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The Nation’s Oldest City (444 Years) St. Augustine

Author: Toni K. N.
Date of Trip: August 2009

Three generations of South Florida Natives, my daughter, my granddaughter and I set off to explore the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine, which is 444 years old….much to my surprise!

We live in Fort Lauderdale and although St. Augustine is only a five hour drive away it is world’s apart. We made one stop along the way for brunch at Cracker Barrel and the true Southern Hospitality was in full force.

We easily found our hotel, Casa Monica, on the corner of King Street and Cordova Street. Built in 1888, Casa Monica Hotel is the landmark hotel of St. Augustine’s historic district. Restored in 1999, this AAA Four-Diamond hotel exemplifies the beauty and history of the region, yet with a distinctly modern flair that embodies stunning interiors, attentive service and award-winning cuisine.

After dropping our bags in the room we hit the street and started off to the Fort, Castillo de San Marcos. We didn’t get very far though, across the street in the square we stopped to shop. We purchased some “Ed Hardy and Coach” sunglasses and bags and then continued on our way. We walked along Avenida Menendez and enjoyed the beautiful views along the Matanzas River.

Castillo de San Marcos is an extraordinary place incorporating over 335 year’s of America’s history and culture with construction starting in 1672 making it one of the oldest standing structures in North America. The Castillo (castle) was initially built by the Spanish to protect their empire in America.

From there we walked over to St. George St. (pedestrian mall). I felt like I was walking down a street somewhere in Europe. Charming architecture and cobblestone streets with cute shops and friendly people. Everyone was so nice……it was a real pleasure.

After going back to the hotel to freshen up we walked to Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum to take Ripley’s Ghost Train Adventure. Our tour guide’s for the night told us great stories and made the evening truly enjoyable. Outside the Oldest Hotel on St. Francis St. we heard the story of haunted room 3A. The story goes that the son of the wealthy family fell in love with a maid and when his father found out he cast the maid out of the house. The son was so distraught that he went up to the attic room where he would meet his lover and hanged himself from the rafters. She snuck back into the house to say goodbye and found him hanging there. She then took his body down and took his place, hanging herself. The story goes on to say that her soul is still there and whenever anybody in love checks into room 3A she destroys their belongings…..causing most people to hurriedly check out at 4 am.

The ghost tour ended around 9:30 pm and we looked for somewhere to eat. Surprise…..all the restaurants were closed. A very nice young man leaving Pizzalleys suggested we try Scarlet O’Hara’s on Hypolita Street. He gave us directions and we walked over to find a very charming restaurant and bar with a terrific live band. The food was delicious and very reasonably priced.

The next day we started out by taking the Red Sightseeing Train. We picked it up across the street from Casa Monica and for the next two hours we enjoyed a narrated tour of St. Augustine and all the historic places we wanted to visit.

After the tour we went for lunch at The Bubble Room on St. George St. This place is too cute and loads of fun! The food is great and the deserts are amazing….mammoth pieces of cake that could feed an entire country! The wait staff are called “Bubble Scouts” and are adorable. Definitely a place to come back to.

Shopping on St. George St. was a good way to work off the delicious lunch and then we visited Potter’s Wax Museum. After taking pictures with Elvis, Brad and Angelina it was back to the hotel to get refreshed and plan the evening.

Have I mentioned that we have not seen the car since we gave it to the Valet upon check-in? I love the fact that we can walk everywhere!

We had so much fun last night we decided to take another ghost tour tonight. This time we are doing the Ghosts and Gravestones Night Tour. As we were sitting on the Trolley our driver, Elizabeth, said we had to summon up our ghost guide. All of a sudden there was a loud bang on the side of the Trolley and our ghost guide, Biz, jumped on and scared everyone half to death. Biz is the most outrageously energetic storyteller, getting right in your face and involving you in the story. In the old Pharmacy Biz told a story that spooked Carla, my granddaughter and she jumped up….stuck in the tiny school desk she was sitting in, waddled across the room to my daughter Lori and screamed “help me get out of this desk!” Everyone there broke up laughing so hard that Biz collapsed on the floor holding her side in pain. She told Carla that she would always’ include this chair dance story at the Pharmacy.

The next day we started out at the Lightner Museum, 3 floors of 19th century art housed in the former Alcazar Hotel built in the 1880’s by Flagler. On the first floor they have an area with antique musical instrument’s and they do a performance…..charming.

From there we went across the street to Flagler College, a 4 year liberal arts college residing in the former Ponce de Leon Hotel, a luxury resort built by Henry Flagler in 1888. Flagler College houses the largest collection of Tiffany Glass Windows in the world and it is amazing to look at. The original dinning room for the hotel is now the dinning hall for the college. What an awesome place to attend college.

After a wonderful lunch in the Casa Monica Hotel Restaurant, fabulous food and lovely ambiance, we went to Villa Zorayda. After being closed for more than a decade, Villa Zorayda has once again opened to the public. This architectural masterpiece was built in 1883 by Franklin Smith as his winter home. The Grand Gilded Age residence is built as a 1/10th scale replica of a small portion of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.

The evening was spent on a lovely sunset sightseeing cruise on the Matanzas Bay. We were fortunate to experience quite a few Dolphin sightings. I tried to capture some pictures but the Dolphin’s must be camera shy because they kept alluding the shot.

Wednesday morning we took the car and went down to the beach for a beachside Farmers Market at the Pier. The beach is really beautiful and there were interesting artisan’s and vendor’s at the Farmer’s Market but it was so hot I felt like I was melting.

While in the area we went to the Lighthouse Museum, one of the last working lighthouse’s in Florida. As we were walking through the trail’s to the lighthouse my daughter read the sign warning you to be on the lookout for snakes, spiders and scorpions, at which point she said “OK, I’m out of here!” Needless to say we did not climb the 229 stairs to the top of the lighthouse.

We had lunch at O’Steen’s, a very popular shrimp restaurant with local’s. My friend Marcus Walley, a Realtor in St.Augustine, recommended OSteen’s and every time we mentioned it we would get the same reaction from people. They generally have a long wait to get into the dinning room so you must register at an outside window, wait in the parking lot and then they call you to come in when your table is ready. it’s a small Mom and Pop establishment with mainly fried shrimp and fish. I had delicious baked crab cakes, pickled beets and pickled cucumbers.Umm-ummm good!

On the way to The Fountain of Youth we found this fabulous cupcake bakery called Luli’s. OMG ! Keylime cupcake’s to die for! They have wonderful flavor’s such as Coconut, Peanut Butter, Tiramasue and too many to list. They also make homemade Biscoti that is scrumptous. Can you tell I have a sweet tooth?

Touring at The Fountain of Youth Park turned out to be so much more than I expected. They have a navigator’s celestial planetarium depicting astrological sailing techniques employed by Ponce de Leon. Beautiful Peacocks roam the park and it is such a joyful experience to move among them.

I’m sure you can tell we had a wonderful time in St. Augustine and it was a great “girl’s trip” for my daughter, granddaughter and myself. We had such a great time we extended our trip by one more day. Before we left we got matching airbrushed tattoo’s on our ankle’s.

The last day we went to the Flagler Memorial Church that Henry Flagler built as a tribute to his daughter. We also went to the San Sebastian Winery and took the tour including, of course, wine tasting.

On our way out of St. Augustine of course we had to stop at Luli’s Cupcake Bakery to get a boxful to take home. I must admit my Keylime cupcake never made it all the way home. It truly was “one for the road.”

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