Roma Roma Roma

It had been a very very long time since I had been to Rome.  I was excited to explore this ancient city and experience the warmth of the friendly Italians.  So much of our human culture began in Rome and it is impossible not be moved by the connection to this history.  There is a lot that was brought from the sophisticated Greek Empire that came 500 years before, which is just mind boggling really!  But the Romans, in true fashion created a vast empire which survived for 1,000 years.  We have seen reminders of this vast empire throughout Europe.  The first half of the empire began with a republic government ruled by elected officials and then in the middle period of the empire, the Caesars took over as dictators, which eventually brought the end of the Roman Empire, something to examine for sure.  It is always better to have a democracy!

To first see the Coliseum from afar and slowly walk up to it is a dramatic experience, for sure.  The Coliseum has such emotion to it.  When it opened in 80 A.D., it had a total of 4 stories, which is only partially seen today.  It is said that the Romans invented concrete and bricks.  There is extensive use of brick which is clearly visible throughout the Coliseum.  At the time the Coliseum was used, it was covered in marble.  For our children, learning about the gladiators really brought that history to life.  Imagine yourself as a gladiator walking into the Coliseum with 50,000 spectators excitedly waiting for your gruesome death, what fun they all had, quite the show!  I guess it was important to make clear the power that Roman Empire had over just about anything, man and beast.  Barbaric, yes, but they had something to prove.

We spent several days in Rome strolling among the ruins.  We were excitedly joined by my husband’s mother who added so much to our experience!  In addition to exploring the Coliseum, we visited the Forum, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the incredible Galleria Borghese.  Rome is such a vibrant city but it still is a city and we ended up having one of our tires slashed in a not so safe parking area.  We luckily found a nice man to help us, but we heard it could have been a lot worse.  Anyway, as much as we loved Rome, when it was time to leave, we happily headed off into the sunset, towards Lucca.DSC_0016DSC_0179

DSC_0093 DSC_0074

Advertisements

Magical Italy

In early December we stayed just outside of Vicenza, Italy.  Here we enjoyed a week in a beautiful villa that had a wonderful outdoor area, which the owners referred to as a park, and it really was. The garden traversed up the side of the hill and incorporated almost 2 acres.  There was an olive grove, koi pond, tree house, pergola created from grape vines, decorative sitting areas, lush trails, statues and beautiful views. Truly incredible in any season, punctuated with the sounds of church bells ringing in the distance.  We all love being outdoors (as do the Italians) and the garden gave the girls a chance to really spend some nice time exploring.  It was really cold and there was a light dusting of snow on the ground.  The koi pond had almost completely frozen over.  The garden was so serene and beautiful.

Ever since my daughters were little, they have built fairy houses.  They have made them at the beach, in forests, and at the different homes we have lived in, which have been many lately…  On this day though, in December, they decided to build one in Italy.  First they found a location in a beautiful old olive tree and began searching for things to decorate it with.  They found berries, acorns, pinecones, rose petals, bark, olives, and leaves, all fun things to add to any respectable fairy house. They then thought about using the ice from the koi pond to make the floors for their fairy house and they built different levels out of ice in the branches of the tree.  It turned out to be magical! I have never seen a more beautiful fairy house in all my days.  I do hope that the fairies were happy and enjoyed their new house! It was made with love, creativity and sweet innocence.

DSC_0010 DSC_0011 DSC_0017 DSC_0018 DSC_0005

Today’s view!

We have visited so many incredible places and have done so many amazing things on our trip!  Learning, experiencing, growing, and seeing are all part of traveling, along with overcoming challenges too.

Today, we are on top of the world, well the Italian Alps, but it feels close…  We will be spending Christmas here.  We are staying in a wonderful stone cottage, in a village with only 50 inhabitants, which dates back to the 15th Century.

With the tragedy in Connecticut,  I have been feeling pretty emotional, as all of us have.  Reality still exists on top of a mountain in Italy.  That reality makes me committed even more to this journey we have been having as a family.  Although, no one needs to travel to experience each day to its fullest or to look at life a little more closely, we all can just do that.  Get out there, wherever that may be!

DSC_0058 DSC_0072

DSC_0063 DSC_0091

Annual Christmas Holiday Traditions in Austria with Krampus

We first noticed this devil like creature when we were in Vienna.  Next to all the Christmas decorations was this strange little fella with horns, and I thought to myself that I needed to check into what this creature might be.  Maybe it was left over from Halloween, but realized Halloween is not a big holiday here, as of yet, although it is gaining in popularity.  I never had a chance to look into it while we were in Vienna. So when we arrived in Salzburg, and our lovely hosts at the apartment where we were staying, suggested that we go to a festival featuring this creature in a neighboring village the next evening, we jumped at the chance.  Take a look at what we found…

DSC_0038 DSC_0041 DSC_0046

Krampus! They were quite a spectacle!  I have never seen anything like it.  The tradition goes something like this.  On December 6th, St. Nicholas (who is similar to Santa Claus) and Krampus come for a visit.  Children are left apples, nuts and sweets if they are good and are dragged away by Krampus to his hellish lair if they are not.  So you better be good!

There are many festivals and parades called Krampuslauf, leading up to Krampusnacht, celebrated on December 6th.  They usually begin at night fall and large groups, mostly young men, dress in their incredible costumes and prance down the street, stealing hats and scaring people along the way.  We found ourselves at the Koppler Krampuslauf, on a snowy cold night.  It was a perfect time to enjoy some delicious hot punch and the girls had the kinder punch (non-alcoholic) to keep them warm.  Once the parade started we were close to the action, as it went on we moved back a little, my youngest daughter got a little scared of these beasts.  She knew it was all in fun, but their costumes and actions can be pretty scary! They were amazing! To learn about and be a part of this tradition dating back to the middle ages and earlier, was an incredible treat!

DSC_0017 DSC_0051

Vienna

DSC_0098

Austria is amazing! It has certainly left an impression on me. Currently, we are in lovely Salzburg. It is dumping snow outside and so the girls are out running around with their dad, perfect time to blog. Fresh snow falling is definitely something we do not have many chances to see, living in Southern California, so everyone has been squealing with excitement! It is a winter wonderland!

Anyway, back to Vienna. What a beautiful city Vienna is! There is a style and grace to the city that reminded me of Paris. I am so glad we made Vienna a stop on our European tour.

On our first full day in Vienna, we surprised the girls with a performance by the Spanish Riding School and their Lipizzaner stallions. The riding school began over 430 years ago and is very much a cultural tradition in Vienna. The Spanish Riding School’s name comes from the Lipizzaner horses, which originated from the Iberian Peninsula, present day Spain and Portugal. There were several different events showing classical horsemanship culminating with a beautiful “ballet” of 8 white horses. It was fascinating to see these incredibly trained horses jumping and prancing to the music, like nothing I have seen before. The girls were very excited! The beautiful space where the performance was held was completed in 1735 and is part of the Hofburg Palace.

DSC_0142DSC_0131DSC_0127

One of our favorite ways to relax and observe the Viennese culture was to sit in the wonderful cafes and enjoy the incredible coffee and sweets. I have to say these are the original coffee houses and put Starbucks to shame. One sweet you can indulge on is the Sachertorte, who has the best Sachertorte in the city is a big debate. The Sachertorte is a a soft and fluffy chocolate cake with apricot jam. The one we tried was pretty dry but I am willing to try it again, if I must. My daughters have become hot chocolate connoisseurs and my husband is on a quest to try every type of beer that is humanly possible.

DSC_0023

DSC_0026DSC_0027

After relaxing in a cafe we enjoyed viewing Gustav Klimt’s work at the Belvedere Palace which was the summer palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy. There are actually two Baroque-style palaces separated by a formal garden. Gustav Klimt’s work is in the upper palace with a collection of work by other Austrian painters. I was really taken by Klimt’s work, with his use of mixed media and different artistic styles it was incredible. The whole city of Vienna seems to be taken by his work too as he is a huge part of the culture of the city.

gustav-klimt-the-kiss

We also were able to see an opera and a ballet at the gorgeous State Opera House or the Staatsoper. Having heard about the possibility of having standing room seats for 3-4 euros each, from a Rick Steve’s podcast, we decided what a great way to go. Not being an opera fan and wanting to just give a little exposure to our girls, you cannot beat it. We figured we could just stay until intermission and not feel bad for leaving. It is an interesting process getting the standing room seats, so if you can handle that, it is a wonderful deal. Some people line up three hours before the tickets go on sale to be the first in line. You can also arrive when the tickets do go on sale, 80 minutes before showtime. We opted for the latter and with the kids we were lucky enough to get in the front row. There can be a lot of pushing and shoving for position. We even saw people running in to get a good spot, it reminded me of a rock concert, not an opera… The 4 euro standing room area is just behind seats costing up to 150 euros, and are on the ground floor with a great view. The amazing thing was though, that we stayed for the entire performance of both the opera and the ballet. The girls loved it! I think it helped that the opera was L’elisir d’armore (The Elixir of Love) which is not so serious nor tragic. The ballet was interesting also. I think we have a whole new appreciation for the arts. I really love how Vienna makes the arts accessible to everyone in the community, not just those with big bank accounts.

DSC_0031

DSC_0040DSC_0044

Traveling in the winter has allowed us to see how other countries celebrate the Christmas holiday. One of these very special traditions, are the Christmas Markets, and Vienna has some of the best. They are quite a spectacle. Christmas Markets are called Christkindlmarkt or Adventmarkt and have been a part of the Christmas tradition since the Middle Ages in German speaking countries. They are open air markets filled with seasonal goods and food. We found different markets all over the city. You can find Christmas decorations, ornaments, nutcrackers, gingerbread cookies, and handmade crafts, just to begin with. There are food vendors serving different types of wurst, potato patties and roasted chestnuts. You can also try the hot wine (Gluhwein) hot punch (Punsch), and for the kids a warm punch (Kinder Punsch). Delicious on a cold day!

We truly enjoyed our week in Vienna. It is an incredible city! I will never forget our special time there and can’t wait to go back!

DSC_0167DSC_0165DSC_0198DSC_0199DSC_0162

Princess for a day!

It was suggested that when traveling with kids, a good idea might be to give them full reign for a day (or two or three).  We decided while we were in Paris, this would be a great place to do it.  There is so much to see and why not change up what we normally would have put on the agenda and let the kids be in charge for a change. Good for them to have the responsibility to figure out what interests them about the city, where to find it on a map and to plan out the day.

First up was our youngest daughter and her day went a little like this:

1. Musee Rodin

2. Walk down the Champs Eysees and Avenue Montaigne for some window shopping.  Or as they say in France, “faire du leche-vitrines” which literally translated means window licking, although we only drooled a little…

3. Stopped for a sweet crepe.

4. The Eiffel Tower at dusk!

It was a truly great day!

Next, it was my oldest daughter’s turn to be princess for the day.  She chose another amazing adventure and it went something like this:

1. Jardin du Luxembourg

2. A special French lunch

3. A visit to the English bookstore Shakespeare & Co. (it was just across from Notre Dame so we stopped in there also).

4. The Sorbonne

I cannot wait to see where they pick to go next!

A word about Homeshooling

20121031-183803.jpg
When we first decided to embark on our European tour, panic set in about how we were going to educate our daughters. Yes, traveling on its own is an amazing education, but I certainly did not want to mess it up. Their education is incredibly important to us, as is their having a fulfilling and adventure full life, so hopefully we will combine the two. With lots of research and questions asked, we embarked on our homeschooling journey.

I read that it is important to find how your child learns best and then tailor their learning with that in mind. So the very first thing we did was to give them this quick and easy test and have based their lessons from this. My oldest daughter responds well to learning by reading and kinesthetics. My younger daughter is also a kinesthetic learner, as well as auditory. All of their learning types work well with traveling, thankfully. We have lots of time to read, we are on a constant “field trip” and have had the wonderful luxury to have many long conversations that we never really had time for (so sad) in the past with our busy schedules. If you are interested in finding more about the test I gave them, it is called the Vark test.

I have written about homeschooling already on this blog, but it was before we actually tried it. We now have been going for 3 months and seem to be getting into a routine. Our not so typical routine is to sight-see one day and homeschool the next. Sometimes we school for two days in a row, sometimes we are traveling for two days. We may also spend half the day out and about and half the day homeschooling. We homeschool on Saturday or Sunday too, if needed. The girls definitely like staying in their PJ’s or comfy clothes all day, and I like not having to go through that crazy morning routine, rushing to barely get to school on time.

On days where we homeschool our schedule goes something along these lines. After breakfast, we start with some warm up logic puzzles and math word problems. I picked up a few books before we left and one of our teachers gave us a daily math problem booklet. Next, they write in their journals. Usually, there is a lot to write about from their travel adventures. They also have a nature and sketching journal where we have put in leaves and petals that we have found on walks and where they can sketch castles, country flags or anything they want to put in for their memories. We will then do some languages and I have found (through my sister) a podcast called Coffee Break French to be a quick and easy introduction to the beautiful French language. There are many different languages in this series and we will most likely try to learn a little bit for each of the countries we are visiting. To know just your basic hello and thank you is appreciated and really the right thing to do. We just learned some basic Dutch and Flemish greetings. Both girls have really enjoyed learning French and would like to continue with it, when we return back home.

After languages, we usually set into the core curriculum subjects with math, science, social science and language arts. All are done online and with textbooks and workbooks. We are using http://www.time4learning.com as our basic online course and have been supplementing with other online sources such as http://www.khanacademy.com and http://www.brainpop.com. We are reading lots of books and both girls are working on writing a story using a fun online site called http://www.nanowrimo.org. They are having a great writing project for the month of November, check it out. We bought several textbooks and workbooks before we left, as well.

In addition to the core curriculum, we have been doing small reports on each country that we have visited along with art projects relating to artists from each country. This is probably my favorite part! We have studied Monet when we were in France, John Everett Millais and John Constable when we were in England, Johannes Vermeer in the Netherlands and now Jan van Eyck, here in Belgium. You can really experience where each artist was inspired by walking in their footsteps, viewing the landscapes and cities. It really adds to our understanding.

The most challenging part of homeschooling for me has been time, it takes a lot of time to plan lessons. I want to make learning fun for them and we do not have easy access to materials so we have to get creative. It is a good lesson on making do with what we have and it always turns out to be enough. I do get nervous that we are not covering everything as thoroughly as they would be in their public school but it will all work out in the long run, I am sure!

20121031-184328.jpg
We have two carry-on sized suitcases that have become our traveling desks. They are filled with text books, workbooks, regular paperback books, journals, files, writing and art materials along with paper. They are heavy but it is working for us so far. We also have our technological devices…Kindles, an iPad and two laptop computers, one of which lost it’s power cord (it started to smoke) so we need to fix that issue… Having all the correct power adapters are important but it really has been as simple as logging into wifi and we are off. Amazing technology!

Overall, I am happy with our homeschooling thus far. I think we are becoming better at it as we go through it. It is still a little odd for the girls to have their parents teach them though, and it is much easier for them to take advantage of us, I readily admit. We have had to lay down some rules and remind them how lucky we are. All in all though, I can honestly say that we are learning so many new things on a daily basis. I feel so inspired and alive. I see all of us growing closer to each other and connecting like never before. With their education, we are so involved that we can really fine tune areas that are needed and explore areas that they are really interested in. It is pretty great! I have never experienced anything like it.