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Casablanca Inn: Shining Star of St. Augustine

December 27, 2012 by · Comments Off on Casablanca Inn: Shining Star of St. Augustine 

A Hotel Review

In 2011, National Geographic named St. Augustine, Florida one of the top ten places in the world to see Christmas lights. That’s a high honor indeed for my current hometown. The 144-square-block historic district truly sparkles with excitement from over three million tiny white bulbs (each white, per city ordinance) strewn along the ancient streets and historic buildings.

Nights of LightsPhoto by: http://www.floridashistoriccoast.com

Nights of Lights
Photo by: http://www.floridashistoriccoast.com

 

The “Nights of Lights” traces its origins to the Spanish tradition of displaying a lighted white candle during the Christmas holidays.

Should you happen to arrive in town along the bayfront, and pass the 17th-century fort called Castillo de San Carlos, you will undoubtedly notice the Casablanca Inn. The Bed and Breakfast outshines all the other buildings;  it radiantly glows with warm hospitality, hundreds and hundreds of white lights and tiki torches. The Inn is surrounded by a two-level elegant verandah, which is typically graced with visitors and locals chatting over drinks. You see the Casablanca Inn is also the home of the Tini Martini Bar; a watering hole so popular folks overflow on the porch and patio.

Casablanca Inn, St. Augustine, FL

Casablanca Inn, St. Augustine, FL

When I moved to St. Augustine a year ago, the bar attracted me like a powerful magnet. I stopped in and was greeted by friendly bartenders who mix a mean martini. And…one that is anything but teeny. Choose from the menu that features “Classy Tinis,” specialty Tini’s like “Espress-oh-Tinis” and a big selection of “Fruitinis.” Or just ask the bartender to shake, not stir, one to your specifications. By the way, overnight guests receive a $15 bar credit each day.

A gorgeous martini from the Tini Martini Bar

A gorgeous martini from the Tini Martini Bar

The Tini Martini Bar also serves 32 vintages by the glass, and several fine single malt Scotch choices. Beer aficionados won’t be disappointed either, with 28 distinctive brews to choose from. Live jazz or blues adds to the convivial atmosphere on Thursday through Saturday evenings.

I recently had the opportunity to spend two nights as a guest at the Casablanca. What fun to be a tourist in my own city. I learned the 1914 building is a Mediterranean revival historic home listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I also found the ambiance very romantic, except I was unfortunately staying alone!

My room would seduce any couple with its multi-pillow adorned queen bed, antique furnishings and a Jacuzzi tub. Sleeping in luxury was more than heavenly, I felt like I was starring in the Princess and the Pea fable. Owner Michael Miles explained: “We only want the best for our guests. (So) We have insured a superbly beautiful and comfortable night’s sleep with our Select Comfort Sleep Number Pillow Top Bed. They are topped with an Isotonic pillow-top mattress cover. The next layer is a feather bed cover (hypoallergenic)…then nearly at the top are 400-count cotton sateen sheets & pillow cases (silky and smooth). The pinnacle is designer duvet covers and isotonic pillows.”

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The room sat on the second floor, one of 23 suites and rooms available, and included a balcony overlooking cobblestone Charlotte Street, the road behind the Inn.  How lovely to escape to this hideaway with morning coffee or an afternoon drink and enjoy the city’s charm–even by myself!

Breakfast begins at 8:15 and guests are served much more than a continental style buffet. They sit down in the dining room and order from the menu or choose the gourmet special of the day. I splurged with a fresh fruit cup, banana bread and Eggs Benedict.

Eggs Benedict at the Casablanca

Eggs Benedict at the Casablanca Inn

 

Since St. Augustine is a walking town, once you park your car (the Inn has a lot for guests) you won’t need it again. The Casablanca rests on the main thoroughfare and within a stones throw of many foodie-worthy restaurants. Consider jovial Meehan’s Irish Pub –practically next-door, tapas at the Tasting Room around the corner, or authentic French fare at Bistro de Leon a block away. If you desperately need early morning coffee- try Crucial Coffee on Charlotte Street and later wander into the adjoining courtyard restaurant, The Gourmet Hut, for lunch.

Although Christmas is now over, St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights continue through the end of January. Should that not fit into your calendar, visit later. Come stroll around the fort; visit historic homes and cemeteries, the Lightner Museum, St. Augustine Lighthouse or just walk over the famed Bridge of Lions. From that vantage point you have the ultimate view of the Casablanca Inn shining as a welcoming star in a city.

Casablanca Inn Sign

Casablanca Inn Sign

And don’t just take my word for it. This year Forbes named the nation’s oldest city one of the prettiest towns in America and National Geographic Traveler Magazine declared St. Augustine one of the 20 Must-See Places for 2013. How lucky am I to live there.

 


St. Augustine Beach on Dwellable

New Beginnings on December 21, 2012

December 21, 2012 by · Comments Off on New Beginnings on December 21, 2012 

Today is December 21, 2012. So far, the world has not ended as some predicted. In reality,  the modern Maya didn’t think the world was going to end on this date either. Somehow that idea grew from misconceptions.

Maya Ceremony

Maya Priest performing a Ritual

 

I visited Riviera Maya, Mexico in May 2012,  and was repeatedly told, “We are entering into a new cycle. This is just a new beginning.” The Maya will now celebrate the beginning of the next 5,125-year cycle of the Long Count calendar.

While touring I observed a number of Maya rituals, some fairly basic and others very complex. The ceremonies always appeared to demonstrate the relationship between man and his environment. Landmarks such as mountains, wells and caves (cenotes) are valued by the Maya and they assign specific ancestors to them. Important parts of rituals take place in or near these landmarks, and as I discovered, often prior to entering them.

Ceremony to ward off Underworld demons.

Ceremony to ward off Underworld demons.

The Mayas worship the gods of nature as a part of their daily life. Some of their gods include the God of rain, the God of maize (corn), and of course, the God of sun. The Mayas believe that without the help of these important gods, there would be no crops and everyone would starve.

Maya Performers at Xcaret.

Maya Performers at Xcaret.

But, Maya religion is much more complicated than the simple worship of nature gods. The Maya believe the world has three layers: the Heavens, the Earth, and the Underworld. Their priests conduct ceremonies to keep the demons and bad gods in the Underworld.

I also learned they are hopeful the new era will bring higher consciousness, greater peace, and enhanced understanding among people. Sounds like ideals we should all strive to achieve.

Climbing Coba at Dawn

Climbing Coba at Dawn

I’d like to use this date to reflect on what I learned from the Maya and to think of this as a personal day of new beginnings. A time when I can reset my clock and perceptions.

Personally I’d like to become less judgmental and more loving. I’d like to let go of the past and move forward. I started working on this after my divorce, more specifically when I moved to St. Augustine a year ago. I believe I have made some progress but now, with another move (fortunately just upstairs in the same complex), I can symbolically start again. Perhaps if I combine both this day of new Maya calendar and upcoming New Year’s Day with specific goals, I can double my results. Let’s see where I go  in 2013.

Take the Iron Mountain Road to Mt. Rushmore

December 10, 2012 by · Comments Off on Take the Iron Mountain Road to Mt. Rushmore 

“There they are!” we both shouted simultaneously.

Mt. Rushmore

Faces on Mt. Rushmore

Chills and adrenaline ran through our bodies as we spotted our first glimpse of the presidents heads atop Mt. Rushmore.

The images of four Presidential faces carved in granite are among the most famous in the world. But, the icon stands in the Black Hills of South Dakota, sacred North American Indian lands, which are pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

Badlands National Park, SD

Badlands National Park, SD

My friend Judy and I made a trip to Sioux Falls and decided it was the perfect opportunity to visit the state’s awe-inspiring Badlands and Mt. Rushmore. Teddy Roosevelt described the Badlands saying, “Nothing could be more lonely and nothing more beautiful than the view at nightfall across the prairies to these huge hill masses, when the lengthening shadows had at last merged into one and the faint after-glow of the red sunset filled the west.”

 

Sun begins to set in the Badlands, SD

Sun begins to set in the Badlands, SD

We spent one afternoon and evening among the deep desolate canyons, towering spires and rugged buttes. Sadly, that amount of time is not nearly enough.

 

The next day we drove the Needles Highway in Custer State Park seeing spiky mountain peaks and bison walking down the road. Rangers encouraged us to drive north on the Iron Mountain Road for the best approach to Mt. Rushmore. Little did we know the next 17 miles would turn into one of the most thrilling road trips.

 

 

First glimpse of Mt. Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road

First glimpse of Mt. Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road

Unlike its heavy, rigid sounding name, the Iron Mountain Road snakes around itself with a series of bridges, known as pigtail bridges, and through tunnels barely wide enough for one car. The term pigtail should not be confused with the hairstyle—think of a tightly twisted pig’s tail or a 720 degree spiral. The road’s construction, in the 1930’s,  ranks as a marvel of engineering and has been termed “the by-way that couldn’t be built.”

 

Closer view of Mt. Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road

Closer view of Mt. Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road

Since Judy and I made a point of pulling over at each scenic overlook, we naturally stopped at the first one. Our car was the only vehicle in the lot and the landscape seemed non-descript, like an ordinary field.  But then….way off in the distance we spied a tiny white outcropping on the side of a mountain. It included four heads!  Woo-hoo, our first glance at Mt. Rushmore in person.

 

I leap out of the car as if pushed by an ejection button.  I was truly eyeing a place I thought I’d never see. As we proceeded, the road continued to flirt with seduction,  offering a sneak peek here and there. The views got better and better as we drove along.  At one stop we caught site of George Washington through an opening in the trees.  Further along, we squeezed our car through a one-lane tunnel which acted like a dramatic portal.  Iron Mountain’s  summit offered a stunning but still distant vista of the 60-foot tall carvings.

Tunnel on the Iron Mountain Road

Tunnel on the Iron Mountain Road

Eventually we arrived at the National Memorial and strolled down the Avenue of the Americas lined with each of the 50 state flags. We stared up at the immense work of Gutzon Borglum, his son and 400 other workers. The project took 14 years to complete from 1927-41 and cost less than a million dollars. We ogled and pinched ourselves; when an icon looks like this, nowhere becomes somewhere.

 

Take my word:  Mt. Rushmore is one of those places you should see up close and in person. If possible, arrive via the Iron Mountain Road for an experience that will not disappoint.

 

The Magnificent Mt. Rushmore National Park

The Magnificent Mt. Rushmore National Park


South Dakota on Dwellable

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