Thursday, June 26, 2008

Meet to Nice You

That’s what I said to Ray Martin, the Peter Mansbridge of Australia, who will be hosting all the broadcasts of World Youth Day events. This eloquent statement came at the end of a good morning that we spent with Mr. Martin, his producer Jo Townsend, and camera operator Paul. David and I were interviewed as “average volunteer couple” and told our story about why World Youth Day is important to us, why we came to Sydney to volunteer, and what lies ahead for a couple of wacky Canadian volunteers. I felt like I was “on” all morning, shooting out the snappy, thoughtful comments that make good soundbites. “Yay me,” I thought, thinking my Salt + Light Television background really taught me a thing or two about how to work the media.

And then that’s what I said. “Meet to nice you,” as we shook hands and parted ways.

Well, apart from that, it was a really good morning. We were met by Jo and the camera on our doorstep this morning and followed on the bus with the camera… a little nerve-wracking as we could see the other passengers looking at us and perhaps wondering who we were and why there was a camera attached to us. Then we did a bit of filming in the office, followed by another visit to the Barangaroo site, this time to meet Ray Martin and have our interview. The interview was genuine and Mr. Martin was very gracious, down-to-earth, and genuinely interested in our story. And Jo and Paul were both incredibly friendly and funny and good people to talk to. We were also honoured to receive an invitation to join them for lunch before we headed back to the office, so we went with them to a little Italian restaurant and talked about journalism and Canada and travelling and heaps of interesting things.

The end result: well, we’re full from a good lunch. But also this interview will be used as a filler to air during the live WYD events… like when it’s taking 17 minutes to distribute Communion, rather than showing all 200,000 people receiving communion, they will pop in a filler. They are filming 10 segments in all, so we’re just one of 10 of these segments to be used. But we’re an honoured and grateful one of 10.

This is before "Meet to Nice You".

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Welcome to Sydney, Popey

OK, not quite yet, but in less than a month, 100s of 1000s of pilgrims will welcome him here at Barangaroo … a wharf site near Darling Harbour in Sydney. This is another one of those “use your imagination” blog entries… now just empty space filled up with fencing, tents, and the beginnings of a main stage, this will be The spot for World Youth Day’s Big Events: Opening Mass, Welcome Ceremony with Pope Benedict, and the last few of the Stations of the Cross.

Members of the EPandO team (Event Planning and Operations for those of us who don’t fancy the use of acronyms) were invited to Barangaroo for an early morning breakfast and tour of the site today. We used our imaginations, and this is what we saw.

Hannah, Gillian, Elena and Libby on the main stage of Barangaroo. The Pope was standing next to us, but we cut him out of the picture (remember… we’re using our imaginations here).

David and Gillian just leaving the main stage. This is after they had a nice chat with Popey about his general interests and hobbies.

And here are the thousands of pilgrims spread out to the side of the main stage. The Canadians are located slightly to the left, but they have a good view. This is only one side of the site ... there is equal or more space to the other side of the stage.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Serene Availability

That’s what we were on Sunday… serene and available for a trip to Jamberoo to visit the Benedictine Abbey. Almost a two hour drive from Sydney, including a winding, narrow mountain road, the Abbey is fairly secluded and very quiet. The nuns there are beautiful, peaceful women and were lovely hosts to us and a few other of the international volunteers. Our day was equally secluded and quiet… we enjoyed a talk from Sr. Hildegard (she’s the one who spoke about serene availability… it doesn’t mean rushing around, making appointments, slotting people in and implying they should be grateful for your time but rather being available to wherever God calls you to be in the moment), went on a bushwalk, lingered in their beautiful candle shop, and attended midday prayer. And made friends with a cow. A really good day to help us gear up for what’s ahead (World Youth Day… that’s what’s ahead).

On the Abbey grounds and surrounded by cow pasture, apparently the oldest fig tree in Australia.

A sunny team picture in this beautiful place.

A beautiful lily ... but not as bee-yoo-tiful as Lily-pie.

The wonderful and fun Sr. Mary Rachel in the shop displaying the candles so beautifully hand-crafted and painted by the sisters.

This is a friendly cow. I was hanging out by the fence taking pictures when she decided to come find out what I was up to. Slowly, slowly, she walked up to me and started licking my hand, all the while with Dr. Mary Rachel (a big fan of cows) yelling from behind me, “Pet the cow! Pet the cow!). It was a beautiful bonding moment, until the Abbey dog Oliver Osama bin Laden (yes, that’s his full name) ran up to us and scared the cows away.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pack it up, pack it in

We often revel in our Saturday sleep-ins, but today we travelled with a group of volunteers to the World Youth Day warehouse. This was my thoughtful wifey's idea ... with the goal to 1) give volunteers a change of scenery from the offices and computers where they spend their regular days, 2) provide some team bulding for those giving so generously of their time, and 3) to put a little dent in the packing of pilgrim meals for the Vigil and Final Mass.

We formed two assembly lines, and the result of the ensuing flurry of activity was the packing of 3500 pilgrim meals ... indeed a small dent in the 200,000 meals that have to be packed, but a dent nonetheless.

One pilgrim pack, which is to last for dinner Saturday after the pilgrim walk and breakfast/lunch for Final Mass Sunday, includes: a fruit cup, sultana (raisin) bread, a wagon wheel, two packets of jam, a fruit & nut bar, a can of tuna or baked beans, a can of high-protein bean mix, a can of mineral water and a bottle of water.

Though the assembly line moved quickly, there were plenty of laughs and lots of chatting going on.

A fun day altogether, and cool to see catering packages and backpacks being shipped out to all the accommodation and catechesis sites.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Jump on board the Sushi Train

Our dinner on Friday night... we went for sushi. And this is a pretty unnecessary blog entry, but also our way of telling you that we didn't do anything more exciting this weekend than eat sushi on Friday. And I also like the way the food moves along on this conveyor belt until you spot the one you want and steal it onto your table.

(Incidentally, if you were to physically jump on board the sushi train, you would, very quickly, be kicked out of the restaurant.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Happy Birthday Queen. And thanks for the long weekend

This weekend Austalia celebrates Queen Elizabeth II's Birthday ... well, not so much celebrates, but takes a Monday off. The Aussies seem to recognize royalty less than we Canadians do.
So after a nice Saturday sleep-in, we hopped in the World Youth Day car we had signed out and drove 40 minutes south of Sydney to the second oldest National Park in the world - Royal National Park (can you guess which is the oldest?). We only enjoyed a small part of this beautiful piece of coastal land that was set aside for Sydneysiders to get away from the city. It's true ... we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.

An easy walk along the sandstone cliffs ... stopping here and there to appreciate the South Pacific Ocean and the rugged landscape under the beautiful light from the sun as stormy clouds moved in. The entire trail runs 30 km along the coast, but since we are no longer walking the Camino (though the signage seemed to say otherwise) and we didn't pack our overnight gear, we decided to walk only a few kms.

Although that would've been enough excitement for a normal weekend, we had a whole extra day, so we wanted to take advantage ... especially with World Youth Day only just over a month away and work getting busier and busier. So off we went for a 2-day excursion to the Hunter Valley, 2 hours north of Sydney and very famous for its wineries.

Our time there was spent driving across the rolling hills, stopping to do some wine tasting at well-known names, such as Rosemount Estates, Lindemans and Wyndham Estates, and more beautiful wineries of lesser-known names, such as Audrey Wilkinson and Pepper Tree Estates. Wine tasting was punctuated by cheese tasting, olive oil tasting - a new and wonderful experience - and chocolate tasting.

The people we encountered were very friendly, some having connections and family back near Toronto and Niagara, and the leisurely pace with which we travelled made for a very relaxing stay ... much-needed rejuvenation for the ever-increasing workload in the World Youth Day office.


Who knew that the Camino went through Australia? It's funny how much a yellow arrow comes to mean.

Don't gasp, Moms. Although this looks like a daredevil move, there's actually a ledge just below.

A waterfall at the edge of the hill fed this stream, which cut through the beach and flowed into the ocean.
Hurray, a long weekend!

We sat and scanned the ocean for whale, which are starting to migrate north. To our dismay, we didn't spot any.

Hard to believe this is only 40 minutes south of a city of 4 million people.

Gillian and the South Pacific Ocean.

Our path took us past some incredible ...

... and unique plant life.

We didn't stay too long because of an approaching storm.

A very bold kookaburra who wasn't the least bit afraid of us. These are the birds that sound like jungle monkeys.

Our World Youth Day Chrysler Sebring.

A treat of a view as we left the park.


Not a mirror image ... everything is bass ackwards down here.

Our first stop ... a lavender farm. Laura, you would've gone crazy here.

Lavender by the scoop.

We couldn't resist ordering two lavender scones with creme and jam. A close second to your lavender shortbread, Mom.

Wine tasting ... stand at the bar, taste a selection of wines from a menu, talk to the people about the wines ... all for free.

A sunny morning by the pond at the Hunter Country Lodge.

We stayed at the Hunter Country Lodge, a cute out-of-the-way place, and this was the scene just outside our room ... take a close look ... the hive is larger than a watermelon.

Pepper Tree Estates ... one of the gems we saw ... the winery, restaurant and hotel all had so much character.

Peppers Convent, a former Brigidine convent that is now a hugely expensive hotel ... we just strolled around temporarily.

More character.

We keep tasting other wines but seem to always come back to our favourite overall.

2008 was a very wet year ... so wet that the grapes were not suitable for wine-making ... some wineries decided to leave the grapes on the vines to rot (to avoid the labour costs of picking them) ... others decided to pick them and make creative grape products like Shiraz sauce (which we just had to buy).

Vines weren't the only plants that were interesting to look at.

This land is rich in character ... including the mailboxes.

Good thing we had a sunroof.

Our favourite from this wine tasting session.
The vineyards of Audrey Wilkinson, the first place vines were planted in Hunter Valley back in 1866.

At the end of the day, we climbed out of the valley on Mountain View Road.

And just as we were about to head back on the road to Sydney, we saw this sign ... all this time we thought we were so far from home.

Oh, by the way ... the oldest National Park in the world - Yellowstone.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Delicious Day

That's what I called our Sunday. We were invited to Mass and a bbq at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church, the parish of Bishop Anthony Fisher, our WYD coordinator. With a good Mass, good food, good people, a good walk, good conversation... this is the stuff on which we feed to keep us happy and healthy and (hopefully?) holy. Yum.

This is us... international long-term volunteers. Ie. - cheap labour from across the globe.

More specifically, the cheap labour from "Canada" (in quotation marks because, though Chris and Morgan live in Toronto, they are originally from the Canadian province of Texas) with Bishop Anthony.

Post Mass, lunch, and group-shots, Bishop Anthony took us on a walk around his neighbourhood, up to the cliffs of Watson's Bay. This is Bishop Anthony being tour guide to Alanna from the U.S.

And this was the view... the steeple in the foreground is Our Lady Star of the Sea, with Sydney Harbour in the background.

My walking partner for the afternoon and how Sr. Mary Rachel and I spend most of our time. Laughing. (Though it does look a bit like she's laughing while I'm covering my mouth choking or hyperventilating or some medical emergency. No. I'm fine. And we were laughing.)

And at the end of the road, nothing to do but lean on the fence and look out into the ocean. None of the international volunteers can see home from this direction... we're facing south and no one here is from Antarctica.