Sunday, October 16, 2011

St. Augustine - The Nation's Oldest City

Remember that thing I said a few days ago about the forts? Essentially, it was “you’ve seen one fort, you’ve seen them all.” Well, I take it back. St. Augustine, Florida is home to one of the nation’s must-see forts (not to mention countless tourist traps). Bring the family historians, the doubters and the shoppers. There’s something for everyone here.

This morning we woke to fantastic claps of thunder (had we good windows, surely they would have rattled), gray skies and some drizzle with a promise of more wind and rain throughout the week. I’m thrilled to have the bugs and heat knocked down by the change in weather. And if our camp host is correct in forecasting “cooler temperatures for the next five days with highs only in the low 80s,” then bring on the storm! It was toasty yesterday, and sticky and warm throughout the night. These “cooler” temperatures are more than welcomed by me.

I let the girls sleep in while I reconnected one of the trailer marker lights (gravity had pulled off the connector) and discovered that one of the taillights/signal lights was burned out. Then I started plunking around in the kitchen cooking a nice hot, complete breakfast (pancakes and bacon) while they stretched themselves awake.

The girls fed turtles and ducks in the campground pond while I wrapped up my trailer cleanup project (putting tools back away, boiling water for dishes and cleaning up the kitchen). Then we headed for town.

Our first stop was the St. Augustine Lightstation. I wonder why lighthouses on the east coast have the black and white stripe motif while west coast lighthouses are just plain white buildings. I’m sure there’s an easy answer (and probably even online…if only I had a smart phone, or a tablet, or just an internet connection), but sometimes it’s ok to just wonder. We visited the abbreviated museum in the lightstation entry building, but stopped there. Unfortunately, like so many sites here, the station appears to have been privatized and there’s a fee not only to climb the 219 steps to lens level, but to walk the grounds. Neither girl was interested, so I didn’t shell out to drag them in. Instead, we returned through the shady parking lot (mosquito haven) and continued into town.

I knew the fort was a unique shape among American forts, but I didn’t realize it would be in such great condition. The moat is still in place, as are the drawbridges and entry gates. Since the masonry fort was never forcibly taken (the British burned down the original wooden fort), it still stands largely undamaged. Docents were informative, friendly and knowledgeable. And the views from the top level, where cannons were angled to provide overlapping coverage, were wonderful.

As the wind and rain picked up, we found shelter in one of the corner sentry houses while we watched a drawbridge open for a passing sailboat heading to the inner harbor. Then we boogied off the rooftop and back for shelter.

But the rain came in fits and starts, so it was only a few minutes before we were able to walk across Avenida Menendez to St. Augustine old town, now a popular tourist attraction full of shops and restaurants. Rather than turn this historical portion of the city into a museum piece entirely, the buildings are maintained and the narrow streets open only to pedestrians, but it continues, just as it served originally, as a center of commerce.

After peeking into galleries and shops, we veered off the beaten path in search of The Floridian, a restaurant whose ads touted a locavore menu. What a fantastic find! The service was friendly, the menu compelling and the food wonderful. The girls were especially excited to find a children’s menu that didn’t just offer the same-ol’, same-ol’ (chicken fingers, mac n’ cheese, hot dogs and cheeseburgers) but instead offered kid versions of the adult menu – real food. E opted for the pulled chicken with garlic herb dip and a chunk of corn bread. V went for the fried shrimp with a side of apple slices. I particularly enjoyed the Southern Belle salad – sliced peaches, pecans, chunks of roasted sweet potatoes, and blue cheese over a bed of mixed lettuces sprinkled with a light vinaigrette dressing and drizzled with just a tiny bit of honey. I wasn’t sure how those potatoes were going to do on a salad, but clearly the chef here knows what she’s doing. SCRUMPTIOUS!

The rain and grey skies and lightning and thunder continued well into the afternoon, so neither girl was excited about returning to camp or the pool. Instead, we continued window shopping, found a few treasures, and visited a pair of bookstores where we all picked up some new reads. (We all particularly enjoyed “Second Read,” a used bookstore with a good selection for young and old and friendly staff at the counter.)

On our way “home,” we ran a couple of errands including finding that replacement bulb for the trailer tail/turn light. During our quest, we came upon a (GASP!) real video store! I’ve never turned as hard for wildlife in the road as I did to get into that store’s parking lot. Our old membership number was still in their system, though our local branch of this chain left our community years ago. The girls agreed almost immediately on “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,” in no small part because we just visited that amazing national treasure.

There’s nothing like the promise of a movie to get these girls going. Within an hour of returning to camp, we’d showered, run a load of laundry, made dinner (with lots of help from the girls) and set up the computer inside the trailer. (YAY! The plug works once you plug in the trailer and flip the GFI – I’d never tested that system before.) With intermission for stove-top popcorn popping and rain pounding on the roof, we were content and relaxed and entertained.

Now we count the minutes ‘til we pick up Mr. B. Can’t wait to see him!

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