Port Arthur

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Port Arthur taken from the ship.

Maureen and I attended a talk about Port Arthur and Hobart. At the end of the Port Arthur talk the speaker stated that we would be anchored off shore, because Port Arthur was not a port that could cope with a vessel of our size. In fact, all they could cope with would be small motor boats.
She also mentioned that it would be a 45-minute boat ride from the ship to the shore. At that distance, which I estimated to be about eight to ten miles off shore, I told Maureen that I didn’t think that we would bother going ashore because it could be quite rough for a tender craft (ship’s lifeboats), and as she hated small boats it would not be a particularly pleasant ride.
That evening in the ship’s newsletter the distance (in time) was confirmed and we made plans to remain on the ship.
I was awake early the following morning and I felt the movement of the ship change and looked out of our window. We’d entered sheltered area. I could see land on both sides of the ship so that we were protected from the ocean. As I looked out I could see Port Arthur.
The distance from the shore was nowhere near a forty five minute boat ride, more like fifteen minutes and in fact I timed it and it was twelve minutes from where the Golden Princess anchored.

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At once our plans changed, and we dressed for going ashore.
It was a smooth ride in one of the ship’s tenders to the small pier where we stepped ashore.

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Just a short walk to the ruins of Port Arthur.

Port Arthur was a prison that was created in 1830 to supply timber for various government projects using convict labour.
In 1833 it changed to become a repeat offenders prison for criminals from all over Australia. The prison was modelled on the Pentonville prison in the UK, which was described as a ‘machine for grinding rogues in to honest men.’
Some of the prisoners left Port Arthur with the skills of a trade, blacksmith, carpenters and shipbuilders. Unfortunately others became broken men.
Around the prison was a community of military and free men with their families, who lived normal lives of parties, sailing for fun and literary evenings. Gardens were created, and children went to school within the settlement.
Port Arthur grew to be an industrial settlement, and by 1840 more than 2000 people, who were a mix of convicts, soldiers and free men lived, and worked. They produced bricks, furniture, clothing, boats and ships.
Transportation from the UK to Tasmania ceased in 1853 and the prison became an institution for the aged, mentally& physically ill convicts, and finally closed in 1877.
Many of the bricks from various buildings were sold off very cheaply to locals who used them to build or expand their own homes. The name of Port Arthur was changed to Carnarvon to erase the hated convict links.
Over the years convict stories drew tourists to the area, and by the early 1920’s some of the remaining buildings had become museums.

DSC09916rThe prison was a building of four levels – ground floor and first floor for ‘prisoners of bad character’, with individual cells for each prisoner. The top floor accommodated 480 better behaved prisoners and the third floor was used as a dining area, recreational area, and school for the prisoners.
The prisoners were told that if they behaved they would be rewarded, and moved from the bottom single cells (see single cell photos), to the floor above, still single cells, and so on, until they reached the top floor. If they maintained their reputation as ‘good’ prisoners, they would be allowed the use of the recreational floor.
The picture above, and the one below, is of single cells on the ground floor.

DSC09920cA plaque can be seen in the above photograph, which I have reproduced below.

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Many Australian consider it a badge of honour to have a transported criminal in their family background. Often people will tell you, with pride, that their forefathers were transported for stealing just a loaf of bread or some other small item, but many where habitual criminals and the stealing of the loaf was the last straw for the magistrate. Many were sentenced to seven years and could have returned to the UK after serving their time, but chose to stay in Australia because they had been given ‘tickets of leave’ for good behaviour during their time as a prisoner, and had created a new life in Australia, and eventually became a free man or woman.
I researched my own family tree and found George Woodland, who was convicted in 1790 at the Old Bailey in London, for stealing a coat. He was sentenced to be transported because he had a string of offences. After spending two years on a prison hulk he sailed from Gravesend (which is on the south bank of the Thames) in 1792 as one of 300 males prisoners in Royal Admiral. The ship finally sailed from Torbay, which is on the southern coast of the England, on the 30th May 1792, and arrived in Sydney on the 02nd October of the same year. I found a picture of the Royal Admiral on the internet.

Royal AdmiralGeorge Woodland is listed on the ship’s manifest as John Woodland, but all other information points to George and John being the same person. (Court records etc).
One of the seamen on the ship was also named Woodland (coincidence?), but his Christian name was James.
Maybe the clerk who made out the manifest wrote ‘John’ instead of ‘George’, perhaps being influenced by his shipmate’s name i.e James.

The Royal Admiral was 914 gt, 120 feet (36 mtrs) in length, by 38 feet (11.5 mtrs) beam and had about 481 people onboard, which included several children, 49 female convicts, 20 soldiers, a number of free people, about 50 crew and 300 male prisoners.

DSC09927rFirst floor of the prison.

DSC09928rSecond floor – the metal supports that can be seen are to help keep the walls from collapsing during earthquakes.

DSC09933rGuard Tower – across the road from the prison.

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Many old buildings are missing, but this shows the view down to the water.
The prison is on the left of the picture and the Guard Tower on the right-side of the picture.

DSC09936rA model of the early ‘town’. If it was real I would be standing at the prison looking inland to the town. The building on the bottom right is the Law Courts, the building on the left with the path is the Commandants House, the area in the middle is the Guard Tower and behind that are the officer’s accommodation.

DSC09943rOutside of the Commandant’s home today.

DSC09945rCommandant’s dining room

DSC09947rcViews of his study

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DSC09954rKitchen

DSC09958rI had to take a picture of the recipe.

On each of the Princess cruises that Maureen & I have sailed, the ship always has bread and butter pudding on the menu, which I have found to be very good. I have my grandmother’s hand written note book in which she wrote details of various recipes, and one is Bread and Butter pudding, so I must compare the two – the one above and my grandmother’s written in 1896.

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A single bedroom in the Commandant’s house.

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DSC09962rSitting room

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All of the above is history, but below is the sad fact of today’s world.

On the 28th April in 1996, a gunman opened fire on tourists and staff and murdered thirty-five people, wounding a further twenty-three.

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At the Broad Arrow Café in Port Arthur, where the killings took place there is now a pool of remembrance, and a place of peace and reflection. The café is no longer there.

DSC09972rcDeath has taken its toll, some pain knows no release, but the knowledge of brave compassion shines like a pool of peace.

DSC09973rEach leaf (ceramic leaves I think) in the water represents a murdered victim.

There was such an outrage that within three months the Australian Federal Government and all Australian States changed the law as to the type guns allowed to be owned by citizens. The Federal Government bought back 640,000 guns and had them melted down. With the political will, and courage, gun control is possible.

The killer was sentenced to 35 life sentences without the opportunity of parole, plus 25 years for the remaining 36 charges on 5 other offences (20 attempted murders, 3 counts infliction of grievous bodily harm, the infliction of wounds upon a further 8 persons, 4 counts of aggravated assault and 1 count of unlawfully setting fire to property.

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Twenty years after the event, the pool with the floral tributes near what was the Broad Arrow Café. For more information read this link.  

From the memorial we returned to the ship deep in thought. As we left the shore and started the steady chug back across the water I noticed a RAN (Royal Australian Navy) vessel had arrived.

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The final tender boat arrives as we prepare to sail.

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The gap in the land through which we will sail to the open sea.

String of Pearls

While in Broome we took the opportunity to visit Willie Creek Pearl Farm, which was a fascinating time and very educational. It seems that ‘natural’ salt water pearls are no longer available, and all the pearls that we see are ‘cultured’ if they are the salt water variety. Fresh water pearls are imported mainly from China.

A small bus picked us up at 7.50 am for the 38 km (an hour’s drive) drive to the farm, which is outside the town of Broome.

It wasn’t long before we left the sealed road for the dirt road for the ‘bush’ trip to the farm. Most of the way to the farm seemed to be via the dirt road.

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I loved the way the driver zig zaged to try and miss the bumps and  the teeth shattering ‘corrugated’ parts. The ‘corrugated’ parts being created by the rainy season and baked rock hard by the sun, rather than man made metal.

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Road junction – didn’t require traffic lights or pedestrian crossing.

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As we drew closer to the shore the sand started to get lighter.

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Over the rise and we were in a ‘river’ bed, which floods during the rainy season and during the equinox high tides.

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The farm is just beyond the salt bush trees.

DSC06826rA marine biologist gave us a very interesting talk on oysters . . . .

The oyster above is an oyster with a disease and was dead as he opened the two shells to show us the inside. Nothing is wasted – the meat is exported to Asia, as is the shell. Up to the mid 50’s most buttons were made from mother of pearl i.e the inside shell of an oyster and Broome supplied most of the global raw materials for buttons. In the 1950’s plastic buttons replaced the traditional shell buttons and the industry collapsed.

To create a pearl a specialist opens a live oyster and places a small piece of Mississippi mussel in to the oysters gonard. Over time this irritant is covered by nacre (a slimy solution, showing white at the bottom of the shell) by the oyster to protect itself. After the operation the oyster is returned to a special area to recover (the oyster can be left out of the water for about eight hours without any ill effects.) It is placed in special nets and hung two metres below sea level in tidal water. They feed from nutrients in the water as the tide rises and falls. The oysters are cleaned regularly and checked for disease, and they are rotated so that the nacre coats the pearl area in an even regular way, which produces a round pearl. If it was left alone gravity would cause the pearl to grow ‘flatter’ at one end.

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DSC06829rAs the talk went on the speaker took a small tool and gently looked to see if this oyster had a pearl -he did not go ‘digging’, even though the oyster was dead.

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I could see something and clicked away like mad.

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It was a peal

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The average peal can take two years to be produced, after which the oyster is opened and examined by a specialist, and if he thinks the oyster is in good health he will place the oyster back in the holding nets for another two years, after which he will check the pearl again for size and condition. Sometime he will leave it for a further two years to gain a larger pearl. After this talk, and realising the skill involved, I now know why pearls are so expensive.

DSC06837rWe took a boat trip out to one of the holding pens.

DSC06841rThe tide is coming in – note the level of the bank – the tide rises and falls 9.5 meters ( 31 feet) and the water is pristine.

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The above pic is out of order (we are on our return), because we were only on the water a little over half an hour and you can see how high the water had risen in such a short time.

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Below the surface the oyster nets hang from rope stretched between buoys.

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We were shown an oyster that had been checked that morning only to be found that it had a disease on its outer shell. If not treated the disease would cause cracking in the shell, which would allow predators to get through the shell or the hinge and kill the oyster.

DSC06845r The red area is the disease. This disease has been carried from over seas in contaminated fishing boats. The pearl industry has spent a great deal of time, energy and money looking for a ‘cure’ for the problem. They found it when they realised that if they increased the salinity this would kill the red disease without damaging the oyster. So by using swimming pool salt and rubbing it all over the out shell and then placing the oyster in a special brine over time the disease would die and not the oyster.

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Oyster boat used to check the health of the oysters. The ‘hinge’ or join of the two shells to make a single oyster can become encrusted with sea creatures and the oyster farmer employs back packers to use a special tool to scrape the foreign matter from the hinge area. The back packers live on a mother ship and use the above boats for close work with the nets. They may be on the mother ship for three or four weeks, with the occasional run ashore. The act of scraping sounds a simple job, but we were told that within ten minutes the scraper’s arm starts to ache and it goes on aching for the rest of the day. I held the tool and it was quite heavy, and with actually dragging it along an encrusted oyster shell I could understand the arm ache.

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At the end of the tour we were invited for tea and cake and Maureen met their tame crocodile.

Later we were shown around the ‘shop’ and given a talk on how to value pearls via the shape, size, colour and complexion. (SSCC) and the young man picked Maureen to were a particular string.

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We were asked to guess the value of various pearls and necklaces. The above around Maureen’s neck had a value of just over $35,000. What a  String of Pearls

Overall it was a great day out.

 

Don’t be a Pest in Budapesht

Check the pronunciation of Budapest – it ends as ‘pesht’ not ‘pest’.

On arrival at Budapest station from Prague we had to buy our onward tickets to Vienna. I’d tried to buy them over the internet, but Hungary’s rail system would not allow this to happen. We found the office for international tickets and entered, only to be greeted by a packed booking section. Every nationality you could think of seemed to be hanging around waiting for a free window. I looked around and realised that I had to take a ticket from a machine to secure a place in the queue. My number was 502 and the flashing light board was calling for 470. It was going to be a long afternoon.
My friend returned to our wives and warned them that it was going to be a long wait. We didn’t wish to go to the hotel, and then have to come back the following day, because this would have used up too much time. After about forty-five minutes my number was called and I was able to speak to a very helpful lady, even though my Hungarian was nil, and her English was intermittent. Eventually I understood that she wanted to sell me a return ticket to Vienna, when I only wanted a single. After a bit more broken chat and sign language I grasped that the return ticket was much cheaper than the single, so I was quite happy to buy the return. This lady saved us enough money to pay for our evening meal! Now that’s customer service.

In Budapest we stayed at the Hotel Victoria overlooking the Danube – what more could one ask?

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These two pictures show the view from our bedroom window –

We had a good size room – picture window over looking the River Danube where we could see the Chain bridge and the Parliament building. The breakfasts in the small dining room were good and the hotel offered plenty of choice, and eggs to order. In the evening we were offered a happy hour system based on buy one – get one free from 5.30 to 6.30 pm, which we used before heading out for our evening meal. They also offer free wi-fi, and I never had a problem with signal strength on the seventh floor.

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Like Prague we found that Budapest was easy to get round so we just walked everywhere. We did do a ‘free’ walk – donate what amount you think the walk was worth at the end. It was an interesting three hours and we ended up at the ‘castle’ at the top. The castle is more a large house where the President lives rather than a castle as in the Welsh or English castles. The guide was entertaining as well as being educational. He was well worth his money. The tour ended in the basement area of the Hilton Hotel. When they excavated for the hotel’s foundations they discovered an old church, which walls have been incorporated into the Hilton area.

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The guide outside where the President lives and in the basement of the Hilton Hotel just before the end of the tour, you can see the old wall of the church.

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This is not Disney Land, but the Fisherman’s Bastion. The name is taken from the guild of fishermen who defended this area in the middle ages. From this area you have a spectacular view of the city and the river. DSC01358r

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The local market in Budapest has been voted as the best market in Europe for 2013, I would argue that point, but it was still interesting to visit. We bought a few items, but overall we found this market to be expensive. It was much more expensive than Prague.

The following day we decided to visit the Hero’s Square and worked it out that it was too far to walk, so we would go by train. We bought the tickets and saw that a train was about to leave so hurried and caught it just as the doors were about to close. We checked the map on the train wall and decided that we were on the correct train. It took us a couple of station before we realised that we were on the wrong train, and we were on our way to a country area. The local station where we alighted from the train was a quiet station, where the public crossed the railway line to gain access to the train going the other way. Unacceptable in many stations so close to major cities in Australia – but when in Rome.

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On returning to our starting point we had to buy new tickets because the tickets we purchased had already been validated and the guard would not allow us back in to the system. There wasn’t one guard at the top of the escalators, but three arm waving guards blocking our way. We’d boarded a country train instead of a metro. A simple mistake because the ticket seller had waved us to the appropriate platform, and as all the platforms were underground, we thought we had boarded the metro system. The metro system was further underground which we only realised after we’d bought our second set of tickets for the trip. Education can be expensive . . .
We eventually reached our destination.
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It was an impressive square come plaza. The square was created at the end of the 19th century to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary in 895AD.

 

 

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At the centre of the square is the Millennium Monument – designed in 1894, but not completed for another 35 years. Around the base of the monument are equestrian statues honouring the chieftains of the seven Hungarian tribes who conquered the area now known as Hungary. The figure at the top of the column is the Archangel Gabriel with his trumpet.

We walked back to the city centre along a single very interesting street.

After lunch in the city we took a short cruise around Margaret Island. Along the Pest bank we saw a number of river cruise boats.

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On our third night the phone rang at midnight and we were warned that a 50 kilo World War Two bomb had been found not far from the hotel. We were informed that the police had visited two hotels, the Victoria being one of them, and that we had to be out of the hotel by 7.00 am as a precaution, before the bomb squad could begin their work. Breakfast would be served from 5.30 am instead of the normal time of 7.00 am. We were not allowed back until 3 pm, after the all clear had been given. On returning, the hotel management gave us a bottle of wine as a ‘thank you’ for our cooperation. A very nice gesture considering that the incident had nothing to do with the hotel, and they didn’t have as choice, but to evacuate everyone. Our location was the Buda side of the river, close to restaurants and bars. We found this side of the river to be a little cheaper than the more popular Pest side. The Victoria is located a short stroll from the Chain Bridge, so visiting Pest was good for our daily exercise as we crossed the river via this bridge. If we return to Budapest we wouldn’t have any hesitation in booking the Victoria again.

We left the hotel at 7.00 am during the bomb scare and walked across the bridge to the Pest side of the Danube and turned left along the riverbank. We were looking for an unusual monument.

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Looking back across the river to our hotel area in the Buda.

The above pictures are of the memorial that honours the Jews who were killed by Arrow Cross militiamen during WW2. The Jews were ordered to remove their shoes, and were then shot so that their bodies fell in to the water and were carried away by the river flow. The shoes today are iron shoes in the style of the 1940s and they have been attached to the embankment. A very moving experience to stand and watch the river flow past the shoes, while your mind tries to visualise the horrors of  the war years.

We had four nights, and three very pleasant days in Budapest, a city well worth visiting. I’d go back in a flash if getting there wasn’t so expensive from Australia.

Night time views from outside our hotel.

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Next, it was all aboard for another train ride, but this time to Vienna.

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Budapest station and our train arriving

It was a short drive from the hotel to the main train station where a porter enquired of our destination and class of travel.
On learning that we were first class he showed us to the special lounge and pointed out the refreshments.
Later, as the train approached the same porter entered the lounge and asked us to follow him.
DSC01468rThe porter showed us to our carriage and loaded our bags in to the storage area. He made sure we were in our correct seats and turned to leave. At no time had he indicated that he was doing anything but his job, and seemed surprised and pleased when he received a gratuity. To say I was impressed is an understatement, when all of the bars and restaurants point out that service charge is included or not included and tell you how much they expect (as a percentage) as a tip, even if the service is lousy. Our porter was a fine example of a man offering excellent service for the wage that he was paid.
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First Class coach Budapest to Vienna – we had a table for four.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

We visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp after meeting our ‘walking’ guide at the Berlin Zoo suburban station. He escorted us to the main Berlin station to catch the train for the fifty minute trip to Oranienburg, which is the nearest station to the camp. On arrival this guide handed us over to a camp guide.

From the railway station to the camp it is a 20-minute walk through the town. As we arrived at the camp local houses where pointed out to us, because they used to be the houses where the camp commander and his senior officers lived.

Our camp guide was a German tour guide, so it was interesting to hear how he explained the various facts of the camp.

He was knowledgeable and overall ‘neutral’ about the history and the various details of what happened in the camp. He did not dwell on the atrocities or make any comments.

At the conclusion of the tour he told us that the camp tour was the hardest tour for any tour guide, because the guides considered it disrespectful to make the normal friendly jokes to help the tourist to feel relaxed.

I studied the build up to World War Two, and the rise of Hitler, at college; so to visit this camp was a very moving experience because it brought to ‘life’ the Nazi era of the late 1930’s.

If you have the time while in Berlin it is a ‘must see’ place just to make sure that the world doesn’t repeat this type of history.

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Work makes you free

The main gate.

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Killing ground if you step off the path
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You have been warned, step in to this area and you will be shot.
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Whipping post remains.

Prisoners were strung up by their wrist and flogged.

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Each shingle base is the remains of a single hut. There were 50 barracks for the prisoners, plus barracks for the guards etc.

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Enlarged pic of the white indicator in the previous picture.

This is the burial ground of the ashes of the victims of the concentration camp. As you see the photo above shows a small wall with stones on the top. The stones were placed there by Jewish visitors in remembrance of the murdered Jews.

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Remains of some of the ovens.
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Closer view of the ovens.

 

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The camp was liberated by the Russians and this shows the monument to them, which is within the camp.

The camp was created in 1936 to house political prisoners, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a small number of Jews.The Jewish numbers increased greatly later. Thousands of Russian & Polish civilians, and later in 1941, 12,000 Russian prisoners of war were also sent to this camp, most died.

Visiting the camp takes a full day, and is a very sobering experience. I am glad that I had the experience, but I can not comprehend why or how anyone could be so calculating barbaric and inhuman, to another human being.

The photographs above are just a small sample of the many that I took during our visit.

 

 

 

 

Trains . . . .

There’s not many boys who didn’t have an interest in trains at one time or another.

Trains

My interest started when I saved pocket money towards a Triang train set, and the love of trains has never left me – although my original train set did.

With grandchildren one can ‘remember’ to a certain extent when they allow you to play with Thomas the Tank Engine.  :-o)

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Not so long ago the thought of a train holiday around Europe took hold.

Why not fly in to Frankfurt and then use the high speed trains to move from country to country at leisurely, stress free, and economical way.

The last time I traveled on a German train was in 1960, when,as a member of the YHA I was youth hosteling along the Rhine, so how to plan and buy tickets in 2013?

Some years earlier I’d come across a very interesting site called The Man in Seat 61 http://www.seat61.com/ so I clicked on this site for advice on creating a holiday for four using the rail system. The site had expanded greatly since my last visit.

After a little research I logged in to the German rail system http://www.bahn.com/i/view/overseas/en/index.shtml and bought four tickets from Frankfurt to Berlin. While buying the tickets I was also allowed to pick the seats that I wanted, and because there were four of us I wanted us to sit around a table. The booking system is very like the airline system.

I picked the departure time and paid for the tickets using my credit card, and printed out the tickets at home in Sydney – couldn’t have been easier.

After checking the difference between the prices of a Standard ticket and First Class, I chose First Class, because I’d never traveled first class on a train before, and the difference was not as much as I expected – nothing like the huge difference between economy and business class on a plane.

We flew in to Frankfurt with Qatar Airlines and stayed at a local airport hotel for the night. A taxi, next morning, had us at the main Frankfurt railways station about forty five minutes before departure. Being First Class we had use of the lounge, which was nothing startling, but was OK for coffee and biscuits. We were called to board about ten minutes before departure so we were able to watch our train arrive in to Frankfurt station.

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The train was an ICE train (Inter-city Express) which left Frankfurt dead on time. Would you expect anything else from a German train?

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The seating in First Class is 1 x 2, and less crowded. There is nothing wrong with 2nd class, which is 2 x 2 seating, with similar leg room and comfort, but I wanted to travel 1st class by train, at least once in my life.

Using the ICE train, which traveled at up to 200 km per hour, the journey took us around four hours and was very pleasant.

We had four days in Berlin, which was long enough for a taste, but nowhere near long enough to experience Berlin life.

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Part of Berlin Railway Station (Hauptbahnhof)

 

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Brandenburg Gate

 

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Memorial to the Jews of Europe
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East Berlin
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Inside the Reichstag Building

 

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Indicator of the Berlin wall

Check point

Check point 1965

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2013
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Warning when crossing during the Cold War, if you an see it for tourists today.

We visited a concentration camp, which is about 50 minutes by train outside Berlin – see next post.

After four nights we moved on to Prague, Czech Republic, again by train, but this time we used the Czech train system.

Funafuti

After leaving Tarawa it was a short 805 mile flight to Funafuti, Tuvalu,

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but it still took about three hours in the HS 148. The aircraft carried more freight than it did passengers, because not many people visited Funafuti, other than returning residents, and the occasional businessman, i.e your truly.

As we made our approach to land I could see a long green field, which I realised was the landing strip for this ‘airport.’ Wheels down for landing and all of a sudden we banked and aborted the landing because the local children were using the landing field for a game of football! Round we went and this time the strip was clear of children and dogs.

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The aircraft came to a halt near a small concrete structure.
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Steps were pushed out to the aircraft, and we disembarked. One of the crew stood at the bottom of the stairs and waved towards the small concrete construction. At first glance I was reminded of a large garage come work shop, until I realised this was the immigration and customs post.

An officer, in traditional island dress of sandals, and lungi tied at the waist, and a uniform shirt stood waiting at one side of a concrete table with a stamp and an ink pad. I was welcomed to Tuvalu and my passport was stamped. Customs asked if I had anything to declare – I said No, and was waved through the concrete area to a grass patch outside the open walled government building.

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Local people milled around on both sides of the ‘security area’, some helping to unload the cargo from the plane, others had just come to see what was happening as part of the day’s entertainment. The sun was hot and nobody moved at any great pace – I was on island time, and I should relax.

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I anticipated that my business would not take more than a day, but due to flight schedules I was going to be ‘island bound’ over the weekend. I’d arrived on Friday, and booked my onward ticket to Fiji for Monday. I looked around for an airline employee to confirm my onward flight and found a young lady in a island skirt and an airline type blouse. I asked her if I could confirm my flight for Monday – she looked at me and asked if I was the business man from Sydney?
I confirmed that I was, and she then told me that as I was the only person who wished to go to Fiji on Monday, they were not going to bring a plane in just for me – I was told to come back the following Wednesday!

Eventually I found my way to the local hotel (Vaiaku Lagi Hotel, government run and the only hotel on the island) and checked-in. I was given a room over looking the lagoon; it was air-conditioned. Later I found out that most of the rooms didn’t have air-conditioning, which would be a problem for Europeans. The only other guest was a Japanese merchant seaman waiting for his ship to return. He’d been put ashore for medical treatment. He couldn’t speak English, and most of my Japanese, picked up during my time on the Japanese coast, had faded in to history. He did teach me how to play Othello and I liked it so much that I bought the game for my children on my return to Sydney.

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This is a picture of Vaiaku Lagi Hotel taken recently.

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I doubt that this view would have changed much – the view is across the lagoon from the hotel guest rooms.

After unpacking my few things I made my way to the bar and asked the  barman, who was also the  check-in / doorman / waiter and I am not sure what else, what type of cold beer did the hotel stock. ‘We have Fosters’ was the reply – ‘What other kind of beer?’ I asked not being a great fan of Fosters beer.jpg – ‘We have Fosters’ was his reply at which point he opened the door of a very large walk-in fridge behind the counter, allowing me to see that the fridge was stacked high with cartons of Fosters beer and nothing else. ‘I’ll have a Fosters !’ I said with a smile on my face.
‘Supply ship just unloaded, the other day, plenty of Fosters’ was his comment while pouring the glass of cold beer. At times like this Foster’s was the nectar of the Gods.

In the evening I decided to stay in the hotel for my evening meal. The hotel didn’t have a menu, the Japanese and myself were asked what we would like to eat.

I asked what was the choice and was told fish or meat. I asked if the fish was fresh and was told that it had arrived in the morning, so I chose the fish. The meat was a mixture of chicken (locally grown) and meat from Australia, which was expensive.

I asked for salad with the fish and was told that they didn’t have any, just vegetables – so I ordered the vegetables, which when they arrived turned out to be from a tin – I was hoping in such a lush climate to have really fresh vegetables. Let’s say it was a disappointment.
I asked if they had any cold white wine to go with the fish – ‘We have Fosters’ was the reply.

Later in the evening while listening to the radio in the bar, I heard the news, and included in the news was the fact that a business man from Sydney had arrived that afternoon. Was this my fifteen minutes of fame, or was the radio station really hard up to fill broadcasting time?

I completed my business the following morning and decided after lunch to have a look around Funafuti.

Knowing that there wouldn’t be any aircraft landing between that Saturday afternoon and Wednesday, and noticing that the immigration and customs posted had been abandoned, I walked across the football pitch, come runway, to the other side of the island. I passed huts inside a fenced area and wondered what this area was because the gate was wide open.

Prison

On reaching the water’s edge (the opposite side of the island from the lagoon) I watched Pacific ocean rollers charging towards the little island and smashing their way on to huge man made blocks, which dissipated their energy. I was grateful for the blocks, because the highest point on the island was only fifteen feet (4.5 meters) above sea level.

It was later that I found out about the gated area was the local prison. The above picture is a recent photograph. I did ask why the gate was open and was told – ‘Where are the prisoners going to escape to?’.

The population of all the atolls making up Tuvalu was around 8,500 people, but the limited usable land created a high density of population at 340 people per square kilometer in 1987, which was during my visit.

Everything shut down late Saturday and the only entertainment for me was sitting in the hotel bar with a book and the occasional game of Othello. Trying to get through to Sydney by phone, to keep them informed of my movements, helped pass the time. The fact that they had no idea that I was not lying on a beach in a fancy beach side resort somewhere in the tropics, didn’t help matters.

Sunday was a drag, but Monday was far more exciting after the post office opened at 10.00 am, because I was interested in stamps, and at that time I collected stamps from certain Pacific Islands. It turned out that philatelists are one of the best contributors to the Tuvaluan economy, along with cash sent home by Tuvaluan seaman working on foreign ships.

The enforced rest can be a strain knowing that all your plans have been shot to pieces and communication with the outside world was difficult. E-mailing was still in the future, as was the mobile phone.

Overall I enjoyed my enforced rest in Tuvalu, because it was completely different place than anywhere else that I had visited.

Eventually I was back at the airport waiting for the plane to Suva in Fiji. Large international airlines use Nadi but as we would be a propeller job it would be Suva, which is the capital.

The airline that was supposed to fly us ( fourteen passengers) failed to show and a substitute had to be found – Sunflower Airlines from Fiji. Sunflower Our aircraft, was built in 1956! It was over thirty years old when I boarded.

The aircraft sat seven a side, and operated with a pilot and co-pilot. Forget any cabin crew, and the rear toilet was blocked in with cargo and passenger bags. The picture above shows the aircraft at Nadi airport in Fiji, not the grass strip in Funafuti.

The aircraft turned up and we  fourteen brave souls boarded. Once all on board we taxied out to the end of the grass runway. The door between the two pilots on the ‘flight deck’ and the passengers wouldn’t close and banged and banged as we trundled along the runway in the hope of gaining enough speed to lift off the ground. At last I felt the plane rise in to the clear blue sky.

The distance to Suva was 915 miles and our top speed was around 183 mph according the to the manufacturer in 1956 . . . so we had four hours to hope that nothing would go wrong.

The noise of the engines killed all hope of conversation across the aisle, so I watched the pilots manhandling the joystick to keep the aircraft level in a slow climb. We never did get too high and I found it fascinating to watch the ocean waves break below. This view was something one didn’t normally see, unless you were coming in to land over water. The breaking waves accompanied us all the way to Fiji.

Two hours in to the flight the co-pilot comes out and shouts that it is lunch time, and bends down to grab a cardboard box from under the seat of the first passenger. He then walks slowly down the aisle and hands to each passenger either a coca cola or a lemonade. None of the passengers were offered a choice. I was handed a lemonade and was about to open it when the passenger across the aisle spoke to the co-pilot stating that he didn’t like coca cola. Immediately my lemonade was whisked from my grasp and replaced with a coca cola – the guy across aisle received my lemonade.

The co-pilot returned to the front of the plane and pulled another box from under the first seat on the other side of the aircraft. This was our lunch – plastic wrapped sandwiches – and he was not going to get in to a conversation about likes or dislikes, because the sandwiches came through the air and the passenger was expected to catch his lunch.

It was fortunate that we were only given one small drink because there was no way we could have climbed over the cargo to get to the lavatory.

Although I am not a Catholic, I can sympathies with the Pope when he steps off an aircraft and kisses the ground, because most of us wanted to do that in Suva!

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The picture shows what is left of this aircraft at  Bankstown Airport in Sydney. Picture was taken in 2004.

 

 

Pacific Islands

In the late 1980’s I used to visit various Pacific Islands on business (someone had to do it!).

On one trip I flew Sydney, Nauru, Tarawa (in Kiribati), Funafuti (Tuvalu), Suva (Fiji).
Kiribati – pronounced Kir-i-bahss – which is the Gilbertese for Gilbert Island, and Tuvalu is the new name of the Ellis Islands, as in Gilbert and Ellis Islands, which used to be a British protectorate until 1974 when they became the independent countries, Kiribati and Tuvalu, after they held a referendum.

I flew from Nauru on Air Nauru to Tarawa.001

The parking of aircraft in Nauru was simple – leave them alongside the main road in a lay-by. The island is so isolated that security was ‘limited’ at that time. The traffic had to stop for the aircraft to cross the road to allow passengers to board.

Tarawa is the name of the main atoll of Kiribati and the capital on Tarawa is Betio. (pronounced ‘bay- she – oh’)

Tarawa is remember for some very heavy fighting by the Americans, against the Japanese during WW2, and the beach on which I walked still showed the remains of landing craft, small tanks or amtracs and pieces of aircraft, along with defensive pillboxes manned by the Japanese.

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As I looked out over the 800 to 1200 yard coral reef, (see picture below) across which the troops had to fight their way ashore under withering machine gun fire, I could feel the ghosts of those brave men who died that November day in 1943.

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The area of the Betio atoll, is three miles long by half a mile wide. 1,115 Americans were killed or listed as missing, and 2,234 were wounded. Of the 4700 Japanese troops defending the island only seventeen were captured, along with 129 Koreans. It was estimated that 4690 Japanese died defending this now forgotten part of the Pacific.

The Americans had to estimate how many troops were defending the atoll. The best guess was about 3100 men, which was reasonably accurate, considering that they were unable to send in reconnaissance units to obtain a more accurate number. The Americans realised from aerial photographs, that the Japanese built their latrines over water, in multi-holed wooden buildings. By counting the number of latrines they worked out the relationship between the number of backsides and to a latrine and estimated 3100 troops!

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Defending the beach I saw eight inch guns still point out to sea. When I visited Betio I was told (not by locals) that the guns had been removed from Singapore, after the fall of that island, and transported to the Pacific to defend Tarawa. Later I read that the Imperial War Museum in London stated that Singapore didn’t have any eight inch guns for the Japanese to capture, so they couldn’t have been transferred to Tarawa from Singapore. They were in fact manufactured in Britain for a 1905 contract to supply eight inch and twelve inch guns to the Japanese navy. The Tarawa defensive guns appear to have been part of the 1905 contract.

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The above pictures show the Japanese HQ building with shell a machine gun damage, which when I visited was being used a simple squash court.

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 The above shows what is left of a captured Japanese bomber strip, which allowed the Americans to carry the war to other islands.
The modern airport is about a twenty minute drive from this area.

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The above picture is to show how shallow the soil is on Tarawa – this is a local grave yard. After the war the American causalities, from this battle, were laid to rest in the war cemetery in Hawaii.
The marking of the grave’s perimeter, in many cases, was often done by using empty glass bottles – beer bottles and soft drink bottles.

 On completion of my business in Kiribati I flew to Funafuti the capital of Tuvalu with  Airline of the Marshall Islands. Quite a noisy trip.001