Celebrating Canda Day in Berlin

July 1st - Canada Day. Our nation’s 143rd birthday started very early for us, with us waking at 5:00am. We had an excursion to Berlin scheduled to start at 7:15am. Azamara Journey hadn't reached Warnemunde yet, so the first sights for us this day were the many cargo ships heading to or anchored off the coast as our ship made its way into port.

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    Once ready, we made our way up to Windows Café for an early breakfast. Our first breakfast experience on Azamara Journey was a good one. It certainly had more of a restaurant feel to us than the previous two cruises we had taken on Celebrity Cruises. The food selection was plentiful and after a reconnaissance walk to see all that was on offer we both made our selections. The fruit in particular looked and tasted very good, a marked improvement over our previous breakfast at the SALT restaurant in the Admiral Hotel. We were thinking our breakfasts were definitely going to be fine on this cruise.

    The ship had still yet to dock when we had finished breakfast, so we decided to head out to the open deck to watch the final approach. We could see the NCL ship Norwegian Sun was following behind our ship. Having left Copenhagen after it, apparently Azamara Journey was a bit faster getting into Warnemunde - unless, of course, the arrival time was done by arrangement. After Azamara Journey had docked we returned to our room for final preparations for the day’s tour. While in our room we had opened our veranda door and got a close up view of Norwegian Sun. The NCL ship would be berthed near us and it turned around off our starboard side in the somewhat narrow port. They must have amazing control of modern cruise ships, for Norwegian Sun got very close as it made its turn. Interesting to watch from our veranda.

    For our day's excursion we were to report to the Cabaret Lounge. As with every other excursion we had taken on a cruise, we collected small stickers to wear - identifying our particular group/bus. Once the group was complete, we were escorted to the gangway by an Azamara host. It was a short walk to our bus beyond a very open cruise port facility. At the bus we met our tour representative - Sebastian, a university student working for the tour company for the summer. The trip to Berlin was going to take approximately 3 hours with one stop along the way. After we got moving, Sebastian asked about the nationalities of the people on the bus and following that he said he had something for the Canadians onboard - our national anthem was then played throughout the bus. Nice touch. We don't think we'll forget how we celebrated this Canada Day.

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  • Thursday July 1, 2010

    Trip to Berlin and tour of Berlin's Turbulent History

    The route to Berlin took us through the very rural region of Mecklenburg, and Sebastian gave us some of the history of the area. What was interesting to us was that this region was part of the former German Democratic Republic, and Sebastian himself had be born into that as a Rostock native. He was too young to know anything of the life under Eastern rule, and acknowledged he benefitted greatly from being raised primarily in the Federal Republic of Germany. Most of what he knew of life in the GDR was told to him by his family or read from history books. Today, the Warnemunde/Rostock area of Germany that we were leaving is now a prime vacation spot for Germans as well as tourists. After a while on rural roads, we ventured onto the Autobahn, and we were required to wear our seatbelts on the bus.

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      Prior to reaching Berlin, we made one pit-stop at a McDonald’s. Was good to stretch our legs and take advantage of the facilities before re-boarding the bus. This McDonald’s had a McCafé, and we were tempted to purchase a coffee, but decided against it basically because of the uncertainty of timing for a stop with bathrooms. It was a long trip to Berlin, but the time passed reasonably well.

      November 9, 1989. Do you remember the day? It is one of those poignant moments in recent history. On that day we remember sitting in our den watching television, marvelling at what we were witnessing - hoards of people gathered near the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate. People were taking sledgehammers to the wall, and sections of the wall were being removed by the assembled crowd. The mood was very festive. It was hard to believe what we saw that evening. That date is considered to be the date that the Wall came down, but in reality it took almost one year for it to officially “come down” on the way to German unification - or reunification, depending on where you stand on that debate. Regardless of the term you prefer, that date is the one everyone old enough should remember. Perhaps it was the images of that evening that fuelled the type of tour we were to take in Berlin - “Berlin’s Turbulent History”.

      Before reaching the heart of the city, our bus collected our local Berlin tour guide in Charlottenburg. We drove through the city first, getting an overview of what we’d be doing throughout the day. We did see a section of the Berlin Wall near something called the Topography of Terror. The location originally housed the headquarters of the Nazi Gestapo and SS. The Nazi buildings no longer remain, but in their place now is a museum. A heavily fortified section of the Berlin Wall ran at this location between the American and Soviet zones and this portion of the wall was never removed. It is the second longest section of Berlin Wall standing today. From the bus, this section of the wall looked menacing. It was unfortunate that this wasn’t a place we were to stop at on this tour. Our first stop was the iconic Brandenburg Gate. It was built in 1730 as one of 18 gates on the Berlin Excise Wall. On top of the Brandenburg Gate sits a statue known as the Quadriga, depicting Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory, on a chariot pulled by four horses. The Quadriga has had an interesting history, having been taken to Paris by Napoleon in 1806, returned in 1814 after the Prussians occupied Paris and defeated Napoleon and then it was later used by the Nazis as a symbol of their party.

      We were standing in Pariser Platz, which would have been part of East Germany during the time of the divided city and country. Prior to World War II it was considered to be a prominent square in Germany and was home to the American and French embassies as well as Hotel Adlon (considered the finest hotel in the country) and the Academy of Arts plus influential offices and grande apartments. Post unification and restoration, it is not too different from that today with the American and French embassies rebuilt in their pre-war locations right next to the Brandenburg Gate, Hotel Adlon rebuilt in its original location and and a modern looking version of the Academy of Arts back where it started in Pariser Platz. What the present scene belies is what transpired from World War II to the fall of the Wall. Bombed heavily during World War II, the only thing that remained intact in the square was the Brandenburg Gate itself, and that had been damaged but not destroyed during the war and has undergone considerable refurbishment in recent years. Our guide showed us some photographs of the area after the Wall had gone up where almost everything of the square had been totally razed. A wide open expanse. This is the reality of Berlin - very few buildings are old. Some of the building had the appearance of being old, but weren’t. Buildings that are old have undergone massive restoration. Most of Berlin has been rebuilt. Standing in Pariser Platz, our guide reminded us of that infamous moment when Michael Jackson dangled his child over the balcony of his third floor room in Hotel Adlon. The room in question was facing the Brandenburg Gate. Before leaving Pariser Platz, we went inside the unusual DZ Bank building designed by Frank Gehry. Leaving Pariser Platz, we travelled along Unter den Linden (under the linden trees), the boulevard not far behind Brandenburg Gate in iconic stature. The boulevard dates back to 1573 and the original Linden trees were planted in 1647. The Linden trees today date back only as far as 1950, replanted after the originals were cut down under Hitler’s reign so that the boulevard could be widened. Post-war, it too lay in ruins. Just like Pariser Platz at one end of Unter den Linden, the boulevard appears to have been restored to its former pre-war glory. No Marlene Dietrich sightings, though.

      Our next stop was a very pretty square called Gendarmenmarkt. Originally created in the 17th century, most of the buildings in the square were either totally destroyed or badly damaged during World War II. That story was sounding familiar. The three dominant reconstructed buildings in the square are that of Französischer Dom (French Cathedral), concert hall Konzerthaus Berlin and a building that was confusing - generally called Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral) but officially called Neue Kirche (New Church) and yet it has been a museum on German parliamentary history since 1996. There were some nice cafés in the square adding to a pleasant atmosphere. Gendarmenmarkt is known for an annual and very popular Christmas market.

      Next on the Berlin tour was a stop at Checkpoint Charlie - the best known border crossing between the American and Soviet zones following World War II and then East and West Germany during the time of the Berlin Wall. It is an everlasting symbol of the Cold War. Today, Checkpoint Charlie is a very popular tourist spot, complete with people dressed in uniform charging for photos next to the guardhouse. The guardhouse at the checkpoint is intended to resemble the original design of the guardhouse when first placed there in 1961. The real guardhouse had been replaced many times over the years until finally removed in 1990. The last one used is now located at the Allied Museum, and we were scheduled to go there later in the day. No part of the wall remains near Checkpoint Charlie, but what can be seen wherever the wall had been located is a double row of cobblestones in the road or sidewalk. Standing on the East side of the cobblestones meant one was in the area that was known as the “death strip” - the 100 metre No Man’s Land patrolled by the Soviet dominated East Germans. Near Checkpoint Charlie we found a plaque with the words “Berliner Mauer 1961-1989” within the double row of cobblestones. So easy to step over now. For our final stop before lunch we travelled to see the longest portion of Berlin Wall still standing - known as The East Side Gallery. In 1990, artists from all of world painted 106 works of art as a memorial to freedom on a 1.3km section of the Berlin Wall. In 2009, a significant restoration was done to repair over two-thirds of the paintings that had been damaged by erosion or defaced by vandalism. Consequently, the paintings were in good shape as we looked at them. As the name suggests, the artwork is on the East side of the wall, not the West side that would have had years of graffiti while the Berlin Wall was in use as a barrier between East and West. We looked at a number of the pieces of artwork but did not have anywhere near enough time to take in the full 1.3km gallery.

      From the East Side Gallery we re-boarded our bus to head to lunch. Our lunch spot in Berlin was Berliner Stube inside the Steigenberger Hotel. As we entered the restaurant, we selected a table for 4 that was already occupied by another couple. Introductions in order - we were sitting with Stuart and Penny. They were from California, but Stuart clearly came from the UK while Penny was homegrown American. We had a pleasant conversation with them as we shared a “traditional” German lunch served family style. Included in the dishes brought to the table was roast pork, sausages, meatballs, potatoes, sauerkraut, vegetables and salad. Stuart and Gary opted to give the local German Pilsener a try with the German lunch. Sticking with the traditional theme, apple strudel was served for dessert. The food was of good quality even if it wasn’t what we would have selected given a choice. The restaurant was nice, the table conversation enjoyable and the rest inside an air-conditioned building was welcomed. The day had been mostly sunny and was about 30ºC.

      It was past 2:00pm when we had finished lunch and left the Steigenberger Hotel. Our next venue was that of Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church). The Protestant church was opened in 1895 and named for Kaiser Wilhelm I, although the building wasn’t finished at the time of its initial opening. It was opened as a finished building in 1906. The church was badly damaged in a bombing raid during the night of November 23, 1943. What remained after the bombing was the spire and a portion of the entrance hall and it has been left in its bombed condition. Since 1987 it has been open as a memorial hall. We went inside the memorial hall to see some of the original church decoration and some of the visible damage on the base of the spire. Located in the hall is a small cross made of nails taken from the roof structure of the Coventry Cathedral that was badly damaged during the Coventry Blitz on November 14, 1940. This was the German bombing attack of a non-military city that the British knew about because of intercepted information using a captured German Enigma cipher machine. For the greater good of the war, Winston Churchill ordered that nothing be done to protect Coventry. The result was devastating for Coventry. This was, incidentally, the justification that the British used to switch from bombing military targets to complete cities. The changing face of war.

      Around the old church now stands four building that comprise the new church of Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, built between 1959 and 1963. The two dominant new buildings are that of the church proper on one side of the ruined church and the belfry on the other side of it, so the new church design definitely incorporates the old church. From the outside in daylight conditions, the new church is a fairly nondescript concrete structure. It was a very different story on the inside. The octagonal building is actually a honeycomb of concrete with the voids filled with stained glass blocks. The guide information indicated that there are 21,292 stained glass blocks in the new church. We really didn’t have the time to verify the number, so we accepted the information. The effect created by the design was beautiful. The dominant colour of the stained glass is blue, but also included are small amounts of red, green and yellow. Suspended above the altar is a statue of Christ made from a brass alloy. It has the appearance of floating. On the other side from the altar sits a small balcony with an impressive looking organ with apparently about 5000 pipes. Again, we took their word for that. The interior of the church was surprisingly attractive; not what we imagined from outside. One could imagine that the church would look quite different at night from the outside, with the blue colour visible.

      We returned to our bus and then travelled to the Allied Museum. The museum is housed in two buildings, one of which was an old American movie theatre. It contains a collection of exhibits related to the Allied forces in Berlin. Between the buildings sits a few outside exhibits. Included outside is the last used guardhouse of Checkpoint Charlie as well as a section of the Berlin Wall and a guard tower. Interestingly, for safety reasons the guard tower had to be shortened before being put on display. There was also a carriage from a French transport train. Dominating the outside displays sits an airplane - a British Handley Page Hastings TG 503, one of the airplanes used during the Berlin Airlift. This was a part of post World War II Berlin that we knew nothing about, having never heard of the Berlin Airlift prior to visiting the Allied Museum. What we learned was that from June 1948 to May 1949 the Soviets blocked Western Allies road and rail access to the sectors of Berlin under Allied control. It was the first real incident of the Cold War. The Soviet plan was to take practical control of Berlin by being the only power to supply the entire city with food, fuel, supplies...everything. In response, the Allies organized the Berlin Airlift, with the British and Americans conducting over 200,000 flights to supply the area of Berlin under Allied control. The limitations of Allied airspace in Berlin made this a very difficult and dangerous supply operation. Its success brought the Soviet Blockade to an end in just under one year. The result, interestingly, was the formation of the two Germany states that split Berlin until 1989. We had clearly missed a big part of the history until our visit to this museum. Inside the two buildings of the Allied Museum is all manner of Berlin Cold War memorabilia. It is truly a tribute to the many American, British and French men and women who served and sacrificed on the front line of Berlin to maintain West Germany during the Cold War. It was a fascinating visit, well worth the time.

      Our last stop for the day was Charlottenburg Palace. This was near where we had picked up our Berlin guide in the morning, and the final stop was strategic - being the place our Berlin guide left us. By the looks of other tour representatives near the palace, it appeared that most of the Berlin tours were terminating at this location. The palace was built between 1668 and 1705 and is the largest palace in Berlin. When it was built, Charlottenburg was independent of Berlin. In was incorporated into Berlin in 1920. The day was getting late, and we only did an outside tour of the palace. With that, our tour of Berlin was done. It was now just a matter of the long bus ride back to Warnemunde.

      We don’t remember too much of the ride back to the ship, spending most of the time snoozing. We arrived back at the ship just before 8:30pm. First, a quick stop in our room to freshen up, and once there we found a bottle of champagne on ice. It was a welcome aboard gift for being part of Azamara’s “Le Club Voyage”. Both Celebrity and Azamara are owned by Royal Caribbean, so we achieved status on Azamara by taking cruises on Celebrity. We knew that the ship had a German Outdoor Dinner scheduled for the Pool Deck until 9:30pm, so we thought we’d take a look at that. After doing a reconnoissance lap around the Pool Deck we decided against it - the food looked way too much like what we had eaten for lunch in Berlin. Instead, we opted to head to the main dining room of Discoveries. We were met by the maître d and he immediately addressed us by name. We were impressed that he remembered our name from the night before. He also confirmed that we wanted a table for two and we ended up being seated at the same table as we had previously. With the same table came the same servers, which was nice. We liked these fellows. It was a very enjoyable dinner. To end the evening we strolled around the ship, both inside and outside. Warnemunde in the evening looked pretty. It was, though, a bit too late for us after a long day of touring so we weren't thinking of heading off the ship for the late night. Warnemunde Day 1 was done.

      Final thoughts on our day in Berlin? Well, we’d say Berlin is a city of strong contrasts. The architecture is certainly diverse. As far as historical events, so much of what was in the city has been destroyed. A case in point would be Hitler’s infamous bunker. The location is known but it has been utterly destroyed to remove all trace of it. A housing project now occupies the space and the only evidence of the bunker is a poster identifying that the bunker was in that location. That could be repeated for many things in Berlin. Our tour was enjoyable, but we would have preferred more walking that we did get to do. Berlin is a city worth visiting, but we are not sure we’d make an effort to return here. But then, there were things we didn’t get to see....so who knows? Maybe we will return some day.

  • Friday July 2, 2010

    Warnemunde, Molli Steam Train and Bad Doberaner Munster

    Our second day in Warnemunde started a bit later than our first day, we were up around 8:00am. By the time we made it to Windows Café we weren’t too sure if we’d get much choice because it was nearing the end time listed for the full breakfast buffet. We were pleasantly surprised that there was a reasonable selection of breakfast foods available. It did appear that they kept going later than the listed time, just not in the same quantity as earlier in the morning.

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      We set off to wander around Warnemunde at about 10:30am. Before we left the port facility we stopped at Pier 7 by Karls to take a look at some of the amazing sand sculptures on display there. Pier 7 was an area for exhibits such as the sand sculptures as well as casual dining and shopping near the cruise ship terminal. We didn't linger too long, continuing on our way towards Warnemunde. We passed through the Warnemunde train station and saw a strawberry fruit stand at the far side of it - the name on the stand was Karls, the company behind the Pier 7 development.

      Beyond the strawberry stand was a small bridge over der Alte Strom (old canal) that provided a picturesque view of Warnemunde. It was very quaint. We wandered around the seaside town and were surprised by the atmosphere, we weren’t expecting such a nice town. There were a number of nice shops as well as restaurants and pubs along the canal and we bought some nice amber jewelry in one of the shops here.

      Reaching the end of the shops and restaurants we took a stroll out to a small lighthouse at the end of the pier by the entrance to the open water. From there we could see the expanse of beach full of people. It certainly is a good vacation spot if you wanted a beach experience. This area has the largest sandy beach front in Germany. There were some clouds in the sky, but the mostly sunny day felt warmer than the identified temperature of 30ºC. Walking back from the pier we took a tour of the old lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1897 and at 40 metres tall it provides great views of Warnemunde and the Baltic coast. We bumped into Stuart and Penny while on the upper observation level of the lighthouse so we chatted for a few minutes - they were just as surprised as we were about how nice it was in Warnemunde. Right next to the old lighthouse is a building called the Teepott. The building has a distinctive curved roof that is considered to be a good example of 60s East German architecture. Inside the Teepott were some restaurants, but we didn’t venture inside to see them. We then wandered around the town a bit to get a feel for it, arriving back for a stroll along der Alte Strom before heading back to the ship. We had an excursion booked for 2:00pm, so our goal was to be back onboard Azamara Journey for 1:00pm to prepare for that. Once back onboard, we took the opportunity for espresso and some of the light refreshments available at Mosaic Café on Deck 5 and by 2:00pm we were boarding the bus for our afternoon excursion.

      The main feature of the afternoon tour was a ride on the Molli Steam Train. Prior to that we were to stop at Bad Doberaner Munster. Our bus arrived there, but we didn't stay because a wedding was just about to take place. The new plan was to tack the visit of the Munster on at the end of the tour. With more time on our hands before the train trip, the bus took a more scenic route to get to the train station at Bad Doberan. We were travelling through rural Mecklenburg, and it was definitely pretty.

      When we reached the train station at Bad Doberan we found that two carriages had been reserved for Azamara Journey. The carriages in question were the first two we could see, and without the steam engine present at this end we concluded that we'd be at the back of the train. We found seats on the train and waited. It was warm inside the train, no air was moving - so we were hoping to be moving soon. That didn’t happen. Eventually we saw the steam engine moving from a storage shed nearer the other end of the train, but it came our way...so we were actually at the front of the train. The engine passed us, then went to where it could switch lines to come back to connect to our carriage. Once connected we set off. Almost immediately after clearing the train station we were in the town of Bad Doberan, travelling down the middle of the road. Nothing else moves while the Molli Steam Train rolls through town. It was interesting to see how close the train got to parked vehicles and awnings over the patio areas of the local restaurants. A couple of times the train had to stop to wait for a delivery truck to move further off the rail line. Once clear of the town, the Molli picked up speed. Our destination was Heiligendamm, where we once again boarded our bus to take a short trip to the seaside town of Kuhlungsborn. We stopped at a hotel there a enjoyed a coffee as well as a delicious piece of apple cake and then we strolled around the pretty seaside town. Linda took the opportunity to call home while we were here strolling in Kuhlungsborn - getting to talk to Matt.

      At the appointed time we met back up with the rest of our tour group and boarded the bus for the second attempt at Bad Doberaner Munster. Bad Doberan was initially settled by Cistercian monks who established a monastery here in 1171. Over the years that monastery has been changed a number of time and eventually transformed into the most dominate building in Bad Doberan, being now a Lutheran church. As we walked around the outside of the church we could see the evidence of some of the previous incarnations of the property, including some of the original lines of the Roman church building. Inside, Bad Doberaner Munster has much to view. The Gothic architecture with its central vaulted naive looks impressive. Around the church are many tombs or memorials to Kings, Dukes, Duchesses, Emperors and other nobles. The historic connection with Sweden is clearly evident in those buried within the walls of the church. It was while we were looking at some of the tombs at one end of the church that we began to hear the wonderful sound of choir practicing at the other end of the church. The sound resonating through the Gothic structure was awe inspiring. It was a treat to listen to the choir practice as we continued the remainder of our tour inside the church.

      It was about 6:30pm when we arrived back onboard Azamara Journey. First stop for us was the Sunset Bar on Deck 9 where we enjoyed a refreshing drink. The early evening was nice and we sat on the open deck at the back of the ship. For dinner, the venue for us this evening was Discoveries, and we arrived there about 7:30pm with the idea of trying to make it to Garry Carson’s show that was scheduled for 9:45pm at the Cabaret Lounge. Both of us selected Yellow Fin Tuna as our main course for this dinner, and neither of the daily wines appealed to us - but we did take advantage of another pricing feature on this cruise. In addition to the daily red and white wines, they also had a few “featured” wines available each day that were sold at what appeared to be somewhere one third to one half of the regular selling price. Was a good deal. The food was again excellent, and though the service was good, we were sitting at a different table and so our servers were different and not quite the combo that had served us previously.

      We were eating dinner as the ship set sail from Warnemunde, so we didn’t get to witness our departure from an open deck this time. With a bit of time to spare after dinner and before the show, we made a stop at Mosaic Café for a couple of cappuccinos. The show was entertaining; a mixture of comedy and magic with a number of people being selected from the audience to assist with a trick here and there. Good fun. Something that we had also noticed this evening was that there was clearly more people around the public areas of the ship, and many more watching the show than we had seen before. Before leaving the ship in the morning, we had asked Abdul to put the bottle of champagne back on ice for this evening, and it was prepared as requested for us to enjoy as we returned to our room following the show. The next day would be a day at sea - so we had no particular agenda for the day, but we also lost one hour this night as we travelled east from Warnemunde, Germany to Helsinki, Finland.

      Our second day in Warnemunde had been a pleasantly surprising and enjoyable day. Surprising because we weren’t expecting Warnemunde to be such a nice area, and it made for a lovely day of touring around the seaside resort town for the first half of the day. The Molli train experience was as we expected, and something we were glad that we had done. Especially being so close to the steam engine, the sounds and smell of the nostalgic train added to the feel of travelling though small towns and countryside. Before leaving Canada we had considered travelling back to Berlin for the second day in this port of call, but after the fact we were glad we decided on staying in this scenic area of Mecklenburg. Good day, indeed.

Warnemunde Image Gallery

Arrival in Warnemunde
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
Pariser Platz, Berlin
Inside the DZ Bank Building near Brandenburg Gate
Konzerthaus Berlin in Gendarmenmarkt
The tourist version of Checkpoint Charlie
Marker in the sidewalk showing the location of the Berlin Wall
One of the 106 murals the East Side Gallery on a 1.3km section of the Berlin Wall
Inside the memorial hall of Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church)
Watchtower and a portion of the Berlin Wall at the Allied Museum
Last guardhouse used at Checkpoint Charlie (1990)
Statue of Friedrich Wilhelm I outside Charlottenburg Palace
One of the sand sculptures at Pier 7 by Karls, Warnemunde
View of Warnemunde along der Alte Strom (old canal)
Harbour scene at the mouth of der Alte Strom
Old lighthouse and Teepott Restaurant in Warnemunde
View towards the town of Warnemunde from the lighthouse
The front of the Molli steam train engine as it travelled through Bad Doberan
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WHITEonline is the digital home of Gary & Linda White. We’ve been married since 1980 and live just outside Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Linda was born and raised in Toronto while Gary was born in London, England and moved to Canada at the age of 11. We enjoy travelling and taking photos while we travel. WHITEonline provides the opportunity to share some of our photos & experiences.

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