Sunday, 4 December 2011

Old world charm

Arriving in the warmth of Florida sun was such a relief, Gabe and I got instantly giddy and chipper despite the fatigue. Once inside Jacksonville inlet the wind died and we were soon peeling layers of clothes off, arms and legs relishing long forgotten taste of sunlight. Our minds, on the other hand, relished the serenity of being hemmed in by lush, exotic shorelines of the Florida ICW. Low tree canopies stooping over waterfront properties with droopy moss strewn among their branches, casting an air of mystery onto the lawns below. Then the enthusiastic palm trees bursting into the blue skies above. And everywhere graceful white herons soaking their wiry feet in shallow marshlands. We were captivated. To have arrived in St. Augustine in the afternoon was a cherry on top an already delightful cruising day. This XVI century Spanish settlement is a historic gem studded with beautiful buildings, eclectic shops and restaurants, and scores of museums. Not to mention the churches. Spanish inspired architecture predominates the downtown core where pedestrians plod along narrow, cobblestone alleys, taking in the old world charm. We fell in love instantly. 
Our first night ashore turned out to be the night of the most celebrated festival in St. Augustine. The British Night Watch Parade commemorates the British rule over the city between 1763 and 1783. The most memorable part of the British Night Watch is the Grand Illumination. In the olden days, the city of St. Augustine was secured every night by guards marching by lantern light to lock gates. On special occasions or holidays the night watch was made into a festive event. Just like then, today citizens participate and carry a lantern or a candle in the parade. We witnessed the folk of St.Augustine gather at Governor's House to listen as he summons them to rejoice in the Christmas spirit. Many of the people gathered were dressed in period costumes and almost all carried lanterns or candles. Then the parade, lead by a colonial army marching band, proceeded around town's central boulevard and back towards Governor's House. 
All weekend St. Augustine was teeming with activity. We spent most of Sunday wondering around the picturesque alleyways, peering through windows of old taverns and boutiques. Most of the buildings in town centre have a distinct colonial flair. Painted wood beam soffits carry fiery red, clay tile rooftops that overhang bright stucco walls. Broad arches lead into cool, shaded courtyards and gardens. Every bit of soil bursting with rich vegetation. A very palatable place indeed, and we enjoyed every bit of it well into the night. Guided by an events post in a local paper we ventured into Fisherman's Wharf Lounge, a local hangout, that advertised an open mic night. We sat in low patio lounge chairs, sipped on cold drinks and got a taste of some real good local talent before returning to Rodeo for the night. St. Augustine was just the kind of thing we set out on this journey to find, an unexpected little treasure of a place that we hope to encounter more of as we carry on. 

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