Sunday, January 24, 2016

Budapest, Hungary

We travelled to Budapest from Prague via train, my preferred way of travel. Trains take much longer than a flight but are a more comfortable way to get from one place to another. You just show up a few minutes before the train departs and hop on. The train also does not give me the same headaches and cramps as a plane and offers a more spacious and scenic experience. There is nothing like going down to the dining car and enjoying a freshly made espresso and taking advantage of the free wifi. From the news one might expect that the train experience would be difficult, but as always the media often only shows one angle. The train was safe, comfortable, affordable and the stations in both cities were terrific. We took the metro from the Budapest train station and then a 1km walk to our airbnb, a quaint loft apartment in a historic building in the city centre. The first night we had an exciting trip to do laundry a 24 hour laundromat, which even provided wifi!

The second bath we tired was Gellert Baths, on the other side of the river from our central accommodations. We walked there and again agreed to meet in the central indoor pool that we both could see when we entered. I must stay that the halls are a maze and it took a me a long while to find the central pool again. The Gellert Baths are stunningly beautiful with an Art Nouveau style. The outdoor pool is much smaller than Szechenyi but we enjoyed it as well.

Next up was the Rudas Baths. We walked to the Baths, also across the river from our accommodations, but via a different bridge, and when we arrived there was a long line up and no further patrons were being admitted. After waiting awhile we decided we'd wake up early and try again another day. The following day, after being jolted awake by an unfamiliar alarm clock, as I was now quite used to waking when the mood struck me, we bundled up for the cold, early morning, 1.5 km walk. Once we arrived there was a large number of people milling about in the waiting area and no one selling tickets. We waited around perplexed until I asked a local person what was going on. It seems that there was an electrical problem and that it could be hours before it was fixed (they were still waiting for an electrician to even arrive). So we trudged back across the cold bridge to re-group at our flat. Did I mentioned this was all pre-coffee? The lesson; the early bird does not always get a birdbath. So we decided that Rudas was not meant to be and for our final trip to the Baths we went back to Szechenyi and had another great soak. I would certainly recommend checking out the various baths in Budapest for a interesting and fun experience. Apparently they also have late night disco parties at some baths but we decided that might be too interesting.

We spent New Year's Eve enjoying the outdoor energy, checking out the Christmas markets and the impromptu street fireworks. Teens and young adults put on their own fireworks all over the central squares. The streets were lively with everyone enjoying the evening. We had intended on spending part of the evening at the offbeat attraction, the Cat Cafe, however they were closed for the festivities. We did get to the cafe on another day and it was well worth it. There are ten formally homeless cats that lounge around the premises, spoiled with seemingly unlimited houses, beds, perches, climbing trees and hiding spots. The friendly cats wandered around to customers for a pet. There are strict rules of not picking up the cats or feeding them. I have never seen such a spoiled and content group of felines! It was nice spot to have an espresso and get int some cat therapy.

Our to do list included exploring the cities thermal baths. We attempted to try three different baths and succeeded with two. For the first experience we decided on the Szechenyi Baths, a large and popular destination. Upon arrival it is pretty straightforward to purchase tickets and head to the locker rooms, were your admission wrist band operates a locker. However, it is rather chaotic inside and a bit of a maze to find your way in and out. More than one gentleman wandered into the ladies change room and judging by the embarrassment I don't think it was intentional. The complex boasts 18 pools of which 15 are spring fed. We had agreed to meet in the outdoor thermal pool, however there was two large, very full pools. After J chased down my look alike he finally located me in the pool I believe we had agreed to meet in. Interestingly, bathing caps are not required in any thermal pools but it you attempt to enter the outdoor lap pool with out one the staff will descend upon you immediately. In fact it seemed to be their primary job. We wandered around the interior pools trying each one out, and they varied in size and temperature. We preferred the the outdoor thermal pool, and spent the majority of the time there. It was very relaxing, warm and full of diverse tourists and locals. There was even a stone chess table with men playing a game. My big lesson from he experience would be to bring flip flops as the floors are pretty dingy from the multiple shoes. As well, as a Canadian I pride myself on my hardiness in dealing with the cold weather, and would not have been that bothered by the chilly walk outside to the pool, except for the ice melt salt burning into the soles of my feet. So again, bring flip flops.

Another highlight was the Ludwig Museum for contemporary art. The museum itself is in a very interesting building. The exhibits were terrific and included european and international artworks. I discovered a new favourite artist; Laszlo Lakner, a native of Budapest. After much hype, we also decided to visit the House of Terror Museum. It contains exhibits related to the fascist communist dictatorial regimes in 20th-century Hungary and is also a memorial to the victims of these regimes, including those detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in the building." (source: The museum had some interesting elements such as intense music and lighting and artistic displays. Unfortunately, it lacked a cohesive flow and did not pull the viewer in. There was a lack of interpretive signage. For example you could pickup a written explanation in different sections that was often quite long but did not connect to the display well. They instead seemed to give a lengthy history lesson versus engagement. In one part you walk through a maze that appears to be bars of soap with no explanation. There was the option of a recorded guided tour but they were out of the headsets, and I believe an exhibit should be able to stand on its own with out such a guide. In fact we never use the guides. We have previously visited some very profound and emotional sites including the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp memorial in Berlin, that did a much better job connecting with the viewer. Within in Budapest a profound exhibit was the simple memorial on the banks of the Danube river. Shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial in Budapest, Hungary. Conceived by film director Can Togay, he created it on the east bank of the Danube River with sculptor Gyula Pauer to honor the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. It represents their shoes left behind on the bank." (source: The bank is lined with cast metal shoes of all sizes symbolizing the men, women and children murdered.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague is a picturesque city with stunning, intact, heritage architecture. As with all our travels we like to flaneur; taking in the sights, sounds, and even smells of the urban life as we wander the streets, and Prague is an especially nice place to do this. In addition to the architecture, there are many parks, squares, benches, and public art to enjoy. We came to Prague with only a few items planned on our itinerary; vegan food and contemporary Art; we were not disappointed with either.

Our Prague stay started with arriving via a short flight from Amsterdam, which we had spent two nights in to break up the travel (on our way out of Europe we spend a week in Amsterdam). We normally take the metro to our accommodations but the Airbnb host offered to arrange a taxi for a reasonable fee. Our Airbnb was wonderfully located next to metro and tram stops, shops, and vegan friendly dining. We love Airbnb as it allows us to pick a place based on price, location, amenities, sights, lively neighbourhood etc so I always opt for a property in a central area, near metros, and vegan friendly dining (the happycow veg dining directly helps with this). The other benefit is it almost always cheaper than a hotel and since we opt for apartments, they are larger and have a kitchen as well.

As mentioned already, just wandering the streets you will stumble upon countless historic buildings and interesting architecture, including a great number of grand churches. We explored several of the recommended sites including Old Town Square, the astronomical clock, Charles pedestrian bridge, Dancing House and the castle. We also spent time window shopping the antique stores and enjoying the open air Christmas markets selling trinkets, and food, decorated with lights and festive displays. We also went to the Kolbenova flea market, best described as a garage sale crossed with liquidation world, a gun show and a butcher. This interesting article captures some of the experience; The Ultimate Guide To Kolbenova In Prague, Europe’s Weirdest Flea Market.

We explored some terrific museums including the fantastic Brave New World exhibit at Dox Museum. It was a little further from the centre but worth the trip. A well curated exhibit in a great space. We also enjoyed the Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali and local contemporary artworks on display at the Gallery of Art Prague. The National Technical Museum has an extremely large and varied collection including a particle accelerator, vehicles, vintage household technology, toys, chemistry, printing, mining, astronomy, time measurement etc etc. We spent several hours exploring the exhibits and cold have easily spent several more. We also stopped into the small but informative Museum of Communism.

An unexpected museum we stumbled upon was the Apple Museum and it was amazing! The museum is dedicated to the history of the Apple computer company and Steve Jobs. There is an expansive and amazing display of vintage Apple products including the original Apple 1 computer. The entire space is bright, well thought out and a great experience. Some unique aspects include Steven's food Cafe - vegetarian raw (all vegan except honey) featuring foods Steven liked, Integrated USB chargers in Cafe to recharge your iPhone/iPod, wifi, and iPad based Internet terminals. The experience was enhanced with some of Steve's favourite music playing in the lobby and Cafe, the voice over if Steve Job's commencement speech in the exhibit, apple air freshener, Macintosh Apple tree in the courtyard and super cool, and sleek subterranean bathrooms. The museum was an expected highlight of our visit to Prague. When travelling you never know what you'll find!

For Prague photos see:

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Count down to Europe

On December 18, 2015 we will head to Europe for 4 weeks and experience 4 more countries we have never visited; Netherlands, Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria. A few have asked about whether we would still travel with the recent acts of terrorism. The reality is that terrible things and wonderful things happen everyday in every corner of the world. A real tragedy is the actions of a few are being used to vilify entire groups of people and to prevent people from knowing their global neighbours.

"We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. We experience ourselves as being separate from the whole. This separateness becomes like a prison for us, a prison that restricts us to our personal hopes and fears and to caring only for the people nearest to us. Curiously enough, if we primarily try to shield ourselves from discomfort, we suffer. Yet when we don’t close off and we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings. His Holiness the Dalai Lama describes two kinds of selfish people: the unwise and the wise. Unwise selfish people think only of themselves, and the result is confusion and pain. Wise people know that the best thing they can do for themselves is to be there for others. As a result, they experience joy.

When we see a woman and her child begging on the street, when we see a man mercilessly beating his terrified dog, when we see a teenager who has been badly beaten or see fear in the eyes of a child, do we turn away because we can’t bear it? Most of us probably do. Someone needs to encourage us not to brush aside what we feel, not to be ashamed of the love and grief it arouses in us, not to be afraid of the pain. Someone needs to encourage us that this soft spot in us could be awakened and that to do this would change our lives." [Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, p. 87-88]

So we will continue to travel; meeting new neighbours, savouring wonderful vegan food, wandering down streets that have seen a million feet, taking photos, soaking up art and architecture, getting lost and found again, and exploring new favourite places.

"We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again-to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more." Pico Iyer

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Canadian Online Vegan-Friendly Shopping

It used to be that all the online shopping options were USA based such as Vegan Essentials and Food Fight. (I've successfully ordered from both shops). It is great to have these options but with shipping costs, shipping times and customs fees it can be expensive and difficult, especially when dealing with perishable items. Canadians now have a few more options for online shopping to get those hard to find vegan friendly items. I have been a long time customer of Nice Shoes; Canada's Vegan Shoe Store. Nice Shoes has a fantastic selection of men's and women's shoes for all occasions. Plus they have belts, bags, purses, wallets, shoe care, socks and even some chocolates. Their shipping is fast, service friendly and a wonderful selection of items. Another place I frequently shop is, which is not a vegan store but has a large selection of vegan friendly food, personal care and household items, plus free shipping if you send $29.00.

Now onto my latest online shopping crush: Vegan Supply, which opened in May 2015 and is located in Vancouver, BC. (There is also an Eastern vegan online store, based in Toronto, that I have not shopped at: The V Word Market). Vegan Supply stocks all sort of items not normally available in Canada. My first experience dealing with the force behind Vegan Supply was ordering vegan items from Antony and Sons in December 2014, before they had their dedicated vegan company Vegan Supply. You can read more about it in my Calgary Vegan Cheese post. Fast forward to present day; I made a large and varied purchase of items in August 2015, pictured below.

Let's start with dessert first! I have long loved Cocomels; the original coconut milk caramels. I ordered an old favourite, 2 boxes of the sea salt naked Cocomels. I also tried the chocolate covered Cocomel with sea salt; divine! The caramels have a real buttery taste with a pleasant, but not over powering, coconut flavour. Dipping them in chocolate takes the taste up to another level.

Vegan Supply has a good selection of vegan meats and I opted for; Louisville Jerky, Viana Picknicker, and the Beyond Meat Beast Burger. The maple bacon flavoured jerky was the best I've had and it boasts 12 grams of protein per bag, gluten free and most important delicious! I've had the Viana Picknicker before while traveling in Europe, and itt is a great on the go snack similar to salami. Last but definitely not least, I finally tried the much praised Beast Burger. Outside Magazine recently wrote an article on this product titled "The Top-Secret Food that Will Change the Way You Eat" A quote fro the article; More protein than beef. More omegas than salmon. Tons of calcium, antioxidants, and vitamin B. In their secret R&D lab, the scientists at Beyond Meat concocted a plant-protein-based performance burger that delivers the juicy flavor and texture of the real thing with none of the dietary and environmental downsides. The burger was truly the best store bought vegan burger I have ever tried. It had a great favour, texture and no odd after taste that I sometimes find with veggie burgers. For those concerned about gluten (not me I love gluten!) the burger is also gluten free. It grilled up well on the BBQ and my only regret is that I did not order more!

Now for the area in which Vegan Supply really excels; a robust variety of vegan cheese! I ordered cheese from; VtopianChao slices from Field RoastMiyoko's Kitchen and mac and cheese from Daiya. I have had Vtopian cheese on numerous occasions and it is always delicious  This time we got the Camembert which is a heavy creamy consistency with a slightly sweet cheese flavour. It spreads well and was used on bread and on top of perogies. I also purchased a Vtopian seitan cheese ball which is my favourite. It is a deletable hazelnut cheese wrapped in maple seitan. Perfect for parties or eating straight up on fresh bread. Up next is Chao slices, which are now my favourite vegan cheese slices! They have that more processed cheese slice taste, vs gourmet aged cheese, but that is not a bad thing. They worked very well in cheese sandwiches and grilled cheese. My favourite flavour was the Tomato Cayenne, but all were terrific. My overall favourite cheese pick was Miyoko's in Winter Truffle and Smoked Farmhouse. The winter truffle was the softest and had deep mushroom flavour. The smoked farmhouse was out of this world with a smoky, deep umami flavour and firmer texture. I love pairing good vegan cheese with an organic baguette or ciabatta bun from Ace Bakery, found locally at Superstore or Co-op.

Now the Daiya mac and cheese is not straight up cheese but the noodles come with a soft cheese pouch similar to velveeta.  Out of the two I ordered, I've only tried the Deluxe White Cheddar Style Veggie, and it was pretty good, although I've heard the Deluxe Cheddar Style is better so I will be ordering that kind next time. The noodles cooked up nicely (which surprised me a bit as they are gluten free) and the cheese pouch mixed in well. 

Vegan Supply is a terrific addition to the Canadian vegan community. My order was processed quickly, with great communication. When shipping perishables you need to purchase ice packs and choose the two day shipping options. This of course adds to the price but it is certainly much cheaper than a trip to the United States! I opted for UPS and the box arrived well packaged and still cool even in a heat wave. I recommend shipping to a location where you will be present to collect it. I shipped it to work and kept it in the fridge until the end of the day. Next time I will try out the cheaper expedited shipping option via Canada Post. 

Happy shopping!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Tel Aviv Vegan Food Tour

A big part of our love of travel is exploring the local vegan cuisine and Tel Aviv did not disappoint! There has been a lot of press on the vegan friendliness of Israel such as; Although we had a kitchen in our fabulous Airbnb rental we opted to enjoy the local vegan offerings at the many vegan and vegan friendly establishments.

Our favourite breakfast stop was Seeds, an all vegan bakery. We enjoyed assorted pastries, my favourite being the danishes, along side espresso and even iced coffee.

Our favourite overall restaurant was Buddha Burgers, offering an extensive all vegan menu, complete with amazing desserts. Featured below is a Schnitzel plate and a dreamy slice of strawberry pie.

Other spots we enjoyed included vegan sushi from The Green Roll, frequent meals at the Vegan Shawarma (including vegan Mr Donuts), and The Green Cat vegan pizza joint. We also stopped by a health food store and picked up some vegan cheese slices and snacks. 

We mostly opted to visit all vegetarian/vegan spots while in Tel Aviv but we were told that many average restaurants also have great vegan options. Check out HappyCow Restaurant Guide for the extensive vegan options in Tel Aviv!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Travelling the Holy Land

I think it is clear that I could not make a career out of travel writing, as I am too busy enjoying the experience to take time to write it down! This post on Israel comes a few weeks late. After spending nine wonderful days enjoying Jordan, we flew from Amman to Tel Aviv, Israel. It is possible to cross by land but it looked more complicated so we opted to fly. We rented a fabulous Airbnb apartment centrally located in the heart of the city and short walk to the Frishman Beach. The apartment building was modest which hid the amazing flat, well equipped for any traveller! The first thing we did was tackle the mountain of laundry that accumulated during our adventures in Jordan. We love staying in Airbnb apartments as it gives a chance to live in a local neighbourhood, has convenient amenities and is generally far cheaper than a hotel.

On our first day out we headed to Dizengoff Centre, a large mall, in search of a local SIM card for my phone, in order to have affordable internet and cellular access with out any roaming fees. All of the signage is generally in Hebrew but we found everyone we encountered also spoke English and were happy to assist us in finding our way. We found a mobile shop in the centre and purchased a Orange brand SIM card, which the clerk cheerfully installed and set up. The SIM card was a valuable asset on our trip and allowed us to use GPS maps to navigate, find vegan friendly spots on the HappyCow app, look up attractions, post photos etc. 

We spent a lot of time walking the streets of Tel Aviv taking in the local scene. I was pleasantly surprised by the urban design including, public squares, gathering places, parks, benches, green space, public art etc. Two very interesting streets are Chen and Rothschild Boulevards, which both have a large green space median down the centre for walking, cycling and Flâneuring. We spent a great deal of time up and down these boulevards, and similar ones, in our wandering. Tel Aviv could teach many other cities about the importance of space to rest, visit, and watch the world go by. Tel Avi had terrific benches in wonderful configurations, including beach loungers set up in some parks. Oh and many many wonderful cats, some of them taking over the benches.

We stumbled upon a weekly outdoor antique market near Dizengoff Square, which is built around a large artwork; "Fire and Water Fountain", a fountain and kinetic sculpture that plays music, by the artist Yaakov Agam.  We purchased a small antique metal art tile and collection of vintage, woodcut, prints by the Israeli artist; Jacob Pins. We explored many diverse areas of Tel Aviv including the crowded streets of Carmel Market, filled with fruits, vegetables, and assorted wares, and the cobblestone streets, surrounded by stone old buildings in Old Jaffa. "Jaffa has been one of the major port cities of the Mediterranean Sea for eons. Most archeologists believe that some kind of town existed on these parts ever since 7,000 years ago, and that this town had an active port since the Bronze Age." (source: 

Carmel Market

We also spent a great deal of time exploring fabulous museums including: Ilana Goor MuseumTel Aviv Museum of Art, Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art, and the Design Museum Holon. The Ilana Goor museum was very unique as it is also the residence of the artist Ilana Goor and is filled with her own art work plus her extensive collection of other artists' work. The house had a very passionate and eccentric feeling to it. All areas, except her private bedroom, were open for visitors to explore. We purposefully sought out this museum as we learned that she had sculpture from Galya Tarmu, who painted a painting we were fortunate to have purchased in a Las Vegas antique shop. When we arrived at the museum we were pleasantly surprised to find four art works by Galya! The Tel Aviv Museum of Art had a diverse permanent collection of contemporary art with pieces from Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollack, Max Ernst, Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, to name just a few. There was also a fascinating special installation by Tom Friedman called "Up in the Air." You can see a video below:

Tel Aviv is also home to the "White City of Tel Aviv" a UNESCO Heritage Site filled with unique Bauhaus style buildings. "Tel Aviv has the largest concentration in the world of buildings built in the "International Style". This style was brought to Tel Aviv in the beginning of the 1930's by European graduates of European architecture schools. Their source of inspiration was the modern architecture movement dominant in Europe in the 1920's. The main principles of the modern movement are – architecture is an expression of volume and not mass, asymmetrical composition and regular repetition instead of classic symmetry, avoidance of all decorations that do not have a useful purpose." (Source: We enjoyed an informative walking tour of some of the area via the Bauhaus Centre

No trip to the region is complete without exploring some of the religious sites. Even as Atheists we appreciate the history and religious importance of the region. We booked a private tour with Rent a Guide Israel Tours to see Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The private tour was in a comfortable van and allowed us to go at our own pace. Our guide Ofer was very knowledgeable about the history, cultures and religions in the region. We started the tour in the Jerusalem Old City which is divided into four quadrants; Christian, Armenian, Jewish and Muslim. We spent the hours visiting many ornate churches, wandering side roads and browsing market stalls. 

We saw the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built on the site of Jesus's crucification and the tomb where he was said to have been buried. We toured the Cenacle which is where the Last Supper was said to have occurred. We also visited the Western Wall (also called the Wailing Wall); "It is a relatively small western segment of the walls surrounding the area called the Temple Mount (or Har Habayit) by Jews, Christians and most Western sources, and known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary (Al-Haram ash-Sharīf)" (source: It is an important site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage. Temple Mount is an important religious site within Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Dome of the Rock "is a shrine located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was initially completed in 691 CE at the order of Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik during the Second Fitna. The Dome of the Rock is now one of the oldest works of Islamic architecture.[1] It has been called 'Jerusalem's most recognizable landmark'.[2] The octagonal plan of the structure may have been influenced by the Byzantine Chapel of St Mary (also known as Kathisma and al-Qadismu) built between 451 and 458 on the road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.[3] The site's significance stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, known as the Foundation Stone, at its heart, which bears great significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims" (source 

Western Wall

After Jerusalem we headed to Bethlehem. When we arrived we changed to a Palestinian tour guide who took us through the Israeli West Bank barrier separating the State of Palestine from Israel. On the other side we took a car past the wall, covered in graffiti and political slogans to Manger Square, which sits in front of the Church of Nativity. "The Church of the Nativity is a basilica located in Bethlehem, Palestine. The church was originally commissioned in 327 AD by Constantine and his mother Helena over the site that is still traditionally considered to be located over the cave that marks the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth" (source: We explored the church and viewed the site where Jesus was born, which is marked with a silver star on the floor (seen in the photo below). The church is very ornate inside and was undergoing painstaking restorations in some portions. We toured some of the surrounding buildings and ended our tour at a very nice gift shop filled with religious items, souvenirs and local olive wood handicrafts. After shopping we went back through the security gates in the wall and re-united with our original guide. All of the people we met on our tours of both cities were friendly and welcoming. 

Church of Nativity

Israeli West Bank Barrier

We loved the week we spent in this ancient region and I dearly wish for peace and prosperity for all. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Jordan Vegan Eats

When travelling we check out the traditional foods for items that are naturally vegan. Luckily Jordanian Cuisine has many vegan options. In Jordan we enjoyed hummus, falafel, foul (a mix of fava beans and spices), pita bread, Fattoush salad, tabouleh salad, baba ghanoush, olives, and diverse fruits!

In Amman we found a vegetarian restaurant on HappyCow; Hashem. It is a busy spot with outside seating. There is no menu but they come by and take your order which can be a combination of the following; hummus, foul, falafel, pita. It is served with a side of onions, mint and tomatoes. I have never tried hummus with mint before and it was delicious! It was extremely cheap and some of the best hummus and falafel I've ever had!

However, there is also a lot of dishes with meat or dairy so we often found ourselves eating a combination of the hummus, salads, falafel, assorted dips and pita for three meals a day. I had never considered falafel as a breakfast food before!

While in the region we also enjoyed Turkish Delight, a sweet fruit jelly, and Turkish coffee infused with cardamon.
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