Joys and Pains of life at the Arctic Circle

Living at the Arctic Circle is quit interesting, especially on winter time. And I have to admit that for writing this post I had to put some special effort on finding the joys as well, but there really are some! 😉

1.Getting around

The most hard part is that where ever, and HOW ever, you are going it always takes more time than on summer time and you always have to consider the weather:

By bike: If you have to be somewhere early and it have been snowing  during the night you have to consider the fact that all the roads are not clean yet. Biking on ice and snow is not a problem when you have right tires, the problem is thick layers of deep snow or the prevails of snow which appear on each crosswalks and borders of the roads. And it goes without saying that the morning becomes much more painful if you had forgotten the bike outside during the night when it was snowing…

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These bikes have been there more than one night 😉

By car: Oh my god, I could make only one post about having a car in Lapland!  Even though it’s  almost a necessity to have a car in here, having one in a cold climate where snow is more common than sunshine, can be very complicated as well. First, to avoid damaging the motor too much it is advised to heat the car by plugging it at least 2 hours before you plan to leave with it. This is advised every time when it’s colder than -5 C. Here it means most of the time between 1st of December and end of March. In most of the buildings and work places you can pay for this plug-spot for the winter time. The thing is that many of the spots are working with a timer nowadays (to save energy), so you have to remember to schedule the heating on – and this means that you have to know what time you are going to leave!

So heating the motor is one thing.  Another thing is the snow and ice! Each time you are going to leave somewhere by car, add at least 5 extra minutes to your time for taking away the snow and ice from the car. If you have an old car, like we do, it gets warm more slowly than new cars, so also the window melts very slowly.

AND what I learned this winter! With old cars it might happen that if the night was very cold the locks are still stiff and might lock themselves meanwhile you are outside cleaning the car! This happened to me when I had already put the car on in order to get it warm inside, and all my keys were inside as well. A very teaching but not so nice experience!

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On the worst days you have to brush the snow away even if you left the car for only 10 minutes!

By walk: Well, many times going by walk is easier than by bike or by car but takes more time. And what might be uncomfortable is that when it’s -20 degrees you have to be very well dressed for the day, but then during walking you get hot and sweaty!

2. Dressing up!

On the one hand it’s very easy to dress in Lapland because ski trousers and overalls for snowmobiling are the most fitting clothes for this climate – and the nice thing is that there’s no pressure about how you look like, because everybody wares similar kind of clothes the whole winter!

On the other hand, it is quit tiring to dress about 6 months of the year with many layers of clothes and wear heavy boots all the time. Usually after January I really start missing snickers and flipflops, and not to put a hat to hide my hear! I would also enjoy if I could sometimes dress a bit more nicely and lightly when I go out, but dressing up here like in Paris would just look very weird….

3. Everything is related to snow!

In general snow and cold affects the everyday life in a way that you might wake up on Sundays at 7 am because the snowplows are cleaning the fresh snow in front of your bedroom. Or when the heavy layers of snow start to fall from the roofs in the middle of the night and you just jump out of the bed thinking that the 3rd WW has started…!

4. The darkness light

An other thing that I find really hard here in Lapland is the darkness. I guess the locals who have been living here always, are more used to it and handle it better, but for me the fact that we don’t actually see sunlight between November and January, is hard. This year has been particularly hard, because the weather in general have been very cloudy, so even more dark and grey. When it’s dark you just have to keep on with daily routines, but also accept the fact that it’s okay to sleep a bit more than usually!

But then! When the sun finally comes back after mid January, everything changes! The days start to get longer and bright very fast and from February- March until August we have much more daylight than the rest of the World ;). And as long as there is snow, you can’t even imagine the amounts of light that we might have on sunny days! Sunglasses highly recommended in March!  Then, even though you still have to dress warm and heat the car, you can also start to enjoy life by skiing, snowmobiling, ice-fishing, participating on reindeer races and all other crazy activities that are only possible when living at the Arctic Circle!

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5. Plenty of places to heat yourself up 

A positive thing is that even though it’s cold outside, it’s always warm inside.  The buildings and houses are well heated in Finland – so well that sometimes it almost feels to warm in some apartments. Also, one of my favorite things in Finland is that you can find saunas almost everywhere to heat yourself even more! 🙂 Or when you go out in the nature there’s always publicly maintained fireplaces which anyone can use !

6. Landscapes ❤

Even though life sometimes feels quit hard in here, the landscapes and nature with the very special light of the North is quit amazing and unique, and I am very happy that I have gotten to experience it all during the last few years.

 

 

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As many of you probably know Finland is celebrating its 100 years of independence this year – today, 6th of December exactly.  And it is a subject I never thought I would write about, because I have never been very interested about the Finnish nation and I haven’t considered my self very patriotic. I have always been bad on Finnish history and I have to admit that I can’t even sing the Finnish national hymn by heart. Luckily I know some of our great writers, but probably not all the books a Finn is supposed to know.

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Despite my lack of general Finnish knowledge I still enjoy many things from the Finnish culture. Sauna, lake swimming, cold snow inside your shoes when you didn’t put the socks well enough on the top of your long johns,  the smell of a cigarette in the frozen winter air, the smoke of a campfire and mosquito repellent on your clothes – are all things which in my opinion just can’t be felt in the same way if you haven’t grew up in Finland and have some kind of national identity.

I have always heard stories about the Karelians who moved to Finland after the war – my grandmother is one of them – but for some reason it have still felt like something very distant and not related to my life. This started to change slowly since I moved back to Finland from France. I have started to appreciate and to be interested about my home country in a totally different way, and this autumn I have seen several movies or documentaries about Finland, our history and the wars. Each time when I’ve learned something new, or just understood some parts of the history better, some kind of very strong and somehow new feeling have came to me. I have started to feel proud and honor towards my small country, which have actually suffered a lot, and been independent for such a short time – on the global scale.

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Through the different places I have already lived, I have understood the beauty of Finland with its wild endless nature, its weird silent people who you still always can trust on, who are honest and extremely gutsy. It is rare in this world to find people like Finns, a bit crazy but so goodhearted. And I believe Finns want to make their country even better and despite small disagreements they will always stick together as one nation.

However, because I don’t think you should ever accept only what you have, but always aim a bit higher,  I hope Finland will learn how to fill its beautiful spaces with those who need a place, and  at the same time not destroy areas which don’t need to be changed. I wish during the next 100 years (or preferably before) Finland would become even more equal, more open and more international – and stay as good place to live as it is now!

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Finnish Christmas – from a Spanish point of view

I know many of us have already started a new year and have probably forgot Christmas, but I’m still sharing a little throwback on our Christmas in Rovaniemi.

This year my boyfriend decided to come to Rovaniemi for Christmas, instead of going home to Spain, like every year. The point of that was to not leave me alone for Christmas, because I was working during the holidays, and couldn’t leave the city.

I knew it would be his first Christmas in Finland, but also only the 2nd or 3rd time of his life  far from his family for Christmas… So I wanted his Finnish Christmas to be perfect – despite the fact that I was working the 24th the whole day.

My boyfriend is not living in Spain, but in South of Finland. He knows everything about cold, skiing, darkness etc. And he has been in Lapland before, so any big cultural shocks were not expected.

But, as in Finland the food for Christmas is traditional and always the same, I spent the previous week by cooking. I tried to impress him with home-made Christmas bread and I even agreed to do a home-made gingerbread dough and we were baking them for 2 days!


Expect that Christmas is important for him, his family is very… Spanish, and they are many. The loud, talkative, close to each other, touchy, loving local Spanish food – family changed to be only me. Even that I talk a lot, no way I can do the same noise than his whole family!

To fix that, we called his family on Skype the Christmas Eve. After about 20 mins of people talking and shouting in Spanish, we hang the call and started eating our Finn-French-Spanish Christmas dinner.

The menu included canapés with foie gras, salmon, fish egg… Green asparagus with ham and cheese, Finnish Christmas ham and sweet potato casserole as well as rosolli (beetroot salad) and mushroom salad. Traditional Finn dishes were easy to do and to find ingredients, but for the foie gras and green asparagus we spent some time and few desperate moments.



I was very happily surprised that he enjoyed all the food so much, and honestly liked each dishes. (Good, because we were eating them for 3 days!)

In my plans I also wanted to bring him in Christmas church on the eve of 24th or at least on a Christmas carols concert… But actually, despite eating and cooking, our Xmas activities were about doing ice-lanterns and having a walk under snowfall at midnight.


We also opened some gifts already on the Xmas eve, even that in France that’s done on the morning of 25th, and in Spain traditionally they  get gifts only the 6th of January!

Traditions are made to be broken, and to spend Christmas in Finnish Lapland is one of the best places to get a real Christmas feeling. The days after Christmas we went skiing and walking and  enjoyed a lot the snowy landscapes before going to the South of Finland for New Year.

The Spaniard enjoyed Christmas in Finland, but is already asking if next year we will go to Spain… 😉

Naked Angels in the Snow

As an honor for my 99 years old homeland, I’m going to share my very Finnish weekend from few weeks ago.

As I live in Finland, but study in English and use a mix of English, French, Finnish and Spanish in my every days’ life, I was very pleased to get an invitation for a cabin weekend from my Finnish fellow-students. A whole week-end speaking only Finnish! 😀

The girls had rent a small cabin in Pyhä, a tiny ski-resort at 130 km from Rovaniemi. We had borrowed my moms car and were four Finn girls leaving Friday afternoon from the University. First thing was of course to buy food for the whole week-end. We didn’t have any list of what we wanted, but we had agreed our menu for the week-end earlier, so after a not very organized shopping, we had a cart full of food and drinks. The most important were glögi (Finnish Christmas drink), the dough for the traditional Christmas cookies and blue cheese, as well as beers for the sauna and wine for the food!

The road, until Pyhä took almost 2 hours and wasn’t very pleasant for the driver (me!) as in this period of the year at 4 pm it’s already dark, and in Lapland there are no streetlights. It was also snowing or very cloudy and foggy, and during the whole road we had to be aware of reindeers who might have appeared from no-where on the road. Luckily my passengers were very supporting and not in a hurry either. So we arrived on our cabin safe and happy, ready to have a relaxing week-end.

So what do a group of girls do in a cabin for a whole week-end?

The first thing we did when we arrived, was the fire in the fireplace, and some cups of glögi, with a drop of red wine in it. A perfect start for a week-end!

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Obviously for a relaxing week-end, food was an important thing. We ere cooking everyday, tortillas, soups, pies, salads, and having amazing breakfasts, but also snacks every time it was possible.

For me, the best thing was baking the “piparkakku”, gingerbread! I realized that I actually hadn’t done that in years… Because I was living so long time in France and spending my Christmases there, with other kind of traditions, it must be at least 5 years from the last time I was making ginger breads. (I did get some, every Christmas, but haven’t make them by myself). So thanks one of the girls, we had all the different molds with us and I was really enjoying doing the cookies… Feeling like a kid again!

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As sauna is the a very important thing in Finland, all the cabins you can rent, should have a sauna. And for us, it was also the thing we had waited the most. The sauna from this cabin, was so small that it was hilarious. But luckily it fitted all the four of us, even that one had to sit on a lower seat, and we had to make tours for that…  So, both evenings, Friday and Saturday, after we had dinner, we put the tiny sauna on and uncorked some beers. We were also lucky to not have neighbors in the cabins around, so we could really enjoy the sauna and snow very freely. We were bathing for few hours in the + 90 C, going in and out from the sauna, talking a lot, drinking the cold beers, and doing angels in the snow! It must have been a very funny view, if someone had seen us, four naked girls coming out steaming from the sauna, and rolling in the snow, screaming, making angels and then running back in, and coming out again… But it felt so good and we had so much fun!

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During the week-end the girls also took care about my common knowledge on Finnish tv-culture. We were watching Finnish stand up, and now I finally know who is ‘Ismo Leikola’! But we also watched Saara Aaltos x-factor show and some episodes of ‘Vain elämää’. The latter one is very famous show about Finnish singers, which started when I was living in France, and everybody were talking about it very much, but I had never watched a single episode. I also got tips for other Finnish shows that I could follow…

I found it funny and interesting at the same time, that even after almost 1,5 years in Finland, I could still learn about many things that I’ve been passing by when I was abroad.

Just to make it clear, as Finns are very outdoor people, sporty and loving their home countries landscapes, we were not only eating and drinking the whole week-end, but also had some walks around Pyhä :).

Next time we hopefully can bring our fellow foreign students to experience real Finnish traditions ;).

Happy Independence Day Finland! Hyvää Itsenäisyyspäivää Suomi!

Student advantages in Finland

As I already have one research proposal to finish, one essay to write, one Business Ethics exam to come, and one Spanish exam to come – I can as well use my time to write a blog post about student life in Finland… Right? 😉

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Some of my readings at the moment….

Last time, almost  two months ago, I wrote about getting an apartment in Finland compared to Paris. As it was the beginning of the semester, and I had just started the studies, I was very thrilled about all the student advantages Finnish students get!

Well, on that time I didn’t realize yet, that I wouldn’t have time to enjoy all those advantages as much I thought… But, they are still worth to mention, because after being a student in France for three years, I think it’s much better to be a student in Finland! (Even that I loved my studies in Paris too <3).

So here comes my list of Finnish-student-life-benefits:

  1. Free studies. For everybody, Finns and foreigners, in all the educational institutes (college, universities, high-schools…..). But there’s coming a change on this, since next year students outside Europe will need to pay  a tuition fee, which is estimated between 5000 and 20 000 eur per year (source here) . I feel very sorry for that, and I hope we will still get international students in Finland!

2. The student allowance – Like some of my friends abroad once said “Finnish students are actually getting paid for studying”. Yes, we can see it like that… All the Finnish students are allowed to get that allowance from the security social institute. It includes a monthly student grant and if you’re living on your own (like most Finnish students do) the housing supplement. Also, if you want, you can get the student loan, which is very low rated and not needed to paid back before you get your first full-time work.

There are of course few criteria to get the allowances, but the most important ones are to fill a certain amount of study-credits per month or per yer, and if you work next to your studies, not to earn too much money from there. These facts are constantly checked and if they notice you don’t fill the criteria anymore, you will probably need to pay back something…

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Sunset at 6.pm on my way home. 

3. There’s one thing that we have to pay when we start our studies in the University, it’s the Student Union fee, that costs (at the moment) 105 eur for the full year. By paying this fee we get several good benefits:

  • The student card – Lunch at 2,60 eur every day in all universities in Finland. The lunch includes salads and hot meal with bread etc. So actually many students even eat twice per day at the university, as it’s so cheap and handy. With the student card we also get several discounts in some shops, restaurants, coffee places, theaters, events  and from transportation, as VR (the national train company), and Matkahuolto (national bus company)… The list is long, and as it’s impossible to remember where we get discounts, the best is to ask each time we transact in a new place…
  • Services of the Finnish Student Healthcare Foundation – All the students that have paid the union fee, have access to the student healthcare. And this is really good, especially for dentists and specialists. The price that we have to pay for a consultation is usually only between 18 – 26 eur. Even that Finnish healthcare in general is almost free, the dentists and gynecologists for example cost a lot! We also get totally free of charge consultations, in the general practitioner, laboratory examinations, vaccinations, physiotherapist etc….
  • Better prices (or free) for student events, legal advice for free…

4. Student Housing – Like I wrote in my previous post, I got an apartment in Rovaniemi very easily. It wasn’t a student apartment, as they were full already and offering especially shared flats. All big student cities in Finland has their own student housing foundation, which offer flats for students from studios and shared apartments to 2-3 rooms family apartments. Depending on the city and your needs, you can get a furnished flat (good solution for exchange and foreign degree students)  or an empty one and furnish it by yourself. Some buildings include the wifi automatically, some not.  The prices are usually cheaper than on private markets and you get help and support for all housing questions.

5. SportPass – This is also something that I was very excited about. It costs 35 eur per year, and with the pass you get access for several gyms, climbing, group sport classes, yoga, swimming pool etc. On some places you have to pay a small fee for the class, sometimes you can buy the card for a longer period, but the prices are usually 30 – 50 % cheaper than without the pass.    I paid the semester for the Lappish Astanga Yoga school with -25 % discount. And as I haven’t had time to enjoy as much the other sports, at least I’ve been going for the yoga classes every week!

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On the well-being sport-appro-day we tried crossfit and yoga for free. 

6. Library services – Well, that’s something that already works very well in Finland, but I still want to point it out, because I think the system is very good. Here in Rovaniemi for example there are three higher educational institutes, and they all have their own libraries, but we can use the 3 of them mutually. Of course everything for free.

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Library of university of Lapland.

So here were few of the advantages that we have as a student in Finland. I have to point out that I have been happy about these benefits, even that many Finnish students are complaining at the moment. The benefits have been decreasing slowly every year, because he government is doing a lot of cuts in the student system. Last year there was a lot of protests and noise about this and I totally understand students were not happy bout the cuts.

For me, I think it would be important to remember, that compared to many other countries, we are still very lucky and enjoying about advantages, that most of the students in the world don’t have. But of course I hope the system will stay like this, and will not get modified more!

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Sunrise at 8.am. on my way to Uni ❤

Getting an apartment in Finland VS. Paris

Few months ago I wrote about my flat researches in Rovaniemi and moving plans there. Well, time went super fast and I always started to write something and then never finished. Now I am actually already settled in Rovaniemi in my new flat, but I can still give you a little shortcut about looking an apartment in Finland, and tell you how easily things work here…compared to Paris at least!

Some background information: When I moved to Paris in 2009 my first apartment there was a 9m2 “chambre de bonne“, in the 6th floor (without elevator!) of a very hype building in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. The rent was 615€ per month. And to get that ‘awesome’ apartment I spent about 2 months of visiting places and learning how to make a proper file with all the documents that landlords were asking… From working contracts to tax-informations…. I also had to ask my French grand parents to caution the apartment and to help me on paying the 3 months of rent that was asked at advance!

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The only picture that I could find about that tiny Parisian apartment, was from the day that I moved out from there!

This is to give a little sigh on what looking for an apartment in Paris, can look. I made the same thing few years later with my ex boyfriend and even then it wasn’t much easier, but we were lucky and got some help from our workplace on that time…

Anyway, in Finland no-one asked anything, when I confirmed the first apartment that I was offered.

First I applied for the student-apartments in Rovaniemi, but as they could offer especially shared flats, I also started to look on the private markets.  After many years of sharing my apartment with someone, this time I really felt that I want to have my place. As private markets in Rovaniemi were quit stuck, I also sent an application for KAS, Municipal Housing Homes. It’s a kind of real estate agent for the citys’ apartments. I just needed to fill the application online, and BIM! In two days they already sent me an offer! I was really surprised about that because I had heard that when you apply for the municipality, it always takes time… They sent me an interesting offer which I had to accept or reject within 5 days. Without seeing the apartment, being still in Kalajoki for my summer work, I decided to accept it. In France  I would have never-ever accept an apartment without seeing it first, but in Finland I know that they respect all the laws and do things very correctly. The only thing I was afraid of was that the walls would have had some horrible colors… (few years ago one of my friends moved in an apartment that she hadn’t seen before, and it was quit a surprise when one wall was pink!).

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I could only see pictures from outside, but any from inside, because there was still someone living…

 

But the most surprising thing for me was, how easily the processes went. We agreed everything by phone, the only document that I was asked to send to the agency, was a proof of my study place. I was almost about to ask “are you sure, you don’t need any other documents?” But I decided to stay silent and be happy that any incomes, tax returns or birth certificates were asked…  And the same day I got my lease by email, printed it, signed it and sent it back as an iphone picture. And that was it! I got they keys by showing my ID at the agency few weeks later.

I don’t know if that went so easily, because I’m a student now and because I rented trough that agency, but in general people who rent on private markets also, never need to show as much papers and proofs as in France. Of course I get the point of that in France, where is so much more people living, but it’s literally a hellish nightmare to rent an apartment in Paris.

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The first week I slept on air-mattress, but it didn’t matter because I finally had my own closet for my clothes!

Actually my positive surprises didn’t stop there, as the next thing I had to do, was the electricity contract. The KAS-agency gave me names of electricity suppliers and I just needed to contact them by email or by their internet-site and in 24hrs they sent me their offer and we made the contract trough internet. I didn’t see anyone or talked in phone with a single person, but I got my electricity contract, AND everything was working since the first day I got to the apartment.

And yes! When I got to see the apartment for the first time, after that I had signed the contract and already paid one month of rent, I was satisfied :). I have one small bedroom with a balcony, and one living room/kitchen + bathroom and entrance, around 40 m2 and the rent is under 450 e per month. By bike I’m 15 min from the university and the city-center.

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The next amazing things about Finland are the student offers ;).

 

One year since I moved back to Finland

I haven’t been writing a lot lately… compared to one year ago, when I posted new articles almost once per week. It was the time that I had a lot of things happening in my life and a lot of thoughts to write down. Lately, I haven’t found any motivation for writing, even that I’m in a very inspiring environment with beautiful landscapes and Scandinavian tourists all around.. There would be a lot of things to say about Kalajoki, and  the caravan-culture, that is totally new for me.

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Its also one year ago that I took the decision to move back to Finland and to find out if I could live in my first home country again. (You can read about that here).

The year have gone so fast, that I still haven’t really found out if I really want to stay here…  I was working in the magical Lapland for the coldest winter months, I was in Finland for the 1st of May, and for Midsummer, I’ve seen the incredible nature that this country has, to die for winter and to awake for summer. I’ve seen the northern lights and midnight sun, I’ve got to warm myself in the sauna and to swim in the lakes, I’ve been eating fresh salad and berries from the garden and making jams… I have also discovered that not all the Finns are quiet and a bit introverted, that there are regions where people actually talk a lot and are very welcoming !  Even that, it’s the coldest and (on winter) darkest region of Finland…

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And it’s also the place, where I’m moving for next two years.

So, even that I still hate the Finnish self service-culture and the fact that I can’t buy wine outside the very restricted alcohol-selling-regulations, I’m moving to Rovaniemi, the Lappish capital, for studying again. So, at the moment I’m staying in Finland.

This means, that at the moment I’m discovering how to look for a flat in Finland and how it differs from France (nothing can be worst that in Paris, right?!) and I’m trying to calculate how easily I will live as a student again, and discovering Finnish students amazing advantages as the student grant and -healthcare!

When I started to write this post I thought it will become a nostalgic writing about France and souvenirs, and complains about Finland… But actually I realize that I’m excited about my life at the moment, and I can’t deny how often I think that I really love my life and how lucky I am. So, even that the decision to leave last year, was one of the hardest I’ve ever took, I can just compliment myself, because apparently it was the right one. Since I left, I have done exactly those things that I wanted to do, and have been living the life that I needed… Now, I’m also very impatient to find my flat and to settle down at least for a year or two and to get to know my new friends at the university and to study and work for real again.

Maybe I will get new inspiration for the blog as well… As most of the students come from, and will discover Finland for the first time… 😉

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