Hey fabulous reader-friends, and greetings once again from Gainesville. Check back later tonight for details on my trip to Jacksonville and St. Augustine with Echo!
(…and the rest of this entry was written from Baltimore, but whatever)
Day 1 (Friday): Already covered in the Now I’m in Florida post.
Day 2 (Saturday): We both ended up sleeping in and not hitting the road until close to 1 PM after a bagel stop at Panera and a gas stop in the tiny town of Waldo. There was absolutely nothing between Gainesville and Jacksonville for two hours, but at least we got to catch up on family, jobs, life and stuff. Our first stop was on Fort George Island, just north of Jacksonville. We hit up the Kingsley Plantation Visitor Center, part of Timucuan Ecological and Heritage Preserve, where Echo bought a National Parks Passport and got her first stamps. Kingsley Plantation is really tough to find, but is actually a beautiful little hideaway with great views. We saw the mock-up of slave quarters and the like, and read about what life was like there on the plantation. We also saw a giant tortoise burrow out from the ground! Probably the coolest thing though was the walls, which were made from crushed seashells.and lime. We wanted to get the stamps at the other Jacksonville Visitors Center at Fort Caroline National Memorial, so we sped there and made it in about 15 minutes before they closed. The good thing about Fort Caroline was that even though the VC closed at 5, the grounds themselves were open, so we just moved the car, then walked back and explored the old fort. Fort Caroline is such an enigma; it was built 500 years ago, and no one really knows what it looked like other than a few drawings. It was nice to have a national park all to ourselves for a while, though.
Next, we drove down to Ponte Vedra Beach to check into our hotel. It was a Hampton Inn, and even though the room was lovely, the hotel wasn’t exactly as amazing as described; it felt old, the pool was tiny, there was no hot tub, it was a drive from the beach, and it seemed like either everyone smoked right outside the lobby or the wind just blew it all in. In the end, all we really needed was a comfy and inexpensive crash pad, which served its purpose. We headed up to Jacksonville for dinner, where I got some delicious fish tacos and we shared some tea and cake. Even though it was approaching 9 PM, I cajoled Echo into going out dancing, and so we found a little place called Cuba Libre in the middle of nowhere, and were there until about 11 PM. Cover charge was $10 for me and nothing for her (ladies free until 10 PM) and a decently-sized drink was only 5 dollars. The dance floor was mostly empty, and until 10 or 10:30, we were the youngest people there. Strange for a Saturday night; the tunes were great, nothing pop, rap, or R & B, just Latin music (Marc Anthony, Elvis Crespo), and it wasn’t even that loud. Echo enjoyed her first time doing bachata and salsa even though I am far from a professional. Either way, we got back at midnight and fell straight asleep.
Day 3 (Sunday): Woke up at 9, had breakfast, then went back to the room to nap until noon/check-out time (the life!) We drove through the ritzy part of Jacksonville Beach/Ponte Vedra Beach and through some island preserve, and stopped for gas and an hour’s worth of beach time and fun in the sun. Echo ran around and took pictures while I got some reading done. Then, it was south along the coast to St. Augustine.
St. Augustine, though it’s the oldest town in the United States (European-settled, that is, there are Native American towns out west in Arizona and New Mexico that are older), is a giant tourist trap with one tiny road through it, very much like the French Quarter of New Orleans in the architecture and tackiness. We managed to find decent parking, but to get into Castillo de San Marcos it was $10. Kind of unheard of for a relatively small park. Anyway, we got a free 15 minute bookstore pass, and subsequently found out that we would probably not be able to make it to the other national park in town, Fort Matanzas National Monument, because it closes earlier in the day. Still, we got stamps and postcards, and walked around the fort, which was crammed with tourists. Thanks to my Yelp app, we managed to find a crepe place for a late lunch just outside the tourist zone, which was quiet and clean and reasonably priced. If you’re ever in St. Augustine, hit up Dolce Cafe, it’s on Flagler College’s campus. We then drove out of town and through about 1.5 hours of nothingness back to Gainesville. Echo took me on a quick drive through campus, pointing out several different buildings, the lake, the bat house, and the museums. It had been a late night the previous night, and she had to get up early for work so we just packed it in by midnight or so after stopping at Publix for groceries.
Day 4 (Monday): Slept until noon again, in the comfortable apartment. Spent the majority of the rest of the day walking around Gainesville, picking up 6 geocaches and enjoying the sunshine. I got about 20 papers grading while sitting at the Starbucks at the university library, before we went out for our last dinner together, sushi at Bento Cafe. I’d had a big lunch, but it was surprisingly tasty. I had wanted to go to a karaoke bar, but I guess the walking caught up to me and I was tired, so we just checked out the UF’s new student union and downtown Gainesville before heading back to the apartment at 10. We stayed up talking for like an hour, with wake up time at 7 AM the next day so Echo could get me to the airport before her 9 AM work meeting.
Day 5 (Tuesday): Hot. Mess. Day. I woke up at 7 AM to hear about the Brussels bombings, saying to myself, “gee, what a dandy day to fly.” Fortunately, I got myself up and packed, and Echo dropped me off at the airport at exactly 8:30 so she could be at work on time. Unfortunately for me, this meant 4 hours of sitting at Gainesville Airport alone, tired, and hungry, since their hot water was broken they didn’t have any fresh food, only prepackaged. I slept on and off in several different positions, and even though I spent four hours sitting there, I still had to have my bag taken apart by the one security guard there, even though it was just crossing from one side of a room to the other. The flight before ours came in on time, so they handed out free drink tickets, and on the jetway, had a bucket of cold drinks for free (and even still, served drinks on the plane!) I was worried about this flight, since the flight in from Atlanta had been so rattly, but it was just fine. The 51 minute connection in Atlanta was enough to get me to the gate by the time preboarding was starting, and had I gone to get a snack, I might have missed the plane, so now I was even more miserable. At least this plane was much bigger and wider, and nicer in general. I spent most of the flight to Baltimore asleep, and then it took forever to get home because of rush hour traffic, but once I got home, I was never happier to just lie in my bed and nap. Even though I slept 6 hours at night, in the airport, on 2 planes, and in the car, when I got home, all I wanted to do was sleep, but Mom managed to wake me up at about 8 or 9 PM so that I could have some chance of sleeping through the night. She clearly underestimated my powers of sleeping on the spot.
So that was the trip. Feeling a bit loopy from the last day of travel, but overall, had an amazing time just being with Echo. I miss her already.