Big City Tales

Operation Banish Winter

July 17, 2012
Leave a Comment

The South Beach skyline seen from Biscayne Bay.

As my plane descended through the remnant clouds of a passing spring storm, the heat and humidity of southern Florida permeated my being like stepping into a steam sauna. Confirmed by the dewiness of my skin and the bead of sweat gathering at my brow, it was clear I had officially left behind the dry northern tundra of my Canadian homeland and arrived in a lush, moisture-rich tropical paradise. After a long and cold winter season, my arrival in the glorious “Sunshine State” could not have come at a better time.

Sure, I was taking my chances with a late April vacation in Florida – spring being notorious for generally unpredictable weather – but even one day in the sun, surf and sand would be enough to chase away the doldrums of my winter blues. Thankfully, Mother Nature more than cooperated and kindly delivered a nearly perfect forecast for this time of year. In the end, my five-day stay in the trendy art deco district of South Beach, or SoBe, as it affectionately known by locals, warmed the very depths of my sun-seeking soul. And it couldn’t have gotten off to a better start!

The view from the pool…not a cloud in sight!

Leaving my centrally located hotel on day one of “Operation Banish Winter,” a cloudless, electric blue sky wrapped its expansive arms around me in a generous, friendly hug. Meanwhile, the rays of the brilliant golden sun sealed the embrace with ever-increasing intensity. The sweet kisses of cool, gentle ocean breezes quickly followed; my senses awakened with the wafting aromas of freshly mown grass and exotic flowers fragrant in their full bloom.

A peaceful spot to get some R&R!

After a lovely morning greeting, I leisurely explored SoBe’s world-famous Ocean Drive. The kaleidoscope of art deco colours featured prominently in the beach-side hotels and restaurants were balanced out by long stretches of white sand and soft hues of teal and turquoise in the temperate ocean water. The waters beckoned with lapping waves that caressed the shore like the touch of a loved one`s hand. As I gingerly dipped my feet, a growing state of relaxation washed over me. I was definitely in the right frame of mind to enjoy the rest of the day.

A stroll along the beach…you can just smell that fresh, crisp and invigorating ocean air!

With the sun now high in the sky, it was time for some people-watching at Lincoln Road’s eclectic outdoor mall. Lincoln Road is a 10-block stretch that attracts its fair share of “colourful” people traffic and is a hip place to be. But, more importantly, is the place to be seen! Offering an array of shopping and eating options covering every price point and palate preference, the rich and famous mingle easily amongst the ranks of the middle-class family vacationers, snow bird retirees, and intrepid singles all eager to experience one of SoBe’s most popular destinations. After a short break for lunch at Oprah’s favourite eatery, the Ice Box Café, my wandering ways continued in search of a little peace and quiet.

Lincoln Road offers shoppers a glorious outdoor shopping experience.

Not far from the frenetic fare of Lincoln Road, I came across the historic haunt of Espaňola Way, another delightful gem in this jewel of a city. “Discover, Explore, Celebrate” is the motto of this quaint, tree-lined corridor of art galleries, boutiques and Spanish-themed restaurants. Many of the buildings in this region are constructed with traditional materials, such as clay, commonly used in Spanish-style architecture. Colourful exteriors abound with bright green awnings, white window boxes, and copper-tiled terracotta roofs adding to the picturesque scenery of this old world setting. A visit to Espaňola Way is like taking a step back in time in the midst of a modern urban centre, and it’s a journey well worth taking. I was quite content to spend the balance of the day strolling through this treasure-rich district, but there was more to do and Cuban food was calling.

A little taste of Spanish culture.

Making my way over to Collins Avenue, I was soon returned to SoBe’s cosmopolitan clamour and the main hub of Cuban cuisine. David’s Café is known both for its 24-7 operation and its version of the medianoche sandwich, popular as a midnight snack in Havana night clubs, but served at David’s any time of day. This multi-layered treat consists of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and dill pickles all piled high on sweet egg dough bread and served warm, with a side of fried plantains. Sinking my teeth into this carb-heavy meal, I realized it was a good thing I was on foot for this trip…I was going to need a lot of exercise to work off the extra calories.

Collins Avenue is a hot spot for fine hotels and popular, trendy eateries.

With the day now fading into night, I arrived back at my hotel fully spent from “Operation Banish Winter” activities, but was looking forward to more of the same over the next four days. I am happy to say that SoBe delivered, and then some. It was the ideal spot for this weary traveller to enjoy a much-needed spring getaway and, who knows, it just may be the cure to your own case of the winter blues!

Another must-see sight: SoBe’s majestic Old City Hall.

Advertisements

Barcelona or Bust

July 17, 2012
Leave a Comment

The year was 1992. The place was Barcelona, Spain. The event was the tower diving competition at the Summer Olympics, held in the hillside community of Montjuic. While I don’t recall the competitors, I do remember being riveted to the TV screen from my home in Calgary wishing that I was there. As the cameras, perched high atop this stunning outdoor venue, slowly panned across the city’s expansive skyline, I was completely awestruck with the eclectic mix of centuries-old Gothic cathedrals, modern high-rise apartments, and timeless seafaring vessels docked in the harbor far below. Yes, it was amor a primera vista (love at first sight!),and some 20 years later, my affection remains strong for this grand European city. From its panoramic city views to its old world charm that meshes seamlessly with trendy cosmopolitan elements, Barcelona is a “jewel in the sun” to quote a fitting phrase from the rock band Queen. The city is a jewel that continues to shine bright in my memory and is one that I long to see. No surprise that it sits at the top of my bucket list!

Parc Guell in Barcelona, Spain.


The Miami / South Beach Experience

July 17, 2012
Leave a Comment

The Freedom Tower in Miami – a safe haven and refuge for exiles fleeing Communist Cuba in the 1950s.

Islands and causeways collide,
making for a magical musical ride.

The famous white mansion where Scarface met his demise and, ultimately, his maker!

Neon lights aglow put on quite a show,
a kaleidoscope of colours explode wherever you go.

South Beach’s Art Deco style at its finest…what a cheery building to work at!

Biscayne Bay beckons with wide-open arms;
vessels of all shapes and sizes add to its charm.

Boat ride, anyone?

The Port of Miami sends cruise ships on their way…
off to exotic ports of call for many a day.

Miami is the cruise ship capital of the world.

The rich and the famous flaunt homes of excess,
leaving little doubt of their financial success.

What Viagra money buys…

Money flows freely from morning to night…
The “come as you are” party scene in South Beach is quite a sight!

Welcome to South Beach (a.k.a. SoBe)!

Ocean Drive stretches through the heart of the Art Deco scene;
it is the ideal place to be if you want to be seen.

The site of “Nick’s Bar” from Casablanca…Play it again, Sam!

Lincoln Road draws its fair share of people traffic,
designer shops and five-star restaurants cast a spell of enticing magic.

The Lincoln Road outdoor mall bustles from dawn ’til dusk.

Where palm trees sway in sun-filled days
of happy vacationers passing the time away.

Hotel Row along Collins Avenue.

White sandy beaches meld seamlessly into bright blue skies…
EVERY day in south Florida is a wonderful surprise!

Life is a beach!