Category Archives: DESTINATIONS

Places to go

Welcome to the Fairmont Heliopolis

Crystal Chandeliers in the Fairmont Lobby

TRAVEL THERE: MY LUXURY VACATION BEGINS

If you read this blog with any regularity then you’re well aware that I don’t spend a lot of time in swanky hotels.  I’m more the quaint bed & breakfast type, when I can find it, or I’m bragging about the huge discount I found on Expedia.  However, on this trip we were in top hotels all the way.  In Cairo, we checked into the Fairmont Heliopolis.

Leaving the Airport

One of the things I remembered from my previous trip to Egypt was the wide open spaces between the airport and Heliopolis.  Once we had dealt with the absence of our luggage on that trip, I’d sat the backseat of a car wondering just how far we were going to drive before we got to anything.

It’s not that way anymore.  It’s like the stretch of LBJ between I-35 and DFW Airport.  While it used to be out in the middle of nowhere, it’s now chock-a-block with restaurants, hotels and other buildings.  Outside the Cairo Airport was the same thing.  What’s more, I barely blinked before we were entering the main thoroughfare of Heliopolis and almost immediately we arrived at the Fairmont. So the first thing you might want to know about the Fairmont is that it’s close to the airport.

Between two lobbies

The Security Routine

Here’s the drill for most hotel properties in Egypt.  (The Cecil in Alexandria and the Dahab Paradise were exceptions to the rule, but pretty much anyplace else put you through this.)  The properties are all fenced and gated.  You pull up to a guard house with a barrier across the driveway.  Your car is thoroughly checked.

First they get the ID of the driver and question him.  Then he has to fill in a log.  Then they do a physical check of the exterior of the car which includes looking under it with a mirror.  Some places also had sniffer dogs.  The driver opens the trunk and the dogs and/or metal detectors are used to check out the contents.  There are usually a group of guards and after they’ve conferred with one another, the barrier is lifted and you drive through.  Someone is usually standing nearby with a machine gun.  Some kind of welcome, huh?

Ayman, our niece’s husband, assumed we were in the newer part of the hotel and drove through the older portico to deliver us to the Towers.  Only we weren’t in the Towers.  The bags were pulled out by the bell staff and Ayman drove away, but once inside we were directed across the way to the original part of the lobby.  It was late and I was ready for bed.

Now the reason we were staying at the Fairmont is that we were part of the wedding party and that’s where they were staying.  We like to keep our accommodations in two digits if we can, but we were splurging.  I have to confess that I was glad we stayed in the older part of the hotel.  The new part had that edgy clean look, but I’m a sucker for crystal chandeliers and other gaudy looking hotel lobby decor, like the replica of a pharaonic boat in the Fairmont lobby.

The check-in hasn’t even begun, but I’ve already run out of words, so come back next week to see how we liked our room.

 

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Filed under Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Shopping Extravaganza

Another Lazy Afternoon at Watter’s Creek

TRAVEL HERE: WATTER’S CREEK AND THE ALLEN OUTLET MALL

Having safely escaped the Lavender Festival, Deb and I pursued a couple of our favorite pastimes, holiday or no holiday – dining and shopping.  Come along with us.

It Shouldn’t Have Been a Secret

I’d been keeping a secret from my bestie and didn’t even realize it.  Watter’s Creek is a favorite haunt of my husband’s.   The whole multi-purpose development is built around a charming open space.  A grassy hill slopes down to a creek.  Water fowl wander among gleeful children.  A sampling of beautiful people hang out on the patios of a handful of restaurants surrounding the park.  It’s a relaxing oasis from the hustle and bustle, with just enough hustle and bustle of its own to be entertaining.  Many a Sunday afternoon Bill and I make our way to Watter’s Creek for an early supper.  A quick perusal the pictures in my Facebook feed could verify that I’ve made several attempts to notify the world of this pleasant place to hang out.

There’s another reason I didn’t realize Deb was unaware of the charm of Watter’s Creek.  Countless times we’ve shopped the Allen Outlet Mall and then gone to Watter’s Creek and had lunch at Brio, usually on the patio.  I can’t begin to count the number of times Deb and I have lingered on that patio solving the world’s problems and venting over some of our more irritating challenges.  I could have sworn that at least one of those meals ended at DSW, checking out the clearance racks, but I guess not.

As we discussed where to have lunch, we tipped our hat to Brio, but Deb was in the mood for adventure.  When I told her there were other great restaurants in the same complex she gave me an accusing look.  I’d been holding out on her!  She thought the whole thing was an apartment complex with Brio and a Cheesecake Factory stuck next to the highway.  She navigated her car to Watter’s Creek and I directed her around the side of our usual hangout and into the main shopping area.  She immediately loved it.  We parked in one of the garages and headed to a restaurant I had mentioned.

As we strolled, I realized the restaurant ratio at Watter’s Creek was rising.  Bill and I had peeked in the window of the Village Burger Bar, but had never even seen Firewater Kitchen and Bar at the end of the row.  Deb and I turned a corner headed to what I thought was Savor, a tasting restaurant Bill and I had enjoyed on one of our visits – but Savor had become The Cellar.  It looked more barish than foodish, so I recommended we head around the corner to Bonnie Ruth’s Cafe.

A New Favorite is Found

At Bonnie Ruth we opted for the patio and almost immediately declared it our new favorite.  One of the reasons Deb and I are such fast friends is that we love the same things and one of the things we really love is al fresco dining.  If food is good inside a restaurant, it’s our opinion that it’s even better on the patio.  Hubby will join me al fresco – if the weather is perfect, the sun is at the right angle and he’s in the mood.  For Deb and I, there either has to be a snowstorm or pounding rain to deter us from choosing the patio.  Otherwise we’ll at least try to convince the hostess to let us sit out there.

I’m glad to finally have someone who loves Bonnie Ruth the way I do. I’ve tried to indoctrinate Bill, but he’s resisted me.  We’d visited the Frisco location several times and it just didn’t click with him.  I’ve suggested it several times at Watter’s Creek, but he’s always more interested in the restaurants that border on the park, so he can watch the beautiful people and the ducks.  So I sigh and follow him to another choice.

I even tried to get Mom to enjoy Bonnie Ruth’s back when we spent our Thursdays together.  As most of you know, she now spends all her days on a higher plane, but I still keep a catalog of restaurants to try out on her.  See, Mom loved to eat out, but had you been her chauffeur, as I was for many years, you wouldn’t think so.

Finding Restaurants for Ruth

Mom was perpetually on the look out for the perfect cafe.  It needed to have sandwiches, soups and salads – and there were extra points for quiche.  She didn’t want to stand in line to order.  They should have tablecloths and eschew serving food in paper or plastic.  Servers should be attentive and the price had to be right.  That’s a pretty tall order.

Most sandwich and soup places, like La Madeline, Panera and Corner Bakery, start with a line, have bare table tops and the service never adds up.  Then for some reason none of my other favorites, like Bonnie Ruth’s or Lavendou’s, passed her test.  Lunch time would roll around and I would start listing every spot I could think of, but she’d keep that I-don’t-think-so look on her face until I thought I’d expire from exasperation.  Then she’d happily settle for Cantina Laredo, Chili’s or some other place that didn’t match any of the criteria she’d spelled out for the perfect cafe.  She didn’t do al fresco at all.  I loved her, but not for the same reasons I love Deb!

The Yes Hook at Cabi’s

Back to Bonnie Ruth’s Patio

So there I sat on a lovely patio drinking a glass of wine with my bestie.  Heaven – short and simple.  The food was good.  I had a sandwich with poached pear and cheese on delicious bread.  Deb thought she was ordering a Chicken Pecan Salad sandwich, but she ended up with just the salad.  Both were delicious, but the poached pear number won the day.  I’d tell you the name of it, but it’s not on the menu on their website.  We topped it off with some insane chocolate cake drenched in praline sauce.  No calories there, right?

After dessert we hit a few stores.  One was DSW where I got four delightful pairs of shoes for about $60.  In case math is not your strong point, that’s an average of $15 each.  Bestie paid more than my total for one pair of shoes to work out in.  No wonder I don’t like to exercise.  Who wouldn’t rather have four pairs of shoes over one pair of sneakers!

Then we went on to our shopping mecca – Allen Outlet Mall.  Warning, there is all kinds of construction going on there, so your visit will be painful, but your pocketbook will be happy.  My two favorite stores are Cabi and White House/Black Market – and they didn’t disappoint this time either!  WH/BM offered up a pair of leather and suede jeans -originally $450 – that I got for $19.99.  There were a couple of pairs of leggings (suede fronts, stretch backs) that were originally $350 each – yep I got them for $19.99.  A pair of black capri’s and a black divided skirt wanted to come home with me for similar prices.  Cabi was having a 50% off sale that included clearance, so I dropped a few dimes there, too.  How can I resist buying size six trousers?

So, I went a little long today, but it was a fun day.  See you next week!

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The Airport Adventure Continues

TRAVEL THERE: WHERE’S AYMAN?

Now that I’m home, I’ve tried to educate myself about the pilgrims who crowded into the Cairo Airport the same night I arrived.  I shared some of the answers last week, but I left Bill and I standing with our niece in a huge, noisy crowd.  At first there was the initial small talk of arrival, but soon it was apparent Mirette thought it was high time for Ayman to rescue us from our perch among the milling pilgrims.

Looking for Ayman

After a few minutes of chatting, Mirette began to scan the passing cars for her husband, with the international expression of, “where is he?”  Soon she was describing the car Ayman was driving to Bill.  Then they began to discuss how far away the car had been parked.  When they moved the conversation into Arabic, I got worried.

Then Ayman himself hurried up, but on foot, not in the car, which was perplexing in and of itself. He explained the crowds became too large, so the police shut down one of the roads. He’d found another parking spot as close as he could get, but we still had to walk some.

Midnight Rambles

Even though the time was nearing midnight, walking didn’t sound like a problem, as long as we had a cart for the luggage.  Then we came to a set of stairs and I wasn’t really happy about that. The collapsing handle on one of the bags quit working before we ever left Dallas and would have to be carried. The condition of the sidewalks and streets suggested rolling the checked bags would also be a challenge, but I saw no other alternative.

Each of the girls grabbed a carry-on bag, leaving the larger bags to the men. Then, at the bottom of the stairs, I found a cart!  Either someone had left it or God had deposited there for my benefit. Either way we were saved. We loaded up the new cart and continued on our way.

Ayman and Bill pushed the luggage-laden cart through the obstacle course.  A few feet along the sidewalk and then down a curb.  Then a good long haul through parking areas, weaving in-between cars when necessary.  Up a curb, over a sidewalk, down a curb, across a street, up a curb and finally we could see the car.

Halting the cart, each of the fellows picked up a bag to put in the trunk. While their backs were turned, the cart took off like a rocket. I shouted and ran after the careening cart, but my shouts were lost in the other noises around us. The cart skewed off the sidewalk, fell to its side and dumped the bags into the street.

A couple of pilgrims watched from afar. You’d have thought they were watching moss grow on a stone for all the reaction the cart and I got. Bill and Ayman looked at me as if the bags strewn in the middle of the street were somehow my fault. All I could think of was the bottles of scotch.  You do remember the scotch, don’t you? Would my suitcases be full of glass shards and alcohol-soaked clothes?

We’ll find out together. Come back next week for my first impressions of Cairo outside the airport.

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Bouncing Around North Texas

Zennias at DABS

TRAVEL HERE: THE METROPLEX AND POINTS BEYOND

Memorial Day Weekend is the official beginning of summer and I kicked off my summer with a vengeance.  I abandoned my computer and headed into the streets for some fun.  Come along with me.

Why Not Start Early!

My little sister, Susan, was having a birthday on the Friday before Memorial Day.  There are five years between us and we are very different, so our lives don’t naturally intersect.  However, that’s no reason to miss out on an opportunity to celebrate.  My mother turned every event into a celebration and while Christmas got top billing, birthdays played an important supporting role throughout the year, with cameo appearances by every other event to which she could attach a gift or meal.

Mom loved the Dallas Arboretum, almost as much as she loved creating celebrations, so it was only natural for Susan and I to make a visit there for her birthday lunch.  It was a perfect picture of what draws us together and how different we are.  We both wanted to make the visit.  We both ordered the salad trio with a glass of Pinot Grigio and we shared a piece of chocolate cake.  However, while Susan was happy to sit inside and benefit from the a/c, I was longingly gazing out towards the patio, wishing I was out there.   I would have also loved to spend a couple of hours wandering the gardens, but walking in the heat was not high on Susan’s list, especially when she was limping from a recent tumble.  So we stopped in at the gift shop and headed towards other adventures.

Susan’s hard to fit, so I dare not buy her any clothes without her being there.  To to find her birthday present, I took her to the Galleria and checked out the petite departments at Belk’s and Talbot’s.  A new handbag, a pair of shorts and two tops later, she was a happy birthday girl.

Bestie at the Festie

Lavender Ridge Farms

My bestie usually has dance lessons on Saturdays, so I have to find other ways to entertain myself.  However, her dance teachers (Yes, she has two and a personal trainer.  She’s very serious about it.) were out of town, so we were able to plan a play date.  Some of her office buddies were going to a Lavender Festival in Gainesville and I was invited along.  We were on the road shortly after 8 and made it to the festival by 9:30.  Good thing, because there was already a crowd.

Quaint is the word I would use for this festival.  While it was the event’s ninth year and wildly popular, it was overly quaint for me.  I think I would have loved visiting on a Saturday afternoon sans the festival, but the festival sort of gummed up the works in a higgledy piggledy sort of way.

The event was enriched by antiques, artisans and wine tastings, but the various booths seemed to have been set up without any discernible pattern.  Regular readers know I’m a little on the OCD side (OK a lot) but trying to figure out an orderly way to visit all the booths was beyond my keen.   There was a lavender garden, but forget pictures of Provence with lavender in bloom.  Deb admitted the lavender plant in her yard had a more spectacular look to it than the whole Lavender Ridge garden.

There was a gift shop, but it was so overwhelmed by festival goers you had to wait in line to enter and once in you saw the store by waiting in the line that snaked around between the displays.  There was a cafe, also overwhelmed by patrons.  The only place we found that wasn’t overwhelmed was a small zoo, but I can’t tell you what animals they had, because there were no signs.

By 10:30 AM we were festivaled out and weren’t quite ready for wine tasting, which was supposed to be the next stop on the tour.  We opted for the Half-Off Sale at the Cabi Outlet in Allen.  That’s when the higgledy piggledy really kicked in.  Deb dropped me off at the potty stop on the way in, so I hadn’t seen the parking lot.  Random is the only way I can describe their parking system.  They could have doubled their capacity (and this is about to become important) if they’d just been a little more organized in the way they parked cars.  As we picked our way through the resulting maze of higgledy piggledy cars, I realized there was a huge petting farm with sheep, goats and chickens that we had missed completely, because it was on the other side of the parking lot from everything else.

I’m telling you, visit this place any time except their festival.  We made our way out of the property and headed back to Dallas. Two roads fed into the entrance and there were cars lined up as far as we could see in both directions.  I can’t tell you how far back one of the lines went, but we had to drive past the other on our return and it was at least two miles long and more cars were arriving.  I’m thinking some of those people sat in line for hours and who knows if they ever made it to the entrance.

Come back next week and have more fun with us girls.

 

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Lost in a Sea of Pilgrims

Will we ever make it out of the airport?

TRAVEL THERE: AIRPORT ANXIETY

So, we’ve landed at the Cairo Airport.  We’ve been through Customs and found all our luggage in baggage claim.  We should be fine right?  Well, I certainly would have guessed that to be true, but instead Bill and I are standing outside the terminal, in a huge crowd of people, many of whom look like they are dressed in togas.  I’m wondering where the riot squad is.  Were all my security fears going to come true in the first hour I was in Egypt?

Dismay and Distress

There Bill and I stood, trying to stay connected to each other and to our luggage cart, while being knocked about by the press of the crowd.  Part of me was worried about mundane things like pickpockets, but another part was trying to understand what was going on.  The toga-dressed people and their friends didn’t actually seem threatening, but I couldn’t understand a word they were saying.

What if we inadvertently angered someone?  Would the crowd turn on us?  And where were Mirette and Ayman?  Had Bill given them the right information and confirmed they’d be there?  Had something happened to prevent them coming?

Bill has a gift for appearing calm in a crisis, even when he’s exploding inside.  Like me he’d missed the crowd at first, but he’d continued to overlook it until we were in the middle of it.  Had I realized how worried he was, I would have been even more concerned.  Just when I was ready to hail a cab, our family members found us.

Instant Relief

I’m not quite sure where they came from but suddenly my niece and her husband were there. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so glad to see anyone, with the exception, perhaps, of Bill the two times he came home from Iraq. Once they had located us, Ayman headed off to get the car.  We were still being jostled, but we’d been found, so things didn’t seem quite so threatening.

While we waited, I tried asking Mirette what was going on with all the white outfits. She said they were pilgrims on Hajj as if that explained everything, but it didn’t.  Even I knew the Hajj was taken to Mecca, which is in Saudi Arabia, not Egypt. Something was getting lost in translation.

Why would people on a plane from Saudi Arabia be coming TO Egypt for the Hajj at Easter time? No one could ever tell me.  They just kept patiently explaining the pilgrims were on Hajj, as if that was the definitive answer. Once I got home, I tried Google and Wikipedia, but could find no straight-forward answers.

I’m probably on some watch list by now.  Not only was I in Egypt while this pilgrimage was going on, I was also there for the Pope’s visit.  Since I got back, I’ve been googling every question I could think of to figure it all out.

I educated myself on traditional ihram clothing, which is the toga-like outfit worn by the pilgrims.  I satisfied myself April was not the date for Hajj this year or for any of the major Muslim holidays, for that matter.  I found out pilgrimages taken at times other than Hajj are something called Umrah and I finally found some Umrah locations in Egypt.  Most of what I found when I Googled were travel packages available for Hajj and Umrah, but all of them that I read sounded like a travelogue for people who already know why they are going.  Nothing there to explain exactly what was going on.

So come back next week and find out our other adventures at the Cairo Airport.  Since I’m here writing this blog post we obviously made it out, but not until after a little more craziness.

 

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Touchdown in Cairo

Niece Mirette and her husband, Ayman

TRAVEL THERE:  LET THE CRAZINESS BEGIN

It was a late night arrival in Cairo, so the activity inside the terminal was actually pretty calm.  A flight arrived from Saudi Arabia about the same time as ours, but otherwise customs and baggage claim was empty.  Preoccupied with my own arrival I wasn’t really focused on other passengers, but it was clear we were in the Middle East.  

What’s With the Guys Wearing Towels?

In the terminal, hajibs and galabeyas were more frequent than blue jeans and yoga pants, but one guy really got my attention.  To my uninformed eye, it looked as if he were dressed for a toga party.  His white garment came to about mid-calf and had been torn all the way around the bottom.  The texture was towel-like and it appeared one shoulder might be bare.  Something like a a shawl was pinned around his other shoulder. He was definitely wearing shower shoes, but whatever the reason for his outfit, staring would be rude, so I kept my eyes down.

Islamic Pilgrim Wear

If there had only been one guy like that, I might have forgotten about it in the hustle and bustle, but I began to realize there were a lot of men wearing variations of the same thing.  Some ‘togas’ were longer than others. Some men had both shoulders wrapped.  One hem would look freshly torn with ratty looking strings hanging around the bottom, while another hem would be so smooth I wondered whether it were torn at all.

There were also variations in the textures of the garments.  The first ‘toga’ I had spied looked like a laundry mistake.  If you’ve ever washed a few towels and then discovered them still in the washer several days later – damp, wrinkled and soured – then you know what I mean.  I didn’t get close enough to smell him, of course, but that’s what it looked like.  He was the anomaly in the crowd, but there were other subtle differences.  While some had the lush looped-terry of a luxury hotel’s complimentary robe, a few had the even more exclusive look of a waffle-woven linen hand-towel  No loops there.

Please understand, I’m making all these observations out of the corner of my eye or from under lowered eyelids.  I didn’t want to appear to be a gawking tourist, even if that was exactly what I was.  I started trying to figure out if this was totally a male thing and I was able to ascertain very quickly it was.  The women wore traditional galabeyas and hajibs, and most were of the gloved, head-to-toe, black variety  mentioned in my initial blog about this trip.  Days later, I would begin to realize there were women dressed in simple white variations of this head-to-toe manner, traveling with some of the men, but if they were at the airport I missed them.

I kept quiet and kept my eyes to myself as much as I could, but I couldn’t help but wonder what the deal was.  Did an entire group of conventioneers get their luggage stolen and this was the best the hotel could offer?  Your imagination does weird things in a vacuum of information.

Where are Mirette and Ayman?

Step-by-step we made it through customs and retrieved our luggage.  We were almost out of the terminal, but with the exception of professional drivers holding signs, we hadn’t seen anyone greeting our fellow arrivals.  Just outside the sidewalk was busy with people cuing up for cabs.

Have you ever looked around a place, trying to get your bearings and missed the most obvious thing.  I was looking so hard to find my niece or her husband, that I missed a wild cacophony right in front of me.  When I finally got my bearings, I started to wonder if I was about to get caught up in a riot.

On the other side of a thoroughfare filled with cabs was a huge crowd.  Many of the men had on the togas I had noticed inside the terminal.  Bill headed across the street and I followed him, wondering if he’d even noticed the rowdy crowd.  They weren’t rowdy in a soccer fan kind of way, it was more purposeful and less emotional, but nonetheless quite loud.  What a kaleidoscope of sight and sound to begin our sojourn in Egypt!

I’ll tell you about it next week.

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Back From the Brink

More Egypt Every Wednesday

TRAVEL HERE:  YOUR LOCAL TRAVELER RETURNS

Jane!  Where Have You Been?

I know!  You’ve been wondering what happened to me.  Well, as always, that’s a long story, but I’m digging out from under it.  By now you’ve probably figured out my recent trip to Egypt is filling up my Wednesday posts – and that’s going to continue for a while.  What a rich experience it was!  A third world country from the balcony of five star hotels!  I’m blogging as fast as I can, but I’m already writing posts for September and I’m only two days into the trip!

Back at home, Travel Here disappeared some time in August with only a few exceptions since.  I didn’t quit having Dallas adventures.  I just didn’t have time to tell you about them.  Travel Bug Tales?  October was the last time the younger me had a chance to share her travel tid-bits.  (Hangs head in shame.) I’m guessing it will be a week or two before I’m able to kickstart my Friday blogs, but they’ll be back.

Fun at GHM

Unintentionally Immersive Global Experience

The truth is it took me almost a year to figure out that I can’t do everything.  I took a part-time volunteer position at Global Heart Ministries.  I should have known better, because I don’t do NO well.  I thought I might be able to blog a little bit for them and maybe help out with their volunteers.

Well, I did that and their newsletter and e-news and video shoots and special events and brochures and database – get the picture?  Truth is I overdid for them.  It’s a wonderful ministry and they desperately need all the help they can get, but after approaching a serious case of almost insanity, I had to realize I couldn’t single-handedly meet all their needs.  I had to take a deep breath and just say…well, I didn’t exactly say no.

I couldn’t go cold turkey on Central Asians after I fell in love with them.  I’m still blogging for GHM.  A video shoot and an Azerbaijani concert are just weeks away.  I’m trying to wrap my mind around Apple technology to take over some social media tasks, but I had to hand them back the rest, so I could have a life.  Maybe someone out there is looking for a volunteer opportunity.  I’ve got just the thing and you can start immediately!

To help me take a giant step backwards, I’m only scheduled in the GHM office for staff meetings and very specific assignments.  That means I’m sitting here at my desk in Heath a whole lot more and that makes me a whole lot happier.

Memorial Day Thoughts

So today is Memorial Day, honoring those who were killed protecting our country.  I’ve noticed folks are very deliberate  this year, about pointing out the killed-in-the-line-of-duty thing.  I’m glad.  Things have gotten very imprecise with all this political correctness, inclusiveness and entitlement stuff.  We need to be reminded of the sacrifices which have been made for us, allowing us to become so persnickety.

I hope you have a very special day and that you do take a moment to remember how privileged we are here in America.  The world is having one tragedy after another – some initiated by man and others by nature.  We’re not being very nice to each other, either.  It’s a rare day when one of my “friends” on social media doesn’t insult or irritate me with their political breast-beating.  While it would be nice if America did become great again, I’d be satisfied if we were just a little more tactful and sensitive towards one another.

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