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Category: Travels (Page 6 of 9)

A Little Rewind to Fall Break: Eat-aly and Some

Posted by Harry.

This past weekend, I stayed in Metz. You can thank 3 exams and a paper for that, but also a short weekend of only the regular Saturday and Sunday (class was canceled on Tuesday due to a French national holiday, La Toussaint or All Saints’ Day, and rescheduled on Friday). So, since I’ve done really nothing of interest this weekend besides seeing the movie Doctor Strange (excellent movie by the way), I’ll throw it back a little to Fall Break, where I explored “Eat”-aly and some.

The Trevi Fountain!

Italy is the perfect blend of great sights and wonderful food. I had the great pleasure of traveling there with my parents, which was great for three reasons: I got to spend some quality time with them after being gone for so long, I rarely had to pull out my own wallet, and it was a nice change of pace from traveling with college kids every weekend.

The Colosseum

It was a much more relaxed trip as we made our way from Rome up to Florence, Venice, Milan; up to Zurich in Switzerland through some scenic routes and finally back here for some time in Metz.

img_3573I have to say, my favorite place was definitely Venice. I’m an avid fan of the outdoors and being on water, so just being able to walk around and be surrounded by it and have the opportunity to take boats around the city on water was a surreal experience for me. Otherwise that that, it was just enjoying the views that Italy brought and quality time with family that wrapped up a real chill fall break.

 

Check back in the next few weeks for an article about all of the planning and coordination it took to plan a trip with my parents!

What a Break!

Posted by James

“I can believe I ruined this break,” I thought to myself as I rolled out of bed Thursday morning.

I reach over for my phone and see its 2 pm, the memories of yesterday’s travels start to fill my head. The all-day travel, routing on train after train, then eventually a plane to end all the worrying. Followed by one last train and finally a bus. The monotony of the travel was only interrupted by my vomiting and constant sickness. Yet, as the saying goes, there is a silver lining to every dark cloud, even here.
Now that some time has passed and the wounds are less sore, I see that my break may not have been normal or even “fun” at times, but it sure makes a great story.

As Thursday, Oct. 21st rolled around, the homework and tests had piled up and 20161022_141945_resizedeventually subsided, but they left a toll, a wanting to be free of school life for a change. We left for the east right on noon. and six or seven trains and 18 hours later, we resurfaced to see the beautiful Czech Republic. Prague, our main destination, bore our company for two days and two nights.

 

The city’s character is almost impossible to describe with words, and it’s filled with history and importance around every corner. Passing bridges or churches older than the nation I was born in was a truly humbling experience. With the Czech Republic being the sister country to my father’s homeland, Slovakia, I came with prejudices I soon forgot or no longer believed. There is so much culture that it’s all blurred together, and what remains in my mind is food and the people. For the cost of nothing one can spend hours sitting eating some of the best dumplings (Knedliky) in the world, and laugh with friends to forget about the world.

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Next stop was Poland, specifically the small southern town of Zakopane. Here is where it all began. Arriving in the dead of night, we rose early next morning to conquer the mountains. The high Tatras of the Polish and Slovakian border were our target, and only after hours of pain -both mental and physical – could we claim our prize as King of the Mountains.

“How much longer until the waterfall?” I asked.

“Umm…” was Cannon’s response to a question I could barely breathe out of my mouth. The reason for hesitation was due to a mistake: we were climbing the wrong path. Never truly intending to summit this beast, we had our measly sights set for climbing to a waterfall and going home. Yet, due to a mistake we were apparently already three-fourths the way up the entire mountain. As my legs screamed, my joints ached in the cold and I stumbled to the top, I turned to my compatriots and said “Pain is temporary, but glory is forever.” Quite a good way to summarize the all-day climb.

Things began early next morning at 3am, and within hours disaster would strike. As I’ve told my friends now a careless mistake made me the lookalike of an action hero. During a bus-to-train transfer outside Krakow, a sleepy and deprived Jimmy left his passport and Eurail behind on a bus. As soon as I sat down on the train I knew! I darted off without saying a word to anyone and sprinted for the bus. But as I turned the building’s corner it was gone, nowhere in sight. My heart leaped in my mouth and I was truly speechless for the first time in my life.

As I turned to walk back to the train, I saw its doors slam shut and began to haul away from the station. My mind began to process everything, slowly waking from the two hours of sleep I had — “do I find the bus, wait, the train, my stuff, where, oh, uhhh!” In a moment of instinct I jumped onto the side of the train and hung on for dear life. Beating on the side door, I was eventually let inside and didn’t even have to tell my friends what happened. They knew. The embassy was next and within a day I had a passport in my hand. Before leaving Krakow I was lucky enough to find my old envelope entirely full of all my travel essentials, and as I flew back to Metz on Wednesday I couldn’t help feel I had betrayed my friends. We missed our flight to Sweden and in turn the second half of our entire trip.

But all was not lost. A spontaneous decision Friday morning saw me renting a car and driving 11 hours to Barcelona for one of the best two days of my life. And though I may have lost some money I gained a real life experience and one hell of a story.

A High Place

This past weekend, I traveled to Switzerland. Specifically, Interlaken. When I’m talking about how “high” this place is, I’m not just talking about the tall Swiss Alp mountains that you can climb or that you can take a cable car to Jungfrau (which is often called “The Top of Europe”), I’m talking about EVERYTHING: high altitude, high prices for food/watches/anything, high quality of chocolate, etc.

Let’s first talk about the views. They’re absolutely stunning. 99.9999% of our lives, the clouds are above us. The other 0.0001% is when we’re in Switzerland and we’re on top of a mountain.

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The picture on the left is when my crew and I climbed the Schlithorn, which was roughly 3000m (10000 ft) above sea level. When we were hiking up to the top of the mountain, we were basically trapped in a cloud and couldn’t see past 20 feet in front of us. Luckily when we got to the top, some of it cleared up and we got a great view of the other beautiful peaks the Alps has to offer.

The picture on the right is on top of Schynige-Platte, which is mountain range right over Interlaken and you can get a great view of the two lakes and the town in between (haha get it? Interlaken literally means between two lakes!)

Other things that were pretty high were the cost of food. I’ll definitely be writing a blog on some survival tips later on in the future, and it will include kebabs. Kebabs are basically your best friends when backpacking around Europe, but the cost of a kebab in Switzerland is about double the price of kebabs you’ll find elsewhere. Finally, the quality of chocolate here is superb. Find a picture below.
Couldn’t find it? Oh, I’m sorry! I ate the whole bar that I bought before being able to take a picture of it. If that doesn’t tell you how good it is, I don’t know.

Visit Switzerland y’all!! You definitely will not regret it!

Finally Some Exploring

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In a weekend that initially seemed doomed came the best and most exhilarating experiences. Sunday morning of last week I woke up in the Lafayette residence dorm and began booking my plans for the next weekend.
Sunday, September 25th
“There, we’re all set for the weekend: 4 beds, 3 nights, in Marseille!” As I finished booking my housing for the weekend. As the school week began I started tracking down my travel buddies, Clyde, Luke, Cannon. However, after each conversation I had no one willing to join me for a trip to Marseille. Luke was the only one willing to join me. At this point I hadn’t known him that long – sure, we played soccer together on Tuesdays, but traveling together is a whole other story.
Friday, October, 7th
As I woke up in my hostel and reached for my phone, I felt different. Arriving last night, I noticed a distinct change in weather and air quality. The air felt salty, there was always a slight breeze, and everything seemed more natural. The hostel was no different. And as i checked for any messages regarding Luke’s arrival, I felt truly rested for the first time in a long time.

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He got in around 10am, and we started for the mountains. My plan for the day was to hike in one of Marseille’s national parks, go swimming and the likes. After a short delay we found the correct buses and made our way toward Mont Puget. As the climb progressed, we started talking and getting to know each other. Within 20 minutes we were laughing and having a great time, the awkward tension I feared from it just being the two of us was nonexistent.

An hour or so later, we noticed that our paths we taking us around the mountain 20161007_162007and not up to the top. We both agreed the view would be legendary from the top, so we decided to shear face the side of the rocks. My legs burned from the ascent and scratches of thorny bushes as we grabbed edges and corners of massive boulders and made our way upwards. Both the pace and path were almost always set by Luke, getting lucky at every turn and decision. Luke raced up the hill, and as I finally caught up to him I was able to look up for one of the first times and really see the city of Marseille, the Olympic de Marseille (soccer stadium), the city center, the shore line, island in between the bay, and more. The view was truly breathtaking and won’t be one I forget anytime soon.

As we descended and made our way towards the shore, we both understood that the water would be cold, but the view and experience would be well worth it. By 4:30 pm we had made our way down to the cove and noticed we were the only ones about to swim. A good group of people were already in towels shivering and telling us it was too cold to swim, but that was to no avail for Luke as he cannon-balled in and convinced me to follow.

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The locals were right; as I jumped in, a cold shiver ran through my spine, and salt water rushed up my nose and mouth. Gasping for air, I rose to the surface and tried to remember what warmth felt like. I looked over my shoulder to see Luke climbing a small island boulder. As per usual I followed – and so began our cliff diving experience. After a few jumps I couldn’t take the heat, or lack thereof. Luke kept on, jump after jump, varying his style and approach. Finally we took off for home, shivering and planning tomorrow’s excursions.

The rest of the weekend consisted of traveling all along the bay, catching local experiences, food, activities, Bochy ball, wind surfing, paddle boarding, and so on. And by mid Sunday as we boarded the metro for the train, we both agreed, someday we’ll come back, and maybe someday we’ll live in Marseille.

Fire ‘Em Up!

Posted by James

It was Thursday afternoon, and as I attended my last class of the day I couldn’t help but get elated. Cannon and I turned in our travel document sheets at the front of the class, and then turned and left differential equations early. As we walked out we both just gave each other a stare.

“That felt like such a weight was lifted off my shoulder” I said.

“Budapest here we come,” Cannon chanted. And as far as weekend trips go, this is one of the most I looked forward too.
Our trip starts in Metz-Ville Gare (train station) as always, but ends much farther away: Budapest. Being Hungarian, I was definitely going to visit Hungary at some point during this fall semester. Earlier in the semester I sent out messages on our Facebook group trying to assemble a crew to visit “the homeland” with me. That Thursday evening at 6 pm we boarded our first of 6 trains and began our 15-hour trek to central Europe.
Friday, September 23rd:
I feel the sun on my face as I open my eyes; they’re sore from the night before from frequently waking to change trains. In the background I can hear a strange but familiar sound: people talking, talking in Hungarian. As my ears begin to convert the words I feel a sense of relief and joy come over me. I wake and look around me. Noticing we are on the outskirts of the city, I tell me friends that the weekend is about to start.
A traditional way to begin a day or holiday with family and friends begins with palacsinta (pancakes) in Budapest. I led our crew to my favorite palacsinta spot on the “Buda” side of the city. I was set to do the whole while acting as their personal tour guide retelling the history of each part of the city, just as it had been told to me by my mother, my father, my grandmother, my uncle, and the rest of my family. After finding our hostel, I set out for my weekends work. My primary goal, apart from visiting friends and seeing my mother’s birthplace another time was to show my travel buddies the gems of Budapest. We started the day by taking some trains downtown to eat some authentic “Magyar” food. As I ordered all our rounds of food I felt a calming sense come over me. It may have taken a day and a half to get here, but as the guylas and spicy paprika warmed our throats we all began to agree it was worth it. The second course consisted of csusza and csirke paprikas, heavy cream based foods filled with cottage cheese, potatoes, and chicken.
An iconic feature of Hungary are the ruin pubs. A key part of these bars is the architecture and the environment. Each pub has their own look and vibe that corresponds to the drinks and food they serve there. Hungarians are a very somber people and seldom go to these pubs the same way as Americans or other cultures go

Szimpla Kert in Budapest

Szimpla Kert in Budapest

to drink. These often represent hang out or meeting places, often a way to start the evening.

Saturday consisted of mostly the same, touring different parts of the city eating guylas once again and enjoying the city’s beautiful unique attributes. And as we boarded the train Sunday morning at 5 am, all thanked me for the weekend. Yet, I deserved none of the thanks, I was just lucky enough to help my friends see the beauty of my parents’ homeland.

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Trekking (A Lot) More Than Usual

Posted by Harry.

Being broke college kids who don’t necessarily want to spend money on public transportation (excluding trains, because they’re kind of a necessity), we’ve all probably done a fair amount of walking around wherever we’ve been visiting. I’d say on average; we probably log a solid 10 miles (?) a day on the weekends. Usually a lot of walking is done in cities because, hey, it takes time to get from place to place. This past weekend however, instead of walking around in a city or cities, I took a little hike from one city to another. Notably, this route was a part of the GR 98-51 trail that connects Cassis to Marseilles through a beautiful mountain range known as “The Calanques.”

Photo courtesy of gr-infos.com.

According to my pal Morgan, she said this hike was an estimated 17 miles looking at the map. The people that I was with and I were like “Aight, that’s totally chill! We can just make it in a day,” and we planned to do the hike from early Friday morning to Friday evening. Unfortunately, the weather was forecasted to be raining and thunder storming throughout Friday, so we were a little bummed. Fortunately, the weather in actuality was perfect and sunny so we got to go on our way.

Photo courtesy of Morgan Ringel.

The trail we took isn’t just for the hardcore hikers who want to walk 17 miles from city to city, but had many trails of varying length for any skill level in between. The most famous trail is the one that leads to the Cave-En-Vau, which is this beautiful inlet beach you see above. That was only about 1.5 miles in, so if you have the time, check it out! It’s definitely got a spot on my “Places to re-visit when I’m older” list.

Along the way, we ended up climbing up a big mountain and caught some gorgeous views of the Calanques as a whole. Near the end, we got to hike into a stunning view of the sunset. Aside: probably the funniest-yet-disheartening part of the hike was when we checked our GPS as it said 2.1 miles until the restaurant where we weregoing to grab dinner at, hiked 30 minutes in the correct direction of the restaurant, and then it said 2.3 miles until our destination (LOL).

When we finally got to the restaurant, never has a moment that was happier than to sit down and get off our feet for a while. We all made bets on how many miles we actually hiked, since it felt much longer than 17…and it ended up being around 23-24 miles! A huge sense of accomplishment fell over our group as we devoured our delicious food (food tastes better after hiking 24 miles) and then Uber-ed (not walked) our way to the taxi because hey, I thought it was well deserved. If there was a shirt that said “I conquered the Calanques,” I totally would have bought one. All in all, it was great experience and I would recommend for those of you who are outdoorsy and/or adventurous to check it out.

Sometimes You Plan

Posted by James

In a 4 month study abroad program, there are bound to be some instances of trouble and failed plans. And this weekend bore witness to the first of mine.
4:50 am Saturday, September 17th
Knock, knock….knock, knock……KNOCK!
I roll out of bed and go to the door. My friend Cannon is there backpack on, fully dressed, ready to go.

“Did I wake you?”

“No, I woke up an hour ago. I’ve just been trying to get some sleep.”

I start getting dressed and collecting my vital items: Eurail pass, passport, and Borussia Dortmund tickets. By 5:30am the two of us are in downtown Metz, at the Metz-Ville Gare (train station) waiting for our first of three trains for the day. The plan for this weekend was as follows: Borussia Dortmund Soccer game followed by Oktoberfest in Munich. We were looking forward to being in Munich for the start of the festival and to experience some truly unique European culture. Alas, things didn’t go our way.
12:30 pm Saturday, September 17th
The first sign of things taking a toll for the worse came when we entered Dortmund. Cannon had booked our hostel just days before. Originally we were planning to spend Saturday evening in Munich and sleep there. However, all hostels and hotels were booked across the board for the festival. Yet once in the train station we looked up where our hostel was in Dortmund. It was far outside the city center and quick a trek to get there. One tram and a 2 kilometer hike later, we found our quaint Airbnb on a German hillside. Our host, Thomas was very polite; however it was he who opened our eyes to the failed planning.

As we were telling him our plans, he asked “When are you going to Munich tomorrow?”

“Our train leaves at 4am” I answered.

“Oh no, you’re not going to make that, you have to get to the city from here and the earliest train is 8am!” My eyes met Cannon’s, and we both had a moment of silence. Still, we couldn’t think about that now, we had a game to get to.

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15:30pm Saturday, September 17th at Signal Iduna Park (Dortmund)
As the teams kicked off a local match, the famed “best soccer atmosphere in Europe” was not disappointing. We were lucky enough to get tickets in the infamous “Yellow Wall,” the Dortmund Home fans section. And as thousands of supporters piled in screaming, chanting, waving flags, and stumbling off beers the atmosphere was truly remarkable. We didn’t have to wait long for the first goal: 7 minutes in and Dortmund took the lead. While that may have been the only goal for that half, Dortmund came out strong in the second and scored 5 more! Cannon and I each caught a goal on camera. Enjoy below:


And now, as I sit on the train ride back from Dortmund I find myself in a position to give advice. While the GTL schedule may seem easier GT-Atlanta’s, the contrary may be true. Strapped with AE homework, Cannon and I planned late and consequently missed out on one of the best festivals in Europe. The 3-day weekends can be both a blessing and a curse. For current and future GTL students, maintain a steady consistent work week and always plan well in advance.

Making the Most of the “B” in Belgium

Posted by Harry

There are a lot of terms closely associated with Belgium that begins with the letter “B.” Some, namely, are Brussels, Bruges, and Bwaffles (if you didn’t already know, the “B” is silent).

Brussels

The Grand Place at night.

Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is a very modern city. It’s filled with people and has a huge industrial buildings scattered throughout the city. However, it’s most notably known for the Grote Markt/Grand Place at its heart. Oh my, oh my, how beautiful it was. The neat thing is you’re surrounded by gorgeous structures on all four sides if you stand in the middle. This place used to the hub for all the different guild’s that fostered the economy of Belgium long ago and is filled with rich history.

Bruges

The Markt of Bruges.

Bruges is a quaint little town about an hour north of Brussels. On the map, it looks fairly tiny. When you get there however, you find that there’s just so many things to do! I didn’t set my expectations too high when visiting but after a day there, I was pleasantly satisfied and more. Bruges also has a Markt area in the center of town where you’re also surrounded by magnificent architecture all around. As you head out in any cardinal direction from there, you’ll find parks, river tours, windmills, museums, and all sorts of random things to see/explore.

Bwaffles

If you went to Belgium and didn’t get a “Bwaffle,” did you really go to Belgium?

The answer is, yes, I did, and here was my yummy Belgium waffle that I had in the Grand Place.

Dreams Can Come True!

Posted by James

May 28th, 2011. The day of the famed Champions League Final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC. I remember talking to my friends at school, “Rooney is going to score 2 goals, Messi will get one back but it will be too late in the end. I got Manchester United (United) winning it all!”

“Really?” My friend Mark wasn’t convinced. He thought Barcelona (Barca) would prevail and sadly they did winning 3-1. Long before this UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) final I was a huge fan of Manchester United. It is often considered one of, if not the biggest clubs in the world. Many people who side with United are considered “band-wagon” fans, just picking the winning team for a change. Not me! I fell in love with United because of Wayne Rooney, the prolific goal scoring machine and arguably England’s best player for the last decade.

As a kid, we didn’t have access to the fancy “European” sports channels, so I grew familiar with his work by the likes of YouTube and other internet sources. I remember watching him play, always so intelligent, decisive, powerful: the complete Striker. Rooney was my idol, I would always try to emulate his playing style whenever I played soccer. His style was my ideal way of playing so naturally I gravitated to him. And that sad day in late May as I cheered for United’s equalizer and then cried as moments later as Messi and Barca stole the cup marked an important moment for me.

Following this day, the US began investing massive amounts of money into the English Premier League. So for the next 5.5 years I would began seeing more of my favorite team and favorite player. Waking up early mornings and annoying my parents as I cheered for goals year after year. Yet despite the increased coverage I always felt like something was missing. To cement yourself as a real United fan one must make the famed pilgrimage to Old Trafford -their mighty home stadium. So when I decided I would be studying abroad this semester, this was one of my first concerns and largest trip budgets.
And this last weekend, my dream of seeing the Red Devils live at home finally came true. As the week progressed I remember feeling more and more nervous that something might go wrong, I’d miss the bus, or plane, the tickets might not arrive, something felt off. And then it hit, it just felt too good to be true. Something I’ve dreamt of for years was finally coming true.

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A shot of the field of Old Trafford, “The Theatre of Dreams.”

Friday, September 9th
“Chirp, Chirp, Chirp, CHIRP, CHIRP!” My alarm sounds. I snooze knowing its 4 am. A couple minutes later I drag my corpse-like body out of my bed and begin getting ready. Today my dream is coming true!! Yet right now all I can think about is sleep. After only a few hours of sleep, I begrudgingly pack my bag and run through my checklist. As I come out of the bathroom I look at my watch. 5:10?? The bus! I grab my passport and tickets and burst out the door of Lafayette. As I board the 1st, then 2nd bus, then the train to Paris something begins to change in me. With each step of my journey completed the dream starts to become reality. Finally, I make it to the airport and walk on to my plane all smiles.

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Football fans entering the stadium under huge advertisements for the football players.

As I exit my cab and walk into the best hostel I’ve ever seen, I suddenly tense up: now the moment of truth. Did my tickets arrive? I walk up to the receptionist and begin checking-in. I “casually” mention that I bought tickets to the Manchester Derby and that they should have arrived. She notices my conflicting emotions of joy and anxiety. Finally she returns from the stockroom with an envelope in her hand, and my heart legitimately skips a beat. I began thanking her, probably too much, as I open up my package, once again all smiles.

Saturday, September 10th: The Manchester Derby
I wake casually around 10, shaking the night before. Late into the day, the true ability of football was witnessed as I became good “mates” with someone from my

James in front of “The United Trinity” statue in front of Old Trafford.

hostel. His name was Sam, and he had flown 31 hours all the way from Sydney, Australia for this game. We both grab some traditional English breakfast and start making our way down to the game. The first timers and foreigners become interspersed among the locals in the massive crowds as we approach the stadium. As we near, we hear the singing and chants of the local United fans, all “preparing” for the game.

As Sam and I round the corner we see it! Old Trafford, instantly we both become children jumping up and down and shoving each other with excitement. “Oh my god, will you look at this Sam!” My heart is racing, blood pumping we begin a fast sprint to the stadium. As we find our separate gates and wish each other a good match, time stops. I scan my ticket and walk through the gate.

The security guard says, “Welcome to Old Trafford, and thank you.” As I move through the gate I almost yell, “No THANK YOU SIR!” And what happens next no words can truly describe, seeing that stadium gradually fill with fans, then eventually the players can’t be put into words, certainly not by mine. And while we did not win the match, much like back in 2011, it was a life changing moment. I can still hear the iconic roar and chants of fans throughout the game. One moment that will always stay with is linked below, click to experience a little of the Red Devils at Old Trafford.

Buzz: The World’s Best Travel Buddy

Posted by Harry

Hi there! I was recently introduced to the Georgia Tech mascot, Buzz, for the first time (I’m a Dukie, so don’t point fingers). As a personal motto that I just came up with, I’d like to say “there’s no better way to get to know someone than to travel with them.” Following my own advice, I decided to take Buzz out on some of my weekend adventures!*

Stop 1: Nancy, France

Photo courtesy of Jack Livingston.

Here we have Buzz with 5 Duke students (the irony is very real) and one of Buzz’s family members who has been idolized enough in this area to have a trimmed hedge in their honor. Buzz told me this was his brother-in-law’s-second-cousin’s-fifth-removed-uncle’s-father. I believe him.

Stop 2: Strasbourg, France

When we took Buzz to Strasbourg the next day, we almost lost him. The cathedral in the center of town immediately caught his eye and he flew to the top! Luckily for us, we found some stairs as well so we could join him up there. Check him out below!

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A before and after shot of Buzz before he flew up to the top of the Strasbourg Cathedral.

Honestly, this weekend with Buzz was amazing. He’s definitely the best travel companion I’ve had up to date (no offense to anyone that I’ve traveled with!). He’s always got a smile on his face, never complains, and open to any and every idea. Thanks for a great weekend, Buzz.

*If you’d like to take Buzz out on travels and have a couple pictures taken, sneak a peek inside Katia Menard-Pons’s office, first door on the left of the administrations hall, to show him around!

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