Tuesday, August 8, 2023

The Bahamas

The Bahamas have always sounded like a beautiful country to visit, and they are such a close neighbor to us that it was really great to learn about all the islands.

Video Links

The Bahamian food list I found (Top 25 Bahamian Foods) has a lot of seafood cuisine (obviously), but with some dishes that remind me of Southern cooking in the US.  I decided to go with Chicken Souse and Johnny Cake for our Bahamian meal.

I neglected to separate the wings, and for the future I think I would skin them as well before cooking.  I also left out the green pepper because some of the comments said that wasn't as traditional and I thought it would change the flavor of the meal more than the carrots would.  I think I would also choose to make this with whole allspice instead of ground so that the broth would be clearer.

My youngest daughter made the Johnny Cake, and although it looks like it would be bland and dry, it was actually moist inside and a little sweet.  It was a perfect accompaniment to the Chicken Souse and a big hit with my family.

I never would have guessed to put a lot of lime juice and allspice together in a stew, but it was really delicious and flavorful!

Sunday, July 30, 2023


 Shortly after we returned from our travels to Italy, Slovenia, and Vatican City, my two youngest had the opportunity to go to Chinese Camp.  All four of my kids have participated in it before, and it is a great way to learn more about Chinese culture, cuisine, and language.  They had a really great time, and I decided we would follow it up by making China our family country of study.

Video List

Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of the fun foods and crafts the boys got to make while they were at camp.  However, I'll put some fun links to additional activities, foods, and resources below:

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Vatican City

 Even though it is the smallest country in the world, Vatican City holds major religious and cultural significance.  Despite having a history spanning many hundreds of years, the Vatican State was not an independent country until 1929 when the signing of the Lateran Treaty brought some measure of peace between the relatively new Italian government (mid-19th century) and the Papacy, since both wanted Rome to be their capital but wanted to be independent from the other.  Not only is it the residence of the Pope, but it also houses hundreds of incalculably valuable works of art.  Some put the valuation of Vatican City (and Catholic Church) assets at $73 billion minimum.

Video List

Normally we like to go to Geography Now! to start off our learning, but since they are going alphabetically, they have not yet reached Vatican City, so we turned to another of our favorite channels: CGP Grey.  We had to get a basic membership to watch one or both of these videos, but it was well worth it as the videos are very informative.

Why did we skip so far ahead in our country list?  It is because we had an opportunity to visit the Vatican while we were in Italy!

We met early in the morning at St. Peter's Square for our tour.

members of the Swiss Guard at the south archway on the side of the Basilica

Fun Fact: all of the artwork in St. Peter's are actually mosaics made of small glass tiles.  There is only one true painting in the Basilica (above Michaelangelo's Pietá).  This is why you can take photographs inside the Basilica: the flash will not harm the mosaics.

a view of Vatican City from the top of the dome on St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Baldacchino - sculpted by Bernini, it stands over the High Altar, which was built over St. Peter's tomb

one of the entrances to the Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums contain incredible works of art dating from as far back as Ancient Egypt ...

... and Ancient Greece all the way up to modern artists like Matisse.

The symbol of the Papacy (and thus Vatican City) is the Papal crown with two crossed keys underneath, visible here both above the white stone shield and above the red dragon crest (the coat of arms of Pope Gregory XIII).

And while Vatican City may not have a particular cuisine, we did eat some sandwiches and pizza from a food stand in Vatican City before heading over to the Vatican Museums!

Sunday, July 9, 2023


Slovenia was a country that wasn't even on our family's radar until we visited some friends who were stationed in Northern Italy, and they invited us to go on a road trip into Slovenia with them to Lake Bled.  We are so glad they did!  Slovenia is a gorgeous country covered in forests and mountains with 54% of the territory environmentally protected.  It has an incredibly reasonable cost of living and some of the lowest crime rates in the EU.  Every member of our family loved Slovenia and talks about going back!

 Video List

Slovenia is one of the most gorgeous countries I have ever been to.  Every little town we drove through or house we went by looked like it belonged on a postcard.  We were lucky enough to see some of the major sights during our three days in the country.

Dating back as far as 1274, Predjama Castle was built into one of the over 14,000 caves in Slovenia.  If you visit here, I highly recommend paying the few extra euros for the audio guide, as otherwise it is hard to know what you are looking at when you walk through the numerous rooms and chambers of the castle.

Just a few kilometers away from the castle is Postojna Cave, home to the olm and an underground train that takes you almost 4 km into the cave where you begin a tour of the enormous chambers that go back for kilometers more.  The cave is quite chilly, so don't forget to bring a jacket or coat like I did!

Lake Bled is a must-see when traveling to Slovenia.  This was the main destination of our road trip and well-worth the visit.  Bled Castle is perched above lake.  You can drive there, but we walked up a trail that goes from the church on the right up the hill - about a 15 minute walk.  Do keep in mind that they stop selling tickets to enter the castle 30 minutes before the castle actually closes.

view of Bled Lake and its island church from Bled Castle

The peacock (seen atop the pedestal) has become a symbol of Bled because of a 6th century brooch found near here that can now be seen in the castle's museum (entrance under the red awning).  There is also a working replica Gutenberg printing press where you can buy prints as souvenirs.

We also took part of a day to visit Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.  It was not crowded, and everyone was quite friendly and most spoke amazing English and helped us navigate the city.  We parked once and did all of our exploring easily on foot.  This is the Dragon Bridge, which spans the Ljubljanica River.

It had been raining the morning we left Lake Bled, but on the way back from Ljubljana it let up, so we went back to Bled and stopped by Triglav National Park to hike Vintgar Gorge.  Since it had been rainy that day, we were lucky to find a parking spot at the gorge entrance near the ticket booth, which usually fills up very fast.  The gorge itself is only about 1.8 miles long and is an amazingly beautiful and easy (though damp) walk along the Radovna River.  However, since COVID, the trail is now one-way only, and once you get to the end of the gorge you have a choice between a couple of trails.  We took the shorter one and still hiked another two miles to get home.  Our trail went sharply uphill to the town of Blejska Dobrava, and then back through the woods along the top of the gorge until you get back to the parking lot.  It took us only about an hour and a half total, but we were hustling because we had to drive back to Venice and turn in our car that evening.  But it was worth every minute!

One of the fun foods we were able to try while we were there was Bled's cream cake.  Very sweet but very tasty!

Tuesday, July 4, 2023


 Italy is an incredibly beautiful country with a rich history that has influenced so much of the world through its politics (the Roman Empire), art and culture (the birth of the Renaissance), language, and cuisine.  We decided to travel here during the summer of 2023 to visit some friends who were stationed in Vicenze (an hour outside of Venice) and spent a lot of time studying up to prepare for our trip!

Video List

  • Geography Now! Italy
  • Flag/Fan Friday ITALY! - We also watched the heritage trip that he talks about at the start of the video, which wasn't particularly informative about Italy but still a very moving story and great to watch.
  • What You Should Know Before You Visit Italy (Wolters World) - my kids are not as excited about Wolters World videos as they are for the Geography Now! videos, but I find them super informative.
  • Tourist Scams in Italy (Wolters World): free stuff, unofficial train helpers (ticket purchases or porters), things are just more expensive than you think, petitions, pickpockets, beggars, gelato stain or bird poop stain to distract, pay for photo ops, knock off bags and jewelry, receipt check fines (fake) - the only one I actually ran into while we were in Italy was someone trying to grab my luggage to help me over the Rialto Bridge in Venice.
  • What NOT to do in Italy - good tips for setting expectations for traveling in Italy
  • 15 Italian Words You Need to Know Before Coming Italy - we used most of these phrases while we were there (and I also spent a couple of months learning Italian in Duolingo).
  • The Renaissance (Crash Course World History) - There is so much art and history connected to the Renaissance, so we watched this video so that our kids would understand the importance and historical context.  It is very entertaining and quick-paced.
  • The Florence Cathedral - explains the basic facts and importance of the Florence Cathedral, which was on our itinerary

Here is some information that I either found super useful to know beforehand or learned while I was there:
  • There really aren't any dryers in the apartments there.  (We stayed mostly in AirBnbs.)  So don't pack things like jeans that take a long time to air dry.
  • Cathedrals and any religious sites (like the Pantheon) have a dress code that requires clothing cover your shoulders and go down to your knees.  This is not always consistently enforced, but the more popular cathedrals (like St. Peter's and the Florence Cathedral, for example) will turn you away if you are not properly attired.  There are people standing outside that sell shawls/scarves you can buy to cover up your shoulders or wrap around your waist if you need some last minute coverage.
  • Almost all of the museums were NOT air conditioned.  In all of the Vatican Museum halls, for example, only the Sistine Chapel was air conditioned, and that was so packed with people that you could barely tell.  So if you go in the summer (like we did), be prepared to bring water and wear breathable clothing.  The only museum I remember being air conditioned was the Accademia Gallery in Florence where Michaelangelo's David is housed.  Not the Vatican Museums, not the archaeological museum in Pompeii, not the Uffizi in Florence, not the Doge's Palace in Venice, etc.
  • Rome has tons of free public water fountains all over called 'nasoni' that just spout cool drinking water all the time.  Some of them are quite old, so it felt weird the first time filling up our water bottles from this old random spout along the street, but the water is delicious and the summers in Italy are hot, so we quickly came to love them and look for them all over the place.

In Rome, ruins and ancient structures were all over the place, tucked between or behind or along seemingly every road we walked.  You could spend a very long time in Rome alone getting to know all of the history of the place.  This is the Column of Marcus Aurelius, completed by 193 AD which depicts many historical battles and events with surprising detail, but very few people even glanced at it because there are just so many other things to see.

We got many pictures of Trevi Fountain, but this one shows just how crowded the fountain area is with tourists.  You can still get great pictures without hardly anyone else in them, but you do have to be patient with the crowds.

The Colosseum was interesting, but currently they do not let you tour it with an outside guide.  So we had a wonderful guide that took us through the Roman Forum, but he had to hand us off to an internal guide at the Colosseum that was not very engaging (I literally fell asleep a couple of times) and who also stopped us in the full summer sun multiple times along the tour.  Since we did the underground areas (which you can only get access to with a guided tour) it was still worth it, but not the experience I was hoping for.

We did a day trip from Rome to the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii.  The drive is long and it was rather crowded once we got to Positano, but it was so beautiful that I'm still glad we went.

This is one of the homes in Pompeii.  Our visit here was brief but well worth it.  We had a great guide and learned a lot about how well this city was planned and governed.

We spent half a day in Pisa.  I think we could have stretched it out to a full day if we wanted to because my husband and I are read-all-the-placards kind of people, but I think we saw 85% of what was available in the couple of hours we were there, including climbing to the top of the tower.

Wherever you go, I highly recommend getting timed entry tickets to avoid long waits in line and going first thing in the morning.  We were able to enter the hall with Michaelangelo's David as some of the first people in the gallery, and it was stunning to be able to see it in the quiet of the morning light at the end of the hall.  This room was filled with crowds within half an hour.

If you want to see some of the back room passages of the Doge's Palace in Venice, you will need to book a special access pass and/or tour, and these fill up quite fast.  I called maybe six weeks in advance to find a particular guide that was recommended to me, and she and all other guides she could refer me to were booked solid.  The Doge's Palace has modestly priced tours they offer directly, but they were all full, so we ended up booking with a separate tour company.  It was more expensive, but the tour was super interesting and our guide was fantastic.

A hidden gem in Venice is the Interpreti Veneziani concerts.  They play mostly works by Vivaldi, who is a native of Venice.  The music is exquisite and the performance electrifying.  This concert was one of the highlights of our entire trip!

We were able to get around using public transport or transportation provided by our tours in all of the major cities (Rome, Florence, Pisa, Venice), but once we went to visit our friends in Vicenze, we needed to rent our own car to get around efficiently.  This allowed us to visit more out-of-the-way places like the Sanctuary of Madonna della Corona.

Even in the Italian countryside, there are more beautiful buildings and museums than we could count.  This is the Villa La Rotonda, one of the most famous of Andrea Palladio's works.  This is one of 21 villas designed by him that collectively are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

We had a lot of fun trying out lots of different dishes.  This one was probably my favorite of our entire trip.  It was tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms at La Grotta di Leo in Florence.  They also had amazing homemade panna cotta that we loved as much as gelato, and that's saying something!

Italian tartufo - ice cream with something tucked in the middle and then coated in nuts or cocoa powder or the like

Venice's specialties usually include seafood.  This is Seppie al Nero alla Veneziana, which is cuttlefish stewed in ink served with polenta.

And of course, gelato!  And lots of it!  We ate gelato almost every single day and never got tired of it!

Wednesday, March 22, 2023


Azerbaijan was next on our list, and it is such an amazing country!  It was the first Muslim-majority, democratic, secular country in the world.  Its capital Baku is the lowest lying country capital in the world at 28 meters below sea level, and it has the greatest concentration of mud volcanoes in the world.  So many cool things about this country!

Video List

For the food, I checked out this list of popular dishes in Azerbaijan.  We had already tried gata for our Armenia studies and the others looked a little more involved, so I went with plov, mentioned elsewhere as Azerbaijan's national dish.  There are lots of different regional variations, and the recipe I chose is called Parcha-Dosheme Plov (layered rice pilaf with dried fruits and chestnuts).  I couldn't get chestnuts at our local grocery store, so I ordered them on Amazon.  I was able to get everything else locally (substituting regular prunes for the dried sour plums), even Afghan saffron!

First step is to sauté the dried fruit in butter - smells so yummy!

Setting the dried fruit aside, the chicken is layered on the bottom of a pan, covered with sliced onions, and then come the partially cooked basmati rice, the dried fruit, and a final layer of rice.  This all gets steamed together for an hour.

The final result was delicious!  If I made the recipe again, I would use a smaller but deeper pot, as the wide pan I used meant the chicken in the middle got overcooked before the meat on the edges was properly done.  I would probably also use more chicken and add more water to the saffron so that it could give all of the rice that beautiful color.  But overall, it is a dish we really enjoyed!

Sunday, March 5, 2023


 Next in our alphabetical journey through the world was Austria.  In the center of Europe, it was also the epicenter of World War I and the seat of the Austrian Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Video List

For the food, I checked out this blog post on the 20 best Austrian dishes.  We felt like we got a little bit of a taste of some of the dishes like schnitzel and knodel when we had our Czechia meal, so I decided to go for #1 and #3 on the list: Viennese Apfelstrudel and Vienna Sausage. 

I had had Vienna Sausages as a child and knew I liked them, but this was a totally new experience for my kids.  The texture threw them off, and none of them were a big fan of them, but I didn't mind finishing off the extras.

 I found a recipe I liked for the apfelstrudel and thought I would give it a try.  In the interest of time, I took their suggestion and used a premade puff pastry.

I tried rolling the pastry instead of folding and sealing as they recommended, so it came uncurled a bit when baking.  But the final results was still quite delicious!