Friday, July 31, 2015


Our last day in Tuscany was spent in Florence, which we loved! We got to watch some sculptors in action as they created beautiful reliefs, visit a wooden toy store (in the style of Pinocchio), ride an antique carousel in a city square, and learn about Da Vinci and many of his incredible inventions and paintings, at the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum. It was a really wonderful day! (To see more about our time in Tuscany, check out my previous post.)

Sculpture Studio

Max posing as Pinocchio at Bartolucci Toy Store

Piazza Della Republica

Back in the saddle

Il Duomo di Firenze--Florence Cathedral

This invention of Da Vinci's was the precursor to the modern firetruck ladder.

Da Vinci had some pretty explosive ideas.

Gelato in Firenze (Florence)


Here I am playing catch-up again. The Internet of the world can't quite keep up with the Wandering Watts! :) We spent several days in Tuscany, which is absolutely beautiful, with all it's rolling hills, vineyards, hay fields, sunflower fields and olive groves. Our house, outside of Pontassieve, had a nice little backyard, with a killer view, and we spent many happy hours there. On the way there from Rome, we stopped by the Terme di Saturnia, which is a river/waterfall fed by a natural hot spring. Under the waterfall, little pools have formed from the mineral deposits, making a very neat place to hang out. We had lunch at the little snack bar and then continued on to Pisa, where some of us jumped out of the car to snap photos of the leaning tower, while Jeff made the block. It was a pretty hilarious stop! By the time we made it to Pontassieve and met up with our landlord, the supermarket was closed, so we went in search of a seafood and pizza restaurant in Santa Brigida, which our landlord recommended. It was a fun place with delicious food, and we even got to do a drive-by of the local castle.

The following day, we slept in, caught up on laundry and reading, made our grocery run and produced some homemade goodness in the kitchen, including rosemary potatoes, using fresh rosemary from the garden, which thrilled the kids. It was a slow day, but we needed it very much after all the long travel days we had had prior to that. The day after that was a school day for us, and everyone picked right back up where we left off in Naples. We are trying some new things with school this year because of the way we are traveling, and, so far, we are very pleased with the way it is going. I will be trying to post more catch-up posts as the Internet allows.

Terme di Saturnia

Sunflowers as far as the eye can see

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Our Tuscan Home

The view from our backyard

Castle in Santa Brigida

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The last little bit of Africa

We had one night and a full day in Johannesburg, before our flight out of South Africa. My brother-in-law had recommended eating at The Carnivore restaurant, so we decided to give that a try. What a wonderful experience! It is like a Brazilan steakhouse, where they come around with meat on skewers. But instead of just beef, chicken and pork, we also got to try some exoctic game meats like crocodile, kudu, zebra and impala, which we loved. We also had a Lazy Susan on our table, filled with a variety of salads and sauces. Everything was really wonderful, and the atmosphere was very fun!

We spent the next day just hanging out around our guesthouse, which was equipped with a playground, pool table, foosball table and a variety of board games. We needed a slow day like that after all the early mornings and before getting on a very long flight.

Our overnight flight landed us in Cairo, just as the sun was coming up. We knew ahead of time that we were going to have about an 8 hour layover, so we had made arragements for a driver to take us out to the pyramids, just so we could say we had seen them and snap a few photos. That turned into a pretty crazy adventure, but we did get our photos, and we can say we have seen the pyramids and the sphinx. And, based on what I saw of the city on our way over, I would say those things are Cairo's only redeeming features. I don't believe I've ever been in a more disgusting or less attractive city.

So, that brought our time in Africa to a close. We are now back in Italy, looking forward to new adventures. If you missed my last few catch-up posts, you can check them out here, here, and here.

Our Jo'burg house

Some little boys definitely needed to play outside after days in the car.
We loved that we could keep an eye on them from inside the house.

Salads and sauces at The Carnivore

Clay got in on some drumming action

The heart of The Carnivore is this huge cooking station,
where the skewers of meat are roasted over charcoal fires.

Of course, this guy found a statue to snuggle up to!

Posing with Nelson Mandela

Taking the pose a step further

Hippo attack

One choice of transportation to go see the pyramids

The only remaining wonder of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

The Sphinx, watchdog of the pyramidal tombs

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Kruger National Park

On July 18, we arrived at Kruger National Park, which is a stop we've been looking forward to since we started planning the trip, over a year ago. It is a protected game viewing park, roughly the size of Massachusetts. I cannot tell you of all of our adventures in the park, and, even if I tried to share everything in any combination of words and pictures, there is no way I could adequately capture the awesomeness of this place. Driving through Kruger is like driving through a dream: It is a fantastical place, where the landscape is continually changing, and you never know what kind of strange and exotic creature you will encounter next. People who visit talk about seeing or trying to see "The Big Five," which includes elephants, water buffaloes, rhinoceroses, lions, and leopards. Within four hours of entering the park, we had checked three of those--elephant, leopard and water buffalo--off our list. Within 48 hours, we had seen them all. And, by the time we left, on July 23, we had seen them all several times over, which seems to be a pretty rare feat, even for seasoned visitors, so we felt extremely fortunate. But, besides that, we also got to see a wide variety of other African animals and birds, and we absolutely had the best time. We stayed at three different thatch-roofed, self-catering cabins, at camps inside the park, over the course of five nights, and saw approximately two thirds of the entire park, working our way from north to south. Camp gates open at 6:00 a.m. and close at 5:30 p.m., so we were up before dawn every morning and didn't get back until the sun was going down. And, we planned our routes to try to maximize the area we could cover. They were full days, but they were fantastic. It doesn't matter how many giraffes or elephants or zebras you've seen, every time it's the best kind of surprise. There is just something truly special and almost magical about observing wild animals in their natural habitats, with as little interference from humans as possible. It is one of the most amazing places I have ever been! Unfortunately, I can't share all of my pictures, because there are hundreds (maybe thousands!). But, I have picked out a few of the highlights to hopefully give you an idea of what makes Kruger the kind of amazing place that gets into a person's soul. 

The Big Five

Mopani Rest Camp, Talamati Bush Camp, Pretoriuskop Rest Camp

African fish eagle,  Yellow-fronted canary, Tawny Eagle,
Secretarybird, Lilac-breasted roller, Black-bellied Bustard,
Crested Barbet, Natal Fancolin, Collared Sunbird 

Baboon (or "Baboom," as Clay calls them), Hippo
Rhino, Hyena, Elephant, Giraffe, Zebra, Bush Buck

Euphorbia Cactus, Impala Lily,
Baobab Tree, Sausage Tree,
Coral Tree,  Lebombo Aloe

Unique Traffic Problems
Wildebeests, Hyena, Impala, Giraffes,
Rhino, Baboons, Zebra, Warthogs,
Elephants, Water Buck, Water Buffaloes, Lion

This is our only family picture from inside the park,
taken while we were having lunch at the Lower Sabie Camp.
If you look closely, you can see hippos between Jeff and Weston.
We had so much fun listening to their hearty "laugh" while we dined.

*You can click on each collage for a larger view of the pictures.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Panorama Route

[I'm playing catch-up on our time in South Africa, so if you missed how we got from Cape Town to Johannesburg, check out my previous post. ]

We left Pretoria mid-morning on July 17, after a stop to stock up on supplies for the week. From there, we headed south, toward Nelspruit and the start of The Panorama Route, which is a scenic drive, with amazing vistas and interesting places to get out and take in the sights. It winds gloriously through the mountains and pine forests of the area. We took in some truly amazing views, including waterfalls, canyons, rain forests, pine forests, and even some fairly significant (and kind of scary) wildfires, on our way to The Shoe, where we were to stay for the night. It was a lovely day, and we were thankful we built an extra day in to our agenda to make this scenic route possible. 

"Would anyone like to be the king of the world with me?"

Mac Mac Falls

Enjoying a high perch

God's Window

This boy will move mountains!

Hiking through the rain forest

Lisbon Falls

The wildfire looked even more intense with the sunset behind it.

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe...

...She had so many children, she didn't know what to do!

From Cape Town to Johannesburg (and Pretoria)

We have had many adventures since my last post but no internet with which to report them all. I will attempt to get caught up (with what limited Internet I do have), but I will devote one post to each of the major events of the remainder of our time in South Africa rather than trying to do it all in one fell swoop, so as not to overwhelm you or exhaust myself.

Our first big adventure was an overnight train ride from Cape Town to Johannesburg on the Shosholoza Meyl train. We said goodbye to our wonderful landlords and beautiful Cape Town before the sun was up on July 15. We loved our time there and had mixed feelings about moving on. We made our way to the airport to return our rental car and then took a cab from the airport to the train station. We had never traveled by train like this before, so it was thrilling in a number of ways. We had two first class sleeper cars (one four berth and one two berth), which certainly weren't fancy and didn't even have their own bathrooms. But there was plenty of room for us all to ride and sleep in comfort, and we had a grand time. The landscape changes pretty dramatically between the two cities, which are on opposite sides of South Africa, and we enjoyed every new site the train windows offered us, until it was too dark to see. We saw mountains, vineyards, plains, lakes, rivers, small towns and larger ones. We even saw some ostriches and impala and gemsbok antelope. We also got to eat in the dining car, which almost made the kids giddy with excitement. 

During the night, while we were all soundly asleep, the locomotive broke down, and when we woke up, we found out we were about four hours behind schedule. A few other delays brought the grand total up to six hours. Unfortunately, our original plan had been to get off the train around 1:00 pm, pick up our rental car, and then drive for about four hours to Nelspruit. When we realized that that plan was shot, and while we were still on the train, we got on the phone to cancel our reservation for the night. Then, another call was placed to Starwood customer service to see if we could use our credit card points to book a hotel room somewhere near Johannesburg. They had a couple of rooms available in Pretoria, which is only about 30 minutes away from the airport where we had to pick up our rental car, so we snatched them up and were never so thankful to be members of that particular rewards program. This was our first night in a regular hotel since we've been traveling, so it kind of felt like a luxury, though we were a little sad to have to divide our group into two rooms for the night. I must say that, even with the delays, we thoroughly enjoyed our experience of traveling by train. It was so comfortable and easy, compared to plane travel. We will definitely look for more opportunities to travel by rail in the future. 

Waiting on our train to arrive

The Shosholoza Train

Ready to ride

Mr. Big up on the top bunk

Mountains and Vineyards

Mountainous Desert

Gemsbok grazing in the plains