Published: December 17th 2006December 4th 2006
As we walked along the shore we watched the dolphins surfing the wave crests.
I was not really looking forward to Florida, partly because it is the end of our journey here and we knew reality was, rather cruelly, going to intrude on our lives, (however Graeme spotted a hole in his reality and climbed through it, so we proceeded to ignore the essential pressing tasks required and continued our current lifestyle for a bit longer) and partly because I thought Florida full of consumerism, tourism, concrete and roads, not the environment I wanted foremost in my memory as our final RV experience of the US.
Complete hypocrite that I am though, if this is where we had to be, I was slightly cheered by the lure of Theme parks and last minute outlet shopping before home, especially with the daily weakening dollar.
We had been told St Augustine was a nice place, so were looking forward to our final stay by the coast.
As we approached St Augustine we passed through all the usual urban sprawl, my heart sunk. We drove by the usual malls featuring the now familiar stores, Target, K Mart, Ace, and of course Wal- Mart along with all the fast food outlets that are mandatory in every
Castillio de San Marcos
This must be the one of the only Forts made of sea shells. It is built in local stone called "coquina"(little shells) , formed by the bonding together of long dead shell fish.
US town, all of which must have at least 6 of each to be complete.
You can have the choice of 15 “restaurants” in a hundred yards and not have one individual place in which to eat in.
I don’t know why people worry about certain dodgy countries having various chemical weapons, as there are probably more chemicals and E numbers contained within these buildings walls than any amount hidden in various deserts, and of which, the population will voluntarily ingest a large enough quantity to kill themselves with before anyone else can do it for them. (Although they should be quite “buzzy” before they go!)
So, it didn’t look too promising but first impressions can be so wrong. This turned out to be one of the prettiest small cities and the most cycle friendly place we have stayed in. There were cycle paths on all roads and you could also peddle miles along the beach
St Augustine is the oldest, continuously occupied, European settlement in the US. Juan Ponce de Leon of Spain was searching for the Fountain of Youth, said to be on the island of Bimini, in the Bahamas but, in
Henrey Flagler constructed these buildings in 1888, styled on the Moorish Palces of Southern Spain.
April 1513, during the Easter period he landed on this coastline. He thought it was an Island and claimed the land for Spain, naming it Florida after Pascua Florida, The Spanish for “Flowery Easter” He then continued his quest, sailing through the Keys and on to Cuba.
Although during this voyage he failed to find his” Fountain of Youth” and returned to Spain, he did unintentionally become the first European to explore Florida.
(Now, what I want to know is, how do you know if you have found what you are looking for if, in the first place, you didn’t actually know where in the world you are or, where in the world the place you are looking for is?)
Five years later he returned, (still looking for Bimini) only to be wounded by an Indian arrow.
He could have done with finding his “Fountain of Youth” as he succumbed to his wounds and died in Cuba.
In 1565 Pedro Menendez de Aviles arrived to colonize the territory. He arrived on St Augustine’s feast day hence this areas name. (Imaginative people, these explorers.)
The settlement was founded 42 years before the English colony at Jamestown and
52 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. (Does this mean the occupants had no turkey dinner for the first 52 years?) Therefore giving St Augustine its claim to fame as the “oldest European settlement”
The settlement had a turbulent 200 years, frequently troubled by pirates and Native American Indians. The English did their bit when Drake attacked in 1586 and Oglethorpe unsuccessfully held the town to siege, twice. On and off, the French annoyed them too.
In 1763 The Spanish ceded the town to England in return for regaining control of Cuba. The 20 year English rule ended in 1783, when we traded it back to the Spanish.
In 1821 Spain relinquished control for the last time when they sold Florida to the US for $5 million and the continuing ownership of the State of Texas
Today the architecture of old St Augustine remains strongly Spanish
It turned out though that, in this oldest city a lot of the Spanish Style buildings were relatively recently built. In 1880 a Henry Flagler from New York holidayed in the area and recognised the winter holiday potential. He laid the rails, literally, he was a railway magnate, to
It is quite Spaninsh around here, so adopted a local custom.
attract the wealthy here He built two lavish hotels in Moorish design, a city hall, the hospital and several churches, the first tourist boom for Florida had begun.
The first week we enjoyed the warm weather, cycled along the beach and into town. It was really nice to be somewhere where you can stroll or cycle around a compact area.
Also it was Halloween, so we had to do “The spooky Spanish Hospital” tour, where the Dr is always on duty………., It was excellent. The corpse looking patient was so realistic I could not resist the temptation to poke him to see if he was real or not, he was……………….. He was not slow in expressing his spooky displeasure at my assault! These people really seem to enjoy their roles!
Now, as a believer in the “when in Rome rule” I am almost ashamed to admit how excited we were to find in town an “English Pub”. It sold real beer and English size chips (not fries please note, but chips) with curry or brown sauce, or both if you ask nicely. A USA size portion of English chips and a pint or 2 of Theakstons Old
Ponce de Leon
Once a Hotel for the very wealthy, It is now Flagler College.
Peculiar was much enjoyed. However after 17 months of US beer, cycling home was not
Graeme was still working, gathering information on, and organising the details of, returning with the rig. I managed to pass the time visiting the beach, before we knew it, it was time to move on and meet up with Karen and Malcolm.
Karen & Malcolm offered to take us out for another game of golf and we were keen to go
We picked the nearest course which happened to have an offer on for Wednesdays. It was $30 pp and if over 60 you got a free lunch and drink. Now I don’t wish to give anyone’s age away, but Malcolm enjoyed his lunch
Now, what we didn’t know was, it is apparently one of the most challenging courses in Florida!!
We signed in and this time got away with sharing clubs, (strictly a no no, I believe,) and set off.
Well, it was very pretty, lots of exotic tropical foliage, water and skinny bits of land…… but it was just too much for us. We let at least 6 parties through as we struggled on, not doing much for
Karen and Malcolm’s game
About 4 hrs later we were only on the 6th hole. A guy came by to ask if we had signed in, we said yes and gave our name. He looked at the list and couldn’t stop laughing. He said “but that was 11.00 this morning, where have you been”? He then informed us how challenging the course was, the hardest in Florida apparently. As if by now we didn’t know!
He obviously felt sorry for us, when we got to the next green he had left us a pile of golf balls.
Eventually we gave up and caddied for K & M which sped things up a bit.
However by the time we finished (7 hrs later!) the sun was setting and everything was closed. No drink at the 19th hole for us.
We spent longer here then we planned. Our date for the workshop was getting closer and as we had everything here we wanted and plenty to do, for the first time on the trip we thought, why move for just one more time.
So, now it really was the last leg of the trip, we headed of to Wildwood to
Amanda the Manatee
Elephant relative. Manatees can grow to 13 feet long and live to 60 yrs. Their numbers are gradually increasing, thanks to Conservation programs. Amanda was very fond of carrots!
the Monaco workshop. Now, it must seem the rig is constantly under repair. The thing is, these things require constant maintenance. Everyone says it takes a year to shake all the bugs out and it appears to be true. The last few months have been much better, but we are getting everything possible done before returning. The rig is now in much better shape then when new. One valuable lesson we have learned is, never buy a new one unless you have loads of spare time! ( or dont drive it anywhere)
The rig must remain on US soil until after the 8th, December and, as we have learned from experience these things always takes longer then expected so we mentally prepared ourselves to stay as long as required.
This workshop parking was actually quite pleasant, there was a pond, supposedly with resident alligator and a little grass patio area to each plot. We parked up and settle in.
We had rented a car for this period so we could get about. There was plenty to do, we were 45 minutes from Orlando or the coast and several state parks surrounded us. For entertainment we could
choose retail, reptiles or the Rodent.
One nice thing being here this time was we had time to visit all the “Other” attractions Florida has to offer. 18% of Florida’s total land mass is water; Central Florida alone has 1,200 lakes surrounded by lush sub tropical vegetation, cypress swamps and grass prairies. So, it’s not just concrete after all.
There is a full range of exotic critters to seek out. Manatees, deer, spoonbills, grey heron, flamingos’ alligators, armadillos, racoon and porcupine to mention a few. We took a trip along Dora’s canal through the cypress groves to see how many we could see.
During this trip we learned another essential “survival” tip.
We were informed by Captain Bob that an Alligator can run 30 - 35 MPH for the first 40 meters. To survive you don’t have to run faster than the alligator, just make sure you are with someone who runs slower than you!.
There were alligator’s and snakes everywhere; this is one boat trip where you don’t trail your hand along in the inviting cool water.
We thought we could enjoy a last blast of sunshine.
The weather was not so obliging, there was
an unusual cold snap, the locals were freezing, this does not mean they turn off the air conditioning though. The weather girl was very excited because one day there was chance of “almost snow flake” type rain in some areas!!!
I think we know this as sleet.
It soon improved and just became cloudy and warm. We checked home temperatures and decided we could live with it after all.
So, currently as I write, here we are in Wildwood.
It is interesting how much stuff you can accumulate in 17 months. Those 54 cupboards mentioned in an earlier blog didn’t remain empty for long.
We started a little Yard sale and generally made the place look a little like a “Totters yard”.
It really does not seem feasible we have been away so long. After travelling 27,000 miles in 17 months, and experiencing 3 countries it now feels like only a few weeks holiday
If things go to plan we should be home in a few weeks with the rig arriving in the New Year. We aim to continue our adventures in Europe whilst waiting to sell the Rig, then…………?????
As mentioned earlier whilst
here we rent a car. We have hit on a scheme where we order it over the internet, strangely enough, from a company called Yes Car hire, based in Bagshot!, and it is really cheap.
We order for a week at a time and always order the Economy car. (That’s a joke, show me an economic American car, the most they will do is 30 mpg) so we have to exchange it each Sunday.
We have come to enjoy this little ritual, each week anticipating the imaginative sales pitch we will get from the staff in order to try and get us to upgrade. This week was the best yet.
“Would you like to upgrade?”
“Really it’s a very good offer”
“Are you driving to Orlando?”
“Well it’s a very small car and it’s a very busy road with large trucks on.”
“We're English; we’re used to busy roads”
“Yes, but the cars are bigger here”,
“Really we hadn’t noticed.”
Now she was into scare tactics.
“It’s a very, very small car and our trucks are very large, you won’t feel safe.”
Graeme and I just looked at her, we then asked
Bus boot sale!
Packing up and emptying out the bays.
Sales were quite brisk that day. You can just about see the "tiny" car in the background!
“How small is it, can we get into it?”
See picture of tiny, tiny car,
See how sad we become when we can’t travel.
Several weeks later…… Yawn.
Time is running out, we have waited patiently for weeks for promised spare parts, during this time we watch the air fares increase and sailing dates for Rig pass by. I think the window must be taking longer to get from one end of the US to the other as we did. Whilst waiting other work is being done on the Rig, It’s going to be a great buy for someone when the time comes
During this time we have changed our minds a hundred times over whether we ship the rig or not. The situation at home re registration still not 100% clear, and with each further delay, we look longingly south towards Mexico. Not helping are the e mails we keep getting from friends saying “when are you coming down” & “let’s meet up for margaritas”
Although the Monaco service station is not really the place we wanted to spend our last weeks in, (It’s not quite SO pleasant after
We have lift off.......
By the time the shuttle disapeared out of our view, it was over England!
I have to thank Brian for this picture, he was much closer than us.
a few weeks), we have managed to find ways to pass the time.
We discovered that, in Orlando if you do a time share, you can get cheap tickets for the Parks, so with time on our hands we thought “why not”. Result, good one for us, $11 for 2 tickets to Sea World, ( a grand saving of $140) not so good for the salesman, Oh well.
We watched the shuttle launch, the first night time launch for several years. It was spectacular.
We made new friends (also captives) and toured the area, thoroughly.
What we didn’t do, was all the small jobs around the rig in order to ship it!
Eventually, 4 weeks later, a happy announcement was made. ”The window has arrived”. A bit later…… We can’t seem to find it. Later, Oops it’s in Indiana, they will fly it down. Next day, no window. One further phone call,” Fly it? Oh no, I don’t think so, its coming overland (slowly)”…….
When we complained to the management he asked “why have you been here so long?” ………
So, suddenly we get full attention, window in, paint work done, Rig
looking shiny and new, decision made…….
Rig sails 31st Dec and flights booked for the 22nd Dec. We arrive on the 23rd (Dads birthday, Happy birthday Dad)
Now we rush around like loonies doing all the necessary tasks for shipping.
This is definitely the end of our North American tales, to be continued on the other side .......
Happy Christmas everyone,
See some of you soon. Moi & Graeme
There are more photos below