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A growing famiglia

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

Ciao from Matera!

So… I wrote when I arrived in Italia, and now I will take a few moments to write as I prepare to leave! It has been an amazing (and busy!) two weeks, and as I told my Aunt Catherine last night, my family has officially grown by about 15 people!

First it was the wonderfully kind and generous crew in Mira, outside of Venice, my Uncle Roberto’s family…we shared delicious meals, took some daytrips, laughed a lot, and sang too 🙂

Then, in Sant’ Arsenio, a town south of Salerno where many of my ancestors are from, my Aunt and I were able to connect with a bunch of distant relatives of my great-grandmother, who showed us around town, introduced us to other distant cousins and treated us just like one of the family.

I’d love to write so much more about my visits to Trieste, Chiogga, Venice, Asolo, Sant’ Arsenio and Matera but there is unfortunately no time now. I’ve visited six Italian provinces in two weeks and will visit a few more when I return to Italy in early July (the final leg of my 5-month journey!!)

We were really lucky to even find this internet cafe in Matera, but we’ve got to get going soon. Tonight we will board a ferry in Bari that will take us to Dubrovnik in Croatia, and I’m more than excited. I’ll spend about a few days in Croatia before finally boarding a train again (it’s been more than two weeks!) to go visit friends in Hungary, Germany and Spain.

I’m thinking of the rest of the family back at home, and sending hellos to all my friends, near and far, that I have not been able to speak with in awhile. Will try to be in touch in June!

Ciao from Italia!

Friday, May 19th, 2006

I’ve made it to Italy, home of my ancestors, and the food that is NOT going to help my bathing suit appearances this summer.

It’s exciting to be here, knowing that tomorrow I will be meeting up with my aunt and uncle in Venice, who I will be visiting with and traveling with for the next two weeks or so.

My first few minutes in Italy were slightly challenging, and boy do I need to work on learning this language..but I’m just really happy to be here — after three months in Europe, it is nice to sort of feel like I’m arriving at a second home, and being with family for a few days will make it extra special…

And as for my family that I won’t see here this week…I’m missing you right now, but pretty sure that we will all visit this country together one day. Love to you all, esp. Mom and Dad.
Oh, and a special Happy Birthday to Dan! Happy 23 and enjoy the weekend bro!

Wonder Wow

Monday, May 15th, 2006

For the first time in a long while, certainly for the first time on this trip, I felt a palpable sense of wonder to find myself here, on these streets, in this body, at this time. I was in Europe now. It was an oddly profound notion.

~ From Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe, Bill Bryson

This is not the first time I have felt wonder on this trip, but it is certainly magnified for me right now, in this magical point at the tip of the sea. I’m in love with this tiny nugget of land, this perfect little peninsula that juts out into the Adriatic, waving softly to neighboring Italy.

I’ve seen two stellar sunsets, full of periwinkle and pink. I’ve walked along pebbly, rocky and sandy beaches, and hiked up fantastic sleepy hills under deep blue skies. I can’t really believe that I’m here. Today felt like an out-of-body experience at times, full of highs and lows. I shed some tears in the colorfully frescoed Church of St. George, and then a few more while high above the sea at a unique sculpture garden. These were tears of joy, wonder and sadness all mixed into one, just your average emotional jumble. And then my camera broke. But I was all out of tears, so I laughed.

Tomorrow is day nine-zero, and later this week, the three-month mark. Wow. Wow. Wow. That’s a long time to be roaming around Europe. Yet sometimes it still just does not seem real. Life happening all around me seems real, but me standing in the midst of it still feels like a dream on days like this. It really is a dream come true.

Exploring Slovenia

Saturday, May 13th, 2006

It has been an excellent week here in Slovenia. This is a really beautiful country, and small enough that is easy to see lots in a short period of time. Ljubljana is a great town, and I have especially enjoyed learing about Joze Plecnik, the Slovenian architect who is responsible for creating much of the cities buildings and bridges. He designed buildings in Prague too, some of which we saw when we were there a few weeks ago. A tour of his home here in Ljubljana is well worth the time.

Other things we did around town: sampled Slovenian wines at the Movia winebar with a friend living here who played tour guide (and also graciously let us use his washer for laundry day!), strolled through Tivoli Park, hiked up to the castle (a routine occurence in every European city we visit), and randomly had Mexican food twice this week (belated Cinco de Mayo celebration.)

We also took some great daytrips to Bled and the caves at Postojna, which I wrote about here. The incredible weather we have had the past two days has really added to the beauty of this region. People are very nice too…I am headed to Piran next, on the coast, and will be traveling solo for this next leg of the trip. My wonderful travel pal CJ left today for Venice. After two months and nine countries together, we are parting ways for the rest of our journeys. Next time we catch up will be sometime this summer back in NY. Its been great to have such a wonderful travel partner. Weve got lots of great memories…and photos…more coming…eventually! Okay, there is a line for the internet at this late hour and Ive got packing to finish so off I go…sorry for no apostrophes, no clue where they are on this keyboard!

80 Days Around Europe

Saturday, May 6th, 2006

Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventure.

– L. Drachman

And boy have I been blessed! I’ve made it to day 80 and I can hardly believe all that I have been able to see and do. Every single day I meet incredible people, see beautiful things and learn interesting lessons about the history, culture and traditions of the places I visit.

But I must say the people are the most memorable for me. Sure, there are sunsets and buildings and bridges (and yummy meals!!) that I will never forget, but it is the people that will stay with me forever, closest to my heart…even the few that haven’t always left the best impression. What I keep with me daily, and revisit in my journal writing, are the people, the moments, the conversations and interactions. I am the lucky owner of a long list of incredible people who have taught me things, made me laugh or cry (or both) and touched me in ways I will never forget. Often it is someone who’s name I learn, people I spend time with — Laura, Sam, Cristina, Keith, Terry, Charles, Col, Eszter, Meleta or Sasha (just to name a small few.) But sometimes it is simply an anonymous person who helped me in some way — the woman I bought my fruit from, the sweet girl who helped me find a working payphone, the redhead at the train station who asked me if I needed help with directions, the man who waited patiently while I counted my change…AGAIN! There are tons of folks like this, every single day some angel gives me a nod or shove or push, almost always in the right direction or at just the right time.

The journey continues…and I think it is because of people that I feel just as energized as Day 1 — people I meet and folks back home too. In less than 80 days I will be back in the states (MOM: insert big smile here) and will continue to be touched by incredible people…all those that have supported and cheered me on during this great adventure, as well as new folks whom I’ve yet to cross paths with. Here’s to more adventures of a very curious mind…and the people she meets along the way 🙂

Oh, just a quick reminder too — please also check the Eurail blog for updates, I’ll continue posting on that website about three times a week through the end of my trip. I promise lots of good travel tips in the coming months, as high season approaches. And a quick mention of two other BootsnAll Europe websites to check out, the creative Europe on an Alphabet and the all-knowing World Cup Blog! Start planning your own European adventure today 🙂

Big and Blue in Buda

Monday, May 1st, 2006

It’s a rainy Monday morning here in Budapest and I am safe and sound at a cozy internet cafe, waiting for CJ to arrive this afternoon on a train from Vienna. Today is another bright-blue-poncho-day — I scream tourist in this thing, walking around looking like a soaked Cookie Monster, but it’s all I got, and I’m thankful for that.

Yesterday’s marathon travel day worked out just fine (another thanks to the travel gods) and I arrived at the Grotta House on Castle Hill by about 8 pm last night. I traveled through three countries yesterday and actually got three stamps in the passport to prove it. Although I did not get off the train in Slovakia, it was cool to pass through Bratislava and the border town of Stúrovo. Coming the way I did (via Brno in the Czech Republic instead of via Austria), I also got a great late-day peek at the beautiful Danube Bend, near Esztergom and Visegrád. We might make a day trip up that way later this week if the weather improves…

The owner of Grotta House, Eszter, is a wonderful host — after I unpacked and showered, I joined her in the wine cellar/basement bar for a late dinner — a glass of Hungarian red wine and a warm cheese and salami sandwich. I think I’m going to enjoy staying in the hilly Buda neighborhoods of Castle Hill and Viziváros, with its stunning views of the Danube (and its sprawling bridges), and the Parliment building on the banks along the Pest side. It is a huge city, much larger than Prague, but it looks like the metro and tram systems will get us where we need to go (when our feet give up).

Well, here’s hoping April showers give way to May sunshine, wherever you are 🙂