Church on Sunday

Sunday was my last full day in Rome, and because I was a bit travel weary I decided to take it pretty slow. My initial plan was to spend the majority of the day across the Tiber River. I had yet to visit the Vatican or Castel Sant’Angelo so I was planning on visiting both sights that day. Plus, it seemed appropriate to be going to the Vatican on Sunday.

Unfortunately, I got a bit of a late start in the morning, so by the time I walked across the river, had lunch, and arrived at Castel Sant’Angelo it was early afternoon. I had read online that the castle closes at 2 pm on Sundays, and when I took a look at the line it was pretty clear that by the time I managed to get inside the castle would be closing. So instead of getting in line, I snapped a few pictures before heading off to the Vatican.

IMG_8305  IMG_8309  IMG_8312IMG_8322  IMG_8333  IMG_8332IMG_8330  IMG_8347  IMG_8318Iman was feeling better today so she met me at the Vatican. Now remember how I said I didn’t book any tours? This still holds true for the Vatican, though it’s the closest that I got to taking a tour in Rome. I’ve had a ton of friends give really good reviews of Rick Steves’s Walking Tours so I decided to test one out while I waited in line for Iman. I didn’t get far in the audioguide, but what I heard was pretty good. Here’s a bit of what I learned: St. Peter’s Basilica was built on the site where St. Peter was crucified and buried, and the current church was created in two stages. The old church was left intact while St. Peter’s was built around it. Once the newer building was complete, the old church was knocked down and moved out. The columns in front of the Basilica are built in a circular shape since they are supposed to represent the welcoming arms of the church. Basically it’s supposed to be a big hug. The statues that adorn the columns are ten feet tall and each represents a different saint. Originally it used to be quite difficult to see the dome since when you approach the church the facade hides the dome (see below). It wasn’t until Mussolini closed off the street leading up to the Vatican that people were able to get a good view of the entire structure.

IMG_8356  IMG_8368  IMG_8371IMG_8374  IMG_8375  IMG_8377IMG_8389  IMG_8410  IMG_8405Although the line to the Vatican was long, I have to give them credit and say that it did move pretty quickly. Without too much ado, Iman and I were let inside the church after about thirty minutes. It was well worth the wait. It was stunning.

IMG_8419  IMG_8416  IMG_8421IMG_8467  IMG_8438  IMG_8451IMG_8473  IMG_8431  IMG_8454After we walked around the church, we took stairs down to the catacombs and saw what we think was the grave of St. Peter. We’re still not entirely sure since talking was not encouraged in the catacombs and all of the signs were in Italian. The grave of Pope John Paul II was towards the exit and we paid our respects before leaving.

After that all that was really left for us to do was to climb to the top of the dome. Now there are two options for the ascent. You can either climb the whole way to the top (around 550 stairs) or take an elevator up about halfway and then take the remaining set of stairs (around 350 stairs). Considering that Stephansdom in Vienna was around 340 stairs and I found that to be plenty, I was happy to pay the extra two euros and pass the first 200 or so stairs on the elevator. After a bit of a wait, we caught the elevator and were whisked up to the base of the dome. From there you could get a really good view of the dome’s artwork before continuing up to the top.

IMG_8485  IMG_8482  IMG_8489IMG_8493  IMG_8500  IMG_8497There were two things that surprised me on our way to the top. First the complete lack of handrails. When I mentioned this to Iman she just laughed and said something along the lines of “Welcome to Italy.” The second thing that surprised me was that the stairwell actually curves to match the curve of the dome. This means that you couldn’t stand up straight as your approached the top of the dome, otherwise you would risk hitting your head on the curved ceiling. But soon enough we were at the top. The views were great and were enhanced due to the fading daylight. We had inadvertently timed our ascent with sunset.

IMG_8503  IMG_8505  IMG_8507IMG_8508  IMG_8511  IMG_8510IMG_8518  IMG_8519  IMG_8521Once we were done we began the descent back to street level.

I did have to laugh at the public toilets at the Vatican. Based on their signs it’s clear that the male dominated church has only recently had to include female restrooms.

IMG_8535  IMG_8541  IMG_8538IMG_2294  IMG_8556  IMG_2296Now one of the great things about Sundays in Rome is that apparently sights that are run by the city (usually things like museums) are free. My original plan was to go to the Capitoline Museums, but cold symptoms made me decide to cut my day short. Overall I had a great day though. I don’t happen to be religious, and going to a Lutheran school from a young age means that I am definitely not Catholic, but it was it was really nice to go to such a holy place. Even though I don’t share the beliefs of many of the visitors, it was still very touching to see how much St. Peter’s meant to them.

Off to Salzburg

We left Vienna early in the morning to catch a train to Salzburg. Now considering that we had taken 26 hours worth of trains just a few days before, I was pretty indifferent to the countryside, which meant that instead of looking out the window I decided to finish reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, which I would recommend if you are in need of a good book.

We arrived in Salzburg in the afternoon and after grabbing a small lunch at the hotel headed out into the snow to see what we could before sunset. We passed the Mirabell Gardens, Mozarteum, which is more or less Salzburg’s music university, and the Marionette Theatre (which is paid homage to in The Sound of Music) before crossing a bridge into town.

IMG_7439  IMG_7442  IMG_7443IMG_2148Overall it didn’t take us too long to walk into Old Salzburg. To be honest, I never thought that there would really be much to do in Salzburg, but Lonely Planet proved me wrong. Unfortunately, due to the way we had arranged our travel plans, we just weren’t going to be able to see much of it. This was really our only shot at seeing anything in town.

Our first stop was to Mozarts Geburtshaus, the house where Mozart was born and raised. While the museum taught me a few things about Mozart, I wouldn’t have said that it was anything very special. One thing that I did find interesting was how Salzburg has really tried to take ownership of Mozart. Mozart is depicted everywhere in the city, which makes it a bit ironic that Mozart himself was not a huge fan of the city and experienced his greatest success when he left.

Once we were through with the museum, we walked through the old town square. I have to hand it to Salzburg, even in the darkness and the snow the city was really quaint and beautiful.

IMG_7453  IMG_7459  IMG_7456We also stopped by Stiftskirche Sankt Peter, or St. Peter’s Church. We started out by wandering around the cemetery and the catacombs. The catacombs gave us a fairly good view over the church and the city so it’s something that I’d recommend if you don’t have the time to climb one of Salzburg’s mountains.

IMG_7470  IMG_7478  IMG_7479By the time we climbed down from the catacombs it was more or less dark. This also meant that most things were closed. Because we were pretty limited in what we could do, we stopped by the church (one of the few sights that was still open) before slowly making our way back to our hotel.

IMG_7499  IMG_7494  IMG_7497IMG_7506  IMG_7501  IMG_7507IMG_7520  IMG_7527  IMG_7525Even though we weren’t able to see much, it was nice to get a small sense of the city. I will also say that the day’s biggest success arguably happened over dinner. When my dad and I had eaten lunch at the hotel we spotted a group of four devouring a humongous dessert (it was about three times as large as the amount in the picture). So of course my Dad and I had to ask our waiter what this dessert was and then order it over dinner. It turns out with was salzburger nockerl, a Salzburg specialty, and was quite delicious. So we managed to end the day on both a sweet and high note.

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Christmas Eve

To our very great surprise, Vienna doesn’t totally shut down during the Christmas holidays. So, even though it was Christmas Eve we were still able to get in some sightseeing. Our first stop of the day was Stephansdom, or St. Steven’s Cathedral.

IMG_6632  IMG_6635  IMG_6660IMG_6646  IMG_6649  IMG_6648 IMG_6650  IMG_6669 IMG_6759According to their website, Stephansdom is the number one attraction in the city and attracts just under 3 million people every year. It is clearly the star church in the city and is something that can be seen from most places within central Vienna. I really wanted to take an English tour of the church, since after a certain point European churches all tend to blur together, but the only English tour the church offered was an English audioguide that only addressed the inside of the church. My dad and I decided to pass on this in favor of buying all inclusive tickets. These tickets gave us access to the South Tower, North Tower, church, catacombs, and treasury (which was closed for the day).

We quickly wandered through the main cathedral before heading to the North Tower. The thing that struck me the most about the interior was the almost complete lack of stain glass windows. My initial guess was that the church had been bombed. Sure enough, we spotted some pictures of the church and the work that had to be done on it after World War II. We could see that the roof had completely collapsed so it was hardly a surprise that the windows hadn’t lasted either.

IMG_6641  IMG_6642  IMG_6645Afterwards, we made our way to the North Tower. Thankfully the tower had an elevator that we could ride up. Once at the top it provided us with a truly wonderful view of Vienna and the church’s unique roof.

IMG_6683  IMG_6701  IMG_6711IMG_6714  IMG_6688  IMG_6716After that we made our way down to the catacombs. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take pictures there so you’ll have to either use Google or your imagination. The catacombs contain some Hapsburg remains and those of senior clergy and cardinals, but they weren’t solely reserved for the upper class. Mass burials occurred in the catacombs, especially when it came to burying victims of the Black Death, and you can still see the bones in the pits that they used for these burials. Additionally, prisoners were once forced to clean and stack some of the bones in the catacombs so there are literally hundreds of bones on display underneath the church.

Once we had finished there, we made our way to the South Tower. You can’t actually get to the very top of the South Tower, but you can get to about the halfway point (67 meters up). Once you climb the requisite 343 steps you get an even better view of Vienna than at the North Tower. Because there are so many steps however they do tell you that you shouldn’t drink beforehand. So no glühwein (mulled wine) for us.

IMG_6768  IMG_6770  IMG_6788IMG_6780  IMG_6783  IMG_6786When we finished, we stopped for coffee and lunch at the famous café Demel and then crossed the city to go to the Prater Ferris Wheel. Now for those of you who are:

  • From my parent’s generation
  • Into old movies
  • Watched post-World War II movies for class

you may recognize the ferris wheel from The Third Man. I of course recognized the ferris wheel from James Bond but sooner or later hazy memories from the class “The European Postwar: Literature, Film, Politics” reminded me that I had also watched The Third Man my senior year in college. Clearly I considered pursuing all things James Bond related (allegedly for my senior thesis) more interesting that paying attention to my postwar class. Oh well.

Because we went to the ferris wheel on Christmas Eve, the amusement park that houses it was pretty deserted (in fact it was very similar to the ferris wheel scene in the Third Man), but that also meant that the lines were short. Without too much of a delay my Dad and I were able to get on board and enjoy the view from the top.

IMG_6826  IMG_6845  IMG_6849IMG_6867  IMG_6869  IMG_6878IMG_6919  IMG_6928  IMG_6920The ferris wheel only takes about 20 minutes so before we knew it we were back on the ground. While things had been open towards the beginning of the day, things started closing soon after we got off the ferris wheel. Our attempts to go to the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien and the Hofburg Palace were in vain so we ended up settling with the Christmas market in the Museum Quarter and drinking Christmas punch. I decided to try something that roughly translated to “Mozart’s punch,” and I have to say that if Mozart was drinking that I have no idea how he managed to get anything done since it had a very generous amount of alcohol poured in.

IMG_6957  IMG_6950  IMG_6966Everything more or less shut down at 3 pm, so after that my Dad and I just relaxed around the hotel until our Christmas dinner reservations. Thanks to a random recommendation from Travel and Leisure we decided to try our luck at a restaurant called At Eight. Even though the restaurant started out pretty sparsely populated, it filled up towards 7 pm and for good reason. The food was some of the best that I’ve ever had. Not a bad way to spend Christmas Eve at all.