European Vacation Pilgrimage

European Vacation
Theresa, Sean, Selina, and Nicole look ready for everything. I notice the youngest, Dave, tends to avoid the photographer.

Betsy and Co. began their five week European vacation two weeks before we left for England. I’ve been so excited for them! All the time we were in England, I was wondering where they were, what they were doing, and how they were getting along. Had I only known about their blog, Pilgrim Age, I could have known all. However, I’ve been reading their adventures with great interest since I got back. (Their blog is set up with the latest posts at the top, so to read the adventure from the beginning and in order, start from the bottom of the July archives page.)

European Vacation
My gorgeous nieces.

They begin their adventure by having their plane grounded in Las Vegas due to the intense heat that week and spending the night at the Riviera Hotel. However the delay gave Stephan a chance to do all those last minute things he hadn’t done and set up a bit of an itinerary. We will spend Friday night in Frankfurt, Saturday night in Bern, Switzerland, Sunday night on a train to Italy and Monday night in a Hostel in Florence. We’ll spend the rest of that week visiting Bologna and Venice for sure. On Sunday, August 31, we begin our 4 night stay in an apartment in Rome. We have a flat in Paris August 8 through 11. World Youth Day events begin then for Sean, Selina and Nicole. Now I can place them in parallel time and space; I know they were enjoying Rome the first week we were in Mobberley and in Paris while we were hiking in the Lake District.

European Vacation
The apartment terrace in Rome.

Stephan’s description of the excessive graffiti in Bern made me stop to think whether I’d seen any graffiti in England. No. Maybe some in Manchester? No. Wait. There was some on the back steps up to the abbey ruins in Whitby. But generally, the parts of England we travelled in were very charming. No graffiti. No power lines. No billboards. AJM says that’s because we stay in the nice parts of England. True enough. Cheshire is the wealthiest county, I’ve read.

At some point in their experience of Europe, the girls ran out of superlatives to describe their experience. They loved each place more than the last and everyone they met were the nicest people they had ever met. The girls struck up a conversation with the gorgeous Giorgio, as Selina explains. Eventually we decided that we had to do the tourist thing and grab a random person to take a picture of the 3 of us in front of it. We asked the first kid who walked by: Giorgio. As he handed us back the camera, we all introduced ourselves, and then he asked us if we wanted to continue a walk with him. Of course we agreed and we were on our way. Turns out he works at the Vatican and gave them a heads up on the papal schedule so, as Nicole describes, they were able to get in to see the Pope.

European Vacation
The infamous Giorgio. Maybe Betsy is asking him, “Where are you taking my daughters, exactly?” “To see the pope, ma’am.”

In marked contrast with their experiences, I can’t think of a single conversation that I struck up with a stranger in England. Was this because I spent most of my time with family? We weren’t exploring new territories, just visiting home. I didn’t think this silence at all odd except on the occasion of shopping in Whitby. The store where I bought my jet pendant in was very small, maybe 10 by 15 feet and I was the only one there. The man behind the counter never spoke to me once and I was struck by the contrast with the turquoise dealers in Santa Fe who immediately say, “Let me know if I can answer any questions.” as you cross their thresholds. Some of dealers were so intrusive that I felt unable to browse in peace. Whitby was just the opposite. Everyone was, however, politely attentive when I asked for assistance. I never felt snubbed or shunned. Is this the cool reserve of the English I’ve heard about? Yet it suits me perfectly. I wonder if I could adapt to those friendly, talkative Italians. Would I find them noisy and overbearing? Would Betsy’s family would misrepresent the polite unobtrusiveness of the English as arrogance or unfriendliness? Maybe not. I rather think they can adapt to anything.

The other thing I noticed on my trip is that not one person remarked on my being an American. No one said, “Oh, where are you from?” or “What are you doing in England? How long have you been here?” I remember when Margaret was here in Austin, people asked her that all the time. AJM still gets it. Which reminds me of Whitby again. When we bought our tickets to the abbey ruins, the clerk reminded us that if we treat our transaction as a donation rather than a purchase, it doesn’t cost us more but it saves the National Trust from the tax burden. This works only if you are a UK citizen and so AJM said, “I can’t. I’m from Texas.” The clerk responded, “Well, you have an excellent British accent.”

European Vacation
Stephan finds out he digs trains.

Betsy, Stephan and the two younger kids came home a week early to make the start of the new school year. The three older kids stayed behind to attend World Youth Day. I like the stories of Stephan’s train experiences…he went from being a complete novice, having never ridden a train in his life, to being something of a train fanatic.

2005-08-21: Update

The National Catholic Reporter Online refers to Sean as a well-informed, motivated Catholic after interviewing him during World Youth Day.

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