5 Days in Guatemala, is it Enough Time… Part 4: 5 days and only a backpack

*This is Part 4 of 4 posts of my trip to Guatemala. Here are the links to the other posts

Part 1: Guatemala City,

Part 2: Lake Atitlan,

Part 3: Antigua

The more I’ve traveled the smaller my bag has gotten. This time I wanted to challenge myself. Could I be comfortable and prepared, for a 5 day international trip, with literally only the clothes on my back? The quick answer is, yes, I was comfortable and prepared. So what did I fit into this little bag? Let me first share my mindset behind it all.

First of all, Guatemala wasn’t my final destination. After Guatemala, I would be traveling home to Philadelphia, where it is winter and cold. However, I have a home in Philadelphia where I have plenty of toiletries and winter clothes so I didn’t need to pack for Philly. Neither of my flights included free baggage so I would save money by not carrying any. Also, I hate checking my luggage. It’s such a waste of time. Between waiting in line to check your bags, even after checking in online, to waiting for your baggage to come off the plane, to check it in again to your connecting flights. Let’s not even talk about loss luggage. And what about carry-ons, sometimes they make you check them too. Finally, lugging around baggage from place to place is frustrating. To put it plainly, having luggage slows you down and is a huge inconvenience.

So how did I decide what to pack. I thought about versatile clothing and an easy color palette. I chose black and blue with a touch of color and 2 bikini’s that could become 4 by mixing and matching the tops and bottoms. In Central America, whether it’s the dry or rainy season, rain is unpredictable, so I packed a light rain jacket and tiny umbrella. All of my toiletries were packed in disposal bottles. My backpack came with a USB charging port which was very convenient so all I needed was a portable charger and cord. I wore my bulkier items on the plane, hiking sneakers, and denim jacket. I wore a pair of black Palazzo pants, a baseball cap and a t-shirt on the plane for comfort. I also took my coach crossbody bag along for my passport, credit cards, phone and money, things I wanted to keep close.

I packed my IPAD, a pair of sandals, sunglasses and eyeliner (that was all the makeup I took). I latched my Beats headphones to the outside of my backpack along with my plane pillow. For clothes, I packed 2 sleeveless tank top shorts romper (1 black, 1 orange). Both of these can me worn alone, with a cover-up, or as a tank top under bottoms. How convenient are these? I also packed, a colorful cover-up, a short black t-shirt dress that can be worn either alone or with a pair of bottoms, underwear, sports bras, a workout outfit and something to sleep in. All of these items fit in my little backpack and would you believe, I didn’t even wear everything.

I should also mention, the more I travel, the less souvenirs I purchase. I usually purchase a magnet and a treat. However this time, I really wanted to purchase some artwork but I didn’t have space for it. Carrying only a backpack does indeed save you money. I was able to fit in some coffee though.

Here are some pictures for reference and links to where I purchased some of my conveniences:

I purchased my backpack from Amazon and my Rompers.

Mismatched bathing suit at Lake Atitlan
T-shirt dress and sandals at Lake Atitlan
Black Romper and cover-up Lake Atitlan
Black romper worn underneath jeans,
denim jacket, hiking sneakers, coach crossbody
in Antigua
Flight Ready

Well if you have been with me since the journey began, thank you for sticking in there. I hope you enjoyed reading about my Guatemala trip. Here are some final thoughts.

Wishing for More Time in Guatemala

The title of this blog is, 5 days in Guatemala, is it enough time. My answer is NO. I would have spent more time in all three cities that I visited. I think 1-3 full days in Guatemala city is sufficient. Three-Five days minimum is needed for Antigua and you could easily spend a month in Lake Atitlan exploring the cities that surround it or 5 minimum to just relax an unwind. I would love to return and spend more time in these three cities but there are other cities I’d like to visit as well. Semuc Champey in the department of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, near the Q’eqchi’ Maya town of Lanquín is one of those places. I’d also like to tour the Tikal National Park located in the municipality of Flores with the Mayan ruins. I hope to return but first, there are other Central American countries I need to visit.

Have you ever been to Guatemala? If so, what did you think of it?

I’ve already been to Panama, Costa Rica of course and now Guatemala. Which Central American country should I visit next, Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize or El Salvador?

Leave your thoughts and comments.

5 Days in Guatemala, is it Enough Time… Part 3: Antigua

*This is Part 3 of 4 posts of my trip to Guatemala. I have provided links to the other posts as well.

Part 1: Guatemala City

Part 2: Lake Atitlan

After spending 2 nights in Lake Atitlan, we took a boat back to Panajachel and a shuttle to Antigua. Antigua or Old Guatemala was the third capital of Guatemala. It is an earthquake-prone region and in 1773 it was largely destroyed by the Santa-Marta earthquake. At this point the capital was moved to Guatemala City. Antigua has the reputation of being the best preserved Spanish Colonial city in Central American.

Hotel Museo Spa Casa Santo Domingo was our home for the 2 nights in Antigua. I specifically chose this place due to it’s high rating, prime location and the excitement of staying in a museum. There is more than just a museum to see on the hotel grounds including a chocolate factory, a candle store, artwork, gardens, a fountain, and even a crypt- that we happened upon. Had I known there was a crypt there, I probably would not have stayed. There are 2 macaw birds that stay in the courtyard as well. However, I was not impressed by our room. It reminded me of a cave but at least the bed was comfortable and the wifi worked well, which was welcoming after our stay in Lake Atitlan. Despite how lovely the grounds were, I would not stay at this hotel again. I think it is over-rated and over-priced. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the experience.

Casa Domingo hotel entrance
Hotel Fountain
Hotel Garden
Hotel Crypt
Macaws

A short 8-10 minute walk from our hotel, landed us right at Antigua Guatemala Cathedral and Santa Catalina Arch. Antigua is a beautiful city with colorful buildings, cute cafés, great shopping and trendy hostels. We took a self-guided walking tour to explore the city.

Cathedral de Santiago
The Plaza Central Park

Ayuntamiento

Colorful buildings and a volcano in the distance

Tanque de la union
Antigua at night

Unfortunately, I got pretty sick on day 2 and was unable to leave the hotel room. The night before, I began to feel fog headed and dizzy. I believe it was due to the diesel gas emitted from the vehicles on the street. The next day, I suddenly had a terrible allergy attack and medicine was not helping. So I lost a day in Antigua which was pretty sad because we only had 2 days there. Before we left Antigua to head back to Guatemala City for our flight, we stopped in a little bar which was also a hostel. We had a farewell drink and wrote our names on the wall.

Ai Li Li and I
We were here

I really wish I had more time in Antigua. One of the things I really wanted to do was hike the Pacaya Volcano and there was so much more to see and do. Two days was not and is not enough time to fully enjoy Antigua.

Native Woman at Work

Part 4: 5 days and only a backpack

5 Days in Guatemala, is it Enough Time… Part 2: Lake Atitlan

*This is Part 2 of 4 posts of my trip to Guatemala city. Here is the link to Part 1. You will find the links to additional post at the end.

Lake Atitlan

There is a 3.5+ hour drive from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan (LA). You have to drive past Antigua to get there.

Small town on the way to Lake Atitlan

We would be circling back to Antigua after our stay in Lake Atitlan. Our Shuttle dropped up off at Panajachel. This town is located at the North shore of LA and the only place where private shuttles take you. From here, you go to the Panajachel docks and take a public boat to the village you’ll be staying. The boat ride should cost between $20-$25. (Suggestion: Don’t let them charge you more than this.) Panajechel is a great place to shop for textiles and souvenirs. It’s also one of the towns you can stay on LA. As soon as you’re dropped off you’re met by the beauty that is Lake Atitlan.

Panajachel dock

If you’ve ever visited Lake Como in Italy, you may have a bit of nostalgia. Lake Atitlan is just as beautiful but with volcanoes. Lake Atitlan is approx. 18 km wide and 10 km long. Surrounding it is three volcanoes: Atitlán, Tolimán and San Pedro. At its deepest depth it is about 1,100 ft. In comparison Lake Como is about 4 km wide and 47 km long with a maximum depth of 1,358 feet.

We stayed at La Casa Del Mundo which is located in El Jaibalito. The boat ride to the hotel is not for the faint of heart. The boats are old and the water is extremely choppy. (Suggestion: sit in the back of the boat for the easiest ride) However, this is the way people travel back and forth all day, so it’s pretty safe. It takes about 50 minutes to get to La Casa Del Mundo from Panajachel and the boats make several stops to transport other travelers along the way.

Unsettling transportation
Another hotel along the Lake, loving this room
Homes on the Lake

The hotel sits on a cliff on the edge of the lake and is surrounded by colorful gardens. There are a lot of steps, that you have to climb daily to get to various parts of the hotel grounds. Even if you are in shape, these stairs will leave you winded. They have one restaurant and bar. There is a jacuzzi that you have to pay for and book for private usage. We were told that there was no room service. The hotel employees were very nice, but very slow with service. The language barrier is real if you don’t speak good English. The food was ok, when it came, but I appreciated the fact that they had tofu. Despite all of this, the hotel is absolutely charming. There are breathtaking views all over the hotel and places that you just can’t help but sit and admire.

Approaching La Casa Del Mundo
Such a lovely setting
We made it to the hotel safely
You will definitely get your exercise on. Thank God they help with the bags
The setting is gorgeous
Just one of the breath taking views
Colorful gardens all over

Before we left we actually met the owner and builder. He is American and his wife is Guatemalan. They met in Alaska. You can read all about their story and how La Casa Del Mundo came to be here.

We had the best room at La Casa Del Mundo, with amazing views of the lake and volcanoes from our patio(2). (Suggestion: Ask for room 20) The only things I didn’t care for were the bed and the lack of working wifi. The beds were too hard and very uncomfortable and the wifi was extremely unreliable.

But I would put up with hard beds and no wifi, to wake up to this everyday.

Our arrival day, we relaxed at the hotel.

Talk about a meal an a view

But on day 2 we booked a tour, with the hotel, to visit some of the surrounding villages. The tour was a little pricey, as to be expected when you book through a hotel. (Suggestion: If you are tight on money, use the public boats as transportation to and from the villages and explore on your own.) We visited San Pedro, San Juan and Santiago. The towns are so cute. We visited some markets. Attended a weaving demonstration. We basically did the tourist thing for a day. The lake was very choppy on this day and one of the benefits of having a tour guide is the knowledge and ability to pivot. Our guide booked us a tut tut to get from San Pedro to San Juan to avoid one of the boat rides.

Women washing clothes in the Lake
Farm Raised Fish
A village on the lake
A market in Santiago Town- The largest town on Lake Atitlan
Fascinating textured Artwork
17th-century church
Such a beautiful mural, I couldn’t resist
St. Peter’s church in San Pedro
Chicken Bus in San Pedro
Tut Tut ride
Don’t forget to support the local co-ops
Umbrella street
Back at a dock

The next day we were headed to Antigua. I would have loved more time in Lake Atitlan to explore more villages and to learn. We didn’t even explore the village where we were stayin, El Jaibalito. Two nights is not enough to fully explore Lake Atitlan; it is only enough time to gaze upon its beauty and touch the surface. I could spend 2 days here just looking at it. Hence all the pictures…

Part 3: Antigua

Part 4: 5 days and only a backpack

5 Days in Guatemala, is it Enough Time… Part 1: Guatemala City

*This is Part 1 of 4 posts of my trip to Guatemala. You can find links to the additional posts at the end of this one.

When I moved to Costa Rica, I knew that visiting all of the Central American countries would become a travel priority. What I didn’t know was that it is not always cheap or fast flying to other Central American countries from SJO- the primary international airport of Costa Rica. Guatemala is one of the easiest Central American countries to travel to from Costa Rica. There are direct flights between SJO airport and Guatemala and you can book a flight for around $160 roundtrip. Guatemala also has a pretty good reputation of being safe and beautiful.

Side note: My first flight on Avianca airlines was very nice. It was only an 1.5 flight, the attendants were nice, the plane was clean and the seats were comfy (I paid for an exit row seat). The flight itself was calm compared to descending into Costa Rica which is often choppy.

A Little bit of Background

Guatemala is bordered by Mexico to the north and west, Belize to the northeast, El Salvador southwest and Honduras to the Southeast. Guatemala has 27 volcanoes. Typical temperatures range from 50º-80º depending on the location within the country. Mestizos make up more than three-fifths of the population; most of the rest are Maya. The colorful native attire is common all over. The official spoken language is Spanish. Many people call Guatemala a 3rd world country but according to Worddata.info, it is considered a developing country. Developing has replaced the term 3rd world which is considered offensive and outdated. Guatemala is a sovereign democratic republic. “The birth, death, infant mortality, and fertility rates are among the highest in Central America, and life expectancy is low.” (Britannica) The countries currency is called the quetzal. One Quetzal equals 0.13 USD. Guatemala City is the capital.

Guatemala City

We flew into La Aurora International Guatemala Airport or GUA on the evening of Dec 17. My friend flew in from Washington DC and we met up at SJO airport where she had a layover. We stayed our first night in Guatemala City. GC is separated into zones. The zones make it easy to know which parts to venture to and which to avoid due to safety. Zones 9 & 10 are considered the safest. While zones 4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, and 16 are also considered safe. The historic district is in zone 1. We stayed at the Real InterContinental in zone 10. A very nice hotel with helpful staff. That evening we walked around a bit to check out the nightlife. We felt safe walking around this area at night.

The Lobby bar was packed
Couldn’t believe they still had pay phones

We had a shuttle to De Lago Atitlan booked at 11am but we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to check out some sights in GC so in the early morning we took an uber into the historic district. Again we felt safe walking around this area. There were also guards in the main square. We even walked down a side street and found a pretty little cafe, where we enjoyed breakfast.

Cathedral of Guatemala City
National Palace
National Palace of Culture
Main Square and Guatemala Flag
Nice cafe
This picture influenced my decision to eat here.

It would have been nice to spend a full day here to see some more historical sites. I think 1 or 2 days is enough for GC.

Click the links to read more about Guatemala.

Part 2: Lake Atitlan

Part 3: Antigua

Part 4: 5 days and only a backpack

A Review of my Stay at Al Messila Resort and Spa Doha

Al Messila is a beautiful resort but could definitely improve.

It is winter break over here in Doha for teachers and children and in light of Covid-19, I’m sure it does not come as a surprise that I opted out of traveling. I did, however, choose to do a short staycation to see different walls than the ones in my flat. My friend Jennifer and I decided to book a room at Al Messila Resort.

Al Messila is located in the Al Rayyan area of Doha. It’s nestled right off Doha expressway and across the street from the U.S. Embassy. We got a great rate as Qatar Foundation employees and I had heard good things about the resort. Jenn and I were really looking forward to some rest and relaxation.

Although the front desk consists of a few podium desks behind plexi/glass shields, the lobby is beautiful. The high ceiling is grand and the chandeliers majestic. There are several areas to sit surrounded by gold and beige decor. Your bags are checked by security and your temperature and etheraz apps are checked upon entry.

Although we requested two beds, the confirmation did say 1 King (which I should have checked prior) and changing to 2 beds would include at least an hour wait. We didn’t feel like adding an additional hour to our already rather late check in time of 4pm. Since we have traveled together before and are pretty good friends, we decided to share the bed.

We stayed in a deluxe room which was very spacious. I really appreciated the 6 piece bathroom including a separate shower and tub behind the same glass door within the bathroom, the rain shower head and double vanity. The room had a rather long hallway from the door to the bedroom, a wall mounted television, coffee maker, mugs, tea, King bed with 4 rather flat pillows, a table, 2 chairs and a chaise. Our room had a balcony facing the front of the hotel and highway. Next time, I’ll be sure to request a different view. The room was very clean with the exception of a nectarine which was under a chair on our balcony, upon check-in, and remained there throughout the duration of our stay. There were stains on our carpet and the bed was not very comfortable. In fact, my side felt very slept on and I had to move closer to the center of the bed to feel like I wasn’t sleeping on a slope. The Wifi was free though and it worked well. I am awarding the room 3 stars, for the great wifi, space, and wonderful bathroom; unfortunately, 2 stars were sacrificed due the bed, carpet stains and forgotten nectarine.

The hotel grounds are beautiful, with lots of greenery and a large pool. There is a pool bar as well and all of the bartenders and pool staff are nice. Happy hour starts late around 7pm. The cigar lounge was clean and Daniel makes very good drinks. The star of the resort, though, is the Spa. As a hotel guest we were able to enjoy the spa amenities free of charge. You can even catch a golf cart over to the spa. If you are not a guest of the hotel, you can still access the spa for 15o QR. Jennifer and I spent about 2 hours at the spa going from room to room. We took part in the hydrotherapy pools, sauna, steam rooms, relaxation beds and rooms and even pole dancing and trampoline jumping in a pool. During our spa visit, we only saw 3 other guest, so we basically had it to ourselves. You can pay for other services as well, like facials and massages. I really wanted to experience a Turkish Hamam but due to covid, those weren’t on offer. Al Messila gets 4 stars for amenities. The only reason I deducted a star is because of the lack of dining options which unfortunately hits this resort in 2 areas. Let’s talk food and service.

Let’s get right to the point, in this large beautiful hotel, why is there only 1 restaurant? Firstly, breakfast was not included (*correction, breakfast was included, we were not charged) but the buffet is very reasonably priced at only 38 QR and even though breakfast is buffet style, you can not go up and get your own food, precautions put into place due to Covid. This is fine, however, no one informed us about this even after we were sat at a table and left alone for some time. Eventually we called someone over and they explained that everything would be bought over to our table. They were informed about my vegan and Jennifer’s vegetarian diet prior. It took a while to receive our food but I was able to ask for specifics like potato wedges and sauteed veggies. A menu of what’s available would have been helpful, saved time and cut down on waste. Nevertheless we walked away full and satisfied. For lunch we ate outdoors. The chef prepared some vegetable dumplings and french fries for me. The dumplings and several sauces were tasty. That was on our first full day. But the second day was a disaster. We made breakfast reservations for between 9:30-10 and arrived around 9:45. We were told to wait in the lobby as there was already a queue of people waiting. No one took our names down or gave us a number to be called. We waited about 30 minutes before Jennifer said something to the host and we were finally seated. The host seemed to have no idea about our reservation. The restaurant was getting hammered hard and it showed. We requested to just order specific items from the buffet so that everything did not have to be bought over. I ordered simple potatoes and grilled mushrooms and tomatoes, Jennifer ordered avocado toast, and eggs benedict but forgot to tell them no meat, and they obviously forgot our dietary restrictions. They bought over eggs benedict on turkey and a side of meat. She re-ordered and I waited, and waited and waited. Then her fixed order came minus the toast, and I waited and waited. Then she finished and I still sat waiting. We pulled over someone who appeared to be a manager and told him the problem, that we were leaving and I was not paying, as I didn’t eat anything other than a piece of fruit. By this time, I am very upset. He apologized and insisted bringing over the food anyway. A few minutes later, he bought over a plate of mushrooms, sliced avocado and pre-packaged hash browns. The sight of this plate made me angry. It was not what I had ordered. It was not avocado toast. It was not cooked potatoes and the mushrooms were cold. By this time I am furious with the service and I didn’t hesitate in letting the hostess know. There were many complaining guest that day. The service and the food was awful. Knowing that it is winter break, people are not traveling outside of Doha like they used to, due to Covid, this hotel restaurant should have been better prepared. I left out of that restaurant very HANGRY and ready to leave the hotel altogether. I am awarding the restaurant/food and service, 2 stars due to everything mentioned. When I travel, food is high on my priority list especially because of the way I eat. If the food is not right, I usually don’t return.

Things worth mentioning: On our check in day, we received fruit and truffles delivered to our room. This was a nice touch. Later that evening, tea was also delivered. Unfortunately for every good thing, something not so good happened. For instance, after we enjoyed in-room dining on the first night, we called for the tray and dishes to be collected but no one ever came to get them and the room started to smell. On day 2, we saw housekeeping in the hall when we left our room but they never cleaned our room. We had to call down to have our room serviced.

welcome snack

Final thoughts and message to the manager of the Al Messila: This review is based on my experience alone. Everything is true. I travel a lot and write many reviews. Al Messila is a beautiful resort but could definitely improve.

  1. Provide a menu for the breakfast buffet so that people can make choices
  2. Have a vegan menu available. The world is changing; more and more people are going green
  3. Prepare for busier seasons with more experienced staff and write down reservations
  4. Don’t bring people cold food- ever, unless it is supposed to be cold and make sure that everyone at the table gets their food
  5. Keep customers informed. A customer should not have to call downstairs to find out why their room was not serviced
  6. Ensure that room service collects in-room dining dishes or at least checks with the guest within an hour
  7. Flip mattresses
  8. Remove the nectarine off the balcony of room 3012 and get rid of the carpet stains
  9. Move up the check-in time. Half the day is gone at 4pm and with a noon check-out time that isn’t even a 24 hour stay.

Al Messila receives 3 stars from me- Beautiful but below basic in food and service.

***Update: After contacting the hotel manager, Mr. Mallah, he arranged for me to return to try out Al Mesilla restaurant again. There were some major changes made and the brunch is very good. They had a whole section dedicated to just vegans. And it made me wonder, if that will always be there or was that just for me. The service was much, much better. The drinks were good too and so was the food. After this new visit and changes, I may be inclined to stay there again. I appreciate that the manager invited me back to have a better experience. I kind of wish he had covered a night’s stay along with the restaurant visit.

A Review of Sultani Indian Cuisine

Qatar is filled with many undiscovered gems.

On 11/11, my husband and I celebrated our Wedding Anniversary. I can’t believe it has been 9 years. We didn’t do anything big this year, due to Corona and money is tight but he did take me to a nice brunch. He is also in Culinary Arts school and one of his assignments was to take a field trip to a restaurant that allowed him to experience a different culture’s cuisine. We saw a deal on Qgrabs (sort of like a Middle Eastern Groupon) to this Indian restaurant and that is how we found Sultani Indian Cuisine.

Sultani is located within the Swiss Belinn Hotel in Al Sadd. Funny Fact: We were the only ones there. Although this is nothing new for Qatar, the manager said the night time is busier. The deal was for a Diwali tabletop buffet. Diwali, or Dipawali, is India‘s biggest and most important holiday of the year. The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness. This festival is as important to Hindus as the Christmas holiday is to Christians. (https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/diwali/)

My husband called ahead to notify them that we are vegan and would not be able to partake in all of the dishes. He also spoke to the manager, Madir (don’t quote me on that name), who was present the entire time, about our dietary restrictions. The manager was very accommodating and kind. The dishes were brought to our table as they were made, which meant that everything was hot, #winning.

Here is a list of all the foods we enjoyed, which was basically everything: Aloo Tikka, Channa Chaat, Kachumber Salad, Namak Para, Pani Puri, Onion Pakota, Vegetable Biryani, Pindi Chole, Garlic Naan and Fruit Platter. The Aloo Tikki was my favorite (that’s the featured image). My least favorite may have been the Biryani due to the vegetable cuts, too big. I have concluded that Indian food may be the most seasoned food I’ve ever eaten. We have been on a diet for 2 weeks and our stomachs could not hold all of the food. We were full half way through but made sure to taste everything. We had seconds of a few dishes too. Mr. Madir, was even nice enough to allow us to take our food home, #winning. This never happens at brunch. I give the food 4 stars.

The restaurant decor was colorful and clean. I really like that you can see the kitchen. The one to one service was amazing. I give the service 5 stars.

For the amount of food we received the price is a steal, 118 QAR for 2 people, approx $32. And there was way more available but because we don’t eat animal products, we didn’t get to experience everything. (Tandoori Chicken, Shish Kabob, etc… was also available) I give the price 5 stars.

In conclusion. We really enjoyed our little private lunch. It wasn’t until we were halfway through the food that I notified the manager that I was a blogger, so I cannot even say it was because of this that everything was so nice.

Qatar is filled with many undiscovered gems and Sultani is one. There is an array of International cuisine restaurants here. You just have to be willing to try something different.

I got Tested for Corona

Do I have Corona? What if I do?

Last Tuesday was our first day with kids in the physical building but before kids were allowed back, every teacher was required to submit to a Covid-19 test. So last Saturday, I had mine done. I would be lying if I said it was painful but it was not comfortable at all and I would be okay with never getting that done again. Thankfully it was at the expense of my employer and scheduled by them. I also heard that teachers and students will be randomly tested throughout the school year, just like a random drug test.

So how was it exactly.

It was a drive-in nasal swab. A long q-tip like object was slid into my nose, all the way up to my brain (it seemed), a specimen was collected and then the q-tip was taken out. It seemed like it just kept going and going up and took forever to come back out. My nose burned some for about an hour afterwards but there was no blood or discharge afterwards. I did not want to take the test but I’m glad I did. All kinds of things went through my head while I waited for the results.

Do I have Corona? What if I do?

Did they just put a chip in my head?

Within 30 hours I had my negative results along with all the other teachers in the school. What a relief!

And for the first time in my teaching career, teachers are asked to stay home if they aren’t feeling well. And because I am asthmatic, if I’m not feeling up to it, I can work from home too.

Very few students showed up for school on week 1. Every two grades came in using the same entrance spread out throughout the school. No nannies, drivers, or parent are permitted to enter. They must drop their children off at the door where they are escorted in, and checked for mask and temperature. All teachers are required to wear a mask and have their Etheraz app checked upon arrival. Half of each class has school from 7-10, whether they are in person or online and the other half from 11-2. Tuesday’s are virtual for everyone. This is how things stand for now but a survey was sent to parents a few days ago asking them to vote on fully online or fully in person. So we shall see what happens. So far so good.

Each day the new daily number of people infected with Covid-19 averages around 220 and the total number of active cases has finally dropped below 3,000. This is nice especially since there was a total of over 100,000 positive cases in this country and 202 deaths. That number is high for this tiny country but Qatar has done well and way better than many other countries around the world.

We are in the final phase of phase 4 reopening of the country. Visitors are still not allowed but residents who left the country are allowed to return and join the general population after a covid test and set quarantine. The movie theaters have just reopened with limited capacity along with many other venues. Children are allowed in the malls again and I’ve heard it is crazy. I am not in a rush to join that chaos.

I am looking forward to the day that Qatar announces 0 new cases.

Did you have covid-test? What was your experience like?

Why Germany Should be on Your List

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” -George Santayana

This summer I visited three cities in Germany. I went there for two purposes, see a concert and visit a friend. I’ll admit Germany was never on my list and I don’t know anyone whose list it is on however, after visiting I wish I had gone sooner. If Germany is not on your list, here is eight reasons why it should be…

History

It is no secret that Germany is rich in history. For many of us World War II and the Holocaust is the most memorable. But, I also remember watching when the Berlin wall came down on television in 1989. I was 12 years old and we discussed it the next day in school.

Here are just a few of the historical sights in the three cities that I visited- Koln also better known as Cologne, Hannover and Berlin.

Koln- El De Haus- Former headquarters of the Gestapo. Prisoners used to be held in the basement and people on the streets could hear their screams
Berlin- Checkpoint Charlie- Former border crossing
Berlin’s only surviving historical city gate, this site came to symbolise Berlin’s Cold War division into East and West – and, since the fall of the Wall, a reunified Germany. Brandenburg Gate
Berlin- Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe
Berlin- Reichstag building- seat of Parliament
Berlin Wall Memorial
A piece of the wall with a strong message

If the historical symbols around Germany don’t move you, nothing will.

Another piece of the wall that touched me
Berliner Fernsehturm

Architecture

Many European styles are reflected in German buildings, medieval, roman, gothic, etc… There doesn’t seem to be one distinctive style. A lot of the East/West history is reflected in the architecture and there is something different around every corner which makes it’s buildings very interesting to look upon.

Koln Cathedral
House that looks like leggos
The New City Hall- Koln
Old Town Hall, Hannover Germany
The view from Hotel Pestana Berlin- Accommodations covered in moss green, very eco friendly

Cleanliness

Germany is a very clean country. I witnessed this in each of the three cities: Koln, Hannover and Berlin. I don’t know about the rest of Germany but I was pretty impressed by the cleanliness of the streets, public transportation and I need to mention this, self-cleaning public toilets.

Parks, Gardens and Romance

Germany is also very pretty. I found the parks to be very romantic and well-maintained. Speaking of Romance, love is locked-in all over Germany. And to top it all, Koln is where Eau de Cologne originated.

Koln- Farina 1709 Fragrance Museum, where cologne was invented
This Bridge is in Maschsee Park in Hannover, people used to put love locks on the railings but they have been removed.
But don’t worry you can still hang locks in Koln- Hohenzollern Bridge- Lots of Love locks
Us after locking in our love in Koln. This is the third place we have locked in around the world.
Berlin- Herrenhauser Garten
Posing like the statues but I got photobombed
More of Herrenhauser
Herrenhauser Garten Palace
Hannover- Maschsee park
Hannover Maschsee park

Public Transportation

I must mention the transportation system in Germany. We took both buses and trains and both were efficient, timely, easy to navigate and clean. They have sections for strollers and fold down seats for the elderly. They have family transportation passes as well. I don’t know how that works fully but as long as my husband and I were with my friend, whom is a resident, we were able to ride the buses and local trains under her pass. Their transportation system uses an honor system but you should buy your tickets and have them available in case they ask for it. We were not asked to show our tickets but once, and that was on the regional trains.

Beers, Bars, Festivals and Concerts

Germans love their beer and it is a major part of the culture. Germany is the top producer of beer in Europe and follows an old 500+ year old Beer Purity Law -only 4 ingredients can be used to make German beer. You can drink it in public too. I mean it is home to Oktoberfest. Beer gardens are big in Germany and your beer glass depends on the beer type you order. *Word of advice- when visiting a beer garden and there are live bands, don’t talk loudly over the music, you will get shooshed.

Festivals pop up all over Germany and you must try the food at the festivals. (We will get into the food in a minute) Germany is also a great place to attend a concert. I was hesitant about attending a concert in Germany because of things I had heard like -they don’t like to speak English, they don’t like black people. Let me tell you, don’t listen to what people say. You must experience things on your own. I would attend another concert in Germany in a heartbeat. I went to see Pink here. Seeing Pink in concert was one of my dreams, so I took a chance in attending a concert in a foreign country despite neigh-sayers. My husband and I had a blast and we were in good company. We felt very safe and comfortable and even walked back to our hotel afterwards (late at night) which was about a 30 min walk but we weren’t alone because many people walked. The crowd was lively and friendly. Pink puts on the best show!!

No words necessary
One of the reasons I went to Germany in the first place
Festival in Hannover
Oldest Biergarten in Berlin. The day we went it was rented out by a party.
Another Beer Garden in Berlin

Birkenstocks

Did you know that Birkenstocks are made in Germany. I did not, so when my friend took me to a store and birkenstocks were half the going price, I couldn’t help but purchase. And of course the variety is better and you don’t have to worry about if they are genuine because you are getting them from the source.

Food

I saved the best for last. I was in Vegan Heaven. If you are Vegan, you will fall in love with Germany. The food was my favorite part of my stay in Germany. I found great vegan food in each of the three cities: Koln, Hannover and Berlin! I’m not just talking about vegan junk food either. This country had the most variety of vegan food than any other country I have traveled to so far. If for no other reason, this is reason enough to add Germany to your list of countries to visit.

My husband who is not vegan also enjoyed the vegan food. Outside of the vegan food, he was not impressed with the Currywurst, Weisswurst or apple struedel, which are three things Germany is supposed to be known for. But this is because he expected too much. We both enjoyed the Bavarian pretzels, mustard and beer though.

Favorite Vegan Restaurant in Koln, Germany
Inside Sattgrun
Look at all that delicious Vegan food- no animals allowed
Died and gone to vegan Heaven! I usually do not like my food to touch but I’ll make an exception here.
A whole donut shop just for vegans!
Vegan Thai Berlin
More Vegan Thai
Best vegan junk food Berlin Mall
Plant Heaven
YUMMY!

I really enjoyed Germany. I can’t say enough about the vegan scene. Visiting my friend, Reem, her husband and baby girl Rhea, who opened their home to us for two nights in Hannover was a bonus. Meeting up with another friend, Alyssa, in Berlin was fun too. Seeing Pink in concert in Cologne was a dream come true. Even though Germany was never on my list of places to visit, there was one specific moment when I knew Germany would forever hold a special place in my heart. That moment was when Darryl and I got off the airplane in Germany and while walking through the airport we stopped at the supermarket and saw the most Alpro products we had ever seen in our lives. The fact that an airport supermarket had vegan products sealed the deal for me. I’m excited to experience some other places in this world that may not be on my list because you never know ’til you go!

Supermarket – Vegan section !
U.S. Embassy is located close to the Memorial of the Murdered Jews in Berlin
Great time with my friend Alyssa
The other reason I went to Germany- to visit my friend Reem

Questions you may have

Where did we stay and how was the stay? In Koln, we stayed at Hotel Lyskirchen. The room was small but the location was great. We also stayed in the Ameron Koln Hotel Regent on the day of the Pink concert. This hotel was nice and within a 30 minute walk to the RheinEnergie Stadion. It’s restaurant is pricey but the drinks are stiff. In Hannover- We stayed with my friend. In Berlin, we stayed at the Pestana Berlin Tiegarten. This hotel is very nice too but a little far from the sites.

How did we get between the cities? We flew into Koln via Rome. We took a train from Kol’n to Hannover- about a 3 hour ride. We took a train from Hannover to Berlin- about 1.5 hours. We took a plane from Berlin back to Qatar- about 6 hours. As mentioned the public transportation is great in Germany. You can take Ubers and regular taxis within the city as well.

What was my favorite vegan restaurant? In Koln- Sattgrun. Hands down the best vegan restaurant I ate at in Germany. I ate there both days I was in Koln. Others- Hommage (for breakfast). In Hannover- We didn’t really eat out here but I enjoyed shopping for vegan foods in the market. In Berlin- There were many but if I have to narrow it down to one, I would say: Vedang Plant Burger in Berlin Mall. They even had a Mary Jane CBD burger. Others- Dolores California Gourmet Burritos.

How did you find the people? My friend who resides in Germany says she has experienced some racism being from middle-eastern descent and the German people are very prideful, especially the older folk. She told me about an incident where she tried to help this older German woman who had fallen and the women hit her in response. Outside of people providing a service, we didn’t have much interaction with other people. We found the people of Germany to be pleasant, not the most friendliest but not unkind either. They were helpful when asked questions and as African Americans we didn’t experience any mistreatment from anyone. Most people spoke English too and if they didn’t they asked someone who did.

I would love to hear from my readers. What place have you visited that surprised you? What place should I add to my list that may surprise me- has to have good vegan food-?

At Herrenhauser Garten

Visiting Italy: A Dream Come True, Part 5: When in Rome…

There is so much to see and do in Rome it is difficult to know where to start. We spent 10 days in Rome, at the end of June into the first few days of July. We took a train from Santa Lucia Venice Train Station to Rome Termini. The ride was about 4.5 hours. The weather was good outside of the unprecedented heat wave that swept through Italy.

Accommodation

We stayed in Trastevere, which is in the 13th Rione of Rome, on Villa della Scala. It’s located on the West Bank of the Tiber river. We had a 3 bedroom Airbnb to fit our party of 5. The apartment was not the best but the location was everything especially with Donkey Punch- a bar and restaurant, right below us. Trastevere is definitely the place to stay for young adults. It is also a good starting point for seeing the sights. Most of the sights are within an hour walking distance from Trastevere. And even though an hour seems far to be walking, there is much to see along the way to the sights. There is no such thing as boring walks in Rome. Trastevere is filled with party spots, bars, restaurants, and boutique stores. You’re bound to find something different here. During the day, it’s quiet but it comes alive at night.

Sights

We opted to do our own guided tours since we had so much time in Rome anyway. We used Google Maps to plan our trips and map out proximity of each sight that we wanted to see. Sights that were close to each other we clumped together.

On the first day of our walking tour, we visited the Pantheon and 3 squares: Campo De Fiori- a marketplace square, Piazza Navona- a large square with 3 beautiful fountains including the Fountain of Neptune and a large Egyptian obelisk and Piazza Del Popolo- an urban square with the Obelisco Flaminio (a large obelisk) and 2 fountains- many of the tours meet in this square. All three of these squares were on our way to Villa Borghese-a landscape garden with museums and attractions and a killer view of Rome. If you can climb the stairs and there are many of them, you will not be disappointed. After visiting the park, we walked to the Spanish Steps and admired the interesting architecture. But while we sat there taking pictures, I wondered why everyone visited these steps anyway. They are just steps. However, I am happy that we visited when we did because a few weeks later there was a ban placed on people sitting on the Steps due to the damage they were incurring. At the foot of the steps is the Fountain of the Old Boat and some boutique stores and designer shops. A 10 minute walk later, we arrived at the Trevi Fountain. It just kind of appeared out of no where. It’s like it sits right in the middle of everything. It is everything you’ve heard, absolutely beautiful. It’s huge!! For me, it was a highlight of Rome indeed. We couldn’t really enjoy it because it was so crowded. As soon as one person got up from taking their pictures another person sat down. We decided to visit the fountain again, but this time we went at night. We went at midnight in fact, sat a while and had a drink. I would highly recommend this. It was cooler and fewer people. Seeing it all lit up was even more stunning. There was plenty of room to sit and marvel. A wedding proposal happened there that night too. And of course Darryl and I tossed some coins into the fountain together and smooched. A 30 minute walk from the Fountain will put you at the Colosseum. We observed from the outside and this was the only place that I wished we had booked a tour to see the inside. Our 5 hour walking tour on this day cost us nothing except for a cone of sorbet.

On our next day of touring, we headed to the Holy See, which was on the opposite side of the River Tiber than the previously mentioned sights. We saw St. Peters Basilica and had a glimpse of the garden within Vatican City. The Vatican is where we saw the most tourist. And if I could rewind time I would do this visit a whole lot differently. We arrived at the Vatican around 9:00 a.m. and headed for the entrance. What we got instead was a line curling all the way around the corner. It was very hot but we were not about to leave Rome having missed the most holy place of Christian worship. So we stood in line, on one of the hottest days in Europe for almost 3 hours and we were not alone. We paid when we entered the Vatican and purchased the audioguide. The Museum was beyond crowded, too crowded to even enjoy the experience actually. I just kept thinking, this has to be a violation of a fire code. The entire time was spent shuffling through the crowds like we were in a herd. Museum attendants directed traffic. Tour groups and individuals were squashed together. It was not a pleasant experience, but an experience nonetheless. Finally we made it to the Sistine Chapel. Biblical events come to life in paintings all over this room and especially the ceiling. Historical figures painted in their likeness. It is very awe-inspiring, that one man, Michelangelo could create something so magnificent in a short period of 4 years. A work of art that he considered far inferior to his other art forms. Seeing this was worth the time spend in line in the heat. However if you can find and afford a private tour during off hours DO IT!! This way you can enjoy the entire experience and marvel at all of the artwork on display and a lot of the works we missed. [You aren’t allowed to take pictures of the Sistine Chapel but I managed to sneak a few].

My son attends Temple University in Philadelphia and they have a campus in Rome so we went there as well. The campus is very small and if you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t even know it was there. We also tried to visit the Museum of Criminology but it is permanently closed.

Outside of Temple Rome campus
The Temple Alumni and student

Other Things to Do in Rome

City touring of historical sights is great and all but I was overdue for some fun in the sun. A 30 min walk to the S. Pietro train station and a short hour long train ride took us to the outskirts of Rome to the Santa Marinella Beach. It’s a nice beach in a small town surrounded by neighborhood shops and restaurants. The water was cool and the weather was perfect. Santa Marinella Beach is a delightful escape from the hustle and bustle of Rome.

On Sunday, we visited Mercato di Porta Portese, a large flea market, where you can shop for some interesting finds. We also participated in a vegan cooking class. You can find the details by clicking here. The food was great but the limoncello was the best we had in Rome.

On some nights in Trastevere along the Tiber River there are festivals where you can play games, make purchases, eat, hang out or like us- people watch.

The only guided tour we took in Rome was out of Rome to Pompeii. It was a long bus ride but I highly recommend others to take a day trip someplace else while staying in Rome. There are many great places that can be visited with a day trip from Rome. Visiting Pompeii and listening to it’s history was a great experiences. After touring the ruins, we climbed Mt. Vesuvius. This was quite interesting since another volcano erupted close by the following day. It was a tedious hike, but provided a wonderful view of the other island in the distance, if you can endure the trek up the steep incline and rocky road. I just kept thinking of the movie Pompeii. City Wonders was our tour guide company.

Eating Vegan

Much of the food we consumed in Rome, we prepared ourselves after visits to the neighborhood markets: Carrefour and Pam. But of course I searched out some vegan restaurants. I really enjoyed eating at Flower Burger and you know it’s good vegan food if the non-vegans enjoy it as well. We tried out the spicy chickpea, cheesy chickpea, and the flower burger. All were fantastic. Another vegan restaurant I tried was Ecru- fully organic, vegan and raw. A little too raw for my taste and expensive. You can also find a few ice-cream shops that serve vegan ice cream, not just sorbet.

Ten days in Rome was enough time to see the sights and really enjoy all that Rome has to offer. I would like to revisit again but next time I’d like to stay on the outskirts to enjoy more of the countryside of Rome. But for a first timer, when in Rome you must: take in the sights, walk around to appreciate the architecture, try the gelato and definitely take a day trip to one of the other famous cities. There is so much to see and do in Rome, on a visit one could never get bored.

Cruising the Aegion Sea on Royal Caribbean- Greece, Montenegro and Croatia

It’s been over 6 months since my cruise on June 15, 2019. (Sometimes I like to wait to blog about trips which gives me the opportunity go back down memory lane and relive the experiences all over again). The cruise was a part of my “Visiting Italy: A Dream Come True” trip, except the cruise took us to 3 other European Countries: Croatia, Montenegro and Greece. We embarked from Venice on Royal Caribbean’s-(RC) Rhapsody of the Seas ship.

The Room

A little over a month before sailing, I received an email from RC inviting me to participate in the RoyalUp program, where you can bid on an upgraded stateroom for your sailing. Since this was a part of a Dream Come True Summer vacation for me I definitely was interested in going all out, so of course I put in a bid and a month later I received the good news that our bid had been accepted and our room had been upgraded to a Junior Suite. I was very happy about this because our original stateroom was on deck 2 and I prefer to be on a higher deck. In my opinion the lower the deck the more waves you feel. I’m pretty sure I overpaid for this Suite but I had no regrets especially after seeing it and enjoying it for 7 days. Suites are definitely the way to go on cruises. I give the suite an 8 out of 10. In this area- RC takes the crown. However, it is the only cruise line that I’ve stayed in a suite so far.

Our Upgraded Stateroom- Junior Suite

Good Information to Know

‘The Key’: Darryl purchased this added amenity for us which gave us some exclusive benefits: Early drop off and delivery of all of our luggage including carry-on, an exclusive lunch at Chops Grille on boarding day, 1-device each internet usage, private hours at ship activities on port days, priority debarkation and tender service from ship to shore and a la carte breakfast in the Giovanni’s Table on departure day. The Key is worth it.

Alcohol: You can take alcohol on board. Each stateroom may bring up to two 750 ml bottles of wine or champagne on boarding day. You can get creative and carry on additional alcohol in smuggle bottles but that would be illegal. You could also spend a few hundred dollars and buy the alcohol package legally. A deluxe beverage package, including alcohol, could run you any where from $50-90 per day per person. Sometimes they run BOGO specials. We did not purchase a beverage package. You can take on-alcoholic beverages on board as well but they may not exceed 12 standard (17 oz.) cans, bottles or cartons per stateroom. We purchased water on a couple of the ports and were allowed to bring them onboard. In this area Norwegian takes the crown because alcohol was included in our cruise to Cuba.

The Food

Like other cruises food is inclusive. I found the buffet to be pretty good and with many choices for a regular person. For this vegan though, things were a little rough. I spoke to several of the executive chefs and food managers about my preferences and they tried their best to accommodate me but when your kitchen staff is not well trained it is only so much you can do. The service got better as the cruise went on but I pretty much knew I would just have to eat some seafood. I find it such a money grab that the other restaurant’s, that are not included, food is significantly of better quality. For instance, the exclusive lunch at Chops Restaurant, that we got with ‘the Key’, was very good and the one night we splurged and ate at Izumi Japanese restaurant we were blown away by how delicious the food was. I do have to mention other cruise lines that I’ve been on have more late night food options than Royal Caribbean does. It was difficult to find food after 10 pm and almost impossible after midnight especially for a semi-vegan. I would give the food a 6 out of 10. In the area of food and service- Norwegian takes the crown. The attention they gave to me in ensuring I still enjoyed my food as a vegan was amazing. Also I never had to remind the kitchen staff.

Activities

Let me first say, my husband and I do not mind making fools out of ourselves when having a good time. We are very competitive and love a good game. If you do not have fun on cruise ships you are just BORING. Now that, that is out of the way, I found RC’s activities to be very safe, not Risque enough and I found the shows to be lackluster. However, when Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery are on board we always find some fun. The most fun activities hands down were: The 70’s Disco Inferno Street Party, Battle of the Sexes and The Sexiest Man on Board. I may be a little biased because we participated in these. We called ahead of the cruise to find out about the theme nights and the only one that the CSR was sure on was the 70’s Party so we were prepared for that one. Our party of 4 were the only ones properly prepared for this party outside of the crew. We were dressed in our 70’s clothes and afros and cut the rug. We stole the show. In the Battle of the Sexes game show the women won and of course Darryl and I were right in the thick of it all, busting balloons in awkward, sexual positions and getting the crowds applause. I didn’t give my approval for Darryl to participate in the Sexiest Man on Board game after several women came up to him asking and after I became a judge he couldn’t participate anyway lol. I had the punch lines and helped to make the game exciting. Outside of these games the White Night party was fun as well as the International Crew Parade of Flags. I thought the Newlywed game was kind of boring and I don’t think kids should have been allowed in the room. I prefer the All adult crowd games. (I’m looking into the all adult cruise next). The shows on RC were boring and very cheap. I give the activities and shows a 6 out of 10. In this area- Carnival Cruise Line takes the crown; their adult only game show is one not to be missed.

On one of our at sea days, there was a time change and we missed our sushi cooking class. RC was very accommodating and credited our account. On another sea day we purchased the Bottomless Galley Brunch, where we toured the ship galley-kitchen area, had a nice meal and drank unlimited champagne and mimosa. We were even allowed to take a bottle with us to our room. Needless to say, we didn’t do much else that day.

Ports of Call

Our first Port of call was on Fathers’ day and was in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Darryl and I are big Game of Throne fans so we booked an excursion through trip advisor to travel where some scenes from GOT was filmed. It was so exciting seeing this country that GOT basically put on the map and hearing facts about things that occurred during the filming. The most exciting parts were seeing where the ‘Walk of Shame’ took place and comparing the actual location to the scene and hearing that the place is often policed because many people try to reenact the scene of Cersei doing the walk of shame naked. The tour guid also had some props that we used to reenact some scenes.

The next Port of Call was to Kotor, Montenegro. This port was breathtaking. At first all you see is mountains, then you sail inwards and see this hidden island nestled in between them. You must tender to this port- take a smaller boat from the cruise ship to land. We booked the Blue Cave Speed Boat Adventure excursion through RC for this port. We saw caves where submarines were once hidden along the way. There was a small entryway into the cave and cold blue waters. We all climbed out of the boat for a short swim in the grotto. We all wished we could spend more time there but the cave had to be shared with other cave goers. After the cave we went to a beach where we got some food and a few beers. The sun was bright and the beach too rocky to swim but we did not let that keep us from enjoying this beautiful place.

Santorini was our third port of call. We opted to explore this country on our own since it was so pretty and none of the ship excursions appealed to us. This port was also tendered and once we arrived at port we had to take a tram car up the mountain to reach Santorini town. We walked around in and out of shops checking out the merchandise and Roman attire. I found Santorini to be quite expensive but picturesque. If I go again, I will check out trip advisor for some excursions or rent a 4X4 for the day from one of the many shops to see more of the country.

The last port of call was Katakolon, Greece. We booked an excursion with RC to visit Ancient Olympia and Kourouta Beach. We ran where the old olympic games took place and listened to how the old Romans competed in their birthday suits. We saw where they still light the torch to kick off the olympic games. Then we cooled off in the refreshing waters at the beach.

We had a really good time on this cruise and met some very nice people from as far as Australia. RC does try to nickel and dime you for everything and they push the alcohol package big time. Fortunately for us, we had enough of our own alcohol that we only purchased a few beers here and there- we’re not big drinkers. They even charge for fitness classes. I wish the food quality was the same across the board and that more options for eating were available late hours. They can make small improvement like adding popcorn for movie nights. Also they have to get better prepared in serving vegans as more and more people are turning to plant based diets. The pool was too small and there needs to be more adult only options. Highlights for me were the check in and check out procedures, much more efficient than Norwegian, housekeeping was wonderful, the cookies were good lol, the suite was a great size, ‘the key’- great add on, the amount of activities, movies under the stars, staff were nice, bottomless brunch, ports of call and friendships we made.

Sunrise over the Aegion Sea
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