Alligators, a Lighthouse, and the Warm Atlantic: Thanksgiving in Miami


The following post is by guest blogger Lisa (lisabay), an old friend that I met in college and fellow WordPress blogger. I asked here if she would do another guest post for me since I am finishing this blog in a few days. This is her 3rd posting on Jardin Luxembourg.

True story:  We got the idea to go to Miami for Thanksgiving, because a three year old accidentally texted me…  Let’s back up.  My husband was itching to take a vacation, since he had some temporary help with his job.   He hadn’t taken off more than five days in almost ten years.  He had his eye on Maui.  But Maui wasn’t meant to be, with the astronomical ticket price.  We had talked about going to Miami before.  Alex had been there for work on a few occasions.  But I had never been to Florida.  We had dinner with our neighbors one night who are from North and South Florida.  “You should really see Miami someday.” they said.  Yeah, someday.

Then just when we were about to book a trip to a more local West Coast spot, our neighbor’s son accidentally sent me a video text of himself.  He was playing with his mom’s phone.  He somehow made me think of Miami.  Hey, I thought, Florida is the same distance as Maui, warm, and has a much better ticket price.  And I’ve never been there.  Of course this is what excited me most.  I absolutely love to visit new places.  I believe we are only on this planet once, and you might as well see as much as you can of it.    So we took the plunge and booked the trip.  “Do you have family there?” people would ask.  “None whatsoever.”  It was probably the most random thing our family has ever done.

Now the only thing I knew about Miami before this was from CSI Miami and the movie Scarface. (I wasn’t really allowed to watch Miami Vice as a kid, though I hear it was good.)  I set out to do some research.  Along with scouring the internet, I read novels set in South Florida.  I think if you really want to get a feel for a place, find an author who loves where they live and writes about it.  Even though it might be fiction, you can get a sense of a place.  I read a couple of books by Carl Hiaasen.  He has been writing about South Florida since the 80’s.  Many of his books are funny over-the-top crime novels.  He has a line of children’s books as well.  I also read part of Stiltsville, by Susanna Daniel.  Stiltsville is a real place, which I will get to later.

After all this research, I had big plans.  I wanted to see the Everglades, go to the Florida Keys, see the lighthouse at Cape Florida, eat some good Cuban food, and go on an Art Deco tour in South Beach.  And oh yeah, spend some time on the beach and pool.  (I’m not really a lay-out, sit-by-the-pool kind of person, so eventually, I have to move around.)  With a family of four, which includes a young child, we didn’t do it all, but we did have fun.  Miami is an exciting city.  It’s also very big and spread out, with lots of traffic.  The reality was, once we got to our hotel, we really didn’t take our car out that much.  Dinner was always somewhere local, because there were so many options nearby.  We were fortunate enough to be within walking distance to Lincoln Road, which reminds me of Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, with shops and restaurants, and closed to traffic.  I can tell you where the most highly recommended Cuban spots are, but we didn’t end up going there.  We did eat some Cuban food though.  It is pretty much everywhere.  If you like pickles and mustard, that’s a good thing, because it’s in the sandwiches.  My kids and I also love black beans and tostones, which are twice fried plantain chips, marinated in garlic and lime.

P1000325One day we decided to take an airboat tour of the Everglades.  It was a perfect day, not too hot, without rain.  My Florida friend recommended Buffalo Tiger Airboat Tours on the Miccosukee Indian Reservation.  This was a great choice.  It was very informative and exciting.  I knew what to expect, since I saw some You-Tube videos, but my family weren’t expecting to get so close to the alligators like we did.  This place had an interesting story.  Buffalo Tiger was once the chief of the Miccosukee.  Back in the 60’s, the US government wouldn’t recognize his tribe, so he went to Fidel Castro, and somehow got the government’s attention.  He then created casinos to raise money and help his people.  Later he retired and wanted to educate visitors about his land and people, so he started the airboat tours.  They can go out much farther than the other tour companies, because they don’t have to worry about running into national park land.


photo (2)After our drive out to the Everglades, which was a bit tough with traffic, and the kids in the back seat, I realized I had to sacrifice the trip to the Florida Keys.  Even though, I am fascinated by them, we would be driving all day where I wanted to go.  That would not be pleasant for my husband or kids.  Instead, I suggested University of Miami.  This is only because I wanted to get out and see a different part of the city, but I knew there would be space for the kids to run around, and it would peak my husband’s interest since he is a long time college football fan.  We had a very pleasant time there.  It’s a beautiful and unique campus.  I’ve never seen so much water at a college before.  But there’s tons of water all over Florida.  It rains so much, the ground is squishy.

P1000382On Thanksgiving Day, we went to the lighthouse on Key Biscayne, about 40 minutes from South Beach.  It is in a state park, and very picturesque and peaceful.  The lighthouse is the oldest standing structure in Dade County.  Most things around it were destroyed in 1992 with Hurricane Andrew.  After that, they fixed it up for tours, and painted it white.  (Scenes from Miami Vice show the lighthouse with brown bricks.)  From the lighthouse, you can see Stiltsville, a group of seven houses on stilts, about a mile off the coast.  Stiltsville used to be a thriving party/ vacation community.  Back in the 50’s there were casinos and clubs with mob ties.  Ted Kennedy had his bachelor party out there.  As the years went by, hurricanes destroyed most of it.  Now there are only seven structures left, and are part of a preservation trust.  I think you can rent the houses for events, or be invited by a member of the trust.  You can also take boat tours out there to get a closer look.



On our last day in Miami, we opted for no car excursions, just beach and pool for the kids.  My husband played tennis in the morning at a local park, then we switched off with the kids, and I walked to the Art Deco walking tour, and learned about some of the old hotels in South Beach.  The next day it was time to go to the airport and take the 6 hour flight home.


Oh what a trip!  It was definitely something we don’t usually do, and led us somewhere very different from home.  Almost every night, we went out on the beach, ran around in the sand, and touched the water.  We were the only ones out there, by the way.  Those crazy Northern Californians couldn’t get over the warmth of the Atlantic.  Will we go back?  Maybe someday.  I still have to see those Florida Keys.

photo (3)

(day 362) Guest blog by lisabay. Lisa, thank you for your contribution to my blog and I look forward to you writing on my new blog too!


The dinner of all dinners (ending vacation)

st. louis style spareribs

I am back at home now after the break in San Diego. It was a great trip! I will be posting on my experiences for the next few days. To start I have decided to recall the last meal from the trip.

We drove home from San Diego in a bit of traffic. Our first stop was at the mission and our second stop was for gas. We had eaten a big breakfast earlier in the morning and snacked a bit at lunch time. The kids and I were shopping for snacks in the gas station to carry us over until we arrived home when Max suggested we go out for dinner. We drove up and down the street ending up “Famous Dave’s” BBQ. It was a new restaurant for us and we were pleasantly surprised at how good the food was.

Max and I shared a big slab of St. Louis-Style Spareribs (13 total), a side of steamed broccoli, and baked beans. To top it off we had a side of Texas-Style Beef Brisket. Malina and Matteo ate kid’s meals that they both enjoyed. I was shocked to be given so much meat when our meal arrived. The plate was gigantic. We somehow finished 6 ribs each and Matteo ate the last one. Wow!

bbque sauce assortment

I particularly liked the barbeque sauces at the end of the table- I had to try them all and picked the “Rich & Sassy” as my favorite. The corn bread muffins arrived fresh and hot next; they were a little late, but so good that the kids and I had to finish them!

The meal was excellent. It was actually some of the best barbeque that I have eaten since living on the West Coast. This dinner was a great way for us to finish our weekend getaway/ birthday celebration for Malina in San Diego.

Malina eating dinner

(day 267)

Anticipating Vacation

My stuff

Last night I walked around for 2 ½ hours packing and it was exhausting. First it was laundry, and then it was packing up the bathroom; next was a short break for dinner with the kids. And lastly I had to finish packing my clothes. My feet were hurting and I had so much stuff together that I wondered how much of it I would use! I know you are supposed to pack light. I have always heard this, and have never abided by this rule. I am thinking back to a few moments in the past that my suitcase was overstuffed that make me laugh now.

(1) In college I went on a retreat in the mountains of Malibu for the weekend. I was the only one who packed a suitcase, and let me tell you it was full.

(2) When we went to Maui to get married my suitcase was over the weight maximum both ways. The nice people at the airlines waived the fee both times; probably thought it was nice that I was getting married and going on my honeymoon. And give me some slack, if you can’t have your bags overstuffed when you’re getting married then when can you??

(3) When I moved to Europe to become an ‘au pair’ I had so much stuff other than a overstuffed suitcase that my friend and I were overjoyed when a stranger offered to help us get on the RER (underground train)! He even helped us depart from the station to above ground. My suitcase felt the pain and one of the wheels broke. I dragged that thing down Boulevard Port Royal in Paris leaving a big black mark on the sidewalk.

So after saying all of this I will go back and remove some items, even two or three things help a little bit. Since we will travel by car instead of plane I have items everywhere waiting for a spot in the car. Looking around I can count four bags including suitcases, 3 pairs of hiking shoes, one car seat, and a pair of flip flops. I can’t travel anywhere without the flip flops; even in the winter weather of Northern California. I should return with less since I have lots of Easter goodies to drop off up north.

In concluision for today I wish you all a happy Easter a few days early!

My blog for the next week or so will be about a group tour I took of Europe when I graduated from college. I had a lot of fun putting it together and look forward to sharing the memories with you. Cheers!

(day 108)

Planning for spring break!

Ocean Blog

Memo to self:

Spring break is a little over 2 weeks away and I have been planning away. Last year when Malina was in kindergarten I was able to experience the school tradition of taking a ‘spring break’ and seized the moment to take a vacation. For a little over a week we traveled around Northern California by car. It was my first time taking the kids on such a long car ride alone, but they did great. We enjoyed our time in San Francisco, the Peninsula, and the East Bay.

This year we will return to the San Francisco Bay Area for spring break. Max will join us and we will spend more time in coastal towns. I am a big planner, perhaps this is due to being a tour guide at one point in my life, or perhaps it just a habit I have always had since I have always tried to plan any type of road trip or vacation. With this being said I do like to always leave space for ‘the unexpected’.

Those unexpected stops have often been great ones…. I am thinking particularly of the time I was in Rome and unexpectedly ended up in Naples, just south of Rome. We had looked at a guide book and decided it would be a cool place to visit. Not only did my girlfriend and I see a beautiful city we also continued on to Sorrento which was another incredible south Italian town to see.

On this trip I look forward to visiting favorite spots and learning about new ones. I hope to visit some missions that I have yet to see, go see a college or two, take in a hike, and meet up with friends who live in the area. Our vacation will end in San Francisco. We will stay at the same property that I have chosen for the last 5 years near Fisherman’s Wharf. There are so many fun things to do in San Francisco that we will be limited to what we try, but I hope to try something new with the family. It’s interesting how now that I have kids I don’t find it necessary to do everything I once did when visiting my favorite cities!

I think planning a trip is half of the fun. There is so much anticipation about what will happen and what we will see. Everything that happens on the way to the final destination is always unpredictable and often enjoyable (and definitely unforgetable). Being a traveler at heart I look forward to sharing the adventure with my family in just a few short weeks!

Union Square Area

(day 93)