Downtown Katoomba, Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanwiye Korean Cafe:

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

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

 

Paragon Cafe:

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

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

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

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Here’s hoping ….

 

The Gingerbread House:

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

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

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

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

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Avalon Restaurant:

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Australia, New South Wales’ Koala bridges

Although Koalas while cute and cuddly, and tourist draw to Australia’s shores, they are in fact in serious trouble. Not only are they dying for the obvious reason of deforestation, attacks by dogs and being killed in car accidents, they are also most notably being killed off by a chlamydia epidemic (seriously!) so much so that in 2012, the Koala was added to the threatened species list. The dogs and the chlamydia epidemic locals experts seem to be clueless about how to address, but they HAVE begun to make inroad on the threat of car accidents…. by building Koala Bridges over highways.

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As my friend and I were road-tripping in New South Wales — and it was a BEAUTIFUL day, we kept passing what he explained to me were bridges that were built over the highways for the use of the Koalas.

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After we had passed a few of them I had him pull over at a rest stop that immediately after one of these things … and, after taking advantage of the facilities (it had cold metal seats and these leachy looking worms all over the ground… leaving me more than a bit grossed out) I trekked back along the edge of the highway to take some pictures of one.

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I was really skeptical that the Koala’s would know to these things …. but my friend swore that he had on occasion seen Koala’s on them … and then, when googled the topic I found this article about an ecologist who had to eat his own words of skepticism on the topic, when they found Koalas were in fact already regularly taking advantage of them… and after only three weeks … apparently, Koalas are pretty smart (oh, and they aren’t stoned, that’s just a myth).

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.

 

Katoomba, Australia : Three sisters & Prince Henry Cliff Walk

Spent my first day in Katoomba appreciating the rock formation that is The Three Sisters, in all it’s glory (and it is pretty glorious); and, I got in a good two plus hours of mostly easy hiking between Echo point and Katoomba Falls, along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk: a paved walkway which skirts just below the top of the plateau upon which the city of Katoomba sits. In this case I think the pictures speak for themselves, while at the same time doing no real justice how it feels to be in the presence of this sort of natural beauty in real life. Really, this view IS worth the trip.

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As such, there’s really not much for me to say about these photos, other than I had wonderful afternoon enjoying the views, so I’ll let them do the talking.

 

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This is the document that the QR code on the left links too: http://www.naturetourismservices.com.au/3sisters.html

The QR code link is worth following as it loads a really well written description of the location and the available walks (better than what I could do here).

I began my visit at what is called Echo Point… I’m not sure why as I didn’t hear any echo’s when folks called out… but maybe if EVERYONE was quiet, and one person did, we might…

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After enjoying the views from Echo point I took the ramp (which leads off to the right of the point — looking out towards the sisters) down to the Prince Henry Cliff walk that goes from the point to the falls

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In this picture I was actually as impressed with the foreground as the background, especially the color

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A former Apple employee took this with the new phone and airdropped it to me — while it looked WAY better on his phone, I’m not sure it looks better on my computer screen… could be he airdropped a low pixel version

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You’ll notice that it was windy as heck, and that the Australians were all wearing sweaters or coats… that’s because along with being windy it was 66F, which in my mind made it great weather for some serious walking…
Menapause and carrying around 30 lb of excess fat, it’s a thing

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IMG_0680Also, before I started the walk I was very specific with the park staff about how I had bad hips and knees and needed to know if there’s be any serious amounts of stairs and or climbing along the way… suffice it to say they lied when they said no difficult stairs and that the whole thing was well paved throughout. There weren’t a LOT of spots like this, but if I were actually handicapped I’d be seriously pissed off… as it was it just slowed me down for a bit.

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A weekend in Patonga; New South Wales, Australia

Patonga is a sleepy sea-side town without a train station, that’s located about an hour north of downtown Sydney. It is a nice place for a quiet relaxed stay (and to escape the heat of the city). It’s basically a beach, beach sides homes, one seemingly nice hotel (I never entered beyond the restaurant areas) with a bar/restaurant and cafe (with free WIFI!!!), a few art galleries representing the art of local artists, and a post box. Be warned, the place doesn’t even have a proper convenience store, and I’m not even sure there’s regular bus. And NOT all Australian cell phone companies service the place… lord knows ours didn’t — hence our excitement of it being freely available at the hotel about a block away from our beach house.
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This last weekend my travel-buddy Mik took to me visit an ex-girlfriend of his, someone who is now “family” for him. She has friends who have a beach house in this small town north of Sydney and had lent it to her.
Because there was construction on the train line we needed to take there, we had to take a bus from the central train station (the main hub station for Sydney)…
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which I thought was a good thing because you see more from buses than from trains
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Ultimately we ended up taking the bus none stop all the way from Sydney’s central station to an external suburb called Berowra — for what seemed like good one hour ride, possibly more, at which point the we were transferred to a waiting train. Now from my perspective this was pretty unusual. In the States, they’ll usually work on one or two station’s (or bits of line) at a time and at most this sort of filler bus will takes the place of that, here they seem to prefer to do the whole line all at once.
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Note how rural this area is

IMG_0538From there, we connected to the train (which should have started at Central Station, but for the construction)

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…. and took that to Woy Woy Station. Then we walked the distance from the station to the local mall which held the grocery store (ALL major brand groceries in Australia seem to be located in malls)

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where we got some food, and met his friend who drove us the rest of the way.

In part I think this was because a) there was no connecting bus to the place, and b) as I mentioned before, there are no grocery stores in Patonga (not even a small one for basics like milk and eggs).

Patonga while very small is a VERY nice place…. it’s a tiny peninsula surrounded by a river which empties into the sea, and slightly protected bay

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When we arrived I was amazed by how close to the beach we were

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A panorama shot with our house (with it’s back porch) to the right and the beach to the left, just past the sand dunes, the panorama distorts the distances a bit, but it was very close

 

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The path from our back-porch from our porch, sans the panorama view

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Path through the dunes to the beach

As the pictures show Patonga is really nice, and the placement of the home we were staying at couldn’t have been better.

We swam in the ocean… which was great escape because the house didn’t have any air conditioning and the temps hit 110 F that week… i.e., HOT!

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Just above the spot where the river meets the ocean and there is a really strong current that will carry you down towards the sea, but that runs right into a sandbank which will catch you … we road it multiple times, really relaxing

And had a few meals at the local restaurant, which we were really excited to discover had free wifi, because the house we were staying at didn’t….

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the cell phone company my friend and I had signed up for wasn’t offering up ANY bars, let alone data. (His girlfriend’s phone WAS getting signal, but she was on a much more expensive provider.)

First time there, my friend ordered an iced mocha and got this — what best can be described as a deconstructed Iced mocha

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we were impressed… I on the other hand ordered an iced coffee and an avocado toast

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Like I mentioned before, the temps near us had reached 110F, and as a result I was getting very dehydrated… I don’t handle heat well

I bought us drinking coconuts and 2 cold pressed watermelon juices JUST for me… cause I dehydrate faster than most people

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After, my friend suggested we take the coconuts with us, and when we got back to the house he opened them up using a saw he found in the garage, and we ate the meat…

That same day I had a one on one with a praying mantis — I honestly don’t remember EVER seeing one that wasn’t in a cage before

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One of the things that I learned while in Patonga is that the silk of Aussie spiders is impressively strong… like seriously….way stronger than at home. That, and apparently the ones with webs are as a rule not the poisonous ones… my travel partner threw a small stress fit when he heard I wanted to find small rocks to bring back to the states and put on my Dad’s tombstone.  Under rocks is where you find the most poisonous ones. He said that I should absolutely not pick them up without gloves.

… Also, because there was no air-con where we were staying I slept with the sliding glass doors open, protected from intruders by metal gates that doubled as bug screens. As such, out-door sounds were NOT blocked, and except for no calls from Mammal predators this place sounds like the jungle. This includes magpies (which sing pretty)

and, in the place of hyenas and or monkeys, kookaburra birds which sound like an insane man laughing his head off in an insane asylum (and LOUD)…

my traveling companion, who is Australian, likes the sound — I learned later there is a popular Australian children’s song about the bird — Personally, I think the bird sounds a bit creepy, but my friend loves it …. anyway, one of those was in the back garden and between it and the heat, I woke up at 5am. I later learned another name for it is “the Bushman’s Alarm Clock” because they tend to go NUTS, and loudly, at 5am.

Hanging with friends in Eastern Tennessee

This last few days were sort of a new thing for me, but highly enjoyable. I met up with an old (platonic) friend of mine who I knew from when I was living in the SF area, and we spent four days traveling together in Tennessee as a test of our compatibility as travel-partners, before we committed to longer trips.

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First we rented an affordable hotel room in the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee area (Dollywood/Gatlinburg/Smokey Mountains National Park) — with two beds, because I usually don’t sleep well with others. I was really happy to discover 1) he’s a very heavy sleeper who, 2) doesn’t snore — like not at all. Apparently… I don’t snore either, I am however quite the chatterbox while dreaming, but he said it didn’t bother him (like I said, heavy sleeper). Also, he has a job that allows him to work remotely, so he’d wake at around 7am, work at his computer till noon — about when I finally woke up — and then once I was awake did his business calls/meetings with co/workers while I was checking emails and getting ready — i.e., he’d get about 6+ solid hours of work in — and then we went to lunch (see my post, “I stand corrected: There IS good food in Dollywood!”)

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and do tourist stuff together in the afternoons and evenings. The first day we opted to go to Gatlinburg, which is right down the road from Pigeon Forge, a town I am said to say that I had completely overlooked last time I was here. All I’m going to stay is next time I think I’ll SKIP Pigeon forge and focus on Gatlinburg… we both liked it a lot more.

Granted, we were there for only a few hours, and essentially spent all our time at the Anakeesta attraction, a chair lift to the top of the mountain, and then when you get to the top it’s sort of a bridge among the trees… which bounces around a lot when you walk on it.

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Photos from the Anakeesta Attraction in Gatlinberg, TN

Afterwards, in the late evening we walked around Gatlinburg, and did some shopping.

 

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I’m a sucker for leather. I negotiated down the price of this hat (it is utterly impractical to my current lifestyle), which was already on sale, so I had no choice but to buy it. Happily, when we got back to the hotel I searched for it on-line and found I’d gotten quite the deal on it.

While walking around a shop keeper called out to my friend, who stands a good 6’5″ or such, and asked him to help her hang her Xmas decorations in front of her shop. He’s such a sweet guy that he agreed.

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After hanging out and doing tourist stuff, he went to sleep at his normal time, while I stayed up doing my computer stuff and watching movies on my laptop (with the screen strength turned down and wearing earplugs so as to not disturb him).

UNFORTUNATELY on our second day, when we had intended to try going to Dollywood, or driving around the Smokey Mountains National Park, his job went into a little over-gear unexpectedly, so we had to work around that, but it was ultimately all good. For myself, I spend so much time traveling that it’s no biggie if weather or life derails my plans, and I told him that going forward, we’d be doing longer stays (I prefer 2 weeks in a place rather than 2 days), so that if the same were to ever happen it would really NOT be a big deal for me. But it stressed him out, so he found himself a place where he could get some work done and, since we had two separate cars, we agreed to meet up at his friend’s home in Cookeville, TN (essentially what will one day be a suburb of Nashville, assuming it ever turns into a major city) later that evening.

Since I had about two hours to kill before we were supposed to arrive at his friend’s home — even considering the drive there — I decided to do a quick swing through the Smokey Mountains National Park.

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Note the kayaker about to brave the rapids, there were in fact two guys.

Later that night (which was Halloween’s eve) we met up at his friends home…. to find her dressed like a cat… So, I got inspired, and dressed us up in some costume bits that I conveniently had stashed in my car. (In about a month I was going to go to a Dr. Seuss costume party at the home of friends in Florida.)
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I’m supposed to be the skeptical pet gold fish from The Cat in the Hat story, while I dressed my friend as The Lorax . Being Australian and unfamiliar with Dr. Seuss for the most part, at first he wasn’t game with wearing the hat; but, then once we had explained to him how the Lorax was the ultimate conservationist fable for kids…

… conservation being a cause that my friend totally supports — he got into it with a will (the hat was mine, the rest of the outfit is something he picked up at a hippy type music festival he’d attended on his travels, cause he swings like that). We all went out to dinner dressed like that…

Later her friend showed up, and she remembered she actually had a “Cat in the Hat” hat in her garage and dug it out for him… and we went out again to meet up with some friends of theirs at a bonfire (where everyone immediately recognized which characters we were, which was gratifying).

Anyway… a good time was had by all, and I may have found myself a travel partner for some of my future travels… now we just need to decide where we want to go.

 

 

 

 

Day 1 @ Stratford Canada: a walk by the river, or “To many ducks in a row”

I have once again returned to Stratford Canada for my 2nd season of attending their world famous Shakespeare Festival; this time I bought tickets to MOST, but not ALL, of the shows. Last year I learned that the festival organizers seem to want to make most of their dramas “politically relevant”, and I was SO bored out of my skull by most of them (I found that they tended to be heavy handed and preachy in their politics — I am not a big fan of paying money to get preached at), that I decided to just not buy those tickets this this time around. This year I will be seeing all comedies and musicals.

Happily, I am once again able to stay at the home of a my friend, Dayna Manning, who (as I mentioned previously) is a not only a solo recording artist (since she was a teenager), but is also (for the last few years) a member of the popular Canadian folk band Trent Severn, not to mention a teacher & music producer — which means whenever stay with her I get to hear lots of great music. (As lay in my bed, sipping coffee and writing this blog post, the band is having a rehearsal in her living room for an upcoming fund raising concert of Beatles music; and since Trent Severn will be taking part in the concert, Dayna has been happily focused on arranging their performances — and telling me all about it. Yah, sucks to be me — GRIN)

Yesterday was my first morning at Dayna’s, and we took advantage of fabulous weather and went for a brisk 1 mile walk around the river (see my post from last year). While we were walking, she mentioned to me how the city has started working to curb the size of the local duck population. Apparently, whenever they find a nest, they’ve been putting some sort of oil on the eggs that keeps them from hatching. The poor ducks don’t know this and rather than laying more, as they would had the eggs been stollen by a predator, continue sitting on them, but for naught. That said, when we walked past this, I was much better able to understand the concern of the city council.

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While the city nurtures their swan population (see my post from last year where I discuss this), and the Canadian Geese are just passing through… when you add the ducks to those two groups, well, that is a bit much. (The gutsy lady with the walker mowing down the swan gave us both a giggle.)

After that we walked past Stratford’s Art in the Park, a regular venue for local artists to show their goods to the affluent tourists that come into town for the festival (i.e., this is NOT a place to find cheap art, the prices take fully into account the demographics of tourist population — which is mostly affluent retired folks from surrounding major metropolitan areas, that are as far afield as Chicago).

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Among the artists was a glass worker, Brad Jesson, who Dayna said was a childhood friend. I have to say I was very impressed with some of his pieces, where he achieved optical illusions I’d not seen before within his glass marbles, paperweights, and pendents (none of the images on his page do them justice). My favorite work however were 2D prints on textured paper by Mathias Muleme where he combines his Ugandan and Canadian influences. Every one of his works captured movement in a way that’s actually very hard to achieve. If I had a home I’d be tempted to buy The Cello and The Soloist to display side by side, or on either side of a doorway.

For dinner I was able to get a 5pm seating at my favorite Stratford farm to table restaurant, Bijou. The food here is ALWAYS good (I became something of a regular last year), and from my perspective it has a massive advantage over the other restaurants in that one of the owners (the woman who works as their mixologist) is also a trained dietitian — I tell her my medical issues and she not only directs me, but goes into the kitchen to discuss it with the chef. If the dish that shows up doesn’t meet those medical requirements, she’ll take issue with it usually before I do.

Tonight I had as my appetizer a dish called: “Textures of cucumber” with smoked trout, goat mousse, puffed rice, and trout roe — where the cucumber was presented four different ways.

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And for my main I had Fishermen’s Stew: octopus, scallops, razor clams, ratatouille, couscous. The cook modified it to make it lower fat, because the clams were initially intended to be fried, but for me they steamed them. Also, there was supposed to be more couscous (not great for my diet), so they reduced the amount of that and added more veggies.

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I ended up having to get a To-go box and forego dessert, I was too full by the end and at least a third of the stew was leftover.

Finally I had theater tickets. Tonight I saw the Shakespeare classic, Twelfth Night, the play that partially inspired the movie “Shakespeare in Love” (which the festival produced last year as a play again, see that posting) a fictional tale about his creation of “Romeo and Juliet” which I have tickets to see tomorrow night.

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Initially I was stunned by just how empty the theater was. I had purchased the tickets at the oh so affordable, $30/pop sale rate, where you don’t get to choose your seats… and in spite of the fact that the place was only 40% or less sold, they put me up in the nose bleeds… but the balcony was sooooo empty that pretty much all of us ultimately moved into the first 3 rows center, irrelevant of where we’d been put.

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Pictures taken JUST before the lights dimmed and the show started

If my mother had been alive she’d have insisted I move downstairs, there was no shortage of empty seats in the most expensive seating areas. Once the show got going I began to understand just WHY the place was so empty… Dayna had warned me earlier in the day that the production was ‘lack luster’ and light on laughs, but I decided she was (per usual) being kind.


It was, at best, ok.  I’ve seen the show done numerous times, and better; and, that would include high school performances of it. The first half was so slow I was almost dozing off but it picked up in the 2nd half, with a rousing finish (but for the one horrible performer). 

A few of the actors turned in really good performances, but … NOT however the girl who played Viola; and that was kind of the whole problem, since her’s is, essentially, the central character to the whole play; not only was she not believable in the part, but she kind of tripped on her lines so that they lost meaning. That said, The guy who played the duke was very good, and the the actor who played the fool was REALLY good (he’s the one in the picture). Everyone else in the cast turned in decent to respectable performances… but … that said…  when your leading actor is turning out a weak performance … well…..

A Total Eclipse of the Sun

Only an hour after having seen the eclipse it was like trying to remember a distant dream.

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I have always wanted to see a total eclipse of the sun, in fact it has always been a “bucket list item” — things to do or see before you die (i.e., kick the bucket). And now that I have, I can honestly say that it was a far more amazing experience than I thought it would be…

I now understand why it totally freaked-out folks back before they understood what was happening. We of course now know it’s coming WELL in advance… to the extent that people will book rooms along the path of totality as early as two years before the event…

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And, with our trusty NASA approved special eyewear we can watch the whole process as it progresses from partial, where the sun looks not unlike the phases of the moon but over the course of about an hour… through to the total eclipse which looks unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

That said, I thought I knew what to expect. There are no shortage of pictures of the total eclipse, from those taken by folks who went out and purchased thousands of dollars worth of special equipment (which some of my friends have done) to what can be achieved by just putting your safety glasses in front of your cell phone’s camera lens (possibly not the best of ideas) … but no matter how good they are, (and this site has some of the best I’ve seen so far 10+ Of The Best Shots Of The 2017 Solar Eclipse) the fact remains that NONE of the pictures I’ve seen to date manage to catch the glorious even that my eyes saw.  The “closest” if it’s not photoshopped is one that I spotted on facebook:

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“My uncle, Terry, took the best picture I’ve seen of an eclipse. Just wow!!!” was posted to Facebook by someone named James Richards (not a personal friend)

But even the photo above isn’t ‘right’ … although it does approach the beauty of the thing.

To quote my friend Brad Templeton, whose blog comment I’ve been paraphrasing since I first read it, “Totality is everything: The difference between a total solar eclipse and a partial one — even a 98% partial one — is literally night and day. It’s like the difference between sex and holding hands [only I now think that what he really meant was it’s the difference between an orgasm and holding hands] the total eclipse is by far the most spectacular natural phenomenon visible on this planet. Beyond the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Norway, etc. So if you can get to totality, get there. Do not think you are seeing the eclipse if you don’t get into the zone of totality.”

This is not to say partial isn’t worth taking the time to look at, it is… it’s exciting. And as the partial extends towards totality some cool things begin to occur. Even if it’s the middle of a sunny day, bugs and birds will start to get confused, and think it’s either overcast (for the bugs) or moving towards sunset, for the birds… and they’ll begin making the sorts of noises you don’t expect to be hearing at 1:00 in the afternoon. And then when the partial begins to approach totality the spaces between the leaves on the trees will act like pin hole cameras, projecting some cool looking shadows on to the ground.

But then totality occurs and even if you aren’t looking up at the sun, it’s obvious that something completely different is happening. Firstly, if you’re at all color sensitive — anyone trained in the arts as I was, will be… and this is doubly true for trained photographers (I think) …. The quality of the light all around you is just… well DIFFERENT; it was like sunset but with a lot of blue instead of reds and yellows. It was like what I imagine standing on a different with a blue sun rather than a yellow one must be like….

And then the colors directly around sun during full eclipse, no photo I’ve seen managed to get it … What I do remember seeing was a black circle surrounded by a sort of radiant blue light that moved from darker blue near the circle to lighter and then to yellow rays…  It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, so I’m not sure my brain in the 2+ minutes it lasted was able to really grasp it, but that said, it was radically different from the experience of the partial eclipse.

Also now I understand why folks plan their travels around seeing it over and over (something that to be honest I always thought was a bit — well if you’ve already seen it three times why are you putting in all this time and effort, let alone expense, to see it again? NOW I get it) Those 2+ minutes of full eclipse are a radically different experience than the partials leading to and from… and I’m already talking with friends about maybe heading down to south American in 2019 for the next one which is supposed to cross Chile and Argentina. 

McDonald’s with a view; Plattsburg, NY

During my visit in Montreal I had to drive across the border to the US to get a refill on my prescriptions, because CVS didn’t seem to have any outlets in Quebec, and I found a McDonald’s with an amazing view in Plattsburgh, NY. Now granted, it’s a McDonald’s, but there are benches out back where you can sit and eat your meal while sitting by the lake, and they had LOBSTER ROLLS???!!!!

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I didn’t even know McDonald’s HAD a lobster roll!! Lord knows they don’t sell it Chicago. Am guessing its a seasonal thing for the east coast. While it was a bit fishy tasting it wasn’t bad, especially consider the price of $9.

Photo on the left is what my sandwich looked like (not bad), the photo on the right is the “advertised” image … only 295 calories!!!

It’s a shame ALL McD’s don’t carry it.