A Travellerspoint blog

Bonny Vegas

Las Vegas

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Writing this blog reminds me of my GCSE English course - no sooner had I completed an essay than I would have to sit down and start writing another one. Whereas in those days I became easily sidetracked by my ZX Spectrum, YouTube and Twitter now provide the distractions, as they just have been. My point is that updating this blog is becoming a pain, especially as I seem to be constantly a week behind and struggling to remember clearly what happened when and where. At least with this blog, I don't first have to read an unintelligible book written 400 years ago.

I had heard there was a ghost town on the outskirts of Beatty, so before setting off for Las Vegas I took a look round. The town was called Rhyolite and, like a lot of places in this part of the US, was originally set up during the gold rush of the early 20th century. The town's lifespan was only around 15 years due to all of the gold ore having been mined, and it has been a tourist attraction for nearly 100 years. Not many buildings remain in any sort of recognisable form; one of the few that did burnt down last month after being struck by lightning.

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Sadly I didn't see any ghosts - not real ones anyway. Just as interesting as the ruins was a series of artworks scattered around nearby, known collectively as the Goldwell Open Air Museum. The museum's unusual mission is to "encourage artistic exploration in the Amargosa desert", and I would say that they have succeeded.

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In Las Vegas I was back in hostels, this time in a small 6-bed dorm in a place called Hostel Cat, which dubbed itself a "party hostel" and designed for people wanting a "whirlwind romance" and to "party their ass off". Well, I didn't fancy Jimmy White and I wasn't trying to shrug off a donkey, but it was cheap and in between the main Strip and Fremont Street areas so I took a chance. It was also right outside a strip bar-cum-mucky video store - and no, I didn't go in.

My dorm-mates throughout my 3-day stay were predictably all at least 15 years younger than me. There was the usual 20-something type of behaviour such as getting hammered, stumbling in at all hours, laziness and whingeing - and my dorm-mates were even worse. They weren't a bad bunch in all fairness, a cosmopolitan array of Canadians, Australians, a Spaniard, a German and an Austrian (girls, mainly) and all spoke excellent English, including the Australians.

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There are two main areas to go in Las Vegas - the Strip, a road about 4 miles long that contains all the famous casinos such as Bellagio and Caesar's Palace, and Fremont Street, the 'old town' casinos. The Strip is pretty spectacular day and night and it's entertaining enough just walking around without actually going in anywhere. Most casinos have some sort of extravagant attraction outside such as a rollercoaster (New York New York) or gondolas (Venetian). Dolly birds and people dressed up as cartoon characters try to tempt passers-by into their particular venue, and flyer-wielding pests try to badger you into paying someone to have sex with you. There were also a lot of people selling 'ice-cold water'. I chose not to point out to them that there's no such thing and ice-cold water is in fact just ice.

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The only casino on the Strip I spent any time in was Circus Circus when I was out with the German & Austrian from my dorm. There we were kept entertained by a couple of Chinese gymnasts, a hula-hoop girl and a half-hearted clown, and we also won some sweets at an indoor amusement park like the ones you get in places like Skeggy.

Volcano display outside Mirage (sound doesn't record on my iPhone for some reason):

Fremont Street is a lot more compact but I much preferred it to the Strip for a lively night out. Last time I came here (11 years ago) it was showing its age and was a bit on the seedy side but, much like Renee Zellweger, it's had a facelift and a lick of paint and looks much the better for it. It's now mostly under cover so the street is a hive of activity, and zip wires run the length of the ceiling allowing those who fancy it a bird's eye view of proceedings.

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I liked Las Vegas, but after a few days I'd had enough and decided to move on. Gambling is not something that overly interests me and I don't really understand casinos (with the exception of poker and roulette). I don't have the patience for poker so I chose the roulette table as the location to lose the majority of my money, the rest of which disappeared into various one-armed bandits. I think I lost about $60 in total.

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Forgot the map last time so here we are... as you can see I'm in a town called Page near the Utah/Arizona border. Hopefully the next blog will bring everyone fully up to date.

Posted by LordGibil 17:11 Archived in USA Comments (4)

Into Another Valley

Mammoth Lakes, Death Valley, Beatty

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My next port of call was Mammoth Lakes, a small spread-out town that, from what I saw, contained neither mammoths nor lakes. It is situated on the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains (which also contains the Yosemite National Park), and is a popular base for skiers in the winter due to its proximity to these mountains, including nearby Mammoth Mountain. It seemed to be popular with bears too as one was apparently spotted crossing the road outside my motel at about the time I was leaving to go to the pub. We had been warned not to leave food in our cars, and in the morning I discovered that a bear had broken into one in the car park, not because the owner had carelessly left a big jar of honey on the back seat but because there was a fishing rod in the boot. No fish, no bait, just the rod. Full marks to the bear for its outstanding olfactory powers even if its endeavours on this occasion ultimately ended in disappointment.

Despite it being the weekend, there was only one lively-ish pub, where I watched some American football, had my IPA and a 'medium' pizza that rendered me so bloated I could not get to sleep 5 hours later.

The town itself and its surroundings were again very picturesque, especially the nearby town of June Lake. The so-called June Lake Loop is a road a few miles long containing a series of clear blue lakes surrounded by green and yellow aspen trees, very similar to those on the Tioga Pass in Yosemite.

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I left Mammoth Lakes on the 19th. On the 20th there was an magnitude 3 earthquake, classified as "minor" on the Richter scale - "shaking of indoor objects can be noticeable". It sounded very much like the sort of weedy earthquake that would occur in England and make front-page news for causing the local vicar's hat to fall off.

I had been finding I had allocated too little time between the main locations on my itinerary and therefore missing out on what these 'in-between' places had to offer. This time was no different as the I-395 road between Mammoth Lakes and my next destination, Death Valley, is renowned for being one of the best road trips in the country because of the natural beauty of its surroundings. That reputation is well-deserved - the road lay in a colourful wilderness flanked on either side by a series of mountains.

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The evening before Death Valley was spent in a tiny outpost called Olancha (population 192). It was no more than a petrol station, a cafe and a couple of RV parks/motels. Nothing much to say about Olancha except due to its remoteness it afforded excellent views of the night sky. The Orionids meteor shower was due to peak the following night according to my Star Chart app, but I didn't see any in the half an hour or so I was outside. I did see two bears though, if you count Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

Olancha's cafe did have some tremendous Halloween decorations:
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Death Valley itself was unsurprisingly very hot (92 degrees) and inhospitable, and whilst not quite as spectacular as Yosemite, was well worth visiting. Again, the photos speak for themselves (or, more accurately, I don't want to research and describe each feature). Places ticked off include: Golden Canyon, Devil's Golf Course, Natural Bridge, Badwater Basin (the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere), Artist's Palette, Zabriskie Point and Dante's View.

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The name 'Death Valley' turned out to be very apposite for an unfortunate tarantula I had just photographed as it was subsequently flattened by a passing car. In total I saw around 8 or 9 tarantulas, each of them playing their own version of Russian roulette by slowly meandering across the road. Now I stand on the bed when I see a house spider but these were around 8 inches long, big ugly hairy things. They are supposedly harmless (a bite is no worse than a bee sting) but I had no intention of finding out and sacrificed picture quality by making good use of my camera's zoom function. I almost flattened a large-eared rabbit-like creature myself which leapt out in front of me at the last minute - I must have missed it by a hare's breadth.

The doomed tarantula:

My bed for the night was in a town called Beatty, to the northeast of Death Valley and just over the border into Nevada. I had some chilli and beer in a place called Happy Burro's Chili & Beer, and very tasty it was too - "the best chili in Nevada" according to their boasts. I whiled away an hour there chatting to a passing trucker called Casey who regaled me with a few tall tales such as the time when he played darts on stage somewhere in a game of doubles against the world #1 and beat him with a ton-plus outshot. I had no reason to doubt his claim - he certainly had the belly of a darts player.

OK that's a wrap for today. Next up: Las Vegas!

Posted by LordGibil 23:18 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Into The Valley

Jamestown, Groveland, Yosemite National Park

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Despite having 3 days in San Francisco, I felt like I needed a breather due to my recent hectic schedule. I had also been having all sorts of problems with Foxtons, the estate agents who are 'managing' my house in my absence. Naively I had assumed that, given they are the biggest in London (and correspondingly expensive), I would at least be able to leave things safely in their hands and everything would be handled with the minimum of fuss. However, in actuality, as soon as they had received my money they handed the property management over to a simpleton who I would not entrust with boiling an egg without burning the house down. There is a list as long as Peter Crouch's arm of things I am unhappy with them about: taking all their commission up front without telling me (leaving me with no rental income for 2 months), missing loads of stuff off the inventory, losing keys, failing to change the names over on the utilities, asking me to cancel the phone then wondering why there was no internet etc. etc. Each time I was having to explain the issue in simple terms to a disinterested numbskull. Anyway, the point is that a fair bit of my spare time has been devoted to dealing with these clowns.

So, by way of taking it easy I had a night in Jamestown and two in nearby Groveland, both just to the west of Yosemite. Jamestown is a quaint old Gold Rush town with several wooden balconied buildings lining the high street like in old westerns, and the locals still pan for gold here. My hotel room that night included a jacuzzi but it went unused as a) I'm perfectly capable of creating my own bubbles when bathing myself and b) it inexplicably cost an extra $40 to use.

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I managed to annoy a workman the following morning by my outrageous act of trying to park outside the motel. He was attempting to resurface the car park and by his gesticulations it was clear he didn't take kindly to someone interrupting his hard work. After I had set off I had to later return to retrieve a mislaid possession. The motel owner by this time had vanished so there was an awkward 45 minutes or so spent waiting around next to this gentleman whilst he went about his business. We got chatting and he wasn't a bad lad in the end, a moustachioed Mexican with a keen interest in football, but I will probably remember him most for this belter of a question: "do they speak English in England?" Not even Julian at Foxtons could have come up with that one. However, having bonded with him (and located the missing item), I inadvertently stepped onto the parking area and left three size 10s in the fresh tarmac, so scarpered sheepishly before he noticed.

Groveland was another small town but it had a hostel, meaning I was paying less than half the price of a motel room. There is always a risk with hostels in that you never know what you're going to get. On this occasion I had a 6-bed dorm all to myself but there was no hot water. There was also no wifi, phone reception or credit card machine working in the whole town that evening for some reason.

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Last year I took up golf, so as I had a clear day I had a round at the nearby Pine Mountain Lake course. As usual, I experienced a maelstrom of emotions from rage and despair to smugness and euphoria and back again, but what set the course apart was the amount of deer wandering around on every hole. Several times I had to shoo them away lest they get struck by an errant stroke. In the clubhouse I also had the best meal yet of my travels, some chicken dish with mushroom sauce, onion mash and greens.

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Anyway, onto Yosemite. I had two days there but rather than soporifically describe each feature I thought I'd just point you to the photos in the gallery which speak for themselves. I've included some of the best below.

Day 1 was spent around the Yosemite Valley area seeing such attractions as El Capitan and doing the Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls trails:

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On day 2 I visited the surrounding areas such as Mariposa Grove, Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass:

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It seemed to be a great time of year to come, not only because tourist numbers were down and temperatures were still high, but because the autumn brings extra colour to the trees (although rivers and waterfalls were at a low ebb). I have seen some stunningly beautiful parts of the world in New Zealand, Switzerland, Thailand and Grimsby but I think the Tioga Pass and the various stop-off points such as Lake Tayana may well trump all of them.

My first night of Yosemite was spent on the outskirts of a town called Oakhurst to the south west of the park. This was noteworthy only that in the absence of any Nescafe I learnt how to use a coffee maker, a skill that would serve me well in the next few days given that the rooms of most motels in this area seemed to contain one.

After Yosemite I headed off to a place on its east side called Mammoth Lakes, and that will be one of the subjects of my next blog.

Posted by LordGibil 13:29 Archived in USA Comments (0)

From Tender Nob To Panhandle

San Francisco

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The next location on my loose itinerary was Yosemite National Park, however as it was a long way away I decided to spend a few days in San Francisco which was about half way. I took the slightly longer route down highway 1 as it was a coastal road and much more scenic. But not before I had stopped off for a terrific breakfast at Queenie's in a place called Elk. Queenie herself was absent as, despite recently recovering from cancer, she had subsequently broken her leg.

Elk:
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The drive down to San Fran was rather hairy in places due to the close proximity of the edge of road to a steep drop to the rocks below but it was all very pleasant. Birds of prey were in abundance at all points throughout the journey and at one brief stop I had 8 of them circling above me trying to look hard, though at no point did I see one catch anything.

My hostel was right in the city centre in a busy area near Union Square, and navigating my way there from my entry point (the Golden Gate Bridge) was not easy to say the least. My arrival coincided with Friday afternoon rush hour chaos, but eventually I reached the hostel after an eternity crawling along at a snail's pace trying to negotiate the painful one-way streets with no satnav. I had booked a bunk in a 10-bed mixed dorm, but hopes of sharing with the travelling Swedish netball team were dispelled as it appeared to be full of young bearded males (much like myself), all nice enough but who kept themselves to themselves. The beds were actually pretty good, similar to sleeper carriages on long train journeys as opposed to the traditional squeaky bunks.

The blocks in all directions around the hostel were chockablock with people; I'm not sure where they were going, but it wasn't the pub as despite walking round for quite some time I only found two. There were a lot of diners and restaurants but hardly any bars, at least that were obvious to me. Both pubs were lively so someone setting one up around here would make a fortune. There were also an awful lot of beggars, drunks and nutters shuffling around, and it reminded me for that reason of the pubs around Spitalfields in London local to where I work (or rather, used to work).

The blog title refers to the start and end points of a bus journey I took the next day in order to get to the Golden Gate Park. My hostel really was in a place called Tender Nob, so called because it is between Tenderloin and Nob Hill. If you don't believe me, here is a photo of the map:
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The Panhandle is the name given to a thin (by comparison) park just east of the Golden Gate Park in the Haight-Ashbury area of the city, an area renowned for being the epicentre of its hippy contingent in the 60s and a prominent location during the Summer of Love in 1967. It still has what I believe is known as a 'bohemian' feel to it and it reminded me, to a lesser degree, of Camden in north London.

The main park is 3 miles long by half a mile wide and is full of lakes and the usual park-like features (as per the below photos), but it also had a bison enclosure. Now I came to this park when I did my Round The World trip in 2003 with my mate Steve, and I don't believe we even managed to find the enclosure. I went one better this time in that I found it, but disappointingly there was a notable lack of bison-like creatures, with no accompanying signage explaining their absenteeism.

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The park also had a disc golf course. Now this is a sport I'd only recently first heard of and which consists, as the name suggests, of attempting to throw a frisbee-like disc from a tee into a basket some distance away. A youth and his miserable-looking female friend seemed to be in charge of the course, and he told me that it was free but you had to bring your own disc, which conveniently he sold. He did know what he was talking about but the disc he sold me (for $10) I later noticed had someone else's name and phone number inside it, causing me to wonder how exactly he had acquired his wares. Anyway, I started my round and promptly threw the thing into the higher reaches of a nearby tree, to the amusement of the group ahead of me. I did manage to retrieve it, but after 9 holes of predictably low-quality disc golf I decided I'd had enough and called it a day.

Hole 1 safely negotiated:
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The next day I walked a good 10 miles or so from Fisherman's Wharf to the Golden Gate Bridge and back, and then back to my hostel up and down the incredibly steep hills that are characteristic of San Francisco. As I was having my Denver omelette outside a cafe on the way, I heard a brass band strike up and noticed some police motorcycles - turns out that was the beginning of a parade to mark Columbus Day. The cafe staff looked on nervously as I on a few occasions stood up and sprinted off to photograph some interesting float or other, and it was still going past long after I'd finished my meal and walked down to the wharf.

Some of the more interesting parts of the parade:
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Pier 39 in Fisherman's Wharf is most famous for its sealions, which I'd read had vanished recently - well, they are back, although not quite as noisy or smelly as I remember them being in 2003. It was a scorcher of a day and the area was packed, but in a major blow to the sealions' ego, no-one was looking at them thanks to the parade and also an air show that was going on.

Here I am outside the Golden Gate Bridge, which everyone is ignoring due to the air show:
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And here I am outside Alcatraz now and in 2003:
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Later on I went out for a few beers, but apart from seeing a band whose (excellent) lead singer was a cross between Kate Bush and Bez, and being propositioned by a prostitute it was a rather uneventful night.

I'd hoped to rattle through a couple of blogs tonight but this seems to have gone on a bit so you will have to wait to hear me rabbit on about how amazing Yosemite is. And it really is.

Posted by LordGibil 09:32 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Giant Hates Axe

Weed, Eureka, Avenue of the Giants & Fort Bragg

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My planned route on this road trip was, in the main, built around several geographic features of some description. Having ticked off Crater Lake, next on the agenda was Avenue of the Giants.

To get there, over the next few days, I took a somewhat less than direct route to avoid Interstate roads (the equivalent of our motorways), in the hope of encountering something a bit more interesting and maybe even having an exciting Famous Five-style adventure. So, with a picnic basket from Aunt Fanny full of ham rolls and lashings of ginger beer, I set off from Klamath Falls for my next destination - Weed, a place I admittedly chose mainly for the name, although it was in the right general direction.

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Weed is named after the founder of the town, Abner Weed, who bought a local lumber mill in 1897 and built it up into such a success that within 50 years it was the largest in the world. I didn't get to see much of Weed apart from my motel and the dual carriageway, but the one pub that the receptionist knew about took me 20 minutes to walk to and was shut.

What I hadn't anticipated near Weed was a stunning snow-capped volcano called Mount Shasta. Shasta is the second highest peak in the Cascades (behind Mount Rainier), a range of mountains and volcanos stretching from the top of Washington state (north of Seattle) to the top of California, where I was now. The Cascades are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire where earthquake and volcanic activity is high due to the movement of Earth's tectonic plates. Now I've seen some amazing scenery since I've been away but none more so than this.

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Near to the volcano, I turned off the road after spotting a sign to a labyrinth. The labyrinth itself was nothing special (the paths didn't have walls for one thing), but next to it was an area of fantastic sculptures known as the Living Memorial Sculpture Garden. Each piece was designed by an Army veteran who was a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War.

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My next destination was a place on the Pacific coast with another great name - Eureka. It was a long drive over winding roads through a hilly forest but it was all very pleasant, especially given the glorious sunshine (again). Like Klamath Falls, Eureka was another unexpectedly large town. A long walk to the centre from my motel rewarded me with an 'old town' consisting mainly of art & antique shops, and also a so-called Irish pub. I spent more time in one of those establishments than in the others put together.

Artwork on the side of a building in Eureka:
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The only other notable thing I recall is a gentleman on a bicycle pulling up at the lights next to me with his snake in his hand. A real snake that is, about 18 inches long, being held in one hand whilst he steered his bike with the other.

On my way to the Avenue of the Giants I stopped off at a wildlife refuge on Humboldt Bay just outside Eureka. It was very early morning and a bit parky so no-one else was about, and neither sadly was much wildlife as, apart from some wading birds and a few birds of prey (which turned out to be Northern Harriers), I didn't see a great deal.

Humboldt Bay Not-Much-Wildlife Refuge:
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The Avenue of the Giants is a 30-mile stretch of highway 101 down from Eureka on the way to San Francisco. Unfortunately, the only giants that live there are in tree form - redwoods. Some of them here are over 3000 years old and over 300 feet tall, which is all the more remarkable given their roots extend less than 6 feet deep underground. For the next 2-3 hours I did a bit of driving, a bit of walking and a lot of looking at big trees - not much more to say on that except they are pretty impressive and it was well worth the long diversion I took to get here.

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The most famous of the redwoods is probably the Immortal Tree, so named as it has survived a fire, a flood, a lightning strike (which did at least knock 50 feet off its height) and logging efforts. It is this failed attempt to chop it down that has given rise to my own failed attempt at a humorous tabloid-style blog title, and it took me ages to come up with that. If anyone can do any better, please let me know.

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Next up was Fort Bragg, a town named after an officer in the US Army called Braxton Bragg, noted amongst other things for his ability to rub people up the wrong way. The only person to rub me up the wrong way in Fort Bragg was a waitress who 'forgot' to return my change after an otherwise splendid meal. Whilst waiting I got chatting to a bespectacled British chap who had been living here for 12 years, who gave me a few useful pointers on places to visit in the next few weeks. He also told me part of Yosemite was on fire at the moment, a place I am due to visit next week.

The stand-out recommended attraction at Fort Bragg on TripAdvisor was part of a beach that consisted of a load of broken glass, known unsurprisingly as Glass Beach. Around 100 years ago, the locals, instead of carefully placing their rubbish in the appropriate recycling bin, tended to take it down the road and hurl it onto the beach. Occasionally they would also set fire to it, leaving non-combustible detritus such as glass at the mercy of the elements. Over the years, the sea has broken up and shaped the glass in such a way as to lead to the beach becoming a popular tourist attraction.

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Right - only 8 days behind now, and probably a couple more blogs needed to fully catch up. Due to my recent tight schedule and weedy internet connectivity it's been very hard to find time to bash one out. Or to write a blog entry.

Finally, I have found out how to add a map to the blog, so here is the first one. I will update it every time I go somewhere new.

Posted by LordGibil 10:30 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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