A Travellerspoint blog

The Joys of French Campsites

Off the beaten track is best!

all seasons in one day 20 °C

The Joys of French Campsites

This has been the fifth week in which O and I have been touring around France- we have been to some beautiful places and we have met some charming people along the way. Must say there is so much to see- and some fantastic places that I am sure have not registered on the usual tourist routes. The best thing has been the pace we have been able to enjoy France-the motor home has given us the freedom to take our time and really explore. Some of the campsites we have stayed in have been great- often in or near the centre of town, often with a fantastic view, near a river and with private, tree and hedge enclosed sites.

Getting to the campsites is no longer a drama. After the first two weeks we began to come to understand French road signs and the directions they face... not an easy thing to master. So now we can easily get to our camping destinations. We are able to program ‘Rog’ (the name we have given the Tom-Tom) to get us to small villages, so to avoid the motorway and as a result have come across many beautiful French villages and towns off the major roads.

From one campsite in France run by an English couple, I managed to get a book titled ‘Les 100 ‘Plus Beaux Detours de France’. The book features places usually missed by most tourists as they are small towns and usually fairly isolated or off the beaten track. It has been a very useful book as we have used it quite a bit in our wanderings. This is exactly what Orlando and I want to see; the more remote and picturesque places not too overrun by tourists. Some of the campsites near these places have been the best ones in which we have stayed.

So far the most notable places we have seen along the west coast and central areas of France has been the following towns- Chateau- Gontier (which I am keen to revisit), Perigueux a beautiful ancient town- with very tiny cobbled streets and pretty architecture, Gourdon in the Perigord region, Montreuil-sur-Mer, where Orlando stayed thirty years ago at a youth hostel when he was driving a motor bike from Australia to the UK, Beynac with an imposing chateaux on the hill top, La Souterraine with its medieval architecture, and the list continues.

As the weather has improved in the last two weeks we both have been keen to wander around and really see the village / town as soon as we arrive. We arrive at the campsite, check out a suitable site, put on the electricity to keep the fridge nice and cold, grab a hat and our wallets and go! First stop is to go to the tourist office for a map and head of the centre of the town.

Today we arrived in a great campsite in Millau a very pretty town surrounded by rocky outcrops which is very near the famous Viaduc- a beautiful cable stay bridge which Orlando was very keen to view. The campsite is right near the centre of the village and has a river flowing along side and lots of tall trees; a very pretty and very quiet campsite. The town itself has beautiful architecture, tree lined streets, lots of cafes and restaurants and interesting shops!

The one thing Orlando and I have noticed is that we are by far the youngest campers on the sites- as the holiday season in France hasn’t started as yet, we have seen lots of Dutch, English and French ‘Grey Nomads’- families with small children have not yet started to arrive. Everyone is very polite and quiet and by 10pm everyone at the campsite is tucked inside their motor homes- so a good night’s sleep is almost guaranteed. (There has only been one night back in Nante where noisy neighbours kept O awake for a few hours and since then we have not heard boo from anyone.)

The major cities we have enjoyed seeing have been Nantes and Rouen. We have avoided going to larger cities as both Orlando and I are not particularly interested in seeing them. We are however determined to see two cities whilst in France- Paris and Lyon. We are heading to Lyon to visit a friend of Orlando’s- Nadine who he has known 40 years and hopefully we will be able to catch up with her. Orlando has told me how beautiful Lyon is, so we will spend a week there. We may invest in a couple of bikes whilst we are there so that we can explore the larger places by bike as well as by foot. Of course we both are very keen to revisit Paris and will see all the major museums and galleries.

Until then we are going to continue to visit the smaller places around France and savour the French country side. Would totally recommend exploring France this way!

AF

Posted by AnnaFisher 23:16 Archived in France Comments (0)

Batteries and Birthdays

sunny 28 °C

Tuesday 11/5

Well, if I was plonked into France without knowing where I was, I’d be hard pushed to admit that this place has nice weather. Talk about changeable! Yesterday we had a lovely warm sunny day here in Bordeaux; but once again today it’s grey and raining (although I confess that the sun is doing its damnedest to push through).

Ann and I are in a very nice clean well-run municipal campsite called Bordeaux Le Lac situated, as one might expect, next to a large lake. It’s also next to Bordeaux’s expo centre, a vast area dedicated to large exhibitions and the like. On Sunday we arrived at midday to the distant vocal ejaculations of a chap on the centre’s PA system, excitedly working the crowd.

Surprisingly we had little trouble finding the campsite thanks to Rob’s assistance (the chap at the Les Vigères campsite), and arrived safe and sound albeit under a grey rainy sky to this nice site. The wi-fi has been down for the past two days which has been very inconvenient, as both Ann and I really need to do some work on-line. The reception promised that it will be back on-line by this afternoon, but we’ll believe it when we see it.

Yesterday, our first full day in Bordeaux was spent pleasantly wandering through the centre of town (there’s a bus/tram service between us and the centre). With the sun out all day, the city was very appealing, with ultra-modern trams running alongside majestic French architecture.

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It’s now the morning of the 15th. We stayed longer than expected at the Bordeaux campsite for reasons that will become apparent. We got our wi-fi connection, although it had to be accessed at the main office because they couldn’t get the network out to the vehicle sites. As compensation the usage was free to campers.

We had a second day looking around town enjoying the wonderful architecture and soaking up the French charm; our last day was to be devoted to washing and sorting out our on-line business. It turned out however that our ‘last’ day was actually our penultimate. We got up early on the 13th to a gloriously sunny sky, showered, put on freshly laundered clothes and enjoyed our last tea and toast breakfast in Bordeaux. We chucked out the rubbish, I turned off the gas, disconnected the electrical cable and did the final checks. We sat in the cab, and I turned on the ignition – nothing! I rested my head against the steering wheel and groaned.

For the rest of the day I remained in a less-than-happy mood as I tried to sort out the van’s problem. The battery was flat, but fortunately the camp had a hand-held battery booster – it doesn’t charge your battery, it’s just essentially a mobile spare. Once we had juice we took off looking for an auto shop or mechanics (the campsite let us take the battery booster with us, which was very nice). The only auto shop in the area was closed (as everything is in France when you need it). Ann seemed more interested in the clothes shops in the adjacent shopping centre; so my anxiety at having a potentially inert motorhome became more and more evident.

Encouragingly, we found that when we returned to the van, the motor kicked over fine. However it was getting late in the day and we decided to return for another night at the campsite and leave again early the next day.

Full of optimism, we turned the ignition key on the next morning – nothing! By this time I was hungry to beat this beast; so I told Ann that we were going to get the problem fixed TODAY, and that any suggestion of retail therapy would be met with the direst retribution. We went back to the Autoshop, bought ourselves our own booster (60 Euros), then headed off for our next destination.

Half an hour later at a small town called Cleon, Ann wanted to stop to replenish her wine supplies. We saw a likely shopping centre; and she pointed out an auto mechanics in the same block. I spoke to one of the guys there and asked his advice. While he was happy to test the battery for us, it turned out that the thing is locked away under the driver’s seat, totally inaccessible except by removing the seat.

He advised going back north to Liborne (thankfully only half an hour away) to the Ford Dealer. I rang ahead and got an appointment for 2:30. We drove there arriving just after midday. Everything in France closes between twelve and two; so we parked the van in the enclosure, took out our baguette, cheeses, jambon cru, and roquette and enjoyed a leisurely lunch under friendly skies.

The mechanics were great; they replaced the battery within 45 minutes, handed us a bill for nearly 200 Euros; and we headed east.

It had been a long arduous day; so I really should have kept the driving down to about an hour. However I pushed it a bit far, and by 6pm the campsite I’d found in the book seemed to have evaporated. Others in the vicinity of Coux-et-Bigaroque (where do they find these names?) seemed to be closed, even though the book claimed they were open from April.

I was tired and Ann was ratty. We finally returned to a site that Ann had pointed out an hour earlier very nearby in the village of le-Buisson-de-Cadouin; and here we are. Secluded, wooded and right alongside a mellifluous Dordogne river. We’ve decided to stay here for a few days, to take a holiday from our holiday!

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Well, it’s been an eventful day. It’s the 19th of May, Ann’s birthday, and we’ve just returned from a nice meal out (more of that in a moment). Our campsite surrounds a rugby pitch; and as we returned from the restaurant in the semi-darkness we noticed the flashing lights of emergency vehicles on the pitch. What’s more there was a white helicopter sitting next to the vehicles. What’s going on we thought? We’d no sooner parked up as the helicopter roared into life. Ann and I ran to the edge of the pitch on the opposite side to where the action was and watched the chopper lift off and disappear into the night sky. Must find out what happened tomorrow!

We must be one of only three or four campers on this site (the hoards start arriving in about a month or so), so we’ve had a very peaceful week here, and the weather the last couple of days has been sunny and warm – at last. We’re off tomorrow – in some ways it’ll be a shame because we’ve rather enjoyed not doing much.

Having said that we haven’t really been idle. We’ve used this site - Le Pont du Vicq - as a central point from which we’ve explored some of the interesting sites in the region. We’ve seen Sarlat-le-Canedan, a wonderfully preserved mediaeval town, spoilt only by the tourist trade. We visited the Gouffre de Promeyssac, a fascinating limestone cave created over millions of years. And we’ve been to Lascaux II, a perfect reconstruction of the Cro Magnon caves made famous by the 17,000 year old paintings. The original site has been closed to the public for almost thirty years because of the effects of humidity on the paintings.

It’s a lovely area the Dordogne, with something to see in nearly every village. Tonight Ann and I went to the ‘Restaurant de l’Abbaye’ in Cadouin, so called because it’s smack bang next to an abbey. The village is quaint like so many in this area; and I thought it would be a nice idea to take Ann out for a meal at a place with a little bit of traditional French ambience.

Now French restaurants generally have two forms of dining – à la carte and fixed price – no surprises there. However unlike at home where the fixed price menu is a very pared-down selection of foods for the cash-strapped , the French ‘prix fixe’ is a legitimate option to the à la carte. They have a range of prices too, and both the entrée and main meals had three options apiece. Ann and I chose the 24 euro fixed price one which had five courses. Boy, was it good value! We’re always interested to compare prices with Oz; so we thought we’d play a game - ‘Guess what the meal would cost back home’. Now at current exchange rates, 24 euros is about $34; so we had a baseline to work from.

Our first course was ‘potage’, a decent-sized bowl of creamy seafood soup infused with garlic – delicious (although it could have been hotter). Our guess for the same thing in Oz was about $12. Next was a fabulous terrine and salad – delicious – Oz price, $15. Subtotal - $27. For main course, I had the fillet of cod in a creamy sauce with rice, a portion of vegetable frittata and salad; Ann had a fillet of lamb with crispy round pan-fried chips, the frittata and salad (it turns out that Ann’s fixed-price meal was only $21 because she asked for the lamb which was only on the à la carte menu) Oz price, we guessed around $25. Subtotal - $52.

Next a selection of three cheeses from a board that had at least 15 cheeses on it – everything from blue-vein to camembert, Port Salut to Emmental. Whaddya reckon, at home about twelve bucks? Subtotal now $64. Finally, a choice of desserts – chocolate mousse, crème brulée, floating island, strawberries with cream or ice cream and two or three others I can’t recall, We had the strawberries with cream – the cream was sweet and lightly infused with liqueur – yummy. I can’t see us paying less than ten or eleven dollars at home for that, can you?

All up I think the meal in Australia would have cost about $75 each, a far cry from the $34 we paid. Oh, I forgot to mention that we had a very nice Sauvignon Blanc for 14 euros – about $20 – easily two-thirds what you’d pay back home.

I came away from the restaurant feeling very pleased with myself. We’d eaten a huge dinner of good quality for next to nothing. My, how things have changed. Once upon a time if you’d come to Europe, you need to take out a second mortgage to eat out. I dare say you’d still pay a lot for a meal in highly touristy places like Paris; but this small village wasn’t exactly a tourist backwater. Of the six or seven tables occupied while we were there, at least half were booked by tourists. If anything you’d expect to be paying over the odds.

The upshot is Ann had a really nice birthday and she got her meal at a French restaurant.

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Incidentally, the helicopter was needed for a medical emergency. A Dutch diner in a nearby restaurant had a heart attack (apparently he’ll be OK). It seems the rugby ground is used by the helicopter for serious medical incidents within a 15kms radius.

ON

Posted by OrlandoN 01:33 Archived in France Comments (0)

Life Goes On

Reflections on a week of sadness

all seasons in one day

8 May

My mum emailed me two days ago to say that Tony had died last Sunday. It was a blow to me as I’d only seen him a fortnight before. He didn’t look great but I had no idea he was on death’s door. I think I was upset by it more because it was with such absurd suddenness that my own dear dad died eighteen months ago. I’m just glad that I decided to make time to see Tony before going to France.

We’re in a small town called Abzac just east of Bordeaux on the type of day we haven’t seen in a week. It’s warm and sunny and everything the last few days haven’t been. God, it’s been bleak. Nothing but rain, grey skies and mud. And three days ago we were driving through a small town called St. Hilaire-les-Places which was blanketed in snow!

After leaving the campsite with the hot showers (aaah, the memories!) we drove on in the rain through Limoges, a pleasant looking town in spite of the gloomy weather. We didn’t stop (couldn’t see the point really; can’t enjoy a place when your socks are damp), and late in the afternoon we turned up at a rather muddy and windswept site called Les Vigères close to a town with the unpronounceable name of St-Yrieux-la-Perche. I squelched up to the closed office and a sign prompted me to the house next door. A door opened and a large bearded chap with a friendly face appeared. I said, “Excusez-moi, il y a place pour notre camping-car cette nuit?” He answered in French but with such an Anglo-Saxon lilt that I had to ask him if he spoke English. He said, “I am English”, and the rest was easy. Rob was his name and he’d started the campsite with his wife Shirley twenty years ago – they were a nice couple.

We stayed at the camp for three nights in the hope that the weather would lift (it didn’t, except for the first afternoon). We needed the break because on the second day we just rested, washed clothes and relaxed. On the first full day we were there, it was suggested by Rob that we take a drive back up north to a town called Oradour-sur-Glane, the site of an atrocious massacre of villagers during World War II. Curiously, George back at the Pluckley campsite had actually suggested we go there; but we’d forgotten the name, and so didn’t think more about it.

We drove there on the first sunny afternoon we’d seen for a week. The original town (and it was sizeable – it had had a tram running through the place) had been razed to the ground by the Nazis; they massacred all but half a dozen inhabitants (around 650); and it was all a reprisal for the town’s associations with the French Resistance and their hampering of the German war machine. The town was now a Martyr Village, a memorial to the townsfolk who died; it’s a tourist attraction. There’s a new Oradour alongside the original town, a quiet pleasant little place; it’s probably just my imagination, but it has an air of resignation about it, as though the new town can’t shake off the spectre of its former self. The Martyr Village is a place everyone should visit if they want to be reminded of the horrors of war, rather than turning remembrance days into a circus like we do back in Oz with Anzac Day.

Today, Saturday, we left Les Vigères heading south in the hope that finally the weather would lift. We stopped at Perigueux (Perigord), a great little town with a real Mediterranean feel about it. Little winding cobbled streets and buildings built with the kind of light-coloured stone that would give a place a feeling of warmth when the sun was out. The sun incidentally was trying hard to do just that, but the clouds just wouldn’t relent. At least we’d left the rain behind.

We arrived in our present campsite late this afternoon with the sun blazing through our van windows. Tomorrow we’ll drive the 30km into Bordeaux, hopefully install ourselves in a campsite there, and spend two or three days checking out what was described by Rob as a beautiful city.

ON

Posted by OrlandoN 02:27 Archived in France Comments (0)

Raining Chats et Chiens

all seasons in one day

4th May

Bloody hell, the weather’s terrible! It started clouding over two days ago when we were in St-Cyr (more of that later) and since then it’s been damp, grey, with howling wind and a cold that cuts through you. It’s May in central France for Christ’s sake! A lady in a millinery shop this morning explained it as ‘La lune Rousse'. God knows what it means, but apparently every year for a fortnight until the 12th or 13th May, it’s like this all over Central and Southern France (they don’t mention THAT in the brochures!). We’re tucked up snug and warm in the motorhome; but walking outside means getting an ill wind up yer kilt!

We were still in Nantes when I last wrote, and I’d move on except that the second day we were in this very nice town (the clouds were already starting to gather), we went to see the ‘Machines of l’Ile’. Never heard of it before, but let’s face it, the only news we get in Oz concerns footy players having punch-ups in pubs, or watching that flatulent git of a Prime Minister - Kevin Rudd - trying to play with the big boys on the world stage!

Anyway, these ‘Machines’ were the brainchild of a chap in Nantes who wanted to animate mechanical animals in such a way as to meld mechanical engineering and a Jules Verne imagination to produce both an educational and an entertainment spectacle. Check out the machines of Nantes or the ‘Elephant of Nantes’ on Wikipedia or YouTube – I’m sure they’ll be there. We both rode on the fabulous giant elephant!

Moving on from Nantes, we planned to head east and south in order to end up in the centre of France (Ann wants to check out a property there). On the way we stopped for a couple of days R & R at a nice campsite called ‘Fleur du Lac’ in a place called St-Cyr near Poitier. We relaxed, washed our laundry and spent some much needed time on the internet. The weather started closing in as I mentioned before; so it’s just as well we got our washing done.

What is it about the French and hot water? The water in all the campsite showers is tepid – it’s awful. If they’re trying to save energy, they already do so by having those push-button taps that switch off after a few seconds (you have to keep pressing them if you don’t want to freeze your bits off!) The French already run 80% of the country on nuclear power; so I can’t see pollution emission as an excuse for having cold showers. No, I think it’s because the French don’t wash too often; so they don’t care about the temperature of the water (in reality we think it's because it's the low season - still no excuse).

This mini rant is an important preamble to the next bit which concerns the site we moved on to next. We arrived late yesterday afternoon under miserable grey skies to a rather uninspiring looking campsite just outside of La Souterrain. There was no-one at the gate, no indication of the office hours, and a rather sad assortment of old caravans around. On such a day we both groaned and wondered what to do next. We decided to install ourselves on a plot, plug ourselves in to the electrics and wait to see if anyone turned up. They eventually did; and we battened down the hatches for a blustery old night.

We were actually very cosy in the van; and the next morning we got up on a cold windy day to do the usual chores – have breakfast, tidy up, and have … showers – eeeek! Well, they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – the showers were hot, hot, hot – so hot in fact that you had to add cold water to stop yourself being scalded. It was bliss!

The weather was so unspeakable that we couldn’t do anything outside; so we decided to drive thirty minutes up the road to a tiny village called Lavaud to check out a house for sale that Ann had seen many months previously advertised on the Net. We’d been trying to get in touch with the managing agent without much success. When we finally heard from her, all she could give us was the address and a promise to try to get permission from the tenant to view the property. The latter proved difficult; so we took a chance by knocking on the door when we found the house. We were ushered in by the sitting tenants, a married couple (he English, she Vietnamese) with a young son and we had a very pleasant couple of hours chatting and looking around the place. He, Alan, told us that eventually they wanted to buy the house, but would be prepared to rent for up to three years until they could afford to buy it from whoever owned it.

Ann walked away deciding to think about it over the next few weeks.

That’s it really for now. Tomorrow we’ll be heading south and west again in the direction of Bordeaux. But before I go, I’ve been meaning to add – there’s a place north of Rouen – here’s a name to conjure with – called ‘Pissy Poville’! Isn’t that great? Caroma should move their world headquarters there!

ON

Posted by OrlandoN 02:20 Archived in France Comments (0)

Getting (hopelessly) Lost in France

Or how a Tom-Tom saved our relationship!

sunny 12 °C

Getting Lost in France.
Or how the TOM-TOM saved our relationship!

According to a book O bought prior to the trip which gives a detailed account of how to survive a European holiday in a motor home, ‘The Driver-Navigator Relationship’ is very important! An extract from the book states ‘The navigator ( i.e. Me!!) studies the maps, discusses the alternatives with the driver, figures out the best route to take, keeps track of mileage and gets the change ready for toll booths, tells the driver ahead of time what signs to look for and what to do when they appear…….the driver (i.e. Orlando) drives.’

All sounds fair and reasonable doesn’t it? France is an advanced country, with good signage. Should be a dream to drive around and navigating around should be a sinch……Well, let me tell you how it really has been! Navigating around France has NOT been an easy task. In fact, after the first day I realised it was beyond me…..

Before we left for our overseas trip, I warned O that I was quite frankly not up to the task as a navigator! Not because I want to sit back and let him do all the work….no not at all. It was because I do not know my left from my right, always take two routes to get to and from a destination and need to turn a road map around in the direction I need to go (not an easy task when one is driving!) To sum it up, I get horribly lost all the time (when I drive somewhere new) and have NO sense of direction.

O used to laugh at these quirks of mine and thought it rather amusing ….. However, after getting very lost in France O no longer feels this way. Yes, I could blame my total lack of map reading as a major fact why we have had so much trouble negotiating around the north of France in the first two weeks of arriving….. but, I need to say this- ‘French road signs! Where on Earth are they pointing?’

To successfully navigate around France, just give me a crystal ball, a sixth sense (i.e the ability to look into the future) and the basic understanding of French road rules and maybe I would stand a chance!

Getting to France was the easy part. We arrived on a sunny day in Calais after catching the Sea France ferry- a short, pleasant trip where we enjoyed a coffee. Orlando and I went straight to the tourist bureau to get a map of the town and discussed with the young woman how to leave Calais and get to our first French camp site. We got some more Euros at the cash machine and as we were both still hungry had a light meal at a café. All good, so far.

Arriving in Calais was easy- leaving Calais was the hard part. It felt like we were caught in a labyrinth. After an hour of driving around and around the city centre we both felt like lab rats caught in a bad experiment. O kept driving whilst I attempted to find the correct roads to leave the city. Our attempts seemed to be thwarted by poor signage, one way streets, road blockages and a very ordinary map of Calais.

Not my idea of bliss……

Both O and I were getting quite fed up at this stage……finally I decided that no matter what- just keep driving straight and we would leave Calais! O took my directions and success! We were finally on our way! Lady Luck must have been smiling on us that day. We headed out of the city and our first stop was Autingues near a town in Ardres. Once we were on the road, we found the campsite without too many dramas (once we worked out the direction of the street signs.)

The campsite was called ‘St Louis’ (not all that French sounding,) but clean, neat and a sight for sore eyes! We decided to brave a walk into the village about 20 minutes away and ventured into an epicerie where we stocked up on some ingredients. Tonight was my night to cook so I whipped up a fried rice (yes, again, not very French!)

The next day we decided to head for Rouen. This IS where the drama begins again. We left the campsite after mapping out our route. We decided to break up the drive and go to a place called Montreuil. We arrived and discovered it was a very picturesque town. O had stayed in this town thirty years ago when he drove a motorbike from Australia to England. We wandered around the town, took some photos, had a light lunch and after an hour decided to continue our trip. Both O and felt relatively refreshed, and both felt confident about the next stage of our trip to Rouen. How foolish we were!

French roundabouts are at the best of time confusing. The trouble was both of us had no idea of the road to take and what towns to look for….Yes, yes, I know that’s the navigator’s job! After going through several roundabouts we got hopelessly lost (and very dizzy) and instead of heading south to Rouen, we headed west for the coast.

Did I mention that O, like me, has no sense of direction? At this stage we both were pretty grumpy and the ‘it’s your fault’ started flying. No one was really to blame, it was just again, our lack of understanding the directions given by French road signs, confusion with French roundabouts (and, yes okay, my total inability to read a map.)
OK I must also say O’s desire to head off along a road which he thought was the right way to go got us heading for the coast…..but who is pointing a finger!

After getting our bearings again, we looked up our camping book for a place to stay. O found one- right on the coast. So we stayed a night at the sea-side at a place called Cruil-sur-Mer which was very pretty with a cobble stone beach, white cliffs and a neat and tidy campsite with all the amenities we needed.

The great thing is getting lost in France has meant two things. We have seen some fantastic places that we would have missed had we arrived at our ‘correct’ destination. And probably more importantly, O, after some ‘discussion’ has decided that a Tom-Tom was a vital piece of equipment for the trip…..Maybe, for Anna, navigating in a foreign land IS too difficult! and maybe a navigational device is a wise investment for our holiday. Yes!

Dare I say navigating now has been a joy!! We can now plan our journey- avoid major roads and tolls, plan to go through quiet French roads and still know we are heading in the right direction! No stress.

Now, getting lost in France is so much better!

AF

Posted by AnnaFisher 08:19 Archived in France Comments (0)

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