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    Europe Travel

    Berlin for First Timers

    The Grand Adventure

    Location: Berlin Germany

    Click on any photo for an enlarged version.

    I have wanted to go to Berlin for years. I’m not sure why it took me so long. Since we have traveled to Germany, France and Italy several times, we haven’t made those countries a priority on the Grand Adventure so far. But Berlin was different. I had to go. Berlin for first timers was a whirlwind. And worth it.

    We arrived on the Deutsche Bahn train from

    Berlin for First Timers

    Deutsch Bahn

    Brugge via Brussels on a Sunday afternoon. It had been a very long journey involving three trains and  4:30am wake up.  We checked into our Airbnb and headed out to the neighborhood market only to find everything shuttered on a Sunday. So we ate delicious Turkish food for dinner in our very Turkish neighborhood and then fell fast asleep.

    With only three full days in Berlin we hit the ground running on Monday morning. Literally.  We got up and did an early morning run through our neighborhood park. Refreshed, we stopped at the now open market for supplies before heading back to our apartment to get ready for our day.

    Since we are training for the Camino we walked everywhere in Berlin, but Berlin for first timers is easy by subway, elevated train and bus system accessing most of the greater Berlin area.  There is also a wonderful taxi system and Uber.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Brandenburg Gate

    Berlin for First Timers

    The wall

    Our first day we walked and walked enjoying the Tiergarten, Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and several sites where you can see and touch old remnants of the Berlin Wall.  These included the Topography of Terror, Checkpoint Charlie Black Box Cold War Interpretive area, and Potsdam Plaza.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Currywurst with beer

    Since we had already eaten one of Berliner’s favorite fast foods (Turkish kabob) we tried the also famous Currywurst . The invention of Currywurst is attributed to Herta Heuwer in Berlin in 1949, after she obtained ketchup (or possibly Worcestershire sauce) and curry powder from British soldiers in Germany. She mixed these ingredients with other spices and poured it over grilled pork sausage..  You can have Currywurst with skin or without (skin being the casing for the sausage before cooking ).  We tried it both ways and I preferred with the skin – a nice crunchy texture.  That said, Currywurst was not my favorite.  On another day we also had Bockwurst.  Served with potato salad and I really liked that.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

    Berlin for First Timers

    Checkpoint Charlie a recreation

    Day two began early with a visit to the Holocaust Memorial, officially titled Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  This controversial memorial encompasses 2711 concrete blocks of different heights taking up an entire square block of the city.  Underground is a very poignant and somber, yet interesting and thoughtful museum that focuses on families and the humans who lost their lives during this evil period of history.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Black Box Cold War Interpretive Panels

    On day two we also signed up for a Free Walking Tour, always one of the things we search out in any city.  Of course Free Walking Tours aren’t really “free”.  You pay the guide at the end what you think the tour was worth.  And our Free Walking Tour in Berlin was the best one we ever did.  Our guide Georgia was exceptional.  We loved it and I highly recommend New Europe Tours.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Brandenburg Gate

    On our tour we visited a lot of the same places we had seen the day before, but seeing them with Georgia our guide was a whole different experience.  We learned amazing history starting with ancient history of the region right up through the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin wall and of course a great deal of history about Hitler and WWII.  It was fascinating.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Car park over the bunker

    By the way, throughout Berlin there is almost no reference to Hitler. That is by design.  There is a point to not have his name included in most things.  In fact, we stood on a car park that is on top of the bunker where he committed suicide.  There is only a simple sign, added only recently when Berlin hosted the World Cup in 2006.  Did you know Hitler’s remains were dug up from the original burial site in East Germany and dumped in a river?  This is so there is no final resting place for this horrible human being and so no one can ever have a place to go and glorify him in any way.  The Nazi Swastika is outlawed in Germany.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Eisbein

    Berlin for First Timers

    Weiner Schnitzel

    Following our tour we headed for lunch.  We wanted some good hearty German food so we ended up at Augustiner am Gendarmernmarkt.  More Bavarian than Berliner but it was delicious.  I had Wiener Schnitzel and my husband had a gigantic Eisbein (pork knuckle).  No dinner was necessary after the delicious lunch!

    Berlin for First Timers

    Site of the Book Burning

    Next we walked to Museum Island, just over the river you’ll find a gathering of Berlin museums.  We stopped at the Bebelplatz, where famously the Nazis burned all the books.  Here a unique memorial to that fateful event lays underground.  Then we visited the Alte National Gallery – Berlin’s best regarded Art Museum.  This is certainly no Louvre or Uffizi, but the museum is compact and easy to tour with a lot of German artists as well as nice collection of Impresionist from Renoir to Monet.

    We ended our day taking a narrated boat ride on the river Spree.  It was a beautiful day and it was fun to see the city from the water and enjoy the narration providing us even more interesting facts about Berlin.  There are numerous locations around the city where you can start these boat tours.

    Berlin for First Timers

    The west side of the East Side Gallery Wall

    Day three was a walking day.  We had over the past couple of days enjoyed seeing some of the remains of the Berlin Wall that are in the city, but the longest remaining part of the wall is actually about six miles from the main city area.  So we walked.  It was hot, but we enjoyed the walk which took us through Alexanderplatz, where Berlin’s TV tower stands – an iconic modern soaring spire that includes a restaurant on top.  You can see the tower from anywhere in the city.

    Berlin for First Timers

    The most famous mural at the Eastside Gallery

    Our destination, the East Side Gallery is the name of the mile long portion of the wall, consisting of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world, painted in 1990 on the east side of the Berlin Wall. According to the Künstlerinitiative East Side Gallery e.V., an association of the artists involved in the project, “The East Side Gallery is understood as a monument to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the peaceful negotiation of borders and conventions between societies and people”, and has more than three million visitors per year.[1] This was something I had seen so many times in photos and I really wanted to see it for myself.  It was amazing.  A highlight of our time.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Eastside Gallery

    You don’t need to walk the six miles to the East Side Gallery.  You can take the subway, busses, taxi or Uber as well as several local tours include it.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Pretzel

    We wandered back along the river and stopped at the Tiergarten Biergarten to enjoy a couple of German beers as our amazing time in Berlin was coming to an end. The Biergarten in this beautiful park sits on a tiny little lake and you can enjoy pizza and pretzels, gelato and beer.  You can also rent a little row boat and row around the lake.  Such a pleasant way to spend a sunny day in this fascinating city.

    Berlin for first timers could include a few
    more things that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do, mainly going up into the observation dome at the Reichstag.  You need to make a reservation to do this, and we just didn’t know that with enough advance notice.  I wish we had because I understand it is really amazing.  Do it if you can.

    With a few more days we also would add some live performances.  Berlin has a thriving theater and musical performance scenes including outdoor theatre, symphony and opera.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Biergarten

    Finally, a great way to see the area would be by renting a bike.  Berlin is as flat as it possibly can be, has literally hundreds of miles of bike lanes and paths, including beautiful paths through forested parks and along rivers.  On a beautiful day seeing the city by bike would be a lot of fun.

    Berlin for First Timers

    The view from the River Spree

    So there you have it, Berlin for First Timers.  I really loved this gritty, indomitable city. Even with all the tourists it felt real and raw.  I can’t think of another European city that has witnessed so much history and hosted so much strife and animosity and come out shining on the other side.

    Berlin for First Timers.  I highly recommend it. Fabulous. Fabelhaft!

    
    

     

     

     

    Oceania Travel

    The Great Barrier Reef Australia

    Just Keep Swimming

    Location: The Great Barrier Reef Australia

    “Hey, Mr. Grumpy Gills… When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.” – Dory the Fish from Disney’s Finding Nemo

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Nemo

    Finding Nemo is one of my favorite Disney/Pixar movies, and this past week I have had endless Finding Nemo moments and quotes running through my head.  Being

    in Australia and finally snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, my thoughts have wandered to the

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Reef and fish

    adventures of that movie and I have smiled to myself underwater and thought “Just keep swimming.”

    Although going out on a snorkel trip on The Great Barrier Reef took us way over our Grand Adventure daily budget (actually everything in Australia is

    The Great Barrier Reef

    Birdseye view

    taking us over budget), we could not come here to beautiful Cairns and not see the reef.  It’s another one of those “I don’t have a bucket list” bucket list items.  I love snorkeling and I wanted to have that once in a lifetime opportunity.

    The weather on the day we went wasn’t great – grey and overcast and we even saw some rain.  I am in constant worry about my motion sickness

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Colorful

    problem, so I stood outside and watched the horizon the entire hour and half boat trip out to the reef, even when the rain started to come down.  Hey I was gonna get wet anyway right?  Luckily, thanks to massive amounts of drugs, my sea sickness problem did not materialize while on the boat.  That was a good sign!

    “You got a problem, buddy? Huh? Huh? Do ya, do ya, do ya?” Dory

    We booked our reef tour with Reef Magic out of

    The Great Barrier Reef

    Marine World of Reef Magic

    Cairns which took us to the outer reef and a pontoon platform stationed there called Marine World.  We disembarked the boat to the pontoon and here we were outfitted with our snorkels, fins, masks and Lycra “stinger” suits to protect us from

    Great Barriee Reef

    Jellyfish

    jellyfish.

    “I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy.” Dory

    Reef Magic offers many options from the pontoon, all at an additional charge including snorkel safari, snuba, scuba, glass bottom boat, semi-submersible boat and helicopter rides.  But since

    Great Barriee Reef

    That’s us!

    we had already exceeded our budget (for two of us we paid $426 Australian about $330 US), we were just interested in snorkeling.  We were dressed and ready to go pretty quickly and one of the first people in the water.

    Great Barrier Reef

    Us with Wally

    We immediately encountered “Wally”, one of the biggest fish on the reef.  Luckily Reef Magic’s professional photographer was on hand as we entered the water and she got some amazing shots of us with Wally.  All the photos in this blog are from Reef Magic’s professional photographer.  Since we don’t have an underwater camera we have never gotten underwater photos on any of our snorkel trips on the Grand Adventure.  So, despite the fact my husband almost wet his pants when I told him the price, we bit the bullet and bought the photos for an additional $75 (about

    Great Barrier Reef

    Hey Wally

    $60 US).

    “Ahh you guys made me ink.” Pearl

    Wally is a resident fish of this part of the reef.  He is an amazing species called Maori Wrasse.  This fish is a female for the first eight years of its life.  And then poof.  It’s a male.  I know – what the heck?  Isn’t that nuts?  Some times I think Mother Nature is menopausal!

    Great Barrier Reef

    Coral

    After our encounter with Wally we began to explore the reef.  Marine World has a cordoned off section of the reef for its guests to enjoy.  Within this area there was a huge variety of corals; big, small, blue, green, orange, white.  Some are soft and rounded, others spikey and dangerous looking.  In all the

    Great Barriee Reef

    Coral

    snorkeling I have done, I had never seen coral that waved in the current like it did here.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch.  Most of the coral we see in our lives is dead.  And while its pretty even when it is dead and dry, the beauty of live coral is spectacular.  Yes this is an incredible living

    Great Barriee Reef

    Coral

    creature and we surely must protect it.

    “Righteous! Righteous! ” Crush

    So I loved the corals and kept going back for more of that but of course there were the fish. Many, many fish.  I don’t know all their names, but they really are beautiful to watch.  Some of the fish are very solitary, just going along and doing their

    Great Barrier Reef

    Fish!

    business, feeding and swimming and doing what fish do.  Other fish keep in groups, large schools that move together almost as one, weaving above and around the coral mountains.  There are some fish that are so tiny you don’t even see them until you are swimming right through them, while others

    Great Barrier Reef

    Giant Clam

    are so big that they freak you out a bit.  Many fish are shy and you need to look inside the coral to find them.  There are also beautiful giant clams, sea slugs, squid, eels and rays.  And no we did not see any sharks.

    Great Barrier Reef

    Ray

    From this moment on, you shall now be known as Sharkbait.” Gill

    We swam to the outer edge of the roped off area and we were alone in this section just as a beautiful turtle swam by on the surface.  We

    Great Barrier Reef

    Turtle

    almost missed him because we were looking down and he was swimming right next to us on the surface.  But then he dived and we watched him swim to the bottom looking for a snack.  I believe this was a loggerhead turtle.  We had seen this kind in Sri Lanka. Beautiful brown bodies and not too large.  We watched him swim away beyond the area we were confined to and into the great wide ocean.

    “Saw the whole thing, dude. First you were all like “whoa”, and we were like “whoa”, and you were like “whoa…” Crush

    After about an hour we went back to the pontoon to have a rest.  Reef Magic served a buffet lunch

    Great Barrier Reef

    Pontoon

    that included salads and fruit, bread, chicken, sushi, lasagna, curry and roast beef.  But I only ate a little cause I continued to worry about my motion sickness.  Arne ate my share.  It all looked good.  Great Barrier ReefCoffee, tea and water was also available and a bar on the boat was open when we weren’t underway.  Clearly they have had motion sensitive passengers before and they were well stocked with ginger beer (like ginger ale, non-alcoholic). My beverage of choice.

    “I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine.” Bruce the Great White Shark

    The Great Barriee Reef

    Fish in all sizes

    We headed back out to snorkel more after lunch.  The water seemed a bit calmer but it was also more cloudy so not as easy to see – but that was okay.  We tried to swim to all the areas and to the far-reaching parts of the swimming area.  We noticed most snorkelers stayed very close to the boat.  Understandably if you are an inexperienced snorkeler or not comfortable in the water.  Reef Magic had life jackets as well as float noodles and other devices for anyone looking for a little more reassurance.

    Great Barrier Reef

    Some are shy

    We snorkeled for about 30 minutes and then decided to call it a day.  We went back on the pontoon and stretched out on a lounge chair for the next hour and a half.  Surprisingly, despite the overcast sky, it was warm and we both got a bit of a sunburn.

    Great Barrier Reef

    My Fab Fifties Life!

    Finally it was time to turn in our gear and make our way off the pontoon and back to the vessel for the hour and half ride back.  Once again I stood and watched the horizon the entire way, including during a deluge about half way home.

    But I did it.  I did not get sick.  I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef.  I can check that off the “I don’t have a bucket list”

    Great Barrier Reef

    Dory

    bucket list.  And remembered to just keep swimming.

    “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.” Dory

    Thanks goes to the wonderful photography of Reef Magic!

    Read more of our Australia adventure here

     

     

    This post includes affiliate links and I may receive a commission if you buy any of these products.  Any money earned goes to help support the cost of the blog.

     

    Oceania Travel

    Uluru Sacred Legends

    Kuniya and Liru

    Location: Uluru Rock, Australia

    There are many Uluru Sacred Legends, embraced and told by the local Anangu people.  The aboriginal Anangu are said to be possibly the oldest native people in the world, dating back more than 50,000 years.  The Uluru Sacred Legend is just one of many beautiful stories of this beautiful culture and their land.

    Uluru

    The sunrises behind Uluru

    Kuniya and Liru

    Minyma Kuniya the python woman came from the east near Erldunda.  A bad feeling grew in her stomach – something was wrong.  She had to go to Uluru.

    Uluru

    Uluru as seen from the base walk

    Kuniya created inma (ceremony) to connect her eggs together.  She carried them to Uluru in a ring around her neck and placed them at Kuniya Piti.

    Meanwhile, Kuniya’s nephew arrived on the other side of Uluru.  He was being chased by a war party of Liru (poisonous snake) men from out near Kata Tjuta.

    He had broken the law in their land and they were sent to punish him.

    The Liru men threw spears at Kuniya’s nephew.

    Uluru

    Uluru as seen from the base walk.

    One pierced his thigh and many others hit the side of Uluru.

    One Liru warrior, Wati Liru, was left to care for the injured python man.  But he did not do his duty and left the injured man on his own.

    Uluru

    Uluru cave

    Minyma Kuniya realized that her nephew had been injured and was not being cared for properly.

    She raced to Mutijulu Waterhole and saw Wati Liru high up on the cliff.  She called out to him about her nephew, but he only laughed.

    Minyma Kuniya placed her wana (digging stick) upright in the ground in front of her.  Kneeling down, she picked up handfuls of sand and threw it over her body, singing and making herself stronger.

    Uluru

    The morning sun puts a pink glow on Uluru

    She was creating inma (ceremony) to help her confront Wati Liru.Kuniya moved toward Liru singing and dancing akuta – a dance step used by women ready to fight.

    Uluru

    Shadow play

    Kuniya hit him once over the head with her wana.  He fell down but got back up.  She hit him a second time and killed him.

    Kuniya then went and found her injured nephew.  She picked him up, dusted him off, and carried him to Mutijulu Waterhole.

    She created inma and combined their two spirits into one.  They became Wanampi, the rainbow serpent, who lives in and protects the waterhole today.

    This story teaches a traditional form of payback

    Uluru

    Admiring the 1000 foot cliffs

    punishment – a spear to the thigh.  The punisher must then look after the injured person until they are well enough to care for themselves.

    It also teaches about women’s intuition and that a woman may use force to protect her children.

    This is a powerful story, Kuniya is a powerful women.

    Story credit the Anangu People of Uluru and Uluru National Park and Parks Australia.

    Oceania Travel

    Exmouth Western Australia

    Ten Reasons I Fell For It

    Location: Exmouth Western Australia

    Australia is huge.  So. Darn. Huge.  Unfortunately, we get a skewed image of our world, by the skewed world maps we use.  But the reality is, Australia is the same size as the lower 48 of the USA.  Even here in little ole Exmouth Western

    Exmouth Western Australia

    Same size

    Australia it’s easy to feel how vast this country is.  Wide open.

    Australia has a population of 25 million living in a country the same size as the USA.  The USA has a population of 325 million.  So it’s easy to understand how big and empty it feels.

    They call Western Australia WA and if you compare it to the state of Washington – also called WA – you will get a good feel for how big this place is.

    Exmouth Western Australia

    Little WA and big WA

    You could put at least a dozen Washington WAs into Western Australia WA.

    Sometimes we meet people who tell us they have traveled to the USA.  We ask where they have been and they say- New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Fransisco.  Sometimes it is also Grand Canyon and Orlando.  Although I love all of these places, I always feel these people have not seen the real USA – that big open prairie, the purple mountains majesty, the crashing Pacific and the Great Lakes.

    Here in Exmouth Western Australia I realize I find

    Exmouth Western Australia

    Sunset Exmouth

    myself guilty of the same.  We will be heading to Ayers Rock next, then the Great Barrier Reef and on to Sydney.  Seeing all the top sites but

    Exmouth Western Australia

    Beautiful water

    are we seeing the real Australia?

    So this is one of the reasons I am so thankful Arne said we needed to come here, and specifically to come to Western Australia where few tourists go.  I love this town and this coast and I want to encourage others to love it too.  So, here are the ten reasons I have fallen in love with Exmouth Western

    Exmouth Western Australia

    Sandy beaches

    Australia.

    1.  The Coast – the West coast of Western Australia is diverse, even here in this tiny part we have enjoyed.  The amazing Ningaloo Reef is beautiful and the water is turquoise and the sand is white. It’s pretty close to perfect.  From the town of Exmouth Western Australia you’re at the beach in
      Exmouth Western Australia

      Amazing sea life

      minutes.

    2. The Marine Park – all along the coast here the marine park draws those who love the ocean.  So much to love here as a diver or snorkeler or fisherman.  Some of the world’s most amazing creatures call this coast home at
      Exmouth Western Australia

      Ant hill

      some time during the year, including the largest fish in the world, the Whale Shark, the Humbpack Whale, Orca Whale, Manta Rays and many other kinds of rays, sharks of every kind and so many, many fish.

    3. Turtles – in addition to all the above mentioned sealife the Coast Range National Park is home to one of the largest turtle
      Exmouth Western Australia

      Amazing

      nesting sites in the world.  You can swim with the turtles by day, and at sunset or sunrise and sometimes other times you can watch the female turtles nest.  They haul themselves out of the water and up to a safe spot in the dunes where they dig a nest and lay their eggs.  They then go back to the ocean and leave their progeny to fend for themselves.  Approximately 50 days later the eggs hatch en masse.  If you are lucky you can witness the little babes scurry to the ocean, drawn by an inner compass telling them where to go.  Incredible.

    4. Wildlife – it’s more than just remarkable sea life around Exmouth Western Australia.  Don’t be surprised if you see an Emu walking down the sidewalk or through the little village.
      Exmouth Western Australia

      Emu

      Kangaroos?  Definitely.  There are three kinds of kangaroos in the area, the smaller Euro, the larger red and the grey.  We’ve seen them all.  We also saw two dingos – similar to

      Exmouth Western Australia

      Kangaroo

      coyotes, they are nocturnal and hard to spot.  We have seen a lot of lizards, including the Perentie, and a plethora of birds big and small.

    5. Hiking – the Coast Range National Park runs
      Exmouth Western Australia

      Perentie

      for about 70km along the coast and provides several opportunities to get out of your car and see the rocky range and canyons dotted through the park.  The favorite is the Yardie Creek at the end of the road.  Surprising to see this

      Exmouth Western Australia

      Yardie Creek

      beautiful creek coming out of the dry and arid mountains.  We also enjoyed visit the Charles Knife and Shothole Canyons for spectacular views as far as the eye can see.  Caution is important in these wild, hot and

      Exmouth Western Australia

      Shothole Canyon

      dry areas and you must carry plenty of water.  A fly net for your face is also extremely important, as the flies are a real nuisance otherwise.

    6. The Village of Exmouth – tiny Exmouth Western Australia is home to about 2000 people.  We visited in the late summer, after the kids had gone back to school.  Few tourists are here at this time of year, although during the Australian summer months
      Exmouth Western Australia

      Using our fly nets

      (November – February) the population swells with many Australians and other visitors from around the world.  We liked how quiet it was.  Exmouth Western Australia has a nice grocery store, a handful of restaurants, a pharmacy, a hair and nail salon and a few

      Exmouth Western Australia

      New Ningaloo Center

      other shops.  The town also has a very nice brand new “center” that includes a visitor information center, senior center, library, and meeting rooms.

    7. Craft Beer – for a small town we were very happy to find not one, but TWO craft
      Exmouth Western Australia

      Froth Craft

      breweries.  Froth Craft and Whalebone both had excellent locally made brews and food.  We spent one Saturday evening at Whalebone listening to the band our Airbnb host is in.  So fun!  Our server at Whalebone

      Exmouth Western Australia

      Whalebone

      that night was the same woman who was our server for lunch at the local Vegan Social Society a few days before.  It’s a very small town.

    8. Speaking of Airbnb – The one we stayed in here in Exmouth Western Australia is number 39 and it has shot to the top of our list, one
      Exmouth Western Australia

      Social Society

      of our favorite Airbnb’s so far.  A guest house next to the hosts home, we felt so comfortable here in our space and really enjoyed the lovely family.  This family is very entrenched in their community with their two darling daughters and the husband’s local

      Exmouth Western Australia

      We loved our Airbnb

      construction business.  We were very impressed when he went off as a volunteer firefighter to try to put out a big wildfire we had watched out in the distance for several days.

    9. The weather – it is a wee bit hotter than I would like, but “it’s a dry heat”!  We are out in it everyday and we have adjusted.  I’m thrilled  to get away from the humidity for a while and so is my hair!  In  fact, I have realized that
      Exmouth Western Australia

      Sunrise run in our neighborhood

      some of my aches and pains I endure are likely due to high humidity.  Here I have felt great, very little pain in my normal hip and sciatic area and I have been running again everyday!  Feels so good to be back at it, especially with the handy, flat trail right next to our airbnb.

    10. English – it’s really nice to find ourselves back in an English-speaking country.  We get a
      Exmouth Western Australia

      Farewell Exmouth!

      kick out of trying to communicate as we go around the world, but it also is tiring and sometimes problematic.  So here we are speaking English, a somewhat different, but easy to grasp version, and we are very happy.

    So, there you go.  Ten reasons I fell for Exmouth Western Australia.  I even looked at real estate listings.  It’s a sweet town – you should come and see!