A Couple of Die-Hard Travelers​

 

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When I met my husband, I discovered we shared the same passion for traveling. When we first starting dating, he was a competitive athlete and traveled a lot for his sport, competing in world cups in the United States and in Europe. While we were both working, he was able to take time off for competitions. I could accompany him when I had vacation days, but many times he set off and I stayed home. One time, I spontaneously quit a job I HATED, and booked a ticket to join him in Budapest, Hungary.  I would not recommend this if you have a family, but we were not parents at the time, we were die-hard travelers always looking for our next adventure.

These days, we are empty nesters. Without kids in the house, my freelance writing job is flexible and allows me to go with my husband on some occasions when he heads out of town for work. Last week, he suggested we take some time for a quick vacation around the first week in July before his business trip in Massachusetts. My thoughts went immediately to the charming New England shoreline. While I have been to Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard, I have never stayed on Cape Cod. Would there even be places available at this late date? I launched into planning mode.

The first step was locating lodging. I found an Airbnb in one of the scenic, seaside towns that sounded idyllic; and it was available. The historic home has a separate wing with a private bathroom. The location was near enough to a sandy beach, and beach cruiser bicycles were available to guests.

Now that we had a place to stay, I wanted to discover some fun activities in addition to enjoying the beautiful beaches. I primarily use the internet to start my research. Then, I tap my network of friends and family. If I happen to know anyone who has insider knowledge, I ask them for tips. Finally, I put together a fun list of things to do, places to see, and of course, restaurants to try. I made two reservations at high-end restaurants but canceled those and decided to create an itinerary of classic clam shacks instead. The kitsch of these long-established places that serve honest to goodness seafood in simple ways inspired me.

Waterside Dining in Hyannis, MA

This impromptu couples get-a-way with my husband was just the quick vacation we needed. I discovered we take a sight-seeing trip out of Hyannis. Next, we could bike on The Cape Cod Rail Trail– 22 miles of a paved trail that winds through six of the Cape’s quintessential towns. Then again we could rent a paddleboard at Cape Cod Waterwaysand splash around the Swan Pond River. After that, if we get thirsty, we can stop at a brewery to try some craft beer, or meander around a pop-up farmers market.

Farmers Market, Cape Cod

I am looking forward to waterside dining and slurping some littlenecks on the half-shell or heading to watch the sunset on Mayflower Beach after a long day of doing everything or nothing. If time permits, we could head up to Provincetown and watch some whales or catch a summer blockbuster at the Wellfleet Drive-In.

I have a list, but it’s not rigid. I looked up some restaurants, but I have no reservations, just a vague idea that if we happen to be in Chatham, and we are hungry, we can hit the Chatham Filling Station on Old Harbor Road. They only take cash. It will be simple and easy, nothing fancy but just the time and space to reconnect, fill our souls and enjoy our love of travel and each other.

 

 

A Frequent Visitor in A College Town

IMG_0448When your children go away to college, you inevitably take many trips back and forth setting up the dorm and moving them out. During the year, you try to visit as often as possible and make sure to go out for a delicious meal because the dining hall fare is barely edible. If you enjoy a cocktail, you pray that there are some decent places to grab a few drinks and if you’re lucky, enjoy some live music.

When we first started the process, we always scouted the area around the potential school. We wanted to make sure there were great places to eat and plenty of things to see and do, not only for the girls but also for us. As parents, we wanted to become “locals” in their college town. I remember one school had an excellent reputation and a beautiful campus, but there was literally nothing to do unless you drove an hour away. I said a silent prayer that it would not be the ultimate finalist.

When they made their decision, they chose to go to school together. We breathed a sigh of relief as there was no guarantee that our twins would want to stay together.  We celebrated the momentous occasion at one of the local restaurants. The ambiance was lovely, and the food was terrific. Luckily for us, their college choice ended up being within driving distance for weekend visits. We wanted to embrace our children’s new home and get to know the places where we could spend time together. Three years later, we are still enjoying the Finger Lakes. Not only is the scenery absolutely stunning, but there are also new businesses sprouting up constantly.

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In the summer when we drive up to move them in, we opt for a visit to some of the outstanding wineries. On the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, there are 35 wineries around the lake – more trails than in any of the other Finger Lakes. On a beautiful fall day, we often take a short drive to Watkins Glen State Park the hikes range from easy to challenging, and there are 19 waterfalls some of which you can climb over or under on the Gorge Pass. The views are incredible.

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If you aren’t a wine drinker, the beer scene is outstanding. The Finger Lakes Beer Trail has over 20 craft brewers with taprooms all along the lake. The craft cider served alongside the craft brews is really fantastic with some of my favorites poured at         Lake Drum Brewing on 16 East Castle Street in Geneva, New York.

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Being a foodie family, we are all about the good eats in and near the town. For casual,  road-side food, we love FLX Wienery. The homemade sausages, hotdogs, and burgers are elevated with suggested wine pairings from the chef who happens to be a master sommelier. If you want a traditional sit-down meal, try Ports Cafe on West Lake Road, Geneva, New York. The cozy restaurant is consistently packed because of the specials list, which is almost as big as the regular menu.

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To say that we could not be happier that my children chose to attend school in the area around the Finger Lakes is an understatement. As we near our last year as college parents we are pondering what we will do when we no longer have a reason to make regular treks upstate. Then I remember that we have family that lives nearby and they love wine as much as we do.

Foodie Friends in San Antonio, Texas

 

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Charcuterie Board at Cured

 

My husband Tony travels for his job. While his work trips can separate us more than we like, sometimes our schedules align, and I can join him. I know this is not vacation together, and even though I miss his companionship, I totally respect his commitments to meetings and dinners. I remind myself that I am just traveling solo but with my husband. On the flip side, it is an excellent opportunity to explore on my own.

When Tony is in meetings, I check out the city. I adore wandering through the neighborhoods and checking out the sites, the boutiques and the galleries. When I go into a store, I inevitably end up talking with the people I meet inside. Usually, everyone is so friendly and open, so when I get into a conversation, I typically ask my new acquaintances about where to eat in their hometowns. I love to discover the restaurants that local people think are worth visiting and the attractions that are worthwhile. Actually, I get some of my best suggestions this way.

On Tony’s recent trip to San Antonio, Texas, I tagged along. He had a free day before his conference, so we got the chance to be tourists together. I had been given a tip to visit the funky shopping and dining area in the re-gentrified Pearl neighborhood. The suggestion was spot on. We arrived there around 11:00 am, and we had not eaten breakfast. The community was buzzing with people of all ages strolling through an early morning farmers market. There were coffee shops, bakeries, a wine bar, and really hip retail and outdoor spaces. We were both eager to check it out.

 

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Open Space in Pearl

 

We knew we wanted to eat so we walked into “Cured” restaurant and asked if we could grab a table for brunch. Without a reservation, we would have had a long wait, but the hostess suggested sitting at the “bar” table. The reviews were excellent, and we were starving, so we jumped at the chance to eat there. We saw two bar stools next to a couple, and they smiled at us as we took our places. Common tables can be awkward (especially when you sit at a bar-style table) but these folks seemed really lovely.

We were looking at the menu when their food arrived. I peered over and made a comment about how delicious it all looked. We ended up talking all through breakfast. It was a blast to meet such friendly foodies. The next thing you know they were offering us samples of items off their plates. We spent the brunch sharing some goodies and talking about the fantastic food scene in San Antonio. As they were finishing up, we asked them where they would tell a friend to go for dinner. They both knew exactly which place to suggest and it was right there in the Pearl District.

 

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Bar at Supper

 

 

Travel is an adventure and meeting warm, friendly people just adds to the experience. We took their suggestion that night and ate at “Supper” in the Emma Hotel. Not only did we love the food, but we also let our new friends know how much we appreciated the suggestion and meeting them. I love connecting with fellow foodies, you always know they will lead you to the best dining experiences no matter where you are.

 

This Valentine’s Day, Become a Whiskey Lover

Chocolate WhiskeyThis Valentine’s Day, indulge your passion for chocolate….whiskey. If you aren’t far from Brooklyn, New York, you really have to make a stop and tour Kings County Distillery, where traditional American whiskey is handcrafted. The tour is fascinating, and the tasting is even better. If you want to find something new and exciting to do with your significant other, why not spend some time visiting this local distillery? If you love whiskey or are curious about whiskey, this would be a great way to spend your time.

The Back Story

When Colin Spoelman was in high school, he lived in Harlan County, a dry county in eastern Kentucky. Like many of his peers, he and his friends wanted to find a way to buy alcohol, but Harlan Country had strict laws (dating back to prohibition) against selling alcoholic beverages. In true Kentucky fashion, he and his friends bought spirits from a bootlegger, grabbed some provisions and headed out to go “camping” around an abandoned strip mine. The bootlegger, a local lady named Mag Bailey, was a legend in Harlan and sold moonshine from a shed just outside her door.

A Hobby Becomes A Business

By the time Mag died in 2005, moonshine was gaining in popularity and, home distillers started creating the spirit. Colin, who had graduated from Yale and relocated to Brooklyn, returned to Harlan to visit family. He bought a gallon of moonshine and brought it back to Williamsburg to share with friends. The white whiskey was a hit and when the gallon ran out, he and his college roommate David Haskell decided to make their own. The Yale grads created moonshine as hobbyists and sold their spirits to friends. Their cottage industry became so successful that they decided to make it a legitimate business and secure a farm distillery license where 75% of the product must come from New York Grain. In April of 2010, a modest space (325 square feet) and one, eight-gallon stainless steel still, became known as The Kings County Distillery. It had been ninety years since a distillery operated in New York City and it was the smallest one in the country.

A Location Steeped in History

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The Kings County distillery outgrew their original space in 2012, and the pair moved the business to the former Paymaster Building of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The area around the Navy Yard had a rich history of whiskey distilling going back to the time of the “Whiskey Wars” in the United States. The wars started in 1869 over a tax on alcohol to help the government pay the debts of the civil war. So many distillers went underground that it became difficult to collect the tax. The government sent soldiers to Brooklyn to break-up the distiller’s businesses, and afterward, the streets were flowing with the whiskey from the destroyed barrels. The corruption and the payoffs kept the underground distillers in business until 1871 when fires, industrial accidents from distilling spirits, and the tainted milk scandal, completely shut down operations in the area. The Kings County Distillery revived the whiskey production tradition in New York and paved the way for several new distilleries to open in the borough.

Whiskey and Moonshine

Whiskey begins its process much like beer, created by fermenting a mixed mash of grain. Next, it is distilled and then aged in barrels. The pulp could be any number of grains including corn, barley, rye or wheat, yeast, and some sugar. Whiskey must go through the distillation process to remove impurities but not the flavor. Stills separate the alcohol from the mash and have to be distilled again to get rid of the contaminants. Each time a spirit is distilled the alcohol percentage increases, but the flavor decreases. Most whiskey needs to be aged in a barrel to finish the process. The barrel imparts flavor and color. The longer it stays in the barrel, the deeper the character of the spirit inside. American corn whiskey remains unaged and clear. It is known widely as “moonshine,” or white whiskey, and it is the only American whiskey sold legally
that is unaged.

Award Winning Craft Whiskey

Kings County Distillery crafts award-winning, handmade, moonshine, bourbon, and whiskey using grain and corn sourced from farms in New York State. Malted barley and peated malt are sourced from the United Kingdom. The spirits have won awards from the American Distilling Institute, who also named Kings County the Distillery of the year in 2016. Kings County has also received awards from The American Craft Spirits Association and the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Using traditional copper stills imported from Scotland, the distillery crafts: moonshine, straight bourbon, chocolate whiskey, peated bourbon
(a scotch-like bourbon), barrel strength bourbon, winter spice whiskey, Bottle-in-Bond bourbon, single malt whiskey, and straight rye whiskey. “Bottled-in-Bond” was the purity seal that ensured the whiskey was made to the highest standard, being four years old and 100 proof. Kings County Bottle-in-Bond won a double gold from SFWSC in 2017.

The Proof is in the Taste

Tasting Room

Kings County Distillery offers daily tastings in the Gatehouses which served as the ceremonial entrance to the Navy Yard at 299 Sands Street. The Gatehouses is one of the only bars in the world that creates unique cocktails, pours and flights using the whiskey made in the distillery just beyond the tasting room. The Gatehouses is open seven days a week and reservations are recommended. The Distillery offers tours and tastings from Tuesday – Saturday from 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm. On Saturdays, tours run every hour from 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm and cost $14.00.

Visiting Kings County Distillery is like going back to a time when spirits were handmade on small stills. The antique brick Paymasters building, and the tour, which combine the science of distilling and the history of the area, adds to the nostalgia. The tour and the tastings of the whiskey created at Kings County is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Kings County Distillery
299 Sands Street
Brooklyn, NY 11205
kingscountydistillery.com

 

Holiday Travel With Family – The Great and the Slightly Disappointing​

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It was planned. It was organized. It wasn’t perfect. Sometimes research and detailed steps to put a trip together are really all you can do to ensure a seamless vacation. But, even with all the care and thought, missteps can occur. It’s times like these that the saying, “Make lemonade from lemons” come to mind.

We wanted to join our college-age daughters at the end of their Junior year abroad experience. They had been in Europe for four months, and we decided to take this once in a lifetime opportunity to extend their trip and travel as a family. Great right?  And for all intents and purposes, it was. Looking back on it now, I wish that one little glitch didn’t occur to make one of the best trips we have ever had, come with small regrets, “If only we…”.

I knew that the time frame of our visit to Germany and Austria was during the season of Advent leading up to Christmas. I was excited to experience the Christmas markets in Munich, the fairytale – Neuschwanstein Castle, and the historic city of Salzburg, Austria.  It would mean that our regular traditions would look slightly different and that we would be celebrating our holiday abroad.  I took requests from each person and worked with a travel company to plan an itinerary that we could all enjoy. I must have had ten conversations about tweaking excursions, deleting cities or shifting locations to make the trip run smoothly from start to finish.

It is not easy to plan a vacation and find activities that would appeal an entire family unit, but somehow, it came together to form an experience we could all get behind. I led with the mantra, “If it is not your cup of tea today, it will be tomorrow.” Everyone agreed that they were game for all of it.

The day came, and we all met in Munich. I was thrilled to start this adventure with the people who mean the most to me in this world. We love to travel, and the trip started swimmingly. The hotel was clean, spacious, and located perfectly. Bavaria was even more beautiful than I expected and we also got some snow! That first visit to the Christmas Market in Munich filled us with delight and awe. We enjoyed the traditional foods, hot spiced wine and the stalls of handmade crafts. The warmth of the people added to the incredible experience.

We headed to Salzburg and loved the city, the market, and the lake district. Did everyone like the Original Sound of Music Tour? No, but those who weren’t entirely on board accepted that others were really enjoying the experience. We made up for it by visiting the ancient Hohensalzburg Fortress. The views from the fortress were breathtaking and the exhibits about medieval life, weaponry, and armor, were fascinating. All good.

As the days flew by, we sat around our dinner table and discussed the wonders of discovering each new place and all that we had learned. The trip was going way too fast, and soon we were in a new city with essential areas to explore or scenery to admire. I was really looking forward to visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a thousand-year-old town located in the middle of the Tauber valley. The day we scheduled our visit fell on Christmas Eve. What we didn’t realize was that much of the town was closed in observance of the holiday. Our tour guide offered to take us for a two-hour visit and drove us an hour each way so that we could see the medieval city and walk on the ancient ramparts. We went, but we were not entirely sure how little we would get to see. In the end, I am glad we took the drive, but the entire town was shut down. To say we were all saddened would be an understatement.

Was it poor planning? Hadn’t I hired a tour company to help me navigate situations like this? Yes, but sometimes it is hard to know precisely what the local customs dictate in different places. Since we didn’t have much time in the region, and because the only day we had to explore the town fell on a holiday, we decided to take our chances. We didn’t have an awful experience, but we were saddened to get to the charming town of my dreams and find it completely quiet as the residents prepared to celebrate the holy holiday.

Unfortunately, when we arrived back in Nuremberg, the holiday markets began to shut down. The only restaurants that were open were booked and did not have any extra seating. Luckily, we found a Spanish tapas restaurant that was open and had a hefty late lunch. We went back to relax at our hotel and later that evening emerged to try and find a snack. To our delight, an  Irish pub was open and quite busy. When we went to order, we were informed that the kitchen was closed. We laughed and chalked it up one more snafu to round out our totally imperfect day. We had a glass of cheer and went back to order room service. At our hotel, the kitchen was overwhelmed with parties. It would take three hours to get our order.

We weren’t starving. We were warm and safe and together and we had some incredible chocolates that we picked up on our travels. We played games and ate chocolate for dinner. To put it in perspective, our trip was idyllic up to and after that. It is one more memory to chuckle over, but it does remind one that you can’t be too prepared.

If I had one piece of advice, I would recommend asking your travel consultant or hotel staff what the restrictions might be if you are visiting a city during a holiday. Make reservations for all your holiday meals and check to see if museums or sights of interest are opened during your stay. Check public transportation and holiday schedules as well.

Travel is always an adventure. That is why we go. I love a good story, and this ranks right up there with all the ones I have collected along the way. Many people I talk travel with like to “wing” it. I am a planner but wanted some things to unfold organically. It is a memory we will laugh over in the years to come, but it will also inform my future travel decisions when heading out for my next holiday vacation.

 

Christmas Traditions – Old and New

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As soon as the Thanksgiving day was over, we knew the Christmas prep was about to begin. It would always start with the process of setting up our artificial tree. My father took the faux wood trunk out of the box and followed the color-coded wires on the ends of each branch and placed them in the coordinating holes. Then he dutifully took string upon string of multi-colored lights and wrapped them round and round the greenery until there wasn’t a spot left without a bulb. Finally, it was our turn. We took the large cardboard container of decorations out of the basement and gently unwrapped each one; looking every ornament over and commenting on our favorites. There wasn’t a bough on our tree that did not have some shiny ball or figurine dangling from a silver fishhook.

As soon as all the ornaments were hung, we took handfuls of tinsel and literally let it rain. We climbed up on the short utility ladder my dad used to string the lights and threw handfuls of the glittery strings up in the air. We shrieked with delight as the strands covered the entire tree, each of us, and the blue pile carpet below. I thought the finished product was perfection. I would wait until it was dark outside, then click on the rotating tree stand/music box that cranked out tunes like, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Frosty the Snowman.” As it twirled slowly around, I would sip my mug of cocoa and marvel at the glittering masterpiece.

I looked forward to all the little traditions leading up to Christmas like decorating, assembling lasagnas for an army of relatives, and setting the table. Traveling was not on the agenda when I was growing up. We took vacations in the summer, so it never occurred to me that people didn’t spend the holidays at home.

When I started a family of my own, we pretty much followed many of the same traditions (although we bought a fresh tree and nixed the tinsel). That was the norm until my brother suggested that we take a trip to celebrate New Year’s Eve “2000” in the Caribbean.

A whole new concept about how to spend the holiday opened up for me that year. The week before we hosted a dinner to see everyone and exchange gifts. On December 24th, we flew away from the cold in New Jersey and landed in the Turks and Caicos where it was hot and sunny.

Our rental home was beachfront, and the white sand stretched as far as we could see. Our dinner on December 25th took place in a Caribbean restaurant called the Tiki Hut. We traveled with a large group of extended family and friends, and even though we weren’t home, we had a fantastic time. That week the weather was a perfect 80 degrees, and our two-year-old girls lived in their bathing suits and built sand castles every day.

A few years later, when our daughters were 11, we traveled with another family to share Christmas in Italy. The children made ornaments from kits my girlfriend had purchased at home and packed in her suitcase. We decorated a small tree that we set up in the living room and it created a festive atmosphere. We spent our days exploring the countryside, tasting the foods and sightseeing.

I have come to appreciate both ways of celebrating for the holidays. The case for staying home is strong. We make the special foods that we only prepare at this time of year, and relax in our own house with loved ones. But, there is something I really enjoy about experiencing Christmas in an unusual place. I know it’s not for everyone, and it may seem odd to travel, but I actually enjoy the adventure.

It has been ten years since that last trip, but we are traveling this year. We plan to visit Germany, specifically Munich, Rothenburg, and Berlin. My husband’s heritage is half Italian and half German, so we thought it would be interesting to explore the traditions of his other half. There will be Christmas markets, gluehwein (spiced hot wine) and wursts to sample. While we will miss spending the day with our extended family, we will celebrate when we return. My children are getting the opportunity to travel instead of receiving material things. They are also collecting a unique combination of experiences. They get to have memories of being home and memories of being abroad. We are blessed to be together either way, which is a priceless gift.

 

 

 

 

 

Hungry in Budapest? Sample the Street Food

One of the best parts of discovering a new country is trying the cuisine. As much as I like to plan out my days to see all the most significant tourist spots in each city, I also love to discover a place from the lens of their local street foods.

I recently returned from Budapest, Hungary and while I made sure to try traditional favorites such as Hungarian Goulash and Chicken Paprikash, I also ventured to the street to get a taste of some of the popular fare. The best part? These stalls don’t require reservations.

Karavan Food Truck Garden

While touring the Jewish Quarter, I came across a food truck garden named KARAVAN. Luckily, I happened to stroll by right around lunchtime, and I decided to check out a fried bread, cheese-topped, dish called Langos. Langos starts with a dough (flour, yeast, salt, and water). After the dough rises, the mixture is shaped into balls. When you place an order, the balls are flattened into a disk and then fried in sunflower oil. Once the bread is golden brown, it is slathered with garlic butter, topped with sour cream and a decent amount of a mild grated cheese. I was amazed at how good this simple grub tasted. It is really filling and is big enough to share with friends, especially if you want to save room for more street food. It is prevalent all over the city, and while it is consistent in preparation, every vendor puts their own twist on it. At this food truck, you could get a burger between two pieces of Langos. No matter how you choose to eat it, it is something you have to try.

Langos Food TruckThis food truck will also make a burger out of two enormous disks, but I decided to try the original and save room for a sandwich from an innovative street food place called Bors.

BorsBors Gastro Bar is all about the pressed panini served on hollowed out baguette. The choices change weekly and each version offers a unique twist on the usual sandwich. The line can stretch down the block at this tiny, quirky, establishment. There are no tables, but there is a flatbed truck where patrons sit just beyond the door on the sidewalk. If you can grab a seat, you can relax and dig into your selection. They specialize in International, European street food and innovative soups. At Bors, you can also find vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.  I shared a green curry chicken sandwich that was slightly spicy, warm and toasty. It was delicious. If you find yourself in the Jewish Quarter, head to Kazinczy street and get one of their signature creations.

If you are ready for something sweet, you have to try a Sekler Cake aka chimney cake. A traditional wedding pastry that hails from Romania, it is popular around Central Europe. There are stalls all around Budapest so you won’t have too much trouble finding a spot to get some of this warm, cone-like cake that is rolled over hot coals until it turns golden brown. Once the cake comes off the grill, it is sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. After it cools, you can choose how to fill it. Typical fillings include ice-creams, sauces, and toppings to put inside the cake. The dough is slightly sweet and remains chewy even though it is roasted over coals. It is similar to an ice-cream cone, but the cone is soft. Once you scoop out all the delicious filling, you tear pieces of the cake apart and eat that too. Absolute heaven.

Whenever I travel, I always check out the food scene to get the full picture of the culture and the traditions of each place. I find it so interesting to discover what the locals like to eat and I have had memorable food experiences every place I have visited. If you get to Budapest or if you have been there, drop a comment and let me know some of your favorite Hungarian dishes.

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