Day 11: Sevilla – An Unwanted Visitor

The day started our just as any normal day in sunny Sevilla would. Robby and Stefan headed out before us girls and we all agreed to meet up at 12:30 to go shopping. We were finishing doing our laundry when Alexa comes running out of the bathroom screaming, “THERE’S A BIRD IN THE SHOWER. OH MY GOD! THERE’S A BIRD IN THE SHOWER!” Turns out, a bird flew through the tiny open window in our bathroom and was flopping around in the shower (seriously, Spain, get your act together, and invest in some screens…) After a few feeble attempts to get into the bathroom (avoiding the bird) and open the window a little further in the hopes of tempting the bird to fly out on its own, we had to give up. We could barely take a step in there without the bird flapping around, which would lead to us running away screaming. No judging! YOU try it!

Evil bird

So, leaving the bird in the shower, we set off in search for the boys, who we weren’t supposed to find for another 45 minutes. We checked every Zara and H&M on the main drag, but the boys were less predictable than we thought. We decided to camp out at our designated meeting spot and wait for them to show up. Why not take some pics of Sevilla while waiting, eh?
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The boys turned up and we headed back to the apartment and started Operation: Get The Bird Out Of Our Bathroom. Stefan and Abi tried many different approaches, but after about 30 minutes we opted for 1. Throw towel on bird. 2. Cover with trash can. 3. Slide cutting board underneath. 4. Go to patio and release bird back into the wild, never to be seen again.
Scoop the bird

Optional step: hide from the bird

Optional step: hide from the bird


Transport the bird
RELEASE THE BIRD!!

What we didn’t account for was that the bird may actually FLY BACK INTO THE APARTMENT. Alexa recorded the traumatic experience for your viewing pleasure.

We may or may not have each watched this video 100+ times. It never gets old! (Note from Abi: Yes, those are my terrified screams in the background because I was trapped in the hallway with the bird; Alexa and Robby are evil and locked me out of the apartment. They’re the greatest friends ever.)

The bird finally flew out where it belongs and the bathroom window was locked for the remainder of the trip.

We did some other things that day, but they were dull in comparison to this whole ordeal. Even so, post-bird trauma went something like this:

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– Abi & Alexa

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Day 10: Madrid & Sevilla – Views Galore

You know a day that begins with your friends lounging in hostel beds chatting about old Nickelodeon shows is going to be a good day. And a good day it was.

Way Hostel street

Robby and Stefan caught an earlier train than us to Sevilla, so we had the morning for Alexa to play tour guide around Madrid. We grabbed a metro and set off in search of Templo de Debod.

The road wasn't so easy.

The road wasn’t so easy.

True to our style, we got just a teensy bit lost and sumbled upon the Rosaleda de Madrid.
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We seriously don’t know how our wrong turns always seem to end up in the best places… After exploring the rose gardens, we backtracked and found what we actually came across the city for: Templo de Debod and it’s amazing views.
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View from Templo de Debod
Palace view from Templo de Debod
Templo de Debod feet pic

We stopped back at the hostel to grab our bags (and say goodbye to the wonderful Argentinian who ran the front desk), then we were off to Sevilla!
View from train

Train > Ryanair

Train > RyanAir

We got into Sevilla around 6pm, trudged across town with our lives on our backs then met back up with Robby and Stefan at our amazing AirBnB-supplied apartment!

Can't complain :)

Can’t complain 🙂

The boys had got there a few hours earlier and had already made a grocery store run to grab mojito mixers. Couldn’t have asked for better travel companions.

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Mojitos + laundry. A winning combination

Mojitos + laundry. A winning combination

We let Robby play tour guide (he studied abroad in Sevilla while we were stumbling around Argentina) and took a spin around town at night.

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Never knew our eyes could handle so much pretty in one day.

– Abi & Alexa

Day 9: Madrid – Tour Ditching 101

Step 1: Don’t expect tours in Madrid to start on time. Go shopping while you wait!

Spain had some of the best shopping out of our entire trip – a Zara and H&M on every corner, as well as some awesome (cheap!) Spanish shops, like Pull and Bear and Lefties. (Secret lesson within a lesson: bring clothes on your Euro trip that you don’t have too much of an emotional attachment to. This way you can throw away those shirts from Gap you’ve had for years and pick up some fancy European clothes OoOoh! Or, take the Abi Approach and just wear any clothes that can’t fit into your bag on any flights and voila, you keep your clothes.)

Put your happy tour faces on!

Put your happy tour faces on!

Step 2: Stay in tour only for one or two anecdotes, then bail! Our favorite method – tour guide walks right, you walk left. Foolproof.

Yeah, that story about Isabel II was pretty interesting, but one was enough.

Some cool sights we did see while on tour:

Views around the Palace
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Royal Palace

SIBlings in front of the Palace

Almudena Cathedral

Step 3: Find better things to do. For example:

Eat kebaps in front of a Palace.

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Go to 100 Montaditos (again), and sip tinto outside of the Royal Theater.

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Hacky sack with some locals.

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Crash a fashion university’s party and get free alcohol.

Pardon the crappy photos from the Absolut Citron gala. We were in "be cool, be cool!" mode

Pardon the crappy photos from the Absolut Citron gala. We were in “be cool, be cool!” mode


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Lesson’s over! Now celebrate. Dance like idiots in a club and eat churros with chocolate.

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You’re welcome.

– Abi & Alexa

Day 8: Madrid – Tapas, tapas, tapas, repeat.

4:30am in London is definitely a sight to see. We were driven through the rain past an eerily dark Hyde Park by our super nice, Russian mobster taxi driver who was mysteriously really cool. We don’t know why he was so cool, since we barely talked to him, but he was one of those people that you you see and think, oh yeah, you’ve probably killed someone with your bare hands, but then that weirdly makes you feel very safe with him driving you around in the middle of the night.

Well, that was a weird tangent. Anyways… we got to London-Stansted (aka Not-in-London-Stansted) about an hour later, surviving one of the sketchiest bus rides ever. #YOLO, right? After waiting in some long lines and squishing our purses into our backpacks for the evil that is RyanAir law, we were off to Madrid!!

Our plan was to meet up with our BFF Robby and his high school friend, Stefan, at our hostel, but not until after Alexa got that weird feeling you get when you go back to a place for the first time after you lived there for a summer. All it takes is the metro lady telling you what the next stop is, and it all comes flooding back. Watch out.

A few stops later, and we arrived at one of our favorite hostels of the trip: Way Hostel! It’s in great location, right near Puerta del Sol, so we were easily able to shop, eat, and drink close to home *thumbs up!* Oh, and one of the receptionists was an Argentine, so that may or may not have boosted our opinion a bit.

After a heartwarming reunion with Robby in the hostel lobby (LOL, rhymes), we headed out for some lunch. We found the perfect spot to enjoy the first of many tapas-filled meals, almost always including: croquetas ((our) English translation: nug ballz), tortilla de patata, queso manchego, patatas bravas, and SANGRIA (you all know that one).

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Streets in Spain

Look! Alpargatas in Spain!
Alpargatas in Spain!

Filled with tapas and sangria, we walked to the Atocha train station where the WORLD’S LARGEST FAMILY OF TURTLES LIVED. It was disgusting. Picture this rock times a million and you’ll have a sense of how many turtles were in this place.

Too many turtles

A quick nap later (stop judging – WE WERE IN SPAIN!), and we were off to the infamous bear statue in Puerta del Sol to meet up with one of Alexa’s friends from last summer, Jimmy. Jimmy was running Spanish-ly late, so we watched the plaza come alive with people at dusk. It’s definitely true that Spain during the day and at night are completely different.

This is our tourist pose

This is our tourist pose

We all walked over to El Tigre, which is a tapas haven: order drinks and they bring you food. LOTS of food. Needless to say, Alexa knew what she was doing by taking us there.

The Spain family with Jimmy

The Spain family with Jimmy

After being completely stuffed for the second time that day, we wandered around Mercado de San Miguel, which is a big fancy schmancy market that is a highly suggested stop for anyone visiting Madrid. It’s chock full o’ ham, cheese, wine, and a wide array of other goodies that will make you drool. If you hadn’t guessed, Spain’s big on food. In true college kid fashion, however, Robby remembered that it was Wednesday, which in Spain means EuromanĂ­a at 100 Montaditos! Which, translated to American understanding, means we could get more drinks for only 1 euro each! Decision: made.

Following that flurry of excitement, we wandered through Plaza Mayor to look at all the silly vendors throwing light up toys into the air and whistling at the passerby. Then, we managed to check off a Madrid tourism bucket list item that Alexa never got to the first time around – standing on THE central point of the city, from which all things are measured.

Engage: tourist mode!
Kilometre zero in Madrid

That’s about when our 4:30am wake-up (and all the food and drinks) kicked in, and we strolled home to drift off to sleep like happy little Spanish cherubs.

– Abi & Alexa

Day 6: London – Look out… THE SHARD!

Another beautiful day in London! We got off to a late-ish start (hey, we’re on vacation here!), walked to Guildford Station, and made our way into London to see what Day 2 had to offer.

We stayed on the south side of the city for the first part of our day, attempting to find Tower Bridge, but instead finding Southwark Cathedral and The Shard, which might be Abi’s favorite building in the entirety of London (but she does admit it was slightly cooler back when she thought it was called The Shark.)

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We couldn’t figure out exactly what was IN The Shard, but a quick Google search a few weeks later showed us that if we were amazingly rich, we could have the greatest lives EVER and live in The Shard. We can dream, right?

After realizing the buildings around The Shard weren’t as cool as The Shard we made our way away from The Shard and continued our search for Tower Bridge….which we couldn’t find. So we found London Bridge and looked at it from a distance!
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Pinchy pinch

Up next: St. Paul’s Cathedral! (Full of skater kids enjoying the Bank Holiday)
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Not a care in the world

Not a care in the world

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A quick pit stop in Starbucks to steal some WiFi led us to find Marks & Spencer To Go, which is one more store America needs to add to it’s To Open In America list. Seriously, so convenient and affordable, and perfect for a little to-go lunch along the Thames.

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Alexa claims that this will be us in 40+ years. Check back on that.

Alexa claims that this will be us in 40+ years. Check back on that.

Lunch led us past some cool buildings, of course, then we wove through the back streets until we ran into Covent Garden.
Covent Garden market
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We just walked around for a bit, finding some shops to stop into (and we soon discovered that dreadful feeling of “oh I really like this but there’s literally no way I can fit this into my backpack”) so we opted for watching the street performers. Covent Garden is definitely a place to stop on our next trip when we bring empty suitcases to fill with souveniers!

London was quite hot again, so we meandered through the streets surrounding Covent Garden, ducking into the shade wherever possible. We then accidentally walked through Chinatown and made our final stop of the day in a crowded St. James’ Park.
St. James' Park

Back in Guildford, Ellen made us a delicious vegetarian meal; we chatted about British and U.S. economy and politics with Tom (jeez, how old are we?), which provided some fun facts and gave us a new perspective on a few things. We’d throw some nuggets of knowledge out there for you, but we mostly just couldn’t get over how small the costs of going to college are in other countries. For example, Ellen & Tom’s son paid ÂŁ3,000/year to go to school, and that’s after costs had TRIPLED from what he paid at the beginning. No wonder it seems like U.S. college students and recent grads travel a lot less than the rest of the world! Sup, student loan payments (x forever).

After dinner, we did super girly things like watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s, paint our nails, and talk about life. It was just fabulous, dah-ling. Unfortunately, it was also our last night in Guildford. We never wanted to leave! You can bet that when Ellen offered up the house for any time we wanted to come back and visit, we started visualizing the spaces in our calendars (let’s pretend those exist).

Coming Up: One more day in Londontown before hopping a plane to Madrid!

– Abi & Alexa

Day 5: London – No Words

No words can describe our newfound love for London. It has found a new home at the top of our Favorite Cities list, but before we get to that, let’s rewind to 9AM, Sunday morning.

We’re pretty sure England wanted us to love it. We had beautiful weather during our 4 day stay, which is pretty unheard of. A few clouds in the morning, but they usually cleared up and let us enjoy all that the country has to offer. Our lovely hosts treated us to a breakfast of croissants and fruit, drove us to the train station, and helped us navigate the ticket machines. A quick 40 minutes later, we were there.

Waterloo Station

Our new favorite mode of transport

Now, if you haven’t realized already, we don’t really make detailed plans when we travel. We take more of the “just wander around” approach, which has proved to be foolproof. With that method in mind, we exited Waterloo Station and almost immediately hit the Thames and took a stroll along The Queen’s Walk on London’s South Bank.

Thames

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Margot and Ellen had mentioned that the Realfood Festival was held near Waterloo Station and yep, there it was! Right along with a Streets of Spain festival (perhaps put there to get us ready for our next stop?!)

Tasting the toffee vodka, as you do

Tasting the toffee vodka, as you do

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Foreshadowing a late night snack in Madrid perhaps?!

Foreshadowing a late night snack in Madrid perhaps?!

Turn the corner and what do we find? The South Bank street park in all its graffiti glory.

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We were spotted!

We were caught creeping!

Around the next corner? The freaking London Eye.

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Hey there!

Hey there!

Not to mention Parliament is right across the river. (Told you our no-plan plan was foolproof!)

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We crossed the Thames and walked in the general direction of Parliament, stumbling upon Whitehall Gardens, where some journaling catch-up happened.

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We hit up Parliament & Big Ben just long enough to snap this selfie — the swarm of tourists was a bit too much for us.

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It was approaching lunchtime, so we ditched the tourist spots, found the nearest free wifi, and hopped on the tube to Nando’s in South Kensington, which was at the top of Abi’s Restaurants to Hit Up in London list. It did not disappoint.

PLEASE open more Nando's in the US!

PLEASE open more Nando’s in the US!

Chicken deliciousness

Chicken deliciousness

We may have enjoyed this lunch so much that we went there two more times in our three weeks. Oops. So much for diversifying food choices! #noregrets

Also, South Kensington happens to be an amazing(ly rich) neighborhood, and we wouldn’t mind living there once we find our wealthy European husbands (damn, we really should have mingled with those grad students in Dublin…)

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"la la laaa"

“la la laaa”

The neighborhood was chock full of small, locked gardens that we mega-creeped on. All our attempts to convince the people on the street that yes we did live here and we just happened to forget our keys so you should probably let us in, failed.

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A few minutes of walking later and we were smack dab at the Central Park of London: Hyde Park!

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Ran into this guy too

Ran into this guy too – Royal Albert Hall

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A bocce games with the London Eye and the Shard in the distance

A bocce game with the London Eye and the Shard in the distance

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Creepin' on the soccer dads

Creepin’ on the soccer dads

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And thus concluded day one in London. We were pretty much pooped from hours soaking up awesomeness, so we grabbed a train back to Guildford – just in time for some of Ellen’s homemade lentil soup and corn bread. We relaxed after dinner in the family room, playing some Monopoly, catching up on the latest episode of the Graham Norton Show, and introducing Alexa to her new favorite comedian, Russell Howard. Another lovely evening in England, we must say.

-Abi & Alexa

Day 4: Adios Dublin & Touching Down in Londontown

**Real-time update: Sorry for being sucky at this blogging-about-our-trip thing. Real life hit us both over the head the second we got back to the States, so we’ve been playing catch-up on life & post-graduation things. Speaking of, Alexa survived the 2-day U-Haulicious journey to San Antonio and starts work on Monday (wish her luck!) and I’ve been back in the 9-5 grind (make that 8-5:30, actually) for 2 weeks now in Pittsburgh. Hopefully we’ll hammer out these Euro trip posts soon, but bear with us! Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming**

Day 4 in Dublin was, not gonna lie, a pretty uneventful one. We checked out of our hostel sometime in the AM then found an Insomnia cafe to hang out in for a few hours to reflect on our last hours in Dublin. Some of our final thoughts on Dublin (don’t hate us!) – it definitely was an interesting city, but not our favorite of the trip. It seems like it would be a great city to go to with a group of friends and go out at night, but there was a lack of things to see so filling our days with activities was a little difficult. Maybe it was a lack of planning on our parts (read: we did zero planning), or maybe it was the jet lag. Who knows, but we do have to say going to the other parts of Ireland was amazing!

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So, after catching our last glimpses of Dublin, we headed to the airport and began our love hate affair with Ryanair. Oh, Ryanair. For those of you who don’t know, Ryanair is a dirt-cheap airline that flies throughout Europe. The prices are extremely convenient (our cheapest was $30 from Edinburgh to Dublin) but they really know how to annoy their customers. Alexa and I were pros at the end of our 5 Ryanair flights, but they make you hate your life for those few short hours. Some of the inconveniences of a conveniently-priced airline:

1. You had to pay a crapload of money to check your bags. Luckily, we didn’t check our bags.

2. Your need to squeeze your ONE (and they mean one! No carrying your purse separately!) carry-on into these ungodly small metal size-check things so they would fit on the plane

3. Your carry-on had to “be under 10kg”, but they never checked (Thank god! We were definitely over that limit).

4. You sometimes fly into airports into the middle of nowhere. Good thing airport buses exist.

Ryanair

We spent a good amount of our time in the Dublin airport rearranging our backpacks to fit on the plane and they DIDN’T EVEN CHECK AT THE GATE! They just let us on! This should have been a small victory, but Abi literally spent 30 minutes squeezing the bag into the size-check container, then rearranging her backpack, taking out a shirt and putting it on (she wore 6 layers on that flight, only to be beaten out by the 8 layers she wore on the flight back to Dublin a few weeks later) then squeezing, then calling over Alexa to help her get it unstuck from the container, then rearranging…. but they didn’t even check the bag at the desk. All that work for nothing! (At the other 4 airports, the Ryanair people did check though, so you’ve been warned.)

After that whirlwind packing experience, we were finally off to England (our most anticipated stop on the trip!) We had some great views of the English sea and coastlines, then semi-rushed around Gatwick airport after landing in search for the train station, where we were soon greeted with some nice views again, this time of the gorgeous English countryside.

I can't find any pictures of the English countryside, so here's one of us ON the train. HOW EXCITING!

We don’t seem to have any good pictures of the English countryside, so here’s one of us ON the train. HOW EXCITING!

During our few days in London, we actually stayed about 40 minutes south in a town called Guildford with Abi’s family friends, Ellen, Tom, and their 14-year-old daughter Margot. (Their son was taking a 6-month backpacking trip around South America. Shame, we could have bonded over tales of South American adventures).

Ellen and Tom are American but have been in England for over 20 years now, and their kids are were born in England. How. Cool. Abi hadn’t seen them in about 10 years or so, so recognizing them in the Guildford train station was a bit of an adventure. Luckily, Tom and Margot quickly spotted the two Americans who looked very lost.

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After quick car ride to their house, we all chatted and caught up for a bit in the kitchen, got situated in our rooms, then headed out to their favorite local pub be treated to a wonderful dinner. Back at the house, we had one of the best/most relaxing evenings ever: hot chocolate, tea, Margot’s delicious homemade truffles, and a game or two of Scattergories. This definitely needs to become a weekend tradition. Tom and Ellen gave us a bit of insider information on how to get into/around London the next day, then we were off to bed.

Up next: LONDON! (aka the greatest city ever)

-Abi & Alexa

Day 3: Ireland – Dublin’s Redemption

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We thought we’d ease into our last full day in Dublin – give it a second chance, you know? Maybe we were too demanding of it that first day. As we like to do, we searched for Dublin’s perfect cafĂ©… and failed. Thank goodness there’s an Insomnia on almost every block.

Our other defaults are shopping and park hopping, so we did both. Grafton Street is chock full o’ fun and fancy clothes! We turned towards the greenery as soon as we remembered how little money was in our wallets and space in our backpacks.

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Result: St. Stephen’s Green!

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Flower on the green

Did some journaling, some people watching, and found a child with a viking hat, so I’d say it was a solid park experience.

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Rain was rolling in, so we scurried over to a cute little restaurant we had seen on our way called Dux & Co.

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Watching people run through the rain while eating a sandwich (side note: they call rugula “rocket”?) in a cozy cafĂ© is a weird, but satisfying, form of entertainment.

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Journal break

Journal break

The next thing on our agenda was probably our favorite activity of everything we did in Dublin: a tour of the Jameson Distillery!

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Learning about how whiskey is made is cool and everything, but let’s be real. The tasting was the best part.

Cheers!

Cheers!

Ironically, we sat next to a group of women during the tasting who were from San Antonio! They might be my new best friends. Also, we decided that we have to do awesome girls’ trips to foreign lands when we’re in our 60s because they were some of the coolest people we met. And it’s the best idea ever.

Back to alcohol. Drinking at the distillery eventually led to drinking at a bar. Needed a Guinness while we were at the source!

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We stopped at what seemed like a kind of touristy bar/restaurant, but it had a good mix of people and a dreadlocked guitarist from Glasgow singing a bunch of American folk classics, so we didn’t regret it one bit.

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Irish stew!

Irish stew!

Pretty solid last night, I’d say. Thanks for coming around for us, Dublin.

– Alexa & Abi