After spending a couple of days in Tampa and discovering St Petersburg, E. with our friends and I all took a road trip towards Miami and then the Florida Keys where we would spend a few days.
We finally met with our guide Alan and settled onto the airboat. We wore two way communication headsets so we could easily talk and listen to each other despite the very loud sound of the fan. The air was quite hot but once the boat got going fast, we felt refreshed instantly.
The speed of the boat was quite exhilarating. I could not stop smiling but realised I would be better off smiling with my mouth closed. Imagine the speed of the boat plus all the bugs flying around, I could have had a mouth full of dragonflies in no time at all! I was feeling a little hungry indeed but not for insects. I know it is a thing but I am not ready for that food step just yet...
Our guide Alan is a local and has lived in the Everglades all his life. His knowledge of the area, its fauna and flora, was incredible. He could see that we were all very interested so he stopped at every occasion to give us details on specific plants or wildlife. We even stopped somewhere to check out the air plants growing on cypress trees, they were definitely way bigger than the ones I have spotted in a few flower shops around Dublin.
We went deeper into the wetlands riding the boat on the river of grass. It is a weird feeling as you do not see there is water underneath until you get closer. We then moved a little slower while going through the mangrove and cypress trees area. We were really impressed when our guide mentioned he sometimes takes walks through it. I would not even put my hand in that water for fear of it being snapped by an alligator.
Speaking of alligators, we did not see many apart from a big one at the start of the tour but then later got a little visitor (see photo below, our guide reckoned it was a one-year old baby). He was more interested by all the dragonflies attached to the boat than us obviously.
We got hit by a rain storm right before we made it back to the shore. It felt really strange being rained on with the speed of the boat, a bit like being hit by hailstones. But, hey, this is all part of the adventure! Rain or shine, it is a truly amazing place and this tour is definitely one of the highlights of our holidays in Florida.
We stayed there for two nights at the Vintro Hotel South Beach. The hotel itself is well designed, comfortable, and its location was perfect for us to leave the car and walk to places we wanted to see in the area.
It felt like a short visit of Miami (about 36 hours) but it was enough for us to visit what we had planned to.
On our first night night, we checked out the area quickly before heading to a restaurant for dinner. All the places we had previously spotted were closed. We were all really exhausted that day after leaving early, all the driving and the tour, so the idea was to be able to eat nearby and find somewhere with delicious food. After a bit of research, we opted for Cleo's at the Redbury Hotel. Its style is mediterranean and we decided to share a few small plates between us. It was all delicious with interesting flavours and ingredients. I have to give my thumbs up to one dish in particular: the spinach and ricotta dumplings with avgolemono and pistachio pesto. It was so flavoursome and a dish I would love to try at home so I can eat more of it.
For our full day in Miami, we drove off in the morning to Little Havana so we could have breakfast at Cuban restaurant Versailles. It was filled with locals and the look of many delicious pastries at the huge counter really made us hungry. I decided to have eggs sunny side up with potatoes and roasted peppers, to which I added a side order of the most delicious ham croquettes. It was all served with toasted and buttered Cuban bread. I was clearly a bit full but could not resist getting a breakfast dessert (yes, in my world, this is a thing). So I got a dulce de leche flan that took me immediately to flan heaven.
The area is full of design shops and cafes so you could plan to spend bit of time there exploring and then grab a bite and a coffee (Panther Coffee was the choice for us that day, well mostly for the coffee lovers among us, I settled with a fresh fruit juice).
The main reason we stopped in that area was for the Wynwood Walls. We ended up seeing some really impressive murals that are stunning works of art. I was really amazed by how much freedom is given to street artists to express their creativity. It results in such a variety of styles and a very colourful landscape.
Actually, when driving through Miami, you can spot some other great murals here and there.
After quite a good walk through Wynwood exploring the street art, we drove back towards Little Havana where we wanted to grab some ice cream at Azucar. So many amazing flavours! I chose to have my ice cream in a waffle cone since they are homemade on site (you could smell it from outside, so wonderful) with two scoops: rosemary brown butter ice cream and passion fruit sorbet. It was quite delicious and not overly sweet (I believe they do not add sugar to their confections but instead prefer working with the natural sugars from the milk, cream and fruit). The atmosphere outside was unusual for me for a mid week day: people dancing Cuban salsa in cafes, chatting in groups and smoking cigars or playing dominoes at tables in the central area. The whole place was really cheerful.
And of course, that long walk was mostly destined for the Art Deco historic district of Miami. The old hotels there have been so well preserved, they looked spotless. I guess one of the major differences with then and now is that the cars parked in front of the hotels are way more modern. It would definitely add more charm if only old timey cars were allowed to be parked in front.
It was a great walk and we spent quite a bit of time marvelling at the architecture and design of the hotel signs.
We continued our walk until it was dinner time and headed to Yard Bird where we had booked a table. We were really excited about this place and the idea of having lots of Southern food to try. And we were not disappointed! Again, we shared a lot of dishes between us. The portions are quite big in the US so, for us, it was a great way to try many things without feeling too stuffed afterwards.
We started with classic buttermilk Mama's biscuits served with honey butter and preserve. Biscuits are similar to scones but much less sweet and can be eaten with savoury food. Those were warm and buttery, melting in the mouth with every bite. I don't think there was any conversation at our table while we were enjoying them.
Afterwards, we had some fried chicken with sides of macaroni and cheese, charred okra and house fries (which were sprinkled with bacon salt, oh my!). The okra was a big favourite at our table. If we hadn't had eyes on a specific dessert, we would have definitely gotten a bit more of it.
Once we saw there were mini nutella beignets on the menu, there was no talking us out of it (well, I was particularly insistent I admit). They were served freshly made, warm and oozing with the hazelnut chocolate paste.
I am glad we had a nice walk back to our hotel, it was the perfect accompaniment to all of the indulgence.
And that was the end of our time exploring Miami. We had one night at the hotel and the next day, another road trip towards Key West for a little stay there. But that is for another blog post!