Plane. Train. Automobile. Underground. Water taxi. Bus. Weary feet. We did it all during the week we were meant to be studying for our final exams. My friends and I packed up our backpacks and left from the Dublin Airport for a week of traveling and exploring.
We arrived in London Monday afternoon eager to discover the city. We spent the evening wandering Piccadilly Circus, looking into the beautiful window displays and behaving like children in the six-story monstrosity of Hamley’s Toy Store. We saw Buckingham Palace at night, nice and devoid of tourists. In Hyde Park, we came upon a Christmas carnival where we courageously braved some very high swings. Our eyes were watering from the wind, but we had an amazing view of the whole city.
Tuesday dawned early as we excitedly hopped on the underground to Paddington Station, which is around the corner from the hospital where Princess Kate had the royal babies. From there we went on to check out 221B Baker Street and do some sleuthing. Afterwards, onward to watch the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. It was quite the ceremony! Onto the underground once more to Westminster. We came out to the most beautiful, radiant scene of Big Ben, minutes from chiming the hour. Though gray all morning, the sun peeked out to illuminate our view of the famous clock and the Parliament buildings. Though we didn’t get to go inside, we spent several minutes marveling outside Westminster Abbey, in awe of the architecture and the historicity.
We meandered down to the National Gallery and spent a solid two hours gaping at Fra Angelico, Bernini, Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, and Rembrandt to only name a few. From there, we found (with some trouble) the Cheshire Cheese where Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson, and G.K.Chesterton among other authors liked to grab a pint. Afterwards, we went back across the city to see the Brompton Oratory followed by the enormous department store, Harrod’s.
Wednesday, we got up to begin the day at the Tower of London. The tour was fascinating, and it was mind-boggling to walk in the footsteps of the royalty, the prisoners, and those sentenced to death, particularly Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher. The crown jewels were absolutely spectacular in person! Afterwards, we sped across the city to see Kensington Gardens and Palace, which were absolutely gorgeous!
The rest of Wednesday was spent in traveling to the airport and flying across Europe to the Venice airport. We made it to the city of canals at 11, exhausted but excited to see the sights the next day. The water taxi ride to our hostel was eerie as the city was covered in fog and mist. The waters were grey and dreary, and honestly a bit foreboding.
Thursday was bright and misty, allowing us to soak in the boats, canals, and bustle of Venice. The day had no particular agenda, and we spent most of it wandering around the narrow streets and riding the water taxis just to soak it all in. We also ate a LOT of gelato. A lot a lot. We saw the Basilica di San Marco, which is spectacular. The inside is in the Byzantine style, and every inch is covered in amazing mosaics. How beautiful it was to pray before the remains of St. Mark the Evangelist. His mark is all over the city in the Marcan symbol of the Winged Lion.
Venice is beautiful, and it was a delight to take a deep breath and not worry about cross the city as we had to do in London. It was nice simply to wander with no commitments and demands.
Friday morning made a parting of the ways as Taryn went to make it to Belfast, while Lena and I took the train to Assisi. The train ride was peaceful and rife with the first glimpses of the beautiful Italian countryside – olive trees, vineyards, and rustic homes. Arriving in the Assisi train station was so very exciting. Lena and I found our Bed and Breakfast before making it to the Basilica di San Francesco for daily Mass. We prayed before the tomb of the saint, absolutely reveling that we actually made a pilgrimage to Assisi.
After Mass, Sr. Mary Frances of the FSE sisters picked us up for dinner, and we got dinner and shared lovely conversation. Then she took us to Mary of the Angels, the basilica built around the Porziuncola, the original church that St. Francis built. It was there that my heart felt squeezed with the reality of where we were. How very good God is!
Saturday, we returned to San Francesco to investigate further the artistry and architecture. Taking our time, we wound our way back up the city poking around the Christmas market and marveling at the views of the Umbrian hillsides. In the afternoon, we walked down to San Damiano, where Francis received the vision from God and St. Clare established her monastery. So. Incredibly. Beautiful. And oh so peaceful. My heart was full walking in the beautiful way of the saints!
The monastery was a place surrounded in the spirit of true peace. What wonder that God brought us, two little girls from the US, to the beautiful Assisi. We climbed back up into the city to explore Santa Chiara before ending our day.
Sunday dawned very, very early as Sr. Mary Frances picked us up for 7am Lauds followed by 7:30am Mass at San Damiano. It. Was. Amazing. And a little bleary eyed. Following Mass, Sister took us to their house for breakfast before dropping us off at the airport.
What a week! And this description is but the bare bones of it all! Britain is great. Italy is gorgeous. And above all, God is good!
May God bless you on your way!