Miscellany: Stuff to See in St. Augustine
Orlando and Miami get the lion's share of tourists' attention, but there are plenty of other places to visit in Florida. I recently spent a day with my friends in St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the continental United States. The city is a weird mix of the historical and the hysterical - you'll see classic 19th century architecture...occupied by cheesy gift shops and haunted house tours. Check out some of what you can find there:
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument - Our first stop was the imposing Castillo de San Marcos, a star fort first built by the Spanish during their colonization of the New World. It has changed hands several times through the centuries - to the British, the Confederate and Union Armies, and finally, to the United States of America.
The walls of the Castillo are made of coquina, a sort of limestone made up of ancient shells and mortared together. It sounds flimsy, but it's actually a pretty good material for building walls to withstand cannon fire - cannonballs would get "stuck" in the soft walls instead of puncturing or shattering them. Maybe that's why, in its entire existence, the Castillo de San Marcos has never been conquered when it has been defended.
Casa Maya - Downtown St. Augustine is a culinary bazaar - you'll see plenty of seafood joints and Spanish restaurants, as you might expect, but there are also English pubs, pizzerias, and fast food vendors vying for customers. We settled on Casa Maya, a tiny Mexican restaurant on Hypolita Street.
The food was decent. We tried the Mayan soup and a couple of sandwiches and came away satisfied. I was most impressed by the refreshing cucumber-lemon-lime-tinged water (hey, it was a hot day).
The Hyppo - Right across from Casa Maya is The Hyppo, a perennially crowded gourmet popsicle shop. There isn't much too the place, really - just a cash register, a freezer full of interesting popsicles, and some places to sit and enjoy them:
My favorite popsicle was the pineapple cilantro, for its combination of sweetness, sourness, and cilantro. You can kick up the refreshment factor by opting for one of the spicier flavors, like mango habanero.
St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum - If you're interested in the days when piracy wasn't perpetrated by teenagers with AK-47s, you might want to stop at The St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum:
The Pirate & Treasure Museum is a neat example of how to maximize a visitor's experience with very little floorspace. Every nook and cranny of the place is filled with authentic pirate paraphernalia like weapons, gold bars, and compasses. Highlights include an interactive touch screen encyclopedia of pirate knowledge (more interesting than it sounds), one of the world's few surviving Jolly Roger flags, and an immersive audio experience that recreates the death of Blackbeard.