Ever since the wonderful day I had exploring Miami yesterday I had been dreading this morning, it was time for me to check out of the Viceroy and head back to Orlando. When I first arrived I was a little overwhelmed with the level of service and opulence that was presented before me but after spending just a mere 4 nights there I began to grow accustomed to it, revelling in the luxury. As they say though all good things must come to an end and so it was that I packed up my things and began getting ready to check out. I had the room until 12pm so I thought I’d make the most of it by catching up on the latest news and watching all of the Legion of Extraordinary Dancers on Hulu. This had the unfortunate consequence of alerting me to something dire to my whole reason for being here.
The shuttle launch had been delayed, again.
When I first planned the trip to include my jaunt over here to Florida I had initially budgeted a week (so that Rebecca could have time with her best friend in the world, Laura) for me to hop around and have fun in the Corvette with a couple days at the end for the shuttle launch, some slack to make sure I didn’t miss it due to weather events. The first delay was well within this schedule and whilst it was shocking at the time I could handle it by just booking another rental car to cover the trip out there and back to the airport the next day. This next delay however posed a more serious problem as I would be flying out that day at 12pm and the launch wasn’t scheduled until 3 hours later. After an hour of unmitigated panic I decided I wasn’t going to be fucked by a day and shot an email off to my travel agent hoping to get the flight moved without having to pay out the ass for it. A quick check of the flights shows I could book it on my own for about $120 and another night in a hotel wouldn’t break the budget. I should hopefully hear back from her sometime tomorrow, letting me see the shuttle launch and validating my whole reason for being here.
With that all settled I went downstairs to check out and to grab the Corvette so I could get out of there. It was a pretty uneventful drive back, but it was far more enjoyable than the one down. On the way down I was still fighting off the last little bit of my jet lag making the last hour or so of the drive quite tiresome. Today however I was very well rested and I’d finally grown accustomed to the heat and humidity making the drive that much more pleasurable. I even took a little time out to make a 0-60 video of the corvette and put the top down for the first time since I got it. I should’ve done it sooner because damn, it just looks sexy when it’s topless:
It’s a bit too much when you’re doing 75mph though so I had to put it back down after a couple miles of getting my head blown around. I reconciled to spend the last few days with the top down as much as humanly possible though, it really is quite fun (especially putting it up and down, it’s fully motorised).
The hotel I had chosen for my last few days here in Orlando was the Crown Plaza Universal. The name makes it sound a lot better than it actually is but I guess it’s more oriented to families who are staying here to go to Disney World rather than the strapping male technophile like the Viceroy was. Case in point I had to pay for my Internet connection here where every other hotel I’ve stayed in has provided it free of charge. This place is considerably cheaper than the rest of them though and they still have a gym.
After I got settled in and had a quick work out my mind shifted towards finding some dinner. Firing up Yelp brought up quite a few good locations all within a long walk/short drive away with the best of them unfortunately being lunch only places. I finally settled on the Hanamizuki Japanese restaurant which had quite a few good reviews. After driving over there and waiting about 10 minutes to be seated (they weren’t that busy, but seemed to miss me and the 10 customers standing behind me somehow) I was seated down at the sushi bar and given their extremely large menu. The food was pretty good, definitely worth the price and I’d actually rate it above Zuma. Reason being the people here were actual Japanese nationals, not the wasians at Zuma who spoke (admittedly good) rapid fire Japanese at you. I didn’t think twice when the chef offered me some sashimi in Japanese, thanking him with a quick “arigatoo” to which he responded “doo itashimashite”, which means you’re welcome.
Returning to my car I was reminded of the day I had yesterday and how much good had came from just exploring. The tempreature was still quite nice even at this late hour so I decided to jump in, get the top down and go for a cruise. I set off in one random direction and found myself on the main strip of this part of Orlando with lights and all sorts of things lining the street. It was beautiful in its own way, a tribute to the American way of life. The moment was wholly captured by the instant when I pressed the accelerator just that little harder than I had done before and the corvette let out a note of which I had never heard before. It was beautiful, like a caged lion being released from its bonds into the wild. The second I came to from that moment of pure automobile ecstasy I laughed in a way I haven’t done in years. That pure feeling of joy that comes from doing something so utterly ridiculous that bypasses every other part of your brain and just tickles the pleasure centres. The grin wouldn’t leave my face for almost an hour afterwards.
With that came thoughts of what to do tomorrow. I’m thinking a cruise down to the beach with the top down will be perfect, with the corvette getting a good boot on the way there and back. I think I’ve finally hit that part of the trip where I finally drop all those barriers that I put up to protect myself when I’m in an unknown situation and with that I’m ready to just relax and let the trip happen all on its own.
Damn it feels good 😀
I didn’t really have anything planned for today, a first for me in this holiday. I usually try to plan at least one thing to do so I don’t spend the whole day in the hotel rotting my brain with TV and bad food. Still I wasn’t in any hurry to plan anything so I decided I’d finally hit up the cafe on the 15th floor for breakfast. The food there was so-so and the coffee was utterly terrible but the view was nice so I slowly made my way through it whilst looking over my Twitter feed. About 10 minutes later I read this tweet which told me that STS-133 would be taking off no sooner than Tuesday next week. As I’d be leaving on Wednesday I immediately flew into a panic knowing that my chances of seeing a shuttle launch were now resting on a hair trigger.
I rushed back to my room and waited patiently for the press conference to start. As it unfolded it became clear that whilst the shuttle had been delayed by one day they were confident that it shouldn’t be delayed any further than that putting the launch time at around 4pm on Tuesday. Relieved I set about finding something to do and over breakfast I had read my good mate (and recently returned blogger)’s post on his recent travels to China. Based on the fact that I had planned anything nor could I be bothered to try and eek something out I took a leaf from his book and decided to just get lost in the town that I was in, taking my camera along for the ride with me.
It was an eye opening experience.
Striding out of the hotel I decided I should go the way I hadn’t really looked at yet, south as far as I could tell. I walked for a little while doing the annoying tourist thing of taking pictures of all the pretty buildings but no less than 30 minutes later did I come across what amounted to a small tropical rainforest, right in the heart of Miami:
Whilst there was little wildlife to speak of (apart from spiders that stretched their webs across every fricking pathway) there were a myriad of different tropical trees, ferns, grasses and other plants that coated this area. Right in the middle of it you’d have trouble remembering that you were in the middle of a metropolis as the dense forest blocked out any sounds of the outside. I spent a good half hour in there just wandering around, well worth the price of admission (free!).
After that I started walking around outside again taking some more pictures of pretty buildings, including one that strangely resembled the dream home I have been building up in my head over the past couple years. It was still well above 30 and 80% humidity so I was quickly becoming dehydrated. Stumbling around I couldn’t find anywhere that was selling bottled water so I made a trek back to my hotel room to cool off and get hydrated again. Once I had done that I thought I’d go and explore the other direction to see what I could dredge up. Realistically I was just going to walk along the shoreline to see if there were any cool shops but what I ended up finding was the Miami outdoor market.
It wasn’t anything special in its own right but it completely blew me away that I had driven past this very spot, twice, and failed to notice it. After purveying the local merchandise I thought I’d grab some lunch. Being a picky bugger I spent the next hour trying to find something finally settling on this place called The Knife which did steaks like Maccas does burgers. I had me a sirloin steak with mashed potatoes and vegetables all for $13. It kind of upset me that that meal was as good if not better than the $40 dinner I had the night before.
Thinking that I had lucked out thus far by just walking randomly I gave it a go again, heading west away from the markets towards what looked like some kind of business centre. On the way I passed the bike rack for an upcoming triathlon with around 500 competitors either bringing their bikes in or getting them repaired at the nearby tents. Off in the distance I spotted a building that looked rather out of place. It was tall but the architecture was nothing like the buildings that surrounded it, I went in for a closer look.
Turns out it’s the high courts of Miami, nothing as amazing as I had made it out to be in my head. Still thanks to the birds circling it and the deliciously climbable exterior I had one of my “Assassin’s Creed” moments where I imagined climbing it and then diving off the side into a bale of hay. With all the lawyers and police present though I didn’t get much closer than the other side of the road, but that didn’t stop me ogling it until it faded from view.
After wandering around for a bit more I headed back to the hotel to workout and then get ready for dinner. I had hunted down a sushi place through Yelp about a 10 minute walk from me. The reviews were good and it wasn’t too pricey so I thought it would be a nice place to have my last dinner here in Miami. The restaurant was well decked out with a giant waterfall feature piece right in the centre of it. The only thing that out did it was the food and the way it was present. Check out how I got my sushi and sashimi combo:
Yeah that’s right, it’s a freaking BOAT! 😀 The sushi itself wasn’t bad either and the wasabi was some of the most potent I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve been to Japan. They also had a good selection of Japanese beers from which I selected a Kirin Ichiban. I’ve had this particular beer before but this one was a little different to those I’ve had back in Australia. Similar nose and mouthfeel but there was a distinct aftertaste that I don’t remember from the Australian version. I may just have to get me some more to compare 😉
Tomorrow I’m making the trek back up to Orlando in order to get ready for the Shuttle launch. I had planned it so I got settled one night and then headed out to see the launch the next day but that won’t be happening now. Fortunately I’ve heard that there might be an air show on so that might replace fill the time that I had originally planned to spend gawking at the shuttle but I’ve had trouble finding info on it. Anyway failing that I’ll just do what I did today in Orlando as it has served me so well today that I’m very keen to repeat the experiment.
I rolled over and stared at the clock on my bedside table, it’s muted blue display shining the time back into my dreary eyes. 11:48am I had overslept like crazy, waking up 4 hours previously and thinking I’d just take a quick nap before heading out for the day. I had sort of planned to go to Key West today after the suggestion Brett posted in the comments, but with the drive time reaching 3 hours for one way I didn’t want to be getting there late in the afternoon only to leave a couple hours later. I resigned myself to doing that tomorrow.
Still I hadn’t yet hit up South Beach which every travel review site and the bell hop/concierge had recommended to me. The place to start was apparently Ocean Dr which was just a stones throw away from the beach and was apparently littered with shopping, restaurants and bars. I did some quick reconnaissance to make sure there would be somewhere where I could park my car in relative seclusion and punched in the address into the GPS and I was on my merry way.
Or at least, I thought I was.
You see I didn’t make the distinction between Miami and Miami Beach, figuring that the former was a super set of the later. As it turns out that’s not the case and the place it was taking me to was no where near where I thought I was going. Noticing that the area I was in didn’t feel particularly right I pulled out my phone in a desperate attempt to find wifi. Not being able to find any open points with internet access I went off the little scrap of map I had already downloaded last night when I went to Zuma and remembered that Ocean drive was over a bridge. The road that I saw on little map I had turned out to be the port for the cruise and cargo ships of Miami and whilst it was a cool place to visit (the scale of engineering there is damned impressive) it wasn’t the bustling shopping centre I was after. I did come across one of their awesome draw bridges in action however:
After returning to my hotel with my tail between my legs I discovered my mistake and quickly found my way back to my initial destination. After parking my car and getting my gear together I was hit with the humid, unforgiving heat of downtown miami which instantly fogged up my sunglasses. I spent the next hour walking around looking at the various shops and restaurants realising that apart from the Walgreens I had seen pretty much all of them before. There were a few high fashion and boutique outlets but for the most part I had seen nearly all of them before in my previous jaunt to Florida mall. Feeling disappointed I started looking around for something to eat and that’s when my inner shy nerd kicked in.
Even though I’d count myself as an extrovert normally that comes on the proviso that I’m either with friends or in a location I fell comfortable in. As such when I’m out on my own as I have been for the past few days I’m not really the biggest talker and this clashes with the high pressure style of service that is to be had here in Miami. At every location I hadn’t been looking at their menu for a good 10 seconds before I had someone coming over to talk to me, usually just reading the menu items out to me (thanks I can read). This wouldn’t have been so bad if they left right after they saw I wasn’t interested in talking but all of them just stood right next to me in the hopes that I would get a table with them. Had any of them added any value to me reading the menu (like say recommending something or at the very least not being laser focused on my fucking wallet) I might have considered otherwise. With that falling in a crying heap I turned to my faithful servant: Yelp. 30 seconds later I had my target in site, a small sandwich shop called La Sandwicherie.
That my friends is the beef sandwich with all the salads and it cost me all of $8. The ingredients were fresh, the bread soft and the beef was tender. It puts all the subway I’ve had to shame and I can see why it’s earned such a reputation for itself. The place itself is basically just a hole in the wall with some seats around the side crewed by 3 people but they were more than capable of getting everyone’s orders out in under 5 minutes. Satisfied I left the La Sandwicherie and returned to my car and turned the air conditioning to full, my sweat drenched body revelling in the dry cool air.
I didn’t mention this yesterday but I didn’t make it to the gym because, well I couldn’t find the damned thing. They had said that it was on level 14 but after wandering around the entire level I still couldn’t see it. Looking on the guest information system that they have on the TVs (I’ll have to post a video of this thing, it’s really well done) I saw that it was indeed on the 14th floor, just not in my tower. The Viceroy basically has 2 towers, one of them for guests and the other for residents. They’re connected up until the 15th floor where the resident tower continues for another 15 or so stories and where the hotel ends there’s a rooftop pool and courtyard that functions as a walkway between them. After finding this out I found the gym and boy was it impressive. A great view out over the greater Miami area coupled with one of every imaginable workout machine. It might not be that impressive to regular gym go-ers, but for a garage workout junkie like me it was like travelling to the future.
Tomorrow I’m planning to drive out to Key West and see what they’ve got going out there. Hopefully the speed limits on those roads will be a little more liberal so I can open up the Corvette a bit more as my search for a dragway has thus far proven to be fruitless. Still it’s a lovely car to drive and the addition of free Sirius satellite radio makes driving anywhere quite nice regardless, but I can feel those 400+ horses chomping at the bit to be unleashed. By all accounts it will be a scenic drive anyway which will be a nice break from the last couple days from the Miami rush hour traffic.
Again my alarm woke me today with its irritating buzzing. This time however I did not shun it into silence repeatedly, I did it once and promptly obeyed the order it gave me. I shot out of bed and started getting ready for the day that lie before me as this was to be the grandest of days in the short yet painful times I have spent absent of my wife. Today I would trade in my red training wheels for a sleek yellow dragon that I would ride for 4 hours down to the tropical location of Miami. Today was the day when I got back to my roots when 15 years earlier I took my first drive by myself in a Datsun 120Y.
Today, I would get me a Chevrolet Corvette.
But before I could get my hands on such untold fun I had to run an errand first. Although I hadn’t gone far in the little red Yaris the day previously I had done enough to use up a noticeable amount of fuel. Plotting the course on Google maps showed that I could do the round trip to the closest 7/11 in just under 15 mins. Guessing that it would take me about 15 mins to fuel up I then doubled my estimate to an hour, thinking that the amount of fail that I had attracted on this trip thus far ensured that should I cut it any closer I wouldn’t have the car back before I got slugged with another days rental. Good thing I did this too as I couldn’t for the life of me find the blasted car, roaming the parking lot aimlessly for a good 30 minutes before realising that I was on the wrong level. With the car fuelled up I returned it to its keepers and went about securing my quarry.
Now when I had first booked my training car the website told me I was getting a Toyota Corolla. The Yaris is roughly identical so there’s no big deal there, but it had me worrying about whether or not I’d get an actual Corvette or something similar (like a Mustang). Not that I would’ve knocked it back but I had been hyping this moment up in my head for quite some time, and not driving a the yellow beast I had imagined would’ve had me feeling like the whole deal was rather pointless. 30 tentative minutes later they radioed someone to bring around my new prize to where I was, and all my fears were laid to rest.
Thanks to my slightly nervous nature I had been bothering the poor Hertz attendants up until they brought the car around. They got their own back though, noting the almost giddy look I had on my face when the Corvette finally rolled around. It too was perfect, a beautiful yellow accented with a single black stripe down the middle, just as I had imagined it. There’s little room to spare in the vehicle though with my bag only just fitting in the boot and having to wind the seats almost all the way down and back to fit my 6 foot frame into it. Still the moment when I pushed the ignition button (yes, like a flippin’ RACE CAR) I forgot all about those worries and set about punching in my first destination on the GPS: the local Walmart. Whilst I can see the irony in taking a rather expensive car to one of the cheapest places on earth I needed to get some supplies before embarking on the 4 hour journey south to Miami and of course I wanted to see Walmart 😉
The GPS got me there without a hitch, proving that I should’ve just got one of the damn things earlier rather than trying to cheap out on something so valuable. Upon entering the Walmart I was struck by how similar it was to Big W we have back in Australia but the similarities were only skin deep. The fact that I could find almost anything that I needed there kind of shocked me, from pharmaceuticals to clothing to even jewellery left me awe struck as I walked slack jawed around this monstrous store. Then I saw the prices, almost unbelievable how they could make money on anything that they sell there. Still you don’t get to be the Fortune number 1 company for nothing so obviously their ability to shift massive volumes means they can get prices that no one else can.
No wonder people fight them whenever they try to set up in their little neighbourhoods.
After grabbing a few things I made my way out and programmed the GPS for my final destination, the Viceroy hotel in Miami. After a few short turns I was out onto the highway where the speed limit is a cool 70 miles an hour. Having only given the car a couple quick boots to see how it would go I wanted to do a standing 0-70 in it and the highway seemed to be the best place to do it. I pulled over to the side of the road and then waited for the traffic to break so I could really put my foot down. A couple minutes later I did and the thrill was nothing short of amazing. The car literally threw my head back into the seat as its 436 horses roared into action, propelling me to 60 in just over 4 seconds with 70 coming in not less than a second later. A quick bit of research shows that this particular breed Corvette, the ZHZ, was specifically built for Hertz themselves and had a few performance tweaks along the way. Having something like that must be a business boon for them, especially with nutjobs like me chomping at the bit to have a go in one of them.
The drive down to Miami was fairly uneventful, as most long drives are. The scenery was familiar yet different with shrubs being the dominant species rather than large eucalypts. I made a couple pit stops at the “Service Centres” which appear to be miniature shopping malls with their own food court and selected shops, mostly perfume and sun glasses. About 15 minutes away from my final destination and the traffic started getting wild, jolting me out of my semi jet-lagged state that had developed over the past 4 hours. Still I arrived at my location safely, and boy was I in for a surprise.
This was my first ever time having a car taken from me by a valet and the whole thing happened so quick that I was inside with all my things before I realised I was out of the car. The bell hop, who appeared to be more of a concierge, took me up to my room and showed me around it. He also gave me some tips on where to go whilst I was staying since I had no idea what I was going to do other than work out in the gym and blog about my mishaps online. I barely listened to him though as the room had me transfixed for the entire time he was there.
No one picture does this room justice, every piece of it just screams high class and opulence of the highest order. The bathroom and main entrance are lavished in marble with chrome accents everywhere. The wardrobe is two giant mirrors covered in wood that hide not only the closet but also a full sink, microwave, stove and coffee machine. It’s bordering on a self contained apartment but for the price I paid (about $500 for 4 nights) I wasn’t expecting this. Hotwire really does earn whatever money they made off me when I made all those bookings.
I had also decided that I didn’t want to dine in the hotel as my last experience with that hadn’t been too great. Hitting up Yelp on my iPhone I found a local restaurant called Zuma not more than 5 minutes walk from where I was. The reviews were quite spectacular and it was Japanese so I thought I had a slight inkling into what I was getting into. As it turns out this was quite the place to be with the place being packed on this quite Tuesday afternoon and I was only able to be seated at the sushi bar. Still I was going to make the most of it and order a full meal and a Hitachino White Ale to wash it down. I had read in one of the reviews that they were a bit antsy about taking pictures so I refrained but the bottle was a curious one with an anime owl adorning the front. The taste was a clean with a distinctly soapy mouthfeel too it with the trademark wheaty aftertaste. I haven’t had enough wheat beers to say if was any good but it was fitting with the rather eclectic food I had been served.
It was at this sushi bar I got talking with a woman who I only managed to catch the last name of: Mrs Swann. She’s a business development manager working to get companies interested in investing in minority businesses and since I happen to know a little bit about the venture capital market (thankyou start-up future) we hit it off quite well. It was a nice way to end what had started off as a rather awkward night, sitting beside someone for 30 minutes without saying a word to them.
Tomorrow is the first day when I don’t have anything pressing I need to do in the morning, and it feels great. I’ll probably head down to south beach as that’s apparently where everything happens around this place but if I spend a whole day on my ass watching Discovery channel I won’t be surprised. I haven’t not being doing something since I landed here 3 days ago so it might be nice to take a day to catch up on some things. With this blog post fast approaching 1700 words I think I’ll leave it there for tonight and indulge myself in some late night American TV 🙂