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Castles, Caverns and Coastlines….. Oh My!

Castle in a Cavern

Of course go figure, I final trip was heading to the seaside and after spectacularly hot clear weather, it rained as we left the house… Murphy’s Law!

Slovenia is famous for castles and caves, you can even combine the two and visit Predjama Castle, which was built inside a cave, creating an awesome vision!
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It was built in the 13th century and moved into legend when it became the Seat of Knight Erazem Lueger in the 15th century. Erazem was a renowned robber baron, rumored to be a lot like Robin Hood. After killing the leader of the Imperial Army for offending the honor of his deceased friend, he was besieged in the castle for a year and a day. He could have held out longer except for the betrayal of servant. The only place that was impregnable was the outhouse, perched atop the castle and off to the side. At the appropriate time the servant signaled that he was… occupied…. and a single connon blast killed Erazem.

stunning castle!

stunning castle!

The caves near the castle are much more expensive and very touristy, but Predjama was perfect, so cool in fact that you didn’t even need to pay to go inside.

This is What Bilbo Felt Like

On the way to our next set of caves, Škocjan caves, the rain really started pounding down, and while turning a corner the windscreen wiper on the right side broke… we pulled over and I managed to dislodge it. Luckily Kaja’s side was clear, since she was driving.
wiper down, wiper down!!

Finally we made it to the caves and lined up for tickets. We must have waited close to 20minutes and were right at the window at 12pm, the time the next tour was starting. The guy asked us which tour we wanted and explained some things and right as we were about to pay it was like the clock in his head just tolled noon and he stopped looking at us or talking to us. All of the rest in the line were so confused. A few minutes later he looked at us as if we had just walked up to the window… we purchased tickets for the 1pm tour. At least that gave us time to eat a little snack!

The caves were phenomenal unfortunately no photos were allowed. It is a Unesco world heritage site and contains one of the worlds largest underground river systems. There was one area with an immense cavern and a lighted path that just seemed to disappear into nothingness, then a bridge to cross over a 45m / 147feet drop where I had the distinct urge to grab a stick and yell out:
YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!!
(Lord of the Rings reference)

skocjan-cave
courtesty of http://www.tourismontheedge.com/

At the end we decided to grab the funicular to the top, of course it meant an immense climb first but thank the heavens for funiculars when we finally got to it. Loved every minute of this cavern adventure.

I Can See The Sea

Finally it was off to the ocean with the grey clouds following our progress. The plan had been for me to go diving the next morning, but it was looking decidedly dubious. We visited the dive center in Portoroz and then off to the tip and the town of Piran. Just beautiful, we were both knackered by this time, had been a long and eventful trip, so we just relaxed in the square and drank something. Finally we made it to the hostel in Izola and dumped our bags, the very top room with 4 flights of stairs and no elevator.

drink break.

drink break.

Panoramic of Piran

Dinner Fit for A Queen

For dinner we visited the home/restaurant of one of Kaja’s friends. He creates the most amazing dishes, all organic, all natural, and all very very unique. His home provides a unique setting up in the hills surrounding the coast and a chance to visit the garden filled with fresh herbs, fruit and honey bees.

It was 7 courses, all exquisite. Words can not begin to describe all the varieties he made. Here are a few of them…
Course 1 we shall have a cold dish of marinated zucchini over herb goat cheese with asparagus puree and herb pesto

Course 2 we shall have a cold taco style with celery root puree with marjoram and dried egg yolk shavings

This next one was amazing!!!!
Next we have a fermented ricotta with slow roasted tomatoes basil leaves and shavings of black summer truffle.

And finally baked apple with walnuts glazed in homemade honey

So if you find yourself wandering around the coastline of Slovenia, near Koper, thinking of good food, check out Domačija Butul

It’s A Small World After all

When he learnt I was moving to Thailand to do my scuba instructor course he said his friend who stayed there was also a scuba diver and worked in Thailand in winter, in summer he worked at his shop, Nemo Divers in Slovenia. We joked how funny it would be if he worked on the same island, Koh Phangan, that I was heading to.

When he arrived not only did he work on Koh Phangan during winter but he worked at Haad Yao Divers, the dive school I was going to be working with. Just crazy how small the world really is.
Boyan and me

Wind and Waves

Unfortunately in the morning the wind was too strong creating waves, so the dive had to be cancelled, oh well. We decided to wander around and just enjoy the seaside anyway. We opted to visit the local salt pans and do some birding. They were incredible and I got really excited when I spotted some herons and an oystercatcher. Bought a little bag of salt to take with me to the island, a little treat.

Salt Pans

Salt Pans

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Great Trip with a great friend

Great Trip with a great friend

A great trip even if the dive never happened.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2015 in Slovenia, Travel

 

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Ljubljana.. Try Say That Fast 3x Over

Located almost in the middle of Slovenia and smack bang where all the trade route intercept, Ljubljana, (the “j” pronounced as an “i”), is the largest city in Slovenia and it’s capital. The symbol of the city is the Ljubljana Dragon shrouded in myth and legend.

The Dragon

The Dragon

As you walk into the center of the city you come across this amazing set of 3 bridges, aptly named Triple Bridge. These/This bridge connects the medieval town on one bank of the Ljubljana river to the modern city on the other side and is truly remarkable and quite beautiful.

Triple Bridge

Triple Bridge

Food Fair

The day we arrived was a food fair of sorts, where local chefs and restaurants come out and sell small tasters of what is on offer. Delicious is an understatement and only around €1 to €8. We wasted no time, me starting with dessert first, šmorn . A yummy pancake that is torn into pieces and then smothered in powdered sugar and preserves. I got berry mix on the right and apple on the left… sooooo yummy!!!

šmorn = yum yum!!

šmorn = yum yum!!

Then a couple of fried egg rolls, Kaja went for spring rolls (she is a little healthier than me). Her next dish was delicious spicy coconut red curry, cleared out the sinuses for sure, even on the sweltering hot day we were having. My main dish was a chicken tikka massala wrap from a local Indian stall.

I look down right Diabolical here

I look down right Diabolical here

We spent the next couple of hours idly wandering around and exploring. A bathroom break was a fantastic excuse for a local and very unique iceacream shop. I got something like lemon, strawberry, white chocolate with milk chocolate drizzle… yummy but not quite convinced…

delicious... I think

delicious… I think

Our True Mission In Ljubljana

Kaja and I both being avid cat lovers had already decided our real reason for coming to the city was to find the Cat Cafe – Ljubljana. And oh boy was it worth it, we must have taken 3 hours here alone, sipping our drinks very slowly and staring at the cats, which napped most of the time we were there, but did come out an socialize eventually.

Hooray, the Cat Cafe

Hooray, the Cat Cafe

Your Cat Menu

Your Cat Menu

The cats have a great walkway system throughout the cafe and outside
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The Diva

The Diva

The Maine Coon

The Maine Coon

Everyone’s favorite is… Chilli the Devon Rex

Chilli chillin' on the outdoor cat walk

Chilli chillin’ on the outdoor cat walk

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Then there is Jonas…. Jonas has a thing about bags…

From Cat Cafe Facebook site

From Cat Cafe Facebook site

And then he found my bag… and was infatuated with it…

Jonas vs my bag

Jonas vs my bag

Remembering I had my leftover Chicken Tikka Masala wrap inside I moved it out of the way and then popped into the loo to powder my nose, so to speak. I was gone maybe 4 minutes and when I came out EVERYONE turned to stare at me… us there toilet paper on my shoe?? There was Kaja holding my, now chewed on, chicken wrap and a very annoyed Jonas staring at her… lol guess when there is a will there is a way.

All in all a great day, a hot day, but a great day with the highlight being the Cat Cafe (Hrenova ulica 19, 1000 Ljubljana), which just happened to have aircon!

A few more pics from the day:

artwork

artwork

different kind of artwork

different kind of artwork

flowers

flowers

more flowers

more flowers

Slovenian sausage shop...

Slovenian sausage shop…

stunning church door

stunning church door

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2015 in Slovenia, Travel

 

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Slovenia, The Tour Begins!

Day of Recovery

The day after my hellacious journey to get here my incredible friend, Kaja, had the surperb idea of using our first day of exploring the spectacular countryside at the SPA!!! Oh heaven!! But first the berry harvest…

Mulberries, Strawberries, cherries oh my!!!

Mulberries, Strawberries, cherries oh my!!!


The view from Kaja's balcony with harvest

The view from Kaja’s balcony with harvest

An entire mid-morning to afternoon of relaxing, dip in the pool, more relaxing, sit in the hot tub, pizza, more relaxing. I almost felt human by the time we got home. Tomorrow is the start of some serious adventure…

Off To The Lakes

GoPro selfie, Kaja and I.

GoPro selfie, Kaja and I.

Setting off early we headed about 2 hours away to Lake Bled, a famous lake and tourist attraction. I had heard great things about Lake Bled from other visitors and from Slovenians, it was the place they all said to visit.

Castle at Lake Bled

Castle at Lake Bled

Well, it was beautiful, but so touristy, the water didn’t look very clean and there was no real place you could swim.

We had hoped to get one of the little boats over to the island, the only island in all of Slovenia.

Lake Bled Island

Lake Bled Island

When we first asked the guy he said he could not take only two people, so we waited around about 15min until four showed up, that’s when he expanded his earlier statement telling the family of four that he needed 12 people before it would row to the island. That kind of pissed us off, because instead of being clear with us he just dismissed us and made a rude comment to his colleague as we walked away.

The boats to the island

The boats to the island

Put us off the boats and Lake Bled completely… well ok I would come back for the local delicacy, a custard cake with cream and flaky pastry called kremšnita!

mmmm yummy.

mmmm yummy.

This Is More Like It

And then we arrived at Bohinj Lake…

Lake Bohinj.

Lake Bohinj.

It was everything I had imagined Lake Bled to be, stunning scenery, pebble beaches, water crystal clear and beautiful shades of blue and green. I just had to stop a moment and take it all in..

.

.

We found a little spot to settle in and watched the ducks forage and the trout come right up to the shallows.

ducks.

ducks.


After a short nap to work off the jetlag, I decided it was time for a dip. The water was refreshing to say the least, and absolutely perfect, the little trout would come around your feet looking for food that might have been stirred up by your movement. I could have stayed there all day, heck for a few days!
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0110.
But all too soon it was time to explore our next destination, the falls.

Savica Waterfall

You have to walk up 500 steps to get to the waterfall, which in the heat made a rather exhausting climb. But it was well worth it, just stunning. The walk is through the forest with views and rest stops along the way.

Kaja on step number 422

Kaja on step number 422


The View

The View

Finally you reach the top and see the waterfall running straight out of the rocks, no wonder it is called the Source of Life. All you can do is take photos and stare in wonder… as you get your breath back!

Savica Waterfall

Savica Waterfall

Then about face and head back through the forest, much easier and faster going down.

A few facts:
Height above sea level – at base 894meters / 2933feet
Two part waterfall in the shape of the letter A
Height of large waterfall – 78meters / 255feet
Height of small waterfall – 25meters / 82feet
Capacity – permanent / rarely runs dry

I march to drink the Savica
The cold source of enchanting songs
To toast the master of songsters
May I enjoy in this drink!

~ Valentin Vodnik (Slovenian poet/journalist/teacher/translator and priest)

Up Up and Away

Finally we set off to take the cable car up Vogel, a ride up 1535meters / 5036feet. Absolutely jaw-droppingly sensational and slightly terrifying at the same time.

View from Vogel

View from Vogel

We didn’t stay up as long as we planned as the little restaurant at the top was only serving about 3 items on the menu, so after a couple of pics we headed back down.

views

views


Friends at the top!

Friends at the top!


Traditional

Along the way home we stopped at a place serving traditional food, Kaja had the mushroom soup, gobova juha, which I declined due to the heat but which was incredibly delicious. I opted for the carnivorous version of 2 Slovenian sausages, kranjska klobasa (a National Trademark – no other countries can use another recipe and call the product by this name, only the Slovenian recipe is the true one), some sauerkraut, which was very sauer and a side of mash potatoes mixed with red beans. All very… heavy, perfect for a cool winter’s eve, but in the middle of summer at 5pm, shoo!

Home and sleep in preparation for adventure DAY 2!!!

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2015 in Slovenia, Travel

 

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The Next Adventure Begins…With a Few Vexing Moments!!!

The Ultimate Adventure

A few months ago a great friend invited me to return to Koh Phangan island in Thailand and work for him at Haad Yao Divers, where he just became manager. It seemed insane to tell people “yes I am 37 and moving across the world to Thailand to pursue my love of scuba diving”, but here I am sitting in the airport about to follow a childhood dream. At the same time another friend invited me to visit her in Slovenia, so combining the travel has me heading most of the way around the world and to some great adventures.

Seeking Flights

For some reason if I am helping another with choosing and organizing flights and travel plans I have no problem, I know what I am doing and can rationalize the choices. However, the minute it comes to myself I turn into a bundle of nerves and second guessing. Luckily, thanks to a good friend, fellow traveler and writer (Price of Travel), who is always there to listen to my crazy ravings and uncertain choices, I was able to finally make a choice.

I usually shop for flights through Kayak.com and after much looking and comparing I came across a great looking route at the decent price of $697 all booked through a budget airline called Condor, the cheapest by over $100 that I had found. Living in Eugene, Oregon I always hope to fly out of that airport, but all these flights were ridiculously expensive and so I opted for a route out of Portland, Oregon (2 hr drive from home). The flight was in late afternoon which allowed a bit of a sleep in (as much as the cats allowed) and time to visit with a friend on the way up. From Portland I fly to Seattle (on Alaska Air), on to the Dreaded Frankfurt airport, FRA* (on Condor) and finally to Slovenia (on Adria Air).

An important side note, I always book through one airline to ensure my bags get checked all the way through even if some of the flights include smaller affiliated airlines it has never been a problem…

*For those of you who have never been to Frankfurt airport, it is enormous, takes forever to get anywhere between flights, in fact they actually have guys in golf carts picking travelers up and taking them to their gate.

The Day Arrives!

Arriving with 3 hrs to spare at Portland airport, PDX, I went to get a cart for my luggage turning around mid stride when I saw it now cost $5 to take one… when did that price hit the roof?? Dad helped me drag my bags over to the curbside checkin where we all said farewell. As my turn to check my bags arrived I asked about connecting internationally, turns out I had to go inside, so turned around and dragged my bags towards the counter. The reason for dragging was because my backpack straps were zipped up, but with my dive gear and my daypack and my camera…. oi vey!

First Vexing Moment

At the check in counter I hand over my passport and my panama book, (this is the seaman’s or mariners book for people who work on ships, often allowing folks to take extra luggage or weight). The start of my vexing moments began right then and there as the conversation went something like this:
Lady: Well which passport do you want to use?
Me: Oh the US, the other one is my Panama book
Lady: Well I DON’T know what that is, you have to pay $85 for the second bag.
Me: The Panama book is for people who work at sea and usually we are allowed an extra bag.
Lady: Well I DON’T know what that is
(Obviously the end of that discussion!)
Me: ok, here is my credit card.
Lady: And I can only check your bag to Frankfurt, there you will have to collect it and go through customs
(Never have I ever had to take my luggage through customs on a connecting European flight)
Me: I have never had to go through customs and I only have 2 hrs in Frankfurt
Lady: Well you have to, I can’t do anything, do you want to see the computer???
Me: It’s ok, it’s just new, have never had to do that.
Other Lady: Maybe it’s a code share thing with Adria, maybe we should check the bags to Seattle and then Condor can check them through
(First Lady gives Other Lady dirty look)
Other Lady: or not
Lady: so $85 and you have to collect your bags and I can’t give you a boarding pass or seat assignment for anything other than our Alaska flight!
Me: ummm, ok

So unbelievably rude and unhelpful and ultimately the person who f*&$ed it up for the rest of the route. Headed to security feeling the start of that stressful sensation in the back of my neck and trying very hard not to let it creep too far.

Second Vexing Moment

Arrive in Seattle without any problems and get lost trying to find my way to the international terminal, finally make it though and find my gate, an hour before flight. Go to the counter to get my boarding pass and ask about luggage conversation went like this:

Me: hi good day, please I need a seat as far forward as possible, an aisle seat, I have to get my bags in Frankfurt and transfer them to the next plane because of customs.
(The very sweet lady was possibly Chinese, so please read her part with that accent).
Lady: oh you no go through customs, you no probelm
Me: Yes I have to, Alaska refused to check my bags through to Slovenia I need to collect them and I am not sure why, because I booked my entire flight through Condor.
Lady: no no you no go through customs, no problem you go straight to your airplane
Me: (Handing over the papers trying hard not to respond in the same accent) See Alaska did not check my bags through
Lady: ahhh yes you go through customs, no problem you have 2 hour
Me: I only have an hour and 40min and Frankfurt is huge
Lady: ahh you no problem here I give you aisle seat, no problem
Me: ok, but if I miss…
Lady: you no problem!
Me: yes ok , but IF I miss my fli…
Lady: no no problem, you have more than 2 hour
(Apparently in her mind my time is increasing)
Me: (Just breathe) But. IF. I. MISS. MY. FLIGHT. WILL. CONDOR. SORT. IT. OUT??
Lady: you no problem all good, have good flight, next….

Vexing was an understatement. Feeling irrationally irritated, or rather rationally irritated, I called a friend to vent and after a discussion decided to talk to another agent. Her response was confusion over why Alaska refused to check my bag and her thought was that most likely there was a code share issue between Alaska and my final flight on Adria. She assured my I should be fine and if there was any problem Condor would take care of it. I felt a lot calmer after that, although annoyed that these issues were just because Alaska and Adria air can’t play well with each other. Why did I book a budget airline????? Why????

When Things Go Right

As I waited to get onboard I chatted with some of the other passengers and discovered why we had a short delay, turns out there was a plane change and this was a different design so some people had to change seats. I told them my vex and joked that maybe the “seat upfront” I asked would be right at the back… Apparently that is not something you joke about because I had the last row (the one that doesn’t recline) on my side of the plane. There was one more row for the passengers in the middle to be fair, so it wasn’t right at the back. Also my seat mate apparently had the same problem, she was continuing on Austria air and Alaska refused to check her bags, but she had 5hrs so wasn’t worried, however, she did mention they might make us pay for the second bag. Oi Vey!!!!

I immediately found a flight attendant who was very sweet and very helpful, she was also confused about the bag situation, but promised to see if any seats further up were open and assured me that 2 hours should be enough time. I hoped she was right. Just before take off she brought me a list of seats up in row 11, 15 and 16 that had an open aisle seat, also the row (2 seats) in front of me were open. I opted for the row to hopefully get some sleep.

From here things kept getting better. The guy across from me was super cool and we chatted a bit. He was from a small hickville (his words) town in Washington state and this was the first time he had ever travelled internationally. He recently became a history teacher and he figured he may as well explore a bit well he had nothing holding him down. I warned him that it is easy to become addicted to travel… Then he asked the most precious question that made him stand out like a sore thumb as a newby traveler:
Guy: so Kathy, do I just stay on this airplane for my connection to Venice or do I get off?
Me: (first looking at him blankly, then reminding myself that occasionally you do stay on a flight well others disembark, rarely but occasionally) Usually you get off and have to go to another gate, but if you show me your flight info I can double check.
He was just so sweet, so bright eyed and bushy tailed at the thought of adventure…. oh dear I fear too much travel might be making me jaded…

Just after take off I popped into the loo and heard an announcement that was music to my ears. Since Condor is a budget airline you have to pay for any extras such as a 2nd bag, movies, food etc… Well the announcement stated that movies would be free due to the inconvenience of a plane change. Woohoo!!!! The guy across me didn’t have ear phones so I loaned him my other pair. I must admit that the entertainment system was great, the screen was unscratched and a decent size, the touch screen responded well and didn’t require the

The happiness didn’t stop there, since I had been so stressed and annoyed in Seattle I had failed in my plan to buy some food to eat on the plane, so I asked the cost and choice. The flight attendant informed me that the food, too, was free!!! Woohoo!!! Although after attempting to eat the food I was very glad I didn’t end up paying for it!

I was able to manipulate myself into some form of comfortable position for a bit of sleep, but not much. Near the end of the flight the guy across from me said “Kathy, I feel like a zombie”, shame he had managed no sleep, my reply was “welcome to the wonderful world of international travel!”.
With around 30mins to go, my amazing flight attendant said I could move to 16C, aisle seat to be closer to the front if it made me feel better. Heck yeah it did! That’s also when I discovered 16 was the last row of business class, which meant I could have been sitting there all along… Oh well I had fun chatting with the guy.

And The Good Times Are Over!!!

Things seemed to be going pretty smoothly, which is never a good sign, I got off the flight quickly, I made it to immigration and the info desk man suggested I go through the Crew side to save time if they would let me , they did! I got to the luggage carousel and the info desk man there said no problem as Adria air was right above me and gate B03 was close by after security. My bags were one of the first out and I walked up into the check in area feeling almost relieved, like this might actually be all ok…

Info desk man up in check in sent me to Lufthansa since Adria was part of Lufthansa.
Lufthansa sent me to the bag check since I already had my boarding pass.
Got my bags on the belt when the guys there realised I didn’t have the bag tag and sent me to a counter.
The guy there said no problem, then paused… again never a good sign.
The F*&^$ng Alaska lady had only marked my paid bag through as far as Frankfurt in the system, which meant I had to pay another 50 euros to check it.
He suggested I take it to Condor, since all the flights were booked through them, and they should check it through no problem… (That phrase again)
I walked all the way to Condor, only 5minutes but felt like hours.
The Condor people just looked at me and said NO, since Adria isn’t Condor, almost as if I was stupid for even considering it.
I walked back to Lufthansa, now getting very very frustrated and verge of tears.
The guy who helped me had left already and the other guys were confused why I was back. They sent me to the other check in desks.
There the guys tried to make me wait in line, but no I had 50min till my flight left and they finally figured out that I needed a check in desk NOW!!
Finally they took me to a desk, with 45min to go.

The lady at the counter looked at me in tears trying to blubber my way through all the tragedy that was happening on this flight and just said calmly. “OK let me do the bags then we look ok, now you have both arms, both legs, you are beautiful so stop this crying!”
Turns out she is married to a South African and lives in Germany but she is from Spain. A wonderful person who really helped calm me down. But, this didn’t mean things were getting better as I had to go upstairs to pay the 50 euros since it was Adria air not Lufthansa… oh joy joy, but she assured me calmly that is was ok as the gate was just after security and security was just there. I joked that it must be something about Frankfurt airport as I ALWAYS have issues when I fly through, she agreed and said the staff feel the same way.

At the counter upstairs, with 40min to go, the machine had a problem, of course it did. But finally it went through and I headed downstairs towards what I hoped would be my flight. I got through security which was right there as the wonderful lady had said, and got to the gate as they started calling for boarding, even had time for a quick pee.

And It Is All Good Again

I boarded the bus that would take us to the airplane and realised I had not let Kaja, my friend I was visiting, know that I had made it. A lovely young woman let me use her phone to text and then I breathed a very long sigh of relief and contemplated the size of the glass of wine I was going to need after this. The bus ride turned out to be a runway tour of Frankfurt, a good 10min drive, all of joking that we were actually driving to Slovenia. There is something strange about driving to your plane and having to stop for the other planes to cross your path. But we got there, and I had another great seat mate. She and I chatted most of the way and when we parted she kissed me on the cheek and promised to stay in contact.

And then it was over and there was Kaja, she had got my message. I admit I did let out a rather loud squeak of joy and relief. Never before have I experienced a trip where everything that could go wrong did and yet so much went right!!! Not sure if I will ever book with Condor again though as the whole point was to book with one airline and avoid just this rather vexing experience.

For now…. Slovenia awaits!!!

 

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