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Trip Report Train to Forgotten Jacksonville and Saint Augustine

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*What Do You Mean Forgotten?*

As a boy learning about US history, what seemed to be described as "earliest" European settlement in the US included the Pilgrims arriving in Plymouth Rock, with a certain emphasis on Williamsburg and Jamestown as well. I have some recollection of a mention of a failed colony (Roanoke Rapids?) in North Carolina that was described as "first", that pre-dated the above-mentioned settlements in the 1590s. But curiously enough, unless I zoned out in class, Saint Augustine, established in 1565 over 50 years before pilgrims and some 30 years before even the failed colony, was perhaps not mentioned and certainly not emphasized. Maybe since it initially was Spanish colonization that didn't lead to the formation of the original 13 colonies? Maybe since the Loyalists in Saint Augustine imprisoned and heckled Patriots? Yet it seems to me that the turbulent Spanish->English->Spanish->territory->US history of Saint Augustine is a fascinating tale that is very relevant to the story of the evolution of the United States and should be told nationwide (as it likely is in modern textbooks for all I know) as part and parcel of the nation's founding.

Another reason for the title is that when I told my Canadian friends that I was going to Saint Augustine for the holiday, the most common comment was "where's that?". I was lead to believe that Saint Augustine would be this charming but somewhat undiscovered gem through the vehicle of these comments combined with my own silly imaginings that northern Florida might be overlooked by the universally sun-worshipping and amusement-seeking Florida visitors in favour of further south Florida destinations like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Key West and the Orlando area. Consequently, it came as a bit of a surprise (and then I felt a touch ridiculous about being surprised) to see that Saint Augustine is a well-oiled tourist-ready machine that is plenty thronged with visitors wanting to taste its special energy.

Jacksonville is a city in Florida that seems to get very little attention compared to other Florida locales. Perhaps this is since it's seen to be too cold for a winter's getaway...why go there when somewhere further south will be warmer, I imagine prospective visitors as saying. Whatever the reason, the city rarely entered my thoughts too; I think the only time the city really crossed my consciousness in the past was during news reports that most states got snow, and they'll say "even Florida", and the report will then show Jacksonville residents making surprised comments about flurries.

Jacksonville consequently was probably somewhere under Columbus OH and above Albuquerque NM on my priority list of cities to visit... rightly or wrongly, in the multitude of places to visit in the world, Jacksonville ended up in the category of cities that only mildly pique my curiosity. However, due to its proximity to Saint Augustine, along with the fact that my train is leaving from Jacksonville, I decided to tack a day-and-a-half to my Saint Augustine trip. I thought: since I'm so close; let's see what this northern Florida city is all about. Shall we say, I've only been in the city for a few hours, but I'm already glad I'll came.

*How did I do this trip?*

Although I do fly when I have to, as many of you here know, I am particularly enamoured with taking the train, especially sleeper trains and seek out destinations that allow me to indulge that passion.

Montreal-Albany: Greyhound
Albany-NY-DC: Amtrak coach (saw family in DC area for Xmas holiday)
DC-Jacksonville: Amtrak sleeper train (Silver Meteor) (Dec. 28)
Jacksonville-St. Augustine: Greyhound bus (Dec 29)
St. Augustine-Jacksonville: two buses: Sunshine Bus Lines, Jacksonville Transit Authority (for $2.50) (Jan 2)

*Details of My Activities and Thoughts about Saint Augustine and Jacksonville to Come*

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