September 15-19 – Escaping the Cold … Arriving in St. Augustine

Amidst the coldest weekend of the winter, we woke last Sunday to 10o temperatures and decided to get on the road as early as possible … our first trip in our new motor home. As it was a Sunday we were able to get through Philadelphia and around Baltimore and Washington DC with minimal traffic, but the temperature never came close to reaching the freezing point.

The following morning, we again awoke to sub-freezing temperatures in our campground just north of Richmond, VA.  Continuing south, we spent our third night in central South Carolina and finally arrived in St. Augustine this afternoon, where the mercury hit the mid-60os.

While we are generally prone to traveling secondary or back roads, I-95 was the best and quickest route to the warmer weather.  Unfortunately, the Interstates, particularly in the East, are notoriously uninteresting.  The exceptions were the literally hundreds of in-your-face billboards hawking JBs, which bills itself as the World’s largest cigarette store as well as peddling cigars, exotic perfumes, T-shirts, jeans, and Pedro’s South of the Border, where you can buy almost anything, grab a bite or spend the night.

After checking in at or campground, we drove into St. Augustine’s Old City, the oldest permanent European settlement in the continental United States.  It was established in 1565, forty-two years before the English colony at Jamestown, Virginia, and fifty-five years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, when Don Pedro Menéndez landed on its sandy shores with 600 soldiers.

Castillo de San Marcos is the city’s most recognized and famous landmark.  Once Spain’s most northern outpost in the New World, its construction began in 1672, was fought over and controlled by Spanish, British and American forces and yet is still amazingly well-preserved.

Exterior Wall Overlooking Moat

Interior Courtyard

San Carlos Bastion

Cannon and Flag of Philip II

Exterior Wall

Cannon

This evening, we drove back to the Old City to take in the “Nights of Lights”.

Lights Along San Marcos Avenue

Constitution Plaza

Restaurant Lights and Torches

Statute of Ponce de Leon

(who I discovered was an officer on Columbus’ second voyage to the New World in 1493)

Today we awoke to a cool but clear morning, great weather for exploring St. Augustine.  We started with a tour of the Old Jail, built in 1891 and privately funded with the caveat it not look like a jail.  Thus the combination of Queen Anne stucco and (with the exception of the bars), looking more like a hotel from the outside.

Inside, however, the cramped cells held up to 72 prisoners at a time for some 60 years

and, while its electric chair was never used, the

was actively employed for both legal and suspect hangings over the early part of the 20th century.

From there, we went through the St. Augustine Museum, where were amused to see one of the “Tin Can Campers”, a convertible Model-T … and one of the earliest Recreational Vehicles.

Next, we saw the Cathedral of St. Augustine, after whom the city is named and who landed with Don Pedro Menéndez in 1565.

Exterior

Altar

Fresco Above Entrance

Facade Reflected in Debbie’s Sunglasses

After stopping by the city’s Oldest Drug Store

and having a great lunch at Harry’s, we headed for the Lightner Museum which houses one of the most incredible collection of relics of America’s Gilded Age, elegantly exhibited on the museum’s three floors and includes statuary, furniture, unique and spectacular examples of cut glass, Victorian art glass and the stained glass work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, furnishings, mechanical musical instruments and other artifacts provide a glimpse into 19th century daily life.

Grande Escroitoire 200-Drawer Desk

Newel Post Glass Finials

Ornate Grandfather Clock – with its three weighing 300 lbs. each

Porcelain

A small sample of dozens of cut glass pieces

Decorative Urn

Oriental Influenced Desk

Tall Urn

We could have spent several more hours at the museum but the day was passing and there were some other places we wanted to see before they closed.  The first of these was the “Oldest” house (the González-Alverez House) in St. Augustine.  Although it does not date from the city’s founding period in the mid-16th century, it is the oldest home which can be documented since the British burning the city to the ground in 1702.

In the middle of a Howard Johnson Motor Inn parking lot, we saw “The Old Senator” a majestic Oak tree which is estimated to be well over 600 years old.From there we visited and climbed (219 steps) the St. Augustine Lighthouse, built between 1871 and 1874, on the city’s barrier island, Anastasia Island.  The view from the top was spectacular and included the sun gleaming off the 208’ cross marking the location that Menéndez and St. Augustine landed on 1565. as well as a glorious sunset.

This is truly a fascinating city and one to which we will return.

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