Blue Mountains, Australia

June 15-22, 2008

On Sunday, June 15, 2008, fourteen members of the Blue Mountain Australia FF Club arrived at O’Hare Airport.  We greeted them with welcome signs and open arms.  After previous exchanges in Wichita KS and Birmingham, AL, our guests were ready for a day to get acquainted and relax in their new surroundings.

On Monday, we assembled the group and toured the Chicago Botanic Garden in Highland Park.  Our guests were delighted with the beautiful landscapes, flowers and fountains.  The Rose Garden, English Garden and miniature railroad garden were photographed over and over.

Lunch was provided in the Garden Café and then on to the Baha’i Temple in Wilmette.  Our docent conducted a tour of the temple and pointed out many of the architectural highlights to our guests.  Before heading home for a rest, a brief stop was made at Gillson Park, directly across from the Temple.  Our Australian guests were impressed with the beauty and size of Lake Michigan.  Several walked along the shore and marveled at the panoramic views of the city.

Later that evening, Ludwina and Bill Homer hosted a welcome dinner at their home in Waukegan.  We all got better acquainted over food and drinks and shared many tales of our FF experiences.

Tuesday and Thursday were free days to be spent with host families.  Several  club members provided tours of their local communities, accommodated guests with special interest events, such as quilting shows, antique shops and live theatre.  Others hosted dinner parties with members unable to home host, but anxious to meet our Australian Ambassadors.

Of course, an exchange to FFNI would not be complete without a visit to downtown Chicago.  We had a beautiful day to tour the Cultural Center, stroll through Millennium Park to view Cloud Gate, Crown Fountain and listen to the Chicago Symphony rehearsal.

Cloud Gate Sculpture, fondly called the “Bean”

The Crown Fountain portrays faces of Chicagoans.  Children play in cooling fountain.

Lunch was served on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building.  We were blessed with clear skies and the city and lake views were magnificent.

Looking north from the 95th floor of the John Hancock Building

Each Ambassador chose how to spend their afternoon in Chicago.  Some strolled along Navy Pier; some experienced the art and sculptures of the Chicago Art Institute and others, shopped for unique remembrances and souvenirs for family and friends.  It was a perfect way to spend the day in Chicago.

Geoff and Harry enjoying beautiful Navy Pier

On Friday, we traveled to Oak Park, a western suburb of Chicago, to tour the Frank Lloyd Wright House & Studio.  After lunch at La Majada restaurant, we strolled with our Australian friends through the neighborhood to identify and admire more of Wright’s homes.

Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture

The week passed quickly and on Saturday, it was time for our Farewell lunch at Bertucci’s Restaurant in Highwood.  Italian food was enjoyed by all.

Our guests entertained us with a humorous Australian song and dance.

A few words of appreciation were expressed by both ED’s, Geoff Whitwell, Mary Lou Balazs as well as Pat Meyer, our FFNI President.  Many friendships began this week and invitations to visit again were made by both clubs.   Our new friends departed early Sunday.  We will miss them and hope to renew our friendships on a future outgoing exchange.