Archive | October, 2010
October 23, 2010

Our Top 3 Big Fat Greek Desserts

Our Top 3 Big Fat Greek Desserts

Thanks to the Schengen Agreement, we didn’t make it to Greece on this trip.   We used 89 days of the 90-day limit, so that doesn’t leave much time for Athens. Now that we are in the Republic of Cypress, we finally get a taste of Greece without worrying about hassles like deportation or overstay fines.

We successfully found a great gyro yesterday, and today’s mission was desserts.  Lucky for us, we found Ζορπασ (which translates to Zorba’s according to Google) right by our hotel in Larnaca.  We picked out three of our old favorites from Chicago’s Greektown and dug in.

1. Γαλακτομπουρεκο (Galaktoboureko)

This was our favorite of the three and is my dessert of choice at The Parthanon. Zorba’s version was much better. This creamy, custard cake was the perfect texture. It has been too gelatinous at some restaurants, but this one was just right.

Galakto…whatever..is topped with phyllo and lightly coated with a sweet syrup. The name is derived from the words gala (meaning milk in Greek) and bourek (Turkish for pastry). I think this is the only instance of something Greek and Turkish in close proximity without the United Nations’ involvement.

2. Μπακλαβας (Baklava)

We do like our baklava, so we had high hopes for our trip to Turkey. Unfortunately, we usually found a phyllo-heavy, nut-deprived square that was soaking in syrup all day. When you bit into it, your mouth was flooded with super sweet syrup, and the texture was mushy. Kim’s favorite baklava remained my mother’s.

Our prospects greatly improved in Cyprus. As you can see, there are plenty of nuts in the inner layers, and it isn’t swimming in a pool of liquid sugar. Topped with ground pistachios, it was crunchy with just the right amount of chewiness. Sorry, Mom, but you ain’t got nothin’ on Ζορπασ’s.

3. Ινδοκαρυδο Ταψιου (Coconut Cake)

This super moist coconut cake jumped out at us, but we still aren’t sure how traditional it is. Luckily, you pay by the slice at this bakery because our piece weighed about a kilo. We were pretty full from the first two desserts (yes, we ate all this in one night), so we only had a few bites. The flavor was good, but the syrup content was a little high for us. We just don’t like syrup, I guess.

By the way, if you were wondering how we are managing with this crazy Greek alphabet, the answer is that we aren’t. Cyprus was a British colony, so most signs are also in English. Our time on the island was short, but we’re glad we made it. We are headed for Cairo tomorrow and look forward to trying some Egyptian sweets. King Tut tortes, maybe? Sand pies? We’ll let you know.

October 20, 2010

Turkey Delights Us

Turkey Delights Us

After four months in Europe, things begin to look the same. Old town squares blend together until you’re not quite sure where you saw the Astronomical Clock or the porcelain tiled Mural of the Princes. Don’t get me wrong, European cities are great, but we were ready for more exotic sights by the time we reached to Turkey.

When arriving in Istanbul, you are immediately struck by the towering minarets, brightly colored carpets, lamps, and scarves, and the bustle in the streets. It was our first taste of Eastern culture. The Blue Mosque (Sultanhamet Camii), Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, and Spice Market are everything you’d hope they’d be. Yes, there are a lot of tourists, but it seemed to add to the chaos and charm of the city.

The call to prayer never gets old for me.  We recorded this sound clip one afternoon.  Click to listen as you read on:

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The Grand Bazaar is a wake up call to the senses. The bright, glowing lamps and layers of rugs hanging in the shops, the soft cashmere scarves piled high on tables, the determined shopkeepers luring you in to sample their merchandise, and the smell of çay and kebabs bombard you at the turn of every corner. It is loud and bustling. The same goes as you walk through the cafe-lined streets. Confident and charming waiters call out to you in a way that you almost start to believe that you really are hungry, even though you ate just an hour ago.

Istanbul is loud, rowdy, and gritty on the outside, but soft and calm on the inside. Once you step off the crowded street and into one of the many mosques, all is quiet. Families are lounging in the courtyard and barefooted Muslims are quietly praying inside on their own little spot of carpet. The beautifully painted domes, towering columns, warm, glowing lamps, and soft rugs below your feet engulf you with tranquility. It is also easy to find a quiet corner in a cafe for a çay or puff of nargile. I’d love to go back someday and see more of the city.

Our next stop was Göreme by way of Ankara. This is Turkey’s version of Southern Utah (except fewer Mormons). Cappadocia draws thousands each year with fairy chimneys and other strange formations caused by ancient volcanoes and river deposits. The rocky landscape is filled with peaks jutting into the sky, precariously placed boulders, and suspiciously phallic formations. The soft rock is also home to “pigeon houses” and numerous underground monasteries and churches. The farmers carved out their homes in the stone to collect the pigeon droppings used as fertilizer. Now that’s what I call a shitty job. The Christians built underground cities to hide from persecution. Now there are countless guesthouses and hotels in these caves with all the mod cons. It is a fascinating area.

Cappadocia, Turkey

The big-ticket tourist attractions in Cappadocia are the hot air balloons. We were aware of the popularity before arriving but were struggling with the insane cost for 60-minutes of floating. Seriously, over $150 per person seemed awfully expensive, especially for our budget. We had decided against it and planned to go horseback riding instead. As usual, Clark was up way too late one night and was nice enough to wake me up at 4:00 a.m. with a spontaneous idea to go take balloon photos. If we weren’t going to ride one, at least we could get some cool photos. He was up all night working on our video montage (you better watch it!). I reluctantly agreed and dragged myself out of bed so we could take the damn photos. We set out on foot in the pitch black of early morning.

We walked to Ürgüp Balloons, one of the companies that our cave hotel recommended and luckily ran into a very jolly employee. We had happened to arrive at the building where they bring the balloon riders before take-off for breakfast. He brought us inside and kept us warm (and caffeinated) with several glasses of chai. Spontaneously, we decided to screw the money and just do it. We wanted the experience, and it was one of our highlights of our time in Turkey.

PLEASE NOTE: I do not recommend this approach.  In high season they would have been booked solid and unable to squeeze two sleepy passengers into the basket. Book ahead to avoid disappointment.

To view the bumpy landscape from above is definitely the way to go. Our balloon pilot, Ömer, was great. The wind luckily carried us right over the famous Love Valley, and we could almost reach out and touch some of the iconic formations. Near the end we climbed to 600 meters (almost 2,000 ft.) to take in a dazzling panoramic view. After a smooth landing, we all received our flight certificates with a champagne toast, and they drove us back to our hotels. It is an experience I highly recommend…despite the sky high price tag.

Balloons - Cappadocia, Turkey

We then headed to Konya (home of the Whirling Dervishes), Izmir (a crowded, energetic city) and the nearby Ephesus ruins, and then Antalya and Alanya (two very touristy, lame resort towns).

Today, we traveled to Alanya to catch a ferry to Cyprus, but guess what?  Despite all the online info to the contrary, they are done running for the season! So, we had to come up with a Plan B on the fly. Tomorrow, instead of the boat, we are backtracking to Antalya to take the evening flight to Nicosia. From there, we head overland to Larnaca and fly to Cairo.

We put together a short video of the highlights, and don’t forget to view all of our photos on Flickr. Enjoy!

Tomorrow we will move on, but we are hoping to have more adventures in the Middle East.

October 17, 2010

The Bad Apple

The Bad Apple

I decided to "Think Different" last Halloween.

We do love our Apple products, but they have performed poorly on this trip.  Our trouble began in Granada with a busted iPod Touch.  Luckily, it was under warranty, and we had a replacement a few days later.

We were not so lucky in Croatia.  In recent posts, we alluded to a problem with our MacBook Pro. I’m currently killing time on the train to Selçuk, so I might as well get this story out of the way.

To make a long story short, our laptop broke, but it works now.

To make a long story long, keep reading.  Just know beforehand…I don’t recommend it.

The Long Story

For a change of pace, we went out for a fancy dinner on Hvar. You can’t pinch pennies all the time. Over dinner–with wine even–we discussed how smooth everything was going.  No incidents of theft, lost luggage, damaged electronics, etc.  Of course, life went to hell as soon as we said this.  The next morning, I awoke to a grey computer screen and a flashing question mark.  I worked on the Mac for hours with no results. It appeared our hard drive was kaput.

I wasn’t horribly upset at first because we backup on an external drive and upload our photos to Flickr. Our most important souvenirs were fine.  As I thought about it longer, I grew more concerned.  What about our other stuff?  Lightroom, Photoshop, Photomatix, movies, music, the expense workbook, our blog files…I hadn’t backed up any of it.  I didn’t even have the Mac OS X installation DVD. I really should have packed that.

Our hotel had a computer, so I searched for an Apple authorized repair guy in Split.  No dice. The only place I could find was in the capital.  Zagreb was 6-hour train ride away, and we were looking forward to island hopping our way to Dubrovnik.  Also, I upgraded the hard drive myself in Chicago, so I was pretty sure our warranty was void.

Many people travel the world without a computer, so what’s the big deal?  If we used a point-and-shoot camera, we could probably get by without this five pound aluminum brick.  The problem is we like our SLR and High Dynamic Range photography. Not to mention, how could we keep up on our wildly successful travel blog? We would hate to disappoint our tens of readers.

We had to get this fixed. We made it back to the mainland the next afternoon and headed right for a computer shop. It was closed. As we debated our next move, we realized a new hard drive wouldn’t help us anyway.  How are we going to install it?  We have no tools.  Even if we found a drive and got the case open, we don’t have any damn software!

On our walk back to the city center, we ran into another store. Unlike our first stop, this one was open for business.  Inside, we met Nikola.

“Do you have a 2.5″ hard drive for Macintosh?”

“Yes,” he replied. At last! Success!

“But we don’t have Apple software or install hard drives.”

No! Still screwed! We proceeded to buy the drive anyway, but we weren’t any closer to our goal. We told Nikola our tale of woe, and he offered to help us off the clock.  “Give computer to me.  I take home. I fix. I download software. I call you when ready,” he promised.

We talked for another 15 minutes or so before happily handing over our expensive MacBook Pro, power cable, and brand new hard drive. After leaving, we contemplated our actions. Without an ounce of force or coercion, Nikola had acquired our expensive electronics…and we gave them to him willingly.  I told Kim that if we never see the Mac again, we could at least be comforted it was lost to such a smooth con artist.  Even Sawyer would have been impressed.

We walked home reassured, and sure enough, Nikola skyped us the next day.

The hard drive was fine! Our programs, photos, movies, blog shit…it was all fine!  “Your problem is motherboard or cable,” Nikola informed us, “Motherboard will cost 9,000 kuna.”

That’s $1,700.

We had three options:

1. Go to Zagreb and try to get the computer fixed under warranty.
2. Buy a new MacBook in Croatia.
3. Buy a new MaBook in the U.S. and have it shipped.

We decided on Plan 1 but proceeded with Plan 3 as a fall back.  Plan 2 was no good because MacBooks are very expensive in Europe, and our keyboard would be in the freaking Croatian alphabet. There was no sense ruining our plans entirely, so we decided to split up.  I caught the next train to Zagreb, and Kim went on to Dubrovnik.

I made it to iStyle, the repair shop, first thing the next morning.  They told me they only order parts on Fridays, and they usually arrive the following Thursday.  Today was Monday.  That makes two weeks, and we had a flight to Istanbul already booked.  Yep, we were going to be stuck with a change fee too.  I offered the technician $200 to take parts from a display model, but he wouldn’t budge. He had to order the parts.

With little choice, I left the computer at iStyle and caught the night bus to Dubrovnik (an 11-hour ride) to meet back up with Kim.  I sure as hell wasn’t going to hang out in Zagreb the whole time.  We enjoyed Dubrovnik and Bosnia, and the weeks past quickly.  It is a 9-hour train ride from Sarajevo to Zagreb, so I caught a 50-minute flight on Croatia Air instead.

I once again found myself at iStyle at the crack of dawn.  This was my third trip to Zagreb, and I was starting to feel at home. Like Cheers, everyone knew my name at iStyle. The guy at the desk exclaimed, “Clark!” when I walked in the door.  He had our computer in hand.

It worked!  Everything was perfectly fine, and the repair was free of charge. Apparently I hadn’t voided our AppleCare after all.

So what was the problem?  It was the damn cable, not the motherboard.  Since when does anything go wrong with a cable?  We called off the contingency plans, and I flew back to Sarajevo victorious.  After change fees, flights, trains, night buses, and a spare hard drive, the fiasco cost us about $600.  Expensive, but it could have been much worse.

Told you it was a long story.  You should have stuck with the short version.

October 16, 2010

Turkish Bath(room) Towels

Turkish Bath(room) Towels

Douglas Adams had it right.

A towel is the most massively useful item you can have. Our quick drying REI MultiTowels are lightweight and effective but not very satisfying.  Our room in Izmir came with two fluffy, white towels, and I remembered how nice a real towel can feel.

While drying off after a hot shower this evening, I slipped and hit my head on the edge of the sink.  When I came to, I had a revelation, a vision.  I sat down and wrote this Shakespearean sonnet:

Ode to a Towel

One towel have I to journey round the world.
With microfiber weave and hue of green,
it dries me adequately when unfurled.

Soon after use no moisture can be seen.
Alas! Luxurious this towel is not.
It’s thin and cold and sticks upon my skin.
To use it I can only dab and blot.

No satisfaction do I receive therein.
At each new place I hope that I will find,
some soft, plush cotton folded here or there.
If one is seen then, oh, my state of mind!

My shower is the happiest affair.

True joy is found in these the smallest things.
It’s for a cotton towel that my heart sings.

October 8, 2010

I ♥ Surf’n’Fries

I ♥ Surf’n’Fries

We made a discovery in the Balkans that has become something of an obsession for me: Surf’n’Fries.

This brightly colored California themed fry stand serves up some of the best fries I’ve ever tasted. Their menu consists of a variety of potato shapes (e.g. wedge, straight, curled) as well as chicken strips and chocolate fries (didn’t try them). The Fry’n’Dip variety are uniquely cut into long flat strips that are curled lengthwise at the edges. This makes the fries perfect for dipping in the sauce or your choice. It also allows the fries cook to a perfect crispiness. A special seasoning is used and each batch is fried to order in a blend of three “high quality” vegetable oils (minus trans fats).

You have the choice of no less than 6 different dips. My favorites were the Texas (mayo, BBQ sauce, Tabasco, and chili powder) and Mediteran (tomato, olives, garlic, oregano, anchovies, olive oil). You can also get plain ketchup, mayo, yogurt, or a few other sauces that have different blends of herbs and spices. Most European countries serve fries with mayo, so ketchup is a bit of a rarity.

I made it a point to seek out an inverted pyramid of delight in each new Balkan city, and I ended up visiting four of the ten locations in Croatia and Bosnia. Before you rush to judgment, I’m not the only fry-monger out there. There was always a line out the door of locals and tourists alike! It is especially popular as a late night snack.

Sadly, there are no Surf’n’Fries in Turkey, and I know my life will be that much emptier because of it. I hope that someday the our paths will cross again.  Until then, I can only fondly remember my golden, fried friends that welcomed me to the Balkans and warmed those cold Bosnian nights.

October 4, 2010

Europe by the Numbers

Europe by the Numbers

In three hours, we say goodbye to Europe.

Our first four months have been great, but we are ready to move on to the “real” trip.  Europe isn’t all that different from home, and we are looking forward to more challenging destinations.

We are leaving in the nick of time too.  With the State Department’s recent travel advisory, we are glad to be leaving Europe for the safe and sound Middle East.

We were planning on traveling overland from Sarajevo to Istanbul via Belgrade and Sofia.  Rather than face a gruesome rail journey (22+ hours), we opted to fly to Istanbul to buy us more time in Turkey.  We almost always prefer overland travel, but I think this was the better decision in this instance.

Even with a few mishaps (read: MacBook), we are still basically on track.  We log every expense in our Moleskine notebook, and I have a series of graphs and PivotTables to keep our finances in order.  I’ll keep this blog short and let the numbers speak for themselves.

The Tab

Transportation:

30 buses
10 taxis
4 ferries
6 flights
1 car rented
17 trains
1 metro fine

Average Per Diem:

$45.73 Lodging
$38.42 Food
$5.15  Sightseeing
$3.00  Misc. Supplies
$2.83  Clothing
$2.51  Personal
$2.38  Entertainment
$1.36  Laundry
$0.63    Souvenirs

Total Transport Cost: $5,491

Average Per Diem (excl. transport): $102.01
Average Per Diem (incl. transport): $147.23

Grand Total: $17,962

Overall, we came out about where we planned on time and money.  I’m sure we could have done it cheaper, but we struck a balance between comfort and roughing it.  The spikes are days were we had an expensive train ride.  Besides my round-trip flight to Zagreb to fix the MacBook, we haven’t flown since mid-July when we arrived in Frankfurt.

After talking budgets with many European travelers, I am convinced we have done pretty well.  Most seem to average around $100 per day, and we are getting by at $150/day for two including transportation.  Take out buses, flights, etc. and we’re down to $100 per day.

I’m very excited about the second half of our trip.  Our daily expenses should fall to practically nothing.  I met a couple last week that spent only $6,000 over 6 months in Northern India.  Maybe we will make it home under budget even!

Our European Favorites

We are often asked what place, food, sight, etc. we have liked the best.  Kim and I have slightly different points of view, but we tried to come up with our top five to summarize our time in Europe.

Top 5 Countries

1. Croatia
2. Portugal
3. Germany
4. Austria
5. Bosnia

Top 5 Touristy Sights

1. Castle of the Moors – Sintra, Portugal
2. Vasa Museum – Stockholm, Sweden
3. Auschwitz – Oswiecim, Poland

4. Gaudi – Barcelona, Spain
5. Port tasting – Porto, Portugal

Top 5 Cheapest Countries

1. Bosnia
2. Poland
3.
Croatia
4. Latvia
5. Czech Republic

Top 5 Hostels

1. Hostel Adria – Split, Croatia
2. Lisbon Chillout
5. Dubrovnik Backpackers Club
3. Granada Homestay
4. Home – Valencia, Spain

Top 5 Cities

1. Berlin
2. Prague
3. Porto
4. Budapest
5. Barcelona

Top 5 Food Cities

1. Berlin
2. Barcelona
3. Munich
4. Budapest
5. Madrid

Top 5 Beers

1. Augustiner Edelstoff
2. Pilsner Urquell

3.
Budweiser Budvar
4. Super Bock
5. Carlsburg

Our cab is coming in 15 minutes.  Wish us luck in the Middle East.

We will be hitting up Turkey, flying to Egypt, and crossing overland to Jordan.  I’m sure we will have a post on our Top 5 camels or falafel next time.  Dovidjenja!

October 2, 2010

It’s a Shore Thing

It’s a Shore Thing

It’s tough to move on sometimes.

We had high hopes for Dalmatia after speaking with our fellow travelers. I was  looking forward to the crystal clear water, good food,  beautiful mountains, and relaxing beaches.  It was going to be hard for Croatia to top itself after the beauty of the Plitvice Lakes, but I was willing to give it a shot. After spending almost a month in Croatia, I can safely say that the entire country is worthy of a massive thumbs up.

We planned on 10 relaxing days or so on the Dalmatian coast, and they were…at first.  Our tentative route included working our way south from Zadar to Dubrovnik, island hoping along the way.

Clark found us a great hostel only 30 minutes outside of Split that I absolutely fell in love with. Hostel Adria is an amazing place run by Sanja and her wonderful family. They definitely know what travelers like.

Who needs Corona - Split, Croatia

The hostel’s common room leads onto a cute porch with grape and fig branches hanging down. When you emerge from the shaded archway,  you find yourself right in front of the Adriatic Sea.  The hostel’s sea-side patio is equipped with beach chairs, a diving board,  ladder, snorkle supplies, and lots of cute kittens roaming about. Get yourself a few beers, snacks from the market, fresh figs, and a good (electronic) book. What more could you want?

We often snacked from the fig tree outside our window.  We were only familiar with the Newton variety, so we had no idea what to expect.  When fresh, I can only describe them as a slightly milder and sweeter pomegranate, but they taste much different after drying.

Fresh figs - Split, Croatia

Fresh figs - Split, Croatia

The room we stayed in made me love Hostel Adria even more. The place wasn’t fully booked when we arrived, so Sanja upgraded us to a private room with a balcony overlooking the sea with no extra charge. The view was great, the weather was great, and the place was beautiful. Plus, it had a kitchen! Needless to say, we extended our reservation as did nearly every other guest.

Hostel Adria - Split, Croatia

The inhabitants of this little coastal town are mostly friendly fishermen who cook outside on the weekends with their family and friends. There was always the sound of people laughing, water splashing, children playing, and boats motoring by. Just a short walk up or down the road were little rocky beaches with boats strung up near the piers or decaying on the land. Every home had figs drying on their patios and clothes blowing on the balconies. It was a charming place.

Hostel Adria - Split, Croatia

The hostel was close to a tiny little market manned by an older lady who spoke little to no English. It was a well-stocked little room with pretty much everything a person could want. It was also fun to try to communicate how many slices of salami we wanted. There was a pizza delivery place to call if we didn’t feel like cooking– very respectable and delivered right to our beach chairs.

We cooked several meals in our private kitchen. We spent most of our five days in our bathing suits or pajamas, lounging on the balcony. I would venture downstairs once in a while to make a cup of tea, or jump in the water to cool off. It was always our plan to head into Split and see the city for the day, but we just couldn’t pull ourselves away from our little seaside home.

The very best part was that we got all this for under $50 per day.  I would never have guessed you could find a private room right on the Mediterranean (plus free breakfast) for this cheap.

We even had plenty of socializing. We met many people during our stay such as Adam and Michael and several people we continued to bump into in Dubrovnik and throughout Bosnia. There was also a very nice Turkish guy named Efe who offered to let us stay with him when head to Istanbul on October 4. We relaxed in the evenings chatting with Canadians, Aussies, Ukranians, Germans, and Americans about traveling, politics, and culture.

It’s amazing how fast you can become attached to a place. It almost felt like our home. We were sad to say goodbye to the beautiful hostel when our five nights were up, but we knew we needed to move on.

We stayed in Split for a night and then headed to the islands. Split and the island of Hvar are both beautiful, but all the tourists and higher prices in Hvar detracted a bit from the charm.  In Split it was great to wander through Diocletian’s Palace and think of the centuries of history that have passed across the same cobblestones that are under your feet.  It was a very laid back and livable city. There are a few historic sights to see, but it is mostly a place to relax, get some Surf ‘n’ Fries, watch the ships come and go, shop, and meet people.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but our lazy days at Hostel Adria were the calm before the storm…

On our first morning in Hvar, our MacBook suddenly crashed. We were stuck on an island with only two ferries per day back to the mainland. Unfortunately, we had to skip the rest of our  island hopping to deal with the computer issue.  That is a long story, so look for Clark’s dedicated post on this issue.

After deciding on a chaotic game plan for the computer, we realized that nothing could be done over the weekend, so why not kick back? Back to Hostel Adria, of course!

Hostel Adria - Split, Croatia

We spent two more nights and played a very unsuccessful game of Sheepshead with a Canadian, French Canadian, and German.  After that failed miserably, we ended up playing a word game that ended up being pretty fun despite limited English skills amongst our group.

The next day, Clark headed north on the repair mission, and I made my way down to Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik is the place for boating tourists in Dalmatia. A different massive cruise ship or two were in the harbor every single night. We stayed in another family run hostel, Dubrovnik Backpackers Club.  Guests here arrive to the wonderful smell of food cooking in the kitchen, a welcome drink, and friendly owner giving lots of great information about the buses, the sites, and Dubrovnik’s history with the Ottoman Empire. (He admitted to me the next morning that he talked so much the night before because he was a little drunk.) His wife cooks, chats with the guests, and remembers their names!  Their sons help run the hostel and take people out on excursions.  You can’t find a more charming and friendly family!

Old Town - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik is especially impressive at night.  With the towering city walls, you can see why the city was never taken by invaders. But, it was not our favorite stop on the coast.  There are a few too many cruise ships filling old town with tour groups during the day.  They do, however, have some great rocky beaches with the same crystal clear water that we’ve grown to love in Croatia and good snorkeling, kayaking, diving, rafting, etc.  We spent our last days in Croatia soaking up the sun and kayaking Dubrovnik’s coast with some fun-loving British blokes “on holiday”.

Copacabana Beach + Kindle - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Our time in Croatia was exactly what we wanted it to be (minus the computer trouble).   I highly recommend a visit here.  You’ll also learn a lot about the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990’s (which is also for a later post). The people are very willing to share their stories.  The Balkans is an extremely underrated region, and it was a great month.  I hope we can make it over again someday.


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