Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Tour of Coral Gables

I love being a bicycle tourist.

Once a month the Everglades Bicycle Club has a Saturday Spice Ride. A Spice Ride is a leader-led ride that is different from the usual Saturday offerings. A different route. A different length. A different destination. September's Spice Ride was a chance to be a bicycle tourist right here in Miami. It was a tour of Coral Gables.

We rolled the bikes to the elevator, out the lobby, turned on our lights, and headed to Miami City Hall. The sun was just breaking over the horizon when we arrived at City Hall. A large group of riders was gathering. After a quick review of the rules of the road on EBC group rides, we were off. This was not going to be a speed ride. We were off to see the architecture of Coral Gables and to hear about the city's history.

The man in who put together the route and who would be today's tour guide was EBC member Gerry Garcia. We pedaled to the Old Spanish Village Arch. Here he talked about Coral Gables being one of the first planned communities, developed by George Merrick during the real estate boom of the 1920s. This was the start of several hours of pleasant pedaling through the city. While Greg Garcia was the one talking most of the time, others on the ride shared their knowledge as well. As I stood over my bike listening to them, I realized how special this was. The people sharing their memories or just fun facts about places we visited weren't strangers like the guides I was used to on trips to far away cities. These were people I knew through EBC.

We visited the architecturally themed villages. Merrick had planned twice as many villages, but the devastating
Gerry Garcia was our tour guide to Coral Gables.
hurricane of 1926, the implosion of the real estate market and economic crash of the Depression ended Merrick's plans. I'd seen the homes of these villages, but until now didn't know their interesting history. My favorites were the Chinese and Dutch South African. We visited the Municipal Building. (Now I know the real story of the firemen sculptures. Until now I was focused on the giant red rabbit sculptures out front. Who knew this building had been over the years, a firehouse, city offices and a jail?) We saw Coral Gables City Hall, Merrick House, an unusual cemetery, the Biltmore Hotel. and the original site of the University of Miami. We visited a school that was built as part of a land swap deal with Merrick back in the 1920, and we heard how the adjacent property was the planned Trolley Garage, a result of a similar modern day land swap deal. We pedaled past the Venetian Pool, a spot some riders were planning to visit.

The group headed back towards Miami City Hall, part of the riders pedaling off to a spot for lunch, others pedaling to their cars and homes. I'd had a grand time. I'd talked to new people and learned a lot about Coral Gables. The riding had been organized but relaxed.

I love being a bicycle tourist.