Friday, December 8, 2017

Final Down Under Days

We woke to a rainy forecast on Wednesday, which was unwelcome since we planned to visit Bondi Beach. However, as we sat eating breakfast at White Carrots (a cafe in our neighborhood), we noticed that the skies were blue. We decided to go for it! 

We took the bus to Bondi Beach, found some beach towels and sunscreen at a beachside shop, and crossed the street to the popular beach. I’ve never seen waves so tall - at least six feet! 

The water was a stunning blue and the surf dotted with surfers. Camryn and I got into the water, but my stay was short because of the very strong undertow. Eventually lifeguards drove up the beach urging folks to get out of the water.   

After getting a bit of a sunburn, we ate lunch at an Italian sidewalk cafe. While eating the rain finally arrived. Thankfully the tables were covered with a plastic canopy so our meal wasn’t ruined. 

We ended our time at Bondi by visiting the Iceberg Pools, set as close to oceanside as they can get. Children from the area were having swim lessons and swim team practice there - wow, what a place to regularly swim!

On Thursday, our last day together in Sydney, we decided to enjoy a relaxed day shopping for Christmas gifts and souvenirs. After another amazing breakfast at yet another neighborhood cafe (the Rusty Rabbit, our favorite), we went by train to the Queen Victoria Building, a stunning historical building that has been converted into shops and dining. Though a lot of shops were above our price point, we enjoyed looking. It also had wonderful toy shops!

We found a ramen noodle restaurant for a pick-me-up midday before a bit more shopping. Then we headed to Circular Quay to meet our friends from Ransomed Heart for dinner. We ate at a delicious but very noisy German restaurant before walking to the opera house. At night they have a seven minute light projection onto the side of the iconic landmark. 

After some gelato and a train ride home, I somehow managed to pack all of my things - including my purchases - into the same bags I brought over!

This morning, after a final breakfast at the Rusty Rabbit, Leslie and Camryn helped me navigate the train to the international airport station. So convenient, and with Camryn’s help with my luggage, so easy! I had no trouble with security, and am now 10 hours into my 12-1/2 hour flight to LA. From there, I’ll have another flight to DC, where I’ll crash for the night at the Lindsay’s. Then, one Megabus ride and I’ll finally be home with my guys. Cannot wait!!!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


In Wollongong:

At Tops Conference Center...

In Sydney...

In the Royal Botanical Gardens;

A few photos

Leaving Dulles on Monday, November 27.

Only a short walk from our first hotel...the beach in Wollongong.

With my friend Sue at Tops Conference Center in Stanwell Tops.

The three Americans on work crew.

Enjoying the beauty of Stanwell Tops

Leaving our cottage in Darlinghurst on Tuesday morning, December 5...

...started at Harbor Bridge...

...then on to the Sydney Opera House.

A view of the bridge and opera house from our ferry ride on the harbor.


Aussie Observations

After a full day of sightseeing, we returned to our cottage at 8pm and will likely be asleep before 10. Hopefully I’ll conclude this post before my eyes fade. To start, I wanted to mention a few of the lovely things about this country that I’ve enjoyed:

The trees. They are spectacular...on the coast, in this city. Huge gum trees with their smooth white trunks; jacaranda trees bursting with purple blooms; banksia trees with red bottle brush-type flowers and “cones” (notnquite like pine cones); and so many others I’ve never seen before. The landscape along the coast is very lush with flowers, shrubs, and these gorgeous trees.

The food. In addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Aussies enjoy tea mid morning and mid afternoon, which includes tea and some type of pastry or cake. Something else unique (not something I liked) was that they serve a side dish with breakfast that we would never consider adding to our breakfast menu, including baked beans or spaghetti. I saw one lady eating her baco, eggs, and toast with a hearty portion of spaghetti (in a tomato sauce) poured right atop her scrambled eggs.

The pace. Australians overall have seemed very laid back. No one is pushy in the train stations, they are courteous on the sidewalks, and they allow you to linger over meals however long you like. The trains feature “quiet carriages” where talking is not allowed. An introvert thought of this brilliant idea, and it made the train travel so pleasant.

Speaking of train travel...the public transportation. The rail system is easy to
navigate, and the trains are super clean! I know Seth and Reed will argue since they think nothing could ever beat the rail system in Switzerland; however, I think Australia does it. Trains are double decker, have quiet carriages, and are extremely clean. In fact, all of Australia (that I’ve seen) is very clean! Other than trains, there are buses and ferries that one can take around the city, countryside, and harbor.

Today, after breakfast at a charming cafe, we began at Harbor Bridge, and the. We walked to the iconic Opera House. Next, we took a train ride through the Royal Botanical Gardens. Finally, we took the ferry to Manley Beach, located six miles away from Downtown Sydney. There we ate dinner and did.a bit of shopping.

It was a great day exploring this city. Tomorrow we plan to go to Bondi Beach...hoping for weather as beautiful as it was today!

Monday, December 4, 2017


After four amazing days, Captivating ended at noon today. While the first two days at Stanwell Tops were warm and humid, rain on Saturday evening brought in cooler temperatures. This morning was downright chilly!

We packed up and said our goodbyes to the Ransomed Heart team and work crew, and then we got a ride to the train station in Stanwell Park. From there we caught the train to Central Station in Sydney. Then a short ride to Museum Station. It was a fifteen minute walk from there to our AirBNB for the next four nights.

We are staying a cute place in the Darlinghurst community. It’s in the city, with shops and restaurants within walking distance. After throwing a load of laundry in, we crashed and enjoyed badly needed naps. Tonight we walked to a pub and lucked into the $12 steak dinner special.

Now we are bad in our cottage for the night, and likely we will be asleep by 10pm. Ha! As I typed that, a circuit blew and lights went out. Looks like we will be turning in early!

Saturday, December 2, 2017


It is day 4 in Australia, and my roommates and I have turned in for the night. Rightly’s 10:41pm. What time is it there? On Thursday evening our friends from Ransomed Heart picked up in Wollongong and gave us a ride to the retreat event center in Stanwell Tops. We were grateful that we didn’t have to navigate the trains again with our luggage!

The work crew gathered that night. There are only three of us from America on work crew (one from TX, one from DC, and me). The others are from Australia. A few of them have attended a Captivating retreat in Colorado, but for many, this is their first experience. On Friday we spent the morning setting up camp before the attendees arrived—registration, resources, and the worship room primarily.

The retreat center is lovely—on a hillside overlooking the ocean. It is incredibly lush with plants I’ve never seen and big, beautiful gum trees. There are also so many birds! I found a quiet place to watch the sun rise over the ocean on Friday morning. It rises around 5:27, and I haven’t missed one in Australia yet.

Attendees arrived in the afternoon on Friday, and they were friendly, excited, and a joy to chat with. From the first worship song, it was clear that they were eager to be here and get started.

It is summer here, so it is a stark contrast to home temperatures. It’s warm and humid. Few rooms are air conditioned, so we sleep with our will does open and thankfully someone brought a fan. An afternoon rain storm today cooled it off some too.

Tomorrow is the second full day of the retreat, so I’ll say goodbye for now and get some sleep. Sunrise comes early!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Down Under

After an 11 hour bus ride, a six hour plane ride to Los Angeles, and a 15 hour plane ride to Sydney, we arrived in Australia yesterday at 8:45 AM. This was 4:45 PM on Tuesday Knoxville time. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that Tim and the boys are back a day compared to where I am. I just finished lunch, and they just finished dinner and are preparing for bedtime.

By far the worst part of the travel was my bus ride from Knoxville to Washington DC. It never crossed my mind that it was Thanksgiving weekend when I booked my ticket, so the bus was packed! What should have been a nine hour trip took 11 hours. Boy, was I glad to reach the Lindsay’s house!

I was nervous about the long flight to Sydney. We lucked up and had an empty seat between us, so we could take turns stretching out. In the end, we both got some sleep and arrived feeling pretty rested.

We found the train station in the airport and bought tickets to take us to Stanwell Park, the station nearest the retreat center. However, wedon’t check into there until tomorrow, so we had to navigate the trains to end up at our hotel. After a few hours of learning to rail system, we did end up near ourhotel, deposited our bags, and went to the ocean, located just a few blocks away. It was absolutely stunning and a beautiful, sunny day. We are staying in Wollongong, which is a city of 290,000. It has a very relaxed vibe.

After a cold swim, we went back to the hotel and took our showers before dinner. We ended up in the room by seven and tried to stay awake until nine. Jet lag got the best of us, and we fell asleep by 8 PM. We got a great night’s sleep and woke up in time to see the sunrise over the ocean.

Today, which is Thursday, we have enjoyed a couple of local caf├ęs for meals and some shopping time before we head to the retreat center tonight. It is the beginning of summer here, so it is very warm and the weather is perfect. Tomorrow we will work with the work crew and Ransomed Heart staff to set up for the retreat, and attendees will begin to arrive in the afternoon.

It’s still surreal that I’m sitting here in Australia typing this when it wasn’t even on my radar two months ago!!! What a gift!