A day beneath Vesuvius

We entered Naples by train and caught the local circumvesuviana train to Pompei Scavia.

The crowds were somewhat lightened by the time we arrived in the afternoon, though the heat of the August sun made us grateful for shade whenever we found it. The size of the site is significant. It is a full city that was buried in ash, so it covers several square miles, with hundreds of streets. Not all building are equally well preserved, and many of the first excavated houses were stripped of their wall paintings in the 18th century. Despite the dust, several of the homes look as they did when they were last used in August of 79 AD. The courtyard gardens in many homes have been replanted using clues from the seeds and landscaping that were found beneath the ash. The market, street side restaurants, temples, theatre and baths are also able to be viewed.

It is an odd feeling to walk through someone’s living room, bedroom and garden to see the way they had decorated their home in the latest style of wall painting. I wonder what people would say walking through my old house.

Boy was interested in the first street, but quickly tired. He wasn’t all that sure that Vesuvius wouldn’t erupt again, and was quite happy to leave.

Our schoolbooks:

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The streets of Pompeii

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A house interior

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On to Greece

Flying out of Venice, the weather cleared and we didn’t expect any trouble on the way to Athens, but the flight was delayed anyway. Next, the luggage claim was slow and extremely crowded, and Dad’s bag was the last one off the plane. Dad also realized that while waiting for his bag, someone in the crowd grabbed his wallet.

We had been very careful of pickpockets in all the tourist stops in Italy, and hadn’t had any troubles. However, while waiting for bags, he had slipped the wallet into his back pocket by habit. Thankfully, the credit cards and IDs were elsewhere, but the wallet had a bit of cash.

Trudging through the airport, we caught the metro to our stop, and found the directions to our new apartment were incorrect. Several phone calls and a few wrong turns later, we were finally able to drop the bags, at 10 pm, about 12 hours after we left for a 2 hour flight. Boy’s dinner tonight: two cookies and a Kinder egg. We will regroup and try again at breakfast.

Following Marco Polo

From Florence, we took the train to Venice. Our studies this week are the travels of Marco Polo. Stepping off the train, we found ourselves facing the Grand Canal. A vaporetto (water bus) took us around the canals to our new apartment. A plate of ham, cheese and bread fortified us for the journey ahead.

We spent an afternoon creating our own Venetian masks with an art class at Ca’macana. The instructor talked with us about the history of masks in Venice, and then we tried our hand at making our own. A fair effort for all of us!

Our reading this weekend: Marco Polo, by Demi (an ebook), and this:

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Science, Art, and the Fig Leaf

Continuing our exploration in Florence, Italy, we started at the Museo Leonardo da Vinci Firenze, one of 2, different Leonardo da Vinci museums in town. Inside we checked out a collection of models of da Vinci’s machines, and reproductions of his paintings. The collection was small, but interesting. We enjoyed a few minutes away from the crowds of summer tourists.

Fighting the crowds through the main plaza, near the statue of David by Michelangelo, We ducked into the Palazzo Vecchio. Again avoiding the crowds, we had great luck at the Palazzo, where we were able to check out a family exploration backpack. The kit had costumes, perfumes of the time, binoculars for looking at ceiling paintings, a drawing kit, and dozens of activities and challenges to complete in each section of the museum. We especially enjoyed searching for animal symbols hidden in the large frescos and creating our own Medici portrait using magnetic eyes, mouths, and clothing. That should cover art lessons for today. Boy responded to the museum survey that the family backpack was “excellent.”

We have seen a great deal of art, both ancient statuary and Renaissance painting over the last few days. Boy had been a bit distressed by the amount of nudity. Despite explanations about artistic technique and tradition, he was happier when we saw statues covered with Victorian style fig leaves. His main take away on the famous statue of David? “If he was a shepherd, and about to shoot his slingshot at a giant, why isn’t he wearing the clothes of a shepherd? He wouldn’t have been working outside naked.”
He had similar thoughts on the warrior statues, carrying shields, wearing helmets and leg protectors, but otherwise nude. “That is a stupid way to go to battle.”

There have been plenty of saints and martyrs in the art as well. We have all done pretty well identifying the saints and martyrs in different paintings around the galleries. For example, “look, there is the bloody head guy again,” or “that is the guy with lots of arrows in his chest.” The gallery identification cards gave us the names of the martyrs (Peter the martyr has a bloody head, Saint Sebastian is full of arrows, etc). We have done less well on the “why.” Even the quick Wikipedia searches, that tell us the bare bones (Peter the martyr was killed by an axe blow to the head), leave us unclear on why the artist chose to include the martyr in that particular painting or why he was martyred in the first place. Apparently, Mom and Dad need to do some research on lives of the saints.

The family backpack at Palazzo Vecchio

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Stars, medicine, science, and telescopes

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The science of the Rennaissance kept us busy for the day. A stop at the church of Santa Croce, took us to the resting places of Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Dante, and even the more recent Fermi and Marconi. This is prime real estate for famous Italians, though it led to quite some discussion about Galileo’s 1997 pardon and the relative merits of science and religion.

We followed up with the Galileo Museum, a repository of scientific instruments created by Galileo, and his contemporaries. The interactive room had some terrific hands on experiments where you could follow the paths of the planets, trace parabolas, race falling objects down incline planes, and Boy’s favorite: recreate Galileo’s experiments on parabolic arcs, by shooting cannon balls at targets! That was the most exciting science of the day. He was less impressed with the anatomical models and medical school diagrams.

Our school books:

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A Rennaissance and a can of beans

Taking a train from Rome to Florence, we enjoyed views of the Italian countryside. Boy is reading about the Renaissance and was happy to tell us all about the art of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. He has decided he doesn’t like the Medici’s however, and has no interest in viewing any Medici palaces, as they killed too many people.

We wandered through the Duomo, and climbed the bell tower of the cathedral for some lovely views of the city. The street vendors and toy stores in town were filled with Pinnochio characters. Boy was enticed to buy a small Pinnochio keychain to add to his backpack collection. None of these compared however to the excitement of finding Heinz beans at the international grocery store. His dinner was sorted!

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A Roman Holiday

An early morning breakfast at The Vatican Museum, allowed us to enter the museum and Sistine Chapel an extra hour before the crowds began. Boy had been reading up on Michelangelo, and enjoyed spotting different characters in the ceiling. We were also able to mail postcards from the Vatican, adding new stamps to our country list. The afternoon took us to St Peters square and another gelato.

Tomorrow promises to be a quiet day for us. Boy had Germany in our family World Cup pool. The prize we had agreed on for the World Cup winner, was an entire day of choosing the family’s activities. Boy’s choice for tomorrow: Minecraft, gelato, and NO sightseeing.

Our book finds at the Vatican Museum:

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