On Monday, April 11th, 13 students and three teachers left Invercargill on the fourth biennial Ratcliffe Exchange. Excitement mixed with parental anxiety was the mood in the terminal as farewells were made.
First stop – seven hours in Singapore airport (more precisely, two hours in the rooftop swimming pool) before touching down in Rome, Italy – about 30 hours after leaving New Zealand. Two and a half action packed days followed as sights were ‘ticked off’: the Colosseum, Santa Maria Church, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Pantheon and the Vatican Museum.
One full day was dedicated to visiting Vatican City, beginning with the weekly Papal audience in St Peter’s Square. What an honour it was to see the Pope – as he was driven around the Square amid the masses, we found ourselves only about five metres away! While the Mass was in Italian, a mention was made of New Zealand, as pilgrims around the world were welcomed to the gathering. Later, we have the privilege of entering St Peter’s Basilica through the Holy Doors – open due to the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
From Rome it was then on to Florence for a quick taster of this beautiful city. It was a toss-up as to whether the highlight was the magnificent Duomo cathedral in the city centre or the markets and the attempts at bartering to get the best deals. Another fast train to Milan, then a slower one to Domodossola, high in the Italian Alps.
For many students, having the opportunity to stay at Calvario was the highlight of the trip. Here we walked past Antonio Rosmini’s room every day on the way to the dining room. A day in Stresa, beside Lake Maggiore, was filled with learning more of the history of this humble and forward thinking man. We toured the first Rosmini College and inside its beautiful chapel viewed the tomb of Rosmini. Along the foreshore, we toured Villa Bolongaro where Rosmini spent his final years and where many of his writings are stored. His writings were so extensive that they are still being translated. We also went into the room where he worked and eventually died.
The students were lucky enough to have a short foray into a small corner of Switzerland, via a scenic train that runs between Domodossola and Locarno, at the head of Lake Maggiore. Unfortunately they didn’t get the passport stamp to prove it!
The only change to the well-planned itinerary happened when we returned to Milan for our flight to London. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we missed our flight so ended up spending a night in Milan before catching the next available flight the following morning.
Three and a half days in London only allows for a quick snapshot of such a large city but during this time we were able to visit the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Churchill War rooms, Kensington Palace, some of St James’ and Hyde Parks and see the “Lion King’ stage show. The visit to Windsor Castle will be remembered for it was the day the Queen turned 90! Riding the underground and counting the stations before getting off became the norm for the students.
Then it was off to the long anticipated reunion at Ratcliffe College with the host families and the students who had visited SPC in 2015. During the 12 day stay here, besides attending classes, students were lucky enough to attend a Leicester City football match and visit the theme park, Alton Towers. Tears flowed as farewells were said – some of these ‘connections’ will continue for years to come, I am sure.
Returning to London for the last two days meant a few more sights were ‘ticked off’; the Imperial War Museum, Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, Harrods, London Eye, Madam Tussauds as well as the all-important shopping.