Volcanoes and Body Casts

When Mt. Vesuvius blew its top in 79 AD, it buried the nearby city of Pompeii in 20 metres of ash. Archeologists have since unearthed buildings, streets, and even people that were essentially frozen in time.  We saw the gladiator barracks, several bakeries and fast food shops, and even a wealthy family home with original frescoes and flooring. Then there were the plaster molds of the people who died—there are over a thousand such body casts, though only three are on display. All in all, it was pretty cool.

After feasting on bread with olive oil, caprese salad, and pizza, we set out to climb Vesuvius itself. The hike was steeper than we’d been led to believe, and we were huffing by the time we reached the rim of the caldera, but the views were incredible. It’s not every day you get to stare into the cone of an active volcano.

To Paris tomorrow!

In the gladiator barracks
This theatre has its original floor
A welcoming mosaic in the entryway of a home
A takeaway eatery
Stones used to mill flour
Original frescoes in an upper class home
One home’s private garden
The body casts were fascinating
In the main square, with Vesuvius in the background
Hiking the volcano
Looking down into the cone
We made it!

The Greatest Church in Christendom

I was genuinely surprised at how much the boys enjoyed going to the Vatican today. We aren’t Catholic or anything close to it, and while I thought they might get a kick out of stepping into the world’s smallest country, I wasn’t sure a church would really hold their attention. But the instant we walked into St. Peter’s Basilica, they were both captivated.

The basilica is, of course, absolutely stunning. Built over the tomb of the first pope, St. Peter, the place is full of gold, marble, mosaics, and exquisite sculptures. It’s also incomprehensibly huge: the building covers six acres and holds up to 60,000 worshippers. The nave is two football fields long and the main altar is seven storeys high. Michelangelo’s famous dome is 430 feet from top to bottom. Unreal.

I’d had everyone download an audio guide that explained what we were looking at, but the kids had no patience for that. I was afraid they’d be bored, but the most incredible thing happened: they wandered around on their own, reading plaques and taking photos. I’d been here a couple times before, but I didn’t know about a staircase Brayden found that led down to an area filled with the tombs of past popes. The beauty of independent discovery.

It was amazing. Or as Brayden put it, “This place is dope as ****.”

In the Footsteps of Gladiators

The number one thing Brayden was looking forward to on this trip was our tour of the Colosseum, and it didn’t disappoint. We started by going deep underground and exploring the complex labyrinth of cages, tunnels, and mechanical elevators under the arena floor. Our guide told us about the different types of spectacles that took place and showed us how animals and gladiators were held below and then raised into the arena to entertain the masses. (Interesting origin story: the word “arena” is Latin for “sand;” the modern definition comes from the fact that sand was used in the Colosseum as a flooring material to soak up the blood.)

We also stood on the arena floor and even climbed up another level for a bird’s-eye view of the entire structure. It was a much more interesting and informative experience than the one Chris and I had 20 years ago, when we just walked around the main level on a self-guided audio tour.

The tour also took us to the Palatine Hill, where the richest Romans once had their palaces, and the Roman Forum, which was the commercial and political centre of ancient Rome. We were pretty tired by that point, but the kids did perk up a bit when the guide pointed out the original Senate house and the temple that holds Julius Caesar’s ashes.

Afterwards, we wandered down a side street and found a taverna for lunch. This place did not cater to tourists (meaning no spaghetti and meatballs…Romans NEVER serve those together) so it was more of an authentic experience. We all loved it!

Stoked to start the tour!
Just inside the arches
In an underground tunnel
Narrow passageways
Looking down on the half-reconstructed arena floor
An epic family photo
Ruins of the Forum from above
Authentic Italian meatballs!
Justin and I wandered down to see the Colosseum all lit up last night

Crossing the Pond

I wouldn’t have believed it could be so easy to a) get to Rome from Kelowna and b) conquer jet lag. Our flight schedule gave us only one hour to connect in Toronto, but everything went like clockwork and we basically walked off of one flight and onto the other. Amazing!

The next miracle was how we all got some sleep on the flight and managed to convince our bodies that an eight-hour time change was no big deal. We landed in the morning, had a quick nap at the hotel, and headed out to explore the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. I really feel like we’ve adjusted, but I guess time will tell.

We’ve been trying to get the kids to Europe for the past three years—so thankful we finally made it!

Serious touring starts tomorrow…

Brayden’s first taste of real Italian pizza
The hotel had bunk beds for the boys
The Pantheon, the best-preserved ancient monument in Rome
At the Pantheon
The oculus in the dome is the only light source
Brayden seemed to enjoy the history
We didn’t actually throw any coins into Trevi…does that mean we’ll never come back?

Our Super Quick (But Seriously Awesome) Weekend in Toronto

The Easter weekend was coming, and we had covid credits to burn, so a quick family getaway to Toronto seemed like a solid plan. It would never have been worth it if we were paying out of pocket, but since the flight and the hotel were already covered, going all that way for three nights wasn’t totally crazy.

Plus, you know what they say: you’ll never regret spending money on experiences rather than things.

Our credits got us a deluxe room at the venerable Royal York Hotel, which was far too classy for the likes of us. The lobby was full of well-dressed, well-moneyed people with stacks of luggage, and there we were in our track pants and backpacks. Kind of felt like the Clampetts. That said, we did get the royal treatment on account of being “preferred customers” (we signed up for their loyalty program a few days beforehand) which was pretty cool.

We spent our first full day on a bus tour to Niagara Falls. It was a long drive to look at some waterfalls, but it was one of those landmarks you just want to say you’ve seen (like Stonehenge). We spent a few minutes taking pictures, then went for an incredibly expensive lunch at the Rainforest Cafe. Cheesy, I know, but we had fond memories of that restaurant from our first trip to Disneyland (c’mon, the thunderstorm is cool) and we were willing to splurge. Afterward, Justin and I played some mini golf while Chris and Brayden looked at souvenirs. A good day.

Sports was a major focus of the trip, since Toronto offers attractions that can be found nowhere else: the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Blue Jays. We’ve toured a few other sports halls of fame, but the kids had never seen anything like the room that showcases the Stanley Cup along with every other major hockey trophy. Very cool.

The highlight of the trip was getting to see a Jays game in Rogers Centre. We don’t get too many opportunities to see pro baseball–I’ve been to a Mariners game and Chris and I saw the Jays in Boston, but it was amazing to be part of the home crowd. The only downer was that the roof was closed, since it was about -5 outside…but we still enjoyed it immensely.

A worthwhile trip!

The CN Tower from just outside the hotel
At Niagara Falls…Brayden looks super tall cause he’s standing on a ledge
Lunch at the Rainforest Cafe
Brayden loved the fish tank and the various animatronic animals
In a re-creation of the Habs dressing room at the Forum
With the original Stanley Cup
They call this the Cathedral of Hockey
The real deal
Shooting on Carey Price
A Tim Hortons break
A seriously classy hotel
Arriving at Rogers Centre
At the base of the CN Tower
Game time!
Yes, they won!
Having his birthday lunch in the Calgary airport

Cruising the Pacific Coast

This vacation came about because I wanted to a) take the kids back to Disneyland and b) see Alcatraz. So when I found a cruise itinerary that began in LA, went to San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle, and ended in Vancouver (such an easy hop home!) I was sold. I even convinced some extended family to come along.

A few highlights:
– being at Disneyland for May the Fourth (a bunch of cast members formed an honour guard of lightsabers at the entrance to Tomorrowland, which was pretty cool)
– seeing the polar bears, koalas, and giant panda at the San Diego Zoo
– participating in multiple rounds of trivia competitions on the ship (although we peaked early…our first game was our best, and it went downhill from there)
– learning some new line dance routines
– beating my teenager at a game of 21
– sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge
– touring the cell blocks at Alcatraz
– getting amazing views from the Space Needle
– marvelling at the brilliant glass creations at the Chihuly Gardens
– getting me and my hubby, kids, parents, brother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephew all together in the dining room for a nice meal (a lady from the next table actually complimented us on how well-behaved the kids were.

A successful trip!


Meandering Through the Mangroves

For someone just getting over a queasy stomach, the idea of getting into an open-air transport truck and driving 30 minutes over the world’s worst roads was a bit daunting, but thankfully it worked out all right. Our destination today was Lac Bay (technically a saltwater lagoon), where we climbed into a raft and went floating through what the guide explained was the biggest mangrove forest in the world. The whole area is a UNESCO-protected site and serves as a breeding ground for 250 species of fish. It was fascinating to hear how a creature called an upside-down jellyfish creates oxygen in this special environment—the guide even scooped one of the slimy little blobs up and let Brayden hold it in his hand. Very cool.

(Speaking of the guide: when he heard we were from Canada, he mentioned one of his good friends moved from Bonaire to Saskatoon of all places a few years ago. God only knows why. It really is a small world.)

On the way back to the beach, we saw a couple of huge green turtles and one loggerhead turtle bob their heads out of the water just a few feet from our raft. An awesome experience.

In other news: we’re fairly sure Brayden sprained his toe a couple days back, but he seems to be toughing it out pretty well. Plus, my appetite is back for the first time in three days. Woo hoo!

The next two days are at sea as we head back to Miami. Here’s hoping for smooth sailing…

Caves and Colours of Curacao

Located just 70 km north of Venezuela, Curacao is a Dutch Caribbean island with charming pastel-colored colonial buildings. However, it’s also a desert island whose chief attraction is scuba diving (a no-go for our group) so I had a tough time finding an activity that would appeal to all of us. I settled on a cave tour followed by a walk-through of the historic city centre. It seemed like a solid option.

The caves, however, were not only smaller and less impressive than the ones in Cayman, they were also full of bats, which the guide couldn’t stop talking about. The kids were so freaked out that they literally clung to us; Justin was almost in tears. Not a great start to the morning.

The walking tour of the old town was a letdown too. In retrospect, it was probably a bad sign that the guide warned us all up front to give her a head’s up if we were going to wander off…she said sometimes she’s talking and then she turns around and no one’s there. We all laughed at the time, but as we stood on a street corner for 20 minutes listening to a detailed description of the significance of the floor inside the Jewish synagogue, it became pretty clear why people would want to bolt. We bailed early, and we were not the only ones. Guess you can’t win ‘em all.

And now to Bonaire…

Awesome Family Fun in Aruba

Aruba’s license plate slogan is One Happy Island, and we certainly found our happy place today. We spent the day at De Palm Island, an all-inclusive waterpark where we could snorkel, splash, ride banana boats, play basketball, eat, drink, and relax. The weather was perfect, everyone found something fun to do, and I didn’t vomit once. Life just doesn’t get any better than that.

We’re all tired and most of us are sunburnt, but it was totally worth it. A great day.

On to Curacao…

Spaced Out at Sea

I usually find sea days a drag, but I was grateful for this one…I’ve had stomach issues since 1:00 last night and have spent much of today with my head in a toilet. I recovered enough by late this afternoon to do some line dance lessons, so at least the day wasn’t a total loss. We’re hoping to catch a country music production show on the main stage tonight; I’ll make sure to sit on the end of the row closest to the bathroom. We’ll see how it goes.

Aruba tomorrow…