Tag Archives: tour

Italian Graffiti

Ivan and I left the apartment at 12:40 pm on December 20, 2012.  It usually only takes 5 minutes to get to the Brazilian Embassy.  But, there was traffic so it took a lot longer. 

I rushed to the Brazilian Embassy on the 5th floor.  There was no line for window 5 and the lady wasn’t behind the window.  I was getting worried since it was 1:05 pm.  I was hoping that she didn’t leave for lunch already.  I waited a few minutes and noticed people walking around in the back office.  I saw her poke her head out.  She was mad and said a la una.  I said there was traffic.  She still wasn’t happy.  All she had to do was grab my ticket and give me my passport which isn’t a big deal.  I was only a few minutes late. 

We went to Libertad Plaza Café for lunch.  Ivan had the salad bar again while I had a chicken sandwich with cheese, pineapple and boiled eggs. 

Ivan and I got a taxi for the meet-up of the Buenos Aires Street Art tour.  Our guide was a man named Matt. The group included us, an Australian girl, an American lady and a German couple.  Buenos Aires is different since a graffiti artist can ask permission to paint on somebody’s private property.  If they’re given permission, then they can start making some graffiti. 

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Matt was very knowledgeable about street art and graffiti having co-wrote the book Textura Dos: Buenos Aires Street Art.  We went to a park that is filled with graffiti, street art and tags on many buildings. 

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It’s illegal to do graffiti here, but owners would have to paint it all the time since the art changes regularly here.

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We saw lots of murals, graffiti, street art, stencils and tags. 

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Matt told us the differences.  There are lots of great street art and graffiti by artists like Blu, Jaz, Pum Pum, Ice, Cof, Oz and Nerf.  The street artist Blu created a video with street art in Buenos Aires – check out the video here.  This was a wonderful tour.  Ivan and I love seeing graffiti in different cities. 

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I highly recommend going to this great street art tour

Ivan and I got a taxi back the apartment.  We used the internet and then took a siesta (nap). 

At 10 pm, Ivan, Lil Dave and I went to the Italian restaurant Guido Restaurant for dinner.  There are two locations, but we went to the closest one to the apartment on Cerviño.  The other location has a crazy owner and no menu.  I thought the other one sounded good, but we didn’t know it was the wrong one until we got the menu. 

Ivan and I started off with cheese with greens and fried onions in a great sauce and anchovies.  The anchovies were tinned and not fresh.  The cheese was delicious.  Lil Dave got a banana pizza. 

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Ivan and I shared a vegetarian pizza and grilled vegetables.  The pizza was awesome – we’re glad since the pizza we’ve been seeing in restaurants look really bad.  It was a wonderful meal.

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Ivan and I each got an espresso before leaving the restaurant.  Lil Dave headed back to the apartment.

Ivan and I got a taxi to Palermo Hollywood which is filled with restaurants, bars and nightclubs.  It was too early to head to the club, so we went to Carnal Bar for a drink.  I had a 2110 while Ivan a drink that sounded like Voltron, can’t remember the name though.

Later, we went to the nightclub Niceto for the Club 69 Gay Night.  The club was playing generic techno with the same beat going on in the background for a long time.  There were dancers on the stage. A round stage with a stripper pole would be moved by somebody around the dance floor while a girl danced around the pole.  Ivan told me later that the performers were transsexuals which I didn’t even notice while we were there. 

The club was filled with a majority of guys.  The club was dark and looked like a warehouse. 

A short dance act was performed on the main stage. 

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It’s so stupid in the girl’s bathroom that you have to give a tip to get toilet paper since there’s none in the stalls.  Some girls would skip the line since they would give the host a tip and get toilet paper.  So, the second time I went to the toilet, I took a paper towel that’s provided for you after you wash your hands.  The host who gives out the toilet paper saw I had it in my hand and she tried to grab it from me.  I wasn’t having that and went to the toilet.  I slammed the door and that pissed her off.  Clubs should provide toilet paper for free.  How annoying!  I came out and she started talking to me in Spanish – I’m sure she was telling me not to use the paper towel for toilet paper and to not slam the door.  I just said I don’t know what you’re saying and walked to wash my hands.

We kept dancing to the repetitive music.  Ivan and I like techno, but this was really bad techno and it was doing my head in.  At one point, a guy started rapping.  Good looking guys from the club started dancing around the rapper.. they were trying to dance to the rap which just looked silly.  After two rap songs, the techno music resumed.  We danced for a bit before heading back.

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Walking around BA

I woke up in the middle of the night on December 17, 2012.  I tried going back to sleep and I just kept tossing and turning.. but I think I slept for a little while.

I woke up before Ivan and Lil Dave at 6:50 am.  Breakfast was being served which was a muffin, toast with jam, a wafer covered with chocolate (alfajor), orange juice and hot chocolate.  Lil Dave munched on a few bananas for his breakfast.

The bus arrived in Buenos Aires at 8:15 am.  Ivan and I got a taxi to the Airbnb apartment we’d be staying at.  We had to wait for the cleaner to arrive.  One of the doormen called the cleaner for us since she was late.

The cleaner showed us around the apartment and gave us the keys.  Ivan and I took showers and went out at 10:30 am.

We got a taxi to Plaza del Congreso for the meeting point for the Buenos Aires Free City Tour.  Our tour guide was Juan with a group of 35 people.  We saw the Congreso building which took 40 years to complete. 

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Juan told us that at one point there was no middle class in Argentina and lots of Italians immigrated to Argentina.  No wonder there’s lots of pizza and Italian restaurants in Argentina especially in BA (Buenos Aires).  Juan’s friend says that Argentinian people in Buenos Aires look Italian, act British (since they love football), speak Spanish and their city looks French (with the French architecture). 

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The group went to many places like Avenida 9 de Julio where I found out that July 9, 1816 is Argentina’s Independence day.  The avenue was once the widest in the world.

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We also saw Calle Florida, Café Torino (the oldest café in Buenos Aires), Plaza de Mayo, the Pink House and Obelisco. 

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Juan talked about the politics and the history of Argentina and Buenos Aires.  It was a great tour. 

After the tour, we walked around to find lunch.  We ended up at an Italian restaurant called La Continental.  Ivan got a salad with eggs, peas, beets, onions and apples.  The salad didn’t come with lettuce like most salads in Argentina.  Ivan got a tri-color fettuccine with white cream, pesto and tomato sauce while I got a fettuccine with a scarparo sauce with scallions, garlic, pesto and tomato sauce.  Lil Dave got a spaghetti dish with bananas.

We got a taxi back to the apartment and took a long nap.

Later that night, we walked around the neighborhood to find a restaurant.  There wasn’t much open.  Ivan and I went to La Guidita.  We shared a pumpkin ravioli (which we think was actually cheese ravioli) and salmon.  The meal was okay.

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Comedy Mask Tower

On August 27, 2012, Ivan and I got breakfast at the buffet.  Lil Dave decided to find some monkey friends on the cruise ship instead of going into Venice with us.

We got the vaporetto (water bus) right to St. Mark’s Square which was a company had running right from the cruise port which was very convenient.

We did the St. Mark’s Clock Tower tour that Ivan booked. 

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It was really cool!!  It was only us and a Japanese couple and they looked and sounded like they couldn’t understand a single word of English, so in essence it was just us on the tour!  We love small tours since it’s private and feels very intimate.  The tour guide Elena was very nice.  She explained the parts of the clock.  The wing lion is above the church and the next to the lion was the Doge.  The Doge was the duke of Venice for over a thousand years.  The Venetians didn’t want to be part of Italy…  The Doge was removed though by Napoleon when Venice was taken over by the French.   At the top of the tower there’s a terrace with two Moors who ring the bell. 

There are beautiful views of St. Mark’s Square from the clock. 

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They have a procession twice a year with the 4 statues that a man does – he’s supposed to check on the clock once a week as well. 

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In the old days, the doge got the engineer to run the clock and got asked to live in the clock to run it.  The engineer asked if he could bring his family – so for payment, he got a big apartment inside a clock tower.  The clock was run from family to family for over 500 years, but then the last guy didn’t want to do it, even though his dad really enjoyed it. 

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So, it was bought by a company and now it’s mostly digital.  It was done manually to wind the clock and the bells which took 5 minutes every hour.  The digital clock was created in 1858 inside it which was the first digital clock in Europe.

The group headed to the roof and got to see the two men with the bells.  What a beautiful view of Venice from up there. We could see all the crowds below in St. Marks square and we felt rather smug to be standing on top of this tower with just a few other people, rather than with the huge crowds below!!!

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I really enjoyed the clock tower tour.  If you’re ever in Venice, you should check it out. 

Our mask making class was up next.  We were running late so we had to rush to the class.  It didn’t really matter since it was only us taking the class at that time.  There were already a group of kids making masks in the back.  First, we had to choose what kind of mask we’d like to paint on – there was a bit variety like jesters, cats and the masks with big noses (which is my favorite!).    Ivan picked the guy with the big nose and I picked a cat.

We got to choose a technique with different color combinations that were on the wall.  The lady told us how to do it with the paint colors we picked. 

So, we colored with one color of paint and then went over it with the next color.. which created a new color.  We had to dry it with a hair dryer.. and then we got to put detail on it with black. 

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The lady gave us a sheet that had different examples of what you could do.  I took some of the ideas and added some of my own. 

Next, it was time to dry again and then varnish the mask and dry it.

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The last step was putting on silver or gold.  We both picked gold.  At the end, we got to pick two different color (or the same if we wanted) ribbons for the holes.  I really like my mask, I think I did a great job. 

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What do you think?  Ivan’s turned out good as well.

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Next, we went souvenir shopping and then had a snack at a cicchetti place.  Then, we decided to get gelato at Grom.  This time we had cones with two scoops: I had chocolate sorbet (cioccolato extranoir) and lemon while Ivan had chocolate sorbet and raspberry. 

We got the water bus (vaporetto) and then the People Mover which is 1 Euro per person back to the port.  Ivan had food from the Indian tandoori.  I got a tasty cheeseburger at Guy’s Burger Joint (Guy Fieri from Food Network).  I made it with sautéed onions, banana peppers and chipotle mayo.

We went to the pool and checked out all the slides Twister and Drainpipe.  The best time to go on the slides is around 5:30 pm since people are getting ready for dinner and it’s really quiet.  Ivan always checks it to see how long the line is – we don’t like waiting in line for a long time.

We chilled in the jacuzzi and read our books. 

We had espresso before heading to dinner.  Ivan changed our dinner table so we would have a table on the main floor since it’s good to be part of the action.  Unfortunately, we had a horrible table of French Canadians who ignored us and barely spoke to each other even though they were a family.  I don’t know if they knew any English or not – my guess was no.  It was nice to hear Ken singing and actually see him from this table.  There was also dancing from the waiters and servers.  Ivan and I were sure that we’d try to find another table.  Hopefully, it would be better than this one.. Ivan thought it couldn’t be any worse which I thought it actually could be.

There was time to spare after the meal, so we went to the room to chill before heading to the comedy show at 10:45 pm.

The first comedian was a large black man named Thomas Brown who was hilarious.  The second guy was named Dwight Slade.  He made fun of us since we were sat in the front row.  He said we were boring… how could you really tell by asking us one question.  He was quite mental and funny.. not as funny as the first guy though.

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Secret Mousse

On August 8, 2012, Ivan, Lil Dave and I woke up at 8:30 am since we were going on the The Secret Hvar Tour today.  Sinisa (nickname is Simon since it’s easier for us tourists to say) was our guide with a green SUV.  Ivan and I got inside and thought there might be more people, but it was only us. 

The views were lovely during our off road tour.  It was a little bumpy with lots of great scenery all around us.  Simon stopped and let us smell something and try to guess what it was.  One was rosemary (which we didn’t guess) and the other was oregano (this we did guess). 

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Our first stop was up a hill with a gorgeous view.  Simon said they usually don’t stop here if there’s a lot of people.  I’m glad we were able to stop since the view was amazing.

Ivan thought we should go to Stari Grad.  It was nice to have a private tour where we could customize it. 

We passed a village where only 7 people live, in the summer 20-25 people live there.  We saw another village which was hidden from the sea, so they pirates wouldn’t find them.  This village was abandoned.. we got to peek inside one of them.

Simon was nice and said we could ask him to stop the car at anytime if we wanted to take a photo of something. 

Simon showed us a snow shelter which was a dome shelter.  The entrance faces the west, so that when the sun comes down at night it brings in light.  It was a lot cooler inside the snow shelter than outside.   The shelter was put together by placing rocks on top of another without any adhesive. 

There are many stone walls along the mountains in Hvar.  These were built a long time ago to make grapes and other fruits grow better since the walls created humidity. 

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Ivan asked if we were stopping at a winery and Simon said no, unless you want to.  So, later one we’d be doing a winery tour instead of going to Stari Grad.

The tour stopped at the highest point on Hvar island. 

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We started headed towards the place for lunch.  There was lots of trees missing since there was a big fire on the island.

I asked Simon about the Dalmatian dogs.  Apparently, a long time ago in the Dalmatia region.. a monk found a Dalmatian dog.  But, a lot of people think the dog originates from Egypt.  Hard to say, but the dog is a symbol on postcards.  If you’re American you know the Dalmatian dog is a popular firehouse dog

Simon took us to Human which is an ethno-eco village (whatever that means!).  It had lovely views and horses for kids to ride.  Our table was outside which had a great view.  We got octopus cooked in a clay pot which was delicious.  The pan was covered with a dome lid and coals were placed on top.

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The octopus were cooked with potatoes – the best potatoes were the crunchy ones. 

Next, we drove a short time to get to the Vina Tomić.  We were going to take a winery tour.  Simon told us earlier that the wine god might be there – it’s Andro Tomić the owner of the winery and quite famous in Hvar.  I was hoping we’d get to meet them since it’s not every day that you meet a wine god.

A guy showed us around the winery.  We saw a funny picture of the wine god.. you could tell he has a sense of humor. 

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Ivan and I saw the vats the wine is made in.  Simon told us that the wine god was in the building since we saw him although we didn’t know it was him.  Next, we saw the barrels.  Then, we were taken to the beautiful wine cellar for the wine tasting.  We paid extra for the wine tour… think it was 150 kn per person. 

We enjoyed the four wines.  We grade our wines out of 10 and describe what we think of it when we do wine tastings.

The best were the Opolo Nobile 2011 which smelled like strawberries and Ivan quoted it as being cheeky.  Another favorite was the award winning wine called Plavac Mali 2007which was 14.3% (wow!!).  Ivan thought it was like dark chocolate and I thought it was velvety.  The dessert wine Prosek Hectorovich was delicious and scored the most with 9 out of 10.  Simon says it tastes like honey.  I thought it was very sweet and oh, so good while Ivan thought it was naughty.  The wine came with cheese, anchovies and more cheese that went well with the wines.  Simon told us a funny story about drinking a lot of Prosek which will make you do funny things… isn’t that most alcohol if you drink enough?!  Simon told us that fathers will keep a bottle of Prosek and keep it until their son or daughter gets married.  The guy who gave us the tour said that his dad’s Prosek would REALLY be like honey (from aging so long) since it’ll be awhile until he gets married.  I’m not sure why though.. since the guy was cute.

Oh yah, we got to meet the wine god!  We took a few photos with him.

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He thought I was Spanish coz he said Hola.  Simon said I was American.  I told him I was Filipino.  Ivan said Merci to him.  He’s Croatian, but he knows French since he studied how to create wine there.

It was time to go on the road again.  I wanted to buy a bottle of the Prosek, but it’s too heavy and we have too much stuff as it is. 

Simon took us to the beach next.  We had an hour to chill out.  Ivan was really tired.  He took a nap while I went in search of the nude beach.  I’ve never seen one so I was curious.  I forgot to grab water before heading out in the path covered with trees… I never made it to the nude beach since I got tired. I decided to stop among the rocky beach and go in the water.  I’m glad Lil Dave was there to keep me company.  He doesn’t like water though.. but he chatted with me while I was in the water.  I had my Northface sandals one which was good since the rocks were slippery.

I read my Needful Things book while sitting on a rock with part of my legs in the water.  It was lovely.

Simon took us back into Hvar.  We said good-bye and thanks.  If you want to take a cool tour, you should take a Secret Hvar tour.

That night, we went to The Park restaurant for dinner.  Ivan and I shared lobster soup, fish pate, mussels and grilled squid with a great white house wine.  Lil Dave got banana stuffed squids and a banana dip with pita.  The food was wonderful.  Ivan and I shared crème caramel (which is like a flan) and a lovely white chocolate and lavender mousse.

We walked downstairs and heard music.  I thought it was a record, but Ivan went to check it out.  It was a Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin (I get those two confused sometimes) song.  It turned out to be a great cover band.  The guy sounded spot on.  We sat down and right after the band was going on a break.  This happens to us a lot!!  We decided to walk around and then come back to listen to more.

Ivan and I checked out a store with cool arty decorations.

It was time to hear some music.  The band was called Just in Time.  The lead singer said it was an artificial name.. maybe they couldn’t decide on a good name yet. 

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The band played Lenny Kravitz’s Are you Gonna Go My Way?, Steve Wonder’s Superstitious, The Beatles, U2 and Sting’s Englishman in New York.  The leader singer had such a beautiful soulful voice.  Wow! Ivan and I could listen to this band for hours and hours.  The band finished and we left.

Ivan wanted to check out Club Veneranda.  It’s the club that Prince Harry went to when he visited Hvar.  He said if it’s good enough for Prince Harry, it’s good enough for him.  It was way too much to get in which probably wouldn’t have been worth it since we could hear the lame music being played.

 

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Dance Tour

Ivan, Lil Dave and I had to wake up really early on August 1, 2012.  Today, we were going to do a long tour called the Big Montenegro Tour.

Our guide was a cool Montenegran guy named Mladen, but everybody calls him Mladjo.  I wasn’t sure why – he said it was because his friends called him that.. but later he told me that Mladjo means May in Italian.  He was very tall and it looked like he worked out.

Mladjo was so funny.  He liked to make fun of everybody and I mean EVERYBODY!! He told us funny stories about tourists who have taken his tour before.  We told him that we lived in Las Vegas, but Ivan was British and I was American.  He asked where my family was from and I told him I was the Philippines.  He told us that one Japanese man took so many pictures with his DSLR on the bus that it drove people crazy since they wanted to sleep.  So, he was saying that people take too many photos (especially the Japanese).  He thinks that people should enjoy the moment and not take so many photos.  Ivan definitely agreed.  He would call people who took too many photos Japanese. 

It was great to hear things from a local.  He told us that Montenegran people don’t take leftovers home, because they think it makes them look poor.  He said that people don’t usually tip, but things have been changing with Western ways.  So, he says he tips maybe some change or 1 or 2 Euro.

Mladjo had a French girl on the tour once who didn’t seem like she wanted to do anything on the tour, so he thought French people were boring.  Ivan and I both find that typically Germans can be boring.

Mladjo drove the bus to Kotor to pick up 6 people.  It was an Israeli couple from London, a Dutch guy named Jerome and his Polish fiancé and two French guys. 

The two French guys sat in the front.  Mladjo said I hope you two aren’t boring like most French people.  Ivan and I laughed hard.  Anybody who says that French people are boring RIGHT to their face is freaking awesome!!!  That’s very BOLD and funny!!

We were sat next to the Dutch guy Jerome.  He sort of looked like Moby since he had a shaved head and glasses.  In our experience, Dutch people are cool and it was the same in this case.  Jerome was friendly and great to talk to. 

Our first stop was the Masoleum.  Petar II Petrovic Njegos is buried there.  He was a very tall man at 2 meters (6.5 feet!).  We walked up lots and lots of steps to reach the top.  It was worth it though since the view was beautiful. 

Mladjo didn’t recommend the masoleum to the group.  But, the boring Israeli guy wanted to go because he likes that king of stuff (not really sure what kind of stuff he meant.. maybe morbid stuff).  The rest of the group chilled outside and waited.  We saw a couple wearing traditional Montenegran clothes and people were taking photos of them so I joined in.

The bus started driving towards our next destination which would be what Mladjo called Breakfast-Lunch (brunch).  His friend from college was there.  Ivan and I were excited that we were going to taste some rakia! 

Brunch was at a Kafana called Kod Pera na Bukovicu.  We sat outside and waited while Mladjo’s friends’ mum made us fresh bread.  Lovely!  We had local cheese, prosciutto (the Italians stole the name from the Montenegrans) and yummy fresh bread.  I decided to try the prosciutto (I’m pescetarian, but sometimes I eat meat since I grew up eating it – I do like to try meat countries are known for) and it was really tasty.

Next, it was time to taste rakia!  We were taken to a small room where the magic happens. 

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Ivan got an extra shot of rakia since Mladjo promised him two shots.  He shared it with me.  It was quite strong, it being 45% proof.. which is actually about 85% proof in American terms.

Mladjo started driving to the next destination which was up a long and winding road.  I’m convinced that The Beatles went up this road and wrote ‘The Long and Winding Road’.  I think they should have added scary.. since it was a REALLY long drop down.  Mladjo said that he told tourists that he might drive off the road and they got scared like he was going to actually do it.  Some people have NO sense of humor.. such a shame really.

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Mladjo was like our friend already.. he was just SO easy to talk to and he was always willing to answer your questions.

At one point, the road was so skinny and cars and BIG buses couldn’t get through.  It was scary to me since this part of the road had low concrete blocks and not much else that prevents you from falling over.  It was really hot since we were stopped.  Some people got out.  A Montenegran guy got out and was ordering people what to do.  He got in our mini-bus and drove is backwards.  Mladjo seemed a bit stressed since this was first encounter with this situation as a driver.  It took awhile, but we made it pass. 

We were off schedule since all that trouble up on the winding road.

The bus stopped at the Ostrag Monastery.  It is a white monastery that was built right into the rocks. 

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Saint Basil of Ostrog is here – you can go to the room which contains his bones in a casket.  Mladjo said that recently a group of Muslims came to pray in the room with the saint.  I was surprised that they are so open-minded.  Most religious people aren’t.  Mladjo said that his friend spends more time at this monastery than at the mosque.  I guess it’s a popular place to pray even if you’re not Orthodox Christian.  Lots of people come here (Christians – both Orthodox and Catholic and Muslims) make pilgrimages here because there have been reports of miracles of the intercession of the saint.

It did feel very holy.  We went in the very small room with the saints’ bones.  Mladjo kissed the casket and we left.

There was a nice view from the top of the monastery.

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We then drove for a couple more hours (which flew by with Mladjo’s chatting) and stopped at a nice little restaurant called Pelikan Restoran by the lake. Mladjo called it lunch/dinner, but seeing as we were there about 6pm, it was definitely more dinner than lunch. Almost everyone got trout, which came with two large trout and was delicious.

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The restaurant staff was very nice and gave all the girls some home-grown  tea from the garden, a weird water chestnut and cute souvenir Pelikan stamps. After eating, we got driven back via Sveti Stefan to Budva, where we grabbed a photo with Mladjo before saying thanks and goodbye.

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We had a lovely time on the tour.  Mladjo is a funny and cool guy and an awesome tour guide – definitely one of the best guides we’ve had.  I love his positive attitude.  This tour is a MUST if you’re ever in Budva or Kotor! – make sure you get Mladjo as your tour guide.

We rested at the hostel for a little while and then showered and got ready for the evening. A lot of people at the hostel were also going to be heading to Top Hill (where we were also going) so we all shared taxis up there. Top Hill is literally at the top of a hill and is a HUGE (5000 people) outdoor venue that hosts djs/bands etc. When we got in we noticed that the entire place was filled up with tables. Small round ones like cocktail tables about 4 foot high with no chairs. There were hundreds of them. An Aussie guy we were with asked one of the waiters what the deal was with the tables…and he was told that we could either buy a large expensive bottle of spirits…or alternatively just get individual drinks and tip him every time we got a drink. That sounded like a good plan , especially as the table was right at the front in the centre.

Everyone congregated around the table drinking and chatting. We had been told that Roger would come on about 1am or maybe 1.30am..Hence we were not too happy when it was 2.30am and he still hadn’t come on yet! Finally at 2.45am he started.

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He was really great as usual. Luckily after a while a lot of people left so even though the tables were still everywhere, people started pushing them to the side so there was more space to dance.

I danced like a madman with new dance moves like trying to bend backwards (like the Matrix) and popping and locking. We danced for quite a while. It was awesome dancing to Roger Sanchez’ hard house.  We got back to the hostel at 5.15am.

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Wine Castle

I found Ivan already awake when I woke up at 9:30 am on July 28, 2012. We used the internet.

Ivan and I had toast which is included in the free breakfast at the hostel. We also had a peach from the fruit Ivan bought yesterday.

We walked down the hill and across the river to Hotel Mangalemi for lunch. Ivan and I knew it was good and didn’t really know any other restaurants to head to. We shared a bean salad, grilled vegetable salad and a beet salad. We also shared a raki (rakia) with oregano fragrance. This raki wasn’t as harsh as most of the rakis and the oregano lingered in your through for a short time after drinking it. The food was once again very tasty.

We walked to Berat Castle which involved trekking up a long steep hill. I’m glad Ivan stopped a few times to sit down and drink water. It was really hot out. Luckily the hill wasn’t quite as steep or as long as it looked from the bottom…actually what am I talking about!…it was JUST as steep as it looked from the bottom, if not steeper!

When we reached the top a guy asked Ivan where he was from. Ivan said England. The guy was a guide and he asked if we wanted to be shown around the big castle. He wanted a ridiculous amount of money at first, but Ivan talked him down to 1000 Lek (about $9 USD) for both of us.

Our guide was an Albanian guy named Tony – I bet it was something weird, but he chose an easier English name. He walked around and talked about the castle and Albania. There are 65,000 people living in Berat. There’s a university here which is the biggest building which looks more like a government building than a university.

I asked Tony if he liked raki and he said it was like fire.  He doesn’t like it much.  Ivan and I love raki. 

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We stopped at a bar with a nice view and had some sparkling water.  We love sparkling water since it’s so refreshing.  I wish they sold it for a reasonable price in the US.

Tony showed us many different things like a great views of the city including the Osumi River.  I asked why the river was so low.  He said it’s low in the summer and high in the winter.  We also saw St. George Church.  The second floor of this floor was built by the Nazis.  The people didn’t like the Nazis so they threw rocks at it.  It looks like they never renovated it.  It looks unused but it’s owned by the church now.

We also saw the highest point of Berat which is next to the Lord’s Fortress.

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Next, we saw Trinity Church which had a cool décor.  This 13th or 14th century (Tony said it was 13th 14th century) church is only used once a year.  Ivan asked Christmas? Tony said yes. Well done Ivan!!!

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We also a Constantine statue and an Onufre (an Albanian painter) statue.

Ivan asked if we could take a picture with Tony at the end of the tour.  He said No, I don’t want to.  He was a bit weird, but it was a good tour – we wouldn’t know what to see if we walked around ourselves.

We walked back down to the city.  Ivan and I were thinking of going to the winery.  Ivan found a taxi that would take us there and wait for us while we took the tour.  The driver drove us to Çobo Winery.  The guide didn’t speak English, she asked if we spoke Italian.  She showed us the big wine tanks and the barrels.  We looked around and took pictures of the barrels.

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Ivan attempted to ask her a question, but it appeared as though her English didn’t go beyond ‘You go upstairs now for drinking?’. This was okay with us, so we went up to the farmhouse and sat ourselves down.

Along with the wines we were given plates of cheese, olives and bread.

The first wine was a white wine named ‘Shesh’. I gave it 5/10 with comments of ‘mild-delicate, Grapey with a hint of berry’. Next up was another white E Bardha e Beratit. Ivan gave it 7/10 with comments of ‘complicated, mysterious, white-grapey’.

Next up was a red named ‘Sheshi-Zi’. We both really liked this one, with Ivan throwing out comments such as ‘mature, knowledgeable, intelligent, a wine you should show respect to!’. A well earned 9/10 from me!

Next up was a red named ‘Kashmir’. This was our favourite! Ivan said it was ‘Inviting, buff, and paranoid’.!!!! Yes I don’t know where on earth he was getting these words from either! I guess the wine inspired him!

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We were served a final drink of Raki with nuts (quite tasty) then jumped in the tax for the ride back to town. After using internet for bit we headed out again to Hotel Mangalemi. Firstly because every meal there had been great, but also because there didn’t really seem to be much else in town that looked half decent. This time, we had fish soup, grilled veg salad, casserole and stuffed peppers, washed down with some cherry raki, and topped off with a slice of baklava! Yet again, a fantastic meal!

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Couchsurfing Walking Tour

Ivan and I didn’t get much sleep last night.  I kept coughing and couldn’t sleep.  I woke up Ivan since I was tapping away on the laptop.  We woke up at 9:45 am on July 20, 2012.  

Ivan and I left our backpacks with the hostel while we went on a tour.

We went to the Republic Square for the meeting point for the free Belgrade Walking Tour.  Our tour guide was a Serbian named Mari. 

The tour stopped at Skadanilja which is the Bohemian Quarter.  Here, Serbians will drink one drink normally, the second on the table and then the third under the table.  Mari said the waiters will still serve you under the table.  I bet the sixth drink you take while you’re on the floor about to pass out.  The guide talked about the local brandy rakija.  She got four volunteers and they got to take shots.  I didn’t think it was fair since there wasn’t enough to go around.  But, the guide said it’s because they are non-profit and don’t have much money.  I think the shot would have helped me wake up.

There’s writing in Belgrade that’s written in Cyrillic or Latin.  People get to choose if they write in Cyrillic or Latin, so this is why the street signs are in both languages.

We stopped at Silicone Valley – a street where people go to show off.  You’ll see girls with fake boobs, guys in expensive cars and people spending foreign currency.  Back in the 1990’s, Serbia had really bad inflation.  You had to spend your money right away, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth much.  Money would be valued high at the start of the day and keep decreasing as the day went along.  It was hard times with many bombings happening.

We walked near the zoo.  There was a famous monkey named Sammie who lived there.  He escaped the zoo six times.  Mari reckons the last time he was trying to get to a party.  I think he just wanted some fresh air and to find more bananas.  Lil Dave thinks he shouldn’t have been confined in a zoo and he just wanted to explore the city AND find better quality bananas.  Another famous animal is Moya the alligator.  This alligator is the oldest in the world – even surviving from being bombed in the war.

Our guide has a monotone voice that could have put me to sleep.  Plus, most of the places weren’t that exciting really.

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We stopped at the Belgrade Fortress for a short break. 

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We headed to the Upper City.  Our guide told us about the blue bridge which was called the Party Bridge.  In the 90’s, NATO wanted to bomb the bridges in Belgrade.  Serbians went to the bridge to have a party with drinking and music.  Serbians didn’t get depressed, they just took things how they came and went with it. The bombings were just another excuse for a party for them!

The group stopped at ? which is the oldest cafona in Belgrade.  It had a few names before like Serbia.  The church didn’t like the last name of Es Condidos (probably spelling it wrong)… so, the restaurant put up ? as a temporary solution that has lasted 1000 years.  I guess it’s stuck with the name.  Everybody calls it Question Mark.

Our guide told us about a great freebie at the bank museum.

Freebie Tip!  – Stop by the Bank Museum to get a free copy of your face on a Serbian bill!! You even get a free chocolate.  One of the best freebies ever!!

Ivan, Lil Dave and I really wanted a bank note with our faces on it.  So, we went straight there.  We thought more people from the tour would take advantage of this freebie.  But, we only saw 3 German guys from the tour in the museum.  We each got our pictures taken and got a free chocolate after.  So cool!

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The tour was good.  I prefer English speaking guides because they’re usually more informative and funny.  Mari was trying to be funny, but it wasn’t really funny.  She wasn’t natural – it seemed like she was reading from a script.

We were all starving.  Ivan found a place along the main tourist street.  We sat down at Via Del Gusto.  This place has free internet – just look for Hot Spot and there’s no password.  Ivan started off with a tomato soup.  Lil Dave got a banana penne and a banana shake.  I got a Spaghetti di Mare (seafood, basil and tomato sauce) while Ivan got trout.  Ivan’s plate of trout was huge!!  This place has good food and the prices are very reasonable.

Ivan called the couchsurfer we were staying with for the next 2 days.  Nenad said he’d meet us at Republic Square.

Ivan popped back to the hostel to grab all of our backpacks, while I continued my meal. Luckily he is big and strong so is able to carry all of our luggage himself. (editors note: He is VERY big and strong and let that never be forgotten!!!)

We walked to Republic Square and waited a few minutes.  The Serbian couchsurfer Nenad said hello to us.  He took my small backpack and we were off to the bus stop.

We had to take two buses to get to his apartment which is 25 minutes from the square. 

We met his lovely girlfriend Tanja.  We chatted awhile about traveling, Las Vegas, our honeymoon and our couchsurfing experiences.  They’re sooo friendly and laid-back.  They’re a cool couple and we knew we were going to have a great time with them.

Tanja made a delicious satarnsk dish for dinner which consists of paprika, eggs, tomatoes and onions.  It’s quite simple and very tasty.

Nenad left for work while Tanja went to the city centre to pick up two Polish couchsurfers who also would be staying. This is an example of how kind they are – instead of just telling couchsurfers what buses to get or to get a taxi (which would only cost about 6 US dollars), they always get the two buses to the centre to meet the couchsurfers and then bring them back to their house. Very kind of them!

Ivan I washed up the dishes and used the internet while Tanya was out. We also looked through their possessions and helped ourselves to any alcohol we could find (joke!!).

Tanja came back with the two Polish couchsurfers.  It was a guy and a girl who weren’t dating (yeah right) who recently met…which we thought was strange.  I took a shower.

We talked about traveling.  Later, Ivan started talking about hypnosis.  Ivan is a trained hypnotist.  Tanja has done hypnosis for therapy before, so Ivan thought she should try hypnosis.  The Polish weren’t interested – I think the guy was too scared to try it.  It’s nothing scary at all! 

Ivan hypnotized Tanja.  She didn’t remember her name thinking it was EIEIO.  Ivan told her that she would laugh at anything he said.  He talked about the shooting in Colorado and she was laughing.  At one point, she didn’t remember anybody in the room.  Ivan said it’s alright we’re friends of your boyfriend.  Ivan gave her a glass of water and told her it was apple juice, then strawberry juice.  He then said he made her a great gin and tonic.  The first time she tried it, she said no.  Ivan thought she was going to say it was water, but she said this is still strawberry juice.  He made ‘another’ gin and tonic.  This time she said it tasted good.  Ivan brought her out of hypnosis.  She said she could still taste the gin and tonic in her mouth.. saying it was bitter….which just goes to show really how strong hypnosis can be!

Everyone was very tired by this point, so we all headed off to bed. Nenad and Tanja were kind enough to let us have the bed in the bedroom while they slept on the sofa bed and the Polish couple slept on the floor.

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Mussels in Brussels

On July 17, 2012, Ivan, Lil Dave and I woke up at 9 am.  Ivan and I packed everything up and left the very orange Easyhotel. 

We got took the train to King’s Cross and left our baggage there.

Today, we were doing the Street Art London Tours in Shoreditch.

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Ivan and I love graffiti and it’s always evolving in London. 

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We went to many places and saw lots of cool graffiti. 

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We recognized a couple of graffiti pieces that we saw last time on a different graffiti tour we took. 

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The tour guide showed us a Banksy, but it was covered by glass and it up high where my short self couldn’t see it. 

After the tour, we headed back to King’s Cross to collect our luggage and then pick up tickets for the Eurostar train.  I was hungry, so Ivan and Lil Dave stayed with the luggage while I got some food at Marks and Spencers.  Ivan also bought some food.  It still hurts when I swallow – even just water.

Then, we left on the train at 2 pm from London to Brussels, Belgium.  The train is very cheap at 49 Euros each and it goes under the sea for an hour.  We fell asleep the whole time though. The train arrived at 5:05 pm in Brussels.  Ivan tried to find the bus at the airport, but the one we needed didn’t stop there.  We were too tired and decided to get a taxi cab to the Airbnb apartment. 

We were welcomed by this sign next to our room. 

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How cute!!  We met Carine and her son.  Carine is a friendly Belgian lady.  She had a map for us and we talked about our honeymoon and Brussels.  Her son made us tasty mint Moroccan tea.  I need to learn how to make it!  Carine is always smiling.  Ivan asked why mussels is so famous in Brussels.  She wasn’t sure.  Ivan reckons it’s because it rhymes. 

We took showers and then walked to the city at 7:30 pm.  Along the way, we saw Brussels Cathedral.

Ivan showed me the main square la Grand Place.  He said it looks a lot better at night.

We found the restaurant Chez Leon on a very busy street filled with restaurants.  Ivan read online that this is the best place for mussels. We shared a good white beer.  Lil Dave got a banana pasta.  Ivan and I each got a 800 gram bucket filled with mussels: one with white wine and one with celery, onion and butter.  It came with pomme frites.  The mussels with celery, onion and butter was the best one.  The mussels were real good, but not the best we’ve had. 

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Ivan and I prefer the mussels at Comme Ca in The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.  I’ve never eaten so many mussels in one sitting in my life. It really was a LOT of mussels!

It was 9:30 pm and it was still light out.  There are many statues of the Pissing Man statue.  Ivan thought he’d get a drink.

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We went to the main square and then headed to the real Pissing Man statue. 

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I thought he would have been a lot bigger than he actually is.  I think he’s less than a foot tall. 

We walked across to the bar Poechenellekelder (say that three times really fast!!).  This bar is connected with the Pissing Man statue.  I think about 12 times a year this bar changes the outfit of the Pissing Man.  I wish he wasn’t naked and had an cute outfit on.  Oh, well next time.

We wanted to try a sour beer, but they didn’t have any.

Ivan remembered a cool bar with 250 beers nearby.  We went to Delerium and ordered two beers.  One beer was honey and the other was cherry. 

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I really liked the cherry one.  The beers are really strong here.  It’s best to ask how strong it is before drinking too many!

We saw the Pissing Woman statue in the courtyard of Delerium.  I couldn’t get a good picture of it since she’s behind a gate. After drinking our beers and realising that there is no way we could drink more than 4-5 of them because even just one (at 9% alcohol) made us feel tipsy, we jumped into a taxi and headed back to the apartment.

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Harry Potter Tour

I woke up at 11 am on July 16, 2012.  We packed everything up.  Ivan’s mum Denise made us hot tea with lemon (for my throat) and poached eggs (for my hungry stomach).  There was also bread but I couldn’t eat it – it hurts my throat when I eat hard foods.

Ken drove us to the train station nearby at noon.  We said good-bye to Denise and Ken.  I told Denise that I would hug her, but I didn’t want to get her sick. That and the fact that I am not comfortable with physical contact with mother-in-laws (joke).

We got the train to Victoria in Central London.  Ivan checked us in to the Easyhotel.  It’s a cheap hotel place similar to Tune Hotels where you have to pay for everything.  It’s run by Easyjet….so everything is orange..the walls, the floor…the beds…the people…

After placing our bags in the room, we went to get lunch at Pret a Manger and shopped at Boots. We then headed to the bus station nearby to board the bus for the Warner Brothers Studios tour.

It was an hour and half drive to Watford.  On the bus, we watched a video where it said kids can get a passport and get stamped throughout the tour.  I wanted a passport.

I went to the info desk and asked for a passport.  They asked how many and I said two.  I’m glad they give these out freely even to adults.

We had to wait awhile before standing in line for our tour.  I checked out the cool gift shop which is very well decorated.  You can buy everything here from sorting hats, wands, a Gryffindor notebook and scarves. 

Ivan got us the audio tour which is only 5 Euros.  It’s well worth it.  The tour is on an iPod.  It’s great because you can listen to the videos at your leisure which is great when you are waiting in the queue (line) to enter.  There’s also behind the scene pictures and sketches of costumes and wands.

The Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter is amazing.  These are the actual studios where every single one of the Harry Potter movies were made!

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It’s very detailed and includes original sets, props and costumes.  You HAVE to go if you’re a Harry Potter fan.  Even though Ivan’s not a big Harry Potter fan, he enjoyed it.  There’s so much detail that go into making a movie.  Lil Dave wonders why there aren’t monkeys in the films.

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You can buy Butterbeer outside. 

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The Knight bus, the Weesley’s car, 4 Privet Drive and the house where The Potters lived are also outside.

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We walked down Diagon Alley.

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There’s a cool BIG model of Hogwarts at the end of the tour.

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The tour ends in the gift shop.  We got the bus back at 7 pm headed back to Victoria station.  The bus arrived at 8:40 am.

Once we arrived in the room, I took a shower.  We then went to Embankment station to meet Neal.

Neal wanted to check out a Mexican restaurant, but it was a bit overpriced.  Ivan thought Wahaca would be a lot better.  Ivan and I shared guacamole, broad bean and feta quesadilla, MSC ceviche salad and courgette & cactus burrito.  It was a tasty meal.

Ivan and Neal thought we should get a drink somewhere.  Neal said if I wanted to rest we didn’t have to get a drink.  I figured we wouldn’t see him for awhile, so we should spend time together.

We went to Gordon’s underground wine bar for a drink.  Ivan and I shared a tasty port.  Ivan, Neal and I chatted about life. 

We walked back to the station.  Neal wanted to give me a handshake – I gave him a hug, after all he’s family now (that the fact that unlike the mother-in-law issues, I don’t have them with brother-in-laws..joke again). Oops, I forgot I was sick – hope he doesn’t get my stupid sickness.

Ivan and I headed back to the hotel where I worked on the blog before we went to bed.

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Forest Tour

Ivan, Charisse, Noelle, Lil Dave and I left Sol Bahia Apartamentos at 9:15 am on July 12, 2012 for the airport.  None of us really got much sleep that night…in fact by ‘not much sleep’, for some of us that means ‘no sleep’.

The Vueling check-in was longer than the security part which is usually the opposite.  We boarded our Vueling airplane and headed off to Barcelona at 10:55 am.  All of us were so tired that we fell asleep even before take-off.  I didn’t wake up until our flight was coming in to land.Our plane arrived at 12:40 pm and we saw flamenco dancers dancing in front of a store at the airport.  We waited awhile for our luggage…the Spanish are so slow. I guess its all that sunshine and wine, and insistent on taking siestas all the time! 

We took the bus to Las Ramblas which takes 20 minutes.  We met up with Andreas at his apartment that we booked through Airbnb.  He was a nice Spanish guy who showed us around the two bedroom apartment.  It was a lovely apartment right on Las Ramblas.  The location was awesome and the Carrefour (supermarket) is right downstairs.

Everybody took a much needed nap.  I was feeling really sick.  Noelle looked at our throats and they were really red.  She said my tonsils had white dots on them.  She figured we had a viral infection or strep throat.  I’m hoping it’s the former. 

Ivan took a shower and started his own ‘fiesta del agua’. The bathroom was FLOODED! It turned out the shower had a leak and the water had gone under the bathroom door and into the bedrooms also!  An angry Spanish lady came from the downstairs apartment.  I don’t know what she was saying.  She was talking in Spanish to Noelle.  I’m guessing it translated as ‘Water is dripping into my apartment below – WHY??!!!!?!?!?!’

I felt really bad and didn’t end up going to the tapas tour.  Ivan, Noelle and Charisse went to The Taste Barcelona. Ivan said they visited about four different places, and had cheese, tapas of all different kinds, and plenty of interesting drinks like Vermouth and local wines.

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I drank some water when they left.  I was going to get up and use the internet.  But, I felt so tired and fell back asleep.  I didn’t even get up to open the door when Andreas came to fix the shower – I was THAT tired. 

Andreas came later.  He said that he brought tools and somebody would be coming by to fix it soon.  I said that’s fine.  He kept apologizing that the shower was broken.  He gave us the last night for free.

I talked to Ivan on Facebook chat.  He said that the tour was good and it was finishing up soon.  He said that he was bringing me tapas from the tour.  Hurray!

Ivan, Charisse and Noelle came back at 10:25 pm.  I ate cheese and crackers, mussels filled with baked with something inside, potatoes, salami and a dessert.  It was really tasty!

Later on, we walked to Bosc De Les Fades which is a forest bar.

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When you walk in, there’s cool animals made out of wax – I guess it’s like wax origami.  The bar looks like a forest. 

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There’s even a waterfall.  One of the rooms had a lady floating near the ceiling, a small bed (just my size!) and weird décor. 

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There was a mirror – above a light was on, when the light turned off.. a figure of a man showed behind the mirror.  Ivan and I each had a cava (sparkling wine) which was really dry.  Noelle had a grape juice while Charisse got a San Francisco fruity drink.  We chatted and drank our drinks.  It was almost closing time.  So, we finished our drinks and went back to the apartment.

We were all tired and went to bed at 1:40 am.

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