“And Here Sweet Wine Makes, Once Again, Sad Eyes and Hearts Recover”: Bled, Slovenia

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Last year Chris and I spent our 11th wedding anniversary in the absolutely breathtaking city of Bled, Slovenia. Once again, I never thought that Slovenia would be at the top of my list of travel destinations, but the country is so beautiful and fun that I would recommend planning a trip here ASAP. We randomly stayed in Bled the weekend of Bled Days, the most famous event for the city.

Where are we?

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History of Lake Bled: 

The city of Bled is located on Lake Bled, situated in the northwestern corner of Slovenia, 30 miles from the capital Ljubljana, and south of the Kawawanks mountains. The lake has a really interesting geological history (nerd alert) and was formed by both tectonic and glacial movements. During the Pleistocene Era (2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago), the Bohinj glacier developed the landscape around Bled, while the tectonic activity formed the valley for the location of the lake. Erosion caused the softer ground to be worn away, leaving behind the topsoil that now holds the lake’s island and castle.

 

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Earliest human activity near the lake can be traced back to the Bronze Age; Old-Slavic settlers arrived in 7th century. The first written mention of the town occurred in 1004 (!!) when the German King Henry II gave the land to the Bishop of Brixen for their assistance with the Church; Bled remained under the lordship for 800 years until the settlement fell under Austrian rule in 1808.

Passed back and forth between Brixen and the Austrians (and following the fall of Austria-Hungary in 1918), the settlement and the castle were given to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Tito, the Yugoslav king (and later president) used the castle as his home. In 1919 the castle and lake were sold to hotel owner Ivan Kenda, which marked the first time the settlement was officially owned by a Slovenian. The Germans annexed this portion of Slovenia during WWII and following the war, Bled became an official town in 1960.

The Sights:

Bled Castle:

I’m pretty meh about castles (I know, I know) but Bled Castle was a beautiful sight to visit. Pro tip: Make a reservation with the castle restaurant (more on that later!) and you can tour the castle and museum for free. It’s a steep hike up to Bled Castle, so dress like you’re going on a hike, not like you are attending an anniversary dinner at a castle (me).

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The castle was first mentioned in 1011 and is the oldest castle in Slovenia.

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While the Bishop of Brixen technically owned the estate, they hardly ever inhabited the castle. Instead, Bled Castle was managed by a staff of people according to feudal order.

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The Bishops decided to lease the property and the first official inhabitant was Konrad von Kreigh, whose family occupied the castle for 200 years.

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Herbard Auersperg of Turjak then took over the lease of the castle and attempted to purchase the land, but was unsuccessful. Under Herbard Auersperg, the castle became a Protestant stronghold for the region and the leader of the Slovenian Protestant Movement (Primož Trubar) visited the castle in 1561.

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View from a castle window

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The Bled estate was nationalized in 1803 and even briefly the home of Napolean Bonaparte, before passing multiple hands and ownership over the next 150 years.

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Renovations on the castle took place in 1961 and the museum (a must see!) was completed in 2008.

 

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You can also swim at the base of the castle for a couple of Euros. Even me, who refuses to swim in any body of water, couldn’t pass this up.

Bled Days:

Bled Days includes handmade arts and crafts ( ❤ ), street food vendors ( ❤ ), music ( ❤ ), and a finale where they release over 15,000 candle eggs onto the lake ( ❤ ❤ not sure how that works waste-wise but it was beautiful to see). The event happens each year at the end of July and is definitely worth the extra cost and tourists! They also put in a lot of effort to make Bled Days a zero-waste event, which was really interesting and cool to see.

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A demonstration on how old-timey firefighters used the lake to put out flames.

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The finale which includes 15,000 candles released onto the lake and a beautiful firework display.

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Arts and crafts, drink and food vendors (Via Bled.Si). I wish I had taken more pictures but I was too excited about everything!

Church of the Assumption:

Originally a temple for the Slavic Goddess of Love Živa, the pagan population was forced to replace Živa with the Virgin Mary when the community inhabiting the Bled area converted to Christianity in 745. The Slavic temple was replaced, and in 1465, the Gothic Church and Tower were built on the tiny island.

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View of the Church from Bled Castle

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View of the Church from our Pletna boat.

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The Church also boasts a 99 step staircase. Tradition holds that the husband of the couple married in the church must carry his wife up all 99 steps.

The Bell Tower and the Ringing of the Bell hold a special legend for the Church:

Once upon a time there lived a young widow in the castle of Bled. Her husband was killed by robbers and his body was thrown into the lake. She was so inconsolable that she gathered all her gold and silver and cast a bell for the chapel on the island, in memory to her husband. But the bell didn’t arrive there. The bell, the boat and boatmen sank during a terrible storm. The desperate widow sold all her property after this accident. She offered the proceeds for the construction of a new church on the island. She left Bled and lived the rest of her life in Rome as a nun. After her death the Pope had heard of her misfortune and of her good deeds during her life as a nun, so in memory to her he decide to make a new bell. He said that anyone that rings the bell three times and believes in God, his or her wish would come true.

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The Bell Tower stands at 52 meters high.

Restaurants and Pubs:

Public Bar and Vegan Kitchen:

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Chris and I both agreed that this hummus was amazzzinnnnggg.

While I’m not vegan, when I saw this amazing menu from Public Bar and Vegan Kitchen, I knew I wanted to stop by for lunch. I don’t have a lot of vegetarian options here, so it’s nice to find a spot with a couple of veg menu items. Chris and I shared the house burger and it was too much to eat between the two of us.

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Bled Castle:

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I also discovered my love for Hugo cocktails (Prosecco+elderflower syrup+mint+lime+sparkling water), which were available everywhere in the summer heat.

Absolutely one of my favorite meals in Europe, Bled Castle has a great (and seasonal) menu with affordable prices. They also had an extensive variety of local wine and beer, not to mention a view that overlooks the entire lake.

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Slovenia is known for their white wines, which was a perfect choice for this particularly warm day.

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Poor kid has the sun in his eyes! Chris liked the HumanFish Slovenian IPA.

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Okarina:

We stumbled on Okarina our first night in Bled. They were nice enough to seat us less than an hour before closing (ugh I hate being that person) and we enjoyed our dinners. They have a diverse menu–so there is something for everyone–and a really nice atmosphere that was needed after walking the lake’s super-busy edge.

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Red n Black Bled:

Located right next to our Air BnB, we stopped by Red n Black Bled for a quick breakfast of coffee and toasties our first morning in the city and ended up coming back each morning! Our server was AMAZING. She was incredibly kind and their ridiculously simple menu of either make-your-own porridge or toasted bread with veggies or meat was totally fine with us.

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We ended up hanging out to watch the FINA Summer Games (ironically being held in Budapest). Sometimes you just need a good old pub in your life.

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Their “Kremsnita” (Bled Cream Cake) was all the heart-in-the-eyes-emojis delicious (picture via their Facebook because I was too excited to take a picture!)

Troha Pub Bled:

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(Via Trip Advisor)

We stopped at Troha Pub Bled after our Pletna tour of the island. The pub has a gorgeous view of the lake and the castle, along with reasonable prices. Their menu also includes an impressive 3-liter mojito, although we didn’t try it. Apparently, Troha is THE nightclub of Bled but it was a super chill spot when we stopped by in the afternoon.

Kult Klub:

 

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(via SlovenianHolidays.com)

 

Considering it was right next to the edge of the lake, Kult Klub was one of our first stops in Bled. They had a great selection of Slovenian craft beer and the outside seating was great as the sun was setting. We, unfortunately, weren’t there when they had live music, but we enjoyed hanging out listening to the crazy pop star Bled Days had performing that night.

Shops:

Trešpank:

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Trešpank is a super cool shop located near Red n Black. The owner repurposes bicycle parts into new things (including belts!) and sells a ton of different handmade products including postcards, pottery, clothing, and jewelry. I stocked up on a stack of crazy postcards before making the trek up to Bled Castle.

Galerija Mikame:

 

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(Via Trip Advisor)

Galerija Mikame is a super cute store on the edge of Lake Bled that boasts a ton of different art, jewelry, pottery, and postcards from Slovenian independent designers. The guy working in the shop was amazing and he told us a ton of fun facts about Slovenia.  I asked why he thought Ohio had the greatest population of Slovenians outside of the country and he responded: “I think it’s because we only like farming and working in factories, you know?” I picked up a reclaimed wooden ring from Brlogarka, a beautiful Bled painting by Ajda Primožič Lima, and a couple of hilarious CartsyFartsy greeting cards.

Ashlyn (2)

Currently watching: Big Little Lies (directed by Jean-Marc Vallée)

Currently reading: Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

Currently listening: Live in Detroit by The White Stripes

Amsterdam & The Hague

This spring Chris and I spent a couple of days visiting our lovely and amazing friend Kelsey in The Hague, Netherlands. We also traveled to Amsterdam to see one of our favorite bands, Pokey Lafarge & the South City Three. Chris had visited Eindhoven before, but this was my first trip; it was great seeing Kelsey for the first time since New Years!

Where are we?

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We flew from Budapest to Eindhoven, then took the train to The Hague. The public transportation was awesome; the trains and buses were super clean and organized. SO MANY BIKES EVERYWHERE. It was awesome to see infrastructure that promoted walking, biking, and public transport over driving.

The Cities

The Hague: The third largest city and the capital of South Holland, The Hague (Den Haag) is located near the coast. First mentioned in 1230, the city was heavily damaged during WWII and was largely rebuilt after the War. The Hague is also known as the “International City of Peace and Justice” due to the city’s hosting of multiple peace talks and conferences since the late 1800s.

Located north of The Hague, Amsterdam is the Netherlands’ capital and largest city. Originally a small fishing village established around a dam on the Amstel River in the 1100s, the city soon became one of the most important trading ports for the kingdom. Amsterdam has 165 canals (combined has a length of over sixty miles!) and 1,281 bridges throughout the city.

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The Hague: Walking to the beach

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The Hague: View from Kelsey’s townhouse

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The Hague: Mauritshuis Art Museum (established in 1822)

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The Hague: Ridderzaal (Hall of Knights) was completed in the 1200s (!!).

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The Hague

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The Hague

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Amsterdam

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Amsterdam: Royal Palace (1648)

 

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Amsterdam: Ann Frank’s House. The Secret Annex that hid her family before they were betrayed to the Nazis is located in the back of the building.

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Amsterdam

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Amsterdam: Paradiso (1968) is a converted church that is now used as a music and arts venue

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Amsterdam

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Amsterdam: Oude Kerk (Old Church) is the city’s oldest oldest building and church (1213!)

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Pokey Lafarge and the South City Three

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Our fourth time seeing the band. We’ve been to shows on the Ohio River, Cleveland OH, Asheville NC, and Atlanta GA.

Bonus video of Ryan Koening playing the hell out of the spoons.

Restaurants & Food

The Hague: Beachclub Indigo

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We had an amazing brunch at Beachclub Indigo. A gorgeous walk down the beach, the restaurant had a ton of burger options and seating right on the water. My first 2017 beach trip!

Amsterdam: Pancakes Amsterdam 

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Chris had ham and cheese while chose the goat cheese option.

After our train ride to Amsterdam all I wanted in my life was Dutch pancakes. We stopped at Pancakes Amsterdam before wandering around the city and loved it. They had a variety of sweet and savory options, as well as a cute atmosphere to escape the rain (because of course it was raining).

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Mint tea: My new favorite

Kelsey introduced me to mint tea and I am officially a fan. Rather than using a tea bag, you place a ton of fresh mint leaves into a glass of hot water and let them steep for a couple of minutes. So good.

The Hague: Kelsey’s House

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Our all time best meal in the Netherlands was hosted by Kelsey’s roommate. Raising money for a non-profit (she was in this super cool non-profit certification program) her roommate hosted a home-cooked five course (TWO DESSERTS) meal for a dozen people in their apartment. WOW. It was absolutely amazing. Lovely wine, out-of-control cooking, and wonderful people–what else can you ask for? I wish I had taken pictures of the food but I was too busy being the emoji-with-hearts-for-eyes brought to life.

Breweries & Pubs

Amsterdam: Cafe ‘t Smalle

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Our lovely friend in Pápa, who spent a summer in Amsterdam a few years ago, recommended Cafe ‘t Smalle as a place to stop right on the water for a quick drink and snack. She mentioned that she had always wanted to visit the small cafe but never had the chance during the summer she was abroad. Thankfully we were able to visit while in Amsterdam! It was so lovely and right on the canal.

Amsterdam: De Prael Brewery

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Having a friend who works at a brewery definitely has its perks, among them being great recommendations for craft beer in the Netherlands. We LOVED De Prael and ended up trying a couple of their beers while in Amsterdam.

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Amsterdam: The Beer Temple

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Whoa, the Beer Temple was such a great place to stop on our way to the show. Their selection is enormous, with beer even from South Carolina! We overheard a group talking about beer from Mt. Pleasant, SC and were both thinking “wait, whaaa?” before realizing they also carried Westbrook as well. I don’t even know the last time I had their Gosa, so it was an unexpected surprise.

The Hague: Kompaan

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I can not say enough amazing things about Kompaan. They have great beer, amazing food, and an awesome atmosphere. This was probably the best beer we’ve had since moving abroad and it was really special to share this with Kelsey. The atmosphere reminded us both so much of Holy City Brewing, which made me a little homesick, but so cool to see what other countries are doing in terms of developing new beer. From the clever names, to the genuineness of the staff, and the quality of the food and beer, Kompaan is a must.

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I love all the things.

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Solid advice

The Hague: Huppel de Pub

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Huppel de Pub was a solid post-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-2 viewing stop. They had a ton of great options (including Kompaan) and a really comfortable atmosphere.

Honorable Mentions:

The Hague: Instock

Sadly we weren’t able to eat at Instock while visiting, but I wanted to mention the super cool work they’re doing in the area of food waste. Their chefs use food surpluses that would otherwise be taken to the landfill and make amazing meals from them. They source mostly from grocery stores that don’t sell their “ugly” produce, which is fruit and veg that is perfectly fine but not the prettiest of the bunch (think tomatoes that aren’t cute enough for a BLT but just fine for sauce or a banana too bruised for purchasing but perfect for banana bread). Their  menu changes with what’s available and they serve breakfast, lunch, and (four course) dinners. When one third of food is wasted, operations like these help break this linear cycle. SUPERMARKT_en-603x180@2x.pngThe Hague: Zaal 3

We visited Zaal 3 for a super cool event they were hosting that combined local beer and used records. I scored Buddy Holly and Elvis records (I finally have Suspicious Minds! My favorite as a kid!) while enjoying beer sourced from the area.

-Ashlyn

Ashlyn (2)

Watching: The Next Food Network Star Season 12

Listening: It’s Blitz! by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs

 

Prague: Malá Strana & the Left Bank of the Vltava

This March we spent a few days in Prague, Czech Republic and we had such a great time (read: I took too many pictures) that I thought it might be best to split this adventure up into two separate posts. We spent our first day in Malá Strana and wandering around the left side of the Vltava River.

Where are we?

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The capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, Prague is about a four and a half hour drive for us. Having been in existence for over a thousand years, the city is known for its many historical and cultural sites, as well as an expanding food and beer scene. Germanic tribes replaced the Celtics living in modern-day Prague around 100 BC. In 400 AD the fall of the Roman Empire caused most of these Germanic peoples to move west to Germany; Slavic tribes from Russia and Asia replaced them by the end of the sixth century.

Prague was officially founded by Princess Libuše, an ancestor of the Přemyslid dynasty and the Czech people. The youngest and wisest of three sisters, she became queen after their father died. She held the gift of foreseeing the future, legend states that upon seeing the Vltava River from a cliff, Libuše prophesied:

“I see a great city whose glory will touch the stars.”

She then ordered the castle to be built overlooking the river. Construction started in the late 8th century and you can still read some of the masonry under the castle dating back to 885. Another fun Libuše legend I wanted to share: When the male leaders of her tribe were unhappy with a woman ruling, they demanded she marry. Libuše, already in love with a plowman named Přemysl, claimed to have a vision of a farmer with one broken sandal plowing a field. The councilmen found Přemysl in nearby Stadice just as she said; the two were married and had three sons.

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“I just might be the next ruler in the making.” #slay

The city is divided by the Vlata River. This first post I’ll just concentrate on our time in Malá Strana and the left bank of the river.

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The Sights:

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Kostel svateho Josefa built by the Carmelite sisters in 1686-1686.

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View from the Castle

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Entrance to the castle. The compound is the largest ancient castle in the world.

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Prague Castle

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The compound (larger than seven football fields) includes the St. Vitus Cathedral.

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Mala Strana District

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Mala Strana District

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Church of Saint Nicholas was built between 1704-1755 on the same site where a 13th century church stood before plans to rebuild the church began.

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Prague Castle at night.

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St. Charles Bridge

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Czech scuplter David Cerny is known for his “tongue and cheek” pieces including this one called “Piss.” We saw more of his work in Old Town.

 

Restaurants:

Malostranská Pivnice:

After wandering around Malá Strana looking for a couple of bars that were only open in the summer (damn seasonality!) we found Malostranská Pivnice on our way back to the apartment. Apparently the pub is located on a former hangman’s house built in 1664 and was opened as a bar in 2002.

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Too cute not to snap a picture

I wish I had taken more photos but I was wayyyyy too distracted by the amazing accordion player who was taking folk requests from a group of Russians in the pub. I uploaded these amazing jams here and here.

Cafe Lounge:

Cafe Lounge had an amazing breakfast and coffee menu. The restaurant had a really cool art-deco Great Gatsby vibe that was super cute.

I was overenthusiastic about sitting outside (in March) and the barista kindly reminded us that no normal person wants to enjoy their brunch outdoors during this time of the year. Inside it is!

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The Farm Letna: Urban Kitchen & Coffee:

Breakfast all day, changing menu each week, and bike rentals, what else do you need in life? We had lunch at Farm Letna our last morning in Prague.

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The restaurant concentrates on using locally sourced produce, meat, and coffee. Shockingly, I chose lunch over breakfast (I know!) because that day they had a soup special that sounded great.

I had the best beet-based veggie burger of my life and Chris had the club sandwich, which was a perfect opportunity to state all of the Lion King “cub” sandwich puns from the elephant graveyard scene.

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Random:

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View from the Airbnb

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Obligatory Prague Castle Selfie

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My favorite house

 

Up Next: Prague Part 2 including Old Town, Beer Museums, and the quest for Jurassic Park arcade games.

Currently:

Ashlyn (2)

Watching: Master of None Season 2

Listening: Team Fortress 2 Fight Songs Soundtrack

Reading: Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur

Mood:

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❤ Ashlyn

Shot Put, Javelin, Hammer Throw: Wandering Around Zagreb, Croatia

Last month we met up with an old friend in Croatia’s capital and largest city, Zagreb. We’ve known Meagen since high school (middle school?) days so it was amazing to see her before she moves out of Europe.

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Where is Zagreb?

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About a three hour drive from Pápa, we drove through a very rural portion of Hungary, which was beautiful, albeit bumpy AF, before crossing into Croatia:

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Zagreb is officially my new favorite city. The Roman town of Andautonia (1st-5th century AD) was the first settlement near the now developed city; the first mention of Zagreb dates all the way back to 1094 AD. Here’s the legend behind Zabreb’s name:

Somewhere in the early eleventh century, a young lad decided to leave his home and become a wandering knight. He spent many years on adventures throughout the area, doing good deeds with his wit and sword. Once he was going through a dark forest in the vicinity of Bear Mountain. As it came to be, he lost his way and became mortally thirsty.

There was no stream or pond to save him, and he sat in the dirt hoping for rain. Then, all of the sudden, a beautiful maiden came out of nowhere. At that moment, he was so thirsty he could barely speak, but the girl couldn’t help him as she wasn’t carrying any water. However, she advised the knight to dig on the place of his respite.

“Zagrebite!” said the girl. Or, in English if you wish, “Scratch it!” she yelled, pointing at the dirt below the knight’s feet. The young man scratched the ground to soon find water pouring from the shallow hole he dug.

The adventurer thought young girl was of elven kind, but she introduced herself as a poor human orphan, without anybody of her own. Her name was Mandusa. The young lad smiled, named the stream Mandusevac , and asked for her hand in marriage, with promises of building a huge city in which they would dwell. As she accepted, rays of sunlight engulfed the pair, and through some kind of enchantment, showed them the size and fame of the town in the future.

Therefore, Zagreb literally means “The place which is scratched,” while its heart, Mandusevac fountain on Jelacic square, is the place it was founded.

All the hearts emojis.

Back to our visit:

Tourist Spots: 

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View from our Airbnb

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Main city square

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Statue of Ban Josip Jelacic

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Statue of the Virgin Mary

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Zagreb Cathedral (1217)

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Museum of Torture:

We visited the Museum of Torture, a last minute decision that I’m glad we were able to fit into our weekend. The museum was small but scary; it’s insane to me how much time and effort humans go through to inflict pain on each other.

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They also had a friendly version of the Chokey from Matilda–which if you haven’t seen you need to reassess your life–but I’ll provide an illustration for you:

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Shot put, javelin, hammer throw

Museum of Broken Relationships:

The Museum of Broken Relationships was one of my favorite spots in Zagreb. I love using stories as a narrative to share experiences (historical, cultural, etc) to connect people to others. While this museum might sound depressing–in some ways it was–I really enjoyed reading these stories. The exhibits encouraged a lot of reflection and discussion around identities, family, love, and justice.

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This donation was one of the most powerful on display:

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British Square Market:

I wish I would have taken more pictures of the market but I was so overwhelmed and surprised by the sheer number of people selling old things! Of course I was in heaven and wanted to buy everything. We randomly ran into our market on the way to breakfast and there were so many amazing treasures to see.

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to buy any Croatian treasures (and Chris was getting crabby because he wanted to eat) but now I have an excuse to go back.

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Saint Cyril And Methodius (1681)

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Church of St. Marks (12th Century)

Restaurants/Bars:

Chris loved the fact that you could smoke basically anywhere in Zagreb. We went to a number of awesome places to eat and have a drink.

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We grabbed coffee near our apartment both here and the Treehouse Cafe. The Irish coffee at Treehouse was delicious.

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Kava Tava:

A majority of the food (and mimosas) we enjoyed were between the two Kava Tava locations in Zagreb. The first, near our apartment, played the best smooth jazz versions of 2000s pop songs, which Meg and I happily sang while devouring this banana and chocolate dessert.

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Vegetable panini, egg sandwich, and banana/chocolate tower

While enjoying breakfast at the first Kava Tava we noticed they had a second “airplane themed” location near the British Square. We found our way (after the great market distraction of 2017) and once inside Meagen basically yells at the hostess: “YES IS THIS THE AIRPLANE RESTAURANT?!”

When she asked if we wanted to sit in their repurposed airline rows, of course we enthusiastically nodded.

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Chris: “Where is my food? Why is everyone so giggly?”

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Oh man this brunch.

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Otto & Frank:

We had a couple of dinners at nearby  Otto & Frank. A cute restaurant with great coffee, Chris and Meagen had wings one night while I enjoyed this flatbread:

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Tommy’s Street Burgers: (Tkalciceva Street)

If I didn’t have a photo to prove its existence, I would have thought this burger was all a dream. While wandering down Tkalciceva Street we came across a small street vendor selling diner-esque burgers and fries. A super tiny spot, we came back later that night to order and alas they were closed. Heartbroken, the next day we made sure we were there in time to order. Honestly, the absolute best seitan burger. Homemade and with fries, it was my favorite meal of Zagreb. Tommy’s isn’t listed anywhere except this list of best burgers, but I promise it exists.

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The Cookie Factory:

Located on Tkalciceva, the Cookie Factory was the cutest dessert shop we stopped at.

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PC trying to get fresh with my carrot cake

Bars:

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We stopped at so many places on Tkalciceva and Radiceva that I can’t list them all but a few of our favorites included Destino Valhalla Metal Bar (Croatian metal bands yaaasssss), and basically any bar on Tkalciceva.

Random:

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Typical Meagen and Ashlyn: Our obsession with the OJ Made in America documentary remains a constant. I promise it was encouraged to scratch our initials into the table!

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I can’t wait to go back.

It is absolutely insane to me that 15 years ago Meagen and I were part of the JV Cheerleading squad in a small town in Ohio, and now we are wandering around Croatia. Crazy.

Ashlyn (2)

It’s been a long February. Power through my friends. It’s almost March.

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Budapest Part Deux

A part 2 of my favorite spots in Budapest/an excuse to research Hot Shots Part Deux gifs.

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One of my favorite movies as a kid.

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I can’t promise there isn’t more later.

Places:

Cake & Beer

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Via Facebook

A relatively new pub (they opened in November 2016) the name says it all. Cake & beer (and also card games). The beer was great–we tried the Ubik Eklektik Herbál IPA, Budapest–and it was really great, one of the best beers I’ve had since we moved. They also have sandwiches and coffee for the morning visitors too. We didn’t get a chance to try the coffee, but it sounded great. We also played a solid two hours of Uno and Rummy while enjoying our beers.

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Cat playing cards!

Blue Bird Cafe

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Via Facebook

Such great breakfast and lunch we had to go twice (in one weekend). Blue Bird is a cafe by day and insane karaoke by night. The cutest restaurant with amazing food, house roasted coffee, and homemade cheesecake, Blue Bird is my new favorite spot.

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I’m dying of cuteness.

I ordered the vegetarian eggs Benedict both days and Chris had Philly cheesesteak and pulled pork bagel.

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And I also ordered cheesecake….

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Via Facebook. I ordered blueberry.

Fat Mama’s

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Via Facebook

We had Christmas lunch at Fat Mama’s and it was delicious. Chris ordered a BBQ burger (shredded beef neck) and I ordered the veg burger because we were both craving fries.

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But I really want to visit again to try this adorable/amazing breakfast menu:

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Azteca Tex Mex:

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We stopped by Azteca because it was close to our Airbnb and we were craving burritos. Really extensive menu, fast service, solid food! Plus they deliver.

Manufaktor

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Via Facebook

An adorable shop near Blue Bird, they hand make and sell art prints, toys, puppets, and cards around the theatre theme. The art studio is home to work of Garami Richard and Ötvös; you can also buy their work online via their Etsy shop.

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Budapest State Opera House:

This January we went to see Pushkin’s Evgeny Onegin performed by the Hungarian ballet at the Budapest Opera House. It was a beautiful building and great performances.

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Incapable of taking “nice” pictures.

Random Sites:

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Ashlyn inspired outdoor seating if I ever saw it.

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Calling my name.

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Old Man Status 😦

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Ashlyn (2)

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Stinky Cheese & Climbing Mountains: Lake Como, Italy

Last month we were able to meet up with a couple of friends from Charleston visiting Italy on vacation. This was our first first trip outside of Hungary!

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Unfortunately Chris’s mission was delayed so we could only spend one full day there (luckily we got there super early the day before and left really late the day after). It was awesome to see Heather and Karl. Its weird to go from living across the street to living across an ocean.

We took a super cheap flight from Budapest to Milan, then a train to Lake Como, and a bus into Malpensa. Or as I like to say, an excuse to reference Planes, Trains, and Automobiles all day.

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THOSE AREN’T PILLOWS!!

We met at a super cute cafe/bar and I hugged Heather in the middle of the street, but luckily we weren’t hit by any passing cars. Spoiler alert but Il Baretto will show up later in the blogpost.

Their air b&b was AMAZING but literally at the top of a mountain (okay maybe not a mountain, but a super tall hill) that was the steepest incline ever–even more than the Heidelberg Castle we climbed on New Years–but the view from the house made the sweaty, swearing, trip up the stone steps totally worth it.

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We were greeted by their Keanu list (absent is Chris’s personal favorite, Johnny Mnemonic so we’ll need an updated list in the next few months).

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Before climbing the big hike to the house, we stopped at a little store in town and bought some local super stinky cheese, bread, and wine, then spent the day playing games before going to dinner.

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This dinner was out. of. control. The restaurant didn’t give us menus but just brought their specials for the day. Definitely in my top five favorite meals of all time and #1 in Europe so far. I forgot to take pictures because I was too busy dying (remember in the first post I said how bad I was at taking food photos?) but it was an amazing combination of bread/cheese/vegetables/sauces/pasta (and meat, but I can’t attest to how great that was). We also had an awesome dessert of sorbet and tiramisu.

Sunday we went to Lake Como by ferry, wandered around, and discussed fantasy football (Chris and I were playing each other this week!)

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Breakfast

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Chris talking shit.

Making the long ass trek down to the water.

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Reunited and it feels so good. Sorry for the shit quality but I was taking pictures secret-style.

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Waiting for the ferry.

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Lake Como (PIZZZZZZZZZZAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA)

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After pizza and gelato we took a cab back to Maltrasio where we stopped at Il Baretto for drinks. We watched soccer, talked about football, and had shots on the house (“this one is for Keanu!”). While a good idea at the time, this made the 400-ish ft vertical walk up to the house both difficult and hilarious.

We also met the Italian HCB Mr. Meowgi. Poor guy had an eye infection 😦 He was so sweet and joined us on the porch our last morning in Italy.

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Luckily we were able to take a late flight back to Hungary so we were able to hang out most of the day. More pizza, more foosball tournaments (“LEGS UP!”), and Heather and I delivered a thank you letter (in Italian!) to our favorite people at Il Baretto.

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Bye Italy, It’s been real.

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Who needs a selfie stick when you have a friend like Kombat Karl?

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Ashlyn (2)

A Tourist in my New City.

Last week I went on a walking tour of my new home, Pápa. The experience was great because I not only learned a ton about the city, but was also able to meet a lot of awesome people too! One of my favorite things about my new community is getting to know people from different backgrounds and nationalities who now live here too.

I’ll start this off with a little bit of background on the area and then specifically the awesome places I was able to visit.

Where Are We?

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In this case, not the red-dot. That’s the capital. We’re in Veszprém County. The green area on the left almost the color of my bathroom in Charleston. One of the best parts of Pápa is that it sits at the foothills of the Bakony Mountains. After ten years in the flat Lowcountry, its nice to see some elevation!

Pápa and Hungary are old AF

First mentioned in 1061 (literally close to 1000 years ago), Pápa was named after a Bavarian knight who became the head of the first royal manor in Veszprém County. He earned this title after helping King Stephen I (the first King of Hungary, who also established the country) fight off his relative Koppány to keep the crown.

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King Stephen I looking dashing

During the Middle Ages Pápa was an important center for Protestantism; it was also an area for Jewish settlements as well. Hungary’s location between Europe and Russia has caused the country years of loss and hardship, particularly during the two world wars. The Hungarians first sided with the Germans during WWI and then again during most of WWII. As a country, Hungary tried to switch over to join Allied forces toward the end of the war, causing the Germans to invade after previous years of Soviet fighting. The population of the Jewish community in Pápa suffered greatly as a result, first by the Soviets and then the Germans.

I’m totally a nerd for Soviet history, particularly its effect on nationalism on occupied countries. I think I’ll have to do a separate post on all of the years between WWI-1989 because its super interesting and has a had a ton of impact on culture and society within Hungary, but I’ll spare you that for now.

After WWII, the Soviets occupied the country until its dissolution in 1989.

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The Hoff is really the symbol of the fall of the Soviet Union.

In 1999 Hungary joined NATO and in 2004, the EU. In 2007, the Pápa Air Base was selected by NATO as the Main Operating Base for the Heavy Airlift Wing, which is how Chris and I ended up here.

Pápa looks a lot like it did in the late 1700’s because it was given protective status during that time. The city has a couple of really beautiful and historic landmarks that I was able to visit and learn more about during my walking tour. Let’s get to them!

The Sights

The Great Church

img_1844Located in the center of town, the Great Church was built around 1776 and survived numerous hardships including Soviet occupation, lightening strikes, and my personal favorite: when a couple of schoolchildren attempted to burn it down at the turn of the 20th century.

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Our tour was led by the most amazing retired Hungarian Art History teacher in red suspenders of all time. One of the best parts of this tour was the fact that we got to listen to everything in Hungarian, then translated to English by our awesome translator.

The church is also the home to this guy. Definitely one of the oddest moments of my life: walking into a room and casually being introduced to a long-gone Roman martyr.

img_1846Our Hungarian host noted that it was a good thing the Soviets didn’t find him or else they would have stolen all of his jewels.

You can climb to the top of the church, which I attempted before saying fuck it at the last set of stairs. My fear of heights is only reinforced by 3 sets of wooden open-back steps that open up to the multiple floors you just climbed via a teeny-tiny stone spiral stairwell. Sorry I don’t have pictures of the city from the top of the church, but you get the idea.

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Here’s me, safely on the ground.

Pápa Water Tower

Our second stop on the tour was the city’s water tower, which honestly I was most excited to see up close. Being the sustainability nerd I am, I’m really interested in seeing how the groundwater is used and cleaned for all 30,000 inhabitants of the area.

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Again, here I am safely with my feet firmly planted in soil.

Alas, I again had to sit this climb out due to the height and stairs. I can’t concentrate on water filtering processes while having a panic attack.

Blue Dye Museum

Pápa is home to the only blue dye museum in Central Europe. Again, our tour was led by our wonderful translator who actually worked for a couple of years at the museum before becoming a translator on base.

The Blue Dye Factory was built in 1784 on the banks of the Tapolca River. The German Kluge family operated the factory until it was taken over by the communists in the 1950s. Since then its been turned into a beautiful museum.

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Blurry, but I’m working with a crappy iphone.

I’m going to quote the blue dying process (and its importance) from the website here:

In the second half of the 18th century, countries west of Hungary suffered from an overabundance of skilled laborers in the textile and dyeing industry. For this reason, individuals and entire families migrated to Hungary, thereby increasing the numbers of masters in the textile profession. Thus the ancestors of the Kluge family came to Hungary from Sorau in Saxony (Zary, Poland) bringing the new technology of textile printing with them, which was the reserve style cold indigo vat dyeing. Up until the middle of the 19th century, this kind of textile dyeing was called “Schön- und Schwarzfärber”. This also means that while the “Schönfärber” was doing “Beauty-dyeing”, cloth and linen dyeing, the “Schwarzfärber” was usually practising black dyeing.

The Eastern indigo reserve style was also appearing in the above mentioned areas at the beginning of the 18th century featuring the dyeing material, the indigo, which was providing the blue colour. Printing paste was applied to the printing which was protecting the basic white colour of the textile from turning blue. After several dips in the dye vats (küpa) and then after aeration due to the oxidation the reduced indigo began graduating the cotton and the linen clothes into blue. After dyeing the printing paste was taken off by a bath of hydrochloride-vitriolic acid and the basic white colour appeared. This blue and white colour was typical of the Eastern porcelains; therefore this new technology was called “Porcellandruck” by the dyers with the phrase “drucken auf Porcellan Art”.

So freaking gorgeous.

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Anyone else think the middle pattern on the left could be the inspiration for the killer star guys in the Metropolis level of Sonic the Hedgehog 2?

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You know what I’m talking about. The star guy on the top right about to take out Sonic and Tails.

Personal Updates: We officially moved into our house last week!

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Ashlyn (2)