|Brooke in Salzburg, Austria|
"I'd organised little trips with other people but it had always fallen through," recalls Brooke. "I'd talked to Cayley about it a few months' prior and she messaged me one day and said, 'I've been accepted to go on a trip to Germany with uni, you should come with', so I said, 'Oh, why not?'."
While the girls had envisaged making their own way around Europe from Frankfurt, a Topdeck tour was eventually settled on as it uncomplicated matters and came at a discount. Their wintry woollies packed, off they flew in early December with Brooke catching up on Cayley after a few days.
The girls stayed a few days in Germany, staying in a one-bedroom flat offered up by a friend-boy who kindly took off to a mate's place to sleep on the couch. While there, they took in the Christmas markets. At the markets, the girls opted for budget fare: Bratwürste and a bread roll with ketchup and mustard, and pretzels.
"They're outdoor markets and they're everywhere," says Brooke. "On every corner you would turn there were just more and more and more stalls. Gingerbread stalls, sausage stalls, and stores with scarves and beanies and jumpers and others with Christmas decorations," says Brooke. "It was that exciting cold, the kind of fun cold where you rug up and you're warm but you can still feel the cold air on your face."
Their time in Frankfurt up, the girls made way for Paris in the rain. "We got there and had to catch the metro and we were wary of everyone, and we got outside and it was raining and we were walking in the rain, drowned rats, trying to find our hostel. But we didn't care – it was Paris!".
Their tour took them to the Swiss Alps, Rome, Vatican City, Venice (where Brooke got sick), Saltsburg in Austria, Berlin, Prague, Amsterdam and Rouge in Belgium, but it was Florence, Italy, that won Brooke's heart.
"I've always romanticised Europe, the cobble-stoned streets and beautiful old buildings, and Florence is just like that. There were fairy lights strung up along the streets."
As someone who recoils from the partying scene, Brooke was happy to go out at night but didn't feel uncomfortable amongst her group of 18 to 30s. "People still wanted to see the cities during the day, it wasn't just to party," she says. "We'd arrive in each place at night and then spend the whole next day there, which was basically a free day after breakfast." The schedule was intense but Brooke felt she was free to do what she liked in each place and the schedule wasn't strict.
Once the tour had concluded, the girls caught a ferry from Calais in France to Dover, where they caught a train to Tunbridge Wells in Kent, where they spent Christmas with Cayley's distant relatives. "It was really nice," says Brooke. "I loved immersing myself in the culture and being a part of the family and experiencing their Christmas. They had roast turkey and vegetables and pigs-in-a-blanket (sausages wrapped in bacon)."
Brooke made two friends on the commute to Germany, including an English guy from Liverpool who she describes as hilariously funny, who had travelled with his ill father to Australia and was returning home to his family. "When we got to Abu Dabi, he made sure I was alright and gave me his email because he knew I'd be in England for Christmas."
For Brooke, the lead up to the trip was full of mixed emotions. The last time she'd gone overseas was with another friend to Uganda, in 2009, where the girls served as missionaries in an orphanage. It was a trip that changed her life, and she found it hard to reacclimatise to Australian life. How did she get to the point where she could allow herself to enjoy a trip to Europe?
"It was a real struggle. There were a few times I cried," she says. "But something I've really started to learn is that the passions we have are given by Him and He's not going to waste them. I think you have to live, and God's created all these things, and he doesn't want us to live in guilt but in freedom. I prayed about it for a while, asking God for his blessing, and after I'd been praying, I got the message from Cayley. God teaches us things no matter what we do. I really grew up on that tour. I realised how different I am, and that everywhere is a mission field, no matter what you do. It's not necessarily telling people, 'I love Jesus!' all the time, it's how you live your life. Nothing goes to waste."
Feeling refreshed with a new lease on life, Brooke's trip was just the thing she needed to give her the impetus to really pursue her passions. This year she'll be working as a freelance photographer while working on other projects on the side.
"I've been waking up in the mornings feeling hopeful about change for the good," she says. "My life for the last two years has been work, and I've made the decision that I want to do what I'm passionate about. It's often harder, but it's an adventure and you learn so much about God and yourself."
Girl With a Satchel