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I Finally Flew Business Class, But I Wouldn’t Do It Again

I Finally Flew Business Class, But I Wouldn’t Do It Again

At the age of 52, I finally flew business class. This has been on my ‘bucket list’ for a very long time, but it wasn’t all that I expected. Find out why, and if you are planning a business class trip for the first time, what I recommend you should look out for.

I wrote this article for TravelAwaits.  They are an American Travel Site aimed towards serving the 50+ traveler.

They want to inspire you to explore new destinations, discover new experiences and savour the journey. TravelAwaits’ goal is to share the world’s unique, hidden, and once in a lifetime locations with you to create unforgettable memories.  So if you get a chance, pop over to their site, and check out their extensive repertoire.

Happy flying everyone.

Other blog articles that you may be interested in.

What You Should Know Before Visiting Europe’s Concentration Camps

What You Should Know Before Visiting Europe’s Concentration Camps

With six concentration camp visits under our belts, I felt it was time to share our findings about how to visit these sacred sites while remaining respectful to others.

This article was written for TravelAwaits.  Their mission is to serve the 50+ traveler.

They want to inspire you to explore new destinations, discover new experiences and savour the journey. TravelAwaits’ goal is to share the world’s unique, hidden, and once in a lifetime locations with you to create unforgettable memories.  So if you get a chance, pop over to their site, and check out their extensive repertoire.

 In the meantime, read our blog before you visit a concentration camp in Europe.

Other blog articles that you may be interested in.

We Lost Our Motorhome! 14 Ideas To Find Your Way Back

We Lost Our Motorhome! 14 Ideas To Find Your Way Back

Last night we lost our motorhome. I know, I know, how could you possibly lose something so BIG! Right?

You see we parked up in the lovely town of Karlsrhue, Germany then excitedly jumped on our eBikes to check out the wonderful Christmas markets.  Scroll through the photo gallery below to see how pretty these markets are.

A selection of the photos from the Christmas Markets in Karlsruhe, Germany.

When it was time to head back we opened up the iPhones to find our parking spot on the, very reliable, Park4Night app.  Only it wasn’t there!!!  Find out why below.

Here’s what the fantastic community of motorhomers shared with us the following day, via the Facebook page Motorhome Adventures.  Now there’s no excuse to lose our girl again.

1.     If using the app, WhatsApp, send your location to each other before heading off.  Open the app, click on the + symbol on the bottom left next to where you would write a message.  You will see several options, Location is one of these.  Click on Location and you have several options. You can Share Live Location, Send Your Current Location, which is accurate to 10 metres, or you can enter an address in manually.  When you click Send Your Current Location a small map shows up, plus the address. When you receive this location, you can open it in Google Maps by pressing the up arrow inside a box, at the bottom left of your screen.  Many thanks to Laura Tonks who shared this wonderful piece of advice.

2.     We rely on our phones and technology these days, however what would you do if your Internet connection went down or your data limit expires?  Karen Davies’ suggestion is to pin their location using Maps.me.  Don’t forget to download the local map ahead of time.

3.     Take a photo of the street name or local landmark – what a simple but powerful idea this is, thanks to Ronnie Payne, Robert Yates and a few others for this suggestion.

4.     Back to technology, there is a relatively new system called What3Words.

Here’s what the developers tell us this is all about.  “What3words is a really simple way to talk about location.  We have assigned each 3m square in the world a unique 3 word address that will never change.”

Thanks to Sue Mackness and Debbie Bargewell for reminding us to use this one.

Eddy Smerdon made it fun by suggesting we draw some meaning from the words. For example, our spot was captive.charcoal.grades.  We’ve just visited Dachau Concentration Camp so the story I made up was that the prisoners were held captive, they ran out of coal (charcoal) in the crematorium, and when working in the quarry they had to grade the stones.

5.     Another thanks goes to Sue Mackness for sharing how she uses Polar Steps (another travel app).  When they park, she adds their location into Polar Steps, that way family and friends can see exactly where they are in real time.

6.     Judy Makin suggested that before leaving their vehicle she asks Siri to ‘remember where I’ve parked my car’.  It will save the location and guide you back if you get lost.  She warns to remember to do this, otherwise you could be guided back to a previous spot miles away.

7.     Eleanor Brown suggested a Strava App, which shows the route you have taken.

8.     Susan Bocking uses an app called Find My Car.

9.     Some motorhome owners have installed trackers on their vehicles in the event they are stolen.  If we had been clever enough to have one of these, we could have activated it.  Thanks Gavin Short and Ian White for your suggestion and yes it is something we are considering, but not only in the event that we get lost again.

10. It’s also possible to take a photo and look at the tag on Google Photos, which shows a map of the location.  Just remember to turn your location services on if you are using this option. We sometimes turn ours off to save our phone battery.  Thanks Alan Gurling for your contribution.

11. Julie Buckley takes a photo of the area where they have parked.  This also includes a landmark, like a fountain, and then when finding herself in the same situation, she picks up a map from the local tourist office.

12. Another option is to take a screen shot of the map before heading out.  That’s what Malcolm Pinnell does now, after he too experienced the same situation.

13. On Google Maps you can press the circle that makes it go to your location.  Then click on the blue dot, ie your location, and the option to save your parking place appears.  These instructions from Dave Adams are for an android phone, however iPhones have a similar system.

14. And finally Lindsey Crawford uses geocacheing before they head off to explore.  Using a hand-held Garmin device it allows them to download locations of caches.  It also provides an opportunity to input GPS coordinates.  For more information about this idea click here.

As mentioned earlier, we typically use the Park4Night app to find parking spots and then use the same app to find our way back.  However, what foiled us last night was the fact that we had put filters into our phones.  This prevents us from seeing places that don’t suit our size, ie a height restrictions of two metres.  This particular spot had been incorrectly labelled with such a limitation.  Therefore it showed up on our computer, but not on our phone.

Given our dependency upon technology, and in particular our mobile phones, we always carry a small battery charger with us when out and about.  It’s our assurance that we won’t run out of grunt.  Plus we are on a mobile plan for data, meaning it never runs out, it just starts costing us money!

Well, there you have it.  There’s no excuse to get lost any longer.  Please share this with your motorhoming and/or traveling friends so they too can find their way back.  If you have any other clever suggestions, please include them in the comments below.

Many thanks to everyone who contributed to these wonderful ideas and may you never get lost again!  

Tragic Treblinka

Tragic Treblinka

More humans were killed at Treblinka in 1942
than at any other place in the history of mankind!

The immense sadness, the heightened emotions of absolute disgust, anger towards a long dead enemy and war itself, and the raw hurt along with tears, all came flooding out during my visit to Treblinka.

Such a reaction could have been expected at our recent visit to Auschwitz, where an estimated 1.1 million poor souls were exterminated.

Was it the distraction of keeping up with the tour guide that kept me from my own thoughts at Auschwitz?  Did that pent up emotion finally have a release when left to my to reflections regarding the enormity of Treblinka’s war crimes?  I know not.  What I do know, however, is that this place exudes grief and compels deep emotions.

So Where is Treblinka?

Treblinka is in Poland, located just over 100 kilometres, or one and a half hours drive north-east from Warsaw.  There are tours to Treblinka from Warsaw if you don’t have your own transport.

What Was At Treblinka?

Two Camps were set up by the Germans in Treblinka; a Penal (forced) Labour Camp (Treblinka I) and an Extermination Camp (Treblinka II). 

The labour camp was constructed in the summer of 1941 and covered 17 hectares.  Initially Poles, mainly from Warsaw district, then later Jews as well, were incarcerated there. 

The extermination camp was built in the middle of 1942, about 2km from the existing labour camp. The camp area of 15.85 hectares was surrounded by double rows of barbed wire. 

Why Was Treblinka Selected?

Treblinka was designated to be a key part of the “Reinhard Action” a codename for the planned extermination of Jews from German occupied Europe.  The chosen location needed to be remote, to keep what was happening there a secret from the world, and well connected to the railway networks, which would bring victims there from all parts of Europe.

To the east of Warsaw, along the Western Bug River, lie sands, swamps and thick evergreen and deciduous forests.  These places are gloomy and deserted.  In 1942 there were few villages.  The remote station of Treblinka lies on the branch rail line to Siedlce. It is not far from the junction station of Malkinia, where the lines from Warsaw, Bialystock, Diedlce and Lomza all meet.

Treblinka I labour camp had already been in operation, which facilitated building a new larger camp close by. 

Treblinka met the criteria for a mass extermination camp location and was approved by SS Reichsfuhrer Himmler himself

 

What Happened There?

The despicable mass extermination of between 800,000 – 920,000 Jews took place at Treblinka during World War II.

 

It is important to distinguish between the Labour Camp at Treblinka I and the Extermination Camp at Treblinka II to understand what happened.

Treblinka I

At the labour camp, between 1,000 and 2,000 prisoners worked long hours with starvation rations, minimal hygiene, frequent beatings and torture.  The prisoners worked in the adjacent gravel pit, at the railway station in Malkinia, and at the irrigation area in the valley of the Bug River.

Approximately 20,000 prisoners were incarcerated at Treblinka I during its operation, of which almost half died from the poor conditions or were shot.  A walking track from the camp led to an area, known as the Execution Site, where prisoners were routinely taken, shot, and buried.  Most of what we know about this camp comes from inmates who managed to escape, usually by feigning death, before sneaking into the forest in the dark.  Some accounts of these survivors is written on plaques dotted along the track to the execution site.

The camp was liquidated at the end of July 1944 and the buildings demolished. Just the foundations remain today.  Some of the mass graves have been exhumed but the majority of bodies lie unknown but not forgotten, forever blanketed by the sandy Treblinka soils.

For more information about the archaeological projects click here.

Treblinka II

The extermination camp at Treblinka was built in the middle of 1942, near the existing labour camp.  Its specific purpose was to kill and dispose of Jews as quickly as possible.

The staff consisted of 30-40 Germans and Austrians.  They were supported by 100-120 guards of Ukrainian origin.  The first transportation of prisoners arrived on 23 July 1942 and comprised around 6,500 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto.  Fresh trains arrived virtually daily from that point as can be seen in this timeline of events from Treblinka.

Although initially focussed on processing Polish Jews, Treblinka also received Jews from Germany, Austria and other parts of occupied Europe.  Arriving at Treblinka required a journey of multiple days for some. Crammed into rail wagons or cattle trucks, many of the dead were pulled from carriages having suffered from asphyxiation, dehydration, exhaustion, or crushing.

The poor souls who survived the excruciating journey were separated into male and female lines, required to strip, and the females had their head shaved.  They were then forced to walk into the gas chambers.  Once secured inside, the exhaust from large diesel engines was piped into the chamber, resulting in a slow, horrific, death spanning an inhumane 20 minutes.

In the early months the dead were simply buried in mass graves. However, as the tide of the war turned against the Germans, their fear of discovery, and the resulting consequences grew, so they began cremating the bodies.  Horrifyingly, the guards dug up the buried corpses to burn them in order to conceal their heinous crimes.

By the end of the first year of operation, after almost all of Poland’s Jews* had been exterminated, the camp began processing Roma and Sinti people (gypsies) as well as over 135,000 Jews from across Europe.

*The American Jewish Yearbook placed the total Jewish population of Europe at about 9.5 million in 1933. This number represented more than 60 percent of the world’s Jewish population, which was estimated at 15.3 million. Most European Jews resided in eastern Europe, with about 3.3 million Jews living in Poland. Before the Nazi takeover of power in 1933, Europe had a dynamic and highly developed Jewish culture. In little more than a decade, most of Europe would be conquered, occupied, or annexed by Nazi Germany and most European Jews—two out of every three—would be dead.

According to historians, it is estimated that between 800,000 – 920,000 Jewish people from Poland, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Yugoslavia, Macedonia, Germany and the Soviet Union were exterminated at Treblinka.

 

Franz Stangl, commander of the camp, would boast that he could ‘process’ an entire train between his breakfast at 7am and lunch at midday – killing an average of 6,000 Jews. Once new gas chambers had been installed, 12,000 people could be exterminated in single a day!

Treblinka was the third extermination camp of Operation Reinhard to be built, following Bełżec and Sobibór, and incorporated lessons learned from their construction and operation.

Treblinka II was operational until November 1943. The camp was then shut and completely demolished by the Nazis.  The graves were covered with earth and the whole area of the former camp ploughed and sown with lupins.

Why Did This Occur?

The mass extermination of Jewish people was driven by the ardent antisemitism (anti-Jewish) sentiments of Adolf Hilter, the German Führer (leader).  Hitler blamed the Jews for everything that was wrong with the world; a weak Germany, communism, capitalism… you name it, he said the Jews were behind it.  Furthermore, Hitler believed that Jews and the ‘Slavic’ races, such as Poles and Russians, were inferior to the German (or Aryan) race and their extinction was necessary for the long term dominance, by the superior Germanic races.  Hitler was supported by the Nazi Party, the government, the military, and thousands of ordinary civilians, who all played their part in the Holocaust.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, he did everything he could to make life for Jews in Germany difficult.  Increasingly harsh anti-Jewish laws were passed and the general population were incited to abuse Jews.  However, it wasn’t easy for the Jews to leave.  The processes to emigrate from Germany were hard to comply with, and other countries refused to change their immigration policies, or strict quotas to make it possible for Jews to emigrate, without lengthy procedures, and a lot of money. 

You can read the list of the documents that Jews needed to provide in order to emigrate from Germany and immigrate into the USA.

Once World War II broke out, Jews from either Germany or the occupied territories, were unable to leave, and Hitler was able to put his lethal plans into action, with the full support of his Nazi cohort.  In January 1942, a secret meeting of top Nazis agreed on the details for the ‘final solution to the Jewish question in Europe’.  The Death Camps at places such as Treblinka, Bełżec and Sobibór arose following these discussions, which included agreement to ‘comb’ Europe for Jews, and deport them eastwards, to be worked to death or executed.

Poland was a natural site for many of the camps due to its high number of Jewish people already living there.  Furthermore Poland was located far from the prying eyes of Western Europe.

For further reading about the final solution click here.  

Why Didn’t They Fight Back?

They did!  And Jews participated in the resistance movement, in all of the occupied countries.  In the Polish Warsaw and Bialystok ghettos, (areas of the cities where the Nazis forced the Jews to live), there were uprisings against the Germans.  The overwhelming military force of the German army quickly crushed their attempts, however.  The Jews involved preferred to face their death fighting, rather than be sent passively to the gas chambers.

The Germans were meticulous in how they controlled vast number of Jews without them rioting and overwhelming the guards.  A story developed that they were being sent to transfer camps, and then onto work camps, or for resettlement.  They could take one bag, or suitcase, containing their personal belongings.  Anyone who showed any sign of dissent was immediately shot. On arrival at Treblinka, the victims were usually in no condition to fight back after the train journey, and were hurried through to the ‘decontamination rooms’ immediately.  Total brutality and cold-bloodedness were used to instantly quell any problems.

In the Labour camp, anyone giving any trouble faced certain death, usually by gunfire, being hung, or simply beaten to death.  The bodies then were on display as a deterrent to others, who might be thinking the same way.

There was, however, a rebellion at Treblinka II organised by the prisoners, which broke out on 2nd August 1943.  The camp was partly destroyed by fire, but less than a hundred survived the escape, and subsequent hunt by the guards. 

What Is Left Of The Area Today?

The destruction of all evidence of the Final Solution was ordered in an effort to conceal from the Russian Army, and the world, what had actually taken place in these camps.  Painstaking work of forensic archaeologists, and study of personal testimonies, has pieced together our knowledge today of what the site looked like, and how it functioned.

All that remains today of Treblinka II is a museum full of relics, and what has been erected on the site, in remembrance of those who died. 

Today there are stones depicting the history of Treblinka. These ‘memorial stones’ are the most powerful monument with 17,000 separate pieces of granite, one for each of the communities that lost Jews in the Holocaust. 216 of them carry inscriptions with names of cities and towns from where Jews were transported. 

The only stone, which carried a person’s full name, commemorates Janusz Korczak (see further below).  A huge memorial rises from the middle of memorial stone field, alongside another stone obelisk, inscribed with a simple, but powerful message in several languages.

“NEVER AGAIN”

Particularly poignant is the Ribbon of Remembrance, which is a white ribbon winding through the trees, along the path, and around the perimeter of the field of memorial stones.  This ribbon lists the names of about 4,000 of the people who died here.  That seems like a lot, but only represents less the 0.5% of those who actually lost their lives, and is less than the number who typically arrived on just one daily train, into the camp.

A symbolic railway, loading platform, and cremation grate, have been rebuilt in an effort to help us understand the original layout.

The remains of Treblinka I labour camp are more obvious with the foundations of most of the buildings still visible today. 

At the Execution Site, 500 metres from Treblinka I, a stone memorial has been erected together with hundreds of concrete crosses marked with the names of some of the prisoners who died there.

There is also a memorial to the Roma and Sinti people, who died at the labour camp.  The Roma and Sinti, (collectively known as gypsies), were a separate ethnic group thought to have arrived in Europe in the 1400’s, from northern India. They are believed to have numbered over 900,000 in the German occupied territories, and Hitler also believed them to be an inferior race, requiring extermination.  For more information on the gypsies, and why Hitler wanted them killed click here

The road from Treblinka I, to the Execution Site, is marked with crosses symbolising the hundreds of people who were shot dead along this road.  The woods contain plaques detailing various burial, and archaeological sites, plus testimonies from those who escaped near certain death.

Significant People Mentioned

There is a unique stone commemorating Janusz Korczak, and the children in his care at the symbolic cemetery of the concentration camp.  This became a symbol of the martyr’s death, of thousands of people at Treblinka.  Janusz, born Henryk Goldszmit, entered this world around 1878 or 1879.  He was a writer, a teacher, a voluntary social worker, and a doctor.  Although he was repeatedly offered the opportunity to escape, he chose to stay with the orphans in his care, right up to the day they were rounded up in the Warsaw Ghetto, and sent to Treblinka.  He is reported to have told the children that they were going out to the country, where life would be much better, and to wear their best clothes. He and the children were gassed at the beginning of August 1942.

For further reading about Janus Korczak click here.  

“one sun shines for us,
one hail destroys our crops,
and one soil buries the bones of our ancestors”.  Society 1910.

Samuel Willenberg and Kalman Taigman arrived at the camp aged 19.  Samuel was with his mother, after being rounded up with thousands of other Jews, in Warsaw in July 1942.

Samuel and Kalman were among the slaves made to dig up bodies, and burn them, but on 2 August 2 1943, during the revolt, they were among the 300 – 400 prisoners who escaped.  Most were hunted, and killed, by the SS and just 67 prisoners were known to have survived the war.

Samuel was shot in the leg, but hid before heading to Warsaw, where he fought the Nazis in the 1944 Warsaw uprising.  Kalman also avoided capture.

“Soon there will be no one left to tell. The world cannot forget Treblinka.” Said Kalman in an interview dated 2012.

The last two survivors of Treblinka took part in a BBC documentary to make sure the truth did not die with them.

Sadly, today there are no survivors still living.

You can read an article about Samuel Willlenberg written after his death here.

Holocaust Deniers

Holocaust deniers are people who believe that the Holocaust never happened, or that it was on a far smaller scale, than the weight of evidence proves.  Holocaust deniers suggest Treblinka was just a transit camp, but British forensic archaeologist, Caroline Sturdy Colls, used radar to find evidence of the massive burial pits there.  This work is ongoing today.

Eyewitness accounts from Jews who managed to escape, testify to the hellish horrors, and atrocities, that took place there.

It beggars belief that anyone can seriously review the evidence, and suggest that Treblinka was not a site of mass murder, and genocide.

For more information on Holocaust deniers, and their motivations click here.

Our Visit

We had stayed the previous night in the Museum carpark, with our motorhome, intending to get the jump on the first visitors to the site the next morning. The parking area was quiet, and flat.  The GPS coordinates are 52.635177, 22.052206.

However, at 8.30am, seven busloads of Jewish teenagers, from Israel arrived, all wishing to pay their respects to their fallen relatives, and ancestors.  They were visiting Poland, on a planned Holocaust visit, and this was their third stopping point.  So, we shared our early bird status with some 300 Jewish visitors, who were wearing white sweatshirts, and waving the blue and white flags of Israel.

We visited the museum on our own, then arrived at the Memorial Stones.  Watching the kids go from typical bubbling teenagers, to quietly reflecting, hugging, consoling, and wiping away tears from one another, was a sobering experience.  The mood changed dramatically. 

They laid out blue ribbons, making the Star of David form, at the foot of the great stone monument, set up microphones, and proceeded to sing, and pray, in front of the stones.  We felt very privileged to be witnessing such an outpouring of emotions, two or three generations on, from the events that took place here.

Jewish Teenagers Respecting Their Ancestors

NEVER AGAIN! 

General Information

The museum is open daily from 9am to 6.30pm.  It costs seven Zlotys per person (€1.61) and one Zloty for the map.  They accept cash only.

The museum is closed for Easter and Christmas.

For more information click here.

While this might be considered Dark Tourism, I believe it is important that we, you, visit these places if nearby.  Also, please read as much as you can, in order to prevent such horrors from ever being repeated, in humanities future. 

Feel free to Pin this for later smile

Please also leave us a comment.  Comments keep us motivated to keep writing to bring you useful information about our travels.  Thanks.

The Best of Budapest

The Best of Budapest

When it comes to naming top cities, I admit it takes a bit to push Istanbul and Saint Petersburg down my list of “Favourite European Cities”.  These two great metropolises have enjoyed this status for a long while.    This all changed when we reached Hungary’s capital Budapest (our 28th country and 17th capital city in two years of full-time travelling).

Europe’s hidden gem of capital cities has now been discovered by the people who matter the most (us). 

No longer can Budapest conceal its wonders.  This city is far too sophisticated, too intriguing and far too downright interesting to be kept from the rest of the world. 

If you want to visit somewhere unique where the pulse of the city buzzes all day and night then don’t look beyond Budapest.

The best things to do in Budapest could keep you mesmerised for days and many of them are free.  Discovering Budapest by night-lights brings this magical fairytale city alive.  Walking or cycling along the Danube without saying “wow!” is just not possible at any time of the day or night.

Watch the locals and visitors alike enjoying the many open-air green parks and seating along the Danube.  Smile at the groups of young and not so young friends talking, laughing, eating and drinking in the wide-open city spaces. Bask in the tranquil laughter of friendships enjoyed day and night over a beer, local wine or maybe even a Pálinka or Unicum.  

The people are happy, mellow and accepting of their lot in life.  Whilst this city’s capitalist freedom is young, it is clearly mature as showcased by the attitudes of the residents.

The best building in Europe that we have come across, and in my humble opinion, is tucked away in Budapest.  Check out the photos further down to see why we give this title to the Parliament Building.  This building even appears on the list of top 20 European buildings from Trip Advisor.

Whether it’s funky or retro, new or historic, political or sobering, this city has it all and more in spades.

Made up of two distinctly different cities (Buda on one side of the Danube, and Pest, pronounced pesh, on the other), both work in perfect harmony to bring to life Europe’s number one city, in our books.

So, what can Budapest offer its visitors?  Check out our list of the best of Budapest,  including things to see, experiences, eating establishments, nightlife, and different foods to try.  Then see if you can fit these into your Budapest schedule.

After ten days we hardly scratched the surface of what this city offers its explorers.

Here is the list of the main places we visited in the summer of 2019.

Contents

 

Given we travel in our motorhome our preferred mode of transport once parked up in or near a city is our trusty eBikes.  Betsy, our motorhome, was safely located near the university, here are the GPS coordinates 47.4717, 19.0591.

However, this city is far from easy to navigate on bikes, due partly to the numerous road works underway but also because of the unsettling way that cycle lanes suddenly stop with no clues as to where you are then supposed to ride.  We persevered in what were the most challenging navigations a city has thrown at us.  Perhaps we needed to take a leaf out of Hansel and Gretel’s book and drop a few breadcrumbs so we could find our way back home easier. 

Regardless, I’d still recommend giving cycling a go if you can.  Otherwise you’re in for lots of walking and/or navigating public transport, which is apparently very good.  Alternatively, you can hire bikes, electric scooters, or Lime scooters that are dotted throughout the city.
 

View of the Parliament Building Across the Danube River 

 

1.  Memento Park

When discovering significant historical facts throughout Europe, most of them happened prior to my existence.  This park, however, was built in my living memory.  Except, having been bought up in New Zealand half a world away, the events that happened in Hungary in the 1980’s didn’t even start to register on my radar.  Until now.

The open-air museum was opened to the public in 1991 in an unusual attempt to display to the world, via Communist era statues, what this country endured at the hands of Communist leaders.

The political history of Hungary is fascinating and is a story I believe everyone should read.

After the fall of Communism in 1989, many statutes erected around the city of Budapest, which included those of Lenin, Marx, Engels, Stalin and 38 other Hungarian Communist leaders, were immediately removed.  These now stand in Memento Park as reminders of Hungary’s history.

Of immense intrigue is the monument you will see before even entering the park; a gigantic replica of Stalin’s boots.

Stalin was born on 18th December 1878 in Russia and assumed leadership over the country following Lenin’s death in 1924.  For his 70th birthday an eight metre high bronze sculpture was built for Stalin and erected in Budapest, as a ‘gift’ from the people of Hungary.

This gift was to last just eight years before meeting its end on 23rd October 1956 during Hungary’s October Revolution, after an angry mob tore down the statue. Fragments are reportedly spread amongst homes of Hungary’s residents, a somewhat ‘weird’ souvenir.  The boots seen in the museum are a copy of the original ones.

Click on the picture gallery to see all 12 photos from Memento Park.

2.  Hospital In The Rock

It also seems a little weird to have a Hospital in a Rock, however that’s exactly what Budapest had (and still has, although today it’s a museum).

The naturally occurring cave system under Buda Castle was further excavated out from 1937 to create first an Air Raid Control Centre, and then air raid bunkers for the civilians.  By February 1945, a fully functioning modern Red Cross hospital had been carved out within the hill.  In 1944-45 during the Siege of Budapest the hospital cared for up to 600 patients at a time, although it had been designed for just 60-70 patients.

During 1956 the rebellious Hungarians used the hospital again during the uprising against the Soviet Rule. Afterwards the hospital was used as a prison for a short while before being re-purposed as a nuclear bomb shelter.

The hospital equipment was upgraded in 1958-62 to take account of the risks of a chemical or nuclear attack.   Installed were a water tank, diesel tanks, ventilation and poison gas-filtering system. Two Ganz diesel engines were built to power electrical generators so the whole facility could be self-sufficient for three weeks.

By the 1960’s the facility became obsolete and in around 2007 the hospital became the museum.

Interestingly, the complex also housed a communications outpost, nothing to do with a hospital, where the equipment remains in place as part of the museum.

The ticket price, which includes a guided tour, is 4,000 HUF (€12) per person.

Unfortunately the taking of photos was prohibited, so thanks to Wikipedia for this photo. 

3.  Matthias Church

We’ve visited, oh I don’t know how many churches and cathedrals in our time, and I can safely say this one was as impressive as they come. 

Built in the latter half of the 13th Century, this Roman Catholic Church has seen many changes, including her name.  She is known as The Church of the Assumption of the Buda Castle, more commonly known as the Matthias Church and more rarely as the Coronation Church of Buda.  Take your pick – but it is a spectacular church whatever you call it.  The entry price is 1800 HUF or just over €5.

4.  Fisherman’s Bastion

This is located right outside Matthias Church, so you will find it easily. With stunning views across this gorgeous city, we were advised to visit at sunset. The seven stone towers supposedly symbolise the seven chieftains who founded Hungary. 

This monument, the best known in Budapest, was built between 1895 and 1901. It received its name from the Fish Town below with the residents being the protectors of the castle walls in the middle ages.

If you want the ultimate photographic shot go early or be prepared to wait a while. It gets rather busy during the day and I would imagine the evening to be no different. Sadly we didn’t make it there at sunset.

5.  Parliament Building

As already mentioned, this is my favourite European building so far.  Okay, I haven’t been to Prague yet, but any building would have to be spectacular to out-do this beauty. 

During the day the Parliament Building stands in pride of place alongside the mighty Danube.  Go back at night and see the lights transform this attraction from a large but interesting building, to something out of a Disney fairy tale.   Even the birds circling atop give in an air of impressiveness as though they can’t get enough of looking at her.  Or perhaps there are just lots of insects mulling around, attracted by the lighting?

6.  Buda Castle

While in Budapest you can’t help but notice the imposing Buda Castle.  And no trip to this capital city is complete without heading up there.  So mounted on our trusty eBikes we set about cycling up the steep hills to this Castle.  “Gosh I’m so thankful for electric bikes”, I remember thinking when passing people struggling to take each step while climbing skywards in the baking hot sun. 

The views from here are stunning, overlooking the entire city spread along the mighty river Danube. 

The castle, originally completed in 1265, was built for the Hungarian kings.  Today it houses the Hungarian National Gallery and The Budapest History Museum.

7.  St. Stephen’s Basilica

We were the last group allowed in to see this Basilica before it was closed off for the day in preparation for a wedding.  What lucky people to be married in such an amazing location!  It’s the things that little girls dream about all their lives, a white wedding in a beautiful church (or was that just me?)  I sat for a moment and wondered how someone would go about getting married here?  Perhaps I could convince Alan to renew our wedding vows in such a stunning setting.

St. Stephens Basilica was named after Stephen, the first King of Hungry (975-1038).  His right hand remains at the church.  Today this basilica is the third largest church building in Hungary, is absolutely gorgeous inside and out, and is well worth a visit.  We were fortunate to come across two stunning churches in one city.

Click on the photo gallery below to see the photos of St. Stephens. 

8.  Andrássy Avenue 

It seemed strange to me to have ‘an avenue’ as a tourist destination.  Originally a street where the rich and famous once lived (and probably still do), it is now the premier shopping street in Budapest.  This street leads you down towards the majestic Hero’s Square.  However, on our way back down the street we came across something quite unexpected… part of the Berlin Wall and a sculpture of the Iron Curtain.  

Heroes of the crushed1956 Revolution are immortalised on plaques on the building wall, with their photos and names visible for all to thank.  The entire story of the end of Communism in Hungary is displayed on large billboards, written in Hungarian on one side and English on the other.  Needless to say, it took us a while to leave this most poignant of streets, transfixed and moved as we were by the determination and brave actions of the Hungarian people fighting to be free of their oppressors.  Many of them were just teenagers or young adults in their twenties and here they were prepared to fight and die for what they believed was right.  They are modern day heroes in my book.

Being able to see and touch an actual piece of the Berlin Wall made the events of 1956 and the collapse of the Soviet Era around 1991 feel more real. 

Iron Curtain

Section of the Berlin Wall

9.  Heroes’ Square

And talking of Heroes, sitting between the end of Andrássy Avenue and City Park you will come across one of the major squares in Budapest, called Heroes Square.  Aptly named for the iconic statues featuring the seven chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian national leaders. 

Check out this busker who was playing the piano whilst sitting on a foundation-less chair in front of adoring tourists and locals alike.

10.  Szechenyi Baths 

Hungary is well known for its hot water.  While drilling for oil the common find was thermal water, and lots of it.  Frustrated at the lack of oil, the decision was made to use what the country had in spades – thermal water.  With over 1,300 thermal springs throughout Hungary, Budapest has its fair share with 123 spas, not least of which is the famous Szechenyi Baths. 

We had been holding back from visiting a Hungarian spa due to the high summer temperatures that reached 33C.  With a short cooler break in the hot weather we cycled the eight kilometres to the baths from Betsy’s location on a 26C day and enjoyed the warmth of the outdoor pools.  We tried the numerous indoor pools, which were inevitably crowded, and ‘too cold’ for our liking.    

You can spend a whole day here for 5,500 HUF (€16.45) each.

So if you’re thinking about a visit and it’s cold outside, then don’t fret, there’s something here for you.  Or even if it’s summer you won’t regret visiting. 

Click here for more information.

11.  Szimpla Kert – Ruin Bar

Having no preconceived expectations about ruin bars, I was pleasantly surprised.  The lack of modern décor was somewhat of a welcomed relief.  If you were to take your favourite marker pen here and add to the wall writings, then you’d fit right in.

This former stove factory, which is the first and still the best ruin bar, should be on every tourist’s itinerary.  The labyrinth of graffiti smothered semi-derelict rooms and corridors, strewn with memorabilia and unique urban fixtures has brought the area to life.  With 6,000 people per day passing through these doors it’s obvious to see that there is plenty of money to be made from these ruins.  Despite knowing that demolition could happen at any moment I can’t see the city being in any rush to bring the axe down just yet.

The food and drinks here are delicious and cheap.  We had a huge plate of fried chicken wings, plus a beer and glass of wine for just €11.30.

For more information click here.

12.  Central Market Hall

For hungry visitors and foodies alike, a visit to the Central Market Hall will sure satiate your eyes and your stomachs.  With traditional dishes on offer, head up one level to the top floor and fill your heart’s (or tummy’s) delight from the many food stalls tempting you to part with your money. 

From the tasty and downright decadent fried bread based Langos to the Toltott Kaposzta (stuffed cabbage leaves), you will be in seventh heaven trying all things Hungarian.  Or if a traditional Goulash or Chicken Paprikash is on your list of must-try’s, then again you will find them here.  So, bring with you an empty tummy and some cash but be prepared to fight your way through the throngs of people.

Also on offer was some of the local alcoholic drinks for the truly brave.  Pálinka is a type of fruit brandy, distilled from a variety of fruits grown mainly on the Great Hungarian Plains.  It is a strong and intense alcoholic beverage and comes in a variety of flavors, including apricot (barack), pear (körte), plum (szilva) and cherry (cseresznye).   Unicum is an alcoholic, bitter mixture made up of 40 herbs and spices from all across the world.  It has a dark colour and it tastes quite bitter.  Just the name would surely turn most Westerners off the idea of taking a shot.

The ground floor boasts a huge array of fresh fruit and vegetables, traditional Hungarian cured meats, sausages and salamis and some more places to eat and drink.  If you want to buy the famous Hungarian paprika (and you should) there are multiple stalls selling every variety under the sun, although the prices looked a tad high.

The basement houses the fishmongers and pickled vegetables, another traditional Hungarian food.  They are so creative with how they cut the pieces into smiley faces, cats and other shapes to make the jars more attractive.

13.  New York Palace Café

From the dizzy decorating lows of the ruin bars to the heady opulent heights of the New York Palace Café, you’ll be wondering if you are still in the same city.  These two places couldn’t be further at odds, nor could their prices.

The New York Palace is a famous grand hotel, unlikely to be stayed in by those of us who can’t, won’t, or perhaps don’t need to, spend a fortune on accommodation.  Thank goodness for motorhome travelling. 

However, a visit to the luxurious New York Café under the hotel should be on your list of must-dos while in Budapest.  The coffee, at €7 was a bit rich for our liking, and given I don’t even drink coffee, was never on my radar.  However, a tasting plate of sheer deliciousness made up of cakes and deserts for €16, well, that’s another story.   We shared a plate and sipped from our water bottle (despite several suggestions by the waiter that we buy a coffee).  We drank in the opulence slowly and left with a free postcard (I wasn’t sure if that was just because we were Kiwis or if everyone was given one).  

14.  The Cat Café Budapest

Having been on the road now for more than two years, we miss an occasional cuddle from our fury four legged friends.  Although we were not allowed to pick the cats up, we could pat to our heart’s delight and that’s what we did.  We could choose from the fourteen creatures that sat patiently soaking up all the attention.

I only wanted to come here for a pat, but thought that in order to extend our stay we should order something.  So a cake and cup of tea was ordered and oh my, were their cakes delightful?   I’m salivating just writing this and remembering the white chocolate mousse sitting on a base of crunchy chocolate yumminess (if that’s a word).  Alan’s cake was equally delightful and didn’t last the distance, being scoffed in record time.

Click on the gallery of photos below to see more… 

So there you have it, the fourteen places we visited while in Budapest.  Make sure you have plenty of time to also soak up the atmosphere and just hang out in one of the many green parks adorning the city. We have left some things undone and unseen in Budapest but they can wait for another visit.  In the words of Arnie, “We will be back!”

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For a full overview about the country of Hungary, click here.

Related posts about Hungary for your reading pleasure…

The Recent Political History of Hungary

The Recent Political History of Hungary

October 23 1956

Stalin died in 1953 and the new chair of the Soviet party began a ‘de-stalinization’ process.

The fact that this narcissistic power was now forced to admit past sins and mistakes filled people living in Hungary and other Soviet-controlled countries with the hope that real change might be possible.

In June, workers in Poznan, Poland began demonstrations for better living and working conditions and demanded free elections.  The revolt was ruthlessly squelched by communist authorities.

University youth sympathising with the Polish workers organised a demonstration in Budapest for the 23rd of October.

Young people gathered at different locations in Budapest and many joined the peaceful processions during the day.  The crowd was closely lined up, remained orderly and had a cheerful attitude, but marched on with determination.  They numbered more than a hundred thousand when they reached Bem Square.  Many cut out the Soviet-inspired coat of arms from the Hungarian flag, creating a hole in the middle.  Under the cut-out, waving flags more and more shouted “Freedom, democracy and national independence!”

By dusk, the crowd counting two hundred thousand arrived at the Parliament building.

Late at night, Soviet party leadership in Moscow decided that under no circumstances will they allow their influence and power over Hungary and Eastern-Europe to weaken

Communist Dictatorship In Hungary

At the end of World War 11, Hungary was on the losing side.  “Behind the back” of the country, the victorious powers – the United States of America, Great Britain and the Soviet Union – decided that Hungary would come under the rule of the Soviets and their all-powerful leader, Stalin.

Being assured of the support of the Red Army, communist politicians within Hungary’s coalition government managed to gradually strengthen their power, thereby repressing the rising democratic developments.  By 1948-1949 the Soviet model of totalitarianism became reality in Hungary, its main characteristics being a single-party system, state life submitted to the communist party’s top leaders, mistrust and blame within the party due to the failure to produce expected economic indexes, intellectual and physical isolation of the country, forced agricultural collectivism, legal and material despoilment of the peasantry, forced industrialisation, planned economy, constant shop-shortage; cold-war hysteria; enforced worship of party leaders; state terror to keep the population in constant fear.

Siege At The Hungarian Radio

Late afternoon of the 23rd of October, a group of students marched to the Hungarian Radio to have their 16-point list of demands read off.  The leadership of the radio denied their request. 

They did broadcast communist part leader Erno Gero’s announcement on the same night.  In his speech, he disapproved of the revolt, denied granting of its demands and promised retribution to the participants. 

The atmosphere became more and more charged.  Many grabbed weapons from the military units ordered to protect the Radio but unable to get in.  Some soldiers joined the demonstrators.  First shootings were heard at about 9pm and the siege subsequently began.  The news ‘young people are being killed at the Radio” quickly spread throughout the city.  Many set out to pick up guns and ammunition at local barracks and armories.  The siege of the Radio ended at dawn with the victory of the revolters.

The peaceful demonstration thus turned into a revolt.  Later, as fights with powers loyal to the government and with soviet occupants (invited by Hungarian party leaders to intervene) began, it turned into a war of independence. 

Stalin’s Statue Pulled Down

A decree was issued in 1949 to raise a statue in Budapest of Stalin, the greatest communist leader alive.  The 8-metre tall statue weighing 65 quintals was inaugurated on December 16, 1951 on Felvonulasi Square that was built at the same time.  This square was the regular scene of the communists’ huge public events, parades and musters, where tens and hundreds of thousands of workers would be ordered to “voluntarily” and “enthusiastically” celebrate their parts leaders who would wave to them from the tribune raised on the pedestal of Stalin’s statute.

On October 23, a significant size group left the crowd that had gathered at the Parliament building and set out to demolish the statue of Stalin.  After several attempts they succeed: the statue, almost completely sawn at its knee was pulled down with the help of wire ropes, winders and several vehicles.  The crown pulled the hated monument to the side with trucks and cut it into pieces. 

Its bare torso, remaining on the pedestal – “the Boots” – soon became a symbol of the revolution.

The Revolters – “Pest Kids”

A symbolic figure of the revolution is the “Pest Kid” who takes on fighting with virtually no weapons and against all odds with youthful ardour, virtue and ingenuity.  It is a known fact that the armed fights in Budapest were fought mainly by teenagers and young adults in their twenties.  They fought fearlessly and uncompromisingly, so they are the ones to be thanked for the temporary victory in October. 

The Molotov-Cocktail

One of the simplest and best offensive weapons against tanks in the city guerrilla warfare is the Molotov-cocktail.  It was named after Molotov, Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, one of Stalin’s intimates.  It became famous through the 1956 Hungarian revolution when it was commonly used against Soviet tanks.  The Budapest formula for Molotov-cocktail is a bottle filled with gasoline, fitted with a gasoline-saturated rag.  When it is set on fire and thrown at an object the flaming gasoline breaking out of the bottle can set even the smallest nook on fire.  Many tanks and armoured vehicles were disabled with Molotov-cocktails in Budapest. 

Ruined Budapest

Although the revolution spread to other cities, most of armed clashes between the revolters and the Red Army took place in the streets of Budapest.  As a result, the inner city and its surrounding districts were almost completely ruined.  Almost all buildings on major streets suffered some kind of damage.

Intervening Soviet troops, their artillery, air force and tanks ruined many buildings, vehicles, roads, military facilities, airports and railways.  Fights made public transportation, industrial production, trade and education impossible.

Victims Of The Revolt

Even though the routing of armed groups was finished by the 10th-11th of November, political resistance endured until the spring of 1957.

The revolution and the fight for freedom ended with a significant number of casualties.

Several thousand were killed, almost half of them under 25.  Casualties were approximately twenty thousand.  During the retaliation following the defeat, more than twenty-two thousand were imprisoned for participating in the revolution and 229 received a death penalty.

Some two hundred thousand people left all their possessions behind and escaped from the country.  Those that remained suffered harassment from the police for years or even decades to come.  Those publicly sympathising with the revolt or those that participated even to the smallest extent were not allowed to continue their studies or were forced to leave their jobs.  The expression “politically unreliable” was written on their record sheet that went with them everywhere and inhibited both their professional and existential advancement.

The Blood Of The Hungarians

(…) Hungary conquered and in chains has done more for freedom and justice than any people for twenty years.  But for this lesson to get through and convince those in the West who shut their eyes and ears, it was necessary… for the people of Hungary to shed so much blood which is already drying in our memories. (…) 

In Europe’s isolation today, we have only one way of being true to Hungary, and that is never to betray, among ourselves and everywhere that which the Hungarian heroes died for, never to condone, even indirectly, those who killed them.

Those Hungarian youngsters, workers and intellectuals, beside whom we stand today with such impotent sorrow, understood this and have made us better understanding it.  That is why, if their distress is ours, their hope is ours also.  In spite of their misery, their chains, their exile, they have left us a glorious heritage which we must deserve: freedom, which they did not win, but which in one single day they gave back to us.

Albert Camus
October 23, 1957, Paris

The Most Cheerful Barrack

From the 1960’s on the domestic situation in Hungary grew milder and the era of so-called “soft tyranny” began.  The control over planned economy gradually loosened up, public life was relatively peaceful and cultural life was characterised by a more or less open-minded attitude.  However, all those characteristics make sense only when compared to the rest of the Communist block.  Hungary was no more than – as the popular saying goes – “the most cheerful barrack in the peace-camp”. 

In the shadow of the Red Army stationed in Hungary, true democracy or rebellion against the party that was controlled by the Soviet Union was out of the question.  Citizens lived under strict limitation of human rights, with their freedom of speech and their right to travel freely outside of the country inhibited.  Information networks were present in all areas of life.  As a sharp contrast, people were obligated to march in happy crowds on communist holidays, cheering the “democratic achievements of socialism”.

By the end of the 1908’s it became clear – both in Hungary and throughout the socialist world – that the state party and its totalitarian control is no longer viable.  The new Soviet attitude – refusing to intervene – was a key factor in the political changes that were under way.  Mikhail Gorbachev rightly realised that his country as well as the communistic world order was in total economic and political crisis and the preservation of the Central-Eastern-European power zone would no longer be feasible.

Events

1987 Democratic anti-government circles declare their programs.  Society’ consensus: “Kadar must go!” (06/1987); Lakitelek Declaration: “… our nation has no common vision for the future” (09/1987)

27.05. and 12.09.1988 Demonstrations against the Bos-Nagynaros Dam mega-project on river Danube, expected to cause significant ecological damage

27.06.1988 A crowd of several hundred thousand demonstrate on Hero’s Square in Budapest against government sponsored demolishing of Romanian villages.

13.08.1988 Ex-prime minister Andras Hegedus (1955-56) called 1956 “a national uprising”.

28.08.1989 Minister of State Imre Pozsgay calls the 1956 events “a people’s uprising”.

15.03.1989 About a hundred thousand people demonstrate in Budapest on the anniversary of the 1848 Hungarian revolution and war of independence.  The events culminate when on the steps of the Hungarian Television headquarters there is a public reading of 12 points written by democratic opposition groups demanding democratic changes. 

Spring of 1989

10-11.02.1989 The central Committee (the legislative body) of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party declares that a multiparty system can be launched.

22.03.1989 The co-called Opposition Round-Table is formed.

25.04.1989 Partial withdrawal of Russian troops stationed in Hungary begins according to an international agreement.

02.05.1989 At an international press conference in Hegyeshalom, the demolition of the technically closed border, the so-called Iron Curtain, is announced.  Fences on the Austrian-Hungarian border are torn down.

01.06.1989 The abolition of socialist “competition of workers”

05.06.1989 The government decides: social and retirement status of citizens interned between 1949 and 1953 is to be restored.  Favourable decisions are made regarding cases of citizens that lost advantages due to political reasons as well as those that were relocated.  Another decision to ban censure on books and films is also announced. 

Summer of 1989

5-6.06.1989 Incommu, an independent group of artists places 301 traditional carved headstones (“kopjafa”), paying tribute to victims executed following the 1956 revolution, resting in Parcel 301, an anonymous grave in the Rakoskeresztur cemetery.

13.06.-18.09.1989 talks between the Opposition Round Table and state party representatives are carried on regarding crucial laws on the political changes – also called “fundamental laws”.

14.06.1989 United States Senate unanimously votes in favour of a declaration saying “the 1956 Hungarian Revolution was a divide in modern history – the first important indication that the fall of Stalinism would be inevitable.”

16.06.1989 Memorial service and re-burial for Imre Nagy, Prime Minister under the 1956 revolution and his fellow martyrs on Heroes’ Square, with hundreds of thousands present. 

Pan-European Picnic

01.08.1989 Previously closed Western borders are reopened

19.08.1989 Pan-European Picnic, a celebration symbolising the rapprochement of formerly opposed countries is held.  Before celebrations began, some 300 East-German refugees appear at the sight, break through the fence and run to Austria uninterrupted by the Hungarian guards. 

10.09.1989 The Hungarian government opens the country’s Western border for East-German refugees.

Autumn of 1989

Political Changes In Central-Eastern-Europe

23.10.1989 The Hungarian Republic is proclaimed.

09.11.1989 Borders within split Germany are opened and the demolition of the Berlin Wall begins.

10.11.1989 Bulgarian Communist Party leader Todor Zhivkov is removed from his position.

22.11.1989 In Czechoslovakia, Milos Jakes, together with the leadership of the communist party resigns following demonstrations.

17.12.1989 In Timisoara, anti-government demonstrations end in bloodshed.  As demonstrations continue, they quickly spread to Bucharest, thus evoking a revolution and the fall of the Ceausescu-regime in Romania.

25.12.1989 The Execution of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. 

Free Elections

24.01.1990 The Hungarian Parliament passes laws on freedom of conscience and religion, together with new church laws. 

31.01.1990 Press laws are modified.  Individuals are now allowed to found newspapers, television and radio studios. 

12.03.1990 The full withdrawal of Soviet troops begins in Hajmasker.

14-16.03.1990 The old parliament calls off all illegal lawsuits in the period between 1945 and 1963.

25.03 and 08.04.1990 The first free, democratic parliamentary elections take place after 43 years. 

02.05.1990 Statutory meeting of the Parliament of the Republic of Hungary.  The first decision of the freely elected parliament: the 23rd of October, the day when the revolution broke out in 1956 is to become a national holiday. 

October 23rd 2006

Furthermore, a symbolic event of great consequence will take place: The Boots will be installed only on the eve of October 23rd and exactly at 9.37pm on October 23rd 2006 the square will be inaugurated (since in 1956, 50 years ago it was exactly at this time that the statue of Stalin was demolished).  That night the square will become a memorial place dedicated to the Fight for Freedom and the Revolution, its axis defined by the Boots and “One Sentence of Tyranny”.  Not one word concerning present-day politics will be uttered from the speakers, only the striking music of Beethoven will be heard.  Everyone will be welcome to bring flowers or light candles at the memorial.  The Witness Square of our contemporary history will be open to visitors all night long, with people forming respectful and orderly queues.  With the help of web cameras, the park’s homepage will broadcast the celebration live, thus throughout the world people will be able to follow the course of events.

Hungary’s history is very recent as far as history is concerned.  If you were in Hungary when this was all happening or know someone who was please leave a comment below.  Thanks for reading this.

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