Inspiration (or rather the lack of it)

Off late, it’s become quite a mundane existence for me. I do collect lots of things but then don’t do anything with them – art supplies, craft stuff, kitchen appliances, exercise things, photography stuff, subscriptions to lessons, learning urls, pins on pinterest, to name a few. It’s as if there is no desire to create anything because of the feeling of the futility of it all. And I don’t know how to get out of it or whether there is even a need to do that. Is it the classic midlife crisis or is it do with the fact that I’ve had to make so many trips to the docs last year to figure out the cause for my food sensitivities (without success) ?

May be getting to see the sun again, would reset my batteries. I didn’t want to put this out as the entry on the topic of Inspiration but I find the pic above (the napping bird at a zoo) so hilarious that I just thought of sharing it nonetheless even if at the moment it is used to depict the lack of inspiration.


The Best of Athens

First of all a very Happy New Year to us. Hope that it brings beautiful times and fulfillment of our wishes, while we take another trip around the sun!

It’s been almost two months since my visit to Athens but I can still not stop thinking about it. Despite having lost a lot of my photos (don’t worry, the tears have dried now – mostly), I still have a stash that I can look at and re-live the moments when I exclaimed, chuckled or simply just stood lost in time. Enjoy the photos.

An ancient kid’s potty, along with the instruction manual!
The Lucky Pigeons who get to eat Olives!
Interesting it supposed to entice you to buy stuff?
So, this moment and village is super important as that’s giving me the visa-free chance to see Europe!
Pillars of the Temple of Zeuss, with Acropolis in the distance on the hill; how magnificent it’d have been in its time!
Exploring the Aegean Sea, same as so many ancient sailors would’ve (but I had wifi aboard!)
And the beautiful sunset over the Aegean Sea
The Real-life slo-mo movement of the Guard at the Parliament (Syntagma)!
A sign on the ground telling you to be aware of the pickpockets!
A museum about the school system in Greece! Took me back to my school days…oh the good ol’ days..

Beautiful Orange Trees laden with fruits throughout the city!

Paris Once Again

Sometimes it’s just a matter of saying out aloud what you want to do and by some juxtaposition of stars, you are brought in touch with the right people and the rest just works out.

So my second trip to Paris – 13 years after the first one in 2005 – materialized quite like this. I had read an article about which palace was the original that made Louis XIV take notice and order the construction of his own palace on a much grander scale at Versailles. Since my friend C, loves both France and art & architecture, I shared this article with her, mentioning that I haven’t even seen Versailles yet and now there is this one which is said to be the original! She said we could make a trip. I jumped at the chance and we made plans to go there over the last weekend of April. And there, just like that, on a nice Spring weekend, we were in Paris.


On our way

As it so happens, C has some really nice friends M and P, in a small town close to Paris. They graciously offered to have us as guests in their home. It is a beautiful and completely different experience of staying with someone local as compared to staying in a hotel! I am so very grateful to M and P for their hospitality and of course to C, for introducing me to such a nice family.

We reached their home in the night and after exchanging pleasantries and chatting for some time, we went to sleep. In the morning, after a lovely breakfast, P drove us to the station from where C and I could take the train to Paris. That is definitely better than driving into the city.  Since both of us have seen Paris, C more times than me, so this time, we decided to take a guided walking tour of the city. This was something that neither of us had done before and this way, one gets to know the stories which one cannot know when exploring a city on her own. We managed to reach the venue on time, despite the small unexpected inconvenience of the metro stop, where we wanted to reach, being closed for repairs. The tour was to start from the fountain of St. Michel. There was quite a number of people interested in the tour, so we were divided into a few groups. We got a guide who was British (possibly a student) and had been living in the city since a few years.

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St. Michael

So the history of Paris starts, of course, from a long time ago but the guide started with the history of Napoleon’s Paris. In 1804, after Napoleon became Emperor, he started projects to make Paris grand like ancient Rome. The Arc de Triomphe, three bridges on the river Seine,  wide street Rue de Rivoli, are some of the landmarks for which the credit goes to Napoleon. Some years after his death, his nephew and heir  Napoleon III became the president of the second Republic of France. Paris was decaying at that time – the population having grown too big for the infrastructure. So in 1853, he tasked the architect Georges-Eugene Haussmann to make the city modern like London. To do that, he had to bulldoze off huge parts of central Paris to make way for the big streets and modern sewage system. That was the birth of Paris as we know it today. However, he had to face a lot of backlash for his work – political of course, as the whole idea of second Empire, hence Napoleon III and by association Georges-Eugene was not liked by the republicans like Victor Hugo (“Les Miserables”). So he had to be sacked by the emperor due to political pressure.

With this introduction, we moved on and reached Notre Dame. Here we were told about the ancient history of Paris. In around 250 BC, there was a celtic fishing tribe of the name Parisii which settled on the island  “Ile de la Cite”. That’s the center of Paris today.  In 52 BC, the Romans took over and established the town called Lutetia. The construction of the cathedral of Notre Dame was started in 1163 AD and finished in 1345 AD. The style changed from Roman to Gothic with thinner walls, bigger windows, stained glass designs and the height of the ceiling. The left tower is wider than the right one and it was a deliberate imperfection. Probably because of the notion that only God himself can have perfect creations.


The Notre Dame

In 1792-93, a cult arose in France – the Cult of Reason and Notre Dame became its biggest center. It was an atheistic philosophy against the Roman Catholicism during the French Revolution. This cathedral and several others in France were converted to Temples of Reason. The cult lost its steam sometime in 1794 when its leaders got executed. Thereafter, Notre Dame was abandoned. It became a wine and gunpowder warehouse for some time. In the winter of 1804, Napoleon invited Pope Pious from Rome to get himself coronated as the emperor. Anecdote says that things didn’t go as expected by Napoleon when the Pope didn’t want to give him the crown. Then Napoleon snatched the crown from the Pope and crowned himself. But nobody of course can say that for sure. The only fact about the event that’s known is that Napoleon placed the crown on his head himself. Fast forward to 20th century – during the WWII, the headquarter of SS in Paris was right opposite Notre Dame!

From there we walked towards the Sainte Chapelle. Built in the Gothic style, it was the Royal chapel in the 13th century. It was constructed on the orders of Louis IX to house the religious relics that he had collected, the most famous being the crown of thorns that Jesus was supposed to have worn before the crucifixion. Looking back at my blog post from my first trip, I should have known this but of course, 13 years is a long time!

Then of course, we saw the Le Conciergerie – which is such a beautiful building but used to be a prison at one point from where poor Marie Antoinette was taken for her execution. The guide told us that she was more the victim of propaganda than being a really bad person in reality. She was just like the other royals of her time. The revolution would have taken place – with or without her. With her being of foreign origin, the mob found it more convincing that she didn’t care about them (which the French origin royals didn’t do either, but you know..) and made her the target of their hatred.

Walking down, we reached the Pont Noeuf. We found a nice spot in the shade to sit down while the tour guide told us the stories about this bridge. It is the oldest standing bridge in Paris – having been completed in the beginning of the 1600s.


Pont Noeuf

“Noeuf” means new but then you have to see that it was the new bridge at the time it was made :-). The expenses for this bridge were covered by having a tax on wine that was brought into the city – sounds to me like a version of “Import Duty”! Henry IV, who made the completion of the bridge possible, was raised a Protestant in Catholic France but he converted to Catholicism to make things easier in those religio-political times. But that didn’t work out for as he would have wanted it to  – he was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic. Anyway, about the bridge. There are ~381 stone heads called “mascarons” on the walls of the bridge. They have all possible human expressions on them. One story goes that the king threw a party. Then the artist captured the faces of drunk people and made these. Another one goes that they may be based on the faces of the husbands of the numerous mistresses that the king had! Who knows the purpose of anything anyway?

After sitting there for a while, we moved towards the Pont de Artes – Bridge of Art. It was made in 1801 or so and it was the first bridge to be made of iron in Paris. It connects the Louvre to Institut de France across the Seine.


Bridge of Art leading to Institut de Franc

The fame today of that bridge, however, is because of the crazy trend of putting love locks on the bridge that started in 2008! The city had to remove about 45 tons of locks in 2015 from the bridge as they were weighing it down. And now, there is one pole only where the locks can be put. Anecdote – the trend of love locks seems to have started in Serbia with the first one having been locked in Belgrade.

The bridge is supposed to be for art and it was interesting to see the “find the card” game artists there who could very “artfully” make you part with your money :-).  The Institut de France, consists of five academies, the oldest of which is the Academie Francaise. This academie was established in 1635 by none other than Cardinal Richelieu (remember him from The Three Musketeers?)! There are forty members in this academie who are called Les Immortels! These people have the official authority on everything about the French language. If you have heard a French sounding word and there is no way to find if it is of French origin or not, you can send it to them and they would figure it out!

Then we walked towards the Louvre. It used to be a Fortress earlier and then a royal palace. Now – it is the house of Monalisa, and a lot of other treasures. I had gone inside the Louvre in my first trip to Paris a long time ago. It’s just impossible to see everything there in one trip. While the guide was explaining something about the Louvre, I found a chestnuts vendor and bought a few chestnuts. The aroma of freshly roasted chestnuts is so tempting! So I missed some of what he talked about the museum but there was anyway, more pleasure for me in the chestnuts at that point than what he was saying!


The Louvre

The tour ended at the Tuileries Garden. The guide told us the story of how Paris was this close to being being ravaged to dust in the second world war by the German army but for the intervention of a Swedish diplomat! He also told us that despite the Eiffel Tower being today the symbol of Paris, the Parisians actually hated it when it was constructed (and may be even today :-)). I read somewhere that one famous writer hated it so much that to avoid looking at it, he would dine in the restaurant situated on the Eiffel Tower! My memory of it from my first visit is that it was a cold autumn night and all I was interested in after taking the boat ride in Seine prior to climbing the tower, was a restroom, but which we couldn’t find anywhere, until we reached the second floor of the Eiffel Tower!

Back to spring 2018, the tour ended and we took our leave.  I am so glad that I could finally complete this post. And now that the momentum is set, I believe I can complete this long pending travelogue. The next post will detail out I what we did next on our first day in Paris. Until then, au revoir..

Budapest – The Journey (3)

After all the walking around in Pest and then in Buda and getting some context and orientation, I wanted to go back to all the places to see them in more detail and to some others which I hadn’t even had a glimpse of. Also, I wanted to eat something. So decided to go back to the Pest side. One of the tips given by the guide was to take the Tram no. 2 – which runs between the stops Közvágóhíd and Jászai Mari tér along the river Danube. After some confusion with choosing between two trams (at that time, I didn’t know that Jászai Mari tér was the final stop of the oncoming one and though there were two lines, the trams on both sides would be going in the same direction after some minutes and so I missed the one that was starting earlier), I was on my way. Got down at the Szalay Utca stop which was close to the Parliament. Walked around a bit soaking in some sun and taking beautiful pics of the parliament and also some other beautiful buildings in the center of Kossuth Square.


Tram no. 2 passing in front of Museum of Ethnography

Then instead of boarding the tram again, I walked around a bit and found the memorial for the holocaust victims along the river side. It was really heart breaking to see those metal shoes placed along the river bank with some people having left flowers in those shoes. It is in memory of the Jewish people of Budapest who were made to stand on the river bank after having made them take off their shoes and then shot into the river.


It was a really bright sunny day but the breeze was quite cold and I had to keep my woolen cap on. I boarded the tram again, only to get down at the next stop. I walked around and reached the statue of Charlie, the policeman.


Tradition is to rub the belly of Charlie – that would explain the bright shiny belly – to guarantee a good meal in Budapest :-). Might have worked because some time later, while I was searching for food, I reached a lovely restaurant that offered awesome pad-thai!

But before that lovely meal, I also went inside the imposing St. Stephan’s Basilica. It’s interesting to know that the church was actually not too old. It was completed in 1905, after 54 long years of construction and is named after the first king of Hungary. There was a collapse of the dome in 1868, which might explain the delay! It is 96 meters high and the second building of the same height is the Parliament. No building in Budapest can be made taller than 96 meters as per the current regulations.


St. Stephan’s Basilica

I was quite impressed with the decoration inside – it was very elaborate and golden color was quite dominant. The architecture style is Neo-Classical.


Inside the St. Stephen’s Basilica

After coming out, it was around quarter to five and I was starving! So I searched and searched and couldn’t find anything that I could eat. And then, I found this superb mix and match place called Padthai Wokbar – which lets you select your noodles, sauce, toppings and so on, so you get exactly what you would like to have! And I thanked Charlie.

Satiated, I decided to complete the rest of the journey of the tram no. 2. Reached the end where there was a theater and some other things but nothing too spectacular except one glass building which is called Bálna, meaning “whale”. It has some shops, cafés and restaurants and also gallery for contemporary art.


Started back, then got down near the Liberty Bridge and walked a bit to find myself in front of the Great Market Hall, which is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest. It was evening and the market had already closed. So I had to be content with just taking the photos from outside.


Walked a bit further and found some souvenir shops and decided to buy something for the fridge door. The old lady at the shop was very friendly and helped me choose the magnets, one of which which doubled as wine bottle cork and another doubled as a bottle opener – that’s called value for money :). Decoration and Function in one!

Walked further and google maps told me that there should be a Great Synagogue somewhere nearby. I went there and it was supposed to be open till 8 PM that day but I missed that by some minutes. Anyway, it was a beautiful building from the mid 19th century, with Oriental architecture (see the Moorish style domes on top of the towers) and it was nice to see it in the remnants of the evening light. It was damaged during the world war but now it is back in good shape, thanks to renovation work done from 1991 to 1998.


Dohany Street Great Synagogue

I found a cute little cafe on the street and sat down to check-off from the list the activity of having a glass of Hungarian wine anywhere in Budapest as suggested by the walking tour guide. It was a really quite nice.

By then, the Pad Thai had become a distant memory. So I went in search of something else, found a very cool falafel (and more) place after wandering around a bit which had very interesting options. That was my dinner and after that I decided to head back and get some sleep on the last night of my stay in Budapest. Of course, I hadn’t had enough pictures of the beautiful Chain Bridge and the Parliament, so that was done on the way again. Then finally I reached the apartments and called it a day. It was a day well spent!

What’s in a Soup?

I am a big fan of soups. They have come to my rescue so many times when I have been in doubt about appetisers. Sometimes they have even substituted the main course itself.

Here are some great vegetarian soups that sustained me on my journeys.


My First interaction with the Japanese Miso soup (Berlin)


A hearty middle eastern lentils soup with some spice mix on top (Barcelona)


Another intro to the Japanese Miso soup with some additional ingredients (Milan)


South Indian Spicy Rasam that opened my sinuses! (Bratislava)


Hearty Vietnamese Pho Soup (Milan)


Lovely German Kurbis (pumpkin) Soup (Christmas Market in Baden-Baden)


A giant bowl of Thai Tom Kha Soup (Budapest)

And after writing about all this, now I am getting the craving to get myself some soup. Let me go make some and start my weekend :-).

Submitting in response to the daily post’s photo challenge.

Budapest – The Journey (2)

After braving the cold winds, seeing some historical stuff, enjoying a marionette show and a street program with lovely music on day 1, I was curious to learn more about this beautiful city. So I went to the location where the walking tour was supposed to start.

But I also needed some cash first and found that the exchange shop that I’d found the previous day was closed. I needn’t have worried because there were many others close to the Lion Fountain. Found one which offered a good rate and proceeded with the tour.


It was a bit difficult to locate the fountain due to the street market that was getting set up in the morning hours. I don’t know if it was a regular one or special because of Easter.


There at the Lion Fountain I saw a huge crowd – of course the people interested in the tour. There were so many that the tour guides had to divide it into four or five groups with one guide assigned to each. I got into the group with a nice guide named Barbara with the nickname Barbie (and she indeed looked like a doll :-)).

The tour started with a brief history of Hungary. It is about 1000 years old. It is widely accepted that the people were non-Europeans – most probably from Asia. In 896 AD, 7 tribes decided to make one nation under Prince Arpad. In around 1000 AD, the king Stephen converted to Christianity and was canonized (granted the title of Saint) posthumously. There were 2 mongol invasions – one in 1241 and another in 1541. The second one established the rule of the Ottoman Empire for 150 years over central part of Hungary. The Habsburgs (Austria) who ruled the Western part of Hungary, finally liberated central Hungary from the Turks in 1686 AD. The Hungarians were not really happy under the Habsburgs and there were 12 uprisings, each of which was squashed. In 1867 there was a compromise between Austria and Hungary, with double centred monarchy – in Vienna and in Pest-Buda. In 1873, Pest, Buda and Obuda were unified and thus came into being the metropolis – Budapest. After the WWI, 77% of the territory was lost to 7 countries! The nationalist sentiment grew and Hitler took advantage of that in WWII by giving back 40% of the territory to make Hungary its ally. However, in 1944, they occupied Hungary to prevent them from switching sides. In that period of war, 450K people were sent to Auschwitz and 150K were killed. Around 700K people were killed in a period of 7 months. Finally the Soviet Red Army arrived and liberated Hungary in 1945 and then occupied it. In 1956, there was an uprising against Stanilism but it failed. Finally in 1988, the transition began. In 1990, the Soviet army left Hungary and the democratic system began.

After the tour was over, I went to see this memorial for the Jewish people who were shot dead into the Danube during the German occupation. The victims were made to take off their shoes and other belongings before being shot. The memories from my trip to Krakow came back on seeing this.


Memorial for the Jews on the banks of the Danube

Walking and talking, we reached the Elisabeth (Sisi) Square, which is the main square of Pest. Sisi was the Empress of the Austro-Hungarian empire by her marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph I. She spent more time in Budapest than in Vienna.


Giant Wheel at the Elisabeth Square

But the more interesting thing here is the Michael Jackson tree!


Michael Jackson Tree

This tree is opposite to the hotel where Michael Jackson once stayed and the fans have made this tree a kind of shrine after his demise.

We also got to know about two national drinks of Hungary which contain 40-70% alcohol by volume! They are Unicum and Palinka. The first one is made of 40 herbs and the second one is made with fruits. I didn’t get a chance to taste them but then, there is always the possibility of a next time! Another tidbit we got to know was that the name Buda comes from the Slavic word for water and Pest comes from the slavic word for Oven.

We reached the Basilica of St. Stephen. Interesting thing is that it is not that old! It’s only about a 100 years old. It is quite impressive and is 96 m high (same as the Parliament). It was completed in 1905 after 54 years of construction. The delay is because first of all the original architect died, and then later, the dome collapsed in 1868, which led to the complete demolition and reconstruction from scratch.


St. Stephen’s Basilica


It is very impressive from inside as well. I went to see it later after the tour.


Inside the basilica

An important photo-op was with Charlie – the policeman. The legend is that if you rub his belly, you are guaranteed a very good meal in Budapest :-).



Barbara also informed us that there was a major flood (5 m high) in the Danube in 1838, destroying almost all the buildings in the St. Stephen’s square. So the reconstructed buildings are of course not very old.

Then we walked towards the Chain Bridge and cross it to reach the Buda side of Budapest. On the way, we also learnt that the Hungarian language does not bear similarity to Slavic or Latin or any Indo-European languages. It is closer to Finnish but still different. The Hungarian word for Hungarian is Magyar.

The Chain Bridge or the Szechenyi Bridge was the first permanent bridge between Buda and Pest, opened in 1849. The story goes that Szechenyi who was an influential politician in the 1800s, personally paid for the construction when he faced a personal tragedy. His dad died on the Buda side and there was no bridge to easily go from one side to the other!

It was so windy crossing the bridge that it was very difficult to walk and to have a conversation!


The view of the Buda Castle from the Chain Bridge

We then stopped for a break at the end of the bridge – at the Clark Adam square – named after the Scottish engineer who built the bridge (Adam Clark). There is a funicular that can be taken to go up from there, or a bus (like I did the previous day). But it was not so difficult to climb either, which is what we did! On the way we saw an old musician and Barbara told me that he plays the same tune everyday, to which I said “but, to several new people each day” :-). Now, the Royal Palace has been there since 1200s but it was let to fall into ruins in the 17th century by the Ottomans. Then the Habsburgs reconstructed it which is the Baroque structure we see today. It was destroyed in WWII but reconstructed in 1976. Barbara drew our attention to the plastic sheets covering the windows in the communist times – functionality over beauty.


Windows with plastic overlooking the fountain

Then we walked towards the Matthias Church and the Fishermen’s Bastion before ending the tour. Passing by the President’s house, we also heard a bit about the current Hungarian politics which didn’t sound good. At the end, we received lot of good advice from our guide on how to explore the city for the rest of our visit, tipped her for the lovely tour she gave us and went in pursuit of our interests.

Phew! I finally managed to complete this post. Will be back soon with the final post.

Budapest – The Journey (1)

This year for the long weekend at Easter, I decided that I should stop postponing and go to Budapest – a city I had been wanting to visit since 2014, when a fellow tourist in Berlin, recommended me to go there when I told her that I love Prague. Last year on Easter, I was actually closeby (Vienna and Bratislava) but then felt that I won’t be able to do full justice to any of the cities I was visiting if I try to squeeze everything in the short time that I had. And am I glad that I didn’t do that – Budapest is so big and charming that you can easily spend 4 days and in that time, you would be so caught up in its spell that you’d start feeling like staying just a little bit more and then a  bit more…..

I reached there on a pouring evening (the airport was a bit strange – might be under construction, I don’t know) and after taking a bus and then two metros, I reached where I was supposed to reach. And from behind the curtain of raindrops, I had my first glimpse of the Parliament across the river – all lit up and beautiful. I was going to see it everyday for the next few days as it was bang opposite the metro stop near my accommodation.

Anyway, I reached the apartment and struggled a bit with the doors but then found myself in a very nice room, had something to eat that I had brought with me and retired for the night.

The next morning looked a bit drizzly and windy and I was getting disappointed with the weather. So I decided not to take the walking tour – which I usually like to take as the first thing in any new city (tourist city) to get myself oriented. Went ahead then to  explore the city a bit on my own and may be go to a museum. I found a good public transport connection towards the castle, which was very much appreciated with the weather. It took me till the top and then I walked around and had some nice views over the different parts of the city.


The Parliament (left) and the Chain Bridge over river Danube

After walking around for a few minutes, I started feeling very cold. So I wondered which museum to get into. Looked on some website and decided to go to the Budapest History Museum. It was nice to get some warmth once I was inside. But soon realized that it probably wasn’t the best choice for a museum that I could have made. It wasn’t bad but then not so informative that it should be on a “must do” list. May be the National Gallery would have been better with the art collections there. What I liked in the History museum though was – getting to go into the cellars of old times and to listen to some interesting music in the headsets provided, composed by the musicians patronized by the king/queens of Budapest.


Stairs to the cellar

So even though it wasn’t as interesting as I wanted it to be, the warmth inside kept me long enough to see all the exhibits.

Then finally I braced myself to come out into the cold windy castle hill. Saw a beautiful church (Matthias Church) which was originally built in 1015, then destroyed by Mongols in 1241 and then reconstructed later in the same century.

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Matthias Church (and a helicopter!)

There was a also a beautiful lookout bastion near the church. It is called Fishermen’s Bastion and the story goes that it is because the Buda side castle wall was protected by the Fishermen’s guild in the middle ages. The bastion is relatively new having been built in the 19th century. There are 7 towers in that stretch looking over the different parts of the city. The towers themselves are so pretty and of course, the views over the city are nice!


Fishermen’s Bastion

Then I decided to come down and go towards the Castle Market – I was told that there was some Easter special going on there. And I am glad I did that (even though I was cold and tired). I saw a very entertaining marionnet show, a lovely street concert (with a brief dance performance by the percussionist), traditional egg decoration workshop (open for everyone – but I was lazy) and many beautiful stalls selling knick-knacks and food items. It was Budapest Spring Festival (not just Easter) as per the boards that I could see around.

I was getting hungry and my place of residence was not too far away with the tram, I decided to go in that direction as I’d seen a vegan place closeby on google maps. Found that place and luckily it was open! Had some food and rested my feet. Then went back and decided to find my way to the Gellert Hill as I had read that the views are very nice from there. It was a long hike even after I had taken the buses as suggested by google. But I didn’t give up. And was rewarded with a nice view with the setting sun.


View from the Gellert Hill towards Chain Bridge and Margaret Bridge


Statues on the Gellert Hill


Liberty Bridge as seen from Gellert Hill

Then I decided to climb down the hill following others and found myself in front of the Gellert Hotel which is an old hotel having thermal baths! I went inside and looked around a bit before going towards the Pest side via the Liberty bridge. Bought something to eat on the way and decided to call it a day. Went back to the apartment, had dinner and went to sleep, with the hope of having a better weather on the next day!