Thursday, January 28, 2010

Miami Musings

Miami - capital of the television crime world with Miami Vice, CSI Miami, and Dexter all taking place here. In reality though, Miami is a vibrant city with a lot to offer road trippers of all types.

The first thing you might notice about this place is just how big it is. Miami proper is actually quite small, but if you include the entire urbanized area, Miami is now the 4th largest metro in the US. It's also the 3rd densest metropolitan area in the country, consequently, getting around can take time. I found traffic jams in a few unexpected places. However, there are plenty of highways and expressways around, and I think that once you knew the area, you might know which ones to avoid.

Despite the metro area being rather dense, the downtown core seemed relatively uncrowded compared to other cities I've visited. There's obviously a strong Cuban influence here and many of those walking around are of Hispanic descent, so there's a lot of Spanish spoken on the streets. Living in monoethnic Japan, I always enjoy cities like this, where there's a good mix of cultural backgrounds. I'm not sure if there are racial issues here, but my sense was that people get along fairly well. Why wouldn't you, living here?

Miami transit is not bad. The Metrorail comprises a single line that only costs $2 per ride, with a day-pass at $5. Like MARTA in Atlanta, you need to buy a ticket or card that you tap to enter. This is useful if you are staying out in the suburbs as many stations have parking lots, which cost $4 for the day. Once downtown, you can use the Metromover which is free and arrives every two or three minutes. It can scoot you from Government Center station to nearby stations north or south. There are also plenty of buses but I didn't take one so can't comment on the service.

For sports road trippers, the 4 teams are separated geographically. The Heat are downtown at American Airlines Arena, just across from the Freedom Tower (pictured above). The Panthers are located in Sunrise, a suburb about 40 miles northwest of the city. The Dolphins and Marlins both play in LandShark Stadium, 15 miles northwest in Miami Gardens. So you'll need a car if you want to see all of these places. The Marlins, however, are building a new stadium just west of downtown which is scheduled to open in 2012. So I'll be back then.

The prime attraction here is undoubtedly Miami Beach. Located on a barrier island east of the city, Miami Beach is famous for its Art Deco Historic District. I'd love to spend more time here but I always stay closer to the stadiums. South Beach has become nationally famous as a resort destination. Below is a picture of the actual beach, not so crowded on that gorgeous day.

I really only had one day in Miami and spent in downtown. There are a few attractions here as well. First is Bayfront Park, which is served by the Metromover. This is a quiet oasis in the middle of the city where you can sit and contemplate Biscayne Bay and Miami Beach across the water. It is surprising how quiet it is here despite being in the centre of downtown. A good place to read a book or just relax for an hour.

A pelican enjoying Bayfront Park

Downtown buildings from Bayfront Park

The other attraction I visited is Vizcaya. Located near the Metrorail station of the same name, this is an old estate that was owned by James Deering. Built between 1914-16, it has been maintained in its original state and provides a glimpse into how the wealthy lived a century ago. Modern amenties included a telephone, central heating, and a dumbwaiter. It's pretty neat but is $15 which is not cheap. Below is a picture from behind the main house.

This was my second time in Miami, and I probably should go for something other than sports next time. I need to spend a few days on the beach to really appreciate the culture here and maybe take it easy for a change.



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