Meeting Celebrities While Traveling

Getting to leave Bucharest is even better than getting to go to Bucharest. I was off on my train to Sofia Bulgaria! In my compartment there was an American gentleman and we started talking. He had been in Bucharest as well, but he had been doing a gypsy stay. He had stayed with a man who lived next to the gypsies, and got to meet and eat dinner with the gypsies and hear about their experiences. I learned from this that the girls are married off at twelve and thirteen which I find sickening. But as he tells me about himself, and how he lives in LA I can’t help feeling like I’ve seen him somewhere before. I know he looks like someone famous, but I can’t put my finger on it. I start wondering if he is a celebrity who just likes backpacking. I start hoping he is. Finally I find out I’m crazy and he isn’t. He does a myriad of jobs, none of which are actor. I do find out who he looks like though. It’s Eric Bana in the Time Traveler’s Wife. He looks exactly like him in person. It is scary, but very hot. We also find out that while he’s stopping in another city first, that in a couple of days he will be in the same hostel as me in Sofia. We start making plans to smoke shisha and hang out.

This photo doesn’t even do justice for how much he looked liked Eric Bana.

After he gets off my train trip makes a turn for the worse. Pretty much everyone gets off. I swear there was like no one on this train, and as it got later it gets creepier. The light barely worked in my compartment, so I was sitting in a spooky empty compartment at night. No one was in any compartment near me. When we finally got to Sofia I was so glad.

I walk out to the cabs and walk up to a cab driver. I ask if he knows Macedonia Avenue where my hostel is. He says, “Hostel Mostel?” It’s great to find a cabbie who knows exactly where your hostel is. I ask him how much, and he tells me twenty lev. I know that it should be around five. I tell him that I know that it should be five, but that I will pay him ten and not any more. All the cabbies laugh and the man agrees. As we drive he smokes in the front seat, but he gets me there in one piece. That night I slept. No crazy stories there.

Sofia! So sexy!

The next day I did a walking tour and made friends with a girl named Michelle. A group of us went out for lunch after to a Bulgarian restaurant. It was like sitting in someone’s backyard. The menu was an entire binder. I swear that if there was an animal that got on Noah’s boat then it was on this menu. They had snails, rabbit, pheasant, quail, and deer to name a few. I settled on cow trip cooked in butter and rabbit stew. As I ordered the cow trip the waiter just looks at me and asks, “Are you sure?” Of course I am. I didn’t know what cow tripe was, but I damn well will eat it. I soon learn that it is cow intestines. That’s fine. I get it and it is absolutely delicious. It is buttery and amazing. The rabbit stew comes and it is great as well. I dream about returning to this restaurant.

Later I meet Dessi, who is a friend of a friend who is from Sofia. She shows me around the city, and I invite her to join the free pub crawl my hostel has. We go to a Route 66 themed bar first. It’s odd to be in American bar in Sofia, but the bartender is making killer shots and lighting things on fire so we’re having fun. The night continues and Dessi and I are having a great time. We make plans to hang out the next night as well.

The next day I drag myself out of bed to do a free hiking tour. It hikes the mountain next to Sofia, and I can’t wait to be in nature. We take cabs out to the start of the hike, and then we walk up this road to get to the start of the hike. And as we walk up this road I am dying. I’m breathing heavily, and I start thinking, “Fuck! If I can’t do this how can I do the hike?” Luckily it turns out everyone was dying, and while the hike was grueling, that road was the hardest part. We climb rocks and explore the gorgeous woods, and after a couple of hours we make it to the waterfall where we eat lunch. Our guide is great and gives us so much information about the woods as we walk. At the waterfall we watch two women rock climb, and it is god damn impressive. Then we continue on our hike to make it to the lookout point on top of the mountain. Up there it is breath taking. You can see all of Sofia, and the mountain. After that we have the walk down, and that is so much easier, except for my friend Michelle who kept slipping.

I’m on top of the world. Okay the mountain. Okay it’s not exactly the very top.

That night I round up a crew, including my Eric Bana look alike who showed up at the perfect time, and we go out to smoke shisha with my friend Dessi. We sit at a cafe on the main road and enjoy the shisha. Dessi helped translate with our waiter, and was amazing at telling us who owed what since the bill was in Bulgarian. After we headed to a bar that I had heard great things about. It is called The Apartment. It is an apartment. Like seriously just an apartment. Every room is decorated differently. It is chilled and layed back. You go into the kitchen to buy a beer or drink from the girl in there. I got myself a glass of their home made white wine.

The Apartment! OMG so weird.

We picked a room where the seats were all pillows on the floor and had the best time. The conversations got odd. I now know at least one man who talked about how he loves a lady with a full bush and loves when a woman doesn’t shave her legs or armpits. Don’t ask me how we got on pubic hair as a topic, but it was a hilarious conversation. Near the end I was dozing off, which is what happens when you lie down on a floor covered in pillows. We all walked back, and I was so sad to say goodbye to Dessi and to Sofia. It was sad to say goodbye to the Eric Bana look alike as well, because honestly who doesn’t want to stare at Eric Bana?

Just hanging on the floor with Eric Bana.

 

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Cities Not Worth Your Travel Time

There are many cities that I have loved in Europe. My current favorites are Berlin, Barcelona, Budapest, and Dubrovnik. They offer many things to do, beautiful scenery, and a great night life. In Berlin you will find a cool artsy city with amazing clubbing. In Barcelona you have the architecture of Gaudi, beaches, and shot bars. In Budapest you have bath houses for daytime, and ruin pubs (basically the world’s weirdest and coolest bars) for the night time. In Dubrovnik you can cliff dive into the water, hang out with peacocks, and eat amazing seafood before going to a cliff bar. These are cities to spend a good deal of time in.

On the other side of the coin you have Bucharest. Don’t go to Bucharest. As someone who traveled the Balkans and who met many other travelers I haven’t met a single person who liked Bucharest. You have a small attractive and touristy old town surrounded by the world’s shittiest communist apartment buildings. There is very little to do and the night life is as douchey as it gets.

I arrived in Bucharest the day before my birthday. I checked into a hostel that turned out to be in the middle of no where, and it didn’t seem to really have any other guests. It also had a garden that seemed to be infested with the entire world’s population of mosquitos. Nor does anyone tell you that buying bug spray or insect repellent is nearly impossible in a neighborhood in Bucharest. I spent the hours leading up to my birthday crying alone in my empty dorm room covered in mosquito bites. I was kind of having a meltdown. I knew I had to change hostels the next day, but at that moment I blamed all of Bucharest and kind of just wanted out of the city.

I woke up a year older, and went on a free walking tour. I saw the little the city has to offer. Mainly I learned that communism destroys good architecture and then puts up the world’s ugliest buildings. Fuck you communists. I also saw the statue about the end of commuism that the locals call “potato on a stick”. Luckily I made a friend on the tour, and soon switched into his nice party hostel that had a location that didn’t make me feel like I was going to attacked by a stray dog or robbed by a gypsy.

Potato on a stick. Sometimes olive on a stick. The potato is communism.

I spent my birthday night smoking hookah with my new friends (while the boys at the table next to us tried to woo me over). Afterwards we walked around looking for places to party and I had an idea I thought would be hilarious. I decided we should go to a strip club. It turns out they don’t charge cover for strip clubs in Bucharest. There is a reason why. They suck. Basically they are a tiny bar where only three girls take turns dancing. Not attractive women either. Literally the world’s ugliest strippers. They didn’t get naked either. They danced in little dresses that never came off. It was all disappointing. Then the two of them came over and tried to talk to two of my male friends. Charlie got stuck with the stripper who spoke almost no English. They sat awkwardly next to each other for a few minutes. Then she asked if he would buy her a drink. He said no and she left. The other stripper talked to Tudor for a bit, but left as well when he said no to a private dance.

Tudor being super creepy as I smoke shisha.

All while this was going on my friend Trevor and I sat in the middle laughing. We also watched the one redeeming thing this club had to offer. An amazing pole dancer. Now this woman wasn’t attractive, and she was also clothed, but she could pole dance. She spent her whole number doing insane pole tricks. I was honestly impressed. When she finished we paid for our drinks and left. It was an interesting experience to say the least.

The only thing worth doing in Bucharest is the escape room. My hostel ran it. They basically lock you in a room and you use the clues to find how to open the door. Our team got it with eight minutes to spare, and it would have been more except for the fucking briefcase we got stuck on. I found that I am great at escape rooms. Give me a random object and I can usually figure out what to do with it. I kept having to say, “Guys I got it open. Look over here.”

Escape Room!

I did an excursion to “Dracula’s Castle” and random other castles and Brasov. It made me wish I had visited Brasov instead of Bucharest. Transylvania is the gorgeous part of Romania. Visit there if you go to Romania. It is mountains and woods. It was great to be out of the city. Luckily my time in Bucharest ended and I was off to Sofia.

Transylvania!

Boring castle, but the mountains are great!

Romanian Trains Suck

Romanian trains suck. I’m not the world’s largest fan of train travel to begin with, but the Romanian train system did nothing to warm me to them. My train from Timisoara to Bucharest left at five in the morning. Of course they only had one train that left far too early and one that left far too late. Grrr Romania. I barely made my train as the hostel worker who had promised to help me get a cab was still out drinking and only returned at the last minute. The day was not starting off well.

When I get to my train compartment I am with a bunch of old Romanian women who don’t speak English. We smiled and mimed things at each other. And slowly they grew on me. We all laughed at the horrible train curtains that instantly fell off the window and to the ground if you tried to close or open them. Not the world’s best engineering. One woman in particular decided to take on the role of mother hen to me. She tried to include me as best she could, and when they decided to switch to larger empty compartment because ours was freezing she basically forced me to lie down and sleep. She mimed that I could lie down, put up the arm rests to make a bed for me, and even went so far as to grab my feet and pull them up on the seat to show me I could lie down all the way. Sadly my mother hen got off a couple hours later as the train began to fill up, and I realized I had to go back to my own seat.

When I got back to my compartment a man was sitting in my seat. I tried to motion that it was my seat. He pointed for me to sit elsewhere. A few moments later as I’m sitting in the seat he’s designated he reaches in his shirt and begins to pull out his necklace and show his friends. It is a large golden swastika necklace. I had seriously just tried to recover my seat from a Nazi. Somehow on this trip I keep running into people with swastikas. The men drank for a bit, and finally got off at another stop. Only one young Romanian man remained.

A few minutes later another older woman and her disabled daughter enter our compartment. The young man and I were both sitting by the window so I thought we were good since the easiest seats to reach were right there for her daughter. Not so. This woman began screaming at me in Romanian. I honestly didn’t have a clue what she wanted. I got up. I tried to move to my original seat, but that pissed her off more. Finally the man points at the seat by the door and says he thinks she wants me to sit there. Then I have the awkward encounter in trying to change places with her daughter who is on crutches in a very small space. Luckily I was able to get seated and the woman and her daughter spent the better part of the ride arguing with each other. Every once in a while a man would come into our compartment and lay out a myriad of objects on the empty seat. Then he would walk off. The others would peruse the little toys and knick knacks and pick something out to buy. When he came back the man bought a lighter, and the woman a cell phone case. I honestly wonder if people try to just pocket the items without paying. Who knows? Another random thing I never understood at the time was we passed fields upon fields of sunflowers. Some of them were bright and alive, and some were dying and wilted. I thought, “What the fuck do they need with all these sunflowers?” They were just dead half the time so they weren’t selling sunflowers. I now know the answer. Thank you google. They are now the world’s largest exporter of sunflower seeds. The more you know.

I’ve learned a lot on this trip, but mainly I’ve learned that Romanian trains suck. But even my experiences with Nazis and mean Romanian women were rivalled by my train out of Romania where I ended up in a desolate car late at night in a compartment where the light didn’t work. I just spent the whole time praying to God I wouldn’t miss Sofia, or be robbed.

Dealing With Fear When Traveling

What do you do when you’re lost or confused in a foreign place? My favorite thing to do- sit down and cry like a baby. Just sob huge self pity sobs in some foreign train station. And when you’re done you can pick yourself up, and figure your shit out. Possibly you won’t even have to if some random stranger decides to take pity on you and try to help you. This happens more frequently if you’re a girl. No one likes to see single lost girls crying. If you’re a guy though they’ll probably just stay far away from you. People don’t like to approach crying men. Eventually you’ll get it out of your system and start to figure out what the hell you’re doing. I’ve been lost many places, but I’ve never stayed lost. If you keep trying you’ll eventually find something.

Recently I was in the train station from hell. It is the train station in Arad Romania, and I have learned most travelers who have had a train change here have at least been tempted to cry. It is tiny, completely under construction, and almost no one speaks English. I got off my train here, and attempted to make a seat reservation for my next train. All that I accomplished was having an asshole Romanian man cut me in line, and then having the Romanian ticket agent yell at me in Romanian over the construction going right on behind me. A man tried to translate for me, but even in Romanian she didn’t understand my request. I later learned that the tiny shitty train I was about to ride how no sort of seat reservations. It was a free for all. I sat down in a seat wanting to cry and already just done with Romania even though I had just entered it. I let myself have my half hour of self pity, and then I went and found my train. Even crossing to my platform was a difficulty. There was no where to cross and finally I found you had to walk to the end of the platform and then climb across the tracks to the next platform. Arad really has their shit together.

The best way to find your train is to point at trains or tracks and ask everyone you can “Timisoara?” Hopefully someone will know the answer eventually. In my case I found an equally confused German family (the father turned out to be Romanian), and we let the dad figure the rest out for the lot of us while the mother decided to mother hen me. You can generally point at things anywhere and ask if this is what you’re looking for, or where something is. Once you find someone going the same way you just hold onto them for dear life and follow. There’s ease in numbers, and sometimes you have to weld yourself to others when you are a solo traveler.

The Rose Garden.

I made it to Timisoara though. And my hostel was gross. Friendly, but gross. Showers that looked like they’d never been cleaned, and bed sheets that were so much smaller than the bed that you were just sleeping against the old vinyl mattress. Oh shit Romania was not having a good start. But then nice things happen. I found a rose garden that was filled to the brim with roses and I sat and just read. Then I found this newly built children’s playground and played like a child. I climbed rope structures, and waited for water to gurgle up and touch my hands out of the fountains with delight. I listened as gypsy music floated up over the wall of a nearby building while I spun round in some sort of spinny chair. I found that there is good to be had even when you’re having a bad time.

Then I went to a street cafe and felt like a king as I had milkshakes and lemonades while sitting on a comfy couch seat. By the evening I was in a good mood, and my hostel decided to take us out drinking. We went to a very Romanian backyard bar where we got eaten alive by mosquitos and yelled at by the bartender for something to do with moving a log seat from one table to another. We never really got why. Between bars our guide took us to a playground, and we all played like children piling onto the seesaw, and climbing up and down the fortress. By the end of the day I remembered what I love about traveling. And then I got on another shitty Romanian train.

Crazy eyed in a playground.

Bath Party Gone Wild

If you have ever heard of the bath parties in Budapest, or Sparty as it’s called, then you probably have heard something about its reputation. For me the idea of partying in the water in a gorgeous bathhouse sounded like a bitchin idea. As soon as I met Eli I was telling him he had to come to the party with me. Sadly when we went to buy him one online the cheap tickets were sold out. The more expensive tickets with drinks and towels and bags weren’t. He was about to give up, and I thought, “Fuck it! I’ve been dreaming about this bath party for two years, and I want a friend there with me.” He payed the cheap ticket price, and I got the drink tickets. It was working out perfectly.

Due to my misreading of twenty-four hour time we arrived at the party two hours late. But we had a great dinner and a hookah beforehand so we were happy. We went to our cabin and began changing. We wanted to get this party started. As we got outside we noticed two things. It was freezing, and some shit was going down inside the pool.

The end of the party as the pool emptied.

We scurried into the heated pool to get some of its warmth. Oh that felt better. Color lights pulsed over the pool as music played. The place was jam packed. As we looked around there were people getting it on everywhere. I hope they were all just really passionately making out, but that’s wishful thinking. Eli and I joked that we should start tapping couples on the shoulder and take a pull of how many people were actually having sex and how many just looked like it. One couple was getting it on in the water by the stairs. A comical young man in a gold thong started to dance outside the pool near them. Then he got closer. Then he shook his crotch over their heads. His audience, including us, cheered him on and funny enough the couple didn’t notice a thing. This went on for about five minutes before the couple looked up and darted about five feet away to resume their passionate embrace. It was a great moment. Later the gold thong man danced over a fountain that made him look like he was peeing into the pool. He was great party entertainment.

We danced, we got pushed around in a big whirl pool, and I took to riding Eli piggy back and making him jump up and down in the water. My companion was also kind enough to brave the cold and retrieve my drinks for me. Drinking in a pool is probably never a good idea. Beer cans, straws, and cups floated around the pool. I hope they chlorinate the hell out of this thing.

I was so glad I brought Eli and didn’t come alone to this orgy-fest. It would have been really awkward. It was kind of a sausage-fest as well with way too many guys there. Every time Eli went to the bathroom I was approached by at least four guys. I tried to ignore them, but I’m glad I wasn’t a lady alone all night. At one point when Eli was in the bathroom I saw something horrible though. A man was near me in the pool and on his back he had a giant tattoo. Not just any giant tattoo though. On top it said in HUGE lettering SKINHEAD, underneath that was a gigantic swastika, and just in case that wasn’t enough he had the eagle underneath that. I got the fuck away from him. I couldn’t help thinking what if you hadn’t seen his back and spent time flirting with him. Then he would turn around and you’d be like, “Oh shit I just flirted with a Nazi!” When Eli came back we had the joy of seeing this man again, and Eli flipped out just like I did.

The bathhouse where the party is held, but during daytime. Also recreating my photo from two years ago that is the header for this blog.

Another notable encounter included watching a girl be dragged from the pool by a security guard. Then she was just placed on the side of the pool with no instructions. She stood there shivering in time out for about five minutes before the security guard said she could go back in. We never could figure out what she did. I don’t think she knew what she did. Soon the party was ending though and we were back up to our cabin to change. We decided to start walking home, but in hindsight we should have payed for a cab. As we began walking the drinks began hitting me and all of a sudden I was tired and drunk. Very tired and drunk. It was the longest walk of our life. I saw my life flash before my eyes. Just kidding. But it felt that shitty.

Soon we were home though in our loft beds, and we decided that we would need a bath day to recuperate from our day of partying. The next day was spent in the sauna, cold baths, wave pool, and thermal pools. Gellert has the best steam rooms. One is a dark room with blue and green lighting with stone lounge chairs. Things got trippy up in there. The moral of the story is go to a Budapest bath party because it’s worth putting up with feeling mildly, or maybe very, disgusted with the water and the people. It’s all part of the charm.

The Longest Day Of Our Life

My first meal in Budapest was McDonalds. Don’t judge me. I ate nothing but a few cookies on the seven hour train ride because I forgot to buy anything ahead of time. So when I got to my hostel I was tired, hungry, and not the excited traveler I normally am. I cried to my boyfriend on facetime. Crying happens when traveling. It’s intense an intense experience, especially when you do it alone. So I ate McDonalds and it felt amazing to eat something normal and something my stomach recognized.

Soon I made friends though with girls from my hostel and things were on the up and up. We drank on the couch while waiting for their friends to arrive. Once they did we were off for a night out of drinking. It was an okay night. We stole a giant glass, a Australian boy tumbled to the ground while giving a girl piggy back and he spent the rest of the night looking like a hurt puppy dog. My night went up and down though. I learned yet again that backpackers are mainly looking to hook up. Everybody is out flirting, and often I get disappeared on as a taken lady. I’ll be having a great conversation and then they move on to flirt with some girl, or some girl disappears to flirt with some guy. Either way I get deserted. It can suck.

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Budapest Bitches!

When we returned to the hostel I met Eli though. He was sitting on the couch holding court with some people, and he invited me to have a beer. I was going to go to sleep, but something told me stay up and hang out with this guy. So I did. And it felt like the first intelligent conversation I’d had in a while. We discussed Israel and religion and every random and sensitive topic there is to discuss. We made plans to spend the next day together. I told him, “I think this is the beginning of beautiful friendship.” He replied, “Of all the gin joints in this town you walk into mine.” I knew our fate was sealed. As we walked to bed we realized we were not only in the same room. We were both up on the loft with our beds directly facing each other so the foot of each bed rested against the other. What better beds for besties?

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THIS!

We went on a walking tour the next day. We rocked it. We picked out the hottest guide with the most personality and cheated our way into his group. If you are in Budapest do the free walking tour! It rocks. I’ve done it twice. The tour ended at the castle hill top on the Buda side of the river. We had mulled wine and looked out on the gorgeous view. A small band played “As Time Goes By”. It was perfect for our Casablanca friendship.

Photo: Budapest.

View from Buda.

Later we got back to the hostel after having Vietnamese food, and buying Eli a swimsuit that wasn’t so tight that it made him feel like PENIS. After showers we were ready for a fancy dinner, a night on the town, and a giant rave bath party. We walked along the main road in search of this street full of restarunts that I remembered beng there last time I was in Buapest. We finally found it just as I suspected I was insane. We found what is I suspect the same fancy restaurant I ate in last time I was in Budapest. There is a Hooters next to it now, and it has the most gorgeous Hooters girls I’ve ever seen. I love fancy restaraunts in Budapest. You sit outside and they give you soft fleece blankets to keep you warm.

I had pork medallions wrapped in bacon. Amazingly when it came it had an amazing feature the menu did not list. It was topped with a huge serving of fois gras. The night before came up and I talked about how most backpackers are just looking to hook up, and will drop you at the drop of a hat Eli gave me the best compliment ever. He said I was fois gras while most women are french fries. Fois gras is special and not everyone realizes they like it because some aren’t willing to try. A compliment from Eli was high praise because he is honest to asshole extent. While hiking up the castle hill he told me my ass was only good and not great. Later this was rescinded because he said the dark lighting had not been favorable for it.

Photo: Where we had our fancy dinner. Gotta love a lap blanket. $30 each for entree, bottle of wine, dessert, and tip.

Our fancy restaraunt.

Soon we headed to Szimplaz Ruin Pub. Ruin pubs are giant bars in old dilapidated buildings. There is writing all over the walls, weird furniture like cars or bathtubs turned into seats, and every odd knick knack you can imagine. It was crowded but we got drinks and sat on this carpeted stage. A few minutes later a group that was smoking hookah decided to leave and asked if we would like the two hookahs they had. Hell yes we did. We also decided to share our good fortune with an American group sitting nearby and soon I was making friends with other New Yorkers. Soon we realized we needed to make it to the bath party and we gifted the hookahs to them. Little did we know we were heading to the most debacherous party in Budapest. Check back to here about the party.

Photo: Szimplaz. Best bar ever.

There is never a reason why for the things at Szimplaz.

The Power Of A Hula Hoop

A hula hoop is a powerful tool for making friends. One second you know no one, and the next you’re hula hooping and people are excited to meet you. With traveling in Europe being from NYC is similar as well. I’ve found Europeans love to tell me how much they love Seinfeld or Sex In The City. In Romania I met one young gay male Romanian who was more than happy to help me navigate the tram because he overheard I was from NYC and he loves Sex In The City. It’s weird to think how one young person who grew up in a village in Romania loves the same television show as me.

Photo: On my way to hoop in Zagreb.

On my way to hoop in Zagreb!

But back to the hula hoop. I’d already befriended a young man in Coppenhagen that had me teach him hula hoop isolations, and now I had a quick stop over in Zagreb Croatia. The parks there looked so beautiful I knew I would have to hoop in them. Some places just call to me saying, “Hula hoop in me Milo!” So I built up my hoops, and wandered towards the park. I stopped though in the main square when I saw a street performer singing American songs and playing his guitar. I asked if I could hoop with him, and moments later I was. The attention he got quickly rose as I started hooping and double hooping with him (double as in two hula hoops). During a break between songs I learned he was a German backpacker and he was street performing to pay for his trip though Europe. He also thanked me a bunch because he told me I was definitely helping his tips. Our highpoint was probably when he sang a Jack Johnson song, and I sang along while hooping. But that shit makes you quickly out of breath. He was kind enough though to take a break at one point and film me hooping in the square. Soon I was off though to go hoop in the park and collect more travel friends

Video of Me Hula Hooping In Zagreb

 

My other hooping highlight was in Budapest. My friend Eli and I were on our way to the bathhouse when we passed some sort of children’s festival. There were many circus toys. I saw kids trying to play with poi, disks on sticks, and walk on the slack rope. I was sad I didn’t have my hoop on me. Then I saw it. Two silver hula hoops sitting up against the stacks of toys for the kids to play with. Eli knew we needed to stop for a hoop break. I quickly got my hoop on and a few kids stood around with their mouths open in shock. It is fun wowing little kids with the magic of hoop. Soon we were off though. Another day, another hoop adventure.

At the children’s festival!