Amsterdam Off-the-Beaten-Path: A Graffiti Museum, an Indonesian Garden and Dinner in a Greenhouse

Amsterdam Off-the-Beaten-Path: A Graffiti Museum, an Indonesian Garden and Dinner in a Greenhouse

I’m doing something in Amsterdam I’ve never done before. On a sunny day with a breeze sweeping across the water, I am riding on a ferry. In a city devoted to bicycling, Amsterdam also proudly offers free ferry service that crisscrosses the River IJ and the areas north of Amsterdam City Center.

After two years of safe-at-home, we were happily on the road again. With exceptional museums and a vibrant city center, we knew Amsterdam had to be a stop on our trip. After half a dozen visits, my wife, Michelle, and I knew we would return to favorite destinations like the Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum, Van Gogh Museum and Vondelpark, but we also wanted to shake things up, to go farther afield, to experience Amsterdam from a fresh perspective.

Amsterdam cruiser

We wanted to explore parts of Amsterdam that were new to us and we wanted to use the city as a hub to visit destinations within a thirty minutes-drive or train ride. Looking west to the North Sea Coast, we spent a weekend on the Noordwijk beach and a weekend to the east in Flevoland, The Netherlands newest province and home to spectacular nature preserves and innovative urban architectur .

To explore the area north of Amsterdam’s city center, guide Ruud van Soest and I walked behind Amsterdam Central to catch the ferry heading to NDSM Wharf on the southern tip of Amsterdam-Noord.

Guides always make a visit more fun by pointing out historical facts and interesting landmarks that would otherwise be missed. As we sailed west on the IJ, Ruud pointed out the inventive Dutch engineering that created the modern buildings that lined the waterfront. In Amsterdam’s city center, historic buildings are prized.  As Amsterdam’s neighborhoods outside the city center expanded, Dutch architects used the opportunity to experiment. During the fourteen-minute trip, we passed a dozen modern skyscrapers along the river, in all-manner of innovative shapes. One was hollowed out in the middle. Another seemed to have wings.

Amsterdam ferry

Ruud also pointed out that the River IJ was itself an engineering accomplishment. Originally, he told me, the body of water north of Amsterdam that is now known as the IJ was a bay of a large lake (the Zuiderzee) that connected to the North Sea. Amazingly, as the Dutch have done for centuries, dikes and locks were used to control and reshape the body of water into the IJ.

And, to prove the maxim that the Dutch hate waste, Ruud took me to one of Amsterdam’s most innovative destinations, a once abandoned building on the NDSM Wharf.

STRAAT Anne Frank mural


NDSM Wharf

For sixty years in the 20th century, the wharf on the southern edge of Amsterdam-Noord was one of the world’s largest shipyards. The passenger liners and cargo ships built here provided essential support for the Dutch colonies that stretched across the world, from Indonesia, the Caribbean to South America (Suriname).

In the 1980’s, when the shipyards and docks moved closer to the North Sea, the buildings on the NDSM wharf were abandoned. Even though the streets were lined with derelict buildings and littered with broken glass, artists saw an opportunity. They moved in and covered the buildings with colorful graffiti. In the early-2000s, what was an informal art project became a planned neighborhood, an artists’ colony. An art city in North Amsterdam (“Kinetisch Noord”) was created as a safe haven. Buildings were renovated. The areas close to the river where ships had been constructed and docked were transformed into a mixed-use neighborhood with schools, residences, restaurants, hotels and offices.

Walking across an open area paved with bricks and fitted with picnic benches and bicycle racks, still looking very much like an industrial site, I could see that the area was a work-in-progress. But the transformation had clearly begun in earnest. The city had invited innovative companies to open stores and offices and had encouraged artists to take up residence and to create public art. Ruud explained that the city “issued the land here not to the highest bidding party, but to the most innovative one.” Being in the forefront of technology, land-use and conservation was as important and, in this case, more important than raising revenue.

NDSM wharf


Ruud led me to the work of Manaf Halbouni. Three up-ended buses were placed next to each other. The front of the buses took aim at the sky while the rear of each bus was secured to a concrete slab. They had first been exhibited in Dresden and Berlin before settling here. But these were no innocent commuter vehicles. They had a history. They had been combatants in the Syrian war where they had been used by civilians as barriers and protection from sniper fire. A Syrian-German, Halbouni created the “Monument as a reminder of the violence directed against civilians and the resulting immigration crises that occurred in Syria and elsewhere.

Ruud also wanted to show me Faralda, a unique 5-Star hotel with only three suites. Built into a refurbished crane originally used for heavy lifting in the shipyard, the suites have creature comforts, including a hot tub, high speed internet, complimentary room-service breakfast and a rooftop observation deck. The three suites offer a unique experience with a spectacular view of Amsterdam and the River IJ. I didn’t have time to see Faralda, but I promised Ruud on my next trip I would.

STRAAT museum
The STRAAT Street Art and Graffiti Museum

Opened in October, 2020, the museum was created to celebrate the street art that had appeared spontaneously as graffiti on NDSM’s buildings. We stopped outside the brick building to admire the graffiti, some were small images, some massive under the slogan “MAKE ART NOT €.” This was graffiti as “art,” not defacement. Dominating the approach from the ferry, a giant portrait of a smiling Anne Frank by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra greeted everyone as they walked to the museum.

We walked through the museum’s small entrance and emerged to a dramatic sight. What had once been a cavernous engineering workshop was transformed into a museum unlike any I had seen before. Illuminated by overhead skylights, mural-sized paintings were mounted on the two-story walls and on billboard-sized panels secured to the gallery floor. Mostly paintings with a few sculptures, the quality of talent on display was extraordinary. What struck me was the exuberance of color and creative styles. Some of the fun and political art reminded me of the work by the U.K.’s Banksy and the American Keith Haring.



Nasca Uno’s “My spirits, my friends” was a portrait of a psychedelic monkey with fish in its hair. JanIsDeMan painted two bright blue googly eyes onto what appeared to be a giant crumpled envelope. In the painting “Life,” the graffiti-artist named Kram portrayed a cartoon-cat woman-goddess holding a frightened male fox to illustrate how we have to deal with “unforeseen trouble” in life. The Chilean artist Osch riffed on Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” poster. In Osch’s painting, three boys aim slingshots at heavily armed helicopters flying against a blood red sun. I wondered if he was optimistically saying that a youthful spirit can defeat a war machine? I especially liked Michel Alders’ portraits of a man and a woman, painted in the style of the Dutch Golden Age.

Celebrating a desire to connect artists to their work, the museum required that most of the artists create their work in the museum space. When I visited, the Chicago painter, Kayla Manhaffey sat on a small wooden chair, a two-story tall metal scaffolding towering over her as she put the finishing touches on a giant image of a young black girl with flowing braids, her head emerging from a white-petaled flower.

To appreciate the scale of the cavernous museum, we climbed the yellow stairs to the Panorama Deck. On the deck there was more art, the Gallery with a curated exhibit and a café serving sandwiches, beverages and desserts. After several hours exploring the exhibits, Ruud and I needed refreshment. We had delicious sandwiches and coffees. On the way out, we passed through the museum gift shop to look at the unique art on sale.

Hotel Jakarta Amsterdam


Hotel Jakarta Amsterdam on Java Island

Since we wanted a fresh perspective on Amsterdam, we stayed in Hotel Jakarta on Java Island Amsterdam, an artificial island created in the 19th century as a breakwater to protect Amsterdam from storm surges. Java Island is connected to KNSM Island, where the Royal Dutch Steamboat Shipping company used to dock its ships. After WWII, both islands transitioned from industrial, maritime use to residential neighborhoods.

When we arrived, we appreciated Hotel Jakarta Amsterdam’s sleek exterior. The building angled to a point, as if it were the prow of a very modern, high-tech, ocean-going ship. We liked that the hotel was in a quiet neighborhood, away from the crowds of the city center. With access to Amsterdam’s robust tram system and free ferries, we could easily travel to Museum Square, Dam Square, the Jordaan and Amsterdam-Noord.

Over coffee, general manager Nico Evers shared the history of the hotel beginning with its location on Java Island. Evers explained that the hotel was designed to bridge the two worlds of The Netherlands and Indonesia, “a western hotel with Indonesian touches.” That was apparent in the atrium, in the lobby garden that was filled with palms and plants indigenous to Indonesia and also by the Indonesian artifacts on loan from the Tropen Museum that were placed prominently in the hotel’s public spaces.

When the Dutch company, WestCord opened the hotel in June, 2018, the intention was to create a 4-Star hotel with an “energy neutral” building, using a mix of renewable and reusable materials, to become the “greenest hotel in the Netherlands.” Having supervised the construction, Evers knew all the building’s secrets.

Light flooded down from the atrium ceiling onto the subtropical garden in the lobby as Evers led me up the lobby staircase, explaining that many of the energy-saving features were hidden in plain sight.

Close to the roof he pointed out louvered panels that moved during the day, releasing or retaining heat as needed. Sunlight was captured by solar photovoltaic (PV) panels arrayed on the building’s exterior and roof. Rainwater was collected and used to irrigate the lobby garden. Facilitating the construction of the hotel, the 176 rooms around the atrium were manufactured as modular units off-site before arriving at the property to be raised and placed into position on a mostly “wooden supporting structure,” as described in the hotel’s “Two Worlds Connected” brochure. Soon after opening in 2018, the hotel began winning prestigious awards for design and hospitality.

The centerpiece of the lobby atrium was the flourishing Jakarta Garden. The sub-tropical plants were curated from Indonesia by Fachjan, in collaboration with the world famous Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam. At the top of the lobby staircase, we looked down on the garden’s towering palms and banana trees. The lobby garden was intended to be a quiet, green refuge, designed to create a feeling of “senang” or cozy comfort. As we walked past a small deck tucked into the middle of the garden, I imagined myself relaxing in one of the comfortable chairs, a place to appreciate the quiet, read a book or sip a drink.

Hotel Jakarta Amsterdam lobby garden


Guests benefited from the well-managed, luxurious garden and the open feeling of the building even if they didn’t know the building’s technical details. As we walked, Evers described the building’s unseen engineering. The garden was a marvel of sustainable engineering, maintained by a climate system that balanced natural light from the skylights with LED lights and rainwater collected in a tank under the parking lot. Constructed using BREEAM assessments, Hotel Jakarta was certified as having achieved a high level of sustainability, energy efficiency and water and materials use.

To be a good neighbor, the hotel offered some guest services to local residents for a fee, including the use of the wellness facilities, indoor pool, fitness center and saunas. Westers Bakery, the on-site bakery that makes the breads, baked goods and pastries served in Café Jakarta, had entrances inside the hotel and on the street (Tosaristraat).

Inside our eighth-floor room, the texture of wood paneled walls and ceiling was balanced by slick concrete walls and minimalist furniture. Our room looked out over the IJ where river cruise ships docked. The floor-to-ceiling window and sliding door gave a spacious feel to the cozy room. Giving the room an added visual dimension, a glass partition cordoned off the bathtub and shower area. The toilet was separated in a “water closet.” When we unpacked, we took advantage of the built-in drawers in the shelving unit that also had a dressing table with a mirror. Adding to the comfort, our room included a river-facing small balcony, two plush cotton bathrobes and a flat screen TV facing the bed.

Hotel Jakarta Amsterdam cafe

In the morning, we left our room and took the elevator to the lobby to have our complimentary breakfast in Café Jakarta. Light flooded into the restaurant from floor-to-ceiling windows facing the river. The buffet had a great variety of dishes. Several kinds of breads and rolls, croissants, pastries, fresh fruit salad, eggs any way we liked, bacon, chicken sausage, potatoes, spinach, charcuterie, coffee beverages, teas and juices. When I wanted my bread toasted, the kitchen happily obliged. We enjoyed sitting next to the windows with a view of the IJ.

For dinner, we sat outside on the Café Jakarta patio. Umbrellas sheltered us first from the setting sun and then from a light rain that lasted a few minutes and refreshed the air. The quiet of the evening was broken only by the occasional small craft motoring on the river. To sample the menu’s Indonesian flair, we ordered the Mie Goreng noodles with vegetables and shrimp and the Rendang Daging that had beef flavored with coconut and spicy sambal. A grilled salmon dish had perfectly cooked white beets, asparagus, broccoli, baby corn and pea shoots with a lemon grass Hollandaise.

Hotel Jakarta Amsterdam Skybar


Before returning to our room, we enjoyed the view of the water, but this time through the wrap-around windows in the eighth-floor Skybar Malabar. Tucked into the leading edge of the building, there were half a dozen seats at the half-circle bar and a half dozen tables along the windows.  On Fridays and Saturdays, a live DJ livened up the space. When we visited, we enjoyed the quiet, the view and a delicious cocktail. Made by bartender Tyrone Sullivan with ingredients curated by bar manager Tarik, the confection of a frothy pisco sour (Peruvian pisco, egg whites, simple syrup and lime juice) was the perfect way to toast our stay in Amsterdam.

Pisco Sour cocktail

Restaurants in the Jordaan and close to the canals

The Amsterdam we wanted to explore was away from the city center. We headed to the Jordaan, an area that looks like a village with canals.

The atmosphere in the Jordaan was like a resort. People dressed casually in shorts, tennis shoes, jeans and t-shirts. Hanging out at cafes was a preferred activity and the preferred forms of transportation were a bicycle, on foot and occasionally on high-pitched Vespas. Walking in the Jordaan, we passed countless small cafes and bars on small streets next to the canals. This was not tourist-popular Dam Square nor the busy Red Light District. Southwest from Amsterdam Central, the Jordaan’s canal buildings, many built in the 17th Century, instead of standing straight, lean one way or another because their foundations have settled unevenly over the centuries.

Papeneiland cafe

When we stumbled on the Papeneiland Café, we knew instantly that we had found a favorite. The corner café was the kind of place that makes Amsterdam a destination for people who enjoy a city in a relaxed setting. You can sit inside at the small wooden bar or at one of the four tables, but mostly people sit outside in front of the café and across Brouwersgracht at the half dozen tables that lined the canal. Dodging bicycles and small cars, waiters ferried trays filled with drinks and snacks.

Because Papeneiland Café was crisscrossed by the Prins and Brouwer canals, the narrow streets limited automobile and truck traffic.  We returned repeatedly to enjoy the quiet and sit at a tiny, canal-side table, to have a bite to eat and a beverage.  We tried a toasted bread sandwich with mozzarella, pesto and tomatoes and a meatball sandwich with a curiously delicious mix of condiments, mustard, peanut sauce, pickled onions and corniches. For beverages we had local spirits, an ice-cold Amstel and a glass of Zuidam Jong Jenever, a spirit that led to the creation of British gin. We didn’t have any desserts, but next visit we’ll follow president Bill Clinton’s example when, in 2011, he stopped for a slice of very delicious apple pie.


Papeneiland Café Sandwich


We also returned several times to De Belhamel, another quiet spot. Enjoying the good Dutch air on a sunny day, we sat outside and watched as water craft made the sharp turn to transition between the Heren and Brouwers canals. At a wooden table shaded by large trees, we had a view of the two canals as we enjoyed dishes served with a modern take on classic European dishes. Raw oysters, foie gras, marinated tuna with grilled eggplant and a puff pastry filled with shrimps and scallops. We learned that even if you eat outside, for a treat, walk inside and look at the cozy bar downstairs, a beautiful, traditional Dutch interior.

Just outside the Jordaan, on Haarlemmerstraat, a busy commercial street with a cluster of cafes, we liked the Spanish/Latin American-style menu at Café Nobo. A tostada with grilled shrimp was fresh and delicious. A freshly baked Spanish sandwich with Manchego cheese and grilled radicchio was also very good. A nice touch on the sandwich was spreading grated fresh tomato and olive oil on the grilled bread, a technique I had seen demonstrated by the great Spanish chef, Jose Andres.

Our last stop in Amsterdam took a bit of effort to find. Since we wanted to experience off-the-beaten-path Amsterdam, we were happy to be invited to have dinner at Mediamatic ETEN, a vegan restaurant on a small canal.

Mediamatic ETEN mini greenhouse

Before arriving, we looked at Mediamatic ETEN’s website and learned that the restaurant was the tip of the iceberg for a complex, dynamic program to approach the ways in which human beings raise what they eat, consume what they eat and how they dispose of waste. As stated on their website, “Mediamatic Biotoop is a broad techno-cultural lab that explores the possibilities of fungal and other bio-based materials for design, science and art. Our current interest lies in the usage of waste as a source for new materials, secretions, mycelium, beer and fermentation.”

Mediamatic was an art center investigating “how art, design and science merge and we look at how our senses, such as taste and smell, influence our emotions and associations.” Workshops show how to make perfume, drawings, paper, carpet, pan flutes and jewelry. Since we were coming to have dinner, we wondered what the merging of science and cooking would be like when served on a plate.

From Hotel Jakarta, our GPS app led us on a pleasant walk under elevated train tracks, alongside a canal, past dozens of colorful house boats with overgrown gardens on their decks and finally to a large building that housed both a restaurant and a greenhouse. When we arrived in the main building, a large greenhouse, we were offered a welcoming starter and a glass of sparkling wine. Our table was outside in a mini-greenhouse facing the canal. The separate dining spaces, large enough for a small table and either two or four chairs, were designed during the pandemic to keep diners safe. The mini-greenhouse dining spaces continue to be popular because of their cozy privacy with a view.

vegan cabbage dish

Artfully composed, each of the vegan dishes arrived at the table in a leisurely manner, giving us time to enjoy watching water fowl and boats passing slowly across the dark water. First was a pickled zucchini with a shiso leaf and spring onion kimchi, then a masala-potato muffin with tamarind cream, a soup followed, made with roasted purple carrots, pickled kohlrabi, cooked mustard seeds and thyme oil, and finally a plate of oxheart cabbage cooked in a salt crust with Indonesian pickles (acar campur), creamy parsley root puree, peeled pickled carrots and flat beans, Japanese saltwort as a garnish and dashi sauce.

vegan dessert

Coinciding with a lovely sunset was the arrival of dessert. We were presented with a plate of pineapple-sage ice cream, rhubarb compote, strawberries and olive oil emulsion with homemade granola, topped with a buckwheat-walnut crisp that crackled in the mouth before it dissolved in a delightful explosion of crunchy sweetness.

As we walked back to Hotel Jakarta, we were very satisfied with the way science and cooking had produced such a delicious meal. All-in-all, our off-the-beaten-track exploration of the city gave us an entirely new perspective on Amsterdam and made us look forward to our next visit.

Hotel Jakarta Amsterdam river view


For information about The Netherlands, please visit

I amsterdam, the official website of the city has a wealth of information about events, housing, activities and the Iamsterdam Card which gives access to 70 museums and to transportation around the city, on the water and the city streets. Purchase the card online in 24-hour durations, up to a maximum of 120-hours. The longer the stay, the less expensive the daily cost. After you purchase your card online, stop at the Iamsterdam store on the River IJ side of Amsterdam Central, De Ruijterkade 28 B t/m D, 1012 AA Amsterdam. On the Iamsterdam Card website, there are many useful tips about exploring the city.

Hotel Jakarta Amsterdam, Javakade 766, 1019 SH Amsterdam, +31 20360000, A WestCord, 4-Star hotel, Hotel Jakarta was designed to be sustainable, efficient, comfortable and cozy, with 200 rooms, including a number of suites. Guests have access to complimentary WiFi, breakfast in Café Jakarta’s dining room or outside on the patio and the use of the WellCome Wellness center with an indoor pool, workout area and treatment rooms. In addition to Café Jakarta, there is also Westers Bakery with freshly baked breads and pastries and made to order hot and cold beverages. And, SkyBar Malabar, named after a volcano on Java in Indonesia, located on the eighth floor in the prow of the hotel, offers expertly composed cocktails and snacks. Sitting at the bar or at a comfortable chair close to the window, the night-time view is spectacular.  A ten-minute walk from Amsterdam Central, tram service is close by. Parking is available for bicycles and automobiles, with 20 EV charging stations. Bicycles are available to rent.

Café Nobo: Latina Cocina, Haarlemmerstraat 73, 1013 EL Amsterdam, 020 616 3664,  Serving a mix of Latin American classics and Spanish tapas, with a good selection of wines, beers and spirits, the corner café opens every day at 11:00am, except Tuesdays, and serves until late in the evening.

De Belhamel, Brouwersgracht 60, 1013 GX Amsterdam, +31 20 622 1095, Check website for reservations, lunch and dinner menus and hours.

Eye Film Museum, IJpromenade 1, 1031 KT Amsterdam. Please check the website for the schedule of screenings and exhibitions. Admission to the museum is free with an Iamsterdam card. Tickets to film screenings is an additional expense. Housed in a futuristic building, the museum documents the past and future of filmmaking in The Netherlands and the global community. Sheathed in white, the faceted building points across the River IJ toward Amsterdam Central, only ten to fifteen minutes by ferry. In four theaters, the museum screens many films during the day, including important historical films as well as films in current release. The Eye also offers a mix of continuing exhibits about the technology of filmmaking and its history and special exhibits highlighting the work of specific artists like the Italian director, Alberto Lattuada or Felix de Rooy from Curaçao or focusing on technical aspects of filmmaking, like sound or the use of VR to engage viewers. With so much to see, plan a full day to experience all the museum has to offer. Serving lunch and dinner, the Eye Bar Restaurant has a full-service menu and an expansive view of the River IJ and Amsterdam.

Faralda Crane Hotel, NDSM-Plein 78, 1033 WB Amsterdam, +31 (0)20 7606161.

Guide: Ruud van Soest, Stadswandelkantoor (City Walks Office), Sumatrakade 493, 1019 PR Amsterdam, +31(0)20-4190022, +31(0) 641967655 mobile/text, Reservations can be made by email or phone: or +31(0)20-4190022, +31(0) 641967655. Please check the website for the available walking tours of Amsterdam neighborhoods.

IJ-Hallen, T.T. Neveritaweg 15, 1033 WB Amsterdam-Noord. Located outside STRAAT Street Art and Graffiti Museum, IJ-Hallen is said to be Europe’s largest flea market. Please check the website for days and times of operation.

Mediamatic ETEN, Dijksgracht 6, 1019 BS Amsterdam, +31 6 38442878. Please check the website for days and times when food and beverages are served. Besides snacks served daily except for Monday, a 4-course pre-fix vegan dinner is served Wednesday to Saturday.

MOCO, Honthorststraat 20, 1071 DE Amsterdam, +31 20 370 1997. Save money and time and purchase tickets online. Expect to deal with crowds on every floor and staircase when you visit MOCO in Museumplein, across from the Van Gogh Museum. The exhibits feature the work of “Modern Masters,” like Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Yayoi Kusama.

The Papeneiland Café (Café Het Papeneiland), Prinsengracht 2, 1015 DV Amsterdam, 020-624 19 89,


Rijksmuseum, Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam. Netherland’s national museum, the works exhibited are those created by Dutch artists or acquired by citizens of the Netherlands, which explains the very large collection of Far East Asian art, the result of Holland’s colonial excursions. Check the web site for special exhibits.

Simon Meijssen, Van Baerlestraat 23, 1071 BG Amsterdam, +31 020 675 71 36. Website in Dutch only. The bakery specializes in Jewish baked goods and sells sandwiches and beverages, all of which make delicious picnic lunches to take into Vondelpark.

Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam,  Museumplein 10, 1071 DJ Amsterdam, +31 20 573 2911. The spacious museum is a delight for those who love modern and contemporary art.

STRAAT Street Art and Graffiti Museum, Immanuel Kanthof 1, 1064 VR Amsterdam. Check the museum website for hours and special exhibits. Before you visit in-person, the collection can be previewed on the website. You’ll see the quality of the art in those thumb-nail images but you won’t appreciate their size until you visit in-person.

Tropen Museum, Linnaeusstraat 2, 1092 CK, +31 88 004 2800. The museum celebrates cultural diversity, with exhibits about the Dutch colonial legacy and the richness of world art.

Van Gogh Museum, Museumplein 6, 1071 DJ Amsterdam, +31 20 570 5200. To avoid long lines, purchase an admission ticket online for a specific date and time. Also check online about any special exhibits. We had the good fortune to visit during the “Colour as Language” special exhibit of the artist Etel Adnan, who loved color as much as did Van Gogh. Taking photographs inside the museum is permitted without flash, but taking photographs of other patrons is not allowed.

Vondelpark3 – Kitchen & Bar, Vondelpark 3, 1071 AA , +31 020 639 2589,  An ideal refuge from a day of walking and visiting museums. A delightful setting where you can refresh with a snack, a coffee or a dessert. When the weather is warm, seating is available outside on the patio with a view of the park.

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