Salem, Massachusetts

Today I had the opportunity to join my youngest 2 on their school field trip to Salem, Massachusetts.

I have wanted to visit for years.  I have visited once in my past.  Seventeen years ago and I made the mistake of visiting this town on Halloween.   With it’s mystical past and history of witches, you can imagine how busy and insane it was!  I vowed to go back one day and explore the history and museums properly.   Well, 17 years, almost to the day, I made it!

It was a 7th grade field trip (12-13 year olds) and they are studying the history in social studies.   As the twins were due to visit, I jumped at the chance to chaperone with the group.

Its about a 2 hour drive to Salem from our town in Maine and on a Wednesday morning, traffic is pretty clear.   Salem is on the north shore of Boston so you can avoid city traffic pretty easily if heading southbound!

The field trip didn’t really allow for a lot of exploring on foot but we did hit 3 museums so enough to get a taste of the history that fills the town.

First stop was the House of Seven Gables.   Admittedly, I didn’t really know anything about this history so it was all new to me.

The House of Seven Gables is the house that is featured in the said book by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  It’s one of the historic properties in the city and as it seems, features 7 gables 🙂

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The house was constructed in 1668, so before the time of the Salem Witch trials, and over a number of years, the house was built onto as the families wealth grew…..resulting in the 7 gables!

Nathaniel Hawthorne never lived in the home but as an adult, her heard stories about the house from his cousin.  The house was lovingly restored from the 1900’s and detail in the book was actually added in to reflect some of the storytelling.  The kids got a real kick out of being able to take the secret staircases to alternate floors/ rooms.    The tour guide was quite informative around some of the artifacts that were displayed but the tour was pretty quick at around 30 minutes.

Next door to the House of Seven Gables is the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne.   To be clear, his home was not always on this site but was moved to its new location in 1958.   It originally was about 5 blocks away.   A number of historic homes in Salem were moved to one site to support the ease of preservation of historic properties.

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It was a another nice historic home to tour but not as long as the gabled house.

Not to be overlooked are the grounds these homes are on.   Water front and beautiful to look out from.   While the sun was shining, it was chilly so we didn’t hang around for long.  I can imagine in the summer time, much more time could be spent enjoying the view and gardens to these homes.

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Stop number 2 for the day was the Salem Witch Museum.   This was a 10 minute walk from the Seven Gabled House and as I found, Salem is small enough to navigate around on foot quite easily.

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I was really looking forward to the Witch Museum as this was the history that was fascinating to me!  I was surprised that the Witch history just marked a brief history n time for Sale.  1692 was the year the witch trials took place and didn’t go beyond this year.   A good thing as you learn more about what happened, but I had thought it was a longer chunk of time!  All in all, 20 people lost their lives during this period.   Many more spent time in prison, awaiting trial before they could be freed when an end was called to the hysteria.    The museum tells the story of how the witch focus began, to the people involved, the trials that ensued and those that lost their lives.    The story telling is done through life size stage sets with narration as the story is told around the room.  It’s an old exhibit but it’s unique and definitely more engaging than a typical museum type exhibit.  The museum then moves onto information around witches, myths and witchcraft today.

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To wrap up our day, we took a short walk to the Salem Dungeons.   This is located in an old church and the museum tour actually consists of a short play – beginning with narration around the with trials again and then a brief demonstration/play of actual courtroom dialog from the trials.   Very interesting and great to highlight to the kids how admission of guilt came about during this period.

For me, the most interesting part of the museum were the dungeons.   Not the actual site of the dungeons that were used to hold ‘witches’ before trial.  These were sadly destroyed some time ago.  This replica though is to size and reflects the conditions of how the ‘witches’ were kept for months on end.   Its just a quick walk thorough the dungeons but interesting nonetheless.

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We managed just the 3 museums but it was a great taster to the city.  There is more to explore, including the Peabody Essex Museum with a massive collection of global art and artifacts, including a rebuilt Qing-era Chinese house!   Maybe next time!

Mt. Megunticook – Camden State Park

We’ve had a beautiful mild Fall this year and even into mid October we are still in shorts some days!   Crazy as we’ve had snow in October in years past.   I won’t complain though as I’m not a fan of the winter and in Maine it’s a very long season.  This year I’m hopefully it’s going to be shorter than usual!

For the first weekend in months we had a free day.  Kids soccer has taken up most of the Fall weekends.

We opted to take a drive up to Camden Maine for hike up Mt Megunticook.   We did this hike around 6 years ago and really enjoyed it.  I’d always wanted to go back and today we did.

The drive is just 1.5 hours from Freeport Maine.  Heading up the coast on US Route 1 to midcoast Maine.   The drive is scenic in places and being Fall, lots of lovely foliage to take in along the way.

Camden itself is beautiful.  Nestled in Penobscot Bay, it’s a wealthy midcoast town with a beautiful harbor and quaint main street.   A tourist destination but with it being somewhat off season not too busy and many of the beautiful shops still open.

We headed straight to Camden Hills State Park where trail access to Mt Megunticook is.   The park offers a wide array of amenities with many hikes.  Camping is still open and the park was busy!

Mt Megunticook has an elevation of 1385feet.  The highest elevation in the park.   It’s a 3.5 mile round trip and I’d say we spent around 3 hours on the walk.  Note the Camden Hills State Park website states the trail is 1 mile and takes an hour.  On the trail, it is marked as 1.8 miles….

It’s an easy/ moderate hike – rocky and rooty throughout.   Our ageing dog (9.5 Golden Retriever) managed it but he will certainly sleep well tonight 🙂

While we reached the summit, its not really necessary.  Just before the summit is ‘ocean lookout’  at 1300ft.  That’s the best place to stop, take in the view before you head back down.  Views of Camden town, the harbor and neighboring Mt Battie and the auto road to the top.

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The summit is a little further up but has no view.  We followed the same route up and down but the map does show some alternate paths to take if you want to change things up!

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After reaching the base car park, we headed into Camden town for a stroll and treats.  We stopped in at Camden Deli which I highly recommend!  The treats we delicious and great coffee!  We strolled to the harbor to see the sun setting.  So serene and pretty…

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After a lovely day, we got back on the road South….

Cadbury World

Playing a little catch up here but thought I would post about a day trip I did with the kids before we left the UK.

As a true Brit, I am a chocoholic.  It’s a problem.  My whole family is addicted and the British definitely have a weakness for it.  Cadburys is our chocolate of choice.  Having lived in the US, we’ve struggled with brands such as Hersheys…a chocolate made from sour milk.  The Americans I would say, are less of chocolate people but more candy and sweet treats such as donuts to satisfy their sweet tooth.

Anyway, I had promised a trip to Cadbury World for the kids.  A day surrounded by our favorite chocolate…!  What could go wrong?

What a disappointment!   While I was fully aware this was NOT a tour of the factory, the entire experience was dull and tired.

First off, its most definitely geared to kids ages 2-7.  The ‘Tour’ was old and felt tired.  Antiquated in parts and then just a very long walk around the outskirts of the packaging plant.   The make your own chocolate was a small paper cup of melted chocolate with a couple of toppings thrown in….and so on.  Just disappointment at each turn.

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making your own chocolate

There was a ‘ride’ that looked like it was from the 1970’s and a new 4D cinema experience.  This was fun but it felt it was just 3 minutes long.

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On the tour

Costumed characters looked bored and it all seemed a bit awkward.

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Characters at Cadbury World

In my research before we went, I was excited to learn more about the town of Bourneville.  The town created by Cadbury to house the factory and workers.  Some great history.  Cadbury created a town, housing, recreational facilities and more to care for the well being of all those that worked for him.  As he was a Quaker, no pubs were established and to this day, there are still no pubs in the town.  There is a small museum detailing this history as part of the tour.  This was the most interesting aspect of the day (well for me anyway).  In past years, they would include a map of the Bourneville campus allowing you to walk around to view and appreciate this history here.  This year, they have removed the map from their tour pamphlet (I asked a member of staff to dig a map out for me).  With this and how poor the day was, I couldn’t help think that perhaps this tour is winding down, soon to close?.   As we know, Cadbury was bought out by Kraft.  The sense of family pride is no longer there and sadly the experience screamed of corporate, waiting for another necessary budget cut.

Were the kids disappointed?  Yes. Would we go again?  No.  Can you get a much better deal on Cadburys at the Co-op?  Yep!

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Studland Beach – Dorset

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View of Old Harrys Rocks from Middle Beach, Studland

Its been a busy week with family visiting…a lot to write about and STILL behind on prior travel I’ve wanted to write about!

So here’s a quick one as I wanted to share a new place we visited this weekend.

Taking advantage of the lovely weather we’ve had in England this week, we’ve done a number of beach days.  One was spent at Studland Beach on the South Dorset coast.

Studland is a National Trust Property and they maintain the coastline nicely.  As it is a NT site, having a membership is helpful as the car park is then free (usually £6).  There is no additional charge for the beach.

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We visited Middle beach.  There is also a South Beach (with a great coastal walk to Old Harry’s Rocks) and a Knoll Beach….one section of the beach is also for naturists (further on the north side).

Middle Beach offers a nice sandy beach, toilets, cafe and ice creams!

Of course, with the weather being perfect, it was very busy.  Space on the beach was at a premium but we managed to find a spot and settle in.  In fact, we stayed all afternoon and opted not to make the walk to Old Harrys rocks this time.

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As you can see, dogs are allowed on the beach.  They need to stay on leash but we swam our guy far out and took him off leash so he could swim.   The water is shallow for a log way out so its perfect for kids and dogs alike!

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Family Frisbee

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Family swim

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Great game of frisbee with the dog

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Corfu – Afionas

Another follow up post about our Corfu holiday.

As mention before we were staying in Agios Georgios in the North West of the island.  We were keen to explore neighboring towns and one that became a fast favorite was Afionas.   A short drive from our villa and judging by the guest book, some folks would walk over for dinner.

The village/ town is small but so pretty.  The main road in leads to what seems to be a dead end.  We tried to navigate a car one day but found it too tricky!  However, this road will lead to a path/ beach.

There ate alley ways and paths through the buildings laden with brightly colored flowers that led to some lovely restaurants.

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Afionas

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Afionas

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Afionas

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At the restaurant Anemoes

Our favorite was Anemoes Taverna.   Set on the side of a hill with  spectacular Sunset views.  The restaurant offers 2 outdoor terraces and we easily got a table.  I do think in peak season, booking would be recommended.

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Sunset

Food was great too.   Probably the best meal we had during our stay in Corfu.

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Pizza at Anemoes

Another restaurant we tried in Afionas was 3 Brothers.  We had read good things about this restaurant but were disappointed with it.  It lacked the charm of Anemoes and food was just standard for tourists.

Another bonus to Afionas was the beautiful beach.  Be warned, this is a serious hike to get to.  Sturdy footwear is better than flip flops (!) and take water.  Pick your timing wisely as in the heat of the day walking down to the beach s tough enough but back up to the town can be a killer!

The rewards are the views and quiet beaches.

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On the trail

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View of Agios Georgios from the trail in Afionas

Part way along the path is access to a restaurant Dionysis.  We stopped here one day for drinks.  Again, terrace seating and lovely views.

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View from Dionysis Terrace

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Afionas beaches

 

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Afionas Beach

As mentioned in my previous post, beaches aren’t great in Corfu and the quality of the beaches in Afionas could be better.  However, the setting is gorgeous and we enjoyed the quiet snorkeling opportunities.

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Snorkeling at Afionas beach

London – Sky Garden

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So we’ve spent the last few weekends in London so I have a few more posts to write.  In particular order, I will just cover a little of what we have done as we’ve had some enjoyable experiences.

Yesterday, we went to 20 Fenchurch Street, the official name of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building.

We’ve admired this building all year and I think I can say its my favorite modern building in the city.  Growing in popularity is the 3 story Sky garden at the top of the building – floor 35.   I have tried to get tickets in the past but they go quickly.  This time, luck was on my side.  With friends visiting from America, I checked in at Sky Garden website (here) 3 weeks prior to their trip to see tickets available.   The website has a 3 week leadtime for booking so sometimes can be tricky to plan.   I managed to snag the tickets we needed so I was thrilled.  It has been on my London ‘must do’ list for some time.

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View up 20 Fenchurch Street

It’s easy to find and easy to access.  Security was swift and efficient and in no time, we were on the 35th floor looking out over London.  Note – the views are great!  And when you compare to the London Eye (£25) and the Shard (££), considering this is FREE, its probably all you need.  In fact, I would even argue it was better than the Eye.

I loved the view of the Tower of London….a favorite place of mine and new vantage point.

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Tower of London

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St Pauls, BT Tower, City of London

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West London

The gardens are mostly green but lush and nice to wander around.

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View from Garden overlooking main cafe/ vista

 

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The Tower boasts a couple of cafes and a restaurant.  We sat in the window with afternoon tea jut taking in the view.  It was perfect.  And because they limit the numbers up there, its not crowded and has a lovely spacious feel.

If you’ve not done it already, plan ahead and visit the Walkie Talkie!

Take That!

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Horribly behind on posting but this is a quick one I wanted to share!

This last weekend, we went to see Take That at Hyde Park, London.  It was part of the British Summertime Festival presented by Barclaycard.

It was the kids first real concert and TT didn’t disappoint!  Wow!

We snagged a fairly decent spot early on and didn’t move all day.  The festival offered 2 other stages and some activities and lots of food stands.  But TT fans are die hard..they are there to see TT and really no-one else.  Strategically, we managed our space all day (alternating folks on food and toilet breaks) and the wait was worth it!

I’ve been to a good number of TT concerts and this is the first time LuLu was present for Relight my Fire – needless to say, crowd pleaser.  Also fun to have Sigma on stage for their current single Cry.

Supporting bands included Ella Eyre and Olly Murs who was surprisingly good.

Not sure where we will be living next year but hope to catch the boys on their 25th anniversary tour.

 

History in action – Bletchley Park

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So this trip actually happened last fall but I try to play catch up when I can – mixing new adventures with some of our older ones!

For those of you that don’t know, Bletchley Park is/was home of British codebreaking and a birthplace of modern information technology. It played a major role in World War Two, producing secret intelligence which had a direct and profound influence on the outcome of the conflict.  Those that worked at Bletchley through the war were the unsung war heroes, that only in recent years has the nation become aware of and recognised for the role in winning the 2nd world war.  Not only did they help defeat the enemy but they saves countless lives in the process….all through brains vs brawn.

Bletchley has been restored and is now a museum dedicated to all those that lived and worked there.

This particular visit was a special occasion for us.  As it happens, we know a code breaker!

My sister in laws mother  was an original code breaker at Bletchley back in 1943/4.   Her story only came to light in the past decade or so.   She married, raised a family and lived her life without telling a soul of her war efforts and the role she played.  Sworn to the Official Secrets act when she signed up for Bletchley, she maintained her silence for decades.   No surprise really when she recounts the story of joining and signing up….pen in hand and a revolver on the table in front of her, reminding her of the severity and importance of the situation!   Not even her family knew, telling her parents she was working at a clock factory.   Edna was recognised as being particularly bright by her current employer at the time, thus recommending her for the job.  Her travel to Bletchley was secret – cars and trains with no idea of destination and finally arriving and understanding the task at hand.

Many many folks worked at Bletchley and was a community within itself.  Edna worked in the now famous Hut 6, breaking codes related to imminent threat.  What a treat to visit this iconic location with her.  We entered Hut 6 and Edna showed us around even taking us to her office space and desk/ machines.   She was also kind enough to bring morse code and other code breaking info with her and showed the kids how to use the machines!

We accompanied Edna to a Veterans reunion.  We got to hear more of her stories as well as others.  Sadly, not many veterans are still with us and many went to their grave without ever disclosing their war efforts.   About 10-15 years ago, the Bletchley workers began to be recognised thus Edna’s story coming out.  Even then, some veterans opted still not to speak due to their loyalty to the country.

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Veterans at Bletchley

Stories of a time gone by not only included of breaking codes but also of life at Bletchley, socialiszing, work (they worked very long hours through the night at times), and stories of finding Churchills cigar butts in the hut after secret nighttime visits by him.   A particular poignant story shared by Edna is picnicing with local servicemen one weekend on  a rare day off.   The men were off to battle… ‘see you soon’ were the servicemen’s words as they left.  Edna knew of the battle they were to head to and knew she was never to see them again.  The work was difficult in so many ways.  They had the codes in hand and used them over years to defeat the Germans, but not everyone could be saved.

So as we know more now, and code breaking has become the feature of a couple of blockbuster movies, being at Bletchley allowed us to become fully immersed in the history.   We watched the Imitation Game with the kids before we went so they had a good basic understanding of Bletchley…..much easier than text books and a history lesson.  Funnily enough, we are currently settled just 2 miles from Sherborne so references to Sherborne and the Boys school also was of interest and we often walk past the Alan Turing building at the school.

Additionally, when we went, Bletchley had a large exhibition dedicated to the Imitation Game which the kids also enjoyed.  The movie definitely helped with the younger ones maintaining engagement.

Bletchley is a full day out.  So much to see and experience and quite interactive. The history is captivating and for science and maths buffs, you’ll love it.

 

 

Cornwall – Carnewas

This is a follow up post to the Watergate post yesterday.   We rounded out our day after the stroll along Watergate Bay at another National Trust spot further North along the coast (just a few miles).   This was Carnewas.   This is home to the famed Bedruthan Steps.  Sadly we didn’t go this far as the crew was tired but for a short distance, the rewards were plentiful.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves!

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Idyllic setting

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Views from the coastal path

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View south down the coastline

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Playing with camera filters allows for  moodier shot

Cornwall – Watergate Bay

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Watergate Bay

Day 2 of our adventure and we had an exciting day planned.  Firstly, another note about Parkdean and the site.  Not sure if its the time of year or this would be year round, but the place was full of crows…yes crows!  The noise from the them is deafening and starts around 5am…needless to say, we were up early!  The good news is, the sun was blazing and the weather gods were looking down on us 🙂

The weather was particularity exciting for the girls – the camp was home to 3 swimming pools and  200ft water slide…so yes, we hit the pool for an hour before we set off for the day.  The camp actually plans well for the British summer.  They keep the pools heated at 30° so even if the weather was cooler, they were plenty warm enough.

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This day we knew we wanted to head North from Newquay.  We were headed to Watergate Bay.

I have family that often stays at the Watergate Bay resort.  Sadly, not for us this trip but it looks gorgeous and does offer all sorts of sports etc.   We arrived at Watergate Bay Beach area and easily found parking.  In high season, I am sure its a bear to park but we did just fine and were happy to pay £6 for all day parking…..a good deal for all day.

Our first stop was Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant!  We were so excited to experience a Jamie O restaurant and food and this was a really special treat.  What we have saved on accommodations, we can put towards experience.  In addition, the cause is a good one.  The Fifteen Model began in London in 2002, providing chef apprenticeship opportunities to disadvantaged youths in the local area.  There are now a number of the restaurants and the Cornwall location is also a local charity.

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Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen at Watergate Bay

I believe on all kinds of experience, big and small, basic and organic to grand and bold.  A dining experience at an upscale establishment is not only special but helps build skills in the kids for when the embark on their own adventures later in life.  While Jamies Fifteen is not over the top fancy (especially for lunch), they still had a properly set table, a sophisticated menu of which the kids asked the waiter many questions on to make their choices and a level of expectation on behaviors.

The restaurant is beautifully located on the beach of Watergate Bay overlooking the ocean.  Every table affords a great view.  The kitchen is ‘open’ so you can see the chefs at work.  The kids were happy to face the chefs to watch and we had the ocean view seats.

We opted for cocktails and mocktails all round and the food was delicious..

 

After a long leisurely lunch we explored the beach.  The sun was still shining so stripped off our shoes and wet for a paddle.

Surfers and Kite surfers were out but as the beach is HUGE, its felt like it was all ours 🙂

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Paddling at Watergate Bay

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Kite surfing at Watergate Bay

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Watergate Bay