A city escape in Frankfurt am Main

It was mid-way through the year, and we decided we should explore a little more of our own country after so many international adventures. It took 2.5 hours to drive North East to Frankfurt am Main – otherwise known as Mainhattan._MG_5780

Frankfurt is the only city in central Europe with a “Skyline”, and has been likened to New York. It is the business hub of the area and is where you can find the Stock Exchange and the European Central Bank. As we drove into the city we were struck by the Skyline, a magnificent collection of shining Skyscrapers, the likes of which we hadn’t seen since New York and before that, at home in Auckland._MG_5781 _MG_5785

It was a wonderfully familiar feeling to be in the city again, and we spent the first hour basking in what some would consider the boring, ugly business district. We found an espresso bar which produced a great flat white, checked out the trendy pop up cafes, vegan eateries and tapas bars and shopped on the main street. Here we also went into the MyZeil mall, a crazy silver construction famous for it’s cornucopia design._MG_5789

Frankfurt is more than its business district however, and we continued to explore. Berger Strasse is an artsy street with stores selling handcrafted wares and is lined with eateries. We headed for a Japanese restaurant and spent a leisurely hour eating our fill from a Sushi train.

The Markthalle, or indoor markets were an exciting place filled with fresh cheeses, meats, fruits and vegetables, dried fruits and nuts and local specialities. Here we sampled the famous Frankfurter Ebbelwoi – or Apple Wine. The tangy fermented apple drink is an acquired taste but mixed with sparkling water we didn’t find it too bad.

_MG_5792There is a green belt which runs right around the city; gardens and green spaces all connected with bike and pedestrian paths running through them, so that one can walk or cycle right around the city without encountering vehicle traffic. It was lovely to wander through part of these on our way back to our hotel.

On the programme for the evening was dinner at a Steak House – another city indulgence we had been missing. The next day we enjoyed a full english/american buffet breakfast, (its the small things) and headed just a few paces down the road to the Science Centre. As far as science centres go, it was small but interesting and we whiled away a couple of hours getting involved in the experiments.

Later on we crossed over the famous Eisener Steig (iron bridge) leading to Sachsenhausen. Sachsenhausen is somewhat more grungy, and is where Frankfurt’s nightlife can be found. Students are seen walking over the bridge on Friday and Saturday evenings, and often trudging back in the early hours of the next morning.

Along with the clubs are old traditional Ebbelwoi pubs and the area was fairly busy even on a Sunday afternoon.

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The Old Town of Frankfurt seems almost out of place with its timber buildings, but it wouldn’t be a German city without them. The Roemerberg is a huge Gothic Church and this square was bustling with tourists.

As in any big city _MG_5831there is a vibrant side and a seedy side. The latter we found in some back streets near the train station – sadly there were blatant drug use and some desperate looking people hanging out here. On a more positive note, sitting on the banks of the Main river, we watched residents running along the path or enjoying a drink on one of the bar boats._MG_5809

Frankfurt is a real mix of old and new, business and art, hipster and historic. Reluctantly we collected our bags that afternoon and headed back down to our little hometown. Admittedly we love our small town and wouldn’t trade it in, but being so used to Auckland, Sydney and even London, every so often a big city break is just what we need.

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February Freeze

February for us is usually a blissful month of long days, hot sun, after work swims at the beach, weekends spent sipping iced beverages and paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing, swimming, sunbathing or various other activities involving the outdoors and the water.

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Watching the snow fall

This year, were introduced to snow shoveling, below freezing temperatures, darkness falling before 5:30pm and Netflix. Lots of Netflix.

We haven’t been completely deterred from being outside however, IMG_4409and feel very fortunate to be living in an area where we are within a couple hours drive of multiple ski fields. Making the most of winter, we’ve enjoyed taking up skiing as a new sport and have spent February working our way up to the real slopes. At the beginning of the month, we took a bus from nearby Reutlingen to a small ski field in the Schwaebisch Albs just 24km away. Having only skiied about twice before (the last time being a traumatic experience on far-from-beginner-slopes in Austria 4 years ago), this small field was the perfect re-introduction. We may have been some of the oldest people there, but at least we weren’t the only ones struggling to master the T-bar lift! The gentle slope allowed me to get the feel of skiing, although it was highly embarrassing when I thought I was doing quite well only to hear “beep beep”… I turned around and found a 3 year old trying to get past me. He proceeded to zoom off into the distance… no parents, no poles, no fear!

The next weekend we stepped it up a level and took a bus to the Feldberg ski area in the Black Forest. IMG_4415Although it is only about 1.5 hours by car, I was very impressed with the ease at which we managed the journey with public transport. The bus took us directly to Titisee, from where we got the ski bus up to the Grafenmatt ski field. IMG_4408 It is still a real novelty for us to ski amongst pine trees, since the only ski field we’ve ever known is on the bare face of a volcano. After an hour of practice, we decided we should each have a private lesson, in order to improve our skills since we knew that at the end of the month we would be braving the slopes in Austria again. James’ lesson proceeded as follows:

Ski down blue run. Too easy. Ski down red run. Too easy. Instructor: I don’t actually think I can teach you anything. Hmm. Ski down black world cup run! Lesson over.

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I’m the one in pink pants

Mine was a little more constructive. My instructor immediately realised that my biggest problem is confidence, so we did some exercises involving skiing without poles, and switching them from hand to hand. I managed to comfortably ski down a short red run a few times. After lunch unfortunately the snow had become icy in some parts and very uneven with hills and holes in others which increased the technical difficulty. We decided to try out a new red run, however I learnt that not all red runs are the same level! This was bumpy, icy and steep and many people were struggling to ski down with control. I managed the first 2/3rds but ended up taking off my skis and walking down the last part. We learned afterwards that it was exactly the same terrain and gradient as the neighbouring black run, and only classified as red because it was wide. I didn’t feel quite so bad after hearing that!

Due to the worsening weather and snow conditions we headed back to Titisee a little early. This town is beautiful in summer and almost more so in winter. It was like a scene from a postcard, IMG_4420with shoulder deep snow drifts piled up on the side of the road, trees glistening with white and perfectly formed icicles hanging from the roofs. Since we had some extra time, we embarked on our first European sauna experience. Read: no clothes allowed. It was definitely a strange feeling for the first 5 minutes to be so exposed, but since the other patrons were also naked and nobody was paying attention to anyone else it felt normal in no time. The heat of the saunas and the spa was just perfect after our freezing hours on the ski field.

Our month finished off with the penultimate ski trip to Austria. This was a trip organised by the local sports shop, and it’s hard to believe how easy it all was! We paid 50 euros in advance for the bus and the lift pass, and left Tubingen at 5:30am, drove across the border and arrived directly at the ski field at 9am.

Heading up in the gondola, ready to hit the snow!

Heading up in the gondola, ready to hit the snow!

We had already received our lift passes on the bus and having hired our gear in Tubingen, all we had to do was put on our ski boots and get on the Gondola. The bus departed exactly on time in the afternoon, had beers and water waiting on board and we were home by 7pm. Just taking a day trip to another country is still mind boggling for us.

The Montafon Golm ski field is great for intermediate skiiers, with its wide open pistes, good range of runs and it was not crowded at all. A group of 6 of us were on the trip together, and we had the best day out. It snowed lightly all morning, and was overcast in the afternoon but the snow condition was great and it was a very mild temperature. Within the first 5 minutes James attempted a stop at high speed and managed to bowl our friend Alex over, and I didn’t have the skill to turn quickly to get out of the way of another skiier so careened straight down the slope, promptly tumbling over of course. With our first falls out of the way, we took the chair lift to the highest point and it was straight onto a red run. The previous two ski excursions had served me well, as my confidence and skill were at a level where I could at least do most of the runs the others did, albeit a lot slower! The others sped ahead, I took my time, the boys ventured slightly off piste (complete with tree-collisions and faceplants) and we all met up to ride the lift to the top together. At the top of the lift we would use the map to plot our way down and we must have done at least 10 or 12 runs during the day. It was fun to be able to pick and choose routes, James enjoyed having another guy to zoom around with and with my confidence slowly on the rise I certainly challenged myself.IMG_4393

After nearly 3 hours of skiing we took a lunch break, after which we were all somewhat tired, and the snow was becoming bumpy so the afternoon session was at a somewhat more sedate pace. With the snow being so uneven I was inadvertently forced to do a few jumps, and I have to admit I eyed up the ski jump with keen interest… maybe next time!

A neat feature of Montafon Golm is that from the top of the lift to the carpark, you can ski for 9.2km nonstop. We had planned this as our last run of the day, but unfortunately my shaking muscles and weary body meant I only made it the first 7. Still, it was overall a successful, laughter filled day out with friends and we ticked off another country for February.

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The weather is becoming more mild, flowers are starting to bud and Spring is on its way. The ski fields are likely to be open for another couple of months however, and since James in particular has the skiing bug I don’t think we’ve seen the last of snow this season!

Christmas in Germany

We’ve been into the everyday grind of the New Year for nearly a month now, so a flash back to Christmas magic is most welcome! This year we were in Germany for the entire Christmas season, which is a very special time of year.

In South Germany in particular, Advent (the month before Christmas) is widely celebrated. This time of peace and platzchenjoy is marked by a flurry of activity, whereby young and old alike partake in many traditions. One of these is Christmas baking – there are entire cookbooks dedicated to “Platzchen” which are small christmas cookies, usually with almond, cinnamon and similar spiced flavours. People set aside entire days to bake five + different types of these early in advent, and then take them to friends and family, work, school etc.

We are all familiar with advent calendars – the cardboard frames with a piece of chocolate behind each day’s little door. Here, it’s a bit more involved downloadthan that! Advent calendars are more often than not handmade, for children the presents are often in knitted socks, sewn bags, clay figures or houses… and although little, the gifts are usually more varied and personal than chocolate. Many adults make advent calendars for each other too; James and I attempted to join in this year although we were a little underprepared. We might not have had our gifts wrapped and ready before the start of advent, but we still had fun presenting each other with chocolate, fancy teas, books etc each morning. Each of the four Advent Sundays are also marked, by lighting another candle in the wreath households have set up on the table.

The 6th December is when St. Nikolaus comes, and children receive presents in shoes that they leave outside the door – another version of Santa putting presents in stockings.

Something which has become synonymous with Germany and Christmas, are of course the Christmas Markets! No xmas 1 IMG_4001matter how grey and cold it is outside, how stressed people are with work or holiday organisation, a Christmas Market will transport anyone to another realm for a couple of hours. Market Squares are sectioned off and dressed up with glittering lights, green boughs and colourful decorations. They are filled with stalls, each made from wood and shaped like a little hut, with elaborately decorated roofs depicting Christmas scenes. The smell of mulled wine, grilled bratwurst and spiced IMG_4174cookies hits upon entrance, and the magic begins! Stalls sell anything from handcrafts to commercial items, but most people attend the markets for the food and drink…. specifically the Gluhwein (mulled wine)! There is nothing like sipping on a hot, spiced sweet wine whilst watching your breath escape into the frigid air, listening to the hum of people and the background Christmas music and spending time with friends.

Each Christmas market tends to have its own flair, and we visited a few! In Stuttgart, there is a section for the Finnish market where stalls are decorated in a more rustic style and smoked fish is for sale. Ludwigsburg is distinctly baroque, and Esslingen has a famous Medieval market every year. This is one of our favourites, as actors wander the place dressed in traditional costumes, jugglers and minstrels perform regularly, there is an “arcade” section where hay lines the ground, furs hang on the walls and guests can have a go at shooting bows and arrows, throwing knives and bowling with handmade balls for prizes. My favourite game is mouse-roulette, where players choose a numbered house, a mouse is let loose on the game board and the winner is whoever chose the number house into which the mouse chooses to run. Stalls sell leather goods, 13th century dresses, games, hand carved wooden bowls and knives and lots more.

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A week before the Christmas season starts, Tubingen holds its famed Chocolart festival. Similar to the Christmas markets, the theme here is… you guessed it, CHOCOLATE. Along with mulled wine, they sell hot chocolate with rum, liquid chocolate to eat with a spoon, chocolate liqueur shots served in chocolate shot glasses…. Every single stall sells chocolate of some description, from elaborate moulded designs to 99% dark chocolate from Equador. There are artworks from chocolate paint, live demonstrations of chocolate making and various cake stalls. Almost every stall provides samples!schoki 2 schoki 1

At the end of Advent, comes the actual Christmas period. In Germany these days are distinguished by “Holy Evening” (Christmas Eve), “The First Christmas Day” (Christmas Day) and “The Second Christmas Day” (Boxing Day). On Christmas Eve, the day begins as any other but in the evening the fun begins. Traditionally the Christmas Tree is decorated during the day, hidden behind doors and unveiled in the evening. Many people visit relatives and friends specifically to admire their trees and share a drink. This is the time when gifts are exchanged, and a simple meal shared. We spent Christmas Eve at my aunt’s with my grandparents, where we had a traditional meal of frankfurters, potato salad and stuffed dates. The tree was gorgeous as usual, and something special for us was that it had real candles (no fire hazard here!). Later we went to a carols service at the church, which was so full people had to stand.IMG_4002

Christmas day brought the feasting as we know it, and we travelled to my Uncle’s brother’s to spend the afternoon. With more than 10 people we had a delightful afternoon and evening, drinking champagne, watching old shadow puppet movies on a projector, eating gulasch and chocolate pudding and singing christmas carols around the tree late into the night. The next day was another celebration, at my cousin’s house. With 10 adults and 6 children, it was the best kind of chaos! Another tradition on either the last christmas day or new years, is to eat Raclette. This is a Swiss meal where chopped meat, veges, potato and bread are laid out on the table. Each person has their own little pan in which they grill a special kind of cheese on the grill which sits in the middle of the table. The cheese is scraped over whatever bits they have chosen – this works especially well for potatoes, or bits of ham, onion etc are added to the cheese while it is grilled. Eat, grill, repeat!IMG_4032

As we were leaving my grandparents’ to head back home, the snow began to fall. Within hours, our town was buried beneath a deep layer of pure white. The lake was dusted as though with icing sugar, the trees were white skeletons and the ground crunched underfoot. It was still, peaceful and although a day late, finally a white Christmas!

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A few days later we flew to London to bring in 2015 with friends at a New Years Ball! We delighted in the familiarity of people, language and food for a few days, not least barista coffee (namely, Flat Whites!). Upon arriving back in Germany 2015 began properly. This year, we aim to visit a different country every month. January saw us visiting the U.K; the closest thing to going home for a weekend without the 24 hour plane trip. We’re on the lookout for a good February destination, so watch this space!

Introducing Tübingen

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All has been quiet on the blog front lately…but not the Brosnahan front! On an unassuming Tuesday in October, I travelled about an hour South for a job interview at the Institute for Tropical Medicine (part of the University) in Tübingen. Three days later_MG_3167 I started my new job!

The past month has been an exciting and exhausting whirlwind of learning a new job, contracts, registering in town, finding an apartment, moving from Ludwigsburg, arranging compulsory health insurance, setting up power and internet accounts and in general just settling in. After a couple of quiet weekends we finally feel as though we’ve surfaced, and have the energy to tell you a bit about our new home town.

Tübingen has a long and proud history of being a University town. The Karl Erberhards University of _MG_3197Tübingen was founded in 1477, although Tübingen itself has been around since 1078. Yes that’s right, they had an established educational institute before anyone even knew New Zealand existed. Tübingen has been referred to as “Athens on the Neckar”; a reference to the cultural identity brought to the town by its educated inhabitants, reputation for critical thinking and creative flair, and no doubt the beauty of its architecture.

 

 

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Our house! (We live in the roof)

The University really is the hub of the town, with multiple campuses and associated hospital clinics spread throughout, and students providing a vibrant,

_MG_3136bustling atmosphere. The town charms its visitors the minute they arrive with its picturesque bridge over the Neckar, on which Stockerkahn boats cruise in the summer, watched by students eating their lunch on the old stone walls built upon its embankments and of course the coloured houses in the background completing a scene worthy of an oil painting.

Although the population of Tübingen is small (about 90,000), its heart is anything but. On any given day cyclists will be whizzing around on dedicated cycle paths, buses will be rumbling down narrow streets and families will be strolling through the pedestrian only centre of town. Numerous sidewalk cafes are enjoyed by young and old alike, and there are plenty of vegan, artsy and kitschy locales to satisfy the student population. At lunchtime the most popular place to enjoy a meal or an icecream is the steps of the church in the wide open Marktplatz – the perfect position from where to watch the world go by. On weekends, the parks and nature areas are always being enjoyed by couples and families out for a stroll.

 

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Blissfully unaware they’re about to become dinner..

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Enjoying autumn leaves

We have got into the spirit of things,using our bikes just like the locals do, to get everywhere. We’re now used to not wearing helmets, and I can zip from home to work in high heels in under 10 minutes! We load up our carriers with groceries once a week and ride our bikes to the gym, out to dinner, to bars and just because.

This pedestrian/cyclist tunnel has awesome acoustics, and it's lovely to walk through listening to whichever busker has this spot for the day.

This pedestrian/cyclist tunnel has awesome acoustics, and it’s lovely to walk through listening to whichever busker has this spot for the day.

Aside from bikes, the river and the university, Tübingen has a beautiful old town and a castle. In the old town are cobblestoned streets and buildings dating back to the 1400’s. Poised atop a hill is the old castle, which is now a museum and in the grounds of which the local archery club still practices. Surrounding the town itself are forest areas, through which paths and trails connect the neighbouring villages. We’ve enjoyed a walk in the woods to Schwarzlocher hof, an old restaurant in the country which raises its own geese for its traditional dishes, and I’ve run through part of the woods just behind our suburb. There is even a large nature park with hiking and biking trails within 10 minutes drive which we’ve yet to explore.

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Tübingen has most things on offer – plenty of cafes and traditional restaurants, some clothes shops, a disproportionate number of shoe shops, the major grocery store chains, a big electronics store and loads of little boutiques with specialty goods. If we need a more broad ranging shopping experience we can travel 19 minutes by train to nearby Reutlingen, or for the city experience it takes 45 minutes to get to Stuttgart. This is also where our nearest airport is, so we’re looking forward to snapping up some cheap flights to exotic destinations next year!

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For now, our lives have settled into a routine of work for me, commuting to Stuttgart for daily language classes for James, searching for new eateries, hairdressers, entertainment and generally navigating life in Germany. The days are getting shorter, but the autumn has been beautiful; still and crisp air, clear skies and cool evenings. We’re looking forward to the first snowfall, the Christmas markets and the Chocolate Festival – the largest and most famous in Germany – which is held in Tübingen every December.

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The Black Forest (not just a cake)

IMG_3518Feeling a little cooped up, James and I decided to take a mini break last week, to the Schwarzwald (Black Forest).

Armed with our Baden Wurttemberg pass – a rail pass which allows us to use any of the regional (read: slow) trains in the state, we set off on Thursday evening and within three hours our train was pulling into Triberg station. Triberg, well known for the invention of the cuckoo clock, is a small town surrounded by forest, where Josef Keller first created the Black Forest Gateau, where some of the first tourist hiking trails were set up and home to the highest waterfalls in Germany. IMG_3517Our guest house provided not only breakfast, but a “Schwarzwald Card” which gave us free transport on all networks within the Black Forest as well as admission to a few top spots. This turned out to be fantastic value, as we used about 100 euros worth of trains in the area in two days.

 

On Friday morning we visited the Triberg falls, a series of waterfalls over 163m high. We could hear the chatter of the water as it cascaded playfully over rocks, into deep pools and through crevices, making its way down the hillside. The falls themselves are surrounded by a nature park with various marked trails. We hiked up the steep hill, able to cross the falls twice over purpose built foot bridges. After coming back down we could continue along a trail which brought us out at the edge of Triberg, and had a number of points of interest along the way back in such as ancient churches and of course, Cuckoo Clock shops!

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After browsing the shops we hopped aboard a train which travelled along the Schwarzwald Bahn route – a network of rail with about 35 tunnels and picturesque views of dense forest, towering pines, open meadows and small villages with wooden houses. Our destination was Titisee – a slightly bigger town on a beautiful lake. Nestled in the forest, with quaint shops selling traditional clothing and foods, cafes upon the water just made for whiling away the afternoon and boats for hire to enjoy the lake, Titisee is another gem where we felt miles away from the busy “real world” of central Europe. We took a walk around the edge of the lake, enjoying the view and the fresh air as well as our luck at not getting rained on!

Our afternoon was spent at an amazing pool complex on the outskirts of town. In this indoor complex we found a wave pool and 10 different water slides! The slides were amazing, and we spent hours running up the stairs and flinging ourselves down the various chutes on tubes. One was a speed slide, with a nearly vertical drop (James got up to 37km/h), another where we started off easy, dropped suddenly and were shot up the side of a massive halfpipe, swinging down the other side and out.
Many a time we got ourselves stuck going backwards through twisting chutes and we alternated between doubling and going it alone. When we’d had enough of the slides, we went through to the adjoining wellness area where we floated around in a quiet warm water pool, lay on massage jets and swam through to an outdoor area. The roof and walls here were glass, so I can just imagine how serene it would be when its snowing outside. With loungers, a pool bar, a cafe and an R16 entry criteria it was bliss. Another area had saunas, steam rooms and jacuzzis.. maybe we’ll have to come back in winter!

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We enjoyed a meal of schnitzel and locally caught trout on the water front before taking a train back to Triberg. Here it was too late to catch a bus – luckily a local woman informed us that at this time of night, you have to call the bus an hour ahead so that it will stop at the station. Otherwise we would have waited for its scheduled arrival in 45 minutes time! It wasn’t raining and only a 15 minute walk up the road to our hotel, so we weren’t too put out.

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The main street in Triberg

An old fashioned steam train in the Black Forest

An old fashioned steam train in the Black Forest

The next morning stiff and sore from hiking, sliding and swimming we gingerly crept into the breakfast room. Abandoning ideas for another days hiking, we instead boarded a train bound for Baden-Baden, near the edge of the Black Forest and on our way home. This spa town is a complete contrast to the rustic feel of the Southern forest, and used to be popular amongst wealthy Russians for its casinos and its healing waters. There are ruins of ancient Roman baths here and two modern baths still offer the traditional experience.

IMG_3544This includes salt scrubbing, saunas and rejuvenating mineral pools. The town itself is quite large, and has a very pretty pedestrian area with boutique and high end shops, fountains and many cafes. The tree lined streets and impressive houses exude affluence, as do the clientele of the famous casino.

We walked through the suburbs to reach the station of the Merkurberg Bahn in the hills – a cable car to the top of the local mount. This is also a base for a hiking trail network through the forest and hills in the area – a day of hiking followed by an evening of hot pool soaking sounds like a good excuse to come back! The steep ride up in the cable car was fun, and I’m always amazed by the feats of engineering and the original thought which lead to their invention with things like this. At the top we stepped out to a magnificent view of the valley, over which were soaring a multitude of paragliders. We sat and watched them launch themselves off the hill for a while, before meandering along the pathways and checking out the view from the other side.

The cable car brought us back down the hillside, and we trained back to Ludwigsburg where exhausted and satisfied we indulged in some takeaways from a new Asian fusion restaurant. A taste of home after months of meat and potatoes was a welcome change and we felt thoroughly refreshed after our little excursion.

 

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