I’ll begin this blog with one of the first things I learned about Miami after we arrived, maybe it will be a new piece of information for the readers, maybe it won’t. Miami and Miami Beach are two different places. Miami Beach is not the name for the watery edge of the City of Miami, that’s Biscayne Bay. On the other side of Biscayne Bay, between it and the atlantic, runs the long strip of islands which collectively make up the City of Miami Beach. If you already knew that please forgive my ignorance. So our hostel, Ocean Drive with its art deco architecture and the famous South Beach are all in Miami Beach. If you ever played the computer game GTA Vice City, the right island is Miami Beach and the left one is Miami. Glad that’s cleared up.
We arrived pretty early, dropped our stuff off at the hostel and then went to get lunch. I had heard that the submarine sandwiches from a supermarket called Publix were good and there was one near our hostel so the decision of where to have lunch was made. The recommendation was not wrong. The amount of veg they stuffed into that sub was monumental. My challenge of “If you can close it, I’ll eat it” was really taken to heart by the sandwich artist and I don’t use that term ironically. We ended up eating at Publix 3 out of the 4 days were in Miami. We spent the rest of the time before check in on South Beach. It’s an american icon, with Ocean Drive running along it and the brightly coloured life guard huts keeping watch over the immaculate (sun)bathers. On South Beach, and most of Miami Beach actually, modesty and understatement are non-existent. Everything is on display. One night we went out for a walk to see the neon lights and ended up colliding with a huge exodus of men from a beach party. There must have been over 1,000 people strolling along the beach, all huge but without a pound of fat on them and the most modestly dressed of them were wearing hot pants and nothing else.
During the day, once you walk a block in from the shore, Miami Beach is a much more sedate place. One man told us that it is popular with retirees because compared to Miami it is 10 degrees cooler in summer and 10 degrees warmer in winter. Farenheit that is, but still significant. The sights we visited during the day were the Botanical Gardens and the Art Deco Museum. The museum was interesting, with miniatures of the famous hotels that line the front explaining their inspiration and dates of construction. We visited the museum first before walking along Ocean Drive so it was fun to spot the hotels and remark what excellent examples they were of “mediterranean revivalist architecture” they were, like we knew what we were talking about. The Botanical Gardens were an excellent example of what an inner city garden should be, a green oasis that makes you feel totally separate from the city around you. Although it maybe didn’t have the same variety of plants as other botanical gardens we’ve visited, or the same emphasis on horticultural education, they were beautiful to look at and spend time in. They were very ‘Miami Beach’.
The gardens happened to be right next to a memorial to the jewish victims of the holocaust, which was one of the most harrowing memorials I’ve seen. Maybe I wasn’t mentally prepared for it but after the long shopping streets and people partying to come across a giant metal hand grasping skywards, its base surrounded by contorted figures screaming in torment was a shock. After walking past a wall covered with the names of lost family members of the people who helped fund the statue you turn a corner and are faced with a dying child, reaching up to you from the ground. In the memorial were several people with expensive looking cameras trying to take the perfect photo of the harrowing suffering on display.
We also tried to spend a day exploring downtown Miami but we didn’t get very far. We were simultaneously saved and hugely let down by the excellent/completely unreliable public transportation. After a leisurely morning and then delicious early lunch at a local Cuban cafe we hopped on the S Bus which goes from Miami Beach to downtown Miami. We caught this bus 5 times over 4 days from right outside our hostel and it was never more than 2 minutes late (it runs once every 20 minutes). From that we transferred to the free MetroMover, an elevated train of sorts that runs through the high rises of downtown Miami and a great way to see the city center. From there we transferred to the elevated MetroRail service which was included in the $5.65 day pass we’d bought for the bus in the morning. It was clean and swift, delivering us to the Government Center where we planned to catch a bus to Wynwood to see the famous graffiti covered walls of this artsy district. But the Number 20 bus for Wynwood never arrived. We waited with a number of other exasperated commuters for 40 minutes (in this time two Number 20’s should have arrived) before cancelling the trip to the ‘Walls of Wynwood’. Instead we hung out in a coffee place in downtown for a couple of hours which had their own coffee roaster in the seating area of the cafe. Very hipster. A man came in and dropped $80 on beans.
I was happy to waste time, and Rosanna too I think, because we were waiting for the second of our trips to the AAArena to watch the Miami HEAT play (there are no typos at the end of that sentence, those capitals are all brand accurate). You see, the real reason we were in Miami was to watch basketball. Ever since I have followed the professional game I have been a fan of one team, the Miami Heat, and one player in particular, Dwyane Wade (again, no typos). The first NBA game I recorded at 1am on Channel 5 using a VHS when I was 14 years old featured Wade in his rookie season. When the US national team came to the UK for their Olympic warm up game I bought tickets to see him and then he pulled out due to injury. Now there are rumours that he might retire this season and at the start of the year he wasn’t even playing in Miami. I had accepted that I may never watch him play in person. Then in a completely unexpected move he was traded to the Heat 3 weeks before we would arrive. Ticket prices doubled overnight, as did my excitement and self satisfaction that I’d already bought mine for the two games we’d watch while we were there.
The first game was surreal. It was on the same day that we arrived and we were both extremely sleep deprived after the extended overnight bus journey from Alabama (the bus stopped at 1am for refuelling which required every passenger to get off the bus for an hour while it happened due to ‘federal law’ – american service workers love this expression). It was still exhilarating to join in the chants I knew by heart, see the players I knew by name and number and be part of the crowd that buoyed the team to a 105-96 victory over the Detroit Pistons. I did get several nice comments from other fans about my only-available-in-China DWade jumper which I’d bought in Dalian earlier in the trip. This jumper was also popular with a drug dealer near the Atlanta bus station that Rosanna already mentioned. For the second game we were more prepared. Wearing recently purchased team merchandise and powered on hipster coffee we took our seats. From the off it was clear these were better seats because the court was more visible, we weren’t right next to a vender shouting “ICE COLD BEER HERE” all game and, most importantly, we were surrounded by drunk home fans. Everyone had a great time, especially because we were playing the Phoenix Suns who are terrible. That’s no slight on them either, they’re intentionally bad. American sports don’t have promotion and relegation as punishment/reward at the end of a season, instead they reward the teams that come in the bottom places leading to the bizarre situation where the teams with no chance in the latter half of the season actually start trying to lose games. So we sat back and enjoyed an easy 125-103 Heat victory. I stayed seated for a long time after the final whistle. We were due to leave Miami the next day to go to the city our ship across the Atlantic would set sail from. I had the sensation that the end of the game marked a finish line of sorts for the journey. What a way to go!
Here are all the pictures from our time in Miami. It’s worth clicking through, especially if you want to see me struggling with some street food or posing in front of a sculpture inspired by my shorts!