"I just hope we can get a room with a balcony."
That's what she said. So you know I had to make it so, and it turned out to be one of my favorite balconies in the history of balconies, which is saying a lot.
Like you, perhaps, I have a long personal list of beloved hotel balconies. Sitting on a balcony, watching the world go by is one of my favorite things. Oceans, pools, vacation life below, all in glorious tilt shift.
Street balconies can be the most intense balconies, because you are usually close enough to the action to feel dangerously a part of it. People can call up to you. You can trade beads for favors. But they are still a wall or a railing away, there is some distance real or perceived. The world unfolds before you and with you, but it feels like love that is just slightly out of your reach. Balconies are sweet longing. You feel like calling out all your feelings to the courtyard like Juliet. You want to walk out to the corner store just so you can walk back to the hotel and call up to your lover by her new name, Stella.
That's the thing about balconies. We carry a personal balcony history, and then there's the shared history of balconies, window seats and French doors. We die to sing Don't Cry for my Argentina when we step on a balcony. Or is that just me? The truth is, I never left you!
And still, despite the possibility of an ensuing monologues or a musical number, she wanted to share a balcony with me. Lucky me! So I found the best one. It was just the right mix of private and public, near the busy street life and right on the water. A bit of everything, and still a private bubble away from it all.
It's at least the best balcony on the north-eastern coast of Florida, at the gay-friendly Hilton in St. Augustine, which is in downtown St. Augustine, south of Jacksonville and north of Daytona Beach. There actually aren't too many rooms downtown that face the ocean in that sweet old city because St. Augustine dodged the Florida overbuilt-with-condos bullet, and the Hilton is a small, wonderful little hotel that feels much like a B&B, but better, with real hotel service and privacy.
The city is old and beautiful and rich like a wedding rhyme: Spanish forts and settlements, new art and just enough development, borrowed myths and magic, and blue, blue water. Some of my favorite Florida coastline is found here, and it is nothing at all like the Daytona Beach area. There is a lot to do in St. Augustine, to be sure, but still also a quiet refuge.
Or you can watch it all go by, in lovely lovely 3D, from your balcony. Which is pretty much what we happily did.
That's not true, we did leave the balcony. A few times. The beautiful beach in Anastasia Beach State Park. Cobblestone walks downtown. A tiny pilgrimage to The Columbia Restaurant, a Florida treasure. [I love being in an old restaurant and falling deep in conversation and then the gueridon service trolley is rolled tableside and the waiter is now inside your bubble, there the three of you are, an unfinished sentence held open and now serving as parenthesis for the waiter's showy display of ingredients for salad or flambé or some other throwback preparation underway just for you. We had Sangria de Cava, made with Spanish brandy, orange liqueur, fruit and a tilt-shift-sized bottle of champagne. So good, we later called our server back for a second round. Or was it third? Best part of staying downtown, after the balcony, is walking home.]
But mostly, it was all about that balcony. Watching the bridge open. The carriages. The happy people. Even the rain was glorious.
So I'm proclaiming the balcony in St. Augustine my favorite. I'm happy to continue to seek out hotel balconies, just in case there is a better one to be found. I'll never turn down a chance to practice my Evita. It's just that now all new balconies have a tough act to follow, but I want them to keep trying. Dear Hotel Balconies of Happiness: I kept my promise, don't keep your distance.