Rachel Luquette, Contributing Writer
“It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.” Bilbo Baggins, “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”
As I crossed the Ciampino tarmac to board my Ryanair flight to Spain, there was no telling where I was going to be swept off to, despite the fact that my ticket said Barcelona. Thus my 10-day trip began with three free-falls in the air and two glasses of red wine! Recognizing that this would be my last European excursion until my student loans were paid (so for the next 20 years), I decided to go big before going home: 10 cities in 10 days.
My time in the City of Dreams was much like a dream itself. It was filled with a multitude of images and emotions for the 10 hours that I spent there. The images were of La Sagrada Familia, and the emotion was a combination of awe at Gaudi’s incredible design and annoyance at the long line between it and me. The wait was so long that I feared that the cathedral’s construction would be completed before I got inside. The incandescent stained glass and floral spires were so entrancing that wild horses could not have dragged me out. Where horses failed, however, my stomach succeeded. The dream concluded with five friends sitting around a Lazy Susan savoring tapas, sipping sangria and dreaming of the adventures yet to come.
There is nothing more agreeable than to be able to say, “Un cafe grande por favor?” at the Madrid Starbucks — except, perhaps, the knowledge that the University of Dallas’ foreign language requirement was not a waste of time. I breached the language barrier, but did not eradicate it. On our last afternoon in Madrid, we meandered along the forested paths of El Parque Retiro. Unable to capture everyone in an attempted selfie, I called out to the passersby “Puedes tomar nuestra fotografia por favor?” However, the passersby were Germans, who spoke perfect English. Whoops!
In A.D. 258, St. Lawrence was roasted alive on a gridiron. While dying, he cheerfully said, “Turn me over! I’m done on this side.” In honor of this brave saint, King Phillip II dedicated a palatial complex to him in the form of a gridiron.
After gazing upon the château at Versailles, I now fully appreciate why the French Revolution occurred.
The City of Light brought me nothing but darkness. The Louvre’s artwork moved me so greatly that I spent an hour and a half vomiting into its vast collection of porcelain thrones. As everyone knows, there is no place like home when you are sick or in Oz, but when home is 4,927 miles away, you have to compromise. So I trekked up the Seine to Notre Dame (which , by the way, Disney did not prepare me for). Its stained glass was gorgeous and the architecture was incredible to behold. However, the dozen or so vending machine with religious medals and the gift shops did nothing for my spirituality. I half expected Jesus himself to storm in and overturn the money tables! Fevered, trembling from the cold, and crying, I waited for my group for four and a half hours on the floor of Notre Dame. The miserable sight of me must have deeply affected one pilgrim, since he threw two euros at me thinking that I was a beggar. I guess God does help the outcasts.
While I did pinch a stein from the Hofbräuhaus, I also participated in a different tradition. As a young adult, my mother studied abroad in Germany and brought home a German cuckoo clock. It fell off the wall when we were moving to another house, and the little figures could no longer raise their steins nor the cuckoo sing at the hour. In München, I found a clockmaker who produced the same clock, and bought one for my mother.
Someone told me that there are places were the veil between heaven and earth is thinnest. I think I found one.
Eighteen hours was not enough time in Berlin for me to even scrape its surface, but I did learn two things: (1) Nothing can compete with German beer, and (2) the Nazis may have been defeated, but Berlin’s airport security still channels their spirit. After having to pay an extra 50 euros for my bag for being 1.5 cm too long and having to strip down to my long johns for wearing an oversized watch, I recuperated from my trauma by drinking the nectar of the gods: Berliner Weisse.
Having had 70 euros lifted from my pocket on the metro and being unable to account for my camera, I arrived in Rome exhausted, famished and distressed. Our hostel, Happy Days, saw few happy days. It was far more reminiscent of the movie “Taken” than the 70s television sitcom. A single neon blue ceiling light poorly lit the entrance room. In one corner, a group of men huddled around a table distributing packets of white powder. No one spoke Italian or English except the desk worker, who would only repeat, “Cash only.” Our room held eight bunk beds covered with shriveled fleece sheets that were infested with bugs. Light from the streetlamp illuminated vomit on the curtains next to my face. A man sat outside our room, ensuring that we did not leave the room or use the facilities. Overcome with fright, my friend rocked back in forth in the fetal position, quietly reciting the rosary. I silently joined her and drifted off into a shallow sleep.
At 5 a.m., we fled from Happy Days to the Vatican in order to attend a papal Mass. As I walked into the courtyard of St. Peter’s, it began to rain. As the water streamed down my face, it washed away all anxiety, tiredness and animosity, leaving my companions and me with a mixture of peace and happiness. This feeling was amplified and became tangible as we listened to Pope Benedict XVI recite the Latin Mass. Finally, the sheep were safe and sound.