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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Croatian Crossroads: A Visit to Klis Fortress

Today was a monumental day in home school (or road school) as we ventured out on a field trip to Klis Fortress. Since arriving in Europe the Younger Fives have been hard at work learning about civilizations, leaders, and important events pertinent to the continent of Europe. With the assistance of the Magic Tree House series, John Green’s Crash Course, and the BBC’s Horrible Histories they have worked their way through the Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Venetians, Hapsburgs, and onto the World Wars. So, it was with much excitement today that they headed off to explore a fortress that held importance to many of these groups. DSC06847-picsay Just a 30 minute bus ride north of Split, the Fortress of Klis lies in a pass between two mountains. This prime location between the mountains made this particular pass a very important stronghold for any group wanting to control the area and access to the Adriatic Sea. The history of the stronghold dates back to the 3rd century BC when it was first used by an Illyrian tribe of Dalmatae. From there the history is very fascinating and quite long, so we won’t go into great detail. However, it involves control by the Roman Empire, building of a palace by Croatian royalty, transformation to a fortress, invasion by the Ottoman Empire, control by the Republic of Venice, the Holy Roman Empire, and finally ending up as a permanent military outpost being used as late as World War 2. DSC06892-picsay DSC06910-picsay While the kids were excited to be visiting a place where Romans, Ottomans, and even Mongols (they attached the fortress in 1242) all stood, they were particularly excited to be so high up in the mountains looking down on Split. From way up at the top of the fortress you can see all of Split, its outlying areas, and even the islands off-shore. The unobstructed views from all sides give a great understanding to why this was such a prime location for any army. DSC06911-picsay DSC06870-picsay As we explored the fortress we only bumped into two other visiting tourists, so once again the kids had free reign to run, jump, and explore every nook and cranny. They all delighted in taking turns in the sentry boxes, although their height greatly limited their effectiveness as lookouts. Luckily mom and dad were there to give them a boost, so that they could pretend enemies were approaching from the north. Given all they have learned about in history class lately, they had many choices in deciding who the enemy actually was 🙂 DSC06851-picsay DSC06914-picsay Tip for visiting Klis Fortress via bus from Split – 1. Take bus #22 from the HNK (bus stand to the east of the Croatian National Theater). You can buy bus tickets at the small kiosk at the stand (kids ride for free). 2. The bus schedule posted in Split actually lists the time that the #22 bus leaves Klis, and not the time that it departs from Split. Make sure to figure in the 30 minute ride, so you don’t wait around at the HNK longer than necessary. 3. Once out of Split the bus ascends a very steep, very narrow, and very curvy road up to Klis. Fun for those who like thrills, but the more cautious might want to shut their eyes. 4. Stay on the bus until the very last stop where it will let you off at the base of the fortress. 5. There is a great little playground, a small store, and even a cafe very close to the bus stop to make use of while you await the return bus to Split. DSC06866-picsay

History in Miniature

We are down to a few weeks before we leave La Paz, Mexico, and we didn’t want to miss El Museo de Antropologia e Historia de Baja California Sur. This local history and anthropology museum was under construction when we visited, but many of the exhibits were still open and there was no admission fee. From miniature dioramas of the earliest inhabitants to full-sized recreations of burial sites, the museum was a fun and education way to spend the morning. And the shaded courtyard outside was the perfect place to get out some energy after using walking feet and quiet voices inside!

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Fired Up About Hydrants

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Here we go again. We promised ourselves that our days of suddenly stopping the car to take pictures of random items on the side of the road were behind us after we spent weeks photographing trash bins in Newfoundland. Alas, I guess we just can’t help ourselves.

Staying a week in Louisbourg to explore the nearby fortress, we soon noticed the colorful fire hydrants that line the downtown district. We loved how they told the story of the town, from French soldiers protecting what was once one of the busiest ports in North America to the fishing tradition that is still alive today. One of the managers at the Louisbourg RV Park and Campground (where we camped for the week) explained the hydrants were only turned into sidewalk art just a year ago as part of a “Paint the Town Red” event.

While certainly pale in comparison to the historical experience offered by the spectacular Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, these hydrants provide a fascinating and functional peek into the past of one of our favorite spots we’ve visited so far in our travels.

Cotton and Treasure: The Kingsley Plantation

When we arrived in Florida in July we started a historical fiction novel with Five of Hearts about a plantation owner and his family living in Florida in the early 1800’s. The Treasure of Amelia Island by M.C. Finotti fit nicely into our exploration of Route 1 as we had already read about the American Revolution and slavery in the original colonies. Now in Florida we were seeing more and more signs that the area was long under Spanish rule. The Treasure of Amelia Island begins in 1813 when Florida (or La Florida) is still goverened by Spain but Patriots are pushing to make it part of the United States.

The book recounts the life of Ana Jai Kingsley, a remarkable woman who after gaining her freedom goes on to own and run her own plantation and slaves. Although, unlike most slave owners in the United States she believes in freeing her slaves once they have worked for her for a time. As increased pressure is put on the family to renounce their loyalty to the king and join the Patriots, Ana Jai actually burns down her plantation so it won’t be used by the Patriots. As a freed black woman she would be sent back into slavery if La Florida were to become a state. Therefore, the family flees closer to the coast to a new plantation on Fort George Island where they remain for 23 years before eventually relocating to Haiti. The patriarch of the family, Zephaniah Kingsley, spends those years trying to convince the lawmakers of the new state of Florida to allow free people of color to remain free.

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While the book covers the history of the family it does so through a much more exciting fictional tale of a treasure hunt and alligator attack all told from the perspective of the Kingsley’s youngest daughter. Five of Hearts thought that the information about life on the plantation was interesting but she really loved the fictional treasure hunt the most. We knew that the Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island was still standing and is now opperated by the National Park Sevice. While camping on the coast by Jacksonville we were only 15 minutes away by ferry making it a great time to visit and bring closure to the book.

After taking the very short car ferry over the St. John River we drove through a thick spanish moss covered forest which at one time was fields of sea island cotton. Entering the plantation from the road we came to the partially remaining slave quarters first. The National Park service has done a fabulous job preserving and explaining what plantation life was like for a slave. After viewing the back breaking work and conditions that the slaves faced we were all flabbergasted at how Ana Jai who was once a slave herself could go on to become a slave owner.

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While the entire house wasn’t open for touring, we enjoyed walking around the grounds and especially the garden where we saw sea island cotton and indigo growing. Walking by the water at the front of the house it was hard not to find it a beautiful sight. However, after viewing the manacles that were found on site as tools of punishment for the slaves it was hard to view the plantation in a positive light. Visiting the plantation put a funny twist on the book. While reading it we had all hoped for the safety of Ana Jai and her family against the Patriots. However, after seeing how she forced her slaves to work and live it was hard to think of her with much favor. The definite take home message of the book and the plantation tour was that slavery was a truly horrible affair.

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