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Bratislava

Caveat:  Many of the pictures in this post might look a little familiar if you read Confuzzledom, because Bev and Jan went to Bratislava the day after I did, and they took the same free walking tour that I did.  We saw a lot of the same things, and even had (delicious traditional) lunch in the same tourist-trap restaurant.  She was much faster about getting her Bratislava post up than I was, however.

The last time I was in Vienna, I took a day trip to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.  Bratislava is only about an hour away from Vienna by regular commuter train, and you can even take a boat along the Danube river to get there.

If your only exposure to Bratislava before now is based on the movie Eurotrip, then this is what you’ll expect the city to look like.  These are actual screen captures from the Bratislava section of a very funny movie that gets traveling through Europe dead wrong.

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Bratislava is far from the post-Communism wasteland depicted in the movie- it’s actually a really pleasant little town. Outside of the center it’s nothing too pretty, but the old part of the city is compact and lovely.

I felt like the center of the city bears marked similarities to Prague, which makes sense if you consider that prior to the Velvet Divorce in 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were one country.

Here’s a fountain in Hviezdoslav Square, a pretty little central area in the city.

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Hviezdoslav Square is named after Pavol Hviezdoslav, a Slovak poet.

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Slovak National Theatre.  Check.

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I meant to check out this place, but didn’t have the chance.  Not a wardrobe in sight!

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Bratislava is filled with amazing statues in random places.  This Man At Work, named Čumil, is very popular.  He is sometimes referred to as The Peeper, because he’s checkin’ out the ladies.

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Of course Man At Work is so low to the ground that he’s been run over a few times.  The sign helps his visibility a little bit.

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Several of the statues are actually owned by restaurants, like this one.  This is a statue of  Schöner Náci, a carpet cleaner who reportedly dressed in a black suit and top hat during the communist days of the city, offering gifts to pretty women.

There was also a well known statue called the Paparazzi statue in Bratislava- it peeked around a corner with a camera.  I asked my tour guide about it, but the Paparazzi statue was owned by a restaurant of the same name, and both restaurant and statue are now gone.

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The Roland Fountain (Rolandova fontána)  was commissioned by Hungarian King Maximilian in 1527, and was the first fountain in Bratislava.

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Here’s another one of Bratislava’s great statues.  It’s a deliberately unflattering image of a Napoleonic soldier, because Bratislavans have a long memory when it comes to Napoleon’s siege.

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See the black metal ball to the left of the window in this tower?  That’s a cannonball.  This is the old Town Hall tower, and the cannonball is meant to be a reminder of Napoleon’s impact, no pun intended, on the city of Bratislava.

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These Berlin Bears are all over Europe.  I’ve seen more in Berlin than anywhere else, of course, but they’ve made it to other cities.  This one has the coat of arms of Bratislava on the paw on the right (the one that looks like a little castle), and the coat of arms of Slovakia containing the double-barred cross on the left paw.

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This is the tower of Michael’s Gate, one of the four original main gates to the city.  The distinctive roof is made of copper.  I thought I had taken a picture where you can see both the tower and the gateway beneath it in one shot, but I guess I only got it in separate photos.

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This is the old city gate at the base of the tower from the previous photo.  Michael’s Gate was constructed in the 14th century.

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Next to the tower is the thinnest store in the city of Bratislava.  It’s been many things over the years, but right now, it’s a Döner Kebab stand.    I imagine you can fit almost two people in there at once, but they weren’t open when I walked by so I couldn’t tell you for sure.

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That long flat buiding on the hill in the left half of this photo is Bratislava Castle.  I didn’t get any closer than this.  The building on the right is just a picturesque church.

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This is the Church Of St. Elisabeth, also known as the Blue Church.  I can’t imagine why they call it that.

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This church is built in the Hungarian Art Nouveau style by Ödön Lechner, a Hungarian architect who was nicknamed the “Hungarian Gaudí“.

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Even the inside is mostly blue!

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It kind of looks like a wedding cake, don’t you think?

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Ödön Lechner also designed this building next to the Blue Church, in the same style.  This is the Gymnázium Grösslingová, and if I remember correctly, it’s being used as a school now.

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Also across the street from the Blue Church, on the other side, is this creepy abandoned Communist-era hospital.

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I can’t actually remember the deal with this statue, but I thought it was neat looking.

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After the tour, I stopped at a recommended local restaurant for a lunch of traditional Slovakian food. I can’t for the life of me remember what this dish is called, but it basically tasted like macaroni and cheese with bacon.  It was utterly delicious.

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I walked past this stately building on my way back to the train station to leave the city.  This is Grassalkovich Palace, the residence of the President of Slovakia.

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Have you ever been to Slovakia?

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Budapest, Part 2

I mentioned earlier that Budapest was much, much larger than I expected.  This is reflected in the amount of photographs I took over the span of a few days in the city.   On one of our mornings in the city, we went to the Central Market Hall, the largest and oldest covered market of the city.

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There’s something very much like this in Frankfurt, Germany-  lots of places to buy fresh meat, cheese, vegetables.  In short, a regular market hall.

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Fresh produce was everywhere.

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There were some fascinating vendors of Tokaji, or Hungarian wine. The blown-glass dragon decanter was particularly amazing.

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I also thought the trident-toting devil decanter was quite fetching.

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I get why you might want a Russian doll painted with Barack Obama, Gene Simmons, Freddie Mercury, or even Angela Merkel, but who on Earth would want a Bin Laden doll?  Unless you were fresh out of paper targets for the gun range, I mean.

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The Market Hall is a daytime visit.  In the evening, we tried to check out one of Budapest’s famous Ruin Pubs.  These are formerly abandoned buildings that have been converted into giant bar complexes.  We went to Szimpla, one of the most well known.

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The decor was interesting, part junkyard and part Maker Faire.

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There were multiple bars inside the building, set on two levels.  There were lots of places to sit and enjoy your drink.

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Movies were projected on some of the walls, and music was played in other areas.

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Some of the chairs were made from former cars.  The place has an incredibly interesting atmosphere.

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I know a bunch of people who would have loved Szimpla if only for the random bikes hanging everywhere.

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This giant plastic kangaroo near the front entrance was a big hit.  Lots of people stopped to take a quick ride.

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I mentioned in the previous post that Budapest has many fun statues.  Here’s Janene and Chris with the Fat Policeman.  Locals say that if you rub his belly, you’ll eat well.  We didn’t need the help though, because the food in Budapest was amazing.

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The Kiskiralylany Szobor (Little Princess Statue) is apparently very popular.  I think it’s her crown that draws people in.

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This girl with her playful dog are a recent addition, placed on the promenade by artist David Raffai in 2007.

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I’ve saved my favorite for last:  Peter Falk and a beagle.   This Columbo statue was placed to honor Falk because of his Hungarian ancestry.  There is conjecture that his great grandfather was Miksa Falk, a Hungarian writer and politician.

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This led to some great puns as we walked the length of the city to find this Falking statue.  It was right by Cafe Picard, where we stopped for a Falking delicious lunch.  Make it so!

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Have you ever been to a Ruin Pub?  How did you like it?

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Budapest, Part I

Chris and Janene, good friends from back in Florida, told me that they were going to be in Budapest, so I timed one of my own trips to spend a few days hanging with them.  They flew in from Florida, and I took the train into Keleti station on the same day.

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One of the first things I learned as I arrived in Budapest was that the city is much, much, much larger than I thought it would be.  The next thing I learned is that Budapest is actually made up of two cities- Buda and Pest.  The cities are separated by the Danube river, and were united into one larger city in 1873.

I spent much more time in Pest than I did in Buda.  Keleti Station, seen below, is on the Pest side.  So was my hotel, and many of the other things seen in this post.

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There are a large number of photographs in this post, in no particular order,  Starting with the Budapest Opera.

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This is one of the stations in the Millennium Underground Railway, or M1.  Built between 1894 and 1896, this is the oldest line in the Budapest Metro, and the second oldest underground metro in the world.  The oldest metro is in the London Underground.

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This is Heroes Square.  If you take a good tour, you’ll get a lot of very interesting explanations for each of the statues.

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We kept seeing Budapest information staffers-  they were always around to help tourists find their way.  Stylish wheels, too!

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This sign was very amusing.  We expect signs to point us to attractions and restrooms, but free Wi-Fi?  Amazing.

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Thermal baths are located in various places around the city.  This is the front entrance to Széchenyi Baths.

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This is the view inside Széchenyi BathsSzéchenyi is reportedly the largest spa in Europe, with multiple pools and saunas.

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This… was some delicious freshly made strudel from the First Strudel House of Pest, just down the street from St. Stephen’s Basilica.  One of them is apple, the other rhubarb.  So, so delicious.

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The streets around the Basilica are lined with places to eat.

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Here’s a far view of the Buda Castle Funicular, taken from the Chain Bridge.

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This is the Chain Bridge, locally named Széchenyi lánchíd.  The large building to the left is the Buda Castle, which has been converted to a museum.

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Here’s a close-up of the Funicular I showed earlier.

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This is the view from the top of the Funicular, looking back over the Chain Bridge into Pest.

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This is another area on the Buda side of the river, Fisherman’s Bastion and lookout terrace.

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The Fisherman’s Bastion provides amazing views of the Pest side of the river, including the Hungarian Parliament.

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This church at Fisherman’s Bastion is called the Matthias Church.  Several coronations occurred here.  It’s under reconstruction at the moment.

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Many religions are represented in Budapest.  On the Pest side of the river is the Dohány Street Synagogue, a Jewish synagogue built in the 1850s with 2,964 seats (1,492 for men and 1,472 for women.)

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The most well known of the churches in Budapest is St. Stephen’s Basilica, known locally as Szent István-bazilika.

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Yes, you can climb it.

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From the top, there’s a pretty fantastic view back toward Buda.

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I never did figure out which building this is, but it’s nifty looking.  I thought perhaps it was the Museum of Applied Arts, but they’re not quite the same patterns.

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This is the inside of St. Stephen’s Basilica.  We went there for an organ concert.

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Here’s the organist, Miklós Teleki.  He was pretty good.

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When we left the concert, this is how the Basilica was lit up.  I did absolutely no color processing to this photo- I simply cropped and resized it.  This is how it looked without the camera.

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There were lots of interesting statues around Budapest.  The man standing on the bridge is Imre Nagy. Nagy was chosen by the people to become the new Prime Minister during an uprising in 1956. When the Soviet troops invaded he was arrested and executed along with thousands of others.

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When we walked past the Hungarian Parliament, we caught a changing of the guard ceremony.  It was very ceremonial, with lots of spinning rifles and whatnot.

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When we were at the top of the Funicular, we caught a similar changing of the guard ceremony, but this was a different set of guards.    The dark uniforms above are at the Parliament, while the light brown uniforms seen here are at Buda Castle.

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This giant bird is a Turul.  The Turul is considered a divine messenger, and it’s heavily woven into the origin mythology of the Magyar people.  I was looking for this Turul statue because on the train into Budapest, I saw an enormous Turul statue on a mountain near Tatabánya.  It was so large that it was easy to find information about it- it was the last of three giant Turul statues.  It’s the largest bird statue in the world, and the largest bronze statue in Central Europe.

This Turul, sitting in front of Buda Castle, is not nearly so large as the one on the mountain.  It was still pretty big though.

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In one of the earlier photos showing the city, you might have noticed a ferris wheel.   This is how it looks at night.

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This is how St. Stephen’s Basilica looks from that same ferris wheel during the daytime.

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The love locks phenomenon is everywhere.  The “Big Nose Hearts Big Face” one made me laugh.  And the big silver one next to it says “Michu Pich & Laddi Waddie,”  which is kind of great.

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I have a difficult time believing they can really transport a patient with this ambulance.

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While we were walking toward our evening entertainment, we briefly followed this pair of children.  I couldn’t resist snapping a photograph on the sly, because these two look like the flashback sequence of every buddy comedy movie I’ve ever seen.  In a movie, this night would surely be followed immediately by a “fifteen years later” caption.

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Have you ever been to Budapest?  Which side did you prefer, Buda or Pest?

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Nepal Himalaya Pavilion

Not far from Regensburg is a Nepalese temple and garden called the Nepal Himalaya Pavilion.

The Pavilion was originally constructed in Hanover for the 2000 World’s Fair Expo, which ran from Jun to October of that year.  The Nepalese exhibit was incredibly popular, with about 3.5 million visitors during the 2000 Expo.  After the World’s Fair concluded, the Pavilion was dismantled, transported here, and then reconstructed.  It reopened in 2003, and opens seasonally every year.

Most of these pictures don’t have commentary from me, because I don’t have much more to add.  This was a nice garden, and a lovely way to spend a few hours.

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The brightly colored cloth hanging from the pavilion are prayers.

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First, he got the disk spinning with the long pole.

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Next, he used the spinning disk as a giant pottery wheel.

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The entrance to the China Garden part of the Nepal Himalaya Pavilion.

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Nice hooters, eh?

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Shakey rope bridge!

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…Fighting the urge to walk in the opposite direction here…

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Have you ever been to the Nepal Himalaya Pavilion?  How about Nepal?

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Further Drachenstich

Each year, the town of Furth im Wald holds a festival called Drachenstich, or Spearing the Dragon.    Part of the main street is fenced off to become an arena, and the town performs one of the oldest folk plays in Germany.  The original version goes back to 1590, but the play has been revised along the way- once in 1951, and again around 2007.  The festival is so ingrained into the city’s identity that the signs leading into town focus on the Drachenstich.

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The story in the play focuses on the evils of war-  the dragon is good and kind in the beginning of the story, but gets a taste for blood after the humans start to kill one another, until eventually there’s a traditional hero type (Udo, in this story) saving his love from becoming a Dragon-snack.  It’s a pretty big spectacle.

Before I get further into the pictures, let’s talk about the dragon-  after all, this is the real reason that I wanted to see Drachenstich in the first place.  The dragon is quite new, and holds the world’s record for largest four-legged walking robot.  It’s 15.5 meters long, 4.5 meters tall, and it has a 12 meter wingspan.  It walks, blinks, breathes fire, roars, spreads its wings, waves its tail, and even bleeds at the appropriate point in the story.  It was manufactured by Zollner, which also makes some of the buses that I ride to work every day.

We arrived to Furth and parked the car just in time to catch the Dragon-wranglers bringing the dragon up the street toward the Drachenstich arena.  For up-the-street transport, the dragon was on a custom wheeled base-  the walking speed is less than two kilometers per hour, which would have been interminably slow up that hill.

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The two guys in the brown shirts in this picture are the controllers-  I counted three different controllers with very large control boxes strapped to their chests.

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At the top of the hill, they ran some pre-show tests, including a little bit of flame.

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You can see the dude in the bottom right of this picture controlling the dragon’s head.

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The dragon’s face is really expressive.

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This is from the earlier part of the play, when the dragon is good and kind.

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The lady in the red head-dress would be the woman that Udo is rescuing by killing the dragon.  To be honest, I didn’t get a lot of the non-dragon parts of the story.  There was a lot of yelling and a repeating creepy feral girl from the first scene.  There were lots of horses, too.

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During the climactic final scene in the play, the dragon walks all the way into the arena, spreads its wings, and does battle with Udo.

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Flame on!

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The Drachenstich festival runs until 17 August, so there’s still time to see it this year.

Who’s your favorite dragon?

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