Thursday, 28 April 2011

20. The other Hollywood

Denver International Airport

First Class meal on US Airways

Desoto Awards

Hollywood Beach

Desoto Oceanview Inn Gardens

Le Tub burger

Young Circle, Hollywood

Relaxing by the Intracoastal

Sunset over the Intracoastal

Denver’s light and airy International Airport is an hour’s ride away from the city. The RTD bus takes a fairly circuitous route, but the driver kindly helps me on and off with my baggage.
Check in with US Airways is quick and easy. I ask the lady if the airline has a lounge at the airport. She laughs. ‘With just three check in desks and two gates, we are lucky if we have a chair to sit on!’
The security staff is friendly and efficient and it’s nice to be able to get through without ending up in a tangled heap as tends so often to be the case.
There’s a chatty lady sitting next to me in First Class, who is on the way to see her son and his family in Charlotte. As someone who has been involved in business in the city, she’s very interested in my views on Denver. She seems pleased when I praise ‘whoever was responsible for the city’s progress in recent years’. This person seems to be a friend of hers, the former mayor, who is now the State Governor.
We are served a splendid meal and the journey to Charlotte passes quickly and very pleasantly.
I am delighted that the connection to Fort Lauderdale works seamlessly. The man next to me on this leg is highly stressed. He is very reluctant to switch off his Smartphone, and flings it into the seat pocket in a rage when he is told by the flight attendant to switch it off. He then turns the pages of the in-flight magazine with an unbelievable ferocity. By the time we arrive in Fort Lauderdale, he has downed four double measures of vodka, which at least seems to have calmed him down.
Collecting a car at Hertz is the normal nonsense of too few staff on duty and them trying to sell you additional insurance and a larger car. The technique works, I am sure, with jet-lagged tourists, but not with me!
I have chosen Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport as it is only a short drive from the Desoto Oceanview Inn, where I first stayed when writing ‘Hidden Florida’ in 2009. It’s my third visit.
The Desoto is charming. It is small, friendly, is right next to the beach, full of character amid splendid gardens and delightfully quiet. Manager Steve Welsch
is a firm believer in being green and guests are encouraged to recycle as much as possible.
Steve is pleased that I notice a new bookcase, on the back of which are some of the Inn’s many awards. A neighbour was throwing it out and, with a bit of work, the piece of furniture provides both a place for books and a functional display space.
I visit Winn Dixie, a Florida supermarket chain, where I stock up with necessities for the short stay in my comfortable self-catering apartment.
It’s a holiday weekend, the roads are busy, it is stiflingly hot, and so I decide not to be a tourist but to fit in with the Desoto’s relaxing ethos.
For the first time in almost two months, I sit down with a book and actually relax.
The beach is 30 seconds from the shady spot where I have been reading and just before the sun goes down, I enjoy a dip in the warm Atlantic Ocean while watching huge cruise liners set off from Port Everglades.
The Desoto is at the north end of Hollywood’s two-mile long Broadwalk, a promenade popular with walkers and cyclists, which allows easy access to the six miles of top quality beach.
The water taxi, which, for years, has taken visitors around Fort Lauderdale’s many waterways, has now been extended to Hollywood. The two-hour return journey along the Intracoastal Waterway allows a close up view of the cruise ships as well as linking in to the popular circuit around ‘The Venice of America’.
In the Wilton Manors district, I marvel at the expensive homes in their waterfront location and gleaming white boats tied up at the bottom of the garden.
No visit to the United States can be complete without a visit to a shopping mall, where the prices, by European standards, are amazingly cheap.
Thus I buy three new pairs of shoes at Oakwood Plaza, allowing me to dispose of two, which Steve at the Desoto retrieves ‘to pass on to needy folk’.
I drive down the A1A, Ocean Drive, to explore Hollywood Beach, but the great weather and the holiday weekend has brought out the crowds and there is not a parking space to be found. So I resort to plan B, cross the bridge over the Intracoastal, and enjoy the relative calm of downtown Hollywood, with its ArtsPark at Young Circle and the tree-lined Boulevard with pleasant street cafes.
I am hoping to visit Stranahan House, built in 1901 and on the National Register of Historic Places, where there is a ghost tour. But, because of the holiday, it is closed.
So I resort to the beach where I enjoy the Atlantic breakers crashing against the shore while I devour more of my book.
The following day, I take one of the Desoto’s complimentary bicycles and potter around the nearby Anne Kolb Nature Center, which has more than 1500 acres of coastal mangrove wetlands alongside the Intracoastal Waterway.
Steve has been laid up as a result of a knee injury, so it’s just his Venezuelan partner Josias and I who head into Hollywood Beach for dinner.
We visit Le Tub, built in 1975 totally from flotsam and jetsam on the site of a former petrol station, and overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. It’s weird, wacky and full of character. Its sirloin burger is reportedly Oprah Winfrey’s favourite and was once named by Esquire magazine as ‘The Best burger in America’.
But when it arrives, after a wait of 40 minutes (warned about in advance) it is disappointing. The meat is clearly great quality, but the ‘13 ounces of pure ground sirloin’ burger is let down presentationally by being served on a disposable plate with plastic cutlery and some very tired lettuce and tomato.
In the morning, Steve says he’s pleased that I have been able to relax into the Desoto’s lifestyle.
As am I. It’s been just what I had needed.
As I am unloading my bags at Hertz, having driven just 71 miles in 3 days, one of their employees, Fred, kindly offers to drive me and my luggage in the car to Terminal 3 to catch my flight to Lansing, Michigan, via Charlotte and Chicago.
It’s a much appreciated gesture at the end of a relaxing few days in Florida.

My Florida pictures are at

 

A selection of images from all the destinations visited in ‘Around the World in 60 days’ is at