We bade fond farewells to the Winnebago group on Sunday and headed on south to St Augustine, the first ever and longest continuously inhabited American city.
Would you trust this garage?
We love the way they take trucks back to base in the USA…
We began to get clues that we were approaching the city….
I was feeling a bit grumpy and flat, as I didn’t want to leave the Savannah campsite. I had enjoyed myself so much there and the wildlife was outstanding. Our new friends had said that St Augustine was fantastic, but I was really underwhelmed as we drove into the place, passing boring businesses and tacky-looking tourist traps. We easily found the KOA site and set up the tent and it turned out that I was just tired and thirsty and all I needed was to chill for a bit. After some food and drink and a lazy day, I was really looking forward to exploring the town.
What struck us first about being down in Florida was how warm it was; we were suddenly enjoying beautifully blue skies and temperatures of up to twenty six degrees centigrade. I had to keep reminding myself that Christmas was only a couple of weeks away, but it was intriguing to see poinsettias growing outside at this time of year.
We bought a three day pass for the tourist hop on and off trolley bus, which included a shuttle into town from right inside the campground. The ride into town was hilarious, as the bus driver had a great line of patter. We found out that the town had been burned down by Francis Drake (oops!) and that the driver went to the UK every year. (We obviously made a big impression on him, as he gave us exactly the same spiel and asked us exactly the same questions two days later!)(One joke worried us a bit as we were only about ten days away from flying home. ‘They are examining Brits very carefully at Orlando Airport (OH NO! we thought) as two English tourists were found to be taking sunshine home in their suitcases’ (polite smile).
There are many very old houses and civic buildings in the town, despite the fact that the city has been fought over like a bone by the Spanish, French and English and been destroyed by storm and fire several times. One church was built, burnt by Drake, rebuilt, destroyed by a storm, rebuilt and then burnt by some other nasty Englishman on a rampage. Not surprisingly the congregation gave up after that.
It was lovely, with cobbled streets (several towns are very proud of their cobbles, which were often brought over as ballast in ships) and a delightful plaza and everything that could be decorated, had ribbons and ornaments on them.
We had trouble interpreting this statue, as it looked as the poor soul had met the Spanish Inquisition
but on closer inspection of its plaque we found out it was one of several depictions of their central monument that were scattered around the town, this one was meant to convey a sense of giving and friendship. No nails through the hand then!
We watched a Cuban man hand rolling cigars
(Tim was a bit disappointed that there were no pretty female thighs involved) and had a nice man explain that his Panama hats came from Ecuador and that, if you roll them up, they will fall to bits, no matter how much you pay for them.
At lunchtime, we wandered into a tatty looking bar because someone was playing a guitar and then we spent a delightful couple of hours supping drinks, eating surprisingly delicious tacos and listening to some very well performed covers of some of the songs from our favourite groups.
A chat with a couple of guys at the bar revealed that housing is actually a lot cheaper Florida as a consequence of the extremely low wages.
Afterwards we wandered down to the local fort, which had been protecting the town on and off for about 320 years, after the previous wooden forts had been burnt down, (they finally got the idea of using stone). It took over a hundred years to build and ,although it changed hands six times, it was never taken by force. It was in pretty good condition and the nice wardens were more than happy to explain all about the kinds of nasty stuff they used to shoot out of their cannons.
It gave us a delightful view over the water, which made sense, because they could see who was creeping up on them.
We made it back to our shuttle bus in time to get ‘home’ and got chatting to a lovely couple, Angelo and Lisa, who were also staying at the KOA. As we got off the bus, Lisa uttered the (probably foolish) words ‘do you fancy a glass of wine’. Of course we did! We ended up back at their trailer, supping red and eating nice nibbles and chatting for quite some time, being joined on and off by others from the campground. We met Mike, the Australian who is touring with his wife and two friends in a pick up with a fifth wheel trailer (caravan). Luckily their friends had been living in the states for six months already, so they had no trouble getting insurance.
The bloke from next door wandered over with his own glass of wine. Peggy, a rather lonely lady whose husband was very ill, kept inviting everyone who passed to come and join us, causing at least one man to get in trouble with his wife for not returning with the wine he had been sent out to get.
It was a great evening and we all had a laugh. Not mentioning any names, but somebody was out the next day buying light beer because they couldn’t face wine again and someone else woke up fully dressed in bed at three o’clock the next morning! (Clue- it wasn’t Tim!)
The next day we took ourselves off to visit the local lighthouse, which has got to be the most attractive we have seen so far.
They have just completed a thorough refurbishment and the results are absolutely gorgeous. I got chatting to one of the volunteers and she described how they rescue people from the top (most common problem; dizziness caused by the fear of climbing up the lattice work stairs).
They can not get a stretcher down the stairs, so they have to lower people down the outside of the building. As I was climbing the stairs and trying not to look down, I am certain that I started to hyperventilate, not from the thought of falling (although, I had to really concentrate on NOT LOOKING DOWN) but the worry that I might have to be rescued. It was noticeable that on the platform at the top, most people were hugging the wall. It was worth the wobbles and the 214 steps just to see the view and the immaculately restored light and turning mechanism.
They also had what has got to be one of the worlds largest spanners!
The lighthouse keepers’ cottage (for two families) was the most elegant we have ever come across.
The Christmas decorations certainly helped. I liked the way they showed their restoration work, including the electrolysis of canons, recovered from the sea, to remove damaging salts.
Afterwards we drove out to a favourite local attraction with the British ex-pats, the King’s Head Pub.
The landlady was from London and had moved out to the USA thirty five years ago. Her accent was still very British after all these years.
The place was the closest thing we have come in all our travels to the real McCoy, with all the on tap beer being British and such delights as home cooked sausage rolls with Coleman’s mustard and HP sauce and superb fish and chips with mushy peas.
We had promised to cook a curry for Angelo and Lisa so we headed of to Publix, a favourite chain of supermarkets in Florida where we could buy exotic ingredients like nan bread. Yeh! We cooked the food and took it over to their rig, as we had no lights by our table and we had a great evening; it was Lisa’s first ever curry and it went down very well. (I am starting to feel that I could have a job as a curry evangelist over here). They come from Gettysburg and it was interesting to hear what it is like to live there (pretty dull, apparently) and they have the same wedding anniversary as us (how many people are mad enough to get married a week before Christmas). Lisa was very uncertain about camping, but we very much hope we have converted her, and if she stays away from drunken Brits, her liver may survive as well!
The following day, we finally took the trolley bus tour around St Augustine, getting a zip around the place, stopping at such places as the oldest tree in town (650 years old, apparently),
the fountain of youth and the jail. Most were dreadfully tacky and commercialised and the description of the places were very superficial, but it gave us a good sense of how the town had developed from its Spanish Catholic roots (when, if you were not Catholic you could not be buried inside the city walls) all the way through to the arrival of Dr Martin Luther King Jn to help encourage peaceful protests during the civil rights movement. This town is quite unusual in that he actually did walk down the street named after him. I wondered why this church was so well shored up
until we looked a bit more closely.
This building looked like it had a mini mosque on top
but the dome was added to the bank building because they felt it looked too plain. They turned it from plain to very odd quite successfully, I felt.
We took the free tour of the St Augustine Distillery, a new company set up in an old ice works. They have a nice little museum that explores the history of commercial ice production, a surprisingly interesting subject. Their ice was, apparently so pure and dense that it would last three times longer in you iced tea than ordinary ice! (Woo Hoo!)
The tour was interesting, although we didn’t find out a lot of new information. What made it special was that it turns out the company is so new that its first lot of bourbon is still in the barrel.
and, not only was all the funding provided by local townspeople but most of the ingredients are provided by local farmers and that they were trying to be as green as possible. It is definitely hand crafted
(this is the bottling ‘plant’)
It seemed like a fabulous model for sustainability and we enjoyed the free tasters at the end, well, I liked the rummy gingery drink, but their gin and tonic was very weird tasting. Their spirits were very expensive, so, despite the worthiness of the operation, we resisted buying any.
St Augustine is a great place to visit, although you feel a little as if you are living on a film set
they were certainly trying their hardest to make it feel like Christmas
and some parts were marvellously tacky
As this was our last night camping for a while, we decided to have dinner at the local Italian restaurant. It hadn’t looked too special from afar, but we were a bit concerned when we looked through the window and saw fine linen table cloths and beautiful table settings; would they allow two scruffy campers in? There was no need to worry, because we had seen their banquet room, which was all set up for a wedding. The restaurant side was as casual as all the other American places we had been to so we fitted right in. The waitress was one of the most enthusiastic we have encountered on all our travels so far; she loved every aspect of the restaurant and could hardly believe her good fortune to have secured a job there a couple of weeks before. The food was pretty good; we were given complimentary bread with roast garlic (‘roasted for nine hours, its absolutely out of this world’). Our waitress brought out the garlic whole, mashed it on a little plate and drizzled it with olive oil, it was marvellous and very hard to resist, I just hoped that after a whole bulb between us, we would be allowed in anywhere the next day without gas masks. Next followed the included soup; mine was a delicious mushroom and Tim had an excellent minestrone. Our main courses were excellent (fine steak for Tim and grouper fish for me, a first and very tasty). It turns out that the chef is the ‘world renowned’ Chef Paul (there are at least two to found on line, but the other one is now dead; I hope it’s the other one) We came away stuffed (my daughter describes the feeling as ‘having a food baby’ which fits the sensation pretty well, I should say) and staggered back to the tent feeling pretty content.
The next morning we were not in any particular rush, as we only had just over a hundred miles to cover to reach our friends near Orlando. It had not rained in the night, but the dew was so heavy that I don’t know why the weather bothered staying dry. There were pools of water all around the skirts of the Tentipi and it didn’t look like the tent was in any rush to dry off. Luckily we were given permission to leave the campground later than the statutory eleven a.m., so we packed everything else up and then sat around reading our Kindles. Life is hard, sometimes, but you just have to get on with it!
We had woken up that morning to find a bottle of wine and a kind message from Angelo and Lisa who now love curry (is that a kindness to do that to people in a country where curry houses are as rare as hen’s teeth?). We were pleased that we had a chance to say goodbye to them before they headed off home. At least Tim found a good home for the cowboy hat that was given to him by the strange guy up in Savannah (it was rather small for Tim, and it looked much better on Angelo)
I do hope we see them again, as they are lovely people (although if all our new friends turn up in the UK at the same time and take us up on the offer of somewhere to stay we may have to rent out one of our local stately homes).
With a final farewell to Peggy and the ducks we were ready fort he final leg of the Americas part two.