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Travel News: London Loses Its Position As World’s Second Most Visited City

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London Loses Its Position As World’s Second Most Visited City
Bangkok overtook London as the second most visited city in the world in 2015, according to latest figures from Euromonitor International. Hong Kong held on to the number one spot for the seventh year, despite an almost 4% drop in visitors to 26.7 million, while a near 7% increase in arrivals in London wasn’t enough to avoid it being bumped into third place. Bangkok leapfrogged into second place after seeing a 10% rise in visitors in 2015, to a total of 18.7 million. London attracted 18.6 million. Singapore came in fourth place with almost 16.9 million and Paris fifth with 15 million.Overall, there was a 5.5% increase in international travel to the world’s top 100 cities in 2015 compared with the previous year.

Hotel VAT Refund ‘Will Boost Tourism To Argentina’
Argentina’s decision to exempt foreign tourists from paying VAT on hotel stays has been welcomed by the Latin America Tourism Association. Tourists will receive a refund for the VAT, which today stands at 21%, when they pay for their accommodation. To receive the refund, they must pay with a foreign credit or debit card, provide their passport number and confirm their address. Tour operators and travel agents who take bookings must provide this information on their behalf. This new law, combined with the development of tourism infrastructure and the launch of new direct flights from Europe to the region, reflect the efforts being made by governments to open up Latin America to international tourism and to better promote the destination.

TSA Adds 11 Airlines To Precheck
Eleven additional airlines now are participating in the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s Precheck program, including Avianca, Emirates, Spirit Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, the TSA announced. Other newly added carriers include Aruba Airlines, Boutique Air, Key Lime Air, Miami Air International, Southern Airways Express, Sunwing and Xtra Airways. Thirty airlines now participate in the program, which gives travelers access to expedited screening at more than 180 U.S. airports.

Magnitude 8 Earthquake Hits Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands
A powerful magnitude 8 earthquake hit the Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands on Sunday, but no tsunami was reported hours after the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued an alert for nearby islands. The quake struck at a depth of 103 miles under Papua New Guinea’s most eastern province of Bougainville, where the two South Pacific countries meet in a continuous archipelago. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage. 

HAL Culinary Council Named ‘Best Culinary Initiative’ in Porthole Cruise Magazine

Holland America Line’s Culinary Council, a team of world-class celebrity chefs, was named “Best Culinary Initiative” in Porthole Cruise Magazine’s 2016 Editor-in-Chief Awards. The annual awards are chosen by Bill Panoff, the magazine’s editor-in-chief and publisher, who honors his favorite travel experiences that left an impression in terms of service, quality and memorable moments. The winners were announced in the Jan./Feb. 2017 issue of Porthole Cruise Magazine. The Culinary Council is a collaboration of some of the greatest international chefs, chaired by Holland America Line’s Master Chef Rudi Sodamin, a past recipient of Panoff’s “Best Cruise Line Chef” Editor-in-Chief Award. 

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Australia To Replace Passports With Facial Recognition Technology
Australia’s international airports are in the process of automating 90% of air traveler processing by 2020 by implementing facial recognition technology that involves biometric recognition of faces, irises and/or fingerprints, hence eliminating the need to carry essential traveling documents such as passports.

Elton John Announces Spring 2017 Performance Dates At The Colosseum At Caesars Palace
Returning to The Colosseum at Caesars Palace to perform his most iconic hits, tickets for performances of Elton John’s critically-acclaimed show, “The Million Dollar Piano” for the following April 2017 and May 2017 dates have gone on sale. The dates for the show are: April 25-26 Tuesday, Wednesday, April 28-29 Friday, Saturday, May 1 Monday. May 3-4 Wednesday, Thursday and May 5 Friday. At the centerpiece of the performance is the show’s namesake piano, an engineering marvel featuring more than 68 LED video screens created by Yamaha. “The Million Dollar Piano” features iconic hits and classic album tracks from Elton’s incredible five-decade career, all enhanced by the most elaborate stage design Elton has ever used.

Emirates To Fly To US Via Athens
Reuters reports Emirates is to start flying to the US with a stop for passengers in Greece, its second so-called fifth freedom flight and a move that could anger US competitors who accuse it of competing unfairly through state subsidies.
The airline said Monday it would start daily flights to New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport via Athens on March 12. Dubai-based Emirates already operates four daily flights to JFK in New York, including one with a stop off in Milan. Fifth freedom rights allow an airline to fly between foreign countries as a part of services to and from its home country. 

Lindblad Expeditions Names Next Ship National Geographic Venture

Lindblad Expeditions has named its newest addition to its fleet the National Geographic Venture, which is currently being built in Seattle and will make her inaugural voyage in June 2018, according to a statement. Sister ship to the National Geographic Quest which is launching in June 2017, they are the first newbuilds in Lindblad’s history and the only purpose-built expedition ships designed and built from scratch in the USA. The 100-guest National Geographic Venture will launch in June 2018 and will have 50 cabins, 22 with balconies, and six sets of connecting cabins for families and groups; all category 5 cabins can accommodate a third guest. The ship will be outfitted with a fleet of 24 sea kayaks, paddle boards, snorkeling equipment, and Zodiacs, according to Lindblad. Her inaugural voyage will be on the June 24, 2018 departure of “Treasures of the Inside Passage: Alaska & British Columbia.”

Sandals To Operate Marriott Hotel In Jamaica
Resort operator Sandals will manage a new hotel in Kingston, Jamaica, but on a very different model to its usual all-inclusive concept. Sandals has teamed up with Marriott International to bring the AC Hotels by Marriott brand to the Caribbean for the first time. It will be the first time Sandals has been involved in the management of a non-proprietary brand. The new build will feature 220 rooms and a 10,000-square foot conference centre, and is expected to open in 2019. Full service restaurants, a car rental facility, a wellness salon and retail units will also be housed in the mixed-use site.

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Royal Caribbean To Offer PADI Dive Courses

Royal Caribbean cruisers can now become certified scuba divers, as the line has added onboard PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Five Star Dive Centers. Programs range from a 30-minute Try Dive program for newbies to PADI’s Reactivate Program for certified divers wanting a refresher course. Prices are reasonable, the Try Dive class costs $29 per person, while the Reactivate class is $59 per person. A third option is PADI’s Open Water Diver course, which allows passengers to complete their scuba diving certification; prices start from $599 per person. This course starts before the cruise with participants attending an online course using either the PADI Touch app for mobile devices or PADI eLearning online system for desktop and laptop computers. Once onboard, divers will begin in the ship’s pool before heading out to open waters for four mandatory, open-water training dives. The training dives will be split among two different ports of call. Courses will be offered on Royal Caribbean itineraries in the Caribbean and the South Pacific. 

American Airlines is Doing Away With The Seatback TV In Its New Planes
The new 737 MAX’s that will start arriving later this year for American Airlines won’t have seatback television screens, the airline said in a letter to employees. The reason is the abundance of smart phones, tablets and other electronics passengers bring on the plane for entertainment. American said more than 90% of flyers bring a device onboard with them. “Those phones and tablets are continually upgraded, they’re easy to use, and most importantly they are the technology that our customers have chosen,” the letter reads. “So it makes sense for American to focus on giving customers the best entertainment and fast connection options rather than installing seatback monitors that will be obsolete within a few years.” 

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Infographic: 6 Destinations to Spot the Southern Cross in 2017

We at Willamette Intl Travel love tried and true destinations like these! Interested in one (or more) of the places below? Give us a ring! 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Filed under Antarctica, Australia, Brazil, Europe, Hawaii, New Zealand, South Africa, South Africa

The Next Best Destinations for 2017

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Happy New Year, dear Readers! We’ve made past the end of 2016, hopefully with some fun and meaningful travel memories racked up. But what does 2017 have in store for the traveler? Here are our Top Destinations in 2017:

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Cruise ship in Isafjordur, the West Fjords of Iceland

1. Iceland

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Iceland has once again made the list. In the past 10 years, Iceland’s popularity as a travel destination soared to immense heights, capping 1 billion travelers to this dynamic Atlantean rock in the summer of 2016 alone. Most travelers have visited the gorgeous Golden Circle and the Glacier Lagoon, maybe even ridden an Icelandic horse or spied the Northern Lights–but what’s next for Iceland in 2017? Traveling a bit more off-the-beaten path, to Lake Myvatn area, to the West Fjords and the Westman Isles. We’ll have to see what this magical Viking isle has in store for us!

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Lake Bled in Slovenia

2. Slovenia (& the Balkans)

If you haven’t discovered this off-the-beaten-path trek in Europe, what are you waiting for? Slovenia is the oft-cited “playground of Europe,” with a range of activities to attract the thrill-seeker. Spelunking, hang-gliding, jet-skiing are just some of the more popular pursuits. Plus there are few city centers as pristine as Ljubljana’s. A great way to see the Balkan countries is to rent a car and spend a few weeks traveling around war-wounded Sarajevo, culturally bobbing Belgrade, and Croatia’s exquisite Dalmatian coast.

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Białowieża Forest, Poland

3. Australia & New Zealand

Australia & New Zealand have always been a popular destination for families, couples and backpackers alike. Sydney boasted the “best fireworks in the world” at the Opera this New Year’s Eve. Tazmania might just be the next prime hiking destination, with multi-day excursions and luxury ecolodges. And NZ has an array of fun food-themed fetes to enjoy, kicking off with Auckland Seafood Festival in January and then Marlborough Wine & Food Festival come February. Though the Northern Lights have attracted some fair attention these past few years, the Southern Hemisphere has it’s own bragging right: the unparalleled Southern Cross!

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River Boat sailing through Chicago, USA

4. River Cruises in North America

Domestic travel usually has to offer something unique to attract travelers, and we believe river cruises are that unique option. There seems to be no end to high quality river and lake cruises: the Great Lakes, roundtrip Nashville on the Mississippi River, Montreal and the eastern seaboard, and the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. Themes range from southern style comfort on the Mississippi to the pioneer history of the Oregon Trail. River cruises are small-scale, comfortable, unhurried cruises in American history that often sail year-round–without the spectacle afforded on ocean cruises. Plus one major advantage over Europe or South America: shorter flights to get there (if any)!

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Lisbon, Portugal

5. Portugal

Warm beach weather, delicious cuisine, and a charming ambiance makes Portugal a global destination. Lisbon has all the Old World beauty of a European small town, and the coastline draws its fair share of beachgoers and world-class surfers. In terms of food and wine, Portugal will certainly peak your interest, and the easygoing temperance of the locals will make you feel at home in no time.

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Oslo, Norway

6. Scandinavia

Though oft-cited as the most expensive destination in Europe, Scandinavia remains one of the best “bang-for-your-buck” destinations in the world. Thanks to recent trends following the Northern Lights and Iceland’s natural attractions, the region is receiving all the attention it deserves. World-class restaurants, leisurely cafes, and interactive museums still place it at the top of the list (and the map!). Not to mention how easy and accessible most travelers find Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Reykjavik–most of the population are friendly, curious, polite and speak English.

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Reindeer in Finland

7. Finland & Estonia

Finland celebrates 100 years of independence from Russia in 2017, and a spirit of unity will be rampant in every town and city. Wander 39 national parks or visit the laid-back seaside capital, view the Northern Lights or take a dip in the local sauna. Helsinki has the familiarity and design-conscious layout of a Scandinavian town, with a cultural flair that’s uniquely Finnish. Estonia is also growing on the tourist horizon–Tallinn as a leading city of technology and entrepreneurship. Its heritage is part Baltic, with smatterings of Soviet Union and Finnish influence. A popular way to visit is via a cruise to the Baltic region–many of our clients have come back from a cruise excursion with tales of Tallinn’s enchanting city center.

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Paris, France

8. France

Throughout the centuries, France has never lost its charms. Even through recent security issues have scared off some travelers, the Loire chateaux, Bordeaux wines and sun-baked sands of the Riviera are still there and thriving. After a shaky 2016, France is bouncing back in a big way, and tourist bookings have increased exponentially for 2017. Tourists seem to have their eyes on provincial towns and the hidden secrets of the countryside. Is this the time to finally check out the Champagne region, or go wine-tasting in the Dordogne Valley?

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1950s/60s Cars in Cuba

9. Cuba

With relaxing entry regulations, Cuba has received quite the attention these past two years. The response from group travelers and cruise ship passengers has been wildly enthusiastic. Over 2 million travelers visited the island in the first half of 2016, compared to just 63,000 in 2010. But that may all change soon–some travel industry experts fear that the Trump administration will restrict travel there in the future. So now might be your only chance in a while to travel to the “Pearl of the Antilles.”

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The Majestic African Elephant

10. Africa Destinations: Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa.

Africa remains an ever-popular destination, with senior couples and large families booking safari trips in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. These regions are still within reasonable budget to catch a glimpse of wildebeest, lions, antelopes. South Africa is world-famous for their natural diversity and local cuisine, catering to all flavors and styles. Immerse yourself on a game drive in Kruger National Park, or indulge in wine-tasting in Boberg or the Breede River Valley. We’re proud also to include Namibia on our list. As some of our readers know, WIT Owners Christina and John guided a merry band through the red sands of Namibia. The landscape is like no other, with miles upon miles of arid desert, dotted with unique wildlife and local tribes who paint themselves with ochre. We expect to see a rise in interest for Namibia in 2017, and now you can receive firsthand travelers’ experience at our office in Portland.

Do you have a favorite travel memory or photo from 2016? We’d love to hear about it! Share with us in the comments!

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Filed under Africa, Baltic, Croatia, Cruises, Cuba, Estonia, Europe, Finland, Iceland, Kenya, Namibia, North America, Norway, Poland, portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, tanzania, USA

5 Great Destinations to Fly in a Balloon (that aren’t Cappadocia)

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Photo by WIT Owner Christina, in Namibia

Have you ever flown in a Hot Air Balloon? Imagine drifting at a languid pace, above a breathless landscape, slowly transforming before your eyes with the sunrise. the crisp, open-air and the adrenaline from the height keep your senses alert. It’s an exhilarating experience like no other.

One of the more popular activities in Turkey is riding a hot air balloon above the rock chimneys of Cappadocia. The arid landscape, full of green vineyards and surreal limestone peaks, draws thousands of visitors each year. But what if you’re not in Turkey? Here are five of our recommended places around the world to hop in a hot air balloon.

1. Jaipur, India.

Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan province in northern India, is known for its historic forts, pink palaces and ornate, fanciful architecture. A hot air balloon provides a bird’s eye view of the Palace of the Winds and the Amber Fort. Sunrise is always the best time to watch the colors unfold around you, from vast deserts to Rajasthani villages, and the majestic Aravali Mountain range beyond.

2. Australia.

Australia is a treasure-trove for hot balloon locations, with its miles of open, unexplored landscape. The Red Center is the country’s outback, home to the fiery monolith of Uluru, hopping kangaroos and surreal rock formations. Further south along the coast, the Yarra Valley also makes for some rich balloon scenery, with acres of blooming vineyards and orchards.

3. Yang Shuo, China.

Dramatic karst formations and green rivers make Yang Shuo a perfect destination for balloons. Located just northwest of Hong Kong, Yang Shuo is known for its outdoor adventures. Float slowly above peaks more than a kilometer high, above paddy fields, bamboo thickets, water buffalos and orchards of mandarins. The best time for views of the emerald landscape is the first two hours after sunrise.

4. Namibia.

This past autumn WIT Owners Christina and John guided a group out into the red deserts of Namibia. Their hot air experience remains one of the more memorable ones from the trip! Admire the desert world as the sun rises of pink sand dunes in Sossusvlei, over the rock formations of Naukluft Mountain. Marvel at the constantly changing kaleidoscope of colors, accentuated by big, bold shadows of cliff faces.

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5. Bagan, Burma.

The ancient city of Bagan is home to more than 2,000 pagodas, stupas and temples with a 26-square mile zone—a dizzying display of Buddhist piety. The “gilded city,” as Marco Polo called it, was once home to 13,000 temples in its 11th century heyday. The iconic landscape of stupas stretching out above banyan branches, and the mist-covered Irrawaddy River, is all the more gorgeous from the heights. But be aware that the balloon season is seasonal; due to strong winds, hot air balloons only ride from November to March.

Have a Destination you Recommend for Hot Air Ballooning? Let us know in the comments!

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First-Ever Drone Footage of Uluru, Australia

Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is a massive sandstone monolith in the heart of Australia. People travel from around the world wake up at sunrise for some gorgeous views. But have you seen the first-ever drone footage of Uluru in Australia?

Willamette Intl Travel has sent countless of clients to their ideal destination in Australia. Margaret River, Melbourne, Great Barrier Reef, Kangaroo Island—the list goes on. Uluru is just one of the many incredible sights on this wild and ever-changing continent. 

Check it out! Footage is courtesy of Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia.

Read what some of our friends said about Uluru:

“We were literally up at the crack of dawn, actually before that, as we wanted to see the sunrise on the giant monolith at 5:46 to be exact!  We arrived exactly then at the “sunrise viewing” area. We were the ONLY folks there at first! The idea is to watch the colors go from black to the varying hues of browns, oranges and reds, looking quite different than at sunset. 

William Gosse, the first white man to see this rock in 1873, wrote: “An immense rock rising abruptly from the plains….this rock is certainly the most wonderful natural feature I have ever seen”. This is considered by some accounts, to be the largest monolith in the world and recognized by UNESCO on 2 lists, quite rare.  The first is its geological listing in 1987 and 10 years later, they added it as a cultural site due to its sacred value to the local aboriginals.

After seeing what we wanted of this experience, we drove closer to the rock to give it a different close up perspective, which I liked better.  So many crevasses, water lines colored black, large moon-like holes, really fascinating and really old!  It’s thought to have been created by the chaotic upheavals on earth about 700 million years ago!  How’s that for old!”

— Mary W., Dec 2015

Did You Know? While not illegal, climbing on Uluru is highly discouraged. The indigenous tribe, the Ananou, believe that climbing path crosses a highly sacred dreamtime track—a spiritual place beyond time where past, present, and future all exist together.

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Filed under Australia, Day Trips From..., Oceania

Acclaimed Golf Voyages with Azamara Club Cruises

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Does your perfect day involve playing a round of golf at the most prestigious courses in the world?

If it does, you’ve come to the right place! Azamara Club Cruises and Perry Golf have teamed up to bring you worldwide golf voyages to some of the most acclaimed courses on the planet.

Call your agent at Wittravel for more details: 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com Let us plan your perfect holiday from start to finish, so you can enjoy a vacation without any hassles!

The golf packages on Azamara’s 2016 & 2017 British Open voyages feature venues such as Royal Birkdale, Gleneagles, and Turnberry, and also include attendance at the final round of the British Open Championship to watch the world’s finest players compete for the coveted Claret Jug.

Their voyages to Australia & New Zealand, the Mediterranean, and the Baltic Sea offer golf packages as well, with an outstanding collection of courses including Barnbougle Dunes, Cape Kidnappers, Bro Hof Slott, Continental Europe’s #1 Valderrama, and many others.

AND if you book selected voyages by June 30, 2015, you’ll receive 50% OFF the cruise fare of the second guest!

Hurry! PerryGolf packages sell out quickly.

Sample 11-Night Golf Cruise: Screen shot 2015-06-24 at 2.30.37 PM

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Filed under Australia, Azamara, Cruises, Europe, New Zealand, Oceania, Travel by Ship, Travel by Sport

Spotlight on: Melbourne

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Book your trip to Australia now–December is the height of summer, when the country bursts alive with festivals and venues.

Melbourne: Australia’s second largest city, it may as well be the capital when it comes to culture and design.

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No other city in the country has as much creative energy, as anyone can see in wealth of art indoor and out–from innovative art exhibitions and galleries, to the hipster-clad boutiques and iconic street art that dot the corners of this bustling cosmopolis.

This is a city buzzing with creativity. Graffiti itself as become so sophisticated in Melbourne that it has inspired a themed Google Maps site, Melbourne Graffiti Walks. Check out more art at the Australian Center for Contemporary Art, displaying marvelous exhibitions on cutting-edge visual arts.

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If you’re feeling hip, head down the block to Gertrude Street, to shop some truly eclectic designs. Or wander down Rose Street Artist’s Market on the weekend, where artists and designers pitch their quirky and one-of-a-kind wares to passersby.

If you’re needing to slow it down a notch, head to one of the city’s may parks. Melbourne isn’t dubbed the “Garden City” for nothing. For a glimpse of some spectacular flora–including cacti, bamboo, orchids and more–head over to the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Dinnertime yet? Hop on a tram to one of the suburbs: St. Kilda, Fitzroy, Richmond or South Yarra, to sample succulent dishes from poached crayfish to double-roasted duck at casual but tasteful restaurants.

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In the evening, be sure to check out the unforgettable view of a starlit sky on the 360-degree Eureka Sky Deck. If you dare, you can step out onto “The Edge,” a glass-floored platform about 300m from the ground!

Melbourne is a terrific destination to explore new scenes, and we highly recommend adding it to your Australia trip. And if you’re in the area early March, don’t miss the annual Melbourne Food and Wine Festival–an exciting 2-week long celebration of yummies!

Melbourne has many big events that sell out months if not a year in advance. Accommodation during these hot events are also limited. It’s not too early to book for 2016! Book soon and reserve your seat!

Melbourne Cup: Nov 3, 2015 or Nov 1, 2016

Australian Open Tennis: January 18-31, 2016

Food & Wine Festival: Feb – March, 2016

Remember–book Australia now for travel in November to February! Several of our agents have traveled all around Australia and would love to organize your dream trip to this amazing continent!

Call 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com today!

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