More “White” photos! Postcard perfect! Can you imagine what this would look like with SNOW? Enjoy!
Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom, has been called the greatest house of worship in the Christian and Muslim worlds: Hagia Sophia, the Great Church of Constantinople, a Greek Orthodox basilica, was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in A.D. 537 over the remains of two churches. More than 5,000 architects, stonemasons, bricklayers, plasterers, sculptors, painters and mosaic artists worked around the clock for 5 years to complete the church. People came from all over the world to watch the great dome slowly rise above the landscape and for a 1000 years it was the greatest dome in the world until the Renaissance when Brunelleschi built the dome over the Duomo, in Florence, Italy. In 1204 it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral. It remained the largest cathedral for nearly 1000 years until the Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. In 1453 Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, who ordered the main church be converted into a mosque. The relics were removed and the mosaics depicting Jesus, His mother Mary, Christian saints and angels were removed or plastered over. Islamic features and the minarets were added. In 1935, the first Turkish president, and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, transformed the building into a museum. The carpets were removed and the marble floor decorations appeared for the first time in centuries, while the white plaster covering many of the mosaics was removed, revealing the beautiful mosaics still intact. The plaster had actually preserved them.
Today, Hagia Sophia is a beautiful museum, featuring the best of Christian and Muslim architecture.
After going through tight security and inspection let’s look at this wonder of the world!
The Ottomans added this fountain in the 18th century, when Hagia Sophia was used as a mosque. It was used for ablution, ritual cleansing before prayer, as part of Islamic traditions.
Unearthed in 2010, the immense baptismal pool was hewn out of a massive piece of marble. More than ten feet wide and four feet deep, the pool was used for communal baptisms common in early Christianity.
The green marble columns carry the upper galleries and provide support to the domes, easing the burden of the buttresses and exterior walls.
Many of the marble columns were brought here from other, even more ancient monuments and temples.
To get a perspective of the size of the Nave, Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral would fit within Hagia Sophia’s great dome.
The religious use of icons, depictions of human figures in mosaics, frescoes and other art forms, were very controversial throughout Byzantine history. Church and political leaders clashed over icons. The public liked the figures, and since most people at the time could not read, these pictures told the stories of the church teachings and emperors used them to bolster their claim to divine power, often depicting themselves as holy figures.
The mimber is the pulpit in a mosque used by the imam to deliver a sermon on Fridays or to talk to the public on special occasions. The imam stands halfway up the stairs as a sign of respect, reserving the uppermost step for the Prophet Muhammad.
The 24-foot-wide, leather wrapped, wooden medallions, were added in the 19th century and decorated by master calligraphers. In a church you see paintings of Biblical figures and saints, however in a mosque, which allows no depictions of people, you see ornately written names of Allah and Muhammad.
This morning’s stroll is through the Clock Tower entry from St Marco’s Square to back streets we haven’t been on yet. Enjoy our last walk in Venice! These are all the finds I loved today!
Now for the evening stroll over to Chiesa San Vidal for the concert, “Le Quattro Stagioni,” by the Interpreti Veneziani! The concert was fabulous and the Church was packed! Follow our walk!
Here they were presenting some kind of interpretation dance! Perhaps, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”? Only no tulips!
I waited and watched for over a half hour to get this picture of the Virgin and the Bird!
This morning we are on a mission through the quiet streets to take pictures and then head over to St Mark’s Square, (Piazza San Marco) the grand square surrounded by the historic buildings of the Doge’s Palace, Campanile Bell Tower, and St Mark’s Basilica, before the crowds commence. Over two football fields long, this is the only square in Venice to be called a “piazza.” With your back to St Mark’s, to the right are the “old offices,” (16th century Renaissance) to the left “new office’s.” (17th century high renaissance) At the opposite end is the Correr Museum and Nepoleon’s Wing. The Clock Tower built in 1696 marks the entry to the main shopping area (Mercerie) and connects St Mark’s Square with the Rialto Bridge area.
The Doge’s Palace was the seat of the Venetian government and home of the ruling duke or doge. For over 400 years this was the most powerful half-acre in Europe! The doge lived with his family on the first floor, near the halls of power.
I think the best spot in the entire complex is the Bridge of Sighs, a corridor built in 1614 to link the Doge’s Palace to the structure intended to house the New Prisons. The Bridge contains two separate corridors that run next to each other, both enclosed and covered on all sides except for the stone windows. Through these windows the prisoners supposedly sighed, taking their last look at freedom as they were led off to their cells.
Relics of St Mark the Evangelist, were stolen by Venetian merchants in 828 from Alexandria and brought to Venice. The church is filled with loot from returning sea captains, providing an architectural trophy chest. The inside of the church glows with gold mosaics and colored marble. Upstairs you can get a great view of the Piazza and see the bronze horses (outside) and inside, in their own room, the original bronze horses. No one knows the exact age of the horses, but these well traveled horses were taken to Constantinople (Istanbul) by Constantine, to Venice by the crusaders, to Paris by Napoleon, and back to Venice when Napoleon fell, and finally to a room of their own inside from the acidic air. Whew, I bet they are glad to get some rest!
We attended Mass at St Mark’s and be warned; if you are not appropriately dressed, shoulders covered and no shorts or short skirts, an attendant, who admits you, will be glad to sell you a paper purple stole to cover yourself up with, otherwise you will not be attending Mass. Going out of the church you walk a plank literally, to the outside of the church. I couldn’t figure out if this was to keep the marble intact, from so many people treading on it, or to avoid the low stairways. Always a mystery ! Enjoy!
Using our Combi-Ticket, from Vienna to Melk, we get off the train in Melk and look up. The glory of Melk is the baroque Benedictine Abbey, established in the 11th century, later destroyed by fire, and after selling the Gutenberg Bible to Yale in 1929, a restoration was started. The church is under a makeover on the grandest terms today. Even the village of Melk is sprucing up. Has the church sold something else? Or did Melk receive a windfall? There are workers everywhere! The easiest way to reach the Abbey is to go all the way to the right of the train platform and make a beeline straight up the hill through the newer section of town. At the top follow the cobblestones to the left, the rest of the way up to the Abbey. After visiting the Abbey we will go down to the village by another path that will take us into the heart of the historic village.
It is starting to rain! I can’t look at the entire garden! Darn!!!!
When leaving the grounds of the Abbey walk down the cobblestone path to the village and turn right. Hauptstrasse is getting a new look. They are re-doing the street so follow the planks. Walking to the Hauptplatz we stop at the Hotel/Restaurant zur Post for the tastiest Austrian cuisine we’ve experienced in Austria to date. Yum! Melk is beautiful even during a makeover! Next we are off to find the boat dock to take us to Krems! It is part 2 of the Combi-ticket! Enjoy!
Previously we visited the Augustinian Church where the Habsburgs’ were married so today we are visiting the Imperial Crypt or Kaisergruft, a burial chamber beneath the Capuchin Church located in the Neuer Markt Square near the Hofberg Palace. In 1617, Anna of Tyrol, wife of Emperor Matthias left funds for a Capuchin cloister and burial crypt. Today the bones of 145 Habsburg royalty, including 12 emperors and 18 princesses, plus urns containing hearts, rest here. Twelve friars continue their role as custodians and guardians of the crypt.
The free standing tombs are variations of a flat-topped storage chest or a tub with sloping sides and a convex lid. The most common material for the sarcophagi was a bronze-like alloy of tin, but the beautiful tombs of the baroque and rococo eras are true bronze. The cover of of the double tomb of Maria Theresa and her husband alone weighs 3800 pounds. In order to stabilize the tombs they have iron bracings and wood linings to avoid cave ins and the buckling of side walls from the weight of the cover. Within the outer case lies a wooden coffin that is wrapped in silk; black with gold trim for rulers and red with silver trim for others. Various techniques of metal working were used; full casting or hollow for decorative sculpture, with ornaments and decorative figures screwed on. The coffin usually has two locks, one key kept by the Capuchin Guardian of the Crypt and the other is kept in the Schatzhammer of the Hofburg Palace.
The chamber had increased over the years from under the nave of the church to the entire length and width and then beyond the church to include the monastery garden’s, creating a hodgepodge of tombs and chambers beneath the church. This made it necessary to create additional space and dehumidify the crypt. There have been serious deteriorating conditions. Changes in heat and humidity, the peeling of horizontal surfaces, broken base plates and decorative fixtures broken off or stolen made it necessary for major restoration efforts. In 2003 remodeling of the crypt allowed visitors to see the tombs in historical order and enter from one end and leave at another. There are now ten interconnected, air conditioned, Vaults of the Imperial Crypt. In addition, security measures were put into place to prevent damage to the tombs. The oldest and most recent person entombed here (16 July 2011) is Otto von Habsburg, aged 98 years and 7 months. Twenty five percent of those entombed here were five years of age or less when they died. A very interesting place!
The Good. It is Sunday and we are going to one of the many concerts in Vienna. The choir and full orchestra are presenting a program at 11am High Mass at the Augustinian Church (Augustinerkirche), located on Josefsplatz. The church was founded in 1327 by Duke Frederick, the Handsome, with a cloister of Augustinian friars. In 1634, it became the parish church of the imperial church and is now part of the vast Hofburg Palace complex. Here the Habsburg’s wedding of the Archduchess Maria Theresa in 1736 to Duke Francis of Lorraine, the wedding of Archduchess Marie Louise in 1810 to Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France, and the wedding of Emperor Franz Josef in 1854 to Duchess Elisabeth (Sisi) of Bavaria, took place. The church looks unremarkable from the outside, but the Gothic interior is exquisite. We get there early to get a good seat in one of the pews up front. Soon it is standing room only. Let the music and Mass begin!
The Best. Coming out of Mass we walk over to St Peters Church. (Peterskirche) This church site dates back to the Middle Ages and was built on the site of the Roman encampment in the Graben. In 1661 the church burned down and a new church was built when Leopold I took a vow to rebuild this church when Vienna was ravaged by the plague in 1679. This church was the first domed structure in baroque Vienna and fashioned after St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Situated in a very compact space, closed in between the modern Vienna, once inside, the interior is rich with gold stucco. Today we are there as a wedding couple are exiting the church and we observe the church decorated beautifully for the wedding!
The Sad. Next, let’s see how Emperor Franz Josef and Sisi lived in the Imperial Apartments at the Hofburg Palace. Going up a large marble staircase, turning and going up another set of steps we reach the royal floor and the Sisi Museum. Now, this is my short rendition of Sisi’s life. Franz Josef at twenty three, was engaged to Sisi’s sister, Helene, in a diplomatic marriage. However, once he saw Sisi, age sixteen, all bets were off and he defied his domineering mother and married Duchess Elisabeth (Sisi). Within ten months, Sisi gave birth to their first child, Sophie. Franz Josef’s demanding mother didn’t think Sisi was old enough or smart enough to handle royal life, so she took over everything that concerned Sisi; the children, and the royal household affairs. That included naming the couple’s first born after herself, Sophie, and taking the child away from Sisi, a decision that continued for all the children to follow. Sisi, bored with her non-existent life, except that of brooder, became obsessed about her weight and followed a rigorous workout regime, putting a workout room in her private apartments. Fixated on her appearance, after her ritual cold bath in the morning, she spent three hours daily having her ankle length hair washed, combed and braided. Every evening there was an oil bath and a slab of veal was placed on her face to prevent wrinkles. At five foot eight and 100 pounds she wore a leather fitted corset to keep her waist at sixteen inches and after four children her waist never exceeded nineteen and one half inches. Her weight at times would drop to 95 pounds after fasting for days. Truly her looks must have been the only thing she felt she had control of. After ten years of marriage and four children, Sisi chose to spend very little time in Vienna, frequently visiting Hungary. After the age of thirty she refused to sit for her portrait and have any pictures taken of her. She never smiled because she hated her teeth.
Tragedy struck 1889, with the death of Sisi’s only son, Rudolf, the Crown Prince of Austria, and his mistress, in a murder-suicide pact at a hunting lodge at Mayerling. Sisi withdrew further from court duties and traveled widely, unaccompanied by her family. While traveling in 1898 she was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist, who had missed his chance to assassinate another royal family member, Prince Phillippe, Duke of Orleans. Sisi had served as the longest princess-consort of Austria, at 44 years. Next in line of succession after Rudolf was Archduke Karl Ludwig, Franz Josef’s younger brother. However, a few days after Rudolf’s death Karl Ludwig renounced his succession rights to his oldest son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who became heir presumptive. Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in 1914 sparked WWI. What a mess of lives all that turned out to be!
Taking a break from all the sadness at the Hofburg Castle we pass the horse and carriage stands and decide to take a ride around the city and see what else is inside the Ringstrasse. I love the look of Volksgarten Park and make my way to the benches and find the BEAUTIFUL!
Here the children chase the pigeons, the women talk and try to keep up with the children, and the men read their newspapers while enjoying a fine summer day. The flowers are in bloom and the fountains are overflowing. What contrast, what beauty! Enjoy!
That would be arthr I-T-I-S. ( as in swelling of the arths or joints) You who follow me regularly know I have been hobbled (well I am always hobbled, but more so recently) especially the past few months due to increased travels and increased walking, so with the trip to AIT (Austria, Italy, and Turkey) coming up I sought the advice of my physician. I am on the strongest medication, she told me. Next step corrective shoes. Corrective shoes? I already wear supportive, un-flattering, old fashioned, old lady shoes and have for some time. I was ten days out from my trip and had no time for new shoes. This trip was one of the most extensive and varied yet of our travels and included several flights, connecting flights, train trips, bus trips, boat trips, LOTS of walking, exploring, and new experiences. Shoes? I would just have to suck it up!
I came home with Pharyng I-T-I-S. A sore throat, headache to beat all headaches, earache, cough, cough, cough, and complete lethargy. And over 3,000 pictures! So today I begin the tale of what we did in between the I-T-I-S’s. It was one of the best trips abroad! And so we begin!
This week the list for the Best Airlines was released. # 5 on that list was Turkish Airlines. There was no American airline in the top 20. We have never flown on Turkish Airlines, but booked it because the price was very reasonable and got us to our destination with the fewest stops. I was immediately impressed upon boarding to be met my a chef (big hat and chef’s attire and all) and to get to my seat which had a pillow, blanket, earphones, and slippers already placed in my seat. Did I mention our seats were not changed one time in the six months prior to departure and we actually boarded on schedule? When we were all seated (and we were in regular folks seating) we received a travel kit (which I can use over and over it was so nice) with earplugs, sleeping mask, toothbrush, toothpaste, lip balm and knee high socks. Right after they served the Turkish Delight candy and the hot wash cloths they passed out the food menu and the drinks menu. Need I say more? I will. There were a bazillion channels for music, movies, news, kids shows and learning. There were plugs for all your electronic devices. And the seats were big enough for your fanny. Following a smooth ride, very tasty meals, lots of entertainment and excellent service we landed in Istanbul on time and ready to transfer to another Turkish Airlines plane to take us to Vienna. It was one of the best airline experiences to date! Please, keep them in mind when booking your flights. You won’t be disappointed.
Twenty four hours later (including time changes and connecting flight times) we landed in Vienna around 8pm. Tired and ready for bed we entered Das Tyrol, a small boutique-spa hotel located in a residential area on Mariahilfer Strasse just barely outside the old town’s RingStrasse.
The fresh invigorating spa fragrance as we entered the hotel quickly helped to rejuvenate us. What a relaxed feeling! Soon we had checked in, got a lay out of the land, ( including the spa area, breakfast area and lounge), and then took the tiny two people elevator to the Donald Duck floor. What a great room we had! We collapsed into bed and were asleep within minutes!
The next morning we were up early to the large buffet breakfast and then out the door to walk to the Old Town. The hotel’s location was perfect. Situated in the middle of a hill, at the top was the train station and metro station (inside a huge mall with great shopping and eateries) and at the bottom of the hill the tram that circled historic Vienna. We decided to do a Vienna City Walk that SB had mapped out for us before we left home. This way we we could get an idea where the major museums were in the area, before we decided which ones to go in. So we walked down the hill, turned right and crossed the street to the Opera House and Gardens.
Here there were many men dressed as Mozart encouraging you to buy tickets to a concert, every few feet.
We walked on pass them through the gates and then backtracked past the Opera Museum and the Albertinaplatz and the Monument Against War and Fascism.
Finally we came to corner where the red tour buses were parked and decided we would see another part of the city from the bus on another day. Here also was the Cafe Tirolerhof, a classic Viennese cafe with chandeliers, marble tables, smoke stained upholstered booths and waiters in tuxes. It’s was like stepping into an old movie and it was my first chance to taste the famous Viennese coffee.
Refreshed and relaxed we ventured on passing the Kaisergruft, a church filled with the crypts of Austria’s emperors, empresses and other Habsburg royalty, buried in pewter coffins. Check that for a come back to.
We make our way to Kärntner Strasse, a pedestrian only grand walkway, the same road that the Crusaders marched down as they left St Stephen’s Cathedral for the Holy Land in the 12th century. The street was bumper to bumper people, so many in fact that I could not see anything but the back of the head in front of me. What I thought would be a lovely old cobbled street was now a pedestrian mob of shoppers slowly moving along the shops of Gucci and Prada! There were people everywhere! It was Saturday I realized and the shops would be closed on Sunday so the shopping was a must!
I couldn’t wait to reach St Stephen’s hoping the crowd would thin out. Reaching the cathedral we have also entered the center of Vienna.
The church, built from 1300 to 1450, has a 450-ft tower and a colorful roof and is Austria’s national church. During WWII the stained glass window behind the high altar was dismantled and packed away. The pulpit was encased in a shell of brick. When the Nazi’s were fleeing at the end of the war an order was given to destroy the church upon leaving. Gratefully, the order was ignored, but the church did catch fire during Allied bombings and the wooden roof collapsed on the stone vaults of the ceiling. After the war each region of Austria contributed to the rebuilding of St Stephen’s, replacing the bell, the entrance portal, the windows, the pews and the floor. Today there is scaffolding where they are continuing to restore. Leaving the church I want to get off the main drag and away from the crowds. We find Dorotheergasse and a small grouping of tables outside Reinthaler’s Beisl where we sit and taste our first gulasch meal and apfelstrudel for dessert. The street is quiet and it is nice to sit and watch the world go by. We’ll stop here for now, but return soon to continue our walk. Enjoy!
As part of of our three week adventure to Austria, Italy, and Turkey (the AIT Tour) we visited Melk Abbey in Melk, Austria. Relics always intrigue me and Melk’s relics were quite something! Thousands of skeletons were dug up from Roman catacombs in the 16th century and moved to churches in Germany, Austria and Switzerland on orders of the Vatican. The relics were sent there to replace the relics destroyed in the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s. Mistaken for the remains of early Christian martyrs, the relics became known as the Catacomb Saints, becoming shrines, reminding the faithful of the spiritual treasures in heaven. Both St Clemens and St Friedrich were painstakingly decorated in thousands of pounds worth of gold, silver and gems, by devoted followers, before being displayed in the Melk Abbey niches. Won’t you join me as we adventure on the AIT Tour? Enjoy!
There are two ways to get to the center of The French Quarter from our spot in Marigny; stroll the seven blocks on Chartres St to St Louis Cathedral or take the Loyola-UPT Streetcar that ends near us at the French Market.
During our stay we do both. From the French Market we get off the streetcar at Dumaine St and walk a couple of blocks to our first stop, the Cafe Du Monde, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week!
A large area of indoor/outdoor seating, the cafe is packed. The menus are imprinted on the napkin holders. The choices are coffee, soft drinks, orange juice and two sizes of beignets, either 3 or 6, smothered in powdered sugar. That’s it! I really can’t see what the hub-bub about the place is, but every time we passed by the cafe it was full. It’s been a landmark in New Orleans since 1862.
Continuing on we come to Jackson Square and behind that the beautiful St Louis Cathedral, the oldest continuously operating church in the US, built in 1720, rebuilt in 1789, becoming a cathedral in 1794.
In front of the church on a wide band of street there are small booths of fortune tellers, ice cream vendors and musicians. Stepping inside the church we get relief from the heat and humidity which is quickly rising. Leaving the church and turning right and then right again we are on a small cobblestoned alley with St Anthony’s Garden behind the church. This alley is known to the locals as Pirates Alley. 600 feet long and 16 feet wide it is not listed on many of the maps of the French Quarter. The smell of New Orleans is more intense here, a smell of damp vegetation and a faint woodiness lingering with the latin rhythms, salsa music and blues coming from the corner. This corner was infamous for settling duels and debts of honor. Jean Lafitte, the famous pirate, who provided services to any country at war against another by attacking their ships, brought the booty to town and the goods were sold in the alley. Eventually the Spanish Colonial Prison called the Calabozo was built on this corner in 1769. Lafitte and his men were jailed here by Governor Claiborne of New Orleans. The prison was demolished in 1837, and the land was sold to make a long creole house which was the home of William Faulkner, where he wrote his first novel ”Soldiers Pay.” The creole house is now home to the Faulkner House Books. Now at the intersection of Pirates Alley and Cabildo Alley, where the prison was, is the Pirates Alley Cafe, known for caribbean drinks and absinthe.
Traditional absinthe was made of anise, fennel and wormwood (a plant) with added herbs and flowers making it green in color. The herbs and spices were soaked in alcohol and then distilled. The drink called la fée verte, (Green fairy) in French, was thought to be highly hallucinative also. Yes, drinking a couple of those today one might see fairies and pirates!
One afternoon, not far from Pirates Alley, we made our way to the Grape Vine Wine Bar and Bistro. We spent a lovely afternoon wine tasting and choosing cheeses from the cheese board. Then we were served large portions of appetizers. I had the crab cakes and they were fabulous. The ambience and service in this bistro is outstanding. With seating indoors or out this was our favorite spot in the old French Quarter.
Another highlight of New Orleans is the WWII National War Museum. Traveling by way of the Canal Streetcar, switching to the St Charles Streetcar, we got off at Lee Circle and walked the rest of the way to the museum. The large museum is separated into different buildings and exhibits. Upon entering the ticket building in the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion we were greeted by veterans who are here every day and volunteer their services at all of the different venues. It was truly inspiring to see so many retired serviceman still giving of their time. Our first stop was the “Train Car Experience” where we boarded a train re-creating the tearful farewells and bittersweet returns of the men and women who went to war. Then we went upstairs to see the “America Goes to War,” “D-Day Invasion of Normandy,” “The Landing Beaches,” and the “D-Day Invasions of the Pacific.” All the exhibits were interactive and very interesting. One of the highlights of the museum was the short movie, “Beyond All Boundaries” produced and narrated by Tom Hanks. The movie is a journey of words and stories of actual WWII participants. The Solomon Victory Theater, where the movie is shown, has a screen 120 feet wide, with 9 digital cinema DPL Projectors. (a regular theater has only one) There are 27 surround sound custom speakers and 250 special effects theater seats that shake when the tanks are rolling by! Many of the props used to make the movie come alive are authentic pieces of equipment. There are 305 archival photographs and 517 film clips of actual footage shot during the war. You will not want to miss this special attraction.
Going outside the exhibits we looked at a WWII Victory Garden complete with posters!
The other feature that I enjoyed was the “USS Tang” experience. Upon entering the submarine we are given actual sailors’ ID cards. Using the ID of the sailor, we were assigned to his station and duty in the sub.
We had an interactive encounter recreating the last war patrol of America’s most decorated submarine in WWII! What a great time we had visiting the museum! There is the Stage Door Canteen and the American Sector Restaurant to eat in and then to wrap up our day we were entertained by the Marine Corps Band of New Orleans, part of the Memorial Day Concert Series. New Orleans has so much to offer; great food and drink, stunning architecture, history and perseverance. I think you will enjoy including NOLA to your list of “Not to Miss.” Enjoy!