St. Augustine: Florida’s Gateway to the Past

Walking through the streets of St. Augustine is like stepping back in time. Old fashioned, architectural wonders harking back to the seventeenth and eighteenth century line the streets, giving visitors a glimpse into the past.

 

I was lucky enough to be able to visit the city during spring break with two friends, making the 3 hour drive from Tampa go by quickly as we talked about the historic sites and adventures that awaited us on the opposite coast of Florida.

 

The three of us compiled a list of places in St. Augustine deemed interesting enough to investigate upon arrival. Aside from the main attractions listed on the city’s website, we jotted down more places recommended by friends and relatives who had been there.

 

A good piece of advice to anyone visiting St. Augustine: Be sure to stay in a hotel, motel or bed & breakfast near St. George Street – the main artery of the city where all the major attractions are.

 

Parking is a real challenge within the confining streets of Downtown St. Augustine, so it is better to park in your hotel’s parking lot and just take a stroll.

 

Being the struggling college students we are, and eager for a new, exciting twist on an old fashioned bed & breakfast, we stayed at The Pirate Haus Inn, a pirate themed establishment on the corner of Charlotte and Treasury Streets that offered private rooms in addition to youth hostel-like quarters.

 

Upon entering the Pirate Haus Inn, and walking up the steps decorated in true pirate fashion, featuring the words to “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life For Me,” we checked in at the front desk where “Captain Conrad” showed us to our rooms, providing us with maps of the area and books of coupons we later used at some of the attractions.

 

Our room was called “The Jungle Room,” and we soon learned why. The walls, bedspread, the sink in the bathroom and even the shower curtain were decked out in jungle attire, featuring wall-sized jungle murals designed and painted by Elaine Juzwick and Pat Hitchcock, local painters from St. Augustine who also designed the other rooms in the Inn: The tropical fish room, pirate room, and the map room among other themes.

 

For about $75 a night, we got our own private room, featuring a queen sized bed and a set of bunk beds big enough for any pirate-at-heart.

 

The best part about staying at the Pirate Haus Inn: Free all you can eat breakfast every morning. The catch: You have to wash your own dishes once you’re done. Not too bad.

 

Our first stop to investigate: Castillo de San Marcos, a national park two blocks away that was once a fort for the British and Spanish throughout different points in history, depending on the century.

 

Open from 8:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., the entrance fee is $6 for adults while children are free. Guests are given the chance to have their picture taken on the drawbridge of the old Fort, before taking a self guided tour through the many rooms set up to let visitors have a peek into the everyday lives of the soldiers who lived and died there.

 

The creepiest part of the tour by far was the prison, where guests are only allowed to peer in through the circular window in the door. You feel as if you’re being watched, and given all the stories about the soldiers who haunt the Castillo, you very well might be.

 

We stepped outside just in time for a musketeer demonstration put on by a group of state park volunteers who were decked out in what looked like Revolutionary War outfits. As the guns pop-popped behind us, we ducked back into the downstairs level to crawl through the short, narrow tunnel and check out what had once been a gunpowder storehouse hidden deep inside the building to prevent accidental explosions.

 

After spending about 2 hours exploring the Castillo, we decided to go for a walk down St. George Street to get a better feel of the city.

 

Passing through the gates of the city, we watched as groups of tourists continued down the alleys, shopping at quaint little chocolate shops and stopping to buy souvenirs.

 

We decided to check out the Colonial Spanish Quarter’s Living History Museum, a place where volunteers helped to recreate what life was like in St. Augustine during the 1740s.

 

Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., college students who show an I.D. can get in for $4.25, while normal prices for adults are $6.95. Children can get in for $4.25.

 

Inside the old fashioned looking walls of the Museum, we were greeted by the town blacksmith, church scribe, carpenter, soldier’s wife and a man fashioning satchels out of leather by hand, which we later learned were sold in the Museum gift shop.

 

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the city, taking in the buildings, shops and breathtaking views of the sunset over Matanzas Bay.

 

The next morning, we got up early and drove down San Marcos Blvd. to see the Mission of Nombre de Dios and the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, the oldest Spanish mission founded on September 8th, 1565 by Pedro Menendez de Aviles. To be brutally honest, we spotted a creepy old cemetery and were too intrigued to pass it up.

 

We then drove over the Bridge of Lions to Anastasia Island, home of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, our next stop on the map.

 

Be sure to clip a coupon for a 10% discount towards entrance fees, which made it about $10 to get in. After climbing up 219 steps, the panoramic view of the city made it all worthwhile.

 

For our last stop, we drove 15 miles along highway A1A South toward Fort Matanzas, the site where nearly 250 French soldiers were slaughtered by the Spanish as they tried to invade the city. 175 years later, the Spanish used the Fort to prevent the British from taking over their lands.

 

Lucky for us, the entrance to the park was free, as was the 5 minute ferry ride across Matanzas Bay to the actual Fort. The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and ferries travel to the Fort every hour on the half hour.

 

St. Augustine is the perfect place to go exploring with your camera, as there are picturesque settings at every turn. Whether you’re a history buff or just like to relax and go for a stroll around town, St. Augustine helps all who visit to get a better understanding of Florida’s past, giving us a better appreciation for where we came from.

On the Road Again: My First Road Trip

 I had never been in a car for more than five hours before hitting the road with some friends for my first road trip this year.

My friend’s aunt owns a cabin in the mountains of northern Georgia, and generously offered to take us up there for the first part of our spring break. After grabbing another friend who was also starting spring break, we decided to make it happen.

On the morning of Thursday, March 12th, we met in Tampa and were picked up by Aunt Pam, who would be taking us on a 577 mile, 9 hour long drive through one and a half states to what we expected would be a weekend of peace and quiet. The cabin had no television or internet connections, so we would be able to escape the electronic confines of the real world for a few days and just relax in the tranquil, natural surroundings.

We left at 9:30 a.m. beating the afternoon traffic by a landslide. In less than two hours we reached a rest stop in Paynes Prairie, FL, where big signs warning visitors to watch out for poisonous snakes were abundant.

We drove past a man, hitchhiking along I-75 and holding up a large brown cardboard sign that said nothing but “Ohio.” I still have to wonder how far he got in that endeavor.

By 11 a.m. we were passing Gainesville, and within 90 minutes we reached the Georgia state line, where a sign saying, “We’re glad Georgia’s on Your Mind” greeted us.

Personally, I knew we had entered the good old south when we stopped at a gas station shortly after crossing the Georgia border. I asked the cashier which town we were in, and she answered me in the biggest southern drawl I’ve ever heard, “You’re in Adel, Ma’aaaaam.”

Throughout the trip, we stopped for food, bathroom and smoking breaks as needed. About every two hours or so we’d take a breather and stretch our legs, helping the ride go by faster.

It’s funny how similar the drive is along I-75 from one state to the next. Both northern Florida and southern Georgia have huge areas of dry land surrounding the highway, featuring big cities in between long stretches of dry, open prairies. Every so often, the land along I-75 in Georgia would showcase trees taller than telephone poles, but for the most part, there wasn’t much to see until we got to Atlanta.

Atlanta, by the way, bears a striking resemblance to Tampa in many ways, showing off tall buildings alongside the highway with billboards as far as the eye can see. The excitement in the car was palpable as we got closer to the cabin, and I even yelled “Hi Anderson Cooper!” out the window as we drove past a building marked “CNN Headquarters.”

About an hour or so later, Aunt Pam turned off I-75 and onto another highway, leading us up into the mountainous northern parts of Georgia. Our ears popped as we drove up and down hills, inching our way closer and closer to the Smoky Mountains.

It was an emotional experience when we first viewed the mountains. These were the first mountains I had seen since I was 13 and our family moved from Hawaii to Florida, so I was instantly filled with the pangs of homesickness accompanied by a feeling of peace. We were almost there.

We arrived in Union County at 6 p.m. and shortly after driving up several smaller, one-lane dirt roads, reached the cabin on what we later found out was called Blood Mountain (right next to Slaughter Mountain, in case you were wondering). We finally made it.

The landscape itself was breathtaking, as the cabin provided us with a view of the mountainside and endless rows of trees sporting their multicolored leaves.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t feel like cooperating with us and it constantly drizzled from Thursday thru Sunday when we drove back toward Tampa, staying close to 45 degrees the entire time.

Determined to have a good time anyway, the three of us put on our warmest clothes and went out on nature hikes while Aunt Pam stayed in the cabin. We made friends with “Cornbread,” the community German Shepard who insisted on leading us up long, winding trails around the neighborhood, and even came across a llama farm deep in the mountains.

We also discovered the people of this sleepy little town have a unique sense of humor.

As we walked around the dirt trails of Blood Mountain, we found ourselves following yellow signs for a house for sale at the top of the hill. After hiking along a winding road for about a half hour, we finally reached the top of the hill and noticed there was a rather large cliff next to the last little yellow sign. To this day, I wonder if the whole town was in on it, as Aunt Pam pointed out another trail of signs she knew of that led to a dead end.

We spent the majority of the time curling up by the fire in the cabin with a pile of books, listening to the sound of the rain hitting the roof, or roasting marshmallows in the fireplace if we felt like it. It was a great relief to be away from the hustle and bustle of school and work for a few days; to be surrounded by nothing but trees, mountains and fresh air is a luxury we just don’t get enough of.

After spending three relaxing days in the wilderness hoping the temperature would drop just enough for it to snow, we were annoyed when it was warmer – and still raining – as we drove away on Sunday morning.

This time we stopped only twice, in a rest stop outside Pinehurst in central Georgia and a gas station near Ashburn in southern Georgia. The three of us took a picture with a huge statue of a cow that was bigger than most of the eighteen-wheeler trucks we passed – it just had to be done – and drove straight to Tampa after that, making it home by 6 p.m.

Road trips can be a great way to re-connect with old friends or give you time to get to know your newer ones. The real adventure isn’t just where you go; it’s how you got there.

Elton John & Billy Joel Come ‘Face 2 Face’ with the St. Pete Times Forum

Having grown up listening to the classic rock and roll music of Elton John and Billy Joel, I was thrilled to learn my mother had bought my sister and me tickets to their concert as a Christmas present last year. The two would be appearing at the St. Pete Times Forum on March 5th as part of their “Face 2 Face” tour, a new twist on your average concert.

 

Rather than having one performer warm up the crowd for the other, both stars took the stage, rising from underneath it to the roar of an excited audience, sitting at pianos that faced each other.

 

The concert, which started at 7:30 p.m. and lasted until almost 11 p.m., offered the audience a rare chance to watch as both performers played each other’s songs, accompanying one other on the piano while harmonizing along with other hits they’d made through the years.

 

Most of the audience was made up of middle aged and older folks although there were some twenty and thirty-somethings scattered throughout the crowd. In the section we sat in, my sister and I were easily the youngest people there. Nevertheless people of all ages came to enjoy the performance.

 

For the first half hour or so, John and Joel alternated song styles, for instance, they’d both sing one of John’s songs, followed by one of Joel’s. It was a rare treat to hear both of them sing “My Life,” an old Joel classic, and to see them harmonize “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” written by John.

 

After about an hour of duets, the lights went out and the audience was plunged into total darkness, aside from the thousands of camera flashes spotted throughout the arena.

 

When the lights came back on, we could see John perched at his piano, ready to rock and roll, wearing a black jacket with bright pink and green flowers and the words “Music Power” stitched onto the back across his shoulder blades.

 

John entertained the audience for about an hour, playing hit after hit, inviting the crowd to sing along to the songs they knew. Between almost every number, John stood up, bowed at the waist and thanked the audience for their applause.

 

After each song, people in the rows around me tried to guess which song he’d sing next, and no matter which song followed, they grew more and more excited, singing along with every last word.

 

Soon it was Joel’s turn to take the stage, and the lights were dimmed once again as John took his bow, collected a bouquet of roses from someone in the audience and left the stage. The section behind me started chanting “Billy! Billy! Billy!” as the crowd prepared itself for Joel’s energetic show.

 

Joel, although about the same age as John, filled the room with so much excitement and enthusiasm it was like he was a twenty-year-old again performing for the first time. He talked to the audience like we were all friends, and introduced every member of his band in between songs, making sure everyone in the building was having the time of their lives.

 

“I have the greatest job in the world,” Joel told the audience, saying how lucky he was to have not only a job in these tough economic times, but a job that he’s always loved to do.

 

As Joel sings in one of his songs, “I am the entertainer.” That was one of the main differences that I noticed between John and Joel as the night went on: John seemed more serious about his music, thanking the audience over and over and playing his heart out.

 

Joel, on the other hand, kept audience members tapping their feet, singing at the top of their lungs and dancing in their chairs. Barely able to contain his excitement, Joel even jumped to his feet to dance at his piano for some songs. He involved the audience in his songs, even making his piano rotate so no one in the crowd would have his back to them.

 

After about an hour, Joel exited the stage, taking a bow and thanking the audience repeatedly. The stage once again went dark as audience members yelled for more.

 

For the last half hour of the show, John and Joel took the stage once again in their face to face pianos, taking turns singing each other’s music and providing piano and harmony for their best hits. John re-emerged, this time wearing a black jacket with bright orange, pink and green palm trees and “Island Girl,” one of his songs, written across his back in big bold letters.

 

At one point, John asked if there were any birthdays in the crowd, and he and Joel treated the audience to “Birthday,” a song by The Beatles, following it up with “Back in the U.S.S. R.,” another Beatles hit. They then finished off the show by singing John’s classic, “Norma Jean,” and Joel’s debut hit, “Piano Man.”

 

By the end of the show, Joel seemed exhausted, losing his breath for parts of “Piano Man,” missing cues and going blank on a line of “Benny and the Jets,” all of which John smoothly covered up, leaving only the true blue fans in the room with a hint that something had gone awry.

 

Both John and Joel had trouble reaching some of the notes they once were able to hit, and encouraged the audience to sing the tough spots for them. In John’s “Crocodile Rock,” he had the audience fill in the “la la la la la’s” and when we knew Joel was tired from playing the harmonica and singing, we gladly chimed in with the chorus to “Piano Man.”

 

All in all, it was a great night and the energy in the room was palpable as audience members kept humming and singing the songs we’d just heard as we walked down the steps and out of the Forum. This concert was terrific and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys classic rock and roll or anyone who just wants to have a great time.

Activity and Service Fees to Increase Next Year

By: Kaeli Conforti

A new Bill passed by Student Government will raise student activity and service fees by 64 cents per credit hour by this time next year.

“Since the University is growing in both enrollments and services, supporting the students and programs financially has grown difficult,” said, Regional Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Kent Kelso, who presented the Bill at the Student Government meeting on September 3rd.

“The increase for next year will generate $50,000 to address core services and student organizations,” he said.

Bill 08-010, which passed unanimously, allows for the excess money to be collected and divided among the many student organizations, offices and services on the USF St. Petersburg campus.

“It was a pretty easy decision,” said senior Sherilynne Schulze, a Student Government Senator from the College of Business, who sponsored the Bill. “With Residence Hall One full, we expect a lot more participation in student life and other organizations on campus,” she said.

According to Kelso, there was an increase in activity and service fees last year of 61 cents per credit hour, an amount which brought in close to $50,000 toward campus activities. Before that, the fee had not been raised in over five years.

“[It] increases the financial resources that support student life and student programs, and activities are crucial for building a vibrant and satisfying campus life for students,” said Kelso. “These funds provide activities and services that are some of the strongest retention factors on college campuses,” he said.

Kelso told members of Student Government that once the Bill is passed, the next step will be its presentation for approval by the Campus Board during a meeting on September 12th before finally being presented to the Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees during their meeting in December.

Schulze, who has been a senator since last year, understands the need for an increase.

“We’re trying to save money, but you can’t cut back on every corner,” Schulze said.