Change

At the very beginning of our adventure I wrote about complexity and change: when there is a lot of complexity involved in something, it’s hard to change. As we’ve gone through our transition from our Costa Rican adventure back to Seattle, and as I’ve started working for a company that is itself in transition, I’ve thought about change (a lot) and how to think about it. It’s a bit fitting that I return to that subject now as I transition the blog from the way we were “intentionally off path” before and the way we are “intentionally off path” now. If you noticed, this is the first post where I didn’t start with a sentence that snuck in a link to “our new adventure.” Change is good. But not everyone thinks so.

Perhaps because my brain is back in a more creative, problem-solving space every day now, I started thinking about how to categorize change. It worked in my noodling on engagement so I figured I’d try that again. The model is really simple. It’s a triangle – ironically, the most stable of shapes. And here, I’m looking at how people approach change.

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The Ridiculously Simple Triangle of Change

Resisting Change

People generally don’t like change and resist it. I see it all of the time in what I do. Change can be scary. Change takes effort. And it sometimes takes knowledge I don’t have. It’s easier to just stay the same. It’s safer not to change. It’s comfortable and safe. What happens if… And so on.

Is it any wonder why three of the biggest causes of stress involve major change – a new job or loss of one, a marriage or divorce, and moving? For many people, these don’t come around that often. Even if you are “practiced” in change, they can be very difficult. Often in these cases, though, what adds to the stress is that these changes may not be choices fully under one’s control.

Even when change would be extremely beneficial, some of us still resist it. It explains things like people staying in dead-end jobs they dislike, or abusive relationships. It might even explain the pattern of Italian men who still want to live with their mothers well into their thirties (52% according to one report). Sometimes, a well-known, familiar, if very unsatisfying situation is far less scary than what might be “out there”.

Even if we resist change, many of us will change if the alternative of staying where we are, in our view, is much worse. The metaphor that comes up in business a lot is the “burning platform.” It’s a situation ‒ a crisis ‒ that is so scary that it forces change.

The origin of this story, as I learned in writing this, came from Daryl Connor. There was a tragic oil platform fire in 1988. People who were on that platform had to essentially choose certain death on the platform or choose possible death by jumping into the freezing water. It’s been used a lot to describe situations where a company’s business situation is so dire that it must embrace change. As an example, you might remember Stephen Elop’s email to Nokia employees after he moved there from Microsoft and had to turn around the failing business.

The burning platform situation is a bit extreme, but it does highlight just how wed we can be to things remaining the same. I find it ironic that we as human beings, arguably the most adaptable of species, resist change so often. I think it’s because we are out of practice – but more on that in a bit.

Trying Change

The middle layer of the triangle brings up an interesting conundrum. Is “trying something new” a way of embracing change? I think so. I’m talking about human behavior here, so I do think it applies. After all, some of us go to the same stores and restaurants every time. Others of us actually like to try something new every now and again.

It boils down to the same situation: the “tried and true,” safe choice or the new, unknown, and perhaps scary, one. The basic behavior is fundamentally similar whether the situation is dramatically important or much lighter.

I find it compelling that children try new things constantly. That’s one of the ways they learn, whether it’s trying a new food or a big scary trick at a skateboard park (not that that‘s ever happened!) Kids also aren’t familiar with the concept of “failure” – until we adults teach it to them. You’re just trying stuff and sometimes it’s better and sometimes not.

This experimental attitude that is fundamental to kids sadly seems to get lost somewhere on our journey to adulthood. And like many things about our bodies, when we don’t keep something in shape through practice, well, it gets a little flabby. Somewhere along the way we reduce our appetite for taking risks and trying new things. Things that could lead to change.

Risk is indeed at the heart of change. Years ago I read a fascinating article about researchers using the TV game show Deal or No Deal to study economics (thanks to the Internet, I actually found it again here). In this worldwide show, contestants start with nothing and then choose among many suitcases, each of which has money. Each round, they can choose to stay with what they have, or trade for a different one. When people have nothing, they take risks. Then, when they have a lot to lose, they don’t. The same behavior that got them the money in the first place makes them very conservative and cautious. The researchers had a perfect “sandbox” for studying and explaining why we often make the choices we do.

As we get older, we do have a lot more to risk. Our appetite for risk, and for change, goes down sharply. We stop taking bigger risks and we stop making big changes, even though we might continue to take and make smaller ones. We “settle in”. But, this is something that we can change through a little practice. With apologies to Nev and Aidan (because they hear this a lot), to get good at something, you need to practice.

And when you practice change a good deal, the top layer of the triangle isn’t so daunting.

Seeking Change

As I think about change, “seeking change” isn’t about being satisfied with trying new things or embracing change when you need to. It’s a mindset. And it’s one shared by most kids. In my view, it’s a worthy state to achieve.

There is an element of constant exploration at this level of change. For any early explorer, whether the very early people who confronted a boundless ocean to see what’s across it to the brave folks who embrace “the final frontier” of space, exploration, by its very nature, is at peace with change.

Kids, too, seem to be in a constant exploratory state. It’s in their nature. It’s one of many things I think we can learn from them.

I’m not advocating that we all make major life-changing decisions every day. I am suggesting that developing a comfortable relationship with change has a number of advantages. One of the best in my mind is that it keeps us open to differences and learning new things. And that is something our world needs a lot more of.

I have heard a lot of people, inside and outside of business, use the adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” as a rationale not to do something – often something that might lead to change. I never liked that phrase. It is so…static. Permanent. I work in innovation and that phrase pretty much kills the soul of innovation. More than anything, it set’s the bar of acceptability at “not broken.” There is so much more beyond that.

And looking at this simple triangle model, the way to get there is pretty straightforward. Start in the middle and try something new. Practice. Rinse and repeat. It does get easier.

This might sound a little too simplistic coming from someone who along with his family left everything and spent a year in another country. But it wasn’t always this easy.

Many years ago I worked at Stanford after graduation. I was married (the first time). I felt stuck in a relationship that wasn’t working but had a great job. I even turned down some pretty nice jobs because I enjoyed just going out and playing soccer at lunch most days. It was easy. I was settling. I didn’t want to change what had become very comfortable. I was open-minded to change, but not motivated.

Then, my marriage ended and I decided to move halfway across the country, quit my job, and go to graduate school. I met my soul mate and proposed 7 weeks later. Perhaps it was my “burning platform.” I’ve never looked back and now have a more fulfilling life than I ever could have imagined.

In the succeeding years, Deb and I “practiced” change a good deal. And it got easier. It was one of the big reasons we wanted to take the young adults to Costa Rica. Change isn’t something to be afraid of.

Now, in many ways, things seem to be settling into our pre-Costa Rica life again. Most of the big changes have been made. I’m not worried about becoming complacent though. We all, I think, have emerged from our adventure with a more flexible mindset about things. The more I think about it, the more I see change built into much of what we do over the next year and beyond. There are so many things to try and explore. It’s almost like we were kids again. Pura vida.

Transitions

Change has certainly been something constant while on our new adventure in Costa Rica. Now that we are back, we are experiencing lots of change in the transitions each of us is going through as we “readjust” to routine and life here in Seattle. After what we’ve experienced though, change itself is easier for all of us and very exciting. That was a key benefit we hoped that Aidan and Nev got from our experience. I’m not sure though if they realize how differently they – actually all of us – approach things now.

I started my transition back in August really. That’s when I started reaching out to folks and looking for a new job. I had a pretty firm set of things I was and was not looking for in my ideal new job. Perhaps that’s why has taken several months to find my place.

Leaving for a year, and especially having the opportunity to spend so much time with my family, made me think hard about what type of job I wanted to have that would take me away from them for so many hours a day. Deb and I had the luxury of spending all of our time together. We love working on things together. That’s why it’s a big deal for me to transition back to seeing co-workers for more hours per day in many cases than Deb.

I didn’t feel compelled to return to any sort of “ladder climb” in a company. I could have managed a large team again, but I wanted something different. Ideally I wanted to find a place where I could be more “hands on.” I wanted to do something that had benefit beyond corporate success. So I took a position as an “individual contributor” in a company and industry that will get me right back to my roots in helping to evolve education.

A year or more ago I probably would have worried a bit about taking a “step down” from a bigger position and title. Not now. I feel solidly centered on how I want to spend the precious time I have. For me it’s about the “why”, not the “what” or “how much.” And I expect this ride to be even more thrilling than the previous things I’ve had the privilege of doing.

Deb is choosing not to return to the corporate world for now. True to her nature, she has a wild idea about want she wants to do next. That transition is far more in her nature and will include being out in nature a lot more. Deb is not ready to talk about it yet here in more detail. It will take some explaining to do, hopefully in a future post.

Nev has decided to go to back to public (high) school – but not just any high school. Nev enjoyed home schooling and was doing well. As we mentioned awhile back, a large public middle school was a nightmare for Nev with all of the posturing, bullying, cliques, and stress. We were a little surprised about the interest in going back to a public school, but this one could not be more fitting for Nev.

Nova is indeed a Seattle public school but it is very alternative. When we first drove up for a visit, we saw a bunch of students in the parking lot and a lot of diverse hair colors, piercings, and tattoos. This was clearly a place where people felt comfortable being who they were and Nev said that it felt like “home.”

But Nova is not alternative because of the students. Rather, I think it simply attracts more alternative students. Nova is run more like a college where you choose your classes and everyone’s schedule may be different. They have some incredibly interesting and non-mainstream classes like Experimental Animation, Feminism and Fashion, and Naked Truth on Stereotypes. Students and faculty work together to make the school a very open and accepting forum for ideas and place for people. And the teachers are as refreshing as the students.

Transitioning from a year in Costa Rica being homeschooled to even an alternative high school will be a big transition, but Nev is ready and excited.

Aidan, as usual, is open to everything and excited about trying new things. He and Deb are attending a home school cooperative program Mondays and Fridays where different parents teach different classes and where Aidan can meet some new friends. That leaves lots of time for doing some activities Aidan and Deb work out. It’s a bit different approach to unschooling, but it will be a fun, new adventure for Aidan.

The most interesting thing to me about our transition back isn’t what we each are doing; it’s how our general perspectives have changed, especially Aidan and Nev’s. We are living much more simply. We don’t need much “stuff.” The young adults are taking on much more responsibility. And change is something we take in stride pretty easily.

I expect that all of this didn’t simply come from living in Costa Rica. Some of it would have happened naturally, I’m sure. I think our experience though may have hastened and facilitated much of it.

We each have our own work, school, and life transitions back to the world we knew. On the surface, they seem fairly normal compared to our previous year. But they are all very definitely, and very intentionally, “off-path”. I hope our off-path perspectives don’t dim as we return to reality. I don’t expect they ever will, though, and that’s a good thing. Pura vida.

Stuff Part 2

We have returned from our new adventure and have been settling in to our new (rental) place here in Seattle after our wonderful year away with our young adults. A year ago in October I wrote about “stuff” – specifically how we sold most of our stuff and how, while it was initially hard, it was also very freeing. As I reflect on our holidays this year, I realize how different all of our perspectives (still) are on “stuff.”

To begin, and for a little context, when we went to Costa Rica, we radically reduced the amount of stuff we brought to just a few suitcases each, and much of it was technology. When we spent 5 weeks backpacking in Europe, we reduced even further to one carry-on size suitcase each with everything we would need to wear for any occasion. We all got used to wearing the same things most of the time. Not a lot has actually changed now that we are back in Seattle and that actually surprised us.

When we first arrived I went and got several of the very few boxes of clothes, shoes, etc. that we had in storage. We picked out what we needed – mostly cold weather gear as you might imagine! – and I ended up returning much of it. Even though we sold most of our clothes and other stuff, we still found that we kept more than we really needed. And we are all happy not having a large closet of clothes. It’s just one of several lasting changes we’ve gone through as a result of our travels.

We decided not to return to our house in Seattle. We had some good friends as renters in our house and they were interested in staying. In a sort of “karmic pay it forward”, we rented the house of some friends who decided to travel around the world with their kids for a year. We are now out in a small rural town called Fall City and we love the simplicity (and the commute could be a lot worse). Simpler seems to be working for us.

Christmas itself was also a very different affair for us. Like many folks we know, our past Christmas holidays have been filled with Christmas trees, lights, ornaments, and lots of presents as well as good food, family time and fun experiences. This year we kept the latter three.

It’s not that we have become anti-Christmas per se – it’s just that things matter differently to us. For example, we didn’t have ornaments and so as a family we decided that we also didn’t need a tree. It seemed odd to us to just cut down a tree and buy it to sit empty in our house.

We all saw lot of holiday shopping at the several mile long “strip mall” near us in Issaquah. We saw all of the stressed, often frantic, and sometimes rude shoppers. It just didn’t feel right to us.

We decided that we weren’t going to get a bunch of “stuff” as presents. We bought less and made more. And what we did get focused more on experiences – as has our entire last year – than on the “stuff” itself.

I had mentioned that Nev and Aidan had become interested in this “physical” fantasy gamed called Warhammer while we were in Firenze (Florence). The pieces all tend to be really expensive so instead of buying a large battle board, I built them one out of wood and insulation foam and then painted them. (Don’t worry Gretchen & Rodrigo. These have felt on the bottom.)

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These boards are 2’x2’ and so of course I had to build a piece of “furniture” to keep them safe 🙂  Meanwhile, Deb spent many hours painting the small Warhammer figures for them.

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This all gave Nev and Aidan the ability to play a live game with each other – and have many fun experiences. We also bought two new family games so we could spend more time together playing games. We still had the 3 we brought to Costa Rica and it was time to add just a little diversity!

Nev created some art for each of us. The pictures Nev gave Deb and I are priceless. He captured both of us so well.

deb andy xmas drawing 2

deb andy xmas drawing 1

When we shared presents, they were fewer and much more meaningful. And we focused much of our time hanging out and playing games together. It’s likely to be one of our more memorable Christmas’s.

When I was at Teague, I did some research on travelers and one of the most poignant quotes I heard was “Travel changes you.” It is certainly true in our case. It often takes Deb and I stepping back a moment sometimes to see how much we’ve changed. Not needing a lot of “stuff” is just one of many. I’ll probably write about a few of the other ways that I see that we’ve changed in other posts.

Frankly, I wasn’t really sure whether I’d keep writing this blog. After all, we are no longer abroad in Costa Rica, nor traveling, and it’s likely that Nev and Aidan will be attending some form of school in the coming months (though very alternative forms). But what I realize is that despite the fact that we are indeed back and that I’ll be starting a job soon, we are still very much “intentionally off path” thanks to our wonderful experiences together this past year. And being “off path”, in the middle of so many here in Seattle who are “on the path”, feels pretty invigorating. We’re not sure what this year will bring, but we are sure it will continue to be different for all of us. Pura vida.

10 Most Memorable Things – Europe

It’s been a week or so since we’ve returned from the European part of our new adventure. We are settling into our new rental home in Fall City (near Seattle), unpacking, and re-establishing our Seattle life. As we unpack and organize, we’ve all had a good chance to reflect on our travels. We all put together our “top 10” lists of the most memorable things for us each of us from Europe. You’ll see a few similarities, some differences and some, well, fun surprises.

Aidan’s Top 10

  1. The floooooood oooh spooky: That flood was something. Man, it totally deserves a highlight. It was scary and fun at the same time! I am sorry I got excited. *Clears throat* okay so I felt like I was going to get hypothermia I was so cold on the bench and then I hung like a towel on the tree after the water was too high on the bench. But it was hard to climb the tree because I could barely move my legs.
  2. The best gelato ever in Orvieto: I loved that place. It was in a good spot. The gelato flavors tasted real and not artificial. The chocolate was creamy and smooth and delish. The fruit flavors tasted like you were eating fruit off of the bush.
  3. El Gollo del Oro in Roma: I loved that restaurant. The food was amazing. The place was beautiful. I had fun taking pictures and talking and eating.
  4. Provence, France: I really enjoyed it there. It was peaceful and nice, good weather, nice cats. The grape trees were fun to play in. The town was really nice but save the town for a minute.
  5. Orvietto Duomo: That place was pretty cool. I liked the colors of the stone and the interior also the exterior design was cool. The gargoyles were cool and the chapels were cool.
  6. The Cappuccin bone place in Roma: This place man the bones and the patterns and designs were overwhelming and amazing. But the children skeletons were kind of disturbing and the fact the 100s of people’s bones were there was too.
  7. Walking to town in France by myself: I thought it was pretty cool going by myself and mom and dad putting that much trust in me to do that.
  8. Barcelona: Barcelona was cool but not as cool as France. It had better food and that counts for something. We lived in a nice spot had good food.
  9. Double 00, Barcelona: Let me just say I am pretty sure we all loved that place. Yes? No? Okay, awkward. I liked the building. The food was amazing like the passion fruit mousse.
  10. Argentinian grill, Barcelona: Again we all liked that place lets establish that one more time. The place had a nice modern feel with some fanciness added in that. And most important of all the food was amazing.

Nev’s Top 10

  1. The food in Europe, in general really, over-rode my expectations. I never expect much, if anything, and the food was delicious. Generally speaking, it was better than the US. It’s usually fresh and the flavors are to die for. The things that would have cost a lot of money for little in return in the US, cost less in Europe for way better results. I tried differently cooked things I eat often such as chicken, and tried new pastas. Sauces were full of flavor, and interesting starters were tasty. We had cultural food from Spain, Italy, and France and it was awesome.
  2. The transportation in Europe is really efficient (unlike the US) such as the train system. We rode a lot of trains to get to different cities/towns and countries. I’ve always wanted to ride a train, but I learned it’s not that great. The scenery on the way and the graffiti you pass is interesting but otherwise it’s just a long ride. But the fact that you can get on a train to go to another city or country in Europe instead of having to go on a plane is pretty cool.
  3. The sculptures and art we saw were cool. The David for example. I could look at it for hours. I was actually looking forward to drawing it. It was really detailed and the anatomy was spot-on. Some of the other sculptures were beautiful too. And some of the paintings and other art were nice, even though it was mostly about Jesus and stuff but it was still really detailed and unique.
  4. Throughout our trip I came across a lot of local cats, and some were stray. The strays were fed daily by local people which was nice, the cats recognized their feeders too. They were friendly and I liked petting them. It was nice to see that nice, cozy local small town feeling I suppose. It seemed like there were more cats in Europe than dogs, and I didn’t see any stray dogs.
  5. The flood had an adrenaline rush that I’d never felt before. I’ve never been in a situation until now that made me think Aidan and/or dad might die. I also had never been in a flood. It was something interesting that happened and not the same old daily things. It showed me how grateful I am to have my family. I could have lost them. I realized I take them for granted sometimes and I regret that. I love them more than they know, and wish every day I knew how to thank them properly for what they do for me.
  6. In Provence we stayed at a house out in the country. It had big grapevine fields that were fun to run through. The sunsets were beautiful along with the stars because the sky was so big and open. There were also two cats that lived there, which I practiced my photography on. The female’s name was Cloe and she was gorgeous. She liked me to and remembered me whenever I came back from somewhere in town. She’d crawl into my lap and let me pet her. She was a hunter too, it was fun to play with her and give her things to chase.
  7. I’ve only had gelato a couple times before Europe, and it just tasted like ice cream so I thought that’s how it was supposed to taste. But then I had gelato and Europe and it amazed me. All the flavors there were to choose from, some of them being strange and never would have thought of there being a flavor of anything – but they turned out good. Each gelato place was different. No chocolate flavor tasted the same, but all of them were good.
  8. The Italian haircut I got was cool. It was the best haircut I’ve ever gotten. It was clean and the guy made sure to get every hair. It was cool to watch him do different settings on the buzzer, and to see him in such focus. And he got all the little hairs off of my head when he was done which was nice. It felt fancy compared to my Costa Rica haircuts.
  9. The small on-hill town we stayed at in Orvieto was nice. It was quiet and most of the town didn’t allow cars. All of the streets were like alleyways. The restaurants were mostly small local family ones. One of them was amazing with homemade pastas and sauces that melted in your mouth. The church there was pretty too, and had amazing paintings.
  10. In Florence there was a market that was really cool. It was like a farmers market but with items, leather items mostly. There were leather jackets, belts, bags, wallets, bracelets, and lots of other things. We got a bunch of stuff there. Some things we weren’t expecting to come back with. Mom and dad were really excited about the things there, which was nice to see. There were cool gadgets and fresh smelling leather.

Deb’s Top 10

  1. Genoa flash flood
    This has to go at the top. It was certainly not the most enjoyable but will likely never be forgotten. I’ve written some about this already. I admittedly still run scenarios in my head from time to time about what I would have/could have done if Andy had missed when he dove and grabbed for Aidan.
  2. Farmhouse near Bonnieux, Provence, France
    Our little farmhouse outside of town was a gem. The time here was very relaxing and peaceful. I loved sitting out on the daybed by the grape fields, snacking on delicious French cheese and drinking the local wine. This was my first time in France. I found the people to be so friendly and very patient with my complete lack of French language skills.
  3. La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
    This was breathtaking for me. The scale, vision, and cohesion of elements from floor plan, elevations, materials, texture, sculpture, and all the way through natural and artificial light is awe-inspiring. I hope to be able to go again when it is finished. The kids promised that they would go.
  4. Playing along the city wall in Avila
    We were just walking along the outside of the wall to get back to our hotel. This particular spot along the wall sort of drew me in. There were many boulders in the grass along the wall, shade, grass and tiny wildflower. Those things made it a bit of a magical spot to stop and play. We climbed, laughed, talked, and just sat to rest. It was lovely.
  5. Gelato at Il Gelato di Pasqualetti in Orvieto
    I was in Ovieto 15 years ago. That was my first trip to Italy. After sampling a multitude of offerings, I concluded then that this was the best gelato. Coming to Orvieto again, I could only hope that it might still be there and still be as tasty. It was still there and after many more gelato samplings in the intervening 15 years, I believe it still to be the BEST gelato.
  6. Güell Park, Barcelona
    We ended walking around the public area of the part because we did not know that you needed to purchase tickets ahead of time for the Gaudi sculpture section. It turned out to be a wonderful thing. The public area was not terribly crowded. We walked around the beautiful gardens and then were drawn to some harp music. We ended up sitting, listening, and watching under a beautiful stone archway that provided wonderful acoustics for a local harp player. The organic design, the music, the gardens, and the harp player herself made it seem like a magical fairy garden.
  7. Hearing Aidan say “this is cool” in the Medici Chapel, Firenze
    The kids were not always enthusiastic about the various venues, or the trains, or the prep reading.  Occasionally I would wonder if all of it was worth it and if they were actually getting as much out of the trip as we had hoped. This one, unprompted comment was the thing we were hoping to hear. It was worth the wait.
  8. Seeing Nev’s huge smile and enthusiastic “thanks” to the barber in Rome.
    Again, Nev was not overly excited about going on this trip. We had many conversations about observing and appreciating the subtleties of different cultures. Watching the precision and attention to detail during the haircut was amazing to me. It was something I had not seen before. It never occurred to me that Nev would notice. This moment – the big smile, the look of enjoyment and respect, the enthusiastic thanks and handshake – was the one for which I had waited. Just like Aidan’s above. This was when I knew something had clicked and learning had happened.
  9. Cheese at the wine festival in Barcelona
    I like good, strongly flavored cheese. I had not had any for the past 10 months as Costa Rican cheese are quite mild. Andy and I stumbled upon this outdoor festival of local wines, cheeses, and cured meats. I let Andy pick the wines for sampling and he let me pick the cheeses. I did this mainly by following my nose. I selected the ones that smelled the most interesting.  I somehow ended up with an unknown variety of a local blue cheese. It was so good I cried – just a little bit. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the taste of that cheese.
  10. Watching Flamenco dancing at local bar in Seville
    Andy and I spent a late evening at a local bar in Seville watching local residents gather and dance Flamenco. We could have gone to watch professionals but this was so much more fun. They clearly did it because they truly enjoyed the art form and the camaraderie. The best part was one of the men teaching the dance to some newcomers. He explained the same way to several different people the hand movement as reaching up to change a ceiling light bulb. It was fantastic to watch.

Andy’s Top 10

  1. The flood of Genoa
    The flood should have been frightening in many ways. It’s memorable to me for some good reasons though. I saw Aidan in a crisis situation and he handled himself really well. I was proud of him. It had been awhile since I had been in a situation like that and it was a bit eerie to feel that sense of calm and focus when things go south. Most importantly, I felt like we all bonded and were truly together as one family that night. As the young adults get older, those moments get rarer and I cherish them.
  2. La Segrada Familia
    I had only heard about La Sagrada Familia and seen some pictures, none of which could truly do this amazing architectural feat justice. I was awestruck at the care toward each detail Gaudi had and legacy Gaudi has left to finish this task. Could have spent days there. I am not usually moved deeply by architecture, but here in this special place I was.
  3. Gladiator camp, Rome
    The gladiator practice with Aidan was fun, of course, but the real memorable highlight was the history lesson on Rome. I thought I appreciated what the Romans had accomplished, but I had a new found respect for their achievements listening to our very passionate gladiator trainer. Having 40 or so people in Roman armor show up for a celebration after our class was pretty memorable too.
  4. Piazza Signoria, Firenze
    I had forgotten how truly incredible this Piazza was. I sat there entranced, looking at the sculpture and taking photographs. I really wanted to sit and draw. Maybe next time. The highlights also included how transfixed Nev was and how peaceful Deb looked sitting there.
  5. World’s Best Gelato
    What is a ten best list without the world’s best gelato? I often get disappointed when I return somewhere and a wonderful place I had discovered is now gone (this just happened in Ashland, Oregon on our way back to Seattle in the car). I was so happy to see our little gelato discovery was still right where it was in Orvieto, as if 15 years had not gone by. It reminded me of Deb and my first trip there.
  6. Dancing with my love in Sevilla
    We don’t know Flamenco. After listening for awhile, though, we thought we’d try it. We did more of a salsa/swing step, but it worked with the music and the people there were very accommodating. It’s always magical dancing with Deb. At 1am in Sevilla, Spain, dancing to a new kind of music in a small, local little club, it was priceless.
  7. Watching the street artists in Firenze
    Watching (good) street artists is another thing I could do for hours. She wasn’t the type doing caricatures. She was using pastels on the black cobblestone street and recreating a Renaissance painting. I though Nev might like watching her and suggested it. It was wonderful to see that Nev has the same ability to watch and appreciate art in the making. What a wonderful unschooling moment.
  8. The Duomo cupola tour, Firenze
    I really hoped to do a secret passage tour in Firenze. While it was not meant to be, the cupola tour was close. I love wandering through the “hidden” spaces of great buildings. The really memorable part, though, was seeing the dome art up close. It’s one thing to see it from several hundred feet below. When you see it close, you really have a much more profound appreciation for what these amazing artists did. In many ways, it is a lost skill. CG is just not the same.
  9. Montserrat mountains
    I love mountains. I need to live by them and Deb needs to live by the sea. That’s why Seattle is such a great place for us. The mountains around the Montserrat monastery were beautiful and unearthly. I have never seen such terrain before. I would have loved to hike in those mountains. Sitting and looking at them was a close second and a memorable experience.
  10. Three hours in line with Aidan at Portaventura
    This one is probably a surprise, especially if you know Aidan. In the Portaventura theme park, we waited about three hours to see a big Halloween “haunted forest.” Aidan is like me – always moving and impatient. What was memorable about the three hours, especially reflecting on it now, was that it was just the two of us hanging out and we had a good time, despite the cold and waiting. I saw him engage total strangers in (very mature) conversation. I saw him describe all sorts of favorite shows, Youtube videos and video games with excitement. We played games (like the one where balance and you try to push each other over). We talked about a lot of things. And he must have thanked me twenty times for staying in line with him. It was a little like a long run…the first 15 minutes were tough, but then you get into the “zone.” I need to find a way to get into that zone with him more often.

We went on this five week odyssey to give Nev and Aidan a chance to see history, religion, art, and architecture up close and give them a real appreciation for history and Europe. We took away so much more. Looking at what was memorable to everyone here, it’s clear that each of us had our own perspective filled not just with memorable places, but memorable experiences with each other. We travelled five weeks with just backpacks and were together every day. We saw some lights go on. We saw some inspiration. And we became closer. Now that’s the most memorable experience. Pura vida.

Firenze

Our final stop on our new adventure in Europe was the grand city of Florence, or “Firenze” in Italian. We spent several days in this incredibly historic and important city. It was an interesting transition from a nearly untouched medieval city to one of the most important cities of the Renaissance.

Firenze

Firenze

Firenze

Firenze

Firenze

While in Firenze, we stayed in a nice little apartment on the south side of the Arno river in a wonderful little area. We ate in several different restaurants (and gelaterias) across the city in our time here, but our little neighborhood managed to outscore all of the other areas. We found the best gelato here along with the best restaurant, the best pizza and the best little local “cozy” bar where Deb and I often got to unwind at the end of the day while the young adults relaxed in the apartment.

We started our tour of Firenze with the Medici Chapel in the Basilica of San Lorenzo. It was fitting as the Medici’s were arguably the most powerful and important family at the height of the Renaissance in Florence. The Medici Chapel not only holds their vast family crypt and hundreds of reliquaries of various saints’ relics, but also two very stunning Michelangelo sculptures.

By this point, Nev and Aidan understood the importance of saintly relics to the church. As we wandered through the chapel, it was both eerie and shocking to see how many the Medici’s had collected over several hundred years. We talked about the wealth of the family as we neared the main chapel area and then we all saw the beauty and opulence of their family crypts.

Medici Chapel, FIrenze

Medici Chapel, FIrenze

Medici Chapel, FIrenze

Medici Chapel, FIrenze

The Medici Crypts

It was a little overwhelming to all of us to see the fortune invested here. It’s really hard to imagine the modern day equivalent – perhaps Bill Gates. And as Bill Gates is the benefactor of the Gates Foundation, so the Medici’s were of many of the most important Renaissance artists and writers.

Michelangelo sculpted two incredible works for the important tombs of Lorenzo and Giuliano Medici. What makes this area particularly interesting for Michelangelo aficionados like Deb and I is that he also was involved with the architectural design of the crypt. His two sculptures depict their entombed namesakes but they also add some allegorical relevance through the additional depiction of dusk and dawn on Lorenzo’s tomb and night and day on Giuliano’s.

Michelangelo Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Michelangelo Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Michelangelo Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Michelangelo Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Michelangelo Sculptures in the Medici Chapel

In the middle of all of this, Aidan said, “This is cool.” This is what Deb and I were yearning to hear. Being here in the middle of all of this was finally hitting the young adults. You just can’t get this view of history from a book or even pictures.

This would hold true throughout our visit in Firenze. Descriptions don’t do the sculptures, the paintings, or the history justice. It is so easy to skip through a written description, or even nice pictures, quickly and not really reflect on what you are seeing. It is difficult to face a great cathedral or an exquisitely detailed sculpture and not give it more than a cursory glance. Bringing this home to Nev and Aidan while they are young was a key unschooling goal of ours in this little “field trip.”

After our first historical deep dive in Firenze, we took a little time to do some shopping in the famous Firenze market.

Firenze Maket

Firenze Maket

The Firenze Market

We found some wonderful leather items, of course, including an incredible leather jacket for Deb with a hood. I wouldn’t have expected to find a “hoodie” here, but the Italians make it work in an elegant way. While we had a fun afternoon browsing the stalls, we couldn’t help compare it to when we were last there fifteen years ago. The market has gotten a little more kitschy, a little more commercial, and, sadly, a little less special.

The next day, Deb and I went out and took a grand walking tour of Firenze together. We enjoyed several our many cappuccino’s and walked from our apartment south of the Arno river across the Ponte Vecchio and around the main area north of the river, scouting “locations” for the next several days.

cargile01580

Fountain, Firenze

Fountain, Firenze

Ponte Vecchio, Firenze

Ponte Vecchio, Firenze

Scenes Along Our Walking Tour

Our next big visit was to the Uffizi Gallery. We wanted the young adults to see some of the many important pieces of artwork and sculpture of the Renaissance up close and personal. We kept our visit short though to maximize impact and minimize that sort of daze you can get into in museums after seeing so many things. As with theater, “leave them wanting more.”

Botticelli's Venus, Uffizi, Firenze

Botticelli’s Venus, Uffizi, Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Caravaggio's Medusa, Uffizi, Firenze

Caravaggio’s Medusa, Uffizi, Firenze

 

The Uffizi Gallery Treasures

Leaving the Uffizi Gallery, we saw stunning “living statue” of Leonardo da Vinci sitting near the statue of Machiavelli.

Living Statue Near the Uffizi, Firenze

Living Statue Near the Uffizi, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

“Statuary” Outside the Uffizi Gallery

We then emerged into one of our favorite places for art, the Piazza della Signoria. This plaza holds the replica of Michelangelo’s David. It also holds the Loggia dei Lanzi which holds some truly incredible sculptures by Cellini, Donatello, Giambologna, and more. We spent an enchanted hour or more just sitting and appreciating the stunning artwork. Aidan also appreciated one of many cups of gelato.

Rape of the Sabine Women, Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Rape of the Sabine Women, Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Sculptures in the Loggia dei Lanzi

Our next day we made a “pilgrimage” of sorts to Dante’s house (and museum). Aidan and Nev had both become interested in Dante and the Divine Comedy (especially Inferno) in our travels and learning more about Dante was in both their lists of things they wanted to do in Firenze (an unschooling assignment).

Dante's House, Firenze

Dante’s House, Firenze

Dante's House, Firenze

Dante’s House, Firenze

Dante’s House

While here, I spotted what I’m sure is a secret passage, though we couldn’t access it to explore more. There is a small section of wall between Dante’s house and the tower of his family clan next door. I measured the offsite of the wall to the floor plan and there looks to be a three foot difference, which would allow about a 2-2.5 foot passage after taking into account the brickwork present.

Secret Passage

Secret Passage

A Secret Passage Spotted

Next up was a visit to the very famous Duomo, or the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, and its surround. It was as picturesque as I remembered it from my two previous visits.

Duomo, Firenze

Duomo, Firenze

 

Giotto's Tower, Firenze

Giotto’s Tower, Firenze

Aidan and a Living Statue, Firenze

Aidan and a Living Statue, Firenze

The Duomo of Firenze

On this trip I got to do something that I hadn’t had a chance to do before. We visited the cupola of the Duomo. It was a fun adventure covering 467 steps up to the very top and back down, through passages between the walls.

Duomo, Firenze

Duomo, Firenze

At the Top of the Duomo Cupola, Firenze

At the Top of the Duomo Cupola, Firenze

The Cupola Excursion

A highlight of this little trip, in addition to the stunning views, was the chance to see the frescoes of the dome up close. What’s hard to appreciate from the photos is just how large they are and the way in which the artists used perspective on a very large curved dome to make the murals appear correctly from several hundred feet below. I also had never realized that, like the Duomo in Orvieto, there were scenes of the last judgment and apocalypse, though we still favor Signorelli’s.

Duomo Cupola Detail

Duomo Cupola Detail

Duomo Cupola Detail

Duomo Cupola Detail

The Frescoes of the Dome

As we visited the various structures around the Duomo and stood in line to get into the cupola, I noticed that this church is far less coherent in its outside architecture than many. I love noticing details in the architecture, sculptures, gargoyles, etc. For example, the four main columns in the Sagrada Familia depict the four evangelists (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John) and their symbols. In Orvieto, we saw the same four symbols across the front of the church in the form of statues. In both of those cases, the sculptures reflect the nature and architectural message of the church.

The Duomo of Firenze was a little different in its details. For example, there are four key entrances on the sides (north and south). Over two of them are sculptures of lions (symbol of Mark). On the same side but in a corner, there is a bull (symbol of Luke).

Duomo Statue South Side

Duomo Statue South Side

Duomo Statue South Side

Duomo Statue South Side

Sculptures on the North Side of the Duomo

On the south side, there is no corresponding corner statue and above the two main portals are some frightening sculptures of men that look more like zombies.

Duomo Statue North Side

Duomo Statue North Side

Duomo Statue North Side

Duomo Statue North Side

Sculptures on the South Side of the Duomo

I’m curious to look into this a bit more. It could be that over time, sculptures were moved or damaged, but this seems more intriguing than that.

We took a taxi back that night. It was one of those classic Italian cab rides that feels a lot more like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Our driver was the definition of fast and aggressive as he jinked and jerked through the heavy traffic, cutting off drivers and pedestrian alike. Another classic memory of Italy J

Our final day in Firenze was much more lightweight. After all, we had to get up at 3am the next day to leave. I had wanted to do a secret passage tour at the Palazzo Vecchio, but the company through which I booked it managed to mess that up, leaving us without the ability to go on the tour.

Instead, we all walked from our apartment towards Palazzo Vecchio. Along the way, we discovered a Games Workshop store that showcased a strategy game called Warhammer that was similar but more involved than the old Dungeons and Dragons. Aidan and Nev got an introduction and were both very interested. It’s very rare that they like the same thing and so we immediately grabbed a starter set.

We spent more than an hour watching a street artist near the Mercato Nuovo. She was pretty amazing. She used pastels on the large black stones forming the street to create a Renaissance style piece of street art. Only in Italy.

Firenze

Firenze

Street artist

We had to go touch Il Porcellino nearby, of course. The legend is that if you touch the nose of Tacca’s sculpture then you will return to Firenze one day. It’s a fitting thought for our last city in our last few days of our year-long adventure.

Il Porcellino, Firenze

Il Porcellino, Firenze

Il Porcellino

It’s sad to see our adventure end. But, really, it isn’t the end of our adventure. It’s just the end of the year we took off. We love doing and trying new things. There are so many things yet to do both in unschooling and in the area where we will be returning – Seattle. We’ll simply move from culture, language, art, history, and religion now to math and science. There are a ton of adventures awaiting us there!

As Deb and I drive north with all our luggage, our dogs, and our new cat, we are taking back more than just “stuff.” We are all returning with experiences and memories that are far more valuable. We are bringing home some of the cultures we lived in for awhile. And in the end, that’s more than we could hope for. Pura vida.

PS: More pictures – culled from several hundred if you can imagine!

Firenze

Firenze

Cuppola of the Medici Chapel, Firenze

Cuppola of the Medici Chapel, Firenze

Medici Chapel, FIrenze

Medici Chapel, FIrenze

Michelangelo Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Michelangelo Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Sculpture, Medici Chapel, Firenze

Firenze

Firenze

Piazza della Republica, Firenze

Piazza della Republica, Firenze

Firenze

Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Uffizi, Firenze

Deb, Piazza Signoria, Firenze

Deb, Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Piazza della Signoria, Firenze

Duomo, Firenze

Duomo, Firenze

Aidan in the Duomo Crypts Looking Assassin's Creed

Aidan in the Duomo Crypts Looking Assassin’s Creed

Duomo Angel Support Statue

Duomo Angel Support Statue

Duomo Cupola

Duomo Cupola

Machiavelli, Uffizi, Firenze

Machiavelli, Uffizi, Firenze

 

Orvieto City Gate

Orvieto City Gate

 

Orvieto

The next stop on our new adventure was one of our favorite cities in Italy: Orvieto. It is a small medieval town on a plateau between Rome and Firenze (Florence). We were last there 15 years ago and very little has changed. It’s not saying much; I don’t think much has changed in several hundred years.

Piazza, Orvieto

Piazza, Orvieto

Orvieto Main Piazza

Fortunately, one of the many things that has not changed, is the shop with the best gelato on the planet: Il Gelato di Pasqualetti. Nev and Aidan, after two days of very scientific examination of a small sampling of other gelato shops, several visits to Il Gelato di Pasqualetti for research purposes, and studious comparisons with other gelato they’ve had around the world, have reached the same conclusion as us that this is indeed the best gelato on the planet.

Best Gelato in the World, Orvieto

Best Gelato in the World, Orvieto

The. Best. Gelato. On. The. Planet.

To get up to Orvieto from the train station, we had to take a funicular. It was our second on this trip (the first was in Montserrat).

Orvieto Funicular

Orvieto Funicular

The Funicular

One of the most impressive things about this amazing city is its Duomo. In fact, this church is the reason we first wanted to see Orvieto and the reason we wanted to bring the young adults.

Duomo, Orvieto

Duomo, Orvieto

Duomo, Orvieto

Duomo, Orvieto

The Duomo, Orvieto

The Duomo is a stunning piece of architecture in its own right. It certainly takes the top spot in both Deb and my lists of beautiful buildings and churches, and that’s pretty amazing given the churches we have seen on this trip. Every view is breathtaking. The attention to detail and the coherence of the symbology is so complete – even more so than the Duomo in Firenze. It is majestic in its simplicity.

Duomo, Orvieto

Duomo, Orvieto

Lion Statue, Duomo, Orvieto

Lion Statue, Duomo, Orvieto

Gargoyles, Duomo, Orvieto

Gargoyles, Duomo, Orvieto

Some Details of the Duomo, Orvieto

The beauty of the church wasn’t the original draw for us, however. It was Luca Signorelli. Signorelli was an Italian painter who predated Michelangelo. In fact, the way Signorelli depicted the human form served as an inspiration to Michelangelo.

You may not have heard of Signorelli much though. His masterpiece was the series of frescoes in the Duomo of Orvieto depicting the end of the world. Essentially, in one of the chapels, Signorelli painted scenes of the apocalypse, the last judgment, the preaching of the antichrist and the resurrection of the dead.

While biblical, this theme is certainly a rarity among Catholic churches. Even more so is the devotion of a whole chapel to it. It is not lost on us that to find this art, you have to travel to a church isolated on a plateau in a fairly out of the way place. This would have been an incredible undertaking at the time. Now add in the fact that you are limited to 15 minutes of viewing time in the chapel (one in which we saw very few visitors). We’ve never seen this in any other church we’ve visited – even the most crowded. Another interesting observation is that several areas of the chapel need restoration work, which is something that seems to be going on to one degree or another in every other church we’ve visited except for this one. Conspiracy theorists might conjecture that there are things the church might not want you to see.

Regardless of your views, the artwork is truly incredible. Imagine devoting a large part of your life painting a subject that you know would push boundaries and not put you at the top of the popularity list. We admire Signorelli’s chutzpah. Sadly, we couldn’t take any pictures but there are plenty of good ones on the internet.

Beyond the church and Signorelli’s work, Orvieto is a wonderful, tranquil, picturesque place. Deb and I just loved walking at night in the city. Even Aidan claimed Orvieto to be his favorite place in Italy. We felt very at home here, strangely. We’d love to come back and live here for a bit, perhaps volunteering to help with archeological work.

Orvieto

Orvieto

Orvieto

Orvieto

Orvieto

Orvieto

 

Orvieto

Orvieto

Andy and Deb in Orvieto

Andy and Deb in Orvieto

Orvieto Magic

The area around Orvieto, which you can see from the outer cliffs and walls, seems fairly untouched by the centuries. You see monasteries, castles, farms and vineyards. It’s very peaceful to just sit and take it all in.

The Area Around Orvieto

The Area Around Orvieto

The Orvieto Surround

We found a new detail about Orvieto this trip and a new little adventure. It turns out that the city is built on a system of tunnels. The plateau is actually built on volcanic ash. It is soft to work with and there are a series of tunnels under the city originally started by the Etruscans. They were digging for water since the plateau had little in the way of natural water. Over time, these tunnels became pigeon farms, olive oil production facilities, underground shelters in WWII, and now parts of people’s basements. If you own a building in Orvieto (around 600 years old), you own the tunnels under it. The tunnels don’t connect, but evidently there are over 450 of them.

Orvieto Underground

Orvieto Underground

The Orvieto Underground

We can’t leave Orvieto without telling you about a (new) favorite restaurant, Gallo D’Oro (sorry, it has no web page). There must be something about golden restaurants for us on this trip. Our favorite in Rome was Leone D’Oro. This was another “mom and pop” restaurant that was very simple but which had incredible pasta. It beat the “fancy” restaurant we tried in Orvieto hands down.

Debbie, Orvieto

Debbie, Orvieto

Debbie at Gallo D’Oro

Orvieto was a refreshing break in our Italy journey. It felt like returning to the familiar for Deb and I, something we didn’t really expect. This time we added more magical memories of the town, some with our two young adults. For us it’s a special place. Pura vida.

PS: More photos of course

Orvieto

Orvieto

Orvieto

Orvieto

Orvieto

Orvieto

Orvieto

Orvieto

Duomo, Orvieto

Duomo, Orvieto

Duomo, Orvieto

Duomo, Orvieto

Duomo, Orvieto

Debbie, Orvieto

Debbie, Orvieto

Rome Train Station

Rome Train Station

 

Rome

After our harrowing evening in Genoa, we made our way safely to Rome on our new adventure, looking forward to the historical treasures we’d find there.

We ended up getting to Rome only about 12 hours after we were originally scheduled to on the overnight train. It’s a good thing we got out of Genoa quickly. The flooding continued and even derailed a train.

By the way, many trains have graffiti, but it is really creative and artistic. It seems to get better the closer you get to Firenze. It was nice taking a moment to appreciate that without the accompanying torrential rain!

Italian Train Graffiti

Italian Train Graffiti

The Trains and Graffiti

Our first evening in Rome was full of laundry, resting and recuperating. I washed my cashmere sweater by hand 7 times and was still finding sand in it. My cashmere jacket was thoroughly soaked and it took 3 days to dry. Deb did some magic on the white clothes we had, all of which had turned muddy and dingy. Otherwise, we were pretty lucky once again on the clothes front.

The next morning we all started our day with something that would become a staple for us in Italy: cappuccino!

Cappuccino!

Cappuccino!

Cappucino

Our first day in Rome we took our only tour so far. We visited the catacombs outside Rome, the Basilica of Saint Clement, and the Cappuccini Crypts. We figured the mix of ancient history, religion, caves and dead bodies might get Aidan and Nev geared up for some “live” unschooling. It did work to a point even though none of us are fans of tours or tourists (some of whom were assaulting Deb’s sense of smell). Sadly, we couldn’t take pictures in most places – except our starting point: Piazza Barberini and a gorgeous Bernini sculpture.

Piazza Barberini

Piazza Barberini

Piazza Barberini

The catacombs themselves are an incredibly old set of tombs where Christians buried their dead in the early days of Christianity. They had cleared the catacombs of remains (helped along through the ages by grave robbers, the church, and several other groups). The tour in the dark (and nicely cool) passages was interesting enough, but it was the conversations we had with Aidan and Nev that were the highlight for Deb and me.

Deb and I learned some new insights on the transition between paganism and Christianity. I hadn’t realized that the concept of Elysium as a form of afterlife in early paganism was reserved for heroes, emperors, and the rich. The draw of Christianity was that heaven was accessible to anyone regardless of station. That was the intense draw for many, particularly women. It explains the early makeup of Christians.

The tour guide did a good job of introducing topics like this and then we would all talk on the bus or later about things like the way a conquering religion adopts the traditions of a previous religion in order to ease the people into the new one. Traces of this are physically evident throughout Rome.

As with any historical review, there is always bias. We saw it in subtle ways and overt ways. For example, all pagan religions throughout time were lumped together and represented a “primitive” time before Christianity. We had a great conversation about other civilizations that predated Christianity and Rome that had incredible science. There are three civilizations, for example, that discovered the concept of “0” which is necessary for higher mathematics. This included the Mayans. Rome and Europe were not among those more primitive civilizations thanks very much. J

Next stop was the Basilica of Saint Clement. It is an incredibly ornate church, and like so many others, very beautiful. It’s easy to admire the art and workmanship of Catholic churches.

We went to this church because it is the only publically accessible place in Rome where you can see four different centuries of history up close in the layering of the building. I wasn’t expecting, though, that the history discussion would continue here.

The mosaics in the basilica show various early Christian martyrs, including San Lorenzo. We learned that early Christians were hunted and had to meet in pagan temples. If caught, they were usually put to death. San Lorenzo was a brave soul who stood up to the Romans and was evidently fried on a grill (grid iron) and in the mosaic, he was depicted with his saint halo sitting on a grill. This caught Aidan’s attention in particular. While it was truly odd seeing essentially a barbecue in the ornate mosaics inside a church, it underscored the violence that is perpetrated in the name of religion. According to legend, he said during his “grilling” that he was done on this side and they should turn him over. This led to him being the patron saint of comedians/comedy.

As we descended in the church, we saw that the church, like most of all Rome, was built on the foundation of something else, and then something else before that. In this case, the basilica was built on a pagan temple, which was built on a market and then that upon an apartment building. All of this spanned four centuries, not including the basilica on top built in 1200. The 60 meter descent exposed more years of history than our entire country. This is one of the key reasons we came to Europe. It’s hard to get this incredible sense of history from a book or pictures. This theme continued throughout Rome and the rest of our trip.

Our final stop was the Cappuccini Crypts. The Cappuccino were a branch of the Franciscan order of monks. They believe that upon death, the body is just a vessel. They have decorated their monastery with the bones of their deceased brothers. I had seen it on a previous trip but the others had not. Words cannot describe either the beauty or the macabre nature of the decorations. There are many images on the web to see for yourself. Of course, Nev and Aidan thought it was cool. It was a nice end to the tour.

We found a great Italian restaurant that evening, Leone D’Oro, and had some amazing pasta. Gelato followed of course, as it must, every day, in Italy, the land of gelato!

The next day was Gladiator School. I had been looking forward to this more than anyone, I think, and it did not disappoint. The School is run by about 140 living history enthusiasts – similar to the folks who reenact the Civil War. The place is small but every person there is warm and excited to tell you all about gladiators!

Sadly, Deb had a crushing migraine the night before and didn’t feel up to going and Nev wasn’t interested, so they stayed home.

I expected fun. I hadn’t expected one of the best history lecture I had had in a while. Aidan actually agreed. It wasn’t just about gladiators. It was about Rome, their main focus on living history.

Our guide started with a map of Rome at its height. It covered about the same area as the United States. It also included all territory surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, so interestingly, they didn’t need a navy because there was no one to fight on the water.

We learned about all of the incredible civil inventions of the Romans (including their aqueduct system) and then we turned to military history. I had no idea how inventive the Romans truly when it came to war. Of course I knew the history, but the details were things that really brought home why they were so dominating. The inventions included big things like the Roman catapults that employed twisted rope and could fling projectiles 600 yards – 400 more than typical catapults. There were also very subtle things like heir spears, which they threw when the enemy was about 20 yards away. They invented a clever way to have a destructive, yet disposable, tip that after first use, no one could throw the spear back at them.

Gladiator Camp

Gladiator Camp

Gladiator Camp

Gladiator Camp

Gladiator School – the History Museum

Detail brings history alive. More so when you get to touch and feel it. Aidan and I had the best 60 minute history lesson on Rome and gladiators I could imagine. And then, we got to practice.

We got to wear and wield some of the equipment the different types of gladiators used. The heavily armored ones used really heavy equipment – about 40 pounds. And by the way, those gladiator helmets, which I always thought were way too cumbersome, were designed to make it hard to see and move in. That explains a lot.

We then went out into a sand arena and did some gladiator warm-ups, including running, push-ups, and moving through swinging bags of stones without getting hit!

We learned the five basic attacks with a gladius (sword) and the five basic defenses. Like most martial arts (including kickboxing, which Deb and I used to do), the basic moves were pretty simple but you combine them all in many different ways. After individual practice, Aidan and I got to “fight” each other in a ring after that using padded swords. It was an unseasonably 90 degrees Fahrenheit and by the end, we were pretty tired when we headed back.

Gladiator Camp

Gladiator Camp

Gladiator Camp

Gladiator Camp

Gladiator School – Getting Real

After a good meal (but not as good as the previous night), and gelato once again, we headed “home” and chatted about the next day, modeled after Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.

I mentioned previously that we had tried an experiment to get the young adults a little more tuned up and interested in Rome. We had them watch the movie version of Angels and Demons. The story takes place in Rome and involves a secret society “Illuminati” ostensibly murdering priests on different “altars of science” hidden in plain sight across Rome, because of some bad things the church did to scientists several hundred years ago.

We were interested in using this as a tool because while the story was fiction of course, the locations were all real and of deep historical and artistic importance. There was a path to follow based on the story and that’s what we had planned to do.

Each location was highlighted by an Egyptian obelisk and had some Bernini sculpture involving angels and one of the four ancient elements of science: earth, air, fire, and water.

We didn’t end up following the exact order of the story as we travelled through the city, but it didn’t matter; Nev and Aidan remembered everything. We walked from our apartment through the grounds of the Villa Borghese to the Piazza del Popolo.

Villa Borghese, Rome

Villa Borghese, Rome

Villa Borghese

At Piazza del Popolo the weather was partly sunny and I managed to get a pretty eerie photograph of the obelisk against an interesting, perhaps diabolical, cloud shape. It was a good start to our little recreation of the story.

Piazza del Popolo, Rome

Piazza del Popolo, Rome

Piazza del Popolo, Rome

Piazza del Popolo, Rome

Piazza del Popolo

At Piazza del Popolo, we found the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. This was the “earth” alter and we had hoped to see the Chigi Chapel where Raphael is buried along with a statue of an angel, Bernini’s Habakkuk and the Angel, pointing the way to the next “altar.”

Nev and Aidan had to find all the plot ingredients in the church. Sadly, they were restoring the Chigi Chapel and so we couldn’t see the “demon hole” or the Egyptian pyramid above Raphael’s tomb. We did get to see the sculpture from afar and indeed, it was pointing (although slightly off).

It was incredibly interesting though to watch the restoration painters restoring the artwork in the chapel. Nev even asked how you get to be someone who does that.

Santa Maria del Popolo Church, Rome

Santa Maria del Popolo Church, Rome

Santa Maria del Popolo Church, Rome

Santa Maria del Popolo Church, Rome

Santa Maria del Popolo

Our next stop should have been Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican, but we were near there last night and Deb was still a little tired so we skipped it. The third stop was the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria.

I really wanted to see Santa Maria della Vittoria because it contains the Bernini sculpture The Ecstasy of Santa Teresa. Not only is it an incredible piece of work and it is the angel statue in the storyline painting the way to the next “altar” (fire), but it would have also made a connection to earlier in our trip. Santa Teresa is the same Santa Teresa that grew up in Avila and was its “patron” saint, and Avila, the walled city in Spain, was one of our previous destinations. Unfortunately, the church was closed.

We regrouped and had a snack and then proceeded on to the final “alter” (water) at Piazza Navona.

Piazza Navona is home to three incredible fountain by Bernini, including very large one with an obelisk extending from it. The piazza is huge but has no cars and few streets connecting to it. We wandered around appreciating the sculpture for a bit and then had gelato. This was the last of the “altars” and the end of the storyline path. However, nearby, there was a building that was a false start in the storyline and something we very much wanted to see.

Piazza Navona, Rome

Piazza Navona, Rome

Piazza Navona, Rome

Piazza Navona, Rome

Piazza Navona

The Pantheon was a 10 minute walk through narrow streets filled with carabinieri for some reason. The millennia old building stands distinctly in a piazza filled with more modern (read only a few to several hundred years old) buildings.

It was both marvel to see in person for all of us as well as an instigator for more discussions around history and religion. The Pantheon was a Roman temple dedicated to all gods and religions (pan-theis). It was turned into a Catholic church around 600AD. Inside, while you can see the altar of the “new” church, you can easily see that it was repurposed. It was yet another good example of structures evolving over time as different civilizations and religions come to prominence.

Pantheon, Rome

Pantheon, Rome

The Pantheon

After the Pantheon, and the requisite gelato, we hopped in a cab and went back to the apartment. We got the young adults some nice arancini for dinner and Deb and I went out for date night.

We started by shopping for a little bit. It had been more than a year since we really bought clothes! I got to model a number of pairs of pants, several of which Deb, in cahoots with the young woman helping us, convinced me to get. Italian clothes fit me a lot better. At least, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

We talked about trying a new restaurant, but in the end went back to the wonderful small place (Leone D’Oro) we had found the other night and had another great meal.

The next day, we said goodbye to Rome. There were so many things we didn’t see, but Nev and Aidan said they enjoyed it and Aidan said he was sad to leave. We accomplished much of what we wanted to do in unschooling and so we felt the timing was perfect. As they say in theater (and good business presentations), “Always leave them wanting more.”

Writing this now and rereading some of the other posts, I am quite happy that Nev and Aidan do seem to be getting a sense of history and religion. Even with what we have seen so far, I don’t think they will think about places like Rome the same way they might have just reading about it.

History has a different feel when you can see it directly and touch it. When you add to that things like having to have archeologists present when you build a new subway station (as they do in Rome) and how everything stops when something new is found – which is often – you feel that history is something to be cherished. Perhaps, it may help us remember it better and not repeat mistakes of the past, but that still remains just a hope.

We didn’t give Aidan and Nev a ton of information to read and study – or simply pretend to read and study – as they might get in school. They learned a few important things and a number of smaller, scattered details. Our hope is that in a few years, they might retain those memories and perhaps even ignite some new interests. Maybe we will too. Deb and I are already talking about doing a volunteer internship on an archeological dig somewhere in the world at some point later. It’s never too late for adventure. Pura vida.

PS: Once again, more photos.

Gladiator Camp

Gladiator Camp

Piazza Navona, Rome

Piazza Navona, Rome

Piazza Navona, Rome

Piazza Navona, Rome

Piazza Navona, Rome

Piazza Navona, Rome

Pantheon, Rome

Pantheon, Rome

Raphael's Tomb, Pantheon, Rome

Raphael’s Tomb, Pantheon, Rome

Rome

Rome