Sunday morning the girls and I got up and went to mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. It was a stop on the trolley tour as well but we saved it for church. It was an incredibly beautiful cathedral and I talked to the girls about how it looked different than other churches we have been in. The Spanish influence was so obvious and so gorgeous. Bright red ceiling, dark wood. Spanish tile floors. It was truly beautiful and a lovely service that welcomed the many visitors.
After church we met up with Fred, Nikki and Ben and went to brunch. We changed into some comfy clothes and took the short walk from the marina to Castillo de San Marcos. Molly was excited to use her 4th grader National Park pass! We haven’t gotten it out since Shiloh and Corinth way back last fall. And this park finally had the actual cards – so she got her official National Parks card for the year.
We spent a good long while touring the grounds. We started up top and looked at all of the different cannons and lookouts and read about the shape of the Castillo and how it was built. It was under construction for 24 years! It never changed hands under enemy siege. Each time it changed power was by treaty and was peaceful.
One of the most important features of the fort was the dry moat. It was built with a dry moat so that when enemy forces were moving in, all people, cattle, other animals, etc. could be moved into the dry moat and then inside the fort and the town could all live inside without running out of food.
We learned about all of the various types of cannon balls and how they affected approaching boats differently. Some with spikes were meant to stick in the side of the boat and set the boat on fire. Some were double ended and meant to cut through masts. Some were made of glass and meant to shatter and cause pain and suffering to the crew members who may be barefoot. Other were just plain old cannon balls meant to destroy. The various sized cannons could shoot between 1.5 and 3 miles away. The lighthouse across the water is about 1.5 miles away.
We were also able to tour the inside of the fort and see a bunk room, a chapel, the “necessary room” where the contents of the latrines were stored until high tide when they were dumped over the walls! We finished our visit with a cannon demonstration. We had watched a short film about the process of getting the cannon ready so the girls knew what was happening as we watched the men prepare for fire. Even when bracing for it, the cannon is still so LOUD!
Fred and Nikki took the girls to dinner Sunday night so Ben and I could sneak out for a date night! We loved the Distillery tour so much that we went back for dinner to the Ice Plant restaurant. It was behind the Distillery in the old Ice Plant complete with the original crane used to lift the ice blocks. Fun cocktails, great food. It was a good choice!
Monday we headed to the Lightner Museum for lunch. This is housed in the former Hotel Alcazar. The grounds are beautiful! We saw a number of wedding parties on Saturday in the area and once we walked onto the grounds we understood why!
After lunch we went to the Fountain of Youth. This is actually a large archaeological park that is thought to be the original landing site in 1513 of Ponce de Leon. Archaeologists have uncovered what they believe to be the original village created on this site. The park today has samples of what they have found recreated throughout the grounds. There is a large section dedicated to boat building and boating in general. The girls and Ben spent some time practicing their knot tying. The girls and Fred and I took turns trying out the various pulley systems used on the boats. We also got to see a recreation of a Chalupa boat that was just finished and put in the water this March. These boats were smaller boats used for getting supplies back and forth but they could raise sails and make larger passages if need be.
We watched a short video on the history of the area and how Ponce de Leon landed here after crossing the Atlantic with Cristopher Columbus. The Spanish history in this area is so rich and I hope at least a fraction of it sunk in with the girls!
Then we moved on to the Fountain of Youth! We drank from the fresh spring water said to keep you young and learned the story behind this. When the Spanish landed here they found the Indian tribe settled here to be big and strong and living into their 90s. This was a huge contrast to Europe where people were only living 40-50 years in large part due to the serious pollution of water. They took this to mean that the water here was a “fountain of youth”. It was fresh unpolluted water and what the Spanish desperately needed when they landed. This water was used for those who stayed and in order to stock their ships to return to Spain. The girls didn’t love the taste of all the minerals in the water. But they gave it a try anyway!
A random addition to the park were the beautiful peafowl everywhere. I find it unfair that the females are so unremarkable looking and the males are so gorgeous! It’s mating season and boy are their calls to each other loud!
Tuesday morning we woke up to calm winds and calm waters. We said goodbye to Nikki and Fred and headed north under the Bridge of Lions on our way to Fernandina on Amelia Island. We had a great visit with them and in St. Augustine! Fernandina will be our last stop in Florida. We’ve been in Florida since early November with the exception of 6 weeks in the Bahamas. We’ve seen and done a lot but it will be exciting to move north into a new state as well.