Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Underway on the Guadalquivir

 

Before we even get underway, we hear the big engines start to rumble. AdventureMan wants to sleep a little longer, but I am exited and want to watch us cast off and head down the Quadalquivir, which is Spanish for the Arabic Wadi El Kebir, or big waterway. Or valley. I always think of wadis as dry, a place to potty under the bridge when you live in a country with few public conveniences, but the Guadalquivir is big, and deep, as wide as the Neckar River when we lived in Heidelberg.

The sun is coming up as we depart:

 

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Most of what we pass is countryside, low and fertile.

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Now and then we encounter another boat.

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We meet and chat with other passengers as we watch the countryside go by. Soon, there is a lecture (none are mandatory, but all are interesting) about the context of the voyage, which is called Passage of the Moors. We get a lot of information from different lecturers, some of it repetitive, which is good, because when you hear it more than once, it might stick. There are lectures for the whole boat, and lectures for separate groups, and as we are in a gathering of the Smithsonian group, we pass Cadiz, en route for Casablanca. My heart grieves; I had dearly wanted to see Cadiz, but instead we had the wonderful day seeing Seville on our own, hopping on and off the bus and visiting the two museums.

 

This is an oddity. This is a small ship, and does educational trips, but educational trips for grown-ups. There is not one single child on board the ship, nor are there things for a child to do. There is a swimming pool, but it is outside, and unfilled; the weather is probably too cool. There is a spa, and there are lounges and a library, there is a lot to do – if you are an adult. (You can find the ship by Googling Voyages to Antiquity)

 

I skip the afternoon lecture to sit out on our balcony, which is large, and has beautiful wood fixtures, deck chairs, and a nice table. I read, I watch the waves go by, and wish I had a fishing pole. We are on the sunset side of the ship, so I get to take a photo of the sunset over the Mediterranean Sea.

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And the next morning, we enter Casablanca!
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We dock, and for a while watch other ships come in, watch dock life in Casablanca, and pack for our day and overnight in one of our favorite cities in the world, Marrakech. The ship we are watching coming in is a sister ship to the ship that went aground in Italy not too long ago, a much bigger ship than we are on.

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Our entry visa into Morocco:

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December 26, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Cultural, ExPat Life, Morocco, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seville’s Folklorique Museum

Just across a large plaze is another wonderful museum, one I could happily spend many days in. Once again, they waved us through, they would not take our money. There were several exhibits showing us how things came about, how they developed wheat grinding, for example, how fabrics were woven, all with tableaux and short videos. We watched one very long video about a church that carries the Saint or Madonna around the town on a special cart once a year, and celebrates with a festival.

 

My favorite part of this museum is one whole wing devoted to textiles, embroidery and gossamer shawls, that remind me so much of the ancient, transparent “shayla” the elderly women used to wear as veils in old Qatar and old Kuwait. Nothing like the black opaque headscarves and face coverings of today; these were light and airy and as fragile as a spider’s web. I have one I treasure, but I keep it wrapped in a box because it can tear so easily. Here is a whole wing of a museum with glorious examples of exquisite handiwork of this nature.

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Hand embroidered cut-work:

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Hand worked lace and cut-work on fine linen:

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Decorative tools and utensils:

 

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The Folklorique Museum and tile patterns done in stone and mosaic:

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Gossamer lace work:

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Glorious white work:

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Finely woven and embroidered silk:

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We would haunt the flea markets of France, and find many similar treasures in France, tossed out by people who wanted new and glossy. I bought linens of all kinds, but nothing of this quality.

We were thrilled to have this extra day to see Seville more thoroughly, and to explore these two museums. Once again, and easy 10,000 steps 🙂

December 25, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Exercise, ExPat Life, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Hopping off at Seville’s Museum of Archaeology

We had wanted to see this museum, and thanks to this bonus day, woo hoooooo, the Hop-On Hop-Off bus lets us off just a short walk through the park to the Museum. The Museum attendants waved us through, wouldn’t even take our money, and directed us to start down-stairs.

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This museum is full of treasures, carefully curated, beautifully edited. The pieces they display give good information. We found something lovely in every room. MdventureMan often commented about how good this museum was about placing the find in a meaningful context:

 

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I am always interested in early needles 🙂  How man figured out how to make them from tiny bones, how they got the eyes in the needles without splitting them, fascinates me.

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December 25, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, ExPat Life, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Bonus Day in Seville and the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus

SunRise Over Seville

Our dedicated tour guide, Antonio, is very dedicated and very professional, and he works very hard to keep us all happy. When we see him the next morning, and ask him when the ship will be departing, he has a perplexed look. It’s past departure time. The ship isn’t moving. An hour later, the ship isn’t moving.

Then comes an announcement; because of all the rain, the Guadalquivir River has silted up and must be quickly dredged. We will depart tomorrow.

The schedule had been to go down the river to Cadiz, and for groups to go off to visit the sherry factories in Jerez. AdventureMan and I have travelled together well for so many years because we are quick to recognize when we just don’t care. We don’t care about sherry, or how it is made (OK, OK, yes we are passing on an opportunity of a lifetime, but . . . it’s OUR lives! We know what makes us happy!) We tell Antonio we are not going to Jerez; we will spend the day in Seville.

Tour directors always look a little worried when you tell them you are going off on your own. I can imagine they have experiences that back them up, but we don’t have to take a tour just because we paid for it, and we intend to have a great day on our own. He very graciously helps us get information for the Hop-On Hop-Off bus (I had ridden the one in Barcelona and loved it) and wished us well.

We weren’t sure where we were going, but there was a tourist office nearby where they pointed us down the street and told us where we could buy the tickets. They also gave us maps of the city and the bus routes.

Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus
 

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The bull fighting ring:

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Tower in Maria Luisa Park

 

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December 25, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Road Trips, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Boarding the Agean Odyssey

Most people come back from cruises groaning about weight gain. We had no such problem I wore my FitBit and every day, we did over 10,000 steps without even trying. All these guided tours take you up, down and around; one day somehow I climbed 23 sets of stairs!

When we reached the dock in Seville to board our ship, we were delighted at how easy the process was. We showed some paper, they gave us a card, and as you enter, you are asked to use an antibacterial hand lotion. You are shown to your cabin; your luggage is already inside. Oh, we like this!

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We have closets, cupboards and shelves, we have a refrigerator stocked with soft drinks and a big bottle of champagne to welcome us (we never did drink it.) As we entered, there was a notice that the spa had a special on foot massages, and I quickly called down and reserved for two foot massages in half an hour. We unpacked, and went to the spa to have our feet soaked and rubbed – sheer heaven!

 

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Our steward, Sam, came by to introduce himself and ask if he could do anything. I asked if he could have the trash bin removed. I was joking, but by the time we came back from our foot massages, the bin was gone. I think that’s just a co-incidence 🙂

 

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We had a large walk-in shower, which we loved, and here is another feature I always love – a pull out drying cord! You can rinse out a spill, wash socks, you can do a million things with a drying cord, and best of all, it hung high above the actual shower area, so you didn’t have to worry about competing with things that were drying. I know, I know, it doesn’t take much to make me happy.

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Within hours of boarding, we had a big evacuation drill. It was truly hilarious, and I am glad they mandate these things. It is kind of annoying, but I like knowing my escape route.

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Here is our view as the sun sets over Seville:

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This is the Terrace restaurant, where we ate our first night on board:

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And here is Seville, on a beautiful October night. I think that is the Golden Tower, where the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus stops. We are scheduled to leave on the high tide, early tomorrow morning, for Cadiz.

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December 25, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Cultural, Customer Service, Exercise, ExPat Life, Fitness / FitBit, Quality of Life Issues | , , , | 2 Comments

Aladdin; Back to our Roots in Seville

We have discovered this tour group stuff isn’t so bad as long as we have time and opportunity to go off on our own, stroll the cities, find delicious places to stop and eat  . . .

 

But this evening is the Smithsonian gathering, where we all meet one another, and it is a lot of fun. The group is from all over the US, and is full of people about our own age who love travel and love to learn about the countries they are visiting. They have all lived such interesting and varied lives.  There are little appetizers, mostly the famous Seville ham, sliced into transparently thin slices, and cheeses and olives. The wine if flowing freely. We all introduce ourselves, visit a little, and then it is over.

 

We never thought we would want to eat again, after our lovely lunch at Al Tobaso, but decide we need a little something so we won’t be awake at four in the morning, starving. Just down the street from our hotel, we see just the place. We are hungry for something light, and here is Aladdin, with it’s menu of Arabic “tapas,” so we order grape leaves, hummus, baba ghannoush and felafel. It is fresh, and delicious, and we drink it with mint tea in beautiful Moroccan tea glasses, in preparation for our departure, tomorrow, for Cadiz and the voyage to Casablanca.

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We slept well!

December 24, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Hot drinks, Living Conditions, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Sunny Afternoon Stroll in Seville

 

 

(Sorry for the lengthy break; Paris terrorism, Thanksgiving, Pre-Christmas and grandparenting takes its toll 🙂  We are taking care of our grandson when he gets out of school, and 5 years olds have so much ENERGY!)

From a torrential morning, we have landed in a warm, sunny afternoon. After lunch, we stroll the avenue, spotting monuments to Ferdinand, Isabela, Columbus and a memorial on the back of the Alcazar.

 

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The Cathedral is glorious in the sun:

 

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And when we see the line going into the Alcazar, we are so happy we went in the morning:

 

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December 24, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, ExPat Life, Travel, Weather | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

El Tobaso in Seville, Spain

Two of our guides had mentioned Al Tobaso, and now that we are warm and dry, the sun is out and we have taken a serious nap, we are ready for a late Spanish lunch. We head for Al Tobaso, which is not far from our hotel, and are shown to a table.

The waiter if friendly, without being over-friendly, and brings us menus which we can’t really understand, but isn’t that part of why you go to a foreign country? You have to take a risk now and then, right? AdventureMan orders one selection from the daily menu, and I order another. He orders red wine, and I order water. We plan on taking a long walk, and if I drink wine with my lunch, I probably won’t, LOL.

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The waiter brings us a plate of delicious green olives, spicy and garlicky. YUMMM. And then, oh no, here comes a “flamenco” guitar player, and I put that in quotes because he sings the same thing pretty much over and over, and we recognize some words, “Bye, Baby, Bye”. He is at another table, one with lots of people, but there is no avoiding him, eventually he heads our way. In the meantime a man has come, and we think he is asking for money, but he gives the same speech at every table, no variation, and no one gives him anything. When the guitar player comes, AdventureMan gives him some change because at least he provided something, even if it was really, really bad.

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When our main courses come, they look almost identical, but not. I have spinach and garbonzos, but what a difference from last night, these are spiced! We love our main courses, but we have no idea, still, what we are eating.

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We just can’t eat this much, and it is OK, we are happy. We wonder if my husband’s wine is included or extra, and then a platter of meat and cheese arrives, the meat looks and tastes like prosciutto, but we didn’t order this so we start getting concerned because we are afraid we will be charged for food we didn’t order. Then another plate, with two different kinds of salami arrives, and we don’t touch it.

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And then the bill arrives, and nothing is extra, it is all included. We just need to have a little more faith 🙂 The entire time we were in Spain, we were amazed at the quality of the food and the reasonable prices. We would go back to Al Tobaso in a heartbeat, but we need to learn a little more Spanish. The waiter has been so kind to us, and we are those ignoramuses who haven’t a clue. Lack of language skills kept us from asking about the meat and cheese and salamis, which either were included, or he was giving us because lunch hour was ending and he had some leftovers. Our lack of Spanish caused us to fear that which we didn’t understand. So unnecessary.

November 18, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Restaurant, Travel | , , | 2 Comments

Pouring Rain and a Herd of Sheep

Our first day in Seville, and we are so excited. We are READY. This trip is rated as having a lot of walking, so in addition to my prettier shoes, I packed my Alaska shoes, a pair of black leather New Balance shoes, and a bunch of brand new socks. I am wearing a dress and tennis shoes, and feeling a little ridiculous, but I don’t care. We are given these “whisper” things, receivers you wear around your neck and earbuds you keep in your ears. Your guide can talk to you without causing a commotion, and you are supposed to always stay within hearing of your guide.

As we head outdoors, the heavens open and the rain pours down. No problem, in my purse I have a brand new sort of mini umbrella I found, so I open it up, and something is not quite right. It doesn’t stay open, as I am walking along it will pop close all by itself now and then, and besides, everyone else is popping out umbrellas and it is congested, and umbrellas are dripping on me. I am miserable.

For a few minutes, I actually contemplate skipping this tour altogether, but when else will I get a chance to tour the Alcazar? The Seville Cathedral? With someone who knows and can tell us what we are seeing? I decide to have a good time, and, for the most part, I do.

Who could not love the Alcazar, the Royal Palace, even in the gloom and the rain? The Alcazar is full of groups, but far fewer than if it were not pouring down rain, sheets of rain.

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The amount thought and precision that went into the process of creating the Alcazar boggles my mind. What does a little rain matter when contemplating such beauty? So many media; tiles, wood, plaster, stone, and all used with precision and an eye for the overall effect. It is stunning.

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Alcazar; Ceiling Embassy hall

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And in the middle of all this artistry, one woman works to capture – herself.

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I’ve given up totally on the worthless umbrella and decided to just avoid rain if I can, and if I can’t, oh well. Visiting the gardens, it’s worth getting wet. These gardens, even in the rain, are gorgeous, lush, and I can imagine summer concerts and strolling.

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We spend a good long time in the Alcazar, and it is time to head to the Cathedral, but not quite our group’s scheduled time, so we head to a cafe for churros and chocolate, a local specialty. The cafe is so cozy we almost rebel when it comes time to leave. The guide tells us that leading seniors is as bad as leading teen-agers; we argue and think we know what we want to do. We are a small group, twenty people, but similar in goals and values.

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It is warm and dry in the cathedral, but my dress is soaked. My shoes, however, are great, my feet aren’t tired, my socks are dry and I have already walked 10,000 steps! The hard floors of the cathedral tire me, though, so I wasn’t paying as close attention as I meant to. It was beautiful. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella . . .. something. Beautiful altarpiece by . . . someone. A big gold thing called a montrance which is close enough to French for me to think it was for showing something, probably sacred relics, bones or pieces of the cross? I am ready to be warm and dry and my attention is definately wandering.

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As we leave the Cathedral to head back to our hotel, just a short walk, the sun breaks through. The rain is gone. It’s a whole different day. We walk back in good cheer, change our clothes, and head out for lunch.

Today is the first day we have heard two dates: 711, when the Moslem Tariq invaded near Gibraltar (Jebal Tariq) and burned his ships, telling his men they had to fight because there was no way back. The second date is 1492, which every American associates with “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety-two” but we learned is the date when the Moslems were forced out of Al-Andalus. We saw paintings of people weeping as they left, and who wouldn’t weep, leaving such beauty and luxury? The same year, the Jews were also forced out, forced into North Africa, Italy, Eastern Europe, forced to seek safety elsewhere. Some converted and were allowed to stay, and are there to this day.

“But where is the herd of sheep?” you ask. This is an experiment for us, to see how well we can handle group travel. We are finding we like our fellow Smithsonian travelers very well, but because we are like cats (more than sheep) we do not herd well. We like to take our time where we wish to stay longer, and to hurry past that which doesn’t much interest us. We were trained, long ago, not to be in large groups of Americans, and here we are, a herd of sheep. It becomes a continuing theme; there are so many things we like, but walking in a group we don’t like.

November 17, 2015 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Exercise, ExPat Life, Faith, Local Lore, Public Art, Travel, Weather | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arrival in Sevilla, Spain

Except for that moment on our way to the airport, everything was smooth as glass. That moment? As we are in the taxi on the way to the airport, I am thinking how wonderfully lightly I am traveling and suddenly, by the grace of God, remember my carry-on bag, carefully packed, sitting in my room. We quickly turn the taxi around, go back and pick up my bag, and from there on, all goes smoothly.

Connecting in Charles de Gualle airport used to be a lot of fun. So many shops, so much time. Not now. There may be shops, but customs and security are a nightmare, and the new airport configuration boggles the mind. There was one bored, tired, annoyed looking Frenchman for lines of travelers as we arrived, and while we were close to the front of the line, it took forever.

Our trip back was worse; we had a tight connection. Entry was worse, lines and lines of desperate travelers, too few processors. Then we had to try to find E: M 32. It was a maze. I am normally pretty good with navigation, but CDG isn’t any fun, there is no logic, there is no assistance, no explanatory signage. We got to E, then had to find M, then had to get on a shuttle bus to somewhere else; it is purely horrible.

And I suppose it is the price you pay to fly Air France, which we love. Flying Air France is like a step back in time, where flight attendants were plentiful and gracious. We had slide-down-flat seats, great for sleeping, and good meals. We had hot washcloths and good coffee. It was worth every penny.

Our arrival in Malaga was our real introduction to group travel. Meeting us were Maria and Antonio, two consummate professionals who were greeting all the people coming in for this cruise/trip. First, we learned that there were several groups on board, in fact, just about everyone arriving was a member of some group or another. We were with Smithsonian, but others were with alumni groups, or affiliated in other ways. Once everyone on their list was checked off, we strolled to the bus, which required that the heavily laden would need the elevators. They led the group to one elevator, but AdventureMan and I spotted another elevator on the other side, and took that one.

The drive to Seville was 2 and a half hours. Many slept. It was a sunny day with some clouds, so mostly I watched the olive tree groves and the bull signs drift by, happy to be traveling in Spain.

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We were so impressed with the process at the hotel when we arrived; there were envelopes with the names of arriving passengers and their keys. It was all done for us, no registering, just straight to our rooms. We were happy to see we had a room in the rear of the hotel. Good firm beds and very quiet. Our our bathroom window, we had a view of a nearby church steeple, and the full moon 🙂

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The bar at the Fernando III was a lively place, and a gathering place for locals and hotel patrons:

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The breakfast hall had a large buffet but only two one-cup-at-a-time coffeemakers, which was a real bottleneck. If I were not traveling with a group and were staying in this hotel, I would not be happy, as most of the tables had signs on them designating different groups. There were not many for independent travelers, but then again, most of us in the group had early start dates as our tour groups gathered, and the independent travelers could eat at a more leisurely time:

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The very best part of this hotel, as you can see in the screen shot above, is that it had a great location. We could walk anywhere, and we did. We walked and walked.

Our first night we were not very hungry, but we knew we would be (in the middle of the night) and that we needed to eat something to get our tummies on local schedule. We found a nearby restaurant, El Cordobes, and while the service was surly and a couple of the dishes mediocre, our main courses were delicious. I had wanted to try the spinach and garbonzos; they were all right. But when the shrimp, sizzling in garlic sauce arrived, oh WOW. AdventureMan had the paella, which was also very very good. We were sitting at a table on a sidewalk in Seville, watching a rugby game for which other tables were cheering and hollaring, drinking good beer, listening to the church bells and life is sweet.

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On the way back to the hotel we take a walk in the Santa Cruz barrio and get totally lost, wandering on the narrow little streets, full of flowers, shops, tiny grocery stores, restaurants, bars and tapas bars, stores with flamenco dresses, stores with spices, stores for the locals and stores for the tourists. By the time we were back at the hotel, we were ready for bed, and I had my first no-effort day with more than 10,000 steps. I didn’t even have to try, woooo hoo!

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November 13, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Character, Cross Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Experiment, Hotels, Paris, Restaurant, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment