My apologies for the delay in blogging. It has been somewhat of an ordeal trying to get internet access. We finally found the Internet Tech Support people here at the college. Why do all IT guys live in dark caves that no one can find? They were most helpful and now we are back online. I do have a few things to discuss with the AT&T guy about our GSM card when we get home, but I digress.
It is 8:50 AM here on Thursday morning in Brisbane. This will be a lengthy post but I want to give ya'll (man that feels good to say that to people who understand what I'm saying) an idea of what we have been up to. I will start where I left off and will bring you up to date.
Our flight from LA was pleasant. There was a bit of turbulence but nothing too bad. We switched terminals at LAX (not the most modern airport) and made it to our gate with plenty of time before our flight. I wish you all could have seen the faces of the gate crew and flight crew when they saw the 300-400 very excited teens waiting to board the plane. It would have been a great time for them to renegotiate their contract. It was priceless!
The group finds a way to entertain themselves in the airport:
Fr. Michael sporting K Day's Sunglasses..."Yes...Father...we are laughing with you not at you....right..."
We boarded our flight to Brisbane just after 11PM on Sunday night. Our group got to sit near each other for the most part but a few of us were spread out across the plane. The flight was smooth but long! Most of us slept a good deal of the way and others did not sleep at all. We walked around and visited with one another and people from other groups. The flight attendants were awesome. I was sitting in a bulkhead seat with two attendants in front of me, but facing me. One lady had a quick wit and I loved it. As we were landing a young man sitting next to me asked the flight attendant what was obstructing his view outside the window. He asked if it was trees or clouds or something else. Without missing a beat the attendant said, "Sir, we call that "night time" here. It was a humorous end to a great flight.
We landed in a complete downpour shortly after 6AM on Tuesday the 8th (local time). The weather was pretty chilly as well. We sailed through customs and then had a bit of a wait for our buses to take us to our accomodations. St. Joseph's Nudgee College is nice place about fifteen minutes from the airport. The guys are staying in a carpeted (albeit thin) classroom on the first floor and the ladies are in a classroom (also carpeted) on the second floor directly above us. The classrooms do not have heat/AC and the windows are generally open. It is not too bad during the day but a bit chilly at night.
After getting settled in we went in search of something to eat/do. We took a ten minute walk to a coffee shop / convenience store and then headed back in the opposite direction for about a 3Km walk to a train station. Halfway to the train station the rain really let loose. The adults realised (look! I can spell in Australian!) quickly that we were not dressed appropriately for the weather and did not want to get sick on the first day so we headed back to the college. We were tired, wet, cold, and a tad frustrated but everyone handled it well.
At the college we got our lunch which consisted of a ham sandwhich and some fruit. It wasn't much but we were greatful to have it all the same. One of our teens is a vegetarian and the lady in the kitchen picked up on it when our teen avoided the sandwhich. The lady from the kitchen kindly offered to go prepare something else for our teen. The people are really nice here. I know that in Texas we like to brag about our hospitality but they have us matched here (so far!).
After lunch the rain stopped and the sky started to clear. We did some recon worked and learned that the bus stop right outside the college would take us to downtown Brisbane. We all bought day passes for the bus ($7.50 Aus) and headed downtown. The bus drivers drive pretty crazy as times and we discovered a new game called bus surfing. The game was for those of us who stood up (all guys because your Southern gentlemen that you raised made sure the ladies had seats) and tried to keep our balance with the crazy driving.
The bus dropped us off at Queen St. Mall. This area is a pedestrian mall in the heart of downtown that consists of all kinds of shops, stores, etc. It was similar to what you might see in Manhattan. The architecture was impressive with a combination of older styled buildings nestled in with modern skyscrapers. We walked around a few WWII memorials, Eagle St. Pier (where much to K Day's enjoyment, we found a McDonalds), St. Stephen's Cathedral, and the Archdiocese of Brisbane's Chancery offices.
We then boarded a city ferry and headed upriver and to the opposite side. We walked past a maritime museum and then walked across a pedestrian bridge to the original side of the river. By this time the weather was absolutely gorgeous. We walked past the Old Parliament House and then through the city's Botanical Gardens. We then walked up about ten blocks to King George's Square and City Hall. The City Hall was very impressive much to our surprise. I was pleasantly surprised at how much we were able to see with no plans, a map of the city, and a bus/ferry pass.
As I said, the rain died down, but the wind sure picked up!
We then got a bite to eat in a food court. Everything here in Australia is really expensive compared to the U.S. We also learned that beef is hard to come by so you get it when you can. By the time we finished our dinner, we were ready to go back to the College. Upon arriving back at the college we got to the rooms and tried to go to sleep. Some of the other groups were pretty loud and it was a bit difficult to fall asleep. When I noticed that everyone was totally quiet, I looked at my watch and realized that it was only 11PM. That never happens on these trips/retreats!
Wednesday, July 9th
We woke up this morning to chilly (I would guess low 40's) weather but a beautiful sunrise. Most of us were waking up around 4 to 5AM local time. After showering a few of us headed over to Mass in the chapel. As a disclaimer here, we found out about Mass at the last minute so not everyone knew to go.
We ate breakfast together here at the college and then boarded the bus for the one hour trip to the much anticipated Australia Zoo, Home of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. As we were driving to the zoo, our bus driver was giving us fun little facts and pointing out different sites. A small two bedroom house in suburban Brisbane goes for 300-400K! Crikey! We also saw the glass house mountains that were formed by volcanoes many years ago. Apparently the U.S. Navy thought it would be fun to use them as target practice from the Gold Coast (we are about 6km from the coast). A chant of "U-S-A" almost broke out from the Americans on the bus. We passed many fruit fields including strawberries, passion fruit, and pineapple. I will admit that I and a few others learned for the first time that pineapple does not grow on trees!
We arrived at the zoo and had a wonderful time. We split up into two groups and spent the day taking in the sites. I am not that big a fan of zoos but I had a really good time. This place is really impressive. We did watch a few shoes and now most of your sons want to be "Croc Men." You will have to ask them what that is.
About 3:30PM we boarded the bus and headed back to the college. Upon arriving at the college we registered for our festival that begins on the 10th and then got dinner (Beef Stroganoff). After dinner we had a really good group discussion. We then headed off to bed and most of us were asleep by 9PM.
It has been a wonderful experience to be with your kids on this trip. Like Father Michael said on the phone, you guys already know how wonderful they are. I will not share what we discuss but will just say that they never stop impressing me.
I will read all of your comments to them tonight at our group discussion. The next four days of this festival should be an awesome spiritual experience. This is about to become less of a vacation and more of a retreat/pilgrimage. I look forward to the work that God is going to do in all of us.
Thank you for your prayers and thank you for keeping up with us. We feel the prayers and your presence is with us in our hearts. We continue to pray the novena for the special intention and remember all of our prayer intentions each day. I will edit this post and add some pictures in a bit as I am running out of battery power as it is.
So I have been sitting here with Fr. Michael for about the last 2.5 hours trying to resize photos, upload, etc. Whilst (told you Fr. was here didn't I?) we were sitting here we met two people from Singapore, one of the speakers who is from Houma, Louisiana, a man from Ghana, and a very cold (temperature not mood) nun from Thailand where it is apparently always warm.
Some of the kids also have a new wardrobe as they have found the Nudgee gift shop. After more recon though we learned that there is a Target near by that has official merchandise for a lot cheaper. A t-shirt from the festival here is going for $30 Austrailian. Remember, when I changed my money the rate was 1:1.
Still working on the blog....lunch is in thirty minutes and then no more posting for today! The Festival starts after lunch and then we have Mass with the Archbishop of Brisbane followed by a few talks and a concert by Matt Maher tonight.