Downtown Katoomba, Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanwiye Korean Cafe:

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

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

 

Paragon Cafe:

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

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

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

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Here’s hoping ….

 

The Gingerbread House:

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

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

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

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

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

Avalon Restaurant:

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Inner Space is a mind blowingly, densely packed yet very cool furniture is located in Leura, New South wales. It’s definitely worth a visit if only to ooh and awh over the merchandise (some of which you might even consider shipping home) which is spread through three rooms — although it’s probably best to leave the kids outside.

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Leura is the town that essentially adjoins Katoomba while also being geographically distinct from it, because of how the cliffs of how Australia’s “Grand Canyon” are arranged. Leura, like Katoomba, essentially rolls up its sidewalks at 5pm, but in my opinion it does have better/trendier shopping along with some decent restaurants that supplements what Katoomba offers (Katoomba has a Korean restaurant, Leura has Greek one, etc) — and as such is worth a visit.

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That said, it’s also part of any of the hop-on/hop-off bus tickets you might purchase, so you can organize your visit to drop you off here at the end of the day and then grab a taxi, or take the train to take you back after dinner (the busses stop running at about 4:30).

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While in this store I met a woman with incredible personal style, who said that Katoomba and this Leura are where all the hipsters from the Newtown neighborhood in Sydney are moving, because they could no longer afford to live in Newtown — a population that apparently included herself and her girlfriend. She also said she has to AVOID coming into this shop because she goes a little purchase crazy while there… not that I blame her.

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That said, while there are some smaller/light items for sale in the shop, for those of us who aren’t in any way locals, and have to worry about what will size/weight fit into our suitcases, a store like this can give you ideas of what to google search for later. (Very little of their merchandise was produced by local artists.)

For instance, I did some serious drooling over those decorative animal heads on the walls which were in my opinion amazingly cheap at $269… only to learn upon getting home that Amazon was selling something similar for about the same price. Amazon happily is only acting as a portal for this company, with it’s own online site; where I learned these are items commonly found/produced in Indonesia… so I then googled “Indonesia carved skulls”, and found this shop, and this one, etc.  ALL of that said…  the prices at this shop WERE about the same prices I’m seeing on line when you add in shipping; so, if I were living in Australia, I’d be going a little purchase crazy in this shop …  especially since all the prices are competitive with on line sources (once you factor in shipping costs), with the added advantage of you’ll know exactly what your buying while with an on line purchase you can never be exactly sure…. especially with hand carved items like these

Katoomba, Australia : Three sisters & Prince Henry Cliff Walk

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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High tea @ Lilianfels Blue Mountains Resort & Spa: Katoomba, Australia

Lilianfels Resort & Spa is located in an historic house in the town of Katoomba, New South Wales (NSW), Australia, near the Blue Mountain‘s Three Sisters rock formation on the edge of what Australians refer to as their “grand canyon.” Among other attractions available to those NOT staying at the hotel, is their High Tea … but for me, the meal was a MAJOR let down; it was no where near as tasty as it looked, and is most definitely NOT worth the calories.

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High Tea for one

As those who follow my blog know, I have a tradition of going to High Tea with my best friend since childhood, who from time to time will join me for a few days (she loves traveling, but not alone, and her hubby doesn’t, so she’ll take a few days off and join up with me. Since she’s not here to share it with me, I am having high-tea with an oversized teddy bear I spotted on the other side of the room that looked lonely (there being no children in the room that day).

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Having the bear as my partner tea partner was my idea, not theirs — they just looked at me funny when I asked if I could. But as I was one of the first people to show up, and no kids had arrived, they let me have it.
All in all the sandwiches were ok but not amazing nor worth much of a mention; to be honest I have had better at pretty much every high tea I’ve ever gone to. The hot tea  and the scone were fine (nothing particularly memorable),
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and in spite of having sat myself directly adjacent to the window, my only view was of a smallish garden with high hedge rows behind it.
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So mostly I’m going to talk about what should have been the highlight of the Tea, especially considering how pretty they were…. the desserts,

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When I fist got the tray, I was seriously impressed that the Panna-cotta has cotton candy on top of it … but here is the thing, and this was the first in a long stream of bad thinking and planning on the part of the pastry chef:  When you get a high tea you don’t dive into the desserts first. Instead,  you leisurely have the sandwiches and the scones… So that between arriving on my table and my finally getting to it ….the cotton candy did what cotton candy does when dampened… it shrinks and turns into a sticky glob
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The yellow thing in the middle turned out to be a white chocolate spoon. At first I was like “well that’s smart” … but as soon as tried to use it as a spoon, it snapped…. and then when I tried to use that now shortened “half” spoon, it also snapped … So that finally I just gave up and grabbed my metal spoon…. only to find that the Panna-cotta was kind of tasteless and definitely not worth the calories, and I left it half eaten.
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Next I had what turned out to be a beet root tart (Australians like Canadians are very into eating beets — because they’re healthy) and and love beets in general …. but this tart? Well let’s just say it’s ‘different’… nothing to write home about, and leave it at that…. but beetroot, healthy… so I ate the whole thing.

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This cheesecake dropped a pineapple apricot jam on my leg as soon as picked it up … and since again, it was more pretty than tasty, I put it down after the first bite 

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A custard tart with fruit perched on it… the custard was good the cup that held it was not so much — you sort of had to pick the fruit off and eat it separate because the custard wasn’t firm enough to hold it in place and the whole thing was way to big to pop into your mouth whole… again, bad pastry design.

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This oh so precious looking brownie ???  Again, not very tasty. In fact I once again put it down after the first bite because it just wasn’t worth the calories. And the hard candy on top did help a bit, but it was mostly just sugar.

All in all, don’t waste your time.

Katoomba, Australia: Pins On Lurline, an upscale resturant

Pins on Lurline (the latter is the name of the street it’s on) is a tasty, slightly pricey, upscale, chef driven restaurant that you will probably need to book well in advance if you want a seat. Located in New South Wales Australia, in the tourist town of Katoomba, not far from Echo Point Lookout (a favorite point for viewing the Three Sisters); this restaurant is listed as 5 stars on Yelp, and as 4.5 stars on Trip Advisor. 

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Upon first arriving in Katoomba I tried to find a good place to eat dinner. This restaurant was listed as one of the very best it town on multiple sites, so I called and asked if they were open and could have dinner there… suffice it to say the guy who picked up the phone almost laughed at me, and gave a clear “no, sorry, we’re fully booked.” And since, for the most part, I can’t be bothered with this sort of place (unless its a very tiny yet popular place, I rarely find the food at places that require booking ahead to be worth the hassle), I just sort of wrote it off as one of the places I wouldn’t be going to.

The next day was a bit windy, but I decided to walk down the street towards the Three Sisters, the major tourism draw for this town, which took me right by the restaurant. I decided to go up to the building and if possible try to stick my head in, and maybe to make a booking — because I had seen they had Kangaroo on the menu, and I wanted to try it.

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As luck would have it, although the place was completely empty, the door was open although there was woman was inside standing near the bar, who seemed to be busy taking phone bookings for that evening. I assumed therefore that it wasn’t open yet for business, but that they were just prepping for that evening.

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So I asked if I could see the menu and maybe make a booking, and she was like, “well we’re open now, would you like lunch?”
“You’re open?”
“Yes, we’ve just started doing lunch on weekends. Didn’t you see the sign?” (it was a Saturday)
“I was just walking by and I didn’t see any sign.”
“Oh, it must have blown over” (like I said, it was windy

Now here’s the thing, according to the various web sites I had looked at Pins wasn’t supposed to be open at lunch, and even the night before when I called the guy hadn’t mentioned it … and if I hadn’t been walking right by it I would I would never have known. Which sort of explains why I was the only person in the restaurant for most of my meal… towards the very end a 2nd couple also stopped by to make reservations, and ended up staying for lunch.

I ordered the pumpkin soup …. normally they put a dollop of cream on top but for me that didn’t.

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It ended up being kind of overwhelmingly peppery without the added fat, but coffee is good. It surprised me a bit because in the the states pumpkin soup would normally be sweeter, and with cinnamon in it. Apparently that’s NOT how the Aussies like it, what I learned from talking to the woman is that here pumpkin soup is always savory and with lots of pepper (a fact later confirmed to me by others).

For my main I ordered the seared kangaroo with a green salad. The woman “warned” me that Kangaroo because it’s so low fat has to be eaten rare, and I told her that was fine because I actually prefer my steak “blue” … which is a bit like seared tuna, and is borderline raw. 

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She said that because their usual dressing are full of oil the cook did some improving. The kangaroo was not bad, but not amazing… Bison is way more flavorful and I can see why in this case the locals tended to prefer to eat lamb, mutton or beef. But apparently apparently Kangaroo is very healthy. The way it was cooked it came out tender; and the taste was more like ostrich than beef or bison… it has a very subtle flavor … I actually felt that the cook has overwhelmed it with the taste of charring/burned edges.