Day One: Riga

This is my third trip to Latvia, and Bob’s seventh. We were able to upgrade to Economy Plus, which was awesome. Unfortunately, they make you walk through Business class and see their cool little pods, which makes your section not quite as exciting. But we got priority boarding, what seemed like way better food, and a little cabin with only 24 seats.

Caprese salad on the plane

There were individual loungers that leaned way back and had a footrest pop up. We chose the bulkhead so we had extra leg room for Bob’s super long legs. I spilled a Diet Coke all over my seat and moved to an empty middle row to try to lie down, but the armrests of the loungers don’t go up, one bummer. I was unable to sleep, so by the time we landed in Riga I was totally discombobulated.

Bridin’s pup, Lily

Bob’s mom had gotten us rooms in a Hampton Inn, and it was way nicer than the chain in America.

We had dinner there, which was surprisingly good. We split a burger and I ordered pasta with bacon and onions, which Bridin once told me was very Latvian. When it arrived, she stated, “Latvians call ham “bacon.”

I said, “So do Canadians.”

The next morning their buffet breakfast was awesome. American hotels need to learn from this. Most European places have cold cuts and sausages that are basically hot dogs. The Hampton Inn also had all of the makings for an English fry-up and fresh peach-filled pastries that were divine. They seem to think Americans eat vegetables at breakfast too.

The next morning, we toured Riga, serendipitously happening upon a little festival in the park. Local senior centers were performing, and it was awesome! Latvian folk dancing is very much like Scottish Country dancing. And any moves that weren’t the same as Scottish Country Dancing, I recognized from square dancing and Ballet Folklorico. I wonder if folk dancing is pre-wired in the brain like language is.

These twins were charmed by Lily, as most people are, and let me take their picture.

There was a little market selling jewelry and crafts as well as refreshments.

Cherry – Cannabis Beer!

I was heavily pressured by two people into eating hemp seed halvah, “There’s no THC in it.” “There’s no sugar in it.” But it had an offputting smell so I held out. Plus, if something’s only merits are what’s NOT in it, that’s not much of a selling point.

This lady made candles to look like delicious treats. I didn’t buy one because I would constantly be disappointed they weren’t really dessert.

The ice cream man was very friendly. I ordered oatmeal, which was improved by the addition of caramel, but there were big, weird oats in it. Bob got sea buckthorn, which was very sour.

There were big cauldrons, one with borscht and one with sauerkraut. A man asked Bridin why I was taking pictures of the food. She shrugged and said, “Amerikkans.”

There was a monument in the park to Colonel Kalpaks, who led the Latvians against the Bolsheviks at the start of Latvian independence. Wikipedia says he was killed “by mistake” while fighting alongside the Germans against the Bolsheviks. I would kind of like to hear that story.

There was also an outdoor photo exhibit of people in the olden days. They looked a lot like my ancestors.

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San Diego Day One: Artichokes and Dead Boys

I like the Casbah, a punk dive bar in San Diego, and when I saw that the Dead Boys were playing, I bought a ticket. It’s not really the Dead Boys without Stiv, but it’s still amazing to watch Cheetah Chrome shred. And really, I like their songs so much I would even go see a Dead Boys tribute band. I took an Uber there, and there were three bands before the headliner, so I wandered down the street. The Crack Shack was right there, but I had that for lunch.

I had heard and read good things about Zinque. I ordered the artichokes, and they were exactly like the ones I had eaten in Rome. I haven’t found anywhere else here that makes them without the vinaigrette.

I also ordered a pasta with morels. Morels are tricky, as it is almost impossible to get all of the grit out of them. But they were pristine and delicious in this well-balanced pasta dish. I have discovered there are several Zinques in the LA area, so I won’t have to travel for this delicious food again.

Then back to the Casbah. I hung out a lot with one of the bartenders who was really cool. We would definitely be friends if I lived down there. I caught the end of some surf instrumental band called something pinche something. It was like Lawndale and Das Damen had a baby. I stood at the front of the stage to keep my spot and some guy pushed his way through us and set a whiskey bottle on the stage. I told someone standing next to me, “He must be the lead singer. He has that vibe. Yep. Meet Jake Hout.

They opened with Sonic Reducer. Hout was a combo of Stiv, Iggy, Tommy Lee, Mick, and Frank N Furter. The mosh pit got crazy. After about half the set, I got slammed from behind really hard and flew through the air losing a shoe, and landing on my stomach onstage. Some guy, being helpful, stuck his arms under my armpits and lifted me off the stage, but held me in the half nelson, feet off the ground, while I hollered ungratefully, “Put me down!!!” Later the rhythm guitarist kindly retrieved my phone from behind his amp.

Jake Holt definitely won me over when he went to the ground. Gotta love a frontman rolling around in front of the bass drum.

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San Diego Day One: Chicken Oysters and Haunted Hotels

I haven’t been to San Diego in a while. It used to be our weekend spot before we switched to Desert Hot Springs. I got into town around 4:3o and was a bit peckish. I just happened to drive by Top Chef Richard Blais’ “Crack Shack” chicken place, and I pulled right over. I loved the Pasadena location, which is now shuttered.

I ordered the chicken oysters, which I have never seen anywhere else. You could make a case for chicken oysters being a grown-up replacement for nuggets. We aren’t talking about “Rocky Mountain oyster” oysters. The chicken oyster is one of those chef’s secret fetish things. It’s a little oyster-sized bit of dark meat near the thigh that is supposed to be the best part of the chicken. Instead of the heavy, crunchy coating that is used on the bone-in chicken, the oyster coating is light like tempura. I also ordered the schmaltz fries to go, but by the time I made it to my hotel room they were cold.

So, wow, my hotel — Hotel Sofia in the Gaslamp. A lot of the hotels here are old brick buildings that look like they used to be apartments, or department stores, or orphanages, or asylums…OK, I’ll stop now. But my first impression was that this place is 10/10 haunted.

Check out these creepy pictures from their own website:

I looked up “Most haunted hotels in San Diego.” The Sofia was second, only beaten out by the Coronado. But I couldn’t find any specific stories except for this one from Tripadvisor reviews:

“Quite possibly haunted – the room just felt spooky, period. I’m sure it’s just wiring issues that go along with an old hotel, but lights would randomly go on in the room, stay on for an hour or so, then turn off just as mysteriously as they had turned on.”

Although a bit small, as older hotels tend to be, the room was clean and comfortable, and didn’t feel at all haunted.


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Symphony of the Seas: Cozumel Port

There was a lot happening at the port in Cozumel. There were about 30 shore excursions all searching for their people. After I found my group, I wandered off in search of tacos. I discovered Tequila A Go-Go, a 60s hippie themed bar.

I ordered steak street tacos and an iced tea. I was waiting for a while, since it seemed like the kitchen was in another building. My bill was over $40 USD!!! In LA three street (taco truck) tacos would be under $15. When I finally got my tacos, after worrying I would miss my bus, I saw that they had given me two orders. I had asked if an order was one or two tacos, and I guess my Spanish is worse than I thought. I was in too much of a hurry to complain and maybe I had ordered two orders. I gave the other plate to the tour guide, and he was very pleased. But yeah, $21 for a burrito? Definitely taking advantage of the cruise line gringos.

After the excursion I did some shopping. I bought a little charm. When I travel, I get a charm as my memento. They are cheap and take up no space packing.

There was a great mariachi band playing for the tourists. Turn up the volume!

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The Sleeping Sharks of the Yucatan

When I was a kid, we watched Jacques Cousteau faithfully in my house. My dad was a diver, and we all snorkeled off of Catalina frequently. I still remember an episode from 1975, when I was 9 years old, where they dive into caves off of Isla Mujeres and for the first time, the world outside of the Yucatan peninsula saw sleeping sharks. Previously, it was believed that open ocean sharks had to swim constantly to keep water flowing through their gills or they would die. They are primarily harmless nurse sharks, although the expedition came across one of the more dangerous nurse sharks. You know, I like the sound of that. From now on I’m going to call everything I do an expedition.

You can watch the episode below, starting at around 20 minutes. It’s trippy to see them poking fish, petting sharks, and even catching a ride on a sea turtle, considering the current scientific practice of leaving sea animals the F alone. I was so startled at their behavior while watching the show, I impulsively shouted at the screen, “Stop touching that fish, Cousteau!”

So, when I saw that there was a shore excursion off of the ship that included rays and nurse sharks, I was doubly excited! As a child I had no idea what this exotic Isla de Mujeres was, but as a grown-up I definitely knew about Cozumel! I had just never made the connection. In fact, I had been here before to swim with whale sharks and had no idea I was so close to this childhood wonder.

The tour boat first took us to a reef, which was partly dead, but it was heartening to see that there were still live corals. There were a lot of small, brightly-colored tropical fish.

There was a bit of a current, which caused me to sometimes drift too close to the other snorkelers, so I avoided them. I veered over to the deeper waters, hoping to see a shark or a barracuda, but it was probably too close to the cruise ships to see any big sea creatures.

The guide yelled at me to stay with the group, as they do, and I dutifully tried. But one guy wanted to free dive and didn’t seem to realize that we were wearing inflatable life vests, so all he could do was turn upside down and kick like a duck. After getting whacked a few times with his fins, I did swim away from him. Check out this pic of a fin in my face from my GoPro:

But as close as I stayed to the cluster, it was never close enough for the guide. I finally cried out in exasperation, “Estoy con el grupo!!!” That made him laugh really hard and leave me alone for the rest of the time. People on the East Coast of Mexico are really surprised at my high school Spanish compared to Baja.

Maybe it’s dark, but I kind of feel like the caption on a photo like this will someday be, “…and this is the last picture ever taken of Elise before she disappeared forever…” And I wouldn’t be mad at that.

We docked and I saw the fenced-off harbor swimming with rays. I realized then that the rays and sharks were in captivity, and I was very disappointed. I thought we were just stopping for lunch, then heading off to other dive spots. Yeah, OK, I was naive enough to think we would be exploring sea caves without dive gear. I mean, maybe it could have just been sea cave-adjacent. I am against keeping sea mammals in captivity (I know sharks and rays aren’t mammals, but similar thing). I would never do a captive dolphin “adventure.” Now I was torn. The fenced-in areas seemed big enough, at least for the rays. It kept them fed and safe from predators. The rays had had their barbs removed for our safety, and we were assured it was like clipping toenails, not painful at all. I looked it up, and Wikipedia agrees. Here is some more info from Wiki on the Southern Rays:

“The southern stingray (Hypanus americanus) is a whiptail stingray found in tropical and subtropical waters of the Western Atlantic Ocean from New Jersey to southern Brazil.[2] It has a flat, diamond-shaped disc, with a mud brown, olive, and grey dorsal surface and white underbelly (ventral surface).[3] The barb on its tail is serrated and covered in a venomous mucus, used for self-defense. These spines are not fatal to humans, but are incredibly painful if stepped on.”

Buy the ticket – take the ride. I might as well do the full tourist thing. Here is my tourist picture. I joined the rest of the tour group in the water after donning very slippery water shoes they provided. I had decided I was over-packing and didn’t bring my own grippy water shoes. I eagerly slipped and floundered across the rocks over to the edge of the pool where I was directed. A ray swam up against my leg as the guide announced, “They know white legs in the water mean food!” A huge ray pushed into me. There was a big rock behind me, acting the part of a mischievous friend on all fours behind you, and I dutifully fell on my back with a splash.

Back on land, there was a barbecue set up for tacos, but this is what caught my attention, and where I spent my lunchtime. It was a tropical dream come true.

There was another larger fenced-in kind of lagoon with some sleeping nurse sharks and rays. I was bummed out that they were in captivity. I later told my nephew, “It was a captive situation,”

To which he replied, “Well, I’m glad they finally let you go.”

I felt bad for the sharks, all huddled in the corner. In spite of the chain-link fence, it was still magical to finally see the sleeping sharks of the Yucatan. My dad would have been thrilled for me.

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Symphony of the Seas: Excursion in Bacalar

Fed by an underground cenote, this lagoon’s waterways seperate into seven or more shades of blue. Although called the Lake of Seven Colors, with a sandy bottom and warm water for swimming, it is a series of passages that lead to the sea. I took a shore excursion that included a boat ride and lunch in a little resort area.

This is our boat captain. He asked me what kind of music I liked. After some discussion, he put on reggae, which was the perfect music for living my best life on the water.

The lagoon had many shades of blue, and you can see them in these pictures, especially the ones with a clear delineation. These photos are from inky indigo to pale turquoise.

When we got to an area of shallow, clear water, we took a break for a swim. The only other people on the boat were an Italian couple. Although we had a language barrier, we got on like a house on fire.

Afterwards we had a nice lunch of fajitas. Later they brought out fried fish, like fish n chips that was some of the best fish I’ve ever had.

I don’t know what kind of birds these are. They are cool.

Although we didn’t visit it, the town is home to The Fuerte de San Felipe, a fort built to fight pirates, that is now a museum dedicated to the history of piracy. After lunch I wandered around the little town.

All of the cruise ports have entertainment and little shops and restaurants. The port had interesting performers for photo ops.

When I was a kid, we saw the Danza de Volares, Dance of the Fliers, on a TV show called “Thrill Seekers.” I had not really thought about it since. I was so shocked and delighted to see them in person in the cruise port, I stopped dead in my tracks and uttered an expletive.


“The Danza de los Voladores, or Palo Volador; “flying pole”), is an ancient Mesoamerican  ceremony/ritual still performed today, albeit in modified form, in isolated pockets in Mexico. It is believed to have originated with the Nahua, Huastec and Otomi peoples in central Mexico, and then spread throughout most of Mesoamerica. The ritual consists of dance and the climbing of a 30-meter (98 ft 5 in) pole from which four of the five participants then launch themselves tied with ropes to descend to the ground. The fifth remains on top of the pole, dancing and playing a flute and drum. According to one myth, the ritual was created to ask the gods to end a severe drought. Although the ritual did not originate with the Totonac people, today it is strongly associated with them, especially those in and around Papantla in the Mexican state of Veracruz.

…In Maya mythology the creation of the world is associated with a bird deity (Itzamna) residing at the World Tree (the center of the world). Five “birdmen” at the top of a pole represent bird deities. The main dancer stands in the center and plays a flute, which represents the sound of birds singing. The four other “birdmen” (representing the four directions) spin around the pole to represent the recreation of the world (and the regeneration of life)[10] In the early form, instead of only five men there are six men dressed as birds with each member climbing on top and performing a dance and at the end tied ropes around their waist and who all jump in unison and descend downwards. Many villages in Mexico banned this version of the practice due to injuries and even death.”

…The most controversial change has been the induction of women to perform the ceremony. Traditionally, it has been taboo to allow women to become voladores but a few have become such, all of whom are in Puebla state. One of the first males to train women, Jesús Arroyo Cerón, died when he fell from a pole during the Cumbre Tajín 2006 cultural festival.[14] The elders of the Totonacs believe this was divine retribution and still prohibit the performance of the ritual to women participants.”

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Symphony of the Seas: Hooked Seafood

For one of my lunches with the meal plan, I chose Hooked Seafood. They had a huge oyster bar, with a friendly man busily shucking. Even though I don’t usually eat oysters, I’m a fan of the aesthetic.

I liked the decor. I would kill for some of those big glass floats.

Upon being seated, you were served a big, flaky cheddar biscuit to bring on those eastern seaboard vibes.

I chose clam chowder for my first course. It was good, but nothing will ever measure up to The King’s Head chowder.

I wanted two mains, and one of the things about cruise ships is that you can order as many things as you want. My server told me it was discouraged, but that he would make an exception. Both dishes had an original twist. The lobster roll was seasoned with lots of Old Bay. It was accompanied by the proper Kennebec chips.

The fish and chips had an unusual coating, but I really liked it.

I finished up with a lovely coconut cream pie. Pro tip: They had the same pie and many of the same desserts at the buffet.

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Symphony of the Seas: Wonderland

I had purchased the meal package that allows you to dine in one of the themed restaurants every night and have lunch on days at sea. The first restaurant I chose was “Wonderland” because I am really into Alice in Wonderland, and molecular gastronomy. You enter through a portal that I assume is falling down the rabbit hole. They could have done more with it, painting it in a spiral or adding clocks.

A gentleman greets you and walks you to your table. He was the Johnny Depp version of the Mad Hatter, not the Gene one, but he was adorable, and so charming. I felt immediately at home and comfortable. Where he really shone was with the children. I watched him interacting with them, and they LOVED him.

The menu comes with a paintbrush and water. When you paint the menu, the courses appear. Once you “brush” the menu at Wonderland. You choose dishes based on five natural elements — Earth, Sea, Fire, Ice and Sun. Really, the elements thing was kind of unnecessary. But it was cute. I forget how many choices you have, and I would have asked for more had I not been able to try everything I wanted, but it was enough for me. The plates were all small bites, which I liked, because I could try more. The server told a cute little story with each of the courses.

From “SUN” I chose Baby Vegetables in the Garden,” which was adorable, and had superfresh and delicious baby vegetables.

Also, reconstructed caprese salad. They took a tomato, mixed it with a bunch of stuff I can’t remember, then re-packaged it to look like a tomato. The other tomatoes are just blanched and skinned, then there is goat cheese snow. It was excellent.

From “WATER” I tried Liquid lobster served with bone marrow and caviar, from FIRE, a shrimp wrapped in and from AIR I had a Chicken and the Egg, which was a deviled egg in a nest. They were cute, and the egg had some real showmanship, but taste-wise they were kind of meh.

I also had a very delicious cone with wasabi, crab, and avocado mousse. Also, what I now realize is sea bean. I covered up my ignorance by pointing out the sunset.

I also had a short rib and mashed potato that was supposed to look like chocolate cake and whipped cream, but really just looked like a short rib and mashed potatoes. The dessert was an exciting reveal.

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Cruise: Symphony of the Seas

Symphony of the Seas is a GIGANTIC ship! It holds the title of being one of the world’s biggest and cruise ships. It has a total length of 1,188 feet, holding up to 5,400 passengers and 2,394 crew members.

There are 16 decks with an onboard skating rink, surf simulator and a zip line suspended 10 decks above sea level. There are different “neighborhoods, which I liked. The main area was called The Promenade. There was a coffee shop with small sandwiches and pastries–a good place to grab breakfast on the go. There was a pizza place that was very popular, but I wasn’t into the pizza. Still, it was a really handy place to refill my all-you-can-drink soda bottle. This is also where you can find little shops, buy WiFi, make restaurant reservations, book excursions, and deal with whatever needs to be dealt with.

I really recommend you get the all-you-can-drink soda plan and the specialty dinner plan. It’s not that expensive, and your dining options and experiences are much better. The only thing about the drink cup is that there are no washing stations. So bring a little bottle of dishwashing soap so you can wash it in your room.

I liked the Central Park area. I thought it would be New York themed, but it was actually a lovely park with real plants. Some of the fancier restaurants were here, plus a really nice breakfast spot, The Park Cafe, with a nice bagel spread as well as hot items.

The funnest area was the Boardwalk. It had a carousel, a candy shop, an arcade and the slides and rock climbing activities.

There was a candy store with gelato, (not included), and fun activities like making burgers out of cake.

They had the best included food on the ship at Dog House, where I had an awesome bratwurst, but I was so tired after snorkeling that I didn’t take a photo. Blogger fail! BUT I lifted a pic from the Royal Carribean website…

The front of the ship had a theater where we saw a very profession production of Hairspray!, one of the main buffets, which had a good Filipino and Indian section, probably because it was such an international staff. I was also pleased with the tiny bangers and mash. There was a smaller buffet only open early that was in a nice, enclosed terrace. The desserts were often the same desserts as in the fancy restaurants.

I only ate breakfast in the dining room since I had the specialty meal package. It was good, and service was fast.

On the upper desks there was wakeboarding, a full-on waterpark and a bunch of jacuzzis. I avoided this area mostly because there was no shade and the pools were really crowded, though the jacuzzis were not. A shade over the jacuzzis would have been nice.

As for our room, we got an interior room. There were some interior rooms with cool-looking “virtual windows,” but we got the basic one for about $500 each for 5 nights in the Caribbean. I didn’t get pictures before our suitcases exploded all over the place.

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Miami: Party People!

My friend joined me Friday for an overnight in Miami. The hotel let me switch to a 2-bed room.

She had also never seen Miami, but only had one night. So I thought, well, the most Miami thing to do is eat Cuban food. We headed down to Puerto Sagua. The restaurant has been cooking up Cuban specialties in South Beach Since 1968. There were a ton of cops there eating and hanging out in front. The servers only spoke Spanish. It surprised me how many monolingual people there were in such a touristy area. They were equally surprised at my mediocre Spanish. The pork chops were a little dry, but my shrimp, and of course the black beans and rice and plantains were fantastic.

Then it was time to party. But I only knew one place to go, and it was so conveniently located! Back to the Palace!

The person next to us had the cutest doggo.

This guy was really serious about snapping his fan. He would look into the eyes of other people with fans and snap very decisively, making them keep time properly.

My favorite drag queen sang Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” and was hilarious! She had a bottle of “booze” that she liberally splashed all over us and blew “cocaine” everywhere. We were in hysterics!

The next morning we went to the beach and did a little window shopping.

I went and posed in a parked car, shocking my friend. Until she decided to do the same thing.

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Miami: Joe’s Stone Crab

There are a lot of places called Joe’s, but none can compete with Joe’s Stone Crab, the first restaurant to open its doors in South Beach. In 1913, Hungarian immigrant Joe Weiss and his wife opened up a small lunch counter on Miami Beach serving fish sandwiches. Researchers came to Miami in 1921 to work on a new aquarium, and one of them approached Joe about serving stone crabs. He balked, as everyone thought they were inedible. The researcher brought in a bag of crabs one day, and the rest is history.

Joe’s has been on my bucket list since I started seeing chef André Bienvenu at LA Food and Wine events. He couldn’t feed stone crab claws to hundreds of people, and it wasn’t even stone crab season when the event was held, so he conjured up imaginative dishes like pork belly cones with guava BBQ sauce and Reuben sandwiches grilled on an elaborate mechanism that smashed the sandwiches between two hot household irons. Cool as that was, it made me crave the crab claws. There was only one place to get them, and I had a reservation for lunch.

The fancy dining room has been visited by everyone from Frank Sinatra, Amelia Earhart, and Will Rogers to Barbara Streisand, Elton John, and The Rolling Stones. 19 US presidents have eaten there, and it is a required stop for chefs. Coincidentally, one of my favorite chefs, Brooke Williams, posted a picture of herself with a slice of Joe’s key lime pie a month before my trip, and I was like, “Damn, I’m gonna have that key lime pie too.”

From Brooke Williamson’s Facebook page

I took an Uber to Joe’s, and waited about 10 minutes for my table. I was able to check out the historic pictures.

The patio chairs look like scallop shells.

There were some interesting cocktails, but I wasn’t planning on drinking much, and I had already had a mojito at the Palace.

The dining room was elegant, with crisply starched white tablecloths.

One thing about Joe’s — it ain’t cheap. But it’s so worth it. Another thing about Joe’s is that some of their dishes are weird. The chopped salad includes beets, Feta cheese and honey roasted peanuts. I have eaten candied pecans in a salad with goat cheese, but Feta and honey roasted peanuts just doesn’t sound right. The cole slaw came with a big dollop of pickle relish.

The crab cakes looked appealing, and I have been in the mood for shrimp cocktail lately, but one should always eat locally, and I had never had conch fritters. I had heard that conch is not sustainable, but I wanted to try it just once. It was a mistake. If you think clams are chewy, wow, they were almost impossible to chew. It was like there were bits of rubber tire in the fritters. I couldn’t eat more than a bite. My server noticed, and kindly took them off my bill. So, I added that to her tip. I didn’t blame the restaurant, I guess it’s just not my thing.

What IS my thing? Crab, dammit! And definitely stone crab! It is priced according to claw size. But it is measured by weight, so the smaller the claw, the more claws you get. But I like big stuff. I ordered large at the server’s recommendation. I later held them up to show a nearby table that wasn’t sure of the right size to order. Because I’m annoyingly helpful.

I noticed a big sharing plate of hash browns at another table, and they looked so good I ordered “Joe’s Classic Meal” — a full order of stone crab, coleslaw, hashed browns, creamed spinach and key lime pie. I mean, I knew I was going to get the pie anyways. $112.95. I was so excited I totally forgot to order the insider-recommended fried chicken, which is only $8.95 for half a chicken. It just seems wrong to even look at the Steaks and Poultry section. Or mahi mahi and grouper. Unless it’s not stone crab season, in which case I probably wouldn’t even come. Because they are glorious.

Look at them! Served chilled and pre-cracked, they easily slip out of the shell. The meat is sweet and clean-tasting. They are served with drawn butter and Joe’s famous mustard sauce. I didn’t think I would like the mustard sauce, but I was all about it. It was more like a Dijon aioli. The coleslaw, as I mentioned, was weird, the spinach was meh, and the hashed browns were good. Next time I would just order the crab – and the chicken. The key lime pie was on the tart side, without cream cheese (probably considered an abomination here, but I add it to my recipe), but very good. Maybe I’m not as pretty as Chef Brooke, but here you are.

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Miami Friday Drag Brunch

Wandering around the neighborhood I discovered the famous Drag Bar the Palace was just two blocks from my hotel. It has been going strong for over 30 years. I made reservations for the Friday drag brunch. I woke up really early, though, and really hungry, so I wandered over to the Sandwicherie and ordered a brie sandwich.

As I made my way to the Palace mid-morning, I noticed Gianni Versace’s mansion, which is now open for lunch, which is really weird to me. He was shot to death on the front steps, and I always imagined them to be really grand. I was surprised by how small they were, so I took a picture of them. A man noticed me, and I overheard him telling his friend sadly, “Oh yeah, it’s infamous.”

The Palace had a huge patio. The waiters kept double-checking that I really was there alone, and people seemed to be noticing it. I am used to going everywhere by myself, so it was weird to feel awkward. A nearby couple toasted me, like, “Hi, you’re not alone!” Pretty soon we were hanging out and having a blast. I even ordered a Mojito.

My chicken and waffles were a mixed bag. The chicken had a delicious curry batter, but the waffles were kind of dry and boring. Fresh fruit plates and pancakes were in the “to share” section, so I did not order them, much to my chagrin. Maybe that’s why people felt sorry for me for being alone.

You have to bring lots of dollars to tip, which made me think of mariachis, but turned out to be more of a stripper vibe. The queens were awesome, lip-synching and dancing around the tables.

Even the waiters were festive and sexy, dancing and “thaaawaaap-ing their fans along to the music loudly.

I figured I had been as entertained by one of the dancing waiters as by the drag queens, so I decided to tip him. He shook his booty in my face for me to tuck the dollars in his waistband, then just kept on shaking it. I gave him a few playful spanks, then I didn’t know what to do, so I just mugged at my friends.

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Miami Thursday Part 2 The Everglades

In the afternoon I decided to go on an airboat ride. Getting there was difficult, without much payout. The double decker bus was stuck in traffic most of the way and our driver was road raging, laying on his horn. He also drove in a really jerky way that made you hang on for dear life. There were handwritten signs saying: DON’T FORGET TO TIP THE DRIVER. MANDATORY $5. I thought, “Not bloody likely.” I was sitting up top in the back, which I discovered was the party section. People were openly drinking mojitos and White Claw.

The woman next to me had been speaking exclusively in Spanish for the entire ride, then suddenly she announced, “Employees must wash their hands before returning to work,” and she laughed hysterically for almost 5 minutes. The bus passed a building with this huge sign on the side. I was unable to get a pic, but it was so awesome I looked up the ad for you.

The Sawgrass Recreation Park in Weston was a small area next to a freeway with power lines running over top. When you’re in the Louisiana swamp, you KNOW you are in the swamp, but this was different. Maybe it was just that particular park.

Everyone was hyped up to see alligators. The guide would turn off the engine and everyone would sit perfectly still with bated breath until it became clear no alligator or heron or other denizen of the everglades was going to pop up to model for a photo. It was nice to be out on an open air boat and would have been enjoyable to just buzz through the tall grasses. But due to the search, we were in a constant state of being disappointed. It’s like the saying, “Golf is a good walk ruined.” I did see a heron fly off in the distance, and we saw these ducks.

The guide groused that the water is now too deep for most animal’s liking. He complained that “they” had mismanaged Florida’s water. I wondered if “they” were the Bureau of Global Warming or some imaginary enemy, but it seems in addition to the sea levels rising, there is a history of diverting fresh water away from the Everglades for human use. Read more about it here if you’re interested.

The park had a small alligator attraction. I am not a fan of roadside animal attractions. The holding pens are always too small. They called it a “sanctuary” but I have to wonder what requirements need to be met to be called a sanctuary. Is it just to alleviate our guilt? I felt bad for this caiman, but considering they are an invasive species in Florida, and still hunted for their skins in many countries, I guess it could be worse.

The park had a pair of mating alligators in what seemed to be too small of an enclosure. The male, named Cannibal, had eaten all of its previous mates at another park before moving to Sawgrass Park and meeting his match. There was a photo op available holding one of their babies, but when I saw the jaws were Duct taped shut and a lot of people were waiting to hold him, I got skeeved out and left.

When the bus arrived back in Miami, the driver was amenable to dropping people off at red lights near their hotel, instead of having to wait an hour or more to get back to the tour office and the take another of their buses back. When I recognized my neighborhood, I hopped out, and you can bet I tipped him 5 bucks for that pleasure. I was so tired I just stopped at Taquiza a block away from my hotel, which had an intriguing menu and hand pressed blue masa tortillas.

I ordered a Mahi Mahi taco and a huitlacoche taco. The fried fish taco was crunchy and flaky and awesome. I thought I loved huitlacoche, also known as “corn smut,” a fungus that grows on corn. But I had only had it as a kind of seasoning in corn tacos, not big, generous mouthfuls. I found it kind of off-putting.

I also had squash blossom quesedillas, which are one of my favorite things, and a corn on the cob with mayo and Cotija cheese, known as “elote,” which just means corn in Spanish. It was a nice dinner and relatively inexpensive for SOBE.

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Miami Thursday: Part 1 Sunrise over the Sea

I woke up at 4am this morning and lazed around researching restaurants and activities online until it got close to sunrise. Having grown up at the beach, beaches don’t impress me as much as most people. But watching the sunrise over water, when I usually see the sunset, was still exciting.

On the beach I met a man from Turkey and another from Bejing and we took turns taking pictures of each other. It was nice to hang out with people.

So I am not an influencer and I don’t force my boyfriend to spend hours taking pictures of me from behind doing yoga poses in beautiful locations. So here is one to make it up to you.

I stopped at a little stand called La Sandwicherie and got the most amazing ham and brie sandwich on crisp baguette plus an egg, tomato and mozzarella sandwich for later. It is apparently a chain, but I was told they were all owned by French people. And French people take their baguettes very seriously.

The Sandwich stand was across the street from Anthony Bourdain’s favorite dive bar in Miami.

So, when I arrive at a new place I have two questions:

Can you jaywalk? YES! Traffic lights here are only a vague suggestion. You can recognize tourists by their willingness to wait for a light. Locals are practically suicidal, playing frogger with traffic.

Do you smile at strangers? Yes! You say hello, how are you doing…I made best friends with my cab driver and the guy at the sandwich shop.

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Welcome to Miami!!!

“Is Miami America? Is it a state? Is it the South? … I love Miami for the same reason I love the places I love most around the world… it’s the mix here, this big, messy, dysfunctional hell-broth of people from all over the world that make it so awesome and make it a place I want to keep coming back to. Also the food’s good.” – Anthony Bourdain

I had a bit of a cough the night before flying out to Miami, so I took a Covid test (negative) and tossed my cough syrup into my carry-on. I realized that it was a little more than the three ounces allowed onboard, and I didn’t want to scare seatmates by coughing, so I took a big swig before going through security. It’s pretty gnarly stuff, so I was super wasted on my flight. I shamelessly ate a whole submarine sandwich like Dawn Davenport in Female Troubles and tried to watch Three Thousand Years of Longing, which honestly felt like it was three thousand years long. Can I just say, Beats headphones are awesome??? Bob lent me a light pair for the plane, and I am never giving them back.

I arrived at the Marlin Hotel around 5pm and immediately went to sleep. I woke up around 8pm and ordered takeout from the hotel restaurant, Osteria del Teatro. I had the most amazing porcini pappardelle. I didn’t take pictures because it was just pasta in a takeout container, and I was sleepy, and whatever.

The Marlin Hotel is a cool, art deco boutique hotel with a really comfortable bed. It was quiet in spite of being just off of a major thoroughfare. When people talk outside of your room it sounds like they are right there in your room with you, but it has only happened twice. The other visitors here are international. In fact. SOBE, (or South Beach, for you clueless mortals), is a pretty international place. South-South Beach is the douche-y red rope neighborhood, and North Beach is super rich. Around 13th street you will find the sweet spot, the West Hollywood of Miami. In other words, the gay neighborhood, which is always my favorite place to stay. The streets are cleaner and safer, the restaurants are better, people are friendlier, and if you are looking for a sex shop or dungeon, you can often find one…not that I am. Or EVER have. EVER…

The room is really nice and has a very comfortable bed.

The towels were even Art Deco.

There was never anyone on the tiny elevator, and there was one time I really needed to get to my room to use the facilities. Like now. The elevator door closed right in my face. I slapped the elevator door with the palm of my hand and cried out, “Why are you leaving me???? Don’t leave me!!!!” The door opened up and there was a gentleman standing there. On the ride up, I said, “I’m so sorry. I thought I was having an overly dramatic moment with an inanimate object, not a human person.” After a beat, I softly sang a line from Dreamgirls to the elevator, “And I am telling you, there ain’t NOOO way, please do-o-o-n’t go…” He totally got the joke and laughed. Which is another reason to stay in the gay neighborhood—jokes about musical theater land.

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