“Here’s a map.  It has everything YOU will need to know.  And don’t miss St. George Street.”  The platinum haired, black-spectacled proprietor of the Cozy Inn Motel, handed me the geographical placemat, compliments of Hardees.  There were not more than 10 streets listed.  The map was color-coded: green for parks, blue for water, brown for streets, and red for the Trolley-Tour stations, the latter seeming to be the most popular attraction in St. Augustine, given the throngs of silver-haired tourists filling the many trolley cars.   In spite of threatening clouds and temperatures that had dipped down into the sixties from the high of 74 that our automobile registered at Jacksonville, we took the bikes from the car and headed out to explore what our tour book deemed to be the oldest settlement in North America.  Our first stop—The Fountain of Youth, which could be accessed only by those willing to pay the steep $12.00 entrance fee.  We settled for a photo of Mordi, on his 65th birthday posing for two shots:  one under an enormous horseshoe sign that read, “Welcome to the Fountain of Youth!” and the other shaking hands with an armored replica of Ponce De Leon.   “Aren’t you a little too tall for your era?” said Mordi as he peered at the explorer nose to nose.  “Look,” I said.  “He’s alive and well and narrating that movie inside the tent.”  We turned toward the figure in the flat-screen t.v. monitor, picked up our bikes and pedaled to our next destination.

Old Town is the remaining part of the first settlement that happened some 500 years ago.  Today, visitors can see the remnants of the entrance to the city whose founding name escapes me.   Walking through, however, one enters a world of fast food and cheap souvenirs—-New York Pizza by the Slice, pashminas, incense, and any Chinese import you would care to take home as a souvenir, and an ancient wall turned into toilets.   At the opposite end of Old Town, an imposing Spanish Cathedral stands guard, its coral-colored spire rising above the throngs of tourists, too focused on shopping to notice its stately grandeur.   If it could speak, I wondered, how would it describe the changes it has witnessed.  As I write these words, I am aware of how little I learned about the history of St. Augustine on the two-hours we had to explore this town before twilight would make cycling even more dangerous than it already was on the busy boulevards, where shoulders had not yet appeared to have been invented.

Taking out the map that was stuffed into my windbreaker pocket, I noticed a bridge connecting Old Town.  On the other side, there were a couple of roads and a big green circle—a park, surrounded by blue, and a lighthouse.  “Let’s do it!” I said, and taking our lives into our hands, we dodged the traffic and crossed over the Intercoastal Waterway, only to end up on the four-lane Anastasia Boulevard, teeming with fast cars, and sidewalks lined with a carnival of Florida kitch.  I pedaled fast, hugged the curb, and took in the scenery… less than a mile, there were more than half a dozen stuccoed coral, orange, and even gold motels advertising their $39.00 rooms—one even boasting its special Mon.-Thurs. $6.00 (an hour?)  There was the proverbial mini-golf world, an establishment boasting the Best French Fries on EARTH, and my absolute favorite, The St. Augustine Alligator Park, featuring a larger than life paper-machied alligator sitting in a camoflauged jeep.  And then, in the middle of it all, a huge carrot painted on a building identified as, “Nancy’s Natural Foods.  Vegans and Vegetarians Welcome!“  I laughed out loud, as my husband yelled, “That pick-up truck was an inch from hitting you!”  When Mordi and I finally made it back over the bridge, as the Cathedral bells chimed 5:00, he faced me as we met at a red light and yelled, “This town is horrid!”   “All you need to love this place is a sense of humor,” I said, as the light turned green and I pedaled off down San Marco Boulevard.



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