My friends and I took advantage of our first free weekend. We spontaneously planned a trip in two days and ended up spending time in 4 countries: Austria, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia. It sounds like a lot, and hectic, and not worth it, but it was totally doable and a great asset to our Europe experiences. Renting a car was key. It gave us the flexibility to stop and leave a location when we wished and discover places we didn’t think we’d come across, and that’s what our weekend consisted of: finding stunning locations out of the blue.
Our planned destinations were fantastic. Berchtesgaden National Park in Germany, Pragser Wildsee located in Northern Italy, Lake Bled in Slovenia, and Hallstatt, Austria were wonderful. No doubt about it. But it’s the places we came across on accident that got everyone in our group excited. Most likely because it was a surprise. Like finding $20 on the side of the road or walking into your house finding out there’s a group of family and friends waiting to surprise you for your birthday. The things we came across during the weekend triggered excitement for beauty. My friend Angela was telling me how her Ethics professor, Dr. Carreno, described beauty in relation to our semester of traveling: “Here we spend the weekends in reverence to beauty, and then we spend weekdays discussing how beauty empowers us to choose the good and draws us into communion with God. Ladies and Gentlemen, what else can I say?” Dr. Carreno summed it up perfectly. Beauty is unavoidable, and when we find it, study it, and travel through it, we are brought to a closer relationship with our creator.
In Slovenia, we found a gorge. It’s famous, and popular when it’s open, so we decided to go. But it ended up being closed and a locked gate blocked us from hiking far into the sight. But, our adventurous sides kicked in and we ended up climbing a mountain, scaling down the side of it, spotting a mountain goat, and crossing a freezing cold river to get there. (Mom’s and Dad’s, NO ONE WAS HURT IN THE MAKING OF THIS WEEKEND). It was absolutely worth it and one of the most phenomenal sights of natural beauty I’ve seen. The river was crystal clear and bright teal, green moss covered the ground and rock walls formed the gorge like the shape of a snake. After being there for two hours, we were pretty shocked when people starting strolling through where we were. My initial reaction was “how did they get through the gate?” Apparently, a Polish guy picked the lock and walked right in. His reasoning (said in a thick accent), “I’m here with my family…we wanted to see it so I did what I had to do.” Was it justice? Who knows. But it was a blessing in disguise for us because we didn’t have to cross the river and climb the mountain again. Many thanks to the random Polish “burglar.”
Surprise number two: Traunsee Lake. On our way from Hallstatt to Linz where we returning our car, we stopped by this unanticipated landmark. Personally, I thought it was even more unique and stunning than Hallstatt. A little church on a hill, a huge lake with surrounding mountains, and swans swimming around the pier made the entire scene picture perfect. My friend Martin got incredibly drone footage of the lake and of Angela and my buddy Jude jumping into 39 degree water. Some of the pictures we got, it looks like it was a warm summer day. But it’s February, so it definitely still felt like winter when they jumped into the lake! My friends are very very brave and spontaneous.
Our entire weekend went incredibly smooth until we hit one small bump in our plan: we missed the last bus from the train station to Gaming. After walking for about an hour, the shoe maker in town passed us on the side of the road, turned around, and he drove us in his mini-van back to campus while we snapped and sang to the radio. All four of us made it back for mass, and while sitting in the church, it was one of the most heart warming experiences I’ve had, thinking about the blessings we all experienced.
Hours and hours of driving around Europe with good friends made for an incredible weekend of discovering beauty.