HOW TO EUROPE
The Complete Travelers Handbook
Internet edition. By John Bermont.
Photos by the author except as noted.
A page from
with photographer and author
The city transport system in Venice Italy is primarily of the floating sort. Here is an official Commune de Venezia
flagged taxi and a traditional gondola in the background. Photo by my daughter Stephanie.
Leave your car at the city gates.
Don't Even Think About It
Europe's cities are much more difficult to drive and park in than ours
in the USA. Among the drawbacks of using a personal auto in
the major cities are the following hazards and headaches: lack of
parking spaces, very expensive parking, confusing parking
regulations in the local language, massive traffic jams, narrow one-way streets, poorly
marked streets, streets with new names every few blocks, auto
theft and vandalism, bus lanes indicated in the local language,
fearless jay walking pedestrians, rule-the-road streetcar drivers,
double-parked delivery trucks, radar/camera traps everywhere, the notorious Z.T.L. zones
in many Italian cities, and the numerous
unpredictable and utterly unfamiliar driving habits of the local
citizens. If you must for whatever reason take life and liberty
into your own hands and drive a car in a European city, first
read the details on driving in Europe in chapter 18
Driving in Europe: Travel by Car, Van, or Motorcycle.
Safe and Sane Alternates
Use the indigenous public transportation facilities to enjoy
your time, avoid major hassles, and save money. The preferred
means of navigating European cities are subways, streetcars,
buses, taxis, bicycling, and walking.
Most cities have excellent public transportation systems.
The subways, streetcars, and buses are part of an integrated
network that was designed for daily commuters but can be
efficiently used by tourists. Routes for city rail systems often
extend to the suburbs and airports.
Tickets and Passes
Tickets can be purchased at windows or
kiosks in the train stations, and sometimes
from the driver or from ticket automats. Tickets are often
interchangeable between buses, trams (streetcars), and metros
(subways) in the major cities.
Passes or blocks of tickets can usually be purchased which
give a discount to regular users of the system, and save time
standing in ticket lines every time you get on a bus. In Paris, purchase a carnet of ten tickets and
save time and money using the Metro. If you are doing a lot of travel on the Metro
a Paris Visite card gives you freedom to come and go as you like for a limited
number of days. For longer stays in Paris the
monthly pass is a great deal. It has some kind of chip in it so you don't have to
take it out and run it through the machine. Stephanie kept hers in her little purse and
just waved her purse over the Metro turnstile while she was there for a month studying French
at the Alliance Française. London has it's
Oyster Card, definitely a money saver compared to
individual tickets. The combo bus and Tube (subway) Oyster Card is probably best for a lot of
travel in the city. The Netherlands has introduced it's
which is not exactly a convenience for tourists. The strippenkaart is no longer valid
Some tourist transport passes include entry to many museums and other points of
interest. These cards also allow you to by-pass the ticket lines at these places. In my opinion
you really have to hustle to get your money's worth with these combination transport and
museum passes. Also, not all museums are included. E.g. the top attraction in Amsterdam,
the Anne Frank Huis,
is a private company and is not included in the
I Amsterdam Card.
Passes and block ticket discounts are not always designed
for tourists. The passes facilitate use of the systems by commuters
going to work every day. So see if the terms suit your
sightseeing schedule before buying.
For a flat fee in some cities you can travel as far as you can
go in one hour. In other cities you must pay for distance
according to zone maps. Since each city has a different manner
of doing business, ask for information at the city tourist office
about fares, zones, and hours of operation. Much of this information is
available on web sites of the individual cities or the city transport companies.
Do a search for the name of the city plus bus. These web sites are often designed
for form and not function so have some patience. Most of them have a British flag,
the "Union Jack," to indicate the English language version.
In most cities you must validate your ticket. Tickets are sometimes issued without a
validity date. On the bus or metro, or in a stamper machine or the platform, you will see a
metal box. Put your ticket in the slot and it will be stamped. Ask someone at the local tourist
office or bus terminal for instructions. If a validation stamp is required and you don't have
it you are due for a fine. There goes the lunch money.
Routes and Schedules
Request a route map at the city tourist information office or
at a ticket window. A route map might be called a plan or plano
or mappa or something similar depending on where you are.
There are usually route maps posted in the subway stations and
itineraries posted at streetcar and bus stops. But the time when
you need one is the time that it won't be handy. Be prepared.
Route maps are usually free and they are often detailed enough
so that you don't need to buy a city map. That will save you $10.
Bus and tram routes are numbered. Metro routes are
usually identified by the names of the stations at each end of the
line and/or by route numbers and letters.
If you're new in town and not sure where to get off, it's a good idea to tell the
driver of a streetcar or bus where you want to go. The driver
probably can't speak English, so point out the place on a city
map or in a guidebook, or write it in block letters in your travel
record book and show it to the driver. You won't be able to
understand the name of the stop he tells you to get off at either,
and if you can understand it the windows may be so dirty or
fogged that you won't be able to see it anyway. So sit as close to
the driver as you can. When your stop comes up, he'll let you
know. Keep one eye on the driver.
Schedules are sometimes posted at streetcar and bus stops.
Bus drivers often ignore schedules, so you should also. Since
you don't know when your ride will show up, allow yourself an
extra fifteen minutes when using the public transports. At a
remote stop you might wait half an hour and then have two of
your number pass within minutes.
Subways, streetcars, and buses have limited, if any, service
after midnight. Before you take off for a night of carousing on
the other side of town, make sure you can get back to your hotel.
Night buses are often indicated by an N in the bus number.
Weekend service is less frequent than during the week, and stops
earlier in the evening. Public transportation is severely
reduced on public holidays. Employee job actions, "strikes," are
frequent, but usually last for only a day or so.
Just outside or in another cavern of the main train station, the
Métropolitain (Métro), U-bahn, Underground
(Tube), or otherwise named subway lines originate or intersect.
Boarding usually involves putting your ticket into a
turnstile and walking through. If you are carrying a heavy load
you might have a slight difficulty getting through. Later on you may have a major
difficulty finding your wallet. Be careful of pickpockets at the turnstiles.
After getting through the turnstile you
have to find the right platform and get on the right train to go in
the right direction. Almost all stations are very well posted, but
it sure helps to have that system map in hand just in case. Maps are
usually posted in the stations but are sometimes decorated with graffiti
covering the information you need. Parts of the maps are often rubbed out
by the millions of fingers used to point out a location.
Making transfers is easy. When you get off, just follow the
signs to the rail line going in your direction. Some of those
connecting tunnels are pretty long so have patience and keep
walking. Don't bother running because there is a train every few
Getting off is a snap everywhere except in London and in Rome. In most cities, just
follow the exit signs, e.g., sortie in Paris, Ausgang in Munich,
Way Out in London,
and soon you'll see daylight, or city lights. Paris makes it
especially easy with those Plan du Quartier maps in all the
Metro stations so you know where you're coming out.
The problem in London is that you have to put your ticket in another turnstile
machine to get out. Many people on the Continent ride for free, illegally.
In Paris it is usually easy to get on without a ticket. Teenagers are adept
at jumping the turnstiles, and older folks have learned the art of squeezing two
at a time through a turnstile. One did it to me. However, special agents may ask to see your ticket and
slap a fine on you if you don't have one. Some Metro stations in
Paris post names of recently convicted free riders, with the
amounts they were fined. It can be expensive.
The Munich system is a relatively new one in Europe. It
opened for the 1972 Olympics. The subways in Paris and
London are over a century old. Amsterdam has a new and very good
metro system but it is only worthwhile for getting to the nearby suburbs. Most of
Amsterdam can be walked or navigated by tram.
Most Metro and U-bahn stations have escalators to help
you get up out of the tunnels. If the escalator is not running,
walk up and step on the metal plate in front of it. It will
probably start. If it does not start, you are probably in Rome.
Rome also has poorly marked directions and the deepest,
deepest tunnels on the Continent. If you can't find an escallator look for an
Many major cities have streetcar
systems. Streetcars are called trams in Holland and S-Bahn in
Germany. Since these run on city streets, stop often, and compete for limited
space with autos and pedestrians, the traveling is slow compared to the
subways. But going slow can have its advantages for sightseers.
Armed with a good city map and a day ticket, you can scoot all
over town, checking out the people, architecture, parks, and
castles in the relaxed position. A "good city map" shows all
streets, numbered tram/bus routes and stops, and the major
The main streetcar
station is usually right outside the main train station. There are
stops every quarter mile or so, and frequent service. If you see a
track, you're not far from a ride.
On boarding, show your ticket to the driver or put it in the
time stamper machine as the local rules specify. Just because
you see a lot of people get on and sit down, apparently without a
ticket, does not mean that you can ride for free. Those people
might have a monthly pass or a transfer in their pocket, or they
might be risking a fine by riding for free.
Do not drive, ride a bike, or walk on or between tram rails. The trams are
electric and are very quiet, especially with all the other street noise around
you. Amsterdam tram conductors love to wait until they are on your heels and
then they RING THE BELL!!!
Buses are sometimes called autobuses.
Buses are in use in all of the large cities, most of the small ones, and
cross-country. A card valid for unlimited travel for a day or for several
days can be purchased which would make for generally good do-it-yourself sightseeing.
A bus pass and a subway pass are usually different, but can be a combo.
Rail travelers who want to get to a small town which has no
train service should inquire at the railroad information office in
a nearby city about bus service. Bus terminals are usually located just outside the
train stations. Intercity service often includes stops at crossroads
and in the middle of nowhere. Tell the driver where you want to get off. In some
countries bus drivers stop for people waving them down along the highway.
Sometimes you can pay on the bus, but before you
stand in a line waiting to get on, find out whether you will be
able to purchase a ticket on board. Ask at the bus terminal or at the
city tourist office about the method of operation. In some countries
you can buy bus tickets in cafes and newsstands.
Tickets are usually more
expensive when you buy them individually or from a driver. When
buying a ticket from the driver, try to have the correct change.
Buses typically have stop buttons so you can let the
driver know when you want to get off, at the next stop. Know your route or
ask the driver.
Schedules for intercity buses originating at main train
stations are followed more closely than those for the in-town
buses. I've had pretty good service in Germany, Holland,
Greece, Norway, Ireland, Portugal, and the Baltic countries on intercity buses. These
buses are fairly comfortable for short rides up to a few hours.
Long rides, like 5 hours from Tallinn to
Riga and similar stretches continuing to Vilnius and Warsaw are not especially
pleasant. I wish there
was a train. See chapter 17 part 4,
Europe's Bus and Ship Services.
Taxis seem to be everywhere, except when you need them
most. Taxis wait at train stations, airports, at large hotels, and
outside night clubs.
If you are a fan of the wild rides in amusement parks, you
might want to take a taxi ride just for the thrill of it. They're not
for the fainthearted. Also, some will rip you off, just like at
home. Another thrill. Not.
Before getting in any taxi, find out approximately how
much the ride will cost. Ask the hotel concierge or the tourist
office for an estimate. Ask also about official taxis and unlicensed free lancers.
Also ask the taxi driver for his estimate before getting in or letting him
throw your luggage in his trunk.
Write down the name of your destination and the price you think
you heard from him and ask him to agree to what you have
written. Compare. If he quotes 59 verbally, it may turn out to be
95. This is not necessarily an attempted rip-off. See chapter 26,
European Languages, Numbers, Alphabets.
If the taxi driver plays dumb and can't speak English, get
suspicious in a hurry. Find someone to translate, or take another
taxi. In all cases, write down the name of your destination and
show it to the driver. Unless you are a fluent native, there is
always the possibility that you will be deposited on the wrong
side of town.
The average London taxi driver is the most helpful and
civilized member of the taxi driver species. Irish drivers are also good. But across the
Channel, be careful. I found the drivers in Rome to be
particularly suited to larceny. On a visit to my client in Aachen,
Germany I had been faxed a map and a taxi estimate for the trip from
the train station to the factory. The first
taxi driver looked at it and agreed. About 15 minutes later the
meter was getting close to the amount and the client's factory
was nowhere in sight. I asked about it and the taxi driver said
that we were going the "fast way" and that my "company was
paying for it anyway." Stuff this balogna. I was paying for it.
I got him to turn off the meter and deliver me for the price he had agreed to.
Catching a Taxi
With enough patience, you can get a taxi by waiting in the
designated line at the train station or airport. You can wave them
down in some cities, though taxis rarely cruise and usually will
not stop for you except in London, Madrid, Lisbon, and Athens.
Taxis wait at some Metro stations in Paris. You can phone them,
or tip a hotel bell captain or head waiter to order one around. At
the disco there is normally a line of taxis waiting outside late at
night. Many people use taxis for going out carousing because of
the severe penalties for driving after drinking.
Taxi drivers do not like to make short runs when there is a line of
waiting taxis. If they take you three blocks, they have to go to the back of
the taxi rank and wait another half hour for their turn again when they return.
So they probably won't give you a ride. That's your problem if it's raining.
When taking a taxi to a slightly out of the way place where you won't
be staying long, tell the driver to wait. It may be difficult to hail another taxi
when you're ready to return. A good example is Athens, Greece. If you take
a taxi to the Acropolis and pay him it might take a long time to get another
taxi after walking around the ruins for a half hour. In Sintra,
Portugal, I had an excellent English speaking taxi driver who
drove me from the train station up to the castle, waited 45
minutes while I took the guided tour, and drove me back to the
town square, all for about the price of a good lunch.
Taxis operating late at night typically charge a higher rate
than during the day. Don't be surprised to pay twice as much to
get home. Taxis often charge more than the meter on Sundays
also. And sometimes they arbitrarily charge 10% to 20% more
than the meter. I don't know why, but when they do it I take all
Taxis are expensive in northern Europe and darn cheap in the Mediterranean countries. Have
plenty of cash with you in Stockholm, Sweden, even for short trips. In Athens, Greece you can be almost
anywhere in the city for about the price of a beer.
Taxis will take you cross-country also. One driver in
Athens quoted $45.00 for the three hour trip to Patras, Greece. I
took the bus. And "taxi drivers" can pop up just when you need
them most. Thanks to my lack of attention when crossing from
Portugal to Spain, I just missed a train to Huelva. The next train
would be four hours later. There was a fellow from Brazil and a
girl from Australia similarly stuck. I went to the café across the
street to use the facilities and have a brandy. While there, one of
the good old boys at the bar said he has a "taxi" and would drive
me the 50 miles for $14.00. Though neither of us could speak
the other's language, I negotiated it down to $10.00 for the three
of us. So for about $3.50 each, Ernest, Kathrine, and I got a one
hour ride in the oldest limo I've ever seen, arriving at Huelva in
plenty of time to make our connection to Seville. (Note: When
crossing from Portugal to Spain, advance your watch, and vice
versa; they are in different time zones.)
In the eastern countries taxis are also very cheap. From a
beach hotel on the north end of the city a taxi ride into the center
of Constanta, Romania was about a dollar. I didn't want to drive
too much around there anyway, preferring to leave the car in the
guarded parking lot of our hotel.
In Istanbul, Turkey a type of taxi called a Domus is very handy for getting
across the city. We stayed near Topkapi
Gate and learned about the Domus after a couple days. The
Domus driver waits until his car is full and then takes off for the
top of the hill. Passengers can go all the way or get off when
they want. Taxis and the Metro are already very cheap in
Istanbul, but we saved a few more pennies with this very
interesting arrangement, stuffed into a little car with the locals.
Some cities in Holland have a Treintaxi service. They load up
at the train station and
drop passengers off at their home or office. If you are traveling
with a group this is an excellent way to go from the station to
your hotel. The cost is a few dollars per person. Treintaxis
are available at most major train stations in Holland, except
Amsterdam. If there isn't one parked, there will be a telephone
handy to call one.
Bicycles may be the most common form of transportation
in Holland. There is some danger in riding a bike, particularly in
Amsterdam, and it may take a while to get accustomed to the
local rules. An ambulance nearly ran me over in Haarlem. Generally,
bicycles have the same right to the road as automobiles, and they
take it. Use arm signals to indicate turns, make sure your bell
and front and rear lights work, and that it has fenders. It rains
a lot in Holland and you don't
want back splatter.
In many Dutch cities, and between cities, narrow roads have
been constructed for the exclusive use of bicycles and mopeds,
normally called brommers in Holland.
These little roads usually have separate traffic signals using the outline of a
bicycle. Depending on distance, traffic, and parking conditions,
a bicycle may get you there faster than any other vehicle in
For some views of bicycle paths in Holland see my photolog report
of a trip from Haarlem to Keukenhof at
Bicycles are also popular in Denmark, parts of Belgium,
and in northwestern Germany.
In Aschaffenburg, our German home town, we used our
bicycles frequently for short trips to the market and for Sunday
rides along the Main River. During the summer it was
impossible to ride for half an hour without finding a beer Fest of
some sort in one of the Dorfs (towns) facing the river. For the
most part, there is a paved bike path on at least one side of the
river. Along the path late in the season we made frequent stops
to get off and pick wild raspberries which seemed to be
Some major cities have free or very cheap temp loaner bicycle programs. You'll
find free bikes in Geneva, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and other
cities which are trying to cut down on traffic congestion. Paris has instituted
a cheap bike rental plan called Velib'.
You can get a bike at hundreds of locations
and drop it off at any other location. I had a
free bike in Blois, France that enabled me to visit the château at
Mopeds are probably the second most popular form of transportation in Holland.
Moped drivers are allowed to use the bicycle paths. Helmets are
required and the maximum size engine for a moped is 50 cc.
This noisy two-wheeler is the vehicle of choice for pre-car teenagers. They
are known colloquially as brommers, officially as bromfiets.
Shoe leather should not be forgotten. The most interesting parts of most
major cities are relatively small in area and can be reached
within half an hour from a central location.
Some sidewalks are very narrow And they are often used
for parking cars, café extensions, and glass recycle bins.
Additionally, watch out for dog droppings. Don't worry
too much about muggers except in some neighborhoods which
are easy to identify. Unfortunately Barcelona is becoming infamous for daylight muggings.
In most of Europe even after dark the streets are generally safer than in
America. However, do be careful of pickpockets and camera and
purse snatchers, especially in the capital cities and in the
There is sometimes a certain lack of courtesy by European
pedestrians. In Amsterdam, locals play "sidewalk chicken" to
see who will step out of the way first. In the big cities in
southern Europe, "sidewalk bumper shoulders" is played by
many locals. They seem to want to bump into you, and they
succeed. This could be a distraction to allow them to get their hands
in your pockets. Be alert.
Do be careful crossing streets. Crosswalks in some
countries are meaningless, or if they have any meaning, it is
simply that they are a target zone for drivers. Look around for
traffic, and move quickly when it is clear. Crossing signals vary
in appearance, but all will be red for "Don't Walk" and green for
"Walk." In some countries the signals also give an audible sound
indicating when it is safe to cross and when to wait. These
sounds are different in each country.
Rome deserves special consideration by pedestrians, and since I
lived to tell about it, here goes. Do not start to cross a street if the walk
signal, AVANTI, is already lighted when you
get to the corner. It can change to ALT within seconds and give
drivers the green light to run you down. Be patient and wait
until you see the signal turn to AVANTI with your own eyes.
Then move quickly. The drivers in Rome don't like to slow
down, much less stop. Some of them speed up when they see a
red light. The red must drive them mad. In the city they don't
like to waste their headlight bulbs either so they often drive
with parking lights or even no lights at night.
"When in Rome, do as the Romans do" is an adage with a
great deal of merit. But, when in Athens I would not advise
following the locals jaywalking and crossing against the signals.
I have seen citizens stranded in the middle of busy boulevards
by swarms of speeding drivers hell-bent to take their right to the
road. Courtesy? Are you kidding?
On the other hand, the drivers in Sweden and Finland are
more courteous than any I have seen anywhere. Crosswalks are
honored and pedestrians are given an opportunity to escape
when caught in traffic. The Germans are very obedient when it comes
to crosswalk signals. If you jaywalk you are given the most scornful
looks by all of the people on the other side of the street who are waiting
for the signal to change.
In many large cities,
underground tunnels are provided for pedestrians to cross the
major boulevards. Some of these feature escalators. I have seen
some tourists who actually made it running across the Place
Charles de Gaulle to visit the Arc de Triomphe. There are
several underground tunnels so you do not have to run like a
rabbit. Notice the posters that the city has set up in the neighborhood
showing a lifeless body on the Étoile.
If you see chains or guard rails along the curb, you can
assume that it is illegal to jump over to cross the street. Look for
a tunnel or a crosswalk somewhere on the block. Otherwise you
might come home as hamburger in a wooden box.
NOTE TO READERS
I welcome questions and comments. If you have any concerns about your trip to
Europe that have not been covered well enough in this chapter do not hesitate to write and ask.
My email address is
When you write please include as much detail as possible. There are about 50 countries in Europe.
It will help me answer if you mention the countries and/or cities you plan to visit.
I will reply in a day or two.
Don't forget to scroll through the Table of Contents below. The other 29 chapters of
HOW TO EUROPE
are also available, free to read on line.
For a check-off punchlist of everything go to The Finale,
Packing List and Last Call:
For Travel In Europe.
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Have a good trip in life,
Note: Italicized notations by the author.
, , , , , , , ,
It rains. Be prepared.
Totes Titanium Auto-Open/Close Umbrella
Weather protection is important. This is a great lightweight water repellent windbreaker.
Turfer Women's Featherweight Jacket
Look sharp and be comfortable.
Hot Chillys Women's Peach Skins Solid T-Neck Shirt
London Fog Women's Double Breasted Trench Coat
Clarks Women's Wave.Run Slip-On
Tilley Endurables TH9 Women's Hemp Hat
Wear a scarf for comfort and style. Nobody will ever suspect that you are an American.
Very soft houndstooth neck scarf, Kanye West style, different colors available
I wore one similar to this on my early spring trip to London and Dublin.
Leather Bomber Jacket
My "standard" shirt for off-season travel in Europe.
Kingsize Big & Tall Turtleneck Long-Sleeve Cotton Shirt
My favorite T-shirt/undershirt has a pocket for securely carrying passport, cash, and credit cards.
Turfer Tagless ComfortSoft T-Shirt with Pocket
New Casual Grey Herringbone Wool Cap
Walk on cork for all day comfort.
Birkenstock Bali Sandal
Birkenstock Arizona Sandal
Just as comfortable as tennies but look great. I've gone through several pairs over the years.
For leg comfort on the plane.
Arriva Travel-Tec Travel Legwear with Smart Compression Technology
Rolling luggage sure beats lugging a pack on your back.
Delsey Luggage Helium Fusion Light 21 Inches Expandable Carryon
Day luggage for your walkabout.
Travelpro Luggage WalkAbout LITE 4 Deluxe Tote
Keep your stuff organized.
Luggage Packing Cubes
eBags 3pc Set
eBags Small Packing Cubes - 3pc Set
This carry-on liquids kit meets TSA airline rules.
Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Custom Travel Bottle Set
Wear a money belt under your shirt to protect your passport and valuables, especially if you are staying in hostels or dorms.
Lewis N. Clark RFID Blocking Waist Stash
This portable combo door stopper and alarm will give you additional security in your hotel room.
GE 50246 Smart Home
Door Stop Alarm
Make sure that your electrical appliances are 110-220 dual voltage so they will work in Europe.
These appliances require a plug adapter(s), NOT a converter, for the countries you are visiting.
Vagabond Compact Styler
Conair's Dual-Voltage Ionic Hair Dryer
Conair Flat Iron 2" Ceramic Straightener
Travel Hair Setter
SteamFast SF-717 Home-and-Away Mini Steam Iron (dual voltage)
For coffee or tea in your room, without waiting or paying for room service.
Lewis N. Clark Immersion Heater 120/240V
You will need one or more of these plug adapters for your appliances and chargers.
For details on electricity in Europe see chapter 11,
Electricity in Europe: Travel Voltage Fundamentals
Plug Adapter (doubler)
Universal to Continental Europe "Europlug."
4.0 mm prongs
SIMRAN PLUG ADAPTER
Adapts grounded USA plugs to European "Shucko" plug.
4.8 mm prongs
This series of "3-Pack" Ceptics brand grounded universal plug adapters is handy if you are carrying multiple
gizmos or if you have travel companions who also need a charge.
Britain and Ireland
This 110-250 volt power surge strip has three universal outlets and an American grounded plug
so it needs a plug adapter for the countries you are visiting.
Make sure your gizmos are rated for 110-240 volts.
SM-60 Universal 3 Outlet Power Strip Surge Protector for Worldwide Travel. 110V-250V with Overload Protection.
Wash in your room basin and save time, trouble, and money.
Woolite Laundry Soap
20 packs, ¼ oz. each
Inflatable clothes hangars help with drip dry clothes washed in your room.
Inflatable Travel & Laundry Hangers Set Of 4 by Whitney Design
Who wrote this?
Home and general index.