Up, Up, and Up Again: Exploring Split’s Marjan

Lucca, Italy has two large playgrounds just beneath the wall, as well as two smaller ones on top of the wall.

Lucca, Italy has two large playgrounds just beneath the wall, as well as two smaller ones on top of the wall.

When we left Lucca, Italy for Split, Croatia the Younger Fives were pretty bummed to leave behind Lucca’s wall and the four nearby playgrounds. We actually chose to live in Lucca out of every other city in Italy because it had such a great play-space for children. Not many cities can compete with a pedestrian friendly wall encircling the entire city, peppered with well maintained playgrounds? However, now that we have visited Split’s Marjan we can safely say that it gives Lucca a run for its money.

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The Marjan is a massive, forested hill that takes up the entire peninsula to the west of Split’s Old Town. To access the Marjan you start climbing sets of stairs that begin just off of the waterfront promenade. The kids had a blast racing each other up the stairs and looking back on Diocletian’s Palace from the scenic view points. However, they were completely amazed when we emerged into a Pine forest about half-way up the hill. The trees are huge, and we haven’t actually been in a forest since last march when we visited Sequoia National Park, so we were all giddy with excitement. As soon as the kids noticed the playground and three amazing climbing structures they were off like shots to spend the next hours playing under the trees.

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We couldn’t have imagined how good it would feel to be back in a forest breathing clean air with no cars buzzing by, or noise from nearby roads. Lately we have been hard hit by how much we miss being out in nature. Even on Lucca’s wall we were always within eye sight of cars and trucks zooming past. However, on the Marjan it was so quiet, and the air was so clean that you wouldn’t believe that the city of Split was just a short distance away. It was hard for us to pull ourselves away, but finally we rallied the troops and finished climbing the last set of stairs to the top of the hill.

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At the very top of the hill is a large observation area with amazing views of Split and the Mosor mountains to the North, and the Adriatic and nearby islands to the South. The top of the hill is know as the Telegrin (telegraph). It gets its name from the optical station of telegraph that Napoleon’s troops installed at the start of the 19th century. While the rest of our day included scrambling along the rocks and enjoying a picnic lunch we can’t wait to go back to discover the many other exciting treasures that this gem of a public park offers, including hermitage caves dating back to the 15th century. A visit to the Marjan will definitely become part of our weekly routine while we are here in Split.

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Rome’s Biggest Playground: Park of the Aqueducts

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After a few days exploring the dizzying array of sites in Rome, the Younger Fives were ready to run free without having to worry about traffic or throngs of people passing them on both sides. Il Parco degli Acquedotti (The Park of the Aqueducts) is an ideal place for families to enjoy a natural refuge while still soaking up the marvels of ancient Rome.

Fives’ Facts About The Park of the Aqueducts
* Aqueducts in the Park: The park contains the remnants of two impressive aqueducts. One, Aqua Claudia, was finished in 52 AD and spanned 69 kilometers. It could provide all of Rome’s 14 districts with water, and the volcanic ash used in the concrete made it very durable. Acqua Felice, on the other hand, was built in 1586 by Pope Sextus V. It is 24 kilometers long and was the first new aqueduct of early modern Rome.
* Getting There:
The park is easily reached from the Guilo Agricola stop on the Metro’s A line. From there it is a 4 block walk SW out of the subway station to Via Lemonia. From there, turn left and walk along for a few blocks; you can enter the park anywhere on your right. For pictures of the route and a map, we used the information from Ron in Rome.
Playgrounds: We found a large, impressive playground (the biggest and best we’d seen in Rome) just outside of the park on Via Lemonia, a few blocks from the intersection with Via Guilo Agricola. It also has carnival type attractions for kids, a restaurant, and several food vendors there.
* Nature:
The park’s fields, meadows, and open spaces give a welcomed break from the stone and pavement of Rome. The kids enjoyed playing at the edge of a stream going through the park, and they were mesmerized by the park’s small waterfall (between the Acqua Felice and the farm fields, in the span between the playground and large church that provides a handy reference point while in the park).
* Rome’s Aqueduct System:
At its peak Rome’s aqueduct system spanned about 800 kilometers in total length. It supplied Rome with over 300 million gallons of water every day, which is 25% more than the current daily water supply of Bangalore, India.

Junior Rangers Rule

A post by Five of Hearts and Five Ball

When we went to the Mammoth Hot Springs Visitor Center we met a park ranger who told us about Yellowstone’s Junior Ranger activity book. The activity book, which looked like a big newspaper was lots of fun. There were many activities that taught you all about Yellowstone National Park. Some that we liked the best were coloring a hot spring and looking for animals in a maze. We learned about the temperatures of hot springs and how a volcano erupts.

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As part of the activity book we also had to pledge to protect Yellowstone and teach other people to protect nature and respect animals. Another thing we had to do was go on a hike. This was easy because we went hiking everyday. When the activity book was done we returned it to a ranger at the visitor center. It was fun to talk to her about our visit to the park and how hard we worked on the activity book. She had us promise to teach others about Yellowstone and she gave us our junior ranger badges. We are so proud to be junior ranges so we can help protect nature and help out in the park.

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There was another activity that we worked on at Yellowstone. It was an animal spotting check list that a ranger gave us the first day that we entered the park. For every animal you saw you got 10 points. On our visit we did really well. We saw: Bison, Coyote, Trumpeter Swans, Wolves (through a spotting scope), Mule Deer, Elk, Pronghorns, Bighorn Sheep, Ravens, Squirrels, Chipmunks, Geese, and Moose. We were surprised that we saw so many different types of animals. Now we want to go back and try and see wolves up closer, without a spotting scope.

Yellowstone National Park is a great place for kids! You can see so much and have fun in nature!

Going Wild at Squam Lakes Natural Science Center

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With our upcoming summer journey to Newfoundland just around the corner, we’ve been scrambling to visit some final places in New England before our departure. At the top of our list was the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness, New Hampshire. We’ve heard some wonderful things about how they blend natural learning with hands-on fun, so we knew we had to visit to experience all that they have to offer for ourselves.

Our first stop was the biweekly river otter feeding (since the animals are fed at night, this was really just a snack). The younger fives were mesmerized by the way the two otters ate, slid, and played, but the learning was not limited to observation. Otter pelts invited the fingers of the younger Fives, and they eagerly explored a clever “otter lunch box” depicting river otters’ favorite foods. A very friendly and knowledgeable staff person also pointed out interesting details to the kids, and she answered dozens of questions from Five Spice and myself. We were most surprised to learn that one of the otters was a refugee from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (all of the animals at the Center are either injured or unable to be released into the wild due to prolonged human contact).

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Our next stop was the thoroughly impressive Gordon Children’s Center, a two story barn filled with playful learning at its best. From climbing spider webs to crawling through gopher tunnels, we were a blur of activity as we explored the barn’s offerings. When we needed to catch our breath, there was an inviting “night sounds” room and a magnetic “build your own plant” board on which High Five soon created an imposing plant overflowing with leaves and stems.

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 As we continued along the Gephart Exhibit trail, we couldn’t get enough of the combination of seeing live animals and learning about them through play. After observing two black bears in the enclosure, we got a chance to explore a bear cave, learn about a “bear plug”, and lift panels on a beautifully painted mural to visualize the varied foods that bears eat (the vast majority being insects and plants).

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 As the day wore on it was hard to keep track of all the things we had learned and done. A few highlights include comparing our arm span to different raptors, participating in the Mountain Lion Olympics (we fell quite short of the mountain lion’s 30-foot long and 15-foot high leap), and wiggling through a chipmunk burrow. We loved how the interesting facts about each animal were set in the larger context of the surrounding ecosystem to show that all the parts are connected.

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With so much fun and learning packed into a day, we’ll be sure to keep connecting what we learned and did at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center with our homeschool studies for many years to come. And we’re glad to know we still have a few more years to train before the next Mountain Lion Olympics comes around!

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Tortoises: Life on the Beach

A post by Five of Hearts

We were in Jacksonville, Florida. We were on the beach one day and all the sudden I looked behind me and saw a tortoise.  It was crawling along the sand dunes and then it went up into the dunes and back into its hole.

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Here is what I know about Gopher Tortoises:
– The inside of their burrow is mostly made of sand.
– They like the beach and land a lot.
– They only like a little bit of water, not as much as turtles do.
– They like to eat leaves off of plants.
– Their burrows are used by snakes, frogs and burrowing owls.
– The burrows they make can be 40 feet long.

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We had a great day on the beach seeing the tortoise. To see more pictures of what we saw on the trip visit our Nature on the Fly page.

Bye bye. See you next time.
– Five of Hearts