How to Visit Montserrat, Spain for Spectacular Site and Views

Montserrat, Spain is host to a Benedictine abbey (Santa Maria de Montserrat) that sits grandly at around 4,000 ft of altitude.  Its name literally translates to “serrated mountain” – which is appropriate as it is a jagged-topped mountain that rises up the Catalonian landscape.  It is an amazing site for several reasons.  For the faithful, it is home to the Virgin of Montserrat (the “black virgin”).  For the hiker, it is a neat place to trek up – and not a hard hike.  And for the traveler, it is a great destination offering great views, great architecture, cultural perspective, and a thrill just to get up to it!

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, Catalan, catholic, black virgin, mountain, travel

View upon exiting the railway station

 

Some History on Montserrat (but not too much!)

The monastery atop Montserrat has been around since the 10th century – it is still a functioning monastery.  It is absolutely mind boggling to me to think it has been there over a thousand years!  (I even read that it has been an important religious site since Roman times before Christ.). St. Ignatius of Loyola came to this site to pray/contemplate and, eventually, went on to found the Jesuit order in the Catholic Church.  Most recently the monastery suffered closure during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and the killing of 22 of its monks (lots of religious were killed by the Communist side of the Civil War).  The basilica itself is not that old and has suffered through wars and fires.  The basilica has a museum with art work that includes the likes of Picasso, Dali, and El Greco.  The statue of the black virgin that sits above and behind the main altar of the basilica is supposedly from Holy Land origins in the early days of Christianity though others believe it was carved many centuries later (Middle Ages).

Getting to Montserrat

Montserrat is easily accessible whether you have a car or you take a train from Barcelona.

If you are driving, you are basically headed to Monistrol de Montserrat.  We came from Andorra via Lleida and it was easy to find though at the very end, exactly how to get to our destination took a little more guesswork…  If you are coming from Barcelona, well, it is just about 45 minutes away.

Once there, your options for parking are parking up at the monastery (parking is limited and it is not free), or parking by one of the two railway stations.  Where you park is really based on how you want to go up.  As I mentioned, you can drive up.  You can also hike up if you are so inclined; I did not hike up but hear the trail round trip is about 20km and the trail is relatively easy and fairly ‘stepped.’

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, Catalan, catholic, Cremallera, mountain, travel

At Monistrol-Vila railway station’s parking area – notice the mural showing the ascent and the mountaintop!

Now if you don’t want to drive up or walk up, then you have two options:  the cable car (or “Aeri”) or the inclined railway (“Cremallera“).  They both are easy ways to go up but you need to decide before you get there as each is taken from a different point around the area.  Both the cable car and railway have frequent departures which vary depending on the season you visit – schedules are posted online and at the stations.

If you take the train in from Barcelona, you will arrive at the lower station, Monistrol de Montserratu, where you can take the railway.  If you drive, you can opt to drive a little further up and park at the railway station Monistrol-Vila; there was open parking for buses and a parking deck for the rest of us.  We opted to start at Monistrol-Vila as there was ample free parking, and the station was clean and new.  If you do use this station, remember that on the way down, you get off at the first stop of the railway!

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, Catalan, catholic, Cremallera, mountain, travel

At the railway station

We opted for the railway as we had heard that it allows more time to absorb the scenic views (the cable car only takes 5 mins whereas the railway takes between 15-20 mins) and it is pretty amazing to climb the slopes of the mountain via the train.  The train is very comfortable and the views were indeed great.  The cost was around 10 euros for the round trip.   Note that there are packages you can get for entrance to the museum, audio guides, etc.

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, Catalan, catholic, Cremallera, mountain, travel, view, vista

Looking down towards Monistrol de Montserrat from the Cremallera

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, Catalan, catholic, Cremallera, mountain, travel

Heading up the Cremallera, a small green train can be seen on its way down

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, Catalan, catholic, Cremallera, mountain, travel

My Mom not realizing the down train was about to pass us!

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, Catalan, catholic, Cremallera, mountain, travel

The Cremallera railway station atop Montserrat to the right

It is worth noting that one can go even higher up the mountain via a second funicular (Funicular de Sant Joan) located behind the railway station atop Montserrat!  It does not take long but, again, we were pressed for time so I had to skip that, regretfully.

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, Catalan, catholic, Cremallera, mountain, travel

A second funicular can take you to the highest point in Montserrat

My research showed there were a couple of places to stay on the mountain but I did not look into it.  I do imagine it is a spectacular place to stay and watch the sun set and rise…

Visiting the basilica and the Virgin of Montserrat

Once you get up, everything atop Montserrat is in close proximity.  There is some slope to walk up towards the basilica and monastery complex but it is a nice short walk.   When you leave the railway station, you can go straight up some steps into the walkway up, or you can make a left and avoid the steps and walk up an incline; this last approach passes a little market shop and a small cafe in case you need to eat or drink something.

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, Catalan, catholic, monastery, mountain, travel

Walking up towards the monastery and basilica (there are restrooms in this alley)

Along the way up, you will pass the museum and one of the places of lodging.  And then you enter the area they call the “atrium.”  It is a large plaza with some arches that afford views down towards the railway station and way beyond.  At that point, the basilica/monastery complex is in front of you but to see the facade of the basilica, you need to enter through some arches into a small inner courtyard.

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, Catalan, catholic, basilica, monastery,, mountain, travel, atrium

At the so-called “atrium” – a plaza with great views

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, Catalan, catholic, mountain, travel

Turning around with the basilica/monastery behind me

When we entered that courtyard, we saw a bride and groom who were about to get married.  Thankfully, the event did not close the visit to see the Virgin of Montserrat (also called the black virgin due to the color of the paint applied to it over centuries).

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, catholic, basilica, facade, mountain, travel

The entranceway towards the basilica facade

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, catholic, basilica, facade, mountain, travel

Inner courtyard of the Montserrat basilica

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, catholic, basilica, facade, mountain, travel

Detail of the basilica’s facade

The interior of the basilica felt heavy and dark to me but not so much to be drab.  If there were no tourists, I would definitely feel like I could calm my soul and pray in peace.

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, catholic, basilica, facade, travel

Heavy Gothic feel to the interior of the basilica

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, catholic, basilica, facade, travel

A rather darkish yet gold-heavy interior

The statue of the virgin sits in a narrow passageway above the high altar.  You can see it from anywhere in the church (you can see someone in a blue jacket above the altar in some of my pictures; how convenient for my photo-taking!) but to visit it face-to-face, you stand in line in the inner courtyard off to the right and you proceed along the side chapels of the basilica, up several stairs and, eventually a very narrow staircase  to individually get to see, touch and pray to the Virgin.  Photos are not allowed once by the statue (there is a guard) but I took a photo at the bottom of the steps so you can visualize the space at least.

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, catholic, basilica, facade, mountain, travel

The statue of the Virgin with a faithful wearing a blue jacket

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, catholic, basilica, facade, travel

Left: Initial staircase up. Right: the final steps and the statue at the top

As throughout the rest of the trip around Spain and France, I felt blessed to be able to come to this important Catholic site following our visit to Lourdes atop an amazing mountain in Spain with my wonderful mother and sister!!  Thanks for coming with me!

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, catholic, ilivetotravel, monastery, abbey,, mountain, travel

With my Mom and sister


Pin this to your travel board!

Montserrat, Montserrate, Spain, Cataluña, Catalan, catholic, basilica, monastery,, mountain, travel, atrium

20 Images of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia, the grandiose basilica (mostly) designed by Antoni Gaudi, has become the symbol of Barcelona, and that’s not a stretch by any means:  both have been growing and evolving over the decades.  And, for La Sagrada Familia, at least, that journey will end in the next decade (target: 2026) as it is expected to be finished by the end.  Gaudi’s masterpiece needs no introduction, though perhaps some background info could not hurt.  There is no justice I can do both to its story and to how it looks and feels in person.  So this post is meant to deliver, as well as photos can, eye-candy on this masterpiece of architecture, construction, and faith…

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, Passion façade ,

West side of the basilica (Passion façade side)

Backdrop on La Sagrada Familia

Gaudi was brought in to complete the design of the basilica early on in the project (a year into the project).  He continued working on it until his death in 1926 (hence targeting 2026 as the year for its completion) but, at the time he died, the basilica was only a fifth to a quarter done.  Initially, there had been opposition to it but certainly it has become iconic, almost legendary.  Its construction has been slow because it was funded through donations, and the Spanish Civil War also disrupted the effort in the 1930s.  To me, it is a marvel of imagination and creativity.  It would not surprise me to hear someone say it is ‘too much.’  But despite its eclectic designs/features, it feels elegant, not overwhelming.  If it were not for the tourists meandering and talking, it could be -more importantly- a place for contemplation or quiet prayer.  I sure hope there are/will be times when it will be closed to tours/visits though I do not know how they really could control people going in to pray versus to admire (read, gawk) the building and snap photos endlessly… like I did!!  #confession

The basilica’s design

Gaudi’s designs were lost in a fire though some of the designs were re-constructable from other artifacts available that captured what Gaudi was planning.  However, that does not mean that what we see today is exactly Gaudi’s vision:  other architects over the decades have left their imprint on the design as the work progresses and new techniques/technologies have become available.  It is hard to imagine, for example, that Gaudi could have laid out the lighting design given how much illumination know-how and technology have changed since the first quarter of the 20th century…  I am no architect, no designer, no artist but below is my layman’s recollection of the plan of the basilica and some opinions…

The spires (towers) of La Sagrada Familia

The general concept of the design includes an array of spires or towers:  a high tower representing Jesus Christ and four secondary towers representing each of the evangelists (John, Mark, Matthew and Luke) and another for the Virgin Mary.  The remaining spires will represent the twelve apostles.

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana

Two of the 18 spires of the basilica – Hosanna Excelsis

The three façades of La Sagrada Familia

The basilica has or will have three large façades:  the Nativity, the Passion, and the Glory.  This latter one is to be the most grandiose of the three and is currently under construction.  Its completion will require the demolition of the building block that faces it across the street as it will have a large staircase leading up to it but, no worries, people knew these were the plans since early on, probably before current residents were born!

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, Glory façade

Looking to the main façade under construction: Glory

The Nativity façade was the first one built and it was completed in Gaudi’s time so it is most connected to his vision.  The façade struck me as very connected with nature, with animals and floral type of arrangements noticeable; the scene is both peaceful and elaborate.  Of course, the Holy Family is at the center of it.

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, Nativity façade

Detail of the Nativity façade showing the Holy Family

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, Nativity façade

Detail of the Nativity façade, stepping back a little. Angels can be seen around the Holy Family

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, Nativity façade

Upper portion of the Nativity façade

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, Nativity façade

Another angle of the Nativity façade

The Passion façade definitely conveys sadness and angst, as the Passion of Christ would instill:  the figures are angular and emoting their feelings on stone in a sparsely decorated space – brilliant and moving, and a clear contrast to the Nativity façade.

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, Passion façade

The Passion façade

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, Passion façade

Detail of the upper part of the Passion façade – the words “Nazarean Rex” can be seen

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, Passion façade ,

Detail of the Passion façade – deep sorrow on that stone face!

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, Passion façade

Detail of the Passion façade – Jesus tied as he was lashed

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, Passion façade

Detail of the Passion façade – carrying the cross on the right, and the shroud on the left

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, Passion façade ,

Detail of the Passion façade

The basilica’s grand interior – behold!

The inside of the basilica cleverly plays on light.  On the west side of the interior, with red and associated colors created by the stained glass on the side of the Passion façade.  On the opposite side across the aisle, are the greens and blues that feel cooler and happier:  the side of the Nativity façade.  The columns seem to fly up to hold the roof of the sanctuary and feel like trees holding up a canopy.  And, it takes effort to notice but the shape of the columns evolves as the column rises:  a square base may morph to a circular cross-section after passing through an octagon shape, for example.  To me, the highest ceiling is a visual contrast with its modern feel versus the traditional walls at the end of the apses/naves with their big stained glass windows and other more traditional motifs.

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, column

Nativity side with its greens and blues

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, column

Columns remembering the evangelists Luke and Mark, 2 of the 4 main columns

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, column

Strong as a tree trunk!

Looking up reveals an impressively designed, symmetric and yet not overwhelming ceiling…

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, column

Looking up at the ceiling – amazing! Notice the contrast to the wall on the right

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, column

Detail of the main ceiling

Finally, the altar is simple in the extreme – a sharp contrast to the ceiling and side walls of the basilica.  The space feels cavernous by the height of the ceiling, the long tree-like columns and the emptiness in the altar area.  But that cavernous feeling is counter-balanced with the colors and light that is cleverly used in opposition (or, at least, I assume the opposition was planned for…) around the outer walls.

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, column, main altar

The main altar – extreme simplicity is a sharp contrast to the rest of it all!

 

Nanoblock Sagrada Familia – I enjoyed putting one of these together!
sagrada familia, nanoblock

How to visit La Sagrada Familia

There are several ways to visit and several things to see in La Sagrada Familia.  From a basic unguided entry ticket at 15 euros (as of this writing), to an audio-guided visit for 22 euros, to going all the way to the top for 29 euros, there is a price point and scope of visit for everyone.  Sadly, going up was not available the day I visited so I was deprived of the experience of going up and taking in the views from above.  However, we did do a pre-purchased guided tour through a local tour agency located across the square from the basilica which secured us an entry time, a guide (in Spanish in our case since it was easier for my Mom), and avoiding any lines to enter the basilica.  The tour included visiting the basement of the basilica which has several exhibits.  One of the most interesting items is the exhibit which shows hanging chains which upside-down show the structure of the basilica as it elliptical or curvy inner structures are well modeled by gravity.  I may not be explaining this well but it is a clever tool for the architect.  In any case, the basement also shows photos of the basilica being built over the decades – all fascinating stuff.  Dedicate time to this visit and soak it all in!

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, Passion façade ,

Looking up at the Passion façade


Pin this to your travel board!

Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia, basilica, iglesia, church, Catholic, spire, Spain, Catalunya, Espana, Passion façade ,

Barcelona. Sagrada Familia, Gaudi. church, iglesia, basilica

Making a Pilgrimage to Lourdes, France

Lourdes, France – a major Catholic pilgrimage destination – is a one-of-a-kind kind of place.  For me, that is for two good reasons:

  1. It is the site where the Virgin Mary appeared to young Bernadette, a country girl with no education but a lot of faith.
  2. My mother and sister are both named after that site, where the “Virgin of Lourdes” appeared to Bernadette.

    grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

    The lower and upper basilicas from the Information Center

I suspect both my mom and sister have always wondered if they would ever go to that town in the foothills of the French Pyrenees.  Wouldn’t you want to go to the town where your name came from or is related to?  In their case, maybe more than just for the curiosity of being namesakes with the town but also on account of what happened there in the mid 19th century.

The apparition happened multiple times and the local clergy had initially been skeptical but, over time, became convinced of the validity of what Bernadette shared.  I will leave to other sources to explain the whole story but the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette on a grotto near the river.  Out of these events, water sprung from the site and waters of Lourdes are, to believers, holy waters.  People from all over the world come seeking healing or just a spiritual encounter.  Many drink the waters from the spring, bottle some to take home, or even immerse themselves in special pools set up near the grotto (we did all three).

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

The grotto

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage, holy waters

Fountains where bottles can be filled

When we first arrived in Lourdes from San Sebastian via Biarritz and Bayonne, I was expecting the narrow streets, crowded and me driving this larger vehicle through it all.  I knew I was near the hotel, the Grand Hotel Gallia & Londres, which I had picked due to its proximity to the Sanctuary of Lourdes to make all the walking to and fro easier for everyone, when all of a sudden I saw a parking sign for it, not where the GPS was indicating I needed to go.  Miraculously (pardon the pun), I caught a passing glimpse of the sign before I would have hit the heart of the crowded part of town!

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

The back of our hotel

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Right outside of the Sanctuary – tourist shop chaos

The hotel was in the old style of a grand hotel.  It was nice enough but, unfortunately, the A/C was not working on our floor.  Hard to tell with French hotels whether they are just being stingy or whether it was true.  Certainly, at night the air cooled enough to be comfortable in the room but the noise from the street did not subside until the very wee hours of the morning – not the faithful partying, I am sure.  So that made the hotel not perfect.  But other than that, it did the job nicely enough.

We had dinner before heading in the early evening to the Sanctuary, the site with the grotto and several churches/basilicas, almost across the street from the hotel.  We knew there would be a torchlight procession at 9PM where the Holy Rosary is recited but we did not quite know the ‘mechanics’ of it.  So we sat on a bench to wait and what we missed was that we were supposed to walk towards the grotto and join the procession line.  But we witnessed the procession which brought a statue of the Virgin to the front steps of the Rosary Basilica (the lower one; the upper one that one sees more evidently is the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, or the Upper Basilica).  In the meantime, we did walk to the grotto for our first visit to the spot where the apparition took place.  The line was very short and it was always moving so it did not take long before we got to visit and say our prayers and intentions…

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

The front of the lower basilica during the torchlight procession

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Grotto at night

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Statue of the Virgin carried during the torchlight procession

The next day, we had found out at the information center (located by one of the entrances to the complex) that there would be a Spanish Mass at 11 AM down the Esplanade at St. Joseph’s Chapel.  After attending that Mass we went into the underground Basilica of St. Pius X, a massive modern space completed in 1958 (it can hold 25,000 folk!).  I am not sure it is the type of church I feel most spiritual in but I suppose there is a need for it in this site?

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Information Center

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

The Basilica of St. Pius X

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

The lower and upper basilicas from across the Esplanade

We finished our exploring by visiting the Rosary Basilica and the Upper Basilica.  After that we went to the baths (or piscines) where one can immerse him- or herself in the holy spring waters.  One waits in an outdoor area (with plenty of seats!) and then eventually one gets called in to a vestibule awaiting the assignment of to one of the pools, where one will undress and be wrapped as preparation to walking into the pool.  The water was absolutely frigid so the miracle may be that I was able to walk out of the pool and that my legs regained normal body temperature!  All joking aside, it was a very moving experience and we are grateful to the kind and helpful volunteers who give of themselves to help pilgrims…

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Detail of the facade of the lower basilica

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

The inside of the lower basilica

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Looking towards the Esplanade from the Upper Basilica

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Entrance to the baths or piscines

grotto, Lourdes, France, Virgin Mary, miracle, Catholic, apparition, faith, Marian pilgrimage

Amazing to see all the people helping the sick, or malade, move around

Witnessing so many people wearing their faith ‘on their sleeve’ was powerful.  Our trip was actually not just due to curiosity, or even strictly to see a place where an important event in our faith took place.  Our trip was a real pilgrimage of thanksgiving and prayer for continued health in my family after a year-and-a-half of dealing with cancer…  The grotto and the holy waters of Lourdes carry a very special meaning for us, even more now that we have been so fortunate to visit this place…

 


Pin to your travel board!!

Lourdes, France, Catholic, pilgrimage, peregrinaje, Francia, Bernadette

Photo of the Week – The Basilica of a Tiny State (NOT The Vatican!)

Ah, yes, there is another tiny state within what we think of as ItalySan Marino.  No more than 24 sq. mi. (64 sq km) and about 30,000 inhabitants, this tiny state which claims to have been founded in the year 301 AD has been known for duty free shopping more than anything else.  While I am not claiming to have explored every corner of this state, there was not much to it for me to recommend a visit – unless you are checking states of the world 🙂

The basilica of the city of San Marino, capital of the state of San Marino (!), is a simple classical (or neoclassical) style structure dating from the 1830s.  A church has been located at this site since the founding of the state in the 4th century and the remains of St. Marinus (after which the state is named) are buried under the basilica.

Cathedral, basilica, San Marino, photo, travel, St. Marinus, Church of St. Peter, church, architecture

To the right of the photo, you see part of the Church of St. Peters which pre-dates the Basilica

 

Top 8 Climbs for a Great City View in Europe

There are so many ways to see and experience a city.  But one of my top ways to get to “know” a city is by getting up high and looking down at it.  Of course, this is not hard to do as there are usually man-made or natural high points.  While I like getting a view more than anything else, the view is even more appreciated when I have had to climb my way to get it.  I will only list here places that I have actually climbed as opposed to places where I rode up when there was a way to climb it – the ones I rode up will be the subject of another post…   So, here are eight (in no particular order) of my favorite climbs to get a city view in Europe!

Paris’ Eiffel Tower

Yes, I may be stating the obvious but most people ride the elevator on this one.  I have been up the Eiffel Tower two times and both times I climbed it up to the point at which there is no other way open to the public to get to the very top (and then you are required to take an elevator).  I love the freedom of walking up the tower, seeing its beams and bolts up close, and pausing a lot along the way (yea, for the view, that’s the ticket!).  It may not be for everyone but if you are able to do experience the tower this way, do it!  Regardless of how you go up, the altitude and the view of Paris combine to give one a great experience!

Paris, France, Eiffel Tower, climb, stairs, vista, view, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Up close and personal

Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre

You can walk up or ride up to Montmartre (I have done both) but the best view is from climbing the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur itself.  Of course, this is a better view in some ways than the Eiffel Tower since this view includes the Eiffel Tower.  But not only are you rewarded by looking at Paris from this angle, but you get to see the many gargoyles and other details of the church up close and personal – which makes for good photo opps!

Sacré-Coeur, Paris, France, architecture, gargoyle, photo Canon EOS Rebel, view, vista

One of the gargoyles keeping watch over a park

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London

When I went up St. Paul’s Cathedral, it was the first time I had gone to the top of any church.  St. Paul’s, built in the 17th century, is 111 m high (365 ft) so you really are high up when you climb it.  I enjoyed not only the view but seeing the “innards” of the structure as I made my way up to get a glimpse of London (pre-London Eye!).

St. Paul's, Cathedral, London, England, United Kingdom, dome, view, vista, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

Looking down towards the front of the Cathedral

Bologna’s Medieval Towers

Bologna is a city of arcades (or porticoes):  it is great to be able to walk around the city whether it is raining or not thanks to this feature of this unique Italian city (home of the world’s oldest university!).  But perhaps a lesser known secret of this town, former possessor of many medieval towers (estimated at 180 towers!), is that you can go up one of the remaining towers (one of the pair called the Due Torri).  It will not be the one with the serious tilt but the other one (which is taller).  I recommend putting out the effort and going up!

Bologna, medieval tower, Due Torri, Italy, architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The lower of the Due Torri (the tilted one)

St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican

OK, to get to the first viewing point, you do take an elevator but to get to the top of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, you walk it up.  Not only do you get to look down across the Tiber to Rome but you get to look down onto St. Peter’s Square (where I have participated in a papal audience (as a VIP!) and an Easter Mass) from a great vantage point.  What I enjoyed (besides getting to the top) was walking inside the dome’s inner and outer walls in the passageways – the higher you got, the more you noticed the curvature of the walls and sometimes had to tilt the head a little bit to adjust to it!  When you come down, you are deposited right inside the basilica.

St. Peter's Basilica, St. Peter's Square, Rome, Roma, Italy, Italia, view, vista, Canon EOS Rebel, photo

St. Peter’s Square from the top of the dome

La Giralda in Sevilla (Seville), Spain

La Giralda, Seville’s famous tower is part of which is a former minaret built in 1198 during the Moors’ occupation of Spain.  It sits in the center of the city right next to the amazing Cathedral of Seville (3rd largest church in the world).  To go up this 100m+ tower, you do not walk up stairs.  So how do you go up if it is a “climb” and there are no stairs?  Well, it actually has ramps!  Why?  So horses could go up!  So, do like the horses and go up the ramps to enjoy views of the city center of Sevilla.

Sevilla, Spain, Sevilla, La Giralda, Cathedral of Seville, view, vista, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Composite picture looking down onto the Cathedral of Seville

Galata Tower in Istanbul

Where else, other than Istanbul, can you look at a city laid across two continents with a great bird’s eye view?   Besides learning about its history, it was a great climb.  Once at the top, I looked at Asia across the busy Bosphorus with all its maritime traffic and then with a slight turn of the head, I was looking at Europe.  Across the Golden Horn, I could see the “skyline” of Seraglio Point where the eye quickly focused on Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

Istanbul, Estambul, Turkey, Turquia, Turkey, Galata Tower, Golden Horn, Karakoy, photos, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Looking towards the Asian side of Istanbul

The city walls of Dubrovnik

Though there are higher vantage points from which to admire the tiled roofs and setting of Dubrovnik, the city walls allowed me to look down but yet be close enough to feel the city.  It was more of a walk than a climb but, since I had to use stairs to get to them, I will call them a “climb” – but don’t be scared, it is pretty easy to walk along these walls!

Bell Tower and Church of St Vlaho in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Bell Tower and Church of St Vlaho


 

Going Under in Istanbul

I have shared in other posts about the incredible Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, and the beautiful mosques of Istanbul – definite must-sees in that great city.  But be aware, right under your feet could be some of the remnants of good ole Roman engineering:  the cisterns of Istanbul.

Old cities tend to have lots of hidden secrets.  Many of them are hidden simply because they are underground.  Istanbul is no different except most cities’ hidden structures are not even close to being around 1,500 years old.  Istanbul’s cisterns are.  The best known and largest of the underground cisterns in Istanbul is called the Basilica Cistern because a basilica had stood at that location.  The cisterns in Istanbul are part of a system that brings water from outside the city via aqueducts – all evidence of the well-known Roman engineering.

Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, cistern, Basilica Cistern, columns, architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

The Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is not far from the Hagia Sophia and is well worth a visit.  I felt like I had walked into a flooded underground church.  The cisterns used to be visited by boat but at some point, platforms were built for the visitors to explore them.  Most of the materials used in the cistern, including the 300-odd columns holding up the ceiling, were re-used from structures elsewhere.  That includes the bases of two columns carved with the image of Medusa.  Of course, everyone knows not to look at Medusa in the eyes so the builders placed the bases sideways or upside down to protect innocent visitors who may dare gaze into her eyes…

Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Turquia, cistern, Basilica Cistern, Medusa, architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

I rotated this photo so you wouldn’t have to rotate your device 🙂

Photo of the Week – A Church on Rome’s Tiber Island

Last year during my one week in Rome, I did the usual when in cities as incredible as eternal Rome:  walk, walk, and walk.  Sometimes with a clear objective, sometimes just meandering and seeing what the walking will uncover.  On this gray day, we found ourselves crossing the Ponte Cestio into Tiber Island as we aimed generally speaking for the Trastevere district (south of The Vatican) where we knew we would find awesome food (and sure did!).
On Tiber Island we walked past the Basilica of San Bartolomeo all’Isola (St. Bartholomew of the Island).  The tower on the back dates from the 12th century, its current facade and the overall church were reconstructed in 1624 after many decades (and likely centuries) of damage, wear, and tear, as any old respectable structure may be allow to suffer from…  But the original church dated from the 10th century!

In any case, the gray skies made for a phenomenal backdrop and contrast to the basilica making it a favorite pic of mine!

San Bartolomeo, St. Bartholomew, Tiber Island, Rome, Italy, Roma, basilica, church, ponte cestio, ponte cistio, photo, travel, Olympus, religion

Photo of the Week: The Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia

The title of this post seems like a mouthful:  Basílica de Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (Basilica of our Lady of Altagracia).

Basilica Altagracia Higüey Dominican Republic church

This massive structure in Higüey, Dominican Republic is to honor the Virgin of Altagracia, national patron saint of the country.  It was inaugurated in the 1970s and is within reach of many tourist centers in the DR, like Punta Cana.  Its design is very original and it is worth checking out whenever you are ready to take a break from the beach!  While you are at it, maybe meander around town – who knows what hole-in-the-wall delicious food you may find!  A few more photos to wrap this post!

Basilica Altagracia Higüey Dominican Republic church

Basilica Altagracia Higüey Dominican Republic church

Detail of the front door

Basilica Altagracia Higüey Dominican Republic church

 

Photo Essay: Bucharest, Romania

Bucharest was my gateway into Romania and I was eager to see this city that has always -for some strange reason- been an object of my curiosity.  The capital of Romania has been called the “Paris of the east” due to French architecture influence  – but perhaps also because the pre-communist elite had the airs?  I am not really sure but it definitelyhas  architecture reminiscent of the French capital.  In any case, Bucharest is a relative newcomer as a capital city having been picked as capital of Romania only in 1862.  It is a city of over 1.6 million inhabitants – and it feels that way:  a city with the weight of any capital city, with all the attributes of a European city, yet not quite a megalopolis or an international center.

There are too many photos to share so I will place them here in a gallery at the end so you can see some of what caught my eye in terms of architecture, monuments (especially to the 1989 revolution), streets, etc.  Just click on the images to enlarge them!  But first some thoughts on the city…

Architectural potpourri

It is very interesting to see this architecture in Bucharest because it usually is mixed in with very different styles. It almost feels that either construction in the city skipped a few periods or styles as some parts have very different styled buildings next to each other.  Maybe that is what some communism legacy does and what a deliberate demolition of old portions of a city will do (Nicolae Ceausescu, the communist dictator, razed parts of the city for his grandiose building, now the Parliament).  I don’t know as I am not an expert either in architecture or Romania!   This cacophony of styles gives it an interesting air…  And/or perhaps, I needed to see more of the city than I got to?

Old Town Bucharest

Old Town Bucharest is charming like the older part of a any city and, at night, is very lively and a great place to go to have dinner, watching folks go by, and then stay for drinks and more people watching.  We enjoyed a night out on a nice summer evening the night before our return home – good food, good wine, and lots of good laughs.

Not far from Old Town you encounter the grandiose communist buildings sponsored by Ceausescu – a madman of sorts yet independent enough to say no to the USSR whenever he felt like it.  (How DID he get away with it??!!)  In any case as I mentioned earlier, much of the older city was destroyed by him to pave way for these new buildings.  It is sad to think that, until the early 1980s, the old district was much larger and probably containing some gems that are now lost.

Sights around Bucharest

Bucharest has a canal going through it (the Dâmboviţa river that goes through town was channelized in the late 1800s to prevent the flooding that the city suffered periodically) and nice parks, especially near the Romanian Arc de Triomphe.  In that area you will tend to see foreign embassies and it seems a nice place to be if you live in Bucharest.  The most grandiose building of the communist period already has an entire post to itself here so I will not add those pictures to the gallery here.  Just know that around it are similar though slightly smaller buildings also built as part of Ceausescu’s grand plan.  One of those was built to house guests of Mr. Ceausescu and now serves as a magnificent J.W. Marriott!

Unfortunately, I did not get to spend much time in Bucharest as the focus of my trip was elsewhere.  However, I did get to see some of the key places around town, such as the former royal palace, a few churches, the monument to the revolution (eerie), and the balcony where Ceausescu stood in his final days trying to give a speech but, in a crucial moment in history, the crowd turned on him and the whole thing unraveled for Nicky  (I remember watching that in the US in the news the day it happened!).  I will end the post with the gallery of sights around Bucharest – enjoy!

(Click on the thumbnail to see the entire photo!)