Italy–Part 3 Florence and Siena

After five days in Rome, we took another wonderful Italian train up to Florence, and proceeded to trek from the train station to our AirBnB in the old part of town dragging a backpack and two wheeled suitcases along very narrow sidewalks, as Ada found great entertainment in trying to jump aboard the suitcases and riding them.

Once we dropped our things in our AirBnB, which was a wonderful top floor apartment in an old building with exposed beams, we made our way down to the oldest part of Florence and the Galileo Museum.

Here’s Ada playing with a brachistrochone track in a small kids area in the museum.

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The upper floors of the museum were a wonderful collection of all sorts of historic scientific instruments, and made for one of those moments when I wish I had more time to explore the museum without Ada and Maddie telling me how boring everything was and wondering when we would leave. But we did see Galileo’s finger on display, just as I remember hearing about in some old science video I’ve showed my classes.

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On the next day, we explored the Uffizi gallery, which is one of the most impressive art museums I’ve ever visited. The building itself is most stunning—originally commissioned by Cosimo de’Medici to house the governmental offices of Florence, it’s a clear statement to the power and wealth of the Medici family. These days, as every tour book/video warns, it is packed with tourists, so we got out timed tickets in advanced and did our best to keep Maddie and Ada engaged with the amazing art they were seeing. Here’s Maddie posing in probably the most famous painting in the museum.

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The southern side of Florence, across the Arno, is stunning. Here’s a view overlooking the city.

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We walked downhill from that stunning view into the center of Florence, stopping for a picnic in a rose garden.

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And walking across the Arno from the Ponte Vecchio bridge, which was both stunning and very crowded.
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On the way back to our AirBnB, we learned that the inspiration for Pinocchio came from a small wooden toy store called Bartolucci, which made for a great stop in the old city.

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Here is a photo of the historic workshop.

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By far, the highlight of our time in Florence was a workshop in pizza and gelato making. Here’s Maddie forming her pizza dough, which is far simpler to make than I had imagined.

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Once the pizzas were being prepared in the oven, we took a break to make gelato, which Ada loved.

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Here’s Ada with her Pizza creation, which is “super yum.”

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Finally,  on the advice of a work colleague, we took a day trip to Siena, which was a great idea. After taking about a dozen escalators from the train station to the outskirts of the historic town, you walk into the center of Siena, which is totally car free.

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The city itself is beautiful, and the girls loved running around the Piazza del Campo in the middle of the town.

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Later in the day, we enjoyed touring the Duomo, and learning more about the various wars between Siena and Florence. Here’s a pic of Duomo from the outside:

And the ceiling inside:

Italy Part 2- Pompeii

During our time in Rome, we decided to take one day to visit Pompeii. I wasn’t quite sure if the two hour trip to Pompeii from Rome would be worth it but because two friends of mine said it was their favorite part of Italy and because Maddie had just studied Pompeii in school, we decided to take the time to visit, and I am so glad we did. On the day we left for Pompeii, we ended up arriving at the train station about half an hour before the train we had reserved and were lucky to be able to change our ticket to an earlier train for free in what turned out to be a first-class cabin! This meant our first train ride in Italy on the fast train from Rome to Naples was luxurious with free snacks, drinks, and nice seats in a quiet cabin.

Once we got to Pompeii, we met up with our tour guide who was incredibly knowledgeable, but unfortunately, wasn’t great with children which meant John and I had to find ways to entice and engage Maddie to follow along on the tour (or just let them play in the streets of Pompeii).

We also had to remind both girls multiple times that Mount Vesuvius wasn’t going to erupt during our visit. Below is a picture of me pointing out Mount Vesuvius to Ada and another one of our family in the forum at Pompeii in front of the Mountain.

After talking about Mount Vesuvius, of the first stops on our tour was the area where the pottery from Pompeei was stored. When archeologists dug up Pompeii, there were areas in the layers of volcanic debris that was completely hollow. They soon realized that they were hollow because that is where Romans or animals who hadn’t been able to escape had been buried. They were able to recreate their final resting poses by filling in the empty spaces with plaster. These were the most touching parts of our tour:

Aside from seeing these plaster casts, my favorite part of Pompeii was learning about how Roman’s lived in AD 79 when Pompeii erupted. I loved seeing the intricate tilework on the floor of a wealthy Roman home and the decorations preserved on the walls of this Roman laundry business:

I also loved this motif which was in front of a Roman temple:

It was also neat to find out how public fountains were created. Below Maddie and Ada were able to put their hands on the portion of the stone fountain worn down by Roman hands almost two thousands years ago.

I also was reminded how deeply patriarchal Romans were. Roman women had no power. They could not vote and were deemed property of their husbands or fathers. In this theatre (and most in Rome), women were required to stand in the upper sections while men were able to sit in the seats. No wonder we still have so many problems today with gender equity when this society had so much influence on the western world!

Overall, it was a great day trip from Rome and one of the more educational days of our year abroad.

Italy Part 1: Rome

Maddie and Ada’s school has a two week Easter break, and so we decided to use it to visit Italy. In addition to all the usual planning of AirBnB’s and train schedules, we agreed on one rule for our trip—”Ice Cream Every Day,” and I’m proud to say that we lived by that rule so well, and enjoyed the ice cream so much, that I don’t have any photos as evidence.

When we left Oslo, it was still jacket weather, with temperatures hovering around 40°F, and we arrived in Italy with temperatures between 50°-60°F. Maddie and Ada have now fully acclimated as Norwegians, so they declared themselves “super hot” and wanted to wear as little clothing as possible once we arrived.

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We spent the first five days of our trip to Rome with a side trip to Pompeii. It’s hard not to be impressed by the Roman civilization after visiting both Rome and Pompeii.

Our first day was spent visiting the Colosseum where we were all impressed (and horrified) by imagining gladiators fighting each other. Maddie and Ada were especially interested in the elevator the Romans engineered to carry animals into the arena. Here is a picture of Maddie and Ada after a nice picnic in the shadow of the Colosseum:

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and us once we entered (after an interminable line despite our “fast pass”- so many tourists!)

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Just outside the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine which was erected in AD 315 to commemorate Constantine’s victory over the previous Roman Emperor Maxentius.

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Our next day was spent exploring the Roman Forum, a plaza surrounded by the ruins of government buildings from ancient Rome. Maddie and Ada are pictured here in front of the Basilica of Constantine, a Roman hall of Justice.

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Here they are in front of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Zeus and Leda, built in 484 BC.

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Ada posing near some ruins in Palatine hill, where wealthy ancient Romans lived and where Romulus and Remus were raised by a wolf before founding Rome:

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After visiting the Forum, we headed to the Capitoline Museum where Maddie fell in love with the kids audio tour (which meant she urged us to stay at the museum for more than 2 hours so she could finish it!) Below is a picture of Maddie listening to her audio tour in front of a statue depicting twins Romelus and Remus:

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And here they are posing in front of a fountain of Poseidon at the museum. Like, Greece, Maddie loved seeing depictions of all the Greek Gods she learned about in class.  

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And here is another view of the Roman Forum from the balcony of the museum:

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That evening was spent eating dinner, enjoying the fountains and watching street artists perform in the Piazza Navona:

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The next day we decided to take part of Rick Steves’s walking tour through Rome to Villa Borghese. On the way, we saw the Pantheon, a former temple for all the gods, converted into a church. Erected in 126 AD, the Pantheon’s domed interior, the first of its kind, was copied by later architects for many places of worship.

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We also passed by the famous Trevi Fountain where Maddie and Ada tossed a coin over their shoulder because they want to come back to Rome:

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and ended in the park where we enjoyed a beautiful view of Rome:

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Got to see a water clock:

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Ride a carousel:

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Attend a Gelato Festival (!):

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and take a tour of the park with a super cool motorized bike/golf cart:

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The next day, we toured the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. Both were amazing but would have been even more amazing had we not had to contend with the crowds of tourists. Maddie and Ada both loved their audio tour though:

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but were not as impressed with the long line to see the Sistine Chapel:

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Our five days in Rome left us feeling like there was much more to explore in this amazing city, with countless historical sites and gelaterias waiting to welcome us back.

New World Cuisine

As I mentioned in this post, I’ve joined an International Women’s Club of Oslo and have really enjoyed getting to know a group of women from all over the world. This year I’ve participated in the walking group, the Explore Oslo group, and the New World Cuisine group. New World Cuisine, one of my favorite activities, is a monthly lunch get together where one woman hosts a group of 6 to 8 at her house and we learn how to make a recipe from their home country. I’ve learned how to make lamb casserole, fondant and mascarpone cake from a french woman; hungarian dumplings, lentil soup, and a zucchini quiche from a woman from Slovakia;  cheese, zucchini, and chocolate souffles from another french woman; and alu posto (potato in poppy seed paste), chholar dal and chicken rezala from a woman from East India. I also had the opportunity to host a group at our apartment in late March which was so much fun (though surprisingly stressful). We made a NYtimes Chili recipe, brown butter corn bread and my mom’s blue berry pie. Here’s a link to the recipes and a few photos from our time together:

I have truly been grateful for the opportunity to connect with and learn from so many interesting women from all around the world this year.

Winter highlights

Wow, and just like that, January, February, and March (and April—post coming soon) have flown by, and winter is becoming a distant memory. The big mountains of snow have turned into small piles gravel, and we are noticing flowers just starting to bloom everywhere along our walk to school. I want to write more about how wonderful the Norwegian winter was, but for now, I just need to share some photos showing we didn’t freeze to death.

Ada’s birthday happened in mid January, and she is thrilled to be FOUR!
She celebrated at school with cake, a visit from her big sister, and watching Peppa Pig with her classmates.

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Here’s a video of part of the celebration at school

and at home:

Here Diana and I are headed out for our first cross country skiing experience in the field across from the girls’ school.

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One T-Bane stop away from us is an enormous ice skating rink that is free on weekends. We managed to pick up some cheap used ice skates at a Loppemarked back in the fall, so it was fun to them to use a few times—carrying 4 helmets and 4 pairs of skates in a big Ikea shopping bag with Ada on my shoulders, however, was not so fun.

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There are “penguins” at the rink for the girls (and me) to learn to skate.
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Sledding everywhere—this was in a park in central Oslo. Ada is riding on a “bum-board” which many children bring with them to school everyday.
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Maddie lost her two front teeth on the same day!

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Going out for a family ski in the park across the street from the school. The girls took lessons at their school, and I was amazed at how quickly they improved and learned to love skiing.

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We also went to Disney on Ice as a belated celebration for Ada’s birthday, which the girls really loved (even though all the Disney Song’s were in Norwegian).
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We all had a great time having dinner with new friends from Denmark in February. Here is Ada swimming at her friend Nikoline’s swimming pool:

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We went to an Outdoor Winter Festival at Sognsvann organized by the Norwegian Trekking Association.

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Below is a pic of us roasting pinnebrød, a sweet doughy Norwegian camping bread, on a stick over a fire. Recipe (in Norwegian) below.

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I was thrilled to have two former advisees stop by in February for a visit—unfortunately I completely forgot to get a picture with Holley, but here’s one of Yousaf with Ada on his shoulders.

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After we got back from Greece, we made a trip to the top of the Opera House before we saw Sour Angelica (for $12 a seat!), a truly depressing Opera about a nun who was forced into the convent by her family after having an illegitimate child and who ultimately commits suicide. Before the show, we went up on top of the opera house, and as you can see, most of the snow has melted.

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Ada and Maddie manage to turn their environment into a playground. Here’s ada sliding down one of the interior walls of the Operahuset

Here’s Ada, Maddie, and her friend Barrett sliding down the big snow pile at their school on March 1. The school does not put salt on the playground but instead spreads gravel to prevent kids from slipping.

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For most of the winter, the playground looked like this (as you can see there usually wasn’t enough gravel to make much of a difference):

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March did bring a couple more big snowfalls—with snow that was just perfect for making giant rolls of snow. (It was too cold in January and February for sticky snow.)

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The winter was also filled with birthday parties. Here is a pic of Ada and her friends at her best friend Kiana’s birthday party. These girls hail from Malaysia, Japan, Iran, Denmark, Ecuador, Norway, and the US.9d2a8a8b-5867-403c-aca5-110b8237003b

On Wednesdays this winter, Maddie and Ada took downhill skiing lessons at the Oslo Vinterpark. I think Ada is just the cutest in her snowsuit and ski skole vest.

And here they are just a couple of weeks later

As Diana mentioned in this post, we went down Korkatrekkeren in mid-March, a 10-minute sled ride in Oslo. Here is a video of Diana at the start of the ride.

Here is a pic of Ada and Maddie on story book character day. Maddie decided to dress up as Roald Dahl’s Matilda and Ada decided to be a princess.

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Below is a pic of Maddie’s class on that day. There was a school wide contest and Maddie’s class won. They got popcorn and were shown a movie “Fantastic Mr. Fox” to celebrate.

Book Week Dress-up

In mid-March, Diana helped organize a cross-country ski day for Ada’s preschool. 34 preschoolers, lots of parents and teachers cross country skiied across a frozen lake and grilled hot dogs before returning back to school. It was the last day the class went skiing because soon after there was not enough snow to ski.

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Ada got a medal at the end of the trip which she was proud of. According to this article, Norwegian’s do a better job that the US at making all sports as fun as possible for kids regardless of ability for most of their childhood which is why they do so well at the Winter Olympics.

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Around the same time, Maddie went on a field trip to the Freia Chocolate Factory with her class. During the winter, her class learned about the history and science of chocolate. They read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and learned about bar charts (by doing a chocolate taste test). The unit concluded with a much anticipated trip to the Chocolate Factory. Below is a pic of Maddie with the chocolate she made.

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On Friday, March 21, we participated in “School Strike for Climate” in Oslo in front of the Norwegian Parliament.

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The strike was inspired by Greta Thunberg in nearby Sweden. There were 20,000 demonstrators in Oslo and 40,000 in all of Norway!

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With the International Women’s Club of Oslo, we toured Stortinget, Norway’s Parliament. Our tour guide commented how impressed she was with all the children striking for climate the Friday before we toured Parliament. Touring Parliament also made us feel like Norwegian’s democracy is healthier than our own (they had enough votes to make substantial changes their constitution as recently as 2014!)

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Ada is now taking dance classes with her friends from a ballerina from DNBS, the Norwegian Ballet School and Academy.

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First sign of spring (on March 30).

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We got a free visit to the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History one Sunday in late March and were especially impressed with the interior of this stave church.

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We also visited Bogstad Farm, got a tour of their Manor House (which we didn’t understand because it was in Norwegian), learned how to card and spin wool, and saw lots of farm animals.

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At the end of March, both Maddie and Ada got free annual check ups at the dentist in Norway. During Ada’s check up, we were reminded to avoid eating too much sugar (though eating candy only on weekends – a Norwegian tradition, was definitely ok). Also, this is Ada’s “official photo pose”—if you’re lucky enough to get her to decide to allowe herself be photographed. Most of the time, she just turns her back and hides from the camera.

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Hosting Friends in Norway and a visit to Iceland

During the month of February and March, John and I have been so grateful to have so many friends visit us. In February, two of John’s former advisees from St. Andrew’s, Yousaf and Holly, came to visit us which we all enjoyed. Holly took a detour from her vacation in Spain to visit us for a full day. Yousaf, who was headed to study abroad in Australia came for almost a full week.

Yousaf and John standing in front of the Oslo Opera House.

In March, I had three friends visit! For the past few years, it seems, I haven’t had the time as a working mom to enjoy really long visits with friends or even keep in touch with many of them and I am just utterly grateful that I had the time to explore Oslo with all of them. I am also grateful that they chose to spend their time (and money) and brave the flight to Norway (and our cold winter) to visit us!

Mary Lewis, a good friend of mine from Davidson, who has decided to continue living in France for the year came to visit a second time for a long weekend in early March. We hiked round-trip 7 miles from a metro stop to Ullevalseter, a small cafe hidden in the Marka Forest in Oslo. I was a little nervous hiking in the snow but with ice cleats and poles, we ended up having a wonderful time.

We also went ice skating in Frogner park and went to a small house concert hosted by a friend whose daughter is in Maddie’s class. Trina Sojourn, a biracial singer from Baltimore, played and sang for about 25 of us in my friend’s living room. Here is a pic of her at the house concert and a clip of her performing in Norway on “The View.”

Molly, my friend for over 25 years (!) came to visit for a week just after Mary Lewis. We enjoyed downhill skiing and cross country skiing together;

eating Norwegian food and hiking in Bekkestua, and in the Marka forest;

marching for women’s rights and climate change on International Woman’s Day with Greenpeace (where I’ve been volunteering once a week this year);

exploring downtown Oslo; and exploring a museum about the Norwegian explorations to the Antarctic where we saw the “Fram” which Roald Amundsen took with him when he became the first man to reach the South Pole

I was actually hoping to take both Molly and Mary Lewis on Korketrekkeren, this amazing long (10 minutes!) sled ride in Oslo. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough snow on the run for either of their visits. So, a few days after Molly left back to the states and after a good snow fall, John and I leapt at the chance to go down together. Here are a few pics of our run:


Mimi, a good friend of mine from graduate school and my first job at Navigant ended up visiting next from California. We also went downhill skiing, explored Vigelland Park, and then we took this amazing 4-day trip to Iceland. (Many thanks to John who took care of the kids for 5 days!) Iceland is an amazing and somewhat otherworldly place to visit with breathtaking natural sites just minutes from a nearby parking lot on Ring Road or the Golden Circle. I also noticed a lot of similarities in food, language, and culture to Norway due to their common Viking heritage. Below are a few pics from our trip:

In Þingvellir National Park, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates collide
Stokkur Geysir which erupts every 10 minutes in Geysir Iceland (where the word Geysir originated)
Seeing the Northern Lights at 1AM in Geysir Iceland! (since our hotel woke us up, we even got sleep that night!)
Gulfoss Falls near Geysir Iceland- this waterfall carries 7 times more water than Niagara Falls!
Diamond Beach, Iceland (icebergs wash up on shore from a nearby melting glacier which is receding by 1 foot a day thanks to climate change)
Hiking Vatnajökull Glacier, Europe’s largest glacier, which is also receding because of climate change
Eldraun Lava Field, a moss covered field of lava that came from the eruption of Laki in 1783
Learning about Geothermal Energy at a Geothermal Plant in Iceland. 70% of Iceland’s electricity is hydro and 30% is geothermal which means they get all their energy from renewable energy. This particular plant was developing a technology to turn CO2 into rock. Iceland’s electricity rates are also among the cheapest in the developing world and they also get almost all their hot water inexpensively from geothermal energy.

As you can see, we had an amazing time. John ended up having an adventure in Sweden with the girls while I was gone which I’m sure he will post about soon. John and I are also looking forward to hosting even more friends and family in May!

A Week in Greece

During Maddie and Ada’s week-long February break from school, we chose to rebook our vacation to Greece. This past summer, we had intended to visit as a family so I could volunteer with refugees for this amazing Norwegian organization called “Drapen i Havet.” Instead, I spent those two weeks in the hospital with my mother in Atlanta who is, fortunately, doing much better. Because Maddie and Ada’s winter break was only one week long, I couldn’t volunteer in February (they require volunteers to work a minimum of 10 days) but we were able to tour the country as a family. It turns out that unlike July, the weather in Greece in February (50-60F and mostly sunny) was perfect. We were also lucky that Maddie had just finished a month-long unit in school on Greek Myths which we supplemented at home by reading D’Aulaire’s entire “Book of Greek Myths” which, by the way, is an amazing way to introduce children to ancient Greek mythology.

To get Maddie and Ada excited about our trip, we watched a few travel videos about Athens, Delphi, and Hydra, the three main places we would visit. Their favorite video by far though was this street food tour of Athens which showed up on the YouTube “next” feed. Maddie and Ada loved learning about Greek food beforehand and were even more excited about tasting it when we arrived.

We spent our first and second day in Greece enjoying the amazingly cheap Greek food (when compared to Norway!) and visiting the absolutely incredible Acropolis Museum and fascinating Archaeology Museum. The Acropolis museum which was located close to our Airbnb is seen here from one of the pedestrian only streets in Athens.

Maddie and Ada enjoyed the children’s activities provided by the Acropolis museum. Ada loved finding all the different kinds of animals in the museum and Maddie enjoyed finding all the Greek gods.

Maddie loved seeing sculptures depicting all of the Greek myths we had been reading about. On the left is Maddie with a smaller version of the East Pediment statues made for the Parthenon of all 12 Greek gods witnessing the birth of Athena. On the right, Maddie is below one of the original statues on the East Pediment of Hestia, Artemis (aka Diana, my namesake) and Aphrodite.

I had recently finished a book called the “Parthenon Enigma” which explored the meaning behind this specific frieze which I was excited to see in person:

According to the book, the youngest person in the center image is the King Erechtheus’s youngest daughter getting ready to change into ceremonial robes so she can be sacrificed to save Athens from losing a major battle. The Greek gods are seen seated to the right and left of the family and are looking away because they do not enjoy watching mortals die. Before the ceremony, her sisters, standing on the left with the ceremonial robes balanced on their heads, had made a pact to die together. So after their sister is sacrificed, the two sisters jumped off the hill of the Acropolis together. They are glorified in the ancient play “The Erechtheion”  as the perfect Athenian women because they sacrificed themselves for their city. Their mother becomes the first priestess of the Acropolis near where her husband is buried (also called the Erechtheion) and her three daughters are buried in the Temple dedicated to Athena and named after the maidens (the Parthenon).

My favorite takeaway from the Acropolis Museum was the museum’s argument for the return of the missing Parthenon sculptures currently displayed in the British Museum. The British Museum bought them from Lord Elgin who stole them from Greece in the 1800s and has argued that they shouldn’t be returned to Greece for their safety. The Acropolis museum, a beautiful and incredibly safe museum is Greece’s reply.

The next day we visited the Archaeology museum and saw even more Greek Gods including a small replica of the statue of Athena that was originally in the Parthenon. (The original was 38 feet tall!)

Our third day in Greece, we wandered through the Monastiraki flea market,

ate lunch at a wonderful Souvlaki restaurant recommended by a friend,

and visited more Ancient Greek structures including the Acropolis. Below is the amazing Theater of Dionysus which seats 17,000 which you can view as you head up to the Parthenon. On our trip, we learned that the Greeks, which created the concept of drama and theater, also invented the amphitheater. Evidently ancient Greek amphitheaters like the one pictured had perfect acoustics which I think is incredible.

The Parthenon was of course spectacular. Below is a selfie of our family in front:

Maddie was so taken with the structure that she decided to sketch the Parthenon in her journal which she wrote in every day during our trip:

Ada has for a while now has refused to let us take her picture but after seeing the Parthenon decided that with the right pose, pictures were tolerable:

After visiting the main ancient sites and museums in Athens, we decided to take a day trip to Delphi. The Ancient Greeks believed Delphi, located a few hours north of Athens was the center of the world. There they built the Temple of Apollo where the Priestess’s of the Temple, also known as Pythia’s, gave prophecies to Greek leaders for over 500 years (evidently under the influence of methane which seeped into the Temple from a geological fault below). As you can see in the photos below, Delphi is a beautiful place to visit. Below is the Temple of Apollo and a few pictures near it:

After visiting the remains of the Temple, we saw many original sculptures in a nearby Museum. My favorite was the Sphinx which was placed to keep watch over the large treasure stored near the Temple.

Maddie and Ada’s favorite part of our trip was playing with a new Greek friend at one of the local restaurants in Delphi.

On the way back to Athens we stopped to get a picture of this mountain town where Athenians live when they go skiing at a nearby mountain in the winter. Stray cats, like the one posing below, were ubiquitous in Greece and were very much appreciated by our animal-loving daughters.

After Delphi, we left for Hydra, a beautiful Greek island a 2-hour boat ride from the city. Hydra, as I mentioned in this post, is car-free which was a welcome change from the busy car congested Athen streets. There the kids loved playing on the beach, eating ice cream, feeding the stray cats, and taking long walks through town and around the Island. Below is a picture of Ada with one of the many donkey’s on the island- the main form of transportation:

The harbor at Hydra:

Maddie and Ada playing on the beach on a day when the high was 55F. Coming from Norway, 55F felt very warm to us and so Maddie and Ada refused to wear coats and insisted on playing in the cold Mediterranean ocean. I think at least 3 Greek mothers asked me whether my children should wear more clothes during our vacation in Greece. A Greek man who went swimming in the ocean while Maddie and Ada were playing on the beach mentioned that Greek children wear a lot of layers in this kind of weather.

Here is a picture of Ada running down the car-free streets:

After two nights in Hydra, we reluctantly headed back to Athens for our long flight home. We decided to end our trip by eating dinner at a restaurant on top of Lycabettus Hill in Athens which gave us the opportunity to say goodbye to this incredible country.