Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Visit to St. Augustine.

Friday, August 31, 2007

I cruised down to St. Augustine, I drove through it on the famous route A1A. For those unfamiliar, route A1A a north/south local route that runs Atlantic coast of Florida. It is the local version of US 1, the famous north/south highway that runs from Maine in the north and ends in Key West, Florida. It meanders through Miami Beach, Daytona Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and at Cape Canaveral, it leads to NASA installations.

I drove from Jacksonville to follow A1A because I knew, A1A would drive down the coast and I was hoping to see some seashore views. I drove down early Saturday morning with very little traffic. It was late enough in the morning that I missed the sunrise, that would have meant my waking at 4am to drive down to the beach, something I had no intention of doing.

I drove down and watched the road turn from a 4 lane divided highway to a single two lane road that hugged the coast. I saw the houses crowd the seashore, blocking the sea from my view on the road. I was surprised at the small towns that I drove through. I marveled at the front lawns that had sand not grass. The sand covered their sidewalks and lingered on the street.

I stopped at a little sign that said there was beach parking. I was in Pontevedra. The road was lined with tall trees that seemed similar to mangrove trees, but then I'm not a horticulturist. The parking was on the west side of the road and once you parked, you had to cross the road to reach the beach via boardwalk. Once I climbed over the sand dunes, I saw a ribbon of sand that stretched out to the north and south of me. I wished that I had been prepared to spend the day walking up and down that beach. Instead, all I could do was spend a few minutes to admire the view before I continued with my drive.

I drove through and kept driving, following the signs for A1A. Then I noticed another welcome sign for a city I didn't recognized, so I turned around and found that I had driven straight through St. Augustine. I never get lost, I just drive around in circles until I find what I've decided I've been looking for, the minute I find it.

I ended up in the parking lot for Castillo de San Marcos. It's part of our national parks system. I went ahead and paid the $12 to enter the fort. As I arrived one of the park rangers was telling people, very nicely, to get off the edge of the wall. The fort only had a wall that was just tall enough to make a nice ledge to sit on and pose for pictures, which was exactly what some people were doing. Since the fort was 300yrs old and was made of a kind of cement made from the local sand and you could see small sea shells in the wall, it was fragile.

I made it in time for a cannon demonstration. Volunteers were dressed as old soldiers who used to man the fort. They were going to shoot off the cannons, sort of like a daily practice round. It was interesting to see. They go through the proper forms, complete with the “captain” barking instructions in Spanish. They marched in unison and precise step as they left their post to return to the barracks. As the troops were marching out, the captain told someone “…tell that beautiful thing to get off my wall.” I turned to see what he was talking about. The beautiful thing wore a green dress, had auburn hair and big sunglasses, she must have thought she was posing for a magazine...only someone forgot to get a photographer. She had positioned herself directly on top of the wall.

I thought I’d take a nice leisurely drive through St. Augustine to find a nice restaurant on the water. When I had visited Galveston, Texas I had stopped to eat lunch at a restaurant that had an attached dock where boats would just tie themselves up and stop for lunch. It was at the southern end of a bridge and I saw the restaurant from the top of that bridge.

It was great to find another such restaurant just outside of the city limits of St. Augustine on the North River. I had lunch at the Kingfish Grill, it sits on the North River in St. Augustine so as I ate my food, I watched a boat come into the marina as sailboats glided past. The air had the saltwater tang that only comes from the sea. It didn’t sit exactly on the water, the outside deck where I ate was surrounded by sea grass. It was low tide so the water was several yards away. But that saltwater smell is one I always relish and I enjoyed it for the time I had. We don’t have that smell in Chicago and I missed it terribly. But I knew my time was short for storm clouds were heading for me from inland and there was that electric feel in the air as thunder sounded in the distance. I thought how magnificent it would have been to be sitting on a porch watching the storm head out to sea, surrounded by that saltwater smell, then turn around and take a nap on a hammock.

I finished my meal just as small drops started to hit the boardwalk. I then raced the slow moving storm back up north on A1A. As I turned westward back towards my hotel in Jacksonville, I ran straight into the storm. It was beautiful to see the play of lightening. It's only scary when you're driving an unfamiliar car, coming down an unfamiliar bridge, in an unfamiliar land, distracted by the light display.

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