Dorset Hiking Trip

Long time, no post! Sorry about that, I’ve had a lot of work for classes keeping me busy so unfortunately I’ve fallen a bit behind. I just came back from Ireland this past weekend and I promise a post will be up about that adventure shortly. This post, though, is about the Dorset day trip provided by my program.

Essentially, we got up early Saturday morning to hike about 8 miles along the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. It was really beautiful – I felt like I was in Lord of the Rings or something. And the weather could not have been more perfect: lovely breeze and nice and sunny, virtually not a cloud in the sky. The hills were a killer, though. We had to climb up essentially cliff faces several times on the trip and I definitely had to stop and rest a few times. I was really glad I did it, though. As a nice ending to the walk, we got pasties/pies and a pint courtesy of ASE at a local pub. We also made friends with a dog that cosied up to our group while we were eating.

View from top of a hill

View from top of a hill

 

After the hike we went to Corfe Castle – medieval castle about 15 minutes away by bus. I thought it was very cool, but it was unfortunate that we had previously hiked 8 miles. As a result I was very tired and sore and didn’t want to climb any more hills (which we had to do to get to the castle) but just sit in my bed and rest. I walked around quickly and was very happy to get back on the bus at the end of the day.

We reached home around 7 and I just plopped into bed and didn’t get out for the rest of the night. My legs were SO sore for the next few days, but I think it was worth it. It was a very cool and unique experience!

Spring Break – Greece!

I decided to make only one post for Greece because we only visited two cities and one of them was only for half a day. I loved Greece. The weather was perfect, the people were so friendly, the food was DELICIOUS. Oh my goodness, Greek food is amazing, I was so happy. Also, at this point in the trip everyone was unbelievably tired so we were all taking it easy and slow, which made Greece seem even better, haha.

First stop was Thessaloniki. Before booking a flight there, I had never heard of this place. Apparently it’s the cultural capital of Greece or something like that? I don’t know, it’s got a lot of music and art, I guess. Unfortunately, we only had a little bit of time there because we had an early flight to Athens the next day. But, that was fine. It was good to have a relaxing day to recoup.

The hostel was really great, but it was up a hill and kind of hard to find. However, like I said, Greeks are friendly and an older man who didn’t speak a word of English came up to us to try and help. At one point he opened to a map of Europe in book he had and pointed at it when we weren’t understanding that he wanted to help us. He called over some younger people who may or may not have been his family and asked them to help us and they pointed us in the right direction – a good first impression! At the hostel they gave us free juice and a recommendation for a good restaurant, but we couldn’t find it and ate at another one instead, which was still good because they gave us free dessert! Like I said, I loved Greece. Also, tap water was free! Yay!!!

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Feta with olive oil and oregano – the most important thing that happened in Thessaloniki

Fun fact about Greece (Thessaloniki in particular): there are stray dogs and cats everywhere. They bombarded us at dinner because we were sitting outside. They kept going under the table and a dog kept booping my leg with his nose, it was pretty hilarious actually. After dinner we wandered down to the harbor and sat for a bit and then went back to the hostel and went to bed literally while it was still light out. Like I said, we were tired, haha!

We left the hostel early in the morning to catch flight number 3 to Athens. The hostel there was pretty easy to find and was relatively close to everything we needed to get to. What’s nice about Athens is that besides the Parthenon, the city is pretty flat so walking’s not that bad.

We dropped our stuff off and headed pretty much straight to the Acropolis, trying to get most of the historic stuff done of the first day so we could chill on the last day of vacation. We stopped at a little restaurant to get some cheap gyros (which were amazing) and we got MORE free food! Yay, I love Greece! Another nice thing about Greece: student discounts count for students outside the EU, which is something that Italy does not seem to be a fan of. So, our tickets for all the ruins and stuff were not expensive at all considering it got us into everything.

First was Hadrian’s Library and then the Roman Agora. After that it was pretty much a straight shot uphill to the Acropolis. Some friendly locals directed us in the right direction when we almost turned the wrong way (without us even having to ask) so that was cool. At the top we saw the Parthenon and Dionysus’ Theatre, though we couldn’t get into the theatre, oh well.

Rear of the Parthenon

Rear of the Parthenon

The Parthenon was covered in scaffolding in the front, but the back was nice and clear which was good. The sky was so blue which looked so pretty against the white marble. The views were also very nice. After looking around at the top, we made our way down to Zeus’ temple, stopping for greek yogurt along the way – I got a smoothie!

After the temple we split into groups and I went with the people who went to the Acropolis museum. I got in for free since I’m an international student, yay! By the time we left it was starting to rain and we went back to the hostel. We got a little lost, but we stopped to get souvlaki gyros on the way, which were very interesting, and helped a woman with her moped. We got back to the hostel very hungry, but not that tired, which was great!

The second day in Athens and last day in Greece/on spring break was very chill. We had basically done all the historic things and spent the day around all the markets at the foot of the Acropolis. They were really nice, they had a big open antique area, but also more modern stuff. The vendors weren’t as aggressive as Italian ones which was cool too.

We stopped into the Ancient Agora at about midday which was extensive and more like a park than ruins. They really let natural plant life just grow, which I really liked – it was very serene.

Ancient Agora

Ancient Agora

Ancient Agora

Ancient Agora

We tried to get to the harbor, but the closest metro stop was closed, so we just got dinner and pastries to go and went back to the hostel, which was great. At that’s basically it! It seems a lot more compact in these posts. One thing I really liked about Greece and Athens in general was that it seemed more authentic (if that’s even the word I’m looking for). Not that Italy was fake, but we went to very touristy cities and I remember just being very aware that I’m probably eating at touristy restaurants and going into touristy shops. I’m not saying that we completely avoided that in Greece, but besides the stuff right near the Acropolis, a lot of the shops and restaurants felt like places locals might go eat (we went into a bakery that had signs only in Greek, for example). I don’t know, maybe they’re just more subtle, haha.

Overall, spring break was amazing. I knocked off three bucket list places in the course of one week! I ate amazing food and saw amazing sites and everything went nearly without a hitch, which was such a relief! I’m very happy to be back in Bath now and relaxing, but I’m so grateful for this experience.

 

 

Spring Break – Rome!

The third and last Italian city we visited was Rome. These blog posts are making it seem so quick – it didn’t feel that way on the trip! Like Florence, I felt a little bad for Rome because this is where I started to really get tired. I had been getting up really early and walking a lot and it was starting to catch up to me, but I still saw everything I wanted to, so that’s good! 

We took a train from Florence to Rome and I slept most of the way there, which was nice. After dropping our stuff off at the hostel, a small group of us decided to head to the Vatican on foot – about a 40 minute walk. I had read online in a couple places that it was better to get to the Vatican around 2:30ish on Tuesdays and Thursdays (we arrived on Tuesday) as that is the least busy time. Since we got to Rome around 9 in the morning we had a lot of time to kill so we figured walking would be a good way to waste time. We stopped at the Trevi Fountain (surprisingly, it’s in the middle of a street, not in a big open square or something like that), the Pantheon, and an amazing gelato place (I got cappuccino!) along the way. Doing those things, along with getting lost a few times, we arrived in St. Peter’s right around 1:30.

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Trevi Fountain

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Gelato – look at it in all its glory (they had nutella and kinder flavored ones)

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St. Peter’s Square

We stopped to get lunch from a stand and sat and ate and then got in line for the Basilica. The line wasn’t that long at all, in fact, both lines (for the Basilica and the museum) were probably under an hour long (maybe an hour, tops), so that’s exciting. St. Peter’s was amazing. I knew what the altar looked like, but the amount of detail and effort put into the place was astounding. It was just great.

The Vatican Museum was also very cool, though slightly overwhelming. There was SO. MUCH. ART. The signs were also incredibly deceiving. It would look like there were four rooms to the Sistine Chapel and then you’d get to the next room and find out that there are actually six sub-rooms for each section. Intense. I think about 30 rooms in is when I went into a sort of art coma and I just couldn’t take in anymore. It was kind of sad because by the time I got to the Sistine Chapel my feet were so sore and I was so mentally overwhelmed that I pretty much just went, “oh. that’s cool.” I definitely looked at it enough to absorb detail, but I also kept thinking about how much I wanted to sit down, haha! It was weird, it didn’t look like I thought it would. I thought the ceiling was round? For some reason? Well, it’s not. It’s very much a rectangle. The chapel was also much smaller than I thought. The walls are also painted and very impressive despite not being as popularized as the ceiling. Cool stuff. After the Sistine Chapel there are even MORE rooms. I spent a little time at a gift shop, so I got a little separated and ended up zooming through the remaining 20 odd rooms to catch up, which I did.

At this point we were mentally dead and physically exhausted so we decided to just head back. There were some complications getting back, but nothing major. I took a shower and just hung out in the hostel and fell asleep in about 30 minutes and woke up the next morning to my alarm – it was one of the greatest sleeps I ever had!!

Day two in Rome began with the Papal Audience which was so cool! It was advertised to take about an hour and a half, and that’s only because they had to translate everything into about 5 or 6 languages, so it took a bit. Regardless and despite being squished like sardines for most of the time, I definitely feel like that was the highlight of Italy, possibly the trip!

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Pope Francis – there were so many people so this is probably the best shot I got

After the audience, me and my friend headed towards the Spanish Steps and the Colosseum. We were determined to do as little walking as possible so we took the metro/bus everywhere. The Spanish Steps were packed and I learned that they’re used a lot for fashion shows, so that’s interesting. For lunch I got a four cheese gnocchi which was possibly one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Then after lunch it was time for the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. We bought a ticket since it got us into both and it was very cool to walk around the ruins. I kind of wish I did a tour or something because there was so much going on and it would have been nice to know what all of it was.

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Colosseum

By that point we were very tired and so we went back to the hostel. For dinner I had fettuccine alfredo, which I hadn’t really seen any where else, perhaps it’s only an Italian-American dish? Whether it’s legitimate or not, it was still very good and what I felt like eating. And that concludes Rome and Italy! I really liked it but I was very tired by the end. I’d love to go back to each city and take a more relaxed vacation in each because there’s so much I didn’t get to see or really truly take in because I was tired or pressed for time. 

Also funny thing about Rome, it didn’t look at all like I thought it would. Well, the Vatican did, but Rome not at all. Venice was pretty much the same and I didn’t really have a mental image for Florence, but for some reason I really thought Rome was going to be a lot more open. I guess it’s because in movies they make it look like everything important is in one big square or something. It was just very strange because it was so different from what I expected.

 

Spring Break – Florence

Florence was our second stop on our spring break adventure and we started bright and early, emphasis on the early! Our train left around 5:30 am, so that meant getting up at 4:30 – spring break!

The train ride itself was relatively uneventful, but I saw some really pretty views when I wasn’t catching up on sleep! Since, we got to Florence super early and couldn’t check into the hostel, we just chilled in the train station food area for a bit to help wake up and get our bearings. Finding our hostel was a piece of cake and the hostel itself was wonderful! Very friendly/helpful staff and cute rooms. There was even a back terrace which we definitely utilized.

Our first stop was the Uffizi museum, which was an experience. We didn’t anticipate how long the lines were gonna be and we were slightly crunched on time (we needed to be at the hostel at 2pm to check in), so it turned a little stressful. We ended up standing in line for about 3 hours and having to quickly go through the museum. It was also more expensive than we thought, which was bummer. Pretty art, though. We were all exhausted and a little cranky by the end, though. My recommendation would be that unless you’re an art enthusiast or buy tickets ahead of time you should just skip it and spend your time elsewhere. No regrets, though!

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View of Florence from the Uffizi

The weather was very nice, as you can probably tell from the photo, which was great coming from Venice which rained on us a bit. After heading back to the hostel, I took a quick nap and then a group of us went out to get gelato (there’s no such thing as too much) and then go to the Dell’Academia where the original David statue is. However, it was expensive to get in and the line was long and we were not in the mood for that twice in one day. So, we just walked around a bit trying to find a park or square to sit in. I started to feel a little weird in the middle of this so I went back to the hostel to just sit and read – which was actually what I needed. My feet needed a break! Some people got a couple bottles of wine towards the end of the day and so we all sat out on the terrace and enjoyed the beautiful evening while drinking some wine – it was great!

Since all of the churches are closed on Sundays and all the museums are closed on Mondays (the two days we were there), the second day we decided to try and hit as many churches as possible. First, we headed all the way out to Piazzale Michelangelo, which was farthest away and uphill and made our way back from there, which was ultimately a good decision – I would not have been able to climb all those steps at the end of the day!

We stopped at a market on our way and I got strawberries and banana chips which proved useful as good snacks throughout the day. The climb up to the piazzale was killer, but the views were absolutely beautiful. We also climbed a little more to see a basilica on the very top of the hill, which was cool.

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View from the top!

From the piazzale, we headed back down and stopped at Santa Croce, the burial place of Galileo, Michelangelo, and Dante and then went across Ponte Vecchio for lunch, then BACK across the bridge again. From there we stopped at the Duomo, which was inspiring and then made our way back for the hostel. We had to head through markets and I was keeping an eye out for sunglasses since I forgot mine in Bath. I saw some and they were way too expensive, but I managed to bargain them down to the price I wanted whoop whoop! We stopped outside San Lorenzo, the oldest chuch in Florence, but we didn’t want to pay to go in so we just went back.

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Duomo

After all that we just chilled at the hostel, finished up my strawberries and banana chips and, again, enjoying the gorgeous weather. And that concludes Florence! It was very pretty there, but I felt kind of bad for the city since, of the Italian cities we were seeing, it was the one I was the most impartial towards. I was definitely excited to be there and loved everything I saw, but I was also just happy to follow people around and wasn’t super passionate about seeing anything in particular (as opposed to Venice, which was a bucket list destination, or Rome where I really wanted to see the Vatican). I also felt it was slightly disadvantaged since we all came from Bath which was very beautiful (in a different way, though) and had just come from Venice, one of the most iconically beautiful cities in the world. It definitely didn’t help that I was starting to get really tired. 

Still extremely grateful for the experience and very happy that I went, though!

Spring Break – Venice!

So, as I said in my last post, I’ve been home from spring break for a bit now. Sorry for the delay in posting! Good things come to those who wait, I guess.

Anyway, since the days over break were so jam-packed, I figured I’d make individual posts for each city - it’s only fair, haha. In Italy, we visited Venice, Florence, and Rome and spent two days in each. First stop was Venice. We had a mid-morning flight out of Bristol and arrived in Venice around 1 in the afternoon. The first few hours were a little underwhelming because our hostel wasn’t in the city center and instead on the mainland (still technically Venice, though). However, taking the train into the city and walking out of the train station was definitely all I imagined. Venice was one of those places that I had wanted to visit since as long as I can remember – so it was a pretty dig deal. I teared up, haha!

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Sidestreet in Venice

For dinner the first night I had pasta in cream sauce and some gelato afterwards. My first impression of Italy was that they charge at least 2.50 euro for tap water. In most places it was cheaper to get Coke or coffee than tap water. Not really a fan. There were also street “vendors” EVERYWHERE. You couldn’t walk ten steps without having someone shove a rose or a toy in your face saying “one euro! one euro!” I got used to it eventually and just ignored them, but then they would get testy, saying things like “Hello? Are you listening?” All in a day’s work, I guess. That wasn’t just in Venice, but in all the places we visited – it didn’t take away from me being able to enjoy myself, though. And Italians in general are very friendly – an old man let me pet his dog when were getting gelato which is something they’re not big fans of in England. 

Second day in Venice we made our way to an art museum and ended up splitting up into smaller groups (there were about 10 of us total on the trip) because people took longer than others. My group decided to make our way to Piazza di San Marco. On the way we stopped in glass shops to look around (I bought a watch!) and had lunch – I got pizza! After getting a little lost a few times (Venice is very difficult), we made it there in one piece. Unfortunately, the basilica was covered in scaffolding, but it was still impressive nonetheless. I mean, the fact that it’s supported by underwater stilts is mind-blowing. There were no pictures allowed inside, but it was absolutely gorgeous. A little dark, but the whole ceiling was covered in gold mosaics that showed different religious figures and scenes. Best of all, you didn’t have to pay to get in! 

By the time we were finished we were getting pretty hungry, so we decided to wander a bit and try and find a (relatively) cheap restaurant. On the way we stopped by the Bridge of Sighs. To be honest, I was more impressed by the amount of people taking pictures of it than the bridge itself. Eventually, we found a nice secluded one that was basically empty (we were eating early even for American/English standards) and I got some bruschetta and wine. Part of the reason we ate earlier was because I was going to go to 6:45 mass at San Marco’s and I wanted to have enough time. The people I was with decided to join me, which was very nice of them. It was very cool going back for mass because they had the church all lit up so the gold was much more impressive and you could see it a lot easier. I was very thankful to be in such a pretty place for mass with so many things to look at – especially since I couldn’t understand the priest! 

After that we walked over the Rialto Bridge on our way back to the train station and after getting lost even a few more times (all while getting rained on) we made it back! Venice was still a great start and I loved all of it – my only complaint would be they don’t have any benches/places to sit! It was so beautiful, though! The water was such a lovely shade of sea green, I didn’t even know water could look like that!

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Gondola in Venice

Birthday Fun

I just got back from Spring Break a couple days ago and I promise I’ll post about those shortly, but first I thought I’d talk a little about how my time in Bath is going.

My birthday was a couple weeks ago and it was strange because it actually was my very first birthday away from home (I even went home for the weekend freshman year of college). I had a really nice time, though! I spent most of the day relaxing in my flat which is honestly just what I needed. For dinner myself and a couple friends went to a place called Gourmet Burger Kitchen where we get student discounts – the burgers were delicious! Then, after dinner, my roommate and I went to a small movie theatre where we had free tickets to go see The Grand Budapest Hotel, the new Wes Anderson film. I haven’t seen very many of his films, but I really liked this one. It was quirky and funny but also had a good plot with heartwarming characters. Then, when we got back, my flatmates and some housemates “surprised” me with chocolate cake (I put surprised in quotes only because there had been hints)! A very nice, chill day. :)

In terms of Bath/the semester in general, everything’s great. Papers are due in the next couple of weeks, so the semester is starting to wind down. After the essays are done all I’ll have left is finals!! Time flies, I guess. 

I really do love the city of Bath. One thing I noticed over Spring Break was how much I missed it. I kept comparing the cities we were in (which were all fabulous) to Bath and what made it different/not necessarily as likeable. I really am going to miss it like crazy when I go back to America – especially since I may never get to come back! Ha, I didn’t mean for this post to get so sentimental and kind of sad, but I guess I didn’t expect for Bath to feel as homey as it’s become – it’s a great place!

Anyway, that’s pretty much all I have to say, haha. Just a short and sweet post for now. I’ll update about Italy and Greece soon!

Oxford (Part Two)!

Our program spent a whole week studying in Oxford and what can I say? It was absolutely amazing. I think I could spend a whole month in Oxford and not feel like I’ve seen everything I should. What with 40+ colleges, parks, pubs, and museums there’s so much history and cultural things to see. We managed to do a lot in a week, though, and I feel very privileged.

We left early Saturday morning and arrived before noon. We stayed at University College which is the oldest college in Oxford. It’s sort of a running joke that every college in Oxford likes to claim that they’re the oldest, but Univ. actually has the documentation to prove it so boom there it is. My room was on the main quad, which meant I was super close to the front gate and the dining hall, but farther away from my classes – still within 10 minutes, though. The room was so big! They’re set up suite style with a common room and two bedrooms. There were lots of windows – with the curtains open you didn’t need any electrical lighting until dusk. After arrival we just got quick tours of the surrounding area so we could acquaint ourselves with Oxford – I felt cool that I knew my way around a little better because I had been there before!

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Univ. Quad – my bedroom window was the fourth from the left on the top floor!

Sunday the whole group went punting. All I can really say about this was that it was an adventure. Yeah. In case you don’t know, the act of punting is standing in the back of boat and propelling it forward using a long metal pole. Easy, right? No. Just, no. Granted, I can’t complain too much because I actually didn’t do any of the punting, but my heart truly goes out to everyone who did. It started off very nicely, but around the middle of the route it started to hail and, even though it only lasted a couple minutes, everyone was so cold after that that we essentially just gave up. We ended up pulling ourselves along the wall on the side – I’m sure it was hilarious. We saw a few people walking by videotaping/photographing us – glad we made them happier, I guess.

Monday I just spent the day wandering around Oxford – my friend and I tried to go to a museum but it was unfortunately closed. I’m pretty sure this was the day I went to Blackwell’s, to be honest the days kind of blended together. Anyways, Blackwell’s is this huge (and I mean huge) private bookstore. It was about four floors including the basement, which has a Guinness World Record for most books in one room. It was very overwhelming for me knowing that I could essentially never look at every book in that store because I would never have the time. Still very cool, though. We had a talk that night given by an Univ. fellow about the history of Oxford. I would’ve liked to have him as a professor – he was funny and made the history very interesting. I also learned Monday night that Oxford students only pay ~9,000 pounds a year for tuition, which is so strange to me!

I had class most of Tuesday, but I still made sure to spend some time walking around Oxford and just enjoying the pretty architecture. I also had Indian food for the first time that night. I enjoyed my meal a lot, but I got one that was pretty sweet (I didn’t know it would be) and I kind of wish I got one that was a bit spicier or had more spices in it to vary the flavor – next time! Wednesday was my most productive day – I went to the oldest coffee shop in England (since 1654!) and took a tour of Christ Church College (home to many Harry Potter scenes) and went to the Eagle and Child for dinner (where the Inklings used to meet). Christ Church was very beautiful. We got to go into the Dean’s garden and see the Harry Potter staircase as well as the Hall and the Cathedral (so much detail it was crazy). I actually got separated from the group at the end because I spent so much time in the Cathedral taking pictures; I found my way out, though.

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Christ Church Quad

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Harry Potter Stairs!

The Eagle and Child was well-worth the wait (if you remember from my last post we couldn’t go because we were pressed for time). They definitely were proud of the fact that Tolkien and Lewis frequented the pub – they had quotes from the two all around the building and had a door labelled “Narnia.” They were out of fish and chips, which was disappointing, but the steak frites I got was actually cheaper and absolutely delicious! So, all-around, very nice.

Thursday I awoke nice and early to go to the Ashmolean art museum. I was really surprised by not only the quantity of art but also the wide range of art held there. They had Chinese and Japanese, but also Greek, Roman, and Egyptian as well as Italian and other European art along with Indian too. They nicely integrated them as well, making it so you walked from country to country in chronological order. And the best bonus: it was free! That night was formal dinner (something Oxford apparently do every week…again why are they complaining about paying 9,000 pounds???) which consisted of getting all dressed up and sitting in the Hall and eating delicious food and drinking wine. We had gnocchi (my personal favorite of the night!), roast chicken with mashed potatoes and carrots, and a Bakewell’s tart for dessert. They also gave us coffee and a mint to finish! It was a very nice way to end the week; I loved it.

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Univ. Dining Hall

We left early Friday morning and stopped at Blenheim Palace on the way home to Bath. The palace was the birth place of Winston Churchill and was (and still currently is) the home of the Dukes of Marlborough. It was absolutely gorgeous. I feel like I’ve been using that word a lot in these blog posts – but it’s been true every time! Walking through the house and around the grounds felt like being in a Jane Austen movie, it was great. We had about three hours there and then hopped on the bus and we were back in Bath by about 3:30 pm. I was so tired and happy to be back in Bath, but I definitely enjoyed my week at Oxford immensely!

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Outside of Blenheim (front).

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Outside of Blenheim (rear).

P.S. This time next week I’ll be in Venice!!! Can’t wait for Spring Break!