Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Arthur And America's Oldest City

St. Augustine Municipal Marina
We could have gladly stayed on at Fort Matanzas, but when we began to receive emails from friends about a possible storm brewing in the Atlantic... we made haste to get to a safe place.  We were expecting a visit from my Mother and her friend Joan in a few days, but with the threat of uncertain weather, we moved up our arrival to America's Oldest City, St. Augustine, FL.

While the first tropical depression of the season was working itself into a frenzy, Bruce and I were busy settling in and enjoying the delights of this very touristy spot.

Checking the mooring tackle
The moorings here are reasonably priced and seem to be in good shape.  There has been a lot of controversy about mooring fields.  Many people would rather trust their own ground tackle over the mass moorings provided by a number of cities in Florida.  While we enjoy the peace and tranquility of anchoring out, we also like the convenience and benefits that come along with moorings.  Being welcome at the docks for water fills, pump outs and long hot showers has a certain allure that we find irresistible.  And we don't have to worry about the cats taking the boat for a spin while we're away...

One possible downside to moorings, is that they may be inspected less often than we would hope.  During our stay in St. Augustine, we heard of an incident involving failure of a mooring in the nearby Salt Run mooring field, which I believe is also maintained by the City of St. Augustine.  This prompted a city wide inspection of the moorings in both fields.  With the threat of possible storm conditions looming, I felt comforted by this attention, which in the end, was unnecessary.  Anchors fail.  Ground tackle fails.  Moorings fail.  It happens from time to time.  You make your choices and take your chances in life.  For us, we are appreciative of the facilities that moorings provide.

Castillo de San Marcos  Looks kind of small doesn't it?
We had a couple of days to scope out the city before our guests arrived... and before the weather fell apart.  We've had thunderstorms every day for weeks as we've moved up the Florida coast.  Ironically, with the newly christened Tropical Storm Arthur making up his mind offshore about 130 miles East... we enjoyed a couple of rain free days.

We purchased three day passes on the Red Train.  They are a fun way of getting around town as you can jump on or off at any of the nearly 30 stops they make throughout the city.  Our first stop was just down the street... the Castillo de San Marcos.

The dry moat.
Much of the structure is unseen as you walk up the pathway.  It's thick Coquina stone walls hide a much larger space, much of which is buried in the hillside.

Whenever the city was threatened by attack, the people of St. Augustine would gather their animals and belongings and disappear within these uniquely shaped walls.  The animals occupied the dry moat which was never filled with water.

The primary reason for a moat is to keep the enemy from trying to tunnel beneath the walls to gain entry.  The shallow water table, sandy makeup of the land and proximity to the Atlantic ocean, make it impossible to tunnel deep enough to get in.  Therefore, the moat was a convenient place to keep the livestock safe and close so that the besieged citizens could keep their food source fresh enough to last several months.

Cross the drawbridge with us and go back in time... The walls of the Castillo were made from Coquina mined from nearby Anastasia Island, and just like their "back door" guardian, Fort Matanzas, they provided secure protection for the life of the fort.  It, like Matanzas was never taken by force.  Though it changed hands through the ages, it was only by treaty or peaceful means.

We watched a musket loading demonstration.
But that doesn't mean that there weren't battles and soldiers here.  The constant preparation and drilling that made up the lives of the enlisted men and officers stationed here, was another reason that the fort never fell.  They would perform drills repeatedly while on duty, so that the use of their muskets and cannons became second nature.

The St. Augustine Inlet lies on the horizon to the right.

We climbed the ancient stone steps to the top of the castle walls where we could look out over the Matanzas river and out through the St. Augustine Inlet.  It looks benign today but the shifting shoals can be treacherous.  From this vantage point, the inhabitants of the Castillo could fire cannonballs between 1 and three miles to discourage advancement of the enemy if the shoals failed to do so.

We watched a re-enactment of the firing of a cannon.  There are 72 steps to it and after each of the commands was called out and performed, the satisfying BOOM!!!! was the reward.  If any of these steps were skipped, it could result in a misfire which could be bad for anyone standing nearby.  I asked about the lengthy process taking so much time in the frenzy of battle.  

Evidently the distance these babies could fire, allowed for the orderly leisure required to go through the process.  And the constant drilling honed the soldier's skills so that they can run through them in less than five minutes.  With 40-50 cannons available along the wall, they could belt them out fast enough to discourage the incoming ships well enough.

After the presentation, Bruce continued with the questions, prompting the soldiers to show us how they aimed and positioned the cannons so that they could come pretty close to their target almost every time.

City Gates
We left the fort and hopped back on the Red Train to be whisked to our next location.  We passed by the only remaining portion of the wall that once surrounded the city.

St. George Street
We were looking for lunch along St. George Street.  It is a narrow cobbled street lined with shops and restaurants.  We found what we were looking for at the Columbia.

Bruce and I were disappointed when we visited St. Petersburg earlier this year, that the Columbia that was once on The Pier, was no longer there.

We had fond memories of dining there while boat shopping, back before all of this began...  Our mouths began to water as we watched them serve the Cuban Bread that comes with every meal.

We splurged and had an exquisite lunch with sangria made right at our table.  We were reluctant to leave the cool and tranquil spot by the fountain to go back outside into the sweltering streets... but eventually we did.

Next, a walk down Aviles Street, the Oldest Street in America.  It amazes me that time seems to have stopped here in St. Augustine.  They have preserved so much of the old streets and buildings.  Many of them aren't even money makers.  It's interesting to see and I wonder why my home town seems to find it impossible to do this in our old downtown area.  What a shame it is.

The afternoon was growing warm and we made our way back to the boat to relax.  The tides here continue to amaze me as we approached the dock to see all of the water gone...

Next day we walked across the Bridge of Lions to Anastasia Island.  The view from the bridge was worth the hike even if there wasn't an opening while we were up there.

Anastasia Island on foot seemed almost deserted.  We walked all the way (after stoping off for a quick lunch) to the St. Augustine Lighthouse.  We could have taken the Red Train shuttle, but we needed to stop over at a physician's office for a quick visit, so we figured we would catch it back as it runs every hour.

This is undoubtedly the "Nicest" lighthouse we've visited to date.  It is substantially built with thick walls and very secure staircases.  There are lovely landings every 20-30 steps to allow for recovery, which makes the climb of 217 steps seem to be much fewer.

The view is as awesome as you might expect.  The inlet is of particular interest as we could find ourselves attempting to navigate it at some point in the future.  We could see vast shoals that stretched very far out to sea.


The breeze was brisk, but here, I didn't feel nervous.  This house is solid.  I still had to take the "looking down picture" because I couldn't really do it myself... but I'm working on that.

Normally, the journey back down is the most nerve wracking to me.  But these steps, with their intermittent landings, hid the treacherous fall from my eyes and thus comforted my soul...

It's BIG!
The light keepers quarters were luxurious compared to those we've seen before.  This is a NICE house!

The house doubles as a museum of history and there are several items on display in the very impressive basement of this house.  There is a lot of information about the people who once lived in the area, Indians, Slaves and the many others who have passed through over the decades.

Just so that you know... if you don't buy your tickets for the lighthouse through the Red Train people, they don't know they're supposed to come back and pick you up.  This is not clearly stated when they tell you "sure, the shuttle runs on the hour!". So, we had to call them and waited for over an hour.  But they were nice enough to come get us so that we didn't have to walk our tired bodies back to the boat.

Memorial Presbyterian Church
The next day we toured some of the other side of the city.  Henry Flagler, of whom I've written before as we have visited some of the other towns that have benefited from his influence... has a huge presence here in St. Augustine.  How much money did that man HAVE!???  He is responsible for several of the more lavish buildings and churches in the Historical District.

I was awed by the opulence of the Memorial Presbyterian Church, built in less than 365 days in honor of Henry Flagler's daughter and to commemorate her death.  Henry, his daughter and grandchild are actually buried here.

The amazing and intricately wrought Ponce de Leon Hotel, also built by Flagler, was a marvel in its time and continues to be so today, although it is now used to house Flagler College.

I LOVE intricate tile work... LOVE IT!

This huge complex boasted of having electricity three years before the Whitehouse did, and it still houses the largest single collection of Tiffany Stained Glass windows in the world.

The hotel only opened from mid January to mid March each year, and if you wished to stay, you must book the entire three months in advance.  The cost was an exorbitant $5 to $100 per night.

There were two other large hotels built in the area, one is now the only four star hotel in town, the Casa Monica.  Very nice.  It was built by a man who tried to compete with Henry Flagler... who later went bankrupt and ended up selling to Flagler for pennies on the dollar.

The third hotel was also built by Flagler as an alternative to the pricey Ponce.  The Alcazar could be booked for one day at a time at a cost of $2 per night.  This included dinner and various spa treatments, a swimming pool and bicycling lessons of all things...  It is now the Lightner Museum and it houses a collection of some of the most precious objects left over from the Gilded Age.

Vast tiny tiled floor.

A clock.
Our Red Train whisks us quickly from marvels of the Gilded Age back to life among the more humble people as we move from Henry Flagler's neighborhood to Lincolnville.

This part of town contains hundreds of homes listed in the National Historical Register.  Although many have been demolished in the name of progress... I was amazed at how unchanged this area has remained.

Lincolnville was populated by freedmen in the mid-1800s.  Many of the residents worked for Henry Flagler in his many hotels and other businesses.  The area became a base for activist activities during the Civil Rights Movement and it is said that Martin Luther King slept in many of these homes, having to move around night after night to keep from being discovered.

There are many beautiful and well kept homes here, but there are also quite a few that have fallen to disrepair.  I am sure that is the reason that the City of St. Augustine would be interested in claiming Historical Lincolnville for future development.  There is still a thriving black community living in these homes although it is no longer segregated of course.  I wondered how it felt for the people walking the sidewalks and sitting on porches when our Red Trains came through telling the story over and over and over again...

Wine ages in whiskey barrels.
Tucked in along the Western perimeter of Lincolnville, near the banks of the San Sebastian River, is the building that houses the San Sebastian Winery.  Of course we visited the winery!  They offer free tours and tastings and, even more importantly... education!  And who doesn't want to know more about wine?

The tour began with a well produced video describing an overview of the entire operation.  The Muscadines and bunch-grape varieties used are grown in other areas of Florida and are naturally disease and pest resistant, thus eliminating the need for pesticides and other chemicals.

Although we didn't get to mush grapes with our feet, and the winery was quiet today... we did get to walk on the catwalk overhead and peer down at the surprisingly small operations.

The winery is small but is gaining an impressive number of accolades proving that wine doesn't have to come from far off places.

We ended our tour with a sampling of six of the company's wines ranging from dry to (sickly) sweet.

We were given a listing and pencils to make our notes as we were taken through the process of what to look for in a wine...

And we tasted!  And tasted and tasted.  We started with the dry wines, both red and white.  We moved on to the wines described as "sweeter", although I thought these Muscadines must produce all sweeter wines, as even the dry wines seemed somewhat sweet to me.

We learned many things but two very important bits of information were: first, most of the wines we drink (read: can afford) are not meant to be aged.  It is best to drink them within six months or so of purchase.  The second important fact is that wine can't handle heat.  Now I knew this, but I asked the question: How much heat?  I was surprised to learn that you shouldn't even leave wine in the car where it will be hot for any more than half an hour... so when you're out running those pre-dinner party errands and stopping by the liquor store for the wine... do that last!

One more interesting tidbit that provides food for thought.  Evidently there is a movement afoot to dispel the age old premise that a good wine must be corked.  Some wineries, and even the big names are considering going to the screw on cap as they seem to provide better protection for the wine than corks...  Hmmm...

St. Augustine Lighthouse is hard at work...
There are just so many things to do in the Nation's Oldest City...  Bruce and I had a whirlwind three days being tourists, followed by a couple of days of cleaning house and rearranging things to accommodate our guests due in on the 3rd.  We very much enjoyed our action packed time here as well as the accommodations at the marina.

Arthur, courtesy of NOAA
Oh, and what about hurricane Arthur you ask???  Well, we dodged this one totally.  The storm remained over 100 miles off our coast and once it developed from storm to hurricane, it moved Northeast and touched the coast of North Carolina... where our insurance WANTED us to be!!!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful tour of my home port through your eyes. it was fantastic and brought many memories back. How you know why I love it so much.