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North Berwick to Dunbar

A walk from North Berwick to Dunbar, part of the John Muir Way, East Lothian. July 13th 2019. 30 kms / 18.6 miles

John Muir Way signpost to hill
The mound of Berwick Law. You can just see the chapel and the famous herringbone on the summit

I remembered: the binoculars – definitely worth taking because East Lothian is a birdwatcher’s paradise. I saw 5 spoonbills through a kind man’s telescope (he had to lower it considerably so I could see, which was sweet of him). They looked like huge fluffy white poodoodles (or whatever they are called), with Edward Lear beaks (you know how he made drawings of amalgamated animals and kitchen utensils!) Also my walking baton pole which came in handy for the mud caused by the torrential rain.
I forgot: tissues / toilet paper and my mobile phone charger – when will I learn?
I lost: my sun hat. Twice. Once a motorist stopped and rolled his window down so I went back quite a long way to get it – all run over it was with muddy tyre marks. I wore it when the sun came out and then lost it again. Never to be found – not by me anyway.

Water with trees reflected in it
Pool at the foot of Berwick Law, near North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland
Blue sky with plants and wall
A rather picturesque Wall I thought
Landscape between the stones
Looking through the gap in a stone wall to the wheat beyond

I had not done a long-distance walk for a long time and I managed to get quite stressed to start with, meaning that more little things went wrong, until… I got into the first green part and the butterflies (some chocolate brown and others white – twice one kissed me on the cheek) were playing, and the raindrops sat bulbous on the bramble flowers catching the glint of the sun, and I got bitten by black and white flying beasties. I was back!

Green fields with tracks through them
Arable fields, East Lothian, Scotland

The man in a green National Trust for Scotland t shirt said ‘Lady on a mission’ as I swung through the gate and skirted around Berwick Law. I have been up to the top in the past and it’s well worth it, but today I was headed south through meadows and woods, around fields and coastline – it was delightful.

tree trunks and grassy path
I smiled out loud as I made my way through an ash wood, all smooth, straight, pale trunks

Two runners in electric blue went jogging slowly past, having a laugh. Several jaunty ladies wished me good day, and I rather rashly added to my brief conversation with a hiker going in the opposite direction, that at least it had not rained.

Dark brooding clouds in East Lothian
The very definition of a lowering sky!

I squelched along a narrow way with piles of horse manure and single tyre marks which suggested other users I thankfully did not meet. When it rained I was on a long farm track which quickly became two channels of fast flowing water. There was a section which reminded me of a Kent walk, because it had serious new, silver metal fences on each side, and one smelly uphill section through the Drylaw Composting site where I discovered a make-shift children’s play area.

There was the unmistakable sound of a wild bee swarm several times along the way, and the hideous screech of racing cars around East Linton. One blissful result of the downpour was that they stopped, although they restarted when the sun reappeared.

Paintings for sale in the gallery
Half way I stopped for refreshments at Smeaton Nursery where there is a gallery and shop. Helen Gray is the Smeaton Estate Artist

There are lots of plants, a Victorian tea room (soup, salads, cream teas, delicious looking cakes), and a gallery shop selling all manner of paintings, cards and gifts. The staff were particularly friendly and helpful while I dried off a little in the sun – boots off and not so waterproofs laid out on the table.

Big old trees
The mature trees of Smeaton Nursery grounds where there are woods, a lake and pony arena
Red brick building seen across a wildflower meadow
Preston Mill reminding me of a disused oast house in Yalding
River reflections with bridge
Stunning weeping willows along the River Tyne outside East Linton

You could be forgiven for thinking there was no bee or butterfly problems if you saw the number of them I did on this walk. There is a beautiful long stretch along the river where comfrey grows in abundance and the sliver green fronds of the willows dip into the water.

Wooden bridge with red metal railings
Bridge over the River Tyne

There were so many wild flowers I lost count: chamomile with green orbs which had lost their white petals – not just short stalked, but long and waving in the breeze;
elder flowers practically turning into berries as I passed; ripe cow parsley covered with Comon Red Soldier Beetles; ox eye daisies amongst the fields of bearded barley; brilliant scarlet poppies in the hedgerows; and miles of roses, sweet secented and in a variety of firey colours.

Pink flowers and green leaves
Wild flowers
wild flowers beside a field
Pink rose bay willowherb contrasting with yellow ray flowers
whisps of barley growing
Barley tickling the ground
Three flowers heads
Cowparsley
North Berwick to Dunbar
Dog roses in the hedgrows

As well as the spoonbills (above), there was a buttercup headed yellow hammer bathing in a puddle, gaggles of very excited sparrows with their wings all a flutter near the horse paddock, and a piebald square tailed kite sailing overhead.

Stripey caterpillars
Caterpillars having a feast – there were about 20 on this one plant
Shiny, black slug crawling
Squelchy slug – one of the biggest ever – seen in the dappled woods opposite the East Links Family Park where there were emus grazing alongside llamas and donkeys
Clusters of wild flowers
Red beetles on cow parsley

The more you walk the better it is because there are so many memories of other treks gone by, people met, places visited. The first black raven crawed and reminded me of Orkney. The second clearly warned me of the coming shower, which I promptly ignored and so got very quickly wet through. I was still damp 4 hours later when I marched into Dunbar.

River flowing under bridge
Old stone bridge over the River Tyne, East Lothian, Scotland

There are three bays at the end of the day: the flat wetlands of Tyninghame, the red sandstone stacks of Belhaven (not to mention the real ale, the yellow house, and the John Muir Country Park with its caravans and little swan lake), and finally around the golf links I went barefoot to the gull studded cliffs of Dunbar itself.

Scots Pine
The distinctive Scots Pines of Tyninghame Bay, East Lothian, Scotland
North Berwick to Dunbar
Creek at Tyninghame Bay
North Berwick to Dunbar
Bass Rock and Tyninghame Bay, East Lothian, Scotland
North Berwick to Dunbar
Belhaven Bay, East Lothian, Scotland
North Berwick to Dunbar
Coming through the arch into Dunbar Bay, East Lothian, Scotland
North Berwick to Dunbar
The man himself – John Muir, featured in Dunbar Bay, East Lothian, Scotland

It’s a hedgrow and fields walk
Its a meadows walk
Its a skirting round the hills and not going up walk
It’s a coast to coast walk with arable land in between
It’s a walk full of wild roses,
A very well signposted walk
While the birds call all you have to do….. is walk!

Practicalities

I arrived at North Berwick around 11.30am, and in Dunbar 7 and a half hours later, with an hour’s stop and an extra 2 kms in the middle to and from the Smeaton Nursery tea rooms off the main route. I was reliably informed that the tea room at Tyninghame is also lovely.

I took the train from Edinburgh to North Berwick with Scotrail (who very kindly refinded my fare to Dunbar which I made by mistake – thank you). It took 45 minutes and cost £7 single. I might have rather annoyed the gentleman in a cravat opposite, but had lovely chat with a Northern Irish dog walker from Glasgow on his way to follow Mcllroy round the golf course.

Walk from the station in NB to Lady Jane Road, turn right up it and after a few minutes on the right you will find the John Muir Walkway signs. Alternatively start at the Seabird Centre and walk through Lodge Grounds by St Andrews Well. There is a lot to see in NB.

My return was by bus from Dunar on the Edinburgh Express which leaves at 29 minutes past each hour on a Saturday afternoon / evening and costs £5.70. It takes an hour, leaves from the high Street, and doesn’t put you down at the bus station but at Waverley Railway Station, Edinburgh.

The John Muir Way

More info about the walk on these two sites

Visit East Lothian

The Independent Walk of the Month

Thanks to Lesley for her local knowledge.

Thessaloniki

June 2019

Icon in a little hut
Greek Orthodox religious street shrine, Achiropitos Church, Thessaloniki, Greece

I liked Thessaloníki. It’s a mixture of dusty urban streets with shops selling beach umbrellas, interesting portals, attractive heritage sights, a glittering seafront, and varied cultural delights.

People standing under tall metal umbrellas
Captivating umbrella sculpture being used for community gathering

One minute I was standing surprised in front of a shop that seemed to be only selling beach umbrellas, the next I spotted a woman behind one on a far away balcony.

I stopped off here partly to break my journey to the north, but mainly to meet Shiatsu practitioners and teachers.

Daphne, head of the Shiatsu Academy Thessaloníki

The Shiatsu Academy

Evening drinks with Marie-Helene and a yummy lunch with Daphne were both really satisfying exchanges. The joy of meeting others in my own, rather niche profession and being able to talk shop, knowing they speak the same language (Shiatsu I mean! I spoke French with one and English with the other) was delightful.

Sparrow perched on chair back
I had a chirpy visitor as I sipped my fizzy mineral water, and gazed at the shining sea over the top of my laptop

Doorways

Beautiful doorways abound.

Ornate orange door in a green wall with lamp outside
Copper bells outside a bar

I thought it was a church, but it turned out to be a night club! Thessaloniki, Greece

Door, steps and flowers
Someone’s front door – care and attention to detail make for everyday beauty here
Pink walls and green lattice doorway
A domestic front garden of contrasting colours
2 White columns with lattice work
Doric columns adorn this frontage. Thessaloniki, Greece

Hostel accommodation

There was WiFi at the Studio Arabas hostel where I stayed for 2 nights, on Satchouri. I booked through Hostelworld. It is steeply uphill and I didn’t have time to explore the Old Town that it is in because I was meeting people in the part nearer the sea where most of the monuments are – that’s a good trek down and climb back up so be warned.

Early morning street sceneI left early to walk the hour to the bus station and caught the morning sunlight, Thessaloniki

The hostel was clean, but not in a squeaky clean sort of way. I got some advice from the lovely Charlotte while I was there. Although you can’t do this at her place…

Tip

… It is always worth booking a hostel by phone or in person because you often get money off or a free breakfast. They save money on the fees they have to pay to the third party, the booking website.

White tents with book stalls

The book fair was on that day, Thessaloniki, Greece

Cafés

I was on my way to a meeting but needed a cup of tea. It was going to be an hour’s walk. Until, that is, I spied Vermilion.

Just my sort of place. Creative and friendly, good WiFi and recycled jewellery.

I was early and they were cleaning and preparing for the day, Vermilion, Thessaloníki, Greece

Old car on front of paper menu
The menu was handwritten in the front of an exercise book

Nearby are other nice places – a bakery, cheese shop and more.

Rings and necklaces

Recycled jewellery made by the owner
Outdoor restaurant with foliage
B café
People sitting at tables with drinks
Café full of young people including women playing backgammon

Local people resting in the shade

I was fascinated to glimpse women sewing and men and women sharing a drink in the shade.

10 men sit around a table

A group of men in the distance, taken with the zoom. They went back and forth through a door in the wall behind – I was so curious!

Women in black clothes chatting by trees
You can just about make out the women who had been keeping the church yard spic and span, taking a welcome break

Sewing shop women
She turned round and gave me a huge smile so I asked permission to snap

Churches

In Greece many people draw a cross on themselves when they see a church. A woman on the train did it as we whizzed past one. Later I saw a man walking a dog, doing the same thing .

Church steps and plants

The priest was just emerging as I crept around the lovely church near my hostel

Greek Orthodox Church, Thessaloniki, Greece

Columns

There are Classical Greek columns everywhere in Thessaloniki.

White fluted uprights above flight of steps

Ionic columns add finesse to the Cathedral, Thessaloniki, Greece

Ruins

Decorated brick arches
City walls
Soft coloured stone arch with blue sky and buildings visible through
Arch of Galerius, Thessaloniki, Greece

This ancient monument was built in 305 AD following the final victory of Emperor Galerius against the Persians.

Greek women dance around the pediment

Carvings from the arch

Apartment blocks and ancient walls

I liked the apartment blocks cheek by jowl with the ancient stone

Gardens

The sunken garden of the Greek Orthodox Church of St Demetrios

Everywhere there was marble – walls, floors, and columns of course!

Table and orchids
The marble basement of the B cafe at the Museum of Byzantine Culture

Other sights

Railings by the sea
Padlocks for peace
Men sitting on edge sea
Enjoying the sunset together
Musicians against setting sun
Trumpeter in silhouette
Red sculpture in front of building
Museum of Byzantine Culture
Reclining Greek figure
Greek Archeological Museum
Whitened stone memorial
Sarcophagus, part of the Field, House, Garden, Grave exhibition at the Archeological Museum

Trees and religious building
Church at night
Humorous street art
Graffiti
Man on horse on plinth
Alexander the Great. The spears are arranged in the formation from his best known battle
Monument
Woman of Pindos, 1940
Statue and author
An undressed version Emanuel Pappas (1772- 1821) and me with my clothes on. He was the leader of the Greek War of Independence.

Athens and Greece – getting from place to place

Getting Around

Travelling around Greece is straightforward. On this, my second solo trip, I flew to Athens overnight with Air Baltic (on time, efficient) from Edinburgh; walked and took the metro in the capital; and then went to Thessaloniki, Komotini in the north, and the village of Proskinites by bus to see my friends’ new born baby. There I either walked or was driven in the jeep. I returned to Thessaloníki the same way, and then flew to Paris with Transavia for 39 euros.

Morning sun on religious building
Greek Orthodox Church, Proskinites, Greece

Travel around Athens

Crossing the road: Wherever you are, beware the motorised scooters – either being driven wildly with one or more people on them, or abandoned in the middle of pavements.

Scooter on pavement
Looks tame sitting on its own like that I know, but add 1+ humans and it becomes lethal!

Like everywhere else in Europe, look left before crossing the road!

Old urns in terracotta
Museum antiquities exhibited in Acropolis Metro station

The Athens Metro

Metros are clean, cool in temperature, crowded at rush hour as anywhere in Europe, efficient, regular and all stations are announced in English as well as Greek. Ticket machines are quite easy to use and you can choose to view the screen in English. Tickets cost 2.70 euros for 2 tickets and go down in price if you buy more. You can use one anywhere within 90 minutes, which I didn’t realise and so wasted a second one on a bus connection. Make sure you register your ticket on the machine both in and out of the metro, and in (but not out) on the buses.

Ancient statuary
Reclining male nude – statue in Acropolis Metro station, Athens, Greece

Trains, buses and travel out of Athens

I took the Athens to Thessaloniki train, even though there is a lot of bad press to be found on the internet about trains in Greece. The service was clean and smooth (“better than the UK, like Italy” said my neighbour!) You can book online via the OSE website.

Station platform with book store
Athens mainline train station, Greece

Bus travel

For the rest of Greece, the bus is better, but finding information and booking by website is hard work if you don’t read Greek. The main page of the main Greek bus company website (ktelmacedonia.gr) comes up in English on my phone, but the list of places does not and anyway, even looking up the Greek spelling for the places didn’t mean that they appeared on the list although they do have buses which go there! On my laptop, the website was impossible for me to operate. If you are stuck, you could try asking a friendly waitress as they usually speak great English and can often be really helpful making calls for you.

A round tower and a metal serrated monument
Interesting juxtaposition of satellite tower and saw sculpture, Thessaloniki, Greece

I have discovered this since writing the above : Bus tickets pagebus website KTEL Macedonia – new e tickets available. I am leaving both sets of information so that you have 2 options. Please leave a comment if you find the best way and that will help others. Thank you.

You can also buy ferry tickets, and transport or store luggage through KTEL Macedonia (as above).

The police boarded the Komotini – Thessaloniki bus, looked at random people’s passports, and took 3 men off this morning who had no papers.

Green fertile countryside flashes by through train window
On the way to Thessaloniki by train

Which bus station?

It is therefore best to book at the bus station (KTEL has 2 bus stations in Athens: Kifissos and Liossion. Note that when it asks you which one you want to leave from, it also includes ‘Pireus, Athens’ which is actually half an hour away by car so you don’t want that unless you happen to be staying near there). Alternatively you can ring up: I got a very nice man on the phone who spoke manageable English and he took my name and gave me the information and advice I needed. ( When I got there a few days later and went to buy the ticket, he introduced himself to me saying it was he who I had spoken to – what service!) There is a 25 per cent discount in advance which is hard if you are making spontaneous decisions.

Rural scene with terracotta roof
The Greek countryside between Athens and Thessaloniki

Other

There is no bla bla car (online car sharing in France, Spain etc) here in Greece. There are regular tolls along the motorways – between 3-13 euros depending on the distance. See below for other people’s blogs about travelling in Greece.

Bus Athens to Thessaloniki 39 euros one way, 59 euros return (note that the English translation says ‘refund’ instead of ‘return’!

A round old stone building by the sea
The White Tower, Thessaloniki, Greece

23 euros bus Komotini to Thessaloniki (6 hours)

2 euros X1 bus Thessaloniki (dome) Macedonia bus station to airport. Every half hour. Buy ticket from kiosk by bus stop.Very crowded. 40 – 60 minutes.

1.50 euros bus Proskinites to Komotini

Here is a good Athens Guide https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-guides/greece-travel-tips/#getaround

Athens – Where I stayed & graffiti

Athens Accommodation – 1

For a few days I was lucky enough to stay at the Philippos Hotel, and I recommend it for the breakfast (a buffet – all you can eat, including olives, feta and fresh tomatoes, sumptious cakes and pastries – look out for the one with pine nuts and craberries – yum!), the huge balcony with table chairs and sun lounger, cleanliness, olive oil soaps and other toiletries, and friendly staff (and that means friendliness from reception, kitchen, cleaning ,and repairing people – all with cheery ‘kalimera‘s’ / good morning).

Urban white-washed balconies with plants
View from the Philippos Hotel balcony. From the other side you could see the edge of the Acropolis citadel, Athens, Greece

Athens air bnb – 2

I stayed in Psyri which is described as ‘full of character’. The part that is closest to the Monastiraki and Plaka parts of the city is lively in the evenings with lights hanging across the streets and bars constantly full. However, it is full of the saddest cats I have ever seen.

Coloured fairy lights and vines hang above Eschilou street
Bars on Eschilou, Athens, Greece

Psyri

The other half of Psyri quarter, to the north on the way to Omonia, is full of friendly people, but dirty and noisy with a lot of men shifting large boxes and dealing in who knows what. The diminutive man in the corner shop opposite had communicative English and told me he has been working 18 hours a day, 7 days a week without a single day off in years, because he is saving to go back to Bangladesh and start a shop there.

There is a good bakery, a Pilates Studio which offers Shiatsu (42 Zone), and a brass bed shop – all on or near Sarri where my air bnb was.

Brass ornaments, lamps, bedheads
Brass bed shop at the corner of Sarri, Athens, Greece

Although I had some considerable trouble getting into my apartment, the sign below for Athens Walkers (Their website (which is currently down) states that it is ‘a small cooperative that operates all year long. We want to establish human relationships and build authentic friendships’) was outside the door so I guessed I was in the right place!

Walking Tour Co-operative
Athens Walkers sign outside my air bnb, a signal that I had arrived at the right place because I am an inveterate walker

It turned out, after I had been there for 5 days, that there was roof garden on the 6th floor of my block, with fantastic views.

Night sky with moon and Parthenon
Nearly full moon over the Acropolis

Graffiti Street Art

What unites both sides of this neighbourhood is the street art – a veritable hoarde of fascinating images and skill. It looks like there are some vibrant clubs and bars in the back streets, but I was warned not to be out on my own in this area at night and was, anyway, busy elsewhere most evenings. There were other tourists who had strayed here, otherwise it was local people. I did walk home alone though and had no trouble – I simply did not meet anyone’s eye and kept on going straight, with an air of purpose!

Line drawing of a heart with flowers on wall
The organ of the heart – graffiti
Red, green and white painted heart organ with blood vessels
Painted heart organ graffiti, Psyri, Athens, Greece
Love inscription and pollution drawing on heart
More heart graffiti, Psyri, Athens, Greece

There was a place called Heart of Athens (maybe a nightclub?) nearby, which might have explained the subject matter of these graffiti artists. I don’t know about you, but once I have started to see a theme, I find it everywhere!

Heart broken in Athens
Written graffiti, Athens, Greece
Trying to find love in a world full of thorns
Parrot graffiti, Athens, Greece
Love has no gender, language, nationality
Pride banner, Athens, Greece

Monastiraki, Plaka, Omonia areas of Athens, Greece

Monastiraki is south of Psyri, a bustling square with a metro station, beautiful church and a million people at all times of the day and night as far as I could tell. Plaka is slightly south east, a pretty hub full of restaurants (mostly for tourists I think) and some welcome green plants. It is beside the Roman Forum (a prime spot for sunset photos) and not far from the Acropolis itself. Omonia is a very large roundabout full of traffic, high rise flats with a shopping centre where you can find the Greek version of Boots The Chemist if you need it (Hondos Centre), and a metro station.

stalls in front of Greek orthodox Church
Early morning street scene with Acropolis in the background
Cafe scene with graffiti
Plaka area of Athens, Greece

 

Athens – food, drink, shopping

Food and drink

Often when I travel I buy my food cheaply from supermarkets and prepare it for myself in the hostel – not so here. I sampled all manner of delicacies and was treated to traditional food from all parts of the country. I also learned about a long-standing Greek Orthodox funeral food custom.

Fresh deep fried ocean food

Calamari, fish and chips, restaurant food, Greece

Street Food

Street food is good! I had a vege open pie from Feyrouz on Kapori in Athens, and at Falafellas on Ailiou I had falafels in pitta with aubergine (egg plant), yogurt, tomatoes and the option of spices for 3.80 euros for a medium, normal lunch size. Small outlets sell coffee and sandwiches with a wide array of fillings, such as the corner of Eyripidou and Eolou. At this place a take-away iced, decaff cappuccino is 1.20 euros and you get a bottle of cold water thrown in.

Fresh Fruit Juice

Likewise, juice shops are everywhere in the Greek capital and most refreshing in the heat. Nova Gea, 6 Vyronos, had a novel way of serving where you placed your jam jar under the tap at the base of the counter and waited for it to pour in.

fresh fruit juice served in a jar

Nova Gea Juice Bar, Athens, Greece

Restaurants

For meals with friends, try Avocado (vegetarian) where there are books to read.

People sitting outside restaurant eating in Athens

Avocado Restaurant, Athens, Greece

There are so many places where you can eat under the stars in Athens. I loved Seychelles for an array of delicacies including flava bean puree, sardines wrapped in vine leaves, a cooked green veg salad (pvlita) and carob rusks; and Katsourmpos for Cretan food where I sampled chips cooked in goat’s butter with eggs on top, and Greek salad with bread soaked in the wonderful dressing.

Fish pate sprinlled with chives

Taramasalata with prawns and toast, Athens, Greece

Home Cooking

The best meal was one prepared by my hosts (Italian and Greek) of barbounia (red mullet fish), Greek cooked vegetables with a sauce made of mustard, spices and olive oil), and salads (Greek and Greens), all washed down by tsipouro (an un-aged brandy) which they had bought from a monastery on Paros – lethal at lunch time.

Table set with Greek vegetables for lunch

Salads on the table, before the fish arrived! Athens, Greece
Green pouring mayonnaise with herbs
Sauce for the Greek vegetables – mustard, spices and olive oil
Cooked fish with head and tail

Sea Bream (Tsipoura), Athens, Greece
Greek un-aged brandy

Tsipouro – deadly! Athens, Greece

Cafe advice

The café at the Acropolis Museum (outside which proudly flutters The Flag of Europe) was cool to cold with air conditioning and has an amazing view of Mount Lycabettus and the…. Acropolis – watch out you don’t get stuck in the Ladies loos!

Glass doors with mountain reflected in them

Reflection of Mount Lycabettus in the roof cafe window, Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece
The Parthenon in the distance

View of the Acropolis from the roof cafe at the Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece

Supermarkets and Food Shopping

There are not many large supermarkets in the neighbourhoods mentioned above, however google for any Sklavenitis (8 minutes from Psyri) or AB Vasilopoulos (9 minutes from Psyri) which are the major chains in Greece. Cheese and fish counters are of particular note, but you won’t find biscuits or oat cakes (a Scottish delicacy)! The range of cakes, pastries and biscuits that you will find in the bakeries, however, is vast and there are sugar free options as well as artisan bread.

Red and orange strings of dried chillis

Herbs and spices hanging outside a shop in Athens, Greece

You can buy a dazzling array of fruit and veg from wayside shops and stalls in Aristofanous; there is a Central Municipal Market off Athinas (the name of the road); and there are fascinating individual shops selling cheese, olives, flowers, hardware and useful things to put on an altar on Evripidou.

Honey and jars of marmelade

A stack of olive oil and other Greek specialities
Goats and cow scheese counter with seller

Cheeses from all around Greece being sold in Athens
Wooden crates of spices and bunches herbs

Herbs (chamomile) and dried fruits (orange and apple) in huge sacks, Athens, Greece
Loops of pork and chorizo

Meats and sausage, Athens, Greece

Other Shopping

Garlands of pretend flowers, incense holders

For making an altar, Athens, Greece
Naked male figure and clothed goddesses
Greek statuary is sold in various forms

Unlike Estonia and Norway, where the alcohol is sold in separate stores (not beer), here you can get it in the supermarkets, but it was much more expensive than I thought it would be – about the same as the UK. On the other hand, in the small villages near where I have stayed a couple of times in the north, you can get a bottle of retsina for 1.25 euros.

Emptying bottles for recycling
Recycling seems to happen in the suburbs but not in the centre, as far as I could see

On my beach day I was taken for a late lunch at Theodore and Helen’s (Leof. Legrenon, Lavreotiki 195 00 Te; +30 2292 051936) – where the platter of salads including the sea greens (which were the best) and the mussels were sumptuous.

Feta cheese, beetroot and sea greens

Platter of salads, Athens, Greece

Sample menus with prices and deep fried strips of courgette (zucchini) in the restaurant outside Athens near Kape Beach

Stalls and shops line the streets around the Acropolis selling clothes, trinkets, leather goods and jewellery. Some shop keepers call or tempt you in, others sit outside smoking and looking very hot. If you pass by every day as I did, you start to see the displays changing, and without meaning to, you stop and browse. I had to rein myself in from buying anything that would take my rucksack over weight, even though I wanted to get mementoes for my daughters and family.

Shop dummies wearing fur jackets with dogs

Two different sorts of fur coats, inside and out. Athens shop front and dogs, Greece

Coliva – Greek Orthodox Funeral Food

I was in Athens to lead a workshop for Shiatsu practitioners who are working with the dying or those suffering loss. On the second day, Panayiota who was organising the event, brought in a cake made by her sister.

Funeral cake with white sugar and silver cross on top
Coliva – Greek food for mourners

This beautiful creation is called Coliva and it is for Greek Orthodox mourners to eat after the interment. The server mixes it up and then you can see that it is like a loose melee of mixed nuts including almonds, pomegranate, raisins (golden and black), white sugar  and sometimes also coriander and parsley – lively colours and a variety of textures and tastes. It tasted really good and fortifying. Portions are put into individual, brown paper bags and handed to each person, and eating it together symbolises the sharing of the pain of living without the deceased.

Initially this dish was prepared to appease the gods of Hades, the underworld, so that they would give up the body after death, allowing it to go to a better place. Nowadays, it is to fortify the grieving.

Metal life-size figure with Athens logo
A robot in a shop window carrying a ‘We heart food’ bag

Here is some advice from a local friend who was so kind as to send me suggestions:

If you are hungry you can stop at the oldest pastry shop Ariston (Voulis 10, Athina 105 62, Greece) which is parallel to Ermou Street. Ermou Street is the biggest shopping street.

For coffee or a cold drink you can visit A for Athens, it has a great top floor café open to everyone and you can see the Parthenon. And if you are hungry you can go at Savvas across the road (Ermou 91, Athina 105 55, Greece).

For drinks, here is a hidden bar at The Art Foundation Taf (Address: Normanou 5, Athina 105 55, Greece)

Another couple of places for nice traditional sweets are Krinos and Sermpetiko Nancys Sweet Home (Pl. Iroon 1, Athina 105 54, Greece)

Chocolate and sweetmeats
Greek sweets sold from a bakery come wrapped in silver foil

Finally, I found this recommendation: Vasilopoulos deli in Klafthmonos square is where you can find a bit of everything, some of the best products from around the globe. 10 minutes walk from Psyri.

The Sights of Athens, Greece

Mostly a photo essay – June 2019

Photographs of some of the wonderful sights in Athens which I saw on my trip

Night sky with moon and Parthenon
Nearly full moon over the Acropolis
Blue and grey hues of the concrete and glass Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece
The Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece
The white Classical architecture of the National Archaeological Museum with trees on either side and the tiled driveway curving up,, Athens, Greece
The National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with soldiers and their shadows marching in front
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Athens, Greece
Classical Greek architecture with colums, pillars, statues and Greek flag flying
The old National Library, Athens, Greece

There are many beautiful Greek Orthodox churches everywhere

The domed roof of a very old Greek Orthodox Church amongst pretty bouganvillia and spiky trees
Church of Ayia Aikaterini below on the left where P and L got married, Athens, Greece
A Greek Orthodox Church with towers and dome next to Olive trees
Greek Orthodox Church, Athens, Greece
Beige and white Greek Orthodox Church with columns, turrets, crosses and stepped entrance
A Greek orthodox Church, painted white and In a side street off Sarri, Psyri, Athens, Greece
Simple exterior of Greek Orthodox Church with decorated window and cross on top
Church entrance, Athens, Greece
Pink, silver and gold church interior with the Virgin Mary and Christ
Church interior second only in richness (in my experience) to St Mark’s In Rome and  Samye Ling Buddhist Temple in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. This one is in Athens, Greece
Doorway to a religious crypt with frescoes in natural setting
Crypt, Aiolu, Athens, Greece
Towering column and domed roof painted blue with silver stars of Greek Orthodox Church, Athens
Ekklesia Panagia Chrysospilaiotissa Orthodox Church of Theotokou – Virgin, Athens Greece
Blue painted roof with golden stars and red walls with religious paintings
Ekklesia Panagia Chrysospilaiotissa Orthodox Church of Theotokou – Virgin, Athens Greece
Classical Greek facade of school with columns and triangular roof, Athens
Very grand school, Athens, Greece

Other nice places and things I passed by and snapped

Pink facade with Greek urn, 2 windows and decorated roof
Modern day exterior influenced by Classical Athens, Greece
Small decorated water fountain with 2 basins and flower motif
Fountain, Athens, Greece
3 busts of Famous Greek men Socrates Plato Aristotle
The three best known men in Ancient Greece – Saorates, Plato and Aristotle (at night), Athens, Greece

Overall it is very built up with only a few green areas, although you will come across gorgeous flowers every now and then. Try and cut through the area around the Acropolis and you will get a little mountain feeling – parched but traffic free and mosaic full. Thanks to the lovely Maria for showing me the way.

Olive trees, ancient ruins and mosaic pavement
Mosaic, Athens, Greece
Iron work balcony with trailing magenta bouganvillia
Bougainvillia, Athens, Greece
Orange pink trumpets of large flowers and serrated leaves
Chinese Trumpet Vine, Greece

Places I will go next time I visit

The peak of Lycabettus mountain with city in front
Mount Lycabettus, worth climbing to get a view all over Athens, Greece
Flamenco dancer with red fan and Greek urn
Flamenco classes, Tositsa, Athens, Greece
Mountainsides with olive trees, crags and flowers
The countryside outside Athens, Greece

 

 

Athens

June 2019

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Through Hadrian’s Arch

Arriving and starting to get to know the centre

Athens is surrounded by the Imittos mountains – it was the first thing I noticed when I got off the plane at 5.30am. The centre of Athens, on the other hand, is dominated by the Acropolis – a citadel (or upper city) on a hill. Showing clear blue skies through the arches of its most famous ruin, the Parthenon, and baked the colour of pale sand which stunningly reflects the setting sun, it is proud and impressive in its old age.  Planned by Pericles with advice from Pheidias, and described as “a unique monument of thought and the arts” by UNESCO, it is the world heritage site to end all WHSs.

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Roman Forum, Athens, Greece

At its foot are more ancient remains; more tourists than you can imagine even if you know Marbella well; a suprisingly tempting selection of leather belts, ceramic blue and white ‘evil eyes’, and the sort of blousy, floaty clothes that are so attractive when it’s over 33 degrees, but which you are unlikely to wear when you get home unless you go to Shiatsu classes.

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You can see it from miles around, at the end of many streets

Why I was here

I was here to lead a workshop, How we Cope with Loss with Shiatsu, at the peaceful Zen Center (link below), wonderfully organised by Panayiota Polychroni-Giannino. I had an amazing itinerary – danced at the Pride celebrations, attended ‘Norma’ (opera by Bellini) at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, and had some delicious and companionly meals with new friends.

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The Zen Center
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Athens Pride June 2019

Opera at the Odeon

Norma was performed in the atmospheric ruins of the Odeon, and after initial rain we were graced with a cool breeze, an attractive sunset and then graced with an almost full moon. Directed and with costumes, set and projections by the challenging La Fura dels Baus from Barcelona, the opera was sung and played by the Athens National Opera. Part of the Athens and Epidaurus Summer Festival, it used both the theme of the opera itself – the almost-infanticide by a heart-broken mother whose lover has dumped her and gone off with the virgin priestess – and at the same time raised our awarness of the damage we are doing to our planet by making set and costumes from recycled waste / plastic.

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The neon structures represent a forest (right) and perhaps the altar (left)
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Slowly it got dark, people assembled slowly. The strip between the audience and the towers is where they put the translation (sung in Italian, translated into Greek and English). The stage was made of recycled plastic and the two vats in front of the ‘forest’ looked like they were full of poisonous green fluid in which the ‘children’ floated and looked out at us eerily.
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Finally it was dark enough to see the projections – random words and pictures including one of Maria Callas, the most famous Norma. The orchestra took their place and played the overture – so familiar to me from home listening

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre

Later I was taken to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, which, according to my laptop’s translation is a “remodeling of the Kallithea area and the phallic front, giving life to a place that has been devastated for many years.” It is an open area of 210 acres housing the new National Library of Greece and the new  Opera House plus gardens and other performance areas and a water feature with cafes etc. A very pleasant place to visit (slightly out of town) when the temperatures cool, just a tad, in the evenings.

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With Maria and Panayiota
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Space age building
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Neatly placed olive tree
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The steps at the side of the National Library, looking towards the conference centre
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The new National Library with floor to ceiling book stacks

Open Air Cinema

I loved the open air cinema, Cine Paris, on a rooftop in the centre. I recommend that you book as it is very crowded, although there are 2 films per evening. It did of course have marvellous views of …

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The Acropolis as seen from Cine Paris. Athens, Greece
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Watching The Green Book (great movie) at Cine Paris, Athens, Greece

Economical and Political Situation

According to the Financial Times, Greece outperfomed all the major European economies in the 1960s, but “In 1981 Greece joined the European Union, and that coincided with the start of its fall.” In 1990, in advance of joining the Euro single currency in 2001, things started to slowly improve, only to see another even more serious crisis in the run up to the approval of the adjustment programme in 2015. To all intents and purposes, it is still in economic crisis now and parts of Athens reflect this – pavements need repairing, buildings are falling down. There was a transport strike when I was there, so there were no metros, trams or buses for the main part of the day. I only hope the workers win their case.

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Then there is the refugee crisis (our term, not theirs), which has seen countless people dispossessed, arriving here with no money or home, often with traumatic stories to tell and therefore depleted ability to integrate. They are to be found washed up on Lesvos disshevelled and desperate; wandering along railway lines in the middle of nowhere with nothing in their pockets (no ID papers means they are more difficult to send back), and in Athens begging or lining the streets, some working like beavers selling water melons the size of dragon’s eggs from the backs of lorries, and others standing around aimlessly or taking drugs in a corner. There are elections coming up soon (7.7.19) as a result of the defeat of Alexis Tsipras (prime minister) in the European Elections, and everyone expects the Right Wing party to get in now, although those I discussed this with told me there was little difference between the Right and the Left. I saw a truck with refugees lying down and sitting in the back of it and a loud speaker making announcements – presumably campaigning for votes.

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Kyklos Project

I also visited the Kyclos project, a grass-roots day centre project where young people from Afganistan and elsewhere are making a community and others are having Greek lessons to help them find work and become part of their new community. Run by the indomitable Katerina, it has an amazing record for keeping the users attending and engaged, finding them work, training them so they have transferable skills and offering a vital lifeline to keep them off the streets and away from potential trouble. Like all such projects, it is in dire need of funds for more staff right now. You can donate here. (http://www.kyclos.org/page-story.html)

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The indomitable Katerina

The suburbs

I took the metro (red line 2) to Daphne from both Acropolis and Omonia (direction Elliniko to get there and Anthoupoli to get back) to give Shiatsu.

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Ekklisia Agios Dimitrios, Athens, Greece
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Detail, Ekklisia Agios Dimitrios, Athens, Greece

The beach

On my final day I was kindly driven to Kape Beach where all the tourists from the streets at the foot of the Acropolis had gone to swim and sunbathe (or so it seemed!). The highlight was swimming with my goggles on in the silky Aegean Sea and watching the fish below and all around me. There were white ones with black stripes, shoals of what seemed to be tiny, black ones which glinted silver when the sun shone on them at the right angle, and flat ones which I initially thought must be leaves until they wriggled side to side raising the sand and revealing themselves. Thanks to Elena for a great day out.

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Kape Beach, outside Athens, Greece
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Kape Beach, outside Athens, Greece

 

Tallinn

May 2019 – it was cold and dull with wind and rain once I arrived.

I took a bus (Lux Express 8 euros 2.5 hours) from Tartu, and walked from the bus station to KE’s flat. KE is a dancer /choreographer / therapist who I discovered on the internet and emailed out of the blue asking her if she might like to meet. She very kindly invited me to stay with her, I enjoyed giving her a Shiatsu, and we had great conversations.

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In1991, Estonia won independence after many decades of Russian (and German) occupation, during which their culture and autonomy were almost non existent. Much architecture exists which is redolent of those years.

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‘Cornflower’ is the name of this metal sculpture. It is a memorial which ‘commemorates all victims of the Soviet occupation and those who gave their lives for the freedom of Estonia.’ (from the plaque beside the artwork). Created by Paul Saar, 1990, Tartu, Estonia.

It was not as easy to find an affordable place to eat. The prices were higher (it being the capital and me being in the tourist area) and some places looked shut which actually were not. It was, of course, hard to translate the signs, and my fingers were numb from using the map on my phone. I found a blog which recommended Estonian chocolate which I tried to give myself a quick boost from being freezing and having let myself get very hungry. That did the trick! Lunch at the Teater in Rataskaevu.

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The place I found was great. I had a filled pancake (their speciality) and a tea for 5.5 euros.

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Tallinna Reaalskool, Tallinn

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Lutheran Church, Tallinn

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Freedom square, Tallinn
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Freedom square, Tallinn
St John’s Church / Jaani Kirik, Freedowm Square, Tallinn

St Nicolas Church and Museum

Tallin Old Town

Kiek in de kok (round tower) and Maiden Tower (4 sided tower), Old Town, Tallinn

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Orthodox church, Tallinn

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Tallinn Art House Kunstihouene, Vabaduse, Tallinn

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Anna Ekston, leader of the Estonian National Ballet 1944-51

I went in search of an art gallery which the woman in the Tartu Kogo Gallery recommended to me and on the way I got to see a different quarter of the city.

Theater – front of the Eesti Draamateater Tallinn

Politseiaia Park

Skyscrapers, Tallinn

Small older buildings amongst the high rise buildings, Tallinn
The Temnikova and Kasela Gallery, Tallinn – cutting edge contemporary art
The End, Edith Karlson and Dan Mitchell, Temnikova and Kasela Gallery, Tallin
Municipal stone statues, reproduced across the city, Tallinn

I saw on the map that I was one minute away from the Kassikohvik cat cafe which was on my list. Unfortunately it was shutting when I got there, but the woman in the yellow jersey let me in to take a few photos. It had been recommended to me so I feel I can put it down here. Expect a five euro supplement for adults, and less for children.

2 sculptures on the outsides of buildings

Gardening outside the flats, Tallinn

Architectural detail on the windows of the blocks

Other than one grumpy bus driver, every other single person who served me or showed me round, gave me a bed or otherwise was where I was, was friendly and kind throughout my month in Estonia, and I am very gratful to them all for speaking English to me when all I could really say was ‘thank you’ in their language.

I bought a bunch of non-hot-house flowers in Tartu from similar women to these.

A lovely Latvian woman I met in the hostel in Parnu, recommended that I walked up to the Kohtuotsa viewing platform where the inscription ‘The Times We Had’ can be found. She also showed me photos of the wonderful Jagala waterfall (bus 152b) a distance away from Tallinn.

Having flown to Riga, I returned to the UK with Air Baltic.

Other sights in Tallinn Estonia Tourist Board

https://www.britannica.com/topic/history-of-Estonia

Tartu

May 2019

The forests and cleared forests of Estonia

I took the bus from Pärnu to Tartu (Lux Express, 9 euros) and passed through more forests, including areas which had been cleared and the church on the mound in Viljandi, approximately half way along the 105 kilometre journey between the two cities.

Tartu is the second largest city with 101.000 inhabitants and the total population of the country is smaller than the population of Bucharest.

Tartu University

Located in eastern Estonia, it’s known for the prestigious, 17th-century University of Tartu (the population is made up of one fifth students). The old town is centred around the university’s neoclassical main building, and the cafe-filled Town Hall Square, home to the Kissing Students fountain.

The Kissing Students fountain.

The modern Science Centre AHHAA has hands-on exhibits and a 4D cinema.

Kirik (a bit like Scots kirk) St John’s (above and below).

Still in use but in a poor state of repair

In contrast to Estonia’s political and financial capital Tallinn, Tartu is often considered the intellectual and cultural hub.

 

Tartu is renowned for its beautiful pastel coloured 18th century buildings

Cars actually stop if you want to cross the road. Travelblog.org

There are hiking tracks along the banks of the river Emajõgi, and I am told that you can be in a more natural environment in 15 minutes, but the weather was very cold until my last hour, so I didn’t go there until then.

St Paul’s red turret – detail

If you stay at Hektor Design Hotel or the Looming hostel, don’t believe g…. maps about how to get to the tourist part of the town! Instead, wind your way through the streets which are parallel and at right angles to Rïgli, and you will find all sorts of interesting places:

The University natural history museum
Impressive graffiti
Karl Luik, mayor of Tartu 1920-34
The award winning architecture of St Luke’s United Methodist Church, Tartu, Estonia

Next to Looming is a yoga centre and I had a lovely class with Anna Morozova (see YogawithAnna on Facebook).

I stayed in Hektor which has a lot going for it – a clean, private, single room with writing desk and a kitchenette and toilet right outside, shared with 3 other rooms, but there is no sound proofing and every door closing and footstep echoed and reverberated. For an extra 3 and 5 euros you can use the washing machine / dryer (once) and sauna (unlimited) respectively. I had the latter (women separate from men) to myself all 3 times I used it. There is a cafe downstairs which looked good, a smart, shared kitchen and a book collection to borrow from. Other downsides: there is something wrong with the drains so my shower / toilet smelled terrible, it is on a very busy main road, quite pricy, the basement where the sauna and stuff was creepy, especially in the evenings, and it was approximately half an hour’s walk from the centre.

The Toomemägi Park is on a steep hill and is well worth a visit: a beautiful green area, cafe, playpark and below –

The Observatory
The ruined Tartu Cathedral, in hilltop Toomemägi Park, has two restored towers with viewing platforms
Chimneys coming out of grassy mounds. This was my view when I did my Tai chi one morning
The Angel Bridge, named after either the English or the pretty face of Rector Parrot
The Devil Bridge
View from the park

To find the park, go to the foot of the hill by the playpark, in front of the pink church which is now a kino / cinema and either climb the steps or walk up the cobbles under the Angel Bridge (above).

This debonair gentleman stands in the calm sitting area next to the Elektricteater cinema

Here was my favourite café – Kohvik Krempel is a few minutes walk from the main square. The middle two photos are of an Estonian healthy drink called … which was different both times I had it (one to be eaten with a spoon and the other the consistency of coffee – it’s cold, made with oatmeal, fruit and kefir – delicious!

Like lots of the coffee shops, it looks shut from the outside. Do not be deterred!

I loved the Botanic Gardens.

Bridge looking towrads the main house, Botanic Gardens, Tartu
Spring’s bright colours – tulips
Poppies
Iris
Pansies, hyancinth and tulips in contrasting colours
Reflections and dandelion
Lillies in front of the ornamental lake, bridge and summer house
Pulsatilla
They have an extensive collection of mosses and lichens
The glasshouses

Other sights include the Toy Musem:

Tartu Toy Museum with lots of barbies

The leaning art museum:

Unfortinately closed between exhibitions, when I was there

The theatre museum:

Theatre Museum, Tartu

The Natural History Museum

The side of the Natural History Museum – the windows are an art work

It turned out that the charming Kogo Gallery was a minute away from my hostel. I was impressed by the woman who watched over it (friendly, helpful and knowledgeable), as well as by the exhibition of Ede Raadik‘s Sailin’ on the Red Sea contemporary art work.

In a cosy square with cafes and interesting buildings.

The black, white and gold building I have used for the title photo is the Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Tartu.

Visit Tartu city blog

City planner blog

Adventure writing without a Beard – Part 1

At last, a round-up of books by female travel writers and adverturers. Sadly none of them by me – yet….

Amazing how none of them get into the bookshops, as she says!

Beth's Kept Secrets

Outdoor sports and Adventure books written by female adventurers. 

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Even the most adventurous of us loves to curl up with a good book after a day hiking, cycling, climbing, kayaking, swimming or just working and escape on an adventure from the comfort of the sofa. Adventure writing is our inspiration; it takes us to new places, allows us to experience new things and lights a spark for our own exciting dreams and plans.

However, according to displays in several book shops recently it may appear that it is only men that can go on epic adventures across icy tundra, cycle vast distances, hike through unexplored rainforests or climb the world’s highest peaks. Of course, we know this not to be true; there are thousands of women around the world making equally epic journeys, pushing limits and despite what some bookshops think, they are writing about it! A post on the wonderful…

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