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Our first stop in Florida was St. Augustine, a pretty and unusual small town of 14,000. Founded in 1565, it was the country’s first European settlement, site of the first Catholic Parish church, the first city government and home to the first free Black settlement. In the 1700s a fort was built to protect the city: Castillo de San Marcos stands strong to this day thanks to walls made of coquina, a locally quarried soft shell rock.
In the late 1800s, Henry Flagler, one of the founders of Standard Oil, came to St. Augustine and made it a winter playground for the rich and famous from the north. He built beautiful hotels and railroads extending to Key West. The grandest hotel, The Ponce de Leon, still stands today and functions as Flagler College.
Another beautiful landmark is the Bridge of Lions, connecting the town to the beaches of Anastasia Island across the Intracoastal Waterway. The town is amazing considering the population is only 14,000.
Being short on time, we made a quick run through the city of Jacksonville, our daughter in law’s hometown, and took a couple of pictures.
We enjoyed our stay in the Daytona area. We spent some time in the city, checking out the insanely large Speedway and the beaches. The beaches are typical of most beach towns, but Dayton is more than that.
We drove to nearby Orange City to Blue Spring State Park, the winter home to more than 200 manatees. We walked the boardwalk trail along the springs watching the manatees as the swam and came up for air every 30 seconds or so. The spring water maintains at 72 degrees so the manatees come into the springs from the St. Johns river to stay warm during winter months. They go back into the river to feed on the water plants. The spring water is so clear it is easy to see the manatees and other fish. We learned to spot where manatees are under water by looking for the “flat water trail” they leave as they swim. The trail is obvious as the water is total still just behind them because they move their tail up and down to swim, rather than from side to side.
Leaving the park, we saw an ad for a River Cruise on the St. Johns so we went back in the afternoon for a most delightful and informative cruise. Our captain was funny, experienced and so knowledgeable about the flora and fauna; we learned how little we knew from her. She and her husband have lived on the river for 20 years and they both do the tours. We learned from her that the St. Johns runs south to north. She asked if we knew why, and being a Florida fan, she told us it was “because Georgia sucks!” Don objected to that so she corrected herself saying it was because of the terrain.
The tour lasted 2 hours and we saw so much. My guess is we saw 20 alligators! She could spot them if she could only see an eye peeping out of the grasses; we would never have seen them. A couple of them I first thought were old tires. There is a term in RV lingo for pieces of tires on highways, they are called “road alligators” and I now understand why. She reminded us of the crazy guy who could find moose in the dark in New Hampshire. We saw limpkins and anhinga, water fowl we had not seen before, along with cypress knees (see pic below). She also told us about “Pinky” a strange monster living in the St. Johns river. We did not see Pinky, but you can read about him/her on the internet.
We took a day trip to DeLand, a very nice town of 28,000, which we found is the hometown of former Brave’s third baseman, Chipper Jones. It is also home of Stetson University, named after the hat manufacturer, a major benefactor. Stetson University started Florida’s first law school.
Our next stop was Cocoa Beach, on the Space Coast, where we visited the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex at Cape Canaveral. We only allowed a couple of hours for our visit and we should have allowed the entire day. One half day would be consumed taking the bus tour of the actual rocket launch sites and control center. During the time we had there, we visited Heroes and Legends, featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Sadly, John Glenn had died two days before our visit so there were several special memorials for him.
Then we walked to the opposite side of the complex to the Hubble Space Telescope Theater to experience a shuttle launch. The theater has no seats, the audience is in a large round room and the walls and ceiling are all screens for the projection of images of the shuttle launch, complete with bursts of air at the time of launch. We were given 3D glasses to enhance our experience and Don and I stood on a raised platform with a railing. When the lights went out, the room felt like it was moving, lights flashing, and the huge burst of air taking my breath away. Then as the rocket hurled thru the air, I was about to hurl in the theater so ripped off my 3Ds, closed my eyes and held onto the rail till it was over some 10 minutes later! And we paid lots of money for this experience.
The following day, we went on another River Boat tour, in the Banana River, part of the Indian River lagoon, through the inland waters and Canaveral Locks and Port Canaveral. Captain Rick showed us the various launching pads, each on separate islands created for that specific missile. We motored past a boat building business and a boat repair business, all in the water. There were only four of us as passengers so the trip was very pleasant and informative. Meanwhile, Cocoa Beach was “a bustle” with kite boarding.
Our next stop is Jupiter, looking forward to that as neither of us have been there.