Talk about Travel

The Pitons on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia (AP/Scott Sady).
Feb 05, 2018

Talk about Travel is here to help at 2 p.m. Mondays.
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Hi all, and welcome to Talk About Travel. In this week's section, we headed to Plains, Ga., for President Jimmy Carter's Sunday School class. Have a favorite presidential history destination? Tell us about it below. Most compelling answer gets a copy of Moon's "New York Walks," which includes a handy pull-out map. On to your questions!

In the mid-90's, I went with staff from what used to be the EPA (that's another letter), to Florida for meetings. We went to the Babcock Ranch to see the wildlife. At one point, the jitney stopped at a dry creek bed, so that we could see an alligator nest. We all trooped down into the creek bed down a 2-3 foot steep bank. As we approached the nest, a very unhappy Mama alligator came charging from maybe 20 yards away. You don't realize how fast alligators can move until one is coming at you. And, you don't realize how fast you can sprint until an alligator is chasing you! The steep creek bank became important here, as we could scramble up it, while the alligator couldn't. We all made it back to the jitney, more or less intact. I hope the Ranch tour guides left that side bit off future tours...

Yeah, "Let's go look at the alligator nest" sounds like a classic "What could go wrong?" scenario. Miss the piece? You can read it here.

As it is, we are going to be spending hours in the car. We've got UCSD one day, UC Riverside another, and USC a third day. We are flying into LAX, so I'm thinking a hotel near LAX with lots of freeway options, out of downtown, and plan for dinners near the colleges we see so we drive later in the evening back to the hotel. Oh, and I'm meeting relatives in Ventura for brunch one day. Thoughts?

I'm reminded of when I was a reporter at the now defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner and I got a job offer at the San Diego Union. I initially thought I could commute. Then I made the journey. (Don't laugh too loudly here -- these were the days before computers and Google Maps).  Traffic between those three destinations can be a nightmare. If you're staying for three days, why not stay near the three colleges? You could fly into LAX and take advantage of the three hour time difference to drive down to San Diego. If you want to splurge, stay in nearby La Jolla; if not, there are chain hotels near the university. The next morning, drive to Riverside and stay there. The following day, meet your relatives for an early brunch and then head to USC. Make sense? 

Joining a group trip in Venice, leaving IAD/DCA right before Labor Day weekend. R/T airfares with one connection are currently running $1400-1600...is this typical? Many thanks for your help.

Airfares to Venice are typically expensive, especially if you want easy connections and you prefer a legacy airline Take a look at Condor Airlines out of BWI for cheaper fares. It's a barebones airline, but the base fare (without seat assignments, food, etc.) is about $950 round trip. 

My husband and I are heading to Aruba at the end of the month! Any recommendations for off-resort activities? We have reservations at Carte Blanche but no other set plans. Is there anything superior to just sitting on the beach/at the pool and relaxing?

Yes, by all means leave the resort! Eagle and Arashi beaches are stunning, and you should absolutely take a Jeep tour to really get a sense of the island (warning: these can be a little rough-and-tumble, so make sure you know what you're signing up for). If you are animal-lovers, you should visit the island's Donkey Sanctuary, which was an unexpected delight. We also had dinner at one of the touristy table-on-the-beach restaurants (there are several), which was wall-to-wall Instagrammers but fun anyway. Oh, and make sure to eat Dutch pancakes. 

Hi, when I recently booked a fare on American Airlines, I saw that their "basic" level did not include use of the overhead bin. But how is this enforced? I've never seen an agent or flight attendant check someone's document or boarding pass (or where is this information even stated) to confirm that they've paid for it. I purchased the regular level, but really, what's to stop someone from taking advantage of this?

The "basic" passengers are usually the last to board, so the overhead bins are full by then. But I've also heard of flight attendants and gate agents enforcing the rules by forcing passengers to gate-check their bags. I'm looking into this now and will report back.

Would it really kill the airlines if they served a hot meal for flights 3.5 hours or more? Between the narrow seats, no leg room, dirty airplanes (I certainly don't expect other passengers and flight attendants to do the job of expert cleaners) and travel life itself, why wouldn't they want to build loyalty, not only through miles, but also through awesome meals? I know, I am in fantasy land, but this is the Travel section...

No, it would not hurt them. It might hurt their ability to make money, though, which is why the "free" meals were cut after 9/11 and replaced with entrees that cost extra. On certain transcontinental routes, there's a mini-trend going the other way, thanks to United Airlines. Let's see if it catches on.  

We are looking to fly somewhere fun for a long weekend at the end of June. however, due to a large expenses we will have later in the summer, our budget is limited to only $1,000. We hit Savannah and Charleston last year.

 I  suggest New Orleans or Nashville. Both are quick flights from DC, and fares are often lower in the summertime. In both cities, you won't have to spend a lot to soak in the culture, especially the music, which spills out of open doors and can be heard on the street.

Just had a bad experience skiing in France - I left my rental skis outside a mid-mountain lodge while I went in for lunch. this felt pretty safe, as no other skis were locked and the lodge was remote and only accessible by ski. When I returned, my skis and poles were gone. After solving the problem of getting back down the mountain, I wasn't overly concerned because I had purchased the insurance against loss or damage to the rental equipment. Wrong! The ski rental shop charged a 196 euro replacement fee. The insurance comes with a hefty deductible! Lesson for skiers and boarders: get a cable lock and ALWAYS lock up your equipment.

Thank you for sharing your story. I've written about ski rental insurance before. I'm not a fan.

Thanks for the tip on Blue Ribbon Bags. I am surprised I never heard of it. I've been pretty lucky with respect to bags. But I have a long trip to Australia with multiple connections and carriers coming up that I am a little concerned about. $5 seems like a very tiny amount to pay for some peace of mind.

Yes, I agree. I haven't personally used Blue Ribbon. If you do, please let me know how it goes. I might be interested in writing a follow-up story.

Today's code is TT6177. It expires at midnight, so be sure to enter it on Monday to get credit for participating.

A friend and I went to Newfoundland 6 years ago for 2 weeks. NL is best suited to active types and has lots of opportunities for walks and hiking. We went in July, but only saw bergy bits. June is better for icebergs on the eastern side of the island. Started in St John's - Signal Hill, Cape Spear, several small fishing villages on a guided tour, The Rooms (art and history museum) and where Terry Fox started his cross-Canada run to raise money for cancer research. St John's has a very good dining scene (we went to Raymond's). Whale tours are popular, we did Bay Bulls. Also drove south to Ferryland and walked to the lighthouse where they sell picnic lunches to be eaten outside. These are very popular and must be booked in advance. We flew to Deer Lake near Cornerbrook on the west side of the island because we wanted to see Gros Morne Park, geologically interesting, with exposed mantle rock and earth’s crust. We also did the walk in and boat ride on Western Brook Pond, a fjord. Our next destination was the northeastern tip - L'Anse aux Meadows (Viking settlement) and a B&B on Quirpon Island right on the very tip of the “finger”. Lots of driving to get there, the owners of the B&B set up our accommodations on the way. Both the national park and the private museum on the Vikings are worthwhile, and totally different in scope. We stayed several nights on Quirpon Island. Arrived by zodiac, when we left the sea was too rough and needed a more protected route (overland first then a shorter boat ride to the mainland). On the drive back to Deer Lake, we took the ferry over to Labrador. Main attraction was Red Bay, one of the oldest occupied ports along the Labrador Straits. The earliest European occupants were Breton fishermen and Basque whalers during the 16th century. Next time – take 3 weeks to allow more and longer stops with all the driving we did. Also do the north first, going along the eastern side of Newfoundland. More populated and (I think) more picturesque. 2 weeks - go to only one of the west and northern shores. 1 week - stay in St John's and add day trips to the small seashore communities to the north of St John's. Probably hard to go wrong wherever you go!

Thank you for sharing your amazing itinerary! Hope that chatter from last week is back today.

Last week, a chatter asked for suggestions for Newfoundland, Canada. We were so enthralled with our first visit to “the Rock”, we went back for a full two weeks a couple of years later. The people are really friendly to outsiders, since they are so isolated. Try to stay in Bed & Breakfasts, instead of hotels, to talk to locals. Stuff we did: St. John’s – walk along the waterfront and historic district, visit an Irish pub. Sea kayaking among the puffins just south of St. John’s (the outfitter is called “The Outfitters”). Seeing tens of thousand of gannets nesting at Cape St. Mary’s ecological reserve. Visiting L’Anse aux Meadows, a UNESCO World Heritage site where Vikings lived 1,000 years ago. A whale watching tour from St. Anthony (near L’Anse aux Meadows). If you are lucky, you will see icebergs. Hiking among the fjords in Gros Morne National Park.

Thanks for the ideas!

I'm looking for a motel in Rehoboth Beach to take my adult nieces and nephews and their children for a long weekend this summer. Ideally, it would have 2 bedrooms and a kitchen for fixing /reheating food. A pool is not mandatory, but would really like one. I'll need a couple of rooms for my siblings and inlaws, and I'd like to be within 3 blocks of the main boardwalk and beach. Thanks.

Is there a reason you want to stay in a hotel rather than rent a condo? I think with your crowd, renting a condo or house makes more sense. You could go through a site such as Homeaway, or you  connect with a rental agency in the area. Just make sure the photos are current. 

Only if you think that DC in late June is chilly and the air dry. For a reasonably-priced long weekend anniversary trip, how about Pittsburgh or Columbus, or Buffalo/Niagara?

Some people don't mind the heat. But yes, if you prefer a northern trip, all are good choices. Or Portland, Maine.

I can live with paying for them, but they're not worth paying for. Like the first person, why can't they offer a hot meal? Or why can't they at least offer something normal, like a tuna sandwich? Ugh.

When they started offering paid meals in 2002, they were pretty good. I remember writing a story for another publication and I had to sample all of them. They were delicious. Now ... not so much.

The boarding pass should show "Basic" on it, and (as Christopher states) those passengers are last to board. In theory the gate agent would check to make sure there are no "wheelies" or other large carry-ons (just a personal item). If a Basic passenger managed to find an overhead spot for their little item--congratulate them!

Yes, thank you. 

Best strategies for inexpensive flights to Quito?

Check the third-party booking sites and set up Fare Alerts. Check individual airlines' sales for sales. Some carriers do put Quito on sale. Delta has a current sale, though you must depart from Atlanta. You might save some money if you can fly out of NYC.

Great pre-911 story about losing your bag. I was changing planes in LA going onto Eureka on a prop and gate checked my largish carry on 'wheel aboard' - I literally put it on that little luggage rack by the plane just before I climbed up the stairs onto the plane. It wasn't there when we landed. It did come on the next flight ... but where had this wee bag been in the meantime? Had it been sitting lonely and sad on the tarmac?

Your plane might of reached its weight or space limit, so they likely held it and put it on the next outgoing plane. They probably kept it on the baggage cart, and I am sure it wasn't lonely: It had other bags to keep it company.

I've seen some people on Twitter saying, "please come bring us your tourism dollars, and see that San Juan hotels and beaches are up and running," but what about Vieques? Seeing a bio-luminescent bay is on my bucket list, but I know that island was hit harder, and the bay was affected and needed time to recover. Is there another bay in Puerto Rico that is ready to visit?

My friend runs Hix House, an amazing modern-architecture hotel on Vieques, and he has been posting updates on FB. From what I can tell, the island is not fully back but visitors are returning and can find comfortable lodgings and many activities. However, you can also see the dinoflagellates on the "mainland": Laguna Grande on the north side of the island in Fajardo and La Parguera on the far southwestern side. I have taken the kayaking excursion in Fajrado (departing from San Juan), and the experience was magical. I found a good site with updates on the bays post-Maria -- and the news is encouraging. The site also list some companies leading bio bay tours.

Can you please suggest somewhere warm and not crazy expensive that doesn't have Zika? We love snorkeling and nature. Usually we do PR in Feb and get a cheap airbnb. Someone suggested Guadeloupe or Martinique, though we're pushing it with zero advance planning. FL Keys also came to mind, but they seem quite expensive.

I would not worry about Zika unless you are pregnant or planning to have kids. Just wear bug repellent. However, if Zika is a real concern, consider the Bahamas, which does not have any reported cases, according to the CDC. You can find good packages to the island, and if you want fewer people, consider a few nights on the Out Islands. The tourism office has a current special on free flights/cruise for two from Nassau to the islands.

I agree with the suggestion to spend each night near each college to be visited. Having said that, in the past year I've had good stays at these LAX hotels: Hyatt Regency; Marriott; Hilton. The Hampton in El Segundo was less successful. Related suggestion: if tickets are not yet purchased, consider flying into San Diego but out of LAX (or vice-versa): should be able to rent a car with a minimal drop charge and so avoid the need to return to the renting location.

I typically visit Los Angeles and San Diego several times each year, and I do just as you suggested, but the fare is usually more expensive and the car rental drop-off fees are more than a pittance. And I would not stay at a hotel immediate to LAX unless I needed to catch a very early flight -- it's a dead zone. 

I'm working on a photo project focusing on Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market. The market will be moving in October 2018 and I want to document it before the move. I know there is a fish auction early in the morning that's closed to the public. I was wondering if you had any insight on how one might gain access. Thanks!

You can try a private guide (here is one  option) or follow this advice from a Japan guidebook:

The number of visitors to the tuna auction is limited to 120 per day. Tourists have to apply at the Osakana Fukyu Center (Fish Information Center) at the Kachidoki Gate, starting from 5 a.m. (or earlier on busy days) on a first-come, first-serve basis. A first group of 60 visitors will be admitted to the auction between 5:25 and 5:50, and a second group of 60 will be admitted between 5:50 and 6:15.

Presidential destinations:

Back in the summer of 1992 I was doing research for my Master's Thesis at the Truman Library. With their recommendation, I stayed with a lovely woman who lived within walking distance and took in researchers - her kids were grown and she had three spare bedrooms. Walking distance was key as I didn't drive at that point. I'm British and always had access to decent public transportation. It was a great experience - the staff were wonderful and the museum a lot of fun too. I was living with my then boyfriend in Oxford and was in the US quite a while that summer. I sent him an aerogram every day. Can you still get aerograms?

We've enjoyed visiting homes of both Presidents Roosevelt: 1) In Hyde Park, NY., both FDR's family house and Eleanor's "Val-Kill" cottage (both not far from the Culinary Institute of America, with its wonderful student-run restaurants!). 2) FDR's summer "cottage" on Campobello Island, just across the border from coastal northern Maine in New Brunswick, Canada. We camped at a nearby park, where we were awakened in the pre-dawn gloom by the clanking of shovels and buckets from locals digging for clams at low tide. AND 3) Teddy Roosevelt's home at Oyster Bay, with his extensive personal library (although I found all those big-game heads disturbing).

I love Monticello. The various tours give you a flavor of how varied Thomas Jefferson's interests were. They show you interesting features of the house, like transoms that open into the hall to allow air to flow among the rooms. He ran agricultural experiments with varieties of plants. And it's always interesting to see that a home is smaller than it appears in the pictures.

FDR's retreat. The little white house and FDR park are two good places, and there is hiking with great scenery nearby.

I have much experience travelling in SE Asia - over 7 countries, including Indonesia where I visited the islands of Bali, Java, Lombok and others. Now a friend has asked me to help plan a trip there - via cruise ship. I gave him the advice I often see here: consult a travel agent that specializes in cruises in that region. Once he gets a plan - vaguely wants to go from Bangkok, around Singapore, then up to Penang and Melaka, I can fill him in on important sights and experiences in each port, but I've always gone by air (Air Asia!) or the occasional ferry boat - so I'm at a loss for the cruise ship advice. Can you offer the names of some reliable tour operators?

Point your friend to Cruise Critic, a Web site that covers everything about cruising, including Asia itineraries. 

Headed to Charleston later this month and staying downtown. Anything I shouldn't miss while there?

Tom Sietsema's article about the best restaurants in Charleston was published a couple years ago, but many of his favorites then are still going strong. Spots to consider visiting  include Boone Hall Plantation, Battery Park, Fort Sumter, Magnolia Cemetery, St. Michael's Episcopal Church and nearby Sullivan's Island. 

I've been looking for air tickets (for 5) to Italy in May. There doesn't seem to be anything for less than 2000 through the airlines which just seems exorbitant. If I look on Kayak or Momondo, several of the exact same flights can be found for less than half the price. I guess I don't understand the huge price disparity and whether it's really "safe" to book through these 3rd party sites. Can you shed any light on this? Thanks!

It is safe to use the reputable sites, such as the ones you mentioned. The sites have relationships with the airlines to list their flights. Sometimes they also mix and match carriers or airports, which brings the rate down. Once you book, call the airline to confirm.

Thanks for the suggestion to just stay in multiple hotels - not sure we can reverse the order of the USC and UCR visit (tours fill early), but we will be able to drive down to La Jolla on the Sunday and spend the night before at least.

You'll be happier doing that than staying near LAX. And good luck with the college tours! I lived in Los Angeles and San Diego as a young adult, and loved it. 

When our toiletry bag fell off a cart at BWI and had a corner destroyed, Southwest discussed compensation and was more than fair. They paid us on the spot and gave us a duffle bag to put the contents in. The situation had an upside in that it moved us to replace the remaining old luggage and get new with four wheels which we love.

Thank you for sharing your story with me. I love it when an airline does the right thing.

Aruba has some pretty good snorkeling spots. If you go to Boca Catalina and are a strong swimmer, you can swim out to the wreck of the German freighter, SS Antilla. (There's also decent snorkeling off the beach). Baby Beach is another favorite spot. You can drive to either beach on your own or there are snorkel boats that go to Boca Catalina and the Antilla. Other things we have enjoyed on Aruba are the caves. There are three in the Arikok National Park, which is fun to explore on your own with a car. Bring your own flashlights for the caves--they aren't showcaves with organized tours.

Thanks for the suggestions!

Hi I asked about this service in late October, and did actually try it for transfer from Kyoto to Tokyo (Narita) to get home. It worked so well that if I get to return to Japan (please!) I will use it both ways. I kept a carry-on sized bag with me for the day before I left Kyoto, since the luggage had to be surrendered 24-48 hours in advance. It is nicer to not have to lug the luggage. Thanks so much for having this chat!

Thanks so much for the great review! Hope I can use it one day, too.

following up on last week's query and today's tip - if you have the time, take a few days to visit Saint Pierre and Miquelon - which are a small group of French islands of the south central Nfld coast. They give you a true taste of France without crossing the pond - Euros, 24-hour clock, and pastries for breakfast. You can also see the "official" guillotine in the museum, used only once, apparently. We even had a snooty waiter one night at dinner, which just added to the French experience. :) One other tip if you drive in Newfoundland - the locals will warn you NOT to drive at night. They aren't kidding. There are a lot of moose (100K+) and lots of moose-vehicle accidents, especially at night.

Thanks for sharing. 

I get the cheese plate, which is always pretty good. Plus it takes longer to eat than just a sandwich, so it's a good way to kill time!

That's a good way of looking at it.

My daughter will be going on a school trip to Italy at the end of the month (not that I am jealous or anything). She will need money for some meals, and odds and ends. I was thinking of giving her a pre-paid debit card. Any suggestions whether it would be better to give her one in dollars or euros? And, if euros, where do you get it? Thanks for any suggestions!

I would suggest euros, to avoid currency exchange fees. And as much as we all want our kids to excel at math, maybe give her a break on this trip and let her skip the calculations from dollars to euros.

Hi. Are there any websites where you can put a list of cities, and the site will give you the most efficient routing (by time and/or money)? Any that combine flights and trains? I'm primarily thinking of Europe for this vacation. Thanks

You might try ExpertFlyer, which gives you a lot of options when choosing a flight. But the major travel sites also have options for choosing a stopover.

I was there last May and photos are not allowed. It is a work site and potentially dangerous. They restrict where you can stand and they don't want anything to interfere with the work at hand. The stalls leading up to the market are interesting and I got a number of good photos there.

Great to know. Thanks for sharing your experience.

The OP won't have much luck looking for a rental condo for only a long weekend, as they almost all require a week's stay in the summer. Maybe in May or mid-June, but not in the summer.

Yes and no. True for a majority, but there are exceptions to that rule. Just do a Homeaway search, and you'll come up with lots of outliers. 

The New York Times just published advice for avoiding the flu while a passenger on airlines. In addition to turning on the air vent to blow germs away from you, wiping down tray tables and arm rests, getting a window seat to avoid passersby in the aisle, I'm wondering if any of the airlines are issuing surgical masks upon request?

I have not heard or seen of any airlines offering masks. But they are pretty cheap, so you could bring a box and hand them out.

Hi! Other than Harper's Ferry, and driving through on my way to the Midwest, I have spent no time in West Virginia. A friend and I talked about doing a long weekend (3 days) to explore the parks there (hiking, waterfalls, etc.) We live in Montgomery County, so the areas that are a five-hour drive may be too much for this short jaunt, but would love to hear any specific recommendations on what to see, where to stay, any other tips. Thanks!

I think you can easily visit areas that are about four hours away for a three-day weekend. I'm a fan of the Canaan Valley. You could stay at Canaan Valley Resort State Park and explore from there. 

It may seem cheesy, but take a horse-drawn carriage tour first thing. It's a great intro to the city's history, architecture, and culture.

Good thought.

I am interested in booking tickets using awards miles but am also pregnant with my child who will be born before my trip. Can I add a lap infant to my ticket after I purchase my ticket? The ticket would be to Mexico on United. Thank you!

To avoid confusion, I would book the flight with your lap baby. It's often easier to cancel than add. You won't pay in either case.

United tickets purchased, and the UCSD visit was a post-ticket purchase sub for a different college in LAX, due to greater interest from the teen and we will have other regions to visit for other college visits (PNW, SF Bay Area, etc.). That said, itinerary now looks like fly in Sunday, drive to San Diego, stay the night, do the Monday tour, drive up late evening to LA; see relatives & USC Tuesday, then UCR Wednesday. Not sure we can flip the USC and UCR visits; USC tours fill fast. :/ And thanks to the chatters for the hotel suggestions in LA. :)

Sounds like a plan.

A few more for the presidential-destination file:

We have relatives that live in Austin and invited us down to visit and to join them on the LBJ 100 bike ride on the grounds of the LBJ Ranch. The ride is sponsored by the Friends of the LBJ Ranch to support the National Park Service at the Ranch. While we were not up to the 100 mile ride, we did take part in the "Luci Ride". LBJ's daughter, Luci, is an avid cyclist and she supports this ride by doing a guided bike tour of the Ranch. It was so neat to ride through the Ranch with her and hear first person accounts about living on the Ranch and in the White House. (BTW, Luci is the nicest, friendliest person you could meet.) For those interested in the ride (or just the "Luci Ride"), the next event is on March 24th.

...don't miss President James Monroe's home Ash Lawn (Highland) nearby.

I just have to plug Sarah Vowell's "Assassination Vacation" since it fits today's theme. She chronicles America's first three presidential murders: Abraham Lincoln, Garfield and William McKinley and it is part travelogue, history, personal essay and criticism. Good read that may inspire some interesting travel.

I agree that a house or condo makes sense in this person's situation. But it won't be cheap. There are some places that are Friday to Friday instead of the usual Saturday turn. You don't have to stay the whole week if you don't want to. But you will pay for it. The Avenue Inn has some larger rooms I believe, particularly in their Avenue II annex building. So they might have a 2 room suite.

Nothing is cheap in Rehoboth in summer. 

I would also highly recommend the Greenbriar, if you're up for a really nice spa experience on beautiful grounds. Last time we went, we had lunch together and then separated for different treatments. He enjoyed his massage, and I enjoyed my first reflexology session.

Great suggestion, thanks!

Just wanted to say I did nearly the same thing with my dad 24 years ago (tho UCLA rather than UCR). It was a lot of driving, but I have very fond memories. Hope you have a great trip!

Taking a horse drawn carriage ride - only if it's not July or August - the heat and humidity are suffocating. We did a Gray Line bus tour with ac. And just walking around downtown Charleston is wonderful, the Market, Custom House Battery. There's something to see every block.

Good to know, thanks!

I also found the kayaking tour in PR to be magical. I also recently did the glow worm caves in NZ. I'm sensing an emerging vacation trend - where else do I need to go to see bio-luminescent spectacles?

How about here?

Looks like we're out of time. LBJ Ranch fan, drop us a line at travel@washpost.com to claim your prize. And join us here again next week for more Talk About Travel!

In This Chat
Nicole Arthur
Nicole Arthur is the Travel editor.
Carol Sottili
Carol Sottili is a former Washington Post travel writer, specializing in travel deals.
Andrea Sachs
Andrea Sachs is a staff writer for Travel.
Christopher Elliott
Christopher Elliott writes The Navigator column. He is also National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
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