Transcendence, Sore Feet and Grandeur at St. Peter’s Basilica – Vatican City, Italy

Following my last post on the Vatican Musuems, take this one as a continuation in both spirit and layout form.

What does it feel like to be illuminated from the inside out, to feel like your mouth will never fully close from all the grandeur around you and to not even care that your feet are screaming bloody murder with each and every step. Take a visit to St Peters Basilica after spending the previous day walking all over Florence and you’re almost guaranteed to feel the same way.

After finishing up in the museum, our small tour group wound it’s way towards what would be the grand finale, St. Peters Basilica.

Fun fact, while this canopy over the alter may look massive, let me assure it it’s even larger than you would think. Bernini’s baldacchino is 96 feet tall and contains about 100,000 pounds of bronze… thats right, bronze. A reason it might not look as large as it really is would be because the dome above it is a staggering 452 feet.

There is never a moment when you are not just standing here in awe, utterly dwarfed by it all.

To say this was a magnificent end to a morning full of wonder would be an understatement. It’s hard to fully state just how beautiful, awe-inspiring and humbling it is to visit a place like the Vatican and know you’ve only seen maybe 10% of all that is to see. I have a friend who’s been here four times already and is still ready to go back at a moments chance and if I lived any distance shorter, I would be the same. As it is, I don’t know when i’ll be back but I know with a fervent assurance I could spend a solid week here, day in at day break and day out at sunset and still feel there was much to see and learn.

~m

A Bounty of Overwhelming Glory at the Vatican Musuems- Vatican City, Italy

There are hundreds of places I’d love to see before I shuffle off this mortal coil, some of them as specific as single bookstore in a city and some as all encompassing as a whole continent. Rapa Nui, Singapore, St Petersburg, Prague are just a few, and Vatican City was up there among the very top, at least until I was able to mentally marked it off. It was as amazing as i’d ever expected it to be and to say i’m not already planning a way to go back and be able to spend a solid week just walking through the museums lengthy corridors would be an enormous falsehood.

Full disclosure- if you’re looking for a post about the history of the Vatican, it’s influence and the way it differentiates from the Holy See, you probably would do well to click elsewhere.
I thought long and hard about how I would put together these photos in a blog post, both because I don’t consider myself a Christian and because i’m not a person who can easily walk the line between fawning over the gorgeous architecture and the millions of wondrous treasures housed here while also remembering the at times incredibly bloody history of Catholicism.

So, rather than a blog post full of travel writing, think of this as my photo journal of my visit to the Vatican Museums.

At times you look up so much, you almost forget to look around you, and that would be a monumental mistake, given all the cabinets that line the miles of corridors here filled to almost overflowing with relics, art, items of curiosity and just literal treasure. 

If you take a tour of the Vatican Museums or even if you go independently, you will also most certainly end up visiting the Sistine Chapel. If you noticed, there are no photos of it here in this post and you might be tempted to think we didn’t visit it but the truth is with the tour we took, we visited it twice. Once before general opening hours and where we got to sit for almost an hour marveling at it’s beauty and speaking in hushed tones when we spoke at all and again later when we were doubling back on our way to St Peters Basilica . There are no photos however, because I didn’t take any as it’s forbidden to take video or photographs and considering where we were, it wasn’t hard to follow that rule, no matter the temptation.

I would highly recommend allocating a full morning to visiting the Vatican Museums and St Peters Basilica and wearing the most comfortable shoes you own as there is just so much to see and an enormous space to see it all in. Be prepared for crowds but know that there is more than enough to see to make it worth it.

~m

Basilica Di San Marco and Museo Correr- Venice, Italy

Our second day in Venice started bright and early, with the determination to see as much as possible now that our leisurely day of walking around (and souvenir buying) had been allocated. After eating a pretty delicious breakfast at the hotel, we booked it to the Piazza San Marco to see if we could either get into the Doges Palace or the visit the Basilica Di San Marco first. The previous day when we had walked by the Basilica we had seen a line that rounded back towards the exit of the church and we had seen something similar with the Doges Palace, so we had decided that waking up early would be the best bet to get the chance to see more without having to be stuck in line for too long (and also cut down on costs by not buying skip the line tickets- they’re great when you’re more pressed for time but in general if you can just wake up early, it’s always nicer to save that money for other things).

We found only a couple of people in line to enter San Marcos at 9:15 (it opens at 9:30, and is free admission but they do check to make sure you’re not carrying large backpacks) and so we figured that was our best bet for getting a chance to explore the most famous of all churches in Venice and one of the most beautiful examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. Photography is not allowed inside the Basilica but, I don’t think any photography would really do justice to how beautiful and just awe-inspiring the interior is. I’ve been to my fair share of churches (and I would continue to visit yet more on this trip) but the clear and heavy influence of Byzantine artifacts and style here- like the beautiful mosaic work in the floor- makes it a genuine favorite.

After exiting the main area of the church we decided to wander up and pay the fee to visit the accompanying museum thats housed on the upper level. I would highly recommend paying the 5€ ticket fee even if you’ve absolutely no interest in the historical context of the Basilica or the artwork it houses (although I’m judging you something fierce if you’re here at all and have no interest- the heck are you wasting your time like that for?) if only for the view of the square and part of the Doges Palace that you can only get if you go up to the second level.

After sitting down for a good bit to bask in the veritable splendor of the basilica, we took ourselves back downstairs and across the square, to the Museo Correr. We decided to do this rather than go straight to the Doges Palaces because we found out that if you bought tickets at the Museo Correr, they were also valid for the Palace and would enable you to skip the regular line, and since I had wanted to visit this museum anyways, it worked out perfectly.

The Correr Musuem encompasses both the art and history of Venice and it’s a fantastic primer for someone who’s never been before and has only a small idea of what Venetian history contains (I really only know the history of Venice as it intersected rather bloodily with Byzantine history, namely the 4th crusade). Though the Doges palace also contains plenty concerning the history of Venice, I would really recommend visiting the Correr Museum if you have the time during your visit here because the art on display is supremely interesting, the building itself is gorgeous and honestly there’s just so much to see here alone that we didn’t realize two hours had already passed until we checked the time.

We would have spent longer there, but for reasons not quite well explained to us, the Doge’s palace wouldn’t be open it’s full hours until 6pm that day, and would instead close much earlier. So we exited back onto the now very familiar Piazza San Marco and headed to the Doges Palace, for a taste of another kind of opulence.

~m

The Most Colorful Mountain In the Wasteland- Salvation Mountain, California

fablesandcoffee at Salvation Mountain, California Salvation Mountain, California Salvation Mountain, California
Salvation Mountain, California    Salvation Mountain, California Love at Salvation Mountain, California Salvation Mountain, California Salvation Mountain, California Salvation Mountain, California

Heat and sureality.

Those are the two things I remember the most about visiting Salvation Mountian. The sun beat down on us as relentless as ever- not even at Death Valley had it felt so harsh, like it’s only purpose was to shine brighter than anything else out here.

Lucky for me though, because it made all the colors of this place stand out in brilliant contrast to the almost literal wasteland surrounding it. Slab City is the place you’ll find Salvation Mountain, or if you actually want to googlemaps yourself here, perhaps searching for Niland will help get you there. I learned about Salvation Mountain around the same time as my interest (obsession?) in the Salton Sea started and getting the chance to visit one meant of course I had to visit the other.

Links to help get you aquatinted with the area, the people, the madness :
NYT on Slab City
Salvation Mountain website
NPR on Slab City

The parking area was half filled with cars when we arrived, people climbing all over the mountain and taking selfies. By the way yup, you can climb it, just make sure to stay on the “yellow brick road”, by which they mean the yellow painted steps or else the caretaker will yell at you very loudly and you might just slip and hurt yourself. We stayed with our feet on the ground though, wandering in and out and around, just literally dazzled by the colors. Its surreal and something close to madness, but it’s also beautiful and the passion that created the whole thing is certainly felt at every turn.

If you’re headed to Coachella, Joshua Tree National Park or you want to get away from it all by moving to Slab City (billed as the last free place in America ), do stop by. Keep an open mind, don’t go wandering too far off into the desert and keep a small grip on reality.

~m
p.s in case you dear reader are curious, i’m not exactly religious but I could still appreciate the fervor and devotion so very much evident here

Thorncrown Chapel- Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Path to Thorncrown Chapel

Lovely green and structure

The architecture inside Thorncrown Chapel

Look up, Thorncrown Chapel

Bible and Stone, Eureka Springs AR

Inside Thorncrown Chapel

The silver light beams, Thorncrown Chapel

Thorncrown Chapel in the Green

Thorncrown Chapel, Eureka Springs AR

It’s one of the greatest mysteries of my life that given my agnostic/atheist/whatever-you’d-like-to-call-it status, I still somehow inevitably end up in places that bubble over with jubilant fervor towards a higher power. Theology and the sociological aspects of institutionalized religion interest me, and visiting grand Cathedrals or other amazing places of worship always end up somewhere on my travel list wherever I go, but even if they don’t, I still end up sitting somewhere monumentally beautiful, just breathing quietly.

You’d think living in Texas I would get my fill of religious architecture, but the simple truth is, there is no great beauty in the mega churches that are so popular here. They stand either like great arenas where huge screens and big speakers broadcast sermons or they’re boxed up buildings that speak of a modernist twist that just doesn’t call forth that spark in the chest of reaching towards the heavens. There are a few here and there that are small and lovely- homages to what people call a “simpler time”, and a small number of older cathedrals that breathe a subtle gothic vibe amid their more progressive neighbors. In general though, beauty in religious architecture is incredibly hard to find here, at least as far as i’ve been given a chance to see.

Thorncrown Chapel though, in the midst of the green splendor color riot that is Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is an incomparable beauty. There is a feeling of being closer to something, anything, while sitting in the still quiet here and it is truly a place worth visiting even if you have zero inclinations towards anything regarding religion or architecture, just to breathe in a little of the calm devotional joy that overflows like a gentle spring here.

~m