MonthJuly 2013

Vimy Ridge

On the way back to London from Normandy, we stopped by the Canadian Memorial in Vimy Ridge.  The Battle of Vimy Ridge occurred in April 1917, and it was a major military success for Canada during the First World War. It was also the first time that the four Canadian divisions in Europe fought together during the war.

On the highest point of the ridge stands the memorial. On the base of the memorial, the names of the Canadian soldiers who were missing/presumed dead are inscribed.

One of the strategic purposes of this area (so called Hill 145) was that it served as a vantage point.

One of the strategies during World War I was the use of trenches to defend against enemy attack. Some of the trench networks have been preserved.

The tour guide explained that the trench networks are not perfectly straight because if an enemy force were to attack the trench, neither side could have perfect line of sight through the entire trench line.  At the same time, the height of the trench in the rear is slightly lower so that artillery shells may glide over, rather than bouncing off the trench wall and landing in the trench.

Looking out of the trench, one can see the so-called “No man’s land“. Neither side could freely move here without danger of getting fired upon. This area was once littered with mines, barbed wire, and corpses among other things. Repeated artillery bombardment and mine detonations created large craters in the terrain, which are still visible today. An electric fence still blocks the way into the no man’s land since there are still live mines here today.

The Canadian divisions transported personell and supplies through an underground tunnel, which a part of is also preserved. During the war, it was also way darker than shown in the picture and also infested by critters like rats. It was also quite common for some soldiers to sleep here.

For reference, this is what the battlefield looked like at the time (courtesy of Wikipedia).  It is pretty hard to see the resemblance between the historical pictures and what it looks like today.  Part of the reason is also that only a portion of the battlefield was preserved and the rest of it was redeveloped.

In Social Studies class in high school, I had learned about this place and its significance to Canada. I had seen a lot of World War II sites during my time in Europe, but this is one of the few times where I see a site related to World War I.

Link to the Vimy Ridge photo album

Normandy Part II

Our tour lasted a whole day and we got to see a lot of the sights attributed to America’s part during the Battle of Normandy. There were other tours that took visitors to the British and Canadian beaches as well, but we didn’t have time for those.

Sainte-Mère-Église

Quite a lot of fighting happened in this town during the Battle of Normandy. As a tribute to the paratroopers, there is now a model of a hanging paratrooper on the side of the church.

This place was also featured as a mission in the Call of Duty Series and here too I could see a lot of resemblance.

Museum of the Airborne

This museum is dedicated to the paratroopers during the Battle of Normandy. The biggest exhibit there was the C-47, the plane that the paratroopers flew in before they dropped.

The museum is situated just outside the church in the city centre.

La Fière

The guide explained that at the time, during the Battle of Normandy, the water level was much higher and the bridge was the only way across the river. The American paratroopers withstood fierce German counterattacks before they finally defended the bridge successfully.

As always, there is a monument of some sort.

Utah Beach

This was probably one of the beaches with the lightest amount of fighting, relatively as opposed to Omaha beach.  The bunkers here are also gone just like at Omaha.

Here’s a pretty artistic shot of a Flak 88 and the horizon.

Angoville-au-Plain

This church was a field hospital during the Battle of Normandy. The guide said the church was built around 425 AD, but other sources say its from the 12th century.

In the church, there are still some scars from the fighting. In particular, there is a patched up hole from where a mortar shell once dropped. It seems it was stuck in the ceiling and never exploded.

Some of the church pews still have blood stains on them.

Driving Back to London

On the way back to London, we stopped at the Canadian World War I memorial at Vimy Ridge. After that, we drove back to France. At the border, the British border guard gave us such a hard time. She kept asking questions like, “why are you travelling?”, “where are you getting the money for this trip?”, “what do you do for a living?”, etc. I didn’t think we looked that suspicious.

When we first drove to France, Edward drove for most of it, but on the way back, I wanted to try driving in London just to see what it felt like. Every moment of the drive was quite stressful for me.

The weird part was that because the lanes are narrower, the driver almost always naturally leans to the left side of the lane and the left side mirror is over the lane divider.  Through construction sites, we’d drive past the orange traffic cones and if those were a tad bit taller, the mirror would have hit them.  We both ran up the curb a few times during the drive too. Luckily, we returned the car in one piece and without and scratches or dents.

Links to photo albums:

Normandy Part I

After one day in London, we rented a car to drive to Normandy.  We departed from Central London, just outside the congestion zone.  That was probably the busiest part of London we had to drive on.  Neither of us had ever driven on the left side before.  The lanes are at least a foot narrower than in Vancouver.  Bikers and motorcyclists constantly ride between other cars and cut in front of us on both sides.  Street sides are always on the side of buildings and not clearly laid out.  Traffic signs are different too.  Drivers are a lot more aggressive when asserting themselves on the road.  That’s what we had to deal with as people who drive without this stress in North America.  Still, we made it to our destination (unlike the last time I tried to go to Normandy).

We took the Euro Tunnel crossing into France.  It is an underground train that cars can board that takes commuters across the English Channel.  It only took about 20 minutes and it departed from Folkestone to Calais.

The drive into Normany is quite nice too. We were a bit sad that the car’s (Volkswagen Golf TDI) top speed was only 180 km/h though (we tested that).

Our hotel was in Caen, and in the next morning we drove to Bayeux to meet the tour group. Our tour guide was a native from Normandy who used to serve in the French military. He knew quite a lot of the history behind the Battle of Normandy, so he was a really great guide.

When I got out of the car, I could immediately feel my allergies acting up.  Within a few minutes, my nose was extremely plugged and my eyes were itchy.  Worst of all, I left my medicine at the hotel.  My allergies stayed with me for the entire day.  It was the worst allergic reaction I’ve had in recent memory.

Longues-sur-Mer Battery

The first stop were the gun batteries at Longues-sur-Mer. It was part of Germany’s Atlantic Wall coastal fortifications.

The line of batteries were just situated on a large grass field.  There wasn’t really anything else in the area other than other bunkers that were part of the fortification.

Omaha Beach

I was surprised to see that the bunkers at Omaha Beach had all been taken away. Apparently the locals disposed of them since they didn’t want to keep such structures from their foes to stay.

The guide explained that the attack on D-Day began while the beach was at high tide, which meant the soldiers had to wade through more water than they would have during low tide. This meant the soldiers were slower and had a greater danger of drowning. Because of this, the American forces that invaded took heavy casualties. The guide also mentioned that a huge factor that caused the Germans to lose the battle was that they were running out of ammunition after killing so many attackers.  The water ran red for days.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

Many soldiers who died during the Battle of Normandy are buried here. The fallen soldiers’ next of kin were given a choice as to whether the burial would take place in the US, or overseas.

The site was quite large. It probably took about 10-15 minutes to walk from one side to the other.

Pointe du Hoc

During the battle, the soldiers had to scale these cliffs just to get to the enemy and they did this while getting shot at.

I remember playing Call of Duty 2 a long time ago and there was a mission about this very battle. The bunker here was modeled pretty much the same too.

Before the battle began, the air force and navy heavily bombarded this area and so there are many craters here. After so many years, grass has grown over them.

The Hedgerows

The guide explained that while the Allies were gathering intelligence for their invasion planning, local French people had told the Allies that there’d be lots of hedgerows to watch out for. It never occurred to the Allies that the hedgerows in France were significantly taller than the hedgerows that they were used to and so they thought the soldiers could see over them. Nope, they’re way taller than a standing person.

When the paratroopers landed in the night, a lot of them couldn’t find each other. The Germans used this to their advantage and set many traps in and around the hedgerows.

To Be Continued…

Since this post is already getting quite long, I’ll be continuing the rest of the Normandy trip in a second post.

Links to photo albums:

London

On our way to the airport from Kiev, we managed to get a Taxi driver that was the safest driver we’d seen there.  He drove slower than the speed limit, his car had suspensions and seatbelts.  Safest I’ve ever felt in a car while in Kiev.  The flight was good too, with no crying babies on board.  After arriving in London and dropping off our stuff, the first destination was the British Museum.

British Museum

I had been here before, but I thought this would be a good place for Edward to visit, since I was showing him around a little bit.

Here’s some pictures of some ancient stuff.

Later that night, we walked around the Tower Bridge and along the river and got some good night time photos.

Night Time along the Thames

I recall doing a similar walk along the Thames when I came to London two years before.  At night, the Tower Bridge is all lit up.

There is also St. Paul’s Cathedral from afar.

Everything is definitely much prettier when actually being there and with my point and shoot camera, it’s definitely hard to capture it all in photos.

English Breakfast

Definitely one of the most delicious breakfasts I’ve ever had. Back bacon is now one of my favourite foods. I also now have a greater appreciation for pan fried tomatoes.

If I recall correctlyk, the place is called Kiko’s Cafe and I highly recommend this place for anybody going to London.

Old Books

Our tourist map recommended an old second hand book store called Skoob Books. There, we found all sorts of old school books dating back to the early 20th century. I was able to pick up a 1928 edition of the Wealth of Nations for nine pounds. Edward managed to pick up an old anthology of George Orwell’s works for cheap too. Upon looking at my photo albums, it seems I got too carried away to take pictures of any of the old books.

In a different used book store, the books were so old that the owner put a lock on the door and would let customers in only when they rang the bell.  The books there were hundreds of years old and each book sold for at least hundreds of pounds if not thousands.

Princess Diana Loves Italian Food

For dinner, we ate at apparently one of Princess Diana’s favourite restaurants. And of course, this recommendation was very good.

I also highly recommend this place and it is called Da Mario.

Walking Tour

I did the walking tour last time I came to London, but I thought it’d be a good idea to do it again since Edward had never been to London before.  I didn’t really take much pictures here as I had taken so many the first time around.

Pub Grub

For lunch, we ate at a pub called The Lord Moon of the Mall with another person from Vancouver whom we met on the walking tour. I had previously been there before, and it was good last time, so I couldn’t really go wrong.

I think I was spoiled by the English breakfast and the pasta though because I didn’t think this place was as good as I remember.

HMS Belfast

Visiting the Belfast was one of the new things I did in London.  The HMS Belfast is a light naval cruiser that is now a museum and is parked on the Thames River. From the outside, the ship didn’t look that big to me, but it still took quite a while to see it all.

I even got to go inside the gun battery and inside there was a “simulation” of the batteries firing and it was very loud. I don’t know what I expected.

The tour takes the tourist to different rooms in the ship such as the sick bay, mess hall, chapel, among other places. As an engineer, the most interesting area for me to look at was the engine room. It’s amazing to see exactly what mechanisms can generate so much power to drive the ship.

Lots of ammo.

On the ship deck.

It just so happened that an airplane flew over as we were looking at the anti-aircraft gun.

A Comfortable Place to Travel

The biggest differences between travelling in Kiev and London is that in London, we can actually talk to people. We can read all the signs. It’s not sketchy at all. While this made travelling here super comfortable, it took away the excitement that being in a little bit of danger gave.  Even then, we still thought it was fun and we rather have done this than not at all.

Links to photo albums:

AK-47 Shooting Tour

The day after touring Chernobyl was our opportunity to shoot the legendary AK-47, an M16, and other military grade guns.

We almost missed our ride to the gun range too.  We originally thought the tour was supposed to depart from the hostel, but it turned out the departure point was some 12 km away.

We could either take a taxi and be unsure of whether the taxi would be legit, or take the metro and have to watch out for pick pockets.  Metro it was.  It only costed us 2 UAH (equivalent of about 25 cents) per way.  That made it the cheapest metro I’ve ever been on.

Our instructions were to meet him at a gas station by the metro station (which sounded super weird to me).  We arrived at the gas station, but didn’t see the guy and wondered where the guy could be.  For a bit I thought we weren’t going to make it to the gun tour.

Lisova Gas Station

We figured we’d ask the gas station attendant to borrow his phone.  He didn’t speak English.  It was only after a bit of charades were we able to call the hostel.  At least the attendant being super helpful.  We joked that the two Chinese guys asking him for help in the middle of nowhere (see below) in Kiev was the most interesting part of his day.  We tried to tip him, but he politely declined.

lisova

The tour driver eventually arrives late and knocks on the window to signal us.  The driver came in his own car and it was just a four seater.  Looks like we’re the only ones going on the gun tour (sounds legit right?).  He asked me if we were going to the shooting tour and so I said yes and off we went.  Luckily he asked first, which showed that he was here for this purpose, which supported that the tour was legit and we weren’t going to get robbed or anything.

This guy’s car didn’t have seat belts.  And because he was late, he drove way past the speed limit, and swerved through everyone.  Despite that, I still felt quite self as he had really good control of his car.  At least his car had suspensions unlike the Chernobyl tour van.  Ten minutes later, we arrived at the gun range.

We fired a pistol to start off with first.  Then it was what we came for.  The AK-47.

The tour originally advertised firing an AK in automatic mode as well as shooting a Dragunov sniper, but instead of doing that we fired the AK in semiautomatic mode and shot a Mosin Nagant and a shotgun with a red dot sight.  The kickback on these guns were way more than I expected. It felt like the whole gun flew back two inches. And I learned I’m not a very good shot.  I also learned that the shotgun doesn’t have a lot of recoil and that it doesn’t take much effort to ready the next shot, unlike loading the next bullet on the bolt action rifle.

Between each clip, the guy at the gun range would ask us to go down range to retrieve our targets.  I thought it was so weird that he’d make us do that.  Each time I walked down, I made sure there was no one shooting.  Luckily, they do care about safety and all was well.

Shooting these types of guns is something I’ve always wanted to do, but never could since these military grade weapons are common in Vancouver.  It was definitely super fun and exciting.

On the way back, the tour guide drove at the same ridiculous speeds, and along the way he honked down a bus.  We all got out of the car and he gave us each a USSR army canteen as a gift.  Then he says, “you get off here and take this bus.  It will take you back to the same metro station”.

It happened so suddenly, we had no idea what had just happened.  He paid for our bus fare and he was gone.  Being tourists, we had no idea how their bus system worked.  We couldn’t even read the name of the metro station because it was all in Cyrillic.  He could have screwed us over easily.

ukraine bus

The bus was yellow and was the oldest piece of junk I’ve ever ridden in.  But it got us back to the metro station and that’s all we cared about.  If it had broken down, we would have been so screwed.  After this experience, I wondered to myself why I did all those things despite such sketchiness.  Still, all went well and now we have a good story to tell.

Chernobyl Nuclear Plant and Pripyat

The tour group met up in the morning at Independence Square.  We checked in with the tour guide and boarded the tour bus.  It probably even be called a tour bus.  It was basically a van that could seat around 15 people.  It was old and rickety, which was alright I guess.  The only problem with it was that it didn’t really have a good suspension nor seatbelts.

Not to mention that the drive to Chernobyl was about two hours on a really bumpy road.  On the really bad bumps, my whole body flew up and my head hit the ceiling of the car.  I was still recovering from jet lag and I guess I was so tired that I slept anyway, while waking up intermittently when the bumps got too bad.  The tour guide played an intro video about Chernobyl on the way there and I slept through that too.

The Abandoned Kindergarten

We toured an abandoned kindergarten.  The building was made out of wood and so we were able to go inside and visit it.  The tour guide mentioned that people used to be allowed to enter most of the buildings in the area, but lately some of the concrete buildings began to crumble.  Because of that, it is no longer allowed for people to enter concrete buildings.  The tour guide also said something along the lines of “if you get hit by a falling concrete block in the head, you’ll probably die, but if you get hit by a falling piece of wood, you’ll just get hurt”.  By that logic, wooden buildings are still okay!

It makes a lot of sense that there is a lot of random junk lying around since the people did leave in a hurry during the evacuation, but some things didn’t really make sense.  Like the doll in the above picture:  why is it randomly missing its limbs?  There was also a tricycle on the floor with no wheels.  Did someone think the wheels were worth something and took only the wheels?

In this area there were also tons of tiny mosquitos and I got stung so many times by these “irradiated” mosquitos.  The tour guide said that it’s better when it rains when the mosquitos are even bigger.  He said that because they’re big, they’re easier to notice and to get rid of.  But if you get stung…the swelling probably isn’t going away for a while.

Reactor Number 4

We went to reaction number 4 next.  The disaster began at this very reactor.  We were able to get as close as 300 m away from it.  Beside it was the new sarcophagus structure that was being built to replace the currently existing leaky one.

I didn’t think we’d be able to get this close to the reactor. At this point the Geiger counter was reading about a few microsieverts per hour, which is over 10 times more than what normally people receive in a given day.

Pripyat

Before Pripyat was evacuated, the city had a population of about 50 000 people and we got to walk around the abandoned city.  We were told not to touch anything or sit on any surface for fear of radiation contamination.

After so many years of neglect, trees grew out of control and blocked off entire streets.  In some sections of the city, what used to be roads and intersections just became completely blocked by trees.  In some of the heavily paved areas, grass and weeds grew through the cracks in the concrete.  Bits of concrete were clearly missing from the surface of the buildings too and metal surfaces were all rusted.  It’s a shame that we couldn’t go inside the concrete buildings here.

We also went to the amusement park, where the iconic ferris wheel is located.

It was so rusty that I questioned when the spinning part of the ferris wheel would just crumble and fall.  Or maybe the seats would be the first to just drop one at a time.  Maybe the entire ferris wheel would just fall over on its side.  Even in the picture, the ferris wheel looks like its leaning a little bit toward one side.

Beside the ferris wheel were the bumper cars.  I found that pretty creepy.  I also remember that randomly on the street there was an abandoned bumper car just lying there.  That made me wonder how it got there.  Did someone think that was worth keeping and drag it there only to abandon it?  I wonder what was going through the people’s minds when they were evacuating.

Memorial

Within the Chernobyl area was a memorial for the events that happened and also for the three nuclear events that happened in Japan.  In the picture below between the two cranes, there are replicas of nuclear rods.

There was also a path with signs showing names of all the cities and villages that were affected by the nuclear disaster.  In such a short time span, so many lives were changed forever.

Back to Kiev

After having a giant lunch at the power plant canteen (no irradiated food I’m pretty sure), we headed back to Kiev.  I don’t recall eating dinner that day.

As we passed through the Chernobyl zone checkpoint, everyone had to go through a standard radiation screen.  We stood in this machine and the light would turn green to signal that we were okay.  I wonder what happens when people fail that.

After passing through the checkpoint, it was another two-hour ride in a van with no suspensions where I fell asleep for pretty much the whole way.

 

Links to photo albums:

Kiev

Worst Flight Ever

At Frankfurt Airport, when Edward and I lined up to check in, we were the only two Chinese people in line.  We seemed very out of place.  Some of the people gave us these stares that seemed to ask “why are you flying to Kiev?” We wanted to visit Chernobyl and shoot AK-47’s.

Our experience on the plane was dreadful.  Four crying babies/toddlers plus jet lag plus one hour delay was not a good combination. No sleep for me I guess.  Worst flight ever.

Awkward Car Ride

The hostel arranged transportation for us and so when we arrived, I looked for someone holding a sign with my name on it (first time ever!).  The driver was not happy at how we were late (not that we could do anything about it).

Probably since he was late, he drove like a maniac.  He drove way faster than the posted limits and passed every car on the highway.  The expected 45 min ride was reduced to almost 20 minutes.  The driver didn’t speak English.  No one said a word during the entire ride.  Awkward.

I had read before that people sometimes get driven to random places by taxi drivers before they get mugged.  By getting the hostel transportation, we minimized that risk.  Despite that, I was at peak alertness the whole time, making sure he was going the right general direction (I vaguely remembered the directions from the airport to the hostel).

Dream House Hostel

This is by far one of the hostels I’ve ever stayed at.  The staff were extremely helpful.  We asked them like a thousand questions and they happily answered them every time.  They treated security very seriously.  Kiev might not be safe, but I felt safe leaving my passport and cash in the locker in the room.

Security Measures

During our trip planning, we had read about the potential dangers in going to Kiev from the Canadian travel report about Ukraine.

The report tells travelers to “exercise a high degree of caution”.  It warns of dangers such as pickpockets, passport scams, armed robbery, racially motivated violence, muggings, etc.

Seeing how the hostel’s security was pretty good, we left our valuables in the room.  We each carried a decoy wallet with nothing in it except a scan of our passports and the cash we needed for the day.  No credit cards, no real ID, no cards at all.

If anybody steals a wallet, no big.  Better to lose $30 than all our money.  Nobody can scam us for our passports if we aren’t carrying it.  I didn’t even put on a hidden money belt.  The less I brought the better.  We felt pretty prepared, and luckily nothing happened.

Language

People in Kiev generally speak Ukranian or Russian.  I know neither.  I also don’t know the Cryllic writing system.  Even if I wanted to ask in English how to get somewhere, I can’t even pronounce the name of the place.  When I went to Greece, I could at least pick out the greek alphabet (side effect of studying math and physics), but in Kiev, I can’t even read anything.  Too bad.

Food

The first night we arrived in Kiev, we had no idea what kind of food was around here.  We couldn’t even read the menus anyway.  Picking a restaurant was a matter of randomly walking into a restaurant.  To our surprise, our random pick turned out to be Japanese food.  Interesting.  No pictures needed.  Vancouver has an abundance of Japanese restaurants.  Beer is worth taking a picture of though.  I can’t even read the label.

One of the hostel staff had recommended to us the Golden Dukat Coffee House.  I wish I took more pictures here, but I found someone else’s travel blog with good pictures of it!  Good coffee, good dessert.  And they have an English menu!

We were told that Borscht is one of the traditional soups in Ukraine.  When I tried it, its taste was so familiar and I had to think about where I had tried it before.  It tasted a lot like the vegetable soup that people can get at Hong Kong style cafes (羅宋湯).  I Googled it later, and apparently the Hong Kong recipe (while a little bit different) is a derivative of it.  What a coincidence.

Independence Square

By far the largest city square I have been to.  For me this was the place to see in Kiev.  The pictures here don’t do justice to how epic it was.

At the square, there would always be these people carrying pigeons around.  They kept coming up to me with me and I had no idea what they wanted.  Later I found out that apparently they’re trying to get tourists to take a picture with them holding a bird.  Not sure why that’s cool but okay.

There were also people dressed up like Mickey Mouse or Shrek trying to get little kids to take pictures with them for money.  They did this even when the temperature was above 30 degrees Celsius.

St. Andrew’s Church

Nearby our hostel, there was a nice church.  It’s architecture was quite different from anything I’d seen before.

Friendship Arch

This arch was built to commemorate the unification of Ukraine and Russia when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union.

Street Market

On the way from our hostel to Independence Square, we walked along a long stretch of road with many street vendors selling souvenirs, trinkets and other random stuff.  People there even sold gas masks, replica German WWII medals, and fake guns.

Trip Ideas for Next Time

After we came back to Vancouver, we found out that the hostel started offering tours to abandoned missile silos, helicopter rides, and Yak plane acrobatics!  If only the hostel were offering those tours.  We would have totally gone to those.  There’s always next time.

Links to photo albums:

Frankfurt am Main

I flew to Europe this time with a friend, Edward, who was somehow able to take time off at the same time! It made the entire trip a lot more fun. The plane landed some time in the afternoon and at the airport, seeing all the German signage, somehow made me feel a bit at home.  It seems I’ve gotten quite used to German signage everywhere.

It was quite a walk from the main train station to the hostel (especially after getting lost a few times).  If we had known there was a closer station at the convention center, we would have gone there instead.

The hostel we stayed at was quite nice (but expensive).  The breakfast was amazing too.  It’s been a while since I had a giant bread roll with a huge stack of meat and cheese with yogurt and muesli on the side.  It was so simple, but so delicious.  Something I wish I could eat more of in Canada.  I also got the chance to have German beer again.  That was delicious too.

We had one day to explore Frankfurt before we flew to Kiev, so we visited the old town and Senckenberg Museum.  As with any German city, there’s probably an old town district.  Frankfurt was no different, despite  how modern the city is.

However, having been to many of these during my first Europe trip, seeing the old architecture just seemed pretty ordinary.  There wasn’t anything exciting in it anymore.

The Senckenberg Museum was a lot more interesting for only one reason.  Dinosaurs.

There was a lot more cool stuff there too like brains and preserved half-developed baby tigers inside jars. Preserved cross-sections of hearts or a brain with spinal cord laid out in a line. I think the cool factor was that everything was in a jar.

For me, that was as cool as Frankfurt got. The trip got way more exciting once we arrived in Ukraine.

Links to photo albums:

Random Thoughts on an Airplane to Europe

I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel to Europe for a second time.  I seriously didn’t think I’d be back so soon after living in Stuttgart for 8-months in 2011.  Last time, I traveled there to work at Robert Bosch GmbH for an internship, but this time I would be traveling to Europe to compete in RoboCup 2013 with the UBC Thunderbots, a robotics competition.  This competition gave me a really good opportunity to travel around Europe again.  I thought I’d be really excited to go back, but instead I felt really uneasy on the flight there.

As I sat on the plane, my mind began to wander. I had this weird fear that something might go wrong like I would get mugged or something or maybe there was some fundamental mistake in my trip planning.  I was reminded of the time my wallet was stolen in Brussels and I certainly didn’t want anything like that to happen again.  And then I thought about how much fun I had when I lived in Stuttgart.  I have very fond memories of my experience in Germany.  I then felt a slight rush of emotion and almost reliving some of my experiences in my head.  Then I figured I just had to be confident with my trip preparations and let myself have fun on this trip.  After all, not many people get an opportunity like this.

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