Sydney, Australia 2008
The planning for this trip began almost two years ago when Sydney was selected as the site for the 2008 World Youth Day for the young adults in the Catholic Church. Our youngest daughter, Mary, works for the Archdiocese of San Francisco as their Young Adult Coordinator and in that position has lead groups to these gatherings four times over the past ten years. I seized the opportunity and began planning a trip that changed many times over the past two years. At times my friend Bonnie and her husband Terry were involved and also my Jim at one time considered joining me but it has ended up with me only meeting up with Mary in Sydney at the end of the World Youth Days. She has been here since July 8th and I arrived on July 19th; just three days before the end of WYD ’08.
My flight out had some adventure. Jim took me to LAX early; one never quite knows what the traffic in Los Angeles will be. I arrived at the airport about 8 pm and checked in without problems surrounded by angry people who were being told that their 10:30 pm flight to Sydney was canceled and they were being put up in hotels and rescheduled for a 9:30 am flight the next morning. The staff was delighted when I appeared at the counter with a smile and announced that I was on the 11:50 pm flight. The word was spreading through the crowd that the Engineers for Qantas Airways have been striking on and off for the past two months and this is the root of their scheduling problems. My flight was arriving from New York and we were told that there would be a three hour delay because of problems in New York; but we would be flying out tonight!
Off to the waiting rooms to find a comfortable spot and settled in for a long winter’s (it winter in Australia) nap; I had six hours to wait for my plane at this point. I soon discovered that the waiting area was full of passengers who had flown in from various airports around the country early this morning expecting to fly to Sydney at 9:30 am. Opps…that flight had been canceled and they’d been rescheduled for my flight. Many of those down at the counter had been scheduled for the 10:30 pm flight that had been canceled. No wonder they were foaming at the mouth (so to speak)! Made my issues seem mild and so I was in a good mood when a young woman named Jenny arrived with an eight month old boy named Samuel. Well, he put the smile on all of our faces as he beamed with his blue eyes and captivated us all with his red hair and funny baby chortles as he crawled (a new event as of last week) around the floor at our feet. The hours passed rapidly as we all helped Jenny keep Samuel entertained and feed over the next six hours. Jenny had arrived from Texas that morning, spent the day at a hotel compliments of Qantas and would be flying on to their home in Perth when we arrived in Sydney. The visualization of that journey gave many of us a start. The flight to Perth would be another five hours of flying with the baby after Sydney! Oh to be young again!
We were finally airborne at 4 am in the morning and they feed us dinner…we just wanted to go to sleep. But, the meal did help with resetting our body clocks. We were soon sleeping on an off and settled in for a flight of about fourteen hours. That, with the time change made it 10 am on Saturday morning when we arrived in Sydney. My original flight was to leave at 11:50 pm on Thursday. They had us up and eating breakfast about 7:30 am so we were bright-eyed, a bit red actually, and bushy tailed when we arrived in Sydney. I enjoy two movies in between my two naps on the flight.
Made it through customs without a hitch, my suitcase arrived with the plastic ties still in place telling me that it had not been opened by anyone for inspections. I found the ATM machine for Australian Dollars. They will not take American Dollars anywhere I was told by several different people. I turned on my cell phone and it worked! I called Jim and checked in to let him know that I’d arrived. Found a taxi cab and headed for my new home for the next three nights. Finally checked in and reorganized. I was unable to reach my daughter Mary on her cell phone right now; but I’m sure we’re figure that one out soon. I have a private room with the bath down the hall only a few doors away. Very clean and simple lodging; I have a small refrigerator, hot water pot and a toaster in my room that overlooks the back so it’s quiet. I am on the 3rd floor with no elevator but not a huge problem as I packed very light for this trip.
Decided to find my way from Newtown, my located in the suburbs…cheaper and one of few hotels with rooms because of the WYD ’08 event…over to Mary’s hotel located in Kings Cross that is much closer to the city center. Found the train station and only had to make one transfer; very fast and easy with lots of willing people along the way to give advice to an old lady traveling alone! She is at the Formula 1 Hotel with her group. They were not in but the staff was very kind and I left a message for her to contact her father for information if she could not get me on my cell phone. Not sure what the problem was as her phone only gave lots of different rings when I tried calling her. But, I knew that we could both reach Jim as she’d called us twice since her arrival.
From her hotel I began my walk, it was about 2 pm in the afternoon and I walked for the next five hours. My intent was to attend Saturday Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Opps, it was fenced off and completely closed for the whole weekend. So glad we’ll still be here for a few days next week so we can see the inside of it. The Pope is staying at the Cathedral this weekend and security is very heavy. All of the grounds surrounding the church are fenced and hundred of police everywhere.
But, I was right at Hyde Park and walked through on my journey towards the Opera House. The city is totally involved in the WYD ’08; many of the major streets downtown are totally closed to vehicle traffic; there are flag flying on nearly every street lamp and everywhere you see people with the very visible orange and red WYD ’08 backpacks that were given to everyone attending the event. Priest and nuns, young people and their adult chaperones have these little appendages on their back as they walk in small groups and parade in larger groups around the city. The larger groups are usually carrying banners and singing! You see them everywhere: in the train stations, on the streets, and in the parks. They’ve even closed down the Harbor Bridge to vehicle traffic for Saturday and Sunday as the pilgrims will be walking across this bridge to the Randwick Race Track where the overnight vigil and Sunday morning Mass by the Pope will be held.
The events at Randwick will last 29 consecutive hours and the crowd at the papal mass is expected to top 500,000. I’ve elected to not attend that event and spend my Saturday night in the comforts of my room instead of sleeping on the ground in the center of the racetrack!
Back to my story; I passed many historic building, old ones left in amongst the new skyscrapers, and stopped to listen to the many birds singing in the trees. The weather is beautiful, cool but very clear. Can you imagine parrots sitting in trees in a metropolitan city! The best thing about my jaunt today is that it was all slightly downhill. I made it to the Opera House about 4 pm and decided to sign up for the 4:30 tour of the inside of the Opera House; a must do unless you are going one up and actually attending a performance.
The tour lasted about an hour. We had a wonderful guide named Nick and he kept all twenty of us very well informed and added lots of little stories along the way. There are seven performance areas in the complex and there are scheduled programs seven days a week in one or more of these areas. Nick said they’d even had performances on the roof! The roof by the way, is covered in a tile made in Sweden, the architect’s home country, it never needs cleaning; the residue that adheres to the roof is washed off with each rain. No nooks or crannies nor even rain gutters to hide in.
The first performance area we visited is also used for receptions and is covered in a beautiful deep purple carpet. Because of the color and huge expanses of windows, the carpet is changed every twelve months. Only the Italians will not have wedding receptions in this area because the color “purple” is associated with “death” in the Catholic Church. The Italian singer, (Parvorite .. can’t spell his name!!) would not even walk into the area when he was performing here.
By the time the tour was over it was already dark, and I headed for the bus depot at the Circular Quay Station and after many nice people helped me I found Bus # 422 that I knew would take me to my front door. On my walk there I finally reached my daughter on the cell phone…I could hardly hear her as she was already at the vigil event. Then I found the bus driver from hell; a crotchety old man who didn’t like anyone. I only had a ten dollar bill and the fare was three dollars. When I asked for change he gave me a smart remark and told me to sit down. Still holding my ten I quickly sat down; I was the only person on the bus at that time and every time I tried to talk to him he growled and pointed to my seat. Finally a nice old lady boarded the bus, a regular rider I think. She sat across from me and we talked for a bit before I explained my dilemma with the driver. She dealt with the drive for me and paid my fare. He actually made change for her with my ten dollars and when she told him it was for me he was not a happy camper! Oh well, by that time I was nearly at my stop.
And so I was home and at the end of a long two days of adventure; I showered, worked on my photos and finally turned out the light at 9 pm.