Friday, August 2, 2013

Beautiful St. Augustine

Living in Florida has its advantages.  There are great places to vacation without ever leaving our great state.  After all, we are the theme park capitol of the world! (At least in my opinion).  My family has been to Disney World more times than I can count and we've enjoyed every single trip there.  We've also loved going to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, SeaWorld and Aquatica, and the stuff closer to home like the Miami Seaquarium and Miami Metrozoo.  The problem with going to these fun and exciting places is always the same:  cost.  While many theme parks have Florida resident specials, these are only available during the slow season, not in the summer.  My kids really wanted to do something new and different, and I really wanted to stick as close to my budget of $500 as possible.  It sounded impossible to me, what with prices going up every time you blink.

Enter St. Augustine.

My daughter began looking for interesting places to visit, and St. Augustine was on the list.  We looked at all the places, sites, museums and tours, and found it to be very economical.  There was plenty to see and do on a budget, and while fun it was also educational, a combination I like very much.  I knew we'd probably go over budget but not nearly by as much as any of the theme parks would.  I found a great deal on for a Best Western that ended up costing $65 per night including tax.  The room was cozy, clean, and very conveniently located next to I-95 and a short drive to our ultimate destination.  Plus the complimentary breakfast was the best we'd ever had - Belgian waffles everyday!  You can't go wrong there!

For all you Americans who only know what you were taught in school about our nation's history, St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European established settlement and port in the United States.  What?!  you say; it isn't Jamestown, Virginia?!  No; Juan Ponce de Leon, then governor of the island of Puerto Rico, discovered St. Augustine in 1513 trying to find the fabled Fountain of Youth.  The natives had told him this fountain could be found on what we now know as the island of Bimini, but Ponce de Leon didn't know about the Florida gulf stream.  It took him all the way up the intracostal to St. Augustine, and it was there that Ponce de Leon claimed the entire North American continent for Spain.  Yep, Spain.  We forget that almost 100 years before the English began settling the New World, Spain had already taken possession.  St. Augustine became a port and settlement in 1565.  The Spanish had tried to start a settlement here before but due to increment weather and attacks from the natives they hadn't been successful.  Suddenly they found out the French had come to Florida and established a settlement 30 miles north in our present day Jacksonville.  The Spanish sent Pedro Menendez de Aviles to rid Florida of the French and get that settlement in place, which he did.

This commemorates the spot where it is believed Ponce de Leon landed back in 1513.  He came in April, during the Easter season, and the land was in full bloom.  He named the place La Florida in honor of La Pascua Florida, or the Festival of Flowers, celebrated in Spain during Easter.  At the time Ponce de Leon thought he'd landed on another island - little did he know it was an entire continent he claimed for his queen!

The natives took him to a fresh water spring which he believed to be the Fountain of Youth he sought.  Ponce de Leon died at the age of 47.  Whether that is considered eternal youth is subjective.  You can still drink of the fountain water; I did.  It doesn't taste good. At. All.  I called it swamp juice.  But hey, as long as it works...

The beginning history of St. Augustine is clearly seen here at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.  We paid $10.50 each to get in - the regular price is $12 per person but we got discounted tickets through our tour company (more on that in another post).  We learned about the Timucuan Indians that lived in the area when Ponce de Leon arrived, and the settlement the Spanish started here that eventually gave way to the settling of Florida, Georgia, and parts further north.

A re-creation of the natives living in Florida when Ponce de Leon landed here.

A Native American home

We got to see a cannon being blasted!  Well, it was just smoke and noise, no cannonballs, but it was still pretty exciting!

This enormous cross in the distance marks the spot where Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed when he came to establish the first true settlement in St. Augustine in 1565.  It is located on the site of a church called Mission Nombre de Dios (The Name of God Mission).  It was the first Catholic mission set up in St. Augustine to bring Christianity to the natives.

Here's something we found fascinating:  white peacocks!  There are dozens of peacocks on the grounds, most of them the colorful ones we're used to seeing, but there are two white peacocks which are equally beautiful!  No, they are not albino peacocks.  These are from India and they are all white.  Personally, I like the colorful ones best, but I couldn't help being awestruck by this stunning creature.

This beauty was roosting in one of the trees

This is part one of my series of Florida's history.  I hope to get more posts up this month with more of the wonderful places we visited and all we learned.  If Florida is in your future, take a trip to St. Augustine and visit the Fountain of Youth.  It's more than just history, it is a place to enjoy God's amazing creations.

Matanzas Bay

My youngest son and I (my how he's grown!)

With my daughter

1 comment:

Mrs. O said...

Just think, in a few months, you can get an AARP discount on hotels!!! :P