Another sip from The Fountain of Youth

Today's drive should have taken us from New Orleans to somewhere in Alabama, but it turned out differently.

Sweet Home Alabama

I've driven through this state three times in the past, and currently the only evidence I had, was a picture from a rest area on I-10. This time though, it would be different. We had planned to stay overnight in Alabama, and I would take pictures - lots of them. However, don't plan to much ahead, as it never comes true anyway. The overnight stay was canceled and my photo portfolio was increased by only three or four pictures. On the other hand, we spent two hours driving around in the southeastern part of the state, which was actually rather boring.

Empty beach in MississippiAt home we had planned to stay in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, because we assumed that we would get there after a swamp tour in Louisiana. Since we extended our stay in the New Orleans area by one day, staying ovcer in Bayou La Batre would not be ideal, as we would get there far too early. Instead we decided to drive as far as we felt for, using the U.S. 90 through southern Mississippi. We left the hotel fairly early, around 8.30 and drove to I-10, which we followed to the east of Twin Span Bridge, which crosses the eastern part of Lake Pontchartrain. From here to the Mississippi border is only a short distance, and immediately after the border we left the interstate to return to U.S. 90, which runs along the Gulf of Mexico. This road is longer and slower than the interstate, but on the other hand, there is much more to look at, like for example, the 100 yards wide, sandy beach where you had to look far for beach visitors, even though the sun was shining and it was around 90 degrees. We stopped in one place, so Tim could get his feet wet in the Gulf, but otherwise continued along the coast and enjoyed the sight of the many casinos around the major cities, and the many Waffle Houses that were placed at regular intervals along the way. Sometime before the Alabama border we left  US 90 and returned to I-10, so we could avoid going through Mobile. After Mobile, we left I-10 again and instead followed U.S. 98 south.

The purpose of this detour was to get pictures from Alabama. I managed to take three photos in the town of Foley, including one of a UPS truck! The road, however, was rather boring, and the landscapes looked like many others we had seen along the way, so after two hours drive on small and even smaller roads in Alabama, we returned to I-10, and just headed east. We got back to the interstate in Pensacola after crossing the border into Florida, and for the rest of the day we stayed on the interstate. The goal was initially to stay for the night in Tallahassee. Along the way we stopped only to refuel, eat our own food and switch driver. When we reached Tallahassee it wasn't that late, and we still had plenty of energy, so we decided to continue another 100 miles to Lake City, and stay there for the night. Along the way between Pensacola and Tallahassee, we lost an hour as we entered the Eastern Standard Time Zone, and it was therefore 7.25 when we reached Lake City. After getting a room in a hotel, we had dinner before carrying our baggage to the room.

Reaching the Atlantic

Our long drive the day before, meant that we only had about 100 miles left to Saint Augustine, today's goal. We decided to settle there for a one night, not the preplanned two, and then use the extra day for a visit in eastern Tennessee, a state that otherwise was not included in our program. Instead of taking I-10 to Jacksonville and then  head south to Saint Augustine, we chose to drive south on I-75 to Gainesville, and then go east to Saint Augustine.

Heading east on I-10.At Gainesville we left the highway and drove through the town, which turned out to be a relatively large city and home of the University of Florida. On the way through town we passed several of the university's buildings. Some celebrities related to this university,are Faye Dunaway, who had her theatrical education here and musician Stephen Stills from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, who joined the university for a short period. One of my favorite authors, Michael Connelly studied construction at the university, but fortunately his grades were not good, so he switched to journalism and went on to become an excellent crime writer.

Elections were due in the United States, and therefore there were many candidates who offered their services for various offices along the way in different states, and in Florida as wel. Tim wanted to get a picture of such a cluster of elect-me signs, but we didn't meet any at this time. Instead he had to make do with a picture of a single sign, which advertised a candidate for the office of tax collector! Some people volunteer for the most peculiar jobs.

From Gainesville, we drove east along the small Florida Route 20 and later 207 and the even smaller 206, which meets with U.S. Route 1 just south of Saint Augustine. Instead of driving north along U.S. 1 we continued east to Matanzas River, at which Saint Augustine is located. The river is not actually a river, but an estuary - but like many other estuaries it's called a river, none the less. The waters separates Anastasia Island from the mainland and we crossed the river to the island . The island has many beaches and large homes and summer cottages, so it was an interesting drive north to Saint Augustine. We made one stop on the island to get a cup of coffee, and when we got to Saint Augustine, we crossed back to the mainland over the Bridge of Lions, a bridge from 1927. Two so-called "Medici lions" made of marble guard the bridge at the Saint Augustine terminus, hence the name.

A rejuvenating drink of water and evening walk

When we got to the mainland, we continued through town back to U.S. 1, did some shopping and got ourselves a hotel room. As soon as we had carried the luggage to the room, we were off again. After almost 3 weeks away from home, it was time that we got refreshed, and how do you do it better than with a sip from The Fountain of Youth? Coincidentally The Fountain of Youth is located right in Saint Augustine - how convenient!

Fountain of Youth.The spring is located in the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, which lay just north of our hotel. The park is private, and we had to pay $ 12 each to enter. After entering the park we went directly to the spring and got a sip of the rejuvenating water. Ten years younger and quite refreshed, we continued to the planetarium, where we watched a short movie about how the Spaniards navigated to Florida, the same movie that I had watchedin 2002. When it was finished after nine minutes, we just had time to get to another building, and watch another short movie. This one was thrstory of how the Europeans spread across the American continent. When it was done, we walked around the park, and looked at among other things an exhibition about the Timucua Indians, the people who lived in the area when Juan Ponce de Leon, as the first European arrived in Florida. Also the location of this first landing is claimned to be within the park's boundaries - although recent research suggests that de Leon landed much farther south. The kind of detail doesn't matter to a tourist attraction.

We saw a gun being fired like in Spanish times, and enjoyed the nature, which are not tampered with, went out on a pier in the marshes from which we could overlook the city and - and this time it's true - the place where the first Spanish mission station in the present day's USA was established. Eventually we went back to the entrance, where we once again visited the spring, and enjoyed the water (which smells a bit like rotten eggs, but do not taste quite as bad). Then we visited the souvenir shop where we both bought spring water to take back to those back home who we thought needed a rejuvenation. After the visit to the souvenir shop, I enjoyed one last sip of the spring, the third in addition to the two, I drank in 2002, so if each sip takes away 10 years of your life, I will soon celebrate my ten years birthday.

From the park, we crossed the main street, to a trolley terminus from where we could get a tour around town, so we did. The trip was hop-on hop-off, but we stayed on board for the whole trip, which gave us a quick impression of the city or in my case a reunion. On this trip we heard about the city's history, from its founding in 1565 by Admiral Pedro MenÚndez de AvilÚs, to modern times. The main emphasis, however, was on the period known as The Flagler Era, named after Henry Flagler, co-founder of Standard Oil, who was a dominant figure in the city from about 1880 to his death in 1913. Flagler built hotels, build a railway, donated a hospital to the city and cheated his competitors, if possible.  Flagler was also the man behind the construction of several churches in the city, and many things are named after him, including Flagler College, located in the buildings that once housed his fashionable Ponce de Leon Hotel. During the trip we were of course told interesting anecdotes about what we passed and the people who had inhabited city in the past. Among these stories was the story of millionaire William Warden, who in 1887 built a "winter home" on what was then the outskirts of the city for himself, his wife and their 16 children. Here they could spend the winters, when it got too cold in New York. The house had 19 rooms, but only one bathroom, and 15 of the sixteen children were girls! So 16 women and one bathroom! The guide found it amazing that none of the women had murdered him, but he survived - Believe it or not! And that is exactly what the house is used for today, a Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, actually the very first of its kind, opened in 1950, a year after Robert Ripley's death.

After eating dinner I could took an evening stroll in the old part of town, while Tim returned to the hotel to relax. I walked past the old Spanish fort Castillo de San Marcos, which unfortunately was closed for the day, through the remains of the city gate to St. George Street, the city's old main street, now a pedestrian zone, looked at the cathedral, the old wooden school house, and the nightlife before I returned to our hotel.

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