Reporting Back on First Trip to London

May 25th, 2007, 11:02 AM
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Reporting Back on First Trip to London

My DH and I just returned from our first trip to London and absolutely loved it. I researched this board for advice on London and a Paris day trip. I found the London and Paris Superthreads, as well as several trip reports to be extremely helpful and planned my trip accordingly. I can honestly say that I was never once steered wrong. Fodorite posters provide invaluable practical and updated advice that cannot be found in most guidebooks.

Our two airline tickets cost less than $1,000 (taxes included) and we got a good price through Priceline on our hotel, the Hilton Metropole ($95 per night). Our room was small with two twin beds (yes, PalenQ, the mattress was firm), a small TV, desk, and a small bathroom. Nice Evelyn and Crabree toiltries were provided, as was a hair dryer. Washcloths are not provided. Bring an adaptor for curling irons, battery rechargers, etc., but a converter is not needed.) The room was very clean but modest (we were in the older East Tower), but we had no reason to complain about anything for the price we paid. We were very happy to come back to our little room on Edgware Road after an exhausting day of sightseeing. The hotel is very conveniently located to travel by London Transport - the tube (pronouced chube), buses, and trains (Paddington Station), etc.. We flew to London on U.S. Airways. Our flight was late departing and we had to run through the Charlotte airport to make our connecting flight to Gatwick. The seats were very cramped. Bring your own headphones or purchase one for $5 for the entertainment system. Each person has their own small movie screen where you can watch a variety of movies, TV or listen to music. However, the enterainment system is difficult to operate. (I became an expert on the return trip). I tried to sleep on the plane and took some Tylenol PM. Even though it was warm and I was exhausted, I could not sleep. Bring your own bottled water purchased after you go through security, although water and juice is provided in the gallery that you can get when there is no turbulence. The liquid refreshment provided by the flight attendants was not sufficient for such a long flight.

Be sure and read the TSA.gov website if you are unsure of which 3 oz. liquids, gels you can carry on board in your quart size ziplock bag. (I actually saw one ditzy woman who tried to bring small firecrackers on board - amazing!!!) Actually, I should have entitled this post - advice to first time London travelers but I can't figure out how to change it now. More trip details later.
RaleighGirl is offline  
May 25th, 2007, 11:56 AM
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looking forward to more of your report. I head to London and Paris in three weeks.
Thanks
kate12 is offline  
May 25th, 2007, 01:41 PM
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I think you'll find that a voltage transformer/converter would be needed IF your appliances aren't dual voltage (220-240 as well as 110): people ought to check to make sure.
PatrickLondon is online now  
May 25th, 2007, 02:19 PM
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Great start! Looking forward to reading more.
noe847 is offline  
May 25th, 2007, 02:39 PM
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Someone tried to bring firecrackers on board? Amazing.

Looking forward to reading about what you saw.
Carrybean is offline  
May 25th, 2007, 02:52 PM
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Rather than "Bring an adaptor for curling irons, battery rechargers, etc., but a converter is not needed" - please read and heed this: http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...p?tid=35003244
Robespierre is offline  
May 25th, 2007, 04:28 PM
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I can tell I'm still really tired from my trip because I can't spell but I'll continue. We found the English to be very friendly and gracious. Many times, people would come up to us (older folks) and offer assistance when we were obviously perplexed. Even in France, with a reputation for being rude, we found people to be kind and friendly (unfortunately, we were only in Paris for a few hours). But I digress. When going to England and France, find a website to familiarize yourself with their currency. Of course, the British use pounds and the French use Euros. You will need two credit cards and an ATM card. Check to see what your bank/credit card company uses charges for international fees. We got a Capital One card, which is supposed to be best for international use. My DH called a few days before we left to give them the dates we would be in London. He forgot to mention that we would spend a day in Paris. Our card was denied when we tried to use it in Paris. When we landed at Gatwick, we got about 100 British pounds from the ATM. You walk a fine line between avoiding withdrawal fees and having too much cash on you. However, I must say I felt safe in London, most of the time. I never used my money belt except in Paris. After landing, we went through immigration and customs, which didn't take long. Don't offer extraneous information to the customs officer. Be pleasant and answer yes or no or give brief answers to their questions. We immediately bought a seven day travelcard and a train ticket on the Southern Train to Victoria Station ($125.72 for two people - I'm not sure how much in pounds. Our Travelcard was paper. The Oyster Card is a plastic card. For our needs, I liked the Travelcard. It was very convenient. With the travelcard, you can use the 2 for 1 coupons. Get two or three of these brochures at the train station. A brochure contains three coupons that you can use for different venues. They can save you ALOT of money. You also need to keep some coins with you because, at times, there were only pay toilets to use. One kind English lady paid my way in when I only had a 20 pound note on me (it was 20 pence but a nice gesture, nevertheless). In France at Gard du Nord train station, another lady went out of her way to get me change for a 20 Euro bill. The change machine only changed 10 and 5 Euros. The toilet cost a 1 Euro coin at Gard du Nord. Word to the wise, use the toilet on the train. You can tell I'm still not very familiar with the currency or the travel/oystercards.

As far as dress is concerned, the English tend to dress in dark colors and dark shoes. The businessmen and women dress in dark, expensive pinstripe suits. However, you will be around tourists from all over the world who aren't all that concerned with fashion. It really doesn't matter that much what you wear. I didn't see too many fashionistas. Even in France, where I did see some fashionably dressed women (in the minority), you will be mostly around other tourists who had to pack light.
RaleighGirl is offline  
May 26th, 2007, 02:32 AM
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When we went to pick up our luggage at baggage claim, our luggage didn't arrive. We waited and waited and they didn't add any more luggage. Although there were a few people left looking for luggage, we went to fill out a lost luggage claim. (Since our connection in Charlotte was so tight, we assumed that the luggage hadn't made it to London.) The lady at the claims office said that our luggage would be delivered the next day and they would reimburse us $50 (dollars - not pounds) for our expenses and to keep our receipts. As we were walking out of the luggage area, my DH heard an announcement that the luggage belt had broken and more luggage was on its way. Our bags had arrived!!!! For some reason, there were few taxis at Victoria Station, so we had to wait in a queue for about 30 minutes. The taxi and bus drivers are incredible. Their jobs are terribly difficult. I can't imagine driving a car in London. Over and over I thought our bus would be in an accident but I never saw an accident or fender bender. It took 10 minutes to get to our hotel and cost 10 pounds plus a 1 pound tip (10%). It was a black London taxi but quite a few taxis are painted in colors now and have advertisements on them. When we got to our hotel at noon, we tried to check in but the hotel was full. The bellman stored our luggage. (I tried to get an upgrade to a king size room later in the week when the hotel wasn't full. The clerk offered a king room for 4 nights at an extra 40 pounds per night but I declined.) We found the bus stop and hopped on the number 15 bus (it was probably Robespierre's suggestion). It took us around the historical parts of the city, although I was too tired to care. We saw a Prezzo (Italian) restuarant and got off the bus and ate. It's incredible how many buses London has. They are new, shiny, double decker buses (for the most part). Prezzo was very nice, friendly service and the food was delicious and reasonably priced. I got a risotto dish and my DH got a salad. In London, the waiters have these wonderful little gadgets a little larger than a regular telephone that process your credit/ATM card at your table. No more wondering about where your credit card is headed off to. I wish we had them in the U.S. We had a London Mapguide which was invaluable. It contains information on bus stops and tube locations. My DH folded it up in his pocket and kept it with him everyday. We got on a number 15 bus on the opposite side of the street and went back to our hotel. It was now 3 pm. We checked in and the bellman delivered our bags. We gave him 3 pounds, which he seemed to think was generous????? We slept for 2 hours. We then walked around the hotel area and found a McDonald's. My husband ate but I wasn't hungry. We walked back to the hotel where I saw a Marks and Spencer right across from the hotel. It is a department store. We walked to the back where the food hall was and purchased a 6 pack of bottled water. It was the first of many trips to the M&S, which had a incredible selection of fresh takeout food for purchase at reasonable prices. We have nothing like it or the Tesco in the U.S. The food is delicious. We went back to the hotel to watch our small TV. Not much of a channel selection. They had a French and a German? station. However, I found several shows similar to the ones on HGTV. I was amazed at how many British shows our American networks have copied.
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May 26th, 2007, 04:36 AM
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On Saturday morning, we skipped breakfast and went straight to the Edgware tube station and got on the Circle line. We figured out that we were going the wrong way and had to get off and go in the other direction. We got to the Tower of London stop and you are immediately at the Tower of London. We used our 2 for 1 coupon (you have to fill it out for each venue you use). As suggested, we went directly to see the Jewels. There was no line at all. (We got there about 30 minutes after the Tower opened.) This is a spectacular display. You get on a moving sidewalk, which keeps people from holding up the line. We then went back to join a Beefeater tour in progress. The guide was named Paul and was very entertaining and informative. (We later saw his picture on a postcard). If I had one regret about my entire trip, it is that we didn't spend enough time at the Tower of London but it was our first stop and we were eager to see London. We checked out the gift shop. I bought some postcards (1 pound a piece - but most postcards are only 20 pence at other places). We split a ham and cheese sandwich on a fresh submarine bun and some chips (crips) at the Tower Cafe. The food was very good, filling, and reasonably priced. We walked over to the Tower Bridge, which is beautiful. We used another 2 for 1 coupon. We then walked down the Thames River to the London Bridge, unfortunately, not special at all. We walked and walked and walked. We walked over to the London Eye, which was quite crowded in the afternoon. I stood in line for tickets (no coupon). It was a pretty day and I would advise anyone to take a ride on the London Eye. It moves very slowly and you have a spectacular view of London. It was late afternoon and we thought about waiting until it was dusk to see the city lit up at night but we were tired. We found a bus going in the direction ofour hotel. We got off at Trafalgar Square and caught the 15 bus to Edgware Road. I do not recommend the hop on hop off bus in London as there are a zillion London Transport buses to get you where you want to go. We rarely had a long wait for a bus. We did get turned around a time or two until we got the hang of reading the bus maps at the stops.
RaleighGirl is offline  
May 26th, 2007, 02:16 PM
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I forgot that we went to St. Paul's Cathedral Sat. afternoon (and from there we got on the bus to the London Eye.) It was beautiful. We walked up the 136 or so steps to the Whispering Gallery. It was a narrow and steep set of stairs but it was a beautiful view. My DH climbed the second set of stairs to take photos outside but I took the opportunity to rest. After the tour, we walked across the street to a restaurant row which we would become very familiar with. First, we ate a hamburger at the Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK). It was one of the best hamburgers I have ever eaten. We also got delicious fries, a chocolate milkshake and a Coke in a glass bottle, which you don't find in the U.S. much anymore. Note to Midwestern meat and potato eaters who are concerned you won't find food you like. There are some resturants here that will serve some of the best food you will ever eat. Unfortunately, I didn't eat any of the typical British food. We made a special trip to Waterloo Station the next day to try fish and chips at Super Master Fish Restaurant but it was closed (Monday). I regret that we did not get a chance to try fish and chips. Sunday morning we went to Buckingham Palace. We arrived about 10:45 a.m. The changing of the guard was supposed to start at 11:30 a.m. We got in a fairly good position at the gate in front of one of the guard houses. We chatted with the other tourists around us. Around 11:30 the other guards marched in from the front of Buckingham Palace as did another regiment of modern soldiers (maybe the RAF?) in blue uniforms. We were in the third row back from the fence and the people behind us started pushing forward to get a better view. I got a little claustrophobic so we moved to a hill at the front of Buckingham Palace which, actually, wasn't a bad view to watch them march back out. We walked to Clarence House but were unable to get past the gate so we spent some time in the park. We then got on a bus and went to Harrods. We were going to go to Westminister Abbey but there are no public tours on Sunday. As it was lunch time, we walked around the food hall, which has an amazing variety of speciality foods. I was surprised to see the Krispy Kreme doughnut counter. We bought some chocolates and sampled some perfumes and left. At the current exchange rate, I couldn't afford to purchase anything else. We went back to the St. Paul's area and tried Pizza Express. We got the American pizza with pepperoni. It was the best pizza I have ever eaten. I told the waitress we were going to share the pizza and salad and she had the cook to split it on two separate plates, which I thought was nice. Monday we toured Westminster Abbey, saw Parliment and Big Ben. Westminister Abbey is full of amazing history. We just sat there and enjoyed the beautiful architecture. We then tried to find the fish and chips restaurantat Waterloo Station, which was closed. Instead we went back to St. Paul's and ate at Strada, an Italian chain restaurant. The food was delicious. For the unadventuresome palate, there are many American chain restaurants such as Burger King, McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, TGIF Fridays, etc. so you can get your fast food fix, if you need it. We were so busy that food wasn't a priority. I can say that M&S met my needs as far as food. For breakfast, they have a fresh squeezed orange juice in a plastic bottle that was amazing. We usually got a freshly baked pastry and ate breakfast on the run since we wanted to get to our destinations early. Tesco appeared to have food that was similar to M&S but it was further away from the tube station so we didn't eat there.
RaleighGirl is offline  
May 26th, 2007, 03:00 PM
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Thanks so much for posting this. Looking forward to reading more. Your suggestions are very practical for folks on a budget like us.
azzure is offline  
May 26th, 2007, 03:07 PM
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For the hard-core budgeter, the Oyster Card with a Travelcard loaded on it is a better strategy than the paper Travelcard. They can both be used for twofers (the Oyster with your credit card receipt), but the Oyster also makes the holder eligible for Oyster Fares, which are about half of cash fares for the same route. The paper card does not.
Robespierre is offline  
May 26th, 2007, 05:26 PM
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Thanks for the details, RaleighGirl. Lots of good info. Looking forward to the Paris daytrip.
LCBoniti is offline  
May 26th, 2007, 07:15 PM
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I have a few comments to make about the London Underground (the tube). Between 8-10 a.m and 4-6 p.m. is rush hour. The underground is extremely busy at those times and the tubes are packed with standing room only. Try to avoid riding the tube at these times. Londoners put up with tourists from all over the world. They are very busy folks constantly in a rush. They run up and down the escalators and stairs to catch the next train. To stay out of their way, keep to the right on the escalators and stairs and they will run right past you on the left side. They seem to always be in a hurry. Don't make eye contact with people on the tube. People are usually reading or resting their eyes. You'll see some strange looking young people (but not any stranger that you find in the U.S.) According to a BBC news report, there have been some problems with young men drinking on the trains late at night and becoming violent. I always felt safe during the day.

A word about restrooms - they don't call them restrooms. They are toilets, the loo, or WC (water closets). They are very clean for the most part, although a couple of pay toilets didn't have toilet paper. At Harrods, I don't think you have to pay but you should tip the attendant. All undergrounds stations have free toilets. They are conveniently located. You can also use the toilet at restaurants and hotels, even if you aren't a patron.

I was expecting everybody in London to be a smoker. London is supposedly going smokefree by July 2007. I was pleasantly surprised.

Another pleasant surprise - we only encountered two beggars the whole trip. Amazing when you think about D.C. or San Francisco.
RaleighGirl is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 03:26 AM
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Really interesting report. You certainly packed a lot in!

nona1 is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 10:28 AM
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I ordered Eurostar tickets on
Eurostar.com shortly after I made airline reservations to London. It's my understanding that the earlier you secure your tickets, the more economical the price. I got two roundtrip tickets from London to Paris for a little over $300. I received the tickets in the mail about one week later. We planned our Paris day trip for Tuesday, 5 days after we arrived in London. I wanted to be real familiar with the transport system before I made my way to Waterloo Station. My husband and I did a trial run to Waterloo on the tube as there were two station changes required. However, it really was easy. We also checked out Waterloo to find the location that the Eurostar departed from. Again, pretty easy. Our departure time was 7:00 a.m., so we left our hotel at 5:45 a.m. and rode the tube to Waterloo Station. It took about 30 minutes but there aren't that many people out that time of morning. We grabbed a bite to eat at Costa, which provided coffee and pastries, etc. If you have any flexibility and/or can get an open jaw ticket flying into London and flying out of Paris, I would strongly recommend spending at least two to three days in Paris. One day just isn't sufficient.
The Eurostar was comfortable. It was a 2 1/2 hour trip with about 20 minutes spend under the chunnel. The countryside was lush and green. Because of the time change, it was around 10:45 a.m. when we arrived at Gare du Nord station. We had to get our bearings, got 20 Euros at an ATM and figure out where we needed to go to depart on our return trip. (This is where I failed to use the restroom on the train and had to use a pay toilet). I originally wanted to tour Paris using the Batobus water bus which has 8 stops but I realized that we wouldn't have time for this so I chose the L'Open Tour Hop on hop off bus, which stops at Gare Du Nord. I inquired at the Paris Tourist Inform booth where the L'Open Tour bus was located. He gave me a brochure and directions to get on the bus. Well, I was looking for a booth or store front to purchase tickets. Looking perplexed (again) and holding the L'open tour brochure, some nice French gentlement pointed us in the right direction. He told us "quick, quick" and I take it we just missed the bus. There was only a small sign indicating that the L'open Tour Bus stopped there. You purchase your tickets on board from the driver. It was about 30 minutes before another bus came by (because the driver must make change, and process credit cards, sometimes the bus doesn't make it by every 15 minutes). This is where our Capital One credit card failed us. The driver (who was very nice) let us stay on the bus, saying we could make arrangements at the office at the next stop. We put on ear phones and listened to narration about the location we were at. Paris is a gorgeous city with so much history. We were there such a short amount of time that we could do nothing but ride the open double decker bus and take pictures from afar. The only time we got off the bus was at the Eiffel Tower (we didn't have time to go up) and we ate lunch at a bistro close by. There were mostly American tourists in this bistro and I was warned not to eat at locations where only tourists were eating but we had such limited time, we didn't have much choice. I ordered the "steak" and fries special, which included dessert. My husband got a salad. My "steak" was thinly sliced and was a tough, extremely stringy piece of meat. I have a strong feeling that it was not beef - not like anything I've ever eaten before. Anyway, after a bite or two, I didn't eat any more. I ate my bread, salad, and fries. I got a chocolate mousse for dessert, which was delicious. Our waiter, was an older gentlemen, who was a little snooty, until I said in French, I'm sorry, I don't speak French. He actually smiled. We tipped him 3 Euros. I think that was sufficient. We walked back to the Eiffel Tower and reboarded the bus because we weren't sure how long it would take us to get back to Gare du Nord in heavy traffic. We also had to change to another bus - the L'Open Tour Bus has four different routes. If you have time, you could do all four. If you miss your Eurostar train, I'm not sure what they do but I wasn't about to take a chance to find out. We didn't even have a chance to buy souvenirs, but I thought we could get some at the train station. They were EXTREMELY expensive at the train station so, I'm sad to say, I chose not to buy a souvenir. The entire Paris adventure cost us about $450 for the day. I'm certainly not sorry that I spent my money that way but I strongly urge you to consider spending more that a few hours. Our train departed around 7:00 p.m. I didn't want to get back to London too late because I have heard bad things about traveling late at night.
RaleighGirl is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 10:50 AM
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May 27th, 2007, 02:34 PM
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Wednesday, our last sightseeing day in London was absolutely gorgeous. The sky was clear blue and the temperature was in the low 70s. The Chelsea Flower Show was going on that week and I would have loved to have seen it but just couldn't work it in. We debated between taking a trip to Windsor or Kew Gardens. Several of our friends recommended Kew Gardens. I know we couldn't have gone wrong to choose either one. The trip to Kew Gardens was outside of our Zone 1 & 2 travelcard so we had to purchase additional tickets for 9 pounds. The concierge at the hotel gave my husband some tips about how to get there. It was tricky. The District line veers off in a couple of spots and it was difficult to determine which tube to get on but the concierge had prepared my husband that it wouldn't be easy. We made it with no problems but it was very crowded. Unbeknownst to us, there had been an explosion which caused several underground stations to close, including Victoria Station. We arrived at Kew Gardens Station. I needed to use the restroom. We missed the sign in the station that pointed the way to Kew Palace. Here we were, once again, standing around, looking perplexed. This sweet English lady had just come out of her house and pointed us to the way to Kew Gardens. My DH said, thank you but my wife is looking for a restroom. This sweet, dear lady actually offered to let me use her house, which I politely declined. We found a Starbucks down the street that had a toilet. (Sorry, to go on so much about toilets). I merely wanted to demonstrate how nice the English folks are. We followed the crowd to Kew Gardens. I could have used a 2 for 1 but I forgot my coupon. We got a ticket for the tram, which was extremely crowded and did not have much leg room. We met a nice lady from Australia, traveling the world by herself. Anyway, my tall husband couldn't take the cramped leg space any more, so we got off the tram (I missed the narration) and walked. The gardens are immaculate and beautiful. The rhododendren and roses were in bloom. There are so many different species there. The patrons at Kew Gardens were mostly an older crowd and I was surprised to see how nicely everyone was dressed. This was one of the few places you wouldn't want to show up in jeans. I toured the Kew Palace, which I found to be quite interesting. King George III and Queen Charlotte led interesting lives. The palace was small, considering that they had 15 children, but it was the summer palace. The king added on to Buckingham palace to make more room for the kids. We thoroughly enjoyed the spectacular gardens. We spent several hours there. It was so lovely and peaceful and such a gorgeous day, we hated to leave but we needed to beat the 4:00 p.m underground rush hour. I'm glad we did, because of the fire/explosion. It was odd - we watched the news that evening and didn't learn of the explosion until the next day. On Thursday morning, we checked out of the hotel and got into a waiting cab at 7 a.m. (our plane departed at 10:30 a.m.). We told the cabbie that we needed to go to Victoria Station. He said that it was closed due to the explosion and wouldn't open until later that day. Fortunately, we heard on the news that Victoria Station was open so he agreed to take us there. He dropped us off directly at the Gatwick Express. You can pay for your ticket on board. Our plane departure was delayed and we spent some time at Gatwick, which is very nice with a small Harrods and lots of restaurants and shops.
RaleighGirl is offline  
May 27th, 2007, 02:47 PM
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There are just a couple of more things that I would like to mention for first timers to London. The weather is so changeable - every single day. It can be nice and sunny one minute, and cloudy and rainy the next. You really do need to wear layers and always be prepared for rain. One minute I'd be warm when the sun was out, and the next I'd be chilly when the clouds rolled in.

Also, I couldn't take my cell phone because Verizon doesn't have an international cell phone plan. I bought a AT&T worldwide Prepaid Phone card at SamsClub. However, when I tried to use it, I got a recording that said it could only be used from the U.S. I bought a UK prepaid phone card from the hotel gift shop for 5 pounds, which worked fine. The gift shop also sold UK postage stamps for my post cards. The hotel mailed my cards for me. We had such an enjoyable trip, thanks largely in part to the fabulous information provided on this message board. We did the trip about as cost effective as possible. I know my trip report is long but I hope it will help some other first timers to London to have a wonderful trip like we did.
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