Austria


Despite the fact that rain was predicted for this morning (7/18/13), it was a beautiful day when we got up. We debated taking the drive through Zell am See, but decided to stick with our original plan of trying to find a second hand store. There are some amazing Austrian clothes that traditionally cost around 100 Euros, so we wanted to see if we could find them cheaper.

Austrian Second Hand Store

Austrian Second Hand Store

We were in a bit of an unfamiliar driving territory, and at one intersection, traffic was coming from 4 directions. I saw an opening and took it, maneuvering around crossing pedestrians to do so. The next thing I knew: Polizei. Yep, that’s right: Police. Mom’s biggest nightmare (that and pickpockets…) So, I pulled over. The nice policeman approached and immediately started speaking in German. When I said, “I’m sorry,” he asked if I spoke German (in German), and I said, “No, English.” He switched and asked if I had noticed the pedestrians in the street. I allowed that I had, but had also noticed the cars coming swiftly towards me while I was in the intersection. He took my international driver’s license, which by good fortune I had put in the car that morning, my regular license, and my vehicle registration. Finally, after I’d taught him the English word “Crosswalk,” he explained that if there are people there, you need to let them go. (Incidentally, giving pedestrians the right of way is the only question I missed on my Indiana driver’s license test–In Ohio, they don’t have the right of way.) Thankfully, he let us go with a warning to watch out for people. Lesson noted…(I didn’t ask for his picture, though the thought did cross my mind…)

A block later, we arrived at the second hand store. This one was a small place, but had good Austrian clothes and shoes–unfortunately, none in my size or that mom would wear. The lady did direct us to another second hand store, and we headed there. This one was a lot larger. It had the kinds of things you usually find at thrift stores in the states: books, knickknacks, clothes, shoes, paintings, etc. We found a few interesting things, but nothing we had to have. Definitely a fun experience, though!

Celtic Charioteer (holding his enemy's head)

Celtic Charioteer (holding his enemy’s head)

From there, we headed back to Hallein to the Celtic Museum (Keltenmuseum Hallein). We had wanted to see the Silent Night Museum, but first were told it was only open at Christmas time, and then were informed that it’s open the second Friday of every month. So, if you happen to time your visit right, you can see where Silent Night was written. Parking in Lot 1 was free (after we actually managed to locate Lot 1–there are signs, but they’re hard to find.) Entrance to the museum was free, as well, because we had been on the Salt Mine tour. Traditionally, adults cost 6 Euros, but if you want a guide in English, you have to pay an additional 1.50 Euros. Since there is nothing in the museum in English, you really need the guide, though it covers mainly the story of salt production and leaves out a number of other artifacts.

Grave of Celtic Nobles

Grave of Celtic Nobles

There were a few things I found especially interesting. The first was a gravesite displaying a noble husband and wife. They were buried, as was tradition, with a great deal of jewelry and weapons. In fact, there were a number of graves that started being excavated in the 1930’s. Many artifacts are on display that were found in these tombs. As the tombs were found around one of the salt mines, they also display another skeleton of a man preserved in salt.

Hitler at a ground breaking ceremony

Hitler at a ground breaking ceremony

Another interesting area contained three rooms where 74 oil paintings are displayed. These paintings, which were commissioned by the prince-bishop, are of the salt miners and salt mining process and are painted directly on the walls of the room. These are beautifully done. The room also contains cases of hand painted playing cards of some kind, but there was no information on them in our guide book.

The final thing I found most interesting were cards of people in one of the display cases–two of them portraying Hitler. One of them merely shows a picture of Hitler with the Caption of “The work he provided” (Rough translation off Google Translate. The second is a ground breaking ceremony, which from translation seems to be some kind of factory or rail station. It struck me as an oddity to find a picture of Hitler at a groundbreaking ceremony in the midst of Celtic History.

The Celtic Museum

The Celtic Museum

There were many more interesting items: Log books from ships dating back to the 1500’s, The seals of Salzburg rulers, and signs of tradesmen to name a few. But, it is time for us to leave Austria, so we said goodbye to the Celtic Museum and headed back for an early dinner and to pack to go to Italy tomorrow.

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In the Liechtenstein Gorge--Walkway visible (R)

In the Liechtenstein Gorge–Walkway visible (R)

We were blessed with another warm and sunny day today (7/17/13) despite weather forecasts to the contrary, so we set out for the Liechtenstein Gorge (Liechtensteinklamm). Our concierge said we could walk there from our hotel–We think they have a different sense of what is a “walkable distance” than Americans do–or else they know a shortcut. We opted to drive, and about 15 minutes later arrived at the parking lots. After parking at one of the first ones we came to (the closer ones being full, we thought), we began the hike up to the entrance. When we finally arrived at the entrance (after a long “American walk”), we discovered there were parking places right next to the entrance. So, always check the closest spot. Also, it seems that Austrians also have a habit of creating their own parking spaces, as we saw numerous cars parked on the side of the road, in pull outs, or other random places.

Waterfall at Liechtenstein Gorge

Waterfall at Liechtenstein Gorge

There is no charge for parking, but a $4.50 Euro fee to enter the gorge, which we paid and set out on our way. The Liechtenstein Gorge is thus named because Johann II (Johann the Good), who was the Prince of Liechtenstein from 1858 to 1929, had the walkways installed in 1875 so that visitors could walk through the Gorge. It is, therefore named for Liechtenstein (and I’d assume Sankt Johann is named for him as well…) It is an amazing walk through caves and over wooden walkways, all interspersed with breathtaking beauty. They estimate this walk will take about an hour and a half, and we made it through at a leisurely pace in two hours, so the estimate was pretty accurate. Whatever you love in nature, you will probably find– blue-green crystal water, rocks in incredible colors and designs, trees, flowers, mountains, sky, waterfalls–you name it. Even though the sun wasn’t shining on the waterfall, it was still beautiful.

Hallstatt

Hallstatt

From there, we decided to take a scenic drive (recommended by Rick Steves) down to Hallstatt. It is considered the oldest continuously inhabited village in Europe and has a large exhibition of prehistoric items. It is a beautiful drive, albeit down windy roads, into the quaint little town. We passed a number of cars parked in pullouts or the side of the road on the way into town. This made sense when we passed the parking for $18 Euros parking lot. We considered ourselves blessed to have found $2.50 Euro an hour with a maximum of $7 Euros at the absolute farthest parking lot from the town until we walked down to the lake and discovered free parking for 30 minutes. We debated on walking up to the old town, but in the end (and watching our time) decided to just take a few pictures and drive around the lake.

The other side of the lake (with free parking)

The other side of the lake (with free parking)

After we found our way back to the car, we headed across the lake, only to find a large area of free parking on the other side of the lake. It is a spot where apparently you can swim, a since many people were. Additionally, there were picnic tables and a lovely place to sit and view the mountains. So depending on the reason you visit Hallstatt, you may want to park there instead of on the town side, though I’m not sure how to walk from there to the old village. All in all, another beautiful day. Tomorrow, we are planning to head to the Celtic Museum, especially if it does, in fact, rain. We may also try to locate an Austrian Second-hand shop, then pack for Italy. More adventures to come!

The saying goes that a picture is worth 1,000 words. Instead of my traditional blog to cover today’s adventures, I will give a short preface of explanation and show you my top 10 pictures–otherwise known as a 10,000 word essay…

Today (7/15/13), we took the Grossglockner Alpine road. This may not sound very exciting, but it is actually breathtaking. This 48 kilometer highway is part of the Hohe Tauern National Park. It has a $33 Euro per car entrance fee (which something we read indicated may be good for a week???), but, as mom and I spent about 7 hours there, it was money well invested. In the park, you are surrounded by over 266 mountains over 3,000 meters high. There are 12 official stops along the way, but it is breathtakingly beautiful anywhere you look. Here are my 10 favorite sites:
100_1767100_1776100_1789100_1795100_1818

Glacier

Glacier

100_1839100_1843100_1847 100_1851

When something is considered “Worth its salt,” it is thought to be worth what you paid for it. Both literally and figuratively today (7/14/13), we got to experience a number of places that were definitely worth their salt.

Model of salt mine workers including the "slide" and the brine lake

Model of salt mine workers incliding the “slide” and the brine lake

We got a bit of a late start this morning (had to change out our refrigerator in the room), but we got it fixed and headed out to the Salzwelten Hallein Salt mine. This salt mine advertises itself to be the oldest salt mine in the world–that allows visitors. I didn’t know quite what to expect, but it was actually a fun experience. We had a discount through our Salzburg Card, so we got tickets for about $15.00 a piece. We had dressed in warmer clothes and clothes we could get dirty, but needn’t have bothered because the salt mine provided us with what looked like white scrubs to put on over our clothes. All suited up, we then began our tour. The tour started off with a “shuttle” (more of a long pole you straddle behind everyone else doing the same) to one of the caverns in the mine.
One of the old tunnels at the salt mine

One of the old tunnels at the salt mine

We watched a movie that set up the importance of salt (Unlike us, when something wasn’t cold, they couldn’t just get a new refrigerator. Salt was what kept their food preserved.) Then, we took a boat across a brine lake (we got to sample the brine as well). That was a really neat experience. Then, we saw the tools and tunnels used by the Celts and others who mined in this mine. One of the most fascinating experiences (which we decided to forego) was a “slide” modeled after the way miners used to get around the mines. Once again, it was essentially a wooden pole (about 6 inches wide) you straddled, lifted your feet, leaned back, and went down 2-3 at a time. Mom and I decided to take the stairs, since neither of us really enjoy going down long distances at a pace you can’t control, but for those who DO enjoy that, I’m sure it would be a lot of fun. We finished the tour with a view of a man they had found mummified in the salt. It was definitely interesting–and we got a free little salt shaker sample to boot.

View from the Celtic Museum

View from the Celtic Museum

Just outside of the mine is a Celtic Museum. It’s not THE Celtic Museum–we hope to visit that later this week–and we can get in free because of our ticket to the Salt mine tour. This Celtic Museum was a little village of about 6 houses which explained how the Celts in this area lived. It reminded me a lot of Jamestown in America–similar housing arrangements and styles. It was a neat place to look around as well.

On the way back to Salzburg to get ready for our evening show, we again passed the house that’s used as the front of the Von Trapp house, but once again, it was a road over, and we couldn’t find the road we wanted. Alas, maybe we’ll try again.

The artistry of St. Peter's

The artistry of St. Peter’s

We arrived in Salzburg about 4 hours before our “Sound of Salzburg” show. We had planned to do this show while we were still staying in Salzburg and could just take the bus, but the show wasn’t playing while we were still in town. So we had to park in paid parking to the tune of $18 Euros for the day–reminded me of Chicago parking! A friend had recommended we take the park and ride ($5 Euros/day), but we didn’t know the bus system well enough and didn’t want to try to find our way back to our car at 10:00 P.M. after the show.

Detail work in Salzburg Cathedral

Detail work in Salzburg Cathedral

After locating the building we would be meeting in, we proceeded to continue our tour of Salzburg while we waited. We decided to look inside St. Peter’s Cathedral and Salzburg Cathedral while we were waiting, and it was an excellent choice. These two cathedrals were equally breathtaking. There’s such an artistry in the architecture of old cathedrals that I dearly love. It just saddens me that we don’t have that kind of artistry today–I don’t mean we don’t have artists. We do; and some are incredible. What I mean is that we don’t have the kind of artistry that takes a group of artists between 15 and 31 years like parts of the Salzburg Cathedral did. Thirty-one years on one project! I can’t imagine. Not only is Salzburg Cathedral gorgeous to behold, it still contains the baptismal fount in which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized!

View from dinner

View from dinner

After touring the cathedrals, we decided to go grab dinner. For this show, we had opted to attend the show only instead of paying for the dinner. The show alone was $26 Euros while the show with dinner was $42 Euros. Mom and I decided we could choose our own food for less than $16 Euros apiece. As it was, we stumbled across an amazing restaurant simply called Cafe-Restaurant. It served excellent food at a cheap price, and it’s claim to fame is its view of the Salzburg fortress. Guests get to dine while looking at this amazing piece of history. We choose the seat in the corner (a local artist’s favorite spot, he confided), and enjoyed an amazing dinner and dessert for just over $16 Euros for the two of us.

We went to Steigl-Keller to get our tickets, and still had about an hour to wait, so we headed down to Nonnberg Abbey. You may or may not know that Nonnberg Abbey is the Abbey Maria von Trapp attended and was used in the Sound of Music. As a special gift from God, we arrived just in time to be at the gates when the nun came to lock up. Between that moment, the police sirens we heard, and the sound of the carillon, it was an incredible surreal moment.

Nun locking the gate at Nonnberg Abbey

Nun locking the gate at Nonnberg Abbey

Finally, it was time for our show to begin. The Sound of Salzburg features 4 performers who are classically trained at the Mozart music school. Their program started with footage of the real Maria von Trapp discussing various aspects of her life. My favorite was the story of her engagement. Apparently, it was the von Trapp children who decided their father should marry Maria so she would never leave. When they informed him he should marry her, he responded, “I don’t even know if she likes me.” They promptly went to ask Maria if she liked their papa. Well, what do you say to that kind of question? She said, “Of course I do.” When they informed Captain von Trapp, he apparently considered their engagement settled, since later that evening, he came into the library where Maria was cleaning, and told her that was sweet of her. When she asked what he was talking about, he mentioned their engagement. She promptly dropped the expensive vase she was cleaning, which shattered on the floor, and ran to the Abbey. Discussing the situation with the Reverend Mother, who then spent some time in prayer with the other nuns, Maria was informed that it seemed to be God’s will for her to leave and marry Captain von Trapp. She was crushed. To her, it felt like they were kicking her out. By this time, it was later in the evening, so Maria had hoped to get back into the von Trapp house without waking anyone, but she saw the library light on and knew the captain was still awake. He greeted her at the door, saying, “And…?” to which she promptly burst into tears and said, “They say I have to marry you!” And the rest is history!

Location of the Sound of Salzburg performance

Location of the Sound of Salzburg performance

The show continued with several numbers from the Sound of Music, music from Mozart, Austrian folk songs sung by the Von Trapp Family Singers when they immigrated to America, and a few dances. Both the singing and the dancing involved the audience (I got to do the minuet with one of the performers). While I am glad we did the Mozart dinner because of the atmosphere and tradition, I think if I had to choose, I would definitely pick this show to see. It was an amazing time indeed! (And we did manage to find our way back to our car and make the drive back to Sankt Johann safely.)

We checked out of our hotel in Salzburg today (7/13/13) and made our way to our new lodgings in Sankt Johann. Because we had bought the Salzburg Card, we made a few stops along the way. The Salzburg Card can be bought for one, two, or three days (Jan. to April and Nov. to Dec. prices are $23, $31, and $36 Euros for adults, $11.50, $15.50, and $18 Euros for kids. From May through October, Adults are $26, $35, and $41 Euros and children are $13, $17.50, and $20.50 Euros).

Villa Trapp

Villa Trapp

It gives you free bus passes, plus free or discounted prices on a number of attractions. True, you may not have planned to visit a number of the places, but we’ve found it to be an amazing way to see the city and get ideas of things to do. With it, so far we have gotten our free CD from the Mozart performance, free entrance into the Mozart Residence and Hellbrunn, a free boat trip down the Salz River, a free funicular trip to the fortress and tour of the museum there, a free cable car ride to the top of Mount Untersberg, and a discount for the Sound of Music tour.
Seminary on Von Trapp property

Seminary on Von Trapp property

We bought the 3 day ticket (72 hours, depending on when you activate it), so we still have another day and a half to use it. As many of these activities are $10 Euros or more a person, it’s a great deal, in my opinion.

Our first stop was the Villa Trapp. Told by Rosa-Maria that we’d be unable to get in, we decided to try it anyway. While it is true that we were unable to get inside the building (no one answered when we buzzed the office), the gate was open, so we were able to get our own pictures of the house. We also visited the seminary next door, but couldn’t get in there either. Alas…

Trick Fountains

Trick Fountains

We continued our journey to Hellbrunn, home most recently of the Sound of Music Gazebo, but for centuries before that, home of the trick fountains. The Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg Markus Sittikus von Hohenems apparently had quite a sense of humor. He constructed Hellbrunn between 1613 and 1616. The trick fountains are a series of fountains around the property which Markus Sitticus could control by building pressure which could be released by a servant at a signal from him. Since this was a summer day property (no bedrooms in Hellbrunn), Sitticus had a stone table built outside. This seemingly innocent construction has eight chairs around it, each with a hole in the center. At a signal from Markus, usually when his guests had had too much wine and were having trouble leaving, he would shoot water through a hole in their seats. His is the only seat with no water pipe under it.

Miniatures which are actually a water pump

Miniatures which are actually a water pump

Additionally, the many garden areas come equipped with holes in the floor or wall through which water shoots. Not only is this a great way to cool off on a summers’ day, but it also provides an amazing grounds with many hidden treasures including statues, ornately detailed rooms, small caves with mini figurines, and an entire musical figurine stage. The architecture and design is truly breath-taking, and one of my favorite spots so far.

View from the mountain top

View from the mountain top

From there, we went to Untersburg to take the cable car up the mountain. If I thought the funicular was scary, this was 10 times worse, since you were traveling up to a height of 6,470 feet, but the beauty at the top is breathtaking. There are a number of things to do at the top (www.untersbergbahn.at/en), but we simply walked around and enjoyed the beauty.

Finally, we settled in our new hotel for the week in Sankt Johann–more gorgeous mountain scenery. More fun tomorrow!

We rushed around this morning (7/12/13) in order to meet Rosa-Maria from Bob’s Tours (http://www.bobstours.com/som.php)

Back of Von Trapp House

Back of Von Trapp House

She was to be our guide on our 4 hour Sound of Music tour. She picked us up from the door of our hotel. We chose to do the van tour, as it was more personal than the bus tour, and to our great delight, we were the only ones on this particular tour, so we had Rosa-Maria all to ourselves.

"I am 16 Going on 17" Gazebo

“I am 16 Going on 17” Gazebo

After acquainting us with some other non-Sound of Music related sites (Mozart’s Residence, etc.), she took us to the house used as the back of the Von Trapp home (Schloss Leopoldskron.) This house is actually a private college. The popularity of the movie led to enough “crazed fans” coming that the college requested the gazebo be moved. (Our guide told us one woman broke her ankle dancing around in the gazebo!) Schloss Hellbrunn is its new home (and home of the trick fountains–we’ll explore there more tomrorrow…). Scholss Hellbrunn also houses a tree lane which looks like the one in the movie–the one in the movie is now a lakeside road with very small trees.

The "Escape Route"

The “Escape Route”

We also drove by the house used for the front, but it is a private residence, so I just got a drive-by picture. We’re going to try to get closer tomorrow, so stay tuned.

Next, we headed to the Lake District, which contains some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. The mountain that the Von Trapps escaped over into Switzerland contains two errors: First, the one used in the film is Mount Obersalzburg, which actually leads to Germany, not Switzerland. Additionally, the Von Trapps did not escape by mountains at all; they took a train to Italy, then a boat to the United States.

Opening scene of the movie

Opening scene of the movie

The Lake District was breathtaking, and the view from the terrace of Muehlradl Cafe-Restaurant provides and excellent view of the landscape used in the opening sequence of the movie (and also provides good desserts).

From there, we headed back over the winding roads to the Mondsee Cathedral, which was used for the captain and Maria’s wedding.

The Wedding Chapel

The Wedding Chapel

In the movie, the church is entirely white. This was because some brilliant person many years ago decided it was easier to paint over all of the beautiful frescos with white paint rather than to restore them. $4 million Euros and three years of work later, it’s been returned to its original glory.

Finally, we concluded our amazing trip with Mirabell Gardens which contains the majority of the set of the Do-Re-Mi song, including the fountain the children splash in, the Gnome garden, and the steps on which Maria sings. We said good-bye to Rosa-Maria. She had been an excellent tour guide. In addition to sharing the sites of the Sound of Music, she made it her job (and joy) to share facts you couldn’t learn in a guide book. Having had the opportunity to interview three members of the Von Trapp family personally, as well as many townspeople who were present when the movie was filmed, she had been a wealth of all kinds of information.

Mozart residence

Mozart residence

She had also pointed us to fun places to spend money–from food, to souvenirs, to opportunities to luge (we declined)–given us insight into customs and key sites, and even shown us fun sites like the headquarters of Red Bull.

After Mirabell Gardens, we concluded our Sound of Music experience, and we began to experience music of a different kind by touring the Mozart Residence. This was Mozart’s childhood home (when he wasn’t travelling all over Europe with his father and meeting important people.)

"I HJve Confidence" Fountain

“I Have Confidence” Fountain

The museum there is mostly a portrait gallery–interesting in its comparisons of true paintings and forgeries, but that’s about it. From there, we went to Mozart Platz to see the statue of Mozart, and the fountain Maria splashes while singing, “I Have Confidence.”

By rounding the corner from Salzburg Cathedral, you not only find an amazing bakery, which is the oldest in Salzburg where bread is still sold for a Euro, but you will also find the entrance to the cemetery or catacombs. While this is not the one used in the movie, the Hollywood set was modeled after it. (The iron crosses in this cemetery were too small to hide behind 🙂

The real cemetery

The real cemetery

It is an amazing experience to walk down the gates and look how how each person chose to be remembered.

Upon leaving the cemetery, it was a short walk to the funicular for the fortress Hohensalzburg. If. like me, you have no idea what a funicular is (and assume someone is mispronouncing vernacular), it is a cable rail that goes up a cliff while another comes down to balance the weight. It’s actually a cool and terrifying experience, if like me, you’re afraid of heights. This one was built in 1910 to replace the ones that utilized animals to pull carts up the mountain–I can’t imagine.

Hohensalzburg

Hohensalzburg

But, it is actually an incredible experience for the view you get and the fortress itself. The fortress at Hohensalzburg reminded me a lot of the Tower of London–not in appearance, but in some of the items inside. The museum was interesting with displays of armaments and ornately decorated rooms. What is unique about Hohensalzburg is that, in addition to being one of the largest fortresses in Europe and that it started being built in 1077, it also has never been taken by force (Apparently, they just gave it to Napoleon, but other than that . . .)
View from the top of the fortress

View from the top of the fortress

We came down from the fortress in time to catch the last boat tour which gives an entirely different perspective of the city as viewed from the Saltz River. Completely exhausted (especially after an extremely late and challenging dinner), we got home about 11:00. But tomorrow is a new day and more adventures will follow!

St. Peters--outside the oldest restaurant in Europe

St. Peters–outside the oldest restaurant in Europe

Today (07/11/13), after 2 flights, we landed in Munich, Germany where we rented a car and drove to Salzburg, Austria. Thus begins a month adventure.

If you’ve never travelled to Europe before, I would recommend a few pointers. First, copy the international road signs. While I was pleasantly surprised at how drivers acted on the legendary Autobahn (just stay out of the left lane), I was infinitely glad to have the international signs. This is the version I used: http://ygraph.com/chart/2029 I also discovered that the Autobahn uses “speed zone” and “end of speed zone” signs, which are either posted on the road (the ones that never change) or on an electronic sign (these change.) In short, as you’re driving, there are times when you will have a speed limit, times you may have a limit, and areas where people drive however fast they jolly well please (It is at these points that you want to avoid the left lane!) People DID tend to obey the posted speed (Surprising for one from Chicagoland where standard procedure is to add 10 mph to the speed limit.), and I felt the signs were clearly posted. Additionally, we had purchased an international GPS on loan, which is a helpful option.

One thing I didn’t expect was to have to pay to go to the bathroom at rest areas. The price where we were was $.70 Euros, or about $1.00. (In public places, it’s usually $.50 Euros, but museums and restaurants have free restrooms, so go while you’re there. Just another something to be aware of. A helpful feature is that the signs for rest areas will count down from 300 meters away.

Performers at Mozart Dinner Concert

Performers at Mozart Dinner Concert

After a quick nap and buying groceries (Bring your own bags–another tip), we set off to the Mozart Dinner Concert. This concert features a collection of Mozart favorites, costumed musicians, and food from the era. It was an amazing experience.

Dinner is served in four courses with music in between. It is an elegant experience. (Check out the website: http://www.salzburg-concerts.com/salzburg-mozart-dinner-concert/mozart-dinner-concert/home for pictures and samples of the performance.) For a formal critique, I would have to say the food was good (bread, cream soup with a cheese dumpling, capons and vegetables, and a frozen honey desert), the music was incredible, and I was disappointed by the “historic costumes” which included such modern inventions as zippers and hair pulled back in scrunchies. I’m glad we went, though not sure it was worth the $54 Euros price tag (though if you show your Salzburg card, you get a “free” CD–normally $10 Euros.)

Tomorrow, we’re off on a Sound of Music tour. More fun to come 🙂

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