Discovering The Unexpected – St Augustine - Orlando / Florida Guide
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We had heard a little of St Augustine before we first visited. We had heard it was the oldest town in Florida. From all of our previous experience of Florida, “old” seemed to equate to about 1960. Old were the ’58 Corvettes in the vintage car parade at Old Town. Old was Walt Disney’s aeroplane which he used to find his site for DisneyWorld.
So the enormous imposing Spanish fortress constructed around 1672 that dominates St Augustine was something of a shock. The surrounding town of St Augustine which was founded in 1565 and is actually the oldest continuously occupied settlement in the USA (European settlement, that is! ) was also somewhat unexpected.
In a part of the world were we are so used to experiencing 21st Century theme parks, the history of Apollo and the moon landings, Space Shuttles and state of the art shopping malls, discovering a town which predates Jamestown, Virginia (first English settlement) by over 40 years feels like stepping from the New World to the Old World in one bound.
There’s a historic wooden school and lots of bustling craft shops. We were severely tempted by an enormous oil painting at one such place, until we considered the practicality of getting it into our Chrysler Seabring convertible, not to mention our suitcase.
This is one of the few places we’ve been to in Florida where you can abandon the car and take in everything just by strolling through the streets and alleyways. Your mind is immediately transported to crumbling Mediterranean towns and you have to concentrate really hard to remember you are still in America.
Turning a corner and meeting the aforementioned Castillo de San Marcos does not help to break the illusion that if you stare out to sea hard enough, Malta might suddenly swim into view. Our five year old immediately became an extra from Pirates Of The Carribean and had to visit every canon, every turret and every tower, whilst I scanned the horizon for galleons.
We were given a real warm welcome here which, being English, is slightly surprising as it appears our ancestors er, slightly burnt down the whole town once or twice. No hard feelings then. Indeed there are re-enactments of such battles and our earlier surreal sensation of being in the wrong place and the wrong century was revisited when we happened upon a group of Redcoats complete with muskets and pikes, who only betrayed their tenuous claim of Englishness by revealing their deep south American accents and perfect teeth. It was a day of double takes.
St Augustine had one more surprise left for us. Just the other side of the bridge we found a superb and uncrowded beach resort. This was a typical Florida beachfront providing us with an unexpected chance to relax on the sand and collect shells in a bucket (Why is that always Dad’s job? ). It was the finishing touch to a wonderful break from our usual holiday activities.
We had planned to see St Augustine for one day, and then the next morning head down to Daytona, but we found St Augustine had so much to offer that Daytona will have to wait for another trip.
We fell in love with St Augustine straight away. For one night our holiday in Florida had the feel of balmy nights in Spain, providing a welcome and surprising change of pace. This has given us the thirst to explore further afield in Florida. Who knows what surprises lay ahead.
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