Ski @ Appi Kogen – Japan

Japan – one of my most loved countries in the world. For those who have not set foot in Japan, make it one of the destinations to visit in your lifetime. Experience the culture, soak up the nightlife, enjoy food perfection anywhere and anytime. I find the movie Lost in Translation extremely depictive. Today, I will feature my latest ski trip at Appi Kogen.

Where is Appi Kogen?
The Appi Kogen is located in the Appi Highlands in Iwate Prefecture, about 50km north of Morioka. From Tokyo, it’s 2.5hr on the Shinkansen Hayate to Morioka station and an hour’s bus directly to Appi.
appi map

Accommodation at Appi Hotel
The tower rooms are exceptionally large for Japan standards. Fret not about travel toiletries, you will very likely succumb to using those provided by the hotel. Ladies can also check out the vanity room in the Onsen area for a night of product sampling.
ski @ appi kogen hotel accommodation
Plus, be treated to this postcard view from the hotel rooms!
ski @ appi 2.5hrs on Hayate to Morioka from Tokyo

Skiing at Appi
APPI is located in latitude 40°N where world’s famous ski resorts like Austria’s Arlberg and USA’s Aspen are located. As such, it is uncommon to read about the quality snow here, or Appi being labelled as the St Moritz or Aspen of Japan. Best part, ski starts from early Dec and ends early May.
ski @ appi from Dec to May

Appi is significanly larger than the average ski resort in Japan – 282 hectares, 21 terrains and 45.1km of the total runs. It is a perfect place for beginners and intermediate skiiers who are looking to improve their techniques as slopes are mostly groomed, very wide, and less crowded because of its size.
ski @ appi wide slopes and runs good for beginners

Expert skiiers need not feel left out. There are a couple of black pistes from the summit, including light powder runs. Alternatively, enjoy the challenge of the moguls terrains.
ski @ appi Japan mogul terrains

Ski Conditions
Snowfall is adequate even for spring skiing. We enjoyed Appi’s well-known Aspirin snow (light and fine snow flakes) on the 2nd day of our ski trip!
ski @ appi aspirin snow fine snow flakes

Needless to say, there was amazing powder snow the next day, the sun was dazzlingly bright and we whizzed chirpily through the snow covered trees. In case you have the habit of evaluating the animal paw prints as you ride up the chair lifts, the ones in Appi are most likely fox tracks.
ski @ appi groomed runs enjoy skiing with friends

The summit is for all to enjoy
Enjoy the paronomic view as you take the gondola up to the summit. There are 3 black slopes down and the renowned 5.5km long green course which is popular with kids and family.
ski @ appi gondola to the summit

I am not an expert skiier, therefore my guts have limited pictures to only the groomed black run Hayabusa.
ski @ appi hayabusa black slope and yamabato green course

As well as a short video clip!

Dining at Appi
I loved all my meals – they looked good, tasted better, perfection. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. Remember to also order an Appi beer!

Japanese restaurant – best meal
ski @ appi japanese cuisine appi beer sake

French restaurant – French cusine with a Japanese touch
ski @ appi french cuisine

Must try – Morioka reimen (cold ramen). Only available in Morioka; so delicious we ordered it at every possible meal.
ski @ appi morioka reimen iwate

Conclusion
Appi Kogen is definitely a resort for skiiers of all age and levels and lives up to its reputation of a powderhound. Enjoy a western and modern facade alongside the traditional and immaculate service. Staff here, including ski instructors, speak relatively good English therefore foreigners need not worry. The ski resort is self-contained and there is nothing much outside / around the ski resort. I would recommend a stay of 3-5 days to truely enjoy all faciliites. And by the way, Appi’s motto is “Don’t worry, be appi!”

For more information on Appi Kogen and ski packages, you can visit http://www.appi.co.jp/foreign_country/english/

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Most Expensive Holiday in the World

At a hefty price tag of £1 million, this is probably the world’s most expensive travel package and a once in a lifetime experience that will remain a dream for the average joe.

What’s the deal?
The ultimate journey will last for 2 years and cover 150 countries and 962 World Heritage locations including Mexico’s ancient city of Monte Alban, India’s sensational Taj Mahal, Jordon’s symbol the Petra, Cambodia’s exotic Angkor temples, Spain’s Moorish Alhambra, Egypt’s Great Pyramids, China’s enchanting Forbidden City, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Iran’s Pasargadae, Libya’s Leptis Magna and Peru’s Machu Picchu sitting 8.000 ft above sea level.
world heritage Monte Alban Taj Mahal Petra Angkor Moorish Alhambra Egypt Pyramids Forbidden City Great Barrier Reef Pasargadae Leptis Magna Machu Picchu

Travel In style with business class as a minimum standard and luxurious hotel stays including Barbados’ Sandy Lane, Paris’ Hotel George V, New York’s The Plaza, Mumbai’s The Taj Mahal Palace, Venice’s Cipriani Hotel and Moscow’s The Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
Barbados Sandy Lane Paris Hotel George V NY The Plaza Taj Mahal Venice Cipriani Moscow Ritz Carlton

Bonus
You can bring a partner for free

For the record, one Chinese student and an Italian businessman have already signed up to embark on this 2 year adventure. Yes, you’ve remembered right. The cost is £1 million!!

Watch this space in 2 years’ time for more updates!

For more information, visit http://www.veryfirstto.com

Ski @ Zermatt – Switzerland

Welcome to Zermatt – the classic, charming, car free and picture-perfect alpine skiing village. Hailed as one of the most renowned world class resort and best places to ski in Europe, Zermatt offers Winter skiing from November to May (although the best time to ski is December to March) and Spring / Summer skiing from May to November. Yes, this is the only place in the world where you can ski 365 days a year!

How to get to Zermatt
Ski Zermatt Railway Train Gornergrat Furi Klein Matterhorn
Zermatt is easily accessible by train or car. From Zurich, it takes 3hr 35mins by train and 4hr 25mins by car. Alternatively, a connection from Geneva or Milan (Malpensa) will take 3hr 45mins by train and 2hr 45mins by car. As mentioned, Zermatt only allows battery operated vehicles, therefore those driving will need to park in Täsch (there is a multi-storey car park at the station), and then hop onto the Zermatt shuttle which is a 10mins scenic ride that runs between the two village every 20mins. In your decision making, do take into consideration that the Swiss rails are extremely efficient, spacious and immaculately clean, and that Täsch is quite a dead town.

The Playground
There are three main ski areas at Zermatt – the Sunnegga, the Gornergrat, and the Klein Matterhorn. All three ski areas soar to at least 3,100m and there is a a total of 250km of varied terrain runs to explore! Plus, the highest and longest run is 2,200m and a good 13km from Klein Matterhorn to the village. Blast it is! Make sure to pace yourself.
Zermatt Switzerland Ski Mountain Area Piste Map
Top Elevation: 3,820m / 12,500 ft
Base (Village) Elevation:1,620m / 5,250 ft
Vertical drop: 2,200m / 7,250ft
Marked Pistes: 245km
Beginner 23% / Intermediate 44% / Expert 33%
Longest Piste: 13km
Snowboard facilities: 2 parks and 2 halfpipes

The ski mountains are well built up and offers an extensive range of 73 Mountain Railways and Ski-lifts including 34 surface ski lifts, 17 aerial cable cars/trams,14 chair lifts, 6 gondola ski lifts, 1 rack railway with 18 railcars and 1 high speed underground cable railway. Guess that probably explains for the pricier ski pass here. As a gauge, the winter ski pass for 5 days in 7 for All Zermatt is CHF344 and CHF387 for All Zermatt and Cervinia Italy.
Ski Zermatt Matterhorn Hook Chair Lifts Gondola Glacier Paradise Cervinia Express

Top of the World
One of the best gifts is the abundant of snowfall at Zermatt which guarantees impeccable ski conditions, particularly during the winter season. The 360 panorama on a clear and sunny day is spectacular and akin to the 10 times better than the Jungfraujoch experience.
Ski Zermatt Breuil Cervinia Valtournenche Italy Switzerland

Do check out the weather conditions before you set off. You will not miss the board at the gondola station at Klein Matterhorn and the Sunnegga Railway that highlights all the open lifts to help plan your route of advancement.
Ski Zermatt Breuil Cervinia Valtournenche Italy Switzerland Winter Holiday Vacation

For the advanced skiers, there are virtually endless off piste options, high cliffs, deep powder, the expert terrain in the Sunnegga and Gornergrat areas and the moguls on Stockhorn and Rote Nasse. Plus, there is also heli skiing!

Up Close and Personal
Meeting Klein Matterhorn is very much subjected to weather conditions. A friendly local told us that he had been skiing in Zermatt for 6 years, and this was the first time he finally saw the iconic Matterhorn!
Ski Zermatt Matterhorn Swiss Alps Peak Paramount Pictures

Spoilt for Choice
Zermatt boasts an amazing collection of more than 50 bars and restaurants on the mountains. You can enjoy anything and everything here. However, as the saying goes, cheap is not good, and good doesn’t come cheap. Do prepare resources as you and your partner stop over for some hot coffee and donuts (~CHF20), enjoy uberlicious pasta on the open terrace (~CHF 50 incl. drinks), or perhaps indulge in a romantic fine dinning bon appétit as you overlook the Matterhorn (ka ching ching ching). Remember to also keep cash handy as some of the smaller rustic bars may not accept cards.
Ski Zermatt Cafes Restaurants Bars Mountains Pasta Cervo

Know your Limits
We witnessed 2 helicopter rescues within one afternoon. Some of the intermediate runs from the top can be narrower, bendy and of course, a gradient that will not disappoint its coded standards. While there are safety ropes along more dangerous pistes, I do not recommend you test the E = MC2 theory, and instead be very careful to select the appropriate level of route(s).
Ski Zermatt Rescue Helicopter Air Zermatt Professional
As a guide,
Green run – beginner
Blue run – intermediate
Red run – advanced
Black run – expert (equivalent of a double black diamond run)

Ski into Cervinia Italy
It is truly surreal to ski across the international borders into Italy. Crazy insane!! Here’s how you can ski across from Zermatt into Italy.
Step 1: Make your way to Testa Grigia.
Option a: Take the Klein Matterhorn Gondola, walk through a tunnel, and then ski to Testa Grigia
Option b: Ride two two long t-bars from Trockener Steg to Testa Grigia
Step 2: Connect from Testa Grigia into Cervinia
Option a: Take the Gondola to Cervinia
Option b: From Testa Grigia, either ski left to Cervinia via the Ventina Route 7, or right via the Plan Maison Route 6 (which is the easier route)
Route 6 will also lead you to Chalet Etoile (the #1 restaurant in Breuil-Cervinia on tripadvisor). Do note that most cafes in Italy only accept EUR.
Ski Zermatt Switzerland Italy border Mountains

The Italian mountains are not as sophisticated as the Swiss Alps, however snow conditions remain fabulous. Cervinia is less crowded and offers magnificently groomed long beginners and intermediate runs which makes it a relaxing switch from the Swiss Alps.
Ski Zermatt Breuil Cervinia Valtournenche Italy Switzerland Beginner Intermediate Skiers

Take in the stunning landscape as you cruise along the wide and perfect practice grounds of Highway Run 7 which stretches on for 11km. White on white has never looked so good.
Ski Zermatt Breuil Cervinia Valtournenche Matterhorn Paradise Swiss Alps

Conclusion
Zermatt is probably not ideal for the faint hearted novice, but is definitely a wonderland paradise for intermediate and advanced skiers. Zermatt is also a lifestyle, and not the most suitable for those on a budget. For those on the right permutation, I recommend a stay of 5-7 days to fully cover and enjoy the spectacular mountains. Alternatively, take a luxurious 2 week vacation to truly explore the extensive terrains, at your own pace and choice of weather. The beauty of Zermatt, is that even though it is one of the more expensive ski destinations, as much as the price tag stings, I reckon that once you have tasted its sweetness, you will plan to re-visit at one point or another.

Useful links
Zermatt Tourism Board http://www.zermatt.ch/en
Ski Zermatt http://www.ski-zermatt.com
Swiss Rail http://fahrplan.sbb.ch/bin/query.exe/en

Book your hotel now – low rates @ booking.com
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Love @ First Sight – Paris Top 5 Attractions

As cliche as it may sound, Paris is definitely one of the most romantic cities in the world. There’s just something special in the air that makes you fall in love with this place instantly. Even simple things like their passion for baguettes, and how almost every Parisian is spotted taking away a fresh roll of baguette in the mornings, really, just brings a smile to your face. Here are 5 visually stunning attractions that will melt your heart further. And more importantly, directions on how to get to them.

#1 – Eiffel Tower (how to pronounce: I fa tower)
Paris Eiffel Tower 7 Wonders Icon in France
The iconic Parisian landmark was built by Gustave Eiffel and completed in 1889. 324m (1,063 ft) tall, 3 levels, 1665 steps, this baby is one of the most visited monuments in the world. You could admire it from day to night, and night to day, and somehow still desire to swing by each time you visit Paris. No visit is complete without the Eiffel Tower.

Nearest Metro Station:
Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel on line RER C

#2 – Notre Dame Cathedral (French for “Our Lady of Paris”)
Paris Notre Dame Cathedral Must See Travel France Stained Glass Church
A magnificent gothic masterpiece by Maurice de Sully. Completed in 1345, this cathedral has an amazing collection of sculptures, paintings and stained glass rose windows. The Notre Dame is 130m long, 48m wide, 35m high and the rose windows have a diameter of 10m. Climb 387 steps to reach the top to view its most famous bell and gargoyles in close quarters. Spread your wings and enjoy the spectacular view across Paris.

Nearest Metro Station:
St-Michel Notre Dame on line RER B / C

#3 – Arc de Triomphe (how to pronounce: ark de triumph ff)
Paris Arc de Triomphe Monuments Sculptures Reliefs Bird's eye view
The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Warsis and is decorated with scenes from French military victories. Names of the great French Generals are inscribed on it and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies beneath the Arc to commemorate all those who died unidentified in war. The majestic monument stands 50m in height, 45m wide and 22m deep. Climb 40 steps after an elevator ride to reach the top for a breathtaking picture. Word of advice, please use the underpass instead of attempting to cross the traffic circle!

Nearest Metro Station:
Charles de Gaulle-Etoile on line RER A

#4 – Champs-Elysées (how to pronounce: sean zay lee zay)
Paris Champs-Elysées Shopping Street Cafes Food Romantic
Champs-Elysées is probably the most famous, expensive and mis-pronounced street (by tourists) in Paris. The avenue runs for 1.91 km from the Place de la Concorde to the Place Charles de Gaulle and is lined with lovely greenery as well as various cafes, clubs, theatres and luxury shops such as LV’s flagship store. A fantastic spot to rest those feet and people watch, doesn’t hurt that Parisians are generally good looking and love their casual chic fashion sense. Don’t forget to drop by Ladurée to pick up one of the world’s finest macaron.

Nearest Metro Station:
Charles de Gaulle-Etoile on line RER A

#5 – Musée du Louvre (how to pronounce: ​myze de luf)
Paris Musée du Louvre Attraction Mona Lisa Art Museum
Nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century, 60,600 square metres, the most visited museum in the world, and of course, a glimpse of the all famous Mona Lisa masterpiece amongst a sea of people (regardless the day). Featured in the movie Da Vinci Code, the glass pyramid architecture literally blows your mind away. How on earth, I.M Pei, did you build something so perfect and so beautiful?! Ingenious. And by the way, rumour has it that Angelina, which is just around the corner, has the best hot chocolate in the world!

Nearest Metro Station:
Louvre Rivoli and Palais Royal Musée du Louvre on line 1

Useful links
Paris Metro Interactive map http://www.ratp.fr/plan-interactif/carteidf.php
Ladurée http://www.laduree.com/
Angelina http://www.angelina-paris.fr/

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Best beach in Asia – Cua Dai, Vietnam

Cua Dai beach has been touted as the best beach in Asia and voted as the one of the best beaches in Asia by millions of travellers through polls conducted by travel guides such as tripadvisor. I welcome a beach holiday anytime and I’m always excited to uncover what the hype is all about!

Where is Cua Dai beach?
Cua Dai beach is in Vietnam and along the coastlines between Hanoi and HCM. The beach faces the South China Sea and is about 4km to the north-east of Hoi An Town. Although blessed with a tropical climate, the best time to visit is from January to May (temperature ~ 20-30s and low rainfall), while May to August is the hottest and September to January is the rainy season.
Hoi An Cua Dai Vietnam map

How to get to Cua Dai beach / Hoi An?
The easiest way to Hoi An is to fly into Da Nang Airport. Da Nang is easily connected through HCM or Hanoi and the transit itself can be an adventure as flight delays are pretty common, as well as language being a barrier. It is therefore advisable to book connecting/direct flights with the same carrier such as Vietnamair, Jetstar or Singapore Silkair. It takes 25-30 mins by taxi to get to Hoi An from Da Nang Airport and one way will cost about USD 25-30.

Welcome to Cua Dai beach
Be greeted by the amazingly clean, beautiful and unspoilt beach upon your arrival.
Hoi An sun soak on Cua Dai beach blue skies clear sea and white sands

Cua Dai beach stretches on for 3km and is extremely peaceful and uncrowded.
Hoi An fishing boats circular baskets on Cua Dai beach

Say hello to relaxing and bye bye to touters.
Hoi An Cua Dai Da Nang Vietname fishing boat

Do take care when swimming in the sea as the currents can be strong. Guess that also explains for the eroding beach at the tip and lack of water sports in this area.
Hoi An Cui Dai beach China Sea clear waters waves

Where can you stay?
Hoi An Boutique is an amazingly peaceful and lusciously green luxurious beach front resort.
Hoi An Boutique Hoi An Hotel Beach Resort Spa

The best bit? An exclusive private beach decked with chairs that are nicely spaced out.
Hoi An holiday and relaxing in Vienam Cua Dai beach

The bonus? A free shuttle service that brings you back and forth to Hoi An town throughout the day. This equates to about USD5 savings each way (that can easily buy you 5 cans of beer at the local supermarket)!

Hoi An Town
Stroll down the ancient city, which is also a UNESCO heritage site, and enjoy the well preserved buildings with a unique blend of local and foreign influences. Hoi an, in general, is laid back and locals are remarkably warm and hospitable. Take time to tailor some clothes and shop the handicraft; fret not about exorbitant shopping quotations. There are plenty of restaurants and pubs for you to periodically rest those tired feet. Enjoy the most delicious vietnamese spring rolls at Morning Glory.
Hoi An Ancient City UNESCO Heritage Centre Vietnam

All about the money
Prices are usually quoted in VND although your friendly shop owners will be happy to convert to USD for payment. Credit cards are not widely used and mostly accepted only in restaurants.

Getting around
Taxi is the best option to get from one place to another fast. Most taxis are on meters – look out for the bigger taxi chains Mai Linh (white and green taxi) and Faifoo (yellow taxi) which is accompanied by a smartly dressed chauffeur (white shirt and matching taxi colour tie). Alternatively, rent a bicycle to explore the town.

Conclusion
Cua Dai beach is a perfect alternative for those seeking a tranquil retreat and a change from the more commercialised beaches in Indonesia and Thailand. Definitely worthy of its crown as one of the best beaches in Asia (if not the best). A perfect weekend getaway if you are based in Asia, and a lovely stopover for travellers embarking on a longer Asia escapade. Sun-soak all day, get lost in time, enjoy the sounds of the sea waves and pamper yourself at the spa. Super love this place and recommend at least a 3-4 day stay to truly enjoy the beach as well as Hoi An Town. I guess I’m already missing the place as I write.

Book your tickets and accommodation now!
Vietnamair http://www.vietnamairlines.com
SilkAir http://www.silkair.com
Jetstar http://www.jetstar.com
Hoi An Boutique Resort http://www.boutiquehoianresort.com

Low rates @ agoda.com
worldwide asia hotels agoda

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Gordon Ramsay vs Singapore Hawkers Cook Off

20130706-114208.jpg Guess who has just gotten his passport chopped in Singapore!

Michelin starred chef Gordon Ramsay has accepted the challenge to take on Singapore’s top 3 hawkers in a culinary showdown. Ramsey will be in Singapore from 5-7 July to learn how to cook the 3 local dishes Chilli crab, Chicken rice and Laksa for the first 2 days before the very awaited competition on 7 July.

So, who will win? Will Singapore’s local hawker food be up to standards of Michelin star standards?

*** Update ***
The hawker heroes have won!
20130707-221906.jpg
Cook Off #1 Chicken Rice: Hawker Madam Foo (Tian Tian Chicken Rice)
Cook Off #2 Chilli Crab: Michelin starred Gordon Ramsay
Cook Off #3 Laksa: Hawker Mr Ryan Koh (328 Katong Laksa)

For more information, please visit http://www.hawkerheroes.com

Blown Away – Iceland Top 5 Attractions

Words alone does this country no justice to convey the visual treats and mind boggling experiences. Indeed, seeing is believing. Here are my top 5 picks and directions / co-ordinates to get there.

#1 – Geysir Hot Springs
Iceland top attractions geysir hot spring strokkur lil geysir mud pots erupts golden circle
Iceland is home to some of the greatest geysers in the world due to its high rate of volcanic activity. Be entranced by the Strokkur which erupts every 5 mins and spouts hot water up to 20m high! There are also more than 40 other little hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles nearby.

Here’s the big blast that sent everyone screaming! Wish I had an umbrella.

How to get to Geysir Hot Springs
Take road no. 1 from Reykjavík. Just before you arrive at Selfoss take exit to road no. 35 to Geysir. Geysir is about 60 km from that exit.
GPS: N64°18.591 W20°18.057

#2 – Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Iceland top attractions jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice bergs skaftafell
This natural wonder evolved into a lagoon after the glacier started receding from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean (also the movie set for James Bond, Tomb Raider and Batman!). While most ice bergs in the lagoon are majestic and incredibility blue, explore those by the shore and be surprised to find some exceptionally clear ice bergs. Plus, if you are lucky, you might just spot a seal!

How to get to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Take road no. 1 from Vík direction Höfn. About 57 km east of Skaftafell you will find the Glacier Lagoon by road no.1
GPS: N64°02.904 W16°10.774

#3 – Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
Iceland top attractions seljalandsfoss famous waterfall selfoss
Seljalandsfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. What sets it apart from all it’s Icelandic buddies is that you can actually walk behind this magnificent 60m high picturesque waterfall. Did you know that Seljalandsfoss was also featured in the Amazing Race 6!

How to get to Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
Take road no. 1 from Selfoss heading towards Vík. After about 22 km from Hvolsvöllur, take the exit to road no. 249 to Þórsmörk and travel about 0.5km. You will see Seljalandsfoss from road no. 1
GPS: N63°36.966 W19°59.572

#4 – Lake Myvatn
Iceland top attractions  myvatn lake winter geysir bread
It is almost surreal how a humongous body of immensely blue water and in the midst of vast, barren and almost uninhabited land, alongside the area’s strong sulphuric pungent smell, can captivate one’s heart. A must try in this area is the Geysir bread which is slow baked underground by natural geothermal heat, even in Winter!

How to get to Lake Myvatn
Take road no. 1 from Akureyri heading towards Mývatn and Egilsstaðir. Mývatn is by road no. 1 about 98 km from Akureyri
GPS: N65°38.681 W16°54.902

#5 – Myvatn Nature Baths
Iceland top attractions myvatn nature bath blue lagoon
This, in winter, is absolute heaven. Relax those muscles as you soak yourself in the 40°C natural pool of geothermal water based in the middle of a lava field. Those staying within the Golden Circle could visit the Blue Lagoon instead, although do take note that the Blue Lagoon is more commercialized and crowded, as such the overall experience will be different.

How to get to Myvatn Nature Baths
Take road no. 1 from Reykjahlid heading towards Egilsstadir. After 3km, exit right by the sign “Jardbodin” and follow the road to Myvatn Naturebaths.
GPS: N65°37.500 W16°50.520

For more information on Myvatn Nature Baths visit http://www.jardbodin.is/en

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