Continental Divide

The Continental Divide or Great divide, extends for the most part north/west to south/east along the spine of mountains and high elevations of the North American Continent, and marks the line that separates the watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean from those river systems that drain into the Atlantic Ocean

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By Pfly – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12131177

There are in fact folks who as a ‘life challenge’ attempt to HIKE the length of the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) from the Mexican border to the Canadian one, and there’s no shortage of web sites devoted to how to go about doing that…. and it should not be confused with the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) which has a movie called “Wild” staring Reese Witherspoon,

about a recent divorcée with no previous experience in hiking who decides to do it as a “journey of self-discovery and healing” … of course there’s a snowball’s chance in hell you’ll see me doing either of those…

There are a lot of these signs along the length of these phenomena of nature. So any time I find one, I’m going to add it here:

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West of Rawlins, WY on I-80
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On I-80, between Rock springs and Wamsutter Wyoming, near the Bitter Creek rest stop

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tree in a Rock: Buford, Wyoming

If you’re driving along Interstate 80, and are near the town of Buford, Wyoming (population of ONE), you’ll see signs saying “point of interest on left” (and which direction your driving won’t matter because it’s BETWEEN the lanes),

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I am in the west bound lane of I-80, the cars on the other side of the divide are east bound

these are leading you to this phenomena of nature, a tree growing out of a rock. I’ve not much to say, but will let the signs speak for themselves.

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embedded in the rock below the tree is this sign:

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The following signs are about the geology of the area (the rocks)

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That said, the location is set up like a round about, so if you find you can drive AROUND the tree and take off back in the direction you came from, if you need to.

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Halls Gap & Grampians National Park, Victoria, Australia

If you’re traveling around the state of Victoria in Australia, and want to visit Grampians National Park, which lies about three hours northwest of Melbourne, or a full five and a half hours drive south-east of Adelaide, take my suggestion and seriously consider a stop in the small town of Halls Gap. Based on my own perusal of google maps, of all the various ways into the park (which is a fairly large 646 square miles), Halls Gap is the only one ‘organized’ to support tourists’ needs. It is located on the side of Grampians that is closest to Melbourne, and its the only place where I know of where you’ll find a specially trained and staffed “Information Office” who are ready to provide you with suggestions of what to do while there; and it’s also where you can pick up things like hiking or driving maps, or arrange for various tours of either the parks or of one of the nearby vineyards, book a golf time, book lodging for the night, etc. (If it’s anything like the information offices alongside Roosevelt National Park in the states, their computer’s are organized to tell you which hotels still have availability for that night — but don’t hold me to that as we weren’t looking for lodging.)

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Our first stop was at the information center for maps, and then we went to the nearby Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural center & Bush Tucker Cafe, for a bite to eat (I strongly suggest checking out the Cafe as it specializes in the unique foods and flavors that the native Aboriginals and original European settlers to the Bush would have experienced.. but, that said, the cultural center was kind of a major let down and only suggested if you have time.)

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After that we drove into the park itself….. Because this visit was on February 10th, only about two weeks after I fell down and went boom on Jan 25th, giving myself the worst concussion of my life, our visit was limited to easily accessable by car locations… so no hiking for me, not even a little bit. Just sitting in the car, being driven around and seeing new things was exhausting for my brain at that point. Getting out of the car to experience the lookouts was about all I could manage.

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Our first stop was at Boroka Lookout

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The first time I tried to take a picture of the friends that I was visiting the park with they had their faces completely in the shade, making taking a photo of them almost impossible. The picture of me (above) was me trying to show them an awareness of light what was necessary in order for them to be well-lit in this harsh/high-contrast light situation (things photographers know); that said, the woman on the left is the friend who I was staying with (who serendipitously for me was a former registered nurse, so she perfectly understood my limitations at that point).

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Before this photo I had them do a little dance (“go left, no, not that far, yah stay there”) in order to make sure they were well-lit

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Our next stop was at Reeds Lookout and balconies …. apparently from the car park & lookout there’s an easy walk to the balconies, but like I said, I was not physically able at that point to do even that. That said I found a REALLY well done video on YouTube that someone made of the walk and the views I would have seen had I done it:

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That said, we met up with a fairly large group of bikers, while at the lookout
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After this we headed to Bunjil Rock Shelter, one of the many Aboriginal religious sites scattered throughout Australia, and then home.

 

 

Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural center & Bush Tucker Cafe: Halls Gap, Victoria, Australia

Brambuk National Park & cultural centre is about a 3 to 4 hour drive away from Melbourne, and a 5 hour drive away from Adelaide, so if you haven’t made the effort to road trip between the two (or live in the area), odds are you’ll miss this National Park. Along with the natural wonders of the place, and a host of optional activities (which I will discuss elsewhere), there is a must see but ultimately highly disappointing Aboriginal cultural center, a really wonderful little cafe with very unusual foods, and of course a pretty good gift shop.

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From my first days of planning my trip to Ballarat, my friend who was hosting me had been describing this place to me, and it was one of the things I insisted we had to do, in SPITE of the fact that I was pretty much laid up because of the sever concussion I had suffered not two weeks before.

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TThe cafe and gift shop building

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They have a large selection of gelato available in flavors native to Australia fruits and spices… Golden Wattle seed, Quandong fruit, Strawberry Gum,  Desert lime, Macadamia nut (which is actually native to Australia, not Hawaii), Riberry and Davidson Plum

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As part of my experiencing Australian pies, I ordered a “Skippy” pie (you have to love the perversity of Aussie humor — check the link), which I shared with my friends (one of whom at 99% of the chips… I only ate two)

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we passed on the Lemon Myrtle scones and instead opted for the Wattleseed Damper w/Quandong & Peach Jam and Wattleseed cream (because I had no idea what a Damper was). After checking out their menu, we decided to go for the Bush Food Platter

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which had a little bit of everything (Kangaroo, Emu sausages, Crocodile, Wild Duck (Australia has a few different breeds, they never told us which one we were eating), 2 Bush Food Chutney’s (again we never found out which flavors) & a Garden Salad w/Bush Tomato & Balsamic Dressing) which is intended for two people, so we shared it between us. DEFINITELY worth trying, if only for all the new flavors. (see below for what some of these things look like)

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some of the spices and seeds mentioned above

While waiting for our food we raided the gift shop, which had a very good selection of items (many of which were made by Aboriginals with the proceeds going to them).

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At first I thought left versus right-handed boomerangs was a joke on the tourists, but no, apparently they need to be designed differently. That said, I was tempted to buy this map of Australia (below) showing all the native tribal lands… but didn’t.

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Once done at the first building you walk down a path to the cultural center

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The real disappointment of this visit was the thing that should have been the star, the cultural center. Even though pretty much all they have in there is photographs, we weren’t allowed to take any. There was a movie on Aboriginal culture but you had to pay to see it (and it wasn’t cheap, so we skipped it).

According to their website’s description, “The Brambuk Cultural Centre is the longest running cultural centre still operated by Aboriginal people. Come here to explore the culture, its traditions and various multi-award winning architectural establishments.” So, you’d think this would be a place where politically motivated local Aboriginals would choose to work in order to teach interested visitors about the grandeur of their own culture, and share their love of their own history.

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Note how faded and worn the sign is

But here’s the thing… the odds are when you get there, you won’t spot a single Aboriginal …  not even one with an ancestor four generations back so that all of the distinctive, but also  highly recessive, genetic traits have been bred out — lord knows we didn’t find any (and we asked).

[Rant: Firstly, let’s keep in mind that I have spent months of my life, studying, living and working on the Navajo reservation, and to this day still maintain some VERY close friendships with Native Americans I met during that period of my life who are to this day deeply involved with trying to improve things for their people. What I am not is a knee jerk liberal who attends protests and talks the talk, but has never spent more than a day or two being a tourist among said people, and has therefore never really walked the walk, let alone never spent any real-time talking to said people, whose rights they are so moved to protect; and hence doesn’t even really know who they are let alone understand their problems, and what these people might want for themselves vs., what you the privileged white person might want for them. That said, one of the things that kind of annoyed me while visiting was my observation that in the modern-day Australians (who by all appearances as white) seem to take extreme pride in any small amount of Aboriginal heritage they can claim. Keep in mind, in the case of Aboriginal Australians, that by the third generation, such heritage is difficult to identify visually, and unlike with African genes it can’t “pop up” unexpectedly — where two seemingly white parents can give birth to a dark-skinned child, the same way two brown-eyed parents can have a blue-eyed child. So for instance, I, while researching this piece, learned about a European/Anglo member of the Tasmanian government, by the name of Jacqui Lambie, who offended the Aboriginal community by claiming she was one and therefore could represent them, and then went so far as to get her DNA tested to try to prove it. While this on the surface might seem to be not unlike Americans who point to Native American roots that their ancestors would have tried to hide with embarrassment. The difference is that … where as in America that person might take pride in being “part” Cherokee, they rarely if ever have the audacity to claim the state owes them something for prejudice that they themselves never have had to face in their daily lives because of that genetic heritage. In Australia, however, they will; in the current age they will describe themselves as simply Aboriginal, not as ‘part’ Aboriginal, because it is now not only COOL to be Aboriginal, but again it comes with all sorts of benefits designed to provide a ‘leg up’ in a society that has heretofore condemned them. I was for instance more than a little ticked off to see Aboriginal art, which is sold as such rather than just as art, and it’s a big deal to be able to PROVE the authenticity of said art… only for the photo of the artist to be of someone with blond hair and blue eyes. Think Iggy Azalea, the Australian rapper who claims aboriginal heritage who couldn’t understand while Americans took issue to her calling herself, “black” and hence being an ‘authentic’ rapper…

In the US, the TRIBES would never allow such a thing, for the obvious reason that funding is finite and every kid who is part Native, but has suffered none of the deprivations of that ancestry, who takes that funding is in effect taking it out of the mouths of the folks who really need it. And now that the tribes themselves have found creative ways to pull themselves out of poverty, they are getting EVEN FIERCER about who does or does not get to call themselves “Native America” versus, being of Native American ancestry. It would be a bit like the Johnson’s (African American family, founders of Ebony and Jett magazine and first African American to make make the Forbes 400 list), who used to live near me — and walking distance from one of the very best high schools in the country — had mansion on Lake Michigan, with a swimming pool and tennis court, and had the Commodores (Lionel Richie‘s band before he went solo) play for their kids sweet 16 party taking advantage of preferred places and funding at Universities, intended to help cure socioeconomic disparities that exist in the African-American community]

According to the staff member we spoke to, while the Aboriginal community gets the final say on what happens there, and everything is done with difference to them… sadly, their interest sort of ends with that, and is mostly focused on the money generated by the place… although one of the staff members said if we signed up for the classes and performances that we had read about and wanted to see (which weren’t happening at that time, and hadn’t happened in a while, and he wasn’t sure when the next one might be), we MIGHT (but not would) see Aboriginals working those events.

What displays they had were placed kind of hap hazard, so that it didn’t tell any sort of meaningful story. Overall, it was kind of massive waste of time

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having trouble embeding the map (follow link to google maps):

 

You know you are in a Jewish neighborhood when: Bondi Beach, Sydney Australia

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.

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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.

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A mural adjacent to Bondi Beach, note my T-shirt

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.

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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).

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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.

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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…

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Let’s Welcome Moshiach with acts of goodness and kindness

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.

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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…

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An Australian Kippah! Got more than few of these

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.

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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

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Phillip Island, Victoria Australia: Fairy Penguin Parade

Both my travel buddy and the friend (the one who hosted me and showed me around while I stayed at her home in Ballarat) BOTH wanted to bring me to Phillip Island, to a section called Point Grant, but better known as The Nobbies in order to see the Penguin Parade. It’s about a day trip from Melbourne and is most definitely a must see on while on a trip to this part of Australia

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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.]

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We kept seeing these birds in Point Grant as we were driving towards the boardwalk and the Nobbies Center. I think they’re some sort of goose, but honestly I have no idea. I just thought they were cool. First we went into the center for a snack (I was good, I had a bowl of fruit and and iced tea) … the view out of its windows is absolutely amazing… IMG_8524.jpg

“Hell of a view” — was my friend’s comment when we sat down to eat (he had fries) — and, “a House with this view would be a lot more than $600k” (All through our trip along the Great Ocean Road we had been checking out the prices of beachfront real estate and fantasizing about buying a home with ocean views) 

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These platforms exist for multiple reasons, they allow visitors to enjoy the natural wonders of the area, while preserving biosphere of the area….

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and it keeps the visitors from disturbing the nesting grounds of the penguins.

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If you look into the holes of the boxes below the boardwalk you’ll see penguin chicks
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Each of these boxes/burrows houses penguin chicks

This being the age of the internet and live feeds of animals nesting being all the rage, some of these boxes have cameras inside them that allow you to watch the chicks. That said, not all of the penguins opt to house their chicks in the provided boxes, but instead will set up nests under the boardwalk.

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Note the penguin chick hiding out under the walkwayIMG_8541

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Once it started to approach sunset, and the time for the Penguin Parade (~8:30 pm), we left the boardwalk and the Nobbies center and drove over to where the Penguine parade happens, a short distance away… with ample time to get a snack & decent parking, etc.

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After the parade, it is important to check under your car and drive VERY slowly, in order to avoid killing any penguins

once you enter the building they check your ticket, tell you where you need to go come show time, and then you’re free to just hang out in the facility, where you have two food options (a cafeteria type place, and then a fast food cart), a gift shop, which had all things penguin, as well some really nice made in Australia goods, like beautiful Marino Wool sweaters, and outback/bush hats made from kangaroo leather.

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Some of you may remember there was once a call to knitters world-wide to produce sweaters for birds, including penguins, who had been in oil spills, intended to 1) keep them warm (the oil in the feathers negates the insulating power of the feathers), and 2) to keep the birds from in trying to clean themselves of the poisonous oil, and hence end up swallowing it. The resulting onslaught of bird sweaters greatly out-stepped the need, so since they need funding at this point more than they needed the sweaters, someone had the bright idea to put them on cheap stuffed penguins and sell those at a fund-raising markup price…

There was also a whole educational section devoted to both what we would be seeing, in terms of the Penguin Parade and what it is that actually happening…  (this is a natural behavior, not one that humans have trained them to do for our entertainment)

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And then information about the birds themselves

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And information about the chicks in the burrows, including some windows into some burrows the staff have set up to lure penguins into (which may or may not have chicks in them when you visit — below are pictures I took looking down on live chicks in said burrows/boxes)

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The first thing you need to know about penguins is that they are very loyal animals, and always return to their family members.

As this video explains, while emperor penguins, the biggest of the species can only be found in Antarctica, Australia is home to the Fairy or little penguin, the smallest of the species

At the doorway the guests are broken into three group based on the tickets they bought. The cheap seats, the best seats above ground (and open to the elements… which is the tickets we opted for), and then just below those seats there’s a viewing area at ground level where you are nice and warm, can’t see as much, but you’re right level with the penguins as they pass and are viewing them through windows.

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No photos are allowed past this white line

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Being the smallest, Fairy penguins are very timid, they wait until it’s dark enough that their predators are going to sleep before leaving the protection of the water, and it’s very easy to scare them back into the water — which, if they do means their chicks go unfed. As such, because of all the stupid humans who came before us who insisted on using flash when taking photographs — which freaks out the poor penguins — even after being begged to not do so, photography is now banned at the event … and there’s more than a few staff member watching the guests like hawks to stop them should they bring out anything in the way of a camera. As such, I found videos (all produced professionally).

 

Since you can’t get an actual photo of yourself with the penguins, you can either download professionally taken pics of the penguins via their app, or for a fee you can buy a green-screened and Photoshoped image of yourself with the birds. (If you look closely at the sign above the heads of the photo booth’s staff members, you can even get one where you’re smaller than the penguins.)

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These are the women who made our photo for us

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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.

Ballarat: Wildlife Park

Just like pretty much every town in Australia, Ballarat has a wildlife park where you can get up close and personal (in varying degrees) with Australia’s wildlife. I had avoided the one in Sydney, hoping to actually see them in the wild —  rather than under zoo like conditions — but while convalescing in Ballarat my friend (who used to work as a nurse) convinced me to give her city’s one a try.

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[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was at the Ballarat Wildlife Park on Feb. 4th, 2018, only 10 days after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … At the time any activity tended to result in this really odd sensation of getting jittery, irritable, and with a sort of sickening tightening in my stomach… and as such if I did go out for an hour or two, that was pretty much all I could manage for the whole day… and I was 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.]

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One of the animals I was MOST looking forward to see “in the wild” was a Koala. This park had a few (and you could PAY to get your picture taken next to one … you would think that for $40 they let you hold it, but no — probably safety concerns; apparently while Koala’s are cute, they aren’t very friendly).IMG_1676The Koala’s that were in cages were very hard to photograph, in part because they were sort of hiding in the shade (while being grey), but mostly because of where the sun was relative to where I was made it so that in each case the lighting wasn’t conducive to it…

IMG_1674I however manage get one video but it wasn’t worth posting (mostly it’s of the back half of a Koala whose nose was stuffed into a bush… although it was close enough that you could hear it chewing).

This is a video that I took of a bird that is actually pretty common in Australia (as in I had in fact seen it in the wild), I kept seeing it in city parks, etc.,

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Some people in Australia have these as pets… let’s keep in mind my favorite animated character as a child was Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, and that in my storage locker waiting to be unpacked is a HUGE collection of porcelain and other type dolls made in her image

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These are the lizards from the Priscilla Queen of the desert dance routine


 

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I took two videos of these cutie pies….  they were really a lot of fun to watch

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This sweetheart was my favorite animal in the whole park, she “held” my hand as I fed her and was really very sweet

Even with taking it easy as possible I ultimately only managed about two hours at the park… The more tired I got the dizzier/sicker (like my head was buzzing) I was getting … so once we’d sort of seen it, we headed home and I went back to bed.

Katoomba: Scenic World Blue Mountains attraction

Scenic World is a family owned business located at the edge of a plateau near the city of Katoomba, New South Wales Australia, at the opposite end of the Prince Henry Cliff Walk from the Three Sisters rock formation, which is a huge tourist draw. For a fee, they provide three attractions: the first is a cable car ride that goes across the ledges of the rock’s face, thereby offering views that are otherwise unobtainable, and then there are two different way to the rainforest at the base of the plateau (where there is an elevated walking path through it)  either a very steep cable railway ride or gentler cable car option.

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The first time I got there was on a weekend day, and the line for a one day passes for Scenic World was very long, while the line for the yearly pass was non existent; and, since a one day pass was $44, and one year passes were $99 — and I was going to be in town for a full week, I opted for the latter. That and, normally you need to get there “first thing” in the morning to make a first come first serve reservation to go on any of their rides, and I was warned that these sell out very early in the day during tourist season, i.e., exactly when I was there. As my readers probably already know about me…. I don’t do mornings! With the one year pass, however, no reservations were necessary and when you add it gives 15% off of any purchases at the stores or cafés ….  and with the yearly pass I would get 15% off of tickets for friend who came with me (and my travel buddy had already said he wanted to come here towards the end of our trip — when his girlfriend from was going to join us for a few days) which ultimately didn’t happen …. I felt the $99 ticket was the better option. As it stands, since my accident negatively impacted my visit, my plan is to go back to Australia later this year (within the one year window), and I’ll be able to use the ticket again then.

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Views from the balcony building, and the gift shops

That said, since I HAD a year-long pass, and the weekend crowds were making the lines for any of the rides SUPER long, I opted to do just walk around checking out the facility, and then come back on a week day.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was in the Blue Mountains about 5 months ago, on Jan 12th to 18th, 2018, and since my accident, which resulted in a sever concussion, happened only 8 days later 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.]

Like I said the one year pass included a 15% discount from the gift stores (where I didn’t find anything I actually wanted), and from the cafe (where I did). That said, there are two food options, and small one offering coffee shop type foods and outdoor seating, and the Tuckshop which offers more in the way of hot food options, and indoor seating.

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This is the outdoor seating for the coffee shop (looking towards the building) but in the other direction it has great views — see the pics of me against a railing (above)

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The second time I went the weather was a balmy 70 F …  Although it was supposed to hit 100 F a few days later. And, way fewer people where there than had been there the previous weekend, as I had hoped.

First, I had my morning coffee while enjoying the view, and then I went down into the rainforest via the train ride

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Note me up at the top of this photo

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This train is so incredibly steep that you’re knees end up pressing hard, up against the safety bars, and more than few people felt the need to hold on to the safety bars above…

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These views go whizzing by so fast, that you’re lucky if you manage to get the shot
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You can see finger smudges on the glass walls

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IMG_1490The train drops you down into a rainforest, complete with vines that Tarzan would have loved and prehistoric fern trees.

IMG_1509.JPGAccording to a complex display at the bottom and off to the side of the tracks, they were first put in place to bring down coal miners.

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It was so frigging cold the first time I took the train into the rain forest that I was uncomfortable so maybe 62 F (a good 10 degrees cooler than higher up). I wasn’t dressed for it and my teeth started to chatter, so I opted to go back up and come back again the next day when the forecast promised warmer weather, and intended to dress in layers just in case.

When I came back the 2nd time, it was warm enough that I had to take off my 2nd layer (WAY more pleasant than Sunday’s temps). I did a 45 minute walk through the rainforest…

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Just to give an idea of how elevated some of the pathway was, I’m on one elevated point looking down at another elevated point

IMG_1544Firstly I was really excited to see the sort of vines I imagine Tarzan swung on, my first time outside of a movie or TV programIMG_1543These sorts of palm trees I was pretty sure I HAD seen before, but in the prehistoric dinosaur Garden in Disneyworld’s Animal Kingdom. There’s a garden there (adjacent to the dinosaur ride) that most people walk right by that ONLY has living plants that we know existed during the time of the dinosaurs.

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Here I’m looking up at the massive rock feature directly adjacent to the start of the ride, giving you an idea of how far down I am

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Algae, Lichens and Mosses… can we all say biodiversity?

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Ultimately I completed every ride and in every direction

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This is rock formation I was looking at from the ground, to give the distance perspective 

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At one point with all the running around I somehow managed to lose my sunglasses (called sunnies in Aussie) but they were turned into lost and found (shock and awe!)

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.

https://www.google.com/maps/place/The+Gingerbread+House/@-33.7172034,150.3120487,15z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0xaaf95d3e9b389737?sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjFo57m88nbAhVD3VMKHfpPAGEQ_BIImQEwDw

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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