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Faith Takes Europe

One great thing about how UCC does finals is that it includes a study break that’s at least a week long between the last day of classes and your first final. I got a break of almost two weeks– two weeks I know that I could not spend the entirety of studying. Making sure to block off two solid days before my first final to study, I planned my “study break” around Europe.

My friend Andrew, studying at QMU in London, had an overlapping study week, so we brainstormed our perfect European vacation. We picked out five cities, some we had visited before and some completely new to both of us, and sandwiched London and Cork on either end of our ten-day trip.

On the last day of classes, I went to class with a backpack full of everything I would need for the trip. I left class and headed to the bus station, then the airport, and then I was on my way to London. Andrew and I spent the next day entirely in Harrod’s, the luxury mall, and then we packed for Barcelona.

We stayed up all night and left for the airport at five in the morning– we arrived in Barcelona in the late morning and immediately basked in the sun we had both missed on our cold and rainy islands. We participated in the traditional siesta and had a late lunch of paella before wandering down to the Diagonal Mar. The next day we wandered through Barcelona’s sunshine, finding the Arc de Triomf, La Sagrada Familia, and Port Vell. We topped off the evening with churros and hot chocolate before packing back up and heading off into the early morning for Rome.

Rome welcomed us with more sunshine and a lot of pizza. We spent the first day wandering from the Colosseum to Trevi Fountain. We stopped in a specialty store and sampled lemoncello (and meloncello and hazelcello and wow they love their -cellos). The next day, we headed straight for the Vatican and then meandered the long walk back through the streets and alleys, stumbling upon the Pantheon, beautiful churches, a tiny cheese and wine shop, and a restaurant with the best fried zucchini flowers and tiramisu I’ve ever had in my life. On our way home (while casually passing the Colosseum), we picked up olives and apples at a produce market to pair with our wine and cheese and then spent a lovely evening in enjoying our delicious Italian spread. A few hours later, it was time to go to Milan.

The train ride to Milan was beautiful, and once again, sunshine! We wandered through the parks in Milan, found the most delicious pasta restaurant of all time (gorgonzola gnocchi is heaven), and prepared for the next day.

We planned three days in Milan so that one would be spent in Lugano, Switzerland, about an hour bus ride away. I had always had this highly romanticized view of Switzerland, and I made sure I’d be able to make it there, despite how incredibly expensive it is. And it was the best choice of the trip. Lugano sits on a swan-dotted lake rimmed by green mountains, and our bus let us off near the city’s flower garden at the shore. Andrew and I went to the nearest grocery store and bought cheese and chocolate and spent the day picnicking and skipping rocks at the lakeshore, surrounded by daisies and azaleas and palm trees and the greenest grass I had seen outside of Ireland. It was a lazy, beautiful day. Evening followed an amazing sunset, and we took our bus back to Milan.

The next day in Milan, we visited the Milan Cathedral, the Golden Quad shopping center, and a castle that had art exhibits from Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. We sat in the castle’s park and watched the families and dogs go by and listened to all the different languages as they passed. Another late evening-turned-morning later, we left for Paris.

Our hostel in Paris wasn’t lying when they advertised it as having the best location: when we got off the Metro and looked at our map and saw we were living a block down from the Louvre, we were convinced. We ambitiously decided to set off for the Eiffel Tower, an hour walk away, as soon as we arrived, but the weather had other plans. We took shelter under the trees of the Louvre gardens, eating cheese-on-baguette sandwiches and taking touristy pictures with the Louvre pyramid. When the weather let up, we trekked to the Tower. It was dark by then, and vendors were shooting rainbow lights into the air around the golden-glowing structure. We stood at the base watching it glitter, eating Nutella crepes. We would return the following evening and do it all over again, also taking the elevator to the second floor to watch the city shimmer beneath us. During the day we visited the Mona Lisa in the Louvre (it’s free for students studying in Europe!), hiked all the way to the Arc de Triomphe and the Galeries Lafayette, the whole time finding street vendors for our cheese sandwiches and crepes. Despite the soreness of our feet, we zigzagged to Notre Dame before returning to the Eiffel Tower.

We caught our plane to Cork the next day, and though I had loved every minute of our adventure, it was amazing to be home. I took Andrew to Butler’s for hot cocoa and Jackie Lennox’s for chips — two of my favorite places in Cork — before we collapsed back at home. Waking up today to write this blog, I found it hard to believe I was back, which makes me nervous for the shock it’ll be to return back to the States in ten days. It was the trip of a lifetime inside of the semester of a lifetime, but it’s always nice to return home.

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