Bean There, Drunk That: Foundation Coffee Co.

To make studying for the MCAT a little more interesting and somewhat bearable, I have decided to go on the hunt for the best skim milk cappuccino in downtown Tampa, FL. (I know I said I gave them up, but with all this studying I need a mid day treat and pick me up). There are so many coffee houses and cafes to check out…this will take a while. I am not a professional coffee taster, but I am a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur. I love all kinds of coffee including, but not limited too, iced, cold brew, black, espresso, flavored….I like it all. However, I love cappuccinos…so, so much.

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It was not until I went to Europe last summer that I truly appreciated a good cappuccino. It is difficult to find a cappuccino comparable to those of the country of origin, Italy, but I am trying and am on the look out. I will be exploring the city trying to discover hidden gems as well as try the chain coffee shops to get my daily afternoon pick me up. I am also looking for a nice place to study. So let’s get started.

Yesterday, I made the almost one mile trek from my condo to Foundation Coffee Co. Located in Tampa Heights, this shop is found in a trendy building., in an area of Tampa that is known to be home to many “millenials” and “twenty somethings” aka people like me. Many hipster looking people walking around outside gives the cafe the vibe of a cafe in Amsterdam (without the weed and canals). Upon entering, the chattering of students and friends fills the room. On the right there is a ceiling high fountain which will immediately capture your eye. With many bar stools, a few tables and some couches, there is room to sit comfortably inside. There is also a large patio.
However, in the midst of a Florida summer, I did not want to be drenched in sweat as I enjoyed my drink.

The crowd is a mix of gym goers coming and going from the local gyms, business men and women stopping in for a quick pick me up, friends catching up and students discussing class work. The atmosphere is friendly and inviting. If you are going to study and you are easily distracted, this may not be your coffee shop because the girls laughing in the corner may take away from your focus. The menu is simple, espresso drinks, cold brew, nitro brew and a few iced teas. The barista will happily discuss the brew of coffee they have that day with you and customize your drink in any way you wish…even with macadamia milk. There are a few options for food and sweets, but not very many. I am a big snacker when I study so I did not find the options they offered appealing to my preferences. If I was not focusing on watching what I was eating, I would have gotten the pineapple pound cake though. It looked amazing!

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Now, for the cappuccino. I ordered a regular cappuccino with skim milk. I then put one packet of natural sugar in the drink, which is normal for me.  The presentation was perfect. A white mug, creamy color and heart made in the foam. It was definitely instagrammable. However, the taste was not preferable to me. I found the coffee to be bitter and have a bit of a harsh after taste. The company brands themselves as a specialty coffee-house who takes pride in the whole process from the bean to the filtered water. To me, the coffee tasted like it was over roasted, over processed or possibly just too finely ground. I am not sure why the flavor was not what I expected. It was not terrible, but I would not order a cappuccino from this coffee shop again.

All in all, the atmosphere and feel of the coffee-house was just right. The seating arrangements, decorations and all were appealing. However, the cappuccino just was not up to par. Here is my rating:

Flavor of Cappuccino: 6/10

Presentation: 9/10

Atmosphere: 9/10

https://www.foundationcoffeeco.com/

The Cheat Days Were Worth It

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Over the past two months I have really taken an interest in my body. I was training for the Miss Florida International pageant and really wanted to look and feel my best. With the help of my amazing boyfriend and supportive family and friends, I was able to achieve this goal.

With a combination of motivation, diet and exercise I was able to transform my body in a short period. I did not try any fad diets or crazy supplements. Everything I did was natural. With the help of UFit meals I was able to keep track of everything I put into my body. I used the Olympian x2 a day plan. This allowed me to keep track of my carbohydrates, calories and sugars. I opted for lunch and dinner on the meal plan. For breakfast, I would usually eat egg whites smoked salmon or turkey.

On weekends or days I was not using the meal plan, I would eat fish or chicken with fresh veggies. I usually opted for salmon because it is easy to cook and can be tastily flavored with just a few spices and lemon. We also had some fresh snook and grilled pineapple one day which was fantastic. I would snack on cucumbers, almonds and my favorite sweet treat, frozen PB2 banana sandwiches. I also would eat rice cakes when I was craving something crunchy. It seems my pup Windsor also liked these cakes.

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Peanut butter banana sandwiches with PB2…freeze after preparation for a tasty cold treat!

I cut out almost all excess sugar. I cut out all dairy and I cut out most carbohydrates. For me, the most difficult part of this whole diet was giving up cheese and bread. Have you ever tried to give up cheese and bread when your boyfriend is constantly eating cheese and bread? It is very hard. I also gave up cappuccinos which I wrote about in my last post. I was using almond milk for about one month but my stomach was not a fan of almond milk. I began drinking black coffee with one teaspoon of sugar. To my surprise, now this is what I prefer (however it is better when made at home then made at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts)

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Before I stopped drinking almond milk I would make iced coffee with 2 tbls of silk unsweetened vanilla almond milk as a substitute for dairy.

First, I upped my time in the gym and my time putting in cardio. I began jogging x3-4 miles a day instead of just 1 or 2 miles. I also added in some treadmill intervals and inclines. Along with that, I added in some time on the bicycle when my boyfriend had time to join me.

A sample just cardio day would be x3 miles of fasted cardio in the morning.

~Later in the day~ 15 minutes of treadmill intervals. 10 minutes on the rowing machine

Possible evening bike ride with babe.

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On days I did weights, I would pair back/biceps, shoulder/triceps, chest, legs, one day of full body and one day off. I am always looking for new workouts and body weight workouts since we are on the road a decent amount. I found the shape magazines to have good workouts in them. When I have access to a gym, I try to make the most of it.

The gym I typically use does not have a squatting rack so I use dumbbells for squatting. I also like to squat with resistance bands. I am a huge fan of lunges and bench jumps on leg day as well. Lunges with the bosu are my new favorite thing to do in the gym.

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To maintain my Zen in the middle of the week, I like to take a hot yoga class when I can. When in Tama, I have been going to Bella Prana yoga for the hot power flow yoga class. This class really makes me sweat and stretches out my whole body. The next day, I am sore in places that I did not know even had muscles. With a nice set up, lululemon yoga mats and complimentary hair ties in the bathroom, this yoga studio is by far the best one I have been to. It is nice too, because I can ride my bike to yoga…living the dream.

I just had three cheat days since the pageant ended, ( I got 1st runner up). I had tacos, tacos and more tacos. My amazing, supportive boyfriend got me macarons, cookie cake and ice cream and we pigged out together. I also had chik fil a and a cappuccino.I spent Mother’s day with my family and we had a smorgasborg of food at Planet Hollywood in Disney Springs. I came home, and my boyfriend and I enjoyed some macarons. Then we went to Publix and stocked up on the good stuff. At home he made me tacos with all the fixings and then at 2am (we love our late night snacks) we had cookie cake with ice cream. The next couple of days I did not indulge as much but I did not shy away from sweets or fried foods (like key lime pie and hush puppies today hehe).

After three days, I am so ready to go back to eating healthy and focusing on being my best self.

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To look my best, I have been paying more attention to my beauty routine. Aside from this, I noticed when I cut out almost all excess sugar and all dairy,  my skin began to look healthier and have a natural glow. To capitalize on this I found a skin care regime that works for me. To learn about my skin care regime stay tuned for the next post. Also, keep an eye out for a post about my weekend at Miss Florida International.  If you have any questions leave a comment or shoot me an email.

I Stopped Drinking Cappuccinos

 

With Miss Florida International approaching I have been paying more attention to my health and fitness regime. With the help of my amazing boyfriend and my sponsors I have shown huge improvement in my health and body. Living in Tampa now, I have access to a lot of fun and exciting ways to exercise and be active. Once you see the changes in your body, it becomes addicting. The first time I looked in the mirror saw a hint of abs popping through and muscular tone to my tone (and increase in my thigh gap :P) I jumped with joy. These are the goals you work for. However, I do not believe these are the days that mean the most. The days that show you have truly progressed are the ones where you are tempted with those sweet treats or pasta dish and resist. They are the days you feel so worn and beaten down but you get active anyways. Those are the days you know you are progressing towards a healthier lifestyle. For me, the day I walked past a coffee shop and did not get my normal cappuccino with one natural sugar and skim milk was the first win for me. I have several since then, but I struggle with this every day. As far as I have come, I deal with little temptations like this daily.

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I have been hitting the gym and trying to eat somewhat healthy for a long time now. Recently, I have been paying attention to what I eat very closely and thanks to UFit Meals I have shown a huge improvement in my overall appearance. Not only have I lost a few stubborn pounds and toned up a lot, but I feel great. I have so much energy and do not feel like I am not getting to eat foods that I love. On their website they have several different meal plans to choose from. Currently, I am using the Olympian meal plan. The Italian spiced meatballs and roasted sweet potatoes are my favorites. With traveling back and forth between Gainesville and Tampa for work and school and having fun at the beach on the weekends with my boyfriend, these meals are so convenient. On Sunday and Wednesdays they are delivered right to your door and when you are ready to eat, you just pop it in the microwave and there you go. Without these, my training and improvement would not have advanced this far.

Along with these meals I have cut out dairy and extra sugar from my diet. This was very hard in the beginning. I began with things like yogurt and cheese. Cheese was especially difficult because my boyfriend loves cheese and always has awesome, tasty cheeses in the fridge. I struggled cutting out dairy in my coffee. I can do without the added sugar, but the milk has always been something difficult for me to cut out. I mean, chocolate and cappuccinos are a staple in my daily life…well, they used to be. Recently I have been using 2 tablespoons of unsweetened almond milk in my coffee. Although it does not taste as delicious as a caramel iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts, it has aided in my progress and I have come to enjoy it very much. Previously, when I wanted a treat I would grab a piece of chocolate or a small container of ice cream. Now, I reach for a frozen banana or a few ounces of that unsweetened almond milk. It satisfies my cravings without catapulting my daily sugar intake.

I am not so rigid with my diet that I miss out on things. I think it is a little ridiculous to not go to dinner with your friends or have a date night every once in a while because you are on such a strict diet. I just try to make healthy decisions when I am out. I always order my sauces on the side and just dip the tip of my fork into them before picking up a bite of food. I use lemon or lime juice on my salads instead of dressing and try to order steamed vegetables for my side. I also ask for them without butter when I can remember. My boyfriend and I go out to the bars a few times a month. I always drink vodka soda with lime. This is so much better than the fruity drinks because it has less calories, less sugar and less of a hangover the next day…especially if you get it with grey goose. We also like to travel, and half the fun of traveling is the food. Since I have been training for the pageant we spent a few days in Cuba and I did not take it easy on the yummy foods or the run while we were there.

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My boyfriend bought us some awesome new bicycles and adding in this extra cardio to my routine has worked wonders. We usually only do about 8 or 9 miles but it is so much fun to ride down Bay shore or just around downtown Tampa. Sometimes we stop off at the convention center and run the stairs…well I run them and he watches me. On the weekends, sometimes we ride around at the beach and do some exploring. Adding in something that is fun and we are able to together make it feel less like exercising and more of just a fun activity. I recently got introduced to hot yoga. In the evenings, I will ride my bike about 2 miles to the yoga studio, practice my flows and sweat it out, then ride home. The extra time on the bike is actually very relaxing and beneficial. Plus, driving in Tampa is not that fun.

As great as all of this sounds, I still have my bad days. Days that I am working are tough because for 10 hours I am stuck inside the hospital. I do not move around a lot and exercising when I get home is not the first thing I want to do. When I work night shifts I find myself wanting to constantly snack to stay awake. This is especially detrimental because there are always snacks around. When it is 3am and someone offers you a doughnut, it is hard to say no (as I am writing this everyone around me is eating doughnuts and it’s hard to resist…but I will ;)) Yesterday, I was extremely tired (it was my fault). When I say extremely tired I mean we went out, stayed out until 4am, I slept for 20 minutes then drove to Gainesville and worked all day. Stupid, I know (but life is short).  When I got off of work I slept for a few hours then got up and went for a run anyways. I almost went to get frozen yogurt then planted myself on the couch to watch Netflix. I contemplated back and forth then pulled out my phone to look at my progress pictures. These pictures motivated me to get up and hit the pavement. When I got home I felt proud and accomplished. These are the days that mean the most. The days you get out of your head and beat yourself are the days that show major progress in your journey towards a healthier self.

 

I will continue to work hard, not only for the pageant but for myself. Sticking to a strict eating plan and workout regime has improved my overall quality of life. I feel better, look better and things in my life are generally better. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions feel free to reach out.

Dip into the Devil’s Den

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Dive with the Devil? Yes please! That is what my little sister and I said when we pulled up to Devil’s Den in Williston, Florida. It was a balmy Friday morning when we decided to head up there. We arrived at the park around 9:30 am and waited in like for about 30 minutes to check in and sign out waivers. The price is $15pp plus $10pp if you need to rent snorkel gear, which we did.

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After we checked in, we had to wait about an hour for the snorkel gear we rented because it had all been rented out by the time we got there. We had to wait for someone to return his or her gear so we could have it to use. If you have your own gear you will not have to worry about this. We did not mind waiting because it allowed us to explore the little garden area around the park. The garden area is not that nice, but it was something to look at. If you walk by the entrance to the cave and follow the wooden pathway, you can look down the opening into the cave! This was pretty cool. There really isn’t anything at Devils Den except the cave and a campground so be prepared for that. It may be good idea to bring lunch!

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Finally, it was our turn to go into the cave after we got our snorkel equipment. Entering the cave is exciting because it is a little dark and you are excited to see the water below. Upon entering, you must have fins and snorkel or dive gear with you. Descending into the cave is a small wooden staircase. Only one person is allowed to be on the staircase at a time so this part takes some time, but it is worth it just to see the view of the cave.

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Once you descend the stairway you end on a platform that is about knee length into the water. This platform is where you can put your equipment on to get ready then dive in! The water is 72 degrees all year round and crystal clear! The cave is a little dark towards the back, but towards the opening that allows the sunlight to our into the cave it is bright and colorful. The way the light beams off the water is a sight to see! There are all kinds of fish in the water to look at as well.

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We stayed in the water for about an hour before we got a little cold and decided to head out for lunch. We left the park and went to Subway before we headed home. Williston is a very small town with limited options, so keep that in mind if you decided to visit Devil’s Den. However, I highly recommend taking a dip into the devils cave. You will not be disappointed.

Staying Fit While Traveling

First of all, I would like to apologize for my long absence. I was traveling with little access to the Internet. However, along with my memories and pictures I have brought back some tips for staying fit and healthy while traveling. After spending six weeks traveling all throughout Europe, I did not gain any weight. This was not due to heavy exercising or lack of indulging. I achieved this by making smart choices and being mindful of what I was eating.

 

My first tip to staying fit while traveling is to walk as much as possible. Walking around the city will definitely help keep the weight off, and it will also allow you to get a better view and feel of the city. If you must take a taxi, bus or underground when trying to get somewhere, stop down the road from your destination and walk the rest of the way. While we are talking about walking, if you have the option to take the stairs, you should always take the stairs. I view stairs as a mini workout. Every time you choose to walk up a flight up stairs you are giving your body a little workout and elevating your heart rate.

 

My next tip would be to eat your larger meals for lunch. We found this to be the best strategy, not only for keeping the pounds off, but also for feeling the best. Eating our heavy meal for lunch did not leave us feeling bogged down. We felt like we had time to walk off our meal and did not feel too full when we laid down for bed. Also, upon waking in the morning we felt light and fresh, ready to tackle some more European food. To keep to this strategy we would try to find a nice, local restaurant for lunch and then look for something lighter and towards the clean eating side for diner. I usually opted for a sandwich or salad and a small side. This always left me feeling full enough to last through the night without eating again, but not too full to where I feel like I ate too much.

 

Along the lines of sweets, I ate a lot of them. I did not deprive myself or skip out on a sweet I really wanted. However, I would consider whether or not I really wanted it and whether or not I would rather wait for something more enticing. If the answer was no, then I ordered the sweet and enjoyed every second indulging in it. A vacation is about relaxation and indulgences so do not deprive yourself of the small luxuries. Be sure to consider all of the factors and make your decision.

 

One more thing to watch carefully is your alcohol consumption. If it is just a short weekend trip, this may not matter as much. However, if you are gone for six weeks like we were, alcohol consumption takes a toll on your body. I am by no means saying do not drink! I sampled many wines, beers and cocktails while in Europe. I tried to limit myself to no more than 2 drinks a day. Some days I would not drink any alcohol at all, but when I did I would not have more than 2 drinks in one day. If I did consume alcohol, I always made sure to drink a glass of water with it. You do not need to skip the alcohol altogether if you want to watch your weight on vacation, just be mindful.

 

These are just a few tips to try to keep some of the pounds away on vacation. I know how hard most of us work to stay in shape and keep the unwanted pounds away. It is a terrible feeling to come home from vacation and see all of your hard work was ruined on vacation. These tips helped me feel good and keep the unwanted pounds away on my six-week trip.

I Was On The Travel Channel

A few months ago I had the wonderful opportunity to film a segment for the Travel Channel. The series is called Top Secret Swimming Holes. The show highlights ten different swimming holes from all around the word on each episode. However, these are not just any normal swimming holes. These are secret swimming holes tucked away, hard to find and sometimes even harder to get to. With places like Hawaii, Guam and Fiji on the list, the places they visit are spectacular. Who would have thought that somewhere like Crystal River would be highlighted on a worldwide show. As a native of Dunnellon, Florida, I have spent many days in Crystal River. Whether I was eating lunch at Crackers with my parents or out on the water with my friends, Crystal River has always been a nice place to go for some fun. As locals, we understand the treasures that hide in our small towns. One of the biggest of those treasures would be, Three Sisters Springs and the manatees it attracts. This is what the segment focuses on.

Even though I had visited Crystal River many times and thought I knew the area pretty well, I had only been to Three Sisters once before I filmed this segment. My parents, sister and I went to the Manatee festival about a month before to enjoy a family day and see the manatees. The festival is a lot of fun! You can find food, drinks and knick-knacks galore. There is a beer garden for those over 21 and a nice area for kids. While at the festival, you can take a shuttle over to Three Sisters to see the gathering of manatees.

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Three Sisters Springs

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Manatees at Three Sisters Springs (as seen from land)

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Three Sisters springs is located off of King’s Bay and is a part of a National Wildlife Refuge. This is the only spring in King’s Bay that is accessible by land. During parts of the year you can swim here and enjoy the wonderful natural area, but from November 15 to March 31 the spring is closed to humans and is a manatee sanctuary. When the springs are closed, you can still view the manatees from a boat or from in the water outside of the sanctuary area. West Indian manatees travel hundreds of miles to find refuge in Crystal River during the winter because there is plenty of vegetation and the water is a nice 72 degrees Fahrenheit all year long.

When I got the call about the segment I was super excited. I had never filmed for a television series before, and I had never gotten the chance to swim with manatees. The call time was 5:30am. We, the cast, cameraman and his assistant, met at The Plantation in Crystal River. The Plantation is a resort located on the water. It has a golf course, bar and grill and also offers boat tours along with manatee tours.

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The cast

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We chartered a boat from The Plantation, got into our wet suits and met our captain. Our captain’s name was John Spann and he was great! Not only was he friendly and helpful, but also he was so knowledgeable. He definitely made the experience a great one. It was an early morning and it was pretty chilly, so on the boat Captain John made us all manatee mochas (coffee mixed with hot cocoa) to enjoy while we searched for the manatees. Since it was still a little dark outside, we had a few false sightings. We would see a log floating or a big rock and get tricked into thinking it was a manatee. It was not.

When we got to Three Sisters, we were not tricked. The manatees there were real and incredible. There was so many of them. Captain John gave us our snorkel gear and briefed us on what to do and what not to do. He told us to stay as still as possible and only use our arms to guide us through the water. The manatees can pick up even the smallest vibrations and will not approach you if you are making too much noise or too many movements. He also told us not to reach out and touch them. If the manatee comes up to you and starts to rub against you that is ok, but you cannot actively try to touch them. When swimming with the manatees, you must be a passive observer. Do not chase the manatees, swim right on top of them or actively pursue them in any way. If the manatee feels comfortable around you, it will come up to you and start loving on you.

Since we got out on the water early, we were the only ones at Three Sisters. It was a quiet morning. As soon as we got in the water, the manatees approached us. They are such large animals that move through the water extremely slowly, partly because they have no natural predators. The manatees graze along the bottom of the river or spring and enjoy themselves. Once in the water, you can see the marks from propellers on the thick, grey skin of the animal. You will also, most likely, see some algae on the manatee.

Even though the manatees are such large creatures, they are gentle and seem to be pretty loving. They will be curious about you, maybe even nuzzle you. I had a manatee come up to me and chew on my snorkel…while it was in my mouth! Then it nuzzled me all along my side and brushed up against me. It was such an incredible experience.

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We saw a mom and calf swimming together and a ton of other manatees just enjoying the water. On manatee played with our anchor rope for about 30 minutes. It was a cute and enchanting site. To see a huge animal playing with a rope…you had to be there. After we spent some time with the manatees, we swam into the springs and enjoyed the scenery. From land, the springs are beautiful, but from under water it is a whole new world. There are small springs where the water bubbles up from the ground, plant life and many fish. In the deepest of the three large springs, there is an area where you can make water rings. If you are a nature lover, you must visit this area.

While we were interacting with the manatees, we had a cameraman following us the entire time. He captured the interactions on his underwater camera and directed us on what to do to make the shot better. We conducted short interviews about our experiences and all had a great time.

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If you want to visit Three Sisters and swim with the manatees, I highly recommend getting a tour from The Plantation. They have been doing this a long time and know exactly where and when to go to spot manatees. If you are interested in kayaking, you can put your kayaks in at the boat ramp and make the 20-25 minute trip to Three Sisters and enjoy the area on your own, same for boaters. I highly recommend getting there early to beat the crowds. The area is so beautiful and completely amazing, especially when you have it all to yourself.

Keep checking in to see what I am up to next!

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36 Hours in Venezia

Stepping out of the train station and immediately getting a view of the Grand Canal was breathtaking. We had already visited Florence and Rome, but Venice was our favorite as soon as we got off the train. The atmosphere was like a beach town, without a beach. You could automatically tell the vibe of the city was completely different. While the city was not totally clean or well structured, the wearing away of paints and old buildings were so charming.

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(View right outside the train station)

As soon as we reached Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia the first beautiful thing we saw was the train station itself. Recently remodeled, it was clean, open and appealing to the eye. The next beautiful scene was the Grand Canal. Flowing in front of the train station, you get a wonderful view of the city. We turned left out of the station and continued down the tourist filled street along the canal. As a prime vacation destination, this area was tourist central. However, it was not overwhelming or crowded. Everyone was calm and just enjoying themselves.

After walking about 7 minutes we arrived at Campo S. Geremia, the square where our hotel was located. We spent one night at Hotel St. Geremia. This charming hotel was situated on the corner of the square with a view of 2 small cafes and the church of San Geremia. Since we booked a private room, we had a balcony over looking the square. I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone on a budget. It was pretty nice and very charming.

Once we checked in and dropped off our backpacks, we set out to explore. Wandering around the narrow streets, over canals was enchanting. The streets were filled with small restaurants, cafes and shops. The locals were all extremely nice and inviting. This was different from cities like Rome. While roaming around we got lost and loved every minute of it. We walked and walked until we got hungry. Then we decided to head back. As we walked, we continued on until we found the large parking garage where all the locals parked their cars. We just followed the Grand Canal back towards our hotel after that.

We ate dinner at the small café across from our hotel. I forgot the name, but I had four cheese gnocchi and Bernhard had seafood pasta. His was better than mine. They were both still good though! The food was reasonably priced, but we were so hungry we forgot to look for the service fee on the menu. They charged a whopping 12%. Paying that was a doozy.

After we ate, we found a Laundromat because we needed to do some laundry. The Laundromat was kind of expensive, but we had no choice. Our clothes did not dry in the allotted time so we brought them back to the hotel and hung them out on the balcony. In the morning, the manager of the hotel came and sort of yelled at us because it is illegal to hang your laundry off a balcony in a campo, or square, in Venice. Who knew?

The next day we had a small breakfast and set out on the hunt for good gelato. A gelato placed named Alaska had great ratings on Trip Advisor and came highly recommended by many travel blogs so we decided to check it out. It was not too tricky to find, I think we searched for about 30 minutes. This gelato was worth every second we spent looking for it. It was the best Gelato we had on the entire trip. The shop is owned and operated by a very nice man. I highly recommend the coffee flavor and banana. The flavors were so rich. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

After our morning gelato we set off to get lost again. Since it was our last day in Venice we wanted to make sure we saw of the sites. With less than 48 hours in Venice we did not make it out to the island of Burano. However, we saw everything else in the city including the Doges Palace and Bridge of Sighs. The sites were not as stunning as Westminster Abbey or the Coliseum, but they were unique and lovely in their own way.

We wandered around until lunchtime and found this very nice restaurant near a canal. If you are looking to try some local cuisine, I highly recommend the cuttlefish. I tried it and was completely blown away. The black sauce it is cooked in looks a little weird, but it was amazing. It is so hard to describe the taste, but it really is a must try. I also had a Bellini, since they originated in Venice. It tasted just like it looked, pink and delicious. The fruity, sparkling drink was great for lunchtime. I sampled an Aeperol spritz as well. This is an orange aperitif prepared with Prosecco and Aeperol. This was a little bitter, but still good. As you walk around Italy, but especially Venice, you will see so many people enjoying this cocktail. Bernhard ordered Sea bass and we were surprised when the whole fish came out on his plate. Even though we were a little skeptical, he tried it and loved it.

After lunch it was time for our walking tour and Gondola ride. We opted for this option because a gondola ride is 80 euros for only 30 minutes. With the tour we got a small discount, but we had to share the gondola with 4 other people. If we could do it again, we would just pay the 8o euros and have the gondola all to ourselves. We booked the tour on Viator and the local contact was Bucintoro Viaggi. I would not recommend this tour. The walking portion was pretty boring and you did not really see the interesting landmarks of the city. The best part of the tour was the gondola ride. It was just like the movie, romantic and beautiful. Even though we had to share the gondola, I felt like I was alone with my boyfriend and we had a wonderful experience. The gondolier took us down some smaller canals, then onto the Grand Canal. We saw the Rialto Bridge from the water (it was under construction but still pretty). We turned off the Grand Canal and saw some beautiful window displays from high-end stores before our ride was over.

After our gondola ride, we went to Alaska to get one last taste of gelato then picked up our bags from the hotel. Off to the train station we went. Our next adventure was an overnight train to Vienna. Venice was my favorite city we visited in Italy. The relaxing vibe of the city instantly made me feel calm. Wandering around is the best way to see the city and really experience it. Make sure you get a map though because it is hard to find your way back! It is easy to get caught up in the romance of the city. I am so lucky to have been able to visit this wonderful city with the man I love.

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Venice Must Dos:

Wander around and get lost

Get gelato from Alaska

Gondola Ride

Try the Cuttlefish

Drink a Bellini

Enjoy yourselves

 

European Adventure: Part 1

Wow, we are already on day 15 and country number 4 of our European adventure! This trip has exceeded every expectation I had before leaving the states. I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect trip! First off, I am traveling with my boyfriend and that makes is twice as much fun. Bonding over the experience of traveling, seeing new things and experience new cultures together is amazing. It’s also fun when you can’t find the underground or figure out how to work the hostel laundry machines because you work together to come to a solution. 

For the first 13 days of our trip, our home away from home was a ship. We sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on the beautiful Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas (I will review the ship later). What a great way to start off this adventure. The cruise was amazing and so much fun. From the flow rider to the shows and ice skating to formal nights we were very entertained.

The first seven days of the cruise were all at sea. While I did get a little restless towards the day 7, my boyfriend absolutely loved the leisure time. We read, walked, ate (a lot) and went to every show. We also did the ice skating and rock wall. I carved out time everyday for the flow rider because it was that much fun. 

On day 8 of the cruise we arrived at our first port, Ponta Delgada. It is an island off the coast of Portugese. It is known as one of the islands that make up the Azores. It was incredible. Next, we went to Lisbon, Portugal. We took a city tour and explored on our own as well Amazing. After that we were inVigo, Spain. Since Vigo was a relatively small town, we decided to take an excursion to Santiago de Compestela. My favorite stop was Le Havre, France. We visited the small town on Honfleur and I absolutely fell in love. 

Now we are in London!! It is a dream come true and I am loving every single minute of it. We have done and seen just about everything including Stonehenge and Windsor Castle.Our hostel is in Soho and has a wonderful location near everything. Today I had afternoon tea in a palace and saw Kate Middleton…but I will write a whole post just on that when I have more time. 

This is just a short synopsis of what we have been doing. I’ll be writing more in depth posts with photos and what not when I return stateside. 

Next stop: Paris

Radiant Rainbow River

If you know Dunnellon, you know and love the beautiful Rainbow River. If you grew up in Dunnellon, you probably grew up on the banks of the river with a fishing pole in your hand. Or maybe, if you were like me, it was just watermelon…anyways, we are so lucky to be able to experience this incredible work of God that is basically all of our backyards. The picturesque views offered at every point of the river are like something out of a Florida fairytale or folklore. Every summer, especially now that I do not live at home, I am so excited to come home and head to the river. It is a summer must in my book!  If you do not know of Dunnellon, Florida and have not had a chance to check out the Rainbow River for yourself, you definitely need to this summer.  Here is why:

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The city of Dunnellon is small, really small, and that is the fun part. When you get off the highway and drive towards Dunnellon you will see farmlands and cows. You will probably think where the heck am I.  Then, you will cross a bridge that gives you your first glimpse of the wonderful Rainbow River. This bridge will lead you into town where you will see mom and pop shops and local restaurants. If you are into antiquing, this little town will not leave you disappointed. Dunnellon was founded in 1887. However, the discovery of phosphate in 1889 led to an expansion of the town, making it a boomtown. This where Dunnellon got the name for its annual festival, Boomtown Days. Mining for phosphate was centralized around the Rainbow River. Since the phosphate mining days are long gone, the town is usually pretty quiet, except in the summer when tourists flock to the Rainbow River for a day of fun in the sun. Fun Fact: If you are a fan of horror movies, the film Jeepers Creepers was filmed in and around Dunnellon.

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The Rainbow River is fed by Rainbow Springs. As a fist magnitude spring, Rainbow Springs pushes about 490 million gallons of water a day through the system. WOW! It is the fourth largest spring in Florida. The water is crystal clear and always looks so inviting. At a crisp 72 degrees all year long the water is very enjoyable, especially on those hot Florida summer days.  If you are interested in picnicking or taking a quick swim in the swimming area, Rainbow Springs State Park is where you should head. The swimming area is large and during the summer there is a life guard on duty.  At one time, the park was a local amusement attraction. In the 1930s, the family owned park advertised submarine rides and animal shows. Since the park was so far off the beaten path and trying to compete with other places like Disney World, the park eventually closed and was bought by the state of Florida after changing hands a few times. In the 1990s a group of volunteers who named themselves “Friends of Rainbow Springs” got together to help clean up the park and prepare it to be reopened as a nature preserve. Today, Rainbow Springs State Park is open daily and is home to beautiful scenery and nature walks.  They wind through the park and offer wonderful views of the river and small waterfalls. Towards the back of the park there is also a butterfly garden. The views are phenomenal; we even chose to take prom pictures at the park one year because the scenery is that spectacular. Growing up I would head over to the park on my bike with a sandwich and a book. I would walk the trails until I found the perfect spot to just sit and read and observe the beauty. If you are interested in visiting Rainbow Springs State Park just visit the link for more information. https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Rainbow-Springs

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The Rainbow River, flowing from the headspring, winds through town and is about 5.7 miles long.  At its end, it merges with the Withlacoochee River which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The river was named as an “Outstanding Florida Waterway” as well as a registered natural landmark in the 1970s. Home to all kinds of wildlife, I have seen river otters on multiple occasions. If nature photography is something you enjoy, head on out to Dunnellon for your chance to photograph birds, alligators and all sorts of other creatures.

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If you enjoy kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding, the Rainbow River is the place for you! There are so many small nooks and crannies along the water that are begging to be explored by curious adventurers. As a no wake zone, the whole river is very favorable to those partaking in these water sports. If you decided to canoe, kayak or paddle board make sure you take some time to get out of the boat and enjoy the water. It can be so refreshing after a few hours in the sun.

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If you are looking for a more laid back activity, I would recommend floating down the rainbow river in a tube…it is fun, and very popular in the summer.  Some of you are probably like what does tubing down the river even mean? It means just that, getting in a float and enjoying a leisurely 4 to 4 ½ hour float down the Rainbow River. It is one of the most relaxing experiences.  All you have to do is sit back, enjoy the day and let the river take you.  This allows you to become one with nature for a few hours. Oh yeah, you probably want to put on sunscreen as well because 4 hours in the sun will burn almost anyone. I usually pack a cooler with a few snacks or a light lunch. A radio is a great idea as well!

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Tubing begins at the KP Hole County Park. This is a small park a few miles down from Rainbow Springs State Park. You cannot tube from Rainbow Springs State Park. At the KP Hole there is a $5 entrance fee and a fee to rent the tube. There is also a swimming area if you are just looking to swim. The KP Hole stops access to tubing at around 2pm to ensure guests are off of the river before dusk. Due to the popularity of the experience and the small size of the park, the park often hits capacity pretty early on the weekends. Once the parking lots are full, the KP Hole will begin turning guests away. Have no fear! There are plenty of other companies that will help you get to the river!

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Part of the charm of Dunnellon and the Rainbow River is the size of the town. With approximately 2,000 people living in the city limits, the best way to experience the charm of Dunnellon is to visit the family owned mom and pop shops that make up the town. There is a tubing company called Ride and Tube just outside of the city towards the KP Hole County Park. Based out of the Sunoco gas station, the whole business, including the gas station, is family owned and operated. You will often see the whole family, mom, dad and two sisters, working there during the summer to provide you with a great experience. Ride and Tube offers parking, tube rentals, shuttle drop off at the river as well as shuttle pick up when you are finished. From what I have heard, they just got a brand new yellow bus and it is nice! If you are interested in getting more information about Ride and Tube you can call (352) 489-0466 or visit https://www.facebook.com/rideandtube .

Any and all of these activities are a great option for a hot summer day in Florida. The river gets rave reviews. Last summer a family from Iceland vacationing in Florida came to tube down the river twice because they loved it so much…Iceland, whoa. The river is known for its cleanliness and family friendly atmosphere. Since no disposable containers are allowed on the river, there is hardly any trash cluttering this natural wonder. Alcohol is also prohibited on the river contributing to the family friendliness of the experience.

If being in or on the water is not your ideal scenario, there is still a way for you to enjoy the river! Dunnellon has a wonderful restaurant on the Rainbow River named Swampy’s Bar and Grille. With patio seating and a gorgeous view, you can’t go wrong. A local favorite, Blue Gator restaurant and tiki bar is located just a few miles down the street. Blue Gator is situated on the Withlacochee river and also offers wonderful views as well as live music. If you are looking for a cozier restaurant, Stumpknockers is a quaint little restaurant situated on a quiet part of the Withlacoochee River.

If you decided to come to Dunnellon and visit the spectacular Rainbow River here are some tips for you:

  • Come early. Due to popularity, spots may fill up quickly. I would recommend arriving no later than 11.
  • Store your snacks in non disposable containers (Tupperware) or you will be made to throw them out
  • Wear sunscreen and reapply generously
  • HAVE FUN!

 

The Queen Celebrates 90

“I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”
-Queen Elizabeth II

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“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
-Queen Elizabeth II

 

God Save the Queen. Wow, today Queen Elizabeth II turns 90 years old!  Happy Birthday to Her Majesty the Queen!  Aside from my mother (whom always inspires me) I see Queen Elizabeth II as the most inspirational woman in the world. At the age of 90, she still does more in her daily lives than any of us can even fathom. As the oldest reigning monarch, and most successful, closing in on 64 years, she has been through so much from war and rebellion to modern society. With unwavering support and devotion for her country and the people she represents, she has been extremely successful. The epitome of grace, charm and leadership, the Queen is the ideal role model for women all around the world. Queen Elizabeth II transcends race, gender, class and even religion. Bringing together people from all over the world, she is the prime example of a timeless leader.

Many ask, why do you love the Queen so much? Why do you place so much pride and interest into an outdated figure head that isn’t even American? The answer is simple. I love America and take great pride in being an American. However, as great as our country is, we do not have that rich history and tradition found in other parts of the world.  To some, the Queen and Royal family may be outdated and antiquated, but to me, they are a symbol of tradition, perseverance and elegance. With women like Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus being front and center in American culture, it is not surprising American society is heading in the direction it is. For a sense of balance, grace and history, a young woman must turn to the British to gain understanding of tradition and history.  Plus, she is a timeless figure. In her 90 years she has never had a fashion mistake or wardrobe malfunction. She has aged gracefully and elegantly. Her smile, wave and those colorful hats are autonomous with her character and persona. Yes, she has designers and aides who help her pick out these outfits, but so do the famous women in America, and most of them are lacking in class. Queen Elizabeth II is more than a Queen. She is an example of a strong woman in what was a man’s world. She did not campaign and win this role on her own merit, she was born into it. In my opinion, that is harder because she had to assume the role even though it originally was not to be hers. Becoming Queen is hard work but she has done it with grace, elegance and a strong hand.

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“The upward course of a nation’s history is due in the long run to the soundness of heart of its average men and women”
-Queen Elizabeth II

The Queen is an exceptional role model and inspiration to many. The commonwealth is large and the outpouring for her has been vast in recent years. Yes, the Queen lives in a palace and has servants who take care of her. She does not pay for her own things and probably never wants for anything. She has a dozen or more castles and palaces open to her whenever she likes. She also has the endless job of being the figure head of Great Britain and the Common Wealth as well as the Head of the Church of England. She is very much the people’s Queen. At her age, she still takes on a large amount of public duties and attends many public ceremonies and events. I only hope to age as well as her and be half as active as she is at 90 years old. Queen Elizabeth also understands her place. She understands the tax payers fund her way of life. She is known to be pretty thrifty at times and works hard every day to help maintain the country, even though she has no “real power.”

Born in 1926, Queen Elizabeth did not expect to be Queen. Her grandfather King George V passed his crown to her uncle Edward when he died. However, King Edward abdicated the throne after he married an American woman who had been divorced. Elizabeth’s father George VI became the King of England thrusting Elizabeth into the position to be heir to the United Kingdom.

Taking on public duties and service at a young age, Elizabeth held her first public broadcast in 1940 at the age of 14. This was during World War II. She addressed the children of Britain, giving them hope and support. Queen Elizabeth also served in the military. At the age of 18 she begged her father to allow her to be of help during World War II. As a princess, she joined the Women’s Territorial Service and trained as a mechanic and military truck driver. To this day, she is the only female member of the royal family to have served in the armed forces and the only head of state who served in World War II still living. At the end of the war Queen Elizabeth and her sister Mary convinced their parents to let them mingle anonymously among the people celebrating VE (Victory in Europe Day) on May 8, 1945. She remembers that day saying it is one of her most vivid and cherished memories.

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“I cannot lead you into battle. I do not give you laws or administer justice but I can do something else – I can give my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations.”
-Queen Elizabeth II

After the death of her father, Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth at the age of 25. Can you imagine being the Queen of England at the age of 25?  I can barely imagine being responsible for my own life at 25, never mind the lives of millions of other people. As the times were changing, Queen Elizabeth had to adapt. She became the first monarch to have a publicly televised coronation. Throughout her life, she has been a pioneer for change and has proved that history and tradition can mesh with modern society. Throughout her reign she has worked with 12 prime ministers and still meets with David Cameron weekly to offer counsel and understand the happenings of Parliament. She has also reigned during the term of 12 U.S. Presidents and 7 Popes. Needless to say, she has experienced much change.

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“Therefore I am sure that this, my Coronation, is not the symbol of a power and a splendor that are gone but a declaration of our hopes for the future, and for the years I may, by God’s Grace and Mercy, be given to reign and serve you as your Queen.”
-Queen Elizabeth II

During her reign, the Queen has had gun shots fired at her while on horseback and has had a man break into her bedroom due to a security breach. She has been the head of a family plagued by scandal and unpopularity and has helped to weather these storms. She brought the royal family back from the brink of extinction many times.

As a heavily involved Queen, she has never been described as lazy or neglectful. She has assented over 3,500 acts of Parliament and is patron to over 600 charities among many other things. The queen believes she must still be visible to the people, even at her age, because they are the ones who support her and the reason she is still the reigning monarch. She is also known to be the most widely traveled head of state, having visited more than 116 countries.

1992 was a rough year for the Queen and the royal family. The year was tainted by scandal with the divorce of her son, Prince Andrew and daughter, Princess Anne. A tell all, best seller book was released about Princess Dianna’s unhappiness and the breakdown of her marriage to Charles. Among all of this, there was a fire at Windsor Castle, the largest inhabited castle in the world and a residence of Her Majesty. After the family began to bounce back from all of this, a new scandal and tragedy arose.

In 1996 Princess Dianna and Prince Charles’ marriage ended in divorce. This crushed the nation because Dianna was very much the people’s princess. Charles’ relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles caused the marriage to end and led to a high disapproval rating of the royal family. A year later, Princess Dianna was killed in a traffic accident in Paris. A state of mourning fell over the country. Many thought the royal family would not survive this tragic event but they weathered the storm fervently.

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“Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.”
-Princess Dianna

Not much has happened after that in the way of scandal, aside from Prince Harry’s antics. However the Queen endured more loss in 2002 when her mother and sister passed away just two months apart. This was a very difficult time for the Queen, but she still held to her duties. This is something that is so inspiring about her. In the years following, the Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee and filmed a teaser for the Olympics with James Bond in 2012. But before all of that, the royal wedding of the century took place. Prince William married Kate Middleton and catapulted the royal family’s popularity into new heights. Kate Middleton has taken on the role well and is also an inspiration; however that topic is for another time.  In 2013 with the help of William and Kate, the Queen and Parliament agreed to change the ascension law acknowledging the first born to be the heir to the throne, no matter of gender.Royal_Family_61864698_jex_1479548_de27-1

On September 9, 2015 Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch and many would say the most successful. Today, April 21, 2016 Queen Elizabeth II turned 90 years old. I am proud to be alive for this moment and to be old enough to understand the impact she has made on the world. She may not be the Queen of my country, but she is the Queen in my heart and I will continue to look up to her, even after she has left this earth. Her impact will live on long after all of us are gone. This is only a glimpse into the wonderful woman Queen Elizabeth II is. If I were to tell you everything she has done, seen and been through, we would be here until she turns 100. Once again, Happy 90th birthday to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

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