Sept 21st… Driving east, just past Amboy California I discovered that a section of road 66 was closed, I knew not way, and traffic was detoured north on Kelbaker Road to I-40. Writing this, I’ve discovered that it was due to a construction project that began last year (from the looks of it had I driven this a few weeks later I could have done it):
“San Bernardino County Public Works will be constructing two new bridges and road improvements on National Trails Highway (Route 66) at Dola Ditch (2.08 miles east of Kelbaker Road) and Lanzit Ditch (2.77 miles east of Kelbaker Road), east of the community of Amboy. The construction will include removing the existing timber bridges and constructing new timber bridges….Construction of the project is tentatively scheduled to start on March 6 and run through mid-September.”
And then once I got to I-40 it was already approaching 7pm and sunset, so I knew it would be simply silly to return to the road and try to back track it… Which means I missed the ENTIRE trek from Amboy through to Needles, CA (where I grabbed dinner) and then on to Kingman, AZ.
So I missed Chambless, Danby, Fenner, Goffs, Homer, Bannock, Ibis, and Klinefelter (2nd map because some of the towns didn’t show up when zoomed out to include Needles)
That said, MOST of what I missed are ghost towns… once the traffic that populated 66 moved to I-40, all of those small towns died… but still …
The next day I DID backtrack one hour to Needles and do that bit (I slept late and got some blogging done in the morning), but I’ve now missed a big chunk and will have to do it at some other point in the future because right now … because I booked all my hotel rooms along the route… I just don’t have time to backtrack… this makes me sad
Back in the late 1980’s one of my favorite movies was The Bagdad Cafe. It’s a movie about a run down cafe/motel on Route 66, and definitely worth seeing. Anyway, the shooting location, which had been known as the Sidewinder Cafe (before the movie came out) is REAL, although it’s in Newberry Springs (the town of Bagdad which isn’t that far away was leveled after traffic was redirected from Route 66 to I-40, and before traveling the OLD route 66 became a thing) and this week I got to visit it.
As much as I love me some bumper stickers… I don’t like what they’ve done with the interior of the place
First opened in 1949, this motel is a classic Route 66 experience. It’s the sort of thing they used to build in the late 40’s that they just don’t anymore. Of the seven initially built, only three are still in operation, and this is the only one in California. The price is highly affordable (although there are cheaper places to stay in town) and in my opinion well worth doing — at least once in your life, just so that you can say you did.
Just checked into this historic Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino/Rialto — the address says Rialto but my car’s GPS said San Bernardino and it couldn’t find the street address in Rialto… so be warned. (A mind blower is that GOOGLE has it listed twice, once in Rialto and once in San Bernardino).
That and this is a family owned business and they don’t stay open overnight, so if you’re NOT able to be there by 8pm you MUST call them and give them an ETA, and if it’s NOT at a reasonable hour — OR you don’t call, they might give your room away to someone else.
That said,WOW! The rooms are cute! Granted they’re a lot cuter on the outside than on their insides, but I understand why the association gave them an award, they really have tried to keep the units up to date as much as possible without destroying their charm, and in good repair.
And when I first tested the wifi at around 9pm, it’s was 76.58 Mbps download and 25.57 upload .. that’s BLAZING fast. I don’t know of ANY hotels that offer speeds like that. I tested it a 2nd time at around 11pm and 166.74 download (TWICE as fast) with essentially no change in the upload. That said, the place was built in the 40’s, so there’s no electricity in the bathrooms — this was normal then, water and electricity not being a great mix.
One of the things I found kind of cute (and a bit smart) was how reflexive the place is to the Disney/Pixar Movie “Cars” — a cartoon you SHOULD know if only because it was nominated for two Academy Awards including Best Animated Feature and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film. Anyone who’s seen it KNOWS that it’s animators were clearly influenced by many of the iconic Route 66 locations in the Southwest, which include either this motel, or the one other Teepee motel located in Holbrook, Arizona (where I’m also going to be sleeping in about a week) in the creation of the Cozy Cone Motel in the movie
To ‘promote’ the point, if you will… they’ve parked a bunch of old un-drivable classic cars around the property.
The Cozy Cone can also be found be found in the Pixar “Radiator Springs” section in Disneyland’s California Adventure Park, as I discovered when I was there.
Ignore the jack’o’lantern touches… I was there during the park’s Halloween period, and the black eyes and mouths are all temporary/removable appliqués added for the holiday (along with the black widow spider dropping down from the electric pole.
I found this cool little video about the place back from 2013 that includes an interview with a guy who I assume was the owner at the time.
I LOVED this place! Sitting right on the National road (Also called the Cumberland Road, or route 40), is the boyhood home of one America’s great poets, James Whitcomb Riley, sometimes known as the Hoosier poet, because of his connection to the Hoosier state (Indiana). Now I admit a personal connection because his most famous poem, Little Orphant Annie, was one of the few poems I ever memorized (for school), and as Riley is one of those writers who wrote what he knew, all of his poems that stem from his childhood experiences lovingly reference specific details of this home.
With respect to his poetry: for those who don’t already know this, Riley and Mark Twain were both part of the same movement in American literature to elevate and appreciate the “authentic” phonetic voice of the American people when writing, rather than to use the “Formal” voice of educated society. Hence the “Orphant” is NOT a typo, it’s how the word orphaned was pronounced in 1885 by the average person then living in the Hoosier state (Indiana), and this technique is used through the whole poem (most of his poems actually) so that if you carefully read it OUT-LOUT, but AS WRITTEN you can’t but help but switch into something approximating the accent intended (which is different from how Twain had Tom or Huckleberry sound, as the accents in the deep south were different).
Little Orphant Annie [first stanza only]
Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
To this day I have an image indelibly marked into my brain as my grade school English teacher stood before the class and recited Little Orphant Annie to us, using a completely different accent than she normal spoke in… and then assigned for us to memorize it so that we could each recite it in class the following week. I LOVED that poem and can (pretty much) still do a decent job of recalling it to this day (so that the fact that the docent was reciting various stanzas of the poem, as she took us through the house, made it doubly meaningful for me).
One of the things to be aware of before heading here is that the museum building closes at 4pm, and the last tour of his childhood home, which is the adjacent home (and you are NOT allowed to enter it without the docent guiding you) begins at 3:15pm. I arrived at 3:25 (immediately after a group of three other women) only to be told, “we’re sorry, you’re too late for the tour, please come another day).
The museum, which is where you enter via an adjacent house (the main house is locked up at all time, except for when the docent allows you in) is sort of major non-event in my opinion, and NOT really worth visiting. It’s mostly a holding area should more people arrive at once than the available docent can safely escort through the home next door. It has a tiny little excuse for a gift shop located in a back room of the house alongside the offices for the docents. (It has some books on CD, magnets, a few toy type things — this one shelf is pretty much it)
And then in the main “living room” are cases holding some first editions, and pictures of his life POST when he lived in his childhood home (his adult home was in Indianapolis).
The reason his photo (below to the right) was drapped in black was because I visited the house on July 21st, 2018, and we were approaching the 102nd anniversary of his death, July 22, 1916
You then are led to sit on some folding chairs and watch this short video of just under nine minutes, the highlight of the museum, which I found was also available on YouTube (so you don’t need to drive there to see it)
while researching for this blog piece I found this 20 minute documentary about Riley was on YouTube, it seems to be made by a person who visited the house (apparently more than once), and contains parts of the tour as well as a load of biographical information about Riley
Before we sat down to watch the video I had loudly commented on how sad it was that we’d JUST missed the last tour window. How much I LOVED Riley, and had even memorized Orphant Annie in school… and then recited bits of it out loud… and how sad it was that I’d driven ALL the way from Chicago only to miss the window by 10 minutes, and how I’d probably not pass this way again. I think this had the desired effect because half way through the movie the manager of the place said that even though we’d arrived late, she’d stay a bit late and give us the tour herself (which she normally never does, as she’s not a docent).
[To paraphrase the movie Wall Street, “guilt, for lack of a better word, is good” — guilt & greed, they both work as motivators. Another great motivator would be sexual desire — somewhere in the Talmud there’s a comment that but for sex no man would build a house or plant a seed — but I dont’ think I was her type. (Joke)]
So she took us outside to the home next door and let us in. A very cool point that the docent comments on repeatedly is that Riley’s father,
who was a lawyer by profession (and had been the town mayor at one point), was a member of the historic fraternal organization of The Freemasons (so-called because of claims of connection to the Masons of the medieval periods who, because of their specialized knowledge of masonry, were alone of the working classes free to wander Europe, going from castle or monetary building site, to site as needed or wanted) …
… his father took the group’s history seriously, to the point of designing and building (by HAND) not only a lot of the furniture in the house, including a “partner’s legal desk” AND chairs for his legal practice which he worked from his home office (it’s a two-sided desk — she noted how at the time there were no law schools, you studied law by working with an older lawyer… so the ‘apprentice’ or Jr. Lawyer, would be on the far side supporting the older lawyer who would see customers)
This chest was also one he built by hand; it has no nails, but rather is put together like a puzzle and then glued. It’s very beautifully carved, and the docent said that various woodworkers who’ve come through the house have commented on how, even with today’s tools, making a chest like this is VERY hard. That it exemplifies just how skilled of a woodworker he was.He also built these rocking chairs and did the caning himself. The docent particularly like the way you could see how the hands had worn over time, and would imagine the family members sitting there, maybe rocking a baby to sleep.
This ladle and bucket were also and made, the ladle is special as it is made from a coconut shell. Think about it, this is the mid 1800’s, coconuts were incredibly rare delicacies. But the position of the home directly on the National road meant that at least there were (according to the docent) an average of 90 vehicles passing a day, many of which had goods to trade. After eating the flesh of the delicacy, James’ father had the foresight to make use of the shells.
So we know that Riley’s father was a highly creative and artistic master furniture maker; but get this, he also built the ENTIRE house by himself… (although I’m sure he had help with the multi-man jobs like getting the framing for the walls up, etc.)
and this was INCLUDING the stairway!!!!
The docent spent a lot of time telling us about how he constructed it, how he soaked and twisted the wood of the railing by hand, and put the shape of musical note at the bottom to symbolize a harmonious household. She also told us how “Orphan Annie” otherwise known as Mary Alice “Allie” Smith, had thought the staircase was the most amazing thing she’d ever seen, and had fancifully named each step.
Interestingly, the poem had originally been “Little Orphant Allie’s come to our house to stay”, Allie for Alice, but the printer hadn’t been able to make sense of Riley’s handwriting and screwed it up. By the time Riley discovered the error too many copies had been printed, and the poem was already a major hit, so it stayed as Annie.
That said, if you know Riley’s poetry visiting this home is something of a treat as he references it often in his poems.
Little Orphant Annie [continued from above]
Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,–
An’ when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wuzn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an’ roundabout:–
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’ one, an’ all her blood-an’-kin;
An’ wunst, when they was “company,” an’ ole folks wuz there,
She mocked ’em an’ shocked ’em, an’ said she didn’t care!
An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
An’ little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,–
You better mind yer parunts, an’ yer teachurs fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
[Note: When looking at where Annie slept, while working at the Riley home, it’s important to remember she arrived after the Civil war had started, and James’ father was away fighing. She had been staying with relatives, but their father was also going away to war and the family didn’t feel they could afford to support her during that time. She was brought to the Riley home, as they were one of the richest families in town. Mrs. Riley
said she couldn’t afford to pay her, as her own husband was also away at the war, but could provide free room and board. BUT, since Mr Riley was away, there was no one to build Annie a bed to put her mattress upon.]
A BACKWARD LOOK
Away to the house where I was born!
And there was the selfsame clock that ticked
From the close of dusk to the burst of morn,
When life-warm hands plucked the golden corn
And helped when the apples were picked.
And the “chany dog” on the mantel-shelf,
With the gilded collar and yellow eyes,
Looked just as at first, when I hugged myself
Sound asleep with the dear surprise.
And down to the swing in the locust-tree,
Where the grass was worn from the trampled ground,
And where “Eck” Skinner, “Old” Carr, and three
Or four such other boys used to be
”Doin’ sky-scrapers,” or “whirlin’ round”:
And again Bob climbed for the bluebird’s nest,
And again “had shows” in the buggy-shed
Of Guymon’s barn, where still, unguessed,
The old ghosts romp through the best days dead!
And again I gazed from the old schoolroom
With a wistful look, of a long June day,
When on my cheek was the hectic bloom
Caught of Mischief, as I presume—
He had such a “partial” way,
It seemed, toward me.—And again I thought
Of a probable likelihood to be
Kept in after school—for a girl was caught
Catching a note from me.
— James Whitcomb Riley
In addition to Orphant Annie, one of the other poems of Riley that even students today are sometimes taught is this one:
One of the joys of travel is an opportunity to reconnect with old but distant friends. My travel buddy and I were doing a road trip from Adelaide to Sydney that allowed us to pass through Canberra, where both my he and I had friends. While there, my friend suggested that we attend go to the Parliament House and attend a session of the House of Representatives, which I was thrilled to do.The building above is actually the NEW house of Representatives building, (opened in 1988 and cost 1.1 Billion Australian dollars to build — wiki) according to my friend. The Old Parliament House (below, built in 1927) sits directly across a green divide from the new one, with the two buildings facing each other.
My travel partner, Mik, had said to me that he couldn’t understand why they’d built the new building, when the old one still seemed perfectly good. I, however, have a theory. The old building has a stripped classicism style (the “rational architecture” style preferred in the 1920’s, and particularly embraced in Nazi Germany, that tends to reflect power the way a football linebacker reflects power); the new one reflects the old (both geographically and thematically, note the white pillars) while having a lot of “touches” that ‘honor’ aboriginal culture. [As I discussed in the blog post about the protest march I took part in the day of my accident, there seems to be a focus on appearances in how Australia addresses the political problem — on the world stage — of their relationship to their aboriginal population that eclipses the import of actions … and I think the new building intentionally includes these surface touches to show their ‘deep abiding respect’ for their native populations, without having to actually address the very real and substantive insults still happening today (see later in this piece).]
Below is the front entrance of the new building… note how on thematic level it reflects the shape of the old building; note the up down and the negative/dark versus light working of the shapes; but is less about brutish power (like the old building)… and more delicate, and hence also reflective of the “pillars of democracy” appearance — that you tend to see in the greek revival preferred in American Government buildings.
also pay attention to how while the old building looks from this angle as though it is embedded in a mountain (photo above, entrance is just to the left of the photo); so that the new building is actually built into the side of a man-made hill, with the elevated flag sitting on the top of its peak. So ULTRA modern while still reflecting the old building and the “Natural” elements. (Why yes, I do have an undergraduate degree … a BFA… in Art from the Art Institute of Chicago, and yes I did also attend the Royal College of Art in London … why do you ask?)
The interior of building is full of pillars decorated so as to bring to mind a grove of Eucalyptus trees … the one of the most common native of the Australian continent/country (so again, shifting the focus to the natural and native)
So for example consider the pictures of the tree on this website, and then compare it to the columns, and you’ll see what I mean. Once inside, we picked up our pre-reserved tickets to view the debates, and since we had time, so we explored the gift store at length, and then we went to have a snack at their cafeteria (which is REALLY nice and worth checking out.
THIS was my very first Lamington. One of the purposes of travel is eating new foods, and back when I was in Ballarat, my friend there had said that I needed to try a Lamington while in Australia. That said… when I saw they had one I ordered it for my tea, and had my travel buddy for this trip, Mik — an Aussie native, try it, and he deemed it to be a good Lamington …Not outstanding but good … I wasn’t impressed.
When it was time, we joined the group booked to attended the House of representatives question time, and passed through a security check… unfortunately we were not allowed to take out our phones for any reason while in the observation deck, and there were staff member posted at the front of every aisle to make sure we didn’t… they even would come talk to us if we were sitting “properly” (no putting your feet up, etc)…. I did find a YouTube video of the actual debate we watched (released by the government), but it said these videos are only up for 6 months at a time, so I didn’t bother.After we were released from the we did a guided tour of the building, as well as some free range wandering around … above the chamber there was the symbol of Australia but it was too small to see in the photo, so my travel buddy noted it was also on their $0.50 coin.At the back of one of the big rooms, there is a mural that the tour guide told us was actually very important, but because of a dinner event planned for that evening it was being blocked by a black curtain, the gold triangles, and the two projection screens hanging from the ceiling… I was however able to get a glimpse of it from behind the curtain… again, it looks like a natural Australian forest, and in it I spotted a Cockatoo (the white ones with the yellow plumage on top of their heads).
One of the amusing things the tour guide pointed out were these stickers across doorways,
According to the tour guid they’d been put there by the U.S. President’s secret service when he came for a visit… they go through, made sure the place was safe, and then placed these stickers across all the various doorways and closets along his path to make sure that they weren’t accessed between the inspection and his arrival.
after this we took an elevator to the roof of the building … in part because the building has that very interesting lawn roof, which is what makes the building look like it’s embedded into a mountain.
According to my friend, when the building first opened up you used to have full access to the lawn and kids used to use it for fun (rolling down the hill of soft manured lawn). After this, as we were heading home, my friend took a route that brought us by the back of the Old Parliament building (picture above), and pointed out to me the Aboriginal Embassy encampment located in the park just across from it. I asked him if we could park and visit it… which I got the impression is something he’d never done before based on his response (he seemed a bit intimidated by the thought) but he agreed.
So we walked into the encampment, while there we were called over to come sit with some of them who talked with my friend, while I listened from the edge, before hitting him up for money. To be honest they reminded me of my months on the Navajo reservation, where I was doing research on economic development there; it was just like any of the times I was around the alcoholic, out of work, vagrant Navajo who the were a source of anger and embarrassment to the other tribal members, the ones I was interviewing; these latter were the ones who were actually getting on with their lives and making something of themselves and trying to make life better for their people, rather than doing nothing while blaming others for their condition, well, nothing other than coming hands out and hitting up their more driven relatives for cash.
… although I am guessing the movers and shakers do need to enlist someone to just sit there and do nothing (and who better?). After this, my friend seemed pretty deep in his thoughts as we headed home… we couldn’t really do much more at that point because I was utterly exhausted
The next day is when we went to have dinner with a very old friend of mine, Tat, whom I have not seen since my undergraduate days at the Royal College of Art, 30 odd years ago … which is where he and I met first while sharing a vat of photo chemicals in the dark rooms of the college. Yes, we’re that old…
That said, somewhere in his files he has naked photos of me, because like the mutual friend of ours in the image behind us (we sent this photo to her), I also was one of his models — only no one ever wanted to put the pics of my body on a wine bottle like they did with hers (which is ultimately what made his career). Lumpy fertility goddesses don’t make for good advertising campaigns. That said we had a really nice meal together … with many of its ingredients coming from his own garden… and then we walked around his neighborhood (A Canberra suburb).
This was a video I took of some cockatoos we passed on our walk
Bondi Beach is one of THE places to go if you’re visiting Sydney; for instance, if you look at TripAdvisor’s top things to do while in Sydney, a trip to Bondi is #2 on the list. It’s a beachfront neighborhood in the greater Sydney metropolitan area. What most people when they come here would probably miss is all the clues that tell those of us who are MOT “members of the tribe” that this is also one of THE most Jewish neighborhoods in all of Australia.
Like I said in a previous post, my decision to go to Australia was fairly last-minute. I had contacted my travel buddy, who goes to Sydney (his hometown) almost every year during their summer months (Dec through March) in part so that he can spend Christmas with his mother, but also just to be there. His mother lives in a retirement village in the suburbs, so he opts to stay in an apartment rental in one of his old stomping grounds.
In this case, when I arrived he had rented a room in an apartment in an area called Bellevue Hill, right near St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, that is located just west of Bondi beach and just east of the Bondi Junction Train station — [The map refuses to embed, so please check the location via the link]. What I didn’t realize untill I had actually been there a few days and explored the place it was that it was ALSO spitting distance from The Central Synagogue, which is a modern orthodox congregation
AND Adath Yisroel Congregation / Tzemach Tzedek
AND The Sephardi Synagogue
AND an easy walking distance from the Chabad-Lubavitch House
In fact, there turned out to be about EIGHT … EIGHT synagogues all within an easy walking distance of our apartment …. Let’s put it this way, only the MOST orthodox of Jewish neighborhoods have that many synagogues so close together.
Now granted, on the day when I first arrived, we took the train from the airport to Bondi Junction, at which point — because my friend seems to like to walk everywhere (even when lugging suitcases)
we walked first to this cafe, which he said was supposed to be good, in order to have a bite to eat. The place is called Savta Cafe (I was SO tired after my flight that my brain didn’t notice that Savta might be pronounced Safta — the hebrew word for grandmother).
That said, the menu made it pretty obvious that this was an Israeli restaurant — something my friend had not realized. I got very excited and ordered the Shakshouka, a dish invented by Tunisian Jews, and pretty common in Israel.
Not the best I’ve ever eaten (the mushrooms confused me) but it was ok…
But an Israeli restaurant does not a Jewish neighborhood necessarily make. The next hint however was SO in your face that I couldn’t possibly miss the implication. The next day he took me on a walk from our apartment to the beach, and we passed THIS house along the way…
For those who don’t know who this guy is, his name is Menachem Mendel Schneerson, also known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Many of his followers (I am not one) had actually believed that he was THE Moshiach (the Messiah, not to be confused with Jesus… even if the Chabad-Lubavitch are the most Catholic of Jews) at least until he died.
To tell you how Jewish I am, I’m one step away from Schneerson via more than a few people even though I am NOT one of his followers; most closely of whom was our family cardiologist (until he retired) who was flown in to be Schneerson’s cardiologist. Ira came to my father’s funeral, where he took me by the hands, looked me in the eye and told me how sorry he was to be out-of-town during my fathers final days, but that he had heard via the nurses and doctors at the hospital how I had been at my father’s side every day from his admittance until he died… and he said to me, “Rebecca, you have raised the bar in terms of how a child should be with a sick parent.” … to this day it is probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me, and just thinking about it makes me want to cry. Ira is a real man of G-d, instead of going to synagogue and making himself the center of attention, he spends every sabbath quietly in the hospital, saving lives.
The next thing I discovered in Bondi was no shortage of Israeli restaurants. This place, Sabbaba — which not only had COMPLETELY authentic Israeli style falafel sandwich, but the manager was Israeli (I spoke Hebrew with him) and they were serving MALT STAR (a non alcoholic beer that is almost ubiquitous in Israel) to wash it down with!! (As it should be!) This turned out to be a local chain (there are a three of them scattered around Sydney,) but TWO in the Bondi beach area.
RIGHT across the street from Sabbaba I spotted a Kosher butcher, called, “Hadassa Kosher Butchery PTY Ltd.” and “Golds World of Judaica” where I ended up spending a few hundred dollars on Jewish things you can only find in Australia type gifts for friends and of course for myself…
At this restaurant, Lyfe Cafe, again the owner was an Israeli (again, I talked them in Hebrew) and I also tried their Shakshouka — a bit better than the last place, but still not “up to snuff” in my opinion.
Finally, up in the mall next to Bondi Junction, there are three different supermarkets, and in one of them I found a MASSIVE kosher section
Both my travel buddy AND the friend I stayed with in Ballarat… told me that they wanted to bring me to Phillip Island. It’s about a day trip from Melbourne and (as this desire on their part evidenced) is most definitely a must see on while in this part of Australia. While both of them wanted to bring me here to see the penguins (see my post), my travel buddy and I got there early enough, that we had time to kill, so that we decided to go to the Koala Conservation Centre
[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. In spite of the fact that I was in Phillip Island on Feb. 25, 2018 a whole month after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion, I still wasn’t mentally able to keep up with my write ups … At the time an outing like this one left me exhausted and the next day was spent just resting. At the time, if you’d seen me, you’d realize very quickly that something was off… my speech was MUCH MUCH slower, so that I was searching for almost every word (which was very weird and a bit frightening)… as such I was still in a very passive space mentally, and as such I couldn’t write about it then, and I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now. The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) — I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]My travel partner (Mik) and I have ONE major disconnect in our our travel preferences, I try to avoid extreme heat at all costs while he LOVES it; and he considers temps that most people qualify as in the mild to comfortable ranges, freezing. Doing our long-planned day trip to this island, Australia’s weather took a dip from “Oh my G-d it’s hot” to 66 F (18.9 C) which he considered FREEZING and I consider about perfect for dressing spiffy (a t-shirt, a light leather blazer and jazzy hat). (If you note the pictures, he ends up NOT wearing his jacket even though he kvetched about the cold… Men!)
Anyway, we bought our tickets for the penguin march later that night (cause they sell out), and headed to the Koala Center
When you first arrive at the center there’s a big educational section where you can read up on all sorts of things you didn’t know about Koalas, such as the fact that they are going extinct because of a fast-moving strain of Chlamydia which is causing infertility and blindness (since my visit, there’s actually been some progress with private funding in sequencing their DNA, which they hope will lead to a cure before one of the cutest animals on the planet goes extinct)
Once you’ve cleared the educational bit, you walk into a two bits of protected habitat, where the Koala’s are essentially caged-in (partially to keep them in but also to keep other Koala’s infected with Chlamydia out) into a sufficient amount of habitat to keep them happy — with supplemental foods dropped off in areas close to but just out of reach of the guests.
Then you walk up along elevated (but handicapped accessible) boardwalks that bring you up to the level of the branches where the Koala’s like to hang out. So you can get close, but not too close.
It’s easy to spot where Koala’s are because of all the guests collecting there
Here’s a video I took of an active Koala (most of them tend to be sleeping, or just lazily hanging out.
This old guy (the staff member told us it was an elderly male), in spite of the best attempts of the staff to keep it from happening, had somehow managed to get from the tree to the ledge of the visitors section of the boardwalk. The guy in the light shirt standing next to Mik was in fact a staff member, who was blocking visitors from getting too close. He told us they had placed a tree limb across from the boardwalk to a tree, and he was just standing there waiting for the Koala to get the hint and cross back to the tree, so that he could remove it.
Sovereign Hill is located in Golden Point, a suburb of Ballarat (a small city located about an hour northwest of Melbourne, by train). This attraction is a bit like a Disneyland for history geeks, and probably the best living history parks I’ve been to yet, i.e., right up my alley and definitely would like to come here again.
To be realistic, in any other part of the world Ballarat is so small that it should have swallowed up Golden Point, making it a neighborhood within the city, the same way that for efficiency reasons modern Chicago has swallowed up what were its numerous surrounding villages, such as the Pilsen neighborhood, and New York has swallowed up Harlem, etc., … but this process of city expansion for some reason hasn’t happened yet in Australia. When I look at Melbourne and Sydney neither seems to have done the same to the towns and villages that surround them.
[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was in Sovereign Hill about 5 months ago, on Feb 13, 2018, which was only 19 days after my accident on Jan 25th which resulted in a sever concussion. As such, I wasn’t really able to appreciated it in fullness (we were there only for about two hours, and it really was all I could manage at the time before having to head back to bed). That said, I would really love to come back here at some point, buy a one year pass and spend a good few days there, just like I do at Disney. BUT, that said, because of the accident I couldn’t really focus the way I needed to in order to blog about much of what I saw for the next month after, and as such have fallen woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) — I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]
(The video above is a TV ad for the attraction, and while it won’t be AS inhabited as when you arrive, a lot of what it shows is in fact visible… candy being made, metal being worked, etc., as my pictures show)
This is a video I found on YouTube shot by a tourist
One of the distinct aspects of Sovereign Hill, is that while “visitors” of course includes basic tourists (both Australian and international), more importantly it means groups of Australian school children;
they are sent here (and other not quite as nice locations scattered around the country, this according to my travel buddy for Australia, who is also an Aussie but who did not join me on this leg of the trip) to spend two days in (what my friend told me was) government subsidized experiential learning programs.The above is the 2nd of the four schools in the park, located in an abandoned shop, and shows children lining up to attend a class; I spoke with the girls as they waited for their teacher and they said that each of them had been given a “story line” of who they were, and that all the students in this class were the ‘less affluent’ students in town, miner’s children, orphans, etc.
They told me that these children (below), on the other hand, were playing children from more affluent families. The woman in blue is their actual accompanying teacher/guardian from home, while the man on the left is a teacher who works full-time at the park. I found this newspaper article about talks not only about him, but verifies some of what the children told me, and adds how the different groups have different curricula, with the richer students being taught genteel skills, like drawing and sewing, while the poor “ragged” students spend half their day being taught trade skills.
For those tourists who don’t know what’s going on, these teachers and students just become part of the overall show
The following is a video I actually took, and uploaded to YouTube of these kids being taught cursive (a form of writing soon to be relegated to history):
This next ‘Welcome to Sovereign Hill’ Video, is actually the seven minute introductory video shown to students when they first arrive. It gives an overview of the town with an explanation of the historical evidence they relied on for its construction, as well as some basic instructions to the students on how interact with the tourists they will be sharing the space with, who will think of them as part of the show and hence will want to take their pictures (the video is well worth watching):
In fact (according to my friend who brought me here who has worked here for years as volunteer) it is these educational programs, more so than general tourism, that constitutes the bread and butter funding for the park and keeps it profitable enough that they can keep it in top repair, and pay for things like upgrades to the experience and professional actors and animal experts to work there.
Sovereign Hill is not only about the time period of the gold rush; because of its location, the park has a specific focus on the events of the Eureka stockade, which Australians are in general taught (correctly or incorrectly, historians dispute this) as being the birth of the movement towards democracy in the country.
This video (above) gives you an overview of the historical events that occurred not far from where the park is located (the specific location is still debated but it was definitely a location visible from the park)
While these video’s below talk the special ticket night-time sound and light show devoted to events of the Eureka stockade, which they call Blood on the Southern Cross
A vast section of the park is devoted to Victorian homes of the sort that more affluent town’s member might have lived in. Every home is decked out with historical elements designed to make it look as though it’s actually being lived in, but the owners just happen to be out at the moment.
Other parts of the park are devoted to trades that one might expect to find in just such a town, in this case either there are people working there, or it tends to look more like a museum (with signs explaining what you’re looking at).
One part of the mining camp section of town is the Chinatown district. While there was no one working in this section when we visited, it was clear that a tidy sum of money had been invested into its development, as each aspect of it comes complete with multimedia aspects to make up for the lack of staff.
When you stick your head into these tents, you’ll hear the voices of the non-existent Chinese miners speaking to each other. If you pay attention you’ll actually learn things about the prejudices and injustices these miners faced, as Chinese.
In this tent you can listen to the Chinese miners arguing amongst themselves about the choices they were having to make, and about how they organised themselves into self-help organizations, since they couldn’t count on the white to treat them fairly. It was fairly obvious from the items in some of the stores to the composition of the tourists, that Chinese tourism constitutes a fairly large percentage of who comes to this park, and their concerns and interests were therefore fully met.
That said, Sovereign Hill, while it has a huge educational mandate and is a living history museum, it is also first and foremost an amusement park type attraction — A Disneyland for history geeks, and hence must provide its visitors with amusements. As such, it provides the obligatory schedule of free of charge performances that visitors can attend during the day.
One of the interactive activities that the park offers is the opportunity to pan for gold in their stream. According to my friend, this isn’t a real stream and gold that’s there is seeded, but no one really cares. You’ll find any number of people happily devoting at least a good hour to panning for gold.
If you want to cheat there’s also a gift shop set up as a miner’s tools shop, where you can buy little vials with tiny bits of gold in them, but what’s the fun in that?
And in addition, even though Sovereign Hill –unlike Disney — is a non for profit, they take every reasonable opportunity to separate you from your money after you’ve paid your entrance fee (which is almost as high as some of the smaller Disney parks). That said, most of the payment-to-go options (after the initial entry) are all very reasonably priced…
There are also tours that take you into a genuine historic gold mine that sits beneath the entire park, and constitutes one of the other “highlight” things to do in the park
According to my friend all of the tour guides who lead chinese tourists through the park (this one is about to lead a group into the mines) are required to dress the way this woman is dressed, i.e., what is historically accurate clothing for a Chinese resident of the town, just as the tour guide for our group was required to dress the same way a miner of the day might have.
At the end of the tour you watch what is essentially a VERY fancy Powerpoint presentation with all the animation bells and whistles on one of three topics (see above). You do this while standing in a small hollowed out, rounded but still craggy space (with the evidence of it having been mined out), deep inside the mine. The presentation is projected onto the craggy rock’s face rather than a smoothed surface, which is pretty cool. It’s supposed to kind of make you feel like you’re in it with them. My friend and I opted for the presentation called the secret chamber, about Chinese minors and their trials and struggles with local prejudice; is the story of two brothers one of whom went home rich, the other who died in a mine collapse.
After the presentation you walk past a past a large patch of exposed gold still embedded in the quartz, so that you can see what it looks like… but that you are separated from by a bulletproof-glass wall and a whole bunch of security equipment which they make sure you can see.
After the tour you come back topside and are let out into the obligatory gift store, this one selling a lot of gold, with a very strong focus on their Chinese tourist customers (because I’m guessing they’re the ones most likely to buy some).
In addition to this obligatory “after a ride” gift store, there are two varieties of stores in town, those selling period specific goods that you could probably find outside of the park if you looked hard enough, but presented in the style of store in the 1800’s
[Regarding my friend, it was almost karmic good luck that I was scheduled to stay with her for two weeks at exactly that point in my trip. She’s one of the few Facebook friends I ever made (we used to play this same FB-game, one of those that necessitate that you friend complete strangers, and we found we had so much in common that we continued to stay in touch long after both of us stopped playing). She had invited me numerous times to visit her in Australia, and she lives quite near to Sovereign Hill. In addition to being a successful realtor who has returned to University to obtain her undergraduate degree in history, AND a professional psychic (see the blog post for the tour of a haunted former Nun’s abbey, that she guides)… she also used to work as a registered nurse — which was infinitely useful for me in terms of her being understanding the needs and limitations of my health predicament while visiting her.]
The second variety of stores are those selling items that were handcrafted by the skilled craftsmen demonstrating by hand what in this day and age are almost lost arts
As we were touring through the town, my friend took me to the room where she would normally work while volunteering… the ladies lounge in the hotel. Normally my friend would sit there, doing needlepoint, and talking to any visitors who might wander in
The day we visited we found this woman is doing what my friend normally does, so the two of them had a nice chat exchanging pointers.
Some of you may remember that on May 9, 2016 I was diagnosed with non alcholic fatty liver disease, and told that if I didn’t get it under control I would need a new liver. I am THILLED to announce that it is under control! I just got back from the doctor and my liver numbers all came back normal… like not even high in the normal range… utterly and completely NORMAL. It took me about two years of maintaining a very strict low fat diet where I was essentially trying to irradicate it from my diet entirely (except for fat from things like fish, nuts, or small servings of avacado & dairy). Not only that but having been pre-diabetic now for about 20 years, where my sugar was high, but I managed to keep it just low enough as to not necessitate insuline or meds (I was adament that I be allowed to try to control it with diet), my blood sugar has ALSO tested completley normal (I’m convinced there’s a connection).
For those who don’t remember…. Back in May of 2016 I swung through Chicago for my yearly checkup, weighed in at 185 lb (instead of 130, which is where I should have been), and was informed that not only were my sugar and cholesterol shooting up, but I had developed fatty liver disease; and, if I didn’t do something, and do it quick, I was going to need a new liver. YOUCH!!! She said I had to make an appointment with a liver specialist ASAP, and I had to change my diet immediately, to as low fat as possible. Mostly fish, a little chicken, no beef at all, and as low fat as possible, so I could NOT eat at restaurants anymore.
However, I was only in town for two weeks, not enough time to even book an appointment with the specialist, had already paid for lodgings in Canada for June through August, and I knew I would not be back in Chicago until the beginning of September, when an old friend was getting married.
[Note: This, my dear reader is why pretty much every meal after May 2016 consisted of fish, and something low fat and full of fiber on the side. NOT eating at restaurants wasn’t going to fly, so I had to come up with some pretty fierce protocols to makes sure that didn’t harm me. I know this sounds extreme but,…. I start every order with the explanation: “this is not about me wanting to loose a few pounds, this is about me having liver disease and if I am not VERY VERY careful needing to try to try find a new liver and get a transplant. So, unless you want to quite literally poison me, unless you want to be partially responsible for my death, you need to listen very carefully.” … it seems to work.]
It’s also why I had scheduled, as I promised my doctor that I would, two full months in Chicago in September/October of 2016…. In mid October I went to the liver specialist, and was greeted with GOOD NEWS!!! Instead of 185 lb, I was 150 lb… 35 lb lost in five months…. and as the above chart showed, all my bad liver numbers had dropped.
Then they did a liver scan and he said there was no evidence of any scarring of the liver, i.e., cirrhosis. That he was very hopeful and happy (and how nice it was to have a patient who actually did what the doctor said to do). I was instructed to keep doing what I’m doing in terms of my low fat diet and exercise, till the liver number have come all the way down, but that he didn’t want to see me for two years, at which point he’d want to run tests again.
It is now TWO years later, and while I admit my careful eating, which involved careful ordering and ripping the heads off of restaurant staff that brought me anything oily was not always consistent, it’s been what was necessary to continue the downward movement of the really important numbers!
That said, I’ve actually managed to do it while STILL putting on a lot of weight over the course of the last year…. I had dropped down to a very happy 135 lb for a while, but in the last year I sadly have climbed back up to around 157 lb again…
That said, as I’m writing this I just realized my GP has to write me a referral so that I can make an appointment to see the liver doctor again this coming October/November (like he asked for)… and she forgot to do it… going to call her now.
I have been to Lincoln’s birth place, and according to both the staff member at the memorial and Wikipedia the log cabin that is there is NOT the original, but according to this site it was — or at least the guys who made up the Lincoln Association, who were the ones that bought the building thought it was. Doing more research I found this site which sort of explains the confusion.
Apparently, in 1894 a speculator by the name of A.W. Dennett bought the farm where Lincoln had been born thinking people would want to see it, and had deconstructed a two-story log cabin found on a different part of the property, and moved its logs over to the spot where the original farm was thought to have stood (the original building had long ago been disassembled and he just assumed that this Lincoln cabin had been built using those logs). He then opened the spot for business, only no one came — because, no one was interested enough to shelp to rural Kentucky… So, as the saying goes, if you can’t bring Mohammed to the Mountain…. and at one point he added the logs from the cabin that was supposed to have been the childhood home of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy. But, with all the building and taking-apart and moving around, the Davis logs and the Lincoln logs got mixed up… so that by the time the Lincoln Farm Association got around to buying the land and the logs back from Dennett, it was anybody’s guess (by historical standards) which if any of the logs were from the original house, when they ‘rebuilt the house’ in Hodgenville.
SO, Frank Loyd Wright’s son is the cousin of the guy who started the foundation to buy up the property that had been Lincoln’s birthplace and original home which was on touring display (come see Lincoln’s cabin) both of which were owned by the same guy… oh and this guy also own the Jefferson Davis logs from his original home and would show them together… and in the South, Lincoln logs were not marketed as Lincoln logs, they were marketed as Jefferson Davis Logs… coincidence? I doubt it…