As the new year kicks off and you drag yourself back in to the office, you’re no doubt already day dreaming about your next vacation. This year has a lot going on with destinations abroad like Germany celebrating 500 years of the Beer Purity Law and Rio de Janeiro hosting the Summer Olympics. The US’ strong dollar means that there’s hardly been a better time to grab your passport for a trip abroad. But don’t forget about the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and the 100th birthday of the Indy 500 happening right at home. We’ve curated this list of the best 16 places to travel in 2016. Now start packing!
1. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
As a Pennsylvanian, I couldn’t be more proud that Philadelphia earned the designation of America’s first World Heritage City (even if I did grow up on the other side of the state). It’s been years (I think I was a kid) since the last time I sat foot in the City of Brotherly Love and I’m sure I’d appreciate visiting historic sites like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell much more.
But Philly has a lot more to offer than its historic sites these days. From urban developments like the Philadelphia Rail Park which will break ground this year to delicious tours like a Segway Cheesesteak Tour of South Philly, there’s so much to keep every travel style entertained. Hmm…perhaps its time for me to revisit my home state!
When to go: With a fantastic line up of events happening all throughout 2016, just about any time is a great time to visit. From cultural events to sporting events and from learning about dinosaurs through a life size exhibition to discovering the science behind how a Pixar movie is made, there’s literally something for everyone.
How to get around: Philadelphia is Pennsylvania’s largest city; it’s five times larger in terms of population than Pittsburgh, which is second on the list of Pennsylvania’s biggest cities. So it might surprise even Pennsylvanians like myself that nearly all of Philadelphia’s attractions are easily accessible by foot since they are centered in the Old City, Rittenhouse Square and Society Hill areas. You can easily get from the airport and in to the city using the trolleys, buses and subways. From May to October, the purple PHLASH buses are also available for just $5 per person for a day pass and make 22 stops throughout Philadelphia including attractions a little further afield like the Philadelphia Zoo.
Where to stay: There’s hardly a more desirable address than Rittenhouse Square, one of the five original open space parks designed by William Penn and the very heart of the city. The Rittenhouse Hotel calls Rittenhouse Square home and is the luxury hotel by which all other Philadelphia luxury hotels try to measure up to. The elegant modern hotel has stylish accommodations with oversize bath tubs, but it’s the guests’ constant compliments of the friendliest staff in the city that keep Rittenhouse Hotel consistently at the top of the best hotels in Philadelphia lists.
Insider Tip: Larissa and Michael from Changes in Longitude are from Philadelphia and shared their insider tip. You can also pick up their book, Philadelphia Liberty Trail, for more great tips from them.
“Philadelphia’s historic district has so much more than the “greatest hits” of Independence Hall & the Liberty Bell. Check out Franklin Court, the site of Benjamin Franklin’s original printing press and home. A small museum suitable for all ages showcases many of his accomplishment and inventions, including a musical instrument and even swim paddles!” – Larissa & Michael
2. Exuma, The Bahamas
We’ve been hard pressed to find places as beautiful as the islands of the Caribbean and the Exumas, a chain of islands in The Bahamas, was quite literally the first beach destination to knock our socks off since our visit to the Maldives. And that was back in 2012. The Bahamas is so accessible from the United States and even Canada that you’d be crazy not to hop on a plane and go.
While Great Exuma isn’t quite as accessible as hopping on a flight to Nassau, it’s worth the extra 45 minute flight (there are direct flights from Florida) to experience the Out Islands. There are just a handful of hotels and you’ll have no problem finding a patch of deserted beach all your own. It’s also here in the Exumas that you can swim with The Bahamas’ world famous swimming pigs and dive in some of the clearest waters you’ve ever seen.
When to go: The peak travel season when you’re sure that all hotels, restaurants and tour operators are open in the Out Islands is from November through May. Though the Out Islands like the Exumas aren’t ever particularly crowded, you can avoid the crowds if you choose to travel in shoulder season in April or October – just be aware that you may find some hotels and restaurants close up for repairs during this period.
How to get around: Exuma is remote and unlike downtown Nassau where you can simply walk or hop on the water ferry to Paradise Island, public transportation is non-existent. Car rentals are available if you want to get outside your resort and explore on your own. There are also a variety of tours you can book to explore both Great Exuma and the Exuma chain. Exuma Water Sports offers an excellent swimming pigs tour and land lubbers won’t want to miss an ATV tour of the island.
Where to stay: The Exumas are perfect for a sexy getaway with your significant other and Sandals Emerald Bay ensures you an adult-only resort with plenty of on site amenities and activities. We’ve never went the all-inclusive route and must admit we didn’t hate it. The restaurants were good, alcohol is always included and there are plenty of included activities like stand-up paddle boards and sail boats to keep you entertained. The Red Lane Spa isn’t included, but the massages we had were definitely worth the additional splurge. Not to mention that Sandals Emerald Bay is on one of the prettiest stretches of beach in The Bahamas.
Insider Tip: Santanna’s Bar and Grill is hardly much more than a beach shack, but my friend (and Bahamas expert) Angie Away swore it was the best lobster plate she’d had anywhere in the world. She wasn’t kidding. It’s in Williams Town on Great Exuma, which is quite a haul from Sandals, but the resort does offer an excursion with lunch if you’re not keen to rent a car (remember that Bahamians drive on the other side of the road).
3. Bordeaux, France
Travelers to Europe often come with a checklist and it usually includes London, Paris and Rome. The “second cities” definitely don’t mean second best; they are the cities that are just lesser known. When I was preparing to head on a Viking River Cruise to one of France’s most esteemed wine regions, I decided to arrive early and explore a bit outside of the tours I’d be doing with Viking and Bordeaux is definitely lesser known – I couldn’t find much information outside of the usual sights.
What I found once I arrived was a stunning neoclassical city that is the gateway to some of the most beautiful wine country I’ve ever seen. And there are so many unique ways to explore, like touring in true French style on a Bordeaux convertible 2cv tour or pairing Bordeaux’s white wines with France’s famous oysters on an Arcachon tour.
Even if you aren’t a wine lover, Bordeaux still has a lot of offer. The city has several UNESCO World Heritage Sites and adventure travelers won’t want to miss a visit to Dune du Pilat where you can paraglide off of Europe’s largest sand dune.
When to go: There’s never a bad time to visit Bordeaux with mild winter temperatures, but the vineyards are green and you can enjoy the best of the outdoors April through October.
How to get around: The city of Bordeaux has an excellent tram system and the railway station links it with many French destinations. There are a number of tours you can book to visit wine country so that you don’t have to toss a coin and decide who is on designated driver duty. This private day tour explores the Medoc and the stunning wine chateaux, while this bike tour takes you through the hilly vineyards around Saint-Emilion before stopping for lunch in the gardens of a chateau.
Where to stay: The Intercontinental Bordeaux – Le Grand Hotel is located in the heart of the city and steps away from a tram stop, making exploring Bordeaux easy. The hotel’s restaurant, Le Pressoir d’Argent, has always been a draw and one of my favorite celebrity chef’s, Gordon Ramsay, took over the restaurant in 2015. It’s his second restaurant in France. The hotel also has a three-level spa with a panoramic jacuzzi terrace that overlooks the Grand Theater and rooftops of Bordeaux.
Insider Tip: The École du Vin de Bordeaux is one of the best places in the city to try the various appellations of the Bordeaux wine region. From July through September, you can also brush up on your wine knowledge with the school’s various 2-hour seminars.
4. Emilia Romagna, Italy
Everyone wants to visit Italy and everyone heads to Rome, Florence and Venice. The Colosseum, David and Piazza San Marco are all must sees but Italy has so much more to offer than just its most famous sites.
Emilia Romagna arguably has given the world some of the things Italy is most well known for like Parmiagiano-Reggiano, Ferrari and bolognese sauce (though it’s just called ragu in Emilia Romagna). If you’re a fan of good food and fast cars, this region of Italy is the region that should be on your Italy itinerary. It’s home to all of Italy’s famous car makers – Ferrari, Lamborgini and Maserati and an impressive number of Italy’s most famous foods – bolognese, tortellini, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Parma ham.
When to go: Spring or Fall are our favorite times in Italy. The temperatures are just right, everything is green and the tourist crowds have thinned out. Emilia Romagna has gained popularity on tourists’ radars, so it’s a region not immune to the crowds that descend upon Rome and Venice.
How to get around: Much of Emilia Romagna is well connected by Trenitalia, so it’s easy enough to hop from Bologna throughout the region to must sees like Modena, Reggio Emilia and Rimini. But if you really want to explore Emilia Romagna in style, opt for a supercar rental and cruise the region in a Ferrari or Lamborghini.
Where to stay: Bologna makes a great base for exploring the Emilia Romagna region and the Art Hotel Novecento is centrally located within the center. The central train station, excellent restaurants, shopping and sights are all easily accessible on foot from the hotel.
Insider Tip: Forget the overpriced 20 minute test drives offered outside of the Ferrari Museum and don’t miss a chance to race a real Ferrari race car on a circuit. You can get behind the wheel of a Ferrari F430 or F458 for up to 5 laps at Autodromo di Modena.
5. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This year Rio de Janerio plays host to the 2016 Summer Olympics, which will no doubt be the biggest beach party of the year since it is the first ever Olympic Games on South American soil. If you haven’t already nabbed some sort of package, individual tickets to events go on sale January 7.
And if watching the world’s top athletes compete in beach volleyball or swim the 100 meter freestyle aren’t your idea of a good time, Rio still has plenty to offer from chilling out on the world famous Copacabana Beach to getting the ultimate birds eye view of Christ the Redeemer on a helicopter tour.
When to go: Rio hosts the 2016 Summer Olympics August 5 – 21 and though this is technically during Brazil’s winter season, temperatures still get reach over 70° F (+20° C).
How to get around: Rio has been pretty friendly for those who don’t want to rent a car since it hosted the World Cup in 2014. The BRT Transcarioca connects downtown Rio with the airports and the suburb of Barra da Tijuca. A new light rail system, called the VLT, is also planned to open in April 2016.
Where to stay: Mama Ruisa is an upscale boutique hotel set in the bohemian Santa Teresa neighborhood. Close to all of Rio’s top attractions, the mansion turned hotel also has a palm tree lined pool, stunning views over the city and a friendly staff.
Insider Tip: While Ipanema and Copacabana beaches are the most famous (and crowded), you can still find secluded spots like the tough-to-find Praia da Joatinga beach. Don’t go at high tide though because there is hardly room for any people.
Cuba makes an appearance on our list of the top places to visit for a second year in a row. When Obama announced major changes to US – Cuba relations in 2015, Americans immediately took advantage of reduced travel restrictions and have been exploring Cuba mostly on cruises. Cuba is just as stuck in time as we all dream it to be, but with developments like new luxury golf resorts (which were formally banned under Fidel Castro), airport improvements and a renovated port with additional space for luxury yachts, it’s apparent Cuba is changing quickly. Go now.
When to go: Cuba has a hot and sunny tropical climate. The dry season is November through April, but even if you go in the rainy season (May through September) the rain comes down hard and fast before the sunshine breaks through the clouds and dries everything out again.
How to get around: G Adventures offers a 15-day small group trip that traverses the small island nation. Dance the salsa in Havana, sunbathe on the breathtaking beaches Cuba is known for, and ogle the classic cars in the colonial squares. Of course, you can explore independently and it is fairly straightforward to rent a car.
Where to stay: Situated in the heart of Old Havana, the Iberostar Parque Central is as close you’ll get to luxury in Cuba, at least for now. After a stay in Havana, which is a must, head to one of Cuba’s breathtaking beaches for some fun in the sun. Check out the Royalton Hicacos Varadero Resort & Spa, which is situated on the Hicacos Peninsula and surrounded by about 20 kilometers of pristine beaches.
Insider Tip: Baseball is by far the most famous sport in Cuba, which was introduced to the country by American sailors who came in to port on trading ships in the 1960s. Check out the league’s calendar and go to a game!
No, the Northern Lights aren’t about to disappear forever as the clickbait articles I’ve recently seen would lead you to believe. But the Northern Lights are bright enough to be visible because of the sun’s activity. Scientists have proven that the sun has a solar life cycle of about 11 years and with the sun approaching its’ period of minimum activity, this is the year to make a Northern Lights chasing trip.
We’ve written pretty extensively about the Northern Lights (5 Things No One Ever Tells You About the Northern Lights and 5 More Things No One Ever Tells You About the Northern Lights) and have always encouraged readers to pick a destination based on every factor but the Northern Lights. The fact of the matter is they are unpredictable. But you have around an 80% chance (pretty darn great) of seeing the Northern Lights if you spend three nights in Abisko.
There’s a lot to do in Swedish Lapland and with activities like dog sledding through a forest of troll like snow covered pine trees or snowmobiling across Sweden’s frozen lakes, you won’t go home too disappointed if the Aurora doesn’t make an appearance.
When to go: The Northern Lights are visible from September through March when Swedish Lapland experiences the polar night.
How to get around: Abisko is actually accessible from Kiruna by the Arctic Circle Train in just over 1 hour and you can get around the small village on foot. You can book many excursions like dog sledding, ice climbing and snowmobiling making a car rental unnecessary. There are also package tours like this one we’ve personally be on and written about that easily allow you to visit multiple destinations throughout Swedish Lapland.
Where to stay: The Abisko Turiststation is the best hotel in Abisko and is located away from the light pollution of the village. It has an on-site restaurant offering breakfast, lunch or lunch packs and dinner. You can also book a number of tours and excursions and Lights Over Lapland, the best Northern Lights tour in Sweden, is based out of the hotel.
Insider Tip: You can tour the Jukkasjärvi IceHotel to see all of the art suites during the day time when all rooms are unoccupied. Skip sleeping in the IceHotel and opt instead to stay an extra night in Abisko.
St. Maarten is one of our favorite places on the planet, but the tourists have descended upon it in recent years. Anguilla, St. Maarten’s neighbor to the north, has blissfully remained free of mass tourism mostly due to the fact that cruise ships don’t port there and the nearest airport is on St. Maarten.
With pristine white sand beaches, amazing snorkeling and diving and no shortage of authenticity Anguilla is an excellent choice for a Caribbean getaway.
When to go: Our favorite time to visit Anguilla has always been the second week of May. It’s just after the peak tourist season from December through April, so prices are a bit lower and it’s still well before hurricane season.
How to get around: Car rentals are inexpensive on Anguilla and you’ll need a car to get around. Just be aware that they drive on the other side of the road and always look out for goats.
Insider Tip: Like the luxury resorts, there’s also no shortage of fine dining options on Anguilla. But sometimes the best lobster comes from the most unassuming of places. Head to The Valley (don’t blink or you’ll miss it) and look for the food trucks. Hungry’s Good Food Truck has a conch chowder and a lobster quesadilla you won’t want to miss.
Luxembourg was one of those places we’d eventually check off our list because it’s one of Europe’s smallest countries and it’s a goal of ours to visit every single country in Europe. Little did we know that Luxembourg is worth more than a day trip from neighboring Germany. There’s actually quite a lot to see and do and the country has an impressive line up of events all year long including everything from their very own carnival to a night marathon and a free summer concert series.
You might also be as surprised as we were to discover that Luxembourg produces quality wines and has over 50 wineries. The country is small enough that you can easily visit the entire wine region by bicycle.
When to go: Luxembourg has a line-up of events happening all year long, but there’s just something about taking in a summer concert in the squares or sipping wine on a summer’s day.
How to get around: The whole country of Luxembourg is actually quite well connected by bus and the Luxembourg Card gives you access to public transportation, as well as museums and attractions, throughout the entire country.
Where to stay: While we normally recommend a stay right in the heart of the city, Luxembourg has a huge nightlife scene. People gather outside tiny bars and the streets can be quite noisy until the wee hours of the morning. The Sofitel Luxembourg is close enough that you can still easily walk to all the sights, yet located in a neighborhood where you don’t have to worry about street noise.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss a visit to the Chocolate House. This cafe is famous for their chocolate spoons and they even sell them so you bring home a few as souvenirs or gifts.
This year Germany celebrates 500 years since the German Beer Purity Law was signed into effect on April 23, 1516. It’s the oldest food regulation in the world still in force today and guarantees beer purity by specifying its ingredients. While the law was actually declared in Ingolstadt in Bavaria, there’s hardly a famous placed that comes to mind than Munich.
Even if you’re not a beer fan, Munich has plenty to offer from its English Garden which is actually a larger green space than NYC’s Central Park to a charming Old Town with hidden courtyards just waiting to be explored. You can even find surfers catching a wave on a river that runs right through the city.
When to go: Oktoberfest 2016 runs from September 17 – October 3. Book early, especially hotels, if you plan to visit during Oktoberfest to get the best rates.
How to get around: Munich has an excellent public transportation system with subways, buses and trams. The Old Town is also quite compact and easily explored on foot.
Where to stay: The Mandarin Oriental is one of the best luxury hotels in Munich and is situated just a short walk from the famous Hofbrauhaus. It also has a rooftop pool with quite the view of Munich’s old town.
Insider Tip: Laurel, blogger at Monkeys and Mountains (check out her top things to do do in Munich) and Munich resident says “While Munich is home to many cafes, the most original is the Cafe Katzentempel (Cat Temple). It’s the first cat cafe in Germany, where you can sip your cappuccino with a friendly feline purring in your lap! Although it’s been around for a few years, many locals don’t even know it exists!“
11. Basilicata, Italy
The Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre aren’t Italy’s only beautiful coastal areas. Basilicata’s lack of public transportation has kept the tourists at bay, but even in the height of summer when umbrellas pack Amalfi’s tiny beaches Basilicata is blissfully empty.
Basilicata is a bit more wild and its residents a bit more adventurous than its more famous coastal counterparts. Here there are a variety of activities to keep even the most active travelers entertained with hiking, kayaking and even swimming to secret beaches located inside of caves. Pair that with excellent regional wines and food and Basilicata adds up to a winner in our book.
When to go: You’ll want to go in summer and enjoy the crystal clear sea, sea breezes and sunshine.
How to get around: You’ll need a car if you want to explore Basilicata, though Maratea does have a train station which can be reached after flying in to Naples.
Where to stay: Hotel Santavenere, located on a secluded stretch of the coastline just below the village of Maratea, is not to be missed. It has a private beach, pool, on site restaurant and the best spa we’ve ever been to. Trust me when I say you’ll want to book an entire day just to enjoy the incredible spa.
Insider Tip: Make the drive, don a hard hat and visit Craco, Italy’s abandoned ghost town which has appeared in films such as The Passion of the Christ.
12. Indianapolis, Indiana
If you’re a race fan, Indianapolis is probably already on your radar. The Indy 500, the world’s most famous car race, celebrates its 100 year anniversary this year with a citywide celebration of parties, concerts and events. But Indy isn’t all just race fans; downtown Indy offers a lot of cool events and things to do. Best of all? Visit Indy has over 20 suggestions of completely free things to do in downtown Indianapolis.
When to go: The centennial celebration of the Indy 500 takes place on May 29th.
How to get around: Outside of downtown Indy, you’ll still need a car to get around the US’s 12th largest city. But if you’re staying downtown, Go Express shuttles travelers arriving by air from the airport to downtown. There are also taxis (it should cost around $35 to downtown from the airport), Uber and the BlueIndy electric car sharing service which allows you pick up cars 24/7 from over 200 stations.
Where to stay: If you won’t be renting a car while visiting Indianapolis, be sure to strategically choose a hotel close to what you plan to see or do. Unfortunately, in a sprawling city like Indianapolis there just isn’t one hotel that is conveniently located close to all the attractions. The Indianapolis Hilton is located in the heart of downtown and within walking distance of over 300 different restaurants and shops.
Insider Tip: You can drive an Indy car that has formerly participated in the Indy 500 with the Drive Indy Experience. We know we’ll definitely be adding “raced an Indy car” to our list of high speed thrills like racing a NASCAR and a Ferrari F430.
A trip to the Holy Land is on many a traveler’s bucket lists. And if you just read the news headlines, you’re probably thinking “why on Earth would I go to Israel?” Here’s what. Jews and Muslims have been battling over the Holy Land since Biblical times going back more than 4000 years. That’s not going to change, so don’t put off your visit.
Another thing that has been happening since Biblical times in Israel is winemaking, and winemakers are employing new, modern techniques to produce top quality wines. New boutique wineries are sprouting up everywhere and we can never say no to combining wine and adventure.
When to go: Although April is a time of year that tourists flock to Israel, Israelis celebrate a two week long holiday and many restaurants close during the week of Passover. Prices are also higher then so avoid April.
How to get around: A car is unnecessary in Israel’s major cities and often a burden thanks to basically no parking. You can get between major cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem using public transportation such as buses and trains. You only need a car to explore sites like Galilee along the coast.
Where to stay: The Mamilla Hotel is one of Israel’s most famous hotels. The five star hotel offers all the comforts of home, has an incredible view of the Old City from its rooftop terrace and is conveniently located walking distance from the Old City.
Insider Tip: Israel might surprise you with how modern and Western it is! There’s a rollerblading party that happens every Tuesday night in Tel Aviv and there are also over 100 sushi restaurants in Tel Aviv. Find more fun facts about Israel from Buzzfeed.
14. Wroclaw, Poland
First, learn how to pronounce Wroclaw – it’s Vrots-laav. Now that you’ve got that down, you should know that Wroclaw is Poland’s fourth largest city and it’s set on a bunch of islands in the Oder River that are linked by over 200 bridges. It’s also 2016’s European Capital of Culture.
Poland is a country we haven’t made it to yet, mainly because we just haven’t decided where to visit there first. With beers cheaper than a bottle of water (about $1.50 USD each), colorful squares, charming old districts like Ostrow Tumski where gas lamps are lit by hand every night and fun things to do like food tours, I’d say Wroclaw is a good bet.
When to go: Wroclaw is 2016’s European Capital of Culture and will offer thousands of events all throughout the year. Film fans can attend the European Film Awards in December, literary lovers won’t want to miss the various book fairs and festivals happening. There will also be concerts, theater, performance art and much more.
How to get around: Wroclaw has a recently modernized train station and an easy-to-use tram system with 23 lines (use the route planner). The city is also easily explored by foot.
Where to stay: The Sofitel Wroclaw Old Town is located in the heart of the city on the Market Square. The hotel has a spa with jacuzzi and sauna, perfect for relaxing after a day of exploring the city, and an airport shuttle is available.
Insider Tip: Kamila, Polish blogger at Kami & The Rest of the World, says “Wrocław is a home to over 350 small, cute dwarves. They can be found all over the city and each of them is unique. Print a map of their locations or just look carefully around when wandering around the city – dwarf hunting is the best way to explore Wrocław.
Like the Indy 500, America’s National Parks are also celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. We could have picked just one to highlight (Grand Canyon National Park is a favorite), but with 59 National Parks in the United States’ National Park Service you already probably have your own favorite. There’s no excuse not to get out and say hello to an old friend or discover a new one – we definitely will when we head to Glacier National Park later this month.
When to go: Any time is a great time to get outside and explore our National Parks, but the NPS all US National Parks have free entry on these 16 days in 2016:
- January 18: Martin Luther King Jr. Day
- April 16 through 24: National Park Week
- August 25 through 28: National Park Service Birthday
- September 24: National Public Lands Day
- November 11: Veterans Day
Borneo is perhaps a place you’ve only heard about on Survivor, and until recently only the truly adventurous ventured to the dual nation island (its part Indonesian and part Malaysian). Our friend Kristin from Camels & Chocolate honeymooned there and told us picking leaches off of her new husband wasn’t the most romantic way to spend a honeymoon.
But times they have changed and even cruises are calling in Bintulu on the Malaysian side of Borneo, giving travelers easier access to the wild, undeveloped island that is home to endangered Bornean orangutan. Like Cuba, hotels are popping up even in the remotest parts of the island and you’ll want to go now to see Borneo before its overrun with tourists.
When to go: Borneo has two monsoon seasons, a wet monsoon and dry monsoon season. Basically tropical rains happen all year round, but the wettest time is from December through February.
How to get around: With the reopening of the North Borneo Railway system, it’s easier than ever to traverse Borneo. There are also buses that will bring you to many places in Borneo and the largest cities have metered taxis. Island destinations can be reached by boat service and the most popular boat terminal for tourists is Jesselton Point.
Where to stay: The Manukan Island Resort is a surprising bit of luxury in Borneo and overlooks its own private white sand beach. It’s located just 20 minutes away from the mainland on Manukan island and boats run back and forth all day.
Insider Tip: Our friend Leyla Giray at Women on the Road says “If you’re looking for a reliable diving shop or school, try Down Below, which provides PADI certification in 3-4 days or more advanced courses if you’re already a diver.”
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