You had one job! Peterborough Coastal Reserve, Victoria, Australia

To quote my friend, “They must have very smart animals around here!” You just have got to love signs like this that don’t say what they’re supposed to because of bad Grammar.

yXYkEe13SRuvXYbcJPGRcg_thumb_7b25.jpgMy friend immediately realized the unintended joke as we were driving down the road. I beg forgiveness as it was only a few weeks after my MASSIVE concussionmy MASSIVE concussion, so my brain wasn’t very quick on the uptick. I didn’t get it till he pointed it out.

(and why yes, I’m STILL backlogged … this happened almost a year ago)

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Diving the Great Barrier Reef & learning about underwater photography: Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Earlier this week I am happy to say that I completed yet another one of my bucket list items; I went scuba diving/snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef along the eastern coast of Australia…. before it died completely. That said, I’m VERY sorry to say that, at least for the bits I was able to see up close, were already pretty much bleached/dead, when compared to pictures I have seen over the years of the explosion of color it once was…. very sad. Global climate change, it’s a thing.

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My travel-buddy and I had went up to Cairns in northern Queensland, which is the town located closest to barrier reef, and stayed there for a week. Be warned! Once you get there you’ll be barraged with boat tour options because Cairns is about either diving the reef, or visiting the UNESCO world heritage area rainforests/wetlands that line this part of the Australian coast. We ultimately opted for a company a friend of ours had previously used and been very happy with, called Reef Experience, which advertises itself as the only one to offer “all-inclusive” tours… no “hidden fees”, etc.

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This would be one of the photos they sell to you, taken by their photographer

What this translates to (per my understanding, which may be flawed)… is that while there are other companies that may seem cheaper… in reality they all pretty much cost the same or in fact more, while delivering essentially the same offerings. The major difference is other companies might not include various taxes and fees and what not (cost of the swim gear?) in the advertised price, and you’ll find you have to choose to add them in addition, or not dive… and by the time you do, those other guys are actually more expensive (unless you own all your own scuba gear, etc).

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Our tour group, including me and my friend (can you spot me?). The company posted this to their Facebook page for us to download afterwards — a freebie photo

They do have an online website, but I, rather than make the reservation that way, dragged my ass into their offices (a short walk from our Airbnb) FIVE days in advance of our trip …  on the assumption that this would keep problems from developing … I paid for the two reservations, and they asked were there any food restrictions. I explained that my friend was a vegetarian who was allergic to mushrooms. So, all good, and was told what to bring with me, when we’d be picked up, etc… and went home.

TWO days later (on Sunday, when we were supposed to dive on Wednesday), and I might add AFTER it was already two late to cancel and get a refund!!!!! I get an email explaining that under Queensland law, not everyone is legally allowed to do scuba diving and that we had to both fill out a medical form and send them a list of all the medications that we were taking, dosage, and how often; They would then show the list to their dive doctor and he would say if we could dive; or he would say that we needed to go to a doctor to be certified in person as healthy enough to do scuba. WHY they could not have told me that when I was in the office, and given me the form then, I don’t know. …. AND this was no PDF that we could fill-in and then send back to them, or even a website to fill out, it was an image file (???!!!). Something you needed to print out and fax back. Now keep in mind, we’re tourists, and I’ve yet to find a really portable printer (and who the fuck brings those on a plane?) and the Airbnb we were renting didn’t have “business office” facilities … so we had to get REALLY creative to figure out how to fill this thing… my friend, who is a professional geek, luckily had an image editor on his laptop… I have no idea how other people might manage it

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Also, read the form REALLY carefully. [Have you EVER suffered from a cold? Our best guess was that was, what’s called in the legal profession, a gotcha question; i.e, IF anything bad happens that you might want to sue them over, odds are you answered “have you ever had the common cold” with “No” because you want to be allowed to go scuba diving, and they can then say “SEE they lied on the form! They can’t sue us!”

So… Early Monday morning, after finally figuring out how to fill this thing in, and before we left to do the tourist stuff we had come to Cairns to do — which was NOT filling out medical forms, we sent it to them. LATE Monday night — seriously I kept checking my emails for a response from them, it didn’t come till around 9pm…. we got an email saying that their doctor had OK’d me to dive, but my NOT my friend (who is WAY healthier than I am and not a month before had been scuba diving in the waters off of Bali). Do not pass go, do not collect $200…. He had be seen by an actual doctor to get OK’d to dive, and they suggested a 24 hour walk-in-clinic nearby. My friend (being too tired and grumpy to go that night) contacted them to make an actual appointment for the next morning, but was told he couldn’t get one, that he had to come in as a walk-in, and hope to be seen on a first come first seen basis starting 5pm. (We called the company, who started calling around to other clinics and NONE could see him.) So the next day, he went over at 4:30 …but the doctors on staff did NOT know of his medication, and could NOT ok him to dive! They told him he had to come back AGAIN the following morning at 6:00 AM, BEFORE our 7:30 am dive, when the doctor who actually knew his stuff would be there. So my friend did, and that doctor said it was no problem — the drug is a common one in the USA, but less commonly used in Australia — and thankfully my friend was able to go there and be back by 7am, in time for our 7:30 bus…. which came 10 minutes early…. and after all that rushing, we were dropped off and discovered we now had to stand and wait for the boat crew to be ready…. because they were not.

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Talk about hurry up and wait!!! But back to the issue of pricing…. Essentially most of the one-day tours at this price point, about $150 USD/person, all seemed to last for about the same length. You should expect need to arrive at your ship at about 7:30 am and return to port at 4:30 pm. (Like I said, ours included pickup from and drop-off at our hotel — and thankfully the Airbnb was actually IN a hotel or they would not have — as part of the price… on the up side, they did call us when they were about to arrive. I STRONGLY suggest you find what the nearest hotel to you is, and set that as your pick up location if your airbnb is NOT so situated)

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Finally the staff arrived to check us all in. We had to show either the print out of our ticket or an email confirming it. On their sheet I saw that they had my friend listed as vegetarian, but NOTHING about his mushroom allergy, so I reminded them…. they said “thank you” and wrote it down…..

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This guy was traveling solo

Then every group of visitors (friends, families, etc) had their photo taken… like the one I posted at the top of the blog…. this is a photo you’ll be expected to buy later…

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Before the boat got started they talked to us, and told us that motion sickness pills (both medicinal and ginger tablets) were available. The Medical ones were $3 AUD for two pills (one for BEFORE we got moving, the second to be taken after lunch), which I went straight over the purchased… and was SO glad I did. Even with, I had to focus on calm breathing and such during part of the rougher parts of the ride out. During the way out to the dive site they fed us breakfast, and lets just say some of the folk who had thought they didn’t need the pills had ‘spilled their cookies’. For my travel buddy…. they had a veggie burger, which he didn’t want because he wasn’t hungry… and for everyone else there were fried-egg and bacon sandwiches… I just had a fried egg which I patted down with paper towels, to remove the oil. While doing it I talked to the chef-female and asked her, “did they tell you my vegetarian friend is allergic to mushrooms?” and the answer was “NO they  had NOT.!”… Keep in mind I told them this TWICE…. AND she kind of freaked because the dish she was getting ready to make for his lunch, was FULL of mushrooms!!!! That’s a MAJOR screw up!!

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There’s a top deck for those wanting to tan and rest, note the resort deck out in the distance (it just stays out there pretty much 24/7)

SO, that said… Along the way no matter which cruise you take, they’ll feed you breakfast, lunch, and a snack on the return trip (ours were all you can eat, and there was enough for seconds) — which is either included or you’ll need to pay extra. Ours was included, with water, tea and coffee for free…. pop or beer cost extra.

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Taken using their underwater rental camera… notice the color difference between the shoe in or out of the water?

Once out there, you’ll be lent a blue “stinger suit’ to protect you from jelly fish stings, a pair of flippers, a snorkel and goggles. Our company also lent a wet suit to anyone who was a certified swimmer and didn’t have their own (again something that I think other companies might charge you for). They seemed to have all the gear at pretty much every size, so for instance my friend who wears a shoe size of 13 Australia /49 European & 15 US — huge feet, has trouble find socks and shoes, WAS able to borrow ones that fit… while my feet are at the other end of spectrum (unusually small for a white girl, although average for an Asian woman), and I was also able to find ones that fit snuggly.

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They even had prescription goggles that they were lending out for free. I have particularly horrible eyesight, and doubted they’d have mine… but they had one that was close enough to allow me to see, and even had one that was for folks who were even worse than me… although they weren’t bifocals so I could see far but not near….

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Me, with my borrowed prescription goggles — purchased pic

Once we got out to the reef and dropped anchor, everyone got one scuba dive with an instructor (if they weren’t already certified), where the staff helps you get into the gear, into the water, and then makes sure you can both breath properly using the tank and regulator, and are able to expel water from your goggles while under the water (because apparently the goggles have not yet been made where that won’t happen).

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The rental camera is red filtered for underwater use, and is kind of lousy above it

And then you get led around by the instructor for about 20 minutes after that, after the photographer has had a chance to take pics of you while under the water. A second optional scuba dive was available for $65 AUD more (clearly advertised as such in advance), and you could make up your mind to add it after you’ve done the first depending on how you felt about it.

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This platform (holding a mini motor boat for emergency pick ups) was lowered into the water, and we took off from it, see the 12 air tanks lined up?

The first dive was about half an 35 min and included instructions and making sure each diver UNDERSTOOD them and could demonstrate them (one on one testing), while the second scuba dive is 45 minutes with none of it wasted on instruction. IF you are a certified diver… you could spend the WHOLE time swimming alone, but if not you HAD to swim with a guide and HAD to go through the lesson, even if, like my travel buddy, it’s not your first time going scuba diving. In fact in my group of four swimmers,  I was the only virgin who had never done it before.

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The red filter is simplistic, and makes everything look green

So the pic above — see how it’s very green? — That was one I took with their underwater rental camera which cost me about $99 to rent (but included my choice of 15 of the professional photographer shots … not great, … The pics below are that are blue, are by their photographer…. the very big fish is like the crew’s pet. Apparently this type of fish has a 5 year memory and is a bit like a dog in terms of his level of affection for the divers who come by daily

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The professional photos were color adjusted using very expensive specialized software, I’m SURE of it, because I watched him doing it.

So again, compare the color palate of the pics by the professional (blue) with the one they rented me (green), which I used while scuba diving… i.e., going MUCH deeper into the water than I would experience while snorkeling… much higher water pressure.

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The above were also passed through some basic color balancing attempts by me, using my Macbook’s photo program not complex algorithms for divers

Dealing with this pressure, and the fact that the goggles flood regularly is a big part of what they taught us before we went down. I felt ok for most of it; there were some initial problems my regulator which for some reason was set so tightly that I was having to REALLY force the air out while breathing, I could just breath out.

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Multiple boats all sharing reef adjacent areas, and little platforms set up about midway between

I hand signaled the instructor as we’d been instructed… we went to the surface and I told him about it and he made some sort of adjustment to the thing…  and from then on it was fine. Also between the fat on my ass and my tits, there was too much buoyancy between me and the suit (which also has built-in air pockets) so that I wasn’t able to submerge like everybody else … again I asked to go up… explained it to him… he made some more adjustments and then I was fine.

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A purchased pic of the diving staff, the blond guy front and center led my group of 4+him

After we finished the dive the instructor (blond guy wearing glasses above) told me that I had actually done unusually well and should feel proud of myself. He said that MOST virgins on the first dive freak out during the instruction section, because of problems breathing, or feeling like they were being water boarded, or whatever…. and MOST never actually manage to get past the initial instruction phase to do the scuba dive itself. I on the other hand had managed to do the whole thing, including pretty much the whole time allocated to the dive.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_213c.jpgBut at the very end of it my core muscles in my torso, and the muscles in my legs were just knackered. At that point, my friend, who is a strong swimmer, signed up not for the 2nd scuba dive (which he had intended to do) but rather for a snorkel dive with the ships marine biologist (I forget what the fee for that was, but it was less than the snorkel dive), which you could only sign up for if you were a strong swimmer. Since I was tired, he ‘informed’ me that he was borrowing my rental camera. 

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Me, showing off my iPhone in it’s waterproof plastic case, $28 AUD/~$20 USD ($13 on amazon)

Before going on the trip I had found a camera store just near our Airbnb rental. The girl working there had convinced me that the rental underwater camera’s offered by these trips weren’t actually all that good, and intended more for video than photos. That a better option, was to use my own iPhone inside one of these clear, heavy plastic zip-lock bags designed for smart phones. She said that’s what she uses and has used for a few years, and if you’re NOT going to invest in a top of the line camera it’s really the best choice. Supposedly I COULD have used it for scuba diving but to be honest, I didn’t trust it to keep my iPhone dry more than a few feet down …. but I figured snorkeling it could manage…. and in addition to the scuba outing, which you HAD to do with a crew member unless you had certification to scuba solo (which takes a full three days minimum to complete in Australia) there were two chances to go snorkeling independently (about four hours total) — although you had to stay within a certain distance of the boat/life guards while doing it ….

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Googles maps

An image of an underwater reef taken from above the water, they’re easy to spot, and at points they come up so high that boats can’t pass over them… so snorkeling really is a viable option… at the right locations you don’t HAVE to go very deep to seem them. Our boat while it ultimately docked at two different locations, so we got to see some variation of the reef while limiting our snorkeling to within the ken of the lifeguards. Although, that said…. BOTH locations were on/at the bit of the barrier called the Norman reef — if you look at a map of the barrier reef, it looks like a line of underwater islands.

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As the medical thing we had to go through earlier demonstrated, not everyone can scuba dive safely because of medical reasons— for instance people taking certain prescriptions aren’t allowed,  and not everyone feels comfortable scuba diving (even among those who want to, they freak out when first trying it as it can be claustrophobic and a bit like being water boarded). As such, even though scuba is included in the price, you can choose to just do snorkeling the whole time, if you’d rather

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These were the photos I took during our first chance at snorkeling, before we did our scuba session, when I was still using their rented underwater go-pro type camera (i.e., everything is very green)

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Photos from the rented camera, even after I futzed with the color balance on my computer, still not very good (but better)

… First thing I noticed when doing snorkeling was that MUCH bigger fish than I saw by the reefs seemed to like to hang out JUST under the boat. I think it has something to do with what was in the blue plastic bin they had hanging below the boat… it had these things that looked like transponders in it which I guess sent out sound-waves that attracts the fish to the boat… but that’s just an educated guess (after they pulled up the crate, no more big fish were hanging out down there). Anyway, once again… here was the photo I took of the photographer using the expensive to rent underwater rental camera … very very green

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And by comparison, THIS is the image of the same guy only this time I was using my iPhone inside the plastic bag. See how BLUE everything is? And sort of monotone everything is?

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Taken with my iPhone … really

DwdX1JAQSv+xgt9Rj8NcXg_thumb_c24e.jpgAfterwards, at the end of the trip while we were heading back to port, one of the staff members saw me flipping through images, and suggested try a free app for the smart phone, that she loves, which would automatically color correct my photos for me (it also allows you to modify that correction, less or more, etc) called Dive+ … which I did… and here’s what it looks like (before and after)

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So it’s a sort of judgement call as to whether to use it or not to apply the correction… but I was actually REALLY happy with some of the photos I ultimately got with the iPhone/Dive+ combo

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Love this one, it’s very other worldly

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I keep wondering how far down the professional dive photographer had to go to find this shot (below) … because it was NOT up near the surface where we were snorkeling (images above), that’s for sure

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Purchased image from our dive, also visible on their Facebook page

That said, its pretty clear from my images that the barrier reef, at least up at the top where a snorkelers could see it is already like 90% bleached out in these areas… which is very very sad.

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bottom right is scuba and deep divers (folks who are experienced enough to hold their breaths and go deep)

OR of course, if you don’t TRUST the plastic pack to keep your smartphone dry, you could always still rent from one of those underwater cameras from the tour company … which I opted for — at the last-minute — as the thought of a water-logged smartphone popped into my brain before the scuba dive. I admit I did this AFTER a lecture by the photographer about how much better my photos would be if I had the right equipment…

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purchased pic of me and my friend … I’m holding the rented phone (at the end of the yellow thing… which will make it float/bob in the water if you loose it) in my left hand

Actually I think that it was because  I decided to rent their go-pro-type underwater camera (the yellow thing in my left hand in the picture below) along with a package of 15 of the digital photos the professional photographer took……that they decided to put the above photo on their Facebook page… I’m GUESSING it was because … as far as I know, I was one of only TWO people who had opted to rent one of those underwater camera things, and as the camera is front and center in this photo, above, the photo helps to promote other people renting it

Thai Again, a homestyle Thai restaurant in Nelly Bay, Magnetic Island, Queensland, Australia

Located in Nelly Bay on Queensland’s Magnetic Island (Townsville) in an unimpressive looking building adjacent to a grocery store is a little family owned Thai restaurant called “Thai Again” … which has REALLY good food, if questionable service.  The woman who runs the place is from Northern Thailand, and the food she cooks is ‘home-style’ Thai like you’d find at restaurants in small towns in Thailand, and is quite tasty — albeit with the heat modified to local tastes.

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Photo above is of their menu, to give you an idea

There’s outdoor seating (which is what we opted for) in a fairly beautiful jungle like setting, as well as a limited amount of indoor air-conditioned. That said, the interior of the place is pretty drab and unimpressive — a bit like a diner really, so if the humidity doesn’t bother you (and you’ve remembered to put on something to discourage the mosquitos… I strongly suggest sitting outdoors.

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My Tom Yom soup,

That said, the waitresses seem to take an “out of sight out of mind” attitude, and one of them got snippy with me if I got tired of waiting and actually went in to remind her she had customers outside …. and this was an evening when we had all the time in the world and were in no rush at all and having a nice conversation, but it was STILL taking way too long to get any attention.

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I ordered the Tom Yom soup $19.90 AUD/$21.48 (remember in Australia you don’t add tax or tip) — which seemed a bit expensive but it turned out to be a ‘to be shared’ portion that was loaded with four HUGE shrimps, big slices of squid, and a full fillet of some sort of white fish… so easily a meal in itself. Unlike the Tom Yum in Thailand, which of the sort of hot that it creeps up on you and by the third spoonful your ears will turn red … this stuff was more flavorful than hot, but she puts in great big slabs of fresh red pepper (HOT) which you can nibble on if you’re so inclined — I pulled them out immediately.

[HEH, so I put in the amount about an hour ago, and it was 21 USD, which told me the US dollar had suddenly weakened against the Aussie one by a bit … and now an hour later it is saying $14 USD — ah the joys of international currency. Trump, bless his soul, is making the markets go hay wire]

I also ordered the Satay Chicken, which is coated in a sort of curry, and served with peanut sauce for $13.90 AUD, which was also very good.

My travel partner is a vegetarian. On a back page they had TWO vegan options listed, that both had MEAT in them… one had duck and I forget what the 2nd was. He was more than a bit miffed… however when the waitress came he said, “Can I have a green curry that made vegetarian, so like with Tofu?” and she said no problem. So I guess the trick in this case is to just say that… He, by the way, was VERY happy with his dish. Being Australian he’s gone to Thailand often, and said this was just like what you’d expect in small towns up at the north end of it.

That said, the restaurant is BYOB, only open for dinner, and it is STRONGLY suggested that you reserve in advance. The reality is that there are not many restaurants on Magnetic Island, so calling in advance is almost always a good idea, especially for dinner.  ALSO, and I found this true for EVERY restaurant we at while on the island, be prepared for the kitchens to be SLOW… and this place is no exception. I strongly suggest giving kids and sugar sensitive adults a snack before going out to dinner on this island.

 

Domestic air-terminals in Australia are different from in the USA

So, yesterday we flew from Sydney north to Brisbane, changed planes, and kept on north to Townsville Airport, which is where you start seeing the Great Barrier Reef… bucket list travel to be sure. We were heading towards Magnetic Island, which is for the most part a tourism destination…. lots of beaches and hiking and mother nature at her Aussie finest

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will blog about it later, but suffice it to say, this is the view from our airbnb’s bed

Anyway, getting here we flew Virgin Airlines domestic. There were a few things about the airports that I found interesting. Firstly, in the domestic terminals there are few to any food places in the public areas before you pass security. This seemed strange to me because people regularly arrive at airports early, for one reason or another, and need to hang out and wait till it’s time to check in. (The reason for the absence made sense to me a bit later.)

The second thing I noticed was that … in Australia, when flying DOMESTIC (I checked, this is not true when flying international), you do NOT need a boarding pass in order to pass security. THIS in part is why there’s not much in the way of hanging out places before security. The fact is that as long as you’ve only got carry-on type luggage, you don’t really need to wait to check in before accessing the food and shopping options on the other side of it. I somehow doubt you can pass a full-sized suitcase through… but we arrived at the airport a good two hours before check in would normally be allowed, and — since we were flying Virgin, one of the major Aussie carriers (their desk is ALWAYS open) — they happily checked out bags anyway.

To be honest, I had missed the fact that something was absent from the normal process when we entered the line for security, i.e., no one stopped us to check our boarding passes; but, it was like little voice in the back of my head that went ignored. I only realized that something was off when I saw a of couple, standing right near the gates, doing what was clearly tearful goodbyes …. at a gate. This confused me at first…. Why are these two standing the middle of the walkway, holding on to each other like it was the last time they’d ever see each other? The woman had tears trailing down her face, and he was kissing her sweetly. This is the sort of thing you USED to see in the USA at airport departure gates before 9-11, but you just don’t anymore because of loved ones no longer allowed to approach said gates (tearful goodbye have to happen before security and tend to be rushed, because no one wants to miss a flight because of the long lines that can happen there). And then later as we were boarding, I was watching two friends (who I had initially assumed were traveling together) saying their goodbye, and then one loaded the plane with us while the other turned and left to exit the airport…. and the light bulb in the brain went off as I finally put the pieces together.

When we landed in Brisbane I also noticed a few people who were clearly waiting at the gate for folks to get off. They were standing there with faces of happy expectation, looking at every person who walked off — in the face — clearly looking for someone they hadn’t seen in a while …. Again, you just don’t see that sort of the thing at gates in the USA anymore. When you do, its AFTER people have exited the controlled areas, which are guarded to keep anyone from walking in-the-out-doors, so to speak.

And then when we got to Townsville, as we unloading I noticed there was a bar before you exited the controlled area, that seemed to be utilized by locals, just hanging out. REALLY unusual from my perspective. I almost had the feeling that IF you live right by the airport in Townsville, it’s a SMALL town, that’s the local bar. Again in small towns in the US you might find bars like this BEFORE security, but not after… at least not since 9-11 happened.


And on a totally different note: our airline stewardess on Virgin Airlines from Brisbane to Townsville looked like Gal Gadot’s (i.e., Wonder Woman’s), not as attractive, sister.

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the resemblance was particularly pronounced in profile and when she was smiling.

 

Ann’s Chicken Fry House & Gift Shop: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Located on Route 66 in Oklahoma city, Ann’s Chicken Fry House & Gift Shop is touted on all of the “what to do on route 66” sites as one of the MUST-sees if you want to have that classic 66 experience, and the best Chicken Fried Steak in town. In retrospect, I was really annoyed to discover that the place only opened up in 1971 (i.e, barely a historic 66 restaurant, if at all), and I didn’t really enjoy my meal… NOT worth the calories.

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First, Let’s keep in mind, that I-44 was bypassing Route 66 in Oklahoma city as early as 1958, when it was first built to link it to Saint Lewis. In fact the interstate STARTED there, and then worked itself out sideways… That said, HISTORICALLY even though 66 hit its cultural hey-day in the early 1960’s, and wasn’t officially disbanded till 1985, by the late 1960’s/early 1970’s it had essentially been made irrelevant. By the late 1980’s, when I tried driving parts of it, it was sort of an impossible struggle  — and it’s revival as a scenic byway (the program officially began in 1991) really didn’t start till 1990. As such, I’m sorry, but for Ann’s place falls right into the years of 66 irrelevance as anything other than highways that people don’t even think of AS highways because of just how many paved roads there now were, and their function eclipse by the expressways. As such, for Ann’s to promote itself as an authentic route 66 business is kind of false advertising. I’m sorry but it is. That, and, to add insult to injury, it isn’t even considered one of Oklahoma city’s better restaurants by any of the locals (seriously, read Yelp, or any of those other sites) … i.e., it’s essentially a MAJOR tourist trap and nothing more.

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That said… Be warned, they are a CASH ONLY business… they do NOT accept credit cards. (The mind boggles)…. and they are closed on Sundays and Mondays… Their specialty is supposed to be the chicken fried steak… so that is what I ordered… but I didn’t take any photos of it (it looked like chicken fried steak, and there was nothing impressive about the plating)….

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that it was much better than the previous order of the stuff I’d had along the route — And I ate so much chicken fried steak over the few weeks I was doing 66 that when I got back to Chicago my liver numbers had once again spiked.

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Chicken Fried Steak is one of my very favorite dishes, so I HAD to try ever one of the places that was advertised as offering the best example of the stuff.

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One day someone should count up the number of Route 66 restaurants that tout their Chicken Fried Steak as the best in the city or the best in the state, or the best along the route …. the number of restaurants is probably very high…

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but, all said and done, 9 times out of 10 when I’ve eaten it at these places I’ve been seriously let down to discover it is still just a hamburger fried in chicken batter … and RARELY, is it the much tastier and more expensive pounded filet-of-steak — and personally I’m spoiled; I MUCH prefer it when it’s a piece of steak that’s been pounded —- I love how in republican states they will insist that somehow its NOT a hamburger, and will call it ground steak as though somehow that isn’t just hamburger without a bun. And I’m sorry but hamburgers, no matter how good, don’t taste like steak. So NO, I do not really suggest their Chicken Fried Steak.

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That said, I DO suggest finding an excuse to go inside the place as the interior is very kitschy and fun. Its one of those place where not only will they allow you to write on the walls…. they’ll even hand you the pen

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That and, according to the owner, her husband (R.I.P.) had been kind a huge Star Wars fan, hence all the high-priced paraphernalia of the sort I’ve always lusted over but would never purchase because … “where would I put it?” UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2023.jpg … well I guess if you own a kitschy tourist trap restaurant… you can legally deduct it as a business expense.

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A Story of Two Big Milk Bottles: The Milk Bottle Grocery on old Route 66 in Oklahoma City, in the USA vs. The Guaranteed Milk Company Bottle in Montreal Canada

Note: This post did not end as it started
Located at 2426 N. Classen, in Oklahoma City, on a street that USED to be part of the Route 66 network, but that is now no longer listed as such [No route 66 on Google maps, and no 66 signs on the building ???] is a tiny, one story, nondescript triangular-shaped brick building that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered one of the iconic Route 66 buildings… albeit one with NO 66 signage … what’s that about?

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Wedged onto a bit triangular island (the result of three streets coming together at odd angles), it was built in the 1930’s initially as a street car stop (which sort of makes sense if you look at it) — [and Wikipedia did NOT know about this!! I found in on the National Park service’s page!!] …  but within a short time the street cars were no more, and it was then known to locals as “The Triangle Grocery” (from 1940 until 1948) — for fairly obvious reasons. In 1948, when the then owner, as a way of getting route 66 traffic to notice that his store was even there, got the brilliant idea to put a large metal milk bottle on his roof, so that the local community renamed it, appropriately enough… the Milk Bottle Grocery… a name which has stuck to this day.

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Interestingly, according to the National Park Services’s web page, the Milk Bottle Grocery’s the bottle was never directly connected to the business upon which it sat, and has always been rented out like a normal billboard (but always to various dairy companies) as location to advertise their brands, and has been painted and repainted accordingly. (Kind of brilliant actually, as it supplemented the building’s income)

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Currently… the bottle advertises the 52 year old Bruam’s brand (i.e., didn’t exist when the building first went up), which is a well-known brand in this part of the country (I’d never heard of it till coming here). Braum’s headquarters is based in nearby Tuttle, Oklahoma (just at the edge of the expanding Oklahoma City region), and while they do sell their product in groceries, they are possibly better known for their about 300 drive through or dine-in outlets that are combination grocery stores and burger/ice-cream joints (with a few healthy options). These are scattered throughout the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Missouri, and Arkansas (kind of an overlap of lower midwestern states and western/southern states). I actually visited one while in town, but didn’t think to take any photos of it. That said, they are all very shiny and clean, and seem to be very popular with locals — it was STRONGLY suggested to me if I had not tried one I really should. That they are all GOOD.

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Returning to the building: the neighborhood it is located in is currently Oklahoma city’s China town area, so I was unsurprised to learn (via Wikipedia) that for 25 years (until 2014) the building had housed a Vietnamese bánh mì shop (the Vietnamese take on the submarine sandwich). When that business left the building’s owner, Elise Kilpatrick, who had inherited it from her father decided to take advantage of historic preservation tax credits in order return it to its original appearance — in keeping with the move towards revitalizing route 66’s historic attribute. At which point a boutique called Prairie Gothic had moved in, but only managed to stay in business for about a year.

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The Milk bottle building is now the offices of an architectural firm (??).

Post Script:

That said, I’ve seen what I’m pretty sure is a MUCH bigger milk bottle which seems to double as a water tank sitting on top of a very dilapidated building on the Island of Montreal, ⁨while I was up in ⁨Canada in July of 2017. This one is called the Guaranteed Pure Milk bottle, and also has its own Wikipedia page.

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According to the page, the bottle itself was ALSO (like the bottle above) built in the 1930’s but this one was renovated in 2009 by volunteers using privately raised funds, to the cost of $100K Canadian (WOW! Power to you guys!) … and that sum was for JUST fixing up the bottle. It stands 33 Feet tall (I have not been able to discover how tall the Oklahoma City bottle is, but I’m guessing it’s not more than 10 feet high) … ⁩BUT, that said…. considering the state of the building it is upon, and the fact that the area it is in seems to be in a mad rush of replacing all of its old buildings with shiny new ones, I’m not sure how long it’ll still be there…

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HOPEFULLY — and I hope someone out there is listening — the city of Montreal will have the good sense to either fund the renovation of the building rather than just knocking it down, at least …in this case… if that’s not feasible, PLEASE at least save the Milk bottle!!

The Hubble Space Telescope Replica in Marshfield Missouri, his home town

As you’re passing through small town of Marshfield Missouri on Route 66 (population 5,720, so slightly larger than my high school) if you pay attention you’ll realize that within the boundaries of the town the route bears the name of Hubble Drive; this is in honor of the town’s favorite son, the historically important American Astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953)

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Hubble is highly respected in the scientific community as one of the most important astronomers of ALL time. He played a CRUCIAL role in establishing the scientific fields of extragalactic astronomy (studying objects OUTSIDE the Milky Way) and observational cosmology (the study of structure and evolution of the universe, not through theory, but through things we can actually see).

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And, if you choose to divert just a little bit off 66 to enter the center of town, you’ll find a 1/4 scale replica of the Space Telescope named in his honor (which makes complete sense once you realize who he was and what he did) sitting alongside the town hall.

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In addition his efforts are lauded in murals I spotted around town

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And YET … Webster Country, where Marshfield is located is a deeply Republican area and voted 76.9% in favor of Trump… And Marshfield is 97.8% lily white…. So what do you want to bet that the old guy is turning over in his grave because most of his hometown’s residents believe science is a bad thing?

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Huge Liquid Life Bottle, Tulsa OK

Located on a frontage road adjacent to Route 66/I 44, is what I’m guessing is the worlds biggest bottle of liquid life, a product that to be honest I’d never heard of before — and I’m guessing it’s the largest cause I doubt there’s another one like it anywhere.

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It is standing in front of the headquarters for the TRC Corporation, which makes the stuff. From what I can tell TRC’s major concern is actually minerals from mining. There is nothing on the internet describing why this bottle is here, and it’s only noted on the various Road tripping sites by people who’ve passed it.

On the topic of how to take a photo like this when traveling alone? My iPhone is sitting on the hood of my car, and I used the remote control on my apple watch to activate it.

Golden Driller Statue, Tulsa, OK

Originally built as a symbol for the International Petroleum Exposition held in Tulsa Oklahoma (ever four years) in 1952 (and then temporarily again in 1959) the Golden Driller, is a statue of a Paul Bunyanesqe Oil worker. At 75 feet tall (23 meters), he stands majestically with his right arm resting on the top of an honest to G-d oil derrick (moved here from a depleted oil field in Seminole, OK), and is the 6th tallest statue in the United States — with Lady Liberty still being our tallest at 151 feet (not including her base)

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As a result of how popular he was with Oklahoma natives, the exposition donated him to the Tulsa Fair grounds in 1966, this time as a permanent fixture.

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He is located just a mile south of Route 66, on the Tulsa County Fairgrounds, and was officially declared the states monument in 1979 by the Oklahoma Legislature, and as such, he’s one of the few locations in my “big things” category that can easily be found on T-shirts and mugs, etc.

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The Meadow Gold Sign in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a study in how iconic historic, but mildly ‘silly’ stuff is preserved for posterity

If you drive down Route 66 in downtown Tulsa Oklahoma you can’t but see the Meadow Gold Sign. All of the “what to see” sources had talked about this sign as an iconic Route 66, and when I first saw it I had assumed (never assume) that they had destroyed the original building but they kept the sign — and thought that there was something glorious about that… but I was wrong. While the sign had always been on historic Route 66, its original location had been at about a mile East (but still on the route) at the corner of 11th Street and Lewis Avenue.

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The sign is in fact a set of two signs that once stood back to back (note the back of the 2nd in the picture above), but is now set at a sort of V alignment. This was done to serve its new purpose, as historical art, that has been made easily visible to traffic moving in either direction on route 66.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aee9.jpgOriginally installed in the 1930’s, on top of a small one story building, the sign’s lights started going dark in the 1970’s. Once the building where it had sat was destroyed (now an “Advanced Auto Parts” store) this iconic to the city neon-sign was saved from the wrecking ball, and began to be restored in 2004 (to the tune of $337K), and moved to this new location on Route 66, which was donated to the city for this purpose. What it stands upon is more of a shelter from the elements, than a building, and has a collection of brass plates explaining bits of the history of the sign.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aeea.jpgThe restoration and moving of the sign was a project that involved many hands. Initially the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture (TFA) had received a small grant of $15K from the National Park Service‘s (NPS), Route 66 Corridor group to restore the neon sign. This was done through their “National Center for the preservation of Technology” group, among whose stated goals is the preservation of the neon signs along Route 66. This is being undertaken in recognition that neon signs are not JUST advertising, they are a form of functional-art; and that together, these signs help to evoke earlier times along Route 66, but that are just like our historic buildings are currently under threat by neglect or demolition and can only be saved from the shortsightedness of the market place by government intervention. Maintaining these past technological structures is important not only historically, but also because it supports local economies through tourism.

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Once the initial seed funding ($15K) had been secured by the TFA from the NPS, this “primed the pump” so to speak, making it easier to raise matching funds from other sources — to the tune of  $322,273, the actual cost of restoration. Among these were the privately funded National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Oklahoma Route 66 Association. And then more funds were collected from the public at large via the City’s Vision 2025 initiative; this was a new one cent tax increase that would be maintained for 13 years whose proceeds were earmarked towards economic development and capital improvement projects, such as saving the Meadow Gold sign — but that had to be agreed to by the voters of Tulsa County.

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This tax was ultimately instituted, in part as a result of multiple newspaper articles about how the sign was in danger of being destroyed, and that funding was desperately being at first being sought, and this new tax was needed to that end.

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Mural on a wall directly facing the sign’s location, I’m assuming this was in regard to raising the money needed (over $300) to save an Iconic Route 66 sign

Meadow Gold had been a dairy brand that belonged to the Beatrice Foods Company, founded in 1894 initially as the Beatrice Creamery Company, and then incorporated in 1905 as the Beatrice Creamery Company of Iowa. During that time they had begun the Meadow Gold dairy brand — which by World War II was a household name in much of America, and had branched out into the development of other dairy products … so that in 1946 the company changed its name yet again to simply the Beatrice Foods Co., as visible on the sign.

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That said, the in the 1980’s the Beatrice fell on hard times mostly of their own construction. They lost a major lawsuit against them for toxic dumping (which resulted in an award-winning book and a film called A Civil Action),  and they operated in South Africa during apartheid and hence suffered from some boycotting. As the company had taken on many other non-food business over the years, in 1984 they changed their name from Beatrice Foods Co. to Beatrice Companies, Inc., and then sold off their Meadow Gold Brand, along which was now part of their Beatrice Dairy Products, Inc., subsidiary, along with a couple of other brands, to Borden, Inc. in December 1986 for $315,000,000. Borden then went defunct in 2001, so that the Meadow Gold brand (which is still an American household name) is now owned by Dean Foods.

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Interestingly, I did not find a SINGLE source talking about how the Meadow Gold brand or Dean foods chipped in to help save the sign advertising THEIR product. BUT, I could of course be wrong, and maybe they did so anonymously — which from a political standpoint would make sense.