Fitness and Wellness Travel: Adriatic and Aegean Cruise

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Today cruise ships leaving Venice for the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Aegean Sea have sailed close by the city centre for the very last time. The waves from the daily passings of cruise ships have accelerated the erosion of Venice, so per 31.12.2014 it is over. Now the giants of the sea have to find another way out …

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Cruising in the Adriatic and Aegean Sea
A cruise with late summer sun, relaxation, indoor and outdoor workouts as well as nature and cultural experiences of the most exhilarating kind. That is fitness and wellness … and at a bargain price if the cruise is with the popular (and disaster stricken) Costa company.

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Day 1: Welcome onboard in Venice, Italy
If you go on a cruise leaving from Venice, go there a couple of days beforehand to see more of the city.

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Venice is one of the most amazing cities of the world; narrow alleyways – no cars in Venice – and beautiful squares, palaces and churches and exciting shops with glass, masks, clothes and everything for interior decoration.
And there is water, lots of water, in a web of canals with 400 little and large bridges.

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According to the ‘Costa Today the daily programme’ found on the bed in the cabin:

3.00pm Welcome onboard meeting in Urbino theatre, deck 3,4 og 5
4.30pm All onboard!
5.00pm Costa sail for Bari

Dinner is arranged in two seatings, first seating is 1900 hours, the other is 2130 hours.
For health-conscious travellers there is only one option; eat early: 7pm (1900 hours).
The food is very good (better than other ships of the same class) and with attention to details. Only thing: How can you not serve tiramisu as dessert on an Italian ship?!

There is also a buffet restaurant, but it is an area to avoid (unless you have many and hungry children). It was chaotic, crowded and unpleasant to watch overloaded plates and excessive food waste. Also the selection of food was limited and less healthy than at other similar buffet restaurants.

After dinner there is plenty of entertainment if you are in the mood:

08.55pm Fashion show
09.45pm Magic show in Urbino theatre
11.00pm Costa Magica Party
10.45pm Special Latino
12.00am Disco Candy

The entertainment and shows change every day, however the times and general activities are the same.

Day 2: Bari, Italy

Every day there is a multitude of activities onboard the ship from around 8-8.30am, fitness, dance and sport led by instructors. Also quizzes and displays.
However, there is no doubt: A cruise should be about getting ashore and seeing the amazing sights. You can take part in a trip organized by the cruise company, but they may be expensive or you can go on your own with one of the many sightseeing busses lining up on the pier, when the cruise ships arrive.

12.30pm Arrival Bari
06.00pm All onboard
06.30pm Costa Magica sails for Katakolon

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Bari is often on the cruise ship itineraries. A cozy old (300 BC) port and university city – and an important economic centre of southern Italy.
There are ca. 1 mio. inhabitants in Bari metropolitan area (ca. 650.000 in Bari).

Some important sights are Basilica di Sant Nicola (1087), Bari Cathedral (1034) and Castello Svevo (Swabian Castle (1131).

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The city has many small coffee shops, both old and modern. However, there is not that much to see, and if the weather is (very) bad, as on this trip, you may want to return to the ship sooner rather than later.

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On a day like this there is an opportunity for more time on board the ship. Costa Magica has a large and popular fitness centre. The style is old-school with carpet. There is, however, lots of machines, free weights and all sorts of extra equipment like step benches, balls, BOSU’s etc.

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As a special and very nice feature there is a wellness centre with free admittance; steam room, sauna and jacuzzi indoors and outdoors. Super for recovery.

Day 3: Katakolon, Greece At sea

Katakolon is a small port on the west coast of Greece. It is not the destination of the cruise ships, though: The destination is the nearby legendary Olympia (ca. 1000 BC), where the Olympic Games started (776 BC). A must-see.

However not this time around … a major disappointment. Due to the weather, it was a bit windy, the captain was afraid to send the passengers into the small port by small life boats. At the cruise ship, though, it did not feel anywhere near critical conditions, so there was a gloomy air among a few of the passengers as the ship sailed past Katakolon … there was another day at sea.
Not that there was not a lot to do on the ship, but …

Day 4: Piraeus (Athens), Greece

7.00am Arrival Piraeus (Athens)
2.30pm All onboard!
3.00pm Costa Magica sails for Izmir

Greece has been in rough weather lately, politically and economically, so the greek are not too optimistic. As a tourist on a quick visit, though, you cannot but be awestricken by the impressive Greek temples and monuments of ancient times.

The trip of the day leaves the (Athens) port of Piraeus and goes to the city centre, Athens (2000 BC), today a modern metropolis with approx. 6 mio. inhabitants.

Greece_Athens_Graffiti    Greece_Athens_Acropolis_Shopping

The most famous sight is the area of Acropolis, a citadel situated on a hill top. The entire area is full of temples and buildings, the most important and well-known being the Parthenon temple (as seen of millions of tourist photos).

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Still underway with restoration with cranes and scaffolding; no amazing photo opportunity this time.

Day 5: Izmir, Turkey

8.00am Arrival Izmir
2.00pm All onboard!
2.30pm Costa Magica sails for Dubrovnik

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Destination of the day is Izmir (eller Smirne) a city with 3 mio. inhabitants and the second city of Turkey a.o. due to its status as a busy port.
The city was founded around 1000 BC and it is clear, when you walk around the city, that through the ages it has been under several rulers with different agendas.

web_Turkey_Izmir_Bell_Tower    web_Turkey_Izmir_mosque

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You should take a guided tour (maybe with a sightseeing bus) of the city. And if there is time there is also a popular Archeological and Etnographical Museum. Many tourists however head straight for the very large bazar area with exciting shops and coffee shops. Or the extensive beach promenade with restaurants and bars and a large park with running and bike trails and a (weird) outdoor fitness area.

web_Turkey_Izmir_Bazar_Seed_Shop   web_Turkey_Izmir_Bazar_Tailor_Shopweb_Turkey_Izmir_Beach_Outdoor_Fitness_View   web_Turkey_Izmir_Beach_Outdoor_Fitness

Day 6: At sea

Sailing from Izmir to Dubrovnik takes time, so there is a full day at sea.
And even if the daily weather report from the captain throughout the trip has been “rough sea”, there was nothing to be afraid of. Even impressive waves do not ‘stir’ the colossal cruise ships; you (3000+ passengers) hardly feel a thing.

Day 7: Dubrovnik, Croatia

A Adriatic Sea cruise highlight is Dubrovnik (Ragusa), one of the most beautiful cities of the Adriatic Riviera and one of the Worlds 10 best preserved medieval walled cities, since 1979 on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.
Unfortunately the city suffered during the Balkan wars in the 1990’s, but has been carefully restored.

During the last few years Dubrovnik has been known for its ‘role’ in the tv-series Game of Thrones, in which it is called King’s Landing.

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The city centre is surrounded by a huge city wall, that you can walk on. This is highly recommended and the trip lasts at least around two hours including photo stops.

You should also walk around the entire city, as there are many beautiful squares and buildings as well as shops and og cafés.

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A minus, when visiting Dubrovnik, is the enormous amount of tourists (ahmmm). Even out of season several cruise ships visit every day, which means that it can be difficult to get around and to get a full view of many of the beautiful buildings.
In spite of this Dubrovnik is a truly unique city, which is well worth visiting.

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Day 8: Venice, Italy

9.00am Arrival Venice

Back in Venice.
Arrividerci the captain writes in the Daily programme!

Disembarkation is o.k., but could have goon smoother and faster. There is a wait for checking out and leaving the ship. Finally after a couple of hours you are back on the cruise terminal pier.

There you have three options, if you are bound for the airport. You can take the monorail or you can take a taxi or bus. Or you can take a water bus all the way through Canal Grande and to the airport (where you have a 7 min. walk to the terminal) – this is a fantastic chance to have a last slow (1½-2 hour), wonderful Venice sightseeing tour (photo: A water bus station).

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Going to Work by Ferry: A Nordic Cruise

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Hi-ho hi-ho it’s off to work I go: Thanks to an invitation from colleagues in Bergen, Hordaland county, last weekend I was sailing from Hirtshals, Denmark, to Bergen via Stavanger, Norway, to present group exercise workshops. A 16-hour ferry trip, from mid-evening to midday next day … with a nice surprise.

In Denmark going on a ferry trip is no big deal; Denmark consists of Jutland, a peninsula ‘on top’ of Germany, and 1,419 islands above 100 square metres; 443 named islands, 73 of which are inhabited (Zealand and Funen are the largest). So most Danes have spent (a lot of) time on ferries – also on trips to our neighbours Norway and Sweden.

Scandinavian ferries are okay, fine, functional and ‘mature’. This time, however, the ferry was a bit different. The ferry carrying me to Norway was MS Stavangerfjord (fanfare):

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MS Stavangerfjord (photo: Esben Gees for Fjordline) is the world’s first and largest cruise-ferry powered fully by environmentally-friendly Liquified Natural Gas, “a giant leap towards cleaner shipping” – and a giant leap towards travelling with a clean(er) conscience!

MS Stavangerfjord powered by LNG funnels

At 170 m, 557 foot, in length, 25.000 tonnes, with room for 1500 passengers and 600 cars, MS Stavangerfjord is not your everyday ferry, it is big, brand new and with a touch of true cruise luxury.
Travelling to work suddenly became a Nordic mini-cruise.

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Brass, wood and lush carpets; the ‘smell’ of ships and cruising.

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A sneak peek into the gourmet restaurant … on the way to the buffet restaurant.

Norge MS SF buffet restaurant

Buffet restaurant and …

Lobster cracker and lobster fork

… buffet cutlery a little less ordinary:
Lobster cracker and lobster fork!

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Lounge is ready to party, but the night – and guests – is still young.

Norge MS S F sejlads i gråvejr

The truth about Nordic cruises; often grey and foggy (cool!) …

Norge MS SF dæk og regn

… and rainy too (not a problem, when you like rain, though).

Being at sea is a bliss. This is wellness, come rain or come shine.

P.s.: It is quite possible, though, to get (very) seasick on a Nordic cruise,
as the going often gets tough in the North Sea, but this time the waves were friendly. 

Final Cruise Day: Bye-bye Baltic

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Question “A Baltic Cruise, how cool is that?” can now be answered: Super cool! Though weather can be full of surprises, ranging from very hot to very cold, even in summer, and rainy, the sea, cities, sights and social events are not only cool, but also warm, hot and well worth experiencing; acting upon a Baltic Cruise bargain offer ‘paid off’ in full; a cheap cruise is also a cruise.

This cruise visited Kiel, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallinn and St. Petersburg and included tw days at sea. Many other Baltic Cruises includes Helsinki, too, so this could be a better option, if you have not been there before; interesting city.

Baltic Cruise Day 8: Disembarkation Day

10:00 Arrival Kiel
10:15- Disembarkation

Final day. Sun shining bright, a beautiful cruise through the Kieler Fjord and a safe return to Kiel according to the program with German Italian German-like precision.

At sea sol

Last seaborne sun-rays this time around. 

On a final note: A smart move from the Cruise Ship Company: You could choose ‘self assist’, meaning that if you carry your own luggage from the ship, with no assistance, you can leave the ship early as soon as clearance is given by the port authorities.

A huge number of people chose the ‘self assist’ option! So even if the set-up with several smaller color-coded groups were smart, there was some chaos and a rather long waiting time. But you did get ashore somewhat faster, than other guests … maybe …

At sea bathroom

Hard to say ‘goodbye’ to a pool restroom with a view like this.

At 11:30 the ‘White Group 2’ went ashore – and as Kiel is ‘been there, done that’ for now, it is time to head back home to home country.

Arrivederci ship. Auf wiedersehen Germany.

Cruise Holiday At Sea Day: Senses Go Overboard

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Baltic Cruise Day 7: At Sea (again)

At sea all day, all night, what a delight.
The calming view of the sea, the gentle rocking of the ship … and chefs catering to your dinner desires: Cruising is sense-sational: See, hear, touch, smell and taste it. 

The Baltic Sea (415,266 km²) is located between Central and Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 10°E to 30°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands.

Below: Morning and evening view at sea. Mmmmmmmmm.

Baltic sea during cruise ship holiday

At sea sunset bjerg

Daily program offers morning walk pilates, aerobics and more aerobics, yoga, stretching, salsa, zumba, merengue, bachata and oriental dance plus sports, games, demonstrations, quiz show, bingo, a show at the theatre (a new one every night) and Champagne Disco Night. Today was a fitness, dancing and relaxation (wellness) day.

Cruise ship song and dance show

And – the last chance for cruise ship overeating – a five-course Gala Night dinner at the restaurant. So dancing afterwards was ‘compulsory’.

Cruise ship dance lesson

Food art food photography

Cruise ship dinners are very nice, but with a few exceptions (e.g. above), not really unique photo opportunities. Other dinners can be, so food photography (foodstagram) has gone overboard (guilty as charged)! Result: In some restaurants food photography is prohibited. So if you want to do this on ships or elsewhere: 1) Do not use a flash (natural light makes the food look tastier), it destroys the restaurant mood, and 2) be very discrete in order not to disturb or aggravate fellow guests (no standing or standing on chairs etc.).

Bon appétit.

Baltic Cruise Highlight: Art and Architecture Mega Bling

By Marina Aagaard, MFT

Baltic Cruise Day 6: Excursion Day Saint Petersburg

In the DAILY cruise ship program it says “St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’ or ‘Paris of the East’, but its beauty is really a brand all on its own (…) with a vibrant cultural life that is second to none.
So: Gone in 60 seconds (to buy tour ticket)!

Faberge Egg St Petersburg Russia

07:00 Arrival St. Petersburg
18:30 All on board
19:00 Departure St. Petersburg.

Option 1: Buy cruise ship ½-1 day tour excursion: Price range EUR 39.90 – 155.90.
Option 2: Step off the ship (if you are very well prepared).

The cruise ship tour prices are quite hefty, however, they include a ‘landing card’ allowing you to enter Russia for the day and tickets to the museums (and lunch in some cases). So picking a tour could be a wise choice.

Important: In order to enter St. Petersburg on your own, you must have 1) a passport, valid for at least another 6 months, 2) a visa (apply for this well in advance), 3) a good sense of time and direction – and head back very early (many cruisers have had difficulties in regard to timely transport back to the ship), 4) a good guide-book and map or some knowledge of the russian language and 5) conservative clothing if you wish to visit sites of religious importance. 

Visiting Russia for the first time, I chose the excursion and got lucky: It truly was ‘the best of St. Petersburg’; an awesome day in the company of the guide Marina (my namesake), an extra-extra-knowledgeable and entertaining guide.

Mathryoshka Dolls Russian Dolls

Saint Petersburg (in russian Санкт-Петербу́рг or everyday name Питер, “Piter”), is a city and federal subject of Russia. It is situated by the Neva river in the north-west of Russia. Population is approx. 5 mio. inhabitants.

The city oozes of history, even if it is a young city compared to European standards; founded on 27th of May 1703 and named Saint Petersburg after its founder Peter the Great. It was renamed a couple of times, before going back to the original name; Petrograd (Петроград, 1914–1924) and Leningrad (Ленинград, 1924–1991). One famous inhabitant is the former Russian president and present prime minister Vladimir Putin.

Highlights of the day were the Summer Palace (in Pushkin), the Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum and Saint Isaac’s Cathedral (Saint Petersburg). Snapshots below.
Even though I have visited many interesting sights, I do not think I have ever seen anything as colorful, gilded and otherwise lavishly decorated as these places …

Gate Catherine's Palace the Summer Palace Pushkin RussiaIMG_9753 IMG_9675

IMG_9671IMG_9694 Saint Isaac's Cathedral Saint Petersburg Russia IMG_9827 IMG_9803 Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum three million works of art St PetersburgIMG_9941

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In summary, even if the tour missed one of the only 75 sunny days per year (44 days according to guide), the day was mind-boggling; history highs and lows, from architectural bling to bulletholes in churches … and no matter where you looked, up, down, right, left, everything that glittered was gold (almost).
Exception: The Amber Room, Summer Palace, a room made of amber in every colour. The room was looted during WW II and then restored at an estimated cost of approx. 140 million USD. The room may not be photographed, so you have to see it to believe it.

Daily program, if one chose not to accept the St. Petersburg mission, offered stretching, aerobics, yoga (sample classes are free, but regular yoga classes cost 10 EUR), Tiburon dance, country dance, lots of games and demonstrations. Those arriving back late could still make to participate in merengue and ‘spanish dance’ as well as bingo, karaoke and, of course, Russian Disco night.

‘Totally sightseeing’ day meant very little time for on board activities today, that’s okay.

A World of Wonders.

Cruise Through History: Ancient and Arty Tallinn

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Baltic Cruise Day 5: Excursion Day Tallinn

Stop today: Tallinn, Lyndanisse, the capital and largest city of Estonia. The city has appox. 420.050 inhabitants and is situated on the northern coast of Estonia (just 80 km south of Helsinki, Suomi-Finland on the other side of the Baltic Sea; estonians are a Finnic people speaking Estonian, a Finno-Ugric language).
The city was founded around 1100, and later conquered and occupied by Danes, Germans, Swedes and Russians before declaration of independance  in 1991.

Alexander-Newski-Kathedrale Tallinn Estonia

09:00 Arrival Tallinn
15:30 All on board
16:00 Departure Tallinn

Cruise ship moors close to the city centre, so it is easy to step onto the tourist information centre on the quay and get all the information you need, take a TallinnSightseeing tour (approx. 2½ hour) or simple walk around the city centre – or both.
Cruise ship also offers several tours (at a price).

Inevitable images: Some ancient, some arty architecture and mixed emotion moments:

Vanalinn Tallinn Estonia Rooftop view

Souvenir shop Tallinn Estonia Old town Vanalinn Tallinn EstoniaModern architecture Tallinn Estonia

Modern building architecture Tallinn Estonia

Modern fusion architecture Tallinn Estonia

Tram Tallinn Estonia War of Independence Victory Column in Freedom Square, Tallinn EstoniaMuseum Tallinn EstoniaModern architecture Tallinn Estonia Tallink building Modern hotel architecture Tallinn Estonia

Supercars on a race in Tallinn Estonia

MS Estonia ferry disaster memorial

Last photo: Estonia memorial: MS Estonia was the name of a cruise ferry built in 1979. The ship sank i 1994 in the Baltic Sea with 852 lives lost; primarily Scandinavians and some Estonians. One of the worst maritime disasters ever … and one that impacted international concepts of ferry safety onwards.
 

Summary:
A sight to see. An amazing city centre, the very well preserved Old City, Vanalinn, built between the 15th to 17th century, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Other interesting ‘sites’ were the modern parts of the city, avantgarde buildings and designs mixed with greyish Russian architecture. The quiet Kalamaja part of city with wooden houses, Tallinn-Houses from 1920-1930, was also unique.

In conclusion you could easily spend much more time there, more time for visiting the Tallinn tunnels, museums, beach, the Kadriorg Palace (baroque pearl of Estornia) and Garden and surroundings.

Daily program offers stretching and more stretching plus yoga, aerobics and more aerobics, medison dance and samba, cumbia, mix latino as well as lots of games, demonstrations, bingo and karaoke and today Nordic Disco with DJ Marco.

Early departure meant more time on board, so there was ample time to sample. Today was a dancing day. To even things out a fine four-course meal did its job.

In my dreams.

Baltic Cruise With Royal Treats: Stockholm, Sweden

By Marina Aagaard, MFT

Baltic Cruise Day 4: Excursion Day Stockholm

Today a visit to an eminently elegant and entertaining Scandinavian city, Stockholm. Even though I have been there several times before on fitness business, I have still seen too little of it. This time I aim to see some sights. 

Stockholm buildings and briges

Stockholm is the Capital of Sweden and also the most populous city with a population of approx. 880,000. people. It was founded in 1200 on 14 islands, so it has an interesting layout and all of the old part of town, Gamla Stan, on an island in the middle of the city. 

Stockholm fjord in fog SkærgårdenThe city is not all that easy to reach by sea; you have sail slowly through a fjord, Skærgård, full of tiny islands (above’n’below on a foggy morning). A feat for a massive cruise ship.

Tip: Get up early (always). Luckily I was; watched the full foggy fantasy-like fjord cruise.

Sverige Stockholm Skærgården

Daily program says

08:30 Arrival Stockholm
16:00 All on board
16:30 Depart Stockholm

As always excursions are offered. However, since 1) ship is moored close to city centre, 2) I spot a red Stockholm HopOn HopOff bus on the quay and 3) “I speaka da lingo”, I decide to make my own way and have a cheap day out.

Baltic cruise stockholm bridge colorWith 14 islands, there’s gotta be bridges.

Elegant new and old buildings and bridges all around:

Stockholm Sweden modern architecture

Stockholm Sweden building and park Stockholm Opera House

Flower power here and there and everywhere.

Stockholm flowers

Stockholm flower power pub

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Gamla Stan (the old city) square (photo above).

Baltic cruise stockholm palace guard

Flowers and guard guarding Stockholm Castle. Residence of the Swedish king.

Baltic cruise stockholm MAA not so royal tourist. For once without a dorky frown, but a ‘reale’ royal crown.
I would not have thought of it myself, but every tourist before me lined up for this shot!

Baltic cruise stockholm r8

Shopping? No, window shopping it’s called (R8 is my dream car as it is).

Baltic cruise stockholm sad sculpturePark art (to they dismay of more than one child). What is going on in that artist’s mind?

Baltic cruise stockholm asics manneq

Dynamic mannequin duo display. Like! Goods were v e r y pricey, though.

Summary: A fantastic day with mixed late-summer weather (from rainy to sunny). Took 1½ h tour on Hop-On Hop-Off bus and then walked around central Stockholm.
A canal tour would have been nice, too, but I ran out of time.
Stockholm is even more exciting and with many more interesting sights and impressive buildings, than I remembered. Well worth a (re)visit.

Daily program offered: Pilates, Aerobics, Hully Gully dance, Zumba, Tacco e Punta dance, Tarantella and various games, events, karaoke (maybe for the benefit of the many Asian travellers as Karaoke is a rare activity in Scandinavia), demonstrations, e.g. ice cream demonstration and a seminar on gemstones. And this night: Disco Martini Royale Party.

No dancing for me today: Settled for Stockholm walk and then supper at ship.
Or rather, it should have been supper, a light meal, but as it was Italian night – suggested dress tonight “theme green, white and red”, with pasta and tiramisu – it ended up being not a supper but a super (size) five-course meal yet again.

The Long Eat Goodnight.