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The trip — and friendship — of a lifetime

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JoAnn in the lower level of the coliseum.
We are part of The Trust Project.

2017 marked a milestone for my wife, JoAnn, and I, as we celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary on July 2. To celebrate, we planned the trip of a lifetime to France and Italy for August and September.

As we began to set the plans into place, we contacted our dear friends from Rodez, France, with hopes of meeting or travelling with them again. Our relationship began 47 years ago, when JoAnn was taking French in high school, and is worth a bit of background.

As a French student during her sophomore year in high school in Marshall in 1970, JoAnn began a correspondence with a young Frenchman by the name of Jacques Tur that has stood the test of time. Their communication continued throughout their college years and beyond.

JoAnn and I were married in July 1977 and Jacques and Martine were married in February 1978. In 1979, the Turs came to the U.S. for the first time and wanted to meet their American pen pals, so they came to Mantorville and spent a week with us, experiencing Minnesota culture. With our very first encounter, it was as if we had already known each other since we were children and a lifelong friendship began. The following summer we were their guests in Paris for a week, followed by another week of touring together in France, and then into Switzerland, Austria and Germany.

Soon, children were welcomed into both families, with JoAnn and I having a son and three daughters, and the Turs having two daughters. Neither couple realized that 23 years would pass before another face-to-face contact would occur, or that the children would help to bring them back together.

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Children's visits

In 2002, the Turs' older daughter, Frederique, began a year of study in New York City. She flew to Minnesota and spent the Thanksgiving holiday with us at our home in Kasson before enjoying a ski vacation to Colorado with our son, Sean, and several college friends.

The following spring, Jacques and Martine arranged a vacation to New York City with their younger daughter, Marion, and so we, along with our youngest daughter, Bridget, joined them for a week of fun, seeing the sights of the Big Apple.

When the Turs found out that another of our daughters, Catherine, would be studying for a semester in London in the fall of 2003, plans were made for a very short visit to their home in Rodez, France. After a long flight from the U.S. and an early arrival in London, we (JoAnn, Catherine, Bridget and I) took a short plane ride to the south of France to their home where we spent a whirlwind 24 hours with them, visiting the medieval city of Conque and dining in an old castle. Sharing with us the sights of their hometown, we got a taste of their culture and home life.

Before we would see them again, two of our daughters would be guests in the Tur home. Nearly four years later, the only daughter who hadn't visited the Tur home, Meg, did so while on an exchange semester with the College of St. Benedict. The last of the "child visits" occurred in 2014, when Bridget, with her husband, Ben, stayed with them for a few days during a three-month sojourn through Europe.

This year's reunion

As we parted from their home in Rodez in 2003, we hoped to soon meet again. With this trip, that dream wouldn't occur until 2017. Connections with the Turs were made and our latest adventure began. With Jacques' excellent command of the French highway system and narrow streets, they picked us up at the Marseille airport for a wonderful five days together, traveling through the French Riviera along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, visiting Marseille, Nice, Cannes, and a quick drive through the tiny casino city of Monaco.

Passing from France into Italy, we enjoyed the five villages of Cinque Terra on the west coast of Italy, where the villages are built right into the rocky coastline of the sea. The years slipped away for us as we reminisced about our lives, from our first encounter as newlyweds to parenthood and grandparenthood, and now, as we move through our sixties. We wondered where the past 47 years had gone and when in the future our next encounter may happen. When we sadly parted, we made sure we didn't say "good-bye," but "until we meet again."

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JoAnn and I continued our trip with a train ride into Rome for four wonderful days, staying in "old Rome." On foot, we explored famous Roman ruins like the Colosseum, the ancient Forum, the Pantheon, basilicas, fountains, piazzas, and many wonderful eateries. And of course, no trip to Italy would be complete without eating the famous Italian ice cream called gelato a few times per day!

The rooftop terrace of our bed-and-breakfast afforded us amazing views of these and many other impressive sites. As we spent the evening sipping wine on our rooftop, the city lay before us in beautifully arrayed lighting.

Goosebumps days

For the next 10 days, we traveled with the Catholic pilgrimage tour group, 206 Tours, visiting "The Shrines of Italy," some of which included Montecassino, San Giovanni Rotondo, Mont Sant Angelo, Sienna, Assisi, Cascia, Lanciano, Loretto, Florence, Padua, and finally, Venice. Each stop was famous as a pilgrimage site for various Catholic saints as well as amazing architecture and art works.

Of course, while in Rome with the tour, we were able to attend the Wednesday audience with Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square with thousands of other pilgrims and tour St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican museums as well.

While in Florence, we took a private excursion to the military cemetery about six miles out of town to visit the grave of my uncle, Ivan Schraeder, who was killed two weeks before the end of World War II, and is interred with about 4,000 other American heroes in an immaculately maintained memorial site.

Nearly every day was a "goosebumps" day as we visited ancient sites and tombs that we had only read about in our history classes. Truly, the trip of a lifetime!

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