A European vacation is one for the books

Megan Mckay, Contributing writer

After two years of the COVID-19 lockdown, tourism has hit a surge and is rebounding to its course. My family, who was eager to travel, took a trip across the pond to Europe to end our summer fun. We decided to make the most out of our time abroad and cover as much ground as possible, figuratively and literally. Our trip was inspired by an obsession with the highest class of international car racing, Formula 1. Our first stop was in Paris and, to no surprise my college-level French class did not prepare me for the harsh judgment of the French folk. However, the city’s architecture and food were divine. At the time of our arrival, the Tour de France, a famous bike race, was just finishing at the Arc de Triomphe the same weekend. Two days later, we took a train to the South of France. We arrived in Nice where we relaxed on the rocky beaches with the beaming sun. We then made our way 20 minutes west to Monaco, a country known to be the playground of the rich and famous. Being obsessed with racing, it was always my dream to visit the country. Monaco is home to one of the most famous Formula 1 Grand Prix. The race is held in the heart of the capital, Monte Carlo, and holds a unique tradition and ambiance. As we explored, we found ourselves walking along the streets of the historically challenging circuit where racers had just driven in the beginning of the summer.Any James Bond fans would also recognize Monte Carlo as not just a city but rather home to the famous Casino de Monte Carlo. We could not turn down the chance to walk through the elegant and lavish building. Fronted by gold-plated Mclarens, Ferraris, and world-class celebrities, we excitedly entered. My siblings and I took a seat at the first roulette table that caught our eye and without hesitation put money on 19 red. This is the date of our dad’s birthday along with his favorite color, and he had asked us to put money on the number jokingly. Surely the odds were not in our favor, but we went for it. All four of our ways were intensely locked in as the ball spun and eventually stopped. We won, 19 red had landed! Our emotions were through the roof as we were in disbelief at what just transpired.Continuing west, we picked up a rental car as we traveled hours through Italy. We stopped in Milan, the fashion capital of the world, and went into the famous Duomo. We enjoyed delicious gelato surrounded by elegant fashion brands. A few hours away we stopped at Lago di Garda which is the largest lake in Italy. My dad’s German friend, whom he worked with in Chicago at the state’s attorney’s office, had invited us to stay with him. His home was breathtaking, his lake house sat atop a giant hill overlooking the water. We spent days relaxing at the house and the pool, driving around on Vespas, boating, and hiking up the hill.Next, we made stops in Vienna, Slovenia and finally Hungary where we arrived in Budapest. What brought us to the capital of Hungary was the Hungarian Grand Prix. We had never been to the country before, and wanted to explore the world’s spa capital and its unique history. Finally, Sunday was race day! As we arrived at the track we had to terrain through makeshift mud roads. When we found our seats, we were in awe of the difference from cars driving in circles. Being from Indiana, we grew up as fans of the Indianapolis 500 where Formula 1 used to race. We were out of our seats the whole race and it was by far one of the more memorable experiences of the whole trip. While awaiting our flights home, we spent our remaining days discovering the local film festival and savoring our last tastes of delicious gelato and crepes. Finally, an early wakeup called for our departure. Thousands of miles later, we arrived safely back home. Even though we were sad to return to the states, we were grateful for a worldly experience to check off the bucket list.