My Travel Memories 1989 (and again in 1992): St. Augustine, Florida

I think we went to St. Augustine when I was really, really young, too, but don’t remember that trip, so we’ll just ignore it for now.

This first trip is germane to my post because when I was in . . . fifth grade . . . ? My texbook said that St. Augustine was the oldest continually occupied permanent European settlement in what is now the United States and I seemed to remember having been there.

Of course, it is more complicated than that, as it turns out, but that was shocking enough for our little 10-year-old brains. I mean, the Pilgrims! They’d been here longer than anyone!

And, of course, well, no. The Mayflower immigrants have indeed been here a very long time for Europeans, but Jamestown has been there longer than . Also, San Juan, Puerto Rico is older than St. Augustine.

I know there’s an organization for descendants of the Mayflower immigrants. Are there organizations for the descendants of the first settlers of Jamestown and St. Augustine? If there aren’t, there should be.

And, well, yeah. There are. Jamestown descendants have the Jamestowne Society and St. Augustine descendants have, or maybe had, since their website doesn’t look to have been updated since 2014, the Los Floridianos Society.

Hey, look! A picture I took in Saint Augustine! I know I took this picture because those are my parents, so I must have been holding the camera. These are the city gates, which were build of coquina (more on that in the text of the post) were built in 1808 and don’t look this large in other photos.

Welp. I guess some history is in order now. The first recorded visit to Florida by a European was by Juan Ponce de León in 1513. The Spanish had been in the Caribbean for years at that point, so another Spaniard may have made it there before then, but if so, there’s no recorded history of the visit.

When I was growing up, we were told that Ponce de León was looking for the Fountain of Youth, but he probably wasn’t. There’s a whole chain of events there that I really don’t want to go into here. Maybe I’ll dig into it someday and write about it. I am trying to come up with lots of content this month, after all.

Fast forward 52 years. The King of Spain ordered Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, who was based in the Indies, to establish a settlement on the mainland and destroy Fort Caroline, a French settlement near what is now Jacksonville, Florida. They sighted the coast of Florida on August 28, which is the Feast of St. Augustine, hence the name.

There were skirmishes and things and people died. War is not really my historical . . . jam? This mess was, by the way, all about religion. The French settlement was Protestant and to be Spanish at the time was to be Roman Catholic. Eventually, it looks like all of the men of Fort Caroline except a few with useful skills and those who claimed to still be Roman Catholic, were all killed and all that was left were French women and children, and the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine.

There’s nothing left of the original settlement, which was really disappointing to me when I discovered this in 1989. The fort that’s there, the Castillo de San Marcos, is the oldest masonry fort in the United States, but it dates from 1672, over 100 years after St. Augustine was founded.

The Castillo is made from coquina, which is a really cool kind of limestone where you can still see the shells that make up the stone. Unfortunately, I don’t have any closeup pictures of the coquina (I wonder if Thomas and I took any, not that it would matter, since he has those pictures).

The rest of the buildings in St. Augustine date from then or later, but this historic district is a really pretty little area and was actually kind of how I imagined San Antonio would look. Turns out the La Villita section of San Antonio is kind of similar in feel, but San Antonio in general is kind of suburban feeling.

I need to go back to St. Augustine one of these days if only to take some pictures of my own. Alex will inherit both his dad’s and my pictures someday and I’d like for my descendants to have that record of history.

For today’s Gratuitous Amazon Link, we’re continuing the Avatar: the Last Airbender kick with the first of the comic book sequels, The Promise, by Bryan Konietzko, Michael Dante DiMartino , Gene Luen Yang, and Gurihiru. The war is finally over and now the Gaang have to begin the process of picking up the pieces. Zuko is terrified of turning out like his father and strongarms Aang into promising to kill him if he turns evil. Then Zuko heads out to start to get the Fire Nation out of the Earth Kingdom, a project that turns out to be harder than it originally looked.

Japanese Tea Garden, San Antonio, Texas

As I’ve mentioned before, the site that’s now Brackenridge Park used to be the headquarters for the Alamo Cement Company. The limestone was quarried on-site and when the “carpetbagger” George Washington Brackenridge donated land to the city and the widow of the founder of the Pearl Beer company, Emma Koehler, followed suit by donating some adjoining land, the city ended up with a decent number of old quarries to do something with.

Japanese Tea Garden, 2018
An overview of some of the Japanese Tea Garden, looking toward the pavilion/pagoda thing.

The city parks commissioner at the time, Ray Lambert, decided to turn this particular quarry, which was right behind the cement company, into a lily pond. The lily pond project got bigger and bigger until it became a full garden with ponds and the city invited Kimi Eizo Jingu, a Japanese-American artist, to move into one of the buildings with his family, where they ran a restaurant. The Jingu family was disinvited to live there in 1942, while we were at war with Japan (and, indeed. had confined a large number of Japanese-Americans in internment camps).

At this point, they changed the name of the garden to the Chinese Sunken Garden, and moved a Chinese family, the Wus, into the house. The Wus lived in that house for around 20 years.

Eventually the city got over World War II. They changed the name back to the Japanese Tea Garden in 1984.

I moved to San Antonio in 1993 and the garden had fallen into disrepair by then. Thomas and I hiked out there on a whim when we were in Brackenridge Park to visit the zoo. Someone else was with us. It was a long time ago and I cannot remember if it was our friend Frank or my parents. Maybe it was one of Thomas’s parents. Well, my dad says it wasn’t them, so that leaves Frank or Thomas’s folks.

Anyway, when we got out there we were underwhelmed. I don’t even remember if there was water in the ponds, it was so bad.

Then, in 2007, they began a major renovation project. They rededicated the gardens in 2008 and it’s well worth the stop now. There are koi ponds and walking paths, and a really lovely artificial waterfall. There are also signs warning visitors not to release fish into the ponds and Alex and I joked about putting kraken and such into it.

The building that the Jingu family lived in is now a restaurant (and I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never eaten there — the one time I tried, it was January and they had some kind of weird abbreviated winter hours).

The Japanese Tea Garden is not what you’d call handicap-accessible. The paths are narrow and there are steps everywhere. One can sit in the covered pagoda area and see pretty much everything. My understanding is that the Jingu House is handicap-accessible.

Gratuitous Amazon Link time. This actually looks like something I might want to buy. Since the Japanese Tea Garden is so tied up in San Antonio’s history, I looked for San Antonio history books and found San Antonio: Our Story of 150 Years in the Alamo City, by the Staff of the San Antonio Express-News.

Fiesta San Antonio

Fiesta is the biggest party of the year in San Antonio and I’m afraid that I haven’t fiesta-ed nearly as much as I should have as a travel blogger.

I guess we probably should go back to the beginning. Well maybe not all the way to the beginning, because that’s when groups like the Apache, the Comanche, the Caddo, and the Coahuiltecans were the only humans in this area of North America, and that’s beyond the scope of this post (I may share some of that part of the history of the area when I write about the various mission).  In the 17th Century, the government of Spain decided to expand New Spain, which was located in what are now Florida and Mexico, into the mainland of what is now the United States.

In 1810, Mexico (which included most of the southwest of the United States, which included parts of Colorado and Wyoming) began an 11-year process of gaining independence from Spain.

Well, once Mexico had its independence, Texas apparently decided that this was a pretty good idea, and so they fought a roughly six-month war against Mexico from October of 1835 until April of 1836 (you see that April there? we’ll be coming back to it in a minute).

The first major battle was fought in San Antonio on October 28, 1835. This was the Battle of Concepcion, so called because it was fought on the grounds of Mission Concepcion. The Mexican soldiers took comparatively heavy losses and retreated, making this a win for the Texians (yes, that “i” is intentional — it was the demonym for Texas back then).

Things wouldn’t go so smoothly on March 6, 1836. This was the date of the Battle of the Alamo, in which somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 Texians  were killed and Mexico was declared the winner. Most of the bodies of the slain Texians were cremated on pyres near the site of the battle. The exact sites have been lost to history, but I have heard that the place where the San Antonio Fire Museum is currently located may have been one, and others may have been along Commerce Street.

Then, on April 21, 1836, the two armies faced off for the final battle of the war near present-day LaPorte. Ultimately, the battle, known as Battle of San Jacinto for reasons that I can’t quite get confirmation of, took 18 minutes. The Mexicans retreated and the Texians reportedly chased them down, killing as many Mexicans as they could. Nobody ever said that the Texians were good winners.

In the late 19th Century, the city of San Antonio decided to mark the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto with, well, a party. Originally called Fiesta San Jacinto, the centerpiece of Fiesta was the Battle of the Flowers, which was sort of like the Tournament of Roses Parade, if people would rip the flowers off of the floats and throw them at each other. Look, I’ve lived in Texas for 24 years, as of next month, and sometimes I suspect that I’m no closer to being able to explain Texans now than I was back in 1993.

Fiesta San Antonio decorations, 2014
Plastic papel picado decorations on the River Walk, Fiesta 2014

The name was changed to Fiesta San Antonio in 1960 and Fiesta is now ten days long, beginning the Friday before April 21 and ending not that next Sunday, but the Sunday after that, so an entire week and two weekends. The day of Battle of the Flowers Parade is a day off for many, including all teachers, staff, and students of the schools of San Antonio.

In my 24 years here, I’ve never gone whole-hog for Fiesta. I’ve been to Fiesta events at the Botanical Gardens and I think maybe the zoo once. My mother and I went to Fiesta San Fernando, which is music, dancing, and food in Main Plaza one year, I even attended the Battle of the Flowers Parade in 2014 (it was a parade; except for the Fiesta princesses on some of the floats, it didn’t look much different from the Fourth of July parade in my Chicago suburb home town), but not much else.

I began writing this post on April 28, which was Battle of the Flowers Day, but it took several hours to compose and so now it’s Saturday. Later today, if I can get the energy up to do so, I hope to rectify some of my Fiesta non-participation. I hope to make it to Market Square for their Fiesta event and if I can hack the hour walk there and back, I might check out the King William Fair, as well.

But, before I can even consider doing any Fiesta-ing, I’d better get some sleep.

Northern Illinois Destinations: The Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois

This was the original first paragraph that I wrote for this post: I have to admit that I’ve only been to the Shedd Aquarium (the full name of which is “John G. Shedd Aquarium”) a few times.  I recall a childhood field trip to the Aquarium, one trip with my parents when I was pretty young, and a trip sometime in the early 1990s.

At this point, I remembered that I had a trip to Chicago scheduled and that Alex and I could actually visit the aquarium and wouldn’t need the explanation that I hadn’t been there in over 20 years. So we did.

One thing that I’ve noticed about Chicago is that retail was a big deal there in a way that it doesn’t seem to have been in other cities. In Pittsburgh, for example, the Carnegie family was a big deal — the Carnegie Museums, Carnegie Mellon University, etc. In Chicago, one of the leading families was the Field family and you see their name on the Field Museum, for example. Marshall Field & Co. also was instrumental in the founding of the Shedd Aquarium.  you see, John G. Shedd was an executive at Marshall Field & Co.

Shedd Aquarium Dome
Shedd Aquarium Dome, 2016

I wasn’t really thrilled by the aquarium when I was younger. For my first visits, I was too short to really see into the tanks comfortably (I loved the reef in the center of the building, though, since the glass goes all the way down to the floor). I loved the architecture, though. There are carvings of sea life, like scallop shells and sea stars, in the details on the building, and the octagonal dome above the reef is gorgeous. The rest of the building is long sort of galleries with an arched ceiling that gives the building a unique feel.

In 1991, they opened the Abbott Oceanarium and then they made another addition in 2003.  Today the Shedd Aquarium is home to 32,000 animals, including dolphins, beluga whales, and sharks. There is also a tank holding sea lampreys, which are a major pest animal in the Great Lakes.

Most of the museum is accessible to wheelchair users. If you give the museum two weeks’ notice they can also get a sign language interpreter for deaf visitors. Also, as I write this, there are plans to add special features for blind visitors.