Camino Frances 2018 – Puente la Reina to Estella

September 12th, 2018 – Day 1
Puente la Reina to Estella, 22km

I was awake at 6am, which is late by my standards. I could hear the clacking of poles belonging to pilgrims passing the hostal so I decided it was as good a time to make a move. It was dark and still, save for the odd van passing through. I was ready to go! I had a good sleep. I was hoping to make it to Estella where I would meet my friends, L&R, who would start their own Camino the following day.

Underneath the arch, over the bridge and out of the town – Goodbye Puente la Reina. Such a fascinating town, rich in history. Queen Muniadona, wife of King Sancho III was the queen (Reina) who gave her name to the town and the bridge, also known as the Puente Románico. She built the six-arched Romanesque bridge over the River Arga for the use of pilgrims on their way to Santiago along the Camino de Santiago. And I was one of them.

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Leaving Puente la Reina

Leaving town, I struck up a conversation with Doug from Canada. He commented on the size of my backpack and I explained that this was not my first time on the Camino. A pack of 7kg is more than enough, in my opinion. The road out of Puente la Reina is a tricky one and needs concentration. There are many ascents also. This was my St. Jean Pied de Port unfortunately as I embarrassed myself after a minute by stopping exhausted. Doug had walked through the Pyrenees. He walked on, enjoying this moment.

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Looking back following my climb from Puente la Reina

I caught up eventually, and we passed through Maneru. Cirauqui is just another few kilometres in the distance and there was no rain forecast. Towns in Navarra have a habit of placing themselves on hills. I’m not sure if it is to make it difficult for pilgrims to walk through them. Joking aside, I have always liked Navarra. Its rolling hills seem to go on forever and the people living there are the best. A cafe con leche y una tostada later in Cirauqui, myself and Doug left this little town and marched on.

After Cirauqui, we arrived at the famed and fabled Roman bridge that have been serving pilgrims for hundreds of years. Some work was undertaken on it since I was here last but you really need to watch your step while crossing it.

 

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Lorca (or Lorka) would be our next town. The trail is made of loose stone and it is very easy to lose your step and fall if you are not paying attention. That is exactly what happened to me! A fun day so far! I was a little bruised but I was on my way again. There is not much happening in Lorca, apart from the fact that it has 2 albergues and a cafe. We stopped for a rest. I had been looking for a walking pole since Puente la Reina and I picked up one here. It stayed with me until Burgos.

Doug had decided to stop in the following town, Villatuerta, for some lunch, so we said our goodbyes and I marched on to Estella. Little did I know we would meet the following day.

It wasn’t long before I was in Estella. It was before noon but the sun was out. “Where was that farmacia?” I stopped at the excellent Agora Hostel for the night. I cannot stay enough about Adrianna and Alfonso and the service they provide. If you are in Estella and are looking to stay somewhere, just go there! I also met Guilhermo from Barcelona, someone who I would meet on and off until Burgos. A gentlesoul.

I would later meet my friends, L&R, for drinks and tapas in the Plaza Mayor until it was time to prepare for the next day. All three of us agreed to meet in Los Arcos the following day.

 

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Camino Frances 2018 – Day 0 – Dublin to Puente la Reina

September 11th, 2018 – Day 0
Dublin to Puente la Reina via Bilbao

Another Camino in 2018…another chance to walk with others in Spain. I made the decision to return once I stepped into the Praza da Obradoiro in Santiago in May.  It just made sense. I booked flights to and from Bilbao, Spain, packed my pack and set out.

 

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The road to Puente la Reina is long and I didn’t arrive until late in the evening. The flight with Aer Lingus was fine and it left me in Bilbao at 3pm with still much travel to do. From the airport, one must catch the A3247 Biskaibus shuttlebus to Termibus in the city centre, which costs just €3.00. From there, I traveled on a Cuadrabus to Logroño, which took the bones of 90 minutes. On arrival in Logroño, I didn’t have long for a connecting La Estellesa which left me in the centre of Puente la Reina.

I wasn’t alone, mind you. A couple from Clare made the trip from Dublin and were traveling to Estella to start their Camino. They had walked from St. Jean to Estella last year. I enjoyed their company until we said our goodbyes at Estella. There were many others on the Logroño bus. The scenery from Bilbao to Logroño is beyond amazing. The bus chugs through valleys, giving you a first-hand view of the spectacular mountain scenery. The second trip was a little bit longer but it was fun to be driving alongside the Camino – passing towns I will meet in the next few days. Siesta had kicked in but we did pass the odd town with the next Lionel Messi working out how to score the winning goal in the 2028 World Cup.

Just after 8pm, I arrived in the Calle Mayor of Puente la Mayor. The streets were bustling with Spanish conversation and wine. Spanish dinner time. I took a walk to the Puente Románico before doubling back to my booked hostel, “Hostal la Plaza”. I had my first pilgrim meal while watching Spain play some football on TV. Sleep was in order, the next day (although short) had a number of steep climbs. Adelante!

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11 days to Puente la Reina

So while I have the time to write, I may as well post something.

I am 11 days out from yet another Camino and I am as good as ready. These five months since I returned from Santiago have flown by but I have been so busy. These few weeks have come around at just the right time. It will give me the time to slow down and, I suppose, unclutter everything from this head of mine. I have a few decisions to make so I hope the Camino can help me out and I will have a few answers when I return.

I am in zero rush to get to Puente la Reina as my bus to Logrono is 3 hours after the flight arrives. Once I arrive there, I have another bus trip on La Estellesa to Puente la Reina. I don’t know why La Union canceled their service there. I remember it being advertised the last time I was in Bilbao in 2015.

The Camino Frances can be addictive. No, let me rephrase that. It can be difficult to get used to other routes if you are so used to one particular route. I remember last year saying I would not walk the Camino Frances again, and here I am.

I have 6 days in the office before I leave for Spain and sunnier climes (I hope). I have been keeping tabs on the weather and it looks promising. I might ditch the rain trousers!

Adelante!

 

 

 

Towns Along The Way – “P” – Part 1

Ok..So we are nearly there! Our credencials are nearly full with sellos and your Camino family are looking to book flights home. But before we do anything else, there is the small matter of talking about towns beginning with “P”….and there’s a few!!

Pamplona (map)

800px-pamplona_rathaus_2005We start with possibly the largest town on the Camino, other than Santiago herself. When someone mentions San Fermin, “the running of the bulls”, Hemingway and “The Sun Also Rises”, you automatically think of Pamplona (or Iruña in it’s favoured Basque).  Situated in Navarre, it is home to close to 200,000 people. The city is also famous for its “pinchos” and it’s always worthwhile to spend some time in the historic quarter where you can sample them (www.spain.info). Just make sure you call them “pinchos” and not “tapas” like in the rest of Spain! As you make your way into Pamplona, you will pass a number of suburbs – Villava and Burlada – and finally see the town’s fortress walls. You are now entering the old town. Leaving the following day, however, is another issue, as I discovered in 2014 when I was geographically embarassed 🙂 The yellow arrows don’t tend to be distinct. There are many albergues, hostels and hotels to choose from here (Gronze). I really enjoyed my stay in the municipal albergue. It is also well worth a visit if you are not walking the Camino.

Puente la Reina (map)

puentelareina2Staying in Navarre and only a further 25 km westward, we find Puente la Reina, or the Queen’s Bridge in English. The town was named as such as the bridge was built by Queen Doña Mayor, the wife of King Sancho III, to facilitate passage of pilgrims over the river Arga. It is a town heavily influenced by the Way to Santiago, with the remains of walls and several religious buildings in place. El Iglesia de Santiago was founded by the Knights Templars, who settled in there. Also worth mentioning are its large medieval bridge of five arches, and the church of San Pedro, from the 14th century. There are a number of places for the weary pilgrim to rest their head in Puente la Reina (Gronze); Albergue Jakue being one of the better ones.

Población de Campos (map)

poblacion-de-camposvista-genal-copiarClose to 300km further on down the Camino Frances, we reach Población de Campos. Calling Población de Campos a town would be a push however, as nearly 200 live here. Hamlet would be the appropriate word! It is situated in Castilla y Leon and is the next town to Fromista. In the village, you will find Church of the Magdalena; and the chapels of Socorro and San Miguel. I do remember stopping here for a cafe con leche in 2015, but I haven’t considered it as a stop off point. There are a number of albergues here however (Gronze). The following video shows you scenes of the town.

Puente Villarente (map)

2015-05-14-09-26-50A further 100 km along the way, we arrive at Puente Villarente, a suburb of Leon. Named after it’s large Romanesque bridge, it has a population of approx. 150 people. I have passed through here on two occasions and wish I had stayed here as it is a long slog into the city of Leon. A footbridge was built recently for pilgrims to avoid any accidents on the busy main road. There are a number of albergues here also (Gronze); San Pelayo is getting good reviews.

Ponferrada (map)

Ponferrada is the capital of the El Bierzo region and is one of the major points of the ponferrada_16372Camino Frances. The historic quarter of this town sits below an imposing castle built by the Knights Templar.The Castle rises above the river Sil, dominating the city’s historic quarter. Construction began on this medieval fortress towards the end of the 12th century. It is also worth visiting the Museum of El Bierzo, located in Calle del Reloj, in the building which was the former prison. Its facilities provide an introduction to the history of Ponferrada. As with every large town, there are many places to stay (Gronze). I haven’t stayed here myself, preferring to stop in the town prior, Molinaseca.

Pieros (map)

valley-with-houseAnother small village located just outside a larger town. Pieros has a population of less than 50 people and is dependant on the Camino. Five kms along the way is the much larger Villafranca del Bierzo, in the Bierzo valley. Pieros is home to the fantastic Albergue El Serbal y Luna and don’t forget to take a pit stop at the Café Bar Arroyo (on the left hand side of the road) before moving on.

 

Pereje (map)

14112442555_53ac63b6f1Pereje is the first town you arrive at on leaving Villafranca del Bierzo; 5 km to be precise. However, it is worth noting that you will only see this town if you walk along the roadside. There are two alternative routes (via Dragonte and via Pradela) which skip a number of towns, but that’s for another day. Pereje is built just off the busy N-V1 motorway and also lies on the River Valcarce. I walked through Pereje on my way to O Cebreiro in 2012 and even though it was a tough day, Pereje is one of those towns that make you want to come back to Spain, open an albergue and give back. There is a great albergue and a pension to choose from here (Gronze). Leaving Pereje, you return to the N-V1 with Santiago on your mind.

I have 3 more towns from Galicia to talk about in my next post.

Alto del Perdon – Hill of Forgiveness

There are many sites of importance along the Camino Frances, for example, the tiny village of St Jean Pied de Port, the bridge at Puente la Reina, the Cruz de Ferro, and of course, the Cathedral in Santiago. But one site that is equally as important is the Alto de Perdon, roughly translated as the Hill of Forgiveness. Located 10km from Pamplona in Navarra, it is about 750 metres above sea level. There is no doubt that it is a tough climb, but the views are well worth it.

Your ascent starts at the town of Zariquiegui and the climb is gradual until you reach the top. That point you are greeted04-etapa4-camino-frances by a unique combination of the old and the new. You will see a sculpture depicting a number of Pilgrims either on foot or on horseback as they make their way along the Camino to Santiago. It is dedicated to pilgrims who have walked the Camino before us and was erected in 1996. If you look closely, you will see the below engraved into one of the monuments.

Donde se cruza el camino del viento con el de las estrellas

which translates into English as

where the path of the wind crosses that of the stars.

The pilgrim sculpture shares the Alto del Perdon with 40 wind turbines, which you can see for miles. On the Alto itself, you can see your next day’s walking ahead of you. People like to use the top of the Alto as a resting point to catch their breath after the climb and to prepare for the descent which can be trickier. There can be a great atmosphere up there on a good sunny day. If you are lucky, there will be somebody selling refreshments and the odd albergue owner making sure pilgrims know about their accommodation.:)

I walked from St. Jean Pied de Port to Belorado in September 2014. You can read about the day I walked up and over the Alto del Perdon here.

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Camino 2014 – Day 5 – Puente la Reina to Ayegui

September 8th 2014 – Day 5
Puente la Reina to Ayegui, 24km

Another early day was on the cards as we were forecast sun, and most importantly, humidity. I was beginning to get used to the heat and started to wear a scarf around my neck. It didn’t stop my bald spot on my head turning a bright shade of red however!! But we were doing a good proportion of our walking in the early morning so there was no need for panic. We left shortly after 6am today. We being Dave, Anna and myself. Bob and Leslie would follow us. Our agreed stopping point was Ayegui, which is just beyond Estella. A large municipal albergue awaits us which many people speak highly of. On the plus side, we were off the dreaded recommended stages but on the negative side, I had passed through two major Camino towns without properly investigating them.

I actually had a good sleep in Puente la Reina and we were the first to leave. The rains had stopped shortly after midnight and there was little sign of the downpours on the roads when we left. Again, we chose to wait until our first stop for some breakfast. It was pitch black, save for the stars in the sky. There were a few other peregrinos out and about and you could see them by the bobbing light of their respective flashlights. The terrain was set to be tricky today. All the towns we pass through are based on hills, so once you climb up and into the town, you need to make a big descent to leave it. The first town we pass was Maneru which was still sleeping. It was 7am and nothing was moving. The lights were on in the town and showed us the way out.

Another 45 minutes down the line after a descent and another climb, we reach Cirauqui. I had read a lot of this town and it’s Roman bridge which is actually part of the Camino. It is worn out after a thousand years of trampling on but it was great to see a piece of history. Unfortunately, this had to be the day the battery on my phone died and I was unable to take some photos but here is a link (http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/65997854.jpg). I had hoped on staying there but I will leave that for another time.

Throughout, the morning and early afternoon, we passed mile after mile of vineyards. We were not quite in La Rioja yet, but you could tell that we were in wine country in Spain. Dave, who works in the wine industry in Australia, could tell you the exact type of wine by looking at the grape. “Vino Tinto” was good enough for me! Lorca was the next town, a further 5km onwards. It was close to 9am at this stage and the sun was up a good while. Due to the tough climb into Lorca, we stopped off for a bit to relax. Luckily enough, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so there wasn’t going to be a repeat of last night’s downpour.

Villatuerta is the next town, a further 5km onward. Villatuerta has a very popular albergue “La Casa Magica” which is privately owned and while we had no plans on staying there, there were people outside already. It is close to 11am at this stage. Villatuerta is, for a change, situated in a valley, and there is a nice steady climb once you leave it. My hip started to act up on me at this point. Time for some Camino candy (ibuprofen, if you haven’t walked the Camino before!!)

The great joy of walking the Camino is being able to walk by yourself for a while, or if you want to have company, you can have it. It is your choice. I walked the final stretch into Estella by myself, over mostly flatlands. Estella has a good few suburbs to pass through but not as many as Pamplona. The Rio Ega cuts the town in half and there are many bridges you need to cross. Some are wooden, some are made of stone. The first bridge is wooden and after the previous night’s rains, it was slippy. I knew there would be an accident if I wasn’t careful and yes! I was the first to realise it when my ass hit the deck. It was painful but the only thing dented was my ego as I watched pilgrims pass me by.

We arrive into Estella (it is also called Lizarra in Navarra) and are greeted by it’s church of San Pedro. Camino tourists litter the pathways taking photos of the sights. I spot Natty from Canada, the first time I see her in 3 days. She looks lost and is behind schedule she says. I wish her a Buen Camino and move on. I wonder how she got on. We pass through Estella and on to Ayegui, 2km westwards. It’s albergue hasn’t opened yet and we are in plenty of time. When I arrive with Dave, Anna is there with a Belgian called Phillipe. Phillipe has walked from Le Puy in France. He has very little English but great Spanish and we have enough to communicate, although my Spanish has been found out big time during the 5 or so days here. Anna and Phillipe are first in the queue of 2!! Bob and Leslie arrive shortly after. We didn’t see many other familiar faces after the usual crew. It’s a large albergue and I’m just glad to have found somewhere to sit down. I automatically think of food..like I do most days! This place serves meals but we wanted to visit the town and check out San Pedro church closer.

After washing my clothes, and powering up my phone, I am ready to see Estella. The food was top class and it was very cheap. 10pm was closing time in the albergue and we were 10 minutes short from being locked out. The run back was fun!

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Camino 2014 – Day 4 – Pamplona to Puente la Reina

September 7th 2014 – Day 4
Pamplona to Puente la Reina, 24km

Dave, Anna and myself had agreed to wake and start early so we could tackle the Alto del Perdon before it got too hot. This is a 300m climb that starts once we leave the albergue and peaks after 8km. Climbing it apparently resolves you of all your sins. We shall see. Leaving later was not an option as the temperatures were set to be high and the humidity levels were through the roof over the last few days. I was glad to leave early as I thrive in the early morning. We decided to aim for Puente la Reina and more specifically, the albergue on the outskirts of the town which had it’s own pool and served meals. Bob and Leslie were more than happy to follow us and they agreed to meet us there. I woke up at 4am after a fairly restless sleep. There seemed to be an all night party on the streets of Pamplona. I’m not sure if this was due to the match or if it was typical Saturday-night revellry. Dave and Anna had little sleep too. I didn’t have a great experience in Pamplona and decided that I would pass through if I was to walk this section again.

We left Pamplona in darkness close to 5am, with the same kind of anticipation we had in St Jean, to reach the top of the Alto del Perdon and view the iron cast models. You need to be fully alert leaving Pamplona however and if you lost sight of the arrows or signs, you could end up far away from the Camino. That’s what happened to us. We got lost. One minute, arrows were in full view and the next, not one was to be seen. We turned back, we consulted maps, and tried to find a someone to ask what directions to take. But this was Sunday morning, no one was was out. In the end, a young man in a car pointed us in the right direction. When we saw arrows again, we came across other pilgrims who made the same mistake as us. So it isn’t that rare for pilgrims to become lost in Pamplona?

After an hour, we reached Cizur Menor, a suburb of Pamplona. I had originally planned on staying here. There was a fiesta in full swing while we passed through it. The local bar was still open thumping music and serving drink. Drunk locals were on the street shouting as we passed by. I was pretty happy not to have stayed there. We swiftly passed this town. It was just after 7am and the sun was starting to rise. The climb was getting more and more gradual..it was all uphill for the next few hours. The back of my legs felt it and we were stopping for breath more frequently than before. I seemed to enjoy the ascent more than Dave and Anna and always left them behind. They didn’t seem to mind as it was I who had great difficulties on the descent and usually took forever to negotiate the drop. The terrain is barren, mostly empty fields after the harvest. The only word to use is golden. Save for the odd green tree, everything is brown or golden. Crops won’t grow here until after winter. I would love to see this scenery in May. I try to picture it in my head..different kind of greens, yellows and colours of flowers. A vast difference.

We arrive at the next town, Zariquiegui after 8am, halfway through our climb. I personally can’t wait to get to a cafe for some breakfast. My feet need to be checked as the ball of my right foot is hurting. The nearest cafe is buzzing and I am glad to find a seat to sit down. I order a cafe con leche, tostada, some fruit and can of coke. My feet seem to be fine. I recognise most of the faces from the cafe, including an Irishman, Ciaran. I joke about the town name, saying that it could win a game of Scrabble for you. The town itself is quiet, save for the cafe. No one is awake as I venture to fill up my water bottle from the fountain. We decide to move on. Next stop: Alto del Perdon and a further 100m climb in the next 2km. The sun is up now and we can see the climb ahead. I could see the row of electric windmills, some working, some not. The road cuts between fields and ends beside the far end of the row of mills. The track is rugged but manageable. We agree to walk at our own pace until we reach the top and to wait for each other when we get there. On I go, happy enough to plow on. Going up is no problem but I am nervous for the descent.

I meet Ciaran from Ireland further ahead and walk with him for a bit. He is walking a section like myself and finishes up in Logrono in a few days. The Camino has been tough for him he says but he is taking his time. I move on, again on my own. Being so high, you can see for miles around you. I see the last two towns I have passed. I can only assume that when I reach the top that I will see the next number of towns ahead of me also. I reach the top at last and just want to sit down and catch my breathe. I haven’t taken in what I have climbed, I need to take in some water first. The first things I notice are the many iron cast statues dedicated to all pilgrims.  There is an inscription on one in Spanish “donde se cruza el camino del viento con el de las estrellas” which in English means “where the path of the wind crosses that of the stars”. There are tens of people taking photos, others just sitting in the hot sun and others who just decide to descend the alto once they reach the top.

I take a few photographs myself and wait for Dave and Anna to appear so we can start the walk down to Puente la Reina. I wasn’t waiting long before they arrived and we took a few photographs together. Anna is an aspiring photographer who brought along a nice expensive camera. It is pretty heavy to carry but she didn’t mind. Every so often she would disappear to take an obscure photo or to get a good position but she would return a few minutes later. On the Alto, a van appeared from the Albergue Apostol Santiago in Puente la Reina. We were hoping to stay there. I guess they were there to advertise themselves as they are based on the outskirts of the city and are not the first albergue or hostel you would pass. Speaking to the owner, she mentioned that the albergue has been full for the last weeks.

Eventually, we start to descend from the hill. It is steep and a little too uncomfortable for my liking. Here is me, the grown man, taking small steps, while Anna and Dave march down, trying not to run. It is a breeze to them! I am close to shouting “see you at the first town” but they wait for me. Good one! I have always been delicate on the descent ever since I was 12. Gravity beat me in a battle of wits while going down a mountain, leaving me with a broken collar-bone and a bruised ego. Ever since I have been taking downhills pretty seriously. I gain confidence as the descent flattens out over the course of 5km. We pass the beautiful almost-too-clean Uterga. The only sign of life is coming from the albergue which is close to full at this stage. We stop for water and to take photos.

Within the next 45 minutes, we pass two small towns, Muruzabal and Obanos. Obanos is located on a hill so we have another climb to deal with but it is nowhere near as harsh as the climb in the morning. Both towns were dead save for their local cafes and fountains. By this stage, the sun is out in full flow and the temp is close to 30c. We had another 6km before Puente la Reina and the Apostol Santiago albergue and my legs were weary. Mainly due to the descent earlier in the day. On the plus side, it was great to get to know Anna and Dave. Anna used to live in Spain before moving back to Estonia and had great knowledge of Spanish. Every so often, we would lose her while she took photos and she would catch up with us ten minutes later. That said, she was a pretty fast walker, loved the ups and the downs!

We reached Puente la Reina just before 1pm, the town is large and was starting to fill with pilgrims when we arrived in. We passed the parochial albergue and first private albergue and made way for the bridge over the rio Arga, which is on the way out of the town. Once you reach the pilgrims bridge, you can see the albergue at the top of a hill with a sign “Albergue 300metres”, Our faces dropped when we found out that the 300metres is all uphill!! What owner would place an albergue in such an awkward place?? Our legs took us there somehow and we checked in. I took a bottom bunk. The albergue has 100 beds which filled up pretty quickly. It wasn’t long before mats were used as overflow however.

Bob and Leslie arrived about an hour after us and I was delighted to see them again. They always made me smile. We were joined shortly after by the Irish gang, including Ciaran and two of the German guys that I had met outside of Pamplona the day before. So there was a close family being built up. The only person I had missed was Andrea, who had met a good crowd of people who walked at the same pace. I hoped to see her before I left for home. We all agreed however that this was probably the worst albergue we had stayed in. The people working there constantly sighing under their breaths and I didn’t get a pilgrim vibe from it. Call me choosy but I do appreciate owners who have a feeling what we pilgrims have undertaken.

The night was capped off by an epic thunderstorm, I mean epic! A band of clouds came in from the west and covered the albergue. The winds picked up and rain bucketed from the skies. I was so glad to be indoors. Water even started to breach through the ceiling of the albergue and I noticed a nice puddle gather right beside my bunk, So..it was an fairly busy day! I hoped to get some sleep tonight. I had come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t reach Burgos by the 15th. Plan B had kicked in at this point and I had hoped to finish up in Belorado. I was a little sad. I enjoyed Burgos last year and wanted to cap the trip off by visiting the cathedral. I would leave it to another time.

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