Although a little rough around the edges, Downtown Miami is a fascinating district, where modern skyscrapers jostle for position with Spanish colonial-style architecture and ‘Little Havana’ bursts with Cuban culture.
Downtown Miami’s most enduring landmark is the Freedom Tower (600 Biscayne St.), built-in 1925 yet modeled after the Giralda, the famous Gothic-Baroque bell tower of Seville’s cathedral (itself remodeled from a minaret). Once the headquarters of a newspaper, it was here in the mid-1950s that thousands of fleeing Cubans were received into the USA, forever changing the demographic makeup of this part of the States. Another Mediterranean-revival relic is the Gesu Church (118 NE Second St.), the largest Catholic church in Miami. Lovers of kitsch should head to Flagler St., the heart (or some would say underbelly) of Downtown Miami. Here the Olympia Theater (174 E) has retained its OTT, orientalist interior (it’s worth buying a ticket to see it).
Miami’s Cuban presence is centered on and around Calle Ocho. Here you’ll find fabulously tacky botánicas (shops selling lotions, potions and magical santería spells) the most famous being El Aguilla Vidente at 1122 SW Eighth Street. Almost next door is El Crédito, a small cigar factory, and shop. For more retail therapy, head to Little Havana To Go (1442 SW Eighth St), which specializes in colorful Cuban and Cuban-inspired clothing, books, t-shirts, and other memorabilia.
But perhaps your best memory of Little Havana will be a genuine Cuban meal. For decades Versailles (3555 SW Eighth St) has been serving genuine Caribbean cuisine. Traditionally the meeting point for the city’s Cuban dissidents (though now favored by clients of all-stripes) you can pop in for a simple coffee and pastry, though nothing beats their signature Classico (a huge sampler plate of Cuban specialties) washed down with a genuine mojito.
Villa Vizcaya in Miami
Miami has its fair share of mansions, villas, and stately homes, but none quite live up to the grandness of the Villa Vizcaya.
Dating from the early 1900s, but encompassing much earlier styles, it was originally the private home of James Deering, a rich industrialist who had a passion for antiques, the Renaissance, northern Italian architecture and the flora of southern Florida.
Now open to the public, the villa is perched on the edge of a mangrove swamp, more popularly known as Coconut Grove. Whilst the villa’s sheer size and pretentiousness is easy to criticize, the craftsmanship, collection of antiques and furniture inside and beautiful French and Italian-inspired gardens are at times breathtaking.
The real credit for the Villa Vizcaya lies with Paul Chaflin, a curator who had studied fine art in Paris and Florence. He assisted and advised Deering throughout the entire project, lending his highly–refined aesthetic sense to every polished and embellished nook and cranny.
For most visitors, however, the gardens are the highlight of the visit. Deering was a passionate conservationist and insisted that the lush, native plant and tree life be used in the extensive Renaissance gardens (species such as Palms and Philodendrons has not been used in such formal compositions before). Beautiful statuary is placed throughout the villa’s gardens (the ‘Secret Garden’ is a real delight) and formal plantations create a harmonious symmetry.
Inside the villa, there are many more highlights, from the sublime (the exquisite east loggia, which frames a view of the sea) to the somewhat ridiculous (a gilded bathroom where the tub runs both salt and freshwater). Deering’s passion for antiques (and wealth to afford them) is mind-boggling. On your tour, you will see 2,000-year-old Roman tripod, a 15th-century Italian harpsichord, and a plaster ceiling lifted from the Rossi Palace in Venice (to name a few).
When Deering died in 1925 the estate was left to the elements and neglect. In the 1930s Deering’s family contacted Chaflin, who returned to Miami to oversee the estate’s overhaul. After that, he never worked on another mansion and retired soon after due to failing eyesight.
The Villa Vizcaya is now open to the public daily and can be reached on the Metrorail from Palmetto station.
Reasons to Revisit Miami
Because one week of my life spent there is not enough for me. This city is where my dreams came true, the city where I forgot all my worries and problems; the city of lights, sun, fun, and love.
Actually, I have five main reasons to visit Miami once more:
Meridian Street. There I broke up with my ex-boyfriend and found my true love. An hour of shedding tears on a small bench I met HIM, the beginning of today’s happy life. This street changed my life, but I noticed that all a lot of things happened here. Who knows what will happen when I will walk down it next time?
Inspiration. Beaches with hot, white sand, blue and sometimes emerald-green ocean and deep-blue sky inspired me to write a very moving story which helped me to win a competition, the prize for which was a journey to Edinburgh. Edinburgh also means a lot to me, but that is another story
Aviator sunglasses. My favorite sunglasses, that I have lost somewhere in Miami. In fact, it is rather strange to have hope of finding them again, but it’s happened before. I left them on the seat of the plane when I arrived at the city of my dreams and thought I would never see them again. But destiny often throws up unexpected surprises. And I found them, or rather they found me. As I was walking along Meridian Street, a good-looking boy gave them back to me. He was sitting behind me in the plane and, when he saw that I left them behind, he tried to find me in the airport. But four days later he found me and I found him and we have been together ever since (yes, it’s HIM). But I have lost my sunglasses again. I don’t know where or when, but hope I will get them back.
The million of interesting things I did not see or do on my previous visit. I have not been to the beach near Fort Lauderdale, nor visited Key-West. I have not walked along Pine Tree drive nor Indian Creek Drive and have not taken a photo of myself, sitting on the bench with a small case and a box of chocolates like Forest Gump! And I forget to buy a T-Skirt with big pink words on it, saying I love Miami.