StAugustine36

Beautiful Saint Augustine

St.AugMissionGroundsOne of my goals for 2013 is to return to a place I visited a few years ago for a scant but memorable 24 hours — Saint Augustine, Florida. I’d been invited to a special event taking place at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not by Weird Florida’s Charlie Carlson back in 2010, a paranormal showcase of sorts where various vendors including ghost hunters and psychics set up tables, and the Shadows In The Dark radio program broadcast for 24 hours straight, interviewing many of the guests in attendance.

Since my book Water Signs features a psychic and because I’d featured Charlie  in a number of publications, the Weird Florida host invited me to set up my own table and spend some time on the air with Jeremiah Greer, who at that time was the host of Shadows In The Dark. In all of the years I’d lived in Florida, I’d never actually taken the time to drive up to America’s Oldest City, though I’d always wanted to visit. So when Charlie invited me to participate, I didn’t think twice.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have an abundance of time to spend touring the city on this particular weekend in 2010, but I managed to convince a friend to join me on the approximately 4-hour drive north and experience as much as we possibly could in a short time period. In keeping with our budget, we stayed just on the outskirts of town at the Days Inn on Ponce de Leon Blvd – close enough to walk a few blocks to main part of the town and within a short distance of Ripley’s. Having learned from experience in Savannah, I didn’t want to run the risk of staying at a bed and breakfast, given St. Augustine’s reputation for ghostly sightings, especially since my interview on Shadows In The Dark Radio was scheduled for 4 a.m. the next morning!

Once checked in, my friend and I decided to explore as much as we could on our first day. We first headed to the Historic Mission Grounds, site of the first Spanish settlers:

An impressive bronze statue of Father Francisco Lopez stands in the foregound of a magnificent cross on the mission grounds.
An impressive bronze
statue of Father Francisco Lopez stands in the foregound of a magnificent cross on the mission grounds.

The Mission of Nombre de Dios traces its origins to the founding of the City of St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, in 1565. On September 8, 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed and proclaimed this site for Spain and the Church. It was here that Menendez knelt to kiss a wooden cross presented to him by Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, chaplain of his expedition. It was on these grounds that Fr. Lopez would celebrate the first parish Mass and begin the work at America’s first Mission. It was at this sacred spot that the Spanish settlers would begin the devotion to Our Lady of La Leche that continues into the present.

This area is absolutely mesmerizing. It helped that we’d been blessed with a picture-postcard kind of day with a brilliant blue, cloudless sky; a gentle, cool breeze and golden sunshine; still I can’t help but think that even in a tropical downpour, these grounds would still resonate with tranquility and grace. To see such devotion to God made manifest was an incredible experience. Even walking through the cemetery felt comforting. I could have stayed there for hours, had we not been on such a tight schedule.

Still, we managed to explore a good portion of the mission, stopping at all of its most famous attractions like The Rustic Altar, the Chapel of Our Lady of La Leche and the Prince of Peace Church before moving on to Ripley’s, where a statue of David welcomed us.

That evening, we strolled around lovely Old City, with its cobblestoneStAugustine54 streets, European-style cafes, eclectic boutiques and shops, and tantalizing restaurants. After consulting with a few locals, we settled on Meehan’s Irish Pub for dinner, where we sat on the second floor which boasted a lovely view of the sailboat-dotted Intracoastal, passing horse-and-carriage rides, magnificent homes and the historic Castillo de San Marcos. Accompanied by a sumptuous Blarney Burger with melted cheddar cheese (hold the bun, please!) and hand-cut chips, all I can say is that Meehan’s was an inspired choice!

Honestly, if not for the fact that they were incredibly busy, necessitating us to reluctantly vacate our perfect table, I probably could have stayed there all night and people-watched. Speaking of which, kudos to the natives in St. Augustine, who were consistently friendly, warm and helpful. No matter who we stopped to ask about a particular place or for a local suggestion, every person we met demonstrated genuine courtesy and a helpful attitude. A refreshing change of pace for sure!

After dinner, we did a little window shopping before heading back to Ripley’s where I met up with Charlie and confirmed my time slot for Shadows In The Dark. And yes, I arrived in time for my early morning interview! Check out the podcast of Shadows In The Dark here.

With my wonderful host and purveyor of Weird Florida, Charlie Carlson.
With my wonderful host and purveyor of Weird Florida, Charlie Carlson.

Thus completed, it was time to set up my book table and mingle with the other vendors in attendance. I had a blast chatting with ghost hunters and others in the paranormal field, of whom I asked probably too many questions. Luckily, none of them seemed to mind.

When the event was over, my friend and I decided to take a trolley tour before heading south on I-95, bound for South Florida, figuring this would at least give us a decent overview of the city in the shortest amount of time. Whether pressed for time or staying in St. Augustine for an extended visit, I highly recommend Old Town Trolley Tours:

For over 30 years, Old Town Trolley Tours has brought the best of the city to life through Transportainment, our unique blend of transportation and entertainment. Climb aboard to experience the humorous tales and interesting trivia of our friendly conductors, as they bring 500 years of American history to life.

Old Town Trolley Tours is the best way to see the city, highlighting the best St. Augustine Attractions, with 22 stops and more than 100 points of interest.

Our short but very sweet visit left me wanting to return to this magnificent city for a longer stay. If you’re seeking a place that combines history, adventure, natural beauty, paranormal excitement, breathtaking architecture and Old World charm, there’s no better destination than Saint Augustine. I look forward to writing another post about this unforgettable North Florida city in 2013!

Don’t forget to like Old Town Trolley Tours on Facebook and follow them on Twitter for the latest updates. And here’s a link to my St. Augustine Facebook album.

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