When in Israel, which cell company should I buy my sim from?

International roaming is NEVER as good as it should be, and can also be very expensive. As such, IF you’re a tourist, traveling in such a way as to stay in a country a month or more, than you’re going to NEED to buy a prepaid sim card from a local carrier (suffering for a week or so is manageable, but not a month). I only spotted one carrier company selling prepaid sims in the airport and as I later learned they’re not necessarily going to be your best choice. Various carriers in Israel, such as Orange (which is changing its name to partner) offer a wide variety of sims for travelers with contracts of 1 week, 2 weeks or a month… BUT because of data coverage issues, its best to research in advance which company’s sim to buy based on your specific travel plans… IF you’re only going to Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, then pretty much any provider will work and you can just go with the cheapest one… but if your plans include historically Arab towns, or more out-of-the-way locations, then you’re going to have explore which carrier provides coverage where. In other words, there’s no easy “best” answer… sorry

Israel is a TINY country, and is one of the most advanced high-tech countries in the world; as such I’d EXPECTED them to have great coverage, just like equally high-tech and even more mountainous South Korea does — a country also in a state of war. In Korea it really doesn’t matter which company you sign up with, cell phone coverage is affordable, and not only is connectivity a given assumption (your phone works in Seoul’s train tunnels AND at the tops of mountains in bumblefuck Korea), but with that phone connectivity also comes access to the internet that is omnipresent, fast, and reliable. So you’d expect this to also be true in Israel… but it’s not. Up until recently only two providers existed and it was expensive and bad; recently an opening of the market has brought down prices and increased coverage, but at the price of customer service (which has gone from bad to worse).

When I arrived, My US provider’s roaming (T-mobile) completely failed me my first night out, even though I had read that their roaming coverage in Israel was actually pretty good and there’d be no need to buy a sim. When my plane first landed my roaming worked just fine in the airport (phone and data), so I had hopes, and didn’t buy the sim cards sold there (which actually turned out to be a good thing). However, once I’d arrived, and unpacked and was ready to go out… I discovered that once I was a few steps away from my Airbnb, which was located right next to one of the major tourist hotels and smack in the middle of two major tourist draw areas (so you’d expect coverage)… I could talk and text but found I could NOT contact Uber to call myself a taxi to the restaurant where I was meeting up with friends (see my post on how YES Israel has Uber, no matter what you’ve read), and had to walk back within range of the house’s WiFi to do it.

Then, later that night, when I ordered my return Uber (using the restaurant’s free WiFi), I found I could no longer see the taxi’s progress to my location or even which taxi was the one sent after I had stepped on to the pavement in front of the place. Again, I had to go BACK into the boundaries of their WiFi signal and reboot the app, and then had to stay there till the taxi arrived, rather than at the edge of the street as I normally would. Forget about using google maps to give me walking directions from place to place, unless I downloaded the map to my phone, but even then, the directions function didn’t work (I had to go low tech and actually READ the map for myself). So with US roaming I had 3 bars for making phone calls but NO DATA!!!!

I don’t know about you, but when I’m looking at cell providers nothing pisses me off faster than seeing three or four bars for cell coverage, and NOTHING for data. Not to be repetitive, but in this day and age ISSUE is increasingly becoming data, NOT the ability to make a phone call. This is ESPECIALLY true when you’re traveling to see the place, rather than on business (business folks still need to make calls). But I’m retired, I really don’t use my iPhone much as a phone anymore. I only makes calls when I really need to and almost no one calls me other than doctors offices and businesses, I’m far more likely to text or use a messenger app of some sort. My friends are either on Facebook or they email me, or use videophone applications to reach me … As such, my iPhone is my link to the world, when out and about, and it’s how I find my way around strange cities, call myself a cab, and decide where to eat.

That said, once I started doing my due diligence (rather than just buying the first sim card I saw) which sim card to buy turned out to be a far more complicated question than I would have imagined. As this web page that I found shows (it tracks current data coverage by carrier/provider, with distinctions for 3G, 4G, etc.), data coverage in Israel kind of seriously sucks.

When using the page you have to select a provider from the pull down menu, and then zoom in to specific neighborhoods to see actual coverage. Looking at the results, the map shows that if you stay in Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem, pretty much any sim will work. However, if like me your trip is going to include spending a full month in places like the Historic town of Acre (pronounced as Akko), located just north of Haifa, not so good. Haifa has GREAT coverage, Akko’s kind of sucks. What was REALLY irritating was learning that even though my T-mobile is roaming using Cellcom’s network, and I was IN neighborhoods where cellcom had STRONG coverage, my T-mobile sim wasn’t seeing that data stream …

I have a theory that this may be because T-mobile’s roaming only sees 3G and 4G and in areas that have upgraded to 4G+, it just can’t read the stuff… but its a theory only.

Anyway, If you can I STRONGLY suggest contacting your host and or hosts and asking them WHICH provider has the best data coverage in the places you’ll be spending the most time. My Host in Tel Aviv had suggested the provider Golan, as the best and cheapest, but I discovered it had NO coverage, NONE in Akko, where I was going to be on my 2nd month. So I contacted that host, and he suggested that I buy the Orange sim (which recently changed its name to Partner)

ALSO, MOST of the shops that are selling sim cards in Israel have HORRIBLE customer service — they’re NOT like in the USA. (At this point I want to kill the guys who sold me my orange card just for being asses). Most of the sellers are just little stalls in malls and such and the folks working them only know what he has in stock and expects you to show up knowing what you want. If you want help making the decision based on needs you’re going to HAVE to go one of their Customer service centers . A way to know is if there’s a guy standing behind the counter and you didn’t have to take a number to talk to him, expect NO CUSTOMER SERVICE. The ones where they actually know enough and have been trained to help you, for those you’ll have to take a number and then sit and wait to see a guy who is SITTING behind a counter. Standing means no customer service, while take and number and sit = customer service.

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Israel DOES have Uber, of a sort.

Before coming to Israel I was trying to find out DID Israel have Uber, and every website I saw said they did not. Even locals I spoke to told me “Uber doesn’t work in Israel.” This is in fact WRONG…  It does … at least for as much as you the customer actually care… You open your app, you call for a ride, you get one… it’s just going to be from an actual taxi with a yellow taxi thing on its hood… but you get your ride and pay via the app, and let’s face it that’s all we care about.

That said, you ARE going to want to use Uber. When I grabbed a cab at the airport without Uber, the girl who talked to me when I got into the cab at the designated cab stand, officiously informed me that my cab would only cost 110 shekels because the cab could only charge me based on the distance (not the time) and because of the location I was going to that was the charge. She handed me a print out with a website to reach for feedback (but no mention of the set charge), and she promised me he would take my credit card. When I got there he said his WiFi didn’t work, so he couldn’t charge the card… and when I asked how much, he said that because of how backed up the highway had been, and how long it took to get here, the fee was 145 shekels. I was too tired at the time to make a stink — because Israeli’s LOVE to argue and I was once punched in the face by an Israeli shoe repair man, in Israel, because I had refused to pay as he’d totally botched up the job, and now know better than to NOT expect a potential for violence when in Israel … I’ve seen more than a few minor fender benders turn violent over the years (keep in mind a good chunk of the population has PTSD) ….  So I just paid the extra and let it go… but knew I’d just been ripped off.

So yes, you’re going to want to use Uber if for no other reason than the cab drivers get paid via the app, and this gives them no opportunity to pull that kind of con on travelers.

Oh, and in Israel cab drivers are NOT generally tipped, although waiters in restaurants and bars still are. Cab drivers don’t expect it, and the app isn’t set up to do it. I do NOT however know if they’ll give you bad feedback if you don’t, which is what was happening in the USA which is why Uber added after the fact tipping.

In Israel it’s not Uber so much as the Uber business model of the gig economy that’s illegal; i.e., individuals using their own cars to drive as taxi’s. If you think about it that’s probably a good thing as Israel is a country in a state of war and terrorism is most definitely a thing. You’ve all heard the stories of the folks faking being Uber drivers in order to rape or steal from people, well in Israel using Uber to kidnap and kill could easily become part of the terror campaign, so I understand why the Israeli government wouldn’t allow it.

That said, you can STILL use your Uber app to get a ride. Apparently, Uber has teamed up with licensed cab drivers and given them access to their software. When you call an Uber what arrives has a formal yellow “Taxi” thing attached to their roof. I think what’s happened is all the small independent companies and/or drivers, who can’t afford to have the sort of software/app/etc that Uber has are the ones who have teamed up with Uber. Israel has in fact a LONG history of this sort of small businessman… before it was nationalized all busses in Israel were privately owned and operated by their drivers, even though they were on organized routes. (My mom had more than few friends who were doing this for a living back when I was like 4 years old).

 

Lake Rotoiti, in Nelson Lakes National Park, South Island, New Zealand

If you ever have the chance to road-trip the length of New Zealand’s South Island, Lake Rotoiti (previously also known as Lake Arthur), which is located in the Nelson Lakes National Park, is one of the tourist spots so picturesque that it shows up not only on postcards but also on T-shirts.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_d222.jpgWhile this isn’t in my mind a “destination stop” unless you’re a local, it is a very pleasant place to stop and stretch your legs. We needed a place like that because we had the evening before taken the 2pm ferry from Wellington to Picton, which arrived at around 6:15 pm, and then rented a car, and spent the night in a very nice Airbnb with an en-suite bathroom, a walk in closet, and a hot tub,UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_28a3.jpgin the small town of Blenheim, a place that felt like I was at the Hilton for the price of cheap motel — got to love Airbnb. We were just pit stopping there, but apparently it’s an area known for its vineyards, and a lot of people who are into wine will stay for extended visits.

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After that we took a drive heading in the general direction of Christchurch, but because we had a few days to kill (and because the most direct route is still being rebuilt after the 2011 earthquake which completely changed some of the geography along the south island’s Northeast coast), we opted to take a route that took us along the island’s west coast.

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I LOVE how my apple watch allows me to set up shots (you can see what the iPhone sees on the watch), which in this case the smartphone was sitting on the hood of our rental car.

One thing to keep in mind is New Zealand actually has TWO lakes called Rotoiti (the Maori word for center) one on the North Island, and one in the South, I’m currently talking about the latter. (Yes it’s confusing, but at least it’s one per islands, think of it like there’s 88 different towns and cities in the USA called Washington, and 41 different Springfields, etc.)

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Please note the restrictions of which vehicles are allowed on this lake, it’s important. There are a lot of formerly clean lakes that have been polluted by things like personal jet skies and such, all of which leak oil and gas into the water, turning it green and murky. One of the things that makes this lake so impressive, in my own opinion, is just how clear this water is.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_28a9.jpg

The picture with the boats at the end of the pier gives you an idea of how much deeper it is there. And still… this water is almost as clear as my bathtub. The upper left image is the water as seen from near the beach, while the bottom right one is taken from the far end of the pier… and you can still clearly see the rocks below

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After I took this image I started to see postcards and stuff depicting this lake, and they almost always have just this same shot… only framed better (my friend took it and for love or money I couldn’t teach him to frame a shot) and without the boats parked alongside the pier.

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Giapo, a very different sort Ice Cream experience in Auckland, New Zealand

Located in downtown Auckland, New Zealand, is a gourmet Ice cream shop that offers up something entirely different. Called, Giapo, they serve not just unique flavors, but a unique ice cream experience. The place is highly popular not only with tourists, but with the areas’s locals. That said, if you’re not willing to wait in a long line, I strongly suggest you get at an off peak hour (NOT dinner time on a weekend).

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This tourist draw, as luck would have it, was located on the first floor of the building our Airbnb was located in, and adjacent to our buildings front door. When you walk out of your building and see ice cream creations like the giant Squid above, you just HAVE to try it… diet be damned. That said, neither I nor my friend ordered the giant squid…

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When you arrive, be prepared for a bit of a wait. It is NOT like pretty much every ice cream store on the planet where you walk in and have to choose from 25 or more different flavors… no. Customers rather than being catered to one at a time are brought in as small groups of about five to seven people, who will crowd around a small table.

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Once there, you will be put through a dog and pony show demonstration of the “vision” of their founding “ice cream chefs” and what it is that makes their product unique both in terms of flavors and presentation

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This will start with a tasting, where they bring out small a selection of small shot glasses, one per flavor (not one per customer) and a bunch of tongue depressor sticks. They will ask if anyone has any food allergies. Then, the “hostess” (I didn’t see a single male host during our multiple visits), who will be dressed in all black — like in a trendy gourmet restaurant — will bring out one flavor at a time, pass it around to the guests at the table, and everyone will get to take a “tasting” from each of the shot-glasses — using the sticks as spoons …. (I think they use a stick instead of a spoon as it severely limits the amount of ice cream you can scoop up)

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[Note: they always seem to start with the first person on their left, so if you the last person in the line, you tend to get to ‘clean up’ whatever’s left behind, if you want to, so it’s a strategic place to stand]

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Then, once the tasting has been completed and you have an idea of which flavor or flavors you’d like, you get to choose HOW you want it served to you. This can be as simple as in a cup, or a house made waffle cone…. or a bit more daring, but still mundane, you can choose it served in a cone that’s been encrusted with a variety of different flavorings… but why be so boring?!

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The wilder options include (upper left to bottom right, of the image above) 1) the Pikorua, a Māori symbol for the bond between two people, be it based in friendship, love or blood… usually used in their traditional jewelry (which I learned should be gifted rather than purchased for yourself). This is two cones of ice cream that have covered in a layer of hard chocolate (ice cream AND cone), that have massive hard chocolate curvy things on top… the major benefit of which is not only a massive amount of chocolate but also the photo opportunity of standing side by side as the two ice creams touch. 2) Wearable mini cones… designed to be worn on your fingers as you eat them. 3) A chocolate copy of the Aukland tower (I didn’t see a single person order that one). 4) the massive hard chocolate Squid — which I didn’t try but would had we stayed longer, 5) the “selfie” cone… I suppose you’re supposed to hold it in one hand so that it fames your face with chocolate as you take your selfie

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For myself, I opted their traditional British Yorkshire pudding whose interior was lined with milk chocolate (to keep the melt from soaking into the bread), loaded up with two flavors of ice cream: the Chocolate Evolution (bottom), which was topped by a scoop of the Blackberry & Martini Rosso (top), which was then dipped in topping of berries and something white…. SO GOOD!!!! UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2891.jpg

My travel buddy opted for a boring old waffle cone filled with their Hokey Pokey flavor (it’s a traditional New Zealand concoction of plain vanilla ice cream with small, solid lumps of honeycomb toffee) which was then dipped in corn flakes and topped with a chocolate cookie. He was VERY happy with his choice.

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the chef serving up the LAST Yorkshire pudding of the day, and the waitress stressing out because two people had ordered it

One of the things to keep in mind when coming here is that every morning they make a large quantity of about nine different flavors, and an assortment of the ‘delivery’ options… but that’s it. They don’t make more than they think they will serve that day, and when it’s run out, its out…

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An annoyed chef showing the waitress an order that can’t be filled because she didn’t do her job correctly

In the picture above, off to the left of the window is a white board which shows on the left side, how many of certain options are left, and on the right, what’s sold out. In the photo four of the flavors from that day’s option of nine were sold out by 10pm, and the store wasn’t due to close for a while yet. Waitresses are SUPPOSED to change the amount available as they sell them, apparently this girl hadn’t been doing it so while the board said 11 Yorkshire puddings left, in fact there was only ONE.  SO, I strongly suggest if you want to try this place, get there early.

Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia and The Not Captain Cook’s Cottage

[Updated – forgot to add some stuff before] Melbourne refers to itself as the garden city of Australia, and Fitzroy Garden is one of the city’s many landscaped gardens that earns it that title. The most famous attraction located within the garden is Cook’s cottage, which some sites advertise as having belonged to the famous Captain Cook, the explorer who ‘discovered Australia’; historical buff that I am, this made me excited to see it, but that claim — if you come across it, is wrong. It was never his, it was one of his parent’s homes, and he never lived there. That said Fitzroy Garden where the house is located, is free to explore, but the Cook’s Cottage itself — which has been one of the major tourist draws in Melbourne since it was first moved here in 1934… is NOT, free that is…

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Me, standing as close as you can get to the house without paying a fee

Fitzroy Gardens, in the suburb of East Melbourne. To be technical about it… It’s not actually IN Melbourne, which is one of these TINY dot on the map cities that has never annexed adjacent suburbs so that it could ‘grow’, like Chicago or New York City did, and has ‘neighborhoods’ that are legally separate entities; as such you really have to think of it as the greater Melbourne area when visiting, because Aussies seem to get very irritated when we call East Melbourne, just plain old Melbourne… because it’s not.

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“Technically” considered to be the Oldest building in all of the greater Melbourne area, as it has been dated to at least 1755 [Melbourne was founded in 1835], the cottage had belonged (at one time) to the father of James Cook (1728 –1779), the famous British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy, who was also the first “recorded” European to “discover” Australia…. That said, the man who “discovered” Australia MAY have (we don’t know for sure that he ever did), at best, slept there… when/if he visited his folks in his home town (one has to assume he may have at some point)…. so yes, the connection is a bit tenuous …

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Originally located in the village of Great Ayton in North Yorkshire, where Captain Cook was born, the building was brought to Melbourne in in 1934 by the Chemist and Philanthropist Russell Grimwade, who gifted it to the State of Victoria in honor of the celebration of the upcoming 100 year anniversary of the settlement of Melbourne (1835). The owner had put it up for bid, on condition that it be moved to someplace else “in England”, but (according to Wikipedia) when the highest local bid had been £300 versus Grimwade’s bid of £800, she was ‘convinced’ to change that requirement to “in the British Empire.”

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Originally sold as the home of Captain Cook’s early days, the cottage is now only called “Cook’s Cottage” because later historians, rightly, called foul. While the initials J.C. and the year of 1755 had been engraved into a lintel above one of the doors… the JC did not denote James Cook the son and Captain, but rather James his father, a farm laborer who was originally from Scotland.

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The engraved lintel (covered in plexiglass, I assume for its protection from vandals)

What is not known for sure, however, is was the house built in 1755, or possibly rebuilt… or just purchased by Cook’s father. Also, since James Cook, the Jr., was born in 1728, and had moved away from home at 16 — which was normal at the time, he would have been 27 by 1755, the year engraved probably with his own home; this, in fact, was was the same year he had joined the Royal Navy in hopes of greater advancement, after having already served in the British Merchant Navy where he had been promoted about as far as he could in that profession, i.e., already an adult man with a career and his own private life…. Therefore, it is HIGHLY unlikely that he had actually ever LIVED in the house, at best he may have visited, it was therefore a misleading to continue to call it “Captain Cook’s Cottage”…

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The laminated 3-ring notebook you can reference if you want to know more about the house

The Cottage itself is open every day from 9 to 5, but you have to buy a ticket. These can be found across the walkway at the information building/Visitor Center and Conservatory, which also has a cafe, where you can have a meal, pamphlets about other things to see and do in the area

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And of course a gift shop…. with some very cute items for sale that I had not seen elsewhere, so worth checking out if you’re shopping for souvenirs

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I think these were hand-made Xmas tree ornaments, but they’re cute enough that even I’d buy them … the seemed to be made of pine prickles shoved into a form, sculpted and painted, or something of the like

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Although a bit steep for a rubber ducky at $14.95 AUD, I was seriously tempted to buy one of these …. afterwards I found a few other museums with sections devoted to Captain Cook that also sell them… for the same price. I might give in and buy one next time see it.

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Once you have purchased your ticket you cross over to the cottage and enter through a gate that scans your ticket (like at the airport). Inside were two docents dressed in period garb whose job it was to help orient you, or have their pictures taken with you (which I didn’t opt to do), or help you into the garb if you wanted to dress up yourself… but for the most part it’s all self guided.

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There were two 3 ringed notebooks of laminated pages devoted to the spot if you bother to take the time to notice them (almost no one did) located just in the doorway of the home (where folks would remove their coats and muddy shoes, I assume). The house consisted of a kitchen/living room/dining room with a running voice narrative that sounds like it’s supposed to be Captain Cook’s mother, talking about what it was like to live and work in the house

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Upstairs there was a narrow flight of stairs that were a lot steeper than we’re used to (most definitely NOT disability friendly), and required that visitors make way for each other going up or down

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You find a master bedroom, with more written explanation (and no voice narrative)

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and two small bedrooms, one upstairs and one down

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And in the back of the house is an herb garden

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Around the back/side of the house is the stable, which has been converted into a sort of museum/movie theater

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I am pretty sure I watched four different movies that were on display there, one about Captain cook discovering Australia, one about the sale and transport of the house, one about the history of the house, and one about his parent’s lives. One of the cool things was there were three screens, one of which was showing the same movie at the same time, on a smaller screen, with Chinese subtitles. Every time Chinese visitors stepped in I would point them towards that, because they tended to walk in, see the main screen, hear the English, and looked a little sad… only to have me point out the Chinese screen and have their faces light up… I’m thinking one of the docents should have been in there doing that.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2526.jpgBeyond the cottage, I found that overall Fitzroy is less of a garden, in my mind (relatively few flowers), and more of an urban green space, with tree lined avenues that before air-conditioning probably offered much needed shade in the summer heat. While it has some boring almost obligatory stuff, like the Grey Street Fountain… UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2514.jpg

…. and the River God Fountain, both of which are perfectly nice

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…these looked pretty much like any old fashioned/classic fountain and garden you’d find in any park …anywhere (especially in France or the UK). What’s cool/different about the garden is that it tends towards things that are a bit more fanciful and fun, such as it’s children’s playground, which has a dragon slide and a giraffe like swing set

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And a model Kentish Tudor village. The story on this is kind of cute in that all the homes were built by an elderly pensioner, Mr. Edgar Wilson who lived in the UK and liked to build these things out of concrete, just for fun, as his hobby. He gifted them in 1948 to Melbourne in appreciation of the food that Australia sent to England during WWII

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The town included a scale model of the house owned by Shakespeare’s wife (the one he quickly abandoned) the widow Anne Hathaway. I will admit that when I read the garden had a Tudor Village, I was expecting something radically different from what I found. In my minds eye I expected to find some full or at least half sized Tudor homes that you could walk through … maybe with some staff, sort of like what I had found at Cook’s cottage…. at least tall enough for small children to enter… but nope

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Instead I found a collection of homes that at best might come to my knee, and the homes are all completely fenced off, so little kids can’t really enjoy them much either… and adjacent to the Tudor village I found the the Fairies Tree

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which I was sad to see was ALSO surrounded by a fence, so that you can’t get up close and personal with it. BUT after I got home and studied it I understood why — did NOT find any description of this at the spot. This tree isn’t some modern thing made for kids to play on … The Fairies tree was carved back in the 1930’s by a local artist and author by the name of Ola Cohn, into the stump of a 300+ year old River Red Gum tree which had been original to the garden. Ms Cohn (who was of Danish extraction) was a well known (her portrait hangs in a museum in Canberra, and the link includes an image of her carving the tree) and respected local artist, who went on to be appointed a Member of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an order of chivalry — a sort of knighthood, for her work in the service of art. Because she’d carved it into what was then already a dead tree, there’s been issues with degradation and rot over time, so that in 1977, in order to stop the rot, they had to pull the whole thing out of the ground, removed wood that had already rotted — they found a perfectly preserved mummified Brushtail possum at that point (!!!), and then treated the remaining tree with chemicals to stop any further rot… remounted the tree into a concrete base and returned it to the garden.

So I get the history of the things, and why they might want to preserve them… but I have to think little kids don’t really enjoy either of them much as a result. So Nice but kind of meh…

I think my favorite fountain was the Dolphin Fountain, which seemed to be much more modern in construction….

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in fact it turned out to have been built in 1982, and for some reason the park’s website said that it was “controversial” but didn’t explain why…

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After some research I found this website explaining, some of the argument was regarding WHERE in the garden this $30,000 gift payed for by Dinah and Henry Krongold and created by a sculptress by the name of June Arnold should go… or if it was suited to the Fitzroy gardens at all because it wasn’t in keeping with the garden’s naturalism (???)

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Not surprisingly, little kid (according to what I’ve read) LOVE this fountain as it’s the only one they’re actually allowed to interact with… I saw parents lifting their small children up on to the rocks, etc.