Will you join us in helping them? Together we can make a huge difference in the lives of these kids!
The sharks swarmed around us, circling and circling. The theme song from Jaws played in my head. We were snorkeling… South Africa style, meaning that we were swimming with sharks. With snorkeling equipment on.
Don’t worry, the sharks were harmless. The only things that they wanted to eat were sardines. Also, you may not expect this, but the sharks were actually rather majestic. And, oh, that shimmer! The majestic, shimmery sharks swam through the water to the sardines. However, there is a reason people could be scared. When they get close enough, the sharks gobble the sardines up whole!
The sharks were black tip reef sharks, but only the females. The males were chasing the sardine run up the coast. You know, classic male stuff. All of them go great distances to find the males and mate, and these have scratches and marks on them. The scratches are from the males biting onto them as they mate. Rough. I know. Also, why were they here while their mates where swimming up the coast? It was because this was a better place to have babies.
Anyway, what was it like swimming with sharks? I held onto a log and looked all around us. One shark, two shark. From here to there, from near to far, shimmery sharks were everywhere! Wait. Let me get this straight. It wasn’t a mad frenzy of sharks, but there were a lot. However, sometimes you have got to zoom out on life. Doing that, our day with the shimmery sharks was amazing!
We got out of the car, and walked into reception. As mom was busy sorting out some stuff, I played with some stuffed monkeys that just happened to have magnets on their feet and hands. I loved how they stuck to the metal! However, this was a bird park! We had come here to look at birds, not play with stuffed animals!
The African Birds of Prey Sanctuary, the sanctuary we were at, collected birds that needed caring for. They didn’t capture wild birds. Most of them were released, but some couldn’t be – either because they couldn’t fly due to a wing injury, or because they thought they were people. Those who stayed were bred so that their babies could be released into the wild.
Of course we learned about different kinds of birds! We saw and learned about different kinds of the scavenging vultures. We learned about eagles, owls, and… eagle owls? Yup, apparently there’s something called an eagle owl. Eagle owls are not like you imagine. They’re not what come out when you mash together an eagle and an owl. Okay, kind of. They do look like eagles and owls at the same time. They have feathery legs right down to their feet, like eagles, and have a face in a disk shape, like owls. So, that’s why they’re called eagle owls.
Anyway, we watched some birds fly, and one hunt. An African Goshawk did an amazing stunt as it caught a piece of leather while the leather was moving across the ground. See, this type of bird is always on the hunt, sitting in branches, waiting for its prey to pass by, so it registers a piece of leather moving swiftly across the ground as its prey. It dives for it, and catches it with its sharp talons. The trainer had to give it a lot of convincing for the bird to let go of its catch.
Anyway, we learned that some African birds of prey are amazing! Others are beautiful and pretty. However, at the end of the day, all of them are awesome!
One day, we finally decided to see the other side of Durban, the side that’s not as westernized as ours. I have to say, Durban’s other side was truly revealed. Of course, you can’t talk about Durban without talking about its ethnic groups, so I will. The majority ethnic group is the Zulu people, the largest ethnic group in Durban and South Africa. The guide told us lots about the Zulu. What I remember most is about how some Zulus in villages traditionally met their wives/husbands.
Everyone comes to the river, the girls and women to wash themselves and carry water in large jugs on their heads (of course) to the village, the boys and men to let their goats or cattle drink. Anyway, sometimes they are at the river at the same time, and the man falls in love. To tell her, he waits until the woman is taking the water back to the village. Then, he gets up, and knocks the jug off her head! I know, that’s really mean and rude, and of course she is angry! To make her happier, the man goes and refills the jug, then places it back on her head. This seems to flatter her. She goes back, and goes to this one young woman that’s like, the elder of the teens and young adults. The ‘elder’ will ask the woman about the man they met. The woman will tell the ‘elder’, what he’s like, where he’s from, what he looks like (if he’s handsome), and, most importantly, if she loves him back. Then the ‘elder’ will give her advice, and woman will do something the next time she sees him.
Now you know what we heard. However, you don’t yet know what we saw. Most memorably, we saw a market for herbs. Interestingly, it was planned to be a highway overpass. However, the plans were cancelled, and the what was already made was given to the people who needed it. Now, it is what the people call a pharmacy. But, it isn’t the kind of pharmacy you would find in the West. It was more of a market for herbs. There were the herbs themselves, and then the plants in different stages of the process of preparation. Some herbs were to be swallowed, some to be taken with other things, and others… were supposed to go… up your butthole. Yeah, I think I would rather just stick with modern medicine, thank you very much. I’m sorry, we weren’t allowed to take photographs, which is a real bummer, because it was the most interesting part.
We also learned about an indoor shopping center. It was called ‘The Workshop’, because it had once been a workshop for tram lines and tram tracks. There, to wrap up our day seeing the other side of Durban, we had a bunny chow. So, now you’ve heard about the other side of Durban. Also, as you know, things are better when you experience them for yourself than when you see it through someone else. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if you are now singing, “Take me to the other side of Durban!”.
One day, we got invited to a Braai. Braai is, pretty much, a South African barbecue. Its name comes from the word braaivleis, meaning roasted meat, in Afrikaans, and is a tradition in Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia. It was originally of the Afrikaner, or Boer culture, but has since been adopted by many cultures in Southern Africa. Well, it was delicious! The long wait was worth it! And anyway, I got to swim around and play with other kids, so the wait might have been better than the meal. Might have. You know, we all have this sort of ‘inner caveman’, as I like to call it, where you just want to act like a beast! Well, I let out my inner caveman on the braai. I grabbed it with my hands and tore it apart! No plates, no forks, no knives! That’s why you have canines and incisors. And hands! Then I had a marshmallow and a slice of cheesecake! No, I didn’t let out my ‘inner caveman’ again. This was dessert! I only let out my ‘inner caveman’ on meat! If allowed…
Well, I hope you enjoyed the story of my braai.
I am really lucky, luckier than a lot of people. But no life is complete without surfing! That’s right! While we were in Durban, we went surfing! Well, we learned. I had a hard time figuring out how to jump up onto the surfboard. At least, that’s what I felt. It’s just that… I didn’t really want to listen to the instructor. But even with my hard head, I managed to ride two waves all the way to the beach! This is how I did it: I laid down on the board as if I was going to do a push-up. Then, I pushed myself up a little bit, and finally I jumped and adjusted my weight. I fell off a lot of times this way, though. I feel like I fell more times than I caught a wave! Anyways, at the end of the day, I have to admit that it was a great day.
As you know, no place is complete without sports. Since South Africa is biggest on rugby and cricket, and rugby was out of season, we decided to go to our first cricket match. Our first cricket match was very interesting. Cricket is a lot like baseball in many ways, but is slightly different. Their pitches are called bowls, and are bounced off the ground. There is field all around the batter, and they have to run from one set of sticks to another. Those are just a couple of the differences, but even though the sport was very different, the vibe wasn’t. It felt laid back, and generally the vibes were good. There was also some stuff for kids to do. There was a slide that I went down. Mainly, I got into a puffy suit and did sumo wrestling. It was really fun, and I won! The line was almost not worth it, though. I spent about an hour, I think, waiting in line. As I waited, I watched the other kids wrestle, and I looked to the cricket match. We were rooting for the Durban Dolphins, and were playing at home, in the Sahara Kingsmead Stadium. Did the Dolphins crush the other team, the Cobras from Cape Town? Sadly, no. Of course, if you’re from Cape Town then you would be happy, but when we went back home, I was sad. Every time me or my team is defeated I get sadder than I should. One of my many flaws. Anyways, our first cricket match was great!
So, if you had no clue what South African life was like before, now you understand life in South Africa a little bit better. Some of the things you might do are have a braai, surf, and watch a cricket match! What interesting things to do! That’s… 🎶SAH SAH South Africa Life🎶.
Okay, I don’t think that worked. Anyway, bye!
One day, long, long ago (okay that’s not true), we went to see frogs in their natural habitats, in Springside Nature Reserve. I didn’t catch any, but some other kids did, all pretty small. One was very small. He was a cute, black, bush squeaker. The other frog was a lot bigger, and he was light brown, with light green spots on his sides. This was a Natal Tree Frog. Like you might expect, he had the classic ‘tree frog’ eyes. Others were caught, too. There was a small, light brown one, with a yellow stripe, all the way down its back. I was able to identify this frog as a Quekket’s River Frog. As I identified every frog, I tried to find my own. I even went far from the group, and listened to their calls. For some reason, I could never quite tell where they were. Well, that’s nature. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes, you don’t.
We also went hiking into a lush, green place, called Giba Gorge. We hiked through relatively cool forests and grasslands. We were going to McIntosh Falls, a waterfall with a pool below it. The waterfall actually looked like the river creating it split into many rivers before recombining in the pond. There we saw a dragonfly laying eggs. It was strange, because the male was attached to the female, and she took so much time, but it was still wonderful. We saw other animals, like frogs and centipedes, and went through forests that almost made it feel like home. Almost. It was very hot and humid, which did not feel like home. At all. Oh, the wonders of the forest.
Once upon a time… we got Wet n’ Wild… at uShaka, in Durban. My favorite ride was one where you get in a big tube, and slide down a curvy slide. I went back by myself. At the end, I tried to impress everyone by doing a stunt off the tube. Well, I was soon to discover that the water was, like… a foot deep. I hit my head really hard, scratching it up and creating an enormous lump the size of my fist. When my parents found me again, they wondered why I hadn’t gone to first aid. I didn’t need it. We iced it, and by the next day the swelling had gone down quite a bit. Still, other than my big bump, uShaka Wet n’ Wild was wet! And wild!
In Durban, a lot of fun. We went to a beach. I spent hours in the water and playing in the sand. I splashed around, and made up a game in the water. The point of the game was to get past each coming wave without going under or being knocked over. I, eventually, lost, and was toppled over by a wave taller than I was, but still had great fun.
We also went to a bird park. We watched a hilarious bird show. None of the birds would listen to their trainers! And the vulture tried to bite people’s feet and take their bags! The owl ran out of sight, and the kookaburra, as well as another bird, and the so-called ‘granny of the show’, refused to exit. Well, they did, eventually, but it took a lot of work. Crazy how some birds – and people – can be so obstinate!
So, Halloween and Thanksgiving are predominantly American holidays, right? So how did we celebrate them in South Africa? Well, read on to find out!
You wouldn’t expect us to be able to have Halloween in South Africa, right? Turns out, there was a small celebration in Durban. It was only down a tiny fraction of one street, but it was nice. Although, I didn’t exactly get the Halloween craze you get in the US, but I still got some candy! Which was very nice, although the 8 pieces that I managed to pick up didn’t last long. I ended up eating them all later in the night. And sharing them with friends! I dressed up as a Berber, the first inhabitants of Morocco. I say, my costume was the most unique. The decorations were unique, too! All of them were homemade. Cool! What a way to lift the Halloween spirit! I had a spooky time!
Another thing you wouldn’t expect in South Africa is Thanksgiving! Well, we were able to find an American family who hosted it, and they kindly invited us. Mom brought one of her delicious cheesecakes, which I had helped in baking, and it was devoured. People loved it! I was so excited! I also really liked a chocolate cake there. Well, well, well! Isn’t that obvious! I also played with some kids there. They were really nice! Thanksgiving was great!
I groaned and stretched, waking up in our rondavel. We got ready for the day and I went to play. As I was playing, a young shepherd galloped past us on his horse. He looked magnificent. Supposedly he was chasing a different horse that had attempted to escape. After an hour or so, we were back on the horses, going through the magnificently beautiful countryside of Lesotho. We rode for hours upon hours, until at one point a storm threatened to move in. I copied someone we had seen in the village the previous day, and waved my stick, begging the storm to wait. Now, it was just a belief that they had, and wasn’t guaranteed to work, but it did. The day brightened up and got beautiful, all thanks to my magical stick. Immediately after we got into the car, though, it started raining hard. On the way back, we stopped at the highest pub in all of Africa, at Sani Pass.
One thing I’ve learned from traveling the world is: you only live once, so try your hardest to make your only life the best it could be! Anyhow, Lesotho was lovely!
We arrived at the school, and got out. All of the kids looked at me, interested. Like the toddler in the healer’s village, they had never seen a white boy before. They also thought that white people were made of candy, because whenever a white person came by in a car, they would throw candy to the children. One of the kids beckoned me. So I climbed up the hill…and ever since then, I had an entourage. They grabbed my arms, and took me from place to place. They made me jump rope, something I wouldn’t normally like doing, and I tried to scare them by acting like a lion, and then by acting like a zombie. Most of them were scared, but there were a few that weren’t. Mom had a crowd too, and so did Inge, a Dutch woman on the tour with us. The kids would rub their hands against the women’s arms, supposedly because they thought that if they did it enough times, they would become white.
We also went horseback riding to another village. It came naturally to me. I galloped at one point. The only problem was that my horse tended to ignore me, even if I hit it really hard. I normally am against hitting animals, but there was no other way. Man, that was an obstinate thing!
When we finally got into the village, I looked around, and heard about and saw something that surprised me: a clinic. It was in the middle of nowhere in the countryside! But, it was good for the people and animals living there. The sheep in the area are kept for their wool, so nobody wants anything bad happening to them. All people and animals are supposed to be vaccinated from diseases like rabies and cured of ticks, fleas, and other parasites, so supposedly it was safe to pet them. Supposedly. Apparently, some dog owners still didn’t take care of their dogs properly, so I was only allowed to look, not touch. But what I did see! Four adorable puppies, standing on their hind legs, sucking milk from their mother, who refused to lay down. She looked very tired and hungry. Tired… sounds very familiar. Because that’s what I was! We sheltered from the rain in our hut and…sorted and stored our memories, in a process called sleep.
After admiring the view, we went to a sheep farm. I loved on all the little lambs, and watched sheep get sheared…by hand. It didn’t look very comfortable, but they weren’t complaining, so I won’t complain. One of the sheep was pink, and had a mustache. He started singing, “Yo, what up, it’s yo boy! Guess what? Ya ain’t getting no toy! Gonna spit fire in this track! Oh yeah, fam! Ya better have my back!”* Lol! 😆😆😆! No! That didn’t happen! It would be cool, though.
We had lunch at another sheep farm, which had tons of tadpoles in the water. So many! Some of them were seemingly brand new, others were growing legs, and still others looked just like frogs with tails. I also saw a teeny tiny frog! He was so cute! We also saw a local healer. She had been picked in a dream by her ancestors, and went through six months of training. Whenever she needs to heal someone, she asks the ancestors what remedy to use, and often uses herbs. Her house is a rondavel, a circular building, so that her ancestors don’t get trapped in a corner. They only come to her in dreams. She somehow managed to help Dad’s shoulder pain.
I played in the village with the kids. But one kid, at around 3, was so scared of me! He was crying and crying and crying. Why? Apparently, he had never seen a white boy before, and so, he must have been like, “OH MY GOD! WHAT DID YOU DO TO YOURSELF? DID YOU PEEL YOUR SKIN AWAY?” I’m pretty sure that’s why he reacted in the manner he did. Our two guides, both being Basotho, shared their stories of the first time they had seen a white person. It can be scary, from what I heard, but because they work in tourism, they got used to it at some point.
Finally, we settled down around the fire and watched some dancing. We eventually joined in, and at the end I jumped into the circle. Everyone cracked up, while I wondered, “What’s so funny?” Still, I joined in in the laughter, and had a great time.
*Reference to Pink Sheep, one of my favorite YouTubers.
We hiked up, up, up… into the dazzling Drakensberg Mountains. We explored all around, at one point seeing a small black bird with a 🎶 VERY long tail-thing 🎶. How could it fly like that? Dunno. Well, as you’ll soon see, our adventure in the Drakensberg Mountains was just beginning.
The rain came. It got very, very wet. Isn’t that obvious? We stopped, and discussed whether to go hide in a nearby cave. All of the sudden, it started hailing! We dashed into the cave and climbed onto a pile of rocks. The whole rest of the cave got wet. LOLOLOLOLOLOL!
We are so prankster gangster! Too bad for the bugs and stuff!
We had been on a hike to see Bushman cave paintings. The Bushmen, also called San people, are hunter-gatherers, who started out around 100,000 years ago. That’s possibly as old as humanity! Many of the Bushmen were eradicated by farmers, black and white, which is unfortunate, because their paintings are absolutely amazing! The paintings showed light and shadow, and were even carefully detailed. The ones we saw were fairly recent, dated from 300 to 500 years ago, but were painted on top of older paintings originally painted thousands of years ago. One of the paintings was of a lot of eland, but one of them showed signs of…dying. However, our guide explained that it was actually symbolizing a shaman in a trance. We also saw a painting of a hunt, and a dance the shamans did to enter their altered state of consciousness. Another painting showed a bunch of tick marks, seen when shamans start to enter their altered state of consciousness.
The paintings were amazing, however the landscape was no less amazing. Dramatic mountains, completely green, rose up from the ground with lines of rock streaming across them, created when lava pushed up the layers of sedimentary rock. Curved mountains, pointy mountains, mountains above the clouds, you name it! All were there. 🎶 Trees and trees covered the land! They spanned from town to town! 🎶 Actually, there were only short patches of trees. We were informed of controlled burning of the grass in dry season. Why? To prevent more dangerous fires from happening. Also, when the grass is burned, it grows back greener than before. That means that the grass is getting nutrients from its own ashes. Gross! That’s self-cannibalizing! And wrong! Self cannibalizing? Yuck!
We climbed up, searching for a river. We were on one of the hiking trails near Garden Castle. Then we found it. We scrambled towards the river, which was really more like a stream. We followed it to a series of three pools, where we sat down, and got comfy. After a long rest, we got up, and went back the way we came.
Wow, the Drakensbergs were dazzling!
We arrived at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, in the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. They had a café there, as well as a temporary exhibit of Nelson Mandela‘s life, in six stages: character, comrade, leader, prisoner, negotiator, and statesman. He was captured at that very spot, for resisting and protesting against the Apartheid government, on August 5, 1962. Mandela was in prison for 27 years, and the Capture Site is a memorial to him. However, it was not in order, but a larger, permanent exhibit was under construction. The real thing to see, though, was the sculpture of his face. It was a huge thing, and was made of sheets of metal rising from the ground. Ingeniously, you could only see the image of his face from a certain angle. I didn’t know what that angle was, so it completely fooled me, and I only saw it later in a picture my dad had taken of it. What do you know! History in the countryside!
Also in the countryside, we stayed at a cute trading post and farm, which had been converted into a quaint guesthouse. I said hello to the horses, explored the nearby nature, and met the farm dogs. There are two Great Danes and one German Shepherd. I didn’t meet the German Shepherd for very long, so I don’t know how old he is, and I don’t remember his name. One Great Dane is a male, his name is Oscar, and he is super sweet. He followed me around everywhere I went, and I loved on him, which he didn’t seem to mind. He is eight years old. He has a mate, I think, but I forgot her name. She’s just as sweet as he is, only she’s way younger, around five. I heard a heartbreaking story about her. She was pregnant, but her owners never saw her puppies. Sad. I know. But, don’t let that cloud your vision of the farm, it was still amazing.
And lastly, here comes the most important part… reuniting with mom, after she was in a silent meditation retreat for nearly a week. Now, she wasn’t silent the whole time, there were times here and there when she was allowed to speak with the instructor on how she was doing meditating, and at the end they could speak again. Well, reuniting with mom was something special. Because at the end at the day, what’s more special than family?
Our boat undocked, and floated down the river. From time to time we saw pods of hippos. Our guide explained to us how they live. A pod of hippos consists of one dominant male and a lot of females, all his mate! That’s wrong! Occasionally, there are some baby hippos. Normally they know their mother better than their father. Very rarely, a pod also has an old male in it. Whenever a female has a baby male, the father will do something horrible. He will try to kill his own son! That’s nature. Brutal. Sometimes, however, the female successfully protects her son or sons. They will grow up, and chose to stay or to leave. If they stay, they must beat their father in combat. After that, either they take a few of the females, and start a new pod, or take over the pod, and send their father into exile. If they leave, the same thing happens, just with another male. If they lose, they are sent into exile, but can try again. However, they can’t come back to the same pod. The baby females get to stay in their pod, and live a normal life. Including having to mate with their fathers! That I find incredibly disturbing. Well, on the boat cruise we had a wonderful and relaxing time.
One night, after having a delicious dinner, we were driving onto the street from the parking lot, when, suddenly, our headlights flashed straight on… a hippo! This was before the cruise, and we found it exciting. It was just grazing right there, right before us. We could even hear it munching. Wow! What a night!
We didn’t just see hippos in and around St. Lucia. We went on a long game drive in Hluhluwe National Park (pronounced ShoShlewy). We saw tons of stuff, but I’ll give you just the highlights: a pride of lions, only up the hill above our van, and a bull elephant, with one tusk, that came dangerously close to us. We were worried it was gonna charge, so our truck backed away. It ended up crossing the road.
Another highlight was seeing a rhino eating grass, while her baby nursed. So cute! We saw this many times, but didn’t get a view as good. As it was raining, our guide took us to a place where lions and cheetahs had been spotted earlier. We couldn’t see any cheetahs, but we did see something amazing: a huge, male lion yawned, and woke up from his nap, while another male with a black mane approached it. These, our guide explained, were brothers. Eventually, the two lions walked off into the forest. We had an amazing game drive!
We stepped through the door. We were in Casablanca, eating a nice meal at the cheesiest restaurant in town. I won’t tell you the name of the restaurant, but I will give you a hint: it’s the main scene of the old movie *Casablanca*. Yep! We went to Rick’s Café! Of course, it was a complete imposter, but still! Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesy!
I had a delicious burger! A burger! We hadn’t had burgers for a month! Crazy, huh? However, it *is* healthy. Well, we had a tasty meal at Rick’s Café!
Also in Casablanca, we saw the amazing King Hassan II Mosque! It is the third largest mosque in the entire world, and is made of material almost entirely from Morocco! Wow! That must be hard to do! Apparently, it holds twenty-five thousand people. Imagine twenty-five thousand people, simultaneously praying in the mosque. What a sight that must be! Twenty -five thousand people! Also, when it is hot, or the weather is nice, guess what they do. They open the roof up! It opens in three seconds, and closes in two. Amazing! Unfortunately, we did not get to see them open the roof up, but when they do, I imagine it is amazing. You must be very lucky if you see the roof. Also, we saw a room where they wash themselves before praying. There, they had special, natural de-humidifying columns. I don’t remember what they were made from, but I do remember that the recipe involved raw eggs. Yuck! From what I can tell, Casablanca was CRAZY!
Up, up, up, we went, up the rocky hill. I was hiking in the Atlas Mountains with my mom. Dad had a stomach bug, so he couldn’t come. We hiked through the barren landscape through the Todra Gorge, up into the Atlas Mountains. It was a tough and slow hike up, but we got to a small hut near some caves, where Berbers lived. Mom and the guide had tea there. A couple of young girls where there with their grandma. They curiously but shyly watched us from a distance. The guide explained that they stayed with their grandma year-round, while their parents moved around the country in search of food. They were the nomadic Berber people, the indigenous people of Morocco for over 3,000 years. Other cultures came and went, such as the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Arabs, the Spanish and French, but all of them found the native Berbers. And so did we! We hiked back down the rocky, barren hill, into the valley and the town by Todra Gorge!
We also hiked near Imlil in a two-day trek to a Berber village and back. I know I said that the Berbers are nomadic, but some of them settled down into villages and towns. We had a long hike, during which we saw an amazing waterfall. But, man, was the waterfall cold! No, no, no, I didn’t get in it! Why would I do that? The spray went everywhere! That’s how I could tell it was cold! The village was pretty cool, though. It was around a couple centuries old. Wow, that’s really old! We stayed the night in the village. Our room was plain, but I’m not complaining. We slept in sleeping bags. Why? Because nights are cold in the Atlas Mountains! We were warm, though. And I found that I prefer sleeping in a sleeping bag to sleeping in a bed! Yes! Really! I think it is because I like my whole body surrounded by warmness and softness. With a sleeping bag, I get that! With a bed, I don’t. Well, the next day, we loaded our stuff on the mule and headed back to Imlil!
The main square was absolutely insane. People walking monkeys around, snakes and cobras at an unsafe distance… some people even grabbed snakes and ran towards other tourists. Others tried to prank us by running towards us with fake snakes. Not cool! One guy ran towards us with a snake. We scattered and ran, and I had to dodge another guy with a snake. Only later did I realize that the second snake was fake. I passed the food stalls and vendors, eventually finding Mom and Dad far from the main plaza. But, man, was that CRAZY!
Also in Marrakech, we had a break from a straight month of tagine and couscous. I’m not saying that I hate Moroccan food, but it can be repetitive, and not very diverse. We had a couple of pizzas, and some paninis. We also had some good Wifi. We stayed at a hostel and I met some epic people. The young adults were too cool for my parents. I mean, my parents just didn’t feel like socializing as much as I did. I met someone from South Africa living in London, and showed her my videos. And I talked to a huge group of Norwegians. And I had an epic time. As for the plaza… that was DANG insane!
We stood outside the hotel, and waited. It was five o’ clock in the morning, I had had food poisoning on the bus since midnight, and the hotel was completely locked. We knocked on the door. Nothing happened. We waited. A man came from next door. He tried to talk to us in French, but we didn’t understand him. Dad asked if he spoke English. The man said that he didn’t. Uh oh. Dad asked if the man spoke Spanish. He did. Whew! Dad told him of our situation, and he let us into the hotel. He was the owner, apparently, and his name was Ibrahim. We slept in the lobby. I was worried that my sickness would keep me awake, but I was able to sleep for a few hours. Ibrahim’s family was very hospitable.
I have to say, they are the nicest family I’ve ever met in the entire world. They did so much to make sure I got better. They gave me herbal tea, and made sure I got lots of rest. Simply put, they took care of me like family. We even had dinner at their house! A few hours after the family treated me, I was feeling much better. By the next day, I was fine.
We actually ended up going on a tour. We went all around the desert, avoiding the dunes. We bought a bright pink geode from a mine, took pictures of a baby desert fox, and walked on fossils. My favorite part was the fossils. The fossils were of fish, millions of years ago. At that time, the Sahara Desert was actually an ocean. After the ocean dried up, and it became desert, the fish died and fossils were formed. Throughout all history, those fossils were still there, right out in the open. The nomadic Berbers found them there, in the open… and left them alone. Today, however, they are used for countertops and similar things. At a nomad’s tent, we had a Berber pizza, which is like tons of vegetables stuffed inside a huge, circular loaf of bread.
We also spent one night out in the desert, way in dunes. We rode on camels to the camp and back, which was pretty cool. In fact, it was more work for us than the camels! With each step, I leaned forward and backward. Another step, forward and backward. And on and on and on and on. When we finally got to the campsite, we got settled and I played in the sand. It’s so fine, the whole desert is like one big beach, minus the water. And the crowdedness. I played for hours and hours, until it was time for bed. Sleeping was not great. The bed I had was as hard as a rock, and it was so cold that I had to wear thermals and have two blankets. But overall, the desert was great. Lastly, we were back on camels, and the beasts brought us all the way back. Wow! What a way to leave the desert!
We passed through the grand Blue Gate, into the medina. We were in Fes, Morocco, just starting our time and getting to our hostel. The owner, Aziz, was so nice and hospitable. He even invited us to his house to see his family. He has a toddler, whose name is Adam, and an adorable little baby. Aziz has tons of live chickens upstairs. I tried to approach them and scare them, but something went wrong. Five chickens left the room, and ran all over the house! Three of them were chased back into the room, while the I picked up and carried the other two, one at a time. It was quite an adventure for Adam! Aziz also helped us get a tour all around the medina, or old quarter.
We saw loads of things, including a tannery, and some beautiful courtyards. A tannery is a place where they make leather. And from what I’ve seen, they STINK! I’m not kidding. The tannery we visited smelled like a massacre. It was so strong, I had to go back into the shop. Ew, ew, ew, ew, EW!!! I’m normally not the one to be grossed out, but that place REEKED. There’s nothing to compare it to, the death-smell was so strong. I saw them scrape the skin from fur, and… it was just so gross. But the grossness didn’t last.
We saw one beautiful court that belonged to a madrasa, basically a high school, but in Arabic. Tiled mosaics were everywhere. We also peeked through a door on the side of the street to see… an absolutely stunning mosque. It was so big, and covered in lavish quartz. The light bounced all around and dazzled our eyes. Wow! We had a fun time in Fes!
We stepped into the maze of pathways, the Kasbah. Suddenly, the attitude changed. It rang out, ‘Everybody Dance Now’. Haha. No. Just kidding. The attitude didn’t change. I’m not that well-known. We eventually found our way into a courtyard. One building held a few men who make local music and mint tea together. The music was magical. They used a violin and a fat, guitar-like object with a bent neck. I got to try playing the guitar-like instrument. I made a couple of tunes up. I didn’t quite match up with the violin. Okay, in truth, I was doing something completely different from the violin. Pretty good for a first try, though. We then listened to some more music, watched the sunset, and had some more mint tea, as if my mom and dad hadn’t had enough. Then, we went back home, and later explored the town of Tangier even more.
The ball flew from the player’s foot, past the goalie, and – was it really? Yes! It was!
Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooal! Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooal! The stand was filled with cheers. Some people sang the Sevilla FC anthem. In my view, at the top, was a section of people wearing green shirts. These people were supporting the other team, the rival, Real Betis, and were silent with anger. The Real Betis fans had been escorted into the stadium before the Sevilla FC fans, to prevent fights. Throughout the match and their entrance, the Real Betis fans were guarded by police, also to prevent fights. That moment, when the cheers rang out for Sevilla FC, it felt like everyone was united. The stands roared, no one sat, and all other activities, such as smoking, had been paused. It was a beautiful moment. Everyone was united. Sevilla FC ended up winning 1-0. Go Sevilla!
Quickly hopping out of the bus, we arrived in the very historic town of Carmona. Originally a Carthaginian colony, it was taken and incorporated into the Roman empire in the 2nd Punic War, about 200 years before Christ. We even got to see the Alcázar, though not for long. It has been turned into an expensive hotel. Sweet! We then strolled around. We found and explored a Roman necropolis, which you could also call a city of the dead or a freaking ancient cemetery. Yes. That’s right. A freaking ancient cemetery. Most of the graves were in clusters. This was evidence of the Christian impact on the site. Wow! Carmona was crazy!
Flamenco is a Spanish dance originating from the Gypsy countryside in Andalusia. The original song is of despair, but it has been adapted to be more happy. There are three main pillars of flamenco: guitar, singing, and dancing, but for me, there’s a forth pillar: clapping. Without a certain kind of clapping, flamenco collapses, just as it collapses without guitar, singing, or dancing. In a lot of places, a good dancer is only Gypsy, but in one small town, anyone can be a be good dancer. “A good dancer could be Portuguese!” someone once said. In the 1960s, José Monge Cruz started singing. He was an amazing singer from the start. He is called La Camaron de la Isla. In 1973, however, he became a hippie. Hence, he made an album of the pop version of flamenco music. This became very popular in the world in general, especially among Spanish Gypsies. There isn’t a Spanish Gypsy without an album from him. One night, my parents and I went to a flamenco festival. I didn’t get to see much, because I fell asleep, but what I did get to see was amazing. In my mind, the dances each had their own story. One dance, a woman was pulling off some impressive moves, and one man tried to copy her, but didn’t for long. One at a time, three other men showed up and did the same thing, before exiting. Flamenco is Andalusia. Flamenco is Seville. Flamenco is… magic.
The amazing Alcázar stood there before us, looming over us like a mountain looming over a couple of shrubs. My dad and I were at Real Alcázar in Seville, also called the Alcázar Seville. Which name do you prefer? I prefer Real Alcázar, because it sounds more Spanish and beautiful. Real Alcázar was ordered to be built in 1340, commissioned by King Alfonso XI, a Christian king, in Mudéjar style, a blending of Spanish Christian, and Moorish architecture, and used as the capital. Well, today it’s one of the Spanish royal family’s many houses. Yes. That’s right. One of the many. We got to look at some of the rooms used by the royal family. They all featured elaborate furniture and marble floors.
I had a lot of fun sliding my feet on the marble floors. Slide, slide, slide, slide! All of the rooms had the same carved wooden ceiling. One of them had an amazing view of the gardens. Another of them featured lots of tapestries, mainly of the the Don Quixote series. After exploring the rooms of Real Alcázar, we explored around the gardens and caught Pokémon. We really didn’t catch any new or good ones, but did manage to get lots of Pokéballs. Definitely a good place to stock up on Pokéballs. While we were in the gardens, I managed to catch a Machop, and evolve it into a Machoke. Awesome! It was obvious that at Real Alcázar, we had a very fun time!
The van was chased by loads of cattle as we drove by. We were in the Spanish countryside, visiting a bull farm, which breeds bulls to fight. This was one of the places were cowboy culture originated. The ranchers also had horses. They rode on the horses to help guide the bulls because guiding them on foot is too dangerous. Twice a week, the bulls run three kilometers. That’s far. Okay, okay, I know what you’re going to say. “It’s a bull farm. Shouldn’t you be talking about breeding bulls?”. I’m getting to that.
There are six very lucky bulls on the ranch, not to go to a bull ring, but to mate. Each of them have 20 mates. My dad says, “That’s a lot of headache”. No offense, women. The cows, once they reach age 2, are tested by a torero, for strength and aggressiveness, to show which cows to breed, so they can have fierce babies. Only 20% of them pass the test. The other 80% go to other farms, for other uses, such as dairy. The ones that stay get to mate… and share their mate with 19 other cows. Would you rather pass or fail the test, if you were a cow? I would rather fail, so I won’t have to share my mate with 19 others. However, I would rather be human, and out of all the humans, I would rather be… me.
Breathing hard, I reached the other side of the pool. 14-year-old Jamie had already tagged his sister, 10-year-old Felisha. My parents and I were in Valencia, meeting up with podcaster Jason Jenkins and his family. As you can tell, I had an amazing time with Jason Jenkins‘s two kids, Jamie and Felisha. We played Sharks and Minnows in the pool, zombie tag, and Pokémon Go. We caught many Pokémon, including some new ones. The most powerful new Pokémon we caught was a Growlithe at level 527. That’s almost at the end of spectrum! We also took down a gym, through hard work, perseverance, and many potions. We also put another Pokémon in a different friendly gym. I had so much fun with Jamie and Felisha!
There was the courtyard, covered in medieval stone with orange trees every six feet. There was a fountain roughly in the middle of the place. We were outside the Córdoba Cathedral in Córdoba, Spain. Built by many Moorish rulers from 784 to 987, the center was converted into a church in 1236. The interior of the cathedral was much grander than the exterior. The floor and the pillars are marble, and the arches red and white. What I found interesting was that there were two levels of arches, instead of one level. It was beautiful, but very plain. Until we got to the main church. Glorious Christian elements covered the altar and the area around it. Mary was portrayed on one of the walls; colored glass panes filtered the light into colored light. The most obvious Christian element was the big cross in the middle. We explored all around, gazing up at the miraculous wonder, and before we knew it, there was the exit door.
Topkapi Palace was very interesting. I liked the Harem and the weapons/armor room. My favorite armor was the horse armor. My favorite weapon was one of those awesome 15th century guns. The Harem was interesting, too. The kings’ wives had to stay in a certain area and were guarded by eunuchs. Below them were the Sultans that had previously reigned (if there were any). It was also interesting that they gathered young girls and educated them. I had fun guessing how old they were when they were taken to the palace. 5? 6? 10? 8? 9? They had to be fairly young to be educated. When they grew up, the prettiest and smartest girls became the Sultan’s wives. The others were married off to some noble. I liked Topkapi Palace.
The next day we saw the Hagia Sophia. It was very interesting how it all blended in so well… I mean, the Mihrab facing Mecca and Mosaics of Jesus. The Arabic script and the thick columns. The awesomeness… and the boredom.
We also saw the Blue Mosque. It was quick, but it was beautiful and interesting.
My favorite sight was the Grand Bazaar. I liked the alleyways… they were relaxing to me. So relaxing that I forgot about everything.
Most of what I did was play video games with my friend Kaan. We played a lot of Minecraft. Unfortunately, we were not able to play together, but we both still got lucky. Kaan spawned in a Mooshroom Biome. That is the rarest thing that ever happens in Minecraft. The chances are about 1/999 trillion of the time. I spawned in a swamp/plain/forest village. Kaan built his house with a Mushroom tree as the floor. I took a moved into a house in the village. We both added the Nether to our worlds. We did eventually join games, but not for long. We had a great time.
The puppy slid down the watershed. He had been following us all this way. He was a great guide. He knew where the trail was. Sometimes he’d get offtrack. Every time we thought that he had turned around and gone home, he came back to us. We gave him a couple of names. I named him Guide. Dad named him Vlad the Inhaler, because he inhaled everything. Soooooooo cheesy! Vlad was a little black-and-white dog. A few hours in we finally got to where we wanted to go. On the way up, Vlad showed his talents. He never tired. He could also climb up steep rock blocks. Finally we could rest. We had arrived at a Cabana in the mountains with a great view. We had lunch. We gave Vlad some salami and a few peanuts. Vlad found some huge dogs and wanted to play with them. Their paws where the size of his head. I was worried about Vlad’s safety. One of the big dogs jumped at Vlad, barely missing his head. If the blow had hit, it could have been a killer. I carried Vlad out of the Cabana. I gave him some water. He was with us the whole rest of the way. We found another dog Vlad’s size on the way back. While we hiked up the hill to the village, Vlad roughhoused with the other dog. We had a great time.
The next time we hiked was to go to a cave. It was a long, boring hike through a couple villages, and there was not much to see in the cave. I still liked the cave, anyway. We got into the opening, and I explored a small passageway just barely big enough for me. It really opened up. My parents joined me. We explored the cave pretty far. It was so muddy. There was one part where the mud was halfway up our shoes. We had no choice but to turn back. Then we had lunch. As we headed back to our village, a big scaredy dog followed us. We kept telling him to go home, but he wouldn’t listen.
On our way to Bran, we saw the citadel of Râșnov. We also saw the Dino Parc. It was so awesome. It was mainly one giant playground beyond my dreams. Of course, it also had a walkway with prehistoric reptiles (not ALL prehistoric reptiles are dinosaurs) . There I tried my first ropes course. It was scary but awesome. Unfortunately you could only do it twice. I still had fun, though.
Our next big adventure was on Halloween night. We toured the Dracula Castle – I still got some candy – and met some nice people. We came dressed up, so everyone wanted to take our picture. Then we did a haunted house. I tried to shoo away the monsters that jumped out at us. Good thing they weren’t real monsters!
I was assigned a music project. I had to pick an opera to tell the story about. I picked La Traviata out of a short selection because it had nice arias that I liked. I picked to do a computer programming presentation because I like computer programming and I am good at it.
Click here to see my La Traviata Animation.
| _Step 1: LISTEN: Choose an Opera Aria to listen to many times. Write down the elements while you are listening. If you are not sure about the details of your piece you may find it online or ask Mrs. Mom for help. Listen to the music several times so you become familiar with the different sections. Listen deeply and with a musical mind.
Aria/Opera chosen: Brindisi in the opera La Traviata
|1. Tempo: Vivace
|Other things to consider or ponder:
_What inspired the composer to write this piece?
_Did_ _s_/_he_ _h_a_v_e_ _a_ _s_t_o_r_y_ _i_n_ _m_i_n_d_?_ _
_H_o_w_ _d_o_e_s_ _t_h_i_s_ _m_u_s_i_c_ _m_a_k_e_ _y_o_u_ _f_e_e_l_?_ _
_W_h_a_t_ _d_o_e_s_ _t_h_i_s_ _m_u_s_i_c_ _m_a_k_e_ _y_o_u_ _t_h_i_n_k_ _o_f_?_ _
Critical Thinking in Music (CTM) strategies Make a “mind movie” while you listen.
_W_h_a_t_ _i_s_ _g_o_i_n_g_ _o_n_ _i_n_ _t_h_e_ _m_u_s_i_c_?_ _
_What do you hear that makes you say that?
_W_h_a_t_ _m_o_r_e_ _c_a_n_ _y_o_u_ _f_i_n_d_?_ _
|2. Dynamics: Always changing, ranging from mezzopiano to fortissimo|
|3. Tonality (major, minor, or something else?): major|
|4. Meter/Time Signature: 3/4|
|5. timbre/instrumentation (full orchestra, string quartet, concerto, solo, duet, chorus, soprano, alto, tenor, bass, adult, child, families of instruments…): full orchestra duet, chorus|
|6. Form (5th grade only): ABA|
|7. My reflections on this music:
It makes me want to sway. It makes me thing of the ocean for some really really strange reason. Maybe because the volume rises up and down like the waves in the ocean.
|S_t_e_p_ _2_:_ _A_b_o_u_t_ _t_h_e_ _C_o_m_p_o_s_e_r_ _|
|Cite your sources and Fill in the Facts
Third Graders: 3 or more sources, Fourth Graders: 4 or more sources, Fifth Graders: 5 or more sources Use classicsforkids.com, sfskids.com, links from springdaleparkmusic.blogspot.com, an encyclopedia, Nettrekker, Google, Bing, yahooligans, Squidoo, previous ASO Study Guides, Media Center sources, and other (books, biographies, magazine articles…) to find sources for your research. Don’t use “internet”, Wikipedia, Ask.com, Mrs. Mom, youtube, etc. At least one non-internet resource is preferred. Ask Mrs. Mom if you need help!
|Dates—birth and death dates: October 9th, 1813 – January 27, 1901|
|Era (Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, or 20th century/Modern) Romantic|
|Important works—specific pieces for which s/he is known besides this piece: Aida, Oberto, Un giorno di regno, Nabucco, I Lombardi, Rigoletto, II trovatore, Don Carlos, Requiem.|
|What types of music did s/he compose besides operas (symphonies, ballet music…)? Requiem|
Other important/interesting facts
-Did you know that two of Verdi’s operas, Rigoletto and Aida are constantly among the most performed operas in the entire world, and both are performed 300 – 400 times a year worldwide.
-Legend has it that when Verdi was finishing up his opera ‘Il Trovatore’, a famous critic stopped by. Verdi sat at the piano and played a few excerpts for him.
“What do you think?” Verdi asked.
“That’s terrible,” the critic replied
“Well, what about this?” Verdi asked as he played another fragment.
“Rubbish” came the response.
“And this?” At which point Verdi played the now-famous “Di quella pira”
“Absolutely horrible!” said the great critic as he covered his ears.
Verdi jumped up from the piano and thanked the critic, saying ,”I’ve been writing an opera for the people of Italy not for purists like you. If you hate it, that means the whole world will whistle and play it all over Italy!”
Verdi was right! *
*Craciun, L. (October 10, 2014). 10 Most Interesting Facts About Giuseppe Verdi
[Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://www.cmuse.org/most-interesting-facts-about-giuseppe-verdi/2/
– He liked Shakespeare (a very famous English playwright). The operas Macbeth, Otello and Falstaff are all based on Shakespeare plays.
– He is a national hero in Italy! This is partly due to his Va, Pensiero (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) which became a song to help bring Italy together at the time it was written.
– His funeral was attended by more people than any other event in the entire history of Italy!
– Verdi is buried with his second wife in a house he founded for retired musicians.
|S_t_e_p_ _3_:_ _A_b_o_u_t_ _t_h_e_ _Opera|
|Cite your sources and Fill in the Facts
Third Graders: 3 or more sources, Fourth Graders: 4 or more sources, Fifth Graders: 5 or more sources Use classicsforkids.com, sfskids.com, links from springdaleparkmusic.blogspot.com, an encyclopedia, Nettrekker, Google, Bing, yahooligans, Squidoo, previous ASO Study Guides, Media Center sources, and other (books, biographies, magazine articles…) to find sources for your research. Don’t use “internet”, Wikipedia, Ask.com, “my mom”, youtube, etc. At least one non-internet resource is preferred. Ask Mr. Jackson if you need help!
|What is Opera (definition)?|
|1. Nationality (what language is it in): Italian||4. What type of Opera is it: Buffa|
|2. Date composed: 1853
Date Premiered: March 6, 1853
|5. What type of singers are featured in this opera: Every kind of singer.
5a. Write the definition of these types.
|3. Era (Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, or 20th century/Modern): Romantic||6. What is the form (structure) of Opera: ABA form|
Opera: Form of theatrical music performance in which the story is told entirely through instruments and singing.
Aria: Lyrical style of singing in an opera.
Tenor: Male lead in an opera
Soprano: Highest role in the Fach system; usually cast as the leading female role.
Fach System: General association of specific roles with a vocal range to help with casting or writing the piece.
Types of Opera (name and define):
Opera Seria: ‘Serious Opera’ is an opera with a cane and an emphasis on very ornamented arias rather than a plot line.
Opera Buffa: This comedic opera style evolved from the funny scenes of Opera Seria. People wanted more, so it became its own genre. This style of opera is mainly about everyday people in everyday situations, often comedic situations.
Write a summary of the overall story, include: Main Characters, Where does it take place, When does it take place, What is the plot (main problem/resolution of the story).
La traviata is a tragic love story that takes place in and around Paris, sometime near 1850.
Violleta, a French courtesan with tuberculosis, goes to a friend’s party, and meets Alfredo Germont, who would later be the love of her life. They’re forced to part by Alfredo’s father, but reunite as Violleta dies.
Write a summary of what is going on in this particular aria:
Brindisi is a lively drinking song about celebrating the happiness of love.
Interesting facts about THIS OPERA:
‘La traviata’ means ‘The Fallen Woman’. Brindisi is one of the most famous opera melodies of all time. La Traviata is based on the successful French Novel ‘The Lady of the Camellias’ written by Alexandre Dumas. La traviata’s subject and setting were novel for opera in the middle of the 19th century. The scale is intimate and bourgeois, not heroic or noble. The opera features some of the most challenging and revered music in the entire soprano repertoire; the aria “Sempre libera” at the end of Act I is especially well known.
I found myself relaxing in a Széchenyi Bath at 38°c (100°f). The hot water came from hot springs. Soon Dad dared me to jump into another pool that was 20°c (68°f). I was so cold! The water in that pool felt like ice water from Antartica. I got out as soon as possible.
When I got back in the other pool, I staggered back, saying, “Ow, ow, ow! Hot, hot hot!”
I got used to it soon, though. Not long after we grabbed our stuff and started to head towards the big attraction. Dad got in a sauna that was 45-50°c (113°-122°f). He only lasted about five minutes before he got out. Five long minutes. After that I pointed to a pool that was 18°c (64°f) and told Dad that after going into the sauna, people cool off in that pool. Dad didn’t jump in, but I did. I became an ice cube. It was that cold. I climbed out shivering as we went out into the open air. We got into a big pool that was not much cooler than the one we had got into in the first place. I watched some old guys playing chess for a little while. They were pretty good. Next to that pool was a lap pool. We checked out what was on the other side of the lap pool. I’m glad we did. It was a pool similar to what we were just in. It was a little bit colder and it had a lazy river. Inside the lazy river was a small relax pool. I had a great time in the lazy river. The current was so strong that if you tried to held onto the side, you couldn’t last more than a minute. Also, if you tried as hard as you could to swim against the current, you went nowhere. It was really hard to exit, too. Before I was ready, though, we got up and left.
We also did an escape room, which is where you are locked in a room and you have to get out. How fun! We figured out puzzles, which led to the next puzzle, which eventually led out. Sometimes we even had streaks. My favorite streak was when I found a key in a post, which opened a cage, which gave us a man with a key. The key that the man was holding opened a chest, which held lots of fur hats and a box. We didn’t opened the box until much later, then it gave us a ball. I had lots of fun. I wish we could do an escape room everywhere we went!
We also saw two sad things. We saw the shoes on the Danube. It represented how the Nazis valued the Jews’ shoes more than their lives. They did this by making them take their shoes off, then shooting them on the banks of the Danube. This made me sad. We also saw the House of Terror, which is where the former Hungarian Secret Police were based. It is where they tortured people. It was also full of old movies about people being happy to be in a communism. In those movies, they also liked Stalin. They were a fake reality. They made me angry.
On our first day in Bratislava, we went to the old town just to see it, and went to a little café where I discovered my new favorite food: Sheep Cheese Gnocchi with Bacon (Bryndzové Halušky). It is the best food I ever had in my entire life. The best cheese, too. Sheep Cheese Gnocchi a very traditional Slovak dish. We also saw the Bratislava Castle, but we could not go in because it was closed for the rest of the day. It had been originally built in the 9th century A.D. Wow, that’s super old! We did not do much more that day. We still had fun, though.
The next day we took our first trip to Vienna. We took a one – hour train from Slovakia to Austria. The first thing we did was go to Haydn’s house. Haydn is a very famous Viennese composer who lived in the 18th century. He had lived in that house for the last 12 years of his life. He had a very strict schedule, and his private life was actually very public, at least compared to nowadays. Next we saw St. Steven’s cathedral. It was massive! Then we ate lunch at Café Mozart. I had a delicious Chocolate Mousse. Many hours later, we saw a Mozart performance. I was bored to tears. I am not a big fan of Mozart.
The next day I went to a jump place with Lucas and Matúš in Bratislava. I had an amazing time. Though, when I got there, I immediately jumped on the trampoline. I did a successful summersault, though my backflip was an epic fail. I landed on the side of my neck and strained it. I still had fun, though.
The day after that we went to Vienna again. It was a really amazing day in Vienna. First we saw the Spanish riding school, which was pretty cool. We got to see horses jump with all four hooves off the ground. Next we rode the Ferris wheel, which was really cool. We got off and I convinced mom to ride a small roller coaster with me. It was called the Dizzy Mouse. Mom said she was going to kill me. It was such an itty bitty roller coaster, but it was a lot scarier than you might think. It went up, then curving down super fast, and spun around in circles. You were in this little bucket thing, and it was so scary. Next we went into the Mozart house. So boring! There was nothing cool in there. He only lived there for three years, and none of the stuff in there was actually his! It was like a big music museum. If you want me to talk positive about it, then you might as well go tame a wild lion. The Mozart statue was boring too. At least I got to call him “hot potato” and “watermelon”. That was the fun part. Then back to Bratislava we went. Our adventures in Vienna and Bratislava … were pretty much over.
On the day we got to Prague, we hung out and rested for a few hours before we actually got out and did anything. We saw the Jewish quarter of the city. We toured a few synagogues, and the holocaust memorial. It was covered with names of Jews that had lived in Bohemia and Moravia. Their last known place of their residence also accompanied their name. Along with all of that was their birth and death dates. You could see the pattern in the year they died; 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944. Their ages ranged widely, though. The youngest one I found was ten, the same age I am now. That’s heartbreaking! The oldest one I found was 87, too old to have been forced to do all that horrible stuff that the Nazis made them do. The memorial made me feel sad and helpless. The Nazis even studied American hate against the blacks and the Jim Crow laws in the segregated south of the U.S. and applied it to their own situation, magnifying the hate. I learned that anything, no matter what, can be used for bad if it falls in the wrong hands. With grief, we left and went back to our apartment.
When our friends came and left, that was a sign that it was bedtime. The next day we had breakfast with our friend Peter. After that we walked around, sightseeing with our friends. Peter has two sons named Lukas and Matúš. Lucas is 11, while Matúš is 5. We had lots of fun trying to scare each other and talking about Minecraft. We tried many Czech dishes and had a wonderful time.
The next day we went sightseeing early, but Lukas didn’t get to come because he didn’t do his homework. This time was very boring. As I got on the train to Bratislava with Lukas, Matúš, the train started moving and Prague disappeared into the horizon.
“I can’t believe he didn’t even charge us,” my mom said.
The conductor of the train had just come by. He had revealed that we had gotten on the wrong train. We were surprised by his kindness to not charge us. We still had to get off on the next stop, though. When we got on the train we were supposed to get on in the first place, we realized that it was much slower than the train we had accidentally got on. We reached Venice and got off, I was so impressed and amazed. “Awesome,” I thought, “This is really, really cool.” We got to our apartment and hung out there for the rest of the day.
The next day we walked around and explored the city. We found the Jewish ghetto. It was the only place in Venice Jews could live in the 16th – 18th centuries. There were only a few bridges, and these bridges used to be guarded. Talk about strict! Tiny, too! It was so small. It was just one plaza with buildings all around it. This plaza wasn’t as big as Saint Mark’s Square. It was about 3/4 the size of Saint Mark’s Square. Not only that, but the day we went was also a Jewish holiday, Simchat Torah. We saw them sing and dance. They were really partying!
We got back to our apartment and a few hours later saw Opera Balleto performance, which is a performance of arias and short ballets from various operas by various composers. The players wore masks and the singers wore wigs. Sometimes they sung such high pitches that I covered my ears!
The next day we went to Island of Murano. There we saw a glass-making demonstration. The company had one of their best glass-makers make a small vase and a little horse. The horse took about two minutes to make. The vase took much more time to make. When the vase was done, another glass maker threw in some paper. The paper caught fire and burned to ashes!
Next we took a vaporetto to the Island of Burano. A vaporetto is water bus and is one of the major forms of transportation in Venice. Burano is known for its colorful houses and its lace. We saw a lot of lace there. I wasn’t particularly interested. We walked around Burano, and mom popped into a lot of lace shops. We tried to find a place to eat lunch, but we were unsuccessful. We ended up skipping lunch and going back to the main island for an early dinner. We ate at Osteria Mascaron. We picked it because Anthony Bourdain ate there, too. I had cuttlefish with black sauce. It was surprisingly really, really good.
We woke up early the next day. We walked around Saint Mark’s Square and took some pictures. We almost had mass in Saint Mark’s Cathedral, but when we checked inside it was really noisy from all the renovation. It was too noisy for mass. We went back to our apartment. Later we took another walk around the city. We rode a traghetto, which a gondola that takes you across canals, across the grand canal. We had a very awesome time in Venice. It is very – how do you describe it – Venetian. #PureUniqueness
I got out of the car. My family and I saw a great big church. We went inside and saw arches, columns and vaults inside. I could tell this was Romanesque. It was very big. Very, very big. By the time we got out, we went into another church. This one was Baroque. It was made out of white marble. It had lots of pictures about stories from the bible. They used these pictures to learn bible stories, since most people at that time were illiterate. We headed out, and we started walking around. We saw a lot in the narrow alleyways. We saw a Pinocchio thing and some old buildings. When we got back, we saw a guy playing “Hotel California” by the Eagles on his guitar. His version didn’t have words. As we got on the road to Verona again, I asked Dad to put that song on the radio. I didn’t think I’d ever request that!
The next day, we woke up early to see Verona. We had already returned our rental car. We got out and starting walking around again. We climbed a hill and looked at the view. There was a castle on top of the hill, but we didn’t see it. When we got back down, we saw a big Romanesque church. This one was not half as big as the one in Bergamo. After that we found a nice café to eat “breakfast” in. The reason we couldn’t find a good place to have a decent breakfast in was because Italians don’t really have breakfast ( you may already know that ). Then we walked around and found Piazza delle Erba. There we found a small art gallery and people could bring their dogs inside! Dogs are allowed almost everywhere in Italy.
Then we walked to the arena, but on the way we had a chocolate break. The arena almost looked like a small version of the Colosseum in Rome, but they use it as a theater! Isn’t that cool?!? I love it when people do something like that. After that, we went to Juliet’s balcony. It was built in the 20th century totally as a tourist attractions. It was overcrowded with many, many, many young couples. It was not even worth going there. After that we had another chocolate break. This time it had fruit, too. Finally we went to Giardino Giusti. My favorite part was the hedge maze. I also liked the turtles. There were at least 10 of them in one fountain! Too bad they weren’t Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!
One day we went hiking in the forest in San Bartolomeo, which is a tiny village in Northern Italy. We collected lots of chestnuts! Our inspiration for this was that we saw a man collecting chestnuts. We filled our pockets with them, and we ended up having eight pockets full of chestnuts. They were really tricky to get because they came in pods that were super spiky. We found lots of big ones, even two huge chestnuts. We had a great time. We ended up giving them to our friends at our AirBnB Apartment. I didn’t know that hiking could be so fun!
The next day we went to Bellagio and it was so amazing. I thought I was in Disney Animation Studios. It is just so beautiful. You have the lake, then the mountains in the background. The water is so clear that you can see straight down to the bottom. We walked among the many narrow alleyways cutting through the town. At one time we stumbled upon a café and I had a glass of hot cocoa. My parents had some coffee. Then we kept walking among the narrow alleyways. At one point we explored some gardens. After that I had some gelato. Yum yum!