However, unbeknownst to the nine of us, airport Beauvais closes promptly at 11pm. Therefore we were forced to take the one hour bus into Paris without a clue as to where we would stay for the night. We postponed the problem, using the procrastination skills developed by any good college student, by camping out in a fast food joint, Quick Burger, the American equivalent of McDonald's, until 2 am. At that point we were once more unceremoniously thrown out on the streets. Welcome to Paris, city of romance, tall phallic-looking sparkly towers, and the world's most delicious croissants.
The nine of us huddled together for warmth on a park bench, finally leaving after a chilly sleepless night to catch the sun rising over the Eiffel tower. I'd like to say it was the last of our mishaps during our ten day trip but I'd be lying. Although we were lucky enough not to miss any of our three flights, two train rides, four five hour bus trips, or three taxis, we still managed to encounter a few more snags. In case you ever book hotels in Italy: you cannot sneak extra people into the rooms. They ask for passports. Also, if you plan to take any high speed trains, make sure you validate your ticket by sticking it into the little yellow marked box in front of the tracks. If they catch you without a validated ticket, they will throw you off at the next available stop. But, most importantly, never ever ever stay in Hotel Veneto.
We consulted maps more times than I was able to keep track of over those ten days. However, the times when I found myself feeling most lost was when we went sight-seeing among the Catholic Cathedral's. In Paris we toured Notre Dame, and instead of feeling awestruck and inspired I found myself feeling sweaty and frustrated at the crowd that moved in a gape-mouthed circle, always flowing in the same direction. Maybe I've merely seen too many churches, but the large stained glass windows and the gold-enameled statues only serve to make me angry. What's the real point of all this opulence? Does God truly appreciate having millions of dollars spent on decorations for his temples of worship? Is there truly a point to making every pillar out of marble?
When we were in Rome, we stumbled upon the Pope giving a speech. Apparently it happens every Wednesday. Hundreds of chairs are lined up in the Vatican courtyard. Groups of people flood in from all parts of the world, school trips and church groups that all cheer with Superbowlish enthusiasm when they're given their shout out as the Pope gives his speech in no less than six different languages. By this point I'd traveled to four different countries, besides Ireland during my study abroad experience. I'd spent time in Brussels, Amsterdam, Seville, Paris, and Rome. I'd attempted three different languages (I didn't even try Dutch), not to mention the struggle of deciphering the Irish accent (which at times should qualify for it's very own dialect). However, no time did I feel as foreign or as out of place as when I was surrounded by this sea of believers.
It's an amazing and an intimidating things to find yourself amidst of sea of people who have given themselves over to faith. Currently, it's something I still struggle with personally and an issue I'm never certain I will really come to terms with. I have to admit though, there's something inspiring about a mass of people, all from different backgrounds, cultures, languages, that have come together to sit for a two hour papal speech, 5/6th of which they will not be able to understand. Sitting in the courtyard of the Vatican, I watched the members of the crowd watching the Pope, and I envied them their ability to believe that somewhere, someone had a plan.