Friday, August 26, 2016

My World Youth Day Experience + International Travel Tips

Hello from Florida again! I'm back! I'm so excited to share the events of these past two weeks spent on a pilgrimage with you. Are you? Great. Let's get started.

Before I start, I'd just like to say that this post is going to sound tourist-y, vacation-y, and a little bit more like a "religious vacation" than a pilgrimage. I apologize for that, but I feel like it's a little awkward writing about the spiritual impact the pilgrimage had on me to people that I don't know, through the internet. I preferred to leave those details out, but I assure you, this trip was definitely not a vacation. 


On July 23, a group of about 100 youth from Miami left for Sweden and arrived at 1:00 p.m. their time, 7:00 a.m. our time. We didn't spend much time there; we left at 3:00 a.m. the next morning and caught a flight to Prague.

Czech Republic: 

After lunch on the first day in the Czech Republic we went to downtown to evangelize and go exploring. It was beautiful. I was told the architecture was exactly how I would have seen it in the 17th century. Most of the architecture in Miami is exactly how you would've seen it last year. Incredible. However, the main square (really a circle) is just about the strangest thing I've ever seen in my life. There are men dressed in silver and gold who pretend to be statues, then dance funny, a clown with the fake body of a baby, and a man who levitated. Now, Miami does have some strange people (every place does), but nothing like that, and definitely not a whole square of it. Prague was beautiful. If you look down, you see cobblestones. If you look up, you see architecture from the 17th century. If you look straight ahead... well... you see levitating men and clown babies, but still, it was a gorgeous city. The next day, we went to a sanctuary of Mary called Svata Hora in Czech, which translates to Holy Mountain in English. We were given time to explore, buy souvenirs, pray in front of the sacred statue of Mary in the center of the grounds, and we were given a brief history of the sanctuary as well. After that, we visited a Gothic castle that had been there since the year 900. In the middle was a giant Cathedral. Although we weren't allowed to go inside, we were still walking on the same ground that people have walked on since 900. It was amazing. We walked all the way to the edge, where we found out that it was on a hill and looked over almost the whole city of Prague. I've never seen a whole city from the top before. After that, our whole group starting walking. Ten minutes later, we arrived the Church of the Divine Infant of Prague. We arrived as they were finishing up mass. Oh, well. They had a white board for WYD pilgrims to put sticky notes on that said their name and where they were from. You couldn't see any of the actual board, that's how many people there were. Although, when we intended to leave, it started to rain, so we had to stay and wait out the rain. After that, we went back to our hostel, to depart the next morning to Austria.


Here's the weird part: Austria does not have a border at all. Not even guards to check your passport or EU pass. Just a sign. Crazy. As soon as we crossed the border, a lot of people on our bus started singing songs from The Sound Of Music. Predictable. When in Austria, sing songs from The Sound Of Music. We arrived at this giant beautiful building and were told it was our hotel. Yeah right! It was a monastery! We were able to see the church there which was built in the year 1000. I'm never going to get used to this super-old thing. I'm always going to be awed by it. After that, we were taken to our actual hostel, the Schlossherberge. See if you can pronounce that, because we certainly couldn't. It was on a hill and overlooked almost the entire city of Vienna. Again, nothing even remotely like it in Miami. The next day we climbed a hill and at the top, we saw the entire city of Vienna at a different angle. We were also told about how the King of Poland assisted Austria in the defeat of the Ottoman empire. You can read more about that here: The next day we were taken to Schonbrunn, the summer palace of the Austrian royal family, dating back to Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian the Second. Apparently, during the time that the Palace was built in, there were many outbreaks of diseases in the summer, or at least more than in the winter, and the royal family did not want anything to do with such outbreaks, so they had a summer palace to get away from the sicknesses. We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, so I only have pictures of the outside and the garden. Speaking of which, there was a huge garden and maze in the back of the Palace. There are canopies, fountains, rose bushes, ponds, lily pads, and tons of smaller gardens throughout the grounds. Further to the back, there is a hill with some sort of structure that looks just like it stepped out of The Sound Of Music. We didn't get to see what it really was, but I did get a couple of pictures. After that, we went into downtown Vienna to do more evangelizing and exploring. There, we met up with some other Floridian, Italian, and Spanish pilgrims. We also went to a cathedral, where we were allowed inside the gated area that was normally closed off to the public to preserve the paintings and other things that could possibly be damaged by a large number of people. That was the end of our stay in Austria. The next day, we began driving to Poland! We went through the Czech Republic on the way there, and stopped at a monastery in the city of Mikulov to have morning prayer. It also was on a hill and had a view of the city.


The next day, we started our five-mile trek to see the Pope! There were tons of people and very many long long lines. The mass with the Pope was definitely worth traveling all the way from Miami for. When we got back to our hostel the next day, we were told that it was time to celebrate, so we ate a five-course meal for dinner, followed by lots of music. The next day, we had a meeting with Kiko Arguello, the founder of the Neocatechumenal Way, the church group that I traveled with. There, we saw people that my family knew when we lived in Colorado a long, long time ago. The next day, we traveled to the convent of Saint Faustina. It hasn't been renovated or restored or anything. It's exactly how she saw it, but with glass over the relics. However, next to the convent is this huge Divine Mercy church with the original painting of the Divine Mercy Image. It was way too new for Saint Faustina to have seen it, but it was still cool. While there, we also saw the vestments that St. Pope John Paul II was wearing when he was shot. I didn't realize until a few minutes later that I was seeing the blood of the saint. Amazing. After that, we went to the sanctuary of John Paul II, where he was ordained a bishop. I realized that I had left my glasses on the bus far too late to go and get them, so I couldn't see anything clearly. I just started taking a bunch of pictures and videos to try and look at them later, but they didn't turn out very well, at least not well enough to put on the internet, so I only have a few pictures from the outside. After touring the sanctuary, we were given two hours to explore, shop, eat, whatever. I went with some friends of mine to go get pizza, but we met a nice man on the way there who gave us directions to the former residence of JP II, which is also where Pope Francis had stayed the previous week for WYD. Unfortunately, his directions didn't lead there, so we just carried on with our plans instead. We stopped at a candy shop, where we watched them make candy, and were then given some for free. Polish candy is definitely different than what I'm used to, but it was really cool, and really good! Then, we kept walking until we found a pizza place (there were plenty; we were bound to find one sometime). Eventually, we did, and had lunch there. The next day, we went to the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. This is what I was really looking forward to, aside from seeing the Pope. We were given a history of Czestochowa and had morning prayer outside. We were also given a tour by a nun. On the same day, we went to Auschwitz, the concentration camp. I didn't take any pictures there. Sorry for the inconvenience. After that, we went back through the Czech Republic, because it must be oddly shaped, where we stayed for a night in the hostel where we stayed the first time we were there. The next morning, we went to the airport, where we caught a flight back to Stockholm, then to Norway, then back to Florida again, and that concluded our trip.

Now, here are some details about the traveling aspect of the trip.

What I brought with me:

  • Clothes to last two weeks in cool weather (but also suitable for walking)
  • One pair of sneakers (classified as hiking boots, but shaped like sneakers). 
  • Travel-size toiletries
  • A scarf
  • A heavy sweater
  • 2 light sweaters
  • A sleeping bag
  • A shower curtain to put down under my sleeping bag when we slept outside for the vigil with the Pope. 
  • A jacket/raincoat
  • Face wipes
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Tissues
  • A radio (the mass with the Pope was in Italian)
  • Headphones
  • A flashlight
  • AA batteries
  • A journal
  • A camera
  • Pens and pencils
  • A pedometer
  • Sunglasses
  • A stick of sunscreen
  • A hat
  • A sharpie
  • A little case with a rosary, bobby pins, foreign money, AAA batteries. 
  • Cough drops
  • Granola bars
  • Lip balm
  • A smaller backpack that they gave us while we were there with booklets, tickets, and such that we would need for World Youth Day
... All in a suitcase and a backpack. 

What I didn't bring and and wish I brought:
  • A water bottle. I was told we would be given one while we were there, so I didn't need to bring one of my own. I never got a water bottle and had to use disposable ones the whole time, which were often lost or broken. Even if I brought one just for the flights, it would be worth it, considering we were only given one glass of water on an 8-hour flight. Also, with all the walking we did, it would've been a lot more bearable (not to mention healthy) if I had water with me. 
  • Flip flops. If I wanted to go anywhere within our hostel, I had to put on socks and lace up my hiking boots, which was very time consuming and annoying. If I had thought of bringing flip flops, I wouldn't have has to go through the hassle of putting on hiking boots every time I had to get something downstairs. Thankfully, someone in our group had extra sandals that she let me use, so it wasn't terrible, but next time, I'm bringing flip flops. 
  • Liquid sunscreen. I just brought a stick and it always melted and didn't cover very well. Although it wouldn't have prevented every sunburn, liquid sunscreen would help someone as fair-skinned as I am who is spending almost two weeks in the sun. 
  • Aloe vera gel. Like I said, sunscreen doesn't prevent every sunburn, so when I do get burned, it would help to have something to soothe it.
  • A hairbrush. This is just something that I forgot. Two weeks of combing your hair with your fingers isn't very fun, so always remember your hairbrush when you go traveling. 
  • More hair ties. I only brought a few with me, and I wish I brought more, because I lose them as quickly as I find them. Maybe if I had a few more, I wouldn't have run out before the trip ended. 
  • A power adapter. Europe has a different electrical system than America does. Although I didn't bring any other electronic/electric devices, I still brought my camera, and it needed to be charged. Some friends let me use theirs, but I would've like to have one of my own. 
  • Bug spray. There were crickets, mosquitoes, and I don't know what else on the day with the Pope and we slept outside. I would've like to go to sleep without being afraid that bugs were crawling all over me and flying all around me and biting me. As far as I can tell, there wasn't much damage, but bug bites are never fun, so I'm bringing bug spray next time. 
  • A small purse. When we went exploring and shopping, and I just needed my money, camera, and maybe a jacket, I had to either bring my backpack, hold it all, stuff it in my little camera bag, tie it to my jacket around my waist, stuff it in my pockets (most of the pants I brought didn't have pockets), or ask someone else to hold it. Yes, I had lots of options, but there was a problem with each one. By bringing a small purse, I could've solved those problems. Oh, well. I'll save it for next time. 
  • More socks. I miscounted my socks when I packed and didn't bring enough. Dirty socks are not fun, especially when they're somebody else's! Be sure you have everything when you're packing. 
  • Band-Aids/Blister pads/Neosporin. Two weeks of walking isn't very feet-friendly. You're bound to get a few owies. 
What I brought and wish I didn't:
  • A flashlight. I just didn't use it. The sun went down at 10:00 every night and was up at 3:00 in the morning. This may just be for areas closer to the poles, but I still wish I didn't bring it. 
  • Granola bars. I didn't try them before we left, and ended up really not liking them. They were very salty, which isn't a very good thing when you have a limited supply of water, are walking a lot, or are in a place where you have to pay to use a public restroom (it's true). Besides, I had enough food during the flights and during our stay, so I really didn't need them. 
  • Extra batteries. One set for each battery-powered device I brought was enough to last the whole time. I didn't need extras, so it would just be better to save the space and not bring extras. 
  • Extra tissues. 3 pocket-packs of tissues were enough, especially when I was given another one in the food bags at World Youth Day. Unless you have serious allergies and are sneezing all the time, I wouldn't advise bring tons of tissues. 
  • A huge sleeping bag. It took up my whole suitcase and I had to carry it in front of me while walking 5 miles. It unravelled multiple times and I had to ask for help rolling it back up again while we were walking, or else drag it through rocks, mud, and lots of feet. It was particularly difficult because we didn't stop at all on the way there, so if I stopped to fix it, I would get lost. I'm definitely investing in a smaller one for next time. 
  • 2 light sweaters. One was enough. It wasn't worth taking up the extra space in my bag. 
What I'm glad I didn't bring:

  • My phone. I would have been distracted and not able to fully enter into the pilgrimage if I brought my phone, so I'm happy I left it. 
  • Tons of full-size beauty liquids. I just don't need much, really. I only brought the basics (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, etc.) and I only brought as much as I thought I needed. No lotions, perfumes, hair oils, or anything else like that. It wasn't worth the extra space in my bag. Another thing I discovered is that face wipes from Dollar Tree do as good of a job (if not better) of cleaning my face as my normal cleanser does. They're only way more space-efficient, and don't run the risk of exploding or spilling. These are a hidden gem. 
  • Heat styling tools. There are so many reasons for this one. 1.) My hair is so thin that heat damages it severely. 2.) the electrical system is different in Europe so I would need a converter to use them. 3.) There really wasn't much time to spend on doing hair. We spent our days on the move and our time at the hostels was spent eating, sleeping, showering, or praying, and it was difficult to squeeze anything else in the schedule. 4.) PILGRIMAGES ARE NOT ABOUT LOOKS. 5.) I look fine without it anyway. 6.) It rained on a couple of days so it wouldn't have stayed. 7.) It got so hot at times that I just put my hair up in a bun. 8.) I didn't have the space. Heat tools are huge, and I had to pack two weeks worth of stuff into a backpack and a suitcase, and most of that was in my backpack because my seeping bag took up almost all of my suitcase. 
  • Formal clothes/shoes. There simply weren't any formal events to dress for. 

What I learned on this trip:
  • There are pizza and ice cream shops everywhere. 
  • You have to pay to use a public restroom.
  • Europeans sure love mineral water. 
  • There is no air conditioning anywhere. 
  • The windows don't have screens. 
  • They don't have sheets or bedspreads: they have something in between. They have a big fluffy blanket that goes inside of a jumbo pillow case. 
  • Poland doesn't accept Euros. 
  • Only the highways were paved with asphalt. Everything else was cobblestones. 
  • The tap water tastes amazing in Europe. 
  • The Czech must really like fish because we had it three times in the two days we were there. 
  • The breakfast in all of the countries consisted of multiple types of bread, meat, and cheese. 
  • You should always calculate the conversion rates before you buy anything because if you aren't careful, you could end up spending a lot more money than you intended to. A small group I was with accidentally spent almost 20 dollars on ice cream. 
  • T-mobile has free data roaming (but I didn't use it because I didn't bring my phone with me).  
I almost forgot! The next World Youth Day will be in 2019 in... Panama! I can't wait! Now my shop has a new purpose: instead of raising money to go to Poland, I'm raising money to go to Panama. Only this time I'll have more time to prepare. 

That's all. I hope you enjoyed this post, especially if you are traveling soon, or attended/are going to attend WYD. Now, I challenge you. Comment below if you were at World Youth Day, plan to, or are preparing to travel to another country. I'd love to hear about it!


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