A visit to the Hermitage: Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville

The Hermitage is the home of Andrew Jackson, America’s seventh (from 1829 to 1837, he served two terms) President of the United States, and possibly one of our most controversial ones. To put it in a modern context, Trump is a big fan of Andrew Jackson, and a lot of people compare the two Presidents as being similar, and will view that similarity with the same intensity of love and or hate for the man, depending on their political leanings.

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How people viewed President Jackson is part and parcel with the nicknames they gave him. So for instance his names among the whites varied from “Old Hickory” which was given to him by the soldiers who served under him and loved him, to “The Hero of New Orleans,” because of his successes in the Battles for New Orleans  (December 14, 1814 and January 18, 1815) as part of the War of 1812, notably his wins happened AFTER the treaty ending the war had already been signed (December 24, 1814), but apparently that didn’t (and still doesn’t) matter in the minds of his supporters …  to “King Mob,” by his white detractors, because his most avid supporters for position of President were considered the illiterate mob. While the names the Native-Americans gave him included  “Sharp Knife,” given to him by the Muscogee/Creek people, or his even more explicit Cherokee name of “Indian Killer.”

So for instance, during my travels I’ve spoken about the Trail of Tears in numerous posts, and that act of genocide was initiated by the state of Georgia, but could never have happened but for Jackson’s who hearted support …  His supporters (current day hard core republicans) will often point to his high respect for the constitution, and how he said, “The Constitution and the laws are supreme and the Union indissoluble” when speaking against a state’s right to secede from the union, but seem to completely forget that the Cherokee had fought their forced relocation by the state of Georgia all the way to the Supreme Court and won their case, only to have Jackson, who had as part of his campaign promised to support Indian removal (the same way Trump has promised to kick out illegal aliens and build the wall) completely reject the court’s findings, “supposedly” saying (but probably didn’t) “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” and then instructing the US military to forcibly remove the Cherokee anyway.

And yet, Andrew Jackson was a man of the people. In a government that had till then been run almost exclusively by men from America’s “best families,” essentially our upper classes … Jackson was quite the opposite. Without him Lincoln might have never been elected. The illiterate and unwashed populace supported him because he was one of them, hence the title “King Mob.” And even some of our most iconic liberal media TV shows, like The West Wing, are therefore forced to tip their hat to him.

My first visit to the Hermitage was in December of 2010, and there was snow on the ground. To be honest my desire to come here again was so I could blog about it here as part of my visiting sites around America related to our Presidents and First Spouses (in fact I’ll be doing more Lincoln stuff in a few days) and to see if there were any changes to the place. And there had been, although nothing particularly substantive.

When you first enter the property, you are now given a choice between two different sorts of tickets. The major difference being, one includes the older audio device for self guided tours (audio, but no pictures), while the new one includes a sort of smart phone like device, which adds images, a few more narrations with more information (much of it about relationship between Jackson and his slaves), and a 10% discount at the store which I wish they had actually told me about when I paid for the thing, because I bought about $80 worth of costume jewelry while there and that $8 discount would have paid for itself (I only just discovered it now).

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In the photo on the bottom left you can see a staff member demonstrating how to use the older audio device (on the wall behind her were the three sorts of tours information), while on the bottom right is one of the new smart-phone type machines, which is what I was using. Regarding the sorts of information offered, I found two things interesting: firstly, On adult devices do NOT allow you to hear the blue 200 series audio files, intended for kids, so that as a parent you can’t actually know what they’re telling your kids, or NOT telling them… that’s a problem! Also, if you think about it for a second, you get the feeling that the 300 series, the information about Andrew Jackson’s wife was added as an afterthought … as part of the whole, we need to pay as much attention to the first spouses as to the presidents movement.

After getting your headsets, or before, depending on how you time things, there’s short movie that provided a fairly level introduction to who Jackson was, pointing out that he could be mild-mannered and polite, as long as you didn’t get in the way of anything he wanted, in which case he could turn extremely violent, and you were essentially dog meat. (There’s a world for this, its psychopath … no I don’t have an opinion about this, why do you ask?)

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The movie also talks about Jackson’s war with the Central/Federal Bank of the United States, a point of history which if you don’t understand it, you will never appreciate the exquisite irony of Andrew Jackson’s face on the 20 dollar bill.

After the movie there is a small museum area you can either walk straight through on your way to see Hermitage, or you can stop and appreciate, which will teach you more about the man and his importance to American history.

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After the museum you begin to the approach the property, and this is when the audio aides come into use.

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All along the path there are detailed signs you are meant to stop and read that offer other information (not available in the audio segments)

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And then after you’ve walked a short but winding path you begin to approach the building itself, and are offered information about its building and evolution over the years before, during and after Jackson’s presidency.

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Then, you stand in a cordoned off line, and wait for your turn to enter the building. For this they’ve come up with really smart way of breaking the tourists into easily manageable groups. There is a set of benches, and only as many people as can comfortably sit on the benches at once are allowed in at a time, and each group once seated is given a short speech about what they’re about to see, with a question period after it, all of this intended to space the groups out.

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One difference I DID notice between this time and my previous visit in 2010 was back then ALL the various tour guides were dressed in period costumes, while this time they all were wearing modern clothes. (I think this change is a loss)

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Note the difference in cloths of this guy (in the black outfit) in this picture taken in 2010 with the young guy in the picture taken yesterday

Additionally, and this I’m less sure of, last time I’m pretty sure that the same docent stayed with our group along the whole tour, while this time we visitors were moved from one location to the next but the tour guides stayed put.

Both times, while in the house, we were not allowed to take pictures. However, I think this was for two reasons, firstly, picture takers can slow down the efficient movement of people from one location to the next, and secondly, picture takes tend to break the rules in favor of a good shot… crossing boundaries and using flash (which could have a cumulatively destructive effect on the antiques in the house).

But once you’re outside of the shuffled through tour part, there’s not only no one telling you NOT to take pictures, but there also plastic walls in place separating you from any chance to do anything destructive… via the servants section of the house where you can see into the main house … so… here are some.

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This was the informal part of Jackson Parlor. In the Front rooms, which are not directly visible from the servants area is where he met official visitors, this back room was where family would spend their time

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This is the dining room. The flooring which looks like linoleum is actually a waxed cloth (like wall paper for floors) that was popular at the time and even existed in the White House. The stove was a modern Franklin stove which was much more efficient than a fireplace.

The home would house any and all visitors who came that day (as at that time it was a couple of hours ride away from Nashville), offering them a place for the night. Bed rooms were filled on a first come first serve basis, separated by gender, with late comers given bedding on the floor, as was the common courtesy of the day. (There’s actually an amusing story of one time Thomas Jefferson while running for President went to visit the then widowed Martha Washington in Mount Vernon, and she hated him so much while she could not refuse to see him, she did not, as was considered common courtesy, offer him a place for the night… and he was forced to ride all the way back to Alexandria. A MAJOR diss… we know this is true because apparently he ran up quite the liquor bill that night at the inn he ended up in)

After dinner, the dinner table was designed to be easily taken apart, and the dinning room was then available for dancing and other entertainments. Right behind the dining room is of course the servants area, such as the kitchen and store rooms

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Another change I noticed was, while last time I was here, people would press the various buttons (like the one here in front of the kitchen) to listen to the recording describing the area, which was blared over a loud-speaker to the whole group at once, this time NO ONE (other than me) pressed these buttons. In fact I spotted one woman bitching to a guard that I had disturbed her by doing it… to which I’m pretty sure he responded, “Madam, that’s what they’re there for.”

After the house you walk to the fields, work houses and slave quarters that are located in the backyard area

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A view of the house from the back, less fancy than from the front

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One of the interesting things that I learned was that while one of the horrors of slavery you always hear about is families being separated, it was NOT Andrew Jackson’s practice to do this. Whenever possible he kept slave families together even to the point of it not being economically practical (holding on to the very young and the very old), to the extent of he once purchased a seamstress for his time at the white house, and then upon her request her whole family… she had informed him that they were all trained house slaves owned by a man going bankrupt and therefore at risk of being seperated (it was in one of the audio files, from her voice I think she was the same African-American historian who spoke in the movie, who specialized in the slave experience). However, according to the above sign, Jefferson did this less out of the goodness of his heart than as a modern slave management technique, designed to make slaves less likely to want to run away as the larger their families, the less likely they would be able to do it together.

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That said, back when I was studying the institution of slavery at Northwestern University with a professor who specialized in it, one of the things she taught us was one of the best measures of was, and I preface this by saying slavery is a HORRIBLE thing and should never exist, and there are therefore no “good” slave owners… that said, the way to distinguish the relatively ‘good’ owners from the really bad ones was once emancipation came, how many freed slaves chose to stay put and continue working for their former owners, versus opted to grab their freedom and pursue better options. The reality, as politically incorrect as this might sound, was that many former slaves stayed put (or came back after doing a walk about to see what else was out there)… but those owned by BAD owners, the ones who were most notorious for their evil behaviors… those saw their “families” of former slaves abandon them with a will…

That said, while Andrew Jackson had passed away about 20 years before the Civil war, and it was his son who was the owner of all of his former ‘properties’ once emancipation came to the Hermitage, according to the sign above … most of Jackson’s “black family still at the Hermitage chose an uncertain future and fled behind Union lines”

In fact, I wasn’t able to find the sign this time, but I remember that last time I was there I read one that said in fact almost ALL the former slaves but a small handful (I think the number was like three?) had run away from them, telling you pretty much everything you needed to know, at least about how Jackson’s son had treated them.

Bell Buckle, Tennessee: if you’re looking for something worth stopping for on the two hour drive between Nashville and Chattanooga

Bell Buckle, TN is a very cute, tiny (population of under 400) town located well away from any highways, but on an active train line. It is a well-preserved historic town full of well maintained Victorian homes, many of which have very pretty gardens, as well as a well maintained downtown (it is a whistle-stop town on the train line from Nashville to Chattanooga) that has done everything feasibly possible to be appealing to tourists.

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Approaching the town you pass some impressively palatial homes, which is not what one expects to see in such a small town in Tennessee. Then, the moment you drive into town you’ll have to slow down to 15 mph, as you pass The Webb school. Looking at it I could tell it was a fairly affluent boarding school (its tuition is between 40-50K a year, which is up there with the price of sending your kid to University) whose presence in the town, I was pretty sure, probably explained why the homes I was passing were SO nice. That said, when I got home and did some research; I discovered that it was in fact a college prep boarding school, founded in 1870 (one of the oldest ones in the south); and that the school had been moved to Bell Buckle in 1886 (because the town was dry while its original location was going wet); and, that it was at one point SO good that it was responsible for producing more Rhodes scholars than any other secondary school in country (that said, I was looking on their website that lists where their current crop of seniors will be going for university, and the list was NOT a very impressive one — the public high school I went to, it does way better).

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This was on the sidewalk in front of one of the shops

A little further up the road you’ll come to a still active train line (none of the trains I saw actually bothered to stop at the town, confirming its whistle-stop status), and a small collection or historic storefronts which make up the “down town.” I parked my car and walked around, exploring the shops.

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This, plus one shop, is pretty much all of downtown, like I said, tiny

In every shop I entered I asked what the history of the town was, and none of the staff seemed to know. In each case they said they were actually new to the town, or didn’t actually live in town. Which was interesting.

The shops consist mostly of women’s clothing shops, shops that promote local artists,

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antique shops and

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and four different food places, a coffee shop, an ice cream and sandwiches shop (with homemade fried pie), a meat and three and ladies high tea place…. with the exception of the coffee place (which was just a coffee place), all of the other three places were so southern as to represent stereotypes of the south, or tourist trap heaven.

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Again, how more Old South can you get than Pulled pork, Fried Green Tomatoes, Pimento Cheese  — oh right, Fried peach pie
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Again, not sure a place can get more stereotypically Southern than RC Cola and Moon Pies

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This is supposed to be the best restaurant in town, a traditional Southern ‘meat and three‘ but the guy in the wellness store told me that everything they serve is actually produced by Sysco foods (i.e., almost nothing is made by them, it all arrives in bulk already made), which is kind of shocking as it apparently is one of the major draws to the town (one store owner told me that it alone generates most of the towns income), and was, according to their resturant web site, listed as one of the top 10 resturants in the state

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I ordered a $5 bowl of Chili and got a bowl so big I could only eat half, the pancake looking thing is actually corn-bread flat cake (known as a johnny cake or a hoecake).

The shop that surprised me the most was the Wellness Emporium place that sold things like tonics, Kombucha and CBD Hemp oil. The guy when talking to the women described how he runs an organic farm and produces most of his products himself.

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Where to stay when booking a Tokyo Disneyland Vacation?

Let’s assume that you are a major Disney fan who has probably never been to Japan before and your number one priority on this trip is to visit Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea, because you are Disney nerd and have to see ALL the Disney parks… but you have either never been to Japan before (or not often), and as such you ALSO want to see Tokyo!  So, that said: Where do you stay?

In short, the answer is to find lodgings as near as possible to Tokyo Station. Look for either hotels, and/or (if you want to save money) any of the many Airbnbs that are an easy walk to the JR line’s Tokyo station, on what I like to refer to as the green circle (i.e., Yamanote) line. (If you want a GOOD and cheap Airbnb in that neighborhood, and I’m talking under $67/night for your own apartment, and there are more than few like that, you’ll need to book well in advance, as the early bird gets the worm.) I strongly suggest doing this rather than staying at any of the Disney Resort hotels out in Urayasu City, next to the JR Maihama Station which is located directly adjacent to Tokyo Disneyland (but which is NOT Tokyo). Here’s why….

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The red arrow points to the Maihama Station, which is directly adjacent to the Disney properties.

Firstly, Tokyo is NOT Orlando, and while Orlando might not have much to draw you away from the Disney parks, Tokyo does. That said, Tokyo station sits right in the center of historic Tokyo; it is just east of the government buildings, the Emperor’s Palace, and it is an easy walk away from the Ginza, which is just south of it (i.e., wedged firmly between the historic and the modern);

Additionally, the station sits at the nexus of the red Marunouchi Line, which will take you directly to Tokyo Disney, and the green Yamanote line, which will take you to pretty much everywhere else that you as a tourist might want to go while in Tokyo. And while from the above map, Tokyo might not look so big, the reality is from Shinjuku (the station on the far left of the circle, and also one of the major Tokyo hotspots) to Disney by train will cost close to $4, and take you a good 40 minutes to an hour of travel time, where as from Tokyo station to Disney is a short 15 minute hop that costs all of around $2.20.

And, as I will discuss in more detail later in this post, the station is an attraction in and of itself.

Let’s face it, Orlando is essentially a midsized American town with a population of only around 270+ thousand, making it only the 73rd largest city (out of 19,354 “incorporated places”) in the country. While established in 1875 (mostly as a farming town near which rich people from northern cities, like Chicago, went to spend their winters after the first highways were built — and hence still has some nice historic homes from that period in the adjacent suburbs, like the aptly named Winter Park), the whole of the Orlando greater metropolitan area (population 2,387,138 million) does not in fact, other than some good food and a TON of amusement parks have much going for it. In fact, of that population 32.4% of the inhabitants, a 2003 study found, owe their employment to the Disney parks; and this number does NOT include the jobs created by Universal, Sea World, etc.  The whole area really doesn’t have ALL that much to offer in the way of history and/or culture; granted, there’s a decent ballet, some local theater groups (made up of mostly park employees yearning to be noticed by Broadway or Hollywood), a tiny handful of museums (if you don’t include tourist traps like chocolate museums) but really not much. Yes it is one of the entertainment capitols of the world, with an unusually VAST number of amusement park options within its metropolitan area, and hence an equally large selection of top of the line restaurants drawn there to feed the affluent locals, and tourists who want to eat outside of the parks; but I mean really, how many people go to the Orlando area for their vacation, and even bother stepping foot in downtown Orlando’s museums (let alone Kissimmee proper) or even know that those historic homes are even there? Let alone do any of them care? In fact, till Disney, in the mid 1960’s surreptitiously decided to buy up land in order to build his 2nd Disney park in the undeveloped areas between Orlando, Florida and Kissimmee, most people had never heard of the place. So if you go to Orlando, really… most visitors want to be on or right near the parks, because that is what they come for as a tourists.

Tokyo is not that, this is FRIGGING Tokyo! Tokyo’s history dates back to the late twelfth century, and has been the capital city of Japan since 1868. Historically it’s one of the largest and oldest and yet most modern cities on the planet, with a city population of 9.2+ MILLION (versus Orlando’s 270,934 thousand), with a greater metropolitan population of 13 million (to Orlando’s 2.4+ million)! In fact since 1968, it has been the world’s largest city. In terms of culture and history, it’s up there with London & Paris, let alone New York City,  for criminy sakes!!  It’s one of the best, most most modern, most exciting cities in the whole world with some of the best food on the planet (in Tokyo the bar is raised so high that even places like Denny’s are forced to be better than they would be here in the US)! So, as much as I LOVE me my Disney, if you come to Tokyo and don’t take some time to see Tokyo, especially if you’re someone whose not already very well aquainted with the place … then I’m sorry to say it, but something is seriously wrong with you.

Now granted, the Disney corporation wants you to stay at one of their hotels, or at least at one of the non-Disney owned hotels located on what is ostensibly their Island…. and of course that is an option. There are a HUGE number of hotels options scattered around the island, and in the case of DisneySea, there is one that is essentially inside the park. And you could, if that’s what you want to do, come to Tokyo Disney and JUST see all of what is on offer within the Disney bubble. The Hotels are of course very nice, and have a lot of nice amenities — as is ALWAYS true for Disney properties

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While there’s one of these princess beauty salons inside the park, there’s also one at the hotel
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As noted elsewhere, convienience stores in Japan area a whole different experience, and the one located in the hotel specializes in all products Disney, along with a really nice selection of affordable eats to take up to your room or eat there …. (in fact I am pretty sure that the same seafood gratin meal I ate freshly made while inside the park was being sold cold in the refrigerator here)

And Disney has built a fairly large mall called Ikspiari (similar to Disney Springs) with over a hundred businesses (shops, restaurants, a food court, etc.,) as well as a 16 screen movie theater, that is attached to the train line that links Disneyland and DisneySea.

And by the way, if you go to DisneySea, even though you could walk everywhere, you will REALLY DO want to buy a ticket for the special Disney train extension, in part because it kind of rocks.

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but mostly because, while it’s an easy five-minute walk from Maihama station to Disneyland, it’s a good 20 minute+ walk from there to Disney Sea… and who in the heck wants to do that at the end of along day at the park?

… but the reality is if you stay at the Disney resort, while you’re very close to Disney and save maybe a 40 min total in commute time per day (depending on how long it takes you to walk from your hotel to Tokyo Station)… there’s really not anywhere near as much to do out there as there is in Tokyo proper. And if you have never been to Toyko, even just the walk from your hotel to the train, or hanging out for a late night bite (the park and the mall essentially close around 10pm, while Tokyo is a 24 hour town) after returning from the park, will give you a taste of the place. In fact, you could easily spend a full day just exploring the maze that is Tokyo train station, because with its two hotels, art museum, multiple department stores and independent shops… and lord knows how many restaurants, it arguably has way more to offer than Disney’s tiny Ikspiari does.

For those who don’t know, Tokyo Disneyland is located on what at this point is mostly an artificially constructed island that sits in Tokyo Bay. While there’s always been a small island in the area, which is the Edo River’s delta, that previously held a tiny fishing village, the reality is that island was greately expanded through the creative use of garbage. There are in fact a whole series of these constructed islands in the bay, and ALL of them are essentially Tokyo’s Garbage dump. Once you get outside of the resort, what you’ll find is a small sleepy bedroom community for those who either work at the parks, or can’t afford to live in Tokyo proper, i.e., not much. You’re really, in my own opinion, better off staying near Tokyo station.

Halloween at Three Disney Parks, worldwide: Paris, Tokyo, & Orlando

Every year, all of the Disney parks celebrate a selection of the major ‘western’ holidays, and this includes Halloween. As no two parks are exactly alike, neither do any of them do the Halloween festivities alike. As such, I’ve decided to dedicate a blog post to those differences — As I experienced them. So far I’ve been lucky enough to be in three of the six Disneyland parks during Halloween: Paris in 2008, Tokyo in 2013, and Orlando in 2015 (the only one called the Magic Kingdom instead of Disneyland).

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So for instance, while Disney bounding (wearing modern street clothes that echo Disney characters) is something you’ll see year round at the US parks (if you know what you’re looking for)

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The girl on the left is Disney Bounding Snow White, the other girl is doing Minnie mouse

full-out costumes/Cosplay for anyone above the age of 14 are not allowed at any of the parks, in order to protect the brand and more importantly for fear of people confusing staff with visitors; except, that is, during the Halloween festivities (although even that is regulated, and the rules –often as reflection of security concerns — vary by park). That said, the extent to which the regular customers embrace that varies wildly both individually and culturally. That said, each of the parks has a very different ‘flavor’ as to how Halloween is done.

 

Paris Disney: where Spooky and eerie Halloweens rule

On October 29, 2008 I was in Disneyland Paris; this was back when it was still called Euro Disney Resort, and controlled not by the US Disney corporation but rather by local interests, and as such, much may have changed in the last 10 years in how Halloween is celebrated. To be honest … my experience of the park at that time was that, as a whole sucked rocks so bad that I was not at all surprised when a few years later I heard that Disney US had suspended any expansion plans, and initiated a take-back of control of the park; it was a process that began with the aforementioned name change, and that was completed just last year — so that they have only recently announced plans to begin the expansion that had been intended from when the park first opened in 1992. When I visited, it had been open about 16 years, was managed still by a subsidiary, (created I think in order to make the French feel like they were in control of the thing…) and well, like I said it sucked… BAD. The staff was impressively lazy and rude (oh have I got stories!!), the bathrooms was offensively dirty and smelly, and well… a far cry from “The happiest place on earth.”

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All of the Disney parks are intentionally designed to provide similar yet unique experiences, as a draw for folks like me to visit all of them, and Paris has some really good rides. For example, while I think EVER park has a variation of the “Haunted Mansion,” most of these rides tend to be more fun and quirky then they are spooky or scary, with the exception of the Paris version. Called “Phantom Manor,” this ride dark to the point of being down right creepy; unlike the other versions it includes a cohesive story line that is intentionally eerie. (Read this story synopsis to see just how much).
(Also watch this ‘ride-through’ YouTube video shot in 2015, and even if you don’t speak French you’ll note that music is also a heck of a lot spookier than at the other rides.)

Here’s also an interesting hour-long documentary on YouTube about what the Imagineers where going for when they developed the Disneyland Paris’ Phantom Manor, if you’re so inclined.

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The Phantom Manor decorated for Halloween, complete with the cast member in the green gown, with a pumpkin head, standing on its balcony behaving ghoulishly towards the crowds

ANYWAY, back to the topic at hand…. the same way that Disneyland Paris does a creepier haunted mansion, it also has a much creepier Halloween than the other parks do. Rather than the normal array of Disney characters posing for photos with the guests, you’re more likely to see staffers dressed as happy Jack-o-lantern and smiling ghouls were everywhere. As are Pumpkins, ghoulish decorations and the almost constant presence of orange paint, so that from the moment you walk into Main street, you are CLEAR that Halloween is being celebrated at Disney.

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Note the orange paint on the ground in he upper right corner

For the kids there were bright red candy apples (ala the poison apple from Snow White), and face-painting

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Halloween themed gifts and collectables

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And pumpkin themed decorations, both to look at and to have one’s picture taken with

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All of these is relatively normal, although the more you looked at the decorations, the more they became dark, grotesque and marginally perverted.

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Children posing with burial vaults?
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There’s something vaguely “Little Shop of Horrors“-esq about this decoration
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I’m not sure what is going on with this skull, but I surely didn’t expect to see something like this at a Disney park
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Is it me, or is this dark-o-lantern eating the brains of character below her?

So yes,Halloween at Disneyland Paris’ like it’s haunted mansion ride, is a good deal darker and more ghoulish than what one would expect from a Disney attraction.

 

Tokyo Disney: subtlety and nuances of Japanese culture

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On October 24th, 2013, while working in Seoul, South Korea as a professor, during one of the school holidays I had a chance to visit Tokyo, mostly with the intention of going to Tokyo Disneyland (YES, when I go to Tokyo I want to go to Disney, what’s your point?). This was actually my 2nd, or possibly third visit. The first time(s?) I went was back in the mid 1990’s while I was doing a summer internship with Eisai Pharmaceuticals in Tokyo. This (third?) visit in 2013 was my first chance to see the adjacent DisneySea park, which opened it’s doors in 2001. While there are things about the Tokyo Disney parks that frustrate me the Tokyo parks are among my favorites, in large part because they offer some of the best people watching opportunities. (Among the annoyances: the ATM’s in the park do NOT accept foreign bank cards — the mind boggles, especially since the food carts are cash only. For the restaurants you need a preexisting reservation, or you have to stand in line, literally — and sometimes for over an hour. There is no ‘come back at around 2:00’ with a txt messaging system if something opens up earlier, like in the states. And unlike the US parks there’s no service that allows you to spend your money at will and have all your purchases sent to the front gate for later pick up.)

The major reason the people watching is so good is that the Japanese love all things ‘Kawaii, aka, cute‘ to the point of a national obsession, and when the Japanese go to Disneyland they embrace that element of all things Disney with childlike abandon. As a result, wearable for sale items, like Disney ears, hats etc., exist in a much larger variety than in the USA, and they are pretty much ALL gender neutral. Unlike the USA where almost everything is Minnie Mouse (with the requisite bow), since men and boys are as likely to want to wear these things as women, Disney provides. So, not surprisingly, when they celebrate Halloween, they want to embrace the cute (and not the scary, like in Paris), and Disney delivers on that end as well.

That and, as the Japanese also appreciate subtlety in aesthetic (Shibui),  the holiday is a lot less, “in your face’ than it was in Paris.

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The above image for instance is Disney Main street during the Halloween period, compares it to the pictures of the same local in Paris that I posted and you’ll noticed a distinct difference. In fact but for the orange flowers on the lamp-post there really isn’t much in the way of Halloween happening. A little further into the park, just past main street, and you begin to see decorations,

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but again the decorations are no where as near in your face as in Paris ones, in fact its as though you’re being eased into Halloween. As there are bigger ones to come, behind the castle. Think of the parks this way, you enter the park through World Bazar (otherwise known as Main street USA) at 6:00 (where there was almost nothing in the way of holiday decorations), while it is possible to exit from there directly to AdventureLand, MOST people keep going straight, towards the castle, which is at the center of the clock.

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Once they’ve reached central park, most people will then go left to Adventureland which in Tokyo has New Orleans theme/Pirates of the Caribbean, 7:00 on the map, but it really isn’t till you hit

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Westernland (9:00) that you start to see decorations, and these are for the most part, up on top of building, rather than down at ground level (i.e., in your face)

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Note how the decorations mimic actual carved pumpkins, and are fun, rather than something out of child’s nightmare, like in they were in Paris… also older Japanese women will often use an outing to Disney as an excuse to wear their Kimono.

Even those decorations are not the garish bright orange that we saw in Paris, but a more subdued naturalistic looking pumpkin type decorations that could almost pass for real.

When you leave Westernland (10:00), heading towards where Crittercountry and Fantasyland meet — where the haunted mansion is located, the decorations get much more vibrant, but still cute, and with a lot of pumpkins that almost look real.

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Note all the people politely lined up in order to have a staff member take their pictures with the decorations. (In Japan this is done with the customer’s cameras, I was just there a few weeks ago, and they still don’t have the photo services with professional photographers at the ready, that you see at the Magic Kingdom.

And then of course, there are more of them around the Haunted Mansion (please forgive the poor quality of the photos), if anything, the tree of jack-o-lanterns that sat before it is probably the scarriest decoration in the whole park

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Forgive the poor quality of these photos, my old iphone 4s wasn’t up to the job

When you get into Fantasyland at 9:00, that is where you the colors and decorations become intense, but by this point you’ve been eased into it, so it not in any way shocking to the sensibilities, like in Paris. (If you DO go to Tokyo Disneyland I strongly suggest going on the Winnie the Pooh ride, there’s nothing like it in any of the other parks — it does NOT ride on tracks — see this video.)

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And then, if you enter Toontown section of the Disney park, which is designed for young children, that is when the decorations become their most extreme, but EVERYTHING in that section of the park is oversized and cartoonish, so it’s in keeping…

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A common thing at the park is to see girls in pairs who have gone to extreme lengths to dress alike, like these girls have… also note the little girl in the duck costume

After Toontown, Tomorrowland didn’t have much going on in the way of Halloween decorations, so that the total effect is of the most extreme decorations all being towards the back of the park (10:00 to 2:00, if viewing the map as a clock)

In addition to decorations, Tokyo Disney had some Halloween/orange themed eats (had all of them, they weren’t bad… although I remember wondering why the cream in the doughnut was orange flavored instead of pumpkin).

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One of the “big things” at Tokyo Disney is there are popcorn carts everywhere, but (unlike in the states where they’re pretty much either buttered or caramel, with the most distinctive thing about the carts being each has a different character spinning the wheel)

in Japan (sort of like their obsession for flavored Kit Kat bars) there’s a WIDE variety of flavors come of which change seasonally, and some of those can get a bit wacky… the curry smells better than it tastes (in my opinion), and I strongly suggest avoiding the shrimp flavored popcorn.  (And here’s a few different videos I found on YouTube of people taste testing various flavors)

That said, just like at the popcorn places in the US parks, Tokyo Disneyland sells collectible popcorn cases that vary with the themes of the rides, or major holidays like Halloween. The major difference I’ve found between the two is that the US ones seem to be intended for single use and hence fall-apart quickly — I purchased a vampire Mickey at DisneyWorld’s Halloween party and it fell apart as soon as I got it home — the Japanese popcorn cases are impressively durable; in Japan if you bring it back on subsequent visits you will get a small discount on the cost of a refill, so they are built with that in mind; after I purchased the one pictured below, I gave it to the 7-year-old daughter of the friends I was staying with, she and it was reported to me that she continued to use it for about a year afterwards as a purse, in addition to bringing it with her to Disney for popcorn refills. That is how strong these suckers are.

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Flavored popcorns at Tokyo DisneyLand and DisneySea, and the special Halloween case being offered

And of course there is a special Halloween influence to the parades

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But as I said, some of my favorite aspects of Tokyo Disney is the people watching, because just as the whole Cosplay movement began in Japan, the Japanese are far more likely ‘enthusiastically’ embrace the opportunity to show up to the parks in FULL costume (this article was posted 2015 two years after my visit —  at which point it had gotten so extreme, seriously check out the article, that in 2016 I heard that Disney had finally reeled them back in a bit) than other folks do. Back when I went in 2013, the trend was still a bit more laid back, but still impressive. Then, as I noted below the picture above, one of common trends was seeing girls coordinating their outfits, and the other is men who are unabashed in wearing cute stuff alongside the women (something you’d almost never see in the states).

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Two middle-aged Japanese housewives embracing the orange: standing up they were also coordinated, but in a much more subtle way than younger girls

That said, what really blew my mind was I saw a few different couples (men with their girlfriends and or wives) where the wife was dressed normally, but man was dressed in what the Japanese refer to as “Lolita Fashion” a trend that’s been going on in Japan for about as long as I can remember (so at least 30 years — I remember buying some of this back when I was in my 20’s and Japanese sizes still fit me). Think of it as a MUCH cuter version of Goth fashion.

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Don’t be confused, the person in the purplish dress is most definitively a male, the one in the Alice in Wonderland influenced baby-doll outfit I’m also pretty sure is a guy (look at the hands), but in this case not entirely

Like I said, the Lolita style is a very big deal in Japan, people will invest thousands of dollars in these outfits (they are definitely NOT cheap), and there are malls in trendy places like Harajuku and also Shinjuku that have whole floors of department stores devoted to the devotees of these styles. I even once spotted a Japanese girl at Epcot in Florida who showed up wearing Lolita fashion (the moment I saw the dress, she was ahead of me in line at one of the Epcot food festivals, I started chatting with her in my limited Japanese).

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This Japanese girl was at Epcot in 2017 with her boyfriend, she is also dressed in a Lolita Fashion; She’s wearing a Beauty and the Beast inspired outfit — note her dress’ fringe pattern
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Minishops in a Mall in Shinjuku that has a full floor devoted to the style

 

 

So while these styles are a thing in Japan, and some of them are highly influenced by Disney characters, such as Lewis Carol’s Alice… it’s a questionable line of are they Cosplay or fashion. As such, individuals who show up wearing it other than during Halloween may face some problems with the costume police at Tokyo Disneyland’s front gates. That said, what amazed me was not people were wearing it, but that Japanese MEN were wearing it… and wearing what was decidedly and clearly women’s fashions.

One of the things about Japanese culture is that there’s a time and a place for everything. Japan has had a long history of cross dressing, and, apparently, Disney’s Halloween has become one of the times and places where it is now acceptable for the growing trend of Japanese men with cross dressing tendencies, which the Japanese refer to as Otokonoko, to embrace their inner princess. So if you’re there during Halloween, make sure to keep an eye out.

As I mentioned before, there are currently two parks at Tokyo Disney, the Land (which is essentially Disneyland like in Los Angelus, or the The Magic Kingdom) which is a family oriented park, and DisneySea, which has a distinct nautical theme (although with touches of Epcot, as it offers a chance to “travel” to places like Venice, the Arabian Coast, Cape Cod & historic New York, Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island, a lost river delta in South America (which has the AWESOME Raiders of the Lost Ark Ride), and an area for smaller children (that you really HAVE to see, it’s awesome) aimed directly at the Little Mermaid — you get to essentially go “under the sea.” DisneySea is considered the more “adult” park, and was intentionally designed to be suitable for taking your girlfriend on a romantic date.

Here while there are Halloween decorations they are kept subtle throughout the park, when you first enter the park, there’s a venetian styled banner above the doorway that if you look very closely, says Halloween 2013… and has a bit more orange in it that usual, but that’s about it…

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And then when you pass the gate and enter the central lake — effectively the design replacement of garden at the center of the Magic kingdom — again more orange has been added to color pallet, but that’s about it.

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This statue had a carved pumpkin hanging by a cord around his neck (??, no I don’t get it either)

When you enter American section again there are orange banners that say happy Halloween

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Note the couple (boyfriend/girlfriend) off to the side dressed alike, this tends to be more of a Korean trend than a Japanese one, based on what I’ve seen. (So there’s a good chance those two are in fact Korean,

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and the decorations that were at ground level were so naturalistic that I remember thinking they might have even been using real pumpkins, trying to replicate what it would look like in the states, but I wasn’t sure. IMG_0942

And of course there were girls dressed alike, and men embracing the cute, just like across the park at Tokyo Disneyland.

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Besides the decorations I showed, I found very little else (in the non-European sections of DisneySea that were celebrating the holiday. For instance, while you might think this is a Halloween decoration,

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in fact it’s a “Día de Muertos” decoration that’s a permanent fixture in the South American section of the park.

Disney in the DisneyWorld:

In the US while there are a nice selection of Halloween decorations scattered throughout the park, MOST of them can be found near the entrance and in the main street area

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Other than that, really not so much… Instead Disney has used it as yet another opportunity to separate you from your money. I.e., if you want to really experience Halloween at the US parks, you’ll need to buy a special ticket (pass holders only get a tiny discount, and only on low attendance nights) to”Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party,” (which was a counter bid to Universal Studio‘s far more popular “Horror Nights/Fright Nights” events. (I think I’ve noticed a pattern, in that the discounted nights at Disney seem to be the ones that are scheduled directly against a Horror night, so that tells you something. Personally I HATED Horror Nights, but I’m 50, it’s not designed for me, even the Wikipedia page admits as much.)

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The special even essentially consists of three additional aspects, which even though I had a top of the line season pass with no block out dates, etc., I had to pay an extra $69 for… 1) access to trick or treating from various spots around the park (the candy was pretty run of the mill);

2) The ability to watch a special show called the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular:

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then 3) a special parade, called Mickey’s “Boo-to-You” Halloween Parade

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The coolest parts I got photos of, the headless horseman, especially when he pops up in a very dark spot, like where I was sitting is very cool…

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And then if you’re sitting in a dark place the ghosts from the haunted mansion dance by, and they’re slightly glow in the dark

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And then finally, 4) what I feel is the REAL draw for hard-core Disney fans, is the ability to stand in some VERY long lines… I’m talking like well over an hour in some cases, to have you picture taken with character that are never otherwise available to have your picture taken with, which includes ALL of the dwarves at one time, some of the Disney villains:

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Found a YouTube video where a woman goes through all the things to do at the party, and since unlike me she wasn’t on a diet, she ate all special party only deserts they were selling (yah, you paid $69+ to get in, and you have to pay to buy these special deserts)

So that said, one of my favorite things to do is people watch, and since Halloween is one of the few times the parks allow adults to come in costume, it can get interesting.

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The bottom left group was really creative, they’re the emotions from the Pixar movie “Inside out”
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This family, the adults came dressed as the Orcs from Frozen while the children came dressed as Anna, Elsa and Kristoff (how brilliant is that?)

‘Women-Only’ Train-Cars in Japan

You’d THINK ‘women-only’ carriages would only happen in cultures like the Middle East, where the genders are kept separate, but you’d be wrong. In an effort to combat ASSHOLE men who think a crowded train is the perfect opportunity to put their hands up the skirt of any women unlucky enough to be standing next to them, various cities around the world have begun to institute “women only carriages” in their trains, including Tokyo.

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Today I spent best part of a miserable day (Tokyo was having a gale, i.e., a storm with very little rain but near constant 30 to 50 mph wind gusts) at Tokyo Disneyland (hey, a woman has got to have her priorities); and while heading back home to my airbnb had my first encounter with this phenomena.

Because of having to fight intense winds the whole day I was already exhausted, and the whole route (from the airbnb to Disney) takes a miserable 1.25+ hours — and includes a LOT of additional walking as you make changes between three different lines none of which are adjacent to the other (suffice it to say that I will NOT be staying in this location again)… By the time I reached the final leg I was EXHAUSTED, and I still had make a change from the Japan Rail (JR) Chūō line (which runs east to west) to the Keio which starts at Shinjuku Station, which runs to the “dormitory communities” (or commuter towns) west of Tokyo…. where I was living. When I finally got to the Keio platform, the train was sitting there with it’s doors open, but pretty much every car “looked full”.

Emphasis has to be given on the “looked” part, because … one of the “experiences” of being in Japan is riding in a TRUELY full train. Most Americans have never had the pleasure because it involves an invasion of personal space that unimaginable in the west. A full train in Tokyo is one where people have been crammed together like sardines to the point where you are cheek to jowl with your fellow passengers, and as the doors close the train staff can be seen shoving people in.

[Note: if you ever find yourself on a train like this, I STRONGLY suggest you take this suggestion, “go with the flow.” By that I mean, relax your entire body and pretend you’re laying down on a bed, and don’t freak out when you find your legs are no longer under your body. It’s a very Zen meditative sort of thing, like a trust fall or being held aloft in a mosh pit. IF you try to struggle to stand, a) you will fail, and b) you might actually get hurt — as in strain your back. At stations right before yours, maneuver yourself closer to the doors, especially if your needing out at the next station. When you station arrives and the train comes to stop, THEN you get your legs back under you and yell “SUMIMASEN!” at the top of your lungs repeatedly, and starting from a football stance put your shoulders into the person in front of you and shove the hoard blocking your exit out of the train. Once you’ve burst through their ‘defensive line,’ immediately turn around and face the startled masses, bow very deeply and hell out Sumimasen again, then leave.]

Back to my story… This was not THAT full, but it was still pretty darn full. I kept going down the line car by car trying to find one where there was enough space to step in without having to shove my way in (like I said before, this was the first station on the line so the train was just sitting there with its doors open). Finally, I found one, and bleary eyed and exhausted, I stepped in. Looking around I was like “wow there are a lot of women on this car.”  The doors remained open, and more women stepped on… And then I started to look around and really SEE and realized that I could not spot a single male on the car. Well that was odd, so I couldn’t be right… I keep looking and sure enough I could not spot even one man on the car.

Suddenly I had a brain fart and, in English, I loudly said “is this a woman’s only car?” One girl standing just by me, who spoke a tiny bit of English volunteered a quiet, “yes”, so then I asked her “how do you know which is the women’s only car?” and she kept saying “muzukashii, muzukashii” which in Japanese translates to literally to “difficult, difficult” but idiomatically has a much broader ‘unexpressed meaning’, or what the Japanese refer to as Haragei (a crucial concept to understanding the Japanese);, in this particular case it meant: “my English really isn’t good enough to be able to explain this to you and while I’m struggling to find the words I don’t know how to say it… and I am very both sorry and slightly embarrassed about that, so please forgive me.” In Japan it’s VERY important to belly as much as with your ears.

When I got off the train I looked all around until I spotted the identifier.

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I had of course heard about women only trains, and had probably many months ago read something somewhere saying they were showing up in Japan, but it wasn’t something that was in my ‘awareness’ so to speak… to use proper English, it was not within my ken. (Great word, shame it’s not used more, it’s the closest thing in English to the full and proper meaning of the Japanese term, “Wakarimasu” — which is rather closer to the SciFi slang term “to Grok” than it is to the simple concept of to know.)

The need for women only cars in Japan however, WAS … I am sorry to say, very much within my ken. Back, 30+ odd years ago, when I was in my early 20’s I spent two successive summers living and interning in Japan. The first was in the tiny Japanese ceramics town of Arita, more precisely in Okawachiyama Village (and at the time there were only two other westerners in the whole place) working interning in the international business department of Iwao Jiki Kogyo; the second time was in Tokyo for one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms, Eisai. That summer I was riding on a perviously described “very full train” with wife of my father’s colleague, a professor from Todai, when an also previously described asshole made the mistake of taking advantage of me. My mamma didn’t raise no shrinking violets.

I felt an uninvited hand exploring my backside and then using it’s fingers to pull up my skirt. For about a split second I was in shock, but then I got pissed and slowly maneuvered my hand through the press of bodies around to my rear and grabbed the hand. I then proceeded to slowly turn my body around while holding firmly onto the hand (at that age I played piano, violin and viola, practicing each for at least 20 minutes a day… and was rather renowned among my friends for how strong my hands were). By the time I turned myself around, the hand had been twisted into a position that I was sure would be uncomfortable if not outright painful for the owner. I then looked among the faces in front of me, and found who I was pretty sure was the guy based on his expression of fear and pain… I then let go of his hand, pulled mine out, pointed right into his face and yelled  repeatedly “CHIKAN! CHIKAN!” … Japanese for molester, or sexual harasser. The people around us all looked at him in shock (tellingly, a lot of them were unhappy with me for disturbing Wa, or harmony — another term crucial to understanding Japanese culture) and when the train doors opened he ran out of the train with his tail firmly between his legs.

While the folks on the train weren’t thrilled with me, my companion, who was in her mid to late 30’s (I was in maybe 23? at the time) looked at me with pride and wonder. That said, she shuffled me off the train even though it wasn’t our stop (like I said, I had committed the then socially unforgivable sin of breaking Wa — read the description) — but now a days I hope Japanese might have grabbed him and held him for arrest, instead). And then once we were on the platform she said to me, “HOW did you do that! PLEASE teach me! That happens to me all the time on the train and I never know how to respond. That was WONDERFUL!!!”

I say that no a days I would expect the Japanese to respond differently because, as the presence of Women only cars indicate, times have changed. According to this web site, “The chikan problem is [now] taken very seriously by railway companies and the authorities, and anyone found guilty of groping is liable to imprisonment or a fine of up to 500,000 yen ($4,500).” But that said, according this other web site  (citing a 2008 study by Adam Burgess and Mitsutoshi Horii), “Somewhere between 50-70% of young Japanese women experience chikan (“pervert,” often “groper”) on Japanese commuter trains in metropolitan areas” and, according to the same site the reason Japan’s camera phones make a snapshot noise that the user can NOT turn off is to prevent sicko’s taking pictures up girl’s skirts.

According to yet another on-line article, Women who attract chikan, and women who don’t”: The illustrated guide that’s provoking debate, which was published in 2014… the problem of Chikan men is now being discussed openly in Japanese society…

By the way, THIS is the image in question…
And, looking at it, who do you think the artist identified as the easy target?screenclip4
… according to the artist, in Japan, sexual attacks are more in line with the tastes of Pedofile priests than the sort of “she must have been asking for it” victim shaming we tend to see in the West. As such,, the woman with exposed breasts, or the Goth girl are the ones least likely to be attacked, while while the underage school girls or demurely dressed adult woman are statistically the ones MOST likely to be attacked.

“Suspects in sex crime cases were asked why they chose that person [to attack]. Fewer than 5 percent said they targeted someone because they were wearing provocative clothing. In rape cases, the most common reason given was ‘they seemed like they wouldn’t report it to the police’ (45%). In indecent assault cases, the most common reason was ‘they seemed meek; I didn’t think they’d be able to stop me’ (48%).” — from the article about the image

… returning to the trains, the good news, according to the wikipedia article on the subject of Women only cars on trains, is that in Japan, unlike some other countries, men are fined for entering the cars and the ever present rail staff (the ones whose job it is to shove people into cars) are on site to enforce the rules.

 

BATS!!! Sydney, Australia has VERY big bats, and a lot of them

BATS!!!!! Great big flying bats!! And I mean they’re huge,

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Apparently the locals call them “Flying-Foxes” and there are three different species in town

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I’ve seen them in zoos, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in the wild… and its not just one or two, it’s like there are thousands of them and they just don’t stop coming

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I can’t know for sure but I’m thinking these ones might be the Grey-headed flying foxes which apparently are the biggest variety living in Australia… cause they’re frigging huge…. and they just kept coming and coming… I was standing there shooting picture of these guys for like 20 minutes, just mesmerized.

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My friend, who is from Sydney said he’s never sure when he sees this nightly display — which happens in parts of town that the bats seem to prefer — if its thousands of them or if its the same bunch just circling

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However, according to what I read while prepping this post, there aren’t as many bats as there were a few weeks ago. Earlier in the month, while I was at the sea shore and Sydney had that record breaking heat wave, the bats were literally dying on the trees where they hung.

 

Inner Space Furniture

Inner Space is a mind blowingly, densely packed yet very cool furniture is located in Leura, New South wales. It’s definitely worth a visit if only to ooh and awh over the merchandise (some of which you might even consider shipping home) which is spread through three rooms — although it’s probably best to leave the kids outside.

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Leura is the town that essentially adjoins Katoomba while also being geographically distinct from it, because of how the cliffs of how Australia’s “Grand Canyon” are arranged. Leura, like Katoomba, essentially rolls up its sidewalks at 5pm, but in my opinion it does have better/trendier shopping along with some decent restaurants that supplements what Katoomba offers (Katoomba has a Korean restaurant, Leura has Greek one, etc) — and as such is worth a visit.

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That said, it’s also part of any of the hop-on/hop-off bus tickets you might purchase, so you can organize your visit to drop you off here at the end of the day and then grab a taxi, or take the train to take you back after dinner (the busses stop running at about 4:30).

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While in this store I met a woman with incredible personal style, who said that Katoomba and this Leura are where all the hipsters from the Newtown neighborhood in Sydney are moving, because they could no longer afford to live in Newtown — a population that apparently included herself and her girlfriend. She also said she has to AVOID coming into this shop because she goes a little purchase crazy while there… not that I blame her.

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That said, while there are some smaller/light items for sale in the shop, for those of us who aren’t in any way locals, and have to worry about what will size/weight fit into our suitcases, a store like this can give you ideas of what to google search for later. (Very little of their merchandise was produced by local artists.)

For instance, I did some serious drooling over those decorative animal heads on the walls which were in my opinion amazingly cheap at $269… only to learn upon getting home that Amazon was selling something similar for about the same price. Amazon happily is only acting as a portal for this company, with it’s own online site; where I learned these are items commonly found/produced in Indonesia… so I then googled “Indonesia carved skulls”, and found this shop, and this one, etc.  ALL of that said…  the prices at this shop WERE about the same prices I’m seeing on line when you add in shipping; so, if I were living in Australia, I’d be going a little purchase crazy in this shop …  especially since all the prices are competitive with on line sources (once you factor in shipping costs), with the added advantage of you’ll know exactly what your buying while with an on line purchase you can never be exactly sure…. especially with hand carved items like these

High tea @ Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa, Katoomba

Lilianfels Resort & Spa is located in an historic house in the town of Katoomba, New South Wales (NSW), Australia, near the Blue Mountain‘s Three Sisters rock formation on the edge of what Australians refer to as their “grand canyon.” Among other attractions available to those NOT staying at the hotel, is their High Tea … but for me, the meal was a MAJOR let down; it was no where near as tasty as it looked, and is most definitely NOT worth the calories.

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High Tea for one

As those who follow my blog know, I have a tradition of going to High Tea with my best friend since childhood, who from time to time will join me for a few days (she loves traveling, but not alone, and her hubby doesn’t, so she’ll take a few days off and join up with me. Since she’s not here to share it with me, I am having high-tea with an oversized teddy bear I spotted on the other side of the room that looked lonely (there being no children in the room that day).

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Having the bear as my partner tea partner was my idea, not theirs — they just looked at me funny when I asked if I could. But as I was one of the first people to show up, and no kids had arrived, they let me have it.
All in all the sandwiches were ok but not amazing nor worth much of a mention; to be honest I have had better at pretty much every high tea I’ve ever gone to. The hot tea  and the scone were fine (nothing particularly memorable),
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and in spite of having sat myself directly adjacent to the window, my only view was of a smallish garden with high hedge rows behind it.
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So mostly I’m going to talk about what should have been the highlight of the Tea, especially considering how pretty they were…. the desserts,

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When I fist got the tray, I was seriously impressed that the Panna-cotta has cotton candy on top of it … but here is the thing, and this was the first in a long stream of bad thinking and planning on the part of the pastry chef:  When you get a high tea you don’t dive into the desserts first. Instead,  you leisurely have the sandwiches and the scones… So that between arriving on my table and my finally getting to it ….the cotton candy did what cotton candy does when dampened… it shrinks and turns into a sticky glob
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The yellow thing in the middle turned out to be a white chocolate spoon. At first I was like “well that’s smart” … but as soon as tried to use it as a spoon, it snapped…. and then when I tried to use that now shortened “half” spoon, it also snapped … So that finally I just gave up and grabbed my metal spoon…. only to find that the Panna-cotta was kind of tasteless and definitely not worth the calories, and I left it half eaten.
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Next I had what turned out to be a beet root tart (Australians like Canadians are very into eating beets — because they’re healthy) and and love beets in general …. but this tart? Well let’s just say it’s ‘different’… nothing to write home about, and leave it at that…. but beetroot, healthy… so I ate the whole thing.

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This cheesecake dropped a pineapple apricot jam on my leg as soon as picked it up … and since again, it was more pretty than tasty, I put it down after the first bite 

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A custard tart with fruit perched on it… the custard was good the cup that held it was not so much — you sort of had to pick the fruit off and eat it separate because the custard wasn’t firm enough to hold it in place and the whole thing was way to big to pop into your mouth whole… again, bad pastry design.

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This oh so precious looking brownie ???  Again, not very tasty. In fact I once again put it down after the first bite because it just wasn’t worth the calories. And the hard candy on top did help a bit, but it was mostly just sugar.

All in all, don’t waste your time.

Shirt Bar, Sydney Australia

So I thought this was a really cool idea for a store that I’d never seen before: I’ve seen combo coffee bar bookstores many times and combo coffee bar flower stores a few times, but this is the first time I’ve seen a custom high end/trendy tailor/coffee AND whiskey bar… that also is a trendy restaurant.

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I was walking around the redeveloping (it started in 2012 and isn’t expected to be completed until 2023) Barangaroo section of Sydney when the I was drawn into what I initially thought was a fabulous men’s clothing store by some really great music that was drifting into the street

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According to the waitress who walked over to me as soon as I stuck my head in the door, asking, “have you ever been here before?”, the owner of the Shirt Bar is a tailor who does custom tailored suits for both men and women — but in this day and age, those skills won’t necessarily pay the rent. So he had the brilliant idea to open his business in the new and trendy Barangaroo section of Sydney (an area recently converted from a container/shipping terminal into a trendy/hipster business center and tourist haunt) … So, this store is not only a very high end custom tailer, but it is also a coffee house

IMG_5469.JPG………. a whiskey bar,

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And a restaurant that has distinct breakfast, lunch and dinner menus

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And tables are specifically designed so that at night they can crank them up to bar height, and, like I said earlier, they play really cool music

Sydney Australia has VERY clean, and free, street side public toilets

Let’s face it, knowing where the clean toilets are is a THING, and it’s especially difficult while traveling. In this regard Sydney public toilets are quite impressive…. and I’m talking STREET side toilets!!!

Now public toilets in malls, stores, or public buildings are usually pretty good, but let’s face it, street side public toilets can get pretty well… yucky/smelly/ nasty, etc., and are as a rule to be avoided

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I am thrilled to say that so far, I’m finding that Sydney has VERY clean street side public toilets… McDonald’s clean, or better yet, Costco clean, which is an even higher standard (there’s a reason why while driving around the North American continent my pit stop of choice for both gas and bathrooms is Costco).

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The bathroom above was the 3rd public one I have used since coming here … and I’m finding the public toilets are cleaner than some of the restaurants toilets I’ve encountered while here. As I was in the toilet shown above, a British woman (with a thick country brogue) and I were talking about it — and she noted how the Sydney were much cleaner than the British public toilets, in spite of the fact that they were all free, while in the UK toilets aren’t.