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St. Augustine gearing up for 500th Anniversary

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image America’s oldest schoolhouse is on St. George Street in St. Augustine.

St. Augustine is a city that encourages return visits.

By WARREN RESEN, North American Travel Journalists Association

Next year marks the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s landing in 1513. The City of St. Augustine has already begun its celebration of this momentous event which will continue well into 2013. There are so many happenings that you will have go to the St. Augustine web page to find what’s of interest to you.

St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European city in the in the USA. It should come as no great surprise then that the city is a blending of many cultures: Spanish, English, Minorcans from the Spanish-owned Balerica Islands located in the Mediterranean Sea, French, Irish, Greek, Jewish and others.

One of the oldest tourist attractions in Florida is the famed Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine. Generations of tourists have visited but there was never a reason to return because there was nothing new to see. Now the owners seem to have taken a drink of the fabled waters and are making changes by adding exciting new attractions.

A team of archeologists was brought in and after extensive research, discovered the remains of an old Spanish village on the site. The village is being resurrected on the exact location where it once stood. When completed, it will house a living replica of those times.

Last year the new Pirate & Treasure Museum opened across from the Castillo de San Marcos fort. In a previous article for The Observer News, I wrote about how and why it moved to St. Augustine from Key West and what an exciting new exhibit it was of “old” pirate stuff. Now Pat Croce, the owner of the museum, has teamed up with the City of St. Augustine for an even bigger attraction on St. George Street where the Old Spanish Quarter was formerly operated.

Known as the Colonial Quarter it will open early next year and is designed to preserve, educate, entertain and interpret the story of Colonial St. Augustine spanning three centuries of Spanish and British rule. It will be an interpretive experience that “visitors will never forget.” According to Pat, The Oldest City is constantly reinventing itself.

Each time we visit St. Augustine we try to experience a different restaurant and have not had a bad dining experience even in the midst of this most touristy location. With all of these diverse cultures in such a geographically small area, the choice of dining opportunities is endless.

For breakfast or lunch try the Hot Shot Bakery and Café across the street from Flagler College. The owner is of Minorcan descent and besides typical fare, does wonderful things with datil peppers.

Sara’s Crepe Café on St. George Street is more than crepes. They have an extensive menu of freshly prepared food from around the world. Ask Margarita to suggest the day’s specials for a special treat. Margarita is of Russian descent.

Now on to Greece in the guise of the Athena Restaurant on Cathedral Place just west of the bridge. George will be happy to suggest the Saganaki, flaming goat cheese, as an appetizer. The rest of the menu offering has familiar and exotic specials all at very reasonable prices.

The sightseeing tours are a must for a quick overview of the city which is then easily accessible by foot. In a city this old there must be apparitions, and the Ghost Tours are informative and fun. For those who are believers, it is not unusual to get pictures of orbs and unexplained light sources. We have some in our photo library.

St. Augustine is a city that encourages return visits. There is Flagler College, the Lightner Museum, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, tall ship and pirate ship cruises on Mantanzes Bay, the lighthouse, Festival of Lights, year around special events and so much more.

The St. Augustine Beach offers visitors a different experience. It is W-I-D-E and long and mostly empty. Cars are permitted on some sections. It is a destination that many people think of only in relation to points further south and comes as a surprise to many who think of St. Augustine only as a place to experience historic old Florida.

We try to visit at least once a year to see what’s new in America’s Oldest City, revisit favorite old restaurants and find new offerings.

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