Benidorm and Valencia - Roy and Shaun - 1991
Tenerife - Roy - 1995
Ibiza - Shaun, Alison and Isobel - 1998
Madrid and Segovia - Andrew - 1999
Barcelona - Andrew - 2000
Costa Blanca - Andrew, Jacqui and both their parents - 2003
Costa del Azahar - Andrew and Jacqui and her parents - 2003/2004
Granada - Andrew and Jacqui - 2005
Granada - Andrew and Jacqui and her Mum and her friend - 2005
Vigo (Cruise 2008 pt 2) - Andrew, Jacqui, their Mums, her Aunt & Uncle - 2008
Barcelona (Cruise 2008 pt 8) - Andrew, Jacqui, their Mums, her Aunt & Uncle - 2008
Click here for a more detailed map
Spain is a country familiar to the English who have been visiting the Costas of the Mediterranean since the early days of package tourism. There is much more than beaches to this large country, from the misty mountains of Galicía to the dramatic mountains of the centre and the pueblos blancos of Andalucia.
Andrew started learning to speak Spanish in 1998, and although he hasn't had lessons for some time it is still something he wishes to continue.
The capital of Spain is Madrid, situated in the centre of the country, but there are also regional 'capitals' such as Barcelona and Bilbao, capitals of the Catalan and Basque Autonomous Regions. Off the coast of Africa are the Canary Islands, also part of Spain.
Spain is one of only four countries so far visited by all the Raving Loony Team, the others being Greece, Italy and the USA.
Benidorm and Valencia - Roy and Shaun - 1991
Roy and Shaun about to walk the plank in Benidorm
Shaun and Roy pissed as farts in Benidorm!
Shaun mounts in Benidorm
Puerto de los Apóstoles, Valencia Catedral
Plaza de los Toros, Valencia
Tenerife - Roy - 1995
Roy on a boat trip off Tenerife, Canary Islands
Texts will follow
Ibiza - Shaun, Alison and Isobel - 1998
The brochure promised a golden beach a stone's throw away, a variety of restaurants, culture ... and a truly family-friendly holiday. SOME of it was true ... and the description persuaded us that Figueretas, 'close to bustling Ibiza Town' ( = the housing suburb of Ibiza Town because we can't fit enough people into the small, quaint streets there) and not yet filled with clubbers, was the ideal place for our first 'family' holiday abroad. There WAS a good choice of restaurants along the nearby beachfront; it was one of the Chinese ones that gave Shaun food-poisoning, forcing me to wander all the way to Ibiza Town (without realizing it at first) on a SUNDAY to try and find an open chemist.
I found a few shut chemists before I found the one that usefully had the address of the duty chemist in its window. I found a map of the town. I found the address. I walked across the town to the chemist. The chemist was shut. However, Shaun survived to enjoy the rest of our holiday!
Ibiza is the third largest of the Balearic Islands. It is known to the Spanish (well, strictly speaking to the Catalans) as Eivissa, and together with Formentera they are known as the 'pitiusas' - 'islands of pine'. The island has a mixed history, with Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Moors, Saracens and Catalans all invading or ruling the island at various times. Isobel was too grown-up to enjoy the 0-3 year old club we had paid £28 for in advance, so the reps put her in the 3-7 club (which was free - typical!) Culture was somewhat thin on the ground, although the evening market along the waterfront did sell some genuine Ibizan crafts amongst the fake designer belts and watches, and the services of a man with lots of cables connected to a nearby block of flats, and a digital camera. Voila! The picture below was sent to Andrew by email.
The quality isn't fantastic, but it's amazing to think that in 1998 it was considered pretty snazzy to be able to send a picture of yourself on holiday to a friend by email!
Shaun and Isobel strolling along the 'golden beaches'; sometimes you had to look through the litter to appreciate the colour, though. Ibiza has 210km of coastline.
The El Corsario restaurant attracts mixed reviews now, but is famous because
apparently it was the favourite hangout of film stars of yesteryear. Ibiza
Town is supposedly still the place to spot celebrities by the bucketful.
Hmmm. Madonna and Sting may have houses on Ibiza, but they weren't buying
their baked beans in any of the shops we went in...
Ibiza Town is the inspiringly-named capital of Ibiza, where you can supposedly get great bargains on designer wear (if you can find a shop that's open - the town seems to take their siesta-break to extremes.) Around 30,000 of Ibiza's 80,000 strong population live here.
The Portal de ses Taules was built in 1585, decorated with Phillip II's coat-of-arms and a pair of Roman statues.
This charming road, lined with shops, drops gently down from Dalt Vila into the heart of the town.
There has been some from of religious building on the site of Ibiza Cathedral for over 2500 years. After the Moors were ousted, the construction of a Gothic-style cathedral was started in the late 13th century and carried on for 300 years. But now only the apse and bell-tower can claim a 700 year history; all other parts were rebuilt in the 18th century.
Rather bizarrely, the holiday company didn't arrange any traditional Spanish evenings - but did offer an American Hoedown night.....?! Not a bad holiday, but little chance to wander off the beaten track with a two year old in tow. She had a great time, despite falling asleep at just the right times to ensure that she completely missed the experience of flying!
Madrid and Segovia - Andrew - December 1999
For someone with a self-professed "obsession" with Spain it is odd that Andrew was the last of the Raving Loony Team to visit the country.
I had always imagined that I would visit Barcelona before anywhere else in Spain, but several times my plans to visit that city have come to nothing and in the end it was in the capital City, Madrid, that I arrived on 2nd December 1999 having grabbed an exceptionally cheap flight a couple of weeks beforehand.
Madrid is not the most obvious destination in Spain for tourism purposes, it has no coastline and doesn't have the historic centre of, say, Toledo or Santiago de Compostela. It is a bustling and thriving metropolis though. Like most travellers I arrived first at the Plaza Colón, but didn't linger as I was keen to drop off my luggage at my digs, a small and not particularly clean tenement in a backstreet not far from The Prado.
After a quick freshen up it was out into Madrid. I never quite got a good "handle" on the City; it has no particular centre and has about three "main" streets which go in all kinds of different directions. The closest thing it has to a centre is the Plaza Mayor, an arcaded square at the top of the Old Town which is dominated by the Panadería which dates back to 1619, but the attractive frescoes painted all over the front of it only date to the last decade or so.
The Old Town of Madrid leads off the Plaza Mayor and down into La Latina where the famed Rastro market is held (more of which later). Heading approximately east you arrive at the Catedral la Almudena, a handsome church which was only consecrated as a Cathedral in 1993, incredibly Spain's capital had no Cathedral before then!
A walk down the hill to the Río Manzanares, in itself unimpressive, does provide a superb photo opportunity to photograph the Puente de Segovia with the Catedral and the Palacio Real behind it. One of the few truly panoramic views available in this very enclosed and claustrophobic city.
As the day was proving to be warm enough for a T-shirt (in December, even in Madrid, remarkable) I decided to continue my walking tour for as long as daylight held out. So I yomped back up the hill, past the Palacio Real and down to the Plaza de España with its distinctive monument to Cervantes; the writer overshadowed somewhat by his comical creations, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. This is one of the few photographic magnets for tourists in the City and a quite a queue had built up to have your picture taken patting Sancho Panza's donkey!
Madrid, like everywhere else in Spain, doesn't believe in sleep very much. It really starts to liven up at about 10:00 pm. As a consequence Spanish museums and art galleries tend to be open until quite late. The first I visited was Reina Sofía, the art gallery full of modern works by such as Picasso, Dalí and Miró. Amongst the many superb paintings here is Spain's Mona Lisa, Pablo Picasso's vast "Guernica" whose sheer size is something to behold. The Gallery is a good antidote to those who consider all modern art to be rubbish; after all some of these so-called "modern" artists were painting nearly 100 years ago now!
I eventually returned to my digs at around 11:30 and tried to get some sleep. At about 1:00 in the morning some very noisy people in the room next door started building something, using hammers, saws and all manner of other noisy equipment. This continued for about an hour, long enough for me to get bloody annoyed anyway. Not long after they had ceased a couple in the room the other side began an astonishingly loud bout of love-making. Between the banging of hammers and the banging of over-the-top faked orgasms I got not a lot of sleep that night.
I "awoke" the next day quite late, not surprisingly. When consciousness kicked in I headed for Madrid's massive Post Office, sometimes humourously referred to as "Our Lady of Communications". It's inside is as grand as it's exterior.
After this I made my way to the Palacio Real, this time to go inside and see how Spain's monarchy lived (they have long since moved out of the City). A succession of magnificent rooms followed, and I was very surprised that photography (even video) was allowed throughout as long as flash wasn't used.
By the middle of the day I was caught up in the Siesta which, despite it not being that hot, was still observed. When life returned I headed for The Prado, one of the Europe's very best Art Galleries which can give the Louvre a run for its money for both quality of contents and its maze-like massiveness.
I was surprised that The Prado took up most of my afternoon. I went back to my digs for a shower and a rest before eating and then sleeping...uninterrupted this night by men performing any kinds of athleticism.
The next day I had set aside for my trip out of the City to Segovia. Firstly I stopped for breakfast, having at last found somewhere which did the wonderful churros con chocolat. Atocha Station is quite a sight in itself. When the modern new station was built the Spanish decided not to knock down the old building (as with Euston in London for instance) but instead turned it into a botanical feature...a more civilised place to wait for a train is difficult to imagine!
Segovia is a magnificent place. It lays in the mountains north of Madrid and is quite a long train journey away. The journey is initially through some of Madrid's least pleasant looking suburbs (reminiscent of footage of South American shanty towns), but eventually the slums give way to scrubby land and then you start to climb into the mountains and things start to improve. In December the mountains were dusted with snow picking out the contours of the hill as if on a map. The weather up here was not as good as in Madrid, but Segovia is worth a visit whatever the weather.
The railway station is well out of the City centre, so it is a bumpy bus ride into the centre of town. You are dropped off, inevitably, at the foot of El Acueducto, Segovia's symbol and most impressive feature of all.
This incredible structure was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD and stretches 813 metres from the side of the hill-top old town centre to Río Frío from which is was designed to bring water, it has 165 arches and at it's highest point is 128 metres tall. It is an incredible thing to see, the sheer size of it is breathtaking, particularly when standing right underneath it. To think that it is something like 2000 years old just adds to the spectacle. It was still being used to bring water into the town early in the 20th century.
Climbing the windy path up the old town hill (giving some superb views of El Acueducto stretching away from you) you find yourself in a maze of old narrow streets. Most of these roads head eventually for the Plaza Mayor, the small but attractive town square dominated by the massive Catedral, which dates back to 1525 and probably looks most impressive at night (as pictured below from the bandstand in the centre of the Plaza Mayor).
I went into the Catedral later in the day, but my main objective was to visit my first Spanish Castle, El Alcázar de Segovia. It is a massive construction which stands at the opposite end of the old centre of town to El Acueducto. It was originally a Moorish fortress, but nothing is visible from that period. El Alcázar became the home of the Kings and Queens of Castille, who subsequently became the Kings and Queens of all Spain. A devastating fire in 1862 forced a reconstruction when the fairy tale turrets and curlicues were added, but it is still an impressive building with a genuine medieval core. For more about the history of El Alcázar visit the Castles of Europe pages.
After visiting El Alcázar I headed back into town and wandered around the Catedral. As night slowly fell I did another circuit of the beautiful town seeing all its monuments floodlit and observing the locals coming out to perform the nightly paseo from the table of the restaurant where I had my first paella (a vegetarian version which I'm sure would disgust purists - to whom I would point out that a paella is not the meal, it is the dish it is cooked in). I was sorry to leave Segovia which was really the highlight of my first foray into Spain, but my train back to Madrid beckoned and I had to catch it.
The next day I awoke to a decidedly chilly day. It was Sunday morning and in Madrid there is only one place to go on a Sunday Morning; El Rastro. This massive straggling market winds around the old streets of La Latina district and is notorious for its pickpockets. So I decided to make myself as unlike a tourist as possible by hiding my camera away for the duration. As a market El Rastro is a mix of everything from clothing to CDs to song birds to complete and utter junk. After the hustle and bustle of El Rastro I took the Metro to Parque del Oeste to see the Temple de Debod, which is one of Madrid's most peculiar attractions - an ancient Egyptian Temple!
Luck was on my side, the Temple was open to the public and as it was Sunday entrance was free! So I've visited an Egyptian temple without visiting Egypt!! The explanation for this oddity, incidentally, is that it was gifted to Spain by the Egyptians for their help with the Aswan Dam project (the Temple was in the area flooded by the Dam).
Today seemed to be a day for Parks as my next call was across the other side of Madrid (another Metro ride). El Parque del Retiro is a massive Park, 1.2 sq km to be precise. The Park is the last remnant of the Palacio del Buen Retiro (Palace of Good Retreat) constructed for Filipe II who moved the capital of Spain to Madrid. Not many buildings now remain, but the huge Park with its vast boating lake is a magnet to Madrileños on a Sunday afternoon.
The atmosphere, particularly bearing in mind it was 5th December, was one of summer time in one of London's parks. A kind of gentile party, with people wandering around, sitting in cafes sipping coffee, boating on the lake or just hanging out taking in the glorious Autumn colours. I spent a good few hours in the Retiro. The sun even managed to come out as the afternoon wore on.
As evening drew in I went back to my digs to freshen up before heading out on a "nighttime" run around Madrid, to photograph and visit all the sights when floodlit. I began at the Plaza Colón, heading down the Paseo del Prado leading to Plaza de la Cibeles with the massive Post Office building (in the back ground of the picture below of fountains and arches on the Paseo del Prado).
From here I headed up Gran Vía to the Plaza de España and on to the Palacio and Catedral. When I reached Plaza Mayor I suddenly hit crowds like I hadn't seen for many years. It seemed like the whole of Madrid had decided to go out walking in the area around here and the Puerto del Sol which is where I finished my night time walk. This being Spain, of course, there was none of the neatness of a British crowd - no, this was chaotic, noisy and more than a little crazy. Madrid this night, it seemed, was in party mood!
The following morning I had my last churros con chocolat (let us hope that somewhere in London soon adopts this most satisfying breakfast dish!) and headed up to Plaza Colón to catch the bus back to the airport for the trip home.
Barcelona - Andrew - 2000
Barcelona was a City I had almost made it to on several previous occasions, and this time due to my continuing stomach problems I nearly didn't make it once more. Two days before my trip I was considering not going. In the end I decided I'd go and hope that I stayed okay for the duration of my trip.
I flew from Luton Airport which was decked out in it's Christmas finery and arrived in Barcelona as the sun was setting. This fortuitously allowed me some wonderful views of the sun going down behind the City and the hills of Catalonia with Montserrat's familiar jagged edge standing out in the middle distance. It was a beautiful sight indeed as the 'plane circled out over the Meditteranean to approach Barcelona's unfortunately named "El Prat de Llobregat" airport. By the time I had arrived in the City centre, at the Plaça de Catalunya, it was dark...this being Spain that meant things were just getting going.
I dropped my digs off at the very usefully situated Hosteria Grau, which is on a side road off La Rambla. Then I ventured out onto La Rambla for my first taste of this long boulevard that is the heart of old Barcelona. It runs from Plaça de Catalunya down to the Port area and follows a dried-up river bed (ramla in Arabic meaning "torrent"). If you ever visit Barcelona you will find yourself constantly coming across La Rambla over and again. It - or rather 'they' as La Rambla is split into five sections - is lined with stalls selling newspapers, souvenirs, birds and flowers. It is also notorious pick-pocket country so be aware of this fact whilst you wander amidst its hordes.
On this first night I walked down only one part of La Rambla before heading off to the east into the Barri Gòtic, the oldest part of the old City. This is a maze of small alleys and roads centred around the Cathedral and takes a while to get used to. At first you think in London terms - dark, cramped alleys at night to be avoided - but the Barri is one of the safest parts of town.
My perambulations took me to Plaça de Sant Jaume, the closest thing to a central square in the Barri Gòtic. The square is bounded on two sides by beautifully lit Government offices. As it was coming up for Christmas the square also had a centrepiece of a nativity scene - although this being Barcelona it was slightly abstract - for some reason the trio of Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus were surrounded by big clouds of spray which spurted out in flumes sporadically accompanied by music. It was very effective floodlit, but didn't make a lot of sense.
A short way from here I hit the Christmas market clustered around the Cathedral. Barcelona Cathedral is strangely enclosed by other buildings and the only clear view of it available is of the main frontage. I never actually got inside the Cathedral on this trip, which was a shame, but there you go. I was tired after the long trek from home, so I sought out some food and then headed back to base for some sleep.
The next day my inevitable first stop was Antoni Gaudí's Templo Expiatiorio de la Sagrada Familia, his massive and astonishing church built in the Eixample district of the City. Gaudí actually inherited the project from another architect, Francesc de Paula Villar i Lozano, in 1883 and it became Gaudí's obsession for the last 16 years of his life until he died under the wheels of a tram in 1926. At the time of his death only one of the towers of the Nativity Facade had been completed - then work was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War. Since then work has continued sporadically with eight towers now completed - a further eight remain to be completed plus what will be the massive central spire.
Even unfinished La Sagrada Familia is without parallel anywhere in Europe - nowhere else is there a church which looks even remotely like this. The Nativity Facade, completed entirely to Gaudí's plans looks almost organic as if grown or sculpted by the elements, only on closer inspection does the detail become more apparent, detail which continues to the lofty heights of the structure. The best view of the Nativity Facade is from Plaça de Gaudí. To actually enter the church you have to go in through the other completed facade, the Passion Facade, at the opposite end of the church which has angular and rather out-of-place sculptures on it by Josep Maria Subirachs. Once inside you walk around the outside of what will eventually be a massive interior but which is currently filled with cranes, scaffolding and workmen. The scale is hard to comprehend from photographs.
Once through the building site interior you can get a closer look at the Nativity Facade and then can take the lift up one of the towers (a similar lift goes up one of the towers of the Passion Facade also). Once up in the the midst of the towers you can cross from one to the other by means of open bridges, walk around amongst the open gaps, spiral staircases and balconies that cover the building. It certainly NOT for those of a nervous disposition with heights, and I was quite pleased to be back on ground level having been treated to some fascinating but distinctly scary views of the construction work far far below me.
As I was in Gaudí mode I made my next stop Parc Güell, on the very northern end of the Eixample. The Parc is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and represents Gaudí at his most playful and colourful, without the sinister edges of La Sagrada Familia or other later works. Apparently only a tiny fraction of Gaudí's plans for the Parc came into being, but amongst the items here are the longest bench in the world (152 metres of wavy ceramic bench along the edge of the Gran Plaça Circular - although strictly speaking it is the work of Josep Jujol one of Gaudí's collaborators). A superb view of the City spread out below can be had from the bench.
It is quite a walk to get from Lesseps Metro Station to Parc Güell, so the first thing I did once I'd arrived was rest up a while and take in the view. Then I went to explore the Parc. The further up you go the less structured the Parc becomes and at the top it is just forested. So I turned back around, passing Gaudí's house (which he didn't design) and down to the entrance to the Parc which guarded by two elborate houses (which he did design) and the superb main staircase leading up to the Gran Plaça Circular with it's famous dragon fountain - the major landmark of the Parc.
Before heading back to the Metro I stopped to re-acquaint myself with churros con chocolate (see Madrid above). Then it was on to my next, and final, example of Antoni Gaudí's very original form of genius.
On the Passeig de Gràcia, one of Barcelona's massive thoroughfares, stands the Casa Milà (named for a family who once lived here). This is more usually known as La Pedrera ("The Stone Quarry"), a fascinating apartment block designed by Gaudí which was his last work before he dedicated himself entirely to La Sagrada Familia. There are, apparently, no straight lines anywhere in the building which has the appearance of waves of concrete from outside. One apartment is open to the public, but the real attraction is the astonishing roof terrace.
Gaudí obviously designed this as a work of art because not only is the roof terraced, but walkways are set out in it's very structure. The attraction is the chimney stacks, known as espanatabruixes (witch scarers) they chimneys are decorated with a variety of different tops ranging from serried ranks of what appear to be soldiers helmets, mushroom like heads of broken glass and more abstract designs. In many ways the simplicity of the roof terrace of La Pedrera is Gaudí's most effective piece of work, lacking the intricacy perhaps of La Sagrada Familia, but on a more human scale. It was a very appropriate place to end my exploration of this remarkable man's works.
My next stop was to book my coach trip to Andorra, and then to the Arc de Triomf which stands near to the bus station. A lot smaller than the one in Paris, the Moorish influence in its designs makes this bit of Spain look more like Morocco than Europe.
From here it is a short walk back into the Barri Gòtic where I found myself once again happening upon the Cathedral and it's Christmas market before walking down through the old town to the Harbour area.
The Harbour area of Barcelona was once one of the roughest parts of town, but since the Olympics of 1992 the area has been reborn as a leisure complex (and re-christened Port Vell). A wooden bridge, La Rambla de Mar (which swings open to allow tall boats passage) takes you across the harbour to the Moll d'Espanya which has a shopping centre, IMAX cinema and aquarium.
These were all shut by the time I reached this point, so I just had a wander around before heading back over to the "mainland" and walked up La Rambla and back to the plaza in front of the Cathedral where I ate my first paella of the trip watching a strange Christmas procession featuring a giant Moor's head spewing out sweets. It was the closest thing I've yet seen to a Spanish festival, although only on a very small scale.
I then headed back to my hotel for the night. That night, unfortunately, my stomach problems raised their head with avengeance and I spent most of the night, all of the following day, and part of the next night in some pain (and at least discomfort).
The following morning, still feeling somewhat unwell, I walked all the way down La Rambla in one go from Plaça de Catalunya to the Monument a Colom (Christopher Columbus Monument) opposite the Port Vell area. Approximately halfway down La Rambla is the Plaça de la Boqueria with it's Miró mosaic and the famed dragon sign on a former umbrella shop which is one of Barcelona's best Art Deco pieces.
The end of La Rambla opens out (it used to be a river bed remember) and the Monument a Colom marks it's finish. A lift inside the Monument takes you up to a viewing platform, although sadly the perspex windows are rather scratched so views out are not as clear as they could be. It does give a superb view of La Rambla snaking up into the centre of the City.
Today was going to be a day for big views as my next stop was going to be the hill of Montjuïc (Mount of Jews) which is Barcelona's highest point standing between the old town and the modern commercial harbour. Montjuïc was where the 1992 Olympics were centred and is a complex of attractions, only a fraction of which I sampled. In the summer the top can be reached by cable car from Port Vell. Unfortunately, it was December, so I had to head first to Plaça d'Espanya to catch a bus which the guidebooks said took one to the top of the hill.
Not for the first time the guidebooks weren't quite accurate. The bus takes you part of the way up Montjuïc, but there is still a LONG way to go to the top. Alas, it was the very top I wanted to get to as I was on my way to the Castell de Montjuïc - Barcelona's very own Venetian-style Castle (one of it's forgotten attractions, it must be said).
The long clamber up through the scrubby parkland of Montjuïc didn't do my dodgy stomach much good and I was pretty tired by the time I finally reached the Castell. The construction is one of those mostly low-lying fortress type Castles which the Venetian's dotted all around the Meditteranean with concentric bastions and gun emplacements. The Castell de Montjuïc also has a central 'tower' which you can't go up, but you can walk around the central platform above the courtyard and superb views of the City and commercial Port can be had from this, the highest point in Barcelona. However, unless like me you are seriously interested in Castles I would say only visit the Castell de Montjuïc if the cable cars are running - it's a heck of a trek up there!
To read more about the Castell de Montjuïc, see our Castles of Europe pages.
Of course, having looked around the Castell I now was faced with the walk back down Montjuïc. This also took an age (it's harder coming downhill sometimes!). I didn't bother with the bus this time as I wanted to have a look around Palau Nacional (which contains the Catalan National Museum of Art which I didn't actually visit). From the front of the Palau an excellent view down the past the steps and fountains of a series of Plazas leading to the Plaça d'Espanya where I began my exploration of Montjuïc. (These are the fountains which 'perform' in the summer months.)
There is so much more to see on Montjuïc, I only scratched the surface having spent an inordinate amount of time clambering up to the Castell - still, gives me an excuse to go back to Barcelona some time!
I returned to my hotel for a shower and a bit of a rest up before heading out in the evening to find some food and to finish my rather brief visit to Barcelona more or less where I started at La Sagrada Familia, this time floodlit and possibly even more impressive looking than during the day.
The following day was my trip to Andorra and after that I would be returning home a day early due to the ongoing stomach problems which were showing no signs of abating. Perhaps I didn't do Barcelona full justice and maybe one day when I'm feeling fit again I will return and do so, whatever turns out to be case, it was good to finally get to a City I had been intending to visit for years.
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