Luna Park, Sydney Australia

Luna Park, in the suburb of North Sydney Australia (kiddy-corner across the bridge from the Opera House) is a classic, “historic” amusement park (of the pre-Disney variety). It was based on New York City’s Coney Island, is one of the few surviving parks to feature “Fantasy architecture” in the Art deco Style, and interestingly… is one of only two amusement parks in the world that is protected by government legislation… and is listed on the NSW Heritage Register

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Luna Park was initially constructed in 1935 and has a history of on again off again, operating schedules, due in part to a fairly dodgy safety record, which included a catastrophic fire in 1979 that killed six children and one adult, called the Ghost Train Fire.

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As a result, during its off years, some very high-end housing developed around the location, whose residents complained loudly when the park began operations again. This resulted in a compromise of removal of rides that were deemed too loud … because of screams of happiness from riders, and limited operating schedules at night… making it basically impossible for the park to be profitable.

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Apparently there used to be a really good roller coaster back here… the residents of high-end condo’s complained and it was removed.

That said, Luna park still consists mostly of rides I can’t ride (because of my inner ear issues)… with the possible exception of the Ferris Wheel, and games I’m no good at, so that from my perspective while it’s very PRETTY to look at the place it’s really not a draw, for me personally… NOT the way Disney parks are… and the few times I’ve been there it’s looked pretty empty, all things considered.

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A poignant celebration of Fireworks over the Australia’s Sydney Harbor bridge, as viewed from my Airbnb….

So, yet another of my bucket list items has been checked off, although not at all in the way I had imagined. I have seen a fireworks display over the Sydney Harbor with the bridge and the archetypal Opera House in the background with my own eyes.

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It was totally unexpected… I was lying in bed in Sydney Australia, getting over a bad cold I’d been fighting — starting just 3 days after my arrival (so I probably picked it up during my flight), and my traveling mate for this trip had gone out with an old friend of his (he’s originally from Sydney) to a party. So I was not in the best of moods… stuck in bed, missing a party … etc.,

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To pass the time, as I was lying in bed, I was yet again watching the movie that won the 2016, Academy Award for best picture, “Spotlight.” For those who don’t know it…it is a movie about how the Boston Globe in 2001, had exposed the sexual abuse scandal that is still rocking the Catholic Church today. They had followed up on a theory of a psychological researcher — who had argued that 50% of Catholic priests were sexual activity and that of those, about 6% were pedophiles. According to him, this was not because they were attracted to children, but rather because male children from rough neighborhoods and broken homes (in particular) were the least likely to admit to the abuse.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1f60.jpgGoing on that researcher’s assessment (which would have meant about 90 pedophiles within the total population of Boston Priests) the Globe’s journalists were able, through extensive legwork, and by reading between the lines of church records — to uncover that while only one pedophile priest was currently in the news, in fact 87 of them were currently being bounced around the parishes of Boston; all of this being part of a methodical & institutionalized attempt on the part of the Catholic Church to protect itself rather than its children.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1f66.jpgOnce their research was published, over 1000 Boston area victims — knowing they were no longer alone — stepped forward, and ultimately 249 priests and brothers were publicly accused of sexual abuse JUST within the Boston Archdiocese. The Globe’s finding, had world-wide repercussions, effectively opening a can of worms as all Catholic communities, one by one, in a domino effect began to publicly address this cancer within the Catholic church… a phenomena which we are still dealing with almost 20 years later.

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In fact, the REASON I was watching this movie, for maybe the third time, was that just two days before all of Australia had been a twitter, literally twittering — and facebooking, etc., over the fact that Cardinal George Pell (who is referred to by multiple sources as the third-most-powerful Vatican official) had FINALLY been “convicted of all charges that he sexually molested two choirboys in Australia in the late 1990s. (Pell, 77, has been the Vatican’s chief financial officer in recent years; he earlier was the archbishop of Sydney and of Melbourne.)

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1f5e.jpgI’ve talked about Pell before…  Almost a year ago I was in Australia, in Ballarat, a town just outside of Melbourne, which is epicenter of the abuse scandal here (I was staying with a woman I had befriended via Facebook years before). At the time I had blogged about “Ballarat’s loud fence: Civil protest against the church in Australia” and had included an amazing song written and performed by the inimitable Tim Minchin, ‘Come home (Cardinal Pell)’ … a song he had penned in an afternoon. (I admit I have since developed a bit of a crush on this guy… he is a genius.)

At the time, as far as I knew, Pell was only thought to have been actively involved in the coverup, but as this week’s court case proved, he was also sexually abusing boys himself.

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So this was a story that while was of HUGE interest to the Australian public, it was NOT being covered by the local press. In fact, the Judge on the case had instituted a media gag order on its outcome. As such, the Herald Sun Newspaper of Melbourne’s front page rather than covering the results, showed in large letters the word CENSURED followed by, “The world is reading a very important story that is relevant to Victorians [The Australian State within which Melbourne and Ballarat reside],” but, that said “The Herald Sun is prevented from publishing details of this significant news. But trust us. It’s a story you deserve to read.” The gag was so tight that even foreign press, for fear of legal repercussions, were blocking Australian readers from seeing what they’d written about the case. I learned about it because my Ballarat friend was reaching out via Facebook to her friends abroad to see if THEY could read trustworthy media sources talking about the case, and tell her what those articles had said.

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Anyway,  at this point you’re probably asking yourself, “WHY in fuck’s sake is Rebecca going on about Cardinal Pell in a blog post about a fireworks display over the Sydney Harbor?!” Well… when I saw the display I had NO IDEA why they were happening. My Aussie friend hadn’t known they were going to happen, I’d had no warning. So part of my brain sort of assumed that MAYBE … if this wasn’t due to some corporate event… just maybe they were in celebration of outcome of the court case.

Talking about it the next day with another Aussie native, apparently there’s a yearly TV show here in celebration of the Christmas Holidays that has something to do with caroling… and always includes fireworks over the bay that part of the program, and she though this was for that… but I couldn’t find anything on-line to confirm it… so I like to think that this was in celebration of the conviction… to paraphrase the country western song…  it’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Mongers Fish and Chips in Manly Beach, Australia

If you’re looking for a healthy meal to eat while at the beach, Mongers’ Fish and Chips is an option. That said, it is NOT the most amazing fish I have ever had, and it is NOT particularly cheap; as such, especially since they refer to themselves as “gourmet” I was expecting better (especially considering all the amazing reviews it had on-line). I chose it in large part because you had the option of frying OR grilling, and my diet required the latter.IMG_6725.jpg

On this day back in on January 24th, because the sky was blue and the temperatures were not too horrible, I had been touring around the greater Sydney area by riding on most of the various ferry lines. [Note: the 24th was the day before the horrific accident that gave me the horrible concussion that I’m still getting over 6 months later — including dental work to try heal my jaw which has been clicking since it got dislocated that day] This was in fact my 2nd time in Manly.

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The first time I had gone there… I think it was by car… with my travel buddy and his mom; we had dinner at an Italian place, whose name I’m sorry to say I no longer remember — it was actually pretty good. After he and I had taken the ferry back to Sydney (which is when I got the idea to at some point in the trip spend a full day just riding around on the them). This time, when I arrived in Manly, it was about my lunch time (which is normal people’s early dinner time), so I looked on yelp to find a decent fish place — which directed me to Mongers.

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I ordered the grilled Barramundi (which is native to Australian waters) with salad… but they removed the corn (carbs) and the pesto (oil) and got creative to make it a bit healthier with spices, and extra veggies in the place of the corn. I took my meal with me to the beach,

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found a nice bench to sit on and enjoyed my meal there. It was OK, not great… the fish didn’t seem particularly fresh to me (an attribute that glares loud when you aren’t covering it up with things like frying or pesto). That said, the view was steller!

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I remember I fed my leftovers to the seagulls, who apparently are not big fans of lettuce. Then, I walked around Manly until it was time to catch the next ferry back to Sydney.

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Australia and The Big Merino, World’s biggest Sheep (?)

On the drive from Canberra to Sydney is a tourist shop that is something of an Aussie institution; properly called The Big Merino, it is a shop which “celebrates Australia’s fine wool industry” …. and is fronted by a “Big Thing”/tourist trap that stands 15.2 meters, or 97 feet, tall (probably the biggest sheep statue in the world, but that hasn’t been authenticated), that the locals have nicknamed “Rambo.”

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The tiny person standing below it is me

The statue stands along side the store, which sells a whole variety of VERY upmarket Australian made items (there are no bargains here, but what they have is VERY nice) mostly made from Marino wool, such as socks, scarves, boots, knitting wool, and coats, etc.

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A super soft, thin to the point of transparent marino wool scarf with a digitally printed image on it was selling for about $80 (Australian)

My favorite item, which I forgot to take a photo of and did NOT buy but simply drooled over), was an $1,800+ lambskin/shearling jacket (made from super soft lambskins with the wool still attached).

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In fact, the only things I bought for myself were an assortment of draw string bags with really pretty Aboriginal designs on them, made for protecting your sun glasses, out of the same microfiber material of the sort used to clean glasses (so doubly practical) for $9.90 (AUD).

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We went here, not to please my obsession with big things, but rather because it’s a regular stop for my travel buddy who LOVES the Big Merino because it’s the only place he knows of that reliably has nice thick Marino wool socks his size… men’s XXL (size 13 Australian, 15 US and 49 European, i.e., he almost never finds socks his size).

If you’ve never purchased a pair of merino wool socks I STRONLY suggest you do. First time I ever saw them was at a sort of outdoors/athletic/hiking type shop located in Evanston, IL, near my University. “$15 for a pair of socks, you have GOT to be kidding me?!” I said… but they assured me these socks would change my life (??) and that I should buy one pair and wear them for 1 week solid without changing them, and then sniff them, and if not impressed I could bring them back. (No seriously, that’s what they said!) Suffice it to say, they won that bet and now pretty much all my daily wear socks are now made of Merino wool. Not only do these suckers wick moisture away from your skin, and take a good two solid weeks of my wearing them on a daily basis to start to smell (I’ve tested them), they also LAST for YEARS!! That first pair took a good five years of regular abusive wearing before they wore out! Not only that but I’ve noticed that since I’ve started wearing them I’ve not had a single blister on my develop on my foot, even if wearing new shoes. Seriously, these are a different category of sock and totally worth the price.

According to my friend it was a shame we hadn’t arrived at the Big Merino after dark because at night the security lights give it the effect of appearing to have glowing eyes… What he didn’t know, and I just found out by googling it (while writing this blog post) is that you can actually climb up statue and look out through those eyes to the road.

The One picture I should have gotten but didn’t, was the back of the sheep… a view which Australians with their sense of irreverent humor seem to love to the point that it has it’s own Facebook page.

Australia, New South Wales’ Koala bridges

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

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

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

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

A weekend in Patonga; New South Wales, Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Path through the dunes to the beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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