My nonna Ines was raised in the sharp Alps so close to Austria the country's borders wavered during her upbringing. At 18, she traveled across the Atlantic to flee the war. On a group hike she met Russel, my Ukranian grandfather. Within 6 months they were married and began a family outside of Chicago, Illinois. All she ever wanted was a daughter, but she was given 8 sons, one after another. Several were born while her Russel was abroad in Europe fighting with the Allies.
Their letters during the war were bittersweet and full of longing. Their fourth son, Timothy, is my father. We've been fortunate enough to visit her birthplace and live abroad near where she spent her formative years so long ago.
This summer we visited Northern Italy for three months. During our stay I brushed up on my Italian language skills and ate more pizza heavy with fresh mozzarella than I could have dreamed of.
Three great stops to note if you're ever in the area are:
1) Lucca: This walled city is full of life and music. You can bike along the walls on a clear morning and enjoy the surrounding mountains. Wonderful restaurants serve truffle polenta and pizzas topped with local ingredients.
2) Marostica: This tiny town dots the hills of the Veneto region. Famous for a human chess match based off folklore of two men battling a beautiful princess. You won't want to miss the Partita Schacchi or the annual cherry festival. On the last Sunday of each month you can also explore the vintage flea market set up in the piazza.
3) Venice (especially during the Biennale): Venice is an obvious stop to make in your European vacation, but have you ever heard of the Biennale? A biannual art festival takes place along the canals and inside old palaces. As you meander through the narrow streets you'll notice sandwich boards advertising art exhibit after art exhibit. Most of them are hardly visited because of how tucked away they are. Take this as an opportunity to see the less traveled side of the ancient city of Venice.
I was lucky enough to explore the destination I've dreamed of for as long as I can remember. Australia has always seemed so appealing to me - barrier reefs, foreign wildlife, and tales of prisoners being filling up the scorched land already rich with history.
At 19, I booked a flight and prepared to be part of a Bible study abroad program to finally explore this land below the equator. Upon arriving I boarded a train and headed to Bowral, New South Wales. This small town is nestled in the verdant brush an our and a half away from the metropolis of Sydney. In the mornings, as us students tumbled out of bunk beds and towards the dining hall, kangaroos bounded around the river and into the fields. I found one too many ominous fuzzy spiders for my liking and had some of the best lattes I've ever tasted. One pastry - a hazelnut muffin - stood out so much that I named my food photography business after it (That's Hazelnuts). We swam in the muddy river and biked into town for Macca's (McDonald's).
While Australian street laws reminded me I was far from home and and stewy meat pies filling the pastry containers at cafes struck me as sickening, the place felt somehow so oddly familiar. During previous trips abroad I've often encountered intense culture differences and awkward language blocks...but in Australia I felt so comfortable. I often was shocked back to reality when a kangaroo sped across the highway or the blue mountains towered in the sky before me.
On my last week on this iconic continent, we explored the crystal clear beaches and several coastal towns. I marveled at the sand rounding and relaxing as the waves pushed and pulled. The hot fries nearly burnt my tongue as I ordered a creamy latte for my walk. I left with a pit in my stomach but missed home too much to stay for another few weeks.
A four hour drive from Coeur d'Alene is the majestic Glacier National Park. Marked with icy cold lakes and glacial peaks, this park earns its status as a National Park easily. You're unlikely to get through your visit without seeing a mountain goat scaling the seemingly straight mountain sides or signs of nearby bear activity. We camped near Lake Macdonald and enjoyed a hearty breakfast of potatoes and sausage. After a short hike we stopped in town for some (not really) well-deserved ice cream. We spent the rest of the day lounging along the lake and impulsively jumping in only to be greeted by beyond frigid water. The next morning we woke early to drive to Going-To-The-Sun Road. We walked along the street to join the throngs waiting to see sunrise at the top of this massive glacier from ages past.
Exploring the fabled rues of Paris is a thing of my dreams. To be able to do it with my sisters was just the cherry on top. We biked in the rain to gaze at the spectacle of the Eiffel Tower glittering in the downpour. We gorged ourselves on Lauduree macarons and lazed on blankets by Montmatre at sunset. I practiced my french and got us some rollerblades. We zoomed along the cobbled streets and stored the blades while we entered museums housing Van Gogh and Monet and modern artists like Balincourte and Buren.
Picking through flea markets and holding my awe in while we meandered the fresh food markets sticks in my memory from this trip. I'd been told Parisians and the French in general are utterly unwelcoming and visibly snooty. I was met with courteous strangers and helpful shop owners. They seemed absolutely tickled as I used my broken French to asked when they closed and how much was it for the croissant. Take this opportunity to learn a few phrases and show the locals you're interested in communicating with them in their mother tongue.