I’ll get back to writing long, detailed posts on Very Important Topics very soon, but today I just want to talk about my vacation last week. Are we all ok with this? Good.
So last weekend was the Sewing Goddess’s birthday and we decided to go to St. Augustine for a few days. Neither of us had been before, but she’s been wanting to go for years and I, like a handful of Hobbits before me, felt the call to adventure, so I grabbed the Rucksack of Equality and we headed out to the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in the United States. There was a time when I would have said, “oldest city,” but after this weekend that description has had to grow longer and longer in order to actually be accurate.
As a note, photos presented in no particular order, just as I feel like posting them.
It’s important to note that both the Sewing Goddess (who, BTW, is the only divinity I believe in since I have evidence of her existence) and I are history geeks and reenactors, so we fully expected this to be a historically focused trip. Turned out it was more of a gastronomic tour, but that’s even better. Still, the history was present, and it was strange and wonderful to imagine that important events happened on the very spots where I was standing. People walked there hundreds of years ago, saw many of the same things I did, and were as unaware of their significance as I am of the things I do today. That’s astounding to even contemplate.
As far as history goes, though, we did have two really important things about our hotel. The first is that the Old Senator, a roughly 600 year-old live oak, was sitting in the courtyard. I cannot describe how amazing this tree is, and it was a real treat to casually eat breakfast underneath it, branches keeping the sun at bay, Spanish moss dripping beautifully from limbs. Best comment on it, though: “Back at the office we don’t know why it’s called the ‘Old Senator,’ but it is crooked and shady.”
The other interesting thing is that our hotel room was a stone’s throw from the Fountain of Youth. Literally. Like, we threw a stone to see if we could hit the hotel room door from the Fountain of Youth and it turns out it’s kinda tough, but we can actually do it.
First day was mostly nonsense. We did a little looking around to see what was available in town, things to do, where to go. Apparently, the plan was to do ALL The Things! and that fell apart really quickly. In fact, we probably spent about an hour of that first night just trying to find parking so we could enjoy the art walk that we never really got around to seeing. For the record, if you’re going to St. Augustine and driving, make sure you have a reasonably small car since a lot of the streets are one ways that are tiny on their own and crowded with tourists on both sides. Your best bet is to find someplace to park (either buy trolley passes or I recommend the garage) and walk around the city as much as you please.
Since the Sewing Goddess does, in fact, sew, we really wanted to stop by a place that sold colonial-era fabrics and notions and whatnot, but we never seemed to get to it before it closed. Or it never opened and it was just a feature of the Old Spanish Quarter. Not sure, but at the very least it brought us within smelling distance of the first place we ate, the Prince of Wales.
Now, to understand this place, you really need to get an idea of its size. It’s a shack, dining area barely bigger than my room in my apartment, with maybe eight small tables inside and a few on the patio outside. Observe photographic evidence:
The food was absolutely incredible, though. We started with these jack and blue cheese sticks that were a little sharp in the best way and crispy and probably not very good for us at all. Then we got our entrees, which was a chicken and mushroom pie for her and bangers and mash for me.
We spent the rest of the night shopping on St. George Street. For those who don’t know, this is in the heart of the Old Spanish Quarter, a paradise of adobe walls and random decorative tiles. Moreover, there is such a wide range of places to shop and things to buy.
There were a number of things I wanted to buy, most of which I just took
pictures of to stare at longingly for the day I can afford all the things I want. Which reminds me, I’ve added a Donate button to the main page, in case you’re feeling generous and think I really need a finger harp or more hats.
Some things I learned that evening:
1. St. Augustine has an incredible street/bar performer scene. At the end of the night, I was able to follow styles of music from bar to corner and back to where my car was parked. I adore street musicians, so this was a real treat for me. My favorite was the bluegrass band, Firewater Tent Revival, playing near the gourmet popsicle place (I ate the mango-champagne popsicle and it was delicious), mostly because I watched the mandolin player very closely for technique hints.
2. It’s not that big a place. Seriously, the Old City district is actually pretty small, and we managed to accidentally almost circumnavigate the whole thing that night.
3. Locals are what this place is all about. One of the few things that I’m disappointed about living in Orlando is that we’re a Mecca for chains, franchises, and replicated nonsense in almost every area. Sure, we have our share of local businesses, but they’re well hidden among the
conformity that is the Land of Anthropomorphic Mice. St. Augustine was packed to the gills with small, local businesses that offered quality stuff at good prices for the most part, and that sense of community is a huge part of the appeal of the place.
Anyway, we eventually made it back to the hotel and crashed out almost immediately.
The next day started with a plan: we were going to go to the beach. For you non-Floridians, there’s a perception among you that those of us in the Sunshine state live on the beach, that we spend more time in salt water than showering, that sand is our natural ground. This is simply not true. Most Floridians don’t spend a lot of time at the beach. We have lives. Which is disappointing to those of us who love the ocean. So this was beach day.
However, on the way, we noticed signs for a local farmers’ market and were impelled to stop. It was just on the other side of the Bridge of Lions, and when it comes to farmers’ markets, neither I nor the Sewing Goddess can turn one down.
Have to say, this was a pretty fun one. Managed to grab a belated Father’s Day present for my dad, listened to what is apparently a pickup bluegrass band (they have a core of people and others bring instruments and join in every week), managed to finally find hazelnuts (Nutella liquor, here I come!), and spent some time discussing flute making and didgeridoo playing with various shop keepers. Also picked up this delicious black olive focaccia that I wish I had more of right now.
We eventually made it out to the beach, which I loved. Nothing like swimming in the Atlantic. If you haven’t done so, I recommend it, and down here by me where it’s tolerably warm. Also spent some time tanning, which didn’t turn out overly bad.
On the way back we stopped at another local place to eat. We had seen
a sign for “pit beef” and wanted to know what that was. Turns out it’s top round roasted over charcoal, sliced thin, and served with BBQ sauce made on site. Also turns out it’s delicious. The place itself was reasonably small, very nice, and family-owned. Moreover, it seems our server shared a birthday with the Sewing Goddess, so the latter got a piece of fresh chocolate cake with homemade butter cream for free. We spent a lot of time discussing the place, some of the traditions there (like hiding a stuffed crab every day for kids to find for prizes), and generally just enjoying the atomsphere. I would absolutely return there and try the crab cakes next time, since I was informed that was their specialty, being Maryland transplants.
After showers and a nap, we ended up back at the Old City section of town, which really is where most of the things in St. Augustine are to do. On the way we stopped at a place that makes and sells all sorts of different flavors of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Moreover, they offer samples, so we must have spent an hour trying stuff out in the store and talking with the owner. Seriously, check this place out.
We finally got to the Old City and one of the first things we did was spend nearly another hour talking with the owner of Blowfish Flip Flops (they don’t have a website or I would link), a great little store where they make custom…well, flip flops. He was in the process of making new soles when we got there, and the four of us (him, his wife, Sewing Goddess, and myself) had a lovely conversation about shoe and costume making. Learned quite a bit, some of which I may be able to apply to my own shoemaking.
We also saw a magic show, which was neat. I love stage magic, and this was in a shop on St. George St. Gotta say, the new guy was a little rough around the edges, but did a passable job entertaining behind the counter (lots of credit for an amazing ditch during one trick), and at one point they shut down the shop so a more experienced employee could put on a small show. He did a wonderful job and his patter was perfect, as well as having really quick hands. Couldn’t afford the tricks I want, but I’ll get them some day. If I get donations, I’ll post videos of me doing the tricks here on this blog.
Spent a lot of time wandering around and taking pictures of the architecture around Flagler College. So many of these buildings were absolutely astounding. You can see the Old World influences, but the design is still distinctly Floridian.
We also got out to the Castillo de San Marcos, the big fort that sits on the water in St. Augustine. Unfortunately, it was closed by the time we got there, but we were able to walk around the outside, touch it, read the signs, get a creepy picture of one of the turrets. We were at Fort Matanzas earlier, and were looking at the Matanzas Bay, and had been reminded just minutes previous that “matanzas” means “slaughters” due to the Huguenots that were decapitated and thrown in the bay after they refused to convert to Catholicism (what the Vatican calls “the good old days”), so there was definitely a feeling of unease in the air. In the best way.
After some Sangria in the Mill Top Tavern (which was ok, but not incredible), we once again headed back to the hotel. Things I learned:
1. Historical sites can really give you a sense of your world and how it came to be how it is. There’s a reality to actually being present in the company of things that have been around for hundreds of years and were once a common part of life. Somebody not unlike myself probably once stood in that turret, idly picking at their nails, smoking, wondering if today would be the day those damn French sailed into the bay, cursing the heat and wondering if he could get away with taking off his helmet.
2. There’s a pirate museum that was also closed by the time we got there. Peeked in through the window and it looked kinda cool. Surprised to find no images of the FSM since, as we all know, pirates were the first Pastafarians, but maybe they were around the corner.
3. Everybody has recommendations. Seriously, if you talk to any person, they’ll tell you their favorite stuff and how you have to see it. This leads, inevitably, back to see ALL The Things!
On the last day we rested. Not very long, mind you. We wanted to get a bit more in before we left. So we got up, got coffee, and went out to the Fountain of Youth. I have to admit, I didn’t think this place would be nearly as cool as it was, but I was seriously impressed.
Our timing was impeccable. We got there before the first canon firing of the day. The fun thing was we got there just a few minutes early and got a chance to talk with the guy dressed in Spanish military uniform about reenacting, what groups were in the area, how the Sewing Goddess and I both do 15th century Italian, how much I enjoy axe throwing, what nice shoes he had (got pictures so I could replicate them), etc.
We also got to walk out on a very long dock to see what needed to be rowed through in order to make a landing there, saw the site of the
original Spanish settlement (which was on the land of locals under Chief Saloy), walked through a small replica of what the Saloy village was like. The statue of Ponce de Leon was interesting in that I tried to replicate his pose and have to say, that is not easy. He has his body at an angle, one foot slighty out, his chest and groin way forward, and his neck stretched for a few extra fractions of an inch. It’s kinda like the male version of the trend of trying to replicate female comic and book covers that are largely impossible without significant amounts of pain. Only Ponce’s pose was also intended to appeal to men.
I got a chance to actually drink from the Fountain of Youth. Did you know they give away that water for free? I must have added an extra three to twenty seconds to my life just chugging down free lukewarm water. Apparently we were there on a good day since it hardly smelled like sulfur at all. Still, it was very cool, and we took a lot of pictures of informational signs to use as documentation for Art-Sci projects. Don’t judge me.
My favorite part, however, was the planetarium. I mean, that’s a big draw any place, but sometimes its hard to justify a planetarium at an exhibit. What do the stars have to do with this incredibly old European colony?
Navigation, of course! 13 minutes of discussion about how they used stars to navigate, the instruments used, the math involved. It was all very accessible, but interesting as well. Science and exploration geek loved this so very, very much.
We eventually made it back to Orlando. It was a lovely trip, one I’d like to take again just to hit the things that we missed, like the winery and the lighthouse and the pirate museum and the oldest continually run tavern in the country and…well, you get the idea. Had lots of deep thoughts about Very Serious Things, but those are for another post. For now, I just want to share some photos, some good times, and some considerations. Hope you enjoyed. Back to our regularly scheduled ranting another time.