Early morning deep midwinter and the rest of the rest of the world is huddling under the duvet.
The rest of the world can go whistle! I’m up with the larks.
Because of the jetlag, yes, but also because rate are the chances to see winter in Technicolour.
It’s 32C outside, the sunny Miss America weathergirl on the box cheerfully tells us and the light streaming in through the curtains is beckoning me outside.
5.45am. Time to hit the Fort Lauderdale beach I fall out of bed and onto the Strip. It’s that close.
Nothing is open, obviously, well the 24/7 store, but you’ll not find one of those on Fort Lauderdale’s showpiece front.
Cruising in Fort Lauderdale
What you will find is a stretch of untrodden glistening sand and sea and barely a soul to break the peace.
Out there on the horizon, cruise ships are bound for the Bahamas and the Caribbean (Fort Lauderdale is a cruise hub), and down the road in Miami the party people are just tuning in.
Here in Fort Lauderdale though they are more retiring.
Fort Lauderdale does, it’s true, attract its fair share of senior citizens who choose the Sunshine State for their autumn years.
But it is also a magnet for American families also here to escape the northern chill… snowbirds.
Meanwhile, off the Strip and you’ll find condos and holiday homes, all with swimming pools and community programmes.
A tribute to Old George
The Stars and Stripes flutter in what little wind there is.
George HW Bush has passed on when I visit and flags are at half-mast.
Florida has been kind to the Bushes. It was here that the 2000 Presidential election swung in George W’s favour and here that his brother Jeb was Governor.
Every news bulletin and morning conversation references ‘this man of honour’.
To gauge how Floridians feel about the Bushes, weather, sport, the traffic and any other topic under the sun the best place is the diner.
A proper diner
And the best is the Primanti Brothers Pizza & Grill, just off the Strip.
Bluff it and ask for over easy eggs or sunny side up, spitball with the server who refills your coffee mug…
And let the night owl on the next stool tell you his life story.
This is the America you’ve seen in every road movie.
Only for the wall of heat outside, and the palm trees.
Breakfast in Fort Lauderdale… it must be lunch in Miami then.
Which means Little Havana.
The thing is though that our concept of size is rather different to the Americans.
While navigating all those double-digit street names scramble your brain in the December heat.
Lost in Miami
And so what looks like a brisk walk is in fact never tackled by any American on foot, other than perhaps Forrest Gump.
The Marriott on Biscayne Boulevard to Little Havana, I’m told is 7km though I’m sure I walked just that to get to Downtown.
All this, of course, after giving up on ever getting to South Beach.
I guess the huge causeway between us and the Beautiful People should have been a clue.
The answer is a hop-on, hop-off bus, believe me!
The thing though about being an accidental tourist is that you stumble upon hidden treasures.
Take, for example, Caja Caliente on 2634 NE 2nd Avenue… see what I mean about the numbers.
I’d rather presumed that this was Little Havana although it looked an awful lot littler than I had imagined… just a stall and a yard and a couple of bars.
Floridians, though, and most Americans I’ve met on my travels, even in the big cities, are very polite to visitors.
And are devoid of our sarky gene.
The signora was very welcoming, the tacos were fabulous, there were all kinds of chilli sauces.
And sombreros and ponchos scattered around, guitars on tables and a makeshift sand pit.
And a Cuban flag.
A holiday and a city isn’t always what you expect. Make of that what you will.
The Caja Caliente is my Little Havana though.
Now. It’s yours too. Heck, I don’t mind sharing.
Areeba, Areeba, Areeba!
How to get there: Multiple airlines fly Dublin-Miami return. Aer Lingus flies to Miami from €227.99 each way as part of a return trip.
Where to stay: I stayed in W Fort Lauderdale (www.marriott.com). The Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay (www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/miabb-miami-marriott-biscayne-bay)
Where to eat: Primanti Brothers, Fort Lauderdake Caja Caliente.
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