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Study Hall: Essays On Travel, Travel With Alex: Europe 101

France 101: Traveling for wartime connections

Veterans Day is here. In our family, it is the kickoff to our holiday season. The holiday seems iconically American. However, Veterans Day started off 102 years ago as Armistice Day which marked the end of WWI and as the world started healing from The Great War, each nation involved created there own version of remembering. This makes the concept quite Global rather than quintessentially American and a great way to expand our horizons both patriotically and historically. Our own holiday evolved from commemorating 11-11-18 to honoring all who serve and have served. But make no mistake, there are plenty of countries that honor those who serve in their own way. I am lucky and grateful for the Veterans in my family. My dad, my husband, and a bevy of other relatives all served at one time or another. I even spent some time in uniform myself.

Finding our Ancestors for Veteran’s Day

One way other countries honor the military sacrifice is to remember the fallen. A great example of this is what you can find in France. This summer, I had the honor of meeting two veterans while I visited and the experience was life changing. My mom and I hopped into a sporty euro rental in Belgium and made our way west across the French border to an area out in the middle of nulle part- that’s French for nowhere. We were stopping to visit Private First Class Thomas McGovern. His address is one I can share: plot B, Row 18, Grave 11, Somme American Cemetery, Bony, France.

Somme

Thomas is my great, great uncle and died in the famous Battle of the Somme on September 27th, 1918. Visiting the cemetery is quite amazing. The superintendent escorted us out to the grave, among impeccably manicured grounds and explained to us the play by play of the battle and exactly what fate my uncle met. He produced a small container of sand from Omaha Beach to rub across the marble stone so that Thomas’ name was easily read. There, in the summer sun out in the French countryside, I became the first family member to come and pay my respects to him. I was all at once proud, connected, elated and humbled. It was a once in a lifetime experience!

Muesse-Argon

As our journey continued, I had someone else to check in with. The next day, we drove out to the Meuse-Argon American Cemetery to meet, for the first time as well, John McGovern. He is Thomas’ brother and, by heart breaking coincidence, he also perished on September 27th- just 46 days shy of the armistice. The cemetery that he rests in is shared with 14,000 other brave boys who put on a tin hat and stepped up to fight in an unknown world. Again, the sand, again two flags of pride and solidarity, again emotions that make one grateful and awestruck.

So on this Veterans Day, I say thank you to all of you who have served. I appreciate you all. And I encourage you put on a bright red poppy and be proud of all you have contributed to the greater good.

Maybe seek out those veterans who may not be as close as most. They may be just the thing for you and yours to learn so much about your own family and how they contributed to the greater good. There are 26 American Cemeteries overseas with over 130,000 brave Americans who are hoping a family member might visit. If you are interested, start your research with the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Poppies represent the spilt blood of the many lives that fought for liberty.
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Study Hall: Essays On Travel

Washington DC 101: Arlington and The Military

I recently had the honor of attending the funeral of a beloved family friend at Arlington National Cemetery. My dear Uncle Butchie, as he was known to us kids, was a well decorated Vietnam Veteran who became entitled to wear the Purple Heart. He was an incredibly sweet man and a true patriot to our country. His funeral, as funerals are, was somber and tearful but, at Arlington there’s a bit more. A bit more pomp and circumstance, a bit more awe, a bit more reverence for a sacrifice that you may or may not have been witness to. On a windy November afternoon about a dozen of us followed a small black sedan up a hill past gravestone after gravestone embossed with name after heroic name of so many who have left us too soon.

flag of u s a standing near a tombstone
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The sedan stopped at the crest of the hill where, standing in full dress and at attention was a regiment, a band, and a Cason ready to be drawn by 4 stunning black horses. In the distance, the capitol dome, Washington’s monument and the Lincoln Memorial offered a patriotic backdrop to a beautiful goodbye. As the procession took form and mourners followed behind, it became so clear to me that this moment, honoring this person, was his last gift to us. A way for us to remind ourselves that events of the past shape each and every moment we experience. After an 18 gun salute and a solemn Taps, my Uncle Butch was resting in peace. My time there got me thinking about what makes Arlington a place to visit.

man people military outdoors
Photo by Wilson Rodriguez on Pexels.com

A Destination…

While, for me, Arlington holds loved ones near and dear (this was my fourth trip there for a funeral) this amazing cemetery is well worth the time to learn so very much about our nation. There are some amazing and famous stops to make: Arlington House starts the story and answers the question “why here?” The, just outside, the famous Kennedy’s rest in honor of their service and circumstances surrounding so many untimely deaths. However, the highlight, in my opinion, is the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier- be sure to follow the rules and pay your respects. These are all must-do’s but I think that the big three just scratch the surface. Arlington is so much more.

Visit

One time to visit Arlington is at Christmas. Consider lending a hand to the amazing cause Wreathes Across America which adorns an evergreen wreath on each and every grave by hand. They are always looking for volunteers to help out. I can only imagine how children would react to participating in such an honorable service project. What a wonderful way to start a dialogue of giving in the ultimate season of sharing. It’s truly a great lesson in global literacy.

Another option is to check in to your own family history and see if your family has a hero buried here. Find where they are and visit. Traditionally, a small pebble is placed on the top of the grave marker to commemorate your visit. (If you see a stone, please don’t move it.) If you don’t have a family member, check out the online catalog and choose someone who may have a connection to you (a name, an era, a common history, someone from your hometown) and visit. In short, find the story, find the narrative, find the connection….. you won’t ever regret getting to know a hero. That is the spirit of Arlington.

One last traveler note

I highly suggest skipping the tram if you are able to walk, I am well versed in military history and the tour was rather dry and boring. Instead, ask questions along the way or purchase an Arlington guide like the one by James Gindlesperger.

wreathes across america happens every year at Arlington
green trees near lake
Babcia and Yia Yia!, Travel With Terri: USA 101

8 Ways to Experience Alaska

Alaska is one of the hottest destinations around these days. Road Trips and National Parks are the new buzz words in the travel industry. I think it’s safe to say that we are all going to be enjoying a lot more nooks and crannies of our country in these next few years as the travel and tourism industry dusts itself off and gets back on its feet. So, where do you even start? Well, when it comes to the ultimate American trip, I can think of no place better than Alaska!

glacier snow landscape mountains
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I always say it! When we are out traveling the world, don’t just look at it, do it! And Alaska is a paradise for those who like to join in and experience things first hand. Whether you choose to visit by cruise, RV rental, tour package, or in your own mini-van, Alaska has something for absolutely everyone! In fact, there are so many choices, you may not be able to get to all of them. So, grab the kids and Grandma! Check out this great list of 8 of the most family friendly activities that Alaska has to offer!

Animal watching in Denali National Park

Whether you know it as Denali or Mt. McKinley, this central point of Alaska and its surroundings never ceases to amaze! Once you are in the park, you can take on a hike on your own or jump on a school bus and enjoy a guided tour. Be prepared for a little ranger history and a few distant animals. If you’re lucky, you will get a chance to see the grand daddy of them all: the moose! This is definitely a trip to bring binoculars!

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Gold panning in the streams of Juneau

Step back in time and try your hand at a little gold panning in the shallows of the brisk streams that surround the area. Kids will love getting elbow deep as they search and scoop and dig for treasure. It’s a can’t miss!

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Whale watching in Glacier Bay National Park

While much of Alaska can be a bit overcast and gray, Glacier Bay sparkles! Learn about the glacier ice and catch a calving as the ice gives way to the water below. Watch the chunks of striped ice float by you and, if you are willing to get up early, you may run in to a pod of whales enjoying the morning light.

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Fishing in the waters off of Ketchikan

Whether you are a fresh water fisher or prefer the salt water, Alaska has something for everyone. I highly suggest a guide that will make the most of your time. Guides are also helpful in keeping you safe from uniquely Alaskan dangers like bars while you fly fish or whale bubble nets while you fish for salmon. Many guides also include the processing and shipping in their fees. Our salmon arrived perfectly packaged on our door step the day after we returned home. Brilliant!

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Salmon Bake in the woods

For an enchanting meal, try out a salmon bake. These outdoor venues nestle themselves in the woods and allows guests to get comfy around a campfire. We felt like little pixie fairies could show up at any time as we made s’mores. Watch out though, the squirrels are onto the marshmallows and may try to take one or two!

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Dog Sled Mushing and puppy hugging

Get ready to try out Alaska’s best sport! Dog Sledding! Having the chance to visit a dog sled camp is quite the treat. Most of the year, these amazing animal athletes are preparing for the Iditorad race. As a visitor, you can help out these furry friends by allowing them to pull you as they mush (you are a fraction of their winter haul). They are so excited when they know they are going to run! After that, socialize with the newest generation. They need to get to know lots of people in order to be successful on the race circuit. So, take a ride with the big dogs then go cuddle with the newest members of the pack- the puppies!.

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River Rafting on a glacial river

Zip up your dry suit and get ready for the thrill of a lifetime! Alaska has some of the best rapids going and they are picture perfect in the Summer months. The water is cold and the great rafting guides will take you through some of the most beautiful bush country Alaska has to offer. Be sure to ask about the expected rapids level so that you are comfortable with the activity level.

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Zip Lining in Talkeetna in Central Alaska

Talkeetna lies in central Alaska. This quirky town is a great day trip and has an excellent zip lining course. With a super family friendly attitude, you can spend the afternoon, zipping and repelling to your heart’s content. The finale of your course is a great over water run that will keep your heart racing! This is my mom taking on the long fly across! So much fun!

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