Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: August 2018

2018 Edmonton Airshow; The Sky’s The Limit

And when the smoke cleared there was an airshow.

The 2018 Edmonton Airshow took flight at the Villeneuve Airport 18 & 19th August after dense smoke from British Columbia forest fires that had blanketed the Edmonton area for days cleared  revealing brilliant blue skies and light winds, ideal conditions for high flying aerobatics displays.

Villeneuve Airport’s Runway 34 is 1000 meters long and I joined a steady trickle of airshow  attendees ambling down the tarmac,

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A number of civilian and military aircraft were on hand for visitors to walk through and one I toured is a United States Air Force (USAF) HC-130 J Hercules based at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Anchorage, Alaska. This latest variation of the venerable Hercules is deployed for border patrol and maritime reconnaissance and rescue.

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Flooded with light the Hercules cockpit is larger than the handful of civilian airliner cockpits I’ve visited over the years.  A crew of seven including two pilots flies this warbird.

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The RCAF was represented with its navy blue De Havilland Canada CT 142 Dash 8 , a military conversion of the popular twin turboprop Dash-8 civilian airliner that has carried countless millions of passengers since it introduction in the mid 1980’s.  The air frame looks like a regular Dash 8 but the bulbous nose seemed out of place until an RCAF officer on hand explained that was were the large radar system was housed.  This aircraft is flown by 402 “City of Winnipeg” squadron in an air navigation training role for both Canadian and Commonwealth flyers.

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A vivid orange and green paint scheme drew everyone to the vintage Canso PBY-5A  which rolled off the assembly line in 1943 as a patrol bomber during WWII before spending years in a civilian role as a water bomber. The Fairview Aircraft restoration Society (FARS) was founded to restore and preserve this flying piece of Canadian aviation history for future generations and there’s more on their mission on their website Save The Canso.

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Other aircraft on the ground available for a closer look were the Edmonton Police Service’s Air One, an  Airbus H-125  helicopter the service took delivery of in recent months, a CT-156 Harvard II trainer, and a CH-146 Griffon helicopter of the RCAF.

A food truck village is on hand to help the hungry and among the dozen vendors was Jackie O’s Sweet Treats whose mini donuts are as notable as the super clean lines and retro look of the food truck.

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After touring the aircraft on the ground it was time to watch the stars of the airshow, the aerobatic performers.

Gary Rower has logged more than 20,000 hours flying and rolled out his  vintage 1942 PT-17 Stearman biplane that began its life as a basic trainer for the U.S. Army Air Corps before undergoing a completed restoration in 1973.  The sound of the old radial engine taking off and going through its aerobatic routine was for me the highlight of the show.


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Buck Roetman’s purpose-built Christen Eagle aerobatic biplane seems half the size of the old Stearman and a very different engine sound.


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After flying separate routines the two biplanes combined for a duet at the end of the afternoon airshow and it was quite a sight with Roetman’s smaller and more nimble aircraft charting a different course but winding up in formation with Rower’s warbird. After the tandem ballet in the sky both biplanes taxied in and parked beneath the Villeneuve Airport control tower.

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A rare female aerobatic pilot Jacquie “B” Warda took to the skies with her 1986 Pitts Special named “The Red Eagle”.

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While part of a flying family Warda didn’t decide to become a pilot until age 32 and left a top job in the corporate world to become an aerobatic pilot at age 50.

Raised on a farm near Westlock Barry Pendrak took a spin in his home built Super Skybolt. Pendrak began his flying career as a B25 Mitchell water bomber pilot in northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

Closing the airshow the Lockheed T-33 “Acemaker” lifted off from Edmonton International Airport and did several passes at almost 600 miles per hour, close to triple the speed of some of the airshow aircraft.  The USAF’s first operational jet was piloted by Gregory “Wired” Colyer who had to slow his jet to “race” a Ferrari down the 1,500 meter main runway but even with a 200-MPH supercar it was no contest.

A key theme of the airshow was encouraging young flyers to pursue their flight dreams as virtually all of the pilots performing got hooked on flying at a very early age. Given the looming global shortage of pilots –almost 800,000 pilots are needed by 2037 to meet growing demand according to this article — the need for an increased number of recruits is more acute than ever so event organizers were reinforcing that message throughout the afternoon.

Airshow general admission was only $30 but for those wanting a more premium experience upgraded admission packages with exclusive parking and shaded lounges are also available for a premium price.

With near ideal weather and scores of eye candy for aviation buffs like myself I came away wondering why I hadn’t turned out for one of the previous Edmonton Airshows but resolved to not miss the next.

A Weekend Exploring Denver’s Craft Beer Scene

Having escaped for a weekend to the U.S. craft beer capital of Portland, Oregon months earlier I was curious to visit Denver to see how it compared and while it doesn’t boast the same number of craft breweries within its city limits as Portland the “Mile High City” still boasts an impressive array of microbreweries, taprooms, brewpubs and taverns to keep thirsty visitors and locals alike happy.

In fact, the Colorado capital is home to the so-called “Denver Beer Triangle” which runs between Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins housing over six dozen breweries which run the gamut from the giant Coors brewery in Golden – the world’s largest single-site brewery  – to renegade brewers working on specialty small batch craft beer.

One of the most decorated breweries in the U.S. Great Divide Brewing Company has been a staple of Denver’s beer scene for 20 years expanding in recent years to two locations: the original “Ballpark” brewery and taproom and a newer outlet in the RiNo (River North) neighborhood.

The original brewery and taproom in Denver’s LoDo (Lower Downtown) neighborhood is a short walk from Coors Field, home of MLB’s Colorado Rockies and what’s cool about this site is the  sturdy brick building and gleaming giant stainless steel tanks used to house a dairy processing plant but now brew memorable beers.

Great Divide offers free daily 30-minute tours of their Ballpark location on a first come, first served basis.

A different food truck is park outside around 3 PM every day offering an assortment of good pub grub from pizza to burgers and tacos. There’s a schedule of food trucks here but note it’s subject to change.

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For my visit to the taproom a few hours ahead of a Rockies game I opted for the Collette Farmhouse Ale which is brewed with barley, wheat and rice so is heartier and more complex than most wheat or Kolsh beers and at 7.3% alcohol by volume (ABV ) this beer is also a bit stronger.  Strong beers however aren’t unusual as Great Divide has become known for higher alcohol content beers over 7% including the Hercules Double IPA which at 10% ABV isn’t for the faint of heart.

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Steps from Union Station is Wynkoop Brewing Company, Colorado’s first brewpub co-founded in 1988 by former Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper who is now Colorado’s governor. Since its founding the area around Wynkoop has changed a great deal as the historic red brick warehouses that served Union Station in the 19th century have been preserved and restored to serve modern businesses.

The feeling of the original warehouse has been retained as the taproom has a grey pressed-tin ceiling, arched windows and hardwood floors.

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Wynkoop brews more than 40 beers so selecting just one isn’t easy but I opted for the Wixa Weiss Pale Wheat Ale which is an unfiltered Bavarian wheat ale style beer that’s much like others of this kind I’ve sampled except for the very subtle banana flavor.

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Literally around the block from Wynkoop Brewing is the smaller scale Falling Rock Tap House whose slogan is “No Crap On Tap” and backs that up with a staggering 91 beers on tap and another 300 in bottles, including what is likely the largest selection of Colorado-brewed beer under one roof in the world.

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Falling Rock’s extensive selection of Colorado craft beer is augmented by outstanding brands from around the U.S. and Europe.

This microbrewery has served as the unofficial headquarters for the Annual Great American Beer Festival held in Denver every Fall since 1997 and features an indoor/outdoor loading dock taproom has a very loyal following of regulars who appreciate the quality beers and founder Chris Black’s 2200 beer bottle collection that adorns almost every square inch of the wall above the bar.

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Black is very particular about not only the beer he brews but how it’s served.

An easy amble from Falling Rock  is Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery, an outdoor adventure themed brewery almost in the shadow of Coors Field as it’s located a scant 3-blocks from the ballpark.

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I tried the ‘Common Roots ‘which is another Belgian saison style beer but brewed with spruce tips and pink peppercorn adding  a hint of spice to what is a nice light summer beer.

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Open June through October is the Skyline Beer Garden which is a 40,000 square foot outdoor seasonal beer garden steps off Denver’s mile long pedestrian promenade 16th Street Mall complete with Oktoberfest-style picnic tables, ping pong tables, a 9-hole miniature golf course as well as live music on Fridays and Saturdays.

The beer garden focused on hand crafted Colorado brews so I sampled the Odell Brewing ’90 Shilling Ale’ which as the name implies is a British style amber ale. Being mid-day on a Sunday morning the venue was quieter than on a weekday when office workers fill it up for lunch and after work drinks and light bites.

Food trucks are on hand with street tacos but note that payment for both food and beer is by plastic only, no cash.

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Behind right field at Coors Field is the Blue Moon Brewing Company at the Sandlot which has unique set-up for a brewery since it’s founding in 1995 as it’s only accessible to ticket holders on game days during the major league baseball season. Originally called ‘Bellyslide Belgian White’ the Belgian-style witbier is often mistaken as an import beer but has always been owned and operated by Coors which has in recent years merged with Miller and Molson to form a giant international brewing conglomerate that’s at least part Canadian.

Blue Moon is an unfiltered Belgian-style wheat ale with deep flavor and a uniquely cloudy appearance and is served with a slice of orange to bring out the natural spices and subtle fruit flavor.

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I arrived early for the game to check out this and other ballpark attractions and grab a hot dog before game time.

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The beautifully restored century old historic landmark Union Station still serves as a Denver rail terminus but also houses boutique shops and the Crawford Hotel along with the Terminal Bar in what was the station’s ticketing office.

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The bar has a time capsule feel to it with the retro black & white tile floor tiles, wood chairs, and draft beers posted on faux trains destination boards above the bar.

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Rock Bottom Denver location on the 16th Street Mall is one of many in the brewpub chain however that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a generic, bland franchise outlet as all of its beer, some 40,000 barrels per year, is handcrafted on-site.

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I checked in at Rock Bottom around Noon the day I was catching a flight home and thanks to a weekday special caught a flight of beer as well. Here’s the before photo showing the variety of light ales, amber beers and darker porter beers.

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And the after photo.

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I liked everything on this flight except the sour ‘How Gose It’ beer. Gimme an IPA over a sour any day but it wasn’t so horrible I couldn’t drink all that came in the glass so take that for what it’s worth.

The last stop was unplanned but the neon sign at Lucky Pie Pizza & Tap House caught my eye as neon is sadly become more rare.

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A relatively new tavern – opened in 2014 – in a heritage building Lucky Pie offers a beer connoisseurs haven with some pizza pie on the side and after all what could be better than pizza & beer?

Denver tourism has produced a “Beer Trail” PDF which is here and it highlights many of the breweries I visited but I only scratched the surface of the many quality breweries in and around Denver so a return visit seems in order.

Hotel Review: AC Hotel Denver Downtown

The AC Hotel Denver Downtown is a smart, contemporary hotel that forms one half of the first dual-branded hotel that’s combined a Marriott hotel brand with a Starwood hotel brand to open since the two lodging companies’ mammoth merger in 2017.

Part of the 20 storey building operates as the AC Hotel Denver Downtown and the other as the Le Meridien Denver Downtown with each having their own lobbies, restaurants, and facilities. but there are some crossover points as this guest who took a wrong turn and wound up at the Le Meridien elevators discovered.  Both of these hotel brands are new to Denver and sport a sleek, modern European design as Le Meridien has its roots in France while Marriott’s AC Hotel brand started in Spain.

Guests flying into Denver International Airport have a few choices for transportation to the hotel but I found the best value to be hopping on the A Line train to Union Station as the 37-minute ride costs a mere USD$9 one-way per person. Tickets can be purchased at track side kiosks and trains depart every 15 minutes from 4:15 AM until 6:30 PM. There’s more on that rail ride in this video but once at the beautifully restored 1914 Beaux-Arts Union Station it’s a short walk to the 16th Street Free MallRide for the short ride on electric buses to 16th Street & California Avenue which is 2-blocks from the AC Hotel Denver Downtown. 

After a long day of travelling on planes & trains room 1213 is a welcome retreat with its floor-to-ceiling window and city skyline view. While rooms in this category average an cozy 237 sq. ft. the king bed isn’t oversize for the space.

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What makes this room different than most is the open concept with the bathroom integrated into the bedroom which for solo travelers is fine but may be a little awkward if sharing with someone you don’t know well.

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The toilet hides behind a sliding frosted glass door while the shower stall is wrapped in pristine white tile and features an excellent rainfall shower head and wand. Despite the ultra-modern room design I was a little surprised to see the eco-unfriendly small bottles of bath products from the Greek company KORRES instead of the wall mounted refillable dispensers that are becoming more the norm.

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I like the amount of counter space on the vanity for toiletries but would’ve liked a hook on the wall to hang a toiletries bag or face cloth.

The closet is also open to the room and is fine for a short summer stay for one traveler but with only four hangars wouldn’t work well in Winter for two guests with bulky outdoor clothes.

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The room lacks a mini-bar which would be useful especially on hot Summer days but does have a coffee/tea maker.  Note that ice for beverages is only found on the 2nd floor convention level so a bit of a trek from upper floor rooms.

The workspace was comfortable and equipped with enough power outlets for several electronic devices.

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While Marriott’s website lists the flat screen TV as 32-inch it’s actually more like a 55-inch model to my eye.

Bar AC is the hotel’s lobby bar and has a number of seating areas between the bar and the red felt pool table.

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Kitchen AC is adjacent to the lobby bar and features a European-inspired buffet breakfast with varieties of cheese, cold cuts, breads, eggs and cereals. Room rates do not include the buffet breakfast which is USD$15 per person, a not unreasonable amount for a hotel breakfast but I opted for the “Early Bird” special at Sam’s #3 retro diner 3 blocks from the hotel which goes for only $6.99 without coffee weekdays until 10 AM.

Denver’s highest seasonal outdoor rooftop lounge is 54Thirty and this 20th floor venue offers views of the Denver skyline and Rocky Mountains.

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photo by author 

The hotel’s central location is within a block of both the mile-long pedestrian promenade 16th Street Mall and giant Colorado Convention Center and offers easy access on foot to these and all other city center sights.

The AC Hotel Denver Downtown is a thoroughly modern hotel barely a year old that delivers a quality upscale stay in a great location but the room layout and modernity may not be to every travelers liking.  This isn’t however a trendy hotel so hip it’s uncomfortable so balances form with function and I enjoyed my 3-night stay.

CBC YEG Walk showcases the changing face of Edmonton’s city centre

While surfing the headlines on the CBC website recently I noticed a link to the Summer edition of the CBC YEG Walk, a monthly walking tour of the capital’s city centre hosted by a CBC personality so marked my calendar as I’m always willing to see Edmonton from a new perspective.

The walk began at CBC’s home in Edmonton City Centre Mall where I signed in, signed a release and collected some CBC swag; a drawstring tote, CBC logo pins and logo sunglasses.

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The tour leader is Mark Connolly, current host of Edmonton AM and a CBC Edmonton sports reporter for over 20 years and he started with an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at a live CBC Radio broadcast and a quick visit with Adrienne Pan who hosts CBC Edmonton’s afternoon drive show, Radio Active, after six years anchoring CBC Edmonton TV News.

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Mark mentioned he is the son of an Irish immigrant who founded his own cleaning company so not only is he a rare born & raised Edmontonian but in his teens he worked at CBC Edmonton as a janitor before deciding to give the broadcasting career a try.  A legion of viewers and listeners are grateful he didn’t stick with the family business as in his decades with CBC, Mark has covered seven Olympic games, numerous world championships, and the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

We moved across the street to Churchill Square, or officially Sir Winston Churchill Square, which as Mark explained has absolutely no connection to the iconic British Prime Minister beyond an admiring city council who voted to name the square in his honour after his death in 1965. A statue of the former PM adorns the western edge of the square.

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The square is empty as construction of Edmonton’s underground Light Rapid Transit (LRT) line and massive overhaul of the main branch of the Edmonton Public Library have pushed popular Summer events to alternate locations. Work on the both public projects is expected to be completed in 2020.

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Facing Churchill Square is the performing arts venue the Winspear Centre  and while I’ve walked through its doors many times to attend Edmonton Symphony Orchestra concerts but learned from Mark that the Tyndall limestone quarried in Manitoba is flecked with small prehistoric fossils if you look closely enough.

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Tyndall stone has been used in many notable Canadian landmarks including the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, The Saskatchewan and Manitoba Legislative Buildings and the Empress Hotel in Victoria.

A block north of the Winspear Centre is the Art Gallery of Alberta with its distinctive steel superstructure that undulates like a Prairie snowdrift.  Architect Randall Stout drew his inspiration from an aerial view of Edmonton’s regular grid road pattern and the irregular shape of the North Saskatchewan River that cuts through it.

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An outdoor patio offers an excellent vantage point over Churchill Square, City Hall and CBC studios.

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Another block north of the art gallery is the new home of the Royal Alberta Museum which opens its doors in Fall 2018.  The museum was built on the former site of the city’s main post office and one holdover from that building many locals might recognize is the large clock on one wall.

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Edmonton’s CN Tower actually predates the much more famous and slender structure in Toronto by a half decade and at its completion in 1971 was the tallest skyscraper in Western Canada at 26 storeys. I couldn’t resist using the tower’s familiar vertical pattern to contrast the vibrant floral mural crafted by noted local artist Giselle Denis whose 40 X 26 foot mural adorns the old Reuse Center building and was her gift to her the city where she was born and raised.

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A few blocks West from the CN Tower rises an even taller skyscraper that will regain the title of tallest building in Western Canada, the 66 storey Stantec Tower on the left which is joined by its Ice District neighbor the JW Marriott Tower which reaches 56 storeys.

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The JW Marriott Tower was officially topped off May 8, 2018 and is expected to open in early 2019.

The Edmonton Ice District is a $2.5 Billion dollar development sports and entertainment district anchored by Rogers Place, the 18,500 seat arena  which is the home of the Edmonton Oilers.

I’ve attended several concerts and NHL games since the facility opened its doors but with thousands of fellow Edmontonians making it hard to pause and notice all the designs incorporated into it including the 45-foot diameter circular mosaic set in the floor of Ford Hall by Alberta artist Alex Janvier.

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Iron Foot Place” seeks to depict Edmonton’s natural beauty piece and is made of nearly one million byzantine glass tiles which took 20 helpers six months to put together.

Right under Ford Hall at street level is a statue of a famous artist who made his mark in the sports world which greets visitors to the building. The statue of ‘The Great One’ Wayne Gretzky was originally installed outside the former hole to the Oilers, Rexall Place, before being moved to its current location.

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Adjacent to the statue is the Oilers Hall of Fame room, a celebration of  the 44-years of hockey history complete with five replica Stanley Cups, jerseys and all kinds of memorabilia from the Oilers’ dynasty years.

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The tour’s last stop directly across from Rogers Place is the Neon Sign Museum which is the first of its kind in Canada. The City of Edmonton has restored 20 neon signs that adorned Edmonton businesses for decades and mounted them on one side of the TELUS Building.

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Plaques on the wall tell the story of each sign and business. The neon gallery is best viewed after dark but is well worth visiting at any time of the day.

Opposite the Neon Sign Museum is the Mercer Warehouse which was built in 1911 and is one of the oldest buildings along 104 Street in what’s become known as the Warehouse District. The red brick Edwardian design of the warehouse and others like it nearby serve as a sharp contrast to the glass and steel skyscrapers a scant few blocks away. Like many Edmontonians I’m glad this history was preserved so the old wasn’t lost to make way for the new.

The warehouse is home to the fantastically funky Mercer Tavern, entrepreneur support agency Startup Edmonton, and the  Baijiu Bar, a Shanghai chic, Asian fusion restaurant where the tour ended with light bites and refreshments.

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The two-hour tour is aimed at visitors to Edmonton but everyone is welcome to join the monthly tours to learn more about the city centre. For upcoming tours watch for announcements on the CBC Edmonton webpage.

 

 

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