Sunday, October 21, 2012

View from the Vatican

Today is the canonization of Pedro Calunsod, the second Filipino saint.  All eyes are in St. Peter's Basilica, in Vatican City, Rome.  Surely there are many Pinoys in the audience on this memorable occasion.  Looking at the news coverage, reminds me of my own visit to the Vatican City, a few weeks ago.

Our home base  during our trip to Italy was in Milan.   By train, it takes about 3hours to Rome, the capital of Italy.  We rode the bullet train, which runs a steady hum of 300 KM per hour!

Will you look  at that "pretend" Stylish  business traveler on the left :))

Rome  has very rich culture and lots places to see.  I really set aside an "over nighter" here.  We stayed in a small bed and breakfast near the train station.  Compared to Paris, the room was huge & cheap! 

First on our itinerary was, of course,  the Vatican City.   The smallest independent nation in the world.  The enclave is literally separated by walls  from the city of Rome.

Walled City, literally!

Swiss Guards. Tough. Mercenary... and Flirts!  The taller one just winked at me! Hmp! :)

 We arrived in St. Peter's Square nearing dusk.  It was an ordinary Wednesday and we were very lucky, the place was not crowded with usual worshipers.  We just breezed through, when our friend Teena said it usually takes hours, just to get through the square to the Basilica.

St. Peter's Square, fronting the basilica,  accommodates the largest number of visitors in the world (60,000).  It's 23, 00 sq. miles or 5.7 acres

Bernini's beautiful colonnades hugs the huge square

The central dome of the basilica dominates the skyline of Rome

St. Peter's Basilica is probably the greatest of all churches in the entire Christendom.  Any devout Catholic dream of visiting it sometime in their lifetime.  It is the perfect ending to a Holy Land pilgrimage tracing the roots of Christianity.

With our friend Teena, at the facade of the Basilica. 

But then again, whether one is a Christian or not,  anyone can appreciate the richness of the culture, history, architectural and artistic aspect of this place.  It's really something to behold.   

The moment we set foot there, I felt overwhelmed and dwarfed by  the immensity of it all.  Everything seems to have been magnified 100x. 

Look how many "me" can fit into these columns

Stretching way, way up, more than the eyes can see

I can barely reach the Holy Water font to dip my fingers. 

Everything is just sooooo Grandiose!  I am gonna run out of superlative adjectives.  It's Magnificent, Imposing, Resplendent ....

Here I am only at the one part of the nave leading to the altar.  Hidden from view, on my right and left, are huge corridors with individual chapels, which can already be a small church in my country. 

Think of the biggest church you know, multiply that maybe 20x... that's St. Peter's Basilica's.

My friend and I playing on the massive pillars

A familiar sight, but this one is the real deal ~ Pieta, a masterpiece of renaissance sculpture by Michaelangelo is displayed on the first chapel on the right side, as one enters the Basilica.

One can't help but feel "dwarfed' by the huge statues of saints and as you slowly approach the altar, you get that shrinking feeling..... God, I'm so small, really.

Many popes are buried here underneath the basilica. The crypts are works of arts themselves! Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to see the burial crypt of Pope John Paul II. 

The entire interior of St Peter's is lavishly decorated with marble, reliefs, architectural sculpture and gilding.
Wondering what if feels like getting married here? :)

Amidst all the beautiful interiors, the  central feature is a Baldachin or canopy over the Papal Altar,   The sanctuary culminates in a sculptural ensemble,  which includes,  the symbolic Chair of St Peter.

Chair of St. Peter, a relic enclosed in gilt bronze casing

Here's another view.

My camera cannot capture the whole thing.  But underneath the canopy, lies a mysterious staircase!  :)) If you've read Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, you will truly be fascinated! :)) It is said to be the tomb of St. Peter.  There's still controversies surrounding whether it contains the real bones or not. But we need whole night of coffee or wine to talk about it :)

The huge dome is also a masterpiece of renaissance art. 

Oh, there's just too many things to feast your eyes on!!   If I have all the time in the world,  I just  want to sit for hours and just "feel" the Holiness of the place wash over me.

my friend caught me in my "senti" mode

 This image is also familiar, the statue of St. Peter,  commonly used in Catholic literature.   This one is the "real" thing!  The statue's right foot is almost torn down with centuries of pilgrims touching it.

One of the many, many chapels on the wings of the basilica.

This is one place, I don't really mind going back.   If you're going, and need a companion, buzz me :)  I still have so many things to explore in all those nooks and crannies.

I also want to have an "audience" with a Pope in my lifetime.   :))  Actually, an audience means you're just one of the 80,000 crowd.   :))

Here's what my skill and camera failed to  capture ~  I cut & paste from Wikipedia to give you better perspective.

Awesome  isn't it ??

If you want more ~  follow us on our Super Awestruck Adventure at the Vatican Museum  ( My OMG moment at the glorious Sistine Chapel !!! )  and  walking around the beautiful romantic city of Rome
.... up-next!


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Our Top 10 Paris Highlights

Folks who have been to Paris have different experiences to share.  Some will regale you with the delectable French cuisine and wines. Some get spellbound with the multifarious collection of priceless arts.  For the fashionistas, the word "Haute Couture" didn't come from the French for nothing.

For me and hub, we are captivated by its history, culture and charm of beautiful structures of old.  Heroics of Napoleon Bonaparte, the whims of the Popes and the extravagance of the Kings never fail to enthrall us.   

So, here is the  Top 10 Highlights of our Paris trip :

10.  Sainte- Chappelle

The most beautiful and charming chapel I've seen in my entire existence.  You might say, "Really?! More beautiful than St. Peter's Basilica?"  Well, let's just say,  our Mother Church at the Vatican is Grandiose, Majestic and Lordly.  It is after all, a Basilica.  Sainte-Chappelle, is a chapel that will enchant you with its delicate beauty and allure.

Our heads literally spun, as we behold intricate Stained Glass frescoes depicting 1,113 biblical scenes.  You need a telescope to better view the images.  Sainte-Chappelle is one of Europe's finest example of high Gothic architecture.  It's simply ethereal.

By: Petro

One of the 1,113 Biblical Scenes made of tiny Stained Glass. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

9.  Notre Dame Cathedral

The contemporary world is more aware of Notre Dame Cathedral, largely because of Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame.  The classic novel by Victor Hugo was made popular by Disney with cute but freaky gargoyles as sidekicks.

I gained better appreciation for the church of Notre Dame ("Our Lady of Paris") when we learned that it took 100 years of hard labor to complete!  It's where the Kings, Queens,  and the only Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte are coronated.  Crusaders pray here before they set-off to war.  Outside the cathedral is the mark from which the distance to all cities in France is measured.

The cathedral is best known for its flying buttresses and bizarre gargoyles.

wikemedia commons

 8.  Sunset Cruise on the River Seine

We were further bewitched by Paris' most beautiful sites,  seeing them glide past, as we drift down the Seine River in a boat.  The air is chilly and a pleasant excuse to pull your companion closer :)

7.   Arc De Triomphe / Avenue des Champs-Elysees

One of the best known landmarks of Paris, second to the Eiffel Tower is Arc De Triomphe.   The mammoth structure (believe me, it's HUGE in real life) was commissioned by the Great Military Strategist Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte I.  It was built during the age when leaders erect monuments to celebrate their triumphs, conquests and inflate their egos.   The arc's beautiful sculptures and reliefs commemorate NapolĂ©on's generals and soldiers.   The view atop is gorgeous, especially fronting the pretty avenue of Champs-Elysees.

Avenue de Champs-Elysees, is considered the most beautiful avenue and most  expensive strip in whole world.

Louis Vuitton flagship store
ok honey, dream on.

I thought it was an embassy. It's actually America's Abercrombie & Fitch branch in Paris.
Laduree luxury cakes & pastries. Inventor of the Macaroons.  (unfortunately, under renovation when we  dropped by)
 World-Renowed French Jeweler and Watchmaker
Libreng Mangarap :)

6.  Basilica of Sacre Coeur and Montmarte District

The Basilica of Sacre Coeur ("Sacred Heart") sits atop the highest point of Paris, the Montmarte Hill. We were awed by the "whiteness" of the edifice, apparently,  made of limestone called Chateau-Landon.  When it rains, the stones react to the water and secrete calcite, which acts as a bleach, making the church retain its beautiful clean white color.   No need for annual polishing and cleaning!

There is a funicular going up to this hill but walking is fun, too.  Going-up, we encountered a lot of Senegalese vendors selling fake bags and trying to outwit tourists with their weird money-making schemes.  The view at the top didn't disappoint, as well.

After getting our holy fix at the Basilica, expending all our energy climbing Montmartre's formidable hills and stairs,  we ended the day at Montmarte District, where the  traditional Parisian cabaret originated.  There are several cabarets, but the most famous and best-selling,  needless to say, is Moulin Rouge! 

The place is also known for "live" adult shows, and once or twice, we were almost shoo-ed in!  Who says that Parisian museums are only for the high art? The one here,  in Montmarte catered to the baser arts, called the Musee del Erotisme or  Museum of Erotic Arts.   "Honey, let's not waste money there. My own charms titillates more :)) "   

Too much disclosure, certainly not Victoria's Secret

5.  Latin Quarter

The bohemian side of Paris, where students, intellectuals and artists converge long ago, and that vibe continues to draw the tourists, hoping to still catch the spirit of Sarte, Hemingway, Picasso or Saint Exupery.  Lovely cafes, bookshops and tiny art galleries.    The meeting place of our walking tour is at the La Fountaine de Saint-Michel, the center of Latin Quarter. 

by Brian Jeffry Beggerly

Fountain of Sainte-Michel or San Miguel in Spanish, my husband's favorite Saint :))

4. Jardin de Tuileries

A beautiful, charming park built in 1564 by Catherine de Medicis.  (grr.. they were already building gorgeous gardens when Magellan just discovered Philippines.)  

Anyways,  the garden used to be occupied by several tile factories, owning to the generous limestone ground.  Beautifully white!  Now, it's a place for chill-out by the Parisians seeking to worship the sun during the  summer.

Darn.  Even the water fountains are artsy-fartsy. U gotta luv Parisians.

3. Palace of Versailles

I think, I will run-out of adjectives for my Top 3 Paris.  So, I'll let the pictures do the talking instead!

The Palaces of Versailles is one of the largest and most opulent castles in the world. It is actually 45mins. by train from Paris, and is already considered a suburb.

Hall of Mirrors.  At that time, reflective mirrors was still a new technology.  Only Royalty have them in their homes.

The boudoir of Queen Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France and known for her beauty, personality and frivolity.  I'm sure you heard of this famous anecdote:

Servant :     My Queen, the people of France have no bread to eat...
Queen   :     Well then, Let them eat Cake!

Look at the Wig Stand! The Queen certainly loves her Hairpieces!

A familiar picture, the Sun King or King Louis IV or Louis the Great.  Longest-reigning king in European history (72 years!).  He was the one who transformed a former hunting-lodge of his father into this spectacular and extravagant Palace de Versailles.

The beautiful and stately gardens outside the palace ~  extends far beyond the horizon!  We had to ride a tram to go around... it's so fr***king  IMMENSE !!

King Louis XIV had this fetish about Symmetry.  :)   Henceforth, By order of the King :  Trees shall only grow Rectangular here, Triangular there,  and provide the right alcove for my statues! :))

aerial view of a portion of the gardens by

2. Musee du Louvre

The Louvre, one of the world's largest museums and the most visited art museum in the world.  The museum is actually the former palace of the royalty of France. Until, the Sun King, Louis XIV decided to shift his household to Versailles.

from wikimedia commons

If you are a fan of the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, the first thing you will probably ask.  What the hell is under the pyramid?  Was the Holy Grail really underneath? :))  The book and movie gave The Louvre a contemporary twist and there are now specialized tours with the theme, "Cracking the Da Vinci Code" :))

Well, here's what's under the pyramid:)

The inverted side of the pyramid and rows of designer shops including an Apple store!

Another bottom-view of the other pyramid (there are 3).  This one has the ticketing booth and Info.

They say that to learn Louvre in and out,  we need a lifetime.  Gosh, but we need to start somewhere!

By strike of luck, the curators of Louvre, thought of people like me!  :)  People who just love the Top 10 Highlights of everything :))) The map indicates the Top 5 Must-sees in each department!  

There are 8 curatorial departments (Egyptian Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; Paintings; Prints and Drawings.)  Our goal that day, is just appreciate the Top 5 of each! 

I've no idea if we have successfully done so,  we got lost several times. :)  But I swear, I have hurdled the most important challenge of all ~ a picture with the world' most famous and most expensive.... thus the word, "priceless" painting...

You have never been to the Louvre, if you havent seen the MONALISA.   People don't care how many thousands of equally priceless artworks, sculptures and objects you've seen.  It is Essential, Indispensable and Requisite to see Leonardo da Vinci's La Joconde.   Extremely Funny.   But true.  :))

The first thing that will arrest you upon seeing her is, "Oh, she's tiny!"  Yes, the painting is not big at all.  (Probably as big as the poster of Tom Cruise  in your room when you were 16years old).  Compared to all the other artworks at the Louvre, it is small.

The Monalisa is displayed in a purpose-built, climate-controlled  enclosure behind a bullet-proof glass.  It is said that it's easier to look for the Monalisa than to look for a toilet at the Louvre.  There are signages everywhere ---> to Monalisa <----  The issue is, getting close to her and enjoying your "personal moment" with her.  :))   The Crowd is always packed!!

But you know me :)))  I plan for the inevitable.   Advance Tickets and First-in-Line at Opening Hours, using a different entrance.  And so, as the French say, Voila!   

panay kalokohan ako.  this is serious art!!

3mins. after the opening ~ my crowd

Regular Crowd

After we're done with the Monalisa.  We can now take time with the other arts, at a calmer and more relaxed pace.  There are 35, 000 things to see in this 60,600 sq. meters cavern.   Who's pressured :)

Just share to you my favorites ~

Venus de Milo (130-100 BC), Epitome of Female Beauty
The Seated Scribe (2620-2550 BCE) , one of the most important ancient Egyptian Arts
A freaking REAL Egyptian Mummy!
Gabrielle d'Esrees and her Sister by an unknown painter during the school of Fontainbleu
The Wedding Feast at Cana (1563)  by Paolo Veronese

The Nike of Samothrace (winged Victory), marble, circa 190 BC

There were just too many, that Ted and I were goofing around making fun, after 2 hours.

Diana / Artemis, the hawkeye of the Gods :))

Give me a moment to catch my breath under these gorgeous piece of art ... museums are really so tiring !!

And now for our Top 1..... a no-brainer really ....

1. The Eiffel Tower

How in the world did these pieces of iron became the world's Most Elegant and Most Romantic landmark?  Built for the 1889 World Exposition by Gustave Eiffel,  the Parisians hated it. (I guess, the same way, the locals are hating the pyramids at The Louvre now :))  So contemporary!  So out of place of our "antiquity" atmosphere...  (**raised French brows)

But then again, history judged.  With over 220 million visitors,  it would be hard to imagine Paris now without it.  I'm not gonna dwell much on the technicalities and background information.  We can always read that in wikipedia :)  

But seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time is SURREAL.   No joke!  I was mumbling, "Sh**t, Is this freaking real?   Am I really here?  Am I not in Szenzhen, china? :)).   Darn, YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL!   

You have to see Eiffel both at the Night time and Daytime... Far and Near.   It offers a different charm each time ...  It is also allowed to go up for a fee. There's a world-famous restaurant called Jules Verne on the 2nd level.

And as a final note ... Eiffel Tower will not earned its title, as the Most Romantic Icon in the World,  if it doesn't prod you to share that Sweetest Kiss ever :))

'til next adventure!


Did I tire you?   I hope not.   :))
Our trip to the Land of Pasta and Ancient Roman Civilization ....  up next !