Visiting Munich

In May 2019, we stopped for three nights in Munich en route to a holiday in Greece. Three nights seems about right for this city of 1.5 million. Below are some highlights from the visit. You are welcome to use my Google map, which has these spots and additional suggestions.

Some sixty percent of old Munich was destroyed by United States and Allied bombing in World War II. Unlike many cities, which rebuilt in a more modern style, the people of Munich decided to rebuild the city much as it had been. Thanks to this, the Aldstadt (old city) is charming and fun to explore. Thanks to a later decision (in the 1970s, I think) to pedestrianize many parts of the Aldstadt, it is also easy to explore.

I had heard about the beer gardens and, sure enough, they are everywhere. Many operate only when the weather is decent. Thankfully, Munich has some of Germany’s sunniest weather! The good news is, you are allowed in most cases to bring your own food so long as you buy your drinks from the operator of the beer garden. While I’m not a big beer drinker, something about being there makes a nice Heffeweissen the perfect drink on a sunny day. Tables are communal, which adds to the fun.

Most of what Americans know about German culture comes from Bavaria. This is especially true when it comes to food. It is generally a heavy, pork-oriented cuisine. That said, there are actually plenty of ways to eat lightly. Food is also reasonably priced, so you can eat well without breaking the bank. Some places we tried and enjoyed – additional recommendations in the Google Map.

Beim Sedlmyr – the real deal, a friendly and homey place to eat Bavarian food in the center of the Aldstadt.

Wirsthaus Zur Brez’n – this is a slightly more updated version of Bavarian food. Still recognizable as the original thing but with a bit more sophistication. The picture above came from our dinner at the Wirsthaus.

Cafe Glockenspiel – perched on the fifth floor overlooking the city hall and main square, this is a good place for brunch or lunch and it has a nice view of the rooftops and the top-of-the-hour playing of the mechanical glockenspiel in the clock tower across the square.

Viktualienmarkt – a daily food market and a square in the center of the Aldstadt, basically a farmer’s market with lots of local specialties ready to eat

You’ll notice that I haven’t included Munich’s most famous spot, the Hofbrauhaus, for which the song “In Munchen Stadt Ein Hofbrauhaus” was written. The guidebooks say it is good fun. Maybe so. I’d rather not deal with the madness.

There is some interesting shopping available in Munich. The Manufactum Warenhaus, pictured above, is a mash-up of Eddie Bauer, Restoration Hardware, Dean and Deluca and Williams Sonoma. You could easily spend an hour or more browsing and will probably buy something.

Next door is Dallmayr Delikatessenhaus, a grand food emporium that serves both fresh food and canned goods and confectionaries. Think the Bon Marche in Paris or Harrod’s Food Hall in London. Great place to buy some food for a picnic or a bar of Bavarian chocolate to take home.

Soda Munich is a great magazine and book store with unique and artsy magazines from around the world and coffee table and art books.

Roeckl makes leather accessories, especially famous for their driving gloves. Several locations throughout town.

There are many historic places to visit. One that is particularly over-the-top is the Munich Residenz, the former royal palace of the Wittelsbach monarchs of Bavaria. The dining hall is pictured above. Lots of gilt and gaudiness, an example of why monarchy collapsed under its own weight but still fascinating to see.

Munich has several good art museums and the BMW Welt is an automotive museum dedicated to the hometown marque.

As mentioned, Munich is Germany’s sunniest city and there is a very large and lovely English Gardens in town. There are plenty of places to stroll, bicycle, etc. but one thing worth checking is the surfing that takes place at a somewhat naturally formed continuous wave near the park’s entrance.

Logistics

Munich Airport is one of the most logical, clean and well-organized in the world. Trains to the city center run frequently and inexpensively. The main train station is called München Hauptbahnhof, a short walk from the Aldstadt.

You can get around the Aldstadt easily on foot. The transit system works easily and the ticket-selling machines are self-explanatory. You can also use Uber.

We stayed at the Mercure City Center hotel just a block from the Hauptbanhof and found it very convenient as most of the transit lines connect through there and much of the Aldstadt is a 10-minute walk away. There are also plenty of hotels inside the Aldstadt.

Hope you enjoy your trip to Munich. Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

Visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Imagine a town fell asleep in the middle ages, only to wake up, unchanged, in the 1900s. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the best-preserved medieval village in Germany and despite its large numbers of tourists, remains a charming and worthwhile destination. 

Located a three-hour train ride from Munich, about half-way to Frankfurt, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is well worth a visit. A German colleague suggested it and her words were echoed by travel writer Rick Steves, it is hopelessly touristy but incredibly charming. Here’s how we approached the visit and suggestions I would add based on our experience.

How to get there

If you are doing a driving trip across Germany, then by car is easy enough. Otherwise, you will have to take the Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national railroad. While the Germans seem to complain a lot about it, we found it easy-to-use, clean and punctual. From Munich, it takes about three hours and two connections, but this works smoothly.

Visit the ticket office at the Munich main train station and the helpful English-speaking agents will show you options and answer your questions. There is a discounted “Bavaria pass” that offers better train rates and they will offer this to you.

When you arrive in Rotthenburg (note there are multiple Rotthenburgs in Germany – you need to specify “ob der Tauber” which means “above the Tauber” river), there is a map showing the town and it is a five-minute walk up the gentle hill into the old city.

What to do and see

The old city is compact enough, that you could easily wander around. There is an information office in the main square that has maps and free guided tours are held several times a day in English and other languages.

My suggestion: download Rick Steves’ free Audio Europe app, which has many audio guides and a well-made hour-long guided tour of Rothenburg with clear directions.

St. Jakob’s Church is a beautiful structure, formerly Catholic and now Lutheran, you are able to explore the area around the main altar. Be sure to walk behind it, so you can see the additional details on the back side. Also, on the opposite end of the nave, climb the stairs and see the area behind the organ’s pipes. There is a second wooden temple there, which is exquisite in its detail. The entrance fee is modest.

The castle garden towards the western end of town is a quiet place, away from many of the tourists. You can enjoy some fantastic views of the surrounding countryside and appreciate why Rothenburg is so well-situated to defend against marauding hordes.

Walk the walls. A large section of the wall that surrounds the town can be accessed, with stairs located at each tower. You can walk along the sentry’s path, taking in impressive views of the town and peeking through the arrow slits to see the surrounding countryside and the newer section of the town. The section of the town along the walls is quieter and away from most of the tourists. You can safely wander about and explore.

Eating, shopping and sleeping

Restaurants in the town will be mostly touristy – there’s no getting around that. We found a quieter place on Havengasse called Gasthof zur Sonne (Guesthouse under the Sun) also marked at Hotel Sonne on Google Maps. It had nice service and a slightly more sophisticated lunch than the hearty Bavarian food around the corner at the places with menus in eight languages. That said, we did not eat anywhere else so cannot compare.

The main streets are chock-a-block with souvenir shops. We found that with a bit of exploring, there are shops offering interesting items that differ from what is found in other shops. Take some time to explore – Christmas ornaments are especially fitting here.

Should you stay or should you go? While this made a good day trip (left Munich at 7:30 am, back by 8:00 pm) it was a lot of train travel. If we could have spent a night in Rothenburg, that would have allowed us to enjoy the city later in the day once it had quieted down and early in the morning before all the tourists arrive.

2018 – a year in the air

As 2019 begins, I took a few minutes to look back and see how my travels for 2018 looked. As much as it felt like I was traveling a great deal, my actual number of flights was not much higher than last year and I flew fewer miles by far.

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  • 2018: 54 flights flown – 76,263 miles
  • 2017: 52 flights flown – 94,240 miles
  • 2016: 59 flights flown – 92,234 miles

I had many more short flights to nearby destinations such as Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong and fewer long-distance flights: only one Europe trip this past year and no trips to Australia and New Zealand. 

My best flight experience last year included the free, unexpected upgrade on EVA Air from Toronto to Taipei. They moved Tawn and me from Premium Economy to Business Class and for such a long flight, it was greatly appreciated. 

Who knows what this year has in store. As much as I love to travel, it would be okay if the number of flights didn’t increase!


Thinking of Italy

Supposedly these two weeks, the last of 2018 and the first of 2019, are my holiday. Not one for just sleeping all day or lying on a beach, I’m spending a fair amount of time working on different personal projects, one of which is updating my blog and website.

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One of the areas I haven’t yet updated is about our trip to Italy this autumn.  The entry about Austria is finished but the entries about Italy still needs to be written. Let’s see if I can get that finished in the coming week.

Italy is such a fascinating place to visit. While there are plenty of more places I need to visit in Europe, it is my favorite thus far. Italy seems to strike the balance: it has much that is modern and sophisticated while maintaining some rough edges and lots of history. The people are warm and welcoming, distinct in their culture while happy to share it with you. The food is satisfying but not fussy. People seem to have a deep enjoyment of life.

We began our trip in Firenze (Florence) for two nights, visiting my cousin and his family. We then traveled south to the hillside of ancient Matera, stopping in Bari on the way to three nights in Ostuni in Puglia – the “heel” in the boot of Italy. The southern part of Italy makes for a nice contrast with the larger, more popular cities such as Firenze and Milano. (I haven’t been to Rome.) The south has most of the things I like about Italy but without many of the things I do not. In short, it is Italy without the onslaught of tourists!

Stay tuned for more details.

 

Barcelona review

As part of my trip to Europe last month, I spent a week in Barcelona. This was my second trip, both times for work, and this time I was able to see a bit more of the city. Coincidentally, a few friends have asked me for recommendations so I have taken the time to update my “Spain” page on my website.

Barcelona is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and it is easy to see why. It is also easy to get a sense that the city is overrun with tourists: I saw many signs and graffiti decrying the infestation.

The good news is there are plenty of places to go in Barcelona to enjoy the city without falling into all the usual tourist traps. In fact, I would argue you could largely bypass the big attractions and still find the city utterly charming.

 

Back from holiday in Europe

Two weeks ago, I returned from an 18-day trip to Europe, a combination of work and relaxation. While I didn’t plan it to be this complicated, it ended up being a five country, eight city itinerary. In the coming days and weeks, I will write more details about the trip and update the pages on my website with restaurants and recommendations.

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London was a sneaky twenty-three hour layover I managed to build in unexpectedly. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet friends but did get a nice walk in along the River Thames on a blustery Autumn morning and once the sun emerged stopped by the Spitalfields Market for excellent shengjianbao.

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Barcelona was my second stop, a week to deliver training (a bit of a fudge to my previous role as technically I am not longer heading the leadership development organization at DKSH). This was my second trip to Barcelona and I had a bit more opportunity to explore than last time, when I traveled with my parents and husband. Lots of good food on this trip.

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Italy was a return some 17 years after my first visit. We went to Firenze to see my cousin and his family, Matera to see the mysterious and beautiful city of caves, and Ostuni to explore the charm of the Puglia region – the “heel” of Italy’s “boot”. This trip reminded me what the quality of life is so high in Italy: simple food, nice weather, beautiful views and friendly people.

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Vienna was a a first-time visit for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect and ended up charmed by the city. It is a bit of a set piece for some European imperial costume drama, at least as far as buildings go. This is a city and country I would like to explore further.

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Zurich was a return visit for work. In fact, I stopped into the city three times on this trip, enjoying the convenient train system to pop into the city during my layovers and then concluding with a two-night stay for work. This time I was able to explore a bit further and enjoyed some good food and friendly company.

This trip provided some neat random connections, running into people I had not expected to see and striking up conversations with strangers who happened to have connections with me in different random ways. It reminds me that this is a very small world and that traveling it helps us appreciate that which is different and that which is universal.

More coming soon.

 

My week in a Taipei love motel

I travel frequently for work. Sometimes, this leads to some exciting adventures and unexpected, delightful discoveries. Hidden treasures, if you will. This last trip to Taipei included an altogether un-delightful discovery: I had booked myself into a love motel.

For those of you not in the know, a love motel is a place where couples, married and otherwise, can book some private quality time. It seems such places are more common in Asia where multiple generations live together and you might not be able to find as much privacy.

This place, the Mulan Motel in Taipei, is located very close to my office. After some disappointing experiences at other nearby hotels, I searched on booking.com and found the Mulan. “Ah yes,” I thought, “I’ve passed by that several times. It looks quite decent.”

Sure enough, the photos and reviews on booking.com were quite positive and the price was reasonable – only about US$130 a night. So I booked it.

Being a price-sensitive traveller, always trying to save my company money, I took the train in from the airport and walked the 800 meters from the station to my hotel. My first clue that this was not your average hotel was the lack of a lobby. Instead, you descended a driveway into a subterranean car park. The only office was a larger-than-normal guard box.

I also noticed that all of the parking spaces had a curtain that could be pulled around the car. “Perhaps to keep the dust off?” I optimistically thought.

Taking the lift to my room, I noticed the interior was quite dark and gaudy. Clearly a different decorating scheme than a conventional hotel. Then I found my room and opened the door:

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The room was quite large, with high ceilings and ostentatious decorations. A large bed sat in the middle of the room, with a large television and speaker system across from it. The light did not get any brighter and mood music played automatically. The far wall was solid glass with a heavy black curtain blocking the view to the bathroom.

My first clue that this might not be a long-stay hotel was the lack of a closet in which to hang my clothes. The second clue were the condoms in a bowl by the side of the bed. “Well,” I thought, “maybe the expectations are a bit different in the Taiwanese culture?”

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The bathroom was almost as large as the bedroom with a deep bathtub and a glass shower. There were towels and the usual amenities but it all felt a little off. Everything was clean, though.

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Oddly, there were no windows. Or, rather, the windows were covered with a black plastic film that, I discovered the next morning, had exotic butterfly shapes cut out in them so the morning sun would stream through them in a not-quite-claustrophobic way.

The staff seemed to sense my confusion. They struggled to create a proper invoice for me – unlikely that any of their guests have asked for proof of payment! They were friendly, though, and directed me to the restaurant where a sorry set breakfast was available included in the price of my room.

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The only upside to this hotel was the location. It was a two-minute walk from Starbucks, a three-minute walk from the office, and a five-minute run from a beautiful park along the river, where I ran two mornings with a colleague.

Thankfully, my week at the love motel was only three nights. I ended up unharmed and unmolested and upon my return wrote a strongly worded review on booking.com that this hotel should not be listed there as it is appropriate for neither business travelers nor families.

 

Trip Report: Lufthansa Premium Economy

This is the first of two reports about premium economy experiences. For longer-haul flying, I am reaching a point where being crammed into economy is painful but business class is unaffordable. The compromise is to pay a bit extra for premium economy which is sometimes quite a good value. In this report, I cover a round trip between Bangkok and Lisbon (returning from Barcelona) on Lufthansa made in October 2016.

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The plane

Lufthansa adjusts the capacity on the Bangkok-Frankfurt route throughout the year to match demand, everything from a 509-seat Airbus A380 to a 251-seat Airbus A340-300, which was used both directions on my trip.

The Airbus A340 is a comfortable widebody plane but the type was introduced in 1991 so it is not the latest technology. The normal economy class configuration is 2-4-2.

The cabin

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The premium economy cabin, which is located between the business class and economy cabins, has only 28 seats, arranged 2-3-2.  These seats are 18″ wide and have between 38-39″ of pitch, the distance from one point on the seat to the same point on the next row.

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Leg room is quite reasonable although when the person in front of you reclines, you will still find it difficult to get out unless the person in the aisle seat gets up. There are plenty of storage spaces for items and there is a foot rest on the seat in front of you. Bulkhead seats instead have a leg rest that extends from the seat cushion.

One feature of these seats is that there are two armrests for each passenger so no fighting for personal space. This is a huge advantage over regular economy.

Large touch-screen monitors are available at each seat. The image is bright and the responsiveness of the system is good.

The seats are comfortable although a bit firm. After a few hours, I ended up sitting on my pillow to provide extra padding. Recline is quite deep but I still find it difficult to get any meaningful sleep. On the outbound flight, I probably slept about four hours total. On the return flight, less than two.

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As a comparison, here is a view of economy class mid-flight. You can see the premium economy cabins in the distance, separated only by fabric dividers hanging from the overhead bins. You will notice the monitors in economy are smaller and there is an extra seat in each row resulting in only 17″ width and narrower armrests.

The service

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Before departure, water or juice is served and menus are distributed. There is no advance meal booking beyond the usual dietary and religious meals. The selection consisted of two main courses. For these flights, each approximately 12 hours, there is a main meal and then a breakfast closer to arrival.

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After reaching cruising altitude, a drink service commenced. There was a wide selection of beverages and premium economy includes sparkling wine and a premium beer.

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The outbound dinner was a choice of pork Panaeng curry or pan-seared veal sausages with onion sauce, sauerkraut and mashed potato. I chose the latter. It came with an appetizer of coleslaw with smoked chicken breast and a dessert of apple strudel with vanilla sauce.

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Before landing in Frankfurt, a breakfast of cheddar cheese omelette with Lyonnaise potato, ratatouille and tomato with fresh fruit was served. There was no other choice.

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For the flight from Frankfurt back to Bangkok, we had a choice of beef goulash with carrot zucchini stew and potato leek mash (which I chose) or tomato mozzarella fiorelli with basil cream sauce and tomato concasse. The appetizer was a seasonal salad with pumpkin slices and Italian dressing. The dessert was mango pie with creme fraiche.

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Breakfast before landing in Bangkok was scrambled egg with cheddar cheese accompanied by diced chicken breast, Chinese vegetables (which seemed to be missing) and potato wedges with a dessert of vanilla curd cream with blueberries.

Overall, the food quality was good and the quantity was sufficient. The food is served on ceramic dishes with metal cutlery and glass stemware, which creates a nicer impression.

During the flight, light refreshments (sandwiches, fruits, pretzels, candy bars) were available for snacking.

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Shortly before landing, small chocolates were distributed throughout the cabin. Service from the flight attendants was friendly but efficient. It was notable that effort was made to complete the first meal service quickly, presumably so passengers could go to sleep as both flights are overnight.

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The inflight entertainment system worked well and has many options. By the return flight, I did feel like I was running out of things that piqued my interest. Thankfully, the seats have USB and power ports, so I was able to pull out my laptop and work and use my iPad to read and watch shows.

The system does have a nice maps feature that shows computer-generated views from the tail and the cockpit of the plane. This gives a perspective of what the outside world looks like although it is misleading because the above pictures of our final approach into Frankfurt shows daylight but it was in fact before sunrise.

The lounges

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Premium economy does not come with lounge access but as I have “gold” status with one of the Star Alliance carriers, I was eligible to use the lounge. In Bangkok, I was able to use the main THAI Airways lounge. Other lounges closed too early to use as the Lufthansa flight departs after midnight.

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In Frankfurt, I was able to use the Senator lounges, which are very modern, have a huge selection of food and drink, and offer showers for transiting passengers.

Overall

I particularly liked the 2-3-2 layout in the plane. The middle seat next to me with empty both ways, giving me even more space. The food was tasty and good quality. And the lounge in Frankfurt was truly refreshing. Connecting through Frankfurt is convenient and results in efficient travel times to Europe from Bangkok.

The seat cushions were a bit firm for my tastes (although I find this on a lot of planes), the selection of inflight entertainment was a bit uninspired and Frankfurt is not the most pleasant airport to connect through as it is drab and not particularly intuitive to navigate.

I managed to get an attractive price for this flight, only about US$ 1,400 round-trip. The usual premium economy price is closer to US$ 1,800. The extra space and increased comfort made the trip much less taxing and, for the money, was a good value. Lufthansa’s premium economy would be worth taking for future trips.

 

Lost Heaven Silk Road in Shanghai

Panda Express does not give you a proper view into the regional variety of Chinese cuisine. Like in any large nation, the cuisine of China has substantial regional differences. While in Shanghai this summer, I tried something I’m not very familiar with – the cuisine of Western China – at a restaurant called Lost Heaven Silk Road in the Jing’an district.

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Based on the cuisine found along the ancient trading route, the menu offers foods from Xi’an and Dunhuang all the way to India, Pakistan and Persia. The restaurant owes much of its interior design specifically to Dunhuang, a small city in Gansu Province in the northwest of China, famous for its hundreds of caves decorated with ancient Buddhist art.

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Our first dish was cold oat noodles, a specialty of western China where oats are more common than rice or wheat. The noodles were served with a slightly spicy sauce flavored with peanuts and were a refreshing start to the meal.

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There were many meat dishes, especially good were the lamb ribs. The meat was flavorful, tender and the sauces added a lot to the dish. The skewers pictured above had a nice spice rub with flavors of cumin prominent.

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We also had Xi’an rice noodles, which are flavored more by sesame oil and were more familiar as a Chinese dish.

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There were several vegetable dishes including this slightly curried okra dish that was not the typically slimy okra you might be familiar with. These would seem not out-of-place in an Indian or Pakistani restaurant.

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They also served so-called “Tang wei hu bing” buns, literally Chinese flavor foreign bread – pita bread stuffed with grilled meat and coriander. The flavors and style of more Middle Eastern cuisine was particularly noticeable here.

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For dessert we had a Kashmir style rice pudding. While nothing pretty to look at, the cardamom flavored pudding was pleasant.

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And a final sweet that left no doubt about where the far end of the silk road lies: baklava.

The restaurant is beautiful and the food is tasty. While one could quibble with its authenticity, I think they illustrate beautifully the reality that a lot of food is fusion, tracing the path of trade and migration and bringing together the ingredients, techniques and tastes of the people who make the journey.
Lost Heaven Silk Road
758 Julu Lu (Jing’an station)
+86 6266 9816
open for lunch and dinner daily
lostheaven.com.cn

The Long Delay to Shanghai

After three busy days of meetings in Hong Kong, I made the over-optimistic travel plan to catch a 7:15 pm flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai in order to deliver a training at 9:00 am the following day. Given the air traffic congestion in China, especially into Shanghai, that proved a painful mistake.

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My flight was scheduled on Dragonair, a subsidiary of Cathay Pacific that operates more of the local and regional flights, especially to China. When I checked in at the airport about 90 minutes before departure, the agent said the flight was showing on time, even though all other flights to Shanghai were showing massive delays.

Sure enough, about five minutes before boarding time, the departure was rolled back two hours. Apologies were made and vouchers worth about US$10 were offered. (In fact, the agent told me I could just show my boarding pass at any restaurant in the airport to receive the discount; that turned out to not be the case.)

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At the revised departure time of about 9:30 pm, the delay was suddenly extended another two hours to 11:30 pm. While I understand that there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty about when the departure times will be (the captain later explained we initially had been given a 3:30 am departure slot) it seems clear that they knew the 9:30 pm departure was not realistic and it should have been revised earlier.

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Finally, we started boarding about 11:00 pm and pushed back not too much after 11:30. We were in the air quickly and on our way for the two-hour flight. When I checked in online, I was able to get a bulkhead row, albeit a middle seat, so enjoyed at least a bit of extra leg room. The flight was full.

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Dinner was served – they actually even handed out a simple menu. The started was a shrimp and angel-hair pasta salad. The main courses were steamed sole with bean curd and black bean sauce over rice, or a pork with apple cider stew and fusilli pasta, which I chose. The pork was okay for airplane food, nothing special. Dessert was Haagen-Dazs ice cream, which is always nice.

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When we landed in Shanghai, the only gates still available were the remote stands in the cargo area, which is quite on the opposite side of the airport from our normal terminal. While I didn’t complain too much – at least I was able to exit via stairs and get a nice picture of a UPS 747 freighter – the bus ride took more than 15 minutes, literally around the perimeter of the airport.

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The upside was that the immigration queue was short as we had arrived so late. It did take another ten minutes for our luggage to arrive and the taxi queue also took about fifteen minutes as there are few cars that late. I finally arrived at my hotel room at 3:30 am and was downstairs in the meeting room at 8:00 am.

It was a long day, but not too bad. I had a good group of students, staff level learning the basics of presentation skills. They all pushed themselves outside their comfort zone, delivering in English even though for many of them, it is a struggle. One girl was petrified and after her three-minute introduction presentation, was nearly in tears. Everyone gave her a lot of positive feedback about being brave enough to face her fears. Was very moving.