ST AUGUSTINE - The Jewel in the Florida Crown
Today, we took a stroll once again through St Augustine. The narrow ancient streets, the balconies hanging out precariously from the Spanish-style houses and the dramatic legacy of Henry Flagler all harmoniously meld to create a theatre set of history.
This is the oldest continually occupied European settlement in America, started decades before Plymouth and the Pilgrim Fathers. On September 8, 1565, the Spanish Conquistador Pedro Melendez de Aviles decided this was the place to found the first European-style city on the Atlantic Coast. The Spanish had tried several places to establish a home from home and between 1513 and 1559, Spain had sent many expeditions to the New World but all attempts were wiped out by disease, lack of food or Indian bows and arrows. They even tried over on the other side of Florida in Pensacola on the 'Panhandle', but that lasted just two years. But King Phillip II wasn't one to give up. Off he sent Menendez to this part of the New World where he immediately butchered hundreds of the male inhabitants. That nice Mr Menendez also got to hear about a number of French boats that had been shipwrecked and, even though the wretched men surrendered, he tied up the castaways and mercilessly massacred them. This was his style.
There is a huge fort in the town and this has seen numerous attacks, most famously by Sir Francis Drake who arrived in 1586 and promptly plundered houses, burned crops and did goodness knows what else before sailing on. English buccaneers ransacked the city again in 1665.
Interestingly, King Charles II of Spain ordered that refuge be given in the town to slaves that had run away from the British lands. Forty-five years later, the Governor of Florida proclaimed St Augustine an approved settlement for ex-slaves and they stood side-by-side with the Spanish against the British, who were finally to take the town in 1763. The British, in the Seven Years War, had booted out the French from Canada, most notably with our hero General Wolfe outsmarting (with muffled oars) and outfighting the Marquis of Montcalm in Quebec in 1759. They had also kicked the Spanish out of almost everywhere. In the end, a deal was struck and Florida was returned to Spain in 1794 as party of a treaty that granted America its independence.
Through all this, St. Augustine has retained its dignity, its fascination, its optimism, its colour and its beauty. If you have a second, take a quick stroll with us down St. George Street or around Flagler's flagship hotel by clicking on the videos below:
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St George Street
Flagler's Hotel, now a college
The elegant Bridge of Lions which takes you from the heart of the city to the beaches on Anastasia Island.
This is why we love this town and are looking ourselves to be the new settlers here. If you come to northern Florida, don't miss it. There are some quirky bits but there is so much to see - it is small, so you can walk from one side to another in half an hour. Flooding is an issue following a couple of hurricanes as most the houses are only a few feet above sea level but they are now being dramatically raised. Global Warming is frightening some people, poor dears. But hell, if you live your life in fear of what might be, you'll end up missing all the fun.
A waterside house being raised.
But to enjoy a good stroll, you need a good cat. This is where Sooty comes in. We have just educated our favoriteSiamese, Sooty, to be a dog-cat and he has taken to it like a duck to water, so to speak.
We had had only a distant hope of finding somewhere in Florida with history, Victorian houses and soil that will support shrubs like camellias and acers. Nearly all of the State is like a seabed (which, of course, it was).
And we found it all here. In beautiful St Augustine.
P.S. We are thinking of blending in to the South by repainting our bus. What do you think...?