Tuesday, March 10, 2020

More St Augustine shennanigans

Tuesday began with a much-anticipated (on my part) tour of the Whetstone Chocolate Factory. We had been promised many samples and instruction. Best of all, when we arrived there was a free parking right next to the store and factory, which is a rare thing in downtown St A.

I wasn't too fond of the hairnets, but whatever price is to be paid, I will pay it for good chocolate.

Our guide was Joe and his persona (which I am sure he adopts for the tours because no one can be that funny all of the time) was the embodiment of Don Knotts. He spoke slowly and over-enunciated his words and dropped one-liners on his unsuspecting audience almost every time he opened his mouth. We were in constant giggles and it was a delightful way to spend the morning. 
Plus, chocolate. 
Whetstone has been operating as a chocolate factory for 50 years and in the past they have produced specialty chocolate for Hershey, Nestle's, and M&M Mars, as well as their own brand. Nowadays, they exclusively produce their own handmade chocolates of a superior quality. 
Here's Joe, explaining the process for drenching pretzels in chocolate. I was impressed, it's so much more efficient than my own hand-dipping method. 

On the left, the worker lays out the pretzels on the conveyor belt. They are drenched in chocolate, then blasted with air to get rid of excess chocolate and make sure that the coating is even, and then they go slowly through the cooling tunnel until the chocolate is set. 

Then there is the small-batch fudge.
The birthday cake flavour with sprinkles did not appeal to me.
The key lime flavour did!

The big copper kettle that stirs the fudge.

Now Joe is going to show us how the famous chocolate shells are wrapped in foil.

He places the shells quickly and carefully on a rotating plate....

...and they come out the other end, magically wrapped in foil.

After sampling all of that very rich chocolate even I wasn't in the mood to buy any, so we decided to come back later and we set off for the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. There is some story about old Juan Ponce de Leon thinking that was what he found in St A and apparently the name stuck.
Here he is, lucky enough to be standing next to me.

There are many peacocks near the entrance to what is a very beautiful space. 

There are even a few white ones, which are just genetic mutations of the regular old peacock.

You can buy peanuts to feed the peacocks for only a quarter, so you know we did!
This sign is a bit of a killjoy and honestly, it's pretty impossible to NOT feed the pigeons and squirrels because they are very voracious.

The pigeons fly to the top of the food dispensers as soon as they see you approaching them and attack the little chute as the peanuts fall out.
The squirrels are milder in temperament, but who can resist a cute li'l squirrel?

There were ancient weapon demos going on towards the beach so we left the wildlife to their own devices, having gotten a ton of satisfaction out of a dollar's worth of peanuts.
It is a seriously attractive area. 

And sometimes there are bigger things than squirrels in the trees.

Jeff really liked the demos.
I was just glad to be sitting down.

We found a nice shady bench and ate our lunch, which included some large grapes that our airbnb host had included in our gigantic breakfast that he made for us that morning. 
We wondered aloud if the peacocks might appreciate a grape.
They did.
But our little squirrel friend was absolutely ecstatic. He grabbed the grape and then scampered up the tree, did a 180 and sat there nibbling away. 

There was still lots of daylight left so we drove to Anastasia Park and went along the boardwalk to the beach.

Holy moly, what a beach! I was wishing I had bought my swimsuit.

But I hadn't so we sat on the sand (much to Jeff's displeasure) and admired the view.
It was seriously gorgeous.

The next few photos are from Jeff's camera. 

There was a turtle in his hole a few yards away from the boardwalk.

Can you see it in this photo?

The last thing of the day, other than collapsing, was a walk on the ancient dunes trail.

I learned that these palm-type leaves are saw palmetto and the trees that host the Spanish moss are live oaks, which made me feel very knowledgeable.

We saw an osprey sitting on a branch and then noticed he was holding a fish. Or, part of a fish. We stood and watch him for a while and he seemed oblivious of us enough to start nibbling on the fish. 

It was an easy and not too strenuous walk. I've been fighting plantar fasciitis for a couple of years and it's flared up again so I'm not quite as adventurous as usual. 
On the way back to our rental we stopped at the chocolate store. Jeff got two scoops of gelato and I got the frozen hot chocolate, which was just what I needed. 

Jeff had some and got brain freeze. 
I told him to take smaller gulps.

This was our last full day in St Augustine. The next day we drove to Orlando.

Walking, walking, walking.....

On Monday morning I had booked a walking history tour in St Augustine through airbnb. St Augustine is the oldest city in the USA and is full of Spanish, French, and American history. Its history is full of intrepid people such as Juan Ponce de Leon and Henry Flagler. You should come here and visit and take a walking history tour as well so that I don't have to tell you all about it.
The architecture is classic.

We met our guide downtown at the Plaza de Constitucion. In the middle of the park is a memorial to men of the area who fought in wars. We really like the fact that it honours not only those who fought for the Confederacy but also black soldiers who fought for the Union and liberated many fellow slaves.

This downtown area played a critical part in the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr was arrested right here on these steps when he tried to enter a swanky hotel. The hotel has since been demolished and replaced but the historical step remains. A few days after this the Civil Rights Act was signed into law.

The largest mass arrest of rabbis in US history! 
Thank goodness for that. 

I am easily distracted by trees. This tree is special. It is The Love Tree.

Do you see the cabbage palm rising up from the trunk of the live oak?
And these two silly kids smooching under the tree?

The palm is growing right out of the oak tree, by some freak of nature. 
Weird huh? 
Historical tour guides get a big kick out of it. 

Strange things happen in southern towns.

This is the original Catholic cemetery.

We should have done the tour of Flagler College. It is in what used to be one of the Flagler hotels, which is understatedly massive. Old Henry was a man of immense vision. You would have to see the size of the hotels to believe them. Henry made his fortune in oil (think, Standard Oil) and is known as the father of Miami and Palm Beach. Jeff and I are often impressed with the influence one person can have on history. Henry wanted a hotel to stay at in St Augustine, which he discovered when his first wife was ill, so he built not one but several over the years. He needed an easy way to get to his hotel so he built a railway. Our guide told us that he needed the land that a church was on so he built a new church for that congregation that was much nicer than the one they had.
This photo is a teeny tiny corner of the Flagler Hotel.

We were ready for lunch after the tour and I had a plan in place. A couple of friends had recommended The Columbian, so we gave it a try and we loved it. The setting was elegant and relaxing all at the same time. The food was delicious. I had fried yuca, even though it wasn't on the menu. Our waiter was delightful and asked the cooks to fry it for me rather than boil it. And flan for dessert. 

In the afternoon we drove slightly north to St Augustine Wild Reserve. You can click on the link to read all about it. I had gotten tickets on Groupon and by the time we finished the tour and saw what great work they are doing with the animals I felt so guilty that I gave them a donation as well.
We weren't allowed to take photos in the reserve, sadly. There was a liger with gigantism, which was a sight to see. Lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, other wild cats, a big black bear, wolves, coyotes, and all are rescued in various ways. Our guide told us so many stories about the individual animals, their funny likes and dislikes about food or caregivers, it was right up our alley and a perfect way to spend the afternoon. As we neared the end of the tour and we were across the pond from the wolves enclosure our guide told us that we could call to them and they would answer. So she howled, and we howled, and the wolves and coyotes howled, and it was a wonderful cacophony of sound. I felt a bit like Jane to Jeff's Tarzan.
No animal photos, but here's Jeff with the lovely red Charger that we were renting, which is almost as good!