Thursday, July 5, 2012

Finding a Treasure: St. Augustine, FL

The rain has finally ended and although there is some residual high water in some areas, things are returning to normal.

My boss helpfully sends me this photo of a floaty I might find useful here.  I told him I would rather hold out for a hunky lifeguard.  Later when I spoke to him he said something about David Hasselhoff.  Apparently, he can't read...I said "hunky" not "hokie".  Hasselhoff?  I don't think so...I am thinking more along the lines of Sam Elliott from the movie Lifeguard.

Since the advice about Jacksonville continues to be that I should go down the road to St. Augustine and the weather promises to cooperate, that is where I head on night 3.  I could take the freeway and get there faster but I decide to take A1A which runs along the coast. 

I incorrectly assume this will be like the drive from San Francisco down to Monterey, California where you can see the ocean.  The only way to see the ocean on this drive is to park in one of the 3 parking areas for the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (whew! glad I wrote that down).  I park in the second one for a fee of $3, cross the highway and a long boardwalk to see the ocean.

This is the calving area for North Atlantic Right Whales which the sign tells me are very endangered.  I am also told that if a whale approaches me to move "slowly" away.  First, I have no plan to swim here.  Second, if I did and one of these approached me, I assure you my movement away would be anything but slow.

I don't like to swim in the ocean (or in a lake or even in a pool) so the lack of a lifeguard, hunky or otherwise, won't present a problem for me.  Rip currents are apparently a problem here too as there are signs to instruct me about what to do should 
I get caught in one.

This beach is deserted.  There are a lot of intact shells here and if I didn't have plans in St. Augustine, I could be content to spend the rest of the night here.  The water is really foamy here, unlike at Jacksonville Beach.  What causes that?

Back in the parking lot, I see a large sign and piles of something.  This piques my curiosity so I walk over.

It is an oyster shell recycling area.  I don't eat oysters and I live in north Texas nowhere near the water so the fact that these are recycled is news to me.

While some are in big piles, there are several neat bagged and dated piles as well.

Back in the car, I continue down A1A.  My customer mentioned that I would pass a "castle" so I am on the lookout.  I am also on the lookout for a beach-side restaurant for later.

I see the castle first.  I almost missed it due to the overgrowth of the surrounding vegetation.  My customer said it is sometimes open to the public but it doesn't appear that is still the case.  There are signs saying "private" posted and the gate is closed.  Obviously I am not over the filters in my new app yet.

The residential road the castle is on includes a Traffic Calming Area.  I like this.  I know a number of places (and some people) that could use a little calming.  It turns out they mean a giant speed bump.

Not too far down the highway I see a restaurant named The Reef and make plans to return there for dinner.  They are on the beach side and the parking lot isn't empty and they are the only restaurant I have seen (or will see) before I turn to go into St. Augustine.

I leave A1A and cross a bridge to go into St. Augustine.  The whole time I am on the bridge I can see a very large cross off to the left.  I am intrigued.

The cross is at the Nombre de Dios Mission.  It commemorates the location where 55 years BEFORE the landing at Plymouth Rock, the town of St. Augustine was founded by Pedro Menendez de Aviles, along with the mission.  The statue in front is Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, founding pastor of the mission.

I noticed later that all of the photos of the cross appear tilted.  I thought it was me but if you look at the base of the statue and the land, it looks like it really is leaning.  

This is a really peaceful place.  There is a cemetery and a chapel (closed and padlocked).  There is also a museum that closes at 4, more than 2 hours before I get here.  I do enjoy walking around the grounds.

I am glad I took this picture when I did because there was a woman sitting on the bench in front of this having a conversation with Mary when I walked by to leave.

The padlocked Ancient Shrine of Nuestra Senora de la Leche.  I tried looking in those little windows on the front but they are stained glass and you can't see anything.

St. Joseph carved from wood.

St. Francis of Assisi.  Saints are fascinating to me.  Especially Joan of Arc.  But that is a story for another time.

My main goal for this evening is to go to the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum as it is open until 8 pm nightly.  The GPS takes me here instead.

The Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.  There are tours available of the inside but I am here too late for that so I walk around the outside.

They began building this Spanish fort in 1672.

This was a British stronghold during the Revolutionary War.  It looks like it has a moat here but I think it's just from all of the rain.

When I make the circle around, I see what I was looking for across the street.

I loved this museum.  There are life-size wax figures of pirates, interactive computers where you can read about famous pirates, including two women, and various artifacts that are supposed to be real (that is what they advertise) such as gold coins, a treasure chest, weapons and various items from taverns. 

They also offer a treasure map to follow where you find different clues along the way.  These clues are "hidden" but only require you to look for a symbol and then do something like pull out a drawer.  I can see how an older kid would have fun doing this.

But sadly, David had to stay home this time.  I didn't fill this out primarily because I don't have a lot of time and don't know how long it will take just to see the main exhibits.

There was a family with two young girls there at the same time as me and the younger of the two was a little scared by a few of the displays.  I could see how a younger child could be.  They have a full size replica of Captain Kidd's tarred body in a gibbet (where the plaque says the real captain hung on display over the Thames river for several years).  There is a list on the wall of common discipline and torture methods used by pirates and I found myself cringing over and over at the descriptions, some of which included things like exploding eyeballs.

They also have Blackbeard's decapitated wax head hung up and telling his story.  I found it kind of amusing, in a creepy sort of way.  My favorite part, and the part that made me really wish I had David here with me for this, was a room where you hear a ghost story.  I walk in a room that can seat 10 people and punch a button on the wall.  I am instructed to take a seat on one of the crates that line both walls and put on the headphones.  The room goes dark except for a red light in the corner.  Then the story begins.  The audio is interesting and they do a good job of using the left and right channels to make it seem as if the person talking is in there and moving around you.  At one point a cannon is fired and my seat jumps a little.  I have to say it was a little freaky being in here alone.  I expected a holographic image to come scare me but that didn't happen.  Either way, it was worth the 10 minutes.

I wish they allowed photos inside but as with most places like this, they don't.  If you are in the area, I would add this to the list of things to do, it was well worth the trip for me.

After the museum, I head back down the road to eat dinner.  In the parking lot of The Reef, the restaurant I picked on the way out, I speak to two young women who are coming out and asked if they liked the food.  "It was okay," one says.  The other thinks about it a minute and says, "We liked Cap's on the Water a lot better."  They tell me it is on the same road as the Castle house.  Back in the car, I hunt it down.

This is the best advice yet. 

The weather is perfect, light breeze, around 75 degrees.  The seating is all outdoors.  My waitress is attentive, friendly and smiles more than anyone I have encountered in a while.  I had glazed salmon that was outstanding (unseating Sear's for 2nd best behind the place in Chicago that I can't remember the name of).  After dinner my waitress offers the dessert menu.  I tell myself that if nothing jumps out at me immediately, I will not get dessert.  They have a Coconut Pineapple Cake with Warm Vanilla Custard.  Yeah, I'll have that. 

Let me just say, if I could drive back to St. Augustine right now, I would go back to Cap's just for that cake.  I thought it would be a slice of cake but the whole thing is served in a ramekin with a little toasted coconut on the top.  Pure heaven.  I wanted to ask her to bring me 3 more and the recipe for the road.

But with a view like this, I am not in a big hurry to get on the road back to the hotel.

I skip the extra cake but I have had dreams about it ever since.  After a good night in St. Augustine, I am already plotting a return trip tomorrow, my last night in the area.  The pirate museum has me thinking a nighttime ghost tour might be just the thing.  And if I just happen to drive past Cap's...

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