Brace yourselves for an adventure-packed, Lauren-filled blog post brimming with gratitude and superfluous joy.
It's hard not to gush about this trip- maybe because it feels like a dream that didn't really happen to me, but to an alternate reality version of me. Even that sounds so over the top... but this trip was truly over the mother-frikkin top. So let's start at the beginning and I'll walk you through the highlights of the three weeks I spent in Europe this summer.
Driving through Germany, Switzerland, France and Italy, I found more of myself than I'd anticipated. Which is silly, because I've travelled before and I know how much of an impact it has on me. None of this should have surprised me, but it did. I've mostly travelled alone and I've always liked it that way, but this trip I met so many incredible people that made such an impact on me in addition to traveling abroad with my wife for the first time which gave me so much joy on its own!
I didn't expect to do so much heart-work on this trip. I didn't expect to be challenged in the ways that I was- and that's the beautiful thing about traveling, isn't it? You never know what you should expect and whatever you are expecting is likely to be bigger and more than anything you could've dreamt of.
The phrase that I kept coming back to over this trip was "I never even thought to dream of this kind of life."
The thing is, I've always been a dreamer. I've always been ambitious and driven and dreamt of having a very big life and making an impact in some way (and letting myself be impacted), however the Universe chose to reveal that path to me. I've always been someone who strives to live with great intention and I've always believed in chasing after what you want. But I don't think I've ever let myself want anything too big for fear of feeling disappointed or like a failure. Something about this trip opened my eyes to how I've been holding myself back. By the conclusion of this trip, I realized the Universe is asking, no, daring me to dream even bigger.
My friends, Rory and Mallory, got married in Mallory's hometown of Kandern, Germany. Her family owns an art factory in this small town and moved here from the United States as missionaries when Mallory was a child (This is the simple version of the story. The whole story includes a stop off for a number of years in Austria or Bovaria?). Anyway, Mal and Rory invited me and Lauren to the wedding then asked me to do their wedding photography and take some pictures of their wedding week!
I came out to Germany early and documented their week of wedding activities leading up to the wedding itself. Then Lauren joined me the day before the wedding. I don't think I had realized how many friends and family were staying at the art factory for the week(s) leading up to the ceremony. We had so much time to get to know each other, to bond and to share stories about the betrothed couple. It was an incredible experience and I feel very grateful to have had so much time with their families and friends I'd never met before.
That first day in Europe, I got off the plane and Mallory and Rory picked me up from the airport. Then we immediately piled into a number of vans (there were maybe 15 of us) and went to this incredible castle that's been around since 1147. That's right, y'all- since the 12th frikkin century. It was an incredible way to fend off jet lag and to jump right into sightseeing, even if by the end of the day I was delirious with sleep deprivation.
This huge public pool was just a 10 minute walk from the art factory. It was pretty warm there so in between wedding activities we would go lounge around the pool, drink beer, dive off the high dives... it was a perfect way to chill out.
Pretty immediately I hit it off with one of Mal and Rory's mutual friends, Doug. He invited me to crash his day trip to Switzerland and I agreed- why not?! We took an hour and a half train ride from Basel, Switzerland (just a 30 minute bus ride from Kandern) to Lucerne and we were absolutely blown away by the Swiss Alps and Lake Lucerne. It was stunning, to say the least. Photos can't quite capture \that feeling of being encapsulated by the Alps- it's like being in a snow globe- you're surrounded and it makes the whole town feel like a separate entity from the rest of the world.
The amazing thing about Kandern is not only does the town butt up against the Black Forest, but it's also in this little corner of Germany that nestles against France and Switzerland. So taking a day trip into either country was incredibly quick and easy. We took a little road trip to Colmar, France because we heard it was known as "Little Venice". It was quaint and cute and made for a perfect half-day exploration.
Lauren and I decided to rent a car and make our way to a town called Saarburg. We have friends from Texas (who now live in Philly) that are German and Gerd, the husband/father of the family is from Saarburg. He grew up in this vineyard town and his family owns a hotel and restaurant right in the center of it all. We stayed there and were treated like ROYALTY. There may have been a bit of kismet in the timing of it all as their daughter, Mia, happened to be spending a few weeks of her summer vacation with her aunt and uncle, helping out at the hotel. Mia is one of those kids that we all hope we'll have one day. She's so smart, so mature, and just a pure joy to be around. She led us around the town on a personal tour and had dinner with us at her family's restaurant. We just love this kid more than life itself and we're so thrilled we had a day with her to wander around this town that is part of her ancestry.
From Saarburg we took a very long drive (7 or 8 hours) to Lake Como, Italy. I had planned most of our trip up to this point and I let Lauren handle our reservations for Lake Como. She had been talking about it for a while and that was the one place she really was dying to go on this trip to Europe, so I let her take the reigns and gave up some of my OCD tendencies for a hot minute. When we arrived that night at our Bed and Breakfast, it was late, it was dark, we'd been driving all day, so we just holed up in this beautiful, modern room with a bottle of wine and a bar of chocolate for dinner. I could tell that the lake was out there in front of our balcony, and I could see the lights on the hills and I knew it must be stunning. I had no idea what the next morning would hold for us. It was beyond anything I'd ever dreamt of. We woke up in this gorgeous room, then opened the blinds to find this pristine lake with hills surrounding it and villas nestled into the greenery and I was just floored by the beauty, by the fact that people just live there. Lauren deserves massive kudos for the place she booked and the town she brought us to. But even that was just the beginning...
Lauren booked us a tour of Lake Como on this incredible "limousine" style boat. It was spectacular. We felt the wind and the mist on our faces and saw all of the tiny towns that dot the coast line of the lake. We were blown away. The boat took us to the other side of the lake and dropped us off at an outdoor-patio restaurant where we ate one of the best meals of my life (although I would say the same about every single meal we ate in Italy) then came back and picked us up, took us back to our starting point in Bellagio and that was the end of our boat tour.
After Lake Como, we drove to Milan. It wasn't quite as long a drive, but let me tell you, driving into Milan during rush hour when you don't have a firm grasp on what all the signage means is quite the feat. We made it to our hotel and quickly unwound with a glass of prossecco. Lauren is a genius when it comes to credit card perks. One of the credit cards she signed up for gave us two free nights at any Park Hyatt in the world. So we cashed in these points at the Park Hyatt Milan. I have never felt so fancy in my entire life. The bathroom was made completely of Italian marble. The ceilings in our room were at least 12 feet high. We were treated like princesses and we soaked in every last drop of it. We stayed for two nights, and if I'm being honest, we didn't really leave our hotel much. It was perfection.
While we were in Milan we stopped off at this Prada museum. It was bizarre and interesting and took us completely out of any context that we had (which wasn't much). There were some gorgeous exhibits and I only wish we'd spent more time there. There's a bar, called Bar Luce that was designed and conceptualized by Wes Anderson- that was very cool to see, even if the service was absolutely as snobby as you'd expect it to be.
From Milan we drove to Venice, Italy. We had no idea how tricky it is to make your way into Venice! Given that there are no cars on the island and there are all of these water taxis that take you everywhere, we were thrown for a bit of a loop. Now, granted, we are not the best at researching the places we are heading to. We like to wing it and just figure it out along the way, so any stress that this caused us was completely self-induced. It was a bit of a shock leaving the Park Hyatt and coming into a very dumpy Airbnb situation. The big lesson we learned this trip was that maybe Airbnb isn't something you do in Europe. We dealt with it for one night but then had to move to a hotel the next day. The heat was pretty oppressive and this place we'd booked with Airbnb didn't have any air conditioning, which meant you had to leave the windows open, which would have been fine if not for the thousands of mosquitos thirsting for American blood. There are a myriad of other reasons why we had to bail on that place, but if you go to Venice- just book a hotel room. It's worth it.
Venice was incredibly beautiful, but equally touristy. I'm glad we saw it and did all the touristy things (like taking a way-too-expensive gondola ride with a super hot gondolier) but I don't feel the need to go back. I'm thrilled to have seen it and the 11 year old in me died a little at finally making it to the one place that's been on my bucket list the longest, but I can do without it.
After two nights in Venice we were exhausted. It was time for a little vacation from our vacation. We took a drive out to the countryside and we thought we were staying near Modena, but really we were even further out than that. We stayed in a very tiny village near Saramazonni, tucked high up in the hills. It was everything we needed. I mostly put down my camera at that point because I was exhausted and just wanted to be in the moment so I don't have a ton of photos from the place we stayed. It was a gorgeous medieval tower built in 1516 that had been converted to an apartment. We were high up a mountain overlooking this gorgeous countryside with thick high-desert-like brush. It was stunning and secluded, just what we needed.
We ate so much good food, but I chose not to photograph any of it. There are some things that are too sacred to try and immortalize. I feel forever indebted to all of the servers who worked with my very poor Italian and continued to serve us plate after plate of fresh pasta, giving us their favorite dishes even if they weren't in season. I feel so much gratitude for the opportunity to take this trip with my beautiful wife and to re-center while simultaneously being pulled out my comfort zone and out of the boxes I've created for myself. Not only will I never forget this trip, I will always look back on it as a pivotal moment in life that catapulted me into the next phase, the next chapter, the next iteration of what I believe is possible in my life.