Real Non-Honeymoon: South Africa (Part 2)

Monday’s blog post was mostly about my sister Elisa’s awesome safari experience in South Africa. Read on to learn about her favorite restaurants and things they did in and around Cape Town.

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Cape Town:

During our time in South Africa we spent 5 days in Cape Town and absolutely loved it! Below is a list of our Cape Town favorites.

Group shot at the top of Lion's Head

Group shot at the top of Lion’s Head

Dining:

  • The Grand Café & Beach: Casual, shabby-chic waterfront dining on the beach in Cape Town. The perfect place for lunch and/or cocktails near the V&A Waterfront.
  • Paranga: Located in Camps Bay along the sunset strip of the Atlantic Seaboard. A modern and artsy location for sunset dinner and drinks with an ocean view.
  • Harbour House: Beautiful, waterfront dining, perfect for lunch or dinner. Amazing views, amazing décor, amazing food! (There are two locations and we visited the location in Kalk Bay during our drive around the Cape.)
  • The Roundhouse Restaurant: My boyfriend made our reservation at The Roundhouse Restaurant about a month prior to our trip. The Roundhouse is one of the country’s top 20 restaurants and located in a wooded valley overlooking Camps Bay. Our dinner was 7 courses, the menu was personalized with our names and the service was over the top! An extremely special dining experience! Also, arrive early for your reservation and enjoy a sunset cocktail in the gardens overlooking Camps Bay!
  • Gold Restaurant: A cultural and FUN African experience. I read of this restaurant on a previous Peonies to Palm Trees post and knew that I had to go! The night consisted of face painting, dancing, drumming and a 14-course traditional African meal! It was a wonderful evening!
Dinner (and makeover) at Gold Restaurant. Look familiar?

Dinner (and makeover) at Gold Restaurant. Look familiar?

Full-Day Drive of the Cape:

One of the best decisions we made was to hire a private driver and guide to take us on a full-day tour of the Cape! We started at Table Mountain where we took the cable car to the top. At the summit, we walked around, got a coffee at the café, and enjoyed the view.

Next, we visited the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden located against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain and acclaimed as one of the “greatest botanic gardens of the world.”

Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden

Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden

After, we drove through Muizenberg (cute surfer town, known for their colorful houses) to Kalk Bay where we stopped for an oceanfront lunch at Harbour House. Next, we proceeded to Boulder’s Beach in Simon’s Town, famous for their penguin colony. (Seeing the beautiful, little penguins on the beach in South Africa was definitely a trip highlight!)

Boulder's Beach Penguin Colony

Boulder’s Beach Penguin Colony

Penguins deserve TWO photos

Penguins deserve TWO photos

We then cut across and continued around the cape to Hout Bay where we stopped at Chapman’s Peak to enjoy the incredible view as the sun was setting. Lastly, we ended in Camps Bay/Clifton for a sunset dinner at Paranga!

Beautiful view of Hout Bay

Beautiful view of Hout Bay

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Real Non-Honeymoon: South Africa (Part 1)

My sister Elisa wrote a really great blog post about her Los Cabos trip last year, so I asked her to write another one about her amazing recent vacation in South Africa. (I also just want to live vicariously through her travels.) Elisa had so much good stuff to say this time around that I decided to break her post into two parts. Today’s post covers her incredible safari experience, and on Wednesday I’m going to publish her Cape Town (and surrounding areas) recs.

View from the top of Table Mountain

View from the top of Table Mountain

When and where did you travel?

My boyfriend and I traveled with his family throughout South Africa in April/May 2014. (Johannesburg, Phalaborwa, Kruger National Park, Sabi Sand Game Reserve, Dinokeng Game Reserve, and Cape Town).

Safari sunrise group shot

Safari sunrise group shot

How long was your trip?

Our trip was 16 days.

Safari sunset

How gorgeous is this safari sunset?

How did you decide on your travel destination(s)?

My boyfriend and I wanted to plan an international trip in 2014 and South Africa was always at the top of our wish list. My boyfriend’s dad was born and raised in South Africa, and the majority of his relatives still live there.  Our decision was solidified when we were invited to his cousin’s May 2014 wedding in South Africa!

The best part of our trip was…

Exeter River Lodge in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve and Cape Town.

Main Lodge at Exeter

Main Lodge at Exeter

Exeter River Lodge:

Exeter River Lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve was unlike anywhere I had ever been, and we had the most incredible experience. The grounds were immaculate, the safari drives were remarkable, the meals were outstanding, and my boyfriend and I had the most stunning private rondavel along the Sand River.

Deck of the private rondavel

Deck of the private rondavel

We took two game drives per day; one in the morning at sunrise and the other in the evening at sunset, with each drive lasting approximately 3-4 hours.  Our Guide and Tracker were extremely knowledgeable, professional, resourceful, personable, and fun! We saw all of the “Big Five” (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo) plus more! Two of my favorite moments included observing a Lioness roar and her 8 cubs cuddled together at sunset and a herd of approximately 30 elephants (including a baby) crossing a riverbed directly in front of us. It was amazing how close we would get to the animals!

Animals of Africa

Animals of Africa

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Wanderlusting: The 10 Countries I Most Want to Visit in the Near Future

My last blog post about travel envy was kind of a bummer, so I decided that I needed to write something a bit more positive before the week was over. Instead of dwelling on the fact that I’m not going to Istanbul with Aaron, I started thinking about the 10 countries I’d most want to visit. My only criteria for the list was that 1) I had to include countries that I’ve never been to before, and 2) they had to be places I’d want to visit in the near future (i.e. in the next 10 years or so – not when I’m much older and less adventurous/active), which was pretty easy because I haven’t been everywhere… yet.

Below is the list that I came up with, with the countries listed in alphabetical order:

Cambodia

Up until very recently, Cambodia was totally at the top of my must-see list. Throughout our honeymoon in Bali & Vietnam, we met several other couples who just raved about the food, beaches, friendliness, and cheapness of Cambodia, not to mention the complete awe of experiencing Angkor Wat. However, another travel blogger that I highly admire recently wrote about why she thinks that Cambodia has recently changed, and not for the better. Kate really knows her stuff, so I believe her when she says that she didn’t love her latest experience there. I’m hoping though that things will turn back around for Cambodia, so I can get enthusiastic again about visiting it.

Cambodia

Cambodia – thanks for the pics, Alice!

Chile

Aaron and I had so much fun backpacking around South America in 2009, but we felt a bit amiss that we didn’t make it to Chile. Ideally, our trip there will include experiencing cosmopolitan Santiago, snowboarding in Portillo, surfing in Pichilemu, and a few days exploring Easter Island.

Ecuador

Aside from wanting to see the Galapagos Islands, I’d never thought too much about visiting Ecuador; that is until my friend Jen came back from a trip there last year and had the best time ever. She promised that she’d one day write a blog post about her trip (right, Jen?), so I’ll leave it to her to tell you why she fell in love with the country.

Ecuador

Ecuador – thanks for the pics, Jen!

Iceland

The Blue Lagoon, live music, Northern Lights, Einstock beer – what’s not to like? If there were direct flights from Reykjavík to Dublin, we would have combined Iceland with our Ireland trip last summer.

Mauritius

My family friend visited Mauritius during her Semester at Sea, and as soon as I saw the photos of the perfect turquoise water and bleached white sand, I knew that I’d have to go there some day. It was definitely in the running as one of our own honeymoon destinations, but we’d like to combine it with a few weeks in South Africa as well, and we didn’t think we’d be able to do all of that right after the wedding. I guess it will just have to be the destination for a special anniversary trip, right?

Mauritius

Mauritius – thanks for the pics, Hana!

Morocco

As soon as I can find the time to spend a week in Marrakech, I’m going to make it happen. My friend Daniel was lucky enough to spend this past NYE at this insanely beautiful estate, and said that he just thought the whole area was really beautiful and interesting. Also, my mom and sisters got to ride camels near Tangier a few years ago which looked really fun.

Morocco

Morocco – thanks for the pics, Rachel and Nicole!

Burma/Myanmar

One of my friends from college has lived in a handful of foreign countries since grad school, and although she’s currently living in Kabul, she is supposed to head back to Yangon soon. Only recently a tourist destination, she says that traveling around Burma is like going back in time. Aaron and I want to see what that’s like before everything becomes too modernized.

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December Dream Vacations

The holiday season always makes me appreciate all of the wonderful people I have in my life, and I’m very fortunate that so many of them live near me in the San Francisco Bay Area.  However, some of the most important important people, for some reason, prefer living in a not-so-moderate climate.  That’s right, we’re off to Minnesota next week to freeze our butts off spend Christmas with my in-laws!

Don’t get me wrong, my husband’s family is totally great.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am that they’ve always been incredibly welcoming ever since I first met them.  I’m especially looking forward to a Cinderella-themed slumber party with my 2 1/2 year old niece, playing with my sister-in-laws’ awesome pups, catching up with my husband’s adorable grandparents, and spending time with everyone else… but, man will it be cold!

Although I’m going to freeze in Minnesota this year, here’s a list of warmer places that I’d like to visit during future Decembers:

Clockwise from top left: Zanzibar, Milford Sound, Turks and Caicos, Langkawi

Clockwise from top left: Zanzibar, Milford Sound, Turks and Caicos, Langkawi

1) Southern Africa + Mauritius: it would be an absolute dream vacation to go on safari in South Africa or Tanzania, visit Mozambique and Zanzibar, then relax on Mauritius.

2) Australia + New Zealand: although I’ve already spent lots of time in Oz and NZ, I cannot wait to go back with my husband to sail the Whitsundays again, visit Milford Sound, and hoard Tim Tams.  I’m pretty sure that he’ll like it there as much as I do :)

3) Turks and Caicos: my husband hasn’t been to the Caribbean before, and since we’ve heard such fabulous things about Turks and Caicos especially, I think we’d have to go their first.

4) Malaysia: I’d love to relax on Langkawi and explore the other gorgeous islands in Malaysia.  Friends have told us that Turtle Island is a must-see, too.

Wherever you spend your holidays this year, I hope you and your loved ones are warm and happy!

Real ROUND THE WORLD Trip: Asia, Australia & Africa

How great would it be to have the time to go on a multi-month round the world (RTW) trip with your signifiant other?  Pretty amazing, right?  When you both have full-time jobs it can be really hard to turn that dream into a reality, so when the opportunity presented itself to Robin and Darin (i.e. a cross-country move and the start of a new job), they enthusiastically took it.  Read all about their absolutely incredible travels in Asia, Australia, and Africa below:

How long was your RTW trip, and how did you find the time to go?

We traveled for seven weeks – July through August [2013] – and we were really lucky to travel for that amount of time. We had been living in Boston, and Darin was offered, and chose to accept, a job in Florida. Since we were moving and both of us were going to have to change jobs, we tossed around the idea of traveling before starting work. Before we knew it, our apartment in Boston was all packed up and heading to storage, our new lease in Florida wasn’t starting until September, and we were on a plane to Asia.

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef

Where did you go (and how much time did you stay in each place)?

Darin has family in Sydney and Johannesburg, so we knew when we started talking about the trip that we had to go to those cities. We then planned around those destinations and decided to go to places that would not be easily accessible on a one or two-week trip once we went back to work. We basically looked at a map and picked out places we had interest in going to or that our friends had been to. We are an active couple, so we were more excited about seeing a country’s natural beauty rather than eating at high-end restaurants or wandering through museums.

Bike riding in Tokyo

Bike riding in Tokyo

We also tried to plan our trip by choosing destinations that we could get to on direct flights. So inevitably, our first destination was going to be a big city.

The Itinerary:

Tokyo – 3 days
Beijing – 2.5 days
Hong Kong – 2.5 days

At this point in our trip we were tired of big cities and were excited to have the same currency for longer than a few days. We spent about two weeks traveling around Thailand.

Chang Mai – 3 days
Koh Tao – 4 days
Koh Samui – 3 days
Gillham’s Fishing Resort, outside of Krabi – 1.5 days

From Thailand we headed to Cambodia based on friends’ recommendations.

Siem Reap – 2 days

We left the northern hemisphere summer for winter down under. It was nice to be able to spend time with family without being jetlagged.

Port Douglas (launching point for the Great Barrier Reef) – 2.5 days
Sydney – 5 days

From Sydney we had a direct flight to Jo-burg, and met up with Darin’s parents for two weeks of travel throughout Southern Africa.

Johannesburg – 2 days
Botswana – 4 days (Nxabega Okavango (tented camp) and Sandibe Safari Lodge)
Zambia (Victoria Falls) – 2 days
South Africa – 5 days (Londolozi and Ulusaba (Richard Branson’s private game reserve))

At Victoria Falls in Zambia

At Victoria Falls in Zambia

Did you have a set itinerary from the start, or did you play things by ear?

We booked our RTW ticket on OneWorld, and they have a very user-friendly website that made it easy to build an itinerary. Although the ticket is flexible (we could change the flight dates and times without a penalty and pay a small fee to add a city), we had all of our stops planned before we left the States, and we had our hotels booked before we arrived in each city. We only had to change a flight once, which is pretty impressive since we took more than 20 flights during the trip.

We planned most of our activities when we got to city based on hotel recommendations and from other travelers we met along the way.

Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

How hard was it to pack for a RTW trip?    

The hardest part of packing was that we needed clothes for both the northern and southern hemispheres. Southeast Asia is very hot, humid, and wet in the summer, and southern Africa is very cold at 6AM which is when you do your morning safari drive.

In the weeks leading up to the trip I followed the blog Travel Fashion Girl which has great advice on how to pack for various cities and activities, and there is even a packing list for RTW travel. We certainly were not fashionistas on this trip and definitely packed for function. We are embarrassed to admit that our lifeline in Asia was our Tevas – they kept us cool, they didn’t get ruined in the rain, they were easy to hike in, and we didn’t have to travel with many socks (clean or dirty).

We packed a lot of exercise-type clothes because they are light, sweat-wicking, and easy to hand wash. We quickly got tired of our bathroom being a laundry facility but we couldn’t afford the laundry prices at the hotels. However, just blocks from our hotels we were usually able to find shops that do laundry for $1 / kg.

The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China

The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China

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Real Honeymoon: South Africa & Mozambique (Part 2)

Yesterday I published the first half of Becky and Bryce’s incredible African honeymoon.  The second half is below – enjoy!

[A continuation of “The best part about our honeymoon was…]

Benguerra Island, Mozambique – Marlin Lodge

Again so many amazing moments so here are a couple:

We arranged to take a tour of the island with two locals who worked at the lodge. We took a jeep around the entire island – saw where all the villagers lived and how they lived (all in grass huts). It was a very humbling experience to say the least. Every time we drove by the kids on the sand streets they would run behind the jeep smiling, waiving and laughing. We also visited their local school and got to talk with and meet the headmaster and some of the children. The children were a bit shy at the beginning but once we showed them the picture we took sitting with them at their desks, we instantly bonded!!!

Benguerra Island School

Hanging out with the kids of Benguerra Island, Mozambique

Maybe my favorite moment was a private picnic lunch the lodge put on for us. They boated us to the other side of the island where they had the most incredible arrangement waiting. There was an umbrella with a blanket and chairs set up as we arrived. They had a gourmet lunch laid out as well along with our drinks of choice – Rosé and Mozambican beer, Manica! There was nothing around us but warm Indian Ocean and white sand – it was surreal! They then left us there all afternoon – we really felt like it was our private island at this point. We liked it so much we did it again the next day!

Benguerra Island Picnic

A private picnic on Benguerra Island

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

Nothing, other than we would have gone for 3 weeks instead of 2!

How much planning did you do in advance?

A lot!! I give all the credit to my amazing husband, Bryce, who put a lot of time and effort into making this the best trip of our life!!!!! He found all the hotels and lodges we stayed at and worked with a travel agent to set up the logistics.

Mozambique Sunset

A beautiful Mozambique sunset

What was your biggest honeymoon splurge?

Once we got there everything was already paid for which was very nice. The only place to shop was in Cape Town where I bought some jewelry and my husband got an African warrior shield.

Where do you want to go on your next big trip?

Now that we’ve come to grips that it will be next to impossible to top this trip, we can’t wait for our next adventure. We’re thinking about Russia, Colombia, Sri Lanka or Antarctica.

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Real Honeymoon: South Africa & Mozambique (Part 1)

When Becky sent me the following information about her honeymoon, my jaw hit the floor.  She and Bryce took a KILLER trip to South Africa and Mozambique, and now all I can think about is when I can plan a similar trip myself.  Since Becky sent me so much great information and a bunch of photos, I decided to split it up into two Real Honeymoon blog posts.  Enjoy the first half now, and come back tomorrow to check out the second part.

When and where did you go on your honeymoon?

We left for our honeymoon the night after the wedding, September 30, 2013. We had some long flights ahead but our final destination was worth it! We spent our honeymoon in South Africa and Mozambique. Our adventure started in Cape Town, South Africa and we were there for 3 days. Then we flew to the Sabi Sands Reserve where we went on a 4 day safari. From there we flew to Vilanculos, Mozambique and took a boat to Benguerra Island for the finale of our honeymoon. Here we had 5 days of relaxing on the white sand beaches of the most incredible island we have ever been on!

Gold Restaurant

Becky and Bryce in Cape Town, S.A.

How long was your trip?

All in all, we were gone for 2 weeks.

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

Africa was always our number one. We threw around several other ideas but we always came back to Africa. We both are well traveled and we wanted to go somewhere neither of us had ever been so we could experience it for the first time together. We also wanted adventure, culture, and beach! At the end of the day we new Africa was it – so we decided on South Africa for the culture and adventure, and Mozambique for the beach (but there was definitely culture and adventure there as well)!

Safari

On safari at Sabi Sand Reserve

The best part about our honeymoon was…

The entire trip was a highlight, a few of them include:

Cape Town

We had the most amazing dinner and experience at Gold Restaurant.  We started the evening with learning to play the African drums. We then had like a 15 course dinner – all African cuisine. Throughout dinner the staff performed singing and dancing throughout the restaurant, it was truly amazing. I even got pulled up to dance with them, had gold flakes sprinkled over us and they also painted our faces. At the end of dinner they pulled everyone up to dance together. Sooooooooooo fun and so delicious!

Gold Restaurant

Dinner and dancing at Gold Restaurant

Sabi Sands Reserve, Notten’s Bush Camp

We have so many amazing moments from the safari but our top two was when we saw a pride of lions and a pack of elephants.

During our morning game drive we came up on about 2 female lions in the bush. As we got closer, there was an entire pride of lions walking towards a little hill area to try and find shade. There were about 15 female and young male lions all gathered together – they looked like they were waiting for something. A few minutes later we saw the male lion (the leader of the pride) slowly walking in. As he approached every lion got up and greeted him with a gentle embrace then went back and sat down. We were so close to all of them we felt like we could reach out and touch them. Once they decided it was too hot – they all got up one by one and left!

Lions

Lions!

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Honeymoon Destination Recommendations for… Wine Lovers

It’s been quite awhile since I wrote my last Where To Go? post, so in honor of my good friend Stephanie who’s visiting San Francisco this week and in the midst of planning her own wedding, I thought it would be quite appropriate to cover a topic that’s dear to her heart: wine.

The following is a list of honeymoon destination recommendations for wine-loving couples created by myself, someone who knows little to nothing about wine.*  Since I am faaaar from being a wine expert, let’s just say that everywhere on the list is known for great wine, and hopefully my non-wine related comments will help you decide whether a particular location suits your particular honeymoon interests.  Pour yourself a glass, and let’s begin!

1) South Africa

Cape Winelands, South Africa

The Cape Winelands, South Africa

I’m starting off the list with the place that I want to visit the most.  South Africa really has it all: beautiful beaches, incredible wild life and safari opportunities, and the infamous wine regions of Constantia, Stellenbosch and Paarl.  It’s not a budget-friendly destination (especially if you want to go on safari as well), but if you’re going to go big on your honeymoon, I think South Africa would be absolutely fantastic.

2) Argentina

Malbec

I guess that’s what Malbec looks like?

On the other end of the budget spectrum, Argentina’s Mendoza region is another perfect honeymoon destination, especially if you love steak and a good Malbec.  While Argentina may not be as cheap as it used to be, it should still be significantly less expensive than a honeymoon in either South Africa or Europe.  Keep in mind though that Argentina is a huge country, so if you want to check out Buenos Aires as well as Mendoza, you’ll need to book some additional flights.

3) Australia

Hunter Valley, NSW

The beautiful Hunter Valley

If you’re going down under for your honeymoon, you’re in for a treat because Australian wine is delicious, and you don’t have to travel far from Sydney if you want to experience the wineries first-hand.  You can easily take a day trip to the Hunter Valley region in New South Wales, and then sleep off your hangover on Bondi Beach the next day.

4) France

Bordeaux

A winery in Bordeaux

There are three things that the French sure know how to do properly: food, wine, and romance.  What else do you need during your honeymoon?   The correct answer (at least for me): Beaches.  Fortunately, the French Riviera is just a short flight or train ride from Paris so you can have the best of both worlds, as well as Champagne, Burgundy, Loire Valley, and Bordeaux in between.  Stay tuned for an amazing Real France Honeymoon post coming up in a few weeks from a very food and wine-savvy couple.

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Delaying Your Honeymoon? Travel in January!

A lot of people choose not to go on their honeymoons directly after their weddings for a variety of reasons. As I wrote in a previous blog post about timing your honeymoon, I think it’s really important for a couple to consider where they want to go, what their work/school situation is like, how they want others to treat their honeymoon, and their finances.

Ko Olina, Oahu

Sunset at Ko Olina, Oahu

So if you do want to delay your honeymoon, when is the best month to travel?  That, of course, depends on where you’d like to go.  There are certain places that have great weather all year (e.g. Hawaii), but obviously the major European destinations like Italy and Greece are going to be quite cold.  Beach Tomato’s “Follow The Sun” map is an awesome tool for finding sunny destinations all year round.

Financially speaking though, January is a great month for traveling.  Prices are usually at all-time highs around the December holidays, but they drop dramatically after January 1st once kids go back to school.  And for spontaneous couples that don’t need a lot of time to plan ahead, you can get really great travel deals if you actually book your January trip at the last minute.

What are my favorite January destinations?  If you’re looking for warm weather, it’s a great month to visit the Southern Hemisphere, and I especially recommend going to Australia, New Zealand, or Argentina.  I’d also looove to visit South Africa in January one day, too.

But if getting a tan isn’t high on your honeymoon priority list, January is also the perfect time to visit world-class ski resorts throughout the U.S., Canada, and Switzerland.

Real Honeymoon: African Safari

Due to scheduling issues with grad school and both of their start-up companies, my friends Amy and Dave decided to go on their honeymoon before their wedding.  Read all about their incredibly adventurous African honeymoon below.

When and where did you honeymoon?

June/July 2009, East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania/Zanzibar), Rwanda, South Africa.

How long was your trip?

3 weeks.

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

I’d always wanted to go on safari in Africa.

The best part about our honeymoon was…

So many… but most incredible experience was hiking into the jungle in Rwanda to see mountain gorillas interacting in their natural setting.

Other great experiences: the huge expansive sky and landscape in the Masai Mara and seeing so many different animals, driving down into the Ngorongoro Crater and seeing our one and only rhino, learning about the fascinating mixing of people and culture in Zanzibar and tasting spices on a spice tour, the views from the top of Table Mountain in South Africa, touring Robben Island and learning about the apartheid history/Mandela.

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

If I could’ve planned the timing around the annual Great Migration, that would’ve been amazing to see.

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