Italy’s Chianti Area and Wine Tasting

Guest Post By: Margie Miklas

When I first inquired about a tour in Tuscany to the Chianti wine area, I wasn't quite prepared for the unique experience it turned out to be. It was one of the best days I had in Italy and I would highly recommend this to anyone spending time in Tuscany.

Chianti is a large wine producing zone in Italy which encompasses the provinces of Florence and Siena in Tuscany. Its borders are not strictly defined but it covers this area, extending to the Val d'Elsa in the west and to the Valdarno in the east.  Just driving in this area is a beautiful experience through the rolling hills, with row after row of vineyards and olive trees that never seem to end.

A wonderful guide named Marco transported me into the wine country of Chianti, where I was able to visit two family run wineries. I was with a small group of seven or eight people so I did not feel like I was herded around like I have seen in some tour groups in Italy.

Sant' Appiano Winery Chianti, ItalyThis first stop winery was in a very small village called Sant' Appiano, and in fact the winery is about the only thing that is in this village, aside from a few homes. Aptly named, the winery is called Sant' Appiano.

The winery is operated by a family and I had the pleasure of learning about wine production by the two young owners who are brother and sister. After spending quite a bit of time in the wine cellar learning about the strict criteria that must be met to produce these Classico Chianti wines, I was ready to sample some wine.  My group was treated to a beautiful table set to taste three different wines, and of course there was food to go with the wine.prosciutto and bread to go with the wine, Chianti, Italy

There was an opportunity to purchase wine and olive oil as well, because wherever there are grape vineyards, there are olive groves as well, as the soil is the same for both.  I made a purchase and had several bottles of wine and olive oil shipped home, but if you wanted to carry a few bottles with you, the price was very reasonable. This winery is small enough that they do not export their products out of Italy, so it was very special being able to taste a wine that I knew I could not get in the United States.

The next stop was at a larger winery but still family operated, and this was in the town of Castellina, known as Castellina in Chianti. It seems a little redundant, but that is what the Italians call this town.Wines of Casamonti Winery, Chianti, Italy

This winery is called Casamonti and the owner came outside to greet us. Set high on a hilltop, the views are amazing and not only do they produce Classico Chianti wine here but they also raise pigs and make their own prosciutto as well as several other food items. After a thorough tour and again the education related to the strict guidelines prescribed by the wine consortium, I was amazed to learn that only six people work here and do everything.

Diner at Casamonti Winery, Chianti, ItalyAgain my group got to sample three wines and also had almost a complete meal served in a beautiful room. I felt like some kind of VIP as the entire experience was so personalized. There was also the opportunity to purchase wine here and there was no pressure, so unlike some types of tours commonly experienced in the U.S.

At both places I could sense how very proud the owners were of their winemaking business, and they talked with great pride about how hard they work to conform to all standards. This was a great way to spend a day in Tuscany, and a nice change pace from visiting museums and walking around cobble-stoned streets.

Guest Post By: Margie Miklas

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Florence’s Campanile – Giotto’s Bell Tower

Guest Post By: Margie Miklas

Florence's Campanile - Giotto's Bell Tower, ItalyThe 278 foot high Campanile in Florence is also known as Giotto’s Bell Tower and is not actually attached to the Duomo, like many other campaniles, but instead is a free standing tower in Piazza del Duomo. The only way to the top is to climb the 414 steps as there is no elevator. For a cost of six or seven euros I joined the other adventurous visitors of all ages and started up the staircase, not really knowing what awaited me.

It was my second visit to Florence and I was not going to miss the spectacular views I had heard about from the top of the Campanile. I arrived midmorning and I decided to do it before it got hot and before I was exhausted from a day of walking and sightseeing.

In 1334 Giotto di Bondone who was 67 years old, designed the bell tower for the Duomo in Florence, and although he died just three years into its construction, the famous artist and architect is credited for its design.  Pisano took over afterwards and following him, Francesco Talenti completed it in 1359.

The Campanile is distinct with its three different colors of marble, red marble from Siena, green marble from Prato and white marble from Carrara. This tall slender monument is considered to be one of Italy’s most beautiful and should not be missed.

Narrow Staircase, Florence's Campanile - Giotto's Bell Tower, ItalyThe climb to the top is definitely not for the average traveler. The steps begin with a width of about 30 inches and as I climbed higher I discovered that the steps become much narrower. This is not recommended for anyone with claustrophobia.  Since there is only one staircase, many times those climbing find it necessary to step to the side to allow those descending to pass. This is a commitment as there is no opportunity to turn back.

I was encouraged that I was not the only one huffing and puffing on the ascent. Even the younger climbers were finding this strenuous. At several points there is a landing which offers an opportunity to take a break and it is a welcome relief. There are seven bells in the tower and from the top there is an opening to look all the way down inside the tower.

At the top, the reward is totally worth the effort as the views offer panoramas of the city as well as the other great landmarks in Florence, particularly Brunelleschi’s dome of the Duomo, the Basilica of Santa Croce and the Baptistery.  The Duomo also has great views and is a little higher but I think the views from the Campanile are better since I can see the Duomo from here. Besides the beautiful views of the city, the sense of accomplishment of having climbed this tower is priceless.

The View from Florence's Campanile - Giotto's Bell Tower, Italy

Guest Post By: Margie Miklas


Day Trip to Pisa From Florence, Italy

The Leaning Tower of Pisa and Duomo, Pisa, Tuscany, ItalyWhen one is staying in Florence, Italy, the nearby city of Pisa is the perfect place to take a day trip to. Pisa is very well-known and there are many fun and exciting things to do there. The city is only about an hour away from Florence by train or bus, so it's a very convenient option for those staying in a hotel or apartment in Florence to take a day trip. Pisa has many famous landmarks, museums, churches, palaces, towers, and villas. The dining options in the city are also very good. These restaurants serve excellent Italian food and provide a very high level of customer service.

The most popular and well-known landmark in Pisa is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This tower, which is the bell tower of the city's cathedral, is known throughout the world and is frequently visited by tourists traveling in the area. This attraction is what has made the city of Pisa so well-known internationally. Anyone visiting Pisa should also make time to visit the many beautiful churches nearby. These churches all date back to ancient times and have a very rich history. Some of the most frequently visited churches in Pisa are the church of St. Sixtus, the church of St. Francis, and the church of San Nicola.

Tourists visiting Pisa flock to the nearby museums to see the many state of the art paintings, sculptures, statues, and other artistic endeavors. Three of the best museums in the area are the Museo delle Sinopie, the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Reale, and the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. These museums and the many other museums in Pisa offer daily tours of their many interesting exhibits. Other popular sights and tourist attractions in the city include Knights' Square, the University of Pisa, and the Orto botanico di Pisa, which is Europe's oldest botanical garden. This garden is very scenic and is thought to be one of the most beautiful sights in the area.

Before heading back to your Florence apartments or hotel, Travelers who spend a day in Pisa definitely need to dine at one of the many really good restaurants that the city boasts. Some of the best restaurants are La Tana, Piazza dei Miracoli, La Grotta, and Pizzeria Trattoria La Buca. These restaurants serve both lunch and dinner and are very well-known throughout Pisa. Because there are so many interesting places to go and things to see in Pisa, the city has become one of the most visited places in Italy.


5 Things To See And Do While Visiting The Chianti Wine Region

Tuscany is one of the most amazing regions in the world. Artistic, political and religious revolutions have transformed the area many times throughout the centuries, leaving it an ever-changing hub of culture.

To people living outside the Italian paradise, Tuscany is best known for its outstanding wine country.

Here are 5 things to see and do while visiting the Chianti Wine Region:

Wine Tasting Italy

1) Go wine tasting.

A trip to wine country that didn’t involve wine tasting would be like traveling to the moon without actually walking on it. The Chianti wine country lies in the heart of Tuscany, touching the provinces of Grosseto, Siena, Arezzo, Firenze, Prato, Pistoia and Pisa.

You can taste amazing wine in any of the provinces.

Palio di Siena, Siena Italy Photo by icedsoul photography

2) Witness the Palio di Siena.

Italians love racing. In Siena, the greatest race is the Palio. Ten riders race their horses bareback around the historic Piazza del Campo in the name of honor and rivalry. The 3-lap race, which usually lasts no more than two minutes, is held twice a year and is attended by spectators from around the world.

Races take place on July 2nd and August 16th.

People Watching, Piazza Grande, Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy

3) People watch in the Piazza Grande.

The city of Arezzo dates back to the rule of the Roman Empire. The Piazza Grande, the city’s medieval square, embraces travelers from around the world as they make their way through the heart of Tuscany.

700 years ago bishops paced the red brick pavement in search of answers from above. Today, you can stroll through the square and observe the friendly locals and eager tourists.

Learn to Cook, Italy

4) Learn to cook.

You’ve never had Italian food unless you’ve been to Italy. In Tuscany, cooking is more like an art form than a nutritional practice.

Learn to cook condiments, appetizers, pastas and desserts in one of the region’s many cooking schools.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

5) Visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Few architectural blunders are as visited as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It took over 170 years to construct the 183 ft tall, 14,500 metric ton bell tower.

Located about an hour from Florence, the Tower of Pisa is open to tourists who want to help hold it up using a little trick photography.

Tuscany is the birthplace of the Renaissance. It’s known for its buildings, food, wine and art. When you visit, make it memorable for your own reasons.



Monteriggioni – An Easy Day Trip from Siena

Guest Post By: Margie Miklas

On my last visit to Italy I was fortunate enough to be able to stop in the small hilltop village of Monteriggioni. This tiny commune in Tuscany is only 15 km from Siena, and is situated near Castellini in Chianti and Poggibonsi. What makes visiting this town so interesting is its history as an intact walled medieval town which looks much like it did centuries ago.


Monteriggioni is very impressive as you approach on the autostrada and catch a glimpse of it perched high on a hill like a fortress. In the 13 th century Monteriggioni was built by the Sienna people to serve as a buffer and front line in Siena’s long-standing war with Florence. The strategic location of Monteriggioni made it useful as a fortified defense for Siena. Ultimately however Siena lost its war with Florence.

Inside the Walls of Monteriggioni, Tuscany, ItalyWalls of Monteriggioni

I loved walking around this uncrowded town which is completely encircled by well preserved walls which are 10 meters high and measure 570 meters all the way around.  Architecture lovers and history buffs find this place very intriguing and especially enjoy the fourteen towers which rise above the town from different points in the walls.

Monteriggioni Church, Tuscany, ItalyThe town of Monteriggioni actually was a castle built in 1213 A.D. and the entrances to the town are through two gates. The northern gate faces Florence and is called Porta Fiorentina, and the Porta Romano gate faces south towards Rome. An aerial view of this town looks like an almost perfect circle with miniature houses inside its walls.

Piazza Roma

This is the main piazza in Monteriggioni and is very large with a simple Romanesque style church of Santa Maria Assunta which dominates the square.  Other small shops, a hotel, a gelateria and restaurants occupy the square, but I wandered past the piazza and found small alleys where the local people live. Everything here is very old and I had the sense that time had stood still. I am glad I had the chance to see Monteriggioni, even for the short time I was there.

Monteriggioni hotel and shops, Tuscany, ItalyFesta Medievale

Monteriggioni  proudly celebrates every July with this Medieval Festival, when locals dress in medieval costumes, play music and put on shows using ancient instruments. The festival takes place during the first and second weekends in July and the piazza suddenly is filled with people from the surrounding communes as well as visitors from other parts of Italy and Europe.

Guest Post By: Margie Miklas


Visiting the Uffizi Museum When in Florence Italy

Uffizi Museum, Florence ItalyGuest Post By: Karen Mills

When you come to Florence, visiting the Uffizi is practically an obligation.  The Uffizi is one of the oldest and most famous museums of the western world.  It was originally built in 1560 by Giorgio Vasari as commissioned by Cosimo I de Medici.  Cosimo I wanted to consolidate all of the offices within one building.  He also wanted a few rooms in the building to put some of his growing art collection.

Over the years, the Medici collection grew to fill the entire second floor of these offices.  Anna Maria Luisa, the last of the Medici heirs, gave the entire collection to the commune with the understanding that the collection is never to leave Florence.  The gallery has been opened to visitors since the 16th century, and in 1765 was opened to the public.

Waiting line to enter Uffizi Museum, Florence ItalyWhen you visit, it is a good idea to have a plan on exactly what you want to see.  The collection is vast, (1700 works on display and another 1400 in storage) and unless you have a particular interest and/or knowledge about art of this time period, it can easily be overwhelming.  I recommend before you go purchasing your tickets on line.  There are many vendors so check around for the best price.  These vendors will charge the price of the ticket, plus a handling fee, which can vary.  There are also guides available should you prefer that.    Online booking might cost a little more, but will insure that you get into the museum when you want, and don’t have to spend your precious vacation time standing in a long line waiting.( I have heard as long as 5 hours)  The prebooked tickets will insure an entrance time, so that you can plan your day accordingly.

Uffizi Clock Tower, Florence, ItalyThe interior of the museum itself is worth the visit, with the beautiful wood and frescoed ceilings, marble floors and statues.  The light from the windows along the perimeter is lovely and some of the views from the loggia at the end near the Arno are stunning.  Although you aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the museum of the art work, the area of the loggia looking over the river and the Ponte Vecchio is a great place to get a beautiful panorama.

Before you enter the museum, take a minute to acclimate yourself to the art and artists that you want to see.  The galleries are divided by the artists and time periods, so once you know which ones you are interested in, you can go directly to these salons.   I guess it goes without saying that you absolutely do not want to miss the works of Botticelli, Annunciation, La Primavera and The Birth of Venus, Leonardo DaVinci’s Woman’s Head and Adoration of the Magi, Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, Raphael’s self portrait, and the Venus of Urbino by Titian.

Dumo from Uffizi, Florence, ItalyThere is a nice café in the museum, which has outdoor space on the top of the loggia.  You can get coffee, drinks, or a light lunch here.  As you might guess, it is expensive, but worth taking a look even if you don’t indulge, for the close up view of the campanile of the Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo.

For more information on Florence sites, visit

Karen Mills is an American woman who made the decision to leave her corporate life behind to live “la dolce vita” in Florence, Italy, Read more about her experiences at An American In Italy or contact her at

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Guest Post By: Karen Mills



Spending a Day in Greve in Chianti, Italy

Guest Post By: Karen Mills 

Main plaza, Greve, Chianti, ItalyYesterday I visited the Chianti area.  Chianti is a region in Italy that spans from just below Florence to North of Sienna.  The Chianti Mountains border the area on the west and on the west, the valleys of two rivers, the Pesa and the Elsa.  Many people think that Chianti is an actual town, but it is a region with several towns within it.  Chianti is famous worldwide for the wines that it produces.

It is believed that the Etruscans were the first to cultivate grapevines.  This area between Florence and Siena was the location of many disputes and was under lengthy Roman rule.   Finally, in the mid-1500’s the eight municipalities of Chianti signed the Pact of Pontignano, which defined rules for protecting and promoting their shared identity.  In 1932, the boundaries of Chianti were defined and the production one of Chianti Classico was granted a certificate of primogeniture.  This means that it was the “first” or the “original”.   For wine to contain the designation of Chianti, it must be produced with at least 80% sangiovese grapes.

Bell Tower in Greve, ItalyThe most famous route for touring this area is I222, if you are driving, but I took the Sita bus.   Today, my destination was Greve in Chianti, a small village in the heart of the region.  The route is very scenic with small picturesque villages and vineyards of grapes and olive orchards along the way.  The winding narrow roads going through the hillsides made me glad that I wasn’t driving!  It took about an hour to get out of the Sita Bus station and into the Piazza Trento.  The bus ride cost 3,30 euro for one way, and the buses leave every 30 minutes.  The Sita Station is located on the south side of Santa Maria Novella, and you can buy tickets there and obtain information about the routes and schedules.  The area is very spread out and although many wineries do tours and tastings, they are not really set up for commercial business.  For most of them, it is important to make a reservation before dropping in.  There are many organized tours out of Florence which will allow you to visit one or two of the wineries for tours and tastings.  I have been on one of these before, but found it expensive and disappointing. So, I decided to tackle Chianti town by town on my own.

La Cantine di Greve in Chianti, ItalyWhen I arrived at the stop of Piazza Trento, in the center of Greve in Chianti, I took a right and continued along the main road there and came to the Wine Museum.  I didn’t go into the museum, but did get information on the main piazza, church and a large cantina for wine tasting!

The main piazza is Piazza Matteotti.  There are shops for purchasing picnic items and souvenirs and several restaurants.  The main church in the village is located at one end, and there is a large statue of Giovanni di Verrazano, an explorer of North America whose ancestral home is in Greve.

Wine for the Tasting, La Cantine di Greve in Chianti, ItalyThe highlight of the day was Le Cantine di Greve in Chianti.  This very large enoteca below surface near the Wine Museum has over 150 wines for tasting.  You buy cards for 10, 15 or 20 euro for the tasting.  There are stations where you insert the card and select the wine you want to taste.  The tasting is automatically dispensed and your card debited for the cost of the taste.  The tastings range from .60 to 5 euro depending on the cost of the bottle of wine.  Of course you can buy all of these wines here, and they do ship!  Other wine accessories and souvenirs are also available.  There is a free tasting of olive oils with the purchase of a card.  I loved the olive oil with tartufo and the peperoncini!  There are also samples of cheese and salamis available for purchase.  The cantina is opened for 10 until 7 daily.  I highly recommend a visit!

For more information on Florence sites, visit

Karen Mills is an American woman who made the decision to leave her corporate life behind to live “la dolce vita” in Florence, Italy, Read more about her experiences at An American In Italy or contact her at

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Guest Post By: Karen Mills


A Short Day Trip from Florence to Fiesole, Italy

Bell Tower in Fiesole, ItalyFiesole, Italy is a town in the Tuscany region and province of Florence. Just five miles from the city proper of Florence, Fiesole is the perfect destination for a day trip for those staying in Florence. The town is rich in history and offers tourists much to see and do. By driving the short distance to Fiesole, visitors can see:

Convento di San Francesco – on a clear day, walking up the hill to the Convento di San Francesco, visitors can see a beautiful view of Florence. Archaeological finds are displayed and visitors can see Renaissance paintings in the Gothic church.

Etruscan Walls – the walls were built by the Etruscans somewhere around 2000 BC. Remnants of the walls can be seen in various parts of the city as can two Etruscan tombs.

San Domenico di Fiesole – walking towards the city of Florence, one will come to the monastery built in the 15th century. Various frescoes dot the monastery and tourists can also visit the neighboring cathedral.

Piazza Mino – the piazza is the main square of the town. Visitors will find cafes, shops and restaurants on all sides of the square.

Archaeological Area – the park is home to restored baths, an amphitheater and a temple. In the park are mixed ruins from various time periods as well as a museum filled with artifacts from ancient Italy.

Monte Ceceri – the quarries just outside of Fiesole are where Tuscan gray stone is produced. There is a nature park here as well that any outdoor enthusiast will appreciate.

Primerana – in the cathedral square, the building, erected in 996 was expanded in medieval times and received restoration to its exterior in the 16th century.

Visitors to Florence may want to consider taking the short bus trip or train ride to Fiesole for a day of walking and sight-seeing. The town is small enough to tour by foot but large enough to offer plenty to see and do. With its Roman amphitheater still in use today, its cool summertime breezes and the ease of transport to and from Florence, the town of Fiesole is the perfect destination for a day trip.


Take a Day Trip to San Gimignano from Florence, Italy

The Chianti region of Italy is renowned for its many vineyards and stately cypress trees scattered throughout the countryside, the silvery green of the olive groves and some of the most magnificent medieval architecture still in existence. It is a picturesque area that has captivated visitors from around the world.

Rolling Hills and Tuscany Vineyard, San Gimignano, ItalyNestled atop one of the numerous hills throughout this region of the Tuscany is the walled medieval village of San Gimignano, best known for its many beautiful towers dating as far back as the 11th century. San Gimignano served as the central reference point for merchants, pilgrims and travelers as they made their way along the Via Francigena when traveling between England and Rome during medieval times. This location was a large factor in the immense prosperity enjoyed by merchants of the era in San Gimignano.

Located just 60 kilometers to the southwest of the beautiful city of Florence, San Gimignano is a wonderful addition to a holiday itinerary. There are a number of tour operators that offer day trips through the region and provide knowledgeable commentary of the area. Most tours visiting San Gimignano require around 8 to 9 hours and offer the convenience of allowing guests to enjoy the sights without the worry of getting lost.

As travelers make their way through this lovely region of Italy they are rewarded with spectacular scenery, adding to the anticipation of wandering through the narrow lanes and magnificent examples of medieval architecture awaiting them. When the unique San Gimignano skyline comes into view it is breathtaking, punctuated by the 14 remaining medieval towers that once symbolized the affluence of their owners. The backdrop of rolling green hills creates a wonderful contrast to the red and gray brick used in the construction of the city.

Once arriving in San Gimignano there are many wonderful sights that beg to be explored starting with the city walls that once served to protect the inhabitants from invaders including the unsuccessful invasion by the infamous Attilla the Hun.

Some of the most significant monuments within the city are found in or near the city center. The magnificent San Gimignano Cathedral or Collegiata, located on the Piazza del Duomo, hides its best characteristics within its rather understated exterior. Upon crossing the threshold of this grand cathedral visitors are greeted by stunning 14th century frescoes and many works of art from the Italian renaissance period.

The Chiesa di Sant’Agostino is another beautiful cathedral in San Gimignano. Constructed in the 13th century, again the exterior belies the exquisite interior, with a series of amazing frescoes throughout. Its most notable attraction is a fresco painted by Benozzo Gozzoli that is located in the apse.

There are several museums in San Gimignano as well including the Archaeological Museum, the Wine Museum and the Museum of Torture and Medieval Crime.

For those visiting in mid-June, a real treat awaits with the annual Medieval Festival or Ferie delle Messi. Jousting, acrobats, jugglers and much more provide an authentic Medieval experience for the entire family.


Viareggio Italy, A Day At The Beach From Florence

If you are thinking of taking a day trip during your stay in Florence Italy, consider heading out to the small city of Viareggio, along the coast of the Ligurian Sea. Just 20 km north of Pisa and about 100 km east of Florence, Viareggio is easily accessible by car or train. Trains run virtually every hour from Florence and takes less than 2 hours. Fare on the train is affordable at less than 15 Euros round trip. Once you arrive at the Viareggio station, you are just 1 km away from the beach. If you are renting a car, the trip takes just over an hour.

Coastline of Viareggio, ItalyViareggio is known to have the best beach in the Tuscan Riviera and is a favorite amongst many Italians looking for an alternative to other, more expensive Italian beaches. The drawback to the beaches at Viareggio is that they are mostly private and in order to use the beaches, one must pay a small fee of about 7 Euro to enter. You can also walk to the nearby pier and get a panoramic view of the coastline and the city.

There are plenty of other interesting things to do in Viareggio and if you happen to be in Florence during Carnival season, then you definitely have to take in the Carnival of Viareggio. Held in late February and early March, the three week long Carnival of Viareggio is one of Italy’s most famous carnivals. Colorful, flower-laden floats adorn the coastal street of Viareggio in a festival that spans over 125 years. These floats are very similar to the grandeur of the floats during Mardi Gras season in the American City of New Orleans, LA.

If you aren’t in Viareggio during Carnival season, you might want to visit the Museo Cittadella del Carnevale, where you will find interesting treasures from previous carnivals. The other important museum in Viareggio is the Museo Villa Puccini, in honor of one of Italy’s most famous composers, Giacomo Puccini. You are undoubtedly familiar with many of his famous operas such as La bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly. Puccini lived at one time at Torre Del Lago, just 10 km south of the center of Viareggio and was born in Lucca, just 30 km east of the city. Puccini is buried at a small chapel built in his memory. During the summer months there are music festivals such as the Festival Puccini in Torre Del Lago and the Cittadella Jazz and More Festival

There is also a wide array of interesting restaurants if you are looking for places to dine, many of which are along one of Viareggio’s main streets, the Viale Daniele Manin. Two of the most popular restaurants in Viareggio are Ristorante Fubi’s and Ristorante Romano.

With so many interesting things to see in Viareggio, you can easily understand why it’s worth to take a day trip over to the coastal city. It certain that you will bring home a number of memories from beautiful Viareggio.

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