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

Bondi Beach is one of THE places to go if you’re visiting Sydney; for instance, if you look at TripAdvisor’s top things to do while in Sydney, a trip to Bondi is #2 on the list. It’s a beachfront neighborhood in the greater Sydney metropolitan area. What most people when they come here would probably miss is all the clues that tell those of us who are MOT “members of the tribe” that this is also one of THE most Jewish neighborhoods in all of Australia.

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Like I said in a previous post, my decision to go to Australia was fairly last-minute. I had contacted my travel buddy, who goes to Sydney (his hometown) almost every year during their summer months (Dec through March) in part so that he can spend Christmas with his mother, but also just to be there. His mother lives in a retirement village in the suburbs, so he opts to stay in an apartment rental in one of his old stomping grounds.

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

In this case, when I arrived he had rented a room in an apartment in an area called Bellevue Hill, right near St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, that is located just west of Bondi beach and just east of the Bondi Junction Train station — [The map refuses to embed, so please check the location via the link]. What I didn’t realize untill I had actually been there a few days and explored the place it was that it was ALSO spitting distance from The Central Synagogue, which is a modern orthodox congregation

AND Adath Yisroel Congregation / Tzemach Tzedek

AND The Sephardi Synagogue

AND an easy walking distance from the Chabad-Lubavitch House

In fact, there turned out to be about EIGHT … EIGHT synagogues all within an easy walking distance of our apartment …. Let’s put it this way, only the MOST orthodox of Jewish neighborhoods have that many synagogues so close together.

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Now granted, on the day when I first arrived, we took the train from the airport to Bondi Junction, at which point — because my friend seems to like to walk everywhere (even when lugging suitcases)

we walked first to this cafe, which he said was supposed to be good, in order to have a bite to eat. The place is called Savta Cafe (I was SO tired after my flight that my brain didn’t notice that Savta might be pronounced Safta — the hebrew word for grandmother).

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That said, the menu made it pretty obvious that this was an Israeli restaurant — something my friend had not realized. I got very excited and ordered the Shakshouka, a dish invented by Tunisian Jews, and pretty common in Israel.

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Not the best I’ve ever eaten (the mushrooms confused me) but it was ok…

But an Israeli restaurant does not a Jewish neighborhood necessarily make. The next hint however was SO in your face that I couldn’t possibly miss the implication. The next day he took me on a walk from our apartment to the beach, and we passed THIS house along the way…

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Let’s Welcome Moshiach with acts of goodness and kindness

For those who don’t know who this guy is, his name is Menachem Mendel Schneerson, also known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Many of his followers (I am not one) had actually believed that he was THE Moshiach (the Messiah, not to be confused with Jesus… even if the Chabad-Lubavitch are the most Catholic of Jews) at least until he died.

To tell you how Jewish I am, I’m one step away from Schneerson via more than a few people even though I am NOT one of his followers; most closely of whom was our family cardiologist (until he retired) who was flown in to be Schneerson’s cardiologist. Ira came to my father’s funeral, where he took me by the hands, looked me in the eye and told me how sorry he was to be out-of-town during my fathers final days, but that he had heard via the nurses and doctors at the hospital how I had been at my father’s side every day from his admittance until he died… and he said to me, “Rebecca, you have raised the bar in terms of how a child should be with a sick parent.” … to this day it is probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me, and just thinking about it makes me want to cry. Ira is a real man of G-d, instead of going to synagogue and making himself the center of attention, he spends every sabbath quietly in the hospital, saving lives.

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The next thing I discovered in Bondi was no shortage of Israeli restaurants. This place, Sabbaba — which not only had COMPLETELY authentic Israeli style falafel sandwich, but the manager was Israeli (I spoke Hebrew with him) and they were serving MALT STAR (a non alcoholic beer that is almost ubiquitous in Israel) to wash it down with!! (As it should be!) This turned out to be a local chain (there are a three of them scattered around Sydney,) but TWO in the Bondi beach area.

RIGHT across the street from Sabbaba I spotted a Kosher butcher, called, “Hadassa Kosher Butchery PTY Ltd.” and “Golds World of Judaica” where I ended up spending a few hundred dollars on Jewish things you can only find in Australia type gifts for friends and of course for myself…

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An Australian Kippah! Got more than few of these

At this restaurant, Lyfe Cafe, again the owner was an Israeli (again, I talked them in Hebrew) and I also tried their Shakshouka — a bit better than the last place, but still not “up to snuff” in my opinion.

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Finally, up in the mall next to Bondi Junction, there are three different supermarkets, and in one of them I found a MASSIVE kosher section

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I fell down and went boom: my experience with the Australian health care system

Well yesterday did NOT go as planned…

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I just spent a good six hours in the emergency room and my travel plans for the next month or so may be royally screwed up (or at the very least some rescheduling may be required).

So, yesterday in Australia was a national holiday called “Australia Day,” which commemorated the landing of the first boatload of convicts on the shores of what is now Sydney; it is Australia’s equivalent of American’s 4th of July & Columbus Day combined, only it would be like our celebrating the landing at Jamestown, which we don’t do.

My friend that I’m currently traveling with is a first generation Australian, and he wanted to start the day attending an event in support of the Aboriginals. which began with a rally, followed by a march, which ended at a park across the street from some government building (where families with grievances presented them to the powers that be). In the park there were actives, performances, political speeches, and myriad of booths selling or advocating things that would be of interest to the folks who participated in the rally and march.

It was a very hot day, we had gotten up unusually, and in-spite of wearing a hat, and having done a fairly decent job of staying hydrated, I was tired. After, as we were walking around the park, we stopped at this one booth that was selling T-shirts with pro-aboriginal/political “stuff” on them, and at one point I took a step backwards; too late I realized I had just unwittingly stepped backwards off of a lawn and over a curb to a slightly sunken street … backwards… so that right away I was put off balance; and THEN … just to put a cherry on an already bad situation, I spotted the baby carriage that had hooked itself under RIGHT under my foot JUST as I had stepped back to ensure that I would have NO chance to catch myself. My friend described it as a slow motion “arse over tits” moment; he saw what was about to happen but couldn’t stop it…

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About three weeks later my friend spotted this safety advertisement and said, “I’m afraid this poster gives me flashbacks to your accident a couple of weeks ago. The moment when you were in pretty much this position was frozen into my memory. And I felt as helpless as the guy on the escalator.”, it’s so perfect that I’m adding it to this post.

Apparently he was not alone in this, he said that a bunch of people were like, “oh shit”… while my body was airborne, and before my head hit the ground/pavement with an incredible THUNK (before my body had finished the trip — see above).

Don’t be horrified for the baby, it was fine; the pram was of the sort where the wheels jet out in front of the carriage, so tipped over them without upsetting the baby… it wasn’t hurt. In fact I have been calling then incident a “hit and run by a baby carriage” because the mother didn’t stick around more than the amount of time it took her to make sure her baby was fine. According to my friend she stayed around only for a few minutes after that and then she took off … probably afraid of being blamed.

That said… I lay there for all of a moment in shock, and then began to cry out and curled into the fetal position; my head began to throb and I checked the back of my head for blood (there was a HUGE lump from a acute subdural hematoma, but the skin had not broken, so no blood gushing out of me… but as soon as I turned my head a little to get access to the lump the world began to spin sickeningly. My benign positional vertigo, which had for the most part left me alone these past two year was back with a WILL. Before I was aware of much, a woman was by my side proclaiming herself to be a professional nurse and folks were yelling for help; and not too long after that the emergency staff for the event joined her, took over, checked me, declared no blood, and that they were happy that I hadn’t passed out. (Turns out I’d fallen only a few steps away from their tent, and they’d just been complaining about how bored they were because no one had needed them).

The medical personnel in the course of checking my condition asked me to open my mouth and close it… and right away there was a massive CLICK sound; the force of the impact had essentially “sprained” the tendons that hold the jaw to the rest of the head, and my jaw was dislocating when I opened it. Not good!  Then they asked me a series of questions about my preexisting conditions which I rattled off as best I could (I was having a bit of trouble answering them)…  then after a bit I remembered to tell them that I have a history of herniated disks in my neck which I have had extensive physical therapy for (in my car I even carry around a Saunders Cervical HomeTrac Traction Device, just in case). As such, they weren’t taking any chances, and put me in a head brace and then told me to straighten my legs and not move.

[My friend, who (and I did not know this before the trip) has been an active member of the New South Wales State Emergency Service (NSW SES) ever since he was in high school (and continues to be, checking in with them whenever he’s in the country) … was absolutely great! He held my hand to sooth me when he could and knew when to stay out of the professionals’ way when he couldn’t (all of which makes him doubly useful as a travel companion). That said, at a certain point he began to feel useless and a bit helpless … but remembering how I like to document everything, he started taking pictures to show me later. This made me very happy.]

So… from my perspective the next thing I knew was they were crossing my arms and rolling me on my side in order to put something hard under me (my world began to spin sickeningly) … and then lifted me on to some sort of conveyance, at which point they moved me, telling folks to get out of the way.

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To quote my friend, I got the fancy police escort through the event to where the ambulance was parked, at which point they transferred me off the jeep, and then essentially tipped me off of the hard plastic orange stretcher and onto the ambulance’s white wheeled one. If you look closely at my face you’ll see I a was NOT enjoying myself… the whole world was spinning sickeningly and at various speeds depending on if they had just tipped me or not, not to mention that my head hurt.

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Then they took me to the hospital for a CT scan again tipping me to transfer me between beds… It was NOT a happy time. (Having my friend there with me the whole time, holding my hands and making sure none of my stuff got lost in the fray — he held on to my hat, my cell phone, etc., was all a huge help and a major stress reducer.) … Once they’d finished testing me the good news was no visible brain bleeds and they released me … the bad news was that my positional vertigo was back with a will… really horrible spinning that actually had me dry barfing into a bag just from being repositioned from reclining to sitting (again my friend seeing my distress grabbed me and held me till the spinning stopped, which was a mercy)… They had kept me for 6 hours in a neck restraint; I was not even allowed to bend my knees to try to get comfortable, and let me just say that peeing while laying down is a bitch.

Once we finally home, in order to keep me in a elevated position as I slept, my friend (on my instruction) put a couch cushion on the bed, and I used his travel pillow to support my head … putting the pillows that would normally be under my head under my knees. I know from pervious experience that I’ll be needing to sleep like this for the next few days (it keeps the head steady, because the spinning that would happen as the head normally moves around during sleep could result in my barfing while still asleep — VERY Dangerous — and even if you don’t barf it keeps you from sleep well, which slows down the healing.

As of today the dizzy was so bad I can barely walk… so as to my trip, we’ll see what happens… but we may need to completely redo our plans if my brain doesn’t adjust to the new normal quickly enough ….

That said, the ER visitbecause I’m not an Australian citizen and do not qualify for their national insurance policy, has so far only cost me $138 AU (112.07 US) out of pocket (Jaw drop… ) for having seen the doctor, and while they haven’t charged my card yet, they said because of the CT scan and two other tests, there would be 3 more charges of that amount… so $552 AUD total (or … $432.23 USD!!!)

Seriously, this is the information they handed me about the fees I would have to pay:

From the Hospital’s Medicare ineligible patient fees list (Basically everyone from an overseas country that does not have socialized medicine and a reciprocal agreement with Australia):

Everyone pays a consultation fee of $138.00 AUD  (or 108.06 USD!!!)

Then, for tests:
Pathology test, $138AUD
ECG $138AUD
X-ray $138AUD
etc., (I was assured my CT was the same amount)
Inpatient accommodation for one day (had I needed it would have been): $2,214 AUD
ICU accommodation for one day: $5,616 AUD

Now, let’s keep in mind that in the USA the average cost of an ER visit is about $1,233 USD ($1,574.41 AUD)
… that’s JUST the visit, and maybe a blood test or something…
Then you have to add the AVERAGE cost of a C.T. scan, which is around another $1,200… so about $2,500 for my visit if I’m lucky …. and while based on Obamacare my insurance would have had to pay for it, because of the size of my deductible… which is a whopping 7K — I’d still be paying out of packet … so… other than that amount being applied to my maximum out of pocket, which is also 7k (seriously)… if I were healthy the rest of the year my insurance would essentially pay nothing.

The big unanswered question is how much the the ambulance will cost me. According to my friends THAT is the really expensive charge in Australia, but according to the hospital staffer, he thought it might be only another $200 over that because of how close we were to the hospital, and the fact that I fell down at an insured event (they would according to him pay the lions share of the charge).

but those bills to my card have yet to process — but if what they said holds true my out of pocket in the US WITH insurance covering parts would still run me a heck of a lot more than this will have … and if it that’s the case I’m not even going to bother dealing with the international travel insurance for reimbursement … going to save it for when I need something a hell of beans more expensive.

 

Invasion day/ Australia day: A Rally in support of the Aboriginal population

 

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The black above, red beneath with a yellow sun in the middle is the flag of the Aborigianl

While the PLAN had been to spend the whole day attending a series of events that were scattered around the city through to the massive fireworks display at night, the only thing we managed to attend was a rally in support of the Australian Aboriginals (because I fell down and went boom). However, while at the march I learned that, their presence on the land, for a myriad of reasons, is STILL not legally recognized, either NOW or historically, because of a legal declaration made by the British 200 years ago that the Australian continent was terra nullius (i.e., empty of humans). The mind boggles, really it does.

On top of that, a major issue that apparently hadn’t really BEEN until just this year, was the fact that Australia day, which celebrates the landing of the first boatload of western settlers is also, from the Aboriginal point of view the day that marks the west’s invasion of their historical lands (kind of like Columbus day and the 4th of July rolled into one).

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Anyway, my friend that I’m traveling with is fairly solidly left wing in his politics, and told me that while I didn’t have to come with if I didn’t want to, this is the event he would be attending first thing in the morning (as in we had wake up way earlier than I’m used to in order to be there on time, which may have been part of why I tripped), but since I didn’t know much about Aboriginals, in spite of my background in Native Americans, I decided I should go with him. AFTER we were going to go do all the more sort of normal celebrate the day things.

The following is the details about the rally from their facebook page:

“Invasion Day 2018 rally:
The war on Aboriginal people continues… Sovereignty and Justice Now! This rally will mark 230 years since British military forces invaded Gadigal land and declared British rule over this continent, along with Aotearoa and other Pacific Islands. While colonial regime continues to hold a day of celebration, we resist the ongoing war against Aboriginal people. From the brutalisation of black youth in detention, the murder of men and women in custody, the theft of children from families, the destruction of Aboriginal lands to feed corporate profits, the apartheid NT Intervention, the forced removal of communities,First Nations on this continent are under heavy assault from a new wave of dispossession. But the fightback is also growing and urgently needs your support. This rally has been initiated by Fighting In Resistance Equally (FIRE), a coalition that organised last years impactful and successful “Invasion Day 2017 rally – no pride in genocide!”
Also the last two successful marches on human rights day, December 10 last year and this year.

FIRE believes that standing against the colonial system and the racist mindset that was brought here in 1788 is crucial to all struggles against oppression and exploitation.”

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So yesterday, before I hit the floor and went boom, at the march/protest in support of Aboriginals … I had questions.

Firstly I must admit that my eyebrows went up when we first arrived to see what was clearly socialist types coopting what was supposed to be a pro aboriginal thing with their own stuff… HATE when that happens in the US when whites try to co-opt Native American protests… Or the way I learned that moveon.org, after I signed their initial petition about how the Feds should “move on” from being obsessed with Clinton’s sex life, felt that as I had signed ONE thing they believed in that give them the right to put my electronic signature on EVERY petition they were coming up with … so that now I just won’t sign any of those things anymore and at one point sent MoveOn an angry cease and desist email.

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And then I was SERIOUSLY put off by the fact that they put up a Palestinian guy to speak who was making false comparisons (if you support the Aboriginals you must support the Palestinians) and blaming the Israelis for atrocities that WERE done to the Palestinians, no doubt … ONLY it was by their Jordanians and Syrians “brothers” rather than the Israelis who had done them, but rewriting that history to put it all on Israel’s back… and he even had the audacity to claim we’d done child abductions, when the PLO had ACTUALLY been abducting Christian Lebanese children and turning them into child warriors before the Lebanese war …. I think he thinks that when Israel offers free health care and university degrees and such, we’re abducting their kids… and watching all the young hipsters nodding their heads with how right he was… set me off no end…

Basically (and modern genetic testing techniques back me up on this) we were arguably there before the Palestinians — although more than a few Palestinians would be shocked to learn, and the genetic testing also backs this up, their ancestors had been Jews and were forcibly converted to Islam generations ago at the point of a sword — and we were driven off our land by waves of invaders, and from my perspective Palestinians are a bit like… well some time in an alternative reality future, white people — many of whom are actually have Aboriginal ancestry they have forgotten about — being pissed off because Aboriginals who had escaped the genocide in Australia, got rich, came home and bought up all of Sydney and then declared an Aboriginal state, saying the white people could continue to live there but they would have to adhere to aboriginal law. It in fact would make a pretty good alternative reality book…

Add to that the fact that I was tired, and it was really hot, and I was NOT in a happy mode towards the start of that day…

So I immediately had some doubts about pretty much anything I heard after that… There was a chant, “always was, always will be aboriginal land” which I couldn’t quite make sense of. If it were true, does that mean all the young middle class hipsters who were chanting it were willing to contact some suffering Aboriginal families and put their money where their mouth was? “Hey, I’ve been chanting this, I own a couple of properties around Sydney I inherited from my family…. I’ve decided my family stole it from you guys so HERE, take my property I’m sailing back to the UK?” Don’t think so… so WHAT in fact did the chant mean?

My friend who I travel with was trying to explain it to me, but then a complete stranger who was walking near us, was this nice guy called Luke who offered some very coherent explanations, and for the rest of the march he became my teacher, explaining in a lot of detail stuff I had not known.

With regards to the chant, NO, Luke agreed I was right, none of these guys were likely to hand over their homes, but it was more of a constitutional issue. Until quite recently there hadn’t even been any discussion that the Australian constitution should even recognize Aboriginals as having been there first (which in this day and age is kind of head scratcher, and completely inconsistent with how the rest of the world views Australians), and the constitution here still doesn’t although discussions have commenced. (I did note later to my friend that the ONLY reason the US constitution is any different, in case you didn’t know we have always legally recognized the tribes as “dependent sovereigns” even if we didn’t stand by our words, is because at the time of the founding we were at war with the French and NEEDED the tribes on our side in that war.) But there’s apparently push back from the sort of Australians who would have voted for Trump (the sorts who were wearing Australians flags yesterday, instead of showing up at pro aboriginal protests), who like in the US don’t tend to be the folks living in cities — although some of them do (and it’s pretty easy to spot them on Australia day). To paraphrase his friend Sonja, who we met up with at the event, there are 3 sorts of Australians… the all white and claim their ancestory to early settlers “we’re Australians! This is OUR land” crowd… then there’s the urban yes we’re Australians but we feel really bad about what was done to the Aboriginals crowd, and thirdly the more recent recent immigrants and or refugees or first generations folks who are of the “we’re just happy to be here” crowd…. but then we agreed there’s a 4th group, the “who gives a fuck about politics this is just a day off work” crowd. And I learned there’s a Northern territory that isn’t actually under the same laws as the rest of the country (from a legal viewpoint a bit like Louisiana which has a completely different legal system from the rest of the USA, or Canadian territories which aren’t actually states) and in these Northern territories some pretty gruesome stuff is still happening, kids still being separated from parents without due process, etc — which I had not ever heard about before.

So I learned a lot. It was good… and after that we attended a thing in a park where aboriginal dance groups and singers performed, and various aboriginal artists exhibited their works

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After, I found these articles about the march in Sydney and some others around the country… was kind of hoping I’d spot me of my friend in the march, but so far no luck.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/jan/25/invasion-day-rally-where-protests-will-be-held-across-australia

http://www.news.com.au/national/nsw-act/hundreds-gather-for-invasion-day-protest-march-in-sydney/news-story/fb0f514ff0088107a2b6b0b307d6bb1a

http://www.news.com.au/national/hope-australia-burns-to-the-ground-tens-of-thousands-protest-across-the-country/news-story/558c5aabea78c258cdf9c155259497c4

http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/invasion-day-rally-in-sydney-draws-thousands-of-protesters-20180126-h0orw4.html

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BATS!!! Sydney, Australia has VERY big bats, and a lot of them

BATS!!!!! Great big flying bats!! And I mean they’re huge,

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Apparently the locals call them “Flying-Foxes” and there are three different species in town

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I’ve seen them in zoos, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in the wild… and its not just one or two, it’s like there are thousands of them and they just don’t stop coming

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I can’t know for sure but I’m thinking these ones might be the Grey-headed flying foxes which apparently are the biggest variety living in Australia… cause they’re frigging huge…. and they just kept coming and coming… I was standing there shooting picture of these guys for like 20 minutes, just mesmerized.

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My friend, who is from Sydney said he’s never sure when he sees this nightly display — which happens in parts of town that the bats seem to prefer — if its thousands of them or if its the same bunch just circling

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However, according to what I read while prepping this post, there aren’t as many bats as there were a few weeks ago. Earlier in the month, while I was at the sea shore and Sydney had that record breaking heat wave, the bats were literally dying on the trees where they hung.

 

Shirt Bar, Sydney Australia

So I thought this was a really cool idea for a store that I’d never seen before: I’ve seen combo coffee bar bookstores many times and combo coffee bar flower stores a few times, but this is the first time I’ve seen a custom high end/trendy tailor/coffee AND whiskey bar… that also is a trendy restaurant.

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I was walking around the redeveloping (it started in 2012 and isn’t expected to be completed until 2023) Barangaroo section of Sydney when the I was drawn into what I initially thought was a fabulous men’s clothing store by some really great music that was drifting into the street

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According to the waitress who walked over to me as soon as I stuck my head in the door, asking, “have you ever been here before?”, the owner of the Shirt Bar is a tailor who does custom tailored suits for both men and women — but in this day and age, those skills won’t necessarily pay the rent. So he had the brilliant idea to open his business in the new and trendy Barangaroo section of Sydney (an area recently converted from a container/shipping terminal into a trendy/hipster business center and tourist haunt) … So, this store is not only a very high end custom tailer, but it is also a coffee house

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And a restaurant that has distinct breakfast, lunch and dinner menus

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And tables are specifically designed so that at night they can crank them up to bar height, and, like I said earlier, they play really cool music

Sydney Australia has VERY clean, and free, street side public toilets

Let’s face it, knowing where the clean toilets are is a THING, and it’s especially difficult while traveling. In this regard Sydney public toilets are quite impressive…. and I’m talking STREET side toilets!!!

Now public toilets in malls, stores, or public buildings are usually pretty good, but let’s face it, street side public toilets can get pretty well… yucky/smelly/ nasty, etc., and are as a rule to be avoided

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I am thrilled to say that so far, I’m finding that Sydney has VERY clean street side public toilets… McDonald’s clean, or better yet, Costco clean, which is an even higher standard (there’s a reason why while driving around the North American continent my pit stop of choice for both gas and bathrooms is Costco).

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The bathroom above was the 3rd public one I have used since coming here … and I’m finding the public toilets are cleaner than some of the restaurants toilets I’ve encountered while here. As I was in the toilet shown above, a British woman (with a thick country brogue) and I were talking about it — and she noted how the Sydney were much cleaner than the British public toilets, in spite of the fact that they were all free, while in the UK toilets aren’t.

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.

Flying to Australia, New Years Eve

My first trip ever to Australia! Deciding to go “down under” was rather last minute, for me. I flew one way on New years Eve on a relatively cheap $724 (with tax and fees) ticket on United that I found using  Google’s Flight search engine ). Travel hints: 1) it’s cheaper to fly on major holidays when other people don’t want to; 2) try using goggle’s search engine. I find it is among the best for finding the cheapest flights available as priced directly from the airlines themselves — so while not always THE cheapest flight out there, it provides bookings that are a LOT less likely to get you bumped, or to discover upon showing up at the airport that the airline knows nothing about your reservation. And, 3) while Americans can stay in Australia for 3 months without going to the consulate to get a visa the old fashioned way, you still NEED TO GET AN ELECTRONIC VISA! They won’t let you on your flight without it, and it’s much more expensive to get it at the last minute (and can take up to 20 minutes, even in that case). And remember to PEE before landing… just saying.

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[Breaking with tradition, I’m writing this from Korea (as per usual) I never got around to writing it on shortly after arrival… and I’m really looking at this in retrospect I’m posting it with a date that is three months after the fact.]

My friend (the one who had expressed interest in our becoming travel buddies) had gone home to Sydney for a few months over Xmas; while I, at this time, was doing my THIRD extended trip in a row at Disney World. Between 2015 and 2018 I’d spend 18 MONTHS in the Orlando area, doing little else than go to Disney, either daily or weekly …. depending on my mood, health and the weather. All in all, I was kind of Disney’d out (or at least Orlando’d out).

“HOW can that BE?!” you ask… (somewhat facetiously, I assume)

Well, it was mid November, right after the thanksgiving school holiday, and I was once again at Disney World, using up the remainder of the on- year-pass I had purchased in December 2016 (at the time they were offering a deal of 13 months for the price of 12) out of a sense of Jewish guilt (in this particular case, based on the laws of economy taught to me in my childhood, i.e., never wast a dollar), because the pass wasn’t due to expire till late January.  I knew I was bored with it before I had even arrived, but I was saying to myself, “this will be my visit for 2018, one month and then I’ll do something else,” not yet having ANY idea of what that something else might be.

Warning: slightly depressing side bar [Initially the plan had been to then go to New Orleans and spend a few months there; but my beloved friend (in fact the guy I lost my virginity to) who I was going to see while there (he was single, I was single… neither of us had been involved with anyone for a while and we’d maintained our friendship for 30 years, so…), had up and died on me. He had dropped dead in early June while at work… IN A HOSPITAL of all places; he was a doctor, had sat down on a bench (suddenly not feeling well), and died, sitting up. Apparently he hadn’t even collapsed to the ground when they’d found him. Luckily for me, we had spoken only days before he died, talking in part about my plans to go to NOLA the following winter, and talking about me finding an Airbnb in his neighborhood, at least initially. I’d been driving towards Montreal, and the cellphone connection kept dropping while in New York State’s mountains, so we agreed I should call him back once I was settled in (so my last memories of him were recent, and very positive). The day I called him back, I loaded up my computer where Facebook is my default web page, and at the very top was a posting on his wall saying “RIP Peter” with the details of his death. So, while it was now about six months later, I still couldn’t bare the thought of going to New Orleans without him being there… which left me rather adrift.]

So here I was, back in my safe zone, Disney World (a place I now knew like the back of my hand), NOT what I had wanted for myself for this year, and simultaneously being seriously annoyed by the fact that while only a few years previously I could trust that between thanksgiving and Xmas the parks would be half empty, so that I could just jump on rides like the Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion ride with only a 10 minute wait, those days were now GONE. The citizen of Brazil (who had yearly been discovering the joys of a Disney vacation in increasing numbers as their economy became robust enough to allow them to afford to travel) were now there en masse, or at leasts that’s the way it felt, and as their “summer” vacation months encompassed the whole of our Winter months the lull in attendance between American School Holiday was now a thing of the past. As a result, most of my favorite rides (the low key, non roller coaster ones) were no longer rideable unless I were willing to stand in line for 20 minutes, which I was not… and a bit of the joy had gone out of the Happiest Place on Earth for me. (Disney REALLY needs to think about opening up a South American location.)

So I realized that I was not only getting a bit bored of Disney World, but that I felt like I was stuck in something of a semi depressed rut. I was doing things I no longer enjoyed because they were safe and known (never a good thing). So, I decided it was time to make a change.

I fairly spontaneously (for me) decided to, first: check if my friend in Australia was amenable to my suddenly showing up (he was), and then I canceled my reservations with Airbnb for January (ladies and gentleman, here’s an Airbnb user tip… NEVER book an airbnb that has a strict cancellation policy — flexible and moderate are your friends) and I decided to book a ticket to Australia for mid-January (again, Jewish guilt about not wasting the Disney ticket). …

HOWEVER, I discovered (using googles flight search engine) that if I flew on New Years Eve rather than mid January as originally intended, I would save about $400 (Jewish guilt issues resolved!) … explained this to my Australian friend, who a bit less enthusiastically (just being honest here) agreed that it was only reasonable that I should fly in earlier than initially planned (although he started hinting I should explore other parts of Australia without him — hence my trip to Katoomba)… so with the agreement of my friends in Georgia (where I needed to stay for about a week or so in order to reorganize my suitcase, and store what I wasn’t taking) and the ones in Orlando (who would be baby sitting my car) … I was off

[Just a bit ironically, I was initially intending to go Australia, then Shanghai (to see friends and the new Disney park), then Tokyo with my best Korean friend (where I’d again go to Disney)… then home — but I wasn’t booking the return flights till I solidified things with them. And then, before even taking off a distant female friend, so much so that FB wasn’t bothering to show her my posts, who it turned out is working in Shanghai and was intending to go to Australia for travel, was told by a closer mutual friend that I was going to be in Australia TOO and we should hook up. For a while we tried to organize our dates but she was unwilling to commit to anything in advance (in effect because there were other people she wanted to travel with more who weren’t getting back to her) and I’m unwilling to be left hanging on the beck and call of someone who can’t make up her mind because she dangle’s person on hold while hoping for “something better” because she’s too afraid to just travel alone …. so that didn’t happen, and she’s now on the “don’t even think about” list of travel partners.]

So, as you probably could guess from the tips I listed at the start of this… guess who forgot to sign up for her electronic visa? So ya, that was a glitch— but since I always like getting to the airport super early (more than two hours before the flight) I was, with the help of United’s staff, able to do it from my iPhone — and the visa came through in about 15 min after we figured out how to sign up for it — thank the powers that be for smart phones and web pages that work as intended.

Once I was checked in, I discovered that Orlando airport now has this place is near gates 30-50. It newish (I verified that wasn’t there the last time I passed through) — they have Cuban coffee as well as American — I had one called Cuban roast which was very good… it had chocolate undertones you could actually taste … They also have very tasty and BIG cubano sandwiches ready at almost an instant (which is great if your running for a plane). I ate 1/2 at the restaurant and saved half for shortly before takeoff (I remember that on the TV news once they said that medical studies have found that having freshly swallowed food in your belly at takeoff can decrease the risk of strokes during, but haven’t been able to find a link to add here).

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When I got to SF I hadn’t remembered to make a bathroom run before landing, and I ended up NOT quite making to the bathroom after disembarking…  in SF!!! Right when we were starting to land, but not allowed to get up, I realized to late that I really REALLY needed to go… and by the time we unloaded my sphincter, upon just seeing the bathroom sign a few feet away, couldn’t do the job anymore… fech!!

That said, I was very amused to discover that United had me set to depart one gate away from the gate I arrived at!!! Totally saved me from the not quite enough time to make the transfer worries, so I grabbed some Japanese food from the directly adjacent eatery. Upon loading the stewardess’s were wearing these crowns… I asked if we were all going to get one, and she gave me hers…

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And, I was SUPER thrilled to discover I alone in my row, so that I actually managed to get some sleep on the way from SF to Australia.

While flying somewhere between Port Vila and Brisbane

I met and got friendly with a former Harlem globetrotter by the name of Tracy Williams who is 6’7″ so he was having to stoop a bit to make the photo happen.

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…we did the photo and he gave me a signed-photo that says, “To Rebecca, Happy New Year, 2018”

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… he was really hungry and they had no food so I gave him my pack of bison jerky and other high protein/low carb snacks I brought with me was but not hungry enough to eat — and all of it was verboten to bring it into Australia anyway so better it shouldn’t go to waste… I was doubly glad I’d given him the food when some very cute dogs sniffed me all over before allowing me to enter the airport. Australia is the fist country I’ve been to where they large numbers of sniffing dogs on staff and EVERY SINGLE PERSON and their bags gets a full sniff-over before being allowed to enter.

My friend picked me up at the apart and we went to a cafe near where we were going to be staying, and I had Israeli food (Sydney is FULL of Israeli restaurants — who knew?) … not the best shakshuka I’ve ever had, but no bad.

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