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.

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

Barcelona

We are officially off now on the second stage of our new adventure – Europe for 5 weeks of fun, unschooling and new experiences. Our first stop on this journey is the city of Barcelona.

We had a long, two-legged flight to get here which included a full dash between two very far gates at Schipol airport in Amsterdam. It started our travel journey and warmed up the young adults to five weeks of travel. Fortunately we settled into our nice apartment in Barcelona and recovered fairly well from jet lag.

Getting to our apartment, we got a reminder of how important security is here with all of our stuff. We had 4 locks on the door, three of which were multiple bar deadbolts. Barcelona, like many cities, has a number of opportunistic thieves as well as regular break-ins of uninhabited apartments.

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Our Apartment’s Door Locks

This prompted two of the first key discussions with the young adults about travelling. The first was how important it was to always keep your bag (backpack) in sight and even if you are sitting with it, to wrap a strap around your ankle. They got that one down pretty quickly. The other one, which they are still working on, is that in travelling, everyone is responsible for their own bag and their own stuff. So, for example, I won’t magically know where someone’s socks are. J

We spent the first few days recovering and exploring the city and its wonderful restaurants. Barcelona is an amazing city – a fusion of old world Europe and modern Europe. We stayed most of our stay in the older area known as El Born, which I highly recommend. The buildings were almost a century old and the narrow streets, fountains, and open spaces were wonderful.DSC00029

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Some Elements in El Born

Tapas are a highlight of Barcelona and “Chef” Aidan was very interested in trying all of the different tapas. We started with Double Zero, a sushi tapas place. It turned out to be one of the best places we’ve tried and where we had the most incredible, and well-deserved, dessert medley. This prompted Aidan to come up with an idea of creating a dessert tapas restaurant. We think it’s a good one!

Asian Albondingas Double Zero Dessert Sampler

Double Zero and its Amazing Tapas

We had another memorable experience at an Argentine grill.

Squid Ink Risotto

Our Argentine Grill Experience

I personally was very excited to rediscover Patxaran. It is this wonderful liqueur that is distinctly Basque. I had a good friend from Barcelona who once brought me a bottle. He said it was very hard to find outside Northern Spain and extremely rare in the US (at least a few decades ago). I had tried to find it a few times without success. Somehow I managed to remember the name (and exotic spelling) and found it here! Everywhere. What a treat. Patxaran is a liqueur created with various herbs blended with anise.

The Spanish timetable was very different from Costa Rica. Everyone seems to get up later. Most shops don’t open until noon and when they are not open, they all have these roll-down panels that are covered with graffiti. All of the graffiti has a creative flair and some are spectacular from an artistic perspective. Here’s just one example (some better ones didn’t make it).

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Graffiti on a Shop Roll-Down Door

At night, it is almost as if you are in a different city. The shops open after noon but stay open until very late. All of these roll-down steel doors turn into fantastic shop windows, restaurants, pubs and heladerias (ice cream shops). The streets become a hive of activity. There are lots of people wandering around and the energy is palpable. They city stays this way late into the night. The most crowded dinner times are 9-10m and that’s when you see the peak of activity. We adapted fairly quickly to the Spanish way of life though – getting up later, eating late, and staying out late. This actually served Aidan and I well for a side adventure after Barcelona which I’ll tell you about another time: Portaventura.

One of our favorite things about Barcelona is the ability to get around. Without cars. Like most European cities, they have a good and well-organized metro system within the city and an excellent train system between cities and countries. It’s a dominant form of travel for Barcelonans. The bus system, which we did not try, seemed very ubiquitous and simple. The surprise though was the system of bikes. They have a whole “subscription” bike system that is somewhat similar to the various emerging “subscription” car systems in various US cities like Zipcar. They have “banks” of bikes at most major intersections and you swipe a card, grab a bike, and then return it to another bank. The bikes have special bars that “plug in” to a simple locking system. I’ve not seen a better version of this implemented.

Deb and I had several logistics-related things to do when we first got here (like getting Eurail passes validated, getting train tickets, trying out the metro, etc.) and so Aidan and Nev had more time to hang in the apartment and “study up” a bit on Spanish history, the city of Barcelona, Gaudi and Montserrat – all things we planned to include in our Barcelona “curriculum.”

What became clear to us pretty quickly, though we should have anticipated this based on Nev and Aidan’s history/religion project this summer, was that like most kids and young adults, reading about history was boring for them. Indeed, that’s why we wanted to come here – to see some of the incredible historical places of Spain and Italy. It was a bit like digging a deep splinter out trying to get Aidan to read about Sagrada Familia and other places we would explore. Deb and I would be in lines for tickets and Aidan would text us about how much more he had to read.

We settled on having him find some YouTube videos while we were away. He tends to learn better when he can hear and see vs. read. What was pleasantly surprising, though, was that both Nev and Aidan liked it better when we would tell them things about history orally.

We had some great discussions about religion, especially Catholicism, organized religion, and even what a saint is. I noted for the record that Brazil is rightly affronted because they only have two saints and tens more in the queue for review.

We also had some great related discussions about why people value gold (which is a tough one to really get into as it is not obvious indeed), why currencies are based on it, and also supply and demand economics. These weren’t incredibly deep or thorough by any means. But they were engaging and that was more important to us. Nev even said that one of Deb’s descriptions of Roman history was clearer and better than anything anyone could read in a boring textbook.

In the end, we all have been learning a lot about learning history here, but more importantly, I think we and the young adults are learning about how to learn about history. Nev and Aidan are clearly digital native. They learn differently and have different experiences of learning based on the technology and other tools they are exposed to. We even had a great discussion in a cab about this.

I basically said that if they have kids, their kids will probably be experiencing holographic information and “shows” the way they watch YouTube and Deb and I watched TV in our day. They noted that we are tech savvy and “get” YouTube, but I pointed out that even so, one tends to fall back on what’s comfortable – the media one grows up with. It was a surprisingly insightful conversation, like one we might have at a tech conference. This all “counts” as unschooling in our book, by the way.

After a day of logistics, Deb and I stopped at a Catalan wine festival. We love wine, especially Spanish wines, and so it was wonderful to experience Catalan wines. We had some amazing, and generously-poured, wines and some incredible cheese. It was a fantastic date night.

Catalan Wine Festival

The Catalan Wine Festival

Arc de Triomf (Barcelona)

Arc de Triomf (Barcelona-Style)

This brings up another interesting thing about Barcelona, the heart of Catalonia. As you may know, Catalan wines, like much of Catalonia, is similar but very distinct from Spain. The Catalonians take very definite pride in this. Catalan, as a language, is similar to Spanish, but then again about as different as Portuguese and Italian are from Spanish.

When we arrived, all of the signs had as a primary language Catalan. The secondary languages were Spanish or English. Everyone speaks Catalan first and many seem to prefer English to Spanish. It took us a bit to adjust but we can begin to read Catalan now. Mostly. As we travel to Seville, I expect our Spanish will be more useful.

What’s pretty amazing about Barcelona and Catalonia is the intense national pride – Catalonian, not Spanish. You see Catalan flags everywhere, hanging from balconies, on cars, and on futbol jerseys. Of course, FC Barcelona is here and you really can’t go anywhere without seeing a store or a person sporting FC Barcelona clothing. While very European, and certainly similar to Spain, Barcelona definitely feels like a different country. We may be wrong; we’ll see shortly as we adventure to Seville.

We took a wonderful little trip to Güell Park in Barcelona. It is a work of Antoni Gaudi, the famous architect of La Sagrada Familia which I’ll get to later. Tickets to the sculpture park were sadly sold out, but we took a stroll through the grounds which he also designed. It was an enchanting experience. We sat and listened to harp music and then explored the structures he created. It gives you some insight to the way he integrated nature into his architecture.

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Güell Park

After the young adults had studied up a bit, we took a day trip to Montserrat, the famous monastery up in the mountains. Wow. The monastery and mountains were incredible. I’ve never seen that type of topography before.

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Montserrat

Monserrat

The trip to Monserrat involved a train, a tram, and a funicular. It was a bit of a trip, but well worth it. I’m not sure if I was stunned more by the mountains or the monastery. The monastery was beautifully minimal from the outside. True to most Catholic churches, it was beautiful and opulent inside.

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Montserrat Monastery

The mountains were mesmerizing to me. They were so natural and yet so alien given the sedimentary rock composition and the very organic forms the mountains took. The architect Gaudi, whom I’ll mention more in a bit, must have been inspired by these mountains, especially as he was an aficionado of nature. I could have spent all day just in those mountains taking pictures.

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Montserrat Mountains

On our final day in Barcelona we visited one of the most magical places I have ever been – La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece. That is saying a lot given that it is a church and given that I have had the fortune to see many magical places.

I truly don’t know where to begin, so I will begin with Gaudi. He started this architectural feat in 1882 when he was 30. He died in 1926 and had several generations of craftsman following his legacy since then to complete this great church. It should be complete mid-century. When you see the images, you’ll not only see why it has taken so long, but also what a genius he was, particularly given that this was started in the 1800’s.

La Sagrada Familia

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La Sagrada Familia

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Constant Construction

I was certainly impressed with the architecture, which took inspiration from nature as you can easily see.

Tower Stairway

Tower Stairway

Columns Inspired by Trees

Columns Inspired by Trees

Interior Columns

Interior Columns

Natural Inspiration

I was even more impressed with Gaudi’s command of math and geometry, which is also nature at its best. Imagine the columns in components ranging from 6 to 12 vertices. Now twist each of these components (e.g., an extruded – or “3D’ – dodecagon) 30 degrees. Now create a mirror image of it and superimpose the two. That gives you the geometry of one section of column.

The stained glass (a Barcelonan artists created these), statues (a Barcelonan sculptress created these), architectural details (such as the tree of life or the apostolic symbols), were all incredible. I could have spent days wandering and exploring here.

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Seal of Marc

Seal of Marc

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

Turtle "Gargoyle" Sculpture

Turtle “Gargoyle” Sculpture

Architectural Elements

I was never a huge architecture geek. I was never ever moved by architecture or much else created by people. I was here.

La Sagrada Familia was a perfect end to our Barcelona adventure. Thousands of miles away we started our journey in Costa Rica, where the locals have the term “pura vida” which I’ve mentioned often. I get the sense Gaudi would appreciate that sentiment. As would much of Catalonia I expect. Pura vida.

PS: In case you like photos, I’ve included a lot more below, especially of La Sagrada Familia, Montserrat and the mountains.

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Montserrat Basilica

Montserrat Basilica

Montserrat

Montserrat

Montserrat

Montserrat

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St George

St George

Looking Down a Tower

Looking Down a Tower

Turtle Column Pedastel

Turtle Column Pedestal

Spire Tops

Spire Tops

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Guell Park

Guell Park

Gaudi's House

Gaudi’s House in Guell Park

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Guell Park

The Passion Facade

The Passion Facade

The Road Home and Stuff

I can’t believe the first stage of our new adventure is already coming to an end so soon. A short 10 months after we left Seattle for Costa Rica we will be leaving and on to our next, shorter, adventure. We are already actively planning and packing even while we continue our adventure here. The return trip is much easier in many respects, but harder in some.

I noted that it was only the end of stage 1. As I mentioned earlier, we decided to leave early since we are heading into (technically we are already in) low and rainy season. It’s low, but not rainy. Still, many places are starting to close and many friends are moving back to their home countries until November. So, we are switching operations to Europe. We are “trading” our last two months in Costa Rica for about 5 weeks in Spain, France and Italy.

In stage 2, I return to California and my parents’ house for a visit for two weeks while Deb stays in Costa Rica with the dogs. The dogs have to wait until Sept. 15th to travel due to the heat. Deb returns on the 17th and we head to Spain on the 21st, starting our final stage, stage 3.

Deb is hard at work developing a loose itinerary for us all. We know we land in Barcelona, Spain and leave from Florence, Italy. Everything else is pretty open. We know we want to hit a few small towns in France on the way to Italy. We plan to visit Cordoba in Spain for the castles and Orvieto in Italy for the incredible church there that hosts the works of Luca Signorelli (an incredibly talented Renaissance painter, like Michelangelo, but with a penchant for depicting the apocalypse and scenes from hell). The Catholic Church relegated him to this church on a large butte. We will also definitely visit Rome; Deb and I are going to Gladiator Camp. We did invite the young adults, but sadly, no takers there. Deb will certainly be “badass!”

As Deb does the planning, I’ve been doing the packing and finishing up my class(es). We have also both been studying and working towards our Advanced Diving Certification. Never a dull moment.

On the class front, I got asked to add another class on Prototyping to my schedule. It is a two day workshop over two weeks of elapsed time. It’s been a lot of fun to put together but it’s also been a ton of work in the middle of everything. Fortunately, it works with my current schedule in San Jose – I teach Information Visualization Thursday evening and Saturday morning and then Prototyping Friday evening. I and my class usually head out for food and drinks after one or both classes so it’s been a lot of fun.

Just to brag about my students a bit, they just turned in an assignment to create an information visualization on some aspect of the World Cup and I was blown away by the quality of the thinking and the execution. These folks all have day jobs, mostly in high-tech, and then they take night classes several days a week. In just about a week they created some visualizations that in many cases are on par with work I’ve seen on the NY Times.com site (they are well known for their excellence in information visualization). More importantly, they have focused on some really interesting stories and insights from the Cup, such as why Brazil lost so badly(!), why Costa Rica did so well despite the fact that their FIFA statistics are not stellar and how Costa Rica used passing as a super power. I’m super proud and excited to see what they’ve done so far. Here’s a quick example:

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Costa Rica’s Secret Combinations, Mauricio Varela

In between trips to San Jose, I have been starting to pack. Fortunately, and here I reveal my inner geek, I created a big spreadsheet when we first came down itemizing everything in our 6 carry-on bags and 6 stowed bags to facilitate staging and packing. That makes it very easy to do everything in reverse. Mostly.

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Re-Staging

In our two trips back, we returned here with some additional things. We added some “stuff” while we were here, most of which we won’t be bringing back, and of course some things didn’t last through our adventure. We mostly leave with the same number of bags and items. It’s interesting to see what made it and what didn’t.

First off, we have to account for additional things we brought back from the US. This includes paints, paintbrushes, and other material to paint Deb’s painting. I brought back additional technology, mostly for the young adults to make videos which they never did. Deb has all the material she got for her home made lip balms, deodorants, etc. – something she will continue to do when we return, so those all go back.

In the spirit of reducing “stuff”, we actually did not get much down here and what we did get will likely stay – being given away or sold. We will sell Fanta (our truck), our bikes, TV and a few other things. We will find good homes for the blender, crock pot, boogie board, hammock, yoga mats, printer, and sand-castle-making supplies. We used all of those things regularly but won’t need them or can’t get them home.

Very few things that we got here make the return cut list. Deb got a few hand-made bikinis. Those are coming back. They were also excellent purchases. I’ll leave them to your imagination. We’ll take our diving instruction materials back, along with Deb’s painting (which will likely be an adventure on its own). And of course, our newest family member “M and M”. That’s about it. It’s nice to maintain our low volume of stuff.

What is fascinating to me is what won’t make it back and what didn’t get used. We’ve been here almost a year and we really brought minimal supplies. Looking at where we are now, it is really clear to me what we truly need and what we don’t

The young adults have grown, especially Aidan. We are throwing away or giving away almost all of his clothes and shoes. The poor guy has no shoes that still fit – not that he needed them here! Likewise, Nev has a bunch of stuff that doesn’t fit. They, along with all of us, are getting rid of a number of clothes that we have simply worn through wearing them so much over the course of the last year. These include most of our swim suits, flip flops and t-shirts.

Then there is the technology. It’s been a hard year on our tech. Fortunately, I made sure we had redundancy in key areas. We’ve gone through four computer mice(!), three headsets/headphones, two digital pens, one Bluetooth music player, one keyboard, one tablet and a large number of recharging cables. Deb’s Mac and my parts of my tablet are on their way out as well. Kudos to all the smart phones, (Nokia, Apple, Samsung), Kindles, Xbox, and the Dell laptop which, despite heavy use all are no worse for wear.

In terms of what didn’t get used, there are many things. It’s good food for thought for others doing this (and we now know several!). We brought too many clothes and shoes. I brought several nice clothes anticipating that I might have to return to do some consulting. That was fortunate because I use them when I teach class, but I still brought too many short sleeve collared shirts. I found that black Armani t-shirts are versatile and great for going out here. I’d say that I could have cut my clothing by 2/3 and not noticed. In fairness, though, some of these things we didn’t use in Costa Rica we will use in Europe.

We didn’t use our nice Sony camera as much as we should have; it was just too big to easily take everywhere despite the nice pictures it takes. We are getting a smaller one for Europe so we actually use it. Likewise, we just started using the GoPro for diving but before that had not used it much. We didn’t watch any of the movies I brought on DVD and didn’t play most of the Xbox games we brought. And sadly, I never got a chance to use my volleyball.

Up until when I was asked to do a class on prototyping I would have added all of the backup drives I brought to this list. I had brought them more for safety but had not used them until I needed some key material for the class and then they became invaluable.

Almost everything else was used and used frequently, particularly cooking items, the very few board games and the large monitor (which was truly indispensible for my classes).

Of course, we didn’t come here to get “stuff” to bring back. Rather, we came for experiences and adventure, and we certainly got a lot – almost everything we hoped for. We all (mostly) learned a new language. We learned yoga and surfing. I got to play soccer in another country. We learned to dive. We got to explore the rain forest, the volcanoes, the jungle, and the beaches. We got to see (and in some cases live with) wildlife that we had never seen before. We got to have sunrise meditations and sunset cruises. I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to teach in an exciting new University program. Deb got a chance to give back and work for a kids’ organization and help organize a fundraiser. We got to appreciate another culture and make lots of new friends, some of whom have become as close as family. We got to help our young adults unschool and learned a lot about ourselves in that process. We got to spend lots of time together as a family. That’s the “stuff” life is made of.

And that’s just stage 1 of our adventure. Stay tuned for more. Pura Vida.

PS: At least one of us (Nev) got to really appreciate Seattle’s cold weather!