Italy and Greece

Dates of Trip: Oct. 9 – 19, 2014

The school gives us two 10-day breaks during the semester, one that is open for free travel and the other is a pilgrimage with the whole school to Rome and Assisi. For our free 10-day, five of my friends and I made a master plan, packed stuffed our bags, and set off to Italy! Our first stop was in Ravenna, home to some of the most famous mosaics in the world! We only spent a day there, but we had plenty of time to see some incredible artwork.

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The next morning, we trained to Loreto, a small town in Italy that’s claim to fame is the house of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Mary didn’t live in Italy. Her and Joseph didn’t raise Jesus in Loreto. And you’re right, they didn’t. There’s an old story that claims that when Muslims were invading the holy land, angels appeared, picked up the walls of the house and carried them to Loreto to keep them safe. Apparently, though, there was a noble family at the time by the name of the Angelos that moved the walls by boat. I still like the first story better, though. Loreto was a beautiful, peaceful little town, and even though we had to walk/hike all the way from the train station up the hill to the basilica with our heavy backpacks on, it was one of my favorite trips. Three walls from the holy house of Nazareth are inside the basilica, and there is a fourth wall and roof added to it in order to make it more suitable for prayer. As luck would have it, we made it in time to pray the Angelus inside of the house…where the Annunciation and Incarnation happened. Talk about surreal. When you walk into the tiny house, there is an altar inside with the Latin words “Hic verbum caro factum est”, which means “Here the word became flesh.”

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I can’t say enough how incredible of a moment it was to be standing within the same walls that Mary conceived Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit… Loreto was simply beautiful.

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We didn’t stay overnight in Loreto, but instead trained to Foggia, getting in around 10:30pm. We thought this would be fine, since we had a hostel booked and we had printed out the walking directions from the train station to the hostel…and it would’ve been fine….if the hostel existed. After walking around in vain for over two hours, it was 1am and we had nowhere to stay. We found an area with a few different hotels, and only one of them had any vacancies. We debated sleeping in the train station, but since we had a long day week of traveling ahead of us we decided to pay TRIPLE the amount of the original hostel in order to get a good night’s sleep. Oh, the joys of travel! Regardless, the next morning, we left Foggia and took a bus to San Giovanni Rotondo, where Padre Pio is buried. Once in San Giovanni Rotondo, we found our hotel easily (Praise the Lord) and went to the church where Padre Pio is buried. Along the corridor leading to his tomb, there were the most incredible mosaics on each wall. On one wall were scenes from the life of Padre Pio, most especially when he received the stigmata, and on the other wall were scenes from the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, two saints very close to my heart. Once inside the room where he is laid, there were mosaics along the wall depicting scenes from Christ’s life.IMG_3520

I was surprised by how many hundreds and hundreds of people were there, all for this humble Capuchin friar. We had the most delicious tiramisu at the restaurant near the hotel (The owner of the hotel recommended it. His mom is the cook.) and left San Giovanni the next morning. We trained all the way to Rome the next day, and had a few hours there before we flew to Santorini. My friend Anna’s sister lives and studies in Rome, so we met up with her and crammed in a few church visits and gelato licks during our short stop in Rome. We flew out of Rome that evening and arrived in Santorini early the next morning. After arriving at our hostel, we took a well needed nap and then decided to spend the day laying on the beach, which was right outside of our hostel. After running around Italy, catching trains, lugging heavy bags and searching for hostels, it was an immense relief to be able to actually unpack and relax. Santorini is hands down one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. We stayed right on Perissa beach, which is a black sand beach. The next day, we decided to go on a boat tour that would take us to different spots around the island, including a volcano! I wasn’t exactly aware of our itinerary…so I wore a skirt. Oops!

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Nevertheless, being out on the boat and getting to see Santorini from the water was breathtaking and exactly what you picture when you think of Greece: incredible blue waters, stunning cliffs and picture-perfect white houses with blue roofs.

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On the tour, our final destination was the city of Oia, where you can see a marvelous view of the sunset. For fans of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, this is the location where they filmed when Lina was in Greece. So, naturally, we took the opportunity to ride donkeys up to the top of the city. Again, I didn’t know we’d be doing this, so my skirt made it even more interesting.

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It was simultaneously one of the funniest and most terrifying experiences of my life. These donkeys are trained to book it up this mountain— I mean, sprinting-during-Black-Friday-sales level. They’re also climbing stairs, so you’re just waiting for the moment when you fall off of it’s back. With that being said, the adrenaline rush is not half bad. It was so worth it though, because I can’t imagine a more beautiful sunset.

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No filter. Really.

The following day in Santorini, we rented four-wheelers and made our own tour around the island, stopping in a few cities that we hadn’t covered the day before. It’s a good thing there’s only about two main road running through the entire island, so getting lost wasn’t much of a concern. The next day we ferried from Santorini to Athens, spent the night in Athens, and then flew back to Rome the following morning. We really only had a few hours of daylight in Athens, but we made the most of it! We headed straight to the acropolis and walked up to the Pantheon. Being there was utterly surreal, and looking down at the city I tried to imagine what it looked like during the time of the Republic, and what Plato and Socrates would think of modern-day Athens.

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Back in Rome, we trained overnight to Gaming, getting in Sunday, October 19th in the afternoon. We traveled to some amazing places, ate some delicious food and saw some incredible sights…but it all paled in comparison to the feeling of coming home to the Kartause. Life is truly blessed.

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