I've been wanting to write down some of my travel memories for a while, and I figure that some of them are interesting enough to share. My parents gave us some wonderful travel opportunities, and one of my favorite places to visit just happens to be my namesake. My dad served his mission in Padova, Italy, and Trieste was his favorite city. It's a port about two hours up the coast from Venice, and it is, to me, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Trieste not only hugs the Adriatic, but it's nestled against the mountains and is only 15 minutes from the Slovenia border. It is one of the most interesting places I've visited, as it has a castle, a university, an incredible plaza and fountain surrounded by old government buildings and quaint cafes, Italy's sole concentration camp, and some awesome shopping venues and restaurants. I've visited Trieste three times, and the last time I went I stayed for half a summer. One of my favorite memories happened one weekend when we went to the Piazza Unita (the main plaza). Trieste was celebrating its 50th anniversary of being freed from Austrian rule, which came about because the Alpini, or "Alpine soldiers," fought for Trieste's freedom. About 50,000 people came to Trieste to celebrate over this anniversary weekend, and several thousand were Alpini soldiers, both young and old. Alpini are easy to find since they all wear their signature felt hats with a long eagle feather on one side. They are known for their love of singing and drinking, and they usually do both quite well:) This particular Saturday, we (me and my Italian "family") were walking down a side alley to get to the plaza. It was crowded because there were so many tourists visiting the city, but it was a beautiful day and we were taking our time. I noticed a 60ish-year old, rather overweight Alpini walking towards us, and as he sang loudly and stumbled a bit, it was obvious that he'd had a few drinks already. We gave him a wide berth, but he then started walking right towards me. Before I could step out of his way, this man literally walked into me and wrapped both arms tightly around my torso, pinning my arms to my side. He started singing again, swaying back and forth and kissing my neck and telling me how beautiful I was. The couple I was living with were mortified and tried to pry this guy's arms off me, but he was a happy drunk and didn't want to let go. My little Nonna (Italian grandma... about 4'11" and 100 pounds) was tugging on my hand and asking the guy to let me go. My Nonno (Italian grandpa, very loving but very protective) was trying to talk this guy into letting me go. After what seemed like an eternity, the man loosened his grip... but before I could squirm out of his arms, he kissed me several times on the neck and gave my bum a little smack. So here I was, a tall, strawberry blonde, green eyed American in Italy (aka I stood out like a sore thumb), and I was so overwhelmed by what had just happened that all I could do was laugh. My Nonni were just relieved that this guy finally let go of me, and once I stopped laughing, we continued toward the plaza. It wasn't but two minutes later that we entered the massive plaza and ran smack into a group of about fifteen young Alpini. These soldiers were my age (early twenties), and lemme tell ya, they were high on life! They were singing and laughing and having a good ol' time... and then they stopped when we came into the plaza. I've never felt more self-conscious in my life because they were staring at ME. A few of them actually pointed! I couldn't figure out why I was suddenly a specimen, but one brave soldier came up to me, put his arm around my shoulders, stuck his face just inches from mine, and said "Mamma mia! Che bell'occhi!" or "holy cow, what beautiful eyes!" My poor Nonni... they were standing close to me, making sure we didn't have another neck-kissing, bum-grabbing drunk man on our hands. But these young guys were awesome! I felt like a celebrity! Within seconds of the beautiful eye comment, I had guys surrounding me, wanting to take a picture with me and inviting me to spend the day with them. Between shouts of "you're so beautiful!" and "will you be my girlfriend?!", I was being yanked on one arm by these testosterone-filled Alpini while my Nonna held firm to my other arm. I was blushing and flustered and giddy that I'd had more male attention in the last 5 minutes than I'd had all my life (stupid American men...), and finally my sweet Nonno stepped in and invited the young soldiers to enjoy their day, as I would spend the rest of my day with my 'family'. I don't remember much else of what happened that day since I was on Cloud 9, and my Nonni kept having to reel me back to reality. We shopped, we saw some friends, we took pictures, we ate gelato, and after a few hours, we began the walk back to the car. As we were about to cross the plaza, two Alpini on a tandem bike came into view and it was clear that they were happily buzzed and singing at the top of their lungs. We were walking towards them, and as I watched them I realized that the soldier riding in front was also watching me. He steered the bike toward me and began singing loudly about "la Bella Bionda", the beautiful blonde. We had been walking in the middle of the street, so when the Alpini reached us, they began riding in circles around me and continued singing to me. Once again, I felt like a movie star. Remember, these are ITALIAN MEN literally falling at my feet. I thought I'd wake up from a beautiful dream at any moment, but it was very real! The Alpini sang loudly until their song was over, and as they rode away they both blew me a kiss. People who'd witnessed the scene began clapping and, for the umpteenth time that day, I blushed. My Nonna grabbed my hand, and in playful exasperation she scolded me and told me they would leave me at home next time. I could've died happy at that moment... I'd had men drooling over me all day and I never felt endangered. These men were not perverts hoping to get lucky. They were happy Italians who made this Americana feel like one lucky gal. Even the first drunk Alpini was non-threatening. He was just a happy drunk who had no concept of personal space and told a woman (while kissing her neck...) that she was beautiful. I will forever remember my introduction to the Alpini with fondness, and it's a story I will tell for the rest of my life. Even my Nonni remind me of 'that one time when the Alpini loved me.' I've not had an experience since that even comes close to making me feel the way I did that day. It still puts a smile on my face!