Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Arosha’s Italy Notes

Arosha was writing down little things about his days all throughout our vacation to Italy. We decided to post them to the blog under the tag of this trip as well, with some small editorial notes — in brackets.

November 17


Airport lunch.Today I made it to the first stop. It is Milan. We flew out of JFK, which stands for John F. Kennedy. I was flying for 7 hours and then for 2 more. What I didn’t really like [on the plane] was food. Another thing I didn’t like is that they did not give us room for hours [when we arrived to Hilton Milan]. I have not slept on the plane, so when they gave us our room I have not slept for 25 hours.

November 18


Milan Cathedral.Today I did a lot of interesting things like eating combs [honeycombs at breakfast buffet]. Another thing is that I saw a big cathedral [Milan Cathedral] and I was on the roof. It took 600 years to build the cathedral. There were lines [to get inside the cathedral] for one hour, but we are kids, so we skipped them [got priority treatment].

After the cathedral we went to a restaurant. I had pizza and spaghetti.

Then we saw a castle. It had holes in its walls. Also we tasted gelato. I picked lemon and coconut [flavors].

November 19


Bullet train to Florence.Today I’m going to my second stop. It is going to be Florence.

First we woke up and ate breakfast. Then we walked to the train station and waited for bullet train. When we got in, we realized that we came in from the wrong side of the train car because we got [seats] number 3 and 4 and we came in where numbers 18 and 17 were. The bullet train was so fast that it went 300 km/hr [at some points].

I saw Florence Cathedral in the evening. Then we came to the pool [in the hotel]. We really liked it. It was a giant hot tub.

November 20


At the top of bell tower in Florence.We went on top of the bell tower [in Florence] today. It has 414 steps and me and my sister made it to the top. It was so high that I was scared.

Then we went to eat.

November 21


Leaning Tower of Pisa.Today I went to Pisa. There I saw a cathedral and the falling tower.

Then we ate at a restaurant where my sister liked my food less than hers. I got a souvenir [tower of Pisa].

November 22


Waiting for a water bus in Venice.Today I am excited because we are going to Venice. Today is also a Thanksgiving.

First we traveled on a train. When we made it to the water, I knew it was Venice.

Then we checked in [to our hotel, Hilton Molino Stucky] and went out to eat. Oh, and before that I traveled on a water bus. The first bus that we saw did not travel to the hotel.

After the restaurant we went to look for gelato, but we found none and an hour! At the restaurant I ate home made spaghetti.

Then we went to the hotel and went to sleep.

November 23


Gandola ride.Today is my mom’s and dad’s wedding anniversary.

Also, today we got a gondola ride. I really liked it, though it was expensive. It cost 100 euros.

Right after that we ate gelato and looked at Venice. Here are things that I noticed: not a lot of trees, lots of bridges, lots of glass stores.

After that we went to a fancy restaurant. Me and my sister had vegetables and spaghetti. It was very nice, and I also tried black spaghetti [which my mom was having].

A bit later we found a mask store, but I did not buy any [masks yet].

November 24 and 25


Venetian masks.Today we ate our breakfast and went on a ferry [from our hotel on Giudecca island]. Venice was a little flooded.

We went to into the [Venice] cathedral. It was pretty, and inside on the floor there was a mosaic.

After that we looked for masks. I was looking for sun and moon masks, and I bought one of them.

Then next we rode [by elevator] to the top of the Venice tower. It was a wonderful view.

It was raining all day, so we went to the hotel.
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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Italy — Flight and Day 1

Us on a plane.The day before vacation it was snowing in our part of the woods. Children were dismissed from school early, and if we knew any better, Daniel would have left work in the early afternoon too. Long story short, it took him over 5 hours to get home, and he was stressed and tired. So was I to be honest.

On that same day we also realized that both of our medium sized suitcases were broken, so Daniel had to stop at a store on his way from work and get a new one. When Daniel was leaving the parking lot of the store he noticed that his wedding band was missing! Oh no! He ran back in and by some miracle found it inside one of the suitcases that he looked at earlier. Phew!

Anna and dad.Anna was on day 6 out of 10 of antibiotics treatment for ear infection. Having our vacation in mind, I asked the doctor to prescribe them in chewable form as apposed to the liquid that is usually prescribed and needs to be refrigerated. Anna had a terrible virus a week before that, with her temperature rising sky high and not going much down for 3 days. I have not slept a bunch of nights during that time because regular fever reducers helped very little, so I kept rubbing her with water and vinegar solution for hours at a time to bring the fever down.

That same day I finished my course of antibiotics too — I was treated for viral bronchitis, which I most probably got when Anna was sick.

Airport lunch.The night before Arosha’s nose started running, so I’ve decided to pack his nebulizer and use it during the vacation. We ended up completely ruining it by the way, because it slipped my mind that voltage in Europe is different from the one in the USA, and unlike all the Apple devises that are designed for dual voltage, the nebulizer needed an adapter. Luckily, Arosha got better pretty quickly and the nebulizer was not needed throughout the vacation.

Overall, everyone was healthy enough for the trip, but I was a little anxious that everyone stays this way.

Our flight.On the day of the flight, which coincided with my birthday, we got up around 7, ate, finished packing little things like snacks and books and went to Daniel’s parents. It seemed that the most sensible thing to do would be to leave the car near Daniel’s parents, and get a cab to the airport. It worked out even better than that, because we did not have to get the cab — Daniel’s dad drove us to the airport. He was not sure in advance if he’ll be able to do it because he recently had a minor surgery and was in recovery, but it all worked out. Daniel’s mom was at work that day, but she cooked us delicious lagman and even bought cheesecake for desert, so we had a nice lunch and got some rest after a ride from home to Brooklyn.

Yellow tram of Milan.The flight itself was pretty uneventful. We were lucky to get 4 seats together in the middle section of the plane, so me and Daniel took isle seats with the children seating in the middle. Arosha and Anuta both behaved wonderfully. Neither one of them liked plane food though, so they barely ate anything. Anuta managed to snooze for about 2 hours on our flight to Paris, where we had a stopover. Arosha slept for about an hour on the plane from Paris to Milan. That smaller plane did not have 4 seats together in a row, so Danya was separated from us by the isle. However, the flight was short, so it did not matter much.

In front of Milano Centrale railway station.When we arrived to Milan, everyone was pretty spent. We took a cab to our hotel. Funnily enough, the first people who tried to sell us their transportation services were nice up to the point when we said that the fixed price of 65 euros seems a little excessive and that we’ll try our luck with another company. They became somewhat rude, but it turned out that it cost us just 25 euros to get to the hotel by a metered cab. No wonder the price seemed high!

We stopped at the same Hilton as last time we visited Milan. It is very conveniently located by the train station, which made life a little simpler for us.

Window view from Hilton Milan.When we were booking the hotel room, we had to book the big family room on account of children. Sadly, there are much fewer such rooms in hotels, which makes sense I guess. As a consequence, Hilton was not able to check us in early as we had hoped. They were kind enough to let us use the executive lounge, which still served breakfast at the time of our arrival. Unfortunately, all of the rooms like ours were booked and we had to wait for the people to check out first, and then for the room to be cleaned, which apparently takes about 2 hours.

Sweet sleep.We ate breakfast at the executive lounge, then we walked to the train station and got tickets for the trips to Florence and Venice. We had to wait in line for over 30 minutes, but it was worth it, since the clerk was able to book us better seats at lower/deal prices, which were not available from the automated booth.

Sweet sleep.When we returned to the hotel, the room was still not ready, so we just stayed in the lobby falling in and out of sleep in turns. The adults that is. The children were not falling asleep, but in fact were pretty active and were playing different loud games. By the time we finally got into our room, we have not slept for 25 hours. I am still amazed at how well the children endured this whole hard day.

Window view.It was a little after 2 in the afternoon, so we went to bed and put an alarm clock to wake us at at 6 in the evening. It made sense to break the sleeping cycle for a few hours in the evening, lest we woke up in the middle of the night rested and unable to sleep. We went for dinner to the executive lounge. It had light snacks and drinks, and it was just enough. We went to bed shortly after that and slept until the next morning.
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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Norway & Iceland

Norway and IcelandAll the way back in February after weeks of consideration we have booked ourselves a vacation to Norway and Iceland. What makes this one more special than usually is the fact that this is the first European vacation that our kids will come with us on. And it took me all these months to finally write some things down about it — the day before our actual departure.

It all started with us considering what we could do. We considered Moscow and Saint Petersburg. We considered Helsinki and Talin. We considered Poland. But in the end what pushed Oslo and Iceland ahead of the pack was the incredibly low price of the flight. And since at this point we are in four ticket buying business it is an important consideration.

We are flying1 from JFK to Oslo on July 13th. Then on July 20th we fly from Oslo to Reykjavik. And on July 24th we’re flying back home. All that for a price of $399 per person. One heck of a deal. The Iceland stopover is made possible by the fact that Iceland Air allows one to catch a connecting flight through Reykjavik with a layover of up to 7 days.

Also as far as Norway goes it really is just Oslo for us. Since this is the first trip of this kind that we are taking with kids we wanted to limit the number of cities to a minimum. So essentially we are going to have a lot of time to REALLY explore Oslo. Continue Reading

  1. Icelandair from and to JFK through Reykjavík — $399 x 4. []
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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton mountains from Jackson Lake Lodge.Grand Teton National Park was the last destination of our Montana-Wyoming vacation. We spent three nights in Grand Teton, albeit in two different location to make the drive to the airport on our last day easier to avoid unexpected road blocks along the way.

From Jackson Lake.For the first two nights we opted in to stay at Flagg Ranch which is the same place we stayed at during our last visit to Grand Teton. Grand Teton National Park itself is pretty much adjacent to the southern end of Yellowstone. So Flagg Ranch is located on the northern end of the park and somewhere under 30 miles south of West Thumb — which is really on the southern end of Yellowstone — our last stop in Yellowstone itself, as Alёna wrote earlier.

Flagg Ranch cabins.We got to our cabins closer to the end of the day which we mostly spent in Yellowstone and were pretty tired. We had our dinner at the main lodge as there are zero other choices in a reasonable range. The food was nothing to write home about, but it wasn’t bad either. Soon after dinner we turned in for the night to recharge for park exploration on the next day.

Shore of Jackson Lake.We decided to set a hike along a trail on Jackson Lake as the goal for our day. The road through the park runs on the eastern side of Teton Range itself and magnificent views in the forms of lakes and vistas open up between you and the peaks of the mountains.

Throwing pebbles.The trail that we picked was in the Colter Bay area of Jackson Lake. There was a visitor center where we obtain a new set of stamps and acquired some Grand Teton National Park themed apparel. We also decided to eat lunch before heading out in order to avoid our awkward schedule of nobody being hungry for dinner in time.

Grand Teton National Park.The trails itself starts right near the visitor center and runs along the shore of the lake onto a peninsula. Once you make it to the west-most end of the peninsula itself you are presented with a grand view of the Teton Range reflecting in Jackson Lake.

Picking out pebbles.The water wasn’t as still as I wish it was and there was a considerable haze in the air. That seemed to be a theme throughout our stay at the park. On the beach itself though, while I was taking photographs, kids played in the sand and threw an uncountable quantity of pebbles into the lake.

Little boat.After we were done with this trail we drove south to Jenny Lake. Last time when we were here with Alёna in 2009 we took a ferry across the lake and then went on a trail up to some waterfall. The thing that I remember the most about that trail was a huge population of giant mosquitoes which that particular piece of the forest sported. Actually that’s not true. Last time mosquitoes were everywhere. Including at least 50 of them in our cabin at Flagg Ranch whom we proceeded to eradicate viciously with Eldar.

Jackson Lake shore trail.Anyhow — there was a lot of construction going on at Jenny Lake visitor area and we were all pretty tired either-way. So we settled for a set of new stamps and all the scenic views along the lake shore that we stopped at. However by that time the sun was shining directly into the lens along with all the haze presents a very challenging set of conditions for any decent photographs.

Tetons.We set course back north hoping to find a new place to have dinner at. We stopped by Jackson Lake Lodge which had multiple restaurants. Everything was extremely overpriced, so we decided to just go with Flagg Ranch dining room again.

Colter Bay.But at Jackson Lake Lodge one can walk out onto the back porch of the lodge which has one of the best vantage points to look at the mountains from. I remembered that this is exactly the place that I took a picture from the printout of which I had on my desk for the last 5 years or so.

Official Grand Teton National Park sign.Since the sun was still shining in our face we decided to make a stop here again the next morning on our way to Jackson for our last night stay of our road trip. The dinner we ate at Flagg Ranch, as I said, and for breakfast we stocked up on Cup-A-Noodle soups at the general store. These, for me, have a strong nostalgia feeling connected to our breakfasts in Shenandoah at the end of 2010.

Store. Great prices on awesome things.On the last day we did stop at Jackson Lake Lodge again for pictures and drove down to the town of Jackson via a route that runs through the town of Moran — a more eastern way to go than the route we took a day before. There were still numerous scenic overlooks that one can stop at — which we did — to take in the views of the mountains from all possible angles.

Janny Lake overlook.We grabbed some lunch at a visitor center near Moose — along with some stamps of course and decide to finish our Grand Teton stay with a place that we missed the last time around. There is an old abandoned Mormon town on the southern end of the park — Mormon Row with a number of old houses and barns. In fact one of those barns must be the most photographed barn in the world.

Jenny Lake.And that was pretty much it for the park. When we arrived to Jackson we checked into a huge two-story suite at Jackson Hole Lodge. This was probably the best setup for a family trip that we had — too bad we only had this for a single night.

View from Jackson Lake Lodge.Town of Jackson turned out to be a pretty busy place with a ton of people. It’s somewhat surprising seeing how it’s quite a long way away from Yellowstone and not all that close to most places in Grand Teton either. It’a great place to finish one’s trip, but not so much as a base of operations.

One of scenic stops.We went for a walk along the busy streets of the town, stopping a numerous souvenir and jewelry stores. But windows shopping was all we could afford as most prices really make no sense. Too much tourists equals to too high prices.

Mormon Row.Here, however, we ate probably the best dinner of our vacation. We stopped by a Spanish — as in Spain — tapas place called Bin 22. We ordered a bottle of Beaujolais wine and a good number of tapas. In fact we just tried to recreate the experience with Alёna yesterday in a placed called Brook Vin in Park Slope. Parents also enjoyed the experience very much which made us happy that we had them try something new.

Barn at Mormon Row.And then we walked to the central square of the town which had four sizable arches — on each corner — created of antlers collected at a nearby National Elk Refuge. The square, by the way, was full of people complete obsessed with Pokemon Go — it was that week when it just came out.

Jackson central square.The next morning Alёna and Arosha brought us all breakfast from a nearby bagel place. Afterwards we drove to the airport, turned in our banged up car without any hassles and boarded a plane to New York with a layover at Salt Lake City. There the flight was delayed many times so we arrived home very very late. Thus another one of our great road trips has concluded. Another trove of great memories.

Antler arches at Jackson Hole.
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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sedona

Grand Canyon.Well, it’s been more than two months since our mega vacation trhough the southwestern canyons has started and we haven’t posted a thing yet beside our large photo stream that was going throughout our trip. Overall everything went well. It was a bit harder in the beginning, but our schedule settled in pretty quickly and we enjoyed exploring the southwest.

Road to Sedona. Saguaro forests.The hard parts pretty much consisted of Anna throwing up on the plane, Arosha had an accident in bed during the first night from being overtired — it really hasn’t happened to him in years now, Anna throwing up in the car — we think it was from motion sickness and Arosha throwing up during the night — we have no idea why, but he was fine in the morning. All that happened pretty much in the first 2 days, but everything went well afterwards.

Our hotel at Sedona.The flight went OK. Anna even took a nap. Having two large suite cases, two car seats and a stroller appeared to be challenging beforehand. But we basically had to just get it to a cab, from the cab to checked baggage and from there into our rental car. And vice versa on the way back. Not too bad at all. Costco seats are pretty crappy, but they are also very light. They served us just fine throughout the trip.

Arizona capitol building in Phoenix.As far as the car rentals go — it’s always a rip off and always ends up being much more expensive than you expect. To begin with our rental company Sixt didn’t have any cars that we reserved that would work for us. So they pawned us off to Payless which agreed to honor the same price. But then adding a different driver, adding an extra hour (our flight was leaving later in the day) and so on added up to a hefty sum.

Sedona from the top.Adding a second driver was not really needed. Alёna drove for all of 30 minutes or so during the trip. I thought that should would enjoy the open roads, but she was afraid to drive at 75MPH speed limit, and was a nervous wreak. Also our VW Passat seemed all kinds of wobbly. I was hoping for a Chrysler 300, but that wasn’t available either. VW was really bland and unexciting in every way possible but it did get us where we needed to go without any issues.

Looking up at Montezuma Castle.On our first day we started with a short stop at Arizona capitol complex at Phoenix. This time we actually managed to get inside for the first time ever — our 3rd trip there — and got ourselves an official capitol stamp. Otherwise it wasn’t anything special inside. And it was very very hot outside in the sun. Our kids expired very quickly and we decided to proceed.

To Sedona


Entering Sedona.Our main objective for the day was to reach Sedona. But since everyone was really hungry after the flight we decided to get a bite before heading out of Phoenix. We couldn’t really find any place to eat for some while. I guess the main highway runs through shady parts of town and nothing looked appealing. Kids were getting really tired by the time we ran upon some nice Greek place. Of course after we did eat every next exit had plenty of eateries.

Montezuma Castle.Also on our way to Sedona we made a stop by Montezuma Castle. The light was much better this time around for a better photograph and there was plenty of shade for a nice hike. What interested Arosha the most though was a lizard that he spotted. Lizards, you see, are much more exciting than some 900 year old building in a side of a cliff.

Sedona cliffs.Along the way we were driving through mountains covered by saguaro cacti. Very unusual landscape. By the time we started approaching Sedona landscape becomes even more unusual in a different way. Gray mountains turned into red cliffs of peculiar shapes. Sun was setting and everything looked very beautiful.

Arosha at one of the many souvenir shops in Sedona.We were all pretty tired by the time we arrived, but when the kids discovered a pool at our hotel they got second wind. We spent the rest of the evening swimming and chilling out in cool waters of the hotel pool on a hot day. Later in the evening Arosha and I picked up some Mexican food at a nearby place while Alёna put Anna to sleep. That was the end of our day.

View of Sedona from the local airport.In the morning we drove up to the local airport which is located above the mountains and has a spectacular view of the town down below. Sedona really is a beautiful place and if you’re going to be driving through from Phoenix to Grand Canyon it really is worth it to make a small detour to see it.
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Friday, January 9, 2015

Berlin

Cityscape of Berlin with Berlin TV Tower from the roof of Park Inn.At this point it has been more than a month since we came back from our vacation to Germany and Austria and we have yet to put down our thoughts on “paper” — it’s always hard to decide how to go about it. In short — it’s been great. We had a chance to truly relax, see a lot of great things and try a lot of delicious things from local cuisines. And of course we drank lots and lots of beer.

The Flight


Lufthansa.The flight itself was pretty uneventful. It was a red-eye trip via Lufthansa on Boeing 747 with a changeover at Frankfurt. Because it was a red-eye flight it was rather hard on us. We’re not used to not sleeping for that long, and due our general inability to sleep on a plane we were just falling in and out of consciousness, yet not sleeping everywhere, including during our wait for our plane to Berlin at Frankfurt.

Arrival


Streets of Berlin.When we got to Berlin we went through the passport control quickly, got our bags and were on our way to catch a taxi. Now Germany turned out to be probably the only country that has a higher concentration of … wait for it … German cars than Brighton Beach. I supposed there must be some kind of tax breaks that German car makers get that makes their cars affordable for pretty much everyone.

Berlin streets.All taxis were for the most part made by Mercedes Benz. They were all beige in color too. We got into one and asked to get us to Hilton Berlin. Since there is only one Hilton in Berlin driver knew were to go. The only notable thing that happened during the ride was the driver who was of non-German origin stopping in the front of one of the plain looking buildings and saying: “This building is typical Nazi architecture. Like it?” We had no idea how to respond to that, so we just stayed quite.

TV Tower.During our drive through the edges of the city we saw a lot of empty and beat up places and structures. We also noticed huge quantities of construction cranes all over the city from one edge to another. But the city looked quite unwelcoming until we got to more central parts of it. There everything looked clean, new and pleasant. The city is quite modern, which probably is a result of it being leveled during the war.

Enormous ex-Soviet, now Russian embassy. It was huge.The ride from the airport took about 20 minutes. When we got to our hotel Alёna got out of the car while I was paying the driver. When both of us got out of the car we saw that Alёna has pulled out two 50 pound suitcases out of the trunk by herself. The driver’s eyes doubled in size and he proclaimed: “Whow, strong woman!” I have no idea what possessed Alёna to do that, but it was quite hilarious.

First Night


Our suite.Hilton welcomed us as Hilton often does. They put us on a high floor and upgraded our room to an executive corner suite with a spectacular view of a square right across the street from the hotel with German and French churches and apparently one of the famous markets which exist all over the place, especially close to holiday seasons — Gendarmenmarkt. Alёna kept referring to our suite as an apartment because it was indeed quite big. They also gave us a bottle of champagne on ice and congratulated us with our anniversary.

One of many markets.We thought that when we get to Germany we will be totally like zombies and the only thing that we’ll want to do would be sleep. That’s what happened to us in Italy. However here for some reason we got a second wind and went out exploring the nearby area. We walked around the square where Gendermenmarkt was located, but the market on it was closed. They were preparing it for the holiday season and it was in a construction mode. It did open a day later. And we found a lot of similar markets all throughout Germany and Austria later on.

Hilton Berlin.Eventually we settled on the dinner in a place that we were passing by called Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt. It was packed with people and it was about 4:30pm. When we came in nobody paid attention to us. As we later noticed it was the case everywhere and while in US you expect to be seated by a hostess in Germany people just come in and pick their own table.

East Berlin traffic light.Eventually one of the waiters came by and we asked him for a table. He looked over the notes of reservations and said something about 3 hours in broken English. We were quite disappointed to find out that we had to wait for 3 hours. He asked if we wanted to sit down now. We said, sure, that’s why we’re here. He mentioned 3 hours again. We were very confused by now. Eventually we figured out that we actually could have a table right away, but we had to be done with our dinner in 3 hours since the table had a reservation for 7:30. Yeah, I think we could finish our dinner in 3 hours.

West Berlin traffic light.For our first dinner we ordered two entries — two different kinds of wursts with sauerkraut and cabbage. And of course there was mandatory beer. Everywhere we went we ordered wheat beer with our meals. Beer in Germany is served in at least half a litter glasses in majority of places and that’s what we stuck with. They also serve it in the properly marked glass with a logo of the beer that you’re drinking and they give you a bierdeckel (a cardboard coaster that you place your glass on) that we ended up collecting. Our dinner was delicious and atmosphere of the restaurant was great.

Berlin bear.As you can imagine we consumed quite a large quantity of beer. We also did a lot of sleeping. We were going to bed early and to our surprise we were waking up quite late — 8-9am. We slept at least 10 hours every day. So that’s exactly what we did next. We went to our hotel and got into the bed. That’s pretty much how our vacation went — we saw a lot of cool things, walked a lot, eat and drank a lot and rested. It was great.

Berlin Day One


Checkpoint Charlie.The location of our hotel turned out to be perfect. Imagine a triangle with Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate on one corner, Checkpoint Charlie on another, Fernsehturm (TV Tower) on the third corner and our hotel and Gendarmenmarkt at the center. Those are the places that we wanted to see during our first visit to Berlin and it couldn’t have worked out better.

Museum.We got a great night of sleep, ate breakfast at our hotel and set out to see Checkpoint Charlie. This place was a border crossing from Soviet part of Berlin into an American controlled one. There is a sign next to it warning people in large letters that they are about to leave American territory. Also there is a museum dedicated to bad life of people in DDR (Soviet Germany) and how many people tried to escape to the west. We walked around and maybe we’re cold hearted, but we just could not feel bad about those people considering the events that lead to the split of Germany in the first place.

Brandenburg Gate.After that we set out to see the Brandenburg Gate. As I said before the city seemed quite modern and there wasn’t much of anything old left. The gate itself was nice to see as it is such a famous monument. The gate is located next to Teirgarten — Central Park like place. I read somewhere that there was a monument to Soviet soldiers not far into the park, so we set out to find it. It wasn’t far from the entrance. The monument was huge. It had several large columns dedicated to different parts of the army, a huge Soviet crest and a statue of the soldier. Everything was written in Russian. It felt weird to see such a monument to somebody who conquered your country some time ago. I think it’s very nice of them to preserve this piece of history.

Monument to Soviet soldiers.Reichstag — the government building — was also nearby. But one needs a reservation to actually go inside for a tour, which we luckily have made on our last day in New York. I somehow missed this piece of information, but Alёna spotted it just in time. However the availability was limited therefore our reservation was for the next day. We walked around, took some pictures and went back to the hotel.

Reichstag.The weather was not very cold and it was the only sunny day that we had. On the first day Alёna has spotted that Berlin is covered in wooden bears. They have some art project going and they were all over the place. All similarly shaped, but each one had a different paint job.

Berlin bears.After a nice rest at the hotel we were ready for a second half of the day. The day itself was special — it was our 8th wedding anniversary. We had planned ourselves a nice dinner at the top of Berlin TV Tower at the rotating restaurant in the sphere. We paid €50 ahead of time to reserve a table by the window and a-line-free ride up the tower. The sun has already set down by the time we got up the tower, so the pictures weren’t very good. Also there is no open air observatory up there.

Berlin street with TV Tower in the background.We sat down at our table. The view was great. Dark blue sky over the city full of lights. The special dinner was going to be memorable. The restaurant was indeed spinning. After about 15 minutes of sitting down Alёna said that it appears to be making her dizzy. We decided to switch places, so Alёna would be facing forward. That didn’t help. After 20 minutes our waiter didn’t show up and Alёna was getting dizzier. We decide to leave. We wanted the evening to be memorable good, not memorable bad. So we figured, fine, we’ll just find a nice non-spinning restaurant closer to earth somewhere.

Berlin TV Tower.We walked out of the tower, but before finding a restaurant we decided to checkout Park Inn. In my pre-trip research I was looking for a place that would let me take bird-view picture of the city with a tower as the centerpiece. Park Inn was not far form the tower and from what I read it had an open deck on the roof accessible by tourist. The only “but” about this place was that access was granted to those who wanted to bungee jump from the roof for €70. I was hoping to convince them to let me out there for pictures for a smaller sum of money, but most importantly without having to jump off the roof at the end. We were happy to discover that one could get to the roof for picture taking for just €3 per person. By now it was too dark, but we decided to come back the next day for the sunset.

Anniversary dinner.After that we started walking back to our hotel while looking at the menus of various restaurants that we were passing by. Near one place that were considering we ran into a guy who asked us for a light in German. When we responded that we don’t speak any German he detected our Russian accent and switched to Russian. He saw us looking at the menu and said that it was a very nice and popular spot. For some reason I thought that the guy was the owner and the last thing I wanted to do is eat at a Russian restaurant in Germany. We have plenty of those in Brooklyn.

Our 8th anniversary.And we walked away, but then decided to give it a look inside. It turned out to be somewhere below the ground level, but the place looked very cozy and was packed with people. The guy that we met outside was sitting at the table and was one of the customers. And that’s how we picked the place for our special anniversary dinner — Gasthaus Mutter Hoppe.

View from the tower.We ordered two glasses of wheat beer (half a litter each) and some herring appetizer which turned out to be quite delicious. For the main course we ordered wild boar and sauerbraten — sour roast meat. Wild boar was excellent. Sauerbraten was OK, but our local German place in Brooklyn serves a better, softer version of it. All in all we had a great dinner and have a “spinning” story to go along with it. We also got a nice stack of beer coasters given to us by the waiter when we asked for a clean pair of the ones we were using.

The gate.We got back to our hotel, spent some time in the executive lounge where I found some excellent sour cherry juice among many other things and went to bed at about 8pm. It was a great first day.

Berlin Day Two


On the roof.On our second day we woke up not so early. The plan for the day was simple — tour the Reichstag in the first half of the day and get up on the roof of Park Inn for some cityscapes. The morning was rainy. We were thinking of a place where we could buy a pair of umbrellas as we forgot to park ours. When we asked at the front desk if they could point us in the right directions they said they couldn’t, but would happily land us a pair. That’s how we ended up with a pair of nice, large Hilton branded umbrellas.

Reichstag roof.We made our way to Reichstag via some different streets and were inside the government building rather quickly. We got up to the roof and inside the glass dome which also had walkways leading to the very top of the dome itself. It was really nice and allowed us to look at the city from a different high vantage point. Inside the glass dome there was a large circle of photographs about the history of the building and Germany in general. For the WW2 era the photos note that the country was under a hard dictatorship. I imagine that modern German people think of Hitler as a normal Russian person thinks of Stalin.

Inside the dome.In the second half of the day we were on the roof of Park Inn as planned. Sadly I didn’t take my tripod with me on the trip and this was one of the few places where it would’ve come handy. The open area was not on the edge of the roof. If I were to rest my camera on the guard rail for an HDR burst a large portion of the roof itself would’ve been in the shot. There was a also a metal net, but it was actually a net, which was not stable, therefore I couldn’t mount the camera higher either. So I ended up taking all the shots hand held, yet I’m very happy with a couple of shots that I walked away with.

Glass dome.For the dinner we went back to our hotel area and found another German place called Lutter & Wegner. We ordered an excellent beef goulash and a much better sauerbraten that we ate on a night before — just like we know it — soft and delicious. The only problem with this place that it was the only eatery we have discovered in Germany that had an only one kind of beer. It was some pilsner and itwas too bitter for our taste. It was also the only place that had beer glasses that were smaller than half a litter. But as I said, the food was great.

Another view from Park Inn.And that was our second and last full day in Berlin. As you can see we took it really easy, ate great food, explored some sights, drank great beer, slept a lot. By the end of our Berlin stay I already felt relaxed and it really felt like a vacation.
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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Olympic National Park

View from Hurricane Ridge.Our vacation to the great state of Washington had three distinct parts, so after thinking about the way to write down our memories for the past several weeks the approach to make three posts about each part separately in chronological order makes the most sense. Our arrival to Seattle and our four nights at Olympic National Park is where it all begins.

Our Flight


Road at Olympic.Luckily for us we’ve confirmed yet again that flights with Aroshka that take more than 5 hours are largely uneventful. He has no problem sitting in his chair and talking about something, looking out of the window, listening to books and a little bit of cartoon watching on iPad — cartoons on the flight there seemed to bore him, and the ones on TV are not in Russian. When he needed to go to the bathroom he would just ask, but that’s not really new for him.

Lake Crescent.The flight back was even better. He actually ended up watching a bunch of cartoons in English on the TV after which he declared that turns out that he actually does speak a little bit of English now — which he really doesn’t. In between the cartoons he also managed to take a nice nap — also something quite usual for him and after waking up watched some more cartoons on TV. The flight was a breeze. With either flight we couldn’t be happier. He gave us zero problems.

Renting a Car


Our rented car.Upon arrival we retrieved our luggage which consisted of two large suitcases, two very large suitcases, Arosha’s car seat and an umbrella stroller which we yet again had no use for. We proceed to car rental place to claim our reserved car. Of course I must’ve not been thinking straight when I did book that — so called full-size Chevy Malibu had no chance of fitting all five of us with our luggage in. I ended up having to upgrade it to a nice big Chrysler 300, the next generation after the one we have.

Lake Crescent.However after an initial futile attempt to load all our stuff into the trunk it was recommended to us to take Jeep Compass instead. They were the same price. And to me Jeep Compass is a really crappy car — I had to drive one for several days when my own 300 was in service several months ago. Not only is it crappy it happened to have even less space in the back. All the rear window view was obstructed, luggage was plainly visible to everyone — so we wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving it anywhere while on our way from place to place and we still couldn’t close the rear gate with it all in.

At Hoh Rainforest.So we tried 300 again. It probably took us an hour if not more overall, but we did solve this real-live puzzle. I really regret not taking a picture of our final trunk configuration. Every inch of it was used up. And by the end of our vacation we got so proficient at it that we packed it up in 5 minutes on our way to the airport for the flight back. And off we were in our nice luxurious sedan with all our stuff hidden from everyone’s view in a trunk and zero view obstruction.

Port Angles


Olympic Lodge. Our hotel at Port Angeles.We decided to stay in a small town of Port Angles on the northern tip of Olympic National Park for the four nights that we were going to spend here. Originally we looked at the lodges inside the park itself, but most of them were described as “very rustic” to us or were sold out. So instead we opted in for a nice clean and beautiful hotel called Olympic Lodge. The hotel was located 2 miles away from Olympic National Park visitor center and 7 files from one of the entrances into the park itself.

At Hoh Rainforest.We got a pair of interconnected rooms as we requested in our reservation. The hotel had a nice pool and a hot tub which we even ended up using in 60 degree weather with the help of Arosha’s strong persuasion skills. The breakfast was not included, but there was a restaurant, which we used a couple of times for the first meal of the day.

By Lake Crescent.On our first evening we were pretty tired from any early and long flight and our 120 mile drive from Seattle to Port Angles. We decided to have a nice dinner and call it a day. Even though we were given a recommendation for a restaurant I didn’t feel like it and picked a random place because I liked its name — Kokopelli Grill — it was just a familiar word that we encountered in our travels before. The food was great, the service was even better. It did turn out to be pretty highly rated on Trip Advisor, which I started using later on during our trip for references on restaurants.

Hoh Rainforest.Most restaurants in Port Angles actually specialized in steaks and seafood, and we decided to stick to those. When in Maine we ate a lot of lobsters even though we’re not big fans of it. So we figured seafood on Olympic Peninsula should not be any worse — well, maybe slightly worse because there are two big cities in the vicinity after all — so that’s what we ate.

Olympic National Park


Olympic National Park entrance.The national park itself is very big and we would have to do much more driving than we did to really cover all of it. But we did end up covering a nice portion of Olympic, and Port Angles was perfectly situated for such excursions. However we were really extremely tired by the the end of each but the last day when we decided to really take it easy. And even then we did see a couple of cool places.

Hoh Rain Forest.On the morning of our first full day the first order of business was to visit the closest to us Olympic National Park Visitor Center, get a good map of the place and talk to a ranger about our time in the park and the places that we should try to see (we also did get our passport stamps) — basically build out a nice plan of action.

On a trail at Hoh Rainforest.So after that it was decided that on this first day we will visit the farthest parts of the park that we were going to go to — namely Hoh Rainforest and Rialto Beach, both situated on the western side Olympic NP.

Hoh Rainforest


Hoh Rainforest.It took us a couple of hours to get to the Hoh Rainforest entrance. We made numerous stops along the way. Route 101 — the roads that runs around the park goes through a lot of beautiful mountain vistas, lakes, meadows and canyons.

Road to Hoh.There were a lot of different flowers on the side of the road and we couldn’t help but stop and try to take as much of it in as we could. The road took us through a tiny town of Forks — we ended up eating our lunch here after our hike at the park.

On a trail at Hoh Rainforest.We decided to take it easy as we had no idea how Arosha would handle the hikes. Everything was new to him and it actually made things more exciting for us as well — taking it all in through his eyes.

Hoh Rainforest. On the trail.We got our stamp at the visitor center and picked a 0.8 mile loop hike through the forest. Aroshka kept running around with a large stick that he would pick up, claiming that it is his lightsaber and attacking fallen down trees because “they had their names in red and needed to be defeated” — such are the rules of the game that I play on the computer that he likes to help me with.

On a trail. Tree arch.And even though we have been to rainforests before, this one was very unusual. There were tons of enormously tall pine trees all covered in moss. Pines on their own would’ve been impressive enough, but the moss transformed this forest into a fantasy world of a kind.

Giant pine.I took a large number of pictures — and I will repeat this many times — it is impossible to capture how it really felt being there.

Wild blueberry.Somewhere along the way Alena spotted bushes of wild blueberries and we all took part in eating them — Arosha ate the most since Alena was giving him all her pickings.

On a trail at Hoh.What was the most surprising and encouraging thing for us all was the fact that Arosha did the whole hike by himself, running back and forth and didn’t ask to be carried a single time. He also was perfectly fine with long drives and would look around, ask questions, come up with made up stories and so on. It all was great.

Rialto Beach


Rialto Beach. Olympic National Park.After eating our lunch at Forks, WA we drove to the portion of the park located on the west coast of the continent right on the open Pacific Ocean. We managed to take a wrong turn and as a result arrived to the ranger station after its closing — or so we thought. Later I found out that it was not open for the season to begin with anyhow, so no stamps for us at that location.

Giant trees on the beach.The beach itself was very unusual. It was covered by huge old gray downed trees. Tons and tons of them. Arosha had a blast playing with the water and throwing stones into the ocean. What made the beach beautiful was the fact that there were several huge rocks that were more like islands sitting in the water.

Rialto Beach. Small islands in the water.However the problem was that sun was hanging relatively low since it was towards the end of the day. And since we were on the west coast it was shining right into the lens creating a nasty haze. Bad haze — no good pictures. I actually tried to hike down to some other rocks, but I was unable to cover a big distance by walking on the sand and the tide was starting to rise. It was beginning to look like if I didn’t get back in time I wouldn’t be able to get back at all, so I turned around before reaching my destination.

Rialto Beach at Olympic National Park.All in all we spent several hours on the beach and all of us were fully spent — except for Arosha — by the time we got back into the car. A drive back took a bit of time, we reluctantly (since we were so tired) ate our dinner at Garden Cafe and called it a day.

Sol Duc


Lake Crescent.For our second day we had less ambitious plans — two locations to visit — Sol Duc and Hurricane Ridge. Both are much closer to Port Angeles than our destinations a day before. Sol Duc actually is one of the locations where we looked at the lodges to stay at.

Sol Duc trail.It has hot spring pools right on its premises and those are usually accompanied by an according smell of sulfuric acids. But the reason we didn’t stay there was two-fold — location was far from other destinations and we couldn’t find good rooms for decent prices.

Stamps at Lake Crescent Lodge.Another place that we looked at was a lodge at Lake Crescent, but it was all booked out. The road to Sol Duc from Port Angeles actually runs along the shore of Lake Crescent (same road that goes to Hoh) and we spent a little bit more time on the lake this time around. The lake was beautiful the sky was blue — it was a great day.

Sol Duc Falls.I need to note that all the weather predictors predicted rain for us every single day and luckily for us they were always wrong, except for one day — more on that day later.

Arosha on a trail at Sol Duc.We got to Sol Duc, got our stamps and this time took a much more ambitious hike — 0.8 hike each way to Sol Duc Falls — or 1.6 miles total. Arosha was as great as the day before. Did the whole route himself with no problems.

Waterfall on the way to Sol Duc Falls.Along the way we went past another waterfall — water gradually running down the side of the mountain. Later on we saw a river running deep inside a big canyon. As before — impossible to really capture on “film”.

Sol Duc Falls.As for the Sol Duc Falls themselves — wow! You are standing on a wooden bridge over this deep deep canyon in the front of the top of waterfalls themselves and only by actually being there you can appreciate the real power of water with all its speed and sound. I took many many pictures, but none of them really came out all that impressive.

Sol Duc Falls.After our hike we ate our lunch at Sol Duc Lodge deli and went onto our next destination.

Hurricane Ridge


Hurricane Ridge.The road to Hurricane Ridges starts right from Port Angeles itself. It keeps running up and up and up all the way to the top of the mountains that we were driving under all this time. Amazing vistas open up with views of Port Angeles below.

Road to Hurricane Ridge.By the time we got to the top we realized that there was a ton of snow all over the place. We couldn’t really do any hikes here, since the trails were also mostly covered by snow, but the views were magnificent in all directions. Arosha had a blast playing in the snow. So much fun to actually play snowballs in the middle of June. His clothing was all wet afterwards, but Alena had a spare set for him.

Arosha loved the snow.I, again, took a lot of pictures, but was yet again disappointed with my inability to capture all the depth of being that high up in the mountains. Only later in the day when looking at my photos on iPad I realized that I should’ve placed the visitor center itself into more of the pictures to give the viewer some perspective. I have a lot to learn still.

View from Hurricane Ridge.At the end of this day we actually stopped at a supermarket and got ourselves some instant noodle soups and some other food and that’s what we had for dinner. We were very very tired again.

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge


Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.At this point we were done with all main objectives and still had a full day at Olympic. We looked at the map and decided to visit one of the closest destinations to us — Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge which is located on one of the world’s longest natural sand spits.

Bald Eagle.Before we got to the park itself we stopped on a small pullover that turned out to be a cliff overlooking the ocean. We were lucky to see a bald eagle seating on one of the cliffs below. I attached my 200mm lens to my camera, but he was still too far away for a nice close up shot. I did manage to catch another one in flight though right at the same spot.

Crab kingdom.Later we took a nice hike through the woods and ended up on a long sand spit — peninsula. At the end of it there was a light house, but it was too long of a hike. The beach itself looked very similar to Rialto Beach — it had a lot of old trees on it. My dad and I went for a short hike, found a tiny river full of little crabs and Alena let Arosha play in the water — he again had a blast.

Lighthouse at the end of the peninsula. Mt. Baker is 90 miles away.I could also see a huge mountain visible on the horizon, but I wasn’t able to get sure answer from anybody as to what mountain that was. Most probable version judging from replies I got and looking at the map is that it is Mt. Baker which is located more than 90 miles away.

Arosha at  Dungeness.Also visible was the coast of Canada. We thought about taking a ferry there originally, on this day, but it turned out way too long and expensive of a trip.

Strawberry picking.After spending some time at the park we drove back and stopped at a strawberry farm that we passed before. Arosha loves strawberries and we wanted him to see how it grows. The lady that was working there actually told us that he most definitely should collect those strawberries inside of himself — quite nice of her. Usually they are quite strict about people eating stuff — or at least pretend to be. The strawberries were delicious!

Evening


At Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.Then we proceeded to a restaurant that I spotted on the map that was given to us at the hotel on the first day. When we got there I checked it on TripAdvisor and happened to be ranked as a number one spot at the time — Woodfired Grill. I had a steak and everyone else had seafood risotto. It was probably the best meal of the whole trip for all of us. We even got some non-alcoholic beer for Alena.

Bald eagle at Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.And on this day we actually had some energy left at the end of it that Aroshka and I went for a swim in the pools — I preferred to sit in a hot tub, but Aroshka kept demanding to swim in the cold big one. It was too cold of a day for that for me, so we kept running back and forth. And that was our last night in Port Angeles.

At Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.In the morning we packed our luggage-puzzle, checked out from our hotel and set course towards Mount Rainier National Park through the city of Olympia — the capital of Washington state.
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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Costa Rica — Impressions

View from the balcony.Alёna already wrote about things in general, so I’ll probably be somewhat repeating her thoughts here, but here are my own impressions in a few words.

Flight


The flight was surprisingly easy. Arosha has “matured” a lot since our last trip to Dominican Republic. Even though the flight to Costa Rica was quite a bit longer he spent most of it in his seat either watching cartoons (not much at all) or looking at books, looking out of the window or just talking to us. And when he needed to go to the bathroom he would just ask. The flight back went pretty much the same way.

In addition to that I myself stopped taking motion sickness pills for the flights about a year ago. I find that I actually handle flights much better lately because I’m not insanely drowsy and can just watch movies and read without falling asleep while not being able to actually sleep.

Our Hilton Papagayo resort.One interesting thing was the fact that when we landed we expected to pay an entrance fee as it usually happens at these types of destinations. We were quite surprised that there was none. However as it turned out later there is a catch after all. Even though there is no entrance fee everyone has to pay a departure tax of $30 per person. I actually would’ve rather dealt with that upon arrival than having to do all that when you’re trying to catch a plane.

Car Rental


Renting a car worked out rather well for us. I’m typically not a huge fan of beach vacations, but a car gave us an opportunity to see more of the country rather than spending it in the confines of our resort. As Alёna said I just got a decent quote from a guy in the airport — you can actually push them for a better deal, and we got the car for exactly the price that was promised to us.

Our rental — Toyota RAV4.A quick shuttle took us to their location and soon after we were in a nice Toyota RAV4 on our way to our hotel with the help of a rented GPS unit. We decided not to rent a car seat for Arosha, even though we originally planned to do so. Instead we just bought a brand new one at Wall Mart for the same price that the renal would’ve cost us and this way we were sure that it was clean and new. It was light enough and you can check it in with your luggage for free for the flight.

Vacationing.The car was big enough for us to fit four of our suitcases in and seat 5 people comfortably. Later I also was glad that we rented an SUV as some of the roads would just be not passable on a normal sedan inside the national parks. The roads around the country itself were in a quite decent condition.

Resort


We decided to stay in Hilton Papagayo Resort. However we didn’t really win much beside free Internet for all our iDevices for our Diamond VIP status. We ended up booking the vacation through a travel agency because the combined price for the flight and hotel was coming out $500 cheaper as opposed to us booking it all separately. As a result we got no points for all the money spent.

Our rooms are next to each other and 2 balconies.The property had 3 restaurants in addition to a buffet, but the food seemed quite repetitive. Italian restaurant actually had different kind of food, but the service was the worst and the food didn’t taste good. For example risottos that we ordered with Alёna were so salty that we couldn’t really eat it.

The territory itself was quite big situated on the coast of a very nice quite bay of Pacific Ocean among pretty steep mountains. There were very frequent shuttles running around, but as Alёna mentioned we ended up being pretty close to the beach, pools and main restaurants that we didn’t even need to use those shuttles.

Buffet. Checkout that fork action.Basically the moral of the story here is that as far as food goes we had the best experience at Riu Palace in Cancun and Hilton wasn’t really worth it in this situation. I think we’ll stick with Riu for our next vacation of this type if it will be available. Although maybe all the waving of my Diamond VIP card did have some effect on the rooms we got, even though we did have to move to get them.

The Beach


The beach was really nice. As I mentioned it was located on the bay and therefore there was practically no waves which can’t be said of the open coast of Pacific Ocean. When we were in one of the parks there were waves my height hitting the sand. Nobody dared to get into that water at all.

Arosha on the beach with his beach accessories.Arosha had a blast. He loved playing in the sand, jumping into the water, playing with his shovel and a bucket and all other things. He also spent a lot of time in the pools and enjoyed going from one place to another. He spent hours and hours playing and swimming throughout these days.

I on the other hand jumped into the ocean water once and preferred to spend my time hiding under a shade reading something on my iPad. I am very susceptible to sunburn and I enjoy putting on all the sunblock about as much as I enjoy the sunburn itself. Although I did swim in the pool almost every day when there was shade from the water bar covering a portion of the pool.

In the pool.Also on our last day my dad got burned by jellyfish. He had a pretty severe red line around his arm and a bad burning pain. I read that the best thing to treat this would be to spill some vinegar on it and fresh water would actually be the worst thing one could do. I suggested he goes to the diving equipment rental place that we had and ask them about it. Luckily enough the lady working there whipped out a bottle of vinegar when she heard about it and put it on his arm, so I guess it’s not a very rare occurrence there. Vinegar did help a lot. We were just glad that it happened on the last day and didn’t happen to Arosha.

Excursions


These were actually the most fun days for me, but I’ll write about them in the next post.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mama

My mom and I, 1986.Today is my mom’s last day in New York — she’ll be flying to Minsk tomorrow (through Warsaw via LOT Polish Airlines). I feel sad because I got so used to her company and help during the last three months (where will I find time to cook and clean now), because I don’t know when I will see her next time (probably no sooner than in a few years), because moms provide that that warm and fuzzy feeling of security, which is hard to beat, and because I love her. I already miss her.

My mom and I, 2011.I never thought that I’ll be living so far from my mom. It was hard at first, and I cried at some holidays, and I missed the way she would fuss and bring me tea when I came home from school, and how she would save something sweet from her work lunch and bring it home for me, how she would listen to whatever I have to say… And then I got used to being away. People are really adaptive creatures, and I am no exception. The truth is that I have a great family here — my husband, my parents-in-law, my son. I love them with all my heart, and I know that they love me back. But still — mom is mom. The special bond forged by years of her caring for me, and me growing up by her side, is unique, and being in her company for a few months brought some forgotten feelings to the surface. I already miss her.

Mama, I wish you lived close! Mama, I love you! Mama, my eyes are full of tears because you are going away (I know it was me who went away, but it does not really matter)! Mama, I already miss you.
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