Pope’s blessing, London, and FLYING! (Kathryn in Italy and England)

Its getting progressively more difficult to stay on top of the blogging now that classes are in full swing and I’m traveling every weekend, so here is the highlights of the past 3 weeks!

Three weeks ago now, I had the privilege of going to the Vatican and standing in St. Peter’s Square as the Pope gave his weekly Papal Angelus, or blessing. The square was packed full of people from all over the world, waving flags of their home countries. When he came out of the window, the crowd erupted with noise and joy for the Pope. At the beginning of his speech he welcomed everyone and when he didn’t receive the response he wanted when he asked how we were, we asked again jokingly like a teacher does when talking to a class, which was pretty funny. He acknowledged each group present in the crowds, Brazilians, Argentinians, Grecians, Spaniards and more. He spoke of loving our neighbors and letting God into each situation and part of our lives. He spoke about the threats from Isis and other terrorist groups as well as other goings on in the world. He moved into the blessing and he closed the speech with “Have a blessed Sunday, now go home and eat lunch!” Haha he was very light-hearted and joking which was great to see and experience. He spoke slowly enough in Italian where I could understand much of what he said which was awesome! At one point during the blessing I became aware of what exactly I was witnessing. I was watching the Pope, in person, bless ME and hundreds of other people. Not everyone gets this opportunity and I was so moved by that feeling, it is something I will never ever forget.
The next weekend, I WENT TO LONDON!! We stayed in this cute little neighborhood called Paddington, right off the tube stops. First of all, THE TUBE is incredibly complex and confusing. Compared to Rome, which has 2 metro lines, London had at least 6 different lines that go every which way. But we figured everything out eventually. We arrived Thursday night around 11pm but no restaurants were open! So we went to subway for dinner, which was actually great because it tasted just like home haha.  Friday morning was one of the best days of my life- I WENT TO THE STUDIO WHERE HARRY POTTER WAS FILMED. Words can’t describe my excitement walking through the ACTUAL doors of the Great Hall to a huge backlot full of real props and sets from all 8 movies. I was in heaven and I won’t be able to watch the movies the same. I may or may not have started tearing up leaving the studio because I didn’t want to leave. But it was a self guided tour so we took our time and saw everything. One staff member said the record for the longest tour was 13 hours!! I loved each and every second of it!
Later that day, we ventured over to the London eye. We actually ran into a group of kids on our program there which was pretty funny. We were in line to get tickets for the eye when we spontaneously decided to upgrade ourselves to the champagne experience haha! So the four of us got our own little pod (when the normal pod was packed with around 20 people) and our own personal champagne ‘pourer’ / person to point out things / photographer! The view was INCREDIBLE from the top of the eye, especially just as the sun was setting. We got dinner that night at a local pub and I had a hamburger which was great, I’ve been missing them!
The next day we did everything else in London, we saw the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace! The royal band was playing a Michael Jackson medley which was very unexpected but funny and showed they had a bit of a sense of humor. We got lunch at CHIPOTLE!! AH it was so great! We also saw Picidilly circus, Harrods, The Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, Kensington Palace and had a nice stroll through Hyde Park at sunset. The last stop that night was Kings Cross Station! Of course, where platform 9 3/4 is! There was a huge line to take pictures with the trolley half inside the wall, but it was worth it!!
The next morning before leaving, we visited Abbey Road. It was a bit hard to get to and the traffic was actually pretty heavy (making it difficult to get a good picture and not get ran over!) and there were of course other tourists doing the exact same thing. I think it took us an hour to get pictures we were happy with haha. Our very last stop was Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, it was closed to tourists on Sunday, so we stayed outside and snapped a few pictures, including the classic telephone booth pic with Big Ben in the background. After that we headed to the airport! All in all, it was a crazy fun, unforgettable trip!!
Saturday, was one of the highest points of my trip (pun intended). I WENT PARAGLIDING OVER LAKE COMO.  It was a solo trip which made me nervous but it ended up going great. I left Rome at 7 am and took the 3 hour train to Milan. From there, I took another train to Lake Como. It was a bit cloudy and I wasn’t sure I would be able to fly that day. But even in the clouds, the lake was gorgeous with the mountains cradling it, dotted with little villages everywhere. The guy from the company met me at the train station and got me a cappuccino while we waited for his co-worker to report on the conditions from the take-off point. After much back and forth, we decided we would at least try! So, we drove up the winding and VERY steep road up one of the mountains to the take off point. We met his buddy at a local restaurant across from the point and decided to go for it. The family who own the restaurant came out to greet us and to watch us take off! (Side note: The bar was called Viking and the dad had on shorts and wooden cloggs.. not important but very funny).
It all happened so fast! I got into my harness as he set out the parachute and he clipped our harnesses together and said “When I say walk, you walk. When I say run, you run. Okay?” and we took off! I maybe got four steps in before I was no longer touching the ground and we were in the air. I JUST WALKED OFF A CLIFF! It was a crazy incredible experience to fly. We were around 1200 meters in the air and the scenery was breathtaking. It would have been better had there been sun, but I was in awe of the beauty of it all even in the clouds. After about 10 minutes he told me to hang on and we’d be doing acrobatics! Of course I said yes! We tilted from side to side in huge swoops and then all of a sudden we started spiraling into a nose dive about 100 kmh (or around 65 mph). We straightened out and landed softly and without issues next to the lake at the bottom of the mountain. I was actually very proud of myself I didn’t chicken out and I would do it again in a heart beat!

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