Wednesday, September 30, 2009

St. Augustine, FL- Castillo

St. Augustine, Florida is the nation's oldest (continuously settled) city. It is a great place for touristy stuff and beaches. On our last visit, we stuck to the old town section.

The shopping area is only a few blocks from the Visitors' Center, which is next to the main parking garage. There are numerous trolley tours you can take, many with ghostly themes, and most include discounts to various attractions with your ticket. However, a party of nine gets costly, so we stuck with walking.

Among the first things we visited was the Military Hospital Museum, which is well worth the admission cost. The kids learned at lot about medicine of the past - mainly that they are very lucky to live in modern times. You should have seen Patrick and Sam's eyes as the woman described amputation procedures. Sam was especially disturbed by the tidbit that surgeries were performed out in the streets when and where the light was the best, and that it was considered to be local entertainment. Here he is with the tour guide.

The city's famous Castillo de San Marcos:

To get inside you have to pay admission, but if you bring along some old people, they can buy a $10 National Park Pass that's good for life and every park in the country. Then you can hitch in for free as their guests. I knew Mike's parents would come in handy...

Above is a view from the top of the wall looking down on the outer battlements (no admission required down there). Just as a fair warning, the upper walls are low but wide. They don't want you to climb on them because they are made of oyster cement, which has a habit of crumbling. You can see numerous modern cement patches.

As the fort was occupied for so long and by so many nations, there are several different types of re-enactors about to give info on their time period. There are actually only a few places you can't go in the Castillo, and each section contains a variety of artifacts and information. There are some live cannon demos, but if you miss one, there's a video theater that shows the process.

Since it's right up on the water with a near-constant breeze even on the hottest days, it's probably the most pleasant place in the city.
We did lunch at Pizzalley's, which was pricey as expected in a tourist town, but yummy. Service was a bit slow and bathrooms were right next to the main room of tables. People next to the door got treated to full views of the row of stalls every time someone went in or out.
Watch that finger, bub.
Scattered through the old town are many, many shops- none of which we ventured in with our gaggle of geese. Probably saved us some money. Just beware that cars can actually drive down many of the cross-streets, so if you have little ones keep your eyes peeled and a tight grip on them. Also common are the ice cream/sweets/fudge shops. Pick any one for a calorie-laden finish to your day:
The Visitors' Center on the east side of the parking garage closes every day at 5pm, but the bathrooms can be accessed from the outside until much later. They are also very clean. Lastly there is a great enclosed playground on the west side of the parking garage. Cold drinking fountains, too! We'll be back soon for the Greek Festival that's held in the field right next to it.
Honestly, I've barely touched on the stuff they have to do and see in St Augustine. Luckily we live pretty close so we can do hit and run visits as we please. Despite really not seeing that much, we were all pretty worn out from the day.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gator Ate My Bebe

A couple weeks ago we visited the zoo again, but it was sauna hot so we only stayed until lunchtime. As we peeked over and through the fence at the gator pond in the Native Florida section, Miriam stared intensely at the dozing reptiles for a full minute. Suddenly she looked up at me and declared solemnly, "Gaido ate my bebe."

It was then I remembered I never reviewed the St Augustine Alligator Farm for the blog. My second thought was that the visit several months previous had scarred her for life.

Admission is pricey- $22 for adults and $11 for kids 3-11, though you can get a 10% discount for AAA, military, zoo membership, or group of 10+.

They aren't just gators. The collection includes just about every species of crocodile and caiman, plus snakes and other reptiles, as well as exotic birds. And then, of course, there enough alligators to give you nightmares:

The playground was pretty lame.

But the birds were very talkative:

This is the scene of the trauma:

This long walkway leads to the tomb of a massive alligator, stuffed and mounted for your viewing pleasure. Then you can walk many yards over alligator infested waters. And I mean infested. The kids ran back and forth while I tried not to panic- the rails really are designed to keep the people safe, but I am a mom, and those things would eat my precious children given the slightest chance.

Miriam, who at the time sported a binkie (aka "bebe") 24-7, ran excitedly across the walkway to see the gator swimming under it. She pointed and shouted "Rye dare!" and her pacifier slipped from her mouth only to be kicked over the side by her running feet.

"BEBE!" She screamed in panic. "BEBE INA WAH-DOH!!! GIHT MAH BEBE MOMMY!"

I tried to soothe her, but to no avail. She tried desperately to get to it (thank God for that fence), and was thrashing so much I jammed her in the stroller and buckled her down. Many people began staring at the Evil Mommy.

Though her copious tears, Miriam watched as Her Precious drifted under the bridge to the other side, where it caught the attention of an 8' alligator.

"NO!!! DAS MY BEBE!!! MOMMY!!! GAI-DOH EAT MAH BEBE!!! NOOOOO!!!!" The hysteria continued and grew as the gator nudged the pacifier, trying to ascertain its food potential. I had visions of being presented a bill for the pumping of a reptile's stomach. Miriam's screams echoed though the swamp, disturbing the birds that several people with massive cameras on tripods were photographing. I decided it was time to hightail it out of there and warn an employee that we had just polluted their water with a gator choking hazard.

Can you spot the binkie?
Fortunately the worker I found didn't seem concerned, and I decided to melt into the crowds before anyone could ask for my name and address. Miriam gradually calmed down as I reassured her we had an extra pacifier in the car.

Now, many months later, she only is allowed to have her binkie in bed. And while I thought she had forgotten the whole incident, the memory recently awoke and she has suddenly become obsessed with the toy alligators we have. She carries them almost everywhere, and often she will hold one up for observation, either to Mike or me or one of the other kids, and seriously inform us that "Owagaidoh ate my bebe." The one place she won't bring the alligators with her is to bed.

Not taking any chances, apparently.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sea World Pics

So here's the SeaWorld pictures. I didn't include the Shamu show, etc., because they always look so tiny, and I think my kids are more photogenic anyway.

Here we are at the kids' section where there are some rides and a large play area. It was freakin' hot though, or we might have spent more time there. Kids got soaked in the splash area, too, and we cooled off with slushees and water.

My shirt says "Actually, I AM a rocket scientist." Mike spoils me, he really does.

This is the child you could be saving with GEICO.

Feeding Stingrays:

These are from the hotel pool the next morning. It's good to expend energy before cramming kids into the car for several hours.

I have no clue who the stud in the background is. The bald one, that is. The red-headed stud muffin is Nicholas.