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UNIWORLD River Boat Cruise on the Danube, Budapest to Prague

UNIWORLD River Boat Cruise on the Danube, Budapest to Prague

Sep 9th, 2017, 02:10 PM
Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 837
Thanks for the wonderful trip report, Kwren. I have been following your reports about your daughter and you definitely deserved this fabulous get-away!

A couple years ago we did a river boat trip on the Rhine with Avalon and loved it. The trip you just took is on my bucket list -- Prague to Budapest or visa versa. We really enjoyed our Avalon experience, but I will check into the company you took also. Last year we did a small sailboat (300 people) trip along the southern coast of Italy and while we enjoyed it, I still liked the smaller river boat trip. I would never take a large cruise boat trip.

Thanks again, for taking the time to post your observations about your trip. With all that's on your mind I'm in awe that you can concentrate on anything!

PS. Congratulations on selling the house and sending good thoughts your way for you and your husband as he has his surgery.
Ifnotnow_when is offline  
Sep 11th, 2017, 03:58 PM
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Our next day was spent on the river, rather...on the Danube-Main Canal - the canal that connects the Danube and Main Rivers in Germany. It was so nice to have a day to just relax onboard. We ate good food, drank, watched the bikes cycling along the flat paths on either side of the canal, watched the birds swimming, the passing boats, the cute villages with their multiple spires, and enjoyed watching the mechanics of the locks and how the crew secured us to the sides. We had 10 locks to navigate that day, mostly going up as we reached the high point, the Continental Divide. This milestone was indicated by a huge concrete wall. After this point, we started going down in the locks.

In one lock, we had to wait for quite a while before getting started. Finally, we were told that we had been waiting for another boat to enter the lock. I decided to go to the back of the boat to see who had held us up and it turned out to be the tiniest rowboat-sized vessel with a tiny motor. It had tied up at the far end of the lock and looked so funny sitting there all alone. Who would have thought that a rowboat could hold us up!

We sat at the bow of the boat for a good part of the morning since the upper deck's canopies had been collapsed due to the high water levels. On some cruises, the water level is so high that sailing is not even possible and those cruises end up turning into bus trips. We were so glad that that did not happen to us. We could put up with avoiding the upper deck for one day.

At another point, a small watercraft zoomed by us despite it being a no wake zone. The captain was with us when the boat horn sounded long and loud. Boy, did the captain boot it out of there (ad everyone on the deck jumped!). That boat just stopped in front of us to taunt us it seemed and got another belt of the horn. He sped off into the distance.

We knew a very deep lock, and a lock which went over a road were coming up so we decided to go to lunch once we entered a typical lock. Tables were not assigned, but people tended to sit at the same tables every day, not unlike high school. We did the same after the first few days and settled at the table next to the captain's table. We talked to him now and then as we ate, but not on this particular day, although he was eating at the same time. We sat down and noted that the wall was moving down, meaning that we were rising along with the water level. We got our food and heard a loud BANG. I quickly glanced at the captain to gauge what my reaction should be and noted that he didn't even flinch. He continued to eat calmly so I went back to my conversation. We next noticed that we seemed to be going back down. When the server arrived with drinks, we asked about this and he said that was normal, although we didn't really believe it. We hadn't seen this happen before.

Next thing we know, someone is talking to the captain and then he literally ran out of the dining room. (This must have been a very tiring day with all the running!) Something was going on after all.

Here is some lock information. The boats tie up to a mechanism called a pollard. The pollard rises along with the water and the boat is tied to it to prevent it from floating around and hitting the sides or other boats. The loud bang was the line snapping because the pollard was stuck down below. The lock crew lowered the boat back down because they were afraid that if the water level continued to rise but the pollard didn't, that it could dislodge and shoot up like a rocket either next to the boat, landing on the wheelhouse, or shoot up through the bottom of the boat. Neither would be a good scenario.

So we were stuck in the lock!

So the on-call engineering crew was called. Only problem was that it was a national holiday. Also, there is no complete crew for each lock. Instead, there are people spread around, all of whom are called together if there is a problem. In addition, hopefully, we weren't calling them out of a biergarten!

A couple engineers arrived with a lot of peering down the lock wall, a lot of head scratching. The captain was out looking down the sides as well. Quite a few phone calls. Crew members studying the frayed ends of the enormous rope - it obviously took a lot of force to snap that baby!

Finally after about an hour and a half, the boat started to rise ever so slowly. It seemed to take forever (enough time to order another drink of the day and finish it...which was the one horrible drink of the trip - gin, creme de menthe, lemon juice, tonic water, sugar syrup and a long slice of cucumber - beautiful pale green with a translucent cucumber but bleh!..) but finally, we reached the top without a rocket display. Were we ever happy to exit that lock! The excitement of the day.
kwren is online now  
Sep 14th, 2017, 01:30 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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kwren--I really appreciate you taking the time and effort to write a great trip report! We have changed our trip around because of Hurricane Irma--whereas we were going to go to London (on the day of the storm) and then to Vienna/ Budapest for the cruise, we were able to alter our itinerary and fly this Sunday to Vienna, spend two nights there, train to Budapest and embark on the cruise, then follow up with a week in London. Lots of scrambling, but I think this will now all transpire!
wren is offline  
Sep 16th, 2017, 09:15 AM
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You're welcome wren! It brings back memories of the trip and stretches out the enjoyment to do a trip report. (I just hope Fodors doesn't end up getting rid of them!)

My friends went to Vienna first and really enjoyed being there on their own. They took a tour which included going backstage at the Opera House. The Vienna city tour provided by Uniworld included the Opera House but did not take us backstage. If you like artwork, and the artist Klimt, maybe you would prefer to go to the art museum on your own because it was too rushed for my friends through Uniworld.

Stay safe in London.
kwren is online now  
Sep 16th, 2017, 12:51 PM
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Our last morning on the boat so I had my traditional debarkation eggs benedict. Somehow that has become a tradition with me the last breakfast of any cruise. (And they were really good!)

We had to be out of our cabins by 8:30 and off the boat by 9:00, but once getting out of the rooms, everyone (except for DH who decided he would go somewhere on the boat to read!) went right to the busses and we got an early start for our Nuremberg city tour. (We were the last ones to board the bus - I do NOT recommend doing this!!!) The first part of the tour was on the bus, stopping at the old Nazi rally site and Nazi building which was never finished but resembled the Colesseum, following the wall of the Old Town, passing the building where the Nuremberg Trials took place, and then they dropped us off at the Nuremberg Castle. The group walked downhill in a guided tour to the center market square. We had to leave our audio devices on the boat of course, and it was very hard to hear the guide without replacements. Stick close to the guide! Anyone going on to Prague automatically got signed up for this tour. The tour ended once we reached the market plaza, and then we had a few hours of time on our own.

At the entrance of the main market plaza is a gilded structure, dating from the fourteenth century, surrounded by an iron fence. It's called Schoner Brunnen, or "beautiful fountain'. Shaped like a Gothic church spire, it is over 60 feet high and is covered with colorful 3D figures which represent the world view of the Roman Empire. Woven into the fence was a golden ring with the tradition that if you turn it 3 times, it will make your wish come true. Of course I gave it a try.

The plaza, I am told, is normally full of booths selling food items, but that day, there were only a few up and running. Pretzels were sold as were the specialty gingerbread cookies. (We had also noticed that a nearby outdoor restaurant had served baskets of pretzels instead of bread.)

Checking out the booths and taking samples (watch out for the bees!) was a good time filler until noon when the famous clock would ring.

This mechanical clock from 1506 is on the spire of the Frauenkirche church in the corner of the plaza and it chimes at noon with mechanical figurines which alternately drum, trumpet, ring a small bell (which we could hear despite it being high up on the spite). After all that, some higher pitched bells ring and a line of figures circulate around the central seated Emperor, each in turn turning to face the him and then swiveling back. The market area hadn't been particularly crowded before that, but at noon it had become packed.

After this, we walked around the area and saw some serene views of the river with half-timbered houses reflected in the water. Add in weeping willow trees, wooden bridges, flowers and a steel suspension bridge, and it was the stuff of beautiful photos!

To get to the best area, turn right at the Starbucks at the one corner of the marketplace and continue down between the Starbucks (where the restrooms were open and free) and the river until you come to a small bridge on the left. Cross that bridge and go onto the small island and continue on in the same direction. Many great views after the row of shops. You'll pass a covered bridge and then at the end of the island a steel suspension bridge. We crossed that bridge back over to the right side of the river, crossed the street ahead of us and next we happened upon the Weissgerbergasse, a short pedestrian street of colorful buildings. It was pretty deserted and it lead us around to the St Sebaldus Church, which in turn was near the market place once again.

We were to meet our busses at 1:30 for the 3 hour drive to Prague. That was sort of a madhouse getting onto the busses. No organization. We were waiting to get onto the first bus, but there was an announcement that the third bus was empty so the mass of people surged on back. Of course by the time we reached it, it was full so we ended up back at the first bus. Once we left, there was an announcement that some people might have been left behind, but as there was no actual list of everyone who should have been on those busses, so they finally decided that they had everyone (not sure how they knew that) and the busses continued on. Morale of the story - don't be late for the busses to Prague! They might not notice that you are missing! (or they might think you are missing when you are actually there!)

Would it have so difficult to tell everyone to board the same busses they were initially on coming from the boat? Food for thought Uniworld!

We made it though, had a rest stop halfway to Prague and arrived at our hotel, the Imperial Art Deco.
kwren is online now  
Oct 18th, 2017, 09:48 PM
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I have loved reading your trip report, Kwren. We took a trip a couple of years ago with my dad to Vienna and the Czech Republic. Since we were driving, we also went to Klosterneuburg Abbey on the way into Vienna. We really loved it. Did the main tour and the winery tour.

Now I want to see some of the other destinations on your trip... Budapest and the Wachau Valley especially.
5alive is online now  
Oct 19th, 2017, 09:08 AM
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5alive - I'm so glad you wrote. I forgot to finish my trip report and your reply reminded me to do so. Also glad you enjoyed my report! Thanks for the comment. Now on to finishing!
kwren is online now  
Oct 19th, 2017, 10:55 AM
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Once we arrived at our hotel, we checked in and found a bottle of champagne chilling and a bowl of luscious strawberries to celebrate our anniversary. Nice touch Uniworld! The hotel was beautiful with a gorgeous marble and granite bathroom and many designs in the tiled floors. It was in a great location not far from the Old Town – an easy walk.

We attended an orientation meeting for the group. It was a helpful meeting, especially for the restaurant suggestions for the evening.

We set out with our friends to a traditional restaurant nearby called the Kolkovna Celnice. We were taken downstairs to what looked like a beer hall and we all ordered off the Czech Specialties section of the menu. My turkey schnitzel and potato salad were out of this world. I wish I had some now! My friend ordered the braised neck of beef in wine with pumpkin puree and that was just as good. My husband had the most traditional entrée (according to the meeting leader) and it was just OK – Roast beef in a cream sauce with bread dumplings. The meat was not bad but the dumplings were like pieces of white bread pressed together and baked. We all agreed…Bleh! As tasteless as that sounds. We were led astray on that one.

On the way back to the hotel we went into a food store. I love visiting food stores when in different countries. This one did not disappoint. I particularly enjoyed the deli counter. Similar to France with their dozens of cheeses, this one had dozens of different sausages on display!

We also noticed that the sidewalks in Prague were usually made of small cubes of pale and dark grey colored stone and we noted the large sections being repaired. Thousands of pale cubes painstaking laid out in perfect rows surrounded by dark grey frames and stripes or designs. Beautiful! Amazing that people still go to that trouble, and very cool to see the workers placing each one just so. There were other areas of concentric semicircles or little designs. Just as in my Barcelona trip report, I will suggest when in Prague, look down! I can just imagine the backaches after a long day’s work!

The next morning was our included walking tour. Our bus drove us to the top of the main hill and dropped us off at a monastery near the palace. We walked through the grounds for the spectacular view of the city and were greeted by …fog! We could just make out the closest rooftops. Go later in the day to give the fog time to clear up! We could see the grapes growing on the grapevines though. Imagine the monks working hard to make their wines!

We walked down from the monastery through the New Town to the palace to see the changing of the guard, and then continued down across the famous Charles Bridge and through Old Town to the large mechanical clock in the main square. I think that clock activates every hour, but it only lasts for a very short while. Nevertheless, the square was full of people waiting for it to chime, and performers and living-statues. Definitely a high-energy area surrounded by spires. This was all a wonderful walk downhill, even better since we had a guide leading us and describing everything. The artwork on the outside of many of the buildings and the red rooftops were gorgeous, as was the bride dressed in salmon-color dress along with her new husband in a matching shirt! We passed priests with cameras and Thais massage studios, where you can have your dead skin removed by putting your feet in large tanks sitting in full view of passersby filled with little fish which would nibble off the dead cells. (No, I didn't try that!) By the way, anyone who has read many of my posts knows I love the Eiffel Tower. On top of the hill closer to the monastery, there was a smaller version which served as an observation tower. I didn’t get there but that didn’t stop me from having my picture taken with it in the background.

We got back with a little time for a snack and then on to the afternoon excursion.
kwren is online now  
Oct 22nd, 2017, 05:45 AM
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We took the optional excursion from Prague to Terezin this afternoon. It took about 45 minutes to get to this walled fort with orderly graves out front. Terezin started as an actual fort and then fell into disrepair in the late 19th century. It later held military and political prisoners, until the Nazis took it over as a transit and labor camp during WWII. Many of the Jews imprisoned here were tortured to death while others were deported to Auschwitz, among other concentration camps. This camp was used as propaganda for the Red Cross and Allies as a tour was given through certain hurriedly improved quarters. The children had been trained to put on an opera, a group of artists was compelled to “beautify” some of the facitilities, and the more highly ranked residents were shown as model citizens. Of course, it was a front for all the atrocities going on in the untoured areas.

We were taken through the long narrow and dark hall through the surrounding walls to an execution site, but found out that that was used during a different part of its history, not by the Nazis. After this, we were taken to another part of the Terezin ghetto to the Ghetto Museum where hundreds of pictures drawn by the camp’s children had been displayed after being smuggled out. Some were really heartbreaking. One piece of artwork was a grouping of Jews’ suitcases labelled and piled high. Terezin also was used as a holding area for the Jews’ belongings as the suitcases were emptied and the contents were sorted and sent to the front.

We were taken to the “Barracks” where there was a typical dormitory reconstruction, giving each person less than 2 square meters of living space, as well info on the epidemics which ravaged the camp due to the lack of hygiene and water shortage. Some of the artists I mentioned above, artists who were working in drafting offices and who had had better living conditions than the Jews, also secretly drew more realistic depictions of the actual living conditions at the camp and asked the Red Cross delegation to smuggle them out to inform the world of what was happening on a daily basis. They were caught, arrested and imprisoned with the Jews. Many died from the harsh conditions, but dozens of other drawings were discovered hidden in the camp are are now displayed in the museum.

This was a really tiring day, very emotional and we were ready to return to Prague. We had made reservations for the Cafe Imperial, which was attached to our hotel, because we had heard that the executive chef there was a well-known television chef and because we knew that we would be exhausted after such a busy and grueling day. The food was excellent. We loved that the "bus boys" brought food out on trays and stood at attention amongst the tables until the waiters came to relieve them of the meals for each diner.
kwren is online now  
Oct 27th, 2017, 01:59 PM
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Our last day was a gorgeous day, one during which the four of us split up. Our friends went to the Jewish Quarter and DH to the Apple Computer Museum. I went to the Miniature Museum after wandering through a small market near our hotel. I especially liked the spiralized potatoes which were fried on long skewers – one long stretched out potato chip on each. There were all sorts of sausages, pretzels and crafts. I continued through the Main Square of the Old Town, across the Manes Bridge (I think that was the name – it was the bridge to the north of Charles Bridge) and caught the 22 or 23 tram up the hill past the Prague Castle and around to the Pohorelec tram stop.

It took me forever to find the Muzeum Miniatur. Despite asking about a dozen people in the vicinity, including people in a hotel and restaurant, I ended up going up and down the street quite a few times. Finally, someone told me that it was actually in the Strahov Monastery. Why didn’t anyone say so in the first place! Once inside, still no one was familiar with it. I asked in the beer restaurant/brewery on the left side of the inner courtyard and the man said he never heard of it. Well, I decided that I would at least go to the viewpoint out to the back which was so foggy the previous day and on the way, there was a sign for the museum! It was off in the back left corner of the monastery, just next to the beer restaurant. Amazing that that waiter never heard of it and that it gets any business at all having had such a hard time finding it!

I went to see the view first and it was stunning in the sun. I could see forever and the red rooftops, multiple spires, river and bridges were beautiful. So much better without fog!

Back to the museum. It wasn’t cheap, but I love anything mini and it was worth the trip. Inside were two rooms lined with old-fashioned microscopes and small containers. Each one contained a miraculously detailed object set on a ridiculously small item including a seed, hair, mosquito wing or in the eye of a needle. The detail of the items was impressive. There was a group of swans on a seed head, a line of cars on a mosquito leg, a portrait on a poppy seed, a parade of zoo animals on a hair, a long train on a hair, a camel caravan in the eye of a needle and a beautiful gold Eiffel Tower in a cherry pit. There were horseshoes on a flea. It was really amazing! If you like tiny things, this place is for you!

A tram ticket is good for 1 ½ hours so I hurried out of the museum just as a large group arrived. I hopped the tram back into the city and got off at the stop at a mall to see the gigantic “kinetic” Franz Kafka moving head sculpture – more than 30+ feet tall and shiny reflective silver. I read that there are 42 horizontal panels which move around thereby changing the appearance of the face. We went to the café next to it so we could watch it while we had a drink and after waiting a while, we asked the server when it would start moving, Well…the computer was broken that day so we actually watched it on YouTube while having our drink. Pretty funny way to enjoy it, but we got the idea and had fun anyway. I found this on the Internet and it made me laugh: “Across from City Hall, it's meant to distract people from the frustations of dealing with government employees.”

We wandered through the Old Town and saw a local specialty made in many shops: Trdlo, also called Tradiční, or even Trdelnik! These are pastry cones made by winding long strips of dough around a cone-shaped metal mold, rolled a bit to stick it all together, baked over an open grill and sliding the mold out. The one I had was coated inside with chocolate, filled high with ice cream and strawberries and topped with shipped cream a cherry and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. It was huge and heavenly!!!

Prague seems to be known for blown glass items so we did a little shopping and met our friends back at the hotel. Uniworld included transfers back to the airport and they were nice enough to take us to an airport hotel instead, the Holiday Inn Airport. It was a nice enough Holiday Inn and we had a very good dinner in their restaurant. We had decided to stay there since we had a very early flight the next morning. We hopped the free shuttle at 5 a.m. the next day and were there in about 10 minutes (due to heavy traffic – who would have guessed!)
kwren is online now  
Oct 27th, 2017, 06:54 PM
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Kwren--thanks so much for finishing up your report. I went to Prague a couple of years ago (will try to do my own report soon). Wondering if you remember approximately the cross streets or a nearby landmark of the foodstore that you liked near your hotel. I do really want to go back to Prague and tend to bookmark places like that.

Also, I was at the Strahov Monastery too and never saw any signs for the Muzeum Miniatur. That sounds fun too if I am up that way again.

As to the street food you mentioned, is this it? Because I have seen it at a foodcart here in the USA and it was identified as Hungarian or Romanian (I forget which).

5alive is online now  
Oct 29th, 2017, 01:05 PM
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The food store I think was to the left of the restaurant Kolkovna Celnice on nam. Republiky, and near Republic Square which has a very strange sculpture. However, when I tried to Google it, it says its address is around the corner on V Celnici. I'm thinking that there were 2 entrances. I didn't remember the name but from Google, it appears to be a Supermarket Billa. Here is what I googled:

V Celnici 1031/4, 110 00 Nové Město, Czechia

Those in the link look more like the ones I saw in Budapest so maybe they are Hungarian. They looked like bread. The ones in Prague can be the same shape but also a bit narrower on one end than the other (better for holding ice cream!)
kwren is online now  
Oct 29th, 2017, 11:55 PM
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Thanks, Kwren, I have found the farmers' market and bookmarked it!
5alive is online now  
Nov 18th, 2017, 06:26 AM
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Thanks for your great trip report. DH and I are thinking of doing this trip for our 20th anniversary. We’re normally very independent travelers so I do have a concern that we will feel like the groups on the tours will be too big. How many people would you estimate were in a sight seeing/tour group?

Did you feel rushed? Or that you always had to wait due to too much shopping time?
patandhank is offline  
Nov 21st, 2017, 06:01 AM
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Hi patandhank! Glad you enjoyed my report.

We are independent travelers as well and this was definitely a switch for us.

The size of the groups varied. For instance, the hike through the vineyard was very small, maybe about 15-20 people. Same for the hike along the river.

The trip into Vienna on the other hand was huge. 2 or 3 busses because of course everyone wanted to go see Vienna and the dock wasn't in the center of the city (the river didn't flow through the center). Once we got there though, everyone was split into smaller groups into one of two different excursions, and everyone had a headset so we didn't need to crowd around the guide. It was as you would expect in an already crowded city. If you wanted to do some serious shopping in Vienna, you would need to be very organized and know which stores you wanted to visit - not much time for that. The tour in Passau was a small group. It will vary depending on the excursion, the more active, the smaller the group. Some excursions had a cap on the number of people - the Mozart concert was one of those.

Of course, it is not mandatory that you go on every excursion.

By the end of the trip, we felt like we couldn't absorb any more info. We didn't feel rushed other than hurry up and get to the bus after breakfast/lunch!, but with a guided tour every day, it was a lot. There was not a lot of shopping time on our trip. As a matter of fact, I split off alone from one tour for 30 minutes and did some real damage.

The flip side was that it was so relaxing on board the boat - that was where you find your downtime. The trip was perfect for us. I needed a break from the planning and that was all done for us. A nice change. We're going to go on another with the same friends, this time to the fjords of Norway.
kwren is online now  
Nov 21st, 2017, 10:23 AM
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Thanks keen.

Years ago we took a trip with Viking River Cruises to China and Tibet which was more of a land trip with 3 days on the river. What you describe sounds a lot like that trip. We had 20 people in our group. Now after arranging so many trips where DH and I have private guides as needed, 20 sounds like a lot, but DH is really wanting to try this type of trip. I’m going to do some itinerary comparisons with AMA because the question now is whether We do a 14 day river cruise (his preference) or split the baby and do 7 days and the rest independent (my preference). LOL
patandhank is offline  
Nov 21st, 2017, 10:28 AM
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Thanks kwren!! Fumble fingers.
patandhank is offline  
Oct 8th, 2018, 01:53 PM
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Kwren, Absolutely loved reading your trip report and plan to print it out to take with us on our upcoming trip the end of this month!
My husband and I are taking this exact same trip on the Uniworld Beatrice, except we are getting off the ship in Nuremberg.
We have independently booked the Corinthia Hotel in Budapest for two nights prior to the cruise, and will be staying three nights afterwards in Nuremberg!
Your trip report was so well written and so interesting. Thank You!
And hope you and your family are doing well!
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