Monday, August 17, 2015

Hello, Sydney!

We knew Sydney would be great, but we were surprised at the size and pace of this beautiful city. Our commute from the airport to the hotel turned out to be a little more complicated than we expected. After three train transfers with luggage in hand we finally arrived at our hotel and were thrilled with the location! Not only was the location great, but we were greeted by a very friendly staff, which we are quickly learning is the Australian way. We are a three- minute walk from Darling Harbor so we had to check it out right away. You wouldn’t believe all the restaurants along the harbor walk!

The locals suggested that we check out Paddy’s Market so we just had to do it. The market was filled
with all kinds of souvenirs and food. It made Soulard Market look very small. We both agreed that this would be a must-see for the girls and they would probably want to spend hours there. It was a beautiful, sunny, winter day so we decided to walk around the Chinese Garden. This was a nice relaxing break from the busy city life. We ended the day at St. Mary’s Cathedral for the evening youth Mass. We thought the girls might enjoy this.

We saw these bright red double decker buses
going around the city so we decided to do a little research. They were sight seeing buses that took tourists all over Sydney. We bought tickets and throughout the day we had easy transportation and great photo opps. This was also a great way for us to take inventory of all the attractions and decide what the girls might enjoy. One of the routes included an excursion to Bondi Beach. At this point we were willing to do anything to get warm! There was no doubt in our minds that the girls would enjoy watching the many surfers in the water. When our tour ended it was clear to us that it was really a RUSH hour as we noticed hundreds of people waiting to get on buses.

We knew our time here in Sydney was limited so we decided to split up for a little bit. While Mrs.
Mullen went on the Harbor Bridge climb, Mr. Smith had to entertain himself for three and a half hours. The bridge climb was a great experience and Mrs. Mullen was so glad that she did it. It was exhilarating to see the entire city from such heights. Mr. Smith decided to tour the Sydney Opera House, but sadly they weren’t holding any auditions. Once we met up once again it was time to eat and the server convinced us to try the local delicacy. And so we thought about the saying “When in Rome…” and we looked at each other and said “When in Australia…” And so….we ate kangaroo pizza. We agreed that we won’t be requesting it in the UA cafeteria, but it was a good local experience. Our night ended with great shopping.

As it turned out our trip on the big red bus included a second day that was a tour on the water. We
made several stops throughout Sydney Harbor, but the highlight was Watson’s Bay. Doyle’s Restaurant came highly recommended. If you like seafood, this is the place for you. You should have seen Mr. Smith’s face while Mrs. Mullen was peeling off the shrimp heads and enjoying every bite of it. Just when we thought we couldn’t take any more great pictures, we walked up a path to some beautiful views of the cliffs on the Ocean.

This trip has been better than we could have ever
imagined. Time and again we commented to each other about how friendly, hospitable and genuinely happy everyone seems here. We have some great ideas for activities with the students and enjoyed our visit with our new friends at St. Ursula’s college. We can’t wait to bring our students here next time. The Australians have taught us well. Our flight home is a bit delayed and we know there is a great deal of work to be done to start the school year on Monday, but both of us looked at each other and said, “No worries.”
-Mike Smith and Joni Mullen

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Next stop- Brisbane

Just when we thought we had seen it all, we began another exciting adventure. While Melbourne reminded us of a European city, Brisbane took on more of a cosmopolitan feel similar to that of New York or Chicago. We picked the perfect time to walk down to the river. There were joggers, bicyclists, walkers, skateboarders, and many more active people. There was a beautiful bridge with purple lights. This was the perfect photo opportunity that we knew the girls would just love. The key was trying to take pictures without crashing into someone, especially since the other side of the sidewalk is the favored one. We had to hurry since the sunset comes much faster in the winter. We left there while it was dark and walked to find a Thai restaurant that was recommended by our new friends from St. Ursula’s. We walked into what we found out was the wrong restaurant so Mr. Smith was “thrilled” when we got up and left. The correct restaurant was just on the next block. The food turned out to be much spicier than we thought, but it didn’t matter because we were surrounded by these wonderful, friendly people once again along with plenty of water.

The next day started with a walk down by the river to catch a ferry that was headed to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Little did we know that we were about to see over a hundred koalas and kangaroos throughout the park. The highlights included holding the koalas and feeding the kangaroos. Thankfully the koala cooperated because the guide told us that she was a cranky old lady and it was getting towards the end of her shift. The kangaroos were all resting but we decided to go over towards them anyway. We shook the bags of food and one of them walked our way and she was hungry! Everything was fine and dandy until a jeep drove by and all the kangaroos jumped up at once. We froze for a moment and wondered if we were going to be part of the stampede. It was so spectacular and scary at the same time. That could only happen in Australia! We had a great day and our fun concluded with a ride on the South Bank ferris wheel giving us beautiful views of Brisbane at night.

No trip to Brisbane is complete without an expedition to the Gold Coast. An hour-long train ride followed by a bus transfer that took us to one of the most beautiful beaches that we had ever seen. There were plenty of great restaurants and stores for shopping. We saw surfers and tourists getting surfing lessons and there was a class of high school-age girls learning to surf. Not one of them actually got up on the board, but they were having a great time. No wonder it was called Surfers’ Paradise. We still can’t get over how friendly everyone is here. We got on the bus to head back to the train station and the bus driver just let us get on for free. It must have been our accent.

-Mike Smith and Joni Mullen

Friday, August 7, 2015

Making Connections

We were picked up from our apartment by Ann Marie and we headed straight to St. Ursula’s College. We were so excited to finally visit our sister school. It’s amazing how we can be almost 10,000 miles away from home and yet feel right at home as soon as we walked through those doors. We were greeted and embraced as though they had been waiting a long time for us Americans. The charism and spirit of St. Angela is very evident here. We walked through the halls and everyone greeted us with smiles and hellos along the way. We were served a delicious breakfast in the boarders’ cafeteria and we were quite impressed.

After we ate breakfast we were led around the school by Molly, a junior (or “year -11” student in Australia). She took us around and gave us a great perspective of what it would be like for a student at St. Ursula’s College. We went into classrooms and the students and teachers were so warm and welcoming. They stopped and let us talk with them and take pictures. They immediately knew that we were from America because of our accent and yet we still feel as though they are the ones who have the accent. We both felt as though we were back at home at Ursuline because in so many ways the students reminded us of our own. We heard some music over the intercom and then it was time for tea.

The students and teachers all took a 20-minute break from classes and had snacks while catching up with each other. We were pleasantly surprised to see that nachos were available during tea time. For a moment, we thought we were back in St. Louis. The students all found places to go outside. The co-workers all gathered together in a lovely space for snacks and tea or coffee. We discovered “white tea” (hot tea with milk) and now we must have it with every meal. After tea time we left the school and toured Toowoomba with Karen, the global education coordinator. We went to the Queens Garden and walked around to see the beautiful palm trees and various flowers which were getting ready to bloom in September. We stopped by an art gallery which had art by aboriginal artists. The artwork was quite colorful and unique. Each piece had its own story. The manager Rosie was very big on us experiencing the art through touch as well as sight. We sensed her enthusiasm and passion from the moment we walked in to the gallery. After that we went to lunch at Picnic Point which had spectacular views looking down from the range. God blessed us with a beautiful clear sky.

We then took a drive to the “Uni” a.k.a. University to see higher education in Australia. Our night ended with a journey in the St. Ursula’s van to Morangadan for dinner. We were pleasantly surprised that our dinner included an evening with some Japanese co-workers from St. Ursula in Hachinohe, Japan. Even though there was a language barrier our common Ursuline connection combined with the massive quantity of food on each plate soon brought laughter and smiles among us. Suddenly the phrase “build community wherever you go” became very real for us.

Our next day at St. Ursula’s began with Ann Marie, the principal, picking us up again. (Neither one of us has completely adjusted to driving on the other side of the street, let alone driving on the other side of the car.) She has gone above and beyond making us feel welcome. Although she was out late with us last night, she was there bright and early this morning. She brought us to school and we were once again embraced by the warm and friendly atmosphere. We are so impressed with how friendly everyone seems to be in this country. People go out of their way to help us wherever we go. We were invited to be part of the year-11 retreat in their chapel. It was amazing to witness the similarities in our students and their retreat experience. The retreat leader was dynamic and we were impressed with how engaged the students were. After the morning of the retreat we had tea time and conversation with the Principal once again. After finishing our “white tea” we exchanged some gifts and we were sad to say good-bye, but we know that we never really say good-bye. Ann Marie drove us to the bus station and we parted ways. Even though we were together for just 48 short hours we felt such a strong connection to our mission and our new friends at St. Ursula’s College. We continued our journey to our next stop of Brisbane.

-Mike Smith and Joni Mullen

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Scenic Route

Our next day began with a walk to the spectacular Victoria Market. We shopped around and chatted with a variety of vendors. Everyone here is so friendly and we left there with a map in our hands which is pretty typical for us on the streets. A couple stopped us and asked if we needed any help finding anything. We chatted about finding an arcade and somewhere to eat, and they mentioned going to a café at the Block Arcade. It turned out that we picked a perfect place to eat because we told the waiter we needed to get to the airport in an hour. He was very accommodating by bringing our food out rather quickly. Usually we order and wait a bit and they never rush us even if others are waiting for a table. The Australians never bring our bill unless we ask first. We have relaxing meals and never feel the need to rush. We left our hotel for the airport and said good-bye to Melbourne. It was sad to leave such a beautiful city, but we were excited to see what our next city would have in store. We had a two-hour flight to Brisbane and stayed in a nearby hotel. We went to sleep early to prepare ourselves for the next day in Toowoomba.

The next morning we were excited to get picked up by Ann Marie Pawsey, the Principal of St. Ursula’s College. She was so friendly and hospitable all along our journey. She decided to take us along the scenic route through the beautiful Gold Coast. The views were absolutely breathtaking. We had lunch at the surfers’ club. She said there are normally many surfers in the water, but that was not the case today. We had a two-hour drive to Toowoomba and enjoyed our conversation along the way. We are already discovering our common Ursuline connections. As soon as we arrived in Toowoomba Ann Marie drove us around St. Ursula’s College. We can’t wait to meet the students and co-workers tomorrow. After we parted we decided to try a Turkish restaurant which she recommended. This was the first Turkish experience for both of us and of course the waitress was friendly and explained everything. We enjoyed the food and the ambiance. The Australian accent definitely added to the experience, but they keep telling us that we’re the ones with the accent!

-Mike Smith and Joni Mullen

Sunday, August 2, 2015

First days in Australia

We arrived in Melbourne, Australia at 7:30am and we didn’t know what wonderful adventures were in store for us. After flying for 21 hours to get here, we decided it was best to stay awake and begin researching ideas in this beautiful city. We headed straight to the Melbourne Visitors’ Center and found that to be extremely helpful. We took the City Circle Tram all around the city and it was awesome. The temperature was definitely chilly as it is winter here. We walked all around and discovered China Town and had lunch there. We also went to the National Gallery of Victoria to explore some art. We visited the Immigration Museum and the Melbourne Aquarium. We spent some time shopping and speaking with a variety of Australians to find out what would be of interest to high school students. The people here are so friendly and helpful. We are loving their accents, although they insist that we are the ones with the accent. After a long day of exploring we came back to the Victoria Hotel located in the heart of the city.

Our second day in Melbourne included a trip to Phillip Island. Our charismatic Australian tour guide, Doug, picked us up first thing in the morning and we ventured on a short journey to the National Wildlife Park. We visited a Trout Farm where we ate lunch that included some freshly caught trout and we walked around the grounds to taste some natural plants and spices. We then went to the Koala Conservation Center and saw many koalas sleeping up in the trees. From there our adventure continued to a kangaroo sanctuary where there were dozens of kangaroos in their natural habitat. The best part was the Penguin Parade at dusk where there were literally hundreds of penguins within arm’s reach. That was truly amazing! When we returned from Phillip Island, we went for some Greek salads at a Greek restaurant.

The next morning started with an outdoor breakfast under the heaters at an outdoor cafe near the city arcades. There are many “arcades” that are filled with cafes and shops. The cappuccino was much better than any Starbucks! From there we completed a walking tour of many other arcades. There is so much great shopping in Melbourne. The chocolate at Haigh’s Chocolates was unlike any other chocolate in the U.S. After that we walked all along the Yarra River and saw beautiful views of the city. We ended up at the Eureka Tower and took the “lift” to the 88th floor where we had spectacular views of the city. We took a few selfies and pictures, but none of the pictures did any justice to the incredible view, and as the Australians would say “no worries”. We ran into a group of girls from a Catholic high school at the top of the tower, and talked with them about other ideas for our students. We ended our day of adventure with Mass at the beautiful St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We were able to participate in the Mass because there was no language barrier. We went to Lygon Street for some Italian food for dinner because we are trying to have a variety of food options.

-Mike Smith and Joni Mullen