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 hotels.com 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.
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.
My youngest son and I (my how he's grown!)
With my daughter