It snowed. A lot. Schools were cancelled and planes grounded. So I firmly crossed my fingers and hoped tomorrow would be different and that I could board a little plane and fly away.

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The Dash 8-100 over snowy fields. I now know things about planes by osmosis and have become nerdy enough that I will go to museums about them (see below).

It stopped snowing, the temperature soared above zero, and I looked down at gradient grey-scale half-frozen lakes and patchworks of white fields.

The propeller was loud (I was in a Dash 8-100 Bombardier aircraft, which I know because I was flying to visit a guy who knows things about planes and makes sure I know these things too), and the bumpy ride made me a bit nauseous. But the one good thing about there not being any low-cost carriers in Canada is that you get ginger ale for free on fancy full-cost flights.

When I landed in Baltimore, it felt like Springtime. Lots of snow, but a warm sun and the sounds of dripping melting thawing everything. Beautiful old houses.

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Pretty sun setting over Baltimore.

After a Valentine’s night of pulled pork on square bread and a wonderfully random review of scenes from London’s National Theatre on TV (where we heard Ralph Fiennes do a South African accent and Judy Dench sing Sondheim), we woke up stupidly early to catch the train to Washington. We nearly missed it because we needed coffee and a muffin very desperately and the lineup for the coffee and muffins in the train station was very slow. But we made it!

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There is the Washington Monument in the background. Grey on grey on grey. With two scrappy snowmen.

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At the National Air and Space Museum, touching the moon rock. A rock from the moon. A ROCK FROM THE MOON! I’m touching a rock from the moon!

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No Jenny wading in this reflecting pool. Not in this weather.

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Lincoln.

It was my first time in Baltimore and my first time in Washington, DC. and though I don’t know what I was expecting, I was surprised. Washington is an actual place and it was surreal to see so many sites made familiar by movies and TV. Baltimore was bright and beautiful, probably because I managed to avoid the drugs and violence of The Wire, though I’m sure it actually exists.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t been to a place I’d never been before in a relatively long time, but everything was reminding me of something else, even though they were totally different. In Baltimore, I found that street corner in Sydney, that coffee shop in Denmark, that street in Montreal…

And darn it, my feet are getting a little itchy again to go to all the Somewhere News. 

Top 3 things I will not forget about my quick weekend trip:
- I ate bacon from Tennessee and I will never find bacon that good again.
- I didn’t see Toby Ziegler in Washington.
- Flying out of an international airport that only has 3 flights out per evening is a quick and lonely.

I have been home for over six months, yet it still feels like I just got back. I’m still out of loop on the theatre scene, I still haven’t caught up on all the 2013 movies, I still haven’t unpacked all my boxes, and I’m still saying “well, I just got back from a trip” when people ask what I’m up to.

So I’m feeling a bit like a tourist in my own country, happy to rediscover it all armed with a few more points of reference and comparison.

With a very snowy winter, a job that involves showing off my country to young people, and two days of back-to-back Olympic hockey wins, I’m feeling hyper-aware of my Canadianism.

So here’s to living it up, Canadian-style, and enjoying the winter:

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I tried curling for the first time. It was ridiculously fun to throw a rock down a sheet of ice. The sweeping not quite as fun.

 

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Whenever the temperature goes above -8°, it’s a good time to go for a walk in the secret neighbourhood of Wychwood Park in Toronto.

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Barrelling down snowy hills in an inflatable tube! A cheap and cheerful alternative to skiing.

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The local wildlife. Back to posting pictures of birds!

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The local food: poutine! Not exactly your traditional, hole-in-the-wall-greasy-spoon version (where you layer fries, cheese curds, gravy, fries, cheese curds, and gravy), but this one still did the trick with its squeaky cheese and heart-attack potential.

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If you pass a half-frozen creek, you must go break the ice with your boots for that pleasing sound and to watch the bits of freed ice float down stream.

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After the ice storm, the trees were glittering in the low winter sun.

I haven’t had a real winter in a couple of years, and as my tan fades, I am thankful to be back in Canada, despite the sore throat and frozen toes. And power cuts when it’s -20°C.

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Snow makes everything seem old-timey.

The power in my apartment cut out over 60 hours ago because of the ice storm that hit Toronto on Saturday. Luckily I have family in town and have been going from one place to another as power cuts in and out.

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People go nuts with the lights. And it’s tacky and beautiful.

I remember a few things I don’t like about winter at home:

When your scarf gets wet from snow or your breath’s condensation and then rubs up against your chin

Dry skin, wet feet, the inevitable runny nose

Getting slushed by passing cars

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Snow in the city mutes everything. Everything becomes quiet and cozy and nostalgic.

But when the air is crisp and the sky is blue and the setting sun makes all the ice-covered branches glisten like a Christmas card overloaded with glitter, winter in Canada is exactly perfect.

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The ice storm hits.

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Frozen smoke-tree flower.

Or when the snow is falling in big fat cottonball flakes and you sit by the window with a cup of tea and a book and you don’t have to go to work tomorrow.

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Christmas snow, typical Toronto house.

This time last year, I was alone in the middle of New South Wales, watching the rain wash away the road.  Turns out that Christmas only really feels like Christmas when it’s winter and you’re with your family putting together a jigsaw puzzle. With chocolate and clementines.

Happy holidays, everyone!

You wouldn’t know it from what I’m about to show you, so there are a few things you should know before scrolling through the following pictures:

1- I don’t eat burgers that often. I just happen to take pictures when I do.

2- I love to try new things and I tasted a bunch of awesome non-burger dishes in my trip around the world. The most memorable will probably be the subject of my next post (looking through my photos looking for my burger ones, I noticed I take a lot of pictures of food).

3- I know you will judge me for eating so many burgers and I will be able to defend myself with the following arguments: burgers are relatively cheap and very filling, they are easy to eat, when you’re overwhelmed by a menu they are a simple choice, burgers are delicious.

So, just because, here are some shots of me eating burgers around the world:

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Burger in fresh sourdough bread on the piers in San Francisco. With Anne-Marie.

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Still in California, trying the infamous In-N-Out Burger (that I’d never heard of until then). In Santa-Barbara with Courtney and Karel.

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Speaking of infamous- here’s the Fergburger. I mean. Just look at it. In Queenstown (New Zealand) with Yvonne.

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Made our own kangaroo burgers at the hostel in Fort Macquarie, Australia. It was pretty good. With that nice French guy from the hostel.

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Believe it or not, this is a burger from a French restaurant in Pondicherry, India. It wasn’t awesome. But look how tanned I was. With Uk and Anu.

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This chicken burger was as big as my head, was delicious, and was the only affordable non-supermarket lunch we could find in Hvar, Croatia. With David-Marc and those two cousins from BC.

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After-pub burger at Wannaburger in Edinburgh. This may or may not have been a 2-burger day. I’ll never tell. With Gerry.

You may also have noticed I only own black or blue t-shirts. But rest assured I live a varied and interesting life, whatever else these burger photos may imply.

I have been back in my hometown of Toronto for 3 months now, after over a year living out of my backpack. Thinking back, my record is 3 years in one place since the year 2000. And those three years were during undergrad when I’d go home for the summer. So maybe it’s normal that my feet are itchy for my own space rather than for another hostel dorm on another continent. We’ll see how long this lasts. (I’m already getting vague yearnings to see Chile. Or go back to Ireland. Maybe take a road trip down to Louisiana.)

Winter is coming! The first snow on a dried hydrangea, Toronto.

Winter is coming! The first snow on a dried hydrangea, Toronto.

Sitting here, settling into my new one-bedroom apartment that still smells of paint, I wonder: am I, you know, a grown up? I have a lease signed, a couch purchased (off Craigslist, but still) and lugged down the street with the help of a couple strangers and a good friend. There are butter dishes and sugar bowls and a brand new toaster sitting patiently in the kitchen and very serious thoughts of buying a Christmas tree a’brewing.

Something that’s making me feel more connected (other than working 9-5) is getting back into the loop theatre-wise. I haven’t written about any of the plays I’ve seen so far because I was either so affected I didn’t know what to write or so bored that I forgot I should maybe be blogging about things.

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Pig: rainbows and lollipops!

Pig (by Tim Luscombe at Buddies in Bad Times). Although this play made me feel every single emotion under the sun in a very intense way, from compassion to physical barfiness, I don’t know how to talk about it. This in-your-face show’s first professional staging about the gritty underbellies of certain gay cultures (including SM and sero-conversion parties) wasn’t my ‘cup of tea’ content-wise, but it was very well written and produced and acted. And it was nice to see a change from all the sanitized relationships we see on TV and on stage. And yes, it was provocative in the best sense of the word. I’m still reeling.

I mean- look at those shoes!

I mean- look at those shoes!

Venus in Fur (by David Ives at Canadian Stage) felt like a feel-good kid’s play after Pig. It was amusing and a bit brash but had beautiful moments. It was a crowd-pleasing look at S&M and there definitely was a perfectly sexy moment involving a boot being unzipped. But I spent most of the time wondering if the actress was really going to spend the duration of the play in those insane heels (she did and didn’t show any sign of distress).

A moment of action in The Valley. I'm glad they didn't shy away from staging this part.

A moment of action in The Valley. I’m glad they didn’t shy away from staging this part.

The Valley (by Joan McLeod at Tarragon Theatre). Um, I was never bored, but it was more a plateau than a valley (no peaks, if you get what I’m saying). Maybe I just don’t connect with Joan McLeod’s writing. Blasphemy!

But then I went to see The Gay Heritage Project (by Damien Atkins, Paul Dunn, and Andrew Kushnir at Buddies in Bad Times) and I realised I have to get back to writing. Because although you’ll read this an it will have already closed, I wanted to mark the play that motivated me to write again. To not give up on seeing shows and not to give up on the notion of creating them.

Paul, Andrew and Damien in The Gay Heritage Project.

Paul, Andrew and Damien in The Gay Heritage Project. I laughed, I cried, I learned a lot.

I refuse to give standing ovations just because every single Toronto audience gives standing ovations for every single play. But for this, I stood up.

It was both an intimate and globally important investigation. It was theatrical. It was funny. It made me sob. With only three actors, it managed to swing from big, rich song-and-dance numbers to the most quietly heartbreaking questioning. The physical preciseness of the performers was mind-blowing. It was aware of the difficulty of asking the question “is there such a thing as a gay heritage?” and it attacked the question from various angles, speeds, times, ages.

So I’ve set myself some deadlines and I will also attack. Hopefully something of what Paul Dunn, Andrew Kushnir, and Damien Atkins did in The Heritage Project will magically rub off on me.

So I’m home. I have a physical space I am solely responsible for keeping tidy. I have objects like couches and desks. And now I have a writing deadline. But these are all good weights.

Home for the holidays. You can't really tell, but that giant reindeer has ribbons as guts and brains.

Home for the holidays. The Eaton Centre. You can’t really tell, but that giant reindeer has ribbons as guts and brains.

I appreciate that I have friends to call for impromptu dinners and family to call on for help moving all my photo albums and chairs into my new apartment. I am also holding tightly onto that openness that travelling forces you to develop: I’ve become that girl who talks to people while waiting for the bus and who crashes a neighbour’s housewarming party.

I am holding tightly onto that feeling where you don’t quite know where the day will take you (the day meaning weekends and after 5pm on weekdays) and going with the flow of the buffalo.

 

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Doesn’t this look like something that would be on a feel-good-self-help-type post? I’m thankful for my brother and that he can jump high; thankful for the sunset, Croatia, and my camera.

This weekend was Thanksgiving for us Canadians.

I didn’t have a turkey or cranberries or even mashed yams. But I did use the 12 hours on the bus home from a weekend in New York City to think about all the things that I’m thankful for. Cheap fares on the Megabus being one of them. The experience of getting on the Megabus in midtown New York as fifty other Megabuses were also loading and then sitting in a Megabus for 12 hours not being one of them.

But I am thankful for the trip of a lifetime. For the friends that I got to visit around the world. Thankful for the friends I made along the way, thankful to the people who gave me directions, suggested I try amok, put me up, put up with me, took me to plays, ate cake with me on rainy days, taught me ridiculous sentences in their languages, and understood when I freaked out about ticks and monkeys.

I am thankful for being home now, thankful that I have a home where I bump into friends and old teachers on the street. I am thankful for the friends I get to see now that I’m back. For my family. For sunny days and crisp leaves. I am thankful for the fact that after living out of a backpack for a year, settling down for a while seems like an exciting adventure.

I am thankful that I can write all this cheesy goop and that you won’t mind too much.

 

On my bus trip from Montreal to Toronto, I noticed I was wearing shoes I’d bought in Sarajevo, jeans from Barcelona, t-shirt from Zagreb, and socks from, well, Toronto.

On my bus trip from Montreal to Toronto, I thought about how this would be the last bus trip (or trip in general) for a while. I am home now and things are falling into place. I am home and things like babysitting commitments now dictate which city I should be in.  I have found a room of my own and a job that starts after Thanksgiving (which means one more month of vacation! Where should I go?). Things are falling into place and I have a year of unreal memories behind me.

So, for your random pleasure, here are photos of some of my favourite animal street art from my trip. Because I don’t think you want to hear me complain about how overwhelming it is to pack and move house, especially after your entire life fitting into a 40 litre backpack for a year.

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Sheep, Barcelona (Spain). “Je suis ceux que je suis.”

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Zebra, Pula (Croatia).

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Otter?, London (England).

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Bush baby, Copenhagen (Denmark).

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Rabid squirrel attacking other skinny squirrel, London (England).

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Wild menagerie, Copenhagen (Denmark).

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Zebra-man. Half zebra, half man, all zebra-man. Berlin (Germany).

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Warrior horse (and others), Barcelona (Spain).

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Octopus, John Lennon Wall, Prague (Czech Republic).

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Snake, Portorož (Slovenia)

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Cheetah and baby cheetah, Ljubljana (Slovenia).

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Zebra crossing (for a literal take on street art and zebra crossing), Belgrade (Serbia).

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Cat (and humans), Mostar (Bosnia).

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Birds, Kochi (India).

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This feels so far away. This feels like yesterday.
Lembongan, Indonesia.

After a year of living out of a backpack through 18 countries, I landed in Montreal on July 28th.

I have been home for a month now and time is still warped in the way that it is warped when you travel. So many things packed into so little time… it seems both impossible that it has only been a month and impossible that a month has gone by already.

People talk about the ‘reverse culture shock’ you experience when you come home after a long time away. That hasn’t happened, really, unless I’m in such shock that I haven’t noticed I’m in shock. Unlikely.

Perhaps it’s that I’ve made a pact with myself to not stress about jobs or anyreal-life things until September. Maybe that’s help me keep my travel-head on for a bit longer.  (But if you are hiring or have any leads, I’m looking for a job! As soon as possible! With a salary and benefits! September is only 3 days away! Not that I’m stressing about it or anything.)

See, when you travel, you make friends fast, are open to new things, will make an effort to go see something cool, sleep in a different bed every night (get your mind out of the gutter), and walk a lot.

This past week alone, I found myself at a picnic knowing just two people (whom I’d only met a couple of days earlier) and felt surrounded by old friends. I walked a lot (my friends happen to live in awkward-to-get-to-by-transit-and-I-don’t-pay-for-Bixi-bikes-and-don’t-have-my-own-bike-here places that are about 40-50 minutes’ walk, so I walked a lot). I went to the insectarium and botanical gardens, which is hella east in my limited geographical life in Montreal. And I’ve been sleeping at my mum’s with a bunch of other people (namely brothers and nephews) and, depending on the set up, have been rotating beds and sofas.

Not that nothing has changed at home. Things have changed. Some neighbourhoods are hipper than they were, some shops have closed, the metro ticketing system is slightly different (what happened to being able to buy 6 tickets? Hm?) and there’s a new ice-cream place. I’ve come home to new tiny humans, newly-weds, pregnancy announcements, and friends buying houses with white picket fences. The city and the people are growing up around me.

As I job-hunt, go through my photos, and figure out what I should do with my instinct to find a place to nest, I will post a few themed round-ups of my trip on this blog.

Coming up next: photos of the best street art I’ve seen this year featuring animals. Prepare for amazement.

I am on a train. In Canada. On my way back to Toronto. This is full-circle. I left Union Station westward-bound July 19th 2012. In a few hours, I will be arriving back there from the east.

A trip around the world. Well, to certain places in the world.

I was warned about reverse culture-shock. The shock of coming home after travelling for an extended period of time.

But I haven’t felt it yet. It only feels like summer holidays, like the ones I’d have in undergrad.

I’ve spent my first two weeks back in Canada in Montreal. There, I have done nothing but let myself be spoiled by my mother, meet friends for coffee, poutine, and croissants, watch two full seasons of The West Wing on DVD (I’ll be the cop that doesn’t go to the meeting), and have a reunion with old friend in l’Ile d’Orléans to celebrate the wedding of one of the most beautiful couples there can be.

All this makes it easy to come home.

It also must have helped that I went through London on my way back to Canada.

London feels like home too, with a familiar public transport system, my favourite theatres, and, most importantly, close friends always ready to offer their spare room, go to gigs in sweaty caves, take the day off work to make ourselves sick with fancy cakes in pubs, and go halfway across the city to buy a mug I saw that one time.

It helps that my quick visit to London included breakfast in Southwark, a picnic in the park, magic tricks over cider, a Josh Ritter show, a Doc Brown DVD-taping, and two Irish plays by favourite playwrights (Martin McDonaugh, Conor McPherson) starring favourite actors (Ciarán Hinds).

It helps that it was sunny every day and that the tube lines I needed were open.

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A picnic in Soho Square behind this guy. Before a matinee of The Cripple of Inishmann, starring Harry Potter himself.

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Sweating to the sweet tunes of Josh Ritter in a hot venue in a hip part of town.

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Destroying cakes at The Bridge, London.

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And then home for a wedding and dancing all night (or until 1:30 because we are old now.)

Who knows what being home will mean, but I hope to keep my eyes, heart, and options open. You know, keep that “travelling” vibe.

The last couple of weeks of my 374-day trip have sped by. The play-it-by-ear motto of my travels so far has gone out the window. For my final stint in Europe, every train was booked, dinner dates set up, and hours of arrival confirmed with friends weeks in advance.

My trip is no longer about sightseeing. It has morphed into a slow transition period of a sort of normalcy where my tan fades, I meet up with friends I already know and evade the touristy.

I didn’t see anything in The Hague except for the tower of treats for high tea. Rotterdam, for me, is a train station and an Indonesian restaurant. Days were spent cycling on pristine bike paths.

I didn’t even take a photo of the windmills we passed.

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Picnic along the bike path with Yvonne (first met in New Zealand, then Bali, and now at her place in The Netherlands). This was before I ran my bike into a pole and fell over with a big clang.

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The king and queen, Rotterdam.

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Doing nothing after a day at the beach in The Netherlands.

Yvonne drove me to the Amsterdam airport on the Thursday night, and my old friend Gerry was waiting for me with pizza and ice cream in Edinburgh.

Bad timing, being a theatre-person, what with the Festival (with a capital F) starting next week. But I was relieved- it can be an overwhelming place to be, Edinburgh in August. So I was glad to meet Gerry’s family and play with train sets, watch TV, walk in the forest, and go to the pub. And not worry about the obligations I’d have to see show after show (if you are in Edinburgh for the festival, please go see Die Roten Punkte and Oh My Irma)

We went strawberry-picking (which also involves go-carts and trampolines!). It was sunny and 27 degrees. In Scotland.  Every single day I was there.

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Scottish strawberries may be huge, but they’re sweet and delicious.

My weekend in Edinburgh went by in a flash and by Sunday night I was already in Sheffield to see Elena, a friend from elementary school.

Sheffield feels like England with its quick-changing weather, brick houses, and lovely gardens. Sheffield has nice pubs and cafes and parks. It also has a paternoster (the largest in the world). Riding a paternoster around wasn’t quite the thrill of the swing in New Zealand, but it came close.

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Flower in a park, Sheffield.

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The paternoster.

Huge thanks to Yvonne, Gerry and Emma, and Elena and Matt for your generous hospitality and for distracting me from the fact that the travels are ending (for now) very very soon.

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