The Carmel Mission: Quiet and Beautiful

Junipero Serra, Carmel Mission, California, tomb, saint, history, faith, church, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, blue, sky, clouds

During a recent business trip to San Francisco, I made a visit of a few days to friends who live near Campbell, CA.  I took the Caltrain down to San Jose – an easy and relatively cheap (at around $9 one-way) way to get out of San Fran towards Silicon Valley.

While their kids went to school, my friends and I made a trip to the coast where, among other things, we visited the town of Carmel.  No Clint Eastwood sightings – bummer!  But we decided to check out the Carmel Mission after having lunch in the charming downtown area.  I had been to the Santa Barbara Mission over a year ago so I was curious on how this one would compare.

Junipero Serra, Carmel Mission, California, tomb, saint, history, faith, church, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, blue, sky, clouds

Entering the mission grounds

As luck would have (is it really luck??), this was two days after the canonization of Fr. Junipero Serra who worked, died and is buried at the Carmel Mission.  The timing was definitely great; I only wish Pope Francis had canonized him where he is buried!

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Fr. Serra is buried along with others in the altar area

Junipero Serra, Carmel Mission, California, tomb, saint, history, faith, Catholic saint, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy

St. Junipero Serra looms large!

The Carmel Mission is smaller than the one in Santa Barbara but by no means less charming or interesting.  As with probably most missions, the center of the mission is the church with a cemetery next to it.  Usually there is a vast space or courtyard in the mission and buildings, many of them much newer used for different functions.

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Rudimentary graves

Carmel Mission, grave, cemetery, rocks, tombs, California, history, religion, church, travel

Along the church’s wall

As you enter, you are properly warned that you could be at risk for an earthquake.  Only in California would the obvious need to be stated in the form of a warning!

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Be warned!

As you can see, it was a clear, beautiful day (I assume this is typical for California) and I am so glad we got to enjoy visiting the mission at such a historical time!

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Glorious skies!

Hallgrímskirkja Church: The Young Icon of Reykjavik

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Olympus, travel, photo

Hallgrímskirkja Church in the heart of Reykjavik is a “young” building.  It was completed in 1986 but took close to 40 years to erect.  Its design, driving up in a pointed way to the sky with its tower, reflects on the landscape of the island country with its lava flows.  The structure is not the tallest structure in Iceland but is the tallest church.  Though young, it has become the icon of the city due to its highly visible profile and unique architecture.

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Olympus, travel, photo

Approaching the church from the back, on a slightly gray day

Outside, you can admire the structure from up close which allows for any number of neat pictures from different perspectives.  Outside you can also admire the statue to Leif Erikson, allegedly, the first European to reach North America (I mean, who knows if another Viking got there before him?!).  Interestingly, the statue pre-dates the church as it was given by the U.S. to Iceland in 1930 to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of the establishment of Iceland’s Parliament at Þingvellir.

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Olympus, travel, photo

The statue of Leif Erikson in front of the facade of the church

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Close up of Mr. Erikson – and the clock tower

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

A visitor and Mr. Erikson meet – as seen from the clock tower

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

The inscription that describes the gift from the U.S. of the statue on 1930

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

A visitor takes advantage of the statue’s base for a shot of the church

We went inside and, as many Protestant churches, the interior was plain.  I assume the more so to help the faithful focus on God.  Being a tourist-visited site, of course, removes some of that aura but, at the time I visited, there was an organist playing (or maybe just practicing?) which drew attention to the pipe organ at the back of the church.Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo Hallgrimskirkja,pipe organ, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

My favorite part is the observation deck at the top of the church tower.  As usual, when it is available, I always go up to gain a birds-eye view of the places I visit.  This deck did not disappoint as it helped frame the city of Reykjavik within its setting, hugged by mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.  I leave you with some of the views I enjoyed from up high in Hallgrímskirkja!

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Detail of the roof above the altar area

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

View of the neighborhood by the church

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Olympus, travel, photo

Looking towards the area where our apartment was

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, Pearl, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

The Pearl Observatory (and restaurant)

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

View a little further away from the church

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Looking now further away from the city center

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, photo

Looking further away in another direction

Hallgrimskirkja, church, Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, design, views, Olympus, travel, photo

And now in another direction!

A Stroll around Reykjavik

Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, travel, street, red, Samsung Galaxy

One of the pluses of going to Iceland, besides witnessing the magnificent statement nature makes there, is enjoying visiting somewhere that is manageable in size.  One can cross the island in one day from coast to coast thanks for a great ring road that is in pretty good condition (especially, when one considers the climate).  Another pleasant aspect of it being of manageable size is that its capital, Reykjavik, is quite approachable and easily explored on foot – perfect for a stroll to discover!

Pedestrian friendly areas

With a population of about 125,000, traffic in this city is not a problem; one can easily walk around, cross streets, etc.

Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, travel, street, red, Samsung Galaxy

Walking around Reykjavik is delightful

Reykjavik, Iceland, architecture, travel, street, lone biker, Canon EOS Rebel

Plenty of road space for bicyclists

But Reykjavik has in its city center a nice pedestrian street, Laugavegur.  Shops of every kind and a few eateries can be found in this street.  We actually stayed right off it in an apartment we rented on Vatnsstigur – a perfect spot central to everything.

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Hallgrímskirkja Church as seen from Laugavegur street

Reykjavik, Iceland, street scene, travel, pedestrian street, Laugavegur, Canon EOS Rebel

Laugavegur is a fun street to walk about!

Reykjavik, Iceland, street scene, travel, pedestrian street, street art, bicycle, blue,Laugavegur, Olympus

Neat way to close up the street to cars!

Reykjavik, Iceland, street scene, travel, pedestrian street, Laugavegur, Canon EOS Rebel

Looking from one end of Laugavegur – it was a nice “warm” day!

The Old Harbor (which still functions as a harbor for fishermen, etc.) is a place with great seafood restaurants (also has a Viking museum and other places of interest).  The one I went to was not fancy at all but it served OUTSTANDING fresh seafood.

Reykjavik, Iceland, Old Harbor, seafood, fishing, travel, photo, map, Olympus

The Old Harbor has been re-vitalized and it’s a great spot for dining.

Reykjavik, Iceland, Old Harbor, seafood, fishing, travel, photo, Olympus

One of the many restaurants in the Old Harbor

Interesting architecture

I found the town to be quite charming even if I cannot say its architecture is overwhelmingly incredible.  The type and materials of construction, of course, are designed to deal with the climate the town experiences.  But, some of the designs are pretty neat visually, to my untrained eye at least.

Reykjavik, Iceland, buildings, construction, color, architecture, travel, photo, Olympus

Corner door AND sharp color contrast – my kind of place!

Reykjavik, Iceland, buildings, construction, color, architecture, travel, photo, Olympus

Nice contrast between these two neighbors

Reykjavik, Iceland, buildings, construction, color, architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

A propos of it being a seaside city

Reykjavik, Iceland, buildings, construction, color, architecture, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Nice contrast between the exterior wall and the window frames

Reykjavik, Iceland, buildings, construction, color, architecture, travel, photo, Olympus

Simple is also OK

Reykjavik, Iceland, buildings, construction, color, architecture, travel, photo, Olympus

Typical corner door and “cut-out” above

Reykjavik, Iceland, buildings, construction, color, architecture, travel, photo, Olympus

The picket fence is a nice touch

Reykjavik, Iceland, buildings, construction, color, architecture, travel, photo, Olympus

My favorite corner door and “cut-out”

Reykjavik, Iceland, buildings, construction, color, architecture, travel, photo, Olympus

Don’t forget to look up!

Reykjavik, Iceland, buildings, construction, color, architecture, travel, photo, Olympus

Sharp color contrast

And food along the way

A stroll around Reykjavik is NOT complete without having an Icelandic hot dog.

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One of the many hot dog carts around

There is more to see in Reykjavik, of course, like Hallgrímskirkja Church, museums, etc.  But, start with a stroll like this and you will love this northern town too!

————————————————————————————————————–

Read and see more about my trip to Iceland:

  • Thingvellir (or “Þingvellir” in local alphabet) – where history and nature meet
  • A “post card” from northern Dalvik
  • The Blue Lagoon – where is Brooke Shields?
  • Our week-long itinerary

Postcards from Iceland: Dalvík

Dalvik, Dalvík, Iceland, fjord, Eyjafjordur, fishing town, mountains, boats, churches, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Dalvík, in the north of Iceland right at around 12 o’clock, is a small town of about 1,400 inhabitants on the western side of the Eyjafjörður fjord.  We drove through this fishing town on the way to our base in Akureyri as we rounded the peninsula where Dalvík sits on route 76 going east after visiting Hólar earlier that day.  Route 76 is not part of the famous ring road.  It is a very scenic road hugging the coastline and passing through a couple of charming small towns (Siglufjörður and Olafsfjörður) – a drive I would recommend.

We enjoyed some of the views around Dalvík and here I share some of my favorites.  What do these images remind you of?

Dalvik, Dalvík, Iceland, fjord, Eyjafjordur, fishing town, mountains, boats, churches, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Incredible landscape around Dalvík and across Eyjafjordur.

Dalvik, Dalvík, Iceland, fjord, Eyjafjordur, fishing town, mountains, boats, churches, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Dalvik, Dalvík, Iceland, fjord, Eyjafjordur, fishing town, mountains, boats, churches, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Fishing and fish processing are the key industries in Dalvík

Dalvik, Dalvík, Iceland, fjord, Eyjafjordur, Dalvíkurkirkja, fishing town, mountains, boats, churches, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

Beautiful church (Dalvíkurkirkja) that must almost get lost in winter with it being white!

 

Dalvik, Dalvík, Iceland, fjord, Eyjafjordur, fishing town, mountains, boats, churches, Canon EOS Rebel, photo, travel

What seemed to be the main church stands out well against the mountains around the town

 

——– More on Iceland ——–

My itinerary for my week visit to Iceland

A stroll around Reykjavik

Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik

Þingvellir:  Where History and Nature Meet in Iceland!

The Blue Lagoon

Goðafoss:  The Waterfalls of the Gods

A Northern Town:  Akureyri

Whale Watching

Iceland’s South Shore:  The Dyrhólaey Peninsula and Vik

On the Camino de Santiago: Day 2 from Barbadelo to Portomarín

Portomarin, Camino, Santiago, view, rose, rio Miño, Spain, Miño river,scene, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Finally, the first long day of our Camino started on Day 2 in Barbadelo.  Day 1, as I wrote about, was really a “baby” hiking day.  All good; ’twas for a good reason (like getting to see O Cebreiro).  But I (along with my fellow trekkers) were really ready to tackle the ‘mino.

I enjoyed breakfast with jamón serrano (Spanish ham), cheese, fresh bread, OJ, and my café con leche.  I was well-fueled for the day!

As luck would have it, it was raining that morning.  And with my cheap rain poncho, I was looking like a Camino fool on a tear!

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Yep, this is me in my rain gear…

Once again, the trails are well-marked with yellow arrows (or the kilometer markers with the seashell).  Rarely did these markers fail us!

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The ever-present yellow arrow!

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Art mixed in with function after leaving Barbadelo

The trail is so varied all along the Camino.  I loved that because it kept me looking forward to what else we would see.  And it kept me paying attention to my surroundings – which made me not take the scenery for granted.

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The Camino’s paths are very diverse.

Camino frances, trail, Camino, Santiago, Spain, travel, photo, trekking, Olympus Camino frances, trail, Camino, Santiago, Spain, travel, photo, trekking, Olympus

As lunch time was nearing, we passed Ferreiros, a small hamlet with a cute little church with an accompanying cemetery.

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The Church of Santa Maria in Ferreiros

But all wasn’t pretty landscape and charming little churches.  Lunch time was a time for rest, and a time for good food.  And, occasionally, a glass of local table wine or a glass of beer (I normally did not drink but a couple of times did have a glass of wine).

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Lunch on the Camino: wine is always near!

After what felt like a very long day, we finally spotted the Miño River, which meant we had arrived at our destination for the day:  the town of Portomarín, one of the largest we went through at over 2,00o or so inhabitants.  The original town (with a long history with the Camino) is now under water as it was flooded when a dam was built downstream – so the town we stayed in is fairly young.  However, it is worth noting that key buildings, like the main church, were moved before the old town was flooded to a new spot in the town.

Portomarin, Rio Miño, Minho, river, Spain, Camino, Santiago, French Way, Camino frances, trekking, hiking, travel, bridge, photo, Olympus

The Río Miño – and our destination on other side!

Portomarin, Camino, Santiago, street scene, photo, travel, Samsung Galaxy, brudge

About to enter Portomarín!

Portomarin, Camino, Santiago, street scene, photo, travel, Samsung Galaxy, brudge

A choice of stairs OR a riverside road to get to our hotel…

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Not that I was tired and trying to hitch a ride to Santiago!

Portomarin, Camino, Santiago, street scene, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

The charming streets of Portomarin

A festival had just taken place and there were some types of branches strewn about the main square and down the main pedestrian street.  The main street was cute and colorful and clearly well-lived by the locals.

main plaza, Portomarin, Gallicia, Camino, Santiago, street scene, photo, travel, Olympus

The main plaza after a festival

Portomarin, Galicia, Camino, Santiago, street scene, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

Colorful balconies and one seemingly bored local

Portomarin, Galicia, Camino, Santiago, street scene, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

The reminders of the festival make for a beautiful carpet on the main street

The Church of San Juan (San Xoán) was moved, as I said, from the old town to a new spot.  It is late Romanesque and feels like a church and a castle at the same time.  We went in as we found out it was open to stamp pilgrims’ Camino passports but, unfortunately, there was no Mass scheduled for that evening.

Church San Juan, Portomarin, Galicia, Camino, Santiago, architecture, photo, travel, Olympus

The moved Church of San Juan

The interior was simple without being plain.  I found it very peaceful.

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Main altar of the Church of San Juan – modest

After our first full day of hiking, I was glad to enjoy a nice meal, some vino, and a nice peaceful view from our room at the hotel.

Portomarin, Camino, Santiago, view, rose, rio Miño, Spain, Miño river,scene, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

The end of the day offered this reward from the balcony of my room.

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

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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.

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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

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

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!

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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


 

A True Representative of Its Hometown: Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia

Istanbul, Turkey, Turkiye, Hagia Sophia, church, mosque, museum, dome, minaret, Justinian, Great Schism, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, history, architecture

After having had some challenges getting out of Egypt, my arrival in Istanbul continued to offer “experiences” as there was an unexpected change of plans that I shared in my Boarding Pass Series post about Istanbul.  Since I had to find a place to stay all of a sudden, I opened my guidebook and fished around for some hotel that looked well situated, cheap enough, and nice enough. And that’s how I found the Hotel Pierre Loti, a small but well located hotel that became my source of accommodations for 5 days.  It was definitely an easy walk to the main historic sites, like Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque, and a score for the price point.

Istanbul, Turkey, Bosphorus, sea, mosque, bridge, travel, exotic, Canon EOS Rebel, Turkiye

A city that straddles Europe (foreground) and Asia (background), divided by the Bosphorus

Each of the places I want to share with you deserves its own post, not only because of what I want to say about them but also because of the photos I want to share.  If you are visiting Istanbul, one thing to keep in mind is that most of the places I write about are within walking distance of each other so it is only a matter of how much you can or want to cover in one day.

In this first post, I will share what I consider to be the crown jewel of Istanbul as a history and architecture lover –  its “grand dame”: the Hagia Sophia, or Holy Wisdom.

Istanbul, Turkey, Hagia Sophia, church, mosque, museum, dome, minaret, Justinian, Great Schism, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, history, architecture

Without further ado, the Hagia Sophia

A church is born

This is one of the most amazing structures that I have seen.  It is not imposing in the same way that, say, Versailles is amazing.  But if you hear or read its story and consider how old that structure is, it is nothing short of incredible.  I stood in the center of the museum looking around in awe and disbelief that I finally got to see in person this unique piece of architecture and history that I had learned about in high school days.  The ability to build a structure that could support such a large dome back when the church was built is incredible in and of itself (the dome has had repairs over the centuries).

The current structure with its massive dome has its origin in the 6th century when it was built by Roman emperor Justinian as a Christian church (it was the third church built on that site).  It was one of the most magnificent churches in the world at that time and for centuries to come.  In fact, it was the world’s largest cathedral for a thousand years!  (You may wonder “who” dethroned it… the Cathedral of Seville built in 1520).

Istanbul, Turkey, Hagia Sophia, church, mosque, museum, dome, minaret, Justinian, Great Schism, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, history, architecture

A massive base was needed to support the dome

Hagia Sophia was decorated with mosaics all around and it is said to have re-defined the course of architecture.  While it remained an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral for close to 900 years, for a very brief period (at that time scale), it served as a Roman Catholic Cathedral.   In a way, Hagia Sophia was at the epicenter of the Great Schism that resulted in the split of the Catholic Church into Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox “versions” around the year 1053.

Transformation into a mosque

The Christian church was converted to a mosque when Constantinople fell to the conquering Ottomans who came from what is today Asian Turkey in 1453.  Lovers of history (or those with good memories of their world history class) know this was a key turning point in history.  This event ended the existence of the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine eastern half of the former Roman Empire).  In essence, this killed off the last remnant of the Roman Empire which had existed in one form or another for around 1,500 years.

Istanbul, Turkey, Hagia Sophia, church, mosque, museum, Justinian, ablution, fountain, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, history, architecture

Ablution fountain added in its conversion to a mosque for ritual purification

As part of the conversion to a mosque, minarets were added to the church so it would be a proper mosque and the mosaics were covered up or removed as images of people are not appropriate in a mosque.  While I realize this goes with the belief system, I am saddened to think of all the beauty we don’t get to see.  But at least the beautiful Islamic features compensate the loss of a good number of the mosaics.

Istanbul, Turkey, Hagia Sophia, church, mosque, museum, Justinian, mosaic, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, history, architecture

One of the mosaics of the Hagia Sophia (Virgin and Child flanked by Justinian I and Constantine I)

Its current state

Eventually, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire (around World War I), Turkey moved to a more secular state under the guidance of its modernizing leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (my visit coincided with the 60th anniversary of his death hence you will notice flags at half mast in photos I may show in other posts from this trip).

During his presidency (he founded modern Turkey and was its first president), the Hagia Sophia was secularized by being converted into a museum.  Like with any of the places on this list, a guided tour or audio guide (if available now) are the way to go; you will not truly understand the significance of the place without getting all the background.  But the good news is that, so we can appreciate the history of the place, a few of the mosaics have been exposed.  Impressive.  The Hagia Sophia had fallen into disrepair but, mercifully, thanks to corporations and governments, the various issues are being worked through.  One key item that was addressed was the potential risk to the dome’s long term viability.

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Ritual purification urn brought in during its time as a mosque

For me and my interests, nothing beats the Hagia Sophia as the number one sight to see in Istanbul.  And the day I return to Istanbul, you can be sure I will be going again.

Before you go, which days it is open (as with anything).  Last I checked it was closed on Mondays.

A structure that represents its city

Istanbul, like the Hagia Sophia, has gone through a lot of “conversions”:  Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul.  Due to its location at the crossroads of the “world” for many centuries, Istanbul has had a part in or been affected by most events in that part of the world.  I am still fascinated by this incredible city that has seen so much and serves witness to all it has seen and by this structure that reflects all that perfectly.

I would really enjoy returning and spending another week exploring the many things I still did not get to discover in my only visit there.  Stay tuned for more posts about the sights and sites of this great city.  I leave you with a rewarding view of the Bosphorus.

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The sun sets on the Bosphorus and Istanbul

 

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

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

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

How Best to Explore Intramuros in Manila

Palacio del Gobernador, Governor's Palace, , Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

Intramuros is the old district of Manila, the capital of the Philippines.  It carries a lot of history and meaning within its walls as I shared with you in a prior post.  Though it is quite distinctive and historic, it is not your typical tourist haven.   That is actually what makes it an appealing place to visit for me:  it is first and foremost a national treasure for the country itself, not just for tourists.  As a national treasure its reconstruction and growth are managed by the Intramuros Administration (IA).  Maintaining the integrity of the district is very important to the IA and that is a good thing for current and future generations.

Some of the highlights of Intramuros

The first thing that will catch your attention is the city walls and all the forts, gates, bulwarks, ravelins and redoubts (clearly, I picked up some words related to military fortifications!).  A good starting point in this network is Fort Santiago.  The fort was built by the Spanish starting in the late XVI century.

Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, city walls, Philippines, Olympus

The entrance to Fort Santiago from the land side, repaired after WWII

Through the centuries it has changed due to earthquakes, attacks, or modifications.  During WWII it suffered great damage.  Today, it is set up well for visitors.  You first enter a plaza or park and then cross the moat (which is an arm of the Pasig River) to enter the main part of the fort.

Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, city walls, Philippines, Olympus

The moat in front of the entrance to Fort Santiago

Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, city walls, Philippines, Olympus

You can walk along the walls and look across the river.

Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

Walk along the walls of the fort!

And you can see the place where the Philippines’ national hero, José Rizal, was imprisoned right before his execution in 1896.  A poignant detail you will notice is that his footsteps from his prison to the place of his execution are marked on the ground.

Jose Rizal, Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, history, national hero, Filipino

Lifelike statue of Rizal in his former cell

Jose Rizal, Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, history, national hero, Filipino, footsteps

Rizal’s walk to his execution

After you are done in Fort Santiago, a short walk takes you to the Manila Cathedral, which has been destroyed and reconstructed more than a handful of times since it was first built in the late 16th century.

Manila Cathedral, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

The Cathedral

The Cathedral shares the Plaza de Roma (used to be called the Plaza de Armas, a key spot in any Spanish colonial town) with the former Governor’s Palace (also destroyed in the past) which now houses government offices, including the Intramuros Administration.

Palacio del Gobernador, Governor's Palace, , Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

The Governor’s Palace

San Agustín Church, the oldest stone church in the Philippines, is one of the few buildings still standing in Intramuros that pre-date WWII.  Though it suffered a little damage, it is mostly still the same structure.  Along with three other churches in the Philippines, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Legazpi, the founder of the city of Manila is buried here.  And if you get to visit, check out the ceiling – it plays a trick on the eye:  though it looks elaborately decorated, all that you see is painted on a smooth surface!

San Agustin Church, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

Interior of the church – everything on the arches and ceiling is painted on!

San Agustin Church, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines, photo, Olympus, architecture

Detail in the interior of the church

Though I call out Fort Santiago, the city walls with all its different components are good places to explore and get up on to check out the views.  Worth noting that right outside the city walls, the former moat was reclaimed during the American period and a full 18-hole golf course established!

Intramuros, Manila, city walls, Manila Town Hall, Philippines, golf course, Olympus

City wall fortifications with the golf course in the background

How to see Intramuros

Depending on the reason for your visit to Manila and how much time you have,  how you do Intramuros may vary.  But whether you only have half-a-day or two days to spare, you should find a guide to show you around for 2-4 hours.  There is a lot behind what you see in Intramuros and you will miss more than half of the story if you only walk around without a guide.  I had a neat tour guide who, though a little too freely-sharing and opinionated, nevertheless presented Manila’s story in a very compelling way.

You can walk the district (it is not too big) or use a calesa to get around a little more comfortably, especially on a hot day.  The good part about walking is that you can meander around with more freedom and take better pictures!

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Calesas on the run

Finally I would recommend not only visiting Intramuros but staying there one or two nights to soak in the district.  While it is not the most lively area in the evening, there is a perfect spot to explore the old town, watch the sun set, and enjoy the evening breeze:  The Bayleaf Hotel.

The unique Bayleaf Hotel

The Bayleaf is unique in several ways.  For starters, it is actually the only hotel within the city walls.  Secondly, it is the tallest building in Intramuros.  Thirdly, it is well-known to be very welcoming:  I researched the hotel in TripAdvisor where it had the top rank from other travelers’ reviews, always a nice benchmark for me especially with so many reviewers opining.  In fact, the Bayleaf also received TripAdvisor’s 2013 Circle of Excellence award.  Finally, it is one of the best spots to watch the sun set in Manila (even locals suggested we go there without knowing I was staying there!).

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Lobby of the Bayleaf

The Bayleaf is a boutique hotel, well-priced, and possessing a neat color scheme indoors as you would expect in the tropics (my floor and room were my favorite color:  orange) while the outside of the building maintains the exterior that makes it a clear part of Intramuros.  It sits right by the city walls and Victoria St., a very colorful street worth walking.  So clearly this is where I would recommend staying when exploring Intramuros both for the convenience and charm.

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My room at the Bayleaf

A sunset that never happened but I did get a good view

I was a guest of the hotel for one night to see how great its location is and, hopefully, get one of the best sunset views in Manila over Manila Bay from its Sky Deck rooftop terrace.

Bayleaf Hotel, Sky Deck, rooftop terrace, Manila, Philippines, sunset, Intramuros

The terrace and part of the view

Unfortunately, watching the sunset from the Sky Deck became impossible as it rained really hard that day so not sunset to be seen (so the photo above is not mine but from the hotel’s site).  While the sunset was a no-go, I enjoyed an adobo (a typical Filipino dish of pork and chicken in  soy and vinegar sauce) at the 9 Spoons restaurant which sits right below the Sky Deck terrace.

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The adobo dish (garnished to the left with a fried egg)

I did go up the next morning to the Sky Deck terrace to soak the awesome 360 degree view it offers.  Being the tallest building in Intramuros, the view is spectacular.  You can see the golf course built in the site of the moat outside of the city walls.  You can see the tall Manila Town Hall right outside the walls, then the National Museum.  And then you can turn around to see all of Intramuros right below you.

Intramuros, Manila, city walls, Manila Town Hall, Philippines, golf course, clouds, sky, Olympus

Looking from the Bayleaf’s Sky Deck towards the Manila Town Hall (notice the golf course)

Manila, Intramuros, Philippines, view, vista, Bayleaf Hotel, cloud, sky, Olympus

View over Intramuros (the Cathedral to the left) towards Manila Bay

I only wish I had been there on a clear sunset, with some tropical beverage and camera in hand…  I guess there is always a return to Manila.  If MacArthur did it, why not me??

The Charming Town of Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor, Montenegro was an almost accidental destination for me.  The anchor destination for the trip was Italy but my wanderlust wanted me to go further to new places (even though Pompeii was new to me).  So I added Croatia by visiting the gem of the AdriaticDubrovnik.  But then I found out about day trips to Mostar (in Bosnia-Herzegovina) and Montenegro.  It didn’t take much for me to say “sold!”  Kotor was a very picturesque and “alive” town with its cafés and old architecture.

Café scene in old town Kotor, Montenegro Canon EOS Rebel

Part of the café scene

Kotor sits between the bay of the same and the mountain of St. John which was fortified as early as the 6th century.  This town has passed from empire to empire from Roman times, Byzantine times, Republic of Venice’s time, Hapsburg times, Bulgarian times, Ottoman times and Yugoslav times among others (even if not all those officially had the name “empire”…).  You get the picture of the changes this places must have gone through over two millenia!

Sea Gate in Kotor, Montenegro part of the fortifications city wall Canon EOS Rebel

The Sea Gate which dates from the 16th century

Madonna with Child in the Sea Gate of Kotor Montenegro carving Canon EOS Rebel architecture detail

Madonna with Child in the Sea Gate

fortification wall tower Kotor Montenegro St. John history Canon EOS Rebel

Fortifications consist of large walls interspersed with towers along the water and up the mountain

Its architecture, heavily influenced by the Venetian style, contributed to it being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site which seconds my recommendation that this is a place that ought to be checked out – the trip to reach it is both, worth effort AND beautiful as Kotor Bay is a unique setting – in and of itself worth seeing in person.

Architecture in Kotor, Montenegro Canon EOS Rebel balcony

Architecture in Kotor, Montenegro tower Canon EOS Rebel

Architecture in Kotor, Montenegro street Canon EOS Rebel

Architecture in Kotor, Montenegro Canon EOS Rebel

Churches in Kotor

Kotor has quite a few churches from different times – 11 if I counted correctly on the tourist map for this town of around 13,000 inhabitants.

St. Tryphon's Cathedral in Kotor, Montenegro - crucifix, museum Canon EOS Rebel

Crucifix in the small gallery on the second level of St. Tryphon’s Cathedral

St. Tryphon's Cathedral - alter and crucifix in Kotor, Montenegro Canon EOS Rebel

Altar and crucifix in St. Tryphon’s Cathedral

St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church in front of St. Lucas in Kotor, Montenegro Canon EOS Rebel

St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church (facing St. Lucas Church) in Kotor, Montenegro

Church of St. Lucas in Kotor, Montenegro Romanesque architecture photo Canon EOS Rebel

12th century Church of St. Lucas – Romanesque style

Getting lost in Kotor -and is true in many places – is a neat way to see this town and, trust me, you won’t be lost for too long as you are bound by the mountain, the moat or the Sea Gate!

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

Basilica Altagracia Higüey Dominican Republic church

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

 

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