Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Favorite Destinations of 2014

Between the Christmas holidays and New Years is always one of my favorite times to sit back and reflect on my past year. I enjoy taking the time to look at and examine how the past year was, learning from both the good things and the not-so-good things. This year, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit so many different countries- Sweden, the U.S., Norway, Germany several times, and Thailand. Today, I am looking back at some of my favorite posts and memories from these great countries!

paris for christmas

Although I didn't travel to Paris in 2014, I reflected on it…so  I'm going to count it! Last year prior to Christmas, Nick and I traveled to Paris for both of our first time. While my writing in this blog post isn't the best (I was still so new to blogging!) it is interesting to me to look back and see how much I have grown in terms of writing this year. Our trip to Paris was so great, and by far exceeded my expectations!

Koh Samui, Thailand
We spent three weeks in Thailand for our honeymoon, and they were absolutely amazing. There were so many different things and sites we got to see. Some of my favorite posts are: Koh Samui Ice Bar, Midnight Charity 5K, and Cruising Along the Chao Phraya.

Stockholm, Sweden
Of course, living in Sweden I've had quite some time to check out the various cities and explore this country. I absolutely love Stockholm, and you can see here why it is my Favorite European City. I would love to hear what your favorite European city is and why! 

Füssen, Germany
Oh, Germany. This year I got to head to Germany twice- once to Munich with my family for Oktoberfest, and most recently to Berlin with Nick for Christmas. Germany is a country for everyone, and has so much to offer! My favorite posts on Germany this year were about A Day Trip to Füssen, Viktualienmarkt, and The Big Six Breweries.

Flåm, Norway
My trip to Norway this year completely stole my heart. We spent three days in Bergen, and had terrific weather and time to explore the city. We Hiked Mount Fløyen one day, and then spent a day checking out the Gorgeous Norwegian Fjords. I already can't wait to go to Norway again!

Overall, my year in travels was excellent. I experienced some new countries and cities, and got to travel all over with my family and husband. Currently, I have no set travel plans for 2015- although there are a few destinations that keep being discussed! What are your favorite travel memories from 2014, and do you have any great destinations you are headed to in 2015?

Monday, December 29, 2014

My 7 Best Blog Posts of 2014

In case you've missed it, 2014 is almost over and we are about to head into 2015! Sometimes, I can't believe that I have already been blogging for a year and a half now. In that time, I've grown a lot- not only as an individual person, but as a writer and a blogger. This has been reflected in my recent decision to change my blog from the original name and location, Hockey Wife Hockey Life, to my new name and location where you currently are. You can read all about that decision in my What's In a Name post. However, today, I'm going to take a look back at my personal favorite posts from the past year and give you an overview of those posts! Of course, to read further, feel free to click through and check out the original posts. Without further ado…

Bergen fjords
Norwegian Fjords in Bergen
While this is definitely a travel post, one of my favorite posts this year highlights the fjords of Bergen, Norway. With my family, we spent several days in Bergen and took a Norway in a Nutshell tour of the fjords. The entire experience was filled with stunning views and great laughs with my family.

anniversary in Stockholm

52 Weeks // One Year

Nick and I celebrated our one year anniversary in Stockholm, Sweden a week before the actual date. At times, I can't believe that I have already been married for a year (and a half now!), well at other times it seems like Nick and I have been married our whole lives.

great summer date ideas
checking out a sunset is always nice!
15 Great Summertime Date Ideas

In this post, I looked at various date ideas for the summertime to enjoy the warm months of the year. Not only were these recommendations for others, they were ideas for myself to look at- Nick and I did almost each of these dates this past summer!

Christmas in Paris
we spent last Christmas in Paris, France
A Season in Pictures

At the end of the hockey season last year, I took some time to look back on our past months and experiences abroad. Reflection posts such as this are often my favorite, because it is such a great way to look at all the places we have gone and things we have done.

what went wrong at my wedding
running from the rain!
What Went Wrong at my Wedding

The short answer to this…a lot of things. It started raining during pictures, leading to a mad dash inside to avoid getting drenched. The flowers were wrong, people were late, I forgot my veil for the ceremony…the list goes on, but at the end of the day, I got to marry the love of my life!

Västerås, Sweden
Västerås, Sweden
5 Reasons I Love Living in Sweden

In this post, I looked at all of the different great things I have experienced while living in Sweden. It is a great list for myself to look back at, and I've also heard from Swedes themselves that it is a reminder of why living in this country is great.

homemade apple pie!
Screw You, Martha Stewart & Screw You, Pinterest

I love this post just because I think it is funny. Before Thanksgiving this year, I made the mistake of checking out both Pinterest and Martha Stewart for ideas on how to do my pie crust- the result was gorgeous, but took a heck of a lot longer than I thought it would!

Overall, these are my favorite posts from 2014. I tried to pick a variety of posts, including travel, lifestyle, and generic posts I just happened to write about. To further explore, check out the links to the side for various topics!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The 5 Best 'Alternative" New Years Eve Destinations

best unique places to go for nye

Yesterday, I wrote about the 5 Best Places to Celebrate New Years Eve. Of course, these were all the 'traditional' destinations- Sydney, London, New York, Koh Phangan, and Rio. Because I'm not all about tradition, today we are going to look at the best 'alternative' destinations to celebrate New Years Eve! In no particular order, here are some destinations that while non-traditional, still present a NYE never to forget.

cool NYE destinations
Reykjavik, Iceland
Imagine a sky that looks like this, lit up entirely naturally from the Northern Lights. Now throw in a street party with 200,000 people and 500 tons of fireworks, and you have a taste of New Years Eve in Reykjavik, Iceland. Around 8:30 PM, ten bonfires (brenna) are started. Traditionally, these were started to represent the cleaning of house in preparation for the new year and burning old things. Now, bonfires are lit in the spirit of tradition and to keep you warm from the cold! Most impressive about Reykjavik NYE is that there is no official fireworks display from the city, so the 500 tons of fireworks lit off are done by the people.

Why celebrate New Years Eve once when you can celebrate it twice? For this experience, head to Samoa. Start your NYE in American Samoa, then travel just 50 miles west to Samoa and celebrate all over again. In 2011, Samoa wiped an entire day from their calendar to adjust for trade with Australia and New Zealand- in doing this, they have allowed travelers to enjoy not one, but two NYE celebrations. Doing this, you can be not only one of the first people to ring in the new year, but also one of the last as well- and with views like that between celebrations, who wouldn't want to celebrate in Samoa?


Honolulu, Hawaii
Rather than being one of the first people in the world to ring in the New Year in Sydney, why not make every last minute count? To do this, head to Honolulu, Hawaii; which is the world's last major destination to ring in the new year. Watch the sun set on the gorgeous beach, then join in on a traditional Hawaiian luau before ringing in the New Year with gorgeous fireworks shows.

Hong Kong
For a NYE to never forget, head to Hong Kong. Throughout the evening, enjoy the views of the night lights along the Hong Kong harbor, culminating in a fireworks show at midnight. If you have an itch to see a ball drop, head to the Times Square shopping mall, where they will mimic the ball drop of New York City. If you have a craving to be along the water, take a cruise boat around the city and check out the amazing views of the skyline. Fireworks here will be launched from the harbor, skyscrapers, and land; along with a countdown clock to midnight.

Copenhagen, Denmark
Celebrate the New Years in style in Copenhagen, Denmark. While not a traditional destination, expect a dinner out on the town, followed by spilling into the streets prior to midnight for an amazing fireworks show. A word to the wise: bring your own fireworks as well, as the streets will be filled with people lighting off fireworks. A NYE in Copenhagen can also be an extension of Christmas; as Tivoli Gardens Christmas Market is open through January 4.

Where is the best place you have ever celebrated New Years Eve, and what made it so special?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The 5 Best Places to Celebrate New Years Eve

Now that the Christmas holidays are gone, it is past time to start thinking about New Years Eve. Today, I'll be looking at the world's best known and most iconic NYE party celebration destinations.

best places to celebrate NYE
Sydney, Australia

As Sydney is the world's first place to ring in the New Year, it is well known as a great destination for NYE. Two firework shows are provided for entertainment, with the family show at 9 and a worldwide televised event at 12. The fireworks display Sydney puts on is the world's largest fireworks display for NYE. Sydney hosts over 1.5 million people in the harbor for the party, with over 1 billion people tuning in worldwide for the midnight televised fireworks show. View this beautiful fireworks show from the beach, on a boat, or from any location that has a view of the Sydney harbor. 

best place in world for NYE
Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand

Koh Pha Ngan or Koh Phangan is best known for it's Full Moon parties, Half Moon parties, and Thai New Year parties, but is certainly a great destination for celebrating NYE. Join 50,000 people on the beach to ring in the New Year. With pop-up bars galore selling buckets of mixed drinks and beers, street vendors selling t-shirts, and plenty of vendors with glow in the dark face paint and glow sticks, this is one party you don't want to miss. 

best new years eve parties
London, England 

London has traditionally been an iconic destination to ring in the New Year, and because of heavy traffic this is the first year you will be charged to watch the fireworks along the Thames River. This fireworks display will rival the Sydney midnight firework show. If you are headed to London for NYE, try get a good night's rest to attend the New Years Day parade, a world-famous event. After the fireworks, join in for the rendition of Auld Lang Syne. 

best parties in world for NYE
New York City, New York

No "Best Cities to Celebrate New Years Eve" post is complete without at least a mention of Times Square in New York City, New York. Each year, around 1 million people descend into the streets to celebrate the ringing in of the New Year, complete with a fireworks show and the worldwide famous dropping of the ball. The ball is 11,875 pounds, measuring 12 feet across with 2,688 Waterford crystal triangles and 32,256 LEDs.

best places to go for new years eve
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Throughout Rio de Janeiro, there are certainly tons of parties to ring in the New Year, from Sugarloaf Mountain and the Lagoa to Copacabana Beach. If you are in Rio for NYE, the place to be is most definitely Copacabana Beach. Copacabana Beach hosts the world's largest NYE party, with over 2 million people attending. Brazilians follow the tradition of wearing all white to bring in luck for the new year. Splashes of color will be seen as well: blue for peace, red for passion, and yellow and gold for prosperity. At the stroke of midnight, the beach full of people dressed in white will be immersed in color as a beautiful fireworks show lights the beach.

What is your favorite location in the world to celebrate New Years Eve, and how will you be celebrating this year? Also, stay tuned for my list of 'alternative' destinations- places to celebrate NYE that are not the most traditional!

Friday, December 26, 2014

3 Days in Berlin: The Best Sights to See!

I hope everyone had a terrific holiday! Nick and I are now home and rested from our trip to Berlin. We were only in Berlin for two full days and parts of two other days… but boy, did we ever do a lot! Upon arriving in Berlin, we headed right to check into our hotel, pick up our luggage, and get our Berlin WelcomeCards. The Berlin WelcomeCard is an official ticket that includes unlimited use of public transport, in addition to discounts with over 200 partners. For more information on the card and tourism in Berlin, definitely check out Visit Berlin!

After checking in and grabbing our cards, it was off to explore the city!

Augustiner Berlin
pretzels and Bavarian beer, a German staple
Our first stop of the day was to grab some much-needed lunch. Nick and I headed to Augustiner Bräuhaus, one of the classic German breweries. The food was absolutely delicious, and after a great lunch we were ready to really hit the town. Because I have visited Munich for Oktoberfest the past two years, it was quite interesting to check out the differences between the same breweries in Berlin and Munich. Check out more information about classic Bavarian Breweries here!

Berlin christmas markets 2014
Berlin Christmas Markets
One of our first stops was to head and check out some of the Berlin Christmas Markets. Berlin has around 100 Christmas markets scattered throughout the city, so we were never too far from one! One of Nick's favorites from German Christmas markets is Glühwein, a warm spiced wine.

Brandenburg Gate 2014
in front of Brandenburg Gate
Another highlight from our trip was, of course, Brandenburg Gate. It was amazing to walk through the gate, read about the history, and even in places see some of the damage from WWII, with bullet holes scattered throughout the stone.

The Bird Berlin
who couldn't love a restaurant that's menu reads like this?!
One of my personal favorite highlights from the trip was visiting a small, hole-in-the-wall restaurant called "The Bird". Above, you can see the menu from The Bird- clearly, this is the type of restaurant where you can go, sit back, relax, and enjoy yourselves. I loved The Bird because in addition to terrific food, the service was just unbeatable.

East Side Gallery
In front of a painting at the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall
And of course, no visit to Berlin would be complete without stopping at the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall. November 9, 2014 marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. While much of the wall is fallen, throughout the city there are several spots where portions of the wall remain standing. Wherever the wall has been taken down, it is marked with a row of bricks, trekking it's way throughout the city to mark where the wall once stood.

All in all, our trip to Berlin was certainly a whirlwind- we were constantly on the run to check out more sights and explore more of the city. A city of 3.3 million people, there is certainly something for everyone to do: from history nerds exploring the great culture of Berlin, to foodies checking out restaurants, to tourists exploring Christmas markets. The only downfall of our trip to Berlin was the endless drizzle- but hey, you can't let the weather stop you! We simply used the weather as an excuse to hang out under tents at the Christmas markets with a glass of glühwein.

Here is hoping everyone had a terrific holiday! What did you do for the holidays?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

I've Got The Blues

Christmas in Berlin Brandenburg Gate
Nick and I at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
Nick and I have checked out of our hotel here in Berlin, and are preparing to return home. Our next vacation is nowhere in sight, and I must say, I have a case of the post-vacation blues. After returning home from a vacation, it can often be pretty easy to catch the post-vacation blues. So for today, here are some tips to ease the post-vacation blues and come home from a vacation refreshed and ready to tackle the upcoming days!

#1: Make sure you have a smooth return! Often, getting home from a trip can mean heading off to work and back to daily life the next day. If possible, schedule an extra day off before returning to work to relax and catch up on things. Even if this isn't possible, you can still make life at home a little bit easier when returning from that trip. Before the trip, make sure to clean your house thoroughly and get all the laundry- including bedding- done! There is no better feeling when returning home from a trip than entering a spic-and-span house, and climbing into bed with fresh, clean sheets. Doing simple things like this can help your return be that much easier.

a nice clean place to come home to is the best! 
#2: Relive the memories! Upon returning home, it can be all too easy to get back into daily life and miss the vacation. To avoid this, plan a way to relive your memories of the trip right away- whether it is happy hour and catching up with a friend, creating a photo album from the trip, or writing a blog post to remember it by- reflecting back on your vacation and reliving it can help ease the post-holiday blues.

#3: Indulge yourself: Again, the post-vacation blues occur because of the stresses of returning to every day life. Take some time to indulge yourself and have a little 'me time,' to rewind. If that means taking a bath, going for a run, getting your nails done, do whatever it is that will help you to relax and recharge your batteries.

#4: Start planning your next vacation: This is my favorite tip, and what I am just about to do! Returning home from vacation can be quite depressing when you have no future vacations lined up. Use your recent travels as inspiration to plan upcoming trips- perhaps you met some people who told you about great destinations, or you realized that instead of a beach vacation you want a vacation jam-packed with tours and travels. Start planning your next trip now, and feel the excitement come back to you!

#5: Get a good night's sleep: This is the best way to recharge your battery. If you have the blues, often it can be better to just go to bed early, recharge your batteries, and hit the road running the next day. Getting a good night's sleep will naturally put you in a better mood, leaving you ready to tackle all of the things that come with returning home from a trip.

And with that, I am off to take my own advice and start tackling my blues. With a hectic few months coming up in the hockey season, I will be looking at taking our next vacation in the middle of April. With the cold weather here, I am craving some sand and sunshine- any travel recommendations? Lastly, for you, what is the best advice you have to tackle the post-vacation blues when returning home from a trip?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Historic Bryggen: A UNESCO Heritage Site You Can't Miss

Bryggen Norway
my very first view of Bryggen
Welcome to Bryggen, Norway; one of the world's UNESCO Heritage Sites that you absolutely can't miss. Bryggen is situated in the center of Bergen, Norway along the harbor. Bryggen is Norwegian for 'wharf,' and my family and I were lucky enough to visit this beautiful site this past October! One of Europe's oldest port cities, Bryggen has been around- and will hopefully remain- for centuries to come!

The city of Bergen was founded prior to 1070 as earliest records state. In the above picture, many of the buildings that you see were built as early as the 1700s, and have miraculously survived fires and more to remain standing. The buildings are currently largely tourist shops, and so much fun to peek around in!
Bryggen in Bergen
Bryggen wooden buildings
The majority of the buildings in historic Bryggen are built from wood, making them highly susceptible to fires. Now, you may be asking, what makes Bryggen a UNESCO heritage site?

port of Bergen

Bryggen is built in the Port of Bergen. Unfortunately, due to various conditions, Bryggen is in need of protection due to several causes. In addition to being highly susceptible to fire, the buildings of Bryggen were built upon structurally questionable material, and are essential in danger of sinking. When examining the buildings of Bryggen, you can note how the original older buildings have begun to sag. Fortunately, the UNESCO Heritage Center is working hard to save Bryggen!

crooked stairs in Bryggen
Although the picture isn't exactly clear, this crooked staircase is an example of the 'sinking of Bryggen!'
Bryggen alleyway
narrow alleyway of Bryggen
The narrow alleyways of Bryggen can be characterized as customary throughout much of old Scandinavia, but the wooden structures make it especially interesting to view!

Bryggen, Norway

Bryggen buildings

These are some of the newer and stone buildings located in the port of Bergen. The port is essentially a U-shape, with historic Bryggen located on the right-hand side of the U.

old wooden boats
old wooden fishing boats
If you are lucky on your trip to Bryggen, you will be able to observe some of the old, wooden fishing boats located in the pier! Bergen is largely considered to be a fishing city with a large fish market, so definitely check out some of the beautiful boats!

Bergen harbor
view of opposite side of harbor
On the opposite side of the 'U', you can observe the rest of the wharf in Bergen. The opposite side houses much of the fish market, along with several shops and restaurants to explore.

wooden builds of Bryggen
historic Bryggen leading up to the newer buildings
wood buildings of Bryggen
historic Bryggen
Of course, on any trip to Bergen, Norway there are many things to do besides explore Bryggen! The two highlights of our trip were hiking Mt. Fløyen and visiting the fjords. If you are looking for a great trip to Norway, I would highly recommend spending at least 2-3 days in Bergen and exploring all of the beauty that Norway has to offer.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

What's In My Bag: Travel Edition

what's in my bag travel edition

Today, Nick and I are off to Berlin to celebrate a few days off and the Christmas holiday! We have a relatively easy flight, direct from Stockholm to Berlin. Nonetheless, whenever traveling it is important to make sure you have correctly packed items in your bag for the trip! Here, we will take a quick look at the items in my bag for the trip.

Firstly, my go-to travel bag is my Prada medium-size bag. In addition to being a gorgeous bag, it has both handles and a shoulder strap, which is hugely helpful when navigating the airport. Hands-free (or shoulder-free) bags are the best to wear when traveling.

what's in my bag for travel

In no particular order, here are my go-to travel items for any short trip:
  • Passport: Although I'll be traveling within the EU and should not need my passport, it is always a good idea to carry this with you when abroad. 
  • Wallet with Delta American Express and Euros: My wallet carries all of my cards, but especially my American Express and for this trip, euros. I use my Amex for almost everything, and between flights and spending on it have received almost 70,000 miles this year alone- great for future travels! Germany is largely a cash country, so I took the time to go to the bank and have Euros, the local currency. Any time you are headed to a new country, try make your life a little easier and arrive with at least some local currency to get you through your day until you can find a conveniently located ATM.
  • iPad: For entertainment, pictures, and a larger surface to work on any blogging or homework I may have.
  • Getting to Yes: This is the book I am currently reading for my MBA class. My classes will still be going on while I am on this trip, so I am going to try and get as much work done on the plane as possible so I can enjoy more of Berlin.
  • Make-up Bag & Comb: I always carry my make-up bag with me on the plane so I can do quick retouches as we land. This way, the second the plane touches down I am ready to go and explore my new destination! A comb is great as well to quickly run through your hair, leaving you fresh. 
  • Zantac, ibuprofen, Emergen-C, & Salonpas: This is my little on-the-go medical kit. When traveling, it is nice to have the medications you require for quick relief. Emergen-C can help keep you healthy and avoid sickness while traveling, and Salonpas are great for relieving sore and tired muscles. 
  • Lotion & Blistex Chapstick: The air on planes can be quite dry, so having a couple of moisturizing products is hugely helpful to keep you ready to go as soon as you land. 
  • Powerbank: I purchased a power bank for my iPhone this past summer, and rarely leave home without it now. It is so nice to have that boost of power whenever you may need it, especially while traveling and wanting to document your adventures. 
  • Pen: This is great for any thoughts I may have while traveling. I keep post-it notes in my wallet, and while they may not be the biggest, they are great to write down quick ideas and stick wherever I will see them! 
  • Tide To Go: Pretty much explains itself, but on the go with no access to laundry facilities, tide to go can be a real lifesaver in a pinch!
Those are all of my go-to travel necessities for short, quick trips. Of course, on a longer trip packing will be significantly different- check out my list of carry-on items for a long flight here. What are your most important items to bring with on flights when traveling?

Friday, December 19, 2014

What's In a Name?

Welcome to my brand new blog!

Over the past few weeks, I have been continually asking myself "What's in a name?" 

Recently, I have been feeling the need to make a change here in blog-land, and find a name more relevant to my current blog and where I want to take it. Hockey Wife, Hockey Life was a great name for my blog for some time, yet lately I have felt it didn't capture all that I wanted my blog to be. This blog has become more than just 'hockey wife, hockey life,' and my life incorporates so many different aspects. I am more than just a hockey wife, so why limit myself to that? So I have been asking, what is in a name?

Here on the blog, I have been writing about a variety of things- travels and trips, life, love, wine, our wedding, recipes, and really anything that comes to mind. As I searched for a new blog name, I wanted something that would be relevant to my blog's past, to how I see it right now, and to the future. I don't know where I will be six months from now, let alone six years from now. I don't know what I will be blogging (or not blogging) about… The last thing I wanted to do was lock myself into a name that would only be relevant for a year or two. 

In the end, I realized that it is not really the name of this space that matters. It is the content I am producing, and what I choose to write about. Because I never know what this will be, the best name for my blog is the name for myself. So with that, welcome to my brand new blog! I hope to continue to post on travel and daily life, with a few recipes and random posts mixed in. For my readers, thank you so much for your support and I look forward to continuing down this journey with you! 

A short note: as I just switched my URL from www.hockeywifehockeylife.com to www.SamanthaAngell.com, it may take me a few days to get all of my links up and running! Please be patient in the meanwhile. I can't wait to continue posting with my new name!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

So Tell Me, Whats With the Trolls in Norway?

our troll friend, Ole "the troll" Johnsson in Flåm, Norway
This past fall when my family and I visited Bergen, one of the quick themes to the trip we noticed were trolls. There were trolls everywhere! Trolls walking around town, trolls in gift shops, random troll statues throughout the mountains…you name it, and trolls were there. Of course, after noticing this theme, my family spent some time looking up what was with the obsession with trolls in Norway. If you are curious, here's your answer! If you are like me at all, you would definitely be wondering what is with all of the trolls in Norway!

Trolls have been around in Nordic lands for ages, but have a special place in Norway. Throughout Norse folklore, trolls are described as living in remote places, often alone or in a small family, and are not described as being friendly or helpful. (Fun fact for the Swedes- in old Swedish law, trolleri was described as a specific kind of magic intended to do harm!)

gift shop trolls
trolls on our hike up Mt. Fløyen
Of course, there are many myths surrounding trolls and different tales of them. The only common characteristic of trolls throughout Norway and Scandinavia: they are ugly! (Tell that to a friend who is obsessed…) In terms of their appearance, trolls often have long, skinny noses; ears large enough to grow rutabagas in; bits and pieces of previous meals left in their scraggly hair; and small, beady eyes.

The most common fairytale featuring trolls is the Three Billy Goats Gruff. Three Bill Goats Gruff is a Norwegian fairy tale, featuring three bill goats who must cross a bridge under which a fearsome troll lives.

As you can see from the above pictures, my family found a friendly troll and spent some time with him while hanging out in Flåm before our trip through the Norwegian fjords. We decided to name him Ole 'The Troll' Johnsson, and spent a few hours sharing our beers with him. If you are ever in Flåm and see Ole, make sure to say hi- he is one of the friendly trolls!
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