Friday, January 5, 2018

Christmas in Florida: Saint Augustine Day Trip

This year, Roger and I spent Christmas outside of New York for the first time in either of our lives. While we had intended to honeymoon in East Africa over the holiday, we realized it was a little tight to plan such a major trip so quickly after our wedding (between house buying and wedding planning, I refused to try and plan a honeymoon, too), so we joined my family at their new home in Florida and celebrated all together for the first time in four years.

After a few hours of driving and a few hours of flying, we arrived at MCO around 11:30pm on December 21. It was great to see my parents and Liz, who picked us up at the airport, and we made plans for the next day, which we spent in Saint Augustine.

Founded in 1565, the city is one of the United States' oldest, and I've wanted to visit for a while now. My mother mentioned that they have a lot of lights set up for Christmas, so it seemed like a perfect day trip from their house. We started with a seafood lunch at O'Steens. There was about a half hour wait, so we perused the antiques store across the street while we waited for them to call me. I found a pretty excellent hunting-print mirror for only $35, but it was moldy and also seemed impossible to carry-on, so alas, there it remains.

Lunch at O'Steens was very tasty. They have a fantastic chowder, and I was totally in love with their hush puppies, which may be some of my favorites that I've ever had. We were a little disappointed by their fried shrimp, which everyone had raved about on Yelp, but the side dishes (I got grits and their squash casserole, but we also loved the pickled cucumbers that Liz had ordered) more than made up for it.

After lunch, we headed back into town to check out the Castillo de San Marcos. We'd arrived a bit late to make going on a tour worth it, so we admired it from the outside and watched as the cannon fired for the last time that day, which was actually more fun than I'd expected, and louder!

After the fort, we took a wander around the main street of town, checking out little shops as we walked about. Most were pretty touristy and typical, but one that I was enamored by was St. Augustine Textiles, a shop of colonial garb that is made by a former re-enactor. I've always been really into historical clothing and re-enacting is something that's fascinating to me. I wish I could have spent hours really looking into things and chatting with the shop keeper. I was sorely tempted by a flat straw hat, but again, it wouldn't fit in the carry-on.

I'd like to go back and take a walking or trolley tour, because it felt like there was a lot of history we were missing, but this was such a short trip that it didn't make a ton of sense. There were plenty of little historic markers along the way, and those were fun to check out. As the evening fell, we stumbled upon the country's second best pizza, which made Roger and me double-take. Surely it couldn't be! But, when we looked at the Trip Advisor list and saw that it contained some of the spots we'd tried and loved over the years (Juliana's, Keste, John's Frank Pepe's), we knew we had to try it. And let me tell you, it really lives up to the hype! Between the five of us, we tried three slices (a grandma slice, a plain slice, and a slice with a bunch of toppings I can't remember right now) and they were all pretty close to perfect.

My mother seemed especially glad to have found a good pizza place just a mere two hours from her house!

The lights throughout the city were really lovely, and it was cool to see fairy lights in all the trees, intertwined with Spanish moss. All the buildings were outlined in white lights and it was just generally really quite a nice way to start out Christmas season in Florida. Being able to walk around in a dress and sweater while taking in all the spirit of the season was pretty idyllic, and I was surprised to find I didn't miss having a white Christmas at all.

The best part, though, was when we walked back to the parking lot and stumbled upon a full orchestra playing Christmas carols. Magic!

Next Up: Holiday Preparations in Merritt Island

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