Monthly Archives: February 2005

Prague: 20th February 2005

I woke up and had a shower5 and jumped on my bag to try and get it to shut.  The taxi turned up on time and I went to the airport in plenty of time and I checked in and got fags and booze and a guide book picture thingy of Prague.  I sat and wrote my diary  and finished it when I got on the plane.  I had some vial youths sitting next to me on the flight home discussing thier conquests of the night before – lovely! – serious case of lads on tour.  My bag took an age to come off baggage reclaim – one of the last again.  I went from the airport into Bristol to see Hugo and give him his birthday present.  From there I went to Asda to fill up the cupboards and finally made it home and sorted things out.  What a nice break – so not long enough though.

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Prague: 19th of February 2005

I had a lovely long sleep this morning which I guess I wont get again until next weekend now as I have quite an early start for the airport tomorrow morning.  Weird to think that I am going already when it feels like I have only just arrived! I did my Literacy Planning and finished off my D&T.  Helena checked on the internet for trips to the Jewish Quarter which is what we had scheduled for today.  We headed to the clock as that seems to be aminly where all of the guided tours congregate as thier starting point.  Threre were a few other couples that were on the tour. It was incredibly cold and it was trying to snow again which wa plesant!  The Jewish Quarter is called Josefov which apparently in Czech name equiv of Joseph.  It was called a ghetto until it was called Josefov which makes it sound horrendous.  Many horrible things happened to the Jews in Prague over the years.  They were ‘property of the King’ at one stage.  The flodding in the summer of 2002 hit the area quite badly as it is right on the river.  I did start to wonder part of the way round why none of the Synagogues were open to the public today and then it dawned on me – its a Saturday which of course is the Sabbath and they dont work on Saturdays and there would be services on.  A stupid day to choose really to go and do a walking tour of the area – we really should ahve thought about that and swapped today and yesterday around.  There was only one really that I wanted to go into and that was called Pinkasova Synagogue (or Pinkas).  It was built in 1535 and was used for servuces right up until 1941.  After WWII howeer it was converted into a memorial with the names and birthdates and dates of the diappearance of the 77,297 Bohemian and Moravian (areas of the Czech Republic) Jews that were victims of the Nazis.  Thier dates and info ect are inscribed on every possible wall of the synagogue.  There is also a collection of drawings in there by children that were held in the Terezin Concentration Camp.  It would have been a very moving memorial to have visited.  Apparently a Jewish Man in Prague went to visitthe synagogue who was alive during the time of WWII and he found his name on the wall as one of the dead – how strange must that have been??!! Next to the synagogue is the cemetary which of course we could not get into but we were able to look at it through a little window in one of the gates.  It was founded in the 15th century and is Europe’s oldest suriving Jewish Cemetry.  There are about 12,000 grave stones in there but as the King did not want any more of the urban area taken up for burial of more bodies the graves are layered and there are thought to be 100,000 or so bodies in there  – up to about 16 layers.  You can actually see around one side where the ground level has risen so much.  There are some markings on the graves that are believed to be from about the 17th and 18th centuries which show the occupation of the deceased.  The  oldest headstone (a replica now stands in is place) dates from 1439 and is believed to be that of Avigdor Karo who was a chief rabbi and the court poet to Wenceslas.  Many of the houses are in the French Art Neauvau style as the area was given a face lift so to speak to try and improve the area – I cant quite remember at what time that was though.  I learnt about a Jewish tradition of placing stones on graves – it is something that they do at the end of Schindler’s List and it has always baffled me.  You put a small stone on a grave that you have brought from somewhere other than the graveyard and you say a wish for someone else and the Jewish Tradition is that these wishes come true. Also you can write the on a thin strip of paper and place it underneath one of the stones on the grave.  They put these stones down rather than anything else so that they dont rot or are eaten by animals or parasites.  We ended our tour at a statue of Franz Kafka which was rather obscure to put it mildly. It is rather new apparently as I couldn’t find it in my guide book.  It has Kafka sitting ontop of a statue with no head and it is HUGE.  It is apparently linked to a story that he wrote of a man who worked all of the time and did not do anything enjoyable and so he had no brain.  Underneath – but we could not see as there was too much snow on the ground – there were the legs of a cockroach from another of his stories of a man who turned into a giant coackroach and returned home and was then sqished by his family. His stories were weird quite frankly if you ask me!  He didnt have any works published until after his death as he thought that they were no good. He asked his best friedn after his death to burn all of his work but his friend didnt and published them all instead. They are all quite sad stories and from the sounds of things quite odd too!

From there we went to do a bit of tourist sopping as I wanted to get a few magnets for people.  After wandering into several shops we went into a chain called Blue which had some lovely things.  We then went and had a look again in the wooden huts near to the St. Nicholas Church.  I got a pair of earrings similar tot he ones that I got back in 1998 when we were last here.  We headed over to where we were going to have our supper.  It took ages to find and Helena did get quite lost! She wouldn’t do too well as a tour guide on the directions front! We met her friend Veronica on the corner jsut down from Cafe Louvre and she was most bemused that we had got so lost!  We had a yummie pizza in there and a drink.  I had one called a corny which was blue cheese and sweetcorn – odd to put it mildly but it actually tasted quite nice.  The beer was good too!!  Veronica is coming back with Helena for a week at Easter for some Christian conference thingcalled SPring Harvest.  From there we went to the cinema and met Vicky who is loke the supply teacher there at Riverside, she is incredibly quiet and I did have some problems in hearing what she was saying at times.  We went to see The Aviator which is called Letec in Czech.  It was quite an interesting film to put it mildly.  I am not quite sure what Howard Huges had wrong with him but  I think that is must have been something similar to Asbergers as he certainl showed many of the symptoms.  I can see why it is up for so many oscars. It is an incredibly long film though – 3 hours we wer in there for.  The most shocking thing about the trailers was that they had dubbed Star Wars Episode III!

From here we went to try and find somewhere to have a cocktail but after being looked up and down by the girl on the door in one place we kind of gave up. We found a pizza restaurant on the corner of Wenceslas Square where we had a drink.  They were really slow at bringing them though and I was parched! I had an Ameretto.  We then headed home onf the metro. Helena said on the way back thats the last of my nights drinking for a while – err hello??!!! Anyway got things ready to pack when got home and quickly wrote the last 3 postcards that I had left before heading to bed.

Prague: 18th February 2005

I woke up this morning quite early – about 8 I think and tried to go back to sleep but just couldnt.  I read a couple of chapters of my book and I couldnt stop thinking about the dream that I had when I told Sian that I was seriously considering leaving etc etc.  How odd that that ‘dream’ would actually be happening rather soon. I suppose that it is only natural that I should be thinking about things like that as it is so much on my mind at the moment but I really do wish that I could get some peace from it all while I sleep.  I had a shower and washed my hair which was lovely – did not get to wash it yesterday in the pension.

We headed out to get the funicular railway to the top of Petrin Hill to get to the Castle.  I stopped off to take a photo of a rather odd monument that I could not find anything about in the guide book but Helena told me that it was meant to represent man through Communism – or something like that.  From there we walked up the rest of Petrin Hill and round to the castle.  We went past this tower thing which is 62m high and meant to look like the Eiffel Tower – I didnt think that it did really.  It was built in 1891 and you can climb it to get some excellent views of Prague apparently but I have to say that neither of us quite fancied it.  We walked by the Hunger wall which was apparently built in 1362 under Charles IV and is called that  because it was built by the poor of the city in the return for food.  We walked past the Church of Lawrence and a little place next door to it which had a lovely facade that I took a photo of it.  As we walked around closer to the castle the views became more and more spectacular oer Prague.  Witht the snow topped roof tops it really was quite spectacular.  We headed to the entrance of the castle.  We had missed the Changing of the Guards but I really was not too bothered about that.  The Guinness World Records has it down as the largest ancient castle in the world.  About 570m long and on average 128m wide and it covers a total area that is larger than 7 football fields.  THe history of it starts from the 19th century and is the seat of the Czech rulers and also the official residence but the current president – Havel – chose to live in hos own house which is on the edge of the city.  We decided to ge the full ticket and to see everything possible in the castle that our ticket took us to. We started with St. Vitus Cathedral. I tried taking photos of the impressive triple doorway but trying to fit it into shot was a nightmare. I then read in the guide book that it dates from 1948 – 53 and was one of the last parts of the church to be completed. It was spectacular inside.  I got an extra ticket so that I could take photos – you were not meant to use the flash though and I have no idea how to turn mine off without reading the instructions (which were at home of course).  I got told off once in the church.

The most amazing thing that I saw int he churcxh was the chapel of St. Wenceslas.  The walls were covered with guilded panels with polished slabs of semi precious stones and there are early 16th century wall paintings which show scenes from the life of the saint and much older frescoes show the life of christ.  From here we then went to look at the Old Royal Palace which I remember being very disappointed with before.  There was not much there apart from a large hall called the Vladsir Hall which had a late Gothic vaulted roof in it.  We went to look at the other rooms but there was not really that much there.  I got told off (again) for taking photos with the flash in the New Land Rolls rom where there were loads of coats of arms painted onto the walls. 

We went on to look at the Basilica of St. George which is aRomanesque church from about the 10th century with some frescoes from the 12th century on the walls too.  We walked down Golden Lane which is a picturesque cobbled alley which runs along the Northern Wall of the castle.  It has lots of tiny colourful cottages along it which were built in the 16th century for the sharp shooters of the castle guard but apparently later used by goldsmiths. In the 18th and 19th centuries they were occupied by squatters and then by artists including Franz Faka who is reported to have stayed at his sisters house (No 22) from 1916-17.  Now it is full of craft and souvenier shops. We went and had a coffee in a little cafe as poor Helena was frozen solid like I was earlier in the week. We went back to Joe’s cafe and had some food.  We were going to have a hot chocolate in a place called Cafe Louvre which is meant to be amazing – it is apparently almost just like melted chocolate – yummie!  Veronica, Helena’s friend that teaches Czech in her schiool was not feeling too good and said that she did not think that she would make it and so we abandoned that idea as Hels was feeling incerdibly cold na so we headed home via Andel to go to the shopping centre.  We went to H & M and I got a rather nice black shirt – not too bad on the tummie and a t-shirt.  We then hit Carrefour so that Helena could get some food and bits. I am so glad that it is not jsut me that gets so stressed when doing food shopping.  It was quite excrutiating experience but seeing that I am on holiday I only found the whole experience highly amusing. I wrote my diary when I got home and Helena inspected the clothes that she had got at H & M and realised that one of the security tags had not been taken off one of the tops that she had got.  She spent quite a while trying to get it off which I have to say was hilarious to watch.  I did try to help but I was not really that much use! I do have quite a funny photo of her trying to get it off.  We had wondered why every security system beeped when we went in and out of every shop.  I checked my elails on Yahoo as I cant remember how to find out my BlueYonder one when not at home – I should find out for future reference really.  I looked on the Bath site and saw that Becca’s Pete has just signed a contract with Bath Rugby! How exciting! I texted her to check, and yes it is true.  They are moving back at around the same time as the wedding – how manic!  Becca is looking at getting a job with the NFU at the moment in Marlborough of all places.  I offered my help in any way.  I texted Rachel to let her know as I had already mentioned the possibility of his move earlier in the year.  I told Mum and Dad too.  I was tempted to text Pam  but I cant remember how much I have told her about the wedding and so I will wait until I see her to tell her.  I must be one up majorly on Steve Silk but there was some message about him knowing one of the players via Pam but she couldnt remember who it was or what he said – all important infomation! Now a major surge on the trips to the gym so that I dont look like a heffa compared to rugby wives and girl friends.  God listen to me – how sad am I!

Helena made bangers and mash for supper which was lovely and then we watched Hope Springs on DVD – it has Colin FIrth in it and Heather Graham and Minnie Driver. After watching that we went to bed – quite shattered to put it mildly.

Prague: 17th February 2005

Got up and had breakfast in the pension and then donned all of the kit ready for one final trip round the town before finding a bus to get back to Prague. We tried going up to have a llok at the castle but it was very definitly closed. We headed to the bus stop where we arrived to make sure that we didn not miss our bus we got there earlier to ensure that we made it! It was very cold waiting in the snow but it finally arrived and it turned out to be cheaper than our journey there. Once we were on board we worked out why – there was no heating! It was bloody freezing!! At the first stop several people got on and although there were only 3 or so of us on the bus one lady decided that she was going to sit in her reserved seat whihc was where we were sitting! She had the whole bus to choose from – mad! Further along another woman got on and again she pretty much had the entire bus to choose from yet chose to sit right next to Helena! I was soo cold so I decided to try and read my book, very much hoping that I ould not feel sick from doing so. Luckily not.

We arrived back in Prague and had quite a trip on the Metro to get back to the area where Helena lives. We both ran to the loo and warmed up. I spent most of the rest of the day writing up my diary whilst Helena did some homework for her Czech lessons. She cooked us supper of pasta which was yummie. It is still snowy and incredibly cold in Prague which is most annoying, I was hoping that it might have thawed out and warmed up a bit. Wishful thinking Em! After supper we watched a DVD – Sweet Home Alabama. I couldn’t remember if I had seen it before or not. After watching it all of the way through I realised that I had actually! I read up on the castle and how to get to the airport for Sunday before starting the second book that I had brought with me – The First Ladies Detective Agency. I had managed to finish the King of Torts on the bus and back at the flat earlier. I had already started that though. I read the first chapter anyway and then went to sleep.

Prague: 16th February 2005

Had an incredibly early start for a holiday as we had a bus to catch at 8.30 this morning. It was thick snow when we woke up and still snowing! Thankfully the bus station that we were leaving from was just over the road from Helena and so we ambled over and waited. It as so cols and I had so many layers on that frankly I felt like they were doing no good at all. I had borrowed some ski gloves off Helena though which were working far better than my gloves. After a while some random little man came over and said something in Czech to the queue that had now formed to get on the so far non-existent bus. He had said that it was running 20 mins late apparently. We were glad when it finally turned up as I have to say I seriously thought that I was going to turn into a block of ice. The bus was heated thank heavens which meant that we could de-robe for a while. There were some ‘lovely’ air freshener things of nude ladies all the way down the bus – nice!!

It probably took longer than expected to get out of Prague because of the snow but after about 3 hours we made it to Cesky Krumlov where we were staying for the night and to explore the sights. It was described as a fairy tale sleepy town. Well, with thick snow it made it look magical I have to say. We tried to go to the tourist information centre but it was closed as was the main attraction of the castle. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. We made our way to our Pension called Pension Anna and were asked for our passports, which of course neither of us had with us! We were given the key to our room which was very spacious and all decked out in a lovely brown colour.

We then went out to have a look around at what was actually open. We went to see this lovely wax museum which was really badly labelled i.e. not at all but we were given a sheet – no that’s not actually true we picked one up- with a description of what everyone does/is but it did not say who was who clearly enough. At the end of the exhibit there were some totally random figures too, it was all most bizarre! We looked around the little streets after having some lunch and a delicious cappuccino. We looked in several little shops all selling handmade ornaments or blown glass. All looked bemused to see tourists and did not go out of their way to serve us! Helena got very worried about the colony of bears that I had told her about that apparently lived in the castle grounds. We went and had a beer in a little cafe where I wrote a couple of postcards and we took the opportunity to warm up for want of something more interesting to do! We then headed back to where we were staying before we headed out for some supper.

We went to a Czech restaurant which was pretty empty apart from an American couple who were all over one another. I had some Czech goulash which was incredibly fatty to put it mildly. Mum and Dad were taking Hugo and some friends out in Bristol this evening to celebrate his birthday as they will be leaving for Egypt on Sunday – what a jet setting family we are!! I joked to Dad that I had had lots of beers but I don’t think that he got the message. I was talking about running machines over supper with Hels and telling her why I don’t run on them only walk briskly and the waiter was just behind me when I was telling her, in what I thought was a quiet voice – apparently not! He gave me a funny look for the rest of our meal! I had to text Rachel as the place was called Don Julius. We went back to the pension after supper for some sleep. We spotted that one of the streets that we walked down was called Horni which had us in stitches! It was nice to be able to sleep in a proper bed rather than the futon even if it was as hard as rock!!

Prague: 15th February 2005

Another lovely lazy start this morning.  It was quite cold last night and so I am glad that I took my hottie with me.  We headed off to Helena’s school where we met another teacher called Veronica who is the Czech language teacher at Riverside. Helena has only 12 children in her class, 6 of whom are on IEP’s almost the same ratio as me but of course there are far fewer children in her class! (the other Year 4 class has only 13 so together that is still 7 children less than min!) They follow the National Curriculum and focus mainly on QCA documents. Resources are limited so she brought lots with her but topic resources are pretty much all there. I just sat looking around and thinking – I could SO be doing this. So much so that I went on the internet at her school to look at the TES website for overseas jobs saying to myself that if there was one in Bucharest that I would apply there and then. Luckily/unluckily there was not.  I think at the moment that is the only place I can actually see myself teaching at.  The problem that holds me back is of course the house as easy as it would be to rent it I am not keen on the idea at the moment.

Helena seems incredibly happy – and is – she has an instant bond with many people that she has made friends with through the church.  Her school is a Christian school, she has Bible Study group with many of the staff which of course I would not have and certainly have no interest in getting in to. After going to her school on the tram and bus to what felt like the end of Prague we then came back in to town. We had gotten a sarnie on the way to school between swapping modes of transport not quite what Helena had tried to order which was quite hilarious but yummie none the less. On the way back in to town we stopped off in a shop called Robertsons which was not too far from school.  It stocks typically British Foods and you can make suggestions about what else you would like to see there.  It is run by a parent from Helena’s school and she got a couple of things in there before we headed off to find the John Lennon wall. I had quite a lot about it – mainly from Peter when we missed seeing it back in 1998.  It is opposite the French Embassy on Kampa Island just by Charles Bridge.  It became famous as a political focus for Prague’s youth during communism.  Pop music from the west was banned by the communists.  Some Czech musicians were even banned for playing it. After Lennon’s murder in 1980 many Czechs saw him as a pacifist hero, his image was painted on this wall along with many of the Beatles lyrics and political graffiti.  The Secret Police never managed to keep it clean for long in 1998, it was whitewashed (I am assuming that this was after Pete and the likes saw it) but it was soon covered again with graffiti.  It was apparently allowed to remain after the Velvet Revolution in ’89 by the French Ambassador – I suppose that it is a symbol of the time more than anything else. It was fascinating reading the history behind it and I bet that many tourists walk past it without giving it a second glance.

We then had a quick look to see if we could find a restaurant called Kampa Park which is where Helena’s elder brother wants to take her if he comes to visit. Apparently there is a scene from Mission Impossible that it is in or something.  I don’t remember films that well!  Lots of celebrities visit there so my guide book said (I found it after we were looking for it!) I was SO cold at this stage that I honestly thought I had frost bite in my fingers – a feeling I last had when I was in Lapland with the Gregory’s Husky Mushing. We went and had a coffee in a bid to try and warm up somewhere just up from Charles Bridge.  From here we then headed to the Museum of Communism. I am glad that we had the guide book to describe the location as I am not sure if we would have found it otherwise! It was on a street near the bottom of Wenceslas Square in part of an 18th century aristocrat’s palace between a casino and McDonalds.  It was put together by an American expat and his Czech partner – so my guide book tells me – which explains the heavy mention of America throughout the museum. It really was fascinating I have to say learning more about the Ceausescu era in Romania.  I hadn’t really put the fall of the Berlin Wall in place as being around the same time at all and of course the Velvet Revolution here in Prague which was the days after the 17th of November 1989 demonstration (so called because of their totally non-violent character) was all at the time too.  It is extraordinary to think just how much of Europe was ruled by communism for such a great length of time and until what is actually not that long ago. After coming out of the museum we went into a shop called the New Yorker which Helena clearly goes into quite a bit! I got a lovely pink coloured hoody, Mum will go spare at the very thought of me buying ‘yet another’ but a pink one is nice addition to the wardrobe!

We walked up to Wenceslas Square – stupid name really as frankly it is closer to a rectangle than a square! Many protests and gatherings linked to invasion of the Czech Republic and communism happened here mainly led by students throughout the ages. The name Wenceslas is that of the Christmas carol but the absurd thing was that the Wenceslas that they refer to from the 10th century was only the Duke of Bohemia and was never actually a King! From here we headed back to Andel where we were going to have supper before the short walk home. Helena chose the restaurant and I paid to thank her for having me. It was delicious I have to say. I had a steak in a Gorgonzola sauce and we shared a bottle of white wine before heading back to the flat via the supermarket so that I could get some cigarettes. We packed when we got in ready for our early start in the morning.

 

Prague: 14th February 2005

Had a lovely lie in this morning and opened my Valentine’s cards from Mum and Dad – Mum sweetly trying to disguise her writing – it never works! After a shower and sorting a few bits and pieces out in the flat we headed off to Ikea for a few things that Helena wanted to get for the flat. I was very tempted by a lot of things but all that I ended up in buying were some cards that I suppose people put in the Ikea frames that they buy from Ikea of signposts, airmail stickers, bus tickets etc from all over the world – all subjects on different cards of course.

We had lunch in the restaurant – meatballs – I have to say it was delicious. I have a feeling that the Bristol one is open until 10pm and so I am thinking that I might go one day/ evening next week. When we came back from Ikea Hels put up all of her furniture and I left her to it. In the evening we had a yummie pizza and a bottle of wine in front of Harry Potter 3.

Prague: 13th February 2005

After an incredibly early start at 0420 to have a shower etc before heading off to the airport, I made it to Bristol International Airport.  Had a mini problem after I had parked the car at reception to find out that when I came back that I had failed to leave the handbrake on and the people who were parked in front of me were gently pushing my car back.  How embarrassed was I!!

Checked in all ok and waited for my flight to be called. I gave Hannah her early wakeup call as promised as she is off to Belgium to go and stay with her parents.  I got her answer machine though. She called me back to let me know that she was in the bathroom.  I then called Mum and Dad to let them know that I had made it to the airport ok.  Being a lone traveller it was quite easy finding a seat on the plane. I sat in an emergency exit at the front of the plane. I was slightly alarming when the captain welcomed us all aboard the flight to Amsterdam though!! The stewardess did correct the captain though and we all had a good giggle. The stewardess told me that they only had a 7 min turn around at Prague before they headed back to Bristol and that their next destination was Amsterdam.

I texted Hels once I got off the plane but ended up waiting ages at baggage reclaim. My bag was one of the last ones to come off- typical! We got a taxi back to where Helena lives at Na Valentince 11/643, c5 150 000 Praha 5, Smichov, Czech Republic. The taxi driver drove like a major bat out of hell. On a par with some of the freaky Romanian drivers. She has a lovely modern flat which is decked out from Ikea. I settled in and gave her all of the bits and pieces that I had brought over for her of which she was very appreciative.

We decided to make a move out to have some lunch. We headed on the tram though initially we were going to walk but it started to snow so that idea went out of the window! Helena reminded me that although the Czech Republic became member of the EU in May the Euro was by no means being used everywhere over here, so my panic of getting Euros before I left was all in vain – they still use Korunas here.  So I had to change Euros – now have absolutely no idea of the value of the money that I am using!

We headed to the old town square to view the sights that I remember so well from our trip back in 1998. We went to try and find the restaurant that we ate at back then that Helena and I then sneaked back to after a shopping trip together back then. We managed to find it – it was most bizarre.  It had not changed a bit. Sadly we could not sit at the table that we sat at all those years ago but we still had a meal there.  It was called Giovanni’s and it was an Italian.  We went for a wander through some back streets around the Old Town Square and then stood to watch the clock chime at 4pm and watch the figures come out and so on that the clock is so famous for. We walked to have a look at the façade of St. Nicholas Church and then another wander but going nowhere really. We walked past a bar that I could hear the rugby (England v France) being played in – Mum was sweetly texting me the ‘live’ score.

We headed back on the Metro to Andel which is the stop that is closest to Helena to go to the shopping centre there to have a look at what films were on and the time etc. We then had a coffee and came back to the flat for a bit of a rest and a sarnie before going out again to the cinema. I did feel quite sick and almost quite emotional in our rest back at the flat. Quite homesick too – how daft! – I am 26 for heaven’s sake. I think that with all that has been happening over wanting to leave school and Fiona’s death on New Year’s Eve it all started to catch up with me as I relaxed.  We went to see Closer in the cinema (Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Clive Owen & Natalie Portman) a very clever film but really not that much to it. It was definitely not a film that would have been suitable for Helena to see with her Christian friends to put it mildly!! We came home and went straight to bed. I am on a futon in the kitchen area. I was shattered but then it was a pretty long day for me! (Bed at 10.30pmish) Lovely to be away but pangs of homesickness in the pit of mu stomach – hopefully they will go by morning.

 

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