Archive for the ‘summer’ Category


We had planned an overnight trip to Northern Sikkim. My friend’s family dropped out because of fatigue and concerns about kids tolerance for the journey and the altitude. The first day’s agenda was to just drive to LaChung and stay there overnight. The second day we were to visit Yumthang Valley.

We had a leisurely morning. We went for a refreshing morning walk for about 40 minutes or so. We left after breakfast around 9.30 am. LaChung is about 120 km from Gangtok but it takes over 5 hours to cover that distance. It is a mountainous terrain with narrow roads and quite a bit of road construction work going on. 30 km from Gangtok, we stopped at the Seven sisters waterfalls (took us about 90 minutes to get here!). This is a serene waterfall and we could see three distinct tiers. There was a footbridge which we walked over. There was also a view-point which could be reached after climbing about 50 steps or so. Here we could see a 4th drop at the top. So, my guess there is probably three more drops hidden somewhere behind the rocks, and hence the name.

 The drive continues alongside the mountain with the Teesta river constantly in sight. Each passing minute the scenery was getting more and more beautiful. I couldn’t take any good pictures though because of the constant bounce of the jeep. There was a Naga falls along the way and we crossed a couple of beautiful bridges. We stopped in the town of ChungTang at about 3 pm. We had a few sweets and tea for lunch. The kids starved as expected. From here it was another hour to Lachung. But before that we saw more water falls and I don’t quite believe the names our driver had for them (Amitabh Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan!). It also got quite cold in that last hour.

 We checked into Modern Residency at around 4 pm. It’s a cute, quaint hotel with about fifteen rooms or so and common areas in every floor. The TV is only in the common areas. They served yummy hot pakodas and awesome masala tea. There was a nice fireplace too in the TV area. We headed out for a short walk after that. A winding path led upto a viewpoint from where we could see the whole town of LaChung nestled in the valley and surrounded by beautiful mountains, some snow-capped. We couldn’t quite go up all the way to the viewpoint since there were some dogs (not sure if they were stray or belonged to someone) barking hard, which sounded even more vicious because of the silence in the valley. By now, we were freezing cold. We headed back to the hotel and warmed ourselves at the fireplace, watching an IPL match. Simple vegetarian dinner was served in the dining hall in the basement. After that, the host at the hotel was generally conversing with the guests and he described this exotic home-brew called Tongba, which is a beer made out of millet. PK ordered one of those and while it did look exotic, I couldn’t quite stand the smell, so I didn’t even taste it.


We left the hotel at 6.30 am for Yumthang Valley. Saw lots of wild Rhododendrons along the way. It was still early in the season and they were not all in full bloom yet. When we reached Yumthang, at first sight I was extremely disappointed by the rows of tea shacks on either side of the road. They had the usual maggi, bread/butter sandwiches and other snacks. I couldn’t believe we came all the way to see this. But once we got past that ½ km stretch, it was awesome! We first drove on to zero point. The views of Yumthang Valley from here are just breathtaking. We played in the snow, took lots of pictures and watched the Indian army choppers flying overhead. Then we came back again to the valley. Here we saw the helicopters take off and land few times. Not sure if some new pilots were practicing! In April, this whole valley was supposed to be carpeted with wild flowers, but apparently the pattern is shifting and now its towards early May. So, there were some sparse flowers here and there. We walked along the Teesta river. There were thick pine forests on either side, surrounded by snow-capped mountains.  Really amazing sight …

We started back around 10.30 am and were back in the hotel before noon. Had to wait for a bit before lunch was ready. This was simply one of the most delicious meals we had in a very long time. Every item on the menu was so good. Had a hearty lunch and left this beautiful place around 1 pm. Drive back was fun. We played word building games, some geography variants, anthaakshari (first time with the kids but they don’t really know a whole lot of film songs). We were also treated to a brief hail storm. We were back in Gangtok at the same hotel by 6.30 pm. There was some confusion about dinner plans and we ended up having to eat puliyogare and curd rice in the room. Thanks to my friend for lugging the rice cooker and some rice for his little one!

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Nathu La Pass is around 56 km from Gangtok and takes about 3 hours to reach. We had an early breakfast and left just after 8 am. After picking up the required permits, we were on our way. The roads are mostly bad and there is a lot of construction going on all through the way. Add to this the complications of fallen boulders, landslides etc and it was a slow journey. Also since the roads are narrow, if jeeps/trucks come in the opposite direction, it is a class act, how they maneuver past each other. The trucks are mostly army vehicles. If I was in the army I would probably be really annoyed with the hordes of tourist jeeps visiting there everyday, which probably makes their daily job difficult. We saw lots of beautiful lakes on the way, some of which were frozen.

When we reached the pass, weather was very good. It is at 14,500 ft altitude. Some of us had slight headache and the kids were feeling a bit nauseous, due to altitude sickness. Gangtok is about 4500 ft, so just in 50 kms we end up climbing almost 10,000 ft and some people cannot handle that. To reach the top, you have to climb steps which are completely covered in snow and the climb is slightly exhausting because of the low oxygen. Some people were slipping and falling in the snow. It was a thrilling and humbling experience for me to see the border posts and the flag flying. Also felt deep appreciation for the army and the soldiers who not only face the enemy but also have to brave the weather and the terrain every single day to keep us all safe. We walked around, took a few pictures and made a quick stop at the café. By now, clouds were everywhere. It was very windy and the wind was kicking up the snow all around, making visibility very poor. Apparently this is what happens around noon everyday and the rest of the day is downhill weather wise. That’s why the guides insist on early departures from the hotel so that we can visit at a good time.

We then drove to Baba Mandir which is apparently famous (I don’t know the whole story or the significance of the temple but read somewhere that it was built in memory of an Indian soldier). There was a humongous line to get in. We took one look and just turned around. The kids were too tired for this. We then drove to Tsomgo Lake, which is at 10,500 ft. Yaks were available for riding here. The lake is quite scenic. I was hoping to walk along the shore a bit but it was drizzling. So, after some more photos, we went down to the very tiny town of Tsomgo to see what the lunch options were. More maggi! We also tried Chowmein but it was too salty.  Ride back was uneventful and we were back in the hotel by 4.30 pm.

In the evening, we took a taxi to M.G.Marg which is the most famous street in Gangtok. It is lined with shops and restaurants. A portion of the road is pedestrian-only and this portion is cobblestoned with lots of fountains and benches in the middle. Nice place to spend the evening. We bought some souvenirs (prayer wheel) here.

The place we stayed in Gangtok, the Hidden Forest, was just awesome. We found it through the Lonely Planet and we greatly enjoyed our stay there. The rooms are clean and spacious, food is delicious and they offer service with a smile. We had 4 kids (a 3 yearr old too) and they gladly accommodated our every request. They organically grow their own vegetables, a cow on-site meets the dairy needs and they have beautiful orchids all over the property. They are very reasonably priced too.

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We arrived in Bagdogra airport at about 1.30 pm. We were kinda hungry, but we were eager to get going on the long drive to Pelling (~4.5 hrs, the driver said) and we anyway didn’t find any proper restaurants around. It took about 20 minutes to load our luggage on the roof rack and we hit the road. My friend wanted to stop to buy yogurt and juices, and the only place we could find it was in Shopper’s stop mall. That turned out to be more than ½ hr stop. While he was shopping, PK went and bought some snacks and tea. The tea was really good. The driver was getting impatient (rightfully, so) and we started again. The first 2 hrs of the drive was pretty ordinary. We took one more tea break. At this point it was drizzling and we were enjoying the cool mountain air. Tea was very good here too. And we drove on. The drive got more mountainous and scenic, but it was also getting dark and rainy. The temperature was also dropping by the minute. The last one hr was really breathtaking. We passed through the town of Legship and then climbed a whole lot, before we reached Upper Pelling. We checked into De Regency around 7.30 pm.

 Everyone was cold. We changed into our warmest clothes and then ordered dinner. While at the dining table, I asked the server when and where we should go to watch sunrise over Kanchenjunga. He showed us right outside the windows, we could see the white peaks in the dark night!! It was truly a gorgeous sight. One said 6 am would be good, the other was telling us even 7 am is fine. I kept my alarm for 5.45 and we went to bed. At about 5 am the next day, bright light was streaming in through a small crack in the window curtains. I saw the watch and it was 5 am. I ran to the window and could already see the tip of Kanchenjunga awash in golden color. It was an awesome sight. My movements woke PK up and he witnessed the whole thing too. So much for local wisdom! May be since it is a daily show for them, they don’t pay attention. But how can they be off by a whole hour? Even in Bangalore it is daylight by 5.50 am, Sikkim being further east, it had to be earlier.


After breakfast, we loaded the luggage back on the jeep and set out on a tour of Pelling. The first stop was the Helipad. Great 360 degree views – Kanchenjunga

Khecheopalri lake is a short walk from the jeep parking lot. The lake itself is very serene. The boardwalk to the lake is lined by prayer wheels on both sides. There were plenty of huge fish in the lake. The Sikkimese consider this a very holy lake and there are requests to maintain silence and not throwing anything in the lake. But there were loud tourists who were throwing kurkure, chips etc into the water in an attempt to feed the fish. Some of these guys were also wearing shoes standing at the lake shore, while there were explicit signs to take off footwear right at the beginning of the boardwalk. I don’t see much hope for cultural sensitivity or eco sensitivity in tourism in India. This is one thing that really brings my spirit down during vacations. There was a short hike up to a viewpoint from where we a got an aerial view of the lake. It is sort of in the shape of a footprint and locals believe it is the foot of Buddha. The trail up was very scenic and seemed to pass through private property. Many people were playing or doing there daily chores in their cliff-top homes. The views were beautiful – greenery everywhere. Some construction was going on to make the trail and the viewpoint more official and prominent. 

 After this we had a couple of plates of momos and few bowls of Maggi noodles for lunch. Maggi noodles are ubiquitous all over Sikkim. My friend declared it the state food. It was probably about 2 pm when we set out from here. Next stop was at Kanchenjunga falls. It was a quick one though. The two little girls in the group (SK was one) were fast asleep. The falls were not visible from the roadside and we had to climb a few steps and cross over a few rocks in order to see it. But there was lot more water here, again it was pretty cold. The locals seemed pretty keen on helping us navigate the rocks but I was getting irritated and just wanted some privacy. Looking back, they were just being very friendly and probably couldn’t communicate due to language issues. But the city-bred people are always cautious of strangers, especially in tourist places.

Then we drove towards Gangtok. It was probably a five or six hour drive with one tea break in between. We finally reached Gangtok around 8.30 pm and everyone was very hungry. The lady at the property where we were supposed to stay had been trying to reach me all afternoon but my phone was not reachable and she was not sure whether we were arriving at all. I should have called her. Luckily they had delicious, hot dinner ready for us, for which we were all very grateful. The tour operator had called and left a message that he would be picking us up at 7.30 am the next day. I called him back to negotiate a later time but he explained that 9 would be too late and we settled for 8 am pick up.

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Summer 2010

I don’t know where the kids’ summer vacation went. PK may say otherwise, after all he was the official caretaker, but it did go by fast. Here is a summary of what I remember of it:

  • At the beginning in April, we went to Chikmagalur, Belur and Halebid, and that was a good break.
  • The following weekend, we went to Andhiyur (near Erode) in Tamil Nadu. We had been wanting to tonsure AK’s head since we had never done it since his birth and so we chose to do it at PK’s family deity temple. I was worried that his hair is sparse. Whether this was helpful remains to be seen.
  • The weekend after that, I had to travel to the U.S on very short notice on a business trip. I wanted to work on everything that was necessary, before a planned vacation in May. The onward journey was a bit chaotic (because of the volcanic ash problem in Europe). It felt good to be back in the U.S again. The first week I was nervous about driving, so I mainly depended on cabs. But that wasn’t a great experience and there was also shopping I needed to do. The second week I rented a car and enjoyed driving around. Also had better choices for dinner since I was mobile. Got a ton of shopping done (clothes, toys, snacks, junk food, some cereals which are not available here). Flew to the bay area and met some friends. Overall, it was a good trip.
  • After I was back, we went on a camping trip to Conoor/Ooty with my parents and my brother’s family. It was good trip which everyone enjoyed. 
  • After that, the next few weekends have all been about parties/get-togethers. On 28th, we had been to Wonder La with friends and family. Even though it was a Friday, it was crowded. Even then, we had a good time. I was impressed with the cleanliness and the facilities in the park. Much like the U.S parks, only smaller.
  • PK turned 40 in the last week of May. Had a surprise birthday party for him. Most of our good friends were there – altogether including about 50 people including kids.

Had so much planned, but feels like I got very little done … And now the kids are back in school :(.

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Conoor camping trip

In the second week of May, we went on a camping trip to Conoor/Ooty with my parents and my brother’s family. We drove in two cars and the kids had fun. On our way there, we stopped in Mysore for a day. We took the kids to the zoo, visited Chamundi temple on the hill and saw the palace lit by night. The kids would have enjoyed a visit inside the palace, but there was no time for that.

We left Mysore early next morning and drove to Ooty. Beyond Bandipur National Park, it is a beautiful drive. We saw some deer and elephants. The ascent to Ooty thru narrow winding roads was quite breath taking. We even did a small hike to a hill top when we took a break from the driving. The first day at the camp, we just relaxed after the fairly long drive. It was my niece’s birthday, so we bought a cake and had a small celebration. She also distributed toffees to all the campers. Tents and the camping experience were very new to my parents and brother’s family. It was organized by the Youth Hostel and was a decent experience. According to PK, this is luxury camping in many ways – tents are pitched and ready, they provide mattresses, blankets and pillows and food is ready when you need it. One negative was the hot water for showers. Very slow and long lines to get a bucket of barely luke warm water. The bathrooms were clean but were woefully inadequate in number, especially in the mornings. But the best thing was the weather. It was so much cooler than Bangalore and was very pleasant through out our stay.

The next day we drove back to Ooty and did a whole day of sight seeing. We visited Doddabetta first. Again, the drive up is very scenic. It was crowded and finding parking was hard. We didn’t stand in line for the telescope. But the views from the top were awesome. Next stop was Ooty lake. Finding our way here, the 2 cars lost each other and we ended up in different boat houses of the lake (it is a fairly big lake). We were trying to get back together, but weak cell signals, dead batteries etc prevented that. So we each had lunch separately and went on motor boat rides. The lake was quite breath taking – one of the most beautiful I have seen in India and it was very clean too. After that, we found each other and headed to the Botanical garden. This was VERY crowded. By now, everyone was pretty tired too and not in a mood to walk around much. It had been over 40 hours since we had coffee and were desperately looking, but couldn’t find it anywhere. Tea is the most prevalent and was the only thing served at the camp and in most other places. Around 5, we started back to our camp in Conoor. The drive from Ooty to Conoor is very scenic but is also very slow. It takes almost 45 minutes to an hour depending on traffic, for the 19 km drive.

Next day was all day sight seeing of Conoor. Conoor is much prettier than Ooty. Main places to see are Lamb’s rock, Dolphin’s nose, Sims park and tea gardens and factories. First stop was Lamb’s rock. The way is not very well marked, and whatever few directions are there have been tampered with by antisocial elements. These guys want to be your “guides”. We reached there, did a small hike, took some pictures. Next stop was going to be Dolphin’s nose. While driving from here, a Swaraj Mazda banged into us and our rear right wheel got tangled with his front right wheel. It was quite an effort to untangle and our bumper tore in the process. It was quite a scary experience. None of us were hurt but the kids and I were sad to see the damage to the car. Since this was on a narrow road with dozens of switch backs we didn’t get to hang around and calm ourselves down, so we continued with the day’s agenda. Dolphin’s nose view point and the drive to get there is absolutely mind-blowing. But parking is a disaster and the very narrow winding roads and the abundance of tourist buses, minivans, taxis makes driving very hazardous in my opinion. So I couldn’t quite fully enjoy the scenery around because of the heart-in-mouth driving experience. We went back to the camp, had lunch, enjoyed the solitude (only our group) and went back again around 5 pm to Sims park. We enjoyed this park much more than the botanical garden. Many different types of flowers/shrubs and there was a huge kids play area. We also enjoyed paddle boating. Outside the park, we finally got the coffee we were all craving for a few days now.

The next 2 days was a light agenda. The kids had wanted to ride the toy train from Conoor to Ooty. We had heard that it would get very crowded, so we went for the very first trip in the morning, at 7.30 am. But this was crowded too because of commuters. And the price difference between general and first class tickets is very huge, so for big groups, it makes a difference. We reached Ooty by 9 and were at a loss for what to do. Because the whole point of the trip was the train ride. Most sights worth seeing in Ooty, we had already seen. And at 9 am, many would just start to open. Reluctantly we went to the rose garden, and were vindicated. The reluctance was totally justified. There were a few varieties of roses, but they were not the healthy, in-full-bloom kinds. They were all wilted and withering and looked pathetic. We must have been there a total of 20 minutes or so. By then the crowds also started streaming in and we promptly made our way towards the exit. We didn’t have the patience to wait around for the train schedule, so we just took a bus back to Conoor. After lunch, we left SK and my niece with mom and went for a walk in the adjacent tea garden. We also visited a working tea factory. It was a good walk and just after we returned, it poured heavily for ½ hr. We made it back just in time.

The next morning, we left early since we had a whole day of driving. We wanted to do a wild life Safari ride on the way. Rides were closed in Mudumalai because of an elephant census and on Bandipur side we reached just past closing time for morning safari rides. We reached Mysore around noon and had a great lunch (jolada rotti oota) at Kamat Madhuvan. We were back home by 5 pm and had the whole weekend to recuperate and catch up on chores around the house.

Summarizing the camping experience:

  • + Availability of blankets, pillows and mattresses were all a big plus. Sleeping bags are not very comfortable to sleep on for 4 nights!
  • + Availability of hot Food and packed lunch facility was a A +, so that we didn’t have to always hunt for decent eateries wherever we were at lunch time.
  • + Bathrooms were clean, even if very basic.
  • – It was bit crowded (~25 families). Smaller group would have been much more enjoyable even if it costs more per family.
  • – The number of bath rooms, buckets and mugs were terrible. There was always a wait for everything.
  • – The hot water for showers – Very slow and long lines to get a bucket of barely luke warm water.
  • – Safety – there were reports of some thefts etc.

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As I wrote earlier, we really didn’t have any plans for the weekend. Having returned from a long vacation with family, we were feeling a bit down. And then all the craziness of the beginning of school, soccer season, stuff at work got to me. So on Saturday evening, we made impromptu plans to go camping for a night on Sunday. Since I had heard a lot that Nickerson State Park was one of the most popular camping spots, Ichecked online and got availability for Sunday. Then we got to work, PK had to remove the front wheels, load the bikes and other camping gear in the car. I went grocery shopping for easy to cook stuff, snacks, drinks etc.

We left around 10 am on Sunday and were there by noon time. We had lunch first and then pitched the tent. Then we hit the Cape Cod Rail Trail. Nickerson is almost exactly at the half way point. We didn’t really research too much or look at the trail map and arbitrarily chose to go towards Wellfleet instead of Dennis. I think the main reason was the markers indicated that the sea shore was that way and PK assumed some parts of the trail would be along the coast. Nope, it was just inland all the way, all 12 miles of it. Apparently if we had just gotten of any of the roads and gone for a mile, we would be on the coast. But since PK is on rollerblades, unless it is a paved trail, we can’t do it. Since we have been out of any activity for a month, we did find it tough but we pushed on. Made an ice-cream stop on the way and had some yummy kahlua brownie ice-cream. The return was much harder because we were pretty wiped. Actually, just AK and me, PK was doing quite ok. Overall, we did ~25 miles in 5 hrs (4 hrs cycling time and an hours worth of breaks). The weather was pleasant. Even the evening was awesome – not too cold, no pesky bugs. So, we enjoyed our dinner (veggie burgers, chips, watermelon) in peace.

Next morning, we took the kids to Cliff pond. Initially, they found the water cold, but still played in it.  The water was amazingly clean. No floating weeds or kelp. As usual, SK enjoyed the sand more than the water. We started driving back around noon. Getting out of the cape is always a nightmare apparently. I thought September can’t be as bad as summer, but it still took us almost an hour to do the last 17 miles before we hit Sagamore bridge and came back to mainland. I can’t imagine what summer weekends must be like. I don’t intend to find out.

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For the long weekend, we went camping in Burlington, Vermont. We camped at the North Beach Campground, which is right by Lake Champlain. We have been camping before, but always in State Parks, so this was a new experience for me. I think this is run by the city of Burlington. The sites were smaller and closer to each other than the ones we have seen in state parks. Plus the crowd and atmosphere on the 4th night was a total party scene, so it felt really weird. AK also mentioned that he saw a pizza delivery car going by! I later learnt that many private campgrounds allow that. But the location is prime. The campground is right off the Island Line Rail Trail bike path and also the wonderful North beach, with awesome facilities – snack bar, restrooms, picnic benches, kids playground etc. Also alcohol was allowed both on the beach and in the campground, which is always a huge plus in PK’s book :).
Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain

The Island Line Rail Trail is a 12.5 mile trail from Oakledge park in Burlington connecting to the Colchester Causeway which ends 2.5 miles into the middle of Lake Champlain! The campsite was about 4 miles into the trail. So, we did this section first thing in the morning. This part is quite scenic with great views of the lake and the Adirondack mountains in NY on the other side. Towards the end, there are a few street crossings you need to watch out for. At the end of the trail in Oakledge park, there is a tree house, which we almost missed. A kind lady saw the kids and suggested we may want to see it. It was really cool and I enjoyed it as much as the kids. After that we were back at the tent for some breakfast and we were also waiting for some friends to join us. They were there by noon and we set off or the rest of the trail. The next 3 miles or so, is along the backyard of big, beautiful houses by the lake. Then comes the Winooski river bridge, which was built few years ago. Otherwise, earlier bikers had to take a ferry to cross the river and continue biking on the other side. After the bridge crossing, you have to ride about a mile or so on the streets until the Colchester Airport Park around the 8th mile mark. There are good lawns and a kids’ playground, snack bar and restrooms, so we took a break here. Also, from here on the trail is all gravel which is harder to ride on than the asphalt surfaces. So, we took turns doing the rest of the trail to see the grand finale part which juts 2.5 into the  lake, so that one couple could be with the kids at the park. The  1.5 miles to reach the Colchester causeway wasn’t so terrible, but the causeway itself was much harder to ride on. It is a crushed stone path which offers a lot of resistance and the trail is fully exposed to the sun, with no shade. But the views of the lake and the mountains are really worth it. There is a “cut” in the path and some weekends a ferry runs to take bikers to the other end of the cut, from where you can ride on to Grand Isle.  The cut is mainly there for the boats to pass by, and there were lots of them. By the time we reached back the camp site, it was around 5.30 pm. After a quick round of water melon, the kids wanted to play in the water. At the end of it, we were all so tired and the kids were in bed by 9 pm. Then we all sat around by the fire with some wine and Mike’s lemonade and chatted. All I remember though is that my thighs were burning from the ride.

Next morning, packing up took almost 2 hours! I know, camping is supposed to be simple living and all that, but … There were bikes to load (after removing front wheels), tents to take down, sleeping bags to be rolled up etc. Then we headed to Stowe, to hike up the Stowe Pinnacle. My hiking book had said it was a short and easy hike, but it was neither. It was one mile longer than what the book said. And I think we found it much harder than usual because we were doing it after a day of biking 25 miles. I must have asked at least three different groups who were coming down how much further we had to go. The first time I asked, I was estimating that we were almost there but he said that we were probably half way. My heart sunk. We had plenty of water but not enough food. I took a quick vote and everyone wanted to keep going. I was especially proud of how well AK did. I think he enjoys that sense of accomplishment and pushes himself really hard. He named it the mountain which never ends and insisted that this must be the tallest mountain in VT. Anyway, the views from the top were really spectacular. We couldn’t hang around for too long, since we had the long climb down and also the drive back home. Also it is scary to hang around steep cliffs and ledges with young ones. The way down was only marginally easier, but we made it back uneventfully. Then we stopped at the Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream factory and had huge Sundaes. The kids didn’t eat more than a few bites, but we gobbled up ours. And then it was back home after about 3.5 hours of driving. I wish we had stayed another day. Downtown Burlington looked like a really nice place to walk around. Church Street is cobble stoned and pedestrian-only with good coffee shops. We didn’t get to enjoy it.

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