A Travellerspoint blog

New York, new year


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Finally out of the non English speaking world and back into some sane-ness. Everything should be sooooooooo much easier now right…….. right. And this is the point where you think I’m gonna spiel off some random story about how hard it was in New York, but I’m not, because it is soooooooo much easier.
Maybe it’s because we are quite traveled now and have gotten used to figuring new places out no matter where they are. Or maybe we are just more confident in talking to people we know will understand us but the USA has already gotten off to a flyer.

Straight off the plane, pick up the bags, onto public (easy to read the signs now there in english) transport and into the city. First we stayed in Harlem just above Central Park, not really the crazy palce the movies make it out to be. Sure you don’t see that many white face’s around but everyone was polite and helped us if we needed any directions or the like (loving the NZ acent….’oh man, do you know Flight of the Conchords).
Surprised with how wide the roads are here, we just kinda assumed that a big metroplex like New York would be all cramped up, but it really felt like you could spread your arms out here (not that hard after the tiny quarters of Cairo and Alexandria).

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Lake at the top of Central Park

Because we were so close to the top of Central Park we went for a few walks around and in it. Absolutely stoked with the weather, nice and crisp bright blue skies, big up’s NYC winter.

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Lake in the middle of Central Park

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Ice rink at the bottom of Central Park

One of the places I wanted to see was Grand Central Station (actual name Grand Central Terminal). Awesome place all marble interior and well, just big. There was no flash party freeze frame (see link ) but was still cool just to sit down and watch the bustle.

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So good to be back on working and efficient public transport

So the time of year we just happened to be in New York didn’t just happen. It was meticulously planned (translation = just happened) that the middle of our week was New Years. Cool right, we’re in on of the busy cities in the world right at the busiest time, where the biggest new years party in the world is gonna be taking place… oh yeah bring it on (and on it was brought).
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Times square as it looks when your right in the middle of it. Sweet that’s the spot we want.

So on actual new years eve and we went to time square early at 2pm and there wasn’t really that much doing so we got some cheap tickets to a play 1 block away on Broadway. All My Son’s with John Lithgow and Katie Holms (nice dress Katie). The show finished at about 5pm and we thought we’d just go stand in the square for a bit until things started to get going.

Things were already in full swing as all streets had been blocked of for about 10 blocks in each direction, which we had to walk around just to walk back down a few blocks to the pen we eventually got put in.

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Times square as we could see it from 10 blocks back

So it’s was about 6:30 and we were in position……… 10 blocks back. You couldn’t hear any of the music or anything and could just make out the big TV screens. But the atmosphere was cool, lots of people pressed together ready to hang around for 6 hours until midnight, or so we thought.

It was cold and not just a little, we later found out it was the coldest new years eve on record (very reputable sources, ha) about negative 7 with wind chill. We lasted one pre count down at 7pm and looked around to find the 1000 people that were in our area had been reduce to just a few hundred of us all crowded up the front.
Some locals told us they’d never seen people leave the party before let alone a mass exodus.

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Not a happy chappy

So we left the streets and headed back to our hostel, which was a good move as we met up with some random young aussies who were going to crash a party of some guy they had just (or we now believe never) met. So we tag along and end up on the 33rd floor of an upper east side building in Larry’s flat with a fridge full of festiveness and a bunch of locals who were all having a good time. He even brought out bottles of champagne for the count down.

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View from the crashed party

A few days later and we moved hostels downtown and ended up just hanging round the area, walking the city.

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Give me that hotdog

We went on a food tour of Greenwich village and soho, which is a big recommendation as you get a walking tour and lunch at 8 different places that you wouldn’t think to go if you were only visiting.

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‘Street art’

Before anyone asks, no we didn’t go up the Empire State Building cause then how would you get to look at the building itself. Instead we went up the Rockefeller centre so we could look out over downtown (Eempire State and Chrysler) as well as the best views over Central Park.

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Top of the rock

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View over central park

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We didn’t get to do half the things that we wanted to do here so it’s going on the ‘if were ever back in the USA again’ list.

Posted by jamienrach 22:57 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Cairo and Alex

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Alexandria and Cairo

When staying in Egypt is wasn’t straight off the plane and onto a Nile cruise and trip to Jordan, we actually had a few weeks of downtime in Alexandria, staying with Mary (Rach’s mum). And boy did we need the relaxation after Europe.

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Mary’s balcony

And while it was awesome to lax out at Mary’s, some of the things you do in Alexandria would be considered thrill rides in other countries.
The roads for example, hail a taxi (beaten up old lada) and go for a nice drive along the water front. This bing a high speed chase along a 7 lane motorway where apparently lanes are just a suggestion. Or the backstreets where an intersection is controlled by whoever beeps first gets right of way.
Or cross the road don't use the pedestrian crossings as local drivers will speed up for you, (tourist = 20 points) just find a local pedestrian also crossing and use them as a shield as you weave through speeding traffic.
Or walk along the sidewalk, but watch for loose concrete paves and steel reinforcement poking out.

Basically the roads aren't all that great.

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Kafr Abdo (upmarket alex), view from the apartment.

One of the main experiences of actual life we experienced in Egypt was the Islamic festival of ede. We didn’t really know what was going in the week on leading up to the festival days but there seemed to be an excess of livestock tied to peoples shops and milling around the streets. Mary then filled us in that they were to be sacrificed on the main celebration day.

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On Ede eve we went out to dinner with john (from the nile cruise) and then a café afterwards where mary mistook the ‘ede’ decorations for a childs party.

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Cow tied to a street sign

So on the actually slaughter day Rach decide to have a indoors day (good move) while Mary and I were keen to see what all of the fuss was about. Well a walk down ‘crazy street’ and we were hit in the face with blood, killing, celebration and children using blown up stomachs/bladders as soccer balls. Blood literally covered the street.

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Decorating the mosk (don’t think they’re xmas lights)

Although we may not find the animal sacrifice thing all that palatable one positive is that a lot of the meat and dried skins are donated to the orphanages and the poor.

Getting back to something we do know about, Zachariah (visa guy from kens work) invited us down to support his rugby team. They were surprisingly good and the Alex boys totally kicked Cairo’s butt. There’s no way that I’d want to play on the rock hard field.

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At the catacombs, only real touristy thing to do in Alex.


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Cairo

On the way back from the Sinai we had a couple of days stop to do all things Cairo. This includes Pyramids and Egyptian Museum.

Picture this, you’re on your way to the Pyramids in the back of a ‘1970 lada’ (read: taxi) and as you get close random guys on the street start waving and trying to hail your cab but you tell the driver to just carry on. One persistent fat man will not give up though and sprints about 200m before the cab has to pull over for traffic.
He then forces the drivers window down and starts yelling, ‘you going to pyramids, you like a camel or donkey?’ ‘you know the price, very good price.’ We then pretened to know Arabic and tell him to shove off and the taxi to keep going. He catches his breath gets his running shoes back on and sprints after the next car with a white face in it.

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The pyramids themselves are a bit of a touristing conundrum for us. Sure they’re really impressive and old (understatement) and we should have just been slack jaw staring at them. But because you’ve seen pictures of them all your life you just know what to expect, and like everywhere else in Egypt you have to fend of the merchants and camel hawkers. As one travel writer said, ‘looking at the sphinx is like meeting a famous actor, you just thought they’d be bigger in real life.’

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One positive is that if you’re willing to walk a few hundred meters (further that most tourists are) then you can look back at them in the peace and quiet.

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Anyway we are totally over this part of the world and wanna go somewhere where the speak english and people don’t hassle at every corner.

America here we come.

[*]

Posted by jamienrach 20:03 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Jordan and Sinai

Black and White

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Well we weren’t going to stay in Egypt for the whole 6 weeks so we escaped to the east in search of Jordan. Escape meaning an 8 hour taxi to the Israeli border for a ½ hour taxi to the Jordanian border with each boarder crossing taking another ½ hour.

Another hour in a taxi (good thing taxis are cheap huh) once in Jordan and we were at our first destination, Wadi rum. The reason for coming to the area is the desert and rock formations that are around. If you know Lawrence of Arabia this is his country.

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Bedouin camp, wadi rum

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We got to go on a 4 wheel drive ride around the place with one of the locals and he’d stop at the different formations, mountains and camel herds. It’s a really surreal place in how the mountains just rise out of the sand

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Besides just driving around we went for a few hikes up into the mountains and I tried a few climbs, but you gotta be real careful cause some of the stone is soft as and will just crumble if you put too much weight on it.

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Life in the desert

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Back at the camp. Me and Rach did the real Bedouin experience and stayed in the tents and it was freezing. Mary and Ken in a room/ mud, hut the upgrade

So wadi rum was this tranquil awesome place that we’d never even hear of and so was a real surprise to be there. Our next stop was Petra another couple of hours north, and this I knew a little bit about. If you’ve ever seen Indian Jones and the last crusade this is the place where he goes at the end to get the holy grail, at the red city.

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Canyon to the center Petra

Anyway I was super keen to get in and see this place which I thought would be all secluded and mystifying, well not anymore. It’s more of a tourist trap now, don’t get me wrong the ruins and temples themselves are amazing, more anti ruins really as they were cut, carved and sculpted out of the solid canyon walls. But when there are local ‘guides’ constantly berating you for a camel/donkey/horse ride it takes away from the whole thing.

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Yip the main red temple, really awesome place. Had to wait forever for a shot with no crowds in front though.

Besides the tour groups and hawkers there is still the great moment after the 2km hike through the crack of the canyon where you are confronted with the main and best preserved temple and you just stare at it trying to comprehend how it was made.

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Mary trying to mount said donkey

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Kids outside our hotel window near petra, lining up every morning for exercises and what we guessed was the national or school pledge/anthem

Ok, so the Petra ruins were a bit of a let down but the real reason I wanted to go to Jordan was the Dead Sea. So we hired a car off some random we me outside a newsagent and got Ken to drive us 2 ½ hours north. When we asked for directions a local told us that we should go the main highway north but we could follow some signs and drive through the desert and we should end up at the dead sea highway, maybe.

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Well we chose the less trodden path and went the desert way and don’t let the photo above fool you, it got down to some pretty knarly rocky roads but we got there in the end.

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I was trying to put my feet under the water but they just kept popping out.

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Besides the floating the best part was layering up with the mud and letting it dry before washing it off, oh skin so smooth.


The drive back was the best part of the day as we got totally lost in the dark middle of nowhere and our A5 map of the country wasn’t really helping. Mary and Rach were starting to freak out a little with me in the back try to comfort them ‘don’t worry, don’t worry I‘m sure if we just keep going we’ll hit a main road eventually’.

Still in Jordan we had one more day in Aqaba, right on the Israel border where we went for a snorkel and Rach got freaked by a plastic bag she thought was a massive jellyfish but other than that no really to much to tell.

So now done with Jordan we split from Mary and Ken who went back to Alexandria and me and Rach went into the heart of the Sinai peninsula. But we had to get there first and coming out of the Israeli border there was no public buses or anything. Just a group of 20 men all with vans who you had to batter like hell with to get the price to something reasonable. We ended up just saying la la la la la (no in Arabic) and waiting them out for an hour before they dropped the price to something worth paying.

So St Katharine, slap bang in the middle of the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt and home to Mt Sinai (mosses and the 10 commandments) and an Orthodox Monastery that surrounds what is meant to be the burning bush.

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The cheapest of good dinners, basically in a locals dining room.

We stayed at a Bedouin style camp and ended up haning around the campfire most nights with Sheik Mousa and his mates talking about boduin life, eco tourism and playing cards.

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The main drawcard for coming here is to climb Mt Sinai, which we did. It’s not the highest mountain ever but the so-called Steps of Repentence, 3000 of them in total really kick your butt on the way down

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Apparently the burning bush

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St Katharine’s Monastery

Our last stop on the Sinai peninsula was Sharm ek sheik , a resort town on the very southern tip. It is black when compared to St Kathrine's white, big fast roads are everywhere with strip malls and chain hotel resorts. The town centre could have come out of Bangkok, flashy fakeness and guys lining the street trying to get you into their shop.

Our hotel did however have access to a ‘private beach’ which they shuttle you to and from. So down we went expecting a nice lie down on the sand with a wee snorkel in the ocean. The words private and beach cannot be used to describe the place where they took us as there were another 5 hotels using the small strip of land and every available space had been systematically covered with deck chairs of which all had been claimed by leather skinned, cigar smoking, bikini clad, mostly overweight euro-trash. We were ushered to a free set of chairs and immediately took our snorkels and got into the water.

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Not the ‘private beach’

The water is where Sharm finally makes sense, 100m past the beach and the reef just drops into black nothingness. Then you turn around and the fish and coral just pops out at you as you stare back and dive down to look at under cuts in the reef wall.

Back on land and we grabbed our stuff and ran from the disgustingness of the hotel beach. Good thing was we found a rock that had access to the water and may or may not have been on flash resort land.

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So Jordan done, Sinai done. Now onto a 7hr bus back to Cairo

Posted by jamienrach 09:18 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Cursing on the Nile

Temple temple temple temple temple temple…

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Well we are finally out of Europe and into Egypt, we had a week in Alexandria to chill out with Rach’s mum (Mary) and rest-up from the previous few months of travel. Our first planned trip was a present (cheers Mary and Ken), a Nile cruise. We flew from Cairo to Luxor, which was cool in itself. The flight path was over the Nile the whole way and looking out the window you could see this green line snaking it was through the landscape off into the horizon with endless desert either side.

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First view from our window

Straight after checking into our lush (well above our normal traveling standards, thanks again to Mary) room on the boat we headed off with the tour group to our first temple, Karnak temple. It had huge columned rooms, obelisk (plural) and statues galore.

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Our group included us, John (aussie guy who was at our table for dinners), three Canadian couples, some other randoms and three young Aussie families with three kids each, that’s nine kids total!

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Luxor temple

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Two big statues outside the valley of the kings, Ramsess really did love himself

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After the valley of the kings we went to another temple nearby (pronounced hot chicken soup). At one point Rach had to head off too the loo, when I found her again she was with the guy above. Apparently after a short conversation, with Rach, ‘Mohammed’ wanted to make her his forth wife. Jamie was almost swayed by his offer of; 2 million chickens, 1 million goats and 2 dogs. Pretty sure he was joking, but who knows.

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This is the life.

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Galabaya men swarming the boat

One of the highlights of the cruise had to be the innovative sales techniques employed by the Galabaya hawkers. Their process involves the following;
- without even waiting for the boat to slow down they row their dinghy’s besides the boats and grab onto whatever they can.
- They tether their dingy to our boat.
- While being dragged along they heave plastic bags full of there wears onto the top deck of the boat.
- If you want to buy you have to barter like hell with the men below.
- If you don’t want to but you toss they plastic bag back.

We were in the tossing back category, Rachel making a game of trying to land the bags perfectly back in the dinghy’s. Bags were flying everywhere, many fell in the water but were quickly fished out, wrung out and thrown back up to the next tourist that dared to poke there head up or make eye contact worth someone below.
One over zealous and under cautious hawker got his dinghy trapped between a concrete wall and our cruise ship. As the crack of timber rang out the hawkers jumped ship onto our boat, but fortunately there vessel popped out the back no worse for wear. Rach was horrified but watching crew members told her not to worry it happens almost every week.

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Typical temple crowd, Asian tourist and suited teenage Egyptian guard with AK-47

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This dude totally ripped us off when buying some scarf’s.

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Edfu temple, I think??? They were all starting to look the same

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Egyptian girl totally letting loose on the belly dancing floor

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Total vertical jump

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Feluka ride

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Dip your finger in the nile and you are destined to return

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Abu Simbol

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Our cruise actually finished in Aswan (where the big Nile dam is). But (thanks again Mary) we had an extra place to go. So a quick flight down over Lake Nasser and we were at Abu Simbol. We are so glad that we got to go here, there is only the two temples but what temples they are.

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Ohhh Ramses is it a wee bit nippy outside

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Total commitment to the photo…..after ‘landing’ Rach did an impromptu roll with added knee/elbow graze.

Posted by jamienrach 06:16 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Madrid

The end of Europe

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So this is it, our last European destination the Spanish capital. If you’ve read the pervious post you may have guessed that we were a bit over small town medieval Europe and just wanted to get to a place where the shops don’t shut between 12 and 5 and there’s a bit more going on than some stuffy 500 year old church.
We’d even abandoned an extra few days in another small town to get to the city earlier.

It was nice to be in a modern city again, especially one that has a history like Madrid’s (I know, it’s a bit of a contradiction ‘a modern historic city’).

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We went on a walking tour of the city sights and a biking tour of the cities parks.

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Modern art museum

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Madrid as our last destination is essentially true but in the middle of the week we went and taught English to some Spanish people. As part of a 1 year course in the Madrid they had to complete 1 week of ‘Intensive English’. So about 20 Spanish people and 20 English people were herded into a bus and sent to a place (no cathedral) 3 hours from Madrid where only English specking was allowed.

It was a weird big brother type experience where everything was done for you eg the schedule for the whole week was laid out, breakfast, lunch, dinner, activities and you hardly went more than 1 km from the hotel (which was literally in the middle of nowhere). By the end of the week a few of the Spanish people were convinced that all the English speakers were paid actors and knew perfect spanish.

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The basic schedule for every day was breakfast from 9-10 then 4 hours of speaking to the Spaniards (one on one), lunch for 2 hours and a wee break and then another 2-4 hours of speaking to the Spaniards followed by dinner at 9pm and drinking.

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It all sounds very easy but constantly speaking for that long and all the free food and wine really started to take it’s toll and by then end of the week we were both totally stuffed and spent.

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We were able to get a bit of time to ourselves and go for some walks in the countryside

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We were pretty lucky with the group that we got, quite a lot of the Spaniards were our age and hopefully we keep in contact with them. Also the English (Anglos) speakers were cool to as well and the same goes for them.

After the week of constant broken English we had only one night back in Madrid and then a flight the next day to Rachel’s mum’s in Alexandria.

Bring on Egypt.

Posted by jamienrach 02:59 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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