In May 2022, our friend and colleague Dennis De Roover travelled for the first time in his life – solo – outside Europe. He set his sights on a road trip in Florida in the United States. He’s so kind to share his story.
I have many seasoned travelers amongst my friends who have already seen big parts of the world. I myself am 36 years old and until recently had never traveled outside of Europe. Out of fear of missing out I impulsively booked an expensive trip to Florida. I ended up driving 833 miles (1340 km) all on my own through the Sunshine State. Here is a glimpse of my personal adventure.
At the airport I picked up my Alamo rental car. Being a tall friendly giant of 2.05 meters I went for the category of SUVs to be absolutely sure I would fit the car. Alamo offered me the possibility to take a van.
I couldn’t resist a black Chrysler van. The guys at the rental car center where so trustful in saying “just pick a car and start your engine” but having never driven an automatic I insisted they would demonstrate me how the van worked.
The short drive from Miami Airport to Miami Beach was an immediate stress test. Traffic in Miami is insane and finding a parking spot in Collins Avenue was an even greater challenge. I wisely let the valet of Riu Plaza Miami Beach do that for me.
On my first night I went to Ocean Drive, the major thoroughfare in South Beach. It is the main tourist attraction of the city because of its Art Deco hotels and restaurants. They were lit wonderfully in various colors of neon light.
It was such a delight to finally be on the other side of the Ocean at the age of 36! I celebrated my arrival by going to PALACE, at 1052 Ocean Drive.
PALACE is an in your face show queen bar, the screaming starting gun of my journey. Show queens crawling in the ridge of the big terrace roof and flipping their way in a Chanel spandex suit past the tables certainly provided a spectacle.
But PALACE was also a place where loud straight people go to celebrate their birthday or bachelor party.
After a couple of drinks I went back to my hotel.
But not before passing Casa Casuarina, also known as the Versace mansion. After having seen the television show ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story‘, I just had to see the place where the famous designer was killed by serial killer Andrew Cunanan.
After Versace’s death in 1997 this Mediterranean Revival city palace was sold and turned into a boutique hotel. The building itself still refers to Versace.
At the iron gates surrounding the mansion you can still see the Medusa head of the Versace brand. You can eat at Casa Casuarina without staying at the hotel. At the entry I found the menu lit in a glass showcase. I saw the prices and decided that my visit to Casa Casuarina would be in another life.
Riu Plaza Miami Beach is an absolutely wonderful hotel. The breakfast is fresh and lavish with a big dining room and terrace where there are always free tables.
The only thing that really bothered me about this hotel is the badly functioning elevator that implied endless waiting. Having said that, right behind the hotel you have South Beach with sun loungers and parasols for the guests of the hotel.
The tourist office calls South Beach SoBe, to make it sound trendy. But it is fashionable enough by itself.
There was a sea turtle nest carefully demarcated by a pink ribbon to avoid that people would step on the buried eggs. Sea birds were flying right above my head. Nothing but sun and containerships on the horizon heading for Miami harbor. It was a beautiful spectacle.
In the late afternoon I went to the World Erotic Art Museum (WEAM) at 1205 Washington Avenue. However bombastic the name, I walked passed the entry without realizing it. After a lot of searching I managed to find the entry. The World Erotic Art Museum is devoted to the history of erotic art. American art collector Naomi Wilzig accumulated over 4,000 pieces of erotic art from around the world. This collection is displayed in the WEAM, which opened in 2005. In 2015 Wilzig passed away but her collection lives on.
I underestimated the time needed to have a decent look at the vast collection of the WEAM. Chinese porcelain plates of a man having sex with a woman in bondage, pre-Columbian figurines, Kama Sutra temple carvings from India and props from the sexual thriller ‘A Clockwork Orange‘… It’s all there! Take at least two and a half hours time to visit the museum.
In the same street as the WEAM you may find bar Twist.
I had a drink at this bar and immediately had a chat with some locals. This gay bar opens in the afternoon. I was sitting at a pleasant counter having drinks. Charlie, a Latino bar tender with an amazing smile and a good sense of humor was making everyone feel at home. First I was under the impression that this was the only space of Twist, but later in the evening all Twist bars open. Seven in total! That’s when it gets crowded. Do be aware that you must be at least 21 years of age to enter the bar.