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.







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?




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.


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




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.





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!




You’re probably wondering why a “retired” couple living in a resort-style community would want to get away. Well, we really don’t need to get away; we are extremely fortunate to have a happy life, just the way it is. But, when the travel bug bit me in my youth (thanks to my mom and dad), it bit hard. And, thankfully, I am married to a great guy who enjoys the adventures, too!

So, here we are in St. Augustine; another road trip getaway to a place we were curious to see, being East Coast newbies.

Did you know that St. Augustine is the oldest city in the U.S.A. and is celebrating its 450th birthday? Well, I sure as heck never knew that, even with my college education. Either I missed that little nugget of knowledge while out sick one day or none of my history teachers never shared that interesting fact. Same goes for Bruce; he didn’t know it either.

So, now, as adults, that little factoid interested us enough to see what this 450 year old city is all about.

We arrived on Sunday, at our cozy 1930’s era rented Vilano Beach cottage (www.homeaway.com ), located maybe 100 yards from the beach. It’s just over the bridge from the historic downtown area and a perfect location for us. A terrific boat ramp is just three minutes down the road; perfect for launching our kayaks into the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway), for a short paddle over to Poncho Creek.

In our area of Vilano Beach, we are away from the hotels and tourists in a quiet residential area. Just like in Sanibel, beach houses- 3 stories at most- line the beach, rather than high rises; our preference over tourist beaches, such as Miami and several other Florida beaches.

It was so nice on Sunday, during the late afternoon, walking along the beach and seeing very few people. The tourists are drawn more to St. Augustine Beach, according to the reviews on Trip Advisor. Fine. The tourists can have St. Augustine Beach!


On Monday, our day started out very much like one of our typical Sanibel days: Go kayak fishing first thing in the morning (although our “first thing” was too late; the fish had already eaten their breakfast), followed by a trip to the local pool for a swim workout.

The results were the same: No fish- yet. We set the alarm for an early rise, today, in hopes of some redfish having what was on the end of Bruce’s fishing line for breakfast. Again- nothing. But, I got to observe these roseate spoonbills eating plenty of munchies for breakfast.



As for the community pool, it is nowhere near as nice as the one at the Sanibel Recreation Center, but it will do. I had to share a lane, on Monday, but had one all to myself, when I returned yesterday for a swim. I finished just in time before hundreds of kiddie day campers took over the lanes surrounding me. Some of them were even sitting on the edge of the pool on each end of the swim lane I occupied, with their little toes dangling into the water; a bit of a surprise, when I did a backstroke turn, pushed off, and saw their little faces staring wide-eyed at me!


Our afternoon on Monday was pretty quiet, after a morning of kayaking and swimming. We stopped by Kyle’s Seafood Market to pick up fish for dinner, since the redfish seemed unwilling to sacrifice themselves for our meal.

Have you ever tried cobia? I had it for the first time on the Mississippi river cruise and fell in love with it at first bite. Delicious! It was locally caught and very fresh at the market, so that was our selection. Mmmmm!

Our other little excursion was to find the “castle” in Ponte Vedra. I had heard about this from Laurel, the gal who cuts my hair, and assumed she was being a bit dramatic in her description. But, she was right. Check it out here: http://www.castleotttis.com . What a trip…


We skipped kayak fishing, yesterday, and opted to head straight to the pool, instead. The afternoon was spent at Whetstone’s Chocolates ( http://www.whetstoneschocolates.com ), for a chocolate factory tour and tasting, followed by San Sebastian Winery ( http://www.sansebastianwinery.com ), for a winery tour and tasting. Wine and chocolate; life is good! Just for the occasion, I wore my t-shirt with a graphic of a glass of red wine and dark chocolate, with a hand holding a prescription that reads: “Red wine and dark chocolate. Doctor’s orders.” It will get another wearing on Saturday afternoon, when we go for the Tour de Chocolate, a chocolate walking tour being conducted by St. Augustine City Walks ( http://www.staugustinecitywalks.com/?page_id=67 ).


So, back to Whetsone’s, we enjoyed the chocolates and bought some of our favorites to enjoy later. Our favorite was the De Leon Blend Dark Chocolate (at 47%, it is technically a semisweet chocolate), and I also liked the Menendez Blend Dark Chocolate (72%); a European style bittersweet chocolate.




Whetstone’s buys their beans from South Africa, a question our tour guide was able to answer. But, when I asked her if they make any single origin chocolates, she didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Neither did one of the sales staff behind the chocolate counter. So, the answer to that question would be, “No.”

We enjoyed the tour and our chocolate tasting, before making our way down the street to the winery. San Sebastian was quite generous; the tour was free (Whetstone’s was $8 per person) and the tastings were plentiful. Unfortunately, the wine wasn’t our style; there was only one dry white and one dry red. The rest of the wines were quite sweet to me. Our guide even recommended one of them be used to make “winesicles”, combining the wine with blueberries and peaches in popsicle molds for a refreshing summer treat. I’ll pass, but we enjoyed the winery experience and our guide’s sense of humor!



After a late afternoon walk on the beach, we enjoyed another Cooked Creation by Bruce Cook: Fresh shrimp from Kyle’s ($9/lb. for 30 VERY fresh shrimp), sautéed in garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flake. The shrimp was served over pasta with steamed broccoli and tomatoes with a little pesto sauce stirred in; perfect with my glass of bubbly. Ahhhhhh…