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rhkkmk's off to Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Tallinn via JFK

rhkkmk's off to Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Tallinn via JFK

Old Aug 20th, 2009, 02:07 PM
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thank you all....i posted this really early so as not to waste time this weekend when i throw my clothes into the suitcase.

i will be taking tons of pics of course and they will be posted by mid-september i hope...

stu---karen has that restaurant on her list already, so we will be sure to go there and thanks for the pics....roz was even more attractive then.... how's your neighbor??

nikki---SRI is SriPraPhai Restaurant; 64-13 39th avenue, Woodside 718-899-9599.... fantastic says it all in one word.

ask andy about the other one we visited in july nearby....i can't find the name...
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Old Aug 20th, 2009, 03:07 PM
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Ayada is the name of the great Thai restaurant in Queens. It's much smaller than SRI, but very good. It was enjoyed by all. You have to get beer across the street.
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Old Aug 20th, 2009, 05:08 PM
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You have a fabulous trip ahead of you...and I will join the bandwagon of posters asking for a trip report with pictures upon your return. No doubt you'll be planning your next adventury while still on this trip.

We visited both Tallinn and Helsinki in June. Stayed at the Baltic Imperial Hotel in Tallinn - the city wall literally runs thru it! Room on the small side, but with a comfortable bed. Big breakfast room and plenty to pick from. You'll be about a 5 minute or less walk to the medieval town square, and the hotel is at the base of Toompea Hill. Toompea is definitely a great place for a leisurly stroll - at one point, there's a overlook where you'll get a fabulous view of old town, including the hotel. Can recommend both Kuldse Notsu Korts (The Golden Pig), Durkri 8, as a great place to eat-they have both patio and inside dining and/or Vanaema Jures (Grandma's Place), Rataskaevu 10/12, (inside dining only-in fact, it's literally in a cellar). There's a place right next door to Vanaema Jures that has outside dining, but it's a different restaurant. Can't remember the name of the place, but in old town (across from the Russian Embassy) is a delightful cafe where you'll be hard pressed to pick just one dessert to share with your coffee. This place was worth a repeat visit to us!

Still speaking of desserts, but moving north to Helsinki - definitely try something (again, hard pressed to pick just one thing) at Cafe Esplanad, Pohjoisesplanadi 37. To quote Rachael Ray ...'yummo'! You will also enjoy both Kauppatori (fish market)and kauppahalli (Old Market Hall), right at the water's edge. Both places smell wonderful as the food is being prepared. Be careful of the seagulls lurking at the outdoor market - they are not shy! There are plenty of signs around warning you about them. I was getting ready to try a baltic sea herring and unbeknownst to me, a seagull had set sight of that same small fish - and got to it first! I got another one, but turned to face the food stall so it wouldn't get a second shot at that fish! (they are delicious by the way). Inside the Old Market Hall, you'll find everything imaginable, and then some. My husband and I ate our lunch there-reindeer kabob! That's definitely not something found on the menu's of the restaurants in my hometown!

Can't comment about your Helsinki hotel, as we stayed at Hotelli Helka during our visit. The city of Helsinki is a good 30-40 minutes from the airport. We took the Finnair Bus into the city upon our arrival and also back to the airport when leaving. It's a very reasonable 8 Euros/each way/per person. It drops off and departs from the train/bus station (now that makes sense, doesn't it)! Purchase your tickets on the bus and credit cards are accepted. Much less expensive than a taxi.

We visited both St Petersburg and Moscow a few years ago. If you have the opportunity to go to the ballet in St Petersburg, by all means do so. You could spend your entire visit at The Hermitage and still have not scratched its surface. Hopefully a visit to Peterhof and/or Catherine's Palace are included on your agenda. St Petersburg is a spectacular city and you'll run out of time long before you run out of things to see in that beautiful city.

ENJOY!
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Old Aug 21st, 2009, 07:38 PM
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debs---there will be a trip report and pics right on this thread....

thanks for those suggestions and i am delighted to read that you like the imperial...it sounds quaint and the e mails from them have been very friendly...

did you fly in by finn air?

yes and yes to st pete....we have a driver lined up for catherine's and peteroff plus a short city aquaintance tour after arrival... we have our one day tickets to heritage, which will have to surfice for this visit...

don't even get me started on those desserts...we are not holding out much for the food on this trip but your report is encouraging....we do like fish...
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Old Aug 21st, 2009, 09:25 PM
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rhkkmk-The staff at the Imperial was very nice-very professional-and make you feel welcome. Everyone spoke English (thankfully, as our Estonian is *very* rusty)! On a side table near the entrance is a big bowl of candy - it's the best! Have a couple of pieces for me!! (lol). About a block up from & on the same side of the street as the hotel (as you're heading towards Old Town) is Kalev Chocolates - a must stop if you love (or remotely like) chocolate. Won't spoil the surprise of how delightful this stop is-and chocolate travels well, so it's easy to bring back home. (now, how would I know that)!

We flew to Estonia from Vilnius, Lithuania (via Riga, Latvia) on Baltic Air, then flew to Helsinki from Tallinn via Finnair. With the exception of myself and my husband, everyone on that short flight was connecting onward thru Helinki-it took quite a while for our 2 pieces of luggage to finally make its way to the baggage claim area. I was getting nervous that it wouldn't show up at all.

The Hermitage will be overwhelming, so be prepared for that. The Grand Staircase is simply amazing! The Faberge Eggs are more amazing! I would overuse amazing to describe the works of art, and that wouldn't do them justice. As we waited in line to enter, there was a small 3 piece band playing Lara's Theme from my favorite movie, Dr Zhivago ... and one of the band members was wearing a Cleveland Indians (my hometown) baseball cap. What's the saying about a small world!

Don't shortchange yourself in thinking you won't enjoy the food-it's substance vs presentation in Tallinn and St Petersburg. Chicken Kiev, Beef Stroganoff, Pork this or that are all staples on these menus, along with fish. Numerous fast food places are in St Petersburg, but hopefully you didn't come all this way for that dining experience.


As you travel from St Petersburg to Peterhoff and Catherine's Palace, you'll see numerous enormous city block plus sized concrete apartment complexes. You have to see these first hand to believe just how big these complexes are. Cannot imagine how many families call these buildings home.

You have a fabulous and adventurous trip ahead of you - ENJOY!
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Old Aug 22nd, 2009, 06:37 AM
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Debs ... are the Faberge eggs in the gold room? If so which one? I tried to locate them on the Hermatige site and never found them...I could have looked in the wrong place. Karen
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Old Aug 22nd, 2009, 06:56 AM
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I thought the Faberge eggs, specifically the ones given to Empress Maria Feodorovna and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, were in the Kremlin Armoury?

According to this site, there are currently no Imperial Faberge eggs in the Hermitage.

http://www.mieks.com/faberge-en/whereabouts.htm
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Old Aug 22nd, 2009, 10:55 AM
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trsny-You are absolutely correct. Am getting my Russian museums mixed up. Maybe our next trip should be back to Russia to revisit these wonderful museums-that wouldn't be an arm twisting decision either!

Karen - We enjoy flying Finnair. We flew them when we went to Russia, then again on our latest trip earlier this year from JFK to Vilnius, via Helsinki. Our trip was in late May and the plane we were on was only in service since April. Needless to say, the plane was sparkling clean. Our return flight was on the same plane. We find the service to be good and actually the leg room (in coach) not that bad.

Hope you're finished packing about now ...
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Old Aug 22nd, 2009, 04:21 PM
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No problem Debs! Those eggs are drop dead gorgeous no matter where they are. I used to visit one of the collections frequently when they were at the Forbes Gallery in NYC back before they were sold. Also, my arm could never be twisted on going back to Russia either, especially St. Petersburg!

I concur with you on Finnair. I too was impressed with the service and cleanliness of the plane.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2009, 11:12 AM
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Thanks for clearing up where the eggs are. I love the Faberge eggs and looked thru the hermatige info looking for ANY reference to them. Glad to hear my research modes are still up to date. All packed ..awaiting the AM. More form the road Karen
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Old Aug 23rd, 2009, 06:26 PM
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omg...not more eggs....we have seen so many in so many different places....i prefer scrambled...

good to hear about the food...and the CHOCOLATES!!!!

we are quite looking forward to finn air....we meet up with the crew often at the marriott in bangkok so now we will get to experience them first hand at work... maybe karen will even find her slacks that one of them got from our bangkok tailor....its a long story...

so i guess we are all ready....we will miss our daily fodors reading (obsession), but hopefully the new notebook and wi-fi will be available free most days...
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Old Aug 23rd, 2009, 06:53 PM
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price for the hyatt has been reduced to $119. so it helps to recheck things before you leave...rebooked...

i called the helsinki hilton on another matter and they confirmed my res for tuesday nite....thank you Turkey...
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Old Aug 27th, 2009, 10:26 AM
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here is the first installment:

Monday, Aug 24, 2009 + Tuesday


Left the dreaded Needham about 10AM for the 3.5 hour drive to JFK….. Traffic was fantastic until one slowdown around Bridgeport, CT… Even with that we were into NY state in almost record time…Followed the signs for Whitestone Bridge and before we knew it we were at JFK…. Less than 4 hours. Note to gpanda---we need to allow more time…

We had planned to have a big meal before we arrived at the airport so we headed on past JFK to a fantastic Greek restaurant we had visited in 2001 (9-11)…its called Venus Restaurant and is in West Hemste

ad (546 Hemstead Av)…. Unfortunately portions are huge and all is delicious… I had the greek combo (mousaka and spinach pie, served with a greek salad and soup); Karen had chicken souvillaki (sp)…. That accomplished we headed to our long term parking…Smart Park on South Conduit Ave, almost next door to the crowne plaza hotel…..$173 for 13 days with a 5 hour grace period…..they were quick and swift and we were at the airport 10 minutes after dropping off the car….

Finn Air is in Terminal 8. The place was almost deserted. We arrived almost 3 hours prior to our flight…perfect.. I had checked in on line so check in was swift….we were 2nd in line. We did check in plus security in less than ½ hour..

JFK is such a comfortable airport in comparison to logan….but then most airports are superior to logan… time passed quickly and we were boarding by 5PM for the 5:40 flight.. the airbus was brand new and it looked it. The leg room was very good in coach but I could have used another couple of inches in width---but I am large… the flight left exactly on time…..we were about 20th in line…. Dinner was served followed by drinks within one hour of take off…..we were near the front making that easy… the smallest piece of chicken was the only entrée, but honestly it was quite good…there was one floweret of broccoli and two circles of pots…. Thank god we ate earlier…..wine and beer were free but drinks were $8……

The staff were strikingly beautiful and kind. The service was top notch… The 7 hours passed quickly… We arrived at Helsinki about 15 minutes early… Immigration and customs were swift and baggage delivery was also fast…..there are no documents to fill out btw on arrival….

Even though it was 8:30 or so in the AM, the airport was almost deserted… we had decided to take a taxi to the hotel…. We found a taxi kiosk near the customs exit….
Fixed price for two persons was 25 euro…. Less per person for more people….

Our driver was pleasant and spoke English. The taxi was actually a van that we shared with two men from chile----dentists who were attending a conference in Helsinki….they were very pleasant…

Our hotel, the Hilton Strand Hotel, was the first stop. The hotel is a non descript 8 story modern structure surrounded on 2 sides by water inlets. The lobby is an atrium. Our room on the 6th floor looks out on some business blocks just across a small water inlet. The room is comfortable but nothing special when you are used to asian hotels…. I would rate it 3.5* although it is considered a solid 4* by locals. The neighborhood is basically business orientated, but there is a distinct lack of restaurants and shops….there is a large grocery store next door however… We are content here…

After check-in we took a nap for about 2 hours….
When we got up we went for a walk around the area, admiring the water inlets. In the next block we were pleased to find a marketplace fully in swing…..the fruits---berries—were magnificent…

The hotel had suggested a restaurant about 2 blocks away…..it is a two sided place with a fine restaurant on one side and a bar/family restaurant on the other side. Ravintola Graniittilinna, Saastopankinranta 6 is the more formal ones name and address…. Lunch was good but very expensive….salmon chowder for karen and a ceasar salad with tiny shrimp for me, plus 2 sodas was about $30…

After lunch we took a tram ride. Karen had found two trams that circle the city so we took one (tram 3B)… it took just one hour. We enjoyed the ride and people watching…

That did it for the afternoon and we returned to the room and I took another nap….we decided to return to the ravintola again for dinner…..we were not sure when we entered about 7:30… there was only one other group in the restaurant….never a good sign… the waiter told us that it was Helsinki Week and the restaurant had been full earlier and now the people had gone onto the theatre and the music performance which we could hear across the water…

We both selected the crawfish menu….a specialty at this time of year… We chose one tiny crawfish each (priced separately at 3.5 E each) plus the main part of the menu which was a delicious roasted pork/ham served over a creamed chantilly mushroom dish. The most delicious black sweet bread was also served…..for dessert there was a medley of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and currents with cracked meringues over the top… a rich caramel sauce was served in a shot glass on the side….THE MEAL WAS SIMPLY DELICIOUS….. the crawfish were tiny and a real pain to open and eat….i would judge that each one contained less than one average shrimp would contain… for lobster eaters this was way too much work never mind how delicate the taste is…
Dinner was 71 euros plus tip. Expensive but delicious…

Back to the hotel to write this and off to bed…





Wednesday


Decent sleep but not fabulous….. Bed is a large double but not queen…. We had requested a king…
Our rate included breakfast. About 8:30 we went downstairs for breakfast. There was a nice buffet, but not fabulous….wet eggs, breads, meats, limited cheese, salmon (no onion etc), juices, coffee, cereals, fruits, yogurts… Alice, this ain’t wonderland or Bangkok…

Took a taxi into market Square, the main area of central Helsinki, 7,8 euros---less than a mile…stalls were already set up with fantastic veggies, fruits and even a woman in a boat selling fresh fish…..the market is adjacent to the main area of the harbor… its very colorful and the Presidential Palace is there also and other attractive buildings plus some very large ferries and cruise boats…. There are many craft stalls here as well. Prices were very high as we expected… We sat on the quay for a long time people watching and harbor watching…. We then decided to take a cruise in the harbor for about 1.75 hours. 15 euro each.

The cruise was very pleasant taking us by uninhabited islands as well as military outposts, plus lovely settings with tiny weekend houses and frequently an even smaller house right on the shore for their saunas---remember finns take hot saunas and then jump into the cold sea…. BTW, our waiter last nite told us that Helsinki has gotten very little snow the last few years and it is less cold….

After the very enjoyable cruise we walked along the quay to the Kauppatori market place, a very distinctive two color brick building right on the quay….Inside are individual stalls selling crafts, cheese, wine, veggies, and there are a number of restaurants. We inspected the whole scene. Quality was very high on all accounts….We had an ice cream cone and then decided to walk up one of the main streets where there are many designer shops like merrimeko and international favorites. We also came across the Kamp Hotel where we will stay on our return in a week or so… There is a lovely park in the middle of the road and many folks were out enjoying the sunny day…. Great people watching…. It was very refreshing too that in that area we only saw two “bums” unlike parks in other parts of the world….I’m sure one was Gpanda…. I think he was the one doing all the yelling and had all the tattoos…

Our final stop was the Stockman’s Department Store…. Karen had a look around and then we went into their basement grocery store and bought some supplies to take on our 7 hour train ride tomorrow to St. Petersburg….

We are taking cheese, salami, ham, bread, Pringles and pastries for breakfast as we have to leave the hotel before breakfast is served in the AM….. The train is 7AM… The hotel will not provide a free breakfast for us to take away.

We took the 3D tram back to the hotel (5 euros for 2 persons, and tickets are good for 1 hour, if you want to switch trams or get off for a few minutes)…. Daily tourist tram passes are about 6 Euros each. You cannot buy them from the driver however…

A note about the train tickets. There is one main train per day to St. Pete… its called the Sibelius train and leaves Helsinki daily at 7AM… We booked our tickets on line through the Finnsov tour agency…. Price for two 96.80 euros including prep charge and delivery charge of 10 E each and seat costs. The tickets were delivered to us at the hotel. The agent, Samma, sent me emails very efficiently and even sent one a few weeks ago when she was charging my credit card…. The train is run by the Finnish National Railroad….

I’m typing this in our room on the 6th floor in front of a huge window looking out on the sea inlet and several older buildings in this neighborhood. I have one section of the window open and am enjoying the fresh air…

Speaking of weather, its cloudy to sunny here. Temp is probably in the high 60’s. We have needed our sweaters all day basically. It is cooler than we anticipated… In the evening and early AM one could use a polar fleece…

Tonight we plan to have a simple dinner like pizza, perhaps at the bar/restaurant where we ate our first lunch. There is very limited eating in the area of the Hilton….That is a disappointment.

As it turned out it was raining hard when we wanted to eat so we decided to eat in the hotel. We were one of three parties in the dining room…. There is a limited menu so we decided on hambys…. Let me just say that at $28 they were the most expensive we have ever had…..small burger, huge roll, good fries---karen had a beer and I just had water… it was good but…..

Early to bed and early to rise….


Thursday


Our wake-up call was 5AM….we spent the next hour getting ourselves awake, eating the pastry we had purchased at the grocery store and I showered….

Check out was quick (prepaid-- $218 for two nites) and the cab came immediately after being called—don’t keep them waiting as the meter was running when we got in and at 10+ euros already….5 minute ride to the station----16+ euros.

The Sibelius train (#35) was to leave from track 10 at 7AM… We were the first there… The train arrived about 6:40. Our car was #2 and we had seats 31/32 which were easy to find…. There is a luggage rack for about 10 big bags as you enter the car so we put ours there and I kept my rollie carry-on and put it on the rack above our seats along with K’s leather carry on … The seats were standard airline type seats….i was disappointed in that I thought the large windows could have been cleaner.

The train left exactly at 7 and was only 20% full…. The conductors checked our tickets against their list…. We made several stops and the last one at the border another 75% of the car was filled… Mostly by a large Finnish group…

Shortly the Finnish border agents checked all of our passports…

When we reached the border the train wheels were changed to comply with Russian standards. Then the Russians boarded and took all our passports for about an hour… they were brusque…

We ate our brown bread, salami and ham sandwiches along with Pringles at noon….just right…

After 7 hours we arrived at St Petersburg…

The scenery along the way was of golden fields (Finland), dense birch and pine forests and in Russia run down houses and farms. It was a slow ride…. There is no longer a boat option from Helsinki to st pete, which would be preferable.

Alex was on the platform to meet us holding a sign with our name on it…. He took us out a side exit to his waiting car, a very comfortable Opel wagon with tons of room and a/c…. it was raining slightly….. The drive to the hotel (Courtyard by Marriott) took 20+ minutes…. Traffic is fairly heavy at 2:30PM… We checked in and freshened up and met Alex in the bar. We discussed our program with him and agreed on times etc.
His English is excellent and he has a great sense of humor so we knew immediately that he would be perfect for us…

After that we did a driving tour of historic St Pete….WOW…. WOW!!! I had underestimated it. Building after building, even the non-named ones, are just fabulous traditional designs…. The “sights” are colorful and interesting…. You must spend a min. of 5 days here…. The tour took about 2.5 hours and traffic was heavy…..

It continued to rain so we went next door to a small Chinese place for dinner… It was quite good, but we are back in smoking country….. There were tons of young guys in there eating and drinking prior to the cup “football” game tonight, just across the river…1082 rp for: veggie fried rice (ugh); delicious friend spicy and sweet eggplant (excellent), chicken with tart lemmon sauce (excellent), cashews, tiny shrimp and celery fried in the wok (good)--- too much food…two large beers…

Hope to proof read and post this tonight…
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Old Aug 27th, 2009, 12:41 PM
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Good start, Bob - sounds like SE Asia has spoiled you...

Enjoy the rest of your trip and keep it coming. Hopefully the weather will improve for you.
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Old Aug 27th, 2009, 12:44 PM
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Bob-

Great report...keep it coming. Funny...I grew up right around the corner from Venus Restaurant in West Hempstead! Never thought of it as a destination restaurant, but glad you enjoyed.

Cruisinred
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Old Aug 27th, 2009, 02:05 PM
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Great start Bob, loving all the details.....especially about the prices,lol

Aloha!
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Old Aug 27th, 2009, 02:34 PM
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Sounds like you and Karen are off to an interesting start. Would love to visit St Petersburg someday. It's on our list of places to see before we die...

Have a good time. Looking forward to more.

Carol
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Old Aug 27th, 2009, 04:49 PM
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Nice report Bob! Try the baby sturgeon fish dishes in St. Petersburg - they're delicious. Also, if you have time go see a ballet there.

Keep having fun and don't forget to take lots of photo!
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Old Aug 28th, 2009, 04:51 AM
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sounds like you are having a great time. Love the report
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Old Aug 28th, 2009, 06:03 AM
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How was the bus from St. Petersburg to Estonia? 7 hours on a bus (even a luxury bus) seems a very long time. If you had it to do over again, would you still take the bus?
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