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!

Exploring St. Augustine’s Flagler College, Old Town & Spanish Quarter

After this morning’s swim, we headed back into the historic district of St. Augustine to tour Flagler College ( http://www.flagler.edu ) , formerly Hotel Ponce de Leon. This gorgeous centerpiece of St. Augustine was built in 1888 by railroad magnate (and Standard Oil co-founder), Henry Flagler. Completed in only 18 months, thanks to running 2-12 hour shifts of workers non-stop, it was built as an exclusive and opulent playground for the world’s most privileged elite. The hotel was only open during the three nicest months of the year (and guests had to pay to stay the entire season), so only the richest of the rich could afford to stay there to enjoy lavish balls, gourmet meals, music, and art.

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Today, the hotel is Flagler College, founded in 1968. $54 million was spent to restore and preserve the buildings that now house 2,600 students getting a college education to the tune of $25,000 per year, including room and board.

Our tour was conducted by John, a second year history student at Flagler College. It was quite interesting; especially the stories about when it was a posh hotel. No expense was spared to construct the hotel; there is 24-carat gold leaf on the rotunda’s ceiling and Tiffany stained glass windows throughout the dining hall. And, yes, students who live on campus dine in this hall every day, three meals per day. How would you like to dine here?

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The ladies parlor of the hotel, still used today for special college functions, was quite posh. There were several ornate crystal chandeliers and a fireplace with an Edison clock, surrounded by a white onyx work of art; the second largest white onyx piece in the world.

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I hope those 2,600 college kids appreciate where they are getting their education!

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Lunch was at another Trip Advisor find: Gaufres & Goods ( http://polishgreekrestaurant.com/ ), where we split four different types of perogies and a spinach pie. This is one of the restaurants on a food walking tour, so I knew it would live up to its great write-ups. We were not disappointed.

Along the way, in between our tour and lunch, we strolled more of the streets of Old Town and Spanish Quarter; the oldest, most interesting and picturesque areas of St. Augustine, in my opinion.

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It was another burner of a day, so we broke it up with a stop to split a piece of frozen key lime pie on a stick, dipped in Belgian Chocolate ( http://www.keywestkeylimepieco.com/ ). HEAVEN.

On the way back to the cottage, we stopped back at Kyle’s Seafood Market for another fresh catch for dinner. This time, we picked up some very fresh yellow tailed snapper, and enjoyed it for dinner after our evening stroll on the beach. We didn’t enjoy it as much as the cobia, but it sure was good!