The Travel Took Over

Wow. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve last put out some words to you, and I can’t even begin to cover everything that’s happened since Asti, the subject of my last post. It is, however, my intention to cover as much of this trip in blog posts as possible, so it looks like everything will just be… a little late.

Written: September 11, 2016 on the train from Firenze to Siena.

Days spent in Milan: August 24th-August 27th

After the dazzling and impossible evening spent meeting my family, Emily and I traveled to Milan, where I spent most of our time sick. We were in a rare 5-person dorm, and I was assigned the top bed in a 3 tier bunk bed. We hadn’t seen anything like it yet, and it ended up being the perfect place for me to try and recover. It was promptly dubbed “Kayla’s Princess Tower.” When I felt better, we explored il Duomo di Milano, a giant structure with thousands of carvings – gargoyles, angels, spires. It was quite the sight to behold. In Italy – and several other European countries- women’s shoulders and knees must be covered. Even if you wait 2 hours in line, officials will turn you away without hesitation if you have nothing to cover yourself with. I brought a big infinity scarf to wrap around my waist, over my skirt that was a bit too short. As I tried to put it on, however, the wind betrayed me and revealed to about half of Milan just how white my ass is. Emily and our new friend/roommate, Pheobe (girl, if you’re reading this, we think you are a wonderfully awesome human being and we’re glad we met you!) laughed at me but said no one noticed. No, guys, they definitely noticed.


il Duomo di Milano


Inside, we saw the replica of the golden Madonna that sits on the top spire, and explored some crypts with some dead saints whose names fled my memory the second we left. As always, the selfie sticks were rampant and endlessly obnoxious. We also took the lift to the top of the dome, where we got amazing views of the city and the many intricate sculptures that were a part of the building. I can only imagine how long that thing took to build, and how long all of those carvings took. Once we’d had our fill of il Duomo, we visited a store that sold wine – and lots of it. They had bottles of red, white, and sparkling delicious nectar from every major wine region in Italy. Pheobe picked up some prosecco while I went for a bottle of Moscato d’Asti. We also indulged ourselves and visited Laduree for macarons. I am not at all ashamed of how much money I’ve spent on macarons during this trip. There are times when I like them more than gelato.


Promise, I’m holding my beloved Laduree bag

On our last night, at Pheobe’s recommendation, we visited the Navigli area, situated on the river. We ran into a frequent problem: we went over there around 10, hoping to find a fun bar with drinks and dancing. What we found instead is that everyone was still eating dinner. We had a late snack of arancini – fried risotto balls filled with cheese and prosciutto – and gelato, then found a bar that let you take beer to go so that you could walk along the river and hang out with friends. The best thing about is that I found a stout! Finally! All through Europe I’ve been searching for a good, creamy stout beer. The alcohol content wasn’t as strong in this one and so the chocolate flavor didn’t have quite the same effect as others I’ve had, but it was still delicious. With nothing else to do, we sipped our beer by the water, indulging in our favorite activity: people watching. People in Europe are fun to watch because you don’t understand anything they’re saying, and they have different habits and mannerisms than Americans do. This makes it very fun to try and figure out their backstory. Eventually, we’d finished our beers and had 30 minutes until we had to take the metro back, so we grabbed two more stouts. The bartender didn’t seem to want to stop talking to me, even asking when we were leaving Milan. Sadly, “the beautiful girl from California” (his words, not mine), had to leave.


Can you believe this is somebody’s crypt?? Me neither! Photo taken at the main cemetery in Milan


It was like something out of a movie – this old man appeared out of nowhere, speaking no English, and showed us he’s a caretaker at the cemetery. Then he gave us a tour!

Speaking of leaving… we will now leave this post for the next one – Venezia!

Long-Awaited Waves

On Aug 19, we left Lyon and took a train into Nice. As the train rolled through the countryside, the thought of being on the coast was forefront in our minds. Our only change was in Marseille, and as we stepped onto the platform, we got our first breaths of salty ocean air. It was delightful, refreshing, and invigorating. Our train to Nice gave us a beautiful view of the glittering water, right outside the window, laid out before small, coastal towns. I would have stopped at every single one if I could have.

People told us that Nice is nice, and it very much is. Whereas Lyon was beautiful but overlooked, and therefore not very tourist-ridden, Nice had people from everywhere. As we stepped out of the station that afternoon, it presented itself as a busy vacation spot. Our hostel was a tall building nearby with tiny, sloping rooms, spotty Wifi, and an abundance of Australians. We shared a dorm with two young Australian girls, who we happily made friends with immediately.

Our first night, Em and I treated ourselves to a delicious dinner at a local Italian restaurant. She ordered a plate of mussels while I got ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta. For dessert, we shared chocolate fondue and fresh fruit. The entire meal was fabulous and a nice break from cheap street food.


dinner at Le Luna Rossa

The next day promised to be hot, a perfect day for the beach. Our hostel was a 15 minute walk, so we put on our suits, grabbed the hostel towels (which we technically weren’t allowed to take out of the hostel), and set out on a mission. We’d been dreaming about jumping into the ocean for weeks; it was time.

The beach we went to was unlike any beach I have been to into California. Instead of sand, there is a 20 foot walk from the sidewalk to the water of smooth rocks the size of eggs. People crowd onto every inch of this space, even right up to the water. Women wear bikinis or one-pieces like any place back home, but men in speedos are everywhere. This took a little getting used to. There were also women tanning topless, but since that is something I have done at Pirate’s Cove near San Luis Obispo, I barely noticed.

The water in Nice is spectacular, composed of two jewel-like tones of blue waves. It is wonderfully clean, though startlingly salty (I would definitely avoid swallowing any, as your stomach will be upset afterward). In between our tanning sessions, we spent a lot of time in the water, letting the gentle waves rock us back and forth.


Not even trying to be cute; the ocean was trying to make us fall over

That night, we went out to some of the pubs with one of our roommates, Hanne (hey girl!). We tried several bars, finally settling on the most crowded one. Wayne’s had groups of people hanging out outside, beer in hand. Inside, the front room was packed with people trying to get drinks from the bar and then trying to find a place to stand after. We got some beer, and met a couple of nice American boys as we sipped our drinks. Finally, we moved to the backroom. Instead of a dance floor, this room has 3 long tables lined up, with benches or stools on either side. Almost nobody dances on the floor, as there isn’t much space: bodies are gyrating up on the tables, fighting for space amid the flashing lights and deafening American music. A couple guys gave up their spots on the table so we could get up, and we didn’t come off those tables for 2 hours. It was a sweaty, loud, and sometimes scary time (only because there was a very real chance of falling off the table), but we had a great night dancing with each other and saying no to the many French boys asking us to dance. The next night, we had a repeat evening as we went back with both of our roommates, Bonnie and Hanne.

Our second full day in Nice saw the four of us taking a short day trip to Cannes, home of the famous film festival and a crazy number of fancy places to eat, sleep, and lay on the beach. When I say lay on the beach, I mean that in Cannes you have to pay for a spot on the beach unless you want to sit on the sand with the hot sun beating down on you. Emily and I were recovering from sunburns from the previous day, so the four of us rented beach chairs and umbrellas on one of the “paying” beaches. This was a very laid back day, as we were all tired from travel and dancing, and so we laid on the beach for a couple hours, grabbed some dinner, and headed back. I decided that while the actual beaches in Cannes are better (sand instead of rocks), the water in Nice is much better and looks a lot cleaner.

The last day in Nice was my favorite. We got a late start to the day, but after getting lunch with the girls, we headed down the beach to the left. At the end of the beach is a wall, with a cluster of rocks hanging over the ocean. You have to swim out near the cliff side to reach them, and climb up out of the water. Emily and I joined a bunch of locals and other adventurous vacationers on the rock, and jumped off one of the lower spots. Even though we couldn’t understand each other, the locals shared our excitement and gibbered at us in French or Italian while we nodded and said “Oui! Oui!”Cliff jumping is an experience that I was very excited to have over in Europe, and we’re hoping to find lots of it in Italy.


The rocks we jumped off of are at the very center of the photo

As I write this, I’m lying on my third tier bunk in Milano. A lot has happened, and it’s been tricky so far to keep up with everything (which is why this post is late late late) but I’m speeding through this post so that I can get to the most important and exciting part of the trip so far: Asti. Keep an eye out for my next post as I detail how I found some long lost family members in unlikely circumstances.

Au revoir, Nice!


Bonjour, mini Paris!

(I am writing this entry as we take the train from Marseille to Nice on August 18. Though I have plenty of time, it is hard to take my eyes off the French countryside and coast that flies past the train window. It is beautiful and green out here, so close to the coast. We have already passed one town that sat right on the ocean)

The best way to describe Lyon is that it is a smaller version of Paris. Two rivers, the Rhône and the Saone, run through the center of the city, separating the Old Town and the new section. We had two nights booked, but extended one day because Lyon is just one of those cities that has a lot of to see that shouldn’t be missed.

Our first night, we got to the hostel and found it to be probably our cleanest one yet. There was a small, grassy courtyard with a hammock and some bean bags and a picnic table. There was usually always someone hanging out down there, chatting on the phone or to another traveler, or dozing after a long night of drinking. We met our roommate, a woman named Jules who we got along with immediately (love you Jules!) and drank wine with her and other visitors at a dinner they held for us that night. The wine flowed, we all got to know one another, and soon someone was suggesting a bar for us to go to (keep in mind, this was a Monday night. There’s never really much going on). There were 11 of us, but at the end of the night it was our group of 6 girls that we didn’t want to part with. Jules was the German girl who’d lived in Australia for the last couple years and was now going to work for a winery in France; there was Marwa from Virginia but originally Sudan, who was only in Lyon for that night before she had to catch a plane to Amsterdam for the weekend before she returned to Lyon to study abroad; there was Maddy from Germany and Kim from Korea, roommates in another dorm of the hostel who helped us polish off a basket of frites at the next bar/club; and me and Emily. We danced, helped each other ward off creepy French guys and get to know the nice ones, and basked in the ecstasy of travel and freedom. We took a picture on the bridge on the walk home, drunk off of the feeling of France, making new friends, and life in general (ok, so there may have been several shots adding to our happiness as well!). It continually stuns me how people of different backgrounds, nationalities, ages, and languages can fall so seamlessly into friendship.


“Starfishing” after we ate: they’re too full to move!

The next morning, Emily, Jules and I woke up late, bodies tired but minds alive with the happiness of being in Lyon. Emily and I extended our stay one more night, knowing we couldn’t leave the next day. This is the great thing about not planning things out; we had nowhere to be and could stay if we wanted. A little hungover, we started the hike up to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere, a beautiful cathedral that overlooks Old Town. We quickly sweated out any lingering alcohol as the sun beat down on us relentlessly. On the way up, we rounded a corner to see the Roman ruins that we’d seen in a “Things to do in Lyon” article. You could enter at will, and walk among these stone amphitheaters that have been around since ~1200 B.C. There is so much here in Europe that you can touch and know that it’s something that has been around for hundreds of years, and endured. History at your fingertips, indeed.


either the Rhone or the Saone; I don’t remember!

At the top of the hill is the Basilica. We were happy to get there, due to the fact that we were sweating buckets, but when we stepped in the main room we nearly forgot all of that. There are mosaic masterpieces everywhere: the floor, walls, ceiling. We tried to take a couple pictures, but nothing can accurately capture what it looks like. It was dark and cool, and we just sat in there for a good 20 minutes, cooling off and looking around. The inside is beautiful beyond words, and no matter how much I wanted a good picture, cameras just can’t capture how amazing it was to see it.


la Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere

Outside, there’s a lookout point so that you can see all of Lyon, which is stunning. When we were too hungry to stay, we went back down the hill to find an eatery. I stopped in front of one in Old Town, and we stared at it for a minute, confused. I was given advice to only eat places where you can’t understand the menu because it’s in the native language, but you don’t realize till you’re doing it how hard it is to order when you have no idea what the dishes are!

After a kind employee took pity on us, we sat and ordered a late lunch. Emily got a salad and a crepe, while I decided to try authentic Lyonaisse food: saucisson chaud de Leon. It was a thick sausage, sliced and marinated in a red wine sauce accompanied by cheesy potatoes (best ones I’ve ever had, sorry Mom), asparagus, and a small salad. My bet paid off because the entire dish was absolutely delicious and one of the best meals I’ve had in Europe. We went back to the restaurant the next day for dinner, and I had the same thing – no ragrets! (Le Petit Grouton in Old Town Lyon, for curious food lovers)


saucisson chaud de Lyon

We spent one more day in Lyon, doing a walking tour and taking a boat back up the river, followed by nap/rest time. Meaning Emily took a nap while I watched a couple episodes of Orange is the New Black.

As of 2 hours ago while writing this, we reached the coast. We have encountered so much bad weather in the past couple weeks (Paris was lovely the whole time, but this morning in Lyon we woke up to pouring rain!) that we have been itching to reach the coast and the beach. Despite what happened in Nice a couple months ago, we’re very excited to take a couple days and relax. Even just changing trains in Marseille earlier, we breathed in the air and agreed that it felt incredibly good to smell the sea. Read on to my next post to find out just how nice Nice is!

Au revoir Lyon!



To Love, or Not to L0ve…

I skipped a couple stops on our trip for this blog due to tiredness, laziness, or possibly-maybe-definitely being a bit drunk, but basically between this post and the last we’ve been to Brussels (1 night), Brugge (2 nights), and this is the last of 5 nights in Paris. I didn’t blog about Brussels because there really wasn’t much to blog about, except for Georgette’s Cafe that had AMAZING frites (which will never again be “French” fries to me because THEY’RE NOT FRENCH, they’re Belgian; and Delirium Cafe, a bar known for its pink elephant logo). And then there was Brugge, which I will blog about and explain why I didn’t have the heart to blog while there, because when you love something deeply you don’t want to be on an electronic device for even a second.

And then… there’s Paris.

I received a lot of opinions about Paris. There were the, “Oh my goodness, you’ll LOVE Paris!” people, which I appreciated because these people then added that they could see me fitting in there. These were also the people that seemed very excited for me to go and wanted me to love it as much as they did. Instead of telling me HOW to feel about Paris, these people told me why they loved it, and knew me well enough to know that I would love it in my own way. Basically, these people wished me well in Paris, and hoped I would enjoy it.

Then there were the people who told me what they didn’t like about it: how dirty it was, how the people were rude and how touristy it was. I’m not going to say it isn’t those things (to an extent), but what city isn’t?? I didn’t think it was any dirtier than San Francisco, any more touristy than New York, and these are places that I love! The rude part, you just deal. There is a huge difference between someone trying to convince you to hate a city, to talk about it in a way that they hope you had as bad of a time as they did, and someone dreamily saying, “Oh, you’ll fall in love with Paris.” Sorry, but I won’t be validating your dislike of it anytime soon.

In Paris, we got lucky with a cheap Airbnb, across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower. The flat had 4 bedrooms -of which ours was the largest with a big, comfy bed – and we had free reign of the kitchen and the living room, which contained a piano, a samurai sword, a mask collection, and a tiny balcony with a small table and 2 chairs. With plants and books everywhere, and the way the light streamed in, the place looked beautifully and stereotypically… French. It was amazing. And then there was the bunny.


Our host was helpful and accommodating, despite the fact that we never saw him. He did, however, fail to mention his bunny. Its name was Patapouf. He was adorable, but also kind of an asshole. The entire 5 nights we were there, we barely saw him eat or drink anything. He hopped around with no clear goal, and once he’d warmed up to our presence he would proceed to get very… friendly with our legs. I know for a fact that my leg doesn’t resemble a female bunny. At all.

The first full day in Paris, we visited the Louvre. It’s essentially a giant maze, containing sculptures and paintings and art on art on art. We made a mad dash with what seemed like half the population of Paris to see the Mona Lisa, and stood near it for a couple minutes just thinking about it (who’s she smiling at? Is she constipated? WHAT’S THE SECRET????). We moved along pretty quickly, however, as the entire room was full of people waving their selfie sticks around trying to take 5 billion pictures that they’ll never look at again. The Venus de Milo wasn’t as crazy, but much of the same was happening everywhere.



Disclaimer #1: I hate selfie sticks.

After we left, walked down Rue de Rivoli for food, and hopped on the metro, we went over to Notre Dame Cathedral. It was beautiful, situated on an island in the middle of the Seine. The Gothic style building was massive and breathtaking… and then you see the line to go in, as long as a football field. We settled for taking a couple pictures in front and getting ice cream.

Disclaimer #2: We’ve eaten a lot of ice cream. And gelato. And croissants.

Looking for the next metro stop, we crossed the Seine and happened to come upon the bouquinistes! These are people who make a living setting up stalls along the river, and then have hundreds of worn, old copies of novels/books, all in French, for less than 10 euro. They’ve also started selling prints, keychains, small trinkets, and old maps. I saw an article a couple months ago saying that these businesses were in trouble, due to digital reading; my purchase won’t make a difference, but I did pick up an old copy of The Alchemist. It’s in French, and my French is terrible, so it’s going to be lots of fun to read.


That night – and two other nights of the five we were there – we grabbed some take away (food to go) and sat on the lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. We claimed our favorite spot, and enjoyed the beautiful weather as the sun went down, accompanied by a bottle (or 2) of cheap wine. We made numerous friends doing this, including a just-married couple and several adorable little girls who gave us kisses on the cheek. This time also included people-watching and telling the men hawking cheap bottles of wine or Eiffel Tower key chains: “Non, merci!”

Perhaps our favorite day was Versailles. We left late – which is not recommended by anyone and you should really get there as early in the morning as possible –  and took the wrong train, which actually ended up working out just fine. It stopped at a different section of the city, and so we walked through the town of Versailles, got a sandwich, and picked up delicious nectarines from an open air market. The line into the palace was an hour long, followed by a tour through the opulent rooms and chambers. What person needs three sitting/receiving rooms, a private room, AND a bedroom? Our favorite room was probably the Hall of Mirrors, decorated with hundreds of gold-gilded mirrors and crystal chandeliers.

(Funny anecdote: you could use one of their audio guides for free, and as we walked into one room that looked like the King’s bedchamber, the guide explained that it was not, in fact, the bedchamber. This became hilariously funny as a horde of people without the audio guides crammed in front of the bed, trying to get pictures and selfies of it. It was just a bed)

The tickets we bought were only good for the actual palace building, but what intrigued us were the gardens. The Versailles Gardens are famous, beautiful, well-kept, and huge. Many of the palace windows looked out on them, and they spread for miles and miles. Everything was a vibrant green and the hedges were perfectly trimmed. From above, the gardens look like a forest, but one too precise to be natural. Deciding to splurge, we paid to explore.


The only way to really see the gardens is to wander through them, randomly choosing which grove to venture into. It was a beautiful summer day, and we just strolled until we came upon a café sitting in the middle of the trees. We had already been discussing what we wanted to eat (crepes, as usual) and figured that a nice glass of rosé wouldn’t hurt as well.

Em ordered a crepe, but one of the waiters convinced me to try their house dessert, something called a melba which turned out to be vanilla ice cream swirled with raspberries and topped with French cream. One of the French waiters, a charming man with brown hair and a teasing spirit, kept coming over to our table to talk to me. One of the greatest regrets of this trip so far is that I walked away without his number.  There is something about Paris that makes it so easy to fall a little bit in love with everything around you.

Other highlights of the 5 days:

Hiking up a bunch of stairs to get to Sacre Coeur, a beautiful cathedral with sweeping views of Paris

Hanging out with my friend Elle from Italian class at Cal Poly (thanks Elle!). We met her at the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop, then went to lunch in a Parisian café where we enjoyed croque monsieur. The next morning, we met her at the Paris Catacombs, a series of caves under the streets where they moved bones from nearby cemeteries in order to make space in the 1800s. They were creepy but such a powerful and interesting experience


On our last night, we finally bought Eiffel Tower keychains from one of the men selling them around the Eiffel Tower itself as they yelled “One euro! One euro!” So to the people back home getting souvenirs, you’re welcome

Alright I need to stop this post before it takes you an hour to read it. Stay tuned for the next one, coming in hot!

With love from Paris,


Sum of Its Parts

As we left London a couple days ago, I thought to myself: How can I leave this city? Even though we’d had unlucky mishaps, I’d fallen in love with London and its inhabitants, its food, its old buildings, and its historical sites mixed in with new wonders. Now, as we prepare to leave Amsterdam tomorrow, I’m having that feeling magnified by 10. I don’t know how I can stand leaving the cobblestone streets with their sweeping canals, the way we can walk anywhere, and with no destination in mind still see so much.

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I had no idea Amsterdam was a bike city! They get around on these cute bikes, mopeds, and a very few have cars

Today, we witnessed a combination of events that few can say they’ve experienced. Despite a lack of planning for this on our part, it was their huge Pride Parade. And even though I haven’t been to a Pride Parade/Celebration before (I always miss the one in San Francisco), I doubt that any come close to Amsterdam.

After breakfast this morning, we ventured to the canal two streets away, and were met with a wave of color, noise, and people. Lining the canal to the right and left were people sitting, standing, dancing, and drinking. The lucky locals were in their boats parked on the canal sides, partying harder than anyone else. Pink was everywhere, while certain boats stuck to a theme. We watched a boat overflowing with people in a tropical theme – some took it as far as dressing up as bright birds – as they pulled out the biggest bottle of Absolut Vodka I’ve ever seen and proceeded to pour shots for the entire boat. As the parade came down the river toward us, we realized we needed to leave for our special date… with Anne Frank.


This was what the entire length of the canal looked like – and it’s a couple miles long!

I would hope that Anne would approve of us visiting her house on this day. If there’s anything I learned from walking through the three small rooms that hid her and 7 other people (and I learned much, felt much, and reflected much), it’s that a lot of people suffered so that others could progress. From her writings, I could see the way that oppression and hate had touched this innocent girl, yet it hadn’t broken her spirit, it hadn’t broken her. She grew up much faster than any teenage girl should have to grow up, yet she never gave up hope that she would survive the concentration camps, the war, the Nazis. As I read what she had written, 72 years ago, a quote by Emily Dickinson resonated within me:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all

       – Emily Dickinson

As we walked around and let the walls tell us their stories, the sounds of the party outside randomly filtered in. The juxtaposition of somber, violent history against jubilant celebration of equality and love was nearly overpowering, and definitely humbling. I couldn’t help but think how far we have come, and yet how far we have to go as there are those who choose hate over love.

After the Anne Frank experience, one that I will not soon – or ever – forget, we walked through the centrum of the city to one of the markets, the Waterlooplein Market. We had enough time to browse some stalls and find a choker necklace for me (overpriced, but now I can say “it’s from Amsterdam!”) before the market closed, the second time that has happened to us. Obviously, we need to start going to these earlier.

With nothing to do, we found a spot to sit with our legs dangling over the canal, and sat looking at the water, talking about the day, and waving at passing boats. The sun finally came out, making the water glitter and making the canal even more beautiful. The joyful vibe from the parade had filtered throughout the whole city, and we sat there, happy to be right where we were.


There weren’t a lot of people around, so it was a good time for a photo op

In order to save some money on a meal (though I’m not entirely sure we did, but whatever), we decided to visit the grocery store and make our own meal. We ended up dining on chicken mixed into pasta and spinach, covered in a sauce of two different kinds of cheeses. The fact that there are cheese shops on practically every corner has had us going a little nuts.

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Delicious dinner + wine at the adorable apartment we’re renting!

As the night wore on, we realized we hadn’t yet been through the Red Light District. For anyone not familiar with it, the RDL is composed of a few streets where it seems that anything is legal. People – men, mostly – walk up and down the streets, looking into neon-lit windows or ducking into shops to buy whatever they desire. There are the sparkling, magical parts of Amsterdam, and then there are the gray areas.

Though some of may not be comfortable to see, I felt it was an important part of the city and shouldn’t be missed. For a long time, I’ve struggled with taking people as they are and not expecting them to be someone or something they aren’t. I’m the opposite with cities. I can see the parts – the light and the dark and the in between, the good and not so good – and put them together to accept them, to love the sum. That, I think, is why I love exploring a city at night as much as I love exploring it with the sun: there is so much that comes out of the dark, and a city transforms under the moon.

Tomorrow we travel to Brussels. I am excited for the adventure to continue, yet sad to leave a place that I feel I understand, a place I could spend a significant amount of time.

Lessons learned from today: love one another, and when the light in the world is dim, don’t let anyone steal your hope.  Hope endures, and creates a legacy for others to inherit.

Happily eating a stroopwaffle before bed,



P.S. Happy first day of the Olympics! Haven’t watched anything yet, but you can be sure I’ll go through hell to see the USA Women’s Gymnastics team SLAY.