Our Grand Tour wrapped up two weeks ago and it was incredible.
Lots of people have asked me about our highlights – one amazing thing that happened, or a shortlist of the places we liked best. My usual answer has been that the whole trip was a highlight: everything we saw and smelled, tasted and heard was so beautiful and overwhelming, that every day was just as wonderful as the last.
That being said there were some things about the trip generally that I really loved. They’re not really highlights, I guess. They are the things we did throughout the whole trip that, in the end, made the Grand Tour very grand indeed.
- We scheduled rest days
When you have put so much effort, capital and time into travelling to another country it seems wasteful to not use every moment seeing the sights and soaking up the experiences. But this holiday was going to use nearly all my annual leave for the year – so I was keen to make sure I didn’t get home exhausted. Some of our most pleasant days were the days when we found quiet parks, churches or public places to sit and rest. We read books, ate picnic food, chatted and prayed together. It was nice that not every day was a day of whirlwind adventuring, and in the end I came home feeling rested!
- We made time to see friends
After a week or so I started to find travel a little dehumanising. I could only handle so many days in a row of interacting with the people around me (other than Matt, of course) as a consumer. Looking, buying, eating and drinking – those are all great things to do! But it was a relief to have some days where we also got to meet up with friends (especially at the wedding!) and engage with people in a more personal way. It was really special to see friends that we hadn’t seen in ages, and it was also special to meet up with friends travelling along the same route as us.
- We worshiped with brothers and sisters in local churches
It was important for us to leave space in our itinerary for going to church, to meet with brothers and sisters in Christ and to hear God’s word taught. With the wedding in our itinerary as well, we made it to quite a lot of church services, a a very diverse range of services too! My favourite services were just the regular Sunday services we attended at St Ebbe’s Oxford and Breccia di Roma Chiesa Evangelica. It was a huge encouragement and blessing to be welcomed by these people, to sing God’s praises with them and to sit under his word (even in a foreign language).
- I kept a very detailed journal
On our way out of Sydney I armed myself with scissors, double-sided tape and a Frankie magazine (scissors in checked luggage…) and on the first day of our trip I bought a notebook to use as a travel journal. Each day I carefully recorded our adventures and decorated the pages with tickets, maps, labels and pretty paper from Frankie. I wrote down poems and excerpts from the essays and stories we read. I wrote down passages of scripture that were important for us as we traveled. I loved the way my journal helped me to stop and reflect each day – not just on the things we did but also on the things God was teaching us as we moved from place to place.
- We went prepared for our personal devotions
On that note, the final favourite thing about our holiday was the small pile of devotional material I packed to read along the way. I anticipated the kinds of things I might like to think about and pray through as we explored some of the most decadent and beautiful places in the world. In the end I brought along The Valley of Vision, The Word in Small Boats and The Weight of Glory. C.S. Lewis’ words on glory were a spiritual lifesaver for me, helping me to worship God rather than slip into idolatry during those weeks of rapid-consumery-tourism. And reading my favourite Oliver O’Donovan sermon, in the church where it was originally delivered, under St Frideswide’s window… well that was pretty amazing. Having these resources at our fingertips, and making time to use them, helped us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus every day. They helped us to see – and take up – each moment, each monument, each painting, each landscape, each meal, as an opportunity to worship God.