California’s Egyptian Oasis

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We’re often asked how we decide where to travel to next. Truth be told, one man has had as much influence on our travels as anyone: Rick Riordan. After reading the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series aloud as a family, Five of Hearts had her heart set on seeing Athens and Greece. Then, The Heroes of Olympus series hooked Five Ball on seeing Rome. We were fortunate to visit both places this past winter during our Train Odyssey, but Egypt (the inspiration for The Kane Chronicles series) remained elusive. However, driving through the Bay Area last week, we were thrilled to come across the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, an ideal place to experience in person the information we’ve learned about Egypt through the adventures of Sadie and Carter Kane.

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A dramatic entrance lined with papyrus plants leads into the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the western United States. To give our exploration some focus, we downloaded and printed their Passport to Ancient Egypt, which gave a great background for each exhibit, provided questions for the kids to answer, and had a place for a special stamp available in most rooms of the museum. The passport is also available for purchase (under $1) at the front desk, which is a more compact version for older children who don’t need as much space to write in their answers.

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The kids loved making their way through the various exhibits filled with original artifacts, and we liked how important Egyptian objects physically located in other museums were recreated (like the Rosetta Stone above) to help visitors still experience them. While not every artifact held the kids’ attention, there were plenty of kid-friendly features to keep them engaged. In addition to the passport stamps, each exhibit had special clues/ facts that were only visible when the kids shone a special light (provided by the front desk) on them. Between searching for the answers to their Passport questions and looking for the stamps and secret clues, the kids had plenty to keep them busy as they expanded their knowledge about ancient Egypt’s gods and culture.

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Our favorite exhibits were on the bottom floor of the museum, devoted to burial practices and the afterlife. The kids couldn’t believe the human mummies in the glass cases were real, and they examined many original artifacts dealing with mummification and the afterlife. The best part, though, was the guided tomb tour. The tomb itself is a recreated composite meant to give a sense of what a typical tomb would be like. While visitors can explore it any time the museum is open, we highly recommend the guided free tour usually offered once per day. The friendly and knowledgeable staff really helped us notice details we would have missed on our own, especially the significance of the murals and hieroglyphs in the inner tomb.

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We decided to wrap up our visit by exploring the grounds outside the museum. We found a shaded table and chairs for an afternoon snack, and then we explored the gardens, fountains, and temple that make up Rosicrucian Park. As we were leaving we spotted a strange sight (traffic cones and an over-sized dice), so we couldn’t resist investigating. We had stumbled upon a giant Senet game and wasted no time reading the directions and trying to move our pieces off the board through spaces such as the House of Rebirth and the House of the Three Truths. No one knows exactly how the game was played in ancient Egypt, but there were enough imagery on tomb walls and artifacts discovered to make a reasonable guess. We weren’t, therefore, too worried about following the rules exactly, which made playing more fun. Sure, we probably made some moves that would make ancient Egyptians shoot us looks of disapproval, but we felt honored to be keeping their tradition alive over 5,000 years after the oldest known boards were buried for use in the afterlife.

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Train Odyssey Day 14: Adapt, Collaborate, or Resist

Day 14 of our Eurail trip brought us back to the city of Amsterdam. Unfortunately, we have to say that we weren’t that impressed with the city itself. It might have been because Amsterdam Central train station was the most confusing train station to navigate. In addition the luggage lockers were ridiculously expensive (over 20 Euros to store our bags for the day). After enjoying the green spaces of Bruges the city just seemed dirty and crowded. The canals were even more full of floating garbage than those in Venice, and we couldn’t get used to the bicycles that went whizzing by constantly. Trying to navigate car traffic with three kids is one thing, but having to worry about bikes as well is really difficult.

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Now that we got the negatives out of the way, we have to say that we did have our best museum experience ever in the city. Last month when the kids started studying World War 2 we came across The Verzets Museum (the Dutch Resistance Museum). The museum website had a very informative Junior section that described what it was like for 4 different children when the Nazis invaded The Netherlands. The Younger Fives were immediately hooked by the narratives of these children, and we decided that visiting the Dutch Resistance Museum Junior section would be a priority.

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We could never have dreamed what an amazing experience this would turn out to be. The Resistance Museum Junior is a masterfully put together exhibit from start to finish. The five of us were captivated from the moment we entered the doors through their very cool “time machine”, until we finally had to force ourselves to leave so that we wouldn’t miss our next train. High Five being only four years old was able to participate fully in every display thanks to the easy to use audio guides, and touch screen computers.

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The museum did a wonderful job putting together multi-faceted displays. The visual, audio, written, and interactive aspects of the Junior Museum made learning about what life was like in The Netherlands during World War 2 both captivating and understandable. It also did a really great job of presenting life during the war from multiple angles. We were introduced to children from the entire spectrum of life at the time of the Nazi invasion, which really helped present a complete picture of how the war affected all children no matter what side they were on.

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It is not often that you find a museum that will engage every member of your family, and we really feel fortunate that we were able to visit. We encourage anyone heading to Amsterdam to make time for the Resistance Museum Junior, no matter your age.

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A Week in Rome with Kids

To be honest we were really very nervous about taking our three children to Rome. They have been begging to see this amazing city for about two years (one home school until on Ancient Rome and they were hooked), and we didn’t want our visit to fall short of their expectations. From the ruins to the many gelatarias they were envisioning a DisneyWorld-esque adventure. We didn’t want to burst their bubble, but at the same time we knew that we had a lot to see in a very short period of time, and that the reality of getting from Point A to Point B would be challenging for little legs. So, we started preparing for our trip months in advance hammering out our itinerary, researching transportation options, and finding a great place to stay. Below we have included our itinerary for the week as well as our tips for a successful trip to “The Eternal City” with children.

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Exploring Rome with Children: A Seven Day Itinerary

Day 1:
– Arrive at the airport and take a car service to your accommodations
– After unpacking venture out for a pizza dinner.

Day 2:
– Sleep in and try to recover from yesterday’s busy travel day
– Visit  the Basilica of San Clemente (our kids loved exploring the lowest level)
– View the obelisk at Piazza di San Giovanni
– Find a gelataria and start trying some of the numerous flavors. You only have a week to fit them all in 🙂

Day 3:
-Day trip to Ostia Antica (pack a picnic lunch to take with you, as well as kid friendly distractions for the train ride).
-Take the train back into the city for pizza and gelato

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Day 4:
– Visit the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary
– Walk through Piazza Navona
– Stop for lunch at a cafe or pizzaria (make sure it has a bathroom first)
– Tour the Pantheon
– Stroll by Trevia Fountain while enjoying a scoop from one of the many surrounding gelatarias
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Day 5:
– Spend the day at Castel Sant’Angelo
– Plan time for the playground and the pedestrian friendly Ponte Sant’Angelo over the Tiber River
– End the day with Rome’s best pizza from Pizzarium (a short trip away via the metro)
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Day 6:
– Follow the locals to the Park of the Aqueducts to enjoy the playgrounds, and marvel at the remains of Ancient Rome’s engineering wonders
– After lunch and a rest explore as much or little of the Appian Way as your group is up to (we skipped the catacombs, and instead walked the area near the Mausoleo di Cecilia Metella)
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Day 7:
– Begin you day with a brief tour of the Roman Forum
– Head to Palatine Hill for a picnic lunch with incredible views
– Spend your last night in Rome with a meal at your favorite restaurant or pizzaria. Followed of course with just one last scoop of gelato 🙂
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The Kid’s Top Favorites:
1. Ostia Antica
2. Castel Sant’Angelo
3. The Park of the Aqueducts
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The Five’s 5 tips for a successful week:
1. Arrange a car service from the airport to your accommodation. After a long flight it is worth the money not to have to juggle luggage and kids as you try and secure a taxi or navigate public transportation. We used Bob’s Limousines but Rome Cabs was highly recommended as well.
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2. Consider a rental apartment instead of a hotel. Having a kitchen with fridge as well as a washing machine can really make the difference in making a busy week go a lot smoother. We used airbnb.com and found a lovely apartment for way less than we would have paid at a hotel.
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3. Think about getting around the city from your child’s point of view. Walking through Rome is a great experience. Around every corner there is a new amazing building or view to take in. However, little legs get tired easily and the crumbling ruins of Ancient Rome don’t seem so interesting to children after a while. While the bus service in Rome is extensive we opted to use the metro as much as possible. It is super fast and it gave the kids a chance to get off their feet. Kids ride for free and a seven day pass for us adults was very affordable. Our rental apartment was less than a 5-minute walk from a metro stop which made all of the difference after a long day of sightseeing. Just be sure to avoid the metro during rush hour from about 4:30pm-6:30pm. It isn’t worth the pushing and shoving to get into a car, especially with young children in tow.
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4. Plan ahead for restroom facilities. With three young children we always had someone in our group who had to go. Restrooms were easy to find at the ticketed sights such as the Colosseum and Castle Sant’Angelo, but were sparse in many other areas. Near Piazza Navona we ended up spending money at a cafe just so that we could use their restroom. Of course after the fact we found this great map that some wonderful person put together of “free restroom facilities” in Rome. This would have come in handy!
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5. Stop for pizza and gelato often! Honestly the kids were mostly looking forward to eating a lot of gelato and pizza while in Rome. It really helped that most every gelataria offers some vegan flavors and those like Il Gelatone have several on hand everyday. Having a treat of gelato to look forward to everyday made their little legs work harder and helped keep their attention through some of the more “boring” sights that the adults wanted to check out. We usually try to limit sweets, but on this trip our adage was “when in Rome, eat gelato”.
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Mosaics and Monuments: A Day at Rome’s Ancient Seaport, Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica, Imperial Rome’s bustling seaport where the Tiber River once ran into the Mediterranean Sea, is a short metro ride from Rome but feels a world away. It is an ideal place to get lost in the Roman world without all the modern intrusions.

Mosaics: One of the most striking features of Ostica Antica is its wealth of mosaics. From the epic depiction of Neptune on the floor of the public bath house to the more modest mosaics announcing local businesses (taverns, bakeries, etc.), the mosaics give a glimpse into what life was like for the Romans of Ostia.

Sculptures and Frescoes: While only a fraction of the original public and private art has survived, what remains still impresses. Contemporary artists have also been commissioned to recreate some of the marble sculptures that have been lost to time.

Buildings: One of our favorite parts of our trip to Ostia was wandering around the ruins. Some sections like the necropolis form a maze of dead-ends (pun intended), while others like the theater dramatic vistas (ditto) of the former glory of the city. The Younger Fives especially enjoyed scrambling up the buildings for better views and exploring dark corridors in an attempt to find treasures from the past.

 

Fives’ Facts About Ostia Antica:
* Rome’s Ancient Seaport
: Originally established as a settlement to take advantage of the nearby salt marshes, Ostia Antica grew to become Rome’s principal port. Its location was ideal for moving goods from the sea up the Tiber River to Rome. It flourished in the 2nd and 3rd centuries C.E., reaching well over 50,000 inhabitants. Eventually in the second half of the 3rd century the city began to decline. However, no modern city was ever built atop the ancient one, so there is really an unobstructed view into the past.
* Operating Hours and Fees:
The ruins open every day at 8:30 a.m. and close at 4:30 p.m. in the low season and 6:30 p.m. in the high season (final admission is an hour before closing). The site is closed on Mondays and on December 25th and January 1st. Admission is 11 Euros for adults; children under 18 are free.
* Getting There:
Ostia Antica is easily accessible by Metro and local train from downtown Rome (about 40 minutes). Take the “B” line to Piramide, which connects with Porto San Paolo regional rail station. Take any train on the Roma-Lido line (they all terminate at this station), and get off at the Ostia Antica stop. From the station, it is an easy and well-marked 10 minute walk to the ruins. Just take the pedestrian walkway over the highway and follow the signs from there.
* Spend the Day:
The archaeological site covers a lot of ground, so set aside several hours. We spent over 5 hours at the site and still didn’t fully explore everything. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy among the ruins or grab a bite to eat at the on-site cafe. There are water fountains on premise and bathrooms at the entrance and also at the cafe.
* Learn More: 
We followed up our visit to Ostia with this informative, eight-part series on the ancient city.

Guest Post: Vegan San Cristóbal

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We are pleased to report a first for the Fives. We have just completed our first guest post, an article at Anywheretraveler.com on eating vegan in San Cristobal de las Casas . We first came across the couple behind the site about a month ago while researching vegan eating options in Italy, and we contacted them with a few questions. They were very friendly and generous in answering our many inquiries, and we have stayed in touch ever since. We plan to share some of their many insights about Italy here on our blog before we travel to Rome this fall.

We hope you check out the full article using the link below.

http://www.anywheretraveler.com/vegan-cristobal-mexico/