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4 Charming Bavarian Towns You’ll Love

By Matt Walker and Zeneba Bowers of Little Roads Europe
January 27, 2022
A view of the charming town square of Rothenburg, Bavaria, Germany, with clock tower and medieval buildings.
Xantana/Dreamstime
Among Germany’s many architectural, cultural, and culinary delights, the picture-perfect towns of Bavaria belong on every traveler's must-see list.

To ring in 2019, we made an affordable escape to Europe and visited several small towns in Bavaria, the iconic southern region of Germany. The history, architecture, and culture of medieval and Renaissance Bavaria are preserved in several impossibly cute town centers, and it was a wonderful place to welcome the new year. And of course, the beer everywhere was wunderbar.

Bavarian food, in particular, is perfect for cold weather - hot and hearty and delicious. Most travelers visit Europe in the summer; but those who venture to visit somewhere like Bavaria in the off-season are rewarded with picturesque vistas, lower prices and, best of all, far fewer crowds. Here, four towns we fell for—and you will too.

1. Rothenburg ob der Tauber

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Rothenburg is remarkable for (among other unique features) the 13th-century wall that surrounds much of the town’s medieval center. Visitors can walk the two miles of covered ramparts, looking down over the roofs and streets or through the “archers’ slits” to the countryside. Seventy watchtowers appear along the wall, some of which overlook the lovely expanse of the Tauber river valley far below. Steps lead down from the wall every hundred yards or so, enabling visitors to stroll along the fairy-tale streets and visit beer gardens, churches, shops, and museums, including the cheery Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas Museum and the grim Museum of Medieval Crime and Punishment. Most of the current wall dates from the 13th century, but a sizeable portion of it (and the part of the town within the wall) was destroyed in World War II. Allied soldiers then convinced a German commander to surrender the town, defying Hitler’s orders but saving the rest of the town from destruction. The town square sports a 17th-century clock with a mechanized drinker that commemorates the time during the 30 Years War when the town was saved from being destroyed by an attacking army because its mayor, essentially on a dare from the conquering general, quaffed a tankard of wine - almost a gallon! - in a matter of minutes.

2. Bamberg

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The historic center of Bamberg is a UNESCO World Heritage site, due to its well-preserved medieval architecture and city layout. Its many old bridges crossing the Regnitz River add to its charm. The city grew up over centuries around seven hills, like Rome, leading to the nickname "the Bavarian Rome." Bavarians, though, like to reverse this, instead wryly referring to Rome as the "Italian Bamberg." Bamberg is also known as one of the prime sources for the much-sought-after Rauchbier ("smoked beer"), made with beechwood-smoked malts. This type of beer is an acquired taste - be sure to acquire some!

3. Regensburg

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Regensburg sits where the River Regen joins the Danube, and as such arose as a center of commerce and culture since Roman times. The old town was fortunate to avoid bombing in the Second World War; consequently, its medieval center earns it a place on UNESCO's World Heritage list. Among its many river crossings is an iconic 12th-century stone bridge with 16 arches. At one end of the bridge is the equally old Historic Sausage Kitchen, a restaurant founded in the mid 1100s and operated by the same family since the early 1800s. Grilled sausages are their specialty of course, and they’re delicious. The cathedral here is monumental, displaying the vast wealth and influence that the town enjoyed since the 13th century. The exterior face contains countless ornate sculptures depicting fantastic beasts and biblical figures as well as actual monarchs and church leaders throughout the centuries. The interior is a yawning vault of towering stained glass windows, titanic stone columns, and walls full of carved statuary. Down an unremarkable alley a block away, a modest marker (on a house now owned by a local architect) commemorates the industrialist Oskar Schindler, whose subversive efforts saved the lives of more than a thousand Jews during the Holocaust. After the war, Schindler lived in Regensburg for a time.

4. Landshut

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Though close to the sprawling metropolis of Munich, the bustling town of Landshut retains a medieval charm. Its cobbled center street is a vast car-free zone, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy many blocks of shops and historic sights without concern for motor traffic. Just up the hill overlooking the town, the walls and towers of Trausnitz Castle have flexed the muscles of Bavarian aristocracy since the 1200s. Amid the charming pastel-colored houses on Landshut's streets, the massive brick spire of Saint Martin's Cathedral looms large. Completed in 1500, it is the tallest church in Bavaria, and it is the largest brick church in the world. Inside, a 16-foot-tall Gothic crucifix hangs high from the vaulted roof in front of the altar, and the colorful stained glass windows in the nave depict figures from the Bible and lively scenes of real life in Bavaria. Landshut is worth visiting under any circumstance, but it is especially convenient as a last stop before leaving Germany from Munich’s airport, an easy half-hour drive away.

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5 Surprising New Secrets of Times Square

From Starbucks to Panera and from Adidas to H&M, it’s tough to think of a major retailer that hasn’t staked out a claim in Times Square. The familiar logos gleam so brightly on storefronts and billboards that it’s one of the few places on Earth that astronauts can spot from outer space. But a crop of talented restaurateurs, bartenders, and visionaries have, in the past few years, given Times Square a jolt of indie spirit so exciting that even jaded locals are braving the crowds and dodging selfie sticks to check out these new destinations. Here are a few that might come to define the area in the future the way the masked Marvel characters and super-sized M&M Store do today. 1. Tiki Fantasy: The Polynesian (Noah Fecks) The Polynesian (thepolynesiantiki.com) is a tropical affair decked out with teak wood floors and doors, rattan chairs, a lava-stone-topped bar, and Polynesian-art-inspired decorative touches. When you’re sitting at this spot in the Times Square Pod Hotel, and the bartender sets your drink aflame in its ceramic skeleton vessel, it’s really hard to believe you’re only one block from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, an enormous, less-than-charming transit hub—the Polynesian makes you think you're on a very different island. Since it opened in May 2018, the Polynesian has become a major destination for rum lovers, cocktail aficionados, and anyone craving a little tropical escape. But lest you think the tiki drinks here are the sticky-sweet party drink of vacation postcards, the cocktails were created by Brian Miller, one of the early pioneers of New York City’s cocktail renaissance in the early 2000s. His obsession with classic tiki culture and culinary artistry inspired him to design drinks that are equal parts playful and subtle. (Case in point: the Reggae Bus, an island interpretation of a Queens Park Swizzle, with rum, yellow Chartreuse, lime juice, mint, saffron syrup, and bitters.) The space is vast, so come with a group and order one of the large-format punches for the table. And if it's summertime, the terrace, which is equipped with its own separate bar, is a must. 2. A Giant World of Miniatures: Gulliver's Gate Topless sunbathers soak up the rays on fire escapes, an overturned flatbed truck stalls traffic on the street, and cops investigate a suspicious package on a subway platform. These scenes play out on a minuscule scale at Gulliver’s Gate (gulliversgate.com), an attraction that opened in May 2017 (at no small cost—creating it came with a $40 million price tag). It’s not as well-known as the landmark museums throughout the city or some of the smaller, more specialized museums, but it should be. The miniature New York City is rendered in a 1:87 scale and includes plenty of familiar landmarks, like the New York Public Library and One World Trade Center. But it’s the painstaking attention the dozens of artists and craftsmen gave to capturing the details of the city—subway tiling, taxi cab hubcaps, pedestrians’ clothing and accessories—that make a massive impact. The NYC display is certainly the most expansive part of the sweeping museum, but there are also small reproductions of cities in Great Britain, Russia, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, complete with their iconic sites, old and new. (Look for buildings by Frank Gehry, I.M. Pei, Daniel Libeskind, and other celebrated modern architects.) Reservations required. 3. A Caffeine-Fueled Oasis: Optimistic Cafe Blink and you’ll miss it: Optimistic café is one of those rare phenomena, a small but mighty café surrounded in every direction by outposts of the major coffee chains. Reasons stop by this hidden treasure are many: matcha lattes, artisan espresso drinks, cold brew on nitro taps, locally baked pastries, avocado toast, poached eggs with Egyptian spices and, if you’re so inclined, a side of halumi. And here’s the best part: Walking into the cheery space on 39th Street, a dense Garment District artery, feels like the moment Dorothy opens the door of her house onto Oz. There’s a lush “green wall,” tables and counters made of thick slabs of wood, colorful mugs, and minimalist design touches that give a Scandinavian accent to the whole affair. 4. Cocktails in the Clouds: Dear Irving on Hudson (Noah Fecks) Dear Irving on Hudson (dearirving.com/dear-irving-on-hudson), a few blocks south of Times Square, occupies the 40th and 41st floors in the stylish new Alize Hotel, and with floor-to-ceiling windows and terraces for hanging out in warmer weather, you can bet you won’t forget the altitude. The locale is a spinoff of Dear Irving, a swish cocktail lounge that opened in Gramercy Park in 2015. Meaghan Dorman, who created the drink menu there, steps up again to design a selection of cocktails, some of which nod to New York’s classic history and others that pay tribute to the dynamic creativity driving the city today. Take, for instance, the imaginative Vice Versa: Brooklyn-made Dorothy Parker Gin, grapefruit liqueur, Luxardo Bitter, rosé cava, and grapefruit. The décor here is an ode to James Bond-inspired chic, with groovy, colorful furniture and Art Deco touches. So kick back with a Gibson, order a signature burger, and let the twinkle of the skyline inspire you. 5. Mindful Meat: Farm to Burger (Noah Fecks) There are burger menus, and then there’s the burger menu at Farm to Burger (farmtoburger.com), a farmhouse-chic affair also in the Alize Hotel. In addition to patties with inspired toppings, like onion marmalade and provolone on the Midtown variety, there are options like the Impossible Burger, the headline-making plant-based creation that actually looks and sizzles like beef, and a thoughtful kids’ menu. So that’s the “burger” part of the name. As far as the farm goes, servers will tell you that the all-natural beef they use comes from cows that were pasture-raised at Fossil Farms in New Jersey. There’s also a Kobe beef option if you’re looking for a splurge.

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Around New York City in 9 Pastries

When it comes to sweets, New York City takes the cake. From passing trends (Cronut, anyone?) to stalwart favorites (we're looking at you, cannolis. And eclairs. And macaroons.) there's no shortage of temptation. But the city's dessert offerings go far beyond those familiar treats, and that’s due in no small part to the many immigrants who come here, recipes and culinary traditions in hand. A tour of the specialty bakeries throughout Manhattan and its boroughs is a portrait of the diversity that makes the city so unique. We rounded up a sampling of international sweets, each from an eatery that's easy to get to with a MetroCard, so there's no excuse for limiting yourself to cheesecake and chocolate-chip cookies on your next visit. 1. Khao Nom (Liza Weisstuch) When Saralai Sarapaivanit, who goes by Jackie, moved to the U.S. from Thailand several decades ago, she couldn’t find many eateries making tub tim krob, a cold soup-like delicacy with pandan-jelly bits bobbing in a base of barely sweet coconut milk alongside pieces of crunchy water chestnut. She also couldn’t find many places to buy sweet steamed pumpkin, small tins of coconut custard with corn and tapioca pearls at the bottom, or lustrous luk chup, a marzipan-like sweet made with mung bean and molded to look like mini peaches and cherry tomatoes. So she and her brother-in-law opened Khao Nom, a bakery in Elmhurst, Queens, where they make their own. That’s just a small sampling of the hot and chilled dessert selection served in this high-ceilinged, laid-back space, where the tables are huge slabs of weathered wood set on vintage sewing machine bases. Stay put for the night to sample the bakery's brief menu of rice dishes, or check out the adjacent Khao Kang, the family's full-service Thai restaurant. 2. Lee Lee's Rugelach In this supremely diverse city, you’ll find El Salvadorian and Colombian men tossing pizzas, Chinese people rolling bagels, and a Nepalese man and former Everest sherpa who’s been slicing paper-thin smoked fish at Russ & Daughters, one of the country’s most celebrated Jewish delis, since 2002. And then there’s the legendary Alvin “Lee Lee” Smalls, an African-American man from South Carolina who runs a rugelach empire from his charming, vintage-chic bakery in Harlem. The traditional Jewish pastry, something like a tiny croissant with a harder, yet just as flaky, spool of dough rolled up with jam, chocolate or, at Lee Lee’s Rugelach By a Brother (leeleesrugelach.com), even more creative ingredients. He sells over 1,000 pieces of rugelach each weekend and he'll certainly tack on about a dozen more the weekend you drop by. 3. Ole & Steen (Liza Weisstuch) In Denmark, spandauer, kloben, and carnival buns are as common as donuts and chocolate-chip cookies are here. Those traditional treats are just a few of the specialties at Ole & Steen (oleandsteen.us), a bakery with 89 outlets in Denmark and 10 in the U.K. But with the opening of the first U.S. store in Union Square this past January, and two more in the works, New Yorkers can have their fill of those pastries and more. The bakery features shelves upon shelves of Copenhagens (marzipan wrapped in a moist, flaky crust), cinnamon swirls, marzipan slices, and marshmallow puffs, as well as those aforementioned kloben buns (cardamom-and-clove-spiced soft rolls with raisins) and spandauers, which look like what we refer to as a Danish. There’s also a variety of bread for sale, including sourdoughs made with a 150-year-old starter. The place is a spacious café with coffee drinks and smorrebrod (Scandinavian open-face sandwiches) on the menu, so make yourself comfortable and settle in. 4. Brooklyn Kolache Co. Brooklyn Kolache Company (brooklynkolacheco.com), an airy café in the rapidly gentrifying Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, sells all the things other cafés in Bed-Stuy do: espresso, cappuccino, matcha, vegan buns. And it sells something the others don’t: kolaches. A traditional dessert in the Czech Republic and Poland that found its way to fame in Texas, these sweet rolls are made of a lump of yeast-risen dough that envelops sweet or savory fillings. PB&J, chocolate, and jam are among the regularly changing former, while savory picks include cheese, eggs, turkey, and sausage. Owner Autumn Stanford, a Texas expat, has done her homeland proud. 5. Al Sham Sweets & Pastries (Liza Weisstuch) What Nathan’s Famous is to hot dogs and Peter Luger Steak House is to the T-bone, Al Sham Sweets & Pastries is to baklava. That’s to say: a New York standard-bearer. This cash-only Jordanian bakery sits amid Halal markets and Middle Eastern restaurants in a corner of Astoria, a neighborhood that’s grown increasingly trendy in recent years. Throughout the changing times, this compact operation has cranked out the same exquisite baklava every day. Native to both Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries like Greece, these treats are dense layers of filo dough and nuts soaked in a delicate rosewater-spiked honey syrup, making them at once rich and ethereal. The baklava comes in four flavors—pistachio, almond, cashew, and walnut—as well as different shapes and sizes. They’re all made in-house in massive batches to accommodate the steady stream of customers throughout the day. Al Sham is also a destination for kunafeh, a dessert said to have originated in Palestine. Prepared in a flat pan, with a syrup-soaked thin dough spread with sweet cheese, it's like pizza's sweeter cousin, and a delicacy unlike any other in NYC. 6. Breads Bakery (Courtesy Breads Bakery) When you walk into Breads Bakery in Union Square or Lincoln Center (breadsbakery.com), the smell of butter is so think, you can almost taste it in the air. That's because of the loaves of fresh babka that frequently emerge from the oven throughout the day. Babka, a traditional Eastern European hybrid of cake and half yeasted bread, is not new to New York, what with immigrants coming from those countries for generations. What is new is its ubiquity, and we have Breads largely to thank for that. (Or to blame, if you’re watching your calorie intake.) These rich loaves, woven through with ribbons of Nutella and chocolate chips, are habit-forming, to say the least. Not surprising, then, that you save $2.50 per loaf when you buy two. (PS: There's a year-round Breads kiosk in Bryant Park near the New York Public Library. A little too convenient, if you ask us.) 7. Harbs Here in the U.S., most of us know green tea as the staple hot drink in Japanese restaurants, but in Japan, it’s a common flavor of all kinds of desserts. Little surprise, then, that the green tea mousse cake is a popular pick at Harbs (harbsnyc.com), a 37-year-old Tokyo-based chain that opened its first restaurant outside of Japan in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood in 2014, followed by outposts in Soho and on the Upper East Side. There are French accents all over the place at these posh, handsome eateries: Tiled walls and wood accents give them a Parisian bistro vibe, and classic French baking techniques inform many of the cakes. But it’s the native ingredients, most imported from Japan, that make the desserts so intriguing. That aforementioned green tea cake incorporates earthy matcha in the sponge cake and specks of red bean in its green-tea mousse. Freshly whipped cream makes an appearance here and in several other desserts, including Harbs’s version of a French tart, where the cream is flecked with red bean. 8. Andre's Bakery (Liza Weisstuch) Never mind apple strudel. At Andre's Bakery (andresbakery.com), poppy seed, cherry, sweet cheese, and even savory options like cabbage, spinach, and feta run a tight race when it comes to most popular. The buttery, flaky strudels are made in-house daily with owner Andres's mother’s original recipe. In 1976, the Hungarian expat opened the first shop in in Forest Hills, a quiet, family-centric neighborhood in Queens, about five miles south of LaGuardia Airport. Since then, her son has carried out her legacy and opened two more shops, both on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. (The 2nd Avenue location is also a restaurant-café that serves hearty, traditional dishes and Hungarian wines.) Other Hungarian desserts on offer include palacsinta, a crepe-like indulgence, and dobos torte, a fluffy, caramel-topped sponge cake layered with chocolate butter cream. All the desserts are made fresh daily in the original store. 9. La Gran Uruguaya Dulce de leche, a caramel custard, is easy to find around New York City, especially in bakeries and restaurants in the many Spanish neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. A little less common is a flaky pastry filled with the stuff eclair-style. That’s just one of the highlights at La Gran Uruguaya (la-gran-uruguaya.com), a no-frills bakery-cafe in Jackson Heights, arguably the most diverse neighborhood in Queens, and possibly the whole city. Spongy tres leches cakes, banana tarts, flan, mousse, and tortitas negra, an Argentinian specialty, fill the expansive cases. This eatery also serves savory dishes, but when it comes to Latin American desserts, it’s tough to find a selection as varied as the one here.

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4 Destinations That Honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

You can celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s towering achievements by doing one of your favorite things: traveling. A variety of sites operated by the National Parks Service and nonprofit organizations offer the opportunity to enjoy your MLK weekend (January 19, 20, and 21, 2019) by immersing yourself in the history of the civil rights movement in vibrant communities across the American South. Add these to your all-American must-see list. 1. MONTGOMERY, AL The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in Montgomery, Alabama, is drawing visitors from all over the world, becoming one of the most essential destinations for travelers interested in educating themselves about the Civil Right Movement. The city of Montgomery is packed with historic sites and museums dedicated to the movement. At 252 Montgomery Street, you can see the exact spot where civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man on December 1, 1955. Her subsequent arrest triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott, in which Dr. King played a leading role. Today, 252 Montgomery Street is home to Troy University’s Rosa Parks Library and Museum (troy.edu/rosaparks). The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Civil Rights Memorial, designed by Maya Lin (best known for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C.), is a black granite table and wall engraved with the history of the civil rights movement and the names of its martyrs, along with one of Dr. King’s favorite biblical paraphrases, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” An adjacent Civil Rights Memorial Center (splcenter.org/civil-rights-memorial) educates visitors on the history of the bus boycott and the larger movement. For visitors hungry for more civil rights-era historical sites, the center is a short walk from Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church (where King served as pastor at the time of the bus boycott), the Alabama State Capitol, and the Alabama Department of Archives and History. 2. MEMPHIS, TN The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel (civilrightsmuseum.org) is one of the most extraordinary examples of hope rising out of pain. Built on the site of Dr. King’s 1968 assassination, the museum traces the history of the civil rights movement from its roots in the colonial slave trade to the present day. 3. WASHINGTON, D.C. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall, dedicated in 2011, the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, has joined the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his speech to an estimated audience of 250,000 demonstrators, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a place where visitors are often moved and inspired beyond their expectations. The National Museum of African American History and Culture (nmaahc.si.educ), which opened in September 2016, is a gorgeously designed, immersive educational experience that belongs on any traveler's list of D.C. essentials. 4. ATLANTA, GA The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site (nps.gov/malu) includes the house in which Dr. King was born, a visitors’ center, an International Peace Rose Garden, and the nearby Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was baptized and served as a minister, along with his father, from 1960 until his death in 1968.

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Bargain Europe: Where to Go in 2019

Yes, you can have a first-rate vacation on the Continent by looking beyond the tried-and-true (and crowded and pricey) European capitals. Here, five of our favorite cities where your dollar will go farther thanks to shockingly low hotel rates, and your Instagram will be the envy of everybody back home. 1. Prague, Czech Republic Prague is sometimes referred to as the most beautiful city in Europe thanks to such eye-popping architectural must-sees as the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and historic Old Town Square. The city has seen an uptick in tourism over the past few years thanks in part to comfortable lodging that starts at under $100/night and culinary delights that include a variety of cheeses, dumplings, tripe soup, and cold foamy Pilsners. 2. Athens, Greece The dollar goes farther in the birthplace of democracy, philosophy, and, well, Western civilization in general. You’ll be awed by ancient wonders like the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena Nike at the Acropolis (best viewed in the afternoon and early evening thanks to the setting sun and nighttime illuminations). You may also be awed by the reasonable hotel rates, with excellent rooms available in the $80 to $100/night range. But this city isn’t all classical antiquity: Save time for trips to the local taverna for small plates, fresh seafood, and dolmades, plus the popularly potent local liqueur, ouzo. 3. Porto, Portugal Porto is one of Europe’s “second cities” that offer huge savings. The second largest city in Portugal, after Lisbon, Porto is located in the Douro River region, known for fantastic wines, including, of course, rich, red Port. But there’s much more to Porto than wine. Here, you’ll savor fun public markets like Mercado do Bolhao, contemporary art galleries along Rua Miguel Bombarda, and playful architecture such as Casa da Musica concert hall, designed by Rem Koolhaas. Hit the Ribeira neighborhood for buzzing cafes and bars, and then navigate the city’s old winding streets in search of the sculpture of Henry the Navigator by the harbor. Reliable lodging in Porto starts in the $80 to $100/night range. 4. Lodz, Poland Our colleagues at Budget Travel’s parent company, Lonely Planet, chose Lodz, Poland, as one of 2019’s top value destinations, rocketing the third-largest city in Poland from, “Where?” to “Wow!” for a lot of travelers. The revitalization of industrial spaces has transformed former factories and other buildings into a hot destination for shopping, culture, and entertainment, including a new planetarium, science and technology center, and the MS2 Museum of Art. You’ll find comfortable hotels for well under $100/night. 5. Budapest, Hungary With views of the legendary Danube River from hotels that start at around $100/night to some of Europe’s tastiest street food, including langos, essentially fried bread topped with sour cream, cheese, and garlic (we know, right?). The Great Market Hall should be a first stop for foodies, but don’t miss the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Castle Hill including the Royal Palace (dating back to the 13th century and now the home of the Hungarian National Gallery), and gorgeous Matthias Church. You should book a sightseeing cruise on the Danube, and prepare to snap unforgettable images of the city’s majestic Chain Bridge.

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