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Hiked from Chamonix to Zermatt, then went to Italy

This was a true life-changer of a trip. First hiking across 180 km of the highest passes in the Alps, then ten days in Italy during an unforgettable time.

Chamonix to Zermatt, the Walkers Haute Route: If you love hiking, put this on your bucket list. It is a serious challenge and one of the world's toughest hikes. The scenery and people are unforgettable, and those picturesque Swiss villages you see on postcards? They really do exist and you'll be staying in them every night. The Swiss are wonderful hosts and you'll make tons of friends from other countries doing the same hike, yet you'll never feel crowded on the trail, and will frequently be alone amid some of the world's greatest scenery. Marmots, ibex, chamois, and herds of Swiss goats and cows ringing their bells like charms - you'll see them all. Truly magical. If you need another reason, here it is:

Italy: What hasn't been said about seeing Milan, Venice, Florence, and Rome for the first time? Nothing beyond - holy cats! So much culture, history, art, and food that it took me a few days to decompress after coming home. All it takes is one masterpiece to fill up your brain for the day - and then there are just more, and more, and more. As I told my husband after we saw Michelangelo's David and Rome's Pantheon in the same day, "I think I just sprained a muscle in my head." The Milan Expo was spectacular, and riding a scooter through Rome was a major highlight, though it looked less crowded when Audrey Hepburn did it.

If I had one piece of advice for travelers to Europe, it would be to learn as much of the local language as possible before leaving home. While most people speak at least some English, being able to hold a rudimentary conversation will open every door. You'll get better service, navigate much easier, and create really warm relationships. Even if you think you're hopeless with languages, give it a shot with a local class or some online videos. Just ten minutes daily for three months should give you enough to get by. Once there, use foreign language apps on your phone and carry one of the RS phrase books; they're very well written.

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