Without doubt, Dublin is regarded as one of the great party capitals of Europe, and with very good reason. This stately, graceful city on the Liffey is chock full of bars, clubs and restaurants, all set along and around some of the most spellbinding Georgian architecture anywhere in Europe. And, of course, the locals have a reputation for earthy, honest to goodness carousing that draws people in from all over the world. In short, Dublin is the good time that literally millions of people want to have.
But Dublin is far more than her street entertainers, her outdoor terraces packed with revellers in the long, humid summer nights, and her streets thronged with stag and hen parties from around Europe. Dublin has a subtle undercurrent that is far more nuanced, and it revolves around her place as the pivot on which Ireland’s bid to break free from British rule was wound. In short, the events that led to the infamous 1916 ‘Easter Rising’ that was suppressed at such a high cost in blood on both sides.
The abortive rising was put down in a wave of savage fighting, and the captured leaders of the rebellion were, for the most part, later shot by firing squads in the stark, cobbled stone breaker’s yard at Kilmainham Gaol, in the northern suburbs of the capital. You can still visit the site today and, even in the brilliant light of a warm summer’s afternoon, that brutal, brooding old cul- de- sac exudes an air of solemn finality. I would not even consider visiting the place alone at night.
It was the reaction to the rebellion, rather than the act itself, that really seemed to focus Irish minds at the time. There was little real local support for the original rising; Britain and her Empire was engaged in a life and death struggle with Imperial Germany at that time, and scores of Irish born troops were fighting for King and Country amid the carnage of the western front. The idea of rising up and claiming independence right at that time- though ultimately desirable to many- seemed more than a little wrong.
From the British perspective, it was obvious that the rebellion had to be put down forcibly. Whitehall knew full well that a shipment of German arms was inbound for the rebels- it was intercepted off the southern coast of Ireland, and the German captain was obliged to scuttle his ship. With the threat of German intervention thus very real, the British gave short shrift to the captured leaders of the rebellion, culminating in those final, ghastly scenes in the yard at Kilmainham Gaol.
But those same executions were also seen as excessive by the local populace, which had also been shocked by the rapid and brutal suppression of the original attempt. Public opinion in Ireland began to turn irrevocably towards independence, leading ultimately to the ‘two state’ situation that still exists to the present day.
For a great, dramatic overview of the entire story of the Easter Rising, I definitely recommend visiting Dublin’s stately General Post Office. This was the headquarters of the rebel leaders during that fateful Easter Week back in 1916; it was on the famous steps at the front that the original proclamation of independence was read out in the first place. Though much of the actual fighting and skirmishing took place in the surrounding streets and on the periphery of the Post Office (The GPO as it is always referred to), it’s place at the heart of the rebellion is universally acknowledged on both sides.
Inside, an evocative, sobering display of artefacts from the time combines with modern, audio visual technology to create a slowly unfolding timeline of the events leading up to the rebellion, the act itself as it played out over the course of one long, bloody week, and the inevitable consequences for all concerned, right up to the present day. It’s foolhardy pride tinged with sadness, a sense of frustration mixed with fatalism, and an adrenaline fuelled sense of urgency to force a conclusion, whatever the human and material cost might be.
So yes, enjoy the sense of partying, and the breezy sense of down to earth fun that has long been Dublin’s gift to the rest of the world. But also do her the respect of acknowledging that there is more, far more, to this magical, mercurial city that still sprawls along the banks of the River Liffey. She deserves more.
I really enjoyed my recent short cruise on Oceania’s opulent, upscale Marina, but it was a trip that came with a few little quirks that are worthy of flagging up. I don’t mean for these to be interpreted in any negative sense; most actually added a degree of charm to a very pleasant few days spent cruising around waters quite close to home.
Firstly, I had to get to Dublin to board the ship, which was by then two-thirds of the way through a British isles cruise that had embarked in Amsterdam, some seven days earlier. Flying from Newcastle, I had two options; Aer Lingus or Ryanair.
Unwilling to trust myself to the tender mercies of Ryanair on such a tight schedule (a wise decision, as things were to prove) I decided to go a day early, and spend a night in Dublin itself…
It’s going to be a relatively short trip on the plush, upscale Marina next week. Just five nights in total, and the first of those spent in Dublin to boot. But there is still a tremendous wealth of wonderful sights and sounds on this Celtic accented jaunt, and now seems as good a time as any to look over some of them.
As mentioned, I’ll be staying overnight in Dublin on the day before the cruise, and I’m really looking forward to getting back under the skin of a city I last visited more than two decades ago. The ‘Legend on The Liffey’ (I’m copyrighting that, by the way) is a series of gorgeous, Georgian pieces of architecture, dotted around one of the most truly eclectic cities anywhere in Europe.
Think Trinity College, and the mad, bohemian ballyhoo of the Temple Bar district. The famous thoroughfares of O’Connell and Grafton Streets. There’s the serenity of Phoenix Park and the series of stunning, wrought iron bridges vaulting over the steel grey span of the Liffey itself. On a more sombre note, Dublin’s century old, troubled past is thrown into sharp perspective in the stark, cobbled courtyard of Kilmainham jail, where the ringleaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were executed by a firing squad.
Crossing the Irish Sea after a late evening departure from Dublin, the Marina comes breezing into the wildly rugged, pristine beauty of Holyhead, on Wales’ stunning Anglesey coastline. Famed for it’s fabulous blond beaches and wealth of hiking trails, it’s also an ideal starting point for tours to the great, brooding bulk of thirteenth century Caernafon Castle, a vast, weather beaten pile that dates back to the reign of Edward I. Used for many years as the site for royal investitures, the castle remains one of the most completely intact specimens of its kind anywhere in the world. I’ll be getting up close and personal to the stately old beast, and you’ll be able to read about that encounter right here.
We’re then off back to Southern Ireland, to make landfall at Cobh. Once known as Queenstown, it was the point of departure for hundreds of thousands of desperate young migrants during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In many ways, Cobh was the place from where Ireland was once bled dry of it’s youth and vigour.
As a result, Cobh has always felt suffused by an undercurrent of lingering, residual sadness. The coastline itself is magnificent in it’s range and sheer, stunning beauty. And, of course, those who feel the need to visit Cork Castle and kiss the legendary ‘Blarney Stone’ can certainly do so.
But it is Cobh’s unbreakable associations with two of maritime history’s most enduring dramas that mark it out as a place apart. On April 11th, 1912, Cobh was the last port of call for RMS Titanic. The ill-fated White Star liner anchored for a few hours off Roche’s Point to embark some one hundred and twenty three passengers, before she disappeared over the horizon forever. Only forty-four of those huddled aboard the two tenders that took them out to the Titanic would survive the sinking of the liner, just four nights later.
Three years later, on May 7th, 1915, the Cunard liner Lusitania was torpedoed off Queenstown while en route from New York to Liverpool. Some 1,201 passengers and crew were killed when the legendary liner foundered in just eighteen minutes. At the epicentre of the rescue mission, Queenstown coddled the 764 survivors and served as a burial site for most of the victims. Bodies were still being washed ashore a full three weeks later; the entire town was plunged into mourning on what remains the blackest day in it’s history. The wreck of the Lusitania lies just ten miles off the coast of Cobh to this day.
So there’s no shortage of maritime lore on display in Cobh these days, and I’ll be getting around as much of it as possible. And there will also be time for a beer or two in such evocatively named pubs as the Lusitania and, of course, the Mauretania, too.
Next day, the good ship Marina forsakes the Celtic culture in exchange for Thomas Hardy country in the shape of Portland, on Dorset’s channel coast. Famed for it’s prehistoric coastline and fine, flawless beaches, Portland is the gateway to the historic old market town of Dorchester, where I’ll be spending a couple of hours or so.
I’ll also be making for the famous tank museum at Bovington, with its matchless display of tracked military muscle spanning over a century of mechanised warfare. The museum features everything from the first, putative British Mark One tank of 1916, right through to the legendary Chieftain of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
In between, we’ll be getting up close and personal to a whole plethora of fearsome, petrifying brutes; from the ubiquitous American M4 Sherman to the massive, bristling King Tiger, a seventy ton beast that still remains the largest battle tank ever to go into mass production.
Next day will see me disembarking from the Marina in Southampton, at the end of a trip that will be long on memorable encounters and experiences, In between, there’s time for me to get re-acquainted with a ship that is a byword for style, elegance, and finely honed cuisine. A ship where calm comfort and casual, spectacular luxury complements all those fantastic sights and finery ashore to absolute perfection.
Tanks. Titanic. Swaggering, freewheeling Dublin, and the ancient, brooding battlements of a castle straight out of the pages of Macbeth, The stark, rustic beauty of Thomas Hardy country, and a beer or two in pretty, breezy Cobh. It’s all there.
The image alone is powerful enough to generate appalled fascination, even after more than a century. The huge ocean liner, ablaze with light from bow to stern, racing across the calm, starlit ocean towards her chilling rendezvous near midnight. Her quartet of black and buff smokestacks standing like the ramparts of some castle, blotting out the very stars themselves in places. The strains of The Blue Danube floating out across the ocean, punctuated by the random popping of champagne corks and sudden, swelling bursts of laughter from on board.
These last, living images of RMS Titanic are only part of the reason that her story refuses to sink. She sails on in our minds’ eye to this day; a sort of 21st century Flying Dutchman, with interiors by Cesar Ritz. Fuelled by a mixture of horror, fascination and sheer, fatal glamour, she charges heedlessly onward, sailing in search of an absolution that she can never, ever be gifted. Even now, humanity is still too deeply in her thrall to ever allow her to be truly at peace.
Her story is simply too fantastic and incredulous to take fully on board. The combined talents of Stephen King, Jules Verne, Gene Roddenberry and Hans Christian Andersen could never have concocted a fable so stark and unbelievable as the actual truth of what happened aboard the Titanic on that freezing April night in mid-Atlantic. It remains without equal in it’s scale; a ghastly black comedy played out to an audience of cold, pitiless stars.
It almost seems as if there are two ships called Titanic. There is the real ship, the one that ripped her hull open on a capsized iceberg, and then succumbed to a fatal ingress of water, and then there is the Titanic of myth and legend; the ‘Floating Ritz’ that sails on to this day. Sometimes it is hard to know just where one ends, and the other truly begins.
Some of the myths are actually pretty easy to debunk. Far from being some unique, luxurious freak ship, Titanic was actually the second of a trio that were intended to be world beaters. Her almost identical sister ship- the Olympic- had already been in service for a full ten months. And, just thirteen months after her loss, Germany’s Hamburg America Line introduced the even larger Imperator. Had she survived her maiden voyage, Titanic would thus have been the world’s largest ship for little over a year.
No, it was not so much the ship herself alone that created the myth, though she was certainly spectacular enough. In first class at least, the Titanic was staffed- and ran- like the Ritz. The opulence was as full blown as could be; a true Hollywood movie set on the ocean, created years before the ‘talkies’ were even invented.
That luxurious glut, when coupled to her platinum chip, first class passenger list, accounts for a huge part of her legendary lore. Many of those first class passengers were household names the world over. Bankers and railroad owners. Famous socialites, writers and politicians. World renowned sports stars and sirens of the silent screen. And many of them would go to the bottom with the ship; unwitting bit part players in the most glittering and tragic curtain call in maritime history.
Everything about the Titanic was extreme, from her monumental dimensions right down to her mind blowing, spectacular demise. She became a stage upon which heroes were created, and where villains exited stage left to a conga line chorus of boos, hissing and catcalls. Even now, the lines between the two are as finely drawn as those original architect’s blueprints of the ship herself.
Of course, we have the ship’s band, sawing gamely away at dance music as their own, slim chances of survival receded further with each fading note. There’s Phillips and Bride in the wireless room, sending their increasingly desperate distress calls spluttering vainly through the ether. And the engineers, toiling manfully far below on the ominously sloping decks, trying to keep the lights and wireless operating for as long as humanly possible. There are so many more, and too many of them that will remain forever unsung, their selfless deeds cloaked in the darkness of the ship that carried them to their deaths.
And there are the villains, too. Step forward, J. Bruce Ismay, the fastidious control freak who was chairman of the White Star Line. He left the Titanic in one of the very last lifeboats while his officers, together with hundreds of other men, stood back, grim faced and ashen as they fought to keep their self control in the face of the obvious, encroaching catastrophe that would soon overwhelm them.
He’s an easy target, is Bruce Ismay; even more so, when you consider that it was he who vetoed the idea of scores of extra lifeboats for the Titanic in the first place. Whether those same, imaginary boats could even have been safely loaded, and then lowered into the water given the short amount of time the iceberg gifted to the Titanic, is strangely academical.
I mean, compare Ismay’s cartoon villain chicanery to the gallant Captain Edward Smith, who of course went down with his ship. The fact that Captain Smith was no more effective in evacuating Titanic than the hapless Francesco Schettino would be in the same position aboard the Costa Concordia almost exactly a century later- that gets overlooked. Because, of course, that’s the kind of thing that we expect from a hero. We expect them to die manfully, with a dash of tight lipped, stoic serenity where possible. We don’t want inconvenient facts getting in the way of that kind of posthumous, elevated effigy worship. If there are villains, then there must be heroes, too. It’s the same in any Greek tragedy.
And that, in a nutshell, is it. We all want answers to questions that can never be definitively resolved, because those with the ability to provide resolution mostly died with the ship, while those survivors with the ability to at least partly do so- certainly Bruce Ismay and, quite likely, Second Office Lightoller- stayed tight lipped until their eventual deaths.
In the case of Ismay, this reluctance to elaborate is at least understandable, but what was Lightoller’s play in all this? Again, in the absence of definitive information, we can but speculate.
Charles Lightoller was the senior surviving officer of the Titanic. He had been at the heart of everything that night. As well as being in charge of loading and lowering the port side lifeboats, he had also been on watch on the bridge just a few hours earlier, before handing the watch over to First Officer Bill Murdoch.
Lightoller- as well as Murdoch-toiled manfully to get those boats away that night. But Lightoller interpreted Captain Smith’s order of ‘women and children first’ as ‘women and children only’ whereas Murdoch, in charge of the starboard side boats, allowed men into the boats when no more women and children were in sight.
Thus, what happened on one side of the ship did not transpire on the other when the botched evacuation finally swung into full, frantic gear. Of the 705 survivors of the Titanic, a full seventy-five per cent left in boats lowered under Murdoch’s auspices.
Lightoller- as brave a man as ever there was on the ship that night- intended to stay with the White Star Line. He had hopes of eventually becoming a ship’s captain himself and, just prior to the disaster, he almost certainly would have done in the normal scheme of things. But, after the Titanic, nothing would ever be normal again.
At the subsequent inquiries into the disaster held in both Washington and London, Charles Lightoller played a tight batting game; adroitly side stepping questions when needed, and taking full advantage of the questioning attorneys’ relative ignorance of maritime affairs. With his professional future well and truly in the cross hairs, Lightoller fought manfully to absolve the White Star Line of any responsibility for the loss of the Titanic. And the heroic, totally credible Second Officer made for the kind of witness that no-one truly wanted to pressure, let alone contradict. In terms of defending his employers, Charles Lightoller played an absolute blinder.
Lightoller was also resolute in defending the posthumous memory of Captain Smith, whom he had almost idolized as a skipper. But his dedication to both causes served him ill.
For the White Star Line wanted to whitewash the Titanic from memory, and that meant a stealthy, utterly ruthless removal of anyone even remotely connected with her. Bruce Ismay was forced to resign as chairman within eighteen months and Lightoller, fine sailor that he was, never, ever got a command of his own. Indeed, none of her four senior, surviving officers ever did.
But that loss of lives undoubtedly haunted Lightoller. In May of 1940, when the British Army found itself with its back to the sea in the port of Dunkirk, Charles Lightoller was one of hundreds of retired seaman who answered his country’s call in its ‘darkest hour’.
He took is own launch, Sundowner, over the channel to the beach at Dunkirk. Despite frequent bombing and terrifying machine gun attacks, Lightoller and his makeshift crew worked like Trojans to rescue as many of the sodden, demoralised survivors of the BEF as possible. That his actions saved many lives is beyond doubt, as is the fact that he put himself in great peril by so doing.
Of course, Charles Lightoller would have simply dismissed such heroics as ‘doing his duty’ like hundreds of his fellow sailors did.
But you have to at least concede that his actions were probably influenced by a desire to try and make up for those lost in the botched evacuation of the Titanic, some twenty-eight years earlier. Survivor’s guilt is a proven syndrome of maritime catastrophes, and no-one was more acutely aware of all those empty places in the port side Titanic lifeboats than Charles Lightoller.
So. Titanic. Everyone’s a genius and, of course, hindsight is the greatest gift to humanity since radar. We’re all so, so certain that we know just what happened; just as certain as those officers on the bridge of the Titanic themselves were on that cold April night in mid Atlantic, all those years ago.
In the absence of certainty then, we have an enigma. An elegant, deathless enigma that continues to astound, appal and amaze all those who come aboard for the voyage.
It’s an endless voyage across an otherwise empty, mostly ethereal ocean of memories and mystery, aboard a ship of the dead that never truly learned how to sail, or even how to really die, for that matter.
The Greek specialist line’s current itineraries are sound, well thought out, and perennially popular. And Celestyal is cautiously expanding it’s Eastern Mediterranean programme, with a new, Egypt accented itinerary that will run through until November, with the short, three and four day Aegean cruises resuming as early as February. Both have the hallmarks of being a considerable success.
In terms of overall quality, the Celestyal product has improved, year on year. The choice of on board food, together with its variety and taste, has go markedly better. service, too, has improved to a good level of standard for a four star product. And, with the Cuba market now abandoned for the foreseeable future, both the Celestyal Crystal and the larger Celestyal Olympia have been refocused on the short, lucrative three, four and seven day cruise runs out of Piraeus. The use of nearby Lavrion as an embarkation port seems to have been abandoned, at least for the moment.
By all accounts, both ships are sailing at or very near full capacity on a weekly basis. The current brace of ships present an alluring, totally authentic, Greek accented experience for those who prefer not to sail those fabled waters on one of the larger mega ships, where the accent is on the on board attractions, and the gorgeous landscape sprinkled around them is so often an afterthought.
value, too, is a premium selling point. Each Celestyal sailing comes as an all inclusive package, with most drinks and some selected shore excursions folded into the fare. Coupled with the ease with which these ships can access sites that those other, larger ships must bypass, all of this combines to give Celestyal Cruises- always a destination oriented product-a distinct edge in terms of these short Aegean cruises.
But Celestyal is also currently sitting on another ship that really merits gainful employment soon-the Majesty. For want of either a charter or a dedicated itinerary, this beautiful ship is currently spending the summer in lay up. As situations go, it’s quite incredible.
The ship ran a programme of short, three and four day cruises from March through April. I was on the last, four night cruise in April, and the ship-and her crew- was performing beautifully. Yet now, in peak season, she sits wining at anchor, while her two siblings continue to garner big passenger loads on the lucrative Aegean circuit.
Next year, the line will also welcome the return of the Spirit, when that ship finishes her final charter to Marella Cruises this coming November. So, Celestyal has to find itineraries and/or charterers for both her and the Majesty for next year. What to do?
Obviously, markets have to be sourced and developed with care, and especially so when you are a smaller, more intimate, niche cruise line. So the time for planning and promoting these two welcome, potentially very profitable returnees to the Celestyal stable is clearly at hand.
Possibly, one of the ships could be based on Marseilles, where the ability to tap the potentially quite large French market is obvious. A new, port intensive seven night itinerary that parallels the current, seven night Celestyal Crystal sailings out of Piraeus could well be a potential winner.
Imagine being able to overnight in, say, Sorrento, Ajaccio, or even Ibiza? Tie in another couple of ports- maybe Villefranche and Cannes, for instance-and the appeal of a smaller, more intimate style of cruising (and cruise ship) becomes obvious.
The other ship could, perhaps, be home ported in Malaga, and offer a series of three and four night cruise departures that showcase such glorious regional locales as Cadiz, Valencia, Cartagena, and the seldom visited island of Menorca.
We’re not talking about filing 4000 passenger plus mega ships on a weekly basis here.; those Celestyal ships typically carry around 1400 passengers each at most. And, were the company to start offering complete fly/cruise packages, including transfers and even an overnight hotel stay where necessary, then the global reach of these short, totally alluring cruise options becomes readily apparent. It’s also an option that Celestyal cruises should consider for the Greek Islands and Turkey cruise options as well.
Food for thought? I certainly think so. What about you?
Although designed for and hitherto almost exclusively aimed at the Chinese market, Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Breakaway-plus class ship, Norwegian Joy, will join her sister ship, the recently launched Norwegian Bliss, in the Alaska market effective from spring, 2019. Prior to this new deployment, the ship will undergo a multi million dollar upgrade and series of alterations to make her ready for her new market.
Sailing from Seattle, Norwegian Joy will offer a series of seven day, summer Alaska sailings before she redeploys to Los Angeles in the winter, to cover seven night Mexican Riviera sailings. In doing so, she will become the largest and most modern ship that Norwegian has ever deployed from the California port.
In related redeployment news from the pioneer of the original Caribbean fly/cruise, the company will send the Norwegian Pearl over for a first ever series of Europe cruises (the ship has been continually deployed elsewhere since her original, 2005 debut). Norwegian Pearl will offer a series of itineraries that include Amsterdam departures, as well as sailings from Barcelona, Rome, and Venice. Her arrival gives Norwegian a full, first ever six ship deployment in Europe over the 2019 season.
Meanwhile, her sister ship, the 2006 built Norwegian Jewel will get a full refurbishment prior to returning to Australia for a third successive season of cruises ‘Down Under’, that showcases the highlights of New Zealand and Australia, as well as some exotic ‘repo’ voyaging that takes in such gorgeous locales as Honolulu and Tahiti en route.
In something of a surprise move, the popular, previously European focused NorwegianJade will head out to South East Asia, for a first ever series of cruises sailing from both Hong Kong and Singapore. The ship, recently the beneficiary of a comprehensive upgrading, will sail to the highlights of Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
And, after a single season offering 2019 cruises from and around the UK, the Norwegian Spirit- originally built as the oriental accented Superstar Leo for Star Cruises back in 1998- will become a ship dedicated to the Chinese market for the 2020 summer season, following a major refit to upgrade the ship to the new Norwegian standards. Watch out for some really exotic ‘Repo’ sailing sen route, as the Norwegian Spirit heads for her new cruising grounds via the Maldives, the Seychelles, and a first time, ground breaking visit to South Africa- a first ever for the company since it’s inauguration in 1966 as Norwegian Caribbean Lines.
With new ships in Europe, and an expanded and upgraded capacity out of the west coast of the USA over 2019-20, and a series of first time forays into new, unchartered waters, it’s all systems go for Norwegian Cruise Line for 2019/20.
Holland America Line is getting well and truly into the ‘Aloha’ spirit with s raft of leisurely, languid sailings between California and the Hawaiian islands. Beginning this autumn, the two ship operation runs through until April of 2019, and offers a glut of truly spectacular options to choose from.
The line’s Amsterdam and Eurodam will make some nine cruises in all, ranging in length from sixteen to twenty days’ duration. As well as the customary departure point of Los Angeles, the two ships will also offer some sailings from San Diego, Seattle, and Vancouver.
As a standout point, each itinerary will offer an overnight stay in Honolulu, allowing passengers more than enough time to dine ashore, and of course, to see the ‘greatest hits’ tourist spots; Pearl Harbour, with the silent, deathly wreckage of the mostly sunken USS Arizona, and the massive bulk of the permanently moored USS Missouri.
There’s also Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head to contemplate in the roster of this Polynesian beauty pageant, but there are also two additional, stand out itineraries that really push the boundaries to the max in terms of sheer beauty and escapism.
First up is a sublime, twenty-eight day round trip from San Diego on the Eurodam, sailing on March 9th, 2019. As well as making calls at all the major Hawaiian hot spots, the gorgeous Eurodam surges a full thousand miles to the south to the stunning landscapes of French Polynesia, making landfall (and overnight stops) at both Tahiti and Bora Bora. This itinerary also includes a rare visit to Fanning Island, in the Republic of Kiribati.
Upping the ante by several notches, the Amsterdam makes a truly mind blowing, fifty-one day circuit of the entire South Pacific region. Leaving San Diego on October 28th, 2019, the ship once again visits all of the famed Hawaiian hot spots, together with Tahiti and Bora Bora, before continuing on to Fiji, the Cook Island, Vanuatu, Tonga, and American Samoa.
These itineraries are quite simply sublime, especially when cossetted in the plus, luxurious ambience that is the hallmark of the Holland-America brand. With lots of lazy, languid days at sea in between visits to some of the most visually alluring places anywhere on earth, this programme has all the hallmarks of being a winner.
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