HEAVEN ON EARTH

While planning my vacation to Barcelona, Spain, a friend recommended that I take a day trip to Montserrat, which is a mountain range about an hour drive from Barcelona. On top of the mountain is a Benedictine Abbey and a basilica (Santa Maria de Montserrat), which was founded in the 10th century and continue to operate to this day with less than a hundred monks. The place has become a major tourist attraction as well as a pilgimage site for young Barcelonians who hike overnight to watch the sunrise from the heights of Montserrat. On the day of my visit, it started raining in Barcelona and our tour guide warned us that it may get foggy in the mountains so visibility may not be good. I was feeling disappointed during the drive as I was looking forward to photographing the rock formations around the monastery and throughout the range. When we arrived at the abbey there was fog all over the place, however, I was still able to partially see the rock formations and realized that the fog made the whole place look like we were in heaven…it was a breathtakingly beautiful sight. As the day went by, the fog started lifting exposing more gorgeous rock formations driving me wild with my iPhone’s camera. My biggest regret that day was leaving behind my DSLR in the hotel and using my iPhone instead. Photos would have been more gorgeous had I used my DSLR. Anyway, here are a few photos I took during my trip to Montserrat, which in literal translation means “saw mountain” as it looks like a handsaw from a distance.

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VENICE…CITY OF CANALS

When I visited Venice, Italy I prayed so hard for my trip not to end that I would wake up really early in the morning and stay up late at night just to stretch each day. The city was just magical…from the architecture, to the rich history and culture and of course the canals, which are uniquely Venice, making this city one of the most visited in the world. During my stay, I went to watch a Vivaldi concert at a theater right beside St. Mark’s Square, hopped on a gondola that cruised around the city and took long walks along narrow alleyways and across bridges connecting the multitude of islands that make up this remarkable city. I also joined a tour of the St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace and visited the former home of American socialite Peggy Guggenheim, which is now a museum showcasing her extensive art collection. Harry’s Bar, which was right beside my hotel, was also visited to try their signature Bellini and to check out the favorite hangout of Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock to name a few. The icing on the cake to my vacation was my suite at the luxurious Baglioni Hotel Luna, Venezia where my room had a view of the lagoon and my bathroom a view of the St. Mark’s bell tower. The hotel lived up to it’s five star reputation providing me with the famous Baglioni luxury and first class service. The photo above was taken in the front of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum while below are photos taken at Harry’s Bar, Peggy Guggenheim Museum and the Baglioni Hotel Luna, Venezia.

Harry’s Bar

Peggy Guggenheim Museum

Dining Room at Baglioni Hotel Luna, Venezia

Baglioni Hotel Luna, Venezia

View from my hotel suite

Living area of my hotel suite

The luxurious bed in my hotel suite

LA SAGRADA FAMILIA

A trip to Barcelona isn’t complete without visiting the world famous Sagrada Familia or Church of the Holy Family.  This architectural masterpiece by Antoni Gaudi began construction in 1882 and is expected to be completed by 2026. I have not been compelled to visit churches when travelling as they all usually look the same. However, the Sagrada Familia is not your typical church…from its ornate facade to its otherworldly interiors, visitors step out of the church with an overwhelming feeling of reverence for Gaudi. My photo above features the Nativity facade of the church, which serves as the main entrance for all visitors. I decided to take the photo at an angle to capture as much detail as possible as I was only using my iPhone.

AYASOFYA

The Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish), which means Holy Wisdom, is a grand piece of architecture that beautifully defines the Istanbul skyline. According to our tour guide, it was originally an Orthodox church which was turned into a mosque and eventually converted into a museum. It was truly a humbling experience to stand before this ancient wonder and be able to walk along its endless halls and explore its grand chambers.  Inside was generally empty except for a few relics and lighting fixtures, however, the walls and ceilings are covered with a spectacular array of religious artwork. It was fascinating to see Christian and Muslim symbols beautifully complementing each other. I think the world can learn from the walls of Ayasofya on how to coexist harmoniously despite our differences.  Sadly though, recent developments in Turkish politics may eventually lead to reviving this museum back into a mosque. I just hope the people of Istanbul decide to retain this as a symbol of secularism where people from all faiths can enjoy the beauty and wonder of this great human achievement both in construction and architecture.

PLANET CHORA

  With the Star Wars film hitting theaters just a few days ago, I thought this photo would be a nice tribute to one of my favorite films as this interesting looking building reminds me of one of their sets.  This is actually a church in the island of Mykonos (town is also called Chora) in Greece. I love the contrast between the blue sky and the white-washed walls…very Greek flag indeed!  But going back to Star Wars,  I can picture the robot C-3PO walking out of that door and happily blurting out “May the force be with you”!

ST. PETER’S ALTAR

  
The altar at the St. Peter’s Basilica is adorned with works by Gian Lorenzo Bernini who is revered as the greatest architect and sculpture of the Baroque period. He created the baldacchino, which is the four poster pavilion-like structure in front of the altar and just right below the basilica’s famous dome. The altar also feature another one of his works called the “Cathedra Petri” or throne of St. Peter, which is the golden sculpture right in the middle of the photo. Gladly, they cordoned off the altar section of the basilica thus allowing me to photograph it minus the chaotic tourist crowds.

CHURCH OF ST. BERNARD DE CLAIRVAUX

I discovered this old church/monastery in North Miami, Florida while waiting for my Filipino friends for lunch. The restaurant was just across the street from the church and with Filipinos being fashionably late, I decided to use my waiting time to explore the compound. I learned that this church was originally built in 1133 in Sacramenia, Northern Spain and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In 1925, William Randolph Hearst bought it and had it dismantled stone by stone then shipped to the United States in 11,000 crates. It was again bought by two entrepreneurs who wanted to turn it into a tourist attraction taking them 19 months to rebuild the entire church. In 1953 Time Magazine called it “the biggest jigsaw puzzle in history”.

VATICAN

Vatican

St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican is the heart of the Catholic church where millions of devotees pilgrimage to celebrate their faith and devotion. During my trip to Rome last year, my Catholic upbringing dictated that I should pay Vatican a visit. I spent an entire day visiting the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and the St. Peter’s Basilica and the amount of art amassed by the church blew away my imagination. Vatican’s grandness is an obvious reflection of the massive power of the Catholic Church.

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