Category Archives: Cruising

Halifax-Nova Scotia…looks like it’s been hot :)

P103036816th – 17th September 2014

Halifax – Nova Scotia…..I love this place

             Day 1….The city of Halifax, in my humble opinion, is one of the best visits for those cruising the east coast of Canada and the USA . There is a fantastic boardwalk with great views across the harbour towards Dartmouth and the island of St George looking toward the mouth of the estuary. Unlike most places the cruise terminal (?) doesn’t share space with the container port, so everything appears bright and clean and exceptionally well looked after.P1030367

There are plenty of interesting sculptures along this easy route which takes you past some of the most desirable places to eat, without the need for walking up into the city, where of course there are also numerous places serving excellent local food (and drink)

The town itself a very interesting mix of old and new, the highlight of course being the citadel at the top of the hill. But don’t ignore the mass of wonderful parks which are crammed with beautiful flower displays and no vagrants can be sleeping rough on the benches (none that we noticed anyway) to spoil the atmosphere (literally)

We walk up the steep hill to the entrance of the fort and arrive just minutes before midday and the firing of the signal gun. Because we’re right under the wall from where the cannon is fired, we’re asked to step to one side (for health and safety reasons of course) and given a countdown with clear instructions to cover our ears. As usual there are a group of belligerents, either claiming they were in the military for years so are used to such loud reports or those just refusing to take advice. Many are clutching their tablets with both hands, arms fully extended and ready to capture the moment as a few million pixels, never again to be viewed!!

Now I like my hearing, I find it’s quite important for the continued enjoyment of my life, so I take the proffered advice. But I’m not watching the firing of the gun, that’s going to just be a big puff of smoke, preferring instead to watch the individuals who don’t realise exactly what is about to happen.

Ten seconds, nine, eight, seven….the gathered are smiling and happy…..four, three……they tense with fingers poised to take this most memorable of photos……….one………BANG!!!!

One of the ex-navy guys swears so loudly I can hear him even though my ears are still covered and he’s twenty yards away. Most of the people in my field of vision act on their natural instinct and duck, hands instantly flying to cover their assaulted ears but it’s far too late.  Tablets and photographs are momentarily forgotten and in some cases they’re almost thrown to the ground in violent retribution as if they had somehow committed the user to the task and were now solely responsible for the outcome.

I didn’t actually see anyone collapse with blood oozing from their ears but some of the once belligerent bystanders were definitely having second thoughts about their own stubbornness. One lady announced (well rather shouted as she couldn’t actually hear anything)  “I hope that was worth it.” She busily slapped herself on the side of the head……………as if that was going to help or make the slightest difference.

Anyway…….we moved on, not into the citadel this time, but around the outside and down the hill toward the far side of the city. We had it in mind to head for the Titanic cemetery, but having stopped and quizzed a local we realised it was a bit too far to walk (something else to organise for next time)

P1030355We spent the rest of the morning wandering around a couple of interesting (not Titanic) graveyards and several parks, then finally the time arrived to head back to the port area for lunch. I’ll say no more than it was very nice (I think) and very boozy (I think) and we ate and drank far too much (that I know for definite)

More wandering around in the afternoon (more like staggering to be honest) and despite being completely stuffed to bursting I just had to have an ice-cream from the infamous ‘Cows Dairy’ very yummy.

As we have an overnight stop here we had our evening meal sat out on the boardwalk at one of the many restaurants, The Bicycle Thief, which was very busy but the food was really good (if a little on the expensive side)

(to be continued)

Saguenay……..what a lovely surprise

13th September 2014

Saguenay – Quebec….small town with a big heart

             Saguenay is at the top of a high sided fjord off the St Lawrence river. It’s made up of three towns linked together and we’re berthed in La Baie which appears to be the one in the middle (I think)

Now you immediately get the impression that this town has attitude, and it hits you the moment you leave the ship. There is a lot of activity waiting to greet us with fire-breathing, dancing and singing, displays of local crafts, historical cars and a tepee resplendent with two occupants dressed to impress as Native Americans (which of course they are!!)

The dancers are part of the ‘Fabuleuse Cultural Show’ that is put on for the tourist which is filled with horses and magnificent costumes. It depicts the history of Saguenay and demonstrates the growth of their unique culture.

And all this is free!! No requests for tips or demands for some kind of offering from the assembled that are enjoying the entertainment, or for taking photographs. For me this is the definition of good community spirit, the people of the town all working toward one single goal, keeping the tourist smiling and making them feel good about the day ahead. That in turn promotes the town and its traders and I’m sure as a result more money was spent in the shops and market stalls by the happy cruisers (well most of them were happy, some wouldn’t crack a grin on laughing gas!!!!)

We indulged in our usual activity of walking all around the top of the fjord which was very pleasant as once again the weather gods were smiling on us. The church was very reminiscent of a theatre with its huge stage and bright white and blue painted walls. It was a very relaxing and peaceful place to be (even better was it was free to enter) and we were made to feel very welcome by the warden.

In the square outside the church was a craft market and for those members of our family who are reading this you’ll be pleased to know you have at least one Christmas present all the way from Canada.

A late lunch and beer (always following our dreams) was taken in a large bar on the quay side and it was very nice (again)

So Saguenay has made an impression on us, and a very good one at that. Once again we didn’t venture too far out of the town itself, but there is plenty to do in and around (and on) the fjord. Our only real disappointment was that it was dark both when we entered and departed the entrance to the fjord, which is reputed to be one of the very best places to see whales………oh well, maybe next time.

 

Quebec – one of the best

quebec11th – 12th September 2014

Quebec – Quebec (so good they named it twice)

Well the good fortune has finally run out and taken the good weather with it, and this morning there is quite a persistent downpour of the cold wet stuff. As there’s so much to do and see in this wonderful city there is a growing sense of disappointment, however……are we going to let that spoil our day?

Answers on a postcard please…….

We set off anyway, waterproofs and shorts being the dress code of the day. Within minutes we’re soaked right through, but in true ‘We’re British’ fashion we keep going, on up the steep hill to the Chateau Frontenac and a wander around the citadel walls and into the arboretum. It was an enjoyable walk but as we’re so wet we didn’t feel it was very fair on the local traders to wander in and out of their shops and galleries, as we would normally do, dripping all over their priceless wares, not a very good idea really. So on we trudge, well squelch really as by now even our waterproof shoes aren’t waterproof anymore. Finally we reach a point where we can no longer ignore the growing numbness in our frozen limbs and reluctantly we head back to the ship demonstrating the gated walk we normally display after several hours of horse riding.

After an hour or so of drinking coffee and doing the English thing by talking about the weather, the skies clear and the sun almost comes out. Now resplendent in our fresh and dry change of clothes we head back into the city and this time we troll in and out of everywhere looking at all the soggy stuff on display (obviously our fellow cruisers didn’t feel the same as ourselves about dripping around the shops) what great fun. With the threat of more rain we decided to change our plans to stay in the city to eat and headed back to the ship once more as the evening approached.

The second day dawned bright and cheerful and today there’s a cycle race in the city, the ‘Grand Prix of Quebec’ is an 11 lap race around an 18 kilometre course and will dominate the activities all around the city today.P1030303

Now we’ve never really been ones to attend live sporting events (unless you include the countless duties at the football and cricket for St John Ambulance) but I have to say we really enjoyed the atmosphere and the excitement this race generated among the spectators. I personally was amazed at just how quickly these guys race and as they passed by us each time they were followed by an entourage of vehicles laden with spare bikes, wheels etc. But following right at the back were three large ambulances ready to pick up the pieces if anything untoward happened, trouble was they struggled to keep pace and at each corner the squeal from the tyres was deafening. At one point we were sure one of them was about to leave the course in a very dramatic fashion, and we could clearly see the terror in the face of the paramedic sitting in the passenger seat. He looked quite pale and maybe needed to go suck on the oxygen for a while to recover, that’s if was able to prise his fingers from their death defying grip on the dashboard.

P1010449 Anyway, after a hard few hours of walking around the walls and watching the race from the high vantage points we made our way back onto the main street and enjoyed a very nice boozy lunch at a place called ‘Bello’ a very stylish Bistro/wine bar that served really tasty pizza and risotto.

Then a quick hunt around the souvenir shops for some pen’s for our friend Polly and back to the ship for a lively sail away party on deck.

Quebec is definitely one of our favourites, a truly cosmopolitan city with many interesting things to see and do. A little disappointed that we were here earlier than last time and all the Halloween festivities and displays hadn’t really begun yet, but hey ho there’s always be a next time……..hopefully.

Thanks Quebec, great visit, great city 🙂

 

Baie-Comeau Quebec – small but beautifully formed

Colonel McCormack

10th September 2014

Baie-Comeau – Quebec

Once again it’s a beautiful day (aren’t we doing well?) and the first thing we notice as we step ashore is the most amazing smell of wood. The air is thickly filled with this rich and pleasant aroma which oozes from the vicinity of the paper mill, the main source of income for the town. It instantly feels like we’re walking through a pine forest on a sunny day, except of course the dockside is concrete and we’re surrounded by containers.

There are shuttle buses laid on to ferry the masses into town, about two kilometres away, but as it’s such a lovely day we decide to walk. Leaving the port area the path around the estuary is flat and very easy, and eventually it opens up into a huge expanse of parkland. The map which was handed out at the port leads us through the park, past a very pretty turreted ‘Manoir’, down through a small housing estate and onto the town beach. Now unfortunately the tide is out and the lovely smell of wood has somewhat been replaced by something a little more ‘fishy’. There are mounds of empty mussels shells, dare I say millions of them, all forming great swathes of bluey black patterns across the sand. Surely this is a visual testament to the fresh, clean, nutritious waters of the St Lawrence Seaway.

We enjoyed a long walk on this almost deserted beach, flanked on the land side by huge multi-coloured slabs of rock, topped by unbroken lines of trees full of crows, rooks and other birds busily feasting on the remains of the mussels.

Time to get back to the town and explore the local area a bit more, so we continue to follow the trail map and find ourselves at the main church. After visiting a grotto dedicated to Mary at the top of the hill, we walked up the steps into the main building. Hmmm my pet hate……they’re charging us $5 each to enter a church!! Ok I accept it costs money to keep these places in a good state of repair etc, and I will always put a donation in the box after a visit, but it annoys me that the money is demanded from me rather than allowing me to give voluntarily. It rankles me I admit, but hey ho that’s just my opinion, moan over.

Anyway it’s an interesting place, very brightly decorated with murals and fabrics, lots of gold and marble etc. But to be honest there wasn’t much of an atmosphere and it all felt a little contrived and sterile for a place of worship (no I’m not just saying that because I was hassled for money at the entrance) Then we overhear one of the guides telling a visitor that it’s no longer used as a regular place of worship. They only hold one service a year in order to keep it as a sanctified building, but the rest of the time it’s a museum and the locals worship in another church just around the corner……ok!

Enough of all this nonsense, time to find a drink and discover the true heart of the community. This time it takes the form of a couple of pints in an almost deserted town centre, probably the smallest and shortest ‘high street’ we’ve ever encountered, but the beer is good, very good in fact and it’s a shame that more of our fellow cruisers hadn’t discovered the delights of sitting outside with an ice cold local bevy. Their loss…….

Anyway, Baie-Comeau in summary. Once again the people are friendly and welcoming, the area is very pretty and it was worth the visit just for the glorious smell of wood. Apparently there is more to do further afield beyond the town which is good, and although first impressions are that this is a very sleepy place there is plenty to do and see.

Back on the ship there is many a moan about the lack of anything interesting to do here, but unless there are naked bears and dancing women (or is it the other way round?) some folk will never be happy. This type of place is unlikely to ever be glitzy or glamorous, there’s no zip-lining through the trees or barrel riding over a waterfall, not even a catamaran trip with snorkelling and endless rum punch. But then if everywhere was the same there wouldn’t be any point in going anywhere different…………would there?

Gaspe – very pretty :)

9th September 2014

 Gaspe – Quebec 

P1030261           We arrived to another gloriously warm day in a port bathed in sunshine. Boarding the tender we hold our breath in anticipation of what we’ll discover in this smallish town.

Once landed we walked across the bridge and helped by a fair number of men in hard hats waving flags to stop oncoming traffic we meander down onto the boardwalk which led us up to the Gaspesienne Museum. This holds the history of the development of the region where some interesting standing stones depicting the attitude of the settlers toward the indigenous people (or visa versa) and some nice gardens with statues. The nearby Forillon park wasn’t quite nearby enough to walk to but apart from the town the entire area was covered with greenery and very pretty.

P1030284            Back into the town and a visit to a modern church with some unusual architecture and colourful modern stained glass windows. Then a walk to the far side of town bought us to a more tradition church building clad all in white overlapped boards, and the time had come to indulge in our habitual investigation of the local fare. Several beers later we headed back on board the ship wondering how we’d had such a hot and sunny day this far north at this time of year, not what we’d expected but obviously very welcome.

As for Gaspe, well it was certainly a very nice place to visit, friendly and welcoming, excellent food and local beer…….but maybe next time we’d need to book a trip into the national park or take the train to Perse for something else to do. We were told the views from the train were magnificent, but it appears the train only runs on certain days and then mainly for the benefit of cruise ship tours. We were very lucky with the weather but if it had rained there was little here to keep you occupied for a whole day, unless like us you’re content to sit watching the world go by with a beer in hand.

Ice Bucket Challenge Sea Day

8th September 2014

Sea Day – Ice bucket challenge

I suppose after yesterday’s hectic day in St John’s it’s nice to have a sea day to recover, you could say that after the transatlantic crossing they’re gradually introducing us back to ‘terra firma’ very gently.
I still find the sensation of the land moving under your feet after several days at sea very unnerving. I don’t mind the ship rolling with the sea but somehow the feeling that the land is swaying is somewhat worrying. Anyway it’s been a nice warm day at sea travelling into the St Lawrence Seaway with the sight of land on both sides of the ship. It’s even prettier in the evening with all the lights shining from the shore, all different colours and patterns to keep the simplest of minds amused for hours (yes I am talking about myself)
I have been quite surprised to have avoided being nominated for the ice bucket challenge so far, and since we’ve been on the ship I was staring to assume it was beginning to fizzle out somewhat, after all I think most of the population of the world have taken part. To my amazement I’ve been nominated by my brother in law Nigel in the last couple of days, so I suppose I need to get something organised. Talking to some of the staff in the restaurant I’m surprised at just how far round the world this idea has travelled. Thailand, the Philippines and many of the pacific islands have taken part and for me that is a true testament of the generosity and good will of (the majority of) mankind.
Unfortunately most of the folk I know have already taken part, so my own nominations can only stretch to those of you who read this who have not yet been involved in this crazy but highly successful phenomenon. Please if you’ve not already done so donate a dollar, a pound or a euro to help find some sort of help for those affected by ALS, or Motor Neurone as we know it in the UK. But having said that my good friend Peter is just about to receive a text to tell him the good news, and he’s my main choice.
P1030335I’m not able to upload a video as it would take too long using the satellite internet on the ship, so you’ll just have to settle for a photo of the event instead.

It was the only way I could get any ice or a bucket………..honestly.

Tomorrow we’ll be visiting Gaspe for the first time (that’s us not the ship) and the weather promises to be good once again so we’re really looking forward to another pleasant day ashore.

 

St John’s – Newfoundland

7th September 2014

St John’s – Newfoundland

P1030230

Right……time for this blogger to get serious…..why?
Well because St John’s is a seriously good place to visit.
We docked fairly early and as usual we waited for most of the rest of the ship to disembark before we headed ashore, mainly because it takes so long to get all those going on the ships tours off the boat it’s easier to have a lazy breakfast and take our time. Anyway the weather is fantastic, a lovely warm and sunny day but quite humid, still mustn’t grumble.
We set off toward Signal Hill, the place the first transatlantic cable came ashore back in the 1800’s, and a great lookout spot for the troops at the time to place their big cannon to protect their settlement. On the way up the steep hill we came across the Geo-park and took a detour to explore the history of the area via reconstructions of the structures and dwellings of the first settlers. Very interesting even if there was no running water, wi-fi or memory foam mattresses.
There were quite a number of people around us but we were surprised to note that we’re the only tourists, everyone else was a local resident busily picking the plethora of wild bilberries for their tea.
So we pressed on up the hill, now having to work harder to battle the strengthening wind near the top. The views were amazing, only spoilt by masses of other tourists clamouring for the best spot overlooking the bay.
Bloody tourists!!!!!!

P1030235The real beauty of the place is that from this spot several coastal paths have been meticulously constructed and for the next two hours we ambled around these boardwalks admiring the wonderful sights around each corner.
We return to the road leading back into the town via the estuary path which would have been quite treacherous in the past, but now it’s been made so easy and enjoyable to walk along with the construction of a meandering wooden pathway. We stopped to peruse a map we’d been given at the terminal (there is that awful word again) and several of the locals stop to show concern that we may be lost or even worse not enjoying ourselves in their town. They point us in the direction of the local lake (a short walk away) and tell us there’s a quaint fishing village at the far end of the lake with a pub which produces its own ale. Before they have time to wish us well on our journey we’re off, after all who can resist local brew. However on reaching the lake we realise that reaching the pub before the ship sails is very unlikely…….considering this lake is almost the size of Wales. Ah well, maybe next time.
We finally made it back into the town centre and visit the cathedral where you have to be careful of falling masonry pretty much everywhere inside the main sanctuary???????? I reckon back in the UK the whole place would have been condemned until the whole of the roof was replaced.
The walk had taken its toll and we needed refreshment. More locals had obviously noticed this fact and we were swamped with recommendations. Most of them cited ‘The Duke’ as the best purveyor of fish and chips in the region so once again off we set, hoping this time our goal was still in the northern hemisphere.
Fortunately it wasn’t too far away and we’d just made it into ‘The Duke’ when the heavens opened and what can only be described as a deluge continued for around an hour. Lucky or what??
Now I’m not the greatest lover of fish, for me it’s all a bit too fishy, but it is fair to say this was fish so fresh it melted in the mouth, just delicious. The beer was really good as well and after the rain had finally abated we set back off for the ship, our faces bathed with the broadest of smiles following a truly special day……..Thank you St John’s.
The verdict…….this is a great place to visit but be warned the hills are steep and bountiful. The wind when it blows is nothing short of a hurricane and if the locals direct you somewhere assume it’s on the other side of the world. Oh and one more warning, don’t stop and stand too close to the edge of the pavement unless you intend to cross the road. Why? Well because all the drivers we saw slammed on the anchors if any pedestrian was within spitting distance of the kerb. On more than one occasion we weren’t intending on crossing but felt obligated to when cars stopped in unison, from both directions, whenever they saw us even deviate slightly as we walked down the road. Really considerate but so bloody annoying.
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Confused? you will be……..

6th September 2014

Sea Day – Inside Out

Much better day as far as the fair weather cruisers are concerned and the sun is back out, and therefore so are the brown wrinkly bodies. I’ve commented before about how much sun some of our older companions expose themselves to and although it’s not the prettiest of sights there is the more worrying aspect with regards to the potential risk of melanomas. But then maybe as we age we care less about certain things, and mainly do we worry less about what happens to ourselves? In the fullness of time I may be able to give you an answer but I’ve still got a long way to go before I know………..I HOPE.
Great story has emerged today about the lady who has complained that the inside cabin she booked doesn’t have a window overlooking the sea, or any window for that matter. When the guest relations manager explained that only outside cabins have windows she got really shirty and asked why a cabin outside would need a window when it’s already…….well already outside. It took a while for the crew member to explain that the outside cabin wasn’t actually outside but rather outside on the inside, whereas the inside was in fact inside the outside cabins and therefore if it did have a window then it would be looking directly inside an outside cabin and not outside.
As a gesture of goodwill she was then offered a complementary upgrade to an outside cabin. She thanked the manager for his kind offer but said she’d prefer to have a cabin on the inside which had a window looking outside rather than being in an outside cabin with a window looking outside, which she considered was actually impossible. When it was pointed out again that the cabin wasn’t actually outside but rather inside, outside the inside one she already had, she asked if she could have one with a sea view instead.
I believe the guest relations manager is flying home on long term sick leave tomorrow. Talking of which we’ll actually be on dry land tomorrow, Newfoundland to be exact and the town of St John’s. Hopefully then some sanity will return both to the passengers and this blogger, but I guess there’s a good chance for one but certainly not the other.

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My Fellow Cruisers

5th September 2014

Sea Day – how much longer the cry goes out

The weather has cut up a bit rough today and many have taken to their cabins to lie down for the duration of the less than perfect weather. Now I just love this because I actually want to feel the ship move (but not too much hopefully) I find that the movement of the ship as it follows swell of the ocean reminds me how powerful the sea is and how completely awesome and dangerous nature can be.
I also love it because the ship is lovely and quiet without everyone milling around moaning about this and complaining about the other. I’m not sure if it’s an age thing or whether it’s just the type of folk who cruise, but boy oh boy do some of these geriatrics know how to whinge?
It’s too hot or too cold in the cabin and despite the fact they have a thermostat they can control the temperature with they can’t be bothered. The foods too this or the entertainment is too that, the swimming pools not open (and even when it is no one goes in it) Nothing escapes their attention and no one is immune from scrutiny. Now here’s the interesting bit. In my experience those who complain the most are the biggest pains in the universe. They cough and sneeze without putting up a hand to capture their escaping germs, they refuse to queue, they talk with mouths full of food, they witter on incessantly about themselves and always load their plates with the last of the bananas, yes even if there are twenty left they take all twenty…….
So there you have it, the downside of cruising, but hey it’s not that bad really because it gives me loads of inspiration……….just like this –

The Perfectionist

All my life I’ve been perfect
And have always been one
To look up to and get good advice
I’m humble and caring, with generous streak
And I’m honest and truthful and nice

I’m always on time
And I’ve never been known
To be grumpy nor glare with distain
Unbelievably happy whatever life throws
And I’ve never been heard to complain

I never jump queues
And I keep my mouth shut
Whether chewing my lunch or some gum
Never leave the seat up
Never lewd or unkind
With my comments
And always such fun.

And I’m always polite
Unlike some I could name
Highly polished and cultured, so sweet
I am never too loud
And prefer just to sit
Never argue or boast to compete

So as you can see
Good as gold I have been
The ultimate husband and son
A model employee
An incredible friend
Unbelievably loyal, loved a ton

So when I go cruising
I feel duty bound
Not to act as my usual self
It’s a must that I let down what’s left of my hair
Leaving manners back home on the shelf

I must whinge, I must moan
And quite often I do
After all I’m just here on a break
From my usual life, it’s not easy you know
Cause it’s so very hard being this fake

So I’ll grunt a ‘Good Morning’
Cough and sneeze on your food
Fuss and moan like I don’t give a rat
You just have to accept that I’m playing a game
This is not really me
It’s an act.

Because unlike the rest
I’ve been perfect for years
This my chance to have oodles of glee
But then I’m assuming you’re doing the same
And being a pratt, just like me?
J.G. 5/2/13

WELL THAT’S WHAT I THINK ANYWAY (AHEM)

Water, water everywhere (shame it’s not beer)

4th September 2014

Sea Day – again but who’s counting?

Well it’s Thursday, three days at sea behind us and still three more days to run until we reach land. Surprisingly the weather has been holding up well, the sun’s shining, the seas are calm at the moment and I’ve managed to redden my nose in the most dramatic fashion. It must be something to do with this particular ship as the last time we were on here we both managed to underestimate the power of the sun when combined with a very cooling Atlantic breeze.
The captain has entertained us daily with the usual midday report from the bridge on the state of the sea, the state of the sky and the state of the ship. Thankfully ‘all is well’ and he really seems to relish telling us things that ‘we may or may not believe’. But we’re all having a bit of trouble understanding his thick Scandinavian accent and most of his report sounds quite garbled. Let’s hope that when the call to ‘abandon ship’ is made we don’t all think he’s just announced ‘A ban on chips’ and everyone throws themselves over board from the sheer disappointment of such a catastrophe (Ah just realised……..same effect really so jobs a ‘gud un’)
There’s appears to be a new game worth playing at the moment as the vast majority of our fellow travellers are intent on catching a glimpse of whales. So we’re playing the cruising equivalent of standing in a busy street and looking up, with some amazing results. Standing on the decks and pointing out toward the horizon will almost guarantee a crowd of bystanders within minutes, convinced that they too have just seen a pod of dolphins or group of whales passing by. So funny. There are a few very keen individuals who spend most of their time at the front of the ship, dressed for arctic conditions and sporting camera equipment that could photo a fly’s eye at 100 yards. But strangely the majority of ‘proper’ sightings have been brief and purely by chance, so these keen naturalists have been mainly disappointed by the lack of whale activity.
Out in the middle of the ocean for days you start to appreciate the vastness of our planet and our own total insignificance in the grand scheme of things. We strive to fill our lives with all the trappings of modern life and yet the sheer beauty and wonder of nature is right there in front of us, and it’s free (if you don’t count the cost of the cruise that is lol)

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