The US Part 1: Miami

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Where to start?! Soo much has happened since the last time I sat down at my laptop to write. I'm going to have to break it down...

Work was the name of the game until mid-July and the World Cup period rushed by in a bit of a blur. One minute I was buried under piles of Generation Amazing hoodies, packing footballs into suitcases and finalising itineraries, and the next moment I was on a plane to Sao Paulo, glass in hand and ready to get going on what I had been building up to for almost half a year. As it transpired, the World Cup trip was a fantastic success (unfortunately, England's performance not so much, but the less said about the better), and I felt privileged to spend those two weeks with twenty two of the most inspiring young people I have ever met. For those of you that are interested in finding out a bit more about what we got up to, you can read about it here.

Then as suddenly as it had begun, the World Cup was over. I was pooped. Rich was twice as pooped. It was time to get away.

The place we chose was the good old US of A. After weeks of research, we had put in place an action-packed tour of the country from the East to the West coast and back again. First stop: Miami. 

It was late in the evening when we touched down. As we trooped off the plane, feeling a little shell shocked after 15 hours in the air, and breathed that first scent of muggy coconutty goodness in the air, I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders. Miami is known as one of the party capitals of America; "the place where neon went to die", but for me, it will be forever known as the place that reminded me what it felt like to be alive.

It's a city with inescapable soul.

On the first morning, giddy with excitement at the three glorious weeks of exploration and adventure ahead of us, Rich and I headed out for an early (read very early; we were still on Doha time) morning stroll through Bayfront Park next to our hotel. The sun was low in the sky but already beating down on us through the palm trees, and we stopped to admire the numerous fountains, statues and yachts in the harbour, framed by the towers of downtown Miami beyond. Picture perfect.

Around the corner, some tour buses were lining up to catch the first crowds of the day. On a whim (which may have been influenced slightly by the nicest tour operator ever), we purchased tickets and before we knew it, we were on our way to the best sights and sounds of the city.

Our first stop-off point was Miami Beach - probably the most famous barrier island in the world, separating the Atlantic Ocean from Biscayne Bay, and attached to the mainland by several bridges that pass the multi-million dollar homes of the likes of Oprah Winfrey, and formerly Brad Pitt and Richard Nixon.

South Beach itself was everything I had imagined it to be; teaming with tanned and toned bodies, people working out wherever they could...

And stunning, typically American lifeguard stations, each painted with their own unique colours.

Behind the beach lies the famous Art Deco Historic District, where the candy-coloured buildings look good enough to eat.

And the cars adorning the street make you feel as though you're on the set of Miami Vice.

We traipsed down Ocean Drive (humming the Lighthouse Family to ourselves), absorbed the atmosphere and the art for a while

Until our stomachs started to gurgle. There was only one thing for it. We hopped back on the bus and headed to Coconut Grove to experience our first all-American institution: Cheesecake Factory (where, confusingly, we had tacos and empinadas and forgot to leave room for any cheesecake).

The rest of the day was spent taking in the varied architecture of the beautiful city

Before hopping out at our last stop; Little Havana.

Following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, thousands of Cuban exiles settled in Miami, the nearest point of the US mainland and made the district of Little Havana their home. Today, it has the largest hispanic population in the city and the many shops and cafes retain their Cuban influence.

Oh, and importantly, it's also home to the best icecream parlour on the entire east coast of the US (may be overselling this a tad), with the most extensive, unique menu I've ever seen.

Abuela Maria sounded weird, but was bloody brilliant.

Shattered, we headed back to the hotel for an early night and some jet lag recouperation.

The following two days went by far too quickly. We spent some more time on South Beach and exploring the surrounding area

Enjoyed a walk through South Point Park

And grabbed lunch at a traditionally Cuban restaurant on Espanola Way.

Before we knew it, it was our last night (for the time being) in this beautiful city.

We treated ourselves to a sumptuous feast at Toro Toro, Miami's top rated restaurant, which also happened to be based in the Intercontinental where we were staying.

Followed by an evening soaking up the neon lights of downtown Miami.

The next day, we said goodbye to the city with yet another feast at a well-known American establishment  - Bubba Gump

And then I took to the skies once more for the next chapter of my US adventure, with my very favourite travel chum.

And I was bursting with excitement for this next one.