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Four Years at the Mount

Sophomore year

Celtic Times Ahead

Carolyn Shields

(9/2011) There were eighteen people at Holy Grounds Café one rainy August afternoon--nineteen if you count Doc. Doc got my name right the first time that day without first asking if I was Olivia. Classical music was playing (well, really only Bach's G Major Prelude was playing, since I kept hitting the repeat button). Mr. Sielaff, the café’s owner, who has to deal with my constant repeat of Bach’s prelude, hands our Philomenaccino to a couple. His glasses perched on his nose, he wipes his hands on his black apron and proceeds to whistle.

His wife and I sigh at the end of the day when we begin to clean up. When finished, I collect my notes where I scribble advice from customers who talk Europe/studying abroad with me. I met a guy who knew a guy who loved southern Spain because of the kindhearted Spaniards. I now know a random town in Ireland where they serve the best ice cream; I know how to bargain for ‘genuine’ leather in Italy; I know what ‘genuine’ leather feels like…all thanks to the café’s wonderful customers. So I pocket these notes. I leave for home on my scooter, tucking my dress in. And I drive through Emmitsburg.

This slow, small town life is what I'll miss in the great city of Dublin.

I've been spending so much time behind my computer screen, booking hotels across Europe. On a ghost tour with my friends this summer I accidentally converted the ticket price to euros in my head out of habit. My grandma has nightmares of me getting cold in Germany (so she loaned me her sweater), and wet in Dublin (so she offered me her raincoat), and losing my passport in Paris (like my aunt). When my dad sees me staring off into space, he asks what country I'm thinking about.

I've never been more excited (or nervous), and I leave in just a few days. My two friends David and Emily and I got together this summer and marked up our calendars. Ready for this? Thirteen weekends, seven in Ireland, six on the Continent. That's nine countries, two continents, totaling in at something like eight hotels, three overnight trains, and a whole lot of plane tickets to book. We laugh because between all of this we'll be studying and going to school.

And it's surreal. One year ago at this time, if you told me what I was planning I would have laughed and wished it was so. So here's the three-day weekends ‘abroad from abroad’ we have planned: One weekend we will visit Belfast and Northern Ireland, then spend two days in Scotland. We are planning to spend three days in England, two possibly in London and a day in the country, maybe at Stonehenge or Kent. One weekend in September we are meeting up with a family friend in Brussels, Belgium. Can you say, chocolate?

I'm also really looking forward to our four-day weekend, when we'll spend two days in Paris, hop on an overnight train, and wake up in Rome for the following two. The Versailles Palace, the Bastille (all mentioned in the novel I wrote), and the earthly center of my beautiful faith in one weekend!

Another favorite weekend I'm looking forward to is flying into the white town of Ronda in southern Spain where bull fighting originated. An hour and a half away is Africa, so why not? When will I ever go to Africa in my future? Then another overnight train to the beautiful Santiago de Compestella. This basilica was the third most visited pilgrim site during the Middle Ages, and besides that, it’s beautiful. Our last European adventure will be possibly Vienna for a day, with an orchestra at night, and then train over to Nuremburg, Germany for its world famous Christkindlesmarkt, or Christmas market.

Call me stupid, but I would love to write another book this fall. I just can't wait to touch all of that history and to be inspired by it. History is a story already told; I just like adding some details. Traveling like this has been in my dreams since I was a little girl. I mean, one day in early summer, I literally sat down and pulled up a map of Europe on my computer and thought, "Ok. Where do I go?"

But I will miss the Mount ridiculously. It's almost a tease seeing everyone for two weeks and then leaving for this great adventure. I'm going to miss seeing the mountains change colors during the fall, and all those 10 p.m. Masses. This year instead of dancing late into the night and sitting by a bonfire on Halloween, I'll be at the Vatican, praying for those at home. As my friends study for their finals, I'll be walking between wooden stalls lit up with lights, and the smell of mulled wine and roast sausages (whatever that is) in the air.

Am I stressed? Well, I'm sitting here writing this on paper because my laptop broke, it's past 10, I'm eating a doughnut, and my article is slightly overdue. Am I ready? I’ve read James Joyce and forced myself through Oscar Wilde’s poetry, and I’ve touched up on my French. I’m aware that Dublin’s archdiocese is on the verge of financial collapse, and that the value of the euro is decreasing. Am I nervous? What if I DO get wet in Dublin? Or one of my bookings goes wrong? I mean, all those headlines about Europe aren't encouraging, what with Norway's tragedy, London's riots, and Northern Ireland's unrest.

In any case, I am extraordinarily blessed. I'm asking all of you to keep me and my friends in your prayers. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I'll roll with the punches. So what if we need to sleep in a Parisian park because I accidentally cancelled our hotel? (Kidding, Dad...). I know God and my saints are looking out for me. Ireland’s Lady of Knock is too.

But I need to stop here. I've got another hotel to book!

Read other articles by Caroline Shields