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FERRAGOSTO 2016: New Orleans

4 Apr

I only just barely qualify as a Millennial (and even then only because the state of Pennsylvania wouldn’t change my birth certificate so I could refute that title forevermore), so while I don’t have the “if it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t happen” mindset, I do suffer from “if it’s not on your blog, you’ll never recall it” syndrome. Being on the border of  today’s annoying younguns means that I’ll be old pretty much by tomorrow– so although the 9th annual FERRAGOSTO, happened 8 months ago, we’re talking about it now before JetSet and I reach the age where we can’t remember whether or not we brushed our teeth in the morning.

And this is truly one year not to forget: for years, JetSet and I have debated inviting others to our bizarre, tradition-driven little jaunts, and this year we finally found just the right beta tester–none other than the beloved DonQuixoteKef! Since you will see him only in the same teeshirt and cargo shorts from here on out, here’s what he looks like when he’s not in his trademarked travelwear:

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Alright then, on to it: wouldn’t be FERRAGOSTO if the shenanigans didn’t start off right off the bat. Immediately upon landing in the Big Easy, we had to find an urgent care that was still open because I had fallen while running in DC that morning, went to work all day, and then decided that our first order of business in New Orleans would be seeking out someone to stitch me up. As one does.

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Seven sutures later (3 internal, 4 external, for the curious among us), we were on Frenchman Street, where the beignets were frying and the brass bands were playing:

After eating more fried food than was healthy, we strolled the French Quarter, which was made infinitely better when we realized we could get our craft cocktails to go. Feeling the itis and the time change, we decided to call it an early night. We headed back to our beautiful and well-located AirBnB, but not before one more stop at our soon-to-be favorite take out bar, The Franklin. This is when I realized that I had become the third-wheel on my own vacation.

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Toasting the age old question: why ARE there so many songs about rainbows?

The next morning, JetSet took off an a hot, humid, long run and DonQuixoteKef and I took a pilgrimage to find the brick memorializing his grandfather at the World War II Museum  Along the way, we made the obligatory stop at Cafe du Monde, enjoyed the beautiful architecture, and popped into the Lafayette Cemetery. The great news about wandering around a new place with DonQuixoteKef is that he stops to read all the plaques, and then generously summarizes the interesting parts for you. That’s service with a smile, people.

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Just before lunch, we caught up with JetSet post-run and set off across the Mighty Mississippi to the 15th Ward, Algiers.

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We poked about, ate lunch at the super sweet Tout de Suite Cafe, and headed back across the river. We were having a great walk along the river, when a torrential downpour came out of nowhere and we had to go all Esmeralda and claim sanctuary in the St Louis Cathedral.

…but first, we took a selfie.

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We walked between raindrops, NOLA style–which is to say we followed the awnings from bar to bar. This was the perfect time to be in a group of three, as at any given stop only two of us really felt like a beverage so we could keep the afternoon under control by alternating drinking and seltzering without anyone feeling left out. And to think, just ten years ago I was partnered with DonQuixoteKef so he could help me finish off the second 40 taping our hands together, and now we needed each other for the sobriety triangle. #ReallyNotMillennials

After witnessing a strange Porsche Parade complete with police escort (no, really…) we continued our rainy walk through Louis Armstrong Park and into the Treme.

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We swung by the storied Kermit’s Treme Mother in Law Lounge, where we instantly killed the vibe a few regulars had going at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon.

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On the upside, we did learn a ton about a the eponymous New Orleans Jazz legend, thanks to the 30For30 style documentary they had playing on loop.

Finally, we stopped by St. Augustine Catholic Church, which houses the Tomb of the Unknown Slave.

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On this October 30, 2004, we, the Faith Community of St. Augustine Catholic Church, dedicate this shrine consisting of grave crosses, chains and shackles to the memory of the nameless, faceless, turfless Africans who met an untimely death in Faubourg Treme. The Tomb of the Unknown Slave is commemorated here in this garden plot of St. Augustine Church, the only parish in the United States whose free people of color bought two outer rows of pews exclusively for slaves to use for worship. This St. Augustine/Treme shrine honors all slaves buried throughout the United States and those slaves in particular who lie beneath the ground of Treme in unmarked, unknown graves. There is no doubt that the campus of St. Augustine Church sits astride the blood, sweat, tears and some of the mortal remains of unknown slaves from Africa and local American Indian slaves who either met with fatal treachery, and were therefore buried quickly and secretly, or were buried hastily and at random because of yellow fever and other plagues.

Even now, some Treme locals have childhood memories of salvage/restoration workers unearthing various human bones, sometimes in concentrated areas such as wells. In other words, The Tomb of the Unknown Slave is a constant reminder that we are walking on holy ground. Thus, we cannot consecrate this tomb, because it is already consecrated by many slaves’ inglorious deaths bereft of any acknowledgement, dignity or respect, but ultimately glorious by their blood, sweat, tears, faith, prayers and deep worship of our Creator.

A humbling reminder of the power of taking responsibility for our country’s dark history and the tremendous amount of work left to be done to undo the oppressive systems left in its wake. End rant.

We headed back to home base, took a nap and a shower, then headed to dinner… of course with a stopover to see our friends at the Franklin. For the record, I am generally a woman who drinks about one glass of wine per week… but when I realized I could strut about with my champagne, I was just bubbling over with excitement (har har har). We ate a delicious meal at Peche, then went for cocktails at Arnaud’s French 75.  Anyone keeping track realizes that, by this point, my whopping four drinks in 24 hours had me feeling like a million bucks, so I abstained when JetSet and DonQuixote stopped by Franklin’s for one more roadie.

And yet, somehow, I still participated (instigated?) this late night selfie stick session

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which devolved into my brother and I DEMANDING that Don Quixote join, in a ruckus very similar to an entire amphitheater full of fans chanting “one more song!” that didn’t end until the man himself appeared

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and finally agreed to “snuggle and selfie” with us

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two of these people are related by blood, and one of them is sorry he ever set eyes on the FamiliaKef. You do the math.

 

And then, like a rockstar who suddenly realizes the groupies he thought were hottie-patotties are actually thirty-something siblings, DonQuixote was gone as quickly as he came.

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Suddenly, it was morning, and we decided to be industrious grown ups again. A quick trip to the oddly all-inclusive convenience store down the street for provisions revealed the sign JetSet hopes one day to hang on his office door:

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It was our last day in the Big Easy and we were on two missions: get to the Audobon Zoo, and find a muffuletta on the way. We achieved the latter first, which gave DonQuixote just the boost he needed to rebound from the night before and trek across the city, plus all the calories he needed for the next four days of non-travel detox:

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Luckily, we were greeted with perfect weather for our final hours, and we managed to squeeze in the Zoo as well as mini-campus tours of Loyola and Tulane, plus an attempted-but-ultimately-barred jaunt through one of New Orleans’ most exclusive gated communities.

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We zoomed home on by streetcar, and snapped this lovely shot:

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And that, friends, wraps up FERRAGOSTO 2016. No word on where we’ll head this year (or whether DonQuixote’s Stolkholm Syndrome is severe enough to agree to join us again), but as it is the TENTH ANNIVERSARY, we have some exciting possbilities in the mix.

It won’t, however, be Cleveland:

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Malaysia Monday: 6 Days in Kota Kinabalu Part II

8 Sep

After a long hiatus, we’re back! To refresh your memory, we’ve already spent 3.5 days in George Town, Penang and covered local eating options, selfie sticks, and a retro railroad on the first 3 days in Kota Kinabalu. Today, we’re talking near-death experiences on Southeast Asia’s largest mountain, how to survive in a Borneo jungle, and free pedicures.

Day 4: Mt Kinabalu National Park

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Thanks to MountKinabalu.com for the awesome photo!

 

Mount Kinabalu is the main attraction in Kota Kinabalu and the highest peak in the Malay Archipelago. Some people spend 2 days and 1 night fighting altitude sickness, extreme conditions, and exhaustion to climb to the summit…. JetSet and I did not do that. Instead, the amazing staff at Eden54 arranged a day trip for us with Only in Borneo. Our tour guide, Mark, picked us up at the hotel around 8 am and we took the ~90 minute drive from KK to Mount Kinabalu national park.

Our first stop on the tour was a beautiful vantage point of the mountain. JetSet and I asked another tourist to take our photo. When we stood nicely next to each other smiling, he pulled his face away from the camera and said, “Aren’t you going to pose?” So we did:

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But then that wasn’t enough–“Do something!” he said. So we did what just about everyone else around us was doing:peacesigns

And then we finally gave him what he really wanted and acted a complete and total fool:jumpIn addition to this beautiful scenery (note the peaks behind us if you can take your eyes off the two complete messes pictured above), there is also a market and a few restaurants. The market was actually one of the most unique ones I saw–not the run-of-the-mill t-shirt places we had seen elsewhere in KK.

After the vantage point, we headed to the Botanical Gardens

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These were very cool- lots of plants I had never seen before. Here it was actually really helpful to have a tour guide–Mark pointed out cool things and gave us some advice about what to eat and what to avoid if we were ever stranded in a Borneo jungle. Naked and Afraid, here we come!

Through the Botanical Gardens we went, and on to the Canopy Walk. Now, a note here: I am not really afraid of heights, but I am VERY afraid of being suspended in heights (as in: I can go to the top of tall buildings, but you won’t catch me on a tightrope between them). When I was in Ghana 5 years ago, I did the Canopy Walk and I think my heart is still recovering from INTENSE tachycardia. So I almost chickened out this time around, but then I reminded myself that I probably wouldn’t die and, if I did, it would be on an awesome trip to Malaysia with my dear brother on the island of Borneo–what a way to go! So I took a deep breath and walked across that damn thing!

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I sang “Sitaram” (that chant you hear in almost every yoga class), and took it slow. I gave zero effs when a 9-year-old behind me yelled, “What’s wrong with that lady that she can’t go any faster?” This is what I looked like after the first quarter mile:

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About half-way through, I turned around to JetSet running across that thing like it was the East River Park. Whatever–I am not afraid of bees and he is.mikewalkAfter my brush we death,  we got back on the bus and headed to Poring Hot Springs. For those who may travel to Malaysia and think these might be worth it: they are not. They’re small and gross and it’s already 100% humidity every day in Borneo–why get into more hot water? I don’t understand. Anyway, connected to the springs are lovely trails, with a 10 minute hike to a small waterfall and a 30-45 minute hike to a large one. The paths are seriously Fern Gully-esque.

ferngullyAnd at the small waterfall, there is a relaxing spa opportunity–you can put your feet in cool, refreshing water and have fish eat the dead skin off! I find these things utterly repulsive, but JetSet has always wanted to try it, so he was thrilled to find the a naturally-occuring chance. He did not report feeling like a Kardashian.

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We definitely thought this day trip was worth it–all these little stops were several miles up and down major foothills, so we wouldn’t have been able to get to all of this without renting a car. Only in Borneo were easy and organized, and Mark added some hilarity to the day, which is the added bonus of tour guides if you ask me. The lunch included was at a Chinese restaurant that wasn’t any better or worse than a sit-down Chinese place in America, but if you’re interested in healthy food I’d bring a snack. All in all- Only in Borneo’s Mt Kinabalu day trip was a good choice!

Next week: Indiana Jones-style bike trips, JetSet’s insatiable love of pork, and the time I almost cried over a big ol’ fish (provided I find the damn flash drive with all my pictures–pray for me!).

 

 

 

 

Malaysia Monday: 6 Days in Kota Kinabalu, Part I

18 Aug

Here we are at the start of another week, which means more Malaysia! Last week we recapped our time in George Town (Penang), where the buses are awesome, the street art is cool, and the food is amazing. This week, we’re moving on to the island of Borneo, state of Sabah, and city of Kota Kinabalu (KK). For the Carmen Sandiegos out there, here’s our flight path from Pennisular Malayasia to Malaysian Borneo:

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Arrival: The flight from Penang to KK was easy; the disembarking process, however, was anything but. Prior to the moment the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign was turned off, I had always believed that two pieces of matter could not occupy the same space. Clearly, my fellow AirAsia passengers did not buy into commonly-held theories of physics, and the second that little “ding” went off people were running up and down the aisle as if it were the autobahn. I did not have one iota of cultural consideration for this little difference in disembarking process and thought if I just stood firm I could instill into people the age-old School Bus principle– moving vehicles are emptied in exactly ONE fashion: by alternating door side, driver side in rows until everyone is out. No one was impressed by this, and finally one small grandfather who was trying to be the THIRD person standing across the aisle implored to me to move with an annoyed, “Please, hello!” This would become the catch phrase of the rest of the trip.

Night 1: The difference between George Town and KK is similiar to the difference between Portland and Seattle– in this case, George Town is the funky, artsy little town whose quirk and character is apparent on every block, while KK is the more urban, business-heavy city that lacks distinct charm but has a ton of cool, outdoor stuff to do very close by.

 We kept hearing about the Hawker Food–street food in a central, usually-outdoor food court–of KK, so we settled in at the modest-but-totally adequate Eden 54 and ran off to a waterfront hawker outpost. JetSet went crazy and ordered grilled stingray (which I had reservations about but turned out to be a great treat), we had some grilled squid, and even an avocado milkshake, all for about $25… yes, for the two of us.

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Stingray so hot it steamed up the camera lens

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Grilled squid

IMG_1397It may look like JetSet and I are enjoying one avocado milkshake with two straws… but actually we are both holding ourselves up on the table to keep our feet clear of the rat who was trying to dine with us. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Day 1: Cooking Class and Sapi Island 

We spent most of the first day in KK with a local gourmand, Remie Law, who gave us a tour of an amazing food market and taught us how to cook local produce. We had SUCH a good time with him (so much so that I’ll devote an entire post to our day with him on a future Monday) and learned a lot in our time. We started off the day at a huge food market, where I took approximately 6,000 pictures of food. Just a few:

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Sorry, pig lovers

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JetSet learning to moonlight in the local 60+ band

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After the market, we went back to Remie’s suburban home (complete with awesome organic garden), where we proceeded to fry the ever-living Jesus out of some very worthy produce. We even took a selfie. More on this later.

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After our day with Remie, we decided that Ferragosto so far had been heavy on the trekking and far too light on the tanning, so we headed out to Sapi Island, part of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. A 20 minute boat ride from KK’s Jesselton Point wharf, these islands were described to us as “just okay.” Exhibit A:

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Not too shabby. We enjoyed the sunlight that was left (warning: you will have to move a lot as the sun sets to catch every afternoon ray–better to go in the morning!) and headed back for an Afternoon Caffeinated Beverage at (where else?) the Dunkin’ on the wharf.

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For dinner we checked out El Centro, which people who have ever visited the developing world will recognize by the name “Whitey Central.” Despite the advertisements for organized bar crawls and small groups of backpackers, it’s a nice place–good vibe, strong drinks, and not a rat in sight. We had nice salads and a delicious bowl of fruit topped off with champagne cocktails. It was also the sight of a very rare occurence: below, JetSet googles something (concentrating VERY deeply) that proved he was right and I was wrong. It doesn’t happen often, but let the record show it did happen once… though I can’t remember what it was about. IMG_1516

Day 2: 

We spent the whole day on Mamutik Island, which was just as beautiful as Sapi. We ate lunch at a restaurant there and watched as people pranced around the beach with Selfie Sticks. Not familiar? Neither was I, prior to this trip. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you— THE SELFIE STICK:

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We were pretty much the only people who weren’t walking around with our phone/camera attached to one of these bad boys. We were also the only people who didn’t make peace signs in every shot. Oh–and also pretty much the only people on the beach who weren’t spending our precious time in the sun using a selfie stick to take shot after shot of ourself MAKING said peace sign. We must be old.

Anyway- that night we ate at Kohinoor, another Indian restaurant that was absolutely insanely delicious. They even had fish tikka, which I had often thought should be a dish but didn’t know existed.IMG_1526

After dinner we took a little stroll along the water front, and somehow we landed in a chain resto-pub along the lines of Applebees for a beverage. Luckily we did, because we ALSO stumbled upon an awesome power ballad cover band. The room was pretty empty but we were really enjoying ourselves and sang/danced along to all the songs. They asked for requests, so of course we drafted up this note:

IMG_0360.JPGAnd proceeded to make absolutely FOOLS of ourselves when they played our requests. And yes, we were in a bar called Cock & Bull. It’s true.

Day 3: North Borneo Railway

Every Wednesday and Saturday, one of the resorts in KK runs a restored steam engine to Papar Town. They’ve made SUCH an event of it–everything in the train has been restored to “bygone era” status, and you do feel like you’ve traveled back in time a bit. Breakfast and lunch are served on the train, and there are stops along the way at a temple, a small town, and a large market. When the Kefs were kiddies, our grandparents took us to all kind of train-related things, and so JetSet and I have major nostalgia for the locomotive. Pictures do it better justice than description, but I will say this was one of my very favorite bits of the whole trip. Also, this is pretty much the only time I’ve been on vacation and thought, “Wow, I wish I had kids with me.” All the kids on the train were so cute and having so much fun!

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Not sure if they did the whole peace-sign thing in the 1950s, but we’ll go with the anachronism.

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Of course, we had to make a spectacle of ourselvesIMG_1537

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IMG_1594Needless to say, United Airlines could learn a thing or two.

After working on the railroad we wanted to continue our life of leisure out on an island, but as it was already mid-afternoon, it didn’t make sense to take a boat out, chase the sun as it set, and take a boat back… so instead, we just set ourselves up for some sun on the wharf. We thought it would be a major “what the hell are those two doing?” moment, and were both a bit disappointed to find out that no one paid us one bit of attention. Shame.

Come back next week to find our how I almost died on Mt Kinabalu, our bike trip through the jungle, and the time JetSet ate 57 pork products in one sitting.

 

5 Recipes I’d be Cooking if I Weren’t on a Night Safari

29 Jul

If I did all my pre-trip math right, while you’re reading this I’m probably on a night safari at the Singapore zoo. Can’t you just see JetSet and I on one of these things?

10_top_tenI’m hoping it’s as exciting as the last safari we went on, which made JetSet laugh this hard:

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In the meantime, here are 5 recipes I would be making, if not for celebrating the best ten days of the year– FERRAGOSTO!!!!

Happy Birthday, JetSet

19 Jul

By the time you read this, I’ll be somewhere over the Pacific Ocean on my way to Malayasia for JetSet Kef and my yearly vacation.

It will ALSO be JetSet’s 31st birthday! Let’s give a round of applause to this guy here:

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No- that’s not the result of a Stockphoto search for “Professional New Yorker”– it’s what JetSet looks like on any given Thursday night. As one does. Happy birthday!

Malaysia, Truly Asia

17 Jul

JetSet and I off trying to convince people we’re not on a honeymoon in Malaysia, Simply Asia. Starting a little later this morning, we’ve got posts from MamaKef, DaveyKef and OtherGlutenFreeGreekKef coming your way, plus a few that I cued up last week to satisfy your Kef Quotient for the next couple of weeks. Hope you enjoy. Be nice and leave my pinch hitters a comment to show how much you care.

 

JetSet Kef’s Five for Friday Summer Edition

13 Jun

For those following along at home, JetSet Kef is my brother who interlopes as a guest blogger. Previously, he gallavanted around the Middle East and Asia, but a recent move back to New York has his current jet-setting limited to the New Silk Road (aka–the Lower East Side to Morris County, NJ), which he swears is what keeps him from visiting his little sister’s blog more often. Whatever.

ANYWAY– last week I shared five things I’ll be doing this summer; this Friday, we’ve got:

JetSet Kef’s Five for Friday: Five Signs It’s Almost Ferragosto!

I’m writing this from a plane back from a long-weekend jaunt in Mexico, so now that I’m feeling JetSet again (ChefKefi, RN note: JetSet’s got his groove back), let’s talk about what’s happening to indicate that it’s time for me and ChefKef to take a non-romantic honeymoon together very soon:

1. The iTunes is set to Michalis Hatzigiannis on repeat all-day every day at work (yes, even the Christmas album)

2. I start planning the Ferragosto Facebook album. The album has to have a clever name, and only three kinds of pictures are allowed:

The No-Really-This-Isn’t-Our-Honeymoon Picture

321097_828234199875_1449900_nThe Here-We-Are-in-X-Awesome-Place-Enjoying-Really-Good-Food Semi-Selfie

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3. When I make excel errors at work, the first thing I do is check to see if I made the same excel error I made pre-Mozambique Ferragosto (instead of typing =SUM, I put in =SUMMER).

4. Spinach pie has become the default late-night (and early morning and mid-afternoon) snack.  Except when I want a cheese pie (and in those cases, two snacks never really hurt anyone, right?)

5.  I start investigating options to replace the drivers license I lost for 4 months ago in case we need to drive a Toyotaki somewhere and my sweet sister continues to refuse to drive in the developing world (unless they drive on the left side of the road, then she’ll take the wheel. I don’t pretend to understand, either.).
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Only 1 month, 6 days to go!

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