Where the hell is St. Augustine?

I get that question a lot. Sometimes without the expletive, sometimes with. Even from Floridians.

If you know where St. Augustine is, that last bit’s funny. If you don’t know where it is, that’s okay; I didn’t know where it was for the longest time either. And I live in Florida.

A little history and geography for the uninitiated:

St. Augustine is located on the east coast of Florida, south of Jacksonville, and north of Daytona. It’s a lovely little coastal town wrapped up in historical significance. It also happens to be the oldest city in our Nation. Yep. You read that right.

Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the closest thing we’ve got to a little slice of Europe. That’s because it was originally settled by the Spanish, invaded by the French (those bastards), then won by Britain in the 1700’s, eventually becoming ours in 1821 (with a lot of back and forth in between).

The blend of Spanish, French Provincial and English Colonial influence is unmistakable. There are narrow roads with uneven pavers, two story Tudor style homes beside large Spanish estates surrounded by coquina concrete walls. In the center of the historic district, there’s a criss-cross of pedestrian friendly streets lined by quaint shops with everything from hand crafted fudge to vintage clothing. For the artistic history enthusiast, there is so much eye candy, you’d feel naked without a camera. I’m not even kidding.

Aviles Street, St. Augustine

Aviles Street, the oldest street in the US, St. Augustine.

The crown jewel of the city in my opinion is the former Hotel Ponce de León. Originally built as THE premier luxury hotel in 1887 for the wealthiest elite of the era (think Theodore Roosevelt or Mark Twain), this is serious “Oh. My. God.” architecture. Today, it is home to Flagler College; the hotel rooms and suites are girls’ dorms and administrative offices, the grand ballroom now serves as the student dining hall. I was so struck by the expansive beauty of the dining hall, my chest actually ached.

Dining Hall at Ponce Hall

Dining Hall at Ponce Hall

The ceilings and walls are exquisitely detailed by legendary muralist, George Maynard, and the hall is surrounded by the largest collection of Louis Tiffany stained glass windows in the world. I still can’t believe that regular students eat there every single day. So fucking lucky. Makes me want to go to college. Almost.

Just across the street is the stunning Casa Monica Hotel (I have a paranormal tale involving a stay here BTW), and a few blocks down there’s the old military fort, which was impenetrable despite at least a few invasions. Add to that another couple dozen landmarks sprinkled throughout the city, and you can see that this is just a glimpse of St. Augustine. It is one of my very favorite places to visit, and is the backdrop of my debut novel, FINDING SAM.

There is an element of magic that is intrinsic in Sam and Emily’s story, which makes St. Augustine the perfect setting.

There and Back Again Post #1

A little over a year ago my husband reluctantly drove me to the airport and put me on a plane to California.

It was frightening for both of us with so much yet unknown. He’d made all the arrangements in advance; there was a layover in Houston, so he’d ordered a wheelchair to get me to my connecting flight.

I remember slowly walking up the ramp past the wheelchairs and attendants in Houston. I made my way to a flight attendant and asked how far my connecting gate was. My heart dropped as she explained that it was literally on the other side of the airport. Are you fucking kidding me? I swallowed hard and gave her my name. Within moments, I was shuffled over to a transport cart for passengers with special needs and whisked off to catch my connecting flight. There were two other women, each in their seventies or eighties at my best guess. Oh geez. It was several minutes, and numerous turns before we made our gate. There wasn’t a chance in hell I would have made it on foot.

The flight to San Francisco was uneventful, and as I departed, I inquired the distance to baggage claim, hopeful. “It’s on the other end of the airport,” said an attendant without feeling. I took a deep breath and reluctantly gave her my name. Within minutes a wheelchair was there for me. I climbed in a little unsteady on my feet, and was relieved to have the sudden support. At that moment, a tiny Asian woman, well over fifty stepped up and took the handles of my chariot, hefting me forward. I was mortified.

This remarkably small, but capable woman pushed me through crowds, up ramps, around corners, and all the while I was thinking, “This is not happening to me.” But it was. And people were staring. No, I can assure you that I didn’t imagine this. They really were. There I was, perfectly normal and healthy looking. No casts on my feet or legs. No signs of physical trauma whatsoever, being pushed by an 80 pound Asian grandmother. It was comical and horrifying, and a part of me desperately longed for a companion with a camera to film it and post it on FB for all the world to see because it was just too ridiculous to imagine or convey otherwise. When we arrived at our destination, I gave her a nice tip and thanked her profusely.

This was the beginning of my unexpected journey.

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