St. Augustine, Part I

Wednesday was our first full day in St. Augustine.  After knocking out some quick school work we met up with Michael and Cathy Rogers from Trawler Life and their grandson Collin.  Ben and Michael took the props to be fixed and then we all headed to the Alligator Farm.  It’s been crazy hot and humid here so we were a bit concerned it would be uncomfortable there but it really wasn’t.  Lots of shade and a few indoor areas.  We saw all kinds of alligators.  Albino alligators, baby albino alligators, American alligators, a komodo dragon and many others.

I loved watching the komodo dragon’s tongue shoot in and out.  We watched a pregnant woman give a informational talk from inside one of the alligator pits. I thought she was insane.  But she explained the alligators are very smart and can be trained and are quite slow on land.  Water, another story.  They did indeed respond to their names and were rewarded with treats.  Ben posted a frightening video of alligator feeding time.  We learned that alligators only need to eat the human equivalent of one sandwich a week.  But they sure all did enjoy the feeding demonstration.  She fed them alligator food and rats.  Gross.  I was happy we were up on a bridge, far removed from that crazy!

The farm had many other animals as well.  We saw a number of snakes, which freak me out more than birds and spiders.  I took no pictures.  We saw a number of beautiful, colorful, not freaky birds.  The girls and I loved the HUGE tortoises!  And my favorite were the lemurs!

Then we moved on over to the crocodile side of the farm, the playground and then on to lunch!  Michael and Cathy took us to a local favorite for amazing fried shrimp.  We really enjoyed spending the afternoon with them and Collin.  He’s a sweetheart and the girls took to him immediately and had a great time.  After we said our goodbyes we walked into St. George street again and found gelato!

Thursday we spent a full morning on school to get caught up a bit.  We got the boat mostly cleaned up and organized.  And then waited for Ben’s parents to arrive.  They got to us around 3 pm.  It was another crazy hot, humid and windy day.  We got them settled and then walked into town and around for a bit before stopping off the beaten path at Catch 27 for dinner.  We had a fabulous farm to table meal.  Best shrimp tacos I’ve had this trip probably and blue crab and corn chowder.  Despite the heat it is just beautiful here to walk around.  We walked back along the water, instead of through town.  We learned the old original seawall by the marina was built by slaves.  There is now a new seawall that the girls like to walk on closer to the water. But the original wall is still there and serves as another sidewalk.

Friday we spent the day being tourists.  We took the Old Town Trolley tour around the city.  We decided to hop on and ride the full route to get a sense of where everything is and where we wanted to stop.  It was about 87 degrees and felt like 95 because of the humidity!  We saw the oldest house in St. Augustine, the Old Senator, a number of churches, Flagler College with it’s dining room Tiffany glass windows, the Lightner Museum, Castillo San Marcos, the Fountain of Youth and many other sights.  The Old Senator is actually a tree.  A huge old tree that is called a “love tree” because it has another tree growing up through the middle of it’s trunk.  It’s said that if you kiss the one you love by the tree you will be tied to them for eternity.

Everything in St. Augustine is beautiful. The streets are pretty.  The architecture on the buildings is old and gorgeous.  We only saw the dining room at Flagler College from the outside but it sounds amazing.  Much fancier than any dining room I saw the inside of at U of I!  The entire rounded section is made of Tiffany glass windows.   The whole campus is beautiful.

After riding around and making a mental list of where to stop we hopped off and grabbed some pizza inside in the air conditioning.  Then back out to the sunshine and back onto the trolley to head to the Old Jail.  While waiting for our tour to start we toured the St. Augustine History Museum.  Molly was able to lift a 60 lb. silver bar!

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The original jail in St. Augustine was much further into town.  Flagler came to town and built a fancy hotel and some other things and decided the jail needed to be moved.  So he paid for it to be moved.  But he didn’t want it to look like a jail.  So it looks like a pretty pink house from the outside with big porches with rocking chairs all around.  You can see some of them in the picture of Madelyn below.  The Sheriff’s quarters are attached.  We took a tour of the outside and the inside.  Fred got locked up in one of the cages the jail used to string prisoners up in the air.  We were reminded that those cages had no weather protection, were made of metal, had no facilities, etc.  Molly got a little worried during the tour.  I explained that, first I hope she isn’t going to jail…ever…but also that jails now are not “cruel and unusual” as they were in the early 1900s when this jail was in use.  We went on to see the gallows and I explained how a hanging worked.   We learned that 30 days before a prisoner was scheduled to be hung they were moved to a separate cell and each person was required to build their own gallows.  Yikes.  We also learned how long it took a person to die after being hung.  Longer than you’d think.  A person was able to talk for up to around 12 minutes and it took another 15 or so after that to die.  Again yikes.  We got to tour the inside of the jail and see the women’s cells, the kitchen, the Sheriff’s quarters and office and the men’s cells.  The men’s cells were set up very much like Alcatraz and we found out that Alcatraz was modeled after this jail.  The girls received Pardon cards when we left the tour.  Phew!

After a long hot, humid day we hopped back on the trolley to get closer to the marina.  We hopped off pretty close and headed back.  Fred took the girls into one of the French bakeries for a yummy treat.  Molly got something fabulous and lemony and Madelyn got a chocolate Eiffel tower with edible glitter!  Nikki went back to the boat and Ben and I headed to the St. Augustine Distillery to catch the tour there.

The distillery is in an incredibly old building.  The building was first used as an electrical plant.  Then an ice plant.  And then in the 1960s when science advanced enough to create ice more easily, the ice plant shut down and the building sat vacant for 50 years until the distillery took it over.  They have done much to preserve the history of the building and it was a lot of fun to walk through.  This is also one of the first distilleries in Florida and after a lot of legal hurdles they are allowed to distill liquor, give tours and offer tastings.  They distill Bourbon, Rum, Vodka and Gin.  We took a tour of the distilling floor and learned how each of the liquors is made.

The distillery is doing what they can to help the environment.  They have a zero water waste process set up with their cooling tanks.  All self contained, water is chilled outside, brought in and around tanks to cool down the contents and then pumped back outside to be cooled again.  For the grain alcohols, the distillery takes the corn by product after the alcohol has been distilled out and gives it to local farms for livestock feed.  The vodka and rum are made with local St. Johns sugarcane.  All in all it seems they are doing their part to be environmentally conscious, create jobs, and help out in the community.

Then we moved onto the tasting room. YUM! First up, the St. Augustine Florida Mule.  If you know me, you know I love a good Moscow Mule.  Well the Florida Mule was really good.  They juice fresh lime and fresh ginger instead of using ginger beer.  We’ve signed up to get the recipe and see if we can recreate it.  Their vodka is very smooth – I didn’t like it straight but Ben did.

Then onto their Rum tiki drink.  I’m not a huge rum fan but wow was it good too.  Then an Old Fashioned – I opted out on that one but Ben reports it was tasty.  And then onto a Gin and Tonic. I don’t like gin at all but the bar tender told us that if we are gin haters he would make us “gin-tolerant” and he did.  Instead of crushing juniper berries they keep them uncrushed and use other berries as well.  The tonic they use is their recipe and the two together were quite good.  Don’t worry – all tastings were shot glass sized!  We made it out A-ok…with a bottle of vodka!  Smart people – free tour….free tasting….happy visitors!

Today was a BIG day!  Madelyn’s 7th birthday!!!  Ben and I have both celebrated birthdays on the Loop but birthdays are magical for kids and we wanted this one to be as magical as all the others.  She has been counting down the days for months now.  We’ve gone from counting by the week to the day and it was finally here.  She was bouncing, literally, at 6:35 this morning.  By 7 I let her run upstairs to find her balloons and presents.

A very mermaid themed birthday along with a number of other goodies.  Molly got to join in the fun as well with early birthday gifts from Max, Kyle, Sophie and Zoe as well as Nikki and Fred.  We put a few away for her birthday in 7 weeks but she’s old enough to understand that if she opens them now she won’t have them in June.  Both girls got new Lego sets put together right away and spent the whole morning playing with their new things.  Madelyn also got a Garmin Vivofit Jr….a kid version of a fit bit.  She was thrilled to make it to 10,000 steps on her first day!  We baked ice cream cone cupcakes this morning as well.  Maddy wanted those for a third year in a row.  She’s been asking me to bake them since we were in the Bahamas.

We finally got ourselves organized and off the boat after lunch and went to play miniature golf.  We talked Maddy out of the beach given the insane wind again.  She asked to play mini golf and Fred found a great course just the other side of the Bridge of Lions.  We had a lot of fun and were thankful that much of the course was shaded and had a nice breeze without the insane wind of the marina.

After mini golf we headed to the St. Augustine Lighthouse.  We were able to tour the grounds and the old lighthouse operator’s house.  There were a number of interactive exhibits inside so we learned a little along the way.  The lighthouse was 219 steps to the stop – equivalent to a 14 story building!  Fred, Ben, Molly and Madelyn made it to the top.  They will have to post pictures separately!  Nikki and I have height issues.  I made it about halfway and got all panicky and went back down. There were old photos and museum like information panels on different landings so I did stop to read a handful of things before heading down.  We all got to try to lift the 30 lb., 5 gallon oil bucket that the employees used to have to carry up the 219 steps every 2 hours all night long.  Thank goodness for electricity!  The grounds also had a wooden boat building section and of course a pirate ship playground!

It was finally time to head back and frost the cupcakes!  Madelyn requested dinner on the boat.  She chose leftover noodles.  That’s our Madelyn!  The rest of us had steak, the last of our Bahamas fish, and Brussels sprouts.  Madelyn’s face in the cake pictures sum up her day.  She said it was a great day!  A huge shout out to all of the special FaceTime calls she had today…Sophie, Zoe, Uncle Max & Aunt Kyle were up first!  Then Grandma Cathy and Jim.  Then Livia, Claudia, Sabina, Jack and Kathy.  Then Grace and Hannah.  Then Aunt Emily with Jacob, Grace, Eli, Hannah, Caroline, Aunt Libby & Uncle Brian. And finally the Wilsons – Bobby, Wendy, Nina, AnnaMay, Ella and Mia called and sang to her when we had candles lit tonight!  Another huge shout out to all of the AGLCA members and everyone else who sent Madelyn a special email or Facebook message.  She heard every one of them and you helped make her day fantastic!

The girls and I are going to mass at the old Cathedral here in the morning!  I’m excited to see it and show it to them.  Then we hope to all go to Castillo San Marcos and the Fountain of Youth tomorrow or Monday.

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