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Cool Towns for Holiday Shopping

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
January 27, 2022
Downtown Flagstaff Arizona holiday lights
Derrick Neill/Dreamstime
Big cities haven’t cornered the market on great holiday gifts. These five towns made Expedia’s annual list of buzz-worthy, slightly off-the-beaten-path American shopping destinations.

Budget Travel loves celebrating America’s coolest towns as much as we love celebrating the holidays. So when Expedia mined data across social media platforms to see which local shops and holiday markets were getting the most buzz, we were psyched to learn the results. Here, five of the cool communities where you’ll find unique holiday gifts, a vibrant downtown, natural beauty, and an overall great travel experience.

FLAGSTAFF, AZ: A SHOPPING PASSPORT WITH PRIZES

The Flagstaff Holiday Shopping Passport is an appealing idea for nudging holiday shoppers to discover the bounty that local shops have to offer, rewarding shoppers who hit at least five stores (or spend at least $250) with the chance to win prizes. Flagstaff’s varied local businesses offer enough variety to check everybody off your shopping list, with outdoor and camping gear, books, home decor, candles, honey, personal care products, fine art, flowers, upscale clothing and much more.

MYRTLE BEACH, SC: CHRISTMAS CRAFTS BY THE SEA

Sure, you think of Myrtle Beach as one of your favorite summer destinations. So do we. But when the holidays roll around, the coastal community's ocean views and famous hospitality make for a beautiful backdrop for shopping and revelry. The Holiday Bazaar on Saturdays at Market Common, an annual Myrtle Beach tradition, offers seasonal craft vendors and fresh food. Plus, holiday events will be happening all over the Myrtle Beach area throughout the holiday season, including Crazy Country Christmas music and comedy shows, Motown Christmas Tribute concerts, and the Nights of a Thousand Candles at Brookgreen Gardens, a gorgeous arboretum and sculpture garden.

MISSOULA, MT: EUROPEAN-STYLE FOOD & FUN

You might not expect to shop at a traditional European-style Christmas market in the heart of the Montana Rockies, but Missoula’s Little Red Truck Vintage Market European Christmas, at the fairgrounds (with heated barns), is a pleasant cultural juxtapositions. Hand-crafted gifts, antiques, exquisite European-style baked goods (and bratwurst), live music, and a visit from Santa Claus in his sleigh make this one of the West’s unique holiday events. And don’t miss Missoula’s Hip Holiday Market, sponsored by the Lowell School PTA and featuring the work of 50 local artists.

BOWLING GREEN, KY: A FRESH MARKETPLACE

We love Bowling Green’s SoKY Marketplace, a year-round outdoor farmers market that offers not only fresh, locally grown produce but also handmade holiday crafts, baked goods, meats, cheeses, and an array of other locally sourced products. Downtown Bowling Green also boasts a holiday ice-skating rink and an annual Christmas parade.

MUSKOGEE, OK: CHRISTMAS IN A CASTLE

Castleton Village, in downtown Muskogee, will enchant visitors with thousands of lights (you can drive or take a hayride or train, or take a pony ride). Inside the Castle Christmas, families will savor the holiday shopping, ornament-decorating, cocoa and snacks, and a visit with Father Christmas.

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Inspiration

"Road Soda" Delivers Tasty Cocktail Recipes for Travelers

It’s happened to the best of us: you end up in a hotel room or on a plane or at a campsite and you’ve spent what seems like an entire day getting there. A cocktail would be really nice at that point, but you don’t want to take out a mortgage on your home to buy the micro-bottles from your minibar and a gin and tonic from a harried flight attendant just won’t do the trick. In this situation, the trick is resourcefulness. In “Road Soda,” Kara Newman, spirits editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, talks to bartenders around the country to create a compendium of clever techniques, practical hacks, and surprisingly simple recipes that can ensure a well-made cocktail is never as far away as your destination. We sat down with her to talk about "Road Soda" (one of Budget Travel's "Holiday Gifts for Cocktail Enthusiasts"), fancy ice, Ziploc bags, and how to make a cocktail at 39,000 feet.   YOUR HOTEL MINI FRIDGE HAS MORE COCKTAIL INGREDIENTS THAN YOU THINK BUDGET TRAVEL: You note in your book that an epic delay in Mexico while you were en route home to New York helped kicked this book into gear. What happened there? KARA NEWMAN: It was a ten hour flight delay and I was with some colleagues who suggested we grab a hotel room so we could rest, work, refresh. All I had was my carryon, which included a bottle of tequila, so I grabbed armfuls of Squirt, the grapefruit soda that’s mixed with tequila in Mexico to make palomas, and the weirdest corn chip flavors I could find. I called everyone and said, ‘Paloma party in my room!’ I was in a foul mood, and it made me feel more civilized. The delay was less like a chore and little more like an adventure. It’s this kind of attitude adjustment that I hope people are able to take away. BT: In all your conversations with bartenders, was there anything you learned that particularly surprised you? KARA: I was really surprised by Julie Reiner’s [owner of NYC’s legendary Clover Club and Flatiron Lounge] machinations to bring an entire daiquiri on board a plane—fancy ice and all. It came my way through social media, someone posted a photo on Facebook of Julie shaking daiquiris onboard a flight to Hawaii. She told me she brings all the ingredients and, of course, purchases the rum on board. She had a cooler of dense Kold Draft ice—the kind serious bartenders like to use because it doesn’t dilute quickly—and her own shaker. It surprised me that she’d be so willing to go to these lengths to have that kind of experience on board. She was even considerate by wrapping cocktail shaker in a blanket. She was in first class, so she had some elbow room and wasn’t knocking into neighbors if she’s shaking. You have to know your constraints.  BT: Knowing your constraints seems like good advice for anything in life. KARA: I was also amazed by Atlanta bartender Tiffanie Barriere’s suggestion to use a scooped-out half lemon or lime as a jigger. It’s a watertight vessel, nature’s nifty jigger. It never even occurred to me as a possibility, but it works. It’s so crazy. It won’t always be precise ounce or half-ounce, but if you use it every time you’ll get the right proportions. I also liked that another acclaimed New York bartender Pam Wiznitzer gave me her mom’s tip to pack arm-floaties—those things kids use to learn how to swim—to keep bottles safe while you travel. Pack them deflated and blow them up and stick a bottle in it. Insta-packaging! PLANES, TRAINS, BEACHES, AND CAMPSITES: THERE'S A DRINK FOR THAT BT: Your book is organized in chapters. I really enjoyed the one about how to make the most of your hotel mini-bar, but I was struck by the three chapters that each focus on a specific vessel--flasks, bottles and cans, bags. Some of that would never occur to me—like plastic bags??! KARA: I was amazed by how many drinks could be made in bags. That was a shocker. I can’t believe I did an entire chapter on drinks in Ziploc baggies and Capri-Sun pouches. But it’s just really nice to have an alternative to a glass if you’re going to a beach. And as for bottles, that’s great when you don’t have a shaker. Then a lot of bartenders seemed to be into hiking and outdoor sports. Among bartenders who like to climb mountains, I had a lot of conversations about flasks and packing metal or plastic instead of glassware. There are practical reasons for taking drinks in flasks or Bota bag. BT: “Road soda,” you note, is actually a traditional term for an alcoholic drink consumed in a vehicle. (Presumably not by the driver!!) How’d you uncover that history? KARA: I was at a cocktail conference in San Antonio and touring through the Anthony Hotel, a historic, luxurious hotel built in 1909. Outside there was a place where cars pulled up and handed their “roadie,” a drink to take on the road. BT: Wow, times sure have changed. KARA: I was astonished. Who’d do that now?? It sounds so luxurious, in a way. Of course, I am NOT encouraging drivers to drink. Far from it!! BT: I realize it’s hard to pick favorites, but….what's your favorite cocktail from the book? KARA: I’ve been digging the ones in flasks. When I want to take something with me, I’ll take the Pendergast (bourbon, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, Angostura bitters) or the Rebanack (rye, orange curacao, Strega liqueur, Peychaud's bitters). They’re nice easy sippers that are especially good when you want to just show what the whole idea is about. Plus they’re in easy-to-pour in containers, so they're easy to share.  We asked Kara to pick a few drinks from her book and recommend a trip to match. Here are her suggestions. FOR HIKING, CAMPING and MOTEL-HOPPING: Under My Skin (makes 10 drinks) 10 ounces Calvados 10 ounces Bigallet China-China Amer10 ounces Noilly Prat Ambre Vermouth Funnel all ingredients into a 1-liter bota bag or bottle and shake gently to combine. To serve, pour into rocks glasses, each with one large ice cube, using 3 ounces of cocktail per serving.      FOR CONCERT-GOING, OR ANY CROWD-HEAVY OUTING: Rebennack (makes 1 drink) 1.5 ounces rye whiskey .75 ounce orange curacao .25 ounce Strega liqueur 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters  Funnel all the ingredients into a flask and cap tightly.  FOR LAST-MINUTE CARIBBEAN ESCAPE: Jungle Bird on the Wing (makes 1 drink) 2 sugar packets (2 teaspoons)2 teaspoons water 1 mini bottle (50 ml) rum, preferably an aged rum.75 ounce Campari 1.5 ounces pineapple juice3 lime wedges In a small cup, stir the sugar and water together until sugar dissolves to form a simple syrup. Fill a large plastic cup halfway with ice, then add the rum, Campari, pineapple juice, and simple syrup. Squeeze in the juice from 2 of the lime wedges and stir until chilled. Pull the peel off the remaining lime wedge and use as garnish. 

Inspiration

Your Vacation Lodging Is About to Get Way More Beautiful

If you've ever dreamed of sleeping over in a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece or exchanging your prewar fourth-floor walk-up for an off-grid glass house in the California desert, we've got good news. The website PlansMatter, a hub for design-savvy vacation rentals and hotels around the world, has curated a roster of properties to make even the most avid Architectural Digest subscriber drool.  Launched in 2013 by two friends from architecture school, the platform places a premium on good looks, great bones, and beautiful locations, from the most photographed house on Australia's Great Ocean Road to an underground villa in Switzerland with a facade that blends into the  hills, reachable only via a tunnel that starts in an adjacent shed and burrows through the mountain. Of course, such cutting-edge properties come at a price, and while we can’t in good conscience recommend dropping $1,000 a night on a house in Topanga (stunning as it may be), the site does offer a few bargains for the budget-oriented architecture buff. These options may be a bit more rustic than their highbrow brethren, but they still provide the designer touches and modernist details of contemporary classics.  AN AWARD-WINNING LANDSCAPE IN MINNESOTA Whitetail Woods Camper CabinsFarmington, MN$75 per night You don’t normally associate a public park with AIA-award-winning design, but in Dakota County, Minnesota, that’s just what you’ll find. In the heart of Whitetail Woods Regional Park stand three ramp-accessible camper cabins, open year-round and surrounded by pine trees, hiking trails, and wildlife. The elevated structures give off a fancy treehouse vibe, with sleek cedar-clad interiors, floor-to-ceiling glass windows, heat, electricity, and wifi. Online reservations can be made 365 days out, and you’ll definitely want to book well in advance, especially for a weekend stay—Friday and Saturday nights get snapped up right away. DESIGN-FORWARD HUTS WITH MOUNTAIN VIEWS Rolling HutsWinthrop, WA$145 per night Nestled in an alpine meadow, the site of a former RV campground is now home to a “herd” of minimalist rolling wood-and-steel huts. Boasting unobstructed mountain vistas, these glass-fronted, shoebox-shaped structures have wood-burning fireplaces, heating and air conditioning, modest cork and plywood interiors, and covered decks for indoor-outdoor living. There’s wifi, but no indoor plumbing—each hut has a water faucet and a portable toilet outside, with communal showers and proper toilets located in a nearby barn, an inconvenience offset by the sheer beauty of the view. A HISTORIC COTTAGE IN THE OZARKS StoneflowerHeber Springs, AR$199 per night A juxtaposition of stone and sky in the Arkansas Ozarks, this E. Fay Jones-designed cottage earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, and it hasn’t lost its luster in the intervening years. With a cave-like lower level constructed from salvaged boulders, featuring stone walls, sofa bases, and a shower reminiscent of a grotto; a soaring, steel-and-glass main level with a 30-foot deck, a vintage kitchenette, air conditioning, and infrared heating; and an upper level with a sleeping loft overlooking the treetops, Stoneflower appears to spring fully formed from the rocky terrain below. It’s not at all child-proofed, though, so save this one for an adults-only getaway.

Inspiration

Live Like a Local on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

From the incredible natural beauty of the Gulf Islands National Seashore to fun water sports on the Pascagoula River, from Gulf-fresh seafood to BBQ and craft beer, from fine art to the hottest live music, the Mississippi Gulf Coast offers a getaway for every type of traveler. We spoke with some of the locals who make the Coast tick for their favorite hotspots. WHICH ISLAND IS BEST FOR YOUR TRAVEL PERSONALITY? Each of the Gulf Islands National Seashore’s barrier islands offers opportunities for casual-to-adventurous travelers who want an authentic, wild experience (before they head back to shore to grab some gourmet seafood and world-class craft beer at sundown, that is!). Chandler Borries, a travel photographer who hails from Biloxi, says “I’m a big outdoors enthusiast, and I love a boat excursion to one of the islands and taking a nature walk through Gulf Islands National Seashore.” Each of the six barrier islands offers something unique to adventure-minded visitors. Ship Island, Borries’s favorite, is home to the historic 19th-century Fort Massachusetts, and a beach that’s perfect for swimming, hiking, or fishing. Cat Island boasts bayous and marshland that serious birders will love. Deer Island’s beach is just a short boat ride from Biloxi. Horn Island is a magnet for vacationers seeking peace, sand dunes, and pelicans. Round Island and Petit Bois Island are the smallest islands but offer glimpses of migratory birds and much more. Learn more about outdoor adventures on the Mississippi Gulf Coast here. PADDLE, CYCLE, OR HIKE THE GULF COAST Borries says, “I also love that the Gulf Coast has plenty of places to kayak and paddleboard.” From gentle paddling to downright wet & wild water adventures, the Gulf’s open Coast waters, scenic bayous, and beautiful “blueways,” make the region one of America’s best places to hit the water. You can charter a deep-sea fishing boat, sail on a historic schooner, or even try paddleboard yoga. And be sure to check out the Pascagoula River Blueway (the largest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states) for great kayaking, fishing, and wildlife-watching. Learn more about paddling the Mississippi Gulf Coast here. If you want to stay on dry land, the Coast is packed with recreational trails and walking or biking tours. Borries suggests, “One of my favorite morning activities is a bike ride down Front Beach in Ocean Springs followed by a savory biscuit and coffee from The Greenhouse on Porter.” Learn more about the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s recreational trails here. OYSTERS, SHRIMP & MORE The Mississippi Gulf Coast is justly renowned for its fresh seafood. That’s one reason why Foursquare named Darwell’s Cafe, in Long Beach, one of America’s greatest diners, citing its crawfish étouffée with seasoned shrimp on top. We asked our locals to take travelers off the beaten path to find the tastiest joints serving up seafood, BBQ, and more. Alex Perry, chef and owner of Vestige, a modern American restaurant in Ocean Springs specializing in seasonal, market-inspired dishes, including a Gulf-fresh catch of the day and jumbo lump crab croquettes, suggests, “Pop over to Eat Drink Love, in Ocean Springs, for their lunchtime salads, fresh cheeses, cured meats, and crostini. Some of my favorite hidden gems are La Nortena in Biloxi for excellent Mexican cuisine and Kien Giang in D'Iberville for Vietnamese.” Corey Christy, communications director of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, in Ocean Springs, and bassist for the 10-piece jam-funk band Blackwater Brass, says “My favorite place for lunch is Le Bakery, on Oak St. in Biloxi, where everything is extra-fresh and the prices are unbelievably affordable. My current favorite dinner spot is Patio 44, in Biloxi, with great bar service and a very diverse menu, including seafood gumbo with shrimp, oysters, and crab meat.” Borries says, “Woody’s Roadside, in Biloxi, is definitely at the top of my list.  Every time I’m home I make sure to stop by and grab one of their signature burgers. Phoenicia Gourmet Restaurant, in Ocean Springs, is another good option if you’re in the mood for local seafood like blackened shrimp, red snapper, and crab cakes.” Learn more about eating like a local on the Mississippi Gulf Coast here. CRAFT BEER From the beer snob to the party animal, the Gulf Coast has some sipping opportunities to satisfy all tastes. And Christy reminds us that his place of work, the Walter Anderson Museum of Art (WAMA), in Ocean Springs, throws an annual craft beer tasting. Popular local Gulf Coast breweries include Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company, in Kiln, with its refreshing Lazy Saison Belgian-style pale ale, Jefferson Stout, and hoppy Southern Hops’pitality India pale ale; Biloxi Brewing Company’s award-winning flagship Black Gold; and Chandeleur Island Brewing Company, in Gulfport, with its Surfside Wheat Ale and Freemason Golden Ale, perfect for waterfront sipping. Learn more about the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s craft breweries here. LIVE MUSIC & NIGHTLIFE No day on the Coast is complete without music, and Mississippi boasts a musical history like no other state. If you want to enjoy cool street art with your live entertainment, you can’t go wrong on Fishbone Alley, a new pedestrian walkway in Gulfport that links several music venues, bars, and eateries, allowing travelers to carry beer and cocktails in go-cups from joint to joint. Our locals chime in on their other favorite night spots. Christy says, “The Government Street Grocery, in Ocean Springs, is my fave for drinks and live music.” Borries agrees that Government Street Grocery is a must-stop. “Some of my other favorite venues are Mosaics and Murky Waters. They are all within walking distance of each other and have a relaxed laid back atmosphere.” You must also experience the Mississippi Blues Trail’s coastal sites, where historic theaters, blues joints, and other important structures help visitors trace the history of blues and jazz in communities such as Biloxi, Bay St. Louis, and Pass Christian. Learn more about the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s music and nightlife here.

Inspiration

A Spectacular Three-Day Weekend on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is a place where visitors can explore at a pace that encourages photography, relaxation, and reconnecting with friends and loved ones in a charming, welcoming environment. With 62 miles of beautiful coastline and 14 coastal communities, there’s plenty to discover. Here, a taste of the incredible food scene, craft breweries, natural wonders, casinos, art, history, and beautiful golf courses of the region. EAT YOUR WAY ACROSS THE GULF COAST For some travelers (including myself), eating is a major part of the fun of a weekend getaway. Options range from the kind of comfort food you might expect, such as the legendary Gulf shrimp; local BBQ joints serving pulled pork, chicken, and ribs; traditional gumbo; and classic red beans and rice to exciting recipes and approaches that may be new to some visitors - get ready to try pond-raised catfish at Aunt Jenny’s Catfish, in Ocean Springs, chargrilled oysters at Bayou Caddy Oyster Bar, in Bay St. Louis, and much more. Just about anywhere you travel along the Mississippi coast, you’ll have an opportunity to indulge in the tradition of frying fresh-harvested shrimp and oysters and local BBQ recipes that evolved largely out of the Mississippi tradition of community barbecues in which huge amounts of succulent, smoky meat were cooked for hours for hungry party-goers. Perhaps most enticing of all is the fusion of the Gulf Coast’s unique culinary traditions to be found at eateries both small and large across the region: Some tasty examples you’ll want to try include shrimp and crab au gratin, at Mary Mahoney’s in Biloxi, beautifully presented sushi dishes made with fresh Gulf seafood at Ichiban Sushi and Hibachi, in Ocean Springs, and crabmeat-stuffed redfish at Front Porch Cafe, in Pass Christian. Ready to plan your eating itinerary? Learn more here. RAISE A GLASS Of course, with all that great food, visitors will want something to wash it all down. The Mississippi Gulf Coast’s craft brewery scene will reward thirsty travelers with carefully sourced grains, imaginative local brewing processes, and world-class brews on tap. Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company, in Kiln, is Mississippi’s oldest and offers a wide assortment of craft brews, including the lightly refreshing Lazy Saison Belgian-style pale ale, Jefferson Stout, and the adorably named Southern Hops’pitality India pale ale. Biloxi Brewing Company’s award-winning flagship brew is Black Gold, a traditional Irish stout with a super-rich texture and flavor; the company has also introduced a Black Gold Breakfast Blend that gets its eye-catching name from its use of coffee in its unique flavor; for a lighter quaff, try the golden Biloxi Blonde or the Salty Dog, which is flavored with sea salt and coriander. Chandeleur Island Brewing Company, in Gulfport, gets its inspiration from the coast’s warm weather and sunshine; its refreshing Surfside Wheat Ale and Freemason Golden Ale are perfect for waterfront sipping; its darker Curlew’s Toasted Coconut Porter delights the palate with notes of coffee, chocolate, and toffee. Thirsty? Learn more about the Mississippi coast’s sipping options here. GET OUT IN NATURE While not all travelers are hardcore “adrenaline junkies,” there are many exciting yet totally manageable activities that get you out on the beautiful waterways of the Mississippi coast, including private boats, ferries, and kayaks, or, for enjoying the water from shore, bicycle rentals and easy walking tours. On the Coast, you’ll enjoy the opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, boating, and fishing, and, of course, there is the Gulf Islands National Seashore with its six barrier islands, which offer varying degrees of adventure, each with its own special personality. Want to relax on warm sand beside gentle surf? The string of islands are home to several gorgeous beaches, and the islands serve as a literal barrier, keeping Mississippi’s 62 miles of coastline calm and inviting. Immerse yourself in the natural history and wildlife of the Coast at the brand-new Pascagoula River Audubon Center, the “gateway” to the largest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states. Here, visitors learn about the local environment and ecology and about the extraordinary river itself, which guides can help you explore on a two-hour boat tour. In fact, nature tours abound along the Coast, with miles of recreational trails that include hiking trails, blueways, nature parks, and boardwalks. To see more on your weekend, rent bicycles or book a boat cruise (options range from historic schooners to shrimp boats to sightseeing ferries). Feeling adventurous? Try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking the waterways with an outfitter such as Paddles Up that keeps it easy and fun. Ready to get out there in nature? Learn more here. CASINOS: GAMING AND SO MUCH MORE Sure, the Gulf Coast’s 12 casinos offer 24-hour gaming and the fabulous entertainment you’d expect, but they also offer culinary creativity, shopping, and world-class spas. Centered mostly in the Gulfport-Biloxi area, with one in Bay St. Louis and one in D’Iberville, the Coast’s casinos are, for some visitors, the most convenient base of operations thanks to the range of services and attractions all under one roof. Learn more here. EXPLORE LOCAL ART & HISTORY Want to take a walking tour of a historic Coast town and drop by the folk and antique museum or the meticulously maintained classic train depot? Bay St. Louis offers that and more. Craving a vibrant art museum named for one of the Coast’s most influential artists? Head to the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs for the art and the fun special events that make it a community anchor. Each one of the Gulf Coast’s 14 communities boasts an artistic legacy and heritage that will keep visitors engaged and send them home having learned something new. From the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum to the galleries lining the streets to history tours and the superb Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum, the Coast has an alluring institution just waiting for you to discover. Learn more here. HIT THE LINKS When it comes to playing golf amidst gorgeous coastal vistas, in close proximity to first-rate watering holes, and in a relaxing environment for both the casual and the serious competitor, the Mississippi Gulf Coast offers something for every taste. It often comes as a surprise to golf enthusiasts who haven’t yet visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but many of the region’s courses were designed by some of the biggest names in the sport, including Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. The area boasts well over a dozen courses with spectacular Gulf Coast views, including ample budget-minded options, with golf packages that include lodgings in local hotels, casinos, and condos starting at well under $100/night. Ready to dive into the Mississippi Gulf Coast golf scene? Learn more here. LUXE-FOR-LESS LODGING Speaking of affordable lodging, the Mississippi Gulf Coast offers lodgings that are ideal for couples, families, and groups, ranging from comfy bed-and-breakfasts and inns to luxury hotels, casinos, condo rentals, and golf and spa resorts. From charming small towns to bustling urban centers, learn more here.

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