Saturday, February 24, 2007

Cop out

Okay, today was something of a cop-out on my part. I had intended to go to the library with Zuzana and then head out on my own to Prague Castle while she went home to get some homework done. Instead, as we left the library and I felt the cold breeze and the new books in my bag and, more than that, the fact that I was really tired and the cold was making my leg hurt(oh curse that fateful day in Japan when I wasn't watching where I was going!), I abandoned my original plans and went straight home. Where I had a lovely afternoon alternatively napping, reading The Jungle Books and the Silmarillion, and stretching the peronus longus muscle in my right leg.

And I don't regret it.


Just a note: I have messed around with the settings so that everyone, not just people with Google accounts, can comment. I would love to hear your thoughts if you care to share them!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Am I Lucky, or is it God?

I begin to wonder at my most extraordinary luck (or is it God?). Well, in the words of Denzel Washington "Luck is when an opportunity comes along, and you're prepared for it." For next weekend I shall be setting forth for the far distant city of Vienna with my dear friend Zuzana. However did I end up in this eventuality? I shall tell you!

Zuzana's parents have plans to attend a formal ball in Vienna on Saturday night. Therefore, they will be heading up to Vienna on Friday, and we shall be tagging along for the ride. The best part being that we will then separate from said parental units, and spend the entire weekend at a different (much much cheaper) hotel, doing our own siteseeing thing, and then meeting up again to go home on Sunday. *gringrin*

I will take pictures and (hopefully) post them sooner than the Italy ones. (innocent look) :)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Italy News, Part 4: Rome (day 3)

Our last day in Rome, we spent the morning climbing to the top of St. Peter's cathedral. I discovered what I knew already: while heights themselves do not bother me, climbing up and down stairs, especially spiral stairs, to get to the heights, is really awful. Especially climbing down. Coming down was the worst. However...being up that high is glorious.

The first part of the climb was inside the church. We were up high enough to be this close to the musiacs on the ceiling.

There was mass going on in the cathedral below. Picture was taken through the fencing up to keep you from falling to your death and on full zoom. We could smell the incense even from up that high, and hear the chanting. Okay, I will say I have deep issues with Catholism, and the--well, I'll call it the "mythology" of Christianity that they pushed on us the whole trip, but I will say that in the service the awe of holy--I like the word "numen", even if it is archaic--was strong. And that's not a bad thing.View from one of the little windows on the final ascent.
Views from the top!!That line of people you see curving all the way along the square is to get inside the cathedral.
My faithful interpreter, Annetka. It was through her that I get most of my information.After the (nervewracking: I am not afraid to admit I had to stop at the break place until I stopped shaking) descent, we went to Vatican Square to see the Pope's weekly address. There were many, many people, and a festive air.There we have it people: the Pope!

but I have to admit I was more entranced by this small specimen of humanity, who was having a grand old time being up high, clapping enthusiasticly when everyone else was clapping, and pulling her mom's hair.

After seeing the Pope, it was back to the monestary to pack and load the bus. On the way out we stopped by the Catacombs--no pictures allowed, sorry--which was pretty cool. The tombs were so small! Just enough space for a body, deeper at the top and narrower for the legs. They looked too small. It was dark and damp and narrow and a tad smelly...

...actually reminding me of the bus ride home, which commenced immediately afterward.

Italy News, Part 3: Rome, (day 2)

The morning of the next day was spent in the Vatican's museum. Now, everyone, you know that they don't like you to take pictures in museums. However, I sneaked a few for your edification and enjoyment.

Outside the museum in Vatican square: St. Peter's Cathedral

They were just taking down the Christmas tree (Feb. 2, people!)
The columns of Vatican Square.
Inside the museum, there was a gallery of map tapestries. Very cool.
There were many, many statues. Some with stragetically placed, gravity defying fig leaves...And some without.I know where the Vatican keeps its dead bodies now.And if you thought Japanese was hard to learn...They were really intense about the no-pictures in the Sistine Chapel. But who can resist sneaking a shot when the guard's back was turned?

After the museum, we went to a place where someone had a vision of the Virgin Mary a couple years ago. They built a chapel, complete with a plastic statue of the Lady. I mean the plastic kind that you see outside around Christmas time, but it didn't light up. I did not take pictures of that for you. We also had the wonderful opportunity to buy some of the sand of the sacred place where it happened.

From there we went to one of the oldest churches in Rome. It was very dark and quiet, and in a lovely garden. It was in the very basic main structure of cathedrals: one long hall with two lower buttresses, and a nave at the end. There were no elaborate frescoes or tiled walls; it was built of brick with a few stained windows at the front end. I liked it better than the Baroque wonders.

Light through the windows. (My doubtful skills of a photographer failed in the church and I couldn't get a picture that was more than a dark mass)
From the church we went to another church in the same monestary complex (which is where it was), walking along a lovely tree-lined avenue.

There we observed the place where one of the saints (I forget which one) was beheaded, and his head bounced four times. Where the head touched the ground, fountains sprung up. In the present day, they have mysteriously dried up but are memorialized here where the squares are, in the floor of this church. Because saints are obliging people, even when dead, the head bounced in a handy geometric pattern that looks nice on a cathedral floor.I forget the name of the next cathedral we went to: after a while they all blur together.

The inside of the church.There are pictures of every pope there ever was lining the walls above the columns. The bright spot you see on the right in the picture above is where the present pope is (they have a light shining on it)

Every cathedral had a shop inside as well as outside, but this one was more inventive than this, offering holy chocolate.....and booze.That was the end of the day, but one last shot from the bus window: you know I want one.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Forget whiskers on kittens...

Everyone knows that I am not easily enamored of anything, declining passing infatutations like dead flowers. But since around last April, when my Japanese teacher told me about a free concert, there has been a special something creeping up on my heart. Taiko, the traditional Japanese drumming. I sat entranced throughout the entire two and a half hour performance of that performance, having sneakily snuck onto the campus of Swathmore College to see it, and then went home and immediately found the next time I could drag my family along with me to see another performance. To my dismay it was the last one before the group returned to their performing arts school in Tokyo.

I went to see a taiko concert again last night, this time by a professional group, and fell in love with it all over again. This is serious, people. Taiko is one of the most amazing things on Earth, and just the thought of going to see it can make me loopy for hours. If I was a cartoon character I'd have stars in my eyes.

Here's a link to a video for those who don't know what I'm talking about. Remember that seeing it live, when you can feel every beat through the floor, is infinately more amazing. .

Friday, February 9, 2007

Italy News, Pt. 2: Rome (day 1)

After another four hours in the bus, we arrived in Rome!

I didn't take a picture of the monastery where we stayed. It was more of a wayhouse for Czech Catholics than a monsatery, anyway; there were a handful of priests and many groups coming and going. Anyone who has been to someplace like Harvey Cedars has seen was the room was like.

The first day, one of the priests escorted us around several Cathedrals and Ancient Rome after breakfast, which was bread. A serving dish of rolls in the middle of the table. Since Italy is famous for good food, I was actually looking forward to be eating, you know, real Italian food! But it never happened. We had dry bread for breakfast and cafeteria-quality Czech food for dinner. Lunch we were on our own, and almost everyone had brought enough food for the trip. Traveling on a budget has it's disappointments...but the bread was not stale, I am happy to say, and so, well, it could have been alot worse.

We began by seeing this church. You're going to see alot of pictures of churches; and since the priest showing us around was Czech and spoke (of course) in Czech, of which I understand approxiamately four words, there isn't a whole I can tell you about them. They were pretty interesting to look at.

In the back of the church we saw the revered finger of St. Thomas. It's in the gold cross. I was also told that one of the little ones on top contains a thorn from Our Lord's crown of thorns, complete with Holy Blood.

I tried to look suitably non-skeptical, and hope I succeeded enough that the priest didn't notice. He had us sing a hymn (in Czech) here.

Although I didn't take a picture, this church also contained the supposed shroud of Christ. Since when he came back to life he of course blazed with light and this zeroxed his image onto the cloth. Which is still intact two thousand years later. Cue hymn number two.

We went from there to another church, whose name again I did not catch. There were no relics, but there was some incredible architecture. I believe there were bronze doors in this church that were over two thousand years old, although I seem to not have downloaded the picture. This was the outer foyer of the church.

Sts. Peter and Paul.

Even the ceiling was intricately and richly decorated.

These cathedrals are absolutely stunning in their proportions and sheer size: stunning enough to get a group of 45 teenagers, many of whom are 13 and 14 year old boys, to walk in hushed silence the entire time we were in them.

I really loved the way the sunlight fell from the windows onto the arches of the opposite side.There were several banks of organ pipes throughout the front of the church. It must sound incredible when it's played.

There were frescoes on every inch of available wall, mostly showing scenes from the Bible or church history/mythology.

A sunbeam.

There was a chapel in this cathedral, smaller and older; it was dark with age and very quiet and peaceful. As impressive as the huge cathedrals are, a part of me liked this better. It was also less richly decorated: compare the wood paneling on this ceiling to the gold of the main part of the church.
The art was also older than the Baroque frescoes in the church.

Every church had the requisite stand outside selling tourist junk.

We began the only non-religion related part of the trip that afternoon, with this famous statue of Marcus Aurelius (I think).

In the same square was this fountain. On either side are the rivers Tiber and Nile and in the middle an Ancient Greek goddess: Athena, I think. (forgive my repeated uncertainty. Remember that I'm going on sketchy second hand translations from Czech courtesy of a kind student).

A triumphal arch.
Of course, no trip to Rome would be complete without a visit to...The Colosseum!

In spite of the food, there are several distinct advantages with going as part of a group, particularly a school group.Inside the Colosseum. The rows in the bottom that you can see today are the lower levels of the arena, where things and people were stored until they were needed. There used to a floor covering it, as well as a cloth canopy to cover the entire structure. I wonder what the Caesars would have thought of this?

Pilgrims come to pray for the people who died there.

View from the top of the Colosseum.

After the Colosseum, we walked down a very pretty path to visit some more ruins of Ancient Rome. I don't know what some of them are, though.

I liked the marbling on these columns

This was either a prison or a government building.

Did I mention that it was a perfect spring day the whole time? I know I posted pictures of the flowers in Florence...I'm not sure if Italy, like Prague, was mysteriously passed over by winter this year, or spring always comes this early. Either way, we won.

The tomb of Romulus and Remus.

This is a Roman cell such as St. Paul would have been staying in. Although you can see things in these pictures, because of the wonders of flash, it was actually practically pitch dark, except for what light came from a small hole in the ceiling, and very small. The door is for conveinant dumping of dead bodies. Bottom picture is of the Czech priest who was showing us around.

At the top of some building; more arial views of Rome.

From there we went to this famous fountain.

By the time we finished at the fountain, I was frankly exhausted, and it was starting to get dark. I hoped it was time to go back for dinner; but no such luck: we proceeded to this basilisca. The light was all wrong to get a picture inside, being too light for the flash to do anything yet too dark to actually get a picture. Anyway, it was more frescoes and tiling, but even despite the light it was hard to see with the amount of people and the fencing put up around the walls so you couldn't actually get close. Oh well. It was, thankfully, the last stop of the day.

After dinner, I promptly went to bed and fell asleep. :)