iSherriWilson

The story of my life…

Making Photo Magic With My Friend Alicyn Drew

Recently I realized I needed to have a professional head shot for my LinkedIn page. Coincidently, when I joined the DC Metro Mini Club (second best decision I’ve ever made) I met a fantastic photographer. Alicyn Drew is not just the President of our Mini club, she also takes amazing photographs. I was most impressed with her Mini pictures (of course) and she totally helped me to visualize vinyl designs for My Precious so it only made sense to give her a ring to fulfill my photography needs! We set up a time and she agreed to come out to my condo for the shoot.

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My Precious!

The day we chose was bitterly cold. Ali decided that the overcast skies would provide perfect lighting and we should move outside. We started on the balcony. Ali posed me and then began shooting

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“Bit of hair. Bit of hair. You’re an animal, a lemur.”

The shots were great but, but Ali wanted more nature.

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We bundled up (and by we I mean Alicyn. I couldn’t cover my bold red blouse) and headed out to the wooded area behind my building.

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Photographers gotta be comfortable. Beauty is pain, my friends.

She took a few shots under the trees.

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Thanks to Alicyn I now know my good side and I am not afraid to use it.

As we were preparing to head back inside I mentioned that I was going to upload the best shots to my online dating profile. Alicyn said, “hey throw on a slinky dress and lets take a few extra shots for that!” I was all “OK, let’s go back to wardrobe and see what we’ve got.”

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Alicyn was not impressed.

Alicyn said the camera loved me in red, and quickly moved to the red section in my closet. That’s right it is organized by color, shape and style.

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Alicyn approved my slinky red lace dress.

Alicyn totally gets the power of the Mini and decided to shoot these pictures with My Precious. She told me to take off my top and pull it around the corner. We started with a few shots of me driving.

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Alicyn worked her magic on this shot. Who wouldn’t look cuter driving on the Dragon? Sure is a nicer background than my condo parking lot!

She had me climb into the back seat and took some really sassy shots from behind.

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My favorite picture of all time EVAH! And going by the Facebook comments, the best picture of me ever taken.

When Ali got back to her studio and began working her magic, she transformed the images so it wouldn’t look like every picture I have was taken at the same time or like I only own one dress.

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You can’t even tell I’m in my parking lot freezing my ass off. She’s that good!

The entire shoot was a really fun time. Alicyn is incredibly talented and I got much more out of my head shot shoot than I ever expected! Check out her work at http://www.alicyndrew.com and If you need head shots, you should drop her a line! Tell her Sherri sent you and she’ll take off 25%. You’re welcome.

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Look, Alicyn put me in a castle, where I belong!

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Three AM Comes Early, My Friends

I’d pre arranged a ride to the airport and they were supposed to pick me up between 3:00 and 3:30. Even though I’d set my alarm for 2:30 I found myself wide awake at 2 am. The four hours of sleep was still a lot more than I’d been getting and since I was wide awake I decided to get up and pack and get ready to go.

This shit gets heavy.

This shit gets heavy.

When I checked out, the super nice Turk at the front desk was the same guy who checked me in. He apologized again that he couldn’t have gotten me into a room facing the Bosphorus. He also wanted to call the kitchen and have them make me a breakfast box to take with me. Such a nice guy! Sadly, the kitchen said the food for breakfast hadn’t arrived yet. It didn’t matter since my ride arrived by 3:15. I went out to meet him so he wouldn’t have to go through the metal detector. The Hilton is super secure! I was much more comfortable hopping in the back of his big black Mercedes van after the first one worked out so well.

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Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus is super secure and very beautiful

This driver was super nice and pointed out landmarks along the way as we drove. I wish I could have taken a picture of things like the 1,500-year-old wall the freeway runs right through, or some of the beautiful mosques. Sadly, it was dark and we were moving VERY fast. so it was all a dark blur.

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All of the mosques we drove past were beautifully illuminated. I think they were mosques. The apparent lack of road rules meant we were going very vast and everything was a blur.

I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to shop for souvenirs on my way to the KLM lounge.

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Really effective marketing. I wouldn’t buy any of these.

I wasn’t terribly excited about the breakfast options in the lounge, but I knew I’d probably get a fantastic meal on my flight so I decided to wait. I made it to the gate just before boarding began and I was thrilled to see the same flight crew I had on my way to Istanbul. Really, the friendliest crew in the world!

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Super excited to see my old friends from Saturday night!

We took off right on time. There was only me and one other guy in first and he was on the opposite side. The short hop KLM flights make sure there’s plenty of room in first class.

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Spacious!

Breakfast was served and it was delicious. We flew over most of Europe but it was dark outside and I was having way too much fun chatting with my favorite flight attendant to pay any attention. T-Mobile kept track though.

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Love the T-Mobile International Plan!

When we finally arrived in Amsterdam, I had just enough time to get through passport control and make it to my next gate. My flight to Detroit was on Delta and when I arrived at the gate they were checking passports and scanning passengers. I thought that meant they were boarding. I was wrong. Instead we were herded into a very small room that clearly didn’t have enough seating for all of the passengers. That’s when I noticed there wasn’t a plane at the gate. Apparently it was delayed arriving and if I’d known I’d have spent a lot more time shopping for souvenirs. When the plane finally did arrive I was among the first to board. I was seated in 2A and quickly settled in so I could enjoy my first glass of champagne. I was a little upset I hadn’t watched some of the Oscar nominees on KLM when I’d had the chance because the Delta movie selection was pretty lame, but at least they had Tommy Boy and that movie never gets old!

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The first course was smoked salmon.

I enjoyed lunch.

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“I’m too drunk to taste this chicken” – Ricky Bobby

And the sundae cart.

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They even topped off my sundae with a cookie! I love you, first class!

And then took a little nap. When I work up, we were still somewhere over the Atlantic so I watched Priscilla Queen of the Desert. At snack time they served some hamburgers and I decided to watch a few episodes of Arrested Development.

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There’s always money in the banana stand.

When we finally arrived in Detroit, I spent a little time in the Delta Sky Club and then made my way to the next flight. I was seated next to a very flirty, older, married man, so I put in my earphones to pass the time. We sat at the gate for quite a while until the pilot finally told us there was a problem loading the bags. And once they finished we’d have to wait for them to balance the plane. Because I knew the DC area was already getting some winter weather, I was a bit anxious about arriving before they shut the airport down. After a twenty-minute delay we finally took off.

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Oh hey, there’s my office!

When we landed in DC it looked like a winter wonderland. I wasn’t super excited about driving my Mini home in the heavy snow and then my sister sent me a message and said she didn’t want to drive in the snow either. She suggested I hop in the Metro to get to her house to pick up my car. I was eager to get off the plane so I could get out before it got much worse when I noticed we’d bypassed the airport entirely and moved to the end of the runway.

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So cold. And lonely.

The pilot told us because we were late (thanks Detroit baggage handlers!) there was another plane at our gate and we’d have to wait about 10 minutes while that plane was de-iced before they pushed off and we could get in there. Twenty minutes later the pilot told us that they’d finished de-icing the other plane but that they’d shut down the runways until they could be plowed so the plane at our gate couldn’t leave until then. Twenty minutes later we finally made it to the gate. I grab-bed my bag and double timed it to the Metro. I don’t know if you’ve ever taken the Metro at National Airport, but it’s an elevated track. It was 11 degrees but with the wind chill the temperature was -6. On an elevated outdoor track, that’s pretty damn cold. It was the coldest temperature I’ve ever experienced.

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Wind chill six below zero. I’m ready to go back to Turkey now.

Then when I arrived at the Crystal City stop, I have to walk the half a block through the snow to get to my car. Believe me when I say, the Chucks I was wearing were not weather appropriate. The drive home was terrifying. There weren’t a lot of cars on the road, but the visibility was practically non-existent and because there was so much snow on the roads, nobody could see the lanes. Everyone seemed to be making their best guess, but that resulted in areas with more cars side by side than lanes! Thankfully I made it home without any mishaps and within a few hours I was unpacked, thawed and ready for my next adventure…

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1 Day in Istanbul Part 2

After our visit to the Basilica Cistern, Hakan took us to a pottery factory so we could learn a bit more about how they make the amazing Turkish tiles. We’d seen them throughout the day and they were absolutely amazing. The pottery tour was hosted by Rifat Seymen and a potter.

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The when was operated by hand, or to be more accurate, foot.

They served us apple tea while the potter demonstrated how he makes a vase.

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Hot apple tea is very popular in Turkey and served in cute little glasses.

Then they invited us up to try it. I was stuck in the back row between Betty and Tom and I knew climbing over them would be an ordeal so I didn’t volunteer. The Brazilian woman jumped up to give it a try and made a very credible bowl! Afterwards they took us to the basement to show us some of their finished pieces. Rifat told us the colors on their pottery are made with crushed semi precious gemstones. The blue is lapis lazuli, the green is turquoise, the yellow is amber, and my favorite was the white moonstone! Moonstone glows in the dark. Rifat told us the cheaper pieces we might find in places like the Grand Bazar are made with phosphorus, which is highly radioactive and will kill you! Obviously, I needed to buy some from them, right? Which is how I ended up with the really expensive wine glasses I’m almost certain will get smashed in my carry on bag on the way home.

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This is the Tree of Life pattern. Each of the daisies are an ancestor. The tiny dots are made with crushed moonstone and glow in the dark.

After the pottery factory it was time for lunch. It was part of our tour and Hakan took us to a Turkish restaurant for a traditional meal.

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I wish I’d had a bigger carry on bag. I need some magic lanterns. Thank god for Amazon, they’ll probably be at my house before I am.

I waited for everyone else to enter so I could be sure I wouldn’t get stuck with Tom and Betty. The first course was a salad, and by salad I mean a plate full of shredded lettuce and a couple of large chunks of tomato. There were some appetizers made of puff pastry with either cheese or chicken fillers and then the main course. I chose the lamb kabab. That was an excellent choice because it was really delicious.

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Lamb kabob.

They served what might have been the best baklava I have ever had and a tiny mystery pastry for dessert. I heard Betty complain that she was diabetic and couldn’t even eat it. Well, let’s be honest, the entire restaurant heard Betty complain. She was not a quiet woman.

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Best baklava I have ever had.

Our next stop was the Hagia Sophia. It’s one of the oldest buildings in Istanbul and was once a church, then a mosque, and now a museum, which is why I didn’t have to cover my hair or take off my shoes. The interior is breathtaking. There are lots of hanging lights that reminded me of Hogwarts. When it was a church it was full of beautiful mosaics. Muslims don’t believe in having images inside their mosques and so painted over them. Now that it’s a museum, they are undergoing the painstaking process of uncovering the mosaics. You can see a few that have already been done and it’s fascinating to see them side by side with the muslim paintings. There are also crosses carved into the marble floors that mark the diameter of the dome above.

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Before it was a museum it was a mosque. Before it was a mosque it was a church. When they pulled up the carpet to make the museum, they found crosses marking the diameter of the dome etched in the marble. It’s a big dome.

Hakan told us there was a ramp to get to the upper level because the sultans couldn’t have been expected to walk all that way and were toted up on litters. Stairs would have been impossible, so they built ramps instead. He gave us 15 minutes to explore and I took off for the upper levels immediately.

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The ramp to the upper level is steep and creepy!

The murals up there were even more fantastic, but you know I’m a sucker for gold leaf.

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Muslims don’t believe in having paintings of people inside their mosques and cover them with paintings and holy words. As part of the restoration, they are uncovering some of the mosaics painted over when the church became a mosque.

I went back down and made it back to the meet up location with a few minutes to spare. So did everyone else. Except Tom and Betty. After about 20 minutes Hakan went to look for them. The Brazilians and I chatted about where they might be. I said I hoped they didn’t try to make it up that ramp. They scoffed at me and said Betty was doing everything she could to avoid stairs. He came back a few minutes later and said he’d leave them but Betty has mobility issues. He asked us if any of us had seen them inside. The Asian couple said “we saw Tom upstairs”. Hakan’s eyebrows shot up so high I thought they’d fly right off his head. He took off to go find them. When they finally returned we left for our last stop, a visit to a carpet making factory. It was a long walk but when Betty started complaining Hakan said “sure you are tired after going all the way up to the second level!” He was much more patient with them that I was feeling!

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Well ahead of the rest of the tour group. Especially Tom and Betty.

Factory is a loose term, apparently all their carpets are hand-made. The cost of the carpet depends on how long it takes to make. It takes 10 months to make a 3×4 silk on silk carpet and so you pay for the labor, which is $7,500. After watching the old lady demonstrate how she tied the knots and cut them, I can tell you those people are horribly underpaid!

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They served us a cup of Turkish coffee and I learned so much more about carpets, like why the Turkish ones are much more superior to any others and that you should use them and “not protect them as you do your children”.

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Turkish coffee. Oh god yes.

Afterwards, they tried really hard to sell us some carpets. I wasn’t falling for that, though if they’d have made them glow in the dark with moonstone threads they might have had me. Tom and Betty left with a salesman and the rest of made our way down to the door. Hakan and I were standing at the entrance waiting for everyone else to gather around. There was no sign of Tom and Betty. I asked Hakan if they were buying a rug. He said “or they could just be making us late again”. I knew exactly how he was feeling! We loaded up in the van to end our day. Tom and Betty got off first. After all the trouble they caused, they didn’t even tip Hakan. I doubled his tip to make up for it. I was the last to leave the tour, which really made me feel like I’d gotten my money’s worth. Plus Hakan and I had the chance to chitchat about Turkish traffic. He doesn’t drive and I don’t blame him. There didn’t seem to be any traffic rules and the streets were narrow and cobbled. There were times I thought for sure we were going to scrape paint trying to pass another car on a one lane road.

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No way would I drive My Precious here. There do not appear to be any road rules.

By the time we got back to the HIlton it was 5:30. I’d hoped to have more time to enjoy my corner suite, but Tom and Betty ruined that for me!

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Wish I’d had more time to enjoy my balcony. Thanks Tom and Betty.

I did have time to go out on the balcony before it got completely dark. I took my ipad up to the Executive Lounge to work on the blog and have a few cocktails. They had a lot of snacks as well, so I decided to call that dinner. I still hadn’t had any Turkish Delights so when I got back to my room I ordered up the Turkish dessert tray. There was baklava, fruit, some sort of rice pudding, a grayish blob, and two white blobs. The baklava, fruit and one of the white blobs were delicious and just what I needed to finish off my one day in Istanbul.

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Interestingly, my Turkish dessert plate did not contain any Turkish delight.

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1 Day in Instanbul Part 1

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Everyone famous has stayed here. Probably because they are super secure.

Before I flew to Istanbul, I purchased a tour on Viator. It seemed as though my Hilton was not terribly close to the old part of town and I didn’t want to have to worry about how to find my way around from attraction to attraction. Once I checked into the Hilton, they’d given me an envelope with information about my tour pickup at 7 am the next morning. Since I didn’t arrive until 2 am and it was hard to shut my eyes with that view, I was up and ready to go after only 3 hours of sleep. I was their first stop and actually pretty far from the rest of the stops in the older part of the city. The streets were very narrow, hilly, cobbled, and I couldn’t tell if there were any sort of traffic laws at all.

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Driving in Istanbul seems like a really adventure. I love to drive and I wouldn’t do it!

We picked up a Brazilian woman and her mother next. They were very sweet, but the mother only spoke Spanish and Portuguese. The next couple was an older husband and wife, let’s just call them Betty and Tom, who loudly proclaimed they were from Americans from AL. The last couple was an Asian couple. The man was Chinese but lived in London and the woman was from Chicago but lived in Hong Kong. As soon as they got in and we started off to visit the Blue Mosque, the American woman started complaining loudly that she’d forgotten her walking cane. The husband told the driver we needed to go back and get it. We turned around and went back for the cane. Foreshadowing!

When we finally got to the Blue Mosque, we climbed out of the van and walked through the Hippodrome. Our tour guide Hakan (means royalty in Turkish) told us about the chariot races they used to have and about the slaughters that took place there. It was kind of hard to hear some of it because Tom kept interrupting with questions Hakan had already answered and Betty was talking loudly over both of them. At one point she let it slip they were actually Nicaraguan. I wish she had led with that!

We made our way up to the Blue Mosque. Because it’s still a working mosque, we had to take off our shoes inside and the women had to cover their hair. I’d done my research and knew this so I’d worn a pretty pink scarf And only had to flip it up over my ponytail. Betty had a scarf on as well but made everyone stop so she could get one of the loaner scarfs they had at the kiosk on the way in. Hakan took us in and explained to us the different parts of the mosque. He told us a bit about the history and pointed out the beautiful blue tiles that give it its name. Then he gave us about 20 minutes to look around and take pictures.

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Blue Mosque known for its blue tiles.

We were to meet up outside the building, so I snapped a few shots and then went out to get my shoes on before the meetup time. Everyone else showed up soon after. Except Betty and Tom. We waited a few more minutes for them and then Hakan went in to get them.

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Oh, look who finally decide to join us, Tom and Betty.

From there, Hakan took us to a spot with benches between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque so we could get a picture with all the minarets. The Blue Mosque is unusual because it has six and most mosques only have four.

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A view of the magnificent Blue Mosque

Our next stop was Topkapi palace. According to Hakan, top means cannon and kapi means a gate so it’s actually named cannongate palace. It was a five-minute walk from the Mosque, but Betty had to stop and rest a few times. Her cane opened up and became a chair so we would all stop so she could unfold it and sit for a minute before we continued. I was secretly overjoyed when I overheard Hakan mention they’d only purchased a half day ticket and would be leaving us before lunch. Sadly, Betty heard they were serving lunch and told Tom to extend their tour.

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Hasan leading us through the Palace Gate.

We walked to the first gate. Next to the gate was a fountain. Hakan said it is an important Turkish custom to serve your guests a drink and that fountains play a really big role in Turkey. Giving water is similar to giving life, and because this was the Sultan’s fountain, it was magnificent! It was also fed from the Basilica Cistern which would be a stop later in the tour.

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Sultans had impressive fountains.

The palace was beautiful. Hakan told us every Turkish citizen has to serve some time in the Army. It’s less if you finish college. When he served his time, he was stationed at the palace as a palace guard.They had a few of them stationed around the grounds and a lot of them were posing for pictures with tourists. He told us about the different gates (the first one was the prettiest, but the Gate of Felicity had the best name) and the different exhibits inside. Then he turned us loose and told us we had 45 minutes to explore before we would meet up again in the last courtyard. I hit the jewelry exhibit first. I wish I could have taken pictures because the diamond crusted coffee cups were absolutely amazing and you’d have seen why I need them in my life. Also the candlesticks? Well, let’s just say Austria would have been jealous. Each one weighs 105 lbs and has 6,666 diamonds.

The calligraphy was impressive, but I didn’t understand a word of it so I didn’t spend a lot of time there. I strolled through the rooms of relics and peeked at the stick Moses used to part the Red Sea and what I think might have been body parts or hair from Mohammed. It was getting really crowded and I couldn’t see the signage very well, so I’m guessing that’s what those were.

I decided to give up and use the balance of my time getting all caffeinated up. There was a cafe that overlooked the water and had delicious coffee. I got a cup and a seat on the patio.

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Asia is on the right and Europe is on the left.

I made it back to our meeting point a couple of minutes early, like I do. Everyone but Tom and Betty showed up shortly after. When Betty finally arrived, she unfolded her cane and plopped down on her seat and said Tom was coming when were we going to eat? Before Hakan could even finish the itinerary she said “I’ve got diabetes and can’t go too long without eating” stuck her hands in her pocket and whipped out a sandwich. Tom came strolling up a few minutes later and we headed out of the palace.

I thought Tom and Betty would be leaving us at that point. Imagine my delight when they announced, very loudly, they’d be staying all day. Hakan said our next stop was the Basilica Cistern. He took us down a cute little cobblestone street beside the Hagia Sophia. The street was very steep, so when we got to the bottom we had to stand around and wait for Betty and Tom to catch up.

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The rest of the tour group. Except for Tom and Betty, who are obviously much further behind.

At the Basilica Cistern, Hakan got us tickets so we could skip the line. The cistern is underground and it’s about 500 centuries old (or so) and of course that means no lifts. Also, it’s constantly dripping water so the stairs are very slippery. My third floor walk-up condo has perfectly prepared me for situations like this, so I had no problems keeping up. Tom and Betty? Not so much. As we waited I asked Hakan if there was a lift to get Betty out of there. He looked at me like I was nuts, but I knew what was coming!

The cistern is amazing and was probably my favorite part of the tour. It was very dark and they have a lot of dramatic lighting on each of the columns. There are also two Medusa heads one is upside down and the other is sideways. After Hakan gave us a brief history he gave us 10 minutes to go and take pictures and meet back up. When I rejoined the group, Tom and Betty weren’t anywhere to be seen. I got kinda excited when I thought that might mean they’d given up. We climbed the stairs up to the street and regrouped. That’s when Hakan said “where are they, they were supposed to meet us up here” and went back in to find Tom and Betty. Turns out they were just getting some ice cream. They finally emerged so we could continue our tour…

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Basilica Cistern is very creepy and super wet. My favorite part of the tour!

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My Journey to Istanbul Part 3

After a full day in the Netherlands, it was time to move on and my next stop was Istanbul. I had an 8:30 pm flight out of AMS and I was running on two hours of sleep from the night before. When I got to my gate, there were a bunch of people lined up outside a security area. I got in line as well and quickly shoved my cute little Delft gin house into my baggie of liquids. The sign at the gate said Priority. What I learned on this flight was that everyone was priority which I guess is actually very democratic. The sooner you line up the sooner you can get through security and then you have a chance of getting one of the 20 chairs available in the gate area. I was one of the lucky few, but also one of the last. Turns out that meant that I was sitting in the chair the furthest from the gate area when everyone else surged to the gate because they may or may not have announced the boarding process had begun, I was only ahead of the people who were arriving late. those of you who know how much I like to queue up properly will understand how disturbing I found the entire process.

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My flight to Istanbul.

 

I wasn’t worried about having overhead bin space since my heavy bag slides right under the seat in front of me. And I didn’t even need to worry about climbing over the people in seats 3b and 3c. Also I was the only person in first class.

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All alone in first class. Which is actually the same seat as economy but they have signs on the middle seats that say “Left empty for your comfort”

 

As we prepared to take off, the super friendly flight attendant came over and asked me if I had enjoyed my trip from JFK and the weather there and we made small talk for a little while. So friendly, the KLM crews!

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Just a little snack while I waited for dinner!

 

After take off, she came right back to find out if I would prefer the ravioli or the veal sausage and what kind of drink I’d like to start with. I opted for the Perrier because it’s important to stay hydrated. Also, I chose the veal. I’m not sure if the ravioli was any good but the veal was delicious!

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This veal sausage was much better than the dinner on the International flight the night before.

 

Since I was all alone in first class and the flight attendant didn’t have anyone else to help, she came back and sat with me and asked me about my trip. We had a lovely time!

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Tea and a biscut before we land!

 

When we landed, I made my way through passport control, and out to the baggage area. I’d prepaid to have a car and driver pick me up since I knew I’d be arriving after 1 am and I wasn’t sure how hard it would be to find a taxi. We were a little late arriving, so I was a little worried the driver might have left me. As I came out of baggage claim, there were literally hundred of young turkish men holding signs with various names on them. Luckily, my driver must have recognized me because a young Turkish man with a sign that said “Sherlyi Wilson” flagged me down. He told me to come around the barricade and meet him.

When I got to the other side he said “we are just waiting on your driver, wait here” and then turned back to the other young Turkish men he’d been standing with and had a long convo in Turkish. I was just hoping they weren’t talking about any sort of human trafficking eventually he turned to me and said “come” and took off walking. I walked as fast as I could, but in the end had to break out in a quick jog so I didn’t lose sight of him. My 60 or 80 pound bag was flopping around as I ran, which I’m sure wasn’t terribly attractive. When I caught up to him outside on the curb he pointed to me and said “wait here” and then walked a few feet away and lit up his cigarette. When he finished, he tossed it down and said “your car is her” sure enough a big black Mercedes van pulled up to the curb. Spooky the way he timed that!

I got in the back of the car, which was very plush but blaring Turkish music. It was kind of peppy and very danceable so I kind of liked it. We peeled away from the curb, though we did come to a complete stop at every speed bump. And then we peeled out of the airport and began driving.

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I was a little tense in the back of this Mercedes van.

I’m not going to lie, as we drove and drove and drove and the two men up front chatted, I did begin to wonder if we were actually going to make it to my hotel.  And I was shocked that at nearly 2 am, we passed an actual soccer match and got stuck in traffic. I was so happy we finally turned into the Hilton property I left the two men with a very generous tip!

My room was upgraded to a corner suite. I also had a message waiting when I arrived that my tour bus would be there to pick me up at 7:30 am! By the time I got to my room, showered I didn’t even have time to appreciate the view!

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The view from both picture windows was stunning! Hard to see here, but the bridge with the blue lights crossed the Bosphorus and Asia is on the other side!

 

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Not a Lot of Sleep, But a Lot of Fun!

The first half of my whirlwind spring break adventure was a nine-hour layover in Amsterdam. To get there, I was booked on KLM. Thanks to my obsessive need to make Diamond status on Delta last year, I was able to upgrade my $500 round trip ticket with significant stops in Amsterdam and Istanbul into a luxurious first class adventure.

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Why don’t planes have pictures on the walls anymore? So classy!

 

I decided to wait and see what they were serving for dinner. For the main course, I opted for the chicken with apricot brioche stuffing. It was served with a mixed salad and a cheese plate. The chicken was good, the vegetables were over done, the cheese was fantastic.

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Looks better than it tastes.

 

They had raspberry cheesecake for dessert, but I wasn’t really all that hungry after all the carrot sticks in the sky club and I was starting to worry I wouldn’t have enough time left to actually sleep. I was right to be concerned, according to my Jawbone Up by the time we landed I only had 2 hours of sleep and it wasn’t even 2 hours in a row… Probably because there was constant and ongoing turbulence. This is not a complaint, I’m willing to bet that was about 2 hours more than I’d have gotten if I’d been in coach! At least I was laying down!

Eventually I realized they’d turned the lights on and were passing out the breakfast trays. I was hoping for the caramel apple cinnamon roll, but ended up with the swiss cheese and mushroom strata. At least there was only one mushroom on the very top and the croissant they served it with was really good!

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Tastes better than it looks.

 

They brought me a little parting gift before we landed, a little blue and white Delft house. She said something about putting it in my checked bag so I wouldn’t have to declare it. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I only travel with a carry on. And sadly, I had no idea it was full of gin! fingers crossed it makes it in and out of Istanbul…

We landed a little early and the flight attendants were so polite they even called out someone behind me by saying “Dear blond lady please sit down while we are still moving for your safety and the safety of everyone else” So polite!

Next up? A little trip to Haarlem!

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I’ve Got Spring Break Fever and A Weekend in Europe is the Cure

Spring break got off to a great start when the email announcing our office would close early arrived. I still had to work…

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Work takes too long!

But not as long as I’d thought. As soon as I finished, I hopped in My Precious and raced over to my sisters penthouse. I wanted to feed her lunch before I asked for a ride to the airport.

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Delicious enchiladas, Ole!

We are my leftover enchiladas and then decided to leave early to head to the airport.

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Sisters are the best!

Since we had some extra time to kill and I desperately needed some new shoelaces, and since we just happened to be near the National Harbor, we stopped there. A couple of hours later we went back to Virginia.

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Welcome to Virginia

Cyndi dropped me off at the airport, which was when I discovered my flight was delayed. So I went up to the Sky Club to wait. It made me miss the Virgin Clubhouse.

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Plastic spoon, paper bowl, and I had to get it myself. It’s no Virgin Clubhouse.

We finally boarded and taxied away from the gate, only to park at the end of the runway. I alerted Cyndi that we weren’t taking off just yet so she wouldn’t be out on her balcony waving.

IMG_9697-1Eventually we left.

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So long, nation’s capital!

I had just enough time for a whisky and ginger…

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My new favorite cocktail.

before we landed at JFK. They’d shaved an hour off my layover but I still had time to visit the flagship Delta Sky Club.

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Really Sky Club? You call this a flagship? The Virgin Clubhouse is just around the corner, let me take you there.

By the time I reached my gate they were already boarding my plane.

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I’m number 1! I’m number 1! And by that I mean I’m in seat 1A.

It was a double-decker jet of some sort and my seat was downstairs in the very front. Thanks Seat Guru!

They brought me a cute little amenity kit and a glass of champagne.

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Champagne. From France. On my Dutch flight. #livinglarge

And away we went!

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Spring Break 2015

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Heading Home

The only good thing about leaving Scotland was flying home on Virgin. I’m actually considering only flying on overseas flights that pass through London in the future just so I can visit the Virgin Clubhouse more often!

I caught an early bus to the airport. The woman at the Hilton (where they obviously had it in for me) told me I wanted to get up extra early and get a big head start “just in case…” She never really said what the in case could be, but I thought she must know what she’s talking about, right? Wrong! In Scotland, they don’t even tell you which counter will be operated by your airline of choice until exactly 2 hours before your plane is scheduled to leave. That means that since my flight out was at 9:20, I wouldn’t know where to check in until 7:20. Since the girl at the Hilton had advised me to catch the 6 am bus, I got to the airport by 6:15 and had nowhere to go. They don’t even have any benches. So I stood under the sign waiting for them to post which counter I would need to visit.

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They really don’t want you arriving too early at EDI.

Virgin carry on limits are all about the weight, so they made me check my bag. I went through security to wait at my gate. That’s when I found out they don’t post your gate until 1 hour before you leave. At least they have shops and restaurants there, so I was able to pass the time while I waited to find out where I would go to wait!

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Extra incentive to visit the shops when you don’t know which gate you are leaving from until an hour before your flight!

The flight was short and I made it to London in less than an hour. That was fine by me, since that meant more time in the Clubhouse! As soon as I got there I went to the spa to book an appointment. Having learned my lesson about the haircuts, I opted for a massage this time. I upgraded to a 30 minute massage and a complimentary facial. I had some time before the appointment so I went to order some breakfast while I waited.

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One of the dining areas in the Heathrow Clubhouse

I asked about the bubble and squeak, which sounded super British. The waitress told me it was delicious and that lots of people make it with their Christmas leftovers. That sounded very festive, so I ordered it with some champagne, because the vacation wasn’t over yet!

And boy howdy was that bubble and squeak delicious! I could eat that everyday, even if it consisted mostly of vegetables (though it was fried so it was hard to tell).

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Bubble and squeak. It took everything I had not to lick the plate!

The massage was amazing and not just because it was terribly relaxing. The masseuse also told me over and over what great hair I have. Not only talented, she was also very astute!

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Everything is comfortable in the Heathrow Clubhouse.

When I finished, I found another comfy spot to hang out. The chairs were perfectly formed.

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A great spot to hang out after your massage.

While looking over the menu I also discovered there’s a recording studio. Next time I need to polish up one of my hit singles…

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If I were a recording artist, I’d be perfecting my tunes in the Heathrow Clubhouse all the time.

I asked for some tea. I really wanted some scones to go with it, but tea time wasn’t until 3:00 and my plane was departing at 2. Think that would be a problem? Not in the Virgin Clubhouse where apparently you can have anything you want!

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Never too early for clotted cream. I mean scones.

They announced my flight, so I headed out. I was in Economy Comfort, which is not as good as Upper Class but better than Economy. I like to think of it as a sort of Upper Middle Class, but that’s good enough for me.

It’s also good enough for the four families that brought their screaming infants with them, two of them were sitting in the middle section of my row. It wasn’t so bad when I put my earbuds in and cranked up the volume on my excellent entertainment system. Sadly, the guy in the window seat next to me had to get up over and over and on one of his trips I accidentally stepped on my earbuds and crushed them.

I had the earphones Virgin had left in my seat though and if I pressed them really hard against my ears they were louder than the screaming baby. Also the whisky and ginger helped a little…

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I think I’ve developed a taste for whisky!

The first movie I watched was Life of Crime with Jennifer Anniston and Tim Robbins. Very good, two thumbs up, go see it if you get the chance!

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Life of Crime. Go see it now. Thank me later.

Lunch was served. I had the Thai chicken noodles with a salad, cheese and crackers, and a cappuccino mousse. Not bad!

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Lunchtime!

Next I tried to watch A Million Ways to Die in the West. I just couldn’t make myself finish it, don’t waste your time. I switched to Divergent instead. Great movie never gets old. I might have dozed off for a bit because next thing I knew it was tea time! Tea was served with some cheese and tomato chutney finger sandwiches, crisps, and a Broderick’s Bar, which appeared to be some sort of caramel infused, slightly crunchy, brownie.

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Tea time!

Afterwards I watched Edge of Tomorrow. I’m not generally a Tom Cruise fan, but he was really good in that movie. Very suspenseful, I was on the edge of my seat!

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Nearly home.

We finally landed at JFK. I have Global Entry status so I flew through that but got held up while I waited for my bag. It finally came off and I flew through customs but got held up again at the TSA checkpoint. I finally made it through and then caught the bus to Terminal 2.

I still had a couple of hours until my flight to DC so I headed up to the Delta Sky Club. The lukewarm soup I had to dish out myself into my paper cup to eat with my plastic spoon was like the closing of the book on my Christmas vacation. All good things must end…

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I wish whoever runs the Delta Sky Club would go visit the Clubhouse for some tips.

And anyhow I only have a day to do laundry and pack before I’m off to Charlotte, North Carolina to ring in the New Year with a few of my favorite people!

 

 

 

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A Wee Bit of Time in Stirling

On my last day in Scotland, I was on my own. Amanda, Kyle and Scott  were traveling to London to spend a few days. I started my day with my usual breakfast and then decided to put my time to good use by making a day trip to Stirling.

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My Scottish breakfasts

The train left quite often from the Waverley Station, which was only a fifteen minute walk from my hotel. I checked my bag since I was moving on to a new hotel and set out.

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The platform at Waverley Station

A round trip ticket to Stirling was only 9 pounds and was easy to buy at the train station. The train was fairly empty and very comfortable. I got a seat by the window at a table and then stared in amazement out the window for the hour-long ride.

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Riding to Stirling

There were lots of farms, tons of sheep and in the distance I could see snow-capped mountains, though I wasn’t able to capture much on my iPhone camera.

Stirling is adorable.

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Platform at Stirling train station.

The castle is easy to find and up a really, really big hill. Let’s just call it a small mountain.  The climb is totally worth it, there are a lot of really interesting things along the way.

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A random plaque for some guys who were hanged for the cause of justice and truth. Scotland is intense!

At the top of the hill, just outside the castle, is an amazing statue of Robert the Bruce.

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Robert the Bruce overlooking the town of Stirling.

I bought my ticket and went inside. Almost the entire castle is open for visitors to wander through, though only a few rooms have any furnishings. As I wandered about I ran into a few costumed staff people who were happy to tell stories about life in the castle.

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I finally found a knight in shining armor!

The castle was built by James V of Scotland as a wedding present so he and his French wife Marie de Guise would have a place where they could showcase how fantastic they were. There were symbols of their power, intelligence, and style throughout the building (their words, not mine!). For example, carved heads in the King’s Inner Hall were images of the King and then people he thought were in his class, ancient romans, demigods, royal ancestors, you know the usual. The Queens rooms were set up with replica furnishings and her bed was fantastic. Although, like most royals of the day, that was only for show and she actually slept in an adjacent closet that’s not much bigger than my closet at home! I wish I was important enough to have a fancy bed to lounge in while receive my most distinguished guests! Also, her receiving room had one chair. Nobody else was important enough to sit, I guess. Thinking about redoing the seating in my condo now…

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Nobody sits but the queen!

I loved the dining room. They had a long trestle table set up at the head of the room with two thrones and some benches. They faced the rest of the room where more trestle tables and benches would be set up for the lesser members of court and let’s just say if I had it to do over again, I’d have gone in a completely different direction when setting up my dining room back home!

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Redecorating idea for my condo. May need to make some expansions…

I climbed to the top of the castle and the views took my breath away.

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View of Stirling from the top of the castle.

 

Not just because I’d climbed to the top of a castle after I climbed a damn mountain to get there, either! It was glorious. On one side of the castle, fog was in the valley. On the other side I could see snow capped mountains and a very tall monument.

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View of surrounding countryside from the top of the castle.

Also in the castle is some sort of military museum. I vowed not to visit one of those since my divorce, but the lilting strains of the pipers piping drew me in! The highlights were some really cool costume displays…

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Who doesn’t love men in kilts?

and a list of rules for soldiers who wanted to marry…

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You had to REALLY want to get married to go through all this!

Afterwards I walked from the castle to the church next door. The Church of the Holy Rude is the second oldest building in Stirling (the castle is number one) and was originally building the 1100’s. It burned down in 1405 but was rebuilt shortly after. Scottish kings had coronations there, but sadly it’s closed to tourists in the winter. Though the graveyard isn’t!

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Seems so idyllic, but the frozen footpaths are deadly…

The graveyard has some very old monuments and tombstones. Near the back, and on a steep hill, there’s an overlook with an amazing view of the castle.

Stirling Castle as seen from Church of the Holy Rood.

Stirling Castle as seen from Church of the Holy Rude.

Getting down from there was really tricky. I wore my Chucks but even they didn’t have enough tread to keep me from slipping and sliding down the ice-covered path that led out of the cemetery. It’s a Christmas miracle I didn’t end up staying there forever… if you know what I mean.

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Beautiful cemetery, frozen but beautiful.

When I got back to the center of town I saw a sign that said “Fish and Chip Award Winner from Fish and Chip Awards” on No. 2 Baker Street, a little pub on the corner. Since I hadn’t had lunch yet and was cold and hungry after my near brush with death on the cemetery path, I decided to try it!

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Award winning fish and chips

I can see why they won. The fish and chips were amazing! Plus the pub was lively and I could see football on TV while I ate.

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Football (and by that I mean soccer) at the local pub!

I caught the train back to Edinburgh. I hated to leave Stirling, but the sun sets at 3:30 this time of year and I was hoping to walk to my next hotel. I picked up my bags and left my beautiful room at the Caledonian.

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Converted train station and one of the best hotels I’ve ever enjoyed.

I don’t remember why I thought it would be a good idea to leave the Waldorf Astoria and move to the Hilton. Maybe I thought there would be an executive lounge. Or a shuttle to the airport. Or a fancy suite because of my diamond status. There was none of that! My room wasn’t even in the same building! Instead I was across the street and on the top floor in what could only have been the servant’s quarters back in the day. They didn’t even give me my complimentary bottle of water!

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It’s no Waldorf Astoria!

I decided to try to find a pub to have some dinner. Luckily at the end of my street I found Haymarket.

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Popular pub with great haggis!

They were even having a special of haggis, tatties, and neeps with a pint for 9 pounds.

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Mmmmm haggis!

I trudged back to my room to pack for the flight home. At least there was the Virgin Clubhouse on my horizon!

 

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