THREE DAYS IN AMERICA'S OLDEST CITY
St. Augustine, Florida
Day three: a chocolate tasting and a wine tasting. Thank you, Lord.
We did have breakfast at the Bayfront Westcott House before
walking (ok, galloping) to our next stop featuring that which makes
all things good: chocolate. Its sweet fragrances wafting through the
alley, Claude's Chocolate is the recent culmination of a lifelong dream
of owner Claude Franques. In the European tradition, Claude crafts
his chocolates by hand from all natural ingredients, paying careful
attention to the smallest detail. Twenty four varieties sit under glass
like tiny trophies, each to be adored lovingly. While visiting this
charming little boutique we indulged in the ultimate "chocolate tasting"
featuring three different perfect morsels and a spiced chocolate drink.
Dragging our chocolate filled bodies to the wonderful, ever present
Red Train, we hopped on for a ride to The Oldest House Museum.
(Note that Red Train tickets are available for one or several days
and may include admission to attractions. Ticketholders may board,
disembark and reboard at specific stops for the duration of the ticket.)
Occupied since the 1600's, the Gonzalez-Alvarez house is the oldest surviving Spanish Colonial dwelling in Florida, and is open to visitors.
Knowledgeable guides take guests through the home and grounds
telling stories of its inhabitants and answering questions. The grounds
are pretty and the building is very well preserved.
Back on the Red Train we wound our way to the San Sebastian Winery
which crafts a variety of wines from Florida's muscadine grapes. From
the shop full of clever wine-themed gifts we climbed the stairs for our
tour to hear about winemaking via a video and our guide; then on to
the barrel room for a tasting of several of their blends. Sweet wine is
a theme here. Bottles and cases are available for sale. Caution: as of
this writing wine may not be carried aboard airplanes.
Dinner this evening was on the terrace of the Kingfish Grill, just outside
of town, overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway (where the Schooner
Freedom happened to glide past as we arrived.) Surrounded by blazing
torches we started with the Camachee Crab Cake served with homemade
datil pepper jelly. (Note that the datil pepper, of Spanish origin and grown
in Northeast Florida, is featured in a variety of award-winning sauces from
mild to 3rd degree burn marketed under the label of Datil B Good.)
A delicately flavorful fresh grouper was presented with a horseradish
crust; mouth watering. It was obvious from the busy inside dining room
that the Kingfish Grill is a local favorite.
Fortified from the excellent dinner (and wine), we braced ourselves for
the last adventure of our St. Augustine trip, a ride on the Ghost Train, a
Ripley's Production. Departing from the Ripley's Believe it or Not
Museum, "energy meters" and disposable cameras (provided by Ripley's)
in hand, we spoke in whispers as the Ghost Train transported us to some
of the most "active" areas of paranormal activity in the ancient city. We
stood on the sidewalk below the St. Francis Inn staring up at the window
where our ghoulish guide claimed a spirit known as Lilly took her life….
for love, of course. Sightings of friendly specters are common at the Inn
(as recent as the week before our arrival, according to its innkeeper), and
recognized by both believers and skeptics.
At a local cemetery we gazed across the fence at the headstones of some
former residents whose untimely demise was "suspicious" at best. Too
bad a law prevented us from actually entering the shadowed grounds. Now
THAT would have been spooky.
Back at the candle lit Ripley's Museum we roamed from room to eerie
room, even one our guides deemed far too spiritually dangerous for them
to enter. Cameras clicking (in attempts to capture an "aura" of someone
or something unearthly), we tiptoed along, whispering and looking over
Suddenly someone's energy meter began to blink wildly; sure evidence of
the presence of something beyond this world? A passing spirit? Or was
this the only tourist in the group still barely awake at this witching hour
After three very busy days and nights in this magical city our "energy meter"
was way too tired to do a strobe dance. Its single brightly burning light
seemed to cast a steady glow of contentment, very reflective of our mood.
It was a great visit---the sights, our accommodations, the dining and, most
of all, the wonderful people of St. Augustine.