Madrid Like a Madrileño: A Local’s Guide to Spain’s Lively Capital

Post Published October 15, 2023

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Madrid Like a Madrileño: A Local’s Guide to Spain’s Lively Capital

Madrid Like a Madrileño: A Local's Guide to Spain's Lively Capital - Explore Madrid's Famous Plazas and Parks

Madrid is known for its lively plazas and gorgeous parks, which serve as popular gathering spots for locals and tourists alike. These open spaces exemplify the passion and vibrancy of Madrid's culture. Wandering through the city's many plazas and parks offers visitors a taste of authentic Spanish life.

The Plaza Mayor is Madrid's main square, located in the heart of the city. This vibrant plaza was built in the 17th century and remains one of the top attractions in Madrid today. The rectangular plaza is surrounded by a three-story complex of apartments with wrought-iron balconies, home to over 230 balconies facing the square. Visitors can browse shops, cafes, and restaurants lining the plaza or simply sit and people-watch. Don't miss the statue of King Philip III located in the center. Street performers, artists, and musicians often entertain crowds gathered in the Plaza Mayor as well. Stop at one of the many terraces for some sangria and tapas while soaking in the energy of the plaza.
Another famous plaza is the Puerta del Sol, Madrid's lively central square and public transportation hub. The iconic Tío Pepe sign above the square's eastern building has become a symbol of Madrid. The bear and tree statue in the plaza's center marks Kilometer Zero, the point from which Spain's radial network of roads begins. Street performers flock to the Puerta del Sol, so you can often catch live music or entertainment there. The plaza is especially lively during the countdown to midnight on New Year's Eve.
While the above plazas showcase Madrid's spirited social life, the Parque del Buen Retiro provides a peaceful respite from the city's energy. The 350-acre park contains beautiful sculptures, monuments, galleries, and lakes. Locals love to row boats on the large lake, jog on tree-lined paths, or simply relax on the lawn. At weekends, the park often hosts markets and live music events. Don't miss the famous monument to Alfonso XII with its grand colonnade overlooking the lake. Wander through the rose garden and admire the Glass Palace, built in 1887 to house exotic flora. Grab an ice cream and spend an afternoon exploring this urban oasis.
Madrid Río is another delightful green space cutting through the city. This riverside park stretches along the Manzanares River, offering over 15 miles of paths for walking, running, or cycling. Locals flock here on weekends for picnics or to work out at the outdoor gym spaces dotting the park. Madrid Río contains fountains, playgrounds, gardens, and even an urban beach during summer. An interesting architectural feature is the set of cable-stayed bridges crossing the river, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Make time to stroll along the river and cross the striking Puente del Rey bridge for lovely city views.

One lesser-known plaza bursting with youthful energy is the Plaza de Dos de Mayo in the hip Malasaña neighborhood. On any given evening, you can find young Madrileños gathered with drinks, nibbles, and guitars. Impromptu jam sessions featuring budding musicians often spring up, representing Madrid's lively underground music scene. Nearby bars and nightclubs keep the plaza buzzing late into the night. Street art covers the walls and alleys around Dos de Mayo, exemplifying Madrid's artistic spirit.
Madrid'sRoyal Palace and the adjacent Plaza de Oriente make up one of the most beautiful areas in the city. This grand palace served as the official residence of Spanish royalty from the 18th to 20th centuries. Visitors can tour the lavish interior and admire works by great masters like Velázquez and Goya. The exterior façade and courtyard are equally impressive, a masterpiece of Baroque architecture. Next to the palace lies the scenic Plaza de Oriente, home to impressive sculptures of Spanish royalty surrounding lush gardens. The adjacent opera house, Teatro Real, and National Library are architectural highlights as well. After visiting the palace, relax in the plaza and enjoy live orchestral music performed on summer evenings.

Madrid Like a Madrileño: A Local's Guide to Spain's Lively Capital - Immerse Yourself in Madrid's Vibrant Food Scene

Madrid’s cuisine showcases the very best of Spanish flavours and ingredients. From buzzing tapas bars to Michelin-starred restaurants, the city offers an incredible diversity of dining experiences. Food lies at the heart of Madrid’s culture, so be sure to fully immerse yourself in the local culinary scene.

Tapas hopping through the evenings is an essential Madrid experience. These small shared plates allow you to sample a variety of classic Spanish dishes as you move between bars. Calle Cava Baja in the vibrant La Latina neighborhood contains numerous excellent tapas bars, perfect for a tasting crawl. Top picks include Juana La Loca, known for creative twists on tapas, and La Chata, an old-school spot specializing in stews. Don’t miss the ubiquitous Spanish omelet, pan-fried prawns, and patatas bravas drizzled with spicy tomato sauce and aioli. Wash it all down with a glass of Rioja red wine or an ice-cold cerveza.
Another atmospheric area to indulge in tapas is the Mercado de San Miguel near Plaza Mayor. This covered gourmet food market contains over 30 stalls selling tapas, cheeses, hams, oysters and more. Grab plates from several vendors and enjoy them alfresco with a glass of vermouth. This market perfectly encapsulates Madrid’s passion for quality produce and social eating.
Seafood lovers shouldn’t miss Madrid’s fresh array of mariscos. The city receives daily deliveries of seafood from both the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. A standout is gambas al ajillo (shrimp sautéed in olive oil and garlic) served sizzling hot in terra cotta dishes. Other favorites include chipirones (baby squid), navajas (razor clams), and boquerones (fresh anchovies). Wash it all down with a glass of chilled white wine.

One local favorite is the bocadillo de calamares, a crusty baguette sandwich filled with fried calamari drizzled with mayonnaise or aioli. You can find these delicious sandwiches at Cervecería Santa Bárbara near Plaza Mayor. Don’t be shy with the napkins, as the greasy fried squid and sauces will drip down your hands. But the messiness is all part of the experience!

Madrid excels at classic Spanish meat dishes as well, from succulent steaks to fall-off-the-bone oxtail stews. The cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig) is legendary, with Casa Botín widely acclaimed for serving up the best in Madrid since 1725. Their secret is oak-fueled ovens that impart incredible flavor.

For those craving steaks, no visit to Madrid is complete without trying a chuletón. This thick-cut bone-in ribeye is seared on the grill or roasted in a wood-fired oven before arriving perfectly rare at your table. Top spots for sublime chuletón include La Finca de Susana and Restaurante Los Galayos, where you can watch the steaks sizzle over coals.
Madrid’s array of markets provide opportunities to assemble the ultimate Spanish picnic. The historic Mercado de la Paz offers a mouthwatering selection of cured meats, sheep's milk cheeses, marinated olives, and crusty bread. Pair your market finds with a bottle of sparkling Cava and head to the Parque del Buen Retiro for the ideal picnic.
Spanish sweets provide the perfect ending to any meal. No trip to Madrid is complete without trying the utterly decadent fried dough churros dipped in thick hot chocolate. Some top spots for this beloved breakfast include Chocolatería San Ginés and Churrería Manuella. The creamy custard flan also makes for a perfect light dessert after a heavy Spanish meal.
In addition to its wealth of local eateries, Madrid features 12 restaurants with Michelin stars, including 3 with the coveted 3-star ranking. Dining Fine is one of the city’s temples of modern gastronomy, led by chef Diego Guerrero. His 30-course tasting menu provides a dazzling tour of contemporary Spanish cuisine accented with Asian influences. Each dish looks like a miniature work of art.

For those seeking the pinnacle of tradition, Lúa Madird offers a luxe take on classic Spanish fare. Located in the posh neighborhood of Salamanca, the elegant dining room with vaulted ceilings sets the stage for the artistry about to unfold on your plate. Their rice dishes shine, especially the paella de marisco brimming with fresh shellfish and seafood. Expect sophistication both in the food and service.
An insider tip for foodies is to time your visit to coincide with Madrid Fusion in late January. This 3-day conference hosted by some of Spain's top chefs offers discussions, tastings, and culinary exhibitions that are open to the public. You’ll gain invaluable insider access to the forces shaping the future of Spanish gastronomy.

What else is in this post?

  1. Madrid Like a Madrileño: A Local's Guide to Spain's Lively Capital - Explore Madrid's Famous Plazas and Parks
  2. Madrid Like a Madrileño: A Local's Guide to Spain's Lively Capital - Discover Madrid's Rich Art and Architecture
  3. Madrid Like a Madrileño: A Local's Guide to Spain's Lively Capital - Experience Madrid's Exciting Nightlife and Entertainment
  4. Madrid Like a Madrileño: A Local's Guide to Spain's Lively Capital - Get to Know Madrid's Diverse Neighborhoods and Cultures

Madrid Like a Madrileño: A Local's Guide to Spain's Lively Capital - Discover Madrid's Rich Art and Architecture

Madrid Like a Madrileño: A Local’s Guide to Spain’s Lively Capital

Madrid boasts an artistic pedigree spanning centuries, making it a top destination for art and architecture aficionados. The city overflows with world-class museums and galleries housing masterpieces from Old Masters to modern trailblazers. Intricately ornate cathedrals and palaces dot Madrid as well, reflecting the grandeur of Spanish royalty and the Church. Architecture enthusiasts will delight at styles spanning Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassical, and more. Understanding Madrid’s legacy as an artistic epicenter provides insight into what shaped this passionate city.
No artistic experience in Madrid would be complete without visiting the Prado Museum, one of the world’s premier collections of European art. The expansive gallery displays over 7,000 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,000 prints and 8,200 drawings. Must-see works include Hieronymus Bosch’s fantastical The Garden of Earthly Delights, Rogier van der Weyden’s emotional Descent from the Cross, and Peter Paul Ruben’s baroque masterpiece The Three Graces. devote special attention to the museum’s impressive holdings of Spanish masters like El Greco, Murillo, Ribera, Zurbarán and of course the iconic Francisco de Goya. His unflinching war paintings and “Black Paintings” radiate emotion, beautifully captured in giants like Saturn Devouring His Son and Third of May 1808. Beyond the walls, the Prado’s architecture itself dazzles – the grand neoclassical façade references a Greek temple.
Equally impressive is the Reina Sofía Museum, Spain’s national museum of 20th century art. Here you’ll find Picasso’s anti-war masterwork Guernica depicting the 1937 bombing of the eponymous Basque town – it sprawls across a 15-foot canvas with contorted figures and animals howling in anguish. This haunting piece perfectly exemplifies Picasso’s Cubist style. Other highlights include Salvador Dalí’s dreamlike works, Joan Miró’s whimsical abstract paintings, and Juan Gris’ Cubist still lifes. The museum’s holdings go beyond painting to encompass photography, film, sculpture and more. Architect Jean Nouvel blended the original 18th century hospital building with striking modern design, resulting in a fascinating juxtaposition of old and new.

Smaller galleries provide a more intimate look at Madrid’s art. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum houses works spanning centuries, from Renaissance religious scenes to the Impressionists through modern pop art. Must-sees include Caravaggio’s dramatic Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Cezanne’s moody landscapes, and Lichtenstein’s tongue-in-cheek takes on classic genres. The museum’s eclectic collection within a stunning historic palace provides a panorama of art history’s greatest hits. For contemporary works, don’t miss the CaixaForum cultural center. Their exhibitions highlight emerging and mid-career artists in edgy shows that rotate throughout the year. The vertical garden façade proves as impressive as the art inside.
In addition to museums and galleries, art spills onto Madrid’s streets in colorful murals and statues around every corner. The bohemian Malasaña neighborhood bursts with funky street art, especially along Calle Pez and Plaza Dos de Mayo. Look down while walking to discover quirky mosaics lining park paths and metro underpasses. The iconoclastic sculptures of the Sorolla and Paseo de la Castellana gardens play with proportion and perception in whimsical ways.

Beyond visual art, Madrid’s architecture dazzles with styles spanning centuries. The Cathedral de la Almudena provides a monumental example of neoclassical design; its grand exterior columns mimic a Roman temple while the 113-meter spires added Gothic flair. Inside, colorful stained glass windows designed by contemporary artists bathe the space in magical light. Nearby lies the Royal Palace, considered one of the top achievements of European Baroque architecture. The lavish interior with frescoed ceilings stuns – don’t miss the Throne Room with its crimson and gold décor. Behind the palace sprawls the Sabatini Gardens and Campo del Moro, exemplifying formal French-style gardens.

Austere Renaissance façades characterize the buildings of Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor, contrasting with the ornate Gothic Almudena Cathedral on the other side of the Royal Palace. The steepled roofs and wrought-iron balconies of Plaza Mayor harken back to Madrid’s beginnings as a medieval city. Examples of Modernisme architecture include the jewel-like Palacio Longoria with its colorful ceramic tiles accented by wrought-iron balconies reminiscent of ocean waves.

Lesser known architectural gems scatter the neighborhoods, like the magnificent stained-glass dome over San Antonio de los Alemanes church or the whimsical Egyptian temple facade of the Debod Temple brought from Aswan as a gift of friendship. Admire the decorative brickwork of the Mercado de San Antón in Chueca and the stately neo-Mudéjar Jiménez-Quesada Foundation.

Modern architecture makes a stunning statement as well, from the steel and glass CaixaForum to Norman Foster’s sleek redesign of Puerta de Alcalá. The Four Towers business district contains audacious skyscrapers like the slanted 250-meter Torre de Cristal and the leaning 237-meter Torre Espacio. Rising 235 meters over AZCA square, the Torre Picasso resembles exposed structural beams, designed by Minoru Yamasaki of World Trade Center fame. For a different perspective, ascend to hotel rooftop bars like Ginko Sky Bar or Gymage to gaze over Madrid’s ever-evolving architectural landscape.

Madrid Like a Madrileño: A Local's Guide to Spain's Lively Capital - Experience Madrid's Exciting Nightlife and Entertainment

Madrid Like a Madrileño: A Local’s Guide to Spain’s Lively CapitalNighttime in Madrid sizzles with an electricity that you can feel pulsing through the streets. From world-class flamenco shows to underground jazz joints, Madrid after dark promises pulse-quickening fun. Follow locals’ lead as they dress up and hit the town, always arriving after dinner around 10 pm when venues start filling up. Pace yourself for a marathon night out that will stretch into the wee hours. Madrid’s passionate approach to recreation ensures every moment thrills with joy and excitement.

No discussion of Madrid nightlife omits the tabernas lining the storied Huertas neighborhood. These traditional taverns have been popular watering holes for centuries, many featuring preserved historic interiors. Taste sherry from wooden casks while snacking on boquerones at timeworn spots like La Venencia and Los Caracoles. Soak up old Madrid atmosphere as veteran bartenders sling drinks with precision. Nearby, jazz bars like Populart and Cafe Central host top local jazz talents as well as international legends like Dizzy Gillespie who have graced the stage. Sip a whiskey while losing yourself in improvised riffs echoing off vaulted ceilings.

Just across the street from ritzy Puerta del Sol lies one of Madrid’s most famous cocktail bars, El Museo Chicote. Opened in 1931 by legendary barman Perico Chicote, this art deco locale counts Hemingway and Ava Gardner among past patrons. Sip a negroni or absinthe-tinged Earthquake cocktail beneath the 1930s murals and whimsical dangling marionettes. On Thursdays, groove to live DJs spinning club hits in the back room. El Museo Chicote embodies Spain’s early embrace of cocktail culture.

Near Ópera metro, seek out The Roof for panoramic views of the city’s skyline from an open-air terrace on the 6th floor. Savor exotic cocktails or a glass of cava while plot-hopping between the restaurant, lounge and nightclub spaces. International DJ guests make this a see-and-be-seen destination, with well-heeled locals mingling on the terrace before hitting the dance floor downstairs. Arrive by midnight to experience The Roof at the peak of its powers.
Just across from the Royal Palace, venture into the bars around Plaza de Santa Ana to mingle with a spirited mix of tourists and locals. Cervecería Santa Ana dates back to 1904, its belle epoque interior preserved with velvet banquettes and stained glass. Sip Spanish lager or vermouth on tap while debating which of the plaza’s many terraces to try next. Nearby, glass-walled La Tartana provides a great spot to people-watch while enjoying their signature frozen strawberry daiquiris. Plaza de Santa Ana practically overflows with joyful energy on balmy evenings, so plan to bar hop between patio tables.
Madrid’s indie music scene congregates at the bars surrounding Plaza Dos de Mayo in Malasaña. Feel the alternative spirit at eclectic performance venues like Maravillas or Intruso Bar, their walls splashed with colorful street art. Grab a craft beer and rock out to sets from local indie bands or DJs dropping electronic beats. Nearby Triball keeps the party pumping into the wee hours on weekends. Drinks flow freely as young bohemians with edgy style crowd the narrow spaces. Absorb youthful underground vibes in Madrid’s most alternative enclave.

For authentic flamenco vibes, make your way to Corral de la Moreria in the Embajadores neighborhood near Lavapiés. Opened in 1956, this atmospheric venue features top flamenco performers in Spain delivering shows full of passion and bravado. Gorge on paella before the show, then sit back to witness theintensity of the dancing, guitar playing and soulful singing. Late evening shows cater to tourists, while locals head to earlier performances. Catch a show at Casa Patas for top-notch flamenco in an intimate setting. Whichever venue you try, prepare to be transported by the emotional power of heartfelt flamenco.
Night owls gather once most bars close around 2:30 or 3 am, heading to nightclubs that don’t truly come alive until after 3 am. Teatro Barceló plays mainstream hits in an 11-room mega-club that includes a Chicago speakeasy-themed bar and rooftop terrace. Just across the street sprawls glossy-glam Gabana, packed with partiers standing on chairs dancing to house and hip hop beats. For a wilder scene, punky Ocho y Medio draws tattooed revelers in its graffiti-covered space. Madrid’s clubs rage until the sun rises, so change venues throughout the night.
Sundays offer a prime opportunity to experience vermú de grifo, a beloved local tradition. Bars across the city offer vermouth on tap for around €2 a glass, pouring the lightly bitter aromatic wine from hulking metal barrels. Customers flood the bars around midday, standing hip-to-hip, expertly balancing pint glasses and small plates of olives or boquerones. Bonding over rounds of vermouth represents the pinnacle of Spanish socializing. Top spots include La Ardosa near Chamberí metro and Los Caracoles by Puerta del Sol. Don’t be shy about pairing vermouth with beer – locals love the contrasting flavors!

For concentrated nightlife, join the gay scene around Chueca. Storied venues like La Kasa de la Pradera host drag shows and go-go dancers, while dark Basement Club pumps with house music on its underground dance floors open till dawn. Relax over pre-party cocktails at laid back Divinos before dancing the night away. When hunger strikes, join the locals feasting on patatas bravas and tortilla at all-night El Bocaito on Calle Libertad – the perfect way to power up for more revelry. Madrid embraces its LGBTQ community and visitors with open arms.

Madrid Like a Madrileño: A Local's Guide to Spain's Lively Capital - Get to Know Madrid's Diverse Neighborhoods and Cultures

Madrid Like a Madrileño: A Local’s Guide to Spain’s Lively Capital

While Madrid dazzles as a unified city, exploring its distinct barrios provides an intimate look into the mosaic of cultures woven into the Spanish capital. Wandering beyond the well-trodden center reveals Madrid’s diverse soul. Each neighborhood exudes its own flavor and charm just waiting to be discovered.

Chueca serves as the beating heart of gay Madrid in the central district. Its welcoming vibe and point of pride set Chueca apart from other cities where LGBTQ culture stays underground. Walking the rainbow flag-bedecked streets provides a crash course in Madrid’s trailblazing embrace of gender diversity. The cheerful, inclusive mood draws locals of all orientations to live and play in Chueca. Stop for a relaxing vermouth at laidback Cantina Riazor before browsing the boutiques and cafes lining Calle Pelayo and Calle Augusto Figueroa. As evening unfurls, thumping beats draw partygoers to nightclubs like gritty Black & White. But Chueca’s appeal extends far beyond partying – the barrio offers an inspiring vision of Madrid’s progressive future.
Diverse Lavapiés northeast of the city center embodies Madrid’s multicultural spirit. Cheap rents originally attracted working-class Manolos, but the neighborhood now welcomes immigrants from Latin America, North Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. Strolling the eclectic streets lined with halal butchers, Bangladeshi fabric shops, and Peruvian restaurants provides a window into these varied cultures. The bustling Sunday flea market on Plaza de Tirso de Molina teems with treasures from vintage flamenco dresses to hookahs alongside delectable empanadas and kebabs. Street art like the giant ants crawling up the Mercado de San Fernando building adds bold artistic flair. Stop at counter-culture bars like multilingual La Intrusa or Studio Spades to befriend Lavapiés’ spirited locals and experience Madrid at its scrappy, inclusive finest.

For a taste of vintage Madrid, mosey through the winding lanes of La Latina and its charming Plaza de la Paja. Locals call this the “real Madrid,” exemplified by traditional bars and tabernas like Casa Lucas specializing in vermouth and Cava since the 1930s. Sift through antiques and handmade guitars at the Sunday morning El Rastro flea market before catching an acoustic flamenco session at Casa Alberto. Soak up old-world atmosphere at beloved institutions like Txirimiri tapas bar and candlelit wine bar Delicatessen. Wander narrow Cava Baja alley packed with excellent tapas joints like Juana La Loca and Sanlúcar. Ignite your taste buds with piquillo peppers at classic El Riojano before dancing at storied Villa Rosa nightclub. La Latina transports visitors back in time through its labyrinthine medieval lanes and castizo Madrid establishments.

For some Madrid residents, entering the swanky Salamanca district feels like crossing into a different country. Its immaculate streets exude elegance and luxury catering to wealthy locals and diplomats. This “Golden Mile” borders the upscale Serrano shopping district, perfect for indulging in retail therapy. Relax with a glass of rosé at an outdoor table at Serrano 16 patio before browsing the nearby Louis Vuitton, Loewe and Manolo Blahnik boutiques. Work up an appetite before feasting on seafood paella at Michelin-starred Desencaja Restaurante. Salamanca’s stately architecture provides a refined setting for this privileged enclave.

The lively student scene centers around the Complutense University campus in Moncloa-Aravaca. Stroll through the sprawling Ciudad Universitaria campus lawns dotted with striking buildings like the brutalist Geography and History Faculty building. Nearby bars surrounding Plaza de La Moncloa attract budget-minded students sipping cold Estrella Galicia or mojitos from plastic cups. Hole-in-the-wall joints like El Pez Tortilla churn out hot toasted sandwiches till the wee hours. Catch a show at indie music venue Siroco before dancing off the night at funky Costello. Moncloa-Aravaca brims with youthful energy and unpretentious nightlife.
Vibrant Malasaña charms with its funky boutiques, street art, and alternative spirit. Roam independent shops like Only Flaunt on Calle Fuencarral and Luna Nueva Studio’s handmade fashions before refueling with coffee at bohemian cafés like Lolina Vintage Café. The iconic yellow El Rastro market sign rising above Calle Ribera de Curtidores signals weekends of vintage fashion hunting. People watch from graffitied Plaza del Dos de Mayo before browsing kitschy shops near Metro Tribunal. When evening unfurls, sip vermouth on the Saint Petersburg Bar terrace before catching a set in the smoky basement tavern. Malasaña embraces Madrid’s creative, avant-garde side.

Madrid’s miles of leafy parks provide blissful escapes from urban energy. Parque del Oeste sprawls alongside the River Manzanares, threaded with jogging trails and dotted with sculptures. Pack a picnic before heading to the gorgeous rosaleda rose garden abloom from May to July. Nearby Casa de Campo defines raw natural beauty as Madrid’s largest park, featuring hills, reservoirs, and a zoo. Locals unleash their adventurous sides on bike trails, rock climbing routes, andpaddle boats on the lake. In the city center, Retiro Park enchants visitors with row boat rides and lush gardens surrounding the commanding Monument to King Alfonso XII. Enjoy an afternoon reading in the shade by the palace-like Palacio de Cristal exhibition hall. Madrid proves itself one of the greenest European capitals through its wealth of verdant parklands.
Art aficionados gravitate towards bohemian Embajadores just south of the city center. Street art proliferates in this youthful multicultural neighborhood, especially along Calle Embajadores. The graffiti-covered wall along Plaza Elipa delights the eye with larger-than-life goddesses and mythical creatures in fantastical colors. Nearby, the Costello Café con Libros combines a vegetarian bistro with a feminist bookshop and gallery space hosting women artists. Check out live blues jam sessions inside vintage Café de Oriente, wallpapered in rock memorabilia. Embajadores tantalizes creative spirits with its indie art spaces and alternative vibe just off Madrid’s tourist trail.

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