Gianni’s at The Villa, South Beach


Yep, Gianni Versace’s mansion.

Before our trip to Miami, we were looking for somewhere special to celebrate my Mum’s big birthday.  We had also become obsessed with The Assassination of Gianni Versace.  These two seemingly unrelated elements led to us discovering that Versace’s former house on Ocean Drive had been converted into a hotel and restaurant so we just had to book a table at Gianni’s – the restaurant at The Villa Casa Casuarina.

The villa has had a complicated history – built back in the 1930s, converted into apartments shortly after and had its ups and downs before Versace bought it in the 1990s who converted back into one mansion.  He also bought the property next door and created a beautiful outdoor space (although not without controversy).  After his death, it continued to have a troubled existence, but seems to have been a little more stable since opening as a hotel a couple of years ago.  It’s definitely earned its iconic status.

South Beach at night really isn’t my style.  I’ve never really been into partying or bar hopping and this is pretty much South Beach’s primary purpose (it’s why we’ve enjoyed our hotel up in Surfside).  But Gianni’s was definitely worth the effort.  We decided to splash out on an Uber Lux, and pulling up to the front of the villa in a big fancy GMC… car (I’m not good with American cars) felt really special.

We were shown in to the restaurant at the front of the hotel – there were a couple of different areas dotted around the ground floor including the terrace and poolside and whilst it would have been amazing to sit out by the pool, it started raining about half an hour into our meal so we were happy to be inside!

Whilst we waited for our food to arrive, Mum and I scampered around looking at the beautiful decor.  It was outrageously over the top and not remotely my taste, but that’s exactly why I loved it!  The staff were happy for customers to walk around, but didn’t allow tourists – one couple were asked to either book a table or leave as it wasn’t a “tourist attraction” which I did appreciate (mostly because it made it easier for us to look around).

The food itself was expensive of course, but very enjoyable.  There’s obviously a premium for being in such an amazing location, but we all ate really well.  I wasn’t going to have dessert, but couldn’t resist trying a red chocolate mousse.  It was phenomenal.

Gianni's red chocolate mousseI will confess that I had fairly low expectations – I had a preconceived idea on what the food and service would be like, but we had such an unexpectedly great evening!  It’s nice to go fancy every once in a while.

After the meal, we took a wander down Ocean Drive to see the art deco buildings lit up at night.

Really very pretty, but the rest of the strip just confirmed what I’ve always thought – South Beach at night isn’t for me.  Interesting, but definitely not for me.  Wow.

 

May 2018 Things

Most of May was consumed by Miami – planning, doing, and commiserating.  What else though?

Cats
I have always been a dog person, but over the last few months, I’ve been trying to become friends with our neighbours’ cats.  The two ginger cats appeared in our garden a couple of months ago when they were just tiny kittens, but haven’t seemed that interested in me.  After taking some advice from some cat fans, I persevered and was finally rewarded with some cuddles.

I knew he’d love me in the end!

Weekend of Culture
A couple of weeks before our holiday, Husband and I had an overnight in London where we managed to fit in theatre, art, and shopping.  Every so often, London can be a fun place to visit.

Bron/Broen season 4
It feels like I have been waiting decades for the final season of The Bridge (I just checked – it’s been 3 years!) but it’s finally started broadcasting on BBC2.  I’ve missed Saga Norén – there isn’t anyone like her.  And whilst he’s not Martin, Henrik has grown on me.  I can’t wait to see how they end the series.

Miami
Of course.  The longer I’m away, the more I want to go back.

Sephora
Even though this was part of my Miami trip, I think it deserves a separate mention.  I ended up visiting three Sephora’s on my trip – the first one in Aventura Mall didn’t have any Beauty Insider rewards, but did have most of the stuff I wanted to try; the second was actually in JC Penney in Aventura Mall and had a lot of exclusive gift sets which surprised me; and the third was at Brickell and I managed to finally spend my points.

Favourites from my haul so far have been the Peter Thomas Roth Cloud Cream and the SuperGoop kit (I love Supergoop!) and will happily buy these again.

Downtown Miami and Brickell

There’s only so much relaxing someone can do (is that true?) so after a couple of days lounging out by the pool, we decided to visit somewhere we hadn’t been before – the mainland!  We decided we’d start at Brickell City Centre, then jump on the Metromover and take it from there.

My not-so-subtle plan of visiting another Sephora worked!

I can’t say I’d recommend visiting Brickell – I’m sure we didn’t visit  everything it had to offer, but it seemed to be just a lot of high rise buildings and traffic.  City Centre did have some great views (like the one at the top of this post) and it was nice to spend an hour or so there, but I didn’t really see anything that would tempt me back.

We had a really nice coffee at Pasion del Cielo – you get to choose your beans, very hipster! – I dropped another ton of cash at Sephora, and then we got on the Metromover.

I found the weird monorail really… well, weird!  It was free for one thing which is astonishing for a city, but because we hadn’t done any kind of research, we didn’t really know where we were going so it all felt quite random.  We got off at the romantically named Riverwalk but we soon worried that we were going to be murdered down there so got straight back on.  This was not an attractive river walk.


I don’t really remember where we got off the Mover next (it smelt strongly of urine – that’s all I can recall) but we wandered around Downtown Miami for a bit before getting back on the Mover and riding all the way to the end of the line (School Board).  It was fun to watch the city go by – the Freedom Tower, the big arena, the very striking museums.  Everything looked very busy – lots of families and tourists.

I didn’t really see the appeal of Downtown Miami either, but perhaps we missed the good bits here too.  I’m sure there were some hidden away.

Mum had another moment of fearing for her safety as we walked from School Board to Wynwood (we did stand out a little amongst the cemetery and cement factories) and I don’t think she was that impressed with “a bunch of graffitied buildings” but I’m really pleased we got to see a small bit of Wynwood.  It was packed full of people so impossible to get good photos, and a little bit impossible to walk around comfortably but it was a hot Sunday afternoon so everyone was taking the opportunity to explore.

Wynwood has been on our to do list for a while, but we could never summon enough energy to trek onto the mainland.  There really are some beautiful murals all over the area, not just at “the Walls” and you just trip over art on every street corner.

When the crowds got a little too much and as it started to rain, we grabbed an Uber back to the hotel.  After a 4 hour wander around the mainland, we had to get refreshed for our evening down at South Beach.

Surfside and the North

We are not into the exciting, energetic South Beach – sure it’s nice to visit, but when it comes to finding activities to fill our days, we’d much rather have a bit of peace and quiet.  Surfside and the surrounding area meets that expectation perfectly, so we went back to the same hotel(ish) for the third year in a row (I’ve raved on my blog before).  I love the area and would definitely go back – we had a couple of frustrating experiences at our hotel which has put us off staying there again (I’m now on the look out for somewhere new) but the tiny north Miami Beach town remains as awesome as always.

There is genuinely nothing that Surfside is missing for me – restaurants, a Starbucks, a good Publix (where I finally had a chicken tender sub – I had American cheese, mayo, lettuce, olives and pickles.  Forgot to ask for toasted though) and a CVS for me to stock up on SPF 100.  The beach is right there and it’s only a $20 Uber ride to all the main tourist hotspots.


When we weren’t visiting the stores on Harding Avenue multiple times in one day, we took a couple of trips to Bal Harbour – both the incredibly upscale shopping mall and also to our favourite burger restaurant – BH Burger Bar at the St Regis hotel.  The burgers there are crazy good, and despite only visiting once a year, the staff seem to remember us so we get such a great welcome.

We also splurged on a meal at the Grill at Bal Harbour and immediately wished we’d found this place before.  The restaurant was very calm – that sounds like an odd thing to say about a restaurant, but that’s the best way to describe it.  The food and service were excellent and we had a really relaxed meal.  It’s gone right to the top of our favourites list.

Of course, I had to visit the Aventura Mall which has expanded since our last visit.  It was a ridiculous size before, but now it’s even bigger – according to Wikipedia, it’s the second largest mall in America.  I lost my mind in Sephora again, Mum lost her mind in Henri Bendel and poor Husband lost his mind just waiting for us to finish shopping.  I think we ended up walking almost 15000 steps which is too much for a mall.  We briefly considered slumming it at the Cheesecake Factory for lunch, but the queues put us off so we tried the Grand Lux Cafe instead which I LOVED.  It’s like a slightly fancy Cheesecake Factory!

I did find it odd that the Aventura Mall has America’s first Carsten Holler slides.  I don’t really understand why.  No one was going on them because they were wet, but I guess they’re popular?

We also did a couple of other trips away further afield on this trip, but more on that later.

For us, the most important thing after wandering around Aventura, down at South Beach, or back on the mainland, was that we had some tranquility to come back ‘home’ to, which is something Surfside excels at.  It’s not for everyone, but that just makes it all the better for us.

Surfside, you are my perfect vacation town – never change.

Miami in the Rain

What do you think when you read the words “Miami Beach”?  Turquoise waves, beautiful sandy beaches, blue skies – am I close?

That’s certainly what you get when you Google image search, and is definitely the experience we had both in 2016 and 2017.  2018?  Not so much.  More like grey skies with some ever-so-slightly irritating rain.

It’s always a risk going to Miami in May – the hotels do drop in price, but you’re right up against hurricane season which runs from June to November.  As we got closer to our departure date, I began manically refreshing my Google Weather app, which every day showed me some variation on the following:

I started to research “What to do in Miami in the rain” and to be honest, didn’t come up with much.  Don’t get me wrong – Miami has loads to do inside, but it wasn’t anything I wanted to do.  My list of things I wanted to achieve on this holiday included:

  • Lounge around on the beach

Urm, that was it (we did end up doing a little bit more than this – there’ll be a separate post on that – and we used Time Out and Thrillist for a bit of inspiration).

None of the locals seemed that bothered (checking on Reddit and the Trip Advisor forums) and were reassuring that Miami rain isn’t like “normal” rain.

And they were right.  It isn’t like normal rain at all.  It rained on Saturday a bit, but we were going to spend the whole morning in the Aventura Mall anyway so I’m not counting that as a problem.  Sure, there was spotty rain when we were down on the beach, but we didn’t even bother going inside.  Sat it out like a pro.  It rained loads overnight when we were asleep, and a couple of times in the evening when we were in restaurants.

Considering they were predicting non-stop rain, we were only really affected one afternoon for about an hour when it did this:

The sea is down there somewhere.  We went up to our balcony to watch it for a bit, had a shower, and in the time it took for us to get ready for dinner, it had passed.  The following day, we’d gone back to this again:

So if it’s predicted to rain on your trip to Miami, don’t fret too much.  Take it a day at a time, have a look at a good weather site every once in a while (we liked the dramatically named Doppler 6000 on the NBC website) and just relax.  You’re still going to have an amazing holiday because you’re in freaking Miami!

Unless there’s an actual hurricane, in which case I have no good advice for you.  Sorry about that.

Mood Music, Crafty Fox, and North Korean Art

Over the first May Bank Holiday, I managed to fit in a good amount of fun (I’ll be getting over jet lag for the second May Bank Holiday so I’m pleased I made the most of the first).

My weekend started on the Friday night with a classic date night – theatre followed by dinner.  Husband bought some last minute tickets to Mood Music at the Old Vic and he managed to get us pretty good seats.  All the better for me as the play featured one of my teenage crushes, Ben Chaplin.  I was obsessed with the sitcom Game On at the age of 15, and Ben was quite a large part of my obsession.  I lost track of him over the years, so was great to catch up with him in one of my favourite theatre venues.

The play itself was interesting, although it did leave me wanting more.  For a story about music, there was surprisingly minimal actual music.  It did feel very ‘placed’ and choreographed – everyone had to stick to set movements around the stage so at times, it came across as  a little forced.

Very much enjoyed it though, and it was nice to do something different on a Friday night.  We then had a late dinner and checked into a the Hilton Bankside so we didn’t have to rush for the last train home.  We’ll definitely be doing that again.

Saturday morning came – we checked out of the hotel, had a leisurely coffee, and I made my way over to the Mercato Metropolitano for my third Crafty Fox (Husband spent the day shopping for a new holiday outfit).  I love this venue and I wish I had more of a reason to visit!

I met up with a fellow Crafty Fox aficionado (my friend Alana) and we wandered the stalls whilst gossiping and analysing our shared love of Matthew Rhys.  I didn’t spend a great deal of money this time, but managed to get myself some more Rosa Pietsch necklaces, and a very cute glittery bow from Pup Tart.  I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, but I couldn’t leave it behind.

I then collected Husband from his shopping spree to meet up with Tim for some Saturday afternoon art appreciation.  We went to the House of Illustration in Kings Cross – a small but perfectly formed space which was showing three exhibitions.  We were there to see Made in North Korea which was fascinating (but we had a quick look at the other exhibitions too, including Quentin Blake).  We were there to see the North Korean ‘found objects’ though, and it’s honestly something I have never seen before.  I just don’t understand how he manages to have so much of this stuff!

A catch-up over Ruby Violet ice cream followed (although it was more me grilling Tim on the exact details of his recent trip to New York) and then dinner at Caravan.  Kings Cross has changed a lot since I was there last!

And we were home in time for an episode of Riverdale.  What a perfect start to my Bank Holiday.

April 2018 Things

It’s probably a terrible way of looking at things, but I just wanted April to be over and done with because May is MIAMI MONTH (!!!!), but there were a few notable points.

(More) Holiday Planning
I have been very forward thinking and have combated the post-holiday blues I know I’ll get when we’re back from Miami by booking another trip before we’ve even gone.  A few weeks ago, I was alerted to a great Virgin Atlantic/Delta deal to a variety of different places in America.  We spent too long thinking about it at the time and the deals vanished overnight, so I set up a Google Flights alert for the same locations, and what do you know – up popped the deals again.  This time, we didn’t mess about, and booked ourselves a week in… TEXAS!  I’m so excited – I haven’t been to Texas before, so I’ve spent the past few weeks bookmarking all the places I want to visit.  It’s not for few months yet, so I have plenty of time to prepare.  Woo!

John Robins
Since seeing John compere at the Greenwich Comedy Festival in 2015, I have become an obsessive fan of the Elis and John show on Radio X.  I call myself a PCD, a double retro-oner, and other things that only people who listen to their show will understand.  In that time, I have utterly fallen in love with John (and Elis of course).  I bought tickets for his show in Aldershot but the snow scuppered my chances of getting there so thank goodness for a second chance in Basingstoke.

The Darkness of Robins was spectacular, and the only reason I haven’t blogged about it is because I don’t know how to put my feelings into words.  The best I can say is that for a stand-up show, I did an awful lot of crying.  Team Robins all the way.

Brooklands Hotel
We had a random night away where I had a facial, we ate some lovely food, and we watched fast cars from our room.  Always fun.

Alone Time
Every so often, Husband goes away for work so I get a bit of alone time.  With him off in South Africa for a week, I managed to fit in some shopping (where I found my dream Lulu Guinness Vanity Case in TK Maxx), lots of Sex and the City watching, and a multitude of face masks.  I don’t like him to be away too often, but it’s good to have some time to myself once in a while.

Card fraud
It’s not great when you start the month with someone fraudulently taking money from your bank account.  It gets worse when the same thing happens to your credit card the following day.  I really don’t understand how this happened, and my bank was equally as baffled, but considering I don’t have any other cards, I was pretty stuck for money for the first week of April (except for a random £10 M&S gift voucher).  Thank goodness Google Pay still worked, albeit for payments under £30.  Stupid fraud!

Brooklands Hotel

 Onto my next hotel visit – the Christmas gift stay.

A couple of Christmases ago, my in-laws gifted us one of those hotel stay gift vouchers which was very generous of them.  I went on the website, validated the voucher code (or whatever it is you needed to do) and then didn’t do anything with it.  With Husband constantly on last-minute work trips, it was difficult to book in advance as we didn’t know if he’d actually be around.  In the end, the expiration date was fast approaching so we bit the bullet and booked.  As it turned out, he ended up going to South Africa the day after our stay so it was lucky we didn’t have to cancel!

There were a lot of hotels to choose from but a lot of them were quite far away and as it was only one night, we didn’t want an epically long drive.  We decided on the fairly local Brooklands Hotel which had great reviews on Trip Advisor, and a pretty interesting location opposite Mercedes Benz World.

We paid the extra £20 to upgrade to a track facing room which was well worth it – watching the cars speed around the track and skid around the skid pan was very entertaining.  Admittedly, we could have just walked across the road to go in MB World, or even over to the Brooklands Museum which also looked fun, but we decided to do neither of those things.  Husband instead spent the afternoon preparing for his work trip whilst I went to the spa.  I think I got a better deal than he did.

Check-in was very smooth and we soon had our noses pressed up against the huge window looking at all the pretty Mercedes.  The bathroom was smallish, but considering we were only there for one night, that didn’t bother me too much.  They’ve made some good decisions with the furniture – a Pedrali table is always a good sign and there was a very cool fresnel lens lampshade.  Everything was very stylish.

I managed to drag myself away from the action round the track and went up to the spa for my 50 minute Caudalie facial.  I love Caudalie products and the facial absolutely met my expectations – they have beautiful, serene treatment rooms and a good selection of techniques in the facial – I was left feeling incredibly relaxed and I’ll definitely keep my eye out for more spas that use Caudalie.  On the way out, I couldn’t resist a travel set of skincare which was only £12.50 and will come in handy for my next hotel stay.

Napping was necessary after all that relaxing, before we went down to dinner at 7 at the 1907 restaurant.  I was a bit concerned that it was quite a big open space and the noise levels were high, but we were lucky to get a table in a very quiet corner.  We also had breakfast there the next day – all in all, the food was delicious and we had such attentive service.

It was a shame we had to rush off in the morning to get Husband ready for his flight – they have a lovely late check-out time and I could easily have whiled away the hours in the room watching all that aggressive driving.

I have a little bit of a gap until my next hotel stay – I’ve got my trip to Miami in a couple of a weeks and I cannot wait!

Hilton London Bankside

My second hotel visit of the month – the non-refundable stay.

A few months ago, my Mum and I discovered the Hilton London Bankside – it was perfectly located for our impromptu shopping trip, exceptionally well appointed, and not stupidly expensive.  So when Husband and I decided to stay overnight after the Flight of the Conchords gig at the O2, I figured the Hilton would be perfect as it’s just a couple of stops down the Jubilee Line.  Sure, it was non-refundable but of course there wouldn’t be any problems

And then the Flight of the Conchords gig got cancelled.  Sigh.

Rather than waste the room, we went up to London anyway and had a touristy afternoon.  A grey, very rainy, touristy afternoon – classic London.

We managed to check in early which was a relief as we got soaked in the short 15 minute walk from Waterloo.  Once again, the service we received was fantastic – I’ve never come across anything like it in the UK before.  Hilton allows you to select a room online the day before, but I wasn’t quick enough to get a good one so we did end up with a view of a wall.  I still loved the room though – the decor is so minimalist and understated, the bathroom has beautiful tiles and concrete floor, and the Peter Thomas Roth toiletries are great.

Husband had never been to the Switch House at the Tate Modern (which is apparently now called the Blavatnik Building) so we spent most of the afternoon in there.  Although a tip for tourists – never visit on a bank holiday because it was hellish.  It was especially bad in the Turbine Hall with the Superflex exhibition which is basically just free childcare.  We did manage to get to the viewing platform without losing our minds, and because of the weather, it was very peaceful up there.  We also saw part of the Joan Jonas exhibition which was most enjoyable.

After the Tate Modern, we wandered down the South Bank, visited Mr Jones Watches (I suspect another watch post is needed), and a few more of the shops alongside the river.  It was still very wet, but this meant there were less people around.  After the scrum at the Tate, a bit of peace and quiet was needed.

After a quick drying-off back at the hotel, we went for a very sophisticated dinner at Sea Containers House in the Mondrian hotel.  We decided to go in through the hotel entrance rather than the entrance on the Thames – it is a very beautiful hotel and I have this noted for any future stays.  Dinner itself was really lovely, although we ate three courses so by the time I got to my caramelised banana dessert, I was so full.  We were lucky enough to sit by the window, so we people watched as we ate.  It was a great meal.

After a little bit of a restless night – the bed wasn’t particularly comfortable this time round – we met up with Tim for brunch at the Refinery where we all had excellent eggs, before we headed back home and Tim visited a significantly quieter Tate Modern.

As we fiddled about with our bags and coats after checking out, I took the opportunity to take in the Hilton’s lovely Easter display.  They really make such an effort here, and we’ll definitely be back.  It’s such a great hotel.

It was fun to be a London tourist for the day, and did mitigate somewhat against the disappointment of not seeing Flight of the Conchords.  Fingers crossed the re-scheduled gigs go ahead as planned.

March 2018 Things

My mind throughout this month was dominated by one thing:

Work
It has been one of those months.  You know the ones – you think you’ve planned for every eventuality but then something comes out of left field and completely derails you.  Always fun.  As well as doing my best impression of someone who is coping fine-thank-you-very-much, I visited Liverpool to catch up on new Government policy, and presented two (very dry) sessions at our staff conference.    This time last year, I wouldn’t have dreamt of presenting, so at least I’m developing professionally!

More snow!
This featured in my February Things post as well, but we had a couple more centimetres of snow in March.  I LOVE IT!

Bayside the Musical
Ridiculous, ridiculous fun.  I love this musical so much!

Touristy weekend in London
Over the bank holiday weekend, we found ourselves stuck with a London hotel after a cancellation, so decided to go all out tourist.  More about that soon.

Editors
I’ve been a huge fan of Editors since their first album The Back Room, which soundtracked my postgraduate degree, and have loved every album since then.  Their latest release Violence is so different to that first CD, but still as spectacular.  I can’t stop listening to it.