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Published: February 4th 2008
The Eiffel Tower
Dressed up for the World Cup.
So this was it - Paris, our final destination, the icing on the cake, a glorious finale to 4 months of travelling, 4 of the most fun and exciting months of our lives. Well, that was the script anyway.
When I was lucky enough to land tickets to the Rugby World Cup Final, it was all set up - now the All Blacks just had to do their bit, and make the final. They of course choked against the French, and after knocking us out, the least the French could've done was make the final themselves so as to create a brilliant atmosphere at the Stade de France.
But alas, it was England vs South Africa, neither of which, needless to say, I particularly liked ;-)
It was about 5.30pm when we arrived at Gare du Nord, Paris from Brussels. The train was unbelievably fast, possibly the fastest on the trip, explaining the whopping 15€ supplement we had to pay for it.
We then had to catch the RER ("ayhr-e-ayhr"), the Metro system that serves Paris' outer suburbs and nearby towns.
Being 5.30pm the station was absolutely crawling with people trying to get home and our carriage was the proverbial
Bertrand's Belgian Gift Basket
Our self-assembled thank you gift consisted of several Belgian beers, Belgian chocolates and waffle.
sardine tin. It was compromising shoulder-to-shoulder stuff albeit I was literally face-to-face with a pretty young local girl ;-) I felt bad though as my backpack was taking the space of another person that could've got home a bit earlier, and I was also starting to regret getting buying our self-assembled Belgian gift pack for our host Bertrand, as it weighed a tonne.
As more and more people got off the train, our second La Tomatina-like squeeze
came to an end - it was definitely the most crowded public transport vehicle I have ever been on.
Our stop was at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, right at the end of the red RER line, where we meet our host for the week, Bertrand.
Bertrand is an old flatmate of Davies, from his time in Vancouver. Bertrand works in downtown Paris, but chooses to live in this lovely little enclave of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
Saint-Germain-en-Laye is a "commune" of Ile de France (the region of Paris and it's outskirts) and is very much it's own town with it's own council.
It is beautiful and elegant, much like most French towns. It's cobblestoned walkways are wonderfully kept, and it was in fact the royal residence of the French monarch
Pedestrian-only street right in the heart of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
for many centuries. The monarchy certainly left their mark on the town as the wonderful architecture and tree-lined streets attest to.
Bertrand's place was small - but being right in the middle of the town was brilliantly located. It was bascally just one space that included the kitchen and his bed, that came out of the wall. To accomodate us, Bertrand gave up his bed and slept on his couch, while Davies slept on an inflatable mattress, and I finally got to use my cousin's yoga mat that I had been lugging around.
Bertrand had "Ultimate" practice that night, so we went along to watch a little bit. "Ultimate", is bascially netball with a frisbee but without the movement restrictions. It's quite incredible - I didn't know there were so many ways to throw a frisbee and that you could shape the movement of it through the air. Davies liked it so much that he's keen to play when he gets to London.
It was 8€, 2-for-1 pizza for dinner that night, which interestingly came with two sachets of "pimento" which was basically a clear oil which had a chili kick to it and complimented the pizza beautifully. The dude
Elegant little French town.
behind the counter couldn't speak much English, but he knew enough to tell us that we were buying the "best pizza in town".
We didn't wake up till about 2pm the next day, the travel fatigue was catching up on us big time - and it was damn cold. At least we could sleep in, unlike in Brussels.
We basically spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Saint-Germain-en-Laye - and man is there a lot of wealth here. It is in fact, the wealthiest "suburb" of Paris, a fact not lost on us as we glided by the numerous expensive-looking boutique shops. Even the internet cafe here is expensive at 4€ an hour. We went to the old royal chateau which now houses the Museum of National Archaeology and then the old town church right outside the train station. We then had a walk through the magnificently kept chateau gardens.
That night, Bertrand gave us a French cooking lesson, where we used turnip as a substitute for garlic to fry steak, and then did the same with eggplant, zucchini, carrots, capsicum and tomato which was then doused in a delicious nut-flavoured olive oil. We topped it all off
The reason behind the whole operation.
with some roast potatoes - definitely the best home-cooked meal we have enjoyed on this trip.
We then played the first of many Tekken sessions on Bertrand's Playstation 3 - because we were here for a week, and we had both already seen Paris, we were under no pressure to do anything and it was nice not having to run around from train station to train station for a change. There was one thing we had to do though - decide what to do with our final tickets!
After some across-the-world consultation with friends and family, the verdict was unanimous - we were going to sell the tickets. Basically it was down to the fact that English fans were willing to pay up to £1000 for our £70 tickets, that we hated both England and South Africa, and we didn't really want to watch either of them lift the cup. Now we just needed to find a buyer - and so Operation World Cup Final commenced...
(Times are approximate)
18th October 2007, 2.03pm - Location: The Hub, Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
With the systems down at HQ, we had to relocate our operations to a rented computer space hidden inside a cafe
Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Old royal residence that now houses the Museum of National Archaeology.
around the block. It was expensive to hire at 4€ an hour, but was much more technologically capable.
We needed buyer for the package, and it was agreed the online buyers group known as "eBay" was our best bet at getting the best price. Neither of us had any history or credibility with the group however, so we needed someone who could infiltrate the group for us. I tried all my contacts in London looking for a way in, but unfortunately none of them were affiliated with this "eBay" group and we suffered our first setback. We did manage to get some quotes from eBay though, and we realised that £1000 was perhaps going to be too high a price.
We knew of an alternative group of buyers, albeit with shallower pockets - Gumtree. We would have to set a price ourselves here however, so we laid the bait at £800. Now, we had to play the waiting game.
7.23pm - Location: Headquarters, Saint-German-en-Laye.
Back at HQ, I got hold of my contacts again in London, hoping that perhaps one of them could connect me with a buyer. And one of them did come through for me, a rugby-playing
Englishman who offered £500. It was a reasonable offer, but I knew we could get more if we waited - so I politely rejected the offer. We would have to wait until tomorrow for more buyers.
We went out for a drink in Saint-Germain-en-Laye that night - French strike action, which is pretty common, meant that there was no public transport available that day, making getting into Paris impossible.
We met Bertrand's friend Cedric - who perhaps talked about women and sex a bit too much than one should.
19th October 2007, 11.37am - Location: The Hub, Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
Operating out of the cafe wasn't very convenient, as our periodical visits due to the high cost of renting the computers made it difficult to promptly respond to any bids or queries received online. Not that it mattered this morning, as with just over 32 hours before the deadline, we still had no word.
12.07pm - Location: Headquarters, Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
The Englishman who called last night sent me a message - he had upped his offer to £550. Still too low. I didn't reply immediately, waiting to see what other offers may come our way first.
3.07pm, Location: The Hub,
Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye Gardens
Nice, but wait til you see the gardens at Chateau de Versailles.
Our second visit to the hub yielded more luck - 2 buyers. Buyer no.1, going by the pseudonym of "Greg", was querying if the package was still available. I informed him that it was. Buyer no. 2, known as "Chris", also queried the package's availability. Once again I informed him that it was. Davies and I then had another discussion as to what kind of price we would accept. I then received a call - it was buyer no.2.
After discussing the details of the package, it was time to negotiate, and "Chris" named his price - £700. I hesitated, as I was wanting more, but with time running out Davies felt that it was a good price - reports of £1000 were definitely over-inflated, and although some people may have paid that much, they would definitely have been in the minority, as it was well above the equilibrium. So we agreed on £700. "Chris" then informed me that he would arrange the funds, and that I was to rendezvous with his contact in central Paris, later tonight. "Chris" would inform us of the drop point later.
I was overcome by greed however, and I was willing to be
an asshole to satisfy it - I emailed buyer no.1, offering him the tickets for the original price of £800, despite my agreement in principle with "Chris". Perhaps fortunately for me, buyer no.1 declined my offer. So it was off to Central Paris, where we would await further instruction.
Although the French public transport had apparently come back on, there were still major delays getting into Paris - all this over their workers wanting the right to retire earlier than everyone else - how annoying and inconvenient, not to mention ridiculous.
5.59pm, Location: Champ de Mars, Paris.
Davies had never been up the Eiffel Tower before, so that was our destination while we waited for the buyer's call. I had already been up the tower before and the waiting game I was playing was making me anxious, so I saved myself 11€ and stayed at ground level. It has to be said though, that there aren't too many nicer parks in the world to wait in than the Champs de Mars. The Eiffel Tower itself was lit up green with a massive inflated rugby ball in the middle of it to mark the Rugby World Cup - quite a
Huge inflated rugby ball in the middle of the Eiffel Tower.
sight indeed. There was also a massive rugby ball in the middle of the park with "100% Pure New Zealand" written on it, inside of which was an exhibition promoting New Zealand, the next host of the Rugby World Cup. Hopefully home advantage will help us to finally win the damn thing. I later learned that the rugby ball was officially opened by Helen Clark herself! It was here also, that I saw the first lot of Maoris since I left New Zealand ;-)
6.38pm, Location: Champ de Mars, Paris.
Still no word from the buyer, I was starting to get worried - it was just over 24 hours until the deadline. If he didn't want the package, then I needed sufficient time to find another buyer. So I took the initiative and called the buyer. When I got through to him, he had told me that he was still arranging the funds. Deciding that £700 was a good price worth holding on to, I gave him a sweetener, by telling him that he could give me the money in pounds when he arrived in Paris the next day - hoping that this show of good faith would keep
Home Away From Home
NZ Tourism Centre in the Champs de Mars.
him honest. So the rendevous was arranged for 5.30pm tomorrow at Chris' hotel in Sevran Beaudottes, which is on the same RER line as the stadium, which would be handy logistically. For now we could relax.
8.31pm, Location: Champs de Mars, Paris.
There were big screens set up in the Champs de Mars, where we watched France get surprisingly thrashed by Argentina in the 3rd/4th playoff. There were only about a couple of hundred watching the match at the park. We were meant to meet Bertrand and some friends to watch the match, but we couldn't get hold of him, so we ended up watching the whole match in the park. We were then meant to meet Bertrand after the game but I had now been outside for the best part of 7 hours now, and was quite willing to head back to HQ. It must've been about 2 or 3 degrees as my nose felt like it was going to fall off. Bertrand and friends then finally arrived and convinced us to have a beer with them at a nearby pub. Bertrand's friends, which included an American couple and a Dutch girl were nice people, and I had
Big Screen On The Tower
The big screen allowed passers-by to watch highlights of this year's World Cup.
a beautiful beer - a "blanche" Erdbeer.
11.59pm, Location: Rue Cler, Paris.
By the time we finished our drinks, we had a real dash to make across Paris to Charles de Gaulle Etoile - where the Arc d'Triomphe is - to catch the last train back to HQ. It was some good exercise, and I quickly found out how unfit I was. Bertrand was lucky, he had his motorcycle to get him home.
When we finally got there, we were gutted as the Metro and RER had closed. What the hell were we to do? How the hell do we get all the way back to Saint-Germain-en-Laye? We would have to catch a night bus - but where? Luckily, Charles de Gaulle Etoile is a major bus hub so there were plenty of bus stops - and one of them just happened to be going to Saint-Germain-en-Laye! But it wasn't to arrive for another hour - we had just missed the last one by 3 minutes. That was pretty soul-destroying as I had spent the whole day waiting - waiting for trains, waiting for buses, waiting for the buyer to respond, waiting for Davies, waiting for Bertrand and now
The white lights are "twinkly lights" that flash all over the tower when on.
waiting again for a bus - all in the freezing cold. It felt like the worse day of the entire trip. I was hungry too and McDonald's closes way too early here. We had a beer at a nearby pub to kill the time before catching the bus which took a good hour to get us back to HQ. It was 3am before we finally walked in the door.
We should've gone straight home after the game.
20th October 2007, 12.31pm, Location: Headquarters, Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
It's the big day and a late start thanks to our marathon journey back to HQ the night before. I got a message from the buyer confirming the rendezvous. I tricked Davies by telling him the buyer had pulled out and the look on his face was priceless! Hehe. Three hours later, and it was time to make the drop.
4.45pm, Location: Chatelet, Paris.
Because of the money at stake, I was feeling nervous - my hands were sweating. Would he pull through for us? Of course he would. I couldn't wait for this to be over. Damn you All Blacks! The northbound RER line we needed to catch wasn't operating for some reason,
Rugby At The Champs de Mars
Crowd watching the 3rd/4th playoff between France and Argentina.
so we had to take the Metro to Gare du Nord - and so did everybody else. It was the fullest platform I had ever seen and we missed a couple of trains because they were full. A young black guy decided to be creative and hopped into the space in between two carriages. Wasn't the smartest thing to do, and he would have to hold on tight - those trains go mighty fast and if he was to lose his balance, he'd end up like Dolph Lundgren at the end of Universal Soldier. He would also shut down the line and create chaos for the thousands of people trying to get to Gare du Nord. In the rush to get on board the next train, Davies didn't make it on - which meant I would have to wait for him at Gare du Nord.
5.15pm, Location: Gare du Nord, Paris.
Having collected Davies, we were now ready to catch the RER to Sevran Beaudottes - we were going to be late for the drop. No worries, the buyer wasn't going anywhere without the package. I then got a message - it was from the buyer: "Missed flight. Won't
Arc de Triomphe
No visit to Paris would be complete without a picture of this famous landmark. Taken while waiting for the bus back to St. Germain-en-Laye at Charles de Gaulle Etoile.
be able to make it. Sorry, good luck."
The buyer wouldn't have missed his flight - he would've found another deal. My act of goodwill had backfired, and we had been done over. When the stakes are high, you can't trust anybody in this game.
Our only option now was to head to the stadium and try our luck - we now had 3 1/2 hours before the package expired.
6.02pm, Location: Stade de France, Saint Denis, Paris.
There were huge crowds of people on their way to the match and it was a mad rush to jump into a carriage before it filled up and it was sardines again on the special train to the stadium. There were some posh old English gentlemen next to us causing annoyance with their pretentiousness.
Arriving at the stadium, there were a whole lot of food and merchandise stalls set up just in front of the train station. Groups of fans were all gathered, enjoying pre-match food and beer. We didn't quite know how we were going to do this, but we soon discovered there was a lot of wheeling and dealing going on here by eavesdropping on several conversations. Quite
Fans gather outside the Stade de France.
strangely there were also many Africans of both the dark and Northern variety who were wanting to buy tickets. They all seemed to be wanting them for 500€ - for two tickets - and not a penny more, so we decided to walk towards the stadium to try our luck. These Africans looked like neither English nor South African supporters, so we wondered why they would want tickets. The only thing we could think of was they would then try to sell them off later for a quick 50€-100€ profit - was a bit risky though.
6.24pm, Location: Stade de France, Saint Denis, Paris.
Listening in on conversations to establish if people were after tickets was how we went about offering the package. Cops were everywhere, even on horseback, so discretion was the key - we did not want the French police involved in the operation, as that would be the end of it. Eye contact was the key as well, as potential buyers would be looking people in the eye in order to gauge interest as were we - all in the name of discretion.
However, our first potential buyer was anything but discreet as a young South
The Incredible Schalk
No prizes for guessing who this guy's favourite player is. Must've been freezing though.
African lad and his English friend asked us openly if we had tickets. Using the most obvious guilt trip of saying they were "real fans" and not having a lot of money, they were offering 400€ per ticket. It was not enough. He then upped his offer to his maximum of 500€ - which was about £350, half what we were going to get. The £550 that was offered to me by the first Englishman two days ago was looking real good now.
After rejecting the offer, Davies and I had several discussions as to how much we were willing to let the package go for. Davies was willing to let them go for less than I was, but we agreed that we would go into negotiations starting at 1500€ for both tickets, which would net us just over £500 each as our cellphone calculators got worked overtime.
We moved on and came across a group of English blokes looking for five tickets. They were interested in buying ours though, and they started at 1100€ while we went in at 1500€. They also played the "real fans" guilt trip, but they were English so we didn't care about that and
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
The English fans find their voice before kickoff.
eventually met in the middle at 1300€. Davies and I had another little discussion and calculation before confirming the deal - 1300€ would get us about roughy £470 - which we decided was good enough for us given the time constraints we had. We were about to seal the deal, when the English guys told us to wait. While me and Davies had been having our little pow-wow, another English dealer had snuck in and started to negotiate with our buyers. The English guys returned to tell us the deal was off - the bastard must've undercut us. And so the operation continued - again...
6.49pm, Location: Stade de France, Saint Denis, Paris.
With just over two hours until kick-off there was a great atmosphere outside the stadium as the English fans and their brass bands started singing. It was like last year's football World Cup all over again. Got really sick of bloody "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" though.
We came across a grumpy, shady-looking, professional English ticket tout who offered us 800€ for our tickets. We told him to get lost.
Having been regularly offered 1000€ for our tickets by genuine supporters, it looked as though that was
Stalls Outside The Stadium Station
Where all the wheeling and dealing was happening.
the market value, which was a bit disappointing when you consider we were on track to get double that. Perhaps, we shouldn't have been surprised then, that our initial deal fell through.
7.24pm, Location: Stade de France, Saint Denis, Paris.
We felt as if we would have more luck back at the stalls outside the station, as there seemed to be more dealing going on there.
There was a large group of English supporters who had just arrived at the station, and their "representative" was on the phone to a "dealer" regarding a deal that sounded as if it might fall through. I waited for ages for him to sort it out, so I could offer our tickets should it fall through. It appeared the "dealer" on the line was not an English-speaker as the English guy had to talk v..e..r..y s..l..o..w..l..y. I soon ran out of patience and asked if they were after tickets, but was then told their situation was under control. Grrr.
One of the African guys then approached us offering 800€, but we knew we could get at least 1000€ from a genuine fan so we said no. We felt we would rather sell it
Davies, Bertrand & I
Yes our host is French and yes he is wearing an All Blacks shirt on World Cup Final day. Probably to mock us.
to "real fans" than touts in any case, just to make ourselves feel slightly better about what we were doing ;-)
We then came across two South African supporters who were interested in our tickets. They started at 1000€ (again) and we went in at 1500€. They weren't having a bar of it though, and we got to 1200€. Davies and I looked at each other - we really wanted to just get this over with and we were 200€ above "market value" - so we agreed to settle it - but only on one condition.
"You guys have to make sure you win the damn cup!", I told them. They laughed.
"Of course we will!", they replied. There would be nothing worse then getting back to London and having to deal with gloating Englishmen for the next four years - it would be an absolute nightmare.
I was a bit nervous as Davies handed them the package for examination, but they were good for the money. While handing over the cash, the South Africans had one last go with the guilt trip saying the South African rand was shit, and that he was handing over his life savings.
this my compensation for the All Blacks not making it", I told him.
And with that, the deal was sealed.
I had never seen 100€ notes before (they are bright green, in case you're wondering) and this was definitely the most money I had ever carried in my wallet before! 600€ each was about £430 each, so I was satisfied that I got six times what I paid for the tickets - although to this day still I think about the £700 that might have been...
However, we could finally relax now - Mission Accomplished (and what a mission it was too!).
From the stadium we had to wait awhile for a train to take us back into the city, as it seemed all available trains were taking people the other way. We eventually got to our destination, Odeon, where we were to meet up with two more of Davies' old flatmates from Vancouver. While we waited, I couldn't help but drool at all the gorgeous French chicks that were walking by. Oh my god.
Severine and Cherilyne finally met up with us, and lovely girls they were too. Having been so involved in the build-up to the final,
Cherilyne, Me and Severine
Cherilyne has obviously been distracted by something.
we thought we might as well go somewhere to watch it and we ended up at an Irish bar nearby. The place was unbelievably packed, with what mostly seemed like Antipodeans. The bar staff didn't know a word of French, and they all had nasal accents, so to say that this was France's version of the Walkabout was just about accurate. Having not eaten, I felt Guinness would be a good replacement. Bertrand and Cedric then met up with us inside.
We got talking to some Kiwis next to us, a dude from Palmerston North (my birthtown) and one from Dunedin, who had sold their tickets for the final too. As the night progressed the Dunedin dude was trying to chat Severine up! But not very well. Oh dear, our valued Kiwi reputation getting dragged through the mud....
The dude from Palmy was an investment banker living out of Zurich, which hit home as to how far flung Kiwis are.
The match itself was an absolute bore, and thoroughly justified our sale of the tickets. Thank god England didn't win - that was the most important thing.
Despite half the crowd inside being English, there was a good, raucous atmosphere
inside after the match and it was quite an enjoyable night as some regulation top-40 tunes hit the decks before taking an electro turn. It had been an exhausting day though, and we didn't hang around too long. After saying goodbye to Severine and Cherilyne, I remember that it was a long, cold and quickly-sobering walk from wherever we were, to Charles de Gaulle Etoile, interrupted only by a munchy stop where I paid 8€ for a pizza bun - 8€! It was a bloody long walk in the freezing cold that felt like hours, but the bus ride back was short as I slept just about the whole way.
The next day was a non-event - just sitting around playing Tekken - but in the evening we went out for some French fine dine and we shouted Bertrand with our new found wealth.
After being taught by Bertrand how to properly taste the wine he had expertly picked out for us, we dug into the food.
First up was the delicious escargots which Davies had never tried, before my main came out. Now, I'm quite adventurous with my food and will often go for the most "out-there" thing
My mains for the evening, of raw meat and raw egg, mixed with capers, parsley and onions.
on the menu, so I went for the "tartare" - which is not a plateful of the sauce of the same name - but as Bertrand explained to me before I ordered it; chopped raw meat with raw egg, onions, parsley and capers. I was game ;-)
Not surprisingly mine came out first, and I mixed up all the ingredients into one big mash as Bertrand instructed. It was nice, by no means disgusting, but I think from now on, apart from salmon, I'll prefer my meat cooked ;-)
As I had missed out on seeing the place on my last stop in Paris, on our last day we decided to see the grandiose Chateau de Versailles, which was a handy bus trip from Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
When we got there I was thankful that there wasn't the 500-long queue like there was last time
in the searing summer heat. It was strange though - there was actually no queue at all - the ticket office door wasn't even open. Overhearing an American family's conversation then confirmed our suspicions - the chateau is closed on Mondays.
Fantastic - my wait to wander the opulent halls of the chateau continues.
Unlike last time
Le Chateau de Versailles
The grandiose Chateau de Versailles.
however, the gardens were completely open to the public. And what gardens they are.
Around the back of the chateau, the first thing that greets you is the breathtaking sight of the Grand Canal, stretching almost endlessly toward the horizon. Then there's the imacculate lawns and the hundreds of statues that line the Petit Parc, that runs from the Latona Fountain closest to the chateau, past the Bassin d'Apollon, down to the Grand Canal.
So we went a walking, and it seemed to take forever to get to the end of the canal - it was only later that I learned that the Grand Canal is in fact 1.5km long! The paths alongside the canal are lined with trees and it is a beautiful walk, and many runners were taking advantage of the picturesque surrounds. We then came across the Grand Trianon, basically a humongous Italianate granny-flat. As Davies needed to plan his trip to Switzerland and Italy and had had enough of walking, he took off, leaving me to wander and appreciate these magnificent gardens on my own.
Beyond the canal is basically just ("orderly") forest and farmland, so I concentrated on walking around the kept gardens. It is
The First Thing You See...
Looking from the Parterre d'Eau upon the Latona Fountain onto the Petit Parc that leads to the Grand Canal.
quite possible to get lost in here if you have a poor sense of direction and with the distances involved, it may take you a long time to get out! Nevertheless, you couldn't hope to be lost in a more beautiful and serene place.
Had a bit of an adventure in the "Orangerie" - which is exactly what you might think it is - where I thought I was trapped underneath the Grand Staircases beneath the chateau, before creeping my way out and into the Bassin de Neptune.
The beauty around me didn't make me forget about how freezing it was though, and it was time for me to head back before my nose fell off.
All in all though, I thought it was in many ways the perfect, relaxing end to my trip, and wandering these grand surrounds gave me the opportunity to reflect on what has been a fantastic four months.
The next day I bade farewell to Bertrand and thanked him for his hospitality for the last week before he left for work in the morning; before wishing Davies good luck for his trip to Switzerland and Italy a few hours later. It was fantastic to
Orange garden next to the chateau.
be able to do the majority of this trip with such a good friend who (for most of the time anyway) was just as appreciative of where he was, as I was.
Then it was time for me to catch the RER back to Gare du Nord for my Eurostar back to London.
So my travels have finally come to an end, and to be honest I think I am a little relieved to have stopped travelling and look forward with excitement to resuming a more settled life in London.
The last four months were most probably the best of my life and there's so much to reflect on that I can't even begin to write it all here - which is why there is another entry coming soon reviewing the highs and the lows of this magnificent trip ;-)
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