5 Twin Cities Dates to go on this Summer

So you found that special someone did ya? I bet you want to take them out on some great dates too! Not to worry, I’ve done all of the creative thinking for you. All you have to do is follow the instructions below and enjoy your date. Oh, and by the way, I will expect an invite to the wedding since I am helping you out after all ;).

1. Longfellow Neighborhood Date:

Start the evening around 5pm with a stroll by Minnehaha falls, and then take a swing into Sea Salt Eatery for some great food. When you are finished eating their scrumptious sea food, drive a few miles to the Riverview Theater to catch a movie. I’m a lover of all things vintage, and this is my favorite theater in the metro because walking in is like taking a step back in time. When we took my mom there for the first time, she said that it reminded her of the theaters she grew up going to. Another reason I like it is because it’s easy on the wallet. Instead of showing the most current films, it plays the most popular movies that just exited the regular theaters. So go ahead, get your special someone some popcorn AND a soda… You can afford it ;)! Finish out the evening across the street at the charming Riverview Cafe to grab a late coffee, tea, or wine at their wine bar. You might even be able to catch some live music before or after the movie! Check Riverview’s schedule to see who is playing when you are planning to go.

2. Downtown Minneapolis Date:

I can’t get enough of the beautiful weather in the summer, so take a walk across the Stone Arch Bridge. If you have the time, consider setting up a tour of the Mill City Museum as well. When you are ready to go inside, head over to The Dakota Jazz club for an amazing dinner and to listen to some tunes. You will need to reserve your table and tickets in advance. Do this by clicking here. This will be a fun & classy evening that anyone would enjoy.

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3. Uptown Minneapolis Date:

This is a great date to have on a Saturday afternoon. Head over to Surdyk’s in North East sometime before lunch. Take a look around their their deli and cheese shop to pick out the perfect picnic spread (including at least 1 or 2 of their amazing cheeses). I recently went here with a friend and accidentally spent over $20 on cheese alone. It’s all just soooo good. Take your food to go and drive over to lake Calhoun. Rent a canoe, enjoy a paddle around the lakes, and eat your lunch together on one of the more secluded lakes for a bit of romance.

4. Stillwater, MN Date:

Take the half hour drive east to Historic Stillwater. Wander down historic Main Street together and look in all of the shops. At your scheduled departure time, head south on main street to where the riverboats are docked. Have a great dinner and enjoy the sights as you boat down the river. Surprisingly, you can get both the boat ride and dinner for only $30 a person! Book your tickets here.

 

5. Edina, MN Date:

Centennial Lakes in Edina may be man made, but it has a certain charm to it. Walk hand-in hand around the lakes, play some mini golf, and then head up the stairs to Pinstripes for dinner. To extend your evening, schedule a game of indoor bocce or bowling at Pinstripes, or relax by either one of their 2 outdoor fire pits.

 

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Why You Won’t go on Vacation & Why You Probably Should

You could be in Amsterdam in eight hours. In Cape Town in sixteen. You could be scaling the Andes Mountains in Patagonia right now –while  wearing your favorite Patagonia coat. So why are you still sitting on your couch? Why haven’t you left your home state in twenty years? And why aren’t you living the crazy life you’ve always dreamed of? It’s a proven fact that people are happier when they have a vacation planned. It’s often said that a vacation gives you something to look forward to. This alone should be enough to convince you to start saving for a trip. However, it’s not always that easy, is it? If you are anything like me, practicality often gets in the way of adventure. Three of the biggest reasons people don’t take vacations is because of money, time, and flat out fear.

Addressing the “I don’t have enough money” mindset:

Have you ever put new tires before a Las Vegas getaway with friends? Or maybe a new lawn mower got in the way of that perfect getaway to Chicago. Whatever it is that stops you from saving for a vacation, it doesn’t have to take away from the exciting adventure that could await. Sometimes all it takes is a simple shift in mindset to make the unthinkable happen.

When Dan and I were first married we made very little money. I worked part-time while finishing school as Dan started his first year teaching. Our apartment was a one bedroom located in the bad part of Minneapolis. Despite that, we decided that traveling would be a priority for us. But how did we do it? We traded some things for others. So, I want to propose a question. What are the things in your life that you don’t actually need?  Consider dropping your cable to put that money aside for a trip. Do you need the newspaper when many are available to read online? Transportation is necessary, but does it have to be a 2016 model? Just start thinking about it. I could bet that most people reading this article could at least save $10 a month in a vacation fund. It’s a start!

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Addressing the “I’m too busy” mindset:

Have you ever been so busy that the thought of adding one more thing to your schedule makes you feel like you’ll break? I have, and at this point a vacation isn’t just a want, it’s a need. You can only run on low batteries for so long before they run out. If the thought of laying on the white sand beaches of Aruba is cathartic, imagine how healing it would be to actually be there. Between the two of us, Dan and I work over 130 hours a week. Add a social life to that, errands, cleaning house… etc… we aren’t left with much extra time. Our particular schedule may look different than yours, but I know that we aren’t the only ones who have only a precious few hours to spend leisurely. That’s why you need to recharge your batteries. Our lives are so busy, that if we don’t slow down from time to time, we really could break. If you have enough PTO, use some. If your parents said they would watch your kids, don’t feel guilty, take advantage of the opportunity. If you think you’ve got too much going on at work, take care of the things that need attention right away, and leave the rest for later.

 

 

Addressing the “I’m too scared” mindset:

When you are at the end of your life looking back at all you’ve done, won’t you want to reflect on all of the seized opportunities, and revel in the fact that you took control of life? In the short life I’ve already lived, I’ve learned that some of the scariest experiences in life are the best experiences. When we were in the Cayman Islands a few years back, Dan made me hold a stingray while on a snorkeling adventure. I was terrified while I watched others pick them up, but I was also jealous of the life experience they were having. He saw the wistful look in my eye and encouraged me to hold one even though I was scared. I’m thankful for the push he gave me. That will forever be one of my favorite experiences in life. What are the things you have wanted to do, but you let fear stand in the way?

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Can you see the man swimming after the stingray :D!?

 

 

If you are still struggling to justify a vacation, I will give you a few more reasons to just bite the bullet and plan the trip:

  1. It’s a chance to invest in yourself.
  2. It gives you the break you need to recharge your batteries for life.
  3. If you’re married or dating, it’s a chance to invest in your relationship.
  4. It helps you expand your interests.
  5. It opens your world view.
  6. It’s a chance to invest in your family.
  7. It’s a chance to build new relationships.
  8. It can be a spiritual experience.
  9. Because accumulating experiences is better than collecting stuff
  10. It’s a chance to give back (missions or volunteer trips)

 

 

 

  • PS, I want to give a quick shout out to my husband Dan for doing an amazing edit on this post!

 

 

The Ultimate Guide to San Francisco

The song lyrics “I left my heart in San Francisco” played on repeat in my mind as our plane lifted off the tarmac to head for home. It has been playing in my mind pretty much ever since. Minnesota has been home for my entire life, but San Francisco takes a close second. If a city could describe my personality, San Francisco does it well. It has a sunny disposition, lots of quirkiness, good fashion, a love for good food, lots of energy, with a little bit of brokenness mixed in (let’s just be honest… none of us are sunshine and rainbows all of the time). I identify so strongly with it, it’s no wonder that it feels like home!
I had been asking my husband to go back from the moment we left our first trip, and he made that dream come true last month (side note… I married a really good man, and I’m so thankful he makes such amazing gestures of love for me…. All my single ladies, wait for a fella like that). Anyway, having just returned home from our second trip, I decided to finally write a blog about my favorite city. I could go on and on, but I’ll keep it simple by just naming a few places you HAVE to go while in San Francisco!

 

The Top 10 Things to do in San Francisco

 

10. The Western Addition Neighborhood:

This neighborhood is located in central San Francisco, and has easy use of public transportation. This is where we always stay when we are in San Francisco. On this last trip we found a hidden gem called the Chateau Tivoli Bed & Breakfast. I HIGHLY recommend staying here. Although they are off the beaten track from where all of the other tourists stay, they are close to public transportation, in a safe neighborhood, and two blocks from Alamo Square park and “the painted ladies” AKA the Full House houses. If you like soaking in vintage claw foot tubs, sleeping in beds that look like they belong in a palace, eating AMAZING breakfast (they do smoked salmon and capers), and chatting with amazingly friendly staff, stay here.

 

 

Neighborhood highlights:

9. The Wharf

Yes, it’s touristy, but part of the reason why we all love San Francisco is because it sits on that beautiful bay! This is a bustling area on the bay filled with street performers, tourists, sea food stands, shops, trolley cars, restaurants, museums, and seaside beauty.


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Neighborhood highlights:

  • The municipal pier for great views of the Golden Gate
  • Pier 39 for the heart of the action. Jam packed with restaurants, museums, and fun! You can book city tours and adventures here.
  • Boudin, for their famous sourdough bread
  • Ghirardelle Chocolate Factory
  • The Ferry Building for food and boutique shopping. Also take a ferry to the sleepy little towns of Sausalito or Tiburon from here.

8. North Beach neighborhood

This neighborhood borders Chinatown and the Financial district. You can sit and enjoy a cup of espresso while pretending you are in Europe here. Sidewalk cafes line the street in this neighborhood with Italian food, drink, and people.


Neighborhood highlights:

  • Columbus Tower/Sentinel Building – 900 Kearny St. – Visit this historic building if you love architecture.
  • Caffe Greco – have a traditional Italian espresso on the outdoor patio while watching the people walk by
  • Washington Square park – Pack a lunch and enjoy this green space that faces the beautiful St. Peter & Paul church
  • Grant Ave. – Wander in and out of the shops on Grant Ave. which is the oldest street in San Francisco. There is a great shop with vintage maps and prints where you can get a unique keepsake from your trip to North Beach. We took home a reprint of a poster drawn by a local North Beach artist. He drew the poster for the neighborhood in the 1990’s and makes prints just for that shop.

7. Chinatown

This Chinatown is the BEST in our country. I love that it’s a place for tourists to hang out, but that Chinese people actually live in the neighborhood and do life there. Walk down some of the side streets to see their laundry hanging out their windows, and visit their grocery stores to see the unique items that they eat. You can’t go wrong with pretty much any of their restaurants for some authentic Chinese food.

6. The Haight

Step back in time to a neighborhood that’s stuck in the 1960’s free love era. This neighborhood is a great mix of everything. See old hippies, several vagrants, but also some of the most well kept homes in San Francisco, and upscale shops all mixed together in this eclectic neighborhood.

Neighborhood highlights:

  • Amoeba Music – If you like to spin the vinyl, check out this huge record shop.
  • Parada 22 –  Serves the best Puerto Rican food you will ever eat. Their most popular dish is a simple meal that is eaten in Latin America everyday, but they cook it the way that everyone else wishes they could. Think about pork so soft that it melts in your mouth, a hot red bean salad with the perfect mix of seasonings, fried plantains, and fresh greens. Please, do yourself a favor and go here. I have dined at many wonderful places in my lifetime, and this is still my favorite restaurant. They prove my theory that something doesn’t have to be complex to be good.

5. Hayes Valley

This is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in San Francisco right now. It’s still small, but is lined with independently owned restaurants, and pop ups. The vibe is small town charm meets the city.

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Neighborhood highlights:

  • Patricia’s Green park
  • Blue Bottle Coffee – This small coffee shop is moving worldwide. Their flagship shop is in a small alleyway filled with plants and murals. Try their iced coffee with roasted chicory for something new.

4. Japanese Tea Garden

If you love tea, architecture, and Japanese plants, pay the small fee to get into this section of the Golden Gate Park. They have an open air tea room where you can have traditional tea and sandwiches.

3. The Mission

This neighborhood still has some dangerous spots, and so you want to be careful about where and when you go, but it also has some of the most vibrant murals, people, and food in the entire city. During our first trip, we completely missed the Mission, and after our second visit we realized that this area is where we should have actually been spending all of our time.


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Neighborhood highlights:

  • Mission Dolores Park – This park sits on a hill and has some of the most spectacular views of San Francisco
  • The murals – Take a walk down 24th St. between Potrero Ave. and Mission St. to see some of the most vibrant and lively murals in the city. It’s not so cut and dry that all of the murals will be on this exact street, so be willing to veer off course a little bit, or walk through some of the alleys!
  • Dynamo Donuts – This shop has made from scratch donuts and an amazing outdoor patio in the back
  • La Palma – This Mexican restaurant will provide you with some of the best Mexican food in the city. Take it to go and sit in Mission Dolores Park

2. Muir Woods

The Muir Woods are about a 30 minute drive on 101 N over the Golden Gate bridge. If you are interested in getting outside in the beautiful nature surrounding San Francisco, this is a quick drive. There are miles of trails in this young redwood forest. Pack a lunch, put on some hiking shoes, and enjoy the tranquility here.

1.Marin Headlands

On your way back from the Muir Woods, take the last exit before you cross back over the Golden Gate for some of the best views of the bridge and bay area. There is a road that climbs the side of the cliffs next to the ocean where you can park at several stops to take pictures of the bridge and San Francisco. This is my favorite place to stop in the entire bay area. You will not regret stopping to enjoy the view.

 

Tips for planning your first trip to Paris

Most people won’t get to take more than one trip to Paris in their lifetime, so you want to make it good, right? Dan and I had the amazing opportunity to take a 2 week trip to Europe this past summer. Because we have family there, we started in The Netherlands, and then travelled on to Belgium, the UK, and finally to Paris. The trip was amazing, and it went so well because we took the time to plan out some of the important things beforehand. Below are some of the tips I have for planning your trip to Paris. Enjoy!

 

  1. Do your research 

This sounds really nerdy, but we spent months before our trip learning about Paris and the activities we wanted to do there. Read blogs, scour Pinterest, google up a storm, and buy a travel book or two before you go. Take the time to figure out what will be really enjoyable for you to do in the city. There is nothing worse than spending the money on a great trip to get there and have no idea how to take advantage of the opportunities surrounding you.  The Lonely Planet book on Paris was what we decided to buy, and we used it ALL of the time; both before and during our trip to Paris. The tips from it were really incredible. It gave us an idea of where to spend our time, but it also contained removable maps of the city, common phrases to use, walking tours by neighborhood, and explanations of the customs of the city.

Not only did we take time to figure out what would make our trip enjoyable, but we figured out what we didn’t want to do as well. Waiting in line for everything (like the thousands of other tourists around us) was one of the things that would make the trip stressful for us. We despise waiting in lines…. like really really hate it. In my opinion, there isn’t much in life that is truly worth a 3 – 4 hour wait. So, we figured out how to minimize our wait times. Just because I love you, here are the things I learned to keep the wait time at minimum:

  • Buy your tickets to the Eiffel Tower in advance: Everything I read before my trip told me to get in line to take the steps up to the first level of the Eiffel Tower to shorten my wait time, but at mid day when all of the tourists are around, you will still wait in line for at least an hour, and then have to climb A LOT of stairs. Just buy your tickets in advance to save yourself the wait. Unfortunately, we went to purchase our tickets in advance, but were too late (they sell out months in advance). This might be a tip, or we might have gotten lucky, but we decided to go up the Eiffel Tower at night instead, and there were only 10 people in line before us to do so. It was breathtaking to see the city at night. That might be something to check into if you missed out on the advance tickets like us.
  • Visit the Sacre Coeur for the best view of the city without a wait:  Everyone that comes to Paris wants to go up the Eiffel Tower, and you should at least once in life, but my favorite view of the city was at the Sacre Coeur. This beautiful church towers over Paris on a hilltop, giving you views for miles. Also, ask yourself this: what’s missing from a daytime view of Paris at the Eiffel Tower? The Eiffel Tower! As tourists, we LOVE looking at it, so when you are up in the Sacre Coeur, you not only get a beautiful city view, but unobstructed views of the structure we all know and love so much. When we got to the church, we realized that most people don’t know that you can actually go up into the tower of the church. Hundreds of people climb the hill to get to the church and linger on the steps outside it, but when you go around the right side of the building, and down some stairs, you can get in line to climb its tower. There was NO wait, and it was only 6 Euros a person (that’s a great price compared to everything else).
  • Buy your tickets to Notre Dame in advance. Churches are popular places to visit all over Europe. If you want to go to the most famous ones, either attend mass on a Sunday when they are free, or get your tickets in advance.
  • Get to the Musee D’Orsay in the morning: You won’t wait in line to buy your ticket at the door if you get there early enough. We arrived around 9 in the morning and spent about 15 minutes in line.
  • Buy a travel book to learn my FAVORITE no wait tip for The Louvre: You can sometimes have up to a 3 hour wait at the main doors of the Louvre. Read your travel book to learn how to skip the lines (Again… we bought the Lonely Planet one). It’s not a trick. It really works. I’m not willing to share the exact tip online, because I want you to do the work the reap the benefit of this tip (and if everyone finds out about it so easily, the wait time will no longer be short), but let me say that there was LITERALLY NOBODY in line where we got into The Louvre. It was so bizarre to me that nobody knew about the entrance, that I thought we had to be at the wrong place. Well we weren’t, and got in instantly! Score! This saved us a 3 hour wait, and we weren’t crabby by the time we got in The Louvre because we did our research.

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2. Slow down

Paris was our last stop on a two week trip around Europe, and needless to say, we wanted to see and experience as much as possible. I think that we are the worlds fastest travelers. Our vacation standard is that we start out exploring every morning at 8am and don’t get back to the room until around 10pm. The truth is, I usually end up breaking down to cry at least once on each trip because of our fast pace haha. I may cry because of how exhausted I am, but there’s no way I am wasting time in our room when I could be out exploring! I’ve just got to get the tears out of my system, pick my head back up, and keep on going. Anyways, Paris was initially a struggle for me because of this. When you get there, even though it’s a big city and you expect it to be bustling, the Parisians live life at a slower pace. They eat in parks, stroll along the sidewalks while window shopping, and spend up to two hours when they stop for coffee in a shop. Parisians SLOW DOWN, and therefore enjoy their lives. Do life at their pace, and you will get the most out of your trip to Paris. My favorite part of our trip wasn’t the amazing sights we saw (although they were amazing), but it was watching the Parisians and choosing to do life like them. We stayed in an AirBnB apartment in Le Marais, and toward the end of our visit we snagged a blanket out of the closet, grabbed some beverages and snacks, and layed on a blanket in a park called Place Des Vosges. We ate, drank, and enjoying the buzz of the people surrounding us. It was a wonderful experience. We were just one couple out of at least 30 others who were doing the exact same thing.

 

3. Find a balance between museums and experiencing the city for yourself

I like museums, don’t get me wrong, but if you spend too much time just learning about Paris through museums, you will miss out on the real heart and soul of it. So promise me that you will get out and experience Paris, but find a great balance between the two options. One museum I highly recommend (especially if you are into impressionist art like I am) is The Musee D’Orsay. You might be surprised, but I liked it more than The Lourvre (Gasp!). The building in and of itself is a piece of art, and they had some pieces that I had been dreaming about seeing for years. P.S. if you are into design, they have an entire section of the museum devoted to Art Nouveau ❤ ❤ <3!

4. Don’t just spend time near the tourist attractions

It can be a little scary deviating from the standard path taken in Paris, but get out of your comfort zone and get a little lost in the city. There are shops, restaurants, and businesses on every corner just waiting to be discovered.

 

5. Eat crepes at the Jardin Du Luxembourg

The Jardin Du Luxembourg is in the 6th district of Paris, and was created by the widow of one of the kings in the 1600’s. Today it serves as a park that’s owned by the French senate where the community can gather. It boasts immaculate gardens, fountains, statues, walking paths, and ponds. Imagine kids pushing their colorful sail boats out in a pond with wooden sticks with the backdrop of the Luxembourg Palace. Sunbathing locals line the concrete walking paths in the loungers surrounding the pond with the scent of crepes lingering in the air. You could be there, and you will want to eat the crepes. Trust me.

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6. Eat cheese at Les Deux Magots

Also in the 6th district of Paris is the famous restaurant named Les Deux Magots. It gained popularity because Earnest Hemingway, and other local intellects like James Joyce, and even Pablo Picasso frequented it. They were all brilliant and drank there, so there must be something in the water there, right ;)? I’m guessing they weren’t drinking water when they stopped here though. Anyway, the restaurant is exactly what you expect a Parisian restaurant to be like. The green awnings stretch out over the tables and chairs that spill out onto the sidewalks, and the waiters are wearing tuxedos. This is a perfect place to try that European cheese you have been hearing about. Order their cheese tray (it’s giant by the way) and enjoy it as the people of Paris saunter by.

7. Take the metro

The easiest way to get around Paris is on the metro. It’s the largest and most dense system in the world, but surprisingly easy to use (although I do think The Tube in London is set up better). We came into Paris on a Eurostar train and bought a Paris Visite Pass right at the station, which allowed us up to 5 days of unlimited use of the metro. You purchase it in either 1,3, or 5 day increments, and you can choose the pass that allows you to visit districts 1 – 3 which are popular, or the other that reaches out to more districts. If you read anything in my blog though, I highly recommend the latter option. Not only does it allow you to explore more, but you can take the metro to the airport when you are ready to go home. With that being said, if you flew in, you now know that you can purchase metro passes in the airport when you get there, take the train right into the city, and back out again when you are ready to fly home. Easy peasy. No setting up a shuttle, and in the long run it will save you money (If you use my first tip about doing your research, you will already have a metro map when you arrive because you bought a travel book. See how handy that is? We saved you so much time!)

Lastly, I wanted to let you know that the last train runs at roughly 12:40am in Paris during the weekdays, and until 1:40am on weekends. We just barely made it onto the last train to leave the station after lingering at the Eiffel Tower one night for a little too long. We don’t want you missing the latest train, and then spending a fortune on a cab to get back across town.

8. Visit Pere Lachaise Cemetery

This unique cemetery is unlike any you will ever see, and was a must do on my list of activities in Paris. The graves are more like mini mausoleums, and are incredibly ornate. Usually a cemetery isn’t a place that tourists flock to, but you will be surprised about how many people choose to spend time here. As you get closer to the cemetery, you will see flower shops pop up along the way, as it’s popular for the tourists to leave roses at the graves of the famous that are buried there. As someone with a B.S. in music, the most exciting thing that I could ever hear was that visiting this cemetery meant I could see Chopin’s grave. CHOPIN! In my opinion, his compositions are some of the most inspired in the history of our world. Other famous people buried in the cemetery are the author Oscar Wilde, and the Doors frontman Jim Morrison.

9. Use a combination of credit, debit, and cash for spending

Credit cards are widely accepted throughout Europe, and so use that for most of your spending. Before our trip we opened a Capital One Venture card because it was free to sign up for, has a 0% interest rate for the first year, has no foreign transaction fees, has a points system, and uses chip technology (which is absolutely vital for using a credit card in Europe). Most credit cards issued in America now have the chip technology, but in Europe they also have a pin number attached to their cards. We called and had pin numbers added to our credit cards before the trip, but once we got to Europe, we realized that’s not what they mean by pin. American credit cards are just different than European ones. With that being said, without that technology, sometimes your credit card gets rejected and you will want to have a back up just in case that happens. In addition to the credit card, we also opened up a new checking account with TCF Bank before our trip because their debit cards are part of the PLUS ATM network. Having a debit card that works within a European ATM network means lower foreign transition fees when you are withdrawing money. Cirrus and Plus are popular ATM networks throughout Europe, and it was easy to find them and take out the backup cash that we needed without being charged incredible oversea withdrawal rates. We used our credit cards throughout most of Europe, but then had our debit cards to take cash out of the ATM as necessary. We typically withdrew about 100 euros in each city we visited, which covered everything nicely for us.  Happy spending.

10. Have fun & don’t hold back

When it comes to traveling, we all have a budget of what we can spend, but I encourage you to not hold back on the trip. We spend our lives locked into budgets, and I view vacations as a time to let loose. Look at everything as an opportunity, and if you think you will look back at the trip someday and regret not doing something, then just go for it. I’m not condoning being financially irresponsible, but when in Paris, do as the Parisians do, right?

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