A Travellerspoint blog

Day 19, 20 - Nacogdoches to Hot Springs AR

El Camino Real, Hot Springs, Mountain cabin, beer,

sunny 29 °C

Distance traveled 420 miles (700 k) Trip total 4,108 miles (6,823 k)

Day 19 – We woke up in Texas, at one of the main stops on the El Camino Real, it turns out. Nacogdoches is the oldest city in all of Texas, dating back into the 1700’s but really came into its own as a supply stop on the El Camino Real, the trail settlers used to populate the south and west of the United States. The statue in the town square gives a good indication of how happy and enthusiastic the travelers were:

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We grabbed a coffee and began our journey north to Arkansas...today we are going to check two more states off our list of 50 in the United States. I had not been able to think of any reason to go to Oklahoma in my lifetime, and by planning our route to take us to Nacogdoches, Texas, I had put us within striking distance of setting foot in Oklahoma. I know, dear readers, the excitement is pulsating, isn’t it?

Texas really helps our travels by putting up awesome speed limits...two lane roads are 65 or 70 mph, 4 lane secondary highways, 75 mph. We flew along and all of a sudden, there we were, in Oklahoma. We stopped for another first, lunch at a Sonic Drive-In. We were hoping for good food, but sadly, nothing here is remotely close to good food. Jenny had a burger, me a hot-dog. Onward.

Arkansas was our destination for the end of the day. We arrived at River View Cabins around 4:00pm and checked into our cute little cabin in the woods. Although small, it is secluded and very private. Nice digs. We relaxed in the hot tub for ½ hour had a nap and supper of cheese and crackers.

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Day 20 – Hot Springs, Arkansas

Birthplace of Hilary Clinton hubby, Bill:

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On the road into Hot Springs we stopped to rescue another turtle...little guy was stuck in the middle:

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Our cabin is about 45 miles from Hot Springs and we headed out early to catch as much of the park as we could in a single day. Hot Springs is the smallest national park in the United States and is different in that it is not all about nature. This is a town park, designed to preserve a slice of history. The hot springs from which this place gets it name are not a thermal hot spring...this is something entirely different. Rain falls on the mountains to the west and percolates down through fractures in those mountains. Here is the spot at the base of the mountain where the spring comes out:

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As it percolates down it increases in temperature by about 4 degrees for every 300 feet it descends and as it does it accumulates to the east side of the mountains where it reaches fractures that go back up to the surface. The water, now heated to 143 degree F comes up through springs at the town site. The water is completely pure at this point. It will take 4000 years for the rain that falls here today to complete this process

What started out as a simple spot where people could dip in hot river ponds was eventually commercialized and a spa town was born. In it’s heyday of the 1920’s to 1940’s it was a bustling place, full of people trying to get well by soaking in the waters, or trying to get over a hangover from the bars and illegal gambling establishments that developed here. Gangsters, major league baseball players and all of sorts of wells, and ne’r-do-wells gathered here.

Interestingly, once antibiotics were developed, the need for bath cures disappeared and the illegal gambling was finally crushed by the police, in 1967...and I mean literally crushed. The last 1500 slot machines were seized by the police, taken to the local dump, where bulldozers crushed them. The police then poured kerosene over them and set them on fire. I guess they really wanted to get rid of them.

The bath houses mostly closed in the 1960’s. The visitor center is in what was the premier bathhouse, the Fordyce, which opened in 1915 and operated until 1962. The property sat vacant until 1989 when it was restored to its original opulence to be a showcase attraction for the park. Many of the other bathhouses are part of the park structure as well, and one, the Superior has been converted into a micro brewery and it was here that we had lunch.

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We saw this moth on a hoarding around a building under repair:

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Jenny was so taken with the taste of the Bees Knees brew that we bought a 64 ounce growler and brought a supply back to our cabin to enjoy.

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On top of Hot Springs Mountain is a 216 foot observation tower and we took in the view from the top.

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We would rate this as a super stop if you happen to be in this area. It could fulfill a day or two. There are many operating baths still in existence here, although the opulent ones have long been closed.

We stopped at a Kroger grocery store for supplies and returned to our cabin where we will hunker down, enjoy a gulf shrimp stir fry for supper and do some reading and relaxing. Tomorrow we will do a bit of hiking in Ouachita National Forest.

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 05:25 Comments (0)

Days 16, 17, 18 - New Orleans, Part 2 - on to Texas

French Quarter, Bourbon Street, the search for jazz & supper, Garden District, St. Bernard Parish, laundry, finally good Jazz...hooray for salad. And, to bring us up to date, the drive to Nacogdoches, Texas

semi-overcast 30 °C

Distance traveled Days 16, 17 - 60 miles (100 k)
Day 17- NO to Texas - 365 miles (608 k) Total distance 3,688 miles (6,123 k)

Days 16, 17 - New Orleans

This is our little rental cottage in St. Bernard Parish, just to the east of New Orleans.

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Imagine, if you will, the situation here in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. This building stood in water above the patio doors for almost two weeks. About 35% of the houses here were pulled down as unrepareble after the storm. This cottage, and the house in front of it were stripped to the studs and rebuilt with insurance money in the years since. In neighborhoods where there were hundreds of houses, the number of vacant lots is now about equal to those occupied. If not torn down, the houses are abandoned like this one:

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More than 35 people died in this parish during the storm. It is quite fascinating to see it 11 years later. Why the city fathers did not call for a mandatory evacuation is the question people still ask.

Our second day started much like the previous one, with coffee and beignets in the French Quarter:

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We were back here intent on a mission of finding a suitable restaurant for supper in the evening, and to scope out jazz clubs/bars to see where we might like to see some performances. Making a restaurant choice before lunch time seemed like the thing to do, although there is much more to report on that later in this edition of the blog.

While wandering the streets we came upon the Preservation Hall, a tiny venue which features jazz performances by various artists every evening, with shows at 6pm, 8pm, 9pm and 10pm. Each show is first come first served and is $20 per person. For some reason that eludes us, we decided to pass on this place for Saturday evening. We had two or three restaurant choices by the time we were done our second exploration of the French Quarter and headed back to our cottage for lunch.

And here is where we started on a long journey of making wrong moves. We ate too much, had a couple of beers and completely took the edge off our appetites. When we got back down to the French Quarter at 7:00pm, the place was thronged with people. It is Memorial Day weekend here in the US. The restaurants were packed, jammed, with long line ups. All three of our choices were that way, and we weren't hungry anyway.

We people watched along Royal Ave and Bourbon Street; really interesting people watching, some falling down drunk by 8:30pm, young women in dresses and high heels, with too much alcohol in their systems, trying to walk on really rough street paving...seriously, if you are going to drink here ladies, at least wear flat shoes and maybe something that won't be too embarrassing when you fall on your face in the street.

This is some of the gear you regularly see on the streets at night:

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We walked along the shore of the Mississippi River as dusk fell. Still not hungry we caught a bit of a pretty poor jazz performance while we drank a Margarita and Bloody Mary (total cost $25). We decided about 10pm to leave the revelry to those young enough to enjoy it...gosh, but we do remember when this looked like fun :)

So, our night out was a bit of a bust, although we did have a good time not doing what we had planned to do. Back to our cottage and some sleep.

Day 17 - Garden District

We decided an early tour of the Garden District might be the way to start our last day. We caught coffee at Still Perkin', in the Rink complex by the Garden District. This is the jumping off point for tours of this small, but beautiful area.

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Good coffee. The streets have these amazingly bumpy sidewalks...I could see a drunk from Bourbon Street walking these in a straight line.

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The houses are gorgeous, the gardens lovely. Actors Sandra Bullock, and John Goodman live here. Novelist Ann Rice lived in this area when she wrote her vampire novels. Some examples of fences, houses:

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After our tour of the Garden District, we headed into the cemetery for a quick peek...all above ground graves here because of the high water table. It wouldn't do to have grammas corpse floating in her coffin, now would it?

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We headed back to the French Quarter to get coffee and beignets at the famous Cafe du Monde, down by the French Market. We were able to find parking, but this was the lineup for coffee:

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No more beignets for us, I guess.

We headed back to St Bernard Parish to rest up and get our laundry up to date before packing up and leaving in the morning. A lovely afternoon rain shower cleaned everything up and dropped the temperature from the 90's into the high 70's. We had passed on the jazz show at Preservation Hall the night before, and tonight we were not going to miss it. The venue only hold 100 people and most of the tickets are $20...you can reserve a limited number for $50 a head...but we will line up.

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We got into line early, picked up a to-go margarita at a nearby bar and we stayed in line for almost a full hour before the 6pm show. This show features the 6 man group known as the Joint Chiefs of Jazz, featuring drummer Dave Oxley, and was excellent. Each artist, drummer, sax, clarinet, piano, bass fiddle and trombone did a song that featured their instrument. Why anyone would go see jazz in a club packed with drunk and rowdy patrons escapes me? We were treated to a great hour of jazz instrumentals. The standing ovation these guys got was wonderful to see.

By the time the performance was over, our restaurant of choice, the Gumbo House, had a line up that was at least a full hour wait for supper. We picked up a salad at the grocery store and ate in our cottage. We finished packing up for an early departure. New Orleans is now on our "re-do" list, a couple of ticks above the Smoky Mountains.

Day 18 - on to Texas.

Not much to say here, we hit road early, drove 360+ miles and are now in Nacogdoches Texas, about to go out for dinner. A good day on the road, we shared the driving pretty equally today.

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Tomorrow we head for a three night rental outside Hot Spring Arkansas. There are thunderstorms in the forecast, but nothing too frightening to slow down our pace forward.

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 14:54 Comments (2)

Day 15 - The Big Easy, New Orleans - Part 1

French Quarter houses and people, Beignets & coffee, Crawfish, stranded tourists saved from a $90 taxi ride, walking, walking, walking, Jazz in the park

semi-overcast 33 °C

Distance traveled, both days 150 miles (240 k)

Day 15 - We headed out early, for we only have three days to absorb this city. We were going to buy bus passes and leave our car at the vacation rental, but in hindsight, are glad we didn't. Parking is relatively expensive, at $3 an hour in the French Quarter, but the ability to head back to our cottage when we want to turns out to be worth the cost.

The first thing we notice is it is hot here. How hot, you ask? 90 degrees at 9:00am, and sunny to boot. We are going to sweat, but then, so is everyone else. We drive downtown, to the Louis Armstrong Park, at the edge of the French Quarter. We have perused the map, and realize the French Quarter is not that big, maybe 1 1/2 miles wide and 1 mile deep. We can walk the whole thing without too much trouble, and we like to walk.

Parking is done in two hour stints, so we book our first two hours on the street near Louis Armstrong Park, and head off in search of coffee and beignets (pronounced ben-yay), If you are Canadian, you know what a Beaver Tail is. Essentially, this is the New Orleans equivalent, a hot donut like confection, liberally sprinkled with powdered sugar. Delicious. Coffee here is good and strong, not that watered down version you can find in many places in the US.

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The architecture of the French Quarter is really quaint, most of the properties are in the 200 year old range, with second floor balconies that come to life in the evenings.

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Our first two hours just fly by, and before you know it we are back at the Louis Armstrong Park to refill the parking meter. While up by the park we notice a stage being set up, and enquire about it. It turns out that there is free jazz in the park every Thursday evening, and well, today is Thursday. We put this into our plans for later in the day. It is still not even noon and we have much to explore. The park has fascinating statutes of Louis Armstrong, and other trumpet players of the early days of Jazz.

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We worked our way back down to the river side of the French Quarter and came upon the paddle wheeler "Nachez" which does river tours, just as it departed:

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We ended up having a light lunch in the French Market district along the shore, which consists of food stalls with good food and vendors hawking every type of cheap tourist gear imaginable. Sales looked pretty brisk.

There are street musicians, and statues of all types everywhere. It is hard not to spend a lot of time looking at stuff through the lens of a camera.

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In addition, there are interesting characters everywhere, like this guy in a wedding dress, who will pose for pictures, for a price:

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About 2:00pm we headed back to our car and went in search of plantation houses, a probably ill timed venture, as we were both tired. But we wanted to see the Jazz in the park, which didn't start until after 4:00pm. We drove about 50 miles out west of the city, roughly following a map of plantation houses along the Mississippi River. We did finally find one, but it was closed for the day by the time we got there.

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We had also learned of a place called the Crab Shack, featured on an Anthony Bourdain show on CNN, so punched that into our GPS and found we were quite close, so off we went. On the shores of Lake Pontchartrain in a tiny fishing village was this place:

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We had never had crawfish before, so this was our first experience...a bit of work to eat, but, delicious!

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There was a young couple at the next table, eating as well. They got up and left the restaurant just before us. We came upon them as we exited the place, waiting along the side of the road. What for? They had come out in an Uber ride, for $25, specifically to get to this restaurant. They had flown in to New Orelans and were staying in a hotel in the French Quarter. They had only just found out that it would cost them over $90 for a taxi, or Uber driver to come pick them up in this out of the way bayou village. When we learned of their plight we promptly offered them a free lift back to the French Quarter, after all, we were going their way. It was lucky for them as we were the only other patrons in the Crab Shack at that time. Anthony and Nola, on a belated honeymoon, from Duluth Minnesota were our companions for the drive back to civilization, almost 35 miles.

We dropped them off and then took in the Jazz in the park. Remember folks, this is all in the course of just one day. We left our vacation rental at 8:30am and did not get back home until 8:30pm, exhausted after a long day. While in the park, we saw this very interestingly attired young lady who just stood out from most everyone else by virtue of her tattoos and the dress with the crinoline.

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It is late afternoon on Saturday as I write this addition to the blog, and still have all of yesterday to write about, as well as our adventures from today. We are about to head out for as session at the Preservation Hall, dedicated to the preservation of jazz...as well as supper out. It may be a few days before you hear from us, but we will fill in Parts 2 and 3 of our New Orleans stay...whew!

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 13:09 Comments (0)

Days 12, 13, 14 - South to New Orleans

Birmingham, Alabama, Jackson Mississippi, The Natchez Trace, !-55 & I-10 across the bayous...all to get to the Big Easy

semi-overcast 32 °C

Distance traveled:

Day 12 - 309 miles (515 k) Birmingham, Alabama
Day 13 - 300 miles (500 k) Jackson, Mississippi
Day 14 - 300 miles (500 k) Total 3,163 miles (5,265 k)

Day 12 - We headed out from our rental cabin in the Smokys bright and early, on another beautiful day. Our route south will take us through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and finally into Louisiana. We had calculated our route with the plan to drive just 6-7 hours per day, and in the end, our planning turned out almost perfect...300 miles per day, including looking around at the cities on the route south.

Our travels were almost exclusively off the Interstates, on secondary highways until the final run into New Orleans. Birmingham, Alabama, was a bit of a revelation. We arrived at our Comfort Inn around 3:00pm, giving us roughly 6 hours to look around this city. The clerk at the motel gave us some good information about the Peanut Factory, a spot that fresh roast peanuts every day.

Birmingham is split into North and South sections, by the railway line that bisects the city. Right on this line is a cobble stoned road that has many period buildings, including the Peanut Factory. The owner, and sole operator, it turns out, is a well traveled fellow who knows quite a bit about Canada from his younger days. We had a great chat and he filled us in on roasting peanuts. We bought 1/2 pound of all three varieties, plain, salted and cajun.

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He also told us of a fine BBQ joint, named Saws, in the south part of town. Perhaps it is true, they say the best BBQ comes from places that look like a hole in the wall. 10 or so tables, chairs, not much else in the dining area. The food did not disappoint, we had the BBQ taster platter, 1/4 chicken, 2 pork ribs, pulled pork and two sides, potato salad, and collard greens. Including two beers, our total bill was $28. Absolutely delicious.

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We've been staying almost exclusively at Comfort Inns on this trip, and belong to their points program. Our total cost was $88 for this stop, and it seems if you book on their site, you get as good a room as there is. Ours was a King suite, and was excellent.

Day 13 - to Jackson, along the Natchez Trace

The Natchez Trace is a 460 mile long historical trail, from Natchez north towards Tennessee, at its prime it allowed mail delivery from Natchez to Washington in just 10 days. We are going to drive along 200 miles the Parkway, built to commemorate this travel route, in just over 4 hours on our travels south.

The parkway is closed to commercial vehicles and has a speed limit of 50 miles per hour. We cruised right along at 50 miles per hour, stopping at scenic pullouts and historical monuments and plaques. The Trace itself, the historical walking trail is very much gone, although there are parts of it that can still be walked. We were only able to walk on one small section, due to time limitations mostly, and it was a neat experience to walk on a piece of trail over 400 years old.

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Along the road we came upon the French Camp, a trading post established in 1812, which is now a Christian boarding school site. The small village contains period buildings, like this small cabin;

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We arrived in Jackson, the capital of Mississippi in the late afternoon, once again at the Comfort Inn, just a few blocks from the state legislative buildings, which look about the same as every provincial or state capital buildings we have ever seen. Impressive, but ho hum, just another seat of ineffective government :)

We did have a lovely supper here. A restaurant called Saltine. It specializes in seafood. We shared a dozen oysters, and had a Crawfish Boudin, a rice, crawfish and spiced sausage. As we are heading south it is our intention to eat the local seafood. Neither of us have ever had crawfish, or fresh from the Gulf shrimp, plus the massive variety of fresh fish available here. This was a good introduction for us. The oysters, both Louisiana varieties , "Sweet Jesus" and "Murder Point", were marvelous, salty and sweet, with an excellent finish. Saltine also had an extensive beer on tap menu and we enjoyed it, as best we could. Jenny had an Imperial Stout and I had a Mesquite Smoked Porter. Yummy in the tummy!

Day 14 - Natchez Trace to Nachez, then on to New Orleans

Another 100 miles down the Natchez Trace parkway lies Natchez, a lovely town that sits high on a bluff above the Mississippi River. We planned on a two-three hour stop here to stroll the downtown and get a feel for the city before heading on. We walked the downtown area for a couple of hours and spent a very interesting 45 minutes in the photo archives. Since 1850, a photographer and his ancestors kept every negative of all the photos they ever took. They had been in storage and back around 2005 they were cataloged and prints made. There was enough information with the negatives to identify the people and places...it is a unique photographic history and well worth the time to see images from long ago bring history to life.

After our tour of Natchez it was time to head for New Orleans. The last bit of highway is all expressway, much of it on a causeway above the bayou. We arrived without incident at exactly 4:00pm, the time we were expected to arrive at our VRBO rental. We rented a small suite in the backyard of a private residence in Ariba, a suburb of New Orleans, about 5 miles from the central core. We drove through parts of town devastated by Hurrican Katrina, still a mess today. The neighbourhood we are staying in is OK, on the edge of St. Bernard Parish. The hurricane damage is evident everywhere here. However, our little place is nice, private, and comfortable. At about $120 a night, it is a relative bargain in an expensive city.

As this is written, we have spent a full day in New Orleans. We were out touring from 8:30am to 7:30pm. Our next blog will detail this adventure as well, we hope, as today's adventure in the city known as the Big Easy.

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 04:58 Comments (2)

Day 11 - Great Smokys Grist Mill, and Getting Road Ready

Working water powered grist mill, cleaning the car, doing laundry

sunny 24 °C

Distance traveled 36 miles (60 k) Total 2,254 miles (3,255 k)

We knew there was a grist mill near the visitor center of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but what we didn't know, was this one is operating. Amazing to see how simple things were back in the day, and yet so complex at the same time. We had a lazy morning and headed out around 10am with three things in mind, get the bloody car washed, pick up a few food items for tonight, and see the grist mill

We arrived at the absolutely perfect time. The guy who operates the mill was just performing his daily check of the water flume that feeds water to the mill...he has to clean it of debris before opening the sluice to fill the penstock, which will drive the mill. We chatted with him while he did this and then headed inside to see him start the mill.

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The penstock is 22 feet high and provides the necessary water pressure to effectively drive the equipment inside the mill.

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The mill building dates to 1868 and was renovated and brought back into service in 1968. They mill corn and wheat into flour every day. You can buy freshly milled cornmeal, corn flour and whole wheat flour ground the way it was back in the days of the settler. The mill operator was a font of knowledge and showed us how the grain falls into the centre of the two mill stones and is ground by pressure as the mill revolves and the flour or meal spit out the bottom into a hopper.

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On our way back out of the park we passed through the town of Cherokee. A memorial to the Cherokee losses during US wars had attracted our attention as we passed by on previous visits so this time we stopped to check things out. This spirit bear in painted in US flag colours and is a part of the monument to the Cherokee war dead.

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We did get the car washed, do a bit of shopping and have spent the rest of the day getting ready to depart south tomorrow. We did two loads of laundry and have repacked 90% of our stuff into the car. As usual, we think of all the things we have done here and realize there is so much more to see and do...several lifetimes would probably not be enough, but hey, we can only do so much.

We really liked North Carolina and the people here. We would put this area on a "re-do" list should we ever get through the "do" list. If you are ever looking for a rental cabin in this area, we can, and do, recommend Sunset Farm Cabins. They have a website and nightly rentals range from $100 to $130 per night. The location is good and close to all there is to do here.

And so, on we go!

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 15:45 Comments (1)

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