falling in love with history all over again, part 1
Oh, Saint Augustine, how I loved you and all of your incredible architecture, rich and glorious history, jaw-droppingly perfect beach, beautifully different vegetation and animals... Needless to say, I fell in love HARD with Saint Augustine, FL and Anastasia Island.
I had never traveled to Florida, and last year at this exact same time in the worst of winter, our little gang drove southward over a couple of days to spend several days in Saint Augustine, Anastasia Island, and Ponte Vedra before heading further south to Kissimmee, FL for a few more days. There we visited Disney World's Magic Kingdom for a day and saw some amazing sea creatures another day, and met up with Husband's Mini Cooper buddies for a few car-related events. In spite of the girls picking up the nastiest stomach flu I've ever experienced at the very end of the trip and the entire two-day return to PA (times three very very sick tummies and one incredibly car-sick mama who somehow survived catching more vomit than ever thought possible and way more time backward-facing than ever thought possible)... it was the most wonderful trip we have ever taken as a family!
We didn't have or make the time to actually tour each of the dozens upon dozens of museums (Potters Wax, Ripleys, Pirate & Treasure, Lightner, Spanish Military Hospital, and SOOOO many more!), historical buildings, Flagler College, churches, St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, Anastasia Island State Park, St. George Street's shops, St. Augustine Amphitheatre, Ponce de Leon's replica ship, Lighthouse, Fort Matanzas, Lincolnville, Castillo de San Marcos, restaurants, hotels, and so much more... It's a history buff's absolute dream! You could seriously spend a month there, check out every single museum or guided tour each day, and probably still leave with places to visit. And if you're into a wide variety of architectural styles from different countries, cultures and bygone eras, you are in for a feast of eye candy! We did quick walk-throughs of some places inside, and as many places from the outside as possible, and wow I wish we had had a lot more time to explore each place more seriously and deeply!
We found playgrounds, water parks, farmers markets and vendor sales, houses that made me drool in their simplicity or beauty, and lush palms and citrus trees everywhere. Anastasia Island was a breath of fresh air from the busy-ness of Saint Augustine, which attracts many more tourists than the island. The beaches were pristine, and were as wide and vast as I'd ever imagined, covered in itty bitty sea shells. I went for a quick run on the beach one day, much needed after sitting in the car for so long, and ended up at one of the beach accesses in Anastasia Island State Park. Again, we didn't have enough time to explore the trails throughout the park or check out their campsites, but we've since watched YouTube videos and would love to make the time to go for hikes there. The park's beaches extend four miles around the tip of the island, and are just untouched gorgeousness everywhere. Anastasia Island's simplicity and lack of touristy-ness is actually a huge part of the draw for us - like finding rest in a storm, an oasis of peace and quiet. Which isn't to say that there's nothing to do on the island. It has lots of great restaurants and many hotels (although they have building codes to keep the structures low and not obstruct the views), it's just that they seem to make a point of not having major attractions that would keep tourists flocking. I wish that I could really go into detail about each place, but I truly don't have enough words to adequately explain everything in the kaleidoscope of colors and textures and stories.
Our day at Disney was magical, and as the girls and I had never been there before, I was blown away by its immensity and the intricate design of the entire experience. The girls were, of course, smitten by the thought of princesses and so much Disney that we didn't feel bad at all about packing peanut butter sandwiches and not buying anything in the park. Yes, the Disney magic did make its way into the toy box, just sprinkled in small doses throughout holidays and birthday surprises.
The next day, we toured sea animals of so many varieties and learned a ton about conservation of them and their natural habitats around FL, especially that of the manatees. We were fascinated to watch the big gentle manatees munch through heads of iceberg lettuce like candy, and really enjoyed taking a slower pace than Disney to just observe some of our favorite animals and learn more about them and education involved in training them. A few small Mini Cooper events and chatting with old friends made for a lovely end to a delightfully memorable trip, which the girls still discuss almost daily - a year later.
Since we had left a frigid Pittsburgh with wind temps of -18 degrees F, getting to walk around everywhere and on a balmy beach without ten layers of clothes and coats almost left me in tears to return home. But, all good things come to an end, and the pictures, memories, and hopes of return trips with more time to explore still linger...
And we do have a return trip to Saint Augustine and Anastasia Island to share with you! So be sure to check out PART 2 of our Florida fun... coming soon!