As far as life-changing trips go, my trip to Europe was definitely the best trip of my life! I got to completely immerse myself in a totally different culture, spend some time with the European half of my family, and best of all, shop European malls!!!
My stepmother, my baby sister, and I left the United States on the 4th of July.
Our destination? Riga, Latvia! We stayed with my grandmother, or babushka, and my stepmother’s younger brother, Arthur, for an entire month, and had many wonderful experiences.
One experience in particular certainly stands out within my memory. My babushka and I rode our bikes from her apartment in Riga to Jurmala Beach, a distance of about ten miles, round trip. It was an exhausting ride, but it was totally worth it in the end when I got to swim in the Baltic Sea.
My favorite thing about Latvia was the food. Their cuisine is so different from the average Americans, and it takes a while to get used to. I’m not a picky eater, however, so in spite of some of the less palatable foods (meat gelatin), I did find a few new favorites.
Fried ravioli, spiced meat rolls, creamed potatoes with cheese and sour cream, and salmon and pepper on thick black bread are some of the foods I miss the most. I don’t miss the food packaging, though. Milk, yogurt, and mayonnaise come in bags, bread is wrapped in paper, and cakes come in easily smushable boxes. I did enjoy our trip to the market, though, because I got to see things you’d never see in the U.S.A, like yogurt sold from 5-gallon buckets, and candy hand made before your eyes.
Another of my favorite European memories is of our trip-within-a-trip to Belarus. We rode on a train to get there, which was incredible because I have never ridden a train before, much less across an entire country. We arrived in my great-grandmother’s village early in the morning. My grandmother, Babula, was waiting at the road with hugs and smiles. We had an instant connection, and although my Russian is not very good and her English is practically non-existent, I would sit and listen as she told stories of her life, her children and grandchildren, and her old farm. She is very sweet, and she loved having the opportunity to see her new great-grandchildren!
We stayed in the village in Belarus for Babula’s birthday. She turned 80 while we were there, and we had a small celebration for her, with her friends and my cousins from Moscow who flew out for the occasion. I even got to save one of the balloons from the party! It was a fantastic week, albeit the lack of running water.
When we returned to Riga, we made the most of our remaining time in Latvia. We bungee-jumped at a theme park, took pictures from the very top of Hotel Riga, rode a mechanical bull on the boardwalk at Jurmala beach, and even watched Stevie Wonder perform live in concert!
I’m truly grateful that I got to spend time there with my other family. I became extremely close friends with Arthur, and I don’t see how I ever made it this far in life without the wisdom and guidance of my babushka. She passed away this year on the 4th of July, and every day I’m glad for every moment I got to spend with her. No trip to Latvia will ever be the same without her, but she left her mark on my memories and in my heart.
I can’t wait to go back to Europe! There are so many adventures there just waiting to happen!
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.