Ciao Italy: Florence Sites and Sights

Florence: Sights

As I was going through my photos of all the things I did in Florence, I realised that I had done much more than I thought in the month that I spent there! In spite of this, there is still so much of Florence left to explore, and I’m sure that I’ve left some real gems off of this list. All I hope is that this list gives an idea of the sheer number of things to do and see in almost every corner of this beautiful city.

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Santa Maria Del Fiore (Florence Duomo)

I put this in its own category because it is THE landmark of Florence. It’s almost impossible to go through the city without catching sight of the Duomo. I had the pleasure of passing by it every day on my way to the train station.

Going through the doors of this impressive church is actually free! From the ground, you can see people making their way to the cupola and the very impressive fresco on the dome. However, the actual space is much more sparse than you would expect of a church this grand on the outside.

The ticket to the Duomo gives you access to the cupola, baptistery, bell tour and museum. Climbing the cupola is the quintessential Florence must do. Rows and rows of stairs come up above you almost endlessly, and just when you think you can’t go on anymore, you walk through a door and are face to face with the gigantic rooftop fresco. It was impossible to capture the sheer scale of this work with my camera. You can’t stop for too long though because another set of stairs will lead you to the dome itself and a view of the outside.

Although climbing the duomo may be more iconic, arguably the view from the bell tower is better. This is because you can actually see the duomo from the tower. There’s also a grill over which you can stand and look at the plummet many many floors down. I wasn’t brave enough to put my feet over, but I manage to shakily take a photo!

The baptistery is mostly famous for their golden doors; more specifically the Eastern door which leads to the duomo and was dubbed the gates of paradise by Dante. Personally, I found the mosaic rooftop inside just as captivating as the outside.

The museum is the largest and probably the most underrated part of the ticket. I don’t blame people for giving it a miss, due to its sheer size. If nothing else, make sure you have a good look at the original doors of the Baptistery which are kept and restored here.

Tips
Starting from late 2016 you can now pre-book your climb of the duomo (https://www.museumflorence.com/) I highly recommend this because it took us almost 2 hours of waiting to be able to do the climb! Booking for the other attractions is probably not necessary as getting to the bell tower and baptistery were only a short wait for us.

Markets and shops

Mercato Centrale
Located in the historic centre of Florence, right smack bang in the leather markets, Mercato Centrale is the perfect destination for foodies. The ground floor is filled with various vendors selling the most beautiful vegetables, pasta, and all round Tuscan goods. Whereas the upper level is a little bit more upmarket, with food options that extend beyond just the usual Italian fare. Although there are cheaper meals to be found elsewhere, nowhere offers as much variety in such a beautiful location. It also helps that is open beyond the usual lunch and dinner trading hours.

Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio
If you love food this is another market that is worth visiting. Less of a tourist hub and more of a local’s produce market this is a great place to get a feel for what a Florentine would actually eat. If you have a kitchen and are in Florence for a while I highly recommend picking up some Fresh pasta here.

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San Lorenzo leather market
People will tell you that the San Lorenzo leather market is a massive tourist trap and full of pushy sellers all trying to force upon you the same goods as the store next door. Although I’m inclined to agree, I also think that a visit is part of the quintessential Florence experience. How long you stay, and if you buy anything is really up to you and your haggling skills.

Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella
Of all the stores in Florence, this is probably one of the most beautiful and historical. Behind its unassuming facade is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. It now houses a tea room and sells various perfumes and other scented things. However, along the walls and in the displays are really wonderful artworks and tidbits of historical information that make a window shopping a real pleasure.

School of leather
This is a more recent Florentine historical institution. At certain times you will be able to see leather craftsmen hard at work in the school. At others, you will only be able to see their goods lining the walls. Most of the leather goods here aren’t cheap, but you’re getting a real assurance of hand made quality. Entry is free, so it’s a good way to spend some time admiring the local craft.

Gioia Chiara
If you’re on a bit of a budget, looking for leather but put off by the dubious wares hawked at a lot of other stores around town, Gioia Chiara really is the place to go. This small store is a family owned business that takes great pride in its products. There’s plenty of reasonably priced wallets, key chains, and bags that would make a great gift or wardrobe addition. I actually bought a beautiful soft brown leather wallet here for my boyfriend.

Bookbinding and Papermaking stores
There is a real variety of these all around the city. The notebooks and bookmarks also make great souvenirs without breaking the bank. You will find Il papiro everywhere (even in Melbourne!), but there are also plenty of other stores to choose from.

Museums

Uffizi gallery
There’s so much to see at the Uffizi it is mind boggling. Sure, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Spring are the biggest draw cards but the hall way of Caravaggio’s and Annunciation by Da Vinci was also incredible. There’s plenty of beautiful lesser known artworks as well. Not to mention, the building itself which is set across 3 different floors is stunning. This gallery is so large that my friends and I had to sit down and take a break little over half way through!

Accademia
Michelangelo’s David serves as a symbol of Florence and you can see the real deal in Accademia. This gallery is of a much smaller size than the Uffizi and for the most part very manageable despite a crowd due to the open space in which the statues are kept. Sitting down and contemplating David, is strangely surreal after seeing him so many times in the news, on books and in popular culture.

Make sure you pay careful attention to the street signs around Florence! There is also a fair bit of quirky modern art that sits carefully with the old. Other modern art exhibitions can usually be found all over town. Palazzo Strozzi will usually host more modern art exhibitions and is also open late in the Summer months.

Tips
Keep an eye out for special days and events that make these places a bit cheaper. We managed to visit Academia on the night of the Museum, a European initiative which made entry a mere euro from 7pm to 10pm. On the first Sunday of each month, state museums are all free. Although I am told that the line to get in is incredibly long.

Unless you happen to be visiting the museums on these fee reduced days, it’s best to book for entry before hand. Queues to get in are notoriously long at all times of the year and easily skipped by booking online for a set time (http://www.firenzemusei.it/) for a small fee of 4 euro per ticket or even better, calling up and getting a reservation for no extra cost.

Churches

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Santa Croce
This church is famous for being the burial spot of Michelangelo and Galileo. It is also a beautiful display of gothic architecture and a place for people watching. At night time, people will spill out onto the piazza from the bars. At others, there will be blockades put up for events.

Santa Maria Novella
Even if you never set foot in Santa Maria Novella, chances are you will hear of it, thanks to the main train station taking its name from this church. Although not the biggest tourist drawcard, Italians are often taught of this church as one of the most important gothic churches in Tuscany. So much so that one of my Italian friends commented that it was strange to see it in real life, as she had studied it so much as a 2d image.

Santo Spirito
Like most of the other famous churches, Santo Spirito faces out into a piazza. The point of difference here is that it is a market piazza that often features students sketching and an array of beautiful foodstuffs to buy. Lining the walls of the garden next door are the tombstones of many fallen soldiers.

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San Lorenzo
San Lorenzo church stands out, not only because it is smack bang in the middle of a busy marketplace but also due to its fabulously incomplete looking facade. This was purportedly meant to be eventually finished with a design by Michelangelo but evidently, that never happened!

There are so many more sacred sites and churches than these few dotted all over Florence. Listing them all would be an absolute nightmare. If you’re ever in need of a short respite or just curious, popping into a church probably won’t ever hurt.

Views and Gardens

Piazza Michelangelo
When I introduce people to Piazza Michelangelo I tell them that it’s really just a glorified car park. I stand by these words. In the middle of the piazza is a giant and somewhat dirty statue of Michelangelo from which it gets its name. The real reason why so many people take the treck up here is for the amazing views of the city of Florence and the Tuscan countryside. Going down the flower gardens are also a bit of a treat.

Ponte Vecchio
This picturesque bridge is beautiful from afar and also up close. At sunset and sunrise, this bridge is absolutely breath taking. When you’re actually on it, it’s a bit squishier, but it’s worth admiring the many fine gold stores built into the bridge. Even when all the stores have been shuttered, the view remains charming and fairytale-esque.

Piazza Della Signoria
A long-standing symbol of political intrigue, these days Piazza Della Signoria is more well known for the many impressive statues lining the square. Whilst I was on exchange, a most intriguing and irreverent art exhibition was taking place, featuring this man on a giant golden turtle!

Piazza Della Repubblica
This is my favourite Piazza in all of Florence. Mostly due to the whimsical carousel smack bang in the middle of the city. If nothing else, it makes for a pretty picture in the day and at night when it’s all lit up.

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Boboli gardens and Pitti palace
The closest I ever got to these gardens was actually sitting on the steep stone incline outside and sunbaking. However, by all accounts, the gardens and palace are incredibly beautiful and worth a full day’s worth of exploration if you’re up for it.

Oltrarno
Technically not a sight, the Oltrarno is Florence on the other side of the river Arno. Some of the places I’ve mentioned on this list are in Oltrarno so, you’re bound to wander into it. However, this part of Florence is worth a bit of exploration in its own right. The windy streets house many beautiful cafes, bars and stores and much fewer tourists. My favourite tea house can be found here. Same for my favourite gelato place.

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Tips
A lot of official Florence tourist places will want to push the Firenze card upon you. The card offers entry to the Duomo and skip the line entry to some museums but it comes at an eye water 72 euro and only lasts for 3 days. I think that it would be almost impossible to get good value for money with the card unlesss you really want to speed through all the museums and exhibits.

As with all Italian cities, there’s a fair share of beggars and pushy sales people. I find it’s best to be careful but firm when people start getting up in your face. As a side note, tt also helps to already have an umbrella when it’s raining otherwise everyone within a 50 metre radius will be trying to shove one in your face.

Florence is a very walkable city. As a result, there isn’t much public transport apart from the small and rather hectic looking buses. I never managed to catch a bus due to how crowded they were and walking proved to be a good excuse to get just another gelato. From one end of the city to the other, it only takes around 30-40 minutes. If you choose to go this route, remember good walking shoes and luggage with good wheels are your friends as the cobblestones are not kind to your feet or luggage.

If you would like to read more about Florence I recommend the following blogs:
http://girlinflorence.com/ A detailed and almost invaluable resource that goes above and beyond the general lists (like this one!) that dot the internet.
https://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/florence This is more of a general guide for Florence and other parts of Italy. Handy if you want an overview of what to do, see and eat without or before getting into swathes of information.

To finish this lengthy post off, here’s some extra photos, including the stunning view from the apartment in which I stayed for a month.

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Ciao Italy: Florence foods

This post is a sort of follow up to my previous post about the gelato in Florence. However this time I’m  delving into all the other cafes, restaurants and patisseries that I enjoyed while I was living in Florence. This is going to be a long list, so I’ll try to be brief!

Pastries
Some people claim that the Italian cornetto is the poor cousin of the croissant. Although I can see where they are coming from, I unabashedly love a good sweet filled cornetto. They run the entire gaumount, from soft and cake-like to flaky and croissant-like. Personally, I’m one for a bit of flakiness and golden ratio of filling to pastry where there is more pastry than filling.

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Robiglio
Via Dei Tosinghi 11/r | Via de’ Medici 16/r, 50123
When I had time before a long train trip I liked to stop by Robiglio and pick up some cornetti. The sheer selection of pastries on display is mind boggling, but the integrale (wholemeal) with lemon and honey were my absolute favourites.

Chiaroscuro
Via del Corso 36/r
Chiaraoscuro is an all day eatery, but I’ve only ever popped by for breakfast. Perhaps I had gotten in a little late, but the selection wasn’t as extensive as Robiglio. However, the lemon cornetto that I bought was probably hands down one of the best I have ever had.

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Pasticceria Nencioni
Via Pietrapiana 24/R
This probably isn’t the first pick for most people visiting Florence. However, it was incredibly close to where I was staying so I was lucky enough to pop in every now and then. This is a long standing family run establishment that is frequented by locals. Apart from cornetti, there is a whole range of other pastries. Some of them were too sweet for me, but basking in the hum of this place felt incredibly Florentine.

Don Nino
Piano Interrato, Firenze Santa Maria Nouvella
If I was running late to class, I would often quickly pop by the Don Nino in the underground station area. The jam and cream cornetti are surprisingly not bad for a store that does so much.  The best thing about this place is the more than convenient location.

 

Cafes
It often felt like a bit of a shame to be stuck at home working on assignments. Not to mention the fact that I would procrastinate like crazy when I was by myself. Most of these cafes are on this list not just for serving good food, but also their general ambience and ability to sit down with a laptop.

La Via del The
Via di Santo Spirito, 11, 50125
La Via del The boasts that it was the company which really bought the art of drinking fine tea to the Italian populace. In Florence they have three branches. Only two of them have sitting spaces. The one that I frequented was La Via del The 3 as it was the newest and most spacious. Mind you, the price of a pot of tea is rather steep at 8 euros or more! However, this is one of the very few places in Florence that will give you a well brewed pot of tea instead of a tea bag and a pot of water. A luxury that I was willing to pay for. The general ambience is also very relaxing and feels a bit upscale. The sweets are also very good and the staff are more than willing to recommend things. I think it’s one of my favourite tea rooms in the world.

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Ditta Artigianale
Via De’neri 32r
This is the place to go if you’re looking for a break from the typical Italian caffe (espresso). They offer the Australian flat white and tea that doesn’t come in a bag! The food options they have aren’t extensive, but it definitely fulfilled my brunch cravings. Since I left Florence they have since opened up another larger branch on the other side of the Arno.

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Todo Modo
Via dei Fossi, 15/R
More bookstore than cafe, Todo Modo is a charming place that I wish would open in Melbourne. Once you’re seated and surrounded by all the books, with a cup of coffee in one hand and a good read in another, it feels like you’re in a secret little cubby house.

Vespe Cafe
Via Ghibellina, 76, 50122
Believe it or not, the first time that I had an American style brunch was actually in Florence! Maybe it was because my brunch cravings were at an all time high when I visited, but I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would. The breakfast burrito is incredibly filling and for some reason, it felt wonderfully transgressive to be eating so many potatoes for breakfast! Vespe cafe is frequented by American college students who are on exchange so everyone speaks English, even all the customers.

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News Cafe
Via del Giglio, 59, 50123
Not too far from Santa Maria Nouvella station is THE place to go if you want a cappuccino. Not only do they do the most darling coffee art, but the wait staff is also incredibly friendly. It’s also air conditioned and spacious, which is perfect for those hot Italian days.

La Feltrinelli Red
Piazza della Repubblica 26, 50123
La Feltrinelli is a book store chain that is found everywhere in Italy. The rather grand looking store they have in Piazza della Repubblica also doubles as a cafe. This is the sort of place where you can sit as long as you like, use the wifi and no one will disturb you in the slightest. The tea and pastries that they served were also surprisingly decent.

 

Panino
I don’t usually order sandwiches of any sort when I’m out and about. However, in Florence it’s difficult to walk past a panini store without wanting to have one. The selection of cured meats and fillings is enough to make your eyes water. I don’t think that you can go wrong with any sandwich specialty store, this list is just the ones that I tried and enjoyed.

SandwiChic
Via San Gallo 3/r, 50129
My first introduction to panini at SandwiChic was a confusing one. There was barely any space to squeeze into the narrow counter of the store and the options seemed endless and confusing. However, the two guys there spoke excellent English and were endlessly accommodating. Although I picked a fairly unadventurous filling of ham, balsamic, buffalo mozzarella and tomato, this really lets every single component shine. I managed to polish off the very large sandwich in almost no time.

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Pane e Toscana
Borgo Degli Albizi 31/R, 52100
Not only was Pane e Toscana delicious, it was also very close to me. The salty schechatta bread that Florence is famous for is so incredibly moreish.I kept going back for me. The menu is really easy to understand, with all the fillings in different categories. When I was feeling lazy this was the perfect dinner.

Da’Vinattieri
Via Santa Margherita 4R, 50100
Although Da’Vinattieri is hidden away in an alley, you can instantly tell you’re close when you see groups of students and tourists sitting on the ground enjoying their sandwiches. This is a good place to try the specialty of Lampredotto stuffed in a roll. Make sure you don’t go too late in the day because by then they are often sold out and packing up.

Panini Toscani
Piazza del Duomo, 34/R
It’s often said that restaurants close to monuments tend to terrible and over priced. Evidently, these people have never been to panini toscani. The real point of difference is that they let you try a selection of different fillings so that you can customise your panini. The actual size of the panini is smaller than the above places, but that’s the price you pay for sitting next to the duomo!

Semel
Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti 44/r
If you’re after something a little bit different Semel is the place to go. It’s only open for a few hours at lunch and is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Unlike the very large sandwiches found at other establishments, Semel offers small rolls filled with a rotating list of fillings. The owner is also an incredibly jovial guy. You get a real sense of Italian warmth and hospitality as soon as you walk into the store.

 

Restaurants

Tamero’
Piazza Santo Spirito 11/r
My friends and I stumbled upon this pasta bar by accident as we were looking for somewhere to eat near Santo Spirito. It was one of the few restaurants that weren’t completely full, which is a bit of a shock considering how good the food was. It was here that I tried the best balsamic of my life. The pasta dishes hail from all parts of Italy, including some very unique dishes, like the amazing pasta soup I tried.

Toscanella Osteria
Via Toscanella, 32r
Toscanella Osteria would be rather hidden if it weren’t for the friendly looking Pinocchio outside. This is where I tried the famous Florentine beef steak. Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of steak generally speaking. I was glad to have tried it, but I was really blown away by the delicious soups at this restaurant. Every single soup really show cased what could be done with beautiful Italian vegetables.


I’ Mangiarino
Via Dello Studio 5R
This was another lucky find when we were wandering around looking for dinner. We shared a starter of the most amazing bruschetta and cured meats. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to look at bruschetta in Australia the same again.It’s the sort of place where you can be thrifty or splurge like the two guys seated next to us who were enjoying the most extravagant multi-course meal. Either way, you’ll probably have a good time.

Trattoria Mario
Via Rosina, 2r
Trattoria Mario is probably Florence’s worst kept secret. There is always a crowd and wait. The waitstaff are brusque and a bit harried but the food is cheap, authentic and delicious.

Osteria delle tre planche
Via Antonio Pacinotti 32R, 50131
Do you love truffles? If you do, Osteria delle tre planche probably loves them more than you. The restaurant is tiny so reservations are recommended. There is a whole page dedicated to items with truffle, and boy are they generous with the truffle shavings. Something like this would set you back a small fortune in Australia but is a relatively affordable indulgence in Florence.

Gustapizza
Via Maggio, 46R,
Sure, locals will tell you that there are better more authentic places to have a naples style pizza, but Gustapizza is tasty, reliable and relatively fast. There’s something to be said about sitting on the steps of Saint Spiritos with everyone else and enjoying a box or two of freshly baked pizza.

Oibo
Borgo Dei Greci, 1, 50122,
Last but not least, is the only appertivo place on this list. I didn’t really try to brand out with appertivo places, perhaps because Oibo was so close and I knew exactly what to expect. It is classy without being intimidating and the food is generous and varied.

Some of these images are pulled from google or webpages because at times I simply forgot to take photos or I just can’t find them amidst all my other travel photos.

Thanks for making it through this list! Let me know if you’ve been to any of these, or if there was something that you absolutely loved in Florence that I should try next time!

Ciao Italy: Florence gelato

Florence was unlike the other Italian cities I visited. Not because it was unique in its culture, architecture or food, but rather because it was my home, albeit only for a month. I lived in Florence while I was studying. So rather than write about Florence through the lens of a traveller going through each day I thought that it would be better to write a series of posts about Florence. Of course this will include visits to some tourist hot spots but I would also like to write about some other things than I enjoyed, such as the restaurants, shops or walks that I went on.

The obvious place to start is my so called area of expertise: gelato. When I was in Italy I ate almost one gelato a day. It’s definitely not an exaggeration to say that there is a gelato shop every couple of metres in Florence.

Here’s my personal favourites in Florence:

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Gelateria Edoardo. This is located conveniently near the Duomo. This is a perennial favourite amongst the young student population of Florence.  You’ll be able to smell the freshly made waffle cones from Edoardo before you even enter. I highly recommend getting your gelato in these cones. They are soft and intensely flavoured, offering something a little bit different to the usual cone. The chianti wine and fresh egg white with wine are my favourites. As an added bonus, the also offer vegan flavours!

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I can’t help but have a soft spot for Il Procopio. This was the closest Gelato store to the apartment where I stayed and it was a real gem. The gelato cakes were lovely and the 2011 Gelato world festival winning flavour is still a winner in my books.

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Gelateria La Carraia is one of the most popular gelato spots in Florence. It is located on the other side of the Arno river. The gelato is creamy and flavourful. Their display cabinet of flavours is so long that it’s impossible to see what you want from first glance.

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Antica Gelateria Fiorentina located near the leather markets and san Lorenzo church is on this list because it offers some of the most interesting flavours I have come across! The orange, cinnamon and ricotta was an unexpected pleasure. They also offer a matcha flavour, which for Italy is almost unheard of!

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Gelateria Santa Trinita. Last but certainly not least. This was actually my favourite gelateria in Florence. I found myself constantly returning to it and taking friends. This is another popular spot, where you need to be prepared to line for a little bit at popular gelato eating times. However, the line moves quick and the girls who work there are very efficient. They have a range of interesting and rotating flavours such as black sesame and cake or paradise. However, the classic America (cherry) and yoghurt is one of my top picks. The pink décor, fresh flowers and view of ponte vechio are an added aesthetic bonus.

The next list is a few other noteworthy options. These can be found in almost other part of Italy, so it’s not a Florentine must try. However, if you happen to be standing near one and have a few extra euro to spare (as they are a bit more expensive than your standard cup or cone of gelato) there’s definitely no harm in trying them.

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Venchi is famous for chocolate but their gelato is also nothing to sneeze at. Whereas the cappuccino gelato was delicious the fruity mango flavour I tried from them didn’t entirely stack up. There’s one in Santa Maria Nouvella station and another near Piazza della Signora. Both stores can get rather busy and some flavours will be gone if you don’t get to them early enough in the day.

Grom is almost everywhere in Italy. This is located near the Duomo, down a side alley. They have a range of rotating flavours. Sadly it seems I don’t have a photo of their gelato to show you!

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Don Nino has both sweet treats and gelato a plenty. Once again, they have a branch near the Duomo and another in the station, this time in the underground shopping mall. If you’re hankering or a gelato but someone else wants a cake or cannoli (which I also highly recommend), this is the place to be. The branch near the Duomo has plenty of seating and is open late into the night. They also offer whipped cream and chocolate on top of your gelato for no extra cost, or rather the cost is already factored into the admittedly expensive price. The maximum cone pictured here does cost extra though. The pistachio flavour is my favourite.

If you know what to avoid, almost all the gelato that you eat will be good. Some will be better or more unique than others but if you steer clear of overpriced tourist traps and artificial whipped gelato you’re almost guaranteed to have a good time for just a few euro.

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