Category Archives: Asia

Palace Stay in India

While visiting India, Alex and I had the opportunity to stay at a palace in the small town of Karauli. Built in 1938, this palace provided a unique insight into the life of royalty in Colonial India. Located in the countryside of Rajasthan, Karauli was a welcome break from the busier cities of Delhi and Jaipur.

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Upon our arrival, we were escorted into the main reception room of the hotel. The first thing we noticed was a giant tiger, who had been stuffed many years ago. Everyone ran over to him immediately! Despite the prevalence of wild game on display, there was no sign of Bungalow Bill ūüėõ¬†karaulilobbyIMG_7892

After receiving our room keys, we had a chance to walk around the palace. The main courtyard was very beautiful and serene. It was the perfect place to sit down, enjoy a cup of masala chai, and read a book.

karauligarden

Near the main building, they have a garage with a cool collection of vintage cars, which are still maintained and driven occasionally. My friend and I resisted the temptation to go for a joyride, but enjoyed ourselves anyway!

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Lunch was in the formal dining hall. It was a beautiful set-up, and right off of the main courtyard. They served us sandwiches and light soup, but it was a nice ‚Äúrefresher meal‚ÄĚ for us after a first few days spent in Delhi.

karaulidining

The room itself was in a separate building from the main palace. We were surprised to find that we had one of the largest rooms in residence, the ‚ÄúQueen‚Äôs Room‚ÄĚ. It included a large main bedroom, a bathroom, a separate sitting room, and a large private balcony. We were very lucky!

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Being a 21st century traveler, the first thing I noticed was the absence of a television. Then came the realization that there were no outlets, either. Aside from the light next to our door, we felt like we had really stepped back in time! We laughed about it for a few minutes and then decided to fully embrace the experience. I’m glad we did!

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We had a good, authentic Indian dinner, which took place in one of the other main buildings. The food was good, and it wasn’t very spicy (read: easily digestible). Everyone enjoyed their meals, and I especially appreciated all of the vegetarian options that were offered.

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Overall, we had such a memorable stay.¬†Most of all, we really¬†appreciated the opportunity to have¬†some peace and quiet outside of the city, and also didn’t mind “unplugging” for a bit.

The biggest issue during our stay was that the screens on the bathroom windows were widely spaced (and not able to be closed), so we did have mosquitos flying around our room at night. To deal with this, we sprayed ourselves with mosquito repellant and wore long shirts and pants to bed. Neither of us woke up with any bites, luckily, but anyone staying out in the countryside should be aware that there are plenty of mosquitos around!

Why You Need to Visit Russia in Winter

When¬†I first told¬†friends and family about my upcoming trip to Russia in December, I was met with skepticism. The most common¬†remarks ranged from “But WHY?”, ¬†to “Can’t you just wait until it gets warmer?”. In fact, even while I was already there, Russians kept encouraging me to “come back in Summer”.IMG_2313

Despite the naysayers, I am so glad that I went when I did. Seeing Moscow¬†at its most “authentic” was truly an unforgettable experience. Yes it’s cold and it gets dark early, but this is how Russians spend at least 6¬†months out of every year. I developed a much better understanding of the attitudes and mindsets that make Russians so notoriously tough. Further, there were hardly any tourists around, which meant that we had the opportunity to enjoy major attractions to ourselves with little to no lines. There’s just something really cool¬†about being one of only a few¬†visitors¬†walking around the Kremlin…it feels so exclusive!

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Here are some additional benefits of visiting Russia during Wintertime:

1. Christmas/New Years’ Markets and Festive Decorations- If you visit Russia over the holidays,¬†be sure to check out the Christmas markets. They sell candies, matryoshka dolls, baked goods, and other Christmas-y gifts and souvenirs.

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Other interesting sights at the Christmas markets include ponies, reindeer, and Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost). Every market has different features, making each one fun to discover. Near Cafe Pushkin in Moscow, for example, we enjoyed walking around an outdoor art gallery.

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There are also plenty of ice sculptures. Some of my favorites included an ice maze and ice slides. Ice displays are a time-honored tradition all over Russia, and exist in both large cities and way out in Siberia.

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Stores and businesses are also outfitted for the holiday season. GUM shopping centre in Moscow, for example, has quite the display, with Christmas stalls throughout.

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2. Sparkling Night Lights- Moscow is a beautiful city at night. While these lights can be seen year-round, longer hours of darkness during Winter means there are more opportunities to literally see the city in a different light.

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In fact, one of the best ways to see Moscow at night is on the River Moskva. Luckily, all of the major sites lie along the river and are easy to spot. The Radisson hotel runs dinner cruises all-year long, and even has ice-breaking capabilities for when the river is frozen over.

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¬†3. The Snow makes for great¬†pictures- If anything, Winter in Russia often results in¬†heavy snowfall. We were lucky enough to get snow on the first day we arrived in Moscow. The sights were very picturesque, and exactly like I’ve always imagined it would be. It just added that extra magical touch to everything we saw.

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As you can see, Russia is absolutely gorgeous during this time of year. So don’t let the weather deter you. Trust me, you’ll be thankful for the experience and will walk away with a new appreciation of this beautiful country and its people!

© Destination Duo, 2014-2015

Edo-Tokyo Museum

Before we left Tokyo to come back home, we decided to stop by the Edo-Tokyo Museum. It’s a pretty cool museum that mostly covers the Edo period from the 17th-19th centuries in Japan. I was surprised by how large the museum was, and also by the quality of the exhibits.

The metro stop for the museum also happens to be in the neighborhood where Sumo is popular:

DSC05799Sumo Cardboard Cut-Out

The museum itself is located in a¬†fairly modern-looking building. There are signs to the museum from the metro stop at Ryogoku Station. It’s pretty close by. The entrance fee to the museum is 600 Yen, or about $6 USD, and you can also¬†get an English audio guide for free (refundable deposit). I really liked this museum, not only¬†because the museum has really cool exhibits,¬†but because it also has¬†interactive ones. They also have a ton of dioramas throughout the museum¬†which¬†give you a complete picture of the Edo Period.

DSC05801Edo-Tokyo Museum

IMG-20120311-01125Kabuki Theater Exhibition- It looks tiny, but is actually a life-size building

IMG-20120311-01130Sitting inside a royal litter- Be sure to take off your shoes!

IMG-20120311-01136Shogun Armor 

IMG-20120311-01144Wood-working Exhibit

IMG-20120311-01151Alex lifting pails of water

IMG-20120311-01163One of the many dioramas depicting the Edo Period in Tokyo

IMG-20120311-01167Inside a traditional Edo replica home

 IMG-20120311-01168Instrument of Surrender from WWII 

IMG-20120311-01174Sitting in a Tuk-Tuk

IMG-20120311-01175Inside a traditional Edo period kitchen

IMG-20120311-01179Exterior of a replica home

Although we didn’t go to many museums while in Tokyo, I would definitely recommend this one. It was a lot of fun, and I think that both children and adults would get a lot out of it!

Kyoto- Temples and Shrines (Part 2)

Part one of our Kyoto day tour consisted of Nijo Castle and the Golden Pavillion. For the second part of our tour, we visited the Heian Shrine and the Kiyomizu Temple.

Heian Shrine:

The Heian Shrine is a Shinto shrine in Kyoto. You can identify these shrines by their red-orange color. The Heian shrine was located in a very large complex.

DSC05684Main Entrance 

DSC05688Corner Building 

DSC05689The Heian Shrine

DSC05690Tiger Hand-washing Basin 

DSC05694Prayer Tree- Tie your prayers onto the tree 

Heian Shrine Garden:

As I said before, the Heian Shrine is located in a very large complex. Behind the shrine is a large, peaceful garden.

DSC05699Walking across the lake

 DSC05704Bridge over the lake 

DSC05706Bridge Entrance

DSC05708View of gardens from the bridge

Kiyomizu Temple:

The Kiyomizu Temple is a Buddhist temple on a hillside. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is quite interesting. To get there, you have to walk up a pedestrian alley of shops. Once the shops end, you will see a three-tiered pagoda and can follow the stairs to the top.

DSC05731Pagoda in front of Kiyomizu Temple

 DSC05738View of Kiyomizu Temple 

DSC05743View of the temple from below 

DSC05748Purchased some green tea KitKats at one of the shops

Kyoto- Shrines and Temples (Part 1)

To give you a super-brief history lesson, Kyoto is the old imperial capital of Japan. If you came to Japan to see temples and shrines, you would do yourself a disservice by not coming to Kyoto. There are so many wonderful old buildings to see here, and most of the temples that you see in postcards were taken around this area, and not in Tokyo.

Kyoto is very different from Tokyo. The buildings are much older, and obviously it is a smaller town. Being in Kyoto makes you feel like you are walking through history. In fact,¬†I was on a bus with a few pretentious Americans who complained that it felt “dingy” and “like a developing country”, when they obviously have never seen the true definition of either! While Kyoto is older, that also gives it some character. Don’t judge it. And don’t expect people to speak English here. It is a nice surprise if they do, but for the most part, English is not well-spoken in Kyoto. Even the¬†hotel staff speaks limited English compared to Tokyo.

Alex and I went on a day tour in Kyoto, which took us around to the various temples and shrines in the area. While there are many to see, we had a brief two day stay in Kyoto and needed to see the “essentials”. So without further ado, here they are:

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle was built in the 17th Century, by the Tokugawa Shoguns. The main building is famous for the nightingale floors, which were made to creak when walked on. They did this so that residents could be warned of any assassins who snuck into the building. DSC05631Nijo Castle DSC05632Gardens at Nijo Castle

Golden Pavillion

The Golden Pavillion is a Zen Buddhist Temple covered in gold leaf. It is a well-visited tourist spot, and definitely the busiest stop on our day tour. It can be viewed from several different angles, and also seen up-close. This picturesque temple is located in the midst of garden, making it a great spot for photos.

DSC05641Golden Pavillion

DSC05645Up-close view of gold leafing

DSC05650Amidst a sea of umbrellas

DSC05653Close-up of the Pavillion

My Favorite Tokyo Metro Stations (Part 2)

Part 1 of this post talks about two of my favorite stations: Shinjuku and Harajuku. This one discusses two of my other favorites: Shibuya and Akihabara.

Shibuya:¬†Shibuya is known for it busy intersections and limitless shopping opportunities. We visited several malls, which are different from American ones. Rather than entering individual stores within a mall, the stores”” are just set up in one open space. I almost felt like I was in one giant department store. To get some peace and quiet in Shibuya, I loved going into the nearby Starbucks and watching the people cross the streets down below. In the evening, we rented a karaoke room for a few hours.

Of course, one can’t mention Shibuya without sharing the story of Hachiko, the dog. A bronze statue devoted to Hachiko stands outside Shibuya Station. In the 1920s, the dog used to wait at the station for his owner to return from work. One day, his owner passed away and never returned to the station. Hachiko kept waiting for him, and continued to show up to the station at the same time every day until his own death in 1935.

DSC04942Hachiko Statue

DSC04946Alex at Shibuya Crossing

DSC04950Inside One of the Malls

DSC05761More Crepes!

DSC05774View of Shibuya Crossing from Starbucks

DSC05782Karaoke Microphones and Menus

IMG-20120310-01121Light Projections on the Karaoke Room Walls

IMG-20120310-01122Alex Singing Karaoke 

Akihabara: The Electronics District. Great place to buy electronics and appliances. Also known for its many arcades and anime-themed stores.

DSC05307Akihabara Arcade

DSC05308Claw Machine Games

DSC05318Cosplay Restaurant “Maid”

DSC05324Me in the Akihabara District

DSC05325Stores and Arcades

I highly recommend taking some time to explore the metro stops on your own. You may find some great new neighborhoods, and never know what you will come across!

My Favorite Tokyo Metro Stations (Part 1)

Tokyo has a fantastic transit system. It’s orderly, fairly easy to navigate, and always runs on time. One of the best parts of our trip was exploring the city and stopping at random subway stops. Here are some of our favorites:

Shinjuku:¬†¬†I really liked Shinjuku for a few reasons. First, our hotel was near this station, and I felt really comfortable and safe in the area. Second, Shinjuku is a great place for shopping. You can find so many stores and shopping centers right outside of the station. It’s also home to a nighttime red light district called Kabukicho. Most importantly, however, Shinjuku is a major station in Tokyo. If you want to get around the city, you will more than likely make transfers at Shinjuku and would be wise to get familiar with it!

DSC04834Shinjuku Station

DSC05333Kabukicho District near Shinjuku

DSC05337Kabukicho

DSC04835Shinjuku Shopping Outside the Station

Harajuku: Most Pop music fans are already familiar with this iconic neighborhood, referenced in Gwen Stefani’s “Harajuku Girls”. The neighborhood is famous for it’s kooky fashions. Walking around Harajuku, we did see some crazy styles, but also found some amazing crepe shops, clothing stores, and a Tamagotchi store. In nearby Yoyogi Park, the Meiji Shrine is a must-see.

DSC04839Harajuku Station

DSC04843Typical Clothing Shop in Harajuku

DSC04850Takeshita Dori (A Pedestrian Street)

DSC04856Tamagotchi

DSC04857Fortune Teller at Tamagotchi

DSC04890My Fortune- Can Anyone Translate?!

DSC04858Tamagotchi Donut Shop

DSC04867Alex at one of the Crepe Shops

DSC04921Sake Casks at the Meiji Shrine

DSC04927Traditional Wedding

DSC04932Meiji Shrine

Mt. Fuji, Where Are You?

Ahh, the elusive Mt. Fuji!! This was one of the things I was most excited to see in Japan. Unfortunately, we did not realize that it often goes unseen. We traveled to Hakone to see the legendary mountain and were disappointed to find out that it is usually covered by the clouds. In fact, we asked someone where it was, and they told us we were facing it!

We came here in March, and despite being close to cherry blossom season, we did not get the postcard photo-op that we had envisioned. Nonetheless, we were lucky enough to see the very top of it on two separate occasions.

The first sighting was at Owakudani, which is famous for its hot springs and well-known black eggs. Just to give you an idea of how foggy it was, here is a photo of the lift that transported us to Owakudani. On a clear day, you would be able to see Mt. Fuji from here, but visibility is incredibly low beyond the first hill.

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And this is what it’s “supposed” to look like. I took this picture from a magazine cover on the bullet train:

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Once we arrived, we found a reference picture that shows us what we are looking at. Very helpful, indeed:

mtfujiWhere Did Everything Go?

We found some helpful people who were able to point out that the very tip-top of the mountain was visible. While we could see it with the naked eye, our camera wasn’t able to produce a picture of the snow-capped summit.

DSC05429It’s there somewhere!

DSC05430Alex trying to point out the top

After Owakudani, we boarded a pirate ship cruise which is supposed to offer stunning views of Mt. Fuji. By now, the top of the mountain had disappeared ūüė¶

DSC05440Boarding the Ship

While we didn’t find too much success seeing Mt. Fuji in Hakone, we had an unexpected streak of luck while taking the Shinkansen from Hakone to Kyoto. I happened to be sitting on the right side of the train, when a student in the seat to the left of us pointed out that Mt. Fuji was out the side of my window! We looked out, and sure enough, we could see a decent part of it!

DSC05561There it is!

So, here’s my advice if you want to actually see Mt. Fuji: It is more likely to be seen in the winter-time, between December and February. Don’t visit during the rainy season, because moisture in the air is high, and visibility is very low. Also, plan a visit in the morning. It is more likely to be seen in the early morning than in the afternoon. If you want to see the mountain with snow, don’t come here in the summer. There’s no snow on top, but you are able to climb it (this actually can be a very good reason to visit in the summer). Lastly, if you want to see it from the bullet trains, sit on the right side when heading West from Hakone or Tokyo towards Kyoto, or vice versa if you are heading East towards Hakone.

Mt. Fuji is one of those places that’s on nearly everyone’s bucket list, yet no one knows how difficult it is to see! I find it to be one of the most misleading travel spots, because everyone expects that they will be able to see all of it, and that’s not often the case. Even though we didn’t see the mountain in its entirety, we had the most wonderful time in Hakone. It’s an awesome town, and we would really love to go back. Hopefully, we will have better luck next time and will be able to see all of Mt. Fuji on a clear, sunny day!!

Tokyo DisneySea

I am not embarrassed to say that I am a huge Disney fan. I loved visiting Disney World as a child, and still go to Disneyland on occasion even now. So needless to say, the idea of Tokyo DisneySea was incredibly exciting! We only had one day to see Disney, so we chose to visit DisneySea over Disneyland, since we have one of those back at home.

We took the metro to Maihama Station, where we transferred to the Disney Monorail. The attention to detail is noticeable right away.

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DSC05223Mickey Shaped Windows On the Monorail

DSC05226 DSC05228Mickey Handles, and the Cinderella Castle

DSC05237Entrance to Tokyo DisneySea

DSC05238Daisy Duck Greeting Visitors

DSC05241Inside the Gates

DSC05244View of “Mount Prometheus”

Don’t forget to buy yourself a pair of Mickey ears! While you can find all of the Universal “Mickey Ears”, they also have a good collection of hats that are only found in Japan. A lot of the girls’ hats feature giant bows.

DSC05245This hat is so “kawaii”!

DisneySea has a nautical theme to it, with different “Ports of Call”. The layout is very similar to EPCOT, with different themes surrounding a large, central lagoon.

DSC05246Mediterranean Harbor

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Arabian Coast

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Mermaid Lagoon

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The American Waterfront

DisneySea has Tower of Terror, which is a free-fall thrill ride. The ride can be found at several Disney Parks.

DSC05252Tower of Terror

Even though we arrived on a Wednesday around 10AM, the Tower of Terror had already reached a 2 hour wait time. We had been to the Tower of Terror at California Adventure and Hollywood Studios, so we decided we could skip it.

DSC05254Tower of Terror Line

We had never heard of “Duffy” the bear until we got to DisneySea, but he is a huge Disney mascot in Japan. Duffy is really as big of a deal as Mickey Mouse. Duffy and Shellie Mae¬†(his girlfriend) Merchandise can be found all over the park. DisneySea also offers Duffy and Shellie May food. We bought some Cranberry Popcorn that’s served in Shellie Mae buckets. It was so delicious!!

DSC05261Cranberry Popcorn, Yum

The American Waterfront is the Port of Call where you will find Tower of Terror and the SS Columbia, which is a large ship with a restaurant inside.

From the American Waterfront, we made our way over towards the Mysterious Island.

DSC05265Pirate Ship in the Central Lagoon Area

DSC05267View of the Mysterious Island’s Mount Prometheus

The Mysterious Island is home to “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth”

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“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”

Inside the volcano is the ride “Journey To The Center of the Earth”. It’s a roller coaster ride, and by far the most popular attraction we visited that day.

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DSC05270Inside the Volcano

I know, you’re wondering how “Journey To The Center of the Earth” was….Well, I’m sorry to say I can’t tell you! The line was 4 hours long…yes, FOUR hours!! I am not one to skip out on things, especially at Disney, but this was excessive. Neither of us was feeling that patient, and for the first time in Tokyo, we actually felt overwhelmed by the crowds. People say that Tokyo is a crowded place, but it feels like nothing compared to DisneySea. I’ve been to Disney World on Christmas Day, and it didn’t feel as busy as this!

Even the concession stands had at LEAST a 30 minute wait time. If you see in the picture below, the food stand is underneath the bridge, and I took the picture from the back of the line. At this point, we made the decision to just walk around and explore the park.

DSC05280Long Lines For Food

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Crowds in the Mediterranean Harbor

Ok, enough about the long lines! Just be prepared to wait at least an hour for everything, even the smaller kiddie rides. Now, we did have some luck with food at the Zambini Brothers Ristorante. We were able to find a short food line because there was a show going on in the lagoon. This would be my best piece of advice when visiting DisneySea: grab some food during the showtimes! The food itself was pretty good, and it was nice to just sit down for a bit after walking around!

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We left the park after lunch, having been there for a grand total of three hours.On our way out, we spotted Mickey! I noticed that the “main” Disney characters only show up near the entrance to the park, right inside the ticket gate. I’m not sure why this is, but we were able to see Mickey, Daisy, and Goofy in this spot. In case you’re wondering, yes, there was a line to see them too! Haha

DSC05296Mickey Mouse

While we had planned on spending the entire day at Tokyo DisneySea, I’m sad to say that we didn’t want to stay after getting there. I’m really glad we got to see it, but we were not prepared for the lines. I don’t know if I’d personally go back, but it’s still Disney, and if you don’t mind enormous wait times it’s still a cool park. The tricky thing for us is that we are fortunate enough to live semi-close to a Disney Park. Therefore, a lot of the rides and experiences were the same as ones we have back at home and it wasn’t worth waiting in line for hours at a time. But for most people, visiting Disney is a once in a lifetime experience, or at least a pretty rare one. And in that case, a visit to DisneySea would definitely be worth it.

DSC05301Waiting For the Monorail to Take Us Home

Tokyo Day Tour: Asakusa

Asakusa was our last stop on our Tokyo Day Tour. We took a ferry ride from the Port of Tokyo to Asakusa.

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DSC05122Our Ferry

DSC05131Going Under the Bridge

DSC05134More Bridges

DSC05144Asahi Brewery Headquarters, Shaped Like a Beer Mug

DSC05145Beautiful Bridge

After a short walk, we arrived at the Asakusa Kannon, or Sensoji, which is a Buddhist Temple. There is a front gate called the¬†Kaminarimon,¬†also known as the “Thunder Gate”. It’s the building with the huge¬†lantern.

DSC05159Kaminarimon

DSC05161Wooden Carving Underneath the Lantern

Inside the gate is the Nakamise Dori, which is a shopping street full of Japanese souvenirs. This was one of the best places for souvenir shopping, and you can find everything from a yukata, to tea sets, to food.

???????????????????????????????Nakamise Dori

At the end of the shopping street, we came upon the Hozomon, which is another gate leading to the temple:

DSC05171Hozomon

DSC05175Pagoda on the left side of the Hozomon gate

DSC05177Nice Bathroom Stalls

DSC05178Vending Machine Full of Hot and Cold Drinks

DSC05181Giant Sandal On the Side of the Hozomon Gate

DSC05183Main Temple

DSC05186Burning Incense

DSC05189View of the Temple From Up Close

DSC05193Prayer Shrine Inside the Temple

While we were at Sensoji, a large group of school girls came running up to us. I’m not sure why, but they were very excited!! A few of them asked to get their pictures taken with us, and it was nice to feel like a celebrity for a few minutes!

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