I have officially gone DIS-nuts.

As I lay my sweet, precious, incredibly inquisitive and intelligent two and a half year old down to bed last night for the tenth time, she proved 100% why I am currently a total Disney nut. She looked up at me, the pale green glow of her nightlight reflecting in her cute little eyes, and said (for the eighth time): “Daddy, sing me the Tiki Tiki Tiki Room song one more time before I go to sleep.” So I did. (See the clip below if you don’t know what I’m talking about)

It’s kind of funny how the once “tourist attractions are no good for me” haughty traveler has turned into the “DREAM BIG, PRINCESS” daddy of today. It probably started at about the same time we started letting babyPrimate watch TV. Just a show here, a clip there, etc. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is one of the most kid-accessible TV shows I’ve ever seen. And I don’t even mind watching it, because she LOVES it, she learns from it, and seriously, who doesn’t love Mickey? mommyPrimate put together the absolute best two-year-old’s birthday party on the planet with a Minnie’s Bow-Tique theme. So when our Christmas plans to meet family in New Orleans fell through, and the suggested replacement was a week in Orlando in March we jumped on that faster than a fat kid on a cupcake.

The morning we left, mommyPrimate and I packed up the car very quietly, and when we were ready to go we opened babyPrimate’s bedroom door and she jumped up SUPER fast and said “WE’RE GOING AT DISNEYWORLD.” That was the first super magic moment Disney brought me since I was a 5 year old, AND THEY DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO DO ANY OF IT. So we drove to Orlando. No drama from the little mama in the car.

The trip to Disney World itself was magical. When you go as an adult with just another adult, it’s a WHOLE lot of fun. You kinda feel like a kid again. When you go with your own kid, and everything is real to them, well, it’s kinda real to you, too. For example, when she met Minnie Mouse, she met Minnie Mouse. It was real to her. As real as anything. And because of the joy that just overflowed from her in the biggest way, I’ve turned into a Disney nut. I’m just not going to miss something that might make my babyPrimate that happy again.

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…when you hide a Mickey in your kid's cinnamon roll…

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So things like this keep happening. Hidden Mickeys keep appearing around the house. We talk about princesses all the time (especially the badass feminist ones like Moana.) We’ve planted tons of flowers out of inspiration from Epcot, and I’m keeping the fridge stocked with Schöfferhofer. I. Love. It.

 

Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy – Interior

Rome, Italy

If you feel small standing in St. Peter’s Square, you’re only going to feel smaller as you get closer to the entrance of the basilica itself. As you get close to the many, many doors, you notice that the relief carvings on the doors themselves are as big as you are. Maybe bigger.

Rome, Italy

Once you’ve used half of your camera’s memory card on the door frames, you step inside and immediately start clearing space so that you have plenty of pictures remaining. I think perhaps this building is 4 dimensional, in the sense that it certainly seems like it is bigger on the inside than on the outside. My favorite view is this one, looking straight up the Nave towards the transept, with the many domes and windows gushing in light.

Rome, Italy

Once your glasses change from dark to clear (OMG I’m SUCH a dad!) you notice the myriad details. Saints and apostles leaning out from the wall to speak with you. Frescoes so high they might as well be actual images of heaven. Beautiful Latin text that you kinda understand but not totally lining the walls in gold. Windows and trimmings as far as the eye can see.

Rome, Italy

Clearly when the interior designer was consulted on St. Peter’s, they didn’t go for a minimalist look.

Rome, Italy

Frescoes from renaissance masters are overhead throughout the Basilica. I would imagine the density of art works from famous artists in St. Peter’s would rival the population density of Kowloon Walled City in the middle of the 20th century.

Rome, Italy

The baldachin doesn’t actually have the high chancel of the church in it, because that is farther back at the end of the longitudinal axis of the cross on the throne of St. Peter. Apparently the baldachin, directly under the dome (not like the Stephen King story) sits atop the burial place of St. Peter himself.

Rome, Italy

I think St. Peter is in that gold box!

Rome, Italy

The main dome is massive. Much bigger than the Duomo in Florence. I believe you can donate a few Euros to climb up, but we didn’t do it. It was the end of the day and stairs probably weren’t happening.

Rome, Italy

St. Peter’s “Throne” – where the high chancel of the church is. Totally looks like the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones to me. Quite an amazing piece of sculpture.

Rome, Italy

I love this view of the transept – it gives you some idea of the scale of St. Peter’s Basilica. I’m pretty sure you could take off, circle, and land a small plane in this amount of space. This is one reason I titled this blog series “Masterpieces of Light and Space.” Sometimes the negative space where nothing hangs but air (and the holy spirit) is the most powerful part of a church’s design.

Rome, Italy

Those frescoes, tho.

My goal with this post was to capture the size and general effect of the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica. I hope the images I’ve chosen have done that to some degree for you. In future posts I will explore the art and the relics that I encountered on my visit to St. Peter’s, and if you didn’t read the first part of my St. Peter’s story, you can see my thoughts on the exterior here.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy – Part I – Exterior

Rome, Italy

Some landmarks simply seem too big to write about. I mean does anyone really have the words to describe the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest? That’s how I feel about St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It’s the biggest church on earth, filled with incredible Renaissance art from the likes of Rafael, Bernini, Michaelangelo, and so on and so forth. It sits within a stone’s throw of arguably the greatest art collection on earth, the Vatican Museum, and it’s built on a scale that totally bends the mind.

Rome, Italy

I guess I must start by talking briefly about St. Peter’s Square. If you want to visit the basilica, you’ll be going through the square to get through security. The scale is massive. There are two enormous colonnades extending from either side of the basilica, and perched on top are larger than life statues of all the saints. Each saint is holding the implement used to kill them. Very artistic. Kinda dark.

Rome, Italy

From a little bit closer, the scale becomes a bit more clear. The facade of the basilica is so tall that you can’t even see the cupola on top. You can see the cupola from anywhere in Rome, except for right in front of the church. Like most major basilicas, St. Peter’s is built in the shape of a cross, and the cupola sits over the transept. It is so far back from the foot of the cross, where you enter, that you can’t even see it. And it’s like 400′ tall, so it’s not easy to miss.

Rome, Italy

That’s not to say that the entry way is in any way less than major. Freaking Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in the doorway. Charlemagne. Does that speak to how old this building is, or what?

Rome, Italy

The exterior of St. Peter’s gets its own post because it’s SO BIG. Another couple of topics will be the interior (general), the art, and the relics. I can’t think of another church that has so much to cover, but then again I can’t think of another church that is widely considered the epicenter of western Christianity. Also, those Swiss Guard dudes were intimidating AF.

Ciao.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Saint-Ferrol des Augustins, Marseilles, France

Marseille, France

The Vieux Port of Marseille is a pretty stunning location with views of rows and rows of boats sitting in turquoise water, cafes and brasseries, the citadel and Abbey of St. Victor, and the shining beacon of Notre Dame de la Garde overlooking it all, and one building stands out amongst the rest. It’s the building that will blind you as it reflects the sun, will make you need to take HDR photos to avoid a hot spot with your camera, and may pique your curiosity, the church of Saint-Ferrol des Augustins.

Marseille, France

Unlike Notre Dame de la Garde and Marseille Cathedral, this is a parish church. Apparently the church has been here in one form or another, continuously built upon and expanded since it was owned by the knights Templar in the 12th century. The Baroque facade and Italian style bell towers were built much later.

Smaller chapels dot the edges of the main sacred space, but there’s no super famous artwork or relics or famous dead folks to go visit it. It’s simply a nice and extremely old church that you should visit as you walk around the old port.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Trinity Episcopal Church, New York, New York

Trinity Episcopalian Church

In lower Manhattan’s hustle and bustle lies a gem from the colonial days, and I would imagine is one of the oldest continually operating churches in the United States (not THE oldest, factcheckers!). Trinity Church is an Episcopal Parish in the Diocese of New York, situated on Wall Street, featuring beautiful stained glass and the corpse (maybe just the gravestone now) of famed colonial rapper Alexander Hamilton.

Trinity Episcopalian Church

My visit to Trinity Church was, not unlike my visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a welcome opportunity to warm up on a very cold day in New York. This was something like six years ago, so the details aren’t so fresh in my memory, but mommyPrimate and I met her sister for lunch in Lower Manhattan. I had some delectable swedish meatballs (of course I remember what I ate.) We stopped at a bakery (where I had the most wonderful pistachio macaron I can remember ever eating) then checked out Battery Park. We stopped into Trinity to warm up and see if we could find Mr. Hamilton.

Trinity Episcopalian Church

I do remember the simplicity of the architecture, and thinking that the exposed beams were beautiful. When we visited the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Hong Kong, I remember thinking the construction was very similar. The stained glass was brilliant, and the darkness certainly gave everything a nice warm feel in contrast to the cold wind outside.

Trinity Episcopalian Church

Once we warmed up, we ventured into the graveyard. The snow was fairly deep, and I was amazed at the years on the gravestones. This part of the country was colonized at perhaps even a later time than the part where I currently reside, but by a different group of people, of course. I’m not so accustomed to seeing old gravestones in english, so it was a historical treat.

Alexander Hamilton's Grave

After a bit of a search, we finally found Mr. Hamilton, in the ground, where notorious rapper Aaron Burr put him many years ago. Yes. I realize they were actual important historical figures, and calling them rappers is just throwing some humor at my amusement over the popularity of the musical. I would really like to see it.

The end.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, New York, USA

St. Patrick's Cathedral

My first visit to New York was cold, very cold. I was there with my then-girlfriend (now wife) visiting her sister before we moved to Korea for a couple of years, in the middle of the winter, and our visit was bookended with major snowstorms making the streets a slushy, soggy, mess. If I remember the order of events right, we spent the morning at the MoMA, then walked back through mid-Town in the cold on our way to Koreatown for dinner. Frozen, tired, and in need of a respite, we ducked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a warm-up and sightseeing break. I was pretty certain at the time that this church was featured in Home Alone, maybe Home Alone 2, but in retrospect I think I was wrong about that.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

I remember that it was warm inside. There was a little music going, and it was very green. I guess that makes sense for St. Patrick. Anywho, I definitely remember it being beautiful and ornate, even more ornate than St. John’s, if a bit darker on the inside.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

When we lived in New York I visited St. Patrick’s again briefly, but it was totes under renovation and I don’t think I even took any pictures because it was all scaffolding everywhere. I would certainly love to go back and check it out again the next time we’re in New York, though.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

I just realized, when I took all of these pictures it was after sunset, in the middle of the winter, no wonder the church seemed dark inside.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

The Chancel was spectacular, though.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Something about the cloisters of cathedrals really piques my curiosity. I’d probably be disappointed to go on an exploratory expedition in one to find nothing but offices and broom closets, but I imagine there are all sorts of holy relics hidden in them.

So yeah, St. Patrick’s is big and beautiful, right in midtown Manhattan ready for you to walk in and snap a photo or two. If you visit St. Patrick’s though out of church hopping interest and not just because it’s close to Rockefeller Center and on your tourist map, you must head up to 110th and Cathedral Parkway to see the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, too. It’s worth the trip.

Found Ruins, They Old: Temple of Artemis, Selçuk, Turkey

The Temple of Artemis has been built in a far away land!

This is the rather frustrating message I often receive one turn before completing the Temple of Artemis whilst playing Civilization (you know, the computer game for nerds!). I never follow up to see who it was, but I always grimace at the amount of wasted turns. I mean I could have had the Colossus of Rhodes or some shit.

Temple of ArtemisI honestly expected a much more barren landscape

Anyhow, one of the “must see” items we had on our list for our stay in Turkey was to visit the ruins of the old city of Ephesus. Ephesus gets its own post. Enough about Ephesus. Anyhow, we woke up early and took the train from Izmir to Selçuk, had lunch, visited the little tourist information center where we picked up a book with info about ancient Ephesus, and started the 3-5km walk from Selçuk to the ancient city. The book mentioned the Temple of Artemis was on the way, so when we saw the sign (in plain english, BTW “TEMPLE OF ARTEMIS ->”) we took a right and headed down a little embankment towards a pond.

Temple of ArtemisThis is where the Temple of Artemis used to be, and where a couple parts of it still are

Standing there, in a kind of worn out, faded, weathered glory, was the one remaining column from the Temple of Artemis. Now, if you’re not familiar with your ancient history and Greek Pantheon, the Temple of Artemis was one of the most grand architectural pieces of the classical era…that is until it burned down. Also Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, who gave us the gift of bows and arrows and protected the woodlands. Or something.

Temple of Artemis

Clearly, there wasn’t much exploring to do, but to see what’s left of a 2,000 year old structure that once dominated the landscape is always a bit of a thrill, and considering that a huge “not quite as ruined” CITY of ruins sits another kilometer down the road. A city that is referenced in ancient Persian, Greek, and Roman literature, as well as the Bible. Well, I think whence surrounded by such archeological riches one really gets an idea of how long humanity has been trucking along.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Sultan Ahmet “Blue” Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, TurkeyComposing basically half of Istanbul’s distinctive skyline (exaggeration) the Blue Mosque is Iconic

Given the current political climate, I thought I would depart from my normal writing about Christian places of worship and instead write about one of the most beautiful houses of worship used by our Abrahamic brothers and sisters who practice Islam. The Blue Mosque in Istanbul is (aside from the Hagia Sophia, which I feel doesn’t “count” as a Mosque or a Church, really…more as a museum now) the only mosque that I’ve ever entered.

Istanbul, TurkeyMosques share many features I appreciate about churches. You know, archways, stained glass, tile work

One of the cool things about the Blue Mosque is that it gets so many visitors of all faiths. So many that you’ve got to stand in line to get in, and the line basically moves through the cloisters around the worship space. Seeing the inside and outside of such a beautiful building close-up is always a treat.

Istanbul, TurkeyLooking up at the imposing “clamshells” that give the mosque its distinctive shape

The mosque appears to be a series of perfect domes and half domes, and frankly, it’s an architectural style for which I have no frame of reference. I grew up with steeples and stuff, so this building style along with the calls to prayer made me feel very far from home. Interestingly, though, I think just about anyone would feel welcome in the space.

Istanbul, TurkeyThe Blue Mosque’s iconic dome

Inside the mosque I was somewhat surprised by how not blue it was. Of course there is plenty of blue, the place is literally covered with blue tiles. It’s just not overwhelmingly blue. I was not prepared for the detail of all of the Arabic script and the detail on every little tile. In an art history class, I learned that Islamic art centered largely around repetitive patterns perfectly executed. Walking into this space I thought “oh, yeah, I get it now.”

Istanbul, TurkeyThe stained glass reminded me of so many churches I’ve visited

The stained glass in the mosque was surprisingly similar to stained glass you would find in a church, except without the figures of the humans in the stories of course (my understanding is that Islam does not like graven images of holy figures, but my understanding of Islam is even lesser than my understanding of Christianity).

Istanbul, TurkeyThe symmetry! The symmetry!

Mostly, I found the differences between Mosque and Church to be relatively minor. One stark difference was the lack of pews. While liturgical churches tend to follow the format of “stand, kneel, sit, stand, kneel, sit, stand, kneel sit – great workout everyone, let’s have a snack” Islamic worship seems to involve quite a bit more time on the knees. I found it interesting that you could see the very neat rows where people have been lining up for hundreds of years and kneeling worn into the rug. Also, the carpets in the Blue Mosque are the ORIGINAL carpets from when it was completed in 1616. I’ve certainly never walked across a carpet that old. They’re still beautiful, by the way.

Istanbul, TurkeyYou could just get lost in those arches, right?

So I don’t know, I really think that we’re all more similar than we would like to recognize, sometimes.

Istanbul, TurkeyNot sure what the deal with the lighting systems in this mosque and the Hagia Sophia is, but I like it!

I find it interesting that so many elements between the houses of worship are similar between these two religions. Maybe inspiration just all comes from the same place.

Istanbul, Turkey

Masterpieces of Light and Space: La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

I’m just going to jump in today on one of the most intimidating churches to write about that I can imagine, and maybe what might be, in my opinion, the most beautiful church on the planet. I’ve been avoiding writing about it because I want to make sure and do it justice, but today is the day. I’m finally going to write about La Sagrada Familia, the still under construction masterpiece of Gaudi’s in Barcelona.

Barcelona, SpainI’m not sure how anyone ever gets a picture of this magnificent church without cranes, but whatever.

One of the things I found absolutely fascinating about La Sagrada Familia was the “rough” texture of the outside of the building. As you approach it looks like the building is furry or something, but once you’re close you see that it’s all relief carvings of bible stories and stuff. Every single surface was covered with some sort of artistic display or symbolism. I believe one facade of the church is the Nativity, and the other side is the Passion.

Barcelona, SpainThe entrance we used to the church was under the Passion Facade

Barcelona, SpainMore of the Passion Facade

Barcelona, SpainEven the floor you walk upon in the entry is used to tell the story

The exterior of the church is fantastic, but the real size of the place really smacks you right in the face when you walk through the doors and feel the upward vertical pull of the ceilings, and the brilliantly colored light from the massive stained glass windows wash over you. I wasn’t exactly religious at the time that we visited La Sagrada Familia, but I was definitely moved when we went inside. I did have to ask myself Where did Gaudí get such inspiration? because it plainly seemed supernatural.

Barcelona, SpainThe heights inside La Sagrada Familia are truly dizzying, and it feels so organic with the tree-like columns

Barcelona, SpainThe amount and variation of color in the light in this place is otherworldly

Barcelona, Spain
La Sagrada Familia is perhaps the brightest church I’ve ever set foot in

Barcelona, SpainThe very bright choir of La Sagrada Familia

Aside from the absolutely beautiful, bright, and airy design aesthetic, the building houses some amazingly beautiful art. Of course, Catalonia produced some of the best artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Maybe you haven’t heard of them before. Guys like Picasso and Dalí. Oh yeah, those guys. Spain as a whole, and particularly Catalonia have such a rich art tradition that of course the art work in the most artful church on the planet would be amazing, right?

Barcelona, SpainEven Christ himself is beautifully artistically rendered in La Sagrada Familia

So in La Sagrada familia we have dizzying heights, beautiful light, and great art. Gaudí was clearly a masterful architect. He was also clearly a man with great faith that allowed him to still devote a huge portion of his life to the construction of a church, even though his own lifestyle was not accepted by the church. What kind of inspiration leads someone to so perfectly design every detail of such a huge space? I guess one of the things I love about church and cathedral hopping is that it always leaves me with more questions than answers.

Barcelona, SpainI mean seriously, that is a beautiful Chancel.

Certainly La Sagrada Familia is one of the most beautiful buildings of any type that I have ever entered, church or not, and it’s one that I would love to revisit – after construction is complete (if that happens in my lifetime). It’s also an example of architecture that for me, much like the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York, raises the question “is this divinely inspired?”

Found Ruins, They Old: The Parthenon, Athens, Greece

Athens, Greece

I’ve been avoiding writing about the most iconic and impressive churches I’ve ever visited in my Masterpieces of Light and Space series because I don’t know where to start. I’m pretty sure La Sagrada Familia is going to require some serious work because holy cow that’s an amazing church, and St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican? That’s going to require multiple parts. That said, I also think there’s some degree of trepidation with which I approach those pieces because I’ve built it up internally.

Athens, Greece

For this series I’m starting out by going for the throat, going for the one most iconic and wonderful ancient ruin that anyone could write about. The one on textbook covers, coins, refrigerator magnets, and a plot of land at Vanderbilt University. You know, THE PARTHENON.
Athens, Greece

High, high, HIGH above Athens (which is a rather low-lying city that sprawls and sprawls) on the top of a hill reinforced by the most epic stone walls you’ve ever seen sits, among other ruins, the Parthenon. Originally, the Parthenon was a temple to Athena Parthenos, who you probably know more simply as Athena – the patron goddess of Athens. Blah blah blah, the Greek empire fell, blah blah blah, Rome, blah blah blah, the Turks invaded, BOOM, the temple was destroyed. And it’s remained that way for the better part of a millennium.
Athens, Greece

At the top of the acropolis, above the heat of the city below, there’s not much to hear but the wind, and when the wind blows through the columns of the Parthenon and other buildings that have been perched up there for thousands of years it’s kind of hard not to imagine that it probably sounded pretty similar when there weren’t cars and busses down on the surface or airplanes flying overhead. The city’s white buildings probably gleamed in the sun about the same. They say Rome is the Eternal City, but Athens was here first and from the Acropolis you can get a little glimpse back into what it must have been like so long ago.

Athens, Greece

Unlike the temple of Hephaestus just down the hill, most of the relief carvings on the Parthenon are no longer in place, but rather now are located in the British Museum. Talk about history stripped down to the bone, right? The good news is that means the carvings are at the very least preserved in a safe place.

From a practical standpoint, I should probably point out that when you buy your Acropolis tickets they include admission to many different sites, and that the Parthenon is one of the ones that closes the latest, so you may consider making it one of the final stops of your tour through Athens. Also it’s a heck of a walk up to the top, and likewise a heck of a walk back down. And it’s hot. And the marble is slippery, so good shoes are probably a better plan than the flip flops I wore.

As I write this, I feel like I don’t have quite the right words or maybe the capacity to capture my love for Greece without sounding like a 20-something traveling for the first time having all sorts of self-realizations about how amazing life is and you should travel alone and blah blah blah. I loved every minute of it. I want to go back. The end.