Despite the huge geographical distance between India and Miami — a return trip will see you cover close to 30,000 km — there is enough in this beach haven to remind you of home. And no, we are not talking about the Indian restaurants and banyan trees, which are more than common sight.
A first-time visitor from India can be forgiven for feeling patriotic as he travels around Miami. The Miami flag has the same colours as the Indian flag, making the hearts of many visiting Indians swell with pride. Only a close look will reveal the difference — in the middle of the Miami flag is a green circle enclosing the image of a tree and the words ‘The City of Miami-Florida-Dade Co.’ in place of the Ashoka Chakra in ours.
Then as you wander around Miami, chances are that you will have a peacock walk past you. Or the guide on the bus tour, by far the best way to see the city, will tell you that one of the many banyan trees lining the sprawling walks is actually an Indian banyan.
During the bus tour, the guide also relates interesting anecdotes about Miami. At one intersection, for instance, he asks visitors to be careful as this was the place where singer Justin Bieber was caught speeding while under the influence of alcohol in his $2,000-a-day rented Lamborghini. Not surprising, many would say, given that Miami has more luxury cars than New York or Los Angeles. The guide will also point out that the 1930s gangster Al Capone lived on Palm Islands in Miami.
There is, of course, a lot more to the city of Miami, which is one of the 32 cities in Miami Dade County that are all, incidentally, called Miami. There is Little Havana or the gated property of Coral Gables. Little Havana is home to Cubans who fled Fidel Castro’s repressive regime in Cuba. They maintain a part of their old lifestyle in the heart of America, so one comes across people making cigars, cooking Cuban food or playing dominos. Coral Gables, on the other hand, is one of the first planned communities in the area with its architecture almost entirely Mediterranean.
A must-visit, though, is the South Beach area, which pulsates with music, shops, eating places, hotels and bars. Lincoln Road in the South Beach area is a mecca for those in the mood to shop or try out different cuisines. Indian, Italian, Thai, fast food — you name it and there is more than one restaurant specialising in it. Locals say that South Beach is also famous for the hugely expensive Lamborghinis and women in bikinis sipping martinis.
Then there are white-sand beaches (in case you forget your sun tan lotion, do not worry; every Miami beach is peppered with lotion dispensers), shopping bargains and what the city is most known for — being home to movie and rock stars and multi-billionaires. What makes Miami fun is that once you have reached a particular area, discovering it is not a problem. Most of the streets run parallel to one another and you can always join up with where you started.
The city is also steeped in history. So there is the Freedom Tower, a yellow tower with a green dome, which was built in 1945 and first used as The Miami newsroom. Now it is an art museum which exhibits things that once belonged to Cuban refugees. Because Miami Beach has the highest number of holocaust survivors there is also a Holocaust Memorial.
For history lovers, another place to visit is the Miami Beach Convention Centre, where Muhammad Ali beat Sonny Liston in 1964 and became the world heavyweight boxing champion. It is the only convention centre in the US where the two major political parties, that generally oppose each other on everything, meet; Republicans and Democrats both hold their conventions here. Or head towards the City Hall, which was earlier used as a terminal building by the now-defunct Pan American Airlines. Close by are the hangars where Pan Am parked its seaplanes (called Clippers) in the 1940s.
There are no direct flights between India and Miami. But you have several options: Qatar Airways, which will fly you through its hub in Doha; British Airways, which will take you through London; or Lufthansa, which will take you through Germany. You can also fly Air India or Jet to reach Miami.
There are various options for exploring Miami including bus tours and the Metromover, which goes around downtown Miami and its financial area. This covers about seven kilometres, and is free. There is also a metro rail which goes about 35 km around South Florida. Other options include public buses, taxis and rent-a-car services.
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