Driving south from Jekyll Island my first stop was Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, where I stopped off and checked out some cute little shops and streets. It was super laid back (well it was a Monday…) and I randomly met a group celebrating a birthday who invited me to join their distillery tasting, so why not? They were pretty funny- happy birthday, that guy whose name I don’t recall! Spent my first Florida sunset at the pier there watching the pelicans before heading off for the night by a fishing spot in on Little Talbot Island.
I got a cool foggy wake up scene before heading into the park to do a little walk in Bog Talbot Island park, which took me through the most mosquito-laden sandy trail before looping back along the beach which, yet again, was covered in driftwood and dead trees. Always cool, and the tide was coming in a bit so I had to walk in the water most of the time which I enjoyed. Made it up to a point called ‘the Bluffs’ which the ranger at the gate said was a must see, I think for birdwatching, but it was kind of a letdown after the pretty beach earlier where I saw many sand dollars, shells, and even a gopher turtle heading home.
After my bug bites and exercise I made it into St. Augustine, the oldest city in the country. I had a beautiful sunny day to explore the city by walking around, though I was a little late to do more than tour one site that afternoon, which was Castillo de San Marcos- this fort with a Spanish flavor compared to Pulaski. Cannons? Check. Walls to climb? Check. Rooms decorated to show soldier’s quarters? Check. Here though the difference between the Spanish and British times was something new, and the views from the fortress of the river and city are magnificent.
The city itself is my favorite so far with its mix of Spanish style architecture, colorful cottages, opulent railroad and oil tycoon Flagler-built landmarks, palm-filled parks, and lights everywhere. There are a few streets in the historic district which are totally tourist geared and feel like being at Disney or something, but with the upside of real history and hundreds of years on some of the sites. I spotted the oldest school house, the old city gates, and wondered why I didn’t attend Flagler College with its pool in the quad before ending the evening watching sunset over the river back from the fort.
The next morning I toured the Mission Nombre de Dios, which dates back to 1565 and claims to have had the ‘real’ first Thanksgiving. The modern Mission stands on a nearby property to the original site on the riverside but has an exhibit about the history along with a church, but I really visited to see the outdoor space. Across a small pond and stream from the church lies a giant cross, a statue of the founder, an archeological dig site, and a serene garden in which lies the ivy covered Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche. Apparently it’s a shrine for expectant mothers but it was lovely all the same for childless me.
Before leaving I had to stop by the mythical “Fountain of Youth” extravaganza. I mean, I know it’s fake and ridiculous but I couldn’t be right there and not hedge my bets. Watch out, wrinkles. First off, I don’t know what the deal with the peacocks is here, but they’re everywhere free range roaming around. White peacocks, blue peacocks, feathers galore. They’re even on the fencing!
The first display is an enclosure with a spring to drink from which, according to the owner, is on the site of the original fountain of youth. This claim is based on some relics from the time period of Ponce de Leon and old stones in the shape of the cross at the site, so who knows. The staff totally admits that there was never any magic here but to a European traveler who has been on a ship full of disease and used to crowded gross cities, fresh spring water would seem like a wonder of health. I had some, it was fine but stinky from sulphur, and perhaps now I’m aging in reverse. Time will tell, I suppose.
They also have a bunch of other exhibits about the era and history of the first settlement, such as exhibits about the native tribes the explorers encountered, the original mission site, the weapons and lives of the settlers, and more. There’s a planetarium and a big interactive map of some kind showing Spanish exploration across the ages, but I didn’t see those, though I did see them shoot off a cannon and watch a blacksmith making nails. He told a few blacksmith dad jokes, my favorite of which was “have you ever tried to use a broken nail? It’s pointless.” Ha. A fun end to this stop before heading inland.