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Monday, January 29, 2018

St. Augustine Distillery, Florida

My trip to St. Augustine was meant to be a mix of (some) relaxing and classic Katie Wanders sightseeing.  If you know me, you know that relaxing is not something I... excel in.  As my sister loves to remind me there are two types of "holidays" - one is if the vacation variety and one is a trip (see and do everything).  She goes on vacations where the main goal is to relax somewhere, anywhere, usually not far from home.  I however always go on trips.  I have a full itinerary planned weeks before which typically involves far more activities than time allows for.  

St. Augustine Distillery in a historic renovated Ice Plant 

During my long weekend in St. Augustine, we did so many great activities from touring forts and wine tastings to swimming with manatees and feeding crocodiles (more on that later in the week).   While there wasn't a ton of time spent lounging around or sleeping in, I do try to balance the active-on-the-go type of activities with the more leisurely variety.  Like tour a distillery, drink some spirits, and have a fantastic lunch sort of leisure.  After a busy weekend and lots of sightseeing, that is exactly what I did. 

Going in, I didn't know a lot about the distillery. I knew they made whisky rum, gin and vodka all virtually next door to the winery.  I had tried the wine and how could I leave Florida without trying the local gin?  

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Castillo de San Marcos Fort/National Monument- St. Augustine, Florida

Entrance to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument/Fort

Keeping in theme with touring St. Augustines historic structures (starting with the lighthouse), I spent Sunday morning strolling through a sunny fort on a beautiful coastline.  Fifteen year old me would hate to be dragged around a decrepit looking building in Florida when there beaches were to be sunned on.  But, thirty year old me is all about the history, guided tours and educational pamphlets. Oh, how times have changed. 

When wandering, I love to dig into the history of where I am staying, attempts to extend my research a bit further than "best place to eat".   During my trip to Puerto Rico, I spent some time at Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a fort designed to guard the entrance to San Juan Bay dating back to the 1500's.  I have even toured the local historic Fort Trumbull right here in my own "backyard".  Wherever I am, these forts perched at the waters edge are often the perfect place for a history lesson and of course, a photo opportunity.  While visiting St. Augustine, we spent some time wandering through Florida's Castillo de San Marcos the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.

About to cross the drawbridge and enter the fort

Run by the National Parks Service as a National Monument, everything is very organized, educational and well done.  I opted for the self-guided tour with the pamphlet and map provided at the entrance.  The signage was fantastic throughout and the rangers informative and engaging.  I was also able to watch the musket drills and firings (in full garb), as well as the cannon firing.   The view from the gun deck was fantastic (albeit a bit chilly).  Fun place to explore and learn about some of Florida's history and walk within the walls of a famous fort.  

Monday, January 22, 2018

San Sebastian Winery - St. Augustine, Florida

For this quick trip/long weekend away, I was only spending four days in Northern Florida - truth be told an area I knew (very) little about.  A quick google search on "St. Augustine" told me that this place was full of history, had a lighthouse, a historic fort, an alligator farm, oh and plenty of booze. A distillery virtually next door to a winery-  yes please.  We first attempted to visit the distillery but after doing circles around the parking lot to see it was completely full, it was off to the winery we went. When we went back to visit the distillery at 11:45 a different day, there were plenty of parking options -start early because as the cliche saying goes, it's 5 o'clock somewhere...

The winery was also busy but we easily found a parking spot (free lot) and headed for the entrance.  You are immediately greeted by a gift shop and wine store but a quick right takes you to the beginning of the (free) wine tasting and tour.  However, my first impressions were mixed.  The wine tasting was a walking tour to various stations around the winery where you received your tasting from different stations- an idea I loved.  A walking wine tour stopping at different stations. Brilliant!  However, tastings were offered in a plastic thimble - medicine cap style - the same one used for all the tastings never even rinsed.  I am no wine snob but how do I take your wine seriously when it has been poured in a plastic thimble with remnants of three other types of wine?

What bugged me the most was how little the people cared who were pouring the wine.  Not a greeting, not an ounce of information on the wine.  I felt like cattle being herded through the building and it came off as a "get your tasting and go".  I wanted to know what I was drinking and something about the wine.  When I even asked a question I got some short answer back and the attendants just seemed cranky and annoyed.  Finally after trying to ask about the wine I received some good information (to drink the port in two sips which made a huge difference).  

The wine itself was okay.  I enjoyed the Cabernet, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay.  The rest of the wines were much much sweeter than I was expecting.  The trip was redeemed by the fact that A) the idea of a walking tasting tour was kind of fun and B) the cellar upstairs staff was much more friendly and I loved the vibe on the roof top patio with live music, food, and of course wine.

My advice?  Go do the tour but have little expectations on that.  Spend your time at the awesome "Cellar Upstairs" where you can grab a bottle of wine and lunch on the roof top with sunshine and jazz. 

Website:  San Sebastian Winery 
Address: 157 King Street, St. Augustine, Florida
Tastings:  Free- Complimentary Winery Tours and Tasting are offered everyday
The  Space:  18,000 square foot wine production facility
Tours: run about every 20-25 minutes, lasting approximately 45 minutes in length and offered seven days a week, (except for major holidays). However, when I was here it was just a free for all walking from station to station throughout the building- no tour information. 
Hours:  Monday - Saturday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Wines: CABERNET SAUVIGNON, VINTNERS WHITE, VINTNERS RED, CHARDONNAY, PINOT GRIGIO, ROSA, PORT.  Enjoyed the Cab, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and port.  Rosa and the vintners were too sweet for me.

Opened in 1996, San Sebastian Winery is a family-run corporation that has evolved into an industry leader since the company was originally formed in 1983 by the Cox family. With over 18,000 square feet, 40,000 gallons of wine storage capacity, and an automated bottling line capable of bottling up to 15,000 bottles per day, San Sebastian remains the second largest winery in the state of Florida. Housed at 157 King Street in downtown St. Augustine in a building originally constructed by Henry Flagler in 1923, San Sebastian embodies the historic feel of the nation’s oldest city.

Wine and Jazz bar on the roof - ‘The Cellar Upstairs’ wine and jazz bar is located on the third floor of the winery. You can purchase delicious appetizers to accompany your favorite San Sebastian Wines, as well as imported and domestic draft or bottled beers. Relax and take in the spectacular views from the open-air deck while listening to live music every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Thursday: 11:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Friday: 11:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Saturday: 11:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.
Sunday: 11:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

The 75-acre vineyard, known as "Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards", is located in Clermont, Florida.  Additionally they own 450 acres in Florida's panhandle in Prosperity and contract with several growers throughout the Southeast with approximately 200 acres under contract. San Sebastian grows native varieties of the red Noble and bronze Carlos and Welder Muscadines.

It was great to sit in the sun (and next to a heater) enjoying some sunshine and wine in the sunshine state.  While I loved the concept of the walking tour, I was not impressed by the staff or the wine.  The day was redeemed by these moments below, wine and laughter in the sun on their great rooftop deck.  Stay tuned for my trip to the distillery next door.  

Thursday, January 18, 2018

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum

There is something about a lighthouse.  They way they perch over rocky shorelines or stand on wide expanses of sandy beaches makes me swoon.  Then there is the whole romantic notion of the keepers who worked around the clock to maintain these towers, serving as a beacon of light to sailors out at sea who use the light to safely return home.  You've probably seen an array of lighthouses on this blog from my home base in Stonington Point, to the little light where I went to school, to the beautiful brick lights on Block Island, or maybe even the blocky structure in Iceland.  A historic building on the edge of the coast with a breeze and a backdrop..... I love me a lighthouse. 

KW Visited Lighthouses

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Hiking Devil's Hopyard State Park - East Haddam, CT

Remember what it all looked like before the Arctic Blast and 1+ foot of snow? Me either.  Today's post is a reminder that winter won't last forever and New England winters are worth muscling through for those perfect spring, summers, and autumns.  Don't get me wrong.... winter has its moments (raise your hands fellow skiers) but so far 2018 has been brutally cold.  A week where we only saw single digits and teens, and then there were the weekends of feels like in the negatives.  But things are looking up just like the temperature this week.  So in salute of warmer weather, I am sharing a local hiking gem right here in Connecticut, Devils Hopyard Start Park. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Fox Farm Brewery - Salem, Connecticut

Sometimes adventures are just a short drive from home.  It's not always airplanes and suitcases, maybe its a local hike and a visit to a new brewery.  In the busy month of November with the rise of the chaos of the holidays and dwindling expenses, that is exactly what I went out to do. 

If you've read my Connecticut Brewery post, you know breweries have been popping up throughout the state  - Don't quiz me but I think we are past the 60 mark with breweries in this rather small state.  It feels like every other weekend someone is mentioning a new brewery popping up somewhere in the state.  In the spring of 2017 a new brewery opened in my neck of the woods and Fox Farm Brewery was a name that kept spilling out of my friends mouths and popping up on tap lists at restaurants.  It is a rather big brewery in a rather small town and Fox Farm in Salem, Connecticut has been receiving some amazing reviews.  

After hearing all the hype, I went out for a hike at nearby Devils Hopyard, grabbed my dog and the largest sandwich I have ever seen from Salem Prime Cuts, and headed to Fox Farm.  What did I think?  Great setting, dog friendly, picnic friendly, amazing space, and best of all fantastic beer with a great variety.  

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Visiting the American Museum of Natural History

Front of the American Museum of Natural History

New York has been trying hard to win me over.  

You probably know by now that I was never a city person.  But oh, those winds of change.  Every time I hop on Metro North to New York, my opinions shift from "This city just smells like garbage" to "There are so many options for ramen".  New York City is a destination with so much to see, do, and of course, eat- it just took me a little longer than most to figure that out.  This year I made several trips to the city from playing tourist with Amanda to visiting the World's Best Bar, and sipping "Frosé" on a roof top bar on a hot summer day.  Iv'e seen the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular, walked through Chelsea Market and along the Highline, stood in Times Square, saw the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, visited the 9/11 memorial, walked the Brooklyn Bridge, and strolled through Central Park, and lots more.   But let me be honest.... I had never been to any of NYC's museums.