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The Next Adventure Begins…With a Few Vexing Moments!!!

The Ultimate Adventure

A few months ago a great friend invited me to return to Koh Phangan island in Thailand and work for him at Haad Yao Divers, where he just became manager. It seemed insane to tell people “yes I am 37 and moving across the world to Thailand to pursue my love of scuba diving”, but here I am sitting in the airport about to follow a childhood dream. At the same time another friend invited me to visit her in Slovenia, so combining the travel has me heading most of the way around the world and to some great adventures.

Seeking Flights

For some reason if I am helping another with choosing and organizing flights and travel plans I have no problem, I know what I am doing and can rationalize the choices. However, the minute it comes to myself I turn into a bundle of nerves and second guessing. Luckily, thanks to a good friend, fellow traveler and writer (Price of Travel), who is always there to listen to my crazy ravings and uncertain choices, I was able to finally make a choice.

I usually shop for flights through Kayak.com and after much looking and comparing I came across a great looking route at the decent price of $697 all booked through a budget airline called Condor, the cheapest by over $100 that I had found. Living in Eugene, Oregon I always hope to fly out of that airport, but all these flights were ridiculously expensive and so I opted for a route out of Portland, Oregon (2 hr drive from home). The flight was in late afternoon which allowed a bit of a sleep in (as much as the cats allowed) and time to visit with a friend on the way up. From Portland I fly to Seattle (on Alaska Air), on to the Dreaded Frankfurt airport, FRA* (on Condor) and finally to Slovenia (on Adria Air).

An important side note, I always book through one airline to ensure my bags get checked all the way through even if some of the flights include smaller affiliated airlines it has never been a problem…

*For those of you who have never been to Frankfurt airport, it is enormous, takes forever to get anywhere between flights, in fact they actually have guys in golf carts picking travelers up and taking them to their gate.

The Day Arrives!

Arriving with 3 hrs to spare at Portland airport, PDX, I went to get a cart for my luggage turning around mid stride when I saw it now cost $5 to take one… when did that price hit the roof?? Dad helped me drag my bags over to the curbside checkin where we all said farewell. As my turn to check my bags arrived I asked about connecting internationally, turns out I had to go inside, so turned around and dragged my bags towards the counter. The reason for dragging was because my backpack straps were zipped up, but with my dive gear and my daypack and my camera…. oi vey!

First Vexing Moment

At the check in counter I hand over my passport and my panama book, (this is the seaman’s or mariners book for people who work on ships, often allowing folks to take extra luggage or weight). The start of my vexing moments began right then and there as the conversation went something like this:
Lady: Well which passport do you want to use?
Me: Oh the US, the other one is my Panama book
Lady: Well I DON’T know what that is, you have to pay $85 for the second bag.
Me: The Panama book is for people who work at sea and usually we are allowed an extra bag.
Lady: Well I DON’T know what that is
(Obviously the end of that discussion!)
Me: ok, here is my credit card.
Lady: And I can only check your bag to Frankfurt, there you will have to collect it and go through customs
(Never have I ever had to take my luggage through customs on a connecting European flight)
Me: I have never had to go through customs and I only have 2 hrs in Frankfurt
Lady: Well you have to, I can’t do anything, do you want to see the computer???
Me: It’s ok, it’s just new, have never had to do that.
Other Lady: Maybe it’s a code share thing with Adria, maybe we should check the bags to Seattle and then Condor can check them through
(First Lady gives Other Lady dirty look)
Other Lady: or not
Lady: so $85 and you have to collect your bags and I can’t give you a boarding pass or seat assignment for anything other than our Alaska flight!
Me: ummm, ok

So unbelievably rude and unhelpful and ultimately the person who f*&$ed it up for the rest of the route. Headed to security feeling the start of that stressful sensation in the back of my neck and trying very hard not to let it creep too far.

Second Vexing Moment

Arrive in Seattle without any problems and get lost trying to find my way to the international terminal, finally make it though and find my gate, an hour before flight. Go to the counter to get my boarding pass and ask about luggage conversation went like this:

Me: hi good day, please I need a seat as far forward as possible, an aisle seat, I have to get my bags in Frankfurt and transfer them to the next plane because of customs.
(The very sweet lady was possibly Chinese, so please read her part with that accent).
Lady: oh you no go through customs, you no probelm
Me: Yes I have to, Alaska refused to check my bags through to Slovenia I need to collect them and I am not sure why, because I booked my entire flight through Condor.
Lady: no no you no go through customs, no problem you go straight to your airplane
Me: (Handing over the papers trying hard not to respond in the same accent) See Alaska did not check my bags through
Lady: ahhh yes you go through customs, no problem you have 2 hour
Me: I only have an hour and 40min and Frankfurt is huge
Lady: ahh you no problem here I give you aisle seat, no problem
Me: ok, but if I miss…
Lady: you no problem!
Me: yes ok , but IF I miss my fli…
Lady: no no problem, you have more than 2 hour
(Apparently in her mind my time is increasing)
Me: (Just breathe) But. IF. I. MISS. MY. FLIGHT. WILL. CONDOR. SORT. IT. OUT??
Lady: you no problem all good, have good flight, next….

Vexing was an understatement. Feeling irrationally irritated, or rather rationally irritated, I called a friend to vent and after a discussion decided to talk to another agent. Her response was confusion over why Alaska refused to check my bag and her thought was that most likely there was a code share issue between Alaska and my final flight on Adria. She assured my I should be fine and if there was any problem Condor would take care of it. I felt a lot calmer after that, although annoyed that these issues were just because Alaska and Adria air can’t play well with each other. Why did I book a budget airline????? Why????

When Things Go Right

As I waited to get onboard I chatted with some of the other passengers and discovered why we had a short delay, turns out there was a plane change and this was a different design so some people had to change seats. I told them my vex and joked that maybe the “seat upfront” I asked would be right at the back… Apparently that is not something you joke about because I had the last row (the one that doesn’t recline) on my side of the plane. There was one more row for the passengers in the middle to be fair, so it wasn’t right at the back. Also my seat mate apparently had the same problem, she was continuing on Austria air and Alaska refused to check her bags, but she had 5hrs so wasn’t worried, however, she did mention they might make us pay for the second bag. Oi Vey!!!!

I immediately found a flight attendant who was very sweet and very helpful, she was also confused about the bag situation, but promised to see if any seats further up were open and assured me that 2 hours should be enough time. I hoped she was right. Just before take off she brought me a list of seats up in row 11, 15 and 16 that had an open aisle seat, also the row (2 seats) in front of me were open. I opted for the row to hopefully get some sleep.

From here things kept getting better. The guy across from me was super cool and we chatted a bit. He was from a small hickville (his words) town in Washington state and this was the first time he had ever travelled internationally. He recently became a history teacher and he figured he may as well explore a bit well he had nothing holding him down. I warned him that it is easy to become addicted to travel… Then he asked the most precious question that made him stand out like a sore thumb as a newby traveler:
Guy: so Kathy, do I just stay on this airplane for my connection to Venice or do I get off?
Me: (first looking at him blankly, then reminding myself that occasionally you do stay on a flight well others disembark, rarely but occasionally) Usually you get off and have to go to another gate, but if you show me your flight info I can double check.
He was just so sweet, so bright eyed and bushy tailed at the thought of adventure…. oh dear I fear too much travel might be making me jaded…

Just after take off I popped into the loo and heard an announcement that was music to my ears. Since Condor is a budget airline you have to pay for any extras such as a 2nd bag, movies, food etc… Well the announcement stated that movies would be free due to the inconvenience of a plane change. Woohoo!!!! The guy across me didn’t have ear phones so I loaned him my other pair. I must admit that the entertainment system was great, the screen was unscratched and a decent size, the touch screen responded well and didn’t require the

The happiness didn’t stop there, since I had been so stressed and annoyed in Seattle I had failed in my plan to buy some food to eat on the plane, so I asked the cost and choice. The flight attendant informed me that the food, too, was free!!! Woohoo!!! Although after attempting to eat the food I was very glad I didn’t end up paying for it!

I was able to manipulate myself into some form of comfortable position for a bit of sleep, but not much. Near the end of the flight the guy across from me said “Kathy, I feel like a zombie”, shame he had managed no sleep, my reply was “welcome to the wonderful world of international travel!”.
With around 30mins to go, my amazing flight attendant said I could move to 16C, aisle seat to be closer to the front if it made me feel better. Heck yeah it did! That’s also when I discovered 16 was the last row of business class, which meant I could have been sitting there all along… Oh well I had fun chatting with the guy.

And The Good Times Are Over!!!

Things seemed to be going pretty smoothly, which is never a good sign, I got off the flight quickly, I made it to immigration and the info desk man suggested I go through the Crew side to save time if they would let me , they did! I got to the luggage carousel and the info desk man there said no problem as Adria air was right above me and gate B03 was close by after security. My bags were one of the first out and I walked up into the check in area feeling almost relieved, like this might actually be all ok…

Info desk man up in check in sent me to Lufthansa since Adria was part of Lufthansa.
Lufthansa sent me to the bag check since I already had my boarding pass.
Got my bags on the belt when the guys there realised I didn’t have the bag tag and sent me to a counter.
The guy there said no problem, then paused… again never a good sign.
The F*&^$ng Alaska lady had only marked my paid bag through as far as Frankfurt in the system, which meant I had to pay another 50 euros to check it.
He suggested I take it to Condor, since all the flights were booked through them, and they should check it through no problem… (That phrase again)
I walked all the way to Condor, only 5minutes but felt like hours.
The Condor people just looked at me and said NO, since Adria isn’t Condor, almost as if I was stupid for even considering it.
I walked back to Lufthansa, now getting very very frustrated and verge of tears.
The guy who helped me had left already and the other guys were confused why I was back. They sent me to the other check in desks.
There the guys tried to make me wait in line, but no I had 50min till my flight left and they finally figured out that I needed a check in desk NOW!!
Finally they took me to a desk, with 45min to go.

The lady at the counter looked at me in tears trying to blubber my way through all the tragedy that was happening on this flight and just said calmly. “OK let me do the bags then we look ok, now you have both arms, both legs, you are beautiful so stop this crying!”
Turns out she is married to a South African and lives in Germany but she is from Spain. A wonderful person who really helped calm me down. But, this didn’t mean things were getting better as I had to go upstairs to pay the 50 euros since it was Adria air not Lufthansa… oh joy joy, but she assured me calmly that is was ok as the gate was just after security and security was just there. I joked that it must be something about Frankfurt airport as I ALWAYS have issues when I fly through, she agreed and said the staff feel the same way.

At the counter upstairs, with 40min to go, the machine had a problem, of course it did. But finally it went through and I headed downstairs towards what I hoped would be my flight. I got through security which was right there as the wonderful lady had said, and got to the gate as they started calling for boarding, even had time for a quick pee.

And It Is All Good Again

I boarded the bus that would take us to the airplane and realised I had not let Kaja, my friend I was visiting, know that I had made it. A lovely young woman let me use her phone to text and then I breathed a very long sigh of relief and contemplated the size of the glass of wine I was going to need after this. The bus ride turned out to be a runway tour of Frankfurt, a good 10min drive, all of joking that we were actually driving to Slovenia. There is something strange about driving to your plane and having to stop for the other planes to cross your path. But we got there, and I had another great seat mate. She and I chatted most of the way and when we parted she kissed me on the cheek and promised to stay in contact.

And then it was over and there was Kaja, she had got my message. I admit I did let out a rather loud squeak of joy and relief. Never before have I experienced a trip where everything that could go wrong did and yet so much went right!!! Not sure if I will ever book with Condor again though as the whole point was to book with one airline and avoid just this rather vexing experience.

For now…. Slovenia awaits!!!

 

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Training to Tacoma

Amtrak Cascades 507

Since moving to the Pacific Northwest I have come to love the little Cascades 507 train, run by Amtrak. Living up in Seattle I would often take it home to Eugene and then return to Seattle. On occasion I have taken the Starlight, the fancy, double decker, long haul train that goes all the way down to California and back up the coast. But ultimately always return to my little Cascades.

On this occasion I am taking it as far as Tacoma, WA, where I will crash with a friend and then head to the airport tomorrow afternoon for the red eye flight to Amsterdam, and on to Bergen, Norway, more details on that later.

Fellow Passengers

I believe I can honestly say that I have never had an unpleasant ride due to passengers. There was the time where a freight train blocked us within sight of the Seattle Station and then the air went out of the brakes and our on time arrival turned into over an hour late…. and I repeat, within sight of the terminal. Luckily the amusing conductor kept us entertained over the intercom and prevented an all out mutiny.

But, passengers, nothing really comes to mind. This time however, it is a soap opera in my car. There is the teen mom arguing with her mom over what the babbling 1yr old wants. The conversation went something like this in the beginning:
“Gagaga googoo”
“Yes you tell Grandma, you know it’s funny you are a grandma and you are only 30”
“Well you made me that”
“Well excuse me, Iam sorry, wait no I am not”
And so on and so on, rather amusing and the kid is awfully cute and friendly.

Then I thad the older gentleman get a phone call, and decided to have a very loud conversation, competing with the 2 frat boys discussing return to Uni, with his friend about how to light a webber, what charcoal to use and the best way to bbq tomatoes… I now know that roma tomatoes are the best, because they don’t loose their juice as much….. good to know!

Off to the Bistro Car

After attempting to sleep, read and nibble on snacks, I decided to take my leave of the soap opera in car 6 and head to the bistro for good ‘ol cup of tea. Usually I bring tea with me and just get hot water, but today I had to pay $2. He heard my accent and asked if I wanted English Breakfast…. kind of amusing! Only once have I encountered a sour bistro attendant who gave me the evil eye every time I asked for hot water, in most cases they bistro guys are the most fun to talk to. Today, we got the slightly surly gentleman, think it might have been safer that I bought the tea, otherwise he might not have given me hot water…..

But I do like the Bistro car and the dining car to sit and relax, not as stuffy as the seated cars, and you get to listen to amusing discussions between the conductors…..

Where is the Final Destination?

For the first time since my 2mth trip in Thailand, to complete my Divemaster and mend a shattered heart, I am going abroad for vacation. There is no cruise line involved, there are no guests I have to be polite to, it is a real international vacation….. and only for 2 weeks, am not sure I have ever gone abroad for that short a time. Some might scorn me for saying this when they barely have time to leave for a weekend, but luckily, I have been blessed, in an ironic twist, to have been hired in a job where travel is part of it and the breaks in between contracts are long enough to do crazy things, like meet up with a friend and go camping north of the arctic circle.

Yup, you heard me, my Belgian friend (Who I met on the ship) and is tourguiding in Norway, it meeting up with me and we are heading to the Lofoten Islands to go camping, in September, north of the arctic circle…. YES!

No more to say!
PS I know I am still behind on ship posts but more will come as time goes by…. I have a never ending supply of tales from their.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2014 in Travel

 

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Return to Real Life

17th December 2011

Return to Real Life

After catching up with friends the following day in Seattle I flew out on Saturday morning back to Eugene, Oregon and my folks. It was fantastic seeing them and being back, but with every piece of clothing I unpacked I wished I could be repacking. The urge to keep moving is always strongest for me when I return. However, my bed was a blessing even if it did come with 2 cats vying for the most uncomfortable position they could put me in.

Fortunately I would not have to do the dreaded job search, a low point for any world traveler. A mobile vet I had worked with before leaving needed a new assistant and I would start Monday… no recovery time for the wicked I guess. It was good to start work and be occupied, it was also a bonus that being a mobile clinic meant it was almost like I was still traveling. However, that only lasts for so long and pretty soon I knew I would be leaving again by the end of 2012. Returning in the middle of Oregon winter doesn’t help the cause to stay at home either.

Return of the Vet Nurse

Boyfriend, Schmoyfriend

I had not heard from Buddha for a week and after another week on Christmas day I finally said “ENOUGH!!!”. I was sick and tired of being played and strung along with the excuse of bad connections. I had been wearing an Irish Claddagh ring for 10yrs, always on the single side and had turned it to being in a relationship when we had skyped back in Germany. I took it off and packed it away so over always having that define me. I decided to focus on getting my vet nurse certificate and focus on a year here in Eugene before looking for something permanent and well paid abroad.

The day after Christmas I got the first of many texts and calls. He sweetly told me how sorry he was but that he had been in India doing a required course for the ship, that he missed me and wished to skype me every day. I fell for it but was skeptical for a long time.

The truth was that the Australian girl he had lived with the past month had left that day. She had told him to stop stringing me along and so for 2 weeks he did. But now that he had no one else to sweet talk he turned his attentions back to me. In truth I can’t be completely bitter towards him, as the attentions and feelings of being loved were some of the happiest memories I have had and would also lead to a trip to Italy and a cruise where he asked me to marry him. But that is a story for a later entry…

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2012 in RTW, Travel

 

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Homeward Bound….

15th December 2011

Early Starts

Nadine only got home around 6am, she was exhausted. The job in Cologne/Koln took a lot longer than they had planned, she works in construction, but it had been decided that it wasn’t worth leaving it half done.

I got up at 7am and, very quietly, started getting everything ready. We had to leave the house by 8am at the latest as we had to drive to Cologne/Koln for me to catch the train to Frankfurt. It would take at least an hour to get there but we gave ourselves almost a full hour extra just in case. Yvonne was driving and 10min before we were ready to leave we bundled Nadine into the car. She was so tired and just slept the whole way but was determined to come with.

Murphy’s Law

Why is it that when you have a long trip ahead of you and you make sure to have extra time, Good ‘Ol Murphy steps in and cause major traffic issues. We couldn’t believe the amount of traffic, add to that getting lost when “Murphy” tampered with the GPS.

In the middle of all this stress about trying to get to the train station I suddenly got a call from Buddha, it was really short but he wanted to tell me that he had got his dates for the ship and he would be embarking on January 14th. It felt so good to hear from him and that he wanted me to know what was going on. Of course now I realise it was just him making sure I stayed on the hook.

We got to the train station in time to see the train pull away… at least we think it was the train. The signage was a little confusing and we weren’t sure where we were.

It didn’t help that I DESPERATELY needed to pee, am sure Murph’ had something to do with that as well. Yvonne left Nadine and I standing in the middle of the walk way and ran off to find out our options. I went in search of a bathroom quick but the only one involved paying and I didn’t have time to think about that.

Train 2

Luckily there was a train leaving in about 5mins that I was able to get on and so we ran back up the stairs to the platform and spent about 3 of the 5mins trying to figure out which train I was supposed to go on. The biggest bummer was that this train was meant to take an hour longer which meant I would have barely an hour to get checked in for my flight.

Finally we found an attendant who confirmed this was the right train and I said farewell and got on. I was really sad to leave Nadine and my new friend, Yvonne. Their family had been so good to me and so welcoming, I would miss them terribly.

I found a seat and settled my bags and then rushed to the loo. Oh such relief… to be on a train and heading to the airport. As I sat down and breathed a sigh of relaxation, the attendant was kind enough to inform me that I was in 1st class but only had a 2nd class ticket… oops, I wondered why this train seemed really comfortable. I made my way to the next car and managed to find a seat on the aisle next to a very nice German lady. Confirming that we were indeed heading to the Frankfurt train station/airport I promptly nodded off feeling completely exhausted from the morning events.

Dash To Check In

When you are nodding off travel always seems faster and it felt like just a few minutes before my wonderful seat mate woke me up to tell me we were here. I dashed out tripping over my bags in the process and feeling completely rumpled and half asleep.

I hate it when that panic of missing your flight kicks in and no matter what you do you can’t shake it off. Going up the escalator from the tracks I found myself in the main station, however all the information boards spoke of trains and there were no signs for the airport. With panic rising that perhaps I HAD got on the wrong train I headed to what appeared to be a walkway to airlines. I was flying with Iceland Air and anyone I asked just looked at me blankly.

Panic was building up to outright fear that I would miss my flight as there was maybe 45min left. I ran down the walk way and finally found a board that showed Iceland Air and what terminal I needed. Now for anyone who has ever been to Frankfurt Airport, you know how huge it is. Its almost like a reasonably sized town with its own public transportation in place. I hopped on the bus going to my terminal and was soon chatting away to the others who had commented on my flag patches covering my backpack. It was good to take my mind off the drama of catching my flight. I leapt off the bus and ran into the terminal finding the check in desks for Iceland Air. There was no one around which obviously meant check in was over.. right? Huffing and puffing I handed over my passport and asked “am I still in time, can I still get on the flight??” The check in clerk smiled and said “of course its only 11am, the flight doesn’t leave till 1.15pm”.

Oh, wait the train was meant to take 3hrs and it only took 2??? Oh thank Murphy for giving me a break.

Security and Water

Feeling way more relaxed I called Nadine to let her know I had made it safely and ahead of time. Then headed for security. I completely forgot I still had water in my water bottle and only realised when the security guard picked it up and looked at me. Already through the scanner I quickly downed all the water. Then came the security shuffle. It goes something like this:
Guard 1: indicates I have to exit and go through again.
Heading that way
Guard 2: stops me and says its fine
Guard 1: says I have to go through
Step to the gate
Step away
Step to the gate
Step away
Guard 3: makes final decision and lets me through
Guard 1 and 2 scowl at each other.

All rather amusing. I found the gate and then decided to try and call the boyfriend and actually got through. It was great talking to him and he told me he wanted me to join him on the ship for a trip and he would pay, that he missed me and was thinking of me. (Super sweet, gave me warm fuzzies blah blah blah…of course he was also asking 2 other girls at the same time to visit him on the ship and he would pay! Oh well focus on the warm fuzzies of the moment).

Just a Little Hot Water…

Since I had more time than I had thought I decided to grab a little something to eat and drink. You think airport food is expensive in the states, in Europe it’s downright exorbitant. I opted for a muffin and just a glass of hot water as I had some tea I could use. When I went to pay they had charged me 1.50euros for the HOT WATER!! Good heavens how ridiculous!

We all know Frankfurt Airport is enormous, but when you see the employees getting from A to B on bicycles it gives enormous a whole new meaning.

Then I went and relaxed and checked the internet, at least wifi was free in the airport, for the first hour. After my hour was up I spent time calling friends and saying farewell… farewells are the hardest part.

Iceland Air

The first flight was Frankfurt to Reykjavik, Iceland. It turned out the entertainment system didn’t work and the seat arm didn’t go up. Luckily it was a short flight and they did provide us a croissant with ham and cheese. The cute part of Iceland air were the headrest covers and such that quoted little poems and sayings in Icelandic and with only a few days till Christmas all kids got gifts and chocolates.

Icelandic Poem


Soft and Cuddly

Final Leg

Arriving in Reykjavik we all had to go through immigration. So I get to have an Iceland stamp for visiting the airport. As I was waiting to go through there was a US guy who was being reamed by the immigration officer, didn’t want to be him for sure. I managed to find something to eat, a rather unappetizing sandwich I must say but something, and with an international leg coming up of 12hrs + I was sure to get a couple of meals on the flight…

Looking out of the windows waiting for my, now 1hr delayed, flight, Iceland lived up to its name. Snow as far as the eye could see. Having a delay is always dangerous as you end up circling the stores and I soon discovered I had an armful of candy.

The flight was pretty full but luckily the middle seat was free and there were good movies on the, working, entertainment system. I was starving and looking forward to some grub… until I received the menu and realised you had to pay for food. I have never been on an international flight where I had to pay for food, and the cheapest was $15 for a chicken breast that was very much airline food. Air Asia is the only airline that I have flown on where they charge for food. But that is a super budget airline and they tell you as part of your booking process and allow you to pre order. What ya going to do though, food is food and I was starving.

US Arrival

Finally we arrived in good old Seattle. My friend, Colleen, was meeting me and going to catch up with some friends at a local Pizza place. I got a little worried when she wasn’t at the baggage claim, and managed to borrow someones iPhone (they had to show me how to use it) to try and call her. After about an hour she finally arrived, turns out she had been held up at the border to Canada by a rather stupid remark to immigration by someone she was traveling with. I never understand why people don’t just shut it and smile sweetly when passing through a border.

But soon we were at the restaurant and a couple of my friends managed to show up. The food at Raizzi’s Pizza was delicious and I inhaled as much as I could. Then it was home to sleep, glorious sleep.

Good Friends and Good Food

Well the journey was almost at an end. A journey of epic proportions, lessons and life long memories.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Germany, RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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