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Last weekend, I went to Bradenton to visit my grandparents. I lived in Bradenton for a year after I moved back from Indonesia, and I immediately made myself at home in this glorious city on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Needless to say, I always enjoy my visits home to Bray, but given how stressful work has been since coming back after Christmas break, this particular trip was more of an escape than I anticipated it would be. As soon as I hit the road after work, I felt a huge relief that I would soon be far (if you can call 2 hours “far”) from work.

I arrived at my grandparents’ condo on Friday night, and we lounged in their courtyard as the sun set. Soon, it was time for our long-standing tradition of Wheel/Jeopardy, but we of course had to pause and go hang out in the courtyard again once we realized there was a lunar eclipse to watch.

Being the morning person that I am, I was up bright and early for a Saturday morning sunrise trip to Anna Maria Island. I got to my favorite sunrise spot near the Anna Maria Pier just after the sun had popped over the horizon, and everything was glowing.

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Things I loved about this sunrise sojourn: standing on the pier and watching the schools of fish swarm in the water, trying (and failing) to capture a good picture of the perfect ripples in the sand, trying (and succeeding) to capture a good picture of my book, and seeing the seagulls land on the backs of pelicans who just caught fish because seagulls are lazy and apparently would rather steal from the pelicans than catch their own fish.

After an hour of wandering along the seashore, I hopped in my car and decided to check out a nature preserve I’d recently seen a photo of on Instagram. Though Perico Preserve was under some construction, it still had some photogenic sections and ended up being a great place for a quick run.

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I got back to the condo late morning and then my grandparents and I went out to Robinson Preserve so that Grampy could take me on my first kayaking experience. (Grammy took pictures of us and then found somewhere in the shade to read.)

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The kayaking adventure was over far too soon, but it was time to move on to our next destination: the park across the road from Robinson. Palma Sola Botanical Park is one of my favorite places in Bradenton to take flower photos; even though there aren’t too many flowers blooming at this time of year, it’s still a lovely place to go on a nice little walk. Especially when you run into some friends who live in the cactus garden.

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Once back at the car, we headed to AMI once more for a late lunch on the beach. In the year I lived in Bradenton, I never saw the water as turquoise as it was on this day. This water was the kind of water that people travel thousands of miles to swim in when they need a break from winter. Total vacation vibes.

I was so entranced by the ocean’s beauty that I only managed to get one (poorly-composed) photo of it, but man, just LOOK AT THAT WATER! I left this one unedited because the colors speak for themselves.

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And then we went home and relaxed and had a lovely evening visiting with family friends and watching Wheel/Jeopardy re-runs and having grilled veggies and Grammy’s famous garlic bread for dinner and it was everything that a Saturday night should be after a stressful week of work and a busy day of exploring.

The next morning, I slept a little later but still made it to Robinson Preserve just as the sun was rising. I had a quick run and enjoyed getting to experience another perfect morning in Bradenton’s nature.

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Rather than simply doing some quick stretches after my run, I drove over to the island and decided I’m now the kind of person who does beach yoga. I spread my towel in the shade of some trees at the edge of the beach and did some hip and leg stretching poses. Fun fact: yoga relaxes me so much that I usually fall asleep at the end, so I had a lovely little power nap on the beach before waking up and reading a little bit.

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While I was in the area, I had a leisurely little stroll around Anna Maria, which entailed stopping in the delightful cafe/shop Ginny’s and Jane E’s for a smoothie and then going to the small Sunday flea market across the street.

I knew I had to go down to Longboat Key to visit my favorite place in the Bradenton area, so I soon found myself pulling into the seashell-strewn parking lot of Durante Park. I don’t know if it’s the big garden, the mangroves, the lovely view of Sarasota Bay, or the abundance of spiny orb weavers–actually, scratch that, it’s definitely the spiders that keep me coming back.

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These fellas are EVERYWHERE, and they are so cool! Of course, the other features of the park are pretty nice, too . . .

. . . such as the other spiders that call Durante Park home . . .

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. . . and the cousins of spiders, horseshoe crabs.

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The other views are alright, too.

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I figured while I was on Longboat Key, I might as well take scenic route home (plot twist: EVERY route is the scenic route in this part of Florida), so I drove through St. Armand’s Circle to get to Sarasota, where I stopped at The Ringling to admire Mabel Ringling’s Rose Garden and John Ringling’s vacation home.

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And with that, my sightseeing was over. I went back to G and G’s condo for a little bit before heading home late afternoon.

I’m still coming down from the high of such a wonderfully perfect weekend. It had all the hallmarks of a visit home along with the feeling of being on vacation in a far-off place. Bray is bae. ❤

Love, Elizabeth