That really was a weekend to remember. Cat's birthday happened to conincide with a business trip of mine to Miami. I know, hard life right? I'd visited Miami as a teenager when Mum brought us to Florida but Cat had never been before, same for the Florida Keys. Bingo, we had an itinerary.
Miami is only a short sub 2 hour flight from Raleigh. We picked up the rental car and drove to our hotel in Key Largo had plenty of time for a nice dinner. A colleague of mine from Miami recommended a spot called Lazy Days in Islamorada (pronounced eel-morada, drop the S).
This place doesn't look like much from the road but the food here was sublime. Cat had a Yellow Snapper and my choice were some delicious Stuffed Jumbo Prawns with Crab Meat. It wasn't a cheap place but the food was some of the best we've had in a long time and the ambiance was great. Sat on the balcony overlooking the Ocean we watched the sky turn from blue to pink to gold to dark. Magical.
Our hotel was right on the water so the following morning we borrowed a couple of Kayaks from the hotel and thrashed around for a little while. There must be few better ways to start the day. Our plan for the day, such as it was, was to drive the 2hrs down the keys to Key West and visit the Southern most point of the continental USA.
The first major landmark I recall was seven mile bridge. Here's a hyperlapse I took with the drone of that bridge. I'm really enjoying the hyperlapse functionality on the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom I used to gather the footage below. A hyperlapse is a timelapse (e.g. a video compromised of multiple photographs over a period of time) but the camera is moving.
This one took 12 minutes in real time and the drone was at around 30m altitude and it was moving forward at 0.75m/s. The software for the drone is quite incredible and it stitches the hyperlapse together on the drone in flight.
We stopped for lunch about 45 minutes short of Key West for some local food. Upon arrival into Key West we headed to Fort Zachary State Park which according to our Google sleuthing was a decent place to go snorkeling.
This is the second time we've been snorkeling, the first being in Croatia a few years ago, and I'd forgotten how much fun it is! Especially in Tropical temperature water and Florida sun if it wasn't for the fact we saw a SHARK, we'd have probably stayed in the water for hours instead of just 1. Yes, we saw a flippin' Shark! We both independently saw it and as a reflex turned to shore, swam for a minute before coming and saying to each other "did you see that?!". Turns out it was only a Nurse Shark but still it gave us quite a fright!
Lots of other cool fish to be seen and reminded me of when I used to keep marine fish in Manchester. All shapes and sizes were on display and it was really a highlight to be able to walk from the car and almost straight into the water and see fish from the second you're knee deep. Speaking of which, we also say a Ray as we entered the water but by the time we'd faffed with our snorkel masks he'd disappeared.
Apparently if you really want the good stuff you need to get on a boat ride (which is an all-day excursion). We both found the NC Outer Banks a bit meh earlier in the year when Mum was here so we treated this weekend as a reconaissance mission for the Florida Keys. Suffice to say, we'll be back. Next time we'll probably stay for a week or so and make the most of the various excursions and boat rides you can do from Key West and indeed the rest of the Keys themselves.
After a slightly odd (food wise) dinner at the Southernmost House Seaside Cafe watching Pelicans diving and cheeky Seagulls riding on their backs trying to steal their catch we headed North back towards our hotel. A bit more on the food. I ordered a 'traditional Lobster biscuit roll' and what I got was far from traditional. It was a deep fried southern style biscuit with delicious creamy tasty Lobster in the middle. The biscuit part ended up tasting like a doughnut and I must say whilst the constituent parts of the meal were tasty enough on their own they didn't really seem to have much business forming a sandwich coalition together.
The ride back was pretty uneventful although the highway up the keys is very beautiful. There are several things on our list for a return trip such as 'The Theatre of the Sea' and visiting the Dolphin and Turtle rehabilitation centres. We were treated to a famously beautiful Keys sunset on the drive back too.
The following morning Alex booked us an Airboat ride in the Everglades to the West of Miami. Again this was something Alex had done with Mum in 2004 but it was a first for Cat.
Back in Miami we stopped for some truly delicious Cuban food before checking-in to our better than usual hotel where we might have mentioned the birthday to the lady at checkin once or twice.
The birthday name-dropping worked however and soon we found ourselves being directed up to an ocean-view room, where there was a bottle of chilled champagne with a plate of cheese and fruit waiting! We just had time for a dip in the ocean and a relax on the hotels private section of beach! before heading to a working dinner with the redhat team. Great food at what I'm beginning to suspect is standard Miami pricing.
The next day dawned and it was time for Alex to actually go see his client and do some real work on this work trip! As this was my birthday, I decided to treat myself to a day of sightseeing and beaching. After a quick pit-stop at starbucks for breakfast I caught a tram down to the old art deco district of Miami beach. I trotted along to the Miami Beach Art Deco Welcome Center and bought myself a ticket for the architectural walking tour of the area. Since September is still pretty hot in Florida, there weren't many takers for the tour that day, so I joined three other people frantically jogging after a tiny, older lady who walked and talked at the speed of sound. Once you got used to the breakneck pace, she had lots of fascinating things to tell. I'll do my best to give an overview here!
Our tour was vaguely chronological, as much as it could without the buildings being lined up along the street in age order. So we started by looking at a couple of Mediterranean Revival building. These look a bit like a real-world, expensive-materials Disney version of a Spanish villa in all honesty. Not the biggest fan here. But we didn't linger on this style long and we were quickly onto what I had come for. The art deco.
The final style we saw was MiMo, which stands for Miami modern. This style came a bit later (from the mid 40's - end of the 60's) and came as a reaction to the cluster of small hotels down the south end of the beach. This was the beginning of the giant all-inclusive resort hotel, they took up whole blocks of space and therefore had to utilize space much further up the beach, which at the point had not been developed. The style uses lots of concrete (like any good modernist building should) and features clean lines with no excess decoration, but unlike some other modernist styles, here in Miami it was imbued with a sense of decadence and excess. Think kidney shaped swimming pools and ridiculous round beds with fur and animal print. I might sound a little down on this style but only when comparing it to artdeco, generally I'm quite a fan of most modernist buildings (even the UEA and its ziggurats!).
After the tour had finished (an hour longer than originally billed) I desperately needed to refuel and get out of the sun, so I took the tour guides recommendation and headed to a dark little greek restaurant, where the food was fantastic. A bit of a weird experience for me dining alone in a proper restaurant, I'm more of a quick sandwich as I walk kinda girl when by myself, but it was my birthday so why not!
Thus refreshed I headed to my last planned stop of the day, the art deco museum. Although small this museum is filled with treasures of perfect design. I bored both my Mum and Alex with constant pictures of clocks, beds, tea trays, thermos flasks, and other random household items all beautifully and perfectly styled. Eventually though I had seen everything worth seeing including an entire exhibition of advertisements.
With loads of time still left in the day I decided to forgo the tram and take a leisurely walk back up towards our hotel. On the way I happened upon a cat cafe, well why not I thought. My admission included a coffee, a bag of and instructions to wash my hands thoroughly. Honestly it was a bit weird. I drank some coffee while being mobbed by cats for the treats. When all the treats were all used up they moved onto the next victim.
Back at the hotel and it was time for a swim, but in the ocean or in the pool? Decisions, decisions. Since we had done the ocean yesterday I headed to the pool and after a nice dip, relaxed on a lounger with a good book. It being my birthday I decided to take dinner out there with a cocktail. Dinner was fantastic, my cocktail was fantastic and soon I had made friends with a French Canadian woman who didn't speak English, but between her boyfriends translations (his English was pretty good) and my high school French my new friend and I were soon getting on great. The next two or three cocktails each didn't hurt either!
At last Alex was done with work and playing nice with customers and was back with me. All in all a pretty great birthday!