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.
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.
FOR THE GREATER ENJOYMENT OF EATING AND DRINKING IN ST. AGUSTINE
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.