Catching Up...

So I haven't hit my "goal" of one blog-post a day...but we have had pretty full days packed with activities; and considering that I slept and missed my Vidiciatico bus stop on Thursday, I'm excusing myself.
Ha, yeah that's right - - I was so exhausted that I fell asleep on the bus ride home from Mt Belvedere, and I didn't wake up when we arrived Vidiciatico - nor did I wake up when we reached Lizzano in Be
lvedere. Fortunately another descendent tapped me on the shoulder to alert me that "we're here" -- otherwise I probably would've spent the night in the bus. I heard it's a 25-30 minute uphill walk back to Vidiciatico, so i was grateful that the Hotel Montepizzo asked the Hotel Miravell if they could drive me back up to my hotel. (Yeah, the small towns are great and all help ea other out.) :)

So trying to go back to recollect Thursday...which truly was our first full day in the Hill Towns.
We all started out w breakfast in our respective hotels, and then the bus pick-up at 8:30. Nice breakfast spread at hotel - - - 3 different types of cornettos (croissants) - - plain, jam, and crema-filled; fresh fruit, meat & cheese, yogurts, and breads. Caffe of course!

The drive up to Mt Belvedere - - and the drive up to Vidiciatico/Lizzano - -made me feel like i was watching fireworks. Lots of oooooh's and ahhh's - - it is absolutely breathtaking! I couldn't help to think of how blessed we are to be seeing this, and to wonder what my Grandpa may have seen or thought of it. He certainly didn't have the luxury of riding in an air-conditioned picture window bus hugging the side of the road with the panoramic views of Riva Ridge, the Lizzano valley, and Mt Belvedere. I'm thinking most likely he was marching in the cold....a young boy not knowing what immediate danger he faced.... while carrying a 90lb rucksack on his back. (And probably in the dark too.)

Someone had said that the hills were cleared - - very few trees were on the hills when the 10th was marching through this area, as the area then was big on foresting and lumber. So the hills were somewhat bare. I'm not sure how much snow was on the hills then back in Feb 1945; but this area now is popular in the winter for alpine skiing.

So after maybe a 30-45min ride, we arrive at the start of our Mt Belvedere hike. The base had a newly tarred road - - not too hard. And then the fresh tar turned to a bit older tar, then to more of a rocky path, which lead to a choice -- - through a sunny steep field (shortcut) or through a rocky path in the shadow. (I chose that one, even though it may have been a bit longer w more gradual of an incline). And then all were joined up for a more steep climb -- to when we approached to top!!

I'm not sure how long the journey up was...but it was worth it! I just kept telling myself "wait til you see the top! Just keep going"... and also no matter how much I was sweating, again kept thinking of my Grandpa and him carrying 90lbs! The viewpoint was gorgeous -- various shades of green for all the distant hills & mountains, and seeing the clouds hang in the mountains was beautiful!

I immediately asked an Alpini to have a photo taken w me and the Mt Belvedere monument that I've seen in so many photos before. Yes!! I've now made it here myself finally. :) And then over to the other side of the top where you could see the other hills.

As in true Italian fashion, there was a table set up for us all -- with wines, salumi & cheeses, breads, and lots of water. Love, love how they know how to celebrate each small victory.

And also chairs were set up under a white tent for a mass celebration that we had too. Even though I'm no where near fluency in Italian, it was very special to listen to the Priest speak the mass on the mountaintop. I was able to follow along, and we did have a few songs in English. But again -- a very touching moment for us all. (The mass was optional...and I was so glad to have found a small spot on the grass to sit.)

After the mass there was the small ceremony at the monument, and more time to mingle with everyone. I was lucky to have a chance to chat w a few more current 10th Mountain soldiers. Turns out one was a Captain, and the other was a Major. They are on the journey with us through the 22nd, and then I believe they go back stateside.

Then the walk down.... which for me went much faster than the climb up. Steve Coffey had connected me the the Midwest Chapter Director Patty LaRocca at the top, so we walked down together. Along with Susan Jackson from Aspen, CO and a few others. And one of the younger descendants (see, I'm not the youngest!) had found some barbed wire on the side of the road - - cool!!

Steve had asked Patty and I if we would place the wreath at the monument for the Querciola ceremony, being that her and I are both Chapter Descendant Directors. Well..... turns out we actually were in the parade carrying the wreath and then placing it by the monument. Wow!! We were both beyond grateful for that special occasion - - what an honor for us!!

The small ceremony in Quericola has to recognize a solder - - Andrew Bernstein. A new plaque was unveiled, and a family member from the Bernstein's from Bologna was inviting to be in attendance. And all around us were the proud townspeople of Querciola - - it was very touching!

Next..... lunch! Now this was something else.... we all were under a large tent. We just had to go find a place to sit, and then the townspeople served US food that they had prepared for us. It started w a bowl of tortellini - - the most amazing tortellini with parmegiano. Wow -- so good! And then of course there were two different white wines - one sweet, one dry. And then there was the crescentine fritte with meat plate. And the dolce plate -- a bunch of small cookies on one plate, and the other was some small pies (I believe). It was a very special lunch for all of us.

Oh, oh... I'm hearing the church-bell ring now. (It's 6:30am on Saturday - - and my iPhone alarm just went off too.) Time for me to get ready for today. I am super excited for today! We'll be visiting Castel d'Aiano. This is the Hill Town that I've visited before with my brother -- so I have been very much looking forward to today!!

I will write more later... more to fill in from Thursday, and all of Friday to fill in too. Ciao, ciao -- buon giorno!!!

Giorno due or (Day Two)

First off  - - - AAAAHHHHGGGGGHHHHAAAHHHHHHHGG! (That's me letting out a scream for this slow wifi in the Appeninos.) Okay, I feel better.

Today was a day I have been looking forward to a very long time. Day 1 of the Hill Towns portion of the "Return to Italy 2015" trip for 10th Mountain Division Descendants. It's a trip and group that I have been looking forward to be part of since I first heard about it. I mean, Northern Italy... learning more about the history that my Grandpa and 10,000+ other 10th Mountain vets took part of 70yrs ago. Sign me up - i'm there!

Today was the day that the "Main Tour" group met together with my smaller "Hill Towns Experience" group. Basically my portion is about a week, whereas the other is up to 3wks of traveling in Italy and Europe visiting places where the troops were during WWII. We started today with a ceremony at the Florence American Cemetery or (Cimitero Firenze Americano). Over 100 of us met for a 2-hr event. It was quite the event. First off, this cemetery alone is gorgeous! Just outside Florence about 8km south, over 4,400 American Soldiers who passed away during WWII are buried here; and over 300 are men from the 10th Mountain Division.

The current active 10th Mountain Division had a few soldiers here, there were a few Firenze Alpini, and other soldiers in time-period uniform. We had a few guest speakers address the crowd: 10th Mountain Division Descendants Val Rios, 10th Mountain Div Descendants President Steve Coffey, the ABMC Representative John Luncheon, and US Consulate General Abigail Rupp. They essentially summed up our start to the tour here as respect to those who are buried here and all those who fought 70yrs ago -- the American and heroes for Italy. It was beautiful to hear the music over the load speakers fall onto the cemetery; but I couldn't help but shed a few tears when Taps was played.

There was two beautiful wreaths displayed on behalf of the 10th Mountain Division, and then we were sent off to place carnations on the grave site of each 10th Mountain soldier that was buried there. We each had a few names, and I was fortunate to have four. It was very special for each of us, and I made sure to say a special prayer for each of the four men and their families of the carnations I placed. I also paid my respects to a few other fallen soldiers -- two from Minnesota. One: Dwight Williams of Edina, MN. Dwight was Killed in Action on April 30th, 1945 in Nago, Lago di Garda. (Just one day shy of the German surrender.) Dwight was a student at Blake School in Hopkins, MN and Harvard - passed away at the young age of 25 - - there is an annual scholarship at Blake and a park in his name in Edina, MN. The other grave I visited was a Captain of the 85th Regiment that my Grandpa was part of - - William Shepard. He too was from Minnesota and was Killed in Action on April 15th, 1945. Today's visit was a solemn reminder of how All Gave Some, and Some Gave All  - -  some 70yrs ago.

Shortly after lunch we were bussed off to a lunch at a nearby restaurant. I wish I knew the name of the place, guess I'll have to ask someone. But it really is off the beaten path -- and appears to be more of an event venue. Well, with over 100 people we certainly needed something larger. As with other typical Italian meals -- the food was delizioso, the red wine was flowing, and the conversation even better. My table was fortunate to have an active 10th Mountain soldier join us - - so we enjoyed chatting with him. Others that I chatted w were a North East Chapter Director and his wife from Massachusetts, and the Williamson's from Florida.

After lunch we were then on our way to our hotels in the Hill Towns. With a group as large as us, we are all spread out into a bunch of small inns in Lizzano in Belvedere & Vidiciatico. (Vee-dee-SHAW-tih-coh). That's where I'm staying for the next five nights -- at a small inn called La Piazzetta. I haven't explored too much of Vidiciatico yet, but it's such a cute, cute hill town (of course!) - - and I can tell that there is a great group of other descendants staying here. Definitely fortunate to be here! :)

Bologna - Day 1 (and 1/2)

Made it!
Myself and my luggage made it to Bologna w no delays; kinda expected these days, but always appreciated when it happens.
So it was a bit of a journey getting here, my connections weren't too long - maybe 2.5hrs or so. But my takes:
Detroit not a bad airport, their Delta Sky Club was crowded. Boarding the flight was rather unorganized.

6.5hr flight to AMS went rather fast. Schipol appeared to be under alot of construction, but I made a bee-line for the KLM World Lounge to utilize the arrival showers & caffe.
KLM flight to Bologna was pretty smooth, smaller aircraft (2 and 2 on ea side) - - and they still managed to give everyone a chicken sandwich and drink.

So I had done my research for arrival into BLQ, and figured I would take the autobus - it was only 6EUR. However...after traveling for a while and feeling the heat in Bologna, I opted to just take a taxi to my AirBnb. Was just a bit more and totally worth it - -  16EUR.

Went to the same AirBnB that I stayed previously with my brother. The owner Sandra was pleasant as before; but I'm pretty sure she doesn't remember me. (That's okay.)

Quick change, and then off to lunch at Trattoria la Montanara. Again, same place that Daniel and I went before. I remembered the crescentine bread rolls being good - plus it's literally right around the corner from the flat.

Back for a snooze - - the jet lag is now starting to kick in. 1.5hr snooze becomes 3+ hrs, and I get ready to go walk Bologna  - - in the downpour! (Glad I brought my umbrella.)

Couldn't visit my favorite coffee shop this time (Terzi) - - they just closed as i walked by; so maybe I can revisit them when I go back to Bologna. But now i'm on a mission: get to the Lush store and have me some of that world's best gelato at La Sorbetteria Castiglione.  Oh yeah...  it was amazing!!

Walk back to the flat, i'm finding that most of the retail shops are closing - - this is around 7, 7:30pm. Brief snooze, and then off to the grocery store to find some distilled water (my nose allergy treatments).

Then i wandered to the train station to check on changing my morning train for an even earlier one.... But Trenitalia says that because I had purchased the lowest fare, it's unable to change. So... guess I'll just keep that one and take a taxi to the Florence American Cemetery. (It's too bad cause the taxi ride to the cemetery will be about 44EUR, where the bus is only 3Eur - - but i don't get in early enough to take the bus.)

I had thought of taking the train today to Modena... haven't been there before. But i'm glad that i stuck around Bologna and walked the streets again. This town of 400,000 is very charming... love the history and architecture here - - those porticos really come in handy when it's raining! And that gelato - - wow!

Oh - and score with dinner tonight! No reservation, but i was able to walk into Dal Biassanot  Went for the very traditional Bolognese with the Tortellini al Brado - - soooo good!

Travel with a Purpose

Very much looking forward to an upcoming trip to Italy, but first after this family wedding in San Diego! So excited for this wedding too.
Super cute couple, great family, wedding at a brewery, and with a destination like San Diego - - what's not to love?

But immediately after this wedding, I'll be putting the finishing touches on my packing for the 10th Mountain Division Descendants "Return to Italy 2015" trip. Over 100 of us descendants and friends of the 10th will be going to the Appenine Hill Towns in Northern Italy to re-trace the 10th's path during WWII.

Previously my brother and I had taken this trip. Researching the path our Grandfather's 85th Regiment took, and possibly close to where our Grandpa had walked. I tell ya... it was absolutely one of the best journeys I've been on. (And obviously I love to travel!)

Traveling with a purpose to discover more about our Grandpa's WWII journey, and traveling with a sibling was awesome. Unfortunately our Grandpa didn't speak much about his time there, so it's been kind of a jigsaw puzzle to learn. (But it's also kinda fun too... feels like we're doing vacation detective work.)

I definitely do like the no-agenda trips where I'm just lounging on a beach...or wandering through the streets in a small European trip; but giving more "purpose" to my journeys has also made them more enriching for me. I highly encourage you to retrace some part of your family history too on an upcoming trip.