Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Cadillac Ranch is one of those classic American public art works that everyone has seen in pictures, and of course its been on my list of things to see in person. The fact that it was cold and VERY wet and muddy, kind of added to the fun

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Finding this was a little bit problematic. My GPS for my car had no idea where it was, and the address I had for it, the program didn’t recognize… but, as I was on I-40 there was internet, so Google maps to the rescue. It’s located between two off-ramps, so I took the one to the west of it, which brings you to a gas station. There I found a plethora of folks who had just come from there (and not one group of them either). I talked to a couple in the car parked next to me, and they assured me I was in the right place and it was about a half mile down the road and I couldn’t miss it because of how many cars were parked there.

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In something I had read on one of the travel sites I had referenced before starting my Route 66 trek, a writer had warned that if it’s wet, the mud becomes like tar and almost impossible to get off your shoes afterwards. For the last four years I’ve been schlepping around a pair of rubber boats for JUST such an occasion (and yes this does mean I had the boots in my car back in 2016 in Canada at the boat graveyard when the muck had actually pulled my shoes off my feet, only I’d forgotten they were there).

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Although some folks opt to take their shoes off and just kind of go for it… like this girl did… but it was raining and 48 F, what WAS she thinking…

IMG_9987It turned out this was a very good thing because in order to access the site you have to go through this gate, and because everyone takes a fairly similar path to the site, the ground is lower along the path and fills up with water, becoming a bog it’s very difficult to avoid stepping into, especially if like me you’re not sprightly.

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Over the years the piece has become interactive, not just with the elements, but also with the viewers, which is tacitly encouraged by the artist who created (aka the permanently  unlocked gate).

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People bring cans of paint to use, but most times don’t use all of it and leave behind half used cans for the next person…

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although others will come through from time to time looking for the empty cans and disposing of them.

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One foot in the air dripping muddy water

Getting your kicks on route 66, the greater LA area edition

I have begun my route 66 road trip!!! Only, I’m doing it backwards from California rather than starting in chicago like the song does.

Rather than beginning it on the Santa Monica Pier, which is where the powers that be want you to begin, I started my trek on the 2nd historic beginning of the route (the furthest end point). Namely, I started on the corner of Lincoln and Olympic Blvd — adjacent to the freeway, and a walking distance from the pier. That said, I could not find any markers there…. (I THINK there may be two Lincolns and Olympics, one on either side of the freeway, with Lincoln being one way on each side… the sign MAY have been on the other side.)

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That said, the ORIGINAL ending point didn’t make it past the corner of 7th and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. It only extended to Santa Monica as the greater LA area grew, with Santa Monica being a desirable location to live and downtown LA degenerating into a massive skid row (There are over 60,000 homeless living in LA county, and they’ve created a tent city in downtown LA takes over 50 square blocks, HUGE! With only nine toilets per 2,000 people…. If you’ve never seen it, I suggest watching this video)

This is clearly NOT what tourism officials want tourists focusing on… So Santa Monica is a MUCH nicer start….  I made my way to the Pier in order to get the “tourist” aspect

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This couple from Germany was just finishing up their Route 66 trip, and were strongly advising this book to me, which this shop called 66-To-Cali had for sale… I gave it a look. I think it’s more useful if you have TWO people and one person can follow the book giving directions to the driver. So, not so good for me. I HAD wanted to buy the California 66 end of the trail T-shirt but they run VERY SMALL and they didn’t have one my size.

A video I took while there

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Then I started the drive, stopping to take snaps of various “Historic 66” signs along the way…

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14th & Santa Monica Blvd, in Santa Monica
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S. Carmalina Ave & Santa Monica Blvd in LA
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Cafe 50’s on Santa Monica Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66 in LA

Then I hit, BEVERLY HILLS!!!!

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Santa Monica Blvd and Wilshire Blvd, in Beverly Hills
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Church of the Good Shepherd/W. Historic Rt 66, Beverly Hills
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“In Beverly Hills? Rodeo Drive BABY!” — Pretty Woman

Me in front of Beverly Hills Building & Safety/Police Building… and a picture of the nice Japanese couple who took the picture for me

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On W. Historic Rt 66, Beverly Hills

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Maple Drive & Santa Monica Blvd in Beverly Hills
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various locations on Santa Monica Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66, West Hollywood
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Santa Monica Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66, West Hollywood
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Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood (two ends of the same block)
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Alvarado & Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
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Sunset Blvd, crossing the bridge over Arroyo Seco Parkway, in Los Angeles (near Dodgers Stadium)

So far for the MOST part I managed to stay on the road with one hick-up when approaching Pasadena where I got off the Arroyo Seco Parkway (110/66) too early…. which is sad because it turns right into Route 66 at its end.

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I had used Google maps to chart out 66, then found landmark addresses (some of them just being local business of no import) and plugged them in … problem is I think I ultimately plugged it into my GPS system wrong because of two very similarly named roads (Blvd vs St. vs Rd type issues).

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U.S. Post office on E. Colorado Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66 in Pasadena
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Near the corner of E. Colorado Blvd and S. Lake Ave in ‎⁨Pasadena

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The view of the mountains north of Pasadena from E. Colorado Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66 near N. Hill Ave

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Saga Motor Hotel, E. Colorado Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66, Pasadena
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E. Colorado Blvd, just past Madre Street
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E Colorado Blvd/W. Historic Rt 66, Pasadena,

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This sign was on E. Colorado Blvd Arcadia, in front of Coco’s Bakery Restaurant (I used their rest room)

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Entrance to the Santa Anita Race Track on Colorado Pl/W. Historic Rt 66, Arcadia
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E. Huntington Drive and 1st Ave, Arcadia
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Huntington Drive and 2nd Ave in Arcadia, a Railroad bridge
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W. Huntington Ave & S. Mayflower Ave in Monrovia

There’s a Costco directly on route 66, 1220 W Foothill Blvd, Azusa, CA ….got a love it, of course I filled up on gas, used the bathroom, etc.

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890 E Alosta Ave, Azusa
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1832 E Rte 66, Glendora
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E Rte 66 & Amelia Ave, Glendora

At this point it was getting dark, and my stop for the night was at the historic Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino — see the blog post about that — which is family owned and if you don’t get there by 8pm you need to call and tell them or they’ll give away your room, and you’re expected to show up at a decent hour… so I stopped taking photos and just drove the next 40 minutes with no stops

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And then, after I checked in, I went to get my dinner in San Bernardino was a place that had the most reviews/highest— it was an all day breakfast with dinner till 10pm. Everything I had tasted homemade —Corky’s Open 24 Hrs Rialto, CA

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One warning… including stops it took 6.5 hours to drive from Santa Monica to San Bernardino … I was expecting it to be 4 hours, i.e., WAY longer than I thought it would, or google said it would take, to get from Santa Monica to San Bernardino

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My 2nd Wigwam Motel (#6); Holbrook, Arizona

This motel is a classic Route 66 experience … but that said, DEAR LORD!!! What a dump!! That said I am SO glad that my first experience with WigWam Motels (all three of which are registered on the National Register of Historic Places) was in San Bernardino, CA and not this one in Holbrook. That one made me very happy, this one pissed me off so badly by comparison that after I inspected the room and checked the wifi, I asked for a refund and a found a MUCH nicer room for $10 less someplace else in town.

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I’m willing to bet this owner spends on classic cars to park on his property what the other owner in California spends on repair and upkeep of the rooms.

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In a way I got lucky. Normally I would check in, unpack my stuff, get into the bed, fire up my computer and THEN check into the wifi. This time, just as I was checking in a nice Chinese guy (I ran into him again at a restaurant) who was booked into one of the other TeePee’s came into the office complaining that he couldn’t connect to the wifi. He said it worked fine in the office — the woman had told him to connect there first, THEN go back to the room… but counter to what she’d told him… not in the room. So I logged in, walked outside and towards my room… and sure enough the wifi died. She said “well you need to go INTO the teepee cause those are concrete and we have extenders in each room.” Ok fine… I go into my room and see there is in fact a wifi modem there… try to log in and get “wrong password” — even checked the bottom of the thing to see if listed a different one… but no… that and I looked around the room and it clearly had NOT been kept up with the same loving care I’d seen in San Bernardino.

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While it has a nice coverlet, there’s no art on the walls

While I didn’t take any photos in the bathroom, the tile was cracked, the shower had a dinky curtain (the CA one had installed a class door) and compared to the one in CA looked worn (exact same layout as you can see) AND, of course, the WiFi if it did work was inaccessible and WORST of all, the woman working the desk didn’t seem to care.

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Note all the classic cars parked out front, THATS where this owner puts his money, not the rooms

I met my neighbors and they too were all complaining about the WiFi. You could connect in the office but when you tried to connect in the rooms either it said wrong password OR, from the one woman who HAD been able to log in, it was insanely slow.

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Like I said the woman running the joint didn’t care so since I’d not unpacked or even sat on the bed, I asked for a refund and booked at the local Travel Lodge which had unusually high reviews for $10 a night less… got there to find it was clean, no bed bugs and 34 Mbps downloads and 20 Mbps uploads… (a bit small and cramped, but like I said, well-kept up, blazing fast wifi, and nice caring people working the front desk).

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I did however come back the next day for more pictures because the BEST part of this hotel is the experience you have OUTSIDE of the rooms… which is free. And just like the other Wigwam, this one was reflexive of 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

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From what I read, because the Radiator Springs in the movie is supposedly limited to Route 66 locations from Kansas to Arizona, THIS WigWam lays claim to being the inspiration for the Cozy Cone Motel in the movie and at Disneyland.

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Again, I was at Disney during Halloween, so ignore the spooky extras, they’re temporary

P.S…..

Normally I don’t do post scripts but this was too funny. When I was in Santa Fe visiting with an old friend from grade school who lives there, I was talking about my trip and mentioned my two WigWam bookings… how much I loved the one in San Bernardino and then as I mentioned this one in Holbrook my friend’s girlfriend jumped in with, “That place is a DUMP!” to which I agreed whole heartedly. She’s never stayed in the CA one, but went on at length about how much she’d hated her stay here.

 

 

 

Traveling Route 66 and detoured in California; am sad

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.

missed it

 

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)

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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

Bagdad Cafe, Newberry Springs California

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.

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As much as I love me some bumper stickers… I don’t like what they’ve done with the interior of the place

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The Wigwam Motel (#7) on Route 66, Rialto/San Bernardino California

First opened in 1949, this motel is a classic Route 66 experience that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Phillip Island, Victoria Australia: Koalas

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

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[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.]IMG_1754My 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

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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)IMG_1756

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.

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Note that some branches are wrapped in plastic in order to discourage Koalas from going out onto the boardwalk

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.

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It’s easy to spot where Koala’s are because of all the guests collecting there

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Me and Mik, and Koalas (there’s one in every picture)

Here’s a video I took of an active Koala (most of them tend to be sleeping, or just lazily hanging out.

 

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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.

Sakura! Cherry blossum season in Tokyo

Bucket list item: See the Japanese cherry blossoms… in bloom in Japan….. CHECK!

While most Americans have heard this song at some point or another, celebrating the tree’s blossoms, if only while eating in Japanese resturants, they do so without appreciating the extent to which the blossoming of these trees is a central element of Japanese cultural identity. To quote this site, “the contemplation of cherry trees has long been perceived as a philosophical activity more than anything else. Based on the philosophy of mono no aware, appreciating the beauty of ephemeral things, hanami is an activity that encourages introspection.”

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This tree was adjacent to the train station near my Airbnb

As I’ve said previously, this has been one of my bucket list items for while. I had seen them multiple times in S. Korea while living and working there, but (I explained in detail in this previous blog post) the Korean cherry blossoms look entirely different than the iconic Japanese ones. I had finally managed to see the Japanese variety in 2017 when I caught them in full bloom in D.C., but in spite of the fact that I’ve cumulatively spent maybe eight months in Japan over the years, it was never during the appropriate time. FINALLY, this year I did it!

After seeing the first tree in full bloom near my Airbnb, I called a very old friend of the family, Yasuko (her husband and my father worked together, and the first time I stayed at their home I was in my 20’s) suggested we do something, and when she asked me what I wanted to do, I told her I wanted to see the cherry blossoms. First, she took me to this street, which she was supposed to be one of the best “non-park” viewing locations and considered good for night-time viewing.

 

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I kind of felt bad for the cars who made the mistake of trying to drive down this street as it was so clogged with people enjoying the cherry blossoms

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This is our family friend Mrs. Yanase, who was kind enough to show me this. Note how there are growths and flowers all along the length of the tree

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After this, Yasuko and I took the train to Rikugien Gardens, a park that she told me is normally never open at night…

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but for the Cherry Blossom season they have special illuminated evening showings. She was actually kind of excited because in all her years of living in Tokyo (most of her life) she had never gone to one of these special nighttime events at the park.

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When we arrived there was a very long line of people waiting to enter the park the snaked outside of the park and down the street (and police standing there with lit lanterns to make sure the cars saw them).

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This isn’t a bush, but rather a tree that is ginormous with massive branches extending out that are held up by poles. The crowd of people surrounding it was at least 10 people thick, and if you look towards the bottom of the tree you’ll see people’s darkened heads, which will give you a better sense of the perspective.

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The above are all pictures of people taking pictures of small branches of the same humongous tree shown above

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This is the same tree from a different angle (same tiny heads at the bottom), as we walked through the park there were tiny traditional Japanese tea houses (which Yasuko wanted to go to but they were closing just as we got there). Instead we found a less ritzy tea house selling the same foods, but with less pomp.

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After the park we walked to nearby train station, where there was also a of flowering trees in bloom

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I loved the way the light from the Denny’s sign made the pink blooms even pinker

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.

 

Flying to Australia, New Years Eve

My first trip ever to Australia! Deciding to go “down under” was rather last minute, for me. I flew one way on New years Eve on a relatively cheap $724 (with tax and fees) ticket on United that I found using  Google’s Flight search engine ). Travel hints: 1) it’s cheaper to fly on major holidays when other people don’t want to; 2) try using goggle’s search engine. I find it is among the best for finding the cheapest flights available as priced directly from the airlines themselves — so while not always THE cheapest flight out there, it provides bookings that are a LOT less likely to get you bumped, or to discover upon showing up at the airport that the airline knows nothing about your reservation. And, 3) while Americans can stay in Australia for 3 months without going to the consulate to get a visa the old fashioned way, you still NEED TO GET AN ELECTRONIC VISA! They won’t let you on your flight without it, and it’s much more expensive to get it at the last minute (and can take up to 20 minutes, even in that case). And remember to PEE before landing… just saying.

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[Breaking with tradition, I’m writing this from Korea (as per usual) I never got around to writing it on shortly after arrival… and I’m really looking at this in retrospect I’m posting it with a date that is three months after the fact.]

My friend (the one who had expressed interest in our becoming travel buddies) had gone home to Sydney for a few months over Xmas; while I, at this time, was doing my THIRD extended trip in a row at Disney World. Between 2015 and 2018 I’d spend 18 MONTHS in the Orlando area, doing little else than go to Disney, either daily or weekly …. depending on my mood, health and the weather. All in all, I was kind of Disney’d out (or at least Orlando’d out).

“HOW can that BE?!” you ask… (somewhat facetiously, I assume)

Well, it was mid November, right after the thanksgiving school holiday, and I was once again at Disney World, using up the remainder of the on- year-pass I had purchased in December 2016 (at the time they were offering a deal of 13 months for the price of 12) out of a sense of Jewish guilt (in this particular case, based on the laws of economy taught to me in my childhood, i.e., never wast a dollar), because the pass wasn’t due to expire till late January.  I knew I was bored with it before I had even arrived, but I was saying to myself, “this will be my visit for 2018, one month and then I’ll do something else,” not yet having ANY idea of what that something else might be.

Warning: slightly depressing side bar [Initially the plan had been to then go to New Orleans and spend a few months there; but my beloved friend (in fact the guy I lost my virginity to) who I was going to see while there (he was single, I was single… neither of us had been involved with anyone for a while and we’d maintained our friendship for 30 years, so…), had up and died on me. He had dropped dead in early June while at work… IN A HOSPITAL of all places; he was a doctor, had sat down on a bench (suddenly not feeling well), and died, sitting up. Apparently he hadn’t even collapsed to the ground when they’d found him. Luckily for me, we had spoken only days before he died, talking in part about my plans to go to NOLA the following winter, and talking about me finding an Airbnb in his neighborhood, at least initially. I’d been driving towards Montreal, and the cellphone connection kept dropping while in New York State’s mountains, so we agreed I should call him back once I was settled in (so my last memories of him were recent, and very positive). The day I called him back, I loaded up my computer where Facebook is my default web page, and at the very top was a posting on his wall saying “RIP Peter” with the details of his death. So, while it was now about six months later, I still couldn’t bare the thought of going to New Orleans without him being there… which left me rather adrift.]

So here I was, back in my safe zone, Disney World (a place I now knew like the back of my hand), NOT what I had wanted for myself for this year, and simultaneously being seriously annoyed by the fact that while only a few years previously I could trust that between thanksgiving and Xmas the parks would be half empty, so that I could just jump on rides like the Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion ride with only a 10 minute wait, those days were now GONE. The citizen of Brazil (who had yearly been discovering the joys of a Disney vacation in increasing numbers as their economy became robust enough to allow them to afford to travel) were now there en masse, or at leasts that’s the way it felt, and as their “summer” vacation months encompassed the whole of our Winter months the lull in attendance between American School Holiday was now a thing of the past. As a result, most of my favorite rides (the low key, non roller coaster ones) were no longer rideable unless I were willing to stand in line for 20 minutes, which I was not… and a bit of the joy had gone out of the Happiest Place on Earth for me. (Disney REALLY needs to think about opening up a South American location.)

So I realized that I was not only getting a bit bored of Disney World, but that I felt like I was stuck in something of a semi depressed rut. I was doing things I no longer enjoyed because they were safe and known (never a good thing). So, I decided it was time to make a change.

I fairly spontaneously (for me) decided to, first: check if my friend in Australia was amenable to my suddenly showing up (he was), and then I canceled my reservations with Airbnb for January (ladies and gentleman, here’s an Airbnb user tip… NEVER book an airbnb that has a strict cancellation policy — flexible and moderate are your friends) and I decided to book a ticket to Australia for mid-January (again, Jewish guilt about not wasting the Disney ticket). …

HOWEVER, I discovered (using googles flight search engine) that if I flew on New Years Eve rather than mid January as originally intended, I would save about $400 (Jewish guilt issues resolved!) … explained this to my Australian friend, who a bit less enthusiastically (just being honest here) agreed that it was only reasonable that I should fly in earlier than initially planned (although he started hinting I should explore other parts of Australia without him — hence my trip to Katoomba)… so with the agreement of my friends in Georgia (where I needed to stay for about a week or so in order to reorganize my suitcase, and store what I wasn’t taking) and the ones in Orlando (who would be baby sitting my car) … I was off

[Just a bit ironically, I was initially intending to go Australia, then Shanghai (to see friends and the new Disney park), then Tokyo with my best Korean friend (where I’d again go to Disney)… then home — but I wasn’t booking the return flights till I solidified things with them. And then, before even taking off a distant female friend, so much so that FB wasn’t bothering to show her my posts, who it turned out is working in Shanghai and was intending to go to Australia for travel, was told by a closer mutual friend that I was going to be in Australia TOO and we should hook up. For a while we tried to organize our dates but she was unwilling to commit to anything in advance (in effect because there were other people she wanted to travel with more who weren’t getting back to her) and I’m unwilling to be left hanging on the beck and call of someone who can’t make up her mind because she dangle’s person on hold while hoping for “something better” because she’s too afraid to just travel alone …. so that didn’t happen, and she’s now on the “don’t even think about” list of travel partners.]

So, as you probably could guess from the tips I listed at the start of this… guess who forgot to sign up for her electronic visa? So ya, that was a glitch— but since I always like getting to the airport super early (more than two hours before the flight) I was, with the help of United’s staff, able to do it from my iPhone — and the visa came through in about 15 min after we figured out how to sign up for it — thank the powers that be for smart phones and web pages that work as intended.

Once I was checked in, I discovered that Orlando airport now has this place is near gates 30-50. It newish (I verified that wasn’t there the last time I passed through) — they have Cuban coffee as well as American — I had one called Cuban roast which was very good… it had chocolate undertones you could actually taste … They also have very tasty and BIG cubano sandwiches ready at almost an instant (which is great if your running for a plane). I ate 1/2 at the restaurant and saved half for shortly before takeoff (I remember that on the TV news once they said that medical studies have found that having freshly swallowed food in your belly at takeoff can decrease the risk of strokes during, but haven’t been able to find a link to add here).

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When I got to SF I hadn’t remembered to make a bathroom run before landing, and I ended up NOT quite making to the bathroom after disembarking…  in SF!!! Right when we were starting to land, but not allowed to get up, I realized to late that I really REALLY needed to go… and by the time we unloaded my sphincter, upon just seeing the bathroom sign a few feet away, couldn’t do the job anymore… fech!!

That said, I was very amused to discover that United had me set to depart one gate away from the gate I arrived at!!! Totally saved me from the not quite enough time to make the transfer worries, so I grabbed some Japanese food from the directly adjacent eatery. Upon loading the stewardess’s were wearing these crowns… I asked if we were all going to get one, and she gave me hers…

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And, I was SUPER thrilled to discover I alone in my row, so that I actually managed to get some sleep on the way from SF to Australia.

While flying somewhere between Port Vila and Brisbane

I met and got friendly with a former Harlem globetrotter by the name of Tracy Williams who is 6’7″ so he was having to stoop a bit to make the photo happen.

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…we did the photo and he gave me a signed-photo that says, “To Rebecca, Happy New Year, 2018”

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… he was really hungry and they had no food so I gave him my pack of bison jerky and other high protein/low carb snacks I brought with me was but not hungry enough to eat — and all of it was verboten to bring it into Australia anyway so better it shouldn’t go to waste… I was doubly glad I’d given him the food when some very cute dogs sniffed me all over before allowing me to enter the airport. Australia is the fist country I’ve been to where they large numbers of sniffing dogs on staff and EVERY SINGLE PERSON and their bags gets a full sniff-over before being allowed to enter.

My friend picked me up at the apart and we went to a cafe near where we were going to be staying, and I had Israeli food (Sydney is FULL of Israeli restaurants — who knew?) … not the best shakshuka I’ve ever had, but no bad.

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