I still remember the day that my plane first touched down in Italy nine years ago. I was a bundle of nerves and excitement, and everything—even the simple train ride into the city—was beautiful to me. And I had the fleeting thought that perhaps I should have studied Italian instead of Spanish for the last few years. But I quickly learned that Spanish was even more widely understood than English here—both because many of the Italians I met spoke Spanish very well and because many of the words in Spanish are similar to, or even the same, as the Italian word for the same thing.
Recently, I was sitting on a French beach. The sunshine was warm on my back and bathing suit-clad locals and tourists splashed happily in the surf in front of me. A gentle sea breeze blew over the water, as couples strolled the promenade behind me with their small dogs and young children. It felt just like the middle of summer. The funny thing? It was actually November. In fact, that day, Biarritz—the French beach town where I was staying—was officially the warmest city in Europe. It beat even southern Spain and always-temperate Malta to claim the title. And everyone was celebrating the early winter sunshine with a dip in the Bay of Biscay.
For most of history, home was simply where you were born. It was your tribe. Your family. Your community—big or small. It wasn’t really something you chose. But today, you have more freedom to go your own way. You can—more easily than ever—travel the planet and find a place you’re always glad to come back to. In short, in an increasingly-globalized world, home really can be where the heart is—not just where you end up by default. I could delve into the reasons for this—air travel, the Internet, globalization. But you already know the world is getting smaller, easier to travel, easier to navigate.
When I think about my winter in Italy, I think of cobblestone alleyways sparkling with rain, mist-shrouded cathedrals in the "hill country," days spent with tourist attractions almost all to myself, and a pleasant chill in the air—cool, but not too cold. I based myself, during my five winter weeks in Italy, in the mid-sized university town of Perugia, which is the capital of Umbria, Tuscany's lesser known but just-as-lovely neighbor. It's a place of rolling hills, world-famous wines, and postcard-perfect mountain towns. Because Umbria is nestled in between Tuscany (where you will, of course, find pretty, popular Florence, as well as a sunflower-dotted countryside that has inspired writers, artists, and tourists alike) and Lazio (the region that houses historic, grandiose Rome), it was the perfect place to do a little exploring.
This summer, I got an email from a stranger offering me a free stay in a gorgeous French countryside cottage. I was welcome anytime, the kind and excited woman told me, and so was my world-traveling dog, Luna. Her cottage, which was spacious and beautifully appointed, was in the Loire Valley—a part of France known for its castles and sweeping landscapes. A well-traveled friend of mine told me it was the perfect place for leisurely bike rides and warm croissants. Similarly, a month or so later, a restaurant in Italy reached out. They would love to have me come for dinner and they wanted to know if I was planning a trip to Bolzano—the intriguing Italian-German part of northern Italy—anytime soon. A few weeks after that, another restaurant, this time in my favorite European capital—Paris—sent me a fancy invitation to a VIP tasting event.
This morning, I awoke to bright blue skies, crisp autumn air, and the slow, muted clanking sounds of cows wearing big metal cowbells and moving down the street just outside my window. You see, today I am living in a small town in the Swiss Alps. It's October, which means the farmers are bringing their cows down from the high altitudes and into the low fields and warm barns for the winter. The air smells faintly of fields and campfires. And aside from the bells, all is quiet.
Eileen McRae has lived in Spain three times. And during those trips her Spanish has gone from passable...to conversational...to fluent. It has allowed her to play basketball with a local team, visit Spanish friends in their own homes, and pick up a job as a nanny.
The waves are tall and the surfers are out in force. Across the dark blue cove, a lone white sailboat sways back and forth. The temperature is in the high 70s F and the air smells strongly of salt and sea. For Jennifer and Gary Culp, this is the backdrop to their retirement: salty ocean air, cotton candy-pink sunsets, fish tacos, and friendly, fast-paced Spanish.
Before I arrived in Croatia, people told me that it was one of the most beautiful places in Europe. "If you love Italy, you'll love Croatia," they said. "After all, the Croatian coast is where the Italians go to vacation." Most of Croatia's coast is along the historic Dalmatian region—a place that perfectly meshes Italian and Eastern European inspirations in architecture, food, and even language. I based myself in Split...
John Sklute, a retired English professor from California, has lived just about everywhere—from sunny Spain to spacious Sweden. So when he says that Berlin has a special something, you know he's done the legwork. John's love for Berlin started when he spent a summer there in 1994 and fell in love with a local. The relationship didn't work out, but John's passion for Berlin never waned.