Czech Republic – Pilsner Urquell Brewery Tour

After visiting Český Krumlov it was time to head to Pilsen for a tour of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery in the city of Pilsen. Before we take a look at the brewery lets take a look at the beautiful city of Pilsen.

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The brewery was founded in 1839 by local Czech and German speaking citizens in the city and for the first two years was brewed in the homes of the locals. There was major inconsistencies in the beer so it was decided to build the Burgess Brewery in 1842, which is where the current brewery stands today. Currently the brewery produces almost 10 million hectoliters of beer per year. It was the first brewery in the world to produce pale lager, branded as Pilsner Urquell since 1898, which can be roughly translated from Czech to English as “the original source at Pilsen”. The beer was trademarked in 1898. The brewery was sold to the Japanese company Asahi in March 2017.

During the tour they took us to the original water tower, the bottling factory, the old brewery, the new brewery, and the original underground cellar network. We even were able to sample some of the original unfiltered and unpasteurized beer that is still brewed and stored in kegs in the underground cellar. The flavor profile is quite distinct compared to the regular filtered version.

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Belgium – Brussels – Day 2 of 2

Today I woke up at 8:00am and had some coffee in my room before venturing out to explore more of the city.

First stop was Hôtel van Eetvelde, which was sadly under construction so I couldn’t get any good pictures of it. Hôtel van Eetvelde is a town house designed in 1895 by Victor Horta for Edmond van Eetvelde, the administrator of Congo Free State.

Second stop was Maison Saint-Cyr was built in 1903 to serve as a mansion for the painter Georges Saint-Cyr. The façade is about four metres wide, and is rich in finely worked ironwork that forms a set of lines, curves and geometric figures. Each balcony has a railing with different patterns.

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Third stop was Stoclet Palace, after a few quick photos of some various things along the way. Stoclet Palace was built in 1911 in the Viennese Secession style by architect Josef Hoffmann. It was built for Adophe Stoclet, a wealthy industrialist and art collector.

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Fourth stop and fifth stop was Arcades du Cinquantenaire and Autoworld. Arcades du Cinquantenaire is a triple arch in the centre of Brussels and is topped by a bronze quadriga sculpture group with a woman charioteer, representing Brabant raising the national flag. Autoworld is a substantial collection of vintage vehicles in extremely well preserved states.

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The sixth stop was the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart, a beautiful Art Deco church that was completed in 1970. Construction began in 1905 in Neo-Gothic style, but only the foundations had been completed before World War 1 broke out. Construction of the actual basilica began in 1919, with the architectural style changing to Art Deco, and was not completed until 1970.

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The seventh and eighth stops were Mini-Europe and Atomium. Mini-Europe is a miniature park that was started in 1989 and represents over 80 countries and 350 buildings. Atomium was designed and constructed for the 1958 Brussels World Expo by architect Andre and Jean Polak. It is 102 metres (335 feet) tall and has nine 18 metre (60 foot) diameter stainless steel clad spheres which are connected by escalators and stairs. 3 metre (10 foot) diameter tubes connect the spheres. The central tube had the world’s fastest elevator at the time; allowing people to reach the summit in only 23 seconds at 5 metres/second. The Atomium, was designed to last a mere six months and was slated for destruction after the 1958 World Expo, but due to its popularity it made it a major element of Brussels landscape. A weird piece of history about Atomium is that SABAM, Belgium’s society for collecting copyrights, claimed worldwide intellectual property rights on all reproduction of the image via the United States Artists Rights Society (ARS). There are numerous censored images circulating the internet, but finally in 2016 there was a bill enacted to allow pictures to be legally distributed.

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I then stopped for dinner at the same restaurant I stopped at for lunch yesterday; Tonton Garby, before heading to get a new power adapted, because I somehow forgot mine at home. After getting a power adapter I visited the Brussels Comic Strip Museum, and then went to Beer Planet and picked up a few authentic trappist monk beers that were recommended to me.

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I went back to my hotel room to edit photos and write my blog before heading out to take some night time photos of Atomium.

Valley Of 5 Lakes & Bald Hills Hikes

Yesterday I completed two hikes in Jasper National Park; Valley of 5 Lakes & Bald Hills. I started my day off early at 6:30am by waking up and making a nutritious breakfast omelet and coffee before setting off on a 5 hour drive towards Jasper.

First stop was Valley of 5 Lakes, a short 4.5km hike with a mere 154 metres of elevation gain. The hike was amazing; it started through a moderate density forest and opened up into a meadow before going back into a forest with a view of five beautiful turquoise and emerald coloured lakes. The hike took roughly an hour to complete and was completely worth the visit.

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It was nearly lunch so it was time to head into Jasper. I stopped at my favorite place; Jasper Brewing Company and had a cheddar burger with poutine, and a pint of their Rockhopper IPA, which is super tasty.

After lunch I drove to Maligne Lake, where I started on the trailhead to Bald Hills. It was a light misty rain when I started the hike, but over the course of the hike it started to rain more and more. About 1/3 of the way through the hike I met a wonderful woman named Susan, and her husband Steve. They had one of their daughters, and daughters friend with them. We spent the rest of the hike together, which made for a nice time. One of the kids made a hilarious comment when we were talking about religion. She said “Is a Protestant also a prostitute; we all burst out laughing! By the end of the hike we were all soaked. The hike was 13.2km with 701 metres of elevation gain; I definitely felt it in my quads towards the end.

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After the hike I drove back into Jasper to fill up my Lexus with fuel, and get some coffee from Tim Horton’s before heading back to Calgary. I finally made it home around 10:30pm.

Vietnam – Day 9 – Ninh Binh & Hanoi

Today I woke up at 3:30am when the power went out. The room became unbearably stuffy because there was no air-conditioning or air flow from the fan. I managed to finally get back to sleep before waking up again at 6:00am. I decided to go downstairs to get some breakfast and a coffee before getting ready to head out for the day. Oh by the way did I mention that my place has the cutest puppies I’ve ever seen!

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I started to ride my motorcycle into the town of Ninh Binh so that I could get more cash from the bank, as I was running low on cash. Sadly the motorcycle died and I had to do a walk of shame for about 1.5km before coming to a gas station. I filled the motorcycle up with gas, but sadly it still wasn’t working properly. I kept stalling out unless I gunned the throttle, but even then it would start to hesitate after a few seconds. I finally figured out a movement that seemed to work; hold the throttle full blast for 3 seconds, let off for a few seconds, and then repeat. I managed to get into town and pick up more cash.

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After picking up cash I rode the motorcycle to the Danh Thang Trang An boat tours, about 10km away. The motorcycle was really starting to act up now, and even dying for up to 10 minutes every few kilometers. Again, I figured out another trick; if I bounced on the bike up and down a lot, and then sloshed the fuel from side to side then it would eventually start if I help the throttle down half way. Eventually I got to the boat tours at about 10:00am. Along the way I did see this beautiful looking temple from the side of the road, as well as a very cool gateway.

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The boat tour lasted about 3 hours and cost 200000 Dong ($12.50 CDN). The tour took the group of four people through numerous caves and to a few temples. It was absolutely fascinating!

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After finishing the tour I rode the motorcycle back to the hotel, about 10km away. It took me over one hour to get back because the bike kept on breaking down. When I got back to the hotel I explained what was happening to the owner and she said that she would take a look at it. Unfortunately within 15 minutes she had already loaned it out to someone else, which I found to be quite dishonest.

I was feeling quite hungry at this point in time, as it was well past lunch time, so I decided to walk down the street and see if I could find something to eat. I came across this nice small restaurant called Sunflower Tam Coc and ordered some pho, salad rolls, and some fresh beer.

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After lunch I walked back to the hotel, checked out, and ordered a GRAB to the Ninh Binh train station. The fare for the ride was 80000 Dong ($5 CDN), but all I had was a 200000 Dong note for which he didn’t have change for. It wasn’t a big deal for me and I told him to keep the change, but he insisted on getting me the correct change. He ran around the six different stores asking for them to make change, all the while leaving me inside his car with the keys in the ignition and the engine running. I felt pretty bad for the guy. Remember, in Vietnam it is not customary to tip and many people will flat our refuse even if its a nice gesture. Oh and safety isn’t top priority in this country; take a look at his seatbelt reminder defeat with a plastic spoon!

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I was about 1.5 hours early for the train, but ended up talking with the nice young man from Chile that was backpacking around SE Asia. The train ride back to Hanoi took about 2.25 hours. After arriving in Hanoi I took a GRAB to the hotel I was staying at two nights ago so that I could pick up my passport before carrying onto my new hotel called Hotel Golden Art. Hotel Golden Art wasn’t the nicest, but it did the trick for the night.

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After checking  into the hotel I walked down the street to a fast food Bahn Mi place called Pho Bahn Mi. The food was absolutely delicious, in fact I ordered a second because it was so good. After having dinner I walked back to the hotel and went to bed.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I take a brief pause from the Vietnam series to share a recent hike that I completed with my father to Plains of Six Glaciers, before continuing with my Vietnam series. The next part in my Vietnam series has me travelling to Ha Long Bay, so be sure to stay tuned!

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Vietnam – Day 8 – Ninh Binh

Today I woke up at 5:30am. I’m still struggling with this persistent jet lag, a whole 8 days later. I packed my bags and got ready, before heading down for breakfast at the buffet. After breakfast I walked about 10 minutes to the Hanoi central train station.

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There’s a few ways of obtaining train tickets; you can buy right at the station, or you can buy online from a third party which charges a small booking fee on top. Unfortuneately foreigners can’t book online through the REAL Vietnam Rail website unless you happen to have a Vietnam bank card, which I presume almost everyone won’t. Also one thing to note is that there are a lot of fake websites in Vietnam, and other parts of SE Asia for things like trains, airlines, museums, etc. You need to be extra diligent and do your research as they mostly all look the same. I read multiple travel blogs to ensure that I was picking the appropriate websites. Anyways, I chose to use the third party website called Balou, as it came the highest recommended. I only paid about $2 CDN more to book it online through them than just showing up, but it was a nice piece of mind knowing everything was taken care of beforehand.

The train departed Hanoi station at 7:30am and slowly crawled its way through the city before picking up speed. About 15 minutes into the train ride I realized that I had made a bad mistake… I forgot my passport and US cash in the safe back at the hotel. I called the hotel and explained the situation, gave them the passcode for my safe, and told them that I’ll be back tomorrow evening to pick it up. Phew, disaster averted.

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The train arrived at Ninh Binh station at around 10:00am. While exiting the station I booked a GRAB, which happened to be waiting right out front. It took about 15 minutes to drive from Ninh Binh train station to my accommodation in Tam Coc, called Tuan Ngoc Hotel. The fare was 76000 Dong ($4.35 CDN). After arriving at the hotel I dropped off my bags I decided to rent a motorcycle from the hotel for two days for a cost of 110000 Dong/day ($6.25/day). The motorcycle didn’t include gasoline so I had to find a gas station before I ran out of gas, as they had drained all the fuel out minus a few drops.

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First stop was Hang Mua viewpoint, about a 6km ride away. Something to note here is that you don’t take the first parking spot that people try to flag you down to because you’ll end up paying way more, and have to walk a fair distance. If you can drive past all the people standing in the middle of the road you’ll find yourself with parking right at the entrance for only 10000 Dong ($0.55 CDN). Unfortuneately despite reading this there was an extremely persistent group of very angry sounding Vietnamese women that wouldn’t get out of the road and pretty much forced me to park in their parking spot for 25000 Dong ($1.35 CDN). Obviously we’re not talking about much money here, but the fact they were so pushy left a sour taste in my mouth. Picture down below of where NOT to park.

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After a 15 minute walk from the very end of the road I came to the entrance of the Hang Mua Viewpoint, which had a nominal entry fee of 100000 Dong ($5.50 CDN). There is a small cave at the start of the steps up to the viewpoint with a tiger statue and some offerings from the locals.

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After viewing inside the cave it was time to start the hot and strenuous journey up to the vietpoint. 500 steps and about 20 minutes later I was dripping in sweat, but looking at an absolutely fantastic view of the karst sceneries of Tam Coc, as well as the Lying Dragon ontop of the mountain. I spent some considerable time up here getting the photos that I wanted to get, before heading back down so that I could get some lunch.

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After walking back to the bike I rode back into town to get some lunch from a restaurant, which I unfortunately forget the name of. I had some beef pho soup, but it wasn’t very good and the service was quite slow.

After having some lunch I rode a short distance away to Bich Dong Pagoda. The parking attendent wanted to charge me 30000 Dong ($1.65 CDN) but I ended up negotiating down to 20000 Dong ($1.10 CDN). I crossed over a bridge through some temple gates, walked a short while to the Lower Pagoda, before ascending 100 steps to the Middle Pagoda, which is built half inside of a cave. There are roughly 20-25 steep steps to the Upper Pagoda, which is fully inside the cave, which is also filled with bats. Bich Dong Pagoda was built by the two monks Tri Kien and Tri The in the early 18th century.

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It was starting to get extremely hot as it was mid afternoon, so I rode back to the hotel and hung out in the pool for a few hours.

For dinner I rode to the Bia Minh Beer Garden, which was just down the street. I probably could have walked but I was feeling lazy from my hike up all those stairs earlier today. For dinner I had a Hawaiian pizza, and a pork Banh Mi sandwich, along with a mini keg of fresh beer. I’ve never seen anything like it before; it’s a combination between a growler and a keg. This was some of the freshest beer I’ve had in SE Asia so far. During dinner it started to pour rain. After dinner I rode back to the hotel in the pouring rain and ended up going to bed at around 9:00pm.

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Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore more of Ninh Binh before heading back to Hanoi.

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Vietnam – Day 3 – Hoi An

The next day I woke up at 5:30am. I didn’t realize this at first but I had the whole villa to myself; none of the other 12 rooms were booked. The villa had a restaurant that opened at 7:00am so I waited for the restaurant to open. I had some beef pho for breakfast. I borrowed one of their bicycles for free to ride into the ancient town of Hoi An. I explored around the local market, wandering up and down the streets to take in the sights, including the famous covered Japanese Bridge, which was built in 1719. It was starting to get too hot to bear at around noon, so I rode the bicycle back to the villa. I looked on the weather reports and noticed that it was 37 degrees, but due to humidity it felt like 46 degrees.

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After relaxing by the pool for a bit and drinking a few beers I decided I was hungry so I borrowed the bicycle again in search of food. I settled on a place called Pho Co Hoi An. I had some beef pho and a local beer. I was getting tired so I rode back towards the villa, quickly stopping for some bottled water, a bag of Doritos, and some more beer. The villa had a good supply of bottled water and beer, but I wanted to save some money by purchasing it at the store instead.

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I had what was supposed to be a short nap, but ended up sleeping from 3:00pm until 8:00pm. After waking up I walked into town and went to famous Banh Mi Phuong for dinner. Anthony Bourdain ate there a few years ago and featured it on his television show called Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Banh Mi is a baguette filled with savory meats, spices and a few vegetables such as shaved carrots and a bit of lettuce. To describe the taste of the Banh Mi at this particular restaurant I would say it’s like having Pho in a bun. It was so delicious, and very inexpensive; only 50000 Dong ($3.15 CDN) for a Banh Mi and a beer.

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After dinner I walked around and explored the night market, and watched people floating down the river in the love boats, as well as watch people making wishes with lit lanterns and placing them in the water. It was getting late so I decided to walk back to the villa. It was around 11:00pm by now so it was time for me to go to bed.

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Portland – Day 3 – Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum / Wings & Waves Waterpark

The next morning we woke up around 7:30am and I went downstairs to get us some Starbucks while Catherine lay in bed continuing to sleep. After getting ready for the day we walked over to the Budget rental car location on Washington Street. Picking up the car was pretty quick and trouble free. We had a 2019 Nissan Versa. The car was a huge improvement in comfort and technology over the 2017 Nissan Versa that I rented in Hawaii two years ago.

First stop was the Evergreen Aviation & Space Musuem. The museum was first opened in 1991 by Captain Michael King Smith, son of Evergreen International Aviation founder Delford Smith. The museum center piece is the Spruce Goose (Hughes H-4 Hercules), which was originally housed in Long Beach, California at the Walt Disney’s Spruce Goose exhibit before it was disassembled and transported to this museum in 1993 and underwent 8 years of restoration. The museum is also home to a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress, Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, de Havilland DH.100 Vampire, Douglas A-1 Skyraider, Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, Douglas C-47 (military variant of DC-3), Douglas DC-3A, Fonton C-6 Space Capsule, Grumman TF-9J Cougar, T-39 Sabreliner, Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, Martin Titan II Space Launch Vehicle (SLV), Titan IV, McDonnell Douglas F-15A Eagle, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Fantom II, Mercury Space Capsule, Messerschmitt 262 (reproduction model), MiG-17A, MiG-21MF, MiG-29, X-38, and Supermarine Spitfire Mk. XVI. In 2016 Michael King Smith filed for bankruptcy but the facility was acquired by the Falls Event Center for $11 million which helped saved the beautiful museum.

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We then had a lunch break at The Diner, which was only a few minute’s drive away. We shared a Cobb salad and turkey burger before we went to the Wings & Waves Waterpark.

The second stop was the Wings and Waves Waterpark. The waterpark was opened in Jun 2011 and houses a retired Evergreen Boeing 747-100 that sits atop the roof and has four water slides connecting to the 92000 gallon wave pool. The Waterpark also featured a small wave pool (which was very underwhelming), a hot tub, a water play park, and a whirlpool. We stayed at the Waterpark for a few hours before starting our way back to Portland.

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On the drive back to Portland we stopped at Sushi Hunter Izakaya. I ordered some spicy miso ramen, which was extremely spicy and wasn’t particularly good. Catherine ordered some sushi, which was quite good. We also shared some Takoyaki, which are deep fried squid balls. On the drive back we also stopped at some Walgreens so that Catherine could pick up some M&M candies for her friends.

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We had to return the car at Portland PDX airport as the downtown location that we picked the car up from was now closed. It took a while to wait for the budget shuttle bus and it was starting to get chilly so we were shivering. The shuttle bus driver was a bit of an interesting character. He had some interesting stories including a story about how his dad met Bruce Lee and how he would fight with him. I’m not sure how believable I find that story but it was amusing non the less.

After arriving back at PDX Airport we attempted to take the MAX Red Line back into the city, and had much more success this time. After the 45-minute journey we walked back to the hotel and played some games in the loft game area. We played Connect Four, Jenga, and Foosball. Catherine and I each won a game of Foosball, each won a bunch of games or Connect Four, and I lost at Jenga. It was getting late and time for us to head to bed. Luckily, we didn’t have to wake up early tomorrow so we didn’t feel so bad.

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The next morning we woke up at around 8:30am and slowly got ready before walking to this amazing restaurant called St. Honore Bakery. It’s a chain breakfast restaurant in Portland that has multiple locations that serves amazing French breakfast foods. We both had Croque Madame which is a great inferior sandwich with Brioché slices with Emmental cheese, béchamel sauce, Dijon mustard, Black Forest ham, topped with a soft poached egg. We also shared some fresh fruit and both had a coffee.

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After having breakfast, we both walked back to the hotel and relaxed for a few minutes before venturing out for the day to do some shopping. Catherine was on the scope for some new shoes for herself and her friend Julie. First stop was the Nike store downtown, which was extremely disappointing and had a limited selection The next stop was across the street at Ross For Less. There was a decent selection, but nothing that Catherine was looking for. We decided to make the 50-minute walk across the city to the Nike Factory Outlet store. On the way we quickly stopped at McDonalds for a coffee for myself and an ice cream cone to share.

The outlet had much more selection and Catherine ended up finding a pair of fuschia coloured shoes for herself and a couple pairs of shoes for Julie. After purchasing the shoes, we stopped at an amazing Japanese restaurant called Izakaya Kichinto. I had a wonderful rich and flavourful curry ramen, and Catherine had a Poke bowl. We also had some delicious Gyoza to share.

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After our amazing lunch we walked to NE 7th Ave Station and caught the MAX Red Line back into downtown and walked back to the hotel to grab our bags before walking back to the train station and talking the MAX Red Line to the airport. After arriving at the airport, we shared a Key Lime doughnut from Blue Star Doughnuts. We both agreed how amazing it was and that it was much better than Voodoo Doughnuts.

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At the security checkpoint Catherine’s bag got thoroughly searched because of the 6 pounds of M&M’s in her bag. I can understand why they would make such a big deal about that, because who in the right mind would have 6 pounds or M&M’s in their bag!
After clearing security, we shared some artichoke dip over a cider and a few IPA’s at the Deschutes Brewery inside the airport. I also got to try a sample of The Dissident and Chasin’ Freshies Fresh Hop IPA; both of which were delicious!

Our flight was delayed about 1.25 hours because of the snow that had occurred the previous day in Calgary. The delays were accumulating since 5pm the day before. I’m glad we were not flying home yesterday as the delays were 4 hours on average towards the evening. The flight was relatively smooth. After arriving at the gate paramedics boarded the plane and tended to a young boy who had kept blacking out on the flight. I hope he’s okay; perhaps he was just exhausted?

Check back in a few weeks when I embark on a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia!

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