The Romantic Road

 

I married a German.

Every night I dress up as Poland

so he invades me.

Bette Midler


Dreaming of your next anniversary, honeymoon or escapade for two?  What’s now called The Romantic Road used to be a major trade route during the Middle Ages and has been re-branded today featuring plenty of old world charm. It is Germany’s most scenic drive through rolling hills past vineyards, restaurants, lush parks, historic castles, and old towns that transport you back in time. Mapped out in 1950, this “formal” route through the southern provinces of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg helped rebuild Germany’s tourism industry after WWII.

To get started, fly into Frankfurt or Munich and rent a car. For the love of all that is good and metallic, skip the compacts and rent a fast BMW, Audi, or Mercedes. You’ll be on the Autobahn and you’ll feel safer with a big engine when everyone else is going 120 mph.

I love spontaneity and waking late, but it’s not a vacation if I have to drive (or cook.)  So I opt for the trains and, even better, an organized bus tour. There is much to be said about leaving all the planning and booking to someone else though I can’t rave as much about the “See you on the bus by 7:00/8:00 am” schedule.  To be fair, there is no way I’d get to see  half of a tour’s itinerary if I’m left to my own late start devices.

Photo up top is lunch by the Mosel River on a fine summer’s day. This area is home of the Reisling grape and where there are vineyards–no matter how slanted on a hillside–there’s wine! Nearby is one of the oldest and largest wine estates in Germany, Bürgerspital, situated in a beautiful and historic courtyard right in the middle of Würzburg.

The casino in Baden-Baden has got to be the most glamorous I’ve seen even though they humbly defer to being second to Monaco’s. I’d have to agree that their facade and lobby do not do justice to the interiors that’s still stunning after over a century.

Where to stay: Brenners Park Hotel & Spa is excellent in location, food and service with superb attention to detail.

In Munich, join a bike tour to add variety to your fitness routine and stop by the English Garden to see their famous surfers. This all white church in the city could inspire your next wedding or anniversary (cake.)

Where to stay: The Mandarin Oriental is modern and elegant, but the Bayerischer Hof has the prettiest lounge under a blue dome with a white bar set on a stage at the far end. If you can’t sleep early, there’s a nightclub in the basement with a live band most weekends.

And what’s romance without a bit of fairytale? Neuschwanstein in Bavaria is the castle that inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty version in Disneyland. I completely missed this highlight in a previous tour due to a shroud of fog so I’m thrilled to report I made it this time around. While many of its rooms went unfinished whenThe Swan King who designed this castle died, the intricate workmanship that executed his vision in the finished rooms. Tickets are time specific and if you’re late to claim them at your appointed hour, they’ll be quickly snapped up by some other tourist.

Where to stay nearby: Hotel Das Rübezahl, a spa hotel at the base of the Alps with a welcoming fire in the lobby, a glass of sparkling wine on arrival, and views of the castle from bedroom balconies.

For more sights along the Romantic Road, see Germany Travel Guide. Fun fact: While Americans have been captivated by the “Romantic Road” and the classic movie “The Sound of Music” filmed in Salzburg, many Germans have not heard of either one.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share where you’d map out your own romantic road.

xoxox

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© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Sharon@PowerfulGoddess.com

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

Paris for Teens and Tweens

 

Airplane travel is nature’s way

of making you look

like your passport photo.
Al Gore

Though teens might consider getting their own car as the best gift of all, plane tickets with a plan for adventure that gets another stamp on their passport could be better for creating family legends from shared memories. I want my young adult wanna-bes to seek the stories that are different as well as familiar in people of other cultures and feel at ease in unfamiliar lands. How else will they truly know that the world has so much more to offer beyond their daily routines and virtual tech obsessions?

Paris being a favorite gateway to Europe, a lucky teen is going to see the best of the best with mom as tour director–thanks to my curated list of fun possibilities culled from previous visits and research. Keep this page handy for your family because it is only a matter of time when the travel winds will blow you through the City of Lights. I’ll be severely testing how far I can keep up my style using the “How to Pack Light tips for our extended trip!

Begin with a city bike tour with Paris Charms and Secretsorienting you through the essential and hidden corners of the city. Your guide will fill you in with interesting facts and tales that will keep you enchanted through 4 hours of pedaling or not–thanks to their electric bikes. Choose their afternoon tour because your guide will likely time your stop at the Eiffel to coincide with its 6:00 pm twinkle time.

A popular eerie attraction, the Catacombs are the city’s old mineshaft-turned-mass grave. The tunnels are lined with the bones of millions of citizens who were laid to rest here by King Louis XVI before getting his own head chopped off.

For movie and theater buffs, the Studio Harcourt gives you the starlet experience with a cinematic black-and-white portrait shoot to commemorate your Parisian adventure. Everyone from Brigitte Bardot to Marilyn Monroe has had their photo taken here.

If waiting in line for the towers of Notre Dame is not your idea of fun, tire your teens out with the impressive climb up some 300 stairs to the top of the Sacré Coeur. Six o’clock in the evening is Vespers when you might get lucky hearing the mystical voices of the Bénédictines Sisters at the church reeling you back in time to how life must have been like there in the 18th century as you view sunset over the city. Sigh!

For a swim in the city with local Parisians, Piscine Molitor is the prettiest old school swimming pool in Paris which was recently renovated. You can surprise your teen with a treatment at The Spa by Clarins or go for drinks and a salad on the rooftop. This is a members-only kind of place except if you get an Escale Molitor package at the spa (one-hour treatment +access to the pool, hammam, sauna, and gym). Book well in advance.

Curious to cook? I’m not, but as a mother, I’m a firm believer in the proper training of future husbands especially when you are in a country known for le gourmet. La Cuisine has a variety of cooking classes from macarons and baguettes to apertifs and entrees.

For treasure hunts to engage even those who are not art enthusiasts, see what fun and games THATMuse can plan for your museum of interest.

Then, of course, Versailles… A stay at the Trianon Palace, a Hilton Waldorf Astoria luxury property, is the closest thing to feeling like Marie Antoinette. If you can’t stay the night, you can book treatments at the Guerlain Spa and enjoy its beautiful pool, go for a walk in the royal garden, then have a spectacular Michelin Star lunch at the veranda of Gordon Ramsay au Trianon. Wear comfy shoes please.

If not Versailles, then at least the Opera Garnier in the heart of Paris for its version of the Hall of Mirrors and so much genius behind the architect’s choice of design and construction elements. Join a guided tour run by the opera house or an independent walking tour that covers its surrounding neighborhood.

As tourists, early birds get the worm and wait less in queues at popular attractions.  If you’re not into worms, wait for later in the day to go when the masses have been let in.

A note on museum tickets: All Kids under 18 enter free (or EU citizens under 26 with proof of age). For adults, get your entry tickets from the   Louvre website because they are they cheaper and allow you into a much faster security line than tickets bought elsewhere like getting a “Paris Museum Pass” from the Paris Tourist board which covers most monuments & museums (eg, Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Versailles, etc) or through your hotel.  Note that tickets sold as ‘skip the line’ passes could have you standing in longer queues than the Louvre’s own e-ticket line.

With or without teens, eating will never go out of style where there’s a lot of walking and sightseeing involved. At the Trocadero, Monsieur Bleu’s terrace has one of the best views of the Eiffel tower with very good food. Note that on Saturdays and Sundays, Monsieur Bleu offers free babysitting services on the French floor (there’s also an American floor) with a disco for kids on Saturdays and other fun activities on Sundays. Dress well because shorts on a hot summer’s day may get you turned away despite having reservations.

A cross between Parisian and Japanese, Le Kong is a futuristic Japanese restaurant  with curved floor to ceiling windows decorated by Philippe Starck at the top of the Kenzo building. Perfect spot at sunset to be surrounded by Louis XV armchairs, plasma screens, a fluorescent staircase and a carpet of pebbles.

L’Oiseau Blanc (the White Bird) at the Peninsula Hotel is named for a French plane that crashed over the Atlantic in 1927 during a transatlantic flight attempt. The restaurant’s décor pays homage to the pilots, complete with a small-scale replica of the biplane that looks like it’s flying off the terrace. Even if you’re not a history buff, you’ll appreciate the sweeping views of the Eiffel Tower.

Every weekend between 4:00 and 6:00 pm at La Bauhinia bar of the Shangri-la Hotel, Pastry Chef Michaël Bartocetti celebrates a veritable French ritual and a moment dear to little ones and grown-ups alike: the Goûter!  A superb buffet of traditional French pastries to satisfy every sweet tooth. Reservations at +33 (0)1 53 67 19 91 or by email: labauhinia.slpr@shangri-la.com.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your Parisian favorites for the family to enjoy. Enjoy your summer adventures and try not to miss me too much. Bon voyage and a bientot!

Photos on this page courtesy of Google Images.

xoxox

Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits with a

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for a two hour photo shoot of up to three people:

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© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Sharon@PowerfulGoddess.com

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

How to Travel Light

 

When preparing to travel, lay out

all your clothes and all your money.

Then take half the clothes and twice the money.

Susan Heller

Can you believe Summer is just around the corner? Whether you’ll be traveling with First or “cattle” class, nothing beats the pleasure of skipping airport luggage check-in and the mindless wait at baggage claim carousels. Assuming your hair and makeup tools don’t require an entire suitcase, here’s how you can prioritize and pack lightly with ingenuity:

Choose the right bags. Carry-on rolling cases with four wheels like Louis Vuitton’s Horizon are the best gift from the travel gods.  When choosing yours, consider the smaller measurements required for domestic flights so you can easily hop onto connecting flights after the international leg of your jaunt. For your large tote, choose wide straps, with a cross body strap when possible, so you can be kind to your shoulders and back. A backpack would be the kindest of all, but I’d rather suffer for the sake of style.

Multi-task everything. A stylish belt bag (at the top of the photo above) doubles as your wallet and evening purse while holding valuables under your shirt when sightseeing during the day. A fabric/synthetic foldable shoulder bag can hold your shopping treasures, water bottle, extra layers of clothing, and serve as a decoy for pickpockets.

Hallelujah for the iPhone that saves us the extra weight of a computer, books (thanks to the Kindle app), phone, camera, alarm clock, flashlight, GPS, diary, ad infinitum.

Bring an extra large shawl for use as a head/neck rest on the plane, blanket, beach wrap, scarf, towel, or picnic blanket.

Choose an accessory that makes a fun accent piece like a necklace that can double duty as a belt or as bracelet when wound several times around your wrist.

Consider clothing color and weight.  Start with a basic neutral palette of gray, black, blue, or beige for pants, leggings, jacket and sweater then add fun splashes of print or color with your tops and accessories. White needs extra care to keep clean when you’re on the road so it’s not my go-to.

Clever dual-purpose travel garments like pants that can be turned into shorts by zipping off the legs are not my style but are worth mentioning here. Jackets with many pockets can serve as a sly piece of “luggage” when you’re traveling with a super strict airline that actually weighs your carry-on luggage.

If traveling through wide swings of climate, the secret key is layering. One warm jacket and one medium weight sweater will serve you well with a change of layered shirts closest to your skin. For variety on photos for Instagram and Facebook posts,  accessorize with different color scarves.

Unless you’ll be sending out your laundry for cleaning, choose material that’s easy to wash and hang dry. For this, I am a huge fan of silk–it is chic, lightweight and can be easily layered, plus it keeps you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cool. Style wise, a mid-length dress can be worn short with a hip belt and leggings.

To roll or not to roll? I roll leggings and pants (above) and use them to flatten out the bottom of my case with other odd shaped items. On top of all these, I lay my selection of tops, a skirt and a dress minimally folded as shown with the ivory shirt below. Pull the shirt arms straight over and across the chest then fold the torso horizontally once (or twice for longer shirts and dresses.) Voila–fewer wrinkles when you unpack!

My silk robe doubles as pajamas.  Pack extra shoes in bags at the bottom of your carry-on and wear the heavier rubber sole shoes/sneakers/boots in flight. Open toe sandals can serve as slippers while lounging in your hotel room and also give your feet a breather on alternate days of much walking. Roll up socks and stuff them inside the pair of flats or stilettos you pack to save room while keeping your shoes in good shape.

Wear as much as you can. On the flight, wear your heaviest boots/sneakers, jacket, sweater with a couple layers of shirts.  You can easily take them off on board then layer them back on as necessary. What about undies, you ask?  Let’s just say this is the matter where I stand on the complete opposite end of wearing as much as you can. 😉

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your favorite secrets for traveling light.

xoxox

 

Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits with a

Powerful Goddess Gift Certificate

for a two hour photo shoot of up to three people:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Sharon@PowerfulGoddess.com

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

Touring Indochina

 

Adventure, yeah.

I guess that’s what you call it

when everybody comes back alive. 

Mercedes Lackey

 

Early at Angkor W(h)at?!

 

This week’s weather has officially done away with winter and please let’s not start complaining about the heat because this is nothing close to how summer gets in Asia. April and May are the warmest months in that region of simply ‘dry or wet’ seasons and ‘hot-hotter-hottest.’ So if you’re keen on heading that way this year, wait after the cooling monsoon rains blow off some of the heat.  And if you must travel solo, tours like National Geographic Adventures will make sure you’ll have the best time and never feel like you’re traveling alone.

Here’s a glimpse of the fun I had in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia with an active and erudite group of engineers, doctors and lawyers:

 

 Hue, Vietnam 

Stopping to hang with locals going about their day as we bike through town and rice paddies.  Whatever calories we expended was well rewarded with great meals including  a very special private lunch at Tha Om, a century old garden house made from local timber that didn’t require the use of a single nail.

 

Indochina Sails, Ha Long Bay

Cruise Ha Long Bay on a traditional-style wooden junk boat. Kayak around karst formations, visit caves and local fishermen’s boathouses. Just to be on the safe side, I waited until our cruise was about to dock before attempting this Titanic themed shot.

So grateful to our petite yet fearless tour leader who was completely unflappable and generous with her loving kindness and Buddhist wisdom.

Waterfalls at Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang is a World Heritage site chosen by an ancient king for the protection provided by its surrounding hills, rivers and mountains. It sits at the junction of the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers.

We spent a day visiting some Buddhist shrines then joined a local family for a Buddhist Baci ceremony followed by dinner in their home.

Another day we hiked up a hill, stopping by the school of a Khmu village to play with the children and with its traditional houses, water buffalo and farm animals, the farmers and master blacksmiths dealing with their daily tasks.  We wound up at Ban Thapene, a village with a butterfly park founded by this courageous Dutch couple who seek to educate children on the importance of small bugs and insects in the world’s ecological balance.

 

I made an exception to my religion of waking up as late as possible and rose before the sun to catch the enchanting sight of hundreds of saffron-robed monks walking silently through town to collect offerings.  Even more impressive–since I’d rather not be in the kitchen–are those who have committed years of waking even earlier than these monks to cook hot food to offer them.

Ancient Temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Explore one of the most ancient temple sites in the region: the Roluos Group. Bike around the countryside and make a stop at local house to enjoy snacks and meet the locals. My favorite temple is the ancient Ta Prohm Monastery, where humongous tree roots weave their way through the temple walls—hence the “Jungle Temple” nickname and more popularly “Tomb Raider temple” after Angelina Jolie’s movie.

Angkor Wat is  the Times Square of Cambodia and you’ll find yourself in traffic at 4:00 am in the morning as tourists hurry to snag a prime spot for catching the sunrise behind the temple. The vernal equinox on March 22 is THE DAY to see the sun rise exactly at the center point of the highest temple spire. Genius math for such ancient architecture!

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share what’s on your travel bucket list.

xoxox

Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess Gift Certificate

for a two hour photo shoot of up to three people:

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© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Sharon@PowerfulGoddess.com

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

Rodin At The Met

 

Between lovers,

a little confession 

is a dangerous thing.

Helen Rowland

The Kiss

Fun fact while touring colleges with my daughter:  Philadelphia was the first city in the United States to exhibit works by the French artist Auguste Rodin (1840-1917).  Apparently, Rodin had sent eight sculptures to the Centennial Exposition held in Fairmount Park 1876, but his work did not win awards nor impress the press. He could not have imagined that this city would one day house one of the greatest single collections of his work outside of Paris.

To contest Philly’s claim to fame, NYC’s Metropolitan Museum is currently hosting a retrospective of Rodin’s sculptures, drawings and art to celebrate his centennial.

In a career that spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Auguste Rodin rebelled against the idealized forms of tradition and his discovery of Michelangelo during a visit to Italy in 1875-76 inspired him to introduce innovative techniques that paved the way for modern sculpture.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your favorite Rodin piece(s). Mine are on this page–including Camille Claudel’s The Waltz, Rodin’s lover and colleague who worked in his shadow, never getting the recognition she deserved.

xoxox

 

Danaid

 

 

Cupid and Psyche

 

 

Eternal Idol

 

 

Camille Claudel’s The Waltz

Photos on this page from Google Images

xoxox

 

 

Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Sharon@PowerfulGoddess.com

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

 

Italy With Teen

A good holiday is one spent

among people whose notions of time

are vaguer than yours.

J.B. Priestley

italy-rome-coliseum-sharon-birke

Winter break now and Spring break soon! With Milan offering the best airfare accessible to favorable climes by train, here is a quick week’s itinerary if you can travel light with your teen.

From Milan’s Malpensa airport, take the Malpensa Express train to Milan Centrale and connect with the fast train (Trenitalia.com) to Rome.

In Rome, book a hotel (at least 3 nights) between Piazza Navona and the Pantheon so you’re in a lively area in the evenings near restaurants in any direction.

Some Rome tour options are on my When In Rome Again blog post.

Take a morning train to Florence Santa Maria Novella and before exiting the station, leave your luggage for a small fee at the depot along the wall where you see the sign for Track 16.

Florence in a day: You can’t miss the outdoor sculptures at the Piazza Vecchio, the fantastic embossed door of the Baptistry, museums galore, Pitti Palace, if the weather is lovely, catch the sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo for panoramic views of Florence and to say hello to yet another David statue.

Take the evening train to Venice Santa Lucia station and book an overnight stay at one of the hotel’s across the canal so they can hold your bags while you sightsee the next day.

Venice in a day: Catch the vaporetto to St. Mark’s Square and feed the pigeons, admire the golden mosaics of the cathedral, climb up the bell tower, shop a bit, walk to Rialto Bridge and if you’re an early bird, catch the vendors setting up shop at the open air market. If you haven’t had enough of churches and museums yet, there’s the Accademia, the Scuola Grande and the Doge’s Palace. If you’d rather row a gondola than sit in one, check out Row Venice.

Take the evening train to Milan and stay near the Golden Triangle of designer shopping (ie, Via della Spiga, Via Sant’ Andrea and Via Montenapoleone). You’ll be within easy walking distance to the very well preserved Sforza Castle that holds a good collection of museums.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to add your Italy travel tips.

xoxox

Ceiling at the Vatican

italy-rome-vatican-art

Even a very tall man appears to be a midget at the mini-Hall of Mirrors of the Doria Pamphilj mansion in Rome

italy-rome-hall-of-mirrors

Michaelangelo’s David and work in progress at the Accademia in Florence

italy-florence-david-michaelangelo-sharon-birke

Rape of the Sabine Women at the Piazza Vecchio, Florence

italy-florence-sculpture-sharon-birke

Would you rather ride or row?

venice-gondola-sharon-birke

Sunset in Venice

venice-sunset

xoxox

Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

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© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Sharon@PowerfulGoddess.com

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

Hot As Mercury

I adore Chicago.

It is the pulse 

of America.

Sarah Bernhardt

The-Bean-Chicago-Powerful-Goddess-Portraits

Famous for it’s gigantic drop of liquid mercury, Chicago just won my vote for The Prettiest City in the U.S.!

You’ll love the river that snakes through dazzling skyscrapers, the helpful locals, and the ease of getting around and through the fabulous park set beautifully next to a lake. See the city in different ways:

Inside Chicago Tours Hillary is charming and funny as she takes you on small group walking tours of the city’s best building interiors and sssshhh! secrets.

Architecture River Cruise The Architecture Foundation’s First Lady Cruises will give you all the right facts. For more entertaining versions, try Shoreline and Jim Collins is one of the fun guides of Wendella boats. Choose the sunset cruise to see the lovely change of city lights.

Bobby’s Bike Hike Yes, you can stand on a Segway or sit in a cool limo. I like combining the distraction of interesting sights with a workout and a bike tour on a cool night is just perfect. Wednesday and Saturday evening tours end with spectacular fireworks on the lake.

Other evening entertainment:

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. Chicago is the home of improv comedy so skip Broadway for this town’s longest running show of 30 mini plays in one hour. Mostly funny, sometimes poignant, sad and real. Not 21+ though the material can be.

Upstairs at the Virgin Hotel. I’ll have to come back without a teen chaperone to check out the fun at this naughty venue.

Fun restaurants with the family or not:

Three Arts Cafe Whether it’s your first date or the 100th, you’ll enjoy this romantic courtyard with chandeliers, a fountain and glass ceiling, indulgent service with a rooftop, too.

The Palm Court at The Drake Hotel Old world elegance for glamorous high tea after a day exploring the Gold Coast neighborhood. You can combine your tea reservation with a tour of the hotel on weekdays.

Fulton Market Kitchen Feed your inner artist with this feast for the eyes.

The Terrace Regardless of your politics, the Trump Hotel has the best open air views facing the river and half the Chicago skyline.

And if the kids insist on the Skydeck, mom must stop by the breathtaking atrium of the pink building next door.

The neighborhood you stay in makes all the difference and I suspect I adore Chicago because I chose a central location (between Clark Street Bridge and Millennium Park) for easy access to the city’s attractions, shopping and innumerable dining options.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your best Chicago travel tips here.

xoxox

Chicago-skyline-Powerful-Goddess-Portraits

Blonde-Glamour-Powerful-Goddess-Portraits

Cloud-Gate-Chicago-Powerful-Goddess-Portraits

Pearls-Red-Dress-Powerful-Goddess-Portraits

xoxox

Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits

with  a Powerful Goddess portrait session Gift Certificate:

Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Sharon@PowerfulGoddess.com

www.PowerfulGoddess.com

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman

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