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The Fountain of Youth Calls: St. Augustine, Florida

April 28, 2011 by · Comments Off on The Fountain of Youth Calls: St. Augustine, Florida 

Spanish Landing in St. Augustine

Dangle a visit to the Fountain of Youth in front of any woman my age and they’ll dance visions of laser treatments, Botox or wrinkle fillers in their heads. As luck would have it, the true Fountain of Youth, discovered by Ponce de Leon, exists in nearby St. Augustine, Florida. Why I’ve never visited defies explanation as my crow’s feet, furrowed brows and sagging chin beg for help.

 

I arrived one Saturday morning and found the parking lot bustling with cars, buses and tourists exiting a sightseeing trolley. The 15-acre site rests adjacent the Mantaza’s Inlet–just a stone’s throw from downtown and the city’s crowning glory, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument or simply ‘the fort’.

 

Native Timucuan diorama

I meandered into the Spring House, a throwback to circa-1957 roadside attractions of early tourism, featuring life-size dioramas. These, I might add, haven’t benefited from a dusting in over 20 years.  But, in an innocent way, the Old Florida icons are charming. I felt I was stepping back to a childhood museum visit, so heck; I was already I feeling younger.

 

I was also enthralled by a little 5-year-old boy who endlessly barraged his parents with questions. “What are those guys doing? What kind of pants are they wearing,” he asked. His Mom attempted to explain, reading from the sign telling of the 1565 Spanish landing. “But why,” he countered, that nightmarish question delivered over and over from a curious mind.

 

I stayed back and eavesdropped, and then we all proceeded toward the building’s piece d’resistance–a hole in the floor–revealing a stone shaft with a laconic spring bubbling  at about as much intensity as a pneumonia patient. Visitors are invited to partake the wondrous water from paper cups placed on a counter. Forget sipping, I gulped two glasses in hopes of some youthful benefit.

The Fountain of Youth

 

While Ponce de Leon thought he had discovered the source of longevity or everlasting life; I was seeking to erase a few signs of aging. If this is the Fountain of Youth, who knows what might be emulsified in the ionic liquid.

 

However, feeling far from a frog turning into a princess, I wandered on to investigate the rest of the archeological site. While the attraction doesn’t rank as a world-class museum, the grounds prove interesting enough and educational.  A makeshift Timucuan village had been constructed in one corner, a two-story 3-D globe presentation explains the Spanish explorations and a statue of Ponce de Leon proudly stands near the river’s edge.

 

Firing the canon

Two costumed re-enactors demonstrate the firing of an old canon every hour. Kids love this, but it was here I found a treasure–Carlos, a strappingly handsome Spaniard whose looks stole my heart.

Carlos

Things I Didn’t Know About the Alamo

March 24, 2011 by · Comments Off on Things I Didn’t Know About the Alamo 

The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas

As best I can recall, my early U.S. history lessons focused on Jamestown, the Revolutionary War and our Founding Fathers; perhaps due to my growing up in Arlington, Virginia. As the end of school year approached, the teacher hurriedly moved on to Lewis and Clark, the Civil War, and the California gold rush. I can’t remember ever studying the Spanish-American War, causes of WWI or a mention of Japanese sent to internment camps during WWII.

My eyes were opened last fall when I visited New Mexico for the first time. There, I became acquainted with the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, a Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass, and the Texas Camel Corps.

Recently, I made a trip to San Antonio, Texas, and sad to say, I didn’t remember much about the Alamo.  Sure, I’d heard of bloodshed and bravery, Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William Travis. But, I didn’t understand the background of the battle.  Fortunately, I had an excellent tour guide who provided me with details concerning the events and left me with a desire to learn more.

 

So, here’s what I’ve since discovered:

Battle of The Alamo

 

The original Mission San Antonio de Valero (now the Alamo) was constructed in 1718, and for 70 years served as a home to missionaries and Native Americans who converted to the faith.

In 1793, Spanish officials took over San Antonio’s five missions and distributed their lands. In the early 1800’s the site became a Spanish military station and in 1814 the Mexican’s took over.

In December 1835, during the Texas Revolution, a Mexican contingent was forced to surrender to Texans and Tejano volunteers (Texans of Spanish descent) fighting in San Antonio. The Texas group then used the Alamo as their base.

In January 1836, Sam Houston requested permission to “blow up the Alamo” as he didn’t think that group had enough men to defend it. He wanted the supplies and canyons moved  to Gonzales for his use, but Texas Governor Henry Smith denied the request.

A group of only 200 defended the Alamo for 13 days against General Santa Anna and his 5,000 strong Mexican army.  On March 6, 1836, the final battle erupted before daybreak when the Mexicans scaled the walls, rushed into the compound and seized the property.

Visitors to the Alamo!

Twenty six women and children survived including the widow of Gregorio Esparza and his four children. While Gregorio fought for freedom inside the Alamo, his brother Enrique had joined the Mexican army.  Enrique survived and claimed his brothers’ body for burial, the only Christian burial Santa Anna permitted. All the other defenders were cremated.  The manager of La Cantera Resort, where I stayed, showed me the Esparza Library in the hotel, honoring the family.

In 1884, the Alamo was sold to a grocery firm who wanted, in turn, to sell it to a hotel developer. Many people were opposed, especially Clara Driscoll who gave thousands of dollars to prevent the hotel construction. Driscoll eventually worked out a plan to purchase the property for the state.

In 1905, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) became custodians of the Alamo and remain so today. However, they are being investigated by the state of Texas for neglecting to properly maintain and preserve the site.

The Alamo receives no taxpayer funding and offers free admission to an estimated 2.5 million visitors each year. This year they are celebrating the Alamo’s 175th anniversary.

And, UK’s music legend, Phil Collins, has the largest private collection of Alamo memorabilia in the world.

 

So, there you have it, lessons learned from travel: I better understand the sacred piece of Texas history and promise to Remember the Alamo.

 

Debi at The Alamo- No photos allowed inside, so everyone takes a shot of the exterior.

The Alamo Gardens

France ~ Luminous Lyon

December 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

For four nights every December, the gastronomical capital of France is transformed into a breathtaking landscape of light and sound.


Lyon's Festival of Lights

Lyon may not be Paris, the City of Light, but it is definitely a city of illumination. Every night of the year, 325 historical and cultural sites and monuments glow in radiant splendor. And come December, the city beams forth with imaginative extravagance during the four-day Fête des Lumières. This year’s festivities start today and run through 12 December and are expected to attract 4 million visitors.  Videos of previous years’  extravaganzas (see YouTube video below) reveal why: The illuminated cityscape and scenes that surround you are in turn whimsical, fantastical, awe-inspiring, thought-provoking, sometimes a little odd and always beautiful. Walt Disney meets Salvador Dalí… and very little is what it seems.

The Festival of Lights dates to 1643 when the city was spared from the Plague. Believing the Virgin Mary was responsible, the residents wished to honor her by constructing a new bell tower topped with her statue. As with many municipal projects, plans were delayed–this one, for almost 200 years.

Finally, on 8 December 1852, the statue was ready for dedication. A gala was to include fireworks and flares, until a major storm arrived and church elders canceled the celebration. Come nightfall, the skies cleared, and grateful citizens spontaneously set out candles in their windows… and thus the festivities began.

The people of Lyon still maintain the candlelight tradition, while the new extraordinary lighting techniques have raised the event to a world-class phenomenon.

The combination of audio, video, and lighting effects transforms buildings, tourist sites, and historical monuments into a truly surreal environment. More than 60 “lighting scenes” created by lasers crisscrossing courtyards, snow-falling lights, and soundtracks pulsating in time to the city’s church bells convert ordinary street corners into interactive works of art.

Lyon’s Festival also draws artists, city officials, and lighting experts who collaborate during a congruent conference on urban lighting architecture. More than 20 years ago, Lyon’s city planners launched a Light Plan to illuminate artistically and aesthetically more than 200 buildings and public places, including l’Hôtel de Ville (the town hall), Hôtel Dieu (the hospital), universities, bridges, and parks. The project reinvented the city’s image, making it a leader in civic light installations and a year-round tourist attraction.

Surreal lighting in Lyon

The Tourism Bureau notes that the festival uses LED technology to enable low energy consumption. The electric bill for all the 2009 installations in the city center was less than €3,300–or about $4,400 at the current exchange rate.

As delighted (pun intended) as I would have been to behold this holiday celebration in person this year, I write this from my home in Florida. Still, I’ve been visiting the France Guide quite a bit lately, planning a future adventure abroad.

Lyons’ hotels are full this week, and the city’s 1,500 restaurants and 18 Michelin-starred chefs are busy serving their gastronomic specialties to crowds. Those fortunate enough to be attending are soaking up the holiday lights with a side of Lyonnaise sauce. Très magnifique.

This article first appeared in Automotive Traveler Magazine.

My photo taken of Luminous Lyon on a summer evening.

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