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TPA

Sometimes you find the place where your soul lives, and I think mine resides in Tampa, Florida. There are many reasons to love the city, including: the countless outdoor festivals, Bayshore Boulevard (my favorite place for a sunset run), a subtropical climate, diverse restaurants, the Tampa Bay Lightning (aka the best hockey team around), and gorgeous white sand beaches. I traveled back to Tampa for the first time in nearly 3 years this February for the Gasparilla Distance Classic, and to visit with one of my best friends.

 

Gasparilla is a season in Tampa running from mid-January to mid-March; the biggest event is the Parade of Pirates, held annually on the last Saturday in January. On this day, the pirates invade the city and celebrate with the country’s third largest parade. Different pirate krewes create many of the parade’s elaborate floats, and they throw beads to spectators. Other community events during the season include the Gasparilla International Film Festival, the Gasparilla Music Festival, the Sant’Yago Knight Parade, and the Gasparilla Distance Classic.

I didn’t train for the race since my decision to run the half-marathon was impulsive, but I think muscle memory carried me through. The course followed much of the same route I would run in college through Davis Island and along Bayshore. The race started before dawn, but it was already humid and warm; still, it was nice to run comfortably in shorts and a tank top.

 

The weather all weekend was beautiful, and we spent much of it outside. After the race expo on Saturday morning, we went to the beach in St. Petersburg. We also had lunch at No Vacancy, a new restaurant/bar in downtown St. Pete. It has a retro motel theme, and a great outdoor lounge with plastic pink flamingos.

 

^ Downtown St. Pete always has a lot of really great street art!

 

^ No Vacancy; I ordered a jerk chicken sandwich, which I would highly recommend!

  

^ Polaroid beach shot; the pink building is the Don Cesar, an old hotel rumored to be haunted

Other weekend highlights included an afternoon in Hyde Park with a stop at The Hyppo for homemade, all-natural ice pops; a long walk along the newly-renovated Riverwalk; brunch at Oxford Exchange, arguably the most photogenic place in the city; and the new food halls, Armature Works and the Hall on Franklin.

 

^ Riverwalk; the sculpture outside of the Amalie Arena – go Bolts!

 

^ Hyppo pops; interior shot of Oxford Exchange

 

^ Armature Works

Though I always talk about wanting to move back to Tampa, I had started to wonder if I was chasing the past. If I move back, my life still won’t be what it was in 2014. But, my weekend in Tampa was a positive reaffirmation that I love the city as much as I thought I did. It’s undergoing a lot of development, and there are a lot of exciting new places to explore.

 

The District: Part 2

This is a continuation of my last post, devoted to some of the places/experiences I love most in DC.

1. Newseum

This museum has a ticket price of $24.95 for adults, but it’s certainly worth the admission. There are many intriguing exhibits revolving around the central themes of communication, free expression, and the press. Interestingly, the Newseum houses the largest display of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany. There’s also an outdoor terrace overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue, which has an excellent view of the Capitol.

2.  Smithsonian Institution Museums

What could possibly be better than premier museums with no admission fees? The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex, which features eleven museums located on the National Mall, and six others in the Washington metropolitan area. I feel so lucky to have spent so much time in the National Museum of Natural History exploring the collections on behind-the-scenes tours, and it will always have a very special place in my heart. I also really love the National Museum of American History and the National Postal Museum. But really, the Smithsonian has unparalleled treasures on display: Apolo Ono’s speed skates, portraits of America’s presidents, the Hope Diamond, and the Spirit of St. Louis, which was flown by Charles Lindberg across the Atlantic Ocean.

Now that I’m not visiting the museums on a regular basis, I like to listen to Sidedoor, the Smithsonian’s podcast. Listeners can vicariously explore content from the collections and delve into the new exhibits.

  

National Zoo

The National Zoo is part of the Smithsonian Institution, so it also has free admission. I have mixed feelings about animals in captivity, but I frequent zoos with AZA accreditation because I think they help foster a love and respect for animals, especially in the younger guests. The National Zoo is one of only four zoos in the US to house giant pandas. The zoo’s website has a Giant Panda Cam, too!

Elephants will always be my favorite…

3. Jazz in the Garden

Every Friday evening in the summer, the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden hosts a free jazz concert. It’s definitely a fun way to end the workweek, and it was a quick walk from the NMNH. They sell refreshments, and they have arguably the best sangria in the world.

4. Taylor Gourmet

I’m a big fan of fast casual dining, and I love this local chain restaurant. Taylor Gourmet has both a selection of unchanging classic menu options and special seasonal offerings. They are definitely known for their hoagies, and my go-to over the summer was the chicken salad hoagie.

Don’t have a photo of a hoagie (probably because I devoured it too quickly), but this is the summer carrot salad

5. Dacha Beer Garden

I think this outdoor beer garden is open all year, but it’s probably better in the warmer weather. It has wooden picnic tables, misting fans to beat the heat, and it allows dogs. They have an extensive beer menu, and I was thrilled to find out that they serve Schöfferhofer Grapefruit, which was a beer I fell in love with at Epcot.

6. Cava

Another fast casual (is anyone sensing a theme?) restaurant I love is Cava, which boasts healthy Mediterranean food. I appreciate the totally customizable menu. The first step is picking a base, like a salad or a grain bowl. Then, there are various spreads and toppings to add: roasted red pepper hummus, harissa, tzatziki, pita crisps, crumbled feta, felafel, cabbage slaw, etc.

The District

I spent last summer in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History as the Media & Outreach Leader in the museum’s Academic Resource Center (ARC). I worked as part of a team that facilitated experiences for the summer research interns such as behind-the-scenes tours of the collections, orientations, social events, and lunch discussions. As the Media & Outreach Leader, my primary responsibilities were coordinating the “Intern of the Day” spotlight series and photographing events to create engaging material for social media. Overall, my position allowed me to blend my interests in science, photography, and writing, and it was truly inspiring to be immersed in an environment filled with equally passionate individuals.

Though I did spend a fair amount of time in the NMNH, I was able to explore a lot of the city. Here are some of my summer highlights:

1. Theodore Roosevelt Island

This island is a fitting memorial to our nation’s 26th president, who was undeniably a conservationist and an outdoorsman. I went with two friends on a Saturday morning for a National Park Service ranger-led hike, and we were able to spend several miles traversing the trails, identifying plants, and learning facts about TR. While accessible by car, it’s also an easy 10-15 minute walk from the Rosslyn metro station.

 

2.  Twilight Monument Tour: Boating in DC

If there’s a better way to scope out some of DC’s iconic monuments, I don’t know it. I booked this kayaking tour through Boating in DC and spent the golden hour paddling the Potomac. We saw the Watergate, the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument, just to name a few things.

Link here: http://boatingindc.com/dc-activities/tours/

 

3. Congressional Cemetery

Interestingly, being a member of Congress is not a prerequisite for burial in this historic (and active) cemetery. It has a lengthy list of famous interments, including J. Edgar Hoover and John Philip Sousa. Also of note: the cemetery has a private dog-walking program called the K9 Corps. Memberships begin at $235 and support the cemetery’s ongoing work.

 

4. United States Botanic Garden

I love a good botanical garden like I love a good science museum. This one is located near the Capitol building, and it’s free and open 365 days/year. There are rooms dedicated to Mediterranean plants, orchids, cacti and succulents, and rain forest fauna.

5. National Building Museum

This museum isn’t part of the Smithsonian Institution, so it does have small entrance fee, but it is well worth it. The architecture museum is appropriately housed in a gorgeous building, and features a number of intriguing exhibits. I really enjoyed the ongoing House & Home exhibit, which showcases a number of consumer artifacts from past centuries.

6. District Taco

It would probably be embarrassing to figure out just how many times I went to District Taco, but I guess that speaks to how much I love it. District Taco is a chain with many locations in and around Washington, DC, and it is fast casual dining. Besides having delicious food, they also have an awesome salsa bar.

7. Ice Cream Jubilee

This shop is definitely up there with spots like Molly Moon’s in Seattle and Salt & Straw in Oregon. Ice Cream Jubilee has been voted best ice cream in DC for the past three years. They have fantastic, unique flavors like Honey Lemon Lavender, Thai Iced Tea, and Passion Fruit Guava sorbet. It’s also located right by the beautiful Yards Park in the Capitol Riverfront.

Basil Goat Cheese on the bottom and Honey Lemon Lavender on top!