Sunday, March 20, 2016


Max, "Today we went to a little town called Siena.  It was a big city a long time ago, but it was hit by the plague in the 1300s and the whole city was frozen in time.  It still had modern technology, but all structures was like 1,000 years ago.  We had a mission to go to this church and see the chapel and the library.  We walked past at least 20 clothing stores, some gelato shops, a street performer, and the town square and after 10 minutes found a church with way to much decoration on the front and black and white stripes.  We went into the church and saw 20 foot portraits of bible stories and characters of the scriptures in colored marble on the floor.  The great arched ceiling had the heads of 170 popes, but it was really just 4 heads copied 170 times.  In the library there was sheets of music made of animal skin and older than dirt.  Paintings of hunting, church, and court lined the walls.  The whole thing was old.  After we saw everything we found some pizza and gelato.  I got chocolate chunk and nutella and we discussed how we could make it at home.  It was a good day."

The fruit and vegetables in Italy are incredible!  The feel
and taste like they were just picked from the garden.

Maggie, "Today we went to this really cool old town named Siena.  Dad called it "Saldi" because of all the "sale" signs in the windows.  We went to this old cathedral and saw some really amazing painting and some really old book that were like 2 ft tall and made of animal skins!  Then we got dinner and GELATOS!!! It was awesome.  We hear an accordion player and she was really good."
They used different colored stone to give this
church permanent stripes.  A little funky.

I love to see their genuine interest in the art.

 One of the grandest piazzas in all of Italy, Il Campo.  They actually hold horse races on July 2 and August 16 every year where 10 contestants from the 17 neighborhoods of Siena wear their colors proudly and race like crazy around the piazza, on bareback horses that have just been blessed inside the church.
On our stroll out of town we saw this statue tucked in a narrow little alley.  Fittingly depicting the mother of young children.  Wether she had that many little ones or if one or two can just make you feel like all you can do is surrender to the demands placed upon you, is up to interpretation.  But my kids thought we needed a picture.  Lucky for me all I have to say is "gelato anyone?" and praises of "best Mom ever" echo through the narrow streets.

Adrian's Villa

Located near us in the town of Tivoli were two UNESCO world heritage sites.  The first being Villa d'Este, and the second being Adrian's Villa.  We found ourselves with an unusually pleasant afternoon for the beginning of February so we packed a picnic and headed to explore the remainders of Emperor Hadrian's grand estate. 
The original massive arched entrance to the villa.

There is something completely magical about fresh meats, cheese, pesto and bread, under olive trees on the grounds of a 1900 year old Roman estate.  I breathed, deeply, let in sink in, and then pinched myself, it was real. 
The grounds themselves were virtually empty, at least enough that anyone who heard us coming could retreat to a quieter spot.  We picnicked by one of the grand pools and discovered it was full of fish and turtles.  The unsuspecting reptiles had climbed out to enjoy the warming sunshine.  Finding ourselves alone in the area, we pounced.  Amazingly enough we enjoyed repeated success and were completely enthralled.

The villa itself was built as a personal residence for the Emperor Hadrian, who was said to dislike Palentine Hill, where the emperors traditionally resided near the Colosseum.  Hadrian was one of the "good" emperors and oversaw much of the construction himself.  He made it his official residence around 128 AD and kept in touch with Rome, about 18 miles away through an advanced postal system.   Some other emperors also used it as a residence from time to time, but it eventually fell into complete disrepair.  Most of the statues that decorated the grounds were taken elsewhere, so our kids tried to take their place.

A very few incredible statues remained.  We strategically
placed ourselves to cover the buns of stone.  :)
The buildings and the grounds themselves are unbelievably grandiose.  It's hard to imagine what this 250 acre masterpiece must have looked like at it's peak.

Ancient olive tree and Roman baths in the background.
Maggie wove spring lawn daisies through
Tessa's hair.

On the walk back we found huge amounts of dried oak leaves.  The yearning for fall festivities we never got could now be quenched.

Tessa, "Today we went to a villa.  First we saw the ancient statues names Tessa, Max, Eli, and Jonah. We found the baths, houses, ponds, and the domes.  We also had an epic storming the castle game at a playground.  I felt like an expert on villas."

Gladiator Training

When in Rome, we seek to do as the Romans.  So for Max's birthday we enrolled the three oldest kids in Gladiator training school.  

Max, "Today we did gladiator training.  We finished school and drove to this improved school.  It took forever, but when we got there a man showed us a small museum and we learned all sorts of facts about gladiators and their helmets.  Like different helmets meant that they used different weapons, and that it was betting that earned owners money and kept the gladiator business rolling."

First we learned about Roman soldiers and helmets, the structure
of the Roman army, and a bit of Roman warfare tactics.

The helmets did much more than simply protect the gladiator, different shaped helmets told a story about the gladiator.  By the shape the audience knew which weapon he specialized in, they also had an idea of how hindered he would be by lack of vision or inability to breathe well.   Some gladiators did not get helmets at all.  I'm not sure if the protection it offered would have been worth the sacrifice of limited vision and getting all hot and stuffy, plus they were really heavy!  

Gladiators were not always killed in the ring.  In the beginning many gladiators were lost to "battles to the death."  Later on gladiators became celebrities and their lives became more valuable to the men that they worked for if the audience knew their history and how to bet.  Gladiators were trained, professional fighters who specialized in a specific weapon from an early age.  True, many were slaves, some were forced to become gladiators and some volunteered seeing it as a way to improve their station in life.  The games themselves were often rigged to help increase the gambling money that a fighter would win, and often the audience would help decided weather a losing gladiator should also loose his life or wether they wanted to see him live to fight another day.

It never ceases to amaze me how these kids take the same temperature differently.
Once we had learned some history it was time for training to begin.  It was fun to watch the instructor run the kids through the course.  He acted his part of a tough, no nonsense, trainer very well.  He yelled in their faces, screamed at them to go faster, told them they were no good and would be better as "flesh for the lions," and made them run a physically demanding course about 10 times.  At one point I thought some might break under his strict harshness, but they kept at it.  
Tessa, "We did a course where we had a rope and had to jump from side to side over it then you ran to the flying rocks and dodged them, after that you jumped over two benches did a somersault and finally 5 push ups. "

Max, "Our instructor acted like an army sergeant.  We dodged swinging bags, jumped ropes, and rolled.  He taught us moves and defenses.  Then we fought each other in the ring.  If you got hit 10 times you were out.  I lost against Maggie 9/10 then won mom 2/3.  It was a fun day!"

Max was completely focused.  Maggie mostly laughed, but learned the moves.  Tessa looked more like she was out chasing butterflies with her sword and giggling than trying to become a warrior.   

Going through training exercises.
Tessa, "The last thing we did was get in the circle of death and fought each other with different swords.  Maggie won the matches, but I still loved it so much!!!"

Max, catching his sword.
Maggie, "Today we did Gladiator training, it was awesome!  We learned a little in the museum, but the real fun was in the arena.  We learned five sword exercises.  Then we fought with duct tape swords and I was the champion!  I defeated Max, Tessa, and Dad!"
Happy graduates of Gladiator Training School.