Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Jeju Island, South Korea

They say Jeju is like the “Hawai’i” of South Korea… and I can sort of see why. Jeju Island (also known as Jejudo) is a volcanic island and the largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula. Jeju, itself, is a popular getaway for vacationers andhoneymooners. With it’s lush landscape, volcanic craters, pristine waterfalls, stone statues, and laid-back attitude, who could resist?

I originally thought that I wouldn’t be able to travel to Jeju, since I’m at that broke-college-student-phase. My good friend, Thi My (also a student at Sungkyunkwan University), convinced me to think about going to Jeju for the weekend and when she showed me how cheap the round-trip tickets were, I couldn’t refuse. I had to take the opportunity because who knows? I may not have another chance to visit Jeju again.

Thi My and I visited Jeju in early December and on our first day of being there we decided to hike Mount Hallasan — the highest mountain in South Korea. This was by far the LONGEST (and most strenuous) trail I EVER hiked. I seriously gave Thi My the “look” when she told me the hike would take approximately 8 hours at the least… 8 GRUESOME hours! In the end, I just went along with it and I figure I needed exercise since I’ve been eating too much dessert since coming here to South Korea. After 30 minutes of hiking the trail, I was already feeling the burn (and feeling so much regret). Hiking up to the summit is one obstacle, but hiking down is just as brutal. In order to make it up to the summit, you need to arrive at the Jindallaebat Shelter by 12:00PM and Thi My and I made it just in the nick of time at 11:50PM. From the shelter, it takes an additional 1-1 ½ hours to hike up to the top. My legs, butt, and feet were in so much pain the day after and I was stiff everywhere… literally! And even more surprising, I saw old people and little kids hiking the tall mountain. Unreal! 
Our weekend was packed with lots of physical activities, and the morning after we hiked Seongsan Ilchulbong (otherwise known as “Sunrise Peak”) and boarded a ferry to Udo Island. From there, we rented out bicycles and rode them around the entire island. Unfortunately, Thi My and I were unable to rent out a car so we had to settle for bus as our mode of transportation. If you’re using the bus in Jeju and you don’t know how to speak Korean, I highly recommend that you have the bus stop directions written in Hangul to show the bus driver. Majority of the locals here in Jeju may not speak English so well. Getting around or ordering food was a little more difficult for Thi My and I compared to being in Seoul.
Jeju is also known for their tangerines and we were able to buy a full bag of tangerines for cheap! I can’t tell how many tangerines we ate during that weekend, but we definitely needed that vitamin C. I did want to visit other places throughout Jeju but we were short on time. If you’re ever planning to visit Jeju, I’d say a week of vacationing there is preferable. There were so many things to see and do; a weekend was surely not enough. But hey! I’m proud to say that I got to visit Jeju.
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South Korea: Cat Cafe

Now, if you don’t know me as much, you should know that I am an ultimate cat lover. Yes… I am a crazy, cat lady. So when I found out that there were cat cafés in South Korea, I went absolutely NUTS! Turns out that South Korea is also obsessed with cats… and that makes me happy.   Not only does South Korea have cat cafés, they also have A TON stores and boutiques that sell cat bags, cat cases, cat key chains, cat socks, and many other cat stuff. 

Not gonna lie, finding these cat cafés were pretty difficult. They’ll be hidden in the nook and crannies of alleyways, and they’re mostly found upstairs. So word of advice, look up when walking around streets of Seoul. Most buildings have multiple shops, restaurants, cafes, and other services upstairs on different floors.
After visiting a couple cat cafés throughout Seoul, my favorite one is located in Myeongdong. But then I also realized that there are a few other cat cafés alsolocated throughout Myeongdong, but my go-to cat café is called Cat Playground. My mama bear and I found it while we were strolling around Myeongdong. How did we find it, you ask? We saw a local dressed in a cat costume passing out flyers. The dude was even nice enough to lead us there. And
after finding it, we first had to remove our shoes and wear the slippers they provided. Admission is 10,000 KRW for each person and with the entrance fee, it comes with a free drink (yaaay!).
My mama bear and I probably spent more than an hour at the café, but it was totally worth it! There were more than 20 cats and I got to pet almost all of them, including the bald cats. Ugh… touching them felt so weird! I eventually returned for a second time when my good friend and coworker, “Mama Olives,” visited South Korea for a few days. Once I introduced her to the cat café, she hard time leaving. Hell… it was hard for me, too! I get easily attached to animals, and the cats that we met there were sooo friendly and playful!

At the same time, visiting these cat cafes made me miss my three, furry babies back home. It’s been a tough 4 months surviving without my cats… but on the bright side, it’s given me a break from having to constantly use the lint roller to remove the fur from my clothes. 
If you’re a cat lover (like me), you should definitely check out the cat cafés here in South Korea. I promise you’ll love it!
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Travel Frenzy, More Than I Could've Imagined

Ciao Everyone!
I just finished my last trip while in Europe! This weekend I had a friend visiting me from Hawaii and we decided to take a trip to Rome. All I can say is that I left a part of my heart in Rome… It was absolutely beautiful beyond words. We had a blast there even though we only had two days to see the entire city. All my trips this semester abroad have exceeded my expectations and I couldn’t be any happier! Including my trip to Rome, I have now been to 10 countries and roughly 30 destinations within those countries! I’ve been to:
-Italy: Milan, Genoa, Verona, Salerno, Sorrento, Naples, Vico Equense, Positano, Capri, Pompeii, Rome, Lake Como
-Croatia: Zadar, Krka National Park
-Germany: Munich (twice)
-France: Nice, Anitbes, Cannes, Villefranche, Paris, Disneyland Paris (barely in Paris)
-Switzerland: Zurich
-England: London
-Ireland: Dublin, Cliffs of Moher
-Monaco && Vatican City (both very tiny countries): Monte Carlo…The Vatican City
-Belgium: Brussels
-Spain: Barcelona, Montserrat
I managed to see everything I wanted to and more within the short four months of my stay here in Italy and stay on top of my school work too. I was surprisingly easy to travel to almost every part of Europe from Milan. With three airports that are easily accessible, I was able to do all my traveling. It wasn’t too expensive either (about to blow your mind)…I was able to get a roundtrip ticket for a weekend from Milan to Brussels for 16 Euros! Isn’t that crazy! I made sure to make the best of my short time abroad and I can confidently say I’ve have an amazing experience and I’m sad it’s coming to an end! I will be leaving Italy very shortly and I’ll write another post about my experience leaving the country and life I’ve been living for the last four months of my life.
Until then,

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

My First Poruwa Ceremony

               My first Poruwa Ceremony

This weekend has been one of my absolute favorites! My friend Ranjani was having her wedding and invited me to take part in the traditional ceremonies and after party. First things first, this meant it was time for me to buy my very own saree- a customary dress for Sri Lankan women! After being told this can be very difficult as a foreigner, three of my girl friends took me to a local shop to pick out the fabric. We decided that a Kandyan saree would be most suitable for the occasion which meant a lot of measurements and poking.  After three days and the evening before the wedding, my saree was finally ready. Because the celebrations begin very early in the morning, I woke up at 4am to get ready. With a lot of help from my neighbors and tons of laughing, I was dressed within an hour. 

Traditional Sri Lankan weddings are beautiful! There are so many amazing rituals and customs performed in the morning that are influenced from Buddhist culture. I learned so much about the country in only one day by understanding the hidden meanings and values behind each act. I was also blown away by how stunning all of the women looked.

 Makeup is not commonly worn, so it was a lot of fun seeing everyone so dressed up. Furthermore, there are a lot of differences from our traditions in comparison to theirs. For example, there is no special kiss and the bride and groom cut “kiri bath” (milk rice) instead of cake. One of my favorite moments was seeing three Buddhist monks give their blessings and chant sections from Jayamangala Gatha.  
The ceremony takes place on a Poruwa, a beautifully decorated platform in the center of the hall. The bride and groom must enter the Poruwa leading with the right foot first, and are presented with beetles leaves and other items that all represent different symbolic gestures. The day was filled with amazing local food (which is eaten with your hands), tons of music and dancing, and overwhelming amounts of love. Everyone was interested in seeing me in a saree as I was the only foreigner at the event. Overall, it was a great time and has convinced me that I no longer want a traditional Canadian wedding! 

-Jackie Dolski

Monday, November 21, 2016

Lights, Camera, Action: Living in a Fashion Capital


My name is Joselyn and I am currently living life in Milan, one of the most important fashion capitals in the world. What is it like living in such a prestige city you may ask...well, let's just say it's nothing like I was expecting but in a way much more than I could imagine. 

First off, I have just gotten adjusted to the idea of living in another country, one that I had never visited before or was the slightest bit familiar with and it only took me two months and I am leaving in less than a month, ironic right? Before coming to Milan I was extremely excited to be able to experience some place new that I've only heard about or seen pictures of however when I did finally arrive in Italy, the culture shock and unfamiliar surrounding was a bit overwhelming. 

Yes, culture shock is a huge part of studying abroad, especially if you're someone like me who's never been to another country before BUT I have adapted to my new home and can proudly say that Milan has stolen a piece of my heart. From walking to school, to seeing familiar faces each day, to getting to know other study abroad students and being able to be apart of another culture is truly an memorable experience. It's definitely one of the best decisions I've made so far even when I was told it would be impossible to study abroad my senior year but here I am! 

Shortly I'll be writing a post about traveling to other countries right after I have visited my 10th country while studying abroad (that was my goal), so stay tuned!


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Weekend Adventure to Busan, South Korea

We’re halfway through the school semester at Sungkyunkwan University and not only am I trying to balance my classes and study for upcoming finals, I’m also scrambling to complete everything on my “things-to-do-in-South-Korea” checklist (and honestly, I’ve already done sooo many).  I really want to make the most out of my experience here in South Korea because who knows?  This could be my only chance to go out and explore.
Recently, I visited Busan during the weekend with a few other friends and I must say… I understand why so many people (and locals) LOVE Busan!  As the second-largest city after Seoul, Busan is a mix of both old and new, featuring hiking trails, beaches, scenic mountains, shopping malls, and also seafood cuisine.
If you’re a first-timer, I highly recommend that you visit the Busan Gamcheon Culture Village.  Situated on the foothills of a coastal mountain, you’ll see clusters of coloful houses with many narrow staircases and hidden alleys.  What makes the community more unique and charming is the fact that the village is decorated with whimsicial artwork including murals and sculptures.  Other places that we visited included Taejongdae, Haeundae Beach, Nampo-dong, the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center, and the Jalgachi Fish Market.
Next stop?  I’m crossing my fingers for Jeju Island.  We’ll see!

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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Resources: RAs,Tutors, IEC, and Lingwave

One thing that really surprised me when I got to Japan was how much support I was provided with. Right off the bat, I was introduced to my RAs Hinako and Yuka, who have been a massive help to me in so many ways since I’ve arrived in Japan. From translating important documents to helping me not get locked out after curfew, these two have been so crucial to my new living adjustments. ‘Where is an ATM? Where can I buy toilet paper? What’s the best route to get to school? Where can I buy food? Does this have mayonnaise in it?’ These are all the things you don’t think about beforehand and then panic about when you arrive. And this is where your RAs save you're a**. Kids, take note: be nice to the RAs. You will need them.

In addition to the RAs, Aoyama Gakuin’s International Exchange Center has been exceptionally helpful in getting adjusted to the school. During orientation week the staff members introduced themselves to us personally and walked us through the registration process for courses at Aoyama Gakuin as well as presented us with a wide variety of extra curricular options. Nao, the program coordinator, has been especially helpful in keeping in touch with me both over the summer and during the first few weeks of adjustment. I had a major issue with being able to pay my dormitory fee and I was able to work with IEC to make staggered payments for my invoice both in America and Japan. She was a godsend. The dormitory payment on the other hand, was probably the most difficult money exchange I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I 10/10 do not recommend attempting without guidance.

Outside of IEC, there’s a club/organization called Lingwave at Aoyama Gakuin run by students that focuses on hosting events for exchange students. Basically, these people really love foreigners. And in a country where you aren’t competent in the language and can be easily isolated, it’s pretty fantastic to have people that actually want to talk to you. Lingwave hosts weekly events like bingo games and chat sessions where Japanese and foreign students come together and essentially have a reason to talk to each other. It’s a pretty nice change of pace from the seriousness of classes and studying, and has allowed me to meet some of Aoyama’s Japanese students as well as get to know the foreign students a bit better.

I was also assigned a tutor when coming to Aoyama who I’ve met up with a few times since arriving. During the first few weeks, she took me and some of the other exchange students to Karaoke for the first time. While the Japanese students were more reserved, most of the foreign students went all out belting beautiful and not so beautiful interpretations of classic American and Japanese songs. Basically, drunken westerners are animals, and things got really bizarre. I’m pretty sure we mortified our tutors, but I like to think they secretly enjoyed watching the show. They still talk to us when we cross paths in the hallway, so I’d call karaoke night a success. 

Karaoke with tutors and fellow exchange students in Shibuya, Tokyo. 

Arriving to Tokyo

My first few weeks in Japan have been a blur of errands and meetings and orientations for nearly anything and everything you could have imagined. I have managed to fully furnish my apartment entirely out of the Hyaku Yen shop (A store that sells $1 miscellaneous products), figure out Japan’s public transportation, and register for classes. Finally starting to establish a sense of normalcy, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on what’s been happening since I left America.

When I first arrived in Japan, I was met by a representative that took a batch of exchange students from the airport to their respective dorm. I was surprised to see that I was the only American amongst the students, and most came from different parts of Asia or Europe. Due to the language barrier, I was immediately put to the test of utilizing all my knowledge in Japanese to be able to communicate with my fellow dorm mates. Severely jetlagged and fueled on airport coffee and animal crackers, it was both exciting and completely terrifying.

I soon learned that most of the students that I originally met with were from China or Taiwan, and their Japanese was much more advanced than mine. While communication was a bit patchy, they were all very kind and seemed to be just as nervous and eager for an experience abroad as I was. I like to think that coming off the plane with my ukulele case in hand gave me the quirky edge of being from Hawaii- which also served as a good conversation piece when conversation got difficult. All in all, I think my introduction attempts went as smoothly as I could hope for.

My dormitory is located in Ikebukuro, a busy and bustling subsector of the giant metropolitan that is Tokyo. Ornate with a variety of restaurants and nightlife activity, and just a short walk to the station, the Ikebukuro dormitories quickly earned the title of “desirable location” in my book.

My first night in Tokyo, I found myself walking in the surrounding neighborhood of my dormitory. Out of all the lights and signs competing for my attention, what captivated me the most was seeing these traditional Japanese lanterns that hung humbly outside of the convenience shop around the corner from where I live. While Ikebukuro is one of the more urban areas in Tokyo, these street lanterns were a small but powerful reminder of the culturally rich country, which I had entered. They were subtle, warm, and beautiful. And to me they said, “Welcome to Japan.”

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Studying abroad in America, SEA Part 1 of 2

Hello everyone! My name is Kyra Thompson I am a sophomore studying marine biology at HPU. I am currently studying abroad as a part of the SEA semester program. For those of you who have not heard of this program I will explain it a little more. The program I am in is called Ocean Explorations and it has a maximum capacity of 24 students in the program. The semester is split into 2 six week chunks. The first six weeks is called the "shore component" where you live and study and take classes in Woods Hole, MA which is on Cape Cod. The second six weeks is called the "sea component" where, in my program, we travel to New Zealand to sail around in a tall ship doing research and taking more classes.

My semester started much later than HPU session started. I arrived here in Woods Hole, MA on September 26, 2016 for move in day here at the SEA campus. When I first arrived here on this small campus I was very nervous to see how I would fit in with everyone. Once being assigned my cottage, my family helped me into my room. In my house we had 8 people, 5 girls and 3 boys. The way this program works they have you become a sort of family who live together and also cook dinners together as a group. This was my favorite part because we had some very yummy meals made in my house.

Both program classes S270 and C270 
Once moved in orientation started where we learned about the classes we are going to be taking as well as how everything runs on campus. On campus with us was another program so we had two separate classes on campus at the same time. The total number of people in my program was 15. Some of the first nights together we all were getting to know each other by playing board games and card games. My favorite thing we did was go to the beach and ride the bike paths around Woods Hole and Falmouth. The weather and scenery was beautiful here for early fall. 

The classes we took here on shore were Nautical Science, Maritime Studies, and Oceanography. Our captain, Pamela, taught our nautical science class where we learned more about the tall ship we will be sailing, the Robert C. Seamans, terrestrial navigation, and celestial navigation. This class was my ultimate favorite because I got to learn more about what could be a part of my future career, living on boats. Maritime studies was more like a history class tying it all in terms of maritime history. Oceanography was like any other basic oceanography class you would take at HPU but with an additional research project attached to it that we will continue to do while at sea.
Navigation tools and charts

We took a couple field trips, one to Boston and one to New Bedford. In Boston we learned about how it used to be an old port town and a very popular one at that. We also learned how historical events that occurred there connected to maritime history. In New Bedford we went to the whaling museum and got lots of information on whaling history and how New Bedford was involved in that.

Tomorrow is my last day here in Woods Hole for my shore component. I can not believe that six weeks has already flown by and we have taken in all kinds of information that will be useful to us on the boat. I fly to New Zealand to start my actual abroad part of this program. I am super excited to start sailing around having no contact with the outside world. The best part is going to be using Polynesian navigation where you use nothing but the stars not even a compass to sail and navigate from place to place.

I will post and update again once my six week sea component is over and I gain wifi again in New Zealand on land. Wish me luck!

The tall ship we will be sailing in New Zealand, yes they still exist

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Reminiscing the Month Spent in Korea

     There is still so much to see in Korea, that I definitely have to come back in the future. I have only been in Korea for about a month and 4 days, and I had a really great time! It was really fun! Studying abroad is worth it, and I definitely recommend that students should go study abroad. I gained new experiences, new friends, and tried a lot of new things. Plus, I met a lot of cool people from 20 different countries, including people from the mainland United States of America.

Countries Such As:

Vietnam, Denmark, Kazakhstan, Germany, Canada, Taiwan, Singapore, Macau, China, Taiwan, England, Finland, Romania, Mexico, Australia, Turkey, Serbia, Venezuela, United States of America (Missouri, Minnesota, Georgia, Texas, California), and Korea, because local Korean students part of the program volunteers helped made us feel very welcome. ^_^

     I am back home now, and I am currently reminiscing my time spent back in Korea, it was amazing, but it felt so short~ I really would like to come back again in the future. The next time I go back, my Korean will (hopefully) be a lot better. I didn't experience the culture shock as I thought I would because I did kind of had an idea of what Korea would be like. It was a good image, and about everything turned out as expected. It could have been better though, if I had some coffee (and then instantly be not tired) I would have went out with my friends to go see more places of Korea, because there is honestly so much more to see. And I thought that I should put it out there, but after two weeks of learning Korean, it felt so good to be able to read Korean, but I still need to figure out what I read. I needed to expand my vocabulary, and understand the grammar. I remembered in the past me and my mom would go to the Korean Supermarket in Hawaii, to buy lots of groceries, and cute snacks that were unique to Korea, and I thought that the characters were so strange with the circles, but knowledge is power, and it feels great to understand that the circles mean either "ng" (at the end of a character) or is just a silent space holder in the beginning of a character. :)

     Another thing was that it took some time to get used to hearing Korean (instead of English) all around me, plus it is very quiet around the streets even in the daytime because people don't talk loud at all, and majority of the people I do see walking around are listening to music with earbuds.
     Also, when my friends told me that Korea will be more humid than Hawaii, I didn't really understand what that meant, but now I get it. I also did a lot of walking, exploring and eating. Based on my experiences, I felt that Korea is hotter than Hawaii, and in the subway stations it would be hot, but I can still handle it, and then once I got in side the subway train (because it had air condition) it felt great, but then after a while of being in the train, it started to get cold, and finally when I left the train, it got hot again. But for one thing that I was super glad, that I took care of myself, drank lots of water, and ate food all day, therefore I did not get sick at all.

     For breakfast, I would go to the bakery nearby and purchase baked goods and pastries:) and sometimes in a rush of time, I end up eating instant ramen in my dorm (before class). For lunch, my friends and I, or sometimes I go alone, we would go to Emart and purchase food and other things that we may need. And on days when there wasn't any program activities, my friends and I would go around shopping or exploring parts of the city, Seoul.

     In one of the bookstores (Band & Luni's Bookstore), I went to the music section and saw that there were many western pop music, which was a surprise to me because I was expecting more kpop variety music. But there were also various sections, a part dedicated to western pop, a section dedicated to K-pop, and a section dedicated to Korean dramas OST (Original Sound Track). My friend and I went to several places (I don't remember the name of) to shop for K-pop albums, there were also so many items printed with my favorite idol's faces.

Some restaurants/fast food places that I have seen:

  • Mom's Touch
  • Lotteria (reminds me of McDonalds)
  • Dunkin Donuts
  • Baskin Robbins (ice cream place)
  • California Pizza Kitchen
  • Pizza Hut
  • Domino's
  • Subway
  • McDonald's
  • Burger King
  • Natuur Pop (ice cream place)

Some Coffee places/cafes' that I have seen:

  • Coffee Prince  (I saw it from afar, but we didn't go in that direction)
  • Starbucks
  • Ediya Coffee
  • Angel-in-us-coffee
  • Holly's Coffee
  • Caffe Cucina
  • Ivy Coffee
  • Caffe Bene
  • Caribou Coffee
  • Zoo Coffee

Some interesting food/drinks I have not seen before:

  • Banana Milk
  • Mango Milk
  • Strawberry Latte
  • AND an actual Brand Name called: "No Brand"

Other places/shops I have seen:

  • Forever 21
  • Bandi & Luni's Bookstore
  • Kyobo Bookstore
  • NewBalance (shoestore)
  • Luxury (Highest Singing Entertainment)  <--a Karaoke place
  • Art Box
  • Sewing Factory
  • Tasty Market
  • Line Friends
  • Kakao Friends
  • SM Town (specifically the @ the coexartium)

Cosmetic/beauty shops I have seen:

  • Nature Republic (in Myeong Dong, famous tourist place)
  • innisfree  (all lowercase on purpose)
  • The Face Shop
  • The Body Shop
  • Etude House

Conveniences Stores I have seen:

  • GS25
  • CU
  • Mini Stop
  • 7-11

Some of the New things I have tried:

And here are some of the other places we went to in Korea:

  • Samsung Innovation Musuem (SIM)
  • Amore Pacific - Story Garden (K-beauty)
  • National Musuem of Korea
  • The War Memorial of Korea
  • Kyung Bok Goong (Emperor's Palace)
  • National Folk Museum
  • Korean Spa (Jjimjil bang) at SPAREX
  • Dongdae Mun History and Culture Park (where there were nightflowers)
  • Nam San Tower
  • K Star Road
  • Lotte Cinema (watched Now You See Me 2 in English in Korea)
  • Bukchon-ro (a place in the city where there are traditional korean houses)
  • Han River (it was a dinner picnic near the river)

Pictures of the two rooms inside the Korean Spa, 100 degrees and a 97 degree room. Super hot and moist inside.

Night Flowers at Dongdaemun

Me with my new friends
     There are some things that I have learned while abroad. Next time I come to Korea, I need to bring the extension surge protector with me, and a new travel adapter.

     While riding the subway, I noticed that almost 90% of people in the subway train is either listening to music or looking down in the screen on their phone doing something.

     In some restaurants, we had to order first before sitting down, and water is self serve. And in Holly's Coffee, I found it interesting how they separate their trash. First one is Recyclables, second one is other waste, and the third one is pouring in liquid and ice.

     It only rained for a few days during the entire time I was in Korea, and something I found interesting while I was there is that before entering the department store they have this small thing that you stick your umbrella in and then grab it out and your umbrella comes out in this plastic bag to prevent water being dripped all over the floor. It is different from the one I see in the buildings back home in Hawaii.

Nam San Tower
See what I mean? This was the invention I mentioned previously. You would stick your tall umbrella in the right side, and then pull it out with the plastic bag, so your umbrella comes out inside the plastic bag.

Lobby view of the Korean Traditional Spa place

Wet Napkin Dispenser at Lotteria
Deep Fried Ice Cream Street Food, it's hot and crispy on the outside, but then inside is cold ice cream. So unique flavor!

Update: I meant to post this blog the month after I came back from Korea, which is in September. However, time flies, and it's November 1, 2016, and I am finally uploading this last blog.

Thanks for reading, if you got down this far. :) All photos are taken by me.