How much is enough?

Tipping is one of the most common question I get asked.  It’s always confusing; whom do you tip, when, and how much? Here are some guidelines that should get you through most situations.

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Airports

If a rental car shuttle driver is helping load those heavy suitcases, it’s a good idea to tip him/her at least a dollar or two per bag. Double that for airport skycaps who assist in checking your bags. And depending on the length of the trip from counter to gate, a wheelchair attendant should receive $5 and up.

 

Hotels  

Arriving by taxi or limo? Absolutely tip your driver. Taxi drivers should receive 15 to 20 percent for good service – arriving safely, within a reasonable amount of time, in a comfortable atmosphere. You can adjust upward or downward for a particularly good, or bad, ride. Same thing with limo drivers – 20 percent is a good rule of thumb whether it’s a ride in from the airport or an all-night clubbing adventure in Las Vegas.

If you drive in with your own car and use the hotel’s valet service, there’s always the question of when to tip. Coming, or going? Answer: Definitely going. Tipping $2 to $5 when the valet retrieves your car when you are leaving the hotel for sightseeing or a dinner is fairly common. Some people also like to tip when returning to the hotel, but that is at your discretion.

Bellhops should receive $3 to $5 a bag, obviously on the lower end for a gym bag or shopping bag and on the higher end for carry-ons and larger suitcases.

Tipping the concierge can be tricky, so think of it in terms of hierarchy. A simple dinner reservation is worth a tip of $5 to $10, perhaps more if it’s a reservation that you couldn’t get, and the concierge was able to. But if he or she is scoring you tickets to Hamilton, or pulling strings to get you front of the line at a trendy club, it clearly demands much, much more – even upward of $50. The concierge doesn’t necessarily expect it, but it is always appreciated.

Your hotel maid absolutely deserves a tip, and most experts suggest $2 to $5 a day, a little more for a larger room or a suite. Clearly mark the envelope and place it on the nightstand or another prominent place.

If you are staying at a high-end hotel/resort and have butler service – especially when the butler is unpacking and packing bags, getting your ironing or dry-cleaning done, drawing a bath, providing turn-down service – the general rule of thumb is 5 percent of the hotel bill. So, if you spend three or four nights at a resort and the total bill is $1,000, you should leave the butler $50 for exceptional service.

Restaurant waiter or bartender Just as you would tip your while going out at home, certainly tip them at a hotel, and be sure to tip a few dollars to those who deliver your room service order.

Service workers It doesn’t hurt to tip the one who bring you an umbrella or towels at the hotel pool, $1 to $2 per item.

Cruises
You should know the tipping policy of your cruise line before you go. In general, the mainstream cruise lines will charge you about $12 a day per person (or $24 for a two-person cabin) in gratuities. That money is split among the crew members whom you come in contact with most every day, notably your housekeeping staff and your dining staff. That amount varies for passengers who stay in suites or in high-end cabins that offer butler service.

And some cruise lines, such as Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas, have strict no tipping policies, as such charges are often built into the cost of the ticket.

To be fair, cruise lines that do charge the automatic gratuity give you advance notice at the start of the cruise that the tip will be added to your onboard bill at the conclusion of the trip. And, you have several options. You can opt out entirely and tip crew members on your own, especially if you eat in different dining rooms or restaurants instead of the main dining room. You can also add to the $12 per day – or subtract from it – at your discretion.

Your bar bill will likely already include a 15 percent tip on it, but just like a night out at any establishment a few dollars up front will certainly serve you well with your bartender.

Spa treatments also generally include a 15 to 20 percent tip on the bill.

It is still customary to give a couple of dollars to porters who help with your bags, and for a room service order.

Shore excursions are sometimes set up by companies separate from the cruise line, but you should generally tip your guide $2 to $4 for half-a-day, double that for full-day excursions.

Safaris
In general, tip your guide $10 a day and your tracker $5 per day, at the end of the safari.

Adventure guides
Did you raft down the Colorado River and live to tell about it? Think about tipping your guide $25 per day per person in your party.

Tour bus drivers
While not necessarily customary, tipping the driver a couple of dollars when you are returned to the hotel or to the port is a nice gesture. There are times when a tour organizer might ask the bus passengers to drop a dollar or two in a jar for the driver as well.

Traveling abroad

As different countries have varying, and sometimes opposite, rules and customs, this is a great web site to get country specific. 

In some countries, such as Japan and China, tipping, especially at a restaurant, is considered an insult. In countries like the United Arab Emirates, tipping is a government mandate and is often added to a bill.

When in doubt, ask your guide. If you are on your own think about the services and the value, it had to you. Hot day, heavy bags, carried your packages, took you someplace very special, made your trip; all good reasons to show your appreciation. 

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Are you a travel enthusiast? Do you want to share your unforgettable travel experiences? Well, our doors are wide open for you. We are looking for guest bloggers who have the passion of traveling and writing about their travel experiences. We can feature your work on our blog as your portfolio. Get in touch with us! 

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Hold the meat please!

Everyone's got their New Year's Resolutions. Perhaps one of yours is to eat healthier. Going to try to include more veggies in your meals? Traveling always plays havoc with anyone's diet. Being a vegetarian or someone wanting to experiment with that, faces additional challenges, when on the road.

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My associate, Narmada, is a vegetarian. I have traveled with her and she is admirable in her devotion to her lifestyle. I’m sharing her blog, on traveling as a vegetarian, for those of you who are, those who would like to be, those who are part timers, those who are a dyed in the wool carnivores, (it couldn’t hurt to add a little more green to your diet) and those whose mothers told you to eat your vegetables. 

Here's what Narmada recommends:

Dining out as a vegetarian while on vacation is full of potential dangers — how do you know that what you’re ordering is truly meat-free? And how do you know that it will still be tasty? Traveling as a vegetarian can be tricky, but with a little preparation, you’ll feel a lot more confident ordering out and enjoying your destination. Try these four strategies the next time you embark on an international trip:
 
1. Know what words to use. Vegetarianism isn’t practiced or understood everywhere, so it’s important to know what words you should use to indicate you’d like meat-free meals. For example, international backpacker and vegetarian Akila discovered on a trip to Japan that, while the Japanese weren’t really familiar with the strict translation of “vegetarian,” she got exactly what she asked for when she used to word “yasai,” which referred to vegetable-based meals. You might also run into problems in some meat-loving countries in Europe if you try to explain that you’re vegetarian — in France, for example, even if you explain you don’t eat meat, a waiter might try to serve you a fish dish. Do some research on the local language before you visit a destination to be sure you know the right terms to use, because “vegetarian” might not cut it.

2. Visit a vegetarian-friendly destination. Want to avoid the hassles that come with seeking out veggie meals? Make a point to visit places that are familiar with and open to the vegetarian way of eating. According to a list of vegetarian-friendly countries compiled by Oliver’s Travels, you’d do well to visit the Seychelles islands off the coast of Africa, Belize, Singapore, or Peru. These countries boast large numbers of vegetarian restaurants and consume comparatively less meat than other countries. Still dreaming of a European getaway? Head to the United Kingdom — it has tons of vegetarian options.
 
3. Know what to avoid. Think that meat-free dish is safe? Think again … In Thailand, almost every dish contains fish sauce, while in France a lot of soups are made from beef or bone broth. There are a lot of examples out there! Before you head to your chosen destination, read up on the most commonly used ingredients to be sure they’re not made with animal products. That way, when you go to a restaurant, you know which dishes you probably need to avoid, or you know what to ask to be taken out of a dish. 

4. Use apps and websites to help navigate the dining scene. It’s still tricky to enjoy dining out in certain destinations as a vegetarian, but technology has certainly made it a lot easier! There are a LOT of apps out there that can help you find vegetarian-friendly restaurants anywhere in the world. One suggestion? Check out Happy Cow, a robust website that allows you to search for vegetarian-friendly places to eat by location, and it also has restaurant reviews and a user forum for you to hear about other vegetarian travelers’ experiences and post questions of your own.

Willing to give it a try? Think of vegetarian as another cuisine, like Italian, seafood or Chinese. 

If you are in London, you might want to try Yotam Ottolenghi's restaurants. They aren't vegetarian, but vegetables take center stage. You might even find, you like veggies more than you thought.


Are you a travel enthusiast? Do you want to share your unforgettable travel experiences? Well, our doors are wide open for you. We are looking for guest bloggers who have the passion of traveling and writing about their travel experiences. We can feature your work on our blog as your portfolio. Get in touch with us! 

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Mourning on the Ganges

We are proud to feature our guest blogger Ellen Newman of Hidden-InSite, a travel and photography blog about overlooked places – secret spots that surprise and delight. 

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After a short, fitful night’s sleep we tiptoed through the ornate halls of Varanasi’s Brijrama Palace hotel. It was just before dawn and we were heading to the lobby to meet Pankaj Singh, our tour guide.

“I am so sorry to hear about your mother,” he said, his warm brown eyes reaching out to David as he gathered one of David’s hands between his own, offering gentle comfort. Word had clearly traveled quickly.

We got the call we hoped wouldn’t come at 9:30 the evening before. We had just arrived in Varanasi, the second stop on what was supposed to be a seven-week trip to India. Our first call was to our travel agent in San Francisco, a dear friend with a terrific team. “The office is working on your flights, “ Pankaj told us. “They’ll phone when it’s arranged. In the meantime, as long as you feel up to it, let’s go see Varanasi. The boat is waiting.”

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Morning on the Ganges

With that, we stepped out onto the landing of Darabhanga Ghat. The banks on the far side of the river were just emerging in the thin 5 a.m. light. But on our side, the western bank of India’s holy Ganges, electric lights bathed the steps and rag-tag flotilla with an eerie sulfur-yellow glow.

We paused for a moment to absorb the scene. Like the lingering twilight perched on the brink of dawn, David and I were in a liminal state, knowing that his mother, Miriam, had died not quite twelve hours before, but not yet fully grasping our new reality. We were in between, partly tourists, partly mourners, our bodies in Varanasi, our minds leaping ahead to the long flight home and our hearts firmly in California.

Pankaj took my hand to steady me down the worn steps to the waiting rowboat. More than a dozen bathers hugged the shore, taking a morning dip at the base of the ghat, the stairs leading to the bank of the river. Just as we were about to climb onto the boat, a young girl with a basket of flowers, candles and what looked like tiny tin pie plates shyly approached. “David, you should buy some for the memory of your mother,” Pankah suggested. The girl quickly assembled five of the diya offerings for us to float on the Ganges later in the morning.

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Our destination was Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi’s traditional funeral and cremation site. I first heard about it from my friend Audrey, who made visiting Varanasi sound fascinating and exotic. One of Hindu’s holiest sites, Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world. Archeological evidence goes back nearly 3,000 years. Mark Twain, who visited Varanasi in the 1890s when the city was called Benares, wrote in Following the Equator, “Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

It hasn’t changed much. From the river, the city looks like a hodge-podge of crumbling palaces, ancient temples, steep steps and terraces all oriented toward the broad river. “We call the river Mother Ganges or Ma Ganga,” explained Pankaj. “The Ganges is not just a river. It is holy because it gives us water for agriculture and everything.”

Stretching 1,550 miles from the pristine glaciers of the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal at Calcutta, the Ganges is believed by devout Hindus to have sacred properties. People come to Varanasi to pray at the riverside, to purify themselves in the holy waters and to die. They come as pilgrims looking for salvation, for the liberation of their souls from the cycle of birth and death.

But people also come to the river to bathe, to swim, to wash their clothes, to socialize, and to take selfies proving they were here. The sacred and the mundane are thoroughly intertwined along the banks of the Ganges.

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On our way to Manikarnika Ghat the boatman rowed past sadhus (holy men) stationed under umbrellas along the shore, steps full of sari-clad bathers, laundry drying on the ghats, boatloads of pilgrims dressed in white and tourists snapping the scene. 

Manikarnika Ghat and the rituals of death

According to legend, at the dawn of time Lord Shiva and Parvati, the Hindu goddess of fertility, love and devotion, lived in Varanasi. The myth claims that Shiva lost a jeweled earring (manikarnika) at a well Vishnu dug for the couple. The site of the well was chosen as the sacred space for cremations and funerals. “Shiva is the god of destruction, transformation and regeneration,” said Pankaj. “People come to Varanasi because it is the place for the liberation of the soul, for salvation.” Hindus call the separation of the soul from the body moksha, and the idea is the central inspiration behind Hindu funeral rituals. Dying and having a funeral on the banks of the sacred Ganges is believed to release the soul from the cycle of death and reincarnation.

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Our boat rounded a corner and hovered further offshore than we did in other spots along the river. We could see the fires burning, as they do 24 hours a day to accommodate the 200-300 daily cremations and funerals. I put down my camera, both out of respect for the grieving families and in recognition that we could be one of those families.

“Ram naam satya hai…”

Ram naam satya hai, the words of the ancient chant floated out across the Ganges. Ram naam satya hai, “the name and existence of god is true,” Pankaj translated for us. And then he described the rituals.

The body, which is wrapped in white if the deceased is a man or a widow or in red for a married woman whose husband is still alive, is carried on a bamboo stretcher or ladder to the cremation site. The body is dipped in water from the river for a final purification, then placed on the stairs. In the meantime, the chief mourner has purified himself in the Ganges and has shaved all over. Dressed all in white, he goes to get the eternal flame. Other family members have bought wood, a luxury for many in India, for the fire.

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The chief mourner walks around the body five times to symbolize that all the fundamental elements of the universe – water, air, earth, space or ether and fire – will return to their original sources. “It’s our version of dust to dust,” Pankaj added.

Only then does the chief mourner light the fire, which will burn for two to three hours. As westerners who let professionals take care of the aspects of a funeral that involve the body, it was interesting to hear how deeply involved religious Hindus are with the bodies of their loved ones. But there was more. Pankaj continued. “When the body is half burned, the chief mourner takes a piece of the bamboo and breaks the skull to release the soul to heaven.” Oh, I thought, trying to imagine that step of the ritual as a sacrament, that’s really heavy. So final. So real. Later I read that this practice, kapal kriya, helps insure that the skull burns. Like many customs in many cultures, it serves multiple needs, psychological and physical.

After the cremation is complete, the chief mourner takes the ashes to the Ganges and everyone in the family goes to the next ghat for showers before they go home to begin the traditional 13-day mourning period. On the thirteenth day there is a feast. “After the rituals are complete,” Pankaj explained, “the soul settles down into peace.”

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With that, he invited David to light the candles in the diya offerings. “It’s for your mother’s memory, so her soul will be at peace,” he said kindly. We were so engrossed in his descriptions of what we were observing that we almost forgot that we were mourners too, and that we would be leaving later that afternoon to go home to a funeral in California.

“Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash sh’mei raba…”

Pankaj and David lit the candles, and David leaned over the side of the boat to float them on the Ganges. “Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash sh’mei raba,” whispered David so quietly that I didn’t realize he had recited Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash sh’mei raba, “May His great name be exalted and sanctified.”

We watched the offerings drift away in the current of the river that has absorbed the tears of countless mourners over millennia. The loss of a life that is irreplaceable to each family is also universal. We came to Varanasi as tourists, but left, like so many others, as mourners, flying home in time to say Kaddish for Miriam on a golden California hillside. As Pankaj asked us later on What’s App, yes, we did all the rituals.

May Miriam’s memory be for blessing.

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Thanks

First, thanks to Pankaj Singh, who gave us the gift of meeting us where we were and welcoming us to experience our loss in his home on the banks of the Ganges.

And thanks to Sandra Lipkowitz of We Make Travel Easy, our terrific travel agent, who indeed made it easy for us to get home expeditiously and comfortably. 

Varanasi views

Varanasi is a visual feast. Even with just one day, we were able to see so much. Here’s a small sample of scenes from Varanasi.


Are you a travel enthusiast? Do you want to share your unforgettable travel experiences? Well, our doors are wide open for you. We are looking for guest bloggers who have the passion of traveling and writing about their travel experiences. We can feature your work on our blog as your portfolio. Get in touch with us! 

 

Enjoy reading my blog? Sign up for my newsletter to be a We Make Travel Easy travel insider. 

Need some ideas for the traveler on your list?

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah and Christmas is only 13 days away. So, if you are like a deer in the headlights (sorry Rudolph), read on. These are a few on my favorite things (Is Julie Andrew’s voice in your head now?). BTW, it’s a long-standing tradition to buy a gift for yourself, when you are shopping for others.

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Noise-canceling headphones to stay calm.

The Bose's QuietComfort 35 II high-tech wonder helps travelers stay calm and rest comfortably, putting an end to the sleepless flight.

Wireless charger to always be connected.

Taking and posting pictures uses up a lot of battery, but travelers never have to feel the panic of the one-percent battery alert, if they keep Mophie’s fast-charging station on hand to stay connected. They have options for car, home and office.

Parka rolls up and fits just about anywhere. 

Uniqlo’s ultra-lightweight down jackets provide warmth while also being lightweight enough to stuff into any travel bag. I combine a jacket and vest and you can be very toasty and layer when you need.(for men and women)

Travel-friendly neck pillow is a must. 

Some neck pillows can be bulky to carry around the airport. The Trtl Travel Pillow is smaller and has a hidden internal neck support system to hold a weary traveler's head and neck in the best position for sleeping on a plane or train. This is on my list to replace my bulky “dog bone” pillow.

Tangle-free cord holder. 

No one wants to struggle with untangling earphones cords, but it happens all the time. This travel cord roll allows travelers to easily pack and organize chargers and other electronics.

3-Outlet Surge Protector

When traveling with your family and multiple phones,  laptops, cameras and tablets with limited hotel room outlets, it’s a struggle over who gets to charge their devices. For peace on earth and good will towards man, this is one of the best travel gifts for families. Check out this Belkin charger on Amazon.

Jewelry Organizer

I have used a jewelry organizer very similar to this for years. The best thing a about it is you can see everything at a glance. Different size pockets let you take all sizes and shapes of your favorite baubles (never travel with the good stuff). Easy to check that you haven’t left any of your favorites back in the hotel room.

Therm-a-Rest Lumbar Pillow

This just stays in my carry-on tote. It makes any plane seat comfortable, even in business class. It’s the best I’ve found. It’s designed to reduce pressure along the spine, while maintaining lateral support. It’s self-inflating to allow a personalized level of support and can be adjusted with one hand. I recommend buying the eggplant color and be sure to use it face up. Not many plane seats are that color and you are less likely to leave it after a long and exhausting flight.  Take it from personal experience. You can find it on Amazon.

My most favorite gift of all, The Gift of Travel

What could be a more exciting and memorable gift than a travel experience that one can anticipate and then remember for a lifetime? I can design the perfect gift for that person on your list. If you are a Millennial, married to a millennial, have Millennial kids or grand-kids, U by Uniworld is taking river cruising to a new generation.

And the Best Gift of All
Being together with your loved ones for the Holidays.

Have a lovely and meaningful Holiday Season!

One down, One to go!

You got through your Thanksgiving travels, now Christmas is on the horizon. This time of year, traveling with kids is on everyone’s mind; from grandma to the single person sitting next to your little “Angel” on the plane.  To make matters worse, this is the most heavily traveled time of the year and everyone’s nerves are frazzled.  So what can you do to make things as pleasant as possible for all involved?  Here are some “survival” tips.

Pre-planning is key:  Try to anticipate as much as you can.  Long lines at the airport; wear slip on shoes, no belts, no excess metal on clothes.  Leave the studded T shirt for when you get to grandma’s. While you are waiting on line, take off your jacket, take out your laptop and cosmetic baggie.  Bring activities and food for the plane or car.

Do you need to bring a car seat?  What’s available at your destination?  Can you buy Pampers when you get there?  Are there age appropriate things for your kids to do where you will be?  Do your research ahead of time.  Being prepared eliminates those unpleasant surprises.

Potty Trained?? If you are in the process of potty training, consistency is important.  However, traveling may not work within your child's schedule. This may be the time to let go of the routine and consider using pull ups for the trip or at least on the airplane.  An “accident” might be more of a setback than if you used pull ups during the trip.

Car seats, Strollers and other kid gear:  If you have one of those car seat-stroller snap in models, you can take the seat on the plane and gate check the stroller frame.  See what The Car Seat Lady has to say about airplane travel.  You can also check out buses, trains & taxis on her site. For kids 22-44 lbs., you can purchase a safety harness .  CARES FAA-Approved Safety Harness

Think about where you are staying:  Location and size counts.  Kids need room to play.  A tiny hotel room can ruin everyone’s time. A family suite can eliminate a lot of stress.  A washer and dryer or laundry facilities on site, can save packing, if you can do laundry mid-way (saves extra baggage costs too).  Not all suites are high end luxury. There are many moderate priced accommodations; Embassy Suites, Extended Stay America just to name two.

Assign a family historian:  Let the older kids be in charge of capturing photos.  They can do that with a smartphone or an inexpensive point and shoot.  If you have a writer in your family, they can journal about the vacation. After you get back, have them make a scrapbook, CD or a video of the family adventure.  You can send it to grandma and grandpa as a thank you.  For those of you into Pinterest, here are Travel Scrapbook ideas

Lastly and most important, be flexible:  Don’t be attached to your plans.  If the kids are not enjoying something, scratch it.  The reverse is true too.  The purpose of all this is to be together and to have fun.   Families form deep lifelong memories with each other when they travel together.  That is what is most important. 

You only have 18 summers with your kids.  Pack in as many good times as you can.

May you have uneventful travels!

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How to Survive Holiday Travel

We are just about to enter the busy Holiday Travel Season. I’m leaving to go to New England for Thanksgiving, this Thursday. (I know, can you believe it’s almost Thanksgiving!!)

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When it comes to Holiday Travel, we often take less than desirable flights, because they work for our family and friends, on the other end or we are squeezing in, as much as we can, on limited vacation time. Which translates to either a red eye flight or the most over booked flight you can image, with lots of inexperienced fliers (young children). So, to help you survive your upcoming travels, here are some do’s and don’ts:

Both Expedia and British Airways have come up with their own surveys and suggestions.

First is airline etiquette.  If we all practice it, it will make those jam-packed flights, a bit more tolerable. Expedia has come up with a list of the 14 top offenders; from the #1 most annoying - The Rear Seat Kicker to the Mad Bladder. With Chatty Cathy falling some place midway. Aromatic passengers, whether it’s cologne or BO, rank in the top 20%. Some Asian airlines are experimenting with kid free zones. It hasn’t caught on in the US, just yet, even though over 33% of Americans said they would pay for that. Check out the list to make sure you aren’t being one of those offending types.

British Airways’ guide deals with "The Etiquette of Sleeping Next to Strangers" on a plane. This is really useful for those red eye flights. It’s interesting to see the cultural differences between Americans and Brits. If it’s not your Honey sleeping next to you, then pay attention, be a considerate traveler. 

See what BA has to say about whose arm rest it is.

And if you are taking a red eye, like I am on Thursday night, here are some tips from Terry Cralle, DC based clinical sleep educator and RN.

Sweet Dreams, Be Considerate and Have a Delicious Thanksgiving!

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