Oh yes…St. Augustine. My usual half-mile walks at lunchtime during the week thankfully prepared me for all of the walking I did during my two day stay in the old city. I stayed at the Historic Inn (built circa 1970) across the bridge on Anastasia Island. Once I parked the car, I was determined to do everything on foot. That involved walking about a half-mile into town, across the newly restored Bridge of Lions, which spans the Matanzas River. I think I made four round-trips during my stay, and my legs were feeling it towards the end of the second day.
Guarding the bridge are an impressive pair of marble lion sculptures, symbolizing, I think, the fact that St. Augustine was at one time a Spanish colony.
I did spend some time one afternoon walking along the ocean at nearby Anastasia Beach, a place I had last visited a long, long, long time ago when I was very, very, very young. Thinking about all that has transpired in between those visits started leading me down the proverbial melancholy lane, which, unfortunately, proceeded to color the rest of my stay in Florida.
It was, however, a beautiful day…the surf rolling in…the wind blowing in off the ocean…the crunch of tiny shells beneath my feet. On the way back, I stopped to see the St. Augustine Light, although, I passed on making the over 200-step climb to the top. Maybe next time…
Although St. Augustine is turning into a kind of adult theme park, with trolley tours running throughout the town, and shops along old Saint George Street (pedestrians only) hawking every kind of oddity that can be invented, there are still a lot of historical gems to be found, as well as some great architecture from the turn of the century (twentieth, that is), when the railroad barons were developing the area as a posh resort destination. Structures such as the former Alcazar Hotel (now City Hall and the Lightner Museum),
and the Ponce de Leon Hotel (now part of Flagler College), lend a dream-like atmosphere to the place.
And then there’s always the fabled Casa Monica Hotel (originally built in 1888, restored, and now owned by Marriott). Oh well…the Historic Inn was much cheaper. Maybe one day…
One other very interesting place that I visited was the St. Photios Greek Orthodox shrine, also on Saint George Street.
Inside, in addition to a very beautiful little chapel with its Byzantine style icon paintings, there was a very informative exhibit about the early settlement of this area by Greeks, who were first brought over in 1768 to settle the ill-fated New Smyrna colony to the south of St. Augustine. There’s a plaque further down the street, commemorating these settlers, mostly from the island of Minorca, off the coast of Spain. I like the quote from Stephen Vincent Benet (himself a Minorcan descendant)…
“They came here, they toiled here, they suffered many pains, they lived here, they died here, they left singing names.”
Lastly…the destination of my pilgrimage…the old Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.
On Christmas Eve, I made the journey across the Bridge of Lions and entered the Cathedral to attend the celebration of Mass. It was standing room only…the singing…the organ music… was beautiful. I remembered all the responses (even though it’s been a while).
I also did something I haven’t done in ages…lit a votive candle. One for Sharon…and one for the husband of a friend…and said a prayer for both.
This journey had its ups and downs…sometimes glorious epiphanies of hope…sometimes driving through dream-like landscapes filled with bittersweet memories…wishing at times…to simply wake up from the bad dream. Hopefully, these good and bad days even out over time. It’s been nearly a year…
When I got back home today, I sprung the girls from jail…they were ecstatic and glad to be home too. There were hundreds of Robins flying from tree to tree around the house…singing as if it was Spring.