The Spark that Started the Traveling Fire

When I was in second grade, my teacher made all the kids in class write about a place they wanted to visit. We had to read a book about that place and do a book report on it. So 25 seven-year-olds headed down to the school library, perused the card catalog, and started searching for books on different countries and cities.

Melissa Newton 2nd grade
Me in the 2nd grade in front of the star reader board.

It didn’t take long for me to find the perfect book! It was a thin book with lots of glossy photographs and pictures (exactly the kind of book every kid in class was looking for). On the cover was an old building that looked like it was sinking. As I opened the book there were more pictures of buildings surrounded by water and boats that went right up to the doors. Did this city flood? Where was this? I glanced at the cover again. Venice, Italy.  I was in awe… I grabbed the book and rushed directly to the librarian before any of my classmates could snatch it up. She stamped the library card inside the cover and handed it back to me with a smile.

This was an assignment I couldn’t wait to start. I pulled out my book the minute I got home from school and started reading about this seaside Italian city. A city built on water? No cars? No stoplights? Could this place really exist?traveling in Venice Italy

I don’t remember what grade I received on that book report, but my seven-year-old self received something much more valuable… a desire to see the world.

The next library book I checked out was a book on learning Italian. I vowed to visit Venice one day, to move there even, and to do that I needed to learn the native language.

Venice, Italy grand canal
View outside the train station

I’m sad to say I never did learn more than a handful of Italian words, and I never moved to Venice either. But I did visit it in 2013… 24 years after I wrote that book report.

I fell in love with Venice the moment I stepped outside the train station. I stood there gazing at the Grand Canal, taking in the smell of the salt water, and listening to the sounds of Italian street merchants and excited tourists.

Melissa Smuzynski backpacking in Venice
backpacking through Venice

For a moment, I was that 7-year-old girl again, fascinated by the city built on water. It really did exist, and it was everything I thought it would be and more.

We walked along the narrow streets and got wonderfully lost. Around each corner we’d find something magical… a charming old church or a vibrant square. A picturesque bridge or a quaint little cafe.

We took a water bus to the island of Burano, about 15 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Venice, and discovered even more beauty. Vibrant, colorful building lined the canals of this small fishing village. And it was quiet. Only a handful of people walked the streets; a stark contrast from the large crowds we left behind in San Marco Square.  As my husband and I sat along the serene canal having pizza and wine, I told myself I wouldn’t wait 24 more years to see the rest of the world. Since then, we’ve made it a point to travel as much as we can responsibly afford.

Damon and Melissa Burano travel
Damon and Melissa, Burano 2013

I don’t think my 2nd grade teacher would have ever imagined that such a minuscule assignment would have had such a significant impact on one of her students. But for me, it was life altering. It set the course of my future and ignited this passion to see the world that only grows with each passport stamp. I guess you could say that book report changed my life.

 

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