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St. Augustine, Florida

America's oldest city, still a gem, by day...

...and by night

Cherie and I drove to St. Augustine to check out one of the historial gems on the Atlantic Coast, and to meet with friends from my War College days.

At left, the Casa Del Hildago on St. George Street before the rain began.

The city is a little mossy around the edges, no doubt owing to its age, and as evidenced by the restored buildings below.

My War College colleague Deborah and her husband Mike met us in St. Augustine for a couple of days of recreation and recollection. After a round of gin and tonics on their hotel room balcony overlooking the Atlantic, we went to old town St. Augustine for a look around at night...

...and of course a couple of beers at the Mill Top Tavern, where Mike and Deb put down their glasses long enough for a snapshot.
We asked at the hotel desk for a recommended seafood restaurant. "O.C. White's is the best in the area, and is downtown right by the harbor," replied the receptionist.

Turns out it was a great recommendation...we were smiling throughout the meal on the restaurant's outdoor patio.

Deb and Mike liked the relaxed, quiet, historical ambiance too...not to mention the meal. Mike might still be chewing on a bit of if from the looks of the picture.

Old St. Augustine Village

One of the places we explored was Old St. Augustine Village, a collection of nine historic houses spanning the period 1790 to 1910. We wandered the exhibits nestled among the buildings' courtyards and gardens. Included in the 1572 town plan of St. Augustine, this area contains an archaeological record of a sixteenth-century hospital and cemetery, an eighteenth-century Spanish Colonial defense line, and an early St. Augustine bridge. It was also the site of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation reading, which freed all slaves in Florida.

Roaming the village felt like rummaging through Grandma's farm and attic with childhood friends.

Looking out Grandma's rippled attic windows, we espied the fish market where she worked as a fishmonger by day, and a fleshmonger by night
The Dow House, Circa 1839
Originally constructed by the Canova family, this frame vernacular Florida Territorial Period house is furnished in period pieces, but the best photo op was capturing the feel of looking through the old wavy window panes

Grandpa built this mother-in-law cottage while on a bender. Or maybe he was a left-leaning radical. We'll never know...he took his secrets to his early grave behind the outhouse.

Carpenter's House, Circa 1899
Built by a local carpenter, this house is characterized by the mismatched building materials which were leftovers from its builder's other construction projects.
The house was detached from its foundation, possibly during a 1940s hurricane and flood in St. Augustine. The house has a distinctive lean today as a result.
Grandpa and Grandma had trysts in this courtyard before they were married

The Prince Mural House and Courtyard, Circa 1790-1815
One of the oldest surviving Colonial structures in St. Augustine, this coquina dwelling is named after its most famous inhabitant. Prince Achille Murat, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, is said to have boarded at the house in 1824 when it was owned by the Canova family who owned and occupied most of this block from 1821 to 1877.
Perhaps it was here that Murat befriended Ralph Waldo Emerson while both were awaiting passage to travel north.
Ah, the stories we told over beers at A1A Ale Works...I'm sure Grandma was turning over in her grave.

Actually, we got the chance to catch up with Deb's and Mike's lives over the last year, like the birth of a grandchild and a son's graduation from a cooking school in Miami (the reason they were in Florida at the same time as us...ask Deb about the post-graduation party, if you dare).

St. Augustine Lighthouse
No wonder they call it a dizzying view...everyone is dizzy after climbing the 219 winding steps to reach the viewing platform.

and up

and up

and up

and up

and up.
and around...

and around...

and around...

and around...

and around...
But the view is worth the climb, when the world looks like a miniature toy set from 165 feet up

A view toward the town of St. Augustine

And a view toward the harbor and Atlantic Ocean

Geez, even the lightkeep's house has spiral stairs in it, in this case, from the ground floor to the basement. This guy must have had one serious vertigo problem.

Or maybe he was just flighty.

Speaking of flighty, Cherie found a winery in St. Augustine and lined up at the tasting table for a sample flight of wines. But there was no vertigo problem here...the wine was awful (even worse than Texan wine), and so it was swish and spit, swish and spit. No chance of getting dizzy when you're faithfully following a dental routine during your wine tasting.
Recommendation: Stop by the San Sebastian Winery when in St. Augustine. It has a nice gift shop and a decent tour, but don't buy the wine.

St. Augustine Beach
We stayed at a beach-front hotel along Florida's A1A highway just south of St. Augustine. The sands were gorgeous, the water had decent surf (which we could hear at night when we left out balcony slider door open), water temps were good for swimming (and surfing for the adventurous) even in April, and the shells along the shore were awesome.

Here's another recommendation: if visiting St. Augustine, stay at the Hampton Inn at St. Augustine Beach, and while you're at it, take in a dinner and drinks at the Sunset Grille across the street from the hotel. They have wonderful clam chowder.

And the view out from the room balcony
Cherie caught me swimming in the ocean...ten bonus points if you can find my head bobbing in the surf.

The day after, when the weather was a lot sunnier and warmer and Deb and Mike had gotten to town, Mike and I swam out a bit beyond the breaking surf with invigorating strokes.

And that's when I almost had a stroke: I saw a fin sticking out of the water not far from where we were (and when I say not far, with my near-sightedness it really wasn't very far if I saw it).

Needless to say, I swam with even more invigorating strokes back to shore, with Mike saying "oh, it's probably just a dolphin," but he was with me stroke for stroke. We both had a laugh after we could touch bottom again.

Mike is the sailor among us. As an old nautical hand, he helped identify the various shells we found by flashlight when we walked the beach at night. Among our finds: blue colored starfish, and the occasional live crab, which Mike displays, right.

Normally, this is where the sunset picture goes to signal the end of the page (and on to another chapter in life). It was difficult to adjust to watching the sun rise, rather than sink, over the ocean. Still a nice photo, though, even if it isn't a sunset.

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