N29°53.65 / W081°18.79
Weather – 92F, partly sunny, wind SE10K
Our next stop is the nation’s oldest city – St. Augustine Florida. After Ponce de Leon visited the area in 1513 looking for the fabled Fountain of Youth, Spain decided this was a perfect base to protect its fleets shuttling gold and other treasure from Central and South America. They constructed a fort and a walled town. It would still be half a century before the British landed at Jamestown, VA but eventually they worked their way south and St. Augustine became the battle ground for the superpowers of the day. The mid 1700’s saw British rule, the late 1700’s Spanish rule and eventually Spain sold Florida to the US. By the late 1800’s Henry Flagler began developing the city for the modern tourist. He built grand hotels and his trains brought the high-class clientele. Today the city remains committed to protecting its history with strict building codes and celebrates its heritage with living history reenactments. Charming, casual, quaint and curious this is a walking town waiting to be explored.
Where to stay?
There are several good hotels in the old city. We like to stay where we can walk to most if not all the areas of interest. Henry Flagler’s flagship hotel the Ponce de Leon is now Flagler College – take the tour. Flagler’s rival built the hotel across the street. Renamed the Casa Monica Hotel it’s one of our favorites and offers a cool bar, great food and well appointed rooms including a four-story suite.
Hotel no-tell…Generally, I don’t like to recommend hotels, restaurants, bars etc. Hotels can change hands and change moods faster than they change the sheets. Sometimes they don’t bother to change the sheets. We have stayed in the same hotels more than once and had completely different experiences. For example the hotel we stayed at in Key West did not make it onto this blog. Why? The room was nice… well ok… over priced…. as are most Key West hotels. It had a good view but the plywood bed had the cheapest sheets and… even worse… pillows that would put concrete sacks to shame. Result? My neck was at a right angle the next morning and my head was craning for the exit. The blasting AC, however necessary, provided a mold infused gale that shut down Jay’s sinuses. The $400+ bill (per/night) including “discounts” had me running to the Hog’s Breath Saloon for a noon bracer. So as we go along, I will sometimes change the names to protect the innocent or call in the medics.
Did you know…?
Driving around St Augustine one can be lured into a variety of “attractions”. From the bizarre to the bogus it’s anyone’s guess why someone would bother. But we noticed a sign we had not seen before. Fort Mose Historic State Park? We decided to take a look and it was well worth the stop. We had visited the famous fort Castillo de San Marcos many times but another fort nearby? Fort Mose was once home to the first African American settlement in the USA. The Spanish claimed Florida in the early 1700’s while the British were busy colonizing land to the north. British slaves heard of an offer by the Spanish… “come to Florida and you will be emancipated in exchange for serving in our militia.” One hundred slaves escaped and made the risky journey south, often chased by the British. In 1738, the former slaves constructed a log fortress near St Augustine with a town inside its walls. They governed themselves, farmed and fished for a few years until the British attacked and took over the fort. After escaping to St. Augustine the black militia with three hundred Spanish soldiers launched a surprise attack on the British and recaptured the fort. In 1763 Florida was ceded to England and the inhabitants of Fort Mose and St, Augustine evacuated to Cuba.
All right this is a mystery – Blackie sees a man’s head peering over a tall hedge. It is a marble head maybe 20 feet above the ground. We pull over for a closer look. I find that behind the hedge is an exact replica of the world famous marble Statue of David. Carved by Michelangelo in 1504 the sculpture shows David shortly before his battle with Goliath. The larger than life unclothed David is one of the most famous and viewed statues in the world. So why is this replica (one of only two in the world) hiding behind a hedge with an array of 24/7 video surveillance cameras peering from the bushes warning would-be viewers to behave? Ah ha! I get it…. the au natural David is hiding from the proper American public! Never mind the plethora of inappropriate TV and Internet trash that bombard us daily. Could this be Victorian America in the oldest city? I’m guessing it’s one of the most absurd displays of starchy censorship in the US – but I’ll keep my eyes open. Don’t be bashful…. see if you can find David.
Once again the main concerns of the residents in North Florida are the oil disaster in the Gulf and the staggering economy. This State relies on its beaches for tourist dollars and endangered sea turtles rely on these same beaches for survival. With the temperatures already soaring earlier than usual it’s a reminder that hurricane season is here – like everyone else we are really worried.