365. “St Harriet”

IMG_6556 (480x640)My first attempt at the Vatican was a definite failure. As it turns out, one does not simply visit the Vatican on a whim in the middle of summer whilst wearing a summer dress. I got myself a modesty scarf and decided to chance it (the lines weren’t too long by then). But alas, I was still deemed too slutty and denied entrance.

Round two was much more successful, this time I managed to be appropriately covered, but in some kind of divine revenge for even thinking I could enter with my knees bared, it was a 40 degree day. I don’t think I’ve ever been in anything more than 38, and even then I was feeling faint. Conveniently, there were enormous crowds on my arrival too. Standing in a gigantic line that went all the way around the courtyard (the line kind of wiggled around so as many people were in the shade as possible) it was going to be at least a few hours of incredibly slow movement. I was not fortunate enough to be one of the ones in the shade either.

About the stage where my vision was getting blurry and I had long since run out of water (tourism in that heat is just exhausting), a nice old woman came along to pitch the “skip the line tour.” I’d already been haggled multiple times for those tours and had written them all off as totally unnecessary expenditure. But by that stage I was already thinking about quitting on the Vatican and finding the nearest establishment that could put ice and water in a glass and give it to me. This woman told me that for €25 I could skip the line, go straight in and have a guided tour and I thought bugger it, I didn’t come on holiday to spend two hours in what felt like an inescapable sauna. I got her down to €20 and off we went. Sadly my feeling of relief was very short lived. First we had to go in to a nearby shop and sign up (they have to register names as a group apparently). Waiting around happened. Then we went back outside (at least we were in the shade) where the tour started with an incredibly long winded explanation of the history of the Vatican and the square out front. More waiting around happened. We did get to sneak round the back and get photos with the Swiss guard in their hilarious Uniforms, which was possibly one of the only perks. Then we were back out front again, more waiting, in to another shop to pay (you guessed it, more waiting), more “history” and explanations and finally we went around to the museum entrance. I would say it was probably almost an hour and a half before we were actually looking at anything inside the Vatican, and it was an enormous ruse so the tour guide could keep adding more and more people. Worst of all, when we got to the Museum entrance there were no lines whatsoever, and by then I was really annoyed at myself for not doing a bit of research.IMG_6553 (480x640)

Like the thousands of people queuing out front, I had no idea that if you just go via the museums there’s almost no line, it spits you out at St Peter’s Basilica, and the museums/Sistine Chapel are where all the good stuff is anyway. The guide was also fairly useless, rushing us through when there were loads of things to see, and she only really knew about the few key things that she stopped to explain, and couldn’t answer basic questions about other things. For instance, when I asked what the enormous and rather out of place modern sculpture smack-bang in the middle of the courtyard above the Sistine Chapel was, she didn’t even have the decency to make something up! It’s quite the noticeable eyesore, looking like a giant, gold poké-ball. You’d think someone going past it twice a day would have some idea. Especially when they are meant to be an expert in the subject.IMG_6431 (480x640) IMG_6430 (640x480)

So I wound up paying some serious 40-degree-heat-induced foreigner/idiot tax. I will never again do one of the “skip the line” tours or turn up at something ridiculously famous in the peak of the tourist season without doing my research!

On the bright side though, whilst waiting for far too long out the front, the guide pointed out the names of the saints around the Colonades that matched those in the group. Apparently the one pictured above is Saint Harriet. Sounds fairly dubious and I haven’t been able to verify if that is actually true (the closest I’ve found is that it could be St Hilarion or St Hyacinth) but I don’t really care, I’m just going to assume that it’s true as it was probably the only interesting thing I learned on the tour. Ignorance is bliss.IMG_6557 (640x480)

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

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

329. Barcelona, Round 1

Barcelona1Luckily I got a second crack at it, a whirlwind tour not proving quite enough. Until then, here’s my photos from the first time around.

328. Sagrada Familia

IMG_4684 (480x640)The Sagrada Familia is one of the most famous Cathedlrals in Europe, and certainly one of the highlights of Barcelona. This fact makes it all the more fascinating that it remains unfinished! Essentially, Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece was such an impressive feat, requiring so much funding that not only was it not finished before he died, but the mission to attract enough donations to complete it is still  as going on.

This minor detail, however, does not detract from the magnificence of it, particularly was as the interior has mostly been completed. Gaudi was famous for revolutionising architecture by instead focusing on organic forms inspired particularly by plants but also by animals. This is reflected all throughout the Sagrada Familia, from tree trunk like pillars at the main entrance to the lizards climbing around the outside. This was another tourist attraction where the audio guide really made the entire thing that much more fascinating, as well as the museum exhibit detailing his inspriation. Below the church, there were examples of his models. I particularly liked how although the overall structure is based on completely symmetrical shapes (namely weighted, hanging chains and viewing them in a mirror in order to get perfectly symmetrical arches), the details of the cathedral are not at all symmetrical. Looking up to your left will give a very different view to your right, not to mention each facade of the exterior is totally different.IMG_4757 (640x480)

Gaudi absolutely won at stained glass windows too, with the sunlight making the most amazing light show inside.IMG_4702 (640x480)

323. Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia

IMG_4514 (480x640) IMG_4527 (480x640) IMG_4576 (640x480) IMG_4585 (480x640)When you say “Cathedral” and “Barcelona”, most people automatically think of the Sagrada Familia. The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, however, was almost as magnificent (I only say almost, because the Sagrada Familia really is quite mind blowing). It is a gothic masterpiece, shining in all its Catholic glory, both on the gargoyle laden exterior and the gold covered, stained glass window filled interior. Whilst going up to the roof and looking out over Barcelona was fairly magical, the best bit by far was the courtyard in the middle with a pond full of swans. It seems no extravagance is spared in this building! It was only a shame they had electric offeratoy candles and coin-stampy vending machines cheapening the entire affair. Gaudi’s workshop immediately outside was handy, though!

288. Dunkirk Beach Front

IMG_3187 (640x480)Dunkirk was a fascinatingly historical spot to visit. Not merely for war history of the evacuation of Dunkirk, but the other end of the beach (Malo Les Bains) provided a really interesting peek at what the seaside holiday was like in the inter-war years and the 1950s.IMG_3184 (640x480) IMG_3188 (640x480)

I really loved seeing the beautifully painted beach huts, and charmingly decorated piers. It was pastel colours galore and perfectly in line with nostalgic seaside imagery. Upon searching for a bit of information in an attempt to discover when it became a popular beach spot, all I could find on Dunkirk was war history. However, I did stumble across an interesting article about how the beach holiday rose so dramatically in popularity in the 50s. During a time of austerity budgets were slim, but a bigger issue was that although religion was on the decline, everything was still closed on Sundays so there were few other options for entertainment on a Sunday. Despite the beach becoming popular, and fashion subsequently following, activities on a Sunday were still fairly contentious. Photos of Prince Philip playing cricket on a Sunday were as outrageous and shocking as the Kate Middleton being snapped sunbathing topless!IMG_3202 (640x480)

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Sadly, these days, making it across the Channel to France is no longer an achievement of a holiday, with the ease of accessibility of the guaranteed sunshine of Spain, and the myriad cheap airlines flying there. Never have British stereotypes been more visibly conformed to than in the line for a Ryanair flight to Majorca and Ibiza and Malaga at Barcelona airport!IMG_3178 (640x480) IMG_3179 (640x480) IMG_3180 (640x480) IMG_3177 (480x640) IMG_3185 (640x480) A solo sunbather amongst the empty promenades, with his wind shield:IMG_3189 (640x480) IMG_3191 (640x480) IMG_3193 (640x480) IMG_3194 (640x480)

The result is that Malo Les Bains, in the peak of summer with its golden sandy beaches, promenades lined with restaurants  children’s play areas backing on to the sand (including built in trampolines) and marvellous beach huts, was completely deserted. It was quite surreal, and almost felt like an exhibition in a museum.

Down the other end of the beach, that was much more the desired effect, with a memorial and really interesting display outlining the events surrounding the evacuation of Dunkirk (where almost 400,000 French and British soldiers were evacuated in 9 days, many of which on around 700 non military/private boats, called the ‘little ships of Dunkirk’). Having studied it in great detail at school, it was really fascinating to actually be there.IMG_3205 (640x480) IMG_3210 (640x480) IMG_3209 (640x480) IMG_3215 (480x640) IMG_3214 (480x640) IMG_3213 (640x480)

287. Église Saint-Éloi

IMG_3166 (640x480)Right in the centre of Dunirk (or Dunkirque, in French) is the Église Saint-Éloi. It is over the road from the information centre/war memorial, so pretty hard to miss. I thought it was a really lovely church, particularly as all around the centre alter were a bunch of smaller, very nicely set up alters for different saints etc, and at the time of my visit the sun was beaming through the stained glass windows quite brilliantly.

223. Týn Church

While I didn’t go inside it, this church piqued my interest not because it is an amazing gothic building, but for its hilarious tale of architectural sexism. Looking closely, you may notice that one spire is smaller than the other. The reason for this, was definitely NOT an architectural error, oh no. The official explanation is clearly that it is meant to represent male and female, and obviously the male one is the bigger one. I guess the stakes were pretty high in 1511, as admitting error put you at risk of execution by way of defenestration – being thrown out of a window.

166. The Duomo

The Duomo, in central Milan, was absolutely stunning. I was all happy and excited that I had a cardigan in my bag as many women were being turned away for not having their arms covered but alas, my skirt was too short to get in. Only my father was deemed holy enough to enter, and his report was that “it was full of dead people.” I was half tempted to go back in a Burqa and see how that went down with the catholics, but I went for a modest longer dress with covered sleeves which worked on round two. Sadly mum still missed out, the tart.

The building itself was enough of a site though, even though it seemed paradoxically rude that I was too much of a hussy to enter but one of the spires was advertising the latest Mac.

Inside, there was loads of beautiful art, preserved bodies of important people, and for an extra few euros you can see the treasury and cript downstairs. There wasn’t much in there so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend shelling out anything extra for it if you’re not too bothered about viewing the spoils of Catholicism.