St. Augustine, FloridaI wanted to visit the oldest, continuously-occupied European settlement in North America.
I parked at the Visitor Information Center (or VIC). It cost $15 for the day, but my car was in a parking garage and safe. Inside the VIC, I picked up an official map of St. Augustine. As I examined it, trying to get my bearings, a kind worker asked if she could give me some tips. I learned a lot from her about St. Augustine. She was a transplant from New York City.
Just about right outside the Center is the city gate. A section of the city walls flanks it. The weather was the best that I've experienced so far in Florida. The humidity was low, and it was mostly sunny.
First stop was Castillo de San Marcos. This fort cemented the Spanish presence in the New World. Previously, the French had threatened Spanish claims to the Florida peninsula. This fort, the oldest masonry one in the U.S., is surprisingly low to the ground. Still, it offers a formidable command of the Matanzas Bay.
I elected not to pay to go inside. There were lots of screaming children around. The thought of being in a stone building with them didn't seem worth it! This photo was taken by the National Park Service.
Here are a couple of photos that I took from the moat.
Inside the gate, a tourist heaven unfolded. Restaurants, gift shops, and bars beckoned. Here's what the main thoroughfare looks like. Walking through the old gates into consumerism reminded me of passing into La Cité de Carcassonne, only much, much less impressive!
Speaking of which, here is "The Oldest Wood School in the U.S.A.". It's quite an accomplishment, because a hurricane hasn't blown it down and the termites haven't eaten it. But, between you and me, I think it is a reproduction. That would be fitting with the faux nature of this part of Old Town, St. Augustine.
I blew through most of the northern half of the Old Town. Being interested in history, I'll stop only for buildings of significance.
I visited Flagler College, which was originally the Ponce de Leon Hotel. Posh snowbirds from the North--mostly the Northeast--would pay Henry Flagler, of Standard Oil money, to stay there. I was impressed by the luxury of the grounds accessible to the public. The water fountain and rotunda, combined with the heavy stone walls made the hotel-now-college feel noticable cooler. College students were busy going about their studies.
Across the street the Lightner Museum was even more peaceful. It was originally the Alcazar Hotel, also built by Flagler. The American Victorians did know how to build comfortable hotels!
I took a photo of one of the maps conveniently located around the Old Town. Click for a larger view (1.4 MB), if you are planning a visit!
The Lightner Museum was running an exhibit on Downton Abbey costumes. I would have been interested, but turned away when I saw a sign stating that they searched all backpacks. I just didn't want to deal with that, even though I had no backpack.
As I continued south, the roads became bricked and the houses looked more original, and in private ownership. Finally, some real history. Above you see the plaque describing probably the first chapel in St. Augustine, Nuestra Señora de la Soledad. Eventually, it was disassembled to build the current cathedral on the plaza. (I wanted to snap a photo of the cathedral, but it just wasn't possible. Too many people, traffic, and no spots for a wide shot stopped me. Click for a view of where the first chapel used to reside.
The appearance of the Llambias House solidified my assumption that I had left the "touristy" area behind. It's made using the traditional materials, including coquina (pronounced co-KEE-na), which is a local stone that has decomposed from shellfish. The stuff is tough. It was used in the fort because it could resist cannon fire! Click for the plaque.
The Tovar House continues the trend. It may be right next to the Oldest House in St. Augustine, but I was more impressed by it. Click for the plaque.
My friendly tour guide from NYC said that the original Oldest House in St. Augustine--not this one--was the oldest in North America. But it burned down, as I recall. Now, the oldest North American house stands in Massachusetts. Still, I'll settle for the oldest house in St. Augustine. A man was painting the siding on the second floor when I showed up. You can see his blue Tacoma.
I'd like to write that I was being courteous by not photographing him. But, I was a bit confused by the sign over the brick building next to the "Oldest House". Evidently, this is a museum entrance. The House is actually just down the road. Here's a photo captured by Nancy Hovater. Click for the plaque.
I wandered around the narrow, brick lanes near the Oldest House. The area was spared the commercialism of other parts because of the Bed & Breakfast lodging and well-to-do residents. Hurrah for yuppies! (I never thought I'd write that!)
I like the melding of modern life with the historical buildings. If I screw up my eyes, I can almost think I am in medieval southern Europe.
As I headed back to my car, a wave of noise hit me in the main plaza. I took a few photos of plaques of various building, but I was not impressed.
In front of the Visitor Center was a stone ball. (Who doesn't like stone balls?) I had to know what it was. Click for a shot of the inscription on it.
The day was still young, so I decided to walk to the Fountain of Youth where Juan Ponce de Leon landed.
The place turned out to be yet another tourist trap. But the trek wasn't a waste because I was able to photograph some of the damage leftover from Hurricane Irma. Most--if not all--of the damage to signs has been repaired in the resort areas. But, the damage persists in much of Florida.
As far as I know, this location of Hungry Howie's is open for business. Just ignore the orange barrels, as they are everywhere. I wonder if all of Florida is undergoing road work all of the time!
Back in the VIC, I reviewed an exhibit of maps showing the expansion. I have to admit that the flat terrain and lack of stones in the ground lends itself to rapid expansion.
I purchased a few items at the gift ship, and was able to enjoy a conversation with the teller. She spoke of her parents experiencing unexpectedly cold weather with temperatures in the twenties. Yes, in Florida! She also remembers people living in "quarters" when she was a girl. That's when I realized that she was referring to former slave quarters! There was a slave market near this historic town.
I got back to my car and headed back to the apartment. In Florida, liquor stores have drive-throughs. Yes, I have heard about them. I have just not seen one, like the one shown above! Please forgive the poor photography: I snapped the photo through the windshield while sitting in traffic.
I took the scenic route back to the apartment. It was so worth it! (I was overtaken by two or three cars, despite doing 5-7 mph over the limit.) It's no matter because I saw a few ranches and lots of cows. It was a refreshing. Now, I can understand why the Spanish bothered to stay in Florida!
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