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Sometimes the simplest things bond strangers together. It can be a shared love for music, a song, immense passion for travel or, in my case, a fuzzy bear hat. I wear this hat during all of my winter travels and it never fails to attract attention from strangers. Immediately they are put at ease by the silly ears on top of my head, and on numerous occasions it has served as the starting point for conversations with random people on the street. However, I never imagined I would actually encounter bear hunters while wearing it. This exact thing happened on the final leg of a long road trip through the Mid-West, when I was routing back home to Virginia through the Blue Ridge Mountains. There I crossed paths with a group of rugged mountain men engaged in a high tech bear hunt. Luckily, they didn't shoot when they saw me. :)

1. In the future, I'll have a lot of stories about the Mid-West, but we'll start at the end of the journey. After driving over 5,000 km in a week, it was nice to slow the pace down and take a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway in my home State of Virginia. The Parkway runs through both North Carolina and Virginia, stretching over 800 km in length. You can enter at various points on the route, almost all of them designated as National Park entrances. Early morning sunrise in the mountains! Is there a better way to start the day?

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2. All entrances are clearly marked off the highway to avoid confusion.

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3. The U.S. National Park Service employs over 22,000 paid workers and 200,000 volunteers each year to ensure visitors to our National Parks are well cared for. I'm sure many of you have visited at least one National Park in the U.S., almost all of which require some type of paid entrance. I read online that the Blue Ridge Parkway contributes over 902 million dollars per year to North Carolina and Virginia! And this is only one park! So, I will never understand Russia's hesitancy to build a solid tourist infrastructure, which could bring billions of dollars to the country each year.

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4. On the Parkway, endless forest roads and smooth pavement. Winter is not the optimal season for viewing due to the bare trees and poor weather, but I never tire of nature. Even staring at bare trees brings some type of immense peace and calm. Good for the soul. A reminder of one of my favorite poems by poet Mary Oliver - "In the season of snow, of immeasurable cold, we grow cruel but honest. Stripped to bare bones, we keep ourselves alive, taking one after another, the necessary bodies of others...."

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5.  So many lookout points on this route, all marked with room for drivers to pull over and admire the scenery. Common for all National Parks. If you don't like mountains or rugged nature, there's no reason to take the long way home on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Speed limit the entire route is 35 - 45 mph.

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6. Beautiful serpentine roads, necessary to exercise caution while driving, but a barrier exists to hopefully protect drivers from flying over the edge of the mountain.

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7. All the sports enthusiasts can find a lot of hiking trails off the beaten path. I climbed these stairs and they led directly into the forest with a walking path carved in the dirt. Along the way, more overlooks to stop at and admire mountain views.
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8. After a short time on the Parkway, flashing signs warned the road was closed ahead due to bad weather. It was freezing cold and windy, with only small traces of snow on the ground. I decided to go a bit further, and that's when I saw the bear hunters on the side of the road! I stopped to chat, and they explained everything about bear hunting.

They send their trained hunting dogs into the woods with GPS tracking devices affixed to their collars. The hunters use handheld devices with high tech display screens. You can see the exact location of each dog, all with individual names. A "wave" signal appears on the radio device when the dog barks and then the chase begins. I watched a dog named "Rowdy" on the screen as he sniffed his way through the woods in search of black bears. It was quite cool to see the hunt in action, but no bears were spotted while we were there. Last year, almost 2,500 bears were harvested in Virginia. Hunters need a special license for bears, and all kills must be reported and weighed at official Bear Stations run by the Virginia Department of Game.


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9. It's good to speak with strangers! Don't be scared to do it, especially if you visit the U.S., where people are almost always willing to chat. Sometimes random people can teach us new things, and bring a lot of laughter and joy. The bear hunters and I share a love for the same animal, but for very different reasons. For them, the big, fuzzy bear is a tasty meal, and for me one of the cutest animals on the planet. To kill or eat one is unthinkable!

We all loved bears so much, we even have personalized license plates dedicated to the animal. :) On one of the hunter's pick-up trucks, the plate reads "BL BEAR" (short for "Black Bear"), and my license plate is emblazoned with "RUBEAR." This, of course, a double entendre. The primary meaning is "aRe yoU bear?", but the plate is also a dedication to one of my favorite countries to visit, and its national symbol - RU BEAR! :)) So, for all those people who constantly insult me and call me a Russophobe, I hope my license plate proves my honest and genuine interest in your fascinating country. Very common in America for people to personalize their plates. It costs $25 extra/per year and there are hundreds of designs from which to choose. I've never seen license plates like this in Russia. Do they exist?


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10. Just a few miles past the hunters, the snow began to gather on the grass and trees.

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11. Then, the big road barrier appeared. Road closed, and it was necessary to turn around and head back to the highway. Apparently, there was a lot of ice on the road in higher elevations, so the National Park Service closed the road to avoid danger and accidents. Can you imagine this happening in Russia? :) The country would be at a complete stand still all winter.

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12. What to do now? Immediately it was necessary to eat! In small town areas, you can almost always find authentic diners and a quick Internet search disclosed the "Pink Cadillac Diner" was only a few miles away. Classic, American diner in the best of ways!

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13. I've been to the Starlite Diner in Moscow, but there's absolutely no comparison with a real American diner. The decorations are the same, but the atmosphere completely different. A real American diner is filled with locals, usually blue collar workers, hungry and ready to eat good homemade food. There's no one sitting around on comfy couches, smoking hookah, or listening to music. This diner had a lot 50's memorabilia.

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14. Great decorations, and very tasty breakfast. A huge omelette, potatoes, biscuit and coffee can be enjoyed for around $10 USD.

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15. I especially liked the bathrooms! Lucy for women; Ricki for men. A tribute to one of the best American television comedies ever, which aired in the 1950's - "I Love Lucy." Have you watched it? Very progressive characters for the time period.

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16. Oh, nostalgia! Pure joy when I saw the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga video game. I'm a Galaga champion! My favorite video game as a young kid, I played it constantly and am still a pro. I even taught some young kids how to operate an actual joy stick and play the game. It's always best to learn from the master. :)

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17. Three waitresses working in the entire diner. Good, friendly and efficient service.

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18. With a fully belly, it was time to bid adieu to the Pink Cadillac Diner and search for another adventure on the drive home...and, I quickly found it!

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19. It doesn't matter the size of the American town, you can almost always find antique stores and they're worth stopping at. I had no idea one of the largest Antique Malls is located only a two hour drive from Washington, DC! But here it is, and tons of treasures await me inside, including some scary items like these dolls. I hate clowns and baby dolls! Even as a young girl, I never played with dolls, finding them mind numbingly boring. Nightmare inducing toys! :))

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20. Hundreds and hundreds of old board games stacked in one section. I don't even know if kids play them anymore, perhaps their attention spans are too short with the proliferation of iPads and other electronic devices at even a very young age. My favorite game as a kid was "Operation." So, I purchased a vintage edition of the game from 1961. Still works. I played the game with my nephew when I returned.

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21. It's popular for antique enthusiasts to collect colored glass, from various time periods, but I don't know anything about their worth or origins. Some of the items are expensive - several hundred dollars, and others much more affordable ranging from $20 - $50 USD. And, again, scary dolls, this time on top of a teapot! Who would buy this atrocity? :)

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22. The most interesting thing was all the old military items, vintage newspapers, magazines and posters. It was in this store I discovered the $400 Yeltsin poster we discussed in this post. They also had a lot of German and Hitler memorabilia, including birthday invitations to one of his parties.

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23. Almost anything can be found at this place - old vinyl records, vintage toys from the 50's, house and yard decorations, and even slot machines!
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24. In the small, rural towns near Blue Ridge, abandoned houses are mixed with modern, huge ones. I guess one of the residents was turning 50 years old, and the family decided to announce it to the world. :) A lot of farms and dirt roads along the way.
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25. Innocent and frightened visitor in the woods. Or maybe we were the visitor, disturbing his natural habitat.

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I'll end by using this deer as an example. Don't be frightened of strangers. We can only learn about a place, the world, and especially a new country, by speaking to others and listening to their stories about every day life. In America, this is absolutely no problem for me. With or without my bear hat, I'll approach almost anyone to ask a question, or seek out information about an area or specific attraction. No one in my family can understand it because I'm an introvert by nature, who somehow blossoms into a social butterfly when traveling.

In Russia, I can't say I'm so brave. For a foreign visitor, the unsmiling faces are a bit menacing and unwelcoming. I honestly find it intimidating, and not primarily because of the language barriers. However, I promise next month to take my own advice. To try to reach out to more Russian strangers and engage in conversation when I arrive at the end of February. How will it go? I'm not sure, but I'll be sure to tell you all about it during the journey...until then, more travel stories this week from Estonia and Alaska! Stay tuned...



Comments

( 111 comments — Leave a comment )
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10_4
Jan. 26th, 2015 04:29 am (UTC)
Careful with that hat in the middle of the bear hunt :))))

And why the heck is Estonia?
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2015 04:41 am (UTC)
Re:
Estonia - the country. :) I traveled there last autumn and still have some stories to publish about the journey. And there are only black bears in Virginia. My hat is brown. So, I'm safe! :)
Re: - 10_4 - Jan. 26th, 2015 04:48 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 04:54 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - 10_4 - Jan. 26th, 2015 04:59 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 05:08 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - 10_4 - Jan. 26th, 2015 04:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 04:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - 10_4 - Jan. 26th, 2015 04:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 04:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - 10_4 - Jan. 26th, 2015 05:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
dryvit
Jan. 26th, 2015 04:31 am (UTC)
Смотрю - фотографии знакомые. Читал уже у macos. Да вы с Александром вместе ездили. :-)
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2015 04:39 am (UTC)
Yes, of course we traveled there together. :) Alexander always publishes his posts first. He's a dedicated blogger, processing photos and writing stories very late at night when we're on the road. The blog is his job. For me, it's only a hobby. I still have travel stories from over a year ago that I haven't written or published yet. :)
(no subject) - 10_4 - Jan. 26th, 2015 04:49 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 04:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - 10_4 - Jan. 26th, 2015 05:12 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - siberian_cat - Jan. 26th, 2015 06:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - 10_4 - Jan. 26th, 2015 04:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
andrey_kaminsky
Jan. 26th, 2015 05:24 am (UTC)
Все говорят только об Александре
Alexander hides the fact that he started to go bald from all the readers... But your picture where he bent over the JPS handheld device clearly indicates. This is a real journalism!
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2015 05:33 am (UTC)
Re: Все говорят только об Александре
Maybe I'll win a Pulitzer Prize for my hard hitting investigative journalism about LJ's top Russian bloggers. :)) We don't have very many overlapping readers, but I guess the people who have made their way to this post so early in the morning also read him. I don't see anyone discussing me in comments to his posts, so I'm not sure why readers feel the need to mention him here. But I'm used to it. :)
(Deleted comment)
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2015 02:59 pm (UTC)
Sure, there are many things I will never understand about the country, no matter how hard I try, or how many times I visit.
siberian_cat
Jan. 26th, 2015 06:51 am (UTC)
#16 reminds me of...


peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2015 03:00 pm (UTC)
This was the scene with me and the kids at the diner. Exactly! But no gun was involved. :)
ryanka
Jan. 26th, 2015 07:28 am (UTC)
you don't seem like introvert at all lol although sometimes introverts can be very active online but more shy in reality. But even in this case you don't look like introvert cuz you travel to foreign places to meet unknown people and talk to them.. why do you think you are an introvert? :)
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2015 03:02 pm (UTC)
"Active online but more shy in reality." This is a perfect description of me. At home, I'm not social. I almost never go out with friends, and my main social contact is with my family on weekends. My motto is "silence is golden." I need a lot of alone time, and can't stand being around loud people or incessant chatter. Travel is different, because it's necessary to interact with others to cure my cultural curiosity.
(no subject) - ryanka - Jan. 27th, 2015 02:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 27th, 2015 02:05 am (UTC) - Expand
habarforever
Jan. 26th, 2015 07:52 am (UTC)
Great
Hey, Shannon! The post is cool. Thank's. This hat realy suites you. Thank's for you remined "I Love Lucy", I almost forgot this show, it was great.
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2015 02:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Great
Hi! Nice to hear from you. I'm glad you liked it. :) It seems readers are no longer interested in travel stories, but they will continue to be the primary focus of my blog.
amandakysses
Jan. 26th, 2015 07:58 am (UTC)
Woman, I love it! I love this story, I love the pictures! I totally want to eat breakfast at that adorable diner! How far away is it from NOVA? The mountains are so lovely. I think I am a friendly introvert, or maybe I'm just a flirt ;-) I love meeting new people. I find everyone a million times more interesting than myself. I love hearing everyone's stories and watching their faces light as up as they talk about things they are passionate about. I wish everyone was more friendly to everyone else. The world would be such a happier place. Please keep these great posts coming! xoxoxo

Edited at 2015-01-26 07:59 am (UTC)
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2015 03:05 pm (UTC)
The diner and antique store are only about two hours from Northern Virginia, and located very close to one another. It's an easy day trip for a Saturday or Sunday. Be sure to visit next time you're home. You're not an introvert, you like to party, hang out and have a lot of social interaction with others. This isn't me. I prefer to be a hermit, living in my Arlington cave. Why do you think I never have a boyfriend? :)) Because I don't make any effort to meet men. I'm glad you liked the story! People here only wish to comment on something controversial or bad, not warm, fuzzy posts like this. But they're good for the spirit, so I'll continue to write them. :)
(no subject) - amandakysses - Jan. 26th, 2015 09:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
creaze
Jan. 26th, 2015 08:42 am (UTC)
Speaking of scenic roads, one of the most beautiful that i've seen in my life is hwy 550, aka The Million Dollar Highway in Colorado. It winds between real steep mountains and does not even have barriers. And if you fly off one of these loops, there's a long way down to the bottom of the gorge. Unlike most mountain roads, which are usually built along streams.

So i was surprised to learn from locals that they close it only during strong blizzards, leaving it open even during moderate icing. I'm generally rather cowboy-ish attitude, but some portions of that highway scared a crap even out of me.

> For a foreign visitor, the unsmiling faces are a bit menacing and unwelcoming.

Having traveled a bit across my own country, i can say this goes for a domestic visitor as well. =) Just gotta get used to it.

And i must add, many western Europeans, specially the elderly ones, did not go far from Russians in terms of unfriendliness. Americans politeness to strangers rather stands out really.
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2015 03:09 pm (UTC)
I'm American, so you can understand how the "cold" faces are unusual for me because this isn't the way strangers interact with each other in my country. I want to visit Colorado, I think I'd immediately fall in love with this State. It's not surprising they don't close the road because they're used to a lot of snow. In the Washington, DC area people panic at the first sight of a snowflake, so we're a bit melodramatic with work, government and school closings in winter. :) "Cow-boyish attitude" :)) I typically have a "cow-girlish attitude," but don't wish to be the driver on snowy, mountain roads. Only a passenger. :)
(no subject) - creaze - Jan. 26th, 2015 03:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
liver22
Jan. 26th, 2015 09:00 am (UTC)
--I've never seen license plates like this in Russia. Do they exist?--

No, in the RF such registration plates do not exist. The most you can get is a type of "k222kk" that is just a beautiful combination of letters and numbers. I.e. type character "Vovan" in Russia do not succeed, at least legally. This is the short answer.
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2015 03:09 pm (UTC)
Why would you want a combination of random numbers? What does it symbolize or mean?
(no subject) - liver22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 04:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 05:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - liver22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 07:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 07:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - liver22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 07:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - riana_spb - Jan. 26th, 2015 05:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 05:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
vasionok
Jan. 26th, 2015 11:33 am (UTC)
Russian strangers usually don't appreciate being reached out and engaged. But good luck! :) By the way, have you seen this time lapse video of Krasnoyarsk - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlrGE7ZdGm8 - it is very beautiful!
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2015 03:10 pm (UTC)
The video is nice, thank you! Of course, I know how Russians react to strangers. During my past visits, people looked at me like an alien when I smiled and said hello to them in restaurants or public places. :)
maadmike
Jan. 26th, 2015 12:29 pm (UTC)
Wonderful story to read, thank you very much! I am glad to see that you are so opened for communication person.

"There I crossed paths with a group of rugged mountain men engaged in a high tech bear hunt. Luckily, they didn't shoot when they saw me. :) "

Yeah, you together look strange, like two bloodthirsty hunters and a happy game...

"The U.S. National Park Service employs over 22,000 paid workers and 200,000 volunteers each year to ensure visitors to our National Parks are well cared for."

Astounding numbers!

"So, I will never understand Russia's hesitancy to build a solid tourist infrastructure, which could bring billions of dollars to the country each year."

Totally agree with you - it is a rebus for me too why we don't do it.
"Very common in America for people to personalize their plates. It costs $25 extra/per year and there are hundreds of designs from which to choose. I've never seen license plates like this in Russia. Do they exist?"
You have a cool car!
We can have every of such plates as a second decorative.
"Apparently, there was a lot of ice on the road in higher elevations, so the National Park Service closed the road to avoid danger and accidents. Can you imagine this happening in Russia? :) The country would be at a complete stand still all winter."

There are a lot of this stuff at our Southern mountain's region.
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2015 03:13 pm (UTC)
I know you said you don't wish to visit America, but if you change your mind and travel here it's worthwhile to visit a National Park. Esp. the ones out West! They are a treasure of our country. Very beautiful and well maintained, and a lot of interesting and beautiful nature along the way. In most parks, there are a few hotels or cabins you can stay at. But usually restaurants are sparse. It's better to go off-season because the rates for lodging are much cheaper than prime summer season. They close the roads in the Southern mountain regions? The first time I drove from Moscow to St. Petersburg, it was very snowy.
(no subject) - maadmike - Jan. 27th, 2015 08:26 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 03:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 27th, 2015 02:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
modest_so_zvezd
Jan. 26th, 2015 01:10 pm (UTC)
The hat on you head, is it realy bear`s fur?
siberian_cat
Jan. 26th, 2015 01:46 pm (UTC)
Yeah, teddy bear's.
(no subject) - modest_so_zvezd - Jan. 26th, 2015 02:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 02:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 02:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - modest_so_zvezd - Jan. 27th, 2015 05:46 am (UTC) - Expand
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riana_spb
Jan. 26th, 2015 05:21 pm (UTC)
'So, I will never understand Russia's hesitancy to build a solid tourist infrastructure, which could bring billions of dollars to the country each year.' - oh, Russians can't build an infrastructure for themselves in many places, and you want them to think about tourists))
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2015 05:22 pm (UTC)
Good point! :)
Путин любит такое. - andrey_kaminsky - Jan. 26th, 2015 06:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Путин любит такое. - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 06:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Путин любит такое. - andrey_kaminsky - Jan. 26th, 2015 06:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Путин любит такое. - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 26th, 2015 06:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Путин любит такое. - andrey_kaminsky - Jan. 27th, 2015 05:17 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Путин любит такое. - peacetraveler22 - Jan. 27th, 2015 02:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Путин любит такое. - andrey_kaminsky - Jan. 27th, 2015 03:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
maximilian_mor
Jan. 26th, 2015 06:27 pm (UTC)
Photos from 12 to 18 - it`s amazing.
Looks like decoration from some American serial. "Supernatuarle" or "X-Files" may be..

Thx for this post!
peacetraveler22
Jan. 26th, 2015 06:28 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! Visit again. :)
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