WOW! Like the saying Rome wasn't built in a day, the same goes for seeing Rome - you cannot see it in a day or even 2. There is just so much to see in Rome and we are trying to squeeze it all into 2 and half days while battling a little jet-lag! If you are like us and haven't been to Rome before and are taking a cruise out of Rome you really do need a couple days to even scratch the surface. If your cruise is round trip it might be easier to do Rome after the cruise but either way I think you need at least 3 days to just get a sampling of Rome.
As I said yesterday, I chose a hotel based on location that was close to things I knew we wanted to see and we really have walked to everywhere we have been in these 2 days. Yesterday our step meter said we did 13 miles! Our hotel's location allows us to walk to the Trevi fountain in about 2 minutes which is nice since that place is always crowded. We found this morning when leaving for an early tour we passed the fountain at 8 am and that was the least crowded it we have seen it. Our front desk said the best time to go is 3 am - which would be possible being this close but don't think we really need to do that unless we cannot sleep tonight for some reason. We have also easily walked to the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, and Piazza Navona. All of these you can just walk around for free no tour needed. Slightly longer walks but still easy to handle were the Colosseum and Vatican City. I did pre-book us a tour for the Colosseum with Project Expedition and I am so glad I did. Even though this is considered slightly off-season for tourists things have still been very crowded. Our tour not only allowed us to skip the lines but it also got us into places you cannot go on your own. It was very cool to go underground and also up to the very top level of the Colosseum. The tour also included the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Having a guide over there was really great since there was so much to see and learn about.
We weren't really sure how we would be feeling so I didn't want to pre-book too much and I am glad I didn't since we really couldn't have been up early the first day after an overnight flight. We decided for the Vatican we would just explore the outside for this visit. By the time we got over there the crowds were already large so I wouldn't recommend doing that without a tour that lets you skip the lines.
We also walked around the river and other things like Circo Massimo, Castel Sant Angelo, and Largo di Torre Argentina (this is where Julius Caesar was killed). There are also lots of shops, churches, monuments, and piazzas we wandered around. You can see how easy it was to do 13 miles in a day!
Food in Italy is pretty much as you would expect lots of pasta, pizza, and gelato pretty much every where you turn! There are just so many restaurants it can be hard to choose. I asked our hotel for a suggestion and they gave a great one. I also checked google reviews to get an idea. As you walk down the street many of the restaurants will try to pull you in. That wasn't as bad as some of the other people in the streets trying to get you to buy things. As with most tourist areas you will find the street art like the different performers and artists which can be fun. Then you have the "pop up" shops and guys walking around selling things which is fine to me as long as they are not pestering you to buy. Apparently selfie sticks are the biggest thing for these guys in the streets to sell as they were pretty much at every major attraction trying to get you to buy one. One thing I can stay about them is that a simple no thanks and they left you alone. The one thing I really didn't like were the African men that seemed to line the street around the fountain and they would pretend to want to shake your hand but really slip a bracelet on and then expect you to buy it. They were very aggressive and very annoying. It made me not want to walk that street and I am sure I wasn't alone on that. We went into the wonderful gelato shop right next to our hotel and the owner even said something about them and how he isn't happy about them being out there. The funny thing is we were going to walk down towards the fountain to get gelato but then decided we didn't want to deal with those guys so just went next door. It worked out since we realized that shop was great and very convenient for us. We have had a great time in Rome and definitely would come back again. Tomorrow morning we head for the ship. The port is about an hour away so you really do need to plan for transportation over there. There won't be much rest for my feet as the cruise is 9 nights and out of 10 days only 1 sea day! Most Mediterranean cruises are like that since there are just so many great places to see in a short distance. On one hand it is great to pack so much into one trip but on the other hand can be exhausting as well. I highly recommend planning at least a day or 2 after a Mediterranean cruise to relax and recover (kind of like a Disney World visit).
Our cruise starts out in Rome. I always recommend arriving a day early for any cruise but even more so for European cruises when you will be flying further and also dealing with some jet-lag. I also think it is very important to not forget that the place where your cruise starts should also be considered a port of call. If you were to fly in the day of your cruise you will miss out on exploring that port. If your cruise is a round trip cruise then you can also plan to explore that port after the cruise. My cruise is a one way cruise so I cannot do that.
For this cruise I know Rome is huge with so may things to see that it could be a vacation unto itself but with already doing a 9 night cruise we could only add a couple days there pre-cruise. The port is about an hour from the city of Rome so the day the ship departs doesn't really leave you much time to see anything. This means we had to plan our time wisely and choose the things we wanted to see and do most.
When searching for flights it can help to be flexible and also a little creative. Living in Orlando we are lucky enough to have quite a few airport options withing a few hours drive. Generally Orlando has some pretty decent flights to just about everywhere but being a travel agent I cannot help but explore all options to find the best flights for my needs. This time it turned out that I could save about $500 per person by flying out of Miami so for me a 4 hour drive is worth $1000. It turned out even better when we boarded the flight to Rome and found the plane wasn't even half full so we lots of room to spread out and get comfy for the overnight flight.
Finding a hotel in a place like Rome can be overwhelming, even for a travel agent like me. There are just so many options and it is not like in the US where you have all the chain names where you pretty much know what you are going to get. Most of the hotels in Rome are in old buildings many that might not have started out as a hotel. I decided I wanted a hotel right in the heart of things and then realized I needed to narrow that down even more so I picked the Trevi Fountain to be close to and then started sorting through all the options. Reviews are helpful but I will be honest what really made up my mind was when I read the hotel rooms have a mini bar where everything in it is just 1 euro each. I know it may seem like a silly reason to some people but when there as so many hotels and many seeming to be very similar that stood out to me as something I know I would like to have. I just know so many times when I travel we will spend the day exploring and when you get back to the room you are thirsty or maybe just need a snack and are too tired to venture back out to find something so the mini bar comes in handy and knowing I am not going to be gouged for that is nice. Most European hotels will come with a free breakfast but the hotel I chose has a bonus and the free breakfast is served on the rooftop terrace, another feature that stood out as a reason to choose this one for me. Since we are short on time in Rome having a hotel that was in easy walking distance to a lot was important too. I am very happy with my choice of Relais Trevi 95 Hotel. As the name suggests it is super close to Trevi fountain. So far we have been able to walk around and get to see a lot very easily. Will add photos later :)
My next adventure is a 9 night Mediterranean cruise from Rome to Barcelona. I will be sailing on the Azamara Pursuit. You might not have heard of Azamara before but it is part of the Royal Caribbean family. Royal Caribbean has the mega ships with all the crazy extras that are super family friendly. The next level up in the Royal Caribbean family is Celebrity, which is a premium cruise line. Their ships are still pretty large but do not have all of the crazy things like bumper cars and ice rinks. Instead they are a little more refined and geared a little more towards adults. The next level up is Azamara which is a small ship/luxury cruise line. While it isn't adult only it does discourage families from sailing since they do not offer any children's activities onboard. Azamara has 3 ships at this time and I will be sailing on the newest addition to their fleet. The Pursuit isn't a brand new ship but instead one they purchased and did a multi-million dollar refurbishment to. The Pursuit just started sailing recently so she will still look like new when I get onboard. Azamara has ships that hold less than 1,000 guests which allows them to get into smaller ports. Azamara is also known for having more overnights in ports on all their itineraries. As a luxury small ship more is included in your upfront cruise fare.
Included for every guest:
- Beverages including soft drinks, bottled water, specialty coffee, and select spirits, beers, and wines.
- AzAmazing evenings (a complimentary event on most itineraries)
- Self service laundry
- Shuttle to and from port communities where available
Veranda Plus and Suites get even more amenities but as you can see you get a lot included with any room already.
Most smaller ship cruise lines will include more in their up-front cost which I really like. I also prefer the quieter more laid back feeling you get on a small ship. No crowds and no long lines to get off and on the ship. This will be my first Mediterranean cruise so I am really looking forward to each port! From Rome we will visit Olbia, Bastia, have an overnight in Florence, Monte Carlo, Palma de Mallorca, Valencia, and ending in Barcelona. Stay tuned for more on each stop. You can also follow me on instagram for more photos - coleentravel
Why I love to cruise. When people ask me about my next vacation the answer is usually a cruise and I get the reply of - geez you take so many cruises don’t you get tired of it? That got me thinking maybe I should write about why I love to cruise so much. I know many people hear the word cruise and they think of a week long booze fest filled with frosty drinks and sunny beaches, but that isn’t the only kind of cruise. One of great things about cruising is that there are so many possibilities. There are long cruises, short cruise, big ships, small ships, themed cruises, luxury cruise, adventure cruises, and they go to places all around the world. The variety is great but that isn’t my favorite reason for cruising.
When I was boarding my most recent cruise on Holland America I noticed they are celebrating 145 years of cruising and that made me realize what I love most is the nostalgia! Hundreds of years ago boarding a ship was the only way to explore and find new places. Then the big steamships became the way to travel to these new places and then cruising became a form of vacation. I love that feeling when you board a cruise ship and you feel like you have stepped back in time. I can imagine what it was like back then and how excited someone must have been to cross the Atlantic for the first time! You can board a ship and be taken to places you never imagined you would go. You can disconnect from everything and just enjoy the simple things like sitting on a deck chair reading a book as the waves go by. You can watch the sunset over the ocean or you can sail above the arctic circle, like I did recently, and get see places where the sun doesn’t set at all. You get to feel what it is like to watch a new port come into view and see the town getting ready to welcome new visitors. You really get to see things that you could only do from onboard a ship.
There is always a wonderful crew ready to take care of things for you. You unpack once and get to visit multiple places all in one vacation. You can dine in a fancy dining room and dress up as formal as you would like or be casual and grab a quick bite from the buffet or not even leave your room and have room service delivered. Cruising started out as a mode of transportation but grew into a way to combine getting somewhere along with a relaxing vacation. The mega ships of today have become a destination unto themselves where you might not even care where it goes because you just want to enjoy the ship. No matter what type of cruise you choose you will always have that that moment of nostalgia as you pull away from the dock and wave good-bye to those onshore as you set off on your ocean voyage.
There is a lot of planning that goes into a vacation and for the most part it is pretty fun. We plan when and where to go and then we plan what to wear and what to see and do. There is one part though that most of us tend to forget about and that is the post vacation plans. Nobody really wants to think about vacation ending before it even begins but a few simple things can help the ease the pain of getting back to reality. Here are a few tips to help deal with the post vacation stress:
#1 - Plan a little buffer time. Sure planning to be on vacation up until the very last possible minute to squeeze as much vacation fun into your time off seems like a good idea but then when that next morning arrives and you are back at work you realize that was the worst idea. I suggest give yourself at least one day after you get home from vacation before going back to work/school. This gives you time to deal with any jet lag/hangover and just get back into the mindset of not being on vacation.
#2 - Food when you get home. I cannot tell you how many times I have come home after vacation and am reminded that oh right there isn’t anything to eat here. You might just plan to eat out that first day home however if you are like me after being on vacation you really just don’t want to eat anymore restaurant food. After just getting home I really just don’t have the energy for food shopping either though so I try to make a food plan for that first meal after vacation before I leave home this way there is at least something to eat after getting back from the airport.
#3 - Do a little prep work for work. If possible try to clear out as much work as you can and maybe even work on some things in advance so that you won’t feel as overwhelmed with catch up when you return. If possible it might also be good to give yourself an extra day when you get back to catch up so if you have an out of office message and even though you are back in the office on Monday maybe have your message say you are out of the office until Tuesday.
#4 - A little cleaning goes a long way. I hate coming back from vacation and realizing that my house is a mess or worse my desk looks like a tornado came through. I always swear that I didn’t leave it that way. It can get a little hectic right before vacation so it is very easy to end up leaving a bit of a mess behind but it really helps if you can avoid that. Try to clear your desk at least a day prior to vacation so when you return you don’t spend hours trying to through it all again. Even you are used to working in a slightly unorganized chaos it is a lot harder to find where things are after being away for awhile. Same goes for home since you just spent time away where you probably had housekeeping daily and someone serving you food it can really help adjust to reality again if you come home to a place that is clean.
#5 - Start planning your next vacation! I can’t think of any better way to get over the post vacation blues than to start the planning process all over again so you always have something fun to look forward to!
This was a new stop to make up for missing our 2 northern stops. It is a small town but we are staying overnight so it was just nice to be able to come and go all day and enjoy being in town at night. We walked all around and enjoyed the waterfall and the views from different levels of the town as we walked higher and higher up. I really enjoy wandering the small towns and just enjoying the quiet slow pace. In this little town it almost felt like we were the only ones there besides few people that were working in the few stores in town. This port is more of a pit stop for people on their way to Geiranger which is our stop tomorrow.
Only about an hour away from our last stop we pulled out of Hellesylt at 5:30 am and arrived at our next stop and were ready for guests to disembark by 8 am. Geiranger is located at the end of the Fjord and doesn't have a pier so this was another tender port. We were really the only ship in town and the tender ride was very short so it was easy. Geirganger is another small town of only about 260 residents but it gets a lot of summer vacationers. This seemed to be the adventure port offering things like hiking up to waterfalls, kayaking on the fjord, biking around town, along with some bus tours to things like a fjord farm. We opted for the ship's excursion for kayaking. Normally I would check out a 3rd party supplier but in this case I couldn't find one. That can be the drawback to going to some of these very small ports. The ship's excursion was OK but since we were a group of about 20 and not everyone could paddle very well the group had to stop and wait for the slower ones so we did not get as far down the fjord as we had hoped. I understand that they need to keep it safe but having to stay with the group was frustrating to us. It was still a beautiful day so we made the best of it and enjoyed the amazing views. Our excursion was early so we were back in town with a few hours to explore still. As we wandered through town we saw that we could have rented a kayak and went out on our own. I have learned over the years sometimes it is great to just wing it and then other times not so much as you just never know what might be available at each port. My thinking is if there is anything you really have your heart set on doing then it is probably best to book in advance and anything that you think might be fun if it works out then maybe wing it. There was another large waterfall in town that had a lot of steps to walk up right next to it. It was neat to see that here along the fjord there were lots of campgrounds right on the water that look like they probably are pretty full all summer long. On our way back up the Fjord there were ore breathtaking views including the famous Seven Sisters Waterfall. Our ship was able to go by slowly and even turn around so that no matter where you were on the ship you could get an up close view. Now that we are almost at the end of our cruise I am thinking it could have been called the land of waterfalls as we have seen many very impressive falls during our visit. During this time of year all of the snow on the top of the fjords is melting which is would made for all the amazing falls.
Our last port of call is Bergen, which is the 2nd largest city in Norway. It is a town that was totally built by the Germans originally. Bryggen is a World Heritage site which were the first buildings along the harbor built in the 11th century. We decided to just explore on our own. We walked through the Byggen and there were some really neat shops with local handicrafts. We then walked to the funicular that took us up to the top for some amazing views of the city. We opted to walk back down instead of taking the funicular back. It was a nice walk down and mostly in shade which was a nice since it was a pretty hot day in Norway getting into the 80s. On our way back to the ship we walked back through town and fish market. If you were looking for shopping this was definitely the port for that. On our way out of port we went under a few bridges one that looked like we just barely fit under. Then we were on our way back to Rotterdam. We had one sea day to get there which is a nice way to end a cruise so you have time to relax and pack up.
We are spending a couple days in Amsterdam after the cruise. Many times you won't get much time to explore the port you start and end in so adding a day or 2 before or after can be good. It might also help with finding a better flight option too. I also find that coming in early and staying a little after takes away some fo the stress of traveling long distances too.
Our 4th stop is Trondheim, which is the 3rd largest city in Norway. It is a big University city so there are lots of young people around. There wasn't any excursion in particular that jumped out us and I had read that Trondheim is a very walk-able city so we decided to just get off and explore on our own. This was our first stop that really looked like a big city. As we got off the ship we were downtown so we had to walk a little bit get to the old city but it was well worth the walk. Old town has cute cobblestone streets and houses that back up to the canals. We got to the old bridge which was a site to see in it self and that took us over to the cathedral which is where all of Norway's Kings are crowned still to this day. It was another beautiful day so we grabbed a drink and a seat and just did some people watching in old town. We just happened to sit across the street from an interesting invention. There was a very steep hill going up the old fortress and this hill had a bike ramp which was sort of like a ski lift on a mountain. People would ride their bikes up to the ramp and then sort of lock the bike in while they sort of stood with the bike as it took them up the hill. We noticed that had to keep their balance or the bike would come off and they would either have to walk the rest of the way or start again. It was fun to watch.
Sea Day...turns into Sea Days
We were headed north to our next stop, Hammerfest, and a sea day was needed in between to reach that location. At 11:28 am we crossed over the Arctic circle! During this time of year the sun does not set at all above the arctic circle so it was strange to be awake after midnight and still see the sun in the sky - but then the name land of the midnight sun makes sense. Hammerfest and our next stop of Honningsvag sort of have a dispute over which is the northern most city in the World. Hammerfest used to be called the northern most city but in the 90s a new ruling came out that to be a city you needed 5,000 or more residents which Honningsvag did not. We were scheduled to visit both so either way we could say we visited the northern most city in the world! However, we got a little bad news, due to strong winds we were not going to be able to get into Hammerfest. We found out later that we were going to call on Tromso instead. We spent the day relaxing after 4 straight port days which was much needed.
We woke up the next morning expecting to be in Tromso but unfortunately the strong winds and high seas had moved a little south and meant we couldn't get into port that morning so we were getting another sea day. Then later in the day we got some more bad news that we were not going to be able to keep going north to Honningsvag due to the weather so we were heading south again. We were all very bummed since we were looking forward to the northern most stop.
As someone that has cruised many times and had my itinerary changed many times I understand that this is always possible but it is still disappointing. The captain and cruise line always has safety at the top of the list but they do the best to keep everyone as happy as possible too. We were already scheduled to have 2 sea days after Honningsvag so now that means we are looking at 5 sea days which can be a bit much if you were not already prepared for that. During our second unplanned sea day the Captain told us they had worked very hard to find us an alternative and as of now it seems to be working out that we will cruise through Sunnylvsfjord to Hellesylt. That means if it all works out we will have just 4 sea days before getting to our next stop. I am writing this during our 3rd sea day so still hoping this new plan works out and then we can continue on with the original scheduled itinerary. Of course the ship internet doesn't really work for posting blogs so I will have wait and see if our global hotspot works in our next port so I can post then. That brings me to a good point - do you want to be connected while on vacation or do you look forward to being unplugged? Cruising is a great way to unplug, especially on a sea day. For me travel is work and staying connected to my business is also part of my traveling so I need to stay connected. I am glad to have found Skyroam which is the global hotspot we use when we travel. If you only want to be partially connected you can either plan to use the cruise ship internet, which seems to be getting much better than it used to be. Another option would be to plan to just find wifi hotspots while in port. There almost always is somewhere very close to port that offers free wifi. You can always ask the crew as they pretty much know where all the free wifi can be found and you will see many of them gathered there using it.
*Update we made our new stop of Hellesylt and are enjoying this cute little village today!
Our first stop in Norway was Stavanger. It was a busy day in port as there were 3 other large ships in port along with is and unfortunately it was also a national holiday so almost all the stores and restaurants were closed. The Stavanger region has many scenic attractions, among them the Lysefjord, Sola beach and the world famous Preikestolen (“the Pulpit Rock”). Some of the excursion options were a helicopter ride to the pulpit rock, a bus and then hike up to the pulpit rock, or a fjord cruise either on a rib boat or a large ferry type boat that would go by the pulpit rock. We hadn't booked an excursion ahead of time but the weather was so perfect that we couldn't resist a boat ride down to see the Pulpit Rock. We bought a ticket from a local company and it was a nice ride with lots to see and plenty of sunshine too. Stavanger is a very walkable city with lots of shops and things to see all very close to the port.
Our second stop was the tiny town of Flam which has just about 400 residents. Flåm, is situated innermost in the Aurlandsfjord and is home of the Flåm Railway. It is a very popular attraction and I had read it can sell out in advance. I had checked and saw that there would be another very large ship in port at the same time as us so I decided to book the ship excursion in advance that included a reserved car for the train ride up and then a hike back down part of the way. We did have to tender into this port but it wasn't too bad. When you get off the tender you cannot miss the train station as it is really steps away. We met up with our tour group which was a very nice size of just 14 guests with 2 guides. We boarded our reserved car on the train and had plenty of space to move around which was nice since there were amazing views all around. One tip I would give for anyone riding the Flam railway would be to choose a seat at either end of a car since they have windows that can open and you can get better photos. It was interesting to learn that instead of building bridges over the water that flows down the mountain they instead re-routed the water so that went around the tracks. There were amazing waterfalls and other beautiful scenery all around. The train made a stop at a very impressive waterfall where we could all get off the train and take photos. At the stop where our group got off there was a hotel nearby that we went into and had a snack and a drink before making our 6 mile hike down the mountain. Luckily the weather was perfect again and we had a very enjoyable hike. Our journey out of Flam included going back up the Sognefjord which was breathtaking. The fjords are UNESCO World Heritage Landscape. The further north we go the later the sun stays out. Tonight it was almost midnight before it was dark and the sun was due to rise around 4:15 am.
Our third stop was Alesund. Ålesund is a port town on the west coast of Norway, at the entrance to the Geirangerfjord. It’s known for the art nouveau architectural style in which most of the town was rebuilt after a fire in 1904 that destroyed almost every building. We hadn't planned anything in advance today so we thought we would just see what the day brings. In Flam we saw a little electric car that looked like ti would be fun. When getting off in Alesund we saw them again and thought let's try it out. The 2 seater electric car had gps and a tour loaded that talked to us as we drove around town. The nice part we wanted to get to the top of the look oup point which would have been a 400 stair climb and after yesterday's hike my legs were not really feeling like doing that many stairs. With the little car we drove right up and were able to get out and check out the amazing view of the whole town. We also explored more and got to see a lot. It was another perfect weather day so knock on wood the weather stays with us!
We sailed out of Rotterdam which I quickly saw how it used to be considered the World's largest port. It was pretty impressive. Our room is rather interesting in that we have a sliding door that you would have in a balcony room but instead of going out to a private balcony ours goes out onto the promenade deck where everyone can walk around. At first I thought I wasn't sure if I would like that but the doors are designed so that you cannot see into the room but we can see out which makes for some fun people watching. I guess that is why it was called a lanai room vs a balcony room. As a travel agent I think it is important to try out many different room types so I can say from experience what I think of a particular room type. Usually I would say the inside room is my favorite since I enjoy how dark they are so I can sleep late. On this itinerary though I am thinking the scenery as we go through the Fjords will make having a view from the room worth it. We also have 2 nice wooden lounge chairs outside our room that are reserved just for us. These are usually my favorite reading chairs so I am looking forward to having a warm day to sit out there. When we came back to the room after dinner our room host Ari had created a wonderful honeymoon towel animal along with some rose petals and chocolate covered strawberries in honor of our honeymoon! Overnight we sailed through the North Sea headed for Norway. It was pretty foggy and that was the first time on a cruise where the ship I had keep sounding the horn every so often due to fog.
Our first day is a Sea Day which is nice for recovering from jet lag and exploring the ship. This is my 5th cruise with Holland America and each time I have sailed on a different ship. This time we are on the Rotterdam which I quickly realized is very similar to the Amsterdam that we sailed on 2 years ago when we went through the Panama Canal and up to Alaska. I really like the size of these ships as they are not too small and not too big holding around 1200 guests. There is plenty to do and plenty of comfy places to hang out. One of my favorites is the Lido pool area with the retractable glass roof it can be nice a cozy warm when the sun is out and the roof is closed even when it is chilly outside. It was still pretty foggy for half the day and it was strange to be up on the 8th deck and look out the window and all you can see is white.
Photos are taking too long to load on this internet so I will add them in later. In the meantime you can check out our Instagram or Facebook page as we seem to be able to get photos posted easily there.
Our honeymoon cruise is departing out of Rotterdam, which is just a quick train ride from Amsterdam. Until recently, Rotterdam was the world’s largest port. This seaside location helped to grow the city into the largest economic center in the Netherlands at the turn of the twentieth century. Bombing ripped out the heart of the city during WWII, and instead of aiming to rebuild what was lost as many other leveled cities have done, the city council took the opportunity to create a new and better city instead. We have walked around and explored the city a bit and it does have a totally different feel than Amsterdam. Rotterdam doesn't have the canals and you can tell when they rebuilt they chose to go in a modern direction. There are lots of high rise buildings and shopping areas. Locals are all very friendly and when they ask about our travel plans and we say we are getting on a cruise they all seem very excited for us. Most have asked if they can join us. It sounds like Rotterdam doesn't get a lot of cruise ships so I am guessing that is why the locals all seem excited. When we depart Rotterdam we will have a sea day as we head towards Norway. Having a sea day first is really nice since it will give everyone a chance to get over any jet lag and relax a bit before the fun of exploring ports begins.
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