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travally

A sometimes solo female traveller

My trip in SE Asia

This blog started with my trip to South East Asia in 2015 and I’ve been adding other trips to it over the last year or so. I like to share mainly positive experiences – especially if they involve great food, good value or immense beauty.

 

You won’t find much information on exact admission charges, opening hours, exact price of accommodation as these are subject to change all the time and become dated very fast. I will, however, be sharing my own, personal impression of places I’ve visited, things  that I loved or left their mark, and hopefully you’ll find this helpful in planning your own trip.20150705_154337

My travel style and budget: For this trip, I travelled solo. Not shoestring or backpacker (wheelie bag, in fact) but I had to keep an eye on the budget. I stayed in a lot of simple 3-star hotels or guest-houses, a few hostels, and a few treats in 4-star hotels. Moment of truth… I guess I should admit this from the start: I’m not the best haggler and I prefer comfort to budgeting so I won’t be able to tell you where to get the cheapest hostel or a two-dollar dinner.20150703_181145 However, I’m not made of money so I just couldn’t afford the luxurious accommodation or fine dining that I longed for! As a result, I tried to strike a balance between my love of the good life and my need to be solvent (kind of) at the end of this trip.


<a Time: Spent just over a month in Cambodia and Vietnam (plus a few nights in Bangkok).Took my time and plenty of breaks; decided from the beginning that I wouldn’t aim to ‘do everything’. I overstayed in some places and didn’t get to some places I really wanted to see (Laos and Sapa) so will have to go back in a few years’ time. Where I did go: Bangkok, Siem Reap, Pnom Penh, Battambang, Kampot, Ho Chi Minh, Da Lat, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An.

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Ischia – an island paradise in Italy

Source: Ischia – an island paradise in Italy

Hanoi in 24 hours

Source: Hanoi in 24 hours

What to see, do and love on the Greek island of Naxos

Naxos Island, Greece, has it all: pristine beaches, ancient ruins, great food and shopping, breathtaking mountain landscape, rural villages, Byzantine churches, water sports, a Medieval castle, value for money, day trips and cruises.

The largest of the Cyclades islands, Naxos has the charm and beauty of the Greek islands, but is also a working island with permanent residents, independent family businesses, schools, a hospital, and a tiny little airport which connects to the mainland. Or, as Andrew Bostock in The Guardian puts it, ‘Naxos is probably the only Cycladic island that could survive if all the tourists stayed away’. It’s real. (Can I say authentic? Does that word mean anything anymore?)

It’s the kind of island that merits much more than a day trip; I met travellers staying for four days (on average) but I also met people who stay for several weeks every year and don’t get tired of it. After a week there, I can see why.

Getting there

You can fly from Athens in 25 minutes or you can get the Blue Star Ferry from Piraeus port in Athens which takes five and a half hours. There are other ferries but Blue Star is the main one.

 Little tip: if you choose business class, it’s much the same as economy but it’s much quieter and less crowded.

Getting around

A car would be ideal but the local buses are great. Return journeys around the island range from 4 to 7 Euro in price.

Where to stay

One option is Chora, the main town on the harbour. You can walk to everything and hop on the local buses which take you all over the island. I stayed at Pension Sofi.

Pension Sofi, Naxos

I chose it because of its outstanding reviews on Trip Advisor and it didn’t disappoint. It’s run by a genuinely lovely, welcoming family and is immaculate, comfortable and very tastefully furnished.

Pension Sofi, Naxos

While it has all the charm of a family pension, it’s run efficiently, to a very high standard and offers excellent value for money. I met guests who’ve been coming back there for years.

View from my balcony at Pension Sofi

Where to eat

There’s an abundance of Tavernas which all offer standard traditional fare but these are my recommendations which came from locals and Greek travel bloggers:

Maro’s Taverna, Ioannou Paparigopoulou, Naxos 843 00, Greece: very traditional, down-to-earth family restaurant; huge portions; excellent value for money; jugs of local wine and dishes that you won’t see on tourist menus.

Metaxi Mas, Old Town, Naxos: a little more picturesque and romantic than the more robust, earthy tavernas.

Doukato: very highly rated by locals. Tucked away on the edge of the old town with a beautiful garden setting; romantic, finer dining than the tavernas. 

Kozi, Leof. Naxou Eggaron, Naxos: decent food, reasonably priced but the view is outstanding. Friendly, cheerful staff who wanted me to drink wine on the house but I’d already had enough!

Along the harbour, you could also try Irini’s taverna or Diogenes Bar for cocktails.

What to do and see: 

Beaches, sailing and water sports, quad biking, archaeological ruins from ancient (super ancient) Mycenean civilization, cruises and day trips to other islands, Medieval castle, mountain villages, stunning inland landscape, island bus tour.

My absolute favourite highlights from this trip:

Apiranthos: marble village in the mountains. It’s one hour from the port by bus and the journey itself is breathtaking. The village is absolutely beautiful and should not be missed.

 Full of white cobbled streets, nooks and crannies and surrounded by stunning mountain views.

Back street of Apiranthos, Naxos
Apiranthos, Naxos

The return bus schedule is really well timed. I’d recommend spending two hours there (time to stop and eat).

Halki: also a mountain village, it’s surrounded by walking trails among little Byzantine churches, olive groves, farmland and goats.

Byzantine church, Halki, Naxos
Countryside of Halki, Naxos

You can walk up to 8 KM around the tiny village with its gorgeous little cafes and famous citron distillery.

Distillery at Halki, Naxos  

 

 

Iason sailing trip to Koufinissia.

I was determined to see Koufinissia as a Greek friend had told me it was exceptional, unspoilt and a little off the well-beaten tourist trail. It took me a while to find a day trip that was just right for me but the Iason cruise was perfect.
The 18m long wooden boat leaves from the smaller port of Agia Anna and first takes you to a tiny, deserted beach (paradise) where passengers can jump off and swim for 45 minutes while the crew prepare the barbeque.

From there, you sail to the main beach of Koufinissia and you have a couple of hours to explore the island, have a drink, swim on the beach.

 It is a really relaxing day of sailing, sunbathing, swimming and strolling, unlike the other cruises that try to cram everything in and herd you around like cattle.

Blue sea of Koufinissia
Koufinissia Harbour
Windmill at Koufinissia

On the Iason cruise from Naxos

At 50 Euro for the trip, including barbeque lunch, it was excellent value and probably the best day of my holiday.

Other highlights

Plaka beach: 20 mins from town by bus, it’s pristine, calm and glorious. Agios Anna and Prokopios are also very popular.

Plaka beach, Naxos

History, Archaeology, Mycenean Civilization: landmark ancient ruins include the Temple of Apollo at Grotta (must be seen at sunset), the Temple of Demeter and the massive Kouros sculpture.

 Building projects have been halted at various sites on the island because archaeologist and ecologists are still discovering – and protecting – the remains of ancient civilizations.

Temple of Apollo, Naxos

This island is an exciting place for those with a passion for archaeology.

The village of Filoti, en route to Apiranthos.

The Eggares Olive Press.

And finally… I had one disappointment on my trip. A day trip to Santorini was a complete waste of money and time. The towns of Oia and Thira are over-crowded and over-priced. The harbour is full of cruise traffic, the towns and the walks are full of foot traffic, the streets are jammed with tour buses and tourists ride donkeys in the heat which I find cruel and exploitative (of the donkeys, not the people!).

I realise I went on a particularly bad day and I met lots of travellers who stayed for a couple of days and loved it so if I went back to Santorini – unlikey – I would stay for a couple of days and I would stay away from the tourist beat. Spend more time on Naxos!

 

 

 

 

Seven reasons to get your winter sun in Corralejo, Fuerteventura

  1. Year round sunshine with average highs of 22 Celsius in winter and 28 C in summer; approximately 15 days of rain per year.
  2. Surfing, yoga, hiking, walking, nature.
  3. Nature reserves and UNESCO Biosphere status
  4. Beautiful beaches with striking contrast between black volcanic rock and white sand.
  5. A mellow, laidback atmosphere.
  6. Some wonderful restaurants and seafood
  7. It’s cheap – drink, food, duty-free shopping, accommodation. 

As a native of Ireland where winter lasts about eleven months, I crave bursts of sunshine to get me through the eternal grey skies of my beloved homeland. Corralejo in Fuerteventura is only 4 hours and 20 mins from Dublin by plane and it’s my new winter-sun-fix for the foreseeable future. As a Canary Island, it relies on tourism and there is naturally a very commercial side to it but it’s nowhere near the saturation levels of other resorts and islands in the region. There’s a commercial strip in Corralejo’s centre but there’s enough hiking among nature reserves, dormant volcanoes and lunar landscapes for anyone who wants to avoid the tacky factor.

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Cliffs and waves – El Cotillo

Surf

Surfing is massive here – from absolute beginners at surfing school to seasoned surfers who’ve never managed to leave, surf is the word of the day here.

Yoga

Yoga is also a big part of life and you’ll see yoga classes taking place all over the beaches in the morning. The retreat at Azulfit (http://www.azulfit.com/retreat-location/fuerteventura-retreats/) is meant to be excellent but it’s not exactly cheap so if you are on a budget, just book accommodation and find a yoga class when you get there. I did yoga on the beach while there and found the sand and distractions a bit of a pain so I’d recommend a studio class. wp-1483741392678.jpg

Family life

I saw quite a few families with small children here, as well as retired couples who own homes on the island – Irish, British, Spanish. This is probably because there isn’t a rowdy, Benidorm scene here – no lager louts or wet t-shirt competitions (maybe you’ll find them if you look for them?).

Excursions

No shortage of them. El Cotillo is a fishing village, north-east of the island, with stunning cliffs and waves, and some great seafood. Less developed than the rest of the island, it’s 50 minutes from Corralejo by public bus. The seafood at El Roque de los Pescadores is quite exceptional. The staff don’t speak much English but that didn’t stop me from having fantastic food – when I asked the waiter to explain the fish on the menu because my Spanish wasn’t up to it, he took me to the giant fish on display under glass so I could see for myself. No words needed.

 

 

Isla De Lobos  is a little island haven, accessible by (pretty small) ferry in 20 mins from Corralejo. Return trip by ferry is 15 Euro for adults and 10 Euro for 4-11 year-olds.

The tiny island is largely uninhabited and if you take the 10 a.m. ferry, you’ll experience an almost eerie silence and an other-worldly landscape. Expect lagunitas (little lakes), black rock, a sprinkling of fishing boats, tiny swamps and a dormant volcano. There’s a couple of walking trails so you can walk around the island for a couple of hours or do shorter walks for an hour or so.

Bring a packed lunch or book lunch with the ONE restuarant on the island- they may offer paella or fish for 7 Euro.

A day trip to Lanzarote is also a popular option. See my post on Lanzarote: https://wordpress.com/post/travally.net/324

Eating in Corralejo 

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‘Donkey Fish’- local speciality, baked in a mound of salt

There are plenty of mediocre restaurants with fish swimming in ‘Canarian’ sauces and chips on the side but you can eat well in Corralejo if you choose wisely. Sanus is the one everyone’s talking about at the minute. It caters for vegans, vegetarians, diabetics and celiacs but don’t panic – it’s not as virtuous as it sounds. There is meat and seafood in that mix of dietary needs and it’s great. The decor is minimalist and chic – a real relief from the tackiness along the main commercial strip. In high season you will need to book; it’s busy. wp-1483813987475.jpg

Mi Casa on Calle Maritima, facing the beach, is also highly recommended for its seafood and  Mediterranean cuisine. Excellent food and service with a cheerful, nautical ambience. Also very popular and busy in peak season. Will definitely be going back on my next visit.

I kicked off winter 2016 in Corralejo and it looks like I’ll be ending it there in 2017. Counting down the weeks.

My trip in SE Asia

This blog started with my trip to South East Asia in 2015 and I’ve been adding other trips to it over the last year or so. I like to share mainly positive experiences – especially if th…

Source: My trip in SE Asia

Ischia – an island paradise in Italy

5012_94066962842_2494148_nMany years ago when I lived in Rome, I asked an Italian friend to recommend her favourite place in all of Italy. ‘Ischia’, she answered without hesitation. I hadn’t heard of this little island in the Gulf of Naples, but I trusted my source – a lady of exquisite taste and judgement – and placed it on my bucket list. Years later, I went there with family, and now, when people ask me to recommend somewhere special in Italy, I too can answer ‘Ischia’ without hesitation. 5012_94067117842_7313163_n

Some refer to it as the poor relation of Capri but this is a good thing as it means Ischia has the beauty of Capri without the bling or ostentation. You won’t see Ferraris and Porsches but you will see cute Cinquecentos with surf-boards precariously balanced on the roofs!

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Stepping out at Castello Sant’Angelo

Why Ischia?

You go to Ischia for a Mediterranean summer, stunning coastal views and lush, verdant landscape at every bend in the road; a small island that is easily covered by its very cheap and regular public buses; fantastic, inexpensive restaurants that exude charm and character; beaches and relaxation; to experience Italian life away from the grit and grime of the cities and their mass tourism.

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The scene:

Ischia is not really about clubbing and partying. It’s a quiet, relaxing holiday with leisurely dinners over a carafe of wine while watching glorious sunsets sink over the ocean. It’s popular with Germans; most of the staff there speak German, not English. This means the prices of food and drink are reasonable – as opposed to the exorbitant costs in Rome or Venice – because Germans, in my experience, are pretty sensible and will not stick around if they are being ripped off.

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The Highlights:

Poseidon Gardens – thermal baths, sulphur springs with healing properties, treatments, restaurants and wine grottos. (Deeply tanned elderly men in thongs!) The damage: admission costs 32 Euro for a day so it’s a bit of a treat but worth every penny to indulge yourself. http://www.giardiniposeidonterme.com/en/homepage

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Castello Aragonese – This medieval castle was built to protect Ischia’s inhabitants from invasions so it was much more than a castle and functioned as a fortified but thriving town with living quarters, shops, a market, a convent and a chapel. As a result, it’s  well worth spending at least half a day there to take it all in, enjoy the breathtaking views and take a break at restaurants and coffee shops.5012_94067177842_7964262_n

They also host occasional concerts and events so look these up before you go.   http://www.castelloaragoneseischia.com/en/

The Mortell Gardens – I went to see them but they were closed and I was gutted! (They open about three days a week.) These landscaped gardens sound incredible and are reason enough for me to go back to Ischia.

 

Getting there:

Ischia can be visited on a day trip from Naples but it deserves so much more of your time. If you are arriving from outside Italy, it does take a bit of time to get there: we landed in Naples Airport, got a taxi to the port, a ferry to Ischia port, a taxi to our hotel. If you book hotels in advance, most will send a driver to pick you up at the airport and take you to your hotel.

Getting around: 

Taxis are prohibitively expensive but buses are super cheap and go everywhere. You can easily get around the whole island on public buses.

Staying there: 

Accommodation is not cheap and gets booked up fast. The Hotel Sorriso is a 4 star, family-run establishment with phenomenal ocean views, a great restaurant and lovely staff and management. http://www.sorrisoresort.it/en

Even today, not that many people have heard of Ischia which is part of its charm. You may have seen it on The Talented Mr Ripley with Jude Law or in Antony and Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor. Many visitors will see Ischia on a day trip from Naples or Sorrento but it deserves so much more of your time, especially if you like beach time, stunning views of land and sea, sunsets and a taste of southern Italian food, wine and life.

Yoga Retreat in the Burren, West of Ireland

travally

Yoga and travel complement each other beautifully; yoga and solo travel even more so. You can take yoga anywhere with you or you can find it anywhere in the form of eco-retreats on sunny beaches, humble ashrams or high-end luxury. Websites such as soleyogaholidays.com and yogatraveller.com list Morocco, Portugal, Ireland, Israel and Greece among the many stunning locations where you can find all-inclusive yoga packages, some at a pretty price. If budget wasn’t an issue I’d happily do all of them. But budget is an issue so I’ve only done one yoga retreat and that was at Burren Yoga and Meditation Centre in the West of Ireland,  and it was money well spent – very well spent.

1528713_580913582001060_619028665_nBurren Yoga and Meditation Centre is located in the Burren region of County Clare, an ecologically unique and diverse landscape of giant limestone slabs, ancient megalithic tombs and dolmens, and non-indigenous plant-life…

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I love Lisbon and here’s why…

Sometimes when you visit spectacular European cities, you feel like one in a million suckers who’s going to be ripped off at every opportunity – taxis will ramp their fares up just for you, a bottle of water on a hot day will cost four Euro because you’re in a tourist zone and some establishments will serve you awful food in the knowledge that they will never see you again anyway so it doesn’t really matter. Lisbon, however, is different. Business is business and people need to make a living, but you get the feeling that they’re glad you came and it would be nice if you came back again some time.1267998_522092707883148_1991143772_o

Good food is served at good prices and people aren’t constantly on the make. There are exceptions, of course, but with a bit of research and preparation you will dine very well at affordable prices and experience a city that has retained a distinctive charm and has not been invaded by cafe chains and international franchises – yet.

What to do and see there

Bring walking shoes and be ready for the hills. Lisbon reminded me of San Francisco with its quaint trams and steep hills. Catch no. 28 tram which takes you up to Alfama and Castelo district, the castle, and some incredible views.10422560_685262211566196_4846403050086113886_n Don’t be afraid to get lost in Alfama as well. It’s full of twists, turns, hidden gems, quaint backstreets, cafes and restaurants.  While in the neighbourhood, make it your business to eat in Chapito a Mesa, a restaurant attached to a circus training school, no less. The food – Mediterranean, seafood, Portuguese – is excellent and the views of coast and city are phenomenal. They also have a garden setting which has a lovely ambience.  You WILL need to book ahead though. Tel: (00) (351) 21 885 55 50     Email: mail@chapito.org

Make time to go on one of the funiculars: Gloria, Lavra or Bica. Their uphill journeys are very short but good on novelty value and a chance to take some cute photos.

Chiado is a stylish downtown neighbourhood and it’s where I stayed on my last trip. It’s home to the Bertrand Bookstore, allegedly the oldest bookstore in the world. It’s also where I fell in love with the tiled facades of Lisbon. It’s great for shopping but it’s definitely more than just a chic neighbourhood and is just a stroll from the seafront. You can take the Santa Justa Elevador there as well; yet another opportunity to photograph panoramic views of the city.

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Bairro Alto is where you go for the buzz, the nightlife, bars and restaurants. It’s very touristy (jello shots on sale for a couple of dollars) but it can be good fun. There’s lots of Fado to be heard but some of the Fado joints/restaurants are a bit low on quality so, personally, I wouldn’t plan my night around catching a performance.

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Having a bit too much fun at Bairro Alto.

A unique dining experience at Farta Brutos

While there, if you are feeling adventurous and are VERY good are navigating a maze of narrow backstreets, you could have dinner in the unfortunately named Farta Brutos. We went armed with the full address but it was incredibly difficult to find – none of the locals had heard of the street which is hardly a street at all. Undaunted, we got there and almost turned back because our directions took us to an obscure little door behind an iron gate. We were sure it was somebody’s home – well, it kind of is. The family owners took us inside, welcomed us and seated us in their tiny little rooms. They don’t speak English but it’s fine – where there’s a will there’s a way. The food was wholesome and traditional and the overall experience was truly memorable and different; if you like hidden gems, seek it out: Travessa Espera 20 Tel. 21 3426756

 

Major sights:

Belem Tower, Jeronimos Monastery, Castelo San Jorge.

A drink or two: Bar Pavilhao Cines, R Dom Pedro V, no. 89/91; Cafe Brasileira for Ginginha, cherry liqueur.

Day trips from the city: Cascais fishing town and beach. It’s quite saturated with tourism but it is still a nice day trip if you want to spend time on a beach with very good facilities. The beachfront cafes are pretty decent for food but if you want a special meal in a more formal setting, try  Albatroz Hotel. Pergola tea house with its tea garden is also really lovely.

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Pergola, Cascais
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Dining in Albatroz Hotel

Sintra UNESCO world heritage site for stunning palaces and castles set among the hills. Make time for Sintra. It’s beautiful and was a real highlight of my trip.

 

As always, there’s more to Lisbon but I’ve been totally subjective and focused on the places and experiences that I loved most!

 

 

 

What to do in a day in Dublin

You’ve got one day to spend in Dublin and you want to make the most of it. Dublin has a lot to offer so one day isn’t always enough but as a native Dub, let me assure you, you can ‘do’ the essential Dublin in a day. That is to say, you’ll cram in the highlights and get a good sense of the city.

 The plan below is aimed at a determined, unstoppable individual who’s going to make the most of every moment. If you’re more chilled, just remove a few items from my plan. 

Early Morning

You need to see Trinity College with its library and Book of Kells. Barack Obama and the Queen of England stopped off on their whistle-stop tour of Dublin so if they deemed it worthy of their demanding schedule so should you. Don’t skip the library because you’re too tight to pay the entrance fee.

It’s exceptional and if you miss the Book of Kells you’re missing our greatest national treasure. Give yourself min. 1 hour and allow for some queuing if you go in high season.Mid-morning/noon

Walk from Trinity to the Queen of Tarts for lunch or coffee and cake. This will fuel you up in preparation for the Guinness Brewery which will take you a few hours. You have to walk to Guinness from here. (20 mins)

If you don’t want to do the Guinness Brewery (it’s not for everyone) go instead to St Patrick’s Cathedral – I really like this cathedral as it’s like nothing else in Ireland. (If you’re from the UK, skip it. It won’t be new or special to you.)

Afternoon

Option One: You’re a history addict and you never get tired. Go to Kilmainham Gaol for the tour. Arguably the best tour you will do in Dublin and it will give you real insights into Irish history. Alternatively, you could do the Glasnevin Cemetery Tour. Just as excellent but it will take you out of the city to the northside (my side of town) so you may not have time.

  Unless you are going to the airport early evening. The tour starts at 2.30 every day so you could do this and head straight to the airport from here. A taxi costs about 20-25 Euro.

Option Two: You want to people-watch, meander the streets and soak up the atmosphere. Stroll about Drury St, Georges St, CastleMarket.

Have a pint of Guinness in Grogans or McDaids (traditional). Or go to the No Name Bar in Fade St for a more cool vibe and better wine. Nice beer garden for smokers. Pop into Article in Powerscourt Townhouse for some cool prints of Dublin landscapes.

Option Three: You want more culture but you don’t have much money. Go to the National Museum on Kildare St. It’s excellent and it’s free. One of my American friends went and he said ‘I finally understand what they mean when they say ‘Celtic’!’

Dinner 

You might try:

Japanese in Izikaya, George’s St

Las Tapas de Lola followed or preceded by craft beer in Against the Grain

Bobos on Dame st or Bunsen for a great burger.

M&L Chinese, Cathedral St
Meeting-house in Temple Bar for Asian fusion and flavours.

Elephant and Castle, Temple Bar for chicken wings, burgers; all their dishes are pretty good. 

Arisu, Capel St, for Korean barbecue

After dinner
You still have energy – my goodness!

Some bars I haven’t yet mentioned: 

Old school: Mulligans of Poolbeg St, The Stag’s Head, The Long Hall, The Palace, The Merchant’s Inn (Irish dancing or music every night).

Super stylish and chic; young crowd: Sophie’s Rooftop Bar at Dean Hotel, The Marker Hotel, The Vintage Cocktail Rooms, The Liquor Rooms, House.

‘Older’ crowd (30s and 40s): The Black Door

Very casual, rock bar, some live music, great buzz, young, grungy crowd: Sweeneys on Dame St.

Chart music, drunken revelry, bit of madness for the young: Copperfaced Jacks (Coppers), Dicey Rileys.

There are so, so many more but my list of pubs would be as long as Ulysses if I kept going.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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