6 Reasons to Volunteer in a Hostel while You’re Travelling

After a disastrous week at Pasir Panjang, we started to wonder whether volunteering whilst travelling was such a good idea after all. Working a few hours a day in exchange for accommodation and food sounded like a great deal – it would cut down our expenses, would be a great opportunity to meet new people, as well as integrating into local life. We decided to give it another shot, and using our favourite website Workaway, landed ourselves a couple of weeks working in a party hostel in Georgetown, Penang.

We like staying in party hostels almost as much as Vodaphone likes paying their taxes, but 2 weeks free accommodation in Georgetown was too good an offer to pass up. We packed our backpacks, jumped on the plane and started planning where to have our first proper coffee when we arrived.

The following fortnight was one of the strangest, most fun and surreal experiences of our lives and we’ll never forget it. This is why you should volunteer in a hostel while you’re travelling.

1. The other volunteers – There was Silvina, a feisty feminist from Uruguay who liked to discuss Derrida over instant coffee with vodka. Vanessa, a fresh-faced Chilean yoga instructor with an insatiable appetite for chips. Alex, who regaled us with tales of truckin’ and tankin’ in Nebraska while pouring endless tequila shots. Monika and Przemek, a gorgeous Polish couple who are so in love they changed the way we thought about marriage. Then there was Malik, technically not a volunteer but our sort of manager/ life coach/ the most positive person in the entire world. He would praise us constantly for completing the simplest of tasks and tell us to “Keep killin’ it killa,” if he caught us refilling the loo roll before being asked to do so. The only thing that could knock the Fresh Prince smile off of his face was the US election results. We danced in the street, drank too much and slept too little. It was the best of times and this beautiful bunch will be firm friends for the rest of our lives.

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2. The guests – Some guests leave a lasting impression. And some guests don’t leave. Zosia stayed so long, she quit her job in Australia and ended up becoming a volunteer. We’re glad she did, because with Nick’s suspected Dengue, we never would have been able to navigate Penang General Hospital without her. We formed the ‘Dengue Club’, and ever caring Zosia waited patiently for Nick’s test results and held his hand as he stumbled from room to room, to toilet, to room. Then there was Vinny, a dynamic Brazilian chef with a passion for samosas, who conspired with another guest to buy us a night in a hotel room because they thought we’d spent too long living in dorms. The kindness and generosity of people on the road never ceases to amaze us!

3. The perks – As well as free accommodation in the best part of town, we were treated to a little cash every day to pay for our food. We could have easily lived on this in Georgetown, but the food is so good that we usually spent a bit more. As well as this, we were given unlimited free drinks every night on the condition that we partied with the guests. This was bad news for our livers, but great news for our beer pong and flip cup skills.

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4.The satisfying work – Being unemployed and travelling the world is as fun as it sounds, but sometimes it’s nice to have a reason to get out of bed. Nick came to enjoy cleaning the bathrooms, using a high pressure bum gun to blast last night’s remnants off of the walls. He found a sense of satisfaction and pride in his work, especially when Silvina remarked that the bathrooms were now clean enough for her to shower without wearing flip flops. Ever competitive Flic found fun by racing to beat her personal best of changing 20 beds in 1 hour – a triumph that has not yet been bettered.

5. The food and drink – We’ve never been disappointed by the food in Penang, but working with people who are permanent residents took us to a new level of restaurant recommendations. We were invited to places the tourists don’t go and ate the best food we’ve ever tasted. We were also introduced to the last duty free off-licence on the island, and spent many late nights sitting on the plastic chairs that sprawled onto the road at beer corner, attempting to chat with locals and eating mysterious snacks from unmarked plastic bags.

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6. The adventures – We didn’t get to see much daylight during our time at the party hostel. Unusually for us, most of the adventures we had in Penang took place well after the sun set. We did plan to visit the Kek Lok Si temple one day, but it was raining, which was a great way of not admitting that we couldn’t get off of the sofa due to our earth shattering hangovers. Even so, we had a successful group outing to the cinema and managed an occasional afternoon stroll. The most notable soiree was when Monika and Przemek decided to buy a ticket for a bus leaving at 5am, and made the sensible decision to stay up all night. We wondered from bar to bar, eventually being pulled magnetically to Reggae Bar with 5 puppies and a Ukrainian guitarist playing Bob Marley covers. We bought towers of beer and shisha pipes, and danced in that way that just feels right but probably looks like you’re suffering a minor stroke.

Monkia and Przemek missed their bus.

If you are thinking of volunteering while you’re travelling, check out the Workaway website. There are thousands of great opportunities, from house sitting to teaching to animal care – you’re bound to find something you love!



16 Penang Food Favourites and Where to Eat Them

Penang is the food capital of Malaysia and described by many an uber driver as a ‘food paradise’. For such a small island, the quality and diversity of the culinary scene is incredible and the influences of Penang’s rich history can be found in every dish. We’ve spent 3 weeks eating our way around Penang, seeking out the best food and where to find find it.

  1. Char Kway Teow – This literally translates as ‘stir fried rice cake strips’, but it’s much better than it sounds. Thick strips of rice noodles are fried over a high heat with bean sprouts, chilli, prawns, egg, cockles, chopped Chinese chives and Chinese sausage or chicken, and seasoned with light and dark soy sauce and belachan. It’s kind of like a Malaysian version of Pad Thai and it’s Flic’s favourite dish in all of Penang. The best char kway teow we found was served by a woman we called ‘noodle lady’ (that’s probably not her real name) opposite the 7 Eleven on Chulia Street in Georgetown.char-kwey-teow
  2. Tandoori Chicken – What? That’s Indian food! Yes, we realise that tandoori chicken is traditionally an Indian dish, but Penang serves the best tandoori chicken we’ve ever tasted. Flic’s been to India 4 times, so we reckon she knows what she’s talking about. Our favourite place to eat tandoori chicken, and much more, is the 24 hour restaurant Nasi Dalcha Kassim Mustafa in Little India.tandoori-chicken
  3. Apam Balik – Somewhere between a pancake and a taco, apam balik is made from a coconut milk batter and fried in a deep pan in a thin layer. The cooked shell is folded into a pocket and traditionally filled with sugar, crushed peanuts and creamed corn. Nutella and banana ones the most! Our favourite apam balik is from a hawker stall on the main road in Batu Ferringhi.
  4. Beef Rendang – Traditionally an Indonesian dish, rendang is a rich, dry curry that balances a small amount of coconut milk with the strong flavours of ginger, galangal, turmeric leaves, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, chillies, cinnamon, star anise and a bunch of other spices. Basically, it’s everything you want in a curry. The Penang twist on rendang is to pile on the sugar, which isn’t surprising in a country that insists on adding sugar syrup to your pineapple juice. The best beef rendang we’ve ever had can be found at Helena Cafe in Batu Ferringhi.beef-rendang
  5.  Cendol – This is a bit of a weird one and it’s not something either of us really like, but the locals seem to love it! Penang’s cendol (sometimes spelled chendol or chendul) is famous and we think it’s worth trying whilst you’re here. Rice flour is mixed with green food colouring and formed into little worm-like jellies. These are served with shaved ice, coconut/soya milk, palm sugar (of course) and red beans. It’s refreshing on a hot day, but we’d rather have Maxim’s Gelato. Try Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul Ice Kacang for a big old bowl of strange.cendol
  6. Lor Bak – You’re going to like this one. Minced belly pork is marinated in 5 spice, then wrapped in a bean curd skin and deep fried. It’s the ultimate sausage. After frying, it’s chopped into bite sized pieces and served with a chilli dipping sauce. We love it, and we love it even more if it’s from the Lor Bak stand in CF Food Court.lor-bak
  7.  Bamboo Charcoal Noodle – Apparently these noodles have untold health benefits and over 400 different minerals. We’re not too concerned by this, but we think they taste pretty amazing! One of our favourite noodle shops in Georgetown – Yeap Noodles – make their own fresh noodles every day and serve a mean bamboo charcoal noodle in seaweed soup. They also sell some excellent chilli noodles that are insanely spicy. We ate a lot of these in Georgetown because most tourists were unable to handle the heat and would have to order a second, more tame dish, and pass the chilli noodles on to us!charcoal-bamboo-noodle
  8.  Double Roast Pork – Not the most imaginatively named dish, but probably one of the most delicious things we’ve ever eaten. Sorry, Fat Duck. The double roast pork is soft, succulent, sweet, salty, chewy and crispy in all the right places. This is not just a recommendation of a dish, but of a specific restaurant – Tek Sen. We’ve never seen Tek Sen mentioned in any guide books or food blogs, but it’s famous amongst Georgetown locals. After a while, we stopped asking for restaurant recommendations because everyone would tell us to go to Tek Sen. The sign is faded, but you’ll be able to spot it by the huge queue of diners waiting outside. It’s so popular that you’re given a menu whilst in the queue and asked to order before you sit down to save time. Get there early because the double roast pork is their most sought after dish, and it sells out quickly!
  9.  Fried Oyster – This is Nick’s favourite thing to eat in Penang. Succulent fresh oysters are garnished with coriander, parsley and basil, then mixed with a batter made from plain flour, tapioca flour, rice flour and egg. The omelet is seasoned with soya sauce and fish sauce before being fried to gooey perfection. Nick’s favourite place to eat fried oyster is the hawker stall in Long Beach Food Court in Batu Ferringhi.
  10.  Assam Laksa – Differing hugely to the coconut based laksa we all know and love, Penang assam laksa is a hot and sour fish based noodle broth that offers a clean, minty mouthful. Assam is Malay for tamarind, which is what gives this laksa its sour taste. The dish varies from hawker to hawker, but usually incorporates poached and flaked mackerel, lemongrass, galangal, chilli, mint, pineapple, onion, shrimp paste, rice noodles and a sprinkling of beautiful, fiery bunga kantan (torch ginger flower). The best assam laksa in Penang, without a doubt, is cooked by the side of the road at the bottom on Penang Hill.
  11. Mee Rebus – Literally translating as ‘boiled noodles’, this doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing on this list, but Penang never disappoints when it comes to food. Yellow egg noodles are smothered in a sweet, spicy gravy made from shrimp broth, lemongrass, shallots, galangal, salam leaf (similar to bay leaf), kafir lime leaves, palm sugar and salt. This delicious concoction is topped with whatever you have to hand, preferably some beansprouts, lime juice, fried tofu, shredded chicken, Chinese celery, spring onions, green chilli, bombay potatoes, fried shallots, shrimp and some green leaves. Our favourite mee rebus is from a hawker stall on the corner of Armenian Street and Lorong Soo Hong in Georgetown.mee-rebus
  12. Nasi Lemak – Considered Malaysia’s national dish, nasi lemak is rice boiled with coconut milk and pandan leaves, topped with spicy sambal sauce, anchovies and boiled egg and wrapped into a pyramid shaped package in a banana leaf. Piles of these cute little parcels can be found at most cafes and hawker stalls in the morning because nasi lemak is usually eaten for breakfast. We prefer it as an afternoon snack, and like to grab one from the teh and kopi stall on the corner of Jalan Pintal Tali and Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leon, along with Nick’s favourite drink – a bag of sugary teh tarik (best avoided if you are at all concerned about diabetes).
  13. Pasembur – Probably the least healthy salad you’ll ever eat. Pasembur is a selection of deep fried seafood, topped with julienned cucumber, potato, bean curd, turnip and bean sprouts. The ‘salad’ is smothered in a very sweet, thick potato based sauce. We found the sauce to be too sweet most of the time, but the best pasember in Penang can be found at the Gurney Drive Hawker Centre (although we did think it was a little overpriced).pasembur
  14. Popiah – Often referred to as a fresh spring roll, once you try popiah you’ll wonder why spring rolls are ever deep fried! It’s made with a paper thin crepe-like skin, which is filled with finely grated and steamed turnip, jicama, bean sprouts, green beans, grated carrots, lettuce, sliced tofu, chopped peanuts, fried shallots, shredded omelet and a delicious sauce of hoi sin, chilli, shrimp paste and garlic. Our favourite popiah is made in the evenings, down a small alleyway opposite the 7 Eleven on Chulia Street in Georgetown.
  15. Rojak – The term ‘rojak’ is Malay for ‘mixture’. Bite sized chunks of cucumber, pineapple, turnip, jicama, mango, apple, guava and jambu air are smothered in the same sweet brown sauce as pasembur and sprinkled with crushed peanuts and ground pepper. We’re not a fan of the sauce because we find it too sweet, but those with a sweet tooth are bound to enjoy this Penang speciality. Pick up a plate at the CF Food Court in Georgetown.rojak
  16. Satay – Probably Malaysia’s most famous dish and beloved by all. Strips of tender beef, chicken or pork are marinated in a mixture of lemongrass, shallots, garlic, galangal, ginger, chilli, ground turmeric (which gives satay its distinct yellow colour), coriander, cumin, soy sauce and brown sugar. The meat is skewered and cooked over hot coals, or a wood fire, until cooked through and slightly charred. Malaysians often brush coconut milk over the skewers during cooking, making it extra delicious and preventing the the outer edges from burning too much. Once cooked through, the satay are served with a peanut based sauce of dry roasted peanuts, garlic, chilli, coconut milk, fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar and tamarind paste. Delicious! Our favourite satay can be found at Seaview Sizzle in Batu Ferringhi.satay

Choosing the tastiest food and the best places to eat them in Penang has been a difficult yet delicious task. We hope that our ‘hard’ work will help you to explore the island and make the most out of your time in this magnificent place. If you think we’ve missed something, or you find a great restaurant or hawker stall that we haven’t mentioned, please get in touch and let us know! We welcome any excuse to return to Penang, but for now, our stomachs are rumbling and the char kway teow is calling…


Street Art and Coffee Shop tour of Georgetown, Penang

There aren’t many things we love as much coffee, but great street art has to be one of those things. When we heard that Georgetown had commissioned street artist Ernest Zacharevic to create some beautiful work on their city walls, alongside the art that was already there in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, we were intrigued and excited. However, we found many of the maps and guides designed to help you find the art were outdated or inaccurate. Travellers with only a few days in Georgetown became exasperated by this wild goose chase, so we have designed an updated version. What’s more, we’ve united our two passions so this map also includes the best coffee shops to be found along the way! One of the beautiful things about street art is that it is ever changing and evolving, so we’ll have to go back to Georgetown, with its rich cultural diversity and astoundingly good food, soon to make another updated map. It’s a hard life.

  1. Start at Black Kettle on the corner of Lebuh Chulia and Lebuh Pantai (Beach Street). Here you’ll find a sprawling coffee shop and bakery, with skilled baristas working with Australian coffee beans and a bakery section that any Paris boulangerie would be proud of. It’s a bit pricey, but you can kick start your tour with a high quality cup and a sugary breakfast.black-kettleblack-kettle2
  2. When you leave Black Kettle, turn left and walk along Beach Street. Turn right onto Lebuh Ah Quee to see three pieces of street art – ‘Old Motorcycle’, ‘Burned’ and a boy walking his pet dinosaur. A little further on, take the dodgy looking alleyway on your right and you’ll find Bruce Lee fighting a cat.

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  3. Keep walking up the alleyway and turn right when you get the Beach Street. You’ll see Easy Brew on your left, selling coffee from 24 different countries and offering a free roasting demonstration. Try the cowboy coffee, which comes with a flavouring tray of butter, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon sticks.
  4. Exit Easy Brew and turn left. Take a left onto Gat Lebuh Armenian and you will see ‘Skippy’, a big ginger cat, on your left, and ‘Cat 102’ and ‘Love Me Like Your Fortune Cat’ on your right.
  5. Just past ‘Love Me Like Your Fortune Cat’, you will see Da Shu Xia Seafood house on your left. You won’t miss it because half of the restaurant is a massive wooden boat. Order the Penang White Coffee here (unless it’s Wednesday – The Boat is closed on Wednesday) to try the other end of the coffee spectrum – instant coffee. Malaysian’s are crazy about their instant coffee and some of it is actually not that bad. We usually steer well clear of instant, but this stuff, complete with artificial creamer, is probably the best instant coffee you’ll ever drink.the-boat
  6. Leave The Boat and turn left, then turn left again onto Lebuh Victoria. On your right you will see Awesome Canteen. This is part of the rightly famous China House group and employs some of the best baristas in Penang. Try the pricey but delicious Japanese cold brew Chemex for a clean, fruity cup.
  7. Leave Awesome Canteen and turn right. Here you will see ‘Brother and Sister’ street art.brother-and-sister-reaching
  8. Continue on Lebuh Victoria, then turn right onto Lebuh Chulia. You will see ‘Children Playing Basketball’ on your right, and ‘Brother and Sister on a Swing’ to your left.
  9. A little further down Lebuh Chulia, you will come across Kopi and Toast on your left. This is where the local cool kids come to hang out. Grab a kopi and some kaya toast if you’re feeling a bit peckish. From here you can also explore the Jetty villages – ramshackle huts built on concrete poles protruding from the water. They’re fun to explore, but we couldn’t find any coffee or street art there!
  10. From Kopi and Toast, turn right and walk back down Lebuh Chulia and then take a right onto Beach Street. On your left, you will find Coffee on the Table, where you can get a 3D coffee! These adorable creations surprised us because not only did they look amazing, they tasted great too!coffee-on-the-table-3d-coffeecoffee-on-the-table
  11. Exit Coffee on the Table and turn left. Immediately on your left you will see a car park with 2 large scale pieces.noahs-art-street-artsketchy-wall-street-art
  12. Continue along Beach Street and then turn left onto Lebuh Gereja. Here you will find the famous Old Town White Coffee, a favourite amongst the geriatric population. They sell a cheap and robust kopi, and you can make it part of a combo meal if you’re in the mood for some curry mee!old-town-white-coffee
  13. Leave Old Town and go back to Beach Street, continuing in the same direction. Just past Bishop Street on your left, you will see another large work through an archway. You can also get a reasonably priced massage here until 3am!trumpet-man
  14. Turn around and walk down Bishop Street. On the corner of Bishop and King Street you will see this purple tree.purple-tree-street-art
  15. Keep walking along Bishop Street, turn left onto Masjid Kapitan Keling and the right onto Lorong Stewart. The Alley coffee shop will be on your left and you can grab a beautiful ristretto and some churros and cronuts here! They also have free drinking water and WiFi.the-alley-2the-alley
  16. Leave The Alley and continue along Lorong Stewart. On the side of the awesome Tipsy Tiger Party Hostel, you will see (appropriately) a large scale tiger. Visit the hostel bar if you’re in the mood for  a cheap beer and a game of table tennis with a friendly crowd.tipsy-tiger-street-art
  17. Keep walking along Lorong Stewart and you will see ‘The Boatman’ on the corner of Lebuh Klang.man-in-boat-street-art
  18. Keep walking along Lorong Stewart, and just before you reach the always bustling Love Lane, you will see ‘Electric Man’ and ‘The Dancer’.
  19. Continue in the same direction and you’ll pass a creatively decorated electricity meter.electricity-meter-street-art
  20. Keep walking and on your left you will see this large blue girl holding herself up.girl-balancing-on-windows-street-art
  21. Carry on down the road, past the cat cafe (we can recommend the cats but not the coffee) and on your right by the Ryokan Muntri Boutique Hostel you will see ‘The Man and The Mouth’.
  22. Keep walking until you get to Jalan Penang and turn right. On your right you will see ‘Trishaw Man’. You might even catch a glimpse of the artist’s inspiration!
    trishaw-man-street-arttrishaw-man
  23. Turn around and head back down Jalan Penang. On your left you will find Maxim’s Gelato. This isn’t a coffee shop, but they do incredible mocha, tiramisu and espresso gelato, so we think it has a place on this tour!maxims-gellato
  24. Keep walking along Jalan Penang and turn left onto Chulia Street. On the side of Hotel Chulia Mansion you will find two bold pieces.
  25. Make your way along Chulia and turn left onto Love Lane. Drop into Wheelers for a rich, thick espresso and laid back vibes.
  26. Turn left out of Wheelers, left onto Chulia Street and right onto Carnavon. Continue along Carnavon until the road splits into a V shape, then turn around and walk back up the other side of the ‘V’. Here you will see a white rabbit disappearing down a rabbit hole.rabbit-hole-street-art
  27. Keep following the road as it branches off to the right and continue on to Cannon Street. On your right you will see ‘Boy Reaching’ and on your left you will see three cats.
  28. Turn around and walk back down Canon Street, then turn right on to Armenian Street. Down the first alley on your left you will see these two pieces.
  29. Go back to Armenian Street and turn left. On your left you will see this dragon art and ‘Three Dolls’.
  30. A bit further down Armenian Street you will see this colourful cat.cat-and-coloured-circles-street-art
  31. Walk a little further down Armenian street and you will find Kopi Loewak on your right. This coffee shop specialises in Luwak coffee – the most expensive coffee in the world. At 38RM, this is probably the lowest priced Luwak you’re ever likely to find and it is well worth it. These part-digested coffee cherries have been eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet. This process is thought to improve the taste of the coffee because of selection and fermentation. Kopi Loewak brew their civet coffee using the siphon method. This produces a full flavoured, clean mouthful and is quite a spectacle to see.
  32. Exit Kopi Loewak and turn right. On your left you will see the most famous piece of street art in all of Penang -‘Brother and Sister on a Bike’.brother-and-sister-on-bicycle-street-artAnd this iconic portrayal of Penang life brings us to the end of our tour! We hope you’ve enjoyed exploring Georgetown as much as we did, and you had your fill of fine coffee too. There’s plenty more to do in this fine city, and we’re certain that there are many more pieces of street art that we haven’t documented here. So, go out an explore some more and get in touch with us if you have any new finds! But first, time to enjoy some of Penang’s famous food.

 

High on Hedgehogs

It’s not every day you have the chance to attend a hedgehog appreciation evening, so when we saw an advert in the superb Penang Free Sheet calling all hedgehog owners and adorers to meet at The Lightbulb Cafe in George Town, we knew we had to go.

Leaving our Uber and heading through the monsoon rain to the ultra-hip Lightbulb, we didn’t know what to expect. As we introduced ourselves to the group of young hedgehog enthusiasts, they seemed baffled as to our presence there. However, far from giving us a prickly welcome, they were eager to get us acquainted with their cute little erinaceinae (that’s Latin for hedgehog in case you were wondering).

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We ordered some shockingly overpriced lemon and ginger teas, and without further ado we were we haphazardly handling hedgehogs in the hipster haunt. We learned that these spiny creatures are a popular pet in Malaysia, as well as many other parts of Asia. The majority are a breed of African hedgehog which is much smaller than the wild UK variety that we’re familiar with. Entirely domesticated, they are fed cat food, but also meal worms as a treat, and would probably not survive in the wild. Although feeding a hedgehog cat food sounds a bit odd, all of them looked very healthy so it must do them good!

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Neither of us had ever handled a hedgehog before, and it was pretty strange at first. Their spines weren’t as prickly as expected, but felt plasticy, as if they were made for a toy hedgehog instead. Their clawed feet were reminiscent of those on the pet guinea pigs and hamsters from our formative years, and their bellies were soft, silky and satisfying to tickle. All the while the little hogs sniffed away at us with their prominent snouts. Being virtually blind, they rely heavily on smell to guide them through life, so they like to become familiar with your aroma. This complete lack of spatial awareness also means that if you let them walk on a table, you have to be very careful that they don’t just walk right off the edge. It’s a responsibility we weren’t expecting to have.

Most of the hedgehog fanciers in attendance were breeders themselves, owning from 3 to 30 animals each. Breeding hedgehogs sounds like a lucrative operation. Some sought after breeds, such as the pasty albinos with bright red eyes, can sell for 600 RM each. When you consider that the median monthly income in Malaysia is only around 400 RM, they’re a potential goldmine.

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Whilst we’re still not sure if we’d ever own a hedgehog ourselves (they’ve got nothing on cats),  it’s obvious that they make nifty little pets. With their fluffy bellies crying out for a tickle, and their almost strokable spikes, they score high on the cute factor. The owners’ adoration for the rodents was infectious, and there was definitely something soothing about spending time in their presence.

Even though the price of the tea was extortionate, it was just about worth it for an evening with some delightfully friendly locals and the for their sniffling snugly hedgehogs.

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