New York 2013

January 12, 2014 at 5:44 pm | Posted in Travel | 1 Comment
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NYC 2013:

This was at the end of a month of travel so was a chance to relax and wind down before returning to work so not much happened but that was great.

  • Highline park – walked along the former rail line that’s now a park to get an above ground view of New York, the only problem is that it is narrow so it can get cramped at times, but it was very cool
  • Brooklyn Smorgasburg – made it over to Brooklyn to check out an open air market, I bought a pie shake from Butter & Scotch. It’s literally a piece of (sweet) pie blended with ice cream that you can then drink. Very heavy but good. On a fine day it’s very pleasant to walk around and look over at the Manhattan skyline.
  • Kinky Boots – watched this Tony award winning musical and enjoyed it but wasn’t blown away. Possibly because the happiness of the musical was soured by already knowing the reality of what happened to the people involved. Similarly none of the numbers made me want to go home and buy them. If you can get a decent price on a ticket do give it a go.

I enjoyed my brief time here catching up with various friends, trying faux cronut cronuts (ie I don’t remember the retailer and what they called it) and going from massive buildings like central station to the relaxation of central park.

Photos on Flickr.

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Philadelphia

January 12, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Posted in Travel | Leave a comment
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Philadelphia 2013:

  • Eastern Penitentiary – take a few hours to listen to the audio guide and check out this abandoned prison, plenty of nooks, crannies and anecdotes to immerse yourself with
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (and Rocky steps) – the iconic “Rocky” steps were still getting plenty of use and photos by people (most of whom probably weren’t around when that came out). By the time I got to the museum it was quite late in the day and having already gone to a few galleries I gave the museum a miss (especially as I didn’t want to pay too!). Unfortunately I didn’t realise that on Wednesday’s it was open later and after 5 you can pay what you like. D’oh!
  • Liberty Bell – Not a lot of information but does cover its creation, how it became iconic and its general history. The bell itself is smaller than I expected too! It may be hard to see it if there are many tourists or tourist groups in the way.
  • Independence Hall – make sure you pick up a ticket first at the visitor centre on the far side of the park (hopefully there are some available), the tour is good and worth it and doesn’t take too long. You can also check out some of the other displays in the area or some other presentations. I didn’t though.
  • National Constitution Center – large building, check out the live action presentation and then the displays about the constitution, its development, current status and implementation. I thought it might be quite kiddy focused but was pretty interesting and well presented.
  • Reading Terminal Market – Large indoor food market with lots of lunch options, had my first hoagie and also an Amish doughnut
  • Mutter Museum – relatively expensive compared to most other places I’d been to but at this medical museum you can find a number of oddities like slices of Einstein’s brain or books made with human skin. It and Magic Gardens were recommended by a local so something off the usual tourism path.
  • Magic Gardens – I walked past at night so didn’t get the full effect, however a number of buildings in this district have colourful mosaics, a bit weird but neat to check out
  • Jim’s – another local recommendations for one of the famous Philly cheeseteaks. Give it a go and walk around the area there are quite a few cool shops around South Street.
  • 30th Street Station – wonderful interior for a station

There’s quite a bit to do in Philadelphia with things across the city and there’s even more than on this list. It’s great to walk around and explore.

Photos on Flickr.

Wilmington

January 11, 2014 at 11:55 pm | Posted in Travel | Leave a comment
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Wilmington 2013:

On my way to Philadelphia from Baltimore I took a slight detour with a few hours in Wilmington, Delaware. Probably the only time I’ll make it to Delaware. There doesn’t seem to be a lot going on here, it was quiet!

Walked the riverfront – it’s narrow and meandering and I imagine on some nights the pathway along it which has the odd eatery could be quite active but mid morning on a weekday not so much and there wasn’t a whole lot to keep your attention

Delaware History Museum – very interesting museum charting the history of Delaware and Wilmington

Overall there didn’t seem to be many things going on or things to do although I did wander past a lunch time market that looked nice.

Photos on Flickr.

Baltimore

January 11, 2014 at 11:35 pm | Posted in Travel | 1 Comment
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Baltimore 2013:

  • Star Spangled Banner House – place where the flag which inspired the US national anthem was made, relatively small museum but quite interesting (for example the amount paid for the flag was a huge sum but they think the woman who made it actually lost out when you factor in the price of materials)
  • Baltimore Civil War Museum – small museum covering the civil war period in Baltimore, interesting as Maryland would likely have split from the Union had the military not intervened and the federal government suspended habeas corpus
  • Historic Ships – you can look through all of the ships or just a selection. I went through one of the subs, the lighthouse and the “lightship”, they were neat and I was happy with it but probably would have swapped the lightship for a tall ship. That or just pay extra and walk through the other ships (all depending on what your level of interest is).
  • Federal Hill Park – park overlooking the main city skyline and quite relaxing
  • Fort McHenry – unfortunately I didn’t make it here but if you get the chance it looks like it would be very interesting

Overall I was only here for a day but it was pleasant, particularly as I hadn’t scheduled a lot to do and it was also the first day in the US that wasn’t hot (possibly benefiting from the air coming off the harbor).

Photos on Flickr.

Washington D.C.

January 11, 2014 at 11:13 pm | Posted in Travel | 1 Comment
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Washington DC 2013:

  • The WhiteHouse – if you want to limit the number of randoms in your photos of the WhiteHouse do try and get there early, it’s as iconic in person as you’d expect
  • American History Museum – Lots of useful American history pieces from technology and pop culture to the original star spangled banner.
  • Natural History Museum – A great natural history museum with animals and human ancestors from various time periods
  • National Archives – find the declaration of independence, constitution and bill of rights here, which is all very powerful. There are other exhibits here from the archives as well.
  • National Gallery of Art – art and more art with quite a cool atrium on the upper level as well.
  • National Portrait Gallery – very interesting and offers personal stories which provides a more personal view of the US that is very engaging. Do take the time to read through as much of the civil war section as you can as there’ll be less text in later areas.
  • GeorgeTown – Lots of small shops and red brick buildings provide a more laid back atmosphere (unless you’re queueing at that cupcake shop that’s on TV)
  • Congress – I booked a ticket online to get a tour of congress, it was interesting but if you didn’t pre-book and had to wait in line I might not consider it as you only go to some areas and not the high profile ones like the Chambers. Nonetheless you’re still in one of the most important buildings in the world!
  • Native American Museum – Several people recommended the museum specifically for the food in the canteen and indeed it was good. The museum for the most part talks about the general experience of Native Americans as well as providing information on each grouping. Unfortunately because there are so many groups it can be difficult to read even the high level sections when you’re pressed for time. Still for someone with limited knowledge this was a useful museum.
  • Air and Space Museum – if I hadn’t gone to the California Science Center I would have spent many more hours here exploring but luckily from a time perspective I could be more efficient and just wander through and pick and choose, still lots of cool exhibits.

A trip to DC would be incomplete without taking in some of its monuments:

  • WW1 Memorial
  • Korean Memorial
  • Lincoln Monument
  • Vietnam Memorial
  • Reflecting Pool
  • WW2 memorial
  • Washington Monument
  • Jefferson Monument

The Jefferson and Lincoln monuments in particular are great to walk through. When I visited the Washington Monument was still closed to the public but it’s still quite visible from around the city.

Overall, there’s lots to do which means you might need to be efficient with your scheduling or limit your selection of museums. It was also great to catch up with friends too.

Photos on Flickr.

Los Angeles

January 11, 2014 at 10:33 pm | Posted in Travel | 1 Comment
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Los Angeles in 2013:

  • Page Museum and tar pits – I’d always imagined the tar pits as being massive but they’re relatively small with main section. Although Variety’s building overlooks it. The museum which covers the items found in the pits is pretty interesting and doesn’t take too long to go through.
  • LACMA – LA’s museum of art is a complex of several buildings and has an array of art crossing time periods and geography, feel free to take a wander
  • California Science Center – A science museum with exhibits covering space, exploration, nature, the body and a host of other topics. It also has one of the shuttles, the Endeavour, it was truly remarkable to stand by this feat of engineering. The imax experience was pretty cool too.
  • Griffith Observatory – we didn’t go to any of the exhibits inside the observatory it was nonetheless very cool to stand by the observatory and look out over the city and also back towards the mountains and the Hollywood sign
  • Hollywood Walk of Fame – we weren’t able to find a parking spot so just drove by the walk of fame and the other sights along the strip, did see a few of the pavement stones as we drove past, that was enough for me given the odds of actually finding a star for an actor I may know
  • Paley Center for Media – when I went they had a display from various television shows including set pieces and props, which was quite cool
  • Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach – quite a bit of a walk but the weather was good and it was great to walk in the water on the other side of the Pacific as well. The people watching was excellent too.

Overall I liked LA and it had a decent variety of tourism options. I enjoyed catching up with my friend and was very lucky that they were able to take me around some places as well (public transport is ok in some places but not most).

Photos on Flickr.

New York

May 2, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Posted in General, Out and About, Tourism, Travel, UK | Leave a comment
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In September I spent a wonderful week in New York. We all have a picture of the city in our heads and probably know something of its history so let’s get straight into the itinerary. If you’re not familiar with New York where have you been? Here’s a summary.

I stayed at the Ace Hotel and, well, it was an ace experience. Centrally located, funky hipster decor and friendly staff. Its main restaurant, the Breslin, provided great food as well.

As there’s quite a bit to go through I’ll try and be brief, if you have any questions ask me in the comments.

  • Empire State Building – an amazing engineering feat towering over the city and offering excellent views. I went at dusk and seeing the sunset was a highlight. The ticket includes an audio tour which is very useful.
    New York - Empire State Building (2) New York - Empire State Building (6)
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) – I visited when the museum has extended hours (thus allowing you to maximize your tourist time) and again another highlight. There are kilometres to walk through as you explore the world’s history and all of it is worth some time but if you stop to read everything you’ll need a few days. I took a harsh approach, walking through the galleries and only reading up on the items that caught my eye. Even so I was there for over 3 hours. While at the Met you must check out the rooftop garden – especially if there’s a display on – as the garden provides views over central park and the city.
    New York - Metropolitan Museum of Art (4) New York - Metropolitan Museum of Art - rooftop (5)
  • American Museum of Natural History – another huge museum that would take far too much time to look through properly. Even only stopping at a few items I was there for over 2 hours learning about both the natural world and the anthropology of various nationalities. I’d also make sure to go to the planetarium show that’s included in your ticket.
    New York - Natural History Museum (2)
  • Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – I went on a free Friday (though had a ticket through city pass). I’m not normally one for the most modern of art, nonetheless many of the pieces on the lower levels were interesting. I was particularly bemused by the London Transport posters. However it was the top floors with the Van Goghs and expressionists who won me over. Beautiful. Also don’t forget to take a break and sit in the courtyard.
    New York - MoMA (12) New York - MoMA (17)
  • Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty – taking a ferry around the bays on a sunny day was a marvellous way to begin an early day. I didn’t go onto Liberty Island itself but continued onto Ellis. Over the next few hours I learnt about the immigrants coming to the US and the history of the site itself. Very informative. I was glad I hadn’t stopped at the Statue as the number of tourists had risen dramatically by the time I was ready to leave.
    New York - Statue of Liberty (8) New York - Ellis Island (4)
  • Guggenheim Museum – If you like modern art you’ll find it here in the iconic spiral building. I wasn’t blown away by anything like at MoMA but some of it was interesting and certainly challenging.
    New York - Guggenheim Museum (1) New York - Guggenheim Museum (2)
  • United Nations – the tours take an hour and are on a first come first served basis. On the tour you’ll be taken through some of the building hearing about the work of the UN. You’ll also get the chance to visit one of the most famous rooms in the world – the General Assembly Hall (assuming they aren’t in session).
    New York - United Nations (30) New York - United Nations (8)
  • New York Police Museum – in a small building near the bay and wall street is this museum devoted to the history and work of the NYPD. It’s a solid museum with sections on turn of the century criminals, formation of the force, September 11, 2001 and current work. I’m not entirely sure it’s worth the entry price if you’re not interested in the topic but you might find something worthwhile. I did but then I’m a fan of criminology.
    New York - Police Museum (3)
  • Rockefeller Plaza, Top of the Rock – of all the on high viewpoints I went to during this trip I’d say Rockefeller was my favourite. There are fewer crowds than Empire and the introductory videos were well presented. It could have done with an audio tour outside on the upper decks though. Otherwise it’s great.
    New York - Rockefeller Center (1) New York - Rockefeller Center - View from (65)
  • Museum of the City of New York – a small museum, probably worth the visit even with the entry charge, that gives an overview of the city through a fairy cool video presentation and some temporary exhibits. When I went they were looking at the life and times of one of the city’s former mayors during the turbulent 60/70s and the first visit by a Japanese delegation. Check before you go to see what’s on.
    New York - Museum of New York
  • New York Public Library – take a free tour with a member of the library and hear about the history of the building and some of their most important items (like a Gutenberg Bible).
    New York - Public Library (3)
  • Central Park – I came here a few days into my trip and more than anything it won me over to loving New York. The park with its fields and walks provides an excellent escape from the rush of the city. It gave me a good boost to continue the trip full of energy.
    New York - Central Park (19) New York - Central Park (26)
  • Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art – couldn’t find it! Fail.
  • Brooklyn Bridge – wasn’t planning on walking over it (although heard I should) but then after finding myself in Brooklyn meeting some friends decided to walk back via the bridge. Well worth it! The quality of the construction, the views and the flow of people all made it a wonderful walk.
    New York - Brooklyn Bridge (11) New York - Brooklyn Bridge (18)
  • World Trade Center site – the continuing construction and footprint of the buildings help to provide a sense of scale to the tragedy. There’s an information centre but I didn’t go.
    New York - WTC Site (3) New York - WTC Site (7)
  • Wall Street – a mix of tourists and office workers occupy the space in and around the Stock Exchange Building.
    New York - Wall Street - Stock Exchange (5)
  • Broadway and Times Square – I first had a wander through this area during the afternoon and it was teeming with tourists but once night falls it truly goes into overdrive with the huge billboards lighting up the entire area and encapsulating the “city that never sleeps” claim. Rather depressingly I find I have no pictures of it. Oh well I guess that means another trip.

Speaking of shops, as to be expected there are plenty of interesting and flagship stores throughout the city. A sample includes:

  • Evolution Nature Store – a quirky store offering a variety of natural history style goods
  • Forbidden Planet – not as big as the London shop but still good for all comic and geek based needs
  • Apple Store – while a fairly compact store it does have the advantage of being open 24/7 35 days a year
  • FAO Schwartz – toys, a giant keyboard and many, many sweets – yum
  • Bloomingdales, HollisterAbercrombie & FitchMacy’s and Saks 5th Avenue – for all your fashion needs
  • M&Ms – more M&Ms that you could ever need, not to mention almost every conceivable item emblazoned with some M&M branding
  • Nintendo – for all your Nintendo needs
  • Lego – need a spare lego block? You’ll find it and much more here.

Now back to the city. Besides all of the main attractions it’s highly recommended that you take some time to wander around the various districts to see the diversity in the city.

Of course New York City is a great hub to explore other areas. I only managed to see a glimpse of Brooklyn and New Jersey but they and many other places are easy to get to and there’s plenty to do in them as well.

Lastly, what about food and entertainment? Due to a fairly hectic schedule I didn’t embrace the nightlife too much but did go to a few bars over the weekend and they were all fun. As for food, there’re plenty of options (got to love the pizza slices!) here are a few that I liked:

  • Magnolia Bakery – famous cupcake shop. Very nice but I prefer Hummingbird’s – though the cupcake I bought was near the end of the day so that might explain it. Still yummy!
  • Blue Spoon Coffee – nice coffees and sandwiches
  • Penelope Cafe – continental and American style breakfasts, well presented, quick service and tasty
  • Keko Cafe – the food was fine, the atmosphere in this small cafe is quite cool with its wood panels and cannisters filled with coffee and tea
  • Culture Espresso – another good coffee shop with nice food as well!
  • Society Coffee – the decor and general attitude was quite relaxed, the food was fine but overpriced and the service was solid. I also had a very nice conversation with a fellow patron.

And now some other stuff:

  • subway and transport – being set out on a grid makes finding where you need to go really simple. Walking is a good choice for a lot of the venues but you should also pick up a travel card for the subway for those slightly longer commutes. The subway is fairly straightforward and the carriages are air conditioned.
  • NYC Information Center / City Pass – the number of tourists were relatively small but I was able to further reduce wait times by picking up a city pass. I bought mine on my first day from the NYC Information Center while wandering up to Times Square. I also bought my travel card from here too.
  • The service and people in New York were all excellent.

There’s plenty more to see. I particularly wanted to try:

but that’ll have to wait until next time.

I was very lucky that when I went (first week of September) there were so few tourists as it gave me a chance to do more and the weather was perfect too. All in all a great trip.

Now to plan the next one!

Maps at Google maps (including some things I didn’t get to)

Pictures at Flickr.

Google Doc of the itinerary – fairly close to what I ended up doing.

San Francisco – January 2010

July 6, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Posted in cafe, Cafes & Restaurants, Food, General, museum, Out and About, Random, Tourism, Travel, USA | Leave a comment
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This was my second visit to San Francisco but the first time as an adult so it was time to party!

San Francisco (218)

I got a great deal through Expedia and stayed at the Hyatt Regency in downtown. The room and service were excellent –  just what I needed at the end of a long trip.

Now onto the stuff. It’s always about the stuff! Oh I’m going to be completely touristy here.

Alcatraz
Well why not start with one of the most well known prisons in the world. Predictably the ferry trip over was surrounded by fog thus helping to create the ideal atmosphere.

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (118) Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (121)

You can opt for an audio guide or not but obviously it’s better with one (and comes with the ticket anyway). I was somewhat familiar with the prison but didn’t know that it was also a military fort, a Native American sit-in protest site and lastly a nature reserve. Many of the buildings are in a state of neglect (probably managed by the Parks Service to keep it at the same level from when they took it over).

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (22)

I rather liked the tour. It was a little tiring walking around but the various anecdotes (such as prisoner escape attempts) made me forget all about sore legs! Or perhaps it was the refreshing sea air.

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (111)

I went early and would suggest the same as it helps to bypass more tourists and maximises the amount of time you can spend on other sightseeing.

Alcatraz - San Francisco 2010 (86)

It may be a bit cliché to go and visit Alcatraz but it is worth the trip.

Fisherman’s Wharf and surrounds
Along the bay is the tourist destination of Fisherman’s wharf and Pier 39. There are an abundance of shops catering to tourists, it’s a bit of a trap but enjoyable to wander around in. Also at Pier 39 you can also check out the seals.

Fisherman's Wharf - San Francisco 2010 Sealions at Pier 39 - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Throughout the Wharf, Piers and San Francisco you’ll come across stores selling clam chowder in sour dough bowls. I finally tried it at Boudin’s Bakery (which also has a tour but I didn’t go on it). I thought the dough was a bit, well, sour but on the whole rather nice and filling.

Clam Chowder Sourdough bowl (Boudin Bakery) - San Francisco 2010

Lastly, you might be interested in checking out Musée Mécanique which houses a number of historic penny arcade machines. Most, if not, are still useable and looks like it could be a lot of fun (and just a touch geeky) to play around with.

Musee Mecanique - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Golden Gate Bridge Area
After a bit of a mammoth walk around San Francisco I walked towards the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Don’t worry there are public transport options I just felt like walking.

Before I got there I walked briefly through the presidio where there was a warning about the potentials for coyotes! Even so the presidio was surprisingly calming and relaxing.

Presidio Walk - San Francisco 2010 (2) Presidio Walk - San Francisco 2010 (1)

There’s also the chance to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum but I didn’t have time to go in and check it out. Not to mention the $20 entry fee seemed a little steep.

Walt Disney Family Museum - San Francisco 2010 (3)

At the base of the bridge you’ll find Fort Point. It’s free to enter and a very informative museum covering the history of the fort and military, the bridge and some of the city’s history as well. Top it all off with some excellent views from the roof of the fort and it was definitely one of my favourite places.

Fort Point at the Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco 2010 (5) Fort Point at the Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Other areas
Castro District – Otherwise known as a the LGBT heart of the city. Having heard so much about it for years I expected something particularly wild but it felt like it was a bit gentrified. A rather relaxing and easy going spot. In many ways it was the same sort of vibe as Sydney’s Oxford Street and London’s Compton Street.

Chinatown – Some Chinatowns can be smaller than you expect (London) and others exceed expectations. San Francisco falls under the latter, with numerous shops and cultural establishments down and around a long avenue.

Chinatown - San Francisco 2010 (1)

The Haight – I think I completely missed this iconic district after getting slightly turned around at Alamo Square. It’s apparently worthwhile but I don’t know. I’m not a hippy/ flower power kind of guy. Still it’d be another reason to come back to the city.

Museums that weren’t
Cable Car – I’m not entirely sure if I’d even found the correct spot. I was basing my search on an online mapping reference without having double checked the website. Lesson learnt.

Chinese Historical Society – Prominent signage exists throughout Chinatown and the surrounds. I was quite interested in checking it out but when I reached the ‘open’ museum I couldn’t enter and there didn’t seem to be any information on how to enter or what to do.

The Chinese Museum that wasn't - San Francisco 2010 (2)

Other
Lombard Street – It’s a twisty, twisty street. That’s about it. Still one of those things traditional tourist spots.

Lombard Street - San Francisco 2010 (1)

UN Plaza/Civic Center – San Francisco was where the UN Charter was signed so I couldn’t help but take a few moments at the UN Plaza. Although only a few moments, it felt a little seedy.

UN Plaza - San Francisco 2010 (1)

Ferry building – I came through on the weekend when it housed a farmers market on top of its regular shops. There were plenty of tourists and locals around calmly queuing for the various goodies on offer.

Coit Tower – This impressive tower stands atop a bluff looking out over the Bay. When I walked up I was too early, on a clear day it would be worthwhile to pay and take in the views from the top.

Coit Tower - San Francisco 2010 (4)

Food and drink
Mama’s – A brilliant breakfast at Washington Square. It’s popular with tourists and locals. The staff are busy but will try and help as much as possible.

Vesuvio – A number of people recommended this relaxed bar and it’s perfect for a catch up with friends (which I did with the wonderful LadyeeNerd)

Vesuvio - San Francisco 2010 (2)

Cafe Trieste – On a side street near a church this crowded cafe offers the usual assortment of coffees and snacks. Apparently it’s quite popular. The mocha was reasonable and sitting outside offered some decent people watching.

Blue Bottle – This was a late recommendation but it was a good call – thanks LaydeeNerd. The Blue Bottle was located at the Ferry Building and there was quite a queue on the weekend. While the mocha wasn’t as sweet as I’d like it was still nice and other patrons seemed happy with their brews.

Peet’s Coffee – A local coffee shop chain and it was excellent. The staff were friendly and the coffees tasty. I wish it was warmer so I could have tried their chillers as well. Oh well yet another reason to come back.

On the whole I liked the city but I don’t think I could live here. It’s not just because of all the hills but the city just seemed too quiet for me. There was a considerable lack of bustle. I’ve grown used to a certain level of activity after living in Sydney and London. Perhaps I could learn to thrive on less – but not yet.

Certainly for a holiday spot it’s great and well worth multiple visits. Often it seemed as though each corner brought out a new type of district, each with its own flavour. Hopefully next time I’ll go beyond the city core as well!

More photos at Flickr and locations at Google Maps.

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