A Travellerspoint blog

Fun In Istanbul!

sunny 85 °F

My first weekend a friend and I went for a walk along the Bosporus to Emirgan Park to see the tulips.


3488771512_88d6cc5a97.jpg3487999171_68fca9d7ef.jpg4-15-10_016.jpgThere were young girls wanting to practice their English.



The tulips are also in beds along the streets. This was my view as I caught the bus each morning.

A local man who is a teacher and interested in the Byzantine history of Istanbul organized a walk to see the few sites that are visible from that period. The Byzantine city walls remain, but Topkapi Palace was build on the site of Constantine's Palace and over the years most of the Byzantine structures are buried with modern construction on top. It was a nice introduction and we were able to see what many local businessmen have done to preserve the history that they have found as they expanded their buildings and found churches and cisterns in the basement! I was also introduced to a book Strolling through Istanbul, by author, John Freely which will be delightful to use in my walks.
Link for models of Byzantine buildings in 1200AD...
Pictures of the ruins of Constantine's Palace.

One of the men working in the office is in Turkey on assignment from Netherlands to be a project manager. He has a beautiful apartment with a terrace with wonderful views. In May, my friend Deronda and I spent an afternoon enjoying the sun and the view.


The International Music Festival is in June and they have many concerts in the Haghia Eirene (Holy Peace), one of the few Byzantine churches that was not converted to a mosque. It was originally build of wood on the ruins of a temple to Aphrodite and is thought to be the oldest site of Christian worship in Istanbul. The second Ecumenical Council was held here in 381. Fire and earthquakes caused several rebuildings. The current structure is from the 6th Century. Some unique features include the syntbromm, the five rows of built-in seats hugging the apse, which were occupied by clergymen officiating during services. Above this looms a simple black mosaic cross on a gold background, which dates from the iconoclastic period when figurative images were forbidden.The acoustics are outstanding. I was fortunate to see the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir as well as performances by some chamber orchestras. June_005.jpg
Additional information http://www.istanbul.info.tr/area-by-area-istanbul/historical-places/77-churches/134-haghia-eirene.html

Walking after the concert the wall and gates of Topkapi were lit as well as the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom).

I also went to a concert celebrating Turkey's application to join the EU. It was held in a wonderful concert hall, a short walk from where I live.

The University of Alabama has an annual trip with graduate students to Istanbul and a Turkish businessman who is a graduate of U of A hosts them at his offices in a reconstructed summer house on the Bosporus. Another friend who is also on the International Business Advisory Board of U of A and I were invited to join them for the afternoon. It was wonderful to visit with everyone and enjoy a spring afternoon on the Bosporus.

A popular form of entertainment is for a group to rent a boat and DJ for a cruise on the Bosporus. I joined a hiking club for their outing with a friend from work. There was a lot of Latin music and some dancers that did a great cha cha worthy of Dancing with the Stars! There was also traditional Turkish music and dancing, half circle with arms on shoulders and spirited foot movements! Great weather and beautiful moon that evening.


The American Consulate had a 4th of July party and a friend who received an invitation invited me as his guest. The Consulate was moved a few years ago and is now some distance from the center of the city on a hill all to itself.
Security concerns prompted the selection of the site. The British Consulate was bombed a few years ago. There were more Turkish businessmen than Americans much to my surprise. Many prominent people were there. We were treated to American fast food. Pizza Hut, Burger King, Chili's (just opened in Turkey), Krispy Kreme, KFC, Taco Bell, Starbucks. Other sponsors included Hilton, Ritz Carlton, UPS, HP, and Avon.

There is an active club for International Women in Istanbul and one subgroup is for North American Professional Women. They have monthly meetings, social events, and are a great network of information. Linkedin also has several groups for business people and a small group of us met for coffee one evening to discuss the business environment in Istanbul. It was an interesting group of Australian, British, Turkish and American.

I was invited by a friend at work to visit her summer house on the Black Sea. It is an hour drive if the traffic is not too bad. It is a development of 50 houses build as second homes. They have a lovely pool and private beach. We enjoyed spending the day on the beach and in the water, which was warmer than I expected it to be.

July is the International Jazz Festival with music in a variety of venues around the city. The concert I attended was in the courtyard of the Archaeological Museum. A most pleasant summer evening with a nice breeze and cool temperatures with great music and an appreciative crowd.

I went to a service at the Cathedral of Saint Esprit. It was build in the late 1800's and is a beautiful church. They have services in French and English. There are many African immigrants that are members and today at the French service the Congolese choir sang. Quite a treat!

July 25, 2010 Each borough of Istanbul has outdoor concerts during the summer. On Saturday evenings Sultanahmet has Ottoman military music. Ottoman military bands are thought to be the oldest variety of military marching band in the world. They were first mentioned in the 13 C. The notion of a military marching band, such as those in use even today, began to be borrowed from the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. The sound associated with the mehterân also exercised an influence on European classical music, with composers such as Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven all writing compositions inspired by or designed to imitate the music of the mehters.

Below is a painting of a Mehterhane, Military Band, 1839 and a photo of a recent appearance of a marching band.
Also video of a portion of the performance this evening.

Earlier in the month, I saw the traditional music performance. People from the audience came to the stage and danced. There were some very attractive young women and men who got up to dance. There was an older woman in the audience that I could see near the stage who was enjoying the music. They tried to get her to get on the stage but she refused and then she changed her mind. Below is video of some of her dance.

Posted by goodearth 05:12 Archived in Turkey Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Christ Church

Anglican Church in country that is 99% Muslim

sunny 77 °F

I am attending Christ Church, an Anglican church also known as the Crimean Church. It is about 3 1/2 miles at the end of Istiklal Cadessi and down a side street. It was established in 1858 by public subscription as a church for the English population in Istanbul with a decree from Abdulmecit I, the Sultan who provided the land in appreciation for British support in the Crimean War. I is a Gothic revival design. The church had no congregation for more than 50 years. The congregation declined when the Embassy was moved to Ankara. There is a consulate here but much smaller staff. It was in the hands of the City of Istanbul during the time there was no congregation. Most of the stained glass is still there. Rather amazing based on the age and the fact that it was vacant for so long.


Video of part of the Sunday service.

Ian Sherwood, the rector, rescued it and got the paperwork submitted to have the ownership transferred to the church. He did repairs and has been here for 20 years. Quite an interesting man.

There is a house next door where he lives that is ever so comfortable and decorated as only an English man in Istanbul would decorate. Full of old books, old rugs, comfortable club chairs for reading, framed old prints, a couple of nice wooden English antique pieces, and a lovely garden. He has some chickens and ducks in his garden. His duck gives him a very large egg every morning!

On June 14th, there was a celebration of the Queen's Birthday in the church's gardens. It was the official celebration in Istanbul, so the British Consulate General attended. They served delicious strawberries with a choice of melted dark or white chocolate for dipping and champagne! Long live the Queen!

June 25th I had an opportunity to spend an evening getting acquainted with the Vicar and his wonderful home when I was invited to dinner with a couple of Scottish residents who have lived in Istanbul for many years. It was a delightful evening hearing the stories of the house and the church when he first arrived. I also got to eat one of the lovely duck eggs!


It was midnight as I walked back to my apartment. The city left the Christmas lights up and have them lit every night. It was an enjoyable walk.

Posted by goodearth 14:27 Archived in Turkey Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Settling Into Istanbul

sunny 72 °F

Having the Conrad Hilton for the first month has been a real blessing. The beds/pillows and service are exceptional. I have never stayed in a hotel that had a better staff. I look forward to breakfast every morning on the terrace watching the ferry boats and then again in the evening.

There is a variety of tourists and business people to meet every night. It is interesting that the tourists are all very impressed with Turkey and it typically exceeds their expectations. I spend my evenings in the club lounge (my living room) visiting with the other guests and enjoying the sunset from the terrace and then go to my room to sleep.

It is the second week before I begin to see any apartments. There is a variety of options from high rise residences that offer tight security with pools and gyms as well as compounds which are really developments of many high rises with some shopping that are away from the main streets. After seeing some of those I know that I want to have an apartment that is in a small building that opens on to a city street. Istanbul is a big city and there are many neighborhoods each with their own character just like in NYC or any other city. Furnished apartments can range widely in what is included and the condition of the furniture. Unfurnished means that you have to purchase your white goods (stove, refrigerator, washing machine, etc.) as well as your furniture. There are no closets in apartments. You have wardrobes usually lining a wall in the bedroom.

I decided on a small, 60 sq meter, one bedroom apartment that was renovated four years ago. There are 8 apartments in the building. One on each floor. The kitchen and bath are great and really the best I have seen. I have a small balcony with a small view of the sea! The greatest feature is that it is a 5 minute walk to the Taksim Metro station and that it is only on a slight incline. Many apartments would have you get a major workout by walking a steep hill to get to a bus or metro stop. Think of San Francisco hills. I am walking distance to Istiklal Cadessi, the walking street, and to Chianger, the artist bohemian quarter with a lot of sidewalk cafes. I am pleased with my neighborhood and my new home. My apartment is on the second floor of the green building.


Posted by goodearth 13:31 Archived in Turkey Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

People of Turkey Formed by their History

sunny 80 °F

This is the land where Alexander the Great Slashed the Gordion Knot, where Achilles battled the Trojans in Homer's Iliad, and where the Ottoman Empire fought battles that would reshape the world.

To understand the people you need to know something about their past. Turkey is poised between the east and the west and has seen many people passing through during its history. In 657BC Byzantium was founded and then in 324AD Constantine declared this to be New Rome and laid out a vast new city to serve as the capital of his empire. It remained the capital of the world for a 1000 years until the Ottoman conquest in 1453 referred to by Westerners as the Fall of Constantinople and by the Muslims as the Conquest of Istanbul.

If you want to know more I highly recommend reading chapter 1 from Constantinople, City of the World's Desire 1453-1924 by Philip Mansel. I am looking forward to reading the book. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/books/chap1/constantinople.htm


From the first moment of conquest in 1453, Sultan Mehmet II had clear plans for his new capital. It was not to be an exclusively Turkish or Muslim city. It must reflect the enormous racial and cultural diversity of his expanding empire. For example his son and successor, Bayezid II, saw the expulsion of Jews from Spain as a splendid opportunity and sent ships to transport them to his capital. As a result there are still Jews in Istanbul who speak Ladino, the Jewish dialect of Spain. The sultans consistently protected Jews from Christian attacks and never gave the slightest credence to blood-libels. In Constantinople the words pogrom, ghetto, inquisition had no meaning.

The Ottoman Empire grew to include all of the Middle East and North Africa as well as half of eastern Europe. The Empire lasted almost 600 years. The US is a mere baby at 225 years.

The Turks were nomadic tribes that originated in the Central Asian steppes. Since the Turks are from central Asia, they are not Arabs and for a long time the Arabs rejected them as not true Muslims. As the Ottoman Empire expanded, it acquired control of the trade routes to the East and many European powers, such as Venice and Genoa, paid great sums for the privilege of access to these routes. The Galata Tower in Istanbul and the area around it was the home of the Italians for centuries. Although the atrocities of the "Infidel Turk" struck fear into the hearts of all Christians in the late Middle Ages, in actuality, the Ottomans generally allowed religious groups to continue to practice their own faiths within the conquered territories. Today there are many churches and synagogues in Istanbul. However 98% of the people are Sunni Muslims.

Turkish culture is unique in the world in that it has influenced and has been influenced in return by cultures and civilizations from China to Vienna and from Russian steppes to North Africa for over a millennia. Turkish culture reflects this unparalleled cultural richness and diversity, and remains mostly shaped by its deep roots in Middle East, Anatolia and Balkans, the cradle of many civilizations for at least twelve thousand years. The Sultans brought many of the people from the conquered lands to live in Turkey and especially the capital Istanbul. Rather than impose uniformity, the Ottomans gloried in the fact that their empire gave shelter to people of some 72 races or nations. So for many centuries there has been a great diversity of people and culture.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the Ottoman Empire had already embarked on its long decline, so it comes as a surprise to learn that its capital, Constantinople, was larger than London or Paris and fully six times the size of Vienna. It soon began to fall behind, however. By the end of the 19th century, it still had virtually no modern industry, and only the imperial palaces, the embassies and grand hotels had electricity.

Since 1924 Turkey has been a secular state. Ataturk, the father of the Republic, is widely viewed as a military genius, a charismatic leader, and also a comprehensive reformer. On assuming office, Ataturk initiated a series of radical reforms in the country's political, social, and economic life that aimed at rapidly transforming Turkey into a modern state. For him, modernization meant Westernization. On one level, a secular legal code, modeled along European lines, was introduced that completely altered laws affecting women, marriage and family relations. On another level, Ataturk urged his countrymen to look and act like Europeans. Turks were encouraged to wear European-style clothing. Women stopped wearing the veil. Ataturk personally promoted ballroom dancing at official functions. Surnames were adopted: Mustafa Kemal, for example, became Kemal Atatürk, and Ismet Pasha took Inonu as his surname to commemorate his victories there during the War of Independence.

Likewise, Ataturk insisted on cutting links with the past that he considered anachronistic. Titles of honor were abolished. The wearing of the fez, which had been introduced a century earlier as a modernizing reform to replace the turban, was outlawed because it had become for the nationalists a symbol of the reactionary Ottoman regime. Traditional religious schools closed and Sheria (Islamic Law) was abolished. A new civil code ended Islamic polygamy and divorce by renunciation and introduced civil marriage. New Turkish alphabet (modified Latin form) adopted. Islamic call to worship and public readings of the Kuran (Quran) were required to be in Turkish rather than Arabic. However in 1934 the call to prayer was returned to Arabic. Women were given the right to vote and hold office. Sunday was adopted as a legal holiday and the Islamic calendar was changed to the Western calendar.

These reforms were in general enthusiastically welcomed by the Turkish people.

Although all of the reforms were unsettling to traditionalists, it was the exclusion of Islam from an official role in the life of the nation that shocked Ataturk’s contemporaries most profoundly, and discontent continued to focus on the regime's secularist policies long after the other reforms had been generally accepted. The abolition of the claiphate ended any connection between the state and religion. The Sultans had always held the title of claiphate of Islam. Thus, for the first time in Islamic history, no ruler claimed the spiritual leadership of Islam. This was still the case in the late 1980’s. The withdrawal of Turkey, heir to the Ottoman Empire, as the presumptive leader of the world Muslim community was symbolic of the change in Turkey’s relation to Islam. The religious orders were suppressed, religious schools closed and public education secularized and the Sheriat (Islamic rule) revoked, requiring readjustment of the entire social framework of the Turkish people. Despite the protest that these measures provoked, however, Ataturk conceded nothing to the traditionalists.

Language Reform from Ottoman to Turkish
History records few instances of a government’s altering the language of its people as drastically and imposing that language as forcefully (and, on balance, as successfully) as in the Turkish case. Ataturk considered language reform to be an essential ingredient in the creation of a new Turkey and of new, modernized Turks, and he viewed the revised Turkish language as one of the ways to create a new national identity.

Within the Ottoman Emprie, the Turks were merely one of many linguistic and ethnic groups, and the word Turk in fact connoted crudeness and boorishness. Members of the civil, military, and religious elite conversed and conducted their business in Ottoman Turkish, which was a mixture of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. Arabic remained the primary language of religion and religious law. Persian was the language of art, refined literature, and diplomacy. What little Turkish there was usually had to do with the administration of the Ottoman Empire Turkish not only borrowed vocabulary items from Arabic and Persian but also lifted entire expressions and syntactic structures out of these languages and incorporated them into the Ottoman idiom. Thus, pure Turkish survived primarily as the language of the illiterate and generally was not used in writing. Ottoman Turkish, on the other hand, was the language of writing, as well as the language spoken by the educated elite.

Its multiple origins caused difficulties in spelling and writing Ottoman Turkish. The constituent parts - Turkish, Persian, and Arabic - belong to three different language families - Ural-Altaic, Indo-European, and Semitic, respectively - and the writing system fits only the last of these. Phonological, grammatical, and etymological principles are quite different among them.

With the establishment of the republic, Ataturk made language reform an important part of the nationalist program. The goal was to produce a language more Turkish, modern, practical, and precise, and less difficult to learn than the old language. The republican language reform consisted of two basic elements - adoption of a new alphabet and purification of the vocabulary.

The language revolution (Dil Devrimi in Turkish) officially began in 1928. In May 1928, numbers written in Arabic were replaced with their Western equivalents. In November the Grand National Assembly approved the new Latin alphabet that had been devised by a committee of scholars. Many members of the assembly favored gradually introducing the new letters over a period up to five years. Ataturk, however, insisted that the transition last only a few months, and his opinion prevailed. With chalk and a portable blackboard, he traveled throughout the country, giving writing lessons in schools, village squares, and other public places to a people whose illiteracy was suddenly 100 percent. On January 1, 1929, it became unlawful to use the Arabic alphabet.

By adopting the Latin alphabet, Turkey turned consciously toward the West, severed a major link with the Islamic world, and rejected a part of its Islamic heritage. By providing the new generation no need and scant opportunity to learn the Arabic letters, the alphabet reform cut them off from the Ottoman past and its culture and value system. Specifically, this new generation could no longer be educated by the traditional establishment of religious scholars.

1928 is not so long ago. These changes and the creation of the Republic are only 82 years old.

Over the past decade, there has been a large migration to Istanbul of people from the rural areas and there are more traditional covered women and head scarfs (sign of modesty & expression of conservative point of view) than in the past. The current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan represents a conservative party and his wife wears a head scarf. In 2008 the law was changed to permit headscarfs in the unversities.


There are concerns from many inside and outside the country on the direction of the government and differences of opinion among the people on modifying some of the earlier reforms of Ataturk. However, he is highly regarded by all and on the anniversary of his death, all traffic halts and Turkish citizens stand to attention to mark a moment of commemoration and respect.

So you now understand some of the ways Turkey is different from their Islamic neighbors. Istanbul's population is predominately secular Turks that do not go to the mosque. However they have many of the tenets of Islam that are in the culture. Hospitality and welcoming strangers is very much in evidence. They will engage you and want you to have a good experience in their country. I think more so than anywhere I have traveled.

Hospitality is one of the cornerstones of the Turkish way of life. Turkish people are the most gracious and generous hosts. Everywhere you will be warmly greeted in the best possible manner. They will open their houses with a smiling face and give the best seat and cook the best food for their guest. Turkish people are very understanding about foreigners' different customs and they try to communicate in order to help visitors. The mentality of that hospitality is "whatever religion you are from, which ever country you come from, whatever language you speak, you are God's Guest,"so you deserve to be welcomed in the best manner.

This blog entry of an American couple will give you an example.

They share many traits from Asia like respect of elders, importance of the family - businesses large and small usually have a large number of family members working in the business, low tables and stools outside restaurants, use of toothpicks with the hand covering the mouth and removing their shoes before entering the house.

The people of Turkey have a tradition of saying yes to each other as well as to visitors. If you are in a restaurant and you ask if a sauce could be left off or if this dish might be available even though it is not on the menu, the answer is yes and they go and do it. The waiters smile and are genuinely focused on doing a good job even in small inexpensive places. Quite different from what some people experience in other countries of Europe with haughty waiters.

I have also observed this in business. They are very reluctant to say no to a customer. Much more so than in America. They will try to find a way without saying no.

The Turks are proud of their country and optimistic about their future.

Posted by goodearth 15:34 Archived in Turkey Tagged living_abroad turkish_history Comments (0)

Rediscovering Istanbul

40th Anniversary of My First Visit in 1970

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What a difference a few decades make! In 1970 young people were discovering the east. It was Afghan coats,
Woodstock, overland trips from Europe to Asia in Volkswagen buses & the Beatles traveling to India to study meditation and yoga. I had seen the European capitals and was anxious to see something different. There was one page in the addendum of Europe on $5 a Day to cover Turkey. It sounded so exotic with the description of the Grand Bazaar and the Sultan's palace. So with my good friends Jane and John we went by car from Greece to Turkey. Arriving in Istanbul, it delivered on my expectation.

Istanbul1970.jpg This 1970 photo was taken on Divan Yolu with the Pudding Shop on the right. Today the tram stop for Sultanahmet is here.
Divan_Yolu.jpg View today. Divan Yolu is the "Road to the Imperial Council", what was once the imperial road from Constantinople to Rome.

The Sultanahmet section of the city had much more of an Asian feel than it has today. The streets were lined with shops for everyday items that the local people would need. The hotels in this section had sinks in the room and Turkish toilets down the hall. The streets and sidewalks were crowded and chaotic with cars and people. The streets were alive like a busy market. Many big American cars from the 1950's found their way to Istanbul. Lots of strange sounds. We were awoken not only with the call to prayer but also a rooster that was living on the roof top on a neighboring building. There were mostly some adventurous backpackers that we met. No cruise ships bringing thousands of tourists. Turkey was not often offered as a travel tour at that time. Most tourists who visited this region went to Greece.

Pudding.jpg 1970 picture of the Pudding Shop.

Pudding_Shop_2010.jpg Pudding Shop in 2010.

With no internet or guide book, we relied on other travelers we met at The Pudding Shop, famous as a hang out in the 1960's for young foreigners for travel info. This was a time of overland travel between Europe and Asia and at this time The Pudding Shop was the only place in the area the adventurous could get direct transport to Asia and tourist information on Turkey. We joined an impromptu group for a few days on the Princess Islands. We stayed in the home of a family who was renting out rooms. We were in Turkey for Ramadan and also for the census. The day of the census everyone was to stay inside their hotels or house. It was against the law to be out and about while everyone was counted. We also learned how to take a bus to Ephesus from our fellow travelers at The Pudding Shop. I did not even know that Ephesus was in Turkey.

There were no hotels, carpet shops, outdoor cafes or other tourist infrastructure in Selcuk (modern village near Ephesus ruins) in 1970. The only other visitors to the ruins when we were there was one Turkish family. There were no guide books. I do not even remember a gate or admission being charged. Goats roamed through the ruins of the Temple of Diana, hidden behind some houses. There was a well at the top of the hill that the village women came to and took water in a vase balanced on their head back to their homes.

Now there are many tourists and Turkey has built the infrastructure to provide for them. Wonderful hotels, public transportation, sidewalk cafes, upscale shopping malls and many domestic airlines are now available. For example, Istanbul offers a luxury hotel (Four Seasons) housed in a former prison that stands on the foundations of a Byzantine palace. There were 725,000 tourist in 1970 to Turkey and 26 million in 2008. Tourism is big business now.

I arrived on Monday, April 5, 2010, to start my job as a business development exec for IT services. It was a splendid day full of sunshine and beautiful blue skies. Tulips are blooming everywhere and are planted on all the major boulevards and in the parks and public places. The city spends $2M on the tulips. Tulips were taken to Europe from Turkey by an ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the 1550's. In the 1630's the tulip mania hit with prices for rare varieties costing as much as a house.

The city is strikingly different. Streets are clean, the Golden Horn and Bosporus are clear and a beautiful color, yellow cabs everywhere, modern BMW and Mercedes cars, trams, metro and modern Mercedes buses for public transportation, green grass and flower beds where there was dirt before. Many restorations of historic buildings have been completed and many underway. All the international brands of clothing and fast food are here from Domino’s Pizza, Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, TGIF, etc.

A modern museum shop was just opened in April 2010 at Topkapi Palace as sleek as anything you would find in NYC.

Turkey is a youthful country. The median age is 28. A much younger population than developed Europe. The median age in Germany is 43 and the median in the US is 35. It has a younger population that China. 15% of the population is under 15 in China and 19% is under 15 in Turkey.

Levent, the modern business district of high rise buildings where I will be working was a residential area 40 years ago.

There was an article in the local paper that Istanbul is a popular location for the weddings of wealthy Gulf Arabs sons and daughters. The wedding of the daughter of one sheik was at Dolmabahce Palace with 650 guests from Dubai and Saudi Arabia coming for the ceremony. All the world appreciates the beautiful views of the Borporus and the historic buildings in Istanbul.

The country is providing the pipeline for transporting oil from and to its neighbors and has managed to avoid the financial problems of its neighbor, Greece.

The future looks bright for Turkey as it continues in its historic role of bridge between Europe and Asia.

I am excited about getting reacquainted with Turkey and its people and enjoying my time in this fascinating city!

Posted by goodearth 13:51 Archived in Turkey Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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