Highlight: St. Augustine
My family has driven through St. Augustine several times on our drives down to Orlando. Sadly, my unadventurous parents think that driving through a town is the equivalent of seeing it. When we went down for Thanksgiving, I conquered one of my travelling fears and rented a car so I could go out to St. Augustine and finally get to see the city.
A little bit of history: St. Augustine has a history much unlike other US cities. Though it belonged to the Native Americans for about 3000 years before, including the Timucua, the history that’s most known about comes with the Spanish settlers in 1565. Yes, 1565, making St. Augustine the longest continuously inhabited European city in the USA. The Spanish had control over St. Augustine until the Seven Years’ War ended in 1763, which transferred the city over to the British. Though it returned to Spanish rule only decades later in 1783, as an agreement for the Spanish aiding the Americans in gaining independence. New borders were settled in 1819, which gave St. Augustine to the Americans, and Florida became a state in 1845. Florida also became part of the “country” of the Confederate States of America from 1861-65. That’s a lot of power transfer for an American city!
St. Augustine also had a big role in the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in St. Augustine on trespassing into a white-only establishment in 1964. He also came back to the house at which he was staying to discover it had been bombarded with bullets from unknown persons – an assassination attempt. Around that same time, the famous swim-in happened in St. Augustine, as well. Black and white protestors went into a whites-only hotel pool and were met with acid being thrown at them. It was a terrible place to live, and many of the events that happened in this city changed that for the entire country.
Today, St. Augustine takes great pride in its status as the US’s oldest continuously inhabited city. A must-see is the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. It’s a beautiful park and it’s the original site of where the Spaniards first settled in 1565. They have all types of setups there, both Timucua and Spanish. They also have some very beautiful peacocks. To be honest, I still don’t understand the “Fountain of Youth” – apparently this guy, Ponce de Leon, said a water source was a Fountain of Youth and so 450 years later, people pay to drink from it. I hate to break the news but this de Leon guy died. However it’s still cool to drink from the Fountain of Youth and believe I’ll be young forever.
You should also see the Castillo de San Marcos. It’s a typical Spanish-style fortress but it’s one of America’s oldest standing buildings. I haven’t seen one like in the US except for Puerto Rico. To learn more about the history of the city, you need to visit the Governor’s House Cultural Centre and Museum. It’s free and the exhibition is excellent, giving a peek into life when the Spanish first came to Florida. There’s also a St. Augustine History Museum if you’re so inclined to learn more. What I appreciated about all the museums is that they’re more honest about the negative aspects of our history, like colonialism and slavery.
Also don’t forget to pop by the Plaza de la Constitution and the Cathedral Basilica that lies right off it.
The Gonzalez-Alvarez House
For house museum lovers, there’s the Gonzalez-Alvarez House, known as the oldest house in Florida. The tour includes a lot of information about the house and how it reflected life in St. Augustine over time. There’s also a small museum of misc artefacts. I also really wanted to see the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum but I made a travel blunder and went on a day it was closed! I’m still sad about it.
St. Augustine also has a lot of pride in the 19th century and Victorian eras, when the city became a winter getaway for the rich. You can see the city’s most recognisable building, Flagler College, formerly the Ponce de Leon hotel. It has a beautiful exterior and interior main hall which you can view for free, or you can opt to take a tour for a fee. Across the street is another famous building: the Lightner Museum, formerly the Alcazar Hotel. The previous two buildings go by both their current and former names. I was quite excited about this museum but even though the building is gorgeous, it was quite a small collection for the $15 entry price. Unless $15 isn’t that much to you, I wouldn’t recommend it.
More from the 1800-1900s is the Oldest Store Museum and the Old Jail, which are right next to each other. A cheaper option is the Oldest Wooden School House, which is quite small but also priced better at $5 – half off on certain days. This also is the oldest wooden school house in America, so that’s pretty cool.
There’s also a handful to do just outside the city limits on Anastasia Island. St. Augustine Lighthouse is a popular stop and has a small maritime museum. There’s also an alligator farm (did you go to Florida if you didn’t see a gator?) and Anastasia State Park, which has miles of great beach. Anastasia Island has a lot of places to eat and drink if you don’t feel like driving back into the city.
What surprised me is how much there is to do and how big St. Augustine really is. Everyone who visits cannot miss the Colonial Quarter, which revolves around the main street, St. George. There are a tonne of boutiques and some antique shops, plus lots of places to eat and drink. It’s actually quite lengthy and the old, charming buildings extend for blocks beyond the main street. I walked around continuously and felt that I still missed a few things. I thought the town would be much smaller. I can’t write this post without mentioning that there is a major tourist-y feel to the city but I didn’t mind it for a visit.
Just a few more things:
- St. Augustine can’t be as old as it is without having a plethora of ghost stories, so you can also plan to take a ghost tour to learn about the city’s darker past.
- One thing I must say about St. Augustine is that everything is almost quite expensive to get into. Prepare to drop at least $10, if not $15+, for each attraction. I felt that everything was a lot of money for what you got, so plan accordingly.
- I recommend going in the fall or winter as it’s much cooler than in the summer. I don’t believe in Hell but if it exists, it’s Florida during the summer.
St. Augustine is such a charming place to visit. It makes for an easy day trip from Orlando but if you really want to dive into what the city has to offer, I recommend at least two days. It has a lot to offer and offers hundreds of years of history, Florida charm, and a relaxed atmosphere.
Have you ever been to St. Augustine? What did you think?Posted on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 in Destinations
Tags: florida, north america, st augustine, united states
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If you’ve taken a European architecture class, you’ve probably heard of the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Because it came up in so many of my courses, I just had to visit it on my trip to Andalusia. A huge perk is that it’s located in one of Andalusia’s finest cities: Cordoba. This city is filled with tonnes of charm, history, and beauty.
A little bit of history: Like other Andalusian cities, Cordoba has a history of cultural mixing. It was a Roman city but further thrived when it became Islamic only a few centuries later. It’s said that around the 10th century, it was even the largest city in Europe, if not the world. People of most religions were allowed to live in Cordoba, so long as they worshipped the same God. The city collapsed under Christian rulership in the 13th century, and one can tell from being in Cordoba that they merely edited a lot of the existing architecture. Now, it’s a nice mixture of Islamic and Christian architecture. Even though the city thrived about a thousand years ago, one can still easily imagine how Cordoba looked in its heyday.
So of course the highlight of the city is the Great Mosque/Cathedral. I’ve always referred to it as a mosque because its Moorish architecture is what makes it so well known; however, the (Christian) locals tend to emphasise that it was turned into a Cathedral. I had some issues getting to it because my map said “cathedral” and didn’t mention a mosque. The current mosque was built in the late 700s and it was expanded onto over the next few centuries. The most notable feature of the architecture is the double arches with the stripes, and it is indeed a very pretty feature. However, what’s really striking about the mosque is its diversity. In the middle of the cathedral is this ornate, gothic section. Towards the sides are both Christian alcoves and Muslim, and the Muslim alcoves are still very much decorated and gilt, despite the sack by the Christians. Look up because above your heads are some great stained glass pieces. This place of worship is huge and exploring it is so fascinating because everywhere you go is different. However the hundreds (if not thousands) of arches that decorate the space make it seem so grand and big. It’s quite impressive.
However there are other things to do in Cordoba, and I actually consider a lot of them must-sees as well. You must head over to the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos. The building is not super impressive, though it is sizable. What’s tremendous about this place is the gardens. They are large and so, so gorgeous. Tonnes of colour, water features, etc. I spent so much time in these gardens and they definitely can’t be missed.
Another place to see is Palacio de Viana. This is a palace with a few courtyards and gardens. You can also take a tour of the interior but they’re offered only in Spanish. It’s a great example of the wealthy courtyard architecture of Cordoba. It also holds Cordoba’s oldest courtyard! Which I believe was called “Courtyard of the Cats” – a great name, in my humble opinion. Cordoba is known for its flowers and courtyards, and Palacio de Viana is a great place to see both of those within an authentic setting.
If you read my blog, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of history museums and getting to know local history. Across the river, you can visit Torre Calahorra, which houses the Museum of Andalusian Life. This is a fantastic museum that shows you what life in Andalusia was like in its primetime, about a thousand years ago. The museum also has a rooftop terrace from which you can get views of the city. It’s less than 5 euros to get in so I highly recommend it.
A huge highlight of Cordoba is the Roman Bridge, which is next to the Torre Calahorra. I personally didn’t find the bridge to be super exciting in person but you can tell from the way it’s designed that it’s the product of architectural ingenuity, which is fascinating since it’s so old. Cordoba apparently was a centre for science and technological progress as it had paved streets and street lighting over a thousand years ago. This bridge is exemplary of the genius that lived and made the city.
One of the great things to do in Cordoba is to walk around the old quarters. The building are all so old and it’s like going back in time. The white-washed buildings with colourful trim and flowers make the city so picturesque. The area near the mosque is quite tourist-y but not overwhelmingly so. While walking around, you can see the Almodovar Gate, which is an original city gate, at the western part of the city. Near Palacio de Viana, you can easily find the Roman temple, another reminder of how old the city really is. There’s also an archaeological museum if you want to see more antiquated artefacts.
A lot of people recommend seeing Callejas de las Flores, which is a quick stop. However I didn’t find it to be anything spectacular or even better than the rest of the city. I’d say it’s skippable but since it’s fast to get in and out, I don’t see why I should recommend skipping it. Just know that there are other streets and places that are just as nice.
If you have more than a day to spend in Cordoba, Medinat al-Zahra is a popular trip to take. It’s technically in the city borders of Cordoba but is out of the way. This palace-city was created during the height of the Islamic rule in Cordoba. As the city became so large, the medinat was built to house people. However it was actually short lived since the Christians took over only decades after the construction. Today, it’s a ruin you can visit. I personally haven’t been but it does look fascinating.
I came to Cordoba to see the Mosque. However it was only one of the several impressive activities I found to do in this old and pretty city. Cordoba is more relaxed, which is great for slower travel. It’s also a must-see for art and architecture lovers. It certainly was one of the highlights of my trip.
Have you ever been to Cordoba? What did you think?Posted on Friday, January 10, 2020 in Destinations
Tags: andalusia, cordoba, europe, spain
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The 2019 Recap
2019 was a fantastic year in terms of travel. I’m so thankful that I’ve been granted the opportunity to go so many places, and I believe it’s clear I took that fantastic opportunity. So, here’s a review of the things I got to accomplish in the world of travel these past twelve months.
I’ve driven through Richmond several times and have gone to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts several times. However, I finally decided to go down to Richmond for a proper visit this past January. It was a fantastic trip, and I must say I had some of the best food of my life there. It’s December now and I’m still thinking about it!
Poland & Germany
After years of wanting to go to Poland, I finally decided it was time to go. I experienced my first flight cancellation, which was absolutely awful, but still got to spend a good 2 weeks in Poland and Germany.
To be quite honest, I wasn’t really too hyped about visiting San Juan, but it was such a beautiful city! The old buildings and nature were gorgeous, and it was so nice to escape to such great beaches and really get to relax. Everybody I met was incredibly nice and the island has such a fascinating history. I’d love to go back one day and see some other parts of the island of Puerto Rico.
Scotland & Ireland
I ticked off a huge item on my bucket list: taking my family on vacation. Since they’re helping me pay for a lot of my college expenses, I wanted to give them a life experience. I thought they’d really enjoy Scotland and Ireland and I was right. The trip was a huge success.
I actually stayed within my own country this time! To see a friend, I travelled to Los Angeles, California for a few days. I got to see and do a lot in the land of Hollywood, and I was lucky enough to drive around and explore even more with my friend. We went to Venice and Santa Monica as well, which was relaxing as I’m always a sucker for the beach.
Another conquest came in 2019 – I made it to Spain! Which also happened to be my 20th-ish country. It was absolutely breathtaking and I had a fantastic time. I got to learn all about the area of Andalusia, which for centuries has been a cultural melting pot – which originally drew me to the place. It was stunning and one of the most needed trips for that point in my life. Seville has made its way to one of my favourite cities, and I’m so happy I finally got to go.
Blog posts on Spain are coming in 2020.
I frequently go down to Orlando to visit family, so that wasn’t extremely notable for me. However if you follow me on Twitter, you may have caught that my family always drives through St Augustine on the way home – and that’s it. As it’s America’s oldest colonial city, I was extremely tempted to visit. I faced another of my fears and rented a car for the first time, making my way to the Florida coast. Florida is absolutely gorgeous in the winter, and St Augustine was much bigger than I had anticipated. They also pay great homage to all aspects of their past. It made for a great visit.
Blog posts on St Augustine coming in 2020.
I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t offset my carbon.
This year, I gave $396 to myclimate. myclimate has several different projects that aim to replace environmentally harmful energy methods with sustainable ones. They have very easy to use calculators for all your transportation methods. I added mine up with the calculators and got that I should pay $396 to offset 14.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions for 2019. 4.7 tonnes were for the miles I drove my own car in 2019.
It really put in perspective how much every little thing we do has an effect on the environment, and I highly urge everyone to do the same. I will be retroactively making up for my carbon emissions from past years, and for my family’s trips as well. We travel this beautiful earth because we love it, and it deserves a better future.
As for 2020, I have a lot in store. I’ve already booked trips to NYC, New Orleans, and Greece, and I’m looking to book more trips within the next few months. 2020’s activities include seeing the Northern Lights and returning to one of my favourite countries after 10 years. I absolutely can’t wait!
If you haven’t been following me on social media, you may be wondering where I am. I’m working late hours for a project for work. It’s projected to last until January and February. In the meantime, I’ve put my blog on the back burner. However I hope to have several blog posts coming up from my travels to Spain, Florida and Los Angeles. Until then, I’ll be posting about once a month rather than every 5 days.
How was your 2019? What are you looking forward to in 2020?Posted on Friday, December 20, 2019 in Uncategorized
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