Sunday, March 3, 2013

Somewhere New: Florida Coast to Coast

Sometimes (like all winter)I just want to escape to the warmth and easy living of the beach. Any beach will do really but I have a special place in my heart for Crescent Beach where my granparents live. In January Rachel and I decided to hop a big ole jet plane down to the beach to swim with manatees, pretend to be college students in St. Augustine, and generally just enjoy the sunshine our homes were not providing for us. 

snorkeling lines

Our first full day found us in Crystal River on the gulf side of Florida. Crystal River is a little blip of a Florida town but it has it's fair share of tourists because it's the only place in the US where you can legally swim with and possibly touch a manatee. Manatees being my spirit animal (I decided this in the maturity of my 13th year I believe) I couldn't pass us an offer from my grandparents to take me to see them. 

Despite coming down with a stomach virus that left me hurling through the previous night and Rachel awkwardly trying to sleep through it, we woke up bright and early to get out into the springs. The springs are 72 degrees year round which is perfect temperature for the manatees who actually don't have much insulation against cold water, their girth being due to their bones rather than blubber - big boned mermaids one could say. 

On this particular day that we went it was actually a bit warmer outside so there were less manatees in the springs than on previous colder days but we DID see some and I even got to touch one! We got to see the manatees logging - which is when they are sleeping on the bottom and then (still asleep) they drift up to the surface to take a breath and then float back down to sleep more. 

photo credit to Glenn - our boat captain

After moving around to several different springs we came upon a mother and her nursing calf. Rachel and I floated up to them and watched them nurse for several minutes until one of our fellow snorkelers broke the rules and put her feet down, stirring up the bottom and cloaking the manatees in mud. Patiently we floated and waited for the mud to settle. We kept loosing track of them and kept wondering if they had skirted off without us knowing but all of the sudden our eyes would come into focus, some mud would shift and we would realize that we were in fact floating right over them! This is actually illegal so we would panic, scream into our snorkels and perform awkward backward frog strokes trying to quickly but calmly move to their sides.
As as I was floating next to the mother, after performing said awkward stroke, her tiny black eye rolled up to meet mine as she started to surface. I took this as a sign from my spirit animal and stretched my hand out to gently touch her side. While I'm told manatee skin feels a lot like elephant skin, her's was covered in algae and so if felt more like a slimy smooth rock than an animal. 
Then the adventure was over, and I went back to feeling sick and tired and we drove to the east coast of Florida.

St. Augustine has always been about trike riding, wide open beaches and sandwiches for me. Coming to St. Augustine with a friend my age and getting a chance to walk around and explore downtown alone kinda made it into a whole new place. 

My grandmother took us to the Wednesday farmers market at the St. Johns County Ocean Pier. Every Wednesday from 7:30 to 12:30 you can get your fix of produce, fresh bread, scarves, antique linens and jewelry, pottery, gourmet olives and even vegan muffins from Hugo!

treasures at the farmer's market

St. Augustine is the oldest city in America and really I think one of the most beautiful. It's got tiny streets bordered by coquina walls and is home to Flagler College which is just stunning. 

oldest schoolhouse in the US

foyer of Flagler College

But this is all old news to this ole gal! I've done my time in St. Augustine and played the tourist! So Rachel and I decided to poke around a bit more and find out where the locals hang. 

We found some cool places like The Closet a cute vintage boutique on Cordova Street that sells affordable upcycled pieces. It reminded me a lot of Local Honey in Nashville. We asked the girl working there where to locals go for coffee and she directed us to The Kookaburra.

beachy decoration at The Kookaburra

From the outside the Kookaburra doesn't look like much. Hole in the wall coffee spot with some modern looking metal chairs and some incongruous decor. A map of Alaska? What's the have to do with Australia? Turns out the owners, who were there fixing our afternoon cupa's aren't from St. Augustine...or Australia. One of the owners was born in Alaska and the couple most recently had moved from Atlanta - from their high stress jobs - to live in St. Augustine, get some sun and sell coffee to the locals. We stayed for a bit and chatted and they shared with us their excitement at having their business be successful enough in its short year that the locals were already recommending it, but also the frustrations of small town life. In tropical areas there is the saying "one day late is three days early" and the city folks at The Kookaburra have had a hard time adjusting to the slow pace of life. But come on... living on the beach can't be that hard of an adjustment! 

We also hit up the local raw restaurant - full post on this to come.

Ate some fries with novelty infused salts.

And just enjoyed the beautiful surroundings and sunlight. If the quaint, old architecture doesn't provide enough antiquity for you head over to San Marco Avenue and check out the little cluster of antique stores down there. I got a vintage clock and some tea cups for a great price while poking around there this trip!

Grandma as a little girl

Our trip was short but I'm always happy to be with my family and friends in the sun. I'll leave you with a few pictures of some of my favorite things in my grandparent's house. Old hand-colored Wallace Nutting photographs and a portrait of my Grandma when she was a little girl. 

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