If I had to describe my travel experience at World Youth Day 2011 in only one word instead of six hundred, I would choose 'unexpected'. I embarked on this semi-annual pilgrimage with thirty other teens and five adult chaperones from the churches of Saint JohnNeuman and Good Samaritan. Our travels took us from Rome to Madrid over the course of ten days, and if there is one thing this trip taught me, it was to expect the unexpected.
Our adventure,which started on August 11th in the eternal city of Rome, resembled a rollercoaster in that it was full of ups, downs, corkscrews, surprises and even a bit of nausea. We began on a down. Way down. I'm talking about thirty adolescents and five adult chaperones that have all been awake for at least twenty four hours and must now spend an entire day touring in ninety degree heat while a temperamental Italian tour guide spews facts in their ears and the hot, pasty fingers of airplane food close around their stomachs. (Remember that nausea I mentioned?) However, the sights we saw were every bit as awe-inspiring as the scene described above was miserable. The Sistine Chapel’s ceiling sprawled gloriously above me, and made me feel like heaven was within my reach. In typical American tourist fashion I snapped a forbidden picture so I could takea little piece of heaven back to the states. This breathtaking sight, combined with creamy Nutella gelato, a fun-filled stay at the Parco Tirenno Hotel, and learning to dash across a city street with the reckless abandon of an Italian native, made me want to live in Rome.
Rome however faded from my mind when the next chapter of our journey took us to Madrid, Spain for the start of World Youth Day. Those who have never experienced World Youth Day hear that it is a religious pilgrimage and assume that it involves spending long hours in churches and walking barefoot for miles with little nourishment. Those people are completely wrong. Well, they’re wrong about the churches. We actually spent our time walking through jam-packed streets and parks where we made friends with teens from all over the world. We played Ninja—don’t ask—with kids from France; we swapped flags with Italians and pretended we were Italian when we met other groups; we cheered at a soccer game alongside people from Panama. As a traveler, I’ve never had so much fun,and as a Catholic, I’ve never felt so strongly united with the youth of my faith. Along with its social aspect, my trip to Madrid gave me many new experiences such as going to mass outside with thousands of other pilgrims,eating peia with squid ink, and seeing a priest fall asleep in church. However the most memorable experience this trip had to offer involved the second half of what those people I mentioned earlier think of when they think of pilgrimages. On the last day of World Youth Day, everyone in attendance walked about six or seven miles to Madrid’s Cuatro Vientos Airport for closing mass. We were not barefoot, but food and water were extremely hard to come by. In spite of our discomfort, we sang and prayed with groups from all over the world as the temperatures soared into the triple digits. This sounds like torture, but it was truly unforgettable.
The fact that nothing on my crazy, memorable, adventure filled trip to Europe went the way I thought it would taught me that the best memories are created unexpectedly.
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