Tuesday 16 July 2019

Brendan O'Connor: How we learned to love Miami - in just three days


Brendan in Miami's Little Havana
Brendan in Miami's Little Havana
Fly direct to Miami for the sun, sea and sand
The Wynwood Walls are now a hipster landmark in Miami
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

It was ambitious. It was audacious. One of our most audacious jobs yet. We were going to abandon the children and go for a city break… in Miami.

I know it sounds cracked but it was eminently doable. We would fly out Sunday afternoon on Aer Lingus's new direct flight, back Wednesday evening, arriving home Thursday morning and straight into work. So three days and three nights, and we would get a city break, a beach break, winter sun, a cultural holiday, and an American shopping experience. The flights were longish, true, but without children, we decided the flights would be part of the holiday.

And the flight was like a holiday. Not to make you all puke here but they gave us an upgrade on the way out. The seat turned into a bed, a bed that was actually comfortable. Champagne to start off with and the great joy of having a mini-bottle of mouthwash. I hid the sandwiches I always bring with me on flights and succumbed to the luxury. We actually arrived more refreshed than when we took off. I thought at that point that the cabin crew were extra nice to the First Class people, but I discovered on the way home when I was back to being a normal person and we had the same crew, that they are actually just extra nice.

We had planned things with military precision. We needed to stay awake until a reasonable time the first night to adjust and I knew if we were walking around dazed looking for somewhere to go or something to eat we would make bad decisions and maybe fight. So I had a plan, a walk of about a mile down Collins Avenue would allow us to have a lookabout and would bring us to Taquiza, which I had gleaned online was a funky, casual taco bar. So that's what we did, walked down in the balmy air taking in the South Beach cool crowd. And then we just ordered pretty much everything on the menu up at the counter. The food was amazing, we got a few beers in, and we strolled back up to bed. It was a good start and it actually set the tone for the rest of the trip, which became a mini love affair with Mexican street food. Mealtimes went out the window really and we just ate whenever we saw good Mexican, from tacos at Huahuas at the top of Lincoln Road to small plates at the Wynwood Kitchen and Bar.

The Wynwood Walls are now a hipster landmark in Miami
The Wynwood Walls are now a hipster landmark in Miami

The Palms Resort and Spa, where we were staying, was on the beach but away from the madness of the trendier end of South Beach. It was more relaxed and old-school, kind of plantation style. There was the classic American breakfast every morning, to my mind, one of the great things about America. By day three I would have been happy to just get mounds of bacon from the buffet and eat them with my hands, and I pretty much did.

The next day was a bit cloudy so we allocated the morning for shopping. This had been included in the plans but was moveable depending on the weather. Mainly we were on a mission to go to Target to get Toca Boca clothing for the kids. We won't divert into explaining Toca Boca but rest assured the only way we were being allowed to America without a load of guilt was to get Toca Boca clothing. I'll be honest, we're pathetic this way but we would have spent the whole three days in Target. If you can imagine a giant shop that has everything, then this is it. We loaded up on American sweets and even rare cereal for the kids as well. The younger is obsessed with American rubbishy food from YouTube so it gave us a good excuse to hang around Target looking at all the crazy stuff they have there. We were doing it for our kids.

That evening was earmarked for Wynwood, a formerly rundown area reclaimed by artists and hipsters. The big attraction there is the Wynwood Walls which are essentially murals but really good ones, a whole park full of them, many done by well known artists. They're better than they sound and they also made you feel you had done something cultural so you can then enjoy a few beers in the cool little bars around Wynwood, and more Mexican street food and blood orange frozen margaritas at Coyo, where we enjoyed being the only white people, though we decided not to try to gain entrance to the secret bar at the back.

Our other cultural outing was a walking and eating tour of Little Havana the next day. The main thing I learnt from this is that Cuban food isn't great, but it was great to be part of a walking tour because it meant you could do what you really want to do in Little Havana: gawk. We did it in cigar shops where there were Cuban women rolling cigars while smoking cigars, and we did it in local restaurants and the park where all the old people play dominoes, and we did it everywhere else. But it was OK because we were part of a tour. A tour is essentially staring legitimised.

Fly direct to Miami for the sun, sea and sand
Fly direct to Miami for the sun, sea and sand

Miami is two-thirds Latina and it has all kinds of layers. Sometimes you feel you could be in Mexico, then there's the Cuban feel, and then there's a whole tropical vibe as well. But all the time you're in America. We hadn't been in America for 10 years, since before the elder was born, and we had both been craving that great jolt of energy the US gives you. And we loved just hanging out, soaking up the American-ness of everything. And they're all keen to talk too. They say the Irish are friendly but there is a great openness about Americans that I always enjoy.

The beauty of Miami is that while some parts are a little dispersed, but easily reached by Uber, if you're staying on the beach, you can wander around up and down Collins Avenue and it's all there, so it's actually really relaxing, unlike other city breaks. We swam in the warm ocean before breakfast every day, joining other early beach birds who were going their yoga or walking or contemplating. And usually when we came back to the ocean later on, for a pre dinner swim, waves tended to be a bit bouncier and fun..

We loved our trip. We came back relaxed and having had a great laugh, without a cross word the whole time, I even noticed my wife forgot about the kids for a few hours here and there. We plan to make it an annual event. But don't tell the kids that.

Getting there

Aer Lingus, Ireland's only four-star airline, now flies direct to Miami, Florida, three times a week all year round from Dublin.

Fares start from €209 each-way, including taxes and charges, when booked as a return trip.

Enjoy US Immigration pre-clearance at Dublin Airport and avoid any queues Stateside.

Aer Lingus business class boasts complimentary wi-fi, fully lie-flat seats and the very best in Irish cuisine, hospitality and fine dining.

All Aer Lingus guests enjoy excellent inflight entertainment, including the latest blockbusters, box sets, games and much more.

Visit aerlingus.com for further information.

The Palms Hotel winter rates from $295 per night and summer rates from $175 per night. See www.thepalmshotel.com. For more information on Miami see www.miamiandbeaches.com

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