Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Hazel – 1 month

IMG_7394In case you missed it… we have a new baby! Little Hazel was born about a month ago, so I suppose it’s time to take up blogging again. Maybe one of these days I’ll go back and fill you all in on our very exciting last year, but for now, I’m gonna stick to updating on little Hazel. Hazel has been a fun baby. She’s quite a bit calmer than her sisters were at this age and it’s been fun to just sit and hold her and enjoy that she isn’t crying. At one month she’s working hard at holding her little head up. She eats about every two hours, more often in the morning and evening when she’s gearing up for a nap and less often in the afternoons when we sometimes get 3 or 4 hours without her needing to eat. She sometimes will sleep 5 hours at night. Once she even did 6 hours I think, but most nights she does 3 1/2 or 4 hours her first sleep, and then 2-3 hours at a time after that. At two and a half weeks she was 8 lb 10 oz, almost her birth weight, but I have no idea how much she weighs now. I hope it’s a lot more with how much she eats! She started cooing last week and she’s been grinning at me when she sees me or thinks she’s about to be fed for about two weeks now. So far she is not such a fan of baths. Out of the three we’ve given her she has only calmly endured one, but hopefully that will change soon. She is also extremely adored by her older sisters. Especially Avery.


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Our lives have been a little hectic lately. In June we decided to go visit Grandma and Grandpa in Texas. It ended up being about a month trip when everything was worked out and the working out seemed to happen through the whole trip.  So here it is.

First we headed out to Idaho to visit cousins. We were so excited because we were really close with Ivan’s Aunt and Uncle before we left Utah and we’ve wanted to visit them since we got back to the US in February. The best part is they have two kids kind of the same ages as our kids so the kids had a blast too.


Playing with cousins


Relaxing with cousins

While in Idaho we got to see the Snake River and Shoshone Falls. It was a beautiful area. We even saw some base jumpers jumping off a bridge over the river!


After a fun stay in Idaho we headed down to the Salt Lake area. Because Ivan works remotely, he has to head down to Salt Lake every 3 or 4 months to check in and go to meetings so everyone down there is on the same page and everything. So we stuck that into our trip and that way we were able to expense some of the gas!

We went to This is the Place Park with my aunt while we were in Salt Lake. The story goes that when Brigham Young first came over the mountains, he looked down into the Salt Lake Valley and said “This is the right place.” and so they settled in Salt Lake. Now there’s a park there where you can see old buildings and replicas of buildings and old trades. There was a blacksmith shop and a petting zoo. It’s a great place for kids.


Petting a horse


There was a Native American area with teepees and hogans. We got to see some Native American dancers too!

We had an awesome visit with some friends from when we still lived in Utah. We had some BBQ and tried to go swimming in their pool, but the wind was so cold we all froze in about 10 minutes and had to all go inside in the end. It was a fun evening anyway.


Then we headed down to Texas via Arizona where we visited another of my aunts, and got sick. Avery threw up first in the middle of the night and Evelyn followed the next night. So we stayed an extra day with Barbara and Barry, which we didn’t mind at all, and I hope we didn’t put them out too much.


More cousins!

Finally we made it to Texas. In Texas we went through all our stuff we’d left at Grandma and Grandpa’s over the last 3 1/2 years of being back and forth between Europe and the US, swam a bunch, cooked tasty food and mostly just hung out. It was really nice to see family again.


Color coordinating with Grandma


Water balloon fight!


Relaxing in the pool

We went to see a museum about the history of Dallas while we were there and ate lots of ice cream. Then it was time to come home. We did the whole 21 hour trip home in one go. It was a long day, and after we’d stopped twice and played a little bit it actually took nearly 24 hours to get back, but we had a fun dinner and even found an 1880s era town in South Dakota to visit. Hopefully I’ll get to blogging about that another day.

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Culture Shock

It’s true what they say about Montana’s skies. They are big. The clouds go on so far you almost feel yourself tipping with them over the horizon and they float in a nearly perfect blue most days. The sky here is beautiful and comforting and somehow foreign.
I look at the stretching skies of this state of Montana that is my home, and yet so isn’t and feel my soul divided between all the places I call home. Somehow I feel myself walking among epic European apartment buildings above tiny European shops while buying fruit at the fabulous orchard stand in Utah Valley and driving through the scrubby trees of the plains of Eastern Texas all at the same time, and I wonder with more than a little melancholy where I belong. And this is what month three of culture shock looks like. Gloriously, I am home. Ungloriously it is a home where I’ve never lived before, and I’m lonely. And I feel like my life is a Montana sky. Beautiful, comforting, and somehow foreign.

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Moving Back

So for anyone that hasn’t heard already, we’re moving back to the US! It was rather sudden; we thought we had some long distance work figured out for Ivan, but just before Christmas they told us that they would not let us work from Hungary and we would need to be back in the US. So, two weeks from today, we will be in Montana, moving into Ivan’s grandparents’ house, which is currently empty. Hopefully we can help clean up a little and get that house ready to sell and Ivan will start looking for jobs at Universities and such.
Ivan at least will have to return to Hungary this Spring to defend his dissertation in order to finish school and complete his Ph. D. We’re hoping we can make it a family trip for a few weeks and come back to see friends, but we’ll see.

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Nablowrimo is back. Now with even more low quality filler words! Can you tell I’ve gotten a bit behind in my dissertation writing?  Including this blog post, I’m at 49.4% of my goal and I should be at 60%.

Today I chronicle two previously unchronicled trips. The first was with two of Rachel’s brothers to the capital of Serbia, and the second, just Rachel and I, to the capital of Germany.


Belgrade can be added to the list of towns in which I have gotten lost. And this time I even had a map. At least I could pretend that not having a map was my problem in Bratislava. Maybe it’s something about the letter B. This disorienting city brought to you by the letter B. Yep, it could be. The shame of getting lost may be part of why it has taken me so long to write about visiting the fair city whose namesake borders Bozeman International Airport. Or maybe not.

Probably the thing that I remember most about Belgrade is the popcorn. There were popcorn stands all over the city. It’s not something I’ve seen in any other European (or American) city. I’ve seen them at fairs and such, but I don’t recall seeing them on the streets. Or maybe just not in the numbers they are found in Belgrade. They also had other vendors of course, like ice cream and hotdogs, but I do love me some popcorn. Especially when you can put fancy spices on it. My only regret is that I didn’t get to try all the different spices—even if it would have meant trying the pizza spice.

One of the strangest things about Belgrade was the alphabet they used. Or should I say two alphabets. With both Latin and Cyrillic alphabets being actively used (adjacent movie posters were in different scripts), Serbian is the only actively synchronicly digraphic European language (Hindi-Urdu being another–coincidentally part of the Proto-Indo-European language group). Geographically the closest to most of my readers will probably be Inuktitut. Malay and Japanese (actually digraphia+trigraphia) are the other examples given on Wikipedia. See I saved you the time needed to click on the link. That’s how thoughtful I am. It also shows just how far I’m willing to go to meet my word count for NaBloWriMo.

We saw the (sadly yet unfinished on the inside) largest Orthodox church in the world. We also saw several other orthodox churches. Mostly we’ve seen Roman Catholic churches, and so it was an interesting change. They were much more colorful than we were used to. I really like the blue that seemed popular.  Also, they aren’t in the shape of a cross, but rather sort of square-ish. The fortress, which is now a large park, was also very pretty.The Cathedral of Saint Sava

Probably the highlight for Rachel’s brothers, and myself, was visiting the Nikola Tesla Museum. It was smaller than I thought it would be and I would have liked more biographical data. Nevertheless, they had some very good demonstrations of his most important inventions. They demonstrated the lighting of fluorescent tubes with out wires, and had a replica of his Columbus egg, built for the 1893 World’s Fair. One of my favorite demonstrations was the miniature replica of the electric grid with a water powered generator, transformer, transmission lines, another transformer, and a light bulb. The other was a replica of the first remote controlled vehicle (a boat) in the world.  Apparently people thought he was controlling it with the power of his mind rather than the radio waves he claimed.  I’m not sure why that’s more plausible…

On the way to the train station to leave we bought a bunch of pastries. Then I went back in and bought some more. I think the lady may have asked at one point if I wanted one of everything. I probably should have told her yes since it would have saved us time. We still didn’t spend of all our Serbian money though, so we have several bills left.


Rachel and I left the kids with some friends and went to Berlin. The kids loved their few days playing with friends and new toys. For us, Berlin was fun, but seemed to be one just-too-late adventure after another.

We took the night train but didn’t get much sleep due to the car being quite cold. On the way back we got the couchette which was much nicer and we slept quite well. We arrived in the morning and walked from the train station, past the parliament, down the Unter den Linden to Museum Island. We didn’t eat breakfast and I was very hungry. I kept thinking I would stop and buy some curry wurst (a famous Berlin food) but the current stand was always too expensive, or closed, or this, or that, or the other, and so we made it all the way to Museum island before we ate anything. We eventually ate at a cafe which was more expensive than I would have liked, but I was desperate at that point. Anyhow, they didn’t take a credit card and so I went to look for an ATM. They told me where one was, but it was out of order. So they told me where another was and I trekked over to that one.  I saw a man wearing a Frankfurter grill, so I had to eat one of those too.

After lunch we went to the Pergamon museum. It was amazing. Unfortunately, we were tired from not getting much sleep. They reconstructed the faces of several buildings inside the museum. The first, and most famous, was the Pergamon altar. This was a “temple” taken from the ruins at Pergamon in the west coast of Turkey. There was a frieze around the entire room consisting of larger than life statues of the Gigantomachy (the fight between the Giants and the Olympian gods and not to be confused (like I did) with the Titanomachy).The next was the market gate of Miletus, a Greek city also on the west coast of Turkey. Something about seeing building faces reconstructed inside makes them seem bigger. The Mshatta facade was another, but my favorite was the Ishtar gate from Babylon. It was largely reconstructed from new material, and you could tell which pieces were original because they weren’t as bright. It was huge and imposing and bright indigo. It was built at roughly the same time as the Israelites were taken into captivity. The museum was also home to an impressive Islamic art collection. One thing that I sometimes think about is that rich people used to have incredibly ornate and detailed furniture and such. I don’t know any super rich people, but it seems that now they just have expensive stuff. On the other hand computers are some of the most intricate objects ever made and we take them for granted.

After visiting the Pergamon we went to Check Point Charlie and spent several hours in the museum learning about the Berlin wall. After a few hours we were completely worn out and hungry. We decided to hurry through the rest of the museum and we realized we had only made it about half way through. The last part was about the aftermath of the fall though, so perhaps it was less interesting. At least that’s what we would like to believe.

After we got out of the museum we decided to eat at a Thai restaurant near the museum. We hadn’t eaten Thai food for several months at least and it was great! Then we went back to the train station to pick up our luggage which we had left there in the morning. Sadly, we were about 10 minutes too late and they had already closed. We went to check in to our hotel where the clerk said he had been a little worried that we were so late and he couldn’t call our cell phones (they only work in Hungary).

The next morning I went get our luggage and noticed there was an Oktoberfest market open in Alexanderplatz. We stopped through after taking showers and I was seduced by a cheese seller. I couldn’t resist buying a few different cheeses. I bought beer cheese (red wine cheese being one of my favorites) and I can tell you that you needn’t do so. Of course, if you’re the sort of person who was considering it, you probably won’t take my advice anyway. It’s extremely strong and should never be eaten alone or it will upset your stomach. It does make a reasonable grilled cheese sandwich, but there are other types of cheese that work just as well and with less stench.

We came back to Oktoberfest later and bought some street food: Currywurst, hashbrown things, glazed nuts, etc. Rachel also bought some earrings. There were several Latin Americans there selling Native North American jewelry (e.g. dream catcher earrings). It was kind of weird seeing them selling things that weren’t even typical of their country of origin. In fact there were so many of them that whenever I think of Berlin now, I think of Spanish.  Rachel thinks of cranes, I think of Spanish.Cranes in the Berlin skyline

We took the S-bahn to Potsdam to see Sans Souci (French for Without Cares), and the other palaces of Friedrich the Great (whose name is much cooler in German: Friedrich der Große). Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by Topkapi and Schönbrunn, but it didn’t seem as grand as either of them. I think we didn’t see the most impressive palace, so that may have tainted my thinking as well. It was still far too grand for me to actually want to live there.  We got to see much more of the grounds than we did at Schönbrunn though, and Topkapi doesn’t have large grounds since it’s in the middle of the city. The grounds were huge and we got to watch them mow the grass with tractors. I wonder how they did it hundreds of years ago–maybe they just had long grass. We briefly stopped by an old wind mill that I would have liked to take a tour of, but we didn’t have time.

Back in Berlin, our next stop was to try and find the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. In the end we couldn’t find it so we decided to walk to the Ritter store and make our own Ritter Sport chocolate bars. On our way there we ran into the Memorial and so we walked through part of it. It was late enough that the visitor center was closed. It consists of a 2711 of concrete pillars (don’t worry, I didn’t count them) in a rectangular grid. Individually they were boring, but together they were impressive. You could walk between them and easily get lost. It would be a great place to play some sort of game if that wasn’t so disrespectful.  When we got to the Ritter store it was closing. Too late again. Instead we went back to the Oktoberfest market and then home.


The next morning we took a commuter train to Dresden. It was one of the doubledecker trains I’ve been wanting to ride on since I first saw them. We had to change trains two thirds of the way through and so we changed from riding on the top deck to the bottom.  The bottom is lower than a normal train and it gives a different perspective.  Sometimes I really worry that I like trains to much.  What kind of a person likes trains?

The reason I wanted to visit Dresden was the Dresden Codex. It’s one of the 3 remaining Maya codices, and is housed in the treasure room of the Saxon State Library Museum. I was a little worried that I might have built it up too much in the decade since my mission in Guatemala, but it didn’t disappoint. It’s amazing to think of something made of (fig bark) paper lasting that long including through the firebombings of WWII. It did sustain water damage then. It was also really neat to see it in color, albeit faded. Of course, you can find high resolution pictures of it online, but it’s not the same as being there. Since it was painted on both sides, they use mirrors to allow you to see the back side as well as the front. My ability to read ancient Maya is limited to numerals but I did at least recognize those.

The museum’s treasure room also contained a number of other gorgeous manuscripts, mostly from Germany. Outside the treasure room, they were exhibiting hymn books starting from the early reformation era. The musical notation was quite varied and often wasn’t used at all. In the end I think it was one of the most interesting and beautiful collections I’ve seen, even though it was only two fairly small rooms.  Of course, if you don’t like books, it’s probably not the place for you.

Orthodox church in Dresden
After visiting Saxon State, we walked to downtown Dresden. On the way we saw a cute little church which I can only assume was Russian Orthodox based on the stereotypical domes. We went inside the Cross Church which had an art show going on in one wing. We were about 15 minutes late to go in the Frauenkirche. Are you sensing the pattern? We were really sad about this because Rachel’s high school German teacher watched its rebuilding via webcam. It had been destroyed in the war and wasn’t rebuilt until 2005 (well, that’s when it was finished).  We then walked down to the river and took some pictures. Dresden’s skyline is quite interesting. We mostly walked around outside, but we did go inside a mall to buy some hot chocolate (Rachel’s drug of choice) and look at some wooden Christmas decorations.

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Since Movember is also NaNoWriMo, I thought I would try to write a lot of my dissertation this month. I did some conversions (to account for differences in subject) and set a goal. But I thought maybe on Sundays I should write a blog post instead of my dissertation. That way I can try and catch up on the months of silence, and have a little break from the “grind”. We’ve done a few interesting things in the last little bit, so hopefully I’ll cover what I need to. I’ll start with the oldest first.

The only bad thing is that not editing is essential to NaNoWriMo.  I edit compulsively and it brings my writing up to it’s usual mediocre level. I’m afraid you’re in for some rough patches ahead. That said, I couldn’t stop myself from editing this a bit. :-/

Krakow salt mines

Since I talked Rachel into going to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, I get to write about it. Sadly that means the writeup comes about 3 months after the actual trip, and so I don’t remember as much. It’s probably for the best, otherwise I would bore you.

The tour was at times a bit rushed, I suppose because they have 1.2 million visitors to whisk through every year. Nevertheless, it was quite interesting. They encouraged us to taste the walls, but up high where fewer people might have dirtied them. And definitely not on the floor. Apparently that’s not obvious to everyone.

Salt deposited from the airOf particular interest to me were statues of men clearing out the methane in the old days. They would crawl along the ground and lift torches on the end of long sticks to the ceiling where the methane would gather. It was a dangerous job of course since the methane would often explode rather than burn off. Perhaps my favorite part was the ubiquitous salt growths. They were made of snow white salt, somewhat resembling cauliflower (there were some tiny salt stalactites too) that was deposited from the air. It looked like cauliflower or white fungus. It was crumbly and delightfully salty (what did I expect, right?) and I would have loved to sprinkle it on popcorn. The whole time we were underground I wanted to eat popcorn or pretzels.

One of the original UNESCO world heritage sites, Wieliczka is traditionally a gift from the Hungarian princess Kinga. Boleslaw, the king of Poland, asked to marry Kinga, the princess of Hungary. He sent an engagement ring to the Hungarian court and Kinga accepted. Her father was going to send gold as a dowry, but she thought that wouldn’t be good since the Boleslaw was already wealthy. When asked what he should give instead, she answered salt because Hungary was known for it’s great salt mines. Unsure of how to transfer a large amount of salt, she prayed, removed her engagement ring and threw it into a salt mine.When Kinga arrived in Poland in 1239 she asked the king to tour the country. Soon she told the servents to stop and dig. One of them brought her a white stone–a lump of salt. She ordered it split open, and out fell her engagement ring. In that moment everyone understood her actions and what a wonderful dowry her father had given. Since then Wieliczka has been known for it’s rich salt deposits and has brought prosperity to the area.

One thing they didn’t tell us on the tour is that St. Kinga (beatified in 1690 and canonized in 1999) and her husband were so devout that they took a vow of chastity. Apparently their marriage was never consumated, and Boleslaw was known as Boleslaw the Chaste.

Speaking of devout people, if I remember correctly, there were something like 40 different chapels in the salt mines. We only got to see 3 of them. The most famous is the Chapel of St. Kinga. It was constructed by 3 miners (working one at a time) over the course of about 60 some years. It’s the site of concerts, weddings, and mass. In fact, after we left we watched a wedding party being lowered a few people at a time into the depths. The chapel is decorated with sculptures cut into the salt walls and (sometimes) back lit. The natural translucence of the salt allows a very striking effect. A real glowing sacred heart for instance. The chandeliers have “crystals” made of salt which was dissolved and then redried. The floor has a tile pattern cut into the salt floor. It was an impressive chapel and quite pretty albeit somewhat monochromatic.The last supper in St. Kinga's chapel

There were statues throughout the tour, mostly modern, but some older. There were at least two underground salt-saturated lakes. I couldn’t help but wonder if diving in would hurt more than diving into fresh water due to the extra bouyancy. During the Nazi occupation some drunken soldiers took a boat ride. The boat capsized and some were trapped under the boat. In their enebriated condition they were unable to right the boat or to dive down and out from under the boat (because of the high buoyancy). They died when the air trapped with them ran out. The Nazi’s used some of the large rooms as impromptu factories during the war since they were obviously safe from reconnaissance planes.

At one point in the tour, the floor was tiled with something familiar looking. I was just about to tell Rachel that it looked like we were walking on salt licks, when the guide announced that in fact we were. It was weird seeing so many of them, and not a single one had been carved by bovine tongues!


Rachel’s brother and sister came and stayed with us for a few days. We went with them to a little town near the Austrian border called Sopron. It’s known as the most loyal city because in 1921 it chose to be part of Hungary instead of Austria. We had never been there, and it’s quite pretty. Most of the buildings were in very good condition and very colorful.

Sopron is a destination for medical tourism. There were dentists offices everywhere to service the Austrians who come across the border. Almost everyone speaks German, and if it’s clear you don’t speak Hungarian that’s the language they go to next. Pretty much everywhere else we’ve visited it would be English.

Another source of income for Sopron is the brewery. We didn’t visit it, but we did buy some Soproni Zero (grapefruit and orange flavors) in the supermarket. Rachel’s brother liked it, but her sister thought it was gross. I think it did grow on her a bit, but I don’t think she’ll be a connoisseur of non-alcoholic beer anytime soon.

The organ of the Reform church in Sopron

The fire tower and town hall were closed for renovations, so we only went inside three attractions: the goat church, a reform church, and the Storno house. The goat church was somewhat small. There was a tomb from 1644 underneath some of the pews which I thought was interesting. The reform church was much larger and completely different from Catholic churches. It had three floors and reminded me a bit of the Synagogue in Budapest. Apparently the organ is the largest in Hungary. The organ was indeed gorgeous and we wanted to go up stairs to see it, but it was closed off. The Storno house was very interesting. The last owners of the house (the Storno family) loved to collect antiques and it contains a large selection of old things. I loved the smattering of arms and armor (of course), as well as the intricate locks and keys from various periods.

We decided to eat at a restaurant which was recommended in Rick Steve’s and also on the way back to the train station. Sadly, when we got there is was closed for renovation (or maybe permanently). We had to backtrack quite a bit and hurry so as to not miss our train, but we made it.

Word count: 1323 (1667/day needed, i.e. I failed)

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When we went to Krakkó we took a side trip to Auschwitz. I felt like it was a very powerful and meaningful experience, particularly Birkenau. At the same time I’ve been trying to figure out for a month what to write about it, because as cliché as it sounds I don’t feel like I can convey the feeling of it. So I’ve decided to just post the pictures with captions. I hope it’s meaningful, if simple.

We went to Auschwitz first. Auschwitz had all the museum information, but most of it was in the buildings where pictures were not permitted. The displays were well done, though.

These were the blocks at Auschwitz where the prisoners slept. One of these buildings was a hospital, another was a prison. There were also buildings outside the main complex for the Nazi officers to live in.

The front of the blocks at Auschwitz. Auschwitz was originally military barracks, so the buildings were at least fairly well done.

Between the prison building and the hospital building was this wall called the death wall. They shot prisoners who had been “tried” here. Most of the victims were Poles. This is a recreation of the wall. The original was torn down.

This is the building where the first gas chamber and crematorium was. Later they built bigger ones at Birkenau and these were no longer used. The first experiments with gas were done on Russian soldiers and it took them a long time (I think days) to die. They got better at it later.

The double barbed wire fence circling the camp. There were signs in German warning anyone outside that it was electric and dangerous.

Then we went to Birkenau. It’s about 5 minutes away and there are free buses to take you there. Birkenau was built to house all the Jews and other prisoners after Auschwitz was full and wasn’t already in existence before WWII. There were brick and wood buildings and there are still examples of each, although most of them were destroyed as the Nazis left and tried to hide what they’d done. Birkenau is also where the gas chambers and crematoria were (except for the one that was used temporarily at Aushwitz) and where the Jews that were sent in on trains specifically to go to the gas chambers were sent.

Most of the buildings where prisoners lived were destroyed and all that’s left are rows and rows of these double chimneys that were inside each building.

Some of the buildings are still standing. This is one of the wood buildings. The chimney in front is all that’s left of the other buildings. In this one you can see the rows of beds in the back. Several people slept on each bed. Toilets were in a separate building.

These tracks led through the “death gate” and ended at two of the gas chambers at the back of the camp.

The gas chambers/crematoria were blown up by the Nazis as they left, but the ruins are still there. This is the entrance. The prisoners went in the door and down the steps where they undressed and then were put into the gas chamber. At the end is the room with the furnaces.

There were several dried pools where human ashes were thrown. This one has a memorial stones in English, Polish and Hebrew.

Auschwitz with kids: We went with our kids, but felt like the displays in the barracks at Auschwitz were too graphic for our 4 year old. We tag teamed it, taking turns going in and staying out to watch the kids. It took a lot longer that way, but it worked. Birkenau was no problem with the kids. Unless you know what happened there it’s just a pretty place with lots of grass and some buildings and ruins.

I would also recommend going early. They make you go with a tour after 10 (sometimes earlier) and I much preferred wandering at our own pace, and a tour wouldn’t have worked with the kids. With older kids it would probably be okay and in the Winter they don’t make you take a tour.

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