Friday, December 04, 2009

Day 5: More Religious and Artistic Adventures

After a restless night due to a party going on upstairs in our building (to which I was NOT invited), we drank cups of coffee with our fresh croissants and a cold slice of quiche I bought for breakfast. Although we had already been to Notre-Dame, we had had to leave right after Mass so we opted to start our day there and finish enjoying all the little side chapels.

My favorite part of the Cathedral by far is a little round painting in the ceiling right over the main altar. It depicts Our Lady against a blue starry background. The medieval simplicity of it was delightful and I just sat and gazed at it until my neck was killing me and I got dizzy. Unfortunately, the church was too dark to take a good photograph so bare memory will have to suffice.

One thing we missed seeing the first time around at Notre-Dame was the treasury. We had to pay a few euros to get in but it was well worth it, despite the advice of shoestring (and irreligious) travel guru Rick Steves. The treasury was filled with ornate gold reliquaries dating between the 11th and 17th centuries, St. Louis' white robe and religious chain, huge wooden vestment cabinets painted with colorful scenes from St. Louis' life, and a collection of tiny ivory cameos of every Pope from St. Peter to Pope Benedict XVI. All but the most recent six cameos, made to complete the collection last year, were anonymously gifted to the Cathedral. Simply beautiful.

Above: The baptismal robe of King Louis IX, aka St. Louis

The folding doors of the vestment wardrobe, painted with scenes from the life of St. Louis

Outside Notre-Dame, we found the outlines in stone of the church that Clovis originally built on the site, one that held St. Genevieve's tomb for awhile. Also in the courtyyard of the Cathedral is a stone that marks the very center of Paris.

Statues of the Kings of Judah on the outside of Notre-Dame. The heads are modern reproductions; the originals were destroyed during the French Revolution when they were mistaken for French kings. However, you can still see the originals in the Medieval Museum at Cluny.

We continued to walk around Notre-Dame, past the sobering Memorial de la Deportation erected in memory of the Jewish people killed during WWII, and across the bridge to the Ile St. Louis, by far my the most charming spot in all of Paris. We got some of their famous ice cream (mine was chocolate and hazelnut) and walked up and down the r. St. Louis to do some serious window shoping. The streets are lovely: street performers play music and visiters enjoy open air cafes. There are signs on store windows though: don't dare to bring your delicious ice cream cones inside!

Point Zero in Paris, and our feet.

Another bridge took us back to the mainland, where our next stop was to be the Centre Georges Pompidou, a modern art gallery that most Parisians detest because it is an eyesore with its daring exposed ductwork and exterior escalators. But while we walked we stopped to visit two churches, St. Gervais, whose organ was used by the famous Couperin dynasty, and St. Merri, originally a beloved parish church that is now sadly - tragically - delapidated and now houses more pigeons and homeless than worshippers. Jesus was there, only signalled by the burning lamp. It made me cry; a church should never be so abandoned. It gave me a taste of what a dusty, cobwebbed soul must be like when a man has forgotten the King of His Heart and shoved him in a dark corner.

At the Pompidou, Mommy and I picked our way amongst sunbathers in the courtyard (yes, sunbathers) to the entrace, rode the escalators, peered at the library that was Mommy's old haunt, and finally wandered into the galleries of Picasos and other works upstairs. I am particularly fond of modern sculpture, and found one piece to be most telling: an empty frame with twine and labels tied around it, signifying (to me anyway) how art is mostly labels and trimmings these days, without any real substance or soul.

Mommy was really tired at this point, so she gave me the map and went back to rest. I got my bearings for another sidewalk-bonding session, and walked a rather long way to the Louvre. The Louvre began its life as the second palace of the French kings after they left the Conciergerie, and only later became an art museum. As with most other French buildings (Notre-Dame, Versailles, La Conciergerie, and Sainte Chapelle to name a few), it was at one point going to be razed and was only narrowly saved by a few far-seeing persons who donated money to save it. The new entrance - it wasn't there when Mommy lived in Paris - was very nice, with big cafe's, shops and staircases that were quite pleasing to the eye.

My feet were already killing me and I am not a huge fan of paintings, so I picked a few things to see. I made sure to walk through the Egyptian, Green and Roman galleries (I found Celeste's temple of Zeus and the Venus de Milo) and the medeival and Italian Renaissance galleries (I found some of my favorite religious paintings of St. Francis of Assisi and the Madonna). And, of course, I saw the Mona Lisa. Why is she so famous? I am sure I can't tell you. In my opinion the painting is sort of small and there are far prettier portraits in the gallery. But I took my photo (photos are allowed in French museums) and moved on.

It was hard to decide to be more impressed by the artwork or the fact that the French royals once lived here with their entire court. I don't think I would have minded living there. It was fun to imagine artists lazing around the galleries where the art is now displayed, artists that more often than not were like leeches on the crown.

I took the metro back via the Louvre stop, accessible in the basement of the museum at the center of the basement shopping mall, complete with a Starbucks. I met Mommy back at the room, and we went out for dinner at a creperie near r. Montorguiel. It was a nice place with a family atmosphere. We each bought two crepes, one for dinner and one for dessert. My dinner was one made with egg, cheese, ham and sweet onion, and the dessert one was a chocolate (yay!) crepe with whipped cream.

The Friday night parties had already started on r. Montmartre as we walked home. It looked to be another loud night in our apartment building. We called home to talk to family in the U.S. and went to bed.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Day 4: Who is Buried in Napolean's Tomb?

Above: Our apartment building on r. Montmartre

After my morning walk to the bakery for croissants and (this time) a scrumptious chocolat almande, Mommy and I enjoyed coffee and breakfast in our apartment. The French do not sell cream or half-and-half for your coffee; rather, they sell bottles of "demi-creme" that are more syrupy than milky. We tried that for a couple of days and decided that we had better just buy plain milk instead. There is nothing like French milk in your coffee, smooth and thick. In Parisian laid-back fashion, we relished our breakfast before hitting the sidewalk for a rather chilly day of sightseeing.

(The metro stop at Bourse)

We came out of the metro right in front of Les Invalides, the huge veterans' hospital built by Louis XIV which now houses in part an Army Museum in addition to a contemporary military hospital. For a few hours, we ooed and ahed over an enormous collection of armour, weaponry, and artillery pieces from the middle ages through WWII. This museum was the one place I was told I simply had to see by friends in the Fort McHenry Guard. The collection is truly a royal one that must be worth billions of dollars.

The imposing inner courtyard of Les Invalides

A magnificent display of armour in the Musee de L'Armee

A priest's uniform from WWI

At the center of Les Invalides was our next stop, Napolean's Tomb. The chapel is split into two halves by a glass windowpane in the center, on either side of which are grand altars. Originally, Louis XIV built the chapel so that he could attend private Masses there knowing that his army was nearby, in their own chapel on the other side of a glass divider. Now, with the focal point of the king's side of the chapel being the magnificent tomb of the emperor, all that is left to testify to Louis are the sun carvings and the "L"s carved in the stone all over the walls and ceiling.

The dome/ceiling of the king's chapel at Les Invalides

Napolean has long been a favorite fascination of mine for his brilliant military innovations and for his involvement in a period of history when the Church owned land and fought wars. I am fairly certain that, had I been alive, Napolean would have fallen in love with me over Josephine. ;)

The Emperor Napolean

Before leaving Les Invalides, we visited the veteran's chapel "on the other side" of the glass where the veterans still attend Mass. The upper ceiling is lined with captured enemy flags, dusty and mainly gray with age, a testament to the valiant Frenchmen who fought and continue to fight in service of their country. The rest of the chapel was sparsely decorated, but I thought the muted tones of the stonework and the way the light played around the chapel was breathtaking. It was one of my two favorite churches that we visited in Paris.

The veteran's chapel at Les Invalides

Mommy was getting tired, so she took the metro to the Champs-Elysees while I walked to meet her there. I must say I *adore* walking around the streets of Paris, drinking in the sights of people and places and getting in touch with the pulse of the city through the sidewalks. I could do it for the rest of my life! On my way to the world-famous avenue, I loitered on the grandiose Pont Alexandre III (built in honor of the Franco-Prussian alliance) and waved to boat captains in their cargo ships on the Seine before going on my way. I got twisted around and ended up at Pl. de la Concorde with its obelisk. I had no idea where I was until I noticed that everyone around me was taking picture of something in the opposite direction. I turned around, and there in front of me, down the Champs-Elysees, was the magnificent Arc de Triomphe.

Then I realized I was standing in the middle of the road and had to make a mad dash for the sidewalk.

Pont Alexandre III

The Champs-Elysees was fun for window shopping (Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Renault are a few of the stores that line the avenue) but there were too many people for it to be truly enjoyable. Possibly the most amusing experience was walking into the Gucci store - not to buy, but to say that I had been inside - and I overheard an English gentleman apologetically telling his female companion about the Gucci keychains ($80 each!): "Honey, just pick three." When I found Mommy, we went to a sidewalk cafe for cafe au lait, a pignelle (for Mommy) and a pain suisse (for me). Then we continued to the Arc de Triomphe.

The Arc de Triomphe, seen from the Champs-Elysees

At the Arc, begun but not finished by Napolean in honor of his military victories, I got to flirt with a group of dashing French soldiers (with their HUGE gold epaulets) in between taking pictures from the top of the Arc of sprawling Paris below and visiting the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Mommy went back to the room when we were done, and I walked back down the Champs-Elysees before catching a metro back myself. The metro trains are interesting because you have the added excitement of having to manually flip a latch to open the doors on the train. I ran right into several train doors before I remembered that they weren't automatic.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

For dinner, I went and bought quiche for the two of us on r. Montorgueil. Bon Appetit!

Paris from the top of the Arc de Triomphe

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Day 3: Beauty, Passion, Religion, Justice and History

I woke up bright and early and braved the morning chill to run down to one of the local bakeries (boulangeries), Pâtisserie Traiteur, to buy two fresh croissants and a pain suisse. I think I was wholly addicted to French baked goods at first bite; I don't believe I will ever forget my first mouthful of flaky, buttery croissant. While I went to the bakery, Mommy made coffee and we enjoyed our first French breakfast before heading out into the city.
In our search for a phone the night before, we found a métro stop, Bourse, that was much closer than that recommended by Giovanni. We took the métro to pl. du Châtelet - my première glimpse of downtown Paris - to start a walking tour. To my delight, Mommy had picked out a fabulous series of books of walking tours of Paris before our trip. You could see the medieval towers of La Conciergerie across the bridge from pl. du Châtelet where we stood at the fountain surrounded by stone sphinx. We strolled down quai de la megisserie and back again, looking in pet store windows at adorable puppies and smelling flowers outside florists' shops, ironically on a street that used be lined by butcher shops.

Next, we crossed the bridge to visit La Conciergerie. Originally the palace of the French kings, it was vacated by the royal family after one king endured the scarring episode of seeing his ministers' throats slit when he was (unsuccessfully) attacked there during an (equally passionate but unsuccessful) uprising. The sturdy medieval building was then converted to a prison for use during the Revolution, when Robespierre presided over trials where the kings used to dine. Marie Antoinette was also held there until her death - you can see her "apartments" - and Robespierre spend a few of his final hours there before he was taken elsewhere to die, crushed by the unstoppable machinery of the Revolution.On our way out, we found out from a Jason-Statham-esque "bouncer" that Sainte Chapelle was close for an hour or two. So we continued on our walking tour via a cafe nearby, where we paused for café au lait.We crossed Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris dating to the medieval period, to the Île de la Cite. We meandered through the streets, peeking into shop windows and thouroughly enjoying the quiet parks. Finally, we visited the very tip of the île, a park called pl. Dauphine, before heading back to Sainte Chapelle to stand in line.

Sainte Chapelle was absolutely incredible, with its "light as a feather" Gothic architecture and four walls of nearly floor to ceiling stained glass telling the story of the Pentateuch. St. Louis built the chapelle to house the relics of the crown of thorns that Christ wore, which are now housed in Notre Dame. In stark contrast with the "Sun King" who built his chapel at Versailles in two levels so the court would always be worshipping him worshipping God, there is a hole in the wall of Sainte Chapelle through which you can see the private chapel where he and his family used to sit for Mass. There was no way to fully soak in the beauty of the windows.On our way our we stopped by the modern-day court of law, the Palais de Justis, where lawyers in black robes rushed about with briefcases and cell phones. I wish professionals were distinguished be such honors in the United States; only doctors of medicine wear special clothes. There is one large statue in the main hall of the Palais of a lawyer with a turtle, to symbolize the pace of the legislative process.We walked past the Préfecture du Police on our way to la Crypte Archéologique outside of Notre-Dame. The crypt contains what is left of the Roman ruins of Paris, ruins of the medieval Norman city, and of St. Vincent de Paul's home for foundlings. One of the things that impressed me was the Roman presence in the city, marked by the majestic Roman baths. The power of the Roman Empire was incredible; it just fascinates me that you can see exactly the same style baths in England, France, and Italy amongst other places in Europe. Regardless, if you want a decent history of Paris from the Celtic tribe of Parisii, Clovis and the Normans up to the 17th century, the crypt is a fabulous place to start. It houses awesome little panoramas of the changing scenery of Paris over the centuries.Notre-Dame itself was breathtaking. After spending so much time in England where the Catholic churches were either taken over by Protestants or are too poor to have centuries of dust cleaned off the walls, it was refreshing to see a living, breathing Catholic church in Europe. There were posters for the Year of the Priest along the side corridor, priests hearing Confessions in several languages, and worship continuing as usual despite thousands of visitors. After walking around to look at the place where Mommy was a Shrine-lurker in college, we stayed for Vespers and Mass.We swung by the Hôtel Dieu, a huge public hospital, on our way to the metro. Back at the room, we enjoyed a baguette and cheese from the local cheese-shop (fromagerie) for dinner before falling asleep.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Day 2: Settling into Parisian Life

We arrived at CDG airport in Paris at 8:00AM. While waiting for our luggage, I got to gorge myself on the sight of fashionable Parisians, wearing boots, leggings, layers of necklaces, scarves, and gorgeous overcoats. We caught the shuttle to the train terminal, stood in line for what seemed like forever for RER tickets, and finally got on the train headed for Paris proper.

Tired, we got to the metro stop near our apartment and recommended by our rental place. But we were an hour or so late in arriving and could not find Giovanni (the landlord) anywhere and instead had to search high and low for a phone to call him. Eventually we called home because we were having trouble making local calls, and Celeste called Giovanni to tell him we were waiting outside the apartment building.

He met us outside and showed us up the creaky stairs – two flights – to our apartment. It
was a one-room place, with a kitchenette, a bathroom, and a very clean shower (!). He
gave me the keys, I gave him a security deposit, and we were left alone to relax and regroup.
Since we were exhausted, we decided to explore the local scene on Rue Montorgeuil. On that charming street are bakeries, fromageries, poissoneries, a supermarché, and several cafés. It was very lively, mostly populated by Parisians who do not speak much English.We bought quiche (Mommy had quiche lorraine and I had saumon) and café au lait for a light dinner, did our grocery shopping, and went back to the apartment, 36 r. Montmartre, apt. 9, to unpack and enjoy an early bedtime.

Paris Day 1: In the Air

It was the morning after a wonderful, albeit draining, Defender’s Day weekend. At around 4AM, I dragged myself – still achy from hauling benches and tables from the tavern to the Fort - out of bed, drank my token two cups of coffee, and literally threw the rest of my stuff into my suitcase. Daddy had taken the day off to help us get out the door, and he and the girls dropped Mommy and I off at the airport in D.C. Everyone was a little sad, especially Mommy, but excited at the same time.

Our flights, from Washington to Philly and from Philly to Paris, were mercifully uneventful. While in Philly, we spent a few hours at the USO lounge on the recommendation of my Aunt V., which was very nice. I had an interesting conversation with a tall, imposing African American man who I later discovered was a three-star general. Also, to add a little excitement, our gate was changed from one end of the airport to the other in Philadelphia so Mommy rode in the cart and I ran. Finally in line for our flight, we met some nice elderly people on their way to Normandy.

In-flight entertainment included “The Proposal”, “Star Trek”, and “Monsters, Inc.”. Embarrassingly, I did fall asleep for an hour or so whilst watching “Star Trek”. But it was fitful and I eventually gave up on sleeping.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Day 9: Taronga Zoo and the SOH

Once again, Celeste and I were up bright and early to greet the Australian morning. I said good morning to my new bathroom-line friends, the French priests, between whom I stood for the second morning in a row. They gave me very strange looks and continued their own conversation, apparently holding my French accent against me.

This morning we headed down to Circular Quay to take the ferry to Taronga Zoo. This was to be our first ferry ride in Sydney. Freezing cold wind and rain ripped right through us while we stood on the dock, and it was then I decided I was going to have to buy a pair of gloves soon or die. Still in shock with cold, we met two women who volunteered at the zoo and they recommended some shows and exhibits to us.

It must be amazing to commute by ferry as so many people do in Sydney! That is one thing that I love about that city; I would almost want to live there just to take the ferry all the time. This particular ferry route took us around the Sydney Opera House and straight to Taronga Zoo. Like other forms of public transportation in Sydney, the ferry was quite nice, with three floors, a café, and interior heating.

The weather was still nasty when we arrived at Taronga, and would remain so the rest of the morning. After making sure to get our pilgrim discounts at the ticket counter, we zipped through the practically empty zoo in about two hours. I was so excited to see a platypus! The creatures are extremely shy, and we had to walk back to the cage several times and wait before we actually spied one, hiding under a log in its swampy environment.

Finally, wet to the bone, we decided to take the Skycar – a little suspended car that takes you back and forth over the zoo – up and down the zoo before we left. It was amazing to see everything from above. We ran from the zoo exit to the ferry and climbed aboard. Half an hour later, we met the cousins at Starbucks and all warmed up over cups of hot coffee and warm scones while we made plans for the rest of the day.
Our next stop was the Sydney Opera House. Since the day was fine and sunny now, we mulled around the outside a while and took pictures before buying tickets for a tour of the inside. The inside of the Opera House is just as magnificent as the outside, despite the fact that the building is so recent that construction is still ongoing. Approximately 85% of the SOH is finished inside; the rest has yet to be torn apart and done according to the original visionaries' plans.

My list of ideas for sightseeing that I put together before the trip included a Ghost Walk at Manly Quarantine Station, and everyone thought it would be an excellent evening for it. Thus we caught the ferry to Manly together. Everyone was starving by the time we arrived, so we wandered about the boardwalk until we found a kebab place. The little eatery was run by a Kurdish guy and his parents (who used to own a Mexican restaurant), and we decided to eat there when they could indeed tell us where the Ghost Tour met every night. I ordered pide (my new favorite) and proceeded to leave a rather large tip: I left my entire bag of souvenirs from the SOH under the table and never was able to retrieve them!

The last bus of the evening took us from the Manly Wharf to the Quarantine Station and dropped us there. The bus stop was in the middle of nowhere, and it was pitch black, cold, and rainy. I wondered what on earth the "Quarantine Station" was...a field? A wood? Anyway, we saw a shed peering out of the dark and made our way inside to escape the cold and figure out what to do next. To our chagrin we found out, from a brochure laying on the floor inside the shed, that the ghost tours were by appointment only and one needed to call ahead of time. While we gathered our thoughts and tried to devise a plan to get back to town without a bus, we wandered around the dark shed looking at huge horrific photographs of people with smallpox lining the walls.

The Quarantine Station, we read on the plaques by the one suspended and bare lightbulb in the middle of the shed, was where crowded ships were diverted and landed when there was the suspicion of a smallpox outbreak on board. All passengers were unloaded and herded like cattle into huge and painful acid showers in an attempt to "decontaminate" them. After this ordeal, everyone was forced to stay at the station under quarantine for at least three weeks, all within sight of their final destination, the city of Sydney. Apparently, both the acid showers and the hospital are well known for the high levels of "paranormal" activity that takes place there.

Sufficiently creeped out and cold at this point, we wondered what on earth we were going to do. I wandered outside and just looked out into the blackness, blaming myself for getting my cousins into this mess. Suddenly, a man walked out of the dark and gave me an awful start! He was quite friendly, said hello, and asked if I needed any help; his name was Robert and according to his name tag he was a shuttle driver at the Station. Once I had my wits about me again, I told him what our situation was and he offered to give us all a bus tour of the place in his little shuttle bus, *and* to drive us back to town afterwards. We accepted and climbed aboard the bus.

"Robert the Bus Driver" showed us around the Quarantine Station for about an hour an a half, and even let us into the museum for a run-through and the acid showers to "feel the paranormal activity". It was really creepy and cold in there...I made myself out of the showers. Brrr. Celeste hid her face in my arm when we got back on the bus she was so frightened.

On the way back to town, Robert told us about the actual Ghost Walk, where you walk around the place accompanied by a medium! We looked at each other in horror: I had no idea that was part of the Walk. Praise God we missed it! It was definitely Providence that helped us out of that one. How horrible that would have been.

Robert dropped us off at the wharf, we all bid a fond goodbye, and we headed back to Randwick and warm sleeping bags. The French and Malaysians were gone and we had the entire physical therapy room to ourselves, so Steven stayed with us on the floor.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


I am going away for the weekend, so "Day 8" will be the last post until Monday. Stay tuned! :)

Day 8: The Blue Mountains

I was up and about before the sun on our first real day as tourists rather than pilgrims. Apparently French clergy also wake up at ungodly hours, because I found myself in line to wash up between two French priests. But even they needed their cup of coffee in the morning, something they hadn’t had as yet or so I surmised from their remarks au Francais to one another over my head.

After I was ready, I roused Celeste and went to breakfast in the cafeteria while I waited for her. We ate a quick meal of Wheetabix, prunes, and toast and were off to the bus stop, proudly wearing our brightly colored WYD backpacks and with a bounce in our step. Because we were still unfamiliar with the bus route, we ended up getting off a little ways before our stop and had to walk the rest of the way to the YHA (Youth Hostel Australia) where we were told to meet our tourbus.

Our tourguide, John, a middle-aged man with long gray hair he pulled back into a ponytail, sunglasses, and a gentle Aussie accent, picked us up about half an hour late to take us to the Blue Mountains for the day. On our way out of the city, he picked up a group of pilgrims from Texas, a group from Brazil, and a guy from NC who was just visiting Sydney on his way to the outback. The merry group completed, we continued the two hour drive out to the foothills of the Blue Mountains, a World Heritage Site.

Why are the Blue Mountains blue? No one seems to know. The name is misleading as well, since the Blue Mountains are not mountains at all, but a plateau full of eroded gorges. And the site is not simply a geological beauty; the plateau has a thick layer of coal throughout the gorges, the remnant of the lush tropical rainforests that used to cover New South Wales. A large amount of coal exported from Australia is mined in the Blue Mountains.

Upon our arrival in the foothills, we all got out of the van to stretch our legs a bit. To our delight we spied two adult kangaroos grazing on grass along the edges of the wood where we stopped. We were able to get pretty close (about four feet away) from the creatures. It was my first glimpse of a real-life kangaroo and I must admit I was really excited! One of the ‘roos even had a joey in the pouch, which was absolutely adorable.

When the kangaroos had hopped away, John led us over to a low wooden table where he had set out supplies for coffee and tea: hot water, instant coffee, tea bags, sugar and milk. He told us about the different kinds of wildlife in the area while we finished waking up. Then we were back in the van and off to the top of the plateau, via a deli where most of us bought sandwiches for lunch.

At the top, John split us up into two groups, one that would continue in the van for the next three hours, and one that would follow Dennis (another tourguide who met us at this point) for a three-hour hike down into one of the gorges and back up again. Both Celeste and I were in this latter group, along with some of the Texans, the realtor from NC, and all the Brazilians. Soon enough we were off at a fast clip down the side of the gorge.

We enjoyed a lively three hours eating berries from the bushes along the trail, snapping pictures of strange plants, chatting with the North Carolinian about his trip and with the Texans (who seemed to think I was in high school), and simply taking in the waterfalls, cliffs, and other sights we encountered along the way. It was at about this point that one of the Brazilians – the only one who spoke relatively good English – started flirting with me. We hit it off pretty well, I would say, despite the language barrier. (Below: my Brazilian friend)

Tired but happy, we eventually met up with John again and his van. The drive back to Sydney seemed long, perhaps only because I was falling asleep the whole time. I couldn’t believe how cold it was outside! How strange to leave the United States during summer and visit Sydney in the wintertime. I never thought I’d be wearing a heavy coat and scarf in July. (Below: The famous Three Sisters rock formation in the Blue Mountains)

We climbed out of the van in Sydney, and I was promptly stopped by my delighted Brazilian friend who alighted at the same stop. He invited me out for dinner and drinks, but alas! I didn’t feel right bringing Celeste wherever he wanted to go and was forced to turn down his offer. I consoled him by giving him my contact info, and Leste and I made our way to the local McDonalds for a cheap (thanks to the free passes handed out for WYD), quick dinner. I suppose we could have gone on to the convent for dinner, but neither of us relished the idea of serving 200 French pilgrims again so soon.

We rolled back into the convent at around 9PM and went to bed. I think I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow! (Wait – what pillow?) Our cousins were nowhere to be found, having gone to a show that night at the Lyric.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Day 7: Spoons and Darling Harbor

Everyone slept in a bit this morning in an attempt to recover from the night/day at Randwick on Saturday. The girls were off of school until Thursday, so when we were finished breakfast Celeste and I rolled up our sleeves to teach our host family a new game: spoons! Ah, the delights of spoons. I treasure fond memories of spoons tournaments at family reunions, sometimes resulting in dramatics injuries. Thankfully, our host family was less – may I say? – violent and no one was hurt. They were kind enough to compliment us on our excellent card-shuffling skills as well.

After the spoons game, we bid our “Australian family” farewell and Alma drove us to the train station with all our baggage. We took the train to Central Station, and hopped on a bus from there that would take us out to the Little Sisters of the Poor convent right next door (practically!) to Randwick Racecourse.

The residence/convent in Randwick was huge and they had about 240 pilgrims from France and Brazil staying there when we arrived. We deposited our things in a linen closet until the Sisters could find somewhere for us to sleep, and we followed Sister Julie (from Washington DC) to the kitchen where she promised to find us some lunch. One of the volunteers, a wonderful lady named Anita, gave us some food which we quickly ate before offering our assistance in serving the roughly one hundred hungry French pilgrims who had just come into the cafeteria.

An hour and a great deal of running around later, Celeste and I grabbed our little backpacks and caught the bus back to downtown Sydney to run some errands. Since our transport passes only extended through 7/21, the first thing on my list was to buy week-long combo tickets for unlimited bus, train, and ferry rides. Praise God, the woman at the ticket window was very patient and helped me choose the cheapest ticket option (which only cost $43) rather than the one I planned to buy which cost $180 per person. What a lifesaver!

While we were trying to decide what to do with the rest of our afternoon, Celeste snapping pictures of the Harbor and me wading through the dozens of maps and brochures I had collected, our cousins called. They had dropped their luggage off at the convent earlier in the morning, had by now finished their errands, and wanted to meet. We selected a meeting spot near the wharves and were soon a happy group of five (Steven was too tired and stayed back at the convent). Meanwhile, Rob called (three times for 30 seconds each!) and wanted to meet up with us as well. The Walkers wanted to do some souvenir shopping at the Hyde Park WYD tent, so I told Rob we would meet him there.

I snapped pictures of the fountain and was startled out of my wits by a curious policeman peering over my shoulder; Celeste continued to absentmindedly take pictures of everything around her; and the Walkers went shopping. Eventually, Rob met up with us – much to his dismay, he was the only guy with Steven out of action – and we decided that dinner would be an excellent idea. Off we went to Darling Harbor to find something to eat.

Without too much difficulty, we found a place on the Harbor with reasonably-priced meat pies (famous in Australia) and secured a table. The back-and-forth between five women and the one guy at the table was quite amusing, and Rob held his own stunningly. When we were finished we walked around Darling a bit until Anne remembered that she needed to buy hairpins. Rob groaned – he is constantly teasing about female shopping habits – and accompanied us to Woolworths to find the hairpins. Rob and I meandered about the store awhile, catching up on CUA news, and Rob tracked down some saline solution for our contact lenses since we had (ridiculously) forgotten to pack any. (Below: dinner at Darling Harbor!)

At this point Rob split off from the group and headed back to the hostel where he was staying, and the rest of us headed back to the convent. Our things had been moved the physical therapy room, where we all spent the night cozily on the floor with forty other girls from France and Spain. Ah the joys of being a WYD pilgrim!