We are now in the oldest city in the USA, Saint Augustine, founded 1565, way ahead of Jamestown and Plymouth Rock. Arrived a day earlier than planned, relatively late in the day and with no reserved campground site We “declined” a $70/one night opening for a “primitive” (i.e. no electric, water or dump) camp site. (We do have a site for the next three nights.) A Barnes and Noble Book Store lured us in with free Wifi and good coffee (not free coffee). A nice environment to finish up yesterday’s blog. With no other good options, we planned another “parking lot” sleep-over. The main requirement for this plan is flexibility. First spot, too close to night club music. Second spot, apparently trespassed on a favorite spot for the homeless class here. We figured they had priority. Third spot, just like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, just right.
With four Mass time options, we chose the earliest, 7a.m., mainly due to parking considerations. We wanted to attend at the Cathedral/Basilica which is in the center of the Old District with only street parking available. STella isn’t big in RV terms, but she’s “big” in street parking terms. We arrived in time to snag a couple of spaces (parking was free on Sundays!). A beautiful church, as we had expected, and a friendly “where are you from” greeting from the presiding priest, which we hadn’t expected. Another visual surprise, several parishioners dressed in ornate, 1600’s military attire. More about them later. A little personal note here for our St. Joseph readers-ALL of the announcements were made AT THE END OF MASS 🙂
A very cool (low 40s) walk-about in a mostly unoccupied Old District. We had originally planned on a Trolley Tour, but the open air trolleys looked colder than we had clothing for. Plan “B” was to drive to the lighthouse and explore. This was a very pleasant and informative stop. The original lighthouse here was the first ever on the American Atlantic Coast. Florida has been a very “fought over” locale since its inception. (So, it’s not just a major prize in the American electoral process). The Spanish laid claim to it, but the Seminole Indians had something to say about that. Both the French and the British wanted it, but the Spanish had a lot to say about that. Eventually, America wanted it, and has had the last word. Other than the Seminole, all these other occupants saw a great need to have the coastline and the river inlets well marked for their respective Navies and sailing ships. Thus, the original and perpetual light houses.
The one still standing, erected in 1874, is a classic beauty. In a remarkable display of local volunteerism, when the Federal and State governments didn’t see fit to rebuild the original Light Keepers house and grounds, the city and county inhabitants did just that. And have succeeded admirably.
Finding yet again that “it sometimes pays to be old”, we bought our senior discount tickets and started the tour. It is 219 steps to the observation deck on top of the lighthouse, but the view when there is worth every step. From this vantage point, the lighthouse keeper witnessed more than one American cargo ship sunk by German U-boats just off the coast. The war came closer to America than nearly all citizens knew because the black out of this kind of news was complete.
The site has variously been a Coast Guard station, US Navy outpost (briefly considered adding guns here during the early days of WW2), and now interpretive history center. The all-volunteer guides do a great job. There is now a hub here under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution for underwater archaeology of the literally hundreds of ship wrecks in these deceptively treacherous waters. It is a treasure trove of artifacts, but not if you’re looking for gold and silver doubloons.
Next on today’s busy schedule, a visit to Castillo de San Marcos, fort built in the 1700s to protect the mouth of the inlet coming into the city. Again, being old saved us money as we flashed our “National Park Senior Pass” to bypass all the lines and walk throughout the fort.
This fort was built by the Spanish to guard the entry into the river system supplying Saint Augustine. The Spanish had settlements throughout Cuba and Central America and this was the northern most point of that chain. It is an imposing structure, and we marveled at the incredible amount work that would have been required to construct it. It has been assaulted by many nations in its history, but has never fallen and only changed hands via treaties and peaceful negotiation.
Highlights of this visit were the demonstrations by re-enactors in period costumes. We saw our fellow Mass attendee leading this group as a Capitaine of the Guard. A demonstration of musket firing and cannon firing topped it off. A particularly pleasing moment came during the cannon firing routine. The staff had thoroughly researched the archives of the Spanish garrison at the time and strictly followed the 39 steps involved in each firing procedure. Our son in law, Marc, a Navy Gunner for 31 years, would have smiled as broadly as we did when, at approximately step 6, the Corporal in charge of the gun invoked the Patron Saint of Gunners (you never knew, did you reader, that there WAS a patron saint of Navy Gunners) Saint Barbara, to simultaneously aid them in hitting their intended target, and protect them from harm.
We were so engrossed in our stay here that we nearly forgot our 2 p.m. reservation for our Barn Stormer Tour! All credit to Cathy’s better organized memory for that! Luckily, nothing is very far away here (Saint Augustine, with a population of less than 13,000 year round inhabitants is a much smaller city than we had thought). We made it to the airport with time to spare. Our “bird” for the flight was a gorgeous, Spec built, Waco, 1935 model, open cockpit, 2 seater, 3 passenger. The youngish looking pilot, Dave, had been our only contact via email and phone messaging. He met us in the parking lot with his golf cart and drove to the hangar. His easy confidence and professional demeanor was welcome. We eagerly went thru the pre-flight instructions and stepping on the lower wing, wiggled aboard and strapped in. It was a cozy fit, without being too cramped. His obviously practiced eye had concluded we didn’t exceed the 400 lb weight limit 🙂 Strapping on the headphones and requisite “Snoopy” headgear, we gave “thumbs up” at each query of Pilot Dave. The 300 horsepower radial engine was much quieter than I had expected, and operated at what we professional tractor drivers would consider practically idling speed. 1800 rpm’s got us effortlessly off the ground and into the cool blue air wafting in off the great Atlantic ocean. In what I am sure was Dave’s practiced pre-flight banter, he had determined what level of other-than-straight-and-level flight we were comfortable with. Thankful for that, he offered us some standing-on-the-wingtip-turns with great photo ops.
We had planned this activity with hopes for it to be a pre-bike ride highlight, and it did not disappoint. We gave Dave one of our travel cards and hope he is reading this blog now to view our satisfaction!
Knowing there was nothing to top today’s events, but arriving at our reserved campground, we ate a typically light supper in STella. Google found a movie theater within minutes of our camp and we decided to take advantage of it since LaLa Land was showing there and we had both wanted to see it. An enjoyable, out of the normal genre (for us) flick.
Thus ends another day on the road. Glad to have you along 🙂