There’s no denying it, I’m a homebody. My house is my sanctuary and I’m pretty content to stay home. A lot. We eat in 90% of the time and that’s usually my decision. I don’t mind meal planning, cooking, baking, cleanup or dishes (except for utensils. Geez I hate washing every stinking piece of silverware). I’m happy at home. I’ve never had a case of wanderlust, although I enjoy visiting new places. Maybe it’s the hotels, restaurants and hours in a car or plane which lend to my dislike of being gone for more than a couple days. I get homesick for my kids, grands, house, bed, bathroom, even my own cooking. Bizarre I know but it’s the way I’m wired.
My first long adult vacation outside my comfort zone was at a resort in Cancun for 8 days in 2012 for Josh and Erica’s destination wedding. (I had vacationed elsewhere, never as far away or as long). What made Cancun immensely enjoyable (besides J & E’s lovely ceremony overlooking the Caribbean) was having most of our immediate family at the same resort. I tried new things like scuba diving, drinking margaritas until my nose and lips were partially paralyzed (it was two, honest 2), shopping for souvenirs, eating different foods. Besides narrowly avoiding slamming my head on several 8 inch nails protruding on the underside of their less than OSHA approved massive dock at the resort there is not one negative I have about that fabulous trip. The rooms were beautiful (ours had the best view), the staff was attentive and polite, the food in several restaurants onsite, above average.
But I’ve never been bit by the bug to see the world. So why did this stay at home grandma take not one, but 2 trips abroad-2 years in a row? What would possess me when I’d managed to stay state side (besides the wedding￼) for 65 years with nary a inkling to travel outside the US? Guess that depends on who was asking. It was my daughter Shannon-both times. (She’s got the travel bug). The first trip was 12 days in Italy. Rome, Florence, Assisi and Venice. I literally knew nothing about any of these cities or the popular spots that made them famous. Once we landed and began to tour, it was overwhelming. My mind (and body) just couldn’t keep up. Sistene Chapel, Vatican, Duomo Cathedral (it’s pink, white and green marble) Michelangelo’s David, Priscilla’s catacombs, Saint Francis in Assisi and my top vote getter, The Coliseum. And the few I mentioned were just the tip of the iceberg that our group took in. But the stop I think about most often? Just hold on for a sec.
My trip to France in 2017 (Germany was just a quickie side trip) wasn’t well planned. No tour guide who had you at the train station at 7 am, forking over a ticket, telling me how long the ride was, here’s your breakfast box, then handing me an itinerary 3 pages long. Yup, every second was accounted for. In Paris we had no agenda, so when Shannon said, “we only have 3 days for sightseeing. These are the biggies, take your pick.” I don’t know if I was just more impressed with what France had to offer (in my mind France had never been very impressive) or that we were on our own without direction or supervision. Since I never really wanted to go to France, it came as a pleasant surprise when The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and Arc de Triomphe impressed me. Much more than I thought they would.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not always the most breathtaking, stunning beauty of our world’s land, seas, or structure destinations that stay in our hearts and minds long after we’ve returned to reality after witnessing such impressive places. I think you’re gonna be surprised with my top pick. I am. Please remember I’m not a world traveler, but I don’t think my list is shabby either. Here’s a quick rundown. No one wants to hold down last place but someone’s gotta take one for the team.
7. Mount Rushmore. It’s big and impressive. I was speechless for a couple minutes which is not an easy feat. During one of our trips some maintenance work was being done and workers were hanging precariously all over the faces. Looked like a nose hair or booger hanging out of George Washington’s nose from where I stood. Worth remembering, right?
6. The Caribbean. Only God can make those water colors. Well played God. I was impressed.
5. Notre Dame. Walking towards it on a gray, rainy morning, I still had to stop for a couple minutes simply to take it all in. Construction started 850 years ago. Unbelievable. The stained glass windows are indescribable.
4. Eiffel Tower. It’s relatively new compared to most structures in France, built for the 1889 World’s Fair. Aww, just a baby, but I love it. You can see most of Paris from any level, (I only made it up to the first) which is stunning.
3. The Coliseum in Rome. It’s huge, and held more than 60,000 screaming fans back in the day. It makes Notre Dame appear brand new, construction started in 70 AD. Those Romans were certainly fit as a fiddle. I didn’t take out my tape measure but the steps between rows are not of our world. Each step had to be 12-16 inches tall. Not easy climbing up or down. (I had a terrible time deciding if the Coliseum should be #3 or ratchet it up a notch to number 2. My cross to bear).
2. Niagara Falls. Absolutely my favorite spot on earth. I’ve been there several times and each time I have a harder time leaving. I’m hooked on the American side. You can almost touch the falls by the Bridal Veil. I’ve watched fish go over the Falls in that clear, mint green water. Breathtaking.
1. Florence American Cemetery and Memorial, about 8 miles outside of Florence, Italy. After we were dropped off, the vastness of 70 acres, the quiet, solemn beauty, incredible landscaping, reflecting pool, statues, wall plaque, American flag flying proudly. Row after row, after row of white crosses on exquisite green grass immediately brought tears to my eyes. Forty-four hundred of America’s finest fighters buried here, most lost in June of 1944 after Rome was captured. While the natural beauty of the Caribbean and Niagara Falls are mesmerizing, or exploring the Coliseum and Notre Dame are mind boggling in their engineering and workmanship from centuries ago, for me it’s been the most constant reminder of what Memorial Day on the 30th of May’s true meaning is about. Their service and dedication, fighting for the greater good. For us in a foreign country. The ultimate sacrifice. Where would we as a nation be without them?
Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day) was a way of recognizing and honoring the men and women who died while serving in our military. It started soon after the Civil War and was observed on May 30th each year from 1868 through 1970. In 1971 it became a federal holiday and has been celebrated on the last Monday of May ever since.
I’m still puzzled why visiting the American Cemetery in Florence has had such a profound affect on me after 4 years. It’s akin to seeing any the aforementioned natural or man made wonders of the world for the first time-yet totally different. I never truly appreciated the real meaning of Memorial Day until I spent a couple hours at a cemetery in a far away land, weeping and paying respect to our most deserving. That visit has changed my life-for the better…