There’s something incredibly stimulating about traveling, trying new things, and going out of the everyday comfort zone. Maybe it’s the excitement of being in a new place, or anticipating the unknown. Needless to say, in the weeks leading up to my departure from the United States, I was full of anticipation, excitement, and high hopes. All of my previous expectations have been completely blown away, as nothing could have prepared me for the experiences I’ve had thus far in Europe – experiences of a lifetime.
The morning of August 18th was a blur of packing, repacking, and last minute checking. After a heartfelt goodbye from my family, I boarded the plane for a two-hour flight (which felt like forever) from my hometown of Miami, to JFK Airport in New York. I arrived to the familiar faces of my friends who I would be traveling with in Ireland for the next week. Our plan was to stay in Ireland for a week, and from there fly to Vienna. Even though the flight from New York to Ireland was almost 5 hours longer, it felt so much shorter because of the awesome group of friends I was traveling with. By the time we landed in Ireland, we had already accumulated our fair share of inside jokes, funny stories, and laughs – we had already begun our adventure.
If there is anything that I’ve learned through attending Franciscan these past two years, it is that everything starts and finishes in Christ. So in true Franciscan fashion, we started off our excursion of Europe with a retreat in the beautiful small town of Cavan. I can’t fully describe in words the incredible transformation and spiritual renewal that happened in those two days. Between attending Mass, adoration, visiting the Knock Shrine, and hearing a beautiful talk by Anne, a lay apostle, I was able to embark upon a knew chapter in my relationship with Jesus. Cavan was a beautiful beginning to a great trip which proved to be filled with one blessing after another. A friend in our group had connections in Ireland, so we had the opportunity to stay on a cow farm in rural Ireland. Not only was the scenery incredible, but so was the company. The Kellys showered us with love, food, and authentic Irish culture. We got to play the Irish sport of hurling, and walk through pastures full of cows. We then traveled to Galway, Doolin, and Dublin over the next four days where we experienced everything from the Cliffs of Moore to Traditional Irish Pubs, and running into other friends from school along the way. Ireland proved to be an incredible experience; I’m not Irish at all, and yet during that week I felt 100% Irish! Like a friend of mine had said, “Everyone’s Irish in Ireland!” Not only was I overwhelmed by the natural beauty and infectious culture of Ireland, but my relationship with Christ was truly renewed and strengthened. With hopes high and all expectations shattered, I embarked upon the next step of this journey, not knowing what to expect.
As great as Ireland was, it was also equally as exhausting. By the time I landed in Vienna I was itching to get rid of my luggage – carrying all of my stuff around everywhere had greatly lost its appeal. After getting settled and greeting old friends, I began to open my eyes to the beauty and peace that is Gaming. The first thing I noticed was the breathtaking view from my window. Nothing better describes Gaming than the feeling you get from simply standing in the presence of its beautiful mountains, quaint city streets, and clean crisp air. This past week has been such a blur and Ireland seems like an eternity ago. Nights have been full of laughter, creek jumping, and good conversation. The days have been full of adventure, including hiking up mountains, traveling to nearby towns such as Melk and Vienna, and familiarizing myself with the Kartause itself, which was originally a monastery. The Kartause is full of history, secret rooms, and kind faces. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to know everything about it! One of the highlights of my time in Austria so far has been visiting St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Nothing beats learning about something in my Art Appreciation class, and then seeing it in person the next day. Each day has brought new, unexpected surprises. For example, yesterday I was blessed with the opportunity to altar-serve for an Austrian Bishop! It has been these small and unexpected blessings that make every day in Gaming truly wonderful, and they sum up what my Austrian experience has been like so far.