• Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine || TERRAGOES.COM

    Saying Goodbye to America at Fort McHenry National Monument

    It took me a week to get to Kuwait when I deployed last year. That’s not normal. That’s not how it’s supposed to work, but for 1o of us, that’s exactly how it did work. We ended up stranded in Baltimore and then Germany and then Qatar before finally making it to our final destination.

    At the start of this mayhem, we found ourselves with two extra days in Baltimore. So, we adventured, because what the fuck else are you supposed to do when you get two bonus days in America before a deployment?

    We rented a car and drove to Baltimore proper. There, we ate all the things, including tacos and cupcakes and cheese plates and some beers, too, and then I did the thing I always do when I’m someplace new. I checked to see if there were any National Park units nearby. And there was Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine just 15 minutes away. I asked my travel companions if maybe, please, they’d be up for going to check it out and, also, hey, if you guys want to do that, WE NEED TO GO RIGHT NOW, GET YOUR SHIT, LET’S GO, because they close at 5 p.m.

    So we went.

    We started at the visitor center and watched a film that explained the significance of Fort McHenry. Built in 1798 to defend the Baltimore Harbor, the fort was used continuously through WWII. It’s most famous for defending the harbor against British naval forces in 1814 during the War of 1812 and for being the site that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem.

    As we learned, Fort McHenry withstood 25 continuous hours of bombardment in 1814. Key was nearby, aboard a ship, watching the whole thing happen. During the chaos, a small storm flag flew over the fort. The next morning, the fort raised a larger garrison flag – measuring 30 x 42 feet – that signaled American victory. Key saw the flag emerge from the smoke and haze of battle and wrote “Defense of Fort M’Henry,” later renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and adopted as our national anthem.

    Once the film ends, a screen raises and there’s the flag, our Star-Spangled Banner, flying over the fort. And then they play the anthem. The crowd stands, puts their hands over their hearts and there’s this collective moment of gooey patriotic feelings.

    Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine || TERRAGOES.COM

    After the film, we headed outside to visit the fort. There, we learned that President Truman signed a presidential proclamation in 1948 that declared a flag would always fly over Fort McHenry.

    During the day, a historic flag flies over the fort, similar to the one that flew there in 1814. At night, when the park is closed a modern, 50-star flag is raised. They switch the flags each day, just before they close, and they let park visitors assist in the flag change ceremony.

    Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine || TERRAGOES.COM

    The modern flag goes up, the historic flag comes down and there’s never a moment when there isn’t a flag flying there, just a brief few seconds when there are two. As the historic flag – the BIG ONE – comes fluttering down, visitors help catch it and then, fold it.

    Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine || TERRAGOES.COM

    Sometimes you end up somewhere by almost total accident and then it feels like maybe you were always meant to be there, and that’s exactly what being at Fort McHenry felt like. I couldn’t have orchestrated a more perfect goodbye.

    VISITING FORT MCHENRY NATIONAL MONUMENT & HISTORIC SHRINE
    • I don’t always love watching films at National Parks, but the one here is worth it, especially for the flag reveal at the end. Just remember to stand when the national anthem starts to play.
    • The flag change ceremony is a unique way to experience the park. It happens twice a day, at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
    • There are often special events at the park, like twilight tattoo ceremonies and ranger-led talks.
    • Flag talks happen a few times a day. They explain explain what flags have flown over the park and how the flag has changed over the years.

    Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine is open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. The fort and visitor’s center close at 4:45 p.m. Admission is $10 per person.

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  • Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

    Eating My Way Through Dushanbe

    When I went to Tajikistan, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the basics, like how it’s a land-locked country in Central Asia. I could find it on a map, knew it was bordered by Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China, that it used to be part of the Soviet Union, but that’s mostly it. But, I didn’t know what it would feel like, or look like or be like.

    Still, I was excited. At work, we have a partnership with the Republic of Tajikistan, so I know a lot of people who have been before, and I was anxious to experience it for myself.

    Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

    I went last year, while deployed, with a few other members of my team. One had been before, had even lived in Dushanbe, the capital, for a few months. He served as our tour guide, taking us to all the best restaurants and, more often than not, using his Russian language skills to order our food too.

    We were there for work, but our days were pretty short. We spent the morning and early afternoon with  Tajikistan’s soldiers, then headed back to our hotel, knocked out some daily administrative tasks and then headed out for a late lunch.

    Lunch, for us, was a whole thing. We stuffed ourselves, each and every day, usually to the point where we didn’t even need to eat dinner. Everything we ate was so good, so different, so well-done and delicious. We would sit and stuff ourselves past the point of fullness and then we’d linger over the remnants of our feast, waiting for our food to digest enough so we could walk – not waddle – around the city some more.

    Given Tajikistan’s geographic location in the middle of everything, the food options are endless and authentic. We were never once disappointed, except for maybe by a shrimp-flavored pack of Pringles someone passed around at the hotel.

    ROKHAT TEA HOUSE – TAJIK/CENTRAL ASIAN

    Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

    This was the very first place we ate in Tajikistan and one of the last, too. We had tea, of course, which was citrusy, perfect and delicious, along with a few beers and, of course, some vodka. This was my first introduction to the bread of Tajikistan, which is delicious in a way I can’t even explain. Bakers take balls of dough and throw them onto the inside of earthen ovens and the result is delightful. It’s served fresh and warm and I ate piles of it while we were there.

    For the main course, I had plov, one of the national dishes of Tajikistan, made with hunks of meat, piles of noodles or rice, and vegetables. It is hearty and filling and a delicious burst of complimentary flavors and was exactly what I needed on that first day, one that was spent mostly on airplanes, but also included a multi-hour pit stop at the airport in Kazakhstan, where I slept on a very cold and very hard bench.

    In addition to the food, a peak around the tea house is also worthwhile. They’ve got indoor and outdoor seating, both of which are lovely, along with beautifully painted ceilings throughout.

    FIND IT: Rokhat Tea House, Rudaki Avenue 84, Dushanbe, Tajikistan; Open daily 8 a.m. – 9 p.m.
    Listed on CNN’s list of top tea houses in the world ||  Facebook & TripAdvisor

    ARIRANG RESTAURANT – KOREAN
    Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

    This Korean place is seriously lacking in curb appeal, but the interior makes you feel like you’re in a different world. We were a big group and sat around the large wood table in the middle of the restaurant. The meal started with six little snacks to share, things like bean sprouts, red beans and kimchi, and then we launched into our meals.

    I can’t even tell you what I ate, but I know I loved it. It was just spicy enough and there was an egg on it, and I really appreciate any food that’s been decorated with an egg.

    Everyone ordered something different, mainly mixed bowls or mixed rice dishes, and we were all pleased with our meals. Authentic Korean food was something we knew we wouldn’t be getting once we headed back to Kuwait, which only made the meal more special.

    FIND IT: Arirang, Rudaki Ave 96, Dushanbe 734000, Tajikistan; Open daily, except Sunday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. ||  TripAdvisor

    TAJ RESTAURANT – INDIAN

    Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

    This was maybe the height of our gluttony. We ordered so much food, you guys. SO. MUCH. FOOD. We ordered a few types of naan, some small bites to share, some beers, and main courses and we were so, so fat by the end of it.

    We sat on couches with a table in between, and once we consumed all the food, the conversation slowed, we all leaned back and tried to give our bellies as much space as possible because they were stuffed. And yet, we all still wanted to eat more.

    I loved everything I tried here and nothing was too spicy for my somewhat delicate palate. The naan was perfection, all covered in garlic or herbs and I could not stop eating it.

    FIND IT: Taj Restaurant, Rudaki Ave., 81, Dushanbe, Tajikistan; || TripAdvisor

    MARCO POLO – AFGHAN
    Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

    This was my favorite meal. I ate so many good things in Dushanbe, but this meal was the best. The bread came with a delicious herb-based dipping sauce that I actually considered drinking, the appetizers we ordered were flavorful and unique, and the main course – a mixed grill plate with lamb, chicken and beef sirloin – was incredible. It’s the one place I encourage everyone to visit in Dushanbe and a place I would visit again without hesitation.

    Marco Polo is on the pricier end of Dushanbe’s restaurant spectrum, but it’s still relatively inexpensive compared to U.S. dining options.

    Inside, the restaurant is decorated like the inside of a cave, which I found odd, fascinating and lovable. There’s also an incredibly charming outdoor patio area, if eating inside a fake cave isn’t on your bucket list.

    FIND IT: Marco Polo Restaurant, Merza Tursom Zadah 80, Dushanbe 734000, Tajikistan; TripAdvisor

    Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM
    TAJIKISTAN

    I loved Tajikistan and would visit again. It’s a unique place, an intersection of culture and the food is incredible. Plus, the currency conversion rate meant I could spend $5-10 USD a day and eat exceptionally well. It was my first time in Central Asia, and I was stunned by the jagged mountains that surround the city, by the kindness of the people and the deliciousness of the food.

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  • The Way Memories Feel & Amman’s Roman Theatre

    Memories are neat. It’s neat the way they attach themselves to sensory triggers, like the way a smell will take you back 20 years to a specific place and time, like the foyer of your grandmother’s house, or the way the sound of a sprinkler can transport you across decades to a neighbor’s backyard where you spent hours running around in the water as a kid. It’s neat the way a song, one you haven’t heard in years, can take you back to your first break-up, first kiss, first road trip, first whatever. Suddenly you’re there, back in that moment, transported over miles and years, to some specific moment, seminal or otherwise.

    And it’s neat how remembering can give us a sensory reaction, the way just thinking of a place you visited, experienced or explored can take you back to that place, to the point where you can smell the salt of the sea, or feel the gentle crush of a first heart-break, or, alternately, the first jolt of love that courses through hearts, limbs and fingertips.

    It’s just neat, to me, how those memories can remain so visceral, so clear.

    The Way Memories Feel & Amman's Roman Theatre || TERRAGOES.COM

    I spent most of my deployment last year in Kuwait. That’s where I was primarily based, in the dusty, sandy heat of Kuwait. But another part of our team was in Jordan, and I managed to get myself there a few times. John, my former other half, was part of that team, so getting to Jordan was special and significant.

    I was there in October, working on a handful of projects. We’d had meetings in the morning and stopped in Amman, the capital city, for lunch. Then, with a little more time to spare, we stopped by the Roman Theatre, in downtown Amman.

    I don’t remember a lot from that day. Scrolling through photos shows me who we met with, who else we were with and what we had for lunch. But I can’t really remember it without those prompts, not clearly anyway.

    But then there’s this moment, this singular moment of being at the very top of the theatre with John, having walked up the very narrow and worn stairs, and feeling good. 

    It’s so specific, this memory, this feeling of being genuinely happy. I can’t remember all the details that came before it or after it, but there’s this specific sliver of the day when I can remember almost everything. I was out of breath, from the walk up, and I felt jittery and anxious from the steepness of the climb. There were birds and the sound of the nearby Jordanian flag moving in the wind. I remember being near John, of looking at him, knowing that he made the visit to the theatre happen for me, because he knew how much joy it would bring me. I remember the way my heart felt when I looked at him and I remember the way my big stupid grin made my face feel.

    The Way Memories Feel & Amman's Roman Theatre || TERRAGOES.COM
    The Way Memories Feel & Amman's Roman Theatre || TERRAGOES.COM

    So many of the days from my deployment blend together. In Kuwait, most days looked the same. My trips to Jordan blend together, too. I went three times, and it’s hard for me to pinpoint what happened on what trip, but this, visiting the theatre, is one of my sharpest memories. It’s one of those memories that takes me right back to that spot, back to the other side of the Earth, back to October, back to him.

    It’s a memory that feels good to remember, even now.

    The Way Memories Feel & Amman's Roman Theatre || TERRAGOES.COM The Roman Theater in Amman, Jordan

    The theatre, built to seat 6,000, dates back to when the city was known as Philadelphia, when the theatre was the city’s centerpiece. It was built in the 2nd century, between 169 and 177 AD. It’s built into a hillside and oriented north to keep the sun out of the eyes of spectators. It’s a steep but worthwhile climb to the top, over a mix of original and renovated stairs. The Jordan Museum of Popular Tradition and the Jordan Folklore Museum are here too. Both offer visitors an up-close view of various artifacts including antique Bedouin jewelry and mosaics from Madaba and Jerash.

    Entry is just JOD 1, or about $1.40 USD, depending on the daily exchange rate.

    I was completely charmed by the theatre. It was, at the time, one of the oldest structures I’d ever seen. Climbing it was slightly terrifying. I felt like I was going to tip over at any moment, but it was so, so worth it.

    Overall, I really loved Jordan, and not just because the person I loved was there. It’s beautiful, filled with historic and varied landscapes, friendly people and marvelous food. I’d go back, in an instant, just to experience it as a tourist, with more freedom of movement to explore at a more leisurely pace.

    The Way Memories Feel & Amman's Roman Theatre || TERRAGOES.COM

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  • Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park || TERRAGOES.COM

    Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park

    In the past few months, I’ve managed to visit something like five National Park sites. They’ve all been tied to a historic person or event and I’ve tried to participate in a ranger-led walk or tour at each one. Sometimes, that’s the only option if you want to really see the site, especially if it’s a historic home or structure. At other sites, there are oodles of options, from hikes, to driving tours or interactive displays. For me, when I visit a historic site, taking the tour has always proved worth it. Yes, I could read the wikipedia page or the official website, but it’s so much easier to have a ranger tell me about it, live and in person with gesticulating included directing me to actually look at what they’re talking about. And that’s why I showed up at Manassas National Battlefield Park just in time for a guided tour of Henry Hill.

    Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park || TERRAGOES.COM

    Two significant American Civil War battles happened at Manassas. The first, on July 21, 1861, was the first major battle of the American Civil War. It’s also the topic of the Henry Hill tour I participated in over the weekend.

    The tour helped to put things into perspective. It explained not just what the battle looked like, but also the context that caused it.

    Basically, nobody was prepared for the Civil War, and neither side really thought it would even come to war. The Soldiers, on both sides, had pretty much no idea what the fuck they were doing. Some hadn’t even fired a weapon, or, if they had, it’d been a while and they’d forgotten the process. Most competent military men were in the west, fighting Indians. President Lincoln did call up 70,000 men, with 90-day contracts, but they had no idea what they were doing and received little training. The men in charge, the generals, they didn’t know what they were doing either, and most had never seen combat.

    Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park || TERRAGOES.COM

    Manassas Junction, in 1861, was a tiny town where two rail lines met, only 20 miles from Washington, D.C. Rail lines were important, of course. Both sides wanted to control them and wanted to use them to move troops and supplies. President Lincoln, getting pretty fed up with this whole thing, ordered Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell to take 35,000 men and attack the Confederates. It was the largest field army ever gathered on the North American continent, albeit a very, very green military.

    It took these Union troops three days to walk 20 miles. They got distracted by blackberry bushes and they looted and pillaged the homes of Confederate sympathizers. They stopped to ask for water and snacks at the farms they passed and some of them just died, because it was July and heat exhaustion is a serious ass-kicker.

    Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park || TERRAGOES.COM

    Finally, war happened. There was flanking and assaulting and maneuvering and also a lot of mayhem. I learned the details of the battle during the tour, but what stood out to me most was the absolute buffoonery that took place on that battlefield.

    There were something like 200 different uniforms worn at the Battle of First Manassas. There were blue and gray uniforms on both sides. Soldiers from different states came dressed in the style of their state militia and a lot of the time, nobody knew who was who. Sometimes commanders yelled across the battlefield trying to asses if the men they were facing were friend or foe. When in doubt, units fired at one another, hoping for the best.

    Then there was a Louisiana unit, mostly Irish, who loved to fight and had been anxious for action. When racing toward an enemy artillery battery, they threw down their muskets and launched at the opposing force with bowie knives. Knives, generally, don’t win in fights against cannons.

    Another unit, assaulting across the battlefield, came across a blackberry thicket and became immediately distracted by the plethora of snack they had found. They were having a great time, eating blackberries, until their commander came up and forced them back into the fight. So onward they went, until they came upon a persimmon patch, said, “fuck this war thing,” and started their second snack session of the battle. Their commander, livid at this point, started screaming at them again, and in the madness that ensued a hornet’s nest was disturbed and the hornet’s took off after the commander’s horse.

    Like I said – buffoonery.

    Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park || TERRAGOES.COM

    In addition to all that silliness and, you know, the absolute horrors of war, First Manassas is also where Brig. Gen. Thomas Jonathan Jackson earned his nickname and became the legendary Stonewall Jackson. As the legend goes, Confederate lines were being crushed by Union troops. Jackson’s men provided reinforcements and Brig. Gen. Barnard Elliott Bee shouted to his men, “There is Jackson, standing like a stone wall!”

    Today, there is some debate over what Bee meant exactly. Some say it was to inspire his men to rally on Jackson’s Virginia Soldiers. Others say Bee was being an dick and meant it in a not-at-all flattering sort of way. There’s no way to be sure, really, and Bee died almost immediately after he spoke the phrase. Either way, the nickname stuck, and a legend was born.

    Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park || TERRAGOES.COM
    Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park || TERRAGOES.COM

    At the end of the battle, the Confederates were declared the victors. Something like 4,000 men fell on the battlefield at Manassas, and 1,000 died. The battle proved the need for experienced and better-trained Soldiers, especially those who wouldn’t get distracted so easily by blackberry bushes. It also showed both Union and Confederate forces that the war would not be brief and that the fight would be far from blood-less.

    Thirteen months later, the Battle of Second Manassas would claim more than 4,000 lives and injure 24,000 men.

    Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park || TERRAGOES.COM

    The Manassas National Battlefield Park is quite beautiful. Today, it’s all rolling hills and picture-perfect farmland. It’s hard to imagine the chaos of the wars that consumed the countryside there, but the National Park Service does a great job of trying to put it into perspective.

    TIPS FOR VISITING
    • Take a guided tour. There are several every day that cover both First and Second Manassas and meet from various spots throughout the park. Check in at the Henry Hill Visitor Center to make sure the tours are running as scheduled.
    • Take the guided driving tour. Grab a guide at the Visitor Center and visit a few of the significant sites of the Battle of Second Manasass. There’s 12 stops total, covering something like 20 miles. You can visit all the sites, or just swing by a few of them to get a sense of the place.
    • Hike. There’s more than 40 miles at Manassas National Battlefield Park, of varying lengths. There’s one right out the back of the Henry Hill Visitor Center that’s just a mile and gives you a solid rundown of the Battle of First Manassas.

    Manassas National Battlefield Park is free to visit. The park is open from dawn to dusk each day, while the Henry Hill Visitor Center, the Stone House and the Brawner Farm Interpretive Center all maintain separate hours. All are generally open daily, excluding Christmas and Thanksgiving. 

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  • How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COM

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy

    I’ve wanted to go to Italy for as long as I’ve known I was Italian. So, pretty much always. It’s been on my bucket list for actual decades.

    When I was deployed last year, along with John, my (now ex-)boyfriend, we started talking about trips to take after the deployment. He’s Italian. I’m Italian. We’d both always dreamed of visiting Italy, so Italy it was.

    We spent the next few months trying to decide where we wanted to go. We wanted to experience different parts of Italy, but we didn’t want to feel too rushed. So we spent months – actual months – deciding on an itinerary and then, in May, we spent almost three weeks exploring Italy.

    SPENDING 20 DAYS IN ITALY

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 1-2: JFK > FCO || Overnight & direct. Beautiful, except for the terrible child who screamed for 67% of the flight.

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 2-6: ROME

    // Rome is huge and there’s so much to see. We spent four nights in Rome, longer than we spent anywhere else, and it was just the right amount of time to get a generous introduction to the capital city. I’d definitely visit again, but I’d spend my time further away from the main tourist attractions.

    THE BEST: Eating Cacio e Pepe & Spaghetti Carbonara. Testing out our Italian language skills. The Colosseum. Walking up 500+ stairs to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. Pizza. Walking across the Tiber and around Trastevere. The Pantheon.

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 6-9: ASSISI & UMBRIA

    // Umbria is beautiful. It’s wilder than its neighboring cousin, Tuscany, but just as lovely. Assisi gets busy during the day with bussed-in tourists, but the nights tend to be more mellow. We had one of our best and most authentic meals in Assisi.

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COM+ DAY 8 SIDE TRIP: SPELLO || We had a car, so we wandered south to Spello on our middle day in Assisi, just to get a feel for another city within Umbria. It was a Monday, typically a slow day in Italy, so the city was eerily quiet. We walked around. Met some cats. Drank some wine. And left.

    THE BEST: The Basilica di San Francesco. Dinner at Trattoria Da Ermino. Walking up an actual mountain to Eremo delle Carceri, a sanctuary visited by St. Francis of Assisi. Our beautiful Airbnb.

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 9: SIENA 

    // On our way to San Gimignano, we pit-stopped in Siena for a few hours and it was magical. I really liked the way Siena felt. It was cool and trendy and had a modern feel while still being this incredibly beautiful Old World city.

    THE BEST: The Siena Cathedral. Shell-shaped Piazza del Campo. The Palazzo Pubblico. The escalator from our parking area up to the city center.

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 9-12: SAN GIMIGNANO & TUSCANY 

    // When we found our B&B we starting freaking out. It was beautiful, overlooking the grape-vined hills of Tuscany. We both just started laughing, thinking there was no way our home for the next three days could be so beautiful. But it was. Plus, it was just a five minute walk into San Gimignano.

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COM+ DAY 11 SIDE TRIP: FLORENCE || You guys. I didn’t like Florence. Maybe it’s because we didn’t spend much time there, or because we didn’t spend a night there, but I just didn’t like it. It was hot, crowded and everything we wanted to see required waiting in a stupidly-long line.

    THE BEST: Our B&B, because really – beautiful views, a comfy bed and fresh-made breakfast every morning. Seeing the David. Wandering around San Gimignano after all the other tourists left for the day. Gazing at the Tuscan hills.

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 12-13: LA SPEZIA & CINQUE TERRE

    // We smushed in a day trip to Cinque Terre toward the end of our planning process. We wanted to see the coast, and Cinque Terre made the most sense. We stayed in La Spezia, which saved us a ton of money, and were right next to the train station so we could get to Cinque Terre in less than half an hour. First, we trained to Monterossa, hiked to Vernazza, then trained to Manarola. All the cities are beautiful and they’re all different too. But crowded. SO CROWDED.

    THE BEST: Hiking from Monterossa to Vernazza, even though the trails were packed with people. Watching the sunset in Manarola. Exploring the coastline.

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 13-15: MILAN

    // Milan was primarily on our list because John had family there. In researching where to go, we read mixed reviews about Milan. But we both really liked it. It was beautiful, full of art and good food, and it had a unique mix of modern structures and ancient history.

    THE BEST: Going out with local Italians to experience the city & getting an impromptu tour at midnight. Visiting the Duomo and climbing to the top to see the city laid out around us. Walking around the city without much of a plan. Peeking onto ancient Roman ruins hidden beneath a modern square.

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 15: VERONA

    // We pit-stopped in Verona on the way to Venice, stowing our bags at the train station. I could have spent a few days in Verona, I think, eating and drinking and wandering around.

    THE BEST: Seeing the Arena, built in 30 A.D. Checking out Juliet’s House. Lunch and prosecco at Terrazza Bar Al Ponte, with an incredible view of the river.

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 15-18: VENICE

    // We probably spent whole weeks debating Venice, but ultimately, we were so glad we went. We avoided the crowds, for the most part, and hid from the major tourist attractions, opting to get lost on side streets instead.

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COM+ DAY 16 SIDE TRIP: NAVARONS || We rented a car for a day to pop north to visit the birthplace of John’s mother and grandmother. It was magic, both exploring a tiny Italian village and watching him discover it. He was able to stand in the place his grandparents were married and it was just very, very special.

    THE BEST: Getting away from cities and visiting Navarons. Eating a stupidly amazing meal in Meduno, at La Stella. Getting lost on Venetian side streets. Eating cicchetti.

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COM

    On the 18th day, we went to the airport. We checked our bags and went through security and got in line to board the plane. But then our flight was cancelled, about five minutes before it was supposed to take off. So instead of flying home, we spent two or so hours waiting in line to rebook our flight home, took a taxi to our hotel and napped like champions and did absolutely nothing for the rest of the day except for eat our provided dinner at the hotel.

    Since we originally booked a direct flight home, that’s what we wanted. The next direct flight JFK wasn’t for two more days, we ended up with a bonus day in Italy.

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMBONUS: DAY 19: MURANO & BURANO

    // We didn’t want to go back to Venice, since we’d already said goodbye to it once, so we hopped on a boat and headed to Murano and then, later, to Burano. They’re both beautiful islands with their own unique culture. I’d highly recommend a side trip for anyone with a spare day in Venice.

    How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 20: VCE > JFK || There were only eight of us on this plane, all displaced from the earlier cancelled flight. Even though the plane was empty, Delta still wouldn’t let us sit in first class, but we each had a few rows to ourselves and – best of all – there were no kids on the plane.

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It took me a week to get to Kuwait when I deployed last year. That’s not normal. That’s not how it’s supposed to work, but for 1o of us, that’s exactly how it did work. We ended up stranded in Baltimore and then Germany and then Qatar before finally making it to our final destination.

At the start of this mayhem, we found ourselves with two extra days in Baltimore. So, we adventured, because what the fuck else are you supposed to do when you get two bonus days in America before a deployment?

We rented a car and drove to Baltimore proper. There, we ate all the things, including tacos and cupcakes and cheese plates and some beers, too, and then I did the thing I always do when I’m someplace new. I checked to see if there were any National Park units nearby. And there was Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine just 15 minutes away. I asked my travel companions if maybe, please, they’d be up for going to check it out and, also, hey, if you guys want to do that, WE NEED TO GO RIGHT NOW, GET YOUR SHIT, LET’S GO, because they close at 5 p.m.

So we went.

We started at the visitor center and watched a film that explained the significance of Fort McHenry. Built in 1798 to defend the Baltimore Harbor, the fort was used continuously through WWII. It’s most famous for defending the harbor against British naval forces in 1814 during the War of 1812 and for being the site that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem.

As we learned, Fort McHenry withstood 25 continuous hours of bombardment in 1814. Key was nearby, aboard a ship, watching the whole thing happen. During the chaos, a small storm flag flew over the fort. The next morning, the fort raised a larger garrison flag – measuring 30 x 42 feet – that signaled American victory. Key saw the flag emerge from the smoke and haze of battle and wrote “Defense of Fort M’Henry,” later renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and adopted as our national anthem.

Once the film ends, a screen raises and there’s the flag, our Star-Spangled Banner, flying over the fort. And then they play the anthem. The crowd stands, puts their hands over their hearts and there’s this collective moment of gooey patriotic feelings.

Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine || TERRAGOES.COM

After the film, we headed outside to visit the fort. There, we learned that President Truman signed a presidential proclamation in 1948 that declared a flag would always fly over Fort McHenry.

During the day, a historic flag flies over the fort, similar to the one that flew there in 1814. At night, when the park is closed a modern, 50-star flag is raised. They switch the flags each day, just before they close, and they let park visitors assist in the flag change ceremony.

Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine || TERRAGOES.COM

The modern flag goes up, the historic flag comes down and there’s never a moment when there isn’t a flag flying there, just a brief few seconds when there are two. As the historic flag – the BIG ONE – comes fluttering down, visitors help catch it and then, fold it.

Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine || TERRAGOES.COM

Sometimes you end up somewhere by almost total accident and then it feels like maybe you were always meant to be there, and that’s exactly what being at Fort McHenry felt like. I couldn’t have orchestrated a more perfect goodbye.

VISITING FORT MCHENRY NATIONAL MONUMENT & HISTORIC SHRINE
  • I don’t always love watching films at National Parks, but the one here is worth it, especially for the flag reveal at the end. Just remember to stand when the national anthem starts to play.
  • The flag change ceremony is a unique way to experience the park. It happens twice a day, at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • There are often special events at the park, like twilight tattoo ceremonies and ranger-led talks.
  • Flag talks happen a few times a day. They explain explain what flags have flown over the park and how the flag has changed over the years.

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine is open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. The fort and visitor’s center close at 4:45 p.m. Admission is $10 per person.

When I went to Tajikistan, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the basics, like how it’s a land-locked country in Central Asia. I could find it on a map, knew it was bordered by Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and China, that it used to be part of the Soviet Union, but that’s mostly it. But, I didn’t know what it would feel like, or look like or be like.

Still, I was excited. At work, we have a partnership with the Republic of Tajikistan, so I know a lot of people who have been before, and I was anxious to experience it for myself.

Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

I went last year, while deployed, with a few other members of my team. One had been before, had even lived in Dushanbe, the capital, for a few months. He served as our tour guide, taking us to all the best restaurants and, more often than not, using his Russian language skills to order our food too.

We were there for work, but our days were pretty short. We spent the morning and early afternoon with  Tajikistan’s soldiers, then headed back to our hotel, knocked out some daily administrative tasks and then headed out for a late lunch.

Lunch, for us, was a whole thing. We stuffed ourselves, each and every day, usually to the point where we didn’t even need to eat dinner. Everything we ate was so good, so different, so well-done and delicious. We would sit and stuff ourselves past the point of fullness and then we’d linger over the remnants of our feast, waiting for our food to digest enough so we could walk – not waddle – around the city some more.

Given Tajikistan’s geographic location in the middle of everything, the food options are endless and authentic. We were never once disappointed, except for maybe by a shrimp-flavored pack of Pringles someone passed around at the hotel.

ROKHAT TEA HOUSE – TAJIK/CENTRAL ASIAN

Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

This was the very first place we ate in Tajikistan and one of the last, too. We had tea, of course, which was citrusy, perfect and delicious, along with a few beers and, of course, some vodka. This was my first introduction to the bread of Tajikistan, which is delicious in a way I can’t even explain. Bakers take balls of dough and throw them onto the inside of earthen ovens and the result is delightful. It’s served fresh and warm and I ate piles of it while we were there.

For the main course, I had plov, one of the national dishes of Tajikistan, made with hunks of meat, piles of noodles or rice, and vegetables. It is hearty and filling and a delicious burst of complimentary flavors and was exactly what I needed on that first day, one that was spent mostly on airplanes, but also included a multi-hour pit stop at the airport in Kazakhstan, where I slept on a very cold and very hard bench.

In addition to the food, a peak around the tea house is also worthwhile. They’ve got indoor and outdoor seating, both of which are lovely, along with beautifully painted ceilings throughout.

FIND IT: Rokhat Tea House, Rudaki Avenue 84, Dushanbe, Tajikistan; Open daily 8 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Listed on CNN’s list of top tea houses in the world ||  Facebook & TripAdvisor

ARIRANG RESTAURANT – KOREAN
Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

This Korean place is seriously lacking in curb appeal, but the interior makes you feel like you’re in a different world. We were a big group and sat around the large wood table in the middle of the restaurant. The meal started with six little snacks to share, things like bean sprouts, red beans and kimchi, and then we launched into our meals.

I can’t even tell you what I ate, but I know I loved it. It was just spicy enough and there was an egg on it, and I really appreciate any food that’s been decorated with an egg.

Everyone ordered something different, mainly mixed bowls or mixed rice dishes, and we were all pleased with our meals. Authentic Korean food was something we knew we wouldn’t be getting once we headed back to Kuwait, which only made the meal more special.

FIND IT: Arirang, Rudaki Ave 96, Dushanbe 734000, Tajikistan; Open daily, except Sunday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. ||  TripAdvisor

TAJ RESTAURANT – INDIAN

Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

This was maybe the height of our gluttony. We ordered so much food, you guys. SO. MUCH. FOOD. We ordered a few types of naan, some small bites to share, some beers, and main courses and we were so, so fat by the end of it.

We sat on couches with a table in between, and once we consumed all the food, the conversation slowed, we all leaned back and tried to give our bellies as much space as possible because they were stuffed. And yet, we all still wanted to eat more.

I loved everything I tried here and nothing was too spicy for my somewhat delicate palate. The naan was perfection, all covered in garlic or herbs and I could not stop eating it.

FIND IT: Taj Restaurant, Rudaki Ave., 81, Dushanbe, Tajikistan; || TripAdvisor

MARCO POLO – AFGHAN
Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM

This was my favorite meal. I ate so many good things in Dushanbe, but this meal was the best. The bread came with a delicious herb-based dipping sauce that I actually considered drinking, the appetizers we ordered were flavorful and unique, and the main course – a mixed grill plate with lamb, chicken and beef sirloin – was incredible. It’s the one place I encourage everyone to visit in Dushanbe and a place I would visit again without hesitation.

Marco Polo is on the pricier end of Dushanbe’s restaurant spectrum, but it’s still relatively inexpensive compared to U.S. dining options.

Inside, the restaurant is decorated like the inside of a cave, which I found odd, fascinating and lovable. There’s also an incredibly charming outdoor patio area, if eating inside a fake cave isn’t on your bucket list.

FIND IT: Marco Polo Restaurant, Merza Tursom Zadah 80, Dushanbe 734000, Tajikistan; TripAdvisor

Eating My Way Through Dushanbe || TERRAGOES.COM
TAJIKISTAN

I loved Tajikistan and would visit again. It’s a unique place, an intersection of culture and the food is incredible. Plus, the currency conversion rate meant I could spend $5-10 USD a day and eat exceptionally well. It was my first time in Central Asia, and I was stunned by the jagged mountains that surround the city, by the kindness of the people and the deliciousness of the food.

Memories are neat. It’s neat the way they attach themselves to sensory triggers, like the way a smell will take you back 20 years to a specific place and time, like the foyer of your grandmother’s house, or the way the sound of a sprinkler can transport you across decades to a neighbor’s backyard where you spent hours running around in the water as a kid. It’s neat the way a song, one you haven’t heard in years, can take you back to your first break-up, first kiss, first road trip, first whatever. Suddenly you’re there, back in that moment, transported over miles and years, to some specific moment, seminal or otherwise.

And it’s neat how remembering can give us a sensory reaction, the way just thinking of a place you visited, experienced or explored can take you back to that place, to the point where you can smell the salt of the sea, or feel the gentle crush of a first heart-break, or, alternately, the first jolt of love that courses through hearts, limbs and fingertips.

It’s just neat, to me, how those memories can remain so visceral, so clear.

The Way Memories Feel & Amman's Roman Theatre || TERRAGOES.COM

I spent most of my deployment last year in Kuwait. That’s where I was primarily based, in the dusty, sandy heat of Kuwait. But another part of our team was in Jordan, and I managed to get myself there a few times. John, my former other half, was part of that team, so getting to Jordan was special and significant.

I was there in October, working on a handful of projects. We’d had meetings in the morning and stopped in Amman, the capital city, for lunch. Then, with a little more time to spare, we stopped by the Roman Theatre, in downtown Amman.

I don’t remember a lot from that day. Scrolling through photos shows me who we met with, who else we were with and what we had for lunch. But I can’t really remember it without those prompts, not clearly anyway.

But then there’s this moment, this singular moment of being at the very top of the theatre with John, having walked up the very narrow and worn stairs, and feeling good. 

It’s so specific, this memory, this feeling of being genuinely happy. I can’t remember all the details that came before it or after it, but there’s this specific sliver of the day when I can remember almost everything. I was out of breath, from the walk up, and I felt jittery and anxious from the steepness of the climb. There were birds and the sound of the nearby Jordanian flag moving in the wind. I remember being near John, of looking at him, knowing that he made the visit to the theatre happen for me, because he knew how much joy it would bring me. I remember the way my heart felt when I looked at him and I remember the way my big stupid grin made my face feel.

The Way Memories Feel & Amman's Roman Theatre || TERRAGOES.COM
The Way Memories Feel & Amman's Roman Theatre || TERRAGOES.COM

So many of the days from my deployment blend together. In Kuwait, most days looked the same. My trips to Jordan blend together, too. I went three times, and it’s hard for me to pinpoint what happened on what trip, but this, visiting the theatre, is one of my sharpest memories. It’s one of those memories that takes me right back to that spot, back to the other side of the Earth, back to October, back to him.

It’s a memory that feels good to remember, even now.

The Way Memories Feel & Amman's Roman Theatre || TERRAGOES.COM The Roman Theater in Amman, Jordan

The theatre, built to seat 6,000, dates back to when the city was known as Philadelphia, when the theatre was the city’s centerpiece. It was built in the 2nd century, between 169 and 177 AD. It’s built into a hillside and oriented north to keep the sun out of the eyes of spectators. It’s a steep but worthwhile climb to the top, over a mix of original and renovated stairs. The Jordan Museum of Popular Tradition and the Jordan Folklore Museum are here too. Both offer visitors an up-close view of various artifacts including antique Bedouin jewelry and mosaics from Madaba and Jerash.

Entry is just JOD 1, or about $1.40 USD, depending on the daily exchange rate.

I was completely charmed by the theatre. It was, at the time, one of the oldest structures I’d ever seen. Climbing it was slightly terrifying. I felt like I was going to tip over at any moment, but it was so, so worth it.

Overall, I really loved Jordan, and not just because the person I loved was there. It’s beautiful, filled with historic and varied landscapes, friendly people and marvelous food. I’d go back, in an instant, just to experience it as a tourist, with more freedom of movement to explore at a more leisurely pace.

The Way Memories Feel & Amman's Roman Theatre || TERRAGOES.COM

In the past few months, I’ve managed to visit something like five National Park sites. They’ve all been tied to a historic person or event and I’ve tried to participate in a ranger-led walk or tour at each one. Sometimes, that’s the only option if you want to really see the site, especially if it’s a historic home or structure. At other sites, there are oodles of options, from hikes, to driving tours or interactive displays. For me, when I visit a historic site, taking the tour has always proved worth it. Yes, I could read the wikipedia page or the official website, but it’s so much easier to have a ranger tell me about it, live and in person with gesticulating included directing me to actually look at what they’re talking about. And that’s why I showed up at Manassas National Battlefield Park just in time for a guided tour of Henry Hill.

Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park || TERRAGOES.COM

Two significant American Civil War battles happened at Manassas. The first, on July 21, 1861, was the first major battle of the American Civil War. It’s also the topic of the Henry Hill tour I participated in over the weekend.

The tour helped to put things into perspective. It explained not just what the battle looked like, but also the context that caused it.

Basically, nobody was prepared for the Civil War, and neither side really thought it would even come to war. The Soldiers, on both sides, had pretty much no idea what the fuck they were doing. Some hadn’t even fired a weapon, or, if they had, it’d been a while and they’d forgotten the process. Most competent military men were in the west, fighting Indians. President Lincoln did call up 70,000 men, with 90-day contracts, but they had no idea what they were doing and received little training. The men in charge, the generals, they didn’t know what they were doing either, and most had never seen combat.

Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park || TERRAGOES.COM

Manassas Junction, in 1861, was a tiny town where two rail lines met, only 20 miles from Washington, D.C. Rail lines were important, of course. Both sides wanted to control them and wanted to use them to move troops and supplies. President Lincoln, getting pretty fed up with this whole thing, ordered Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell to take 35,000 men and attack the Confederates. It was the largest field army ever gathered on the North American continent, albeit a very, very green military.

It took these Union troops three days to walk 20 miles. They got distracted by blackberry bushes and they looted and pillaged the homes of Confederate sympathizers. They stopped to ask for water and snacks at the farms they passed and some of them just died, because it was July and heat exhaustion is a serious ass-kicker.

Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park || TERRAGOES.COM

Finally, war happened. There was flanking and assaulting and maneuvering and also a lot of mayhem. I learned the details of the battle during the tour, but what stood out to me most was the absolute buffoonery that took place on that battlefield.

There were something like 200 different uniforms worn at the Battle of First Manassas. There were blue and gray uniforms on both sides. Soldiers from different states came dressed in the style of their state militia and a lot of the time, nobody knew who was who. Sometimes commanders yelled across the battlefield trying to asses if the men they were facing were friend or foe. When in doubt, units fired at one another, hoping for the best.

Then there was a Louisiana unit, mostly Irish, who loved to fight and had been anxious for action. When racing toward an enemy artillery battery, they threw down their muskets and launched at the opposing force with bowie knives. Knives, generally, don’t win in fights against cannons.

Another unit, assaulting across the battlefield, came across a blackberry thicket and became immediately distracted by the plethora of snack they had found. They were having a great time, eating blackberries, until their commander came up and forced them back into the fight. So onward they went, until they came upon a persimmon patch, said, “fuck this war thing,” and started their second snack session of the battle. Their commander, livid at this point, started screaming at them again, and in the madness that ensued a hornet’s nest was disturbed and the hornet’s took off after the commander’s horse.

Like I said – buffoonery.

Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park || TERRAGOES.COM

In addition to all that silliness and, you know, the absolute horrors of war, First Manassas is also where Brig. Gen. Thomas Jonathan Jackson earned his nickname and became the legendary Stonewall Jackson. As the legend goes, Confederate lines were being crushed by Union troops. Jackson’s men provided reinforcements and Brig. Gen. Barnard Elliott Bee shouted to his men, “There is Jackson, standing like a stone wall!”

Today, there is some debate over what Bee meant exactly. Some say it was to inspire his men to rally on Jackson’s Virginia Soldiers. Others say Bee was being an dick and meant it in a not-at-all flattering sort of way. There’s no way to be sure, really, and Bee died almost immediately after he spoke the phrase. Either way, the nickname stuck, and a legend was born.

Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park || TERRAGOES.COM
Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park || TERRAGOES.COM

At the end of the battle, the Confederates were declared the victors. Something like 4,000 men fell on the battlefield at Manassas, and 1,000 died. The battle proved the need for experienced and better-trained Soldiers, especially those who wouldn’t get distracted so easily by blackberry bushes. It also showed both Union and Confederate forces that the war would not be brief and that the fight would be far from blood-less.

Thirteen months later, the Battle of Second Manassas would claim more than 4,000 lives and injure 24,000 men.

Taking the Tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park || TERRAGOES.COM

The Manassas National Battlefield Park is quite beautiful. Today, it’s all rolling hills and picture-perfect farmland. It’s hard to imagine the chaos of the wars that consumed the countryside there, but the National Park Service does a great job of trying to put it into perspective.

TIPS FOR VISITING
  • Take a guided tour. There are several every day that cover both First and Second Manassas and meet from various spots throughout the park. Check in at the Henry Hill Visitor Center to make sure the tours are running as scheduled.
  • Take the guided driving tour. Grab a guide at the Visitor Center and visit a few of the significant sites of the Battle of Second Manasass. There’s 12 stops total, covering something like 20 miles. You can visit all the sites, or just swing by a few of them to get a sense of the place.
  • Hike. There’s more than 40 miles at Manassas National Battlefield Park, of varying lengths. There’s one right out the back of the Henry Hill Visitor Center that’s just a mile and gives you a solid rundown of the Battle of First Manassas.

Manassas National Battlefield Park is free to visit. The park is open from dawn to dusk each day, while the Henry Hill Visitor Center, the Stone House and the Brawner Farm Interpretive Center all maintain separate hours. All are generally open daily, excluding Christmas and Thanksgiving. 

I’ve wanted to go to Italy for as long as I’ve known I was Italian. So, pretty much always. It’s been on my bucket list for actual decades.

When I was deployed last year, along with John, my (now ex-)boyfriend, we started talking about trips to take after the deployment. He’s Italian. I’m Italian. We’d both always dreamed of visiting Italy, so Italy it was.

We spent the next few months trying to decide where we wanted to go. We wanted to experience different parts of Italy, but we didn’t want to feel too rushed. So we spent months – actual months – deciding on an itinerary and then, in May, we spent almost three weeks exploring Italy.

SPENDING 20 DAYS IN ITALY

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 1-2: JFK > FCO || Overnight & direct. Beautiful, except for the terrible child who screamed for 67% of the flight.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 2-6: ROME

// Rome is huge and there’s so much to see. We spent four nights in Rome, longer than we spent anywhere else, and it was just the right amount of time to get a generous introduction to the capital city. I’d definitely visit again, but I’d spend my time further away from the main tourist attractions.

THE BEST: Eating Cacio e Pepe & Spaghetti Carbonara. Testing out our Italian language skills. The Colosseum. Walking up 500+ stairs to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. Pizza. Walking across the Tiber and around Trastevere. The Pantheon.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 6-9: ASSISI & UMBRIA

// Umbria is beautiful. It’s wilder than its neighboring cousin, Tuscany, but just as lovely. Assisi gets busy during the day with bussed-in tourists, but the nights tend to be more mellow. We had one of our best and most authentic meals in Assisi.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COM+ DAY 8 SIDE TRIP: SPELLO || We had a car, so we wandered south to Spello on our middle day in Assisi, just to get a feel for another city within Umbria. It was a Monday, typically a slow day in Italy, so the city was eerily quiet. We walked around. Met some cats. Drank some wine. And left.

THE BEST: The Basilica di San Francesco. Dinner at Trattoria Da Ermino. Walking up an actual mountain to Eremo delle Carceri, a sanctuary visited by St. Francis of Assisi. Our beautiful Airbnb.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 9: SIENA 

// On our way to San Gimignano, we pit-stopped in Siena for a few hours and it was magical. I really liked the way Siena felt. It was cool and trendy and had a modern feel while still being this incredibly beautiful Old World city.

THE BEST: The Siena Cathedral. Shell-shaped Piazza del Campo. The Palazzo Pubblico. The escalator from our parking area up to the city center.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 9-12: SAN GIMIGNANO & TUSCANY 

// When we found our B&B we starting freaking out. It was beautiful, overlooking the grape-vined hills of Tuscany. We both just started laughing, thinking there was no way our home for the next three days could be so beautiful. But it was. Plus, it was just a five minute walk into San Gimignano.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COM+ DAY 11 SIDE TRIP: FLORENCE || You guys. I didn’t like Florence. Maybe it’s because we didn’t spend much time there, or because we didn’t spend a night there, but I just didn’t like it. It was hot, crowded and everything we wanted to see required waiting in a stupidly-long line.

THE BEST: Our B&B, because really – beautiful views, a comfy bed and fresh-made breakfast every morning. Seeing the David. Wandering around San Gimignano after all the other tourists left for the day. Gazing at the Tuscan hills.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 12-13: LA SPEZIA & CINQUE TERRE

// We smushed in a day trip to Cinque Terre toward the end of our planning process. We wanted to see the coast, and Cinque Terre made the most sense. We stayed in La Spezia, which saved us a ton of money, and were right next to the train station so we could get to Cinque Terre in less than half an hour. First, we trained to Monterossa, hiked to Vernazza, then trained to Manarola. All the cities are beautiful and they’re all different too. But crowded. SO CROWDED.

THE BEST: Hiking from Monterossa to Vernazza, even though the trails were packed with people. Watching the sunset in Manarola. Exploring the coastline.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 13-15: MILAN

// Milan was primarily on our list because John had family there. In researching where to go, we read mixed reviews about Milan. But we both really liked it. It was beautiful, full of art and good food, and it had a unique mix of modern structures and ancient history.

THE BEST: Going out with local Italians to experience the city & getting an impromptu tour at midnight. Visiting the Duomo and climbing to the top to see the city laid out around us. Walking around the city without much of a plan. Peeking onto ancient Roman ruins hidden beneath a modern square.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 15: VERONA

// We pit-stopped in Verona on the way to Venice, stowing our bags at the train station. I could have spent a few days in Verona, I think, eating and drinking and wandering around.

THE BEST: Seeing the Arena, built in 30 A.D. Checking out Juliet’s House. Lunch and prosecco at Terrazza Bar Al Ponte, with an incredible view of the river.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 15-18: VENICE

// We probably spent whole weeks debating Venice, but ultimately, we were so glad we went. We avoided the crowds, for the most part, and hid from the major tourist attractions, opting to get lost on side streets instead.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COM+ DAY 16 SIDE TRIP: NAVARONS || We rented a car for a day to pop north to visit the birthplace of John’s mother and grandmother. It was magic, both exploring a tiny Italian village and watching him discover it. He was able to stand in the place his grandparents were married and it was just very, very special.

THE BEST: Getting away from cities and visiting Navarons. Eating a stupidly amazing meal in Meduno, at La Stella. Getting lost on Venetian side streets. Eating cicchetti.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COM

On the 18th day, we went to the airport. We checked our bags and went through security and got in line to board the plane. But then our flight was cancelled, about five minutes before it was supposed to take off. So instead of flying home, we spent two or so hours waiting in line to rebook our flight home, took a taxi to our hotel and napped like champions and did absolutely nothing for the rest of the day except for eat our provided dinner at the hotel.

Since we originally booked a direct flight home, that’s what we wanted. The next direct flight JFK wasn’t for two more days, we ended up with a bonus day in Italy.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMBONUS: DAY 19: MURANO & BURANO

// We didn’t want to go back to Venice, since we’d already said goodbye to it once, so we hopped on a boat and headed to Murano and then, later, to Burano. They’re both beautiful islands with their own unique culture. I’d highly recommend a side trip for anyone with a spare day in Venice.

How to Spend 20 Days in Italy || TERRAGOES.COMDAY 20: VCE > JFK || There were only eight of us on this plane, all displaced from the earlier cancelled flight. Even though the plane was empty, Delta still wouldn’t let us sit in first class, but we each had a few rows to ourselves and – best of all – there were no kids on the plane.

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