Naples, Italy: The View Underground – by Clay

Last I spoke with everyone we were just leaving Africa. We’re now in Italy and have stayed in apartments in Rome and Napoli.  I thought I’d relate an experience we had in Napoli.

Having come from the spectacular sites of Rome – the Colosseum, Vatican City, Trevi Fountain – we took a high speed train to Napoli (or Naples) and arrived in an hour. Travel here in Europe is so much easier than other parts of the world we’ve been, with trains, buses, and taxis readily available, albeit much more pricey!

We got to our apartment which was very spacious and our host was very keen to point out things of interest on a map of Napoli which he left with us. He explained that Napoli was the birthplace of pizza and the very best pizza was at a restaurant called Sabillo on Via Tribunali. Turns out that it was very close to a tour we wanted to go on called Napoli Sotterranea where they took you underground to see Napoli as it was in the past. Caleb was passingly interested but, oddly, Connor did not want to go at all. All the tours we had done in Rome had probably worn him out.


We met with our guide, Alex, who really made it fun for the boys as they were the only children on the tour. He explained how the area we had descended into (some 30m below street level) used to be an elaborate series of chambers and aqueducts that were fed by mountain streams. Every now and again Alex would point up and show us where another hole in the vaulted ceiling indicated a well opening from which villagers would draw water.


They were also modified and used during World War II as bomb shelters when Italy was being bombed by the Allies. Here’s an interesting point – I knew that Italy was allied with the Nazis under Mussolini but what I didn’t know was that there was a resistance movement opposing Nazi rule throughout the war (according to Alex) and once Mussolini was overthrown, Italy changed sides.


At one point in the tour Alex gave us all candles, lit them, and told us to follow him through some of the very narrow waterways that were the aqueducts. Those who were claustrophobic could stay behind for 15 minutes or so as we would eventually circle around. This was definitely the highlight for the boys as we groped our way through the dark tunnels which seemed to twist and turn for no apparent reason. I had to walk sideways the entire time because they were all narrower than the width of my shoulders.



We emerged into various chambers and were shown how the University of Naples is conducting plant-growing experiments down in the tunnels and it turns out that the basil used so prominently in pizza does very well down there!

There were also other chambers that had been refilled with water to show how it used to be and how water was pulled up.


The next part of the tour took us back up to street level briefly as our next guide, whose name none of us can remember, took us to see the old amphitheatre. We were standing in the middle of an alley between two buildings and she said, “This is where the cheap seats would have started,” and I’m thinking, “Uh-huh. This is going to be REALLY interesting for the boys.” Then she leads us into somebody’s house and I’m thinking, “Ok, I hope the people who live here don’t mind a dozen strangers or so tramping through their living room.”


She then tells us how a lady used to live here and had a large wine collection. She used to have to access it trough a trapdoor under her bed. When she wanted to expand the storage space she accidentally broke through into the previously undiscovered amphitheatre. Over time, people just built on top of existing things and eventually the theatre was forgotten – until this lady and her wine obsession found it again.



We toured through the various spaces and tunnels – some were backstage passes, some were entrance arches, some were surmised to be dressing rooms. At one point we were in a bit of a wide tunnel that used to be an entryway and the guide explained that this area used to be used by a motorcycle repair shop. A little flat jut in the arched ceiling was someone’s kitchen floor and you could hear them, depending on the time of day of course, moving about and cooking. People who lived in the area were allowed to stay at the historic site because all the newer construction was actually helping to keep the old amphitheatre from falling apart.


All in all, it was a very interesting and somewhat convoluted but the boys loved it. Even Connor, who was not keen at the beginning, was re-energized and chattered about nothing else all the way back to our apartment. The only downside was that we never got to taste the best pizza from the famous restaurant because it was so full of people with a queue outside that stretched farther than we were willing to wait. But that’s a small thing compared to the great experience we had below ground in Napoli.

Rome, Italy: A Few Highlights – by Barb

We spent 5 full days in Rome. There was so much to see but we wanted each place we visited to be meaningful and enjoyable. You can’t run just from tourist sight to tourist sight with kids – especially after we’d been traveling for many months. So we picked what we felt were the most important places, learned a little about them and interspersed them with gelato and some down time. It was a great five days! Here are the highlights…

The Colisseum (see Caleb’s blog for more info)




Of course we had to try pizza while in Rome! We also tried lasagne, and a couple other kinds of pasta.



It really is everywhere! There are hundreds of kinds. Gelato was a great motivator, when the boys were getting tired of seeing another fountain or ruin.



We learned about the architecture of the Pantheon, through an interesting documentary we found online. To make our visit a little more exciting for the boys, we combined it with a few other sights, and gave them a scavenger hunt to complete, which included finding various components of the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Nanona (and the Fountain of Four Rivers) and the Spanish Steps. The reward: gelato, of course! We also stopped at the 4D Time Machine show, so we could all get a quick lesson on Roman history.

Trevi Fountain


Piazza Nanona (and the Fountain of Four Rivers)


Spanish Steps


Crypt of Capuchin Friars

The Capuchin Crypt is a series of tiny chapels located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. It contains the skeletal remains of 3,700 bodies believed to be Capuchin friars. When the monks arrived at the church in 1631, moving from the old monastery, they brought 300 cartloads of deceased friars. Fr. Michael of Bergamo oversaw the arrangement of the bones in the burial crypt. The bones have been arranged in rather bizarre decorative patterns. The boys found it quite fascinating and morbid!



Villa Borghese Gardens & Teatro Piccoli

We arrived at Borghese Gardens a little too late to rent bicycles, so we walked to Teatro Piccoli to see if there was a movie we could see in the world’s smallest cinema. Unfortunately, the movie playing that afternoon was in Italian so we opted not to see it. The park was quite beautiful but the cool, rainy weather wasn’t  conducive to spending hours there.


Vatican Museum – Sistine Chapel

Amazing! The art was absolutely stunning. Caleb (our art enthusiast) will write more about this. He was so excited to visit and would have sat staring at the artwork for days. To prepare for this visit, we watched two documentaries about Michelangelo and how he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It really helped us to appreciate and understand the artwork much better.


St Peters Basilica

Although we are not Catholic, we just had to see St Peters Basilica, one of the largest and wealthiest churches in the world. Visiting in March, we were very fortunate, as there was absolutely no line to get in (apparently people often wait for hours to get into the church). I used a free online audio guide to learn a little more about the church. The boys weren’t totally blown away but they didn’t mind us pointing out a few things, so at least they could come away with an appreciation for the building and what it represents. They did think it was cool that we were in another country – the smallest country in the world!

Rome, Italy: The Colosseum, The Biggest Death Trap on Earth! – by Caleb

OK, first off, yes, I see why people find this stack of bricks impressive, but let’s pretend that you’re not a tourist in modern day, but rather a gladiator, in Medieval times, entering the arena, wearing armour, holding a sword and shield, knowing that you’re going to die, sooner or later. Might not be as cool to be in the Colosseum back then. And, if knowing you’re about to die doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable enough, you get to fight in front of thousands of people who are happy to see you die. Now, that’s bound to scare you out of your wits, knowing that it’s up to the crowd to decide your fate. See, back then, with the twist of a thumb you could live or die. If the majority of the crowd pointed their thumbs toward their neck you had to kneel and show no emotion while your opponent stuck a sword through your throat. Pleasant, huh? However, if the crowds thought you had put up a good fight, you could live to die some other day.


Now let’s move on to the topic of what happened here. Alongside staging epic gladiator battles, the Colosseum also staged executions, re-enactments of myths and plays, man vs beast battles, and sea battles. Now when I realized what happened here, the thing that stood out the most, in the re-enactments of myths, was the use of criminals. For example, you know the myth of Icarus flying too close to the sun and then falling into the water? To create this scene, workers would attach fake wings onto a criminal, catapult him across the arena, and he would fall onto the ground and die. To make things more interesting, if the criminal didn’t die when he hit the ground a gladiator would come and finish him off.


Another magic trick the workers knew was how to make animals randomly appear, as if from out of nowhere. In reality, under the stage, in the basement (or the Hypogeum, as it was called) workers would lift animals in cages, using a pulley system. A trap door would drop down from the arena and the animal would have no choice but to run up the ramp onto the stage. The animals would be starving so that they would chase the gladiators around the arena, hunting down their next meal, making for an intense battle.

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Out of all of these gory events, the water battles were surely the most spectacular, and at the same time had the highest death count. To stage these sea battles, they would actually flood the Colosseum and send out small ships with criminals and gladiators on them. Sometimes the boat would be full of criminals and the gladiators would sink it, drowning thousands. This was the grizzliest show out of all. Some believe the water battles were only featured during the inaugural games of the Colosseum, as it was very time consuming and logistically taxing to fill and empty the arena with water in such a short period.


As for the history of the Colosseum, it was built in the Flavian dynasty by Emperor Vespasian. The Colosseum was actually not originally called the Colosseum; it was called the Flavian Amphitheater, so named because it was constructed in the Flavian dynasty (who would have guessed!). The Colosseum got its name because of the statue of Emperor Nero that stood nearby. The statue was originally located in Nero’s palace. Nero was the emperor preceding Vespasian and he ordered the construction of a massive palace so he would be remembered. He also ordered the building of an enormous gold statue of himself, in front of the palace. And that is how the colosseum got its name – because of the “colossal” statue nearby. Unfortunately for Nero, his legacy was not what he hoped for. People raged about how Nero was taking the land from the people of Rome and using it for himself. He was considered a tyrant emperor. So, after Nero’s death, Emperor Vespasian built the Colosseum on top of the palace, hoping it would earn him favour with the people. Vespasian said this was his way of giving the land back to the people, and it certainly was. It was fee for any citizen to see the spectacles that were staged in the arena and they were fed throughout the show.


Just like most arenas, the colosseum is round – except this one is in more of an oval shape instead of a circle. It was said this was because if a fight was in motion, the fighters could not get stuck in a corner. Although if you’re pressed up against a wall with a guy with a sword trying to kill you, you might not be so thrilled with the oval shape!


The Colosseum is an amazing, massive, mesmerizing stage but its blood stained past is something equally as interesting and something you shouldn’t miss out on. If you do travel to Italy (Rome), this is something you should visit and, if you take some time to learn about the Colosseum beforehand, I’m certain you will be just as fascinated as I was.

Rome, Italy: Where Did the Tans Disappear To? – by Barb

Sorry, it’s been quite some time since we’ve updated our blog. And I don’t really have a good excuse……except that, well, we’re not in Africa any more! And I know for many of you, you’re thinking, “Isn’t that all the more reason for you to be updating your blog more frequently?  – Better internet. Easier access to things.” You’d be right about the Internet. We were blown away with how fast our connection was, after spending a couple of months in Africa! And yes, access to everything is easier. Public transit works smoothly and efficiently, it’s spring here so we’re not dripping with sweat whenever we walk somewhere, and there are loads of stores, restaurants, museums, art galleries, historical sights, beautiful views…….And that you see, is the problem! There is just SO MUCH to see and do! And so much to learn!

As I’ve mentioned several times on this page, I really looked upon our year traveling the world as a learning opportunity for our boys (and us). Yes, there would be lots of adventure thrown in, as there always is when you travel (sometimes when you least expect it!) and hence the name of our blog: Tan Ed-venture (an educational adventure). And we have learned tons, and tons. But while we were in Africa, the learning seemed to come in manageable chunks. We spent a week volunteering at a small local school – a great experience that we will never forget. During our time there we learned a lot about the local people and their culture. We also stayed with the Maasai people, outside of the Maasai Mara Park and experienced yet another culture which is incredibly different from our own. We spent 5 days on safari in Tanzania learning about the local flora and fauna. At the end of each of these multi-day experiences we would have a “down day” or two where we could reflect on the experience and write about it.

It takes quite a while for us to complete a series of blogs. It’s a family affair: Clay usually sorts the photos for us (and Caleb adds in those he’s taken); we assign who will write about what; rough drafts are completed and shared and then edited; finally, I add the edited drafts to the blog page and insert the photos.

Once we’d arrived in Europe (Italy, to be more precise), the number of things we wanted to see and do – and the number of things accessible to us, increased substantially. Here we were in Rome, in an apartment with a flush toilet, and heat! We had a fridge and something to cook on (other than a hot plate). The shower had hot water that was hot within seconds, AND stayed hot for more than a minute! And to top it all off, we could walk to the train station, the Colosseum, numerous pizza places, countless museums and historical sights. There was even a two-storey bookstore at the train station, with a section of English books. (For those of you who know me, you know I cannot resist a bookstore!)

My teacher mode kicked into high gear. We got a book about the Colosseum and read it together. We watched two very interesting documentaries: one explaining the intricate system of trap doors and elevators used to move the animals from the basement into the arena of the Colosseum, and another explaining the kinds of battles that were believed to have been staged there. But once we’d learned a bit more about the Colosseum we needed to know more about the people of Ancient Rome. And once we’d starting learning more about the people, we needed to know about events occurring at that time. Once we learned that……well, you get the idea! So much to learn! So many places to see! (And this was only our first day here!)

Spending time in Europe has made history come to life. I was never really interested in history in school. It all seemed so removed from day to day life. But when you’re standing in the actual place where the events happened, it suddenly becomes much more relevant. So, we’ve been rather remiss on updating the blog, but it’s certainly not because we don’t have lots to share! So, I’ve decided to stop looking for things to visit and learn about for a couple of days while we put some of it on “paper” for you. Hope you enjoy!