Christmas Adam in America’s Oldest City

I used to call December 23rd Christmas Eve Eve, which is definitely silly, but I can be a silly person. Then I heard what my friend Hope calls it, Christmas Adam, and decided that sounded much cooler, so now that’s what I call it!

But anyways, my family and I spent Christmas Adam driving to the east coast of Florida to visit St. Augustine, America’s oldest city. Now, at first, Hope was not impressed with this title, as she’d grown up visiting the ancient Jamestown all the time. But believe it or not, St. Augustine is actually older than Jamestown by forty two years, founded in 1565 by the Spanish.

Impressed? Because I was, and as a lover of old cities (and just old things in general), I was really really excited. We’d technically been to St. Augustine before on our Florida-wide road trip a few years ago (long before we knew I’d be moving here for college) but that time we didn’t explore on foot, and I was eager to do so now.

After parking next to the old town, I dragged my family to this charming little bookstore, where I gawked at their beauty and wished I had room in my budget to buy this entire shelf of collectibles:

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Then we wandered around to this old 19th century hotel, now a museum for antiques.

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I love the architecture and would have loved to go inside, but we had other plans. Namely, to visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine!

Now children, buckle in for a little history lesson featuring fires and the pesky British.

When the Spanish settlers founded St. Augustine, they immediately built a shrine and then a little church, forming America’s very first Catholic Parish. As a Catholic myself, I found this fact exceedingly cool. However, since the colonists were sailors and soldiers, definitely not architects, and since they built the church with random materials they found, it was not very sturdy. It was burned in 1586 — by that pesky Englishman Sir Francis Drake. So the colonists quickly built Church #2, this time out of straw and palmetto, which as you can imagine are not the best building materials. Church #2 burned down in 1599.

Fortunately, with funds raised from a tithe in Spain, Church #3 was built in 1605, this time with timber and experienced architects and builders. Thanks to its more reliable construction, Church #3 lasted for a record period of time, a whole 95 years, until it was – you guessed it – burned down in 1702 by another pesky British guy, this time James Moore (I was going to say Englishman, but turns out Moore was Irish and I don’t want to get hanged.)

Moore was more (ha, Moore more *ahem*) successful and the church vanished for over ninety years, despite future attempts to rebuild it. During this time, priests held Mass in the local hospital, which became too small for the congregation, as well as being embarrassing for the Native American converts to Catholicism. Clearly something needed to be done.

Well, from 1763 to 1784, those pesky British came back and got control of Florida, and the church was forgotten. But lo and behold, thanks to our successful revolution, the British gave Florida back to Spain. This sent its citizens leaping for the joys of being Spanish. One of the hallmarks of being Spanish is being Catholic, so this new sense of Spanish pride led to a large-scale construction of Church #4 from 1793 to 1797.

Church #4 is the very same one that is standing today! It is absolutely gorgeous and the moments I spent in prayer there were wonderful. May it stand for hundreds of years to come!

There were many beautiful stained glass windows depicting scenes from the life of St. Augustine, such as his ordination on the left, and his ecstasy on the right.

On the way out, I saw this statue of a priest (I don’t know which one; it unfortunately did not have a plaque) and I was highly amused that he had glasses. I’d never seen a statue with glasses before. πŸ˜‚

Afterwards, we meandered through the quaint old streets of the town, first passing by the Governor’s House.

Then we passed into a small historic street lined with the most adorable, charming little shops. Sometimes there would be an entrance inside, leading to a network of more little shops inside. There was a soap shop, a clock shop (the aesthetic was *chef’s kiss*), a coin shop (with Confederate bills!), a knife shop, a seasoning shop, a flag shop, a pirate shop…most everything you can think of. I didn’t buy anything (if I can’t buy books, I certainly cannot buy anything else πŸ˜‚), but it was a lot of fun to look through it all.

There was also a medieval torture museum! πŸ˜€

Did I get some strange looks from passersby? Yes, but I blame my writerly proclivities for my curiosity.

After exploring that charming little road, we were at a loss of where to go. There was still a bit of time before the sun set, we weren’t inclined to pay to visit the old fort that would be closing soon…so of course I suggested we find another book store! Knowing full well I couldn’t buy any.

Well I typed in ‘book store’ into Google maps and there were only two options: the store we’d already gone to, and another one that looked like someone’s house but said “Collectible and out of print bookstore.” It had no reviews, only that one photo, no website…but with a title like that how could I resist investigating?

Since no one had any better ideas, we left old town under my lead and took off deeper into the city, to parts where tourists never go. It was a very cold walk as the temperature was around 45Β°F; do not let the palm trees fool you. We entered a quaint neighborhood and followed a road that dead-ended in bushes.

Well, we still had time before dinner so we headed back.

There were houses, there was a grumpy looking old lady who looked at us wandering tourists like we were crazy, but there was no bookstore. Micah laughed his head off at me, until I reminded him of all the times he led us on wild goose chases looking for old coins for his collection — and then he grudgingly expressed his sympathies.

We went to the fort area and relaxed on an old crumbling wall. I was enjoying the lovely view of the Matanzas river, boats passing by, when something slipped out and back down in the water. Something grey, sleek, with a fin.

“It’s a dolphin!” I shrieked with glee.

My family didn’t believe me. “There is no way – ” Papa began, until he yelled, “I see it!”

The dolphin was moving to the right and was breathing in regular intervals, always gracefully arching up and then down. Micah and Mama finally saw it too and we all kept our eyes peeled, watching as it circled back around and a flock of white birds followed it from above. I absolutely adore dolphins and have not often seen them in the wild, thus my immense excitement. Finally it swam too far away for us to see, and I dissolved into joy.

I was not able to get a good picture of it since it breathed so quickly, but you’ll just have to trust me.

After this we circled around the fort’s ramparts, where Micah played with cannons and I admired the families mulling about and the sailboats gliding by under the shadow of the epic fort.

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I could not resist a black and white photo. Isn’t it so cool?? Like it was taken by one of the old explorers?? And I love the shadows of the cannons.

By this point, we were starving so we went back into old town to find a good place to eat. All of the cafes and restaurants had doors open and delicious smells wafting, but we finally ended up at this little restaurant that was rocking the pub aesthetic.

I enjoyed one of the best, toasty meatball sandwiches I’ve ever had, and then we headed back outside for the best part of all. The sky was completely dark, but the city was sparkling in stupendous Christmas lights. It was extremely cold and windy (temperature was dipping into high 30s — yes, in Florida) and for once I was happy for the frostiness because cold + Christmas is the perfect combination.

HA — you know you’re in based Florida when ^

We walked on the outer edge of the city where all the hotels and restaurants were lit up, then we headed into a central park area where the trees were strung with so many gorgeous golden lights, it looked like a fairy land. The pictures do not do it justice (night pictures are always difficult to capture accurately) but it was absolutely magical.

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At long last, we looped back around to our car and settled in for the drive home, numb and shivering but my eyes still dazzling from all the lights. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, I highly recommend exploring this charming old city! You won’t find any older ones in the country. πŸ˜‰

Until next time,

Bon voyage!


8 thoughts on “Christmas Adam in America’s Oldest City

  1. This post went from amazing to amazing-er?? The basilica was so cool (thank you for the history lesson, seriously πŸ˜‚), but oh my GOSH the Christmas lights are MAGICAL??!
    And the one time I was in Florida, I too saw a dolphin! Two of them, actually, playing together in a lagoon. It’s one of my favorite memories.

    Liked by 1 person

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