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February 25, 2010

Making Jacksonville Home: St Johns River

I realized that I haven't written anything about Jacksonville since we got here, and we've been here for about four months (gasp). I thought I better correct that lest you think I don't like it here. Well, it's been unusually cold here (THAT I don't like), I actually think it broke a record from 15 or some years ago with the most consecutive cold days in a row. Longtime Jacksonville residents claim that yes, they get cold snaps, but they are not supposed to last this long. I'm beginning to think it has something to do with where we go. When we were in Spokane last winter, they had a record-breaking snow fall, we come to Jacksonville, they have a record-breaking cold days in a row. OK. kidding here, but I do sympathize with the the northeastern states residents in these tough winter conditions.

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Jacksonville is the largest city land area-wise in the continental USA; the city limits actually contain almost the whole Duval County minus the beaches and Baldwin. The St. Johns River runs through the city and defines the city's north, south and west sides. The downtown area, which is,like the city, spread out, congregates around the river. I must say, I was very impressed by the sight of the St Johns River, I am not even sure I realized that it existed here. The river is one of the very few rivers in the US that runs north, I am still a bit confused every time I look at it, it looks like it runs backward. At 310 miles long, the St Johns is the longest river in Florida and forms many lakes. Its widest point as a river is three miles between Palatka and Jacksonville. The river is also home to manatees, which I still have to spot one. I heard recently that the severe winter conditions are putting the manatees in danger.

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The Landing is Jacksonville's river marketplace with a few shops, riverfront restaurants and live entertainment(in good weather). The Gators Stadium is also on the river, the other side from the Landing. A water taxi shuttles people across the St Johns landmarks. And as you can imagine, the St Johns is a mecca for boating and water sports, and there is a nice boardwalk (well one we know of, maybe there are more) that makes for a perfect sunset stroll (again in good weather).

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The house we bought is outside Jacksonville's city limits in a small town in St. Johns County known as St. Johns, everyone still calls it Jacksonville though. Our location is midway between Jacksonville downtown and St. Augustine downtown, which was a big deciding factor for us for choosing the neighborhood we ended up in. The St Johns River runs in the back of the neighborhood and we can reach its banks in a less than five-minute drive. So far, we love it.

March 4, 2010

St. Augustine: The Great Cross

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As you leave Jacksonville heading south towards St. Augustine and before you get to what remains of the old city walls and historic center, you would probably encounter a very tall cross rising above the marshes and wetlands of the St. Augustine Bay. A very impressive structure no doubt, but the history behind it is a fascinating tale that contributed to shaping North America as we know it today.

Rewind back to Easter day of 1513. It was early spring on March 27th, when the Spanish explorer and treasure hunter, Ponce de Leon, stumbled upon the shores of the mainland of the North American continent. Covered with spring flowers, Ponce de Leon claimed the Land for Spain and called it La Florida , "Land of Flowers." Sometime between then and 1563, and as the Spanish Government was launching expeditions to colonize their discovered land, the French beat them to establish a small settlement on the St. Johns River. The French settlement, Fort Caroline (or what remains of it) still exist today in Jacksonville's city limits. With the French guarding the Florida shores, the Spanish's expedition to colonize the land failed and they returned to Spain.

King Philip II wasn't pleased by the outcome, I imagine, and named Don Pedro Mendez de Aviles, a most capable commander, as the governor of La Florida, and assigned him the task to colonize it. And so goes the tale that Mendez first sighted the coast of La Florida on August 28th, 1565, the Roman Catholic feast day for St. Augustine. Elven days later, the commander and his soldiers arrived ashore at the site of the Timucuan Indian Village and fortified it naming it St. Augustine in honor of the day he first sighted it. Archaeologists later pointed out that the site of the Indian Village and the shore the Spanish colonist first conquered is the the present site of Mission of Nombre de Dios, home to the Great Cross.

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