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Saturday, October 14, 2017

All the Fall Fun You Can Have

Fall is here! Now's the best time to travel to a lot of places, because airfare and hotel deals are less expensive than other times of the year. We tend to do a lot of things in the fall, including going on our big yearly vacation. It saves us money this way and the kids are all in school, so there are smaller crowds and fewer lines everywhere we go. Want to make the most out of your fall? Then here are some fun ways to celebrate the season and Halloween.

Head to New England

There are few places where you can go that are truly scary, but the New England area has a ton of history that includes witches, horror writers, massacres and more. This post gives you all the awesome things to do there. Rent a car, stay for a few weeks and drive to all kinds of awesome stuff.

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Hit up New Orleans

New Orleans is quite exciting and not just during Mardi Gras. There are plenty of things to do in the fall, especially considering the spooky vibe of the city including the history of voodoo and vampire legends. here are some fun things to check out. For haunted experiences, you may want to visit these 5 places:
  • The Omni Royal Hotel - Once the building for the city’s slave market and the site of great brutality, the hotel is now a grand place to stay and home to many spirits. 
  • The Bourbon Orleans - This former orphanage run by nuns still has kids running along its corridors. Guests have reported hearing children’s voices, seeing nuns in the hallways and feeling electrical charges near the stairwells.
  • Brennan’s New Orleans - A staple of the city since 1946, Brennan’s is not only a highly rated fine dining establishment, but it also has its own ghosts. In the Red Room, a man living in the building hanged himself after murdering his family. 
  • The Pharmacy Museum - Set on the site of the very first apothecary shop, the Pharmacy Museum holds a wide variety of cures and artifacts from old medical practices and voodoo rituals, including ghastly instruments used in the past for dentistry, many by the former owner, a dentist known to conduct grisly experiments on patients.
  • St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 Nearly everyone has heard of the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau and you can visit her tomb in New Orleans’ most haunted cemetery. Hundreds of thousands are buried in this one square block, with the tombs being reused over and over. 

Pumpkin harvest

I don't really get excited by pumpkin carving. That might be a little weird for someone who loves Halloween as much as I do. I just don't find it fun and I don't make pies, but often the harvest festivals are full of pumpkin-picking and other activities like hayrides, squash-tossing, farm animals and more. If you find a corn maze, it's not unusual for there to be pumpkin harvest festivities going on nearby. Kids love to run and pick out the pumpkin they will use for their jack-o-lantern at home and also enjoy running and around and climbing on things. We have farms that feature hay bale pyramids and tours on a farm train. Usually these days out are fairly affordable and you can even sign up to receive coupons when the celebration starts.

Corn maze

I look forward to the corn mazes all year long. It's so fun to go out and spend an afternoon on local farms and get lost in a maze of maize! We pack up the car with a change of clothes and the dog and hope there's no mud where we will have to use our extra clothes. The mazes test our ability to read a map or our trivia knowledge. While other families split up and race each other through the maze, we view it as a fun family outing and the three of us go together. Sometimes we just let the dog go and pick our course and sometimes we use whatever clues they give us at the beginning. After we emerge from the corn, we make a trip to the gift shop, grab something warm to eat and drink and then head home. There are always great photo ops.

Farmers' market

This is similar to you-pick farms, except you can just go with your list and have fun finding them at the different stalls. Another plus to the markets is that you are getting affordable local foods and you can usually pick up lunch from any number of food merchants there, too. Our market up the street is a great place to get everything from crepes to tamales. When you're traveling, it's a perfect way to stock your fridge with healthy options for snacks and side dishes.

Fruit picking

I love fresh fruits and vegetables. I also love to visit local farms. I'm always amazed by what people can grow. I have my own garden, but it's not big and awesome, so I like to get ideas on how to make it better. Many of these farms let you go pick your own fresh produce. You pay by the pound and often they have a store where they sell jams, sauces and other things they make on-site. These make great gifts and souvenirs as well.

Wine and beer festivals

Right after the grape and wheat harvests come the festivals! Food, wine, beer, you name it. Fall has tons of wine and beer celebrations everywhere they serve such things. Find new favorites when you can sample all the local (and some not-so-local) varietals and brews. Most of these fests require you to buy a glass for your samples, so you already have a built-in souvenir, too!

Head Underground

Lots of weird stuff happens underground. Here are three I greatly enjoy:
  • The Shanghai Tunnels under Portland. They were featured on Travel Channel’s 10 Most Haunted. Though it came in at number 10, it was the only Portland site to make the list, so by simple reasoning, it must make it Portland’s most haunted site. I was disappointed that I didn’t experience so much as a cold breeze, nor did I catch anything on my camera, unless you count dust particles catching the light of my flash and presenting themselves as “glowing orbs”, but maybe you'll be luckier (if you think it's lucky to see/feel a ghost) than I. 
  • The Dungeons are on my list of kitchy and kinda scary (if you're afraid of the dark and mirror mazes where you might be followed) and must-do attractions. The site offers best price guarantee and you can get discounted deals if you purchase a combination ticket with Madame Tussaud's and/or the London Eye. If you plan to visit off-peak hours, you can save up to 50%! You must purchase your tickets online though. Each dungeon (located in London, York, Hamburg, Edinburgh, Amsterdam and now San Francisco) walks you through the "streets" of history and winds you through creepy stories and rides that take you from one area of the dungeon to another.
  • Paris Catacombs. There are miles of underground tunnels underneath Paris full of human bones that were put there when the cemeteries became overcrowded. Even now they are still crowded, but with tourists. Get there right at opening and beat the crowds. Lines can stretch up to 2 hours long and with prices at only 5 Euros per person, it's one of the cheaper things you can do in France. I just realized I never did a post on my trip into the catacombs, so that will be coming in the near future.

Go to a theme park

Most theme parks have a Halloween celebration of some sort. Here are the top ones, including how to save on admission if there's a way to:
  • Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Many park days at the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland in Sept-Nov are cut short for this party that requires a special ticket to get in. From 7pm to midnight, many of the park guests come dressed in costume to enjoy 5 hours of trick-or-treating, dancing, nighttime thrill rides (only specific rides will be open during that time, not the whole park), Hall-o-wishes fireworks display, an all-villain musical show in front of the castle, villain meet and greets, amazing park decorations and, best of all, a special parade opened with the Headless Horseman on horseback. It’s all totally Disney and so out of their normal festivities that it’s worth putting off your vacation until that time of year.
  • Knott's presents Knott's Scary Farm. Save significantly on your tickets by buying them online instead of at the gate.
  • Universal puts on Halloween Horror Nights. While ticket prices don't waver, you're sure to get your money's worth while riding select rides and being scared out of your wits with roaming creeps, themed haunted houses and scare zones. It's like being in your very own horror movie. 
  • Busch Gardens in Tampa offers up Howl-o-Scream. Much like Universal, they have scare zones, haunted houses and themed entertainment. You can't get cheaper tickets for this event either, but it'll scare your pants off, which you maybe can't put a price on.
  • Legoland has spooky fun for the little ones with Brick-or-Treat. It includes trick or treating and the opportunity to dress-up and enjoy the park after it closes for the regular day. Tickets are separate from the main park admission, but totally fun!
What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate fall? If you missed my trip to Halloweentown, go check that out now. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

This Is Halloween...town

I'm sure you've seen it. That cult classic movie Halloweentown, about a town where it's Halloween all the time. No, not The Nightmare Before Christmas. This is about a woman who's secretly a witch and her two children. Their grandmother comes to visit and they find out they have magic in the family...and then they go to Halloweentown. And then there are two sequels. 

Listen. I didn't make it. You can probably catch it a thousand times on Freeform this October, or at least once...after the Harry Potter Weekend happening right now that is. It's one of those movies that you either like or you hate. It's fun if you don't think too much about it, but it's the claim to fame of the city it was filmed in: St. Helens, Oregon. Each year they "transform" the city into Halloweentown in their own way and people from all over come to get in on the festivities.

                           City Hall (now a museum) that sits directly across from the town square

This year we had a little meetup of friends there and we all took a bunch of pictures and hung out to watch the parade. We went a few years ago and were fairly disappointed, because nothing on the "schedule" was actually happening, or you needed to book in advance. This time that was less of a problem, but still a problem. I was looking forward to filling up my Halloweentown card and earning my commemorative coin, but since there was no shuttle bus to get my card, I couldn't do that.

Here's what we did do though:

Took the "Haunted Hayride"

This is in quotes because it was neither haunted, nor had any hay. We paid $3 to be driven by tractor back through the parking lot we had just walked across to get into the main town square to see a cardboard cutout of a UFO and some sad aliens. Then the driver gave us a story about the "crash site", but he didn't turn the tractor engine off, so none of us could actually hear him. Also, this was in broad daylight. Luckily, we were able to laugh about the absurdity of it all. I won't even tell give you the satisfaction of seeing an empty parking lot. 

Took pictures in the main square

You can see other pictures we took on our last trip, but also on my Instagram. We actually were able to take a photo with Benny's cab. That's not Benny in there, but it was still pretty cool. 

Movie theater featured in both Halloweentown and Twilight

Rode past the Walk To the Underworld and passed

This was a very small fenced in area with a recreation of Stonehenge that you could walk through for $1. There wasn't anything else. No monsters. No people. Just stones in a formation. That you could totally see all of. The "creatures" aren't added until the 11th (which is a weird date, since it's a Wednesday), and then admission is $3. I mean, what? I didn't even take any pictures.

Watched the parade

I guess last weekend was the kick-off weekend for Spirit of Halloweentown, so they hold a parade. I also guess the schedule is a loose interpretation of such, because the parade was set to start at 3pm, and we didn't see anything until almost 4pm. Granted, we were at the end of the route, but the route was not even that long. It was fun and, blessedly, short since I was starving. We actually waited longer to see the parade than the parade lasted. So, we followed it out a few blocks to get dinner.

Dined at the Klondike

St Helens is small. There aren't a ton of options for food, but we'd been here before and liked it, and there wasn't a line like last time either. This restaurant that used to be a hotel has a long and haunted history. They decorate with the old hotel room doors and have a long list of custom and seasonal cocktails. It's definitely worth a seat at the bar at the very least.

There are food carts near City Hall, but they are more snacky than anything else: nachos, chili, soup, cotton candy, caramel corn, pie. At 5pm they have "happy hour". As we were leaving, we saw the few tables they had nearby were now closed off for those that wished to buy beer (in a can) and wine (in those single sealed glasses). It started raining, so we continued to the car.

Visited the Museum of Oddities

For $2, we figured we couldn't really go wrong with this, but it turns out they should have charged more for the hilarity of it. The St Helens Historical Society put this together in the room of an old church and I loved it. The room itself was fantastic, but then they made these great exhibits that they added the most bizarre stories to that were super amusing. 

I especially enjoyed the man who lost his sight and hands in a saw mill accident and had to get his hands replaced with claws, so to make him feel better, his soon-to-be wife had her head replaced with that of an alligator. Their likenesses were made into a one-of-a-kind cake topper for their wedding. The other favorite of mine was the first deer to own his own business, which was a sporting goods shop. He was buried in his favorite suit. Ha! This totally made up for the $3 haunted hayride.

Saw some actual movie memorabilia and filming destinations

This is one of the last remaining set pieces from Halloweentown, and was exhibited in the Museum of Oddities, probably because there was no better place to showcase it and keep it safe at the same time. Look how pretty this stained glass is.

Aside from the above things, we wandered into a few shops, took a nice turn around the downtown area, and admired the harbor. Each shopfront has their own scarecrow out front that they have personalized, which is fun, and there are quite a few photo ops around the square and other places. They had a haunted house. Well, two. One for adults and one for children. We didn't feel like spending the money for admission, considering the quality of scares we'd already endured. 

Despite the disappointment of the schedule snafus, we ended up having a good time. This weekend will have celebrity guests from the Halloweentown movies, a Debbie Reynolds tribute, haunted tours, live shows and readings by a psychic. At only 45 minutes from Portland, it's worth the drive out for a few hours of kitschy fun. Bring cash.

What fun, dumb, or weird things does your town do for Halloween?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Cool AF Ways to Celebrate Halloween

Anyone who knows me knows that Halloween is my favorite holiday. It's not just one day of the year. In my opinion, every day can be Halloween, which means any chance there is to do something spooky, dress up, or put up skulls and bats, I'm going to take it. Half of the year, my house is decorated as Hogwarts (or some version of Harry Potter). 

When October rolls around, I'm in my element. I love all the pumpkin patches, the corn maizes, the haunted walks, etc. I'm not one for haunted houses, because I'm the biggest chicken, but I jump to go to actual haunted houses, undergrounds, and catacombs. When there is something that sounds awesome that I can take part in, I want to be there. This weekend I'm hitting up Halloweentown (also known as St. Helens, Oregon) with a bunch of friends, but if I could, I'd be doing all of these things as well:

Spend the night in Alcatraz

Okay, so it's not actually Alcatraz Prison, because that is highly secure, though you can take a nighttime tour there, which I highly recommend. Instead, the San Francisco Dungeon will let you sleep in a reconstructed Alcatraz cell, all at the low, low price of $666. Expensive, right? Well, it comes with a spooky bedtime story, themed pajamas, midnight snack, and breakfast in your cell in the morning. That's got to be worth the chills and thrills. {You can also do even more in SF by purchasing a Go Card for your trip.}

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Travel to learn new customs

Though there are destinations in the US on this list (must-visit places like New Orleans and Salem), the others are made up of different countries that do Halloween just a bit (or a whole lot) differently. Why not learn a new way to enjoy the season. Maybe some things you can take home and incorporate into your own celebrations for family and friends. From flying giant kites in cemeteries to a giant furry beast who exorcises evil. There's lots of takeaways from travel all year long.

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Enjoy a movie in a cemetery

Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California often holds fantastic events that people are dying to get into (see what I did there?). The month of October is for spooky movies, where you can pack your blanket and camp out on the lawn and enjoy with a bunch of other peeps who love the same things you do. Unfortunately, this year's movies (Ghostbusters, Night of the Living Dead, and Labyrinth - with a fancy dress ball!) are both sold out, but that just means you need to get on it for next year. {Los Angeles visitors can also save a ton with the LA Go Card.}

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Head to Salem

Where better to celebrate Halloween than witch-central? All October long you’ll find themed festivities and attractions including a carnival, haunted house, spooky tours and more. Every day of the month you’ll find something going on. This is my kind of town.  Where else can you hit the farmers’ market during the day and then see the Crucible at night and get your palm read and go to a witchcraft shop in between? There might be some places, but I doubt many. And there are even fewer places where you can visit the actual places where witch trials took place. This is definitely on my list of must-see places. I can't wait to run down my camera battery here. 
  • 4D Haunted Adventure at Salem Time Machine - It's a "haunted" attraction for the whole family. You get 3D glasses, walk around in a blacklight environment that takes you through a narrated Olde Salem. It sounds really dumb, but also really fun. If you want to be scared, do the 4D Haunted House instead, with live scare actors.
  • Derby Street Carnival
  • Museum Place Mall - They show two 3D short films that tell you about Salem and the history of Halloween. There's also live music on the weekends.
  • Salem Haunted Magic Show - 'Nuff said.
  • Visit Lady Irene - A Greek psychic who reads coffee...? I dunno what that entails, but I want to see!
  • Haunted Dinner Theater at the Hawthorne Hotel - The show changes every year, but it always sounds fun.
  • More things to see and do can be found here.

Get magical to Philly

Yes, I know this sounds like a weird place to tell people to go for Halloween, but it really makes sense, especially if you're a Harry Potter lover like I am. The weekend before Halloween is dedicated to all things Potter, with a three-day festival (and Quidditch tourney!) in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania

Not only will there be witches and wizards aplenty, but you can also visit the Mutter Museum (that museum full of crazy medical oddities) and take a tour of the abandoned Eastern State Penitentiary, once the most famous and expensive prison in the world. You can visit the prison during the day or at night in October, and possibly meet with a former inmate. Laurel Hill Cemetery is not only the final resting place of many well known people, but it's also incredibly beautiful, a great way to get exercise, and hosts an annual Gravedigger's Ball.

{If doing a ton of stuff in Philly is important to you, then you may want to invest in the CityPASS, where you can also save up to 44% off your sightseeing.}

Jump in the car for a spooky road trip

Pack your favorite sweater, some boots and whoever makes you feel safe and go on a road trip to/through some of the most haunted places. It may be creepy, or it may be downright terrifying in the case of Clinton Road in West Milford, New Jersey, where you can see some strange apparitions and possibly have a spirit boy control your mind and make you drive off the Ghost Boy Bridge. 

Drown yourself in fall beverages

If you can't get out on a trip for the season, indulge in some October tasty hot drinks. It's not all pumpkin spice out there. Seek out the non-Starbucks coffee shops near you to find yummy flavors like chai, maple, cardamom and others. Here's just a taste (sorry, not sorry) of what Portland's shops are serving up this season. Between you and me, that s'mores latte is legit!

Obviously, there are a ton more ways to celebrate Halloween, like Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, and throwing the ultimate bash at home, but these are some of the fun things I've found. Keep watching Facebook for my 31 Days of Halloween event, where I share something cool, spooky, scary each day of the month. 

What are your favorite ways to enjoy the season?

Friday, October 6, 2017

5 Perks to Visiting Destin at the Cheapest Time

Most people visit Destin, Florida’s jewel-toned waters for annual family beach vacations in the summer. Vacation rentals reach their highest peak rates this time of year due to the strong demand. The sizzling summers are obviously a great time to come to what is now known as the Emerald Coast. Many visitors luxuriate in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico near the sugary white sand shoreline. 

Savvy travelers know that the best time to visit this piece of paradise occurs from November 1st through early March. Here are 5 key perks available to those who visit Destin during the cheapest time to come.    

1. Vacation Rental Rates are a Real Bargain!

High demand escalates all rental costs during the hot summers but the quieter winter months offer the lowest rates available for every property. Most guests use vacation rental properties instead of a hotel for great value since they offer multiple sleeping quarters and they can share the cost.  Kitchens are included and provide big savings on meals when “dining in”. Although rates in Southern Florida hit peak during the winter, properties along 

The Emerald Coast in Northwest Florida are at their absolute lowest. Temperatures range from the mid sixties during the day to high forties at night with almost daily sunshine. Even if you may not be swimming, it is perfect weather for sightseeing, golf and other delightful diversions at a huge savings.

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2. Christmas Shopping is a Bargain too!

The famous Silver Sands Premium Outlets in Miramar Beach is one of the largest discount shopping center in the entire nation. Millions of visitors shop there every year for prestigious store brands at bargain rates up to 70% off retail prices. It is the perfect place to shop and especially at Christmas time. These huge discounts are available at over 110 designer stores for men, women and children’s clothing, shoes, handbags, leather goods, household items, crystal, china and jewelry.

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3. The Holidays are here!

Places like the New Orleans French Quarter inspired Village of Baytowne Wharf in Sandestin and charming Disneyesque Harborwalk Village in Destin celebrate the holidays in a big way. Major seasonal festivals are held here for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Mardi Gras. Expect lots of vibrant lights, free outdoor concerts, parades, holiday festivities, great food and even fireworks.

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4. The Wide Open Spaces!

This time of year you may enjoy wide-open spaces compared to the throngs of people who visit the Destin area during the summer. There are no heavy traffic jams or waiting in line at popular restaurants. It’s a wonderful time to spend serene times on beautiful beach listening to the soothing surf sounds, watching distant dolphins frolic and see squadrons of pelicans flying overhead.

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5. Romantic Rendezvous!

The lack of a crowd provides a perfect time for enchanting walks along mostly deserted sugar white beaches, especially when the sun sets in spectacular fashion right down into the gulf. Restaurants on the beautiful beach side provide romantic sunset dinners during this special time of the year. (Think Valentine’s Day, special birthdays or anniversaries!)

Many visitors to Destin’s Emerald Coast stay at distinctive privately owned vacation homes and condos, many of which come with heated pools and bubbling hot tubs for sensuous relaxation. One real bargain includes rental properties at the Sea Cabins by Ocean Reef Resorts, which includes a heated pool and a private beachfront gazebo on the sugary shore along Scenic Gulf Drive in Miramar Beach. Four to six guests may stay here starting at $64 per night or weekly at $385. These same properties rent for more than twice these amounts during the summer months!

Take time to plan your own special winter getaway during the Season of Savings. You can experience a special holiday or memorable time away with loved ones in Destin at bargain rates. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Extend Your Summer with These 5 Trips

It's October and it's turning into our cold and rainy season here in Oregon. It's not hard to endure one or the other, but both at the same time can be brutal. This is one of the reasons we usually travel this time of year. The others are that it's cheaper and destinations are much less crowded, because the kids are in school.

I don't mind packing a coat and boots when I travel, but there are lots of places you can go in the early fall that are still warm, so you don't have to take your swimsuit and shorts out of your carry-on to finish packing.

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Marrakech, Morocco 

With temperatures still in the mid-80s, you can revel in the sunlight during the day, then add a layer for the evening when they dip into the 50s. This gives you the option to enjoy the beach, hiking, wandering the souks for items to bring home, and wandering the gardens and streets to take pictures of amazing architecture and different flora. October hotel rates are pretty low, so you can definitely fit it into a budget.

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Gran Canaria, Spain

Located in the Canary Islands, Gran Canaria is off the coast of Spain and Africa. The black and white beaches are something to behold, that you won't find elsewhere. And there are 37 miles of them, meaning you won't have to fight for a stretch of sand of your own. Hike the famous dunes, explore the lovely little coast town, and soak up some history while you're there. Whether you're looking for a totally chill vacation or one full of sightseeing and more, you'll find it here.

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Santa Barbara, California

Southern California is usually very comfortable this time of year. We're headed to San Diego, but Santa Barbara is just as fantastic. The weather in both are in the mid- to high 70s, which means you can still head to the beach if you like. Not only are there plenty of sandy spots to call home, there's also awesome hiking and wine tasting venues. If you're a shopaholic or a foodie, you won't run out of places to give you an easy vacation high. Hotel rates are fairly low, as well as airfare, so your wallet will definitely thank you.

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Crete, Greece

Packing your walking shoes and be prepared to climb a billion steps, but with the most amazing views you'll see anywhere. Even the blue and whites of the buildings on the cliffside are photo-worthy. The days will range between the 70s and 80s, making it much more bearable than the crazy hot summers. Not only can you find accommodations in all price ranges, but you can laze on the beach, explore charming villages, go hiking (on more than just steps) or immerse yourself in history. And if you love food, Greece is not the worst place to be to get your eat on.

Sedona, Arizona

Want to rest and recharge? Hit up Arizona when the weather isn't like visiting Hell. Sedona is known for luxury and healing. Get in on outdoor activities, like hiking, golf, and wine tasting, or indulge in spas, yoga retreats, and hot springs. Depending on where you want to stay, you may be paying a little bit more for a hotel room, but you'll make up for it in affordable airfare.

Fall travel without the fall weather is doable if you're creative and think outside of the box. Like I always say, every destination has awesome stuff to see and do if you look hard enough. Ask friends on social media, research online, and do whatever you can to plan the most awesome, off the beaten track, trip you can. What's your favorite fall vacation destination?
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