Easter at the Vatican

To wrap up my eleven day Italian dream trip, I managed to acquire a ticket to the Pope’s Easter mass. And by acquire, I really mean I called Mama Kulka who then worked some Polish networking and within days had tickets ready for me to pick up at the Vatican. The line, “let me call the Vatican,” was used somewhere in this contact chain, which made it all sound very official and important. Illuminati confirmed.

Upon arriving in Rome, I realized that this was the big leagues and it was time to go big or go home. If I was already here for Easter Mass, I was damn well going to see the Pope. I arrived at the Vatican at 6:45 am, about 4 hours before mass started, wearing hiking boots because I knew shit was about to get real.

I got in line behind people who must have been there all night, and looked around and realized I was in for a bad time. It was Easter, but everyone had suddenly forgotten how to be Catholic. There were nuns pushing through the crowd like Moses parting the Red Sea, old men with canes jabbing at anyone who got too close and groups of pimpled teens with their church groups discussing seating strategies like generals discussing a war plan.

The group of high schoolers with their church group were the actual worst of all the Easter offenders. I eavesdropped on the most intense seating strategy, overhearing one say to another, “It’s going to get rough, but you make the call and you go for it. If you get separated from the group, don’t look back.” I wasn’t sure if we were at the Vatican or Vietnam.

After the security checkpoint, I booked it to the aisle seats with a group of Loyola University students I had met in line, who were all studying abroad in Rome. Together we waited about three hours for mass to begin, shivering in the rain and taking turns cuddling to keep warm. You’d be surprised how comfortable you get with strangers when you’re huddled under one polka dotted umbrella for a few hours.

Through mass, I was freezing and wet, and too short to see over the sea of umbrellas. I was starting to doubt why I even wanted to be there in the first place, but suddenly the rain stopped and it was time for the sign of peace. Everyone in the crowd was cold and soaked, but in that moment they were all smiling at one another, shaking hands and hugging. They had come from all over the world to celebrate their faith, and that is a beautiful thing.

After the mass, Papa Francesco made his rounds through the crowd on the Pope mobile and happened to stop right in front of me. Needless to say, I fan-girled over him like tweens do for One Direction.

Overall, Easter mass at the Vatican was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. It was a blessing to share such a special moment with believers from all sorts of walks of life, who all braved the rain and the cold to celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord, together.

Yes, I absolutely did fan-girl over Papa Francesco.

Yes, I absolutely did fan-girl over Papa Francesco.

Me, Myself and I(taly)

This is the beginning of my 11 day solo journey across Italy. I will travel 7 cities and 7 towns by train; marveling at the works of great Italian painters, exploring the winding streets and canals of each city and indulging in plenty of pasta, pizza and gelato along the way. It will all culminate with Easter mass at the Vatican.

I’ve been asked why I decided to go on this trip alone, and the question has completely dumbfounded me. Why wouldn’t you want to go on an 11 day trip to Italy alone?

Solo travel is a beautiful thing that I think people should do more often. I love being alone. I happen to think I make great company, so naturally I like hanging out with myself. It gives me clarity and allows me to be the master of my own time. As anyone who has traveled with me knows, I love itineraries and they’re much easier to accomplish when I’m on my own. Also, it’s nice not having witnesses to the amount of pizza and gelato I will consume in the next week and a half.

Yes, there are moments when I wish I had someone by my side. My heart drops whenever I realize I am lost and don’t have anyone to help me. That’s when I remember that people are good, and if you are good and kind and you smile, they will help you.

So today, when I got off the metro in the center of Milan, and my heart was racing because I was devastatingly lost, I smiled and asked around until the good people of Italy helped me find my way to my Bed & Breakfast.

After grabbing gelato for dinner, I was taking photographs of the Duomo when I went inside to discover an Easter concert under the direction of a world renowned Italian conductor. I sat inside the Duomo di Milano, the 5th largest church in the world that took nearly six centuries to complete, marveling at the stained glass windows and high ceilings while an Italian choir sang the Romantic operas of Verdi.

Within hours of landing in Italy, I had already found that cliché movie moment that every traveler hopes for: when everything falls into place and life is so beautiful that you’re not quite sure if you should laugh or smile or cry.

With a little faith that God is keeping me safe, plenty of asking for directions and a stack of train tickets in hand, I cannot wait to see what adventures Italy has in store for me.

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Duomo di Milano by night

 

Turn Down for What?

Lent. Turn down for Lent.

This year for Lent, I gave up drinking. Yes, I really did. It’s been 28 days so far. Saying that sounds weird, like an AA meeting, but without the coffee and donuts.

Every year during lent, I try to give up one of my many vices. I have come to realize that giving up TV when you don’t own a TV does not count, and not swearing only lasts up until I stub my toe on a coffee table because that shit hurts. That’s why this year, I choose something more challenging.

I have been asked if it’s hard. Honest answer? Not at all.

Drunk me dances like a fool, flirts like no other, occasionally makes poor decisions and is kind of a bitch. But let’s be real, that sounds a lot like sober me too, so it really makes no difference. Just because I’m not drinking doesn’t mean I can’t go out and have a good time. In fact, when my friend Katie and I flew to Switzerland to party with GRiZ and I was stone cold sober, Katie confirmed that I was, “not a boner,” which is probably one of the best compliments I have ever gotten.

Giving up alcohol for lent has been a personally rewarding experience. My wallet and my waistline agree. There is so much to do abroad and so much to see, that I don’t want to skip a beat. Trust me, sightseeing hungover is a bad time. I missed out on a damn good British breakfast back in Liverpool because of it, and I’m still bitter about it.

Of course, there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel: Lent ends when I’ll be in Rome, at approximately wine o’clock.

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“It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard drinking people.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby