Travel Tuesday: Yellowstone National Park

Happy [Travel] Tuesday everyone!! I’ve finally made it through most of my Yellowstone photos and whittled them down to a manageable amount (smile). So I thought today would be a good day for a formal introduction to Yellowstone National Park.

yellowstone national park sign

Welcome to Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is located primarily in the northwest corner of Wyoming, although parts of it extend into Montana and Idaho. Yellowstone was the very first National Park, established in 1872 by President Grant – well ahead of the actual National Park Service (est. 1916). The park is also designated as a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere reserve.

Yellowstone is home to approximately half of the world’s geothermal features! According to the Park Service, there are over 10,000 thermal features and 300 geysers. Perhaps the most famous geyser – Old Faithful – is known for being one of the most predictable in terms of eruptions. The eruptions occur approximately every 91 minutes, give or take 10.

Of course we had to make a stop to see Old Faithful! We must have arrived just after an eruption as the benches set up for viewing were pretty empty. Luckily this gave us a front row view, a chance to rest, and time to meet some fellow tourists (smile). I will, however, say this – there are larger, more impressive geysers. Old Faithful is impressive mostly in its predictability (and the nice surroundings).

The park is home to bears – grizzly and black – wolves, bison, elk, and thousands of other species. We were lucky enough to spot most of the big ones (with the exception of the wolves) and quite a few of the smaller creatures (the ground squirrels were adorable). I was really surprised at just how abundant and obvious the wildlife was in the park. Literally everywhere you went you could spot something. As for the bear, I have no idea how people spotted some of them from so far away, but you could always tell what it was by the number of cameras standing along the road (smile).

The most remarkable part of the park to me was the contradictions of the park. In the same day we experienced sunshine, rainstorm, and hail/snow! Never mind that within 10 miles you could go from a geothermal landscape to lush, green trees to snow-covered mountains. As I explained in this post, you could find geothermal springs warm with steaming, boiling water right next to a lake that had just thawed enough to melt it’s winter ice. It’s hard to get bored or lose the wonder when you never know what’s coming next!

I would love to go back to the park and spend more time exploring off the beaten track. Considering the park covers over 2 million acres, something tells me I could do a lot of exploring (smile). In the meantime, more posts to come!

Have you ever been to Yellowstone? What was your favorite part??

Come join the fun with BonnieKaeleneSammy, and Van!!

Travel Tuesday


Weekly Photo Challenge: Containers of Knowledge

This week’s photo challenge is all about containers. I admit I may have over-thought this one a little bit (as I usually do with these challenges), but there are just so many directions in which to take such a challenge! I finally decided on one of my favorite types of “containers” – the containers of knowledge, libraries. These lovely containers come in all shape, sizes, and ages, housing countless smaller containers of letters strung together into words, phrases, and paragraphs meant to show us the meanings of the worlds. A bit poetic, but you get my point (smile).

Library of Congress Washington D.C.


New York Public Library

New York Public Library

Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Seattle Washington Public Library

Seattle Public Library

Happy weekend everyone!!



Book Review | Trapped: My Life With Cerebral Palsy

Over the summer, I’ve been participating in the 2014 Summer Book Challenge (check out updates from May and June). One of the challenge components was to read a book written by a blogger. In what I thought a stroke of luck at the time, the WordPress Daily Press had just posted an article about published bloggers where I found Fran Macilvey and her book Trapped: My Life with Cerebral Palsy. It sounded so interesting and so real, I couldn’t wait to get started. Unfortunately, I realized after the fact that the book doesn’t meet the 200-page requirement for the challenge (sad face). But I still wanted to share the book with you guys, so I decided to go for the proper review it deserves (smile).

Trapped book cover

I really enjoy reading a good biography or memoir and I was particularly interested in this book after seeing all of the glowing reviews. I was a little surprised when the book actually exceeded my expectations! I laughed, I cried, and I gained a new outlook on people with disabilities. This is one of those books that really draws you into the story and allows you to see the real person, for better or worse.

Trapped is a revealing and poignant book about Macilvey’s life with Cerebral Palsy. She writes about her difficult birth, struggling to fit in, her failures, and her successes. It’s a raw and honest look about life with a disability in a period in history where treatments could sometimes be worse than the disability itself. I admit I knew very little about Cerebral Palsy before I read this book, which is one of the reasons I picked it up. I feel like I now have at least a greater appreciation for the disability and for those I see with similar circumstances. It’s a good reminder that everyone has a story.

This one is a very inspiring story, and I got the impression on some level that the author herself was re-inspired in the telling of it. The thing I appreciate the most about this book is the notable air of perseverance and positive attitude through great hardship. Macilvey wasn’t just a naturally happy child who overcame her disability through sunshine and rainbows. It was a hard fought battle with plenty of ups and downs. I don’t claim to understand what she has endured in her life, but I saw bits of myself in her personality. I could only hope to have her resilience and determination should I ever find myself in a similar situation.

Perhaps it’s putting them into a perspective such as Macilvey’s story, but I found a new appreciation for the positive words she has to share. They don’t seem trite or strategically placed to “lighten” the mood. They seem like a real-life application of a positive outlook. As Hemingway put it, “the world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” It’s clear from her story that Macilvey’s one of those people. I respect her for that, and for being strong enough to share her story with the world. It certainly gave me a lot to think about, especially in terms of making excuses for not chasing life (smile).

I certainly encourage anyone looking for an interesting and realistically inspiring read to check this book out. Macilvey also has a blog where she posts her thoughts on life.

Have you ever read a book that inspired beyond expectations??



Travel Tuesday: California Dolphin Watching

Happy Tuesday everyone! I admit today was supposed to mark the beginning of the Yellowstone sharing adventure, but well…I hate Photoshop photo processing. I try to see the task as solid encouragement to take better photos to begin with – it’s an ongoing battle (smile).

Long Beach California boat

Our boat for the day

Anyway, I’ve had California on the brain lately so I thought I’d share another SoCal post today. I was visiting the BFF back in February when we had a brilliant idea over dinner to go on a whale watching boat tour – the next day. [How did anything ever get done before Google and smartphones?!] Thanks to Yelp and TripAdvisor we found a suitable option nearby and booked the early tour with fingers crossed it would be less crowded and “luckier,” even though we were near the end of the season.

We arrived at the Long Beach dock and headed out into the fog in search of whale tales. We saw a lot of birds and a few fish, but the water was otherwise remarkably quiet. Somewhere along the way my friend and I started to question the brilliance of our idea – no sea creatures and no stomach for boats (….yeah). Luckily, right about that time we came across our first dolphin pod (smiles all around and a proper distraction).


Pacific Ocean California dolphins

Pacific Ocean California dolphins

I’ve always had a soft spot for these lovely, friendly creatures. There’s just something so magical about the way they move and seem so eager to interact. We saw several hundred dolphins that day of differing species – some that I had never heard of before! We ooohed and awwed while these happy little guys played in the wake of the boat and dove up and around the boat showing off for the cameras. On our way back into port, someone claimed to spot an actual whale tale, but I can’t vouch for the validity of that claim. Personally, I was equally content with the show we got (smile).

Dolphin, Pacific Ocean, California

West Coast Dolphin

Have you ever been on a dolphin/whale watching adventure??

Come join the fun with BonnieKaeleneSammy, and Van!!

Travel Tuesday


Weekly Photo Challenge: Relics

A relic is defined as an object having interest by reason of its age or its association with the past. [Well, at least one of its definitions (smile).] For this week’s photo challenge, I decided to go with a few relics found on my travels.

Rotary phone, hotel room key

Who remembers how to use one of these?

Skeleton key

I love these old keys!

 Happy Weekend Everyone!!

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Pondering Authors: Diana Gabaldon

Happy mid-week everyone! I admit to some difficulties finding my positive work attitude this week, but I’m blaming that on a long and happy weekend. Those always make it just a little more difficult to refocus. Luckily with my schedule I have Friday off so technically this is almost Friday a day early – winning! (smile)

I spent a portion of my long weekend reading the new Diana Gabaldon book, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. I won’t give anything away, but so far so great (smile)! I was actually lucky enough to meet Mrs Gabaldon a few weeks ago at an author discussion/book signing. I’ve been a big fan of her Outlander series since well before I was old enough to start reading such book (oops!). [The books themselves have inspired me in so many ways they deserve their own post.] I’ve seen Gabaldon at book signings here and there while diligently working on completing a signed set of books (about halfway there – yay!). Fortunately for me she actually lives here in the Phoenix area so it’s somewhat easier to see her at events. Or at least it’s pretty much a guaranteed stop on her book tours (smile).

Diana Gabaldon Tempe speaking event

Phone Photo :)

What made this particular experience so different was hearing her actually talk – about her life, her writing process, and a few other random topics thrown in for good fun. I’ve heard her read and I’ve seen her sign, but this was the first time I’ve just heard her speak. I always find it quite remarkable to find someone who can speak as well as they can write. The jealous part of me feels it’s somewhat unfair (grin), but the more sensible bit is simply inspired. Gabaldon possesses the same sharp sense of humor in her oral delivery as her written efforts, which I think is part of why her stories seem so realistic. A really great book requires the personality to compel the reader forward, and I feel like she does one of the best jobs of any contemporary author.

I don’t admit this very often ever, but when I was younger I wanted to be a writer. Perhaps a small part of me still does. But I feel like I’ve lost the creative drive necessary for such ventures somewhere along the way. I normally blame it on law school, but clearly there are plenty of writers who went to law school or into science (such as Gabaldon) that are best-selling authors. So I’ve stopped using that excuse in favor of the current truth – I just don’t know where to start or if I really want to right now.

Writing is a task that requires a certain level of commitment, just like any other endeavor. Listening to Gabaldon’s story of how she began writing her first novel and the time commitment she was willing to submit to in light of her everyday life was a bit daunting. It’s inspiring to know that it can be done (obviously), but also somewhat discouraging, as I have to admit I’m not sure I have that drive at this point in my life. Maybe when I’m in a different place in life I’ll try it out. For now I have my other outlets that keep me thoroughly entertained (such as this blog) and are slowly but surely bringing that dusty, moth-ball-smelling creativity cloak to the front of the closet once more. Small steps…

I will say that the most inspiring part of the discussion was hearing about Gabaldon’s writing process. I’ve read so many interviews with series authors where they say that the story came to them as a whole, waiting to be properly divided and dispersed into the world. Gabaldon’s not like that – she writes in pieces and parts then stitches them all together as they match up. A bit like life, the story is written as it comes then it somehow all aligns to make something amazing. I like that concept. I never rarely write anything in any sort of order. Even if I have an outline, I start with the fun parts first as a warm up, then find that the rest finds its way out on its own. There’s much less anxiety in this method vs. forcing the issue up front. If I did that then my writing style would be even stiffer and I’m desperately trying to loosen things up a bit so everyone can have more fun (smile). It’s just really nice to know that everyone has their own writing style, and I’m not alone in my organized chaos (big smile)!

If you’ve never heard of the Outlander series, I highly recommend checking it out. I call it “historical fiction,” but it really doesn’t fit any particular genre (which makes it that much more awesome – smile). Starz is turning the books into a series (a la Game of Thrones). I have mixed feelings on watching this (because let’s face it, the characters never quite match up with the mental image), but I’ve little doubt I’ll cave at some point. I’ll need a replacement for Tru Blood (smile).

Have you ever met/heard a favorite author speak??



Travel Tuesday: Mission San Juan Capistrano

Happy Travel Tuesday everyone!! I hope a good time was had by all this past weekend, whether you were celebrating the 4th or just the weekend itself (smile). Independence day is by far my favorite holiday primarily because it’s laid back and has all of the essentials – friends, family, food, fireworks – without a lot of the obligations of other holidays.

I was fortunate enough to be able to drive over to California to visit the BFF for the weekend and we had an amazing time! The fireworks along the coast were simply spectacular and I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate (unless maybe with a few of my own…smile).

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Welcome :)

In addition to the usual holiday festivities, we also made a short trip over to the Mission San Juan Capistrano. I had spotted this gem on TripAdvisor, but had no idea just how much it had to offer! We arrived a little late to take full advantage, but we were able to take a full tour and spend some quality time on the lovely grounds. Historical and beautiful – always a winning combination! (smile)

The Mission is located in present-day San Juan Capistrano, Orange County, southern California. It was founded in 1776 by Spanish Catholics of the Franciscan Order. The “Great Stone Church” was unfortunately leveled in an earthquake in 1812, although portions of the remaining ruins are accessible (and rather impressive still).

The Mission has the distinction of being home to the oldest building in California still in use – Serra’s Chapel, which was built in 1782. A special prayer room is dedicated to Saint Peregrine, patron saint of cancer sufferers and may be accessed from Serra’s Chapel.

grapes Mission San Juan Capistrano, California

Mission Grapes

The Criolla or “Mission grape” was first planted at San Juan Capistrano in 1779, producing the first Alta California wine in 1783. I would guess this was very convenient for “communion” purposes (smile).

Perhaps my favorite part of the Mission grounds was the central courtyard garden and koi pond. The colors were absolutely gorgeous and the fish seemed happy enough to pose for photos (with minimal inducement really). Overall, it was a genuinely peaceful and glorious afternoon! (smile)

Did you go anywhere over the weekend??

Come join the fun with BonnieKaeleneSammy, and Van!!

Travel Tuesday


Pondering Independence [July Goal Check-In]

Well hello summer! I wish I could say I was happy to see you but, well, I live in Phoenix and 110+ is just not pleasing. Sorry. Nonetheless, all this indoor time has given me lots of time for reading and for thinking, both of which I’ve really needed and enjoyed! So here’s to summer and July goals…

Yellowstone National Park, Bison

June Recap

1. Take lots of pictures at Yellowstone. So this one is totally a “check, check, check!” I was playing with a new camera lens so I probably took way more photos than was actually necessary, but sometimes it takes a few clicks to get the photos right! I’ve shared a couple photos around here (here, here, and here), but there are more to come this month I promise!

2. Personal decisions. So yeah, this was a great big fail all the way around. I think my personal life is even more screwy now than it was. I really want to say I’ll just let this one run it’s course naturally, but realistically that’s just my way of justifying my procrastination. If I’m ever going to feel better – physically or otherwise – I need to get rid of some stress. And really it’s not fair to any parties involved. Maybe July?

3. Create a more detailed budget. I found an awesome budgeting app that helps me to track my expenses and puts them into categories so I can see where my money disappears every month. So far I really like it, but haven’t really had it long enough to see any results. Expect a full report in a few months!

Yellowstone National Park bison on roadway

July goals

1. Plan a baby shower. My BFF over in Cali is having a baby girl in September and, as a pseudo-auntie, I’m absolutely so excited! Since the due date is rapidly approaching, it’s past time I got myself in gear and got this planned out. Now to find themes for a non-traditional mommy…

2. Find an outlet. June turned out to be an incredibly stressful month, and sadly it was just a preamble to July. I really need to find and commit to an active outlet to help cope with the stress. This isn’t really an optional goal given the ongoing health concerns. I’m thinking it’s time to find a not-hot yoga studio (smile)

3. Call my grandparents every week. My grandfather is steadily declining and frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if I have to fly back soon. Unfortunately, I can’t make it back for the 4th, but I’m hoping to go back early August (if not before). I’ve been trying to stay in contact more often, but I feel like I need to make a more concerted effort.

4. Organize all of my photos. I’ve been meaning to do this forever now and it’s far past time I stopped procrastinating. I started this task but failed to finish due to technical difficulties. Now that those have been remedied and I have zero desire to trudge around outside in the heat, there’s no time like the present (smile). Not only will I be a happier camper, but I’ll also have better access to lovely photos to share with you guys (win/win)!

How’s your summer going so far??

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Summer Book Challenge: June Books

It’s time for the next check-in for the Summer Book Challenge! I feel like I’ve been overdosing on reading lately (as if that’s really possible), but with the lack of quality programming on television and the miserable heat outside, what’s a girl to do?? (smile) I’ve really enjoyed this challenge so far and especially all of the great recommendations I’ve gotten out of it (double win)! The only thing I have left is to read two books with antonyms in the title…which is surprisingly more difficult to accomplish than one might think. I’m hoping to get some good ideas from the check-ins this month, but if you have any recommendations, I would love to hear them!

The Witch's Daughter book cover

10 points: Read a book that was written before you were born. - A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engles (256 pages, 2.5 stars).

I saw this book on someone else’s check-in last month and thought I’d give it a try (it worked for multiple categories which was a plus). Until that point, I had never heard of this book, although I quickly learned this put me in the minority! Apparently it’s a very well-known and beloved children’s book. Unfortunately, I didn’t really like it. I understand the allegory, etc. but I found it difficult to really enjoy. This was especially surprising given my affinity for sci-fi/fantasy books, but there you have it. I guess that again puts me in the minority. Oh well, I’ve nothing against the book as a children’s story, it just wasn’t for me.

10 points: Read a book from the children’s section of the library or bookstore. - City of Bones by Cassandra Clare (1st book in the Mortal Instruments series) (496 pages, 4 stars).

The thing about jumping on bandwagons, especially in the YA series genre, is that you never quite know what you’re going to get. Some of these series are great and some are, well, not so great. (I think it’s best I refrain from using examples here.) However, after some back and forth, I decided to give the Mortal Instruments a go. The first book, City of Bones, just became a movie not long ago I believe. I found the book easy to read and compelling enough that I finished it (and the next book in the series) rather quickly. It’s not Harry Potter, but it’s certainly better than a few other supernatural series out there…

15 points: Read a book on he NYT Best Sellers List when you begin reading it. - Shadow Spell by Nora Roberts (2nd book in the Cousins O’Dwyer Trilogy) (353 pages, 2.5 stars).

This is one of those series that is actually a bit painful to read in parts (it can be a little corny in places), but I’m determined to finish it now that I’ve started it. The story follows three related witches and their significant others who must defeat a family foe who has been after the family’s magical powers for centuries. It’s light reading, has some cute romance plots, and is set in Ireland. You can take it from there (smile).

15 points: Read a book another blogger has already read for the challenge. - The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (755 pages, 3 stars).

I started this book in May and just managed to make myself finish it. A classic example of that whole bandwagon thing not working out very well. I understand that this, again, puts me in the definite minority, but the writing style for this book was just a bit much for me. I eventually started skipping paragraphs of descriptions because it became so redundant. Some books flow, some books take work. This one took work. I do feel like I accomplished something by finishing the book though (smile).

20 points: Read a book with “son(s),” “daughter(s)” or “child(ren)” in the title. - The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston (411 pages, 4 stars).

This is one of those books that starts off in present day and then flips back to portions of the protagonist’s life throughout the story. Those types of books can really go either way, but I thought this one pulled it off really well. The book tells the story of Bess, a young witch who is left on her own after her family dies of the plague and her mother is hanged for witchcraft. Bess escapes but falls into the hands of  a warlock. She eventually escapes him, but he proceeds to chase after her through time. So you get snippets of various points in history, which is fun. It’s an easy read and historical – win/win!

25 points: Read a book by a blogger. - Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (384 pages, 4.5 stars).

This is a super amusing semi-autobiographical novel by The Bloggess. I’ve been a fan of her blog for some time, but never found her book in stock at the library when I thought to look for it. This time round I got lucky and had a great time reading it. The best part of this book is that you’re just never quite sure what’s coming up next or which parts are fact or fiction (smile).

Previous Points: 75
This Month: 95
Total Points: 170


My Travel Style Evolution

Happy Travel Tuesday everyone! I’m back just in time for this week’s themed prompt all about my travel style! Everyone certainly differs in the way they travel – from the first class to the backpacker budget – but we all have one thing in common – a love of travel!

family vacation, Gatlinburg Tennessee

Family vacay

Let me give you a little background on my travel style first. Growing up my family normally went somewhere out of state about once a year (almost always to a surrounding state). We always traveled by car, leaving at ungodly hours because my dad was too anxious about getting there to sleep. Bathroom breaks were few and far between, so you had to monitor fluid intake pretty closely (smile). Once we arrived at our destination, the next challenge (if we weren’t staying with family) was to find a hotel room. Now I’m not entirely sure if this was just the days before the internet or my parents didn’t believe in planning that far ahead, but I remember driving around for what seemed like forever comparing room rates before finally returning back to the “best deal.” To this day my dad still uses this method if someone doesn’t essentially force him into booking ahead.

The other interesting thing that was a part of the family traveling style was packing enough groceries to keep us all fed through the trip. We maybe ate out once or twice in a week long adventure. Looking back I see now that it was my parents’ way of trying to save money so we could do more/stay longer/etc., but at the time I just assumed that’s how everyone did it. I’m not sure we ever traveled with any set itinerary, but we usually went to a destination that didn’t necessarily need one – e.g., the beach, a park, etc. I can’t remember us ever taking a true road trip with stops along the way. It was always destination and home.

I share this background in order to give you a better idea of where some of my travel style quirks originated. In some ways I stay true to the family philosophies, but I also learned a great deal about what I did not want to continue in my own.

Ferry Caledonian MacBrayne

I Mix Up My Modes

Planes, trains, automobiles – boats, buses, bicycles – and a few other things I prefer not to think about (smile). I love to mix up my methods of transportation. Trains are by far my favorite way to travel, but I love to try out whatever happens to be popular in the place I’m in. I’ve tried out my fair share of contraptions over the years (with somewhat mixed results), and have certainly made some memories en route!

Growing up, cars were the primary method of moving around. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good road trip, but only if it’s a true road trip where I get to stop along the way and see cool stuff (smile). Unlike my family, I always want to stop and see the silly roadside attractions and/or photo ops along the way. On the flip side, much like my dad I tend to prefer an early start to my day and to avoid any unnecessary stops (they cut into fun time). I also always keep snacks on hand, just to keep everyone happy until meal time.

Planes and I still have a love/hate relationship. I’ve gradually grown into a semi-frequent flier now, but I was definitely a “nervous Nelly” in the beginning. I was mostly nervous about navigating airports, but once I figured out that all you have to do is follow the signs and be very, very patient, I learned to sit back, relax, and watch all the crazy, wonderful people go by. I still don’t like flying per se, but if it gets me there quicker then I’m all for it (smile).

Mammoth Hot Springs Cabin Yellowstone National Park

I Book Ahead

I am a Type A planner by nature – I can’t help it! But I have learned over the years to stick with loose plans instead of timed itineraries. Unlike my parents, I pretty much have to have a room booked before I arrive. I may change my mind when I see the place, but I like to know that worst case scenario there’s a destination to go towards when I arrive. I’m okay booking rooms from one place to the next, but I can’t remember a time I’ve ever had luck arriving and shopping around.

As for the types of accommodations, it depends on the trip. I’ve stayed in everything from a 5-star hotel to a sex hotel (wish I was kidding) and quite a few places in between (smile). My accommodations depend largely on my budget and the experience I’m looking for, but I will say this – I’ve rarely found myself finding true local culture at large resorts.

Dunchraigaig, Kilmartin, Scotland, UK

I Like To Know My Options (But Also To Leave Room For Surprises!)

I’m an active traveler. I want to stop and see the world’s largest ball of dental floss. If there’s a cathedral, church, or other religious building in town, lead me to it! I’m good for a lazy day on the beach here and there, but I can never sit still for very long. I’m definitely one of those people that need a vacation from their vacation! I do like to have an idea of what a place has to offer in terms of activities and sights, but I try not to plan exactly what to see and when. I do like to try to group activities in the same area on the same day for the sake of efficiency, but I’m rarely committed to doing anything at any time. My favorite parts of taking in the sights are the surprises I stumble upon along the way!


I Pack Light

Until just a few years ago, I was totally a chronic over-packer. I traveled like I was Paris Hilton and my trip budget always suffered for it in some way. Plus it’s really no fun to drag a 60 pound suitcase on/off water taxis in Venice. Just…yeah. But a few years ago my friend and I traveled to SE Asia and I discovered the fine art of backpacking. I’ve been sold ever since (smile)! I’m a huge proponent of packing clothes I can discard along the way to make room for new goodies, and I’m always looking for new tips and tricks to keep things lighter. A good, custom-fitted backpack is well worth the investment for any budget traveler. (It’s also the only way you can get a bag to an eco-lodge ½ mile off the road through a rainforest…just sayin’).

What’s your travel style??

Come join the fun with BonnieKaeleneSammy, and Van!!

Travel Tuesday

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