Thursday, March 30, 2023

How to Safeguard Your Photos While Traveling (ft. Favorite European Christmas Markets Itinerary!)

I have solved one of my biggest photo dilemmas!  I want to show you how I did it so you can safeguard your photos while traveling, too.  (And then keep reading to learn about the most magical Christmas Markets in central Europe!)

Part 1: 
How to Safeguard Your Photos While Traveling

If you're like most people, you take a lot of photos using your phone.  Phones are so convenient these days, and some phone cameras are better than the average digital cameras available a decade ago.  It just makes so much sense to take phone photos!

If you're like me, though, you might worry about what could possibly happen to your phone since that's where you're keeping your precious photos.  I have more than once held my phone out over the ocean or a waterfall to snap a photo and felt very aware:  one slip and it's all over.  Especially when traveling, I think about the best places to carry my phone where it's out of reach of pickpockets.  And even when not traveling, 70 million smartphones are lost each year, and only 7% of them are recovered.

That's why I decided a long time ago that keeping my photos only on my phone isn't a good idea.  Having them in a secure, secondary location gives me peace of mind because I know my precious photos and memories are safeguarded.

Guess what I used to do to safeguard my phone photos while traveling.  Go ahead.  Guess.

I emailed them to myself.  Every night at the hotel, I would email photos to myself.  Then I would come home from the trip with 15 emails, each containing 8 or 10 photos.  And then I would download them to my computer.  And then organize them.  It was onerous, but it was a good way to ensure that those photos were in another location in case something happened to my phone.  

A good way, that is, until I discovered the perfect way.

You may be familiar with temporary photo storage such as Dropbox, iPhoto, Google Photos, Amazon, etc.  Most people don't know these services are temporary, but each of these (and others) include fine print about their "right" to discontinue services and even sell your photos.  (Learn more here.)  

So when I learned about FOREVER as a permanent (not temporary) photo storage option that guarantees the privacy and safety of my photos for my lifetime plus 100 years (all with personal ownership of the digital storage space, not monthly fees), I was all over that.

And then I learned about the app.  And that's when I discovered the perfect way to safeguard my phone photos while traveling!

NOTE:  I am a Forever affiliate (a decision I made because I love it so much), so you will find affiliate links in this post, from which I earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no extra cost to you.

To perfectly safeguard your photos, even while traveling, you only need two things.  The first is a FOREVER account.  It's free and comes with 2 GB of free photo storage.  (Open your account here.  You can also buy additional permanent photo storage there, too, if you need more than 2 GB.)  

The second thing you need is the free FOREVER app (information at this link).  You can even get everything organized by setting up some albums in your FOREVER account--you'll be able to access them all from your app.  Organize just to your liking by using "nested albums" in your albums, too.  (Like subfolders inside folders on your computer).  This video gives you a good overview of what that looks like:

Before a big trip, I actually set up albums and nested albums (again, think folders and subfolders) ahead of time in my FOREVER account, organized in a simple way I like.  Then while I'm traveling, I simply upload my phone photos into my FOREVER account in the digital album I've prepared.  They are safe and secure there, no matter what might happen to my phone, plus they're already organized by the time I'm ready to do some digital scrapbooking or easy template photo-storybooks when I get home!  It makes it so easy! (And FOREVER'S are top-quality!  See the 3 options here.)

And if I still want to download the photos to my computer when I get home from the trip, I can easily do it straight from my FOREVER account.  Downloading is free, and the files are full resolution.  (It might seem silly to say that downloading your own photos back to your computer is free--I only mention this because I know some companies charge you to download your photos.  Some companies decrease the file sizes of your photos so that they are low-resolution when you download them back.)

I absolutely love the simplicity of this perfect way of safeguarding my phone photos while traveling.  Get started safeguarding your photos and videos by following the steps here and see if you don't love it, too!  

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This safeguarding method is what I did with my photos and videos during a week of exploring Central Europe and its Christmas Markets!

Part 2:
How to Spend a Dreamy Week in Central Europe's Christmas Markets 

Christmas is my favorite holiday, and I know Europe knows how to do Christmas right, so it's been a dream of mine for several years to go to European Christmas Markets.  I've been to the Toronto Christmas Market and the Denver Christmas Market, and while I initially went to them because I figured they were as close as I was going to get to Europe, they honestly just whetted my appetite for real European markets!

Thankfully, my husband likes to travel almost as much as I do, so we decided to spend a week in Europe for our anniversary in December, seeing cities during the day (mostly) and Christmas Markets in the evenings (mostly) while they were lit up.  

In preparation for the trip, I read a lot of blog posts about various Christmas Markets in many cities throughout Europe.  They all seemed to be labeled "the best," "the most popular," "the oldest," "the biggest," etc., which made me think they must all be amazing.  So we made our own itinerary and did a driving loop to hit cities we were interested in that would also have lovely Christmas Markets. 

Here is the "Best European Christmas Market Itinerary," so titled because it's the one I did and it was phenomenal.  From my reading, that's what most people call the "best"--the one they did and loved.  I'm honestly not sure you can lose with any European Christmas Market!

At European Christmas Markets, in general, you can find stalls selling things like jewelry, Christmas decor, winter wear (like hats, scarves, socks), and such.  There's always lots of food.  There's definitely some overlap between markets, but there are some unique offerings, too.  

We spent the days exploring the cities and the afternoons/evenings at the Christmas Markets since I wanted to be there with the Christmas lights on.  In December in central Europe, the sun goes down at 4:30, so that was easier than expected!  We flew into Zurich and did a week-long road trip, ending back in Zurich.  First stop:  Basel.

Basel is a delightful city on the French and German borders.  (In fact, there are Basel streets you can walk down and walk right into France!)  It's the third-largest city in Switzerland and is considered the cultural capital.  Just about everything in Switzerland was written in German and English, and everyone spoke German and English (and some French, too), so it was a very easy place for a foreigner to be!

There are two main Christmas Markets in Basel, only a few blocks from each other--one at Barfusserplatz and one at Munsterplatz.  A "platz" (place) is like a "plaza," a "square" or an open space in a city or town.  To get from one market to the other in Basel, you luckily have to cross Freiestrasse (street) which looks like this:

To be right in the middle of it all, I highly recommend Hotel Motel One.  The hotel faces Barfusserplatz, with Freiestreet in the block behind, making Munsterplatz just a couple of blocks away.  Amazingly, considering it's in the middle of everything, it is an incredibly quiet room, too!

Now, I know I already said that I would guess that most every European Christmas Market is a winner, but you may be interested to know that Basel was voted "Best Christmas Market in Europe" in 2021.  

The market at Barfusserplatz is the bigger of the two and has this lovely pyramid.

Yup, we were there while it was snowing.

The market at Munsterplatz is next to the Basel Munster (cathedral), which is a beautiful building made of red sandstone.  

The Munsterplatz market also has a special mini-market called Marchenwald for kids, with a bunch of activities for kids, a train ride, etc.  When we were there, Santa (who had ridden his bike to the Market), was blowing giant bubbles!

And the Munsterplatz market is so pretty at night.

I collect both nativities (creches) and Christmas ornaments, so those were my main goals at markets.  I bought both of these at the Munsterplatz market.

This one is a music box that plays "Silent Night."

Basel Market Food (and Mug!) Recommendations
Yes, Market Food is a thing!  I read many blog posts prior to our trip that said things like "you'll want to eat at the markets," which I wasn't sure about.  I suppose I had in my mind "fair food" that you get in the States like fried oreos and such, but at Christmas Markets in Europe, it's true:  you should definitely try Market Food!

The food is great but so are the warm drinks!  Gluhwein (mulled wine) is most popular, but since we don't drink we got the warm juices and punches (kinderpunsch) or hot chocolate, which were delightful.  In Germany and also at the Basel market, they sell the warm drinks in mugs, and it's nothing short of divine to hold a warm drink in your hand and sip while walking around a market on a chilly evening (or day).

Market mugs vary by market, and I was determined to collect one from each market on this trip.  It makes a delightful souvenir, full of wonderful memories.  Here's the cute Basel one.

At the Munsterplatz market in Basel, we had raclette, a type of melted cheese served with potatoes, pickled onions, and a pickle.  It was yummy!

Other must-tastes here are a doughnut filled with melted Toblerone (Barfusserplatz market)

and a chasbangel (also Barfusserplatz market).  A chasbangel is unique to the Basel markets, and is the perfect food for a Swiss city that has several streets where you can walk right into France.  A chasbangel is a fondue-filled baguette.

When we ordered one, the guy behind the counter gave us (in English) the most important thing to know about eating a chasbangel:  "Just don't squeeze it!"

Sightseeing Recommendations for Basel
If I didn't limit this blog post to Christmas Markets, you wouldn't finish reading until tomorrow, but I do want to mention some wonderful non-Market sightseeing that we really enjoyed and recommend should you find yourself in Basel, Switzerland (or enjoy Googling):
  • all three Tors (city gates dating back to the 1200s)--St. Alban Tor, Spalentor, and St. Johann Tor, which we loved because each still has the portcullis and huge wooden doors 
  • the Basel Rathaus (city hall)--an absolutely stunning building with frescoes painted on the outside
  • churches and cathedrals--again, dating back centuries, with impressive architecture, paintings, etc., including Basel Munster, Elisabethenkirche, Peterskirche, and Martinskirche.
  • Xocolatl--there is no shortage of chocolate shops in Switzerland, but this one has a menu of hot chocolate to choose from, with cocoa from all over the world.  The hot chocolate here tasted like you're drinking a chocolate bar (!!), and we had a piece of Madagascar chocolate cake that my husband talked about for the rest of the trip.
  • Tinguely Fountain--a whimsical fountain by Swiss artist Jean Tinguely
  • Eat some rosti (thick-cut potato dish) in Switzerland!
  • Mittlerebrucke (Middle Bridge) across the Rhine--a lovely walk (you'll probably see a swan in the water) with a small chapel with "love locks" in the middle.  Don't miss it at night when it's lit up for Christmas.
courtyard at the Basel Rathaus

Spalentor, circa 1400; Basel, Switzerland

view of Mittlerebrucke over the Rhine from behind the Basel Munster

Freiburg im Breisgau is a lovely college town on the western side of the Black Forest in southwest Germany (not to be confused with Freiberg in eastern Germany near the border with Czechia).  It's so old (like the surrounding towns) and has beautiful architecture pretty much everywhere.

If, like me, the only German words you know are the lyrics to "Rock Me Amadeus," a German phrase book can come in handy for reading signs and menus and such, but most people speak English since they study it in school from the time they're young.  Unlike Switzerland, signs in Germany are only in German.

The Freiburg Christmas Markets are spread throughout the aldstadt (old town) and run right into each other.  We started at the market in Rathausplatz, which is between the old Rathaus and Martinskirche.  Here (close to where we took this picture below) there is a map with other "fingers" of the market which spread out from here, so they are all easy to find.  

Weihnacht means "Christmas" in German, so Weihnachtsmarkt means "Christmas Market."

All these markets I'll be showing you here are in an area of Europe that is normally fairly mild.  (In fact, we were shocked to find palm trees in each of the six cities we visited!)  Highs are usually in the low 40s in December, with an average of 7 days of rain.  The area experienced a cold snap the week we were there, so we walked around in 20-degree weather much of the time.  It's a humid cold, not the dry cold we are used to in the West, so it felt even colder than it was.  Which was frigid.

Market offerings here in Freiburg that we hadn't seen in Basel included German Christmas stars and little village pieces that are actually tealights--you can put candles (battery-powered ones are best to avoid blackening the piece) inside!  The light shines out those open windows.  SO cute!

I wanted a German pyramid nativity, too, and found one here in Freiburg.  

Freiburg im Breisgau Market Food (and Mug!) Recommendations
One of the interesting things about the Freiburg im Breisgau Christmas markets is that each market, although fairly connected, has its own mug!  So I actually had several to choose from.  This one seemed so German.

The way Market Mugs work is that you buy your drink and pay a deposit on the mug.  If you want to return the mug, you get the deposit back.  Otherwise, keep it!  

One thing you'll see in almost every market is crepes.  We hit those up early on!  Nutella crepes are the best.  Another popular market food is marroni, or roasted chestnuts.  We had to give those a try.  You can see them if you look closely in my husband's hand.

I expected something crunchy since they are "nuts," but they're very soft.  (I know someone who loves them, but we would give them maybe 1 star.  We thought they were somewhat dry and flavorless.  The 1 star comes because my husband kept the bag in his pocket and said it served as a nice hand warmer.)

One of the unique foods to the Freiburg market (and others in this area, though we personally didn't see any others) is the Schneeballen, or Snowball cookie.  It's a centuries-old traditional food in this area.  It's strips of shortbread cookie dough loosely wrapped into a ball, fried, filled with a filling, and dipped in chocolate or sprinkled with powdered sugar.  I got an eggnog marzipan one, and it was pretty good! 

Sightseeing Recommendations for Freiburg im Breisgau
Again, I'm not including photos and details of all of the sightseeing recommendations, but definitely Google them to make your trip complete.
  • The Freiburg Munster (cathedral)--the only one from the Middle Ages still standing in Germany.  It's also made of red sandstone and is very impressive.  And enormous.  For 5 Euros, you can climb the 209 steps in the tower for a view of the Black Forest.  If you get there during chorumgang (choir) practice, pay the 2 Euros to go back into the nave and listen.  They sing a capella and the acoustics are stunning.  
  • Historic Merchant's Hall in the Munsterplatz (so, right in the courtyard there next to the cathedral).  Just a pretty building.
  • Look for designs in the cobblestone streets of the aldstadt (old town) where all these sightseeing recommendations are.  We saw heart designs, a pretzel design outside a bakery, and more.  It's darling.
  • Markthalle is basically a small food court with many international offerings, very close to Martinstor.
  • Two Tors (medieval city gates), Schwabentor and Martinstor.  Beautiful and old; Schwabentor has paintings on the exterior. 
Schwabentor (Swabian's Gate) in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany

We weren't originally planning to go to Heidelberg but decided that our Christmas Market destination for that evening was in such a small town that we'd have time to dash up to Heidelberg and at least see the schloss (castle).  My husband and I are suckers for a good schloss. 

a very small section of Heidelberger Schloss (Heidelberg Castle)

The main Heidelberg Christmas market was in Kornmarktplatz, which is very convenient for sightseeing since the funicular train up to the schloss runs from Kornmarkt, Heiliggeistkirche is right there, and there are lots of little shops and restaurants in the streets and alleys around there.  

Surprisingly, the market there is somewhat small and has mostly food stalls.  If you're after gifts, stroll down the streets.  We found a little shop very close to the market selling German lace, and we got several pieces (some for everyday home decor), including these two for Christmas.

This German lace nativity scene is about 10 inches tall.

Market Food (and Mug!) Recommendations in Heidelberg
We were there right after breakfast so didn't eat anything at the market (since we didn't see anything we hadn't seen before), but Heidelberg was definitely the winner of the cutest mug out of all the Christmas markets we visited in 6 cities (in 3 countries).

The heart handle!  The Christmas market scene with the schloss on the hill in the background!  Swoon.

Sightseeing Recommendations for Heidelberg
We were only in Heidelberg for a few hours, so there are certainly other things to see besides what's listed here.  However, we hit the main highlights and really liked them.
  • The Heidelberger Schloss is a must-see!  It's beyond enormous and has an interesting history.  (I have so many pictures!)  It also boasts the world's biggest wine barrel.  We probably didn't have as much appreciation for it as wine-drinkers would, but the thing was impressive. 
  • Heiliggeistkirche (Holy Ghost Church) was very interesting.  It's one of the most-visited churches in Germany.  It's got a very unique stained glass window called the Physics Window and some impressive paintings like this one.


Our destination for the evening (read: Christmas Market) was a little town nestled in the Black Forest called Gengenbach, a town of about 11,000.  In all my blog-post-searching efforts to plan this trip, I only found one post about Gengenbach Christmas Market, but it was enough to convince me I needed to go.  

Actually going to the Gengenbach Christmas Market convinced me that there should be at least one more blog post in the world about the Christmas Market in Gengenbach.  (I'm serious.)  We went to award-winning Christmas Markets on this trip, including Basel and the mecca of all Christmas Markets, Strasbourg, but Gengenbach was our very favorite.

I don't know if it was the quaint half-timbered buildings in the charming altstadt (old town) or that they have the world's largest advent calendar in the 24 windows of the town hall, but let's just assume it was both. 

When we first walked into town, I said, "It's so perfect I want to cry."  Because, really.

The town hall is the world's largest advent calendar, with a new image revealed in the window each of the 24 days leading up to Christmas.  A live band plays Christmas music at the stage there in front at night.

They display a large hand-carved nativity ("large" meaning each of the taller pieces is probably 3 feet tall) among the booths as well.

As if this isn't enough, my favorite thing about the Gengenbach Christmas Market was the amount of artisan and homemade items available.  There was a lot of wood, and I bought pieces for my everyday home decor, along with these for Christmas:

I have to add, too, that we found the people to be friendly and sweet and charming.  I bought this Christmas-scented ornament (that's edelweiss in the middle) from the cutest old couple who enthusiastically tried to teach us to say Merry Christmas in German.  There were other adorable people, too, who just added to our love of Gengenbach.

Market Food (and Mug!) Recommendations in Gengenbach
We only had a Nutella crepe at the Gengenbach Market (delicious, again!) but loved the warm kinderpunsch (which was fruit punch) in the adorable Gengenbach Christmas Market mug!

We had dinner at a restaurant there in the central aldstadt, a little ways up Victor-Kretz-Strasse, called Cocotte Die Schwartzwald Brasserie.  We were saving fondue for our return to Switzerland, so here we got sauerbrauten and spaetzle which were delicious.

Sightseeing Recommendations for Gengenbach
You can really walk the aldstadt of Gengenbach and see everything there is to see in about an hour, but it's SO worth a look! 
  • just walk the streets--it's such a charming little town
  • Stadtkirche Sankt Marien (St. Marien's town church)--we didn't actually see this because we were having so much fun with everything else, we forgot!  It's very unassuming outside, but so colorful inside.   I wish we'd gone!
  • two Tors, each about a 2-minute walk (in the opposite direction) from the town center (near the town hall)--Kinzigtor and Obertorturm.  There's a balcony you can walk up on Obertorturm and look back down at the aldstadt center.  So cute.

view of town from the Obertorturm balcony

From all my reading, there are hundreds of "must-see" Christmas Markets all over Europe, but for me, Strasbourg, France, was at the top.  How can you NOT include in your itinerary a city that calls itself "Capitale de Noel," or The Christmas Capital!?  If you Google "the world capital of Christmas," the website of the city of Strasbourg is at the top.  Sign me up.

Strasbourg is not a huge city, and the Grand Isle de Strasbourg (the historic center of town, an island) is even smaller (.78 miles by .48 miles).  Still, Grand Isle de Strasbourg has no fewer than 12 Christmas Markets!  (Plan your trip using that link.)  One market practically runs right into the next.  FYI, the island is a UNESCO World Heritage site because it is such a good example of a medieval city.

In Strasbourg, it's not just about the markets.  It's about the atmosphere.  Christmas decorations are everywhere throughout the island.  It's a little hard to see with the snow, but the first photo below has Christmas bears all over the balconies.

There really are just Christmas decorations at every turn.  I'd be surprised if there was one street on the island without Christmas decor.

The decor was top-notch, but the markets themselves were, I felt, kind of average compared with what we'd seen so far, with plenty of food and lots of commercial items for sale.  I love the handmade and unique items, so I really liked the stall of an older gentleman selling amazing candles he makes.  How cool is this?!

The market at Place Kleber boasts the tallest (cut) Christmas tree in Europe, standing at 100 feet.  It really was impressive and beautiful.

Market Food (and Mug!) Information for Strasbourg
Since I was collecting Market Mugs, I was disappointed to find that Strasbourg doesn't do mugs--they do plastic cups.

The warm orange juice was delightful.  I did find a mug later at one random stall at one of the markets (can't remember which now), but it was the same as a mug I'd encountered at a gift shop around the cathedral.  I bought it anyway because:  mugs.

The Strasbourg markets were big on cookies.  That's the French thing, I guess.  We tried macarons (below), and of course a crepe, too.

Sightseeing Recommendations for Strasbourg
  • La Petite France, Ponts Couverts, and Barrage Vauban are all historic (UNESCO World Heritage Sites) that are easy to walk in 30 minutes, but you could spend forever just walking up and down the side streets of half-timbered houses on the water!
  • Palais Rohan, an old palace that now houses several museums.
  • Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg--do not miss!  At Christmastime, they display at least a dozen enormous nativity-themed tapestries as well as a lovely, large creche.  There's a beautiful rose window and an enormous (slightly odd) astronomical clock inside, too.  Plus, it looks like this at night:

Pro tip:  Hotels in Strasbourg are so expensive, we discovered, that you might as well drive 15 minutes out of town and STAY. IN. A. CASTLE.  The Chateau de l'Ile Hotel (and Spa!) in Ostwald was delightful.  And now when I play "Two Truths and a Lie," I'm pretty sure I'm going to win with "I've slept in a French castle."

We circled back down to Zurich to finish our trip.  A car was great for the little "mini road trip" we did, but it was always best to park in parking garages in the cities and just take the trams around town (or walk).  Each of the stops in this itinerary is about 1 - 1 1/2 hours away from the previous destination, so it really did make a great road trip.  The drive from Strasbourg, France, back to Zurich, Switzerland was the longest at about 2 1/2 hours.  Not bad!  I can drive all that way here in my home state in the West and never leave the state.

Zurich is the largest city in Switzerland and is the financial center of the country as well as the travel hub.  I suppose the latter is evident because there is even a Christmas Market in the main train station of Zurich, the Hauptbahnhof, or the "HB."  The Market is unique because it's indoors and because it has a 50-foot Christmas tree decorated with 6,000 Swarovski crystals.  I was disappointed to learn, while standing there in the HB Googling, that it was not on display for some reason in 2022.  

We went to 3 Christmas markets in Zurich:  the HB market, the Sechselautenplatz market near the Zurich Opera, and Werdmuhleplatz.  Almost all the stalls were food, with some mostly commercial stalls scattered in between.  

And lovely lights and decorations.

There are fondue chalets at several of the Zurich markets, but be sure you make a reservation ahead of time.

The Werdmuhleplatz market had a Singing Christmas Tree, too, so we made sure we got there at performance time.  It was very festive and fun.

The singers in red are just starting to come into the "tree."

Market Food (and Mug!) Information for Zurich
I really am a big fan of the Mediterranean diet--tomatoes and cucumbers and olives and feta and such--but I have to say that the Swiss diet of chocolate, bread, and cheese gets pretty high marks in my book, too!  That's pretty much all we ate in our 3 days in Switzerland, and it was perfect. 

We wanted a nice sit-down dinner of fondue for our last Switzerland dinner, so we didn't eat Market food until later.  (We had our fondue dinner at Alexis, which we just found on Google maps.  It was delicious.)

At the market at Werdmuhleplatz we found apple streudel (yum!) and had one last heisse schoggi (hot chocolate) which was made with Sprungli chocolate (it was divine!).  Seriously like drinking a chocolate bar.

They didn't seem to be big on mugs at the Zurich markets, but we did find one at Werdmuhleplatz when we looked hard.  (Again with the English being so prevalent in Switzerland.)

Sightseeing Recommendations for Zurich
  • chocolate shops ~ We walked about a block from the HB to the Bachmann chocolate shop, and we passed 3 other shops (I'm not kidding) on the way.  We wanted to see Bachmann's because they have a "chocolate wall" and a praline buffet (where you pick your own box of chocolates, basically).  We recommend it!
  • Walk.  Just walk from one little place to another down side streets where you can see old, charming buildings.
  • The churches/cathedrals.  The main 3 churches of Zurich are just blocks from each other.  Peterskirche is lovely, but definitely don't miss Fraumunster and Grossmunster.  The history of Fraumunster is fascinating, and it has windows in the apse painted by renowned artist Marc Chagall.  After painting the Chagall Windows (each of the five dedicated to Prophets, Jacob, Christ, Zion, and the Law), he painted--at age 90!--the rose window which depicts scenes from Genesis.  Grossmunster (below) has a beautiful creche inside (at Christmastime) and a statue of Charlemagne in the crypt (basement).
from the nave of Grossmunster in Zurich, looking into the apse

creche display inside Grossmunster

Grossmunster; Zurich, Switzerland

And there you have it--the most delightful Central Europe Christmas Markets itinerary!  We highly recommend it!  

Don't forget to safeguard your photos while traveling, too, using the Forever app and your private Forever Storage account (which you own forever--you don't rent with a monthly fee)!  It made organizing my photos a snap, too.  I absolutely love it.  Leave me a comment to let me know how you like it! 
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