A Sweet Escape to St. Augustine

St. Augustine, Florida

There is a charming little Spanish town that sits on the northeast coast of Florida, about a two-hour drive north of Orlando called St. Augustine. While all Floridians know it because of its historical value, I am always shocked by the amount of non-Floridians who haven’t heard of it. To me, it has such a unique charm on top of its overflowing  rich history. It’s my escape from the hustle and bustle of Orlando, and my sweet, cultural retreat that gives me the feeling I’ve gone back in time with its quaint yet stunning Spanish colonial architecture, the old Castillo de San Marcos fortress and its narrow cobblestone streets.

This past Saturday when I was burnt out from the Orlando traffic and craving different scenery, I hit the road and headed north for St. Augustine with a good friend. Our excuse to make the trip was that there was a small, free music festival going on with local acts from all over Florida playing but because it was St. Augustine, it didn’t take us much convincing to go.

St. Augustine is said to be the oldest continuously occupied city and port established by Europeans in the United States. The city was originally built by Spanish settlers who claimed the land in 1565 and you can feel it. Many original buildings and roads have been preserved for the education of visitors and thank goodness for it because its historic charm is a wonderful escape from modern life.

Our day in St. Augustine was as lovely as ever, filled with music, sangria, a light sea breeze, desserts and cobblestone streets. We started with a delicious but overwhelming filling lunch at MOJO BBQ and then made our way to the music. The festival was called Sing Out Loud Festival and used a number of venues around the city to showcase local Floridian artists.

MOJO BBQ, St. Augustine
Good eats at MOJO BBQ

Eventually, we arrived to the Colonial Oak Music Park, where the main stage was located. It was a beautiful and unique setting with a huge oak tree standing next to the stage and a number of decorative lights hanging from the tree over several benches and picnic tables for show-goers to enjoy the sounds from. It was pure bliss sitting there listening to beautiful vocals and instrumentals by awesome local bands and sipping on red sangria from the bar next to the big oak tree. I fell in love with that music park and hope to be back the next time I decide to escape for St. Augustine.

Colonial Oak Music Park, Sing Out Loud Festival, St. Augustine
Sippin’ on Sangria at Colonial Music Park
Folk is People, Sing Out Loud Festival, St. Augustine, Colonial Oak Music Park
Folk is People performing during Sing Out Loud Festival

My friend and I ended our day with a couple of chocolates from the sweet shop, an iced coffee and a walk by the old fort. It was a short day but oh so sweet.  I always hate to leave the gorgeous Spanish oasis but alas, back to the grind in Mickey Mouse town.






Florida, USA

In Florida the name Irma will always bring back memories of panic, destruction, nights in the dark and without power, and a serious media frenzy. The massive hurricane that leveled many of the Caribbean islands, tore through the Keys and eventually made its way all the way up the Florida peninsula, stirred up all of our daily lives to some degree. Because of the uncertainty of its path and its frightening size and strength, the storm kept Floridians on their toes and left many with problems they couldn’t possibly prepare for.

My family and I were safe and comfortable, never even losing power, but we were some of the most fortunate. My brother and my sister-in-law, for example, are now living in a hotel for an indefinite amount of time until their flooded house without power is restored to being livable at the least. Others, like a friend of mine who has a house in the Keys, had a friend missing they couldn’t get a hold of for days and a house destroyed by the monster storm.

flood, hurricane, Irma, Florida
My brother’s flooded house in Altamonte Springs, FL
flooding, hurricane, Irma, Florida
The floating dining room

Many have said these damages are just consequences of living in the sunshine state. I guess we can accept some responsibility for where we live but I think the bigger issue is being a part of a planet that is undergoing major climate shifts that are likely to keep these monster storms coming unless we admit to the problem and do something about it. We have too many people in this country to not do anything and worse, to not care. Regardless of political beliefs, is it so terrible to change our bad habits and do some good for the environment and ourselves? In one way or another, changing will make a positive difference.

At Heart of Florida United Way, where I am currently filling in as a receptionist, I get a lot of calls from people looking for assistance because of Hurricane Irma’s effect on their lives. Some need food because all of theirs has gone bad without power, others have no place to live because they’ve spent the little money they had on alternative shelter from their damaged house. Although these kind of calls generally go to United Way’s 2-1-1 help line, occasionally they slip through to my phone and I am always shocked by the situations people are in because of a natural disaster. Many success stories of people receiving help are advertised all over the news but behind every one there are 100 more that still need to be dealt with. I know this because of 2-1-1’s nonstop calls.

It’s now been 11 days since the hurricane but the effects are still incredibly relevant all around the state. While no other region looks quite like the damaged Keys, there is still brush and debris laying in front of most houses waiting to be picked up, and power out in many areas. As the rest of the country continues with their daily lives and comforts, there are displaced and inconvenienced people all around Florida (and Texas, thanks to Hurricane Harvey) struggling to piece their lives back together. While people unaffected often feel there is not much they can do in situations like these, the humility to empathize and the willingness to find even the smallest way to help makes the greatest difference. So, be kind.

– Annaleigh


Post-Travel Pondering

Orlando, Florida, USA

I think it’s finally setting in that I’m back. I’m really back home, to the USA, where the dreaming to leave the country and travel for a year all began nearly five years ago. It makes me feel anxious and sad but also proud. I can look back at my last year and smile about the dreams I made come true, the lessons I learned, the experiences I had and the wonderful people I shared life with for a little while. I’m sorry it’s over (for now) but I couldn’t be happier that it happened.

It’s now been three weeks since I stepped out of the Orlando airport into the sweltering hot, humid air. Since then I’ve been on a roller coaster ride of emotions. There’s days when I have mimosas with old friends or enjoy time with family that make me feel positive about being home again, but also those days that make me want nothing more than to escape and begin a new adventure.

A week and a half after returning home, I started a temporary assignment for a paid administrative job through a recruiting company called TEWS Company, which placed me in a few temporary jobs the summer before I left for Australia so I could save money. Although working through TEWS again was something I originally wanted to avoid, the assignment they called me about appealed to me because it was with Heart of Florida United Way, a non-profit agency part of United Way Worldwide. Not to mention, putting money into the bank again sounded pretty good too. I took it as a sign and went with it.

The assignment came at a perfect time because after an adamant desire to have a career in the entertainment industry since about 17, while traveling and since being home, I’ve thought more seriously about applying to non-profit jobs to officially begin my career. As much as I believe in the power of music and love being a part of the creative process that makes live music events happen, I have begun to feel a pull in a different direction as far as my career goes. I am always recognizing the needs of communities around me and have always wanted to be a part of making them better. I think a year around the world meeting people of all backgrounds and finding homes in places I didn’t even realize existed before also contributed to my strong desire to make some kind of difference in our world. I don’t want to just make money. I want to be part of a team that is working toward making the world better because frankly, I think it needs more of that right now. That is why I took on the assignment and am now working as a receptionist 40 hours a week until the end of September. Right, it’s not the public relations-related job I hope for in the future but it’s brought me to a wonderful and powerful organization with an abundance of experienced employees for me to talk to and learn from.

The downside of my temp job is the commute and the traffic that comes with it. Like so many others, I spend nearly two hours every day commuting to and from work because of all the other people who have to commute to and from work at the same time I do. It is normally during those two hours when I have the strongest desire to get out of this city. Not only is it a long and hot drive from the blazing sun but it’s also ugly. I pass by ugly building after ugly building, get cut off by impatient drivers and pass a lot of cars with people who seem miserable with the boring and ongoing routine of their lives. It’s hard to stay inspired and excited when all you see is sad looking people and even sadder looking buildings. On those drives, I always imagine a hike through the mountains or sitting in a coffee shop in a foreign land with a view I have never seen until then. Even after just a few weeks, I wish so badly to be exposed to new sights, new ideas and new people again. But until I am able to escape to a new city and enjoy that coffee shop with a mountain view, I’ll make the most of what I’ve got.

Staying inspired and excited has been both one of my biggest challenges and greatest saviors. In order to do so, I have continued to try new things and seek new out new places, even when I think all I want is to sit on my butt and watch Netflix,  because what fun is returning to the same old things when you’ve just had experiences of a lifetime? To stay interested in the place I grew up and spent 21 years exploring before, I have started trying new activities like yoga, visited restaurants I never knew existed and discovered coffee shops I’ve fallen in love with. I’ve also tried to start seeing the places and activities I knew before I left in a different light. For example, appreciating the beach I know all too well for what it is and strolling the mall with my mom with an observant mind, noticing all the luxury we are able to enjoy that so many others don’t.

coffee shop, CREDO downtown, orlando
My new favorite coffee shop, Downtown CREDO / downtowncredo.com

Despite the craziness that continues to happen in this country and this state (I’m talking to you, Hurricane Irma), I’m continuing to adjust back to the U.S. with every day and figure out the next big move with the same optimism and determination that got me the past year. It’s time to start real life, I guess, so I’m here to roll with it.

– Annaleigh