Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo de San Marcos
St. Augustine, Florida

The Spaniards got to this part of the country before the British.  I'd say they got here first, but as one of the plaques within the fort told me, the Native Americans of this region had built a healthy economy, trading with others as far away as present day Ohio, before this guy named Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean and threw a monkey wrench into the works.

The fort, built of stone made from compressed shells (coquina), is the oldest masonry and only existing 17th century structure still standing in the U.S.  It gave me a fascinating glimpse into what life was like when.

It looks much as it did when it was first completed back in 1687.  It traded hands six times during the colonial era, but always through treaties.  Its defenses were never broken.  The walls are several feet thick; the interior rooms are dank and cool.  It never served as a permanent home - the soldiers posted here lived in town, and stayed only for their duty shifts. 

Yet, in 1702, the entire town of some 1200 people, plus 300 soldiers, were besieged here by the English for two months, until the Spanish navy arrived, trapping the English forces in the bay.  It had to be the most unpleasant two months of those people's lives.  Just the challenge of keeping the sanitary facilities in usable condition would have made life unpleasant.  There would have been little for the children to do; once the fear from the invasion wore off, as it would have within the first few weeks, keeping them from climbing the walls had to have been a major challenge for their parents.

Downtown St. Augustine has some of the oldest buildings in America.  The main corridor is for pedestrians only, and is lined with charming shops, B&Bs and eateries.  It was here that I found my latest pizza fix, at Pizzalleys!  It is the favorite place of one of the park hosts - and is a far cut above your average chain.

As an added bonus, the town is an easy bike ride from the Anastasia State Park, where I've been hunkering down for most of the week.  The weather's been beautiful, the ocean is about a half mile from the campground, there's internet access available at a pavilion within the park - what more could one ask?

Well, maybe the ability to relax as completely as this guy.  I'm learning, but have a long way to go to reach his attitude of complete relaxation and ease.  I'm willing to work on it, though....

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