From Russia with Love

Holidays yet again and we had decided on Russia as our destination for 11days. Neither of us knew a lot about the cities there and were happy just to find out as we went along. We sorted our visas early (and expensively), booked some cheap accommodation and set off. The weather was cold but sunny in Moscow and we chose to take the free walking tour to get our bearings in the city. Our guide was great and we learnt a lot about the history of Moscow as well as getting to see the major sights and being recommended some good places to eat.

What struck us the most in Moscow was the sheer size of everything. From the glorious metro stations to giant unused buildings to the Seven Sisters, the city was built on a bizarrely grand scale. We spent our days wandering various parts of the city. This included parks with huge sculptures and buildings, the Space Museum, Moscow State University, a wooden village with castle-like turrets and a tourist market inside and of course Red Square and the area around the Kremlin. All of which were extremely impressive and interesting. We were lucky not to see a drop of rain (or snow) during our 5 days and had really enjoyed our time in the city. We were ready to board our overnight train to St Petersburg!

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View from inside St Basil’s Cathedral

We didn’t know what to expect from a night train through Russia but ended up with a comfortable, trouble-free experience. Despite the snoring of a fat Russian man below us, we both managed to get a little sleep and arrived in St Petersburg in the early morning ready to meet our couch surfing hosts who we would be staying with for 3 days. Like all our other hosts we have stayed with these guys were wonderfully friendly, hospitable and helpful. They took us on a walk around the centre of town to acquaint us with the main areas and the following day took us to a different neighbourhood to see some lesser known sights and learn about the history of St Petersburg. We also enjoyed a lovely evening eating with them and a friend and playing board games.

We then decided to treat ourselves to a hotel (which was actually very cheap) and stayed in the city centre for 2 nights. We took a day trip out to a town called Pushkin, home of Catherine Palace which houses the famous Amber Room. Unfortunately the queues were up to 2 hours long so we decided to skip that and enjoy the grounds in the sunshine.

We spent our final day wandering to Peter and Paul Fortress where so crazy Russians were sunbathing nearly naked in the 10degree heat. Some even went one further and went swimming in the river which was still half covered in ice!

We then reserved a good few hours for walking around the Hermitage Museum and boy did we need it! This is one of the biggest museums in the world. It not only has exhibitions covering all of ancient history and art from all over the world but the building itself is a former palace and has some of the most spectacular rooms. Photos don’t do it justice. We were exhausted after over 3 hours walking around but thoroughly enjoyed it.

We really enjoyed Russia and going with very few expectations left us to be pleasantly surprised by the friendly people, spectacular buildings and affordability. We would love to go back in the summer months to see the beautiful gardens and fountains.

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Istanbul not Constantinople

The great thing about teaching (besides the rewarding feeling of arriving home each day covered in glitter and passing out on the couch at 7pm) is the holidays. So for the February break we decided on Istanbul. I’d been before on my travels a few years before but didn’t feel I’d done it justice, and boy was I right!

A week was a great amount of time to properly explore the city (both Europe and Asia) without feeling totally rushed and being on the go all day every day. We spent a day cycling around the one of the Prince’s islands in the sunshine. Picnicking without another person in sight, looking out over the ocean. We then wandered through the town which was full of beautiful, huge, old wooden houses and caught the ferry back in time to see the sunset over the island.

We of course did the tourist attractions such as the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar. Both were worthy of their fame. We combined these sights with plenty of walking around the city and soaking up the atmosphere of busy markets, riverside views and towering mosques.

 

We spent a day exploring markets and cafes on the Asian side on the city which was pleasant but didn’t feel vastly different to the European side. One of our favourite experiences of our time there was our Turkish hamam. We followed the advice of some travel blogs and found a local place rather than the overpriced touritsty ones. The one just along our street allowed males and females to bathe together and on a quiet Friday afternoon we had the place to ourselves for a sauna, scrubbing and massage. We left feeling very refreshed and relaxed!

Overall we enjoyed a create mix of sights, wandering the busy city and relaxing in cute little cafes with a Turkish tea and a bit of baklava!

 

A Winter Break in Malta

On a whim I filled in the week before Christmas with a 4 day trip to Malta. Why? Well why not? The flights were cheap and direct, accommodation was affordable, the weather could still be considered warm and it was somewhere I’d never been.

With no expectations I boarded a plane and found myself on a tiny island south of Italy. Within minutes of arriving at the hostel I’d made friends with a German guy who had conveniently hired a car for the few days we were there. So him, me and another guy also living in Germany spent the next few days exploring Malta and the neighbouring island of Gozo.

Valletta, the capital city of Malta is a beautiful old town with plenty of churches, cute apartments with colourful balconies and stunning views across the water. We spent a bit of time wandering around and enjoying the sun.

Also on our itinerary was the town of Mdina, a walled old town with a maze of streets and lots of nice little restaurants. We were hit by heavy rain in the afternoon so decided to head back to the hostel and refresh before going out for dinner and some local beers (not exactly delicious when you’ve just come from Germany!)

The next day we took the car across on the ferry to Gozo where we saw ruins older than the pyramids, explored a fortress and watched the sunset through the beautiful Azure Window. The weather was beautiful for late December and we returned home that evening throughly exhausted yet satisfied with out days sights.

The last day was another stunner and with only the morning to do things we decided to go at Malta pace. So rather than rushing off to fit in another part of the island we went back to Valetta and got a coffee and some Maltese pastry delicacies and soaked up the sun before our return to cold, wet Germany for Christmas.

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Bonnie Scotland and the Adventure Home

During our roadtrip I’d had a pang of ‘homesickness’ for my second home in Edinburgh. Knowing that in August the city is completely taken over with actors, dancers, musicians and generally interesting people, I decided it would be a great time to show Max my old hangouts and introduce him some of my best friends. So we booked our flights and a couple of days after returning from our roadtrip we were off to Bonnie Scotland.

The festival was just as crazy, interesting and quirky as I’d promised Max and we had a great time just wandering the city, seeing free shows and soaking up the atmosphere. I also introduced Max to the wonders of charity shops.

To show Max a bit of Scotland my friends arranged a day trip to Loch Lomond. After a slow start with people getting very lost (not naming names) we found our way to the bonnie banks, with a stop at the famour Kelpie sculptures along the way.

We also found a rare, beautiful, sunny day and climbed up Arthurs seat for great views of Edinburgh. And what trip would be complete without a pub quiz and some fish and chips! Thoroughly satisfied with our trip we headed to the airport to fly back to Germany, this time to settle into work and other such normal activities. But as fate would have it, our adventure was not over yet.

Due to sheer stupidity on our part we missed our flight home and were extremely unwilling to pay a further 100pounds each plus whatver staying the next 2days in Edinburgh would cost. Our solution? Hitch-hiking! Neither of us had properly done this before and we weren’t sure what to expect so we set our sights on Manchester (where I knew people we could stay with) as our first goal.

With surprising ease we got to Wigan and from there a couple of short rides took us within busing distance of my friend’s house (where I was living while in Manchester) where she had curry waiting for us. First leg complete! After meeting some family friends for a delicious breakfast, we were on the side of the road again aiming for London.

It took a bit longer to get started but after almost 2 hours we got a life just out of the city and almost instantly got a ride all the way to London. We stayed the night with a good friend of mine from NZ who I hadn’t seen since moving overseas so we had a nice evening of catch ups on a surprsingly warm and sunny London evening.

The next day was going to be tricky. Getting to Europe was the goal. We refused to pay the exorbetent amounts for public transport in London (this seemed to cancel out the savings we’d made hitch-hiking). So we walked towards a main road and stuck our thumbs out. In no time we’d made it to the motorway heading south and were on our way to the ferry terminal. At the last petrol station before the ferry we held up a sign for ‘France’ and were picked up by 2 Dutch girls on a roadtrip. The ferry ticket paid for the car and passengers were free so it was no skin off their nose to take us with them. Finally in Europe, the girls took us all the way to Holland before we decided to get out and find a bed for the night.

The next day was long but we were determined to get home so after 6 different rides through 3 countries we finally made it to Frankfurt Aiport and got the S-Bahn home. We met so many amazing people on our trip, just genuinely nice people who wanted to help us. We are glad we missed our flight and got the opportunity to experience a different way of travel. Plus the 4 day journey cost less than one persons flight home including all food and accommodation! Thank you to every one who helped us along the way!

 

 

 

 

Roadtripping the Baltics

After Egypt we returned to Germany and began preparation for a roadtrip that would take us to Tallinn and back. Max’s Dad kindly gave us his car for 3 weeks and, after borrowing a tent and a blow up matress, we were off. Starting with a 9 hour drive to Warsaw. We wanted to make our trip as economical as possible so we used blablacar.com to find people to share the petrol costs with and took a Polish woman with us. We also used couchsurfing to find accommodation and had a wonderful host in Warsaw who gave us his fold out couch for 2 nights free of charge. He also showed us around the city and told us lots of interesting information about Poland’s history. DSCF1978

After meeting our Spanish passengers we began our journey on towards Lithuania…without checking the route that satnav proposed. After several hours we became aware that we were heading very close to Belarus and in fact the satnav’s route wanted to take us right through it. We got as far as the line for the border crossing before veering off and taking a detour through a beautiful part of Polish countryside, arriving in Vilnius a little later that excpected. We spent a day in Vilnius before heading out to the coast to meet our couch surfing hosts and a fellow couch surfing couple on a big round the world adventure. We all hit it off and spent a great few days exploring the area, eating burgers and enjoying a local beer festival.

We took our fellow couchsurfers with us for part of the next journey and dropped them off before heading to a couch surfing host in the middle of a forrest area in Latvia. We picked fresh berries in the morning and enjoyed some nature before continuing to Riga where our host had put us in touch with his friend who we could stay with. We really loved wandering the streets of Riga and discovering the many second hand clothing shops! We managed to meet up with friends of mine from the Czech Republic who were also on a road trip. After a couple of nights we headed North to the Gulf of Riga to camp by the beach for a couple of days.

After a final few hours driving we reached out Northernmost destination, a couch surfing place 30mins outside of Tallinn in a lovely wooden house (complete with sauna) with a young Estonian couple. Tallinn was beautiful and we managed to see a lot of the city in a day of walking guided by recommendations from our hosts. After an evening of sweating in the sauna and beating each other with branches as per tradition, we headed south again. This time we took advantage of the free camping laws in the Baltics and camped in some lovely spots in Estonia and Latvia along the way.

Back in Lithuania we decided to pass through Kaunas to see a different city. We stayed with another brilliant couch surfing host and enjoyed wandering the old town. We then opted for the smaller country roads through Poland and ended up spending two nights in the car out of laziness as we couldn’t be bothered to put up the tent! We also had a very near fuel outage whilst searching desperately for a petrol station in the tiny towns we passed through. With the weather not looking too flash we gave up our ideas of a few days at the beach and instead headed back to Germany to stay in Berlin for a weekend. Finally, it was time to head back to Frankfurt for a wedding and a quick refuel before our flights to Edinburgh to catch up with friends and experience the famous Fringe Festival.

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Our route through the Baltics

Land of the Pharaohs

Since my 8 year old aspirations of being an archaeologist, I have had a fascination with Egypt and it has been high on my travel list. However, due to recent civil unrest I had put it in the ‘not now’ basket. But hearing from 2 friends that were living in Cairo, one with young children, that they felt safe reassured me that I could give it a go!

I flew to Cairo alone and spent a week exploring the sights including the Egyptian museum, the citadel, coptic Cairo and the Kahn Al-Khalili market. Ramadan began soon after I arrived and I got to see a whole different side of Egyptian life. My friend (another Kiwi) invited me to spend time with his Muslim friends who cooked some delicious meals for after the sun went down. I also took a trip to Alexandria for a couple of days which was a little daunting as a solo female but I soon met a Fijian man there on business who became my travel buddy for the couple of days I was there which made it a bit more relaxed.

After 10 days Max came to meet me in Cairo and I finally got to see the Pyramids. These were every bit as amazing as I’d imagined and with barely a tourist in sight it was an incredible experience. We had a token camel ride around the desert and visited the Sphinx. we had one more day exploring Cairo before we got an overnight train to Aswan in the very south of Egypt.

If there were barely any tourists in Cairo there were even less in Aswan. The local people there are known as Nubian and are much more African looking than Northern Egyptians. They are also extremely friendly and welcoming. It was sad to hear some of their stories about the livelihoods that had been lost due to a lack of tourism. Especially considering the South was very peaceful and safe. We decided to travel to Luxor along the Nile, given the absence of tourists the felucca captains weren’t generally running tours so we booked in on a cheap, almost empty cruise ship which would take us 3 days to reach Luxor.

The cruise was beautiful, if you ignored the package tour groups sunning themselves on the deck. We had windows looking out onto the Nile and it stopped at some small towns and temples along the way. We arrived in Luxor and checked into a cheap and cheerful hostel. There was a lot to see and do in Luxor and on out first day we met a group of British medical students and spent the next couple of days hanging out with them. We did a tour to the Valley of the Kings, Temple of Amun-Re and the Collosi of Memnon. We a. lso saw the Luxor Temple and the Temple of Karnak twice (once at night for the sound and light show). We also took a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings at sunrise which was pretty spectacular. Despite the heat I think Luxor was my favourite place in Egypt.

After a busy few days in Luxor we got the bus to Hurghada, a touristy town on the Red Sea. We didn’t really like the town much and were just there for our flight home. But we did enjoy some time on a beautiful beach which resulted in some very painful sunburn for both of us!

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Adventures with my parents

So I haven’t written on this for a year now but recent travels have inspired me to update it. More for my future self than anyone else. So I’ll go back to where I left off. I did move to Manchester and absolutely loved supply teaching. It gave me the reassurance I needed to believe I could actually do this teaching thing. It was also blissfully commitment free and reasonably well paid. In the April holidays my parents came from New Zealand to meet me in Copenhagen (Max joined us there too) for 2 weeks of travel and catch ups.

Copenhagen, while ridculously expensive (thanks Mum and Dad!), was lovely and very laid back. We did a lot of wandering and cafe stops. A favourite area was a shed full of street food stalls on a place called Paper Island. The food was delicious and decently priced for Copenhagen.

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The classic Copenhagen shot of New Haven

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Dad and I enjoying a beer!

One day Max and I were feeling adventurous and decided to hire bikes and cycle to a castle in a neighbouring town. We had views of pituresque Danish cycle ways where we could cruise along chatting, stop for picnics and enjoy the views. It wasn’t quite as we imagined as most of the way was alongside a busy motorway but we powered through and ended up at a beautiful castle. The ride back was slightly nicer as we took some back routes. We arrived home exhausted after 80km of cycling but proud of our achievements. Needless to say our bums were a bit sore the next day!

 

Max went back to Germany at the end of the week and Mum, Dad and I flew to Ljubjana, capital of Slovenia. We didn’t know a lot about it before we went but it turned out to be easy to walk around, cheap and we had really nice weather. We happened across a beer and burger festival and visted the castle and just wandered the town. We also went on a day trip to Bled which was well worth it. Lake Bled has a small church on an island in the middle, a castle up the hill to the side and mountains surrounding it on all other sides. This made for some prety stunning views and a loely atmosphere for a leisurely bike ride around the lake.

After Slovenia we took a minibus to Italy where we visited Venice and Bologna. I had been to Venice before but it was nice to go back and get lost in the thousands of tiny streets. I had also had a sufficient enough break from Italy to enjoy the food again. Bologna was much nicer than I expected. I enjoyed visiting the university and seeing the beautiful old library which was tucked away in one of the buildings. After a couple of days there I said my goodbyes to my parents for another undefined amount of time. It was so good to see them again and we had so many laughs, chats and games of yahtzee! Made me a little homesick but not enough to head back to that side of the world just yet. I had a busy summer planned with tickets booked to Egypt and a road trip planned through the Baltics.

Naples

Had Max to visit last weekend and we spent a lovely couple of days in Naples. Wandering the old town, exploring castles, eating delicious food and enjoying the views. It was nice to be in a city and have some new things to do and see.

The boredom and loneliness has got the better of me here and I have quit my job and plan to move to Manchester in a couple of weeks. I’ve signed up with a supply teaching agency so will do supply work for a few months. Meeting Mum and Dad in April for a couple of weeks. Then I have flights booked to Cairo in June with a plan to continue on to Delhi and Sri Lanka but still working out logistics with Max’s exams and flight prices. No plans after August so will see what life brings! Here’s some pictures of Naples…

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Molfetta and Other Destinations November- January

I am well and truly settled into life in Molfetta now. The lifestyle here is incredibly simple and apart from a few surface level, drinks on Friday night type friendships I haven’t really made any friends. The female teacher was never replaced and hanging out everyday with 2 men in their late 30’s isn’t exactly endless fun. So needless to say life here is rather boring, especially given that it it’s the middle of winter so despite the sun still being present more often than not, being outdoors is not really an option. I’ve got back into my running this year and am hoping to run another half marathon in March and beat my time. My Italian has progressed reasonably well despite me almost totally neglecting my workbook since the new year. I can follow most day to day conversations and am getting the hang of the different articles and verb endings. I’ve also discovered the kids TV channels and often wind down with an episode of Peppa Pig in the evenings. The teaching is going well. Most of my classes are lovely and even though it can get a bit repetitive I mostly enjoy working.

I spent Christmas with Sinead at Rowana and Paul’s place in South London.

Christmas Day

Christmas Day

It was nice to be around a family of sorts for Christmas and to spend some time in London with real shops, a variety of food and a bit of cultural diversity! It’s been so nice spending time with Sinead this year and it’s amazing how well we get on considering we hadn’t seen each other for 6 years! After a week in London and with a severely depleted bank account I flew to Cologne where my friend Max (who I met while I was travelling in Europe in August) picked me up and we spent the night and the next day there before heading to Frankfurt.

We had 4 days in Frankfurt including New Years Eve when we had a party at Max’s flat with some of his friends. We also went for a drive up into the hills to see some proper winter snow and to visit Max’s parents in his tiny (160 people) German village.

Fun in the snow

Fun in the snow!

We then began our mission back to Italy with a bus to Zurich. Zurich was very cold and rained the afternoon and evening we were there. Fortunately I had already been during the summer so wasn’t too bothered about not seeing anything. We met my friend Lisa and her boyfriend (both from NZ) who happened to be passing through on their travels also and went out for an overpriced Swedish meal. The next morning we got another bus to Milan and then a train out to Bergamo a small town about an hour away where the Ryan Air airport is. We had a wander around the town and a delicious Italian meal and a Peroni to welcome Max to Italy before our flight to Bari.

The next morning we had to make our way back to the airport to collect our rental car. All went smoothly at the time and we couldn’t quite believe how simple it was. Turns out afterwards we were stung for about 100euro in insurance we didn’t agree to (currently in talks with the bank!) But at the time we were oblivious and happy cruising along in Cornelia, our new travel buddy. Navigation was easy and the roads were surprisingly quiet and easy to drive on. We made our way South West into the hills to the town of Albero Bello home to many trulli and some lovely views along the way.

Trulli

Trulli

It had been snowing that week so the olive groves had a white floor but the sun was still shining through, it looked pretty beautiful. We then continued South through the hills and small towns and stopped in Lecce, the Florence of the South. We stayed there for the night, over ate on Italian delicacies and gelato, stayed in a lovely apartment and wandered the old town by day and night.

Gelato stop #1

Gelato stop #1

After a morning coffee by a beautiful cathedral we headed even further south to Gallipoli, a small old town on a island that has a road connecting it to the mainland. We stopped for a wander and then headed East to the opposite coast and drove north up through the seaside towns with some photo, coffee and gelato stops. We then drove a little inland and turned off into the olive groves to sit and watch the sunset.

Sunset stop

Sunset stop

We stopped for the night in Monopoli, mostly for the novelty of the name.

Monopoli!

Monopoli!

It was another nice coastal town but was almost identical to the one I live in. The next day I had to be back at work so we made our way back up the coast and I gave Max the grand tour (10mins) of Molfetta. Max stayed for another 3 days so we sampled some of Molfetta’s finest pizza, seafood and gelato and took the train to some of the neighbouring towns during the day.

Trani for picnic lunch

Trani for picnic lunch

We were really lucky to have sunshine almost every day and it was really nice to experience the town with the feeling of being on holiday. Max is now my boyfriend although given that he lives in Frankfurt it may prove to be a little problematic. He is coming back here in 2 weeks and then I’m hoping to go there for a half marathon in March. It’s quite easy to pop to another country for the weekend here in Europe and with all the skype/viber/what’s app communication options these days I think it will be ok.

Well I have another 4 hours to kill before work so I’m going to do some exercise, read my book in the sun and cook some lentil soup. Will write another update next time I do something worth writing about!

The Half Marathon International Birthday Extravaganza!

So with a weekend in Germany and Poland planned and entry into my first half marathon secured I packed my bags and was all ready for my 6am depature the next morning. Only to get an email informing me of the strikes my airline were due to have the next day and that my flight from Rome-Berlin would be cancelled but my flight from Bari-Rome would be fine because it was before 8.15am. So my very generous bosses picked me up at 6am to take me to the airport to get to Rome and try and make a later flight to Berlin. However upon arrival we were told that in fact my first flight was also cancelled and the next available connection to Berlin was on Sunday (the day after my race). All other airlines were quoting prices in the realms of 400euro so we returned to base camp (school) with a mission to get me to Poland my the following day for an affordable price. We made a quick stop for croissants and coffee (which the waiter personalised for me!)

It does say 'Rohan' Italians just write funny.

It does say ‘Rohan’! Italians just write funny.

Determined to live out my weekend plans I proceeded to create an ellaborate journey at minimal cost, getting me to Poland at 3pm the following day. So after lunch with ‘the boys’ and a quick nap it was back to the airport (thanks again to my wonderful bosses) for an evening flight to Munich. From there I made my way to the bus station for an overnight bus to Berlin. The temperature in Germany was a good 10-15degrees colder than Molfetta so that was a bit of a shock to  the system. I managed to find a warm cafe to get a hot choc and use the WiFi before meeting a random Polish man who would drive me to Koszalin. I arranged it through a website called blablacar which (along with couch surfing) is going to be my new way of travelling cheaply. Cezary spoke very little English but managed to tell me a bit about his job and Poland before dropping at the door of my apartment for just 15euro (a bus to the station would have been 50euro).

My friend Allanah had arrived the night before and scoped out the small town we were staying in. So we had a nap and prepared for the big race. It was very cold at 2am but a bit of running soon warmed us up! There were about 500 participants (most were Polish men) and I think its fairly safe to say we were the only people from outside of Europe. I finished in 2hours and 7mins which I’m happy with but I also think I could do better if I ever decide to do it again. Running during the day, in normal temperatures having had a proper nights sleep would be a good start to improving my time.

Before the race. Ready to go!

Before the race. Ready to go!

After the race in our super warm metallic blankets.

After the race in our super warm metallic blankets.

The next day was recovery/eat delicious food day and then we decided to venture further a field as the town we were staying in was rather dull. So we used the joys of blablacar and secured a ride with the strong and silent Damien and Konrad who drove us the 2.5hours to the nearest city- Szczecin (or as we affectionately named it- Scissors). We had to change our bus to Berlin to leave from here so we ended up with only a few hours to explore this bustling metropolis. Luckily there was only a couple of streets with anything noteworthy. Here’s some shots of our day!  DSCF1090 DSCF1091 DSCF1093 DSCF1088DSCF1095

Allanah has the same birthday as me so back in Berlin we celebrated with a Thai meal and an early night! On the 28th we went for a wander round some funky wee Berlin shops and ate delicious waffles and then headed to the airport, picking up Allanah’s Dad’s friend along the way who, in typical German fashion, insisted we have a beer for the journey.

Birthday waffles!

Birthday waffles!

Beers in the car

Beers in the car

I arrived back in Italy about 8pm. Fabio (my boss) picked me up at the airport and him and his wife and another friend took me out for dinner at an Irish pub in the next town. All the staff had pitched in to get me a present (a bag, a bracelet and a keyring made from recycled materials from a little fair trade shop). The boys didn’t come out but have promised a raging weekend in Molfetta (a few beers at someone’s house) this weekend so looking forward to that! So all in all a pretty amazing start to being 25!