Europe travel-Vatican Museums, one of the world’s best


When I visited Italy a few years ago, I have to confess that I almost didn’t want to go to the Vatican. I found Rome really fascinating with so much to see. Luckily, I decided to visit the Vatican on my final day in Rome otherwise I would have missed out on one of the best museum experiences in my life. This would be the Vatican Museums, a grouping of fantastic museums boasting beautiful and historic artworks, sculptures and painted ceilings, including Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the famous Sistine Chapel.

The Vatican Museums is a grouping of over 20 Christian and art museums situated within one complex featuring over 50 galleries. It’s designed so that visitors can only go mainly in one direction. It’s smart because it allows you to take in everything on display, prevents people from getting lost, and eventually leads to the Sistine Chapel.

I went on a weekday and it was incredibly crowded, especially at the entrance where the line extended outside and around the corner (I’d booked a ticket online so I got to avoid lining up). Inside was just as crowded, though when you’ve spent time in China as I have, you never mind crowds anywhere else.

The museum is well worth enduring the crowds. There are beautiful paintings, lifelike historical sculptures, colorful painted ceilings, resplendent tapestries, and more. One of the most fascinating exhibits is a gallery of giant color maps of Italy created in the 16th century on the walls on both sides, while the ceiling is filled with golden decor and paintings. There are outdoor courtyard, with one featuring Roman sculptures as well as a more spacious one with lawns and giant bronze orbs.

While most of the artwork and exhibits are hundreds or even over a thousand years old, even dating back to Roman times, there are also galleries with modern contemporary paintings as well as a few done by 20th century masters like van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.

The Sistine Chapel ceiling is great, though it’s hard to appreciate it fully with all the people inside and the guards yelling at people not to take photos (it’s forbidden, allegedly due to the ceiling’s image rights being owned by a Japanese company; some say it’s to allow people to enjoy the artwork better).

I don’t think I covered everything in the Vatican Museums though I was there for at least 3 hours. I certainly wouldn’t mind going back to visit it.

How to get there: Get off at Ottaviano subway station and walk southwest.
Note: To avoid lining up, buy your ticket online (there is a small booking fee).


Perseus with the head of Medusa

  

Berlin travel-Wall’s East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery, Berlin
The Berlin Wall is probably the starkest visual symbol of the Cold War. It divided the western or “free” part of Berlin from the eastern part that was under East German authoritarian rule until it was famously torn down in 1989, marking the end of the Cold War and the unification of Germany. Some of the wall is kept intact as a memorial and a lesson for future generations to heed. But there is one part of the Wall that serves as a symbol of joy, not sadness. This is the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km section of the wall that is covered by 105 colorful graffiti artwork. There are caricatures, wacky abstract patterns, and fantasy figures.

One of the most well-known graffiti artworks is a kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker, president of East Germany, which was based on a real photo (which I didn’t know before). The graffiti painting actually has its own name “My God, help me to survive this deadly love.” The kiss was known as a socialist fraternal kiss, done by communist leaders as a greeting during the 20th century.

Situated along the river Spree, the East Side Gallery is a very pleasant place to visit, not to mention it is completely free. As a plus, the nearby Oberbaum bridge, on which road traffic and subway trains travel, looks like a medieval castle with its two towers and Gothic style design.
East Side Gallery, Berlin
Iconic kiss painting of the former Soviet and East Germany leaders (they really did do that in real life)
East Side Gallery, Berlin
Berlin
Oberbaum bridge
East Side Gallery, Berlin East Side Gallery, Berlin    East Side Gallery, Berlin

East Side Gallery, Berlin
A truly fitting message for these times
East Side Gallery, Berlin
Not all the colorful artwork was on the wall

Berlin travel- Museum mania

Berlin, Germany

I really like visiting museums, especially those that focus on history and anthropology. Berlin is ideal for museum lovers like myself because of its Museum Island, a cluster of museums on the northern half of an island in the Spree River, right in the middle of the city. Museum Island consists of five museums, each with a different focus and each housed in a magnificent building. For example, the Neues has Egyptian and prehistoric collections, the Pergamon has ancient Middle Eastern artifacts while the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) holds 19th-century artwork.

I didn’t have time to visit all of these museums so I chose the Neues (New) Museum, which despite its name was built in 1859. It’s new compared to the neighboring Altes (Old) Museum was built in 1830. The Neues Museum featured a great Egyptian collection featuring mummies, tombs, papyrus scrolls, and busts of pharaohs, as well as Germanic and Celtic exhibitions.

I also wanted to visit a museum about German history so immediately afterwards, I went to the German Historical Museum, which is just down the road from Museum Island. The museum features cool suits of medieval knight armor and weaponry, medieval paintings of battles and royalty, German cars, as well as World War II posters and newspaper clippings. However, I wasn’t able to see everything since the museum was about to close so I missed out on a few of the exhibits.

Also on Museum Island is the Berlin Cathedral, a neat fortress-like Protestant church with a massive green dome flanked by two smaller green domes. The domes remind me of Orthodox churches and the Kremlin. Built in 1905, the Berlin Cathedral actually isn’t very old and isn’t even a proper cathedral because it’s not the seat of a bishop.

Earlier that day, I had visited a friend in a scenic residential part of town, that had a park with horses and a barn nearby as well as a horseshoe-shaped housing complex. While the inner parts of Berlin, like the one I was staying in, seem rather gritty and gray, the residential neighborhood was like a whole different world. I wish I could have spent longer in Berlin.

Berlin Cathedral
Berlin Cathedral
Museum Island, Berlin
Alte Nationalgalerie

Neues Museum

Berlin
Neues Museum exhibit, Berlin
Berlin, Germany
Ancient elk skeleton, found in Berlin, dating from 10,700 BC!

Altes Museum

Knight on horseback, German National Museum

Berlin, Germany



In a much different part of town, a horse pasture in a residential park

Milan travel- mighty Sforza castle and Roman-era basilica

Sforza Castle, Milan, Italy
Milan might be Italy’s most prosperous and modern city but it also boasts several impressive historical sights. These include the massive Duomo cathedral, Sforza Castle or Castello Sforzesco, and the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, a 1,600-year-old Roman church.

Sforza Castle is a handsome brownish-red castle that was built in the 15th century by the Duke of Milan that was one of Europe’s largest citadels at one point. The great Leonardo da Vinci decorated part of the interior. It boasts a central tower that looms high above the walls of the castle, which is built in a quadrangular shape. Inside, the castle is divided into three courtyards, the main one, and the smaller Ducale and Rocchetta.

Nowadays, the castle is also a giant museum complex, housing several connected museums that feature paintings, medieval weapons, musical instruments, tapestries, antique furniture, prehistoric artifacts, and even Egyptian artifacts. There is even the last work of the great Michelangelo, an unfinished marble sculpture of the Virgin Mary carrying Jesus’ dead body.

It is an impressive diverse collection of exhibits that lets you explore the castle, while appreciating great art and artifacts and learning about Milanese history. I do find having museums inside a castle is a great way to make use of such a historic building while allowing visitors to double up on their enjoyment. Even if these museums weren’t in this castle, they would be worth checking out.

The castle is also used as venue for events like a vintage car show that was going on when I visited, which included sports cars from the 1960s and 1970s and antique pre-World War II cars. The castle is in Sempione Park, that also features an aquarium and a modern museum, which unfortunately I didn’t visit.
Milan, Italy

Built in 379–386, the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio is a Roman-era church that is also brownish-red, similar to Sforza Castle. As befitting one of Milan’s main churches, the basilica is quite elegant with a smooth exterior, which again is similar to Sforza Castle. It features a triangular roof and a portico with arches with an enclosed open courtyard in front of it, flanked by two bell towers on either side. The shorter tower was built in the 9th century while the other one was built in the mid-12th century. Inside, the crypt features the remains of three saints – Ambrose, who the church is named after, Gervasus and Protasus.
Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, Milan

How to get there: For Sforza Castle, get off at Cairoli Castello subway station on the Red Line or Lanza station on the Green Line.
For Basilica of Sant’Ambroglio, get off at S. Ambrogio subway station on the Green Line.
Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, Milan
Inside the basilica Continue reading “Milan travel- mighty Sforza castle and Roman-era basilica”

Rome travel- eternal sights


Rome is famous for great historic sites such as the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, but what makes it a fantastic city is that there are many more sites across the city. A lot of the sights are close to each other, such as the Colosseum and the Roman Forum and Capitoline Hill, and there are entire neighborhoods or districts that are full of landmarks. A lot of other cities have famous sites but when you visit those sites, there isn’t much to see in the immediate vicinity. In Rome, the famous sites are often next to other interesting sites, and the surroundings are filled with beautiful and historic buildings.

Besides the Colosseum and the Forum, two of Rome’s most well-known tourist attractions are the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. Both are east of the Via del Corso, a straight street that was built by the Romans (from the Roman empire, not the present) and within 15 minutes from each other. Unfortunately, they were both undergoing renovations when I was there so it was underwhelming, but still crowded.

The Pantheon is to the west of the Via del Corso, while not far away is the Piazza Navona, a superb square built by the Romans in the 1st century AD and surrounded by historic buildings with an obelisk and beautiful fountains in the center. The Pantheon is a former Roman temple, from 126 AD, with a domed ceiling with an occulus (central hole in the middle of it). It is incredibly well preserved, simply because it has been in continual use as a place of worship.

Crossing the Tiber took me to the Castel Sant’Angelo, a castle built by the Emperor Hadrian in 129 AD. The top of the castle gives you fine views of the River Tiber and the Vatican, with St Peter’s Basilica visible.


The Trevi Fountain, fenced off for renovations but still a crowd-puller

Parthenon, Rome
Pantheon

Outside the Pantheon is the Piazza della Rotonda
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France travel- Chambéry


When I visited France, I went to a place not many people have been to, the small town of Chambéry, located in the southeast near the French Alps. The reason I visited Chambéry was because it was between Paris and Milan and I wanted to stay somewhere in the middle. While it is obscure, Chambéry used to be capital of the House of Savoy, way back in the Middle Ages from 1295-1563, which ruled a region covering southeastern France and northwestern Italy. However when the Duke of Savoy moved the capital to Turin in Italy in 1563, Chambéry steadily declined in terms of political importance.

Chambéry is still pleasant, with a heritage area that has a castle, lanes with attractive buildings, and the Elephants Fountain, built to honor Benoît de Boigne, a military officer from Chambéry, for his feats as a general with the Maratha Empire in India in the late 18th century. Apparently he served in the French military, then went overseas to India. The castle or chateau was a large, formidable grayish building which houses administrative offices and a chapel. You can only visit on guided tours held at certain times so I didn’t do that.

The town is a nice place to walk around since there isn’t much traffic and there are a number of lanes to pass through and see interesting old buildings and houses. One can also visit the nearby Lake Bourget in a neigbouring town or enjoy mountain views by cycling on the outskirts of the town. However, since it was a little rainy and cloudy, it was hard to see the mountains and I decided to stay in town.


Elephants Fountain, a local landmark built in 1826 to honour a local war veteran who served in India


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