St. Augustine, Florida December 20, 2019

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December 19th 2019
Published: December 31st 2019
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Friday, December 20th, 2019

Day 1

So it all started with an episode of Expedition Unknown. Josh Gates introduced his viewers to a little book called The Secret-A Treasure hunt. The book was written by Byron Preiss and was a treasure map of sorts. He buried 12 casques, in 12 North American cities, each containing a key that could be traded in for a gem worth $1000. All these casques were buried almost 40 years ago and only 3 have ever been found. I was intrigued, so I joined the community of people who were searching for the treasures (most, like me, only just learned of them from EU.). There is a painting and a poem associated with each city that give clues to where the treasures are buried. I began pouring over the clues and researching the cities that were closest to me. I looked at Roanoke and learned all about the early settlement there that the paintings and poems referenced. Then I looked into Charleston which was a major port city where African slaves were first brought into the New World. The city whose history and beauty most captured my attention was St. Augustine, Fl.

St. Augustine was founded in the 1500s by Spanish explorer Menendez, making it the oldest continuous settlement of the continental United States. Several decades before Jamestown that I had long heard was the oldest. It is a beautiful coastal port town with Spanish architecture and beautiful beaches. And, as luck would have it, it is well known for its Nights of Lights Christmas display. It was the perfect place to come to for Christmas vacation. That is how I decided to make this the city I would go to in search of treasure, even if the only treasure I find is the beautiful sites.

We left this morning at 7 am so that we could be at the airport by 8 am. Mike and Mary met us there to take our car and since we checked in online and only had carry on bags, we went straight to the gate. It was so easy getting through security in TYS. I love flying out of Knoxville. We had time to sit down to a good breakfast before catching our flight on Fronteir Airlines. We were priority boarding for some reason and we got right on. The flight was short, and we were in Orlando in no time.

We navigated the somewhat confusing airport in Orlando and finally found the rental cars. We got our little Kia Rio and drove off toward Daytona Beach. The day turned out to be quite pretty despite some brief showers, the sun came out and the light up the ocean when we reached Daytona. The water was rough and looked wild and beautiful. We found a nice beach along the A1A that runs along the coast and got out to put our feet in the sand. It was awesome. I so love the ocean. We enjoyed the water along the drive up, but we also enjoyed all the lovely houses.

We arrived at St. Augustine around 4 pm and crossed the bridge of Lions. It was already looking pretty, but we were anxious to check into our hotel which was 5 miles west. We checked into the Smart Stay Inn, it was nice.

We decided to go back to St. Augustine after dark and check out the lights and find a nice place to eat. The lights were gorgeous, everything was covered in lights. Everyone was singing carols and trolleys were criss crossing the main street taking tourist around all the lights as pedestrians, like us, walked the back streets where all the shops were. We got some chocolates, tshirts, jackets and finally ate at a fish and chip place. It was just ok, but the rest of the experience was awesome. We got pictures and video showing the lights, the trolleys and the horse drawn carriages. This place is magical. So far, I absolutely love it. I have already found my treasure!! It's St. Augustine itself.

We stayed in town until after 9pm, then finally headed back to our hotel, where I am now writing this blog. What a great start to our short vacation!

Saturday December 21, 2019

Day 2

Today is my birthday. So to celebrate my birthday, we started the day off by going to the Fountain of Youth Park, the reason we ended up here to begin with. What a lovely place. I was surprised to find that indeed there was the tree there that I am certain has the treasure hidden under it. But what was even better was all the history in that place. We watched a planetarium show and another show in the Globe Theater, we heard cannon being shot off and chatted with one of the recreators who had a LOT of knowledge about the history of St. Augustine. We even saw a sweet kitty that was given her own back story since she injected herself into the recreations there, she was supposedly the ship cat that came across the sea with Ponce de Leon and has been drinking the water there ever since and that is how she is still there. She was actually a stray that wondered into the park pregnant and barely surviving by eating the birdseed they put out for their many peacocks. The park people took care of her. They found homes for all her kittens and got her back to health. She seemed pretty happy as she lay on a blanket at the old Seloy village exhibit. 😊 It was all very interesting. And of course we drank from the famed Fountain that was supposed to be Ponce de Leon's Fountian of Youth. I needed it today, as I was feeling old. We stayed and ate at the BBQ place there at the park and just enjoyed all the lovely scenery with the trees with Spanish moss. Nice place for sure.

After we left the FOY we decided to head over to the Castillo for a tour. It was crowded in the downtown area, so we had to park in the town parking garage and then walk to the Castillo. We got there just in time to look around a little before the ceremony to shoot off the cannon. It was pretty well done. I laughed as all the people looked out to sea after the firing expecting to see a splash from a cannon ball. Of course it was a blank and there was no cannon ball, but I found myself looking along with everyone else. It was pretty cool, but not nearly as impressive as the Castillo that we saw in Puerto Rico.

We left there shortly after the cannon show and headed across the Lion Bridge to Anastasia Island where the St. Augustine Lighthouse was beckonning us. It is well over 200 feet tall and very impressive. Despite Rob being unsure of my ability to make it to the top, I was determined to do it. It was both physically a struggle and a bit of a struggle with my fear of heights, but the view from the top was so worth it. And I felt quite accomplished. We made the knee aching trek back down the stairs of the lighthouse and checked out the other sites on the Lighthouse grounds for a bit, but by then my feet were beginning to hurt. I convinced Rob that what we needed was a nice drive across the bay to Vilona Island where there would be nice views of the Atlantic. It did not disappoint. There were some pretty cool houses along the beach and I thought about how cool it would be if I could find a beach house along there on VRBO sometime in the future that we could come back here to.

Rob found a nice beach along the road to pull off on where we could sit in the vehicle and watch the waves. We cracked the windows so that we could listen to the crashing waves, it was so beautiful. As we are sitting there, three young people show up dressed in swim suits. It was kind of cool out and the wind was really blowing making it feel even colder, so we were pretty surprised to see anyone in a swimsuit there. But these young ones had made up there minds to jump into the cold winter Atlantic anyway. Not only was it cold, but the waves were really rough in the ocean. That did not deter them, they ran right out into the water and dove in. Then came running right back out! They must have just wanted to get in to say they did. Haha.

Right there at the beach where we were sitting was a restaurant right on the water called The Reef. I looked it up and found that it was a seafood restaurant as you would expect, and they had Grouper! My favorite. So we decided to just have dinner right there by the beach. We were seated at a table right by the window looking out over the sea and got to enjoy the scenes as we ate the delicious food. It was the perfect birthday dinner. I could not have asked for better. After dinner, we briefely stood in the sand and watched the water in the fading light. It was a really nice day.

To top it off, we grabbed dessert at Dairy Queen as we headed to our room. Yum. My legs and feet are aching pretty bad, and I am tired from not getting much in the way of sleep last night. My sweet love Rob rubbed my feet tonight, which was just what I needed. Now it is just relaxing, blogging and then sleep. Tomorrow, the spa. Yay!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Day 3

The sky opened up today. It was like someone in heaven held a large bucket over St. Augustine and just dumped the entire contents on it all at once, but for most of the day. Thankfully it didn't start in earnest until after we had our spa day and found the tea and spice exchange. We even got a nice lunch at Scarlet OHara's before the deluge.

The spa day was pretty cool. We first did an hour floating in a sensory deprivation tank. It was really relaxing, but the water was a little bit too warm for my tastes. I would have liked it to have been a little cooler. It was still quite nice though. The next step was an infared suana. It was even hotter and neither of us particularly enjoyed it. We sweated a lot, but at least they had a nice shower waiting for us to cool off in afterwards. The last part of the spa treatment was an hour in the salt cave. That was amazing! The cave was nice and cool, with soft colored lights all around and spa music as well as several water cascades to listen to. We were seated in these zero gravity chairs that completely supported us in comfort and given blankets to wrap up in if we got too cool. It was so relaxing that I fell asleep for a bit. When i awoke, the music had stopped so that all I could hear was the water cascades. It was even better than the music. We both felt completely relaxed afterward. I loved it.

We left the spa and found the tea and spice exchange as I mentioned. It was sprinkling a little, but not too bad at all to walk the block or so to the shop. We found some great spices and a delicious smelling tea to take home with us. After all the wonderful smells in the shop, my appetite was up, so we walked down to the Scarlet Ohara's restaurant which was Gone with the Wind themed, obviously. It was pretty good and we both ate until we were full. The rain held off long enough for us to get back to the car, but began in earnest shortly thereafter.

We were planning on visiting the Lightner Museum, so we drove around until we found what seemed like a good parking spot and endured the rain to walk around to the entrance. We found out that the museum was just an art museam and furniture gallery, something neither of us were particularly interested in, so we left. By now the rain was really coming down. Rob went and got the car and picked me up around the side of the museum.

Not really sure what to do next we just drove around a little looking at the beautiful archetecture in the town. It still amazes me that such a place exists in the US. No wonder Byron Preiss wanted to draw attention to it. It is such a lovely place. We saw the Flagler University, the oldest still standing house (over 300 years old) and some truly beautiful churches. Even the private homes look old and stately. There are a lot of old homes that have been converted to Bed and Breakfasts. We will definitely have to come back here.

We pulled over for a minute to see if there were any other places that might be nice on a rainy Sunday to check out. We saw that there was a Whetstone Chocolate factory in the town and thought that they might be giving tours, so we headed that way. Sure enough, we could see a sign out that said "tours today" as well as people being led into the factory, each wearing their own hair net. So we found a place to park and braved the downpour to get into the front office. We had to wade through deep puddles (soaking our feet) to get inside. Unfortunately, the tour we saw was the last tour of the day. It wouldn't have mattered if we had gotten there any earlier, they had been sold out all day, apparently. We couldn't leave there without chocolate, though, so we went next door to their shop and picked up some favorites. Yum, yum.

The rain was coming down even harder as we waded our way back to the car. We decided that there was really nothing worth getting soaked to see today, so we just came back to the hotel and settled in for the evening. We ordered chinese delivery and I watched High Seas for several hours. Then it was time to blog and get ready for bed. Hopefully tomorrow will be a less rainy day as we head back to Orlando and our last day of vacation. 😊

Monday, December 23, 2019

Day 4

Hello sunshine! The sun is out and the sky is blue. It is a perfect day for a drive down the coast and then back to Orlando. We set off around 9 am and got back on the A1A, crossing the Lion Bridge one last time and we were on our way. We drove along the ocean enjoying the scenic views, with me driving this time so Rob could enjoy them too. We stopped at a cute town called Flagler Beach where there was a town peir and a really nice beach. You had to pay to go out on the peir, so we just went down the ramp to the beach. I love the sand here, it is made up of tiny broken sea shells mostly and looks so pretty glistening in the sun. I wanted to get sone pictures of it, so I grabbed a hand full and Rob took the pictures. Then I walked a little on the beach, just enjoying the waves while I still could. Rob didn't want to take off his shoes, so he enjoyed the views from the ramp. It was such a cute quirky little beach town. They had a large chalk board that people were leaving little notes on, so I drew a heart with our names in it and put above it St. Augustine 2019 and got some pictures. It was a nice stop.

We continued down to Daytona Beach where we decided to hang out for a bit and enjoy the day. We first went down to the boardwalk, but the pay meter we parked at would not work properly, so we only stayed a little while in fear of getting a ticket. Just up the road from there was a beach walk that had some cool shops and restaurants. We decided to go there and eat at one of those places. We settled on Sloppy Joes after Rob got a t-shirt at one of the shops. The food was fabulous, but it was the ocean side views that really made it. We soaked it all in. After lunch, we took one last look at the beach and then headed inland.

Orlando was a bit of a culture shock after all the relaxation of our weekend. The traffic was a mad house and the roads confusing, but we finally made it to our hotel. We stayed in the Holiday Inn right across from the airport. It is a nice place, with a huge lobby with a bar and grill. We decided to have dinner there after we ran out and got gas in the rental car. That was also quite an adventure with the traffic, but we made it back to our hotel just fine. We got our food to go and headed back to the room to relax and eat before bed.

Impressions of St. Augustine:

1. The locals are really friendly and are really proud of their town. They love to talk about its rich history.

2. They have a locally grown pepper called a datil pepper that was sweet and spicy, Only found there.

3.There is so much to do in and around St. Augustine, we can make several trips and never do the same thing twice.

4. I didn't even realize that a place like this existed in the US. I absolutely love the beauty and history of the place. The Spanish archetecture, the beautiful sandy beaches, the majestic trees dripping with Spanish Moss, and the friendly people.

5. I really did find treasure in St. Augustine

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