I had a few minutes before meeting Brian in Copley Square, so I snapped a handful of photos of the lovely Old South Church. It was that perfect hour as it’s getting dark but the sky is still a deep dark blue, and I loved how the one stained-glass window above the door splashed flecks of colored light on the arches above the door. Yes, it’s an artificially lit stained glass window, but it was perfect.
After saying farewell to our lovely hotel room, we picked up our rental car and headed up to Mont Royal Park to enjoy the view of the city. We headed to St. Joseph’s Oratory right near the park because it was something I had read about. We had a long drive ahead of us, so I figured we would just swing by and see it, but it turned out to be a ginormous church at the top of a hill, with a really big parking lot – it looked like a pretty big deal, so we found parking and walked up lots of stairs … totally worth it. Really really beautiful.
Back in the car for one last necessity before hitting the road: fresh bagels. Mission accomplished, and we headed south but we didn’t get very far before we found out about a massive detour: the big bridge over the big river was closed, and our internet access was spotty at best. We thought we might have to swim across the St. Lawrence, but we managed to figure it out, and before long, we were at the border and on to the gorgeous green mountains of Vermont (that are actually rather blue).
Another necessary stop was the Ben and Jerry’s factory in upstate Vermont. Fun tour, delicious ice cream, homage to the flavor graveyard, and back on the road as the sun began to set. A few hours later, we finally saw the Boston skyline … home at last!
We woke up on the last day of our cruise with the sunrise again, and we were treated to a spectacular view of Montreal waking up. We had to be off the ship pretty early, so just like that, it was over, but we still had two more days to explore Montreal, and drive home.
We were super lucky that we could get in to our hotel room at 10am, and we were incredibly pleased with our hotel room! Brian and picked out Le St. Martin Hotel Particulier, and it was an excellent choice – one of the highlights of the trip. Spacious, great decor, a fireplace and a ginormous tub, with a sliding door opening up to the rest of the room. We settled in a bit, then took off to explore Montreal.
We headed straight to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which has a wonderful collection in a cluster of lovely buildings. They have a cut-out model of Florence’s Duomo, which was pretty incredible to see. Then we headed over to the Notre-Dame Basilica, which was absolutely phenomenal. It was easily the largest of the many churches we saw this week, and the deep blues and greens of the altar and the vaulted ceiling were incredible!
After a warm croissant or two, we continued wandering around. Later in the evening, we visited another church very close to our hotel, the Basilica of Mary Queen of the World (sounds better in French). It was very beautiful and peaceful, and it had a baldacchino altar very similar (but smaller) to the one at St. Peter’s in the Vatican.
We continued our evening stroll through a neighborhood with tons of shopping and McGill students, found some dinner, then headed back to our cozy hotel to relax for the evening. We’re happy, exhausted, and ready to head home!
When we stayed at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel in May 2013, we ‘discovered’ a lovely church right near lots of cute shops and restaurants in Falmouth. Before dinner, we stopped by to visit this little gem again. We discovered that they recently added a labyrinth … yet another copy of the famous labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral, so of course I had to walk the labyrinth. It’s a bit smaller in scale than the one I walked just one week ago on the Greenway, but it was lovely and pleasant. We visited the church’s gorgeous little garden as the sun continued to set, then we settled in for a delicious dinner!
Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph in downtown San Jose, CA
I have visited just about all of the gorgeous churches in Back Bay, taken a lot of pictures, and added them to my ongoing project, Architectural Landmarks of Boston’s Back Bay. When my cousin recently mentioned his upcoming visit to Arlington Street Church for a friend’s ordination, it reminded me that I haven’t been to see ASC’s gorgeous Tiffany windows in a very long time. And the last time I was there, I didn’t have my camera!
Most churches are open during the day for prayers and tourists, so it’s easy to wander in off the street, drop your jaw over the gorgeous architecture and windows, snap a few great photos to savor the details, and enjoy a peaceful moment of reflection. ASC seems to operate on a weird schedule, and I have the door to be locked the last few times I tried. Not this time.
Arlington Street Church is a Unitarian Universalist Church at the corner of Arlington and Boylston Streets, at the edge of Boston’s Back Bay, right across from the Public Gardens. It was opened in 1861, and it was the first public building in Back Bay. Its spire is 190 feet tall, complete with a bell, weathervane and clocks. The church has an incredibly gorgeous collection of Tiffany stained glass windows, and their collection is among the largest and finest collections of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s work.
It snowed today, again. The MBTA has a lovely habit of terminating my train about 6 stops before my house when the weather is bad because the street-level trolley just causes more traffic. So I took a different route home, and it took me through Copley Square … my favorite part of Boston. Absolutely gorgeous snow-covered churches, in that perfect hour when the sky is still light, but the street lamps are on … everything glows just a bit.
The first two photos are of Old South Church, and the second two are of Trinity Church.
Yet another gorgeous view of Trinity Church and the Hancock Tower in Copley Square. On my way to meet my sweetie for dinner just a few hours after a new pope was elected.
Old South Church
Old South ChurchI was need of some peace on earth and good will towards men, so I went to a favorite familiar spot, Old South Church, for some uplifting music. The Old South Ringers were rehearsing for their Christmas handbell concert.
Click here for a sample of this ridiculously beautiful music.
Comm Ave Mall
During our trip, we visited several churches that I had been to a few times before. I already have more than a few photographs of these beautiful places, so I decided to try something new this time. At every church we visited, I stood in the exact center of the main aisle, with my back to the front door, and tried to take a perfectly centered shot looking straight down the aisle towards the altar. The unique character, grace and immense beauty of each church is crystal clear from this spot.
We had signed up for a guided tour that would take us all over Palermo, and up in to the hills to a town called Monreale. The only good thing about having to get up early on vacation is being able to enjoy the sunrise, and it was a pretty incredible sunrise.
Here’s one of my favorite photos from our trip – the sunrise as we arrived in Sicily
The story of our morning in Palermo is an easy story to tell: two towns (Palermo and Monreale), two cathedrals, an incredible view, shopping and gelato. Our tour guide was great – she filled us in on lots of fascinating details about Palermo and Sicily while pointing out beautiful buildings left and right. We arrived with several other tour buses in Monreale, and climbed up many steps to the piazza and the cathedral. The Cathedral of Monreale is a masterpiece of mosaics that depict the biblical stories, with a massive mosaic of Christ above the altar. Absolutely spectacular.
After we visited the cathedral, we had about an hour before we had to be back on the bus. That was plenty of time to buy four gifts, and take in an incredible view of Palermo. Back on the bus, and back down the hill for a drive-by of a few more gorgeous buildings and piazzas. Our last stop was the cathedral, which is far more ornate on the outside than the inside. We started our trip with a church that has massive sculptures of the 12 apostles lining the nave, and Palermo’s cathedral has statues of female saints lining the nave. Very beautiful.
Then, we returned to the ship to spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the view before heading back to our cabin to pack our two massive suitcases.
I am incredibly fortunate that I’ve had opportunities to go to Spain not once but twice in the past eighteen months, although this time we had to do without our fantastic tour guide (my mom). We arrived at 10am so we got to sleep in and take it slow — at this point, we had been traveling for almost a week, we had been blown away by three cities so far and we’ve been keeping a pretty active pace, so we were still half-asleep when we got off the boat and found our way to one of Barcelona’s double-decker open-air headphone-narrated hop-on/hop-off busses. It was touristy but perfect — Barcelona is all about architecture, and the bus gave us the chance to look at so many buildings that we wouldn’t have seen from the sidewalks without walking with our eyes up and walking in to people.
Barcelona CathedralWe got off the bus in Placa Catalunya and walked around to see the fountains, the shops and street market of artists. Then, we wandered through the Gothic Quarter and made our way to Barcelona’s cathedral. You might think that after seeing so many churches, it’s hard to be wowed by yet another one, but that’s really not the case. We saw two spectacular, very different churches in Barcelona, and both blew me away. Barcelona’s cathedral reminded me of the Gothic cathedrals in France — impossibly tall columns, graceful arches, vaulted ceilings, dark stone and spectacular stained glass windows. Very different from all of the marlbed Roman Baroque churches we saw a few days ago. We wandered in to the cathedral’s adjacent courtyard, which had several lovely chapels, and for some reason, a little pool with several geese.
Then, back to Placa Catalunya and back on the bus. Barcelona is full of buildings designed by Modernista architect Gaudi, and most of the rest of our afternoon was spent exploring Gaudi buildings. First, the bus took us by Casa Mila, which is one of the few Gaudi buildings I could recognize before I started cramming for this trip. Then we got our first view of Sagrada Famiglia (Gaudi’s finest, and THE thing to see in Barcelona), then got off the bus and walked up to Park Guell. Park Guell is an unfinished park designed by Gaudi, full of that characteristic colorful fragmented broken tiles. It was worth the walk up the hill and the many stairs just to see the view of Barcelona (despite the fog).
Sagrada FamigliaBack down the stairs, then a cab back to Sagrada Famiglia — it was finally time to see this masterpiece for ourselves. I will say this for the record. I was wrong, and I stand corrected. I had thought that I wouldn’t care for this modern architecture stuff, but Sagrada Familia blew me away. The exterior is not really my thing – the sculptures on the facade are so blocky and it made me miss the impressively elaborate drapery of so many marble sculptures in Rome. But the interior of the church took my breath away. Sagrada Familigia is so new that it is still being built, but Gaudi’s vision is crystal clear. He paid homage to thousands of years of church architecture while completely redefining and inventing his own architectural language. The stained glass windows were the most beautiful thing I saw that day.
It was around 5pm at this point and we stopped at a little sidewalk cafe for a late-lunch/early-dinner, then back on the bus! The sun was starting to set, and I love seeing buildings lit up at night, so we spent the rest of our time in Barcelona (2 more hours) riding the upper-deck of the tourist bus. We saw Casa Mila again, and neighborhoods I should probably learn more about, then up to Montjuic, the section of Barcelona that includes the Olympic stadium (from the 1992 Olympics), and the Royal Palace. It was really breathtaking to see this neighborhood lit up at night, with skyline views of Barcelona, and we even got to glimpse inside the Olympic stadium as we drove past.
With 20 minutes to spare, we got back on the ship and decided to spoil ourselves with some late-night room service. The following day (today, as I write this) is our full day at sea, and we were very much in need of some extra sleep, some sitting around, and a day without a schedule.
Our first port of call is Livorno. The cruise offered several opportunities to explore various Tuscan towns such as Pisa, Lucca and Siena, but for us, it was a no-brainer. We signed up for the bus ride to Florence, an hour and a half inland. We only had five hours of free time to wander Florence before we had to get back on the bus, but there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to introduce my husband to the city where I lived for my junior year. Florence is a beautiful dreamworld, and it was simply mind-blowing to take this five-hour journey to my past. This is my handsome husband in front of il Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore, one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world.
Brian was not completely unfamiliar with Florence – three of my paintings in our house are of three of my favorite things to see in Florence, including one that we saw a copy of in Williamstown, MA (see photo). Plus, we had been to an exhibit on the Gates of Paradise in NYC a few years ago, so he had become familiar with those gorgeous gilded panels before seeing them in person.
We had an incredible lunch before making a dangerous but inevitable venture in the nearby mercato nuovo. Can’t go to Florence without buying leather, so we did.
Piazzale MichelangeloWe wandered and explored some more, then all too soon, it was time to go. I knew it would be hard to leave, but it was harder than I thought. Fortunately, our tour guide read my mind, and added a little extra treat to our visit. We got back on the bus, then drove up a nearby hill to Piazzale Michelangelo – the best place to get an incredible view of the whole city, and especially its spectacular cathedral. Not enough time for us to go up there on our own, although I had really wanted to, but I was extremely happy that the bus took us up there on our way our of town.
We got back on the boat just in time to enjoy a spectacular sunset before dinner.
Some of my favorite churches in Rome are right near our hotel, so before leaving Rome, we visited five more churches. The first three all have something in common, and they’re all very different from so many other churches: they’re round.
San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane
San Carlo alle Quattro FontaneFirst we visited San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, better known as San Carlino because it is tiny … tiny but gorgeous. Designed by the Baroque architect Borromini, San Carlino is a masterpiece of geometry and curves and it makes incredible use of a small space.
Next, Sant’Andrea al Quirinale — beautiful gilded dome — and then San Bernardo. This one is much easier on the eyes after seeing so many overwhelmingly ornate churches. San Bernardo is a plain round room of gray stone, with pale yellow walls and large sculptures in niches all around. Perhaps one of the quietest places in Rome.
The last two were Santa Maria della Vittoria, famous for Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, and a rather violent scene in Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons. Warm golden brown tones all around, and a gorgeous ceiling. Last stop was Santa Susanna, the American Catholic Church of Rome, and the only Roman church covered in frescos. One of my favorites because it’s like walking in to a book – you can walk around and ‘read’ the story of Santa Susanna.
The view of Civitavecchia from the Noordam
The view of Civitavecchia from the NoordamAnd then our trip to Rome was over. It was around 1pm, and it was time to catch a train to Civitavecchia and board the Noordam. We got settled in to our cabin fairly quickly, and then spent the afternoon exploring the ship. Ten decks of dining options, entertainment, pools, bars, comfortable chairs and incredible views. Hands down the biggest boat I’ve ever been on: three laps around the promenade deck is one mile.
We had an incredible four-course dinner with some lovely people, then continued exploring the ship. The shops were a bit distracting, and we were eager to sign up for internet access so we could let our parents know we had set sail!
The view of the ancient Roman Forum
The view of the ancient Roman ForumFirst full day in Rome, and we covered A LOT of ground. Rome is full of piazzas, fountains, museums, cafes and churches, and (maybe not a surprise?) I tend to focus on the churches. We went in to eight churches on our first day in Rome, five on our second day, and we finished off with six churches on our last morning in Rome.
That said, one of my favorite pictures from this day is of the forum. After a long day of walking around, we picked up the pace once we noticed that the sun was setting because of I know of a great spot to catch a view. We climbed up to Piazza del Campidoglio on the top of the Capitoline Hill, and viewed the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum (including the Colosseum a block away) just after the sun finished setting.
As I’m writing this on October 15th, we are aboard the Noordam somewhere in the Mediterranean.
Brian in St. Peter's Square. As we made our way down Via della Conciliazione towards St. Peter's cathedral, it started to rain heavily. Fortunately, we were able to buy umbrellas from the ever-present street vendors, but we still got a bit wet. But St. Peter's Square is pretty impressive even in the rain.
Brian in St. Peter's Square. As we made our way down Via della Conciliazione towards St. Peter's cathedral, it started to rain heavily. Fortunately, we were able to buy umbrellas from the ever-present street vendors, but we still got a bit wet. But St. Peter's Square is pretty impressive even in the rain.We arrived in Rome on Friday, October 12th around lunchtime, settled in, napped off the jet lag, and made our way over to Vatican City. The Vatican Museums offers the option to the tour the museum at night on certain Fridays in the Fall, and since it fit in perfectly with our itinerary, we jumped at the opportunity. First, we visited St. Peter’s Cathedral – we got a pretty wet (see photo) because it started pouring, but still completely worth it. There is absolutely nothing more amazing in the world.
Then, to the Vatican Museums. I’ve been to there a few times before, and it was AMAZING to see the galleries at night. I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the Raphael Rooms, especially the room that has the School of Athens, so it was pretty incredible to be able to share that with Brian. I’ve been in that room 6 times before, and it still floors me to see it in person. Brian was really awestruck by the Map Room, and of course, the Sistine Chapel Ceiling is a must see.
Sidewalk cafe for a very late dinner, back to St. Peter’s Square to see the dome lit up at night, then back to the hotel to pass out.
Us (just before the rain started), just moments in to our Roman adventure, jetlagged and failing to take a photo of ourselves that includes the largest cathedral in the world right behind us.
Us (just before the rain started), just moments in to our Roman adventure, jetlagged and failing to take a photo of ourselves that includes the largest cathedral in the world right behind us.Us (just before the rain started), just moments in to our Roman adventure, jetlagged and failing to take a photo of ourselves that includes the largest cathedral in the world right behind us.