22/9/16 – Doing as the locals do

Got up semi-early to get ready and pack the last few things before leaving our nice Miami apartment. A friend of Lydia’s picked us up and took us to the Alamo to fetch our car and didn’t even want to charge us for the ride! We still tipped him, of course. Our car wasn’t ready yet, but the man behind the desk upgraded us to a bigger one free of charge to save us spending our vacation sitting in the Alamo. I do love Americans. There was also the Latino double of Oliver Hudson working on the desk. I genuinely thought it was really him (and that he’d super downgraded his career somehow) until I heard him speak.

Our car was a big Dodge Journey that I quickly dubbed Harry (Hazza if you’re feeling casual). It’s so good to have a car to just pile everything into, rather than having to lug around various bags and cases, particularly the box that’s filled with alcohol. Both the Alamo guy and our unofficial taxi driver commented on how it was the most important piece of luggage we were carrying. Not untrue. We only drove about an hour out of Miami before we had to stop off at a Burger King. Hunger is real, people, even if Burger King is pretty unsatisfying when you consider the wide variety of eating options here.

Back on the road again. Watched an episode of Psych and then we were distracted by a Walmart. Actually the first one we’ve seen. Finally got my big box of Seagrams, as well as more Red Bull, Sunny D, Milk Duds and a giant bag of popcorn. Then I discovered the clothes section and got very distracted indeed. I ended up picking out a stripy jumper dress of all things, but it was just too nice to pass up and as Mom pointed out, it was very me. Everyone knows black and red is my colour scheme. Even better, I also got various pairs of boxers with Deadpool, Batman and Wonder Woman on them. There were some lovely Harley Quinn ones, but sadly, they only had them in massive sizes.

By the time we were leaving, it was pouring with rain, so we had to wait it out a little before we were brave enough to make a run for it to the car. Thankfully, we didn’t have anymore distraction stops. I’d planned on using the driving time to write, but the drive was so nice that I ended up just watching through the window instead and taking the odd photo. Definitely some lovely views driving into the Keys. We booked into our very cute hotel in Key Largo and had a mill around in the room for a while. Had a little read and then Skyped Kel for a bit. I don’t think she’s enjoying hamster-sitting for Wilson, since he managed to get out of his ball. Yes, I named my hamster after a ball and yes, it’s ironic that he’s tried to make his grand escape from it on a few occasions.

Headed on out after that and had a little wander around the area. We walked down the waterfront first and found some lovely red and blue wrasse, stripy little Angelfish looking Sergeant Majors and some teeny, teeny jellyfish. We then went inwards and onto the street that ran parallel to the water. It was so freaking adorable. It was like being in a proper little fishing village, which I guess technically, we were. All of the houses were built up above the first storey with open patios underneath, besides the garages, clearly prepared for any potential flooding. They all looked really nice and cute though and everyone had their own unique mailboxes, like ones that were being held up by a manatee or alligator statue.

After exploring everything there pretty much was to explore – which really was only a little – we went to a restaurant called Sharkey’s, where we got to sit upstairs out on the balcony, overlooking the waterfront. Now this was just the most perfect night. I had a literal bucketful of a cocktail called Sharkbite Punch, which was mango and passionfruit rum, pineapple and orange juice and grenadine. To go with that, I decided to be adventurous and went with the beer battered fresh shrimp and sea fries. I’m really fussy with seafood and had to ask for them to be served without the tails on, so it was a brave step for me, but god, it was such a good choice. It was so fresh and so tasty and I felt so pleased that I’d chose to be adventurous. As well as the food and drink being delicious, there was a musician playing an acoustic set of great covers of songs I love like Three Doors Down, Oasis and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Then we even got to sit and watch an electrical storm out over the river where the lightning made the clouds light up pink and blue. Talk about the most incredible atmosphere. Everything was just perfect.

Suitably stuffed and with Mom certainly not wanting any more cocktails after our buckets, we headed back to the room. I had a few of my Mike’s Hard Lemonade and read, then planned to watch the rest of Sahara and then do some writing. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it – Dad discovered Impractical Jokers on the telly, so I had no choice but to watch that after only watching a little more of Sahara. Guess we’ll try again tomorrow.

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Now that’s entertainment.

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21/9/16 – To the beach

Up a little less early today. Much slower on getting ready, since Mom was looking up what we were going to do about the Everglades and the Keys. I had a Funyuns breakfast, did some reading and watched bits of Sahara for a while before getting all suncreamed up and ready to go. There was a little more of a breeze than yesterday, but it was still incredibly hot. I tried to tan up my back a bit, but the air was so close that I couldn’t lie on my front for long without feeling really uncomfortable.

Switched back onto my chair and did some reading instead. We saw a couple more manta rays in the sea. One of them was even bigger than the one we saw yesterday! They clearly like this section of the beach. After a while, we went for lunch at a Colombian place called Sabor Playa. God, I really am loving all this South American stuff. I had a chicken quesadilla, which was gorgeous and so, so cheesy. So cheesy that in the end, even I felt like I was having a cheese overload and I freaking love cheese. I asked for a lemon Snapple and because our server didn’t seem to have the best English, I ended up with some kind of apple ice tea. I normally don’t like ice tea, but it was actually really nice and refreshing and thankfully didn’t taste like tea at all.

Grabbed some drinks from Walgreen’s and had a few more hours on the beach after lunch. There was even more of a breeze this time, which was very welcome. Did more reading and then moved back onto my towel, partly to tan my back more and also because I’d already burnt all my front and lying on it meant it’d be protected from getting re-burnt. It also meant it wasn’t entirely comfortable, though I did manage to fall asleep for about an hour, so it clearly wasn’t too uncomfortable.

Came back to the apartment afterwards. Mom had more researching she wanted to do on the Keys, so I did yet more reading and playing my Disney game around showering. I even fit in a Mike’s Hard Lemonade amongst showering and getting ready. We then had another big leak from the washing machine – looks like they didn’t fix it properly after all, though maybe we shouldn’t have tempted fate by doing another wash. It was still crazy when we left the apartment. Normally, it cools at least a little by the evening, but it was still thirty degrees by eight o’clock.

We went to a Brazilian place that Dad had wanted to try called Cypo Café. Sadly, they only had wine and beer in the alcohol department, so I had to have a pineapple juice instead. Well, apparently it was pineapple juice. It was pineapple flavoured, but very synthetic and not at all juicy with lots of gritty sugar at the bottom. Bad Cypo Café. You can’t advertise this as delicious flavour. For my meal, I had grilled chicken breasts sauteed in garlic with mash and red beans over rice on the side. All of the sides were lovely, but the chicken was dry and very garlicky in some spots and then very plain in others. Mixed feelings really.

We went to a bar called Aromi after that, but either the fakey pineapple juice or something I ate didn’t agree with me, because I started to feel quite ill. I bypassed alcohol for the house water instead. You know I’m not myself if I’m drinking water, because I only ever do that if I have a bad head and have literally nothing else to hand or if I’m out and I’m already horrendously drunk but still have the sense to try and re-hydrate. The bar itself was pretty cool though. They had a cushion with Batman and Wonder Woman kissing on it, which I’m obviously gonna approve of.

We popped into Walgreen’s on the way back because I’d seen a super cute notebook I wanted to get – notebooks are absolutely my weakness for impulse buys, but hey, at least I always use them. I also got some more Funyuns for the start of the car travels tomorrow. I felt better after being back at the apartment; at least well enough to have a couple more of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Spent the night watching When Weather Goes Viral. One of the meteorologists on there said that everyone has a little bit of weather geek in them and it’s completely true. Tornadoes in particularly have always fascinated me and it’s perversely interesting to watch storms go very wrong.

Pottered round doing a bit more packing in between watching the wonderful weather programme before bed, ready for the next move. First place in our itinerary that I’ve never been to before. Bring on the Keys!

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Holy guacamole, that’s good!

20/9/16 – I’m meeelting!

Got up after my most uncomfortable sleep so far. The bed itself was fine; it was just the first time I’ve felt really hot in the night. Clearly we need to have the noisy air con on through the night here. Had a pretty slow getting ready as we had to wait for the landlord Lydia, who wanted to come round just to say hi and give us some recommendations on where to go for food and where the beach was. Of course, we’d already found all of that out for ourselves last night. Watched some Suits, got suncreamed up and into my new bikini, then we were ready to go.

The beach doesn’t have any parasols or sunbeds – you have to bring that kinda thing yourself. Thankfully, we’d found some beach chairs in the cupboard that can recline, so we brought those down with us. It was ridiculously hot with no sign of a breeze. I couldn’t seem to get comfy in the chair or lying on a towel on the sand. I did have fun finding the tiniest, perfect little seashells though, as well as watching the adorable piper birds. Totally made me think of the little Pixar short they showed before Finding Dory.

We did have a bit of drama when somebody came down the beach shouting, “Get out of the water!” At first, I thought he was joking – maybe it’s just Brits who’d joke about that kind of thing –  but he kept on going, “I’m serious; get out of the water! It could be a manatee or it could be a shark.” Of course, by that point, everyone in the water had got out and the rest of us had ran down to the water’s edge to get a better look. Sure enough, there was a big black shape moving along the line of the shore and very close to where people had been swimming. Part of it broke the surface a couple of times and it turned out it was a giant manta ray, wow. Never seen one of those in the wild before. It really was huge too.

After the excitement, I pretty much started to die in the sun. It really was harsh without a breeze and I usually love lying in the sun more than pretty much anything. I’d already finished the drink I’d brought with me long ago, so I was very relieved when Mom and Dad suggested going for lunch. I wasn’t even hungry – always a sure sign that I’m flagging in one way or another – I just wanted a drink and some air con. Not much to ask for.

We ended up in Burgers ‘n’ Shakes, which had the poorest air con in the whole of America. Typical. I ordered cheesy fries and should have known that when it came, it’d be cheese sauce, rather than actual cheese. Americans need a few lessons in what real cheesy fries are, methinks. Though to be fair, I really didn’t care much about my food and just ate mechanically. I was much more in the drinks machine that was one of those machines that has hundreds of drink options. I tried and quickly poured away a lime Fanta, which tasted very much like Coke for some reason (hate Coke), before moving to the strawberry and fruit punch flavoured Hi C. I definitely made the most of my $2.50 by pounding two drinks there and then taking another to-go back to the beach.

Thankfully, there was a little more of a breeze when we got there and with thunderstorms looming, but never actually breaking out over us other than the odd clap of thunder, the sun actually went in for a while. I never thought I’d be happy about that, but I was able to read, write and watch some Psych in a lot more comfort. On the morning, I’d been so hot that I hadn’t had a hope of concentrating on anything other than the fact that I was melting. The sun came back out later, but it was cooler by then, which was very welcome.

After another several hours on the beach, we decided to head back, stopping off at Walgreen’s to get snacks and pop for the room. One of my cosplay girls had actually shared a picture of some Harley Quinn makeup brushes on Facebook last night with the original caption saying they were only available at Walgreen’s, of all places. Of course, I knew I was very close to one, so I was ready to go on the hunt. I actually found lots of Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Catwoman based makeup, as well as a really adorable Beauty and the Beast eye shadow set. I ended up getting the Harley brushes as a present for Emi – whenever I see her next – since I don’t use blusher or anything myself, then got my own Harley makeup box that actually had red eye shadow. Red! You never get red eye shadow anywhere! Teamed the buy with some Funyuns and more Powerade.

Had a very slow shower and get ready, because it was still far too hot. Discovered I’ve crazy burnt my legs and stomach. Oops. We then had a mild trauma when Mom decided to put a wash on and twenty minutes in, the washing machine started pouring water out on the floor. Double oops. Lydia had to call someone out to try and service it. Still didn’t quite figure out what was wrong with it, but we at least got to finish washing the clothes that were already in there and get them in the dryer. We seem to be a family that break things on holiday. I’ve broken beds, curtains and hairdryers in the past and the oldies don’t have a much better history.

After that was out of the way, we headed out for food and found ourselves in a big Portuguese diner type place called Manola. Our waiter was sweet; he looked like the love child of Richard Ayoade and Gok Wan. He told us he’d actually been to the UK himself – to London and then Aberdeen, of all places. Even I’ve not been to Aberdeen. Me and Mom shared another lovely, huge pitcher of sangria and I then had twin grilled chicken breasts in a creamy green onion sauce with mash on the side. Damn, it was good. I’m loving all this South American cuisine. I think a tour of South America needs to be next on the travel list. I already want to see Mexico and Colombia in particular.

We popped into Lou’s Beer Garden on the way back, which was actually part of someone’s hotel – you follow the side of it down to the courtyard and bar area. I had an Amalfi Sunset, which was Grey Goose vodka (never say no to Grey Goose), aperol, grapefruit and lemon juice, agave nectars and bitters. Very strong, but sour cocktails always cancel that out nicely. Came back to the room after to cane several Mike’s Hard Lemonade, whilst watching more Psych on my iPod, as well as glancing up every now and then to catch the John Leguizamo parts in some awful Amy Poehler film that the oldies were watching. Back to the beach again tomorrow. A little heavier on the breeze this time, yeah?

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Now that’s a beach!

19/9/16 – Don’t feed after midnight. Actually… do

Up early to get ready and pack the last few things so we’d still have time for breakfast before we got picked up. I ended up with an extra pancake with my last lot, because the guy in front only wanted one and the machine makes them in twos, so he donated the second to me. Always a win. Breakfast is definitely something I’ll miss, since we won’t be getting it included at our private apartment in Miami. Got picked up by our hopper service and had just under an hour wait in the airport, after going through security. Started reading one of my Clive Cussler books before we had to board.

The flight itself was short and sweet. Read some more, drank a Red Bull and watched a few episodes of Psych, then we were landing in Miami. It was chucking it down when we got there – much like the last time I flew into Miami – so they kept us on the runway for a little bit whilst they sorted out the tunnel so we wouldn’t all get wet. Miami is another huge airport and we had a bit of a trek and a tram ride over to baggage claim. Since we had WiFi, I got to hit a lot of their Pokéstops, woo. I did get a bit freaked out though when I turned my internet on and some child abduction amber alert started buzzing through. I don’t like that; I only wanted a bit of WiFi!

Picked up our cases, then got a not so comfortable cab ride over to Miami Beach. Our driver made us all cram together in the back, because he had food rubbish on the front seat. Not exactly professional. It was then very warm, because he had the windows open, rather than the air con. Anyone who’s ever stepped foot in America knows that if you want a breeze, you don’t open the window, because that just lets all the heat in. There was a lot of traffic caused by a road accident and our driver then nearly fully crashed into someone trying to change lanes, just because he didn’t want to let them in front of him. I know tips are expected over here, but why Dad still gave him one, I don’t know. My tip? Learn to drive.

Our ground apartment had some fancy codes system to get through the front gate and then actually into the apartment. It’s very cute and I actually get my own room here, so I don’t have to put up with the awful snoring. Air con is definitely needed here. We had a bit of an unpack and a wind down after the travel and looked up all the various things around us. We’re only a few blocks from the beach, lovely. We decided to go for a wander over to said beach front, then went off in search of food.

We ended up in a Cuban restaurant called Sazon. Never had Cuban food before, but oh my god, I can tell you I definitely love it. Me and Mom shared a pitcher of gorgeous sangria. You can always trust places that make good sangria. To start, I had garbanzo frito, which was fried chickpeas with sausage and ham in a spicy, almost Creole tasting sauce. I have a mad love for chickpea dishes. It was really, really tasty. Then for my main, I had vaca frita – shredded steak shank cooked in garlic and onions and served with mash and yellow rice. All of it was to die for. The steak just fell apart and the rice was like proper tasty, Turkish style rice. Definitely a meal in a million!

Feeling like I had a giant food baby, we meandered between a few stops on the way back to pick up alcohol for the room. I was gutted that I couldn’t find any Seagrams or B&Js anywhere. I ended up getting a rather hefty box of mixed flavours of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and then very slowly broke into a couple of them back in the room, due to the ever-looming presence of the food baby, and watched another episode of Psych before bed. Certainly not a bad wind-down.

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Now that’s what I’m talking about!