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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

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The Eye Of The Beholder – London Eye

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London is a city packed with wonderfully preserved buildings spanning a period of almost 1,000 years.  The city is an architect’s dream and a tourist’s delight with so many beautiful palaces, castles and monuments from every period scattered across its 32 boroughs.  London’s architectural glory is not restricted to its ancient past.  While it is extremely proud and protective of its heritage it has not stopped building for the future.

London Eye

 

The 21st century is very much in evidence with a whole lot of modern buildings that have risen to become icons in their own right.  The Houses of Parliament, the iconic Elizabeth Tower housing Big Ben clock now shares skyline space with the likes of the Shard and the Gherkin.  The Millennium Bridge and Tate Modern vie for attention along with the massive and daunting Tower of London and the nearby Tower Bridge.

That said the most eye-catching and visited structure in the city is – wait for it! – the London Eye!

Yes, this gleaming white, slowly rotating wheel has become the most popular site for visitors from around the world and home.  Looking down at the Thames from 135 metres the Eye is a delicately balanced, stylish and central piece of London’s visual space.  Unexpectedly it helps harmonise the ancient, merely old, historical and modern facets of London’s image.  Perched on the grounds of Jubilee Gardens, the Eye is right next door to the venerable and esteemed Palace of Westminster and does not suffer in comparison.

There is some debate as to whether it should be compared with London’s other architectural masterpieces or even spoken of in the same sentence.  That is because the Eye is an engineering structure, the result of the vision of the husband-and-wife team of Julia Barfield and David Marks.  It is technically not a piece of architecture – a 2001 panel determined that.

Perhaps it is just quibbling.  The Eye is like no other structure in the capital city nor is it like other wheels in Singapore and Nanchang.  For starters, it is not a Ferris wheel.  The designers and operators are at pains to describe this A-frame supported tilted steel and glass spoked ring as “the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel“.

London Eye, London

The Eye however, does share several similarities with another engineering marvel – the Eiffel Tower.  A recent survey found that it is even more popular than the Parisian tower.  That aside both were supposed to be temporary structures.  Their iconic profiles and massive popularity have ensured they will be around for a long time to come.  They have become symbols of their respective cities despite much older claimants to that title. Both were panned by the artistic, historic, cultural and aesthetic communities as being totally out of place.

In essence the London Eye (known by repeatedly changing names) is the triumph of the ordinary folk over the apparently expert.   Research revealed that support for the Eye to remain was an overwhelming and heart-warming 85% across London and the surrounding areas.

It is no wonder that it is loved.  It is as one commentator aptly put it, “It is not there just to be looked at. It’s also there to be looked from.”  The Eye puts the grand city of London in perspective.  Truly the phrase, ‘beauty lying in the eyes of the beholder’ is most apt to describe the London Eye.

Steve Rose put it best when he wrote: “The Eye… exists in a category of its own…. It essentially has to fulfill only one function, and what a brilliantly inessential function it is: to lift people up from the ground, take them round a giant loop in the sky, then put them back down where they started. That is all it needs to do, and thankfully, that is all it does.”

For all its modern, symbolism and scientific and engineering brilliance the Eye has not been able to escape ancient superstition.  Its 32 capsules are numbered 1 to 33 leaving out the unlucky number 13, which probably the best tribute to it.

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A Girls Guide to Shopping in London!

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It’s a wonderful, wonderful world for shopping girl. The world is shrinking but the global economy is expanding at warp speed. There are literally hundreds of cities where you could find every known brand to satisfy your shopper’s soul and max out your credit card.

Amongst all the dizzying choices there are a few magical places that stand out as shoppers’ paradises. They possess that aura, history and glamour, which entice you with promises of endless fashion choices. And they deliver too – in style! Paris, Milan, New York and good old London town are absolute wonderlands for a girl and her shopping bag. And it is London that fills our horizon right now.

London is a large and sprawling city with shopping districts dotting the cityscape. For the benefit of the girl in a hurry, we’ve identified the top places you could get your fashion fix. So make a bee-line these locations.

shopping in london

 

Knightsbridge

This legendary district picks itself. It is the top of the pops when it comes to shopping. Make no mistake it is a high-end, top-of-the-line west London location. Knightsbridge spells luxury like no other place in the world. This exclusive shopping district is home to some of the world’s most famous and oldest stores. Harrods, distinctive terracotta façade and iconic dark-green awnings and Harvey Nicholls are the two standout names in an area that is simply crammed with outlets for every designer and luxury brand on the planet. You can pick up anything from jewellery to handbags; from Cartier to Zara and every fashion item in between.

If the air is too rarefied for you and your purse, you could indulge in the next best thing – window shopping. Either way Knightsbridge will take your breath away.

Sloane Street, Duke of York Square & the King’s Road

Not too far away – a little walking distance from Knightsbridge is another shopping haven. The area covering Sloane Street, Duke of York Square and King’s Road is the hangout of London’s shopping elite. In these shopping coves you will find the high style Peter Jones store offering everything in fashion. They are also full of tempting boutiques and shoe shops. There are also plenty of charming cafés and restaurants where you can sit and review your shopping day, catch your breath and have an elegant tea.

Oxford Street

Oxford Street  has been the shoppers’ Mecca of for many years. The original home of high street fashion the Street has an endless line of shops dedicated to style, fashion and chic. This is the landing strip of high flying shoppers from all over the world. There is the added enchantment of catching sight of a famous face or figure. You will find designer stuff in every shop along the way.

The undisputed queen of Oxford Street and of the shopping world is Selfridges. The best department store in the world, this wonderful store has the latest in everything from designer collections, toys, gifts, beauty, skincare and an enormous food court full of luxurious hampers and tasty treats. You may never leave the premises.

Another destination on Oxford Street – for the teenage set – is Topshop. The biggest of their outlets, the store offers reasonably priced fashion, party dresses, accessories and a vast area dedicated to shoes. Uniqlo has placed two new stores on Oxford Street.

Bond Street

Close by to Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus is another legendary shopping avenue – the name is Bond, Bond Street! Here the highbrow shopping mavens browse for their posh clothes. Names such as Burberry and Boodles call this major thoroughfare of high style home. You could pop in to famous hotels like The Ritz, Claridge’s or The Dorchester for a bit of refreshment. Then again you could check out which masterpieces are going under the hammer in the illustrious auction houses of Bonhams and Sotheby’s.

Regent Street

Dedicated to the privileged and those on the A-list, Regent Street is famous for its shops and stores filled with luxurious products. This renowned street is also the address of a huge Apple Store and COS. So is Hamleys, one of the largest toy shops in the world and a tourist attraction with it tempting displays of all the latest and sharpest toys. Both kids and grown-ups are unable to resist its many, many temptations.

Comes Christmas time and Regent Street, with its lovely well-preserved period buildings, is decked with colourful strings of Christmas lights. Here though, Santa is a merry fellow working at the behest of the goddess of high fashion.

Marylebone High Street

Marylebone High Street is at the heart of one of London’s poshest areas. Running through Central London it exemplifies and oozes with affluence, a reflection of the neighbourhood. It is also a siren to discerning shoppers looking for chic, high fashion and well-known brands. You will find stores carrying brands as diverse as Givenchy and Lady Gaga with a goodly sprinkling of lacy fabrics, vintage fashion and the brash.

Marylebone High Street blends dazzling couture, subtle wealth and privilege with an élan that is uniquely its own. In a city packed with shopping choices, Marylebone High Street is one of the highlights.

More Shopping

Don’t go away thinking that London is only about high style and the top end of the fashion chain. There is more shopping in this city than anyone can handle. Now that we have taken you around the high brow shopping areas, it is time to head off to the fashion forward and soul-satisfying street markets and other less price-extravagant hotspots.

Weekly Markets and Street Markets

London has a long tradition of street markets. More than 70 pop up during the weekends. You will find that they exude a whole different aura and different prices. The experience here is more chilled and haggle oriented. The feel is one of freshness, excitement and friendly. The random array of mixed merchandise is also what makes up and rounds off London’s fashion scene. It reflects the eclectic buzz of London’s cosmopolitan life.

Portobello Road, Petticoat Lane and Camden Town are just some of the legendary names that spring to mind. On these streets you will find antiques, street art, leather jackets, jeans, way-out clothing, jewellery, accessories, bright humorous, graphic illustrated T-shirts, charm bracelets, say, or kitsch anchor necklaces. They are places with a very special atmosphere and experiences to savour and satisfy the hungriest of fashion appetites.

We hope that our rapid-transit tour of London’s shopping districts, markets, department stores and streets will help you find your way around this city fashion of panorama.

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Festive Celebrations in London!

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London is one of the greatest cities in the world and one of the oldest too.  However, it is forever young and always on the go.  The city is a leading one for finance, theatre, fashion and the other arts.  London is always buzzing and summer is the time when the action really kicks into high gear.

Here is a look at just some of the festivities that will be taking place across the city this summer.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was the centerpiece of the 2012 London Olympic Games.  It is now open to the public to explore a wide range of activities, venues and attractions.  Ever since 2013 the Park has played host to series of festivals, concerts and other events.

You can access the venues used for the 2012 games including the swimming pool, tennis courts and cycling tracks.  For a more relaxing time you can ease up on the parkland.  A number of animals and birds have found the area to be to their liking with many making it their home.  Wildlife spotting can be a great pastime and fun.  You could take a boat tour along the canal and learn intriguing facts and stories about the park.

Then there is the Beach Park.  It is the largest urban beach in Britain and the biggest attraction.  It consists of 2200 square meters of sand.  A paddling pool, beach volleyball sections and funfair rides have also been installed along with two bars.  The beach will feature a summer long program of live performances, competitions and sports events.

The beach is open seven days a week – from 10:00am to 10:00pm and entry is free.

More London Free Festival

For twelve years the More London Free Festival has been giving joy to audiences and exposure to up and coming artists of all kinds.  This (2015) the thirteenth year of its running is as good as the previous editions.  The impressive line-up of acts and performances will be staged in the wonderful amphitheater right next to the innovative leaning glass tower that is the Mayor of London’s office.

There will be an eclectic mix of live music, fringe (and mainstream) theater and films.  A giant LED screen will provide full coverage of the Wimbledon Championships, the Tour de France and The Ashes series.

There is also a mini-food festival that runs alongside.  A pop-up restaurant, London Riviera will be serving delicious French cuisine for the entire period

Since all events are free to the public there will be large numbers showing up for performances.  So make sure to get there early and take a cushion as the seating is concrete.

Beginning 3rd June the festival will continue till the 24th September. 

Festival Of Love

It might not be Woodstock revisited but the Festival of Love has been a great way of keeping the spirit of those heady times alive.  For three whole months, ending 3st August, the Southbank Centre will be the focus of love-themed activities, performances, music, exhibitions and free events as hundreds of artists, communities and partners come together to create an unforgettable summer.

One of the more innovative activities is the attempt to get the public (attending or otherwise) to make the world a better place by doing “67 Small Acts for Big Change”.  Activities will also involve free singing and dancing performances, workshops, poetry readings and a dance every Friday night at the Royal Festival Hall.

Saturday 6 June 2015 – Monday 31 August 2015.

London Wonderground

The London Wonderground is dedicated to showcasing the best and hottest acts of the alternative scene in the country.  Top talent on the cabaret and burlesque circuit will be performing in a charming 1920s-style Spiegeltent at the South bank Center.

The entertainment runs the gamut of risque comedy, street performers, wild musicians, comic acrobats and unconventional dark cabaret, interactive art lessons, hilarious and satirical sketches.  To keep your spirits and strength up there will be bars, food stalls and rides.

The festival runs till 27th September.

Visions Festival

A relative newcomer to the London festive scene, the Visions Festival is a music extravaganza.  The music involves star underground acts and performers.  Some of the names on the line up are Camera Obscura, Fat White Family, The Antlers, Shamir, Hinds and Girl Band. 

Like the last two years (this year will be the third edition) the musical action will play out in various venues around the Hackney area.  The festivities will also include a crafts market, exhibitions and street food stalls.

The festival runs up to 8th August.

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Your Guide to LONDON!

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London is such an amazingly familiar city – even if you have never been.  Every one of its iconic landmarks, many of its street names and traditions are so well known and recognizable you feel like you know the place well even before you get there.

There is a rich choice of things to see in this, once most powerful city in the world.  Her many attractions are all must-sees.  Whether your interest lies in art, history, colorful traditions, culture or grand buildings, you will find it in London.  A wonderful thing is that entrance is free to many of London’s iconic attractions.

So, onwards to London’s finest!

Buckingham Palace

In many respects London is still a royal city and the best illustration is Buckingham Palace.  This 300 year old, 700-odd roomed building is the Queens’s residence.  Only 19 rooms are open to the public and they are known as the State Rooms.  They are used for audiences with the Queen and official visits from foreign dignitaries.  It takes about two hours for the average walk around of the rooms.

While you are there you should not miss that wonderful institution so closely identified with the Palace – the Changing of the Guard.  The ceremony lasts for half an hour and takes place every day at 11am.  The pageant involves horses, drum rolls, smart uniforms and much impressive foot-stomping marching.

To book: http://bit.ly/1SWyTAu

Buckingham Palace Tours

Tower of London

Another famous (or “infamous”) royal residence is the Tower of London.  The impressive pile of stone work has a grim and very mixed
reputation and history.  It attracts millions every year and understandably so.  It was a palace, treasury, armoury, fortress, London’s first zoo and torture hub. It has many a ghastly and ghostly tale associated with its rooms and battlements.

Today, thankfully, it is a lot less bloody.  As a visitor you will gaze upon the splendid and priceless Crown Jewels; learn about the famous people executed; stories and legends such those of the Tower’s ravens and discover the swords, other killing implements and armour of yore.

To book: http://bit.ly/1Hr1o7c

Tower of London, London

The British Museum

More than two and a half centuries ago this venerable and highly esteemed institution opened its doors to the public.  Within its hallowed rooms, halls and corridors are a remarkable collection of artifacts and pieces covering more than two million years of human history.

It is dedicated to the study of world-wide human culture.  The museum’s collection of exhibits includes the invaluable Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon sculptures and Egyptian mummies.   It also has thousands of other treasures on permanent display.  A visit is worth every minute you spend in the museum.

London Eye

If many of London’s attractions are remnants of its long and illustrious history, then the London Eye is a futuristic vision from today.  The world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel it is an amazing symbol of modern engineering and London’s forward gaze.

Dramatically affecting the skyline, this technological marvel sits in the heart of the city, facing the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.  Its slowly rotating 32 high-tech observation capsules look down on the city and old Father Thames, all the while offering you a panoramic 360 degree (and on clear days 40kms away) view of this majestic city and its landmarks.

To book: http://bit.ly/1CDzcXi

London Eye, London

The Golden Hind

A proud symbol the Tudor era and of British Elizabethan seafaring exploits, the Golden Hinde, captained by Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world.  It was put on public display in Deptford for nearly 100 years where it rotted away.

A beautiful, faithful and full-sized replica is now berthed at Southwark, London for the modern day visitor.  In a tiny dock on Cathedral Street, Southwark sits the full-scale reconstruction of Drake’s intrepid galleon.  It is an un-missable part of the London experience.  A tour is a lesson in living, romantic history where you get to soak in the atmosphere of what it must have been like to sail the high seas in the 16th century.  A few minute’s walk away is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

The current Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a modern and very faithful replica of the original Elizabethan playhouse based on academic evidence.  It stands a mere 750 feet from the site of the original 1599 and 1614 buildings.

The complex also includes an indoor theatre (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse).  It is based on the designs of indoor playhouses of Jacobean times.

Royal Museums Greenwich

Site of the brass rail that marks the Prime Meridian, the Royal Museums include the National Maritime Museum, Queen’s House and the Royal Observatory.  The beautiful, manicured settings are also a World Heritage Site.

The museums always have events and new (and ancient) exhibits to awe visitors. Some of the better known exhibits are a 4.5 billion year old meteorite, Harrison’s chronometers and Nelson’s uniform.  It is also the location of a wonderful planetarium.

Westminster Abbey

This ancient and hallowed Gothic church has witnessed the crowning of British kings from the time of William the Conqueror in 1066.   A wonderful building complete with paintings, stained glass windows and an important collection of monuments it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Within the grounds of Westminster Abbey are the graves of giants such as Charles Dickens, Chaucer, Dr Samuel Johnson and Charles Darwin.  It also has the tombs and monuments of 450 others.  The Little Cloister which leads to the College Gardens, the oldest garden in England.

National Gallery

One of the world’s foremost art galleries, The National occupies one side of Trafalgar Square.  It houses some of the world’s greatest paintings from the Middle Ages right up to the current century.  At any given time over 2,000 paintings are on display.  Works by Botticelli, vie for attention with those of Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Renoir and Van Gogh.

Entrance to The National Gallery is free.  It also conducts special exhibitions, lectures, video programmes and guided tours.

Trafalgar Square

This is probably the world’s most famous open space.  It is a landmark of Central London.  It is the place to go to for special events, demonstrations and major celebrations such as St Patrick’s Day, Chinese New Year and New Year’s Eve

Dominated by Nelson’s Column and its four lions, it is a square that has witnessed much history and still provides a place for a wide variety of vibrant artistic performances.  Since 1999, the Fourth Plinth is site for an ever changing display of modern art.

Trafalgar Square

Piccadilly Circus

Named after a seventeenth century frilled collar, Piccadilly Circus is popular meeting place, busy traffic roundabout (thus the “Circus”) and a tourist attraction in its own right.  At the center of the Circus and above the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain is the lovely aluminum (at that time a novel and rare material) statute of Eros.

A five minute walk from Trafalgar Square, it is located between the theatre areas of the West End and the Haymarket.  The circus is the intersection of five main roads: Regent Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly Street, Covent Street and Haymarket.  It is the site of London’s first illuminated billboard installed in 1895.

Parliament House

Within the Palace of Westminster, are the Houses of Commons and Lords, otherwise known as Parliament House.  It was originally the residence of the Kings of England till fire consumed it 1512.  Extensively rebuilt twice (It was destroyed by another fire in 1834) the only original parts still left are Westminster Hall, St Stephen’s Cloisters, Chapel of St Mary Undercroft and the Jewel Tower.

Designed by architect Charles Barry its famous facade, familiar around the world, is known as the River Front and sits on reclaimed parts of the River Thames.  Its Gothic style buildings are marked by Victoria Tower and Elizabeth Tower – better known as Big Ben.

Big Ben

Big Ben is a symbol of London and is officially called the Great Clock of Westminster.  This amazingly reliable time piece is accurate to within a second.  Its elegant fairy tale like design consists of four identical dials fronted by milk glass.  Located atop Elizabeth Tower, it stands at the north end of the Parliament complex and is lit up from behind at night.

Big Ben, London

St Paul’s Cathedral

The Cathedral sits on Ludgate Hill, the highest natural point in the City of London.  The original church was dedicated to Paul the Apostle in 604 and the current one retains that name.  Designed and built in the baroque style by the great Sir Christopher Wren, its dome is one of the most famous and recognizable sights of London.  It dominated the London skyline for more than 300 years and is deeply embedded in the psyche of English national identity.

St Paul’s Cathedral is a busy working church, with hourly prayer and daily services.  Its services have included the funerals of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington; the wedding of Lady Diana and Prince Charles and the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.

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A Guide for First Time Visitors to France

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If this is the first time you are going to France, you will probably be really excited and a little nervous too.  You will also be faced with questions.  What to see?  Where to go?  What to do?  Where to start?  And a problem it is!  France has pretty much everything.

Paris Tours

It is home to some of the world’s greatest museums and architectural and artistic masterpieces.  Many of its cities and towns are the stuff of picture postcards.  Its natural landscapes are absolutely beautiful.  Wait, there’s more!  It is the source of one of the world’s finest cuisines and wines.  France’s ancient and rich culture is evident in every city, town and village.

Paris Tours

You will need to make the right choices and we hope our suggestions will help your decision-making.

Paris

No matter what you have decided to see and where to go there is only one starting point – the City of Light – Paris (‘Paree’ to the locals). The Eiffel Tower, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre – home to the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo – and the Notre-Dame Cathedral, each an icon of this wondrous city.  Past all this beauty quietly flows the idyllic River Seine.  A bateau-mouche cruise on the Seine during the day or a dinner cruise at night is an experience you will never forget.  Stroll through the beautiful Jardin Tuileries, the streets of Monmarte or view Paris from the Sacre-Couer Cathedral to get an intimate and quintessential Parisian feel.

To round off your Paris discovery, take a short trip to the town of Versailles.  The magnificence of Château de Versailles once the centre of French political power will simply sweep you away.

Paris

The Loire Valley

The Loire River Valley runs to the south and west of Paris.  This stunningly scenic region is an area of roughly 800 square kms and known as the “Garden of France.”

In 2000 the UNESCO designated the central part of the Valley as a World Heritage Site.  There are reputedly 1,001 fairy tale renaissance era ch?teaux.  These elegant buildings are surrounded by endless gardens, moats and cone-shaped towers.  The interiors are embellished with unbelievable frescoes and fancy ceilings.  At every turn in the road you feel you are in fairy tale land.

Provence

Provence is a region of rocky hills and a ruggedly beautiful countryside. It stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the French Alps.  It is bounded by the River Rhône in the West and Italy to the East.  It was first recognised as a separate region by the Romans.  It enjoys wonderful weather and a rich and distinct tradition of wine and food.  Its scenery, especially the area around Arles, entranced Van Gogh so much he spent a good amount of time painting it.  The ancient and famous city of Avignon is located in this region.

province france

The French Alps

The French section of the Alps is an irresistible part of your tour and should not be missed.  Its many peaks spear-headed by magnificent Mont Blanc are year round attractions.  The stunning beauty of the Alps is further enhanced by the crystal clear lakes of Lac Geneva, Lac d’Annecy and Lac de Bourget.  The region just begs you to go rafting, paragliding, hiking or its best known activity – skiing.

The region is also famous for the chic and happening towns of Chamonix, Megéve and St-Gervais.

The French Riviera

The Côte d’Azur literally: ‘Blue Coast’ is the legendary playground of the rich, famous and beautiful.  The magical and celebrated towns of Nice, Cannes, Monaco and St Tropez are strung out like pearls on this breathtaking strip of coastline.  The region is blessed with 300 days of sunshine and 115 kilometres of beaches.  You may not have the time to visit all of them but a drive along the coastal roads to enjoy the superb views should be on your list of must-dos.

The French Riviera

Mont Saint-Michel

One kilometre off the northwest Normandy coast of France sits the unique little island of Mont Saint-Michel – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is cut from off from the mainland at high tide while vast sandbanks are exposed at low tide.  Only 247 acres in area and 300 feet at its highest, this amazing island embodies the expression that ‘life is stranger than fiction.’

The ancient monastery, massive stone fortifications, winding climbing streets, houses with sloping roofs and tiny quaint shops give Mont Saint-Michel an ambience that could very easily be the setting for a dragons, elves and wizards fantasy tale.

West Coast Beaches

Known as the Aquitaine region, it is an unbroken stretch of gorgeous beaches on the Atlantic Coast.  They are long, sandy, sunny and invite great big surfing waves.  Bordering the beaches are uninterrupted tracts of forests that provide a beautiful backdrop as well as wonderful hiking and cycling trails.  The coast is dotted with picturesque harbor towns, coves, quaint and traditional fishing villages and resorts.  The most famous is Biarritz in the southern portion.

Some Tips and Information

There might be some things that may give you cause for concern when visiting France for the first time.  There is no need.  France is one of the most visited countries in the world and the French are used to helping out visitors.  However, here are a few pointers to help put you at ease.

Learn some basic and essential phrases before you leave home, such as:

Hello: Bonjour!

Good Afternoon: Bon après-midi

Good Evening: Bonne soirée

Goodbye: Au Revoir

Excuse me: Excuse moi (pronounced – ‘xcuse moo-ah’)

Please: S’il vous plaît

Thank you: Merci 

Do you speak English?: Parlez-vous anglais?

I am lost!: Je suis perdu!

Carry a French phrasebook and don’t be afraid to mispronounce words.

Use the trains as much as possible because they are economical, regular and link up most of the cities and larger towns.  Get a SNCF (the train system) schedule.

Since you will be spending several days in Paris buy a Metro pass for the entire duration. It is the easiest way to get around town. You’re never more than a 10-minute walk from a station and the trains run about 18 hours a day.

Carry an adaptor for France’s two-pin plugs.  Other than that all your regular gear should see you through your enjoyable journey through France.

Don’t forget to have fun.  Once you have been to France it is a sure thing you will go back for seconds, at least.

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What to Pack for a Tibet Tour?

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To answer that question let’s look at what you will be facing.  Tibet is known as ‘The Roof of the World’ for good reason.  The Tibetan Plateau is probably the highest human inhabited region in the world.  It is a stark (if wonderfully beautiful) land with many of the world’s tallest mountains.  It is also the source for many of the largest rivers on the planet including the Yangtze, Yellow, Indus, Mekong, Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers.  It is a region of high horizons and deep plunging canyons.

tibet on isango

The weather is harsh.  It is very dry for most of the year with an average of only 18 inches of snow.  It does get some rain from the Indian monsoon, which comes in heavy bursts between June and September.  Due to its high altitude the air is thin, which means that sunlight can be very strong and fluctuations between day and night temperatures (20 to 25oC) are extreme.  The winds are strong and almost constant as it sweeps unimpeded across this vast and arid land.  You won’t see too many trees as most vegetation is no larger than low bushes and shrubs.

However, it is this very ruggedness, rocky desolation and ruggedness that grabs at every one of your senses.  It is a place of incredible, if unconventional beauty.  You will be enthralled for every minute of your Tibetan adventure.  And even after you leave.

tibet

So What Do You Pack?

Tibet travel presents several unique challenges to the visitor.  So when it comes to packing for a trip to Tibet then you need be guided by a very simple philosophy.  Pack sensibly and that means – keep it to a minimum.

Luggage Carriers

When you are deciding what you will take on your Tibet visit you should first consider what kind of luggage carrier you will pack them in.  Avoid large and heavy suitcases.  The best and most convenient carrier is a medium-sized backpack giving you the freedom of movement.  You will not be weighed down and exhausted at the end of every day.  A waist bag is also a good idea as you can put money, important documents and essential items into it.

Clothes

These are probably the most vital items on your packing list. The key here is warm.  Pack warm clothing and wear several layers that can be easily added or removed.  You will experience sudden and unexpected temperature changes and bad weather in a single day.  A waterproof rain jacket is absolutely necessary.  There will be frequent rainfall and even snowfall when Tibet tourism is at its peak visiting periods.  Sturdy walking shoes, preferably the insulated waterproof kind are important items too.

A down coat or large overcoat is necessary for those who are travelling beyond Lhasa and Shigatse.  Other essentials include gloves, four or five pairs of woolen underwear, a thick sweater, four or five pairs of woolen socks, long sleeve cotton or lightweight wool shirts and T-shirts. Ladies should avoid skirts or dresses.  Keep in mind that most hotels in Tibet have no central heating.

Essential Items

Outside Lhasa the hotels are basic and don’t have the usual items found in most hotel rooms around the world.  You will need to carry a cup or drinking glass, a small towel, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and slippers. It is not convenient to wash clothes when travelling outside the big towns, cities and you are in remote places.  Carry a packet of clothes detergent powder if you have to do laundry.

Medicines

Besides your usual prescription medicines you should carry medication to treat colds, headaches, stomach aches and diarrhoea.  Carrying altitude sickness pills are also a good idea.

Skin Protection

First off, solar radiation is strong in the thin air of Tibet so skin care protection is very necessary.  Sun block and creams are necessary items.  Another good sun protector is long-sleeved clothing as are sunglasses.  The wind is strong, constant and dry.  It can cause much damage to your skin.  So carry ample amounts of lip balm and moisturising creams.  These items are important or you could seriously damage your skin.

Miscellaneous Items

Here is a list of other items you should consider carrying.  Some you may need to take with you while others are available in Lhasa.

  • Cash – RMB, Euros or US dollars.  Credit Card acceptance and ATM’s are not a common feature in rural Tibet.
  • Water bottle
  • Insect repellent
  • Knife
  • Camera film
  • Rechargeable batteries
  • Multi-vitamins
  • Light sleeping bag
  • Walking stick

You are now ready and well-prepared for your Tibetan adventure.

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Your Guide to the “Tour de France”

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When July comes rolling around, the whole of France goes bicycle crazy!  The most famous and grueling bicycle race on the planet winds through its streets and fields, up mountains and down valleys. For 3 weeks villages, towns and cities en route put on carnivals.  Every year, since 1903, Le Tour de France has been run – except when war intruded.

Tour de France

France is the most visited country in the world and le tour is one of its biggest attractions, bringing in many thousands of tourists.  The race also takes in a neighboring country or two.  While the route changes every year one part, the end, never does.  After running its spectacularly scenic course through France, the last section is always in the beautiful city of Paris. The race ends with a sprint to the finish line on the Champs-Élysées.

If you should be in France during the Tour and wish to encounter it at some stage here are some of the cities the race will pass through.  This year the race starts on Saturday July 4th at Utrecht in the Netherlands.  It then moves on to Zélande, Livarot, La Pierre-Saint-Martin, Muret, Sèvres – Grand Paris Seine Ouest.  These are 6 new stage cities besides the many other regular, familiar stages.

Tour De France

The 2015 tour is the 102nd edition.  Its route will wind through the Netherlands, Belgium, into France at Paris-Roubaix, Brittany, the Pyrenees and the Alps – a total of 3,360 kilometers of spectacular scenery.  The race will have 21 stages made up of:

  • 9flat stages
  • 3hill stages
  • 7mountain stages with 5 altitude finishes
  • 1individual time-trial stage
  • 1team time-trial stage
  • 2rest days

For the uninitiated we provide the meaning to some terms so you understand what is being discussed around you when the cyclists go whizzing past.

  • Yellow jersey (maillot jaune): Is worn by the rider with the least elapsed time each day or in other words, the leader.
  • Green jersey (maillot vert): The rider with the most sprint points.
  • Pink polka-dot jersey (maillot a pois) for the “King of the Mountains” (the first to the top).
  • White jersey:  The white jersey is given to thebest young rider under 26 years of age with the least overall accumulated time.
  • Prix de la Combativite: For breaking from the peloton (the main group) and leading, rather than sitting back in another’s slipstream.
  • All jerseys can change hands through the course of the race based on daily points standings and times.

The Tour de France is an amazing and arduous sporting event that extracts the utmost out of the human body and spirit.  It is not, however, a ‘first past the post’ winning result.  It is a complex and subtle team sport involving careful and thorough pre-planning.  Split-second tactics and overall strategies play a great part while individual riders’ strengths are aligned with those of others in the team to ensure the best possible outcomes.  Though this is a very professional and commercial event, entry to the Tour is by invitation.

  • Around 200 cyclists compete as part of a team.  Each team is allowed 9 cyclists.
  • All riders in a team are awarded the same time as the leading rider.
  • Team classification: The times of the team’s best three riders are added up. The team with the least overall time wear yellow numbers.
  • The cyclist with the least amount of accumulated time/hours is the overall winner and wearer of the yellow jersey.

Understanding key cycling terms will help you understand how it all works and keep you in the know as you watch the Tour de France.

  • Prologue: A short time trial at the beginning stage of the race.
  • Peloton: The main field of riders, working together by riding close to each other to conserve energy.
  • Autobus: A group of riders at the back of the peloton who ride together for support in mountain stages to try to cross the finish line before the time limit elapses.
  • Breakaway: A rider or small group of riders who race to the front of the peloton.
  • Chase: A rider or group of riders between the breakaway and the peloton trying to bridge the gap to the breakaway.
  • Feed zone: The place on the race course where riders are handed bags of food as they ride by.
  • Time trial: An individual ride where the winner is determined by the fastest time.

Tips for Spectators

Here’s the good news: you don’t need a ticket. This is a free sporting spectacle.  Now the bad news:  Free viewing means huge crowds.

As a spectator the competition is just as fierce as the one on wheels.  Getting a good viewing position on the road is hard with thousands lining the route.  People camp out overnight (some as much as a week before!) to get that all important vantage point.  Roads are often closed well in advance so you have to get there early to secure a good spot.  Oh! Be sure to book your accommodation well in time too.

So if you happen to be in France this July you will now understand what the two-wheeling fuss is all about.  It is a three-week long sporting festival packed with excitement, gorgeous scenery and some extraordinary muscle-wrenching human effort. 

Bon route!

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Must do in Paris: Paris History Bus

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Surely this is what the legendary pop group The Beatles had in mind when they sang of the Magical Mystery Tour.  Paris now has a new magical addition to its innumerable and incomparable attractions.  If you have seen and visited the Eiffel Tower and Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris then getting on the History Bus will give you a perspective that will blow you away.  If you have not then you are in for a treat of 3D proportions.

Paris History Bus

The History Bus instantly recognizable as it is a grass-covered (yes, indeed!) comfortable air-conditioned vehicle.  It is fitted out with 3D video screens and other high-tech interactive multi-media gadgets to heighten the experience.  It is a wheeled cinematic adventure that has put a whole new twist on the traditional city tour.

In case you are wondering how the whole arrangement works, here is what happens.  You board the bus at the Place de la Concorde – the heart of Paris’ attractions.  It then sets off on a tour of the top monuments and historical buildings.  Only thing is that you can’t see out the windows, which have been turned into movie screens with superb added sound effects.  The locations and history of the City of Paris unfolds on the screens.  This cinema-on-wheels tells the story behind some of the city’s most revered monuments.

Just before you reach the intended attraction, a video clip recounts its history, then the screens roll back and the real thing is before your eyes.  The combination of video and reality produces a really heady experience.  The History Bus tour is not just a history lesson told via modern video.  There is more to this unique journey.

History Bust Tour in Paris

During the course of the trip an English speaking guide who is also part entertainer. The guide throws up numerous interesting stories, spicy anecdotes, historical tit-bits and secrets of the city.  This is done with plenty of humour and jokes.  The guide also conducts quizzes (on what you have seen), games and competitions with prizes to be won.  There is also a bit of karaoke for good measure.

The History Bus has two options – the Express Tour (1 hour duration), covering the

• Place de la Concorde
• Eglise de la Madeleine
• Opera Garnier
• Place Vendôme
• Louvre Museum
• Notre-Dame de Paris

and the Global Tour (2 hours) covers the following landmarks in addition to the ones above.

• Champs Elysées
• Arc de Triomphe
• Trocadéro
• Eiffel Tower
• Esplanade des Invalides
• Alexandre III bridge
• Petit Palais
• Grand Palais

NOTE: The tour does not run on Saturday.

When you step off the bus you are sure to feel you have experienced and connected with Paris in an intimate, personal and exciting way that you probably would not.

To book a History Bust Tour click here.

 

 

 

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10 Affordable Destinations for a Family Vacation

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The kids have holidays and you’ve been granted that hard earned leave. Now comes the tough part figuring out where to go.  When planning a family vacation, you have to take into consideration – activities for the kids, activities for you and the spouse, a radically different environment, meals and of course your budget.  Also travelling with children requires preparation and patience. You are, therefore, on the lookout for kid-friendly, reasonably priced or low cost family vacation options.

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In the summer there are plenty of facilities, resorts, camps and hotels offering affordable packages with attractive add-ons, freebies and discounts. If you decide to go only as far as a tank of gas will take you; fly out of the country to a foreign destination or another state here is a selection of destinations for the frugal traveler.  So pack those bags.

Yellowstone National Park

The park packs in an incredible array of awe-inspiring natural wonders.  The famous Old Faithful geyser and Mammoth Springs enthrall both kids and grownups.  You can hike, go fishing, horseback riding or take a boating expedition.  There are plenty of wildlife watching opportunities.  Then again you could simply soak in the magnificent scenery of waterfalls, forests and alpine lakes.

Just take your own tent(s) and save on spending on pricy hotel rooms.  Yellowstone’s tenting camps have splendid amenities and are an adventure in itself.

Winter Park & Vail, Colorado

Better known for its skiing and world class ski resorts these two locations are fantastic summer destinations.  There are gondola rides, scenic walking trails, white-water rafting, and horseback riding.  With organized activities for children; miles of hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing trails, there is plenty to keep everyone happily occupied.

Summertime means great value on family packages that include lodging, meals, activities and guides.

Hawaii

Hawaii, you think, is not real but exists only on postcards – gorgeous sandy beaches, palm trees and the Pacific fifty shades of blue.  It is also an expensive place to holiday, you think.  Not true because Hawaii is more affordable than you assume.  It is possible to get great hotel packages tied into bargain airfares.  Condos come with special car rental rates, tennis, golf and kid activity packages.

There is plenty for all to do too.  Take a kayak out to Mokulua, Mokuman with the famous green sea turtles for company.  Get on an eco-trip to see dolphins, snorkel in the clear waters or indulge in that most Hawaiian of activities – surfing.

Norfolk Island

This incredibly scenic and tiny island is just a couple of flying hours from Sydney and Brisbane.  Norfolk Island has a wonderful temperate climate, glorious beaches and gently undulating green hills.  You can have both – a beach and a country holiday here.

It is ideal for families and children of all ages.  There is plenty to do and see.  Or you can choose to do nothing at all.  It offers some excellent family packages that include a vehicle for the length of your stay.

Activities include snorkeling, horse riding and other nature based activities.  In Norfolk Island ducks and cows have right of way on the roads!  You can enjoy themed dinner and history tours.  There are re-enactments of Norfolk’s history from the arrival of the Polynesian people, its discovery by Captain Cook, the Mutiny of the Bounty to its role as a penal settlement – all excitingly and creatively told.

Rio Formosa Nature Reserve, Algarve, Portugal

If ever a resort was family friendly it is the Quintamar complex, which is located in the heart of the scenic Rio Formosa nature reserve.  Run by a family it is wonderfully relaxed and a world away from other holiday destinations in Portugal.  The apartments have a capacity of five to eight people with rustic décor, patios and wood burning stoves.

For the kids there is a sandpit, wooden pirate ship, playground and menagerie of rabbits, guinea pigs and chickens, which should keep them amused for hours.  The beautiful sandy beaches of eastern Algarve are a short boat trip away and the nearby village of Santa Luzia is famous for its superb seafood restaurants.

Prague

This ancient and fascinating city has stood the test of time, invasions, war, fire and floods and come out the better for it.  Its churches, castles, bridges, houses and cobble-stoned streets are the model for fairy tale settings.  The many and wondrous marvels of this 1,100 years old city’s charms are difficult to resist – even for the most jaded traveler.

Prague, once a hidden gem, is still an affordable city where you can find historic attractions entry free.  Hotels, lodging and food can be had at the fraction of the cost in other European cities.  Prague hotels offer complimentary breakfasts – the most important meal of the day.  Food and drinks are cheap and easy to find.  The Czech capital is fascinating and offers attractions that will even charm the kids.

Paradise Island, The Bahamas

Atlantis is a water theme park on Paradise Island.  It was conceived to cater for families with kids.  It has 11 swimming areas, lazy river rides and breath-taking water slides, a theater that screens recent movies for free, a marine section housing 250 species of marine creatures including sharks, barracudas and stingrays.  A section called The Dig has a replica of the Lost Continent complete with royal treasure, phantasmagorical flying machines, and hieroglyphics, as well as live eels, lobsters, and piranhas.

For the grownups there is a water-therapy spa, a French restaurant and the Marina Village.  The Village has a re-created Bahamian market with shops and restaurants.  It also has dance troupes, live music, puppet and magic shows.

Orlando, Florida

Orlando, Florida is one of the most visited cities in the US, if not the world.  The popularity of the city rests mainly on the huge attraction of its several world famous theme parks – such as Disney World, SeaWorld, Magic Kingdom, LegoLand, Universal Studios and Busch Gardens.  The warm and sunny weather and visions of beautiful beaches are other big reasons.

A holiday for the family in the world’s theme park capital is more affordable than you think.  There are bargains, free nights, add-ons and attractive packages on offer all over the place.  Orlando has wide and varied hotel options.  The city caters to every type of budget.

Dude Ranches

You don’t have to go all the way out west to experience the old frontier days.  There are ranches spread out from Pennsylvania (close to New York City) to Florida and from Idaho to Carolina.  Many are open all year.   Private cabins, wooden lodges and outdoor western style ranch cooking, easy laid back routines are the stuff of doctor-ordered stress busting.

Kids (and the grownups) can take daily horseback rides down picturesque trails. Fly fishing, archery, zip lining are just a few of the other activities that the ranches rustle up for you and the kids.  Great packages are available on five day/four nights stays including meals and riding.  Several also offer massive discounts for children 12 years and under.

Antalya, Turkey

Bordered by the dark and rugged pine clad Bey Mountains and the gorgeous Aegean Sea, Antalya has all the history and culture of its more famed sister cities without their high prices.  It has fantastic beaches, great food and plenty of lovely resorts to choose from.  There is accommodation to suit all budgets, especially family groups.

Antalya, Turkey

 

The nearby Koprulu Canyon National Park offers a range of activities for adventurous families.  You can go off on canyon walking hikes, white-water rafting, abseiling and jeep safaris.  In between you can relax and revive those muscles on a variety of sandy stretches such as Lara Beach and Kaputas Beach.

We hope to have given you a wide and varied choice of places to go on a family holiday.  So start planning for that much awaited and longed-for getaway.

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48 Hours in Barcelona!

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Barcelona is one of the brightest, most colorful, beautiful and happening cities in Europe – if not the world.  You really need several days to soak up and get the most of this vibrant city, which is a unique blend of Modern and Gothic.  It is a melting pot of cultures and is both relaxed and sophisticated.

Barcelona Tours

As you are in the awful position of having only two days in which to explore Barcelona’s many charms here are some things you could do to make the best use of your time.

Since lack of time is your enemy it would be perfect if you could stay in La Rambla or the Gothic Quarter.  These locations are central to your tour.  From these two places the transport connections, such as the Metro and bus services, are superb thus saving you plenty of travel time.

The best, cheapest and most convenient way to get around Barcelona, given your tight schedule, is the hop-on hop-off buses in Barcelona.  There are three lines – blue, green and red.  Depending on your areas of interest you could choose one line or all three.  Many of the attractions, we suggest you see, are covered by a combination of the three lines, so you could easily hop-off and hop-on to any line. The green line is dedicated to Barcelona’s beautiful and exciting beaches.  Get yourself a day pass.

Sagrada Família (Church of the Sacred Family): This fabulous church was designed and begun by the modernist architect, Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona’s most famous son.  Started in 1882 it is still being constructed with reports that it could be finished (finally!) by 2026.  It is immense and can be seen all over the city.  A trip up to the tower will give you a panoramic view of Barcelona.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an icon of Barcelona.

Casa Batlló: This apartment block was restored by the Antoni Gaudí.  Locally known as the “House of Bones,” the shape of the roof and other built-in features are supposed to represent Saint George stabbing a dragon.  The roof tiles are of varying colours representing the dragon’s scales, including blue, greeny-blue, violet, orange, red and pink.  You can go inside for a look at more of the master’s work – for a fee.

The Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter): This is the heart of old Barcelona with buildings from Roman and medieval times.  The beauty of the buildings and the maze of narrow, winding picturesque streets are worth wandering through.  Some of the highlights are the remains of the squared Roman Wall near Tapineria, Avinguda de la Catedral and Plaça Nova to the west, Carrer de la Palla to the south and El Call, the medieval Jewish quarter.

Barcelona Pavilion: The Pavilion as it stands today is a faithful recreation of Mies van der Rohe’s original creation for the 1929 International Exposition.  van der Rohe pioneered a whole new modern architectural style and is possibly the father of the minimalist movement.  It is he who said “Less is more.” and “God is in the details.”  One of the highlights of the pavilion is the ‘Barcelona Chair.’

Park Güell: Yet another fantastic creation from the mind of Antoni Gaudí.  It too is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The garden complex is a collection of out-of-this-world dragons, stone pillars, brilliantly-coloured mosaic walls and snake-shaped seating areas.  The adjectives run out when trying to describe this place.  The best thing to do is to get in there, let your jaw drop and wear out your camera-clicking finger.

Barcelona Beaches: Just 10 minutes from Barcelona’s city centre are seven beautiful sandy beaches.  The four most popular and major ones are Barceloneta Beach, Icària Beach, Mar Bella Beach (Marbella Beach – unofficially a nudist beach) and Sitges Beaches.  The last one is a bit farther away – about a half hour train ride from the city.  You could windsurf, kite-surf or just lie in the sun and get drinks and great food from the many beach huts.

Barcelona Beaches

La Rambla: Is one the most famous streets in all of Europe.  In actuality it is five boulevards, which is why it is commonly referred to in the plural, ‘Las Ramblas.’  Shopping, people watching, restaurants, artists and street performers of all kinds are the major attractions.  It is a great place to spend the evening and night hours.  This pedestrian only avenue is packed with buskers, living statues, mimes, artists and salespeople selling everything from lottery tickets to jewellery.  There plenty of bars and restaurants.

Shopping: When it comes to shopping Barcelona offers a wide spectrum of choices – from luxury to bargain.  Els Encants is one of Europe’s best flea markets with stores selling everything from antiques to junk. At the other end of the scale is Passeig de Gràcia and its luxury boutiques.  Other notable shopping places are the Diagonal Mar, Portal de l’Àngel, the Maremagnum and Las Ramblas.

Eating and Drinking: Barcelona is a paradise for the avid (and not so) foodie.  The tapas, paella, cava, wines and beers are simply divine.  The number of establishments of every size and budget is incredible.  The vast choice of menus and food varieties, especially tapas, can be overwhelming for a first-time visitor or even a frequent one.  From roadside tapas bars to fine dining terrace bars, the city has it all.  However if you want authentic Catalan food then the Gothic Quarter is where you should head to.

The Evening and Night in Barcelona: When your day of sightseeing is done the evening and night beckons.  Barcelona has plenty to fill those hours.  There is entertainment and leisure to suit all tastes and budgets.  You can have dinner while taking in a Flamenco show at one of several notable tablaos.  Cordobes Tablao is probably the most famous place to get your Flamenco fix and have an excellent dinner at the same time.  Barcelona is absolutely crammed with a variety of pretty and traditional tapas bars where you can treat your palette and sip on some excellent wine or beer.  A tapas meal is a must-do experience.

We do hope we are of help in advising and what you should do in this wonderful Mediterranean city and our suggestions made your 48 hours fulfilling.

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