Prepare for three checks off of the bucket list, one check off of the travel list.
St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest city in the United States of America. The culture and history dates back to the 1500s and it slam full of Spanish culture which hits close to home for my husband. He used to go as a small child and I had never been, so we figure it would be a nice way to bring November into the year. Little did we know that the weather would be perfect for a beautiful fall adventure in a new city.
The 4:00 A.M. alarm came early. We were too busy snuggling to keep warm on our first cold night of the season and sleeping the week away to even notice the alarm going off. We eventually staggered out of the sheets and onto the cold, bare hardwood with our lukewarm toes. We had a three and a half drive ahead of us and we planned on leaving on time to keep with the schedule, so that meant: clothes, coffee, and feeding the fur babies. Unfortunately I forgot our breakfast at home and we were already too far gone to turn around. That was the only hiccup.
The rain left the sky the same time we left the city; the day stayed nighttime for what seemed like the whole drive there. Also, it wasn’t cold. Some of our traditional road trip songs (Bohemian Rhapsody of course), a few deep conversations, and some window-down hair treatment later, we finally arrived. We were finally able to watch the sun rise and reflect off of the buildings in city skylines as we drove through Tampa, Orlando, and Daytona Beach.
We arrive at our first destination and get out to pay for our parking when we realize just how cold it was. I was most definitely not prepared for a gusty day sitting at 50 degrees on the thermometer. I was in a dress and I’m quite thankful we never removed a single jacket from our car. It felt like going to a store for something you are in dire need of then finding out they’re all gone, minus the one left, hidden having fallen behind the shelves. That jacket saved the day. Maybe not the most stylish choice with what I was wearing but whatever, I was happy and definitely shivering less.
Our first adventure in St. Augustine was exploring a castle. We spent an hour wandering the dark and dusty concrete walls of the Castillo De San Marcos. There were many displays of those who contributed to the foundation and the shadow of what the remaining rooms used to be. Some rooms had an eerie aura to them due to the nature of the previous utilization of them. My absolute favorite spot in the entire castle was the powder room. The powder room was a low ceiling, dome-like room with a single light and you had to crawl into the entrance.
It was only us two in the room and it felt romantic regardless of the fact that the purpose of the room was to store gunpowder. Oh well. The room went from that to a trash storage, to a closet. There is a myth that certain animal bones found were those of lovers who got trapped in the room. Another part I enjoyed (minus the powerfully chilling wind) was the roof of the castle where the cannons lined the surrounding ridges. I thoroughly enjoyed walking around with my love, looking over edges, and exploring each corner of this castle – especially the oddly warm rooms.
Then we ventured over to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum. We ran out of time and had a tour scheduled within an hour so we decided to climb the lighthouse then come back afterward to explore the keeper’s house museum. I am going to be totally honest when I say I ascended more excited than anything and descended totally petrified. Lighthouses are my favorite and I even have a beautiful lighthouse tattooed onto my nautical sleeve, so my joy was bursting when we pulled up into the parking lot. The St. Augustine Lighthouse was built in the late 1800’s and is only 164 foot tall, making it only 219 steps to trudge up. No problem. My calves were up for the challenge but the overwhelming sense of panic in my head was not. I tend to forget how truly afraid of heights I am until I’m ascending high enough to where if I fell, I’d probably break something or worse. I never liked climbing trees for this reason. See, I’m weird. As long as the height I’m ascending is controlled by someone or something else, I’ll be okay. If I’m the one doing the climbing, it’s a bit harder. I’m terrified of climbing trees but not necessarily riding roller coasters or elevators. I kept thinking I was going to fall, slip through the cracks, or simply topple over the side. Once we actually made it to the top, I was on the brink of tears but not yet crying, I was happy. Ish. I made it to the point where I can look around me, say I climbed and went all the way around, and even shared a magical moment with my husband by stealing my top-of-the-lighthouse-kiss. Other than that, I made sure that no one touched me and that I stayed up against the platform (not the balcony, ever!) so the wind wouldn’t blow me over. Ridiculous, I know. I can say I did it, even with that much fear. Hey, that’s the point of these bucket lists right? The lighthouse was gorgeous and even though I climbed the steps of terror, I still marveled at the beautiful black spiral staircase and all the designs embedded in the metal. On the outside, it was spiraled black and white.
The color returned to my face when we entered the Whetstone Chocolate Factory a couple miles down the street. We were going to tour a factory while we were up there in St. Augustine and what better way than to tour a chocolate factory? Keep in mind, we still hadn’t eaten anything. We learned so much about the history and origin of chocolate, what it looks like in all stages, and managed to score free tastings! We bee-lined through the factory buzzing our way through the sweet nectar sampling of chocolate. We watched an educational video first; the video kept talking about “cacao” which if anyone has seen Portlandia and knows about my and my husband’s inside joke, I was biting lips to keep laughter contained. Every time, he would turn to me and say “cacao” — I almost lost it. We were able to learn about the mechanisms and machinery they use to create one of the world’s favorite treats. White chocolate, one of my favorites, isn’t actually “chocolate”. It is only considered as such because the Food and Drug Administration deems anything with only one type of chocolate related oil as actual chocolate. There is no cocoa in white chocolate but there is cocoa butter which is why it is called chocolate at this point. Any chocolate bought over the counter is technically not the same and “chocolate-flavored” is never actually chocolate. The samples we had were entirely different than that of anything store bought, especially the white chocolate. It wasn’t like “oh my gosh this is so much better”, but it was definitely different. All of the chocolates were like that. I, not being a huge fan of traditional chocolate, found this out when I almost fainted over how amazing the milk chocolate tasted. YUM. Dark chocolate is still not a winner in my book, factory or not, which oddly enough is my husband’s favorite. The chocolate we tried had a bit of a “snap” to it, too, which I’ve never experienced before, but then again I’m not too much of a chocolate-head as so many people in the world are. My guilty pleasures in life are salty. The tour was very informative and the chocolate was divine.
We left with a bottle of dark chocolate espresso beans for hubby and one of each specialty seashells they make in their factory. The chocolate seashells they offer are key lime (which are to die for), mint crunch, milk chocolate valencia orange, toffee crunch, and a few others. I also found a pumpkin spice truffle which was also delectable. In search of the perfect hot chocolate for such cold and windy conditions outside, we got a Minorcan hot chocolate to go. It was unlike anything I had ever tasted before. Apparently there is actually a such thing as hot chocolate with spices. It was hot and rich chocolate going in, spicy and hot going down. It was a nice experience trying something new and it was really good.
It just so happened that we spotted one of our favorite pizza joints on the main strip. Yes, folks, we found a Mellow Mushroom in the middle of a new town. A while ago hubby and I made a mental bucket list to visit each Mel’s Baker that we can and one day we’ll take a road trip to do so. Hubby has been to six but this makes number four for me! The pizza is phenomenal, the environment is eclectic, and each MM is different: no two are alike. It’s always our go-to pizza place for date night.
Then we returned to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum. We finished the rest of the tour, wandered down a few nature paths, and ventured through the museum. The house was lined with rooms of history, antiques, educational props, and so on. We learned about all kinds of nautical history such has how to tie sailor’s knots, the different types of bulbs found in lighthouses, and and displays of sailboats. There was a small park across the street so we walked down the pier to took a gander at the soft waves falling on top of each other. It was way too cold to be that close over the water so we quickly found safe haven in our warm car afterward.
St. Augustine is a beautiful area and full of so much history. We certainly did not get to finish turning the dusty pages of the city because we ran out of time but we plan on going back one day just to explore the ancient architecture and other historic landmarks we didn’t get a chance to explore. There are many points of interest and grounds to cover and I look forward to returning one day.
And we got our first cute fall pictures of the season.