4,725 Miles: Spring Break in Chile 2019, Part I

We came rolling in hot this past Sunday morning from our 2019 South American Spring Break adventure. (I’m not going to lie; that 2:03 a.m. flight out of Lima is pretty brutal.)

How on earth did we end up going to Chile and Peru? Well, we did a little math and came up with a number: 4. That’s how many Spring Breaks we had left before Jack graduates from high school. Yikes. Time to up the ante on the family traveling game.

We plugged in our dates to the Hopper app (again, I highly recommend this, if for no other reason than just to see how much it would set you back (both in dollars and in hours) to fly to, say, Timbuktu or Tahiti) and quickly realized that we were not going to score $400 flights to Paris again. The best price options were all heading south. After a serious debate between Santiago and Buenos Aires, we opted for Chile.

Hopper being Hopper, it wants you to get the most bang for your buck (read: Hopper ain’t a fan of the direct flight. For instance, last year he–I’m assuming Hopper’s a he because of all the connecting flight nonsense–wanted to send us to Paris via Istanbul.). Flying to Santiago through Lima was $500 cheaper than flying to Santiago directly from Atlanta. A little more math: that would leave roughly $2500 still in our pocket, we have 4 Spring Breaks left with all sons under one roof, and we could also quickly see a bit of another country (added bonus: Lima is on the way to Santiago; no backtracking). Through Lima it was then.

We snuck off from Atlanta on Thursday, a day before Spring Break officially began, and I am happy to say that we ran into several other families we knew who were doing the same thing. Travel is educational, people.

The roughly 7 hour flight put us getting in to Lima at 12:35 a.m., and our connection on to Santiago was set to leave at 2:01 a.m. which is cutting it pretty doggone close, especially when you and 4 traveling companions have to go through customs and change planes. Miraculously, we made it on time, and the zombie plane down to Chile was perfectly uneventful.

Getting through customs in Santiago wasn’t technically difficult; the line was slow moving, and we were exhausted, but by 9 a.m. we were outside the airport waiting on a ride to our apartment.

Our go-to for international travel is to rent a place through Air B&B or VRBO. After much research to determine the safest neighborhoods, I stumbled upon Casas del Cerros near the Costanera Center. While the original apartment we’d rented wasn’t ready for us due to a late departure by the previous renters, the host (Mabel) immediately put us in a smaller apartment two doors down for the day with the assurance that our original place would be ready by 8:00 that night. This was an awful lot of rapidly spoken Spanish to navigate right out of the gate and with very little sleep, but I managed to piece it all together and explain to the family before crashing on a bed in the lowest level of the apartment.

View of the Gran Torre de Santiago (to the left from the upstairs window of our 1-day apartment)

view of Cerro San Cristobal (to the right from the upstairs window of our 1-day apartment)

After a rest and a wash-up, we needed vittles big time, so we took the path of least resistance and headed over to the Costanera Center–a monster of a shopping complex underneath the Gran Torre de Santiago. (Little did I know this would be the first of many visits to this place.)

Jet lag is best fought with fresh air, so after lunch we walked over to the Providencia Teleferico to catch the gondola to the top of Cerro San Cristobal.

 We rode the gondola halfway up the hill, hopped out for a quick look around and then hopped back on to ride to the very top for panoramic views of Santiago at the foot of the giant statue of La Virgen.

the Ponte Vecchio has its love locks; Santiago has these ribbons tied on the fence near the ticket booth of the teleferico

the view from Tupahue Station midway up Cerro San Cristobal
entrance to the tiny chapel at Tupahue
at the top of Cerro San Cristobal
La Virgen
we began to realize just how sprawling Santiago is…

After a debate over whether or not to hike back down the hill, we wisely opted for the crazy steep funicular which spit us out in Barrio Bellavista. Next stop: La Chascona, one of Pablo Neruda’s extremely peculiar homes for his secret love, Matilde.

This crazy little house is chock full of weirdness and well worth a visit, even if you have no idea who Pablo Neruda was.

By this point in the day, we were all running on fumes, so we headed over to a rooftop bar Russ had spotted from La Chascona which was–shocker–called Matilde. All three boys were equally unimpressed by the menu but still managed to gobble down a triple chocolate concoction and get in an argument over it. And they were still starving, so we left Matilde in search of Emporio La Rosa, an ice cream place I’d heard was spectacular.

Long story short: this was the first of many mapping and researching mistakes I made during this trip. We walked and walked and walked and then walked some more trying to find it. We went back and forth and asked for help and by the time we retraced our steps to the tiny front door of Emporio La Rosa, no one was speaking to each other.

and Emporio La Rosa is basically a Chilean Baskin-Robbins…

We tried to walk around the corner to squeeze in a visit to the MAVI (Museo de Artes Visuales), but it was closed for renovation. Big bummer.

Sweaty, tired, and in desperate need of a shower, we headed back to our apartment in hopes that our place was finally ready for us.

It wasn’t.

But the host had left us a bottle of wine, and we had full use of the space, so we showered and headed back to the Costanera Center. Our plan was to go to the top of the Gran Torre for sunset and then grab dinner (at the mall again) before taking the short walk back to amend the apartment situation.

The Gran Torre was pretty spectacular, even if Santiago was shrouded with smog.

doesn’t everyone look a little road-weary?
those two bright lines running vertically through the left/center of the photo are reflections from the building itself

The next morning found us surprisingly jet-lagged for being in a place only two hours ahead of our time zone, and we wound up calling an audible on our plans. Rather than hitting multiple museums in the Quinta Normal area, we ate a late (very late) brunch, and then tackled the Santiago Metro (successfully, I might add).

We found the Metro to be a full on party train complete with live musicians, live animals, and people selling all sorts of things. And in typical Herakovich fashion, we did not add much civility to the public transportation system.

The Museum Interactivo Mirador was well worth the nearly hour long hike it took to get to it. My boys love a good science museum, and this one now sits prominently at the tip-top of our all-time favorites. We ran through an odd outdoor display of multi-colored plastic tubing, lay on a bed of nails, experienced an earthquake in a 4-D movie shown inside a tiny house, created interactive artwork, and learned about waves, mirrors, and forces all in Spanish. We also managed to spend the majority of the day there.

we still aren’t quite sure what this get-up was, but we all found it fascinating

We managed to miss a proper lunch, so by the time we left the MIM, we were again riding front and center on the struggle bus. Rather than walk the 15 minutes or so back to the Metro (and endure another multiple-train-switching labyrinth), we called an Uber with sights on grabbing a quick snack and replacing some of the museums we’d skipped that morning.

One look at a [very hard to find, btw] map of Santiago or any guide book will show the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts in large, bold print. Maybe we were coming off a sensory overload, but we found it a bit desolate (minimal exhibitions), hyper-uber-radically-liberal (a contemporary art piece consisting of a video of a woman breastfeeding another adult while a glass of milk is being poured on the floor), and–to be completely honest–brutally hot.

We left and proceeded to spend a solid half-hour in search of a snack place that fit everyone’s needs. In the end–and after an ice cream break–we found ourselves at the foot of Cerro Santa Lucia, a site I’d planned on us seeing our last day in Santiago, not our second.

But the best laid plans and all that…

Anyway, calling this a hill is being nice to it; it’s actually the remnants of an ancient volcano, so it’s more of a rocky, pointy triangle. It’s also the place where Santiago was first claimed as a city.

it’s very much a straight uphill climb to get to the top
(not kidding…)

At the very top is a very crowded turret of Castillo Hildalgo and more wide-open views of Santiago. It’s worth the climb even if it’s an often precarious one due to crooked, slippery stone steps.

We climbed back down Cerro Santa Lucia and ambled through some small, colorful gardens and fountains sprinkled around the return path and then headed to Barrio Bellavista for some much needed dinner.

Barrio Bellavista–where La Chascona is located–is considered the bohemian/artsy area of Santiago which means it’s generally a pretty hopping place. Patio Bellavista is a hip, open air marketplace filled with restaurants, creperies, ice cream shops, and vendors of Chilean knick-knacks. We settled on dinner at La Rosita and headed back to the apartment for the night.

After two full days in Santiago, we were feeling brave and ready for a few adventures outside the city. Next up, Chilean road trips!

4,370 Miles: Spring Break in France, Part I

[Pretend this was posted about 4 months ago…I used to remember how to back-date posts…Part I covers March 1-3, 2018.]

I’ll be honest. Paris scared me.

Russ suggested Paris for our Spring Break destination way back last summer, and I balked. Paris seemed unmanageable for many reasons, a huge one of which is the fact that I don’t know a lick of French. The flights there were also crazy expensive, but Russ found an app called Hopper that we whole heartedly recommend now. Hopper takes your intended destination and dates and constantly runs it through airlines until it pulls up the most affordable flight, at which point, Hopper emails you with the deal.

Hopper’s first attempt to lure us to Paris had us flying through Istanbul.

Um, negative, Ghost Rider.

The second retrieval was a bit more appealing. We would fly from Atlanta through London and on to Paris for as low a price as we’ve ever seen for a trans-Atlantic flight. (And on a legit airline…y’all know I’m not getting on a questionable plane.)

So Russ booked the flights, and I bought a map and started charting out our course for Spring Break 2018.

IMG_7241this is how Jack slept on the plane; I would not recommend this method…

It was a long, tedious journey, but we finally rolled in to our apartment around 4pm Friday, March 2. We dropped our bags and, in an effort to battle jet lag, headed out for a stroll and to get a lay of the land.

Our apartment (7 Rue Duvivier) was rented through Air B&B and was in the 7th Arrondissement, near-ish to the Eiffel Tower.

IMG_6555outside the Musee de l’Armee; we heard great things about the museum but did not go in because it was set to close at 5pm…

It started to rain, and we were hungry and tired, so we headed back towards the apartment to find a place for dinner. “When in doubt, go for pasta” is practically a family motto around here, so we tracked down a lovely Italian place (Le Tribeca) around the corner from the apartment.


After dinner, we poked around Rue Cler a bit and then headed home.

IMG_6560IMG_7245the market where we managed to purchase a $9 basket of strawberries…

We woke up on Saturday morning, and Russ walked down to a bakery to grab breakfast for the boys.

After breakfast, we set off to find the Metro. Back in Atlanta, I’d taken a paper map of Paris (hard to find, btw), laid it out on our dining room table, and then marked places we knew we wanted to visit on it. Then I took all of those dots and divvied them up into sections; since Paris is so big and convoluted, we’d attack a section a day.


Day One had us trekking way up north of the city to Les Puces–the flea markets. Russ remembered going to these as a child, and he wanted the boys to see them. Les Puces is seriously a sight to behold.


It takes about an hour to get there via Metro. And it also takes about an hour to figure out how to purchase tickets for an entire family for a week on the Metro. Just saying.



Les Puces is a mega-labyrinth of stalls, some filled with treasures, others with trash. But it’s all truly fascinating, if a bit over-whelming. The biggest hit for the boys? All the stalls selling [fake] running shoes.

An hour or so was all we could take of the flea market. So we ventured back on the Metro and headed back in to the city a bit to Montmartre. We were all getting a little cranky by now, and I’d charted out a restaurant for lunch that overlooked Sacre-Couer.

Of course, 35 minutes of walking (up and down and up and down hills) later, we still couldn’t find the restaurant (we were aiming for Pizzeria Babalou–the one obviously near Sacre-Couer). So we settled for yet another pasta place…




Pizzeria Florenza…which hit the spot and was just right around the hill from Sacre-Couer.


We opted to take the stairs up instead of the funicular. There was a crazy street band playing “Billie Jean,” so we sang along with the crowd as we started the hike up.



IMG_6609IMG_6613Half way there!IMG_6624

The Parisian weather was just about as crazy as Costa Rican weather…pouring rain one minute and clear blue skies the next…


from the entrance to Sacre-Couer, looking back towards Paris

We walked back down and headed off to find a hidden gem, but before we could start our map reading journey, Jack had to do this:


…which actually began a really silly brotherly tradition of pretending to touch the top of everything. (Too bad I can’t download photos from their phones…and too bad Jack wasn’t even close to “touching” the spire here; he and his brothers perfected their photography skills on this as the week progressed.)


Another terrible tradition was also begun: leap-frogging over these poles. There are no words for how annoying this was for the next 8 days.

But on to the hidden gem: The “I Love You” Wall.


The words “I love you”–in over 300 languages–are painted onto individual tiles and were made into a giant mosaic. The mosaic itself a little tricky to find, and my family definitely thought I was dragging them somewhere lame, until we walked around a corner and into the courtyard of the Square Jehan Rictus and saw it.IMG_6634IMG_7272IMG_7269

One cool landmark deserves another, so we kept walking towards Moulin Rouge. Which I forgot was in a seriously seedy area. Lots of eye covering here…


Rather than burn our children’s eyes any more, we opted to hop back on the Metro and head to the Arc de Triomphe.

IMG_6644we were not model passengers on the Metro. Ever.


We walked through the tunnel and over to the Arc, but the line to get to the top was incredibly long, so we opted to walk around the monument and then stroll down the Champs-Elysées.


While walking down the Champs, the boys noticed the ferris wheel (Le Grand Roue) . Sigh. I had not planned on going on this thing. I was pretty sure it would pale in comparison to the London Eye, and, besides, I’m not really a fan of ferris wheels.


The boys prevailed. The line was nonexistent, so we hopped right on.

IMG_6671I did get a pretty cool shot of the Champs-Elysées from the wheel.

If you’re headed to Paris and want to take a ride on the Grand Roue, well, you’re outta luck. Seems the Parisians view it as an eyesore, so they’ve shut it down. I didn’t know of its impending doom prior to going to Paris (not sure how I missed this), but now I guess I’m even happier that we bit the bullet and rode the thing.

We were in La Place de la Concorde near the Jardin des Tuileries, so we roamed around a bit and then grabbed dinner somewhere (yep, we don’t remember its name).


We’d pretty much maxed out our first full day in Paris. We walked off dinner by cutting through the courtyards of the Louvre on the way back to the Metro.

IMG_6688IMG_6697ahem…getting better at this, I guess

Finally back to the Metro where we realized that one of us had already lost his week-long [read: expensive] Metro ticket.

IMG_7277Cue more Metro-Ticket-Purchasing-Mayhem


We made it back to the apartment and crashed out. Day One was a long, long day but a total success. Vive le Paris!





Word Problems

I’m pretty lousy at math, so I’m constantly in awe of (and subsequently bewildered by) my son who adores math and has–thus far–not been stumped by anything. Yeah, he’s only in the 8th grade, but, dear reader, my mathematical bandwidth for helping with homework was maxed out about 2 years ago. Now, when his math problems include letters and numbers, it’s safe to say that Jack’s abilities have far surpassed mine.

The other day I asked Jack what he was working on; when he said word problems, I shivered and had a little PTSD attack. Word problems in Algebra I were (are?) my absolute nemesis. I watched as Jack methodically tackled his work without complaint. I was impressed.

I was also confused.

I asked him to show me a problem.

My hands twitched. My brain melted. I felt like I was going to cry.

So now, I present to you “Algebra I Homework–with Useless Assistance by Mom,” by Mom.

(Those of you who are as math-averse as I am might need to take a Benadryl or two before continuing.)



This one is so obviously simple. For starters, if Charlie needs to guess on over 1/3 of the questions on a multiple choice test, Charlie needs to study more. Where are his parents? They are clearly slacking off in the helicoptering/micromanagement department of their son’s education. At this rate, Charlie better start apprenticing at the local auto repair shop.

(a) History is clearly not Charlie’s strong suit. Or perhaps his teacher is just a dinosaur who recycles his morbidly dull lectures from 1985, drinks stale coffee at his podium while rubbing his tattered suede elbow patches, and daydreams about his upcoming retirement. We’ve all had teachers like that. This one’s not on Charlie. Snap to it, History teacher. Punch up those lectures a little; maybe add some YouTube videos or something. Your monotonous ramblings have lulled your class into a coma.

(b) Charlie’s English class must be studying literary devices, and his teacher is obviously making a point to her class about hyperbole because no English teacher in the history of mankind would give a test with 80 questions on it. Kudos to Charlie for knowing the answers to 40 of the questions. He must have lost focus or stamina on the second half of the test. Time for his parents to revisit his current med dosage. Problem solved.

(c) The saving grace of this little foray into Charlie’s academic life is that Chuck here is a math wizard. Of the 5x questions, he didn’t know the answer to x of them. First of all, x isn’t a number; it’s a letter. This is a math class, not an English class. The teacher must have made a typo. And for once, Charlie isn’t guessing. We know he can answer at least 40 questions correctly (See, English, above), so answering 5 questions is well-within his attention threshold. Charlie made a 100. Way to go, Charlie. You just pulled your GPA up enough to go to the local community college.


This question was pulled from either a Farmer’s Almanac or The Hipster’s Guide to Overtaking the Universe One Organic Garden at a Time.  You would think someone with even a modicum of agrarian knowledge would also have a grip on the Gregorian calendar. Last time I checked, there were 31 days in July. This question is jacking around with the space-time continuum, which is scarier than word problems themselves. (See, Back to the Future.) Additionally, our farmer friends would know that a zucchini grows best in temperatures hovering around 70 degrees, a situation which does not occur in August. Not only has an entire 24-hour period up and disappeared, but the Earth has also been knocked off its axis or something. How many times did it rain in August? Who cares? Better harvest those nuclear zucchini now and catch up on your binge watching of Doomsday Preppers, for the end of the world is nigh. #OccupyTheBombShelter



Wait a second. Is this a question from the Multistate Bar Exam? How have we shifted from 8th grade mathematics to law school? Counsel needs to know which state’s law is applicable here. Counsel also needs to know the last time said police officer calibrated said radar device. Counsel believes Marlon and Marilyn (“the Defendants”) were victims of an unjustified speed trap.

(a) Marlon (“Defendant A”) has been accused of traveling 62 in a 45. He was in a hurry. Maybe his wife was in labor. Maybe he was freaking out because July 31 had disappeared from his calendar. Either reason is entirely justifiable. I’m willing to bet the police here have a heart (or are equally as spooked by the vanishing day) and give Defendant A a police escort to his destination. No fine.

(b) Insert S-car-go/snail joke here.

(c) Marilyn (“Defendant B”) was given a $228 speeding ticket? Dang, girl. Lead foot, much? Super Speeder violation? (Counsel apologizes for her digression.) In the spirit of the Socratic method utilized by law schools around the country in order to crush the souls of all would-be attorneys, let’s IRAC this one:

Issue: How fast was Defendant B traveling?

Rule: A speeder is fined $12 for every mile over the speed limit.

Analysis: If the speed limit is 45 miles per hour, then a driver is allowed to travel only 45 miles in one (1) hour. The rule of law states that one is fined for every mile over the speed limit. This statute’s employment of the word “mile” instead of the words “mile per hour” renders it vague, ambiguous, and indefinite. The imprecise verbiage of the statute implies that one’s ability to relocate him/herself is limited to an area no larger than a 45 mile radius within one (1) 60 minute period of time and does not address the actual velocity of said relocation. As such, due to its cryptic and imprecise verbiage, the statute is void.

Conclusion: How fast was Defendant B traveling? Not fast enough if the po-po caught her.


The take-away from all of this?

(By the way, if I’d seen this paragraph on the 8th page of my Algebra book, I’d have viewed it as a winning lottery ticket; the authors have all but admitted that these problems are IMPOSSIBLE.)


Jack’s take on this disclaimer? “They forgot to add ‘do not, under any circumstances, ask your English major mother for help on your math homework’.”

I’m hoping that means I have garnered a Hall Pass on all future math assistance. For all 3 boys.

(One can hope, right?)







Hello, Chicago (Part II)

Ours is a household of picky eaters…or, perhaps I should say, particular eaters. Every single one of us has things we cannot stand, and these inedibles rarely overlap–a situation which drastically reduces the potential menu on any given day.

But traveling brings out the adventurers in us (somehow). We ate a meal prepared by Mayans in the middle of the jungle near Tulum, Mexico. We went on a food tour through Trastevere in Rome, Italy. And all 5 of us loved every moment of both experiences.

As such, when it came to planning our trip to Chicago, we immediately started Googling food tours. I read up on the “Best in Chow” tour through Chicago Food Planet and signed us up.

It was a slam dunk.

First stop, Lou Malnati’s. (Very important preface:  when one is about to embark upon a 3 hour food tour, one should probably not take one’s children to a huge breakfast. Live and learn.)

Lou’s was our first Chicago deep dish pizza ever (well, for 4 out of 5 of us). What’s not to like about buttery crust, stringy mozzarella and loads of chunky tomato sauce? Jack gave this a huge thumb’s up (even with a belly-full of breakfast…).

One good carbo-load deserves another, so our fantastic guide, Terry, walked us over to FireCakes for an old-fashioned buttermilk doughnut.


I’m not the biggest sweet fan on the planet, but these were so terrific that I walked back to FireCakes on our last morning to pick up doughnuts and coffee for our last breakfast in Chicago.

Next stop: Al’s for tastes of an Italian beef sandwich–again, the first tastes for all but one of us.


Clearly, Too. Much. Food. So much so that at our next stop, Theo asked for the leftovers to take with us and to hand out to folks we passed on the street who needed them.

Portillo’s is completely a Chicago legend, yet this is the one place where we did not eat a bite–but we did make some less fortunate Chicagoans very happy later on.


Jack pretending to take a bite in order to save face with our group and our guide. A noble effort on his part, to say the least.

We walked a bit and then paused for some popcorn at Garrett Popcorn. Not sure how anyone was able to eat anything else at this point.


The very last stop was the Cambria Hotel for a taste of the Palmer House Brownie–a dessert that made its debut at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. [Insert gratuitous plug for Erik Larsen’s outstanding book, Devil in the White City.]


We would recommend the Chicago Food Planet’s “Best in Chow” tour in a Minnesota minute. Every single aspect of it was awesome. We rolled out of the Cambria Hotel a little after 2 pm absolutely stuffed to the gills and headed to The Field Museum.

My boys have always loved science museums. We’ve spent countless hours at the Fernbank here in Atlanta, and anywhere we go, we try to track one down (London’s Science Museum may be our all-time fave…). The Field Museum was pretty spectacular as well.


We were stuffed and tired and sliding in to The Field with only a few hours left to explore, so we went on speed-mode.


Inside Ancient Egypt. Tucker pretending to be a mummy.


Underground Adventure. Going through the Shrinkerator, which shrinks you to 1/100th of your normal size and then plops you out in an underground world chock full of creepy crawlies.


With Sue, the T.Rex.


We wandered into the Hall of Birds somehow. (We are generally not birders…). Here, Tucker takes a photo with what Russ calls “the noblest of all birds”, the turkey.


[Insert Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks joke here.]


We took a nice little break to see the 3-D movie entitled Waking the T.Rex. Then we entered Jurassic World, a special exhibition for which we’d paid extra.

While Jurassic World was indeed quite nifty, it was also very hot and geared for younger folks. Had we visited it 5 years ago, say, we might have been roaming the exhibit for hours. Instead, we sort of sped through it, ready to leave the heat and sit down again.

Because we’d certainly not eaten enough that day, Russ took us to dinner at Coco Pazzo. We took a much needed mid-length walk back to our hotel and settled in for the night.


Check out Theo’s outfit. The dinosaur tube socks really pull it all together.


We were up and at ’em on Monday morning, heading to the Sears Tower (which is actually now called the Willis Tower) in an attempt to beat the crowd.

We were not successful. The line length gave the boys ample opportunity to play the most annoying game ever invented in the history of the entire galaxy: Girl Power.

In Girl Power, my sons take turns covertly trying to touch me, and it absolutely makes me lose my mind. It doesn’t take long for the game to reach Chernobyl-levels of annoyance. Girl Power is something I’m sure we’ll laugh about at their weddings one day, but that’s a long, long time from now. About 5 minutes into it, I threatened to make the next person who touched me cry. That made the family in front of us in the line turn around, stare, and then shimmy themselves up as close to the people in front of them as possible.


The top was shrouded by clouds while we were in line…



This is just as creepy as it looks. Trust me.


You could also feel the building swaying lightly. We had to wait in line for over half an hour to take the elevator back down, and by the time we stepped out of the building, I was officially motion sick.

From the Sears Tower, we walked over to the Money Museum, which was a surprise find online and also quite interesting.


Tucker and a cube of 1,000,000 dollar bills.


Theo atop $50,000 in coins.

The Money Museum is very interactive and has many educational–and fascinating–exhibits. We give it a big thumbs up.

We split up for a quick lunch and then cabbed it over to the Shedd Aquarium. The line to get in was absurd. Russ walked over to the Adler Planetarium to see if admission was any quicker there (which it was), so we ditched the long line and headed to outer space.

I love me some space.


Quick true story:  When I was in 5th grade, our class was assigned a group project on the solar system. We were split into 9 groups, and each group sent one member up to front of the room to draw that group’s planet from a fishbowl. Our representative, Matt Davis, was specifically told “DON’T DRAW PLUTO.” Guess which one he drew?



(You have no idea how excited I am about August 21st.)

Both the planetarium and the aquarium are situated on a little jetty poking out into Lake Michigan. The view back in towards the city is pretty fabulous.


After dinner, we walked around downtown Chicago a bit. This is one beautiful city.


Next up, we close out Chicago by celebrating Tucker’s half-birthday (oh, and also the Fourth of July…).







Hello, Chicago!

“Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring.”–Nelson Algren

“Place has always been important to me, and one thing today’s Chicago exudes, as it did in 1893, is a sense of place. I fell in love with the city, the people I encountered, and above all the lake and its moods, which shift so readily from season to season, day to day, even hour to hour.”
Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

There’s a slight chance this little blog thing of mine (which, I’ll admit, has been painfully neglected for the past year) could perhaps morph into a travel-ish situation…even though I’ve also neglected to post about our amazing Costa Rican adventure.

[How’s that for a teaser?]

So, Chicago.

When I was young, I won every single grade-wide spelling bee our school system had. From 4th through 8th grade, I was the Spelling Bee Queen. The grade-wide winners would then face off, Hunger Games style, to see who would advance to the State Bee with a [very, very, very slim] chance of moving on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

We’ll ignore the fact that I misspelled the word “apparel” at the city-wide spell off.

Two years in a row.

I used to spend afternoons and evenings having my dear old mom call out spelling bee words to me from our silver-chevroned couch as I lay in thought on our deep shag carpeting, the pale yellow book of “suggested words” expertly wielded in her hands. Mackerel. Sphygmomanometer. Fugue. Ennui. This same couch, clearly carrying with it a load of maternal ennui, eventually wound up in my college apartment (and later, at the KA house in Athens).

Being an only child is a blast.

My Dad would come home from work nightly during “Bee Season” and announce: “Chicken in your car and your car won’t go? That’s how you spell CHICAGO!”

Which, obviously, isn’t correct. And which, obviously, makes little to no sense.

No wonder I never made it past the City-Wide Bee.

But I digress.

Our little family just did Chicago over the 4th of July in a grand way.

We flew up to Chicago from Atlanta via Midway and Uber-ed our way to our hotel, the Westin River North. Russ checked us in while the boys and I watched the first of many, many weddings stroll through the lobby.

It was also the weekend of the LCI Con 2017.


That’s the Lions International Conference–which brings us back full circle to the above-mentioned chevron couch that saw its last (most definitely not ennui-ridden) days on a fraternity house front porch at the University of Georgia. Had it not been for my Godfather (and hometown next-door-neighbor and father of the said KA who, um, inherited, the couch), I would not have known what the Lions Club was. But I did and I do and, holy moly, thems some traveling folk.

Chicago was flooded with world travelers this past weekend. Absolutely flooded. We saw tourists from Japan, China, Singapore, Ireland, Australia, Jefferson City, Missouri (well, their honor band, at least…)

These world travelers inspired us, so we did our best to be as touristy as possible, which means cramming in an exorbitant amount of touristy ‘must-sees’ in a minimal amount of time (all while joyously not having to wear Lions Club vests or engage in pin swapping.)

I think we succeeded.

We threw our luggage down (All 5 of us managed carry-on only!! Victory is ours!) and walked down the street to Harry Caray’s for dinner. From there, we used the first of our 5 CityPass tickets to see/endure TILT360 on top of the John Hancock Building.




When faced with the CityPass or ChicagoGo Pass, the CityPass wins hands-down. Trust me on this one. After about 4 hours of research (which, let the record state, involved entirely way too much math), I decided the CityPass hit the big 5 and had Fast-Pass line options and was a better bargain.

We woke up Saturday morning and headed off to the Art Institute of Chicago. Tucker adores art museums; Russ adores Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, so this was set to be a win-win situation. But first up, we must see our friends The Lions again:


The International March of Lions in Traditional Cultural Parade Attire began lining up outside our hotel window at 7:30am. All kinds of cultural attire were represented. It was quite colorful. It was also quite entertaining.

We walked along the southern edge of Millennium Park and somehow managed to keep all children dry.

Even though it wins the dubious award of having The Most Confusing Museum Map Ever, the Art Institute of Chicago is unbelievable. It’s enormous. It’s spotless. Once we made peace with the fact that we were barely going to be able to put a dent in it, we settled down and had a blast (which included re-creations of critical scenes from Ferris Bueller.)

And winning the award for Weirdest Piece of Artwork We Saw is this fine gem:


That, my friends, is a video of a person. Bathing a live duck in a bathtub. Played simultaneously on four ancient Panasonic television sets. With over 100 bricks stacked in piles in front of it.

Ok, then.

We played the Tacky Tourists at lunch, sitting on the top deck of the crusty beach bar/restaurant Castaways on the North Shore Beach.

Later that afternoon, we braved the masses and headed to Navy Pier. There is an “interactive [art] installation” by Roger Hiorns in Polk Park, the greenspace you cross to get to the pier.

His description of this piece of art says:

“The sculpture will produce giant foam clusters, which will be shaped by the wind and spread across the landscape. In this way, the artist engages with the surroundings, and blurs the lines between where the city begins and the art ends. The public is welcome to engage with the interactive installation, with the foam becoming the connective tissue between the individual and the artwork.”

In reality, it’s a giant bubble machine atop several corrugated tin cylinders sitting in a mud bog in the middle of a park overlooking a lake.

The boys loved it.


In the interest of full disclosure, we will say it smells. Big time.

After a quick rinse-off-attempt in the fountain, we were off to find the Tall Ship Windy for an afternoon sail on Lake Michigan.


The Tall Ship Windy is a working sailboat that cruises out on Lake Michigan for a little over an hour. One of the tours described on their website claims to be an architecture tour. I think that’s exaggerating a bit; if we were to do it again, we’d have chosen the actual architecture tour on the river. I was trying to kill two birds with one anchor: we wanted an architecture river tour, but we also wanted a boat that served drinks. After seeing boat after boat zipping down the River in front of our hotel in rapid, methodical, cramped fashion, I’d thought I’d gotten the hipper, cooler deal. It was indeed hip and cool but more attuned to the art of sailing than to the art of building. Lesson learned (but it was still a great ride!).

IMG_3554Tuck and Theo help hoist the sail.IMG_3556IMG_3550IMG_3657IMG_3568

Once off the boat, we headed back into town on a mission (see what I did there? shout out to The Blues Brothers) to track down a pop culture icon…

IMG_3587IMG_3583(Chicago, you’re beautiful, by the way…)

…The Billy Goat Tavern!

All you SNL fans out there will surely remember the “cheezborger…cheezborger” skit with John Belushi and Bill Murray. (Interesting fact: the SNL skit restaurant was called The Olympia Cafe but was inspired by the Billy Goat Tavern.) The Billy Goat Tavern is underground, gritty, greasy, and filled with surly locals…just like a good dive should be.

From the dark belly of a subterranean Chicago hole-in-the-wall, we then headed to the most colorful place on the planet: Dylan’s Candy Bar. You’ll want to steer clear of this place if you have sensory issues; it’s a cacophonic, rainbow-colored, child-filled, bizarre 3- leveled situation, but it also brilliantly includes a bar for the adults.


Russ ordered an Old Fashioned, and it was a total production. Never seen a cocktail with dry ice in it before. It looked more like a potion out of Hogwarts than a drink.


On the walk home, Tucker tried to stump a street magician.

He was not successful.


And finally, does anyone remember these awesome candy cigarettes? They have some type of powdered sugar in them which, when puffed on just so, lets little clouds of “smoke” waft out. Obviously, these were one of the more offensive (or, at least, questionable) types of candy ever made, so the powers that be removed them from the shelves of America.

Or so we were led to believe.

Guess what we unearthed at Dylan’s Candy Bar?

The boys found them–the Lucky Strikes from my days of yore–and begged to get them. Hopefully this is the first, last, and only shot of them ever doing this (and I’m grateful no one thought to take a photo of me puffing along and laughing just as hard beside them…)


Our first 1.5 days in the Windy City were enough to have us hooked and fired up for the hard-core touristy stuff I’d planned for the remained of the trip. Next up? Food Tour!

Happy Birthday, Mom…

What follows is the eulogy I wrote this past August for my sweet mother. Our minister read it, word for word, as the sermon at her service. She would have turned 70 today.

I think it is a fitting tribute to share these heartfelt words about her once again.


In his 10th Holy Sonnet, the great poet, John Donne, wrote a line I’m sure we’ve all heard many times in classrooms of our past: “Death be not proud.” With these four simple words, he eloquently captured the gist of what it means to be a Christian, of what it means to have faith in the promise of resurrection. “Death be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.”

These words reflect the mystery of our faith, the mystery of faith that my mom deeply believed in. And because of this faith, she was not afraid of what was to come. Not once did anyone ever hear her voice concern or worry over her future. Indeed, she embraced each day as it dawned with gusto, her main—her only—concern being how she could help her family. And to my mom, her family was her life. And by faith was her way of living…

How else could you explain the fact that she agreed to go on a blind date way back during her senior year of college—a pairing covertly suggested by her college roommate in order to work their way around a Brumby Hall curfew? My mom’s first response to her roommate’s invitation? “Oh, with that football player guy with the glasses? Uh, I’m not sure…”

But she showed her ineffable—and often completely hidden—courage that night back in the late ’60’s when she agreed to a date with the bespectacled ball player from a tiny south Georgia town. She told me many times that her heart did a flip when she caught her first glimpse of him walking up a set of stairs to meet her. Less than 2 years later, together they would take an even more incredible leap of faith and get married. Their only child would follow soon after.

Thus began another season in her life.

Change is hard for any of us, but for those of us with faith—who believe in the promise of abundant life which our Lord has provided us—we embrace the jubilant message given to us in Ecclesiastes—the same message that is encapsulated by the popular song from my parents’ college days, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” written by The Byrds:  “to everything…there is a season…and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

My mom was given many purposes under heaven, and she willingly and lovingly embraced them all.

She was called to lead a servant’s life, and she did so selflessly, volunteering her time at school, chairing countless projects with her service sorority, watching legions of softball games, ensuring her family was fed and clothed. She steadily tackled these and many more mundane tasks with grace and humility, putting the needs of others ahead of herself every single time.

She was called to be a friend and what a good friend she was. Friendships with my mom ran decades deep; in fact, my parents’ next door neighbors here in Vidalia are the same neighbors who used to stay up late with them nearly 50 years ago in Athens, laughing and celebrating—perhaps playing cards or rehashing the latest football game. Friends with whom my mom has shared a cup of coffee, a round of golf, or a meal know just how loyal a friend they had. She had a true gift for making friends, and my mom’s friendships ran just as wide as they were deep; she could—and would—talk to anyone. At any time. Her personality sparkled when she met new people, and her laughter could fill up a room.

She was called to be a wife. That courageous blind date with the football guy? That turned into a rock solid marriage that lasted 46 years. It was a rare moment indeed to find one of them without the other. Wherever they were—be it Las Vegas, Nevada or simply watching tv on Sunset Drive—they were happy just to be together. My mom radiated an invisible strength when she was next to my dad; she was her best self, confident and courageous, with him by her side. Theirs was an unshakable union, a constant companionship. Without her, my dad will never be the same.

She was called to be a mother. She was fiercely loyal and protective of me and would defend me until her last breath; she somehow thought I was incapable of doing any wrong. She was my first—and my constant—teacher who imparted things to me that are paramount to growing up—things like how to read, how to tie my shoes, how to make amazing homemade macaroni and cheese. Her spirit of adventure would soar when we were together; on Spring Break in 1994, she decided we should bike 25 miles down a mountainside in Jamaica—just picturing that should make you smile. My mom had the kindest heart ever and a way of always making me feel safe.

Finally—and perhaps most importantly to her—she was called to be a grandmother. Her 3 grandsons—Jack, Tucker and Theodore—made her soul shine. She would do absolutely anything for them; in fact, she once rode all the way to Atlanta and back on the same day just to watch Jack play in a baseball game. Their Baba would never turn down a game of Yahtzee, and she could be counted on to have a stash of Lays potato chips and pink lemonade waiting for them. Baba loved you three to the moon and back and would tell anyone who would listen that you were her sunshine. I want you to think of that whenever you see the sun shining brightly; I want you to remember your Baba forever and let your memories of her make you happy when skies are gray. You three were her life.

Indeed, my mom was gifted with many holy purposes during her life—servant, friend, wife, mother, Baba—and she humbly and faithfully carried out God’s plan for her. As we are told in the book of Jeremiah, the Lord knows the plans He has for each of us; these plans are to prosper us and to give us hope for a future, the future of an eternal life with God our Father. Because of this promise, even though we deeply mourn this loss, we can find comfort and start to heal. Our faithful servant has carried out her life’s plan just as God intended her to. We can allow ourselves a sense of Peace, and we can boldly tell Death to not be proud because just “one short sleep past, we wake eternally, and death shall be no more.”

Alleluia. Thanks be to God. Amen.




5,022 miles: the grand finale

Our last full day in Rome arrived, and we were all set for a semi-private tour of the Vatican Museums, complete with access to the Bramante staircase. These tickets were some of the first I purchased when planning the trip.

Of course, in classic Herakovich style, we were 5 minutes late and missed the tour.


There was another tour group about to leave, and we were allowed to join it. This new tour was leaving 10 minutes late because they were waiting on one last person to arrive, so we tried–and failed–to talk our way back into our original tour group. Frustration station, indeed. (Also, this second tour did not include the Bramante stairs. Bummer.)

However, our tour guide–an adorable young lady from Alabama–made up for it by being very knowledgable, fast, and funny.

The artwork inside the Vatican museums is absolutely spellbinding (and totally overwhelming).


After the Vatican Museums, we strolled around to find a place for our last lunch. I dragged the family halfway across Rome to a restaurant I’d read about online, but once we arrived at Romeo and took a look at the menu, we bailed. Classy. (The restaurant would be lovely for a pair of grown-ups…but with 3 kids? Not so much…)

Instead, we wound up sitting outside at a sweet, little run-of-the-mill bistro that wound up being fantastic.


Next stop: the best gelato in Rome–Fatamorgana. Search it out; it’s worth the extra cartography work.

IMG_3392IMG_3394IMG_3374Random bird stare down. We thought he was pretty funny.


We walked our lunch off on the way back to our hotel.

(Have I told you how awesome our apartment was? Without a doubt, it was the way to go.)


Tucker has been fascinated with magicians for awhile now. Before we’d even planned a trip to Italy, he’d searched out “magic stores” on Google and read that one of the world’s best was in Rome. So of course he was after us to visit it. I’m not in to magic–I’m a weirdo who gets spooked by it–but I am in to walking around a new city, so he and I set off for Eclectica.


It was completely worth the hour’s diversion; the staff there spoke English and treated Tucker to several tricks he’d never seen before.

For our last night in Rome, we took a walking food tour of Trastevere.


waiting for our guide at Piazza Farnese

If you’ve spent any time with our family, you realize that taking a foodie’s tour was risky for a family of particular eaters. We were amazed when all 3 boys decided to play along and try things. The Roman Foodie tour ranked up there with our trip to Pisa; we would do it again in a heartbeat.

First stop was a cheese shop: Coop Latte Cisternino.


Jack–Jack, I say–tries some fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese. We didn’t tell him what it was made of (water buffalo milk). It was outstanding.

IMG_3409our guide, Diane


From there, we ambled over to Filetti di Baccala for, duh, baccala–which is a salt-cured cod.

IMG_3441IMG_3433IMG_3428Tucker won the braveness award at this stop.


IMG_3431“God, if I’m born again, let me be born in Rome.”

From the baccala joint, we headed to an authentic pizza place, La Renella.



Then we took a much needed little stroll through the winding streets and alleyways of Trastevere.


We wound up at an adorable little artisanal food shop where the boys enjoyed fresh pressed apple juice, and we had a plate of bruschetta.


A little more walking…

IMG_3494Diane showed Jack how to use these fountains (which are everywhere in Rome) for drinking water.

IMG_3496IMG_3461this guy was sitting outside his shop, painting Converse all-stars; Tucker was highly intrigued

IMG_3468IMG_3484all around the neighborhood there were water bowls for pups

Now for the main course: pastas at Trattoria de Teo–Theo’s restaurant! This hidden restaurant was the best; it’s known by the locals for having some of the best pasta in all of Rome. It did not disappoint. Chef Teo even came out to meet our Theo!

Afterwards, we took a passeggiata around the Jewish Ghetto and over to the Isola Tiberina.




The last stop was for gelato. We were stuffed and sad to see our trip to Rome coming to a close.

IMG_3531IMG_3535IMG_3537our group at the last stop of the Roman Foodie tour

Saturday arrived, and we faced a mammoth day of travel. We arrived at the airport to discover the tickets for our flight had been reserved, but our seats had not been confirmed. This meant that the wonderful folks at Alitalia had sprinkled us throughout the plane, a situation which was not going to work on a 9+ hour flight. After a whole lot of haggling, they were able to get us somewhat together in 2 rows, in the middle of the plane, and towards the back. Thus, Alitalia achieved what we assumed would have been the rare accomplishment of making this return flight even more uncomfortable than the one we took going to Rome.

IMG_7929claustrophobia, anyone?

Only 2 of the 5 screens for in-flight entertainment worked. There were 3 kids. Imagine the drama.

Also, even though the flight left Rome around 11 a.m., the Italians on the plane decided it was time to sleep, so they closed all the window shades. It was pitch black dark, crowded, cramped, and irritating. But at least they kept the wine flowing.

We hit customs at JFK, and the boys were bouncing off the walls. They kept making goofy faces at the passport recognition station thing which subsequently kept rejecting our passports. Everyone was a little edgy after 9 hours in a tin can, to say the least.

Finally, after over 16 hours of travel, we landed in Atlanta.

IMG_7933home, sweet home

I’ve had friends ask if Rome is too ambitious to tackle with young kids; to them, I say, absolutely not. Rome is nothing short of spectacular, and we cannot wait to visit it again.

5,022 miles: road trip!!

(ridiculous amount of photographs to follow…)

When we first started planning our trip to Italy, we thought we’d try to spend 4 nights in Rome and 3 nights in Florence, but once we realized that would involve switching hotels 3 times, we bagged that idea…but the notion of a day-trip kept calling our names.

After studying more train time tables than Sir Topham Hatt ever has, we decided we could get to Florence and Pisa during a day-trip, but it would be a day-trip on steroids, planned down to the very minute (no joke).

First up, the speed train from Rome to Florence, Frecciarosa. (There was a time when this bright red bullet train would have been the total highlight of the trip for a few boys who were obsessed with trains.) The train left Termini Station a little before 9; I’d ordered and printed tickets ahead of time, but that still didn’t help make maneuvering Termini any less frantic. In fact, even after the train had pulled out of the station, we were still a little worried that we were on the wrong one.

(And a side-note, from my college days on the Eurorail:  they still don’t check your tickets until you are over halfway to your destination, which always seemed a little weird to me.)


An hour and ten minutes later, we were in Florence.


Theo wanted to wear his new soccer jersey every. single. day.

Florence seems tiny compared to Rome. We exited the train station, looked up and saw the spire of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, and started making our way to it. I’d been here once before, but I’d honestly forgotten its magnificence.


Getting tickets to climb the Duomo was tricky. Head to the little ticket vendor in this yellow building below which, as you can see, is not inside the church. We figured this out after we stood in line inside the church to get to the stairs to climb the dome and had to come back outside, find the ticket stand, go back inside the church and get back in line. For a family on a tight schedule, this was a little unnerving. Save yourself the time and grab the tickets right when you get into Piazza del Duomo.


Climbing the Duomo was hard, hard work. The stairs wind up and up and up and are steeper than the stairs at St. Peter’s. Just when you get to the narrow, slanty part, the path turns into a two-way one with backpackers and other visitors climbing back down. Imagine passing someone climbing down a ladder as you were trying to climb up it. While hauling a backpack. That’s about what it was like.




Once at the tippety-top, the view is unbelievable–though crowded. (The light was terrible at this time of day, too…).


(The trick for dealing with crummy, too bright, almost noontime light? Switch over to black and white…)



We climbed back down, caught our breath, and popped in to the Baptistery of St. John. Everyone knows about Ghiberti’s beautiful bronze doors, but we were equally as amazed at the mosaic on the ceiling inside.


yes, I actually took this photo… 🙂


those beams of sunlight coming through the windows are called crepuscular rays, and they’re kind of a big deal to catch on camera, especially in a Holy place…

We headed down to the River Arno and the Ponte Vecchio, intending to take a quick peek and then get lunch.



Now pretty much anybody would know that to see the Ponte Vecchio, one needs to not be standing on the Ponte Vecchio. Yeah, I blew that one big time.


boys on the Ponte Vecchio…

So we started taking pictures out over the Arno towards the bridge that is not the Ponte Vecchio…


…and turned around to see that Theo had wandered off. He was only missing for maybe a minute or so, but it was enough to freak us all out. He did the right thing and found a police officer and stood by him until we spotted them both. Then we had to take his picture with the officer who, as it turns out, was a huge Inter Milano fan (Theo’s ever-present soccer jersey).


After that little adventure, we needed to regroup. We found an adorable little bistro tucked into an alley way that looked out towards the Basilica of Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan church in the world. We were in a time crunch, so we didn’t get a chance to walk down to it, which was a mistake. If you have time, definitely make a stop there. (We also skipped the Uffizi; again, a must-see if you have time.)



Next up, a trans-Florence sprint on foot to the Accademia Gallery. We’d gotten tickets ahead of time (again, a must-do) and were scheduled to visit at 1:30. We had to be on the train to Pisa by 3:24, so it was time for speed-art-viewing–actually a challenge for the boys.


Michelangelo’s David and a Stradivari violin. Both worth more than you or I can ever imagine.

We made our way through the Accademia in what was surely record time (again, not a great thing to brag about; Florence, we owe you another visit). Afterwards, we trotted towards the train station with pit stops for gelato and to make a wish at the bronze boar.


Jack’s 6th grade class Opera this year is The Mikado; he thought these cookie stick things were a pretty appropriate find


disturbing on many levels, right? This mask is way creepier than the Pinocchio store (and that’s really saying something).


It’s the Fontana di Porcellino, the famous pig statue originally created in 1634 (this one is a modern copy). Rub his snout (or jam a penny in there to see if it’ll roll into the grate below) and you’ll be assured good luck and a return visit to Florence. Rome has the Trevi Fountain for this; Florence has a huge pig in the back of an open air market. Ok, then.


Train time, round II.

The train from Florence to Pisa was no Frecciarosa. This puppy was cramped and un-airconditioned and semi-smoky–just like the trains I remember from college. And just like we did in college, Russ brought along a bottle of wine for the journey.

Forty-eight minutes later, we were in Pisa.



the boys’ first view of the tower; I wish this came with audio…

One of the neatest things we did this entire trip was tossing a ball around on the grounds of the Piazza dei Miracoli. A friend had suggested we bring a football (an American football, not a soccer ball), and while it was a bit of a pain to haul around, it was totally and absolutely worth it.

wait! is it? could it be? a sign for another Holy Door?

well, not exactly, but it is a Jubilee church; our Reverend Tucker was the only taker alongside me for this one: the Basilica Metropolitana Primiziale (the Duomo next to the tower)

we threw our football to these guys who were playing with their football and a quick game of kick-around followed. New Spanish friends!

Finally, on to the Tower itself. Tickets in hand, we walked up to the entrance like we knew what we were doing and like one of us was not under the age of 8. The website makes no bones about it:  you must be 8 years old to climb the Tower. Be prepared to show your passport. Theo was very, very nervous about getting denied entry (and if he couldn’t go then we’d made the decision that no one would go). But, miraculously, the guard barely even looked at our tickets before pointing to the door.

The first time I was in Pisa, the Tower was not open for climbing. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. If you go to Pisa, this is an absolute MUST.


one of my favorite photos of the entire trip…Jack, looking out over the town of Pisa from atop its famous leaning tower




my other favorite shot of the trip…Jack heading back down the leaning steps


We had a train to catch, so we headed back towards the station, taking in the sunset over the Arno after we grabbed what Russ believed to be the greatest pizza we’d had in Italy.





We arrived back in Florence with about 10 minutes to spare before our next train headed back to Rome. In the end, we’d traveled 452 miles, visited several important sites, and had probably our best day in Italy.

Go to Pisa. You will not be disappointed. Trust us on this one.


5,022 miles: even more Italy

Ah, Wednesday. You arrived with thunderstorms. We didn’t care.


We headed out of our apartment towards Piazza del Popolo and its twin churches, one of which–for some reason, refurbishment, maybe?–was covered by a gigantic advertisement.

IMG_2975The trident of streets is easily seen (Via del Corso in the middle, Via del Babuino on left and Via di Ripetta on the right) but the lovely view of the twin churches (Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto) makes me never want to buy a Samsung product ever, ever again. Who does that to a church?

We walked across the Piazza and took some photos by the fountains in front of the obelisk, but the rain was getting on everyone’s nerves.

We decided to hop in to the Leonardo DaVinci museum which is tucked away on the other side of the piazza, across from the churches and Samsung ad. Everyone loved this museum. There were hands-on exhibits and models of DaVinci’s umpteen thousand machines, all divided into sections representing the 4 elements of life (air, water, earth, fire) so our Dan Brown fans were thrilled, of course.

Afterwards, we walked back across the piazza and broke the cardinal rule of dining in Rome:  never eat around a monument; however, Rosati wound up being a pleasant surprise. We sat outside under the awnings and were given fuzzy bright red blankets to wrap up in. Watching folks scamper across the piazza in the rain while we were bundled up and enjoying a $6 bottle of Roccameno that wasn’t half bad (yes, it was a $6 bottle of wine–at a restaurant in a piazza where prices are typically jacked sky-high. We were brave travelers on this day, for sure.)


Next stop? The Galleria Borghese.

Someone asked us if our kiddos were Renaissance fellas who loved art and drama and music or if they were just normal kids. I always contend they are normal kids–who just happen to really like going to art museums.


I doubt you are supposed to let your child lie on the ground to take a photo in a museum, but just try to stop him.


The Borghese is just ridiculous in the amount of art stuffed into it; it’s a celebration of greed. Just Google Cardinal Scipione Borghese to get an idea of how crazy this place is. It’s stacked to the gills with artwork by Caravaggio, Raphael, Rubens, Bernini…artwork covers every inch of the walls, including the ceilings.


It’s critical to get tickets to the Galleria Borghese ahead of time. Visitors are only admitted in 2 hour time slots, and they fill up fast.




We left the Galleria and walked through the rolling Villa Borghese which puts Atlanta’s Piedmont Park to shame.


Next stop:  gelato. Of course. Theo was very excited.


Then a quick stop by another Angels & Demons site–Santa Maria della Vittoria. Just like in the movie, it was closed. Sigh.


Because I was in charge of the map at this point in time, I could see that–oh, yes!–another Holy Door was just a mile or so away. I was able to placate the masses with the assurance that this was indeed the LAST Holy Door I’d drag them through (at least in Rome). Our fourth Holy Door, at The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, was just as stunning as our previous three. Google Our Lady of the Snows for an amazing story about the history of this Basilica.



The walk from the Villa Borghese down to Santa Maria della Vittoria and on over to Santa Maria di Maggiore wore out 3/5 of our party. While they all retired to the apartment for a lie-down, Tucker and I headed over to the Keats-Shelley House near the Spanish Steps for a little foray into English poetry.


We both loved it (shocker).

The rain and the walking and the jet lag were hurting us today so we ditched probably the best restaurant reservations of the trip (at Armando…sigh) and headed back around the corner to Alla Rampa and acted like we were locals.


We made a quick pit stop at Bartolucci, which is basically Geppeto’s workshop, so we could plant the seeds of nightmares in our heads (just watch this eerie little video from their website and you’ll see what I mean…).


…then we all hit the hay. Big field trip out of Rome on deck!


5,022 miles: ancient Rome (part IV)


When one thinks of Rome, one surely thinks of this big guy and all he stands for. During the 5th grade Olympics at his school, Jack had immersed himself in all things ancient Rome, so he was looking forward to seeing the Colosseum in real life. I’d found out from a friend about an amazing tour of the Third ring and the Underground at the Colosseum, so it was one of the first tours I actually booked.

But before the Colosseum there was…you guessed it…another Holy Door.


the Basilica of St. John in Lateran


The flower garland draped over the door was the only decoration we saw on any of the Holy Doors. 

The Basilica of St. John in Lateran has a ton of history to it:  it’s the actual cathedral church of Rome and its construction was ordered by Emperor Constantine, the man who helped turn Rome from paganism and towards Christianity.


the Holy Door from inside the Basilica


Across the street from the Basilica is the Scala Sancta, a set of 28 marble stairs brought to Rome by Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, sometime around the year 326. These stairs are the ones Jesus walked up to receive his judgment from Pontius Pilate; the faithful climb them on their knees, a particularly holy exercise, especially during Lent.


It was difficult; it was powerful, and it hurt; however, we are certain it hurt much less than crucifixion. We were surrounded by nuns and pilgrims, and it was completely silent except for the low murmuring of prayers.

We left the Scala Sancta a little stunned. We could see the Colosseum about a mile ahead of us, and we had a little over an hour until our tour of its Third Ring and the Underground, so we decided to walk there and stop for a quick lunch on the way.

But nothing in Rome is quick.

We found an adorable little sidewalk cafe, Trattoria Luzzi, around 11:45 and popped right in, sat down and ordered. The host came and sat next to us, chatting with the boys and making them laugh. I pulled out our Colosseum tickets and explained that we needed to be there by 12:30. Our charming host told us not to worry.

So we didn’t. And he didn’t either.


Our food–which was quite good, by the way–didn’t arrive until 12:15, and we woofed it down in a typically rude American fashion then set off on a mad dash down the hill to the Colosseum.

We arrived 5 minutes late and were told our tour had already left without us. To add insult to the injury, we were also told we needed to purchase entirely new tickets to gain access to the Colosseum at all. I’m still confused by this as our Third Ring tickets were not cheap and definitely included getting in the door. We managed to convince the ticket lady to let us in on a much shorter tour of the areas open to the general public led by a guide, which was to start at 12:45.

The guide didn’t even show up until 1, which only led me to believe there was no way being 5 minutes late was the death knell to the original tour. Grr. Frustration. Did I mention it was pouring rain at this point, too?

IMG_2880IMG_2879IMG_2884IMG_2886Roman weather in March is insane…thunderstorms one second, bright blue skies the next…

The 45-minute tour was, to be honest, nothing much to write home about–most likely because we were all disappointed to be missing out on the Third Ring/Underground tour and growing a little weary of the schizophrenic weather.


Our next stop was Gladiator School. Thankfully, a friend had warned me that this is way, way out in the middle of nowhere. She certainly wasn’t kidding. It took awhile to even find a taxi who would drive us. Then he dumped us off at what looked like an exit ramp to an interstate and grunted at us to head that way.

Thankfully, Russ had Google Maps fired up on his phone, and we headed down the highway and then turned right onto a dirt road. The whole walk there was surreal; I was honestly worried that we had the wrong address and was also concerned with how on earth we were going to get back to town. We saw only one car (pictured below) on our 15 minute walk.


this can’t be safe (all I kept thinking was that my Dad would be freaking out if he knew what we were doing right this moment…)


finally! a sign!


I was seriously wondering what I’d gotten us into at this point, but Gladiator School was an absolute slam dunk.


The owner, Paolo, meant business. This was a combo of American Ninja Warrior and Ultimate Fighting lessons. Each boy cried at least once while Russ and I sat on some wooden bleachers and took in the spectacle (stellar parenting, no?). But somehow they all graduated from Gladiator School and were given certificates (and a bonus lesson on the importance of a firm handshake). Paolo was a hero and even called us a taxi.

Between the Colosseum tour debacle and the 2.5 hour Gladiator School experience, we were worn out, so we took a break at the apartment before heading out to dinner.



Da Pancrazio was amazing. Built over the site where Julius Caesar was assassinated, the place just oozes history. (Don’t let its emptiness fool you; we were still dining on American time–around 7–instead of the typically Roman time for dinner, which is much, much later and unmanageable with small kiddos.) Afterwards, we walked over to the Campo di Fiori, an open air marketplace that is decidedly more happening in the daylight hours and when it’s not raining.


While Gladiator School was a highlight, we were surprised at how overrated we found the Colosseum–something that surely was driven by our frustration at missing our original tour and subsequently enduring a much more common, less detailed visit with a guide who spoke very broken English. We were still in love with Rome, but we were not happy that we’d spent a good chunk of our day wrapped up with the Colosseum. Maybe all of that was God’s way of fussing at us for following the most Holy experience of the Scala Sancta with a visit to a place that was once totally devoted to grisly battles and the unnecessary butchering of animals (our guide proudly told us that over “5,000 beasts” were slaughtered during the Colosseum’s inaugural celebration–a spectacle which lasted 100 days). Ugh.

We were now halfway through our Italian adventure, and the best parts were coming up.