Family Travel Hacks: When Things Don’t Go as Planned

As a family we love to travel. For the past few years, we have enjoyed a road trip in the spring and a holiday abroad in the fall. Most recently, we spent two weeks in New England exploring our nation’s history and many of the iconic landmarks.

Over the years, our style of travel has evolved. Yes, much of this is due to the fact that the kids are getting older and we no longer have to worry about diaper bags, strollers, and carseats. There have also been many minor changes that we have made along the way that have made a huge difference in how we get along and how smoothly things come together.

Arguments & Frustrations

We’ve all heard family travel horror stories. You likely have a few tales of woe and angst to share yourself. Who doesn’t? Noting spoils a vacation day faster than arguments and spats about little things that we often have no control over.

Family Travel Hacks: Vacation Debriefs for When Things Don't Go As Planned @EvaVarga.netA Day in Manhattan

We enjoyed good weather on most of our days – many were overcast but only one day brought rainfall. We were in Manhattan on this wet Monday and our plan for the day was to spend the morning at the Natural History Museum and then walk through Central Park to the Guggenheim where we would spend the afternoon.

We had pre-purchased tickets via CityPASS and as it was a Monday, we envisioned exploring the museums at our leisure. We often travel in September when most children are in school and have thereby become accustomed to this luxury. My daughter, the budding artist, had been particularly looking forward to seeing the Guggenheim Museum as she had previously visited Peggy Guggenheim’s collection in Venice.

The rain, as it turned out, changed the plans of many other in the city that day. We arrived at the steps of the Natural History Museum before they opened and very quickly, as the rain intensified, the crowd on the steps grew. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long before the doors opened and we funneled into the galleries. We soon came to realize, however, that with so many people it was difficult to really see the exhibits at a comfortable pace.

We saw what we could and then headed over to the Guggenheim. A special event closed off much of Central Park and thus we were forced to circle around the perimeter – extending our walk much farther than anticipated. When we reached Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic building, we were soaked. Frustrations rose – we were all very hungry – and tempers began to flare. We quickly grabbed a bite to eat from a street vendor and proceeded indoors.

Huge crowds were here as well and to make it worse, the spiral gallery was closed due to changing exhibits. We were thereby confined to one temporary exhibit, But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise.  We even opted to skip Maurizio Cattelan’s gold toilet as there was a two hour wait.

Family Travel Hacks: Vacation Debriefs for When Things Don't Go As Planned @EvaVarga.netWhat are Vacation Debriefs? 

One of the most effective tools we use to improve how well we connect with one another is the family debrief. When we are home, this generally is a short conversation at the dinner table whereupon we each share what we are grateful for and give kudos to another for their support and our inspiration.

Daily Vacation Debriefs

When we are traveling, our debrief is more in-depth. In addition to expressing our gratitude, we also discuss a series of questions. Here’s a peak into our responses over dinner that evening in Manhattan.

What did you like most about the day?

  • Unanimous agreement: Natural History Museum

What did you like the least about the day?

  • Jeffrey: The crowds
  • Geneva: The crowds – I wanted to sketch the wooly mammoth skeleton at the Natural History Museum but I couldn’t.
  • Eva: The crowds
  • Patrick: The Guggenheim – I was disappointed. There wasn’t much to see and the temporary exhibit we did see was just too weird for my taste.

What could we have done together to make it a better day?

  • Jeffrey: I wish we had brought snacks
  • Geneva: We should have checked the museum websites
  • Eva: We could have communicated better
  • Patrick: Let’s try an impromptu huddles next time things go awry rather than plowing forward with our plan. We may want to make a change.

Holiday Wrap-up

In addition to our daily debrief in the evening, we also wrap-up our family holiday with a more extensive debrief. This conversation typically takes place during our flight layover.

  • What’s the highlight of trip?
  • What’s most surprising about the trip?
  • If you were to recommend this trip to others, what words of advice would you offer?
  • Where would you most like to go next? 

Strengthening Family Bonds

We have all come to look forward to these family debriefs. My daughter says,

“They really help us to connect better with one another. We learn what things make each of us frustrated. We help each other find strategies to overcome these frustrations and we learn to let things go. We can then focus on the fun and better enjoy the experience.”

Looking Forward

This post is part of a series entitled Family Travel Hacks whereby I will be sharing tips and tricks we have learned over the years for successful family travel. You’ll find ideas for:

  • trip planning
  • packing
  • airports
  • car rentals
  • improving communication

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please refer to the disclosure policy.

Science on the Road: Visiting the Statue of Liberty & Chemical Reactions

In September, we spent a few days in New York City on the island of Manhattan, the city’s historical birthplace and the economic and center. The borough contains several smaller islands including Liberty Island, Ellis Island (shared with New Jersey), Governors Island, and a few others. We were really looking forward to exploring the area and learning more about the history of the area, specifically the Statue of Liberty.

Science of the Statue of Liberty @EvaVarga.netWe arrived in Manhattan via Amtrak train from Boston in the early afternoon. We thereby opted to take in the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island the following day when we could arrive early and board the first cruise boat. This turned out to be a wise decision as the queue upon our return to the main island was very long.

We grabbed a quick bite at the deli just outside the Courtyard Marriott on 40th where we are staying then hopped the green line express to Bowling Green. Here, we walked the short distance to the boarding area.

We immediately made our way to the National Park Visitor Center after we disembarked. Here we stamped our Park Passport Books and inquired about guided tours. We were in luck in that the first tour would begin in just 20 minutes. We took a few candid photos (Geneva pulled out her sketch book) as we waited.

As we planned to spend all our time in this area, we opted to purchase the New York CityPASS as the majority of the attractions were in this general area. In addition to Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island cruise, the pass provided us with tickets to each of the following attractions:

  • Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
  • The Empire State Building
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Guggenheim Museum 
  • 9/11 Memorial & Museum   

 

Science & Art of Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty @EvaVarga.netVisiting the Statue of Liberty & Liberty Island

Liberty Island Tour

The group that gathered for the guided tour of Liberty Island was small and thereby very intimate. I am surprised more people don’t take advantage of this opportunity – they are so very informative and best of all, FREE!

As we listened to the park ranger, we learned the idea of gifting the United States with a monument was first proposed in 1865 by Frenchman Edouard de Laboulaye. Sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design a sculpture ten years later, with a goal of completing the work in 1876 to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence.

As a joint venture between the two nations, it was agreed that the American people were to build the pedestal (carved in granite, the pedestal was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt in 1884), and the French people were responsible for the Statue and its assembly here in the United States.

In France, public fees, various forms of entertainment, and a lottery were among the methods used to raise funds for the project. In the United States, theatrical events, art exhibitions, auctions and prizefights assisted in financing the construction.

Poet Emma Lazarus wrote her famous sonnet “The New Colossus” in 1883 for the art and literary auction to raise funds for the Statue’s pedestal.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
 – Emma Lazarus

Science & History of the Statue of Liberty @EvaVarga.netCentennial Gift 10 Years Late

Financing for the pedestal was completed in August 1885, and pedestal construction was finished in April 1886. The Statue was completed in France in July 1884 and arrived in New York Harbor in June 1885 onboard the French frigate “Isere.”

In transit, the Statue was reduced to 350 individual pieces and packed in 214 crates. The Statue was reassembled on her new pedestal in four months’ time. On October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland oversaw the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in front of thousands of spectators.

Homage to the Statue of Liberty Supporters

On Liberty Island, there are several small sculptures commemorating several of the key supporters of the Statue of Liberty gift. I really enjoyed hearing the personal triumphs that made it all possible.

  • Edouard de Laboulaye ~ The “Father of the Statue of Liberty.” He provided the idea that would become the Statue.
  • Frederic Auguste Bartholdi ~ The French artist and sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World.
  • Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel ~ The architect and engineer who designed the Statue’s internal support.
  • Emma Lazarus ~ The poetess who wrote “The New Colossus” to help raise money for the pedestal’s construction.
  • Joseph Pulitzer ~ The newspaper publisher who helped raise the money needed to complete the pedestal’s construction.

One of the things I overheard many of the young visitors ask as we walked about the island was, “Why is it green?” I knew that when I returned home, this was a concept I wanted to revisit with my children.

Bring it Home ~ Oxidation Reduction Reactions

Why is the Statue of Liberty Blue-Green?

Begin by showing students photographs of the Statue of Liberty.  Ask students to describe the color. Students usually give the right answer: that it is blue or aquamarine (blue-green). Now ask them why it is this color. Students generally have no clue.

Explain that the color is due to the oxidation of copper. Next, show them a piece of rusted metal and point out that the red color of rust is caused by the oxidation of iron.

Science of Oxidation and the Statue of Liberty @EvaVarga.netOxidation Explained with Chemical Equations

Chemical reactions can be divided into two classes: redox (reduction-oxidation) reactions and non-redox reactions based on whether electron transfer process is involved or not. A redox reaction consists of two half reactions: a reductive half in which a reactant accepts electrons and an oxidative half in which a reactant donates electrons.

2Cu + O2 → Cu2O

The nature of a redox reaction is that one reactant donates its electrons to the other reagent. For example, in the oxidation of copper by oxygen, copper atoms donate electrons to an oxygen molecule so copper is oxidized while oxygen is reduced.

The Statue of Liberty gets its blue-green color from patina formed on its copper surface mainly through oxidation along with several other chemical reactions. The main constituent of patina contains a mixture of 3 compounds: Cu4SO4(OH)6 in green; Cu2CO3(OH)2 in green; and Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2 in blue. The following reactions are involved.

2Cu2O + O2 → 4CuO

Cu + S → 4CuS 

The oxidation starts with the formation of copper oxide (Cu2O), which is red or pink in color (equation 1), when copper atoms initially react with oxygen molecules in the air. Copper oxide is further oxidized to copper oxide (CuO), which is black in color (equation 2). In the 19th and early 20th century, coal was the major fuel source for American industry and it usually contains sulfur. Thus, the black copper sulfide (CuS) also forms (equation 3).

2CuO + CO2 + H2O → Cu2CO3(OH)2

3CuO + 2CO2 + H2O → Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2

4CuO + SO3 +3H2O → Cu4SO4(OH)6

Over the years, CuO and CuS slowly reacts with carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydroxide ions (OH-) in water from the air to eventually form Cu2CO3(OH)2 (equation 4) , Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2 (equation 5) and Cu4SO4(OH)6 (equation 6), which constitute the patina. The extent of humidity and the level of sulfur-related air pollution have a significant impact on how fast the patina develops, as well as the relative ratio of the three components.

Take it Further

Can you think of another oxidation reduction reaction? Write out the chemical equations to further describe this process.

 

Our US Constitution: A Scavenger Hunt Activity for Teens

While we were back east, we spent a day in Philadelphia touring the many historical sites. We had arrived just days after Constitution Day – September 17th. We were informed that living history interpreters stand on the step of Independence Hall and read aloud the Constitution just as they had done in 1787. We were bummed to have missed this but a las, travel plans are not always perfect.

us-constitutionThe Constitution of the United States is one of the most important documents ever written. Congress authorized delegates to gather in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787 to address grievances that had emerged since declaring independence from England and recommend changes to the existing charter of government for the 13 states, the Articles of Confederation.

All American HistoryJohn Adams described the Constitutional Convention as “the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen”. It is to this day, a seminal event in the history of human liberty.

To learn more about our nation’s history, I strongly recommend All American History by Celeste Rakes. It is available from Bright Ideas Press in two volumes and includes a student reader, student activity book, and teacher guide. We’ve been working through each chapter as we have prepared for our travels. My kids beg me to read another chapter every few days.

Primary Sources: James Madison

The best way to see into the past and learn about any historical event is with primary sources. These include diaries, letters, newspaper articles, documents, speeches, personal papers, photographs, paintings, and other items created near the time begin studied. They are made by people who have direct, firsthand knowledge of the event.Our United States Constitution: A Scavenger Hunt Activity for Teens @EvaVarga.net

Because many of James Madison’s ideas made their way into the Constitution, he is often referred to as the “Father of the Constitution.” Indeed, he was a driving force of the convention throughout the summer of 1787, and his notes of the deliberations have provided valuable insights into the proceedings.

None of the Constitutional Convention delegates talked to newspaper reporters or other outsiders. Some delegates took notes, but not every day. Even secretary William Jackson’s records were incomplete.

James Madison gave us our only complete primary source. Every day, he sat at the front of the East Room and recorded the day’s events. After the Convention convened, he wrote:

I noted in terms legible and in abbreviations and marks intelligible to myself what was read or spoken by the members; and … I was enabled to write out my daily notes during the session or within a few finishing days after its close … I was not absent a single day, nor more than a … fraction of an hour in any day, so that I could not have lost a single speech, unless a very short one.

US Constitution: Take it Further

The Bill of Rights document states the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. Read through and discuss each amendment with your students. These amendments guarantee the basic freedoms that Americans enjoy today.

Older students should be encouraged to read the US Constitution in an Old World Style design as pictured here. Reading the ornate handscript is not easy though – even for one familiar with cursive lettering. Younger students can use a printed text.

I’ve put together a challenging and fun scavenger hunt with which to encourage your students to read the Constitution. You can download it for free .. I simply request you leave a comment answering, “What historical figure from this era do you most admire?”

Some of America’s best minds created the United States Constitution. Among them were James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, Roger Sherman, James Wilson, and George Washington. Encourage your students to select one of these men and research his contributions to our country and give a presentation.

42 delegates signed the Constitution on the 17th of September 1787. Three refused. Learn more about who these men were and why they abstained.Our United States Constitution: A Scavenger Hunt Activity for Teens @EvaVarga.net

Choose one of the amendments. Write a short speech giving your opinion of the amendment. Tell why you think it is or is not an important right for citizens to have and what life might be like without it.

Visit the Explore the Constitution website where Constitutional experts interact with each other to explore the Constitution’s history and what it means today.

Constitution Day

To commemorate the September 17, 1787 signing of the Constitution of the United States, Congress has designated September 17th of each year as Constitution Day. In 2004, Public Law 108-447, Section 111 was passed requiring the following:

Each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the education institution.

Sadly, I don’t recall learning about the Constitution on an annual basis when I was in school. We covered it in US History – but not more than a few times I am sure. How about you?

 

Finding Harry Potter at the MET with Watson Adventures

We rejoiced when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child arrived at our doorstep last month. We had been following the opening of the two-part play in England on social media and anxiously awaited the ne book to be released here in the states on July 31st, Harry Potter’s Birthday.

Anytime we come to the final chapter of a beloved book, we are a little remorseful to say goodbye to our favorite characters. We wanted to continue living in the magical world so beautifully imagined by JK Rowling.

met-watson-adventures
I was provided tickets in exchange for an honest review; please see my disclosure policy for details.

I first learned of Watson Adventures while in San Francisco years ago for Chinese New Year. We had observed several small groups of people racing through Chinatown on an unique scavenger hunt, seeking answers to thoughtful trivia questions. Watching their enthusiasm and hearing their high praise, I tucked the little bit of information away. I knew this was something I wanted to experience.

While planning our itinerary for our East coast holiday, I took a peak at the Watson Adventures website I had earlier pinned to a Pinterest board. Much to my delight, a public scavenger hunt was available during our stay in New York City. There were many hunts to choose from, the difficultly was choosing.

A few of the many Watson Adventures Public Scavenger Hunts in New York:

watson-adventures-metHarry Potter & The Wizard School Scavenger Hunt

When I glimpsed the title, The Wizard School Scavenger Hunt, I knew immediately this was the experience for us. This scavenger hunt would provide us the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of young wizards on a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in search of works that echo characters, places, and enchanted objects in the famed Harry Potter books and movies. What better way to celebrate, share in the love of the book, and discover the Met?!

The Wizard School Scavenger Hunt is designed for kids and adults to do together, but all-adult teams are allowed to compete separately. Kids must be accompanied by adults. For ages 10 and up.

We joined the The Wizard School Scavenger Hunt on September 17th at the MET in New York City. There were several others teams – both family and adult teams – competing. Two family teams were taking part as a birthday celebration for one of the young participants. We were encouraged to come up with creative team names and the most creative team was awarded bonus points.

I was very impressed with how well Michael and his assistant Shannon organized the teams and explained everything. There were only a few rules – essentially: No running. Teams must stay together. Don’t touch the art. We were given 90 minutes to complete the 24 question quest and we were off!

Fortunately, each team was assigned a different question with which to start. When we did meet other teams along the course, tensions rose. “Oh no! They are catching up with us. We have to hurry!”

Their scavenger hunts use witty, tricky questions in fast-paced games that bring out the best in a fascinating place—and the best in you and your teammates. The hunts are like walking tours spiked with caffeine.

Racing against other family teams, we hunted through the MET for Hagrid-like giants, centaurs, and unicorns that would feel at home in the Forbidden Forest. References to the books provided a surprising bridge to many strange and wonderful works of art. The Cursed Child provided us with new hints and tidbits. Not to worry, there were no spoilers!

The questions weren’t easy, however. One point was awarded for each correct answer (no points off for wrong answers). The team with the highest score wins! There was strong competition and amongst the five family teams competing, the scores ranged from 18-22. We didn’t win the coveted Watson Adventure medal (shown here with the winning family team) but we had a fabulous time. We all agreed we would love to take part in another if we ever get the chance. It was certainly a highlight of our trip.

watson-adventures-winnersTell Me More About Watson Adventures

Bret Watson started creating scavenger hunts in the early ’90s as a way to share his unique take on the lighter side of museums with his friends. Word began to spread and it wasn’t long before Watson Adventures sprung to life.The scavenger hunts are open to the general public on weekends and are available in seven cities:

  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Los Angeles
  • New York City
  • Philadelphia
  • San Francisco
  • Washington DC

Private hunts are also available for large groups just about anywhere. The scavenger hunts are played on teams of up to six people. Advance purchase is required for all hunts. To purchase tickets online, select a city or a hunt and go to the hunt calendar.

 

National Estuaries Day: Student Activities & Courses

National Estuaries Day is the last Saturday of September. As such, we will celebrate on the 24th this year. Established in 1988 as part of Coast Weeks, the purpose of the annual event is to promote the importance of estuaries and the need to protect them.

With the many threats to the world’s ecosystems, it is critical to prepare our children to be tomorrow’s environmental stewards. Estuaries are an ideal vehicle with which to introduce students to marine ecology. Whether through recreational experiences, scenic views, or making a living on the water, many are familiar with estuaries. estuariesday

All throughout the country, local organizations including National Estuarine Research Reserves and National Estuary Programs organize special events, like beach clean-ups, hikes, canoe and kayak trips, workshops and more to recognize the special role these places play in our everyday lives. It is a terrific opportunity to learn more about estuaries.

Why are estuaries important?

Estuaries are partially enclosed bodies of water usually found where rivers or streams flow into it and with a free connection to the sea. The mixture of fresh water draining from the land and the salty seawater influxes of the tides create habitats where many unique plant and animal communities have adapted to life in the brackish water.

As a result, estuaries are among of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Many animals rely on estuaries for food, places to breed, and resting areas during long migrations. Human communities also rely on estuaries for food, recreation, jobs, and coastal protection.

How can I get involved?

Celebrate National Estuaries Day by learning about the National Estuarine Research Reserves and many local Friends Groups who organize a variety of activities benefiting the local estuary and reserve.

You’ll find numerous ways to connect with your coastal environments whether you are seeking a kayak adventure, want to forage for fungi, explore a class in seaweed art, or take in a history walk – there is bound to be something that appeals to you

nationalestuariesdayWhy teach about estuaries?

Estuaries offer a wonderfully rich context for science education and cross disciplinary learning. As a result of the dynamic ecosystem, estuaries provide an opportunity for learners to integrate many science fields such as ecology, biology, chemistry, geography, geology, and marine science.

Students of all ages can gather data and develop their math skills through detailed measurements of salinity, temperature, and dissolved oxygen. Students also develop language skills as they do further research and begin to communicate their discoveries with other students and scientists. Since estuaries have also played a significant role in human settlement, exploration and development, students gain new eyes on human history, geography, and culture.

Estuaries Curriculum 

I have put together two curriculum units to introduce middle school students to estuary ecology. Each unit is comprised of hands-on inquiry based lessons. A variety of enrichment projects and living books are also suggested to augment the teaching material provided. In honor of National Estuary Week, for the month of September, each of these units is available for 40% off the regular price. 

ecology

Ecology Explorations provides a great introduction to ecology concepts, introducing students to key vocabulary and field collection techniques. It is one of my favorite units because it provides several opportunities to explore your local ecosystems. This 10-week unit includes 20+ activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you. Sale price is $19.90  $11.90.

buynowgreen

Estuary Ecology

Estuary Ecology is a fourteen lesson unit study that focuses upon estuaries and salt water marshes.  It incorporates a month-long moon observation project as well as a field trip to an estuary or salt marsh. The lessons can be adapted to mangroves or tropical regions.  Sale price is $14.90  $8.90.

buynowgreen

Falling in Love with Italy: Pisa & Florence

Our destination today is the famous town of Pisa where we explore the Square of Miracles, featuring the Leaning Tower, Cathedral and Baptistery. We then head to Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance where we visit the Academie de Arte to view Michelangelo’s David. Along the way, we observed ancient Roman aqueducts from our coach; I even managed to catch a decent photo with my iPhone (below).

pisa and florence

Tip: Click on the links of the notable sights to enjoy a photo sphere in Google maps, a 360-degree panorama.

Pisa

We departed for Pisa immediately after breakfast as usual. Upon our arrival we observed the usual roadside vendors selling kitschy tourist souvenirs. When we entered the square, I was surprised by the size of the area surrounding the tower. For some reason, I had always pictured in my mind the tower surrounding by other buildings in congested metropolitan area. I had not expected the  large green open spaces. Fortunately, these were roped off to confine the crowds to the pathways. The crowds were so intense the grass would otherwise not grow.

leaning tower pisaThe first structure we came to from this entrance was the Baptistry (pictured in the bottom photo above) – a large dome topped circular building. The cathedral was in between the Baptistry and the Leaning Tower. This Unesco World Heritage Site, Piazza del Duomo di Pisa, is unique. The tower was impressive indeed. Like many other visitors, we did our best to take a creative photo despite the crowds.

installation art pisaWe were afforded little free time here, not enough to wait in queue to climb the stairs of the tower but enough to capture photos and enjoy the architecture. As a result, we chose to dine quickly, choosing a McDonalds – trusting in free public restrooms and wifi. It’s also fun to compare menus. We still reminisce about the delicious black & white burgers and teriyaki rice wraps we had in China. Patrick and I both tried the McLobster sandwich and were pleased.

Tuscan Hills

We then proceeded to the heart of the Renaissance, which we discovered was a signifiant distance. We thereby arrived at our hotel, Art Gallery, late in the afternoon. We had very little time to freshen up before we needed to join our group again for the option Tuscan Hills Dinner at Villa Machiavelli.

florence vineyardThe drive to the villa was very scenic, through the Chianti hills, past vineyards and sunflower fields (sadly, they were no longer in bloom). The ancient stone house of Machiavelli was perched a top a small hill and was overlooked by an imposing castle across the vineyard. It was here that the political theorist wrote his immortal, The Prince.

After a toast of blue champagne, a living history interpreter portraying Machiavelli’s spouse, led us on a tour of his home including the wine cellar. The meal and our dinner companions were wonderful – one of the most memorable evenings of our stay in Italy. As we dined on tapas of cheese, bruschetta, ravioli, and gnocchi, we enjoyed three different wines (each paired to a specific dish). My favorite was the Volare, a pinot grigio and pompelmo rosa blend.

A musical trio – violinist, guitarist, and a vocalist – provided us with entertainment. Prime Rib was the main course and it was served with yet another wine. Everything was so very delicious. I had a fabulous time! We even purchased a case of wine to commemorate our evening.

Florence

The next morning, the itinerary included a walking tour of Florence. Giuseppe gave a short overview of the morning, detailing for the first time to the group that we would see the location where Michelangelo’s David had initially been located but that the original had been replaced with a bronze replica. The marble statue had been moved to the Academie de Arte. We (along with a couple from Colorado) had informed our guide early on that we were going to try our luck and get tickets to see David opting to forgo the walking tour.

He tried to talk us out of it initially but upon discovering how important it was to us, agreed to try to pull a few strings. I didn’t expect him to follow through – he had seemed unmotivated. Much to our surprise, he not only got us tickets in advance but we were able to skip the lines entirely, jumping in with another tour group. He asked only that we didn’t say anything to the others in the group and we slipped away as the group walked past the academy.

davidMichelangelo’s David

Upon entering the gallery in which David was the centerpiece, chills ran up my spine. I had never before been so moved by a piece of art. It was incredibly beautiful. I was amazed at the detail – the veins of David’s hands, his toenails, his muscles, his shoulders. Perfection. Photographs do not do it any justice.

At the Galleria del Academie de Arte, we also enjoyed several other sculptures by Michelangelo – some unfinished – in addition to a large gallery of busts and smaller works by less familiar artists. The museum obviously attracts a lot of attention because of the David, but the rest is a lot of religious art which is great but you really have to be into religious art.

Of most interest to us was Marco Polo’s bible – though many of the pages had begun to deteriorate, the text was still legible and the illuminations vibrant. Jeffrey was most interested in several volumes of illuminated works that looked like hymnals. dante florencePiazza de Saint Croce

When we completed our self-guided tour of the museum, we headed to the Piazza de Saint Croce, one of the main plazas or squares located in the central neighborhood of Florence. Here we were to meet the rest of the group. Along the way, we did a little shopping and took several photos by the Ponte Vecchio – a Medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge over the Arno River. It is noted for still having shops built along it, as was once common.

florence duomo

Florence Cathedral 

As we continued on our way to the piazza, we came across theand the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (the main church of Florence). Il Duomo di Firenze, as it is ordinarily called, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style with the design of Arnolfo di Cambio. It was so grande that we had difficulty getting a decent photograph.

The exterior of the basilica is faced with marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white, an elaborate 19th-century Gothic Revival façade. The complex includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site covering the historic centre of Florence. The the dome was once the largest in the world and remains the largest brick dome ever constructed.

Dante

Once we reached the piazza, we got a quick bite to eat at a cafe and wandered about the piazza to pass the time. Here we observed the statue of Dante, a major Italian poet of the Late Middle Ages. His Divine Comedy is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature.

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This concludes my Falling in Love with Italy hopscotch. I am planning another series in October to share our experiences in Greece.

Hopscotch-August2016My post is one of many hopscotch link-ups. Hop over and see what others are sharing.