Hayden's Page 2015

And So Ends the Awesomeness

We didn’t leave the apartment until 1 PM today. That’s right. No eight-hour tours, no frantically rushing to yet another Mercedes van. Just rest and relaxation. When we finally got up, we decided to visit the Rome zoo. It was huge! We saw lots of really awesome animals, such as:

Snowy owls!


Baby monkeys!

King vultures!







After the zoo, we came back to the apartment for a little while, and then drove to Tivoli for the most amazing meal of the entire trip.

The restaurant has been in business for over 300 years and has been visited by people like:

Princess Margaret of England, Princess Gina of Liechtenstein, the Prince of Prussia (back in 1872), and other royalty from places like Afghanistan and Nepal. And I can totally see why they’d want to eat there.

I got risotto, and for dessert, raspberry-strawberry sorbet. Both were some of the most delicious things I’d ever tasted. The restaurant was situated next to some 3,000 year old ruins:

It was dark by the time we left Tivoli and drove back to Rome. The city lights were utterly spectacular.

I won’t be seeing anything like them for a long, long time.

Tomorrow we return home, leaving behind all the awesomeness of Europe.

Signing off for the last time,

Hayden M. Strong

As is customary, I must add a bird picture here. Unlike the other times, however, I know for certain that this is a stork (and possibly the biggest bird I’ve ever seen!)

We Drive, and Drive, and Drive Some More

Today, we said goodbye to beautiful Montefili Estate and hopped in our BMW station wagon. We drove out of the Tuscan hills onto the A1 autostrada and headed towards Rome. We drove for about an hour and a half before stopping in Orvieto.

The town is way up high on a cliff, so we rode a funicular into town. We ate pizza at a great little restaurant, walked around the town, rode the funicular back down to the station at the bottom of the hill. Then, bam! An Italo, the fastest train in Europe, roared down the track going 186 MPH! 

Then we got into the car. We were driving out of the parking lot, when another high-speed train, a Frecciarossa (red arrow), zoomed by. We’d stumbled upon the Rome-Florence Dirretissima, one of the fastest train lines in the world!

Going way, way, way too fast (186 MPH, remember?) to get a great photo, but this is a Frecciarossa.

Then we drove to our apartment in Rome, which is on the top floor of a 1930 building. It’s huge! And it has a big terrace.

We then walked around Rome. Which, well, left much to be desired. As in, the Trevi Fountain was drained and scaffolded for maintenance. The Parthenon was closed. And the city was packed beyond belief! We just ended up eating dinner (I had risotto, and French fries) and going home. Meh.

- Hayden M. Strong

(This one’s for you, Ba.)

Frigid Waters, Fine Wines, and Happy Dogs

The first thing we did today, was, well, nothing. And I liked it that way! When we finally decided to get out of bed, we just walked into our backyard and hung out, and looked at the view:

Then Violet got this crazy idea that she wanted to go swimming. Our pool is so freezing cold it makes Arctic glaciers jealous. But Vi was upset that I was being reasonable and protecting myself from hypothermia (by not swimming with her.) So we worked out a deal: I would dip my feet in the frigid waters for thirty seconds…if she would cannonball into the pool!

She did. And it was hilarious! Then we kept daring each other to do more crazy stuff. I wound up going in to my knees for a full minute while Vi had to jump in, swim for thirty seconds, and then get out and jump in again! We all wound up drenched in ice-cold water, but it was worth it.

Then we ate lunch, hung out a bit more outside, played with Boo, the estate’s puppy, for a while:

If you ever stay at Montefili Estate in the countryside of Tuscany, Italy, do NOT let this dog get his hands (well, paws) on your shoes (or sunglasses!)

Then we visited a winery (on 500 acres) which looked like this:

We saw lots of cool stuff during the tour:

Where they dry the grapes.

Where they store the bottles.

Where they age the wine.

Then Mom and Dad got to do wine tasting, and we did water tasting (which tasted like water!)

It was really cool. Then we came home, played more with Boo:

In pursuit of the shoe!

Then we ate (surprise!) pasta for dinner. Tomorrow we leave for our penthouse apartment in Rome, and we’re stopping in Orvieto along the way. Stay tuned for more awesomeness!

- Hayden M. Strong


Argh! Another unidentified bird sighted today (at the winery!) Anyone with any information, please comment! It’s seriously infuriating that I have no clue what all these birds are!!!

Mountains of Gelato! (Oh yeah, and Florence too.)

Today, after some much-needed sleep, we drove from our house to Florence (in Italian, Firenze.) The first thing we saw was the statue of “Davey” as Violet calls him:

which was sculpted by Michaelangelo in the 1500s and is over fifteen feet tall.

Then we checked out the city. This is a church from the 1200s. 

After that we ate lunch. I had gluten-free (of course) pasta with parmesan cheese. And we got really great gelato! (Sorry, no pictures.)

Next we visited another art museum. We saw some really awesome paintings:

There was some amazing architecture in the museum too:

And this funny sign outside:

No fast food, no umbrellas, no acoustic guitars, and no stereos!

Then we went home. The house’s owners have a puppy who loves to play with us!

Stay tuned…

- Hayden

Bonus! How the heck are you supposed to pronounce the name of this car?

Ciao Epic, Buon Giorno Tuscany

Today, we said goodbye to our magnificent ship. When we disembarked, we boarded a bus that took us to the rental-car place and picked up our car, a (stick shift) BMW station wagon. We then drove three hours from Civitavecchia to Greve, Tuscany.

We visited a 2700-year-old Etruscan tomb (which Violet was too chicken to go in):

and ate lunch at a great restaurant.

Then we drove to our house, which is a really cool old house on a farm. Our backyard borders a huge olive-tree orchard, and we have a vanishing-edge pool!

We saw this cool bird:


This is our view:

And this is the inside of our house:

Dad made us a caprese with fresh mozzarella cheese for dinner tonight. Tomorrow, we’re going to Florence to see the statue of David and some other cool stuff.

Let Part 2 of our adventures begin!

 - Hayden

Paradise Falls, Without the Giant Birds

If you haven’t seen the movie Up, you won’t get the title of this post. Sorry.

Today, the Norwegian Epic docked in Naples, Italy. Our guide picked us up in a (wait for it) black Mercedes van. The first place we visited was Pompeii (which, as you know if you’re in Tutorial I at OC) Violet is quite the expert on!

Our guide in Pompeii was actually an archaeologist, so we learned a ton of stuff - like that the Latin inscription on this beautiful 2,000-year-old mosaic means “Beware of dog”.

Speaking of “Beware of dog” signs, all of them in Italy seem to show pictures of happy, friendly dogs:

But that’s another story. Here are some more Pompeii photos:

A dining room in a Roman mansion.

Fresco on the wall of an open-air market, with pictures of bread, fish and other food.

Jugs and pots unearthed while excavating.

This stray dog really liked us!

An “ancient" House Sparrow singing from a “Roman” electrical wire. : )

After Pompeii we went to Sorrento, a town on the cliffs above the Mediterranean.

Impressive, right?

After Sorrento we went to the even more beautiful Amalfi coast.

This is the restaurant we had lunch at. I had a DELICIOUS gnocchi with homemade tomato sauce, and a strawberry cheesecake for dessert!

Everything at the restaurant was made there: from the wine to the plates! It was a great place.

After the restaurant, we visited an overlook and saw a waterfall...

…and saw a lizard.

I had the greatest day. Ever. 

Tomorrow, we say goodbye to our beautiful ship and say hello to our house in Tuscany!

- Hayden Strong

We Get Soaked While Sliding Downhill

The first and only sea day of this entire cruise happens to fall on Violet’s birthday. So we took advantage of this ship’s star attraction: the trifecta of waterslides crowning the pool deck. But before I get into how awesome the waterslides were, I’m just going to give you a sense of how the Epic is laid out:

Decks 1, 2 and 3: Who knows? They’re crew-only.

Deck 4: Where you get off the boat.

Deck 5: Restaurants, the “Atrium” club with live music.

Deck 6: Theatre, casino, some restaurants, the art gallery.

Deck 7: Shopping, the bowling alley, a restaurant or two.

Decks 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12: Rooms.

Deck 13: More rooms and the bridge.

Deck 14: More rooms, the spa, the Kids Club for Violet.

Deck 15: The buffet, the pool deck, waterslides, the Teen Club.

Deck 16: The Haven Courtyard, Restaurant and Lounge, and some of the Haven rooms (including ours.)

Deck 17: The rest of the Haven rooms, the gym, the Beach Club.

Deck 18: Our private sundeck.

Deck 19: The second part of our private sundeck.

So, back to the post! There are three waterslides on the Epic: a green one, a purple one, and a yellow one. The purple one is short but fast. The green one is a little slower but still fun. But the yellow one is the most fun!

On the “Epic Plunge” (which is what the yellow one is officially named), you get in an inner tube and go through a normal slide tunnel. Then it shoots you out onto a big bowl-shaped thing where the current spins you around faster and faster and then drops you into another tunnel, which drops super-fast before it dumps you into the pool!

Then we went to the arcade and got a ton of tickets. For dinner, we ate at the ship’s French restaurant, Le Bistro (on deck 6). Then we went to our respective Clubs (Kids for Vi, Teen for me) and had a blast. It was a great day!

- Hayden Strong

This is us following the Aidablu and Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world, out of port. The Aidablu is on the left.

“Sagrada Familia” Is Not A Tongue Twister

Today, the Epic docked in the second-largest city in Spain: Barcelona, a bustling metropolis of two millilon full of interesting architecture and Roman artifacts almost 2,000 years old.

The first thing we did was get into a (shocker!) black Mercedes van. Our guide, Jorge, drove us to an absolutely beautiful cathedral.

Inside, there was a courtyard with waterfalls, fish and even geese!

Then we went to Bubo, one of the best chocolate shops in all of Spain.

We each got a hot chocolate made with dark chocolate. It was really good! Then we visited another awesome cathedral with really intricate stained-glass windows.

Then our guide took us to the beach! We found lots of seaglass, rocks, and shells.

Next, we visited the old Olympic stadium left over from the 1992 Olympics. It could seat over 60,000 people!

No Bigfoot beyond this point!

An old Spanish car called a SEAT (pronounced “say-it”.)

The view of the city from up in the hills. 

Then, we ate lunch. I ate a delicious vegetable paella!

Then we visited the Park Guell, which was designed by the famous architect Gaudi.

We even saw the most out-of-place bird ever in the middle of a city: a parrot!


Then we drove to the Basilica de Sagrada Familia, a cathedral which started contruction in the 1850s and is due for completion in 2026.

Amazing, right?

This is another building designed by Gaudi. He wanted it to look like a dragon, so the roof is scaly and horned.

And another one, influenced by the ocean’s waves. The balconies look like seaweed!

Then, after eight hours of awesomeness, the van dropped us off at the port and we got back on the boat. Tomorrow is a sea day…and Violet’s 9th birthday. 

Signing off for now (2011 style!), 

Hayden M. Strong

Another mysterious yellow-billed blackbird with a yellow eye-ring spotted…ID help? Please? : )

The Nameless Post of Mallorca

Our (surprise!) Mercedes van drove us from the port to Palma, the largest city on the Spanish isle of Mallorca. 

The city is full of cool, semi-modern Spanish architecture.

And big, old trees are everywhere. 

We saw the Palma marketplace, which had fruits and vegetables of all kinds. 

Then…we walked to the Palma railroad station and boarded THIS: A narrow-gauge 1927 electric-powered passenger train.

The train took us through the Tunel Major, a 2-mile tunnel through the mountains, and over a huge bridge crossing a valley. Then, it stopped in Soller, a beautiful town by the sea (sort of.) 

After touring the town and eating GREAT ice cream, we boarded the first electric trolley in Mallorca:

The trolley was really slow (some bikes passed us), so it took half an hour to bring us to the beach.

There were lots of small boats out on the water...

And big fish in the water.

Vi and I walked out on the sand.

No parking your horse here! : )

Signing off for now,


French Fries Are Not French (They’re Belgian)

Our colossal monstrosity of a ship couldn’t even fit in the port at Cannes, France. So they lowered a few of the lifeboats (each of which holds 275 people) and ferried us in to the port. 

The seas were rough. Like, really rough. Like, wave blows the lifeboat into the side of the ship and leaves a dent in the fiberglass rough. After a hair-raising ride, we disembarked and walked to yet another black Mercedes van.

Our tour guide, Cecilia, drove us to the beach. The water was so clear it made glass jealous.

Speaking of glass, the beach was strewn with seaglass, glass that fell into the sea and was eroded and smoothed by the ocean’s waves. And looks awesome. 

The pier had rows upon rows of multi-million dollar yachts like this one:

This yacht, the Lady Moura, cost $400,000,000 just to buy and holds 70 crew. It’s owned by a Middle Eastern prince’s ex-wife.

After touring the “Billionaires’ Pier” in Antibes, we visited the town of St. Paul-de-Vence.

St. Paul-de-Vence was built in the Middle Ages and people still live there today. It’s a beautiful town, filled with winding paths and houses that date back to the 1500s.

This church, the Chapelle Saint-Michel, was first mentioned (probably in a book) in…wait for it…1356.

The outside of the chapel.

After St. Paul-de-Vence, we visited a great family-owned restaurant, where I ate possibly the best cheese panini I will ever taste. Then we got a crepe (with Nutella!) which was delicious. 

Then we got back in the van and drove to Tourrettes-sur-Loup, a beautiful hilltop village known for its (wait for it) violets.

They had violet candies, violet perfume, violet-based oils and lotions and whatnot, violet jam, and even violet ice cream (which, surprisingly, tasted amazing!)

After an even more hair-rising ride back to the boat on the tender, we ate dinner and saw a Cirque de Soleil show in the Epic Theatre. Which was awesome. 

Tomorrow…stunning seaside Palma, on the amazing Spanish isle of Mallorca.

Auf wiedersehen, au revoir, ciao, sayonara, and goodbye.

- Hayden

P. S. Any help identifying this mysterious French bird would be appreciated. And no, it’s not a starling!

© Knstrong 2013