Sailing the Greek Islands with Bearing True South: Part Two

This is the second part of our sailing trip with Bearing true south. In part one we were sailing the Cyclades, here is the link to that post- https://thefoodiewinoyogis.com/2019/01/29/sailing-the-cyclades-with-bearing-true-south-part-one/

After Kythnos and Serifos we crossed the Aegean and went on to the Saronic Gulf Islands. This was not our original plan but with high winds and a storm heading towards the Cyclades we changed course to stay in calmer seas as we sailed. The crossing took about 7-8 hours of sailing. After that we spent time on Ydra (Hydra is the English spelling and pronunciation), Ermioni peninsula, Poros and a few small uninhabited islands on the way back to Athens.

Ydra Island:

The port town on Ydra was more crowded than the other islands we visited but don’t let that deter you. It has a lot to offer and was one of our favorite spots. The street facing the water is lined with tourist shops and restaurants but if you walk further back into town you can find some really amazing and authentic food. There are no cars on the island so the streets are lined with donkeys to carry supplies. This island is also the one with by far the most cats we saw on this trip!

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Ydra is one of the wealthiest islands in Greece and has a long pirate history. There is a pirate mansion in the town (Lazaros Koundouriotis Historical Mansion) that is open for tours and offers great views of the water. There is a small entrance fee to tour the house. The house is beautifully restored and decorated. You can take pictures of everything you see inside. It takes about 45 minutes to walk through. We would highly recommend seeing this place!

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There is also a small museum in town, The Historical Archive. The museum focuses on Ydra’s cultural history, it took us about an hour to wander through. It is full of paintings and different artifacts relating to the island. There is a small entrance fee. Next to the museum is the old fort which you can walk up to and take photos of the water and the port town itself.

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After exploring the pirate mansion and the museum we headed to lunch at Xeri Elia. This is a small family run restaurant a few blocks back away from the water and the tourists. We have traditional stuffed tomatoes and soutzoukakia or traditional Greek meatballs in a tomato sauce with greens locally grown on the island.

 

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After we toured the museum and the mansion and stopped for some lunch we were ready for a swim! We walked along the road near the water until we came to Spilia. This is a small café with tables offering water views and steps down to the water so you can swim, snorkel or just lay in the sun and relax. It was a bit wavy the day we were there but that didn’t stop us from snorkeling and enjoying the water. This was actually one of our favorite snorkeling spots on this trip. We saw the most variety of colorful fish in the spot. You can get to the water from the cafe, but there is also a public beach just past it. The cafe had changing rooms you can use and great coffee!

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Ermioni

The marina at the port of Ydra was actually full when we went by so we ended up staying on Ermioni and taking the Ferry to Ydra for a day. We stayed on the south side of the Ermioni peninsula. The ferry leaves from the marina on the north side. It is just a short 5-10 minute walk through town from one side to the other. The ferry ride is only about 15-20 minutes and we were able to leave in the morning and take the last ferry back in the evening so we still enjoyed a full day of Ydra.

Ermioni itself is a really nice area. There is a small park on the far end of the peninsula. The landscape here is more forested, it reminded us of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with its pine trees along the cost. There is a path which goes along the park in the forested area which only takes about 30-40 minutes to walk through. Along the way there are a few areas with steps down to the water if you wanted to swim.

 

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We stayed in Ermioni for two nights. The night after we sailed across the Aegean and the night after we had spent the day on Ydra. The first night we ate dinner at a restaurant right on the water called Tzieris. This place offered authentic Greek food and awesome views with tables right on the water! We did not take as many pictures of all the food here but everything we had was great. Here we tried several appetizers including tzatziki, a fava bean dip, saganaki (Greek fried cheese), we also had grilled octopus and muscles in a tomato and feta sauce- which we did take a picture of.

 

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The second night we had a lighter and more casual dinner on the boat. We happened to be anchored right across from a restaurant called Souvlaki Bar. They had some tables outside on the side walk but we just did take away and ate on the boat.

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Another food recommendation on Ermioni is the Drougas Bakery. This is on the north side near where the ferry leaves. They have amazing coffee, breads, pastries and desserts. They also sell wine, olive oils, and jams that you can buy to take back home.

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Poros Island: From Ermioni we did a short sail to Poros.

The clock tower on Poros is an iconic landmark on the island and a must do! The clock tower is located on the highest point of the island so it is a bit of a walk up to see it. From this area you will get amazing panoramic views of the water, the view cannot be beat!

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The Archaeological Museum of Poros is a museum located on Koryzis Square in Poros, Greece. The displays of the museum date from the Mycenaean era to Roman times. There was also a small modern art exhibit there they day we went through. The museum is very small and only took us about 30 minutes to go through. There is a small entrance fee to walk though. You can take photos but are not allowed to use a flash went photographing inside the museum.

 

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After walking up to the clock town and through the museum we had some time to kill in the afternoon. We walked from the marina to Mikro Neorio Bay Beach Bar. This place is located on a small, quite beach. They offer lounge chairs with umbrellas at no cost as long as you purchase something from the bar. We enjoyed relaxing, taking in the views and doing some swimming.

 

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We headed into town for dinner at Platanos Taverna. This may have been the best meal we had the entire trip! We ate really well the whole time so that is really saying something. We loved this place, we ate outside and had great views of the water and the boats at night. The restaurant is up high on a hill in the town just a short walk from the marina. We had zucchini ball appetizers which were awesome and highly recommended by our guide. He talked them up all week and they lived up to expectations. We had roasted lamb and veal in a tomato sauce with sweet onion for our main courses. Both dishes were excellent. If you are on Poros you have to eat at this place!

 

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Our last day we left from Poros and stopped at a few very small uninhabited islands for more swimming, snorkeling and relaxing on the boat before heading back to Athens. We ended back in Athens in the evening after our day in the sun. We spent one last night on the boat in the Athens marina.  Once we got back to the marina our skipper left us for the night. Our guide went to dinner with us one last time in Athens before also leaving us for the night. The next morning our skipper came back to help get us all checked out and on our way. Again we would highly recommend Bearing True South, they were awesome! Here is the link to their website again- http://www.bearingtruesouth.com. They also offer hiking, biking and other adventure travel in Northern Greece if sailing isn’t your thing.

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 -TFWYs

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Sailing the Greek Islands with Bearing True South: Part One

We found Bearing True South through the Clymb (https://www.theclymb.com) in their travel section. We contacted the company to get more details and then proceeded to book our trip. We found two other couples to come with us. In total we had a group of 6 plus our guide, Stav and skipper, Andreas on the boat. We sailed for a week, leaving from Athens on a Saturday afternoon and arriving back in Athens on Friday evening. Each couple had their own cabin on the sailboat and there was a separate cabin for our guide and skipper. You can be as involved in the sailing (or not involved) as you want. Our group was pretty eager to learn so both Stav and Andreas answered all our questions and explained to us what they were doing as we sailed all week long. For the most part we did also use the motor during our trip to help us get to all of our destinations in a weeks time. We intended to do the Western Cyclades trip as it is outlined on Bearing True South’s website. When sailing or doing any kind of boating plans sometimes have to change because of the weather! There happened to be a storm coming midweek during our trip so Stav and Andreas suggested that we hit a few islands in the Cyclades then cross over to another set of islands in the Saronic gulf which was more protected from the storm. We went with this suggestion in order to make sure we got to see as many islands as we could and to ensure we were sailing through smoother water to avoid anyone in the group getting sea sick. We were all very happy with this decision and ended up getting to see a lot more variety than our original trip would have offered us. We took this trip in early September, the water everywhere was very warm (low 80s) and the weather was perfect.
We would highly recommend Bearing True South! Our guide Stav and our skipper Andreas were both awesome! Stav emailed and skyped with us before we left so that he had a good idea of what we wanted to see and do during our trip. They both made sure everything went smoothly all week.  We felt safe and taken care of the entire trip. Stav is a huge foodie which worked out great for us. We ate very well all week. We ate at small, family run restaurants on the islands where Stav knew the owners each time. We were frequently shown the fresh seafood of the day before ordering so we knew what was freshly caught that morning and recommended by the chef. In one restaurant we were even taken to the back to see the kitchen, the entire fresh seafood selection and wine selection before taken back to our table to place our order! Here is the link to Bearing True South’s website. if you are considering a sailing trip through the Greek Islands definitely seek them out!
Here is where we went and what we did. This post includes the first half of our trip (the time spent in the Cyclades).
Departing Athens
We arrived to the Alimos Marina in the early afternoon with all of our luggage, and waited at the marina’s restaurant. It’s a massive marina and we were one of hundreds of boats that needed to leave so we needed to get cleared by the dock master. Stav met us at the restaurant to get to know us as the skipper finished getting the boat ready for us – these guys turn the boat around in only a few hours between the previous guests leaving and us getting on. We got cleared for departure around 3:30 and were able to load up our gear and get going. We had a 6-7 hour sail the first day to get to Kythnos where we were going to sleep. We got to pass the temple of Poseidon and a great sunset.
Kythnos Island
Kolona Bay
We sailed right from Athens to the Kolona double bays on Kythnos, the took about 6  hours so it was after dark when we arrived. We anchored for the night in one of the bays The skies were clear and you could clearly see the Milky Way above. There is no town or city within view, only a coffee shop/cafe and a couple houses. When we woke up in the morning we spent several hours in the morning swimming, snorkeling and walking around the area. There is a small strip of sand in-between the bays, the coffee shop is on one side of this small beach. From the beach there is a path that leads up to a small church on the top of a hill overlooking the bay. The church was locked the day we were there but we could see inside the front windows and the view of the bays from up there is a must see! Early in the morning there is a herd of mountain goats that frequently grazes up by the church so if you get up early you can probably see them as you walk around.  You can also find sea urchins stuck to rocks in the shallow waters along the edge of the bays. Our guide got several for us all to try. Nobody in our group had ever tried them before and we had always heard they were very good. They taste somewhat sweet and very fresh and salty like the ocean. They have a somewhat similar taste to shrimp.
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Port Town on Kythnos – Loutra
From Kolona beach we sailed to the small port town of Loutra where we stayed the night in the marina. This is a very small town but it has a lot to offer. We ate lunch and dinner at a family run restaurant across the street from the beach- ΕΣΤΙΑΤΟΡΙΟ, ΚΑΦΕ, ΜΠΑΡ “ΞΕΡΟΛΙΘΙΑ”, ΛΑΧΑΝΟΥ ΑΛΚΗΣΤΙΣ. There are several restaurants on the beach as well. We went to this place because our guide knew the owner and knew the food was good (order the baby squid and the roasted goat leg!). We ate seafood for lunch and meat dishes for dinner. Everything was excellent and we would highly recommend this place. There are tables outside in the front of the restaurant and a small courtyard next to the restaurant with tables and string lights that hang from above. These are lit up at night giving the place a great atmosphere. After dinner we were each brought a shot of Chios Mastiha which is a liqueur that comes from the Greek island of Chios. The mastic tree does not grow anywhere else so this is something unique to Greece. The name Chios Mastiha has protected designation of origin status with the EU meaning to be labeled as Chios Mastiha it must be made in the traditional methods and must be produced on Chios. It does have a licorice taste similar to Ouzo but that flavor is much less strong and is sweeter with herbal notes.

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From lunch we headed to Ιαματικές Πηγές – Thermal Springs. Don’t expect a luxury spa experience. This place is very simply a small spa with several bathrooms, each with a marble tub that is filled with water from the thermal hot springs in the area. They fill it for you and then you sit/lay in the tub for approximately 20 minutes. They will come get you when the time is up and drain the tub. The minerals in the water are supposed to be very good for you. We enjoyed this experience and it was something different that we hadn’t done before. If your in the area it is worth a visit for the afternoon and it won’t take up too much of your day (I think it was around 15 Euro per person). The other interesting thing to do in this area is on the beach where the water from the hot springs flows into the sea. Locals have build up a “wall” of large boulders keeping the warm water from the hot spring in this small natural “hot tub” area. As the waves roll in towards the beach water from the sea enters to tub. If you sit further from the sea you will be in warmer water where the hot spring flows in. If you get too hot you can move closer to the sea where the water will be cooler.
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Kythnos Main Town – Chora

After spending the afternoon in the port town we took a cab up to the main town of Chora. This small village is up on the top of a hill. It is full of small winding roads, white buildings with royal blue accents, it has all the beautfiul things you always seen in photos of the Cyclades but without all the tourists. As we wandered the streets exploring we didn’t see any other tourists. People are very proud of their homes in this village so we saw many people out painting their houses or tending to their gardens. Many people were growing fresh herbs in their small gardens so you can smell basil and oregano in the air as you walk by. We intended to eat dinner up here at another restaurant recommended by our guide but the restaurant was closed because the owner’s daughter had gotten married that weekend. Our guide also recommended we try some traditional greek desserts from the Chora Pastry Shop. Everything we tried here was wonderful- we would recommend the baklava and the cream filled pastry but try whatever looks good to you, it was all delicious! The owners were very friendly and explained to us what everything was. They were also willing to pack stuff up and hold it for us until we had finished our walk through the village.

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Serifos Island

From Kythnos we sailed to Serifos. We arrived there in the afternoon after roughly 3-4 hours of sailing. We sailed along the Eastern coast of Kythnos and passed Little Pepper Island, then continued down to the Southeastern corner of Serifos where the main town is. On our way in, we stopped at a bay for a swim and saw a ton of fish and urchins.

Serifos Port Town – Livadi                                                                                                                              Livadi is the port town on Serifos where we stayed. After we arrived we spent the afternoon wandering around this small town for the afternoon before heading up to the main town in the evening. Livadi is full of small shops and restaurants along the beach and a few narrow streets with some houses. There is not a lot there but it is a nice place to relax.  After heading up the the main town to explore we came back to Livadi and had dinner on the beach at restaurant TAKIS. Our guide knew the owner of this restaurant as well so he graciously took us to the back of the restaurant to show us all of the fresh seafood available as well as the kitchen and the wine selection. We took his recommendation for a white wine made locally on the island. Our table was right on the water and the beach happened to be full of cats and a few small kittens all walking the beach and trying to catch the minnows swimming in the shallow water along the beach. They didn’t catch any fish while we watched but it did add entertainment to our dinner!

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After dinner we walked down the beach to a small cafe for ice cream. We tried Mastiha flavored ice cream (the liqueur we had tried on Kythnos). You can find all kinds of products made from the Mastiha tree in Greece. Although it wasn’t our favorite ice cream flavor it was fun to try something new that you can’t find everywhere.

Serifos Main Town – Hora                                                                                                                               We took the bus from the port up to the main town, Hora. The main town is up on the top of a hill so the bus ride up is on pretty windy, narrow roads but is only about a 5-10 minute ride. There is also a path to walk up if you are looking for a workout. There are two churches in the town that offer spectacular views of the water and the town. You do have to walk up a fairly steep hill to get to the first church which sets up above the town on the hill. From this church there is another church up several steps to an even higher point on the hill. One warning, it is very windy up here. I wore a sun dress and spent the entire time up by the churches holding in in place (wear shorts and a t-shirt).

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After walking up to the churches we headed back into town. We sat outside at Tavern Louis for some homemade sour cherry juice and lemonade. From this Tavern you get great views of yet another church built in the traditional Cycladic style architecture. The tavern is in a small square at the center of town,  there are a few other restaurants/cafes around and a few small shops. We stopped into one of the shops nearby that was selling clothing and some souvenirs. The store owner was very nice and helpful but was not pushy like you find in some more heavily touristed areas where you feel pressured to buy something when you walk in. We purchased a small clay coin with a frog on it. The Serifos frog was printed on the first currency of the island.

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You can read more about the second half of our trip here https://thefoodiewinoyogis.com/2019/01/31/sailing-the-greek-islands-with-bearing-true-south-part-two/

-TFWY

Making the Most of Two Days in Athens

We went to Athens as the starting point of a week long sailing trip around the Western Cyclades and Saronic Gulf. We had about two days in Athens before we left the city. There is a lot to see in Athens so we did not get to everything. Here is what we did get to in our short time in the city and some recommendations for food to try.

We stayed near the Plaka district in the middle of the city. This is the oldest part of the city and very close to the Acropolis. It is a bit touristy with lots of shops and some more touristy restaurants but the neighborhood is beautiful and you can still find some good, authentic restaurants within walking distance. You will also be within walking distance to the acropolis and a lot of the ruins.

Changing of the guards: We had never seen a changing of the guards ceremony before so we decided to check it out. There is a ceremony every half hour at the Parliament building near Plaka. It does draw a lot of tourists so we did have to squeeze our way towards the front of the group of people watching in order to get a good view. The ceremony is fun to see if you haven’t seen one before however we did feel it was a bit drawn out so we did not stay for the entire ceremony. After about 10 minutes we felt we got the gist of it and went on with out busy day (we were trying to pack a lot of sight seeing into our short time in Athens).

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Monastiraki Square: This is a busy area near the Acropolis hill. The square itself has some beautiful old buildings including the Pantanassas Byzantine Church which you can go inside and take photos of. There is also a large flee market full of shops selling clothing, olive oil and other greek food items and souvenirs. Souvenir tip – 98% of the shops are selling the same stuff. As a rule, we try not to buy anything on the first day of a trip when everything is new and you don’t have a point of reference. If you buy something in Plaka it will likely be a bit more expensive so shop around to find the best price before purchasing. There are several restaurants and bars in this area that offer great views of the Acropolis.

Anafiotika Neighborhood: As you wander around the acropolis hill you will stumble upon a little neighborhood full of white buildings, tiny streets, beautiful flowers and lots of cats! You get the feeling of being on one of the islands in the Cyclades without actually leaving the city. Do be mindful as you are wandering through that people do live in these houses so be respectful when photographing.

Acropolis Hill and Museum: We toured the Acropolis museum and the Acropolis hill with a guide, Eva. She was recommended to us by Bearing True South (the company we sailed around the Islands with) Here is a link to her instagram account- from there you can call or email her to set up a tour: https://www.instagram.com/evanthia_great_tours_greece/. The museum is extremely well done! It is very helpful to have someone who knows what all the ruins and artifacts are to explain in more detail to you as you walk through. As you enter, you will walk over the old ruins that the museum was built over. Since there is so much history in Athens, it is impossible to build something without hitting some sort of ruins. You will have to check your bags at the entrance, and flash photography is limited to a few areas in the museum. On the top floor you will realize that the layout is designed to represent the top of the Parthenon: the carved marble around the sides and the marble statues at either end. There are signs and explanations of each artifact in the museum so it certainly isn’t necessary to have a guide if you’d rather walk through on your own.  From the museum we headed up to the top of Acropolis hill. We were up at the top at sunset and stayed to take photos until it closed. It is beautiful to be up there at sunset but it is very crowded so it is nearly impossible to get a photo of any of the ruins without other tourists in the background. I suspect it is very busy at all times of day unless you arrive right when it opens in the morning. Of course the Parthenon is the largest building at the top which most people know about. You can also see the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion and the Propylaea (the gateway or entrance to the Acropolis).

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Odeon of Herodes Atticus: This stone theater is located on the slope of the Acropolis hill so you can’t miss it as you walk to the top. It is a beautiful theater and it is actually still used today. We weren’t in Athens long enough to see a performance here but there was a singer rehearsing as we walked by and stopped for photos.

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Panathenaic Stadium: The stadium is the site of the first modern Olympic games. It is made entirely out of marble. You can pay a fee to go in and walk around the track and up into the seats. We did not do this as you can get a great view of the stadium from the gate.

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Roman Agora: This is the ancient Roman Market Place. You will see these ruins as you walk around the Plaka neighborhood. You can pay an entrance fee to walk in and get closer to them. We did not as our time was limited and you can get a good view of the ruins from outside the gates (you can pretty much walk all the way around them).

Greek Agora: This is the ancient Greek marketplace. You can see this in the distance from the Acropolis, we did not walk over to see it close up but that is an option if you have more time.

Temple of Zeus:  We only saw this on our drive out of the city on our way to the marina for our sailing trip. The temple is very impressive and if we had more time we would have loved to walk around more closely. The temple consists of large columns similar to the Parthenon. We did not get any good pictures since we only saw it as we drove by.

What and Where to Eat:

  • Dinner at Seychelles: This place was within walking distance of our Air B & B in Plaka. It was small restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. We arrived around 7:30 and we were the only ones in the restaurant. We were worried about this at first but then we realized that Greeks eat later than we do in the U.S. As we sat and enjoyed appetizers and our dinner the placed started to fill up! We would recommend the dolmas and the octopus appetizers and the Rooster with pasta in a red wine sauce for the main course. Everything was delicious. They also had a good selection of Greek wine on the wine list, we don’t know a lot about Greek wine believe it or not! There are a lot of grapes that don’t grown in other places so we just picked randomly or asked our waiter for a recommendation when we wanted to order wine.

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  • Central Municipal Market: We are foodies so we always enjoy wandering through the markets when we travel. It gives you a glimpse into how the locals shop and eat! The central market is where you can buy fresh fruits and veggies, meat and fresh seafood. The market itself is full of locals buying food. Around the market there are shops selling spices, olives and olive oil, cheeses and other Greek goods. There are several small restaurants around the market where you can enjoy a coffee, a gyro or slouvlaki wrap or a pie (cheese and spinach would be our recommendations).
  • Restaurant Attolos: We walked to this place after our tour of the Acropolis. The road it is on has a ton of popular restaurants that were all crowded. This one was recommended by our sailing guide and we were able to sit outside with great clear views of the Acropolis. The food was very good and they had good Greek wine (that we couldn’t pronounce). We had a Greek salad, chicken souvlaki, and grilled sea bass. The food was very good and the views were awesome.

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  •  IceRoll near Monastiraki Square: This is an ice cream shop where you chose your base flavor and any fruits, nuts or more chocolate or caramel that you want added to your ice cream. They pour the base cream onto a cold counter top, add in whatever you would like then mix it together and the mixing on the cold countertop turns it into ice cream! They roll it into several individual rolls and serve it in a large cup. the ice cream itself is delicious and it is a fun to watch them make it right in front of you!
  • Kappari: We had fig salad, pork leg in a honey glaze which says it is for two but really could easily feed closer to 4 people. The orange pie dessert was also amazing!

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-TFWY