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MRand Jul 4th, 2005 05:59 AM

Thanks again for all your positive comments.

Fri. June 24 (Lake Trasimeno – Orvieto – Rome)

Today is departure day from Tuscany. After breakfast and checkout from Casale del Cotone, we head on the autostrada via Siena for Rome. It’s another beautiful almost cloudless day, not an ounce of rain or cloudiness so far on any day of our week in Italy. Our plan is to make stops at Orvieto and Civita en route to dropping off our rent car at Rome da Vinci - Fiumicino airport, hopefully by 7:00 p.m. to avoid additional charges on our 8 day rental.

Scanning the map for our route, we notice that it brings us near Lake Trasimeno. The northern shore of the lake is the site where over 2200 years ago in June 217 BC the Carthaginian general Hannibal destroyed a Roman army in his quest to bring the Roman Republic to its knees. (He almost succeeded. If he had, we’d probably be in North Africa on our way to Carthage instead of in Italy on our way to Rome right now.) The boys know about this from ancient history documentaries they’ve seen on The History Channel. Although it isn’t described in any guidebooks, Dad suggests we detour to see the battle site. (Uh-oh.) Sure enough, a village on the lake shore, Tuoro sul Trasimeno, has a small museum dedicated to Hannibal and the battle above its tourist information office. Unfortunately, we arrive at 1:00 p.m. and both the museum and the office are closed until at least 3:00 p.m. Waiting for them to open will seriously jeopardize our other plans and ability to return the car on time. However, we do drive out from the town to see the beautiful green hills from which Hannibal and his men charged down in the fog on the Romans as they marched along the edge of the lake. There also doesn’t seem to be any other tourists for miles around. It is also apparent that the local government, the Italian government, or some history buffs have laid out a multi-stop tour of the battle site, because every so often we see signs and maps describing the battle alongside vineyards. Too bad for us, though, because there is no English translation.

We drive over a few miles away to Passignano sul Trasimeno, a resort on the lake shore that is supposed to have a few Michelin-rated restaurants. We can’t find any, so instead we go to a restaurant that is on piers over the lake and has a great view. I don’t know what it is about restaurants on piers, but I should know from experience that they are rarely good. The proprietor appears to complain about our showing up late for lunch (about 2:00 p.m.) but seats us anyway in a nearly empty dining room at two tables with dirty tablecloths and then leaves us there without any attention for at least 10 minutes. We don’t like the situation and head out to grab panini and bottled water at a stand in the adjacent park on the lake shore. Looking around a little, Passignano seems to have the feel of a resort that’s seen better days. We finish our sandwiches and head back to the autostrada to Rome. Due to this Dad Suggestion, we are now off schedule by about two hours.

The drive along the A1 autostrada to Rome is highway driving at its best. The traffic is moderate to light, the highway is excellent, and we pass through beautiful countryside with hill towns on both sides of the road. We think we can make out Montepulciano high on a hill to the west and Chiusi on a hill to the east, but there’s no time now to stop if we want to have any chance to see Orvieto or Montepulciano.

Orvieto soon looms directly ahead of us, on a volcanic rock easily visible just a mile or two off the highway. We take that detour and it is well worth it. We drive up the rock, park near the famous duomo, and get delicious gelato and strawberry granita at a place that is in the piazza to the far left side as you face the Duomo. The colorful exterior of the cathedral is one of the most impressive anywhere and the interior is well worth the time too. Too bad we only feel like we have an hour or so to explore. I think Orvieto would be worth at least one overnight stop on another trip. My old Michelin green guide suggests there is a great overall view of the town on highway SP71 about 2 miles (4 km) to the west. Sure enough, as you start to climb there is a large pull out area for a spectacular view of Orvieto, highlighted by the cathedral gleaming brightly in the late afternoon sunlight. Super photo opportunity.

We return to the autostrada and very quickly heavy traffic begins to build up as we move south toward Rome. We reluctantly conclude or Hannibal / Lake Trasimeno misadventure has thrown off our schedule enough that we aren’t going to make Civita and be able to turn in the car at any reasonable hour. I don’t want to be messing with the car and going into downtown Rome at midnight, so we press on. The traffic becomes very heavy and frequently slows to a standstill as we approach the GRA freeway loop around Rome. The A1 intersects the GRA at about the 12 o’clock position on the map and the exit for da Vinci - Fiumicino airport is at the 7:00 o’clock position, so we get a pretty good view of the booming Rome suburbs as we drive around the loop in the evening sunlight. There is new construction everywhere. At the da Vinci – Fiumicino exit, there is a large Agip / MacDonald’s complex that appears to be the last gas stop before the airport. Our 11 year old is high-fiving his brother about the proximity of the MacDonald’s as we gas up the mini-van before returning it. The Renault Espace has been a good fit for the five of us and our luggage and I would not hesitate to rent such a vehicle again or recommend it to another family who is driving in Italy.

Directions for returning a rental car at da Vinci – Fiumicino airport that we have printed out before departure( ) prove to be invaluable. After dropping the car, we decide that taking a mini-van taxi directly to our Rome hotel will be more efficient and only slightly more expensive than the five of us taking the train from the airport to Termini station, then taking a taxi from there to the hotel. We are able to fairly easily flag a mini-van taxi for all five of us, and the driver quotes what seems to me to be a very reasonable rate of 50 Euros to take us directly to our hotel. He’s had to endure being berated by some guy in a suit who I assume is airport security reprimanding him for stopping for us outside the authorized pick-up zone (there was no room to load there). As we drive into Rome in the twilight, it is much prettier than I had recalled from our previous trip. The city seems cleaner and less chaotic and the public landscaping is much more impressive than before. According to the map I have in hand our driver take us directly to our hotel via, to our surprise and delight, the Colosseum, so I give him an extra 10 Euro tip for his trouble at the airport and his honesty. He seems very pleased. I think it is always a good idea in a large city, particularly a foreign city, for a traveler taking a taxi cab to have a map in hand, so the driver believes you have the ability to spot any circuitous routing he may be inclined to take. (I have no reason to believe that was an issue, however, with this particular driver.)

We check in at Hotel Hiberia, having reserved two rooms there on As with Hotel Berna in Milan, the staff has put us in two adjacent rooms and has honored our pre-departure e-mail request for quiet (tranquilo) rooms that are off the street. After unloading our bags, we unwind in our warm rooms, waiting for the air conditioners to kick in, and decide to call it a night so we can be up for our Context Rome tour of the Palatine Hill and Rome forum at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.

yipper Jul 4th, 2005 06:18 AM

I was hoping that you would continue your report, even on the 4th of July. Thanks. Have a great holiday and I look forward to you Rome report.

faredolce Jul 4th, 2005 06:20 AM

This is one of the best trip reports I have ever had the pleasure to read. Thank you so much! I can't wait to hear about the Context Rome tour..

MRand Jul 4th, 2005 06:39 AM

Thanks yipper and and faredolce for your very kind words. I didn't intend the report to be anywhere near this long, but the recollections just keep flowing . . . even though we only returned Saturday night. Thank goodness I learned years ago to allow a one day buffer back home after a trip (preferably two days after an international trip) before returing to work. I need to try to finish this up today, because we return to the Real World from Travel World beginning tomorrow.

Although we love Italy it's great to be back home. Happy 4th to everyone!

LindaL Jul 4th, 2005 07:20 AM

I agree - one of the best trip reports I have ever read. This is must reading for anyone travelling to Italy with or without children. A big hug for attempting to make sure your son got to see the sights in his book. Your children will remember this trip all their life.

faredolce Jul 4th, 2005 07:36 AM

I think one of the things that I am most impressed with, and I must reference wliwl's report as well, is reading about teens, traveling with their parents and appreciating what they are experiencing. Even though I love traveling now, I remember myself in high school, and I would have been a pain in the neck to bring on a trip, and I would have not fully appreciated what I was seeing and doing. Hats off to you and your kids!!

Bailey Jul 4th, 2005 07:59 AM

Amazing report!!!
Yes it is a wonderful way for all of us readers to spend the 4th!!
I am taking notes....and now I'm going to check out Tenuta Quadrifoglio...I'll report my findings!!
You're report is marvelous...great attention to detail...many, many thanks for your hard work.

Bailey Jul 4th, 2005 08:09 AM


Tenuta Quadrifoglio

for additional photos:

*Haven't found any rates...I'll keep checking.

MRand Jul 4th, 2005 08:10 AM

Okay, I guess I'm now officially committed to trying to set the record for the longest trip report ever on this site.

Sat. June 25 (Rome)

The night was hot and we didn’t sleep well. Our rooms at Hotel Hiberia are very nice and clean and the bathrooms are some of the nicest we’ve had on the trip, but the air conditioning is completely inadequate. We debate whether we should check out and look for another hotel with better air conditioning, but taking time away from Rome to do that doesn’t seem to be an option at this point. My wife requests floor fans for the rooms and the hotel seems willing to accommodate her. Maybe combining those with cold showers before bedtime will make the nights bearable. That strategy has worked in the past for all of us at summer camps, so why can’t it work in Rome? The breakfast room and nice lobby area (with cheap Internet access!) seem to be cool enough and the breakfast is good, so let’s try to stick it out.

We walk to the uncrowded south gate at the Palatine Hill to meet our Context Rome guide Richard for our 9:00 a.m. tour of the Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Colosseum. There is no male remotely fitting a tour guide description in the area. Soon we realize that a last minute substitution has been made and our guide is actually a woman named Olivia, a young mother with art history training and a husband who is an archaeologist in Rome. She speaks good English with a nice Italian accent because her mother is English but her father is Italian and she grew up in Rome. She turns out to be a fantastic tour guide, not only for the adults but also for the kids. We all pepper her with questions during our four hour tour, and she patiently answers every one. Her knowledge of Rome is encyclopedic, and she has remarkable patience with all of us. The kids absolutely love her and my concerns that they could hold up for a four hour tour prove to be unfounded.

As we move down into the forum, another female Italian guide inexplicably challenges Olivia’s credentials when we apparently don’t move out of the way quickly enough at Julius Cesar’s temple. This leads to an amusing confrontation and debate in Italian. We can only imagine what is said, and our newly developed affection for Olivia makes us want to weigh in, but she appears to be more than adequately holding her own. After two or three minutes, the other guide appears to be placated (or defeated), and they smile and shake hands. Remarkably, Olivia maintains her composure and continues our tour unflustered, finishing with a flourish at the Colosseum. (We assume Olivia will report back to Context Rome and the official Italian guide association, and imagine that the other guide will be exiled to a boring desk job in some Italian tourist backwater in a few days.) My wife and I have seen the Colosseum before. In fact, in the early 1980s we were memorably almost struck by lightning there running for cover from a late September thunderstorm, but it is another jaw dropping moment for the kids. Perhaps Olivia and recalling the Russell Crowe movie “Gladiator” really makes the Colosseum come alive for them.

We have a great Roman lunch near the Colosseum at Hosteria La Piazzetta on an alley named Vicolo del Buon Consiglio just off Via Cavour. It was recommended by Olivia and in Sandra Gustafson's "Great Eats Italy." Against my better judgment, the guys order fried fish. When it arrives, it is not what they imagined, but rather six or eight small whole fried fish---heads, tails, bones, and all! That is a complete non-starter for our 11 year old, so I trade him my pasta and dive in with my more adventuresome 15 year old. The fish are a mixture, but most are (I think) of the sardine variety, but much larger than the canned sardines you buy in the store in the U.S. I don’t ordinarily like to work during my meal, so the bones are an annoyance, but the fish is truly delicious. Middle son and I devour two full plates, and wife and daughter rave about their pasta dishes. Most of the other customers appear to be Italian locals, so I think we’re at a pretty authentic place. We stretch the feast into a leisurely two hour affair. Then heat exhaustion begins to set in, so we conduct a strategic retreat to the hotel for the rest of the afternoon and early evening.

The hotel has honored my wife’s request for floor fans, so a combination of sitting in the small but pleasant cool lobby for drinks, using the fans, and taking cold showers relaxes us enough to venture out into the warm evening air for a walk to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. Unfortunately, the beautiful twin towers of the Church of the Trinity of the Mountains at the top of the steps are shrouded in scaffolding, substantially detracting from the overall impression. Wife and daughter enjoy window shopping on the Via Condotti, then we stop for average pizza and indifferent service at a place in the Piazza San Silvestro. We then try the gelato at the recently famous San Crispino gelateria at Via della Pannateria 42. I think it is fantastic, but the kids seem to think that while tasty, it is more like ice cream and less creamy than other gelato they have had on the trip. Then back by Trevi Fountain and a short walk to the hotel to renew our battle against the heat. Strategic use of the floor fans and minimal air conditioning allow us to lower the room temperature to 82 degrees (Farenheit, not Celsius) before bedtime, and with cold showers, we are finally able to get to sleep.

SusanP Jul 4th, 2005 08:30 AM

This is a wonderful report. Don't worry about it being too long, we love the details! Looking forward to the rest.

MRand Jul 4th, 2005 11:07 AM

Sun. June 26 (Rome – Day 2)

The floor fans helped, but it was still a restless night. We sleep in, so everyone but Dad misses the hotel breakfast. A little travel fatigue is setting in. We take our time until about 11:00 a.m., then gear up to take on central Rome. We’ve reserved tomorrow for St. Peter’s and our second Context Rome tour—this one of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. We eat an early lunch of hot dog panini from the street vendor at Trajan’s Column. I’ll take a moment here to make a plug for The Teaching Company:
I suspect at lot of people who visit this site are familiar with this company. It locates and selects award winning college professors and tapes their course lectures on a wide variety of subjects. A year or two ago, my middle son and I bought and listened to their “Famous Romans” course by Prof. Rufus Fears of the University of Oklahoma, who is an entertaining lecturer. I am listening to the lectures again before and during this trip, and they are great background for Roman history (including Emperor Trajan) and a trip to Rome.

While we are at Trajan's Forum, an Italian wedding party emerges from a nearby church and we enjoy watching post-wedding festivities from a respectful distance. Actually, on this day we see a number of wedding parties. Apparently, Sunday is a popular day for weddings in Rome.

We visit the Mammertine Prison in the Roman Forum, where Sts. Peter and Paul were supposedly imprisoned, and Julius Cesar’s fierce Gallic opponent Vercingetorix was finally imprisoned and strangled. On to Michelangelo’s remarkable Campodoglio square adjacent to the forum, then to the Santa Maria in Cosmedin church where the kids stick their hands in the Bocca della Verite. We cross the Tiber into Trastevere and then double back, heading toward Piazza Navona and the Pantheon. En route, we stop at Ristorante (or is it Trattoria?) der Pallaro on the little Largo del Pallaro, a block or two off the major Corso Vittorio Emmanuel boulevard. This menu-less, family style restaurant has been recommended frequently on this site and in Gustafson’s “Great Eats Italy,” so we want to stop by to check it out and to make a dinner reservation. We are warmly greeted at the door by chef Paolo Fazi herself who invites us in. The restaurant is half-empty but they are still serving. This might be our only chance to eat here, so even though we’re not that hungry, we go for it. We are not disappointed. It is an amazing five course meal for a very reasonable price, even though we realize halfway through lunch they don’t accept credit cards, so I dash to Corso V. Emmanuel to find a nearby bancomat (ATM) to pay for the meal. Please check this place out if you are in Rome and your time and location allow.

Then on to Piazza Navona, where we soak our feet in the cold fountain with some American students and other tourists (not the Bernini fountain, but the smaller one on the south end of the piazza). We are stuffed after our der Pallaro lunch, but we force down a couple of delicious tartufi from Tre Scalini on the piazza (hey, we’re on vacation!), then go to the Pantheon. It is an amazing structure, the only Roman structure still standing essentially intact (I think). If you don’t have a guide, please do background reading on this wonder of the ancient world to do it justice. There we run into Olivia, our previous day’s Context Rome guide who is now giving a full day ancient Rome tour to another small group. This woman’s stamina and love of her city is admirable. We’ve about run out of gas, so we break down and spring for a taxi (7 Euros) back to the hotel for our siesta.

The family is pretty spent by now, so we take the remainder of the afternoon and early evening for a long respite at the hotel. The rest of the family is down for the count, but middle son and I catch a second wind about 9:30 and as huge baseball fans, we need a Major League Baseball and College World Series fix. Using the Internet in our hotel lobby, we identify Abbey Theater, a local sports bar of some repute among American college students in Rome. It is a fifteen minute walk away,back near Piazza Navona. Turns out it is also across the narrow street from the famous Roman pizzeria, Da Baffetto, at Via del Governo Vecchio 114. There is a long line at the pizzeria, but the sports bar is uncrowded. Unfortunately, only soccer is on at the bar, but the bilingual bartender graciously checks to see if he can get a baseball feed via satellite on one of the screens in the bar. He can’t get the feed until 12:30 a.m., too late for us, but he graciously allows us to use his Internet connection for free to check up on baseball scores and standings while I quaff a few Peroni beers. About 11:30, middle son and I are getting hungry, and the line at Da Baffetto has dwindled, so we head there. It absolutely lives up to its reviews and is the best pizza we have on the trip. We sit outside with Italian families and workers getting off their shifts and its total lack of atmosphere or pretense provides us with some of the best atmosphere of any eatery on the whole trip. Full and content, we wander back to the hotel about 12:30 for nightly cold showers and bed.

MRand Jul 4th, 2005 12:06 PM

Mon. June 27 (Rome – Day 3)

Breakfast at the hotel then a 17 Euro taxi ride to St. Peter’s. Daughter reads from various guidebooks as we walk through Bernini’s colannade, the square, and then into gigantic St. Peter’s. It is so immense, it’s really hard to take in. We have about a hour before meeting our Context Rome guide at the Vatican Museum, so we walk slowly through the perimeter of the interior to take in as much as we can.

The first thing I notice is Michelangelo’s Pieta, behind a plexiglass screen after being vandalized in the early 1970s. I enjoy art, but I’d have to say it doesn’t have much of an emotional impact on me. I’d seen the Pieta two decades ago, but when I see it this time it really moves me. Perhaps it’s life experience in the intervening years or being a parent, but I’m lump-in-the-throat overwhelmed by the delicacy and sweetness conveyed by this masterpiece. You know this is a masterpiece not by relying on a guidebook to tell you so, but because of how this exquisitely crafted piece of marble makes you feel when you see it. All I can say is “wow.”

Time has now flown and we’re going to have to make a 15 minute run to grab lunch and catch our Context Rome guide Brian for our 1:00 p.m. Vatican Museum tour. Everyone is holding up okay but it is real HOT. We stuff down some panini and bottled water and meet up with Brian. He is a former divinity-now-turned-art history graduate student from Iowa who has been living in Rome for about 4 years and is set to return to the state in August. That will be future Rome tourists’ loss, because Brian is every bit equal to Olivia in his patience with our family and the thoroughness of his knowledge of religious and art history. He conducts the tour like a friendly graduate seminar, but appropriately simplified for the kids, and we enjoy it immensely.

These Context Rome private tours are REALLY expensive, but I’ve honestly have to say we’ve gotten our monies’ worth and they have exponentially increased our enjoyment of the major Roman sites. My belief now is that if we’ve come this far and spent this kind of money, the added value the tours bring is worth it for our family. I can’t say anything more about the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel than thousands of others have said, but I appreciate it so much more this time than I did on our 1980s trip. The thing that amazes me is that our kids, even our 11 year old baseball playing son, are completely enthralled. Much of the credit goes to Brian. I suggest that if you book tours with Context Rome or any other group, ask for kid or teenage friendly guides. Olivia and Brian were simply excellent.

We reluctantly part ways with Brian, walk past the Castel Sant’ Angelo, which is closed on Mondays, then grab a taxi back to the hotel for siesta and Happy Hour. Appropriately revived, we walk a short way to have a pleasant outdoor dinner at La Laterne ristorante on the Via del Pilota. When we ask for “il conto,” the waiter takes an inordinately long time. He seems concerned, and I begin to wonder if our credit card has been declined for some reason. They call me back into the restaurant, and explain with distress that they have inadvertently charged my credit card 8,400 Euros instead of 84 Euros. The food and wine were good, but not THAT good. They provide me with a lot of documentation that my credit card has been appropriately credited, and I am satisfied they are doing everything in their power to correct the error. As a precaution, when we return to the hotel, I e-mail my secretary in the U.S., asking her to please check with the credit card company to explain the problem and alert the company to the error.

I have no doubt this was an innocent mistake, but I will say that this is the FOURTH error in a restaurant bill that I’ve noted on the trip. All four were graciously resolved in my favor and I’m virtually certain that all the errors were innocent, but I am also absolutely convinced based on these experiences that everyone travelling abroad should check their restaurant bills carefully and request explanation of any charges they do not understand.

Tomorrow is our train trip to Venice for the last leg of our trip. I hope that the advice we’ve received at the hotel that we do not need a reservation in advance is accurate.

feltoni Jul 4th, 2005 12:43 PM

4th of July, 90 degrees outside, and the World Championship Pillowfights are in high gear down the street, and here I am hooked on MR's killer family trip! OK! now to go get corndogs, etc's. ala Americana, but still dreaming of gelatos, and pizzas, and osso buccos, and antipasti, and panini! Was just there last month and feel like MR's just taken me there angain. Thanks!

Dayle Jul 4th, 2005 01:11 PM

Hi again M,

So, I am taking the same 2 tours with Context Rome that you and your family enjoyed. Did you tip your guide? What % did you consider apropriate?

skarnold Jul 4th, 2005 01:21 PM

MRand -

I've spent the last 30 minutes reading your trip report and it's very entertaining! I have a talented brother in many ways, but I think you have a new career ahead for you! Sounds like everyone had a great time and your descriptions are very detailed (which will be very helpful to others travelling to Italy). I liked your description of Dad on vacation.

Hope you all have a Happy 4th of July and I look forward to more reading!

faredolce Jul 4th, 2005 01:31 PM

Hey Dayle - I thought I would answer your question. I tipped my docent €20. I was a single girl in a group of wealthy retirees, whom I know tipped him more. But I wound up asking him later on, and he genuinely said that the tips run the gamut, and that you give what you can afford.

For me, it was well worth it. It was such a wonderful tour, very personal, very much unlike all the tours going on around me. Many of the docents are college professors, they don't make a ton of money as it is and giving tours is often a supplemental income. You don't become rich being an art historian, I guess. I felt good about what I gave him.

MichelleY Jul 4th, 2005 10:02 PM

Dear Rand:

Just in from shooting off our sparklers!! I am enjoying your report so much. A chance to relive my last trip and look forward to future trips with our daughter. Great info. Please don't leave anything out.


MRand Jul 5th, 2005 02:18 AM

Dayle - In reply to your question whether we tipped our Context Rome guides, we did tip them. On the set of confirmation and meeting instructions that Context Rome posted on its web site for our tours, the company said that "tipping is always appreciated but not obligatory" (glad to know that) and that "clients generally give anywhere from 5 to 50 Euro to docents depending on the quality of the experience and their tipping habits." We ended up tipping our guides about 30 to 35 Euros each because they were so good. I think that's in the range of 10% of the cost of each tour.

Well after a great 4th and fireworks, it's back to work today. We're almost back to normal sleeping patterns after our Saturday return. I'd really like to finish up the report by describing our Venice experience in the next day or so if time permits.

By the way, does anyone have opinions about the credibility of the reviews of hotels posted at It seems like almost all the reviews posted there are positive about the various properties and I've noticed in reviewing my e-mails on return that while on the trip I received e-mails at home through Venere requesting feedback for Hotel Berna (Milan) and Borgo di Campi (Riomaggiore) but I haven't received one from Hotel Hiberia (Rome), which is where we complained to the staff about the ineffectiveness of the air conditioning. Cause and effect or coincidence?

fun4all4 Jul 5th, 2005 03:46 AM

Good morning MRand,
Hope you have a smooth "rentry" into the real world today. As for, you probably just have not gotten the email yet because you stayed in Rome later in the trip; I believe it is simply an automatic email that follows up on reservations. And, unlike some other sites, you have to have stayed at the hotel to write a review which is good. However, I have noticed that almost all reviews are positive. When I wrote mostly positive reviews of 2 hotels in October they posted my ratings, but not my comments. I'm not sure if that was because they didn't like what I said or were just inefficient.
I have continued to enjoy your trip report. I know you will be busy this week, but we'd still love to hear about Venice!

Intrepid1 Jul 5th, 2005 04:18 AM

Great trip report and for many reasons.

As to the hotel review....I really hope you will take the time to write a review of the hotel and post it on TripAdvisor (and don't hold back about the air conditioning, either, since having A/C in a hotel is a MAJOR factor in whether or not it should be booked/overlooked fvor some of us here).

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