SCENES AROUND ST. AUGUSTINE

Before our chocolate tour, on Saturday, we were able to get in a trip to the St. Augustine Beach Farmer’s Market, a visit to the lighthouse, and some photography back in the Old Town and Spanish Quarter sections of the historic district. Here are some scenes from those places:

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Check out the palm tree growing out of the center of this tree trunk!

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We also stopped by to see Café Alcazar, located in the deep end of what used to be the swimming pool of Alcazar Hotel!

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Alcazar Hotel, opened by Henry Flager in 1888 across the street from his Hotel Ponce de Leon (now Flagler College), was the hotel where guests could stay for shorter periods, rather than paying to stay across the street for the entire high season. It was also the location for all of the entertainment and recreation facilities for his guests: A bowling alley, billiards room, casino, concert hall, and several other amenities- in addition to the 120’ x 50’ indoor swimming pool. It was the largest indoor swimming pool in the world at the time; no big deal for Henry Flagler who managed to get Thomas Edison to install electricity in his hotels before the White House even had it!

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On Sunday, we returned to the waterfront to explore the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the U.S.A. It was constructed from coquina, a type of shell stone indigenous to the area, by the Spanish between 1672 – 1695. Ultimately, the U.S. assumed control over it in 1821.

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We then headed over to the community swimming pool; a normal 75 foot outdoor swimming pool NOT frequented by the wealthiest of wealthy; quite the contrast to what used to be the pool of the Alcazar Hotel.

And, finally, before a nice walk on the beach, we had an early dinner at Mediterranean Shish-Kabob Restaurant (http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g34599-d3840651-r152265838-Mediterranean_Shish_Kebab-Saint_Augustine_Florida.html ). If it hadn’t been for Isabelle, at St. Augustine City Walks, we would have never found this place. But, she recommended it highly, so we made our way to the other side of town to give it a try.

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Walking into the restaurant was a nice surprise. The place was as clean and spotless as could possibly be. It was cheery and very pleasant to sit, relax, and enjoy a meal in.

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We started with the spinach pie appetizer and I can honestly say that was the best spinach pie I ever had. I thought the same about my falafel sandwich, particularly enjoying the spices in the falafels and the flavorful tzatziki sauce. And, the pita must have been just backed that morning, as it was as fresh as it could be. Everything is made from scratch by the husband and wife, who serve as the wait staff, cooks, and managers. Even their young daughter gets in on the action, answering the phone and a assisting her parents.

Thanks for the recommendation, Isabelle!

TOURING ST. AUGUSTINE BY DAY & NIGHT

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Usually, when we arrive in a city that offers a hop-on/ hop-off Old Town Trolley Tour, we take the tour at the beginning of our stay to get the lay of the land and hear the history. We then go back and see selected stops in more detail, throughout our stay.

This time, it didn’t work out to stick with our plan, because we needed to take weather, wind, and fishing conditions into account for kayak fishing. And, it worked out better to front-load that activity, while the conditions were most suitable.

As it turned out, it didn’t matter anyway, as far as fishing goes (Bruce came up empty-handed), but it did matter for kayaking. Paddling in windy conditions and strong currents is no fun, so we were happy to avoid it and ride on the trolley, instead.

We got an early start, yesterday, to get our 1+ hour round trip on the trolley completed before the heat and humidity beat us down. Wise decision; the temperature was 88 degrees with a “feels like” of 98. So, we comfortably relaxed in our cottage during the hottest part of the day, before venturing back to the historic district for some photography, dinner at Pizza Time and our St. Augustine City Walks tour, “History, Mystery, Mayhem & Murder!” (http://www.staugustinecitywalks.com/?page_id=77 )

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More on last night’s events later…

Back to the Old Town Trolley Tour, they really do a great job filling you in on the history of the area and adding interesting and humorous facts. The commentary is always enjoyable and the open air trolley fun to ride.

This time, the same was true- except for the trolley ride always being “fun”. There were some bumpy parts of the ride that literally sent our butts flying completely off the seat- which meant having to land back on them. Ouch. Not good when you have herniated discs in your neck…

We were more than ready to bid farewell to our Old Town Trolley, after we completed our round trip and returned to our first chosen stop, Memorial Presbyterian Church.

Henry Flagler built the church as a memorial to his daughter who passed away, shortly after she was born. Flagler’s wife died a couple of days later. (This, by the way, is the same Henry Flagler, founding partner of Standard Oil, along with John Rockefeller, who built Hotel Ponce de Leon- now Flagler College.)

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What drew us to this church, besides the gorgeous architecture, were the stained glass windows we spotted from the street. A German artist by the name of Herman Schladermundt designed the 92 stained glass windows in the building. They were installed in 1902, and then restored from 2002 – 2005, at a cost of $748,000.

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The remainder of our time downtown today was spent stopping in to see some of the buildings we were curious about, when we drove by on the trolley. Casa Monica, for one, is a beautiful upscale hotel, well worth a stop in to get out of the heat and admire the interior decorating. We also took a peek around the grounds of the Lightner Museum and Villa Zorayda Museum, just to take a few photos.

 

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Villa Zorayda Museum

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I also insisted on stopping in to see Isabelle, at Tours Saint Augustine/ St. Augustine City Walks, who I had communicated back and forth with via e-mail. After reading about their “Tour de Chocolate” walking tour (http://www.staugustinecitywalks.com/?page_id=67 ), I just HAD to sign us up for the tour. But, there were no tours listed on their calendar for our travel dates. Disappointed, I e-mailed Isabelle asking if there was any way a tour might be added to the schedule for any of the 9 days we would be visiting. At first, we would need four people to get a tour scheduled. So, I wrote back letting her know that if anybody else inquired, we would happily join them, because I just HAD to take that tour. I also included a link to these blog posts to emphasize my point: https://elaineiakstravels.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/chocolate-haul-the-final-tally/ and https://elaineiakstravels.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/82/ . Well, Isabelle spoke with her boss and she added a date just for us, for this afternoon.

Isabelle also invited us to be her guest on another City Walks tour, which brings us back to last night’s walking tour…

Before the tour, we stopped at Pizza Time for some authentic N.Y./ Italian style pizza and garlic rolls. It was another excellent Trip Advisor recommendation; 266 reviews averaging 4-1/2 out of 5. How could we go wrong?

It’s just a little hole in the wall dive; eight tables and four counter stools. But, the slices of Sicilian “Lasagna Pizza” and thin crust “Four Seasons” (artichoke, ham, mushrooms, and roasted tomatoes, with basil pesto) were terrific, as were the garlic rolls with marinara sauce on the side.

We walked it off with Maggie, our City Walks tour guide, and two other couples, on our “History, Mystery, Murder & Mayhem!” tour. The tour was two hours long (she asked if we minded if it went longer than planned, so she could add some extras) and about 1-1/2 miles of walking.

Maggie was a wealth of knowledge; she definitely had the “History” part of the tour covered. And, she was a great story teller, getting in plenty of “Murder” stories in, as well.

We stopped on Treasury Street, the narrowest street in North America, so Maggie could tell us about the murder of Lt. Delaney that took place in 1785. It was another murder, but she also covered “Mystery” in her story, as this murder was the first documented unsolved murder in St. Augustine’s history. It is still unsolved; the oldest “Cold Case” ever!

Where “Mayhem” came in was when pirates came in and created plenty of it. We listened to a very interesting story about it, as the Castillo San Marco fort served as a backdrop. It was dark by that time, but the fort was beautifully lit.

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For the entire tour, we walked through the old historic part of St. Augustine; much of it on old brick streets. At the fort, there was uneven terrain best traversed wearing comfortable walking shoes which we all were wearing. That’s common sense for a walking tour, right? Wrong; at least for a past guest on Maggie’s walking tour who completed the tour wearing 5-inch stiletto heels. We learned a new term from the urban dictionary while hearing that story: Touron. It is defined as, “The derogatory term combines the words “Tourist” with “Moron” to describe any person who, while on vacation, commits an act of pure stupidity.” If the shoe fits…

Maggie was a terrific guide and her stories made the history of St. Augustine come to life. What a fun way to learn!

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