WELCOME TO SUNSHINE STATE CITIES

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Thank you for joining me on my posts about my recent trip to Florida. I’ll finish off this short series by sharing some photos and information about our visits to the two closest cities; New Smyrna Beach and St. Augustine.

St. Augustine was one city we couldn’t wait to visit. It lies in North-East Florida and is known as the oldest city in America. Its Spanish roots are evident from the buildings in the town; at times I felt I’d been transported in time and location to 16th Century Spain. It was founded on 8th September (my birthday!) in 1565 by Spanish admiral and Florida’s first governor, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. He named it San Augustin as the land was first spotted on that Saint’s day eleven days earlier.

I’d read about the trolley buses in St. Augustine before we arrived – such a perfect mode of transport to the main attractions. They were handy to take either as a long tour or as a  hop-on hop-off trip as well as being so colourful, open to the air and having friendly informative drivers. However there was one moot point. No one had warned us about the hard and extremely uncomfortable hard seats! Heck! My mother’s ribs are only just recovering from the plastic moulded atrocities! Luckily I remained unscathed by leaning forward and clinging for dear life to the pole by the open doorway – precariously at times. Also suspension is NOT an added extra and one piece of sage advice I wish we’d been given is not consume food before embarking on the buses. It’s a rough ride and doubly so on the cobblestones!

On arrival we first chose to absorb the city’s atmosphere by enjoying a stroll down the pedestrianised St. George Street. We revelled in the beautiful architecture all around us, eyes glancing back and forth and then up to the wooden balustrades of the first floor verandahs adorned with flowers. At any moment I imagined a cowboy shoot-out up above and with a crack, the balustrade breaking and a man falling down below. (You can visualise my misspent youth here!)

We had fun browsing the quaint tourist shops and other endless array of shops, however I was all too conscious of my already burgeoning suitcase and kept purchases to a minimum! Restaurants too were plentiful along the street and they all looked so tempting!

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This delightful building, The  School House, is the oldest wood frame building still in existence in St. Augustine today. It was built over 250 years ago whilst Florida was under the rule of Imperial Spain and was constructed of red cedar and cypress and put together with wooden pegs and handmade nails. Classes were held in the front room while the schoolmaster and his family lived upstairs.

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Two famous landmarks that symbolise St. Augustine are the San Marcos fortress and the imposing and impressive Bridge of Lions. The original wooden bridge of the nineteenth century was replaced in 1927 and then this was further renovated this century with the lions again reigning supreme.

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Image from Google

The Castillo de San Marcos is the only remaining 17th-century military stone fortress still in existence in the US. It was built out of the local coquina stone –  a soft limestone composed of broken shells which took up to three years to dry before being ready to use. During the centuries San Marcos has had four flags flown over it: the original Spanish builders and rulers, then British, for a brief while the Confederate States of America  flag during the Civil War before finally coming under the United States flag.

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Image from Google

The recent history of St. Augustine seems to be centred around the colourful character of Henry Flagler.  As the trolley tour wound its way through the idyllic streets his power and money is evident all around from the buildings he helped finance.

His former Alcazar Hotel is now the Lightner Museum, which considers itself Florida’s Smithsonian and houses artefacts from the natural world, to Tiffany glass and a Victorian village.

After hours of sightseeing we sought refuge from the busy bustle of town and happily discovered the serenity of St. Photios Greek Shrine. The shrine and the museum are dedicated to the first Greek colony in the US.

With all this sightseeing another break was required and our thirst was quenched by the delicious cooling, fruity taste of a Sangria. What could be more perfect? Our only regret was that we had too little time in this wonderful city to do it justice – we so wished we could have stayed longer!

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On our first visit to New Smyrna Beach (it soon became our regular haunt!) I felt I’d stepped into a movie set. The main street seemed to consist of front facades of shops and restaurants! The heat was unbelievable, stifling; the sunlight diffused in the warmth; the air echoed with the sounds of cicadas, otherwise silence. Silence as there was no one around! A few 4x4s parked along the road, an odd car driving past, otherwise the main street – Flagler Avenue (see how he got everywhere!) was quiet. We tried a shop; empty apart from the friendly sales assistant. We passed a couple of restaurants, with only a couple of diners. I tried but failed to turn off the theme music from ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ playing in my head.

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The more I got my brain round this wonderful town the more I came to enjoy it. The art shops were a delight, particularly the aptly named Ta’Da’ shop which had many unique finds within. Only later did I learn that New Smyrna Beach is recognised as on of the Top 100 Art Towns in US, selling locally produced art, imported wares from Colombia amongst other countries, framed paintings and pictures. Of course, there was the odd tourist shop as well…always a must for us…hmmm…tourists!

There were restaurants galore and the quiet of the daytime was replaced by a lively night scene.  We visited one particular restaurant three times – after all how could we resist Norwoods Tree House restaurant.  What a fantastical concept with superb food, great service and live music.

Mexican is not a type of restaurant found often in the UK so it was a joy to visit one in New Smyrna Beach and after having some friendly help deciphering the menu we ordered and soon tucked into a delicious meal.

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Not to be out done the Italians were represented en masse too and one place we visited had the most unusual textured ceiling covered with corks!

Each step outside on the pavements along the avenue brought a moment of reflection as we gazed down at the names inscribed upon the red brick path. Instead of those of famous celebrities that I’ve seen elsewhere I was touched to see a local sway to these dedicated memorials and celebrations.

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At last I complete my trio of posts about my Florida break and I hope you’ve enjoyed them. May they have brought you some of those wonderful  restorative, exciting and blissful feelings that engulfed me. There is one fact that I’m glad I was unaware of though: that this area has the dubious distinction of being knows as the world’s shark bite capital!

Photos copyright ©Annika Perry unless otherwise specified.

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64 thoughts on “WELCOME TO SUNSHINE STATE CITIES

  1. Sherri says:

    So much enjoyed reading your Florida posts Annika. Those hard seats sound painful to say the least – do hope your poor mother has recovered, yikes! I’ve never been to Florida, but that photo with the palm trees reminded me of a few places back ‘home’ in California 😉 Fascinating history, thank you! And of course, how could you not resist that wonderful glass of sangria? Mmmmm… and I’m glad you got to try Mexican food. Did you enjoy it? It took me years to get used to it, but once I did, I loved it and now I miss it greatly. We’ve discovered a great place when we visit the boys, so that helps! What a fantastic trip for you and your mother, and how lovely to share it all here with us. Thank you Annika 🙂 ❤

    • Annika Perry says:

      Sherri, thank you so much for your lovely comment and it’s great to see you back here! 😀 Palm trees are so evocative I find…even when in pots on Clacton beach! My mother recovered fine although she was sore for a couple of weeks afterwards…as for the Mexican it was one of my favourite meals out. I just wish we had such a restaurant close to use at home. sigh. Now you have me intrigued as the great place you have discovered – are you telling more here? Do you miss California and the lifestyle there? So glad you liked the history – this was a very short version of all the information I had gathered…I felt I could become a tour-guide from all the leaflets and print outs I had ready! So happy you enjoyed this, Sherri and it brought back memories of your American home.

      • Sherri says:

        Thanks Annika, great to be back, albeit on a go-slow 🙂 The Mexican restaurant is in Brighton…can’t remember its name though! I do miss a lot about the lifestyle in California. I know what you mean about doing the short version. I’ve yet to post about Italy… and it will definitely be the short version! Meanwhile, back to the writing…Have a great week, see you soon! 🙂

    • Annika Perry says:

      Oh I could easily have spent more than just two weeks in the area – already missing the warmth. Hope you were okay during the hurricanes – it seems to have been a busy season weather-wise. So glad you liked the post.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Thank you, Diana! 😀 The towns were a delight to visit, so very different but both interesting. The weather was perfect the whole holiday apart from rain on one day – even the storm/hurricane came at night but had cleared up by morning.

  2. reocochran says:

    Your description of St. Augustine was very entertaining and informative, Annika. I haven’t been there and now knowing it wasn’t far from my last Florida trip, am a bit sad. . .
    My Mom and I drink Sangria or Lambrusco out of juice glasses and say a Spanish toast together every time I visit her. (She taught Spanish, while I took classes at my own high school.)
    The part St. Augustine played in history was so interesting. Thanks for this part of your vacation details. 🙂
    I have been to New Smyrna Beach Pier and restaurant, as I mentioned on the post you covered this location (with your nice inclusion of beach relaxation and birds seen there). There is also a Flagler Beach, so not sure how close the two are. . . ? Believe it or not, we would get up very early at my guy friend, at the time, sister’s house and get coffee and breakfast then go out in car ready to fish. I didn’t always pay attention to how we arrived and what we passed along on our road trips.
    I enjoyed the City Walk outside Disney World where Emeril’s restaurant, Hard Rock Cafe and Margaritaville were fun to peek inside and see the decorations. We ended up choosing Hard Rock to dine at, though.
    We liked seeing Universal Studios, too. We attended the plays and musicals but only rode one ride, Harry Potter, and it made us dizzy, so that was all for rides. 🙂

    • Annika Perry says:

      Robin, thank you so much for sharing your Florida memories, they are a delight to read! I love the sound of your early morning fishing trips, did you catch anything? Were you awake enough to notice?! We saw many people out early fishing, obviously the experts then one day two young guys in the middle of the day. Every fish they caught (pretty small) would be photographed and logged! It sounds fun around the parks and Universal Studios was on my to do list but we somehow never made it back to Orlando (apart from the flight home!)-the balcony and beach kept beckoning! Oh no, just one ride – they have that effect on me too – so much else to enjoy.

      I absolutely love that you share a glass of sangria with your mother every time you visit – how special!😃 Warmest wishes to you, Robin.

      • reocochran says:

        I rattled on since that was an amazing place, so glad you could go there and “share it with me.” I gave most of that trip’s photos of neat ‘water catches’ in pictures to that fisherman who really was the first guy in my life to “get” me, Annika. I made a nice album for him. I kept the beach, bridge, sunset, a few photos of him and he has the octopus, sting ray, small shark and other large fish pics so he can remember the trip possibly; or hide the whole thing away. The large fish we gave to the Asian couple at the New Smyrna pier, to another couple we gave them at the other pier. We mainly threw them back and only once did I see his removing the hook to have the fish die. He cheered me up to say that another fish would come and eat his dinner. Good way to think of the cycle of nature. While on our trip, a belittling and controlling ex-girlfriend called him often. I tried to ignore it but there was a lot of money in her life. I once wrote about a “kept” man, he was my subject matter. She divorced her husband to win my painter
        /fisherman’s heart. She dresses him up and they go to symphony, opera and fancy restaurants. He calls me every three months and leaves me messages. Silly me, I keep them to listen to his voice. I do like my new guy but he is definitely different from the last one!
        PS My family loved him, including my Mom who didn’t like anyone but one other man in my long 60 year old life. His family loved me and told me the horror stories of “Her;” who thought she was better than his family and only met one of his five siblings while I met them all! Oh well. . . made me start my blog and dating adventures. 😀

        • Annika Perry says:

          Robin, I’m blown away by this comment…carried away with your emotions and swept up in your feelings now. Wow, that is some guy and I feel for what he has given up of himself and also my heart goes out to you…such relationships are one in a million. Glad you still get to talk and thank you so much for sharing. You write with such passion and directness. You really do have memories and ties with this part of the world.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Jacqueline, as you can tell I highly recommend this part of Florida! It is not the first port of call for most tourists – but in my opinion so much the better! Hope you get a chance to go sometime.😃

  3. roughwighting says:

    What a wonderful blog tour of the Sunshine State. I’ve been to many parts of Florida (Key West; Hollywood, where my parents lived for a few years; Miami, Clearwater, Tampa, St. Petersburg; Sarasota). I’m now adding St. Augustine and New Smyrna Beach as a must-see FL destination.

  4. Khaya Ronkainen says:

    Lovely post and stunning photos, Annika. The vibrant colours and sunny weather are even more appealing, as we dive into autumn this side. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

    • Annika Perry says:

      Thank you so much! 😀 I can’t quite believe that Autumn is already upon us and yes, the blues and sunny days from Florida are ones I will treasure in the dark winter days – the worst is when the clocks go back! So glad you enjoyed the post.

  5. Jacqui Murray says:

    That was delightful. I had no idea there was so much history. I loved the old schoolhouse. What a gift for those students. I might have liked that job…

    It doesn’t look like you went to the beaches so no worries about shark bites! Didn’t know that either. I have only been to Florida once, for a dance competition (of all things). It looks like I need another visit.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Oh, Jacqui there is so much history and I had pages of notes which I had to condense to just a few hundred words! All fascinating and it helps to make the town so much more interesting.

      I did go swimming/body boarding nearly every other day which is why my reaction was yikes! when I read about the sharks. I never imagined any along that coast. Love the idea you came all this way for a dance competition – how did it go? Did you have a chance to go sightseeing? Hope you have a chance to visit again under less stressful circumstances!

  6. Julie Holmes, author says:

    Great pictures, Annika! Sounds like you had a great time. I’ve never been to Florida, but my brother-in-law is from there, so maybe when he retires, he and my sister will move there. Then I’ll have an excuse to explore 😀

    • Annika Perry says:

      Thank you Julie and we had such an amazing special time…just been back over two weeks and it already seems ages ago. What a beautiful place to retire and handy for you to visit – if your muse gives you a break! 😀 During the second week I began to feel totally settled and realised there was so much to see and do but we never had the time.

  7. Bun Karyudo says:

    What an interesting trip! I was particularly surprised by the old school. It can’t be easy keeping a wooden building in such good condition for 250 years. New Smyrna Beach seems nice too, but I think St. Augustine would probably be my favorite of the two (because of the history, not the trolley buses).

    • Annika Perry says:

      Bun, you always get me to chuckle – yep, a city steeped in history, visible all around and just so much to see and learn but yeah, keep away from the trolley buses or wear a michelin suit! The school house was pretty small and I just glimpsed it walking along St. George Street as it was set amongst all the other buildings – so quaint. If cared for wooden buildings can survive that long, but obviously this has received lots of tlc.

  8. Tiny says:

    Great story and photos to match! I love St. Augustine, in particular during the light festival in December, and there is always so much to see, to do…and to eat 🙂

    • Annika Perry says:

      Light festival?? I haven’t heard of that and must read up on the event – knowing the city I bet it’s exquisite. I had to smile at your last word as yes, eateries seemed to be almost every other building; we were spoilt for choice! As for doing alas there wasn’t time for so much, including the chocolate factory!!

  9. Carol Balawyder says:

    Annika, I have been to Florida many times, mainly to escape the harsh winters but I have never been to either Saint Augustin or Smyrna Beach. So, your post was a delight to read and to discover both places. I totally agree with Elaine Cougler that you travel writing may be a new career for you!

    • Annika Perry says:

      Carol, first thank you so much for your warm comment and compliment about my travel writing. 😃 I respect both you and Elaine very much so your serious suggestion about this as a new career is something I will consider. I’ve had a great time putting these posts together so no work at all!

      Both towns are lovely but if you had to choose one I’d definitely suggest St. Augustine, much bigger, larger variety of shops, restaurants, things to see/do…hope you get a chance. I love the idea of travelling away from harsh winters…wish this was much closer!

      • Carol Balawyder says:

        Annika, I am a great believer that when you do things that you are passionate about and have fun doing so, then that transpires to others. I also think very strongly that one’s best work (whatever that may be) comes from an ease in doing so. That in your post you stated that writing these travel posts was no work at all is a great sign! Also most likely why they are so interesting. 🙂
        And don’t you think that travel writing can offer such interesting and varied opportunities?

        • Annika Perry says:

          Carol, wise words indeed and so true. I agree wholeheartedly and it is easy to tell when someone’s passion and love is in their work; I’ve even noticed the difference in people’s cooking if they’re in a good mood or fed up and doing it as a duty. Travel writing as a form of earning would be amazing and I’m trying to think how to make that a reality. The comments here on wordpress give me such a boost I feel like I’m flying at times (just not at 40,000 feet!). Many thanks again, Carol.😃

  10. Anonymous says:

    What a great finale to this trio of posts. I particularly enjoyed looking at the buildings with their Spanish influences and you can virtually feel the heat coming out of some of the photos. Loved the Mexican food too. Bit scary about the sharks though. Hope you counted your toes when you came out of the sea!
    Thanks for sharing

    Mike

    • Annika Perry says:

      Yep, Mike – still got all my ten toes!!😃 At one stage though almost lost my foot as I had such fun pushing it further and further into the soft sand by the water’s edge I almost couldn’t get it out! The landscape was hazy with the heat but luckily on the day we visited St. Augustine it was relatively cloudy and ‘cool’ (in comparison to other days!).

    • Annika Perry says:

      Thank you so much, Bette and glad you enjoyed seeing these two cities again. There were so many pictures to choose from and masses of notes so it was a matter of cutting down to size whilst still doing them both justice. Warmest wishes to you.😃

  11. JC says:

    Annika, this sounds like a wonderful vacation with the beach at your side and St. Agustine and New Smyrna Beach to visit and the food… wonderful!

    • Annika Perry says:

      It was a very special vacation, JC and the hours spent on the balcony are some I’ll never forget, as well as visiting these two towns. As always never enough time to see everything you want…as for the food the mexican pictured must have been my favourite meal.

  12. L. T. Garvin, Author says:

    I do feel restored after looking at your wonderful photos. I have been to St. Augustine many years ago, and I remember Flagler and his money (he certainly didn’t want anyone to forget, ha). Your description of being transported back in time is an excellent way to put it. A visit to St. Augustine is well worth it. I did already know about Florida being the shark attack capital, which is why I don’t swim in the ocean pretty much, just get my feet wet. I used to swim out, though 🙂 Great series post on Florida, Annika.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Lana, so glad I could pass on some of the relaxation to you! 😄 We had to laugh at Flagler being named everywhere! He was influential in the town and helped to build a lot but also a ruthless businessman from the stories told on the trolley bus. I seriously had not idea about shark attacks on the coast and good I didn’t in some ways as otherwise I wouldn’t have had my fun and at times painful body boarding experiences! Oddly addictive and mad! If I ever again though I’ll stick to walking along the water’s edge.

  13. restlessjo says:

    St. Augustine is one I’ve read about too, Annika. If I ever went back to Florida… 🙂 🙂 That fort reminds me of one in Elvas, in Portugal. Sounds like a good time all round! I like Mexican food too. Have a happy week! (back in the real world 😦 )

    • Annika Perry says:

      Jo, I must admit to never having heard of St. Augustine previously and feel rather ashamed as it seems to have played an important part in American history. It was a vital part in the civil rights movement too with Martin Luther King visiting and giving a speech here. It makes senses for Portugal to have similar forts as they came from that peninsula – at least this is much closer and maybe worth a visit? have you been to Elvas? Oh, the Mexican was my best meal! Pity there aren’t any such restaurants near us at home. 😒 Reality at home is fine, keeping very busy and driving everyone nuts with so many of my sentences starting with ‘In Florida…’ Off seeing friends in Cambridge on Saturday as well, looking forward to that. Have a good rest of the week and a lovely weekend. 😃

  14. delphini510 says:

    What a Grand Finale Annika:) You have taken us along and made both cities
    come alive. I am getting my magic carpet ready to go and check it all out.
    So much history and beauty packed in one post. I think a few days in each
    town is called for.
    Just saying, all that good food to try, not to forget the Sangria.
    Thank you !

    • Annika Perry says:

      Mirja, Oh, can I join you on that magic carpet?! 😃😀 I’d love to return and preferably without nasty turbulence! My one regret as I mentioned is that our time in St. Augustine was so short – it is definitely worthy of at least two full days exploring to do it justice, more if possible. The Sangria was so tasty, refreshing, a slight kick to it – it was actually my mother’s but I kept taking sips out of it!😃 Warmest wishes to you. Hope the first day of Autumn is treating you well. ❤️

    • Annika Perry says:

      Jill, I must admit I was worried the Mexican would be too spicy, particularly as I didn’t know what I was ordering! However, just right and not too spicy at all – I’ve had a lot of curries here in the UK which can be far too spicy so this was delicious. Oddly enough it suited the humid hot weather! St. Augustine was wonderful – I could have spent days there! Have you been there often?

  15. Elaine Cougler says:

    Lovely, Annika! I just have to know how you stood the humid heat? Or wasn’t that a problem? You found beautiful ideas about the places you visited to share with us. Way better than most travel writers. Aha! Maybe a new career?

    • Annika Perry says:

      Elaine, wow, your comment had me speechless. I’m so touched by your words and knowing you a little bit I am aware you don’t say things lightly. Thank you so much for the compliment, that means so much to me and you definitely have me pondering…as you can tell I’ve had a ball with this short series. As for the humid heat; the first couple of days I was in shock from both jet lag and the heat – it really was like a wall. I’ve never been so grateful for air-con, however soon I enjoyed the warmth, great not needing to wear heavy clothing. I felt relaxed and since I suffer from nearly constant back pain to some degree,this totally disappeared – a wonder. We did learn though not to go in the sun during the hottest part of the day and just to slow down a bit…I’m still in that mode too! Thanks again, Elaine. ❤️

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