Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Best Idea Yet - Trolley Tours

Continuing my posts on our trip to St. Augustine...

We'd never visited St. Augustine, but one thing we knew: this was no theme/amusement park that we could grab a map of and walk around everywhere.  This is a city, with streets and traffic and homes and sites, and if we wanted to see all of it we would need transportation.  Of course we could drive around the city that we were completely unfamiliar with; or we could find someone more knowledgeable that could take us everywhere and explain what it was we were seeing.  This is one of those times when the Internet actually comes in handy!

My daughter was doing research on St. Augustine, and I asked if there were tours we could take that would give us an overview of the city.  She found several, and it took us about a week to read up on them before making a decision.  After looking over reviews, content, and convenience, we settled on Old Town Trolley Tours.  There were other similar tours, but we liked what this tour had to offer, and we were not disappointed.

The Old Town Trolley Tour of St. Augustine is, in our opinion, the BEST way to see St. Augustine.  We couldn't believe what a bargain it is, and how it would add to our enjoyment of our visit.

There are several different tours to choose from, including the Ghosts and Gravestones tour, which we didn't take.

There are lots of stories of ghost sightings in St. Augustine, not unusual when you consider how old the city is and all its history.  Not my cup of tea, but apparently everyone elses: the tours got booked solid every night.  We chose instead the Maximo package.  This included the narrated trolley tour good for 3 days - that's 3 days we could hop on and off the trolley at 22 different stops without having to drive anywhere.  Even nicer is the fact that the first stop of the tour was only a 10 - 15 minute drive from our hotel, and the parking there was free.  We were able to leave the car and see all of St. Augustine, saving on gas and no getting lost!  The Maximo package also included a tour of the old jail, the Oldest Store Museum, St. Augustine History Museum, and the Alligator Farm.  All this for $57.41 per person (tax included)!  My son's ticket would have been $30.90 had he been just a year younger, but really it was such a great deal, and all the folks working there were helpful, friendly, knowledgeable, and a joy to be around.

Here is where the tour started.  The white building is the Oldest Store Museum.  Three of the museums are right there at the first stop of the tour, making it convenient.

One of the first places we passed was the fort, Castillo de San Marcos.  It would be my favorite site to visit (more on that later).

When the settlement was first established, it was attacked by the French, by pirates, by natives, and eventually was burned down by Sir Francis Drake (British pirate).  After that, St. Augustine became a presidio, or walled city.  This is what the wall around the city looked like.

The Huguenot Cemetery is one of the haunted areas of St. Augustine.  Since the city was occupied by the Spanish, making the majority of the population Catholic, there was nowhere to bury the Protestant deceased.  In 1821 this burial ground, which is across from the city gate, was chosen just in time for a yellow fever epidemic to break out.  It's difficult to say exactly how many are buried here; for each headstone there are about 20 - 30 bodies buried underneath.

Matanzas Bay.  The word Matanzas is Spanish for killings or slaughter.  When the French came and began to occupy Florida, Pedro Menendez de Aviles was sent to rid the land of them.  The French were captured and asked one simple question:  Are you Catholic?  The French were not; they were Huguenots, a Protestant religion.  For this reason they were taken out to the bay and beheaded.  This is the reason for the name of this bay.

Villa Zorayda, the winter home of millionaire Franklin W. Smith.  It was the first building in St. Augustine made of poured concrete.  Its architecture inspired Mr. Henry Flagler to build similar buildings.  Today it is a museum.

Flagler College, named one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation, was originally the Ponce de Leon Hotel, built by Mr. Henry Flagler when he came to St. Augustine to begin building a winter retreat for the rich.  The architecture is amazingly beautiful.

It's debated whether the Gonzalez-Alvarez House is the oldest house in the nation.  It is most definitely the oldest house in Florida.  The house is made of coquina, a limestone made of seashells and native to this part of the Florida coast.  Many structures are made of or contain coquina, though it was a tedious material to mine since it is very soft and takes a year before it hardens.  It is excellent for forts, though; cannon balls would sink into the soft walls rather than smash them, making the walls impenetrable.  We didn't have time to see the Gonzalez-Alvarez Museum home unfortunately.

Another claim to fame for St. Augustine.  It houses the headquarters for the Florida National Guard.

Here was something extraordinarily interesting.  The Old Senator is a live oak tree that was already in St. Augustine when Ponce de Leon landed here in 1513.  Students from the University of Florida (or Florida State, I forget which) did a study on the tree and determined it is over 600 years old.  It is a beauty and marvel of God's creation.

I wasn't able to get a picture of the entire tree, but just take a look at the trunk and limbs - incredible!  This tree is steps away from the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.  Wonder if the roots reach the Fountain and that's what has kept this tree going for so long?

The tour also took us to the Fountain of Youth and to the original Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, which I'll be posting about next.  We took the entire trolley tour on our first day, which lasted about 75 minutes, then were on and off the trolley for 3 days enjoying the many wonderful sites to see in St. Augustine.  I would highly recommend to anyone visiting St. Augustine, do the Old Town Trolley Tour.  It is indeed the best way to see St. Augustine.

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