Monday, December 17, 2012

BarGelona 2012-13 Christmas Ice Rink

This Christmas, the same as last year, Plaça Catalunya has been converted into a festive Ice Rink called BarGelona - the play on words there in Catalan, "gel" is "ice". Unconfirmed reports last year suggested that the installation of the rink was to stop another camp-in of the 15-M indignados who had spent so much time there in the spring, and not just an impulse to encourage Christmas shopping and spending to boost the economy. Either way, it must have been a success, as it's back.

Skating Rink at Plaça Catalunya

 The rink is sponsored by local companies and banks, and is a little different to last year in the layout and organization. In a similar way to last year, there are plenty of vouchers flying around the shops and bars easy to pick up but this year seems like a better deal. Last year, you got 2 x 1 for 30 minutes skating and this year it's 50% off instead, so for 4,50 € you get an hour's skating time (but I'll get to that later).

bargelona ice rink on barcelonasights blog
I went with my kids and some other from their school last Friday, and there was very little wait to get your skates and get on the rink. You must take gloves - otherwise you have to buy some - and kids have the option of helmets (all free) and there are free lockers to drop off bags, coats, etc. as you can get quite hot skating around. I assumed before we arrived, that time would be regulated every hour -i.e. they blow a whistle on the hour and swap those who have been on with those waiting, in a similar way to last year. So, we got booted up with our skates and were patiently waiting for it to come around to the hour. Then we noticed that other people behind us just got their skates, and went straight on the rink, so we thought as there was only 20 minutes to go before the hour mark, they're probably just turning a blind eye to the time - you can see from the photos, it wasn't heaving. 
skating rink with view of bar

Well, we skated for 2 hours, and could have gone on for longer, I reckon, as no-one asked us for our tickets  or seemed to be controlling the time, and we only left as my daughter was really tired. So great value for money too! AND on the back of the tickets we were given to skate, there was a voucher for a free snoog-scarf from Banc Sabadell which I picked up this morning, too!

Child skating with help of plastic penguin - Barcelona Sights
There is a refreshment area at the back with a bar, waffles, hot chocolate, etc. and plenty of room to sit down and take photos for those who aren't skating. There's also a smaller rink for the little ones who can practice with the big heavy plastic penguins - apologies for the photo being so blurry, I was trying to catch the action!

Fancy a winter break to Barcelona? Come and stay with BCN Rentals apartments for some great deals. And for a quick look at the city's sights, check out this Barcelona Guide.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Els Sortidors del Parlament - New Bodega in Town

To be honest, anyone brave enough to open a new business in today's Spain is either a few gambas short of a paella or has found a niche. Today's post is about the latter. Some friends of mine have opened a new Bodega in the Sant Antoni neighbourhood, called Els Sortidors del Parlament.

Entrance to Els Sortidors de Parlament - BarcelonaSights

These guys have years of experience in the import/export of beers and the general hospitality industry, and have created and sold on some quality establishments in the past - some pretty cool bars in El Borne and the Gothic Quarter, so trust me when I tell you they know what they're doing.
Barrels inside Els Sortidors de Parlament

The place itself is decked out very very cool, with plenty of rustic furniture and artwork by one of the owners, Kim, as well as a fantastic selection of continental beers, wines, and other drinks.
Barrels of Wine for sale  - Barcelona Sights Blog

The wines are at a particularly good price, with a de-corking price as you usually get in these kind of places, meaning you can enjoy some bloody lovely wines at a very good price (like half what you'd be paying for the same plonk in a restaurant). They also have wine in barrels for tasting or just by the glass, beers on tap and in bottles, and they are developing a Gin and Tonic menu to rival some of the best bars in the city - I'll confirm when I've tried them all ;o)
Fridge of food and snacks - Els Sortidors de Parlament on BarcelonaSights Blog

If that's not enough, they've got some delicious finger food to accompany your drink of choice, typical Catalan specialties and conserves and preserves of the highest quality from all over Europe.
Wine bottles shelved at Els Sortidors de Parlament

At the time of writing, the guys don't have a website yet for me to link to, but they can be found on Carrer Parlament, 53 (almost touching Ronda Sant Pau). Their opening hours are Tuesday from 17h-23h, Wed to Sat 11h - 23h and then Sundays from 11h - 16h. Sundays closed. Go and check them out !!

Coming to Barcelona this winter? Check out BCN Rentals for some great late deals on apartment rentals. And for a quick look at what's not to miss, see this guide to Barcelona.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas Tree Shopping in Barcelona

Christmas is my favourite time of the year. Even more than the summer. I'm just a big kid at heart, and my memories of Christmas as a boy in England are all very very happy ones, so I love to get my kids in the mood as well. We've had the tree up since the 1st December, and we've been making mince pies this week whilst listening to Christmas music non-stop (in English, obviously). The kids have got various Christmas concerts and plays next week and I've written before about how cool it is to be a kid at Christmas in Barcelona.

Barcelona Sights - Entrance to Catalunya Plants
So one of the things that's always presented a problem is buying a tree. It's not Christmas without a proper tree. Carrefour (the big one near IKEA, not the one on Las Ramblas) used to sell them  - not very good quality but did the job - but stopped, so you're left with the option of florists around the city, or the Christmas market. And here begins one of the problems - it's like 80-odd Euros for a bloody tree!! They may have even gone up since the last time I looked, AND they're already cut, so no root, no pot. Bah, humbug.

Barcelona Sights - Christmas Pines
So I began doing a bit of research online and asking around, and nobody seemed to be able to suggest anything. And then I came across Catalunya Plants. We bought our tree there last year (but I used my phone as a GPS to get there, and ran out of battery so couldn't take any photos) and it was great - when I took it down after the Epiphany, it hardly shed any needles, and I reckon I could have planted it somewhere and it would have been fine again for this year. It's a 20-minute drive from Barcelona located in Sant Vicenç del Horts.

Potted Plants at Catalunya Plants
So they have two kinds of trees - ones that have been cut and potted, and ones that are specifically grown to be re-planted in your garden or whatever and ones that are just to be used for the Christmas period and then recycled. I go for the latter, and it's a bargain at 35€.

One of the best things about going to this place is that they also have a great kids play area with bouncy castle, swings and slides, picnic area, and a kind of mini farm, where you can go and have a look at the animals. It really is lots of fun, and all free as you walk around. My kids loved it and there were plenty of other young families around just passing the time and not necessarily buying plants or anything. They have a small pet shop with gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, fish, etc.  near towards the back too and a really good Christmas section (I took a pic, but it came out all blurry) so it's a really great place to go and stock up on stuff if you're just starting out too.

Barcelona Sights - Ostrich!

Here's the funny Ostrich - not at all shy, and good job the fence is high!

Barcelona Sights - Buck and Deer

Very cool Buck and there are a few Deer dotted around too - this is in the middle of the farm part.
Goats at Catalunya Plants
Goats just next to the Ostrich.
photo of bouncy castle
My son Jack doing Vitaly the Tiger from Madagascar 3. If you haven't seen it, go!
Pretty cool slides in the entrance of the kids play area.
Well Hello Mr Turkey!! Or is it a Mrs ?! hehehe!!

As you can see, it's a lot of fun and a great place to go and enjoy the animals.

Coming to Barcelona this winter? Check out these last minute deals on apartments!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Festive Season Begins with Barcelona Shopping Night

Cartel for Shopping Night Barcelona

So that time has crept up on us again, and it's just over a month until Christmas. It doesn't feel like it outside with some great temperatures but nevertheless, the kids are practicing Carols at school, the lights have been up for a while and the decorations are starting to appear in the shop windows. It's as if everyone is waiting for a special even to kick it all off - well, step into the spotlight The Barcelona Shopping Night. Tonight from 20h until 1am, the shops on Passeig de Gracia will be open for a special experience with VIP passes, drinks and red carpets, etc.

The idea came about to impulse the economy for shopping towards Christmas and encourage the people of the city - and the tourists - to spend spend spend. For those of you who don't know, Passeig de Gracia is also the most famous shopping street of Barcelona, housing most of the expensive fashion brands the world has to offer. Think Gucci, Fendi, Burberry, Armani, etc. and that's nothing to tell you about the waiting list to get a shop on this main shopping boulevard (Disney has been on the waiting list for years to open a store there, for example - rather than another location).

BarcelonaSights Blogf - Christmas TreeTonight also co-incides with the turning on of the Christmas lights and the opening for the second year running of the ice rink at Plaça Catalunya - a great thing for the city based on my experiences last year. As far as I know, the prices are the same as last year - 8€ for an hour or 6€ for half an hour including the skate hire. Take gloves if you're as you need to wear gloves (or buy them). As the event is sponsored by local businesses, there are usually freebies hanging around outside too (last year's was ready-made soups, etc) so keep your eyes open, too.

Anyone planning on going tonight? Let me know in the comments!

And if you fancy a shopping trip to the Catalan Capital this winetr, check out BCN Rentals website for some great, late deals on Barcelona apartments.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Barcelona's Greek Theatre

Grec Letters on Stone Entrance to Barcelona Theatre
I've spoken many times about the great Grec festival which happens each summer, and the actual space of the festival - Barcelona's own Greek amphitheatre  - is a diverse space used for the Jazz festival, live music, dance and puppetry as well as just normal theatre. And we're not just talking Greek Comedy or Tragedy, here, the variety of different genres who have stepped onto that stone stage are as equal as the variety of flowers and plants in the surrounding gardens.

house and palm trees at Teatro Grec Barcelona
It's also just a really nice place to just go and have a look around, and outside of the festival dates, it's an open park with free entrance at the foot of Montjuic. These photos were actually taken in August, hence the amazing blue skies and vivid colours of the vegetation, but they're just from my phone with no filters, etc. so you can't really appreciate it unless you go!

garden views of Teatro Grec Barcelona
The theatre itself is at the back, and represents perfectly a typical Greek amphitheatre. It was built  - like nearby Poble Español and the fountains of Montjuic - for the 1929 International Exhibition of Barcelona, and can house 1900 spectators.
Greek Amphitheatre in Barcelona - Side View
The metal structure you can see on the left of the photo is for hanging lights/spotlights for night-time performances.
Top View of Greek Theatre in Barcelona
The acoustics  - made by the shape of the seats and the depth of the stage, means that amplification of voices and sound are at the maximum.
Small bridge and gardens - Barcelona Sights Blog

The grounds around the theatre itself are peaceful and well attended by the city gardeners. You can find many little corners in the 460m2 to sit and read a book, or just take in the nature around you.
water features and gardens in Greek Theatre surroundings

Inside of the white house in the above picture. It's a great place for taking panoramic pictures from the views that are surrounding the park, and the actual theatre itself.
wooden beams in housing terrace at Greek Theatre Barcelona

Thinking of coming to Barcelona soon ? BCN Rentals has some great deals on accommodation - check out the web!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mango Outlet Barcelona

It's not often I'll call out a specific shop or brand here on the blog, but I wrote an article a few years ago on another site which receives an enormous amount of traffic for the search phrase "Mango Outlet" and I only mentioned that in passing when talking about the various bargains Barcelona can offer for the thrifty shopper.
Entrance to Outlet Zara Store, Calle Girona 37, Barcelona, Spain
I think it's fairly easy to find a bargain in Barcelona, with central shops such as Lefties (Zara Outlet) in two very strategic spots in the city, Celio is another with an outlet (although not that great for bargains IMO), and many more (please ask me in the comments or leave your own) but the actual information out there about the Mango Outlet is a bit poor. There is a store in central Barcelona - Carrer Girona, 37 - just below Gran Via and another massive warehouse which has an open sale I believe every 2 years. That one is just outside Montmelo - where the the racing circuit for the Formula 1 Grand Prix is - and is difficult to access with public transport. That one is really cheap  - like boxes and boxes of stuff and it's a proper free for all. My wife has been a few times, and people go at 5am to queue up outside, and just buy up whole boxes!
Inside of Zara Outlet Store in Barcelona

This central one is a fairly decent sized shop and you can see from the pics here, it's a nicely managed place, not just a mad rush with loads of mounds of messy items. Although it should be noted that it was an early mid-week morning ! The store is mainly women's fashion, but there is a really small section of men's stuff if you fancy prancing around like Gerard Pique.
Extended view of Zara Outlet Store in Barcelona

Any readers got some more tips? Fans of Primark for more bargains? Please let me know in the comments! And if you're looking for Barcelona accommodation this Autumn, check out BCN Rentals Apartments for some great, late deals. And for a quick look at the rest of the city sights, their guide to Barcelona is another good read.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Casa Batllò Comes Alive This Weekend

Audiovisual mapping is something waaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy cooler than it sounds and involves lots of very fast computers, projectors and lights and music to transform an inanimate object into what appears to be a fully 3-D moving, living spectacle. It's nothing new, and Barcelona has seen its own town hall be transformed by the same methods a few years back with great effect. Other famous monuments have gone through the same process and if you know the static building well enough - I mean you're so familiar with the facade - , the transformation can be literally jaw-dropping.

So, as if Antonin Gaudi's works weren't already wacky enough on their facades, this weekend sees "El despertar de la Casa Batllò" which literally translates as the Awakening of Casa Batllò, and involves the very same thing. Here's the teaser vid from the website (hat tip to barcelonayellow for this)

 Doesn't that look cool?! And confirmation (perhaps) that Gaudi DID intend the rooftop tiles to represent the scales of a dragon's back, with the main chimney being a sword's handle in the slain dragon's back in homage to Sant Jordi (Saint George) the patron saint of Catalonia. I've been telling people that for years although I've never been able to actually find any official reference to it!

So, there's only 6 chances to see this, guys - it's on this Saturday and Sunday night at 21h, 21:30h and 22h and of course it's free. I'm guessing those working in Banco Pastor late won't be grumbling. ;o)

Coming to Barcelona this Autumn? Check out BCN Rentals for some great late deals on apartments.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

October Music in Barcelona - Some Classics!

I don't know if maybe it's just my age, but it seems to me that there are some really cool bands playing or getting back together, or celebrating a milestone of being together quite a lot recently! And the back end of October is no exception to the rule. I've been lucky enough to see some amazing bands in the time I've been living here, and in smaller, more intimate locations than those bands would play on their home turf.

So the following are a few of my reccomendations for some bloody good bands in some great spaces with an amazing atmosphere.

Keane - Razzmatazz Wednesday 24th October. I saw Keane here about 8 years ago and they were great, really played to the crowd and it was almost karaoke-y at some parts, but they have another 3 albums under their belt now, so will surely mix it up a bit. Either way, highly reccomended.

Richard Hawley  - Apolo Friday 26th October. Richard is up for a Mercury Award this year, and actually played here already this year at Arc de Triomf during Primavera Sound for free, so great to see him back. Part of the Longpigs and collaborator with the likes of the very cool Elbow, Richard's got his own style and in such an intimate venue as Apolo, it'll be a great night.

Scissor sisters - Razzmatazz Monday 29th October. I'm never a fan of a Monday night concert, cos it's like the first day back at work syndrome, and it just doesn't feel right. However, if anyoine can get your toes tapping and your hips swaying it's the Scissor Sisters. They're certainly fans of Barccelona and even turned up to do an impromptu gig at Sonar one year, so you can bet they'll be up for entertaining this time too.

Blind Melon - Apolo 7th November - taking us straight into the November winter is the 20-year anniversary tour of Blind Melon at Apolo. I couldn't actually believe that it was 20 years since the release of their cool californian sounds and I reckon this will be a really cool concert to go and see, they'll be playing all their most successful crowd pleasers and are not promoting a new record or anything so it's going to be heaps of fun.

Anyone planning on going to any of these concerts? Or got any more to reccommend ? Let me know in the comments! And if you're coming to Barcelona this winter, check out BCN Rentals for some great deals on apartments. For a quick look at what's not to miss, then read this guide to Barcelona.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Oktoberfest Barcelona - Ein Prosit!!

Well, October is flying by and apart from that one rainy Saturday, it's still glorious weather and a great time to visit the city. September and June are probably my favourite months to visit the city, but this October is shaping up to be a smashing month too, so far. We've had a puking Gaga, an even Classico an upcoming zombie walk, and this Friday is even a holiday so long weekend ahoy!

So what better reason to celebrate the long weekend than joining in the celebrations at Barcelona's very own Oktoberfest!! I've been lucky enough to visit the Oktoberfest in Munich - an exoerience I think everyone should do once in their life - so it's great that a little bit of Bavaria is coming to the Catalan Capital, too!!
Oktoberfest Beer Festival on BarcelonaSights blog.

As in Munich, you don't get served drinks if you're not sitting down, so this weekend (12th, 13th and 14th) make sure you reserve your table via the website and get your tickets - it's FREE!! By the looks of things, they have a fair few beers on tap as well as the usual Bavarian brews - Guinness, Newcy Brown (might be in a bottle of dog, rather than on tap?), your typical Belgian beers, Tequila-flavoured Desperados and they're even chaeting a bit with two brands of cider to try, too.

What's great is that they've made it a lot more family orientated, with a load of great things to distract the kids - inflatable castles, trampolines, all sorts of stuff. And then there's live music for the adults, you can bet there'll be frankfurts and the like around, so basically it's a case of rolling up in the morning, working your way through the liquid menu and staying till the night time!

Of course, one of the most important things about the whole Oktoberfest experience is the song!! Ein Prosit is the toast song, where everyone stands up (forgive me if my memory is a little blurry!) and toasts everyone else on the table and then gives it a "one, two, three drink up!" kind of gesture. For the whole 5 days I was there I had absolutely no idea what I was singing but belted it out with all my heart and lungs!! Fear not, though, if you have no idea what I'm talking about, you can practise here.

Thinking of heading down to the Oktoberfest? Let me know in the comments!

Coming to Barcelona this Autumn? Check out these great deals on Barcelona apartments and for a quick look at the best city sights, this Guide to Barcelona.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Re-Visiting My Favourite Park

I've written about this park before, and it's my favourite of the city's many parks and gardens. My last post wasn't as detailed as this one as all the photos I used to take in the past were with my parents or family members and you could hardly see the park and its installations. 

Entrace of Palace in Labyrinth Park

And that's a shame cos it's a bloody cool park. I've since learned when returning to places I haven't visited before to take a few snaps with no-one in the foreground for posting here! So bear in mind these are just pics from my phone with none of your instagram filters or whatever but I think you'll get the gist!
Barcelona Sights Blog - Hedges at entrance
 One of the first things you'll realise is that the actual Park is much bigger than just the Labyrinth and is housed in some luxurious leafy gardens with shady corners and plenty of romantic hideaways to slip into. We actually went on a Sunday afternoon in summer, so got in for free, and despite the heat we were sufficiently cool in the shade to stay a good while.

Gardens in Horta Barcelona

Considering the age of the actual residence and the whole story behind the Labyrinth and it's creation, it's still in remarkably good shape. The history of the Marquis Desvalls and his family dates as far back as 1791, and it's their palace/residence that still greets you at the entrance. In a similar way to parts of Montjuic, there's moments of absolute silence despite being in the city itself - one thing I love about the park.
WaterFall feature in Park GardensShady gardens - Laberynth Park on Barcelona Sights Blog

There are a few water features which have been added to the park over the years and restauration works, so streams running along the lower parks and waterfalls are all a prelude to the maze itself. Greek Icons dot the park and in days gone by the Pavillion was used for open air performances.

statue of woman/angel - Barcelona Sights Blog

So when you reach the actual maze itself, it's pretty impressive from the top. Despite what you might think, it is actually a proper Labyrinth and there's only one way to the centre (no clues from me) and it's loads of fun bumping into the same people on the way round with a puzzled look on their faces! My kids loved it. 
Cypress Hedge Maze in Barcelona

The place is immaculately kept, and they only let a maximum of 750 people in the whole park, not just the maze itself, so it never gets "busy" busy, if you know what I mean.

Barcelona Sights - View of Centre of Maze

Can you spot my family?!
Right View of Laberint Parc Barcelona

 And by the miracle of modern technology, here's a mash-up of those three photos to give you a more panoramic view. Granted, my summer photos make it look really cool, but I've been in different times of the year and they've also been just as entertaining, so don't be put off now, just because Autumn is round the corner, OK?!

Panoramic View of Labyrinth

Parc del Laberint is located in Horta neighbourhood, and you can take public transport, or if you happen to go in a car, there's plenty of free parking spaces alongside the park and near to the private university residences. Get yourself there and get lost!!

Coming to Barcelona this Autum ? Check out these late deals from BCN Rentals Apartment agency and for some of the other Barcelona Parks and Gardens, see the link.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A few Tips for Enjoying La Merçe with Kids.

So as most of you know, I have 2 kids. 5 and 6. Barcelona is a pretty good city to explore and live in with 2 kids, considering it's a big city. Fortunately we live fairly close to the Port and the beach and also the green oasis of Montjüic, so it's not like pure cement high rises. So I'm always keen for them to join in any activities that the city celebrates  - or indeed each festa del barri - work and schedule permitting. Personally, I've often found that things geared towards kids seem to start far too late (!) but now mine are older, we get out and about a lot more.

So this weekend is La Merçe Festival - only a 4 day affair this year as the crisis looms large, but there's no reason to skimp of fun, which is free!! There are plenty of events for kids over the next few days and with Monday being a public holiday, then let's hope the weather stays fine the whole weekend!!

I wanted to offer a few hints and tips for people either visiting the city with kids, or parents with wee-uns who are venturing out this weekend in search of fun. First off is the Gegants presentation in Plaça Sant Jaume. In a word, don't bother. The Plaça gets rammed with people and tourists and it's almost impossible for children to see anything - I've swapped my kids from ground to shoulders many a time to no avail - much easier to wait for the parade which goes all the way down Las Ramblas, as children can get much closer and shout and chat to the people as they go past (like the photo above). And if they want a really close look, some of the best ones are on permanent display outside the festival.

Another area almost exclusively dedicated to the kids, is up on Montjüic. There is a circus each year in the amazing gardens of the castle, and then various puppet shows and marionettes and clowns from different countries all speaking the universal language of laughter. This year sess French, Catalan and Czec Republic back to wow the crowds. Access is easy via the funicular at Paral·lel station or buses up there, too. Full details can be seen here.

I've been up there two years running, and my big tip is go early. Take a packed lunch and plenty of water and try and get in the queues for the shows. We made the mistake last year of having an early lunch and going up after that. It had rained the previos 2 days, so I think everyone did the same as us, and we ended up (well, I ended up) queuing up for 2 shows, both of which we missed, and then the third one started at around 20h after that, so a total wash out!! There were some small theatrical performances outside while we were waiting, any maybe the weather played a part, but my tip is to go early to avoid disappointment.

Anyone else have any specific tips ? Anything not to miss ? The kids correfoc ? Free entrance to Sagrada Familia ? Please let me know in the comments below!

Coming to Barcelona this Autumn ? Check out BCN Rentals for some great late deals on accommodation with their central apartments.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Barcelona Folding Bike - Take your bike everywhere!

It's a well known fact that Barcelona is an easy city to move around in with non-motorised wheels. Bikes, rollerskates and blades, skateboarders, they all know what they're doing. The city is on a very slight gradient towards the sea, so if you can get it just right, you can get some pretty awesome routes going on. It's often I'm asked about how to rent "one of those red bikes that are parked everywhere" but Bicing is only for residents, leaving a few of the local rental companies, all of which vary in quality and reliability.

Step into the ring Barcelona Folding Bike with a fresh new concept. Located in the Raval, the shop has a very cycle-friendly-history, and use to belong to a fairly famous Spanish cyclist Jordi Nicolas - see trophy cabinet and black and white pics on the wall here below. The shop doubles up as a workshop, where David and Juan spot check each and every bike before and after rentals to ensure they are in tip-top condition. Also, the great amjority of their bikes are literally brand spanking new, and look more than equipped to tackle the streets of Barcelona. The prices are very competative considering the amount of care and attention these lads are putting into their jobs.
Barcelona Folding Bike on Barcelona Sights Blog

Apart from this, the guys are also offering tours with an English/Spanish guide and a free drink to boot! Their classic tour guide (pdf link there) takes in almost all of the classic Roman monuments from Barcino as well as a quick look at the more modern touches of the city with Torre Agbar and 22@. Tours leave every Wednesday at 9:45am.

To rent any of the bikes, all you need a valid form of ID and a fresh pair of legs!!

Barcelona Folding Bike on Barcelona Sights Blog

Disclosure: A friend of mine owns this business, but I'm not being paid for this post, rather think that it's a pretty cool business idea and I'm just helping put with publicity. ;o)
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