Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Oldest City in America, San Agustín

I thought Florida was supposed to be warm.

A freak cold snap has taken over the east and though the sky is blue and the sun is shining, it is approximately 40 degrees outside. Life is so unfair sometimes.

Also, there are sadly no longer any Hostelling International affiliates in Florida. I can, however, confidently put my stamp of approval on the Pirate Haus Inn, which has a fabulous location right between the main tourist thoroughfare and the waterfront. They also boast themed painted rooms, a patio, community kitchen, and all those typical amenities, plus all of the pirate paraphernalia one could ask for, and a free pancake breakfast put on by the artists/linguists in residence.

(I made the vaguely French looking pirate in the front)

I stayed just south of town with the owner of the aforementioned accommodation and his lovely wife, who took me to dinner at the local pizza parlor, Pizzalley, and then entertained me all evening with a drama-filled mouse battle, which we won with the help of their three dogs. I got an early start the next freezing cold morning in order to see all of the extremely old things that there are to see in this picturesque vacation town.

(El Castillo)

I would highly recommend renting a bike (for cheap at Solano Cycle) and seeing the sights that way, as everything is within very easy biking distance. El Castillo de San Marcos is the most prominent historic attraction, as it is the oldest thing that any Europeans built in what is now the U.S.* It is extremely impressive to look at, offers great views of the area, and interesting to me because it is the only fort in the U.S. that has never been taken by force, but changed hands only via treaties and diplomacy. There is also a famous lighthouse** and the national park on Anastasia Island, which I somehow managed to get lost on even with GPS.

(I am fairly certain that this needs no caption but this is the lighthouse, viewed from the bottom for free)

The rest of the town is full of amazing architecture spanning centuries, from the oldest wooden schoolhouse (built sometime before 1716) to the Spanish Renaissance Revival gem of Flagler College, to the astounding fantasy-style castle of Villa Zorayda, inspired by 12th century Moorish design. The city has an almost dreamlike feel, as everything is either quaint, grandiose, beautiful, or all of the above, and perfectly planned and accessible. A bit like Disneyland***, but an actual city.


Whatever you do, do NOT get sucked into the weird Floridian obsession with making wine out of everything but grapes. Many stores entice you to try grapefruit, chocolate, coffee, carrot, or boysenberry wine, which sounds interesting at first. Let me save you the trouble and tell you now, it is terrible.

Do, however, visit either Casa Maya or Blue Planet Co-op, which both offer fresh, delicious, affordable feasts to those of us that have had one too many scoops of jambalaya in the past couple of weeks.

After being surrounded by so much Spanish history all day, we felt it appropriate to make tapas for dinner, and after various glasses of the accompanying homemade sangria, I went to sleep eagerly anticipating the next day's trip down the coast of Florida, towards that steaming tropical vacation empire, Miami.


*The city was founded in 1565, and construction on the fort started in 1672.
**Though, they charge $9 to go to inside, and I think that is ridiculous! So I just imagined climbing 209 steps and peering out over the Atlantic, then rode my bike through the surrounding neighborhood, full of ramshackle, old fashioned vacation cottages.
***Which sounds like a negative thing but it is actually quite sweet. The town even has a little tourist bus made to look like a train that carries retirees and families from sight to sight. It would be much nicer if it was an actual train, but alas, I have relatively little clout with the St. Augustine Director of Transportation, even with my expertise in railroading.

1 comment:

  1. San Agustin was born in North Africa in 354, son of Patrick and Santa Monica (she of the famous clan who went on to found the quaint sea side community in the slightly more hoity-toity area of LA). He had a brother and sister, and they all received a Christian education. His sister became abbess of a convent and soon after his death St. Augustine wrote a letter to his successor, including advice on the future direction of the congregation. This letter later became the basis for the Rule of St. Augustine, " in which St. Augustine is one of the great founders of religious life.

    Patrick, St. Augustine's father was a pagan until shortly before his death, which was a response to the fervent prayers of his wife, Santa Monica, for their conversion. She also prayed a lot for the conversion of his then-wayward son, Augustine. San Augustine left school when he was sixteen years, and while he was in this situation was immersed in pagan ideas in the theater in his own pride and various sins of impurity. When I was seventeen years began a relationship with a young woman who lived outside of marriage for about fourteen years. Although not married, they kept their mutual fidelity. A boy named Adeodatus born of their union, who died when he was close to twenty years. St. Augustine taught grammar and rhetoric at the time, and was much admired and successful. From 19 to 28 years for the deep sorrow of his mother, Augustine belonged to the heretical sect of Manichean. Among other things, they believed in a God of good and evil in a God and that only the human spirit was good, not the body, or anything from the material world.

    In 430 St. Augustine fell ill and died on 28 August that year. His body was buried at Hippo, and was later moved to Pavia, Italy. St. Augustine has been one of the biggest contributors of new ideas in the history of the Catholic Church. He is an example for us all - a sinner who was holy and that gives us all hope. San Agustin is currently one of the thirty-three Doctors of the Church. His feast is celebrated on 28 August.