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Rock in the Abkhazia - Progress on the Unrecognized Countries List

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Old May 8, 17, 4:29 pm
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Another great report!

Be honest, you job comes with a top secret clearance!

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Old May 9, 17, 11:15 am
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Originally Posted by Duck1981 View Post
Be honest, you job comes with a top secret clearance!
You know what they say. I could tell you, but...
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Old May 9, 17, 12:36 pm
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Originally Posted by Duck1981 View Post
Another great report!

Be honest, you job comes with a top secret clearance!

I'm the one with the cleara...oh god I've said too much.
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Old May 10, 17, 11:58 am
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Old May 11, 17, 2:46 pm
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V. Abkhazia to Sochi by car and flight to Moscow with Rossiya Airlines

Woke up around 8am, since we wanted to be at breakfast at 830 right when it opened. We had asked our driver to meet us at 9am, and hoped he would be on time. Well, when we got to breakfast he was already there, and it was the same driver who brought us from Sochi two days prior. I guess he changed his mind and decided to make the trip after all! I never did ask him why he changed his mind, as he'd likely had to leave Sochi very early in order to come get us.

Quick breakfast with him waiting, and I noticed he was chatting with the lady at the front desk. She had kindly already explained to him we needed to make a quick stop at the Ministry of Repatriation on the way out of town to get the visa, and he was ok with that. On the way, I think we almost got hit two or three times, which launched him into a long tirade about the quality of drivers in Abkhazia. Found the ministry by 905a, and luckily they were already open.

Found the room where visas were issued, and there was no wait. We were invited in, the good bureaucrat started writing down all of our information, asked if we would pay together, and then asked for a credit card - never telling us the amount. Based on information I found online, they usually keep your passport, tell you how much the visa is, and then you have to go a couple blocks away to the bank to pay for it. Seems now, as long as you pay with credit card, you can pay on the spot. One problem, I told him, American credit cards won't work in Abkhazia. He insisted on trying, and it went through no problem on the first try. All told, we were maybe there five minutes, and left with shiny new Abkhazia visas (which incidentally, were never checked after all.)

Not much to say about the drive to the border. We'd made most of the drive twice already, and it was completely uneventful this morning as well.

Got to the border, and were sent out of Abkhazia without much more than a 5 second glance at our passports. Same routine as before on the Russia side. Driver takes the car through, and we walk over to the passenger processing building and queue in line. I went first, and after a few questions from the junior-looking FSB agent (clearly stated on his uniform) he asked me to go have a seat and wait. A few minutes later, Ian got the same treatment. Now, entering Russia from an unrecognized country on a US passport probably isn't something they see every day, so I figured we were just waiting for a more senior agent to check his work. This was confirmed 10 minutes later when a guy with more stars on his uniform came in, handed us our passports, and said thank you for waiting. Just like that, we were in.

One note: Russia does <strong>not</strong> stamp you in or out at this border, so there is no documentation of your visit to Abkhazia. Similarly, Abkhazia does not paste the visa in your passport, and they do not stamp your passport. Thus, no problems with getting into Georgia later.

Back in Sochi, and a minute later we drove past some of the Olympics stadiums:



Made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, and check-in was a relative breeze as well. Unfortunately, the Aeroflot agent was having absolutely none of me, and insisted my rolling bag was going to be checked today. Decided not to fight it too hard, and just go with it. After grabbing my first decent coffee in a couple of days, we decided to sit down for some lunch before the flight. Delicious borshch with fresh garlic cloves and meat and a dark russian beer:



After that, it was through security, where they had the best giftshop ever. I wish I'd been thinking a bit clearer, because I definitely would have bought a few more things. I mean, check out these t-shirts:



Shapkas, magnets, and even strangely Philadelphia Flyers magnets for some reason. Because...Russia!



I picked up a couple of magnets for my fridge:



Unfortunately, Ian got the last one of these:



We got to the gate just as they were boarding the buses to our plane. For some reason, they had subbed in a 777 on this route a week before this flight, and based on the seatmap online and the buses, it didn't look like it was even close to a full flight today!

Aeroflot flight 6552 operated by Rossiya
Sochi/Adler, Russia (AER) to Moscow Vnukovo, Russia (VKO)
Depart 14:10, Arrive 16:30, Flight Time: 2:20
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration EI-UNP, Manufactured 1998, Seat 61A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 35,053
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,412,030


The plane was parked at an international gate, which is apparently why we had to take a bus to it. When we got there, Putin's leopard friend was smiling at us:



Last row of the plane! I had no idea row numbers even went up this high!



Yup, it was definitely a light load today, way under half full, and in the back there was pretty much nobody except us!



Goodbye Sochi!



Good view of the Olympic venues as we flew out over the Black Sea:



Only water and a "snack" were offered. Still not sure what this was - one was some sort of chocolate meringue thing, and the other was vanilla.



Uneventful flight, and with all the space it was almost a pleasant flight as well.

Meow, our plane saying goodbye to us in Moscow:



After retrieving my bag (which thanks to the elite bagtag actually did come off the plane first) I found the best cafe ever. Coffee and Beer House! My two favourite things (excluding champagne) in one place! We had to stop while waiting on the next Aeroexpress train to the city to arrive.



After a quick espresso and beer, it was off on the train to enjoy our one night in Moscow!
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Old May 13, 17, 11:50 pm
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VI. Overnight in Moscow, Moscow to Frankfurt with SWISS and Lufthansa, overnight Fran

After a quick coffee and beer, we headed down to the Aeroexpress train. It had already been a really long day and I was tired, so decided to spring the extra $10 or so for the business class car, and it turned out there were only 3 people in the whole car. Sure, it's only like a 30 minute ride, but it was nice to be able to relax and enjoy it.

I had made the mistake of wearing shorts since it was over 70F when we left Abkhazia, but in Moscow it was 35F and freezing cold. After a short metro transfer, we had a 10 minute or so walk to our hotel, the St. Regis, and it was definitely a frigid walk. I'm still amazing not a single babushka came up to me and chastised me for being poorly dressed for the weather!

Check-in was quick and polite, and since both rooms had been booked under my name they were good enough to upgrade both of us to very nice one bedroom suites - can't complain about that at all! Doing 200+ nights with Starwood last year is definitely paying off with much nicer upgrades than I'm used to receiving. Unfortunately it was going to just be a relatively short overnight and we wouldn't really have time to enjoy the room, but it was nice nonetheless.

After dropping bags and putting on warmer clothes, we headed out for a walk. First, the obligatory Red Square and St. Basil's Cathedral shot - something about the grey cloudy weather gave the perfect mood to the square:



We wandered around trying to find a shop Ian knew that sold wonderfully kitschy Putin and Russia souvenirs, but apparently they'd gone out of business in the last year. We headed back to the GUM department store for some fantastic pistachio ice cream, and deciding we were hungry decided to check out Stolovaya #57 - a cafeteria in the department store modeled after an old school Soviet cafeteria...except with much better variety of food!

Vegetable salad with beetroot, peas, carrots....fresh fruit, stuffed bell pepper, and a chicken cutlet with mushroom sauce. Delicious and filling...and very authentically Russian...all this for under $10.



After eating we wandered through the grocery store in GUM, and in the alcohol section they were selling Kalashnikov brand vodka....complete in a plastic kalashnikov bottle....only in Russia!



After dinner, we headed to a small bar I'd been told about, not terribly far from Red Square, called Rules Taproom. A friend had told me they had one of the best craft beer menus in the world, but that we should expect to feel "tragically old and uncool." We definitely brought the average age up by quite a bit, but at least we didn't look too out of place with the extremely tattooed and hipster crowd. Plus, an amazing taplist and great taps! A hockey trophy, brass knuckles, a grenade, a wrench, and lots of other cool stuff. Can't wait to go back!



Back to the hotel and bed by a reasonable hour, because we wanted to be sure to be able to hit the St. Regis' amazing breakfast buffet before heading to the airport. Flight was at 9am, and it can take up to an hour to get to the airport, so with a 630a opening time for the buffet we knew we would be cutting it close.

Great night of sleep, at the buffet right when it opened, and it was worth the wait! Smoked salmon and whitefish, caviar, blue cheese, pain au chocolate, and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. With a pot of tea, of course!



Took nearly an hour for our Uber to get to the airport, but was definitely the quickest option. We did make it with plenty of time, but unfortunately I lost Ian at immigration, because his gates were at a different checkpoint, and clogged with loads of Central Asians who they were taking forever to process. I, however, made it through quite quickly and even had five minutes to stop in the SWISS lounge for some water and snack. Unfortunately, none of the shops sold more Putin magnets.



Fortunately, the lounge was only a two minute walk from my gate, so nice and easy for boarding which was right on time.

SWISS flight 1325
Moscow, Domodedovo (DME) to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH)
Depart 9:05, Arrive 11:40, Flight Time: 4:35
Airbus A320, Registration HB-IJS, Manufactured 1998, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 36,522
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,413,399


Something about the welcome screens on SWISS always makes me feel relaxed and multicultural...a good feeling in this increasingly isolationist and polarized world:



Pushback...the wonderfully kitschy lime green S7 livery and a Ural Airlines plane:



Great view of the parked planes including a couple of Tupolevs on takeoff. Those S7 planes really stand out!



Not a bad breakfast for a relatively short regional flight! Delicious Muesli, reasonable omelette, perfectly buttery and flaky croissant (unlike the ones usually served on US domestic flights which are more like glorified crescent rolls), some fresh fruit and cheese. I decided to make it a champagne brunch, and the fantastic crew insisted I have a second class...and pushed it on the guy across the aisle too. "If you waste the rest of the bottle, it will be a real pity!" Who can argue with that logic!



Touchdown in a very snowy Zurich...yes, this is late April!



Headed through immigration, and decided while I was at it to leave the secured area. As usual when dealing with Swiss border guards, they asked me a million questions, acting as if I was the most suspicious character they'd ever met. All Schengen/Swiss border controls are NOT equal - despite the intent. Why would you fly Zurich to Frankfurt? Why not just fly Moscow to Frankfurt? Why are you in Europe so much? Why do you spend so much time in Russia recently? Why is there a stamp from Somalia in your passport, on and on for nearly 15 minutes.

Headed to Starbucks for the most expensive Starbucks in the world (nearly $8 for an Americano - I think the only place more expensive might be Copenhagen...although even that might not compete these days.) On that note, any readers interested in adding to my database of Starbucks prices around the world hit me up. I track the price of a grande drip coffee (with tax) if you have a chance to look at your local shop.

After heading back through security, I headed to the SWISS lounge, where it was time for a local beer and a snack:



One more local beer, and some Gummibärchen....because...it was still snowing and my Lufthansa flight was delayed nearly two hours:



Finally, nearly two hours late, our flight was ready for boarding, so I headed off to the gate, where our Lufthansa plane was just pulling in....looks like we'll be almost 2.5 hours late in the end! How un-German!

Lufthansa flight 1191
Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH) to Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
Depart 14:40, Arrive 15:45, Flight Time: 1:05
Airbus A320, Registration D-AIPY, Manufactured 1991, Seat 6F
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 36,699
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,413,576


On the taxi out, I noticed lots of sleet and ice forming on the window:



We were at the end of the runway, turning onto the active runway to take off, when I also noticed lots of ice/sleet/slush accumulating on the wings. Visions of Air Florida started dancing through my head, and I decided to start ringing the flight attendant call button frantically - probably 10 times in 10 seconds or so. I still don't know if it was me, or a sensor in the cockpit, but the pilot turned off the active runway and announced to us we would need to deice before taking off due to snow moving in as we taxied out. Quite a scary moment!

Once airborne, despite the 50 minute flight time, a small snack was served. Scary sandwich, some fresh fruit, chocolate, and a glass of white wine. Skipped the sandwich, but the rest was quite tasty and impressive service for a short flight. This probably wasn't Lufthansa's best effort with the delay and all, but overall I still was left with a better impression that I usually am in the US. I think the attitude and composure of the crew went a long way towards helping.



Landed in Frankfurt much later than expected, but fortunately was staying at the airport Sheraton. I was met by the general manager at check-in, who let me know that they'd followed up on my previous disappointing stay, and found a room that was extra cool with great air conditioning. I found out later they had blocked the room on both sides of me as well as above and below, and turned the air up full blast in those. A bit unnecessary, but the effort and CRM was super welcome. I'll definitely be staying at this property again.

Headed out to Naiv, my favourite craft beer bar in the area, and enjoyed some delicious beer-braised bacon-wrapped dates:



Along with a reasonably tasty German imperial IPA or three:



With that, it was a quick ride back to the hotel for a bit of sleep. I wanted to make sure to be up early to enjoy what I hoped would be another amazing experience in the Lufthansa first class terminal!
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Old May 14, 17, 1:23 am
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Originally Posted by ironmanjt View Post
Headed out to Naiv, my favourite craft beer bar in the area, and enjoyed some delicious beer-braised bacon-wrapped dates.
Mmmmmmmm, a great new menu idea for the ME3 airlines perhaps.
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Old May 14, 17, 1:29 am
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Originally Posted by DanielW View Post
Mmmmmmmm, a great new menu idea for the ME3 airlines perhaps.
Perhaps you've hit upon a winning recipe for me to finally give the ME3 another go, mate!
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Old May 17, 17, 9:05 pm
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VII. Frankfurt to DC in Lufthansa First

So, a lot of this post is likely going to seem a bit familiar since I did this exact same route just four weeks prior. That trip, however, wasn't the best Lufthansa First has to offer (at least in the air) although it was still a great trip. I was curious to see how this one would compare...and would it satisfy my craving for Lufthansa First for a while.

Rather than get up early, I had a bit of a revelation the night before. Why get up, shower, dress, get sweaty walking to the First Class Terminal when you can just roll out of bed, throw on anything, and walk there and shower...thus gaining nearly 30 minutes of FCT time? That was settled, so all that was needed was to roll out of bed and across the street to Starbucks, have a quick iced coffee, check out, and walk to perhaps my favourite airport terminal in the world. 10 minute walk from the Sheraton, and I was..."home:"



I don't think anyone (except maybe me and a few frequent flier nerds) actually walks to the terminal's lower level entrance, and most get dropped off 0n the "departures" level of the terminal/airport one level up. But, for the few of us who do, Lufthansa has the entrance well-signed:



Took the lift up, quick check-in and when the agent saw my name he seemed to have a flicker of recognition. He still asked if I'd ever been to the terminal before, and when I said yes he escorted me through security, told me to make myself comfortable, and he would be right back.

I'd heard rumour that the limited edition Easter ducks were long gone at this point, and when he came back five minutes later with my boarding pass, he told me "we've been expecting you, and we saved you a special Easter duck knowing you would want one for your collection for sure!" Now if that isn't service, I don't know what is...



I was pretty hungry by this point, so I joined the duck for a breakfast of fresh-squeezed orange juice and some eggs benedict...which was delicious. Not just "airport good" but honestly one of the best eggs benedict that I've had anywhere in the world.



Still not quite full, I decided to be healthy with some of their more "exotic" fruits on the buffet, and had some dragonfruit, mango, and pomegranate...which I promptly offset with a couple of viennoiseries....



I was offered more water, and while Voss may be good enough for Madonna, I requested some Valser still this time. Why? Because with the First Class Terminal's water menu...that's your prerogative!



After breakfast had a nice long shower and just took some time to relax. Sitting around in lounges gets old quickly, so was nice to use up my time this morning productively before it was time to head to the plane. I was the only one in the terminal headed to Chicago today, so the Porsche to the plane was all mine:



Long ride around the airport today, which ended with a nice picture of my rides:



It's always great being the only one to walk from a car to the plane, and see the looks you get from your fellow passengers when boarding

Lufthansa flight 430
Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) to Chicago, O'Hare (ORD)
Depart 10:45, Arrive 12:45, Flight Time: 9:00
Boeing 747-8i, Registration D-ABYP, Manufactured 2014, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 41,043
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,417,020


Upon boarding champagne was quickly offered, and perfection awaited. Special treat today: 1998 Henriot Cuvée des Enchanteleurs. Don't get me wrong, I love airlines that pour Krug and Dom, but there's something extra thoughtful about pouring a slightly more obscure high end champagne. The Sir Winston Churchill on Asiana was memorable, and this Henriot was also a delicious surprise.



Pre-departure amuse bouche of chevre with mandarin...and if I remember right a roasted red pepper sauce.



Up in the air, the table was set, and the usual stellar Lufthansa service provided. I must have smiled because upon commenting it's always nice to see the garlic bread and caviar...



...they made sure to offer an extra-generous portion of caviar today.



Trio of starters: marinated tenderloin of veal with lingonberries, smoked rainbow trout with purple potato salad, and leipziger allelei vegetable salad. The salad was underwhelming, but the other two were fantastic.



Spring onion soup with parmesan cheese and croutons - surprisingly flavourful and tasty!



Time for the main event - decided to go with the fish option today, and the "monkfish in pommery mustard sauce with ginger cucumber and parsley potatoes" was absolutely amazing. I could have done without the potatoes, but the monkfish was delicious.



Here comes the cheese and dessert cart. I don't think anyone does cheese like Lufthansa.



Nice selection, with some sweet biscuits. Fantastic.



How could I resist finishing with an apple strudel and some Johnny Walker Blue?



Ok, one more if you insist...



Somehow, I wasn't tired after all this food, so opted for a double espresso and a couple of movies.



After about five hours of movies, it was time for a pre-landing snack. I was recommended the seafood soup with crawfish tails and chilis and the Spanish meat and cheese plate. Went great with another glass of the delicious Henriot and some pretzel bread.



Quince jelly and my favourite - manchego cheese. Yum.



A couple of scoops of cassis sorbet and another glass of Henriot to finish off an absolutely delightful flight.



They wouldn't let me finish without a couple of chocolates for the road.



All in all, another fantastic flight with Lufthansa that lives up to my expectations as my favourite first class product in the world. It's not the most private seat, it's not the most exotic food, it's not necessarily "big name" champagne, but what it is - to me - is solid in every respect. I know what I'm going to get, and I don't have to wonder if the crew will be good, or what could go wrong today. So, instead of having my Lufthansa fix for a bit, you can believe that I'm looking for another opportunity soon to enjoy it. If I'm lucky, it'll happen this week...

Immigration and customs were a non-event in Chicago with Global Entry, and I was off to Starbucks to try and wake myself up. Seriously America, I leave you alone for a week and you come up with Unicorn Frappucinos? I weep for the future.



I stopped by the United Club. I don't know why. It was depressing. Hot, crowded, and felt like a high school cafeteria. I think I might have lasted five minutes before leaving.

United flight 622
Chicago, O'Hare (ORD) to Washington DC, National (DCA)
Depart 15:00, Arrive 17:55, Flight Time: 1:55
Airbus A320, Registration N432UA, Manufactured 1996, Seat 2E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 41,655
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,418,532


Not much to say here - I think I dozed on and off the whole flight. It was a United domestic flight - there's nothing to get excited about after getting off of Lufthansa first. It's funny how context can really impact things - I'm sure it would have been an exciting and thrilling flight (except for the lack of meal) if it was your first time in domestic first.

I was planning after this trip to stay home for a while, but life had other plans. Next absolutely crazy trip starts in under a week, and let's just call this trip report "One doesn't go to Marrakesh to study - one goes on the way to Western Sahara! Very Nice! I LIKE!"
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Old May 18, 17, 5:25 pm
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Excellent report and photos, thanks for taking the time to post. The return trip looked very nice!
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Old May 19, 17, 10:50 am
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Do you think there was/is any plan to use the Olympic venues currently? I understand that many of the ones in Beijing are in disrepair.
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Old May 19, 17, 11:12 am
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Originally Posted by farbster View Post
Do you think there was/is any plan to use the Olympic venues currently? I understand that many of the ones in Beijing are in disrepair.
They're being used to some degree - they were used for the Formula 1 event a couple weeks back.
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Old May 19, 17, 11:40 am
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Originally Posted by ironmanjt View Post
I don't think anyone (except maybe me and a few frequent flier nerds) actually walks to the terminal's lower level entrance, and most get dropped off on the "departures" level of the terminal/airport one level up.
As a transit passenger, my favourite way of doing the FCT is to go the FCL A first for breakfast, rent a 911, drive around and arrive at the FCT in style. I'd even do it if I didn't have time to take advantage of the full rental period (3 hours). At 99 euros it's so cheap (especially when factoring in the 2000 miles you currently get for it) that it practically pays for itself.
Oh and congratulations on getting the Easter '17 ducky, ironmanjt!
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Old May 19, 17, 11:55 am
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Originally Posted by JohnRain View Post
As a transit passenger, my favourite way of doing the FCT is to go the FCL A first for breakfast, rent a 911, drive around and arrive at the FCT in style. I'd even do it if I didn't have time to take advantage of the full rental period (3 hours). At 99 euros it's so cheap (especially when factoring in the 2000 miles you currently get for it) that it practically pays for itself.
Oh and congratulations on getting the Easter '17 ducky, ironmanjt!
I'm going to have to make a point of doing this the next time. How convenient is the rental counter/pickup? Unfortunately this transit will only be 80 minutes from the US, so not enough time....even if it does clear.
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Old May 22, 17, 3:11 am
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Originally Posted by ironmanjt View Post
I'm going to have to make a point of doing this the next time. How convenient is the rental counter/pickup? Unfortunately this transit will only be 80 minutes from the US, so not enough time....even if it does clear.
The rental process is a pain in the derrière and I strongly suggest you outsource it to your Cent concierge. That's what I did and it worked perfectly.
You'll love it!
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