Paris day four

July 16, 2015 at 11:10 PM (Uncategorized)

Today might have been the longest day we were out – fourteen hours of almost all walking.

Started with a morning trip to Notre Dame. My mom became obsessed with the idea of going inside after we went to Montmatre, I think because after seeing that cathedral she insisted it would be ridiculous if we didn’t go inside the much larger Notre Dame one. The night before, as we watched street performers by Notre Dame, she kept marveling how much larger it was than the Sagrada.

So we went in the morning as it opens at eight and I told her we wouldn’t be coming here after Versailles and not before our flight the next day. It was not particularly exciting inside, in fact, after going in, I could understand why they were thinking of demolishing it long ago. It certainly looks impressive from the outside though! My mom was pretty pleased we fit it into our schedules, and then off to Versailles.

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the sky mirrors of versailles

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not even the entire shot of the chateau which seems insane

Versailles is a pretty good example of all the reasons why I don’t like Paris/France as a vacationers spot. 1) everything was lines and there was very little shade offered. Versailles is seriously an Asian’s nightmare because you will be exposed to sooo much sun. 2) nothing was really air conditioned. 3) there were very few restrooms and I only ever found one faucet for water, which I ran back to a second time so we could re-refill the five water bottles we were carrying around. A guy behind me apparently remarked to my mom, “you guys were smart to bring those.” I don’t think my mom told him we’d been saving these water bottles throughout our two week trip, and each time we got desperate and had to buy another one, we’d evaluate the plastic quality and decide if we’d keep it in our collection. 4) my mom kept saying the words “the French think very highly of themselves” and after she saw all the architecture, she was like, I can see why. But I think her observation is reason for why at many tourist spots they’d only have a sign in French and no explanation in any other language which I found really annoying. Finally, 5) public transportation to here was a lot more confusing than i thought. And riding the train was like a forty minute sweatfest.

The hard thing with Parisian gardens is almost everything is flat so it's hard to take a nice picture

The disappointing thing with Parisian gardens is almost everything is flat and symmetrical that pictures are boring

My mom pretty much said she didn’t enjoy Versailles though only because of the heat. We heard another Asian couple say, nothing looks beautiful when it’s this hot, which is true. I feel like Parisian spaces are too symmetrical to be very interesting and hard to photograph. The gardens were nice from a high vantage point but really boring to walk around as it’s mainly just trees and fountains. We did the gardens first which was smart as it was a lot cooler in the morning. Also it saves you an insanely long looking wait to get into the chateau, as most people are intent on seeing the main attraction first though it makes no sense to do that first as the lines are the longest AND it’s only going to get hotter in the gardens as the day progresses.

The gardens is essentially a lot of walking through giant trees to reach a fountain

The gardens is a lot of walking through giant trees to reach a fountain

The funny thing about the chateau tour is, there were not really any signs about the house itself and all the audio guide was about the paintings and some artifacts inside. So I honestly know next to nothing about Marie Antoinette and vaguely remembered she was beheaded which was the only reason I can assume she was not beloved like princess Diana.

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the story behind this has something to do with love…

Another funny thing is when my mom and I went to the prado museum in Spain, they had a visiting exhibition on Diego Velasquez so when we walked around the chateau, we kept going, hey we’ve seen this!

What I honestly didn’t realize was that the grounds are huge… Like so huge you can rent golf carts to ride around the premises. As in, so huge that even MY MOM the cheapskate was like, we should rent a golf cart. When I got back to work, my coworker asked if I had gotten a golf cart, and when I said we hadn’t, she looked at me like I was insane.

In the end, we walked from the chateau through the gardens to the grand canal to Marie Antoinette’s house. The walk to the house was terrible but at least we made it. Then we took a little tram back to the chateau and my mom kept proclaiming it the best decision we’d made this trip.

marie antoinette's estate

marie antoinette’s estate which was compared to michael jackson’s neverland estate

Either I totally missed an important area, or I’m forgetting the correct name of the place, but I thought we would see a huge beautiful house for Marie Antoinette’s estate, similar to a two second scene I saw for an ad of Sophia Coppola’s movie. Instead it was a little farming village, apparently created as a retreat for her. You couldn’t even get into the buildings, other than the gardeners house that had been recreated as a bathroom facility. All the buildings looked like a little farming village, Again, I blame the heat for the underwhelming.

Another thing about Versailles – LOL this sounds very complainy but honestly I never thought “this place sucks” I just kept thinking “holy shit it’s hot” – I bought a more expensive ticket for Saturday as they do a fountains musical show. I also prefer doing one day trips toward the end of a vacation, so that worked out. But my mom and I were expecting some Bellagio/Disney theatrics… and it turned out to be just turning on the fountains and playing music. Another guy we were near was also like, are we in the right place? NOT worth even trying to see if you’re already there, I swear.

The ride back to Paris was awful though at least we got seats. At this point we’d barely eaten anything since waking up at 7 and it was 4. We tried to get McDonald’s but you have to order at a machine and I gave up trying to use it, as there was one instruction in French that seemed crucial to our ordering. Also, I realized I’d have no idea if they called out our order number. Finally upon reaching the metro in Paris, we got a baguette and Pepsi in the station. I’m not even upset as it was DELICIOUS. We went outside to finish it and just stood on the street at the Franklin D Roosevelt metro on champs elysses, feeling like this was our first meal after a marathon.

We then walked down champs elysses, supposedly a top shopping destination. Though maybe it was of those things where the more expensive boutiques ran parallel to the main drag, but I was kind of surprised that the street wasn’t lined with top, top designers. My mom bought a shirt at GAP as she had made a terrible decision (even after I told her it was a terrible decision) to wear a long sleeved 100% cotton button down shirt in 95° weather. We went into Laduree, which my mom showed zero interest in and barely even nibbled on the macaroons I picked (Marie Antoinette tea, earl grey and rose).

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I’m definitely not a macaron connoisseur because I can’t taste any difference from ones in America

Then we walked down to the Arc de Triomphe and paid to walk up the 284 steps (that is hard to visualize but it felt … long). I’m amazed they had bathrooms in it, and a souvenir shop. AND an elevator to go down! How did they install all that!

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Arc de Triomphe from the bottom – supposedly the largest roundabout in the world?

Views were amazing, and we went around late 7 so the lighting was perfect

Then we took the metro to Notre Dame area, ate a small dinner (we shared a shrimp/avocado appetizer and a chicken casserole for €12.90) then walked to get Amorino’s gelato which was my second splurge of the trip after Laduree. Unfortunately there wasn’t time for Berthillion’s as that closes at eight but Amorino’s was delicious. I’m bummed my picture turned out soo crappy.

Then walk back to the hotel for our last night!

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Paris day three

July 16, 2015 at 11:10 PM (Uncategorized)

We had our latest start this day and went to Montmatre. I was really scared of getting pickpocketed here but maybe it was so hot even the thieves weren’t out. I had no idea what the main attraction, the Sacre Couer, was (answer: church). We first walked toward Moulin Rouge, and if it weren’t for the tree lined streets giving us shade and amazing free public toilets, I would have called that walk a waste.

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my mom was kind of disappointed it wasn’t open as it was … 12pm

My mom noticed that we were in a sex shop heavy area, which I suppose I had optimistically hoped she wouldn’t notice or mention. She insisted on going in one, though I’m not sure what she expected as she was very surprised and taken aback upon seeing a wall of vibrators for sale. We then walked up to the Sacre Coeur. I’m still not quite sure what the funicular is but I don’t think we missed anything important.

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the classic frontal view of sacre coeur

It was verrryyy beautiful inside. Though smart phones, at least mine, are bad at taking pictures of stained glass windows. It was also insanely hot, a theme of our Paris stay. We walked to a park behind the cathedral which gave really great views from behind.

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the lesser known back view

Then……. walk back down the hill, toward the Abssesses station where the wall of love is, something I found on a blogpost of walking through Montmatre. It was so hot otherwise we would’ve stopped in more of the cute boutique shops. One thing I think is kind of dumb in France is that they don’t seem to have many hot weather foods. My mom and I kept craving something like shaved ice but all we saw were crepes and ice cream. I actually don’t like ice cream on hot days and I can’t understand who’d want a crepe on a hot day.

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“I love you” written in like 152 languages

Anyway, then we took the metro to la petit marche, a designer mall, and la grand epicurie, a food emporium. I was expecting a beautiful indoor food stand sort of thing for la grand epicurie, but it felt like a whole foods, so that was a bit disappointing. The food court, which is really just a level of desserts, at the Galeries Lafayette was far more impressive. We did a quick walk through the two places, then walked toward the Luxembourg gardens, picking up a baguette+ dessert+drink combo for only €8. Our other meal had been a single order of croque monsiuer for €10 in Montmatre. I assume this was because of the heat, but my mom and I split every meal and were always full, even if we were just splitting a baguette, so French portions really aren’t that small.

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one of the shoe sections in la petit marche

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it’s a shame we weren’t more hungry … could have bought a $6 macaron…

We went into and sat down in the Luxembourg gardens to eat, probably seeing 5% of the park as we sat there eating. After we finished our meal, my mom went, well what’s next! And I was like what, we need to walk around the park! And she was like, isn’t this it? After we got to the main part my mom couldn’t stop wowing and laughing about how she couldn’t have even imagined a park so huge and grand. Actually, the cool panoramic shot is on her phone so I can’t even post it right now 😦

The gardens closed and the guards started blowing their whistles as a signal for us to leave. We walked up a major thoroughfare to notre dame, stopped briefly to buy a cold bottle of water (I hate how their refrigerated drinks are only mildly cold), saw some fire performers in front of notre dame, then walked back to the hotel which is a relatively short 15-20 min walk. Really long but fulfilling day!

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Paris day two

July 16, 2015 at 11:10 PM (Uncategorized)

I just wrote three posts non-stop on this phone and my fingers are burning!

This was technically our first day out in Paris… let’s see what I can remember…

20150702_044744We woke up on our airbnb and ate our delicious Mediterranean leftovers. Then walked to canal st martin which was cool but probably would’ve been cooler in the evening and on a less hot day.  Then back to the airbnb to check out. I hereby declare I will never use airbnb again.

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if you don’t know what this is, i’m not sure what to tell you

Taxi to hotel, though I had told my mom we could take the metro. I could feel her anxiety as we sat in unmoving traffic and the fare steadily increased. It was a €15.70 fare in the end, but in my opinion, worth not looking for the right direction after emerging from a metro at noon on a hot day. We dropped off our luggage, too early for check in, but walked over to the two islands and ate our Mediterranean leftovers (again) at Pont Neuf. We officially split €40 meal into three meals for two people. We walked along the Seine and Notre Dame but my mom showed little interest in the buildings as it was hot. Walked toward the louvre and spent two hours taking pictures, I don’t even know how because we were just outside! The best part was the air conditioned museum store.

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seine river

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pont neuf

Then walked over to check into our hotel. The AC in the room felt like heaven and my mom declared it was naptime before soundly passing out. Even if I don’t get an airbnb refund, it was all worth feeling more comfortable and having something to look forward to (ac) at the end of our very long days. (I did get a refund, though since you pay the full amount of service fees, it was only about 56% of the straight amortized amount – better than nothing!)

20150702_081825After naptime, we walked to Trocodero Gardens, sat and ate peaches (I’m inclined to say every day except our last day, we would go into a grocery store and buy peaches or apples and a carton of juice to eat during the day which felt so good). My mom really liked the gardens, particularly how there were so many chairs to sit on. Then we walked toward Opera, which is the most beautiful performance center I’ve ever seen. On the way there was a ton of designer stores, way more high fashion than what’s on champs elysses so I’m glad we stumbled into a small section of that. From there I realized the Galeries Lafayette were near so we walked there too. So glad we kept going despite our aching feet – soooo pretty. Strangely I felt like the only one taking pictures there, despite many Asians in the building. My mom says for Chinese new year they open the mall later solely for Chinese customers.

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Amazing spice section

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the Opera

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soooo many macarons!

Which makes me think of another point – was really surprised that most tourist spots only offered for signs and brochures in Japanese, out of all the Asian languages. How does it take so long for the tourism office of a country to adjust for changing world economies? At what point are they like, “hey these are tour buses full of Chinese people, and Japan’s been in a recession for decades. Maybe we should Google translate some of this stuff”

We stopped for a savory crepe with the intention of continuing our walk to my intended dinner, a highly recommended ramen place called Kunitoryuna. The problem was, it was so hot every day that it seemed stupid to eat ramen, and the restaurant was not only out of our way but would make us back track, and after splitting €6 crepe, we were full. So no ramen in Paris.

classic view of the galeries lafayette

classic view of the galeries lafayette

So instead we took the metro to Trocodero Gardens (so glad we didn’t walk as originally planned) and it was perfectly in time with sunset. We were there for a while, and almost missed the sparkling of the Eiffel tower. There was a full red moon that hung so low it was actually visible between the legs of the Eiffel. That sounds strangely dirty. I wish I had a cool camera to capture it but unfortunately it just looks like a red dot.

Then back to hotel and thrilled to turn our ac on upon entering, to a cool 20°.

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wish i had a better camera for night photos!

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very nice to see the night sky emerge behind the eiffel tower!

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Edinburgh part two

July 5, 2015 at 4:24 PM (Uncategorized)

Let’s see.. woke up, had a random cafe breakfast where we asked the server if we should go to Edinburgh castle or the royal botanic garden. Since it was sunny, she highly recommended the gardens which sealed the deal. So glad we went with that.

We did walk to the castle for some pictures though. Then stopped at the royal mile market which was a very cute etsy like market in what looked like an old church. I wish I had bought more souvenirs there but oh well.

Then we took the bus over and the gardens were beautiful! Like, best ever that I’ve seen and I’ve been to a lot of gardens as they are my parents favorite activity I think. Admission was amazingly FREE. We were only there about two hours after they opened but I feel like even if we got there at opening, we would’ve still stayed until closing which was at six.

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So yes, we did spend hours in a botanical garden which is likely our longest stay in a single location this trip. Actually, Versailles is tied but that was a wholly different experience.

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We ate a packaged sandwich and shared a coke as our lunch, before heading back through the gardens to the glasshouses, which you do pay for, £5 per person. My mom seemed torn between going – on the one hand she thought, we already saw so much for free, plus we’d only have an hour as we did it right before close; on the other hand, we were already there and why not do 100% of the gardens?

imageI made the call to go in, and the admission guy kindly gave us a £1 discount per person. At first it was just palms which were not interesting and i could tell my mom was disappointed. Then we got to the orchids, then the star exhibition which was flowering, and after that she was happy we went in.

I loved the glass houses from the orchids onwards, most of all the lilies and even a succulent one. We didn’t get to walk through the very last house as they were closing right before we could go through the last door and an employee just happened to pass us and told us we had to head out. But the worker opened the door for us and we got a quick peek before turning around. It was just ferns and was a room to show fossilized plants so no big whoop.

We managed to catch a bus back to the center of Edinburgh right when we exited which was perfect. We ate at…. hmm my memory… ah a cafe we went to three times, twice for gelato. Sandwich for my mom, burger for me, which we shared. My mom noticed the beef tasted better than in U.S., though I actually just felt like it tasted drier. Then we walked to calton hill which was one of the oldest parks in Edinburgh that used to hold public executions. Now it’s reminiscent of a palace of fine arts on a hill overlooking the city. Really nice easy way to end the day! We got gelato after this, feet insanely sore, and got back to the airbnb after midnight

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Scottish Highlands part three

July 5, 2015 at 4:07 PM (Uncategorized)

Last day of the tour! It was front loaded with a visit to the eileen dornan castle in the morning and loch ness toward the afternoon. Loch ness feels like you mix lake Tahoe (in terms of size) and solvang (in terms of quaintness) together. Loch ness was actually rather uninteresting, as one would expect of a lake. The rest was primarily driving, me napping with occasional stops as tour buses do.

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Part of Eileen Dornan

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View of loch Ness

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We got back by seven, and got into our Airbnb before getting dinner at a Thai place found on the royal mile after seeing Edinburgh castle at night

Hit with a sudden wave of exhaustion, bye

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Scottish Highlands day two

July 1, 2015 at 7:01 PM (Uncategorized)

If I can remember… We drove around the isle of skye and one day I’ll have to attempt to Google map the route. Hopefully my pictures will jog my memory

The road really wasn’t bad to drive in the highlands as they weren’t too winding and also were paved well but I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with driving in Edinburgh so I still don’t mind the tour. Plus our guide was very awesome, knew so much, and basically had all the best characteristics of a tour guide

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When we arrived it looked like it was about to pour but most of the bus left anyway to hike down. Somehow the sun came out toward the end and we got some great pics – but I didn’t go all the way to the end because my shoes are not made for hiking unfortunately.

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Green everywhere

Then we went to another mini hike. It rained when we arrived but as we filed out of the bus, it slowly stopped. Then as we were toward the meet at bus time, it started raining quite heavily  again – we actually had amazing luck this trip with relatively light rain.

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We stopped at a place I think called Fairey Glen and it was soo cute. The hills have little ridges to them, formed by the glaciers melting thousands of years ago, and they look like giant mountains from afar.

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We had a number of other stops but those were my faves. Mom and I went to get pizza and made the mistake of ordering a 12×20 one. I sort of, maybe definitely, finished my half out of spite despite not wanting to eat anymore after my first two slices. In the end we ate a highly respectable amount of the pizza and even made room for ice cream.

The night before I watched Kanye west live at the Glastonbury and thought he actually actually quite good. The second day, this day I’ve been talking about, had acts I didn’t like at all, which made me actually think Kanye might vs better than most people take him to be!

FINALLY some tiredness settling in … at four am

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Paris day one

July 1, 2015 at 6:25 PM (Uncategorized)

Omg I’m so far behind on my vacation posts! I will try to work backwards though it is 3am in Paris right now so I’m not sure how long I can last. Honestly I think my mom and I are both still up because we’re afraid of dying in our sleep from heat if we go to bed.

The gist behind this day is that it’s not very adventure filled at all though technically we did actually hit everything I planned though maybe in a more cursory way as it was just… uncomfortably hot despite it being midnight.

We left Edinburgh via airplane and I think the point of today was learning many travel lessons

Travel lesson one: consider, especially if traveling with my mom, that a flight might take less time than a train but if you add in transit to the airport which is in all likelihood much farther than the train station, plus security plus baggage claim plus buffer time – it comes out to pretty much the same amount of transit time. And even with a lower airfare it might overall be more if you add in (which i never used to) the transit cost to the airport. And, what killed us today, is that with planes, a lot more could go wrong as you probably have to depend on more overall transportation methods to get to your end destination.

Sunk cost: $30 for airport shuttle that put the flight cost over train choose. Time cost: 7hr train ride vs 7hr overall transit leaving for airport and getting through customs.

Travel lesson two: no buses from airport

The train to get into Paris was down because of an accident, and an employee told us our best bet was a bus that took twice as long and actually cost an euro more. I had a bad feeling about this when we got to the bus waiting area and there were way fewer people there than I’d expect if the main public transit system out of the airport were down. Something in me, (ie. my past caltrain experience, already six times this year alone), knew that it only takes maybe three hours to clear a body from the tracks and I had a feeling the wait wouldn’t be as long as the employee was alluding, but I went with his suggestion anyway. Major fail, as the bus which is supposed to stop every fifteen minutes didn’t arrive for fifty minutes, and I already paid for the €22 euro tickets.I should have taken a taxi the moment he said trains down. Well after waiting all that time, I told my mom we should move to another terminal where the bus first picks up people as it was probably just too full from other terminals and skipped ours. On the way across the giant terminal (our third crossing – I’m now fairly familiar with CDG’s terminal two), I noticed the trains were back in action. End story, couldn’t refund my unused bus ticket, bought another set of tickets for the now moving train, train ended up being incredibly packed as it was now middle of rush hour, and it was 102° outside, and I’m most upset that this could’ve all been avoided if I just followed travel lesson one.

Sunk cost: €22 in bus fare

Travel lesson three: no more Airbnb

I used to think Airbnb was the cheapest but still nice option and also gave you a great feel for the neighborhood that you couldn’t get via a hotel. Now I realize the price you can’t put on easy immediate check in (or at least luggage drop off), someone making your bed every day, reloads of shampoo, conditioner and soap, and just a more uniform standard of cleanliness and quality.

Actually this place would have been pretty lovable if it weren’t sweltering hot – it’s 83° and three am right now – with no AC and located on the top floor.

Sunk cost: not sure yet as I don’t know how much I’ll lose but I cancelled the rest of my stay and booked another hotel – my main criteria was AC

That’s Paris!

Ok the nice thing was we walked randomly and had a pretty fun moment where we bought a huge carton of juice and just drank it while walking around the streets in search of dinner. It felt both too hot to eat and we hadn’t eaten much the whole day so it was like our stomachs shrank. I’ve been really apprehensive about Paris because it is the first country where I speak none of the language (yes at this point I’ve realized how valuable my terrible Spanish it’s) and this really is not a great city to not speak the main language in because I feel like the people are rude and dismissive of someone who asks a question in English. Wait I was supposed to go through the good parts of the day. So my mom and I kept walking from restaurant to restaurant but every menu was in French and we’d get scared off. We ended up in front of a Lebanese place on Rue St Martin and a really nice server who I deemed a Lebanese Shay Mitchell as she had similar features and the same gorgeous flowy hair, approached us, spoke perfect English, and was soo nice and helpful. We got a Mediterranean platter for more than I want to think about right now. Tbh though, for the amount of leftovers we have, it is probably similarly priced to what you’d get in SF.

We then walked down to the two islands, a little across the Seine and got terribly lost before I called it a day and hailed a taxi. For some reason, despite my mom’s dad being a taxi driver, my mom is very distrustful of taxi drivers and seems to think they will want to drive off with the both of us. I guess I shouldn’t use Uber here then, though if I just said it was half the price of a taxi I think my mom might refrain from saying too much

Well it seems like I should go to bed. I hope I remember enough of the other days… two days in the highlands!

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