I have been fascinated and intrigued by foreign places since before I can even remember. I’m sure that stems from my love of reading about faraway places and adventures abroad. Well, that led to a need to travel becoming one of my most common thoughts. So, when an opportunity to travel to France on a school trip came up, I worked my very hardest to make sure I got a spot.
I went to a Catholic, all-girls school for my high school years. As a thirteen-year-old girl, I thought it was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. But, of course, it was one of the best. That school offered numerous opportunities, one of them being an annual pilgrimage to Lourdes, France for rising seniors.
After working on my application diligently, I constantly checked my email for news. I was incredibly nervous and sure I wouldn’t get a spot. I was wrong, of course. I remember checking my email first thing one weekend morning and reading the acceptance email about twelve times before running downstairs to tell my family.
France. I was going to FRANCE. ME!
Those next few months could not pass quick enough, I read all I could on France, Lourdes, and the program we were going with, Ampleforth. Not only were we going to France, but we were going with a British program, full of people from ENGLAND. You could say I was a bit excited.
I remember shopping for clothes for the trip with my mom and sister. I picked out a soft, black maxi dress for the flight. I wanted to be comfortable but also chic, I was representing America in France, you know.
With the help of a really nice flight attendant, I scored a whole row to myself on the plane! I couldn’t sleep one bit and, instead, filled my ride with movies on movies on movies. This led to a sleepy week in Lourdes, where there never seemed to be time to rest, and a huge nap once I got home.
Lourdes is an incredibly beautiful city known as one of the top Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world. This is because a young French girl, Bernadette, saw over fifteen apparitions of the Virgin Mary. During one apparition, Mary asked Bernadette to build a chapel over the grotto where they stood. The water of the spring in the grotto is said to be holy, with healing powers, which is why many travel from faraway to Lourdes.
Our week was full of early mornings, trips to the grotto, mass, caring for the pilgrims, and stuffing our face with Belgian waffles. At night, rather than going to sleep at a reasonable hour, the volunteers would hang out at local cafes and restaurants. Everyone acted as if they knew each person in Lourdes, at least that’s how it felt. There was an air of community in that city, everyone had a story, a reason for coming to the grotto. I’m not sure that there are many other places like that.
On top of being surrounded by friendly people, we were surrounded by amazing architecture and landscapes. Every street corner was picturesque and beyond the city borders were the Pyrenees.
On our last day in France, we took a cable car up one of the mountains for an incredible view of Lourdes and the surrounding vista. With bright blue skies and striking green hills, it was a breathtaking view. One that I am looking forward to seeing again in my lifetime.
We had a layover in Paris during our flight home and, while it was too short to leave the airport, I did see the Eiffel Tower for the first time. As we got close to Paris, I leaned and stretched to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower through the window on the other side of the plane. Luckily, members of my group were sitting there, or I might’ve garnered a few dirty looks.
Even as a speck, I was in awe of the Eiffel Tower. I smiled like an idiot thinking about how that was only the first of many times I would see it, dreaming of the day I would see it up close and sparkling. I had no idea when that would be or how much it would fill my heart, not even how much I would miss it once I left Paris.
Looking back on this trip makes me smile. I was sixteen, shy and overwhelmed. If I went back today, I’d have put myself out there more, grabbed that experience by the horns. But, that wasn’t me at the time. I’ve grown a lot since then, as we each do with every new experience, especially those that throw us into the unknown. I’m grateful for that experience and for the many I’ve had since. I hope you enjoyed reading this little snapshot of my first trip abroad!
Have you ever traveled abroad? Where did you go? Or, if you haven’t, where are you dreaming of traveling to? I’d love to know!