I have a crush on Gainesville, Florida

I graduated from high school with a full scholarship to any college in the state of Florida that accepted me (thank you Bright Futures!) Still, I never thought much about going away for school which was strange considering how much I'm addicted to learning and being in class! I ended up going to a local community college for two years before transferring to the University of West Florida for my Bachelors and Masters degree. Pensacola isn't a college town and I always had a small bit of regret for not going away to school and having the 'full college experience'. Honestly, had I done so I probably would have become even more of a hot mess than I already was in my early 20's. Everything happens for a reason, but I certainly enjoyed living vicariously through my  brother when I stayed with him in Gainesville this past weekend. The afternoon I arrived on Thursday we planned to hang out on campus and visit some of the museums there. First up was the Florida Museum of Natural History. 2013-05-09 13.26.46

Before going on the trip I spent a lot of time researching what I'd like to do given my limited time and budget. This museum was highly rated and 100% free - win! It was very interactive and hands-on with lots of exhibits geared toward kids. While Josh and I both enjoyed walking around we agreed it seemed more appropriate for families/younger audiences. For the price it is still a great way to kill an hour if you are on campus!

After we finished we walked next door to the Harn Museum of Art. This museum was also free and we both enjoyed it a bit more because of the many incredible collections it housed. 2013-05-09 13.23.14

There was an exhibition on traditional Indian paintings that was just breathtaking. My favorite part may have been seeing Josh trying to understand what the 'point' was of Miro sculptures in the contemporary art collection.

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We ended the day with a nice walk around campus. When we got to the stadium I was surprised to see people jogging up and down the stairs and other tourists just hanging out. I wouldn't have thought you were allowed to do that! My trip was perfectly timed since it was in between the Spring and Summer semesters so there were not a lot of other people around. It was fun feeling like we had the place to ourselves. 2013-05-09 16.57.30

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I swear I get such a mental high from being on collegiate grounds - they are filled with so much energy! I remember my Dad taking me on campus at the University of Kentucky when he was working on his Doctoral degree. I was in 3rd grade at the time and he let me sit in a desk in one of those massive auditorium classrooms. I vivdly recall thinking to myself "this is what I want to be when I grow up - a college student!" I still feel that way. My favorite part of traveling is that I always come home with new enthusiasm for my work and passions. My goal is to have enough money set aside to take one class a semester for fun. I thrive on the academic environment and am interested in everything from physics to art history and can't think of a more worthwhile financial investment! That old lady sitting up front in the classroom who is always 15 minutes early and asking so many questions that everyone rolls their eyes when she talks? That will be me one day. #CantWait 2013-05-09 16.51.39

Friday we spent the day on Cumberland Island (post on that tomorrow!) but Saturday I started off the day bright and early with a run on campus. I was about a mile in, enjoying the scenery when I wasn't panting struggling with hills that are non-existent in Pensacola, when I passed this gorgeous lake. I slowed down to take a picture and immediately saw two alligators dangerously close to land. I still had to stop to take a photo, of course, but I high tailed it out of there immediately after. Nothing quite like seeing two alligators two motivate your run!

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On the way back I was hyper vigilant looking for them again when I passed the lake. I didn't see any beady little eyes peering at me from the water and was about to breathe a sigh of relief when I saw that one of them had come out on to the land and was about a foot away from the sidewalk I was on. Thank goodness there were no cars around because I didn't even think to check before I darted across the street. For a very brief moment I contemplated going back to try to get a photo up close but I thought , "self, that's probably not a great idea."

Sunday afternoon Josh worked from home and I headed over to Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. This was the only paid activity I did while in Gainesville (a whopping $7!) and it was worth every penny. It took me about 2 hours to walk the entire gardens and I did so fairly quickly as it looked as though it may have started raining any moment. I got to walk my first labyrinth! IMG_6633

It was so relaxing. Since you have to look down and concentrate on the path to see where you are going and walk fairly slowly it was almost a forced walking meditation. I learned a bit on how to do that when I took a Buddhist Psychology course in Graduate school and this experience has reignited my interest in the practice.

There were so many different sections of the gardens. There was a Children's Garden full of bright flowers, fun sculptures and little gnomes everywhere.

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Isn't it just stunning? My photography skills are improving but they still don't do the beauty of this place justice!

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Sunday I headed out but not before making the tragic realization that there was a Trader Joe's in Gainesville that wasn't going to be open for another 2 hours after I planned to leave. I've yet to shop at one and I'm pretty sure I could have spent half a day in there. I will definitely be stopping in when I go back in December for Josh's graduation! The highlight of the trip home was stopping at some backwoods gas station of I-10 that gave free samples of pralines and oranges to customers who purchased gas. They also sold alligator heads.

I love the South.

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What's the strangest thing you bought from a gas station? 

Did you have the 'full college experience'?