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.


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 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.


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…

… 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.




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.





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.


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.

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.

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.


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: 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.



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.



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.


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.




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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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: 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.


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 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 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.


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.




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.


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



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.



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 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.



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 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?

The Eiffel Tower

Paris… City of Lights. I will never get tired of you.

It is a really beautiful city, and just about every inch of it is picture perfect. When I first visited Pairs two years ago, I didn’t get to see the Eiffel Tower up close – I was five months pregnant then and had a fever (yet nothing could stop me from traveling!) so I let the hubby and our friends go to the tower while I stayed behind sleeping in our hotel.

Last year though, I made sure to walk right up to it, bad weather be damned.

My friends and I took a cruise on the Seine river, which, in my opinion, is a must when visiting Paris. Unfortunately, it was raining quite hard and I didn’t really like how Bateaux Parisienne boats have these telephone-like gadgets you put to your ear to listen to an audio recording explaining the sights around you. I found it rather inconvenient that my hands were tied up holding the huge receiver and my umbrella, and that I couldn’t take photos because of it. I’d much prefer a live guide to talk me through it, similar to my first Seine cruise. Still, nothing can beat the beauty and magic of Paris.

Anyway, it was quite dark when we finished our cruise and dinner – perfect time to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up and sparkling. There’s just something magical about it. I wish I could show you the video but I haven’t figured out yet how to upgrade/post videos here yet (I know, such a lame excuse).


Grey skies only made its beauty stand out more. I can’t believe the people almost tore it down a century ago.


Our cruise included dinner at Le Notre, a quaint little restaurant on a boat anchored in the Seine river banks, quite near the Eiffel. I was famished so I got the tomato/ham salad – it looked so yummy when it was served, and I actually thought the tomato was meat coz it was almost as red as the ham!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI got some meat dish as my entree but I didn’t really enjoy it much… or maybe I was just bummed that it was our last night in Paris already.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor dessert, I got the lemon cake coz I didn’t want a very sweet dessert. Talk about getting more than you ask for – the cake was so sour I felt like it was drizzled with fresh lemons! Seriously! Even my friends tried and couldn’t take one bite of it. I should have gotten the strawberry shortcake instead, which my friend willingly shared with me after seeing how disappointed I was with my lemon cake.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’d stick with strawberries next time.


This is the last of my Paris posts which makes me sad just thinking about it. Oh well, time to plan my next trip to Europe!

Castello Sforzesco

Cities in Europe don’t run out of castles and palaces, and Milan is no exception. Just a few minutes away from the bustling Duomo, you will find the Castello Sforzesco, or Sforza Castle. Built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforzesco, the Duke of Milan, it was later rebuilt and enlarged, and at one point, was one of the largest forts in all of Europe. Today, however, the castle houses several museums and art collections.

The castle has undergone many renovations throughout its existence but the layout and features largely remained the same, thanks to the plans left behind. What really fascinates me about this castle is that it actually has circular towers in its corners, and I can imagine it having drawbridges in each of its entrances during its heyday.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe castle is big, but not impossible to navigate in a day (unlike Versailles or Schonbrunn), at least if you’re goal is just to circle it and maybe look into a couple of the museums housed there. There are several buildings inside, and pocket gardens with reflecting pools in the middle. Too bad though that the pool (or pond?) was very dirty during our visit. Perhaps because it was summer and everything was dry and dusty.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am a museum freak so of course, I had to drag my friends with me and our first stop was the Museum of Ancient Art, found on the ground floor of the Ducal Courtyard. This is right behind the museum ticket counter and souvenir shop, so there is no missing it, and why it serves as the logical first stop on the tour. The museum is very tourist friendly as well, since there are reading materials which you can get in each room, free of charge!

Perhaps the most imposing structure in the first and second rooms would be the Sepulchral Monument of Bernabo Visconti, former lord of Milan, which stands proud in the middle of the room. Made in 1363, the marble monument was supposed to be used for the apse of the San Giovanni church in Conca, but later used as a sepulchral monument for Bernabo Visconti after his arrest and subsequent murder (by his nephew, Gian Galazzo, who had seized power). The sarcophagus, made between 1380 and 1385, was added to the marble statue of the figure riding a horse.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are also two slabs from tombs on the floor and not to play favorites, but I liked the one of Bianca di Savoia, mother of Gian Galazzo Visconti:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARoom VII or the Room of the Gonfalone is dedicated to sculpture from the 16th to the 18th century and various tapestries. But what immediately caught my eye (and my nose to be honest, owing to the dust and mites that must be living in colonies within) was this huge tapestry of the standard of the city of Milan, dating from the mid-16th century. It first appeared in public in 1566, during the feast of the Duomo of Milan.

The standard depicts Saint Ambrose with two soldiers at his feet, with four significant events from the life of the saint depicted along the sides of the tapestry signifying his holiness.

In the Sala del Ducali, or Room IX, a sculpture of the Madonna and Child greets visitors upon entry. This wort of art from Jacopino da Tradate is notable for the lifelike draping of the garment – indeed, I actualy found it so meticulously carved to mimic the flow of garments as they would in real life. However, one aspect which I found severely lacking is that the face is rather unattractive. I am quite used to seeing similar scuplture where the effort is more concentrated on the facial features rather than other details. 
One of the highlights of our tour to the Sforza Castle is being able to see up close a huge sculpture by Michaelangelo – the Rondanini Pieta. I have seen a Madonna and Child scuplture of his in Bruges, but that was from about five meters away and with velvet ropes barring me so this was actually my first close encounter with an artwork of his.

As legend would have it, the artist was working on this up to a few days before his death and that he intended for it to be given to his servant, Antonio del Francese.

The sculpture in the castle appears to have undergone several versions, with Michaelangelo superimposing another version on top of the original, and this can be seen in the different texture of various parts of the sculpture, and sometimes, it seems even different techniques employed. In any case, this pieta was not finished owing to the death of Michaelangelo.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne part of the castle was dedicated to antique furniture and cutlery and all sorts of household stuff. One word actually comes to mind whenever I see such rich/ostentatious display of wealth: nouveau riche. Each furniture was so intricately carved with gold or silver trimmings that one cannot mistake that they were deliberately put there to remind the spectator of the cost or value such a piece would have commanded.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFruit platter in solid silver, anyone? I even spied a silver cutlery set with gods and goddesses on the handles. I am forever a fan of mythology and I would love to have a similar set in my future home, but probably only in stainless steel as that’s only what I can afford. Hahaha!

I remember my grandmother had this antique set of a small flask and shot glasses made of silver in her house and thinking, it must be so expensive now. Too bad they promptly disappeared and I couldn’t find them during my next visit.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe gilded furniture kind of reminds me of the ones being sold at Muebles Italiano. Then again, it is an Italian-themed furniture store.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe last part we visited before our feet forced us to head home was the underground level containing the Egyptian section. Of course, I was ecstatic. I have been dreaming of going to Egypt since I was a kid that I think I must have been Egyptian in my past life, if I am to believe in reincarnation.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI didn’t think I’d see another Egyptian mummy just a few days after paying a visit to the one at the Louvre but what do you know. This one though is not as complete as the one in Paris, and the funeral jars are missing.

There are many other rooms at the castle containing paintings and musical instruments that we weren’t able to visit; it was simply too big, but more manageable than the Louvre and certainly easier to navigate. Our feet just couldn’t go much further after our stop at the Egyptian section. I am quite glad that we decided to explore this castle based only on our trusty Trip Advisor app as otherwise, I might have missed it completely (I didn’t really plan much for our Milan leg since I knew I was heading to Switzerland as well). Definitely one of the highlights of our Milan trip.

Sapori Solari

If there is one place you simply must visit in Milan, this would be it. Heck, I would go to Milan just to eat here.

But we almost never made it to this place.

The first problem we had was logistics: the deli (it is, strictly, NOT a restaurant, nor even a cafe – think Santi’s except that they let you eat your cured meats and cheese right there at the store) was very small so reservations are a must. But, the owner/proprietor/all around staff Giuseppe, doesn’t speak English – so we had to ask our landlady to make the reservations; except that our landlady also couldn’t speak English. Yeah, imagine the sign language we had to employ for her to understand us and communicate it to Giuseppe. I never thought that knowing the Italian words for dinner/reservations and the hour of day and number of people can be very useful. My friends were actually very proud of me. Hahaha!

Finding this place was even trickier that we almost gave up were it not for the fact that it was highly recommended and we were so hungry and there were barely any other restaurants along the way. The deli was located in a not so touristy part of Milan, and while riding the tram was confusing, the taxi fare was discouraging. We walked 30 minutes from the train stop before we finally caught sight of its signage (and the anxious Giuseppe almost thought we’d ditched him).

Pardon the blurry image - I was so hungry (it was past 8PM), and tired (we walked more than three kilometers in 30 minutes), and a bit scared that we'd gotten lost in Milan.

Pardon the blurry image – I was so hungry (it was past 8PM), and tired (we walked more than three kilometers in 30 minutes), and a bit scared that we’d gotten lost in Milan.

Giuseppe was the only one manning the deli so we had a bit of time to just take photos and enjoy the rustic appeal of Sapori Solari. It’s exactly how I would have imagined my neighborhood hangout: small and intimate. Not intimidating at all. The best part? Everyone seemed to know each other. That, or they were just plain nice. We even met a very lovely couple – the girl looked like Teresa Loyzaga and the guy looked like Andrew Garfield, except that he’s hotter than the actor. They were so gorgeous and so kind to act as our interpreter that night that we wanted to have our photos taken with them!


My travel buddies.

We drank some red wine while waiting for the surprise feast Giuseppe was whipping up for us in the kitchen. Now, I am no expert in wine but I do know when I like it or not, and this one? Definitely like.


The Milan Crew!

Sorry, no close up photos of moi, because by this time, my face had swollen as if bees had stung me and my eyes were almost shut tight – my allergies were acting up because of all the wine and the weather, plus, I haven’t been sleeping very well during the trip so that contributed to my skin problems.

There were only about five tables in the 30 or so square meter place and while it was empty when we got there, pretty soon, it was full of people – Giuseppe had to prepare a makeshift table to accommodate another group!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven though he couldn’t speak English, Giuseppe had animal figurines on hand to show us where the meat was coming from, and a booklet (below) to show us what parts we were eating that night. There’s no menu, by the way; he whips up the menu on the spot, based on the meat and cheese available that day. If you’re a picky eater, then this place isn’t for you. But, if you are okay with meat and cheese – this place is perfect. Everything was superb!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were first given different kinds of bread, which tasted so fresh (and we were so hungry) we finished the entire basket in a few minutes.

Different kinds of bread. From what I understand, everything in Sapori Solari is made by Giuseppe.

Different kinds of bread. From what I understand, everything in Sapori Solari is made by Giuseppe.

After a few minutes, Giuseppe served our first tray of thinly sliced prime beef with chunks of ricotta cheese drizzled with olive oil. The beef was perfectly smoked and tasted oh so delicious – not too salty and not pungent at all which is what I hate sometimes when eating cured meat. I am salivating just writing that down and recalling the taste from memory.


This plate tasted almost too good to be true. It was so good we finished it off before Giuseppe even managed to prepare the 2nd plate.

Our second plate (it’s kind of incorrect to actually say plate, because it was more of a tray – think of a family sized pizza pan), was all about pork. The outer rink in the picture below came from a regular pig (you know, the cute pink ones, like Babe?) while the inner rink came from a local pig (I forgot the exact type which I’m pretty sure I studied back in grade school, but it was a black type of pig). This one was like eating fresh ham and salami, except that it’s fresher, saltier and yet sweeter at the same time. The meat also had a little slimy texture to it that made it feel slippery on my tongue.

By this time, we realized that the bread and cheese (which came with the first plate) Giuseppe served us earlier was meant to be eaten with the meat. Too bad, we already ate them! Probably why Giuseppe almost raised his arms in alarm when he saw us stuffing our mouths with all that bread and cheese. Hahaha!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next plate had this fatty part of the pig which reminded me of glazed Christmas ham, except it was a hundred times better. The dark red meat with white fatty edges was goose breast. Everything was bathed in honey and olive oil and I just died and went to gastronomic heaven.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA As I mentioned, there’s no fixed menu. Giuseppe will keep serving plate after plate after plate as long as you want. I’ve read of some tourists lasting up to the fifth plate but my friends and I were too full by the 3rd plate we actually had to beg Giuseppe to stop. Hahaha!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter that, he served us biscuits with nuts (reminded me of Starbuck’s biscotti) and some very sweet, nectarine juice. The biscuits were a bit on the hard side and took some getting used to but it had an aftertaste that I kept chasing after – like when you eat something good but the flavor is too fleeting that you want to just eat more so you can figure out what that flavor is? I had several moments of those.


The Milan Crew with our host, Giuseppe.

What I loved most about Sapori Solari was that it not only served good food but Giuseppe was just about the most unassuming and most accommodating host. It actually felt like visiting your grandparents’ house and being treated to all those family recipe specialties.

If only it wasn’t so late and we didn’t have a long day the next day, we would have stayed and ordered another round. I would gladly have gone back but this was our last meal together in Milan (I went to Switzerland the next day while my friends went to Verona to pay their respects to Romeo and Juliet).

I would give this place five stars out of four. And I will definitely include a stopover in Milan in my next trip just to eat it. Yes, I loved it that much!