TrippinTwins: Exploring Noccalula Falls Park – Gadsden, AL

Since we work full time, and use our weekends to travel, we love finding fun day trips to take.  As we are not early morning people, we also love when that road trip doesn’t require us to leave home very early.  Noccalula Falls Park is one of those places we love to visit because it is only a 2 hour drive from Huntsville.

Noccalula Falls Park is the perfect place to spend a few hours or to spend the night at the campground.  The campground offers something for everyone as it offers over 120 sites, from primitive tent camping to RV hookups and even cabin rentals

It’s always a good idea to contact the park first to ask if there is an active water fall. The first time we visited, we were disappointed to find out the Falls area was completely dry. It’s still absolutely worth visiting for other activities, but ideally you’ll want to visit when there is one.

Interesting Fact:  Noccalula Falls and Park was added to the  Register of Landmarks and Heritage on May 12, 1976.

When you arrive, the first entrance you will come to is the entrance for the Falls and Campground. We usually pull in and park here first. Parking is free and it’s a short walk to the waterfall.


When exiting the car, you normally see a pond of water covering limestone rocks with a pedestrian bridge. Families of ducks and geese can usually be found here as well. To get to the Falls, just walk across the bridge.

The Falls are a 90 foot drop. This picture taken at the top of the Falls shows the railing that runs along the paved walking area of the viewing area for the Falls. This is a fantastic safety feature, making the area family friendly and appropriate for all ages.

Furth down the path, stop to read about the sculpture of Princess Noccalula.  There is a plaque that details what is thought to have happened to her and why the sculpture shows her leaning over. Just a warning-it is not a story with a happy ending!

When the Cherokee Indians were pushed into North Alabama, they encroached upon the Creek Indians territory. This led to battles between the two tribes. As a peace offering, Princess Noccalula was promised in marriage to a Creek sub- Chief. She could not bare the thought of marrying outside her tribe as she was in love with a warrior from her own tribe. On the day of her wedding, rather than go through with the ceremony, she jumped to her death in the area her sculpture now stands.

After viewing the falls, to head to the park entrance, we usually get back in the car and head to the second entrance. To enter the park area, depending on age, there is a small fee collected. You can find more information at the link below:

Noccalula Falls Park Homepage 

You pay the entrance fee outside to a worker that sits in a windowed area in the arched entryway. The building contains a small gift shop and restrooms. It’s the perfect opportunity for everyone to use the restroom before moving on.

The entrance fee gives you access to the gorge (1.7 mile) trail that runs along the Falls, an aboriginal fort, an abandoned dam, replicated pioneer homestead, the Gilliand-Reese Covered Bridge.  You can either choose to walk everywhere, or take a ride on the train around the park.


Watch out for the train tracks you’ll see layed around the park area!

The last time we visited, we rode the train to the animal habitat and petting zoo first. There is both an outdoor and indoor part to the area.  You’ll see two llamas, a few goats, a tortoise, a lion, arctic and black foxes.  Inside, you’ll see a lot of birds, fish, hamsters and rabbits.

To enter the indoor part, you enter the barn on the other side of the fence.

It was a great day outside, so we walked around first there before coming inside.

I only got one pic of a bird inside. There were turtles, guinea pigs  and I believe, even some snakes.

Scarlet Macaw

After spending about 45 minutes in the area, we made our way to the pioneer homestead.

We really had a great time exploring this area. We were the only ones there at the time. The sign states that the buildings are all originals that were taken from Tennessee, where they were built about 190 years ago.

We decided to explore the Pioneer Home first.  The buildings were furnished with pieces appropriate for the original time period, but were not necessarily originals. You could also only look in the buildings, not go inside them.

Below are just some of the buildings we viewed. The area is a great spot for kids to run around and also learn about how people use to live. It’s always fun to see when people are amazed that cooking use to be done in another building separate from living quarters when today the kitchen is an essential room in a modern day house.

There are two buildings that provide insight how people made their livings with the blacksmith shop and loom room.

Cook House -behind the Pinoneer House


Ash House-to the left of the Cook House
Les’s Blacksmith Shop
Loom House -Where women would gather for spinning

When we were finished viewing the homestead, we moved on to find the rock garden and covered bridge.  The rock garden is a fun area for kids of all ages to run around.

The last stop of the day was the covered bridge. We all have a fascination with finding new covered bridges, so we were super happy to learn about this one. We have a goal of one day visiting everyone of them in North Alabama. This bridge was built in 1899 with rough-hewn lumber and weathered shingles. It was moved to the pioneer setting in 1968, where it was restored.

We spent around two hours in the park area. We did not participate in every activity or see every area possible. It’s a place we can see ourselves returning to over and over again.


-There are picnic tables and grills available

-If you would prefer to buy lunch, there is a Jack’s fast food restaurant right outside the park, which the train will take you close to.

-Appropriate for families of all ages and abilities

-Wear comfortable walking shoes

-Decide what activities you are interested in doing ahead of time, so you allow enough time to do it all.






Rome Day 3: Explore Imperial Rome -The Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill 

As the largest surviving structure from Ancient Rome, visiting the Colosseum was on our must see list for visiting Rome. Although you can purchase tickets at both the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, we chose to go with an independent tour company.  If you choose this route, there are a multitude of tour companies to choose from. We chose Dark Rome and a tour titled “Underground Tour with Arena, Floor, Third Tier & Roman Forum”. The ticket also allowed us to skip the long lines that usually go hand in hand with entrance to the Colosseum.

ProTip– If you plan far enough ahead, you can purchase the same tour directly from the Colosseum at CoopCulture.

After registering, we were e-mailed detailed instructions of the meeting point. We found the meeting point easily, just outside the Colosseum metro station. We arrived about 15 minutes before the tour start time, per the instructions, and found it to be more than enough time to meet the guide.

ProTip-Most group tours meet in the same location, so street vendors gather there to try their best at selling their trinkets. This can be perfect for you-say if you forgot your sunglasses or selfie stick, they will have you covered. For most though, they will be on the unwelcome side. For those that have no need for their items, we found telling them “Grazie” a few times usually gave them the hint to move on.

Once our group was checked in, our guide greeted everyone and handed us a microphone pack with earbuds to begin sound check. It was then that we found out the guide would walk us to the Colosseum and hand us off to another guide for the Colosseum tour before meeting us again for the Forum part of the tour.

ProTip-bring your own earphones for tours. The ones provided are not comfortable for everyone’s ears.

I snapped a few pictures before we walked over to the entrance area.


Tara and our dad

Once the group was ready, our guide walked us across the street over to the Colosseum. His job at this point was to lead us to the security line and ensure we got through security. Well…let’s just say things didn’t quite go so smoothly. The area leading to the entrance was extremely crowded and it felt like everyone was pushing their way to the security entrance. We, along with many others, could not keep up with our guide. When we made it to the correct security line, we could no longer see our guide. However, after running through the line past other groups, we could finally hear him yelling at everyone to throw away all liquids. We all looked at each other, thinking it was odd, but complied. When we actually got to the security gate, we were told by the security officers that only glass bottles should have been thrown away. Needless to say, there were quite a few unhappy people.

ProTip-Prepare for crowds, be ready to power walk/run and be familiar with security rules before you arrive.

Once we made it through security, we were met by the Colosseum guide, who would lead us through the Colosseum.

While we started toward our first stop, the arena floor, I snapped a few pics of the outer ring.

Notice the holes…
Our guide pointed out to us the holes in the walls and informed us that they are made with travertine stone and set without mortar. The builders used the holes to attach their iron clamp scaffolding in order to keep building higher up.

Most of the exterior walls have been destroyed by earthquakes and pillaging over the last centuries. In fact, much of the remaining walls are actually the original interior walls.

We learned that without two Roman inventions, concrete and vaulted arches, the Colosseum probably would not have been possible. The vaulted arches, made of concrete and stone, made the ceiling much stronger than it otherwise would have been. The support beams for the arches were made of Travertine  which was quarried from Tivoli, 20 miles from Rome.

We were taken by surprise to see a cross as we entered. It is there to commemorate Christian martyrs who some believed died at the hands of various Roman Emperors. The cross now stands in the area where those Emperors once sat.

Entering the Arena:

When entering the Colosseum, it felt similar to entering a medium size outdoor sports arena. Although it once held around 50,000 spectators that were entertained with gladiator fights, animal fights and even naval battles, it was easy to picture these things possibly still taking place in a setting such as this.

It was overwhelming to be standing at the exact same level that gladiators would have entered from back in the day. The fact that this area is tightly controlled to allow only a certain number of visitors at one time, makes for a pleasant viewing experience. It made it easy to concentrate on the guide and roam around and take pictures without much distraction.

With most of the arena level platform missing, your view is directly into the series of underground tunnels where prisoners and animals were kept.

View into the underground. Notice the scaffolding.

After a few minutes, the discussion turned to the scaffolding and ongoing restoration project. With the outside part now complete, they are currently focusing on restoring the interior. They are restoring passageways, underground vaults, the arena floor and building a visitor’s center.

Side note: On another tour, the guide told us there are discussions to extend the metro under the Colosseum and build an underground shopping mall.

The Colosseum once had 80 entrances that also doubled as exits. The design met safety standards to allow people to leave and enter as quickly and efficiently as possible. It is a similar method that many architects use today in many modern day arenas and stadiums. We were surprised to learn that in cases of emergency, the entire Colosseum could be vacated in 3 1/2 minutes. We highly doubt, once panic sets in, we would be able to clear even one set of stairs in the same time frame at a modern day arena.

A person’s status in society dictated where people entered, sat and exited the arena. The higher your status in society,  the closer your seat was to the action.  All male visitors had seats, but females had to stand and watch from the balconies at the top. Special boxes were provided at the north and south ends for the Emperor and Vestal Virgins, giving them the best views. Senators were seated at the same level, giving them the option to either bring their own chairs or etch their name in the one they occupied in the arena. Some names are still visible today.

Below (first row, left side)  are marble seats that have been restored or replaced, where the Senators seats were located. You can see how close they were to the action.

Hypogeum (Underground) 

After taking a few minutes for pictures, our guide led us to the gate where we entered the underground. The gate is closely guarded- an official opened the gate for our group and closed it immediately behind us. We walked down a staircase to enter the hypogeum, or underground.


Upon entering the underground area, you notice a definite drop in temperature. The chill in the air made for a great break from the heat, but felt a bit spooky. This area was at one time two levels and was added by Emperor Domitian some years after initial construction of the Colosseum.


We listened as our guide told stories of the inter-working’s of the area. The area is comprised an intricate network of tunnels, passageways, rooms and storage spaces primarily used to hold slaves and animals used in the games.

It was the area where slaves and animal keepers would have performed their duties of operating elaborate mechanical devices to lift up animal pens and gladiators to the arena floor.  Stage props were stored here.

There were thirty-six hidden trap doors which allowed for seamless transitions between different battle scenarios and allowed each master of ceremonies to customize battle scenes to their liking. The area was updated a few times to increase the variety of entertainment options. The updates allowed for bigger and more spectacular entertainment to keep surprising the crowd.

Animal Cage

The picture above is a replica of the lift that took the animals to the arena floor.

We also viewed the aquaduct where water and sewage was moved in the underground. 

After nearly a half hour, we started the ascent back up to the upper levels. We began the walk to the Third Tier. This is when not having water became an issue. Erica had to opt out of the final climb to the Third Tier due to the steepness and large size of the steps as she became dehydrated making the climb from the lower levels. She was happy that our original guide met back up with the group at the entry point for the third level as he had water with him that he willingly gave to her.

The views were spectacular and the climb was definitely worth doing for those that could do it. Everyone except Erica in our group made the climb. Although there are elevators in other areas of the Colosseum, there isn’t one leading to this level.

Palatine Hill and The Forum

After descending down the stairs of the third tier, our Colosseum guide officially handed us back to our guide from Dark Rome. Erica and my mom left the tour, so Erica could get some rest. My dad and I continued with the group onto the Forum and Palatine Hill.

The entrance was a quick walk across the street, situated between the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia. Once we arrived, we were given a chance to take a short bathroom break before walking to the Forum/Palatine Hill area.

We first walked to Palatine Hill. At this point my dad and I were both tired, so we felt every bit of the steep climb. What initially looks like piles of rubble, is actually what remains from the most ancient part of the city and one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Archaeologists have sited evidence of people living in the Palatine Hill area as early as 10th Century B.C.

As Roman citizens attended performances at the Colosseum and went about their daily lives in The Forum area, many  probably looked up at Palatine Hill envious of the opulent palaces belonging to the Emperors with their own private stadiums and thermal baths.  The Hill towers look over both The Forum and Circus Maximus. After a brief 30 minute visit, we walked down to the Forum.

The Roman Forum was built as a compromise between the Latins and the Sabines, who live in the two hills (Campidoglio and Quirinal) which formed the valley in which the forum was constructed. The construction was an engineering marvel. The land was essentially marshland, so a canal was built that still is in use today that drained the land. Once built, It was the Administrative, Religious and Judicial center- first for the separate tribes and finally for the City of Rome

One must use their imagination to picture the masses that would have gathered to hear speakers, attend criminal trials, or just socialize. It was during Caesar’s time, when Rome was the capital of an empire, that the Forum was used for celebrations and became a symbol for Rome.

The Senate was one of the most enduring political institutions in Rome, being established right after the city was established. For many years, being in the Senate came with great power. In Imperial Rome, the Emperor had absolute power.  Senate seats were still  highly sought after for prestige and social standing, but held little power.

Red Building is Curia Julia, the seat of the Imperial Senate
Many people believe Julius Caesar was assassinated in front of the Senate building, but evidence exists that rules this out. It is believe that he was assassinated closer to where his temple resides.

His death had a devastating impact on Rome. His adopted son, Augustus, built a temple dedicated to him in 29 BC after the Senate deified him. Although he was the emperor to be deified, all subsequent emperors were made gods after their deaths. People that want to honor him still leave mementos at the alter. There is evidence that suggests the original temple was much more grand. What is left today are the remains after centuries of pillaging. This is the area he was cremated, but no one is certain where he is buried.  His memorial stone translation states that “Roman people gathered tables, chairs and any other type of wood that they found. They lit the fire and all the people witnessed the burning of the fire during the night. In this place they built an altar and then a temple to the same Caesar as a god.”




The Roman Senate building along with the other intact structures owe their current good condition because they became christianized. These are the bronze doors (see picture) are from the Temple of Romulus that became the Church Giovanni Battista Falda.

Most of the remaining structures are in ruin. The Forum has been impacted by flooding from the Tiber and changes to elevation of the landscape.
Final Thoughts: The consensus from the gang was the the tour was helpful to understanding the history of the places we visited, but too long to pay attention the entire time. If we had to do it again, we would have chosen to break up the Colosseum and The Forum tours. There was free time to take pictures at the Forum after the tour, but after not having nearly enough water to last 4 1/2 hours,, our first priority was finding somewhere close by to sit down and eat lunch.


-The steps are steep and many, so prepare accordingly. There is an elevator available at for certain levels, but it isn’t well publicized.

-Bring enough water to last 3+ hours

-Good activity for teenagers and above.

-Be familiar with the history of the Colosseum & Forum areas-know what areas you are interested in learning more about.

Alabama · Atlanta · Family Relationships · Family Travel · personal · travel

TrippinTwins:Why We Travel 

Recently a dear family friend of ours lost her cancer battle. It was especially upsetting because she had been diagnosed less than a year ago.  I could write an entire article about the role she played in our life, but suffice it to say she was such a gentle and kind soul who made an impact on so many.

 Most of our conversations over the last several months had centered on her trip to Europe she had taken last summer and our recent trip to Rome in March. Both were big deals. For her, it was her trip back to where she was born. She loved every minute of reconnecting with her family in Germany. Her favorite city was Paris. She didn’t fall in love with Rome, but was super excited when we told her we were going to surprise our parents with a trip there. She wanted us to tape the surprise reveal when my mom, who had never flown overseas, would find out she would have to finally have to face her fear of flying over an ocean. When we returned, she asked a million questions. She shared her pictures and stories and we shared ours. These last conversations, along with the numerous kindnesses she graced us with over the years, are how we are going to remember her.

When we found out she passed and began reminiscing, the conversation turned to a discussion about what we thought it was in our background was that has led us to make travel such a major part of our life. 

When we were kids, we went to the beach nearly every summer. We loved these trips. I remember being so excited to be back playing in the sand, visiting the latest restaurants, catching sand crabs and staying out for late night beach walks. I also remember being so excited when we were finally old enough to get in a jacuzzi at the condo we usually stayed in. 

We were definitely born with a love of the water, but we yearned to discover more landscapes. We grew up in a small city, but had dreams of seeing the world’s largest.  Our first trip to a major city was to Atlanta to attend the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. We had a blast riding the MARTA and exploring different restaurants and neighborhoods. We were sad to leave and bugged our parents to take us back over and over again. 


We are certain that it was our maternal grandmother who unknowingly made us fall in love with the idea of traveling around Europe. We didn’t know anyone growing up that traveled as much as she did. We loved looking at her pictures and listening to her stories. She took a cruise to Alaska the summer before she passed away and it’s been on our list since.

It was our grandfather that introduced me to photography. He collected cameras and enjoyed taking us on road trips to take pictures. He bought me my first camera and is responsible for me taking an interest again as an adult. 

Unfortunately, my grandfather got sick during our sophomore year of high school. It forced my grandmother to find replacements for a trip to Greece and Turkey she had paid for. Tara and I were the lucky ones that got to take their place. It was a trip with mostly teachers at the high school we attended, who took on the responsibility of keeping an eye on us. It was a bit overwhelming for a lot of reasons. It was a trip of a lot of firsts-our first flight, our first overseas trip, our first cruise, first time away from home for longer than a few days. It was a lot do take in, but we were hooked.

We saw pictures of a trip our grandmother and uncles had taken one summer to Colorado. The  pictures decorated our house because it was the last trip my grandmother had taken with her son before he passed. We were ecstatic when we found out the summer before our Senior year in college we were actually going. We spent a week in Lyons with family and took some amazing day trips. To this day, Colorado holds a special place in our heart as it turned out to be the last trip we had taken with our grandmother. 

Today, we travel for those we’ve lost. For they are who continue to inspire us. We travel for those that can’t, for those that are afraid, those that need guidance to plan their next adventure and for those that can’t wait to hear our stories. We travel to escape the mundane of our work life, to discover what’s around the next corner. We travel to continue to build confidence and self-assurance. We travel to keep learning, growing and moving forward.

Although we often choose to travel together, we are two very different people with very different personalities. Travel has taught us sacrifice, compromise and patience, which has grown to make us even closer. We consider ourselves lucky to be able to have shared so many experiences with our best friend by our side. We look forward to the next great adventures, including our parents in some more trips, for  they are who initially provided us with opportunities to travel.

Do you ever reflect on how your past has shaped your reasoning for traveling to a destination or made travel a priority in your life? 

Adventure · colosseum · Europe · family · Family Travel · Italy · Itinerary · photography · Roma · Rome · travel · Trip Ideas · Trip Planning · wine

TrippinTwins: Day 1- Rome with the Parents 

Ever since someone said to us, “Italy is my country and Rome is my city”, we had an interest in visiting Rome!  We had been looking for flight deals for close to a year so we could afford to take our parents along to a city they had also dreamed about visiting. After nearly a year of not having any luck, Tara found an airfare sale to Europe that fit within our budget and date range. We were both thrilled our plans worked out and we were all able to jointly experience this magical place.

We grew up Catholic and our father is still practicing.  Since Rome contains so many places that are historically important to the Catholic faith,  we spent much of our time exploring them. We talked to locals, took tours given by archeologists and history professors, walked and walked some more -Oh & Yes! We ate!  If you’re planning to visit Rome in the future, which we highly encourage, we hope our itinerary provides you with some inspiration.

Day 1:

After a not so fun flight on a cramped Delta/KLM plane, we landed bright and early in the morning – around 6:00 AM in Amsterdam.  We only had an hour layover, so we spent most of our time standing in line at customs.  It was inconvenient at the time, but it was nice once we landed in Rome 2 hours later. All we had to do once we landed was grab our checked baggage and walk through the non-declare door.

Our host had offered to arrange transportation from the airport to the apartment, but we declined and decided to get our own.  We were so tired though that instead of waiting in line,  we went with the first ride offer we received, which was a non-official taxi.  After a super fast ride, that we were told would be twice as long, we arrived intact at our apartment where we had arranged to stay the week.  Since we arrived so early in Rome, it was hours before our official check in time.  Our host was gracious enough to meet us at the apartment and assist us with our luggage up to the apartment. We paid the city tax and he gave us a short overview of the apartment and neighborhood, recommendations and answered our questions.

Our dad wanted to attend a mass in Italian, so our host suggested we visit the church he grew up in that was in very close to the apartment.  The church we attended is named Basilica of San Clemente. It’s a minor Basilica dedicated to Pope Clement I (d.99 AD).


Front Entrance of Basilica di San Clemente

We were greeted warmly at the door even though mass had already began and quickly found seats in the back. Although the service was in Italian, my parents familiarity with Latin, found it easy to follow along. After it concluded, we stayed with a few other curious ones to explore the main sanctuary.

There was a sign that said no pictures, so I just sneaked this photo of the area we were sitting in just for our own memories. And although Tara and I hadn’t attended mass since we were teens, we found it to be a fascinating experience.


A peek into the courtyard from the street

We all wished  we had planned for a return visit to explore the Bascilica more in depth.  For just 10 Euro, one can tour both the 4th Century church the current Basilica was built on top of and the 1st Century shrine of Mithras.

After exploring some, were hungry and ready to find somewhere to eat. After asking for suggestions, we walked down the street and were immediately seated at a table at Valore Ristorante Pizzeria.

It was my first time trying an Italian pizza. What can I say? I was a bit shocked at their enormous size!! It’s the size of a normal American medium size pizza that I usually share with 2 or 3 other people. Evidently, Tara knew this but didn’t think to say anything before we both ordered. So, we both had huge pizzas to attempt to tackle.  If you’re looking for good sausage pizza though, this is one of the places to come.

Obviously Tara’s mind was not so much on the food,  as she was overtaken by her excitement of being able to drink some good Italian wine.

I mean she just looks so happy with that glass on wine. Just not sure she could look more sleepy…haha!

We even got to enjoy some entertainment for a few minutes when a traveling musician stopped in. He was really accommodating when I wanted to take his picture. He saw my camera and immediately came to our table. We stayed for probably 20-30 minutes in the restaurant playing for tips before moving on.

Once we finished our lunch, we decided to walk some calories off by going to find place to purchase a metro pass . We took the advice we received from our VRBO host and walked to the Colosseum metro station (Colosseo) where we found a tabaccoist stand. We purchased a 7 day pass for each of us for €24 each. the metro in Rome is very easy to use, comes often,  and is efficient for most places we needed to go.

The area around Colosseo station is very busy. There are vendors vying for the attention of every tourists to buy visitor passes and other trinkets. It was also the first time we would walk by the Colosseum. We saw 2 armed military officers (anti-terrorism forces) with heavy machinery outside. At the time we were unfamiliar with these people and their role so we didn’t take any pictures. We were unaware at the time that we would see them virtually at every other site we visited during our stay.

On our walk back to our apartment on Via Labicana, we saw a site that caught our attention. We stopped to look around and found out it was Ludus Magnus, or the Great Gladitorial Training School. The school had 2 levels, one an arena.  The part visible on Via Labicana are the partially excavated gladiator cells that use to be in the northeast part of the training arena.

After spending a few minutes looking at the ruins, we continued the few blocks back to our apartment for the night.

We spent the rest of the night unpacking, talking about what our first day was like -oh, & discovering the unexpected-my dad’s backpack was missing. His backpack had his medications in it, so that was quite a shock. We figured he lost it at some point between getting out of the taxi we took to the apartment and waiting to be let in. It served as a reminder for everyone to remind each other to stay aware at all times, especially in crowded places.

Lessons Learned from Day 1:

Official Taxi’s should only charge 48 Euro from Fiumicino Airport to the city center and 30 Euro from Ciampino airport.  Here’s a list of official taxi fares in Rome.  The hassle of haggling for that price though, that’s another story!

Pay attention to the taxi company you take in case you leave things in the taxi.  It’s true of anywhere, but especially in a foreign company when you’re not familiar with the companies.

There is no minimum drinking age in Italy, though 16 is the age one can drink wine/beer in public.

Restaurant tipping: Our host told us that if the bill is 113 Euro to round up to 117 Euro and it served us well.









TrippinTwins: Rome With the Parents: Day 2- A Monday in March



We left the morning completely open for sleeping.  Our track record of attending morning tours on the first full day: exactly 0.   We don’t sleep on planes, so we tend to sleep 12 hours to acclimate to the time change and we assumed our parents would do the same. We didn’t end up sleeping that long, but it was still great to have the extra time before we had to be somewhere.  It gave our dad time to go to a couple of pharmacies to get replacement medications and the rest of us time to get breakfast from a neighborhood store.  Truthfully,we only planned ahead about lunch and Villa Maraini and left the rest of the day open to chance- just set out and see what we see.

Lunch Time

We had been given recommendations from our host regarding the best places to eat in the neighbourhood. We chose one of them and set out to find it. Eventhough it sounded  pretty easy, Tara and I are nearly completely directionless.  We grew up being told, “no, the other left or the other right” and it’s never gotten much better. We began with Tara leading -relying on her phone GPS.  It wasn’t quite as easy as it appeared to be though because her GPS kept re-routing.  After walking in circles, our dad took out his phone, put on GPS and tried to give us different directions. When we were deciding what to do, our dad decided to sit down on a wall  beside Ludus Magnus and regroup to figure things out, but Tara thought she had it figured it out and kept walking. I thought it was funny and snapped a picture to capture the moment.  At least we enjoyed our walk around the neighborhood with scenery of the Colosseum and Ludus Magnus to admire.

After a few minutes, we all agreed to let our dad lead & made it easily to our destination,  Trattoria Pizzeria Luzzi. We were really happy to arrive and not have to wait for a table, even if it was outside and it was threatening to rain.


Of course, drinks were the first order of business. Tara was excited to have a Fanta again and she and our mom were thrilled about the 3 Euro table wine. We enjoyed lunch of mostly bread, lasagna and ravioli.



Our super friendly waiter who insisted I capture him in a pic
This place became one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants because the food was good, the prices were really reasonable and the people were very friendly.

Neighborhood Stroll

After finishing our lunch, we decided to explore the neighborhood for a few minutes. We started with walking around the neighboring streets before deciding to go walk around Parco di Colle Oppio.


Parco di Colle Oppio

Upon entering the park, we immediately saw many people out exercising, just enjoying the breezy weather. After a short walk inside, we noticed the statue of Alfredo Oriani. He was an Italian writer, author and social critic, who was admired by Mussolini. The statue was completed the thirteenth year rule during the Fascist regime, 1935. His works were banned by the Catholic Church in 1940 when they placed them on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.


Erica taking pictures

We only had a few minutes to stay, but we all agree we would have enjoyed staying longer to explore more of the area. It is considered an archaeological park. Much of Domus Aurea lies under it and contains the ruins of the Baths of Trajan and Titus. It’s also an easy walk along a central avenue in the park to a view of the Colosseum.

Although we found it to be a great place to take a break from the noise and traffic the Coliseum area is synonymous with, it is recommended not to visit after dusk for safety reasons.

Villa Maraini

After the park, it was time to go to Villa Maraini for our scheduled tour. Villa Maraini was one of those unique places that is not generally on the itinerary of a first time visitor to Rome. When looking for activities to do on a Monday though, you will find that many places are closed. I happened to read about the Villa on TripAdvisor and found out it was open for tours. It has the highest rooftop view in Rome, so we wanted to check it out. St Peter’s Cathedral is higher, but it’s located in Vatican City.

  • When are tours offered?  Monday’s are the only day in the week tours are offered and reservations are necessary. Currently, they are only offered at 3:00 PM and 4:00 PM.
  • How do I make a reservation?  You can make it through their website, call or contact them through TripAdvisor.
  • How much does it cost? €5.
  • How long is the tour?  Roughly 55 minutes
  • Closest metro?  Barberini metro.  It’s about a 15 minute walk, mostly uphill from there.


When we entered, we immediately went to the office to confirm our attendance and pay the tour fee of €5/person. We were told to go back outside to wait until the rest of the group arrived. We spent that time enjoying the man made cave and pond.




Once the confirmed group was gathered, our guide joined us outside.  She introduced herself and began telling us the history of the Villa.

The Villa was built in 1903-05 by Otto Maraini, the brother of Emilio Maraini. Emilio was a wealthy Swiss businessman that made his fortune turning beets into sugar. He married Carolina, who later donated the Villa in 1946 to the Swiss Confederation to be used as a cultural center, intended to be used for scientific and artistic collaboration between Switzerland and Italy.

Today, the Villa is an active property. There are residents living in the house that are taking part in a residence program that was established that is primarily available for Swiss Citizens or Residents that work in the arts and science field for 4-10 months timeframes. There is also a full time staff that works at the property. For this reason, only part of the house is available for touring.

The Villa was built on a fake hill, which was made using rubbish resulting from workers who initially used the site as a dumping ground. Instead of finding the rubbish a nuisance, the owners took advantage of it.


She then led the group up the hill to the back entrance.

View of the back of the house walking up the driveway to reach it.

Original pottery salvaged from rubbish.

Back of house, where we entered

View of the expansive gardens of the back part of the house.

The outside porch area had a seating area and sculptures on the walls that had been salvaged from the rubbish.



We entered the house in a back foyer.  It’s a relatively small room with a group of 10-12 standing in it. I was immediately drawn to the ceiling, but didn’t have the best angle for taking pictures.

Our guide spoke mostly about the staircase. Unlike most other places in the house, the staircase is made of red marble. The majority of the house is made out of travertine.


Moving on from the foyer, we next went to the dining room. It had been recently used for a function, so they had removed most of the furniture from the room.



Next, we made our way to the gentlemen’s recreation room, which I found the parquet ceiling fascinating.

After completing the tour of the main house, we made our way up the staircase to the top floor and then we’re led to a spiral staircase that led to the rooftop. As someone who has problems walking up stairs a lot of times for various reasons, these were not too difficult & everyone was very courteous about letting people walk at their own pace.

We thought the view was great and had a great time chatting with our guide as she pointed out the various landmarks in the distance.


St. Peter’s Basilica in the back

We stayed on the roof for about 10 minutes before having to leave as our guide had to lead the next tour group.

Overall, we enjoyed the tour. The property itself is spectacular and it was great to experience a birdseye view overlooking much of the city.

After leaving the house, since we were in the vicinity of both the Spanish Steps, we decided to head in that direction.

Spanish Steps

If coming by metro, they are walkable from both the Spagna and Baberini metro stops.

The steps were built in 1723-1725, financed by a French diplomat, to link the Trinity dei Monti church with the Spanish Square (Piazza do Spagna)below.

We didn’t get gelato and sit on the steps, like many do. We climbed to the top, snapped a few pics and moved on. We were there around 4:30 pm and there wasn’t a huge crowd.
It’s also a great area to grab a snack, or indulge in some shopping! img_6521



After leaving the steps, we decided to grab some food and then close out our night by going to see the Trevi Fountain since we were fairly close by.

Trevi Fountain

If you plan to arrive by metro, Baberini is the closest.  By the time we finished our dinner and waked, it was around 8: 00 pm. It was crowded, but not overwhelmingly so. We were able to find a seat for a few minutes and snap some pictures in front. People were quite aggressive trying to jostle their way in to find a spot to take pictures.

This is every bit as spectacular in person as one can imagine. The fountain as seen today was originally designed by Salvi, although it wasn’t completed and functional as a fountain until 1762, after Salvi’s death. It was designed in the Boroque style with various mythological deities featured. The fountain recently underwent $2+million dollar restoration completed by Fendi on November 3, 2015.

We enjoyed seeing the fountain at night because the lighting adds an element you otherwise don’t see during the daylight hours.

Make sure when you visit you partake in the local custom of dropping a coin or two in the fountain. Legend has it that if you throw one, two or three coins into the Trevi, with your right hand over your left shoulder, ensures 1) you’ll return to Rome, 2) you’ll fall in love with an attractive Roman, and 3) you’ll marry that same Roman. And, even if you aren’t into the entire legend reward system, you can feel good knowing that your contribution is donated to charity. $1.5 million was collected just in 2016.
We stayed close to an hour. If we weren’t as tired as we were, we could have stayed for hours.

The Trevi Fountain was a great way to end our first full day of sightseeing in Rome! We walked back to the Baberini metro to metro back to our apartment stop. We stopped by a local store, bought a bottle of wine and a snack and walked back to our apartment for the night.


Wear very comfortable and well fitting walking shoes.  Otherwise, you’ll end up like me-shopping for shoes that come in your size 🙂

Metro was easy and convenient to use to these stops.

Hang on your valuables and be aware of your surroundings. Pickpockets target crowded areas often and we saw a few victims in our week there.

Adventure · Chattanooga · Day Trips · Family Travel · Holiday Travel · Hotels · Kayaking · Nantahala National Forrest · Nantahala River · north carolina · outdoorlife · travel · White Water Rafting

Nantahala White Water Rafting

Labor Day weekend in the US marks the unofficial end of summer and people love to celebrate over the long weekend.  I wanted to go somewhere different and some place not too expensive which meant I didn’t want to fly. While browsing Pinterest,  I saw a pin of the Nantahala National Forrest that caught my eye. I had been rafting there as a young child and always wanted to return, so thought this would be the perfect trip. As Erica already a prior commitment, I used this trip for some father/daughter bonding time.

We chose to drive to Chattanooga, TN the night before going to North Carolina.  It’s a city we both really like spending time in.  Neither one of us had ever stayed at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, so we decided this would be a great time to try it out.  If you are worried about the price, know the courtyard  is totally worth the price to stay.  Even if you are not staying at the hotel, drop by for a visit because the courtyard is fantastic for people of any age.

We stayed one night and got up early the next day to get on the road to reach Dillsboro, NC where we stayed for the next few nights. It was a beautiful 4 hour drive that passed quickly. On the way, we passed the Ocoee River located in Tennessee in the Cherokee National Forest which we have already decided to visit next year.


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You’ll most likely run into one of these rafting buses on the trip


I chose the Best Western Plus River Escape Inn & Suites for scenery and location, but it really exceeded my expectations. The property was quiet and had a quaint feeling and look with only 65 guest rooms. The highlight was the balcony overlooking the Tuckaseegee River, located of the breakfast room. When we were at the hotel, we spent our time on the balcony. The hotel is convenient to several great breweries and restaurants we had a chance to try. It is a 30 minute drive to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, where we took our rafting trip.

Nantahala River

The Nantahala River is located on the Appalachian Trial in the Nantahala National Forest located in western North Carolina. The Forest is the largest of four National Forrests located in the state, covering more than 530,000 acres of terrain that varies in elevation from 5,800 to 1,200 feet.  It is home to a large number of beautiful waterfalls and serves as a popular place for hiking, camping and white water activities.

The Nantahala River offers family friendly white water activities, with 8 miles of class II rapids and a few class III’s in the last mile.  It is perfect for practically anyone including  children 7 + , or those who weigh 60 + pounds.  White water rafting, canoeing and kayaking are the most popular forms of white water activity on the river.  If paddle boarding and/ or duck mobile rides are your thing, you will definitely have plenty of company on the river too!


Nantahala Outdoor Center

 There are a plethora of outfitters in the area that can accommodate every white water excursion or need. For this guided rafting trip, I chose to book with the largest one, Nantahala Outdoor Center located in Bryson City, NC.  It is a must visit for every outdoor enthusiast.  The 500 acre campus offers both fully and self guided whitewater activities, ziplining, mountain biking and several others.  There are also retail shops and restaurants to visit on property and nearby.

Depending on when you visit, we suggest buying tickets in advance online to avoid long lines. We arrived 20 minutes early which gave us plenty of time to check in at the Adventure Center, take some pictures and meet up with our rafting group.  The rafting tour we chose says it is 3 hours, but one hour of that is on the ground- listening to instructions, watching a safety video, life vest checks, meeting rating group and guide and riding to the rafting site.


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We spent 2 hours on the river which was just perfect.  There were a total of 6 of us in the raft including the guide.  If you do not want to get very wet, do not sit up front!  There were a lot of people there with Go Pro’s, which this trip is perfect for.  The river was really busy because it was a holiday weekend, but it never felt overly crowded.  We saw a few birds, but not much other wildlife. The trip will take you past several campgrounds and houses, but otherwise the scenery consists the beautiful Nantahala NationL Forrest. If you would like to see a short video of our rafting trip, here’s the link:




  1.  Take a change of clothes.  There are changing facilities and you will most likely feel like changing afterwards, regardless if you get wet or stay dry.
  2. Leave as much as you can in the car, but they will hold keys and phones for you.
  3. Take the time to take in the scenery and enjoy yourself!

Exhibits · Family Travel · Museums · Seattle · Tours · travel · Trip Ideas · Washington

Seattle Center-Chihuly Garden & Glass Exhibit

On a recent trip to Seattle, we had the opportunity to  visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass. The exhibition opened at the Seattle Center in 2012. A Washington native, Dale Chihuly is a world renowned glass artist with current displays all over the world. We have both been lucky enough to see his works at a few other exhibits and have been blown away each time, so this was high on our list of places to visit.

The Exhibit is divided into three main areas: The Interior Exhibits, the Glasshouse  and the Gardens.

Interior Exhibit

Glass Forest: 

This room is subdued, but eye catching as its only piece is designed with neon colors. For those that are unfamiliar with Chihuly, it is here you will be introduced to the size and scale of some of his designs as well as to the black plexiglass base that is used to display many of his works.

For the Glass House piece, he teamed up with Mr. James Carpenter, a colleague of his at the Rhode Island School of design. They were interested to see what designs could come from their differing backgrounds-combining Carpenter’s background of architecture, light and sculpture with Chihuly’s background in textile and sculpture. These forms were made from standing atop a ladder and letting the glass drop down while inducing neon into the pieces.

The Northwest Room:

Cylinders, Baskets & Soft Cylinders 

Chihuly’s goal here was to make Indian Baskets out of glass. He discovered that he could push the boundaries of glass forms using fire and gravity.  Pushing the ability to form glass to the edge, just short of collapse, he was able to get the glass thin enough to  create new forms that mimic the patterns and designs from Native American culture.

Sealife Room

This room reflects Mr. Chihuly’s love of the sea. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, he always had a love of the water. He saw a lot of similarity between the movement of water and movement of molten glass. Although sea life is only occasionally featured in chandeliers and towers, he designed this 20 ft tower to show how important water was to his work.

This is a room where we spent quite a lot of time just staring in awe at this magnificent tower.


Persian Ceiling:

Created and sculpted by Dale Chihuly and Martin Blank. Walking into the walkway with this eye-popping ceiling sort of catches one off guard. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the top of the room.

You will be surprised at how long you will stand around with your eyes glued to the plethora of remarkable Persian glass designs erected in the ceiling. Although you will recognize many of the designs, you will stand in amazement at others contemplating just who were those geniuses who dreamed such a thing.


Mille Fiori:

Inspired by glass blowing processes and places he’d visited over the years, this piece combines common shapes found routinely in nature with bright primary colors.

Ikebana and Float Boats:

The inspiration for this one came while in Nuutajarvi, Finland while he was working for his exhibition Chihuly Over Venice. He stood  on a bridge and threw glass into the water to experiment with its reaction to the glass.  Local teens would pick up the glass pieces and place them in row boats. Chihuly liked how his glass looked in the boats which led to the creation of these these pieces.

Chandelier Room:

The concept was inspired  by a chandelier he had seen at a restaurant in Barcelona, which was the first time he had seen one at eye level. It was then he got the idea that chandeliers could be made without being functional, just serving as a decoration. A chandelier was first displayed for an exhibit in 1992 at the opening exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum. His chandeliers can be anywhere from three to 30 feet long and can contain as many as 1,000 pieces.

Macchiato Forest:

Chihuly was very excited when an expanded color palate was available to him through use of the German colors. Originally, only available for the stained glass industry, he was determined to use all the 300-400 colors that were newly available to him in this exhibit. Macchiato means spotted in Italian.

Glass House:

The glasshouse is the centerpiece of the center.  It is 4,500 sq ft and 40 ft tall.  It holds a red, orange. amber and yellow 100 ft sculpture , which is one of Chihuly’s biggest.

The Garden:

The garden surrounds the glass house and was our favorite part of the exhibit. On a nice day, allow time for walking along the lined paths between the sculptures. We spent about an hour roaming around the gardens, but could have easily spent longer if time had permitted.

Tips before you go:

Depending when you visit, consider bringing your own snacks.  There is a cafe on site, but is usually very busy.

No selfie sticks are allowed, but they do have employees stationed in the various galleries that are eager to take your picture for you.

The exhibit is open Monday-Thursday 9:00 am -9:00 pm and Friday and Saturday 9:00 am – 10:00 pm.

Admission is considered pricey at $27 for ages 13-above with reduced admission for Seniors, Youth and Locals. Costs can be reduced by buying a  Seattle CityPass or by buying admission to the Space Needle at the counter.



Adventure · Airboat Tours · Day Trips · Everglades National Park · Florida · National Parks · Tours · travel · Water Adventures

Snapshot Sunday: Florida Everglades-Sawgrass Prairie 


Water trail made by repeated use of airboats in same area
White Ibis in Sawgrass Prairie
Florida Soft-shell Turtle in the Sawgrass Recreation Area
Cormorant in Sawgrass Recreation Area
Palm tree in Sawgrass Recreation Area
View looking onto Sawgrass Prairie from airboat

Water lilies from the airboat 

Beer · Chattanooga · Tennessee · Tours · travel · Uncategorized · Water Adventures

Exploring Chattanooga: Chocolate, Beer, Boats and Walking Tours! Oh my! 

Do you usually travel over holiday weekends?  We do if the holiday falls on a Friday or Monday because it works out great with our schedule and we’re able to go places without having to take a day off work.  Columbus Day is celebrated on a Monday, so we decided to visit Chattanooga, Tennessee over the holiday weekend.   It is currently the “IT” city of the South and draws more than 3 million visitors a year.

Chattanooga offers a variety of options for a vacation destination; there is something for everyone. Although the Tennessee Aquarium  is an absolute must if you have not been, there are other great places to check out. These are some of the highlights over the weekend we spent there:

1. River Gorge Explorer

We did not visit the Tennessee Aquarium this trip, but we did ride the River Gorge Explorer that is guided by a Tennessee Aquarium naturalist.  It is a 2 hour boat ride in a climate controlled setting and offers fantastic views of the scenery and wildlife along the Tennessee River.  We spotted several species of birds including blue osprey, herons and a hawk.  It is appropriate for all age groups, there is plenty of room for kids to be kids and for adults to find some peace and quiet. You are initially seated in the inside cabin to ride to your destination. Once you reach destination, you are free to hang out on the viewing deck or the stern of the boat.  The boat has 4 engines and 35 mm horsepower, which the captains takes advantage of to ensure the passengers are safe while throwing in a bit of high speed and a maybe a few tricks when other boat traffic allows.


Pro Tips:

If your visit is going to coincide at a busy time of the year, buy your tickets in advance online and bring a printed copy with you.  Tickets can be bought at the Aquarium, but lines can be really long and tickets are quick to sell out.

No need to arrive at the docking location more than 10 min prior.  There is not a lot of waiting space and there is plenty of seating in the boat.


There are two ticket options: River Gorge Explorer (Adults: $32.00, Children 3-12- $24.50, Children under 3 – $18)  or Tennessee Aquarium/River Gorge Explorer Combo (Adults: $56.95, Children 3-12 – $39.95, Children under 3 – $18).

2.  Chattanooga Sidewalk Tours

We enjoy taking walking tours whether on the road or at home because they are a great way to see and learn about a city.  We usually take large group walking tours because they’re affordable and low hassle.  When we were looking for walking tours in Chattanooga, we found Chattanooga Sidewalk Tours and saw it was rated on TripAdvisor.   They are a local company that gives group and private tours for locals and tourists. It was really easy to book with them, we corresponded through email  a few times to find a time worked for all of us.

Chattanooga Sidewalk Tours offers two walking tours: Dynamo of Dixie and Bluffs and Bridges.  We decided to take the Bluffs and Bridges Tour because we wanted to learn more about the people that helped to influenced Chattanooga’s transformation, see their homes and see the world class bridges and bluffs in Chattanooga.  It was a 90 minute walk, perfect for anyone that enjoys a leisurely walk.  Our guide, Keith, was fantastic.  He was extremely knowledgeable about Chattanooga’s history and could answer practically any question pertaining to it and the Civil War.

Price: $15 per person, but it’s the south so be nice and tip too!

Walnut Street Bridge – one of the world’s largest pedestrian only bridges. It was built in 1890 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
                              Walking the Walnut Street Bridge
One of the many pieces of art in downtown Chattanooga. Tara’s hanging out with the horse found in the First Street Sculpture Garden.
Coolidge Park Antique Carousel located in Coolidge Park. Fifty two hand carved animals for your enjoyment.
3.  The Hot Chocolatier

All kinds of hot chocolate and other chocolate treats to take home!
What kind of hot chocolate do you like? I bet they have it available!
Who doesn’t like a good chocolate shop?  This locally owned artisan chocolate and pastry shop, located across from the Chattanooga Choo Choo, is a must visit while in Chattanooga.  They offer pastries that rival some of the best European ones, every kind of hot chocolate and coffee favor you can think of and excellent artisan chocolates.  There’s even a window in the shop where one can watch chocolatiers and pastry chefs working.  If you’re looking for an afternoon pick me up or an after dinner snack, this is your place.

4.  Terminal Brewery

This is a locally owned brewery that aims to be as green as possible.  The  brewery uses organic ingredients in their drinks and food and aims to be as environmentally friendly as possible in their business operations.  They offer several different kinds of beer on tap as well as organic wine and spirits.  For the people who cannot or do not like to drink alcohol, there is house made root beer available.  Their menu is great for meat eaters as well as vegetarians.  It’s a very laid back atmosphere, great place to hang out and watch a game.  If you’re looking for a locally owned place with great drinks and food, consider this next time you’re visiting Chattanooga.

What should we be sure not to miss next time we visit Chattanooga?  We’re always up for recommendations.

Alabama · Goals · October Blogging Challenge · travel · Trip Planning · Work · Work/Life

10 Things You May Not Know About Us-October Blogging Challenge -Day 10

1. Our passion is international events politics and religion. Growing up in the south, we were raised not to talk much about these subjects. Now, with the right group of people, these are subjects we can debate for hours. 

2. When we have a bad day, I run to the closest place that offers good cheese fries. It’s a coping mechanism from my college days.  Tara likes to go have a cold German Hefeweizen. Hey, they are both cheaper than a shopping spree. 

3. We both struggle constantly with our career choice. We like the challenge of the work itself, but can’t stand the political nature/arbitrariness of the decisions that are made on a constant basis.

4. We do not mind revisiting some places over and over again. Our goal isn’t to see the world, but to have as many experiences as possible in the places we enjoy. 

5. I will search far and wide in each city usually to buy  handcrafted earrings. I probably have 150 pairs of earrings now. Tara does not have any particular thing she buys on trips. 

6. Our favorite food anywhere is Mexican. The best we’ve had so far is in Los Angeles, Chicago and our hometown.

7. We both were born with an eye defect, which is a fairly common birth defect in premie’s. We had eye surgery when we were 3. We still have bad eyesight, which seems to bewilder people. While I wear glasses everyday, Tara usually wears contacts.

8. Looking younger than we are has as many disadvantages as advantages. We fight to be taken seriously in the workplace and get carded everywhere, which is just annoying. 

9. We have only had 2 main hairdressers throughout our life. Even going away to college and moving to VA didn’t change that. We’ve been going to our current one consistently since we were in 9th grade. 

 10. We are both Big city and small town people. We can be comfortable in any city of any size. We both debate between staying where we are and moving on to a bigger city. Still up for debate.