Recap: Antarctica and South America

I hope you didn’t think that I’d forgotten about you – after all, it’s been almost 2 weeks since my last blog entry. The truth is: after being away for 3 weeks, it took me awhile to return to normal (whatever that is) life.

So I hope you didn’t miss me too much (actually, I hope you missed me and my posts a lot), but now it’s time for TheCulturedTraveler to get off his – ahem – backside and get to work.

Therefore, I thought that today’s post should be a “highlights” replay. After all, I’d have to say that we had an amazing time on this latest adventure. If you were following me throughout Buenos Aires and aboard Crystal Symphony, you’ll most likely be familiar with what you’re about to see. But what the heck, right? 

Enjoy!!

Luggage for 3 Weeks
It took this much baggage to get us from “here” to “there”.

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The fabulous Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Hotel

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2nd favorite meal in Buenos Aires, and a 5-minute walk from the hotel

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Quiz: What song did Evita sing from this balcony?

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Favorite and most elegant meal in Buenos Aires

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Seeing Buenos Aires with Pedro, one of the best tour guides ever

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Visiting La Boca (in the rain)

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Teatro Colon: one of the world’s most beautiful opera houses

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Crystal Symphony in port as seen from the Park Hyatt Hotel 

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Repacked and ready to embark Symphony

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AAC CPA on deck for the 1st sunset

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Gorgeous sky 1st evening at sea

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Breakfast al fresco 1st full day at sea

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Family Negronis on the 1st formal night

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Formal Shoes

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The Virginia Gentlemen – Bar none, best entertainment on the voyage

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Invited to have a cocktail with the Captain in his quarters

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The beauty of Tierra del Fuego National Park

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AAC CPA at the end of Route 3 – 11,090 miles from Canada – the lowest piece of land in the world

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More yummy food on Crystal Symphony

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First look at Antarctica from our balcony

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AAC CPA appreciates the view

Antarctica - Penguins & Seals
Penguins and sea lions (photo courtesy of Nancy Shafran)

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A delegation from Palmer Station arrives for a visit

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More sea lions just hanging around

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Cruising around Antarctica at about 8:30 PM

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And about 3 hours later! It’s still light out!!

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AAC CPA welcomes you to the Falkland Islands (and its lovely weather)

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But we enjoyed another amazing sunset at sea

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And AAC CPA conjured up a full moon for your viewing pleasure

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Back by popular demand: The Virginia Gentlemen entertain in the Crystal Cove

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Welcome to Puerto Madryn

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This product is sold in the local market

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Late night at sea: full moon on a deserted Promenade Deck

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And another gorgeous day at sea as seen from our balcony

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Approaching Montevideo, Uruguay

Juanico Building - 01
A private field trip to Juanicó

Touring the Grounds - 01

Lunch Table
Enjoying a private lunch at the vineyard

Wine Tasting
The wines we tasted at lunch

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Disembarking Symphony for the last time (those smiles are FAKE)

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AAC CPA back at the Park Hyatt for 9 hours before the flight home

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AAC CPA hunkers down for the 10+ hour flight home

Postlude:

All-in-all, we had a fabulous trip. Visiting Buenos Aires for the first time was a total delight. As a dear friend of ours’ puts it: “BA is beautiful – a bit shabby but, like some aging countess, still elegant”. So true. We learned that Argentina is a country that, in all things, is in a perpetual pendulum swing. We had the benefit of an outstanding tour guide, enjoyed several memorable meals, accompanied by some amazing Argentine wines (let’s hear it for the Malbec!), and just marveled as we walked through the city.

Then we had the great pleasure of returning to Crystal Symphony for 2 weeks. Having sailed on Crystal many times, it’s like returning home. The Crystal fleet is elegant, beautiful and has a crew that has but one goal in mind: to insure that you have the best time imaginable. 

The days we spent in Antarctica were so memorable for the things we saw and which are hard to capture on camera. You’ll just have to take my word for it: you must see it for yourself.

Finally – and I know I’ve said it before – we live to travel and we travel to live. It’s a truism that we must get outside of our shells (and, sometimes, our comfort zones) and go exploring. Whether it’s on land, sea or air, there is so much to see out there and we diminish ourselves if we don’t take the opportunity to visit new places, whether it’s the town next door, the state across the border, the other coast, or another continent. 

Give in to your own personal wanderlust and go a-traveling!

PS. Here’s how we know we’re back in NYC and the vacation is over:

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Buenos Aires: Embarkation Day

Here it is, gentle readers. On this amazingly beautiful and sunny day, two years after booking this cruise, embarkation day is at last here.

For those of us who have – or will – take a cruise or make a crossing (remember?), is there anything as exciting as pulling up to the cruise terminal, handing your luggage over to your trusted porter and walking over the gangplank onto your ship (in this case, the beautiful Crystal Symphony)?

This will be a very quick post today, as embarkation day is filled with getting settled in, greeting your fellow passengers, surprise reunions with passengers with whom you’ve sailed before, reacquainting yourself with the crew and the vessel. 

Although we’re boarding at around noon, we don’t set sail until 5:00 PM.

Here’s a shot of our finally packed luggage before we checked out of our hotel – peace has been restored!!!

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Miraculously, we got everything back into the suitcases!

More to follow soon.

Buenos Aires – Day Five

Well, here it is: our last day in town. Our chariot – a/k/a Crystal Symphony – awaits and we will board her tomorrow for a 14-day cruise that will take us to Antarctica and other unusual places. This is the first trip that AAC CPA and I have taken in many years where every place we visit will be for the 1st time. Exciting, right?

Crystal at Harbor
The beautiful Crystal Symphony, as seen from our hotel room

So our plan today was an easy one: We paid a visit to Templo Libertad, just a block away from Teatro Colon. Adjacent to the synagogue is the small Jewish History Museum. The best day to visit the synagogue is on Tuesdays, beginning at 11:00 AM. Due to security, a passport is required and the entry fee is 140 ARS, about $10.00.

The design of the synagogue, which opened in 1932, is heavily influenced by Roman and Byzantine architecture. It is home to the Congregación Israelita de la República de Argentina (or CIRA).

On the way to the synagogue, we made a return visit to Teatro Colon, just because it’s such a beautiful building. And it was there that we had a surprise reunion with two friends who are going to be on the cruise with us. Here’s AAC CPA’s surprised reaction when he saw them (with Leslie and Ron in the background).

AAC - BA
AAC CPA surprised by our Crystal sailing buddies

Here are a few photographs of the synagogue:

Libertad Synagogue Gates
Templo Libertad 

Libertad Synagogue
Templo Libertad gate detail, showing the 12 tribes of Israel

Libertad Overhead Entrance
No, that’s not the Vulcan salute!!

Libertad Sanctuary Entrance
Entrance to the sanctuary

Libertad Sanctuary - 01
Inside the sanctuary

Libertad Sanctuary - 02
A closer look at the “bimah”

Museum Typewriter
It’s an old typewriter with Hebrew letters found inside the museum

TRAVEL TIP: Templo Libertad

This afternoon was quite lazy and we began the arduous task of repacking. I don’t know why it should be difficult, since we’re not adding anything to what we brought from New York but, somehow, it’s very challenging and fraught with peril and emotional outbursts. Perhaps you’ve also had that experience, too?

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Is repacking more stressful than packing?

Tonight, for our grand farewell to Buenos Aires, we’re staying in and starting our evening at Vinoteca, which offers an extensive selection of wine tastings, particularly of the Malbecs we’ve been enjoying while in town. There’s also the option of sampling a selection of artisanal cheeses while you’re sipping the wines you’ve chosen. From there, we’ll have dinner at the elegant Duhau Restaurante, the gourmet restaurant at the hotel.

Park Hyatt Vinoteca
Vinoteca at the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt

Park Hyatt Duhau Restaurante
Duhau Restaurante

11:00 Update: We had a great meal, preceded by an amazing wine and cheese tasting at Vinoteca. We sampled 8 different wines: 4 red and 4 white, and 7 different cheeses, all of which were home grown. The dinner at Duhau was excellent and each dish was beautifully presented, as was the service. 

A DESSERT
Desserts at Duhau – A sweet end to a perfect meal

CUISINE TIP: Duhau Restaurante and Vinoteca

A PALACE
Another part of the hotel – just ‘cuz

PS. Internet reception aboard ships can be notoriously terrible, so you may not hear from me for awhile. Not to worry – I’ll keep in touch as best I can.

Buenos Aires – Day Four

Culture, culture, culture! Today was about visiting one of the world’s preeminent opera houses, the magnificent Teatro Colon. It’s an easy 20 minute stroll from our hotel, the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt hotel, along Avenue Libertad.

The original theatre dates back to 1857 but, within 30 years, it became clear that a new theatre was needed and, following a 20-year period, the new theatre made its debut in 1908, with a performance of Verdi’s Aida.

Considered one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world and with perfect acoustics, all of the great singers from Maria Callas to Luciano Pavarotti performed there well into the 1980s, after which the theatre fell into disrepair. In order to return the opera house to its former glory, a complete restoration was undertaken from 2006 – 2010.

Speaking of Pavarotti, the great tenor feared performing at Teatro Colon because – he said – the acoustics were so excellent that any mistake on his part would be clearly heard by the audience. No place to run, no place to hide. Talk about performance anxiety!

Guided tours in English are available during the day, and more information can be found at the opera house’s website. If you’re planning a trip to Buenos Aires, it should not be missed. Even better, if you’re visiting from February through November, it’s possible to see an opera or ballet performance there.

Teatro Exterior - 01
Entrance to the magnificent Teatro Colon

Teatro Foyer
Staircase in the foyer

Teatro Stairway
Stairway detail

Teatro - Leslie & AAC - 02
Leslie and AAC CPA admire the sights

Teatro Golden Hall - 01
The Golden Hall

Teatro Venus & Cupid
Statue of the Secret: What is Cupid whispering to Venus?

Teatro Auditorium
Inside the auditorium 

Teatro Auditorium Ceiling
Auditorium ceiling as seen from the President’s box

Callas Buenos Aires Turandot
Archival photo of Maria Callas as Turandot at Teatro Colon, 1949

CULTURE TIP: Teatro Colon

Following this excellent tour, we returned to the hotel, had a spot of lunch and relaxed for a few hours on the beautiful hotel grounds. It was a perfect summer day, warm but not too much and with very low humidity.

Lunch
That’s a yummy cold tomato and cucumber soup with langoustines

Tonight’s dinner was at the excellent Don Julio in the Palermo district. Unlike last night’s disappointing experience at La Cabrera, we could not have asked for a more delightful meal. The service was impeccable and the food was delicious. Once again, we split several cuts of beef and pork with various side dishes and shared the inevitable bottle of Malbec.

Don Julio
Inside Don Julio

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Carnivores delight at Don Julio

(See all the wine bottles going up to the ceiling? Customers write notes on the bottle labels.)

I haven’t yet mentioned it but, for those of us who are used to eating out in New York or in San Francisco, the price of dining in Buenos Aires is a great bargain. Tonight’s meal, which included 2 appetizers, 3 different cuts of beef, 2 side dishes, 1 dessert and the Malbec worked out to about worked out to about $47 per person. In the States, we’d easily be spending more than twice that amount.

CUISINE TIP: Don Julio

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow will be our last full day in Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires – Day Three

So it was a rainy day in Buenos Aires. Good time to visit a cemetery, right?

Our intrepid guide, Pedro picked us up at the appointed hour for a stroll towards the Recoleta area, a mostly residential neighborhood but noted mostly for the famous Recoleta Cemetery.

Group Pic
Pedro, AAC CPA, Leslie & Ron go on the town

On the walk over, we stopped in at the Café Biela, which is frequented by locals and natives alike and, in 1999, was declared to be a Place of Cultural Interest by the city of Buenos Aires. Just inside the entrance is sculptural art of two very famous Argentine writers, Adolfo Bioy Casares and his buddy, Jorge Luis Borges, both of whom frequented the café.

Cafe Biela
Casares and Borges at table #1

Just across from the café is this enormous rubber tree, hundreds of years old. To keep it from collapsing, low-hanging branches have been propped up as in this photograph:

Plaza Francia Gum Tree
That’s one big rubber tree!

Continuing along, we approached the 2nd oldest church in Buenos Aires, Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Pilar, dating back to 1732. As Sunday mass was underway, we didn’t go inside to take a look around, but it’s pretty impressive from the outside.

Iglesia Nuestra Senora del Pilar

Just down the street is the entrance to Recoleta Cemetery. There are many notables buried there, but one towers above them all. On the way to that mausoleum, however, we noticed this very interesting deco artwork:

Deco Mausoleum

And then, there it was:

Familia Duarte

Familia Duarte - 02

It was raining pretty steadily when we arrived at the Duarte mausoleum. Pedro was full of information about the many travels of the remains of Eva Duarte Peron from her death in 1952 until her final resting place in this cemetery, over 20 years later.

After strolling through the cemetery a bit more, we went across the street and up to the top floor of a nearby building where I was able to take this overhead shot of the cemetery:

Recolete from Above

TRAVEL TIP: Recoleta Cemetery

By then it was time for lunch and we strolled to a local restaurant for some empanadas. Along the way, we saw this placard at the Hotel Meliá Recoleta Plaza:

Evita at Melia Recoleta Plaza
That girl is EVERYWHERE!

By the time lunch was over, it was raining pretty steadily, so we decided to cab it over to La Boca, another neighborhood wherein Italian immigrants (particularly from Genoa) settled. It was a very poor neighborhood and its residents lived in abject poverty. Today it is of interest to tourists because of its colorful houses some of which are adorned with art, as well as restaurants and tango clubs. As we walked through, we saw couples dancing the tango on slightly raised stages at several of the restaurants on the Caminito, the main street of La Boca. Outside of this small tourist area, the neighborhood is still one of poverty.

La Boca

La Boca Polo Eva Tango
Three Argentine Passions: Polo, Evita and Tango

La Boca Tango Frieze
Frieze in honor of the Tango

La Boca - Tango Demo
Live Tango on a Rainy Sunday Afternoon

La Boca - Dog Day Afternoon
Dog Day Afternoon at La Boca

Pedro escorted us back to the hotel and we thanked him for the 2 days we spent together while he showed us his city. Again, if you’re planning a trip to Buenos Aires and want a personal tour of the city, Pedro is the guy for you.

TRAVEL TIP: About Pedro

Then it was time for some relaxation before heading out for dinner.

While I was having some down time, I checked my wallet to make sure I had enough pesos for the evening, and look what popped out:

Eva Pesos
And there she is again!

Tonight we dined at La Cabrera Norte, another restaurant notable for its beef and large portions. While the food was delicious, the service was problematic.

When we arrived for our reservation at about 8:30, the restaurant was practically empty. But, within 15 minutes, the place had filled up. Our waiter presented us with menus and some “tasties” to get us started, and we ordered an excellent bottle of wine – Angelica Zapata Malbec 2011 – as we checked out the menu. As we did at Fervor 2 nights earlier, we decided to share a couple of first courses, followed by several cuts of excellent Argentine meat and sides.

So far, so good.

The first course arrived after a few minutes and all was well. But a few minutes later while we were in the middle of enjoying our food, platters of beef and pork and papas fritas and other side dishes arrived. There wasn’t even room on the table for everything, not to mention that the plates from our first course weren’t replaced by fresh ones. While it’s not as if we were confronted with an earthquake or hurricane or being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, it did put a big dent in the evening.

We soldiered on, however, and kept eating and eating and eating and, again, the beef and pork were delicious. The Argentines really know how to treat their meats.

What’s interesting is that we arrived at 8:30 and by 9:25 we had completed our entrée, setting a record for the quickest meal of the trip.

However, by the time we ordered and shared a dessert and departed the restaurant, another hour had gone by.

So, maybe it was just an off-night with lousy pacing of the meal. Or maybe that’s the experience of dining at La Cabrera. We noticed that the tables were being turned over with great frequency, so who knows?

I can tell you with certainty that, after the amazingly good service at both Fervor and I Latina, the service at La Cabrera was several notches lower.

And thus concluded our 3rd day in BA.

 

 

 

 

Buenos Aires – Day Two

Greetings from sunny and warm Buenos Aires!

We’ve just come back from a sensational dinner at I Latina, but more about that later.

The day started with a delicious buffet breakfast at the hotel. So far, the weather has been warm and sunny – it’s summer down here, after all.

AAC Breakfast
AAC CPA on the terrace for his first breakfast

Breakfast Buffet 01
A sampling of 1 of the 3 buffet stations

Breakfast Buffet 02

Amazing breads and sweets

Today was our first opportunity to see this great city with our amazing guide, Pedro Werberg. Pedro is extremely personable and, also, knowledgeable about the history and geography of the city and we had the pleasure of spending many hours with him walking around the city and seeing the sights.

I can say – without reservation – that, if you’re planning a trip to Buenos Aires and want a professional private tour guide, Pedro is your man.

TRAVEL TIP: About Pedro

Here’s a photographic journal of a few of the sights we’ve seen so far:

We started by admiring some of the architecture of the city, much of which is heavily influenced by the French style of the 18th and 19th centuries:

Former Private Residence Avenue Alvear
This building was once a private residence!

Argentine Facade
Another example of French-style architecture in Buenos Aires

On our way, I happened to see the following advertisement, which should please Harvey Fierstein quite a little bit:

Casa Valentina
Go, Harvey!

Many of the sights we saw today were in honor of José de San Martín (1778-1850), an Argentine general who played a pivotal role in obtaining South America’s independence from Spain. As we walked our way through the city, San Martin was commemorated with, among other things: a park, a statue, a palace and, finally, his tomb in the cathedral, which is attended by an honor guard. San Martin was a true hero.

Plaza San Martin Retiro
Plaza San Martin Retiro

Palacio San Martin
Palacio San Martin

San Martin Tomb
Tomb of San Martin inside the Metropolitan Cathedral

San Martin Tomb Ceiling
The gorgeous ceiling inside the tomb

Circulo Militar
Circulo Militar – now a private club

Harrods
Harrods – once upon a time, but not for many, many years

Along the way, we asked Pedro to help us change some US $ for some Argentine Pesos. Since the recent Argentine presidential election, the currency has stabilized greatly but exchanging money can still be just a bit confusing. Pedro found us the best place for the exchange, and we got a rate that was more favorable than I could find online, about 14 pesos to the dollar. And look what we found next to our money changer:

The King
The King – Still very popular in Argentina

Then it was time for lunch. There’s a lovely area waterfront area called Puerto Madero, which consists of a very long row of British built brick buildings, converted into shops and restaurants. We found one of those restaurants – Happening – and had a delicious lunch on the terrace, accompanied by an excellent Malbec (of course).

Puerto Madero
Puerto Madero

Happening
Happening – where we had lunch

Argentine Urinals
The mirrored urinals at Happening – just thought you’d be interested

After lunch, we made our way to one of the most famous landmarks in the city, especially if you’re a Lord Webber fan: the Casa Rosada (Pink Palace). Two of the most famous people connected with Casa Rosada were former president, Juan Peron and his wife, Eva – you all know them, right? Pedro was really great in explaining the complicated history of this charismatic couple and the roles they played when they were in power. We also discussed many of the myths associated with this couple, even to this day.

Casa Rosada Balcony
Casa Rosada Balcony

Perons
Eva and Juan Peron

By then, it was time to return to the hotel for a little downtime and get ready to head out for a very memorable dinner at I Latina, which had been recommended to us by everyone we had asked where we should eat. It did not disappoint.

I Latina

Arriving by taxi in a somewhat questionable neighborhood, we were confronted by a locked wrought-iron fence, through which we could see a very charming restaurant. Fortunately, we rang the bell and someone immediately came to escort us inside and to our table. It is a small-ish place, probably with no more than 20-25 tables.

I Latina Interior
Inside I Latina

There is a set menu, with optional wine pairings that can complement the meal. We elected to go all the way.

The food was inventive, sometimes playful, and absolutely delicious.

I Latina Menu - 01
Our menu – part one

I Latina Menu - 02
And part two

I Latina Entree
Maybe our favorite course: The braised pork

And, btw, I just wanted you all to know that our AAC CPA ate every bite of every course. He can sometimes be a – how to say it? – picky eater, but not at I Latina. If that isn’t a great review of a restaurant I don’t know what is.

I’d also like to mention the young staff, all of whom were wonderful, spoke excellent English and were incredibly friendly. A couple of them were from the US and their stories of how they wound up in BA were very interesting.

The service was completely professional, but not at all pretentious. It was almost as if you were in a friend’s home being served this fabulous feast.

I Latina Infusion
Wonderful infusion at the end of the meal

I Latina Urinal
Signage in el baño

Our meal lasted almost 3 hours, at the end of which, our waiter arranged for a taxi to transport us back to the hotel, where we said a fond goodnight.

CUISINE TIP: I Latina

We’ll be up tomorrow for another day of sightseeing with Pedro.

Buenas noches, y’all.