I am no fan of Florida. Too flat, too built up, and I’m not wild about the climate. And I have visited, more than once. With my first husband I drove all the way from the panhandle to Key West, and back. With my second husband – and a travel trailer – I drove all the way from St. Augustine to Key West, and back. At least on that trip I found out how beautiful the State Parks were – designed to look the way the rest of the state looked before the Europeans showed up. I did Disney, with four new step-kids in tow (there’s a photo of me with two of the kids, sitting on a curb on Main Street around 6:00 pm, looking dead, and we still had the fireworks to go). I even did Epcot, where I was upset by how fake everything looked.
Florida is not anywhere on my “would retire to” list, but I know a lot of people love it there. Among them are friends who moved back to Boca Raton after living for years in North Carolina. They invited me to stay on my way back from South America, promising to show me a different side of the state. They would also be showing me a retirement community, as that’s where they live now. They would pick me up from Miami airport and deliver me to Fort Lauderdale two days later for my final flight to RDU.
I can’t say I was much impressed by the facilities in the gloomy land side area at Miami airport, although I was impressed by the absolute silence maintained by the crowd in the huge hall where I waited to clear passport control. Perhaps it was the early hour? I’m accustomed to eat pre- and post-flight breakfasts at Gatwick and Heathrow, and the sausage and egg sandwich at Miami in no way measured up to a full English “heart attack on a plate”.
My friends had planned a full program for my two days, and after they collected me from the airport we set off for the Fairchild Gardens. I always enjoy botanical gardens and arboretums, and this was an especially big example. After we had walked a fair amount we were able to get on the shuttle and I was amazed by how much more there was to see – including the unexpected sight of a crocodile tossing his prey in the air. But my favorite area was the butterfly exhibit, although I never did manage to get a photo of one of the many spectacular Blue Morphos.
I had asked to see the Art Deco buildings in Miami Beach, and we had discussed eating lunch there, but my friends remembered that we would pass close to the Biltmore Hotel, and we stopped there instead. I associate the name with the massive mansion in Asheville, and was interested to visit a rather different Biltmore. We ate an excellent lunch by the big swimming pool, and then took a look at the lobby, an eclectic mixture of gothic and Moorish elements, already decorated for Christmas. The hotel is in Coral Gables, and the low rise houses lining the streets there certainly contrast with the condominiums and hotels lining so much of Florida’s shoreline. So, too, do the Art Deco buildings which we visited next.
Since I hadn’t slept well on the plane, I was fading fast, and fell asleep in the car on the way to Boca Raton, and then on the sofa after we arrived. By the next day, though, I was doing better, and had plenty of energy for the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. I had been surprised to learn that there had once been a Japanese community in Florida, clear across the country from the bigger and better known settlements on the Pacific Coast. I watched the museum’s introductory film with interest, and enjoyed the tour of the gardens, not to mention lunch in the cafe.
My visit coincided with the retirement community’s Christmas reception and dinner, and I was impressed by the excellent meal. I was also impressed by the community itself, where my friends had a spacious apartment with a Florida room overlooking a large pond. They said they had been surprised by how much they enjoyed the passing parade of wildlife. The complex was in a suburban area with not a high-rise building in sight, across from a large mall. As retirement communities go, in Florida or elsewhere, this has to be one of the best. But I’m not eager to join one, even one this comfortable. I think I’m too much of an introvert.
I enjoyed the stopover, but it didn’t make me any more of a Florida fan.