A Travellerspoint blog

road tripping along beautiful Ecuadorian landscapes


View Ecuador & Galapagos ... me gusta mucho! - 2015 on Ils1976's travel map.

Although I woke up several times during the night because of drunken people who had trouble finding their rooms, somehow I must have been really tired coz I always immediately fell asleep again. Even when our alarm clock went off at its usual hour, I didn’t hear a thing and slept right through it.

Luckily we always set our clock ahead of our actual wake up time, because we like to snooze a bit and this time I really needed that time.

Still not really awake, I tried to get dressed as quickly as I could, coz I still needed to grab all my stuff together for our departure today, which came sooner rather than later, as soon as we finished our breakfast in the restaurant next door.

It was already a little after 8 AM when our entire group gathered in the lobby of the hotel and as soon as our luggage was safely stored away in the trunk of the bus, we could finally leave for an entire day on the road. Today we were going to drive all the way towards Tena, our entrance to the jungle, but not before we had a few stops along the way.

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As soon as we left Quito behind us, we had a nice enough view on the Cotopaxi, which is still till this day an active volcano and with its eternal snow at the top, it sure makes for a lovely sight.

Traffic wasn’t all that bad as it is in Europe and although we passed through several towns and cities where daily life was going on at its fullest, there were moments we even had the road all to ourselves, which on itself, wasn’t exactly too bad coz it made for great photo stops along the way and after driving for what must have been about 2 hours, we finally arrived at our first real stop of the day, which was the small village of Papallacta. Located just off the Eastern Cordilleras at an altitude of 3300 meter, you could already feel the thin air and I guess when we go back home in 2.5 weeks time, we are going to be blessed with an amazing condition … I can always hope of course!

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Papallacta is very much known for its hot springs and thermal baths, so I must admit that our first stop of the day is not such a bad one and the prospect of me soaking in hot water while the sun is shining upon my face … there are worse things in life, that’s for sure.

Upon our arrival, it was still early in the morning and this meant that there weren’t many tourists in the vicinity, which on itself was quite a pleasant thing. Except for our rather large group of 24, another group arrived with loads of senior citizens as well as a few other Spanish and American speaking tourists, but since the baths we were going to visit were divided into several pools, there was enough space for everyone to go for a swim or for the ones who wanted, including me, for a relaxing soak in extremely hot water. About an hour later and hoping to be rejuvenated, we stored away our swimmers and were on the road again for about half an hour till we reached Guango Lodge, where we had another short stop for refreshments such as tea and coffee with a yummy biscuit.

This next stop, although a short one, was one I looked forward to for quite a while, to be honest. Ever since I read the program a few months ago, I was thrilled to know we were going to visit this place and I guess this was just the same for most of our group since many of them were birdwatchers and a visit to this hummingbird “farm” was like being a kid in a candy store … and than doom happened!

Last year while visiting NZ, me and my camera took a fall while walking one of the many trails you can find in the country and ever since that fall, I have trouble with my camera. I know I should buy another one, but since I am a bit attached to the thing, I ignore the constant signs and take it with me all the time, although unconsciously I know that it needs to be replaced since it doesn’t work all the time.  Till this far I had quite some luck, but as we arrived at the lodge, call it faith or doom, my camera suddenly didn’t work anymore and it gave all kinds of technical problems, so instead of taking pictures, like the rest of our group, I had to make do with just looking at those amazing little birds and what a sight they are … they are just so colorful and beautiful!

It must have been about half an hour later, when our tourleader Freddy decided we had seen enough hummingbirds and as he called the group together, it took us only a few minutes to get back on the bus and I guess we were all excited and eager to see more beautiful things as we drove off into the unknown. As the hours passed, we drove alongside beautiful Ecuadorian landscapes and although we had one short photo stop at Las Tres Marias, our next big stop was at Baeza, where we had lunch at a local restaurant called Gina. At this small restaurant, we could enjoy the local speciality, “trucha al ajillo” or for all of us who don’t speak Spanish all that well, trout with loads of garlic. Did I already mentioned it tasted heavenly??? Well, it DID!

Gina’s is although being a very basic restaurant, a place where you are welcomed with a smile and the food they serve is more than delicious. Once our tummies were filled, we were back on the road again for our last part of the day. 

As we drove further south, the sceneries changed on us from being rocky with trees to loads of green plants and from being sunny to hot and humid. I have to admit that I am not always great with humidity, but if I want to see a bit of this beautiful planet, I have to endure it and that is just what I did for about 2 hours long and a little bit more of course as we arrived into Tena, our gateway to the jungle.

Upon our arrival, we were not only welcomed by a cute dog sitting at the shore, but our transport to our jungle lodge was there to welcome us as well and as soon as we all got into our canoes and onto the Napo river, we had a more than relaxing ride all the way towards our home for the next 2 upcoming nights, La Casa del Suizo.

With still a bit of sunshine left, I endured the humidity and enjoyed the stunning views we came across during our boat ride which sadly enough had to end at one time, but nothing prepared us or should I say me, for the view of our jungle lodge, once it appeared right in front of us. This was truly a beautiful place located smack in the middle of the Amazon.

Our bungalows weren’t all that bad either and the view on the garden was well worth the stay. 

Although me and Tania initially planned of going for a swim in the local pool, we quickly changed our minds once we saw a big group of screaming kids around it. Gone was the peace and quiet we so badly wanted and instead we just remained at our bungalow or to be more precise at the outside porch, where we enjoyed the setting of the sun while having a great conversation … the only thing that was missing, was a nice glass of wine, but I guess that has to be for another time.

Dinner was promptly at 8 PM and although Freddy was raving all day long about the delicious food and desserts, I must admit that I was quite disappointed once I tasted it. Most of it was very dry and cold, the only thing that tasted great was the pumpkin soup, but that’s about it. Luckily the nice conversations with some of our group members made things all for the better and by the time it was 11 PM, me and Tania decided we had enough fun for one day and slowly went back to our bungalow and our designated beds. With the jungle noises in the background, I went to dreamland in a jiffy!

Posted by Ils1976 04:57 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

city touring in and around Quito


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Unlike a few members of our group, I didn’t had much trouble with falling asleep as well as hearing not a single thing from the loud music outside. I must admit that I was a bit afraid of it as well, but once I laid my weary head on that pillow, I was of to dreamland only to wake up when our alarm clock went of at about 6.30 AM. 

Still a bit woozy, I did manage to get dressed and together with Tania, I walked outside our hotel towards a restaurant just around the corner where we could have breakfast, which on itself was actually not a very bad thing coz the sunny yet cold weather made sure that I was awake from the moment I stepped outside the hotel.

By the time it was 8 AM, the whole group was back together again at the reception of the hotel, ready for a day of sightseeing in the capital of Ecuador.

Manuel, our trusty bus driver awaited us outside and as soon as we all got seated, he drove us straight to the biggest church in the city, the Basilica del Voto Nacional, which is one of the most important examples of neo Gothic architecture in the entire country that is Ecuador. This basilica looks really beautiful with its towers and pinnacles and although I am not always the first one to see the beauty in it, I must admit that I was somewhat impressed with the gargoyles. Most of the time, or always to be more precise, you see those dragon figures or even mystical figures, but here in Quito, they used animals which are so known to them and instead of creepy things, you can see cute turtles, funny armadillos, dangerous crocodiles as well as angry iguanas … you gotta love that!

The inside of the basilica, to me, gave a rather sober impression, except for the stained glass windows, which were incredibly beautiful. I know I am a bit biased because of my predilection of this type of window, but still the colors where so nice, that I am sure that each and every one of our group was somewhat impressed one time or another.

Although our visit was but a short one, I was more than glad to had the privilege of seeing it and our next stop of the day was just the same.
El panecillo which literally means “small bread” in Spanish, is a 200 meter high hill located just outside the old town of Quito and houses (is this the right word??) the statue of Quito’s Madonna which is simply called, “la Virgen”. Made out of aluminum, this 45 meter high statue is quite impressive and it is the first one I have ever seen which has wings as well. To me it looked more like a cute angel than anything else, but since I am not a real expert, I just go by saying that it is a beautiful statue from which you have an awesome view on Quito and the suburbs of this large city.

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Just like our visit to the basilica, it was but a quick one, I guess that is always the danger of traveling organized, but at that particular moment I didn’t mind one bit, I just went with the flow so to speak and was more than curious where we were going to end up next than anything else. About half an hour later my question was answered as we were dropped off at the historic part of the city, to be more precise in the vicinity of “La calle de la Ronda”.

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This street, which is said to be one of the oldest ones of Quito, houses beautiful pastel colored buildings with cute balconies and nowadays it is not only nice for a stroll during the day or evening, you can wonder inside the houses as well and find many little shops which sell not only antiques or woodcarving objects, but delicious things like chocolate as well.As we walked through a few streets, after what must have been mere minutes, we ended up at the Santo Domingo Church were we had a quick look inside, before we went on our merit way again towards Independence Square, the central square of the city and one of the symbols of executive power of the nation as this is the spot where you can find the Carondelet Palace or in not so many words, the seat of the government.

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From the main square it was but a minutes walk towards that other infamous piece of Baroque architecture, the Church of the Society of Jesus or “ La Compania” in Spanish, which is basically a Jesuit church and best-known because of its use of gold leaf, gilded plaster and wood carvings. Although it is forbidden to take pictures, you can be sure of it that me and Tania wanted to capture that impressive gold leaf interior which was just too incredible to believe. Weren’t Jesuits supposed to be poor people ??? 

Still a bit impressed, we left the church and walked further along a few streets, only to end up at the San Francisco church about half an hour later, where we had our lunch. While enjoying a sandwich, we had the company of the sun as well, which dared to appear once in a while but being on the equator this also meant that it felt like sitting on a furnace, it was just that darn hot! 

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As clouds appeared at the heavens above about an hour later, it was time for us to leave the old town behind and as we were picked up by Manuel again, he drove us outside the city of Quito and brought us straight to the Intinan Solar Museum, which is said to be the home of the “true” equator. Since we felt its “power" earlier today, I guess I can say that the entire group was looking forward to learn more about it and I must admit that our lovely guide did her best to tell us more about her country, the indigenous tribes and wildlife still living in it as well as to show us all the tricks the equator has to offer. All in all it was a pleasant learning experience and I just wished our teacher back in elementary school could have shown us this coz it was just so much more fun than reading things straight from a boring book. Especially the balancing of the egg is quite a skill and although I failed to become an “egg master” myself, it was nice to know that at least 2 people of our group had the honor to become one!

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I guess, we were still too impressed of being on the real equator or maybe some of us, including me, were still a bit jet lagged, coz by the time we were back on the bus, Manuel drove us back to the city again, without a single soul realizing that we just passed that other infamous statue, which is said to be placed on the equator. Although Tania tried to say something about it, no-one seemed to care and about an hour later we were back in our hotel again, leaving the both of us a bit stunned!

Still left with loads of questions of what just happened, the both of us weren’t really in the mood to listen to a few women of a local travel agency, who were selling a day trip to the Galapagos Islands. Insuring us that there wasn’t much room to book anything on the islands and with a promise that we were going to see all the interesting wildlife, almost our entire group booked their quite expensive trip, after all … this was the reason we came here in the first place. 

Glad to know that was sorted out, the both of us said our goodbyes to the group coz just like yesterday, we weren’t really up for having dinner with 22 other people. After looking at loads of menu cards of different restaurants and after walking in and out several streets close to the hotel, we surprisingly enough ended up at one of the several typical fast food chains of the country and while the rest of our group were getting ready to have a few cocktails, the both of us tried some of the local specialities. Live life to the fullest I always say!

Still craving for something sweet, we went on the lookout for a yummy dessert but after a bit of searching, we didn’t find something suitable until we passed a small funny looking store called “Republica del Cacao" where we dared to have a dark hot chocolate … I died and gone to heaven! Although us Belgians are famous for its chocolate, I must admit that we have found another country that knows how to handle this yummy delicacy.

Although it was only 10 PM, by the time the store closed its doors, we were on the move again and because nothing really exciting was happening in the neighborhood, we slowly walked back to the hotel, had a nice chat with one of our group members in the lobby of the hotel and by the time it was almost midnight, it was more than time to close my eyes coz tomorrow another exciting day awaited us!

Posted by Ils1976 04:47 Archived in Ecuador Comments (2)

Otavalo and a little bit more


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Surprisingly enough I slept quite alright and although I woke up a few times around 3 and 5 AM, when our alarm clock finally went off at 6.30  AM, I was quite awake and ready to start the day!

After we've got a more than delicious breakfast with all the necessary nutrients, it was time to pack all of our stuff and visit the beautiful town of Otavalo of which its centre was only a 15 minutes bus ride away. The town itself isn’t the biggest one of the country, but it is well known for its crafts and textiles markets, so what can I say … we had to visit them!

Together with our tour leader Freddy, our entire group was dropped of at the central park of the town, from where we had a nice view on the San Luis Church as well as the monument of Ruminahui, the resistance hero of the Indian people. Since we did came here to do some market shopping, we skipped the architecture and monument sights all together and walked straight to the food market, where we arrived just a few minutes later.

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Although we arrived pretty early, I must say that I was a bit surprised to see so little people at the market, but on the other hand, it was a wednesday, maybe people weren’t in the mood to do some food shopping in the middle of the week, whatever the case, it didn’t stop Tania and me from walking through one row after another and discover all the known and unknown veggies and meats which were for sale.

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I have to admit that some of it looked very yummy, other things I don’t even have a clue of what they were and some of it didn’t look all that appealing as well, but that didn’t stop the both of us of trying some fried bugs which surprisingly enough didn’t taste all that bad, maybe there is a future for the bug burger!

It must have been more than half an hour later when we met up with the rest of our group and together we walked towards “plaza de los ponchos” where you can still find loads of textiles and other stuff that tourists like so much. Since we were given some free time, the two of us decided to walk around and have a closer look at the goodies which were on sale. While I was looking for a cap for one of my drivers back home, Tania decided to do some poncho shopping as well and actually scored a very nice one. 

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After all that walking around, we both got a bit tired and decided to end a perfect morning with a nice cup of coca tea … how I missed this so much!

Time flies when you are having fun and as soon as we were all together again as one group, we slowly walked towards our tourbus, ready for the next stop on our agenda today, which was going to be a visit to a family who till this day still makes those typical heads they wear in the Otavalo region. It was the first time ever I have seen someone “produce” a hat and they earn my utmost respect … it is hard work to make it, that’s for sure.

From the hat making family, we went on the bus again and drove through Otavalo countryside till we reached Cotacachi, an artisan town famous for its leather goods and I must admit, they sure know their prices. There is just no way that locals can afford these goods and I guess the whole town relies on tourists, but still … luckily they not only have shops with leather inside, a few blocks away from the main street there is a small park with a picturesque church as well, but since we didn’t had too much free time, we just had a quick look around town before we were on our merry way again towards our next stop.

Peguche is a small indian town situated a few minutes north of Otavalo. The locals here are very much known not only for their weaving and handicrafts, but for being very good musicians as well. It goes without saying that our group was going to visit such a family, this being an organized tour and all, but not before we were invited to have lunch in a local eatery which is specialized in serving guinea pig or “cuy” like they call it here in the country.

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I must admit that I was looking forward to eating this speciality, but instead we only got a taste of it and maybe it was for the better coz the piece I got wasn’t all that yummy. Maybe the “cuy” was roasted too much, I don’t particularly know, but it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea so to speak, I’d rather had eaten a few more bugs, they tasted better than the guinea pig!

Besides food, the restaurant had provided a local band as well. Of course, this all sounds like “tourist trap” from miles away, but still … it was fun and I just didn’t mind one bit, I was on holiday and enjoyed every minute of it. 

Just next to the restaurant, we had one last family visit of who certain members of the family were not only musicians, but great artists in making flutes, panpipes, guitars and other things which bring forth music as well. In less than 5 minutes one guy “produced” a small pan flute and even made music on it … quite impressive and so much easier than making a hat … if I was living here, I certainly know which profession I would choose!

Sadly enough, after enjoying a bit of music for the very last time today, we had to go and as we said our goodbyes to the Otavalo region, we drove off on the Pan American highway again in the direction of Quito, where we arrived a few hours later, ready to check in to our hotel for the next 2 upcoming nights.

While the sun was already setting, the both of us decided to discover the neighborhood of our hotel on our own rather than joining the group and our tourleader for dinner and thanks to the good advice of the Lonely Planet, we found a nice Mexican joint, not all that far from our hotel which served a very yummy burrito.

Since it was still a bit early to go to sleep, we walked through several streets only to find out that we were surrounded by loads of restaurants, bars and disco’s, so this meant that sleeping was going to be quite a challenge, which we actually found out a couple of hours later when we were back in our room.

After a quick shower, I turned to my laptop to let the homefront know that I had "survived" the flight and was still alive and kicking and by the time it was 11 PM, I turned of my light while Tania was still reading her mails and for some reason I went to sleep straight away coz I never saw her turning of her light.

Posted by Ils1976 04:39 Archived in Ecuador Comments (2)

high up in the air


View Ecuador & Galapagos ... me gusta mucho! - 2015 on Ils1976's travel map.

I don’t exactly know what happened, but as soon as our alarm clock went off at about 7 AM, I felt like a zombie. Although we had a nice comfy bed, I didn’t sleep a wink. Was it the excitement of leaving or worrying about my little niece who got really ill and who I had to leave behind, I don’t really know, but whatever the case, it made me feel like I wanted to stay in bed all day long instead of catching a flight in just mere hours.

As soon as we got dressed and organized all of our stuff, we went downstairs to the breakfast area to enjoy the joy of what a morning can bring and with a little bit of food in my system, I got all better again and I was more than ready to leave and go and visit the unexpected!

Because we were located a few kilometers away from the airport, we arranged a shuttle transfer around 8 AM and I must say that I was more than glad to arrive at the airport coz not only did we got cold and freezy temperatures, it started to rain (read melting snow) as well. Winter had definitely come to the country and with all the trouble of the last few days concerning my country and IS supporters such as Salah Abdeslam, who wanted to blow up the place or in this case, the capital of Belgium, I was more than happy to leave to safer places.

While our country was still under the spell of terror threats, me and Tania went to the check-in to get rid of our luggage, got through customs, did some shopping and waited at our designated gate to get boarded. I know, there are worse things in life!

Getting on the plane wasn’t really hard and although it looked like we were fully loaded, getting out of Schiphol seemed a little bit more difficult since we had to wait almost an entire hour before we could finally leave. At one point I even thought that they were going to tell us, that we couldn’t leave because of all the threats going on at the moment, but it seemed that I didn’t need to worry about a thing, as soon as the runway was free, we were good to go … Ecuador, here we Belgians come!

Our flight was going to take about 11 hours and 20 minutes, so what to do to “kill” the time? 

At first I tried closing my eyes, but because it was still quite light outside, I gave up hope all together and went through the movie selection of what KLM had to offer. Although we didn’t had too much of a choice, I did decided to watch the movie Cinderella, after all, it kept me in the magical atmosphere and in the end it turned out a really feel good movie … what is not to like when you hear the words … they lived happily ever afteri I guess that only happens in a movie or in fairy tales but still, it is a nice thought, isn’t it!

Since I wasn’t really in the mood for airplane food, I was smart enough to bring my own cup of noodles and unlike some airline companies, the ladies of this flight did their best to fulfill everyones needs and even brought back my noodles with hot water. I was amazed how friendly the crew really was and they smiled all the time, did their best to wait on us hand and foot. I am more than ever a fan of this airline, that’s for sure!

As we were only a few hours into our flight, I decided to stay in the atmosphere of fairy tales and its sorts, so my next movie was called "The Avengers :  Age of Ultron" and I have to admit, when I was young I sometimes read some of the comic books, but seeing the movie is something completely different. Maybe at times it was a bit over the top, but than again, it was fun entertainment and it made sure we were a bit later in the flight when the movie finally ended.

I guess at some point I must have fallen asleep for a while coz when I finally woke up, we were already past halfway the flight and not knowing what to do besides going to the toilet and stretch my legs once in a while, I decided to watch one last movie called “the Minions” which at times was a bit funny but if I have to be honest, I don’t understand the fuss about this minion hype coz after all, they look like small tic tac peppermints with a yellow color and all through the movie they talk nonsense. Not that I complain too much because it got me through the hours and as soon as the crew past by one more time with a delicious snack, it was already time to land. We finally made it and with good speed as well coz although we had an hour delay in Schiphol, once arriving in Quito, we were right on time. I just love the pilot!

Getting through customs was quite an ordeal coz many people didn’t fill in their documents correctly or even worse, forgot to fill them in, but once we got through, it was smooth sailing.

Since me and Tania chose to do this trip with an organized tour, we just had to look out for our guide / tour leader, who apparently was nowhere to be found but instead we found some people who were going to join us. After 15 minutes of waiting, an older chap by the name of Freddy introduced himself and I don’t know why, but at first sight I got the impression we were not handed the right person for this trip, but what can we do, we got stuck with him for the next upcoming weeks.

With the group complete, 24 in total to be exact, we waited for our tour bus to arrive which was about 15 to 20 minutes later and finally we got to know our driver Manuel as well, who drove us save and sound from Quito to Otavalo, our end destination of today.

By the time it was 7 PM, it was already dark and as soon as we got checked in to our room, we had dinner with the complete group which was a nice way to get to know some people a little better, but by the time it was 10 PM, I was completely knackered and as we said goodnight, me and Tania just went to our room and got to bed. After such a long day, I was more than eager to close my eyes.

Posted by Ils1976 04:31 Archived in Ecuador Tagged night hotel airport friends tour group drinks movies south_america Comments (2)

months of counting down has finally paid off!


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Ever since Tania and I booked this trip, I must admit that I secretly began to count the weeks, but as things progressed and months went by, things got busier at work and I sort of lost track of the whole idea of me going to Ecuador and instead I completely focused on my job and family things, that is, till a few weeks before our departure. Suddenly that strange tingling sensation, that feeling you get (or at least I get) when you are about to go on holiday came back to me and as it got closer and closer to our departure date, I got really excited once again. I guess I could say that the final countdown had really begun!

Although our flight to Quito leaves tomorrow early in the morning, I still managed to get a day off from work to get all my stuff ready and after sleeping in, I packed my bags, made sure all my finances were arranged and as soon as lunch was over, my brother came along to bring me to Schelle, to the parental home of Tania, so that we could leave together to Hoofddorp, the place where we booked our hotel for an overnight stay.

Since we didn’t want to drive during rush hour, Tania’s mum arranged dinner for us and as soon as our delicious 3 meal course was over, we drove of in the early evening, only to arrive in the neighborhood of Amsterdam about 2 hours later.

The entire trip was smooth sailing, that is till we reached the capital of the Netherlands!

Driving on GPS is fun as long as you are driving in the right direction, but for some reason Tania’s GPS got all crazy on us once we were in the area of Amsterdam. It has been already quite a few years since she is the pride owner of that GPS and although she updated it several times, the constant arrival of new highways didn’t make things easier and for some reason we sort of got sidetracked, which basically meant that in a way we had a little detour, which we both positively called sightseeing by night!

I really have no idea where we were and maybe in the daytime you have a better view on things, but at night when there are but a few lights, things get really funny that way and after driving for maybe a little bit more than half an hour in the wrong direction, we finally found our hotel and although the last kilometers of our trip were a bit hard to digest, once we were checked in and got the keys to our room, we were happy campers all over again.

We made it, tired but with a smile on our face, we looked forward to tomorrow and after a hot cup of tea and a shower I was more than ready to hit the sack!

Posted by Ils1976 04:26 Archived in Netherlands Tagged road_trip adventure city friends family capital europe jitters preholiday_vibes Comments (0)

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