Home is Where we Hook-up

December 9, 2008

Reminiscing 2008

Some numbers from the last year:

12 months, eight countries, 27 states, two provinces and two continents. These are my travel stats, Keith’s vary slightly – add one province and a third continent…he’s off to Australia this week. I regret that I am such a chronological blogger, and that if I don’t write when travels are current…I don’t write. There is a lot of sharing to catch up on.

The first three months of 2008 were spent living in Belize. Having our our Visa’s in order meant we could stay for a year, and were considered Belizean. This last bit doesn’t mean much, but was fun to acknowledge. Such a beautiful little country, I fondly think back on the snorkel trips, Mayan Ruin exploring (taking us into Guatemala), jungle treks, trips to the islands, helicopter flights over the reef and life in general camped at the Cucumber Beach Marina. Most of what is packed into my journal from living last winter in the Caribbean are not details of the trips we took, or wildlife we encountered, it’s about the people we met, time shared with new friends, and things I learned from other people. That’s what I cherish most. We will return to see our friends and build our life in Belize. To see archived blogs, search Jan, Feb, March 08 on the right-side of the blog. For photos use the Webshots link, search Belize Album.

I get very attached to the people and places we visit, but when it’s time to roll I get anxious to move on. When it was time to head back to the U.S., at the end of March, I was ready. The drive up the west coast of Mexico was a rewarding 18-day trip in itself. The lessons we’d learned on the east coast in the fall made us feel like real pro’s, not cocky enough to get into trouble, just confident enough to have a nice time. We beach camped our way home staying along nearly deserted stretches of beach some nights, other nights we camped near Acapulco, Zihuatenijo, Puerto Vallarta (actually, Sayulita, a place that won our hearts), and Mazatlan. The days were long again, just like summer days as a kid. Beach combing, body surfing, meeting new friends and just working on our tans, ahhh a couple of lucky people. An archived blog in May 2008 has some photos of our camping spots.

The first week of April we crossed the border from Nogales, Sonora Mexico into Nogales, Arizona U.S.A. Immediately the fact that we had a schedule to keep sunk in. Our plan was to be in Gananoque, Ontario, Canada  by Mother’s day. Sounds doable. The catch was, we were not traveling directly,  but via some of our regular haunts, Las Vegas NV, Bishop CA and Tumwater WA to attend to the business of life that always awaits our return. At that time, we were paying $4.25/gal for diesel, on a truck hauling a fifth-wheel RV, getting 15 mpg. This 4500 mile cross-country journey we embarked on was likely to be the first (for me) and last time to see some of this country.

Our home for the summer season ’08 was an “ecological reserve” in the 1000 Islands, Landon Bay Centre. Knowing we would be away for a better part of the summer, the $7 a day camping rate was a better than average deal. One quick week after setting up our base-camp, we were on the road again. This time a “vacation”, spending 10 days in Virginia touring the Nations Capital. As I wrote in the June blog, this trip to D.C. and the area made me want to spend so much more time here – and as it turns out, we would return for 2 more weeks later in the fall. Yeah!

The majority of the summer was spent in Alassio, Italy on the Italian Riviera. Keith worked six out of nine weeks, I played, isn’t that how it goes? If you are keeping count, this makes the sixth country of the year. From here we hopped the train to visit Monaco and Nice, France – eight rounds the tally. This is the sort of summer that really puts life into perspective for me, how lucky a person could I be? Well, lucky enough to spend glorious days biking the cobblestone promenade from one village to another alongside the shallow waters of the Mediterranean, sipping espresso and eating gelato whenever I wanted. Unlucky enough to have a gigantic tree fall on our truck two days before leaving for Europe, only to have the wonderfully repaired truck stolen from the Montreal, Quebec airport not a month later – these things are all just part of life, taken in stride it makes for an interesting ride.

Our Ford dealer in WA was more than accomodating to help us replace our vehicle, without which meant our “home” was stranded in Canada, the winter clock ticking. Ironic to find ourselves making a repeat of a cross-country drive that we would take us through country we never thought we’d see so soon. Taking advantage of the opportunity, we changed the route from the I-90 to the I-94. We had some weather to out run, but enjoyed the last of the fall colors going back into Canada.

It was late October when we hauled out of the 1000 Islands, just ahead of the first snow storm of the season. Having decided long ago that since we are on the east coast we’d may as well stay, explore and enjoy it we spent November and December slowly making our way to Florida.  During the 2008 Presidential Election, we were camped in Maryland exploring more of D.C., where we stayed for more than 2 weeks. Now we’re hooked up in our home in Kissimmee Fl. where we’ll finish out 2008, and begin 2009. What’s in store? Not really sure, Belize and Mexico would be nice, spending more time in D.C., getting up to Newfoundland might be an option – we’ll let ya know.

August 20, 2008

My advice? Floss

Filed under: Travel,Travel in Europe — Heligypsy @ 12:18 pm

I have never bought into the whole travel insurance thing.  So far, (and do I tempt fate here?) I have not suffered the sorts of emergencies that travel insurance issuers claim to help out with. Never lost any baggage from a flight, or been bumped and forced to overnight. Haven’t had an expensive “non-refundable” trip canceled. No accidents resulting in bodily harm, though I’ve had my share of close calls as a pedestrian in the chaotic traffic of Greece and Italy. My overall health is good. I quit smoking many years ago. I’m ignoring the weight factor, I’m alright. Regrettably, I never took care of my teeth, ever. I mean I brush, of course, but that’s more a hygiene thing than a health habit. Guilt flossing is the only kind I have ever practiced, and it ends about a week after a cleaning. I try to get my appointments scheduled for cleaning whenever I am in Bishop, at least twice a year, that’s where my records from childhood are. I learned years ago that with a little work I could save my teeth from the brutal periodontal disease that I was beginning to suffer from. I flossed for two weeks after that visit.

Not a week prior to departing Canada for our six week trip to the Italian Riviera I acknowledged a teeny, tiny, itty, bitty bit of discomfort under my left molar. Allowed myself to note that there was the slightest irregularity, and then promptly put the information somewhere else, knowing you can’t have major dental work and then fly in a jet, back to back. This was nothing, anyway.

Less than a week after we arrived in this wealthy, pristine, mostly non-English speaking, seaside resort town, I was in trouble. One minute I’m tossing peanuts, “Snack Friends” (I always love the choice of when to use English, and how, in a foreign country) into my mouth, the next “Ow-WoW-OWWWW.” This is not going to be good. Putting my thumb on one side of the molar, and my index finger on the other I gently pushed, and to my surprise the entire tooth swayed effortlessly, if not painlessly, side to side. Adult teeth in motion are a bad, bad thing. Crap. This is going to get bad.

First thing Monday morning, which is 9 a.m. around here, I sought out help to find a dentist, an English speaking dentist. I HAD to be able to discuss the facts that I already knew, I was going to loose my tooth. Wanting to avoid further pain (though I was not in a lot) but mostly thinking about the costs, I had built myself up to accept the loss and did not want to be talked into any sorts of major tactics to save it. Like my mother, I am pragmatic when it comes to these things. And as she so classically said later to me “You don’t need all 32 anyway”.

By noon I was tilted head down in a blue leather dentists chair, distracted by the shimmery reflection of the sea dancing through the sliding glass doors of the examination room. Ocean front dentistry. Classy. My new Italian Dr. took a look, shook his head.

“How old are you?” I answered. Another shake. “It’s too bad for such a young woman, well, or man either, but someone so young to loose a tooth.” These were his first words about my situation, and I was instantly at ease. Ahh, ok, so he knows it too, it’s a goner. I didn’t have to talk him out of some gigantic procedure, I quickly agreed with him, it sure is a shame. I understood the words when he explained to his assistant that I’d had a periodontal rupture, I nodded in agreement. I didn’t really understand, but it sounded about right for what I knew of my poor ignored chompers. He took an x-ray, pausing at the door to quickly check “Are you pregnant, no?” No, I grunted through the mouthful of film jabbing my soft mouth flesh. Too late to say anything about protective cover, click-zap and the telling image had been taken.

By 1:00 p.m. I had been completely over-anesthetized, the Dr. mistaking one mumble full of hands for another and giving me an extra shot just in case. I never have understood dentists asking questions that can’t be intended to be answered. In this case, I learned they probably just guess. The sick, short rooted, cavity filled molar had been ripped and twisted free from causing any further damage. I felt nothing. As the Dr. worked to suture the already healing wound, I started having trouble with my right eye, it began blinking uncontrollably, I couldn’t stop it. Irritating, like twitching but without that pulsating sensation, blink, blink, blink, blink. Uugh! But wait. No, it wasn’t a problem with my right eye blinking, it was that my left eye was completely unable to blink. I wish I had a picture of my dimple smiling face, one half able to produce the dimple, smile wrinkles gathering at the edges of my eyes. The other 100% wide-eyed and frozen solid, bonus – no wrinkles. I physically had to hold my eyelid down to protect against the breeze, when I left the office later. Weird.

Making my follow-up appointment had the assistant a little flustered. “I’m sorry” she waved to me “I don’t even know your name!” I slurred the best I could, clenching on gauze and wishing I could just go now, trying to assure her that it was fine, we didn’t have to go through the paperwork. Her offers to sit with me and translate them were nice, and maybe not entirely sincere, but I assured her it was unneccesary. She must have read my mind earlier as I began to recount the entire event, from emergency walk-in to extraction took about 1.5 hours and they never even took my name. I was thrilled by the expediency of the whole thing. I don’t think a foreigner would receive the same treatment in my own country. As I paid the $150 bill, x-ray & consultation included, I couldn’t help but think that I wouldn’t receive the same treatment in my own country, Insurance or not!

November 14, 2007

Coming soon…Greek Goodies in the mail!

Filed under: Travel,Travel in Europe — Heligypsy @ 11:52 am

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These are some of our favorite little “goodies” from Greece. For those of you who played along with us in August, and left comments to our One Year Anniversary post, as promised you have a little something coming your way.

In the collection are olive oil soaps, pistachios from the island of Aegina, ouzo, honey/sesame bars, loukums, mastic gum and mastic aperitif.

For the recipients of either mastic soap, mastic gum or mastic loukums -this is a really unique and wonderful concoction. Mastic sap comes ONLY from trees grown on the Southern portion of the Island of Chios – nowhere else in the world….not even on the Northern part of the island! From this sap (which little Greek women shrouded in black chip out of the tree trunk with a sharp tool) all sorts of things are made – lotion, liquor, candy, soap….you name it, I’ll bet they make it with mastic. I’m facinated with the stuff…let me know what you think!

I hope you enjoy your little taste of Greece. We had a most wonderful summer – and there’s talk of going back next summer. Save your pennies and come see us!

September 28, 2007

What you make it

Filed under: Travel in Europe — Heligypsy @ 10:23 pm

My time is almost up. My assignment is coming to an end in Greece . It has been a good tour and we have tried to live each day here to the fullest. Thats the only way to try and live period,in my opinion.

I was talking to a friend the other day and he told me how lucky I was to be living and working in Greece. Yes,lucky,but its not just something that happened to me I told him .Its something I made happen when the opportunity presented itself. The same goes for our free time in Greece.Paula, her Mother,friends Debbe and Linze all visited our place in Athens this summer. We had great adventures and its a pleasure to see familiar or new places through the perspective of another.

Where do our next travels take us? It looks like I get back to LAX on the 4th of October.Paula is home as of September 27th in Bishop California. I think we will visit Colin, my youngest son in Santa Barbara when we get clear of L.A.Once back to Bishop we will pack the truck, visit with Paula’s Mom say hello and goodbye to some friends perhaps,grab Zoe and hit the road going North through the mountains to Canada.

No moss growing on these stones. Lots more Flyinadventures to come I hope.

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September 9, 2007

Vacation’s Over

Filed under: Travel,Travel in Europe — Heligypsy @ 4:17 am

August is the month that Greeks take vacation – they head out of the city and suburbs and move to the islands. A few weeks back I was going to write about this pleasant oddity as I headed to the metro early one morning and realized that if I had one – I could have shot off a canon and not hit anyone. Deserted was the only way to describe it. I thought how August would have been a good time for my mom to visit…no dodging of traffic, that alone is worth it! The trade off in our little neighborhood was that the pharmacist, fresh produce store, hair salon, and dairy were all closed for the month. Small price for empty streets, if you ask me!

The other day, Sept. 7th, Keith and I headed to the beach – by way of the main toll highway (Attiki Odos).  Not 100 yards onto the road, the realization struck of just how spoiled we had become in August – and that those days of hassle free driving were over for another year. All three lanes and the shoulder were jam packed, giant trucks, speedy racers, and the worst of all – the motorcycles and scooters…they are very dangerous. Everyone crams in, honking, swerving, no regard for rules of the road. In fact, I think we’ve mentioned that the “rules” are regarded as “merely suggestions” anyway.

Yep, vacation’s over and the Greeks are back and as crazy as ever.

Keith and I will be making a trip to the airport tomorrow to pick up the blogs new “Special Guest Writers”, my friends Debbe & Lindsey are coming for a vacation of their own. Should be several good adventures to tell about in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned….

September 4, 2007

The last 10 days…

Filed under: Firefighting,Travel,Travel in Europe — Heligypsy @ 3:12 am

Sunday Morning on CBS, has long been one of my favorite shows on television. It has held onto its faithful followers and its early morning time slot means that it competes with cartoons, evangelists (same thing) and infomercials. The show has nothing to sell and whats even better, it tells a personal story that helps us relate to the event and the people involved. Like many of you, I grow numb from television news and its in your face look at the days tragic events.

The past two weeks have been like a constant news loop of the fires in Greece. Wake up to the alarm at dark thirty and I feel like Bill Murray in the movie, Ground Hog Day. The same scenes of fires overrunning villages, our desperate attempts to get enough water drops before the village to slow the assault. The inevitable fire in the houses on the edge of the village, which ones to try and save which ones to leave. And worse, which buildings to drop on or into to stop the fire from spreading to the others. Screaming fire fighters on the radio arguing over which part of town has the priority.

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“Drop here! Drop here” they shout in Greek. I’ll drop where I can do the most good, but if one more person runs out under the drop with a garden hose and an olive branch I’ll have to work another area. Like physicians, “First do no harm” is our motto as well. Knocking someone to their knees with 1200 gallons of water as they run towards the the flames in their yard makes my stomach turn. Its smoky, we are the only air asset that can get into and under the smoke on these mountain villages. Sometimes we are the only asset period when we arrive. A village of two or three hundred houses has only a handful of die hards with tractors and water pumps. The power lines burned down hours ago and no power, no water. No radio screaming, just a silence as we drop into the village from the nearby reservoir.

“Where do you want to start?” asks the other pilot.

“Lets save the houses that are not active and then work on any burning buildings that look like they will get others involved.” Ok. Triage for a village.

We have been working near Kalamata (the olive city) for some days. The fire has run through several villages in the mountains above Kalamata. I don’t know the village names, the village we are on now we call “Village One” because its the first one of the day. “Second Village” is under control, we will likely lose the battle for Village One. Its a six mile run to the sea for water and we pass the two Russian Mil 26’s working just above the City of Kalamata on our way down to the sea. They are losing too and the fire is getting down the mountainside into Kalamata. We make two more series of drops into Village One and the last drop is down the edge of the main perimeter street surrounding town. I don’t know what a SkyCrane 40′ off the ground at 50 mph looks like when it drops just in front of 200 people, but this one knocks all the cliff side shrubbery off the hill and takes with it about 15′ of mud and sends it down the hill towards the flame front. Instant fire break folks – the bad news is, that is all we have for your town. The radio is going wild. The fire has got down into Kalamata and firefighters are trapped, surrounded, on a hill top near a house and they have no water and no vehicles can get to them.

Well at least the sea is closer for water to the fire in Kalamata. There are about 2000 structures between the fire and the sea, but first we need to take this water to the house on the hill. Through the smoke as directed to the hill on fire and drop just in front of three firemen pointing at the flames. Good. You’ll live.

The fire is ripping down a hillside orchard and into a green area of the city but we get it stopped in about 40 minutes. Its the last drop before fuel and we are feeling better about Kalamata as we wonder aloud to ourselves about what we will see when we get back to Village One. Its my usual low pass over the buildings to the beach and in the clearing air I can see hundreds of people on the roofs of houses and apartment buildings. As we approach we see them applauding with hands held above their heads.

“Look at that,” I say to the other pilots as they look down. “Your welcome.” says the second pilot, snorkels coming down, speed 50 knots and 120 feet,40 knots and 80 feet, a boat on your right and we are past that buoy,looking good at 30 knots and 16 feet with water coming in and 200 gallons,300,500,……

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August 28, 2007

Hell on Earth

Filed under: Firefighting,Travel,Travel in Europe — Heligypsy @ 11:23 pm

The phone call Keith took on Saturday during lunch was eerily familiar. Just two years ago his phone rang during our lunch out, and by that afternoon he was off flying to Louisiana to help rescue efforts after Katrina. Last Saturdays call had him on the road in an hour to begin helping to fight the fires in Greece.

Most of you who’ve seen footage of the current fires in Greece have heard the analogy likening these blazes to Hell. The first time I heard Keith say it was after he’d driven through three roadblocks and walls of fire to get to Kalamata to relieve the other pilots.

“It was like driving through Hell.” he told me. With a very sad heart I could visualize the once olive tree covered hills now black as night, smoldering, dead. The destruction and devastation and death is just sickening.

I am getting my news about the catastrophe from some of the same sources as you – MSNBC, CNN, AP, Yahoo! News, and I thank those of you who have sent me links to stories. I appreciate your support while we are here. There is a young Greek who has befriended me (she likes to practice her English) who came over the other evening strictly to watch the news and translate for me. She was irritated about all the news on the four Super Pumas the Swiss had sent over, and exclaimed to the t.v. “There is Erickson AirCrane here too!” She is new with the company and her loyalties made me smile.

One minute she tells me the Archaeological Museum in Olympia is in danger. The next she says, “No, it is safe”, five minutes later she thinks it has been lost to the fire. Frankly, to this second I am still not 100% sure of the status of the museum. Then she reports there are 50 people trapped by fire, there is no way to rescue them. I’m sure she is interpreting this wrong – FIFTY human beings and no resources to help them. Uuuughh, there is no comprehending what is going on over here. I read a news story later about a heroic helicopter rescue of 5 trapped individuals. Were these the same people Anna Maria translated about? If not, what happened to them?

Keith is safe and might even be returning home tonight, that’s good news, it’s the only good news I can think of. I have stopped watching the news footage, I can no longer sit and watch the soot and sweat covered people, terrified and in danger, run for their lives just yards ahead of angry flames. Or worse yet, to see them not running, but standing with garden hoses and olive branches, they seem to think they can fight this. Its real and I can’t believe my eyes. This is one of those times I mentioned before, I will hear stories of the fight weeks and months down the road – I’m ok with that.

There is something to understand about what’s happening. These people have worked their whole lives to build what little they have in these villages. If they lose what they have built to fire, there is no one going to swoop in and help them rebuild anything. It’s gone. They risk their lives because it’s all they have, and this time that risk has been catastrophically fatal.

August 23, 2007

Menu Translations

Filed under: Travel,Travel in Europe — Heligypsy @ 1:10 am

Looking at the daily specials at a nice little Taverna in the heart of Athens, I curiously asked the waiter

“What is Lump in Lemon Sauce?”

“You don’t know lump?” He replied, visibly confused.

Keith assured him that no one, not where we are from anyway, knows ‘lump’. This seriously bothered the waiter. He took a pen from his pocket, leaned over the table and began to write on the paper table cover. Ah Ha! I figured it out! With all the excitement of winning the round of charades, I shouted “Lamb”!!!!

The next time I patronized that Taverna, “Lamp in Lemon Sauce” was on the daily special. This is like one of those emails that goes around, change one letter make a new word.

Another example of interesting menu choices is eating at a fish restaurant. Choosing fish off any menu can be a challenge. Most often there is a glass case of available fresh fish of the day…point to choose works fine for us. One afternoon we chose a kilo of Beetle fish. This does not translate, as far as I know. Beetle is a delicious white fish with gnarly sharp teeth like that of a piranha. With the exception of Swordfish (isn’t that endangered?) and calamari, we almost never recognize the fish on the menu. **click to see picture**

We really enjoy a good chuckle as we sit down for refreshments after a long days adventures. Enough funnies on this menu to warrant a photo for sure 🙂

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August 16, 2007

Another Day on the Job

Filed under: Firefighting,Travel,Travel in Europe — Heligypsy @ 6:48 am

Its not often that I get to see Keith at work. I see him on the news, and I hear the stories of the days event in firefighting…sometimes I hear stories weeks or months later, depending on the amount of drama involved.

Today there was a gigantic fire in an upscale neighborhood very near our own. From the roof of our building I captured a few photos

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I am always so sorry for the victims of fire, my heart aches for the terrible sense of loss that must be. Watching this fire rage from the hilltop to the valley in minutes was awful.

My thoughts were random at best. I thought about Keith running late this morning, something that NEVER happens, and so now he was out on duty having missed breakfast. There’s little chance he’d get much of a break for lunch, so my thoughts turned to what to make for his dinner. I’ve settled on pasta.
I’d had to call him at 6:30am, well before the fire, to find out why I was having to wake myself up this morning, meaning I’d had no early goodbye kiss – and thus I did not get to tell him to “fly safe”. I watched him fly the perimeter of the fire, and put the “fly safe” vibe out into the air. They’ve got every air asset they have on this fire, there’s a lot of traffic up in that gnarly smoke. I was suddenly quite glad that I don’t often get the chance to see him work, its nerve wracking on so many levels.

And above all, I continued to think of how proud I am of the hard work Keith puts in, and what it means to so many people.

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August 13, 2007

Leader of the Pack

Filed under: Travel,Travel in Europe — Heligypsy @ 1:19 am

Every Sunday morning at 11 am there is an elaborate ceremony, the changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier in front of the Parliament building in Athens. The duo of Presidential Guard are relieved every hour on the hour, every day of the week, but the Sunday change is a big to do, and I wanted to see it.

I talked Keith into what fun the ceremony would be, and we headed into the city. Having arrived well ahead of 11 am, we sat at an outside cafe drinking cappuccinos (mostly so we could use the W.C. without feeling the need to sneak…water closets are for customers only). A large crowd appeared out of nowhere, a tour looking group, heading for the stairway leading to the Parliament building. What caught my attention about them, beside the sheer volume of the group, was they seemed to be following behind a “tour guide” that just so happened to be a stray dog. I kid you not, this dog walked a good 30 feet ahead of the crowd, every few moments it would turn to look at them, turn again and continue forward. So frequent was the dogs review of the group, I couldn’t shake the feeling that they really were being guided to the event by this very “in the know” looking canine. Boy was I in for a great surprise.

Once up on street level, we immediately saw the mistake in lounging around over coffee. A huge crowd had amassed and we were going to be stuck behind several rows of onlookers (the tallest people in all of Greece, of course). This coupled with the fact that it was a sweltering 105+ degrees…and well, I’m not telling to many secrets if I say that crowds are not Keiths favorite thing – an ideal start this was not.

Then the band started up. We could hear them long before we could see them. They marched along side the Parliament building, turned and marched along the front, closing off two very major intersections in the downtown. Just seconds ahead of catching my first glimpse of the band itself, I saw the lead dog. The very same dog leading the original group of tourists to the correct location, was now leading the band as they marched along the front of Parliament, turned and walked into the square where the ceremony would be held.

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As any good canine companion, this pooch quietly laid in the shade while the men in funny outfits kicked their legs high into the air with very deliberate steps, as the 11 o’clock Guard came onto shift.

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When all the pomp and circumstance was complete, the dog raised up and led the band back to the street, along the side of the building and disappeared with his crew.

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I’m fairly certain when I go back on another Sunday (when it cools a bit) that I will once again see this same dog leading the humans through their rituals, behaving (and being treated) every bit as important as anyone else involved.

This is one stray who’s not only dialed into freedom in the city, but has been handed a key.

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