St. Augustine bills itself as the nation’s oldest city. Today it feels like the nation’s muggiest. But, fortified by a three-course breakfast at the Kenwood Inn, we’re headed out to explore the town anyway. We see a lot of people taking the trolley around but since nothing’s very far away, we opt for walking.
Our first stop is the Castillo de San Marcos, a fort built by the Spanish in the 17thcentury. My favorite part is the battlements and sentry posts at the top of the fort, overlooking the water and filled with cannons. As usual, I pose with a number of them. Walt obligingly takes my photo. I can’t believe how decorative the bronze Spanish cannons are. They have embossed coats of arms, dolphin-shaped handles and beautiful scrollwork. Don’t ask why I’m enamored with cannons, I just am.
We spend several hours learning the history of the fort and of Florida. I hadn’t realized it was the 27thstate to join the United States. I knew it wasn’t one of the original 13 colonies, of course, but it didn’t join until 1845, which seems late given that its next-door neighbors Georgia (an original colony) and Alabama (1819) joined much earlier.
After the fort, we wander the streets of town, checking out galleries and the local gelato (lavender-flavored for me) before heading to the Lightner Museum. While it’s filled with porcelain, glass and small collectibles – buttons, cigar bands, etc. – I’m most interested in the photos that show what the building looked like when it was the Alcazar Hotel in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I’m thrilled to find the remnants of the steam baths and huge indoor swimming pool that are still intact. The pool is currently being used as a café.
Then we head across the street to Flagler College, built by the same man who built the Alcazar, Henry M. Flagler, a Standard Oil executive. This building, too, was once a hotel. The Ponce de Leon was another exclusive enclave for the industrialists who were the first to find their way south to escape snowy northern winters. Our tour takes us through the courtyard with its spitting-frogs-and-turtles fountain, the “women’s parlor” with enormous chandeliers and the first “Tiffany-blue” ceiling. Louis Comfort Tiffany was brought in to do the interior decoration for the hotel and was still perfecting his Tiffany blue. We’re told this ceiling isn’t quite the final color Tiffany chose but it looks pretty close.
The original hotel dining hall is astonishing not only for its 79 Tiffany windows but also for its current use as the student dining hall. We can’t imagine being a college student and eating here every day. Walt takes a photo of the ballpark-type pump condiment containers juxtaposed against the woodwork and windows.
Our last stop for the day is the Whetstone Chocolates for its tour. We’re a bit nervous at the start because our tour guide has a very distinctive speaking style. Walt likens it to TV character Barney Fife’s when he’s explaining something. But Joseph knows his chocolate and knows how to hold an audience. After we are given the ground rules for the factory tour and our obligatory hairnets, we are also allowed to take a single piece of Oreo cookie fudge before our group treks across the parking lot to the factory. Joseph is standing about 6 feet away by the door, so Walt and I each swipe two pieces of fudge (they’re tiny!).
The tour is interesting, although we are a little disappointed that at 3:45 p.m., the factory is clean and empty. We had expected to see the workers actually creating the chocolates, especially since Joseph has told us that with few exceptions, all of the Whetstone chocolates are hand-created. The tour is interesting, despite the quietness. And we get more chocolates to taste: milk, dark, darker, mint crunch.
We end, of course, at the gift shop, where we can’t resist buying a chocolate-almond bar (Walt’s favorite) and a small box of creams (my favorite).
We manage to shop a few galleries on our way back to the Kenwood. We still don’t own a house, so we just collect cards. Our day ends at one of the many restaurants offering outdoor dining. While the food is nothing exceptional, it’s lovely to be eating dinner outside in October. Just as we’re finishing, a misty rain starts. It would be a pain if we were at the beginning of our meal but it’s not serious enough to ruin our easy walk back to the Kenwood. We’ve both enjoyed the city.