Greek “Odd”ysseys — Part 2

I can honestly say that, amidst my happiness at being in Athens, I woke up to quite a disappointment on Thursday. As an off-campus student, my registration time is long before any of the on-campus students, and so as soon as I woke up I logged on to register quickly for all the classes I had previously selected. I assumed that being one of the first in the whole campus to register would give me some advantages. Of course, the two classes that I absolutely needed the most were closed – Eschatology and Badminton I.

My petition to the Eschatology class was denied, which absolutely shocked me. Regardless, it’s the badminton which concerns me. I need that gym class during interim, and there’s no way to petition a gym course. So I’m going to have to hover over the registration system like a vulture to see if that gym class opens up. Somehow, I doubt it will.

Anyway, on to happier things. I made sure to get up very early Thursday morning (as usual) because my day would be busy and exhausting. Well, not so much “busy” as “time-consuming.” Not many things to do, just a few more in-depth activities to round off my time in Greece. I had a similar breakfast to the one the day before, packed my bags, and checked out of the Apollo Hotel, although Maria was kind enough to let me leave my bag there rather than carrying it around all day. Truth be told, if I’d had to carry it around, I would have done virtually none of the things I did. You’ll see why shortly.

I took the metro to Syntagma, where I crossed the street to Parliament to wait for the hour to strike. It’s a simple thing, but I always find guard changes entertaining and intriguing, and I was told that the guard change in front of the Athens Parliament is a great one. Indeed it was.

The guards, who were dressed in a very interesting way, stood unmoving. That’s the way they stand for hours each day. They’re like those soldiers in Britain (their official name escapes me at the moment); you know, you can go poke them in the face or something and they won’t do anything. The outfits these Greek guardians wore are supposedly replicas of ancient war clothing.

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About a minute before the top of the hour, a string of guards came marching in synchronized high-steps in a line down the main street. Yes, this does indeed happen every hour, 24/7. An extravagant, coordinated ritual filled the Parliament square for the next five minutes, dancelike in performance but intensely serious in function and atmosphere.

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Slowly but surely, two new guards swapped for the two who had been standing there rigidly. When the new guards were in place, a military officer came by each guard to make sure none of the strings of his tassels were tangled and that his outfit was folded correctly after the ritual. He’s also there to scratch noses (he is signaled to do so by the tapping of a rifle butt on the pavement) because those soldiers are no longer permitted to move once they face forward at their posts. So what exactly are they guarding? Well, the Parliament building for sure, but they’re more specifically there to watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is the sepulcher behind them with the carving of the dying Greek man.

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Have a look at a snippet of the ritual that I captured on video here: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2rxoFg0sV0)

It was only later in the day that I discovered that not only are these guards present in the front but also every block or so surrounding Parliament and that this ritual occurs at each location. I was surprised by that fact. Many of these rituals are happening when no one is even there to watch. I ran into it being performed three additional times throughout the day, and I kept bumping into the line of fresh replacement soldiers as I bumbled around in town.

After I’d watched the guard change, I headed back to the square to take a short walk down a side street and see if the orange KTEL bus was waiting for me. On the way, I observed two things that I’d like to point out; first of all, if you’re in Athens and you tell me that you can’t find a taxi, I’m going to slap you upside the face. Look at this place. I have never seen this many taxis anywhere else in the world!

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The second thing I’d like to point out is that, after having spent a few days in Athens, the logistics of the place are terrible. If you ever travel to Athens, I would recommend carrying with you at least three different maps, so that when one map has a road spelling that you don’t recognize, you can see it spelled differently on the other maps. I had four maps with me at all times, and I used all of them. For example, just look at the difference between one side of the same crosswalk and the other.

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Yeah. Get used to it.

So anyway, that’s the street I went down to wait. This was the deciding moment that I spoke of on Wednesday – Plan A, or Plan B? Plan A was to take the KTEL bus to Sounio, a city on the coast of Greece, to see the Temple of Poseidon there. Plan B was to do a whole bunch of other things. I won’t go into what they are now because I ended up opting for Plan B, so you’ll hear about them.

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Why didn’t I go to Sounio? Well, there are a few reasons. First of all, I had no idea how expensive it was going to be, as there is no recent reference (at least none more recent than 2010) about the fares, and from what I understand they can range anywhere from 3 to 6 euro each way. Second, the bus trip takes between 1.5 to 2 hours each way. It was 8:30, so I’d have to devote at least five hours to the trip (two to get there, one to see the sights and wait for the bus since it only comes once an hour, and two to get back). That would leave me at 1:30 and I had to be on the train to the airport at 3:30. There’s that awkward amount of time in between that’s not really enough to go do anything substantial but just enough time that you don’t want to just sit around and waste it. Third, it was a Friday, which means traffic is more likely to be heavier, which may delay the bus and make the trip even longer. Fourth, a series of political demonstrations over the Wednesday and Thursday that I was in Athens had the city swarming with police, armored cars, and swat teams with shields. I wanted to stay in the city instead of risking that, with a flight that night, I wouldn’t be able to get back in. Fifth, the Temple of Poseidon looks very, very similar to the Olympieion.

So all in all, I decided that Sounio would be a trip that I’d rather do if I can come back to Greece and spend more time in that particular region around Sounio. That way I could get some of the local cuisine and see the cities around Sounio without feeling rushed. It was too risky now, and it could turn out to be a great trip later. Problem solved.

With that decision made, I opted to begin my itinerary for Plan B, which included a long walk away from Syntagma – Mount Lycabetus. And I wasn’t there to take pictures. I was there to climb it.

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The trails up were unforgiving and steep. That’s not to say that there weren’t trails, just that they required a lot of leg strength (and substantially more for short people like me with a smaller step). I pretty much had to stick to the trails, because there were pits of cacti on both sides. It was like a death gauntlet or something – walk the razor’s edge, don’t fall to the sides or you’ll die. 😉

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Seriously though, I had no idea that Greece was so cactus-ized. I didn’t think it was the right climate. On Mount Lycabetus, though, people put their own spin on things by carving their names into the cacti rather than the stones.

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By the time I got to the top, beads of sweat were rolling down my neck and face. I was the only one atop the promontory except for an old man who was the attendant of the small church there on the mountain. He smiled happily at me and continued sweeping and feeding the cats down on the steps to my right.

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There were some great views from the top.

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There was also the amphitheater, which is situated a bit further down on the hill. A lot of people were there because, unlike the point where I was standing which was only accessible via climbing, the theater is accessible via a funicular that tunnels through the mountain. So, lazy people can pay 6 euro each way to ride it rather than climbing the mountain.

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I spent a while up there enjoying the view before I made the descent, which was significantly easier than the climb up. Once I got back onto the main streets (which were unfortunately a bit sketchy and prompted me to walk a bit more quickly through them), it was a straight shot to my next destination, Panathenaic Stadium.

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For those of you who don’t know, Panathenaic Stadium is the stadium that was used in the ancient Grecian games, back when they were exclusively a Greek thing. The Romans had hold of the stadium for a while, when it became a gladiatorial arena where men fought with each other and with wild animals. It has a strong connection with the 2004 Athens Olympics, but this is not the stadium in which those were held. I went inside and climbed to the top, which was almost as steep and difficult as Lycabetus had been.

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And yes, there’s Mount Lycabetus in the background.

The “priority seats,” or “thrones” of the stadium were the places in which important people sat to watch the games, and the king and queen had their own seats as well.

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I also got the chance to walk down the tunnel through which the athletes themselves walked in ancient times, and I could really get the feeling of how intimidating it must have been to come out of the darkness of the cavern into the bright light and the roaring crowd.

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Also, at the opposite end of the tunnel (where young girls used to dance naked, strangely enough), there is now a room that contains all of the torches from all the Olympics in history. I made sure to take a picture of each one, but some of my favorites were from Sydney in 2000 and Torino in 2006.

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Since I was in an Olympic stadium (in Greece, no less), I just couldn’t help myself. I lined up next to one of the Herms on the track, waited for my watch to strike 12, then bolted. The material on the track has fantastic grip, so it was quite comfortable to run on.

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But come on, honestly, if you’re standing in an Olympic stadium in the country where the Olympics began, are you really going to just stand there and watch? The track was huge, and I certainly am no runner, but I was not about to let myself pull one of those “well, I almost ran the whole way” things. I pushed through the exhaustion and made it back to my starting point, having run the whole way, in 1:45. For me not being a runner (and in fact hating running in general), I’d say that’s pretty darn good! The Olympic time for one lap on that track is fifty seconds, though….

So yeah, I enjoyed a long stay in the stadium to take it all in. When it was time to leave, I thanked the ticket lady, gave her back the audio guide (which was free, by the way), and went back the way I’d come. At this point, I saw the guards doing their dance once again, and I think the tourists watching them were a little surprised to see me walk by without a second glance. But I’d already seen it more than once at that point.

A short walk away was the entrance into a beautiful wooded area which led to the National Garden. I really enjoyed the quiet, refreshingly cool (especially after mountain climbing and running the Olympic track!) atmosphere.

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I sat down on a bench, listening to the sounds of birds I did not recognize (which was nice in its own right) until I realized, Man, there sure are a LOT of bird sounds around here. What is going on? I walked a bit further to discover a whole sanctuary full of birds! No wonder!

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Right next to them (to my immense delight) was another enclosure that had some really cool sheep. Err, rams, I suppose.

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Their fur was much coarser than I imagined, but they were quite majestic-looking and seemed generally aloof.

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Except for this guy, who was trying to make a break for the border.

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[INTERMISSION IN WRITING: I am writing this at the airport and had to take a break to conserve battery. I am quite happy to take your survey, Mrs. Lufthansa Lady, but please for the love of everything that is holy, speak slower. Don’t nobody understand the words comin’ out of your mouth. Very few people will understand that joke.]

Anyway, it was a pleasant stroll through the park without a real time constraint, and I found a pond with some fish along the way.

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I also found a happy little turtle and a not-so-happy (and rather large) snail, both of which practically made my day.

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I got a little turned around in the labyrinthine pathways of the park, mostly because I wasn’t concerned with paying attention to where I was going and opted instead just to wander. Still, I found my way out to the street I wanted easily enough, and by that time I was quite ready to have something cool to eat or drink after all my walking. I returned to the area near Plaka, where I had seen a food shop that I’d wanted to visit.

The time had come to revisit my old enemy – Greek yoghurt. I’ve had it in the States before, and I will happily say with passion that I hated and despised every moment that I spent eating it. It was one of the most disgusting things I have ever tasted. However, considering the fact that Greece is probably the best place to get Greek yoghurt, I decided to give it another try. I ordered just a small cup of the traditional yoghurt with quince, a peach-like fruit that is not as sweet. It took a little practice to figure how to get the quince to blend well with each bite, but after some time I got the balance of yoghurt vs. quince down pat.

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After this small bowl of yoghurt, I was willing to call a truce. This version of freshly made Greek yoghurt vastly improved upon my last attempt, and I would certainly say that I enjoyed it. However, don’t count me a regular eater. That particular one tasted good (although there were some off bites for me), but Greek yoghurt overall is still just too bitter for my tastes. Kudos to Fresko, the restaurant, for at least giving me a brighter outlook on my former arch nemesis, though.

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At that point, I still had a few hours left before I had to leave for the airport; Mount Lycabetus didn’t take as long as I’d expected it to, so I had no idea what to do with my floating time. After thinking it over, I figured that I could probably get into the Acropolis Museum for free and by golly I was right (being an EU student for the time being is quite auspicious every now and then!). Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed in the museum, but pretty much it was a building full of all the sculptures and monuments that were once pieces of the now-ravaged Parthenon. It was cool to look through, but it was a fast find. I went out to the balcony (the only place you can take pictures) and snapped this shot of the Parthenon’s reflection in a window:

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The most interesting thing was the temporary exhibit going on at the museum focusing on ancient Greek color. Did you know the Parthenon used to be deep royal blue? In the next few months, the museum and some experts are going to get together to try to find out more about the use of color in the ancient Greek world and do some studies on what remnants of color they have left.

Most of my time in the museum, however, was spent watching a documentary on the Parthenon in which the narrator described what each statue on the building was. I found it particularly helpful and enlightening; actually, I watched it twice. 😉

After the Acropolis Museum, I still had just about an hour to kill, so I finally gave in and got a gyro. Are you people happy now?

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To be honest, I liked the toasted chicken pita from the day before better. The meat was spinning around on spits in the shop (which is an indication that you are in an OK place), and the bar was full, so I figured that place was as good as any. At some point in Budapest, I will go to a gyro shop (I know that my roommate Kelly would love to come) and see how that gyro compares to the one I had in Greece.

As I was sitting in a park eating my gyro and enjoying my observations of pigeon ethics, a big green bug about as long as a wasp but skinny and green like a katydid tumbled out of the tree smack dab into the middle of my gyro. Fantastic.

I tried to sit there and just enjoy the view, but even after that I still had extra time left. Just searching for random, small things to do to eat up my  last 45 minutes, I hopped on the metro to Agios Ioannis to take some pictures of Kynossargus Hill. It was hard to get the scope of it from up close.

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I saw the diminutive path pointing up into the hill, and I thought to myself, Heck, why not? So, just like with Lycabetus (although with considerably less work), I climbed to the top and got a great view of the Hill of the Muses and the Acropolis.

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Also on my journey, I happened to glance toward a pine cone on the side of the path and my brain just about exploded with the sudden, gleeful exclamation of OH MY GOSH BABY TURTLE!

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Two turtles in one day? Obviously I am turtley enough for the turtle club.

At the top, I found myself surrounded by spooky-looking graffiti, and I didn’t want to hang around, as it looked like some kind of teenage biker gang lair. Like Akira all over again, only without the creepy little wrinkly girl. Oh, and the mind powers. There were none of those either.

Despite the eeriness of the place, I do have to admit that the graffiti artists have some real talent. I certainly can’t deny that.

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I took the quick hike back to the bottom of the hill (although “hill” is not really what I’d use to describe Kynossargus) and then got back on the metro, having decided on my final destination before hitting the airport – Omonia.

Here is the point where everyone (most notably my mother, probably) screams their faces off. “DON’T DO IT!” I can already hear them shouting.

Jeeze, don’t panic. I’m not stupid enough to hang around Omonia Square by myself. I came out of the metro station, took three (count them, THREE) pictures, and then went back down and got back on the metro. Trust me, that places creeps me out as much as it does you, my friend.

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For those of you who are unaware, Omonia is not the place to be hanging out when you’re by yourself, let alone when you’re a female by yourself. It’s a sketchy place, and both my Classical Mythology teacher (who has been to Athens more times than he can count) and my hotel owner (who lives in Athens) specifically told me not to go there. The only reason I went was to see what it looked like. I don’t believe in hating places, people, or things that I have absolutely no personal experience dealing with. I went to say that I went. The end.

After my one-minute stay in Omonia, I had no problems getting back to the hotel and retrieving my bag. When I entered, the owner lady was shouting at some people who had parked illegally in a no-parking zone in front of the hotel (which is on a narrow street in which two lanes of traffic and a tram line run).

“This your car?” she said. The guy tried to talk himself out of it, but she just kept pointing to it and said, “You pay fine for this.”

When I got back to Metaxourghio station, I validated my ticket to the airport and cruised on down to Syntagma, where I transferred lines and was on my merry way to catch my flight. For those of you who in any way keep up with my blogs, you should know that this is not how it ever works. That day was no exception.

It was quite obvious which metro to get on – it had a big “TO AIRPORT” sign pointing right at it and all down its tunnel. I rode it about ten stops when the automated voice over the speaker said, “Next stop, Doukissis Plakentias. This is the train’s final station. All passengers are kindly requested to disembark.”

I knew that I wasn’t at the airport, but it was obvious that I couldn’t stay on the metro, so I got off with everyone else. When I stepped onto the exit platform, I looked above me to see a sign that said, “TO AIRPORT.” On the platform for the train that just stopped.

So pretty much it was telling me to get on the train that doesn’t go any further.

I studied that metro map for a long time over my stay in Athens, and I am quite sure that the blue line connects with the airport; even without the big obnoxious signs, I would have known that. So my next alternative was to try the suburban railway to get to the airport. I asked at the ticket window if I needed a different type of ticket to use it, and she told me I didn’t, so I ascended to the tracks above the metro line.

As soon as I saw the light of day, I was faced with a decision – track 1, or track 2? They were right next to each other. I pushed through the crowds to try to find a destination board, and finally I found these.

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Fine by me, it’s obvious that I should be on track 1, right? It was 15:40, and the railcar was scheduled to arrive at 15:44. No problem. Except that it didn’t arrive then. And we all stood there looking at each other and wondering, as the minutes passed, where the heck it was.

Long story short, I found a cozy seat next to a window once the train finally came, and it was a pleasant ride to the airport from there; the suburban railway is very nicely maintained and smooth as a baby’s butt. The airport itself didn’t cause too much hassle this time, but I’m still disappointed at how disorganized and unhelpful it is. I arrived at my boarding gate, B11, around two hours before boarding time was scheduled to begin. As the flight before us to Madrid cleared out, the gate was pretty empty and I enjoyed the quiet; for some reason, everywhere I went the last few days had put me right next to people blasting irritating rock music out of their headphones. Seriously, it was getting a bit ridiculous.

Anyway, as the people for the Budapest flight filtered in by twos and threes, an elderly lady sat down next to me. The airport survey lady from the earlier intermission came over to ask her the same questions, but the elderly woman (who spoke with a British accent) couldn’t understand her. The survey lady couldn’t think of anything else to do but uhh and umm through the whole thing, and I was very disappointed in her. Having a job myself that is in many ways similar to hers, I would have been very disappointed in her if I were her boss. She made the conversation very awkward and was trying to escape it rather than addressing the woman’s issues with the airport (which were what the elderly lady was talking about instead of the survey. You want survey material? No better place to get it than here).

After the survey woman left, the elderly woman and I got to talking for quite a while about how the airport is confusing, each of us telling our stories of frustration about it. She complimented my English before realizing that I was from America, and we talked about my studying abroad and about her world travel (she had a layover in Athens to China). She couldn’t hear well, so when the boarding started and the instructions were specific according to which seats were boarding, I helped her out. When I told her it was her turn, she got into line and kept smiling at me and saying, “Well, we’ll see!” She didn’t really know what was going on (and I don’t blame her, since the line was chaos and was actually split up into like four smaller lines for no apparent reason). When she got through, she turned around to wave at me and smile but gave up with the huge crowd between the two of us. I don’t think she realized it, but I did see her and smiled back.

Once on the airplanes, it was a restful ride home. The view was a fitting farewell to Greece:

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I went back to Munich to transfer again, supremely glad (once again) for the meal on board, which contained five meatballs, rice, carrots, green beans, crackers, a roll, and a small bottle of water. I think I’m getting a little Japanese in my mindset – the rice was intended to be eaten with the meatballs, but I picked the meatballs out and ate them separately, then made the rice a meal of its own.

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I ate everything you see there except for the green beans (which I despise more than any other vegetable, although I did have some of them). I think the guy next to me was a little surprised at how thorough I was, and his face was just a little bit appalled when I took the remaining spreadable cheese that I hadn’t used on the bread and popped the whole thing into my mouth. I think he believed I was about to do the same thing with the half-packet of butter I had left. I thought about it. 😉

The next flight was delayed by half an hour, as is usually my luck. But, who cares? I was going to sleep at the airport anyway, so it didn’t matter what time I arrived back in Budapest.

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The flight from Munich to Budapest had a small salad and some sesame seed sticks. In the salad was all manner of things, and I ate everything – red beans, great northern beans, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, pickles, olives, and other unidentifiable veggies.

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It was after 11PM when I arrived in the Budapest terminal, and I went straight to my usual sleeping floor and settled down. Because I got there so late, all of the chairs and everything were already taken, so I was on the floor. I changed to a heavier pair of clothes and curled up, but it was just as cold as I’d hoped it wouldn’t be. I didn’t get to sleep very well, but thankfully I only had to wait about four hours before I could get back on the bus, metro, and tram back to the dorm.

Once I arrived back in the dorm, I ninja-sneaked my way into bed to keep my roommate from waking up at 5:30AM, and thus ended my trip to Athens.

Although it was very enjoyable, I am somewhat glad to have finished all of my independent travels. Let someone else figure out the logistics for once.

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In other news, I am registered for the max number of credits and I have a schedule that works (which I am exceedingly thankful for), so now it’s just a matter of creeping over the Portal page like a greedy vulture hoping that one of the other classes will open so that I can make my schedule more to my liking. But like I said, at least all of the classes that I do have are counting for things – no wasted credits. I just don’t really want to have another Christology class for like the fifth time in my life….Oh well. You gotta do what you gotta do.

VLOG INFORMATION: I also have a vlog from Athens which will be posted in its own separate tab, but you may also view it here: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-r142MHtqsA).

Update: for those of you who follow my blog regularly, please note that I have finally gotten my SD card to upload videos again. That means that I’ve been able to revise that post from Lupeni in which we sang in the Icon Tunnel. To view the updated post with a working link to the singing, please click here: (https://bythepathlesstraveled.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/in-which-we-say-a-boom-chicka-boom/)

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