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Europe 2019 Day 5

Good morning Children, or Goedemorgen kinderen as they would say here in the Netherlands! As you can tell, I am in much better spirits today. According to my self-diagnosed prognosis, my status has been upgraded from utterly exhausted to somewhat exhausted. They tell might me I just might live; the next 24 hours is critical. We need to ensure I don’t have a relapse…as I sit here and feel my eyelids closing while I stare at the screen.

So I’m just sitting here by myself in the lobby waiting for breakfast. There’s no space in our room for me to work. I wonder what breakie will be like? We have a busy day ahead of us today; a walking tour of the city, Anne Frank House and guided tour in the afternoon. I am really looking forward to it; I love the city of Amsterdam. It is such a beautiful and historic city. I’ll check in later.

Okay, so we’re on the bus heading back to the hotel after a very busy day. I’m not super tired, but my joints hurt. We were dropped off at the downtown train station (Centraal Station) and started our walking tour with Sebastian. It reminded me how beautiful it is and how much I love the city of Amsterdam; it is definitely one of my favourite places to visit. I want to go back at some point where I will have more time to explore.

So where did we go and what did we see? Well, Amsterdam is characterized by its ring-shaped layout and all the canals. It was founded back in the 1200s and has amazing history and architecture. One of the best parts is when your students can see this for themselves, taking the teaching beyond the classroom. When you can touch the history, it really comes alive.

Anyway, we saw places such as the Royal Palace, Westerkerk and the narrow, winding streets of the city core. The only issue we had was, you guessed it, the weather. It was bitterly cold, like +3C but feels like -2 , cold. And damp too, which is probably why my joints hurt. The first part of the morning was okay, but then it started to rain. Ummmm, rain and cold…felt like football practice at the end of October, just we were stuck outside all day!

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Royal Palace, Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

At 1100, we made our way to Anne Frank House (Anna Frank Huis) for a visit to this very touching memorial to her and the Holocaust. I know that a lot of the kids were looking forward to this place, having heard her story and maybe even read the book. It is always a very sobering location. Afterwards, many of them commented that it was a moving experience.

Anna Frank Huis, Amsterdam, March 2019.

We had a break for lunch (in the pouring rain), which found myself and Mr. Marcon hiking back many blocks to find the least sketchy ATM we could and then meeting Ms. Caza for a bite to eat. I had a brie and some type of prosciutto sandwich which was fantastic. I stopped by a local shop before our meeting time at the Westerkerk to buy a few things for my boys.

Our afternoon was taken up by a bus tour of the city with our guide, Gerwin. We had him as a guide on our 2014 trip and he is very knowledgable. We were able to see some places we were not able to walk to and then made our way to the Rembrandt Hoeve (House), which is a cheese farm. I’ve been there before, and it is quite the place. They make some amazing Gouda cheese and traditional clogs. I think the kids really enjoyed it, and many came away with souvenirs and cheese. I did have a couple near relapses during the tour, where I almost nodded off. I even put my sunglasses on to mask my condition; thankfully I powered through it.

Rembrandt Hoeve, Amsterdam, March 2019.

Rembrandt Hoeve, Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

The tour ended around 500, which left us some time to get off the bus and look around before we went to supper. Did I say how much I love Amsterdam? By that time, it was still cool, but the sun had come out and it was a nice evening. It is such a laid-back city, the people are super friendly and the sights are amazing. If I had to live somewhere in Europe, this would be the place. Do you ever wonder if you’d have done that? Like, at some point earlier in your life you decided to transplant yourself to another continent? I have no idea what I would do for a job, but it’s interesting to think about it.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Amsterdam, March 2019.

Dinner was at a place called Drovers Dog, which was a nice restaurant. Our meal consisted of chicken (kip in Dutch) skewer with peanut sauce, rice and vegetable garnish. My colleagues gave it a 9 out of 10. Hopefully our dinner in Ypres tomorrow is equally as good.

Anyway, it’s time to move along. We actually have some time tonight in the hotel, so hopefully the kids can unwinded a bit before a very busy day tomorrow. As usual, stay tuned for the latest news coming next evening. Until then…

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Posted by on March 13, 2019 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 3

Good morning! It’s Day 3 kids. I’m sitting in the lobby waiting for 0845, which will be our departure time to head into Amsterdam. I had a fairly decent sleep last night, having gone to bed shortly after checking on the kids at 2200. The breakfast buffet was great and now I’m ready to roll on our adventures for today. Hopefully all of the kids will be ready on time.

So we’re here near the centre of Amsterdam waiting for our tour guide to show up. We were a bit late getting here, which was due to a road closure that affected the bus arriving at our hotel. Our guide this morning is Larae, who will be showing us some of the notable points of this beautiful city.

Alright, so we’re back on the bus after a busy day. Larae was a great guide, taking us around parts of the city before we ended up the Rembrandt Hoose. We actually visited this same place during the 2014 tour and it is really neat. It is a farm, and they have milk cows which are used to make delicious Gouda. We had a tour of the facility and got a nice explanation of how it is made. They also make wood clogs and they gave us a demonstration of the process. Interesting to see. Afterwards, we were given samples of Gouda and time to buy some souvenirs in their gift shop. I picked up a few things for my family which I hope they like.

Rembrandt Hoose, April 2017.

Clog making, April 2017.

Windmill, April 2017.

After a quick stop at a nearby windmill, we proceeded back into the city centre for the remainder of the tour. Larae had some fantastic information and stories to share about the history and culture of Amsterdam. When the tour ended, we were brought close to the Royal Palace, or the Koninklijk Paleis, where everyone had an opportunity to grab a bite to eat and take a quick look around. For me, lunch was ham and Swiss on a croissant.

Our next stop was near the Amsterdam Centraal Station, where we embarked on a boat for a 1 hour canal tour of the city. I knew this would be great, as we did it in 2014 and it was an amazing way to see the city. It would have been nice if the boat was more open, which makes it easier to take pictures and video, but it was good nonetheless. The canals make this place such an interesting and unique city. I really would like to visit here more often to be able to see more its amazing culture and architecture.

Streets of Amsterdam, Paril 2017.

Streets of Amsterdam, Paril 2017.

After that tour was over, we slowly made our way to near the Rijksmuseum, which is the largest museum in Amsterdam, where we had a chance to see the “I (am) Amsterdam” sign. Our bus picked us up there and brought us to our dinner destination, which was a place called Drovers Dog. The food was okay at this Australian themed restaurant, in Amsterdam, but I think the kids found the portions to be a bit light. The dessert was good though, with cool wooden spoons (not like the wooden sticks we ate ice cream with as kids). When we arrived back at the hotel, many proceeded to get food from one of the hotel restaurants to satisfy their unquenched appetites.

Wooden spoon, April 2017.

We just finished checking on the kids, who are now in their rooms for the evening. Tomorrow is a busy day, as we have a 1000 appointment at the Anne Frank House, and then we are off to Tyne Cot Cemetery and Ypres in Belgium. So on that note, I better turn in. I’ll be back tomorrow with all the details of our day. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Vimy 2017 Day 2

Hey, hey kids! Sorry, I had to get a Krusty the Clown reference in there. Anywho, it’s Day 2! Thanks to the miracle of modern air travel and Sir Sandford Fleming all those years ago, it’s the next day. So I’m running on about 4 hours sleep, which means I have no idea how coherent my thoughts are, but whatever. I don’t get paid to write this.

Anyway, it’s 0700 local time, we’re just off the coast of Norway and 1100km from our destination. We certainly took a very adventurous route, not the usual more direct one. Normally we pass below Ireland, but this time our flight plan took us on a big sweeping arc to the north, over Greenland, Iceland and toward Germany from the northwest. I would assume the guys driving er flying the plane know what they are doing. I’m sure it’s not their first rodeo.

Morning over the North Sea, April 2017.

So I’m sitting here half awake waiting for breakfast to arrive. God I’m dying of thirst! I don’t feel too bad, as what little sleep I got wasn’t too horrible. The neck pillow really helped, though the accommodations here in steerage aren’t the greatest. You just can’t seem to get comfortable…my butt is sore! I guess we’ll be on be ground soon enough and I can stretch my legs and my posterior.

The kids are crazy hyper right now, probably since most of them haven’t really slept much. I’m sure they are driving everyone around us nuts with their teenager conversations. Maybe they’ll be happier with some breakfast. Apparently it’s the good ole standby, banana bread. Not that I don’t like banana bread, but it’s not my usual morning meal. Hold on, it’s cinnamon banana bread. Fancy. I guess it doesn’t matter, since I’m not really that hungry but rather thirsty. So I had myself like 6 or 7 Dr. Peppers…wait, wrong movie.

We’re on the ground now in Munich. Gluten tag! It was really nice to get off that airplane after 8 hours…it was getting a little stuffy. It was also nice to stretch my legs and get the blood going. I demolished a whole bottle of water; I guess I was thirsty. Anyway, Munich has a nice airport; very modern. The kids had a chance to get some food, look at the shops and relax.

Unfortunately when we landed we got some bad news. I received a text from the St. Ignatius group and their plane had to turn around 1.5 hours into the flight overseas. They were supposed to go to Frankfurt, and beat us to Amsterdam. Now we’re waiting to hear when they’ll meet up with us. Hopefully it won’t be too long. Our fingers are crossed.

Alright, we’re up in the air and on our way to Amsterdam. I think all of the hyper energy from before is passing into exhaustion. We have been going for more an 24 hours now, many of us with very little sleep. Some of the kids did grab some sleep in the airport, but I’m sure everyone will sleep much better tonight.

A frequent topic of conversation has been our agenda once we land. After retrieving our bags and meeting our Tour Director Jason, we are supposed to proceed to the hotel. Beyond that I had to tell the kids I did not know. Maybe something is happening before, after or in conjunction with dinner, but that’s up to Jason to decide. For myself it will be nice to get out of airports, breathe some fresh air and relax. Not that I will ever relax on this trip, but it makes me feel much better that we are almost at our destination. Well, they are coming with snacks and beverages (except for Zach, who managed to end up in business class and gets meal), so I’m shutting down for now.

Amsterdam airport, April 2017.

Amsterdam airport, April 2017.

Okay, so it’s almost time for bed. The last part of the day was a lot more relaxed and easy. So we’re all checked into the hotel and the kids are getting ready for lights out. Our hotel is literally 5 minutes from the airport, which made things very simple. It took us a bit to get checked in, but we’ve been spending a lot of time waiting the last few days anyway. The hotel is very nice, though the rooms are a bit tight. I know Mr. Marcon and I could use a bit more space in our room.

Amsterdam rooms, April 2017.

We had dinner in the hotel, which was very good. It was buffet style, which let the kids eat their fill. There was all kinds of salad, chicken, roasted potatoes and fish. Quite the spread! Desert was awesome too.

After dinner we had a chance, with our Tour Director Jason, to brief the kids on tomorrow’s agenda. The good news is that St. Ignatius finally made it to Europe, and should be here from Frankfurt very shortly. So we will leave the hotel after breakfast for a guided tour of Amsterdam in the morning. Following lunch, we will have a canal cruise which will take a few hours. Then there will be more walking and time for some shopping. Should be a nice day.

Hotel fountain, April 2017.

Anyway, I better get running. Our hotel has tons of EF travellers in it, so it will be an early morning and a busy breakfast. I’ll be back tomorrow with all the details. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2014 Day 3

Alright, day three. After a pretty decent night of sleep, I am ready to go (I was out like a light at 10). Hopefully the kids are ready too, and that they got some sleep under their belts. It’s bright and sunny this morning, and the high is expected to get up to 14…and there’s no snow!

Wow, what a busy but exciting day. I’m sitting on a bench outside the Anne Frank House freezing my butt on the cold marble as I write this. I’m waiting for everyone to exit the building; we’re supposed to be done by 8:30, but it seems as though they will be a bit longer.

So our day started early, but not too early. Everyone got some rest and were very ready to go in the morning. The hotel had a nice buffet for breakfast with all kinds of meats, bread, cheeses, eggs, yogurt, etc. We were all on the bus by 9:00 so we could start the day’s adventure.

Our first agenda item was going to be a guided bus tour of the city. For this we were joined by local guide Gerwin, who did a fantastic job taking us around the city. He also tried to help us out with our Dutch, which has some interesting pronunciations.

We made our way outside the city and stopped at a local farm that made cheese, particularly gouda cheese. We got to see the process for making cheese, and even got to sample some. This farm also makes clogs, and is one of the few places that still manufactures them in the country. Of course on the way out there was a gift shop, and many of the kids bought clogs, souvenirs and even cheese!

Clogs at the cheese farm, March 2014.

Clogs at the cheese farm, March 2014.

After the bus tour, we took in a beautiful boat tour of the canals. It was an awesome way to see the city, especially all the little places you wouldn’t see when walking. Again it made me appreciate how magnificent this city is…I’d love to come back some day!

Boat tour, March 2014

Boat tour, March 2014

The boat dropped us off right at Waterloo Square (or Waterloo Plein) again, and everyone was given quite a bit of free time to shop and look around a bit. The kids left in their groups, so I got to spend some time with Jo-Anne. We had a bit of a mission, which was to find a Starbucks we had seen on the bus tour earlier that morning. After a bit of walking, we found it near Rembrandt Square (Rembrandt Plein). Jo-Anne got to have her tea fix, while I ate a sandwich and used their free wifi.

Our journey then took us around the square, past the sculptures of Rembrandt’s Night Watch. We grabbed some Hagen-Dazs ice cream, and continued our exploration of the area. We found a little shopping district a short ways away, which was packed with people…quite a claustrophobic experience. After that we slowly made our way back to the Waterloo Plein to rendezvous with the everyone and Felicity.

Amsterdam, March 2014.

Amsterdam, March 2014.

There was another epic march to go to our dinner place, which was an Asian resturant called “Wagamama.” It is very interesting trying to take 48 people through a busy city that is full of traffic and bikes. The bikes are actually an intriguing part of Amsterdam culture. I guess because of the lack of space, the expense of a car and gas, tons of people ride bikes. It’s also an environmental thing. There are set bike lanes everywhere, and you have to really watch out for them (I almost got hit today). Apparently Amsterdam has the highest bike theft rate in the world, which is probably the reason why most people ride those “old school” bikes.

Anyway, so dinner a Wagamama was good. We had four menu items to choose from, so I took the chicken fried rice. The portion was huge, so there was no way I could possibly finish all of it, even after walking for a good part of the day. It really filled me up! I did have room for the ice cream desert though 😉

From Wagamama we had a 1.5k jaunt to our final stop of the day, which was Anne Frank House. This visit was certainly going to make things a bit more sombre and really put a personal touch on the horrors of the Holocaust. I haven’t read her diary, but as a history teacher I am familiar with her story, but it was very eye-opening. It is quite something to see the area where 8 people lived in hiding for two years and how they could not move around during the day. I think I’ll have to get around to reading the book at some point in the future.

We are now back at the hotel, ready to call it a day soon. Tomorrow we leave Amsterdam for Belgium, stopping at Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery on our way to Ypres and then our hotel. I think that this first cemetery visit will be very emotional for many of them. In Ypres we will take in the Menin Gate ceremony at 8:00. It won’t be a lot of walking, but it will be a very long day.

So on that note, I should get rolling. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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Europe 2014 Day 2

It’s day two kids! Thanks to the wonderful miracle of air travel, coupled with a few hours of back-wrenching contorted “sleep,” it is now Friday. My body still thinks it’s 10:30, but according to my watch it’s 4:30…can’t wait for the jet lag to set in. Not sure how the kids are doing it. Of the ones that I can see from my seat, only a few have attempted some sleep. Oh to be young and have energy!

So we’re nearly across the Atlantic; the in-flight map is showing us just about to pass over Ireland. I’ve been scanning the ground below us for signs of land, but I haven’t seen any yet. Twenty more miles apparently.

With less than two hours of flying time remaining, I would imagine that they will be bringing “breakfast” soon. Oops, I spoke too soon…cue the flight attendants! I wonder what’s for breakfast?

The next big anticipation, well other than our arrival in Frankfurt, is the breaking of dawn. It’s always kinda neat crossing the Atlantic and racing toward the rising sun. I remember it being quite breathtaking two years ago. I think it won’t be the same this time around though, as I am on the opposite side of the plane and it might not look the same. We’ll see soon enough I guess. Anyway, it time to eat.

Night over Europe, March 2014.

Night over Europe, March 2014.

Dawn over Europe, March 2014.

Dawn over Europe, March 2014.

Boy, they really had me going there. I thought for a minute that the one piece of banana bread they just gave us was going to be our entire breakfast. I mean, I’m pretty hungry, there’s no way that will fill me up. Wait, now they’re collecting the garbage and were landing in an hour. By the looks of things, my initial assumption was correct; breakfast was served. Ugh!

Well, we are now safely in Frankfurt, on time and at the gate, ready to go. Even better, we were able to get boarding passes for Tannor and Kellen, so everyone can now get on the flight to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, we now seem to be missing St. Ignatius.

Back in the air now. St. Ignatius did eventually show up and we’re now on our last leg to Amsterdam. I was hoping to post yesterday’s blog while in the airport, but unfortunately the wifi wasn’t cooperating. Oh well, I’ll have to do two posts tonight. I’m not sitting beside my wife for this short flight, which feels funny. Hopefully she’s okay beside Kim and not crushing her hand too bad!

I’m glad we’re on our way; now we just need all the bags to show up and were golden! I’m really starting to feel tired now. Maybe it is the lack of food. Other than our “big” breakfast on the plane, all I’ve had is a fruit bar. Thankfully the attendant just handed me a box with yogurt and some sort of cracker in it. Hold on a second…

Okay, much better now. The box had this cool little folding spoon; I’ve never seen anything like that. I’ll have to try to post a picture of it.

The spoon, March 2014.

The spoon, March 2014.

When we arrive in Amsterdam, we’ll grab our bags then straight to our bus. We can’t check into our hotel yet, so the bags will stay on the bus. I believe we are doing some sort of walking tour today, possibly. I really can’t remember what the plan is for today. Whatever it is, it will be fine. We’re in Europe…the kids are so excited! I guess I am too! The forecast is for 12C and sunny today…heat wave! Wait, I’m wearing convertible pants. Would I be crazy enough to consider shorts?

Wow, that was the shortest flight ever. As soon as they finished with our snack, we started descending. It felt about as long a trip to camp (it was only 350km). Anyway, we’re here and we’re just waiting to get to our gate and then we can get off the plane and out of airports. Look out Amsterdam!

What a busy day! After our pick up at the airport and meeting our Tour Director Felicity and bus driver Peter, we proceeded into Amsterdam and headed toward Waterloo Square. Everyone was given about two hours to look around the market and get some lunch. I never realized what a beautiful city Amsterdam is; the culture and architecture is awesome. We had a great lunch and then made our way to the Jewish Museum.

Amsterdam, March 2014.

Amsterdam, March 2014.

The museum was very interesting to see, a real insight into the history of the Jewish people in Amsterdam. After that, we walked to the Gassin Diamond store, where we saw diamonds being cut, polished and turned into jewelry. Quite a fascinating process!

Our next stop was dinner, which ended up taking us on a 45 minute walking odyssey through the city. It was quite the workout, but it was neat to see a lot of the city. All the canals make the city so interesting!

Dinner was at Cafe de Schutter and it was none too soon for a bunch of hungry, tired travellers. I think it was okay; tomato soup, sausage and mashed potatoes. Desert was apple streudle. There was a bunch of them literally falling asleep afterwards, myself included!

We’re all at our hotel now, exhausted and ready for bed. Tomorrow we have a sightseeing tour in the morning, a boat ride on the canals in the afternoon, then a visit to Anne Frank House and finally a later supper. Going to be a busy day, so I should turn in. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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Europe 2014 Day 1

Well, I guess you can say we’re on our way…sort of. Let the journey begin!

So we’re here waiting in the airport. We’ve all checked in, did a prayer service and passed through security. I even did an interview on the news…hopefully I sounded okay! Unfortunately, our flight is delayed; there is snow in Toronto and I’m sure the plane is behind schedule there. Hopefully we can get out of Toronto on time tonight and make our connection in Frankfurt okay.

The kids are beyond excited. You can see and feel their anticipation, which is awesome to see. I’m sure this hurry up and wait thing is driving them crazy. It’s driving me crazy. If I we can get to Europe without too many hiccups that would really be great. I’m going to say a little prayer 😉

Bombardier Q400, March 2014.

Bombardier Q400, March 2014.

In the air now; we’re roughly an hour or so behind schedule, but that’s okay. The only thing I just realized is that being on plane and having my iPad in airplane mode disables my Bluetooth keyboard that I just bought. Not the most ideal scenario, but one I can deal with.

One of the “interesting” things about this year’s trip is that I am travelling with my wife. I was frankly shocked when she agreed to come, especially since this is a history trip. The other part of it is that she doesn’t fly very well, especially on this flight which is a turboprop Q400. I’m glad that she’s here though; she doesn’t quite appreciate history like I do, but it will be fun to experience some of the things with her. She’s being a trooper!

The only issue we had was leaving the boys behind. You could see that they were quite sad to see us go. I’m sad too, but not as much as Jo-Anne. Things are always a little different with moms. There were some tears this morning, but I think we’re a little better now (as she crushes my hand reacting to some turbulence). I’ve already received one iMessage from Ethan and I’m sure there’ll be a lot more before we get home.

Well, we’re on the ground in Toronto. It was a bit of hectic process getting off the plane and making our way to our gate. Complicating things, I have a couple of kids who don’t have a boarding pass for our flight to Amsterdam. I want to try to clear that up before we leave. We stood in a line for a while, only to be told to go to our gate and see the customer service there. Typically, there is no one at that counter. So now I have to keep checking back and try to get those passes.

In any case, this is a good opportunity to relax and decompress a bit. The kids were able to get some food, which made them all happy (I guess I forget how hungry teenagers can get). My wife was able to get some tea, which made her happy. Unfortunately I think everyone got a reminder of how “reasonable” the prices for airport food can be. $20 for a salad and drink seems okay right? Anyway, I better go check on that customer service desk.

Okay, we’re back in the air and on time! Everyone is excited to get going…except my wife. There was a bit of hand crushing on the takeoff and I swear my fingers were turning blue. It’s all good now though, and after supper she’ll pop an Ativan and hopefully sleep the rest of the flight away.

Boeing 777, March 2014.

Boeing 777, March 2014.

Unfortunately I was not able to resolve our little boarding pass issue. I talked to the Air Canada service desk, as well as Luftansa. I talked to “Lorne” at EF a whole pile of times and although he was very helpful, there was nothing that could be done. Everyone has assured me that they will be able to print the boarding passes in Frankfurt. All we have to do is get there on time and get through customs fairly quickly. Fingers are crossed! Let’s hope that this is the only hiccup we have.

Dinner is going to be served shortly, so I should sign off. I’ll probably have a few more things to say before I wrap-up this day one entry.

So Dinner was okay; chicken Alfredoish with carrots, green beans and potatoes, some kind of corn coleslaw, bread and brownie. Still hungry though. I guess I should have ate more during the day than an energy bar and a fruit bar…too late now. I’ll survive and I’m sure it will help the diet!

In any case, I should sign off now. It is 1:26 in Frankfurt and we’ll be on the ground in 5 hours, so I need to try and get some sleep. Jo-Anne took her drugs and hopefully she’ll be out soon. Be back on day two!

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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