Every year, this is my favourite blog post to write. It is an immense pleasure to scroll through all the photos I’ve taken over the last 12 months, to select 10, and then to provide a brief write-up on each of my selections. For 2018, however, this was a task that has proven to be too monumental for my computer hard drive. I took so many pictures that, by July, I ran out of memory. I haven’t been able to upload any pictures since then. What a problem to have, I know! Don’t worry, everything I have is backed up on hard drives and memory cards. I just don’t (yet) have easy access to all of it. If you’re talking New Year’s Resolutions, going through all my photos from our trip is a task that I’ll be lucky to make it halfway through by the end of 2019. But instead of focusing on what I don’t have, let’s shift to to what I do have.
The answer to that is 23, 716 images taken from January – July, 2018. It includes our time on the road exploring Italy, Spain, Germany (again!), Austria, Slovakia, and Sweden (once more, with feeling!). France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Quebec City will have to wait for another post, maybe later in 2019, or as part of 2020. (It’s my blog, I can do what I want to).
On that note, instead of the usual 10 pictures I’ve included a few extra, for a total of 18. The thing with doing all this sight-seeing is that sometimes you see lots of incredible things that don’t translate into incredible pictures. For example, Pompeii is FULL of phenomenal treasures. But removed of context, a lot of those pictures are just full of… rubble. A picture I took in a place like Pompeii might not have made the top 10 list on its own merit, but I still wanted to include it. There are some shots I took that I really like but, in comparison to some of the remarkable places we’ve been to, could have just as easily been taken at home. But maybe that’s the magic of that particular shot. Maybe I was feeling incredibly homesick one day and the sight of a cat sunbathing in a window made my heart lighter. In a more strict top ten, it might not have made the cut. But I still wanted to share it. In most of the cases, I was lucky enough to take a great photo in a remarkable place. There are a few instances where I wanted to share an image of something that I thought was really cool, even if it doesn’t make the most interesting photo (an old medical book, or a mosaic from Herculaneum). I hope you’ll permit me the indulgence of doing a list that is almost twice as long as usual. 2018 was a year that probably includes two lifetimes’ worth of adventures.
1. Neil and I took a day-trip via coach bus along the Amalfi Coast in Italy last February. One of the stops we made was to the hillside town of Positano, shown below. We walked down to the beach and enjoyed the sunshine, the incredible views, and the brisk weather (it was February after all!). As we were walking down from the bus stop, I had to stop and shoot a couple of frames of the village with this flowering hedge. I knew that I would be pleased with the result!
2. Neil and I knew that we wanted to see Italy while we were in Europe. But we didn’t want to go in the summer when it was super-hot and crowded. So we decided to go there in January and February. For the most part, this was a great choice. Until the end of February, when a cold-snap hit Europe. This coincided with the week we spent in Florence and the following week in Venice. We made the most of it, though! The streets were mostly empty when we were in Venice, which made for a lot of great photos. We only saw a handful of gondoliers brave enough to tackle the damp, including the one below. Reviewing the photos nearly a year later, I can (almost) forget how cold we were!
3. When Neil and I first went to Munich, Germany in October, we didn’t have the time to embark on a day-trip out to see Schloss Neuschwanstein, a castle designed by King Ludwig II, the “Mad”/”Swan” King of Bavaria. Happily, we were able to return to Munich in May because Neil had a work conference. A trip to see the castle was the first thing I planned! Work on Neuschwanstein (“New Swanstone”) began in 1868-1869. Ludwig designed the castle so that it combined a romantic portrayal of the middle ages with the mythology of Richard Wagner’s operas. It is said that this castle helped to inspire Walt Disney’s design of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. In 1884, construction was not quite complete but it was finished enough that the King could move in. Ludwig II only lived there for a total of 172 days. It is one of the top tourist attractions in Bavaria, drawing over 1.3 million visitors a year.
4. I was really excited to go see the Palau de la Música Orfeó Catalana in Barcelona, Spain. It is a concert hall designed in the Catalan modernista style by architect Lluís Domenèch i Montaner, and built between 1905-1908 for the Orfeó Català choral society. The Catalan modernista style was part of a larger trend that swept through Europe around the turn of the 20th century (it is known as Art Deco/Art Nouveau, and Modernism elsewhere). Yet in Catalonia, and in Barcelona specifically, it had its own unique take. It focused on the art, literature, and expression of Catalan culture. It was active from 1888-1911.
The concert hall is the only auditorium in Europe that is lit entirely by natural light, thanks largely to this gorgeous stained-glass skylight shown below.
5. There are so many beautiful details in the Palau de la Música Orfeó Catalana. It is hard to limit myself to only using two of the photos that I took there! But I had to include the beautiful floral columns featured on one of its balconies, shown below. Maybe a full post on the concert hall will have to happen sooner, rather than later.
6. One of the best-known practitioners of the Catalan modernista style was architect Antoni Gaudí, whose buildings can be found throughout Barcelona. Most impressive of all is the Basílica Sagrada Familia, his masterpiece, which began construction in 1882 and is ongoing to this day (they’re hoping to finish it by 2026, which marks the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death). It is breathtaking in terms of its uniqueness, beauty, and scale. My favourite part of the Sagrada Familia is the numerous stained-glass windows it has, in every colour of the rainbow, and how the light streaming through it is always changing. My camera doesn’t quite capture how beautiful it really is below, but it comes close.
7. This picture was taken the day Neil and I visited the Imperial Fora in Rome, a series of public squares that were constructed between 46 B.C.E. and 113 C.E. These fora (the plural of forum) were the centre of Roman political and social life at the height of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. One of these squares contains The Temple of Vesta and the House of the Vestal Virgins. The Vestal Virgins were priestesses of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth. In ancient Rome, the Vestal Virgins were symbolic of the prosperity and survival of the Roman empire. Girls entered service as a Vestal between the ages of 6-10, and took a 30-year vow of chastity. They tended to a sacred fire that was not allowed to go out. There was a series of (mostly-broken) statues depicting the Virgins lined up in a garden outside the ruins of the temple, where I took the photo below.
8. Neil and I came across this kitty one sunny afternoon while wandering the streets of the Albaycín neighbourhood in Granada, Spain. For obvious reasons, she reminded me of our cat, whom I was missing a lot. This kitty was quite content sitting in her little window, and I appreciated that she let us get close enough to take this picture. Some things, like a good cat napping spot, are universal.
9. There was a week in January when Neil had to go to Washington, while I remained in Rome. I tried to plan a sightseeing activity on most of the days he was gone to keep myself busy in his absence. On one of these days, I began the morning with a guided tour of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. In the afternoon I moved onto the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, one of four parts of the Museo Nazionale Romano. Between these two attractions, I took the highest number of photos in one single day on our trip: 1,236! One of them is of Bernini’s hidden spiral staircase, shown below.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) was a beloved Italian sculptor, painter, and architect. He is credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture, and his works were featured prominently when we went to visit the Galleria Borghese. This staircase in Santa Maria Maggiore, built in the 17th century and originally used by servants, is remarkable in that it was the first of its kind to not use a middle supporting rail. The staircase is supported by the carved travertine spirals and their weight against the wall.
10. Below is the Torre del Oro (Gold Tower) in Seville, Spain. For a time, Seville was the centre for all Spanish trading activities that were taking place in the New World. The Guadalquivir River at the time was deep enough to serve as a marine thoroughfare (this is no longer the case). A lot of wealth was traveling by boat into the city. The bottom portion of the Torre del Oro was erected in 1218-1220 to control traffic entering the Guadalquivir River (and to protect that wealth). It would have served as an anchor point for a giant chain that would have stretched across the river. The middle part of the tower was added in the 14th century, and the top in 1760.
11. Due to the snow and the cold weather, there weren’t a lot of gondolas operating on any of the days that Neil and I were touring Venice (you can see them covered up in the picture below). Instead, we took a vaporetto (a water taxi, Venice’s version of a city bus) to tour the Grand Canal. It was raining and cold, but in between wiping off my camera lens I was able to get some really atmospheric photos of the old palazzos lining Venice’s watery main street. Below is my favourite shot of the day. The hands are an art installation by Lorenzo Quinn, made in 2017 for an arts organization called the Venice Biennale. The piece is titled Support, and symbolizes the threat of rising sea levels in the city due to climate change.
12. While in Granada, Neil and I went to visit the Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex that features several buildings constructed between 889 and 1526. The picture below is of the Summer Palace and the Generalife Gardens, which were built in the 13th century. Located a short walking distance from the main palace, the Generalife was considered to be outside of the city. It is where the King and his family would retire in the summer months for some solitude and relaxation, away from official duties. Neil and I visited in March, so the gardens were more subdued than I imagine they usually are. Still, we really enjoyed the beauty and craftmanship exhibited at the Alhambra. (Travel tip, if you’re going to Granada, book tickets to see the Alhambra as early as possible! It sells out months ahead of time. We found a work-around, thankfully, but it cost us more).
13. I found this lovely bouquet of roses as Neil, his brother Colin, and I were rushing through Barcelona in a downpour, trying to find somewhere to eat. These flowers were so beautiful I had to stop, go back, and take a picture. I’m glad I did!
On the subject of roses and Barcelona, did you know that they have a Valentine’s Day-like celebration in April in which roses and books are exchanged as gifts? It takes place on the feast day of Sant Jordi (Saint George’s Day) on April 23. Sant Jordi/Saint George is a popular Christian legend in which the saint is famed for taming and slaying a dragon who was about to devour his latest human sacrifice, a princess. Sant Jordi is the Patron Saint of Catalunya. Traditionally, roses are given to women and books to men, which are then wrapped in ribbons the colour of the Catalan flag (red and yellow). These rules aren’t firm, though, and nowadays women are just as likely to receive books, and men, flowers. Gifts are exchanged between friends and family members in addition to romantic partners. Sadly, we just missed the feast day of Sant Jordi as we were in Barcelona the week before the celebration. Maybe this is a tradition we can kick-start in Canada? April 23, anyone? (Do I have to choose between getting a rose or a book? I really would like both!)
14. Herculaneum was a town that, like Pompeii, was devastated by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E. Herculaneum (Ercolano in Italian) was located closer to the volcano than Pompeii so, instead of ash, it was covered and preserved by an outflow of lava. Interestingly, some parts of Herculaneum are better conserved as a result. There are actually pieces of burnt wood such as staircases, balconies, and intact roofs! The mosaic below can be found in the House of Neptune and Amphitrite. If you look carefully, you can still see some seashells that were used as a border for the beautiful art piece.
15. The shot below comes from the second half of my day (mentioned above) in which I took over 1,200 photos. This was photographed at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, one of four buildings that contain the Museo Nazionale Romano (the other three are the Baths of Diocletian, the Palazzo Altemps, and the Crypta Balbi). I read that the Palazzo Massimo was the best one to visit, and it is is reputed to have one of the best archaeological and classical art collections in the world. It was indeed very impressive, as my high photo count can attest.
My favourite part of the museum was the room that featured the frescoes (paintings) from the Villa of Livia, shown in the photograph below. The Villa of Livia was an ancient Roman country residence, located 12 km north of Rome. It belonged to Livia Drusilla, wife of Roman emperor Augustus (she was known as Julia Augustus after their marriage in 39 B.C.E.). The room that featured this painting was dug partially into the ground; the location of this room, combined with the cool colours used in the frescoes that decorated all four walls, would have been used to physically and psychologically provide relief from the summer heat outside. The leaves and the birds also appear to be moving, as if on a breeze. It was hard to restrict myself to just one frame of this remarkable 360-degree painting. There is a large variety of birds, trees, ripe fruit, and flowers in full bloom. There are poppies, roses, irises, pomegranates, strawberries, laurel, cyprus, and oleander, just to name a few. It’s incredible to think that these frescoes are over 2,000 years old!
16. A lot of people try to do Pompeii as a day-trip from Rome. This is a terrible idea! You would spend most of the day traveling to Pompeii and back, and your time there would be so rushed you would be lucky if you saw a quarter of what was there. Neil and I spent two full days at Pompeii and I still feel like there was more to see. Also, a day-trip doesn’t give you a chance to go and visit the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, which is where a lot of the treasures that were found in Pompeii ended up. (We also spent two days visiting that museum!)¹.
One of my favourite things that we saw at the museum in Naples was this mosaic of a high-society Pompeiian woman holding a wax tablet and stylus. It was said to be a depiction of the Greek poet Sappho (630-570 B.C.E.), although that has been contested. Still, a woman in antiquity pictured with a book and a writing instrument, I love this! (Also her curly hair, and golden hair net).
17. Pompeii is a great place to take pictures of incredible things, but it’s hard to take an incredible photo. My favourite is of a city street, shown below, with Mount Vesuvius in the background. Note the dip in the volcano on the right side. The volcano exploded in 79 C.E. with a thermal force that was 100,000 times that of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki nuclear bombs, and ended up covering Pompeii in 13-20 feet of pumice and ash.
18. Another great find from the Naples Archaeological Museum was this old medical book from the 9th century that has a chain on it. This would have been used to lock it to its shelf (like in Game of Thrones). This book would have been individually handwritten, as it pre-dates the printing press, making it extremely valuable.
Oh god, it’s going to take me five years to recap all of this… isn’t it? (Thanks for sticking with me while I do!)
¹My advice if you want to go to Pompeii is to plan on taking your time. Find a place to stay near Pompeii (we opted for Sorrento). Pompeii is huge, and so if you’re able to split it up into two days, your feet will thank you. One day should be plenty to see the museum in Naples. Add a day to see Herculaneum. And a day to tour the Amalfi Coast. Oh, and a day for Capri… it really is an amazing part of the world. A day-trip from Rome is nowhere near sufficient! If you only have time for a day-trip from Rome, go to Ostia Antica instead. It is only half an hour outside of Rome, and it is also an incredible place to visit.