The personal authentic travels of a world-wide drifter, you'll always see pics of me at the locations being described (if the other blogs you're reading don't do that, odds are they were NEVER there, just saying…)
About two years ago I wrote about how I had seen the stage musical production of Waitress while in London, and you might want to read that review before this one. It was a musical version of one of my favorite movies, so I was excited to see it… but ultimately was more than a bit bit underwhelmed. Ultimately over the course of that same summer I saw FIVE stage musical productions that had begun as popular movies.
According to wikipedia there are 217 musicals that have been made over the years based on movies, and while this is by no means a new phenomena it seems in recent years to be on that is escalating. The reason generally given is that musicals are so expensive to produce that in order to ensure success producers tend to prefer to fund sure bets. If the movie was a hit — it stands to reason — it already has an embedded fan base who like me, with regards to Waitress, will buy tickets for the stage version simply because they loved the film… and as long as the musical is essentially true to the movie those audiences will be happy and tell their friends. Back in the day, this used to be why books were made into musicals, but now a days not as many people read as in the past (here are the statistics)… So while for instance Game of Thrones (the books) were a huge hit, I think its safe to say that no where near as many people read the books as saw the TV series, and I’m going to hazard a guess that sales for the books increased a lot after the HBO version was released — but if those purchasers actually took the time to read said books (they all would make good doorstops, and each in their unabridged audible versions take about 30+ hours to complete) I’d be surprised.
All that said, I’m going to write about the Movie to Musical productions I saw in the summer of 2019, partially to give my review of them, but also to discuss the overall trend.
The mother of this recent uptick in the trend is the long running show, The Lion King. This as most of you already know began as a Disney cartoon/musical and was converted to the stage in an incredibly innovative way that utilized puppetry and dance to bring puppets to life in a really magical way — especially considering the newness of the form. (At this point regular theater goers are more used to it and hence less impressed)
The above video shows a modification of the show done for an award ceremony that gives you a good idea of why, if you buy tickets for this show, you REALLY want to be seated on or near one of the center aisles — and not one of the exterior ones as I was
… as The Lion King takes on a sort of 360 degree quality with the performers popping up or travel through various locations around the theater, breaking what is called the 4th wall (the line between the viewers and performers). And yes, if you have not yet seen it this show really SHOULD be on your list of of must see’s, even if you have no kids.
Another show I saw, was School of rock, a musical version of the already music heavy Jack Black movie. In case you’ve been living with your head in the ground, this movie was SO popular that there is now a chain of music schools, with outlets around the WORLD, all called “The School of Rock” in honor of the movie.
In fact a recent participant on the hit TV show American Idol (entering it’s 20th season/year, so that at this point all the contestants grew up watching the show) was a teacher at one of the branches of the chain.
In case you’re still confused, these are places where kids can go for after school music lessons of the strictly NON classical variety (to be fair there has always been a hole in the market in that regard; I myself asked my parents for music lessons thinking it would be modern music and got stuck playing classical piano and violin — SNOOZE. REALLY, kids should start out playing popular music and then if they are any good switch to classical and or jazz).
Once you’ve entered the theater it’s CLEAR that this is a show parents take their kids too, simply based on the concessions stand’s offering which included stuff I’d never seen at the theater before, including cotton candy, neon colored slushes, and a photo booth…
That said, the adults also got THEIR ‘candy’ which included not only the mandatory bar serving hard liquor and wine like in every theater, but also alcoholic ice cream and popsicles — which was a first for me.
The musical, as the following video shows, is essentially a mirror reflection of the movie only with narrative songs (songs that add to the story) thrown in to supplement all the music that was already there.
In fact my major complaint was that while the show was highly enjoyable it stuck TOO closely to movie in one crucial point. The guy they hired for the role was hired in large part (I’m guessing) because he looked a lot Jack Black, a big chubby guy… RATHER than finding a guy who could channel Jack Black‘s energy, which in large part is what made the movie a hit. That said, it was enjoyable and the audience loved it.
Sort of a cool thing, which allowed for the video above (shot it myself) was that unlike every other theater in London which has multiple signs saying DON’T video or even take photos, in this theater they held up signs saying, ‘go ahead and video!’ understanding I suppose that kids would upload it to their accounts making their friends pressure their parents to bring them.
The 3rd, movie to musical production I saw that summer was 9-5 the musical based on the iconic hit movie from the 1980’s that at the time was staring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin with Dolly Parton as an also ran…
Ironically, while Jane Fonda was actually the one who had the idea for and spear-headed the movie, and was the one who reached out to Dolly to bring her into the production… (at the time Dolly who’d never made a movie before), the transformation of it into a musical is ALL Dolly Parton — notice how in the picture of me in front of the theater the marquee has her name at the top?
Also part of the production included a huge projected image of Dolly — look at the “o” in the 9 to 5 in the image above — who was not only talking to the audience but was then singing her hit song with the cast at the curtain call— it was kind of surreal.
According to Dolly, see minute 10:04 in the linked video about her life, she’d rejected all previous offers, but figured this was Jane Fonda & Lily Tomlin movie and if it failed it would be on them and wouldn’t blemish her career. Also, she was at that time trying to expand and cross over out of just being a country singer, so her one demand was that she got to write the movie’s theme song, which is still a song you hear today.
All that said, as a musical 9 to 5 was far more successful ‘as its own thing’ than the School of Rock had been, in my opinion. It was essentially the same story but the songs — all written by Dolly (who no one will argue is a very talented song writer) brought their own things to the show, allowing it to stand alone as it’s own thing.
The musical was playing at the theater of the iconic Savoy Hotel in London — which opened in 1889. The hotel, and it’s theater, were built by the theatrical producer Richard D’Oyly Carte with the profits he derived from his Gilbert and Sullivan “opera” productions as a permanent location for them to stage even more of their works (of which there were many). The English language “operas” of G&S (if you aren’t familiar with them) sort of opened the door for the musical theater art form in England and the United States, and continues to be influential even today.
That said, the Savoy theater is a disabled person’s nightmare. The theater’s best seating, the stalls, is located deepest underground and the building was built in 1889, and there are no elevators for the patrons.
At the time I found this sign absolutely comical, as there were to elderly people who were even more disabled than I was (I had major issues with my knees and hips at the time that have since gotten better with supplements to help regrow the cartilage and physical therapy). How helpful… only TWENTY-TWO steps to have to negotiate… think about that for a second… the only seats that were marginally accessible to the seriously disabled was the nosebleeds, which are only maybe five or more steps down from ground level
(Someone, I know not whom, uploaded a video of the broadway production to youtube… no idea how long it’ll be up there but it’s have almost 50K views, so if you want to see it you can — till it’s taken down)
My last post was June 18, when my doctor said that the post lockdown damage was that I was now diabetic and my liver had grown (WAY much) during that time because of fatty liver disease. On that day my frame, which should be a size 4, weighed in at 202 lbs. Since then, about 7 weeks, I’ve successfully lost 17.5 lbs (like 2.5 lbs a week)… a few more and I’ll have lost the 10% body weight the doctor wanted to see before I have all my blood tests and such redone.
Instead of traveling I’ve been working out three times a week. I started out at a “prestige” gym, where you can ONLY work out with a trainer, on specialized equipment designed so that you couldn’t work on them independently even if you wanted to…and the main requirement for staff members seemed to be some experience with the equipment and being attractive and a size 4. That said, I went from being unable to get out of the sofa without flopping around like a fish out of water — because my core muscles were THAT weak — to feeling better than I had in months…
Since then the local university (which I live walking distance from) has opened their gym memberships back up to community members (during lock down they limited attendance to staff and students only, and extended other memberships for the period of the lock down). I signed up… it was $500/year and personal trainers were the same price for TWICE the time!! Where the prestige place charged no membership fee but $55/half hour, this University gym (which has AMAZING facilities, 80% of which I’ll never use) was $500 year, but you can always come in on your free time and work independently for as long as you wish, where you couldn’t at the other place, and here personal training is $50 for full hour.
Probably more importantly, my personal trainer here (while also being cute and a size 4) is a TRAINED trainer; as in she is a few credits short of being a physical therapist, and specializes in sport rehabilitation for the school’s athletes. So SIGNIFICANTLY more skilled than the other woman. While she still has me doing machines (this time, on my own time — after showing me how to set them up and telling me which weight to start at and being sure my form was right)… She instead spends our together time doing stuff to help with my particular issues, such as the right foot having developed a mind of its own ever since I had that horrible concussion back in australia so sever that it dislocated my jaw and damaged the speech centers of my brain … , it’s why I kept falling down and going boom over and over again in the months after my concussion… it turns out towards the right and starts dragging, which has caused me to trip on things like uneven pavement and door sills/thresholds.
Beyond that…. A friend and I have decided to do some “staycation”ing, in large part because right now the Chicago area is just SAFER than most of the rest of the country (vaccination rates here are high, in some cases VERY high, and as such we’re not seeing a lot of Covid cases) … so like a few weeks ago we went to the Museum of Science and Industry for the afternoon (after I was done working out) and we’ll go again next week to see a special exhibit we bought tickets for while there, focused on the Marvel Super Heroes franchise (tickets were sold out weeks in advance, so we couldn’t see it then). I’m not going to talk about the Museum of Science and industry much, as it’s sort of a Chicago fixture and world famous… other than to say, while they have updated stuff, they’ve essentially kept most of the classics I remember from my childhood. So they still have the coal mine ride (but I wasn’t interested in being cooped up in a badly ventilated space during Covid), and the the doll house is still there — it used to belong to a former child movie star of the 1920’s and she donated it to the city upon her death. For those unfamiliar, everything in it is real gold and gems, the books are readable under a microscope and the castle’s church has what is described as a sliver of the true cross. So NOT your average dollhouse. The craftsmanship in miniature is mind boggling.
While there I was making a point of telling anyone who happened to be hanging out by the back doors, which lead to stairs that face a little canal, that THAT was in fact the original entrance. The building which houses the museum was built as the “Palace of Fine Arts,” a part of the historic Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, and was designed so that you took a boat via that canal to the now unused landing, and climbed the stairs to what is now a set of unused glass doors… that people unfamiliar with its past think is just a back entrance. Nowadays we all enter via what was originally the back doors… Well, actually we USED to… They have since my last visit (maybe 15 years ago?) turned the parking lot into a huge lawn and instead dug down and created a multi storey parking lot beneath, and you now enter from there into the building via the basement… So for me it was revisiting a childhood favorite and appreciating how the city has tried to beautify itself, and increase practicality, while maintaining its historic value. Not sure what amount of our tax dollars went into this improvement but I think it was well done.
That said, we’re going to try checking out other smaller less famous museums that are in the area, places I’ve never gone to before and that most tourists never see… I WILL do dedicated posts about those.
I have failed my blood test BIG TIME … my liver numbers (remember the fatty liver I got under control before covid?) are now so high that they couldn’t even do the test to see if I had cirrhosis because the machine would have given a false positive… AND my blood’s glucose levels doubled… for years they’ve sort of wiggled around type 2 diabetes sometimes edging up to pre-diabetic, sometimes back down in healthy level levels… well since Covid started, they’ve actually DOUBLED and are solidly in diabetic range … between the liver number and the diabetes… guess who’s in diet mode again…
Granted I was fully aware of the fact that I’d pretty much “outgrown” what had been my fat clothes and was now living in sweat pants and X-large Tshirts….AND back to my top weight (same as in 2015 when I discovered my weight by standing on a scale outside a grocery store — 200 lb) … but even considering all that … till I saw the blood numbers I was living in a sort of denial that things hadn’t gotten THAT bad. I hadn’t caught Covid … so I “still had my health”
HA HA HA HA
Well that’s over… I’ve been in diet mode all week, and combining it with the modified fasting I had been doing last time I lost weight without even realizing I was doing it (16 hours a day of no food — last eating anything is 6pm then breakfast at about 10am — every day) … hopefully between that and the working out 3 times a week with a trainer, I’ll have lost enough in the next 3 months that the liver doctor can do the cirrhosis test without having to put in paperwork to my insurance company asking for permission to do an MRI
Was fully vaccinated by the end of April, yay team Pfizer, and May has flown by in a blink. For most of it just going to gym two to three times a week (my physical trainer is very proud of me even though I’ve not lost a single pound) was about as much excitement as I could bare. Got a flat tire fixed, and had my car’s starlink system updated (the satellite system that allows the car to automatically call for help in case the airbags get activated, irrelevant of if there’s cell coverage or if I’m conscious)… which was a major pain in the ass… TWO WHOLE DAYS of sitting in the dealership with them saying, any time now….
Other than that, nothing exciting has happened… life is slowly returning to normal, and mask mandates have been lifted for those of us who have had the jab.
Friends and I are starting to talk about some group travel. Now that they’ve been wholled up a full year, some people have reached out to me asking if they can join me once I decide it’s safe to get back on a plane. Till then I’ve suggested we turn our attention from travel away from home to staycation … My intention is start checking out things around the Chicago area and writing about that… as well as catching up on the about 125 location posts from when I was traveling that I THOUGHT I’d writing about during lock down but couldn’t bring myself to do… preferring instead to watch infinite amounts of television….
Hello from Chicago! It’s been a good 4 months since my last post.
Today I am officially good to go! It’s been exactly two weeks since my 2nd jab and I am now fully vaccinated — according to the experts at the CDC (at least for the next 6 months based on current data). I celebrated this momentous fact by doing what before covid would have been the utterly mundane… I signed up with a personal trainer for a session in a gym to try to get back some of the muscle tone lost over the past year of barely moving…. without hurting myself. It was GLORIOUS! I was smiling uncontrollably for two hours after the half hour session was over… and then topped it off by making an appointment with the dentist to get my teeth cleaned. The prosaic has never been so exciting.
Got my first covid shot (Pfizer) on March 18th at a local walgreens. Signing up for it was a bit of a challenge. I had registered with my city but a few weeks had passed and they had not emailed me back with a when, so I started looking around and discovered the city where I lived was actually WAY behind the local pharmacies in handing the stuff out…. so that even though my obesity and other issues qualified me with my state to be getting a jab, the city was still only trying to finish vaccinating the older than 65 year olds. A friend suggested bypassing the public efforts and to go private instead, and suggested signing up for it online at midnight, and then again at 6am with a pharmacy, saying “if you wait till 12:15 am or 6:15 am they’ll be all gone.”
First thing I did was I compiled a list of all the local pharmacies in my area (ones with outlets within a 1 hour commute) that were offering vaccinations — some of which were via grocery stores, and included the hyperlinks direct to their various sign up pages. This was to not waste time navigating through to those pages during the aforementioned 15 minute window of opportunity. For a few days I tried it repeatedly, but with no wins. Then on about the 3rd day I decided to try again at 8am… after a complete fail at both midnight and six, to discover the Walgreens pharmacy chain was offering a handful of appointments that were scattered around the state … 1 here, 3 there… And as I was refreshing the page trying to find a time and location would work for me including the possibility of having to drive an hour to and from the location (my body clock being pretty screwed up at the point, so that I was falling asleep at noon and waking at 9pm). Then, suddenly at about 8:15am, 22 appointments suddenly appeared at a walgreens not 15 minutes away from my home — I shit you not! I tried to grab the first appointment of the day but between clicks someone beat me to that one, and had to settle for the 2nd appointment — I checked back and by 8:30 almost all of the 22 openings had been filled.
A word to the wise, I now know having discussed it with the pharmacist that they arrive in the morning, find out what shipments they’re due, and then leisurely upload appointments into the system, based on how many staffers they have who can give jabs and work schedules … According to him this can happen anytime between 6am and about 8:45am… and I just got dead lucky having refreshed by screen at about 8:10, because once they go up they do tend to be snatched up within about 15 minutes to a half hour — to his experience.
Now here’s a thing, Walgreens, the pharmacy chain I used told me the 2nd shot instead of being 3 weeks after the first, would be administered a whole month later. I called them up and asked, as it seemed wrong, and they said it was perfectly ok and that the 2nd shot could be done as late as 6 weeks after the first with no negative affects. So I waited. On my third week the American CDC (Center for Disease Control) bitch slapped the company and told them in no uncertain terms this was NOT ok. According to a New York times article that I read, they were doing it because it made it simpler for THEM to schedule the appointments using pre-existing software, and that it had nothing to do with supply and trying to get as many first shots into as many people as possible as quickly as possible (which was the explanation they gave me when I asked). Once this happened, I called them to see if I could get it rescheduled to the next few days they said NO, because there were no openings. SO my 2nd shot was a whole month after the first making the process from first shot to full immunization last tedious 6 weeks of waiting, for as we all know a watched clock runs slow.
But it’s over now … at least for the next 6 months… I have marked my calendar for mid September to remind myself just in case a booster is required at that time. Granted we still need to take the same precautions, but here’s the thing. Till now any time I went out to a grocery store or some such (which I did rarely) it was stressful as all hell. Invariably some idiot was either not wearing a mask, or wearing it with their nose hanging out, or worse on their chin. Even among those with masks, a good third were NOT wearing effective ones. There was no shortage of people with bandanas over their faces… or wearing masks made of materials that did nothing, or worse actually broke up the moisture they breathed out into smaller droplets that made them MORE likely to stay suspended in the air, and for longer… which increased the risk of spreading the disease.
Having lived in Asia for a while, there they understand basic science and know you wear a mask because it is not only rude but inhumane to infect the people around you with whatever germs you might be carrying. As a result they will as a matter of course wear masks even if they feel ok, but know they’ve been in direct contact with someone who was sick. Masks in Asia are so common place that I many years ago picked up a few child sized ones while visiting Tokyo Disneyland. Americans however can’t seem to grasp this concept, and think the mask they are wearing will protect them for other people who are not wearing masks. THIS meme which was making the rounds a while ago was probably the BEST explanation of how masks work
But here’s the problem… Americans are not exactly known for their politeness, especially if it means inconveniencing themselves. They’ll wear a mask to protect themselves, but they don’t really care about others… and if they don’t believe the mask will protect them (on top of not believing covid is a real thing) then they won’t wear one, or if forced to will sometimes INTENTIONALLY wear something that obeys the letter of the law but is actually a fuck you to the people forcing them to wear a mask because they know full well its NOT the right kind of mask.
As such, leaving the house would FREAK ME OUT, and I would return from quick trips to the shop completely stressed. Today I was able to go to the gym, and afterwards to pick up food from Macdonalds, with NO stress because I now believe (fingers cross, no evil eye) that even if I should become infected with covid, the statistical likelihood of it killing me has dropped significantly. Where the Spanish flue we know in retrospect had a mortality rate of 2.7% of the population, with the highest mortality rates among children and young adults, we know that Covid kind of flips that… the mortality rate for covid is about healthy young people is only about 0.9% (but that varies with age, health conditions, and how well prepared and or equipped the local hospitals are to deal with being overwhelmed with patients). For someone my age with my health conditions… and my obesity… the death rate is about 10% … TEN PERCENT!!!!
And even among those who don’t die, another 30% might end up as long haulers with permanent damage to their heart, lungs, etc., and most frighteningly … their BRAINS. The medical community has just started documenting a massive uptick in psychiatric issues among people who had mild cases that they were able to overcome without hospital assistance.
How scary is that!!!
So yes, going out today fully immunized knowing that my risk of any of that has dropped to about the likelihood of being hit by lightning … something I don’t go around worrying about … and being able to actually ENJOY being around other people (even with the precautions of masks and social distancing — which is not unlike taking normal precautions during a thunderstorm) was just WONDERFUL!
I love London. My dad grew up there and my family spent so much time there during summer vacations — not to mention my semester at London’s Royal College of Art — that I feel it’s my second home. So, growing up we did most of the MAIN tourist things… so when I go there I tend not to aim towards those sorts of things any more than I would in home Chicago. For me, London is and always has been about theater! (My mom loved theater so much that she often took us to two shows a day, and occasionally crammed in three).
So… I’ve said this before, but in case you’ve not read that post… first rule of London theater, as taught to me by my parents… is, unless there’s a specific show for which you’re willing to pay full price, you’ll want to start out by going to the Tkts Booth in Leicester Square…. London has a very competitive theater scene, just like New York, so anything showing in a major theater is most likely very good. On the way there you’ll pass any number of store front ticket booths advertising them as THE half price ticket booth… keep walking. None of them are. Their What’s on Sale screen, behind me in the picture above, will tell you what tickets they have that is on deep discounts (usually 30 to 50% off). You can also buy tickets for two days out… so tonight, tomorrow and the next day… but not farther out than that. You can check their website to see what’s available, but you can only buy the tickets at their booth. Half price tickets for the top shows are ONLY available either at the box office doors of each individual theater, where you stand in line on the day of up to time of seating, but with no assurance of actually getting a seat … or here at the TXTS booth. (How do you want to spend your vacation time?) Personally I haven’t got that much time. This way is easier, and profits from the ticket sales at this venue rather (than ending up in corporate or private pockets) go towards the Society Of London Theatre, which supports the theater community in a myriad of ways. (So you can feel good about your purchase).
The Trafalgar Studios, while while being listed as a Grade IIEnglish Heritage building, is still a relative modern space by comparison to the Gielgud where I saw Sweat, a theater that like a lot of London is NOT handicapped accessible. The Trafalgar was built in the 1930’s and (as such) has an actual elevator for people with mobility issues. The space is split into two smaller venues that used to house television productions (hence the name studios), but currently tends to house new productions, which if they become major hits are then then moved into larger venues. If you look the picture above you’re seeing all the seating front to back. You can see how the seating was designed to host audiences viewing live TV productions, with a few more rows of seats now added at the very bottom where the cameras and staff used to be located. And it’s a very small space, so viewing is good for pretty much all seats
The show, which only had the suspiciously short run of only a month, was described as a “whip-smart love letter to education in the 90s” that was “jam-packed” with the musical hits of the day … but that said, the show bored me — a MUSICAL bored me (the mind boggles). As a former educator I hoped it would appeal to me, and the girl who sold me the tickets promised it was a very good show… but I had a feeling in retrospect that its the sort of thing that you really have to be British in order to fully enjoy. I wasn’t and found myself getting irritated by the heavy handed cynical tone. I assumed that had been full of inside jokes (but didn’t hear a lot of other people laughing when I wasn’t) that you had to be very familiar with the state of education during the Tony Blair administration to understand well enough to “get the joke,” (he was the UK’s left leaning Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007, around the same time as Clinton and Bush Jr.,) as the show kept making references to expected increases in school funding. Upon writing this post I learned that even the title was an inside joke, as “Education, Education, Education” was how Blair had described his priorities when he took office, according to this BBC article, and in fact if you read their article pretty much all the points the show made there. Who knows, maybe everyone else in the theater was also a tourist and as such none of us were getting it, so to speak.
If you’re in the area and you’re looking for a REALLY good place to eat at affordable prices, I STRONGLY suggest the Rustic Eating House in Waiouru, New Zealand. Granted, the last thing you’d expect in a town so small that you’ll miss it if you blink (population 950) is a chef driven restaurant that serves up haute cuisine, but prepare to be surprised!
It’s located in a strip mall right near where highway #49 meets up with highway #1. I had also taken some interior shots, but I googled the place as I was about to write about it, and I’m seeing that they JUST did a massive redecoration of the interior and it now looks radically different on the inside (as in much more like a fine dining experience and less like a diner).
From the new photos someone posted I’m seeing brand new chairs padded with brown leather, green plants, and decorative piles of chopped wood. That and they’ve covered the white pillars with wood paneling …. So, that said the image below is what it looked like in early March 2019 when I visited the place, but it doesn’t look like this anymore.
So, when I first got there, I was having a hard time believing the reviews on Trip advisor, as they looked like every other a mom and pop cafe with coffees and teas, and all the take-away offerings one comes to expect at places like in Australia or New Zealand,
but that said, on 2nd glance I could see they were clearly a cut above, as in they had all the obligatory meat pies and such, but with much more interesting ingredients…
In addition to what was on offer in the cases, they also had a menu which looked VERY interesting….
I ordered the “Venison in Black” — roast venison eye fillet, with a chimichurri rub, beetroot, leek, black sweet potato and chocolate sauce.
My friend the vegetarian asked for a veggie burger, and while they didn’t really have one, they put this together for him on the fly and he was VERY happy with it:
that said, If it ain’t one thing it’s another we were sitting outside and there were shade umbrellas big ones weighted down by water. I was at one table in the shade, my travel buddy was at a different one in the sun (having an on-line work conference meeting).
A massive wind picked up and started to knock them over, so I stood up to try to keep them from falling on me and then one of the ones that I was holding went completely airborne taking me with it. Rebecca went boom again. Did not hit my head. But I was little bit shaky afterwards… basically post fall shock. I did scrape up my hand pretty good, and my neck was not particularly happy with me afterwards. That and I was a bit less than pleased with how little the staff seemed to care about what had happened to me, past asking me did I want to call for an ambulance (because, and this is what they told me…. that would take about a half hour to show up anyway and cost me a load of money). In fact the only “help” was the owner got me a band-aid for my hand and moved my plate for me, indoors. So NOT the best customer service on the planet. That said my food was REALLY tasty and the chef had no issues with modifying it slightly to meet my dietary needs.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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)
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…..
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…
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!!
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.
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.
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….
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
But 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.
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 ….
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.
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
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)
… 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
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?
Afterwards, 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)
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
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
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.
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…
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
Man Friday is a BYOB cafe, open only in the evenings, that describes itself as serving Mexican food, but doesn’t. It is located in Nelly Bay on Queensland’s Magnetic Island (which for gubernatorial reasons is technically considered part of the mainland city of Townsville). I shouldn’t be too hard on it; my travel partner, who is originally from Sydney, but has lived for almost half his life in California and has spent a lot of time in Mexico, likes to try every “Mexican” restaurant he finds in Australia, in large part because almost NONE of them get it right. He’s always curious, and hopeful, that he’ll find one that does, but admits its pretty rare that it happens. This would not be one of the NOT ‘authentic’ ones…. but it is tasty for all that.
My travel partner and I spent a week at an Airbnb in Nelly Bay, and as there were only a handful of food options in Nelly Bay we did our best to try all that we could, and this was one of them. And like I said, this was one of the ones he was wanting to try … as part of his ‘do they have real Mexican food’ test. To the owner’s credit, she (I think it’s a she) recognizes that Mexican and Tex/Mex are not in fact the same thing, and that’s exemplified by her menu.
That said, the owners are not actually clear on which is which. Nachos, for instance, while technically created in Mexico, and she has them listed as such …. are not considered to be “authentic” Mexican food; they’re Tex/Mex because they were created AT the Mexico/Texas border for the consumption of Anglos, aka white people. The story is that at a Mexican border-town hotel with a restaurant… back when the border was a lot more porous even than Trump is trying to make it today, the owner, who went by the nickname of “Nacho” … short for Ignatius, had white customers who came in after the kitchen was closed asking for something to eat with their Margaritas. The owner, looked in the kitchen, and threw together a bed of leftover tortilla chips, slopped over them various leftover ingredients, heated it up a bit and served it.
This is essentially the same way the “Chinese” dishes of Chop suey and Egg foo-young came into being …. dishes which you won’t find in any self-respecting Chinese restaurant in American that caters to the Chinese community rather than serving mostly white customers. I am always amused when I take friends to a REAL Chinese restaurants and they get frustrated that they can’t find either on the menus. All of these dishes are essentially what you do with leftover ingredients … they are not “cuisine.”
That said, both my friend and I were, in spite of the in-authenticity of the food, happy with our meals. The woman who runs the kitchen can actually cook. My friend ordered a vegetarian burrito. When I asked him how it was, he said, “Very Tasty! But wrapping is crispy, I’ve never had a crispy burrito before” to which I responded, “OH, that’s because it’s not a burrito, it’s a Chimichanga” which is ALSO Tex/Mex rather than Mexican. It was created in Arizona but there’s a disagreement as to whether it was a restaurant in Phoenix or Tucson that first did it. That said, it’s yet another example of how Man Friday’s Chef knows there is a difference between the Mexican and Tex/Mex, but don’t fully understand what that difference is. (That, and the refried beans weren’t, they were just beans… the way the British might serve them.)
My dinner was a grilled bit of chicken breast, nicely spiced up that was VERY juicy (YAY!!!) with a salad with NO dressing (because that has oil in it) and a little side dish of balsamic vinegar for me to dip my food into. I was happy.
That said, Man Friday’s is for the most part, out-door seating in a VERY pretty garden. There’s not much space, and even less so in-doors, so make sure to make a reservation, and like with all restaurants on the island, be prepared for a LONG wait between ordering and getting your food. Either snack in advance, or order in advance.
In a way this building tells you a LOT about this section of Sydney. It serves the needs of multiple populations living right on top of each other but that somehow remain utterly obvious to each other. Paddy’s Market (open Wednesday –> Sunday), the basement of this building, has a long and complicated history that extends back to 1834, when Sydney’s Governor had moved all of the towns hay & grain markets out of the city into an adjoining area, that henceforth became known as Haymarket. What started out as simply a local market has over the years evolved into arguably one of Sydney’s major tourist attractions, that sits at the edge of the tourism district in the Haymarket neighborhood. And sitting upon that base is a Market City, a mall targeted directly at upper middle class Asians (the 20%), both those who are visiting as tourists and those who live in Sydney
I NEED TO TAKE A PHOTO OF THE BUILDING’s EXTERIOR!!! ARGH!
In actuality, Paddy’s Market is something of a chain. While it still maintains a branch at the original Haymarket address (for locals and tourists) its larger branch is located about a half hour west in Flemington, which also offers a flea market section and night food market. Combined, the two locations offer up over 1000 stalls selling food, fashion and just stuff. The Flemington location is where the Sydney markets were moved too when the city grew well past the Haymarket in the 1960’s (wholesale markets for the metropolitan area that sell fresh… from the ground …perishables, like fruits, vegetables and flowers to NSW and ACT florists)
Currently the tourist attraction part of Patty’s is in a massive space on the ground floor/basement level (the building sits on a slope) of a multistoried entertainment and housing complex, where it was moved to in the 1970’s
The lowest floor is of an old-fashioned brick construction (I have the feeling that it had its exterior walls preserved), can get very hot and uncomfortable… and house’s Paddy’s, while a modern, air-conditioned, steel and glass structure towers above it,
which houses both the Market City Shopping Mall (with 30+ factory outlet stores on its 2nd floor, a food court and wide selection of restaurants) and a separate/connecting apartment building, .
That said, Paddy’s Market, which sits in the basement of the structure– in what could have easily been the parking area based on the look of the place… is in fact broken into two parts. In the southeast corner of the area, Paddy’s maintain’s it original purpose as a”Farmers Market” that manages to maintain its popularity with locals for the breadth and depth of its offerings, even though there’s an Asian Supermarket (IGA X-press Thai kee) located just above it in Market City, and there’s a Woolworth grocery store just kiddy corner from it, offer up way more in terms of packaged and bottled options. In large part it is because Paddy’s boasts a combination fresh foods which these other more modern stores just can’t really compete with
Both in terms of fresh vegetable, and fresh fruit options
…the reality is that in those areas, the more modern markets can’t really compete… that said, I was initially seriously wondering how the new ‘refrigerated’ section of Patty’s manages to compete with them in anything other than convenience
I ultimately realized that both the meat market at Paddy’s, and the fish area is actually owned by the Asian market, Thai Kee, that is upstairs in the modern mall, Market city
and as such seem to be offering up the sort of bits and pieces its customers want but that the modern market upstairs doesn’t sell (that market has no fresh meat of fish sections, just frozen). So for instance, the meat market down in the basement has: tripe, tendons, small intestines, pigs ears, ox-tails, duck, wagyu beef, and shoulder-blade steaks. In a way this makes in that the market’s smelly meat and fish sections are not up in the shiny clean section adjacent to places selling clothes, etc., but are down in the basement, bothering no one.
… that said, I had difficulty understanding how their seafood section was able to complete, considering their clientele were from the looks of it, mostly Asian (who take freshness in their seafood way more seriously than westerners do); and considering just how nearby this market is to Sydney’s seafood market, which is just a short ride away from Paddy’s by light rail
And the seafood here is well… NOT so fresh… the eyes of the fish was all clouded and bulging, and the flesh didn’t even look firm… so how this seafood place stays open considering a predominately Chinese clientele, I don’t know.
Adjacent to the food section of Paddy’s there’s a stall that sells every form of uniform a person might night need, from Chef’s and waiter’s uniforms to construction worker’s safety gear. And beyond that is ….
the flea market!!! THIS section of Paddy’s is what makes it a mecca for the tourist in the tourist in the know… these guys have pretty much everything a tourist might need from really high quality and affordable leather goods — These guys had HIGH quality leather men’s belts for about $30 AUD/$20 USD… best prices I’ve seen on comparable belts in the USA was $35.
I got a particular hoot out of their Ned Kelly statue out front — he’s sort of the Jessie James of Australia. After having learned about him in via some general Australian history books, they all mention him, and then reading the Booker Prize winning novel, the “True History of the Kelly Gang” … so that I pretty much knew as much about his as the average Aussie, I was lucky enough to pass through Ned Kelly’s Home town Glenrowan last year, which of course. The statue basically shows the home-made armor he crafted for himself before his final showdown with police — where he was completely outnumbered.
There’s no shortage of new ageie, paganie, stuff scattered throughout the market, including scented candles, crystals, incense, taro card and palm readers, massage and reflexology booths, etc., you name it
There’s sexy costumes and kinky wear for folks who are getting ready for things like Sydney’s Mardi Gras/Gay pride festival in March — which I was lucky enough to attend last year.
There’s hats and clothes of all variety, and no shortage of suitcases for sale to load them into — so you shouldn’t be restricted by the fullness of your luggage when you came here
And probably the MOST common shop in this section… I counted at least 5 of them but I’m guessing there’s more … and this doesn’t include ALL the places selling Australian T-shirts… there’s more than a few…. are shops selling souvenirs for tourists… everything from the obligatory boomerangs, to the grotesque … furry kangaroo balls attached to a back scratcher, all crammed together into a small space, so that’s kind of hard to find what you’re looking for or even really see what’s being sold.
BUT, and this is a big BUT… all of that is just on the ground floor of the building. I suggest taking the elevator upstairs and checking out the modern multilevel Asian/tourist focused shopping mall that’s sitting on top of Paddies.
YUP, THIS is what’s sitting on top of that, and it’s like a different world. This mall is like every mall in South Korean. Granted, it’s a modern shopping mall so on the surface not so different … but here’s the thing… the whole time I was walking around it I kept feeling like I was back in South Korea, and I mean at the mall that was located across the street from my house when I worked there as a professor. All the types of products and stores you see in Korea were on sale here. I kept feeling like if I lived in Australia, and went to visit Korea, I’d be sad cause I’d be like… everything here is what’s for sale at Market City in Haymarket…. And then I saw THIS store…
And I was like, “Oh my God I AM in Korea!!! 100%!!” …. this proved it to me. Giordano is a REALLY common brand there, and I was, I shit you not, actually wearing one of their T-shirt the first day I first found this store…. I’ve got BOXES of their clothing stored back in Chicago that I had shlepped back with me when I moved home after dad died.
That said, my favorite part of this mall is the food courts on the first floor of this building that are full of highly authentic, highly affordable, Asian treats aimed at tourists visiting from Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and China…
Look at all the people in these photos… I was one of the VERY FEW White people here… the place is like being in Asia
On the Top floor of the building there is a whole collection of sit down restaurants, that are AS authentic, and where again you’ll find very few white people having a meal
Up there, they have a conveyor belt sushi place that I had fallen in love with. I could stuff myself silly with really fresh sushi, for only about $20 US, which is ridiculously cheap… for sushi