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St. Augustine, Florida

You might think that the oldest masonry fort in America would be somewhere in the Northeast United States, but it’s actually a Spanish fort in Florida: El Castillo de San Marcos, constructed in 1672 to protect the critical Spanish port city of St. Augustine, itself the oldest city in America, dating back to 1565.

St. Augustine, Florida

And what a fort it is!  The Spanish built it out of a local stone called cocina, which is a sedimentary rock made up of compressed seashells.  It was available locally and easier to cut and shape than regular stone, and it turned out to have a unique defensive benefit: when cannonballs hit the fort, they bounced off, rather than absorbing the impact like stone and shattering.

St. Augustine, Florida

Repeated attacks by the British did little to damage the fort, while the defenders would simply bide their time and take carefully aimed shots at the attacking ships.  Unique among forts in the world, El Castillo de San Marcos was never taken by force.  It was transferred to the British in a peace treaty, returned to the Spanish in another agreement only 10 years later, and finally ceded to the United States by Spain in 1821.

The fort has excellent views of the bay, the Bridge of Lions, and the surrounding city.  The rooftop contains a collection of original cannons and mortars, as well as the iconic towers that the Spanish used to watch for approaching enemy ships.

Within the courtyard, you will find historical exhibits, including period cannonballs and docents explaining how people lived during the height of the fort’s use. The surrounding rooms contain films, exhibits and period costumes.  One room has graffiti carved in the walls by Plains Indians who were held prisoners of the US Army in the 1800s, which is a fascinating intersection of history.

St. Augustine, Florida

Definitely don’t miss the re-enactment of cannon firing, performed by volunteers in Spanish army uniforms every hour on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  They perform the entire loading, firing and cleaning procedure in Spanish, and actually fire the cannon off (no cannonballs, of course!).  Our boys loved it, and it draws quite a crowd.

St. Augustine, Florida

Admission for Adults aged 16 and up is $10.00 and is valid for 7 consecutive days.  Children under 16 are free.  Open daily from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Visiting the fort is easy, and a short drive from Orlando.  It is located right in downtown St. Augustine, to the north of the Bridge of Lions.  We recommend the public parking right next to the visitor center.  It’s centrally located and reasonably priced. From there, you can explore the Castillo and the Old Town of St. Augustine, which you can read more about here.

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Visiting the Oldest Fort in America

We took a train from Paris to Germany to meet Grandpa Dennis!  We met in the Frankfurt Airport and then headed to the cute town of Sankt Goar on the Rhine.  We were all tired and hungry but so excited to see Rich’s dad!

IMG_6862Germany is beautiful in the fall.  It’s all fall colors, but the air was warm and the sky blue.  We took a Rhine Cruise downriver to the city of Boppard.  The cruise was nice and the sun was out.  We sat on top of the boat and enjoyed the views of cute little villages and large castles that line the river.  The boat had a slide on board, which the boys loved.

Boppard, Rhine River, Germany
Boppard, Rhine River, Germany

In Boppard, we took a little train ride through town and then shopped and dined in the town square.  The food in Germany has been wonderful!  Harrison and I love the schnitzel and Rich can’t get enough bockwurst and sauerkraut.  Dennis is all about the black forest cake.

After lunch in Boppard, we walked through the Roman Ruins and then headed back to the ship for our cruise back upriver to Sankt Goar.IMG_6934

Next we explored Rheinfels Castle in Sankt Goar.  Built in 1225, the castle is the largest of its kind on the Rhine.  The castle is located on a hill above the river with amazing views from all sides.  The castle is a ruin with no furnishings but there is a small museum with exhibits showing how it would have looked at the time.

castlerunIt was a kid haven with dark tunnels and stairwells running throughout the castle.  Luckily, we have been warned so we came prepared with flashlights so the boys could explore all the dark places.  A wedding was taking place at the time, complete with German singer and balloons flying past.  It made the experience a little surreal but very fun!

Castle Rheinfels on the Rhine River
Castle Rheinfels on the Rhine River
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  • Monaco

    It was a little rainy so we decided to drive to Monaco for the day.  I’m not sure what I was expecting but I was really blown away by it.  It’s so clean, so picturesque and so friendly.  It’s surrounded by mountains (and France)  and built up around a harbor full of the largest yachts we have ever seen. The streets are so clean and every intersection has a smiling and helpful police officer.  Monaco has 1 officer for every 60 residents!

    We toured the Palace, where the Prince resides.  It was fun to tour a real palace after visiting so many ruins.  The kids enjoyed the throne room, which Prince Albert II still uses, and Rich and I loved all the amazing artwork.  Harrison was enthralled by the Arms Room, which showcases guns from the 1600s right up to the present, including actual machine guns from World War II.

    After the palace tour we strolled the small alleys and shopped in the tourist stores.   We had a wonderful lunch at an Italian bistro and then ice cream from one of the many shops that surround the palace.

    We took a train tour through Monte Carlo following a lap of the Grand Prix, saw the famous Monte Carlo Casino (sadly lacking Daniel Craig!), the harbor full of mega-yachts and the shopping streets with Rolex and Louis Vuitton.  We had fun Ferrari-spotting, with the boys each scoring at least 5.

    On our way back, we walked through the sculpture garden, which was a perfect end to a beautiful city.

    We all decided that we should move to Monaco.  Just need to find several million dollars lying around and we will be all set!

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    Monaco

    For the past 3 days we have stayed in the most wonderful place that we, as a family, have ever stayed.  It’s called Augill Castle and it is truly a special place.

    Augill Castle is in the Lake District of Cumbria near a small town called Kirkby Stephen.  Fifteen years ago, the current innkeepers purchased this country home, built in 1841 and restored it from disrepair to an amazing inn.  It’s everything an English Country Inn should be: it has cozy beds, and sherry in your room, and a drawing room, and high tea, and croquet on the lawn, and an honor bar where you can make your own drinks anytime.

    Our favorite part is that they completely cater to children!  They have tennis courts, a playground and fort.  They have boxes of toys, costumes and games.  A screening room with a projection TV, a great choice of movies and popcorn.  But more importantly, they love children and the kids feel so welcome here.  The boys spent hours running around the grounds playing Knights.

    My boys loved having kids’ meals in their own dining room and feeding the goats and chickens after breakfast.  Rich and I loved having an adult dinner in the formal dining room with the other guests.  It’s been so relaxing after our many weeks of travel.

    We did venture out a couple of times.  We went to Mayburgh Henge, a stone circle dating to between 2000 and 1000 B.C., with a single stone monolith in the center, and hills of stone measuring 90 meters across.  It was impressive, but… there was a little problem: the exciting herds of sheep, which the boys just had to chase off into the field, and by the time we got there, and noticed the plethora of little ‘presents’ left by the sheep all over the field… well, it was all over.  All over their shoes, all over their socks, all over their legs… It was ‘exciting’?

    We also went to Barnard Castle, which is a 12th century castle in the town of Teesdale.   It’s on a hill overlooking a river and the town of Teesdale.  It was beautiful and the kids loved climbing all over the ruins.

    But mostly we have stayed put and enjoyed the beautiful location and wonderful people here at Augill Castle.  Tomorrow, we head to Scotland and while we are excited to see it, we are all sad to be leaving this wonderful place.

    Augill Castle
    http://www.stayinacastle.com/
    South Stainmore
    Kirkby Stephen
    Cumbria CA17 4DE, UK

    The Little Castle at Augill Castle
    The Little Castle at Augill Castle

    The castle has several rooms that can sleep 5.  We stayed in The Little Castle, which was perfect.  It had a master downstairs with a kitchenette and bath. Upstairs contains two twin beds and a futon plus a bathroom.  We also had a private entrance with a cute garden.

    The hotel offers private dinner and cooking classes for children.  Check their website for more information.

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    Augill Castle, Cumbria, England, UK
    Augill Castle, Cumbria, England, UK
    View of Warwick Castle, Warwick, England
    View of Warwick Castle, Warwick, England

    Today we ventured out to Warwick Castle.  The castle is a national monument and is a kid paradise.  Originally built as a Saxon fortification in 914 to defend against the Danes, William the Conqueror started to turn it into a castle in 1068.  The Earls of Warwick owned it up until 1978.  The castle features prominently on the BBC show Merlin, which is a popular show in our house.  Naturally, the kids were thrilled.

    Knight Battle, Warwick Castle, Warwick, England
    Knight Battle, Warwick Castle, Warwick, England

    We explored the castle, complete with wax figures.  We climbed the 530 steps to the Guys Tower, which took so long that we missed the firing of the World’s Largest Trebuchet, measuring 18 meters high and weighing in at 22 tons.  But we did make it in time for the jousting tournament, which was a lot of fun.  Our 7-year-old twins tried their hands at archery and went to Knight’s school.  The boys toured the dungeons and tried on real armor (followed by a great sword battle).  We waited for a few hours to get into the Merlin, The Dragon Tower show (which was unimpressive).  But overall, our day at the castle was great.

    Near the pub, Warwick, England
    Near the pub, Warwick, England

     

     

     

    For lunch we headed down the streets in search of a pub.  The town is charming, with old storefronts and cobblestone streets.  We toured the 15th century Beauchamp Chapel (the oldest part of St. Mary’s Church), and descended into the 12th century Norman crypt (spooky!) and then explored the cemetery.  We wandered into The Thomas Lloyd pub for our first pub experience.  The food was great!

    Hilton Warwick/Stratford Upon Avon, Junction 15, M40, A429 Stratford Rd, Warwick

    For a Family of 5 we needed 1 triple and 1 double.  No joining rooms so the adults had to split up.

    Archery Training, Warwick Castle
    Archery Training, Warwick Castle

    I have mixed feelings about this hotel and am not sure how to rate it. This is the 3rd Hilton-brand hotel that we have stayed at so far on our 6 month voyage. It was by far the best in terms of food, comfort and service. The beds were very comfortable, the sheets soft and it had nice pillows. The food in the dining room and bar was wonderful and the servers were very kind and helpful. The parking was easy, the location was great and the kids loved the indoor pool. But the hotel seems dated and the rooms smell musty. They are clean but the smell is bothersome. Because we are a family of 5 we had to book 2 rooms. One room just needed to air out but in the other room the smell lingered.

    Trying to pull a real bow at Warwick Castle, Warwick, England
    Trying to pull a real bow at Warwick Castle, Warwick, England

    The Thomas Lloyd pub, 3-7 Market Place, Warwick

    Good food and fast service.  Large kids menu and many Gluten Free Items.  Coloring books for the kids.  Easy walk from the Warwick Gate.