Back in the UK!

We’ve been back from the UK for almost a week now and finally, the jet-lag is wearing off.

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My last trip to Montreal was a 19 days whirlwind but we got lots done.

When I arrived on Sunday, Sarah still showed signs of a busted nose from her last rugby match. Since this was her third ”broken” nose in 4 years, we wanted to make sure everything was okay. First thing Monday morning we were at the downtown medical clinic to see if it was permanent and if we should do something about it or if the swelling was eventually going to go down. After some x-rays we were told that the swelling should eventually go down and Miss Sarah’s nose should return to normal…but if she has a fourth one, she may eventually require a nose job. Great!

We were done with the clinic and X-rays by 10 am. We got in the car and drove South East to the Eastern Townships to pick up Thing 2 and my nephew, Patrick, who had been working in a camp for the past 10 weeks.

They were anxiously waiting for us when we arrived at Wilvaken. Their crap was piled high in front of the cafeteria building and Thing 1 and I just wondered where we were going to put everything. After about 20 minutes of packing and saying goodbyes to the last of the staff that was still there, we finally left. Destination, downtown Montreal. The car was riding low and we had to stroke ”Betsy” when going up the hills but we eventually made back into town. Once in town, our first stop was the kids’ condo. We dropped off all of Mac’s crap and I even started to do some laundry. I had some admin stuff to do for him and after I got all the info and signatures from Mackenzy, we were able to go chill at our condo on Peel street.

The boys showered and got ready for one last party in town with all the camp counselors while Sarah and I just chilled.

Then the Dance with the Seller Started!

Tuesday afternoon Sarah and I were emptying our CARTS at Ikea when I received a call from the notary. The seller of the cottage (A French woman from France) had apparently arrived in town and realized that August 30th was to be the following week and she was being rushed. She wanted to know if she could change the possession date on the Chalet? For Those of you who know me, you know I am a Type A person and that I had organized this move pretty close to a military operation. My plan was, take possession at 9 am August 30th, get the keys and head over to the chalet to wait for the delivery of the beds that was taking place between 1 and 5 pm. August 31st, I had the designer coming in for a consultation, (we have renovations to do on the place), I was going to have to pick up the assembled BBQ in Sherbrooke and the cleaning lady was coming to clean because I knew the place needed it. Late afternoon, drive to Montreal and pick up Peter at airport. On Sept. 1st I was getting the hot water tank replaced at 9 am (it was after all 4 years overdue according to inspection), the alarm system reconnected, I had to go get my Eco Centre card at the Austin city hall and the ”dock” guy was coming to see us and give us a quote for a new dock. In short, I was going to be a busy person, I had it all planned and NO I WAS NO CHANGING THE POSSESSION DATE!

The notary informed me that it was well within my right to keep the 30th since she had signed the contract.

A few days later, (I was spending more money at Costco. I really made the Canadian economy roll!) I received another call but this time from my agent. It seems the seller wanted my contact info to renegotiate the closing date. He advised against it. He said if I spoke to her she may get nasty with me. He also informed me that the reason why she wanted to change the possession date was because she had rented the chalet to friends who were building a cottage in the area and their rent was due Sept. 30th. He informed me that he told her agent that was not to be my problem and that she had to respect the closing date. I replied I did not want to speak to her and I would see him at the notary office on the 30th.

I am not kidding, two days later I received yet another email from her own agent. This email explained that the renters had been very gracious and had worked very hard to empty the chalet by the 30th and would it be okay for them to keep some stuff in our garage for a month. My response, NO!’ NO!’ NO!, absolutely NOT. I do not want the responsibility of other people’s crap and I knew they had LOTS of crap since last time we visited the chalet in July, the garage was PACKED! The inspector could barely do the inspection of certain things in the garage, electric panel, water drain etc….because their stuff was in the way. It needed to be gone by the 30th.

Friday morning Thing 1 got lasik surgery on both eyes. The day was quiet and we just chilled at the house. She could not watch TV or read on any screen of any kind. It wasn’t so bad, they gave her a xanax to relax before the procedure and when we got home she was just tired. She slept from noon till 7 pm. I woke her up for dinner and drops. She was back in bed at 9 pm and woke up the next day around 8 am.

Saturday afternoon was spent on the boat in Lery. Sarah was in the house sleeping yet again!

Sunday after picking up a rental van at the airport, Mackenzy and I drove to Ottawa to see my niece, Grace, play the lead of Simba in ”The Lion King”. She was excellent. The entire production was actually very well done. Sarah had pretty much spent the whole day resting her eyes on the couch. We got home just in time to eat some pizza, drink some red wine and get ready for the Game of Thrones Finale. Man it was a good season!

The reason why I rented the van was because over the years, (pretty much since 2006), we have been collecting furniture, paintings and knick knacks to decorate our chalet. With the van, I was able to get a lot of pieces of furniture out of the kids’ condo and both of our lockers and bring them to Nanny’s cottage, which is a 15 minute drive from our chalet, so that on Wednesday, when I got the keys to the chalet, I would be able to just grab my stuff from Nanny’s cottage and move into ours. Easy Peasy right?

Monday morning while Sarah and I were driving back and forth between Montreal and Nanny’s cottage, I received another call from the notary. ARGHHHHH! He informed me that the seller who had been saying all along that she was in Canada, was actually still in France. She was flying out Tuesday afternoon and wanted to go see the chalet before she signed on Wednesday. Could we possibly push the signing from 9 am to 2 pm. I explained to him that I had ordered beds to be delivered between 1 and 5 and that someone would have to be there. He reported that this woman had been lying to him all along and that he couldn’t wait to meet her. He had a lot of items to go over with her with regards to non-resident taxes and that if the kids who were signing on behalf or Peter could sign at 11, then they could go wait for the beds while I signed in the afternoon. He reassured me that he would make her sign and give me the keys right away and that way I could go while she stayed there getting a tutorial on Canadian Taxes. Even though she had told him on the phone that I have been the most ”Inflexible” person and that in France a closing date is not a ”Date de rigueur” meaning, most of the time, it’s not observed it’s just a suggestion, I SURRENDERED. I was not looking forward to this meeting at all.

Kids and I continued our ”moving” operation and when Wednesday came around, our two car caravan drove to Sherbrooke. Kids signed on behalf of Peter and left. At 2 pm I walked into the notary office. Everyone but her agent, was already seated in the conference room. She hardly looked at me. Didn’t crack a smile. Reluctantly gave me the keys, garage opener and alarm system code. She was not a happy person. The notary asked her if the place had been cleaned and she grunted a little laugh. At this point I didn’t care. I just wanted the keys and I wanted to leave and meet up with the kids who had been waiting outside the chalet.

At 3 pm I was entering the chalet and from that moment on everything sort of went according to plan. The people that had been booked for the various aspects all showed up on time.

The renters had left a lot of junk. Enough for Mackenzy and I to go to the Eco Centre in Magog, twice with a van full. They had NOT cleaned up the place. Doesn’t matter, now it’s ours. On Friday morning Peter made a fire and all was good. He went rowing with Sarah, I went swimming with the dog, we went to the Brome fair, we spent time with family, all was good.

We have plans and things are in motion with the designer. We are getting the floors done, the kitchen done, a banister installed, maybe a spiral staircase etc….Now we can’t wait to go back in December and see it all.

 

 

 

22 Years Ago While Watching ER…

I will always remember this. It was Thursday August 17th, 1995, we were watching ER and at the end of the episode I turned around and told Peter, I think I am having contractions? I had literally started my maternity leave a week before my due date in order to organize myself. Sarah had other plans, she was a week early!

We drove to the Grace Hospital in Ottawa and it turns out I was right. Approximately 15 hours later, Thing 1 was born. She was beautiful! I am biased but I will also remember that all the nurses kept on saying so and when our pediatrician came to see Sarah in the nursery he said to me, “She’s healthy, and she is beautiful!”

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3 weeks old.

Well, for the last 22 years this baby, child, young woman, has made her parents very proud. From the many academic and sport awards you have earned over the years to becoming a smart, beautiful inside and out level headed young adult who doesn’t take things for granted, we have always and will always be proud parents.

 

As expats parents who cannot see their children everyday, not a day goes by when Peter and I don’t think about our Thing 1 and Thing 2. One of the first question I get every day when Daddy gets home is, “did the kids call today? Any news from the kids?” As most of you know, we never hear much from Thing 2, (hint, hint, nudge, nudge. Still LOVE YOU Buddy!), but at least with Thing 1, we message almost daily and when she doesn’t message for two days straight I think something is wrong. Most of the time everything is fine, it’s just her Mama and Daddy going into withdrawals…

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Last time we were together on your birthday, Nice 2013! 

Dear Sarah, today is your birthday and again we are not together. You have no idea how much Daddy and I wish we were together to celebrate your birthday. This has been going on for many years now and you would think it would get easier with every year that goes by but it doesn’t! We MISS YOU VERY MUCH, NOUS T’AIMONS BEAUCOUP, BEAUCOUP and we can’t wait to see you.

CHEERS TO YOU KID!!!HAPPY BIRTHDAY AND HAVE A GREAT DAY!!!!

Ma Cabane au Canada

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Comme la chanson dit si bien,

”Ma cabane au canada, Est blotie au fond des bois…,                                                À quoi bon chercher ailleurs, Toujours l’élan de mon coeur,                          Reviendra vers ma cabane au canada,  Mais je rêve d’y emmener
Celui qui voudra me suivre, Viens avec moi si tu veux vivre
Au cher pays où je suis née, ma cabane au canada, J’y reviendrai avec toi
Nous rallumerons le feu tous les deux, Nous n’aurons pas de voisins…
Ma cabane au canada, Tant que tu y resteras
Ce sera le paradis, Mon chéri, A quoi bon chercher ailleurs
Je sais bien que le bonheur, Il est là, Dans ma cabane au canada. 

The dream has always been a cottage on a lake. Didn’t matter which lake, as long as it was in the Eastern Townships, near Owl’s Head and Orford and that Mama can have her morning coffee with her toes in the lake.

I am happy to report that after three solid years of searching, we finally found the place for us.

On August 30th we will take possession of this beautiful log home and officially become Canadian cottage owners. We are excited that this year, we will be able to spend Labor Day weekend there with ”La Famiglia”, and celebrate another Cooper Birthdays Extravagannnnnza.

 

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Yes! The purple couch comes with the cottage. It was meant to be.

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We can’t wait. Peter is already quoting and designing a dock for next summer.

 

Confession Time

I think it’s time for me to come clean and admit to my family and friends that I am addict. ”Hi. My name is Elise and I’m addicted to COFFEE!” Okay, I may not be a HUGE addict, but in order to function on a daily basis, I need to have a basic 2 large mugs of caffeine (sometimes 3) and I will leave you alone and go on about my day. If I don’t have the required amount I can get pretty nasty by 10 am. Just ask Mia Famiglia, they have witnessed this on several trips and it’s not pretty.

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How did I come to this realization? About a month ago I told Peter that my coffee didn’t taste the same. It was just weird. Everyday my coffee was getting more bitter and well, just not good, not satisfying. Peter doesn’t care because he hates coffee so he would never notice that the coffee was starting to taste bitter.

I tried everything. I cleaned my coffee maker, twice. I tried all various kinds of coffees such as Illy, Lavazza, Percol, etc… I even tried some fair trade brand from Wholefoods that I probably overpaid for but hey, I’m desperate. Nothing changed.

Then last week, while I was talking with a bunch of Canadian women who have lived here for a while, and we were discussing my coffee intake, (while having coffee) and (yes I know, pretty lame but coffee rules my mornings and we were talking about this after our Wednesday morning walk so sue me!), one lady who has been living here for 30 years asked, ”Do you have a water filter? or softener? Did you look at it?” My response was, ”I think we have one in the cupboard in the kitchen. There’s this big box thingy that goes on automatically every once in a while…”

That was quite the revelation. I got home and realized that I hadn’t heard the water softener work in a couple months. Usually, the thing starts on its own and I never have to worry about it. In fact, up until about a year ago I didn’t know what this machine in the bottom of my kitchen cupboard was and someone said ”it’s your water softener.”

When Peter got home that night I was sitting at the kitchen island reading a water softener manual that I found on-line. In it I learned about putting blocks of salt and opening valves and ….I don’t know the rest it’s all a blurr. When Peter asked what I was doing I just said ”I think it’s the water softener that doesn’t work and it’s the cause of the water being so hard and my coffee tasting bad.” Peter who is probably tired of hearing about my coffee, opened up the water softener and let me just say, it was not a pretty sight. It was pretty mucky in there and there were no signs of blocks of salt anywhere.

The next morning I phoned around and after several phone calls I found out that no one wants to touch the particular model in our place. Too old and never worked well. One of the technicians I spoke to told me to disconnect it because this model tends to flood places. He was in the middle of explaining how to do so when I told him, ”No! NO!, Stop! I will not touch it. I do not need to learn about operating a water softener. I will call someone.” It was reminiscent of the British Gas technician trying to teach me about turning boilers on in this country. There are like 12 steps and you have to do a gig at the end…I don’t need this knowledge. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks and in this case, I am an old dog. I hung up and did what I always do, I sent an email to my land lady in Beijing and called the best general contractor in the city, Bart! Bart is the man! If he can’t do it, no one can!  Sadly, Bart is on vacay for three weeks but I am willing to risk flooding the place in order to wait for him. We will meet on Sept. 7th!

In the meantime, what is a coffee addict to do without a good cup of coffee? This is where I have taken this up a notch. Every morning when I wake, I have my one cup of mediocre coffee in the house and then, after 8 am when most coffee shops around South Ken have opened, I go for a run and reward my 5 km with a nice almond latte. I have been running different routes to see which place has the best coffee. So far the winner is Benugo in Hyde Park. Also the cheapest. So it’s a win-win and my addiction is satisfied and regulated and now I can happily say ”Hi my name is Elise and I am a functioning coffee addict.”

 

What Premium Service?

Five years ago we were able to enter the UK on an Ancestry Visa because Peter’s grand-father was born in the UK. Our visas are expiring on September 6th and the last couple time we re-entered the UK, we have been reminded of their impending expiry dates.

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This is what the ancestry visa looks like in the back of our old passports. We will now get a card.

These reminders meant one thing, Mama had to start the process of renewal of the Ancestry Visa. Yes, that is correct, in this household Daddy is the CEO and I am the CFO and Homeland Security officer. I make sure everyone has all the proper papers at all time wherever they live.

When I started looking into the renewal process by calling the Home Office of Immigration Services in Croydon, I learned that I could also apply for UK Citizenship but in order to do so, Peter and I would have to take a UK history and an English test. I am sorry but I am NOT interested in taking anymore F*&%ING Tests!  Bad enough I have taken driver’s ed three times already and I just finished being on probation with the UK driving scheme. I would like to move on already, enough with the testing!

So the result of my many phone calls to the Croydon “Home Office” was that we would simply renew the Ancestry Visa. In order to do so, they instructed me on the link to the application on-line. Along with this 43 page document that I simply had to print and fill out, I had to get the usual documents for the Ancestry Visa. They are; Peter’s birth certificate, Our marriage license, Peter’s grand-father’s birth certificate, Peter’s parents’ marriage license, Peter’s grand-parents’ marriage license and Peter’s dad’s birth certificate. Also required, our current and our old passports, last three months of bank statements, last three months of Peter’s pay stubs and Peter’s letter of employment saying he is allowed to work in the UK.

When I started this process about a month ago, Peter was in Dublin. I did not want to use my home printer to print out a 43 pages document, twice. So I emailed Peter the link and asked him to print it for me at his office. He did not. When he saw the link and the 43 pages, he asked the head of HR who happens to be in Dublin, is there an easier way?  She told Peter, “We have lawyers for that!” Peter called me almost instantly and said, “We have lawyers for that!” My response? WOOHOO!

Another thing I had found out by calling Croydon so often is that they offer a “Premium Service” for Visas. The way they explained it is, for the fee of £1500 per person, you get to make your own appointment and when you come in, you will get a decision right away and you will get your visa within 24 hours. We also had to pay £1000 each for NHS. We never use NHS, don’t trust it. We go privately, thank goodness for Peter’s insurance, but this is a new thing, people applying for Visas and citizenship have to pay some NHS fees in advance. Maybe because of BREXIT??? Who knows? I am also happy that Peter’s company was footing the bill for this!

I started working with the lawyer. I made my appointment. I brought all the documents in person to the lawyer. The lawyer looked at everything and said, ”all looks good, should take no time at all.”

Last Friday, I even confirmed with the lawyer whether or not we had to leave our passports because we don’t like to be without our passports for long periods of time and the lawyer said, ”actually, they no longer put the visas at the back of your passports. Now they issue you a Visa card. They will give you back your passports after the appointment.” Awesome! I was relieved.

Saturday our appointment was at 11 am in Croydon and we were instructed that for security measures we should be there for 10:30. Croydon is 9.8 miles from our house but would you believe the GPS and WAZE both indicated that it would take us 45 minutes to get there. Go to love London traffic! Sadly, both GPS and WAZE were spot on. We left at 9:30 am, got there at 10:15. Circled the area, found a parking and entered the UK Home Office of Croydon at 10:30 right on the nose.

Okay, this is where I question the ”Premium Service” that was sold to me. I was under the impression that since we had paid that we did not have to go get a number and get in line with the general population. Boy was I wrong. After going through ”airport security” and walking up three flights of stairs (elevators don’t work on the weekends), we were asked to get a number and wait with everyone else. Lucky #159 finally got called at noon. That person looked at all our documents and 15 minutes later said ”everything looks good, please come back in two hours, go to counter 44 and we will let you know if we approve you at this time.”

Hummmm, not much of a premium really, I have been waiting for almost two hours and now I have to come back in another two hours….So Peter and I found a place for lunch.

By the way, if you ever find yourself in Croydon and you are hungry for Chinese food, I would like to recommend, ”Wei Dao”. Excellent Chinese, their crispy beef and Kung Pao chicken were quite good. You should check them out.

Okay, at 14:30 we re-enter the UK Home Office in Croydon, again go through ”airport security” and walk up to the third floor and go to counter 44 to see if we have been approved only to be told, ”Sorry, nothing yet, please take a seat.” Thank goodness there were two waiting areas because the one near counter 44 was occupied by someone who needed a massive dose of deodorant. I am NOT JOKING you could not stand there. It was worst than driving back from Wilvaken with Thing 2.

So we parked ourselves in the waiting area down the hall and waited….and waited…and waited…at 16:05 I jumped for joy when I heard #159, please come to counter 42. Peter and I got to counter 42 and the guy just handed back the file with all our documents and passports and said, ”You’ve been approved, you will get your cards in 7 to 10 days.” We just grabbed the file and left the building. The lawyer told me 24 hours but WTF I just wanted to get home. Traffic was worst on the way back. We made it home around 17:15 and just realized we had spent an entire day sitting doing nothing.

Back at home I was complaining about the ”Premium Service” and Peter said, ”I know what you are saying but I think the ”Premium” part is the fact that they give you a response in one day and promise to get a card back to you within 7 to 10 days. ” He reminded me unlike the first time when we applied from Bermuda. All documents went to consular office in NYC and we were told to wait 4 to 6 weeks to get our passports back. I remember we were in Bermuda and we couldn’t leave the island because we did not have passports. We got our paperwork and traveling documents four weeks later….I guess Saturday was Premium after all but they need to do a better job explaining it.

 

Happy Birthday Mackenzy!

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”Mama, stop talking and pay attention to the fish.”

I think it was 10 years ago when we sent Mackenzy to his first two weeks of camp in the Eastern Townships. We were living in Bermuda at the time and a lot of people we knew sent their kids away to camp. At the time, I use to leave the island in the summer for two to four weeks to go back home and spend some time with family. I can’t remember what made me send him to camp but I did.

First it was two weeks. When I picked him up after his first summer, as soon as he got in the car he asked, ”next year can I go for a month?” Then it was 6 weeks and then the whole summer.

Since his birthday is June 27th, we haven’t been with Mackenzy on his birthday for the last 5 years (I think)…and every June 27th I feel VERY guilty that I am not there to celebrate his birthday and make him cake. Buddy, I mean, ”Mama could buy you a car guilty!” Okay maybe just a second hand car but still lots of guilt here.

That’s if Mackenzy cared about a car or such things. You see, for those who really don’t know Mackenzy, he couldn’t care less about such things. Mackenzy is happiest with a book or with his laptop playing some game or watching anime. Mackenzy is happiest with the friends that he has made at Wilvaken over the years. He doesn’t care about clothes, some days it’s hard to have him wear more than boxers, ask Sarah, she’s been living with him for the last couple months.

No, my boy is a simple man with simple needs. Wake up, Eat, Play, Repeat.

Buddy, I hope you are having a GREAT summer at the lake and just know that your Mama (am I sure Daddy too but he works and has to think about work too), will be thinking of you all day. I know you don’t like it when I post pictures of you on-line but hell, I’m your Mama, I brought you into this world, I can do whatever the FUCK I want on June 27th! So here goes…

 

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He has always loved it at the beach.

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He sort of played defense…always singing and laughing. 

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Tennis at the Pitch!

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Too much birthday cake at 7.

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9th Birthday in Bermuda.

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Always exploring around the house.

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His first piano playing. He used to LOVE hammering at it.

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At Tobacco Bay in Bermuda, ”Daddy did you see the BIG fish”.

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First Communion.

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Yes, this is what we liked to do during a snowstorm in NH. Sit by the fire, outside.

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Last month he let me take a picture with him. What a treat! 

Mackenzy, Je t’aime. Bonne Fête et passe une super belle journée!

 

 

 

Another Sign of the Times

Last week I noticed that these blocks were installed all along Exhibition Rd beside the museums and Imperial College. I did not see their use until this morning when I went to pick up my dry cleaning and I noticed the tourists all around me. And,with the latest attack on the mosque in Finsbury Park, in North London, now I understand why these blocks have been installed. It’s to protect the tourists and Londoners such as myself who go to museums from motorized attacks.

The museums in London are for the most part some of the best in the world and their entry is free. Whether it’s the National Gallery with its great collection of the Masters, the Victoria & Albert with collections of paintings, sculptures, clothing, drawings etc… from every corner of the globe, the Natural History Museum with its dinosaur bones and artifacts, the British museum with the Rosetta Stone and again more ancient Greek artifacts than Greece itself or the Science Museum with its education wing teaching about science, if you are ever in London, I invite you to visit a couple. Each museum is amazing. Just the buildings themselves are sometimes the story. Whenever I go into the Natural history museum I don’t really go to look at the dinosaurs and the mammoths. I look at the building itself. The wood carvings, the staircases are some of the best in the world. Same thing with the V&A, I walk around that building, looking to cool down and usually make my way to the tapestry room on the third floor. The room is climate control since you have to protect the ancient tapestries and it’s the ”coolest” room in the museum!

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We have been living behind the V&A for the last three summers and it has become my favorite. This morning I was happy to see that the construction of the Exhibition Rd entrance is finally complete. They have reinstalled the gates that were taken down after the bombings of WWII and they have built a new courtyard and basement entry. I can’t wait to check it out this week.

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When you look closely at the gates or even the side of the building itself, you can see the holes left as proof of the bombings during the second World War. They serve as reminders and signs of that time.

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