September 17, 2015

Tuolumne Meadows

High above Yosemite Valley (at 8,600 feet) along Highway 120 is beautiful Tuolumne Meadows. We were fortunate enough to get a camping spot with friends over Labor Day weekend. Granite is prolific, and friendly enough to try rock climbing for the first time. Tuolumne River is a perfect place for kids to play, skip rocks, and find fish. Because of the high altitude, the weather is very cold at night even in the summer months. Visiting is most successful packing for both winter and summer in a single trip. The road is closed most of the year, so summer is one of the only times you can drive over the pass. Next time you think about heading to Yosemite, don't forget the alpine meadows - they are divine! 

P.S. I can't resist linking to our video of campground fun on the tandem bike

September 16, 2015


One of the coolest parts about touring medieval hill towns of northern Italy is that they are not just medieval, they are also ancient! Volterra is a walled city set between Florence and Sienna in the rolling hills of Tuscany. We went as a day trip while spending a week in Tuscany this past summer. Known to me only as "the vampire town where one of the Twilight films was shot", I was pleased to participate in a much richer history than expected. Beyond the castle tower and town square were several museums with ancient Etruscan artifacts. Etruscan tombs, pottery, coins and jewelry were mesmerizing in their detail. Just as astonishing was the Roman theater outside the city wall. Maybe it is this type of experience that puts Italy on so many travel itineraries. The more you look, the more you discover. 

August 11, 2015

The Ancient City of Pompeii

We spent a day trip traveling from Rome to Naples to explore the ancient ruins of Pompeii. There is a fast train from Rome to Naples, so the travel time was only a couple of hours there and back. Starting at the Naples Archeological Museum is an ideal orientation to the story of Pompeii and the lifestyle over 2,000 years ago. The museum displays frescos, mosaics and artifacts saved from the massive excavation of the city, including the famous Alexander Mosaic.

The city itself has four entrances, so the sheer scope is a surprise to first timers. Stone walls and streets greeted us upon entry, and soon enough we were peering into homes that are so well intact, it's hard to imagine they are over 2,000 years old! We crossed over large stone crosswalks that Romans built to stay above the street level to avoid treading on animal droppings from horses and carriages. We saw temples and bath houses, urns and plaster casts, and pipes for plumbing water. The advancements of this ancient civilization were right before our very eyes. Our daughter, who had just completed the 6th grade curriculum for ancient civilizations, was amazed by the experience.

My favorite room was the Villa of Mysteries, the ancient Roman Villa with colorful, well preserved murals that hints at a cryptic and magical story. Rick Steves has a great audio tour of Pompeii to help you figure it out!

August 6, 2015

8 Things I Loved About Rome

Rome got to me, but in a very good way. Certain images on my camera keep visiting my mind -images that stay with me and keep the travel experience fresh. I keep remembering: 1) dinner at night, 2) guys in business suits riding mopeds, 3) the majesty of St. Peters - inside and out, 4) the ancient Roman ruins, 5) the statue of Mary and Jesus where it feels like Mary is thinking "Hey, I've got a child here... I'm busy parenting... whatever you need will have to wait," 6) THE OCULUS OF THE PANTHEON, 7) yum, 8) those shoes. Wherever you go, if you've been to Rome, it seems to stay with you. Or at least that's how it feels to me.

July 20, 2015

Rome: Vatican Museum

Our itinerary in Rome included a tour to the Vatican Museum. We were a bit nervous beforehand, thinking back to the crowded Louvre from a prior trip. Would it be enjoyable, or would we suffocate and get trampled on? To prepare, we watched a Khan Academy video about the Sistine Chapel to arm each child with hope and anticipation as we worked through the route. One of my favorite sights was the Hall of Maps, where walls were adorned with paintings of regional topography. The details were rich and enticing (even the font on the maps!). The Hall of Tapestries was no less amazing, or the statues from ancient Greece like the Belvedere Torso

A remarkable lasting impression was from the courtyard - a modern juxtaposition or "a sphere within a sphere". Check it out here! The tour ends with a 15 minute window to experience the Sistine Chapel in silence. No talking or photographs allowed. We were enraptured with the Last Judgement by Michelangelo on the first wall. Looking up at the story of creation is a gripping experience. The view was worth the effort.