The 10 Best Places to Visit for Christmas Holiday Displays

Best Places to Visit for Christmas

The travel network over at National Geographic  displayed the following picture of Vienna, Austria as one of their top 10 international Christmas travel destinations.

Best Places to Visit for Christmas

The holiday lights on display in Vienna, Austria.
See this picture in its original context at

Such a beautiful sight!

However, if you’re staying in the good old USA for Christmas, there are plenty of beautiful sights to see right where you are.  Here’s a list of the top 10 holiday light displays in America.

The Top 10 Places in America to Visit for Christmas Holiday Displays

#1 Oglebay Park Winter Festival of Lights, Wheeling, WV

Watch this video, and you’ll see why Oglebay Park Resort’s Winter Festival of Lights is one of the most beautiful light shows in the country.

OK, I really don’t know what the lovely lady at the beginning is saying, but I’m hoping it’s good, and the sights and sounds of the area and the light show will dazzle you.  I’ll tell you a little more after this 5 minute video, so watch the show here and then stick around!



What makes Oglebay Park in Wheeling, WV my #1 choice is a combination of a magnificent light display, the absolute beauty of the area (some of the most beautiful laying land in the country), and the usual winter feeling in the air in those foothills of the Appalachian mountains not far from Pittsburgh, PA.

OK, and I grew up there too, so this place is a part of my childhood memories.

However, don’t let my hometown bias get in the way.  This really is a top holiday destination for families and for romantic couples getaways during Christmas.

Oglebay park’s Wilson Lodge has accommodations perfect for holiday travel; there are also some great cottage and cabin rentals right on the park.  They are pretty hard to get so call them and find out how far in advance you need to reserve one.  Here’s some Oglebay Park cabin and cottage rental information:

You can also stay at one of the local hotels in the Wheeling WV area and drive in to enjoy the festivities.

While at Oglebay, make sure you also stop at the park’s zoo, open throughout the season, and definitely plan to tour the Oglebay Park Mansion Museum, a charming bit of history which will have every single room decorated in such a fashion that you will always remember your time there.

For an extra special treat, experience 1800s farmhouse dining at Drover’s Inn in Wellsburg, WV about 40 minutes away.  See their info and reviews here:

Also while there, you’ll find some other great down home American things to do in Wheeling, WV, or take the 40 minute drive up to Pittsburgh, PA to enjoy the urban center of southwestern Pennsylvania.

If you want to expand your Christmas family break and travel a bit more, you can add to a memorable trip by experiencing Christmas in southeastern PA.  See my article on Christmas Family Holidays in Southeastern Pennsylvania here:

Oglebay Park’s Winter Festival of Lights in and of itself is by far one of the best light displays in the country.  Add the beautiful area and the historical richness of one of the earliest gateways to the west, and you’ve got a great Christmas holiday destination.

For more information on Oglebay Park year round or to travel there over your Christmas family break, go to

#2  River of Lights and Luminaria Tour, Albuquerque, NM

Not only does the Albuquerque Botanic Gardens sponsor one of the most fascinating displays of lights in this country, the historically rich and richly beautiful city of Albuquerque comes alive with luminarias.  There’s a reason why Albuquerque NM is one of the most visited cities in the United States on December 24.

You can get an idea of the atmosphere you’ll encounter here in this video:


#3  Christmas at the Newport Mansions, Newport, RI

You’ll get a different kind of experience here in Newport Rhode Island but one that is well worth the trip to this quaint New England city.  The Newport Mansions, owned in their time by the likes of English families, French royalty, and some of our most prestigious first European and American summer dwellers here in America is prepared for the Christmas season to show all the splendor and grand scale elegance of such magnificent homes of America’s past.

Seeing these homes in and of themselves is a thrill.  Seeing their halls gracefully decorated with holiday cheer and remembrances of days long gone is an even greater treat.

Get a peak of the noble New England lifestyle and Christmas cheer you’ll experience in Newport, Rhode Island here:  (VIDEO:  5:53)

4.  The Holiday Road Light Show, 16204 Heather Ct., Spring Lake MI 49456

A group of families in Spring Lake, Michigan hits the top list here with their 360 degree surround sound, coordinated and computerized Christmas display.  Before you pffffhh it, thinking it’s just a bunch of neighbor guys who just like lights, check this out.  You’ll never be the same.

For more information on this extraordinary display of creativity and engineering, go to the website for this event at The Holiday Road Show.

#5 Holiday River Parade and and Lighting Ceremony, San Antonio, TX

The only way to make the San Antonio River Walk even prettier is to decorate it with illuminated boats and give it a holiday glow.  It’s already a tourist paradise.  During Christmas, it almost feels like a magical dream.

Holiday festivities including the parade of boats and the switch of the twinkling lights over the River Walk always begin at 7:00 PM the Friday following Thanksgiving with the lights shining brightly all the way through January 1.

#6 The Pigeon Forge Winterfest, Pigeon Forge, TN and The Smoky Mountains Winterfest, nearby Gatlinburg, TN

These two go hand in hand.  Check out Sevierville, TN as well.  All three areas are right together and even share a trolley.

While you’re there, visit Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Amusement Park.  Their Christmas in the Smokies Festival will keep you busy and put you in the mood to celebrate Christmas in a very special way.  Go here for more details and for show information:

#7  The Rockefeller Center and…  Well All of New York City, New York, NY

There is so much to see in NYC, and Christmas just adds to the appeal of this great city.  See all the different places in and around this great city where you can see great lights:

#8 Christmas at Biltmore, Ashville, NC

Enjoy the beauty of the season in America’s largest home.  From miles of real evergreen garland to dozens of Christmas trees, hundreds of Poinsettias, and thousands of ornaments, a walk through this richly ornamented home (even before Christmas), and you’ll be glad to go home to have just your own little kitchen to clean up.  It will be a special moment in time for you though, none the less!

#9 The Branson Area Festival of Lights, Branson, MO

In addition to this drive-through light display, Branson has two other major holiday light displays to enjoy as well.  Add some family oriented shows in there too, and you may just put this at the top of your list as the best place to go for a family Christmas.  Get info on the lighting shows here:

While in the area, do also enjoy Branson’s Silver Dollar City’s Old Time Christmas, rated one of the top holiday events of the country.  Silver Dollar City’s Festival website is here: 

Here’s a video from last year’s Christmas light display and info about the upcoming 2012 Christmas season:

#10  Your own hometown.

Never forget the treasures you have to enjoy right in your very own backyard!

If you would like to discover more places to go for Christmas to have fun and enjoy dazzling Christmas decorations and displays, check out this website at :

Have fun during your Christmas break!

Confessions of a Real Military Travel Junkie Army Wife

My favorite family vacation was at the Naval Station at Winter Harbor, Maine in 1993.  We stayed the most times in one place in the recreational area cabins at Fort Story, just above Virginia Beach.  We only stayed at a military space available apartment at Wright Patterson Air Force Base because we got drenched camping the night before at Bob Evans Farm in Ohio and had to find a last minute place to dry out along the way back home, but we ended up loving it there, so we prolonged our return home, and we camped the NEXT night, on the base of course.

I still can’t believe my entire family stayed in a full suite at Wallops Island near Chincoteague Island for $6.00 a night, or was that $8.00?  No, it was $6.00, six bucks a night for the five of us.  A few years ago, but still…

Those are true words from a military wife and mother who raised an entire family on military travel opportunities.

We were very pleased with our military lodging, shown here, when we stayed overnight at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, TX just last week.

In fact, even just last week, my retired Army husband, our 20 year old college son, (our baby), and I stayed overnight at the “Dyess Inn” on Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, TX as part of a short family getaway on the way to Lubbock, TX.  We completed our stay there with breakfast at Burger King… on base.

This past spring we spent a night at the Navy Gateway Inns and Suites in Corpus Christi, TX, a bold move since we went down there with no reservation and just hoped for the best.  We got it.

For both fun family vacations and family weekend getaways and breaks, military Space A travel and other available military base lodging has been the livelihood of our family travel and getaways.  Combined with military base amenities, military recreational areas, and military travel discounts, we have had a lifetime of fun and enjoyable memories.

We’ve been very blessed by the resourcefulness of the military making good use of its buildings; the graciousness, assistance, and support of military lodging staff; and a good Military Space A travel guide or two I purchased throughout the years at the base PX.

Maybe this is a good time to thank all the services for the military discount travel opportunities they have provided which made our family life a whole lot stronger and a whole lot happier.

Thank you Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard!  Thanks to you too, NASA.  We used your towels with the NASA logo on them when we stayed at the Space A suites there at Wallops Island!

Military family travel has not only been one of the highlights of our military family life, it has been one of the best highlights of our entire family’s life.

When we have struggled with the plain old stress of life, when we have felt overwhelmed and needed a break to refresh and bond as a family, when we just needed something special in our lives, and when we needed to make the best use of our budget, we found a resting place and a new start (over and over again) with the military family travel and trips we have enjoyed throughout the years.

Oh, and thank you Navy Gateway Inn at Kingsville, TX for mailing my personal pillowcase back to me when I left it there last time.  As I mentioned then, that old Texas flag pillowcase is one of the few gifts remaining from our wedding more than 30 years ago, save our marriage and each other!  Fortunately, you treated that pillowcase as well as you treated us there.  If you’re reading this, thanks again.  I think you’re great.

10 Cheap Weekend Getaways for Couples That Even You Can Do

Cheap Weekend Getaways

You can plan a couples getaway that is luxurious and elaborate.  However, there are plenty of cheap weekend getaways for couples that are just perfect for most married folk.  By taking advantage of these inexpensive weekend getaway ideas, you can give you and your spouse some enjoyable couples time without the kids and without breaking the kids’ piggy bank.

1.  Take a scenic drive.

Whether you’re driving through the colorful fall foliage on Skyline Drive in Virginia, just driving somewhere to get away from NYC, or meandering through the rugged terrain of New Mexico, beautiful scenery always provides a backdrop for a nice time together with someone.  This is particularly a favorite retreat for my husband and me as it’s one of the cheapest and most flexible of activities, and it gives us a chance to talk at length or just stop talking and enjoy the beauty of the earth.  It’s amazing how refreshed one can feel after taking the time to smell the roses God has placed on this earth.

2.  Go to the ocean or a lake.

The beach provides an invigorating atmosphere you can’t find any place else.  Jumping the waves, looking for sea shells together, even relaxing in the sun all become opportunities to enjoy time together and relieve some built up stress from the daily grind at home.

3.  Attend a free local concert.

If you are unaware of free concerts in your neck of the woods, you can easily discover them with just a simple internet search for “free concerts in (and add the name of a nearby big town or city… and state of course).   Many outdoor concerts will not have outdoor seating provided, so you may want to have a couple of fold up chairs or a blanket to throw on the ground.  Check before you go to make sure whether or not you can take your own food and drink.  Many times you can which can make it an even cheaper activity to do.

4.  Go to a craft fair.

There are craft fairs and bazaars held at all times of the year and both indoors and outdoors, so finding an event close enough to go to on a weekend is easy to do.  Websites like or provide search tools to find craft fairs close to home and across the country, so there’s always some fun fairs to check out wherever you live or wherever you want to go.

Cheap Weekend Getaways

Free image courtesy of

5.  Do a walking tour of a historical area or downtown region.

I have discovered “old towns” as many call them are best suited to day time visits if you enjoy browsing the historical small shops whereas the “downtown” sections of larger cities offer many romantic restaurants, upscale lunch places, and coffee shops, many of which you can enjoy after dark.  Enjoying a pizza on the square or walking through the light-wrapped trees of a vibrant downtown cultural area at night are what cheap romantic weekend getaways for couples are made of.

See  Off the Beaten Path: A Travel Guide to More Than 1000 Scenic and Interesting Places Still Uncrowded and Inviting at Amazon here!  (Amazon Affiliate Link)    

6.  Spend a day (or two) at a local festival.

In our area, the Denton Jazz Festival is king, but I’ve also got my sights set on a Victorian Christmas Festival here in the area as well (free carriage rides, yes), and my husband has his hopes on the West Fest nearby.   My hometown has a wonderful Italian Festival every year.  A place where we used to live has a Pear Blossom Festival each spring.  Do an internet search including your state’s name followed by the word “festivals”, and you’ll get a great list of a variety of festivals and fairs.  You can also be specific and look for something like summer music festivals, fall festivals, film festivals, or wine festivals, and see if you can even add the name of your local city or town if not just your state to see what is happening close enough for a cheap weekend getaway for the two of you.

7.  Go see a minor league sports team or local college team play – and tailgate to boot.

Many people overlook sports events when they are looking for a cheap weekend getaway for couples, but these can be quite fun places to be and can be very reasonably priced if you steer past the higher-level national teams and venues.   Tailgating in the parking lot, or even in a nearby park before the game begins, can be fun to do as well with the additional benefit of saving money by grilling your own food items or munching on finger food, summer salads, and sparkling apple cider out of your picnic basket.

8.  Go see a play or musical theater production, or attend a concert, lecture, art show, or recital at a local college or university.

Schools make cheap couples weekend getaways not only because they provide inexpensive concerts and performances but also because there are usually numerous low costs restaurants near these universities in which to add to your savings when eating out beforehand or afterwards.

Cheap Couples Weekend

Remember college events and presentations when you’re looking for something cheap to do!
Free image courtesy of

9.  Book a hotel room or one day cruise when you can. 

This may seem like a little bit more expensive to do, but there are ways to book a hotel room cheaply, and short cruises from one hour to one day are sometimes available at very low costs.  If you book your room at the last minute or well in advance, you can sometimes get a lower cost.  Travel sites like Priceline and Kayak offer cheap hotel rooms, especially if you take the time to compare sites and prices and are not set on one particular hotel or hotel chain.   Call a local hotel or resort at the last minute to inquire about any available rooms THAT NIGHT and what the rates are at that time.  For high level savings, get acquainted with something called “sell off vacations” or last minute travel deals which are basically a sale of vacations or packages when a hotel or cruise line has not sold a room or vacation package and it’s late enough they just want to dump what they have.  You might even find some last minute all inclusive cheap weekend getaway packages for couples with deals good enough to at least consider.  Add to any savings then by taking advantage of free or included food or continental breakfasts when offered and by taking your own snacks, sodas, and even lunch and dinner foods.  Yes, you can take food and snacks to a hotel.  I’ve even taken completely cooked casseroles to hotels with kitchens or even just microwaves and have saved a bundle doing so.  Research and discover what people do on short mini vacations and cheap dates and how they save money with great travel deals, restaurant discount coupons, and just plain old ways to keep more pennies in the pocket instead of throwing them out to everyone else, and you up your chances of getting to add some cheap cruises and hotel packages to your list of possibilities.

10.  When your schedule permits, go anywhere on any weekend break at a time other than Friday night through Sunday.

Whey not START your break on Sunday afternoon or go mid week?  Sunday nights are usually one of the best nights to find a cheap hotel room in a city followed by mid week days in smaller, non-business-oriented towns and suburbs.  Many attractions and amusement parks offer discount prices mid week.  Tuesday is usually the cheapest day to buy gas with early Wednesday morning being even better if you go before the prices start to rise and gas begins to swell from the heat of the day.  If you are purchasing food from a grocery store, you’ll usually find the cheapest grocery prices on Sunday night.  Boy, it sounds like the chance to find cheap weekend getaways for couples are greatly increased Sunday night through Wednesday morning!  Whenever it works with your schedules at home, any variation at all from the traditional Friday to Saturday routine will probably help.

For bonus savings, go to a tourist area or tourist attraction OFF SEASON!

If you’re trying to keep your costs down so you can relax, have fun, and enjoy each others company at a price you can deal with, whatever tool, resource, or cheap vacation ideas you can take advantage of will bring you that much closer to inexpensive but still great weekend getaways for couples cheap!

After all, love is free, or so they say.  Couldn’t the best weekend getaways for couples be free too, or at least as close as possible to that?

For a fun travel read and/or help on planning some fun weekend getaways, Chris suggests:

The New York Times: 36 Hours 150 Weekends in the USA & Canada   (Amazon Affiliate Link)   

See it here!

Can Weekend Getaways for Couples Help Me Save My Marriage?

weekend getaways for couples

According to the results of a recent study by Bowling Green State University, the divorce rate of baby boomers has doubled in the past 20 years.

Another study from the Office for National Statistics in England about the same time indicated that both young and old couples now spend less time on building their marriage relationship than ever before.   Marriages are disintegrating at all levels now.

Can something as small as a couples getaway weekend even make a dent in saving a marriage that is on the rocks or headed that way in the future?

Indicators point to the answer yes, and here’s how.

How Weekend Getaways for Couples Can Help Save a Marriage

  • Getting away from the never ending emergencies, decisions, and frustrations in a couple’s daily lives gives them the time and opportunity to focus on and talk about any possible problems in the marriage.
  • Without daily interruptions and without daily pressures, couples are more likely able to focus on the actual marriage relationship and exhibit clearer thinking about what is going well and where the relationship is having any problems.
  • The change of pace a couples getaway vacation brings provides a higher emotional level which can help when determining each individual’s outlook for the future.
  • Any marriage and family counselor will tell you that when an individual takes his or her first step in the process of making life better, the process of healing doesn’t seem so far away after all.  That insight alone can help a married couple be more productive in making their marriage a better one, regardless of how much, or little, work is ahead.

With the understanding that a married couples retreat provides a cleared schedule, a clearer mind, a more positive venue, and a more positive outlook, it’s more understandable how even a short time away in a couple’s life can be helpful in saving a marriage.

weekend getaways for couples

There can always be something special there.
Free image courtesy of

What things can a couple do to get the most help for their marriage from weekend getaways?

1.  Plan several small weekend getaways throughout the year as opposed to one big vacation.

The greater number of getaways provides a greater number of positive experiences to enjoy together as a couple, to remember good times, and to look forward to more good times together in the future.

Short breaks are also probably more realistic both time wise and as far as costs go than one big vacation would be.

2.  Keep the plans simple but enjoyable.

You need time to enjoy each others company, and you want to have some fun together.  You also need time to communicate and share.  This is where your “together” dreams will start again!

3.  Pray for both yourself and your spouse before you actually leave on your trip together.

Welcome God into your marriage.  Let Him know you honor His same priority when it comes to being man and wife, and ask that He be a part of your lives, every day and in every way, and especially in your work to keep your marriage healthy, strong, happy, and if you’re to this point, even just together.

4.  Couples that have committed to reading a book on marriage, family, or other shared life issue find weekend getaways a great time to discuss what they have read and how it affects their lives as a married couple.

I would highly recommend this as it provides a direction to go if communication has been a little weak for some reason and also for the opportunity this kind of activity provides for the couple to discuss issues based on this combined information and to literally write down actions or steps they feel might be helpful for their relationship or life together.

Check what marriage and family books are available from a Christian bookstore, talk with a pastor or Christian friend to get a recommendation on good book reads, or research and order an interesting book when you first start planning your next getaway, and have one copy for each person so you’re not as tempted to talk about it when you are still home in the midst of kids and schedules and work.

Get two copies of the book, read them individually, and make plans to have a good discussion while you are away from everything that would distract you from a good conversation.

5.  The most important way to handle the time away as a husband and wife is to plan your getaway in a way that best suits the personalities of both individuals.

This should be a good time for both parties to come together as a couple and enjoy that experience and some time together, not merely an act of quick improvement in a relationship or an evaluation of progress.

A word of note:  If you or your spouse feel you just can’t take the time or set aside the money to go away , please reconsider and do what you have to do to experience this time away as a couple.

As far as making a getaway more affordable, a room at a local hotel or looking for online sites that list cheap last minute weekend getaways for couples or inexpensive weekend getaways for couples can help with costs sometimes.  As far as making the time, it’s just a basic principle – You both NEED to take the time.

Weekend getaways for couples can be a very important part of saving a marriage, and that time together can accomplish good things in a relationship.  Both saving a marriage that has had difficulties and protecting a marriage that has been so far good are worthy actions and well worth the time, the cost, and the effort.

Texas Weekend Getaways for Couples and Romantic Buckaroos

Texas has some great places to go and things to do, but that’s not all this great state offers.  If you live close by or want to travel there, you can find interesting and fun things to do in Texas.  You can also find plenty of romantic weekend getaways in Texas for a little cowboy or cowgirl who wants to court his (or her) sweetheart a little too.

Below is a list of Texas weekend getaways for couples.  Yea, yea.  Texas is big, but we have included some of the best from throughout various regions of the state, so finding a couples weekend getaway in Texas shouldn’t be all that hard.

These romantic weekend getaways for couples offer charm, privacy, natural elegance, and the best alone time available so you can cozy up to your beloved ranch partner.

Yeehaw!  Your marriage is about to get a little more exciting in Texas!

The San Antonio River Walk here is one of the most romantic weekend getaways for couples you can find anywhere, Texas or otherwise!


Texas Weekend Getaways for Couples

Caddo Lake in Texas

Caddo Lake in Uncertain, TX (yes, that’s the town’s name) is the largest natural lake in Texas and sits on the Texas – Louisiana border so you get a little bit of that backwoods outdoor Texas feel combined with a Louisiana bayou feel.  With its channels and waterways, it’s great for fishing, but its natural beauty even surpasses its fishing attributes.  So tell your hubby to leave his fishing gear at home (unless of course you think that’s a romantic activity too).

If you’re looking for a cheap romantic weekend getaway in Texas, Caddo Lake State Park has very inexpensive camping sites from primitive camping to sites with water and electric.  There are also a limited number of cabin rentals at the state park there, or you can find rental cabins, cottages, and beds and breakfasts throughout the area as well.

Speaking of romantic AND inexpensive, Caddo Lake tours are readily available, and you have practically your choice of what kind of boat you want to go out on from steamboats to paddleboats to renting your own canoe, flat bottom fish boat, or pontoon.  Boat rentals are available at either the state park there or at one of the several marina areas or backwoods gear stores.

If you’re also looking for fun weekend getaways for couples, you can find casinos just 40 minutes away from here in Shreveport, La, or maybe just seeing some alligators when you are walking on the shore might be exciting enough for you.   (Just kidding… kind of.)

Abilene, TX

Often overlooked as a romantic getaway, Abilene, Texas, between El Paso and Fort Worth, TX is a quaint area nestled between the metropolitan areas of north Texas and the oil country land of west Texas.

Abilene may be hidden between those two more well known areas of Texas, but it has a charm and beauty that sets the stage for a quaint Texan couples weekend getaway.

Fort Phantom Hill, just north of the city, was once a western Army outpost to protect the westward-bound frontiersmen.  Now a preserved historical site, it provides the backdrop for a romantic afternoon retreat with interesting historical remains of the post’s buildings, nice picnic sites, a nice trail through the ruins which is perfect for a leisurely, romantic walk, and nice views.

If you’re a BBQ fan, Abilene has some of the best steak and barbecue restaurants around.  Steak dinners are always romantic.  Having a steak dinner in Abilene, TX is pure romance TEXAN style.

Surprisingly, Abilene offers quite a few cultural experiences too which you might not have the chance to enjoy as much when the kids are with you wanting to do more active activities.

Abilene also has many elegant bed and breakfasts for a romantic overnight stay.

You can actually get some coupons for fun and romantic things to do in Abilene at the Abilene Texas Convention and Visitors Bureau website online too which always helps!  Go to the “Visitors and Residents” section of their site at: for those coupons and for other good information for planning some family or couples weekend getaways there.

Galveston, TX

Galveston, Texas offers tons of things for couples to enjoy for a weekend couples retreat.  What makes Galveston unique is its variety of activities, settings, overnight accommodations, and attractions too.

A couple might find romance walking along the fishing piers where real, working fishermen are bringing their catch back to shore, shopping in the historic downtown area, or going to the beach.  There is also a great choice of cruises from Galveston, and even weekend romancers can find a short romantic cruise from Galveston, Texas.

Big Bend National Park

Far west Texas isn’t like anyplace else in the country, offering some of the most isolated yet beautifully spectacular views any one could find anywhere.  Big Bend National Park showcases this rustic natural beauty making it the perfect place to spend a romantic weekend with your spouse.

Chisos Mountains Lodge, located right inside Big Bend National Park, offers lodging for couples who want comfort amidst nature.  Additionally, camping is readily available inside the national park for those couples who want to romance it while roughing it.  OK, are you REALLY roughing it when you are camping in Big Bend surrounded by high rocky peaks, beautiful sunsets, and the natural beauty of the southwestern landscape?  Well, maybe it is roughing it a little, but you won’t mind.  Believe me, you won’t mind it at all!

You can find lots of information on what to do in Texas at Big Bend’s website here:

San Antonio, Texas

When it comes to Texas weekend getaways for couples, it would be hard to beat the San Antonio River Walk.  Enough said.

Find Weekend Getaways in Texas and Texas Travel Destinations in Texas Highways  (Subscribe at Amazon)

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