Spring into Summer

Here’s a menagerie of highlights and activities from April, May and June that didn’t make it into our other posts:

In early April, the water returned to the fountain outside our local shopping center, which made for the perfect wading pool.

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On May 1st, we took the ferry from Oslo to Hovedøya, a beautiful island in the middle of the Oslo fjord where the kids played on the beach and tried to swim in the freezing cold water.
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We participated in the national beach cleanup day in Sandvika, and Maddie and Ada were awesome at spotting some crazy trash in the water, including one old tire caked in mud.

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In late May, the flowers were really in bloom.
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Random market day in Bekkestua where the kids got their face painted for free

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and rode on some robot animals

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Doing an experiment with gummie bears (courtesy of Ana Gabela):

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One of the great things about this year was spending one day each week on a “date day”, and for our 2nd to last date day, we chose to walk the Akerhus river, through the center of Oslo.

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It’s a beautiful 8km walk, that includes some spectacular rapids.

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For our last date day, we toured the Oscarshall, the royal summer palace—That’s Oslo in the background.

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Maddie’s spring concert school

Maddie’s piano recital

In June, John’s boss had us over for a traditional Norwegian waffle brunch, and the girls loved playing on their trampoline, which you’ll find in just about every Norwegian backyard. IMG 6662

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The next day, we explored the Oslo waterfront one last time, taking a short boat ride from one side to the other, which gave Ada the chance to make many faces. Also notice the blanket in June—temperatures were in the low 50s. 

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Joh and Ada on the boat:

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A few days before the end of school, we got to see the local professional soccer team, the Stabæk football club, play at the stadium right behind the girls’ school. Unfortunately, Stabæk lost, but we had a good time cheering them on. 

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A mother in Ada’s preschool who is from Finland but had been living in Singapore offered a thump boxing class for school parents. Diana was able to attend the thump boxing class once a week throughout the year and had a great time getting to know other moms and learning how to box (though she was sore after almost every class!)

Diana also ran up the steps of the famous Oslo Holmenkollen ski jump with a few other moms from the school on a spring day (and was again very sore afterward!)

Ada was so glad that it was warm enough to ride her scooter again:

Sweden…and back again

Back in April, when Diana went to Iceland for the weekend with her friend Mimi, I decided to be adventurous and take Maddie and Ada on a weekend trip to Stockholm.

We left right after school for a six hour train ride to Stockholm. Here are Ada and Maddie about 4 hours into the train ride, somewhere around their usual bedtime.

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And here they are around 11 at night on a Friday when we finally arrived at our AirBnB

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We stayed in an apartment in a beautiful 400 year old building right in the middle of Gamla Stan, the historic heart of Stockholm.

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Of course, the first thing we did was go and see the Nobel Prize Museum.
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We spent most of our time searching for artifacts from Marie Curie, but the girls did complete a cute “Road to My Own Nobel Prize” activity…
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Which did lead to a (chocolate) Nobel Prize

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For lunch, we had the traditional Swedish meatballs,

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followed by ice cream (blueberry lavender flavor).

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We took a ferry over to Junibacken, a great kids play area themed around Swedish children’s stories, and the girls played on a sledding simulator that let you pretend you were going down a long and winding sled run.

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Shortly after our adventure at Junibaken, Ada started to complain that her tummy hurt, and Maddie was weary from all of the walking. We made it back to our AirBnB, and I thought we’d try for dinner nearby after a short rest. Unfortunately, just as we got to the restaurant around the corner, with me carrying Ada, she began to tap on my shoulder as I inquired about a table. When I looked at Ada, I saw her hand was over her mouth, and so we quickly ran from the restaurant, getting out the front door just in time for her to throw up over me and her just outside the front steps of the restaurant.

And so we trudged back to our AirBnB to got cleaned up, ordered some Chinese food on delivery, and capped the evening with some videos.

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On Sunday, we went to the National Museum of Science and Technology in Stockholm, before catching a 3 hour train followed by a 3 hour bus ride back.

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All in all it was a great trip, and reminded me that Maddie and Ada are becoming very good traveling companions, and that I should stay open to last minute adventures.

For much of this spring, we’ve been thinking about what to do for a final trip after the girls completed school. At first, we wanted to visit Lofoten, a beautiful part of northern Norway, but all our research seemed to indicate that it would be pretty hard to see all that we wanted to see without a car. And, in order to drive in Norway, we would need to complete the very expensive and difficult driving test, which didn’t seem worth it.

So, we decided to make a return to Sweden, this time to revisit Stockholm with Diana, but also to see Midsomer, the Swedish celebration of the summer solstice.

After Maddie and Ada finished school on June 20, we took a bus to Karlstad, Sweden, and rented a car—a tiny Volkswagen Golf with a manual transmission. Even though I’ve loved not driving for the past year, it was nice to get behind the wheel of a car again. It was way less nice when filling up a little more than half a tank of gas. Roughly 25 liters of gas (about 6 gallons) cost us nearly 50 dollars! It made me very glad we had abandoned our original idea of renting a campervan and driving around Sweden.

Our first destination was just outside the town of Leksand, in the Dalarna region, which is home to “real Sweden” everyone told us, and the place everyone goes to celebrate Midsomer. And they were right—Dalarna is beautiful. Everywhere along the roads you see beautiful pink, and purple wildflowers, and this was the view outside our hotel window.

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The big celebration of Midsomer takes place in the afternoon on the Solstice, and centers around decorating a maypole, and then heaving it up into standing position in an intricate process using several pairs of long wooden sticks and lots of people.

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Once the pole is lifted, everyone dances around it to Swedish folk music.

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This process takes a while, and it involves a lot of instructions in Swedish, so Maddie and Ada weren’t so thrilled that we saw 3 maypoles being hoisted on Midsomer weekend, including one children sized one that Ada helped to decorate.

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Adults and children (boys and girls) also wear crowns out of wildflowers, and here is Ada, somewhat reluctantly modeling the crown Diana made for her.

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At our last May pole hoisting, Maddie and Ada really just wanted to run around and play.

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Dalarna is also famous for the Dela Horse, a red wooden horse hand painted in folk designs that has become a national symbol of Sweden. We spent an afternoon visiting a factory for these horses and painting our own versions.

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We also visited Sommarland, a small amusement park near Lekesand. Like the amusement park in Lillihammer we visited, Sommarland was more low key, and seems to operate under the principle of providing fairly unstructured opportunities for kids to have fun. In this case, there was a small 1.5 foot deep lake in the middle of the park, and boats of all types—canoes, kayaks, paddleboat for kids to just take out. There was also a BMX bike course set up, and kids (or adults) could just borrow a bike and take it out on the course. There are also plenty of water slides. The 60°F temperatures didn’t seem to bother most kids, but after about 20 minutes of splashing around in the kiddie pool, Maddie and Ada decided they were cold, and so we spend most of the rest of our day doing activities on land, like jumping on a giant inflatable air bag.

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And driving small electric vehicles around a kid-sized city. The awesome thing here was that kids were basically free to use these vehicles for as long as they liked, taking turns when another child comes around wanting to drive—no queues or timers necessary.

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And here’s Ada on the bungee trampoline, which she loved

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Followed by a dive into a big air bag

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Following these adventures in the heart of Sweden, we drove to Stockholm, and one of the first things I noticed was how compact the city is. When we were half an hour from our hotel in the center of Stockholm, we were still on a four lane highway, passing farms on both sides of the road. I’ve noticed the same thing in Oslo, too, and am told that the forest line is almost sacred in Oslo, and there are many regulations to combat city sprawl.

One of our first stops was a playground in a local park in central Stockholm. They had these amazing tricycles that kids could add trailers to in all sorts of configurations. They also had people working at the playground who were constantly organizing toys and games for the kids.

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We also visited Skansen, an incredible open air cultural museum, zoo and amusement park, all in one. You can tour complete historic Swedish farmhouses and villages from different time periods. When we arrived, a flock of sheep were being herded down one of the roads, and Ada followed them all the way back to her pen.

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Here is Ada in the zoo part, looking through a plastic bubble at a rabbit exhibit.

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We also visited the Royal Armory, which presented a good history of the Swedish monarchy, and some very beautiful carriages.

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On the way to the Armory, we also made a visit back to where Ada threw up on our last trip to Stockholm.

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Stockholm has a small butterfly museum/shark exhibit that we visited one morning. Here are Maddie and Ada admiring the emerging butterflies.

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On our last day in Stockholm, we boarded a ferry with the intent to spend the day visiting the island of Grinda, but the the Ferry announcements were so hard to understand and the port stops were so brief, that we missed the stop for Grinda, and decided to get off at the next stop, Karklö, which turned out to be a nearly unpopulated island that only got ferry service twice a day.

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Karklö was beautiful, and made for a great day hike.

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We also found a bunch of fresh blueberries along the trail.

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And a very pretty coastline.

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Luckily, we made the last ferry back to Stockholm which was good because were scheduled to head back to Oslo for our final few days in Norway the following morning.

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Norway is tempting us to stay

If there’s one thing that we’ve struggled with in Norway, it’s that shops are closed on Sundays. For us, this means every Saturday, we have to think about what we are going to have for all of our Sunday meals, and what we will pack for Maddie and Ada’s lunch, which usually entails going to the grocery store late on a Saturday night after the girls are asleep. It’s also meant that we have to plan our travel to come back on Saturday, as the one time we came back on a Sunday to an empty pantry, we struggled with finding something to eat.

Really, I’ve come to think the perfect country is Norway, with reasonable shopping hours.

But then today, I saw this on the grocery store under our apartment. First cool thing to note is that every store posts their hours in big letters on their sign. The new part is that Søn 9-21, which I’m certain was put up this morning.

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It turns out that it is legal for stores to be open on Sundays, so long as they are less than 100 square meters in size—our local Narvesen (something like a 7-11) is open for a few hours on Sunday.

Now here’s the amazing part—our full service grocery store beneath our apartment is way bigger than 100 square meters (though nothing like an American grocery store), but all this spring, they’ve been doing a massive renovation—removing the post office, replacing most of the cashiers with automatic checkouts, and I’ve been wondering why they’ve been housing stuff in a closet off to the side of the store. It turns out—that’s no closet, it’s the Sunday store—complete with it’s on freezer case, vegetable stand, pant machine(recycling station) and candy bins.

This is what the store normally looks like during the week:

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But on Sunday, the store now closes off the main store with garage doors,
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And leads you to a small, three-aisle store that has an even smaller selection than the already small selection of the main store, just for Sundays.

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And there you have it—the first grocery store open in our town on weekends! I can’t imagine the logistical hassle of running a store just for Sundays within a store—moving fruit back and milk back to the regular store on Monday mornings so that it doesn’t go bad. But I’m glad that I got to experience Sunday shopping in Norway, if only for one day. If we don’t happen to make it back, it’s a pretty good assumption that the availability of Grandosia frozen pizza, one of the most popular foods in Norway, in our basement was just too tempting to leave. Truly, I’m embarrassed to admit just how much this commercial for frozen pizza is hitting me in the feels right now.

A Mystery Solved

A long time ago, I wrote about a mystery, wondering what these things were that I saw embedded in the ground at Maddie and Ada’s school and around the UiO campus:

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I’m pleased to say that thanks to the wonderful people in the New to Oslo Facebook group, I have an answer and a few funny replies. It’s a snow sensor—when snow falls on the two interlaced coils, it completes a circuit and activates the heating elements embedded in the sidewalk.

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I must also say that Facebook groups like New to Oslo have been invaluable in helping adapt to life in Norway—from navigating the ins and outs of the Norwegian banking system to giving us ideas for fun things to do around Oslo, and making us feel like part of a smaller community in a foreign land.

Celebrating May 17: Norway’s National Day, the greatest holiday of them all

Norway takes its holidays seriously. Even though Norway feels quite secular—2% of Norwegians regularly attend church, and more than half say they do not believe in God. Still, Christmas and Easter are huge deals here—shops close for multiple days, and everyone goes all out to celebrate. We’ve discovered a handful of other holidays associated with Lutheran church—Ascension Day, and Whit Monday that get the full Norwegian Holiday treatment—everything closes, and Norwegians observe the day by going out into nature. But by far, the biggest holiday of them all is Norwegian Constitution Day, the 17th of May (17 Mai in Norwegian). The government begins preparing for this day in early April. As the snow has mostly melted from sidewalks and roadways, they begin a mammoth clean up operation to pick up all of the gravel that is spread over roads and walkways for traction. This is followed by a massive country wide beautification effort tending to gardens along roads and the like. The 17th of May recognizes the day when the Norwegian Constitution was signed in in 1814 after Denmark gave up control of the country, declaring Norway to be an independent kingdom, only to be taken over by Sweden a few months later. A few years later in 1821, a member of the Parliament designed the current Norwegian flags to reflect the country’s close ties to both Sweden (the blue stripe) and Denmark (the red field). As an aside, I’ve found learning about Norwegian and Scandinavian history to truly fascinating. For much of its history, Norway has been a rather poor country fought over and ruled by its neighbors, Denmark and Sweden, and despite this, was able to negotiate a peaceful dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905 and a subsequent national vote to invite Denmark’s Prince Carl to serve as king, who changed his name to Haakon VII, a common name for kings in Norway in the medieval ages. Back to celebrating the 17th of May. As the day approaches, it becomes the talk of the office. It’s clear that Norwegians genuinely want everyone to enjoy their National day, and so we got a lot of advice for what to do. The centerpiece of the Norwegian National Day are parades of school children. Every barnehage (pre-school) in Norway holds a small parade where children dress in traditional dress, the Bunad (more about that later), and walk around their school grounds. Older children participate in parades in every town in Norway, with the largest parade taking place in Oslo. Norwegians are very proud that their parades on constitution day feature children, and not the military, and this will inevitably be the topic of conversation at some point during the day with a stranger. Maddie and Ada’s school had an outdoor assembly on the day before to celebrate 17th of May. Here’s a photo of all the children with Norwegian flags. IMG 5957 Ada’s teacher happened to have a bunad in Ada’s size, which she wore when her class celebrated May 17th the day before as you can see in the video below:
Not wanting Maddie to feel left out, Diana and I searched on Finn.no (the craigslist of Norway) to find a used Bunad in her size, and I was able to pick it up from a wonderful Norwegian couple at 11pm at night, who took extra time to iron the dress and gave me more tips on what to do the next day. When we woke up on the 17th of May, Ada and Maddie got dressed in their bunad and Diana and I got dressed in our regular causal clothes. We boarded a bus bound for central Oslo (notice that all the buses are decorated with tiny Norwegian flags). IMG 5969 The bus was nearly packed, and aside from Diana and I, everyone was either in bunad, or a suit with tie. This remains the only time I’ve ever seen Norwegians wear a tie—not even on a few formal occasions when I’ve been at UiO is it customary to wear ties. We walked to the Royal Palace grounds so we could see the children’s parade pass by Palace while the royal family dutifully waved to the children. Almost everyone watching the parade was also wearing bunad which was pretty amazing. Below is a pic of Maddie and Ada in downtown Oslo:
Here are a few photos from the parade itself: IMG 5990 IMG 6001 IMG 6017 IMG 6040 IMG 6050 After celebrating May 17th in downtown Oslo, we headed to a friend’s house with other families from OIS, then we joined the children’s parade in Bekkestua which is called “blomstertog” because the children give out flowers (blomster) to the people watching the parade (tog). You can see all of us in the parade around the 29 second mark below:
The other big traditions for the 17th of May are eating hot dogs (polse), waffles and ice cream, which I’m happy to say we did in abundance. Truly, this is one of the most joyful national holidays I’ve ever experienced.

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 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.