My first tastes of Aussie pie, Victoria near Ballarat

To quote this article, “What do you call a seven-course meal in Australia? A pie and a six-pack.” Part of traveling is about experiencing local specialities, and one of the things I wanted to do while in Australia was to experience eating an authentic Aussie pie while IN Australia (rather than the stuff you find in the freezer section of some American supermarkets, or the ones sold in S. Korea near the University where I worked).

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So, since I was still on my doctor restricted diet (fatty liver disease), I asked the friend with whom I was staying during my stay in Ballarat if there a pie place in the area that was worth the calorie count, and she said most definitely, and on Feb 3rd she took me.

[NOTE: This one of the many blog posts that I’m writing well AFTER my visit. This event took place only 9 days after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … At the time any activity tended to result in this really odd sensation of getting jittery, irritable, and with a sort of sickening tightening in my stomach… and as such if I did go out for an hour or two, that was pretty much all I could manage for the whole day… and I was in a very passive space mentally, and as such I couldn’t write about it afterwards, and I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

For my first pie, she took me to a neighboring town called Creswick, that like her own used to be gold mining town, that was the unfortunate location of what is still considered the worst below ground mining accident in Australian history. Since I was SO easily fatigued, pretty much every photo I took in this town was while sitting in her car and through either it’s open passenger side window or through the windshield… so please forgive the quality.

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She took me to the Creswick Country Bakery (also called the Creswick Roast, because they sell coffee), which she said had some of the best pies in the area ….

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We wanted to do Rosemary and lamb, which is their pie that had won the Great Aussie Pie Competition three years running…  but they were out so I’m having a beef and onion…

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me happily chopping down on my very first Aussie pie, it had ground beef in it. I think it would have been better with beef chunks

A few days later she took me to sample a seafood pie made by a friend of hers, who used to own this place, that also won the competition…. he has since opted out of the restaurant business and instead has a catering place (no tables or such to eat it there) that JUST serves up what he’s best known for, pies. Unfortunately I completely forgot to take pictures while there, or before I snarfed the thing down… that said — I still remember it almost 6 months later, great big pieces of very fresh tasting shrimp, scallop and I salmon were in it, in a creamy white sauce (num num num). My friend had also bought some meat pies while we were there to take home for our dinner later that night…

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I’m pretty sure this was a steak and kidney pie, it was also delicious

Ballarat: Wildlife Park

Just like pretty much every town in Australia, Ballarat has a wildlife park where you can get up close and personal (in varying degrees) with Australia’s wildlife. I had avoided the one in Sydney, hoping to actually see them in the wild —  rather than under zoo like conditions — but while convalescing in Ballarat my friend (who used to work as a nurse) convinced me to give her city’s one a try.

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[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was at the Ballarat Wildlife Park on Feb. 4th, 2018, only 10 days after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … At the time any activity tended to result in this really odd sensation of getting jittery, irritable, and with a sort of sickening tightening in my stomach… and as such if I did go out for an hour or two, that was pretty much all I could manage for the whole day… and I was in a very passive space mentally, and as such I couldn’t write about it then, and I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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One of the animals I was MOST looking forward to see “in the wild” was a Koala. This park had a few (and you could PAY to get your picture taken next to one … you would think that for $40 they let you hold it, but no — probably safety concerns; apparently while Koala’s are cute, they aren’t very friendly).IMG_1676The Koala’s that were in cages were very hard to photograph, in part because they were sort of hiding in the shade (while being grey), but mostly because of where the sun was relative to where I was made it so that in each case the lighting wasn’t conducive to it…

IMG_1674I however manage get one video but it wasn’t worth posting (mostly it’s of the back half of a Koala whose nose was stuffed into a bush… although it was close enough that you could hear it chewing).

This is a video that I took of a bird that is actually pretty common in Australia (as in I had in fact seen it in the wild), I kept seeing it in city parks, etc.,

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Some people in Australia have these as pets… let’s keep in mind my favorite animated character as a child was Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, and that in my storage locker waiting to be unpacked is a HUGE collection of porcelain and other type dolls made in her image

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These are the lizards from the Priscilla Queen of the desert dance routine


 

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I took two videos of these cutie pies….  they were really a lot of fun to watch

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This sweetheart was my favorite animal in the whole park, she “held” my hand as I fed her and was really very sweet

Even with taking it easy as possible I ultimately only managed about two hours at the park… The more tired I got the dizzier/sicker (like my head was buzzing) I was getting … so once we’d sort of seen it, we headed home and I went back to bed.

Dog On The Tucker Box; Gundagai, New South Wales, Australia

This statue titled, “Dog on the Tucker box” is a tribute to Australia’s pioneers, and a ‘well known’ (to Australians) bush poem whose author (may or may not) have been lost to time; it is located on the road between Sydney and Melbourne.

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But here’s the thing, when I googled to try to find the famous poem the statue was based on I found multiple different ones and partial ones, and variations on the same theme, or variations of wording…. so if you play the video below, and then follow some “different” poems that various sites were pointing towards as the poem, you’ll see my confusion.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was at the Dog on a tucker box about 4 months ago, on Feb. 26th, 2018, almost a month after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … Even a month later my brain wasn’t close to good (I was talking really really slowly at the time, searching for almost every word) and as such I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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That said, the “or worse” referred to in the above image, was explained in other versions I found that said that every time you read “the dog sat on the tuckerbox” you should actually convert it to “the dog shat on the tuckerbox”  … i.e., the past tense of to shit… in other words, this is a poem about a dog that took a dump on this guy’s lunch box.

Bullocky Bill — by anon

As I came down Talbingo Hill
I heard a maiden cry,
‘There goes old Bill the Bullocky
– He’s bound for Gundagai.’

A better poor old beggar
Never cracked an honest crust,
A tougher poor old beggar
Never drug a whip through dust.

His team got bogged on the five-mile creek,
Bill lashed and swore and cried,
‘If Nobbie don’t get me out of this
I’ll tattoo his bloody hide.’

But Nobbie strained and broke the yoke
And poked out the leader’s eye,
And the dog sat on the tucker-box
Five miles from Gundagai.

————————

‘Nine Miles from Gundagai’ by Jack Moses (A PC version from the 1920’s)

I’ve done my share of shearing sheep,
Of droving and all that;
And bogged a bullock team as well,
On a Murrumbidgee flat.
I’ve seen the bullock stretch and strain
And blink his bleary eye,
And the dog sit on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

I’ve been jilted, jarred and crossed in love,
And sand-bagged in the dark,
Till if a mountain fell on me,
I’d treat it as a lark.
It’s when you’ve got your bullocks bogged,
That’s the time you flog and cry,
And the dog sits on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

We’ve all got our little troubles,
In life’s hard, thorny way.
Some strike them in a motor car
And others in a dray.
But when your dog and bullocks strike,
It ain’t no apple pie,
And the dog sat on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

But that’s all past and dead and gone,
And I’ve sold the team for meat,
And perhaps, some day where I was bogged,
There’ll be an asphalt street,
The dog, ah! well he got a bait,
And thought he’d like to die,
So I buried him in the tuckerbox,
Nine miles from Gundagai.

———————————–

Author unknown about 1850

I’m used to punchin’ bullock teams across the hills and plains.
I’ve teamed outback for forty years through bleedin’ hail and rain.
I’ve lived a lot of troubles down, without a bloomin’ lie,
But I can’t forget what happened just five miles from Gundagai.

‘Twas getting dark, the team got bored, the axle snapped in two.
I lost me matches and me pipe, so what was I to do?
The rain it was coming on, and hungry too was I,
And me dog shat in me tucker-box five miles from Gundagai.

Some blokes I know have stacks of luck, no matter where they fall,
But there was I, Lord love a duck, no bloody luck at all.
I couldn’t heat a pot of tea or keep me trousers dry,
And me dog shat in me tucker-box five miles from Gundagai.

Now, I can forgive the bleedin’ team, I can forgive the rain.
I can forgive the damp and cold and go through it again.
I can forgive the rotten luck, but ‘ang me till I die,
I can’t forgive that bloody dog, five miles from Gundagai.

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The infamous Australian sense of humor at play

This is one of those roadside attractions that means nothing unless you’re conversant with local folk culture … which I was not.  My travel mate however was born and raised in Australia, so he insisted we stop here. And this ladies in gentleman is why it’s always helpful to travel with a local.

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Just next to the statue was this restaurant, Oliver’s Real Food, which my friend said was must try, as it is the Australian “healthy” version of a fast food chain, i.e., lots of organic and vegetarian ‘fast food’ options.

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Me being held by a ‘big’ Koala,

In front of the restaurant was a big Koala, but as I had already seen a much BIGGER Koala while in Australia, I didn’t really consider it to be particularly worthy of note (other than for sheer cuteness) … but of course a picture was necessary.

At the restaurant I had some nothing to write home about sushi and edamamae (hard to screw up). That said, they had what I ultimately decided was probably one of my favorite ginger beers in all of Australia… it had a really STRONG ginger bite, which is how I like it — with the added advantage of it was supposed to have a good dose of probiotics

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Ballarat, Australia: the Food Is Free Laneway (or at least it should be…)

My friend who lives in town took me to the Food is Free laneway, a food security group in her hometown of Ballarat that believes that food should be free for people in need, and that the community should work together to make that happen. It’s a small grass roots not for profit oraganization built entirely from volunteer efforts of locals in the community.

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I found this YouTube video on the topic

 

IMG_7096.jpgAccording to my friend the locals in town are in something of a struggle with the council because the locals want there to be free food available all around the city, and the council doesn’t. This is true to the extent that the council has actually been cutting down fruit bearing trees around town where people would just stop and grab some fruit when it was ripe, including (I think it was) a fig tree near a roundabout.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was at the Food is Free Laneway about 5 months ago, on Feb. 2nd, 2018, and since my accident only about a week before then had resulted in a sever concussion …  I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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At the same time, she told me that the organization was expanding their growing space into a piece of land that the city has given them, which this article confirms.

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The Food is free group is pretty active with the social media options, they have their own Facebook page group, to help them keep organized locally, as well as an instagram group.

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Katoomba: Scenic World Blue Mountains attraction

Scenic World is a family owned business located at the edge of a plateau near the city of Katoomba, New South Wales Australia, at the opposite end of the Prince Henry Cliff Walk from the Three Sisters rock formation, which is a huge tourist draw. For a fee, they provide three attractions: the first is a cable car ride that goes across the ledges of the rock’s face, thereby offering views that are otherwise unobtainable, and then there are two different way to the rainforest at the base of the plateau (where there is an elevated walking path through it)  either a very steep cable railway ride or gentler cable car option.

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The first time I got there was on a weekend day, and the line for a one day passes for Scenic World was very long, while the line for the yearly pass was non existent; and, since a one day pass was $44, and one year passes were $99 — and I was going to be in town for a full week, I opted for the latter. That and, normally you need to get there “first thing” in the morning to make a first come first serve reservation to go on any of their rides, and I was warned that these sell out very early in the day during tourist season, i.e., exactly when I was there. As my readers probably already know about me…. I don’t do mornings! With the one year pass, however, no reservations were necessary and when you add it gives 15% off of any purchases at the stores or cafés ….  and with the yearly pass I would get 15% off of tickets for friend who came with me (and my travel buddy had already said he wanted to come here towards the end of our trip — when his girlfriend from was going to join us for a few days) which ultimately didn’t happen …. I felt the $99 ticket was the better option. As it stands, since my accident negatively impacted my visit, my plan is to go back to Australia later this year (within the one year window), and I’ll be able to use the ticket again then.

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Views from the balcony building, and the gift shops

That said, since I HAD a year-long pass, and the weekend crowds were making the lines for any of the rides SUPER long, I opted to do just walk around checking out the facility, and then come back on a week day.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was in the Blue Mountains about 5 months ago, on Jan 12th to 18th, 2018, and since my accident, which resulted in a sever concussion, happened only 8 days later I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

Like I said the one year pass included a 15% discount from the gift stores (where I didn’t find anything I actually wanted), and from the cafe (where I did). That said, there are two food options, and small one offering coffee shop type foods and outdoor seating, and the Tuckshop which offers more in the way of hot food options, and indoor seating.

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This is the outdoor seating for the coffee shop (looking towards the building) but in the other direction it has great views — see the pics of me against a railing (above)

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The second time I went the weather was a balmy 70 F …  Although it was supposed to hit 100 F a few days later. And, way fewer people where there than had been there the previous weekend, as I had hoped.

First, I had my morning coffee while enjoying the view, and then I went down into the rainforest via the train ride

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Note me up at the top of this photo

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This train is so incredibly steep that you’re knees end up pressing hard, up against the safety bars, and more than few people felt the need to hold on to the safety bars above…

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These views go whizzing by so fast, that you’re lucky if you manage to get the shot
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You can see finger smudges on the glass walls

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IMG_1490The train drops you down into a rainforest, complete with vines that Tarzan would have loved and prehistoric fern trees.

IMG_1509.JPGAccording to a complex display at the bottom and off to the side of the tracks, they were first put in place to bring down coal miners.

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It was so frigging cold the first time I took the train into the rain forest that I was uncomfortable so maybe 62 F (a good 10 degrees cooler than higher up). I wasn’t dressed for it and my teeth started to chatter, so I opted to go back up and come back again the next day when the forecast promised warmer weather, and intended to dress in layers just in case.

When I came back the 2nd time, it was warm enough that I had to take off my 2nd layer (WAY more pleasant than Sunday’s temps). I did a 45 minute walk through the rainforest…

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Just to give an idea of how elevated some of the pathway was, I’m on one elevated point looking down at another elevated point

IMG_1544Firstly I was really excited to see the sort of vines I imagine Tarzan swung on, my first time outside of a movie or TV programIMG_1543These sorts of palm trees I was pretty sure I HAD seen before, but in the prehistoric dinosaur Garden in Disneyworld’s Animal Kingdom. There’s a garden there (adjacent to the dinosaur ride) that most people walk right by that ONLY has living plants that we know existed during the time of the dinosaurs.

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Here I’m looking up at the massive rock feature directly adjacent to the start of the ride, giving you an idea of how far down I am

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Algae, Lichens and Mosses… can we all say biodiversity?

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Ultimately I completed every ride and in every direction

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This is rock formation I was looking at from the ground, to give the distance perspective

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At one point with all the running around I somehow managed to lose my sunglasses (called sunnies in Aussie) but they were turned into lost and found (shock and awe!)

Sovereign Hill: an historical amusement park near Ballarat, Australia

Sovereign Hill is located in Golden Point, a suburb of Ballarat (a small city located about an hour northwest of Melbourne, by train). This attraction is a bit like a Disneyland for history geeks, and probably the best living history parks I’ve been to yet, i.e., right up my alley and definitely would like to come here again.

IMG_1105To be realistic, in any other part of the world Ballarat is so small that it should have swallowed up Golden Point, making it a neighborhood within the city, the same way that for efficiency reasons modern Chicago has swallowed up what were its numerous surrounding villages, such as the Pilsen neighborhood, and New York has swallowed up Harlem, etc., … but this process of city expansion for some reason hasn’t happened yet in Australia. When I look at Melbourne and Sydney neither seems to have done the same to the towns and villages that surround them.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was in Sovereign Hill about 5 months ago, on Feb 13, 2018, which was only 19 days after my accident on Jan 25th which resulted in a sever concussion.  As such, I wasn’t really able to appreciated it in fullness (we were there only for about two hours, and it really was all I could manage at the time before having to head back to bed). That said, I would really love to come back here at some point, buy a one year pass and spend a good few days there, just like I do at Disney. BUT, that said, because of the accident I couldn’t really focus the way I needed to in order to blog about much of what I saw for the next month after, and as such have fallen woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

Sovereign Hill actualizes for its visitors the history of Australia’s Victorian gold rush (1851 – 1860’s) which had the same impact on Melbourne that Sutter’s Mill had on San Francisco.

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(The video above is a TV ad for the attraction, and while it won’t be AS inhabited as when you arrive, a lot of what it shows is in fact visible… candy being made, metal being worked, etc., as my pictures show)

This is a video I found on YouTube shot by a tourist

One of the distinct aspects of Sovereign Hill, is that while “visitors” of course includes basic tourists (both Australian and international), more importantly it means groups of Australian school children;

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One of the four school rooms in the park

they are sent here (and other not quite as nice locations scattered around the country, this according to my travel buddy for Australia, who is also an Aussie but who did not join me on this leg of the trip) to spend two days in (what my friend told me was) government subsidized experiential learning programs.IMG_1106.JPGThe above is the 2nd of the four schools in the park, located in an abandoned shop, and shows children lining up to attend a class; I spoke with the girls as they waited for their teacher and they said that each of them had been given a “story line” of who they were, and that all the students in this class were the ‘less affluent’ students in town, miner’s children, orphans, etc.

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They told me that these children (below), on the other hand, were playing children from more affluent families. The woman in blue is their actual accompanying teacher/guardian from home, while the man on the left is a teacher who works full-time at the park. I found this newspaper article about talks not only about him, but verifies some of what the children told me, and adds how the different groups have different curricula, with the richer students being taught genteel skills, like drawing and sewing, while the poor “ragged” students spend half their day being taught trade skills.

IMG_1107.JPGFor those tourists who don’t know what’s going on, these teachers and students just become part of the overall show

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The third school room (I never saw the fourth one), held in a church

The following is a video I actually took, and uploaded to YouTube of these kids being taught cursive (a form of writing soon to be relegated to history):

This next ‘Welcome to Sovereign Hill’ Video, is actually the seven minute introductory video shown to students when they first arrive. It gives an overview of the town with an explanation of the historical evidence they relied on for its construction, as well as some basic instructions to the students on how interact with the tourists they will be sharing the space with, who will think of them as part of the show and hence will want to take their pictures (the video is well worth watching):

In fact (according to my friend who brought me here who has worked here for years as volunteer) it is these educational programs, more so than general tourism, that constitutes the bread and butter funding for the park and keeps it profitable enough that they can keep it in top repair, and pay for things like upgrades to the experience and professional actors and animal experts to work there.

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The woman clutching the jug plays the role of the town drunk

In support of their educational mandate, Sovereign Hill’s web page also offers up a large selection of teaching/educational videos that they produce including various performances at the park’s theater, a musicologist discussing the songs miner’s sang, an informational video on how to pan for gold, a historian discussing how the industrial revolution changed Australian life, and a video that offers up quotes from writers of the time exemplifying how what the park offers is an “improved” version of history, etc.

Sovereign Hill is not only about the time period of the gold rush; because of its location, the park has a specific focus on the events of the Eureka stockade, which Australians are in general taught (correctly or incorrectly, historians dispute this) as being the birth of the movement towards democracy in the country.

This video (above) gives you an overview of the historical events that occurred not far from where the park is located (the specific location is still debated but it was definitely a location visible from the park)

While these video’s below talk the special ticket night-time sound and light show devoted to events of the Eureka stockade, which they call Blood on the Southern Cross

A vast section of the park is devoted to Victorian homes of the sort that more affluent town’s member might have lived in. Every home is decked out with historical elements designed to make it look as though it’s actually being lived in, but the owners just happen to be out at the moment.

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Other parts of the park are devoted to trades that one might expect to find in just such a town, in this case either there are people working there, or it tends to look more like a museum (with signs explaining what you’re looking at).

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bottom right is broken wheel, supposedly waiting to be fixed; this shop occasionally has a craftsman on staff explaining the craft, but not today
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The undertaker’s, my friend says no one actually ever works here

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One part of the mining camp section of town is the Chinatown district. While there was no one working in this section when we visited, it was clear that a tidy sum of money had been invested into its development, as each aspect of it comes complete with multimedia aspects to make up for the lack of staff.

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Inside the temple is multimedia show, worth listening to

IMG_1134.JPGWhen you stick your head into these tents, you’ll hear the voices of the non-existent Chinese miners speaking to each other. If you pay attention you’ll actually learn things about the prejudices and injustices these miners faced, as Chinese.

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In this tent you can listen to the Chinese miners arguing amongst themselves about the choices they were having to make, and about how they organised themselves into self-help organizations, since they couldn’t count on the white to treat them fairly. It was fairly obvious from the items in some of the stores to the composition of the tourists, that Chinese tourism constitutes a fairly large percentage of who comes to this park, and their concerns and interests were therefore fully met.

 

That said, Sovereign Hill, while it has a huge educational mandate and is a living history museum, it is also first and foremost an amusement park type attraction — A Disneyland for history geeks, and hence must provide its visitors with amusements. As such, it provides the obligatory schedule of free of charge performances that visitors can attend during the day.

 

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One of the interactive activities that the park offers is the opportunity to pan for gold in their stream. According to my friend, this isn’t a real stream and gold that’s there is seeded, but no one really cares. You’ll find any number of people happily devoting at least a good hour to panning for gold.

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If you want to cheat there’s also a gift shop set up as a miner’s tools shop, where you can buy little vials with tiny bits of gold in them, but what’s the fun in that?

And in addition, even though Sovereign Hill –unlike Disney — is a non for profit, they take every reasonable opportunity to separate you from your money after you’ve paid your entrance fee (which is almost as high as some of the smaller Disney parks). That said, most of the payment-to-go options (after the initial entry) are all very reasonably priced…

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Coach Rides: $5.50 Adult, $4.00 Child (5-15), $17.00 Family

There are also tours that take you into a genuine historic gold mine that sits beneath the entire park, and constitutes one of the other “highlight” things to do in the park

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There are three different tours; well, 1 tour, but with a choice of 3 different movie endings

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According to my friend all of the tour guides who lead chinese tourists through the park (this one is about to lead a group into the mines) are required to dress the way this woman is dressed, i.e., what is historically accurate clothing for a Chinese resident of the town, just as the tour guide for our group was required to dress the same way a miner of the day might have.

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Everyone takes the same walk through tour, lead by a guide

At the end of the tour you watch what is essentially a VERY fancy Powerpoint presentation with all the animation bells and whistles on one of three topics (see above). You do this while standing in a small hollowed out, rounded but still craggy space (with the evidence of it having been mined out), deep inside the mine.  The presentation is projected onto the craggy rock’s face rather than a smoothed surface, which is pretty cool. It’s supposed to kind of make you feel like you’re in it with them. My friend and I opted for the presentation called the secret chamber, about Chinese minors and their trials and struggles with local prejudice; is the story of two brothers one of whom went home rich, the other who died in a mine collapse.

IMG_1123After the presentation you walk past a past a large patch of exposed gold still embedded in the quartz, so that you can see what it looks like… but that you are separated from by a bulletproof-glass wall and a whole bunch of security equipment which they make sure you can see.

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There’s GOLD in that wall… actually un-mined GOLD

After the tour you come back topside and are let out into the obligatory gift store, this one selling a lot of gold, with a very strong focus on their Chinese tourist customers (because I’m guessing they’re the ones most likely to buy some).

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The one thing I was tempted to buy was the snow globe full of gold flakes, the minor inside it looks SO happy, and it’s relatively affordable.

In addition to this obligatory “after a ride” gift store, there are two varieties of stores in town, those selling period specific goods that you could probably find outside of the park if you looked hard enough, but presented in the style of store in the 1800’s

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I love this photo, note my friend in the reflection
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We ran into this same guy working at three different locations, but he’s so pretty we didn’t mind at all; he’s behind the counter at the Criterion (above), this jewelery store, and the candle works (below)

[Regarding my friend, it was almost karmic good luck that I was scheduled to stay with her for two weeks at exactly that point in my trip. She’s one of the few Facebook friends I ever made (we used to play this same FB-game, one of those that necessitate that you friend complete strangers, and we found we had so much in common that we continued to stay in touch long after both of us stopped playing). She had invited me numerous times to visit her in Australia, and she lives quite near to Sovereign Hill. In addition to being a successful realtor who has returned to University to obtain her undergraduate degree in history, AND a professional psychic (see the blog post for the tour of a haunted former Nun’s abbey, that she guides)… she also used to work as a registered nurse — which was infinitely useful for me in terms of her being understanding the needs and limitations of my health predicament while visiting her.]

The second variety of stores are those selling items that were handcrafted by the skilled craftsmen demonstrating by hand what in this day and age are almost lost arts

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in the Town there are six different places selling food during the day (plus a seventh that’s only open for the sound and light show in the evening)

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A candy store with historic candies
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This bakery was selling a full meal in a bun: one end was the appetizer, the other dessert

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As we were touring through the town, my friend took me to the room where she would normally work while volunteering… the ladies lounge in the hotel. Normally my friend would sit there, doing needlepoint, and talking to any visitors who might wander in

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The day we visited we found this woman is doing what my friend normally does, so the two of them had a nice chat exchanging pointers.

Downtown Katoomba, Australia

Katoomba is a cute but small town, located about an hour and a half by car from Sydney (or 2.5 hours by train) about 2 kilometers from one of Australia’s natural wonders (which I of course was visiting), whose major industry is tourism. It’s a lot less tourist-trappy than most towns of this sort, while still having a sort of enough to keep visitors happy.

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NOTE: I’m writing this blog post well AFTER the fact. I was In Katoomba from January 12th to 18th of 2018 — about 5 months ago. BUT, because of the massive concussion I suffered only one week later, on Jan 25th… I have fallen woefully behind on the posts for that the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) I am taking the opportunity to rectify that…

The downtown area begins, essentially, at the top of a VERY steep hill, where it runs a bit alongside the rail road tracks, and then extends about a half mile South, down hill, in the direction of the natural attractions. (Other than a local movie theater, there’s little of any interest to none locals on the north side of the tracks).

Getting around:
And of course I am ASSUMING you don’t have a car… if you do you can just skip this part

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Getting from Sydney to Katoomba by train is actually a rather easy and enjoyable ride (see blog post). One of the things to remember is that IF you’ve already been in Sydney over the course of a week, and have actively been using the rail systems “Opal” transit card, once you have used it for eight trips in the course of one week (Monday to Sunday) you to qualify for 50% off on all trips for the rest of that week…  including the price of the rail trip out to Katoomba and back.

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That said, while there are also some bus routes you can take from the station to get you to your Airbnb or hotel, most of them stop running around 6pm … which I learned the hard way, when I arrived on a 6:30 pm train and ended up having to drag my heavy suitcase the 20 minutes it took to walk (almost a full mile) to my Airbnb… Luckily it was all down hill or I would broken into tears (the Airbnb host had COMPLETELY neglected to mention that fact in spite of my having told her what train I would be arriving on).

That said, I soon learned (not from her) that there are TWO 24 hour taxi services which will pick you up from pretty much anywhere, and run you home (I STRONGLY suggest keeping their phone numbers with you). The one you’re most likely going to be using is the Wentworth Falls Taxi, +61 (0)2 4782 1311; as the other, Blue Mountains Maxi Taxi, specializes in large wheelchair accessible vans that can accommodate up to nine passengers, +61 423 890 670, although they’re perfectly happy to pick up just one.
Places to eat:

Sanwiye Korean Cafe:

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First off, this place is TINY and popular. As such, unless you come on a non-vacation weekday and get very lucky… you WILL need a reservation (call +61 405 402 130) The time I opted for the basic home-style dishes my ex-boyfriend’s mother used to make regularly…   Mandu-guk (it’s a dumpling soup) and Japchae (which they spelled japjae)… I also ordered Kimchi, as this is the first Korean place I’ve ever been too that does NOT include the obligatory Banchan side dishes for free… and an order of Ginger Tea. That said, if you look at the reviews on Trip advisor, and pay attention to the ethnicity of the writers, you’ll see the western customers seemed to be way more enamored with the place than the Koreans (did I mention no obligatory Banchan?). For myself, the Madu-guk and Japchae were fine (they are two kind of hard to screw up dishes) but the Kimchi is SO incredibly mild that I could not smell it, or taste any of the red pepper.

For those who don’t get what I’m talking about, proper Kimchi should STINK, and at least mildly burn your mouth with the heat of the pepper. I had a Korean roommate back in college who initially kept a small bottle of Kimchi in our fridge, which because of the layout of the dorm room was in the same tiny room as our closets… we quickly banned the practice and forced her to keep it downstairs in the dorm room of some other Korean girls, because the stink had passed through the refrigerator’s walls and all of our clothes were suffering from Aux-d’kimchi. Additionally — keep in mind I lived in South Korea for almost three years while working as a professor, one of the first signs that I was back ‘home’ after spending some time in the States visiting my other home, was walking into an EMPTY elevator and being accosted by the scent of the Kimchi that some previous occupant had left behind (usually sweated out, like an alcoholic’s stench, or way too much cologne)

 

Paragon Cafe:

This restaurant would have been worth trying if only because it’s a piece of Australian history.  IMG_6067.JPG
It was the countries oldest continually serving Cafe (101 years when I went), the place is quaint beyond belief and is like a walk back in history to the 1900’s.

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established 1916 … the place had changed hands at least four times already, and according to this new report, shortly after I visited the current owner was being forced to leave by May 27 (over a week ago) because the business owner could no longer afford the rent, and whether the place will be maintained in its current form is in doubt.

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That said, I thought the food here was ok, WOEFULLY overpriced, and in spite of that nothing to write home about (the fact that it was struggling was therefore not a surprise). If you look closely at this menu (below) you’ll know what I ordered.

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Here’s hoping ….

 

The Gingerbread House:

When I finally spotted this place, located at the far south-east corner of the downtown area I decided that I was in love; This is a former church that for lack of congregants was converted into a cafe, that surrounds a gingerbread house/shop devoted to all things ginger!! (And as my friends know I LOVE ginger.)

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While there I found what may be the ultimate ginger drink, it’s called Rochester Ginger and (according to the company), it’s recipe is based on one made by Dickens himself … which I would happily drink regularly but for the fact that it’s $9.40 for a small bottle, about as pricy as wine …  when I got home I found Amazon has it  for slightly more. … By the way 1 cup = 236 ml, so this stuff is a bit over 177 calories a cup (while Coke is about 96 calories a cup)IMG_1907.JPG

they also had me try this organic ginger ale assuring me I would love it, but it was blah.

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There was also a ginger flavored Turkish Delight which was ok, but after the Rochester everything paled.

https://www.google.com/maps/place/The+Gingerbread+House/@-33.7172034,150.3120487,15z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0xaaf95d3e9b389737?sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjFo57m88nbAhVD3VMKHfpPAGEQ_BIImQEwDw

Avalon Restaurant:

Based on the amount of business they do, this restaurant located not far from the train station seemed to me to be one of the most popular places in town. Their “specials” didn’t seem to change much Kangaroo burgers and pancakes with ice cream), and what finally drew me in was the burger. (Not my first taste of ‘skippy‘, which is what all the locals seem to call it, that was at Pins On Lurline, an upscale restaurant located outside of the downtown distract in what was once a private home … hence not included in this blog)

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The burger was less a burger than a sliced meat sandwich, with little rounds of kangaroo meat… not all that tasty and very chewy. While sitting there waiting for my food, I spotted this girl sitting next to me. I asked her if it was alright for me to take the picture and she allowed it…

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 The picture is completely untouched … the light was just perfect … and I of course allowed her to send a copy of it to herself.

 

Carrington Hotel
Let’s hear it for hotels that could not afford to update their facilities, until the fact that they had not becomes they’re selling point. Looking at the Carrington it’s pretty clear that’s the reality.

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I of course don’t know this for sure but after walking around the place I’m willing to take a bet that once the building was old enough to qualify for a World heritage landmark listing, and restoration funds that come with it, that that was probably the first time since 1927 that any serious renovations of the property happened…. and we should all be grateful because walking through its doors is like stepping back in time. According to Wikipedia it’s the only 19th century grand hotel still in use in all of New South Wales.
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This massive hotel property is located right in the downtown area, a meer steps away from the train station.

 

The Yellow Deli
The interior is VERY cute and Hobbit-warren like, and every food program (Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc) ranked it as the most popular eatery in town (must number of reviews, with almost all of the people giving it positive votes).
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I had arrived in Katoomba on a Friday night, and was mystified to find this place closed, but once I finally stepped inside I understand why. Every single man working there had a beard, a pigtail and was wearing very similar natural fiber clothes; That and the fact that women were all dressed akin to Mormons in terms of coverage, sent off a bell in my brain saying, “this is a restaurant owned by a cult.”
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So I asked, and it turned out they’re a religious group founded in Chattanooga Tennessee. They keep sabbath Friday night to Saturday…. like Jews, but they are not vegetarians like the 7th day Adventists (of whom there are many in the Chattanooga area)… at least based on the menu of what they were serving. They only believe in the old testament not the New Testament but don’t consider themselves to be Jewish… but rather they consider themselves to be Christians. The guy I spoke to, the manager, who was VERY excited that I had keyed into the cues that they were probably a religious group and asking about their beliefs, gave me a bunch of reading material
All that said, they make a very good Carob hot chocolate.
I really liked this place, I liked it enough that I ordered their fresh watermelon & ginger drink more than few times. You tell them what you want, and they throw the ingredients in a blender and serve it up.
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A matter of health… Two years later

Some of you may remember that on May 9, 2016 I was diagnosed with non alcholic fatty liver disease, and told that if I didn’t get it under control I would need a new liver. I am THILLED to announce that it is under control! I just got back from the doctor and my liver numbers all came back normal… like not even high in the normal range… utterly and completely NORMAL. It took me about two years of maintaining a very strict low fat diet where I was essentially trying to irradicate it from my diet entirely (except for fat from things like fish, nuts, or small servings of avacado & dairy). Not only that but having been pre-diabetic now for about 20 years, where my sugar was high, but I managed to keep it just low enough as to not necessitate insuline or meds (I was adament that I be allowed to try to control it with diet), my blood sugar has ALSO tested completley normal (I’m convinced there’s a connection).

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This is my chart from back on Sept. 1, 2016, about 6 months after then initial diagnosis, when I convinced the doctors that I could do it without medications

For those who don’t remember…. Back in May of 2016 I swung through Chicago for my yearly checkup, weighed in at 185 lb (instead of 130, which is where I should have been), and was informed that not only were my sugar and cholesterol shooting up, but I had developed fatty liver disease; and, if I didn’t do something, and do it quick, I was going to need a new liver. YOUCH!!! She said I had to make an appointment with a liver specialist ASAP, and I had to change my diet immediately, to as low fat as possible. Mostly fish, a little chicken, no beef at all, and as low fat as possible, so I could NOT eat at restaurants anymore.

However, I was only in town for two weeks, not enough time to even book an appointment with the specialist, had already paid for lodgings in Canada for June through August, and I knew I would not be back in Chicago until the beginning of September, when an old friend was getting married.

[Note: This, my dear reader is why pretty much every meal after May 2016 consisted of fish, and something low fat and full of fiber on the side. NOT eating at restaurants wasn’t going to fly, so I had to come up with some pretty fierce protocols to makes sure that didn’t harm me. I know this sounds extreme but,…. I start every order with the explanation: “this is not about me wanting to loose a few pounds, this is about me having liver disease and if I am not VERY VERY careful needing to try to try find a new liver and get a transplant. So, unless you want to quite literally poison me, unless you want to be partially responsible for my death, you need to listen very carefully.” … it seems to work.]

It’s also why I had scheduled, as I promised my doctor that I would, two full months in Chicago in September/October of 2016…. In mid October I went to the liver specialist, and was greeted with GOOD NEWS!!! Instead of 185 lb, I was 150 lb…  35 lb lost in five months….  and as the above chart showed, all my bad liver numbers had dropped.

Then they did a liver scan and he said there was no evidence of any scarring of the liver, i.e., cirrhosis. That he was very hopeful and happy (and how nice it was to have a patient who actually did what the doctor said to do). I was instructed to keep doing what I’m doing in terms of my low fat diet and exercise, till the liver number have come all the way down, but that he didn’t want to see me for two years, at which point he’d want to run tests again.

It is now TWO years later, and while I admit my careful eating, which involved careful ordering and ripping the heads off of restaurant staff that brought me anything oily was not always consistent, it’s been what was necessary to continue the downward movement of the really important numbers!

That said, I’ve actually managed to do it while STILL putting on a lot of weight over the course of the last year…. I had dropped down to a very happy 135 lb for a while, but in the last year I sadly have climbed back up to around 157 lb again…

That said, as I’m writing this I just realized my GP has to write me a referral so that I can make an appointment to see the liver doctor again this coming October/November (like he asked for)… and she forgot to do it… going to call her now.