My high school, like almost every other high school in North America, offered a senior class Europe trip. I thought I was going to be one of the lucky 20 when I reached grade 11, paying my way with a McDonald's summer job savings. I didn't book early enough at the beginning of senior year so I didn't make the cut. This resulted in a lot of my friends taking pictures in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa/Michaelangelo/London Bridge and other generic European things without me. I was crushed in the moment but in retrospect, it was just one of the many blessings in my life.
I still had an idea in my head (I don't know why, but I'm inclined to blame mainstream society) that my first time to the first continent would be a whirlwind. I'd go "everywhere" and see "everything" in a heartbeat. From the Big Ben to the Sistine Chapel, I'd pose and be pleased. Then Europe would be checked off the list and I'd go to Jamaica on my next trip.
This didn't happen.
When I was 20 I gave a deposit of $200 to the youth minister of the church I was involved in at the time.
I gave checks of $150 or $200 for a few months proceeding that with my not-exactly-minimum-wage hard-earned bookstore money, to a grand total of $850. We held fundraisers and had monthly Sunday evening meetings for over a year to prepare for something called World Youth Day, something that happens every few years on a different continent and it lasts about two weeks. Over a million Catholics from all over the world gather to meet each other and sing songs on the subway together. The Pope shows up on the last Saturday evening and Sunday morning to say Mass and other inspirational things. I've been to two of them and they have had a profound effect on my life as a Catholic.
World Youth Day 2005 was held in Cologne, Germany. I travelled there in August with 18 people, some strangers and some of them good friends. As a group we spent our first week in a tiny little Bavarian town called Peiting. It was practically in Austria. Peiting was beautiful and located on the plateaus of the Alps. I'll always remember my first glimpse of the snow-peaked mountains as we rolled into the town; it was the first time I'd seen a major mountain range. Then I spotted an elderly man on a bike, peddling down a narrow road and wearing a green feather-topped hat (he really was!!). With the little knowledge of European culture I'd carried with me, I knew I had found Europe.
I took pictures in front of the Dome, the giant Cathedral in Cologne. I drank a lot of good beer. We splurged on maybe two nice dinners (the rest was World Youth Day food, part of the package deal) and we were taken on a tour of Neuschwanstein. So I did a few "touristy" things for my first trip to Europe, but it was far from the type of travel I imagined back in high school.
At the end of our week in Peiting our hosts took us on an hour long train trip to Munich. I got off the train and was in awe because I was finally standing in the midst of a Europe I'd always pictured: Big city, beautiful architecture, cute cafes, a McDonald's that looks a little different, better shopping. The awe soon transformed to anxiety. I sensed that I was being given a dose of what kind of experience I would have had if I'd went with a bunch of girlfriends and ran around Europe for two weeks. But with my World Youth Day group I had a few minors to look after: I was 21 and was teamed up with two 16 year-olds who'd never travelled on their own before. I was assigned as their "big sister" by my youth minister. There was a talk to be heard and World Youth Day things to do, it wasn't a time to be in vacation mode. I'm so thankful things turned out that way.
By seeing a country through World Youth Day instead of an a tour package, I was given the opportunity to meet and speak with people I would have never encountered otherwise. I saw a different kind of Europe, or a different kind of Germany. Thank goodness I'm late for things.
I thought of Munich today because I saw a pop-up ad for a round-trip ticket from Montreal to Munich with Lufthansa Airlines for $1242. I'll never be fancy enough to afford a flight like that.
Song of the Day? Germany's favourite girl from the 80's. I heard this song about three times a day while in Germany...it must have been in the air or something.