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Well, let’s do a Daily Homeschool Report, shall we?

  • What serendipity. Today was the feast of St. Zita, the patron saint of Lucca – one of the cities in Tuscany we will probably be visiting soon.
  • I say “probably” because TUSCANY YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY.
  • (Can’t decide where to go)
  • So anyway, that was a fun discovery. We read about St. Zita, then looked up Lucca-Santa-Zita-dá-o-manto-ao-mendigo-211x300Zita images both on the general Internet thing, as well as Instagram, where we could find Zita/Lucca related images from right now.
  • I pointed out to him that the sanctity of St. Zita, who was a household servant,  illustrates an important truth: What matters in life is not worldly values of success or achievement, but holiness. This truth is expressed in the Church’s celebration of those the world considers “lowly” and not only talking nicely about them, but holding them up as models worthy for imitation.
  • In what other context in life on this planet do you find servants and beggars held up as role models for all, including the wealthy and powerful?
  • Prayer.
  • Observation from the couch: I was thinking about the things we eat and how weird it is that fruit want to be eaten. Nothing else – not leafy things or vegetables or animals want to be eaten, but the whole reason for a fruit is to be eaten and then the seeds spread around by the creatures afterwards.
  • Huh.
  • And then a narrative about some tree in Borneo the fruit of which orangutans are crazy about, consume like made and aid in the propagation of as a consequence.
  • Cursive practice can be delayed no longer. I dug out a book I’d forgotten we have – practicing cursive through wacky sentences. We’ve been practicing cursive through Catholic thoughts for two years, so time to change it up.
  • Math was just review from 6th grade Evan-Moor books.  The great news of the week has been that Beast Academy 5B has been released. Finally! We should get it tomorrow, but won’t start until Monday. I think we will be out of pocket all day Friday, so might as well just wait.
  • History – he finished reading the chapter on the buildup to the civil war in the Catholic Textbook Project book, did the workbook pages, then we watched three Hip Hughes History videos – on the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott decision. Love them.
  • Latin review of prepositions that take the ablative case.
  • I had suggested a wandering about town afternoon, starting with the Botanical Gardens.  Well, the gardens are right across the road from the Zoo, so when we reached the vicinity, you can guess what happened.  I had thought that after his 6-week Zookeeper’s class, he’d be done with the zoo for a while, but apparently not. So I took the zoo fork, not the garden fork and then…
  • We saw an owl. Sitting on a fence not far from the zoo entrance, and I did wonder if he had escaped. I have never seen an owl outside of captivity before – heard plenty of them, but never saw one.  He was just sitting there, looking, as owls do. We swung around and parked in a shopping center parking lot and slowly walked across the road, hoping to get a close look, but before we could get there…whoosh – he was gone. We searched a bit, but didn’t see him. Still – it was pretty exciting just to see him for that short while.
  • Once in the zoo, I got a tour of the classes’ activities and work. They did things like fed the Komodo dragon (while the animal is kept in another enclosure, they placed dead rodents around the main cage – burying some a little bit under leaves and so on – and then the animal was let back in to dig up his dinner; they raked up debris in one cage, formerly used for storks, and transferred it to another used for some other bird. Things like that.
  • We spent some time with the cassuwary, which he had pet during the class – the bird was in a box they place him in to examine him (they are dangerous), and the kids were allowed to touch the back of the bird.
  • We then grabbed lunch and took a quick trip to the Birmingham Museum of Art – it’s free, so it’s an easy field trip. At this point in the day (evening), I don’t remember much about our conversation, but just know that it was the typical stroll through the Renaissance galleries, then up to the native American and Asian galleries, all the while him conversing and narrating and observing. I hardly say anything.
  • There was a group sitting in front of the prized Bierstadt being talked at by a docent, but the odd thing was that some in the group were blindfolded and others were wearing goggles of some sort or another. I had no idea what they were doing, but later decided that they must have been doing this kind of tour to increase empathy for the visually impaired. 
  • The most interesting piece was a recent acquistion – a large screen depicting the Battle of Ichinotani. Very well presented, clearly explained, and beautiful to examine. 
  • An extra note from yesterday: I sent him outside to find flowers so we could compare stamen/pistel/stigma, etc, and one of the lovely things we were able to see was in very carefully tearing apart a small wild violet from the yard, under the microscope we could see the tiny glistening pearly ovules. Very interesting.

"amy welborn"

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A bit of a post on mental trip prep, but first…drat. 

I had said I would be planning out loud, so here we go with the first instance of plans called into question by new information.

I have been all about Ferrara’s palio for the last weekend of May. Hooray for hundreds-year old tradition, color, medieval pageantry and horse and donkey races. Fun!

But then last night I realized….Corpus Domini is the last Sunday of May this year. In our language that’s Corpus Christi, and a major way it’s celebrated in many parts of Italy is "amy welborn"with an infiorata– a carpet of flowers arranged in intricate designs and pictures. There are a few large celebrations, beginning with Bolseno, the actual site of the Orvieto Eucharistic Miracle which  is, you know THE ORIGINS OF THE FEAST.

Oh, and the Corpus Domini celebration in Orvieto. Just a small thing.

(The corporal is preserved in the duomo in Orvieto, which is why it is the main pilgrimage site for the miracle)

What. To. Do.

The Ferrara accommodations are totally  refundable. Bolsena is an area I had been looking to visit right after Rome – Bolsena, Orvieto, Pitigliano, the Saturnia baths, various Etruscan things…but that would be the week after Corpus Domini. It would be quite possible to just stay an extra two days in Bologna, absorb some Ferrara vibes, see Ravenna, and then go down to this area for the feast….but is it such a big deal that it would be difficult to find accomodations, to get to the place..navigate? Looks pretty crowded. Probably. I don’t know. Darn it! I was liking this early Lent/ Easter thing until now.

What I will probably do – unless one of you has an inside track and some insight – is just hope that Ferrara won’t forget Corpus Domini among all the palio celebrations, and we’ll see some flower tapestries and a serious procession anyway – I have checked if any towns in Emilio-Romagna have well-known infiorata, but the only ones I can find are monasteries that are really not close to where we will be.

Anyway….

So…my prep work? Which is obviously inadequate and a sham?

Well, in terms of general travel research for the areas we’re visiting, an embarrasing number of hours spent on travel discussion boards – mostly TripAdvisor, Slow Travel and Fodor’s. General websites are okay, but I find discussion boards to be by far the most valuable, as you can follow the questions that real people are asking, get current information and search according to your own particular interest. Like last year when we were going to be spending a day in Vegas and I panicked over the “porn slappers” I had read stood on the streets handing out cards with explicit photos advertising escort services.

I mean, it’s really useful to be able to narrow the discussion down and see what Real People are Really Saying about Porn Slappers Today.

(Answer: Yes, they are there. Yes, it’s very sad because they looked to be mostly middle-aged Latino immigrants, male and female, illegal, I’d imagine. No, they didn’t hand any cards to us, the boys didn’t even notice them, and there were too damn many people on the sidewalk for them to even notice the cards under their feet. And I still hated Vegas.)

Books:

I’m of the view that guidebook companies should just abandon their sections on accommodations and restaurants – who even bothers with getting that information from even a year-old book anymore rather than online? But they’re still valuable, of course, in just showing you the sites. Right now, what I’m perusing are the Blue Guide: Northern Italy which I bought a few years ago for our Milan trip (it includes Emilia-Romagna) and DK guides. I checked out Secret Tuscany from the library – it was interesting, and I might check it out again before we leave and take some notes. I have the Oxford Archaelogical Guide to Rome which I’ve used in the past.

I’m more interested in educating myself on history and culture. I’m rereading Morton’s A Traveler in Italy, which is so wonderful. I’m reading A Traveler’s History of Italy. Over the next few weeks I’ll be reading up on my Medicis and other Renaissance points, as well as art history – mostly to help me help the boys.

Tonight I read Tilt: A Skewed History of the Tower of Pisa which could have done as a long magazine article, but then it wouldn’t have been encased in a quirky package like this:

"amy welborn"

It’s a good, easy read that explains the historical and cultural context of the campanile, not as much on the technical side of the construction, dispenses with the Galileo myth and gives good detail on the attempts to stabilize the structure – the most recent being, it seems, successful, and which involved not propping the tower up as others had attempted, but rather removing soil from under the higher end. No bibliography, though, which is irritating.

(Interesting note about the 1902 collapse of the campanile next to St. Mark’s in Venice, a structure which looked from the outside to be much more sound. Photos of the collapse actually exist because the cracks in the tower were noted, then observed to grow until finally no one could deny what was about to happen, the square was cleared, and cameras brought for the moment. You can the before, during and after photos here.)

As for their prep:

They, of course, know the itinerary. I’ve showed them the accomodations we have so far, gone over maps. I’ve scattered books around and on slow evenings we’ll leaf through some of them. We watched Gladiator and will do some other movies. Spartacus, maybe? Just to get us in the spirit of things. The other night, we watched the Rick Steves’ shows on Italian hill towns and Florence. Yes, Rick Steves is mocked and even reviled in some quarters. I mock him. But his programs are a decent intro to the areas, even though his voice really gets on their nerves and frankly puzzles them. Hah.

So yes, I am tempted to be an anti-Rick Steves snob myself, but when that creeps up on me, I must always remember this story.

Flashback to that first trip, back in 2006. We’d landed in Rome, it was the afternoon, and we gave up trying to keep everyone awake until evening. It was just too much. They were all napping, but I had a phone call to make to an acquaintance, and this was pre-internationally-capable cell phones, at least for us. (I actually did some work on that trip – I spoke a couple of times, had an interview, and we had a wonderful long lunch with a bunch of interesting Rome-based Catholic journalists). I left them all in the apartment on the Borgo Vittorio, and went to find a pay phone. Well, first I bought a phone card, as you did then. And perhaps still do. Then I found the phone and for the LIFE OF ME could not figure out how to use the card/phone combo. I mean…I just couldn’t. Nothing happened. So I got back to the apartment and told Mike, no I hadn’t made the call because I couldn’t figure out the damn phone. He flipped open Rick Steves’ book and pointed (in triumph, because I had been dissing RS, while he’d been studying his books) to one of those little drawings he has – that shows exactly how to use the cards (you had to tear off the corner). And that’s what Rick Steves is great for – he and his crew understand what is going to trip you up and confuse you and  just tell you how to manage in a very practical way.

Oh, back to prep. I have a couple of Great Courses – I bought them two years ago on sale – they are very good. We’ve watched some in the past, but over the next couple of weeks we will pick them up again and watch the lectures on some of the iconic Roman buildings.

We’ll watch this National Geographic special on the Brunelleschi’s dome.

And that will probably be it.

That’s the basics of mental prep. I’ll talk more about concrete prep – luggage, clothing, finding accomodations, etc – in a future post.

Oh, and I have a few links I have saved for myself on Pinterest here.

For all #Italy2016 posts, go here.

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Ah…Rome.

I had not initially planned to include Rome in this trip, since we were there 3 ½ years ago. But then I thought, well, 3 ½ years is a long time in Child Time, I, personally could go to Rome once a year and be fine with it, and finally, I started thinking about the things we haven’t done in Rome yet…and then I saw that it’s only a 2-hour, 20 Euro train ride from Bologna, and so Rome was back in the running.

This will not be a lengthy, word, thinking-out-loud post like the others, because the parameters of this step were pretty clear to me – doing the two major things we haven’t done in the Roma area: The Appian Way and the catacombs in that area, and then Ostia Antica.

Ostia Antica is, of course, not in Rome, but rather a short train ride to the coast. It’s a fine site of the ancient Roman port – sort of like a smaller Pompeii, without the volcano. My late father went there during his month in Rome several years ago, and enjoyed it very much. We have been to Pompeii, but we are always up for ruins, so Ostia Antica it is.

I would like to try to get into one of the new underground tours of the Coliseum, but they are really popular and I don’t know if it will be possible. We also have never been to the Capitoline Museum – somehow, when in Rome, indoor museums are never a priority with me. There’s so much to see just walking around outside. We will try to do that, but a priority will be, I think, a guided tour of the Palatine Hill and Forum. We walk through the Forum every time we go, trying to be intelligent about it, but I think a tour guide would really deepen our appreciation..especially since kids tend to listen to a tour guide with far more attentiveness than they do to Mom. Who barely knows what she’s talking about so yeah. Tour. And I do think that will be a more interesting excursion than the museum, if we have to choose.

Other than that…wandering, revisiting St. Peter’s and as many other past favorite sites as we can.

In the past, we have stayed in apartments off the Borgo Vittorio, near the Vatican. I can’t find the first one in which we stayed over ten years ago, but this is the place we stayed at in 2012. I grabbed a larger, 3-bedroom apartment because we had a friend from the US staying with us for a few days during our time there. (And if you look at the cost of the apartment, you will see what I mean about relative pricing. People, I paid more than that per night for a mediocre hotel room in Charleston – the cheapest I could find –  a few weeks ago.Bah.)  In 2008, one of my older sons was living in Rome – he worked as an English teacher there for about a year and a half – and I went to visit him at Thanksgiving. During that visit, I stayed in an apartment in the Monteverde area, west of the Tiber River and Trestavere, south of Vatican City. I’d like to show you that one, but the website is down, but I know they probably still rent it because my daughter lived in Europe for a year and a half (in Germany), and on her visit to Rome, a year ago, she stayed in the same apartment.

This time, I had thought about trying to stay around Piazza Navone or Campo di Fiore, but could never find something roomy enough that was affordable. I worried about noise as well. When we went to Madrid last year, we had a lovely apartment, but the noise at night was incredible. It wasn’t super crazy spring break revelry – just normal Spanish life, which doesn’t start until 10pm at the earliest, then goes strong until 3 am or so. But still. I wondered…how do you people get anything done in life?

So we’re back to Monteverde this time. It’s closer to transportation for the Ostia Antica thing, and it’s a quieter area.

There! That was quick!

Next, I’ll share with you what we’re reading and watching for prep. For all #Italy2016 posts go here. 

 

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(For part I – go here)

None of this – except the Rome part – is set in stone. All of it – except the Rome part – can change up until the last minute, the reason being that all of the accommodation arrangements are mostly refundable up until the last minute. Except for Rome.

I am using mostly AirBnB to search out places to stay. It’s supplanted VRBO for me for a couple of reasons. First, I like the layout of the site and the search mechanism better, and secondly, the layers of protection against fraud seem stronger at AirBnB. You have to supply a good bit of information to the site in order to be approved to book accommodations, and the owner part is far more transparent than what you find at VRBO.

Why not hotels? Because for three people, which includes two kids, European hotels tend to suck. Anything reasonably priced is going to have far smaller rooms than what we’re used to in even say, a Motel 6. In most places, you can get an apartment with at least one bedroom for less than what you would pay for a hotel, and believe me, by the end of the day, we need space. I need space.

So no, staying in an apartment in Europe is not a luxury choice. Oh yes, this is our Rome apartment. It’s actually the more economical choice if you have a group and if you are staying long term – even a week.  If I were traveling by myself, I would go the B and B & hotel route, not only because I wouldn’t need the space, but also for safety considerations. But with the family? Apartment all the way.

Anyway, that wasn’t supposed to be the point of this post – I’m going to a post later on trip prep. The point was to let you know that as I talk about our “plan” – almost anything I talk about can change to a few days before departure.That’s a freeing thought.

(Except for Rome – the reason being that the owner of that apartment, which I have rented through AirBnB – uses the strictest cancellation policies on the site. So, sure, I could cancel, but I’d have to pay half or all of the cost anyway.)

When traveling like this, I try to minimize movement, and it is always my goal. This trip – I say. This trip we are only going to move..ONCE. Or twice. Okay, three times.

And I almost always fail. In theory I embrace the ideal of Slow Travel – that you gain more from travel by slowing down and digging deep rather than racing around checking boxes off a list. I have found this to be so very true. But when you’re going to a completely new place, the temptation to See All The Things is strong.

The weird thing to consider for me as I began was the complete freedom we had. Yes, we would be flying into Bologna, but there’s absolutely no reason we needed to stay there. Bologna is one of the major train hubs in Italy. We could have landed and jumped on a train to anywhere – Puglia or Calabria in southern Italy, which I’ve always wanted to see…we could hop across to Croatia. Liguria and Genoa. Naples. I admit that I even looked up airfare to Athens for my mythology-crazy kid. I mean, not for him to go alone, but for all of us. I was initially tempted by the crazy low RyanAir fares, but then got realistic about that scam and just generally settled down and re-embraced those Slow Travel ideals I claim are so important to me.

Slow-ish.

So yes, I said to myself – you’re flying into Bologna. That’s the fare you grabbed. There’s a reason. Just stay there. It’s meant to be.

Originally, that was exactly the plan – stay in one place in Bologna for a week, the train down to Rome for a few days, then to Tuscany Things.

But wait. Ferrara has a Palio.

A palio is an athletic competion – usually races – deeply rooted in history, between neighborhoods in a city. The most famous palio is in Siena. It is held twice during the summer, and is quite the thing, with horses racing around the piazza.

What I discovered is that Siena’s is not the only palio. Other Italian cities have them, including Ferrara, with celebrations starting in the beginning of May and culminating in the race itself, which is held on May 29 this year. When we would be in the area.

Okay. This might change things. I started poking around, and encountered some advice which indicated…you know, Ferrara is a really nice, smaller city, and perhaps that could be your base for the week.

Well, that ate up a few days of my life, trying to sort that question out, and here’s where I came down:

  • Arriving  from the US, I didn’t want to have to travel far to our accommodation. I wanted to land, grab a taxi, and be there. Staying in Ferrara the entire week would mean adding another leg – albeit a relatively short one – to that journey. Given that our flight is not getting in until very late afternoon – I think it’s around 5, in fact – that wasn’t attractive.
  • Oh, well just spend the first night in Bologna, then move? Not what I want to do either – be exhausted from travel, and then have to pick up and move the next morning.
  • Any food tour that we would do starts in Parma, which is a 40 minute or so train ride from Bologna, but more like 90 minutes (connecting in Bologna) from Ferrara. The food tours start early, because the Parmesan cheese production takes place in the morning. So..if we stayed in Ferrara and did a Parma-centered food tour, I’d be rousing everyone at 6 or so and stressing about getting to Bologna, then to Parma….nope.
  • If we wanted to check out Florence briefly before the longer time in Tuscany, it’s a 30-minute train ride from Bologna. We could even just pop over there for an evening.
  • But..in Ferrara’s favor, it’s closer to Ravenna, which is a must-see, and Commachio – which is not a must-see, but of interest.
  • Ferrara is also a smaller city – and if I have discovered anything about myself on my very limited European travels, it is that I love these mid-sized European cities that have a medieval or Renaissance core. There is a deep sense of community and history as well as a lovely way of life and a casual, easy and authentic level of culture and sophistication that is quite lovely to be a part of, even for a few days. Padova (Padua), for example, was my favorite place in our big trip of 2012. I could live there. Seriously.
  • Also in Ferrara’s favor is, of course, the palio and being actually in the city for the days running up to the race and being right there for it.

So as much as I would have liked to spend a solid week in one place without moving, I decided that we’d split the week between Bologna and Ferrara. The boys aren’t little anymore, and moving is not that much of a hassle at all – and they do actually enjoy the adventure of seeing a new apartment – they always find something to intrigue them.

So…Ferrara it is. While there, we will go to Ravenna for a full day and take in the mosaics – I might hire a guide for that. I think it would be worth it, especially for the boys. It will be far more fruitful time than me with a guidebook standing there trying to point out things I’m not even sure I see. I’d like to go to Commachio and see the town, built on canals and into the sea, sort of like Venice…sort of, and I’m intrigued by a place whose fishing economy is built on eels. Not tempted to try them, though. No shame.

But in general, I would like to just enjoy Ferrara read more about the city here – and the festivities, rent bikes, ride in the city and around the city walls and perhaps outside into the countryside, and just…stroll.

**

Thank you for reading to the end!

This process is an obviously absorbing one to me. In planning a trip like this, I am balancing my interest with the boys’, trying to figure out how to see things in a way that is not rushed, but takes in, as much as possible, a way of life and makes plenty of room for the unexpected.

It reflects an approach to life , in general. We balance the needs and desires of different people, we plan a bit, but we leave space and are open to encountering whatever enters that space.

There is so much to see, but only so much time to see, and only so much we can absorb. Have you ever had museum fatigue? Where your initial interest in the paintings and sculpture flags as you walk through gallery after gallery and all the Madonnas start looking the same? That’s what I try to avoid in a more general sense. You can’t see everything and trying to do so is just exhausting. You have “seen” a lot, but hardly actually seen anything.

For, truth be told, the most memorable moments of our travels have been the slowest ones. They’ve occurred sitting in piazzas, eating and drinking and interacting with the people who live there, the boys joining in a soccer game, halting conversations about common experiences in two different languages. They’ve occurred in the unexpected corners, the places we hadn’t planned to go but somehow ended up finding.

It’s my approach to life. Get your bearings. Have some general goals, a few things you’d like to achieve during the day, but be open, because you never know what will happen, and most of the time the unexpected will be what you remember, and at every step, planned or unplanned, God waits.

In a way,the hours I dedicate to researching these trips seems to belie my philosophy of openness. But it really doesn’t. I don’t take this time in order to map out an hour-by-hour itinerary. We don’t do that. That is not my style of life , much less travel.  No..I think I just want to be aware of as many of the possibilities as I can, so when the moment comes, I’ll be able to point us in a direction that we all can enjoy and learn from…while leaving plenty of space for whatever else would like to be part of our life that day to enter and show us something new.

(For all Italy 2016 trip posts, go here)

 

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St. George is in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints.  The only part of the chapter that is online in any form is the last page – so take a look. In the first part of the chapter I try to strike the balance between what we think we know about George and the legendary material. But I also always try to respect the legendary material as an expression of a truth – here, the courage required to follow Christ. He’s in the section, “Saints are people who are brave.”

"amy Welborn"

 

"amy Welborn"

 

More on the book. You can buy it online, of course, or at any Catholic bookseller – I hope. If they don’t have it, demand it!

I. Saints are People Who Love Children
St. Nicholas,St. John Bosco, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla

amy welbornSaints Are People Who Love Their Families
St. Monica,St. Cyril and St. Methodius, St. Therese of Lisieux,Blessed Frederic Ozanam,

Saints Are People Who Surprise OthersSt. Simeon Stylites,St. Celestine V,St. Joan of Arc,St. Catherine of Siena

Saints Are People Who Create
St. Hildegard of Bingen,Blessed Fra Angelico,St. John of the Cross,Blessed Miguel Pro

Saints Are People Who Teach Us New Ways to Pray
St. Benedict,St. Dominic de Guzman,St. Teresa of Avila,St. Louis de Monfort

Saints Are People Who See Beyond the Everyday
St. Juan Diego, St. Frances of Rome, St. Bernadette Soubirous, Blessed Padre Pio

Saints Are People Who Travel From Home
St. Boniface, St. Peter Claver, St. Francis Xavier, St. Francis Solano, St. Francis Xavier Cabrini

Saints Are People Who Are Strong Leaders
St. Helena, St. Leo the Great, St. Wenceslaus, St. John Neumann

Saints Are People Who Tell The Truth
St. Polycarp, St. Thomas Becket, St. Thomas More, Blessed Titus Brandsma

Saints Are People Who Help Us Understand God
St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Jerome, St. Patrick, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Edith Stein

Saints Are People Who Change Their Lives for God
St. Ambrose, St. Gregory the Great, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Camillus de Lellis, St. Katharine Drexel

Saints Are People Who Are Brave
St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, St. George, St. Margaret Clitherow, St. Isaac Jogues, The Carmelite Nuns of Compiegne, St. Maximilian Kolbe

Saints Are People Who Help the Poor and Sick
St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Martin de Porres, Blessed Joseph de Veuster

Saints Are People Who Help In Ordinary Ways
St. Christopher, St. Blaise, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Bernard of Montjoux

Saints Are People Who Come From All Over the World
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Paul Miki, Blessed Peter To Rot, Blessed Maria Clementine Anuarite Nengapeta

Buy signed copies of some of my other books for children here. 

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As I mentioned a few posts back, we’ll be spending three weeks in Italy this summer. I am usually rather cagey about our travels until we have actually arrived at the destination, but I’m doing it differently this time. I’m writing about it before we go in order to aid in my own preparation and perhaps deepen the level at which I will be writing about it during and after. I don’t know why, but I am just intuiting that it is the approach to take this time.

****

I had not planned, intended or even hoped to go to Bologna or Parma and had not even heard of Ferrara or Commachio or Rimini two months ago, but now I can sketch rough maps of each of them, can have well-informed debates with myself about which should be included in the trip and why, and am in general counting down the weeks until we are there.

This seems to be how it always happens with me. A place is at best barely floating on the edges of my radar, and then for some reason – a good fare, an article about an intriguing attraction, the desire to go to a place where no one else you know has been – within weeks my mental landscape has once again expanded just a little bit.

I suppose that since there are not many places on the planet I am not interested in seeing, given the opportunity or means, this is not surprising. It doesn’t take much, in other words.

But what about the 11 and 15 year old boys? What about them and their needs?

People who discourage or disparage family travel really drive me nuts. You don’t know how many discussions I have read on travel boards in which some innocent mom or dad enters the fray asking for advice about what to see on a family trip to somewhere like Milan or I don’t know, Bologna   and the answers they get are either, “Make sure their devices are charged up, because they’ll be so bored, don’t you people have Disney World in your country? You should probably just do that instead.” or “Well, there’s an amusement park nearby. Just go there.”

Well, these guys are great, patient, curious travelers. We are not all interested in the same things, but we all understand the value of the trade-off.  You’re patient while we explore this thing that is interesting to me, and I’ll be patient later while you’re doing your thing. They are also curious about the world and, faithful to their genetic heritage on both sides, inveterate and observant people-watchers.

They also just seem to trust me. I guess I have a good record as a tour guide so far.

Oh, and visions of daily gelato? That helps, too.

***

When it came to plan some summer travel, I had just a few parameters to work around: Music camp for the younger son, scout camp for the older one, and an annual scout rafting trip to North Carolina. The first two would happen in June, the last a weekend in late July. School starts in early August. I know, right? That’s life in the South for you…done with school by May 20, back in the classrom by August 8 or something ridiculous.

Last year, we had a fantastic trip out West – Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Death Valley and Vegas during that same time period. Well, the Vegas part wasn’t fantastic, but everything else was. Zion was probably our favorite.

This year, shockingly good airfare popped up from Atlanta to points in Italy for summer travel. I mean – shocking. The ATL has had relatively little competition for international flights, and I really do think their international fares are probably among the highest from a major East-of-the-Mississip hub. Even Charlotte gets better deals and more often than Atlanta does.

But I hit a sweet spot this time, and so, as I said before, we’ll be flying into Bologna and out of Pisa about three weeks later.

So, first stop will be, indeed, Bologna and Emilia-Romanga. But why?

Bologna is not on the top tier of Italian tourist destinations – wait, Rick Steves doesn’t even have a book on Emilia-Romagna! Should I cancel?

As is usually the case, you find different opinions on the city of Bologna On The Internet. Some love it, rave and say it’s fantastic partly because it’s not heavily touristed. Others say it’s boring and dirty and worth maybe a morning if that. Because there’s nothing there for tourists.

I learned long ago that with travel opinions, you just have to keep gathering your intel from all sides…and then experience it yourself. People just have such different expectations of travel – when they express opinions of a destination or attraction, it helps to know where they’re coming from, but since you usually don’t have access to that inside information, you’d be advised to keep a salt cellar next to your computer as you read.

For example: When we were in France a few years ago, one of the places we stayed was this wonderful gite in the Dordogne. The other family staying in another cottage on the property was a husband, wife and teen daughter from Wellington, New Zealand, in the midst of a 6-week European tour. They had arrived from a few days in Paris, we would be traveling there in a couple of weeks, and as the dad gifted me with their leftover Metro tickets, he commented that they hadn’t liked Paris anyway. But why?

It was so dirty.

Okay. I’d never been to Paris, and this wasn’t unimaginable, I thought. Big, old city. Probably dirty.

Well, then we got to Paris, stayed a month, and I thought, Wellington, New Zealand must be spotless.

Sure, the Metro stairwells were messy, the elevator in our station  smelled strongly of urine, which I assume was from the homeless folk who stayed there at night, but..the entire gestalt of the city? Dirty? Generally? Not at all, especially when compared to (no offense) Chicago and New York City. But  there are other European cities – probably German and Swiss – which are super clean, so compared to them, I suppose.

Anyway, what I’ve found is that it’s best to find the kinds of travelers who live in your same general comfort zone and trust their opinions.

bolognaSo yes, I’m looking forward to Bologna!

And what I have learned about Bologna…let me tell you. I knew nothing about the area before six weeks ago, and now, as per usual, I could teach a class. To second-graders, but still, it would be a semi-informative class on Bologna and Emilia-Romagna at a level suitable for seven-year olds.

First of all, we’re looking forward to food. I am not much of a meat-eater, except for one thing: cured meats. Love salamis, hams…everything cured. So yes, this is the place for me – and for one of my sons, who is also passionate about cured meats. Cheese. Real Bolognese pasta, which is different from the sauce-heavy version we associate with it here in the US. I recently made a baked rigatoni with Bolognese sauce from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, and it was a revelation.

We are doing a food tour that starts in Parma – a parmesan cheese facility, a winery, a balsamic vinegar facility in Modena, and a Parma ham/cured meat joint. Plus lunch. I hardly ever do tours, but this is the most efficient way to see all of this, and plus…maybe I’ll learn something? From another person instead of just from a book?

Cars! I don’t give a flying flip about cars, but my 15-year old who just got his learner’s permit has a steadily growing interest, so we might check a tour or museum out. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Ducati all have either factories or museums in the region, so we’ll try to find one with the best cost/satisfaction/time ratio.

And then there’s Bologna itself. What I Have Learned:

Next up:  We’ll miss Siena’s, but Ferrara has a palio, too. Who knew? Well, the Ferrarans, but besides them….

Tomorrow or the next day, I’ll talk about the research and prep I’m doing – which is an addicting pastime for me, but at least it’s educational and not a complete waste of time.

And just to let you know, I plan to up my social media game on this trip, not to a distracting point to us, but just for the purpose of sharing intriguing images and vignettes, especially from places that are less familiar to American travelers. What I post is generally not about me or much less my kids, but about what I see and how I see it. So if that interests you, be sure to start following me on Twitter, Instagram and on Periscope (same handle as Twitter – I have not broadcast yet, but will probably start practicing soon.). I have a Pinterest board here with some of the links I’m saving for myself – when I remember to pin them.  Facebook remains mostly for actual acquaintances and family members, although I might start just linking these other social media to the Charlotte Was Both page. That’s probably a good idea. Let’s do it!

And if you have suggestions regarding this area…please share them!

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Well, hello.

I have so many ideas and blog posts and such crawling around in my head, but no real quality time to think them over and then actually write them.

Time exists, but for this introvert, it’s not the right kind of time.

I think what has really screwed me up over the past couple of months is that I lost my high school carpool because of the other kid’s participation in both (very early) morning and afternoon athletic practices, and we’ve  not reconnected since it’s gone to afternoons only, so I don’t even know what’s happening there. Eh, only a few more weeks and new arrangements are already in the works for next year, so I can deal. But that eats up a couple of hours a day. The afternoons are okay because M and I are often out and about in the afternoons anyway, but the mornings..oy. I take the high schooler, and by the time I get back, I need to be thinking about the other one’s school –  which is not too taxing, since I know 97% of what I think will be happening and am always ready for him to just take the lead on what he wants to do for the day – but still. It’s brainspace.

So shall I put what’s on my mind  here and hold myself accountable? What needs to be written in the next few days?

(I also have two manuscripts to read – one another soon-to-be published book, and the other a YA historical novel by one of my older sons..plus two articles to write…)

  • Amoris Laetitia. It’s a challenge to write about, not only for the usual Pope Francis-related reasons (his thinking, writing and rationale are unclear, highly idiosyncratic and float free from most of 2000 years of Catholic tradition. That doesn’t say it’s opposed to that tradition, necessarily. It says he doesn’t bother with tying his arguments to it except in terms of the most general values. ) – but also because every day, one or two really interesting articles on the matter are published and I think…well I needn’t bother. But then I keep thinking and….

I also don’t want to produce another thousands-of-words declamation on the subject. For your sake. So I’m trying to hone in and really get to the point, and my point(s) pops up at a different place on the coordinate than what I have read elsewhere, so it might be worth saying.

  • School. We are chugging along. I haven’t had the opportunity to do the daily homeschool reports, but hope to offer you a few more before the school year ends. I think they might be helpful, not as guides – not at all – but as examples of what one family does. Maybe you’re not as crazy as you think.

 

  • Oh, here’s one anyway. This will be easy -except for the rabbit holes, which are the best part, and which I usually take notes about as we go along, but didn’t today, because we were on the road.

We began with the readings of the day, a short prayer, then cursive practice. No copywork or dictation, just a page of cursive practice. His handwriting is getting pretty good, and he just needs to work on speed. Then just a few pages of math review from Evan-Moor books – these 6th grade problems. (He’s in 5th grade, but he can handle most of it.)

Then we hit the road!

Not far. Just a bit south. First stop was the Hoover Library – the best branch library around here, always busy, good collection. We checked out some CD’s – the soundtrack to Gladiator, some Beethoven, and then a bunch of books about Italy, and some random new books – this one about Back to the Future, and then this, which looks interesting. For his casual reading, he’s flying through Stuart Gibbs, whom he finds amusing.

(He just came in and asked how long War and Peace is.  We looked it up. He says he might read it after he finishes his current books.  I’m thinking if he’s serious I’ll tell him that he can be done with school for the rest of the year. I mean…I don’t think he’s interested in the plot..I think it just exists in his consciousness as This Big Iconic Thing.)

Check out, hop back in the car, and keep going south, to a swamp. It’s this preserve, part of the University of Montevallo. A friend of mine had been there a few weeks ago with her kids and seen lots of animals. It’s a nice walk, and we enjoyed our conversation and our observations, but the only animals we saw were a skink, an anole, lots of bees and a few nice fat tadpoles. M was of course hoping for snakes and I beavers, but nope. Just tadpoles.

 

amy_welborn44

Isn’t this odd? I’d never seen so many woodpecker holes in such a pattern.

Lunch, drive back, listening to the Gladiator soundtrack, talking Roman history and music.

  • Better Call Saul. Coming right up.
  • Books.
  • Trip planning….let’s move that to another post, shall we?

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