<![CDATA[CLUB OF EXPLORERS - BLOG]]>Tue, 17 Nov 2015 23:13:00 +0000Weebly<![CDATA[A Day in the Bemusement Park: Dismaland]]>Wed, 11 Nov 2015 17:51:15 GMThttp://clubofexplorers.weebly.com/blog/a-day-in-the-bemusement-park-dismalandHello again - I know it has been a ridiculously long time since I disappeared off this blog with no rhyme or reason. Summer went by so quickly, and before I knew it, September had rolled around again, and I was back in Bristol, dealing with all the busy work stuff that I have to do as a 2nd year undergrad. The good news is that I now have several travel throwbacks to share from summer and autumn - and if you're following my Instagram, you'll know that I haven't stopped taking pictures. 

Anyway, when I got back to Bristol in September this year, I was super excited because a few weeks earlier I had somehow miraculously, and through a careful balance of strategy, persistence and luck, managed to buy 2 tickets to Dismaland - on it's last weekend of operation no less. For those of you who don't know, Dismland was an art project set up by Banksy in collaboration with 58 other artists in the seaside town of Weston Super Mare, about an hour's bus ride from Bristol. It was set up in a disused outdoor swimming pool complex, Tropicana, and lasted 36 days. It was described as a 'family theme park unsuitable for children', and was set up as a sinister parody of a Disneyland park. Staff were rude, bored-looking, and absolutely fantastic. Every attraction featured art works which served as commentaries on modern social and political issues. 
You can get a better idea of what it was like from the official trailer - 
Here are a few photos from my visit to Dismaland. 
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<![CDATA[The Secret Garden]]>Thu, 03 Sep 2015 06:51:30 GMThttp://clubofexplorers.weebly.com/blog/the-secret-gardenLate summer days in Prague can get hot, sweaty and packed with tourists. All the benches in famous parks like the Waldstein gardens are taken, and views are obstructed by selfie sticks and backpacks. There are, however, a few places in the centre to escape the crowds and the city heat. One of these is the Vrtba Garden. This oasis was built in the 1700s in the baroque style as the private garden to the Vrtba family palace. A lavishly hand-painted sala terrana leads guests into the garden complex, a meticulously landscaped collection of open spaces on several levels. Original statues are scattered in fountains, and line the paths, gazing up at one of the best, and most underrated views in the city. The view from the top level of the garden is unusual to Prague, as most of the city's viewing points are well above the city centre. In contrast, this view is right in the middle of the Lesser Town, and the view platform is only a metre or two above the level of most of the buildings in the area; this provides a unique opportunity to see the rooftops of Prague 'from the inside'. We would like to live here, for the view alone; and guess what? Someone does. Just a few metres off the garden, a private terrace sits in between red roofs, drying laundry blowing in the breeze. There could be worse places to live, I guess. The garden charges a small entrance fee, but it is certainly a very small price to pay to keep the crowds out, and the the perfect landscaping in. 
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<![CDATA[Event: Latino Food Festival Prague (Sunday 23 August 2015)]]>Thu, 27 Aug 2015 12:26:28 GMThttp://clubofexplorers.weebly.com/blog/event-latino-food-festival-prague-sunday-23-august-2015
It is not often that we get a 26 degree, sunny Sunday in Prague, and what better way to spend such a day than by sampling an  obscene quantity of great South American food from a variety of Prague restaurants. By the river. In one of the world's most beautiful cities. Have I mentioned how great the weather was? Myself, Mark, and our friend John arrived at Nabrezi Smichov well past lunchtime, but it was packed. We scanned the stalls, mouths watering. Seeing the hundreds of tapas-style meals on offer, we decided to pool our finances and get a number of dishes to share. 
I wish we could have tried everything, but unfortunately our money and stomach capacity could only stretch so far. Between the three of us, we sampled empanadas, Argentinian steak & sausage, quesadilla, paella, two versions of grilled calamari, churros and, of course, coffee to finish. Out of all this, we were disappointed only by the churros - dry, thin and sparsely drizzled with chocolate sauce, they were very disappointing. However, the same stall that we got these from (El Toro Furioso), also sold us a truly great empanada. You win, you lose. All in all, we left full and happy, and, needless to say, skipped dinner. I don't know whether this is going to be an annual event, but I certainly hope so. 
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<![CDATA[Fairytales in Chantilly]]>Fri, 21 Aug 2015 12:25:59 GMThttp://clubofexplorers.weebly.com/blog/fairy-of-tales-of-chantillyThe dreamy asymmetrical figure of the château emerges from behind the quaint houses of the town square in Chantilly, and we are transported into a fairy tale kingdom of moats and castles and unhappy princesses. Home to the Montmorency family in the 17th century, the walls of the castle and the statues on its grounds echo the stories of ball gowns that took hours to put on, of dinners and hunting parties; of visits by the king ending in the unfortunate suicide of the anxiety-ridden maître d'hotel under threat of the late arrival of the fish; of how the pomposity of architecture for the rich bored the owners to the point of creating a decorative 'hamlet' in the park to capture the 'simplicity' of rural life. 
Most of the stories are lost, but the château remains, in all its intricate splendour, for travellers to walk through, admire, and imagine as it was 400 years ago. 
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<![CDATA[Paris for Beginners]]>Wed, 05 Aug 2015 08:38:09 GMThttp://clubofexplorers.weebly.com/blog/paris-for-beginners
Fun fact:  I was born in Paris. My mom had an all-consuming love for this city since before she could dream of ever actually visiting, much less living in it. As such, I've been lucky enough to visit Paris several times, and develop my own all-consuming love for the city of light. This summer, I spent 10 days showing Mark around Paris - it was his first time, and we had a completely beautiful few days walking and talking and taking in the abundance of stimuli that is Paris. A word of advice: don't try to do everything. Paris is huge, and the density of culture and beauty here is simply endless. After 10 full days of exploration, we still hadn't seen and done all that we wanted to. I guess you'll just have to come back - how awful. Take it easy, don't push yourself to do more than you can handle, and you will enjoy your time in Paris more for it. 

Start off with a good birds-eye view. 

Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world to look at from above: the grey roofs, sunken boulevards lined with splashes of green, the unexpected silhouettes of La Defense melting into the horizon. Seeing all this from above instantly conveys the unique Parisian atmosphere. It is also a great way to get an idea of where the landmarks are laid out in relation to one another. 
For the best views in Paris, check out the terrace of the Printemps department store (much better than that of the neighbouring Galerie Lafayette!), or go straight for the monuments and climb the 300 steps up the Arc de Triomphe for a stunning panoramic view of the centre. The Eiffel Tower is without a doubt a great view, but keep in mind that you can't see the tower itself from the top! I recommend you climb the stairs - it's way easier than you'd think, and you will save yourself heaps of time waiting in the never-ending line for the elevators (more on climbing the Eiffel Tower in a future post...). I'm also assured that the view from Tour Montparnasse is stunning - that said, I haven't been up in that infamous skyscraper yet, so I can't confirm. 

Next, zoom in on a few architectural landmarks. 

Now that you've seen Paris from above, it's time to zoom in and get a closer look at the incredible architecture below. Some highlights are the Opera, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel tower of course, the Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, and all those other celebrated buildings that I'm sure you've heard of before. A few less well known buildings worth visiting: the Grand Arch at La Defense, and in fact all of Defense, for a completely different side of Paris. Another modern building, the incredible Louis Vuitton Foundation is one of the most creative and visually appealing feats of modern architecture that I've ever seen. Also, don't forget that the architecture of the simple residential buildings all over Paris is gorgeous, and as such, a walk through the centre with no particular destination in mind may be one of the best ways to discover beautiful places.

Soak in the sunshine in one of Paris' many parks and gardens.

Sitting on the heavy green chairs of Paris' gardens, watching toy boats in the fountain at Jardin du Luxembourg, or resting under statues at the Tuileries is a long upheld Parisian tradition. Bring a picnic, people watch, and enjoy the atmosphere of these incredible gardens. Don't forget to ride at least one of Paris' traditional carousels - yes, even if you're an adult. And if carousels aren't quite your speed, the Jardin des Tuileries has a small amusement park on its left side, along rue Rivoli, so that you can get your adrenaline rush at the same time as take in the stunning views of central Paris. A recent discovery, the Jardin d'Acclimation by the Fondation Louis Vuitton is one of the best planned out parks I've ever been to. With mist machines. wading fountains, carousels and roller coasters, trampolines and food trucks, this park has everything that you could possibly want from a park on a hot July day. 

Take in the unparalleled museum culture. 

Paris has hundreds of museums: there is something for everyone, and you are free to pick and choose which you are most interested in. The world's most famous museum, the Louvre, is absolutely enormous, so be sure to either schedule multiple visits to cover all of the departments that you're interested in, or just skim the surface, locating artefacts that you most want to see. The Musee d'Orsay is one of the prettiest and museums, housed in a converted railway station, and is home to some of the world's most famous paintings. For a quick pop of culture, drop by the Musee d'Orangerie to see Monet's famed water-lilies. For modern art, the Centre Pompidou is one of my favorite museums ever - they have a great collection of modern and contemporary pieces, accompanied by very interesting little paragraphs explaining their possible interpretations. Some lesser known and smaller museums are also worth a quick visit, as much for their atmosphere as for the displays. A few that we enjoyed are the Palais Galliera for fashion exhibitions, the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris, the Cite Architecture Museum, and the Army Museum at Les Invalides. 

Don't forget to stop for a cafe au lait. 

Paris' sidewalk cafe culture is unrivalled - watch Parisians hurry by, hear the car horns of angry drivers, and become an expert in the life of one Parisian street at a time. Be warned, however: sidewalk cafes are not about coffee, they're about the entire concept of sitting facing the street and watching. Be prepared, however, to pay up to 6 euros for a cup of notoriously bad coffee. If, after a few days, you're craving a truly great cup of coffee in a different kind of environment, don't despair. Over the past few years, a number of wonderful kraft coffeeshops have opened in every arrondissement in the city. Though we tried, we didn't manage to conquer all those that we wanted to. However; a couple that we really enjoyed were Ten Belles (10 rue de la Grange aux Belles), and Coutume (47 rue de Babylone). Welcoming and well designed, these coffeeshops rarely disappoint. I got my list of the best coffee in Paris from TimeOut.
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<![CDATA[A Sunday in Paris]]>Thu, 23 Jul 2015 08:06:14 GMThttp://clubofexplorers.weebly.com/blog/a-sunday-in-paris

Weekends in Paris, especially in the summer, can be crazy and jam-packed with tourists. If you can spare the time, it's best to spend the weekend avoiding sights such as the Eiffel Tower like the plague, and instead opting for a local-style urban relaxation. This is how we spent last Sunday in Paris. 


Start your day at the Petit Palais. Wander around the exhibition halls, and follow up with some tea or a chilled pea & mint soup with a view onto the beautiful courtyard garden. This museum isn't as popular with tourists as some others, so you'll escape the crowds here, but you'll be hard-pressed finding a table in the garden, as this spot is very popular with locals - totally worth the wait though!


Get on the metro to Saint Paul, and queue for some ethnic street food at King Felafel Palace on Rue des Rosiers. Walk a few houses down and step through the archway at number 10 to eat your take away pita in the charming Jardin des Rosiers - Joseph Migneret. 


Walk lunch off in the streets of Le Marais. Drop in a few boutiques, sit down to listen to street music on the edge of the sidewalk, and be sure to keep an eye out for the dancing grandma of Le Marais - we found her and her accompanying band across from the Carnavalet Museum on Rue des France-Bourgeois. 


Stop for cafe au lait at a sidewalk cafe. We enjoyed sitting in the little red chairs at Le Petit Italien at 5 Rue Saint-Gilles. 

End the day with a walk along the Seine, and a glass of wine on Place Dauphine.

What would you do on a Sunday in Paris? Tell me in the comments below. 

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<![CDATA[Travel Diary: Day Trip to Cheb and Frantiskove Lazne]]>Wed, 15 Jul 2015 22:25:45 GMThttp://clubofexplorers.weebly.com/blog/travel-diary-day-trip-to-cheb-and-frantiskove-lazne
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A couple of weeks ago, Mark and I took a roadtrip to Marianske Lazne. I wrote about that town in last week's post. While we were there, we decided to spend one day exploring a couple of the nearby cities as well. After studying the map and bus schedules, we decided to spend a day in Cheb and Frantiskove Lazne. 
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Cheb is a relatively large city, with 33 000 inhabitants, and skimming Wikipedia led us to have if not high, then at least some expectations. Cheb, as it turns out, was once a centre of the Nazi movement: the Nazi manifesto, the 25 point programme, was developed here, and Hitler had visited the city. 
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I won't lie: we were disappointed. As we walked from the Soviet bus station into the city centre. we found a pedestrian street with a timeline running its length along the ground, transporting the curious and the bored through Cheb's events of historical significance, beginning with its first mention in 807 AD. It seems the street they picked was too long, as events such as Johann Wadmann of Cheb being the first person in history to use + and - signs, and the forced removal of the Sudeten Germans, are casually interspersed with ones such as this: 

'Czech genius Jara Cimrman visits the Spalicek complex to have a few glasses of beer.'
,and the fact that in 1723 the population of Cheb was (a very specific) 6 483. 
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At the end of the street is the historical main square of Cheb. This square is very pretty: the colourful houses in different styles are very typical of the main square of every Czech town, but being very large, and with unusually few cars, we found this square exceptionally nice. Unfortunately, it's the only thing Cheb seemed to have going for it. We walked a little further to the main church, St Nicholas, but were disappointed again, and after a quick lunch and a piece of strudel, we headed back to the bus station, and got on the next bus to Frantiskove Lazne. 
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Note: I was concerned the attached photos of Cheb made it look too pretty. As I'm not interested in sharing ugly photographs, these photos are the colourful highlights of an otherwise monotone and uninspiring city. 
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It was clear from the moment the bus pulled into the town that we had made the right decision by leaving Cheb early in favour of spending the rest of the day here. Frantiskove Lazne is another spa town, and the concept is basically the same as that of Marianske Lazne; that is to say that you will spend time strolling through manicured forest park, from water source to water source, silly little cup in hand, sipping on salty water. Though much smaller than Marianske Lazne, this town somehow feels much more alive. Just a 10 minute bus ride from gloomy Cheb, you are transported to the French Riviera, sans sea. Grand pastel yellow hotels make up the main pedestrian boulevard, Narodni (National Street). Palm trees in large pots line the promenade, and three vintage cars, charmingly marked as belonging to the Veteran Car Club of Karlovy Vary, are the only vehicles in sight. At the end of the boulevard is a square with various mineral-water-drinking facilities, from springs, to shops selling cups and Lazenske Oplatky (spa wafers), to perhaps the most important - the public toilets. From here we walk along the paths of the expansive park, stop at each spring along our way, and watch the little yellow tourist train twist through the trees back towards the boulevard. 
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Like Marianske Lazne, the water here comes in many different temperatures, chemical compositions and colours. Signs indicate the mineral content and physical properties of a particular source, and we brave the foul smells, pour ourselves half a cup, and try to ignore the unappetizing colour --
At least it's good for you. 
Despite all the horribleness of the taste, it's fun to spend the day trying and comparing and discussing whether the second source really tasted worse than the first one, or if perhaps the third was worst of all. 
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Our visit to Frantiskove Lazne was short, and although we saw everything there was to see, I think that we would enjoy coming back again, to unwind, recharge, and rest: as such, Frantiskove Lazne is our constipation-curing spa town of choice. 
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<![CDATA[Marianske Lazne: Walking with Water]]>Wed, 08 Jul 2015 17:06:47 GMThttp://clubofexplorers.weebly.com/blog/marianske-lazne-walking-with-water
Last week's blogpost featured a daytrip to Kutna Hora, a pretty town with a few unique quirks. This week, the spa resort of Marianske Lazne takes the spotlight. This town prospered greatly in the late 19th century, when the likes of Edward VII, Nicholas II and Franz Josef I travelled here to drink a few bucketfuls of the foul (but apparently medicinal) mineral water from the local springs. Today, Marianske Lazne is popular with older German and Russian tourists who, like the notable visitors of the 1800s, sip warm, rusty water from spouted porcelain cups. 
As a spa town, Marianske Lazne has a very different atmosphere and pace from other Czech cities. This is a resort, in the fullest sense of the word: it is bright and peaceful; a place to stroll up and down the main street, Americka, or relax with your cup of water in the park, people watching and soaking in the soft, warm sunshine. It was the spring water that led to the establishment of this romantic town, and that continues to be responsible for its prosperity. There are over 100 mineral springs here, each releasing water at a slightly different chemical composition, temperature and (terrifyingly,) colour. I can't claim that during our trip we taste-tested all 100 waters, but I did insist on trying all those that we passed while walking around. Out of all those that we tried, we found a grand total of one spring (Rudolfuv), that actually tasted good. That said,  the mild, or in some cases not so mild, grossness of the water is most definitely worth the health benefits: they are known to cure everything from urinary tract diseases to digestion issues. 

If there were ever a place to be cured from constipation in style, this is it. From the drinking pavilion to which the three most famous springs are piped, to the meticulously cared-for promenades and the Baroque colonnade, Marianske Lazne oozes relaxed sophistication and effortless class. The dancing fountain by the Colonnade performs Mozart, Dvorak, and of course, Celine Dion. There are no real significant monuments or 'things to see': this is a place to spend a few days disconnecting from agendas and enjoying lavish spa treatments and sidewalk cafes. 
If all the doing nothing gets to you, head to the edge of the mountain that towers over the town and hop on the funicular that takes you to the top. There, you can visit all of Czech Republic with minimal effort, at the Boheminium miniature park, which features 1:25 models of major Czech architectural sites. After visiting the miniature park, and perhaps stopping for a drink in one of the cafes at the top, make your way back down the mountain on foot. The path winds through a dark and atmospheric forest, and is a beautiful place to connect with nature and maybe have a few adventures. 
After the climb down, treat yourself to a well-deserved meal and a chat with the friendly owner at Medite, an outstanding tapas restaurant back in the centre of town. And for dessert, be sure to try a Kolonada wafer, the traditional Czech spa snack that originated in Marianske Lazne. 

Next week, I'll be writing about another Czech spa town. As always, leave your comments and suggestions for future articles down below. 

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<![CDATA[Silver, Saints and Skeletons in Kutna Hora]]>Wed, 08 Jul 2015 00:05:19 GMThttp://clubofexplorers.weebly.com/blog/silver-saints-and-skeletons-in-kutna-hora
Not all holidays require a huge expenditure or long period of time: I'm a big fan of the common day trip or weekend getaway. Recently, I visited a few Czech towns that I will be writing about over the next few weeks. The first of these was Kutna Hora, a pretty little town about an hour's train ride from Prague. Kutna Hora literally translates to 'mining hill' - this town was an important European silver mining centre during the Middle Ages. 
There are three main reasons to visit Kutna Hora, besides of course circling around the pretty but unmemorable little streets of the city centre. The first reason is the silver mine. If you think visiting a silver mine means just walking on down some steps and taking a look around, you're wrong: at Kutna Hora, you're first dressed up as the ghost of miners past, paraded through the streets of town in a group of 25, dressed in lab coat-like cloaks and glossy hard hats, much to the amusement of confused tourists. But this is all part of the appeal. You are then led down a long set of stairs leading deep into the ground, where you are guided through the dark, narrow tunnels, imagining what it would have been like to work in these mines in the 13th century. It is certainly an offbeat and unquestionably memorable experience. 
For the hungry --
On your return to the surface, a stop for livanecky (little Czech pancakes) at cafe Luver just across the street is certainly not unwarranted. After all, all that bending over and squeezing through tiny archways must count as a workout.
The two other major attractions of Kutna Hora are both beautiful and atmospheric churches - but they could not be more different from one another. The first is the Church of St. Barbora, which stands grandly on top of the hill that is the historic centre of Kutna Hora. St. Barbora was patron saint of miners, and the Gothic church stands as a reminder of the town's history and wealth when the mines were operational. For a few crowns extra, you can climb the winding staircase up to the interior balcony of the church. This is definitely worth it, and provides a fascinating and unique perspective: it is especially interesting to look up close at the angels adorning the top of the organ, which stands grandly one flight of stairs lower. 

Last, but absolutely not least, the most intriguing monument at Kutna Hora is the Sedlec Ossuary. For the uninitiated, an ossuary is basically a place where the bones of the dead are stored. Here, a 19th century woodcarver named Frantisek Rint took an, ahem, creative approach to storage solutions for the bones of tens of thousands of people who had been buried in the overflowing churchyard cemetery during the middle ages. Frantisek carefully arranged the skeletal remains of between 40 000 and 70 000 people into ornamental altars, garlands, coats of arms, and the centrepiece of the church, a bone chandelier containing at least one of every bone found in the human body. Even his signature was created using bones, and attached to an interior wall. It's a macabre and somewhat grotesque sight, but is also exquisite, unique, and certainly unforgettable. 

Come back next week for another Czech town profile! What other Czech day trips would you like to write about? Tell me in the comments below. 

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<![CDATA[A Picnic With a View (Travel Diary)]]>Wed, 17 Jun 2015 07:44:20 GMThttp://clubofexplorers.weebly.com/blog/a-picnic-with-a-view-travel-diary
Summertime is finally in full swing, and for me, that screams one word: picnics, and lots of them. Picnics are such a fun way to celebrate the beautiful weather, enjoy each others' company, and eat some good food in the process. They're also a great way to save money when travelling, or while out exploring, as they're usually much cheaper than eating out. 
Last week, Mark and I decided to open our picnic season with an Italian-inspired meal, and cooked up several light recipes to take with us. On the menu were a Caponata salad with eggplant and avocadobaked parmesan zucchini chips, and foccacias with goat cheese, pesto and prosciutto. All of these were really easy to make, and turned out really well. In addition, we also brought along some mushroom pastries that Mark's grandma sent over, some strawberries for dessert, and a bottle of wine.
We packed it all up in an old picnic basket with my plastic wine glasses and a blanket, and set off. We soon realized that baskets are only really convenient if you're getting to your picnic spot by car - but hey, it looked pretty. 
The next challenge was, of course, to find the perfect spot. We had wanted to set it up in the apple orchard by the Strahov Monastery here in Prague, but when we got there, we found that the grass was really tall and the slope was uncomfortably steep for setting out our meal on, so we continued walking. As we walked down a quiet little street towards the city centre, I noticed some grassy steps lining one side of the street, and suggested that we climb up on them and have our picnic there, with a view of the dome of St. Nicholas Church at the bottom of the hill to one side, and of the colourful houses of Nerudova on the opposite side of the orchard to the other. We laid out our food, and watched passers-by in the midday sunshine. Of course, we had forgotten to bring a corkscrew, so we had to get creative, and after experimenting briefly with a couple of techniques suggested by Google, including the bizarre idea of banging the bottle with a shoe (is this really a thing, anyone???), we pushed the cork into the bottle, and it floated there for the duration of our meal. 
I find that picnics always create rosy memories and great stories. Not only that, but they're also a unique summer activity that allows you to get a little bit creative; between making and/or buying food, finding the perfect location, and eating outside with friends and loved ones, you're sure to have lots of memorable adventures. 
We loved our Italian picnic, and are already excited about all the ideas that we have for the other picnics that we're planning this summer. 

Will you be picnicking this summer? What is your favourite picnic food, and where do you go? Do you like this kind of 'diary' post? Let me know what you think in the comments below. 

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