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.