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Where I want to be – Morocco

Dear Readers,

Even though in my time, I have been fortunate enough to have travelled our planet reasonably far and wide, there always remains just a few more places I’d like to plant my feet. With that in mind this is the first in my “Where I want to be” travel blogs. It’s places I’ve thought of going to and have added to my bucket list. Top of my list is Magical Morocco!

If I think of the Kingdom of Morocco I think spices, carpets, snake charmer, food, and everything that tantalizes the senses. I would of course request an audience with the King of Morocco and greet him with Salam wa aleikum (Peace be upon you) to which I will be blessed to hear the response of Wa aleikum ah salam (and also peace be upon you) We will discuss how Amazigh and Moroccan Arabic (spoken) are the two official languages, but that lyrical French is the unofficial 2nd language and that Berber is also a spoken language. The king will tell me that the word “Morocco” originates from the Spanish “Marruecos” or the Portuguese “Marrocos” which refers to Marrakesh and that it is still called so in Persian/Urda. He will then further explain to me that Marrakesh is the Berber word combination of Mart n Akush meaning Land of God! Now does that not send peace all the way down your spine?

In an intelligent voice I will ask the king how the governing of Morocco works and he will tell me that it is a Constitutional Monarchy with an elected parliament. I of course will nod in understanding, adding that Rabat is the political capital even though Casablanca is the largest city. (silently congratulating myself on brushing up before our meeting) I would also add – travel guru that I am – that Morocco has 3 international airports: Casablanca, Tangier and Agadir. My choice of flight though was to Marrakesh with Air France, as I first just had to stopover in Paris.

The king will then politely stand up and say that he has to attend matters pertaining to the country. With a wise nod and wink I agree and am off to follow my fantasy journey.

Marrakesh (English) aka Marrakech (English or French) aka Marraquech (Spanish) aka Marrakesch (German) at first I’m a little confused with all the different spellings, but soon I am walking through the 2nd largest city in Morocco. Here I find the largest traditional souk and then suddenly I find myself in a blaze of colour, sounds and smells as I walk across Djemaa el Fna, not for nothing is it one of the busiest squares in Africa. I am surrounded by acrobats, story-tellers, dancers, snake charmers, musicians and as the sun sets the aromatic smells from all the night food stalls. After each of my senses have been fulfilled, I stroll along to stand in awe of the residencies of French designers and grand couturiers Jean-Paul Gaultier and Yves Saint-Laurent. Yes, you heard it from me – they have homes here!

Next I’m in the economic and business center of Morocco – Casablanca!!!  Casa – House and Blanca – White, so basically I’m visiting the White House!! Of course if you are in the know or a local you will simply refer to it as Casa. I of course feel like Ingrid Bergman in the 1942 “Casablanca”, looking for my Humphrey Bogart. With this in mind I signal a Petits Taxi (Small Taxi) in bright red to transport me to “Ricks Cafe Americain” . Next to me a family of four climb into a Grands Taxis (Big Taxi) in shiny white, their excited chatter speak of going to Hassan II Mosque on the shores of the Atlantic. I quickly check my guide-book and discover that this is the largest Mosque in Northern Africa, accommodating 25 000 worshippers inside and 80 0000 inside, costing a staggering 800 million dollars to build. Slightly wishing I was following them, I climb into my taxi, excitedly giving the name of the establishment I want to go to. Shaking his head and in exasperation the taxi driver says “It’s a movie, it’s a movie – the cafe does not exist!!!” Not to be put down, I quickly say I was joking and request to go to the small island of Marabout de Sidi Abderrahmane. During low tide you are able to walk to the rocky island. Here I will find the tomb of Sidi Abderrhamane Thaalibi – Founder of Algiers. The locals make informal pilgrimages here to reflect on life and seek religious enlightenment – something I might be needing, but alas non-muslims are unable to attend the tomb. So instead I sit and reflect outside.

The Atlas mountains are now calling…I will leave you now as while I’m trekking I will be unable to talk! (something to do with trying to catch my breath), but I will be taking a cooking course and seeing the most beautiful sights, so rest assured I will be enjoying every moment.

xoLDxo

 
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Posted by on 02/03/2012 in World

 

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I made it to India part 2

Top of the day to you!

If you enjoyed part 1, then I’m sure you will love part 2!

Off the beaten tracks:

India is a country of fragrant spices and curries, in such their food is something to be experienced. There is something for everybody – from piping hot to lightly flavoured.

A restaurant you have to make a turn at is KYBER – 145, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Fort, Mumbai.

After entering through a wooden door decorated with Urdu couplets, you are served authentic Indian cuisine, which they have coined as Ambrosia – the food of the Gods. There are lots of nooks and crannys – suitable for small intimate dinners or a group of people. A definite must on the menu is their Chicken Badaami – Chicken cooked in a rich, fragrant cream and badaam (almond) sauce… really to die for!!! Oh and don’t forget to order Masala tea – basically a spice tea, even if you are not a tea drinker you still have to try this!

           

Have you ever heard of the book “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts? If not, the first thing you have to do before going to India is read this incredible story, it explains India in all it’s good and in all it’s bad.

If you have well then you will know of the next place I love in India “Leopolds”  as it is extensively mentioned in the book. Yes it exists, yes it is there and yes it is amazing.  You will find in on Colaba Caseway in the Fort area of Bombay. (Across the Colaba Police Station) Unfortunately it was one of the early sites of attacks during the 2008 terrorist attacks and was extensively damaged, but opened about 5 days later.  Established in 1871 it started as a wholesale oil store and over the years has been a resturant/store/pharmacy.  Here you will find a mixture of locals and tourists in the know. Come here for cheap food, a beer and relaxed atmosphere. With regards to the food all I can say is I still dream of their Chicken Tikka Masala with Garlic Naan Bread (real garlic pieces) eaten with your hands in true Indian style!!! Simply divine! Also if you are super lucky you might just pick up an already signed copy of Shantaram to treasure!

 

Go to a temple – Be advised go with a guide, as there are many rules and regulations which you will not want to break. The architecture and design of all of them are beautiful. And you might even find a few nuggets of advise such as: “Every man is the architect of his own fortune”.

 

Need to do some laundry? If you have the nerves, try doing it the way the locals do and head over to Dhobi Ghats. Clothes are dropped off at laundry shops throughout the city and then brought to the “Bombay Laundry”, personally I’d be worried of losing my clothes, but it seems to work! Approximately 5000 men literally beat the dirt out of the clothes using open-air troughs. A good view to see all this in action is from the bridge across the railway tracks of Mahalaxmi Railway station.

             

Crawford Market – Wholesale market for vegetables, fruits, flowers, meat and fish!  More colours and spices you could dream of. A food lovers market of note but the meat section is not really for the faint hearted though – the smells can be a bit harsh. P.S. “trade secret”-  I hear this is where Grannie Banana does her banana shopping 🙂

Lonavala – Aaaah mysterious and secretive Lonavala! Hiding deep most thoughts in a shroud of mist and there is a secret around every corner. Known as the jewel of the Sahyadri Mountains, it is 106km southeast of Bombay at an altitude of 625m above sea level. Should you wish to see the famous, ancient Buddhist rock cut caves of Bhaja and Karla then Lonavala will also serve as your starting point.

It is best to come to Lonavala with a guide, else you will get very lost. During Monsoon season the mist is so thick you can barely see your hand, and before you know it you might just walk head first into a camel. There are waterfalls, grassy hills and an abundance of tranquility. The people are friendly and will want to pull you closer for a photo – they are not harmful, but it could get a little crowded. If you have the stomach to hold it (luckily I do) then there is nothing nicer than having a spicy fried onion dish made over a fire, atop these hills served with warm masala tea. Probably one of the cheapest meals we ate, and one that will always remain in my heart. For this I have Pawaan and Mr Singh to thank.

       

As with any trip anywhere you will want to do a bit of shopping! Head on over to Colaba Causeway, which is an everyday carnival of jewlery, crystals, brass items, antiques (or so they say), linen, fabric, clothes, incense, books and the list just goes on!

Two questions you might ask yourself in India:

  1. Will the chemist really find the medicine I’m looking for in this chaos?
           2.  Why is Marine Drive – the promenade which stretches from Walkeshwar to Nariman Point – one of
                the most beautiful roads in Bombay and why is it called the Queen’s Necklace?

Your answers are:

  1. Yes!!!!  Ask for anything and the chemist will be able to pull the box immediately! That’s what I call ordered chaos!!!
  2. And the Queen’s Necklace? Well that is best explained taking a photo of it in the evening, with all the glittering lights:

Mumbai /Bombay – which ever name you choose to use, is only one city in India, but she has captivated my heart.  Why not look past the assumptions you might first make and delve deeper into a city that has many hidden secrets she is willing to share, if you only give her a chance.

xoLDxo

 
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Posted by on 30/01/2012 in Travel, World

 

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I made it to India part 1

Top of the day to you!

In my first blog about India I explained how I neatly got sent home and never quite made it into this beautiful country, but I am happy to report that I eventually did enter India! This is a guest blog I wrote for Grannie Banana. (see sidebar for link to her blog).

Before anyone considers making the journey to India, they need to consider the following statement carefully:

You will either love India or hate her , there is no grey area – none!

Now me: I . LOVE . INDIA.

Arriving at the airport every one of your senses are assalted. The colassal amount of bodies pushing and jostling.The smells of humidity,people, perfumes, spices. The noise of hundreds of voices calling you to take their taxi, book into their hotel, let them carry your luggage and the ever asking for money. The feel of the heat and humidity which hits you like a wall the moment you leave the aircraft. And in your mouth you can taste India – everything you smell, see and hear seems to leave its essense everytime you breathe.  And this is all happening in the wee hours of the morning!

Mumbai – or Bombay as many of the residents still refer to of their much loved city (renamed 1996) – has opened her arms to me and I fall into them willingly.

Why do so many people hate Bombay – India’s largest city and capital of the state?

One word – Slums.

They are all over the city, they stretch for miles – shack upon shack, often as far as the eye can see. The poverty and poorness of the city not hidden from touristic eyes, but almost as if on display.  Homes – where you will find generations living together – will be on the pavement infront of a brand store.

Your eyes tear, and your heartstrings pull, asking yourself what can I do to help? We need to get a Western charity organisation in immediately to help. How can they live like that? They must be so unhappy!

Then you take a closer look. You see the smiling faces, the happiness shining out of these “unhappy” people. You see the children playing alongside each other. You see neighbours helping one another. You see peace. You see love. You see kindness. You see the true face of India.

Now ask yourself again just because we are trained to believe material things bring happiness does that mean that somebody who has never possessed such things will miss it? Ask yourself with all your accumulated “wealth”  who is the better off person?

Now if you are still willinging to journey further, take my hand and I will tell you my story of Bombay – The city that stole my heart.

To start off with; in any city you first need to see the “touristic attractions” – The things you will find in the guide books, as cliched as it might be!

The Gateway to India

Should your travels take you further into India, then this is the most appropriate first stop. Erected to commemorate the landing in India of their imperiall majesties King George V and Queen Mary on the second of December MCMXI (1911) (Quick lesson:  M=1000. D=500. C=100. L=50. X=10. I=1. Any time a smaller number is in front of a larger one, subtract it from the larger one) It’s architectural styles is a combination of Hindu – the decorations and Muslim – the arch. The foundation stone was laid in March 1911 and construction was finished in 1924.

Victoria Train Station  (now known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus)
One of the busiest railway stations in India and one of the largest historical buildings in Bombay. Building started in 1878 and opened for passengers in 1882, it is a beautiful example of Victorian Gothic architecture. Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2004.

University of Mumbai

Founded in 1857, the university is modelled on those in Britain. The Rajabai Clock Tower, situated in the Fort Campus is one of Bombay’s landmarks and is modelled on Big Ben in London. The tower is named in memory of Premchand Raichand’s (contributed monetarily) mother – Rajabai.

Gandhi Museum (Mani Bhavan)

It is in this three-story home that Mahatma Gandhi lived from 1917 to 1934, whenever he was in Bombay.  Housed is a library of approx 50,000 books and periodicals on Gandhi-related works. There are various Dioramas (scenes which capture a moment in time) depicting major events and turning points in Gandhi’s fight for his nation’s freedom.

These are just a few of the things you will be able to find using your guide book, next I would suggest you do a bit of exploring on your own and if that’s a bit too scary for you then paying a local tourguide to show you the true Bombay.

xoLDxo

A few FYI’s:

  • There are lots of children – they seem very cute and will do you no harm, BUT they will surround you and before you know it they will clean your pockets inside out. Be firm with them and say NO.
  • Bakhshish – is the Hindi word for tip, you will hear this word spoken a lot as the beggars use it to beg for money
  • You might be stopped and asked to star in a Bollywood movie – while at times this might be legit, it is best not to take the chance.
  • Never pay the asked for price for anything you want to buy (except in restaurants etc), it is customary to always bargain down the first asked price. Decide on what you are willing to pay for something, don’t back down and keep your wits about you.
  • Going in monsoon season is not necessarily a bad thing – yes you might have some rain, but prices and costs are generally cheaper than “in season”
 
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Posted by on 27/01/2012 in Travel, World

 

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India Calls, Am I ready to respond?

I wrote this blog many years ago and was then asked by my friend Grannie Banana, if we could add it to her blog (please see sidebar for link to her blog). As it is a part of my “history” I’m adding it to my blog as well.

Plane ticket – check, passport – check, enough space in my luggage for all the shopping I will be bringing back – check, ergo I am packed and ready to go – India beckons! With visions of linen, tailor-made leather jackets, antiques, good food, adventure – the list goes on and on – JD (who works for our “proudly South African” airline and is an alias name – John Doe) and I drive early to Johannesburg International. He drops me off and goes to sign on for duty. I am left to my own devices, which of course means stock up time -magazines and snacks for the waiting period. By now my stomach is complaining about a lack of nutrition so a stop is in order, one salmon/cream cheese croissant and cappuccino cream later and I am ready for the check-in counters.

A day flight means that the airport does not feel like a one day end of season sale, so check in goes fast and even immigration is a breeze for once. Next stop duty free! There is something about shopping in the duty free area of an airport which just compels you to buy. Do you actually need the extra T shirt? Do you want it? Hey, do you even really like it? No! But! It’s duty free! Never mind that the prices seem suspiciously the same as in any of our malls – it’s duty free! Which basically translates to my brain as buy, buy, buy! Sometime later, I have made it through with as little damage to the plastic money as possible and I’m on the plane!

The feeling of a powerful engine lifting the massive weight of metal, fuel, lots of luggage and of course all us human bodies, is one of absolute wonder! I have to close my eyes and savour it! Needless to say the fact that business class was empty and I got the wonderful, (mostly unattainable) upgrade to business class makes everything magical. It is truly amazing to know you are travelling over countries while sipping sparkling wine, eating a menu ordered meal with proper cutlery and then being able to lie flat down and sleep with a comfy duvet and pillow.

The plane lands, and there’s the excitement of being in a different country, the anticipation of experiencing a new culture -I can’t wait. All that is left is the simple process of presenting my passport, clearing immigration and it will all begin.

In my mind I hear the start of the drum-roll as I present my passport and then …the drum-roll comes to a screeching halt…

“Where’s your visa?” demands the intimidating immigration official.

“Where’s your visa???”

What visa? Oh gosh, it’s ok, stay calm –he is just making a mistake – they do that don’t they?

Please say they do.

“Oh no” I say; “you see I’m South African -I don’t need a visa” (ever the optimist). “Go over there” he instructs and points to a counter 10 feet away.

10 feet is not far, but suddenly it feels like the longest walk to disaster! Just stay calm -this is only a small technicality! But the stern and unforgiving faces definitely make me wonder if this time the glass is indeed half empty. I explain that I’m under the impression that no visa is needed for a stay of under 7 days … blank stares, I offer to buy a visa …blank stares. Oh boy the panic is building up… please?, please?, please?…blank stares. I’m told: “Go sit over there”; meekly I obey and sink into a typically hard airport chair and await my fate.

Suddenly it seems like a bright light appears, and coming down the escalator I see the familiar uniform of my knight in shining armour! Ok, it is not quite an armour, but at this moment I need a prince, because I feel like a maiden in distress! JD gives me a look of concern seeing I’m upset. He walks over and I break the news. “Don’t worry I will see what I can do” he says. He walks across to the officials, while the rest of the crew give me looks of sympathy. I can see JD gesturing and speaking, but my hopes are dashed as I see the now familiar blank stares. The captain of the flight -a man with clout and generally a lot of respect-strolls over to try his luck and explains that officially I am part of his crew, will be staying with the crew and will leave with the crew. The very “adaptable” official now says he has nothing more to say, I am not entering the country and that is that.

The crew have to leave and with lots of hugs and promises to stay in contact, JD enters where I cannot go. I am now crying and not even hysterical crying, it just seems like the taps have been turned on and won’t close! My passport is somewhere, JD is gone, I hardly understand anyone, I am alone! After about 15min I am handed my passport with a paper exclaiming in big letters INADMISSABLE. Can you believe it? I feel like a criminal! I am escorted (in case I make a break for it and scramble into the country) to international departures and left on my own. I make a quick dash to the smoking bar for a now much needed nicotine break. I feel very uncomfortable, as I am the only woman there except for a lady selling food -oh gosh maybe I’m breaking some local law!? I only have enough time for one -and then I’m hurrying back to departures, my flight is boarding and I am delegated back to cattle class on the same Airbus I just arrived on. I try to make myself as comfortable as possible and await takeoff. This time the feeling is not quite as exciting as yesterday (was it only yesterday?) 10 long, long hours later the captain announces descent for Johannesburg International oh joy! Landing is smooth and at immigration I present my proudly South African passport. No problems! I walk through arrivals; carefully scanning the crowd and my heart sings when I see the familiar face of my father! Home! My emotions seesaw again and I rush for the comfort of a daddy’s hug.

The lesson learnt?

As exciting and enticing as travel might be there is nothing quite like coming back to our beautiful country-South Africa and feeling the safety of being home. Just as a suggestion always make doubly sure what visas and paperwork you will need before travelling to another country and never ever assume!

xoLDxo

 
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Posted by on 06/01/2012 in Travel, World

 

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A letter from France – Une lettre de France

I wrote the below blog for a good friend of mine Grannie Banana and have added it here for my readers to enjoy. You can also follow her on her blog http://www.granniebanana.com

Dear Reader,

Before reading this letter, I want you to find yourself a quiet relaxing spot, pour yourself a glass of wine and put on some soft music, even light some candles if the mood strikes you – only then will you be ready to be transported to where I find myself.  I’ll give you a few moments to prepare.

Right – you ready? Let’s begin.

Imagine a town with cobblestone roads, rich in culture and history. Imagine a place where the bells of an ancient church chime each hour. Hear the people around you chatting in the lyrical language of love. See children laughing, adults walking their dogs, woman dressed to perfection and the men who feature in many a romantic girls dream. Soak in the aromatic smell of freshly brewed coffee and you will have an idea of where I am.

“Un café en France” – does that not just sound better than “A coffee shop in France” so while I sit here and absorb all that is French, drinking une grand café (TIP: If you drink your coffee white, make sure to ask for milk – else you will get it black) I feel the need to be creative (France does that to a person!) and have therefore decided to put pen to paper – well to be correct: keyboard to computer.

The French themselves refer to France in the feminine – La France and this is so true. La France can only be a woman! With all her secrets and desires, pretending to be haughty and aloof, yet demanding that you love her for all that she is – unconditionally. Teasing you with her beauty and charm, but never letting you in to her innermost thoughts.  She is a temptress flaunting her delicious wines, creamy Bries and Camemberts, rich delicious chocolates and soft freshly baked breads. She seduces even with her words – words which even when only spoken flow over you like a musical note.

There is a saying that says “When in Rome, do as the Romans,” but in France it is more than that – she brings out “Les joies de la vie” – The joys of life.  Going to a market on a Saturday morning and standing before a vendor only selling olives, deciding whether I want huge garlic green olives or succulent black olives – the olive choices are endless.  Then on to buy fresh farm eggs – with the feathers still stuck to them. Popping over to buy paint brushes and paint, because I feel inspiration from Monet! Ordering a freshly baked baguette which will be the perfect companion to the pate I’ve bought. Going to the local supermarket and picking out an affordable ruby red wine to accompany my meal. Stopping at the “bureau de poste”, to send a postcard. (Yes! I actually wrote a postcard) During cold winter months dressing in boots and scarves, packing hot red wine and sitting on a bench discussing life and all that it means. Running down streets laughing and giggling just because you are alive and France will not look at you with scorn if you do so. La France – she brings out all that you wish to do – and somehow never find the time for.

Of course as any lady she has her moments, such as siesta time when the town shuts down for… well … a nap. This would not be so bad if all the stores shut and opened at the same time, but no each one has its own times – and it becomes a finely tuned mission doing your shopping in the afternoon.  Or the red tape bureaucracy – the French LOVE paperwork… for anything you want to do there is a mile long paper trail that follows it. Also we think in l’Afrique du Sud – South Africa (my beautiful country) people like to strike – well in France I think it has almost become an art form!  A lot of people will also say that the French are an unfriendly lot – I disagree. It is not that they are purposely unfriendly – because I have met too many French people who have helped and been kind to me for this statement to be true – it is more that they do not easily let people in. I find them to be a proud nation – you are in their country so the very least you can do is try and be respectful by attempting to speak their language.

If you were at a quiz night and was asked who is “La dame de fer” – The Iron Lady? Would you be able to answer? If they gave you a clue and said it is the most-visited paid monument in the world would you be able to answer now? What if they said it was one of the recognizable structures in the world?  I’m sure by now you know I’m referring to “La Tour Eiffel” – The Eiffel Tower.  A visit here must be on every person’s bucket list when visiting France as it is truly the global icon. There are three levels and you can purchase tickets to ascend either by stairs or lift.

Thanks to the Hunchback of Notre Dame everybody knows of the beautiful Notre Dame de Paris church, but how many of you know that the name means “Our Lady” (how poetic?!) which is the French title for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jean de Jandun named it one of the three most important buildings of Paris. “that most terrible church of the most glorious Virgin Mary, mother of God, deservedly shines out, like the sun among stars” Even if you are not religious, just for the sheer beauty this church is a must!

Ever heard of the Mona Lisa? Yes that lady with the half smile that makes you wonder what on earth she is thinking about! Well her home at the moment is the Musée du Louvre, Paris (also featured in the Dan Brown book “Da Vinci Code”) – and she is actually a lot smaller than you would imagine. Be prepared for loooonnng queues!

Aaah beautiful Avenue des Champs Élysées or just “Champs Élysées” for those in the know. “La plus belle avenue du monde” – The most beautiful avenue of the world. The clipped horse-chestnut trees lead you into a false sense of security where you think this is just a beautiful avenue whilst being one of the most famous … never realising that this is also one of the most expensive strips of real estate in the world! 1.91km of luxurious, name brand stores delighting every stylish person, demanding you live to higher standards and yes where I ended up buying the most expensive pair of shoes I own, due to having worn an uncomfortable pair before. (Ok Ok honesty: I just wanted to say I bought something from a store on this avenue!!!!)

There are many many many more things to see and do while in magnifique France – these are just scratching the surface.  What I can tell you though, is that memories will be made, and inhibitions will be released and I console myself that when I leave, I will have something to remind me of the essence of France.  What is that you might ask?

Well let me give you a hint: In an interview Marilyn Monroe was asked what does she wear to bed? Her answer?

“Chanel no 5.”

My fragrance! – To me it embodies all that is France – seductive, soft, enveloping – the smell of a woman in all her glory, never quite letting you in, romantic, encouraging you to let go and yet protective of herself, a timeless classic and always, always a lady!

Bisou, Bisou,

La Dee

 
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Posted by on 15/12/2011 in World

 

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