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A quick trip to Paris

The Eiffel Tower at nightParis – the city of love!

A city full of history, architecture and pain du chocolat!

I’ve been to Europe 10 times but seemed to be dancing around Paris. It was finally time to go see this iconic city that everyone always has so much to say about.

We arrived and found our cute little Airbnb apartment in Montmarte, just around the corner from the Moulin Rouge and set out to join the Sandemans New Europe free walking tour. I’ve done this tour in other cities around Europe and always find it a great way to get your bearings, find some of the big tourist sites, and learn about lesser-known favourites that the guides love.

We gathered at Fontaine Saint-Michel to start the tour and learn a bit about the buildings around us. The architecture here is incredible. I could have happily just wandered through the city looking at the buildings, but there were far too many other things to see and do to just leave my eyes glued to the buildings.

We crossed a bridge and found ourselves walking up to Notre Dame, and while we didn’t find Quasimodo ringing the bells, there were a lot of gargoyles up on the arches looking down over the city. This gorgeous French Gothic church was set for demolition, but was saved by Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The book was so popular that a petition went out to save the church.

Inside Notre Dame
The inside is as beautiful as the outside – especially the huge stained glass windows!

We made our way along the Seine River and came to the new Love Lock Bridge. Across the way is the former Love Lock Bridge, but so many locks had been placed on it that a piece of the bridge fell off into the Seine! It was considered a hazard (and an eyesore by many locals) and was moved to a sturdier landing by the bridge. Not as cool, but still full of locks.

We added our own lock to the masses and threw our key into the Seine. The area down by the water was nice to walk along except for the fact that like much of the city, the smell of pee was strongly wafting through the air. Such a beautiful…smelly city.

The LouvreThe Louvre was our next stop. This incredible building stretches along the right bank of the Seine. It houses over 35,000 works of art and it’s said it would take nine months to look at everything. Likely the most famous piece inside is the Mona Lisa, but we didn’t see it or any of the other masterpieces as we just wandered the outside of the building. Sometimes when you have limited time, you have to choose what you have time to see!

The Louvre used to be where the monarchy lived and they continued to add to it. In 1989, a new entrance was built. Pyramid outside the LouvreIt’s supposed to be an invisible pyramid, but with its height, they couldn’t get the glass to stay without breaking as soon as the wind or rain hit it. Now it’s a bunch of small triangles with steel poles holding them together, making this invisible pyramid very visible and very odd looking next to this grand building from the 13th century!

Arc de Triomphe du CarrouselAcross the way is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, a much smaller version of the main Arc de Triomphe. Napoleon commissioned it to celebrate his victory at Austerlitz. He had already commissioned the main one, but it took about 20 years to build, so he had this one made so he could walk under it in victory sooner! If you look though the marble arch you can see the Arc de Triomphe from one side and the Louvre from the other. Here, we were given more info on other main sites and our tour ended in the park.

Arc de TriompheWe continued through the park, heading towards the Arc de Triomphe, walking along the fancy Champs-Elysees area with all the high-end shops and restaurants. To get to the Arc de Triomphe, you must take the underground tunnel, as it’s far too dangerous to cross the 12 lane roundabout circling it! It’s a very patriotic sight with a huge French flag flying in the middle of the 50-metre high arch.

The whole time we were walking up to it, I found myself singing songs from Les Miserables, specifically “Do You Hear the People Sing.”  (If you don’t know this musical, go check out the soundtrack!)

Eiffel Tower Our walking tour continued along Champs-Elysees as we now made our way toward the Eiffel Tower. I wanted to have the classic romantic picnic by the Eiffel Tower so we looked for a place to buy baguettes, cheese and wine, but we waited too long and most of the bakeries were closed for the day. We realized we didn’t have a corkscrew and all the good wine needed one. Eventually, we found a little market with twist off mini bottles of wine, small baguettes and some cheese, so we bought it and continued to the Eiffel Tower. What an impressive sight! You see the image of the Eiffel Tower on everything these days, but seeing it up close was amazing. We found a spot in the grass just as the sun was starting to set and started our picnic.

Our Parisian picnic

It was definitely less than ideal. The bread was hard and the cheese smelled like dirty feet! We scrapped that and got seafood paella at one of the food vendors nearby. So much for our romantic French picnic!

Beginning at 9pm, there is a sparkling light show on the tower lasting about 5 minutes every hour on the hour. What a spectacular sight! After watching it again at 10pm, we caught the Metro back to Montmartre and saw another iconic Parisian landmark all lit up – the Moulin Rouge. The Moulin Rouge

We spent day two at Disneyland Paris. You can see that blog post here.

The following day, we set out to walk around Montmartre, the artsy, bohemian area of Paris. I loved it here. We stopped at a bakery for pain du chocolat (delicious chocolate croissants) before continuing on. Montmartre is located on a hill, giving you some nice views, especially when you make it up to the top by the Sacre-Coeur Basilica.

The huge dome can be seen for miles. You can climb up the Dome and head down into the crypt here. If you are tired of walking at this point, you can also take the funicular up the hill to the Sacre-Coeur. At the base of the steps is a beautiful old double-decker carousel. Beautiful carousel near Sacre-Couer

From here, we took the Metro to visit the Catacombs of Paris. It was a long wait, but it was a very cool experience, exploring the bones beneath the city. (For more on that, check out this blog post).

Our time in Paris was running out and although there were many more things I wanted to see and do, they would all have to wait for next time. I had one more main item to check off on this visit… climbing up the Eiffel Tower!

We made our way back over to the tower, paid our €7 and started climbing. Climbing the Eiffel Tower

There are also elevators you can take, but we decided to walk up instead. You can climb as high as the second viewing deck. We stopped at the first level, 57m up, to take some photos before continuing up to the second deck at 115m. (The full tower is 324m to the tip). We toasted our success with a beer and enjoyed the view of Paris from up here. View of Paris from the Eiffel Tower

What an incredible end to a short stay in the city of love!

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Watching the sunset at Rick’s Cafe

Rick's Cafe

Voted one of the top 10 beach bars in the world, Rick’s Cafe in Negril has become one of the most popular tourist spots in Jamaica. However, when the cliffside bar and restaurant first opened in April 1974, Negril was a sleepy fishing village with very little development. It soon became known as one of the best spots in Jamaica to watch the sunsets, and the crowds never stopped coming.

Rick’s Cafe was destroyed by hurricanes in both 1988 and 2004, but each time was rebuilt better than before.

Today, the 1.5-acre property hosts a gift shop, bar, restaurant, pool and live entertainment as well as lots of seating options.

You can also go swimming or try cliff diving, if you dare, off three different levels: 10ft, 25ft or 35ft cliffs, landing into 15ft deep turquoise waters below.

I didn’t get the nerve up to jump in, but watching others was great, especially when some of the locals started jumping off the highest platform, 80ft or so up.

Terrifying, but they make it look so easy! (Only locals are allowed to jump from up there. The highest platform the tourists can jump from is 35ft.)

Be sure to secure your spot early if you want a gorgeous sunset photo free of other people’s heads and cameras. It becomes very crowded around the edge as soon as the sun starts to dip. The live Jamaican music gets started around this time, too, adding to the atmosphere.

From up on the 35ft cliffs, looking down over the sea, the colourful sunset really is remarkable.

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Unfortunately, we had some clouds covering the last little bit of our sunset, but overall, it was still worth it!

 

Info:

-Open every day (365 days a year) from 12pm to 10PM

-Admission is FREE

-Many hotels offer tour and/or shuttle options to get to Rick’s Cafe

-Cliff diving is strictly at your own risk

Bring:

-Camera (or phone) – fully charged

-Bathing suit if you plan on swimming or cliff jumping

-Sunscreen

-Money if you wish to purchase food, drinks or souvenirs

 Visit rickscafejamaica for more info
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Olympic obsession

Most of the time, I don’t pay much attention to sports. Sure, I love going out to watch a Toronto Blue Jays game, but rarely watch a game on T.V.  But every two years, I become completely obsessed with sports, most of which I know very little about, when the Olympic Games start. This year has been no different. Most mornings, you can find me streaming whatever events happened overnight and then watching the live events in the evenings. While I will happily watch whatever is on, figure skating will always be my favourite. As much fun as it is to cheer the athletes on from my couch, seeing an event live is even better. I was lucky enough to watch the women’s Canada vs USA soccer game at the 2012 Olympic Summer Games in London, England. What an incredible experience!

 

I’ve never been to PyeongChang, but I have been to South Korea twice while my youngest sister was living there and quite enjoyed my time. Korean food is amazing, but I think my favourite part was wandering around the beautiful temples, like the colourful Beomeosa Temple below.

One day, I’d love to cheer on the athletes from the stands again, but for now, it’s back to my couch!

Go Canada Go!!

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Travel Christmas Tree

fullsizeoutput_de2Over the years, when I found Christmas tree ornaments that I liked on travels I’d take them home as souvenirs. It started as a fairly sporadic collection, but over the past few years, I’ve tried to find ornaments from each trip to add to my Christmas Travel Tree.

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Finding ‘Crystals’ around the world

I’ve always enjoyed seeking out ‘Crystals’ in my travels around the world.

From the beautiful Crystal shops in Hungary and the Cristal beer in Cuba to swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Florida to these shining Crystals at the Galaxy in Macau.

So when I heard there was a Crystal Pagoda in the small village of Ban Thaton, where we were staying, near Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, I just had to go see it for myself.

fullsizeoutput_d60Wat Thaton is a large temple complex located at the top of a hill overlooking the Mae Kok River. It turned out to be quite a hike up into the hills surrounding Ban Thaton, near the border of Myanmar.  The view on the hike up was incredible.

The temple complex is built on several levels, hosting statues, temple buildings and a Buddhist school on the way up to the top.

 

While the hike itself was beautiful and all the statues and buildings on the way up were great, none were as striking as the Chedi Kaew or Crystal Pagoda.fullsizeoutput_d66

Sitting at the top of the hill, this colourful building can be seen from miles way.  The structure is covered with intricate designs depicting the Buddha’s teachings.fullsizeoutput_d73Wandering inside, we found a large number of Buddha statues coming from many different countries.  In the centre of the Chedi Kaew is a spiral platform that leads to the top level of the building, with more artifacts found along the way.

The Wat Thaton organizes several programs to benefit the local community. A project for local children and hill tribe children aims to bring several communities living in the area closer together.

Within the complex , there is a Buddhist school for monks and novices and a Vipassana meditation center. You can also find a herbal medicine center, a restaurant, a large meeting hall and several other buildings.

fullsizeoutput_d64So, if you’re headed to Northern Thailand, pack your hiking shoes and visit the beautiful Crystal Pagoda. The Wat Thaton is open from 8 am until 5 pm. Admission is free and the view is incredible!  fullsizeoutput_d6e

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Long boating the Mae Kok River

fullsizeoutput_d0fWhile in Northern Thailand, what better way to travel from one place to another than by traditional long boat?

After flying into Chiang Rai, we spent the night at The Legend Boutique River Resort & Spa in Chiang Rai, a gorgeous, peaceful spot a short tuk tuk ride from Chiang Rai’s bustling night bazaar.

After a delicious breakfast in the morning, we made our way down to the dock, where a long boat was waiting to take us along the Mae Kok River to our next spot.

It was a long 6 hour journey, but it was peaceful out on the river with hardly anyone else in sight most of the journey and the landscape we stunning.

Our long boat captain knew the river like the back of his hand, easily maneuvering through the sometimes very shallow, sometimes very rough water, knowing exactly where any dangers like rocks or sandbars were hiding.

Along the way, we stopped at the Ruammit Elephant Camp in Karen Village. While you could ride them here, we decided against that and instead spent our time feeding and petting these incredible animals, before heading across the street for a delicious Thai lunch.

Continuing along, we made it to our final destination, the Maekok River Village Resort, another incredible resort on the banks of the Mae Kok.

The grounds here were lush and filled with flowers and you could wake up and have breakfast each morning with a view looking out over the Mae Kok River.

While it may take longer, if you are travelling around Northern Thailand, consider taking a long boat. You won’t regret it!fullsizeoutput_d0c

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Halloween with Mickey Mouse

fullsizeoutput_c30Halloween is my favourite holiday. I love the decorations, Hocus Pocus, carving pumpkins, and most of all – dressing up. It’s a magical holiday, so what better place to celebrate than at one of the most magical places on earth! Disney World is one of my favourite places to visit and I’ve always wanted to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year with the magic of the park. So this year, I headed to Magic Kingdom for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party to celebrate Halloween with Mickey and the gang.fullsizeoutput_cb5

The event is a separate ticketed event that runs certain evenings from the end of August until November 1st.  Once you get your wristband, you are given a bag to go trick or treating!here were Treat locations set all over the park where you could go to get candy. There were also lots of characters out for photos and autographs, including those who aren’t normally out like Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas

There were Treat locations set all over the park where you could go to get candy. There are also lot’s of characters out for photos and autographs, including those who aren’t normally out like Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas. fullsizeoutput_ca7

In Tomorrowland, you can join Mike Wazowski, Sulley and Boo for a Monstrous Scream-O-Ween Ball – a fun dance party with all your favourite songs.

Not all of the rides are open, but there’s still a good selection for those wishing to enjoy them (including The Haunted Mansion, the perfect ride for this time of year!)

Mickey’s “Boo-To-You” Halloween Parade makes its way through the park at 9:15 and 11:15, filled with Mickey and friends as well as a number of villains.

One of the main reasons I wanted to go was to see The Sanderson Sisters in the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular! The sisters were back for the night to brew a potion to create the most Villainous Halloween Party the Kingdom has ever seen.  They were joined by a variety of Disney’s greatest villains and ended with their iconic song.

As always, there was a great fireworks show over Cinderella Castle. This one had a Halloween theme. “Happy Hallowishes” invites you to join the 999 happy haunts for an evening of fun!

fullsizeoutput_c97It was a great night at the park with all of Magic Kingdom decorated for Halloween, but one of my very favourite parts was getting to dress up in costume and seeing everyone else dressed up, wandering around this magical place!

Happy Halloween!

Info

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party runs from 7pm-12am on certain dates during the Halloween season, but you can typically start entering the park as of 4pm. Just be sure to get your wristband as only party guests are allowed in the park after 7pm.

Be sure to check out the costume guidelines on the website before planning what character you want to be.

Treat bags are fairly small, so if you want to hit all the locations, you might want to bring a bigger bag or buy one at the park.

The character lines are LONG, especially Jack and Sally. They are out before the party officially starts, so you can get in line early or try later at night.

For more info visit the park’s website

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Full length versions:

Happy Hallowishes Fireworks

Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular

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Thailand’s fairytale temple

fullsizeoutput_c01Wat Rong Khun, better known as the “White Temple,” is one of the most recognizable temples in Thailand. This unique temple, located just outside the city of Chiang Rai, is one of the most visited attractions in the area. It’s not hard to see why.

The temple looks like something out of a fairy tale. The entire structure is a brilliant white colour with pieces of glass in the plaster, sparkling in the sun. It almost doesn’t look real. It’s more like a mirage you’ve stumbled upon – a beautiful mirage with a glistening pool of water below, filled with Koi swimming around.

fullsizeoutput_be1Last year, we made our way to Wat Rong Khun just before Halloween. With all the demons and villains that met us as we entered, coming out of the ground and hanging from trees, it was the perfect time of year to visit.

Wat Rong Khun was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a famous Thai visual artist. He chose white to signify the purity of the Buddha. The pieces of glass throughout it symbolizes the Buddha’s wisdom and Buddhist teachings. The temple is filled with Buddhist symbolism.

fullsizeoutput_beeTo enter the main chapel (ubosot), you cross a narrow bridge over a pool of hands and faces reaching up, trying to claw their way back to the surface, representing suffering souls in Hell.

The pathway symbolizes the way to happiness by overcoming worldly things like temptation, greed and desire.

After crossing the bridge you arrive at the “Gate of Heaven,” guarded by two creatures representing Death and Rahu, who decide over men’s fate. At the end of the bridge, you reach the ubosot where there are several Buddha images in meditation.

Once you make your way out of the main temple and leave the fenced in grounds, you come to an ornately decorated golden building. This one represents the body while the ubosot represents the mind. The building was created in a gold colour to symbolize the focus on worldly desires and money.fullsizeoutput_bfb

Around the temple grounds are several concrete “trees.”  Hanging from each of them are thousands of ornaments or ‘Lucky Leaves.’ For 30 Baht, you can add one with your name and a message written on it for luck.

You can also make a wish by throwing a few coins into the wishing well.

Most of Thailand’s Buddhist temples have centuries of history. By comparison, Wat Rong Khun is very young as construction on it only began in 1997.

Then, on May 5, 2014, a strong earthquake hit Chiang Rai and Wat Rong Khun was damaged. The designer, Chalermchai Kositpipat, decided to restore and further expand the temple.

At this point, the temple is not finished. It’s stated that eventually there will be nine buildings on site.

fullsizeoutput_c05If you find yourself in Northern Thailand, Wat Rong Khun is a must-see. Just get there early to avoid the crowds.fullsizeoutput_beb

Info

  • The temple is located about 13km south of Chiang Rai
  • The temple opens daily from 8 am until 6 pm.
  • The temple gets very busy with both tourists and locals, so plan to arrive early.
  • Admission is 50 Thai Baht per person.
  • Dress respectfully. No revealing clothes. Shoes must be removed before entering a temple building.
  • Taking photos is not allowed in the main building.
  • Souvenirs, coffee and snacks are available on the grounds.
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The bones of Paris

For many, Paris, the ‘city of love,’ conjures images of romance, architecture and art. But once you’ve had your fill of the Mona Lisa and sipping champagne beneath the Eiffel Tower, a different side of Paris awaits. For this, you need to head down – about 20 metres below the city streets, where the catacombs wait.  20160826_170912

Located across the street from the Denfert-Rochereau station, is the entrance to the Catacombs of Paris. Here in the underground ossuaries lie the remains of more than six million people. The bones are laid in a small part of a tunnel network built to consolidate Paris’ ancient stone mines.

During the late 1700’s, many of the city’s cemeteries had reached capacity. Some, including the Saints-Innocents (Cemetery of the Innocents) had gone beyond capacity. Here, people were buried in mass graves, piled one on top of the other until it became a source of infection for those nearby.  In late 1785, the Council of the State closed the cemetery and decided to remove its contents.

This transfer began in 1786 after the blessing and consecration of the site and continued until 1788. The moving of remains took place at nightfall,  where a procession of priests sang the service for the dead along the route taken by the carts loaded with bones and covered by a black veil.

Until 1814, this site received the remains from all the cemeteries of Paris.

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Since their creation, the Catacombs of Paris became a curiosity for more privileged Parisians. Public visits began after its renovation into a proper ossuary and the 1814 – 1815 war.

In the beginning, visits were only granted a few times a year with the permission of an authorized mine inspector. This turned into permission from any mine overseer, but as the number of visitors grew, it returned to its “permission only” rule in 1830.  Then, in 1833, they were closed completely as the Church opposed the public being exposed to human remains on display.  By 1850, the Catacombs were once again open, but only for four visits a year. Public demand led to the government allowing monthly visits as of 1867. This turned into bi-weekly visits on the first and third Saturday of each month in 1874 and then weekly visits during the 1878, 1889 and 1900 World’s Fair Expositions.

Today, they are open for daily visits, so head over and spend an hour wandering through the 2kms of bone-filled tunnels below the streets of Paris!

Plan your tour

The Catacombs are open daily from 10am-8:30pm (except Mondays and holidays)

Admission is granted in time slots, with the last admission at 7:30pm

Located across the street from Denfert-Rochereau Station
Métro et RER B : Denfert-Rochereau
Bus : 38, 68
Parking : Boulevard Saint-Jacques

Visitor numbers are restricted to 200 at any time. Admission may be delayed for a short time during busy periods. Be prepared to wait. (We did for almost 2 hours).
Distance covered: 1.5 km
Duration of the tour: 45 minutes
No toilet or cloakroom facilities available

For more info, click here

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St. John’s by land and sea

Newfoundland was the only province I hadn’t been to, so for Canada’s 150th, I figured it was time to visit the last province to join Canada.

With only a couple of days, I spent my time in St. John’s trying to see as much of the city as I could!  After getting screeched-in, exploring Quidi Vidi, visiting the two local craft breweries and wandering around enjoying the colourful “Jelly Bean” houses, I had checked a lot of ‘must-do’s’ off my list.

Two remaining were visiting Signal Hill and taking a boat ride out into the Atlantic Ocean in search of whales.

Signal Hill

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Signal Hill is one of the most famous landmarks in St. John’s. It’s part of the capital’s historic past, offering a beautiful view of St. John’s and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as great hiking trails along the coastline.

Signal Hill is significant as it was the site of St. John’s harbour defences from the 17th century to the Second World War as well as being the birthplace of modern communications. It was here that Guglielmo Marconi received the world’s first transatlantic wireless signal in 1901. It’s a good hike up the hill, so be sure to have proper footwear. Part way up is a visitor’s centre, which this year hosted a huge Canada 150 sign to pose with.

There was also a statue of the mascots- a Newfoundland and a Labrador dog!Newfoundland & Labrador dogs

The view from the top was great. On one side, you could look back over St. John’s harbour and from the other, straight out for miles into the Atlantic Ocean.

You could also see where it narrows into the harbour, with Fort Amherst Lighthouse standing guard at the entrance.Looking down at Fort Amherst

At the top, you could climb up Cabot Tower, which was built as a monument to John Cabot’s 1497 voyage to North America and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.   Cabot Tower    Throughout the tower, as you made your way to each level up steep, winding stairs, you could read all about the history of the tower, the history of communications, and the historic first transatlantic signal that happened right here. The view from the top of the tower was even more incredible.

I made my way back down and continued to wander around Signal Hill. As I was at the top, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean, a thick fog started to roll in until you could barely see 10 feet in front of you.

I decided not to head out on all the hiking trails since the beautiful view had vanished. Instead, I made my way down to the harbour to catch a boat ride out into the Atlantic.

Iceberg QuestIt was the wrong time of year for icebergs, but I took an ocean cruise with Iceberg Quest, hoping to find some whales. We set out of St. John’s harbour in the thick fog, which didn’t seem to want to let up. Our guide told us all about what we would have been seeing if the fog wasn’t blocking our view, and we made our way out of the harbour into the Atlantic Ocean.

We couldn’t see much, but had an enjoyable cruise listening to Great Big Sea. Just as we were heading past the sea caves on our way to Cape Spear, the fog began to lift!

We passed by the famous lighthouse on Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America.

(Another spot I missed visiting on this trip, but seeing it was still cool!)

Puffin flyingWe saw tons of puffins flying and swimming around, but sadly no whales on this trip.

By the time we were on our way back, the fog had lifted and you could see the mouth of the harbour,  Fort Amherst from the water and all the colourful houses greeted you as you entered St. John’s harbour.

While I may have checked out most of my ‘must-do’s’ in St. John’s on this short trip, I quickly added many more and realized I’d just have to come back to this beautiful province for more exploring soon!

 

 

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