last week I went to my first class on "Passport to Cuba" - and heard a very interesting lecture on the intertwined history of the American Revolution and Cuba, especially Havana. I think I have mentioned it but in case you didn't remember I am going to Cuba in April with my travel buddy Jennifer (see Tunisia posts of last year)
anyway back to St Augustine. we had already planned a trip there before I heard the lecture but I was excited by some of the history. Settled far earlier than Jamestown and Plymouth... St A is a town steeped in history - both older - explorers landed there in 1513 (next year 500 year celebrations) and newer - Flagler built a railroad there during the robber baron era and a magnificent hotel (the Ponce de Leon)
where it cost 9,000 to stay by invitation only for the only option of three months in the winter. Cash up front too by the way- LOL.
so off we went to St A and what did we find- - -
the Dells.... but hold on- this was just because we wandered into retail hell right out of the parking garage that serves the historical center of town. the long main street is a pedestrian only street and is lined by lots of t-shirt shops etc... filled with sparkly handbags and pirate related items - I had been hoping for a more Colonial Williamsburg style experience and so by an hour into it was ready to go home.
however- it turns out that we just started off on the wrong foot with this lovely and interesting town. once we got to the bottom of the "shopping street" we found a lovely plaza and a number of historical buildings in a warren of tiny narrow streets that were full of charm and very picturesque.
so if you go here is a plan I would recommend. take the Old Town Train tour first- ride the whole loop despite the get off get on thing. Then on the second loop get off at the Oldest House and take the tour. It is worth it for the long perspective of St A history. Walk around the south end of town amongst the alley like streets and explore the area south of the plaza first. Then spend some time exploring Flagler College which is the current tenant of the enormous Ponce de Leon hotel that Flagler built.
then walk the narrow streets of the north of the plaza are (except the shopping street) and then do the shopping street for souvenirs etc. Along the way you will find lots of off the beaten path dining and drinking options and be sure to make a dinner reservation for someplace in town as after dark even the shopping street is delightful. When most of the shops have closed and darkness has fallen there is a sense of the old in old town. lit by a lot of tiny white lights (especially the plaza) the town becomes magical.
so go - and enjoy yourselves - and since we didn't have time for the Alligator Farm - get back to us with a report on that one...
old city north gate
depiction of original settlement
the hotel was magnificent- included below are interior and exterior shots as well as some memorabilia from a bygone era
and here are some of the shots of the things you can also run into - the "dells" type experience- or for those of you unversed in Wisconsin Dells- think Tijuana- LOL
Our second day started with a lovely outdoor lunch at the Conch House on the water- where the local Mustang Club was having their weekend brunch apparently-
We headed home in the late afternoon of day two having enjoyed St A once we got the layout of the place. Definitely worth the trip.