Sparkloft's Discovery Trips redefine the conventional notion of travel. With extra PTO and a travel stipend, these experiences are more than vacations—they're opportunities for our Sparks to immerse themselves in rejuvenating experiences, gain new perspectives, and enrich their lives. Read about Kristin's Discovery Trip of taking that life-long trip to learn about her family heritage:
I am of Italian descent, and my maiden last name is Raglione. Despite having never visited Italy before, I felt a strong desire to explore my family’s history and connect with my roots. I was stuck trying to find any family history beyond my great-grandfather, who had come here as a stowaway in 1902 via NYC. So, for my discovery trip, I knew Italy was my destination of choice.
Prior to the trip, my knowledge about my Italian heritage was limited. I knew that every Raglione had roots in San Benedetto dei Marsi, a small village of 3800 people east of Rome in the mountain foothills. My primary mission was to uncover the birth records of my great-grandfather and experience the town where my family originated, locate distant cousins to connect and learn more about our family history and share Italy as much as I could.
Before traveling to Italy, we decided to stop in Iceland as an extra highlight, thanks to the convenient Alaska/Iceland Air marketing with their stop-over feature, making it a no-brainer.
Iceland: A Stupendous Stop on the Way to Italy
My journey began in Reykjavik, Iceland – an ideal stopover en route to Italy. We spent two days in Iceland and went to the Blue Lagoon, explored the Golden Circle, and witnessed the Northern Lights — all long been on my bucket list, now checked off.
First Adventure in Italy
From there, we flew directly to Rome to start our two-week journey through Italy. We explored the rich history and epically beautiful architecture. And did I mention Gelato? Along with the fresh food, we indulged in delicious treats.
Connecting with Ancestors in San Benedetto dei Marsi
After years of dedicated genealogical research, I reached the pinnacle of my journey in San Benedetto dei Marsi, tracing my great-grandfather’s footsteps. A game-changer in my research was finding a Facebook group for San Benedetto dei Marsi, where I connected with someone who knew how to get in touch with a distant cousin whom I met on our first night.
My favorite moment in visiting the home of my ancestors was sitting in the town park at 10 pm, having wine and limoncello with five strangers whom we had just met mere hours before and half of whom didn’t speak any English. Some were distant family, laughing and connecting like we’d known each other for decades. It brought tears to my eyes in the moment, and every time I think back on it.
From Florence to Tuscany, Cinque Terre, and Finally, Naples
Continuing our journey, we took a train to Florence to explore a different region and enjoy local cuisine en route to San Gimignano, Tuscany. Opting for an authentic Tuscan agriturismo experience in a quaint town was a delightful surprise. Moving on to Cinque Terre, we aimed to witness the iconic waterfront and bask in the charm of the Mediterranean Sea. Our final destinations were Naples and Capri, chosen for their pizza heritage. Our goal was simple: savor the original pizza, relish lemons and Limoncello, and soak in the scenic views of Capri.
Expressing the trip's impact is challenging; I instantly feel a deeper understanding of myself, and my husband grasps the essence of who I am. The sense of belonging with strangers, realizing the entire history of one side of your DNA links to a tiny village, and connecting with people despite language barriers created surreal moments.
My connection to my heritage deepened, experiencing, living, and visualizing my ancestors in this historic town. With medieval roots, the town was crucial in battles near a drained lake. A statue marks the original Pope's visit. Despite minimal growth, the city, with 3800 people, blends history with modernity, like paying for cappuccino with Apple Pay.
I actually invested in a real espresso maker, craving authentic coffee. The homemade food intensified my connection to my heritage.
My advice for traveling—Don't wait, go!
I initially postponed, overestimating the need for time and perfect plans. It turned out simpler than expected, even with travel hiccups causing some rerouting. Just go, savor, and embrace every connection, no matter how small; often, they hold valuable information.