Porto

I remember sitting in a metro heading from Porto Francisco Sá Carneir airport to the city centre, listening to a strange language and thinking of how this beautiful mix of sounds came together. Probably due to my lack of history knowledge, I didn’t expect Portuguese to sound anything like what I was hearing, but that was a great incentive to do more research about Portugal during my trip. It was only one of the surprises that the country kept throwing at me while I was there.

I got out of the metro on a Friday night, with streets full of people and restaurants still busy serving evening meals. I spotted this lonely dog in the car, staring at the beautiful pieces of meat hanging inside the restaurant and people enjoying each others company. When you are a dog, you don’t have a freedom of choice, you can’t get your wallet out and buy a piece of ham. Appreciate your freedom, humans!

The next day I opened the curtains of my hotel room and decided it was time to go out and enjoy life.

I also took a photo of the same window from outside just to remind myself there are always two sides of everything and you can never tell which one is more beautiful until you see them both.

Once I got outside, an engineer in me took some time to admire the city’s bridges. The most famous one is Dom Luís I bridge which crosses Rio Douro in order to take you to Vila Nova de Gaia with loads of beautiful port wine cellars.

Another amazing thing you can do in Porto is a tour of the arch of Arrábida Bridge, which is the only bridge arch you are allowed to climb legally in Europe. You will get a harness and a great guide if you google Porto Bridge Climb and book their tour. Recommended!

Right, if bridges are not your thing and you prefer looking at buildings, you will be spoilt for choice in Porto. I was slightly surprised that so many of the buildings were looking a bit forgotten and screaming for some renovation work, but one of the locals suggested I should have seen the place before ryanair started flying to Porto. I guess cheap flights to this beautiful place will hugely change the city’s face.

If you want to admire Portuguese azulejos (various ceramic tiles that turned city into a piece of artwork in my opinion), Porto is perfect for that. You can head to Sao Bento station that loads of tourists do or wonder around the city and wait to be surprised. You won’t be disappointed!

Another beautiful thing about Portugal is it’s amazing food and I won’t keep taking about it, but some of the seafood I tried was absolutely amazing. Also, I remember one night my friend was telling me about this amazing white wine sangria he tried in one of the restaurants and we absolutely had to have it. Being a bit tipsy, we showed up at the place not realising they were closing and asked for the best sangria in town. Even if they were closed, not only they made us the drink, but also gave it to us for free. Portuguese hospitality at its best.

What else can I say, Porto is an amazing place that didn’t yet feel ruined with tourists. It’s got plenty of character and will keep your senses exposed to plenty it’s got to offer.

Budapest

Life is short and you need to make the most of it. That’s what people often say, but they forget to add that you also need to go to Budapest. It’s definitely my favourite European capital at the moment and I cannot wait to go back one day.

I got there at the end of September when the weather was still nice and I was unemployed. Oh wait, the latter is not that relevant… Anyway, I arrived by train from Bratislava and had very little expectations for the place. Just thought I would check it out since one of my closest friends (Emma) was from there. I was not disappointed! The place was full of beautiful buildings, amazing outdoor and ruin bars, great food places and colours around every corner.

I spent my first evening wandering around and admiring Fisherman’s bastion that looked like a castle from a fairy tale. You could also get a fab view of the parliament from there.

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Fisherman’s Bastion

As I mentioned, Budapest is famous for its ruin bars and there are loads of them, so it didn’t take me long to step to one of them. I met up with Emma and we went on a wee catch up adventure around some of the more random ones. You can never know what to expect from the ruin bars, but it’s always a nice surprise when you find something unusual.

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In summer, loads of places will offer you an option to chill outside – like the whole place just being the outdoor bar with hammocks or they open the windows and add couple of benches outside, so you don’t feel like a random hanging out on the street.

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I am not a big fan of taking food photos but some of the things had to be photographed. I fell in love with hungarian “pizza” langos, which is a deep fried dough topped up with cheese etc. Far from healthy but it tastes amazing!

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They also had loads of nice restaurants and I was worried that I forgot the name of the place that blew my mind, but I then found it in one of the photos – it’s called Mandragora. The restaurant has a really relaxed outdoor seating and amazing food, I would recommend it to anyone.

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I also have to mention that Budapest is famous for its baths, it’s got loads of them, with one of the more famous being Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Pick any one of them and spend a day relaxing and you will be ruined forever. Thermal baths should exists in every city!

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As I said earlier, Budapest is full of colours and random features and it’s nice to walk around and explore what it’s got to offer. We accidentally wandered to one of the parks and were surprised by an amazing fountain dancing to a variety of songs.

It’s also got a lot of markets where you can buy fresh or home made produce or just wander around and feel like a part of this amazing city. Budapest’s got everything, you just need to let it to surprise you.

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Go to Budapest and you will love it. Just open up your mind and enjoy it 🙂

Bratislava

It was my first day of unemployment and I was heading to Bratislava. Having finished a yearlong internship I decided that it was time to relax and that I would worry about getting a new job once I came back from my holiday.

Bratislava wasn’t my final destination, more of a stopover on the way to Budapest. There is a convenient train connection between the cities so I thought I would make the most of it.

I got an extremely early ryanair flight, so I am blaming it for Bratislava being a bit of a blur in my memory. However, I remember the first thought I had once I got there – this is a lot like Lithuania! Having lived in Scotland for several years, it was nice to find a place that felt a bit like home. I loved the vibe in the city and I almost wished I stayed a bit longer.

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There was so much good food (although extremely carb rich), with my favourite being halusky and I tried a few different varieties of them. They also had really awesome garlic soup that was conveniently served in a bread bowl.

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I loved that there were loads of colours in the city, especially the old town. Not going to lie, I did not have any energy for any cultural stuff since I was really tired after a sleepless night, but it was nice to wander around.

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I had to have a nap in the afternoon since I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, but got to enjoy the city at night. It felt really lively and with plenty of character!

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Perhaps I will visit the city again, I know loads of people say that it’s worth seeing more of Slovakia than just Bratislava and I’m sure they are right!

The post turned out more of a photo essay rather than anything else, but I just felt like sharing these photos 🙂

West Highland Way

In summer 2014 I promised myself to walk West Highland Way. It is a 154km (96 mile) walk in Scotland starting just outside of Glasgow in Milngavie and finishing at Fort William.

I have no clue where I got this idea from, but I thought it would be a nice thing to do after my last ever exam at the University of Edinburgh. I spent 5 years there studying engineering and I really felt like I could do with some fresh air afterwards. I did not really tell anyone what I was planning to do, as after some of my friends reactions (“omg just watch some TV and relax”, “you can’t go on your own!”, “why on Earth would you do this???”) I thought it would be better to keep it to myself. So in May 2015, I packed my backpack and left.

Day 1

I woke up in the morning, asked myself what was wrong with me a dozen times and left. Goodbye cosy bed, see you next week.

It was my first ever long distance walk, so I was not sure what to expect. I started walking from Milngavie and I was really excited about what was waiting for me. I was enjoying every moment, even though the scenery was not extremely exciting. It was nice to be out of the city and listen to the birds singing.

Even though I was walking on my own I never felt alone. There were always people around and I was never that far from civilization anyway.

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At around noon some cows blocked my way and while waiting for them to move, I got to annoy them with my camera.

It was 3pm when I was already building my tent in the Drymen campsite. I covered 19km that day as planned and I was ready to relax. At that point I was in a deep regret of starting the walk with almost new shoes. There were already 3 blisters on my feet. I covered the blisters with the fancy plasters I had and I was hoping it wouldn’t get worse.

Day 2

I woke up to a million voices of birds. The Conic Hill was waiting for me today and I was slightly worried about facing it.

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Typical Scottish Scenery

It turned out that there was nothing to worry about the hill and it wasn’t as challenging as I thought it would be. Even with the 20+kg backpack I was doing as well as other walkers carrying only small backpacks. The views of Loch Lomond from the top of the hill were worth every effort.

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The views from the Conic Hill

I completed 20km that day and stayed in the Sallochy campsite. It was an absolutely amazing place to camp, as it was completely natural. However, my blisters got much worse, so all I wanted to do that night was to stay in my warm sleeping bag.

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The view while eating my dinner

Day 3

Day three already! I left Sallochy campsite and continued walking along the beautiful Loch Lomond.

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Lunch time

I had 27km to cover that day and it was unexpectedly challenging. Half of the route was pretty straightforward, however the blisters on my feet were absolutely killing me. Once I started the second half, the paths became narrow and rocky and every meter required a lot of effort. A few swear words escaped my mouth that day. The weather was bad and it was raining most of the day, but my enthusiasm wasn’t washed away.

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Narrow paths
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Loch Lomond

I built my tent in the puddle in the Beinglas Farm Campsite and had a massive piece of chocolate cake at the pub. My feet were really sore and as I was completely out of plasters. I could not explain the happiness I felt when I found some of those in the campsite shop. I was feeling a bit down and because of my feet I was not sure if I could continue the walk. I was thinking that it was nice to be on my own, as I had nobody to complain to, but I really felt like hugging someone that day… I fell asleep listening to the sound of waterfalls.

Day 4

Packed my smelly tent and left Inverarnan (Beinglas Farm). I was going to Tyndrum and had only 19km to walk. I said bye to Loch Lomond and I was excited about the mountain views that were waiting for me.

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Beautiful mix of clouds and mountains

The walk that day was challenging mostly because of the blisters. I was also a bit dehydrated and probably did not do enough stretching so my leg muscles were sore. But I was slowly moving forward and I arrived to Tyndrum really early. I camped in the Pine Trees Leisure Park, where I even had a wifi in my tent! I spent the rest of my day stretching and drinking loads and treated myself to a nice fish and chips supper.

Day 5

I was absolutely freezing all night and put all the clothes I had on me. The temperature dropped below zero and I found some frost on my tent (Yes, it’s almost summer!). I woke up early and it seemed that the entire campsite was feeling the same, as at 6am everyone was already packing their tents. The long way to Glencoe was waiting for me and my blisters were not helping thus, I thought, getting up early was a good idea anyway.

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All day I was walking through this amazing landscape and I coudn’t stop smiling. I think at some point I was so excited that I forgot my pain and I was almost running. There were only a few hikers around and I could enjoy an absolute freedom.

On the second half of the day I met a German girl and we walked together for the rest of the day. Conversations helped to get distracted from the pain and the day went really quick. However, after 10 hours walking and I was really happy to reach the campsite, which turned out to be…full. I couldn’t believe it and I did not want to do any more walking, so I built my tent just outside the campsite. Nobody cared about that and I saved a few pounds as well.

Day 6

Today was the day when I had to face the highest point of the walk – the Devil’s staircase. My legs were feeling so much better and I knew that I would be able to finish this walk for sure.

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View from the Devil’s staircase

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The day was full of beautiful mountain views and the Devil’s staircase wasn’t that challenging either. I reached Kinlochleven and ran to get some nice food from the shop. I spent past few days eating mostly porridge and noodles and I was dreaming about some veggies.

Only 23km to go!

Day 7

I’m not gonna lie, I was waiting for the walk to end. Not because I was fed up with walking, but mostly because all my clothes were extremely smelly and I had enough of porridge (I really don’t like it in the first place…).

The way was going through the places where seemed that nobody was around and it was so nice and peaceful. I stopped for lunch and then soon after that I could see For William. I was so happy!

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Fort William – finally!

The last couple of miles I walked with Ian and Judy. I met them every day during my walk, they would always overtake me at some point during the day, as I was quite slow with my big backpack. We had a pint in Fort William while smiling like somebody who traveled to the moon and it was weird to think that it was all over. I spent another couple of days in Fort William, mostly resting. I was planning to try to reach the summit of Ben Nevis, but as I had done that before, I was not too bothered this time, so I just stayed in the hostel.

I am really proud of myself, that despite all the painful blisters I managed to keep going and finished the walk. I learned a lot of things on the way and the most important one – do not go on a long walk with an almost new shoes. Would I do this again? Of course, it is a great way to challenge yourself,  to get some fresh air and to enjoy falling asleep to the natural sounds in the most beautiful places. And also, you get a chance to miss things that you normally take for granted like food, bed or toilet. What was the hardest thing? Getting out of bed that Tuesday morning, knowing that I would have to sleep on the tough ground for another 7 days…

Go out, enjoy!

P.S. The blisters healed and I ran a half marathon five days after finishing the walk 🙂

 

Köln & Moitzfeld

At the beginning of November I was flying to Köln, but I was losing my hope to see it. All these cool bridges and the massive cathedral might be missed… oh well, I wasn’t going there exactly for that.

My boyfriend was living just outside Köln, in the place called Moitzfeld. I was going to visit him for a weekend and I was really excited to go to the mainland – UK is a slightly different world and going back to the mainland is always refreshing. I don’t know why, maybe because there are usually more colours in the streets or because it’s always exciting to listen to the language other than English or maybe because sometimes the weather is nicer.

However, I was wrong thinking that my boyfriend would not want to go to Köln and straight from the airport we went to the city. It was nice to walk along the Rhine and enjoy nice autumn evening. Kölner Dom (the cathedral) turned out to be more than impressive as well. I didn’t take that many photos during the trip, but here are some:

We also went to the food place just next to the Dom, which was Kölsch Bier brewery restaurant where they were serving typical food for the area and of course, Kölsch beer. It was served in a tiny glasses (0.2l) and everyone was drinking it pretty quick – so I was really impressed how well the waiter was doing his job.

It was a Friday night so the place was crowded and it was a struggle to get a table. Even when we got it, a few minutes later couple of random guys joined us – well, if you don’t want random friends book your table in advance.

New friends didn’t bother me, although my boyfriend tried to be funny and ordered me a third of the meter long sausage (it wasn’t just long, it was thick as well) and when it arrived…well, the guys were laughing and I was slightly embarrassed. It was massive! I think even the waitress could not believe I ordered that.

But it was really good!

The rest of the time I spent in Moitzfeld and it was such a nice little place. Weather was just brilliant and we did some hiking as well – there are loads of perfect paths for hiking around the town.

This was my second time in Germany in 2015 and it seems that I’m going back there again – just to Berlin for New Year to see my best friend!

First Ever Trip Abroad

I think my first ever trip was quite an unusual experience. Especially because it was a crazy trip after which some people might not even want to travel ever again. I managed to keep only a few photos from that trip, but I guess it doesn’t matter -memories stay for life.

My first ever trip abroad was a gift for my 18th birthday – so it was in 2009 if I remember it right. I’ve done a lot of travelling in Lithuania before that, both with my parents and friends, but I’ve never been abroad. It is expensive to travel abroad when you earn so little in Lithuania (my parents don’t have very well paid jobs).

So what happened? My parents decided it would be quite nice to send me to visit an aunt who lived in Spain. She lived in a little town called Orihuela, which is relatively close to Alicante. The cheapest way to get there was to take a special mini bus, which would pick you up from your home town and drop you off in basically any place you wanted. Sounds pretty good, no? Of course it takes more time than flying, but you get to see a lot along the way – scenery of Poland, Germany, France and Spain.

So I left Lithuania with around 10 people in a mini van. My parents didn’t exactly left me on my own to travel – my aunts “boyfriend” was travelling with me, although we didn’t know each other and thus did not sit together and did not talk too much to each other during the trip. There was also a family with a baby, couple of older travelers, a girl about my age and a driver. Yes, one driver and there was no plan to stop in a hotels to sleep. Now when I think about this trip it all sounds crazy, but then it was my first trip ever and I was super excited.

I was sitting next to a girl and she seemed like a nice person, so I thought this trip would be quite cool and we’d have a good chat. I was wrong. Somewhere in the middle of Poland she remembered that she forgot her passport. Of course we weren’t planning to come back and the only thing to do was to keep going. Even though the countries I was travelling through were in Schengen zone, you were still required to carry the passport with you and you would still get occasional checks. The driver knew the areas where it was more likely to be stopped and get checked. So we were going through the smaller villages and towns. That meant that that the entire trip took longer than expected.

The girl next to me was crying a lot and she was so nervous that it was really difficult to sit next to her and listen to her complains. The baby was crying a lot and nobody was in a good mood. The driver was doing crazy hours and he was stopping to sleep only occasionally. He was constantly encouraging people to get some alcohol and drink instead of sleeping – so he wouldn’t fall asleep as well. It didn’t bother me that much but my legs hurt and I was just thinking about the bed. The views through the window were absolutely fantastic, especially because a lot of time we weren’t going through the main roads. Also, I got to see Millau Viaduct which was probably the reason why the year later I got into engineering. Yes, it was the first time I saw a structure this big and I was really impressed.

At Spain-France border we went through the little shopping town which was crazy busy. We let that girl out and she mixed in with the crowd of shoppers and crossed the border. We got our passports checked and then picked her up a few hundred meters further. So almost three days later we were in Spain. Everyone could not wait to arrive to their destinations.

Finally, I managed to reach the place and met my aunt. Orihuela was a nice little town and I was really happy to be there. I was supposed to spend three weeks there, then go to Barcelona for a week and then come back to Orihuela. I didn’t know the exact date of return, as we just had to give a ring to the mini van company closer to the date and they would tell me when I was going back. Nice and flexible!

Not much to talk about Orihuela really. I was just chilling in the house, eating ice cream, occasionally going to the beach in Torrevieja, going to the open cinema in the city center, just enjoying life and practicing my Spanish from time to time. I got to go to Valencia for a day as well with my aunt’s friends to visit Aquarium and Marine Park, which I thought was super cool.

Barcelona was something completely different. I was living with my cousin who was sharing a flat with a transgender man who was working as a massage therapist and couple of other guys. There were a bunch of random people coming in every day and it was a complete different experience for me. Just to be clear – I have nothing against transgender people and I thought it was super cool to meet different people.

The city itself was absolutely gorgeous and I had loads of fun exploring it. I was lucky to be there in mid-August when Gràcia Festival was taking place. It is a street festival and the streets are covered with loads of crazy decorations. There is a plenty of live music and for a person who’s never seen something like that before, it was a crazy experience. I was wondering in the streets until late and meeting loads of people. Yes, I was slightly jealous that my cousin, who was only a year older than me, got to live there.

 

When the time arrived to go home I was a bit nervous. I thought it be another three long days. However, the trip was quite fun and I got to see a bit of Switzerland as we had to pick somebody up from there. On the way back the car broke twice. The first time we just had to change the tire. The second time we were in Poland and this time we had to change the tire as well, but we didn’t have another spare one and as it was Sunday everything around was closed. However it wasn’t that far from Lithuanian border and somebody brought us a spare one. The entire trip took less than two days, as there was a passenger who had a licence to drive a mini van and he was occasionally taking over. People seemed to be pretty decent as well and nobody was crying.

It was hard to come back as I basically went back straight to school after the trip. Although I got to be a cool one for a few days as nobody else did anything fun that summer.

It was a crazy trip when I’m thinking about it now. But at that point all those crazy things didn’t seem that bad and they just added some extra colour to my memories. I was happy I got to travel by car, as I got to see so much and I don’t know if that ever happens again. And of course, that trip just got me thinking how to get out and see more and maybe that’s why a year later I moved to Edinburgh.

Early Morning Sightseeing in Croatia

So here I was, back to Split after spending two amazing weeks in the Isle of Brac. A bit over two weeks ago I met Osib through Couchsurfing, who hosted me and ten other couchsurfers in his house in the island of Brac. It was a nice small house in Milna, but Osib also had another house in the middle of nowhere, to which we decided to go at midnight. It took us an hour to get there, but it was so totally worth it! There was no light pollution and I could see millions of starts in the sky. Next morning I woke up in this beautiful house on the beach. We spent all morning swimming and catching sea urchins, as it was the only food we could find. I had to leave that afternoon and then I spent another two weeks volunteering on this beautiful island, but it’s another story…

The adventure was over and I was standing in the bus station in Split. It was nearly midnight. After a quick stroll around the city centre I was quite tired and just wanted to buy a ticket and get into bus. But it wasn’t that easy as the person selling tickets did not speak any English and his grumpiness did not help either. He was probably tired and just wanted to be in bed and I don’t blame him – I was exactly the same. After finally getting the ticket and nearly missing the bus, I was on the way to Zadar. I was excited, I had around four hours to spend in Zadar before leaving this beautiful country and I was dying to see the Sea Organ  – the music instrument which plays music by sea waves. I wanted to go there the minute I heard about this instrument and there was no way I was leaving Croatia without seeing it.

It was around 4am when I got to Zadar. I got out of the bus and went straight where I thought the organ was. I didn’t have a map or anything so I was just wandering through the dark streets of Zadar. I think I gave a proper fright to a barmen who was asleep on one of the chairs just outside his bar.

When I finally got to the place I was really excited. The sea was pretty calm and so was the music. It was nice and peaceful and it was just what I needed that moment. And of course, somebody had to ruin the moment… suddenly some guy came out of nowhere. I realised he was absolutely wasted and he could barely stand. He offered me a place to sleep, but I politely refused. He walked away, however he did not completely disapper. I noticed him standing further away, sniffing something and he kept looking at me. After a while I saw him walking towards me. I did not stand up or try to run as I knew that it might just worsen situation and in fact, I did not have where to run. I just stayed in my place and ignored him while he was walking past me. He was really fast, was breathing loudly and he kept staring at me. I just hoped he would not stop and try to talk to me again.I was really scared.

I was sitting for like half an hour and hoping he’d walk away. But he kept wandering around and after a while I saw him walking towards me again. He was quite far away, so I slowly stood up, took my backpack and started walking. It was starting to get bright, but nobody else was around. I could hear him following me and he was walking faster and faster, so I panicked and speeded up a bit as well. That moment I thought I was in a big trouble.

Suddenly I saw a fisherman. I ran to him for help. He did not speak any English, so with my knowledge of five Croatian words I tried to explain him what was happening. Luckily, the words I knew were probably the right ones, as he understood what was going on. He showed me to sit down on the bench and he sat next to me.The creepy guy got close and then he stopped and started staring at me. The fisherman said something angrily to the man and he slowly started walking away. I don’t remember his face, but I hope to never see him again.

The fisherman then called his friend who was also fishing just around the corner. His friend knew probably ten words in English and we tried to have a conversation while they were looking after me. I showed them some photos from my work camp and tried to explain what I did. We were sitting on that bench for a while and it got completely bright. The cafe nearby was opened and they bought me a cup of coffee. It was nice to sit with two big men, drink coffee, try to have a conversation and don’t worry about anything else.

I finally managed to explain that I was waiting for the first bus to the airport and they offered to take me there. I said goodbye to the first fisherman and got into another’s car. On the way to the airport we had a small conversation and he told me that his wife used to work as an army pilot. Or at least this is what I understood. What a cool wife to have!

Finally, I was safe in the airport, thinking how lucky I was and about the good people I met. Goodbye Croatia, I will be back 😉