which was a flexible card with the full amount valid for travel; then I did the same for myself and had to pay an extra $2 for a plastic card which otherwise functioned the same way. These are the two downs of public transportation: getting tickets (with no one around who can explain the system) and the looong waits for buses.

I am going on at length about getting to and from the apartment because we were going to use public transportation in Miami, and that connection cast some doubts on our choice. While we spent a lot of time on public transportation, to a great degree it was due to our choice of venues we were going to see, some of which most people would not choose to visit. Our choices will become obvious in the narrative.

On January 2 we went to visit Vizcaya (http://www.vizcayamuseum.org/ ), which was the mansion John Deering built in 1916. In that regard, it is a precursor to Hearst Castle, but less grand. It is as eclectic as Hearst Castle and more eclectic than its predecessors such as the Vanderbilt Mansion in upstate New York. Its setting on Biscayne Bay is quite attractive and there are nice gardens around. The interior has been slightly modified in that the inner courtyard now has a glass ceiling. It contains a large collection of Quimper ceramics, and one can visit the service areas also, although the servants quarters were not visible. It was within walking distance of the apartment, so after lunch in the café in Vizcaya itself, we went back for a rest at the apartment. For the late afternoon and evening we decided to go to Little Havana. The transportation map of Miami is not the clearest, so we went to the Government Center and then walked down a one-way street where we knew the no. 8 bus would run until we found a bus stop. It was an inefficient way of doing it. Coming back from Little Havana we knew that the no. 8 stops at the Brickell Metrorail Station, and that this would have been the best way to go to Little Havana.

We ate at the Versailles restaurant (http://www.versaillesrestaurant.com/ ) and had a nice meal ($68 plus tip for four). There were some complaints (on Yelp?) about Versailles and suggestions that La Carreta (http://www.yelp.com/biz/la-carreta-restaurant-miami-5 ) is better. La Carreta is practically across the street, so one can look at both menus before making a choice.

January 3, which was a cold day for Miami, we decided to spend the day in Miami Beach. We took the Art Deco tour ($10 for seniors), ate at Jerry’s Deli (one pastrami sandwich for two is more than enough + a bowl of matzoh ball soup for the four of us) and then wandered along a street turned into a pedestrian mall. We wanted to see the new Gehry concert hall, but it was closed and we were not interested in waiting for the tour. The building is somewhat of a disappointment visually. Like other modern concert halls (Philadelphia and the Oslo Opera come to mind) it is a building within a building. The outside is a box, predominantly glass on one side, but at least on one street side, looks like the side of a large storage building. Looking through the glass doors, one could see that the signature shapes of a Gehry building were in place, but I am beginning to find them tiresome as having a certain look-at-me aspect rather than having a real functionality (but I have the same feeling about the Bilbao). We then looked for the Jean Nouvel parking structure, which is attractive enough, but in my mind inefficient in its use of space (the space between the parking levels is more than twice as high as necessary). We walked down the back side of Miami Beach (down a center avenue rather than along the water) to go to the Wolfsonian Museum. We were disappointed by it, finding only one floor with its eclectic small permanent collection of any interest. We ate at Tap Tap (http://www.taptaprestaurant.com/ ). I recommend the natif cocktail (rum, lime juice and sugar, with most of the latter sitting at the bottom of the glass). The food was good; I had a whole braised fish with a mild sauce, perhaps less representative of Haitian cooking then some other dishes. It is more expensive than Versailles. We returned to Miami on the C bus with a very unfriendly bus driver. Somewhere along the causeway he stopped at a bus stop and a man wanted to attach his bicycle to the front of the bus. He could not lower the bicycle rack and the bus driver did nothing to help him. Nor did he let him on with his bicycle even though we were the only 4 on the bus. The bus stopped at a Metrorail station from which we went home.

My wife had chosen the first day, we all wanted to do the Art Deco tour, and the next day was the other couple’s choice of touring. So we went to the Florida International University to see its museum. Bachslunch’s description is accurate: “Decided to take the #24 bus further along to check out the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum on the Florida International University campus. In short, a striking new building but a tiny and eminently miss-able clutch of art.” That was a long ride out, interesting in that the bus took us through a variety of neighborhoods including some of the McMansions of Coral Gables and the strip malls of the western part of Dade County. The Museum is small, in a pleasant modern building, free to visitors. It had a contemporary French art exhibit twinned with the Wolfsonian’s exhibit but more interesting. Nothing worth spending the time we did on public transportation back and forth--buses are very infrequent. We ate decent freshly made salads at a nearby mall and then went back to the city on the 8 bus which passed by the Versailles. We got off the bus downtown where we could catch either the 9 or the 2 bus to go to the Wynwood Arts District. The no. 2, which we took, is better to get into the middle of the district, although the ride goes through some poor neighborhoods, and one wonders where we are really going. We got off on NW 2nd. Ave. near NW 24th St. mainly because we saw a coffee house that would provide our afternoon pick-me up. The Panther Café roasts its own coffee and is a pleasant stopping place. The Arts District is a neighborhood of former warehouses and other light industry buildings that are being reclaimed by art galleries and other art venues. A web search indicates that it still has its problems, particularly with car break-ins and purse snatching. It probably is liveliest on weekends. We arrived at a time when activities were winding down and there were few people in the area; by the time we finished our tour of the neighborhood night had fallen, the Panther Café was closed. But even with the few official activities available, the neighborhood is interesting to walk around for its murals: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/6687499953/in/set-72157628846065187. After an interminable wait at the bus stop--and at that hour the neighborhood looks like wasteland--we caught the bus back to the center of Miami, took the people mover to Brickell to buy our dinner in the supermarket, and went home.

On our final day in Miami, we went to the airport to pick up a car--our daughter was going to spend some time in the Keys--and then drove to Shark Valley Visitor Center in the Everglades National Park (8th St. is the urban continuation of the Tamiami Trail). We picnicked on the grass (there are no picnic tables available) and then walked on the paved path for maybe 1.5 mile to 2 miles before turning back. There is a paved circuit that can be done having the length of 15 miles. Bicycles are available for rent and there is a two hour tram tour that is also available. Apparently the midpoint is an observation tower over the sea of grass. On our way back we stopped in Little Havana for a Cuban coffee, and then drove around Coral Gables to admire the large homes set bordering the shaded streets--a distinct contrast to the 8th St. shopping strip, or even more so, the Wynwood Arts District. The rest of the group vetoed Cuban food, so we went home and then walked to a local restaurant http://www.yelp.com/biz/zuperpollo-miami which seemed to offer way too much meat in its individual dishes; quite a few individual steak orders specify that the amount would be 1 lb. We opted for the mixed grill for two shared by the four of us, to which we added salad. They had run out of beer, but had wine, and had no dessert available. I guess they had not replenished their larder since the New Year’s celebrations. The food was fine, with a mix of steak, ribs, chicken legs, four sausages including two French style blood sausage. The price was right: $25 per couple, everything included.

The next morning, bright and early, our daughter’s partner took us to the airport, and mere 20 minutes away by car.

Here are the pictures of the trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/sets/72157628846065187/

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