Chinese New Year 2019

Happy Year of the Pig! If you were born in the year 1983, 1995, or 2007 this is your year!!

Taylor and I are back in our second home and starting our new year by regrouping and relaxing. After a very busy few months traveling all over the states for the holidays, we’ve been taking a true “vacation” for ourselves.

Before jumping into our adventures within Beijing, I’m going to take it back a few weeks. I think this will make things easier to understand. Upon landing in China, we quickly realized that the whole country was shutting down for the New Year. To fight the 13 hour jet lag, we took a small trip to Shanghai with a couple friends who live in Nanjing too. We’ve been to Shanghai numerous times, because it’s only an hour (or 2 depending on the stops) train ride from Nanjing.  IMG_7046invite you to an anniversary party to celebrate their ten years of marriage!We spent a good portion of our time eating good food, walking around the People’s Square, and visiting the largest Starbucks in the world! I was in coffee HEAVEN! I didn’t know this was even located in Shanghai until a few months ago. The Starbucks Reserve Roastery was 2 stories high and was it’s very own coffee factory. They offer way more food and drink options at this location. I tried the butterscotch latte and it was the best latte I’ve ever had. I’m not sure if this was seasonal or available everywhere? It was new to me. 🙂5Processed with VSCO with g6 presetOf course it was packed with people, but you could spend hours here watching the coffee being made, looking at all the special merchandise, and even enjoy a pairing bar! This is something everyone needs to see when visiting Shanghai. I can’t wait to go back.IMG_7050IMG_7052Our friends are huge Disney lovers, so they hold season passes to the Disney Shanghai park. They showed us the beautiful Disney resort and took us to the Downtown Disney area. Taylor and I are excited to experience Disney Shanghai later in the year. We all grabbed dinner at the Cheesecake Factory before retiring back to our hotel for the night. Tay and I returned to Nanjing the next day.

Now remember when I said the whole country of China was shutting down for the Chinese New Year?? Well this created a small setback for us. Taylor wasn’t expected to return to work for several more weeks, and our city was becoming emptier and emptier. Instead of sitting in our apartment for days and days, we booked last-minute train tickets to Beijing! Bullet trains can take anywhere between 3-4 hours to reach Beijing from Nanjing, depending on how many stops it makes. IMG_7200The two of us love Beijing, and thought this was the perfect time to experience an authentic Chinese New Year! Whenever we travel to Beijing, we stay within the Sanlitun district because it’s the most western and a fantastic place to meet people our age who are also expats. There’s always something going on!3 We kicked off our second day by watching the Super Bowl at 7am at The Local. I’ve never seen so many Americans in one location within China before. It was so odd watching the Super Bowl this early and without all the dips and snacks, but it turned out to be really fun!2On Chinese New Year, we met up with friends who live in Beijing to visit some of the festivals. There were shows, food, and extravagant displays lining the parks and streets! By the way, it was freezing!!DSC_56044IMG_7233DSC_5644The whole day was spent exploring and immersing ourselves into a Chinese New Year celebration. DSC_5692DSC_56496DSC_5670I was really hoping to see a Chinese dragon show, but we couldn’t find one. Apparently it’s a southern China thing. However, they still had a bunch of performances that were super fun to watch. DSC_56537DSC_5657DSC_5698DSC_5703I loved seeing all the vibrant colors and different traditions China upholds every single year. They really know how to ring in a new year! 9DSC_56878After the celebration, we called it a day. We spent the next few days eating more great food and walking around Beijing together. It’s always nice to get away for a few days and experience something new!

Florence, Italy

Taylor and I are officially back in China, so that can only mean one thing. Our Italian blog posts are nearing the end! If you missed the first few posts, you can read them all here:

Zurich, Lugano, Lake Como, Venice 

The fifth city we visited was Florence! After we packed our bags up in Venice, we took another train and rode to our next destination. We really enjoyed taking the trains everywhere in Europe. It’s so much easier and cheaper than flying. Florence is located in central Italy, within Tuscany.

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I’d say that Florence is known for architecture and food. It’s here where we ate the best Italian food of our lives.

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The man behind all the travel plans. 🙂 I’d be lost without him…literally. He puts so much effort into planning our adventures together.

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If I’m being honest, Florence wasn’t my favorite city that we visited during our European adventure. We were still coming off a high of visiting Lake Como and Venice, and Florence was just okay in my book. I’m not dying to go back, and I really don’t know if I’d make an effort to return. I’m glad we came, but I wouldn’t spend more than two nights here. Like I said before, the food was INCREDIBLE, but that was the highlight of visiting Florence.

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When visiting Florence, you NEED NEED NEED to eat at ZaZa’s. This place was so incredible that we ate there TWICE. This is unheard of for us. The even crazier thing about this place, is that it’s ranked in the 200’s on Trip Advisor for some reason?? I guess there’s just so many places to eat in Florence that the competition is hard. The lasagna was the best I’ve ever eaten and so was the homemade gnocchi. Seriously. You have to eat here.

We also stumbled across a unique wine shop one night called DiVino. You purchase the bottle size you’d like (or glass) and they’d fill it up with whatever local wine they had available. The first time we went, we purchased a standard 750ml bottle and filled it with cabernet. Our total was 4.50 euro and the wine was delicious! We returned the next day and it was only 3 euro since we already had the bottle! Such a genius idea!

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I felt so uninspired to take photos here. I’m not sure if it was because taking photos of architecture isn’t my thing, or that museums are difficult to photograph, or if everything looked the same. Maybe I’m crazy? If you’ve travelled all over Italy, let me know your thoughts on Florence, because I’m really curious. I don’t want to hate on Florence because we really did have a good time. If art history, architecture, and good food are you’re thing then you’d probably love this city!

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If you do find yourself in Florence, you need to walk through the gardens overlooking the city! The view gives you an incredible lookout for miles!

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The second thing you need to do is go and see the David statue, which was created in 1873! One thing to note is that there’s the real, authentic David, and then there’s a mock David. Please make sure you go see the real one, and not the fake! You can find the beautiful marble statue in the Accademia Gallery. The replica is in the Piazza della Signoria.

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With an abundance of museums in Florence, your time there can get expensive! When we were deciding which museums to purchase tickets for, we both agreed that that Museo Galileo would be the most interesting. Taylor is all about science and navigation, so this was absolutely perfect! 🙂 Tickets were 10 euro each, and it took us about an hour to see everything. We had the best time looking at all the early maps and scientific inventions!

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That’s it for our time in Florence! Next stop, the beach!

Venice, Italy

Good Morning!

Today’s post is all about exploring the streets of Venice, Italy! If you missed the first 3 cities, click the links to catch up!

Part 1: Zurich

Part 2: Lugano

Part 3: Lake Como

After spending two nights on Lake Como, we boarded another train and headed to Venice. The train ride took two hours and once we arrived, we started searching for our Airbnb.

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Venice is EXACTLY like the pictures you see. There are no cars, only boats as a means of transportation. Venice is where you see all the famous gondola photos. There are cobblestone streets and a lot of bridges, so keep that in mind if you’re carrying luggage. This was a really rough & long walk for us, since we had to drag our suitcases up and down stairs, cobblestone streets, and weaving through a ton of tourists. It was worth it though, because our Airbnb was in the heart of Venice. (I’ll be writing specifically about all of our Airbnb’s in a separate post.)

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We chose not to do a gondola ride during our time in Venice. Although it’s the famous thing to do here, neither of us were just dying to do it. Incase you’re wondering, it’s 80euro ($92) to ride before 7pm and 100euro ($115) after! That is per boat, not per person. I’m assuming you’ll have to tip the man too, so bare that in mind. If it’s a dream of yours to ride the gondola, then I think it will be worth every penny for you. It looked like a lot of fun!

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Venice is like a maze. There are so many different streets and alleys that you never really know where you are! It’s super easy to get lost. However, each alley has something unique and charming about it!…. or a dead end

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The weather was beautiful the whole time we were visiting. However, with the sunlight reflecting off the water and an abundance of tourists around, it was HOT. I think this was the hottest city we visited during our trip. Even at the end of August, Venice was packed!

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We had a great time walking through the alleys and taking in the beauty of Venice! It actually feels unreal being there. If you visit, I’d highly suggest getting out of the tourist area and visiting the residential area. It was way less crowded and perfect if you’re looking to take photos without hundreds of people standing in the background.

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Although we didn’t take a long romantic gondola ride, we did ride a gondola across the river. This was so much easier than climbing all the bridges! It was also only 2euro per person. If you know Tay’s love for saving money you could have guessed we took the 2 euro ride.

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Before we left the city we grabbed some pasta to go for the train ride, It was wonderful and super cheap!

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Venice was seriously beautiful. If you’re planning a trip to Italy and not sure which cities to visit, add Venice to your list.

**I do have a few remarks about Venice that I need to put out there. First, there’s not much to do. There’s a few historical landmarks and of course the famous gondola ride, but other than that it’s a city for wandering. My second remark is for all the woman out there. This entire city is one big maze and a bunch of paths and alleys. With that being said, this is a place where it would be easy to find yourself in a sticky situation if you’re not paying attention or alone. I never felt uncomfortable or in danger while here, but I was also with a man and he knew what he was doing. I never see anything about this when it comes to Venice, but I think it’s worth mentioning! Think smart, pay attention, and always follow your gut!

My next post will be all about Florence! Stay tuned! 🙂

What We’re Eating!

Hello!

Welcome back for another exciting topic about our lives in China! First and foremost, incase you haven’t heard already, I’ve started a YouTube channel! You can click this link HERE to watch my first video. Making videos is a new challenge for me because I have no idea how to film or edit. It’s been a learning experience for sure, but I hope you’ll subscribe to our channel and follow along for a different perspective!

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Now, onto today’s topic about what we’re eating in China! There is so much to be said about the food here, so I’ve decided to get creative. Here, you’ll see a breakdown of our meals, what we’re eating, and some of our favorite restaurants in Nanjing. On my YouTube channel, you’ll come grocery shopping with Taylor and I and see a haul at the end! 🙂

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Before I jump into the food we’re eating, I need to give you some background information. In America, Taylor was the picky eater and I was willing to try anything. When it comes to eating internationally, the roles are reversed. Weird right? I ate little to nothing during our first week here. I physically could not bring myself to eat anything. I had to get over this phobia real quick, because I was wilting away. Taylor and I set out to find foods we could enjoy eating.

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When it comes to food, we have a routine that is consistent and safe. I know what you’re thinking…Ashley, if you moved all the way to China why aren’t you eating all the different foods?! My answer is this: First off, I don’t like a lot of the food here. Second, absolutely everything has changed in my daily life, but the one thing I can control is the food I choose to eat. If you’re coming to Nanjing and looking for Western food that makes you feel comfortable like me, then this is the blog for you!

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Let’s start with breakfast! Sometimes, I will walk to Starbucks and grab an iced latte, but lately I’ve been having McDonald’s delivered to my apartment. I order one hash brown and one hot coffee with cream and sugar. It’s so easy and convenient.

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Lunch is always provided at the school! (The office for the Nanjing MLB development center is at one of the local schools here.) During the academic year, we eat in the cafeteria with all the other students. Now that it’s summer vacation, we just eat in the teacher’s lounge. This is where we eat our authentic Chinese food. Typically, they have several different proteins and vegetables, and then you can choose between rice or noodles. They also always serve soup, which is more like a drink for them. The food isn’t bad, but it’s never warm. Normally, I try to stick with chicken, rice, and a veggie that looks appealing. I always ask the Chinese players what the food is, but they don’t even know what it is half the time, ha! 🙂

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Dinner is almost always eaten out. To be honest, this is one of our only expenses here so we don’t mind eating out often. The only dish I’ve figured out how to cook in our apartment is pasta. Once a week we’ll make that and then eat the leftovers another night. If I had to estimate, we eat dinner in our apartment 2 nights a week. On the nights we choose to eat out, we have 4 staple restaurants that we love!

  1. Blue Frog: This is where we get our burgers! Every Monday night they do BOGO burgers along with BOGO drinks. Do they have the best burgers I’ve ever had? No. But, we ALWAYS see other travelers or expats here. They also serve brunch on weekends! Processed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 preset098eb592-6748-4263-8486-17bcfe84072a.jpg707784c3-235b-48ce-85b6-c9c38d378360.jpg
  2. James: This is probably my favorite place at the moment! I think it’s a great spot to end our week, because we can enjoy a drink and relax. It’s an Italian restaurant and I haven’t tried anything bad yet! I really love their caesar salad, pizza, and spaghetti! Processed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 preset
  3. Lugas: Here, you’ll find a lot of Mexican and Italian food. This is probably one of the cheaper options, but they have great comfort food! I’m not a fan of their pasta, but their pizza, nachos, and mozzarella sticks are fabulous! Processed with VSCO with c1 preset522fde80-ba82-48aa-a980-1a58aa60e12d.jpg
  4. Finnegans: This is an Irish pub that we’ve only eaten at once, but discovered it through friends who live on this side of town. The owner is Scottish and we had a great time talking to him and learning about his story! Of all the places we eat, this is the most expensive, but that’s because it’s all imported. However, when I’m craving some pulled pork or fish and chips, this is the place to go!Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

I’m happy with the restaurants we’ve discovered so far! If you’re traveling to Nanjing and looking for western food, I’d recommend any of these places! You’ll also find a lot of other travelers and expats eating here, I promise! Each week we rotate where we go, and we almost always eat with friends from work. Although we eat a lot of the same food here, our diets have changed significantly. We eat way less than we used to, and we eat a lot more fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Taylor and I have both seen a drastic change in our bodies and overall health since being here.

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I hope you enjoyed reading about what we’re eating in Nanjing! I’m sure it will change a little as we grow more comfortable here. Don’t forget to check out our grocery haul on YouTube!

 

Tigers on The Road: Raleigh, NC

 

 

Taylor and I left for Raleigh, North Carolina last Friday to see the Tigers play NC State. We live about an hour and a half away from the Orlando airport, so we had to get up around 4am to make our 7am flight time. Thankfully, we have TSA Pre-Check and don’t need to worry about standing in line at security. TSA Pre-Check has been a lifesaver for us, especially because we fly out of a very populated airport! The line is always wrapped around and full of Disney Tourists with their multiple kids and strollers, so investing in TSA Pre-Check has been a lifesaver.

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This flight was special because we got to bring Maybelle! She has only flown one other time, and she was still a little puppy. She whined a little when we first took off, but after a few minutes she went to sleep. There were two little kids in the seats in front of us and they LOVED her. They kept turning around to check on her.

 

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Maybelle lives in Florida with us, so she wasn’t used to the cooler weather!

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Once we landed, we met up with our great friend Rachel and headed to her place to change for the Clemson game! I was shocked at how beautiful Raleigh was at this time of year. I’ve only visited the city one other time, and it was during late summer. I’ve never seen such beautiful leaves before in my life! If you love fall and all the colorful leaves, then you’re going to love this post because it’s jam packed with red, orange, and yellow!

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Like every other Clemson game, we tailgated with friends and family before the game started. The weather was much cooler for us Floridians, but we loved it!

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The NC State stadium is one of the best I’ve been too! It was smaller in size, but very clean. Their fans were ROWDY during the game, and the school did an amazing job at pumping up their fans.

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This was such a close game, which made things tense. NC State put up a good fight, and we barely pulled out a win.

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Once the game was over, we stopped at Cookout (because we can only get this when we’re in the area) and we crashed back at Rachel’s. The following morning we went to the State Farmer’s Market for breakfast.

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If you’re in Raleigh and need a good breakfast/lunch place, the State Farmer’s Market is the place to go! The line was out the door when we got there, but we only had to wait an hour for a table. It looked extremly busy from the outside!

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Our Server, Daniel, was so good to us and made the wait enjoyable. He brought us biscuits and hush puppies, while keeping our coffee full.

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Taylor enjoyed seeing all of his friends!

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Once we were done eating, we walked through the Farmer’s Market.

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We don’t get all the colorful leaves in Florida, so I made Taylor take a picture of me with the leaves.

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The face of pure happiness 🙂

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Once we got back from the State Farmer’s Market, we checked in on the pup and took her for a long walk. We were driving back up the following weekend, so we left Maybelle with Taylor’s mom for the week. This way we didn’t have to buy her another plane ticket.

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We sat around on Sunday afternoon, thinking about what we wanted to do during the day, and we decided to grab some coffee at Cocoa Cinnamon, then walk around the gardens at Duke.

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Walking through the gardens was the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The weather was perfect and the grounds were breathtaking. It was a relaxing Sunday and we were glad to see Duke’s campus!

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Going to the gardens and walking around Duke was the best decision we made on Sunday! It was difficult choosing which photos to use for this post, because they were all so beautiful.

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To end the night, we drove into the city and ate dinner at Trophy Brewing Co with Rachel and Ben. We were flying out early the next morning, so we needed something quick and filling.

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They had indoor and outdoor seating available, and the service was quick but relaxed. It wouldn’t make sense for us to travel somewhere and not order some pizza, so that’s what we did! I ordered the Margarita and Taylor split the Most Loyal with Rachel and Ben.

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I’m so glad we travelled to Raleigh to see Clemson play and meet up with friends and family. It can be exhausting living in Florida with all the heat and humidity, so this was a nice break from it all. ❤

 

Short Weekend in Key West

Before Taylor and I moved to Northern Florida over a year ago, we dreamed of visiting the Florida Keys. On a good day, it’s at least an 8 hour drive from Gainesville. We aren’t moving any closer to the Keys, so now was the perfect time for us to go! Since we had a free weekend, we left early Friday morning and stopped at a rest station for a quick breakfast from Dunkin’.

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As soon as we crossed over the water and into Key Largo, we were starving! With Hurricane Irma happening not too long ago, we weren’t sure how bad the destruction would be. As we were driving around looking for a place to stop and eat, everything was closed due to destruction. There were piles and piles of debri along the side of the road and it was heartbreaking.

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The damage was worse in some areas than others, and our hearts went out to the people of the Keys. After driving around and trying to find a place to eat that was open, we finally stumbled upon a small place called Boondocks. It wasn’t anything local or fancy, and the food was alright, but it was a nice break from the road.

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As soon as we stepped out of the restaurant, we noticed a line of traffic. What we didn’t know, was that there was a truck overturned 20 miles ahead, which dumped hundreds of gallons of oil all over the road and it was blocking both lanes. We barely crawled through traffic for FIVE HOURS. What was supposed to be an 8 hour drive to Key West, turned into a miserable THIRTEEN HOUR drive.

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The two of us were super bummed, because we were really counting on that night to explore the city. At one point when we were crawling through traffic, we were stopped next to an ice cream shop. Making the most of the situation, I ran inside and got us some yummy ice cream cones. I had enough time to go inside, purchase two ice cream cones, and make it back to the car before it moved again…

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We didn’t end up making it to our hotel until 10:30 that night. The receptionist at the desk was incredible and offered us free drinks upon arrival. He understood the traffic we’d just went through, and was more than sympathetic for us. Apparently, nobody had checked in that night because they were all stuck in that horrific traffic. After squaring things away at the desk, he personally showed us to our room and made sure we were comfortable.

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Our room was small, but very clean and comfortable. It was perfect for our short stay!

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Although we were tired from the drive, we were eager to get out on our feet and find something to munch on. We decided to get a few drinks and some appetizers at the Waterfront Brewery, which was right on the harbor! Thankfully, it was only a few minutes away.

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This place was fantastic!! Our server was amazing and the food and drinks were exactly what we needed. Taylor ordered the pretzels and I had the calamari! If we would’ve been in Key West longer, the two of us would’ve definitely returned.

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The next morning, we woke up early and hit the ground exploring! The great thing about our hotel was that it was within walking distance of everything. Our hotel also offered complimentary tea and coffee all day long, so that was an added bonus in my book! 🙂 The first thing we did, was walk to the most southern point of the United States.

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Typically, there is writing on the Southern Point marker, but they were in the middle of repainting it while we were there.

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Once we were done looking at the view and taking our touristy pictures, we started walking around and looking at all the unique homes! People in Key West really enjoy celebrating Halloween, because almost all of them were decked out in Halloween decorations. Even our hotel was full of decorations! I believe the city was getting ready for a Fantasy Fest in the near future, which sounded huge!?

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After walking down Duval Street for a little bit, we were beginning to get hungry. We stumbled upon a cute place called, Two Friends. The place looked pretty busy, so we took it as a good sign!

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I’m so glad that we chose to eat here, because it was SO YUMMY! Despite being busy, we were sat right away and the service was great.

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I ordered the bacon, mushroom, and swiss omelet, while Taylor ordered their strawberry, banana, french toast. Both were excellent!

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We didn’t have any set plans for the day, so we continued walking around Key West and exploring. Taylor ended up finding a local Rum distillery! If you enjoy rum, you need to check this place out! You can walk around the see them actually making the rum!

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I’m not a rum drinker, but Taylor had a sample and said it was great!

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It was super hot while we were exploring, so we decided to go back to our hotel and relax by the pool. We booked our stay at the Eden House, which we found on booking.com. On our way back, we stopped at a local bakery for some sweet treats!

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We loved staying at the Eden House because it was so peaceful and relaxing. We were within walking distance of everything, and the people were so friendly. Each room was unique and very well kept.

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If we ever find ourselves in Key West again, we will definitely be staying here again. There are a few larger hotels on the island, but I’d recommend staying at a smaller place like a bed and breakfast.

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Every day from 5-7, the Eden House has a free happy hour! We took advantage of that before getting ready and heading out for a night on Duval Street.

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We started our Saturday night out at Sloppy Joe’s! They had live music and fantastic drinks and appetizers!

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We ordered their mozzarella sticks and loaded fries!

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After about an hour or so, we walked to Irish Kevin’s! Here, we split a World Famous Green Alligator! It had blue carjack, limon run, sour mix and orange juice with a 151 rum floater. Not only was it tasty, but it came with the cup!

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As soon as we left Irish Kevin’s, it started to rain. While waiting for it to stop, we went into a nearby ice cream shop for a late night snack! Once the rain gave up and we walked back to our hotel, we grabbed our swimsuits and headed for the hot tub.

The next morning we had to check out and head back to Gainesville. As soon as we packed our bags and said a sad goodbye to the Eden House, we drove to the harbor for a quick breakfast.

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We ordered food at the Cuban Coffee Queen and ate it on a bench beside the water! The food was amazing and it was my first time trying cuban coffee. Now I know why everyone raves about cuban coffee, because it was soooo good! Even Taylor liked it, and he doesn’t even drink coffee! 🙂

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On our way out of Key West, we passed the Mile 0 sign and had to stop for a mini photo shoot!

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Although our trip to Key West was short, we had an amazing time exploring the small city and we hope to be back soon!