Amsterdam!

Maybe it’s because of the frenetic phase of life I am currently in that I find myself thinking and reminiscing about my trip with friends to Amsterdam almost two years ago (my second in a span of a year). There’s just something about the place and the demeanor of the people that made me think what a laid back yet modern city it was.

Or maybe it was because it was the last leg of our 24-day long Eurotrip and we were, to be honest, literally tired from all the travelling and sight-seeing that we were just happy to experience the city like locals and not cram as many tourist spots as possible in our four nights in the city.

We actually realized how long our trip was when upon arriving in Amsterdam, we were greeted by cold gusts of wind – summer had turned into fall! It was so cold in fact, that we couldn’t venture more than a block away from our apartment.

First thing we did after resting? Buy new clothes! Our wardrobe consisted of shorts and summer dresses. We didn’t think we’d need thick jackets and scarves, and the like!

Fortunately for us, our apartment was midway between the touristy places and the grand plaza. So after buying all necessities, we headed off in the other direction to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. I loved both museums and I guess, most other visitors do too, since they are the 1st and 2nd most visited museums in the Netherlands!

What makes the Rijksmuseum even more engaging is that you can download an app and type in the number of the artifact or artwork, and it will give you the description/background, as well as in what part of the museum you are in currently! Now, I am not one to hire tour guides and all because I prefer to roam around at my leisure, and I almost always do prior research so I can zero in on the ones I want to see. So if you’re like me, this app would be perfect for you.

As with other museums in Europe (or the world, for that matter), a lot of the impressive artworks deal with religious themes.

And what can I say aout the Van Gogh Museum? We spent a good three hours or so just looking at his works. I grew up listening to the song Vincent and had always been fascinated with him and his art. It was almost surreal to see in person The Potato Eaters, Bedroom in Arles, and The Yellow House.

Too bad that the Starry Night painting, which I’ve always wanted to see was not there (it’s part of the MoMA in NY’s permanent collection).

And too bad that I don’t have pictures to show you – as you may have read from my Prague posts, my camera conked out so I had to rely on my iphone. Which would have been fine had it not been a victim of one of those IOS upgrades that just didn’t work and had to be reformatted. Net result, I lost all that were in my phone, photos included (it’s not synched with any laptop since the hubby uses the macbook).

Anyway, at least I was able to save these photos! What would a trip to Amsterdam be without posing in front of that I Amsterdam sign!

IMG_4302

IMG_4281
IMG_4280

IMG_4303

Since I’ve been to Amsterdam before, I had a pretty good idea of how to go around. My friends had been dying to see the red light district (for those of you who don’t know, prostitution and marijuana is legal here) and since it was just a few minutes walk from the Dam Square and the Royal Palace, I said, why not?

IMG_4250

It was a downcast day and we had to take shelter for a good hour or so inside one of the shopping malls beside the palace (tip: they have luxury brands there but I got the impression that not too many people shop there, so they have all the hard to find colors), but the walk to the red-light district was nice as it was considerably cooler as well.

It was early afternoon when we got there so only a few establishments were open but we got what we came for – display windows with scantily clad (sometimes half-naked) women peddling their wares. I doubt if we would have had the stomach to see any of the live shows though.

Amsterdam, or the Netherlands for that matter, is built on land reclaimed from the sea so there were lots of canals and bridges connecting the streets. It’s very charming and picturesque – you’d be hard pressed to find a place that’s wasn’t photogenic.

IMG_4253

 

IMG_4254

We were so lazy in Amsterdam that we didn’t even try many restaurants (and for foodies like us, trying new restos is a must when traveling) – we found the nearest pub near our apartment, Cafe Berkhout, liked the food, and stuck with it the entire trip. We felt like locals sitting in what had become our usual table. In fact, we were there so often that we even figured out the shifting schedule of the servers! Hahaha!

Cafe Berkhout offers mainly burgers, fries and chips  which you chase down with beer. You can’t go wrong with their burgers which were so big my friend and I always had to share. And I was quite proud for trying the Kinkey bitter lemon which soon became one of our favorite drinks (along with red wine, of course).

IMG_4307IMG_4309IMG_4305

What contributed also to our memorable Amsterdam trip was our gorgeous apartment, which we found through Airbnb. To be honest, prior to this trip, I have never tried their services. It was more expensive than our other hotels and apartments (2nd only to our flat in Paris which was a stone’s throw from the Louvre) but we enjoyed our stay so much and our host, Maria, was so gracious. We stayed at the ground floor of her house which had two bedrooms, a dining and living room (complete with its well-stocked espresso machine), a full-service kitchen and even its own private garden overlooking the canals!

IMG_4237

IMG_4238

IMG_4241

IMG_4242

Too bad that it was raining almost the entire time that we didn’t get to have our planned picnic in the backyard; I did get to experience sleeping underneath the stars, and LIGHTNING, as the 2nd room near the canal had clear glass ceilings!

Advertisements

Prague Castle

Surely by now, you all know how much I love my palaces and castles. I can never get enough of them. And when you’re thisclose to the biggest ancient castle complex in the world, well, you need not waste the opportunity, right?

Prague Castle actually holds that distinction according to the Guinness Book of Records. It’s practically a mini-city unto itself, with its own church(es), palace, village, mansions and gardens all within its walls. It’s even perched on an elevated parcel of land overlooking the city of Prague with its thousand spires and the Vlatava river nearby.

IMG_4193Like with everything in Prague, the first word that came to mind when I saw the spires jutting out against the sky was this: mysterious. Whereas Paris reminded me of the glamour and glitz of royalty, Prague brought to mind the mystery of the olden times, like secret societies, and pagan rituals, and medieval wars.

It’s the stuff you only see in epic movies, except that it’s for real.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Prior to our visit, I must confess that I knew nothing about the castle, except that it ranks high in our to do list. So I was expecting the building so familiar in all Prague postcards and towering above the complex to be the royal residence (or, in modern times, the presidential residence). But lo and behold, it was actually the Cathedral of Saint Vitus.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe St. Vitus Cathedral (or more properly, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Vitus, Wenceslau and Adalbert since its rededication in 1997) is the biggest church in the country, although since it is a part of the Prague castle complex, it is owned by the government, instead of the Roman Catholic Church. The church itself was founded in 930, but the current structure of the cathedral was built starting 1344. Quite luckily, its patrons included Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor; he wanted the new cathedral not just to be the resting place of St. Wenceslau (a former duke of Bohemia and patron saint of the state), but also to serve as a coronation place and family crypt. The original architect, Matthias of Arras, drew its initial plans and layout but upon his death, Peter Parler and his sons took over the construction.

It is quite interesting to note that Peter Parler practically designed the Prague that we now know today since he was also commissioned to construct the Charles Bridge, among many other projects.

The cathedral is extremely beautiful and grand, and if Charles IV’s goal was to build something fit for royalty, then he succeeded. I was in awe of the exterior, with its many turrets and ironworks dotted with gold. Its design, particularly the facade and rooftop, reminded me of the St. Stephen in Vienna, and upon doing a bit of research, I found out that members of Parler’s family and group took part in its construction as well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInside, you can’t help but feel insignificant amidst all the grandeur. What sets apart St. Vitus Cathedral from others I’ve seen in Europe is that there were so many well-maintained sculptures, not just occupying obvious places of honor, but adorning just about every pillar or corner of the cathedral. Parler was a sculptor and his unique background as such influenced the overall feel of the cathedral. The big, stained glass windows, which followed a lighter color scheme than most churches I’ve seen, also made the place decidedly more cheerful and airy than its somber counterparts in other cities.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I mentioned earlier that I associate Prague with mystery and the Cathedral is no exception. What probably even reinforced the thought in my mind is that while the structure is primarily a church, there are so many items inside that seems to me a display of a morbid fascination with death. Occupying the eastern end, for example, is a white marble effigy of Ferdinand I, his wife Anna, and their son Maximilian II, which stands guard to the Royal Mausoleum – where a crypt of kings lies underneath…
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

… And of course, you cannot miss the silver tomb of Saint John of Nepomuk. Created in the early 18th century by J. Wurth, it is said to be the single biggest silver object in the whole world. At 20 tonnes, I imagine that claim must be true.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are so many artworks inside that were it not for an eerie sense of morbidity, it would have felt like walking around a museum. The pulpit, with its gold trimmings, paintings, and sculpted cherubs, is one of the prettiest I have seen, even though it is much smaller compared with others.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are 24 chapels inside the Cathedral, but perhaps the most beautiful and significant is the St. Wenceslau Chapel, with its lower walls inlaid with semi-precious stones, and paintings dating from the early 16th century. The chapel leads to a small room where the Czech crown jewels are kept, although of course, it is not open to the public. There are seven locks to open this room, with each of the seven keys given to different high-ranking officials including the president. All seven would need to be present to open the hihly protected room. No wonder, as the Czech crown jewels – which includes St. Wenceslaus’s crown (a roughly 2.5 kg gold crown with sapphires, spinels, and pearls), scepter, and sword – are the fourth oldest in Europe, and while it has outlived its function as coronation jewels, they still serve as symbols of the independence and grandeur of the Bohemian kingdom.

I found it very amazing that the chapel (like the entire cathedral), was very well-maintained. Indeed, the paintings were still so vivid and I could not detect any missing stones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeside the cathedral is the Saint George Basicilica, the oldest church building inside the castle. It was initially founded in 920, but after huge fires and other calamities, it was finally rebuilt in the late 17th century with the Baroque facade we see today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Whereas the cathedral nearby had an air of opulence about it, the basilica was somber and austere, more functional than ceremonial. It served as the resting place of members of the Premyslid family (Bohemian royal family; through relations wih them, the Habsburgs and House of Luxembourg claimed their respective titles to the crown), until 1055.

Perhaps the only colorful parts of the church are the crypts and portions of the choir with the Romanesque frescoes.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Well, the church is indeed somber and quite empty, so it makes perfect sense that it is a favorite venue for concerts – the acoustics inside must be heavenly.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Okay, it’s not that I am particularly drawn to crypts, burial places, and other eerie places, but why is it that I often find myself alone and separated from other tourists when visiting such places? Anyway, I was touring the interior of the basilica when I chanced upon the Roman crypt. It was so quiet and serene, but it gave me a seriour case of goosebumps. The soft lighting didn’t help, either.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur Prague Castle ticket actually came with an itinerary of sorts, with the various attractions numbered and labelled in a small map at the back to serve as guide. Of course, it depends on which ticket you get – you can opt to visit just what interests you.

We had allocated the entire day to visit the castle, so we went to our next stop: the Powder Tower and the Golden Lane. We didn’t dwell too much in the Tower but spent time going through each of the small but colorful houses built in the Mannerism style alongside the walls of the castle. These tiny quarters used to house the castle marksmen who guarded the castle, who lived there with their families. The street got its name from the goldsmiths who lived there, although the name may have also been derived from stories of the alchemists hired by the mad King Rudolph to try and turn lead into gold.

The second level of some of the houses had been joined to showcase medieval armoury. I think this is the biggest such display I have come across in Europe, with all those rows of empty full-body armors and weapons.

Some of the houses had been converted into souvenir shops. I found an antique chess set which I wanted to buy but was too scared to do so. Who knows what history that chess set holds? But perhaps the house that brought me the most goosebumps was the house of an old lady who could see the future – she had a son who died in the war but she kept the house exactly how he left it, hoping he would return.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe ended our tour by gazing up the presidential palace. Unlike most of the castles and palaces in Europe which have lost their official functions and have been turned into mere tourist spots, museums, or private hotels, Prague Castle still serves as the residence of the president.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There is a curious bronze statue outside the courtyard of Supreme Burgrave, simply called Youth (Mládí), by Czech artist Miloš Zet. As per tradition, touching a body part of a statue brings good luck (such as Juliet’s breasts in Verona, Italy). Can you guess which body part of this statue is most frequently touched? 😛

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is also a toy museum inside the complex which, I read, is the second largest toy exhibit in the world. We didn’t get to explore this anymore (tbh, I get scared of old toys; it’s like they would come alive anytime).
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking around the entire complex pretty much took us the entire day and we could barely trudge on so we followed all those other tourists sitting by the wall overloong the city. And to make the experience even more memorable, I got some Trdelník, a local pastry which derived its name from the Trdlo, the stick around which the dough is wrapped and then grilled. It is then coated with sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts for added flavor. I loved it!

It gave me just enough sugar to fuel me for the walk back to our hotel.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd while munching our trdelník, we marveled at this view:
IMG_4204Pictures don’t do justice to Prague. That, or I really need to buy a really nice camera and practice my photography. My mirrorless camera avtually died on me during our second day in Prague: courtesy of me cramming my camera with my water bottle and other stuff.

Oh, and I dorgot to mention that there is a wide expanse of royal gardens surrounding the castle, filled with tall trees and freshly trimmed grass. I loved how quiet and secluded it was.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI would have loved to show you more sights in the complex such as the Vlatislav Hall, where the public events are held but unfortunately, I was being a good tourist and obeyed the sign that said picture taking not allowed – only to find fellow tourists unabashedly taking photos!  Also, my camera was quite useless by then.

For those of you who love jewelry, the Czech Republic is known for garnets, its national gem. There is a gift shop inside the main building which sells Czech garnet jewelry, at a fraction of what it costs here. I was eyeing a pendant there but another woman beat me to it. Too bad but makes for a perfect excuse to visit again, no?

Prague: Old Town/Stare Mesto

Located in the Stare Mesto or Old Town, the Staromestske Namesti/Old Town Square of Prague is one of the oldest and most beautiful in all of Europe –it almost feels unreal, like you’ve stepped into a dream or a fairy tale set many centuries ago. Tracing its roots all the way back to the 12th century as the main marketplace of Prague, it boasts of a collection of architectural styles: Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic structures stand side by side in harmony. It used to be separated from the rest of the city by a moat connected to the Vltava river and a wall; the moat has since been covered up and turned into streets when Charles IV expanded the city with the addition of the Nove Mesto or New Town.

IMG_4216

Coming from the Vltava side, the first thing you would notice is the gothic Church of Our Lady Before Tyn which dominates one side of the square with its twin spires. Commissioned by the rich merchants who lived in the Old Town in the latter part of the 14th century, it got its name from the Tyn Courtyard right next to it, so the name is to be taken quite literally.

It has a colorful history, reflective of the many religious and political upheavals in Prague during the middle ages. At one point in the 15th century, it became a Hussite place of worship and the center of the Reformed Church, and the cross was replaced by the symbol of the Hussite Church – a huge golden chalice, and a statue of the only Hussite King, George of Podedrad. When the church was taken over by the Jesuits, this chalice was melted and replaced by a statue of Mary.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finding the entrance to the church is quite hard – you have to pass through several establishments as the church is located behind smaller buildings. The interior is predominantly baroque in style and I must confess, the sheer number and size of religious statues, paintings and other ornate structures made out of gold and precious metals and stones left me mesmerized. It has perhaps the most concentrated number of priceless artifacts in any of the places I’ve been to, and that made me understand why picture taking was prohibited.

Legend has it that this church inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. I guess it’s a toss up between this and Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle, which has a more wholesome image; while I find the Tyn Church magical, especially when set against the dark sky, there’s also some sort of mystery or foreboding about it that doesn’t quite fit in with anything Disney.

IMG_4236

The church, at night, radiates mystery even as it is illuminated by the moon and the various street lamps around it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Off to the far right side of the Tyn Church is a group of old buildings – past this is the upscale shopping district where you can find luxury brands.

Historic and beautiful churches aside, perhaps the most fascinating structure in the square is the Old Town Hall Tower with its Astronomical clock. The Tower was built in 1338, and in 1364, was joined to the private house beside it. This private house in turn, was joined to the next and so on, until the entire complex became known as the Old Town Hall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Old Town Hall

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Astronomical Clock, or Orloj, was added to one side of the Old Town Hall Tower in 1410, and is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world, and the oldest one still working. The inner blue circle of the astronomical dial has golden Roman numerals around it, indicating the local time in Prague. The golden curves dividing the circle into twelve parts reflect variations for when days become longer or shorter, depending on the time of the year. The calendar plate at the bottom shows which zodiac sign currently reigns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are four figures flanking the astronomical dial, two on each side: Vanity (a man looking at himself in the mirror), Miser (with a bag of gold representing greed), Death (a skeleton), and the Turk (a man telling stories of pleasure). Every hour a small trapdoor opens and Christ marches ahead of his Apostles, while the skeleton tolls the bell. A golden rooster crowing followed by the ringing of the bell atop the tower signals the end of this spectacle.

The baroque church of St. Nicholas can also be found in the square, perpendicular to the location of the Tyn Church and the Town Hall. We actually almost missed it since it is rather unassuming, and it was closed during our visit (it was actually boarded up and the heat made us turn back rather than inquire about its business hours). Quite new compared with the other buildings in the area (completed in 1735), it also hosts various concerts, even during winter. We actually would have gone to one, but we all fell asleep early (blame it on our cumulative tiredness – Prague was our fourth as a group, and my fifth).

On our way back to our hotel (which was right smack in the Old Town), we decided to look for this unique attraction in Prague: the man hanging out sculpture. Made of bronze-colored fiberglass by artist David Cerny in 1996, it depicts Sigmund Freud pondering whether to hold on or let go, symbolic of his life-long fear of death.

To be honest, if you are not familiar with this sculpture, you would probably cry out in alarm upon seeing a man in an apparent suicide attempt (or a very strange accident). The fact that it is located in a quiet neighborhood of the Stare Mesto makes it all the more unexpected.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve always heard of how beautiful the Old Town Square is, and Prague in general, so I had high expectations. As it turned out, my expectations weren’t high enough. It was just too beautiful it felt almost magical. I felt like I should have worn a form-fitting dress with a balloon skirt and petticoats and twirled round and round in the middle of the plaza. But of course, all I had on was a summer dress and it was rather too hot to be doing any twirling.

Prague: Charles Bridge and the Infant Jesus of Prague

If I have to sum up my entire visit to Prague in one word, it would be romantic. It is so beautiful and so firmly entrenched in the past that you cannot but view it with none other than rose-colored glasses. And one cannot deny that it seems shrouded in mystery, like most of its sister countries in the Carpathians.

Or maybe it’s just me – I tend to associate this region with my never-ending fascination with vampiric lore (way before Twilight, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries made it cool), given that Dracula lives in the mountains of the Carpathians and I will forever think of it in terms of magic and everything unreal.

Anyway, the historical/tourist area of Prague is quite small – you can reach all on foot or for the walking-averse set, take a short tram ride. I recommend the former as the experience is just all the more worthwhile and you get to see the lovely sidestreets and locals going about their daily routine. And as I mentioned, it is very compact.

The city is divided into two main parts, each sitting on one bank of the river Vlatava – the Lesser Town or Mala Strana, where Prague Castle is located, and the Old Town or Stare Mesto, where the town square with the famous astronomical clock is. Linking the two sides of Prague is one of the most famous bridges in the world – Charles Bridge or Karluv Most. There are many other bridges linking the two, of course, but none of them quite reached the importance of the Charles Bridge, which was, until 1841, the only means of crossing the Vlatava. Sidenote: Most actually means bridge in the local language and I finally figured this out after looking at our map and seeing this label on all the bridges.

Commisioned by King Charles IV to replace the old Judith Bridge which collapsed during the flood in 1342, construction on the Charles Bridge began in 1357, with the king’s favourite architect Peter Parler overseeing the work. According to legend, egg yolks were used in the construction of the bridge and that King Charles himself laid the first stone at a specific time because of his strong belief in numerology and that this would render the bridge with more strength. Considering that the bridge is now 700 years old and has survived countless wars, revolts, and yes, floods, there might be some credence to those beliefs after all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The bridge is more than half a kilometer long and entrance to it is marked by three towers – two on the Mala Strana side and one on the Stare Mesto side. The Old Town bridge, completed in 1380 and which serves as the entrance to the Stare Mesto, is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture with sculptures by Peter Parler adorning its facade. Climbing the 138 steps to the gallery allows you to have unobstructed views of the bridge from the top, as well as the Prague Castle on the other side of the Vlatava. Too bad though, that when we were there, we either get there too early or too late for the opening of the gate so I wasn’t able to climb up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Lesser Town Bridge, on the hand, serves as the entrance to the quieter side of Prague – the Mala Strana. It was built later than the Old Town Bridge, in the first half of the 15th century during King George’s rule. Visitors can likewise climb up the tower, this time for views of the Old Town from across the Vlatava.

If you look at the tower closely, you will notice that there is actually a smaller tower connected to it by a walkway – the Judith Tower, which is the only surviving part of the old Prague bridge.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Initially just a simple bridge with just a crucifix in the middle, baroque statues were placed during the 17th century, when such themes became prevalent. The 75 statues on the bridge are now all replicas – the original ones are now so badly damaged that they’ve been taken down and kept on display at the Lapidarium.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Both sides of the bridge are fascinating but the Mala Strana, an old marketplace which began its life in the 8th century (!), is less crowded and in my opinion less commercialized – there are various cafes and shops showcasing works by local artists as well as jewelry stores with oh-so-lovely pieces in silver and lovely blood-red garnet, which is the official national gem. And pretty cheap too! When I checked in some of our jewelry stores here in Manila, they were all ridiculously priced that I now wish I’d hoarded garnet jewelry during my trip.

Oh well, there is always a next time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And I can’t get over how clean the entire city was. Usually, old towns such as this would reek of horse urine and the like but I was surprised to see water tanks regularly drizzling the cobblestoned streets with clean water.

We visited the Mala Strana quite a number of times – first was to go to the Prague Castle (more on that later), and several to visit the Church of Our Lady Victorious and the miraculous image of the Infant Jesus of Prague.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Church of Our Lady Victorious, while seemingly austere on the outside, is the first Baroque church in Prague, built in 1613. It was originally called the Church of the Holy Trinity and was supposed to be used by the German Lutherans. It was given to the Carmelites in 1620 as a sign of gratitute for their victory in the Battle of the White Mountain, and the church was rebuilt and its orientation changed tot he form we see today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The exact history of the statue is not known but its first appearance was in 1556, when the statue was brought from Spain to the Kingdom of Bohemia (of which the Czech Republic used to be part of) by Spanish princess Maria Manriquez de Lara y Mendoza upon her marriage to the Czech nobleman Vratislav. It is said that the statue was a gift from St. Terese of Avila to her mother; she later gave it to her own daughter Princess Polyxena, who in turn donated it to the Carmelite Friars in 1628.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The 19-inch statue is made of wax-coated wood with it lower part encased in silver; it is similar to other sculptures of the Infant Jesus brought by Spanish missionaries to their conquered lands – it resembles the Sto. Nino de Cebu, itself a venerated statue in the Philippines.

Various miracles have been attributed to the statue – most notably for saving the entire city from plague and invasions, when entire armies would inexplicably withdraw their armies after the city prayed in front of the alter of the infant Jesus.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are many devotees to the Infant Jesus and there is a room off to the side of the alter where various presents from its devotees are showcased. Perhaps the most famous of this is the garment sewn by the Empress Maria Theresa.

I spied a number of presents from fellow Filipinos in the glass cabinets – indeed, I felt immense pride upon learning that the choir (we attended the Sunday mass at the church during our trip) is mostly composed of Pinoys. And there were many Pinoys attending the Holy Mass with us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I am not really fond of religious statues (except for the rosary and the crucifix) but I bought a small Sto. Nino for our little home. I felt so blessed visiting this Church and quite touched that the Mass was well  attended.

Vienna: Merry go round

There are so many things to see and do in Vienna that we barely scratched the surface with just three whole days. A good thing that our Varsi friends Gizelle and Harold took the time to tour us around the city the entire time!

On our first day, since we were still a bit tired from our overnight train from Milan, we just stayed close to our hotel  and walked around our neighborhood. We’ve been lucky so far in all our hotel bookings, and so all we had to do was step out our hotel and voila – the St. Stephensplatz was at our doorstep.

Just a few more paces and we found ourselves looking up at the Hofburg Palace, the former imperial winter palace. It is now the official residence and workplace of the Austrian president.

It is a very grand structure composed of many buildings and halls, and though it occupies a massive amount of space and the architecture is by no means inferior, it is still less imposing than the Louvre or Versailles in France, and I couldn’t help but wonder that it also seems to be very open to the public. I mean, there were uniformed guards and all, but the palace grounds were pretty much accessible to everyone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, Vienna is also home to many famous musicians, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of them. It’s no surprise then to find a statue of Mozart occupying prime space in the Burggarten (imperial garden) of the Hofburg Palace.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I am not sure how many miles a day we walked in Vienna but the weather was always perfect for strolling that I didn’t really mind. In one of our excursions, we also viewed the Karlskirche, or St. Charles’s Church, which can be found near the southern end of the Karlsplatz, one of the plazas or squares abundant in the city, and which is just next to St. Stephansplatz. Built in the early 18th century under the patronage of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in honor of his namesake saint Charles Borromeo, it is considered the most outstanding baroque church in all of Vienna.

It is very pretty, especially at night when the long reflecting pool in front of it casts a somewhat luminous glow on it. I was too busy looking at it (and tired from walking) that I forgot to take a photo of it at night. My bad.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We didn’t really have time to go to a museum in Vienna (we did spy the Mumok), other than visit one of the exhibits, but their museum square is something that I was really fascinated with – side by side are plenty of museums, galleries, and exhibition halls.

In the open area between museums is a large square where various art installations are displayed. There is also a dipping pool where a lot of locals and tourists alike rest their tired feet. I was so tempted to splash around!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We also found these two pretty girls providing free entertainment – I forgot from which country these girls were from, but they told us they’re aspiring singers and they are practising by singing here at the museum plaza. I love the gypsy/country vibe they had going, and the brunette had quite a unique style in singing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Vienna is probably one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to, and I can easily understand now why it’s been at the top of most livable cities list – aside from its obvious beauty, it has a rich culture and history, and a deep appreciation for the arts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

One our our last stops before we headed to our next city was the Donauturm (Danube Tower), the tallest structure in Austria. It was opened to the public after 18 months of construction, in time for the Viennese International Horticultural Show in 1964, and is located in the middle of the  Donaupark, itself built to host the horticultural fair.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I love the wide expanse dedicated to public gardens! I could live here and be perfectly happy…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have a fear of heights so it took a lot of gulping and praying before I got the courage to ride the high speed elevator (35 seconds to go up 150 meters!) all the way to the viewing deck of the tower and while my knees turned to jelly and I could barely hold my camera in my hands (I was shaking so badly my knees almost buckled), the sweeping views of the city was more than worth it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are also two revolving restaurants at the top of the tower and we were lucky that the place wasn’t full – we waited for only a couple of minutes before we got a cozy table which afforded us different views of the city at every turn. It was my first time at a revolving restaurant (I have yet to try our very own here in Manila) and I loved it! I mean, the food was great and where else can you get such  unobstructed views of one of the most beautiful cities in the world?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My travel buddies. We were tired but very happy! So long, farewell Vienna! Until we meet again!

Vienna is probably one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to, and I can easily understand now why it’s been at the top of most livable cities list – aside from its obvious beauty, it has a rich culture and history, and a deep appreciation for the arts.

Vienna: St. Stephen’s Cathedral

In most of the European cities I’ve been to, the center of activity revolves around the parish church, or cathedral, if the city has been declared a diocese and this proves true as well in Vienna, perhaps even more so, since the main shopping and cultural area of the city is located in the Saint Stephansplatz, where the Saint Stephen Cathedral (or Stephensdom in German) is located.

Consecrated in 1147, it was hardly the oldest church in Vienna; however, recent excavations inside the cathedral revealed graves that have been carbon-dated to the 4th century, suggesting that it may have stood on an even older religious building. It was named after Saint Stephen, tthe earliest known martyr of Christianity, stoned to death on accusations of the Jewish authorities. Trivia: Saul was one of the witnesses at his death, when he still believed that he was serving God by persecuting Christians; he later converted after witnessing a bright light on his way to Damascus, converting into the saint we now know as Paul.

The building is of limestone, which over the years has been covered by soot and dust; recent restorations have brought it back to its original white. The south tower of the cathedral, called steffl by the the people. stands at 136 meters, and was used as an observation and command post for the city, and at one point even had an apartment for the watchmen.

10570338_10202546817337176_2636779604425613863_n

I realized I didn’t have a full shot of the cathedral (I wanted to climb on top of one of the nearby buildings), so I grabbed this wonderful shot from my friend, Gizelle. Photo credit goes to her. 🙂

The roof of the church, on the other hand, is made of ornately designed glazed tiles, forming the Royal and Imperial double-headed eagle and the coat of arms of Vienna on one side. It’s quite steep and I’ve read that due to this, only the rain cleans it every now and then. I wonder how they built it though and how many accidents must have happened! And I can’t believe that one point, this church was in fact ordered to be razed to the ground along with the rest of the city when the Germans were retreating during World War II; thankfully, Captain Gerhard Klinkicht disobeyed orders and left the church intact.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANear the entrance to the catacombs is the church’s original pulpit, the Capistran Chancel, where St. John Capistrano preached to a crusade to fight the invading Muslims in the mid-15th century. It shows St. Francis stepping on a defeated Turk, with a sunburst above his head.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur hotel was located just a stone’s throw away from the Cathedral (to our pleasant surprise), but I didn’t get to go inside until our last day. My friends and I decided to split up (we couldn’t agree whether to go shopping or touring; my friend Leah and I chose the latter but ended in different destinations), and I as on an amazing race to tour the entire church in less than an hour. Tip: when pressed for time, avoid the guided tour and rent those headsets for a couple of euros. Both are extremely organized and I was surprised that such a well detailed and organized guide could be rented so cheaply (so I donated a couple more euros to the church’s coffers).

I was awed by the number of carvings and the fact that for an old church, it didn’t smell musty. I could tell that this church is frequented by Catholics and tourists alike, judging from the number of lit candles as well as the long row of tourist waiting to get in to tour the cathedral, or the catacombs underneath. I would have gone to see the latter but after my experience in Milan, I didn’t want to go by myself (never mind that I spied a lot of tourists going down the stairwell leading into the catacombs).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am no architecture major (though the thought did cross my mind at one point), but I have come to realize that thick posts are easily identifiable features of Gothic architecture and while this is common in many churches in Europe, St. Stephen’s is embellished by colorful statues of saints in ornately carved alcoves, albeit some of them have faded a bit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt also boasts of a huge organ, though not that old at only a litle over half a century.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe high altar of the cathedral is perhaps the first thing that would draw a visitor, since it is right in the middle and you just can’t tear yourself away from the magnificent paintings and carvings. It shows the stoning of St. Stephen, surrounded by figures of four saints and a statue of Mary on top. And I must say the stained glass windows are also very vibrant and lovely to look at.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are many objects inside the cathedral which I found very interesting, not the least of which is this stone pulpit. I’ve seen many grand pulpits in Europe but this probably takes the cake in the way the sculptor paid attention to the tiniest detail – even the portions not easily seen by a casual observer was not spared. It shows the faces of the four doctors of the church: St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Gregory the Great and St. Jerome).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat I even found more interesting is that the rails going up the pulpit had carvings of frogs and lizards fighting each other; I later found out that this was a symbol of the fight between good and evil. At the top of the stairs, there is even a puppy to protect the preachers (how cute is that!).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven the baptismal fount was TDF!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI normally find it creepy whenever I see tombs in conspicuous places inside churches, never mind that it is undoubtedly a great honor to be buried inside a church. While this one is no exception, I can’t help but agree that if I had a tomb this beautiful, I would want the whole world to see it too, which is probably what the church officials where thinking when they put Emperor Frederick III’s tomb on display, during whose reign, in 1469, Vienna was finally declared a diocese.

Such a massive tomb took 45 years to complete, beginning more than two decades prior to his death. It is made of red stone and depicts the emperor in his coronation regalia.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe tomb of Prince Eugene of Savoy (I first wrote about him in my post Belvedere Castle) is also located inside the cathedral, In the Chapel of the Cross, but this is off limits to the public. The Ducal Crypt, located under the chancel of the cathedral, is also the final resting place of 72 members of the Habsburg family.

Saving the best for last, is perhaps my favorite piece in all the church – the Wiener Neustadter Altar which was originally used in the Cistercian Viktring Abbey, and later the monastery of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, until it was finally sold to the cathedral in 1885. Ordered by Emperor Frederick III, tt is just so beautiful, with the double triptych opening up to reveal gilded wooden figures of Mary. When the panels are closed (during weekdays), it shows a painting of 72 saints.

It’s a retablo and triptych all rolled into one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are so many beautiful churches in Europe and it is getting hard to play favorites; I had always thought the Notre Dame in Paris would be the clear winner in my books but with more than ten cities and seven countries visited in the continent, I am now not so sure. Each of them have unique features that distinguish them, and make them works of art.

Vienna: The Pursuit of the Sacher Torte

Vienna may be famous for music but there is one other thing it is famous for: the sacher torte, aka the most famous chocolate cake in the whole world. So famous in fact, that December 5 has been designated as National Sachertorte Day.

The sachertorte actually has royal beginnings. Back in 1832, Prince Wenzel von Metternich asked his chef to come up with a special dessert for his royal guests and the chef’s young apprentice, Franz Sacher, came up with this chocolate cake.

It didn’t immediately gain the fame it would later have until Franz’ son, Eduard, tweaked and perfected the torte during his training at the Demel bakery where it was first served, and later on at the Hotel Sacher, which was established by Eduard.

Anyway, now the torte is served in various cafes and pastry shops all over Vienna and my friends and I set out to eat just about all the versions of it that our tummies could handle. First stop: Aida.

Aida is quite hard to miss as there are almost three dozen shops all over. Its pastel pink interiors with its name written in big cursive letters and the undeniable scent of confectioner’s sugar and coffee drifting out of its windows stand out amidst all those historical buildings.

I am quite a predictable coffee drinker in that I prefer the traditional flavours – which is probably why I felt right at home there: I got myself a nice cup of cappuccino to wake me up for our 1st morning in Vienna, and a fruity tart to go with it. Coffee was good, not outstanding but I could definitely get used to it.

IMG_4126We also tried their apfelstrudel (apple pie), which was quite different from the apple pies I’m used to; it was starchy and not overflowing with crunchy apples. But with a nice scoop cream, it more than made me a happy camper.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAida is famous for its wide array of tortes (or cakes), and since we were in in Vienna, why not try their version of the sachertorte? And at the risk of sounding cliche, we also tried the Mozart Torte, a dark chocolate sponge cake with nougat and pistacchio marzipan all topped with fondant icing. It even had a chocolate button with Mozart’s profile on it!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur quest for the sachertorte didn’t end at Aida. We also tried the sachertorte at the Gloriette of the Schonbrunn, which tasted okay, though I found it a bit too dry for my taste.

IMG_4131As I mentioned earlier,the recipe for the sachertorte was perfected by Eduard during his training at Demel so I knew we had to find this bakery. It took as a bit of going around side streets and alleyways with hard to read much less pronounce names, but thanks to our trusty trip advisor app, we found it a few blocks away from our hotel at the St. Stephensplatz.

Now, there had been legal battles surrounding the sachertorte – after all, Eduard served it in his Hotel Demel (which later filed for bankruptcy) while the “original sachertorte” was offered by Demel. When his widow Anna died and the Hotel Demel filed for bankruptcy, his son Eduard (yeah, same name) became an employee at Demel, bringing with him the right for the Eduard Sachertorte. Anyway, the two establishments slugged it out in court until they finally settled it by letting the Hotel Sacher have the rights to use “the original sachertorte” while Demel was given the rights to put triangular seals on their cakes bearing the words “Eduard Sachertorte.”

Demel was packed! I don’t remember anymore if there was a third floor, but we found ourselves sharing a small table at the 2nd floor of the building. And of course, we got the sachertorte and apfelstrudel. Their version of the former had one layer of jam between the chocolate icing and sponge portion. It’s not your usual chocolate cake, since it is not fluffy or chocolatey sweet but rather dense and has a light tinge of bitter cocoa that saves it from being overwhelming.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe apfelstrudel at Demel was better than at Aida’s, perhaps because I found it had more apples and had a nice sprinkling of powdered sugar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince we’ve tried just about all versions of the sachertorte in Vienna, we couldn’t let our visit end without going to the Hotel Sacher now, can we?

The Hotel Sacher, a five-star hotel in the vicinity of the plaza, serves sachertortes that are made using the secret recipe that Franz Sacher created almost two hundred years ago. Hundreds of thousands of sachertortes are made almost entirely by hand by its staff every year, to be served in its cafes and restaurants, or bought as souvenirs. They also accept orders (even online!) which can be shipped to various cities all over the world.

IMG_4140This version of the famous cake has not one but two layers of jam compared which I loved, since it broke the monotony of too much chocolate. I also found it fluffier and more moist (at least as moist a cake in Vienna could probably get), and therefore, more to my liking. IMG_4139Well, of all the sachertortes I’ve tasted, I’d give my money to Hotel Sacher, since I prefer the taste of their chocolate (dark and smoother) and their fluffier sponge cake. Plus, the ambience is perfect for catching up with friends without the crowd.

Now, I wonder if they ship to Manila? 😀

Vienna: Volksgarten

Walking around the city for the first time and wandering around the many gardens and plazas, I had to admit that yes, Vienna is as wonderful as they make it out to be and those surveys constantly naming it as one of the best cities to live in (if not the best) are all telling the truth. More than the palaces that are works of art themselves, I loved the public parks, especially the Volksgarten, or People’s Garden, where anyone can just sit to smell the roses, quite literally.

The Volksgarten, built in the early 19th century over the old city fort that was destroyed by Napoleon’s army, was originally envisioned as a private garden for the imperial family. Thankfully, these plans were scrapped in favor of turning it into the first public garden in the city.

One of the highlights of the park is the Theseus Temple by Pietro di Nobile, a miniature version of a temple of Hephaestus in Athens. It originally housed a scuplture of Theseus and the Minotaur by Antonio Canova, which has since been missing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The park is also known for its very pretty rose garden. I love roses, as you may have noticed and I could have stayed in this garden the entire time just looking at them and inhaling their delicate scent. And the roses are so many and so big, I was almost tempted to pick one!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI even found a purple rose near the yellow roses. But the pink ones are the biggest I have ever seen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The garden is also home to two monuments, one for Empress Elisabeth of Bavaria and another for writer Karl Grillparzer. There are also two fountains in the middle of the garden, one showing Triton and the Nymph and another simply called the Volksgarten Fountain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Hofburg Buildings, of which the garden is a part of, can be seen from its rose gardens.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There were many people at the garden that afternnon but the park was still big enough that we never felt crowded or that its tranquility was lost; plus, it was very clean, there were a lot benches (and mind you, they weren’t rusty at all)  and the flower beds well-maintained – I guess a big part of this is due to the discipline of the people. I never saw anyone trying to pick flowers or littering, or downright just making a ruckus. It was very romantic and all those beautiful flowers around you make it seem even more perfect than it already was.

Vienna: Belvedere Castle

Being the imperial capital and home of the Habsburg dynasty, Vienna doesn’t run out of historic palaces and castles. One of these castles is the Belvedere, which was built as the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy in the early 18th century. He commissioned court architect Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt to build his castle on a then undeveloped piece of property in the city.

The castle actually has two buildings – the lower and upper Belvedere. The two structures are quite different from each other, with the Upper Belvedere serving as the grander of the the two, with statues of cherubs and muses adorning its roof.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The Upper Belvedere

I didn’t get to see the interior of the castle (I doubt if my feet could have done it as my friends and I had been walking all over the city the entire day) but the garden which separates the two buildings sure made up for it. The garden unmistakably has a French flair to it – and after researching a bit on it later on did I learn that it had elements designed for it by a former student of Andre Le Notre, the landscape architect and chief gardener of King Louis IV of France, who most famously designed the gardens of Versailles.

This one is on a much smaller scale and you can circle the garden in our hour; although of course, to enjoy it, you would have to spend endless hours.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe castle gardens remind me of classic childhood literature, somewhere along the lines of The Secret Garden, it’s quite small compared to Versaille or Schonbrunn, but that’s part of its charm. It doesn’t look so intimidating or so out of touch when you can see end to end with your bare eyes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love flowers! I’ve been torn about staying in a condo or buying a house somewhere in the suburbs precisely because I want my own garden, as big as I can possibly afford.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Lower Belvedere looks a bit drab compared to its more grandiose sibling, the Upper Belvedere.

There are not that many people in the castle, perhaps because we visited very late in the afternoon, which makes it perfect for when you just want to slow down while touring the city. I wouldn’t mind exploring the various rooms and exhibitions inside when I visit next time.

The Duomo di Milano

The Italian word duomo means cathedral, but when you hear the word, your thoughts would automatically go to the Duomo di Milano and with good reason: it is the fifth largest church in the world and second largest cathedral, and perhaps the best known cathedral (or duomo). It also took almost 500 years to complete, with contruction started back in the late 14th century. We actually have to thank Napoleon Bonaparte for speeding up the completion of its facade, since he wanted the cathedral completed before his coronation as king of Italy – to this end, he proclaimed that all expenses will be shouldered by the treasury of France. Needless to say, with the guarantee of reimbursement, construction was completed in less than a decade.

The duomo stands out from other churches I’ve been to because of the Candoglia marble facade. Plus, it has many turrets and spires instead of towers, and many marble statues adorning its walls, entrances, and many corners. However, you can tell that construction was never really finished as there are still blank blocks waiting to be carved into gargoyles or statues.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is a very beautiful building whether you visit it early morning with little light coming from the sun just rising from the horizon, or midday with the full light of the sun almost making the church too bright for the naked eye, or evening with the soft light from the nearby lampposts rendering it almost ethereal against a backdrop of dark skies.

It’s quite romantic, minus the crowd that never seems to dissipate.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI used to think that those movies showing tourists feeding flocks of pigeon at the piazza were exaggerations until I got to experience it myself. There are many sellers who will try to sell bread for you to feed the pigeons with but my friends and I brought our own and this made them a bit upset and some of them got quite rude. It’s a good thing there were five of us so we just huddled together and walked away whenever the sellers would try to approach us.
IMG_4073The side of the duomo reminds me of the Notre Dame in Paris, maybe because of the similar window panels.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMassive as it is on the outside, it feels even bigger inside given the floor to ceiling height. And the thick marble pillars all contribute to the Gothic theme of the cathedral.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuilt in the early 20th century, the organ of the duomo is the largest in Italy, and one of the 15 largest in the whole world. It is made of several organs scattered inside the duomo.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecognized as the most famous statue in the cathedral, this artwork of Marco d’agrate (circa 16th century) shows St. Bartholomew with his flayed skin over his shoulders. As per tradition, St. Bartholomew was martyred in Albania, skinned alive and then crucified. I can’t imagine how much suffering he must have endured to have the skin stripped off his body and then crucified. The status itself is quite disturbing enough without you knowing the history behind it.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are various sarcophagi inside the duomo, especially of former archbishops. While I am fine loking at sarcophagi and marvelling at their usually intricate designs, I can’t help but be creeped out by glass coffins.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are well-maintained crypts under the duomo and oftentimes, private masses are being held there.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn one of its crypts, underneath the main altar itself, is the sarcophagus of Saint Charles Borromeo, a member of the Medici family, one of the most powerful families during the Renaissance. Though born an aristocract, he was actively involved in the reformation of the church, helping establish seminaries during his time.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe duomo was undergoing restoration works during our visit – all that marble probably needs a good cleaning what with hundreds of years worth of pollution. Austerity measures implemented by the government included budget cuts to the city’s cultural funds, and this probably forced the duomo’s administration to get creative: they launched this adopt a gargoyle initiative where patrons can “adopt” one of the gargoyles and have their names carved underneath, in exchange for donations. This donation will then be used for the maintenance of the gargoyles they’ve adopted. In fairness, the duomo is one of the best kept churches I’ve been to in Europe (a lot are really old and felt abandoned). I am quite saddened though that beautiful old churches such as the duomo, which are great treasures not just of Catholics but of the entire human population, now have to fend for themselves and beg for alms just to survive.

I didn’t get the chance to go up the duomo and see the Madonna statue up close and get a 360-degree view of Milan, but hey – that just means I should include it in my next trip, right?