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Piri-Piri, Pastel de Nata and Port…Perfectly Portugal

Piri-Piri, Pastel de Nata and Port…Perfectly Portugal

Jul 28th, 2013, 06:19 PM
  #41  
 
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I was impressed with Conimbriga too. The westernmost outpost of the Roman empire, I think. Was the fountain still working?
thursdaysd is offline  
Jul 28th, 2013, 06:38 PM
  #42  
 
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I'm continuing to follow along and enjoy your tasty report. It's bringing back great memories of my trip a few years back with mom and sis. I still love a nice vinho verde on a hot summer night... hits the spot, and I'd never heard of it before that trip.

Looking forward to more!
jmct714 is offline  
Jul 28th, 2013, 07:14 PM
  #43  
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thursdaysd...yes, the fountain house was great!

jmct714...thanks for continuing to follow along. I also enjoy a glass (or two) of vinho verde in the summer!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jul 28th, 2013, 08:11 PM
  #44  
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Monday, May 20th

Although we weren’t “crazy about” the hotel, we were really starting to like Coimbra. This morning started with a bus tour around the city and then a tour of Coimbra’s Old University. This was another great experience, as we walked into the university courtyard it felt like stepping into a Harry Potter book, because part of the student uniform is a black cape and dotted throughout the courtyard were students wearing them.

The Old University Courtyard sits above the city and has stunning views of the city and river below. The King John Library is a site to see. There are 30,000 books on display and the door is kept locked to keep out humidity. As you walk inside there are book shelves from floor to ceiling and huge wooden tables inlaid with South American woods. We also saw St. Michael’s Chapel with its Manueline architecture, the Grand Hall where major academic ceremonies take place and we walked along the View Catwalk to the narrow observation deck from more great views of Coimbra.

After the university tour, we said good-bye to our local guide and Maria took over, walking us down the hill through the city pointing out the cathedral and other sites. We made a stop at a local shop where as a treat Maria had arranged for us to paint our own ceramic tiles. It was a fun diversion, but let me just say, an artist, I am not. Mom is much better in the artistic category than I am!

We had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves, so mom and I strolled down the main shopping street to Café Santa Cruz, next to the Church of Santa Cruz. This is an “old-timey” elegant café with simple sandwiches and most importantly wine. We sat down at a table outside under an umbrella and spent the next hour or so eating pork sandwiches, drinking wine and watching the world go by. Oh, and they had great wi-fi too!

After lunch we meandered next door to the church and then did a bit of window shopping before going back to the hotel. A little while later we decided it was “wine-time” and went to an outdoor café near our hotel for a couple glasses of wine, and at &euor; 1.40 per glass it was a steal. At about 6:30pm we met our fellow group members for a fado performance at Fado oa Centro. Here is the website: http://www.fadoaocentro.com/en

The fado in Coimbra was much different than what we saw in Lisbon, and both mom and I enjoyed it much more. In Coimbra fado is sung only by men. This performance was private, only for our tour group members. There were 3 men, one sang, one planed the Portuguese guitar and the other played the regular guitar. Although these 3 men had “regular-day jobs” they sang and played so well, they could have been full-time pros. It was an extremely enjoyable performance.

When the performance was over it was about 8pm and we had dinner on our own, but I hadn’t done any in-depth restaurant research for Coimbra, so turned to our guidebook to find a place. Mom and I and a couple we had become friendly with decided it was time for a change from Portuguese food and went to Restaurante Italia on the river and a short walk from our hotel. We asked Maria, our guide to join us and were thrilled when she said yes.

We had several simple pizzas that were pretty good, a bottle of Casal Garcia vinho verde (love the blue label!) and great conversation. We were all surprised to look around the restaurant when we were ready to leave to find every table in the place full. Seems like the guidebook listing worked in our favor this time.
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Jul 29th, 2013, 07:46 PM
  #45  
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Tuesday, May 21st

Today was a beautifully sunny day, the perfect day to go to the Douro Valley! We left Coimbra and drove to the Quinta Santa Eufemia family estate and winery. Here is the estate’s website: http://www.qtastaeufemia.com/

What a beautiful landscape with spectacular views. This place really was stunning. If I am fortunate enough to ever go back to Portugal, I would definitely dedicate more (much more!) time in the Douro Valley.

We were greeted warmly by one of the sisters of this family-run winery, and our tour of the vineyards began immediately upon our disembarking from the bus. We walked through the vineyards for probably about one hour and then made our way to the winery facility were we got to see how the wine is produced and bottled. This is a very small operation so we really got to see how things worked up-close.

When the tour was over it was time to taste their wine, just what we had been waiting for! This was not a simple sip here or sip there, we sat down for a full-blown home-made Portuguese lunch extravaganza. And as luck would have it for a second time, mom and I were seated at the same table as not only a family member, but the woman (the youngest daughter of the family) who is the wine maker. We loved her. She not only could make excellent wines, but she liked to cook and mom and I walked away with a great new recipe for our Thanksgiving turkey!

Now, this is where not taking notes during the trip has really failed me, because I do not have any information on anything we ate at lunch. But I do remember it was served family style and it was hearty and delicious and as you can probably expect it went very well with the wines. We tasted a white port, and then 2 other wines, a white and a red made by the very woman I was sitting next too! For dessert our whole group moved to another building on the property where coffee, and orange cake were served (leave it to me to remember the dessert part of the meal!).

Before leaving mom purchased a bottle of olive oil made at the winery, a bottle of white port and a bottle of white table wine, which we would have with the dinner we would be having with the group tonight. We did this at the recommendation of Maria, our guide, because we would be having dinner at our hotel’s dining room and wine prices there could be “steep”.

We said our good-byes to the winery family and boarded the bus for the very scenic drive to the town of Pinhao in the Douro Valley. Our next stop would be the Vintage House Hotel and to put it mildly this hotel was sumptuous. Here is the hotel website: http://hotelvintagehouse-douro.com/

Pinhao is a little tiny town in the Douro Valley and once we arrived I understood why we would be having a group meal at the hotel dining room. It was because there wasn’t much else in town. But that was ok with us. I loved this hotel and I never left the property once we arrived. There is a lovely swimming pool and since it was sunny and warming up nicely, I decided the swimsuit I packed was going to get some use. While I lounged by the pool for a little while, mom relaxed in the very comfortable room which had a balcony with an unforgettable view of the Douro River.

Instead of venturing out into town, about an hour before dinner we made our way down to the very atmospheric lounge and had a couple glasses of excellent vinho verde. And now we knew why Maria suggested we buy wine from the winery we visited to have at dinner. Our glasses of vinho verde here, were € 7 each. Not outrageous but since we had been paying € 1.50 in other places, we knew if we ordered a bottle at dinner it would be more than what we had been experiencing elsewhere. Honestly, I don’t think mom and I would have minded buying our wine at the hotel dining room, but Maria highly suggested doing it the way we did, maybe because others would prefer to pay less. And, interesting to note, at all the other group meals, wine was included (this had not been our experience on other Rick Steves tours where wine was not included with meals), maybe because the cost at the other places were in a more “manageable range”, who knows.

I was actually looking forward to this meal because in my pre-trip research I read some very good things about this hotel dining room. Basically that it had a very good reputation in the area. I know, group meals can be a pain for the kitchen, but I found this meal to be just mediocre. My salmon main dish was good, but the side dish of mashed potatoes encrusted with macadamia nuts was not worth more than one taste and the starter of melon and prosciutto was really lack-luster. However, I would not let this stop me from returning because I think if not dining in a group, I would have had a completely different perspective. And our table-mates for this meal, certainly made up for the run-of-the-mill food. We had a great conversation.

Coffee was not included with this dinner (the only time that happened too), so mom and I toddled back to the lounge for a couple espressos before turning in for a blissful night of slumber in extremely comfortable beds.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jul 30th, 2013, 08:13 PM
  #46  
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Wednesday, May 22nd

The weather was really back in our favor and it was another beautifully sunny day. We left Pinhao and drove through the terraced wine country of the Douro Valley. The views were truly spectacular, we just about ohhh-ed and ahhh-ed all the way to Porto.

When we arrived in Porto we did a brief bus tour of the city center and then disembarked the bus for a short walking tour of the Ribeira area by the river. We had a short break for lunch and mom and I sat down at an outdoor café on the river for a cup of coffee. Before we knew it, the time had come to board the boat for a cruise up and down the Douro River.

The cruise lasted a little more than an hour and it was a good introduction to Porto. When the cruise ended we were back on the bus for the drive to the Serralves Foundation Contemporary Art Museum and Park, which is located away from the center of town.

On our way to the museum, as we drove through the Foz neighborhood, Maria, our guide mentioned to me and mom that this is the area where the restaurant I had asked her about was located. During my pre-trip research I found the restaurant Cafeina in Porto and after reading about it, mom and I were very keen on having our one and only non-group dinner in Porto here. When we were in Pinhao, I asked Maria if she would be kind enough to make a reservation there for us and she did.

However, a few others in the group heard the discussion between me and Maria and while we were at the museum, asked me if I would share the restaurant information with them, because they hadn’t been thrilled with the food they had in Portugal so far. I was reluctantly, not because mom and I wanted to have an evening away from tour group members, but because food (and dining in general) is really subjective. If someone told me about the best restaurant they ever went to and that I should go there, only to find out it was a sushi place, I wouldn’t have the same feeling about it, because I don’t care for sushi. And, not knowing these people very well (in spite of traveling with them for 10 days) I was reluctant to recommend a place I had not yet been too. When I wasn’t immediately forthcoming with the restaurant information at the museum, they approached Maria and asked her to make the reservation for them and she did.

We re-grouped at the museum and began the tour. If you are really into modern art, you may love this place. Mom and I are not modern art fans, and to see 7 olive trees hanging upside down from the ceiling in a room with the olive tree leaves scattered below them on the floor, is not, in my mind art. However, the museum guide clearly loved her job and was very enthusiastic, so much so, that when it came time to tour the gardens we did not have much time left and practically sprinted through what looked to be very lovely grounds.

By now it was late afternoon and we were ready to get to the hotel to relax. We were staying the next 2 nights at the Grande Hotel do Porto at Rua de Santa Catarina, # 197. Here is the hotel website: http://www.grandehotelporto.com/en/ This was another case of a great location and a mediocre hotel. The street the hotel is located on is a main shopping street, so as soon as you walk out the door you are in the middle of action. The staff was pleasant enough, and the lobby and lounge areas looked promising. Then we got up to the floors where the guest rooms are located and we felt like we walked into a college dormitory. The rooms, although spacious, were very sparse and the beds were not very comfortable. But we made the best of it and we were only staying 2 nights.

At around 7pm mom and I went down to the hotel lounge and had a couple glasses of vinho verde (at € 2 per glass) and at about 8pm we caught a taxi to take us to the restaurant Cafeina in the Foz neighborhood. The taxi fare was about € 9 and it took about 20 minutes to drive there. Here is the restaurant website: http://www.cafeina.pt/en/cafeina

From the moment we were greeted at the door we knew we were going to like this place. The service was excellent and the food was delicious. For starters mom had the foie gras and I had the goat cheese in puff pastry, I’ve got to admit, I had the “winning” starter. For our main dishes we both had the black pork with farro and a sausage stuffed cannelloni, the pork was tender and the cannelloni melted in our mouths. We asked the server to recommend a bottle of red wine for us (their wine list is on an iPad) and he selected a perfect red wine from the Alentejo region, which was an excellent match with the pork. We don’t always order dessert, but mom (and me too) love cheese and there happen to be 2 different cheese plates on the dessert menu. We couldn’t decide which to eliminate so got both! One was gorgonzola the other tallegio and both were absolutely delicious. We each had a glass of 10 year Taylor’s Port, since we were, after all, in Porto and we finished the meal with 2 espressos. Everything here was spot-on and we really enjoyed ourselves. What made it even more enjoyable was when the other tour group members who were also dining here stopped by on their way out and said how grateful they were to me for finding this place, they loved it. Boy did I breathe a sigh of relief that they liked it.

When we asked for the check our server told us that our friends had paid for our cheese plates as a thank-you. Mom and I were blown away by this generosity. The total bill (without the 2 cheese plates) was € 91. The taxi fare, both ways, was so worth this place, in our opinion.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Jul 31st, 2013, 07:53 PM
  #47  
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Thursday, May 23rd

This was our last day of the Rick Steves tour and we were blessed with more great weather. In the morning we did a walking tour of Porto which started at the Bolhao market. Mom and I enjoyed walking through this market and wished we had more time there, but we did manage to buy a bollo arroz, which is basically the Porto version of a rice muffin, it was deliciously moist and tasty.

We made our way across the city stopping at the Avenue of the Allies to take in the elaborate architecture. There was a visit to the cathedral with terrific views of the Douro River, and we made our way to the Sao Bento train station to see the beautiful tiles inside the station. Our final stop was the Stock Exchange Palace to see the lavishly decorated rooms, it was another show-stopping building.

The walking tour ended in the Ribeira district adjacent to the river. We had decided the day before we wanted to have lunch at the restaurant at Taylor port wine lodge across the river from the Ribeira district in the town of Vila Nova de Gaia. I had read this restaurant, Barao de Fladgate, has stunning views of Porto. I mentioned to Maria, our guide, we were planning to do this and could she tell me the closest metro stop to the wine lodge, she confirmed we needed to go one stop further on the metro line than what I had thought and it would then be a fairly easy walk.

Before leaving the Ribeira district for lunch, though mom and I decided to quench our thirst at an outdoor café with a couple beers. Actually we had a beer with lemon soda in it (mom) and a beer with berry soda in it (me). They were interesting to taste, but I’m not sure either one of us will be running out to try them again, at least they were cold!

After satisfying our thirst, we took the metro across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia and got off at the stop Maria told us to. We followed her directions with one minor miss-step from me, I turned a bit too early but only went about 5 minutes out of our way. After about a 30 minute walk we made it half way down the hill and saw the sign for Taylors.

It was about 1:30pm and I was starting to worry that they may have stopped serving lunch, but we got very lucky and the lunch service went on until 2pm, we got in just under the wire. We were seated on the terrace with fantastic views of Porto and one of the bridges spanning the Douro River. The service here was excellent and so was the food. Mom and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch that started with a complimentary glass of Taylor’s white port. We ordered a half bottle of vinho verde, one of the best we had during our time in Portugal. For lunch mom had the lentil curry and proclaimed it delicious. I had the granny smith apple & lime risotto with crispy duck, it was some of the best risotto I have ever had. We ended the meal with two espresso. The cost for lunch was € 55. The food, service and most of all the views were all worth the trek to get here.

The walk back to the metro stop seemed so much faster, but I find that happens to me a lot, when I don’t know the area where I’m heading it seems to take forever. Then once I know the route, it seems so fast.

We made our way back to the hotel to pack up our bags before gathering with the other tour group members for our farewell meal. We all met in the hotel lobby for a celebratory glass of sparkling wine, provided by Maria, and to get the tiles we had painted in Coimbra. Because the tiles had to be fired, Maria had made arrangements for the shop in Coimbra to send them to her in Porto to give to us.

After saying our thank-yous to Maria we all walked around the corner for our final meal together. I really wish I could say this was the best meal of the trip, and in some ways it was, the conversations at our table was terrific, but the food really was not very good. In fact, I never even made a note of the name of the restaurant. Let’s just say, mom and I were really glad we had such a fantastic dinner at Cafeina and a spectacular lunch at Barao de Fladgate.

After dinner it was a quick walk back to the hotel, where we turned in for the night. Mom and I really enjoyed Porto, I hate to admit this, but we may have even liked it a smidge more than Lisbon.

Friday, May 24th

We had a fairly leisurely morning and took our time at breakfast, then made our way via taxi to the train station to catch the 11:45am Alfa Pendular (fast) train to Lisbon. I had purchased our tickets on-line before leaving home. We bought first class seats for €42.40 each, but the train was not crowded and we probably could have easily purchased the tickets that morning.

The 2.5 hour ride was smooth and there was free wi-fi on the train, so I was able to catch up with emails and such. We arrived back in Lisbon at about 2:30pm and took a taxi to the Hotel Lisboa Plaza for our last night in Portugal.

After checking in we got our bags organized for the flight home and at around 5pm we took a taxi to the Bairo Alto Hotel roof top terrace for our last aperitivo of the trip. We loved the views here so much we thought it would be a great way to say good-bye to Lisbon. At first we thought we would just have some wine here and a sausage and cheese plate, then go back to the hotel and turn in early since we had a very early morning flight the next day. But after a couple hours at the terrace, we realized we were hungrier than we thought we would be, but we didn’t want a big meal, and we needed a restaurant that was open and wouldn’t be a long lingering meal. That’s when I remembered my friend Robert’s recommendation of the piri-pirr chicken at Bom Jardin.

We left the Bairo Alto Hotel terrace, and walked to Bom Jardin and they were open and service was speedy. We knew exactly what we wanted which made ordering a snap and it is the specialty of the house. The chicken here was great and the piri-piri sauce just about “set my hair on fire”. With a final bottle of Casal Garcia vinho verde, mom and I were 2 happy ladies. We were finished with the meal in less than one hour and were back at the hotel, ready to climb into bed by 8pm. Good thing to, because we had a 6am flight the next day.

Saturday, May 25th

It was a very early start this morning and by 4:30am we were in a taxi riding to the Lisbon airport. Good thing we got there early because the ticket agent had to do a little “magic” with our tickets to be able to issue all our boarding passes, she was a star and got everything squared away.

We had a tight connection in Paris, it was just 1 hour and 15 minutes from touch-down on the Lisbon flight to connect with the flight to Atlanta. I don’t think I have ever seen mom move so fast through an airport, she was a trooper. We arrived right at 9:30am and by the time we changed terminals (had to take a shuttle bus), we arrived at the Atlanta flight gate just as they began boarding. This was the first time ever that we never sat down at CDG. We just walked off one plane and onto the next, albeit a very long walk with a shuttle bus ride tossed in there too. I don’t usually like a connection that close, but fortunately this time it worked for us.

The flight to Atlanta was smooth, passport control, and customs & immigration were a breeze and we had plenty of time to catch our connecting flight to Savannah. We arrived home 20+ hours after we left Lisbon, but we were happy to have spent time in a beautiful country, with a rich history, delicious food & wine and warm & friendly people.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Aug 2nd, 2013, 06:38 PM
  #48  
 
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Sounds like a great trip. Already started looking into a trip to Porto - sounds lovely!
Thanks much for sharing. As I've said before, I love your and your Mom's style.
jmct714 is offline  
Aug 2nd, 2013, 07:37 PM
  #49  
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jmct714...thanks for hanging in with me on this trip report. We really enjoyed our very short time in Porto and would go back there again.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Aug 3rd, 2013, 12:30 PM
  #50  
 
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I really enjoyed reading this! Makes we want to book another trip to Lisbon!
Weekender is offline  
Aug 3rd, 2013, 12:40 PM
  #51  
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Thanks Weekender! Where are you off to next? I'm heading to NYC for a long weekend over the Labor Day holiday.
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Aug 3rd, 2013, 12:44 PM
  #52  
 
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LCI - I've very much enjoyed reading your latest trip report! It sounds as if you and your mother had some great meals, and a good time with the Rick Steves tour. Brings back good memories of my 2012 trip to Portugal. I now realize that I should have researched better the restaurants in Lisbon and Porto. My focus, after booking pousadas most nights, was driving routes. My trip started in Lisbon (day trip to Sintra, of course, and a very memorable lunch at the Hotel Palacio de Seteais), then bus to Porto, and a car rental to drive south and return to Lisbon via Coimbra, Obidos, Evora, and Estremoz. And as luck would have it, the best meal (and next to last night) was on the square in Estremoz by the pousada. That's when I realized my big mistake in not researching restos - I had just thought the Portugal tastes weren't mine! Loved, loved, loved Porto! Hope you had a coffee or champagne in the 'belle epoque' Majestic Café - I think near your hotel in Porto? Charming place ... frequented by JK Rowling when writing the beginning of her Potter books. Looking forward to your report on your trip to Italy later this year.
Janetd5 is offline  
Aug 4th, 2013, 05:57 AM
  #53  
 
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Fabulous report, LCI!!! Interesting your reaction to the chapel of bones some years later, what a curiosity! And thanks for the hunger pangs, lol. Goat cheese in puff pastry... sounds to me like the stuff dreams are made of

So looking forward to reading about your next adventure! Especially Italy!!

Cheers my friend!
AnnMarie_C is offline  
Aug 4th, 2013, 09:46 AM
  #54  
 
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What a winner! Thanks so much for taking the time to write this, and for including all the food details! Portugal is on my list for the near future!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Aug 4th, 2013, 03:28 PM
  #55  
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Janetd5...thanks for reading. Yes, mom and I had a lot fun. We really enjoyed Porto, a lot! We did manage to have a pre-dinner glass of wine at one of the outdoor tables at the Majestic Café, it was just a few steps down the street from our hotel. Our guide, Maria, did tell us JK Rowling spent time there writing. Makes me think, if Rowling spent time in Portugal, that is why the Harry Porter characters wear capes at school!

AnnMarie_C...thanks for continuing to follow along. I guess in my old age, seeing skeleton bones makes me more aware that I am not as young as I used to be...LOL!

ekscrunchy...if you haven't been to Portugal, I highly recommend it for you. Although not all our meals were "home-runs" we really savored the ones I did pre-trip research on. And I can't give high enough praise to Portuguese wines!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Aug 4th, 2013, 06:15 PM
  #56  
 
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eks - definitely move Portugal up the list. And make sure to visit the Solar do Vinho do Porto in Lisbon...http://www.ivdp.pt/pagina.asp?codPag=169&idioma=1
thursdaysd is offline  
Aug 5th, 2013, 05:43 AM
  #57  
 
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You sure became regulars at the hotel rooftop terrace! Glad you like dit. great report. I hope to use some of your recs when we go back next year.
lincasanova is offline  
Aug 5th, 2013, 07:36 AM
  #58  
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lin...yes, we really did enjoy the hotel rooftop terrace, all thanks to your recommendation! Thank you!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Oct 4th, 2013, 03:04 PM
  #59  
 
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Going in March, hope we have 1/2 the good time you had. Thanks for the entertaining report. I've made lots of notes from it to take with us.

Sandy (in Denton)
sandy_b is offline  
Oct 4th, 2013, 04:55 PM
  #60  
 
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I shared this great report with a friend who is taking a girlfriend trip next week. She is very excited to try your restaurants.. and .. of course.. the rooftop bar!
lincasanova is offline  

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