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Friday, April 12, 2024

Weekend in the Swamp: An itinerary for new and returning gators

Where The Avenue would take you around Gainesville

Students coming to the swamp for Summer B classes are preparing for the course load that awaits them. To avoid getting bogged down, the Avenue created a weekend itinerary for students looking to balance academics with back-to-school fun.

8 a.m. — Ichetucknee Springs

Beginning your day at dawn gives you some advantages. First, it gets students in the habit of waking up early, a practice surely lost to groggy mornings in the all-too-brief summer breaks. Additionally, early risers get to take advantage of the crystal-clear waters at Ichetucknee Springs State Park. 

Under the Spanish moss near US-27, in Fort White, Florida, shaded hammocks and wetlands house a 6-mile-long river. Softshell turtles and river snails paddle through water below. 

Visitors can come and ride down the several lazy rivers and springs the park has to offer. Admission to the park is $6 per vehicle and tubing is free provided you bring your own tube. Otherwise, tubes can be rented at the entrance starting at $7.

Brielle Hazan, a 21-year-old UF biology senior, recommends the springs to students.

“It’s a great way to take a break from studying and schoolwork,” Hazan said.

She advises visitors to pack light. 

“You’re not really allowed to bring anything with you unless it’s reusable,” she said. “You kinda just have to detach from everything and appreciate the nature.”

Spend a couple of lazy hours floating through the springs and bask in the marsh like one of the many local lizards. 

Treat yourself, you deserve it! 

11 a.m. — Kanapaha Botanical Gardens / Loblolly Woods Nature Park

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After soaking in the springs for a couple of hours, continue your morning of local eco-tourism by visiting the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, located at Summer House, 4700 SW 58th Drive. The grounds, inspired by Lake Kanapaha as its namesake, cover 68 acres of land. 

Wind past their bamboo groves and trot over a bridge boasting giant water lilies in the pond below to enter a plethora of themed gardens. 

The price for admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children aged between 5 and 13.

For a free, price-friendly alternative, visit Loblolly Woods Nature Park. A smaller, more domestic option. It lacks the manicured ambition of Kanapaha, but the 159-acre forest serves as the perfect fix for returning college students strapped for cash and nature aficionados alike. Bring lots of bug spray and comfortable walking shoes to make the most of your excursion.

1 p.m. — Satchel’s Pizza

Surely, after an expedition full of springs and trails, one is bound to build up an appetite. Recover from the morning and satiate your hunger at Satchel’s Pizza. 

The pizzeria stands as a Gainesville staple. Having opened its doors in March of 2003, Satchel’s has more than two decades of serving customers under its belt. 

According to its website, patrons can “eat in a van, under a plane, or in a greenhouse.” Much of the restaurant's atmosphere and ambiance comes from repurposed items reworked into unconventional furniture and other decorations. 

Come just in time to enjoy their Lunch Special for under $10. 

2 p.m. — Rock’ n Glass

The best place to shop for rocks and crystals doubles as a small, hole-in-the-wall store on 4131 NW 13th St., dubbed Rock’ n Glass. 

Illustrating their compact yet broad, color-coded selection of stones through words hardly does the joint justice. Truly, it’s something you must see for yourself. Come a couple of hours before closing and detail all the crystal shelves the store has to offer at your leisure.

Prices vary depending on the size and cut of the merchandise. The only limits are one’s wallet and restraint. Regardless of your budget, prices are modest and competitive, ensuring there’s always something for someone. 

Juliana Camargo, a 22-year-old Santa Fe music composition major, is a long-time customer and vouches for the store’s unique appeal.

“I took a small adventure to this new place and was greeted with the best crystal selection I have ever seen in a store,” Camargo said. “It felt like a beautiful secret.” 

3 p.m. — Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History

Continuing with the day’s ecology theme, students can embrace the swamp’s own rainforest in the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Located at 3215 Hull Road, the Museum is a short walk from other locations like the Harn Museum of Art. 

General admission to the museum is free, however, the Butterfly Rainforest exhibit is $14 for adults, $12.50 for Florida residents, seniors and students, and $7.50 for children ages 3 through 17.

4 p.m. — Harn Museum of Art

Gainesville’s best collection of domestic and international art is housed at the Harn Museum of Art.

Located in the heart of UF on 3259 Hull Road, the museum boasts a huge repertoire of art making its facility among the largest in the South. The museum was established in September of 1990, and has served Gainesville’s artistic community for decades. 

Eric Segal, director of education and curator of academic programs, welcomes students to step into the museum and learn.

The Harn Museum of Art has been working with UF students for about a decade, and the program has a number of goals including refining skills in visual observation and critical thinking, Segal said.

Admission is free for all and students are always welcome to browse the halls filled with paintings and photographs. Exhibit spaces show off several multimedia art installments from ancient Chinese pottery pieces to large murals made of recycled and unconventional materials. 

6 p.m. — Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Company 

After joining the butterflies in their rainforest, head over to Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Company to secure supper. 

Brace yourself for a higher price range and splurge on tapas-style Japanese cuisine. The restaurant is located downtown on 201 SE 2nd Ave., which makes it a short walk from other Gainesville hot spots.

Dress up fancy, eat fresh fish and strut around town for a while enjoying most of what downtown Gainesville has to offer. 

8 p.m. — UF Bat Houses 

As dusk settles across the swamp, thousands of bats begin to form an appetite. Head over to the UF Bat Houses, a wildlife refuge and the world’s largest occupied bat houses, on campus at Museum Road. 

Get to the houses early to watch approximately 500,000 bats battle against insects and locusts in an attempt to catch their dinner. Among the species found in the houses, the most common are the Brazilian free-tailed bat, the southeastern bat and the evening bat.

10 p.m. — Arcade Bar

Top off a day of nature and adventure with a pint and some pinball. Conclude your night at the neon-painted game rooms of Arcade Bar on 6 E University Ave.

There is no cover, but you’ll want to save $5 for game tokens as each of the three floors of Arcade Bar have its own enticing offers. 

Start on the ground level for an array of pinball machines and skeeball. The corners of the bar are cluttered with old-school arcade machines hosting Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Go with some friends to prove your gaming prowess and play a few rounds.

The second story opens up into a low-ceiling lounge overlooking the first floor. While there are more games scattered around, this level is ideal for resting and relaxing between foosball matches. Visit briefly to catch your breath and continue on upward.

Reaching the third and final floor, the Arcade Bar opens up into a large dance floor. Join the dancers and pulse along to the contemporary pop beats and rock oldies from before the ‘90s. Cool off at the bar and go back for more fun afterward.

Midnight — Flaco’s Cuban Bakery

Come midnight, follow the ravenous migration of post-partygoers pouring out from the clubs and into the streets of 200 W University Ave. to the narrow dine-in that is Flaco’s Cuban Bakery. 

The quick service is outmatched only by the delicious food. The cheesy, greasy pastries are essential for UF students longing for a Latin taste.

Grab an arepa for less than $10 or a prepped pastry for less than $4. If you crave to recharge more, grab a bowl or a sandwich for about $12. 

With bellies full, you may begin sleepwalking home on raw, blistered feet to close your Gainesville odyssey. Absorb all the fun and experiences from the weekend as you mourn the incoming Monday morning.

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Valentina Sarmiento

Valentina Sarmiento is a UF journalism senior with a specialization in photojournalism. She is an Avenue staff writer for The Alligator. Aside from storytelling, she enjoys binging horror movies, cats and the occult.

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