Warsaw, the perfect city for a 72-hour exploration

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When your next adventure is not quite around the corner yet and you are forced to wait another 193 days to happily skip to the airport to embark on your next backpacking adventure, what do you do? 1) you nicely wait and patiently count the days down. Yes but no or 2) you treat yourself to a short trip. Now we are talking. The month of June feeling generous, we were granted an extra day off and an extended weekend so we couldn’t NOT take the opportunity to plan a 3-day getaway. Since living in Switzerland allows us to reach many European cities within 3 hours, Europe is our logical and beloved playground for our extended weekend explorations. A cheap(ish) flight, an affordable place found on Airbnb and my positive impression on Poland while visiting Krakow last October logically made us consider Warsaw. M wanted to add one more country to his already-long list (no competition) and I was keen to discover another polish city. Warsaw it was!

About Warsaw, Poland:

  • Warsaw is the capital of Poland since King Sigismund III decided to move from Krakow after a fire in the Wawel castle
  • It is standing on the Vistula River, the longest and largest river in Poland
  • In 9 November 1939, the city was awarded Poland’s highest military decoration for heroism
  • Its Old Town is protected by UNESCO

Warsaw’s random and funny facts:

  • Warsaw Old Town is interestingly quite new – the whole city was heavily destroyed during Wolrd war II and has been rebuilt ever since the war ended combining modern, old and communist architectures
  • The Palace of Culture and Science, a gift of the Soviet dictator Stalin, is the tallest building in Poland
  • The world’s narrowest 2-storey house, situated in the centre of Warsaw, was built to dodge taxes – clever!
  • Warsaw’s Lazienki Park is one of the largest palace and park ensembles in Europe
  • With 826 meters, the Siekierkowski Bridge in Warsaw is Poland’s longest bridge

If you have 72 hours in Warsaw, have fun:

  • Going on a free walking tour through the old Town, learning how Warsaw raised from its tragic story to become a thriving city
  • (fun is not the word but as important as having fun on a trip is) educating yourself about what happened to the city’s inhabitants in World War II
  • Discovering some dark secrets and conspiracies with Free Walking Tour guide – Mr. B., our guide, was absolutely brilliant
  • Strolling through the many parks the city has to offer
  • Riding the elevator up thethe PKIN (Palace of culture and science) to reach the viewing platform on the 30th floor
  • Taking a walk through the Botanic Garden
  • Checking the Chopin Museum
  • Jumping on a tram, going nowhere and everywhere
  • Treating yourself to a beer or two in the Old Town
  • Going on a shopping spree (because why not…)

From the Warsaw Chopin airport, we easily reached  the City center by public transportation. Purchasing a 3-day ticket allowed us to ride the train from and to the airport, the city subway, tram and buses network and cover quite a distance over the 59 hours of our Warsawian exploration. We really enjoyed our time in Warsaw! If you are considering a getaway for a weekend, don’t miss Warsaw!
Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

Tuesday yumminess!

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Our countdown to our next (still under construction) adventure might seem insurmountable (213 days to be exact) but travelers know that this means nothing: before we know it, we will be sitting on a plane, heading to Africa. Still unsure if we should explore Ethiopia or Rwanda-Uganda-Burundi. Those 4 countries have a lot to offer and researching has been very (read: too) exciting. We were given insider tips for Ethiopia and it is hard to make up our minds! One more week of researching and our decision will (hopefully) be made… 

While the wait to hit the road can be super annoying, there is always a  fantastic way to travel while still at home: cook an exotic (ɪɡˈzɒtɪk,ɛɡˈzɒtɪk/adjective: originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country) meal! A few months ago, we had decided to cook ourselves an African recipe and funny enough, we found an Ethiopian dish, easy to cook and absolutely delish’! If you fancy a warm and flavorful meal that takes you to Easy Africa, Misr Wat (a Spicy Ethiopian Red Lentil Stew) is for you! You’ll need some red lentils, broth, spices and an easy recipe to follow! Thx #myrecipes.com! Enjoy!

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem! 

TBT # Zadar: where our hearts got stolen 

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Planing our trip to Africa has woken up a wanderlust that, I thought, had retired. But come on, whom am I kidding? Once you got the bug, it never goes away. I. Should. Know. Better! But I won’t complaint (for once): this wanderlust had brought me to wonderful places around the world and today, on my traditional ThrowBackThursday, my daydreaming sent me back to Zadar. 

While roadtripping through Croatia last October with my Alaskan sweetheart, we unexpectedly found warmth in Zadar. For the first time in days, we were able to wander around wearing fliflops and tank top; hat and extra layers were politely (read: thrown with enthusiasm on the floor) left in our cute and centrally located studio that was conveniently waiting for us. Our landlords, a delightful couple, gave us great tips to have a fantastic Zadarian time. We grabbed cameras and sunglasses ready to discover, what we discovered was, a cute town! 

About Zadar: 

  • Located on the Croatia’s Dalmatian coast
  • It is the country’s fifth largest city 
  • It is known for the Roman and Venetian ruins
  • It has around 15 churches – it almost feels like the Zadarians spent centuries to build churches. What else? 

Fun facts about Zadar:

  • The main street in Zadar is named Široka ulica (široka = ‘wide’) and it is believed it’s as old as the city itself
  • According to Alfred Hitchcock, “nowhere in the world can a person witness a more beautiful sunset than in Zadar”
  • The sphynx of Zadar is said to grant love wishes

If you only have 24 hours in Zadar, have fun:

  • Having a rendez-vous with a wonderful sunset 
  • Chilling on the promenade next to the greetings to the sun
  • Listening to an enchanted sea organ concert at the pier
  • Jumping into the sea or if you aren’t that brave, simply soaking your feet in the refreshing sea. Bliss 
  • Tasting so delicious seafood (pssst, they have some great black risotto)
  • Sitting at the Roman forum and sipping a gin tonic in the sun 

We absolutely loved Zadar and it was hard to leave this seaside paradise. If you are in Croatia, don’t miss this gem!

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

Where to next…

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We have been back for 6 months (already!) and this is the first time, I am sitting down with an urge to write and share my thoughts. While checking my last post about Plitvice in Croatia, I couldn’t believe so much time has passed since my last traveling story. Coming home was, the least to say, challenging and crazy. Our timing to come home was perfect, we thought. We came back just on time for winter, we thought. I was so excited to go up the Swiss mountains I had missed so much: my traveling backpack was hastily put away in the basement, swiftly replaced by my snowshoes. We were ready. But winter decided to delay its arrival and we waited, waited for snow to arrive. Even tho we had a non-white Christmas *dislike* and no time in the mountains, we were constantly busy: between job interviews, weekends spent with friends and family and settling back into the civilized routine, we didn’t see November, December, January nor February go by. 

Being back home has been great: we both found a job we like, M finally moved to Luzern (he did survive my M&MS on the road: Moods, Mess and Sarcasm so we thought why not live together) and after a few months of focusing on our new jobs, it felt natural to ask each other our favorite question: where to next… I started traveling in 2005 and back in the days, this question would have been answered in the blink of an eye. Anywhere really I would have said?! Nowadays, this is a complete different story! Sharing my life with another passionate traveler has definitely made this question harder to answer! Namibia? Sorry done that! Myanmar? Oh right, you went there already! ? China? Yeah yeah yeah, let me guess, this country belongs to the long list of the countries you explored without me. Sigh. 

Who would have thought picking a destination we both want to explore would be that hard? Especially since we are looking for a destination which is “friendly” in December (read: it must be warm) and possibly not that touristy. This, my friends, frantically shortens our options. After months of research and discussions, we have found a common continent we are really keen to discover: Africa! Namibia, Malawi, Botswana,  Zambia, Tanzania and South Africa are off the table as either of one us has been to those gorgeous counties already but we finally came up with our Top 5 for 2017: Sierra Leone, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Liberia. Have you been to one of those countries? Any cool itinerary for a 3-week backpacking exploration you are dying to share with us? 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem! 

Plitvice Lakes National Park or our enchanted stop in Croatia…

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As you can imagine, we couldn’t actually believe that we had made it (so easily) to Zagreb… a short ride in a cab with a friendly driver and we were finally proud ‘owners’ of our rental car. We were very excited to spend 10 days cruising the Croatian roads. Before leaving Zagreb, we decided to explore the city and stopped at the Art Pavilion for our first Croatian picture. It was surrounded by picturesque ocre buildings and we almost regretted not staying a night in Zagreb. Since we however live our lives without any regret, we headed west to Samobor. A lovely stroll along the river and up a steep trail through the forest, we reached the Tepec hill where the Samobor castle ruins overlooked the valley. I was surprised to see how little the castle was restaured and badly maintened. However it was a peaceful place, rewarding after our walk up on the slippery path. We enjoyed this detour, tho we probably expected less damaged ruins. 

We arrived late in Poljanak, hoping to find a room for the night. We had decided to settle there for two nights. It was, according to Google, a great option to easily access the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Sun had long set when we reached Poljanak and a lovely old lady welcomed us to her guest house. She had a cute apartment available with a kitchen and a private bathroom, a perfect place to call home while in town. The cold I had caught in Budapest had gotten worse and I seemed to have shared my misfortune with Heidi. Luckily for us the weather the next day was absolutely outrageous: it rained non-stop for 8 hours which allowed us to do nothing but nap, drink tea, repeat. We couldn’t completely recover but when the following day cleared up, we were ready to conquer the Park.

Close from our village, both entrances were easily reachable. Even tho our landlord (or temporary mom who gave us tea to get better) recommended to use the entrance #1, we opted for the P3 parking as she described it as small and less crowded. We were aware that we might not be able to find a parking spot but the drive itself was nice, a thick fog gave the forest a mysterious ‘Je ne sais quoi’. We were happy to easily find a spot; Traveling off-season does have its perks.  We bought our tickets that gave us access to the park, its trails, its boats and its shuttles. We jumped on an electric boat, silently making our way to P2 where we decided to follow the trail C from. Along the way, we discovered an enchanted place full of waterfalls, wooden boardwalks and tranquil lakes. There were almost no tourist on the trail we had picked. Again, there are perks to come to Plitvice off-season! We walked to S3 where a shuttle took us to S1; from there we strolled back to P3, adventurously (we had been warned: enter at your own risk) discovering a dark and slippery cave, bumping into a Swiss family and taking a million pictures of waterfalls. 

We absolutely loved our autumnal exploration, the colors surrounding us were absolutely amazing. We indeed gambled with the weather and even tho, we started the day with a grey sky, the day turned out to be wonderfully beautiful. We would therefore highly recommend to go there in October to avoid the summer crowds; less tourists allows you to fully enjoy this national park. We spent only a day there but there were so many hiking trails, we could have spent a few days in the park! Next stop: Zadar! 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

When life has decided that you are not going to Zagreb that day, head to Vienna instead…

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Zagreb? Not Really. We did attempt to drive to Zagreb though… We bought a bus ticket from a low-cost company (recommended by our hostel), got up at stupid o’clock, rushed to the bus station, got fined for forgetting to punch our metro tickets and we stood for an hour in the Siberian cold waiting for a bus that never arrived. This what I would call commitment. Right, fast forward two hours, text message received, due to a mechanical issues, our bus was cancelled. Nobody, from what looks like to be a dodgy bus company, was reachable to help us find a way to go to Zagreb. We were left stranded on the side of a road on a (very) cold morning: 10 poor souls with no other option than to buy a new ticket from a different company. Annoying but it was a good thing to get our disasters out of the way first thing in the morning; things could only get better, right? 

Leaving our deserted and old curb, we headed to the bus station where Heidi and I could weigh our options, followed by the others who decided that we were in charge… no pressure! At first, the bus companies were extremely unfriendly with us, mostly annoyed by the fact that everyday such incidents happen and every day they have to deal with Orange Ways dishonesty. The dodgy company we booked from doesn’t seem to perform (or rarely), doesn’t bother to refund its customers and confused passengers end up going to the legitimate bus companies to get answers. We could either wait a whole day at the station for a bus to Zagreb (meh) or jump on a bus to Vienna, Austria where Heidi had never been to (ooooh). A lovely Hungarian man, who probably felt sorry for us, told us about a train to Zagreb that might or might not be departing from the train station. We had nothing to lose so we decided to go to the main station. While we were grateful to this stranger, we didn’t expect him to go out of his way to help us. Believe it or not but this good man offered to take us to the main station, paid for our metro tickets and invited us for breakfast. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were to have met this generous man; he definitely restored our faith in humanity! Since the subway line we needed to reach the main train station was out of order, (somebody clearly didn’t want us to go Zagreb that day), Vienna it was! 

If you have a few hours to spend in beautiful Vienna, have fun:

  • Indulging yourself with a wonderful lunch at Weibels Wirtshaus
  • Walking around St. Stephan’s cathedral, lots going on there 
  • Wandering through the Schönbrunn palace’s park, I particularly love the view over the palace and the city from the Gloriette
  • Going on a self-guided architecture tour by night: St. Charles church, Vienna’s opera, the city hall (my favorite) and the parliament were simply even more beautiful after dark
  • Discovering the alternative Vienna: explore its river side where millions of wonderful graffiti are waiting for you 
  • Sampling locals treats: Aida is the best bakery in town where we can try Punschkrapfen and Sachertorte

This stop might have been unexpected but our improvisation paid off: My Alaskan sweetheart added another country to her bucket list and Vienna showed us a good time! Next stop: (hopefully) Zagreb but who knows where life might take us!

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

“Straddling the Danube River, with the Buda Hills to the west and the Great Plain to the east, Budapest is a gem of a city”

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It was rather unfortunate to have to leave Krakow without Heidi’s backpack. After many phone calls and emails with different interlocutors, we had to accept that the people at the Kraków airport were useless, Lufthansa and Condor unwilling to help and it would take some more follow up to get this damn backpack back. In the meantime, we couldn’t wait for the luggage to turn up; With only two weeks for this adventure, it was time to travel to our next destination. We decided to head directly to Budapest and skip Bratislava to fully enjoy our Budapesti city break and to recover from a nasty flu that took me down. We had no choice but slow down and stay two nights in Budapest. We hoped that staying an extra night would help to speed up my recovery. 

The bus dropped us at a subway station, which was very convenient to reach our hostel in the center. This helped us to discover Budapest even tho we only had a day and that most of the time, I was feverish and on bed rest. If like us, you only have a day and an evening in Budapest, have fun: 

  • Getting lost wandering through the city in the morning, (still) drunk people watching can be very entertaining – this city definitely knows how to party. If you are an early riser, there is not much more you can do as the city seems to wake up around 10 anyway…
  • Sampling delicious local dishes at Frici Papa, lovely staff and a fabulicous goulash! Budapest was our culinary highlight! 
  • Taking pictures of the city by night! The iconic Szechenyi Chain Bridge, the parliament and the St. Stephen basilica are absolutely breathtaking once the sun has set 
  • Riding the subway – I could do this all day long! I simply love subway rides. Don’t forget to punch your subway ticket tho or you will have to deal with intransigeant controllers who are pretty tough on first time subway offenders, tourist or no! 

I don’t always agree with Lonely Planet but this time, I must admit that they were spot on with that above quote. We fell in love with Budapest’s buildings, its romantically illuminated bridges and its delicious yet affordable gastronomy. Budapest was indeed a true gem! We will be back! Next stop: Zagreb! 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

A “salty” underground walk, anyone? 

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“If you go to Krakow, do not miss the salt mines in Wieliczka”, we were told back in Colombia by a polish guy. He seemed to believe that those were the best salt mines in the whole entire world. Happening to be around the corner and keen to see whether this man was right, we booked a tour through our hostel. As tickets were sold out, this was the only way for us to visit the Wieliczka salt mines before leaving Poland. It felt great for once to just sit and relax during the short drive to Wieliczka. Upon arrival, we gathered around an English-speaking tour guide before embarking on our very own version of the Journey to the Center of the Earth (dramatic effect? Check!). Frankly speaking, I wasn’t particularly excited to spend the next 3 hours underground but to be fair, this looked much safer than the mine we explored in Potosi, Bolivia. Back in 2012, to celebrate Christmas, we went down dodgy ladders, crawled through narrow tunnels while surrounded by darkness and fear and played with some TNT 20 meters below the surface. THAT was intense and nerve wrecking. In Wieliczka, it didn’t feel like we were in a mine, it could have been any basement or bunker; we used a steady wooden staircase to descend the 380 steps and reached the first level, located at 64 meters underground. 

I had somehow expected the walls of the mine to be shiny and sparkling from the salt; Instead the walls were mostly drab… but ô so delicious. You know what they say, you gotta love a good “free” salt tasting *disclaimer: No wall was harmed during our visit*. Even tho our guide assured us that it was fine to lick them, salt stopping the propagation of bacteria, we decided to give the walls licking a miss and use our fingers instead. The thought of licking a wall, that had been licked millions of times before, was seriously not appealing. Other than salt tasting, the visit was very interesting as we learnt about salt mining that ended in that mine in 2007 and were told the legend of princess Kinga who asked her father to be given for a salt lump for her engagement instead of a diamond (what on earth…). This is my simplified version, I am sure a more poetic version can be found online. The chapels and salt statues (that we weren’t allowed to lick… Go figure… wouldn’t it have been fun to tell the world that I had licked Copernicus?!) were quite beautiful but the rushed pace imposed by our guide and the group following us was a downside of this guided tour; we couldn’t take our time to admire the detailed work that was surrounding us. Such a shame!

After going down some (many) more steps to reach levels 2 and 3, at 135 meters, we finally had some free time to discover the underground lake (wish o’clock!) and the St. Kinga’s chapel. It could have been nice if it wasn’t for the feeling that we had been confined like cattles in an overcrowded corral. Dreadful. At the end, Heidi and I took some time to check a mini (micro mini) museum where there was an interesting exhibition: The Extraordinary World of Minerals. Illuminated with UV light, the minerals (among others: halite, dolomite, aragonite…) glowed and looked pretty funky! It was probably my favorite part as none of the hundred other visitors ventured to this micro mini museum and it therefor felt very special to us. Going back to the surface felt rather adventurous as our group boarded an overcrowded tiny elevator. In less than 30 seconds, we had returned to the world of the living! Alive and kicking, we were ready for our next stop: Budapest! 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem! 

Our step into one of the world’s darkest side of humanity: Auschwitz, Poland…

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While we were in Kraków, we couldn’t NOT go to Auschwitz; we owed it to the victims of the nazism and we owed it to the future generations. I dreaded this day a lot as I still remembered the pain and the fear I felt while I was discovering the horrors that happened in Struthof, a concentration camp in France. I was only 15 at the time of my visit and I remember silently sobbing, overwhelmed by the terrifying pictures and testimonies that surrounded me. I couldn’t believe it: had humans really done this to other humans? This was the first time that I realized that evil does exist and the first time I faced the brutal consequences of intolerance and ignorance. That day I knew… Even though I have come a long way from a tiny village girl who was surrounded by racism, I’m only human and it is hard sometimes to remain tolerant when some monsters cause trouble, pain and destruction around you. I’m grateful for my friends, for their diversity in so many ways who help me be a better person and avoid dangerous overgeneralization. 

We jumped on the first bus departing from the Krakow main station and we were dropped off directly in front of the museum as it was opening. We decided not not to hire a guide as we wanted to go at our own pace to let the gravity of the experience sink in. It was a difficult morning, surrounded by death, pain and sorrow but as George Santayana said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. With intolerance and cruelty ripping through a world, where minorities are being targeted and persecuted over and over again, where innocent girls are abducted and sold as child brides, where peaceful protests are being answered with violence, where a powerful nation is considering electing a misogynist, racist and bigoted clown as a president, where extremists (among others vegans, feminists, religious…) believe that their opinion is the only one that can be spoken and heard, you know places like Auschwitz are more than ever needed.

Throughout the camp, roses were left as a tribute to the numerous victims and as much as this place still echoes pain and tragedy, we must believe in the goodness of people and raise our children in respecting the others. In one of the buildings, where women and children were kept prisoners while waiting for their tragic fates, somebody had left a rose. My romantic side wandered and I found myself daydreaming that the rose was left by a great grand child of a SS, who just discovered his ancestor’s past, came to pay a tribute to his victims. Peace and tolerance in the world seem a utopia nowadays but it is never too late to start believing. Here is to tolerance and forgiveness. 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!

Once upon a time in Kraków, Poland 

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I had barely stepped out of the train that I knew that I would love Krakow. Except for the weather… WTF Krakow? How dare you welcome me with a cold wintery wind, a grey sky and some unnecessary drizzle? Krakow, I was not impressed! However, the train ride from the airport was perfect: on time, quick and cheap, the staff very friendly. The main station (called Glowny), located in a mall, was also the bus station. That was definitely going to make our day trips from Krakow super easy. Heidi had booked us a room in a hostel in the old town. Since I arrived first, I paid the mall a visit, while waiting for my Alaskan partner in crime. I am not a big fan of shopping but once in a while, I cannot resist to a good mall session. I might be a backpacker but deep down I’m still a girl who was raised in a consumption world. Whatyougonnado? Clothes were incredibly cheap and it was, for me, a sign that my overworn and tired (try backpacking 6 months with the same limited outfits. Not many outfits survived such trips) clothes had deserved to be retired and replaced by fresher ones?! A few shops and sushi later, I was ready to start this adventure with Heidi. 

… and she arrived, with a defeated look on her face: “guess whose backpack is nowhere to be found “. Oh! This wasn’t a good start. My brain has been trained to find solutions so we started emailing, calling, harassing the company at the airport, mandated by the airline to track lost luggages (they picked the wrong team to mess with). A day passed and unhappy with the result, the office at the airport in Kraków was clearly staffed with incompetent (or lazy) people, we decided to investigate on our own and started to call the three airlines Heidi flew with between Anchorage and Kraków. Lufthansa, in charge of the last part of the journey, told us to contact the airport mandated company (really). This suggestion didn’t go well with us and we hung up to avoid any unnecessary waste of time. Next, Condor refused any responsibility (of course what else) and blamed it on Alaskan airline, as you do. The lady on the phone was convinced that the bag had never left Seattle… last but not least, my favorite phone call: with Alaskan airline and the lovely Jennifer who did her outmost to track Heidi’s backpack. We were making progress: it was shipped to Europe for sure, the tracking system proved it. Alright back to the incompetent (or lazy. Either way useless) staff at Krakow airport. We sent them a very clear message, Heidi’s backpack was in Europe, either in Frankfurt or Krakow, they had to find it and quick because we were running out of time. We had already extended our stay in Kraków as an employee thought that Heidi’s bag had been found… what to say… but soon, we needed to start this Eastern European adventure!  

If like us, you have a full day and evening to spend in Kraków, have fun: 

  • Eating Pierogi (a traditional Eastern / Central European dish – recipe will follow on one of my Tuesday yumminess) but make sure you do it before walking around as it is quite heavy! 
  • Wandering in the old town wth it’s beautiful old buildings. We really loved our by night tour, surrounded by drunk young adults from all over the world. Krakow is apparently a known party city…  
  • Chilling on the main market square
  • Strolling through the Jewish district, Kazimierz that became artistic heart of Kraków
  • Visiting the Wavel castle (we skipped this as he weather forced us to go into a pub instead) 
  • Sipping cheap cocktails in a local pub

Krakow has a lot offer and with a great weather, a wonderful place to sit in the summer nights at coffee places’ on cute little squares. Outside Kraków, there are also several day trips to take. Follow us to read more about a tough but must see place not to forget what humans are capable of. Next stop: Auschwitz. 

Happy trails and remember: Carpe Diem!