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Arrivederci and auf wiedersehen to vacation

Ellie French and her brother Henry French eat pizza in Naples, Italy on their family vacation. (Photo by Bryan French.)

When my brother graduated from high school this spring, my parents came to the realization that his time living at home was coming to an end. And so were our family vacations. We'd already checked most of the classics off the list: California, Yellowstone, Disney World. The last thing left to do was to hop across the pond and take a trip to Europe.

Since both my brother and I had spent the better part of our high school careers valiantly attempting and mostly failing to learn German, my parents decided that Deutschland would be our first stop.

Luckily for us, Berlin was not terribly different than home sweet home. For starters, everyone speaks English. So although my brother and my language skills could still be used as a fun party trick to impress our waiters and waitresses, we had a safety net to fall back on if our limited expertise wasn't cutting it. And it usually wasn't.

Summers in Berlin are even colder than summers in Duluth. Having packed mostly the morning we left for the trip without bothering to check weather forecasts, we were not well prepared. On our first day there, it was 58 degrees and windy, and our shorts and T-shirts were just not up to the task. So we caved and bought sweaters and long pants like the foolish tourists we were.

We went on a bike tour, saw the sights and ate schnitzel. One night, my dad and I happened upon a spontaneous bike parade where everyone was drinking and playing music and riding their bikes all across town. There were more than 10,000 people biking and it took us half an hour just to cross the street. It was beautiful.

Once we finally got across, we happened upon a movie in the park. It was just like Duluth. The movie even had English subtitles. The movie was halfway through by the time we got there, so the plot was way over our heads, even with the subtitles.

After Berlin, we got on a plane and went to Italy. My dad lived in a small town in Italy in his childhood while his mom was in the Navy, so he'd always wanted to go back. The temperature difference between the two cities was almost 40 degrees. But at least this part we had packed for.

Italy and Duluth could not be more different. It's hot and loud and full of people on mopeds. And no one speaks English. But the biggest difference of all is the pizza. Italian pizza is folded over twice and eaten like a sandwich. Definitely more convenient, but to my American taste buds, it just doesn't taste quite as good that way.

We saw Vesuvius and Pompeii, went swimming and hiking and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the U.S.

I expected the plane ride to be long, but I only had to watch four movies on the built-in screens before we were safe on the tarmac. Sometimes, you gotta love modern technology.

And so it's arrivederci to vacation, at least until next time.