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Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

Shoestring Calendar May 2009This month’s image comes from Granada, Spain.  Preview here:

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I love capitols — can’t get enough of their marble halls, gilded domes, dark wood paneling and hundreds of tiny desks (at least they always *look* tiny from the viewing gallery) with multicolored voting buttons.  They capture a regal era removed from our own with a permanence found rarely in modern architecture.

While in DC at the beginning of January, my destination of choice was the new visitors’ center at the U.S. Capitol.  On the way, I passed the inauguration grounds with stage building in progress, pictured on Tuesday.  (Where did you spend your inauguration day? Share your stories in the comments.)

In sheer contrast to the classical American dome is that of the German Reichstag, whose glass dome by Sir Norman Foster was added to the building after reunification.  The overarching theme of Germany’s new governmental architecture is transparency, with buildings and offices as visible as possible.  From the visitors’ area of the dome, it is possible to look down into the plenary room below, as pictured here.

Reichstag, inside view

A visit to the Reichstag is fun and free — check all the details for making yours a smooth one in this previous post.

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I’m sadly making my way back across the Atlantic today, but before I go, I wanted to share a picture from my brief visit to New York City.  This fair maiden guards the Columbus Circle entrance to Central Park, which I walked from top to bottom on New Year’s Day.

Gateway to Central Park

Have you already completed your first travels of 2009?  Have something planned for January or February?  Please share your destination in the comments.

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Vicky Cristina BarcelonaTuesday is discount day at one of the largest English-language (i.e. not dubbed) cinemas in Berlin.  On tap this week was Woody Allen’s newest, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  Though a sadder movie than I expected, what disappointed me most was the portrayal of one of those three title characters — can you guess which one?

The film is set in — surprise! — Barcelona, and while every review you’ll read will extol the gorgeous sweeping views of the enchanting city, it felt more like they spent a few days shooting at spots around town before retreating to other locations.  Would that Spain had been more influential in the plot.  As written, the film and its romantic intrigues could have easily been set in any other number of romantic, European, Mediterranean locales. 

La Sagrada Familia ceiling

One of the first things Vicky and Cristina do upon arriving in town is a pilgrimage to La Sagrada Familia, the masterwork-in-progress of architect Antoni Gaudi.  Vicky is pursuing a master’s in Catalan culture (without, I might add, much ability to speak Spanish), inspired by the works of Gaudi and the dulcet strains of the Spanish guitar.  If you’re not familiar with his work, Gaudi’s style was influenced by art nouveau and his whimsical architecture, like La Sagrada Familia, detail on door (Pontius Pilate)that of Hundertwasser, is usually fiercely loved or hated.  For lovers, it is easy to take in a great variety of his works in just a short visit to the city.

Making La Sagrada Familia unique is that it remains under construction, over 12 decades since breaking ground and eight decades after Gaudi’s accidental death; work continues despite setbacks from a civil war, two world wars, and the near-complete destruction of Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, sculptural detailmodels and plans.  Workers hope to finish by 2026, the centennial of Gaudi’s passing, though with any construction project of this magnitude, it is unclear whether or not they will achieve this goal.  If you could ignore the modern equipment, it would be like stepping back a thousand years, when many cathedrals across Europe were built, each taking hundreds of years to complete.

The church, open at 9 a.m. daily, is located near the subway station bearing its name.  Admission fee:  10 euros adults, 8 euros students.  Included in the admission price is entrance to the church and two on-site museums.  The site has two excellent gift shops with a variety of reasonably-priced Gaudi gear and a wide selection of postcards.

La Sagrada Familia stained glass

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At the confluence of the Moselle and Rhine rivers in the lovely city of Koblenz, Germany, stands a large Deutsches Eck, Koblenz, Germanymonument called Deutsches Eck (German Corner).  Originally dedicated to the empire of Kaiser Wilhelm I, its partial destruction in WWII led the remnants to serve as a memorial to German unity until 1989.  It was rebuilt by Koblenz in 1993.

Climbing inside the central structure (below the statue) affords views along both river banks and of the town itself.  Koblenz is a well-maintained city with abundant plantings and whimsical fountains and figures sprinkled throughout.  The center of town is dominated by pedestrian shopping areas, though it’s easy to find refuge from inclement Church Steeples, Koblenzweather in the indoor (and partially underground) Löhr Center mall at the edge of this area.  The monument is at most a 15-minute walk from the central bus or train stations.

Given its location, the area is popular with river-cruising tourists.   You don’t need to commit a week, however — one- or three-hour boat trips are readily available at standard rates.  In the summer, it is possible to make a leisurely daytrip all the way from Cologne or Bonn by boat.

The monument (admission: free) has many details to be discovered by visitors.  Each of the German states are represented by a plaque in the rounded area while their flags grace the waterfront.  I’m a sucker for reliefs like these giant carved stone snakes above the benches at the base of the monument.  For younger visitors, there is plenty of open space for running, climbing and jumping.

Stone Snakes, Deutsches Eck, Koblenz, Germany

Koblenz can be reached by bus from Frankfurt/Hahn airport and, if the timing is right, is an enjoyable day out for any passengers connecting on low-cost carriers with a long layover.

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Traveling in Europe for nearly a decade, I’ve reached a saturation point with churches. Some study-abroad students come down with an unshakable case of ABC Syndrome (short for “Another Boring Church”) in just 10 weeks! Don’t get me wrong: I studied church art intensively and am still moved by the beauty and majesty of many religious temples — but these days it takes a soaring recommendation from the guidebook to get me in the door, which happens only once or maybe twice per trip.

Sometimes I am surprised, however, by a jewel of a church that I just have to recommend. The Pisa Cathedral (Italy) is one I’ve already mentioned; the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig (Germany) is another.

St. Nicholas Church, Leipzig

The pastel color scheme and the natural light give the church a truly uplifting feel while the unique palm-frond column tops reminded me of the tree-like columns designed by Gaudi in Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia. Your eyes are naturally drawn heavenward by the architecture.

I wanted to visit the Nikolaikirche because of the significant role it played in the peace movement leading to the end of the German Democratic Republic in 1989. I was not prepared for it to be so beautiful!

Johann Sebastian Bach was the choirmaster and organist here for over a quarter-century. Regular concerts of Bach’s compositions are held at the church; tickets are 10-15 euros and can be ordered online.

Open daily for visitors (even during weddings and services, it is possible to enter the rear for viewing and gift-shop purchases), even cheapskates can appreciate as admission is free.

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Spring 2007 I took a daytrip from Bergamo, Italy, (where I was staying) to Lake Como. It was one of those convoluted trips requiring multiple forms of transportation — bus, train, ferry and cable car — to make it even possible. You can’t complain too much, however, when all your connections go off exactly as planned.

I spent most of that rainy day enjoying the beautiful scenery (more dramatic for the low-hanging clouds) and walking around the various gardens open for public viewing in the small cities around the lake. It was so that I happened to call in Varenna. Navigating winding pathways and tiny roads without sidewalks on my way to the villas I planned to visit, I happened upon this dilapidated staircase, which seems to capture nearly every romantic notion Americans cherish about Italy. Having said that, don’t you want to visit too?

Varenna struck me as a lovely place to enjoy a relaxed honeymoon. In the same instant, thinking I had discovered a real gem — charming, yet off the radar, as much as any city in such a visited area can be — I entered the first villa whose garden I’d come to see, and discovered a Rick Steves tour group staying there! So much for that theory . . .

Late spring — when the azaleas, rhododendrons and roses are already in bloom — is the best time to visit the gardens in this area. Bellagio is the city with the two largest gardens: Villa Serbelloni (visit by guided tour only; no tours when raining) and Villa Melzi d’Eril.

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