I have a night in Miami as I transfer from The Bahamas to Haiti. This is America, so I need to talk about everything in terms of rankings. Miami is not the capital of Florida state, ( Tallahassee is) but it's the largest city there. It's only the 44th-largest city in the United States. Miami is one of the largest majority-minority cities in the United States -70% of its population is Hispanic. Perhaps more surprisingly, the city was ranked as the third-richest in the world and the second-richest in the United States in purchasing power.

Miami is described as a 'coastal metropolis' on Wikipedia. It spills into Fort Lauderdale to the north. Miami is also a major tourism hub for international visitors, ranking second in the country after New York City. This might be because the Gulf Stream, a warm ocean current, runs just off the coast, allowing the city's climate to stay warm and mild all year. But it probably has more to do with its huge passenger port. Miami has been called the Gateway to Latin America and the Cruise Capital of the World.

Time to explore. The Downtown area has the third-largest skyline in the U.S. with over 300 high-rises. It's adjacent to the Miami Historic District which contains 60 historic buildings, mainly constructed during the Florida land boom of the 1920s.

Miami - Art Deco

However, I'm more interested in The Art Deco Historic District on South Beach. This is on a long thin peninsula - well almost an island - to the east of the main city. Miami has the highest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world. But only just. These 800+ captivating buildings and structures, erected between 1923 and 1943. were almost destroyed by avaricious condo developers in the early 1970s. Their survival is due to Barbara Baer Capitman, who founded the Miami Design Preservation League in 1976. There are the characteristic curving corners, tiny arched windows, portholes and pastel blues and pinks interspersed with contrasting oranges, vibrant yellows, mellow greens and more.

It's not really hot enough to sunbathe in January, but the silvery beach, dotted with scarlet booths, is still beautiful and deserves a wander. The street stalls are cooking up delicious corn fritters and there's plenty of people watching to be done.

The Delano - As Hip As It Gets

And I'm in the Delano Hotel. Itself a world-renowned Art Deco spot, it was once the tallest building in Miami Beach. Today, it's an A-list haunt for celebrities and socialites looking to wine, dine and sunbathe. It’s about as hip as it gets. I got a good deal, so I’m in the coolest spot on the planet, relaxing with the beautiful people beside the pool bungalows and beds. It's more sheltered and enticing than the beach. And there are cocktails to be tested. We even get our own towelling bed cover.

And everything is white. My room has a snowy chaise longue and a walk in closet and the bathroom is all pristine marble. I don’t think Haiti will be like this.

The Deep South

The term Deep South refers to the seven southern states that seceded from the United States and originally formed the Confederate States of America. In order of secession they are: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. They are of course the states most dependent on plantations and slavery during the early period of United States history. They're also known as the Cotton States, since cotton was the primary cash crop. They are irrevocably linked with racial tension, and the American Civil War, romantically depicted in the glorious Gone with the Wind.

I'm touring five of these, by car, with Alex, and throwing in Tennessee for good measure. This can't escape being a music tour too. I'm beginning and ending at Atlanta, Georgia. Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport has been the world's busiest airport by passenger traffic since 1998. It's fun watching all the planes dive in and out, three at a time.

Nashville, Tennessee

North to Nashville, the capital of of Tennessee. Nashville seceded with Tennessee during the American Civil War, after the initial seven states. In 1862 it was the first state capital in the Confederacy to fall to Union troops. Nowadays it's better known as home to numerous legendary country music venues. There's the Grand Ole Opry House, home of the famous “Grand Ole Opry” stage and radio show in a very green park. Close by, the Opry Mills mall, complete with boating lake and a restaurant that seems to be built inside an aquarium.

Downtown, are the Ryman Auditorium (a former home of the Grand Ole Opry), and The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The latter takes some time, exploring the dedications to the inductees. Patsy Cline seems to be the favourite. The surrounding District, also features the Johnny Cash Museum, and more interestingly. honky-tonks with live music. It's not all country music. There's a BB King's too.

Memphis, Tennessee

On to Memphis, the largest city on the Mississippi River, where a paddle steamer trip on the Rolling River is obligatory. We're a bridge away from Arkansas. Memphis played a central role in the slave trade and it's home to Tennessee's largest African-American population. It has been prominent in the American civil rights movement and was the site of Martin Luther King Junior's 1968 assassination. Its roots mean that it is also the place to find plenty of music: blues, country, rock and roll, soul, and hip-hop. World famous Beale Street is hopping with live bands (there are music stands in the parks too) - and motor bikes.


Anyone who has listened to Paul Simon singing knows where Graceland is. Actually, the mansion owned by Elvis Presley is about nine miles from Downtown Memphis. Elvis died in 1977 and Graceland was opened to the public as a museum in 1982. Graceland is popular I you have to book. it's the most-visited privately owned home in America, with over 650,000 visitors a year. It was the first rock and roll site to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places and to be designated a National Historic Landmark.

It's stuffed with Elvis memorabilia and kitsch. As are the local hotels, themed to the nines. We're staying in The Heartbreak Hotel, which has, of course, a heart shaped pool

Natchez - Plantations of Mississippi

South, into Mississippi on the Great River Road. This All-American Road has already traced the course of the Mississippi River for a large part of its 3,000 miles through 10 states. This is the second longest river in the USA, after the Missouri though according to some that's a tributary (of the Mississippi).

The river meanders, but it's quiet and, apart from the odd bridge and village is sadly, not hugely interesting. However, this is is definitely planation country. By 1860, Mississippi was the nation's top cotton-producing state and slaves accounted for 55% of the population. Its low hills are dotted with elegantly restored antebellum plantation houses. Antebellum means 'before the war'. These are grand places to stay.

Natchez, Mississippi

Natchez, on a bluff above the Mississippi River, is a treasure trove of scenes from Gone with the Wind - wedding-cake mansions, mint juleps and Southern food. I've experienced gracious hospitality and been offered grits (don't bother) but I haven't been called 'honey-chile' yet. There are 550 pre- Civil War structures standing here. Some are open for tours, but we've opted to stay in one. Monmouth Plantation House, now Inn, was built in 1818. The main opulently swagged mansion, with its period furniture. is set in 26 acres of manicured gardens containing seven outbuildings, also used as lodgings.

Close by, is domed Longwood, also known as Nutt's Folly, an antebellum octagonal mansion, turned museum, the largest octagonal house in the United States

New Orleans, Louisiana

Into Louisiana. It takes an age to reach New Orleans, driving across the flat causeways of the bayoux, (singing along with the Carpenters).

Founded in 1718 by French colonists, New Orleans was once the territorial capital of French Louisiana before becoming part of the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. It is unique, iconic, world-renowned for its laid back lifestyle, distinctive music, Creole cuisine, unique dialects, and the annual Mardi Gras carnival. This is why it's also known as The Big Easy. The historic heart of the city is the French Quarter, known for its French and Spanish Creole architecture and this rewards wandering. There are balconies, chic cafes and horse carts galore. and of course, the landmark St Louis Cathedral. Built in 1720 on the banks of the Mississippi, this is the oldest cathedral in North America - positively ancient. Here, the street beginning with a B that's famous for vibrant nightlife is Bourbon Street. A jazz club in this area is a must.

South Alabama

East, through the strip of Alabama that manages to reach the coast, around Mobile, the state capital. Here, it borders the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay. There are more wetlands but these give way to stretches of long, sandy beaches. This is an up and coming tourist area with several deluxe golf courses.

Pensacola, Florida

We're passing up on those and continuing to the Gulf beaches of Pensacola in Florida. Pensacola is the westernmost city in the Florida Panhandle. It's also the site of a United States Naval Air Station, For some reason Pensacola has endured a series of nicknames. It's been called "The City of Five Flags", (due to the five governments that have ruled it during its history: Spain (Castile), France, Great Britain, the United States of America, and the Confederate States of America), "World's Whitest Beaches" (due to the white sand of Florida panhandle beaches), "Cradle of Naval Aviation", "Western Gate to the Sunshine State", "America's First Settlement", "Emerald Coast", "Red Snapper Capital of the World", and "P-Cola". Take your pick. I'm settling for "World's Whitest Beaches", though the sands are very quiet today.

Savannah, Georgia

Skirting the top of Florida. through the state capital, Tallahassee and enduring the traffic of far larger, more congested, Jacksonville. Then north to Gone with the Wind country proper. Savannah's cobbled downtown area, is one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the United States. Manicured parks, more antebellum architecture. more horse-drawn carriages and more river boat trips on the Savannah River. There are several brick forts to admire on the way.

Charleston, South Carolina

Hugging the coast of Georgia and just popping over the border to South Carolina and Charleston. More manicured parks, more horse-drawn carriages and even more antebellum architecture. Not as quaint, as Savannah, but more liveable. And another brick built defence - Fort Sumter. Although the fort, built on an artificial island protecting Charleston, was never quite finished. Its construction was prompted by the 1812 British invasion of Washington by sea. However, it was still incomplete in 1861, when exchange of fire here, began the American Civil War. It was severely damaged by the war, and left in ruins.

Gone With the Wind

Back to Georgia and Atlanta. Atlanta was originally founded as the terminus of a major state-sponsored railroad. Its name derives from that of the Western and Atlantic Railroad's local depot. General Sherman famously burned most of the city to the ground, during his March to the Sea, in November 1864, toward the end of the American Civil War. Today its the state capital of Georgia, an economic hub and home of Coca Cola. It's development and diversity is promoted in the Netflix reboot of Dynasty, which relocated from Denver to Atlanta. There is a monument to education located north of Baker Street on Famous Peachtree Street in Downtown Atlanta’s Hardy Ivy Park. This is the Carnegie Education Pavilion, built using the façade taken from Atlanta’s first public library, paid for by Andrew Carnegie in 1901. Before this time only white men (and latterly women) had access to private libraries.

And, Atlanta is where Margaret Mitchell wrote the book. You can visit her home, which has been turned into a museum. And now it's time for us to go too. Tomorrow is Another Day....

Read more about the U.S.A. here

Where's Bruce?

Good flight out – met by Bruce at Miami airport. He is lurking by a pillar in arrivals, but I don’t recognise him. He has suddenly sprouted a mane of hair that he didn’t own when we first met. Then, Bruce was travelling with his wife Laurie, in Brazil and they invited me to stay with them in Fort Lauderdale. On that trip, he was almost totally bald.


Florida is the sunshine state, just about the most southerly of the so called contiguous states renowned for its tropical and subtropical beach resorts and other tourist attractions. (The Everglades, Walt Disney World, the Kennedy Space Center and Miami Beach.) Florida contains 4,510 islands. Perhaps more surprisingly, it’s the flattest state, with a high point of only 105 metres.
Various Native American groups have inhabited Florida for at least 14,000 years. In 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León became the first known European to make landfall, naming the region La Florida, for its lush greenery and the Easter season (Pascua Florida in Spanish).

Florida was the first area in the continental U.S. to be permanently settled by Europeans. The Spanish colony of St. Augustine, founded in 1565, is the oldest continuously inhabited city. Florida was repeatedly contested by Spain and Great Britain, before being ceded to the U.S. in 1819. It was admitted as the 27th state on March 3, 1845. This was the time of the Seminole Wars (1816–1858), the longest and most extensive of the Native Indian Wars in U.S. history. Florida was one of the seven original Confederate States to secede from the Union in 1861. After the Civil War, Florida was restored to the Union in 1868.
Florida's large diverse population and thriving economy give it considerable influence in national politics It’s recently achieved fame as a major battleground in presidential elections.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

He takes me into Fort Lauderdale to see how the other half live in Florida. It nestles on the edge of the Miami metropolitan area, a gateway to cruising (from the huge port) and the Everglades. It's a smallish city, with a population of 182,437. Nevertheless, according to Wikipedia, it boasts 560 hotels, over 4,000 restaurants, 63 golf courses, 12 shopping malls, 16 museums, 132 nightclubs, 278 parkland campsites, and 100 marinas housing 45,000 resident yachts. Apparently, Fort Lauderdale is the Yachting Capital of the World.

There are not one but three forts here. They're named after Major William Lauderdale and were constructed during the Seminole Wars, the longest of the Native Indian Wars.

We wander down Los Olas Boulevard, described as 'the heart of Fort Lauderdale, South Florida’s most architecturally unique, authentic, and eclectic shopping and dining district'. It stretches from the beach, immaculately lined with palm trees and beautiful people, to rise over the fabulous Intracoastal Waterway with its views of multi million dollar homes and a few of the enormous sparkling yachts. I gape at Picassos and Chagalls in the windows.

Then we have huge margaritas on the beach. A cloudless sky. Bruce decides that this is a good moment to own up about his hair and tell me that Laurie also wears a hairpiece. In fact that was where they met - buying wigs.

Alone with the Alligators

The four TVs are all running a royal weekend special. Pseudo Dianas and Fergies on every channel. Unmissable. Not. Laurie and Bruce have gone to a wedding, leaving me the run of their exotic Spanish style mansion. I’ve still got jet lag, it’s pitch black outside and we’re on the edge of the Florida Everglades. Yesterday, they hauled an alligator out of next-door’s pond. Suffice it to say I’m not venturing out on my own.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

We're driving down to the Florida Keys. I can't keep my eyes off Laurie's hair. It’s very black and luxuriant. Then, Bruce says he is too hot and removes his toupee. It sits on the parcel shelf like a squashed hedgehog. I wait for Laurie to do the same; 'Hers is bonded on,' Bruce confides. 'She never takes it off.'

The Florida Keys

The drive is long and slow. The Florida Keys (or Cays) are a string of tropical islands stretching about 120 miles off the southern tip of Florida, There's a great deal of traffic and numerous causeway bridges. This is the southernmost end of U.S. Route 1, the longest north–south road in the United States. Bruce spends the first half of the ourney on his phone (driving with one hand) shouting at the people running his medical centre. (He’s a foot doctor). Then Laurie spends the other half on her phone, having an argument with her twin sister.

Key West

The southernmost city of Key West is about 95 miles north of Cuba. It's famous for mile-long Duval Street’s many bars and is very pretty and very expensive. Colonial houses, designer clothes and stuffed lobster. We spend a morning examining 400 dollar handbags and after my millionth yawn I eventually persuade my companions to decamp to the beach. This is excellent, white sand and crooked palms. Pelicans swooping. I snorkel and eyeball some huge woohoos and the odd yellow tailed snapper. The Florida Reef is the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States, and the third-largest coral barrier reef system in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef and Belize Barrier Reef).

Key West and the Civil War

There's even a sea battle being re-enacted complete with nineteenth costumes, schooners and guns. The festival re-creates the Civil War era ,when Key West was the only Deep South port to remain in Union hands. Fort Taylor, on the island's Atlantic Ocean shore, played a major role in the Union blockade of Confederate shipping.

Very entertaining. I am just getting comfy on my deck chair when my companions decide it is time to leave.

Hemingway's House

Laurie and Bruce disappear into a bar.  I venture into Hemingway’s house. Ernest Hemingway and his second wife Pauline spent most of the 1930s in a home on Whitehead Street that you can visit today. The Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author's years in Key West were his most prolific writing period. He also spent his days fishing the waters surrounding the island on his boat Pilar. The museum contains sixty odd cats (Hemingway seems to have liked them) and a typewriter.

Afterwards, a Florida stone crab restaurant. Frankly, the local delicacy is bland, a tad disappointing. Laurie and I are both exhausted by all the shopping, so we retire to our B and B. I remove all my clothes and am wandering round my room thinking about bed, when there is a knock on my door. It’s Bruce." Wanna come for a drink baby?" He’s eyeing up my strategically placed towel lasciviously. I decline this tempting offer.

Christmas in Florida

This is a very weird country. The houses are sun blazing on Spanish tiles and terracotta, all bestrewn with inflated Father Christmases and illuminated reindeer. A guy in a Stetson stops his car outside the local mall and  encourages me to get in “for a ride round the block”.  Bruce persuades a “friend” to drive me to Miami for my Caribbean cruise. He is 73 and immediately confides that he has a girlfriend, as he doesn't get enough sex from his wife. But he is about to dump the girlfriend (66), as she's too pushy. He is taking testosterone injections but doesn't believe in Viagra. Would I like to fill in?

The Everglades, Florida

Back from my cruise and great weather, I think, but no, the locals say that winter has set in  and now it's only 70 degrees. We all put our coats on and complain about how cold it is. We take a day trip to the Everglades. The Everglades National Park is the largest tropical wilderness in the U.S. and among the largest in the Americas. It's a string of wetlands with a unique and fragile ecosystem. in the southern part of Florida, The system begins near Orlando with the Kissimmee River, which discharges into the vast Lake Okeechobee.

On a good day you can the American alligator, American crocodile (yes, both), American flamingo, Roseate spoonbill, Florida panther, bottlenose dolphin, and manatee. But the alligators don't like the weather either. They hide in the grass and so all we see is the odd turtle and an osprey or two from our airboat tour. We bump along deserted mangrove canals. Then we sit in the sun and listen to a dog barking along to Jungle Bells. Albert, the (academically inclined) egret swoops down, to be fed fish at a dollar a pop.

Medical Matters

I have discovered, that after paying the exorbitant sum of £80 for a small packet of malaria tablets, I have managed to leave them in the bathroom cabinet - at home. Bruce is sorting it. He has also just danced up to me and given me a vitamin B12 injection; he says it will do me good. I am surprised to say the least (I am not fond of injections) and not impressed. Especially as he is still pursuing me everywhere telling me that he knows that I do fancy him really.

And if you can't beat 'em join 'em. I've bought this baseball hat with long brown hair attached. It looks surprisingly realistic - and weird!

Next stop Chile and Easter Island.

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