Top Ten Travel Bucket List. Day Two- Palau and Amsterdam

Yesterday I kicked off my week long Travel Bucket List series with an intro telling you what you can expect for the next week and a look at London, United Kingdom as my #10 destination. If you didn’t read yesterday, scroll down and give it a read!

Today features another travel wish list usual suspect at #9 with Amsterdam, Netherlands, and a more unconventional choice at #8 takes a look at the Pacific islands of Palau. Let’s literally jump right into it, shall we, to a look at two destinations where water is the key to your travel plans.

9. Amsterdam, Netherlands

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No, you’re not looking a painting or a CGI image from a movie screen. That’s just some of the beautiful architecture you can expect to see when visiting Amsterdam. Known for its culture and it’s infamous Red Light District, there’s a little something for everyone whether you like to keep it low key, or get into a little bit of trouble. But since this is a PG travel series, I’ll leave the getting into trouble for you to look into 😉

The first stop in my Amsterdam vacation won’t be a stop at all, but a ride through the canals that not only contribute to the city’s character, but keep it from drowning. I know, I know… Canal boat rides are so cliche. But the canal rides in Amsterdam come with a lot of options that make them a lot more fun and worth giving a day of your trip to.

Boat tours through a famous city, in my experience, have been the worst. I pay to have someone boat me through the city, pointing out this landmark or that house, but in no time I feel bored, trapped, and regretful of wasted time. You could always choose to do a guided tour if that’s your style, but I like to roam and have options. Amsterdam offers these options while still giving you the canal experience. The first, more expensive and adventurous option is to rent a boat and do your own exploring. The second option is to hit up a company with a day pass. You receive an all day ticket and can hop on or hop off to your heart’s desire. Feeling bored? Jump off. Want to see another site? Jump back on bored. You can get the canal experience and some insight into the city, maybe even discover a stop you’d not planned on visiting, and all at you own leisure and pace.

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Next, lets take a trip to the library. Yes, I said the library. Yes, I’m serious! Amsterdam’s Central Library is a modern marvel of architecture. Ten floors, 300 computers, three restaurants, and a stunning view of the city aren’t even the main attraction.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that books are a huge hobby of mine. If you haven’t, you just learned a new fact about me. But even being the largest library in Europe and housing millions of reading options, we still aren’t even to the best part.

The modern architecture of the building is stunning even in photos. 

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The best feature of the building? Notice anything missing? All artificial light sources in the library are either invisible or hidden. The architects who designed the building wanted natural light to be the main focus, and decided to build all artificial light sources either into the design or the furniture. Maybe its just me, but I found that extremely cool. While at the library, I can’t forget to take some selfies with a stunning view of the city in the background!

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Finally, a little art- both on a canvas and in the ground. Check out the amazing art created by Dutch masters and also the amazing tulips that The Netherlands is famous for.
I’m not even going to begin to touch on all the amazing art museums that are at your disposal while in Amsterdam. For a more comprehensive list of options and description- check out this great article from The Telegraph that is a great guide to the art scene.

The two highlight museums are the Rijksmuseum (RM will be used as abbreviation) and the Van Gogh Museum. The RM features the work of Rembrandt, as well as giving you works of other artists who are apparently really renowned, but I’ve never heard of (like I said, read The Telegraph article. I’m a very casual art lover at best). The RM also is a showcase of royal furniture, clothing, and precious metals and jewelry. The Van Gogh museum offers, well, a lot of Van Gogh. Over 200 paintings as well as drawings and other pieces make this the world’s largest collection of work from one of history’s most celebrated artists.

Finally, time to check out the tulips! If you’re like me, you love flowers. Every summer, I plant as many as my 7×5 foot apartment patio will tastefully allow, and my local florist knows me by name. The Dutch take flowers to a whole new level, making living art out of their beautiful tulips.

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Been to Amsterdam? Leave a comment with your favorite stop or hidden gem. It’s never too early to start planning.

8. Palau

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On the surface, Palau looks like your everyday destination to a week of paradise. To get to the true intrigue of Palau, you have to go under the surface to find what makes this chain of over 250 islands stand out and worthy of a Bucket List.

First, a bit about Palau. Located hundreds of miles west of Indonesia and the Philippines, Palau is out of the way, and I mean out of the way. A flight from the United States will take about four layovers before even making it to the islands. Speaking of the United States, Palau is governed by the US as part of a 1947 treaty, English is its main language, and they use the dollar as currency which makes it a very American friendly destination.

What makes Palau a perfect destination for me personally is that its not only rich with experiences with nature that are extremely rare, but it gives a living look at history that any history buff go crazy over. Let’s start our vacation with a few relaxing days laying by the clear oceans with a book and some booze, but then its time to explore!

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On the surface, this looks like any ordinary tropical lake. Take a closer look. Like, really close, to the bottom corner. See those pin points of orange? Welcome to Jellyfish Lake in Palau.

Connected to the oceans by a series of underwater channels, millions of jelly fish pass through this lake everyday. The coolest part? You can go swimming with them and live to tell the tale. The golden jellyfish is a subspecies of jelly fish that, for whatever reason, does not possess the ability to sting predators.

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You can touch them, hold them, swim along them. Let’s be real- who wouldn’t want to experience this? I’ve never been diving, so a quick course in snorkeling will be a must, but its a small price to pay for the once in a lifetime experience of Jellyfish Lake.

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The next reason that Palau makes my Bucket List- it’s a living window into the history of the United States and World War II. I’m a history buff. While the Pacific conflict in WWII isn’t exactly my favorite subject of history, it’s still very cool to learn about and this is how to get a real life look at it’s history.

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To give an extremely abridged version of the history (this blog is in the middle of travel week, not history week, after all) the USA and Japan had a lot of conflicts centered in or around Palau, including the Battle of Peleliu.

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The clear waters of Palau’s oceans offer amazing views of still intact wreckage from the battles, and the jungles also provide looks at deserted tanks and crashed planes.

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I say again- who wouldn’t want to experience this? Palau is often overlooked as a travel destination, but it easily lands on my Bucket List, and after reading, hopefully yours.

Tomorrow we are coming back state side for my #7 destination, San Francisco, California, and heading down under to Sydney, Australia. If you’re enjoying the travel series, don’t forget to subscribe or bookmark me. Until tomorrow, bon voyage.

Top Ten Travel Bucket List

Like the other 99% of the world’s population, I love to travel. And like 99% of those 99%, I don’t have the money to do it as often I’d like.

A few days ago, as I realized I was pushing thirty years of life and that my time was getting shorter, I realized that barring some extreme change in fortune, I’m likely to never see all the places I want to see before moving on into the afterlife, or reincarnation, or whatever our deaths bring. Considering that I don’t play the lottery, my odds of striking it rich are even slimmer. So I compiled my first top ten Bucket List.

How fun it was! Sitting down and thinking about how I have to hurry and do a set of things before dying. It felt pretty morbid to be honest, and made me wonder why people create these lists, but since I did one, I shall share it with you now. I’ll be doing a few a day, so if you enjoy what you read, subscribe or keep checking back for updates!

10. London, United Kingdom

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I’ve already been to London once. You might be asking, why put it on your bucket list if you’ve already done it? Well, to start, I was sixteen on my first visit, which meant that I didn’t get to experience a lot of the things that adult me would have loved to do. I also simply couldn’t even begin to mark off half of the thing on my ‘to-do’ list in a weeks time.

During the first visit, I also visited London like a tourist. Adult me likes to travel, meet strangers, and do things that people who actually live in that city do. I’m not knocking people who travel like tourists. Each to his own, and I’m definitely guilty of sneaking in lots of tourist trap events into my schedule. But I just love spending about half of a vacation in a fantasy land, pretending that I live where in reality I’m just a visitor, and I’m successful with all this money to blow that I’ve saved up for months just for this one week of glory.

But mainly, it stayed in my blood. I don’t know what it was about that city, but even with daily rain, and icy cold rain at that, I felt like I was close to paradise. I loved the pace and culture of the city, and I found the locals I encountered to be lovely, spirited people. Londoners get a bad rap. Or maybe it was just my sparkling personality that brought out their best… (I’m so modest).

First on my list of London to-dos… SOCCER! The beautiful game, the world’s sport, and a passion and hobby of mine. This trip will be planned around around a huge, important match involving my favorite club, Chelsea F.C. playing in the friendly confines of Stamford Bridge Stadium. This dream is ultimately what puts London on the list for a second visit. I would also love to see any of the other major London clubs while visiting- Fulham, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, or mostly Queens Park Rangers.

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Next on the list is a ride on the London Eye. I’m not sure why my travel party was so against doing this on the first visit. To me, this is the ultimate London experience. In the course of a single ferris wheel ride, you see an entire city from a unique perspective that is rare to find anywhere else. You can see all your proposed destinations from afar before even getting to them, and imagine the great photos you’ll take from the top to create life long memories with or even display in your home. Plus, I really like ferris wheels. They scare the hell out me, and I love the rush that will come from riding the world’s most famous one.

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Lastly, I want to take a day trip and visit Stonehenge. Why? You’re guess is as good as mine. I’m not sure what it is that draws us to a bunch of large stone in the middle of a secluded field, but I want to go see it. The mystery, the marvel, and intrigue. Who knows, maybe I’ll find that one clue that unlocks the mystery 😉

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Tomorrow I’ll be highlighting numbers eight and nine on my list- Palau and Amsterdam, Netherlands, respectively. 

Review- “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn

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Let me just get it off my chest right off the bat. I absolutely loved this book, and disliked myself for liking it. With about fifty pages to go, I forced myself to bend the page corner and call it a night so I could be awake for an early obligation. After tossing and turning for over an hour, thinking about this book- that damned protagonist Libby Day who I loved to hate, or that clue I might have missed that would reveal the secret to the mystery of who murdered the Day family- I gave in to the inevitable and turned my lamp on to finish the story and clear my head.

The problem with my “bright” idea (get it? Turned on the lamp? Bright? Wow, am I cheesy) is that this is not a story that you finish and it leaves your mind. It’s the kind of novel that makes you feel dirty having read it, like you should change your sheets first thing in the morning or wash your face right after reading. Think In Cold Blood, The Silence of the Lambs… That kind of dirty. Add to that the excitement of the big reveal along with a sense of frustration aimed at half of the cast of well thought out characters, and you’re in for a restless night.

So, let’s talk about those characters. To say that Gilliam Flynn has an incredible talent for writing the most unlikeable, fucked up, insane, deadbeat, you get the picture characters is an understatement. If you’ve read Gone Girl, youll know what I’m talking about. Dark Places is written from the alternating perspective of three characters- its anti-hero, Libby Day in the present, and Libby’s mother Patty and brother Ben on a fateful day in 1985 that left Libby’s mother and two sisters brutally murdered with fifteen year old Ben convicted of the slaughter.

All three of these characters are vastly unlikeable, yet you can’t help but empathize with their situations. Libby sums her personality on her own in the opening chapter of the book-

I was not a lovable child, and I’d grown into a deeply unlovable adult. Draw a picture of my soul, and it’d be a scribble with fangs

She’s mean, she’s lazy, she doesn’t care. Her favorite pastime is shoplifting and stealing from other people, and she extorts money from a group called the Kill Club who hires her to help prove her brother’s innocence.

Ben and Patty both tell their stories from a past perspective. Its hard to feel dislike toward Patty, a divorce single mother of four whose ex-husband is the definition of a scum bag, but you do. Every decision she makes, you think what the hell, woman? all the way up to her last, worst decision of all. Ben is a misunderstood teenager who is as fun to deal with as every other misunderstood teenager. That should tell you all you need to know.

I dont want to talk much about the plot, because I don’t trust myself not to give anything away. Instead, I’m going to be WordPress’ laziest reviewer and copy and paste the description from Goodreads (I BEG OF YOU, FORGIVE ME! It’s insanely late, and I’m tired).

Libby Day was just seven years old when her evidence put her fifteen-year-old brother behind bars.

Since then, she had been drifting. But when she is contacted by a group who are convinced of Ben’s innocence, Libby starts to ask questions she never dared to before. Was the voice she heard her brother’s? Ben was a misfit in their small town, but was he capable of murder? Are there secrets to uncover at the family farm or is Libby deluding herself because she wants her brother back?

She begins to realise that everyone in her family had something to hide that day… especially Ben. Now, twenty-four years later, the truth is going to be even harder to find.

Who did massacre the Day family

To wrap the review up, it’s time for the final word and the rating. Reader, I always struggle when assigning a set of stars to literature. How do you compare one book to another? How do you compare crime fiction, stack up In Cold Blood (which as a side note is my all time favorite novel) against Dark Places, much less compare outside of genres? I give points for prose, dialogue, pacing, character development (this novel had them all!) but in the end it is all about the entertainment.

Flynn delivered another page turner that kept me on the edge of my seat. Praised as one of the best books of the year by The New Yorker, it isn’t hard to give a great rating to Dark Places.

4.25 out of 5 stars. And an apology for not giving my best of reviews. Like I said, sleep is at the forefront of my brain.

The rape of the world

Dear Blogosphere, I’d like to have a conversation. It’s going to be a one-sided conversation, seeing how no one really reads my blog, but I want to have it anyway. I want to talk about us, as a people. Not as black or white, male or female, gay or straight, of a certain religion, as American or Brazilian, but as citizens of the planet.

To begin our conversation, picture me sitting at my laptop on a stormy night. As I was feeding my addiction to social media this evening, I came across the following photo-

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I normally ignore these chain-mail inspired “words of wisdom” because frankly, they are faithfully stupid and a waste of good reading time I could be using to catch up on a friend’s daily life or delve into a book. I read this one for some reason, clicked “like”, and scrolled on.

As the thunder continued to shake the walls of my apartment in the midst of a really intense storm growing more serious, literally, by the second, I ignored the emergency alert system texts that continued to beep from my phone across the room while reading Facebook status after status about people in my area hiding in their basements, watching trees go down in their backyards, making funny comments about ” playing Little House on the Prairie” because their power was out. Read, like, scroll.

As I ended my ten minute social media update check, my mind went back to that photo-quote. I clicked back over to Facebook, found it once more, and thought something I’ve pondered many times- what in the fuck are we doing to ourselves?

At this point, you’re probably either thinking, “oh great, another environmentalist about to go all Captain Planet on us…” or “oh great, someone about to rant about a topic I already agree with him on and don’t need to waste time reading…” I’m not here to do that. I love planet Earth, but I’m not an obsessive eco-terrorist here to try to impress you with a vast memory bank of carbon related facts or animal extinction rates. All I’m here to do is to ask you, try to convince you, of one small very small thing, but I’ll get to that later.

Reader, there is no need for me to expound upon the quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson pictured above. He is a much more intelligent man than I, and a much better writer as well. I feel it would be almost rude of me to try to make a better statement than he. But I’d like to ask how we have gotten to this point.

Even as I type, mother nature is confirming to me that she is pissed, and she means business. Lightening is flashing though my window like a dance club strobe light, and the thunder… It’s an undescribable sound. Not just shaking the earth, but booming so loudly it’s exciting even the molecules in the air, almost as if you can feel them, collectively, brushing up against your leg or rustling your hair. The tornado warning continues to cry from my phone and hell is breaking loose outside. Why have we continued to turn a blind eye to the havoc we as humans are reeking on our only home?

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In all fairness, I should give an abridged background about the area I live in. The hills of East Tennessee are no stranger to thunderstorms. Its not rare for us to see as much rain as Seattle through out parts of the year, and the thick masses of vegetation and forestry are lucky enough to rarely experience drought.

Growing up, I remember a few isolated instances where my parents would be watching TV, being interrupted by a emergency weather alert, and once the storm hit you could see the worry in their faces, trying to stay calm for their children but knowing that it could become dangerous very quickly. On one of those occasions, we even saw a funnel cloud forming over the ridge that sits in front of our family home. Summer storms are a part of life where I live.

The alarming thing about these storms is not that they are happening. It’s the rate and intensity in which they are happening. As my area of the world gets pounded by incredibly sever weather once, twice a week at minimum, California is going through sever drought. Wild fires rage through Washington state. Drastic weather change producing shortages in avocados, limes, mangoes, and other tropical fruit while typhoons wipe out Pacific islands. To deny that something is amiss, that our planet isn’t changing at an alarming rate, has become foolish.

How much more can the planet take? Picture Earth as a human body. How many toxins can a body breath into its lungs, how much oil and debris can a bloodstream flush, how many holes can you dig into the skin and extract a body’s resources before it no longer is a livable body? How close are we to that time of death?

Reader, I feel like I’ve probably already lost you. I’ve got more to say, but it’s already been said by many before me, and I’ve lost my train of thought in the midst of Stormaggedon continuing to rage outside. I also see this unedited mess of stream of consciousness going south before my eyes. But before I end our conversation, I want to go back to that thing I said I was going to ask of you.

Do one small thing a day to make our planet a better place to live. Whether you believe in man-made climate change or not, one thing a day. Cut the plastic can holders on your six packs so they don’t entangle animals. Cut your shower concert one minute short to save some limited clean water. Don’t ask the grocery store clerk to bag your milk gallon and save a bag. One tiny thought per day adds up to 365 tiny thoughts a year that go toward making our home a cleaner, better place to live.

Review- “The Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym of J.K. Rowling)

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Reader, I had a lengthy inner dialogue with myself before writing this review about whether or not to give a forewarning of the almost excessive positive bias I have for J.K. Rowling. Obviously, I chose to make the responsible decision as a reviewer and make that disclosure.

Like many of you other twenty-somethings out there, Rowling was a spirit guide whose fantasy world of Harry Potter comforted me through the awkward stages of teenage life. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was the novel that made me fall in love with literature. It awakened a previously hidden love for reading and writing I never knew I possessed, and all her work that followed, I have absolutely raved about with friends and coworkers. What I’m trying to say is that reader, be warned. The queen, Madame Rowling, my one of my idols, both in literature and in life, and rave review you’re about to be given is going to be soaking with bias. So let’s get to this damn fine story of Whodunit, shall we?

The Silkworm is the second volume in the Cormoran Strike detective/mystery/thriller series that picks up several months after the conclusion of The Cuckoo’s Calling. Strike and his lovable assistant Robin have achieved nation wide fame after solving the murder of world-famous supermodel Lula Landry, taking his dying detective business from near foreclosure to a booming brand, attracting suspicious husbands or divorcing wives who want to gain an advantage over their spouses. Read a synopsis of The Cuckoo’s Calling on Goodreads here.

Business is at an all time high for Strike, but he’s quickly grown bored of lucrative but unfulfilling assignments. All that changes when Leonora Quine, the eccentric wife of writer Owen Quine, walks into Strike’s office and hires him to find her husband who has gone missing.

Leonora tells Strike that her husband disappears for days at a time on the regular, but Strike soon realizes that there is something much more going on under the surface in this particular instance. Just before disappearing Quine wrote and submitted for publishing his self-described “magnum opus”, Bombyx Mori, that cruelly slanders and reveals the deepest secrets of publishing bigwigs, coworkers in his own publishing company, his rivals, and his own family and friends. The leaked manuscript is the talk of the London publishing world, and it’s soon apparent that many people have a very large motive to get rid of Quine.

When Strike finds the author brutally murderer, Quine’s wife is the main and only suspect of the police and it’s a race against time for Strike and Robin to find who really murdered Owen Quine.

As usual, Rowling’s prose is just breathtaking. She has a way with words comparable to the Steinbecks, the Garcia-Marquezes, the Prousts (like I warned you, I’m a Rowling fantard. You were warned). She writers dialogue better than anyone in the game. The awkward dialogue that is the bane of many writers, those moments that make readers think, “Who in the hell talks like that??”- they don’t phase her. She is truly a master of her craft and while she is very acclaimed, she still doesn’t get the credit she deserves for being such a brilliant writer.

The underlying themes are still apparent, even in a classic Whodunit crime mystery novel. There is the continually developing theme established in the series’s kick-off volume of a soldier’s life after the hell of war. How you get by with an amputated leg as a result of a war injury with a government that has all but forgotten you.

Another strong theme she plays with in The Silkworm is the idea that while women have advanced vastly, there are still double standards and expectations of women that make things difficult in their family lives. Robin’s finance’s disdain for her career choice and her work environment and obligations not only lead to further developments in her character, but highlight the still unfair social expectations of women.

Her criticism of the Darwinistic world of the publishing industry is what shines through most. From the delusions of authors past their prime, to the ruthlessness of publishers, you really get a sense that she’s telling us stories of personal experience. This is summed up in one of the books finest quotes from Quine’s rival writer-

…writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendships and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.

She also highlights one of the major challenges authors and publishing companies alike face in the modern world of literature with

The whole world’s writing novels, but nnobody’s reading them.

The Silkworm really was just a fantastic, greatly written thrill ride that improved where its predecessor failed. My main beef with The Cuckoo’s Calling was that Rowling provides clue after clue to solving the mystery along side the duo, but it was such a jumbled picture that it was impossible to guess ‘who dun it.’ I’m not going to pretend that I was clever enough to guess the killer in this installment, but the right clues were given for a wise enough mystery solver to guess the killer.

Reader, all I can really say is just read it. Head down to the used book store tomorrow or get on your e-reader and start this insanely entertaining series now.

5 out of 5 stars!

Meet your new favorite band! A review of “Days Are Gone” by Haim

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You know how once or twice a year, you buy an album and instantly fall head over heels for it? It sits in your car’s CD player for months without being removed and somehow sneaks four or five songs onto every new iTunes playlist you create? You know you will eventually move on and find another album to incessantly treat your hearing sense to, but that album will always be a favorite, reminding you of a certain time in your life. A song will start playing and instantly stir up a memory- a perfect night, cruising down the highway and seeing the beauty in the city lights, a nostalgic longing for an old friend or a lost lover. Nothing could better describe Haim’s debute album Days Are Gone.

The album busts right out of the gates with Falling. An echoing drum beat starts the journey, almost reminiscent of an echoing heartbeat. 45 second in, the melody really picks up into a more up-beat, and for lack of a better word, “fun” tempo that really sets up the mood of the album. You know from the first tune that your ears are about to be treated to a really nice experience, something that eclipses the monotony of modern pop, but is unpretentious and enjoyable.

Next come the real highlights of the album- Forever, The Wire, and If I Could Change Your Mind. Forever was the teaser single released in late 2012, over a year before the album’s release. It instantly turned the heads of critics, both amateur and professional, and drew (very warranted) comparisons to Fleetwood Mac. The Wire provides the most technical sounding track on the album- a bassy soft rock anthem that is enough to turn any sour mood upside down. You can just feel how much work went into the process of perfecting the production of the song. My personal favorite is the album’s fourth single, If I Could Change Your Mind. Instead of a description, I’ll let the music speak for itself. Click here to here the song via YouTube.

Part 2 of the Days Are Gone review to follow soon!