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Jamikins & Bikerscott Invade Greece

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Sep 5th, 2011, 02:20 PM
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Jamikins & Bikerscott Invade Greece

The Family Invades Greece (and drinks all their wine)

Day One to Three

This year, for the family vacation, Jamie had planned a two week extravaganza in Greece and invited her parents, her brother, and her brother’s girlfriend. In the agenda was a week in the Greek Islands, a few days on the Peloponnesian Peninsula, and a few final days in Athens. Good times.

Brother Sparky and girlfriend KTown arrived in London a week early and enjoyed the sights and pints on offer. Mom and Dad arrived very early on Friday morning and managed to navigate their way on the tube from Heathrow out to east Greenwich, and despite a bit of a mixup on the final train, made it in relatively good spirits. We enjoyed a fairly late night catching up and went to bed far too late, considering the car service was meant to pick us up at the unwholesome hour of 4am.

We all managed to get up in time and got to Heathrow terminal 5 without any unforeseen incidents. Our BA flight to Athens was on time and we had amazingly good service on board, even by BA standards which are generally already quite high. Athens airport is a bit hectic, but we found a bank machine to get some cash, found the place to buy tickets for the fast ferry to Naxos without much hassle, and even found the X96 bus to take us to Piraeus (where the port is).

The bus was flipping HOT, and we made it to the docks far too early to actually get on the ferry. KTown did a quick recce and found a local restaurant to have lunch in, so we all wheeled our suitcases through the local streets to “The Good Baker” – a restaurant a block up from the main road. I wasn’t expecting much and was therefore quite surprised by the quality and more the quantity of food received. We had what appeared to be authentic Greek dishes (meatballs in tomato sauce, rooster in sauce, grilled chicken, sardines, etc) which were actually unlike anything I’ve ever had in “Greek” restaurants before – a good sign, as I thought I didn’t like Greek food and wasn’t really looking forward to it.

Absolutely stuffed and very pleased with ourselves, we found our way through the blistering heat (okay, it was only about 35 degrees Celsius, but after a London summer, that’s pretty freaking hot) to the big catamaran ferry to take us to Naxos. Despite the pre-assigned seating, we all managed to end up at a big table for six (a very nice lady who had one of those assigned seats agreed to sit somewhere else so that we could all stay together).

We were very glad we made that ferry – the fast cat takes about 4 hours to get to Naxos, evidently the slower car-carrying ferry that was the option takes about 8 hours. It didn’t seem like it was going that fast, but it must’ve been flying!

As with all ferry rides, it was somewhat boring. We entertained ourselves with a game of scrabble (with Sparky and KTown dominated – damn two letter words that I wouldn’t normally allow but evidently are in the dictionary, such as “re” and “hu”…). There was some translation panic when an announcement came on towards the end of the voyage announcing that we were at Paros and everybody had to leave the boat, but it turns out everybody referred specifically to those going to Paros, not those continuing on to Naxos.

The walk from Naxos harbour to the hotel was a bit longer than we expected, however we only had to stop and ask for directions once, which was a bit of an achievement I think. We got to the hotel and checked in to what has turned out to be a little bit of paradise. Our room is a good sized double with a little kitchenette, a couchal area, and two twin beds. Plus a big covered balcony overlooking the pool, and a nice view over the hotel across the way to the sea. Not bad at all. Sparky and KTown’s and the parents-in-laws rooms are almost exactly the same, but not quite the quality of deck (although the inlaws have a giant deck out back, perfect for group sitting and card playing).

We had all napped at various points both on the flight and the ferry, however I think everyone was a bit tired. We walked up the road and found a likely looking place for dinner called The Oasis. It was excellent – two for two on meals so far in Greece. We started late for us (10pm), however it seemed that no one was surprised to see us at that hour – evidently life is on a different schedule here than at home in London.

Yesterday dawned bright and early, and we all missed it. Bed had been in the early hours and we all slept in until at least 11am. Jamie and wandered down to the beach and had a very cheap and tasty breakfast of coffee, orange juice, toast with jam and honey, and a big bowl of yoghurt with honey while we watched the waves roll in on the beach.

After breakfast, we walked into town to buy cheap beach towels and a pair of lie-lows (air mattresses) for on-beach entertainment and found a pair of sun loungers and a parasol which could be rented for the day for the low price of only €5 each – not bad at all as it also came with table service. Not long after, the in-laws joined us and we all spent a very relaxing day at the beach, drinking very tasty chilled white wine and jumping in the sea whenever we started to feel a bit warm.

Sparky and KTown, meanwhile, spent the day exploring Naxos town itself. They had an excellent time and really enjoyed the Old Town market up the hill. This came in handy when we met for dinner at 6pm – they’d already scouted out the best places and we ended up at a restaurant called “Labyrinth” somewhere in the maze of little alley in the old market. Dinner was average I’d say, and didn’t seem to feature much in the way of authentic traditional Greek food. Having said that, what we did get was excellent and the ambiance was incredible.

We slept in again this morning. After dinner, Sparky, KTown, Jamie and I all had a drink on the waterfront while the In Laws came back to the hotel. We all then descended on the In Laws room for after nightcap drink and ended up staying up until almost 3am.

Today was scheduled as another free day. Everyone but Jamie and I decided to spend the day in town, either at the pool or on the beach. Jamie and I thought we’d be a bit more adventurous and hired a quad bike for the day for some island exploration.

The bike was a bit iffy, but the price was right. A 500cc machine with a bit bin on the back for storage cost us only €40 plus €10 insurance for the day – I suspect we could’ve found a better deal or haggled a bit, but the guy at Falcon rentals was nice and quite frankly I’m too lazy to bother running about looking for the absolute best price.

We saddled up and headed off into the interior of the mountain. Apparently the daily washing of the machines means that the electrics are a bit dodgy, and so we had no speedometer – I had to guess how fast I was going, and if Jamie was any indication that was far too fast (based on the death grip she had around my waist and the constant GASPS! coming from behind me).

We saw quite a bit of the island – the Kurous at the ancient quarry, Filoti, and the best grilled lamb chops I think I’ve ever had at the marble city Apirathos (the city is near the old quarries; everything is made out of marble, even the streets). After a while Jamie got used to the quad bike and relaxed a bit. The death grip loosened and I think she may have even enjoyed the wind and view from the back of the bike.

We ended our tour of Naxos at the beach at Agi Anna, just south of Naxos town. We had a drink in a very stylish bar and Jamie had a quick dip in the sea before we got back on the bike and managed to find the quad bike hire shop, without getting lost at all!

We met up at the hotel and all played a quick game of Aggravation (it’s important to have group games available on big group holidays – gives everyone something to do). Dinner tonight was just this side of the big square in St Georges Beach –a place called Nikos which had been recommended.

Dinner was MASSIVE. Portion sizes here in Greece are something to behold. We each ordered a starter and a main, and other than the father in law who had lamb chops, I don’t think anyone finished their entire meal. We were treated after our meal to two free carafes of wine and a little cake each – very nice. For six people, the bill came to only €90, which is unbelievably cheap considering how much good food there was for so many people.

We’re all exhausted tonight – food comas all around. It’s just past ten in the evening, the temperature is somewhere north of 25C, there’s a light breeze and the stars are shining above our little balcony. Life in Greece is very good indeed.
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Sep 5th, 2011, 02:57 PM
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No time to read right now but I will enjoy later....
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Sep 5th, 2011, 03:49 PM
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Yeah, another Jamikins and Bikerscott TR!! And one to a place we will be going to for the 1st time in just 11 days.

Sounds like you guys had a great first couple of days on Naxos. I've taken note of the restaurants you've eaten at and your day on the quad bike sounds like a good way to explore the island.

Which hotel are you guy staying at? I read through twice, but couldn't find the name, so apologies if you mentioned it.

Can't wait for the next installment!

Jo
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Sep 5th, 2011, 03:50 PM
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I am enjoying this, though I don't usually read or enjoy trip reports.

You seem to have the right mix of detail and personal comments.
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Sep 5th, 2011, 04:03 PM
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Oh goody, just in time for my trip (leaving in --wow-- 10 days!).
Paule
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Sep 5th, 2011, 04:51 PM
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Thank you for another great tale! You are right about games! Now "hu" is a good word, one I have not heard of. That letter u is hard to use up when you get down to the end!
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Sep 5th, 2011, 07:34 PM
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Oh, YEA!!! A Bikerscott and Jamikins tale! Love it!!!!
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Sep 5th, 2011, 09:43 PM
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Thanks everyone! We are loving it!!!

We are staying at Hotel Spiros and highly recommend it! Lovely pool, short walk to the beach and fabulous hosts!

Now we are off on a boat trip in the sunshine!!!
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Sep 5th, 2011, 10:52 PM
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Great trip report, and fun to read!

A couple of notes:

The reason starters are so huge is they are meant to be shared. With your group of eight you could each order a main course and about four starters. Usually each diner gets an empty plate, and you pass around the starters between you, just as you do at home. This is a really nice way to eat, as you each get to sample several starters instead of just one! Order enough starters and you won't even want a main course.

The conventional ferry (Blue Star) takes just under five hours, not eight, from Piraeus to Naxos. Blue Star cruises at about 23 knots, while Highspeed 4 cruises at 35 knots. Both, of course, have to slow down and dock at Paros.

Enjoy the rest of your trip! It sounds like you are all having a great time. Right now I am a few miles away on Antiparos.
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Sep 6th, 2011, 04:23 AM
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Yeah, we are staying at Hotel Spiros too, so it's nice to hear that you guys are enjoying it.

Can't wait to read more.

Jo
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Sep 6th, 2011, 06:04 AM
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Wonderful. A Goldilocks TR-not to much detail and not too little-everything just right. More, please!
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Sep 6th, 2011, 03:29 PM
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TD, what a great term to describe a trip report that is not too detailed and too basic--"Goldilocks TR"! Thanks for a great adjective!
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Sep 6th, 2011, 11:31 PM
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I just read through my previous post and noticed the howler: With your group of eight you could each order a main course and about four starters.

Whoops!!! Let me try again: "You could order about four starters for your group of eight and a main course each." ;-)
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Sep 7th, 2011, 12:40 AM
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Always love your trip reports.

I'll look forward to the next instalment
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Sep 7th, 2011, 12:48 AM
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Hahaha Heimdall! We understood and tried to be smarter last night but as you will read STILL ordered too much!

Glad everyone is enjoying the ride!


Day Four – Beach, Anyone?

Today was our scheduled day trip to Delos and Mykonos, a relatively short boat ride from Naxos. Jamie forced me to set the alarm for a completely unwholesome hour – 7:00am – to give us time to get ready (and to make sure everyone else was up and getting ready as well) so that we could get down to the harbour front to buy tickets.

We found a tour agent and bought the tickets with no issues – they even had a credit card machine which was a bit of a result. The in laws also bought tickets, and we all set off to find the boat. Just as we thought we’d found it, a guy came up to us and asked if we were looking for the day trip to Delos and Mykonos – even better, someone to show us how to get to the boat! It turned out that he was actually trying to find people to tell them that they were cancelling the trip for the day as there was a forecast for heavy wind later that afternoon, and that all small ships were advised to stay in the harbour (this on a beautifully clear and still morning – not a cloud in the sky, hardly a hint of a breeze). Bugger.

We changed our tickets for the Thursday tour and walked back to the hotel to regroup and consider our options. The only way forward it seemed was to spend yet another difficult and trying day on loungers at the beach. I can’t tell you how rough this is – the sand, the sun, the dips in the ocean whenever we get a bit hot, the guy that brings us chilled white wine by the litre…

Some time later, we’d had enough beach life and felt that it was about time we thought about having some dinner. Back to the hotel to have a dip in the pool to wash off all the salt, change, and work out where to go. We’d had a recommendation that a restaurant right on the harbour front called Meze was pretty good, so the four of us went there, Sparky and KTown still not back from their hire car tour of the island.

We found seats quite easily as it was still pretty early (7pm, which is very early for dinner on Naxos) and ordered a selection of appetizers to share around the table, and some lamb chops for my father in law (the pickiest eater I’ve ever come across – if his mother didn’t boil it to death as he was growing up in post-war Britain, he doesn’t want to know about it). Yet again we’d ordered far too much and were a bit daunted by the mountain of food in front of us.

The food itself was pretty good – not the best we’d had in Naxos but definitely tasty. We shared a big bowl of tzatziki, octopus croquettes, bread, meatballs in sauce, saganaki (two ways, by accident), the aforementioned lamb chops, and a giant Greek salad. Fortunately Sparky and KTown happened to walk past and helped us finish the remains. They also ordered some mains, KTown finally getting her grilled kalamari, which still wasn’t exactly what she was looking for (she’s got it in her head that she will be able to get grilled squid in Greece in exactly the same way a particular restaurant in Vancouver does them). Yet again we were flabbergasted by the price – all of that food, plus a litre and a half of wine and half a litre of retsina only came to €78!

The final straw was a glass of ouzo with water for each of us. We’d had a lot to drink over the course of the day, and while I tried to drink it, I just couldn’t. I had to leave the table to get some air in an attempt to stop the spins (the nearly terminal stage of overindulgence – I wasn’t drunk, I’d just had too much to drink, if that makes any sort of sense). We stumbled back up the hill and down the other side to the hotel, where I lasted about 10 minutes before falling into a deep sleep (or coma, it’s all semantics really).
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Sep 7th, 2011, 03:25 AM
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Sounds like you really toughed it out that day! Can't wait to read more!

"the pickiest eater I’ve ever come across – if his mother didn’t boil it to death as he was growing up in post-war Britain, he doesn’t want to know about it"...

This reminded me of my Russian grandmother -- I always said if a cooked/boiled vegetable was still recognizable, it wasn't cooked long enough!
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Sep 9th, 2011, 02:29 PM
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Day Five, Six and Seven – Tours Cancelled, And Wind

Being extremely clever, we’d checked in at the travel agent last night to see if the planned Santorini boat tour was still on for this morning. Due to extremely high winds, they’d cancelled it in advance and thus we had a very nice lie-in, rather than having to get up at 6:30am to make it to the boat in time. Much more reasonable than arriving to find a cancelled tour.

Rather than the boat tour, we decided to make yet another foray onto the beautiful St. Georges beach and lounge about for the day. We’d managed to convince Sparky and KTown that a few minutes of sun wouldn’t immediately kill them, despite their ginger hair, and so they joined us. The in-laws, on the other hand, chose to spend the day exploring the town (after the father-in-law locked the mother-in-law for a few hours while he went out for whipped crème covered waffles).

It turned out the boat people weren’t kidding about the wind – it was HOWLING down the beach and made the previously entertaining lie-lows a bit of a liability on the water. We picked our loungers, got settled, and spent quite a good day baking slowly in the sun, with brief interludes in the surf to cool down. The several carafes of wine and a club sandwich helped the time go by.

Even we get tired eventually of sitting at the beach, and SPF 20 only buys so much extra time in the sun for us painfully pale Londoners, so after some time we declared a draw with the UV rays and came back to the hotel for a brief cooldown/salt-removal dip in the pool. This, it turns out, is essential for really getting rid of the last of the salt and sand not removed by the outdoor shower. Very fine sand, it’s amazing the places it gets in to.

We met the inlaws back at the hotel and decided to have a quiet night in, playing team trivial pursuit and making our own dinner at the hotel. We all went out to pick up supplies and feasted on greek salad, two type of sausages, smoked turkey, a local Naxos cheese, bread, and probably far too much wine than was strictly necessary. It was boys against the girls in the trivial pursuit match-up, and we lost. Badly. To be fair, they rocked ahead with a 6 point question about knitting, which is clearly unfair.

The end of the evening is a bit of a haze to be honest, so I’ll move on to Day Six.

Breakfast on the beach with Sparky and KTown seemed like a reasonable way to start the day, so we did just that. The In Laws had been up much earlier and left the hotel with a mission to hire a car and explore the rest of the island. After breaky, Sparky KTown split up from Jamie and I – we wanted to spend some time wandering through the old town which they had already done.

Yet again, we found a place built entirely on a hill, and we managed to work out how to almost always be going up it. The old town is full of tiny little alleys and little tourist crap stores, selling all sorts of necklaces, bracelets, and other bits of apparently handmade art (to be fair, some of it may be handmade and some of it is actually quite cool – much is definitely a step up from the normal tourist crap being peddled at many tourist hotspots in Europe).

We found a place for lunch (advertising itself as the oldest taverna is Naxos, along with at least 3 others) called Vasssilios and enjoyed a tasty, if slightly pricey meal. We’ve decided that dining outdoors under a brilliant blue sky or a clear starry night sky is the best way to dine, and will endeavour to continue this tradition as long as possible (probably just until we get back to rainy old London town).

Lunch taken care of, we sweated our way up to the ancient gate guarding the harbour of Naxos. There may have been some explanation of what it was for, but we missed that. It looked old, it was giant, and photogenic – that was enough for us. Also, it was bloody hot – we’d chosen the hottest part of the day for our walking tour to the shade-free hill to see the gate (it may have been a door, in retrospect. Either way, it’s big. Can’t miss it.)

This accomplished, we felt it was time for a swim and possibly a further beverage, so back to the hotel we trudged in the afternoon heat. The pool was cool and refreshing and hit just about exactly the right spot. Sparky and KTown met us at the pool and we sat reading for a bit, beer and wine helping to further relax us. The In Laws returned from their successful driving tour and helped us finish our wine. At some point the decision was made to go back to Nikos for dinner, the In Laws declining as they’d had a late lunch.

Dinner was excellent yet again, and the free carafe of wine, free dessert, and free final shots of the local moonshine made the walk back to the hotel a bit more of an adventure than we’re used to. Someone kept shifting the road back and forth, and I swear they moved our street at least two blocks to the left. Or it may have been the right.

Day Seven we’d planned to go out on one of the sail boat tours of the southern part of Naxos and a few other islands. Sparky and KTown were feeling a bit under the weather for some reason, but Jamie and I were fine. We talked them into coming along anyway, and found our way down to the harbour and the Oreanthi with Captain Panos and wife Irene.

The Oreanthi is a 45 foot sailboat that is used for day tours of various destinations around Naxos and the Cyclades. Given our track record, it should come as no surprise that with three consecutive previous days of such strong winds that all boat tours on fairly large ferries were cancelled, the day we chose to take a sailboat tour it was dead calm. We motored out of the port and headed along the coast, cursing the weather gods along the way.

Two hours later we arrived at our first destination – a tiny island and it’s even tinier beach. The waters down at the south end of Naxos and the surrounding islands is apparently really low in algae and other water clouding agents, so it’s like swimming in a really big swimming pool. Where we anchored, at 6 meters, we could see the bottom as clearly as if was 6 feet. Even when sailing between islands when the water was properly deep the bottom was as clear as you would like.

We made three stops for swims, spotting any number of fish (mostly little minnows, but a few bright blue ones, some yellow ones, and a dozen or so very silver and very long and skinny needle-looking ones. We even saw a couple of middle-aged people engaging in extremely vigorous sex on the deck of their boat as we came around the point, and not long after a small zodiac full of completely naked people, including a very attractive young woman who spent some time standing up completely starkers watching us watch her, before jumping into the sea.

Lunch was tasty – spaghetti with tomato sauce, bread, and a giant greek salad. Again, eaten under the blue sky on a beautiful sail boat on a clear sea, with naked women swimming nearby. It doesn’t get much better than that.

After lunch we motored over to the final stop, a brief visit to an inhabited island for a quiet explore and more importantly a beer at the little taverna which also featured a toilet for KTown and shade for all of us.

The final leg of our journey was back to port at Naxos. Fortunately the wind had picked up a bit and Captain Panos got the sails out. I love being on sail boats, especially ones that are actually sailing as opposed to motoring. It was even worth the loss of my straw cowboy hat to the wind to have an hour of proper sailing in the Aegean.

Dinner for our final night in Naxos was back at The Oasis – not necessarily the best restaurant in Naxos, but the one with the best single dish we’ve had here - Gouvetsi – orzo and beef in a little terra cotta bowl – highly recommended. After dinner we walked back down to the ice cream parlour near the harbour for a final cone, and then came back to the hotel to finish packing and drink the last of the wine.

Tomorrow is a quick flight back to Athens, where we pick up a van and drive to Nafplion for a few days. We’re really going to miss Naxos – it’s a beautiful town with great beaches, friendly people, fairly good food, and cheap to boot. We’ll definitely be back at some point, and now are thinking that buying a sailboat is probably a good idea too!

PS – Jamikins promises pics on our return – we forgot the cord to transfer the pics to our computer – DOH!
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Sep 9th, 2011, 06:39 PM
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Sounds like you're all having a great time! Looking forward to the pics!
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Sep 9th, 2011, 07:13 PM
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Loving this!
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Sep 9th, 2011, 08:17 PM
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You guys do the best trip reports...love them!

As an aside, I haven't been in Greece since 1979 (shame on me!), but I do remember lots of days that were kind of "shaped" by drinking wine and relaxing semi-nude on beaches. Couldn't do it again at my age (well, could do the semi-nude thing but not the drinking), but it sure sounds like fun!
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