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Getaways: A Drive into Miami Will Steal Your Corazón

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mar14homespunweb.jpgBy Thomas Swick

RISMEDIA, March 14, 2008-(MCT)-It’s time again for my day tour of Miami, since a few things have changed since 1999. On Saturday mornings you can fly (at a legal 65 mph, of course) down I-95. We get off at Southwest Seventh Street and wind back toward Jose Marti Park, stopping for a moment to pay our respects at the bust of the great Cuban poet and freedom fighter who wrote, among other things, that “palm trees are girlfriends who wait.”

A short way down River Drive is the Miami River Inn, a beautiful bed & breakfast tucked behind lush foliage and a great weekend hideaway, especially at the end of each month when nearby Calle Ocho hosts its Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays).

From here a little tour of the Miami River is in order, past the Haitian boats loading up.

I used to drive reverently past the Orange Bowl, as I liked showing Northerners the palm grove they had seen on TV during historic field goals. Now I hope that some day I can point out the new Marlins stadium.

We head west, through Little Havana, asking directions to “la casa de Elian” somewhere around 23rd Avenue. Last summer, giving a friend the tour, we ran into a caretaker who invited us inside to see the bed still filled with stuffed animals sent by children from around the world. Every other time I’ve been there, the house has been locked, though it’s unmistakable with its makeshift shrine of flags (American and Cuban), cross and homage to Elian’s mother.

We make our way back to Calle Ocho, getting out to watch the players in Dominoes Park and examine the mural of the Summit of the Americas. Nearby is a tasteful souvenir shop of Cuban memorabilia (I get no commission), the famous Tower Theater, and, a short walk east, the monument to the Bay of Pigs invasion. On the way back to the car, we often stop at the fruit stand for a cold coconut.

Heading east, we make a quick right turn before the I-95 overpass and then a left and another quick right, which lands us on Coral Way, which really should be called Banyan Way for the majestic trees that lead you through dappled light into Coral Gables.

One block back from Miracle Mile, on Aragon Avenue, sits Books & Books, a bit of bohemia in the subtropics (some Saturday nights, classic French films are shown in the courtyard).

On the way to the Biltmore Hotel I usually put on some Caetano Veloso. (I once went to hear the Brazilian singer speak at Books & Books, and though he never showed up I still had a delightful evening; it’s that kind of place.) We check out what was once the largest hotel swimming pool in the country, and the cloister-like lobby, and then it’s back in the car, past the dreamy Congregational Church and up to the Venetian Pool, possibly the world’s most beautiful public swimming pool.

Folks are getting hungry, so I throw them a curve: Tropical Chinese on Bird Road. Nobody expects dim sum in Miami, and this one’s wonderful. Also, the carts come around as soon as you sit down. Tonight you can go to Versailles, or Garcia’s on the river. Or how about Ethiopian at Sheba in the Design District?

Heading north, we do a quick swing through Coconut Grove, I point out Vizcaya for future reference, we skirt downtown and all the empty new condos (dwarfing the elegant Freedom Tower), and then-around 5-we head across the MacArthur Causeway just as the cruise ships are heading out.

In South Beach, de rigueur is a crawl up Ocean Drive, a stroll down Espanola Way, a look inside the Delano, a peek inside Puerto Sagua (to see the Scull Sisters’ paintings), a quick dash into the Wolfsonian gift shop (the museum demands a longer visit), people-watching on Lincoln Road, and then a cocktail at The Raleigh, one block north and several decades back from the Delano. In fact, you sometimes hear Frank singing in the bar.

© 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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