FL Road Trip Day 2: Is this where mermaids live?

Day 2 started out in Miami at Macondo with coffee and breakfast not far from my hotel.

The best part though was seeing this van in the parking lot. I’m not sure how nerdy you are, but to see a real CSI Miami van was a HIGHLIGHT of the trip.

I drove to Miami Beach and saw the waterways full of cruise liners docked waiting for their passengers. I explored the streets of South Beach and saw all the expensive cars, high end restaurants, and beach goers. You may disagree, but seeing Miami Beach in real life made it a lot less impressive than what I’ve seen on TV and in movies. Maybe I just don’t care much for celebrities or fancy cars but it isn’t a place I feel like I’d need to return to in the future. Let’s call it a once and done.

However, the next stop, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens was a place I’d surely return to. It’s a museum and gardens that was James Deering’s winter home. The 140 acre estate has gardens with both Italian and French influence that were designed by Diego Suarez. While many gardens there still do exist, there were outer gardens and lagoon gardens at one time that are on pieces of land no longer owned by the Museum. When they shared this fact in the tour, my heart hurt. The gardens were so remarkable, it is sad to think that there are some that people will no longer see.

Along the north side of the house, with it’s Italian villa architecture, is a grotto swimming pool with animals carved in the limestone. It enters under vaulted arches and looks just like a grotto that Ariel would hang out in with Sebastian. If there was a spot on the grounds where mermaids hung out, this would be it.

Another fascinating part of the home is the Barge out front in the Biscayne Bay. It was built in 1916 to protect the house from waves. During Deering’s time, you could go out to the barge on little gondolas. The barge had electricity (very ahead of its time), fountains, and a little wooden trellis that guests could spend time under. The Barge is no longer able to be visited as it’s weathering, but you can take a live tour of it here and see what it looked like in 1916.

The gardens were designed as a series of “rooms”. It felt that way when walking through. Without a map, you would surely miss some of the areas that are casually hidden by a stone archway, or through overlapping trees or bushes that don’t call to attention a clear entrance. Some of the rooms include the Secret Garden, the Theater Garden, the Maze Garden and the Fountain Garden which is no longer.

Deering named his estate “Vizcaya” to honor the legend of Vizcaino, a Spanish merchant.  It is rumored the Vizcaino visited the Americas in the 1600s, and may have been the individual who chose the name for Biscayne Bay.

Throughout it’s time, various guests have visited the estate including Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John Paul II, and President Ronald Reagan.

The height of the gardens varies throughout. What you see in the middle and bottom left photos below are the top of “The Mound”. This is an artificial hill that blocks the view south from the house. It creates a long perspective on both sides and prevents the reflection of light off the water that would make the garden hard to see for guests of the estate.

Deering’s home is about 45,000 square feet with 54 rooms. Currently 34 are decorated and open to the public. Since this was decorated with in the Gilded Age (like the Biltmore) the decor and furniture is oversized and ornate and unexpected. There is always something to look at in every room.

Similar to the feelings I had when leaving the Biltmore on my trip a few years ago, I felt this sense of awe and appreciation but also heart break for the estate. Both the Biltmore and Vizcaya were built during a time of economic growth, cross country travel via the new railroads, and technological advances. In both the Biltmore and Vizcaya estates, there was indoor electric and plumbing. There were pools, and oh so many rooms for long term guests and entertaining. It’s a reminder of things that once were. These homes will no longer be inhabited by people to stay overnight as intended, but for guests to admire their beauty, architecture and sheer size.

After leaving Deering’s estate, I visited the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens in Fort Lauderdale. The land for the ocean front home was given to an artist named Frederic Clay Bartlett as a wedding gift by his father in law Hugh Taylor Birch.

This was the couple’s winter retreat until Helen, Bartlett’s wife, died in 1925. About 6 years later, he married Evelyn Fortune Lilly. Frederick and Evelyn would spent time at the Bonnet House and even after Frederic died in 1953, Evelyn would come every winter through 1995.

Bonnet House is now on the National Register of Historic Places and is visited by many every year. As an artist, Frederic had many art pieces hung in the home, but the house itself and it’s colors is a work of art.

After finishing my tour at the Bonnet House, it was already approaching dinnertime. I got in my car and pulled out my Hotel Tonight app again on my phone and checked out the options for the night’s stay. The Dalmar in Fort Lauderdale had an incredible deal so I booked it for the night!

Technically the building was two hotels in one. One hotel stayed on a certain grouping of floors while the other hotel was on another grouping of floors. I got ready and went down to the restaurant and bar for dinner at the Terrace Grill. I had octopus to start, and then truffle fries for my meal. Since I got there not long after it opened, I got to chat with the bartenders and then various individuals who came and went from the bar in the evening. I learned about the best camp sites in Florida, how to navigate the trains in Italy, and the best spots in the Miami area for bread.

The next morning I read by the pool for a few hours before checking out and grabbing a coffee at Rose’s downstairs before heading back to Tampa.

Overall it was an incredible last minute trip, even with the car mishap. If you’re wondering what happened with the splash guard, it actually fell off again the day after getting back home. So I had it reattached again to which it fell off AGAIN. So now I’m currently driving around without a splash guard because I’m sick of crawling under the car to try to reattach the thing and getting car dirt and oil on me.