Sultry street parades, golden beaches, forested mountains, the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado mountain, it's not hard to see why Rio de Janeiro is known as or the Marvellous City. The exuberant cultural capital of Brazil is tucked between the mountains and the sea, creating an incredible skyline and sweeping views all round. Rio's beaches, including the famous Ipanema and Copacabana, draw visitors every day of the year thanks to the city's warm climate. The city also contains the biggest urban forest in the world, the Tijuca Forest, which was completely replanted during the second half of the 19th century.
The city pulses to the infectious beat of Brazilian music, with street parties all year round. However Rio's ever-popular annual carnival held before Lent, draws together all the city's inhabitants (known as ), from the very rich to the very poor, to take to the streets for the world's largest samba parade.
Rio is a sprawling city made up of 150 districts, each characterised by unique features. One of the most intriguing, Santa Teresa, is a winding maze of streets populated by artists and musicians, which is reached by taking an old tram across an ancient aqueduct called Arcos da Lapa. In the heart of Rio there are historic monuments and public buildings like the Municipal Theatre, the National Museum of Fine Art, the Itamaraty Palace, the National History Museum, and the National Library. There are also beautiful examples of religious architecture, such as the Sao Bento Monastery. No matter how long you spend exploring the city, it will always deliver new surprises.
To the north of the city is the Lakes region, which has more than 62 miles (100km) of beaches and salt-water lagoons, and is the site of the main tourist resorts of Búzios, Cabo Frio, Arrial do Cabo, Rio das Ostras, Marica, and Saquarema. Many other stunning natural areas and man-made attractions in Brazil are easily reached from Rio, which makes a fabulous travel base.
The distinctive statue of Christ the Redeemer, arms spread to welcome the world, is the symbol of Rio de Janeiro and one of the seven New Wonders of the Modern World. It rests on top of Rio de Janeiro's Corcovado Mountain, 2,330 feet (710m) above the beaches below, and is accessed via a miniature train that runs from the Cosme Vehlo District through the Atlantic rainforest to the foot of the statue. The train ride offers stunning vistas of Rio, and the view from the summit is breathtaking.
Spread out beneath the statue is the Tijuca Forest, resplendent with attractions to enchant visitors beneath the cooling canopy among natural pools and waterfalls. There is, for example, the Mayrink chapel, which features murals painted by Candido Portinari, one of Brazil's most well-known modern artists, and the Museu do Acude, housing colonial furniture and a collection of china from the East India Company.
An iconic fixture of the Rio skyline, the Sugarloaf Mountain is known worldwide for its sweeping views of the city below. The summit of the 1,299 foot high (396m) belvedere, named Sugar Loaf because of its resemblance to the loaves of sugar used by the Portuguese colonists, can be reached by a two-stage cable car ride. The first stage takes visitors up 722 feet (220m) to the Morro da Urca, where there is a restaurant, amphitheatre, heliport and spectacular view of the Yacht Club and Botafogo Bay. The second stage ascends to the summit for a panoramic view of the city, and the whole of Copacabana beach. The Sugar Loaf cable car is a major icon of Rio's tourism and a trip up the Sugar Loaf is a must for visitors to the city.
Immortalised in a popular song, 'The girl from Ipanema', this neighbourhood of Rio offers not only a legendary beach, but numerous excellent hotels, a bustling nightlife, sophisticated shopping opportunities, and quality restaurants, all within walking distance of each other. Ipanema, the name, incongruously, means 'bad water', is famous for setting fashion trends, particularly in the line of skimpy swimwear. Fashion followers should look out for the famous bikini boutiques like Salinas, Blue Man, and Bum-Bum. Tourists should make sure to explore the Rua Garcia D'Avila to shop for designer fashion, jewellery, and furniture. The nearby Amsterdam Sauer Museum of Gems makes for an interesting tour around the workshop. There are numerous other streets in and around Ipanema to explore, including the eclectic commercial street Visconde de Piraja, lined with speciality shops, bars, restaurants, and some of Rio's best boutiques. Visit the bohemian fair at General Osorio Square on Sundays for wooden sculptures, handcrafts, exotic musical instruments, and artworks.
This famous Rio beach neighbourhood was just a small fishing village until a new highway built in the early 1900s brought crowds of visitors to these golden shores. The Copacabana Palace Hotel first opened its doors in 1923, and since then the area mushroomed with Neoclassical and Art Nouveau skyscrapers, penthouses, and apartments. Visitors still flock, as they have always done, to the glamorous Palace Hotel, which is the place to be seen, especially to have tea or a meal at the famed Cipriani restaurant.
The beach itself white sand and calm water and is festooned with kiosks. It is a popular spot for beach sports like soccer and volleyball, and a good place to sunbathe. Copacabana beach is particularly popular on New Year's Day. According to tradition, visitors dress in white and congregate here to celebrate in droves, with more than 2 million people crowding the beach.
Proudly hosting the opening and closing matches of the 2014 Soccer World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games ceremonies, and still the largest soccer stadium on the continent, Rio's Maracana has seen many records set.
The stadium currently hosts local soccer league games, and is the home of the Brazilian soccer team. But with a capacity of more than 78,000, the Maracana is more than able to host international acts visiting Brazil as a performance venue, with Madonna and Sir Paul McCartney among the big names who have played here. Inside the grounds is a Hall of Fame honouring soccer greats such as Pele, Roberto Dinamite, Romário, Valdo, and Bebeto, all of whom have been honoured by having their footprints cast in the sidewalk. A guided tour takes visitors through the hall, where they can enjoy a display of historical photographs and a great panoramic view of the city, among other things.
Having had their fill of the beach, tourists seeking the 'real Rio de Janeiro' should make a beeline for one of its most iconic neighbourhoods, Santa Teresa. Located at the top of Santa Teresa Hill, the neighbourhood is famous for its winding, narrow streets, its 19th century architecture, and its amazing array of restaurants, bars, art galleries, and eclectic shops. A popular area for local artists and tourists alike, Santa Teresa is best reached using its historic tram service, which runs up the hill from the centro (departing from Largo da Carioca square). The tram line, the only one of its kind in Rio, runs right through Santa Teresa's picturesque streets, offering magnificent views of the city below. By all accounts, no visit to Rio de Janeiro would be complete without spending at least a few hours in Santa Teresa.
Even though Rio de Janeiro is one of the world's foremost holiday destinations, with great beaches, vibrant night-life, and significant tourist attractions, the hard fact is that it remains a city of gross economic inequality, as typified by its sprawling urban slums (favelas), the largest of which, Rocinha, is home to nearly a quarter of a million people. For tourists looking to get to grips with this social reality, a local named Zezinho runs widely-celebrated tours of Rocinha, the favela in which he grew up.
Those worrying that it will be a typical, voyeuristic, seen-from-the-back-of-a-Jeep experience can lay those fears to rest: the great strength of Zezinho's tours is that they are conducted out of love for Rocinha, and a desire to share its culture with foreigners. As Zezinho says, 'It is easy to see poverty or poorly built houses, but what I love about Rocinha is the spirit of the people'. All who take part in his tour of Rocinha agree that it's a valuable, moving and humanising touristic experience. There are also other guides and companies offering good tours of the various favelas. It is important to book in advance.
Cariocas (locals) in Rio are remarkably kid-friendly, with children welcome almost anywhere. Kids on holiday in Rio de Janeiro will love spending time in the sun and surf of the beaches, building sand castles, and devouring mounds of ice-cream. Leblon Beach has Baixo Baby, a spot devoted exclusively for kids with activities and facilities designed especially for them. The streets lining the waterfront are host to jugglers, magicians, stilt-walkers, and fire-eaters, and there are toy cars to rent, so there's always something for children to do in Rio.
There are many places for kids to enjoy the natural wonders of Rio, including the massive Tijuca Forest, which contains Corcovado Mountain with the famous Christ the Redeemer statue, Cascatinha Waterfall, and the giant granite picnic table called the 'Mesa do Imperador'. The forest is immense and best attempted with a guide. Smaller children will tire long before all the sights are seen.
The Parque do Catete, a small, manicured park in the Palácio do Catete, offers a shady refuge from the heat, with ponds, stroller-friendly walkways, music and theatre performances, and even a kind of toy loan service that charges by the hour.
The Rio City Zoo offers a close view of local wildlife, with over 350 species to see, most of them native to Brazil. It has an open walk-through aviary, reptile house, and primate displays. It's open Tuesday to Sunday and charges a small admission fee.
Rio also has a number of child-friendly museums, including the Museu do Indio (Indian Museum), where children can use stamps and body paint to decorate themselves as native warriors. The National Museum has mummies, zoological displays, historical artefacts, and a 5 tonne meteorite. The Museu do Universo (Museum of the Universe) has models and experiments on display, encouraging kids to take an interest in physics and astronomy. Many museums offer free entry for kids under seven.
Situated in the tropical South Atlantic, Rio de Janeiro is warm all year round. Summers (December to February) are very hot and humid with heavy rains. Temperatures during the summer months frequently rise as high as 104°F (40°C). Winters (June to August) are cool and dry with lows around 64°F (18°C), never cold, with some precipitation.
Brazilian cuisine is famous for its use of red meat, a fact deliciously confirmed when eating out in Rio. Churrascarias (Brazilian barbeque) is a simple beef dish, normally spiced only with salt, and often accompanied with feijão com arroz (rice and beans). Other meat may end up in feijoada, a traditional stew made with black beans. Local taste runs toward oily, sweet, and salty food, with a noticeable lack of spices. A popular treat is bacalhau (salted cod), which is usually imported from Norway. Good restaurants in which to look for traditional Brazilian food include Bar do Arnaudo in Santa Teresa and Brasileirinho in Ipanema.
Lunch in Rio is an adventure for those on a budget. A range of street vendors selling everything from fruit to grilled prawns to cheese bread offer options for everyone. Use your own judgment regarding food safety by gauging the cleanliness of the stall (and vendor) and how popular it is with locals. The beach has many similar options, including oysters or shrimp tarts, and drinks like fresh coconut water out of the shell and bright purple açai juice. The Brazilian equivalent to MacDonald's, Bob's Burgers, will take your order and deliver to you right on the sand.
One popular type of Rio restaurant offers a pay-by-weight system where the customer selects food from a buffet, bringing it to the chef to be cooked. This is a great way to sample a variety of different dishes, taking as much or as little as you like, while the waiters mark your receipt. Take care to keep your receipt safe, though, as the fee for losing it is often very high. Frontera in Ipanema is a good example of this type of restaurant, as is Fellini in Leblon.
Most restaurants in Rio de Janeiro are open from 11am to 4pm, and from 7pm to midnight. Some stay open all day, especially on Saturday when people stream in from the beaches at all hours. Restaurants usually add a 10 percent service charge to the bill, but waiters will appreciate another five percent if their service has been good. If the service is truly terrible, you can ask not to pay the service charge. Some restaurants do not take credit cards, so it's best to ask up front if you don't have cash.
The Copacabana Palace Hotel houses three of Rio de Janeiro's most elegant restaurants. The Hotel Cipriani Restaurant serves excellent north Italian cuisine, while the poolside Pérgula Restaurant offers a buffet breakfast and delicious South American meals. Serving exotic pan-Asian cuisine, MEE is one of the first restaurants in South America to be awarded a prestigious Michelin star. Cipriani is open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, while MEE is open daily from 7pm, and Pérgula is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday with a buffet lunch on Sundays from 1pm to 4pm. Reservations required.
Not only does Fellini offer a variety of international cuisine, with everything from Japanese to Mexican food available, but it's all sold 'by the pound' allowing diners a choice of exactly how big their portions should be. Fellini has a funky, laid-back atmosphere and look to match. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, reservations recommended.
The Confeitaria Colombo acts as an homage to an age long passed. Established in the late 1800s, this Victorian style hall-turned-restaurant hasn't changed much in over 100 years, so they must be doing something right. This is considered to be a perfect lunch spot for executives doing business in the city. Tea service is complemented by breads and condiments, while the meals are filling and appetising.
Revel in merriment with the locals at this affordable eatery, where authentic Brazilian cuisine is served in generous portions. Sardine sandwiches are a good bet for your taste buds. Have a plate or platter depending on how hungry you are, the price difference is negligible. The Paladino is always popular and beer flows steadily from the taps. Open Monday to Friday from 7am to 8.30pm. Reservations and credit cards are not accepted.
With its rustic, eco-friendly décor (couches, wooden tables, and lots of palm trees) and its candlelit dining area, Palaphita Kitch has a romantic atmosphere, backed by excellent views of Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. The menu offers a selection of exotic Amazonian cuisine, with its carpaccio being a favourite. Open every night for dinner, reservations recommended.
Originally from France, celebrity chef Claude Troisgros and his son Thomas blend French cuisine with Brazilian ingredients at one of Rio's top restaurants. Intimate and sophisticated, Olympe offers guests seasonal tasting menus and creative à la carte dishes such as scallops with tucupi and caviar, water yam, and coconut purée, or açai crusted lamb loin, yucca gnocchi, and sumac butter solids. Open Friday for lunch, and Monday to Saturday for dinner. Reservations essential.
Near the beach, this small and comfortable restaurant has an idyllic, rural atmospherem decorated with handmade arts and crafts. The menu offers authentic, homemade Brazilian cuisine such as a plate of rice, beans, (toasted manioc flour), steak and French fries, or the traditional soup, with beans and bacon. Reservations recommended.
Brazil's tradition of starting the year with a wild carnival began with the colonial Portuguese, and was adopted and streamlined into today's world-famous Brazilian event of the year. Carnival stems from a Catholic spring thanksgiving celebration dating from the Middle-Ages in Europe. Carnival is always held four or five days before Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of Lent. When the Portuguese colonised Brazil they instituted Carnival as a period of merriment and street pranks. In 1840, the Italian wife of a Rio de Janeiro hotelier formalised the carnival celebration by hiring musicians and giving a lavish masked ball.
Today, each city in Brazil celebrates Carnival in its own style, but the crème de la crème of Carnival celebrations is the one held in Rio. The colourful parade of samba schools is accompanied by extravagant floats, brilliant costumes, magical music, and amazingly spirited dancers. The action takes place along the Sambodromo, a half-mile long path built specifically for the event in 1984. At the end of the parade, the samba schools perform for an hour each in front of stands packed with spectators, vying for the judges' favour and the championship title. Carnival time is also a time for street parties and elaborate night-long costume balls, which are usually held in the top hotels.
This integral part of Brazilian folklore and culture is a New World twist on an old European tradition; coinciding with the feasts of St Anthony, St John, and St Peter, where bonfire festivals are held in Rio's squares, clubs, schools, and churches in the month of June.
Warmly illuminated by bonfires, the events feature mock country weddings, where couples leap over crackling flames, and stalls decorated with streamers and lanterns are set up to resemble village markets. Spectacular fireworks, as well as a good deal of dancing, drinking, and eating, accompany this scene. Although travellers seldom visit Brazil exclusively for these charming bonfire festivals, it would be a great pity not to seek them out if travelling to Brazil in June.
Brazilians know how to party and Rio's New Year ( ) celebrations are ranked among the world's biggest extravaganzas. This jovial city hosts musical shows in several districts to bring in the New Year, the Copacabana beach hosts a crowd of more than two million people annually.
Partygoers dress in white to bid farewell to the previous year and celebrate the arrival of the next. A fabulous display of fireworks illuminates the sky at midnight, amid much festivity, dancing, and happiness. Hotels, clubs, and restaurants also offer a variety of party options with formal balls, diverse menus, and tropical buffets.
Home to Carnival, samba, and Copacabana, it's not surprising that the nightlife in Rio de Janeiro is one of a kind, and Cariocas (Rio's residents) will make a party out of just about any social gathering. Whether you're looking for a relaxing bar or lounge to sip on a couple of chopps (draught beer), or in the mood for a big night out at dancing in a club or on the streets, Rio de Janeiro has it all.
A popular way to warm things up is to start at one of the numerous beach bars with a coconut juice or cocktail in the cooler early evening. Head off to one of Rio de Janeiro's trendy beach communities, such as Copacabana, Ipanema, or Leblon and explore the bars and clubs; but be warned, some of these places may not grant entry to people wearing shorts and T-shirts or flip-flops.
The clubs generally start to really heat up around midnight, so most visitors enjoy a late dinner at one of Rio's many trendy restaurants or botequim (traditional Brazilian bar) before checking out the club scene at the Rio Scenarium, Comuna da Semente, or Carioca da Gema. Lapa is a popular area for revellers, as is Gamba. Rio also has a vibrant gay clubbing scene, with many bars and clubs in Copacabana and Ipanema.
Clubbing in Rio can be expensive, but one can have a cheaper night out by sticking to local drinks. Many clubs will charge you for drinks and entry only when you leave, so keep track of what you spend. Most clubs have a dress code, and some will only allow men when accompanied by women, while most will require an ID or passport to enter.
An alternative to clubs and bars in Rio are the street parties. Lapa hosts a street party every Friday and Saturday night near the aqueduct on Avenida Mem de Sá; and Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays are the best nights to head to Gávea, where you'll find music, cheap beer, and many university students on the street in front of the bar Hipódromo.
Live music and dancing is an integral part of Rio culture, and there is a wide variety, such as samba, bossa nova, rock, MBP (Brazilian pop), blues, jazz, and much more. A quick search will reveal a gig happening somewhere in this vibrant city on any given night. You can also watch samba school rehearsal parties, where local drummers and dancers showcase their skills in warehouses for thousands of people. It's a great way to get a taste of the Carnival atmosphere at other times of the year.
Pick up a copy of a Friday edition of a local newspaper for nightlife and entertainment listings in Rio de Janeiro.
Shopping in Rio de Janeiro can be a rewarding experience for tourists on the hunt for bargains, whether they're seeking cheap souvenirs or designer goods. While Rio is not usually considered a major shopping destination, there are numerous shopping centres, boutiques, street stalls, and markets offering a wide selection of mementos.
Rio's main shopping destinations are concentrated in areas like Rio Sul in the city centre. There are also numerous shopping districts near the beaches, including Avenida Nossa Senhora and Rua Barata Ribeiro in Copacabana, Avenida Ataulfo de Paiva in Leblon, and Rua Visconde de Pirajá in Ipanema.
Religious antiques, soapstone carvings, leather goods, and gemstone jewellery are Rio's most popular souvenirs, offered by various establishments throughout the city. You can also find local gemstones carved into shapes like toucans, jaguars, and other wild figures that make for great souvenirs, alongside cheaper options like plastic replicas of Christ the Redeemer.
Good-quality beachwear and Brazilian soccer jerseys are popular, though you'll need to choose between cheap imitations at market stalls and more expensive official merchandise, typically sold at stadium shops. Rio is the birthplace of Havaianas (flip-flops), as such, they're available in any number of styles and colours. A classic souvenir that captures the essence of Rio is music, particularly Brazil's distinctive local music. Modern Sound on Barata Ribeiro has an impressive collection, or for a good selection of jazz music and books, head to the artsy Livraria da Travessa.
The gift shop at the Museu do Índio has a selection of pots, woven baskets, and wooden artefacts made by indigenous tribes. Another unique souvenir is the cachaça, or sugar cane brandy, brewed at Petisco da Vila. Try a bottle after watching the production process right in the brewery.
Good-quality local arts and crafts can be found at outdoor weekend markets, the best of which include the Hippie Fair, the Babilônia Hype Fair, and the enormous Feira Nordestina São Cristóvão, which has more than 700 stalls. For flowers and food, including fruit, vegetables, and cheeses, Praca General Osorio in Ipanema and Rua Domingos Ferreira in Copacabana are worth a visit.
Most items are reasonably priced, as long as you stay away from the obvious tourist traps around the major hotels. Bartering is acceptable, and visitors can often earn up to a 10 percent discount in shops if paying cash, though most shops and even some markets will accept major credit cards. Shops tend to stay open Monday to Friday from 9am to 7pm, and shopping centres stay open daily from 10am to 10pm. Sales tax is 18 percent, and there is no tax refund scheme for departing tourists in Brazil.
Driving in Rio is not recommended for overseas visitors due to the chaotic nature of the traffic. But driving is usually not necessary as the public transport system in Rio is cheap and efficient, and most places can be reached by metro or bus. By far the quickest and easiest way to get around is by the efficient metro, but with only two lines, there are limits to its coverage. Walking around is generally safe as long as there are crowds of people, although walking in the centre of the city is not recommended after the shops close and their security guards go home.
The most inexpensive form of transport is the local buses, which travel all over the city as fast as the traffic will allow. Buses are privately operated, so services and costs will vary. Unfortunately, they are often badly driven, crowded, and the scene of petty theft. Special care should be taken on buses known to be used by tourists, such as those to the Sugarloaf.
Most public transport stops around midnight, with some buses operating twenty-four hours, but it is safer to hire a taxi late at night. Radio taxis can be ordered and are said to be safer and more reliable, usually with air-conditioning, but they are more expensive than regular taxis. Drivers may add a surcharge for extra luggage. Most taxi drivers speak only Portuguese, so visitors should have their destination written down.
Steeped in a rich and diverse cultural history, Rio de Janeiro is a sightseer's dream, home to a great variety of spectacular attractions. With miles of beautiful coastline and some seriously exciting neighbourhoods to explore, this city has much to offer its visitors.
A visit to Rio de Janeiro would not be complete without the obligatory visits to Sugar Loaf Mountain and the statue of Christ the Redeemer, one of the seven New Wonders of the Modern World and Rio de Janeiro's most famous landmark. Ipanema is the place to go for sun worshippers, where miles of sugary white beaches and shopping opportunities abound.
Sip cocktails and sing along to the hit Barry Manilow tune in Copacabana, or explore the cobblestone streets of downtown Centro, Lapa, and Santa Teresa. Sports lovers should head down to the Estádio do Maracanã to enjoy a game of the national sport of soccer.
Tourists planning to spend some time in the city will do well to purchase the Rio Pass which grants the holder free entry to four of Rio's charging tourist attractions, 50 percent off on all other admission fees, discounts on nightlife, and a free map and guidebook full of need-to-know information, among other things. The pass is valid for seven days and can be bought from tourist offices around the city.
This peninsula and group of 365 islands (one for each day of the year) is a holiday playground that contains 2,000 beautiful beaches and a natural wonderland of mountains, forests, waterfalls, lakes, and secret coves. Visitors can take trips by schooner, yacht, or motor launch to explore the delights of the area, particularly the main island, Ilha Grande. Fishing and scuba diving are the favoured activities for tourists amongst the various water sports, while on land there are hundreds of walking trails giving access to some of the less frequented beaches like Canto, Abraaozinho, Morcego, and Grande das Palmas. The beaches of Aventureiro and Lopes Mendes are also popular with surfers.
The islands can easily be reached from Rio by road in just over three hours, or accessed by bus with daily departures every hour from the Novo Rio Bus Station.
Once the preserve of pirates and slave traders, the peninsula of Buzios, 109 miles (176km) northeast of Rio de Janeiro, is today the haunt of the rich and famous who flock to the city to enjoy the 24 beaches in the vicinity. The peninsula was popularised by legendary movie star Brigitte Bardot in the 1960s, whose statue still graces the main street of Buzios, the Rua des Pedras. The peninsula is a sophisticated beach resort with a very active nightlife and fine restaurants. The west coast beaches offer calm, clear waters ideal for swimming, while the east coast beaches face the open sea and are a little wilder, drawing surfers and water sports enthusiasts to its choppy waters. Among the most popular beaches are Azeda Beach, Joao Fernandinho Beach (with several bars and known for its good seafood), Ferradura Beach, and Geriba beach, which is popular for surfing.
Buzios can be reached by road from Rio via the Rio-Niteroi toll bridge, or by bus from the Novo Rio Bus Station.
The Rio Iguaçu begins its journey in the coastal mountains of Paraná and Santa Catarina, snaking west for 370 miles (600km) before it widens majestically, plunging and crashing through the jungle in tiered falls at the border with Argentina and Paraguay. The Foz do Iguaçu (Iguaçu Falls) are more than two miles (3km) wide and 262ft (80m) high (almost twice the height of Niagara Falls), and their beauty is unmatched. Their name, fittingly, comes from the Guarani Indian word meaning 'great waters'. The deep flowing waters of the river tumble down 275 falls, the most famous of which is Devil's Throat on the Argentinian border, with a drop of 230ft (70m).
As well as taking in the stunning views, visitors can enjoy kayaking and other water sports in the river. The best time of year to visit is August to November, when there is least risk of floodwaters hindering the approach to the boardwalks. The falls are surrounded by the Iguaçu National Park, a huge sub-tropical rainforest covering 135,000 acres that is home to thousands of different species of animals and birds including parrots and hummingbirds.
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