Travel Time

The Dream of the 90s is Alive in Barcelona

The dream of the 90s may very well be alive in Portland, but it’s also alive in Barcelona, at least to me.

For reasons unknown, my first feelings of Barcelona was that it was like stepping back into the 90s. Maybe it was the fashion, the way the sun hit the buildings, the yellowed paper signs on the door of the cafe, or the outdated but comforting feel of the subways. Whatever it was, it was awesome. I loved Barcelona. It was also very nice being able to use Spanish rather than French or Italian. I’m used to Spanish and I definitely butchered the French and Italian languages. Sorry guys.

My favourite thing in Barcelona by far was the cafe nearby our hotel called Forn de Pa El Surtidor. It’s a small bakery popular among people who live in the neighbourhood, run by two older Spanish men. Firstly, I loved the atmosphere. This is one of the main things that reminded me of the 90s. It was just a classic bakery and the owners were so friendly and gave us a different cookie or pastry every morning with our americanos for free. They also had amazing tortas de aceite, which they actually sell at Kowalski’s back in the great land of Minnesota. It’s all about the small things in life, isn’t it?

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La Boqueria market was amazing. This used to be a market where locals would buy their fresh food every week, and it still is, but only to some extent. Alas, the tourists have taken it over, but that doesn’t stop how fantastic it is. Exploring the entire market was one of my favourite things in Barcelona. We tried everything from burritos, to chocolate, to prosciutto and cheese sandwiches, to mango coconut juice. It like the Minnesota state fair but all food, and sorry, it was so much better.

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The amazing food didn’t stop there. Paella was next. (note: not pay-ella, the L’s are silent. like papaya but without the second p). We found a restaurant on tripadvisor and searched around for two hours looking for it. We were somehow looking at two different directions, but eventually we found the correct one on google maps and the second we got there the phone died. I am not joking. We were starving, which was a good thing because paella could probably feed three people. We treated ourselves to champagne and wine, ordered the meat paella, and ate almost the whole thing. It was a beautiful moment.

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A few more notes on food, tapas. Everywhere. All day. Every day. We ate jamón serrano (spanish cured ham. the pigs are fed acorns so it tastes a bit different), patatas bravas (fried potato served with garlic mayonnaise) quail eggs on toast, spanish flatbread with tomato and olive oil, and more that I’m blanking on. Tapas are life. Also, empanadas and Estrella beer. Yum.

Something that would be great for an all-day adventure/picnic is Park Güell, one of the major works of Gaudi. You have to pay entry for some parts of the park, but we stuck to the free section and it was still beautiful. It reminded me of disneyland or really just felt like we could have been in California.

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One morning we went to the Picasso Museum. What’s better than the Picasso museum? The Picasso Museum doing an exhibit featuring Salvador Dalí paintings! To our surprise, this was happening. It was a dream. They compared both Picasso and Dalí paintings and I never realised how similar they are, besides looking at them and thinking ‘I don’t know what this is, but I love it.’

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One of the best parts of Barcelona is the beach. The water was cold, but there was still a lot to do! We went to a restaurant and enjoyed (frankly overpriced, but oh well) sangria and wine, we walked around with people cycling, running, rollerblading, walking dogs, and using the outdoor gym.  We walked along the beach and after finding a small bobber in the sand, I exclaimed how good I was at finding things, when all of a sudden a pole with a flag and a buoy attached to it came out of nowhere. When the wave came in, I ran in and grabbed it. Her name was Esther. It was a nice moment.

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Anyway, Barcelona, 10/10 recommend.

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Piazzas & Pizzas

To start the post off, the title of this blog post is inspired by the (almost too) catchy and weird song, Batches & Cookies by the fabulous Lizzo. My sister and I replaced ‘batches and cookies’ with ‘piazzas and pizzas’, due to the insane amount of piazzas we went to and pizzas we ate. You probably won’t like the song but trust me it will grow on you.

From Annecy, France, my mom and sister and I took a train to Florence, Italy. The first thing I noticed was the enormous amount of American exchange students. How could I tell they were American exchange students? Easy. I took a step outside and suddenly heard the overwhelmingly loud conversations of students passing by. While standing in line for a pizza, I overheard how a girl ‘literally spent over $1000 on Starbucks and gas alone’ last summer. I don’t need to know that, but cool. I think many American students forgot what they learned in kindergarten; use your inside voices.

In Florence we used Airbnb and stayed in an apartment that felt like stepping into a museum. Every block that you pass there’s something completely new and rich with history to look and ponder at. Florence is relatively small, so it was incredibly easy to walk around. No underground subway, and no need for one!

Favourite sights in Florence:

Santa Maria del Fiore. It truly is an amazing cathedral. The line was long, however we came back 30 minutes before it closed and walked right in.

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Uffizi Gallery. The famous art gallery in Florence. Again, the line was too long, but we came back right when it opened the next morning and only had to wait about 40 minutes, rather than a few hours. The Uffizi gallery is home to one of the few Doryphoros statues, with one of the other galleries that houses them being the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Quite the fun fact! We spent probably three hours in the gallery. Long day at the office! (another fun fact: uffizi means office in Italian. The building used to be offices). There’s so much to see that even the hallway to the exit is a gallery. We definitely got our moneys worth. In this gallery I got a discount because I am a student in the EU, however if you’re an EU citizen you get a discount in almost all of the museums. It seriously pays to live in Europe.

Pizza from Gustapizza. This was a suggestion from the man we were renting the apartment from, and one of Katie’s friends who recently studied abroad in Florence. We each got our own pizza, walked to the bridge, and ate it overlooking the river. I tend to judge places by how many places there are to sit and what the atmosphere is like. This was one of the best places I’ve ever sat.

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Church of San Lorenzo. This is the oldest church in Florence, dating back to 393 a.c. Being in something that old is almost a humbling experience. It was also great because there was no line, even when we went in the middle of the day.

After a few days in Florence, we took a train to Rome. When we got to the station, it looked very run down and sketchy. We walked around for an hour and a half searching for our hostel which was apparently only two minutes away from Termini station. We asked around for directions but no one spoke English. After buying some maps and re-reading the directions, we realised we weren’t at Termini station, we were one station ahead. Lesson learned, make sure you buy tickets for the correct station and look up directions before you leave.

Instead of using Airbnb in Rome, we checked out the Beehive Hostel. They were all booked up but they had partner companies that they worked with who rent out sections of apartments and turn it into hostels. We got our own bedroom with three single beds, and had shared kitchens and bathrooms. I would definitely recommend this place!

Favourite sites in Rome:

-The Colosseum, of course. No news here when I say that it is an incredible thing to experience. I also spotted a cat in the lower floor off-limits section of the Colosseum, and if that’s not badass I don’t know what is. That cat is my spirit animal.

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-Palatine Hill. This is one of the most ancient parts of Rome, and undoubtedly the oldest thing I’ve ever stepped in. To put it into perspective and to think that all of that stood through thousands of years of life and wars and even just weather, and it’s still standing there today, is insane.

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Long lines were a problem for us in Florence and Rome, but we found a few solutions: get there early, get there right before it closes, or don’t go at all. One of the worst things you could do is waste half of your day waiting in line for something, even if it’s the line into Vatican City, for example. My mom and I ditched out on that ridiculously long line and roamed around the city instead. From that came wonderful things: a delicious lunch of flatbread and salad, champagne and baileys gelato, and a friggin’ cat sanctuary! They held at least 80 stray Roman cats and I pet as many as I could. It was my heaven. IMG_3399IMG_3420IMG_3417

Tip: avoid restaurants near touristy areas. It’s overpriced and not the best genuine food. Don’t believe when restaurants have ‘free wifi’ signs. They do indeed have free wifi, but it doesn’t work.

One of the recommendation books in the Beehive Hostel recommended to visit the small town of Sperlonga, about an hour from Rome. We quickly found accommodation on Airbnb and bought a train ticket to leave. Long story short, the accommodation was nothing like the description. We rented it out for the week but then decided we wanted to leave. We packed our things up, went to the nearest internet cafe and revoked the booking. You can do that within 24 hours of making the booking or cancel the whole booking except for the first night, which you have to pay for. After that, we found a cute hotel and decided to stay only one night.

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Sperlonga was a beautiful beachside paradise and I’ve honestly never met more friendly people in my life. Sorry Minnesota nice, but we’re talking people walking up to me in the grocery store and helping me pick out the best wine, or people helping us buy a bus ticket right when we got off of the train. I’m honestly not used to people helping me when I’m traveling because I assume that it’s a scam. It normally is, but not in Sperlonga!

The only problem with Sperlonga was that it was April. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I assumed Italy was hot throughout the whole year. Sorry, it’s not. It was Sperlonga’s off season. Things were closed and streets were deserted, waiting to open again in June. I would go back again, but definitely in June-September.

(side note: if a hotel has signs that say ‘absolutely no eating in the rooms’, don’t eat in the rooms. It’s probably because of an ant problem. It was because of an ant problem. Sorry Sperlonga hotel…)

The next day, my mom and I had to come up with a plan. We didn’t have any place to stay and we had a little less than one week left. We thought about going somewhere else in Italy, but as we were craving the heat we decided to search elsewhere. We found a cheap flight to Barcelona that left at 9pm that night, and we were off! We spent the rest of the day on a bus, train, in the airport, and then on a plane, until we were in Spain.

Arrivederci, Italy!

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Motherf@#$ing Paris?!

To prepare for my trip to France I did what all 18 year old females with an interest in foreign films would do and watched Amelie for probably about the 4th time. That, and the dozen other French films I’ve seen is basically my only idea of French culture.

My mom and sisters flight to Paris ended up getting cancelled and so they didn’t get there until Easter Sunday morning. That left me in Paris alone for a day and a half. It was awesome.
We used airbnb which I whole heartedly recommend and stayed in someone’s flat in the Latin Quarter. It was a dream come true. By the time my mom and sister got there I felt like they were there to visit me in my flat in Paris. It was so homely. I recommend airbnb because you get to see how someone lives and you get to get away from the touristy areas and stay in a neighbourhood. It’s authentic and cheap, depending on where you stay of course.
While alone in Paris, I navigated the metro to the Eiffel Tower. Walking up the steps of the metro and having the Eiffel Tower and all its glory right in front of you was a very rewarding feeling. I also accidentally walked the 45 minute walk to the Louvre. I didn’t intend to walk there, but it happened. Needless to say, I found it easy to get around!
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The first thing I noticed was how packed it was. Not only is it the Eiffel Tower, but it’s the Eiffel Tower on a Saturday, and not just any Saturday, but the day before Easter. Needless to say, I didn’t stand in the massive queue to get into the tower, however instead I appreciated it from afar. When you think of the Eiffel Tower, you think of your idea of classic Paris. Romantic, sunny, bikes, baguettes, the whole stereotype. What you don’t think of is the fact that it’s the Eiffel Tower. It’s an extremely famous landmark so there’s bound to be an enormous amount of tourists. It can’t be like the Eiffel Tower in an old French film because it’s too famous. So it’s crowded, a bit dirty, there’s people asking for money everywhere, and now in 2015, there’s selfie sticks everywhere. But it’s still the Eiffel Tower. It’s beautiful, satisfying, and I loved being there. All in all, before you travel somewhere, ditch your idea of what it will be like. It’ll be different from what you think, whether that be good or bad.
The night before my mom and sister arrived, I walked down a popular nightlife street near the flat. All of a sudden a man ran up to me and asked if he should shave his beard. I said “do what you want to do.” He asked again, I gave it a thought, and replied “uh yeah you should” (let’s be honest, it was patchy). I saw him later on while walking back to the flat and a little bit into the conversation he asked “are you alone in Paris?” and I said “no my mom and sister are with me.” I lied (gotta do what you gotta do). And he replied with “so are you alone then?” And I said “no…my mom and sister are here” a little bit confused as I had already answered his question, but he continued and said “no…I don’t think you understand the question. Are you alone?” Frustrated as I honestly didn’t get it, I said “no, I understand your question. I’m not alone. My mom and sister are here.” And then he said bye and walked off towards the metro. Four hours later I realised he was asking if I was single. This just highlights the extent of my flirting skills.
Besides that fail of an interaction, I got by easily without having to speak and butcher the French language. I went to the grocery store on two occasions and didn’t say a single word to anyone. It was nice.
Next we took the train to a town in France near Switzerland and popular among Swiss tourists, Annecy. The town was beautiful. To me it looked like a mixture of Disneyland, Santiago, and Amsterdam, the best of all worlds. During our stay in Annecy, we did a boat tour of the lake, had a picnic in the park, and explored the town.
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One of the weirdest things that I’ve never had to deal with was eating and when. In Paris, but also in Annecy, it was hard to find a restaurant that was serving food when we wanted to eat. Everyone was at the restaurants, but drinking wine, beer, or espresso. They seem to drink at any hour of the day, but eat at exclusive times. I knew French culture is different in that sense but it was strange to experience it.
All in all, my time spent in France was wonderful! The wine, cheese, and the croissants really are the shit. If you go to Paris, hop on a train and check out other towns and cities in France as well. If you’re already there, why not?
Au revoir! Italy is next.
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Riding Solo in Edinburgh

Hello dear reader! My adventure in Scotland has ended, and so for some closure, I’d like to write about it. To start things off, I’d like to clear the air. I, like many of you, pronounced Edinburgh like Edin-borough. To save you from future embarrassment, the way you are pronouncing it is completely wrong. It’s pronounced like Edin-bura. Say the last part quickly and softly, like it’s not even there. Say it with me. Edin-bura, edin-bura, edin-bura. Now that I’ve cleared that up, I might as well clear something else up. Melbourne is pronounced like Mel-ben, not Mel-born. That’s it. If there’s one thing you take away from this post, I’d like to be that. I’m correcting you not only because I care about you, but because please, stop, don’t, you’re making a fool of yourself.

My favorite cafe on my trip was the Elephant House where J.K Rowling famously “birthed” Harry Potter, as in she came up with the idea and often wrote Harry Potter there. I loved it not only because of that cool history, but because their americanos were fresh to death. I understand why Rowling went there so often. I went there twice and on both occasions I sat in the window seat overlooking the street. Just about every few seconds a new tourist would come up and take a picture of the building. I am probably in all of those. Just drinking my americano and staring at them.

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The Elephant House! My seat was right in the front window.

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My breakfast: an americano and toast with peanut butter, banana, and honey.

My favourite part of the trip was climbing to Arthurs Seat in Holyrood Park. Tip #1: It’s rumoured to be a hard climb, but honestly if you wear a wind jacket, shoes with grip, bring a water bottle, and wear your hair up, you’ll be golden. It will most likely rain at some point during your climb (this is the United Kingdom we’re talking about, folks) so wear a waterproof jacket or a hat. I’m not implying that I wasn’t completely out of breath when I got to the top (I was) but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. A group of old ladies climbed it before me and one of them shouted “ALRIGHT LADIES, ARE WE ALL FEELING FIT?” And one by one they each climbed to the top. They were definitely feeling fit. If they could do it, so could I. When I got up to the very very top the first thing that I noticed, and it’s hard to miss, is the extreme winds. I have never experienced wind like that. At one point I could even lift my arms up from my side (disclaimer: I don’t have strong arms in the first place but seriously I am trying to emphasise how windy it actually was). No matter where I am and how windy it is, it will never be as windy as the tip top of Arthurs Seat. Tip #2: Why not learn German before you climb! There were about thirty people up there (it wasn’t a tourist group, I promise) and I swear they were all German. Every single one of them. So if you really want to get into this climb, I recommend taking a class in the language. Verstehst du? All in all though, Holyrood Park is incredible.

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View looking at climb to Arthur’s Seat.

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Steps to Arthur’s Seat!

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View from the top!

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Tip top of Arthur’s Seat.

While in Scotland, I took the opportunity of eating a full Scottish breakfast at a little cafe called Toast. It came with the classic beans, tomato, mushrooms, toast, and sausage, but with a twist: black pudding. The charming blend of onions, pork fat, oatmeal, and lastly, pork blood. It tasted not at all how I thought I would. It really wasn’t bad! However just knowing what was in there threw me off.

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Full Scottish breakfast.

Lastly, I visited the Edinburgh castle. My first recommendation to you is to buy tickets in advance. The que was so long that I’ve written this entire blog post on my phone while waiting. Not even joking. Not to imply that this was the longest of lines that I’ve stooded in. It wasn’t. (Vidcon 2014, man.) The entry price was steep (£16.00 and no student prices) but overall it is a good deal considering there’s so much to see that you could easily spend hours there.

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Edinburgh Castle

Because I love lists, here is a list of some observations I made:

1. I’ve honestly seen more tourists than actual Scottish people, although it’s one of the less touristy cities that I’ve visited.

2. The Scottish accent has completed all of my hopes and dreams. Everyone just seems like a character out of Harry Potter. I swear I saw Oliver Wood everywhere.

3. Everyday I heard bagpipe, whether it be someone playing them on the street or shops playing songs, and each time it reminded me of Scotland the Brave. I had it stuck in my head the entire time I was there.

4. Whenever I went to a restaurant I heard the sad and unavoidable question “are you waiting for someone?” I really don’t mind eating alone, however I didn’t like the pitiful look I got when I explained I just needed a table for one. I think other people in the restaurants felt bad for me too, judging by the looks they gave me.

5. If you’re in Edinburgh and are looking for a hostel to stay in, the Kick Ass Hostel really is kick ass! It’s clean, I never had to wait for a hot shower, and it’s in a very prime location. I definitely recommend it.

Overall thoughts: traveling alone is nice! You can do whatever you want, you don’t need to have a strict time schedule, and most of all, it’s rewarding. 🙂

I’m in France now, so I’ll be writing about that faster than you can say “Je suis désolé,  je ne parle pas Français!”

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The Next Three Weeks

Hello there!

It’s Easter holiday here in university and so I have three weeks of traveling ahead of me. On Monday evening I depart Bristol for Edinburgh, Scotland. It will be my first trip where I will be entirely alone and I’ve gotta say, I’m looking forward to it. I’ve definitely packed enough anxiety for two, but besides that I think I’ve finally mastered the art of packing lightly. I will be there hosteling it and adventuring by myself until Friday when I fly and meet up with my mom and sister in Paris! The next two weeks will be spent in France, Italy, and possibly a little bit of Switzerland. Time to live out of a tiny suitcase for three weeks!

The photo above is words to keep in mind and one of the reasons why I got here in the first place.

If it’s still in your mint, it is worth taking the risk. 

See you in a few weeks! xx

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A Saturday in Bath

On Saturday the 28th, Leah and I took a day trip to the historic city (and hometown of charlieissocoollike) of Bath, England!

We took a two hour bus ride and got there at about 10am, free as birds to do whatever we wanted for eight hours.
We started at the Roman Baths, right in the centre of the city. The Roman Baths is a historic site where, you guessed it, the Romans used to bathe. The site was beautiful and it was amazing to be somewhere so old, with so much history. We went through the museum and looked at artefacts and old possessions that were found, including old stones with gossip and curses carved in them, and learned about how the Baths work. When we got to the end of the museum we were ground level with the baths. I put my phone and the listening device (the one where you punch in numbers and it tells you the history of where you’re standing) in my pocket and knelt down near the water so Leah could take a picture of me, and as soon as I did my pocket completely ripped apart and both my phone and the device fell into the age old Roman Baths. I heard a splash and noticed right away, so I quickly grabbed them out of the water. My phone is still working, although no Roman spirits or gods have called me yet. The device, however, did not survive the rumoured healing waters. Leah and I both started hearing this high pitched noise and realised that it was the device screaming. I broke it. We both laughed our heads off. Ironically, we both thought beforehand if anyone had ever dropped anything in the Baths, and there we had our answer. I had. When I brought the device to the collectors at the exit, they jokingly said I had to pay for it, and then said it was fine and that they’d never had one that was screaming like that before. It was a great experience and I’m proud to say that I’ve stuck my hand in the Roman Baths.

After that adventure, we went to the Jane Austen Centre. It’s a small building in one close to Jane Austen’s old house by both location and looks. We had a tour guide dressed up as Kitty Bennet, the least important character in any of her novels, to make a point by making her more useful. We got an oral history of Jane’s life, and then got to go through a small museum with the history of her time in Bath and how she spent it. We also got to dress up in outfits similar to what they wore at the time. All I can say is, I understand why that fashion is outdated.

The rest of our time was spent going through flea markets and antique markets, until it was time for afternoon tea at a lovely little place called Bill’s. The afternoon tea included about five cups each of the absolute best English breakfast tea you could ever imagine, paired with cream and sugar cubes. (I’ve been converted. Regarding what I said a few posts ago about me liking my tea black, I didn’t know what I was missing.) We also got a three tiered cake stand fit with brownies, cakes, tarts, sandwiches, and scones with clotted cream and jam. It was fan-flipping-tastic. Seriously.

We were exhausted and had to be at the car park at 5:45pm so we left at 5:30 to head over there, although neither of us realised that we had no idea where the car park was. We asked around and all of the people we asked were tourists like us, until we finally asked a polite little English lady. She took her time giving us the directions and both of us were being very patient, until it was past 5:45, and she kept saying the same directions but slower and slower each time. As she was saying the directions again with her back turned to us, I smiled at Leah because we both knew we were going to be very late. The old lady turned to us and said “I can feel your smile on me. I was an etiquette teacher and I can read body language, so I know who the rats are. Comprendo? That’s Spanish. ” And as she said that she looked at Leah, and when she was finished she completely ignored her and only talked to me. We tried to explain ourselves but it was very awkward and she cut us off by giving us the directions one last time, clearly annoyed. We thanked her and ran off, still confused of where to go and a little frazzled by what she said. We finally got there with a few minutes to spare and it had never felt better to be on a coach.

The day was incredible and definitely brought new experiences that I didn’t expect. If you’re ever near, go to Bath!

It was a different feeling being in England. Probably because it’s a place I’ve thought and learned about my whole life. I loved every second of it and can see myself going back for probably more than just a day. 😉

Heheheh.

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Rare! Reeses Puffs were £8.00. That's $12 for a box of cereal.

Rare American items! Reeses Puffs were £8.00. That’s $12 for a box of cereal.

Roman Baths

Roman Baths

Right when I dropped my phone in the Baths.

Right after I dropped my phone in the Baths.

The Jane Austen Centre

The Jane Austen Centre

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Leah and I looking fabulous at the Jane Austen Centre.

Flea Market

Flea Market

Afternoon tea- a gift from God.

Afternoon tea- a gift from God.

The after selfie!

The after selfie!

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Good Morning, Amsterdam!

This past Halloween weekend I went to Amsterdam with my friend Daisy. The travel time totalled to about 16 hours with transportation including a coach and a ferry. It was a long drive, but very worth it, and even somewhat better than traveling by plane.

The second we got outside I couldn’t look around because it was so genuinely beautiful it hurt! Bikes everywhere, canals everywhere, and the sun was shining. The weather all weekend was sunny and comfortable, we were lucky to not have any rain.

Most people asked if I got around to any ‘mischief’, the answer being no, and their reply being ‘well what did you even do then?’

Well, here’s what I did.

-Ate the best two pancakes of my life. One with apples, cinnamon, and apple brandy, and one with goat cheese, garlic oil, spinach, and pine nuts.

-Ate the best stroopwafel of my life. They made it in front of me. So good.

-Found a burrito place, looked for a bench but couldn’t find one, so we sat on the edge of the canal and ate it. It may not have been chipotle, but dang it was good.

-Found the bench from the Fault in Our Stars and took dramatic pictures with it. Then wrote “Andie was here” -of course.

-Bought tickets to the annual Museumnacht, which included entry into 50 museums plus free tram service. We went to the Anne Frank House which was very surreal and very amazing. I am so glad to have finally been there! We also went to the Van Gogh Musuem, sadly Starry Night was in New York, but I did see his famous sunflower painting and self-portrait. Then we ventured on to the Amsterdam Musuem, a museum about the city’s history, the Nieuwe Kerk museum which was currently showing an African sculpture-type exhibit, and one other museum which we did not know the name of, nor did we know what is what about…It did have a lot of cool paintings though.

-Gave people directions because somehow we knew our way around after only two days of being there.

-Walked around the flower market, the Waterlooplein market, Museumplein (I Amsterdam sign) and Vondelpark.

-Went on a night canal cruise, and almost went on a paddle boat adventure (next time!).

-Saw seven, yes that’s right, seven cats! I took pictures of all of them.

-Walked and walked and walked. I ruined my shoes.

-Enjoyed the beauty of the city, how easy it is to get around, and how dang beautiful those friggin’ buildings and canals are.

All I can say is, I will be back!

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