Pizzeria Venezia – Venice

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Vienna for me again! It’s sort of weird going back to these places within the same month, but at the same time, it’s almost like you know the place so well now. Anyways, we took a train to Vienna this time, which obviously cost more than a bus, but was much more comfortable and time-saving. Flying in and out of Vienna is just way too expensive! Anyways, you take a train from the Keleti station in Budapest, and you arrive at Westbahnhof in Vienna in less than 3 hours. I would suggest to pay a bit more to get assigned seats, since many tourists seemed confused when they bought cheaper tickets without seats. You basically have to look around for empty seats, although their train system is super high tech, and you can tell where people are getting off for each seat! Anyways, we didn’t even bother dropping off our bags and headed to the Schonbrunn Palace. It was Christmas Eve and the last day for the market! I got the Baked Potato with Ham and Cheese, and it was so delicious! Tons of sour cream, and the potatoes were so soft! We then took our bags and arrived at Meininger Hotel, which is really a hostel. It was super clean though, and we found many families staying here. It’s bunk bed style, but we had our own private washroom. Our location was the one in Downtown Franz, so I did find that it was not as convenient as the previous hostel I stayed at, but definitely much cleaner. I believe they also have another location that is more central.

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Our Vienna trip was pretty much similar to my previous one, as I just took my family around to see those must-see tourist spots. You can read about it here: Traveling in Vienna. The only exception was visiting the Mozarthaus, which K was pretty excited about since she’s a piano player. I, on the other hand didn’t really know what was going on, but we got a pretty good family deal somehow. Be sure to ask about it if you’re in a group! I don’t have a picture of the house, but it’s where Mozart stayed from 1784 to 1787 and is the only Viennese residence left today. You basically get an audio guide and just click on the numbers as you walk through the rooms. You’ll hear tons of music and understand a bit more about Mozart’s life. Worth it if you’re a Mozart fan. In the afternoon, we walked around the Christmas markets, before they closed for the holidays. You need to be careful when coming around Christmas time, as everything basically begins to shut down. We ended up strolling around the streets near Stephenplatz and ended up at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. They had lights shining against the building and they were having some sort of mass for Christmas Eve.

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On Christmas Eve, basically everything is closed, including restaurants. We had Tripadvisored some restaurants, and in the end, found them to be closed. We wandered the streets of Stephenplatz and finally came across Pizzeria Venezia. We were starving and it was going to be Italian food or McDonalds. McDonalds for Christmas Eve dinner? Nope. Pizzeria Venezia it was. The restaurant was actually packed since it was probably the only few restaurants open and tourists were just piling in. The lower level is for smoking, and the upper level is smoke free. A got the Seafood Linguine which she said was really good. A light olive oil sauce and tons of seafood.

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K and I shared two dishes. First, we had the Black and White Seafood Risotto. This was actually really good! The black risotto was squid ink  based, while the white risotto was a creamy Parmesan. Both sides had an abundant of cuttlefish, so definitely lots of chewiness and texture going on.

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Our second dish was the Schnitzel. Probably not something they’re famous for here since it’s Italian food, but I wanted to try some Viennese Schnitzels! It wasn’t too bad actually, with a thin layer of coating and the pork being tender. A huge portion, but I did find myself feeling like I was eating fast food, since it was a lot of deep fried food on my dish.

Overall, I wouldn’t suggest going to Pizzeria Venezia if the other restaurants are open and you have other choices. It’s average Italian food, but nothing too special. Service was also a bit slow for us.

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Half Day Trip in Budapest

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From Vienna, we took a bus to Budapest. Since Student Agency doesn’t have routes to Budapest, we took Orangeways, another cheap alternative. Orangeways was definitely not as good as Student Agency. The bus was much older and didn’t have any amenities. It only took around 3 hours, so it wasn’t bad at all and we just took a nap. We took the noon bus since the earlier one was all booked up. We definitely booked it too last minute. Our bus ended up only having less than 10 people, so we were able to have two seats each. Another tip is that the Orangeways bus stop is extremely difficult to find! We almost missed our bus even though we were half an hour early. You need to walk behind this building at Olympiaplatz to see the bus there… Anyways, by the time we got to Budapest, it was almost 4 pm. We quickly went to our accommodation to drop off our backpacks. We basically didn’t even have half a day to tour around this city! This time, we stayed at an apartment! Super cool and I wish we had stayed here for a few more nights. I had found it on Booking.com and it’s called All-4U Apartments. Basically, this company has a few apartments, and they rent them out for travelers, even if it’s just for one night. Our apartment could sleep 4 or even 5 really, and was only 49 euros in total! Pretty good deal for how clean and comfortable the place was! It was also located extremely close to the metro that had two lines running.

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They even had a bedroom! The other two beds were outside in the living room. It included a kitchen as well. If only we stayed longer, then we could cook our own food. Super spacious and clean! I highly recommend these apartments!

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The bathroom was huge! And it even included a washing machine! I swear this place was better than my Barcelona flat…

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We quickly mapped out where to hit in the time we had left and headed out. We took a metro to the  We took the metro to the Hungarian Parliament Building, but sadly wasted so much time here. They were having construction, and you basically couldn’t walk to the front of the building. It was dark and a lot of other tourists seemed to be finding a way to the front too. They should’ve put some sort of signs so tourists could figure out what was going on! It was so frustrating and we were cold and tired. Finally, we looked on our maps, and decided to go across the Danube River to see the Parliament from the other side. We took a metro again, thanks to our all day pass. The building is beautiful at night when the light reflects onto the water. A must see at night!

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From there, we walked and walked and walked along the Danube… We then took a right turn and began our walk up towards the Castle District or Castle Hill. We were determined to find the Castle! There are trams all along the way, but we hadn’t done any research, so we walked instead. It’s actually not that bad and you end up seeing a lot of interesting churches along the way. Anyways, we finally saw this humongous looking castle. Funny enough, we had found Matthias Church, and not the castle. Matthias Church is a Roman Catholic church and actually the second largest church of medieval Buda! I swear it felt like a castle more. It was spectacular with the faint yellow lights shining on it. When you get to the top, you have amazing viewpoints of the other side (Pest) and the Chain Bridge. Truly amazing. The details on the roof are also beautiful!

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While walking further to see the Buda Castle, we get a beautiful veiw of the Chain Bridge at night. Budapest is voted as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and I can’t agree more. I think it’s most beautiful at night when the lights hit the water and reflects. It’s also got so many medieval looking buildings and castles which makes the city look like those in fairytales. The Danube River, pictured here, flows through a bunch of countries and is the second longest river on the continent! What’s cool is that because of the unification of Buda and Pest, Budapest is the only city that has both the west and east side of the Danube River.

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Then we finally reached the Buda Castle. It dates back to 1265!  This was where the Hungarian Kings of Budapest stayed. We actually though Matthias Church looked more impressive than the castle! Nevertheless, it was beautiful at night and also had many spots for picture worthy scenes. If you don’t want to walk back down, then you can take the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular which ends at the Adam Clark Square where the Chain Bridge is. Remember that the Castle is high up on a hill! Since the funicular was closed, we hiked back down, which wasn’t too bad since they had paved a pathway for people to walk down.

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We reached the opening of the Szechenyi Chain Bridge on the Buda side, and were determined to walk back to Pest. This famous suspension bridge links you between the east and west and is the oldest permanent bridge on the Danube. The walk actually isn’t that long and took maybe 10 minutes.

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We got pretty hungry by now and we decided to check out the Christmas Market! The best part of traveling in Europe during December is the opportunity to visit the different Christmas markets! The biggest market is at Vorosmarty ter or better known as Vorosmarty Square. It’s the public square in the Budapest city center, which is filled with shops and cafes. It transformed into a lively market, with tons of food and crafts. Again, there were those sweet hollow pastries! Trdelnik is the name in Czech, but in Hungary, they’re called Kurtoskalacs. So good and a must try! I think it was also cheaper here!

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After a round of the Christmas market, we headed for dinner. I had searched up a restaurant on Tripadvisor. It was a little out of the way, but we eventually found our way. Kiskakukk Etterem was a fancy little place that served traditional Hungarian food. The area around the restaurant was rather quiet and Budapest gets dark really quickly! Even though there are lots of lights, the city is pretty dim overall for some reason.

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The inside is pretty fancy looking, and the waiters are all in formal wear. There wasn’t language barriers at all, although our server seemed sort of shy for some reason. It seems like a place to bring your date on, now that I think about it!

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Tenderloin stuffed with bolete mushroom cream served with goose liver in Cabernet sauce,grilled vegetables and Mediterranean potatoes

Here was what I got for my entree! I ended up spoiling myself, and I think this was one of the priciest on the menu, but hold on. It was only CAD$20… Like where do we get tenderloin with goose liver on top for $20? The cost of food is definitely much cheaper in Budapest. While we’re at, I should mention that in Budapest, they use Hungarian Florints, so my entree was 4390 ft, which is around 14 euros. But anyways, back to food. It was so good! The tenderloing was stuffed with a mushroom cream sauce and it also came with a Cabernet red wine sauce – a perfect pairing for the tenderloin. The best part was the goose liver on top. It was crispy on the outside and the inside just melted in your mouth. So good! Even the vegetables were grilled and seasoned well. I had no complaints! Paired it with the House White Wine, although I should’ve really paired it with a red… The wine was also only around CAD$2… Cheaper than ordering a bottle of water in Canada.

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After dinner, we continued our adventure. We would normally be home by now, but we had to make the most of it. We made sure the metro would still run, and off we went to Heroes Square or “Hosok Tere”. It’s near the City Park, and is surrounded by the Museum of Fine Arts and Palace of Art. In the center of the square is the Millennium Memorial or Monoument, which has statues of the leaders that founded Hungary. Budapest actually sort of reminded me of North America, just because it had so much open space, like here. The other cities I had visited in Europe were mostly bunched up streets and buildings, so it was nice to have so much space again!

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We then made our way to the City Park, where we found the Varosligeti Mujegpalya or the City Park Ice Rink. Behind it lies the Vajdahunyad Castle. The ice rink opened in 1870 and is the largest outdoor ice rink in Europe. In summer, it’s actually a pond, so it was pretty cool to see an outdoor ice rink!

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Then we made our way to the Vajdahunyad Castle, which was just behind the rink. It’s actually relatively new, being built between 1896 and 1908. It was built for the Millenial Exhibition and is now the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture. At night, it looked eerie and almost like those kingdoms you see in movies with dragons…

And the next morning, we were up at 5 am, took a taxi to the airport, and off we went back to Barcelona. Little did I know that I would be back in just a few weeks… 🙂

Traveling in Vienna – Christmas Markets and Palaces

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From Prague to Vienna, we took a bus called Student Agency that took around 5 hours. Flying in and out of  Vienna is extremely pricey, so it seems that most travelers on a budget commute by bus. Student Agency was the cheapest bus out there and it was also one of the best bus I’ve been on! They had tons of movies to watch, free wi-fi, and even a cup of complimentary hot chocolate or coffee. Our bus did require us to switch to a different bus when we got to Brno, a city in Czech. The next bus wasn’t as fancy, but it was only another 1-2 hours, so we just slept it off. After dinner with K’s friends that night, they took us to the Vienna Christmas Market. Once again, there are multiple markets all around the city, but the most significant one is at Rathausplatz. It’s also where Vienna’s Town Hall is located. A gorgeous building both in the day and night. Here, the parks are decorated with lights and I feel like it was the nicest market I visited during my trip in Europe.

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You’ll find that Mulled Wine or “Gluwein” stalls all over the market. It’s super popular in Vienna and they have a huge variety of flavours for their punches too.

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I went for the original Gluwein, but I didn’t like it as much as my friends’ flavoured punches. The fruitier ones tasted much better. You pay a deposit and get it in a nice mug which you can keep if you don’t want your deposit back. Otherwise, just return your mug and you can get your deposit back. Other than drinks, there were a variety of food and arts and crafts.

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The next day, we went to tackle all the major tourist sites. However, one of our friends were a huge Sigmund Freud fan since she took a few psychology classes, so we ended up going to the Sigmund Freud Museum first. He’s basically the founder of psychoanalysis, and although I didn’t know much about him, the museum was pretty interesting. You get an audio player to listen to while walking around the museum. Freud had lived there, but there really isn’t much of his furniture left now and it really looks more like a museum. I would advise people who are into psychology and such to visit if they have time. It takes around 2 hours. Then we began to hit up the typical tourist spots. Here is the Austrian Parliament Building, which is huge and spectacular! basically around this area, you’ll find a bunch of other important buildings. We had a look at the Museumsquartier, where there’s a bunch of modern art museums.

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Then we came to Hofburg Palace, which used to house the Hasburg dynasty and rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today, it’s where President of Austria lives. The only problem was that by the time we got here, it started to snow! And quite heavily too! It was our first snowfall in Europe, but seriously, we just wanted to hide indoors. We weren’t dressed for this weather!

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It took us forever to find food! Most places were packed with people since everyone wanted to wait for the snow to stop. We finally found this tiny mall on Mariahilfer Strasse called Gerngross. Inside, we found this restaurant called Brandauer with reasonably priced food. We found a seat and warmed up. I got the Ribs with Fries and they were so good! I felt like I was back in America eating that greasy food. It wasn’t even that greasy. Each rib had tons of meat on it too and it was roasted to perfection. It came with two dips too, which were perfect for the wedge-cut fries. After lunch, the snow stopped and we went to Karlsplatz, which is a square where the Karlskirche (St. Charles’ Church) is located. Also a must see!

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After that, we met up with K’s friends again, and they took us to see the  Belvedere Palace. Again, it’s a Baroque style palace  and was built for Prince Eugene of Savoy. Today, it’s a museum with art from the Middle Ages to today. K went in to see the collection, but the rest of us weren’t too into art, so we ended up taking a look at the Christmas Market which was just outside the building. It was a much smaller scale market, and I wouldn’t come here just for the market. The palace was really pretty at night though! The girls and I also ended up heading to the Schonbrunn Palace since it was our last night. It’s the former imperial summer residence and is known as one of the most important cultural monuments in Austria. However, we didn’t find that the Schonbrunn Palace looked as nice as the Belvedere! It was a bit more simple compared to the Belvedere. We didn’t pay to go inside, but there was again another Christmas Market! This one was much larger than Belvedere and had quite a lot of food. Not bad!

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We then met back up with the rest of the group, and they took us to Vapiano. It’s actually a German restaurant chain, but the largest restaurant is in Vienna! It’s a self-serve restaurant with Italian food like pasta and pizza. They make the food when you order which is really cool. I wish I took a picture of it. So what happens is when you walk in, they give you a little card. You find your own seat, then you go ahead and walk up to to kitchen to line up. There’s a pizza line and a pasta line. When it’s your turn, you scan your card on this machine and tell the chef what type of pasta you want, what sauce, and whether you want other toppings. Then the chef literally starts to cook it in front of you! Pasta doesn’t take long to cook, so you have your food ready in less than 5 minutes! You can add on drinks or other sides. Here, I got the Pesto Penne, which was quite delicious! Affordable pricing, and the quality wasn’t bad. They claim to have fresh pasta and such. I don’t think it’s the best pasta I’ve had, but definitely pretty good for what you pay. When you leave, you just give the cashier your card, and it’ll show how much you need to pay! Definitely a cool concept and the interior doesn’t even feel like a cafeteria! It looks pretty upscale!

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At night, K went out to party with his friends. The girls and I wanted to have an easy night and we headed back to our hostel. We stayed at Hostel Ruthensteiner. It wasn’t our first choice and wasn’t exactly the cheapest, but everything else was booked up during that time! Always book early! Anyways, the hostel was fine and service was friendly. Definitely wasn’t the nicest one we’ve stayed at and it was also our first time where we had to share a bathroom with the rest of the floor. It’s fine when you’re the first one up in the morning, but once it’s the evening, the bathroom is a mess… Well we survived, and honestly I can say, it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. Also at our hostel had a mini bar where many students and travelers hung out. The girls and I went to the bar and got some Punch! It was much cheaper than the market, and we actually thought it tasted better! And that ended our night. The next day, we would begin our adventure to Budapest!

Prague Christmas Market – Potatoes, Trdelnik, and Old Prague Ham

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After saying farewell to my friends, the next morning before the sun even rose, I was out heading to the airport. K, U, D, and I were off on one of the longer trips I’d been during exchange. We were to attack 3 cities (and 3 countries) in around 6 days. Actually, we ended up going to 4 cities and countries really, since we made a transfer stop in Milan. We had around 3 hours of transfer time, which now that I think about it, was terrible. Obviously we didn’t leave, since it takes around an hour to get in the city. We literally napped at the airport on these terrible chairs, and it was not a comfortable experience for sure. Cost over comfort. Sad life of a student. Anyways, by around noon, we were able to take our next flight and from Milan, we entered Prague in the Czech Republic. To be honest, I didn’t know much about Prague, but it seemed like a city most exchange students visited. Now that I’m back, I can say that Eastern Europe is quite different from the rest of Europe. I find it very medieval with lots of history and the culture is generally quite different. Oh, and one huge change was the weather. It was freezing during December, and although Vancouver can get to the same temperatures, I guess I was just used to the warm, sunny weather in Spain. By the time we found our way to the hostel and dropped our bags off, it was already pretty dark. We got lost on our way too, so we spent more time than we should’ve. Christmas markets were everywhere in Europe now, and the one in Prague is known to be pretty good! We went to the one in the Old Town Square which is the main market. Just around 5 minutes away, is also Wenceslas Square, which we also checked out.

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The Old Town Square was filled with people and a giant Christmas tree stood in the middle. Other than food, crafts, and souvenirs to buy, there was also a performance stage and children were singing carols! It was really cute and the square itself had such Gothic styled buildings that the scenery just looked so much more spectacular.

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You MUST get this when you’re in Eastern Europe. It’s called Trdelnik (no idea how you pronounce it) and it’s a traditional Hungarian cake and sweet pastry. We also found  this in the streets and Christmas markets in Prague and my friends had recommended that I try this. For us, we refer to it as the “Chimney Cake”. We smelt the cinnamon smell and immediately went over to purchase one to share between us. It’s pretty interesting how it’s made. Essentially, it’s rolled dough that’s wrapped around and grilled on an open fire while it’s turning. Then, they roll the dough on sugar that’s often mixed with cinnamon or other flavours. They slide the dough off the stick, and it’ll have a hollow hole! It’s extremely fluffy and soft! So addicting with the sugar on the outside. I love how you can just rip pieces off since it’s rolled around continuously. A must try!!!

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At the market, there were tons of food I wanted to try, but I had to be careful in selecting since I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish all the food. We ended up sharing some potatoes at this stall that had pans of different seasoned potatoes. This one was Bacon and Potatoes. I liked this one a lot, but I wouldn’t say it was amazing. Plus, I’m sure I could make this at home quite easily. It wasn’t very special, although it seems like a traditional type of food they ate here.

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We also got a portion of Potatoes with Sauerkraut and Sausages. This wasn’t as good as the Bacon and Potatoes. The main reason was the sauerkraut. I’m okay with sauerkraut, but I like it when it’s with soup. I can eat it as a side too, but not too much, so I found this overwhelming. Sauerkraut seems to be eaten a lot in Eastern Europe. The other problem was that these potatoes weren’t exactly warm. I’m not sure if it’s because we were in the cold and it cooled down, or just simply because the pans weren’t being heated underneath. Also, be extremely careful with the people selling these potatoes! They sell by weight, and their per pound pricing is pretty cheap, but it adds up. Remember that potatoes are extremely heavy! These people were just scooping as much as they could onto your plate, and unless you say less, they won’t budge. You had to be really persistent on how much you wanted. We ended up still paying quite a lot for just potatoes… Apparently a lot of tourists get scammed by this so be very careful and be clear what you want. Not worth your money in my opinion.

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It was getting pretty cold so we hid inside the Kingswood Apple Cider House for a while. It was this wooden lodge in the market and they sold Apple Cider of a few varieties. You could get it with alcohol or without and some other variations. We chose the most typical one that had some alcohol in it. You could barely taste any alcohol, and the sweetness of apple was very apparent. A really good way to warm up!

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Then K got hungry again and he decided to try the Old Prague Ham! It was being sold at various stalls and was turning on a rotisserie. This ham is known to be traditional delicacy and basically the grandmother of today’s hams. It’s fully cooked and also smoked. The ham is also boneless although there is often some fat attached to it. It was very tender and I didn’t find it too salty actually! Again, you need to be very careful with stating how much you want to the vendors. Unless you speak their language, they can pretty much assume you’re a tourist and it seems that many vendors have been ripping tourists off by cutting a huge slab of meat, hence a ridiculous price. I think K was pretty careful in telling them how much, so he got a good portion to just try. I’m not saying every vendor will do this, but I did a quick search and many tourists have fallen under this “Prague Ham Scam”. I guess it works for the potatoes and any other food that’s sold by weight. Just watch out so your trip doesn’t get ruined.

All in all, the market was very nice and festive. I just wish the weather wasn’t as cold. We weren’t able to stay out in the cold for long and had to go into souvenir shops and such to warm up. Also, I wasn’t aware that Prague was known for pickpocketing (like how Barcelona is), but my friend did almost get her wallet stolen. The man was reaching in her bag while she was looking at souvenirs at the market, and luckily a woman screamed to my friend to watch out! Such good people out there, but you still need to be careful!