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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By the Baltic Sea: Sweden Really has its Shit Together

I had no idea how beautiful Sweden was. I expected the countryside would be beautiful, but we were staying in the city. The buildings in Stockholm are GORGEOUS. Buildings that are hundreds of years old are sprinkled amongst the newer, more modern structures, mainly because Sweden escaped the bombing that destroyed many of the older buildings in the rest of Europe. In the old town, Gamla Stan, there are buildings that date back to the 1200s.There are also buildings influenced by everything from 14th century German architecture to art deco.

Stockholm is a collection of fourteen islands, so there is water everywhere, making it even more picturesque. Unfortunately, for the most part, the water is too cold for swimming. I had thought, from my google map, that the places I wanted for visit were really far from each other, but nothing was more than a 15-minute Uber ride or streetcar ride away, even with traffic due to construction.

On the long drive from Liepaja to the Riga airport, we listened to Swedish tutorials, but we really only retained “Thank you,” which is “tak.” People seemed to appreciate it when we said, “tak,” but they may have been smiling at our pronunciation. In spite of Swedish being a Germanic language, I found it very difficult to pronounce, with many of the phonemes further back in the mouth than in English. After a few hours of repeating after the tutorial in the car, my mouth hurt. Speaking Italian made me feel melodramatic. Speaking Swedish made me feel drunk.

We were only in Stockholm for four days and we were in the business center or tourist spots, so I don’t think I got a good grasp on the culture. My two standard questions about a new place are really based on international visitors more than locals. For crossing the street, it seemed like New York City rules. Pedestrians often crossed the street in a big herd, so whichever thing was bigger, the vehicle or the crowd, had right-of-way. A lot of taxis also took Uber fares, and they seemed very impatient with any pedestrians when they were making right turns.

As for whether or not to smile at people, it was all over the place. I tested out smiling, nodding, a single blink, all to various levels of success. Sometimes people smiled back at me. Maybe they were westerners? A single nod seemed to be the safest bet, but you could also just ignore people you passed in the hotel or on the street. People were all weird in the hotel elevators and mostly pretended to be invisible, but they stood with their back to whichever wall they were near, facing the center of the elevator, not all facing the doors like in America. The only chatty strangers were English people.

Everything is super clean, including the sidewalks and streets. There are three kinds of public transportation, and they never take more than 15 minutes to arrive. It’s very quiet, and I immediately discovered from the stares I received, that I am too loud for the city, and I needed to speak in hushed tones. With free health care, education, and long maternity leaves, it’s a paragon of democratic socialism. People in America complain that they must have to pay too many taxes for all of that, but in reality, the average American pays just as many or more taxes. Sweden really has its shit together. Now, if they could only do something about the winters.

The people all seemed content, if not happy, and Bob’s mom observed, “They aren’t constantly afraid of being invaded,” which was kind of more of a commentary on Latvia.

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Baltic: Cili Pizza in Leipaja

A block away from my hotel was Cili Pica (pizza). Although the hotel included breakfast and we often ate lunch when sightseeing, Bob would head back to his mom’s apartment in the evenings, and I was often wandering around looking for dinner. Cili Pizza was a locals spot, with no one speaking Engliah, and they were irritated with me on my first visit because there was something going on with my credit card. I think it was because it didn’t have the tap function, which we are making sure we have before our next trip. After seeing my genuine curiosity, and either my goofiness or charm, the servers took to me and brought me Coke Zeros while I waited for my to-go orders, which took a really long time. Everyone in Europe is aghast at my consumption of Diet Coke. The long waits gave me ample time to trip out on their childrens’ menus.

They also had interesting giant bugs as part of the interior design.

Their pizza was really good, but too big for just me, so I tried some other menu items, like burgers, and a trippy Baltic dish of deep-fried rye bread with a cheese-mayonnaise garlic sauce (In Lithianian it is called Ķiploku grauzdiņi). It’s translated as garlic bread, so expect a surprise if you order that.

I went once to this shop and had amazing kebab, but it was kind of a long walk.

Most of the time I just window shopped while waiting for my food.

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By the Baltic Sea: Latvian Comfort Food

We went out to eat at a Lithuanian/Latvian place with Bridin’s cousin Aija. The restaurant was named Cepelini, which is also the name of their humongous dumplings. There is some crossover between Baltic cuisines, with a lot of influence from Russia. Also referred to as zeppelins, for obvious reasons, these are traditional Lithuanian potato-meat dumplings. Grated potatoes are formed into giant footballs and stuffed with a variety of fillings, then boiled. Ours were filled with finely chopped bacon and topped with sour cream and additional bits of bacon. Bridin had no idea they would be that large and ordered one for each of us.

Since we didn’t know the zeppelins could be an entire meal, we had ordered even more food, including Kotletes, a classic Latvian dish. Most countries have something similar, from doner to meatballs to meatloaf. The fried minced meat patties usually contain chopped onions, garlic, and other seasonings, plus egg as a binder.

This is karbonade, a thinly pounded pork cutlet that probably is a wiener schnitzel brought by the German invaders, although it is heavily battered rather than given a light crumb coating.

Latvians love dessert soups, and we ordered a variety of light custards in fruit sauces,

This little guy decorated the yard.

Family.

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By The Baltic Sea: That’s Sure a Big Organ!

There was a concert at Liepāja Holy Trinity Cathedral, home to the seventh largest organ in the world. At the time of its creation in 1779, it was the number one largest organ in the world until till 1912 when a bigger instrument was built in Michael’s Church in Hamburg. But, the title of the biggest manual organ in the world still belongs to the organ of Liepāja Holy Trinity Cathedral. The church itself, of the late baroque age, was built in 1758.

Although it is Evangelical Lutheran, the church was very similar to a Catholic church. It was beautiful, gold and gilded, and I enjoyed taking pictures, although they don’t do the place justice. You have to take it all in at once.

There was a gentleman who accompanied the organ for certain songs. I can’t remember any of them offhand because it was such an emotional experience for me. The music was beautiful, and the organ filled the space and reached deep inside you. The hardness of the pew and the ornate surroundings reminded me of my upbringing in the Catholic church, and by extention my mother. Almost exactly two years after her death, the grief was still hitting me hard.

After the concert, I snuck up to the choir loft to check out the organ, and there was a very festive atmosphere after such a successful performance.

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By the Baltic: Liepaja Market

Bob’s mom treated me to a massage, which was awesome, although the massage therapist kept talking about Elon Musk. Maybe I am lucky that not everyone speaks English. Afterwards we went to a little bakery. I was disappointed that there were no fresh baguettes that day. The woman behind the counter said, “You get a day off work, don’t you? So, the baker gets a day off too!”

We walked across the street to the open-air market. The chanterelles were unbelievable! And so cheap! I would eat them with cream every single day if I lived there.

There were ready-made snacks as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.

There was a closed flea market building. I couldn’t resist peeking in the window and saw these strange items for sale.

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By the Baltic: Liepaja Seashore

Bob’s Mom lives in old Soviet Block housing. It’s a bit dreary on the outside, but inside it is safe and cozy. The best part is that it is right across the street from woods and the beach. There is a stream on the other side with swans.

We went to a restaurant in the mall next to the housing called Olive.

It was kind of international fusion. I ordered Thai noodles that were a bit sweet. Bob ordered a seafood salad that came in a big Parmesan tuille.

A nice walk through a safe-feeling copse of trees put us right on the beach in under 10 minutes. The water is very warm. We did not go to the Nudistu Pludmale.

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Liepaja Museum Basement

Turn on your speakers for this post

The basement of the Liepaja Museum holds their antiquities–some of the earliest textiles, metal goods, instruments and pottery.

Ancient pipes

Ancient pipes?

These crowns were made for virgins.

Like this…remember her?

We were in a small room with open shelving displaying ancient jars. Only the three of us fit in the room.

Suddenly, I heard a jar smash, and my heart dropped. I turned to see which of us had had such a shocking accident, only to see this video. That was a terrible, if perhaps accidental, practical joke. But it still makes me laugh.

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The Baltic: Liepaja Museum Textiles

There was an exhibit of early 20th century clothing centered around train travel. I was clearly enamored with the hats.

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By the Baltic: Liepaja 19th Century Interior Museum: Mrs. Hoyer Guest House

The Liepaja Museum is located in a centuries’ old guesthouse with beautiful wooden walls and floors, fireplace and staircase.

There was a wide variety of displays

Some were creepier than others

And some so beautiful

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By the Baltic Sea: Wandering around Liepaja

After the Northern Forts, we went to a nice little lake.

There was a cafe and we had a snack before heading out.

I liked the old buildings and murals as we drove through town.

There is an area downtown with artworks depicting lines from the town’s anthem.

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By the Baltic Sea: Liepaj’s Northern Fortress

Liepāja has always been strategic for battles. It was once home to a navy base, and is the place that the first Latvian government retreated to when pushed out by foreign powers. At the end of the 19th century several cement fortresses were built by Tsarist Russia. At one time, the forts encircled the entire city of Liepaja. In 1919, as Latvia tried to establish an independent republic, the Germans tried to take Latvia by sea. Using the forts, the Latvian army held them off in spite of being heavily outnumbered.

Most of the Liepāja Forts were destroyed in the beginning of the 20th century. The Northern fortifications were blown up twice in attempts to demolish them, but the crumbling facades remain to this day.

The Northern Fort, Fortification battery No. 1., is built on the edge of the Baltic sea. It is open to the public. You can climb around on it, but it is forbidden to enter a structure because it could collapse at any time. It kind of reminds you of being a wayward teen exploring forbidden places, climbing on roofs and things, so it was fun and awesome for photography. Even young children were climbing on top of the forts with their parents.

 

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By the Baltic Sea: Our first day in Liepaja

One of the best things about European hotels is that breakfast is included. It is so nice to just wander down and have a relaxed meal, it saves money, and some people put on a lovely spread. The Art Hotel has its own bakery, so the bread was crusty and the croissants were light as air. They had the European breakfast sausages that remind me of hot dogs, English bacon, and a variety of egg dishes. Like most places they had cold cuts, meusli and yogurt. I wasn’t ready for smoked fish, but I loved the Swedish pancakes!

I explored the area. In the United States, you could tell a dangerous neighborhood by abandoned buildings and graffiti. here they had those things, but it was very safe.

There was also a mall across the square, which was very convenient for stocking the fridge, and a few restaurants behind the hotel and a really cool destination place across the street. The mall even had gelato!

And a very dour busker. (Yes, I did give him money to take his picture).

Since it was Saturday, there was a street market right in front of the hotel! I had a lot of fun wandering around with Bob’s mom.

I was quite taken with this leather hat with cute little horns. The salesman, whose dad makes them, said that local bikers wear them.

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