The Vatican

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The thing I most enjoyed about the Vatican was the mind boggling array of amazing art, let alone its ludicrously ornate surroundings. One of my favourite pieces, odly enough was Arnaldo Pomodoro’s “Sfera con Sfera” (Sphere within a sphere). Normally I’m much more a fan of classical art, but I thought it provided a really striking and thought provoking contrast. When I asked the tour guide what it was meant to represent, it became apparent she only knew the script she’d learnt – “it means what you want it to mean” being her cop out answer.” A sly bit of google research suggests the fractured surface of the outer sphere reveals a very complex inner sphere that represents the harsh difficulties that the modern world finds itself in at the end of the second millennium (it was created in 1990).

364. Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore

IMG_6381 (640x480)Of the 26 Churches dedicated to Mary in Rome, apparently the Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest. Makes you wonder how many churches there are for everyone else if there are already 26 for Mary! I guess they don’t call it Roman Catholic for nothing.

The Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore is apparently so special it enjoys extraterritorial status (like an embassy) and is patrolled by guards of the Vatican. It was fairly majestic and marvelous, as far as churches go, with loads of excellent frescoes. And a good thing I came prepared with my modesty scarf. The Crypt of the Nativity was quite a site also, (practically all covered in gold). It is a huge tourist draw card as it is said to contain wood from Jesus Christ’s Crib. I’d be well imressed to find out exactly how they verified that one, given Jesus didn’t become Jesus Christ Superstar until he just about carked it. Nonetheless, I was right up in there getting my touristy photos too!

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Jesus’ Crib has been on Extreme Makeover: Religion Edition

363. Triton, My Favourite Roman Fountain

IMG_6355 (480x640)There were tonnes of them, but being a little more understated and demure, in my opinion Triton was the best.

A marvelous way to turn the ordinary (dispensing water to the citizens) into something quite spectacular! There were loads of more functional looking taps on the sides of the road, looking as though they were still straight from the aquaducts, but they were quite old and rusty looking, often smelling a bit funny and giving the impression that by 2012 standards the water quality was fairly dubious.

Some of the contenders:IMG_6586 (480x640) IMG_6581 (640x480) IMG_6331 (640x480) IMG_6351 (640x480) (640x480)IMG_6035 (480x640) IMG_6212 (640x480)

349. Brusselicious 2012 in the Brussels Park

As part of the Brusselicious Food festical, a bunch of artists had made huge displays on a number of fixed, food related shapes in the Brussels park. For example there were mussels, chocolates, chips etc, with different artist’s creative impressions. It was quite cool, but a shame I went there as it was getting dark as the photos don’t quite do it justice!

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342. Sacre Coeur

IMG_2950My other favourite view in Paris was from atop the Sacre Coeur. And not only was it great looking out from the roof, but looking up inside the cathedral at the painting on the interior of the roof was just stunning.

I also quite enjoyed looking down at the monastry next door, where nuns were walking around the garden in circles reading books. It was like a game of pac-man. The climb up to the roof was a bit of a mission, and not for the claustraphobic. I could imagine the majority of the All Blacks wouldn’t actually be able to fit through the narrow staircase!

The crypt underneath had some great wee treasure exhibits and chapels/sculptures too.IMG_2926 IMG_2924 IMG_2928 IMG_2927 IMG_2920 IMG_2921 IMG_2922 IMG_2918 IMG_2910 IMG_2913 IMG_2908 IMG_2904 IMG_2948 IMG_2945 IMG_2947 IMG_2943 IMG_2942 IMG_2936 IMG_2935 IMG_2932 IMG_2934 IMG_2933

310. The Louvre

Just the building itself was a magnificent piece of art, but all of the other famous works were also a fantastic experience. My favourite part was actually the sculpture gardens – refreshingly spread out compared to all the other parts which were jammed in.

The sheer volume of security (including armed soldiers and sniffer dogs) was astounding and felt a little over the top, as was the Nintendo “audio guide” complete with 3D simulations. Not sure why that was necessary when you were actually atthe museum, but the different options of how to get around (e.g. the “highlights” for a tighter schedule) was helpful.

I felt like I barely scratched the surface, and there were entire wings I didn’t get to see in the enormous behemoth of a building, but it was amazing, especially ever time I stopped and reminded myself to look up and see even more great art on the roof. Even looking out the windows at the grounds felt like admiring a painting!

275. Doors and Windows of Amsterdam

Before I left New Zealand, a family friend of mine showed me a book she had made of photos she had collected of “Doors and Windows of Europe.” I guess it must have made quite the impact as it really made me notice and appreciate the charm and individuality found in shuttered windows with peeling paint, or elaborately decorated medieval doors, as spotted all over the continent.

I think there’s a few reasons I find them so charming. First, I find the old buildings that characterise each location beautiful, and a real novelty when you come from a very young country. Second, every window or doorway offers a hint of who might be behind it – from pot plants on a balcony to clothes lines between buildings – and each has its own individual character.

In Amsterdam, I really loved walking through the centre of town, along the canals and admiring all the buildings – especially as, unlike much of Europe, the adjoining buildings all had their own individual style as opposed to being one giant Coronation Street block. The same was true for the details of the buildings. So here’s a collection of photos of spots I found interesting, beautiful or unique, including Rembrandt’s house (below) and some really great, well designed shop fronts.

264. Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum was probably one of my favourite art museums. Not only did the audioguide (definitely recommended) walk me through his life via his paintings, but the curators also had a wonderful collection of art that influenced him, among other special collections.

My favourite of Van Gogh’s works was Sunflowers, possibly because its vibrant colours really stood out compared to the opposite wall, which housed paintings from nearer to his death, as his mental illness was affecting him more and more (hint: they are kind of gloomy).

It was also interesting to note that he would never have been as famous as he is today, if it weren’t for his brother’s wife, who inherited his collection and boosted it to fame.

Another highlight of the museum was a collection of advertising prints from France in the late 1800s and early 1900s, as well as art featured on programmes from stage shows and the covers of sheet music.

All in all a great way to learn about Van Gogh’s life, as it was narrated through his art, as well as his influences and the art that was incorporated in to daily life at the time. Well worth a visit!