Amsterdam, Netherlands: A Few Days Around Amsterdam – by Barb

We were unable to get tickets online for Anne Frank’s House, so we arrived very early and joined the long line. It took us a couple of hours but we finally made it to the entrance way.

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Unfortunately Kim, Mom, Lana and Ellie had to head off to a food tour so they were forced to do a very quick run through in order to make it to their tour on time. The rest of us were able to move along at our own pace and really take in everything that Anne’s story represents. The boys and I had read part of the Dairy of Anne Frank ahead of time and watched the movie, which helped them to get more out of the visit. I thought they had done an excellent job of providing short video clips and snippets of information along the way so that you learned a lot but weren’t completely overwhelmed.

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The video at the end had a big impact on us as well. We all came away feeling rather somber and horrified that people could treat others that way.

 

While we were in Netherlands, we were all delighted that we were finally able to celebrate Liam’s birthday with him, in person! Since he lives in Luxembourg we don’t usually get to see him on his birthday. This year he got to celebrate with many of his cousins!

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Of course the Netherlands is world renowned for its tulips so we took a day trip to Keukenhoff. Keukenhoff, also known as the Garden of Europe, is one of the world’s largest flower gardens, with approximately 7 million flower bulbs planted annually in the park, which covers an area of 32 hectares. We were fortunate that the day we were there, there it was Dutch Heritage weekend, which meant people were in cultural dress and they had dance presentations, cheese tasting, and much more.

 

To better understand Dutch history and culture, we spent a day at The Zaanse Schans. It is a living and working community that dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s packed with wooden windmills, barns, houses and museums and built in the typically Dutch wooden architectural style. We learned how the Dutch clogs are made and how the windmills were used.

Heijen, Netherlands: Centre Parks , Good Times – by Caleb

Finally we meet family! My cousins Lana & Liam, my aunt & uncle, Kim & Bill, my other cousins, Ellie, Chloe, Molly, and Ruby, and my other aunt, Christy, along with my grandma, Freda and Christy’s mom and brother. We met up with them at a campground in the Netherlands. Ellie, Chloe, Molly, and Ruby and Christy went home a few days after the campground but Kim and Bill and Lana and Liam are still with us right now, (May 12, 2016). The campground was called Centre Parks and for me, after staying in a place like Travellers House for example, this place was a luxury.

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We stayed in cabin 369 that was in the woods just off the road through the campground. The cabin was small but it served our needs perfectly. The cabin had two double beds in separate rooms, a bunk bed (where Connor and I slept), two bathrooms (one right at the entrance, the other beside my room), a kitchen and a living room. There was wifi the speed of light (compared to other places) but since this was a five star campground, you had to pay for it, as you did almost all things.

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My aunt gave us a few coupons that we could use to do an activity that usually costs money, for free. The options for these activities were ziplining, wall climbing, outdoor laser tag, paintball, cool factor (a bunch of missions), and mini golf. Connor, my cousins and I chose laser tag because cool factor was fully booked. We had fun though.

The laser tag arena was very small with lots of crates randomly placed in it for you to hide behind. They gave you these guns that were heavier than usual so you had to use two hands to hold them up. The guns were big and black and had the shape of a sniper. They looked really real. The only difference between a real gun and these were that these had small prisms on the top of them that were the receivers. Since you didn’t have suits on you had to shoot the receiver to get someone out. Second difference was that the gun obviously shot lasers instead of bullets. The lasers were infrared lasers so you couldn’t see them, which kind of sucked but we had a good time.

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Throughout the hour of laser tag we played, we played different games such as every man for himself, doctor, and teams. Every man for himself is just plain every man for himself; doctor is when you split into teams and you pick a doctor. Once you tell who your doctor is to the man supervising the laser battle, he will program your doctor’s gun so that if he shoots an enemy, then that enemy is out as usual, but if the doctor shoots a team member’s gun, that team member regains a life. And teams are just teams. That certainly was one of the highlights of Centre Parks.

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Another highlight of Centre Parks was their water park. The water park consisted of an indoor wave pool, a toddler area, a hot tub, an outdoor pool, and ice pool, and three water slides. The water slides were rated on how steep they were, and how dark they were. There was a tube slide that was semi-dark but wasn’t that steep. It was rated 2 out of 3. The other two water slides were wicked. They were rated 3 out of 3. The first one was nothing special. It was seriously a big sheet of metal tilting downwards. But when I say downwards, I mean, like, 75 degrees downward. You’d kill yourself landing in the pool below if you landed on your butt. That is why it was rated a 3. The other slide wasn’t really a slide. It was more like rapids. The whole thing was a big metal trench with water in it.

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At points, the trench would dip and then rise again making you shoot through the sky. At the end of this trench (you’ve already been battered and beat enough that you’re just on the verge of drowning) you shoot down into a deep pool and then the current pulls you under! This happens at many points throughout the rapids and it was fun, but this was just deadly! But, I made it through the rapids once and then went multiple times because despite the probable high dead count on this slide, it had a small element of fun hidden in it. Though I had to stop and take a break one time because my cousin Liam dared me to go down head first which is when I hurt myself so bad I couldn’t go down the slide again for a very long ten minutes.

My cousins and I made it tradition that you had to jump in the ice pool before going on the rapids. The ice pool was so cold, I was surprised there wasn’t a thin sheet of ice on the top of the pool. Worse, we had to go under, head under and all, for ten seconds. Don’t laugh, this is harder than it seems because the water is so cold, when you jump in, you gasp because it’s freezing. But since you have to go under for ten seconds, you can’t gasp, so your under there, practically drowning, and people are amused by that. Anyway, after I went under the ice pool for ten seconds, I wanted to breath but I was so cold that I had to jump in the normal pool first. So I jump in the pool, (and now I’m really drowning) warm myself up in the water, rush to the surface, and inhale so loudly that the whole country can hear me. So picture this: I just jumped in the ice pool, I’m a bit limp cause my body is confused with the sudden temperature change, then my cousins, heave me onto the rapids and let me go down. By the time I reached the bottom, I was pretty much dead. And I did that more than a hundred times. You can imagine how easy I got to sleep that night. Anyway, I’m not going to spend all my time talking about the water park cause there is one other great thing to do at Centre Parks.

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The jungle dome was a great memory of Centre Parks. The jungle dome is a massive dome (obviously) but inside it was hot and humid and misty and everything jungley. There were trees and leaves and bushes and even exotic birds flying around, such as macaws and parrots. There were also a bunch of flamingos wandering through the dome! In the centre of the dome was a massive labyrinth with a long slide in the middle of this maze. The maze was not only on the ground but you had to climb over obstacles and get to the fifth floor. Connected to the labyrinth were lots of rope bridges and rope courses, which you did without a harness, making the experience that much more thrilling.

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There were rivers flowing through the dome with fish in them. I of course had to fall into one of the rivers accidentally and soak my day clothes. It sucked at the time but we all had a laugh and I still think it’s funny right now. After all, I got soaked way worse at cross country one year with my school. A certain one of my friends knows what I mean. Anyway, we explored the whole dome. And in doing so we found a cave that had been built but it was well hidden and was about two feet tall and two feet wide and the cave went into the rock quite deep so you could get stuck. This was one of the best experiences I’ve had with my cousins in my whole life!

Italy & Paris: ART! YAAY! – by Caleb

Yippee! For those who know me, I love art. To be more specific, I love paintings and sculptures. That is why I had the “awesomest” time when we went to the Sistine chapel, (in the Vatican; painted by Michelangelo), the Uffizi, (one of the most visited art museums in the world. Lol, I had never heard of it until then), the Louvre, (I’m sure you know what that is), and Musée D’Orsay (home of the Van Goghs). I’m not going to go through details on how we got there, how I felt, how crowded it was, gabi gabi… I’m just going to focus on the art. Now, starting in order.
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We arrived at the Sistine chapel which was famous for it’s painted ceiling and walls. Here is what the ceiling looked like:

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That kind of painting method is called fresco, which is one of the, if not the hardest painting method there is. You have to use a very special kind of paint and you paint on a  wet material. Michelangelo had to paint the roof using the fresco technique. He had a few problems though: on the way he ran out of funds so he had to go to the pope in a whole new part of Italy to receive more money to finish the ceiling. Also, he had to tear up part of the ceiling half way through because spots of mildew were appearing. Also, when he finally finished the ceiling, (which took him four years or so I think) he couldn’t move his neck because after looking up for a year or two, the muscles stiffened so it became very tough to finish. But, after years of hard work, he finished the ceiling and it is an art masterpiece. The most famous piece of this ceiling is the centre panel where The Lord’s finger is about to touch Adam’s.

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The panel is called, The Creation of Adam. Not only is this panel known for its amazing paint job, but for its significant, symbolic meaning as well. This fresco represents the biblical description of God breathing life into man. Some say as well that you’ll notice God’s hand has not yet touched Adam’s which possibly suggests that the spark of life is  being transmitted across the small gap between their fingers. But let’s look at the way Michelangelo painted the hands.
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Could this painting represent Adam and God reaching towards each other or letting go of each other? If they’re reaching towards each other, this image could symbolize the mutual desire of God and humanity for one another. If they’re letting go, this fresco could be showing humanity’s independence or separation from God. Now, if you’re getting bored with all this info, skip ahead now, because there is more information coming. If you look at the hand gestures that The Lord and Adam are making, Adam’s hand almost looks relaxed to go with his lounging posture. Michelangelo may have done this on purpose to show that maybe God hasn’t given life to Adam yet and he is simply a motionless figure, which does go slightly against The Bible because according to The Bible, God lifted man from the dust of the earth, and that man was not just lying there waiting to come to life. Now God’s hand is pretty much the opposite. In contrast to Adam’s lazy pose, God looks like a dynamic, active figure. This could be because God is still hard at work with his amazing creation of earth, heaven, animals, and mankind.

But what about the semi-weird figures that just happen to be floating around God?
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Could those be angels, or on the contrary, possibly represent biblical figures? The woman and child on God’s left could be more significant than the others, shown by the way God wraps his arm around the woman and touches the child. It is possible this woman is Eve, which would make sense since Eve is Adam’s wife. But, on the other hand (metaphorically, not literally on God’s other hand), the woman could be the Virgin Mary making the child possibly baby Jesus, whom the Bible refers to as Second Adam. Also, it is possible, if the child is baby Jesus, he could be looking away from Adam cause he knows Adam will eat the fruit, which will then cause the death of Jesus to pay the price for or sin. As you can see, Michelangelo hid deeper meaning in the fresco than meets the eye, but if you learn the meaning of this panel, if you visit the Sistine chapel, the roof will be a heck of a lot more interesting.  (Information sourced from Study.com)

The Sistine chapel also is home to one other very well known Michelangelo painting. The Last Judgment.
Last_Judgement_(Michelangelo)This painting shows the final decision made by God which decides whether you can enter heaven or go to hell. This painting is an amazing painting but it is not the way Michelangelo originally painted it. If you look closely, you’ll notice that all the “private” parts are barely covered in a small piece of cloth or something. Michelangelo actually painted the male parts in the painting but the priest thought that was inappropriate for a chapel so instead of disposing of the painting, he ordered for people to paint clothes over the “private” parts. I don’t know how Michelangelo reacted to this but I imagine he would be quite infuriated with this.

Can you find the devil in this painting?

It is the horrid looking, beast like creature in hell, looking as though he was going to kill the people in front of him with a paddle.
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Michelangelo painted a self portrait of himself in this painting, only he painted himself as a scary looking, almost hallowe’en costume. Can you find it?

I’m not sure why Michelangelo painted himself like this but I do know if you look closely, he is half way between heaven and hell. Interesting, huh?
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Italy, Uffizi
As you probably know, it is hard to describe an art museum, more specifically, it’s contents using words. If I went through what we saw at the Uffizi using words, it would take very loooonnnnnggggg and this blog would turn into a good story to tell your kids so they can fall asleep. So, I’m not going to use words, I’m going to use pictures. After all, a picture’s worth a thousand words.

 

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Cool.

Paris, Louvre
At the Louvre, we saw the nine “must sees”:
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Winged victory

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Raft of medusa

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Venus de milo

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Odalisque

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Coronation of emperor napolion

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Oath of hori

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The wedding feast at Cana

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Slave

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And low and behold, the Mona Lisa

Of coarse there were many others too.

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Paris, Musée d’Orsay
And finally, we went to Musée d’Orsay.

Musée d’Orsay is home to Van Gogh’s most well known masterpiece, his own self portrait.

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And starry night version I.

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starry night version I is different than version II

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This was an amazing trip through the history of art that I will not soon forget!

Paris, France: A Few Pics – by Clay

Well, our week in Paris has been a whirlwind – quite different from the slightly less hectic schedule we had in Italy. There ís so much to see here as a tourist and our stay is so brief that enculturation was very difficult.

Tomorrow we leave Paris by bus for Brussels, Belgium despite the ISIS turmoil that happened there this past week. The airport and metro stations were closed but are scheduled to open again tomorrow. Security is heightened so we figure that it would be alright for us to proceed with our itinerary.

Anyway, attached are a few shots of us out and about Paris

The Eiffel tower is lit is red, yellow, and black in solidarity with Belgium.

 

Here we are in front of the Louvre. Caleb has been looking forward to this for months! We managed to find an apartment right close so we could make multiple visits. (See Caleb’s blog for more info.)

We had to line up to get into the Notra Dame Cathedral. Security was heightened, as you can imagine.

 

A great park in Paris – Luxembourg Park. The boys loved it!

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We decided to take the ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night. Beautiful view. Still crowded despite the late hour!

Spent a full day at the Science Centre. Fortunately most exhibits were in both French and English.

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Loved Musée D’Orsay. A little easier to navigate than the Louvre!

Naples, Italy: Stepping Back In Time – by Barb

One of our main reasons for staying in Naples was to use it as a jumping off point to visit Pompeii. The boys and I had visited the special ROM exhibit: Pompeii, In the Shadow of the Volcano, in Toronto the summer prior to our trip. We had the chance to view “over 200 objects excavated from the ancient site, which gave you a glimpse into the daily lives of the people of Pompeii immediately prior to the great eruption, and the overwhelming toll paid by those who decided to stay”. It was an excellent exhibit and we were keen to see the actual location where these objects had been found.

When I was researching about Pompeii, a number of people commented that it was better to visit Herculaneum, another smaller city nearby which had also been buried by Mt Vesuvius. People argue that it is a smaller sight, and more interesting. This is largely due to the fact that, whereas Pompeii’s destruction was drawn out, Herculaneum’s was sudden and decisive. This is why furniture, food– even window and door frames– survive in actual, rather than cast form in Herculaneum.

We decided we would begin with a visit to Herculaneum and determine after that if we still wanted to visit Pompeii.

 

So, what did we think? Well, it was definitely interesting but I don’t think any of us were blown away. And before you curse us for saying that you need to understand why! I find it challenging to really appreciate looking at ruins, unless you understand what they represent. What was life like in Herculaneum and how do we know that from these ruins? I didn’t feel we’d done enough background work to truly appreciate what we were seeing. And since all artefacts had been removed and transferred to the museum, we needed to have a better idea of what we weren’t seeing as well. To help us get our heads around this, after our visit we stopped at a museum, a short walk from the sight. Here we learned a little more about the town prior to the eruption. Still, it felt more like something we had ticked off of our “to do” list. However, when I asked the boys if they were still eager to visit Pompeii they said they were. I think this was because they had heard it was so amazing and I just wasn’t certain they were going to be as interested as they thought! I decided I needed a way to make it come alive for them.

That evening we watched a couple of documentaries about Pompeii, which were really interesting, and I located a tour guide who catered to tours for kids. She came highly recommended on Trip Advisor. I hoped this would help to make our visit to Pompeii more meaningful for the boys.

The next day Roberta greeted us with a big smile as soon as we stepped off the Circumvesuviana Train from Naples. I was hoping she’d have a big Mary Poppins-style bag filled with tricks to keep the boys engaged throughout the day, but she carried a simple shoulder bag. She led us toward the main ticket station and we purchased our tickets for the day. (The boys were free.) As we started walking into the archaeological sight she shared with us that her family had been in this area for many, many years and she had come to Pompeii since she was a small child.

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Once we were inside, Roberta said she would give us a little bit of background so we would better understand what we were going to see. She brought out her iPad to show us pictures, then she said there was going to be a contest between the kids and parents. Well, she had the boys there! They were keen to “outsmart” us on all of the questions. I personally felt she was a little biased to their answers but I won’t hold it against her!! (They seemed to get a candy even when they got close!)

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For three hours we marched from one place to another learning about specific sights, what happened there and how archeologists know that. She had one of those amazing books that showed you what the ruins look like now and what it would have looked like back in 70 AD. We visited a bakery, the bathhouses, the theatre, homes, and various other places. But at each location she had a story to tell us that brought it to life.

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At our final stop Roberta asked the boys one final question and said that they would receive a big prize if they could answer it correctly. Of course they did, and she handed them the amazing Pompeii Reconstructed book that she had been using on the tour with us.

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I felt the boys (and Clay & I) got so much more out of our visit thanks to the tour. Rather than simply checking it off our of “must see list” we all felt that Pompeii and its story is something fixed in our long term memories.

To add to the excitement of our visit, we were thrilled to meet up with some friends of ours from Canada. They were chaperoning a group of students on a trip to Rome and their trip happened to coincide with the time we were there. We even managed to sit and have pizza with them another day!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.