A stroll and a Cruise (Homes of the rich and famous, Miami style)

After having to head into the city to do some business: targetless wanderings through Miami’s downtown area, musings on her public transit system, and cruise …

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Today I had some errands to run in Miami proper that required I drag my ass out of bed obscenely early (for me) and get into town by 9:30 am. I wasn’t able to do what I needed (I showed up to the office without an appointment) but I was able to get a promise that they’d deal with me on Friday at 10am… so I’ll be heading there again then. However, since I was already downtown, I took to wandering.

First, I walked to the seashore (a block away), and then south along the coast; and, for the first time in my life saw a dolphin in the wild! Till now I’ve only ever seen them either in aquariums, or in caged up “swim with the dolphins” type things, which I find horrific, as they’re good for us and definitely not so great for them. This dolphin was getting jiggy with a seagull, they seemed to be almost playing with each other, and the dolphin practically swam right up to the walkway in the process. I was so stunned that I was slow to pull out my iPhone, and missed the interplay, but was able to get some pics of the dolphin as it swam away.

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Because of the recently concluded Art Basel Miami, essentially a viewing forum/event that lasts about a week where the world’s top art galleries can present their best wares to potential buyers (essentially the top 1% of income earners, and museums, etc.)  — it began shortly after I arrived on Nov. 28th and was pretty much over by Dec. 4th, there are still a whole slew of temporary outdoor art available for viewing along Miami’s ocean front.

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I had not known about the event before I arrived (the timing was completely coincidental) but I learned about it from my host, because a German couple (both artists) who were renting one of the downstairs rooms were both working it. (They both worked for one of the galleries that was showing work, although he’s apparently somewhat successful as a struggling painter in his own right — I don’t remember his name. When I went, it was mostly because I was in town that day anyway — more paperwork, although in sum it was rather like going to a very good but insanely expensive museum … $45 for one day’s entry — and there wasn’t even free wine and cheese.)

The next thing I discovered was that the downtown train system in Miami is free (BOGGLE!!). I had taken a Lyft/Uber type taxi into town, so I figured I would try out the rapid transit system which I had heard was pretty decent by US standards (in other words, lousy). I entered the system looking for where I was supposed to pay… kept looking, and still not finding, and then when the doors of a train opened I stuck my head in thinking “maybe there’s a conductor?” (the Metra system in Chicago still has old fashioned conductors)…  but there wasn’t. So I asked a woman siting on one of the few seats (only four per car), “is this free?” and she responded, “yup.” So I got in and road around, and… I’ll admit, I was using the ride to pick up some much needed balls from Pokémon stops — yup, still addicted to the game.

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After a while the train came to a halt at a station, and the loudspeaker informed us the system had broken down and please be patient… so I waited, and waited… and finally decided to just get out and walk. I found myself at what the city intends to be a museum park (like what we’ve already got in Chicago). They have an Modern Art museum … and they are in the process of building a (what I later learned was a new home for a) science museum — that had formerly been located in Coconut Grove across the street from Vizcaya Museum & Gardens; apparently, when it’s done, it is ultimately going to house the world largest shark tank (I have some thoughts on that, but they’re particularly cynical).

I had not yet had lunch (or any coffee for that matter), and according to my Yelp app, the Pérez Art Museum — which has very modern art, not really to my taste so I didn’t go in) also had fairly highly rated cafe, described as good enough so as to be worth eating at even if you weren’t going to see the art…I had Ceviche with pomegranate seeds, and iced coffee — and they were nice enough to give me a large plastic to-go cup of the iced coffee for my ‘refill’.

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Not long after, as I was walking along the shore line… one of my best friends, Carmi, who lives in Florida, called to chat, and when I told him about the train he said that it was considered by many Floridians to be an economic debacle. According to him, it cost so much and so few people actually ever use it, that the city could have instead offered free taxi fares within the same covered area – for life – to anyone who wanted one, and it would have been cheaper (and more likely to be utilized).

In fact, the city also put up a bicycle rental system scattered around the city, which is NOT free, and cost them a pittance by comparison to set up… which IS from what I could see taken full advantage of.

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Although I’ve seen similar systems in other places where the bikes are less to do with tourists and more to do lowering traffic on the roads and/or smog levels (China for instance)… and in those cases the first 15 or 20 minutes are usually free — like the train — only better because if you plan it right you have free access to a bike 24/hours a day with no worries about it being stolen.

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The yellow building is called The Freedom Tower (and should not be confused with the one in New York City which replaced the Twin Towers that were destroyed on 9/11) because it was used, at one point, as the processing facility for refugees from Castro‘s Cuba. Before that it was the offices of a newspaper, and now.. since we’re opening up normal relations with Cuba, it has become a museum — but ironically, not a history museum — instead it’s yet another modern art museum.

Next I headed towards the Bayside Marketplace, which my tripadvisor app was listing it as #12 of the best things to do in Miami (it’s sad how for a lot of towns in the USA the best thing to do is to go to the mall).  And as I walked through the stores that were NOT national chains — most of them were — I was like, “HEY, the 1970’s are back!”

Back when I was a kid my dad (a professor) had this one graduate student who was the consummate Hippie type. He and his wife were both these laid back granola types, and I used to love hanging out at their house. They loved, but couldn’t have, any kids of their own (this was before in vitro fertilization) and they weren’t stable enough economically to be allowed to to adopt —  back then they didn’t allow cross ethnic adoptions… so they set up their place up so that all the kids on their street would want come over there to hang out there. They had all these board games, and toys and cool stuff (like door handles with roses embedded in them). At one point, he and my dad were both presenting a paper at an academic conference in London, and the wife’s sister (who was her exact opposite) had flown over to hang out in London with us. Unlike the wife, who had married a Hippie, this sister had married a VERY rich guy from Beverly Hills, and was living THAT 70’s lifestyle; firstly, her husband apparently had NEVER seen her without her full face makeup applied, and — even in the cold of winter (or London summers) — she wore outfits so low cut that at least 1/2 of each breast was always exposed. My English male cousins, goggle eyed, would just stared at her with their jaws hanging open waiting for something to fall out. Walking around the Marketplace, half of the dresses there (in the locally owned shops) had neck lines that cut a deep V all the way down to the belly button, just like her outfits all used to do, so that if your wore them you’d risk your breasts being are completely exposed. Since then, the only time I’ve seen this sort of thing were on formal dresses at… like the Oscars, being worn by stars like JLo who are very proud of their bodies, but apparently in Miami these are now considered appropriate for daily wear.

However, one of the good things I found at the Market place was that there were like a few different cruise companies offering hour and a half tours of the bay for the VERY affordable price of $20 (I’m guessing this may have been due to it being a weekday during the off season) and 10% off of any drink from the bar.

So, I got myself a diet breaking virgin Mojito (normally I’m very careful to only drink black coffee or water) because this is Miami and I haven’t had once since I arrived…

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………….and then I’m went to go on a Bay side-cruise of the Port of Miami….

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…………that included what’s was described as a tour of millionaires row.

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This is apparently the Miami home of the singer Enrique Martín Morales, formerly of the boy band Menudo —  better known as, Ricky Martin

img_7614According to the tour guide, this rental property is popular with rappers and other stars who don’t already own homes in the area, as a place to throw parties.
—– It rents out for the low, low price of $30,000……. a WEEK!!!

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A great view of the Miami coastline, described by some as the third nicest in the U.S.A.  (after NYC and Chicago, of course) … we were all instructed to grab our camera’s for it

Then They took us to tour around Star Island.

img_7627And this is the home, supposedly (Wikipedia claims that some of the tour guides, including possibly my own, fib about who does or does not live in these homes) of one of the best selling artists of all time,  a singer/songwriter who with over 120 million records to his name worldwide; he has recorded in 14 languages, and has more than 400 gold and platinum records…..  Julio José Iglesias de la Cueva, better known as Julio Iglesias.

img_7631This estate is over 6 acres with a reported 31,615 sq ft of house and is lined with imported (and VERY erect) African Palm Trees is worth $122,000,000 and is (actually) the home of Dr Phillip Frost, who is on the Forbes wealthiest humans lists.
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Born of an observant Jewish family and served as the lieutenant commander for the U.S. Public Health Service at the National Cancer Institute, from 1963 to 1965… …..who, according to our tour guide used to own Pfizer — she called it the house Viagra built

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Victoria, B.C., Great Destination town

I spent a full month living in Victoria, a popular port-of-call for cruise ships, and liked it so much that it is now on my list of favorite cities on the planet (and I’ve been to most of the good ones) … so much so that I could almost see retiring there, if the Canadian Government would allow it.

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So … as an explaination of WHY I like it much, let’s start with with a seemingly insignificant fact ….. no bugs — seriously! And this lack of annoying little critters extends to all of the Island, not just British Columbia‘s capitol city, Victoria.

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One of the seemingly infinate pieces of outdoor art to be found along the streets of Victoria

Now, granted, of course there are bugs, there wouldn’t be life if there were not bugs… but not so much that you’d notice; and more to the point, other than chiggers (out in the woods) not much in the way of bugs that bite. I was on Vancouver Island  for two whole months and only suffered ONE … seriously… ONE mosquito bite. And it really doesn’t seem to matter what time of day we’re talking about. Granted this may seem trivial, but after having spent a few months in places like Florida or parts of the upper midwest — where you’ll be eaten alive at certain times of day; and when you are bitten you run the risk of things like zika and other nasties … 24 hours a day; and let’s not forget to mention myriad places on the North American continent where if you drive at dusk, within miniutes your car will become so THICK with dead bugs that you’ll have to get it washed, and the job will HAVE to be by hand, or you won’t to get rid of them all (and if you don’t … you’ll have the pleasure of watching other bugs swarm your car to feast on the carcasses of their dead friends. So, really, you learn to appreciate ‘no bugs.’

Beyond that, let my list the other reasons why I love Victoria so much:

Architecture

As my pictures will show, it is a visually GORGEOUS city; the local government has put laws into place that require that all historical buildings be maintained (at the very least their facades) and/or restored. The result is panoply of colors and designs to delight the eyes. Architectually it’s buildings range from Stuart influenced Victorian British and early 19th century Americana, to a smattering of modern glass and steel on the outer edges of town.

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This is the capitol building for British Columbia

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The red pagoda looking building is a school that serves the Chinatown community

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History:

Victoria it is a city that with British zeal embraces and honors it’s history in a myriad a ways; if you pay attention, stop, look and read, you almost don’t need a tour guide to learn about the place; and it’s not allways done via obvious things, like this memorial to Captain Cook,

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The plaque below it reads:

Capt. James Cook, R. N. (1728 – 1779)

“After two historic voyages to the South Pacific Ocean, Cook was cruising the waters of the Pacific Northwest on his third and final voyage, with his two ships, Resolution and Discovery. He was searching for the western exit to the legendary Northwest Passage. In March 1778, they put into Nootka Sound for repairs and to trade with the native people. With him on the voyage were Mr. William Bligh as master of the Resolution and midshipman George Vancouver.

This statue was commissioned by the Victoria Environmental Enhancement Foundation and unveiled by The Honourable William Richards Bennett, premier of the province of British Columbia. July 12, 1976.”

Rather, in Victoria you really need to pay attention and look, because the place is RICH with historical documentation, but it tends to go overlooks; for instance, one of the things I noticed (during my month long stay in Victoria where I passed this statue almost daily) was that MOST tourists never seem to stop and take notice of is the LONG line of smaller plaques all along the wall located right behind that statue (see picture above), and all along the dock which memorialize all the notable ships that docked in her port (below are just a few example, but they line the whole dockside):

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Another example is that there is ample evidence and explaination regarding the location of the original fort on the main shopping street in Victoria, but if you don’t stop and look (as the Asian tourists who were being led by a professional guide — the guy in the red shirt — are doing in the picture below) … you’ll miss it:

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The large tan and white building, across from where the fort had stood, was the first office building of the Hudson Bay Company, when Victoria transitioned from a fort to a city
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Every name memorialized in these bricks is that of a founding citizen of the city

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And then every single historic building that’s been renovated and repurposed (and there are LOADS of them) has attached to it a sign explaining the history of the building. Below for instance is a bank building that is now a bar.

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img_9582And then Victoria has different districts, and again, if you stop and look you’ll find plaques, and the like, explaining the area’s past.

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And then in the front of the Government building, there are little vignettes, describing the history of the city, performed by the Parlimentary Player’s, a group of young actors dressed in historiacal garb that try to ‘bring history to life’ in a way that might be more appealing for those who don’t enjoy reading — including one playing the role of Queen Victoria herself. After which, you can enjoy a enjoy a tour of building itself (either self guided with a pamphlet, or led — for a fee, see my blog post).

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That said, it is STILL worth your while to invest in one of the many historically themed walking tours, because they will often add more information than the signs and plaques, not to mention point out little historical tidbits that city has overlooked — or chosen not to — document… for instance, as you walk along Fan Tan Alley in Victoria’s China town you might easily walk right by this little piece of history which links back to the active opium trade that used to exist in the area.

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What the picture doesn’t show (or at least well) is that across the alley from the door are two peep holes in the opposite wall. From here, guards would check the alley for cops, and if they gave the all clear, the metal door would open, handing a customer his or her opium.

In addition to the history that exists in historic parts of town, There are more historical spots, just on the outskirts like the  Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site (see my blog about it), which host historical events, Craigdarroch Castle (again, see blog), and Christ Church (ditto).

Public Art:

Public Art is visible almost everywhere you look; be it street art, murals (government sanctioned or otherwise) that either celebrate the city’s history and rich cultural past — or simply decorate boring buildings, sculptures that range from monuments to famous people involved with the city’s history, to the more esoteric and fanciful, Victoria almost doubles as an outdoor museum.

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Mother Nature, Natural beauty:

Although one could argue that Victoria’s proximity to the ocean is such an incredible an asset, that the aforementioned, massive investment in public art, is “gilding the lily” just a bit …

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And in addition not only have the Canadians inherited the British love of gardens, but they the almost perfect weather for a wide variety of flowers and plants. The weather is SO good (not too hot, not to cold), that it is considered to have a mediteranian climate (PALM TREES growing outdoors, north of Seattle, REALLY!).

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To that effect, a short drive away (maybe 20 minutes) is the world famous (see my blog post on) Butchart Gardens, which not only hosts musical events, but also serves up a very nice afternoon tea

Shopping:

I was really impressed by the shopping in Victoria. The prices for pretty much everything are low (well, at the exchange rate at the time, that could change); And there is great shopping from high fashion to antiques;

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A bank, converted into a book store

img_3255The guy who owned this store, which was stocked with stuff that made my history major heart swoon, said that he USED to have significantly more WWII era stuff, but that the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. bought out most of his best items a few years ago.

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This next store was probably the coolest of of the MANY gaming stores I found in Victoria, as in one every few blocks — apparently gaming is a popular activity there. You could come with friends, or join up with other folks already there, play board games, etc., and buy them if you enjoyed them… plus it was a cafe.

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The owner of this next, historic store, which is the oldest contiuously running store in the city, said he was worried now that US and Cuban relations were about to normalize, as a large chunk of his business was selling Cuban cigars to Americans tourists who couldn’t get them at home.

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Once many years ago, while in the UK, I accidentally purchased a t-shirt made of hemp, found it to be an amazingly comfortable, sturdy, and breathable fabric, and have been looking for clothes made of it ever since; hemp clothing was difficult to find in the US, till quite recently, because of it being a variety of cannabis plant, i.e., marijuana).

So when I saw this store, I got excited; Now, granted, there wasn’t much I could buy — since living out of the trunk of a car limits one’s closet space,  but since I was supposed to attend the orthodox Jewish wedding of an old friend a month later, and didn’t have anything appropriate to wear, I had a reasonable excuse to buy myself a really nice formal (yet informal) dress made from hemp.

Safe!:

From the perspective of a girl from Chicago, Victoria has an impressively low crime rate (see happy homeless people for part of why that is) so that as a single woman I felt completely comfortable walking around alone, even at night;

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Great resturants:

There are no shortage of really great resturants,  (see the blog post about my favorite, the Ferris Grill) all of which have fresh from the ocean seafood obtained from the local, and more importantly working, (see my blog post about) Fisherman’s warf; so that I got spoiled with buck-a-shuck amazingly fresh oysters, most of which were HUGE… and then keep in mind the exchange rate, so that from my viewpoint it was actually cheaper than $1 each. While there is a China town, I was not overly impressed with the Chinese.

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RedFish BlueFish is a VERY popular foodstand on the dock across from the fancy hotel (not fisherman’s warf)

Music and Art:

There is an active music and arts scene! (Although, sadly, not much in the way of Theater) For instance, there are free concerts almost every week day in front of the city hall, not to mention orchestral presentations at the local cathederal, and a plethera of street performers.

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Tourism:
From a straight tourism point of view, there’s relatively little in the way of “tourist trap” attractions (which is not necessarily a bad thing). There’s the aforementioned fisherman’s warf area, there is one really good museum (see my post about the Royal British Columbia Museum) which hosts really impressive traveling exhibits, and a few small ones. There are also in addition to the aforementioned historically themed walking tours a few tour different bus tour companies, whose offerings are for the most part, the same (I took two of them).

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of the multiple tours the most amusing one I spoted (although not for me as I don’t drink) was the rolling pub tour.

And, as a Jew, I was very excited to see an active Jewish community (albiet a tiny one) that was active in the city