Whatever you’re looking for from a night out, you’ll find it somewhere in Barcelona – bohemian boozer, underground club, cocktail bar, summer dance palace, techno temple, Irish pub or designer bar, you name it. But when it comes to drinks, gintonic, as it’s known, has always been a favourite.

In recent years, however, there’s been a surge in bars specializing in the classic cocktail and its star ingredient, ginebra, with numerous brands on offer. The tonic component has not been forgotten either, and bars pour a dizzying array of premium varieties.

It’s a refreshing trend worthy of a glass-clinking salut. In Barcelona these days, they don’t let anything come between their gin and their tonic – not even the word “and”.

From the new Rough Guide to Spain, here are three of our favourite places to indulge in the perfect gintonic.

Bobby Gin, Gràcia, Barcelonaphoto credit: bobby Gin bar via photopin (license) / cropped

Bobby Gin, Gràcia

A sign inside says “el gintonic perfecto no existe” (the perfect gin and tonic does not exist). Perhaps. But the sizeable G&Ts (from €8) here come very, very close.

Bobby Gin, c/Francisco Giner 47 

Dry Martini, The Eixample

White-jacketed bartenders, dark wood and brass fittings, a self-satisfied air – it could only be the city’s legendary uptown cocktail bar. Best drink to order after you’ve tried the gintonic? The clue’s in the bar’s name.

Dry Martini, c/Aribau 166

Xixbar, Poble Sec

“Chicks” is an old granja (milk bar) turned candlelit, but completely unstuffy, cocktail bar. Gin’s definitely the big drink here: they claim over one hundred varieties and they even have their own specialist gin shop on site.

Xixbar, c/Rocafort 19 

rough guide spain coverExplore more of Spain with The Rough Guide to SpainCompare flightsbook hostels or hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa, Puglia

The name of this Pugliese pasta comes from its shape, which resembles a small ear (orecchiette literally translates as “little ears”). Orecchiette are ideal because of their ability to retain sauce, thanks to their central depression. Orecchiette are firstly cooked together with turnip greens to absorb their full flavour, and then stir-fried with anchovies, crushed garlic and a touch of chilli.

Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa, Puglia

Pizza Margherita, Campania

Said to be named after Queen Margherita of Savoy, wife of King Umberto I, who visited Naples in 1889, pizza Margherita bears the colours of the Italian flag: red (tomato), white (mozzarella) and green (basil). An authentic pizza Margherita is made exclusively by hand from scratch (no rolling pins!) and must be cooked in a wood-brick oven at 485 degrees. Neapolitan pizza is always soft and floppy with a raised edge (called cornicione), unlike Roman pizza, which is thin and crispy.

Pizza Margherita, Campania

Risotto alla Milanese, Lombardy

Short-grain Arborio or Carnaroli rice is grown abundantly in the paddy fields of the Ticino and Po plains. Rice is pan-fried with onions and butter, and repeatedly stirred while veal broth is gradually added to enhance flavour. Saffron lends the risotto a golden tone, while Parmesan is added once the rice is cooked, giving it a creamy texture. Risotto alla Milanese is often served with tender ossubuco (veal marrow).

Risotto alla Milanese, Lombardy

Trofie al Pesto, Liguria

This Ligurian squiggly-shaped pasta made from flour and water is rolled by hand and served with a mouth-watering pesto sauce. Basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and a pinch of salt are pureed to make the pesto, and grated Pecorino cheese is stirred in. The trofie are cooked in boiling water until al dente. The pesto is mixed in with the pasta and extra pecorino cheese can be grated on top.

Trofie al Pesto, Liguria

Panzerotti, Basilicata

These savoury filled pastries are shaped like a half-moon and traditionally stuffed with tomato and melted mozzarella, although there are plenty of other fillings including spinach, mushrooms, olives, anchovies and ham. These little pockets of dough are similar to calzone, although smaller and deep-fried. As they puff up with hot air, it’s best to tear them open to let the steam flow out to avoid burning one’s mouth; this typical street food is eaten as a morning or afternoon snack.

Panzerotti, Basilicata

Arrosticini, Abruzzo

These succulent chunks of skewed mutton are barbecued on a brazier. Ovine fat is sometimes placed between the chunks of meat, lending the arrosticini a more tender texture. They are served wrapped in tin foil and typically eaten with the hands, pulling off the meat with your teeth. They are enjoyed with home-made bread soaked in olive oil while chilli peppers, and washed down nicely with a glass of red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

Arrosticini, Abruzzo

Arancini, Sicily

These stuffed rice balls coated with breadcrumbs and fried take their name from their shape and colour, which is similar to an orange (arancini means “little oranges”). In eastern Sicily arancini are conical shaped. They are usually stuffed with tomato sauce, mozzarella, ragù (Bolognese sauce) and peas. Arancini are thought to have originated around the tenth century when Sicily was under Arab rule, when rice is said to have been introduced to the island.

Arancini, Sicily

Bucatini all’amatriciana, Lazio

Amatriciana sauce takes its name from the town of Amatrice in the Lazio region. This delicious pasta sauce is made with guanciale (pork cheek lard), sweet tomatoes and chilli peppers. Bucatini (long, hollow tubular pasta similar to spaghetti) are boiled until al dente, and mixed in with the sauce and some grated pecorino cheese.

Bucatini all'amatriciana, Lazio

Vincisgrassi, Marche

It is said vincisgrassi were first prepared in honour of the Austrian general Windisch Graetz who had fought against Napoleon in 1799, defending the city of Ancona (the name vincisgrassi derives from the mispronunciation of the General’s name). This baked pasta dish is composed of layers of mixed meat ragù (bolognese sauce) of beef, pork and chicken giblets, enriched with a creamy béchamel sauce and topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

Vincisgrassi, Marche

Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Tuscany

Served rare, bistecca alla fiorentina, or Florentine beefsteak, is a succulent T-bone steak that is flame-grilled over charcoal, sealing the fillet juices with a dark crust. Traditionally, bistecca alla fiorentina is a cut taken from a Tuscan breed of ox known as chianina, although nowadays Spanish beef is largely used. The steak is seasoned with salt, black pepper and a drizzle of oil.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Tuscany

Cappelletti in Brodo, Emilia Romagna

This egg-based pasta with a meat filling is served in a flavourful chicken broth. Small strips of dough are stuffed with meat and folded in a half moon shape. The corners are then stretched around until they meet, forming the pasta’s curious shape, which recalls a medieval style hat (cappelletti literally means “little hats”). They are cooked in boiling broth, and left to simmer at low heat until they float to the surface (usually about five minutes). Cappelletti in brodo are traditionally eaten on Christmas day.

Cappelletti in Brodo, Emilia Romagna

Frico con Patate, Friuli Venezia Giulia

Similar to an omelette, frico con patate is made with thinly cut or grated potatoes sautéed with onions. Montasio cheese is added and the dish cooked for twenty minutes or so. Once the potatoes have cooked and the cheese has melted, the ingredients are gently pan-fried until golden brown.

Frico con Patate, Friuli Venezia Giulia

Sardine in Saor, Veneto

This Venetian antipasto consists of fried sardines, pine nuts, raisins and caramelised onions cooked with vinegar. The saor cooking method was favoured by Venetian sailors when out at sea to preserve fish for prolonged periods of time. Sardine in saor are in fact tastier if left to rest for 24 hours.

Sardine in Saor, Veneto

Licurdia, Calabria

This hearty soup is traditionally made with sweet onions from Tropea, a region of Calabria that lies along the Tyrrhenian Sea, where they have been cultivated for over two thousand years. The area’s microclimate, fertile soil and proximity to the sea contribute to their unique taste. The onions are peeled, sliced thinly and cooked in lard with hot water, and hot chillies are added at the end. Licurdia is ladled over crispy bread that is placed at the bottom of individual soup bowls.

Licurdia, Calabria

Pallotte Cacio e Uova, Molise

Made of cheese, egg and bread, pallotte (dough balls) are cooked in a tomato and red pepper sauce. Bread is soaked in milk and mixed with eggs, Pecorino cheese, parsley and garlic, and moulded into dough balls that are fried in boiling oil. The dough balls are then mixed in with the sauce and left to simmer for a few minutes. They can be served as a warm appetizer or as a vegetarian main course.

Pallotte Cacio e Uova, Molise

Bagna Càuda, Piedmont

Originally served in a communal dish in the middle of the table, this piping hot garlic and anchovy dip is today placed in fojòt, individual terracotta pots. Raw, boiled or roasted vegetables – typically cardoon, cabbage, celery, radish, fennel, onion, Jerusalem artichokes and peppers – are dipped in the sauce and enjoyed with bread. Bagna càuda is traditionally eaten in the autumn and winter months either as an antipasto or as a main dish.

Bagna Càuda, Piedmont

Vietnamese food is distinct and unforgettable. The cuisine relies on a balance of salty, sweet, sour and hot flavours, achieved through use of nuoc mam, a fermented fish sauce, cane sugar, the juice of kalamansi citrus fruit or tamarind and chilli peppers. Dishes use plenty of fresh herbs but tend not to be overly spicy, as chilli sauces are served separately. From the new Rough Guide to Vietnam, we’ve picked ten essential Vietnamese foods everyone should try.

Goi cuon

Vietnam’s most famous dish: translucent spring rolls packed with greens, coriander and various combinations of minced pork, shrimp or crab. In some places they’re served with a bowl of lettuce and/or mint. A southern variation has barbecued strips of pork wrapped up with green banana and star fruit, and then dunked in a rich peanut sauce – every bit as tasty as it sounds.

Goi Cuonphoto credit: rice paper rolls via photopin (license)

Banh mi

This baguette sandwich filled with greens and a choice of fillings, including paté and freshly made omelette, is so good it’s been imitated around the world.

Banh Miphoto credit: banh mi via photopin (license)

Banh xeo

These enormous, cheap and filling Vietnamese pancakes translate (banh xeo means “sizzling pancake”) pancake contain shrimp, pork, bean sprouts and egg, which is then fried, wrapped in rice paper with greens and dunked in a spicy sauce before eaten.

Banh xeo

Bun cha

A Hanoi specialty, you’ll find bun cha at food stalls and street kitchens across the city. Essentially a small hamburger, the pork patties are barbecued on an open charcoal brazier and served on a bed of cold rice noodles with assorted foliage and a slightly sweetish sauce.

bun cha

Pho

Vietnam’s national dish a the country’s great staple is pho (pronounced “fur”), a noodle soup eaten at any time of day but primarily at breakfast. The basic bowl of pho consists of a light beef or chicken broth flavoured with ginger and coriander, to which are added broad, flat rice noodles, spring onions and slivers of chicken, pork or beef.

Pho Vietnam

Cao lau

Central Vietnam does it best. Among Hoi An’s tasty specialities is cao lau, a mouthwatering bowlful of thick rice-flour noodles, bean sprouts and pork-rind croutons in a light soup flavoured with mint and star anise, topped with thin slices of pork and served with grilled rice-flour crackers or sprinkled with crispy rice paper.

Cao laophoto credit: Cao Lau – Ba Be, Hoi An Market VND15000 via photopin (license)

Cha ca

Seafood dishes are among the standouts of Vietnamese cuisine. Cha ca, reportedly devised in Hanoi, is perhaps the best known. It sees white fish sautéed in butter with dill and spring onions, then served with rice noodles and a scatering of peanuts.

Ca Chaphoto credit: Fish and dill for 2 – Cha Ca La Vong VND120000 each via photopin (license)

Mi quang

This unheralded and affordable noodle dish is a Hanoi specialty. Ingredients vary by establishment, but expect to see a simple bowl of meat noodles enlivened by additions like flavoursome oils, fresh sprigs of leaves, shrimp, peanuts, mint and quail eggs.Mi quang

Nom hua chuoi

Vegetarians rejoice. Nom hua chuoi, or banana-flower salad, is a great meat-free option.
Lime and chili are the key flavors and add a refreshing punch to the shredded veg.

Vietnamese banana blossom salad

Com tam

Com tam, “broken rice”, is a street-stand favourite. Recipes vary, but you’ll often find it served with barbecued pork or beef and a fried egg.

Com Tamphoto credit: com tam dac biet via photopin (license)

rough guide vietnam coverExplore more of Vietnam with The Rough Guide to VietnamCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

From the new Pocket Rough Guide, we’ve selected some of our favourite tips for seeing Paris on a budget.

A trip to Paris, famous as the most romantic of destinations, is one of those lifetime musts. Long the beating heart of European civilization, it remains one of the world’s most refined yet passionate cities. Yet despite its reputation as an expensive place to visit, there are many places that can be enjoyed without splashing the cash, from engrossing museums to good-value restaurants. Here’s our pick of the best free things to do, affordable eats and budget beds.

The free sights

Musée Carnavalet
One of the city’s best free museums is the Musée Carnavalet. Set in two beautiful Renaissance mansions, it charts the history
 of Paris from its origins up to the belle époque through a huge and extraordinary collection of paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and archeological finds. The attractive formal gardens are worth a visit in themselves.

Maison de Victor Hugo
Among the many celebrities who made their homes in Place des Vosges was Victor Hugo; his house, at no. 6, where he wrote much of Les Misérables, is now a museum, the Maison de Victor Hugo. Here, his life is evoked through a sparse collection of memorabilia, portraits and photographs that convey an idea of his prodigious creativity.

Petit Palais
Built 
at the same time as its larger neighbour the Grand Palais,
 the Petit Palais is hardly “petit” but certainly palatial, with beautiful spiral wrought-iron staircases and a grand gallery on the lines of Versailles’ Hall
of Mirrors. The Musée des Beaux Arts housed here has
 an extensive range of paintings and sculpture and decorative artworks, plus there are free lunchtime classical concerts on Thursdays.

Père-Lachaise
Final resting place of a host of French and foreign notables, Père-Lachaise  covers some 116 acres, making it one of the world’s largest cemeteries. It’s surely also one of the most atmospheric – an eerie yet beautiful haven and the resting place of (among others) Molière, Chopin and ex-Doors singer Jim Morrison.

Pere Lachaise, Paris

The best views

Pont Neuf
The “new bridge” is actually the oldest in the city, and, with its stone arches, arguably the loveliest. There are few better places to watch the Seine flow than this link between the Ile de la Cité, and the right and left banks of the river.

On the buses 
Touring
 Paris by bus is enjoyable and inexpensive; try the #29 from
Gare St-Lazare, which goes
past the Opera Garnier, through the Marais, and on to Bastille.

Parc de Belleville
Absorbed into Paris in the 1860s and subsequently built
up with high-rise blocks to house migrants from rural areas and the ex-colonies, Belleville might not exactly be “belle”, but it’s an interesting side of the city. Well worth the trip out is the Parc de Belleville, which with its terraces and waterfalls, offers get great views across the city, especially at sunset.

Sacré-Coeur
There’s no charge to visit this Parisian landmark, but the real draw is the view from the terrace. Looking out from 
the steps that cascade down Montmartre’s steep hill, the silvery roofs of Paris seem to spread to the horizon.

France, Paris, Montmartre, Sacre-Coeur, view of cityscape from church

Getting outdoors

Jardin des Tuileries
No trip to Paris is complete without a saunter along the chestnut-tree-lined alleys of the Jardin des Tuileries, admiring the grand vistas, formal flower beds and fountains. This is the French formal garden par excellence.

Jardin du Luxembourg
Fronting onto rue de Vaugirard, the Jardin du Luxembourg is the chief green space of the Left Bank, its atmosphere
a beguiling mixture of the formal and the relaxed. These gardens are filled with people playing tennis or chess and couples strolling round the elegant lawns.

Promenade Plantée
This disused railway line, now an elevated walkway planted with trees and flowers, is a great way to see a little-known part of eastern Paris. Starting near the beginning of avenue Daumesnil, just south of the Bastille opera house, it takes you
to the Parc de Reuilly, then descends to ground level and continues nearly as far as the périphérique.

Bois de Boulogne
The Bois de Boulogne was designed by Baron Haussmann and supposedly modelled on London’s Hyde Park – though it’s a very French interpretation. You should avoid it at night, but by day it’s an extremely pleasant spot for a stroll. The best, and wildest, part for walking is towards the southwest corner.

France, Paris, St-Germain, Jardin du Luxembourg

Affordable meals

Bistrot des Victoires
If you’re in the mood for something traditional, stop off at Bistrot des Victoires, a charming old-fashioned bistrot serving staples like confit de canard and poulet rôti for around €10. 

Breizh Café
This Breton café serves arguably the best crêpes in the city, with traditional fillings like ham and cheese, as well as more exotic options such as smoked herring, which you can wash down with one of twenty different ciders.

La Fourmi
This artfully distressed, high-ceilinged café-bar in Montmartre can usually be found full of Parisian bohos sipping coffee and cocktails. Come during the day for light meals or at night for drinks.

L’As du Fallafel
For a cheap and filling lunch, get a takeaway from L’As du Fallafel in the Marais’ Jewish Quarter. The sign above the doorway reads “Toujours imité, jamais égalé” (“always copied, but never equalled”), a boast that few would challenge, given the queues outside.

The Marais, Place Des Vosges, Rue des Rosiers, Fast Food, l'As du Fallafel

Budget beds

Hotel Bonséjour Montmartre
Set on a quiet, untouristy street on the slopes of Montmartre, footsteps away from great neighbourhood bars and restaurants, this hotel is
 a steal. The simple, old-fashioned clean room are a serious bargain.

Mama Shelter
One of the most talked-about hotels in Paris, Philippe Starck-designed Mama Shelter justifies the hype. Yet it’s also extremely good value. The industrial-chic theme includes arty graffiti motifs on the carpets and ceilings, swanky bathrooms, iMacs and decorative superhero masks.

St Christopher’s Paris
We reckon St Christopher’s two massive hostels are among the best in Europe. Try the original branch overlooking the waters of the Bassin de la Villette where there’s a great bar, inexpensive restaurant, and free internet access.

Pocket Rough Guide ParisGet the full Pocket Rough Guide to Paris for a complete guide to the city. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Taken from the new Pocket Rough Guide, this is our pick of the best pubs in London

London is a very big city. In fact, it’s the largest capital in the European Union, stretching for more than thirty miles from east to west, and with a population of just over eight million. Ethnically and linguistically, it’s also Europe’s most diverse metropolis, offering cultural and culinary delights from right across the globe.

If you want to get under the city’s skin, there’s only one place to do it. Found on just about every street corner, the pub remains one of the nation’s most enduring social institutions and its popularity in London sees no sign of waning. The City has probably the best choice of long-established drinking holes, while in Soho and the East End you’ll find a wide choice of bars and clubs alongside good-old fashioned pubs. For a riverside drink, head for the South Bank or Docklands, and for a lazy Sunday afternoon mosey on up to Hampstead or down to Greenwich.

The Lamb & Flag

This tiny old pub is hidden away down an alley between Garrick Street and Floral Street in Covent Garden. Among its claims to fame is that the Poet Laureate, John Dryden, was beaten up here in 1679 by a group of thugs who were most probably hired by his rival poet, the Earl of Rochester.
33 Rose St  

The Salisbury

This flamboyant and superbly preserved late-Victorian pub offers an escape from the crowds a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square. The interior is replete with bronze nymphs, etched and engraved windows, red-leather seating and a fine lincrusta ceiling, while a wide range of ales is on offer behind the bar.
90 St Martin’s Lane 

The Salisbury Pub London

The Red Lion

Not what you’d expect to find in St James’s, the exclusive little enclave sandwiched between St James’s Park and Piccadilly, this glorious old Victorian gin palace has elegant etched mirrors and lots of polished wood. They offer a commendable range of ales, with seasonal selections that change every few weeks.
2 Duke of York St

The Dog & Duck

For a slice of old Soho, you can’t do better than this tiny pub. The Dog & Duck retains much of its old character and its original decor, with beautiful Victorian tiling and mosaics, plus a good range of real ales. A real West End treat.
18 Bateman St

The Lamb

For refreshment after a trip to the British Museum, walk a few minutes east to The Lamb. This marvellously well-preserved Victorian pub in a pretty street boasts mirrors, polished wood and “snob” screens, plus intriguing old photos. The excellent Young’s ales round things off splendidly.
94 Lamb’s Conduit St

London, Bloomsbury, The Lamb, pub facade

Jerusalem Tavern

This converted Georgian coffee house – a short walk from Smithfield Market – has a frontage dating to 1810, meaning the building retains much of its original character. Better still, the excellent draught beers are from St Peter’s Brewery in Suffolk.
55 Britton St

The Three Kings

Tucked away north of Clerkenwell Green, just a quick stumble from the Jerusalem Tavern, lies another of London’s gems. This atmospheric pub has a delightfully eclectic interior and two small rooms upstairs that are perfect for long occupation.
7 Clerkenwell Close

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

seventeenth-century watering hole – famous chiefly because of patrons such as Dickens and Dr Johnson – with several snug, dark-panelled rooms and real fires. Popular with tourists, but by no means exclusively so. It’s hidden down an alleyway off Fleet Street, so look out for the sign.
Wine Office Court, 145 Fleet St

England, London, Fleet Street, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

Prospect of Whitby

Steeped in history, this Docklands venue is perhaps London’s most famous riverside pub, with a pewter bar, flagstone floor, ancient timber beams and stacks of maritime memorabilia. Decent beers and terrific views too.
57 Wapping Wall

Royal Oak

The Royal Oak is a lovingly restored Victorian boozer that eschews jukeboxes and one-armed bandits, opting simply for a superb stock of real ales (mild, pale and old) from Harveys Brewery in Sussex and some good old-fashioned pub grub.
44 Tabard St 

Royal Oak Pub London

The Holly Bush

For drinking in north London, try this lovely old pub, with a cosy real fire in winter and a charming wooden interior, tucked away in the steep backstreets of Hampstead village. There are some fine ales on offer, plus decent food (particularly the sausages and pies) – note that it can get mobbed at weekends.
22 Holly Mount 

Trafalgar Tavern

Frequented by the likes of Dickens (and mentioned in Our Mutual Friend), William Thackeray and Wilkie Collins, this Regency-style inn is a firm tourist favourite in Greenwich – with its riverside position and good snacks, it’s easy to see why.
5 Park Row 

Pocket Rough Guide London

 

Explore more of London with the Pocket Rough GuideCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Gilly Pickup discovers the enduring allure of Cuba’s bright and breezy capital, Havana, the island’s cultural heart.

Havana’s effervescence is palpable. The city is reminiscent of an old picture postcard come to life – awash with faded grandeur and crumbling ice-cream coloured buildings. Bartenders mix up mojitos in time to the hip-swaying, hypnotic sounds of salsa and straw-hatted, cigar-puffing men driving vividly coloured vintage Cadillacs, Pontiacs and Buicks.

Habana Vieja and beyond

Havana’s UNESCO listed Habana Vieja or Old Town, almost an open air museum, was once the Caribbean’s main Spanish settlement. With a glut of castles and baroque churches it has more old colonial buildings than any other city in the New World. Head to the Camera Obscura in the Plaza Vieja for the best views.

Of course there are countless museums to explore, too. The most famous is probably the Museum of the Revolution in Centro Habana. This big blast from the past is housed in what was once the Presidential Palace, headquarters of the Cuban government for forty years. Besides plenty of rusty revolvers and a life size wax figure of Che Guevara, it contains maps tracing the war’s progress, innumerable photos of Fidel Castro and some blood-stained uniforms.

Behind the museum are parts of a plane shot down during the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, a surface-to-air missile and the yacht that brought Guevara and Castro together with eighty plus revolutionaries to Cuba from Mexico in 1956 – today rather incongruously kept in a glass enclosure.

Another important landmark is the Capitolio Nacional. Once Cuba’s seat of government, the building is similar in appearance to the US Capitol Building in Washington DC. It is home to the National Library and Academy of Sciences and houses a planetarium and museum. Under the dome, a 24-carat diamond – an imitation – is set into the floor. This is where distances between Havana and other sites in the country are measured.

Plaza de San Francisco, Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis, La Habana Vieja, Cuba

A cigar stop-off

No trip to Cuba would be complete without a cigar, and close by the Capitolio is one of the city’s most famous cigar factories, Real Fabrica de Tabaco Partagas.

Here, a reader is employed to entertain workers while they make the cigars – the reason why some cigars are named after literary characters. Tours allow visitors to see how cigars are made and, of course, there is the opportunity to buy some from the little shop at the end.

In the footsteps of Hemingway

While in Habana Vieja, it makes sense to pay a visit to El Floridita, one of the bars where Ernest Hemingway liked to have a bite to eat and down daiquiris.

Nothing much seems to have changed here since the thirties, when he was sometimes snapped at the bar with Errol Flynn or Gary Cooper, though it was a favourite meeting place for expat Americans before Hemingway made it famous.

Hemingway’s celebrity status has never dimmed in the eyes of the locals and his favourite stool is cordoned off almost as if he is expected to walk back in at any minute. The bar even created a daiquiri in his name, ‘The Papa Hemingway Special’. One story goes that he once sank 13 doubles in one visit. Who knows for sure, but if he did, he must have had a serious hangover next morning.

Fans of Hemingway can also visit his home, Finca Vigia, which lies just outside town. Now also a museum, it is kept just as it was when the man himself lived there. This is where he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and today visitors can see his huge book collection and his typewriter.

El Floridita, Havana, Cuba

Along the sea spangled waterfront

And speaking of the sea, every visitor to Havana should head to the Malecón, the eight kilometre sea spangled waterfront promenade popular with locals and tourists, swimmers, joggers and musicians.

Although it was built in 1901 to protect the city from rough seas, today a party atmosphere abounds, especially during evenings and weekends.

Malecon promenade, with people on  rocks by sea, Havana, Cuba

Feisty bands and fizzing nightlife

You’ll learn to expect continual music here. It emanates round the clock from the city’s shady squares and cobbled streets. Havana is a feisty rainbow explosion of live bands. They’re everywhere: in the airport, restaurants, bars and on the streets – and at night the experience is out of this world.

Many local musicians play the ‘tres guitar’, a rhythm instrument with three double strings, while the pulsing African ‘son’ music and Timbal drum beats are bound to get your feet tapping.

Nightlife is full on and fizzing – and there are plenty of clubs and bars where visitors can party like a local. Dress to impress, as the locals do, and head to open-air cabaret Tropicana, a great place to soak up the sounds and shake that booty. This is no ordinary cabaret, complete with a 32-piece orchestra.

Festivals galore

It’s also an idea to plan a visit to Havana to coincide with some of the popular celebrations and festivals. These include the cigar festival in February, Carnival in July, the ballet festival in October and film and jazz festivals are in December.

Explore more of Cuba with the Rough Guide to CubaCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Tasmania has shaken off its reputation as a sleepy backwater. Australia’s smallest state is buzzing with art, nurturing an exciting foodie scene and cutting the ribbon on new hiking trails – all against a backdrop of rich history and remarkable wildlife. Here, Anita Isalska gives ten reasons why you should give in to the island’s lure. 

1. To be awed and appalled at MONA in Hobart

A ferry ride up the peaceful Derwent River doesn’t seem like the obvious start to explore your dark side. But in the subterranean galleries of Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art you’ll find some of the most confronting creations in Australia. Passion, death and decay are explored in unflinching detail in this controversial museum in the northern suburbs of Tasmania’s capital, Hobart. Test your limits with maggot ridden installations, X-rated sculptures and obese automobiles, all from the private collections of arty eccentric David Walsh.

Australia, Tasmania, view of Hobart from Mount Wellington

2. To raft the Franklin River

Quicken your pulse in Tasmania’s wild west on a white water rafting adventure. In this glacier carved terrain, thick with Huon pine forests, experienced guides will navigate you down the frothing Franklin River. You’ll stop to cook on open fires and pitch a tent under the stars. There’s nothing like being part of a crew paddling a raft through the Franklin’s thunderous rapids to instil a lasting respect for Tasmania’s formidable wilderness.

3. To meet Tasmanian devils

Tas’ most famous critter is most often experienced through its nocturnal scream. But Tasmanian devils can be seen up close at sanctuaries across the state, like Bonorong. Don’t be fooled by their puppy-like appearance and lolloping gait. Time your visit for feeding time and you’ll see these marsupials screech, squabble and chomp straight through wallaby bones. On a more serious note, make sure you spare some time to learn about the devastating facial tumour disease threatening these Tassie natives.

Tasmanian devil sign

4. To feast your way around Bruny Island

Mainland Aussies flock to the annual Taste Festival in Hobart. But you can undertake a year-round gastronomic extravaganza on Bruny Island, an easy day-trip by ferry from Hobart. Start by slurping fresh oysters at Get Shucked, before perusing the unctuous delights of Bruny Island Cheese Company. You’ll want a bottle or two to accompany those garlic-marinated, vine leaf-wrapped delights, so stop for pinot noir at Bruny Island Premium Wines. Finish off with jams and ice creams at the berry farm.

5. To explore the wilderness at Cradle Mountain

The silhouette of Cradle Mountain, reflected in mirror-clear Dove Lake, is one of Tasmania’s greatest natural icons. Lace up your hiking boots in Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park and discover Pencil Pine Falls or the neck-craning Ballroom Forest. Some are easy wooden walking trails that spiral around picnic spots like Wombat Pool; others vertiginous hikes that require experience. For hardened adventurers, there’s the six-day Overland Track.

Dove Lake. Cradle Mountain. Tasmania. Australia. : Stock Photo View similar imagesMore from this photographerDownload comp Caption:Dawn reflections on calm fresh water lake. Mist over mountain peak. Dove Lake. Cradle Mountians. Tasmania. Australia. Dove Lake. Cradle Mountain. Tasmania. Australia.

6. To pace the brand-new Three Capes Track

One of Australia’s most hotly-tipped new attractions for 2015 is the Three Capes Track. Due to open in November 2015, this 82km coastal trail promises a touch of luxury for bushwalkers. Instead of stooping under the weight of your camping gear, you’ll be able to bed down in furnished huts at three different spots along the track and make use of on-site cooking facilities. That leaves more time to focus on what’s really important: jaw-dislocatingly good views of Australia’s tallest sea cliffs.

7. To see pint-sized penguins in Bicheno

Each night at dusk, a parade of little penguins pops out of the waters of Bicheno Bay and waddles ashore to their burrows. A guided walk is the best way to admire these dainty seabirds without disturbing them. They’ll hop between your legs, preen their inky black coats and jab their beaks at toes (don’t wear open-toed shoes).

8. To admire gorge-ous views near Launceston

Stomach-plummeting views await at Cataract Gorge, just 15 minutes’ drive from Tasmania’s second city, Launceston. Tiptoe over the suspension bridge or enjoy a bird’s-eye view of forested hillsides from the longest single-span chairlift in the southern hemisphere. Picnic spots are scattered around the gorge’s First Basin (and stalked by curious peacocks), ideal for you to soak up some rays and the tranquil atmosphere.

Australia, Tasmania, Launceston, Cataract Gorge,

9. To explore dark history at Port Arthur

Two centuries ago, a ticket to Australia was a terrible fate. The most harrowing final destination was Tasmania’s Port Arthur, one of Australia’s 11 penal colony sites. Port Arthur was thought inescapable: only a narrow band of land, Eaglehawk Neck, connected it to the rest of the island, and this was fiercely guarded by dogs. Today, Port Arthur has been conserved as an open-air museum. You can explore the former prison wings and convict-built chapel, board a boat to the lonely graveyards on Isle of the Dead and linger for a ghost tour if you dare.

10. To bliss out at Wineglass Bay

There’s an unforgettable reward for taking a steep forested trail on the Freycinet Peninsula on Tasmania’s east coast. At the Wineglass Bay overlook, you’ll see a perfect arc of sand glowing against the vibrant turquoise of the Tasman Sea. Cool off from all that bushwalking with a dip or kayaking trip, or simply gaze out over the dusky pink granite boulders dappled with lichen, one of Tasmania’s most surreally beautiful sights.

Explore more of Tasmania with the Rough Guide to Australia or our Tasmania Snapshot. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

New Orleans might hog the limelight, but there’s no end of things to do in Louisiana. Here, Rough Guides author Charles Hodgkins takes us on a tour of the state’s beguiling south.

While it’s easy to understand why New Orleans dominates most discussions of southern Louisiana, there’s much more to the lower areas of the Pelican State than the Big Easy. It’s a storied region that exists apart from the rest of the United States, a heady mix of cultures – most notably Cajun, but also a bit of Creole – happily sequestered on its own terms in a waterlogged place south of the actual South.

Whether you’re cruising the swamps of Acadiana in a crawfish skiff, standing reflectively on the porch of a slave cabin on a 200-year-old sugarcane plantation, or driving over countless bridges to a sandy barrier island at the end of the highway, there’s nowhere else quite like southern Louisiana.

Culture and crawfish in Cajun Country

At the heart of Louisiana’s Francophone Cajun country lies Lafayette, the state’s fourth-most populous city and one of its greatest cultural hubs. It’s the all-but-official capital of the state’s Acadiana region. Although English is the dominant language in and around Lafayette, it’s hardly uncommon to overhear Acadian French – especially each Wednesday night at Lafayette’s Blue Moon Saloon’s weekly Cajun jam.

Crawfish in Cajun Country, Louisiana

Within about 15 miles of Lafayette are a day’s worth (at least) of historically significant literary locations, worthwhile museums, nature excursions and small-town Acadiana charms.

St Martinville, a 25-minute drive southeast of Lafayette, is home not only to the Evangeline Oak, immortalised in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “Evangeline” and still standing sentinel on the west bank of Bayou Teche, but also a waterside complex housing the African American Museum and the Museum of the Acadian Memorial. Each museum relates moving tales from involuntary migrations of the eighteenth century that forever impacted this region: the former interprets stories gathered from over 300 years of African–American history in southern Louisiana, while the latter describes the deportation of the Acadians from eastern Canada and their eventual resettlement in present-day Acadiana.

Another small Cajun town worthy of a few hours’ lingering is Breaux Bridge, the self-anointed “Crawfish Capital of the World”, where a handful of excellent restaurants vie for visitors’ palates. Try airy and pleasant Café des Amis, known equally for its delectable gumbo and Saturday zydeco breakfasts.

Lafayette swamp tour, Louisiana, USA

Naturally, no visit to southern Louisiana is complete without embarking on a swamp tour, and with wildlife-rich Lake Martin a mere ten-minute drive from Breaux Bridge, you’d be hard-pressed to find a reason (poor weather notwithstading) to not enjoy an outing on the lake’s murky waters. The area’s top guiding outfit is Cajun Country Swamp Tours, operated by father-and-son duo Butch and Shawn Guchereau, extra-knowledgeable locals who interpret the lake’s signature botany and teeming birdlife (cormorants, ibis, egrets, herons) in velvety Cajun drawls. Odds are strong you’ll also spot an alligator or two throughout the two-hour tour.

History and politics in Baton Rouge

Abutting the east bank of the Mississippi River, Baton Rouge is Louisiana’s state government centre, a major shipping port and home to the state’s largest university, Louisiana State. The city’s odd name, which translates to “Red Stick” in English, stems from an early French explorer who, upon arrival, spotted a wooden pole draped with bloody carcasses that marked a boundary between tribal hunting grounds. Intervening centuries have seen the city under French, British, and Spanish rule, as well as the Confederacy during the US Civil War.

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It’s no surprise, then, that Baton Rouge’s colourful political past makes for its most uniquely compelling attraction. Louisiana’s Museum of Political History, housed in the Old State Capitol – dubbed “that monstrosity on the Mississippi” by Mark Twain – takes a refreshingly no-holds-barred approach to the state’s notorious history of corruption. Check out the extensive permanent exhibition on infamous Governor/Senator Huey “the Kingfish” Long, who ruled Louisiana politics with an iron fist from the late 1920s until his 1935 death at the hands of an assailant.

Ten minutes away by foot from the Old State Capitol, Long’s highest-profile construction project (and the site of his assassination), the current State Capitol, is free to visit and also worth an extended look. The 1932 building and tower (at 450 feet, the tallest capitol in the US) is a lovely piece of Art Deco showmanship, flanked by 30 acres of landscaped gardens. Ascend to the 27th floor observation deck for commanding views of the ever-growing city, the muddy Mississippi and beyond.

Along River Road

Twisting out of metropolitan Baton Rouge along the Mississippi River southeasterly toward New Orleans, the so-called River Road penetrates Creole-influenced areas of southern Louisiana, winding its way through a peculiar medley of inviting historic plantations and eyesore petrochemical plants. The small town of Donaldsonville is a good stop-off for wandering among huge live oaks that stretch over quiet backstreets like spindly arms; Charles Street boasts a particularly lovely canopy of these trees.

The best of the area’s plantation tours is offered at Laura Plantation on the edge of Vacherie, an hour’s-plus drive from Baton Rouge. Here, longtime-local guides relate tales of the sugarcane plantation’s heyday, when it was one of the few woman-run sugarcane operations in the nineteenth century. Hour-long tours lead through the recently restored “Big House”, adjacent gardens, and, soberingly, into an austere slave cabin.

Laura PlantationLaura Plantation-8485 via photopin (license)

Off the beaten track in Grand Isle

Ambitious road-trippers will want to continue their southern Louisiana adventure by trekking out to the end-of-the-road community of Grand Isle, a pancake-flat, storm-prone place set on a wafer-thin barrier island bang against the Gulf of Mexico. Nearly every structure in sight here is built one storey above ground.

With a year-round population of just over 1000 (although tens of thousands of seasonal visitors can descend on the town during summer), Grand Isle is an assuredly sleepy place more often than not; it’s best-known as a main embarkation point for deep-sea fishing trips. Be sure to drive toward the far eastern end of the island to remote Grand Isle State Park, where nature trails invite quiet exploration and a lengthy pier extends over Gulf waters for excellent bird-watching, as well as fishing for tarpon, speckled trout and redfish.

Explore more of Louisiana with the Rough Guide to the USACompare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Taken from the new Rough Guide to Prague, here’s our guide to Czech beer – and where to drink it.

The Czechs drink more beer than any other nation, downing approximately a pint a day for every man, woman and child in the country – in fact, more beer is drunk here than water. Czech beer (pivo) ranks among the best on the planet and the country remains the true home of most of the lager drunk around the world today.

What’s the history of Czech beer?

Sugar cubes and Semtex aside, you might say the Czechs’ greatest claim to fame is that they invented the world’s original Pilsner beer. As every Bohemian pub regular knows, by the late 1830s, the German-speaking inhabitants of Plzeň (Pilsen), 90km west of Prague, were disgruntled with the local beer, a top-fermented, dark, cloudy brew of dubious quality. In disgust, they founded the Bürgerliche Brauhaus, and employed a Bavarian brewer, Josef Groll, who, on October 5, 1842, produced the world’s first lager, a bottom-fermented beer stored in cool caves.

The pale Moravian malt, the Saaz hops and the local soft water produced a clear, golden beer that caused a sensation. At the same time, cheap, mass-produced glass appeared on the market, which showed off the new beer’s colour and clarity beautifully. The new rail network meant that the drink could be transported all over central Europe, and Pilsner-style beers became all the rage.

Brewing methods remained traditional until the fall of Communism, after which the larger breweries almost all opted for modernization: pasteurization, de-oxidization, rapid maturation and carbon dioxide injections – which resulted in longer shelf-life, less taste and more fizz. The republic’s smaller breweries were either swallowed up or went to the wall.

By the mid-1990s, there were just sixty Czech breweries left, with the biggest (except Budvar – still owned by the Czech state) owned by multinationals. However, in the last decade a new breed of microbreweries has sprung up, eschewing modern technology and producing some of the tastiest, most individual brews you’ll ever encounter.

Prague, pint of beer

What should I order?

Czech beer is served by the half-litre; if you want something smaller, you must specifically ask for a malé pivo (0.3l).

The average jar is medium strength, usually about 4.2 percent alcohol. Somewhat confusingly, the Czechs class their beers using the Balling scale, which measures the original gravity, calculated according to the amount of malt and dissolved sugar present before fermentation. The most common varieties are 10° (desítka), which are generally slightly weaker than 12° (dvanáctka).

Light beer (světlé) is the norm, but many pubs also serve a slightly sweeter dark variety (tmavé or černé) – or you can have a mixture of the two (řezané). Kvasnicové pivo is yeast beer, nefiltrované is, you guessed it, unfiltered (cloudy) beer. There’s also nepasterované and pšeničné as well as combinations of all the above.

Beer, Prague

Where should I drink Czech beer in Prague?

Today Prague‘s smoky old pubs (pivnice), traditionally filled with men drinking copious quantities of Czech beer by the half-litre, are a dying breed, but a few survive beyond the centre of town. We’ve picked our favourites.

U Černého Vola (The Black Ox), Oretánské Náměstí 1
This is a great traditional Prague pub, which does a brisk business providing the popular light beer Velkopopovický Kozel in huge quantities to thirsty local workers, plus a few basic pub snacks.

U Kocoura (The Cat), Nerudova
This old-school Czech pub inevitably attracts tourists, but the locals come here too for the pilsner urquell and the Budvar, plus various other Czech belly-formers.

U Kocura Pub Prague

U Hrocha (The Hippo), Thunovská 10
An old, smoky been-here-forever Czech pivnice close to the British embassy, usually full with a close-knit bunch of locals.

U Rudolfina, Křížovnická
A bona-fide Czech pivnice very close to Charles Bridge, serving expertly kept Pilsner Urquell and typical pub grub that gets more expensive as the day progresses.

U Zlatého Tygra (The Golden Tiger), Husova 17
A small central pivnice, always busy with locals and tourists trying to get a seat; the late writer and bohemian Bohumil Hrabal was a semi-permanent resident and still has a seat reserved for him (he died in 1997).

Rough Guide to Prague cover

 

Explore more of Prague with the Rough Guide to PragueCompare flightsbook hostels for your trip and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Europe has it all: sprawling cities and quaint villages; boulevards, promenades and railways; mountains, beaches and lakes. Some places will be exactly how you imagined: Venice is everything it’s cracked up to be; springtime in Paris has even hardened cynics melting with the romance of it all; Oxford’s colleges really are like Harry Potter film sets. Others will surprise, with their under-the-radar nature or statement-making modern architecture.

rough guide europe budget coverWhether you’re planning to see it all or explore the hidden corners of the continent, these are our top 12 tips for backpacking through Europe, taken from our latest Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget.

1. Pick your season wisely

If you decide to travel during the peak summer season, try heading east – the Balkan coastline, the Slovenian mountains and Baltic cities are all fantastic places for making the most of your money. When tourist traffic dies down as autumn approaches, head to the Med. The famous coastlines and islands of southern Europe are quieter at this time of year, and the cities of Spain and Italy begin to look their best. Wintertime brings world-class skiing and epic New Year parties. Come spring it’s worth heading north to the Netherlands, Scandinavia, France and the British Isles, where you’ll find beautifully long days and relatively affordable prices.

2. Take the train

Getting around by train is still the best option, and you’ll appreciate the diversity of Europe best at ground level. Plus, if you make your longest journeys overnight and sleep on the train, you’ll forego accommodation costs for the night. Most countries are accessible with an Interrail Global pass or the equivalent Eurail pass. Depending on your time and budget, choose one corner of the continent then consider a budget flight for that unmissable experience elsewhere. Make sure you check out our tips for travelling by train in Europe.

Rail travel Europe

Pixabay/CC0

3. Be savvy about accommodation

Although accommodation is one of the key costs to consider when planning your trip, it needn’t be a stumbling block to a budget-conscious tour of Europe. Indeed, even in Europe’s pricier destinations the hostel system means there is always an affordable place to stay – and some are truly fantastic. Homestays will often give you better value for money than most hotels so they are also worth considering. If you’re prepared to camp, you can get by on very little while staying at some excellently equipped sites. Come summer, university accommodation can be a cheap option in some countries. Be sure to book in advance regardless of your budget during the peak summer months.

4. Plan your trip around a festival

There’s always some event or other happening in Europe, and the bigger shindigs can be reason enough for visiting a place. Be warned, though, that you need to plan well in advance. Some of the most spectacular extravaganzas include: St Patrick’s Day in Ireland, when Dublin becomes the epicentre of the shamrock-strewn, Guinness-fuelled fun; Roskilde in Denmark, Glastonbury’s Scandinavian rival with a mass naked run thrown in for good measure; and Italy’s bizarre battle of the oranges in Ivrea.

Music festival

Pixabay/CC0

5. Eat like a local

You’ll come across some of the world’s greatest cuisines on a trip to Europe, so make sure to savour them. A backpacking budget needn’t be a hindrance either. If you shun tourist traps to eat and drink with the locals, you’ll find plenty of foodie experiences that won’t break the bank. Treat yourself to small portions but big flavours with a tapas dish or two in Spain; relish the world’s favourite cuisine at an Italian trattoria; or discover the art form of the open sandwich with smørrebrød in Denmark. Don’t skip breakfast, either – an oven-fresh croissant or calorie-jammed “full English” are not to be missed.

6. Find the freebies

Being on a budget doesn’t mean you should miss out, even in some of the world’s most sophisticated cities. Many iconic European experiences are mercifully light on the pocket: look out for free city walking tours, try the great Italian tradition of aperitivo in Rome, make the most of the free museums in London and try cooking with local ingredients rather than eating out. We’ve got lists of the top free things to do in Paris, Barcelona, London, Dublin and Berlin to get you started.

7. Get outdoors

It can be tempting to focus backpacking through Europe on a succession of capital cities – but you’d be missing out on a lot. Europe offers a host of outdoor pursuits that animate its wide open spaces, too, from horseriding in Bulgaria’s Rila Mountains and surfing on Portugal’s gnarled Alentejo coast to cross-country skiing in Norway and watching Mother Nature’s greatest show in Swedish Lapland.

Rila mountains, Bulgaria

Filip Stoyanov/Flickr

 8. Allow yourself the odd splurge

One advantage of budget travel is that it makes splurging all the sweeter – and for a little “flashpacking” guidance, we include Treat Yourself tips throughout our latest Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. If you’re mostly staying in dorms, splash out on the odd private hostel room or boutique hotel; swing by a speakeasy for cocktails in Paris; gorge yourself on pasta in Rome; and allow yourself a day of watersports in Croatia.

9. Stay up late

Whether it’s Berlin and London’s hipster dives, flamenco in Seville, Budapest’s ruin bars, or the enotecas that celebrate Italy’s rejuvenated wine industry, there are countless reasons to stay up till sunrise. Europe lives for the wee hours and you’ll be following in some famous footsteps. Think about ordering a knee-buckling Duvel beer at Brussels’ historic La Fleur en Papier Doré, a time-worn café once the favourite hunt of Surrealist painter Magritte and Tintin creator Hergé, or sipping a pint in one of Oxford’s historic pubs, like the Eagle and Child, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’s old haunt.

10. Hit the beach

Clubbed and pubbed out? It’s time to hit the beach. If you’re looking for heat, Formentera’s beaches are quieter and wilder than on neighbouring Ibiza, while Croatia and Italy have a slew of beautiful stretches of sand. If you want to head off the beaten track, consider Mogren in Montenegro, part of the so-called “Budva Riviera” that stretches either side of Montenegro’s party town par excellence.

Puglia, Italy

Pixabay/CC0

11. Go under the radar

If you’re looking for Europe’s charm without the crowds, you’ll want to consider straying from the well-worn routes. Some of our favourite under-the-radar towns include Olomouc in the Czech Republic, a pint-sized Prague with less people and more charm (and cobblestones), and Berat, a gorgeous Albanian town where row after row of Ottoman buildings loom down at you from the sides of a steep valley.

12. Stay safe

Take some basic precautions to stay safe. It’s not a good idea to walk around flashing an obviously expensive camera or smartphone, and keep your eyes (and hands if necessary) on your bags at all times. Exercise caution in hostels and on trains; padlocking your bags to the luggage rack if you’re on an overnight train increases the likelihood that they’ll still be there in the morning. It’s also a good idea to take a photocopy of your passport and keep it safe somewhere online.

 

rough guide europe budget coverFor a complete guide to backpacking through Europe, check out our latest Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. Compare flightsbook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Header image via Agustin Rafael Reyes/Flickr.

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