Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Sea to Sky Gondola

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Arriving at Summit

Ever since I heard about this proposal I have been looking forward to riding this gondola. I had no sympathy at all for those who opposed it. This is the only way that most people can experience the alpine, and the impact on the regional park – and the Stawamus Chief in particular – is negligible. While a great deal of media coverage was devoted to “concerns” about the Provincial Park, the gondola actually is on land outside the park boundaries. What it does do is make it possible for ordinary people to enjoy the view over Howe Sound, and appreciate the beauty of the surroundings – as well as what is being done to them. I felt then – and still do – that much of the sentiment expressed was of the “after me, no more” principle. The young and super fit can climb mountains and they feel that should remain their exclusive domain. Most gondola installations have been to promote winter sports, especially skiing. There are many more recreational opportunities that the Sea to Sky gondola opens up – if you are in that small group of people capable of thriving in the back country. For people just looking for exercise, and a new place to do that, I am told that the Sea To Summit trail is “better than the Grouse Grind” – whatever that means. The cost of an adult day ticket ($34.95 plus tax) is only $9.95 for those wanting to hike up and ride down. There are also (small) discounts for booking on line

Sea to Sky Gondola

It opened while we were in Italy – and yesterday they had a summer solstice festival, which I hear was quite successful. So we tried to get there early on Sunday to beat the crowds. We also had lunch at the peak as they have Howe Sound Brewery ales on tap, including the quite spectacular Sky Pilot ale. Why they apologized that it was not called an IPA I have no idea. The view from the bar terrace is terrific.

Sea to Sky overview

The operators have built two easy trails: the Panorama Trail (1.6km) to the Chief Viewing Platform and the Spirit Trail (400m) – both gravel surfaced, gently graded and thus accessible to both wheelchairs and strollers. There is also a somewhat superfluous suspension bridge which adds to the appeal for many visitors. I quite like the view straight down into the tops of the trees, but there are many who are nervous of such structures. Of course the Capilano Bridge is a tourist attraction in its own right and one that has been financially successful despite the (in my view) superior and free alternative across Lynn Canyon.

Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge

To get there, you have to drive. The operator thinks that there is plenty of public transport and only operates its own shuttle bus between the base and the long term parking lot at weekends. What would have been far better, of course, is a regular passenger train service. The sale of BC Rail makes that a highly unlikely possibility. The only service now is the Whistler Mountaineer – a service owned by Peter Armstrong, and aimed squarely at wealthy visitors. It does not provide any service to the local communities along it route. Nor will it.

Sea to Sky Gondola pano

I am not going to simply write a promotional piece for a private sector developer (which includes Mountain Equipment Co-op) , but I will say that I was impressed, and I will bring visitors here in future. I have no doubt at all that there will be more development of this new destination. That’s actually a Good Thing. I have used a tourism oriented gondola in Charlotte Amelie, on St Thomas – one of the US Virgin Islands. It gives a nice view of the cruise ship terminal – and that’s all. I felt somewhat swindled. The Sea to Sky is expensive, and it is over an hour from Vancouver if you drive the speed limit (no-one else does) and there is the usual downtown traffic – Burrard Bridge rehabilitation and a partial closure of Howe Street for the Jazz festival just being the start of the summer festivities. But I felt it well worthwhile and I am happy to recommend it.

First Span

Written by Stephen Rees

June 23, 2014 at 9:55 am

Posted in tourism, Transportation

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North America’s Best Kept (Cycling) Secret

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1

Photo © by Chris Bruntlett on Flickr

“…when it comes to building bike culture, North American cities tend to use their (chiefly ineffectual) neighbours as a yard stick, rather than measure themselves against far braver European cities like Paris, Seville, and Barcelona. Sadly, their myriad successes are seen as unattainable; their urban areas far more willing and able to embrace change. Quebec, meanwhile – with its own cultural heritage, identity, and language – is simply too “foreign” to figure into the daily consciousness of this continent, and somehow ends up lumped in with the rest of Europe.

Three years later, all of that is changing,.. people [are waking] up to what is undoubtedly North America’s cycling capital. Montréal now regularly tops lists of the most bicycle-friendly cities on the continent, and is often named one of the top twenty cycling cities on the planet. Their secret is (slowly) getting out; their compelling story is being told, and it is inspiring romantics, such as myself, to demand better than the half-baked policies, poorly-connected facilities, and dismal, single-digit mode shares officials and advocates have accepted for far too long.”

Chris Bruntlett does something very clever. He has been taking photographs of people cycling in smart clothes “cycle chic” – he may not have invented the term but that’s how it came to my attention. I tried to do something similar while in Italy: it is not as easy as it sounds. I was was going to write about what they do for cyclists in Rome and Florence  – but that all came out too negative. Cycling is, of course, forbidden in Venice.

Quebec City has long been on our bucket list. Montréal I once visited for work purposes back in the early nineties: I was not impressed then. Obviously I need to go again now.

Is that a popup bistro?

Written by Stephen Rees

June 17, 2014 at 9:30 am

Posted in bicycles, cycling, Transportation

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Roma

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This is the third, and final, instalment on my trip to Italy. And, as is common to blogs, it’s backwards, in that Rome is where our trip began.

On the way from the gate where we got off the plane, to the baggage carousel, there were all kinds of the usual retail opportunities that airports offer, and, indeed, depend upon. One of them was for the mobile phone company TIM, that internet research had shown to offer the best value for what I wanted. I bought a SIM card for my smart phone. It cost me 30€ ($46.87) of which about half was prepaid for calls, and the rest for 2G of high speed data (and unlimited low speed thereafter) and unlimited texts for the month. I think. The clerk’s English was barely adequate and all the documentation is, of course, is Italian. I was given documents to sign, and I though I was saying I did NOT want adverts by text. But it was the reverse. I got a daily barrage of incomprehensible offers by text from TIM the whole month. But now I was not dependent on wifi, and could access the internet anywhere. My phone also has Word Lens that is supposed to translate signs and stuff, and was almost entirely useless. I needed something to translate the translations. More than once I was glad of the data link to access Google Maps and sort out not just where we were but what direction we ought to head off in. It also meant that when I booked our trip to Venice, all I had to do was show the conductor on the trains the automated text message the FS system had sent me.

We were picked up from the airport by prior arrangement, and the journey into Rome was one of the scariest experiences I have had in a motor vehicle short of actually being in a collision. Afterwards we solemnly abandoned any thought of renting a car in Italy.

Roman parking

This is on the street where we rented an apartment. This car is not pulling out of a side street. It is parked. It is not unusual to see cars parked on the corner. They more usually park at an angle. The corner is usually the only place where there is a space to park. As pedestrians, we found that we were always taking what in a Canadian context would be very risky activity. If you wait at the curb, cars do not stop. You have to step into the traffic to show you are serious about crossing. Even then, motorcycles and scooters will simply weave around you as you cross. Fortunately many roads are narrow and often parked up on both sides. Most urban areas have one way streets, which result in much faster speeds.

Tiber embankment

Testaccio used to be part of the ancient Roman port facilities. It was redeveloped at the end of the 19th century as an industrial area with workers’ housing, and hosted the city’s slaughterhouse.

The river was prone to flooding, and the embankment process greatly reduced access to the waterside. Look at the height of the embankment and imagine that imposed on the Richmond dykes: or the waterfronts of Vancouver. Rome had to face floods every spring as it is surrounded by mountains – as we are. The rich lived on the hills: the ghetto regularly got flooded. That changed at the end of the nineteenth century for them. I suspect that it will have to change for us too, and in much shorter order than we are currently contemplating.

Riparian cycle track

Trastevere, on the other side of the Tiber, has this two way cycle and pedestrian trail. I was lucky to be able to catch a cyclist actually using it. The Lonely Planet Guide has this to say about cycling “The centre of Rome doesn’t lend itself to cycling: there are steep hills, treacherous cobbled roads and the traffic is terrible.”

City Bikesharing

We saw several of these stations, but never any bikes. The only information I can find on line is entirely negative. There were no bikes in 2011 either. Lonely Planet does not mention bikesharing.

Ancient Rome is still in the centre of the City and most is unrestored ruins. This is the Forum – a view taken from Il Vittoriano. What is very noticeable about this view of the Eternal City is the amount of tree canopy, and the absence of modern high rise buildings.

Centro Storico

Pedestrian street

There is a connected network of these streets across the Centro Storico.

Pop up road closure

I would like to see greater use of these barriers to car use in more cities. Robson St might be a suitable candidate, with trolleybus activation of barriers/signals.

Protected two way bike lane, Testaccio

Our neighbourhood had seen some traffic calming with this protected bike lane, and bumpouts for pedestrian crossings. Though you will note the pedestrian taking the more direct, diagonal route across the intersection. I did not actually see anyone use the bike lane, but I admire the vertical stanchions along the curb to prevent any danger of dooring.

There are many famous public spaces in Rome. Below is Piazza Navona – which was at that time the subject of some dispute between the authorities and the artists who rely on the tourists for their living.

Piazza Navona

Others are very impressive spaces, but seem to serve very little actual purpose. Or perhaps had one once that has now been lost.

The view from Pincio Hill

This is Piazza del Popolo, once the site of public executions. At least they managed to keep it clear of traffic unlike the similar Place de la Concorde in Paris.

We did use the two line underground Metro. There is a third line now under construction, but progress is slow possibly due to the huge haul of archaeological material uncovered whenever you dig anywhere in Rome. It was reliable in some of the worst traffic disruptions, but not actually pleasant to use due to the crowding and the persistent presence of piano accordion players – some very young children. Begging – and demanding money with menaces at railway stations – is a real problem. We prefer surface travel, but one trip on Tram Number 3 from Piramide (near our apartment) to the Modern Art Gallery at the other end of the line took all morning! Trams do have some exclusive rights of way – but they often have to share them with buses and taxis and seem to have no ability to affect traffic signals.

7029 with bow collector

There are two “albums” on flickr of public transport in general and trams in particular. Rome used to have an extensive tram network, but unlike other cities never abandoned it completely and has upgraded some lines in recent years with modern low floor articulated cars and reserved rights of way. Route 8 through Trastevere is one the better efforts. Our local service, route 3 along Marmorata, was curtailed during our stay due to track maintenance.  We did best by choosing some of the designated express bus routes, which simply stop less often than regular services, rather like the B Line. Bus stops in Rome have very detailed information on them about services – but rarely have real time information. And the sale of bus maps is a commercial activity, not a public service. In the event of service disruptions, having a smart phone was no help as no information was available in English.

We did a lot of walking in Rome. There are lots of parks – Villa Borghese for instance, which is no longer an actual villa just its gardens. And we were next to one of the nicer neighbourhoods, Aventino, sort of a Roman Shaughnessy. So we saw a lot of a relatively small area, and not very much of the rest of the city, apart from one trip out of town to Ostia Antica (fantastic) – and on a our return an overnight stay in Fiumicino, which is not really worth visiting if it were not for the airport. The biggest issue was the tourists. Many more people are travelling these days, especially those from Eastern Europe who were once forbidden to travel but can now afford to do so. They all want to go to the same places, so the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and Mouth of Truth are beseiged all day. Rome of course still attracts pilgrims. If you are not one of those avoid the Vatican on Thursday mornings when the Pope addresses the faithful in St Peter’s Square and the Colosseum on Mondays when it is one of the few sites that is open. And if you have the guide book and it promises you “secrets” you can bet your life every other tourist has the same guidebook in their own language and is headed the same way. How else to explain the line up to peek through the keyhole of a locked door on a monastery – to get as glimpse of the dome of St Peters, more easily seen from a park a few metres away?

They all read the same guide books

Written by Stephen Rees

June 6, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Venezia

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This blog is being assembled differently to my usual practice. I am going to start with one image, called to mind by a tweet by Taras Grescoe

Funny how people will cross oceans or drive for days for pleasure of being in a place without cars. (Venice, …

We were in Florence but decided to go to Venice on a whim. We could get there in two hours on a high speed train, but that’s too long for a day trip, I think. I booked on line and got a cheaper fare by extending the stay. So we stayed two nights, not one. And Venice is not cheap. (OK since you ask, round trip train fare $226, two 72 hour transit passes $110, hotel two nights $500 – but it was steps from San Marco, and included breakfast.)

Ponte della Constituzione

Ponte della Constituzione is new bridge that links the Ferrovia to the port and the bus station. On one side Venice is as it has always been. A city where you walk or take a boat. On the other side is the “real world” – buses, cars, a people mover to the cruise ship terminal.

When we got to this point, on our last day, I did not want to go any further. There was plenty of time before our train would leave, but it was not going to be spent on the other side of this bridge. Below is what you see when you look the other way

The view from the crest of the bridge 1

View from crest of the bridge 2

In front of the ferrovia and one’s first view of the city when you get off the train. Immediately in front are the fermata for the vaporetti. The guide books warn of the need to be careful about checking route numbers and boat directions, but we quickly found that to be a mainlander’s obsession. The secret to enjoying Venice is to get a pass covering the whole time of your stay, and just get on the boat you see first. It really doesn’t matter all that much (as long as you avoid the extra fee for the airport runs) as wherever you get to will be just as interesting and attractive as wherever else you might have been thinking about. In fact the very first ride we took, the No 2 was not going up the Grand Canal to Rialto and thus reach San Marco, but through the port and then the much wider (and, as it happens, more direct) Canale della Giudecca. So we didn’t see the Grand Canal that trip – but would later – and landed a little further east. Where there was a very nice and not too expensive place for lunch, on the terrace, with a view of San Giorgio Maggiore. Yes it was a longer boat ride, but that was actually a benefit. I relaxed and enjoyed the ride and forgot about schedules and check in times.

Fmta and Ponte degli Scalzi

In Venice we stopped trying to fit in the required “top sites” and art galleries. We just wandered until we felt like sitting down – or saw a boat going somewhere. We did not use water taxis or gondolas: they are far too expensive, and fit the needs of others, not us.

There is quite a new housing development at the outer end of Cannaregio. I got the impression the arch is simply decorative, whereas others clearly were needed to stop the buildings leaning towards each other. Note too the ramp down to the Fondamenta (wharf) there are very few concessions to wheeled traffic in Venice.

Newer archway

Venice may be mostly about walking, but the city is still dependent on fossil fuelled internal combustion engines. I think this arrangement is a lot neater than the Chevron barge moored in Coal Harbour, but no doubt the residents and seawall enthusiasts would disagree.

Gas Station

There is not, of course, a “typical” Venetian scene. This one of the minor canals through Cannaregio.

Fondamenta de la Capuzine

I took the title from one of the street signs on the side of the building. These use local dialect rather than more formal Italian which would render the same place Fundamenta delle Cappucine. If new signs go up that ignore local usage they are simply obliterated by locals who want to hang on to their identity rather than meet the needs of tourists, who rely on maps and worry about getting lost.

Campo Ghetto Nuovo

If Shylock had been real, this is where he would have lived. This now the location of the Museo Ebraico. That is a police box at the centre of the picture at the back of the square: our visit came just after the attack near the Paris synagogue and security was heightened. It was probably a good thing that I wasn’t, by now, paying much attention to the news.

Calle Goldoni

A fairly representative example of the size of the passageways between buildings. I found GPS useless as the phone quickly lost any orientation because of the buidlings’ proximity.

Rialto Bridge

One of the few bridges crossing the Grand Canal. The shops are pretty much devoted to tourist tchochkes. There are plenty of street signs at intersections that point towards Rialto or San Marco.

Rialto Bridge

This is the more familiar view from the deck of the vaporetto.

Campo San Polo

Not far from the Rialto is this large open square. We had dinner one evening at Birra La Corte and watched boys playing football over to the right. Those are EU Election posters. I got the impression that there were extra points for hitting a politician with the ball. The local police intervened, as all ball games are forbidden in Venice except in designated playgrounds.

We came across this place on one of our first long walks. Originally my partner thought we should walk from the station to the hotel: it didn’t look that far to her. But I had visited the city once before and had a very clear memory of how confusing the passageways can be. It wasn’t like we were pulling rolling suitcases either, thank goodness, but I said we would be better off on the boat, when we could then drop off the carry-on bags. Well, I explained above how that went. So after lunch and then checking in, we took the direct boat back to the station and then started walking the route Google laid out for us. And after a while, just put the phone away and wandered in the approximate direction, finding the odd dead end and plenty of photo opportunities.

She likes to walk for exercise. And I must admit that the arthritis in my knee did not bother me all month – until I was stuck for nine hours in a seat on the plane back. But I have also persuaded her of the joys of loitering. Becoming a flaneur in Paris. Using the camera as an excuse to stop and look around. Venice is even better than Paris in that respect.

Flickr is being more than usually balky this morning, so I am going to end this here for now.

More pictures have been put on flickr and added to the group there that I created and curate. It’s called Places Without Cars.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 3, 2014 at 10:24 am

Firenze

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We are leaving here tomorrow. It is a shame to have to say this, but I am actually glad to be going home. Our landlady in Florence told us that there was no point in staying for two weeks, there was not enough to keep us here. We have been in Venice last weekend largely as a result of this advice. We fell in love with Venice, and would have liked to have been able to stay longer. The expense alone was enough to deter that thought. If we could have got back to Vancouver from there … well anyway. Let me tell you about today, which is all about the sort of issues that get discussed on this blog all the time.

Last weekend, on Saturday, before our departure for Venice next morning, we took the advice of our Lonely Planet guide and decided to “get out of town”. Fiesole is a beautiful Tuscan hill village with stunning views and amazing archaeology. You can get there on a #7 bus, from Piazza San Marco within the 90 minute validity of a single ride. So tram ride ride from the apartment, walk across the Centro Storico, and up the hill we go, with a bus full of American art students. When we get to the village square – where the #7 turns round and goes back down the hill – there is a sign on the bus stop. Something obviously rushed out at the last minute on the office printer. No service on the #7 after 15:00 because of a road race – the 100km super marathon – a big deal – through Fiesole which means road closures and who knows when regular bus service can be restored. We saw the view – stunning – had lunch – ordinary but twice the price because of the view – and then caught the next bus back to town in case we got stuck and missed our train to Venice in the morning.

Today we tried again. Fiesole deserved a second chance, if only for its archaeology. Not just Etruscans and Romans but Lombards too. The bus stop for the #7 was beseiged. Local buses could not get near because of a flood of tour buses. In Livorno a massive cruise ship had landed, and tipped off its human cargo onto fleets of coaches full of punters sold on the idea of seeing Michaelangelo’s “David” for real. They get to see Florence in the morning and Pisa in the afternoon (or vice versa). The #7 bus stand is close to the Academy where this version (the real, authentic, actual statue as seen on tea towels and t shirts) could be seen. If you are waiting for a #7 local bus and many tour buses occupy the space where your expected municipal service is going to be, you get anxious. What if the local bus drives straight past, unable to pick you up because of this huge, throbbing airconditioned landwhale is unloading its cargo of bemused, earphoned tourgroupistes onto the one person wide sidewalk? It was chaos I tell you.

Eventually things sorted themselves out and the #7 arrived and we boarded within our permitted 90 minutes. It was a struggle for the bus from there but we just sat and observed how the usual dramas of urban life unfold. An MVA involving another bus, a BMW and a motorscooter, closing three of four lanes. A delivery van, double parked, while urgent packages are rejected for damage incurred while dealing with … a sudden intervention by several varieties of cops (carabineri, local plods, security company wannabes) misdirecting – an ambulance with the horrible wailing siren, unique to their kind, makes all thought impossible. Daily life in Florence.

Etruscan Altar

Roman altar

We got there. Roman ruins were seen. The difference to Etruscan ruins was noted. Lombard burials were studied in minute detail. The play of mottled sunlight on Tuscan hillsides was dutifully recorded. Lunch was eaten, beer was drunk, Fiesole was given its due. Time to return. The #7 is waiting in the square but somehow some other distraction means that it has – how sad – circled the roundabout and gone back down the hill, without us. We find a bench in the shade, where we can wait the quarter hour that must elapse before another #7 will appear. And as we sit observing the human life around us, we note the numbers of others who place themselves between us and the bus stop. There is no orderly queue. The bus has three doors, and all are fair game for entry. And the capture of the very few seats – let alone those that face forward and allow a view out of a window – requires strategy and cunning.

When the bus does arrive, two schoolgirls nip aboard and occupy the seats designated for those over 65 – to which I am entitled and feel that I have earned, being at the bus stop a full 15 minutes before they appeared. My partner deals with the smart cards (proximity reader not being proximate to the desired seats). They get the window seats and pretend not to understand my protests.

But all is well and we are seated, if not optimally at least satisfactorily, and eventually the girls get off and we can arrange ourselves … wait, what, some scruffy individual, wants to inspect my ticket?? No uniform, no apparent authority?

Florence tickets

It seems when the “smart card” was waved in front of the reader, no new ride authority was actually established. My partner’s card is fine, mine despite its three ride validity remaining is deemed “expired”. FIFTY EUROS cash to expunge the offence, once the details of the UK passport I carry with me to get free entry into National Monuments (but not, be it noted Fiesole Museums or archaeological sites) are copied onto a three part, no carbon required, form.  He even digs into his clothing and produces photo ID which shows that he is actually the Yoda of ATAF – so there is no point in arguing – and a new crisp €50 note saved for “a rainy day” is handed over. The alternative is not worth contemplating. The shame, the publicity, the headlines. Far better to sign on the dotted line on a form – being Italian – that I have no hope of understanding. Your card reader, ATAF, failed but I must pay the price, or face ignominy.

I note, from a distance, that once again the Compass card is under assault. That Cubic is once more fair game in the fare evasion/faregates/fare or foul fraud foofooraw. Meh! Life goes on. I will be back next week, refreshed. Able to sleep all night and function on Pacific Summer Time. This too will pass.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 29, 2014 at 11:19 am

Posted in Fare evasion, transit

Tagged with , ,

An alternative to the Broadway Subway

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This route could accommodate a ground level Light Rail Transit system at a lower cost and a more rapid construction program than a Broadway Subway.This bike tour is 7 kilometres long, and will cover the eastern half of the route.Along the way, we will stop at important places and discuss the pros and cons of this alternative concept.

I am not going to be able to join this “Jane’s Walk” because I am taking as month “off” in Italy. (Do people who are retired need holidays?)

While I am out of town you could join this event. Let me know in the comments section below if you go, and if you did because you read about it here. I doubt I am actually that influential. But I was invited and I can’t go. But maybe you could and would like to hear about what might be a Good Idea. The Walk Leader is Adam Fitch and he asked me to post this. Equally if you think he has rocks in his head also please post below.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 25, 2014 at 7:56 pm

Posted in Light Rail

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Search Engine Ecosia Awarded “B Corp” Status

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The following is a Press Release issued by Ecosia.org. I have been intrigued by the idea of B Corporations and have been looking for ways to invest in them instead of the conventional corporations who are bound by their commitment to increase profits at the cost of everything else. I had not heard of this search engine before – but I did try it and it found me. Google, of course, was supposed to “do no evil” which is not quite the same thing as looking for positive things to do, but many internet companies are trumpeting how they are switching to solar or other renewable power sources – which actually makes financial sense too. Here is the press release. I have no financial interest in Ecosia.

BERLIN – Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees, has been awarded B Corp status, joining the growing movement of B Corporations certified by 2014 Skoll Award recipient B Lab.

A B Corporation is a new type of company, which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. Nonprofit organization B Lab is the B Corp certification body.

“Our mission has always been to create a more sustainable world,” Ecosia Founder Christian Kroll said. “In 2009, we promised our users to focus on impact instead of profit – and now there is an entire movement for our philosophy.”

Ecosia lets users help plant trees when they search the web. By donating 80 percent of its ad revenue, the search engine has raised over $1.5 million for rainforest protection since its founding in December 2009. The company’s mission to cultivate a more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable world has it working to plant one million new trees in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest with The Nature Conservancy by August 2014.

“Our users understand strength in numbers because they see its impact everyday,” Kroll said. “Ecosia’s B Corp certification expands that energy to a growing network of smart, accountable businesses who know that social, environmental and economic sustainability is the only true way forward.”

About B Corp
Certified B Corporations meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, legally expand their corporate responsibilities to include consideration of stakeholder interests, and build collective voice through the power of the unifying B Corporation brand. As of April 2014, there are more than 990 Certified B Corporations from over 60 industries and 32 countries, representing a diverse multi-billion dollar marketplace.

www.bcorporation.net/community/ecosia-gmbh

Written by Stephen Rees

April 25, 2014 at 8:04 am

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