Yes - you have probably seen pictures of it or have heard about the Cathedral that Antoni Gaudi was commissioned to build. You may have read about it in Dan Brown's book "Origins". You may even have heard that it may never be finished...started in 1882 even though the architect - Gaudi died almost 100 years ago. You may have done all of these things but until you EXPERIENCE the Sagrada Familia - you don't have any idea of the genius behind and in the creation of this magnificent, devotional. inspirational, multi-sensory testament to God, the Holy Family and to Christ. I have been to numerous Cathedrals, Churches and Shrines across the world but I have never experienced anything like the Sagrada Familia.
To begin - get a ticket - you can do this online - with entry date and time. It is the most visited site in Barcelona and possibly all of Spain. It is busy. We were lucky to enter early so although we didn't have the basilica to ourselves...we also weren't standing in line waiting to enter.
There is a free audio tour that you may take. Do it. It tells about different elements and spaces of the cathedral and that coupled with placards that further explain the sites will take you through on this magical adventure.
There are a couple of things I want to say......first....no words can describe the majesty of this edifice and second - no pictures can capture the confluence and harmony of structure, materials, beauty, light and magnitude of the Sagrada. So what I present here is a feeble attempt at conveying how I perceived my time in the Cathedral. It is music to the eyes and heart.
Entering the cathedral you walk through a side area that will later be closed when the new entrances are finished. The goal is to have the structure completed in 2026...the 100th anniversary of the death of Antoni Gaudi - the amazing and quixotic genius of this masterpiece. Since his death there have been a number of sculptures, architects and builders that have continued to interpret and realize his vision.
Gaudi lead a fascinating life....single throughout.. it ended tragically when he was hit by tram in Barcelona. Believed to be a vagrant because of his poor clothing and lack of identification he was left in the streets for a period of time before being recognized and taken to a local hospital. He later died of those injuries.
As an architect his creations evolved to incorporate the forms of nature (creation) into beautiful and functional structures - architectural sculptures. The Sagrada being his most ambitious and largest undertaking. But Gaudi's work can be seen around Barcelona and other cities in Spain in lampposts, mosaics, newsstands, homes, apartments complexes, parks and schools. Utilizing new materials, geometric patterns of nature and an inquisitive imagination and willingness to experiment with engineering techniques he created fabulous and timeless art in his works.
Nothing seemed to be left to chance. As you walk through the Sagrada you see and learn why the stained glass on one side is more blue - the birth of Christ - and the stained glass on the other side of the cathedral in orange/red....the passion of Christ. The walkways awash with colors. The ceiling - a canopy of trees. The "trunks" using different materials hence different colors that remind you of the infinite variety of nature. The alter with Christ on the Cross appeared to be flying or floating towards man with his eyes toward heaven depicting the suffering of the crucifixion surrounded by 50 luminous lamps, grapes and grape vines depicting ever lasting life. Everything happening at once coming together in harmony. Very different from the darkness of so many other cathedrals. Faith transcending.
As you leave the basilica you can visit areas that house additional pieces including the school that was also designed by Gaudi, Historical artifacts from the basilica and a museum that shows the process of the construction of the cathedral are open to the public. The alter piece shown below was one of his works. Nothing is left to chance, elaborate decorations abound and there is art or purpose behind everything. For example in the school pictures you will see the ceiling. Although using straight timbers for the beams you can see the undulations that look like the opposing sides of an oyster shell - resembling the one shown below which holds the holy water inside the cathedral. Recognizing and incorporating nature into worship and designing a simple ceiling that becomes a work of art.
Finally - the exiting facade is another amazing example of the genius and devotion of this cathedral. There are a number of sculptures in the facade that tell the story of the crucifixion. The agony of Christ ....the contemplation of Pontius Pilate....the gambling by the Roman soldiers for Christ's Robe....the cross ......and finally.....high atop the building you see a gold Christ....having ascended to Heaven but looking down as if you say here I am.....come to me.
The mind of a great man, his imagination and vision in a devotion to the greatness of God through the creation of nature and the sacrifice of Christ for eternal life manifested in Sagrada Familia.....home of the Sacred Family. This cathedral a masterpiece to be experienced. It is music to the eyes and heart.
During our time in the Czech Republic - and after hearing from friends and family how unique the town of Kutna Hora was - we decided to make a day trip and visit. When we first inquired how to best get there from Prague - our hotel concierge said they could arrange a private van to take us there in "air-conditioned comfort". There were four us and the price was around 70 euros - about $85 per person. Fortunately - the more we asked the easier we found it would be to just take the train. IF private tours are your thing - please do so - but I have found it much more enjoyable and entertaining to take the wonderful local transportation that you find all over Europe.
We caught the tram to the train station (one block from the hotel) and then for 6 euros - $7.35 per person ROUNDTRIP we took the one hour relaxing train ride to Kutna Hora. From the station in Kutna Hora it is a short walk to the Sedlec Kostnice Ossuary - well known as the "Bone Church".
The Sedlec Ossuary is home to over 60,000 remains that have been gathered over the centuries. It was established by Parish Monks in the early 1100's and has a special if not eerie history. There is a small entrance fee that is used to offset the expense of maintaining the church and used to pay for it's continued excavation.
Along with numerous stacks, chandeliers and sometimes humorous formations and arrangements of human bones there are two large pyramids of bones and skulls piled high in opposing areas of the main floor. It is said that a blind monk starting building them to honor the ancestors and those who had died by plague during the 14th century, the Hussite wars in the 15th century or just natural causes through out the centuries. The story goes that when he was finished - he regained his sight.
The tenting around the entrance to the Ossuary is where the excavations continue along with some modifications needed to support the structure. As you can see from the pictures - remains are still being unearthed today. The archeologist we talked with said they thought the skull and accompanying skeleton were from the 14th century - the person (probably) might have died from the plague. Very strange.
Unique doesn't come close to describing the Sedlec Ossuary. It is not to be missed.
Kutna Hora was a very wealthy city at one time. Silver mines were discovered and that mining contributed to the glory days of the city including building numerous wondrous cathedrals which are still found in the area. The wealth of Kutna Hora rivaled that of Prague during this time and the city displayed this wealth through contributions to the churches.
One magnificent structure: The Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady and St. John the Baptist is a UNESCO-World Heritage site. What makes this cathedral significant is that it has been undergoing extensive reconstruction and the interior is rich in history, details and bursting with vibrant colors. In addition you have the opportunity to view the roof of the interior ceiling after climbing into the attic from the top of the spiral staircase. This gives you a glimpse as to the massive block and timber structure of the cathedral itself. I was awestruck by the craftmanship from a distant age and how difficult and back breaking the work must have been.
The cathedral was declared a UNESCO site in 1995 but only after the extensive work that has been done was it re-opened to the public in 2009. It is still a working church, continues to be restored and is in use today.
Taking the time to stroll through the cathedral to see the massive Monstrance which is housed in the treasury room and to view the work that has been accomplished to bring back the glory of the cathedral in all it's splendor - a trip to Kutna Hora - is a must for any trip to the Czech Republic.
Prague - one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The essence of history mixed with the modern age are wonderful to experience.
We arrived in Prague the week after Easter. There were reminders of the celebration in the Old Town Plaza - including this picture through the Easter Egg tree that was brought in for the festivities. Since we were at the end - it was clean up time and as they say - here today and by tomorrow it was gone.
The hotel we booked was Pod Vezi based on a number of recommendations that we found on TripAdvisor. I take everything on TA with a grain of salt. I have traveled extensively and what one person says is amazing I have often found to be average. Perspective has limitations. But what we found was a wonderful boutique hotel in a perfect location with an amazing staff at a great rate and breakfast included - which was incredible.
The hotel sits at the base of the Charles Bridge on the opposite side of the Old Town. It is away from the maddening crowds but close enough to walk to any time you want. Around the hotel are mini markets, shops, restaurants, money exchange places, transportation including Metro - Tram - or River Cruises. Up the hill lies the castle and the cathedral - across the bridge lies Old Town Prague with all it offers.
The first night we were there we serendipitously found the "Lennon Wall". It is a wall of peace across from the Lennon Pub. There were a number of people who were adding to the wall - their own messages in their personal travels. We also came across one of the many bridges in Europe where lovers signify their devotion by adding a lock to the railings....so many in Paris that they had to stop the practice for fear of collapsing the bridge. Love conquers !!
Walking across the Charles Bridge is a wonderful experience in itself. The majesty of the sculptures outlining the edges of the bridge take you back in time to a very reverential period of Christianity. The city itself harbors massive cathedrals dedicated to the spiritual nature of Christ. St. Vitus - St Nicholas - St Francisco de Assis.....each beautiful each dedicated in their own way.
The Old Town - Plaza in Prague is the center square where the crowds meet. There are numerous restaurants, hotels, shops and bars that line the perimeter. One of the center pieces to the square is the Astronomical Clock - which be forewarned - is under going renovation. It is covered in a shroud that uses a back projection system to mimic the actions of the clock when it strikes on the hour.
During the daylight you can't see much....expect that the renovation is also being sponsored by MasterCard....tacky.....but in the evening as the sun sets it becomes more beautiful. I have added a picture - which when you look at it - it seems normal...like you were witnessing the actual clock - but you aren't ....it is a covering.
There is so much to see and do in Prague...the Jewish Quarter, The Kafka Museum, the Old Castle the Cathedral at the Castle........so much.....but the lasting impression I have of Prague is the city in the evening - at dusk and at night. I will leave you with these images: Enjoy
There are not enough superlatives to describe the experience we had dining at Casserol.
To begin...we hit this place by luck. A person in our group ran into some ladies who were leaving the restaurant raving about the place. They said so many nice things we thought - what the heck - lets give it a try. I am so glad we did. It was 5 star dining at a 3 star price. I haven't had a meal that good and memorable in recent history...and through my travels I have eaten at some amazing places.
It wasn't dinner - it was dining. There are always at least four things I look for when reviewing a restaurant....menu items....taste - presentation and service. Fine dining is when they all come together - especially presentation and service. There were four of us at dinner and we all ordered different things. Each one of us raved about our dinner choices.
We were surprised from the start. We were each given a salmon pate with basil ...compliments of the house. I noticed they did this for everyone.
I ordered Duck Breast with roasted salsify, wild broccoli, garlic mashed potatoes puree and demi-glaze. The presentation was superb - it was actually downright beautiful. and the taste - oh my gosh. Moist - rich duck with the complement of the demi-glaze and the mashed potatoes...it was amazing. When a dinner is this good I call it "plate licking" good and that was how it was. I wanted to lick the plate when I was done. AND ....AND .......the cost in US dollars...... $24.00
My wife ordered more simply: a seasonal green salad and soup.....but what a wonderful salad and the soup - a Bohemian kulajda soup with mushrooms, egg, potatoes, sour cream and dill. It was served as mushrooms plated in a deep bowl surrounding an egg....then the broth is poured in over the top of the ingredients. It was superb.
Our waiter was amazing. We don't speak Czech and as visitors some places will treat you with indifference....but not here. He acted like we were the only ones in the restaurant. And when a side joke was made about french fries......he actually brought us a bowl of french fries....and they too were excellent.
I can't recommend this establishment enough. It is in the Old City on a main street. The address is Karlova 44........I hope you will not be disappointed. We weren't !
If you have the oportunity and are in Prague and looking for a great place for dinner in the Old Town area - "casserol" is worth the visit.
I have been fortunate to visit a number of Presidential Libraries or properties over time. Prior to coming to Little Rock I had read about the Clinton Library and the collections it housed but I had no idea how incredible it was. This post will take you through a few photos and comments but it won't due justice to the vast array of materials that it houses.
If you are at all interested - make a special trip. It will not only awe you but it may bring back some very interesting memories.
To start - and here is a BK Travel Tip: I did what we in our family call the "Disney Dash". While in college our daughter spent a summer in DisneyWorld working in their internshp program. She explained to us that when people enter the park they are usually so overwhelmed that they start at the entrance and work their way back through the park. The "Disney Dash" is to go to the back and work your way forward. You have a better chance of seeing some things before the huge crowds reach you - although you will cross paths at some point. It also give you an idea of what you might want to go back and see again. So here is the tip ....... go to the top floor first and work your way down.
The library has three floors with the first and second housing the vast collections. The third floor holds a replica of the Oval Office as it was during Clinton's Presidency. I headed to the third floor first and was the only visitor there for quite awhile. The volunteer docent gave me a private tour and explanation of what many of the objects in the office meant to President Clinton. It was fabulous.
For example: the desk is a copy of the Resolute Desk that sits in the White House. Where the eagle crest is - is the secret door where that famous picture of young John F Kennedy Jr. sat under the desk. . You are even able to sit in the "President's Chair" and have your picture taken if you want. The attention to detail is amazing. There is a plaque from Queen Victoria explaining how the desk came about and what it's counterpart means which by the way is NOT actually in Buckingham Palace (contrary to popular belief). It is in the Royal Navy Museum in England.
As I mentioned, the attention to detail is astounding including the ceiling which has the eagle crest in relief at the center surrounded not by stars but by Oak Leaf Clusters...another reference to the past.
If you notice the crest on the left has the Eagle looking right facing his talon clutching arrows. The crest on the right has the Eagle facing left and looking over the olive branch - a sign of peace. There was a story propagated that during times of peace the eagle looks left but during times of war the carpet is switched out and the eagle takes on the left looking position. The truth is that prior to 1945 the official crest was the one on the left....eagle looking over the arrows - signs of war - but Truman changed it that year so that ever since the eagle has stood - looking to peace.
On the second floor you find stacks of Blue Boxes aligned in cabinets that were designed to look similar to the library at Trinity College in Dublin. It is impressive in that each Blue Box contains some type of correspondence or request made to the President and his Administration during their eight years in office.
On the first floor in the center aisle you will see every year of the Clinton's Presidency as illustrated by a timeline that depicts the events and significant legislation that was passed. Housed in the lower right hand corner are metal binders. One for each month of the year. They have the President's Schedule copied - on a day by day and often minute by minute basis so that you could see the demands and details of daily life of the President. It was fascinating to actually realize how overwhelming the job and responsibilities are......and you think you are busy.
The wonder of the library isn't all about the time of the presidency. There are personal items from the time "Billy" and Hillary were growing up and a look into there lives before the Clinton years. Interesting to think about them as kids too. Matter of fact there is a letter from Hillary talking about what she wants to be when she grows up...either a teacher or a nuclear science physicist.
BONUS: I was also very fortunate to visit at the time that I did. Only a couple of days earlier a new exhibit had opened. It is about how music has not only influenced the president's and presidential campaigns but how deeply it affects our personal lives as well from a political viewpoint.
The exhibit is a tremendous bonus with an amazing story to tell. Iconoclastic items donated to reinforce and help us remember how music and artists have a substantial place in our American journey.
No matter what political or none political affiliation you are it will bring back memories of a not too distant past. If you like visiting artifacts of Presidential terms and a glimpse into their professional lives and also enjoy learning about their personal lives too - this library is a must-see.
I posted earlier about my trip to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis TN where 50 years ago this week Martin Luther King was assassinated. Since you will be hearing much about this over the next few days and particularly on April 4th I thought I would continue this blog about the museum and the plight of our fellow Americans.
As you walk through the museum....it truly is a walk through our most recent history that has had the most documentation. You may have learned about the slave trade the "rum - molasses - for slaves" route that brought the captured Africans to America to labor in the fields and homes as property of their owners. The abuses, the neglect, the indifference, the breaking up of families - the continued oppression after their "emancipation" and the Civil War. The continued onslaught and withholding of decent human rights. But the museum tells the story from a different angle than just acting as victims. It tells the story of a people who although suffered immensely continued to survive and find ways to move forward towards their belief in equality and that their humanity was equal to others.
The struggle lead to communities being formed that protected them. Especially the church where they gathered to gain strength, to organize and to move forward peacefully. The unrelenting quest for education. The right to vote and to decent comparable wages - to make a living and a life in a freedom they believed was their right as an American.
I was too young to remember when integration happened in the south. I remember reading and learning about it so I visited Central High School in Little Rock Arkansas where in 1957 nine African American kids wanted an education that was equal to their white counterparts so deeply they subjected themselves to some of the worst personal offenses imaginable.
Prior to that time even though the "Jim Crow" laws had said that separate but equal was acceptable....in 1954 the Supreme Court had determined in "Brown v. Board of Education" that ALL citizens in the US were to have access to shared equal educational opportunities. The decision wasn't popular to all but was accepted because there wasn't a time frame attached to the decision to integrate. Integration of the schools didn't occur.
Three years later these strong children and their families believed the law should be obeyed and they tried to enter Central High. They were denied access by angry mobs. The Supreme Court of the United States had determined they were legally entitled to attend but it took the intervention of Federal Troops to support that law. Escorted by those troops they were finally admitted into the school but hatred and malice were their classmates.
This is part of the journey. When you hear or read this week about the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King remind yourself that there have been so many additional sacrifices prior to and since these events transpired. Take time to learn more deeply about our history because it is our history. This year is especially memorable because it has been 50 years since Dr. King's assassination...... the struggles continue. Make your way to Little Rock and Memphis. Make your way to history.
Martin Luther King, April 4th 1968
BK Travel Tips
To enjoy travel and see the world and often yourself as if for the first time and with with the eyes of a young child.