Reflections on Galaxy's Edge
As summer comes to a close, I could not wrap it up without sharing some of the highlights from one of my bucket list destinations, Black Spire Outpost on Batuu, also known as Galaxy's Edge at the Disney Parks. The first week of June my whole family took a much delayed and much anticipated trip to California, including two days at the Disney Parks. Now that I have had some time to process the trip and reminisce fondly, I want to share some of the highlights, thoughts, and experiences from that trip.
Top 5 Future Travel Destinations
Earlier this year when I started a series of travel posts, I had one last post in mind. Then, our new baby was born in June and time has slipped away, just like travel over the past year-and-a-half...
This one last travel post (for now, at least) just kept creeping back up into my mind, however, so I could not let it die. In fact, this post is probably the one I have been most looking forward to writing about since I started a series of travel posts.
So, to finish off my series of travel blogs, here are the top five locations I would like to visit, in ascending order.
5. Galaxy's Edge
As a massive Star Wars nerd (see any number of past posts), Galaxy's Edge/Batuu is a must visit. I have watched just about every video tour of the themed land and researched everything I can about what to do, where to go, and what to eat. The only thing I refuse to watch are videos of the rides, so that I do not have the surprise ruined. As of now, this is the only place on my Top 5 list that is a planned trip (June 2022, Disneyland, California). I will probably shed some tears and have no shame about it.
4. Western USA National Parks
I admit that this "location" is a bit of a cheat because there are several locations grouped into one generic label here, but it is my website, and I will make my own rules. I would love to visit any of the national parks in the western United States, but a few that are particularly high on the list are Redwood National Forest, Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon, and Yosemite. If I am honest, there are a couple of Star Wars (Redwoods) and Indiana Jones (Arches) connections that make some of these sites extra appealing, but mostly they are such iconic parts of the US I have yet to visit, and I want to experience their grandeur.
For the top three locations on my list, I have to leave the United States and start to tap into my love for Ancient History as well as my love for movie-related destinations. Egypt is a no-brainer when it comes to bucket list sites to visit. For someone who considered a career in Egyptology for a brief minute, I would be sad to never have a chance to visit. Not only would I love to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx, but I would love to explore Thebes and Roman Alexandria, as well. I am still undecided on the appeal of riding a camel, however...
Petra is the perfect melding of historical and movie-related sites. Long before I even knew Petra was a real place, I watched Indiana Jones discover the Holy Grail here, and I was immediately hooked. Now, after studying more about ancient history and the site of Petra, my desire to visit has only increased. I look forward to seeing the amazing stonework and architecture, and also probably bringing my own personal Raiders March soundtrack as I head out the narrow canyon away from the Treasury building.
1. New Zealand
I do not honestly know whether New Zealand would have made this list before the Lord of the Rings movies happened, but once those masterpieces of modern cinema graced our collective consciousness, New Zealand immediately skyrocketed onto my bucket list. Then, once I found out that the Hobbiton film set has been preserved and turned into a tourist destination, no other place in the world can top this location on my list. I absolutely must get here sometime in my life. To walk past Bag End, have a pint and a meal at the Green Dragon; these are the moments of legend, and to know that I too can experience that legend leaves me chomping at the bit. Oh yeah, the rest of New Zealand is supposedly pretty beautiful as well.
I would love to hear about other travel bucket lists! Where do you desperately want to go but have not yet been?
As I was thinking about other travel topics to write about, I naturally went to my favorite places to visit, especially because it can easily follow the list format of the last post. I have had the privilege to travel to many different countries in the world thanks to parents who encouraged and instilled a love of travel from an early age, so I decided to start my series of "favorite places" posts with one about my favorite countries. I narrowed my list down to the top 4, so here they are starting with number four...
I had the opportunity to visit Norway all the way back in 2006 on a cruise in the Baltic Sea. I was immediately impressed by the amazing scenery, and of course the Viking stuff. Everything was so green, and the fjords heading into Oslo were some of the most beautiful waterways I have ever witnessed. Let's be honest though, the real appeal for me in Norway was the history. Vikings are pretty cool, and a visit to the Viking museum in Oslo resulted in some amazing views of actual Longships.
I struggled a bit with where to put Greece on this list because I have visited multiple times (college study trip, honeymoon, family cruise), and every time it is amazing. The people are friendly, the food is fantastic, and the ruins, oh, the ruins, make my heart leap for joy and my legs outpace all of my traveling companions. Greece has a vibrant culture, so many romantic spots, and my all time favorite international cuisine (Fun fact: gyros in Greece are made with pork instead of lamb meat, and they are extra delicious. Also, they stuff the gyros with fries. Enough said).
When my family first discussed taking a trip to Peru together, I was excited for Machu Picchu, but I did not know much more. Thankfully, Peru did not disappoint, and in fact blew past all of my expectations and even surpassed expectations I didn't even know were possible. There was something magical about the whole country that I cannot quite express, but we were able to experience coastal country, mountainous jungle, and dry desert all in one trip, and each location had its own distinct history and flair, while still remaining Peruvian. I was able to try so many new foods in Peru (guinea pig, alpaca, ceviche, to name a few), and everything was unique and flavorful. And of course, Peru has some ancient history, which is enough to endear me to any location (just in case you missed that trend in the last two locations). I cannot recommend a trip to Peru enough.
In what should come as a surprise to no one, Italy is my most favorite country to visit in the world (for now, at least). Besides the fact that I have spend the majority of my adult life studying the history of this country, the clearest evidence for me is that I continue to visit Italy almost every other year, and even visit the same spots, and it never gets old. There is always something new to see or experience, especially when it comes to recent excavations and Roman ruins (yes, every single location on this list has some sort of ancient history connection; it's basically a prerequisite to even make this list). Italian food is wonderful and Italian gelato even better, and you cannot find better Margherita pizza than in Naples. Everything in Italy is a winning combination.
Any other favorite countries out there? Where have you visited and loved?
Top Travel "Moments"
Today would have marked the first day of the 2021 Parkway Italy Trip and another round of great times and great experiences for both teachers and students. As a result, I have been feeling the loss of travel over the past year extra hard.
Thankfully, travel memories are some of the most vivid and memorable experiences in life, and I have been reminiscing about some of my favorite travel memories to help ease the loss. I even felt inspired to fill the void with a series of travel-related posts on this site, mainly to remind myself of all the reasons I love to travel, but also perhaps to inspire memories in others.
First up, I want to share a list of some of my top travel "moments." I wish I could give a scientific reason for why I chose these moments, but the best criteria I can give you are that they impacted me on a deep emotional, intellectual, or spiritual level. For some of these moments I have pictures, but many of them happened before the advent of digital photography. Hopefully I can paint the picture well enough to help recreate the experience. This is not a ranking; rather, I am presenting this list in chronological order throughout my life.
1. Riding the TGV high speed train between Paris and London
I could not tell you what age or grade I was when this happened, other than it was during elementary school, but I can describe for you exactly what I remember while staring out the window as the French countryside went speeding by at a velocity I only imagined in my toy train sets. I tried following the trees as we sped by, but it quickly became impossible. I could also tell you how much smoother the ride was in France compared to the terrible rails once we arrived in England (that one is for my French friends). For a young boy, who was as much into trains as most young boys are, the experience of riding the fastest train in the world at the time was as close to dreams coming true as I could imagine at the time.
2. Spider shower in rural Mexico
The summer before entering 7th grade I attended a mission trip to a small church camp in the desert outside Juarez, Mexico. The goal of the trip was to do some construction work on some new buildings at the camp. I think we worked for a total of 3 days at the camp and slept in sleeping bags on the floor of a small church nearby. The moment that is seared into my memory, however, is the first night we had to use the showers at the church. I was filthy from a day's worth of dust and sweat, but I refused to enter that shower. There was no curtain, a bucket of water, dribbles instead of a stream, and spiders crawling out of the shower head. My mom was one of the chaperones on the trip, and if not for her forcing me while holding a towel up as a shower curtain, I would never have stepped foot in there. In short, this was the first time I experienced culture shock, and at my age it profoundly impacted me, so much so that I almost refused to ever take a trip like that again. While not a flowers and sunshine kind of moment, I do not know whether I would be the same person I am today without the cultural experiences from this trip.
3. Mycenae and the Iliad
In college I had the privileged experience of spending two weeks in Italy and Greece for class credit. At the time, I was also starting to get into Greek and Roman history even more and decided it was time to read the Iliad in full. I took my copy on the trip for the long bus rides and spent my free moments eating up the Iliad for the first time. On one of these bus rides to the site of ancient Mycenae I was engaged in reading the Iliad when I looked up and there in front of me was the Lion's Gate at the entrance to Mycenae. It was one of those moments where people say that the pages come to life. The characters I was reading about were suddenly real to me in a tangible way. I often credit that moment to my life taking a turn to pursuing Greek and Roman culture as a career.
4. Sunset dinner on Mykonos
In one of those classic romantic honeymoon kind of stories, one of the highlights of our honeymoon in Greece was a sunset dinner right on the water on the island of Mykonos. Fresh seafood, live musicians, a sunset over the Aegean Sea, and the romance of a honeymoon all came together for a fantastic travel moment. There were definitely a lot of moments on this trip, but this dinner lives in my memory as a moment of beauty, love, and joy. Also, when else can you get away with wearing linen pants....
5. Hiking Machu Picchu
Our family trip to Peru in 2012 is one of the highlights of my life, but we can save more on that for a future post. For this post, there are very few travel moments that beat sitting at the top of Machu Picchu and taking in the amazing view with my favorite person. Also, what a perfect excuse to bust out my Indiana Jones garb! I felt every bit the part as I traipsed around the ruins. The beauty, historical significance, and amazing location of Machu Picchu all came together for an unforgettable moment. Highlight of my life for sure!
Coming soon: Top Places I have visited!
The highlight of this summer was a trip to New York City without the kids! The last time I was in NYC was in 2002 for one day on a road trip stop with some college friends. It was definitely time to visit again.
The idea for this trip began last year around this time when I discovered that the American Classical League, a professional organization of Latin and Greek teachers, was holding their 100th anniversary summer institute in New York City. I also knew that they offered a lot of scholarships to first time attendees, so I started the ball rolling on applying and hoping I might receive one of them. We had also been saving credit card points to pay for some sort of trip and began planning how we might use them for this trip. Thanks to the help of some generous recommendations from colleagues, I won a scholarship and the dream became a reality.
I love museums, so naturally I could not miss the world class museums in New York City. The two big ones on my list were the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History. I went to the Met on the first day of the trip with a group of other teachers and spent several hours exploring as much of the museum as I could. I focused on a lot of the ancient art, obviously, but there were a lot of other great galleries also. I could definitely spend a week exploring everything there and still not see everything.
The Museum of Natural History was a great stop as well, with the most impressive galleries being the various types of animal life. I also had to visit the Easter Island head to have a little Night at the Museum moment.
Finally, I cannot talk about a trip to New York City without discussing the amazing architecture. Everywhere you turn there is a unique building to explore, both old and new. Much of our time in NYC was just spent walking around and exploring the various neighborhoods. It is overwhelming how big the city is and how diverse the experiences are around the city. From wandering the streets and open markets of Chinatown to the hipster scene in Brooklyn to the modern architecture and living space along the High Line walking path between Chelsea and Hudson Yards to the lights, tourists, and excess of Times Square, there were so many different and amazing places to explore. The best way to show everything is through some pictures.
Our trip was a lot of fun with many great experiences and memories, but mostly it was worthwhile for some time spent with my favorite person and no kids! This was the first time we had done any extended travel together in the five years since we have had kids, and it was incredible. I will be talking about this trip for a long time!
Spring '19 Part I
I have been quiet for a while, but it has been a spring for the ages and writing has been low on the priority list until now. This spring has been so eventful, in fact, that I cannot even fit the excitement into one post. I will just have to leave this one with a tease for more to come.
The first excitement of the spring was something I am very privileged to do every two years for my job: travel to Italy with students! This year was my fourth trip to Italy since I have been teaching, and my colleagues and I have worked hard to create a trip that is memorable and meaningful for our students. The result is a great trip, and our students consistently come back raving about the experience. For us teachers, the trip is essentially the same every time, which I just take as a challenge to search for new experiences. This trip was no exception.
Speaking of our hotel's location, all of us teachers were thrilled to have a hotel located right in the heart of Rome for the first time. We were only a few blocks from the Piazza Venezia and the Roman Forum, and to top it off, our hotel had a beautiful balcony with a panoramic view of the city. The picture below does not do the full experience justice, but it was a highlight and a wonderful new experience.
It can sometimes feel easy to take this trip and great opportunity for granted or complain about having to visit the same places every time, but I have learned to be very intentional about looking for two things: 1) all the new experiences I listed above and many more 2) the joy and wonder of the students experiencing all of these sites for the first time. I have so many pictures with students that tell the story of their own wonderful journeys, full of smiles, awe, and wonder. The students make the experience new every time!
The time has rolled around again to embark upon great adventure for Spring Break in Italy with high school students. This trip happens every other year and always brings its share of excitement, nerves, and challenges. As one of the leaders of the trip, I always describe the experience to people who ask as "Fun Work." It is a huge privilege to be able to do this trip, but it also takes a mental and physical toll.
My least favorite part about these trips is leaving my family for 10 days. Fortunately, (and also unfortunately, I suppose), my kids have been sick the last two days so I have been able to stay home and hang out with them for some extra hours before I leave. Today I read them a book I bought on the last trip to Rome all about the city of Rome and told them all about the places I will be visiting. They especially enjoyed the pictures of a bus like I will be riding on.
This is my fourth time taking this tour of Italy, but it never gets old. I always see each trip with the fresh eyes of all the students, which makes the experience new every time. So, excuse me while I go finish packing. Look for some posts about the trip when I return!
I love my family and this is the place to find all of the adventures we experience.