5 Reasons to visit The Everglades

February 28, 2014




The first time I tried to learn the streets of Miami by riding my bicycle, a man in his fifties wearing a floral print shirt told me it was impossible to get lost. “Just remember, you head east, there are sharks, and if you head west, gators.”

It was solid advice. While the sharks didn’t appeal me, the idea of heading west to the Everglades and visit the king reptile’s home seemed like something every local should do at least once. And here’s why:


1. Face to face with Alligators


It is the main reason everyone decides to go to the Everglades. They are your hosts. This is their territory and to catch a glance of their eyes observing you while the rest of their body is submerged under still waters is quite a sight. 


They are used to the airboats and the people. In fact, our guide could easily recognize one alligator from the other and they would swim to him and hang close to the boat when he’d whistle to them. Just don't leave your arm hanging off the edge of the boat.

 

2. It’s actually a huge River


Contrary to popular belief, including my own, The Everglades are not a swamp but a river that runs 60 miles wide and 100 miles long. It is well known as the “River of Grass” as a way to describe its complex ecosystems that range from mangrove forests, swamps, pine rockland and marine environment. The Everglades are constantly shaped by the flow of water and the fires caused during the dry season. It’s an ever-changing wetland worth exploring.


3. Airboat Rides




I will admit, this was my deciding factor when visiting the Everglades. The idea of gliding over smooth waters onto the endless horizon of tall grass and wild life seemed something out of the Discovery Channel. And in reality, it was just as cool. Kind of. It was more of a constant zigzagging motion than a straight shot because it is an airboat- or my driver wasn’t the best. But it’s still incredibly fun to feel the wind on your face and seeing for yourself the nature of Florida. 

4. Interesting snacks

When I was waiting for my airboat to arrive, I wandered around the wooden gift shop and the graveled surroundings, and the smell of fried food wafted from an open screened window nearby that had a sign painted on top.


Gator Bites and Frog Legs. It felt strange, even borderline treasonous, to serve as bite size snacks the reptiles I am about to see alive and kicking. But it seemed to be quite a common thing, to serve creatures of the wild as delicacies and many were in line to see what they tasted like. 

If you aren’t an adventurous eater, then think of it as a triple-dog-dare type of eatery. Not everyone can say they ate alligator. I am one of those. I opted for frogs’ legs because no one I know has eaten frog legs. Lime juice squeezed over it served with a side of thin French fries. It didn’t seem so bad.



But whoever said frog legs taste like chicken has never eaten a chicken in their lives. It tastes like a chicken and a fish told society to go to hell and married each other. And I didn’t approve of this marriage.

5. The heart of South Florida

People may know Florida for the beach life, hurricane season and being declared as retirement land. But you can’t say you know Florida without getting in touch with its wild side. The Everglades cover most of the southern peninsula and are the home of thousands of species. Alligators are just one of them. Its varied environments serve as more than an airboat ride and many people have chosen to explore it via canoes, kayaks and even living in them.

It is the source of water of cities nearby and it has been transformed into farmland and urban areas. It is a source of life and water deemed as one of the three wetland areas of global importance and such attention has derived restoration plans and support from locals and visitors.


I hope you enjoy the ride.

LAZY SATURDAY | My Birthday

February 22, 2014




My birthday was in December, same day as good old Ozzy Osbourne. Instead of going crazy with a party, I simply pleased all the little whims that occurred to me at the moment. I find the more I plan my birthday, the more I'm set up for disappointment. Friends cancel, people have plans, that amazing restaurant gets booked. 

So I spent the day with my Mom, took a stroll to Old San Juan and the The Fort El Morro, shopped for a few gifts and had a birthday cupcake. It was one of my favorite birthdays.










I hope you have a lovely weekend!

M. xo









Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

February 20, 2014



In the lush nature that has always set Coconut Grove apart from the rest of Miami, a man decided to build his winter estate right by the bay more than 97 years ago.  Yet when I stood in front of the mansion by the welcoming fountain, it felt much older, like something taken out of Renaissance Italy and therefore it had a sense of grandeur that took me by surprise.



From afar, the mansion is framed with an entranced lined with pines and trickling fountains. The villa is quite a sight with cream-colored walls, a terracotta roof and towers on all four corners. There’s a gate to the right that leads to the infamous gardens.



Vizcaya, the home of the businessman James Deering, was named after the Spanish province and its name is not the only European influence. It was inspired by Tuscan Italian Renaissance style so people would believe the villa had been the home of many family generations. The tour of the villa is given in the exact order Deering used to do it when he had guests over.

When stepping into the welcoming room, the first thing I saw was a spacious courtyard with a glass ceiling that was placed to protect the house from the humidity of the tropic. As much as this caught my attention, the tour started immediately to the left.

Every room is different and heavily decorated with European furniture and art dated all the way back to the 15th century. Almost everything used to adorn came from Deering's substantial collection, acquired from his many trips to Europ. The layout of the place resembles a traditional aristocratic home would be. The first room is the library followed by the Reception Room with a tropical theme. The wall paper, even if faded in some parts, features palm trees and birds. 

One of the most important rooms in the Principal Lounge its design inspired by Italian rooms of the Renaissance. The room contains a tripod made of Roman marble that’s 2,000 years old and it was used in religious ceremonies. A painting of the 17th century was split in two to be used as a cover of the organs’ pipes.

The decoration, though heavy and sometimes very Baroque, is balanced with bursts of natural light that come in from the loggias. The East Loggia has glass doors now but it used to be open and used to entertain guests while enjoying the view of Biscayne Bay, which included two islets on either side of a stone  boat right on the shore.



It opens into an ample terrace that covers the entire back of the house leading to the pool and orchid garden to the left and to the right, the second reason to visit this estate, and the most romantic, I think, is the gardens.





Also designed in an Italian style, the Gardens are absolutely exquisite and show a great balance between the parterre features, French and Italian garden layout and elements of the Floridian limestone stonework.

The center of the garden is a long reflective pool aligned with trees and a labyrinth design of low trim bushes expands from it. Even though there are always people strolling around and sometimes a photo shoot takes place, the gardens are quiet and peaceful. 

At the top of a hill at the far end of the garden, a stone outbuilding caught my attention. I headed towards it and saw that a fountain of multiple levels reached the top and two stone staircases curled around either side. The reveal was a stone structure with columns and the trees around cast a shade over the floor.



I couldn’t help but imagine Deering, of the McCormick-International Havester fortune, hosting private parties at this hill, maybe luring a lady away for a ‘quiet conversation’. And really, I wouldn’t blame her, not if he had promised to show her a sensational view.



It really was.

When I thought I had seen everything there was to see, the Gardens continued with additional almost hidden segments here and there. A river runs right behind it and another pool is closed to the public, the gate covered with vines. Even if you weren’t a romantic, you’d find the place magical, something that seems fascinatingly out of place and even taken out of time.



Deering was only able to visit his winter residence for nine years before he passed away. Tourists and locals have been visiting the estate for more than sixty years. The passing of the years and humid weather have taken their toll on the mansion and the grounds. Many acres were donated around the 1940's and the humidity and ocean air have deteriorated the mansion. But the character the place has, and the majestic charm Deering was searching for, has very much stayed intact over the years.

LAZY SATURDAY | Old San Juan

February 15, 2014

It's Saturday. A day to relax, say yes to carbs and to binge watch whatever series you are into at the moment.

Maybe it's your day to catch up on your blog reading. But I will make that a bit easier by not giving you 1,000 words to read. Just some pictures of a day of me strolling around without any explanation.

This time, I went for a little walk in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. The district of the city from the Spaniard's governing is quaint and fun to walk around on. 










Enjoy!

5 Places to Eat for Cheap in Miami

February 13, 2014



I am always hungry. And if that weren’t a problem, I am always hungry for something new. If you like to order ‘the usual’, I am your biggest nightmare when it comes to picking a restaurant.


Miami is known as the big Latin melting pot. All the Hispanic countries are represented here and let’s not forget the Oriental influences as well. So it should come as no surprise that the city is filled with limitless choices of restaurants, food trucks and dives of all known cuisines.

While going to the trendy restaurant that opened the previous weekend was a luxury I rarely indulged in, I pinpointed the little places that had authentic flavors and prices that didn’t hurt my student wallet.


These are some of my favorite restaurants in Miami that locals raved about.

Versailles Café

www.versaillesrestaurant.com
3555 SW 8th Street
Miami FL, 33145
305-444-0240
 




Versailles Café was the very first place I visited when I moved to Miami. After arriving from the airport from a 5 am flight my uncle said “Welcome! Do you want to go unpack?”

“Coffee”, I grumbled. “I need coffee.”


The restaurant has been opened for more than 50 years, a true landmark of Little Havana located right on Calle Ocho. Even though they serve some of the best Cuban dishes, I always opted for the café right next door. A cafecito sweetened with brown sugar was always too much of a temptation for me to resist.


But truly, the coffee is just a lovely side to the true guilty pleasure. The guava and cream cheese pastries. 


From: TechFoodLife.com



In my country, Puerto Rico, we call them pastelillitos de guayaba, and wondering if Cuba did it better, I ordered them, almost in a challenging manner. I won’t (nay, will never) say it is better, but the flaky light pastry crumbling easy to find the middle of fruity guava layered over the creaminess of the cheese… I definitely felt like I was home.



Pachamamma

www.pachamammarestaurant.com
321 Johnson Street
Hollywood FL, 33019
954-926-1020 


It means Mother Earth and it is the name of the goddess in Incan mythology who oversees harvesting and life on earth. Now, it is also a restaurant in Hollywood Beach that serves the greatest Peruvian food I’ve ever tried.





It’s the kind of place you discover while taking a stroll down the Hollywood Boardwalk near Fort Lauderdale. The place is small but cosy and decorated with wooden artefacts of Incan and Peruvian culture.


The menu has many selections of grilled meats with onions like the popular Lomo Salteado con Cebollas – Sautéed Beef slices with Onions, but for the longest time, I had wanted to try one of Peru’s delicacies, Ají de Gallina – Shredded Chicken in Yellow Sauce. 


From: PerennialPastTimes.com



The yellow sauce is made of yellow pepper paste and milk. To the creamy sauce, they add walnuts, shredded chicken, slices of boiled egg and thick slices of potato. Served over white rice, it is comfort food at its best.




Sawaddee Thai & Sushi
6968 Bay Drive
Miami Beach FL, 33141


You will check your GPS twice when you arrive, wondering, hoping you typed the wrong address. But I promise, it’s worth it.





Sawaddee is literally a whole in the wall on the corner of Bay Drive and 71st Street, just a couple of blocks from Miami Beach. No more than ten people can sit in to have a meal. Sometimes it’s packed and other times it’s completely empty. Most of its clientele comes in for a few minutes, grab their take out and head out the door. 





I am new to the Thai cuisine, but I am a sucker for curries. The dish that kept me going back was their beef green curry. The sauce was creamy and a bit sweet from the coconut milk and they add whole basil leaves that perfume the dish. The dish is very filling with big pieces of eggplant, green bell pepper and zucchini. It is served with steamed white rice that absorbs the curry sauce perfectly, taking you to what can only be known as a curry comma. It’s much more pleasant than it sounds.



Monserrate
www.mimonserratte.com
 9545 NW 41 Street
 Miami FL, 33178
305-436-0803305-436-0803


Tucked away in a mini mall in Doral, it is easy to miss this fantastic Colombian restaurant. Since 1974, they have been serving authentic Colombian dishes from various regions of the country. All the dishes are plentiful and packed with flavor. But you will probably not be able to resist when everybody suggests you should try their empanadas and by all means, do not resist. 

MiMonserratte.com





If you are new to Colombian cuisine, this is the perfect crunchy introduction. Served as appetizers, these empanadas are made of yellow cornmeal dough and filled with potatoes, pork or beef and tons of fresh vegetables like red bell pepper, white onions, tomatoes and garlic. The tiny pockets are deep fried until golden and crispy and taken immediately to your table. They come with lime wedges to squeeze over the empanadas, to brighten up the flavor, and with two homemade piques (hot sauce). The red one, made mostly of tomatoes, garlic and peppers, is for the cautious ones. The green one, made with tons of cilantro, green chiles and onions, is for the brave ones.




SuViche
www.suviche.com
49 SW 11th Street
Miami FL, 33130
305-960-7097 


The place in trendy Brickell is small yet modern, with orange lamps and steel chairs. And the fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine is just as modern and delicious.


TripAdvisor.com



While the Peruvian dishes are gorgeously prepared, I have only tried the sushi menu so far. And I can’t complain. While they serve more well-known rolls like the California Roll and Spicy Tuna, they specialize in custom creations. 


Tropical Roll at the back, Jalapeno Roll on the right corner



The Tropical Roll, one of the fancy ones, is made of crispy shrimp with cucumber and avocado, topped with thin slices of mango and finished with eel sauce and flakes of coconut. Yet my favorite for its simplicity is the Jalapeno Roll. Starting with the traditional flavors of white fish and avocado, they tweak it to the Latin side with fresh cilantro and topped with a thin slice of raw jalapeno and a dollop of torched spicy mayo. It is a fiery explosion for your taste buds.



Do you know of any other great places to eat in Miami?








Wynwood in the Dark

February 03, 2014



One of the reasons I’ve always wanted to move to a city is to enjoy the art scene and its constant change that only thrives in a bustling metropolis. Like many people who visit Miami only for its beaches and night life, I thought I would have no such luck in this new home of mine. 


Turns out, I had gotten it more wrong than I could have imagined.


It was a late Saturday night and my plans consisted of eating take out and binge watching FRIENDS for the millionth time. I was told there was something called an Art Walk at this trendy neighbourhood called Wynwood, only fifteen minutes away from where I lived, where every second Saturday of the month people show up to enjoy the latest exhibitions accompanied by free wine. I had heard of the name Wynwood many times and with it came great recommendations for anyone who had a bohemian soul. So with a not so sincere apology to my chicken tacos, I grabbed my denim jacket and headed out.


The short drive took me through the dark desolated part of the neighbourhood, small houses and storage buildings. For a moment I thought I took a wrong turn but the residue of spray paint on the sidewalks signalled I was close. With every passing street, the concrete walls of one story buildings became canvases for street artists. No building from here on out was untouched by a paint brush, the vibrant colors creating murals with urban motifs. 




One more block, and the avenue was swarmed with visitors and locals who walked around, selecting at a whim the next gallery they would visit. Others just enjoyed the murals, each one different to the next, as if it was an open air museum. The scene was like unadvertised big party that the high heeled wearing and expensive cocktail drinking crowd of South Beach wasn’t invited.







Completely taken by surprise by this burgeoning artistic neighbourhood only a few minutes from my apartment, all I could do was wander in amazement. The enormous murals were the front decoration of small restaurants, boutiques and pubs. Yet these murals were the fruit of the art bud that started everything eight years ago: The Wynwood Walls. Right next to Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, one of the first restaurants to be part of the development, Wynwood Walls are the collaboration of international street artists and the inspiration of many other locals who have left their signature on the nearby walls, slowly expanding the neighborhood.







The place was like nothing I had ever seen yet it felt strangely familiar in all its novelty. Like a home I had been searching without realizing or like the anchor necessary to finally feel I had moved from my country to Miami, and that was all right. It felt like the sparks of art inside my head had managed to escape and explode all around me into something welcoming. Just for me and I no longer had to live inside my head.




My introduction to Wynwood was intense and memorable but having met in the dark and for such short hours made everything feel surreal, like an magical circus passing by and come daylight, it would all be gone. 


I needed to come back, in the harsh light of day, without the buzzing crowd and the drinks, to see it without the allure of night and love it for what it really was.